NSW Police will be granted the power to close Sydney businesses and construction sites it deems are a risk to public health after the state recorded its highest number of new coronavirus cases in the community since the outbreak began.
From Friday, uniformed officers will have the right to shut down any public premise, work site, or business which continues to “flout the public health orders,” Premier Gladys Berejiklian said Thursday morning.
Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said the measure will be introduced in response to a “small number of people” not conforming with lockdown restrictions.
“The actions of those small number of people have incredible consequences,” Chant said, “and I want to thank the police for reacting promptly when health raises those concerns.”
The crackdown comes after state health authorities tallied 239 new local cases of COVID-19 in the 24 hours to 8pm on Wednesday, with at least 66 cases active in the community during their infectious period.
Case numbers are rising despite the strict lockdown measures limiting movement in eight local government areas (LGA) across Sydney’s south-west.
Approximately two million people are impacted by the orders, which forbid workers from leaving their LGA unless they are an authorised essential worker.
Construction has been given the green light to resume after a snap closure, under strict occupancy and density limits.
However, industry figures fear the lockdown will have lingering impacts, given the high proportion of construction workers who are now locked into those south-west Sydney LGAs.
The new powers came on the advice of NSW Police, Berejiklian added.
“We’re seeing non-compliance at a level that is impacting on the virus and impacting on NSW coming out of lockdown,” said NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller.
“These new powers, the additional police into these areas, is about getting us out of lockdown sooner. So you can expect to see more police on the ground. You can expect to see more enforcement.”
Fuller did not rule out further interventions, including the use of Australian Defence Force personnel to enforce lockdown measures.
“Nothing is off the table between conversations between the Premier and myself,” Fuller said.
“We are not stretched at the moment, but clearly if there was an LGA expansion, I would absolutely have the confidence in expanding [with] the Australian Defence Force in NSW,” he said.
NSW Police Minister David Elliott said increasing the police presence across hotspot regions over its already high levels “is certainly not something that we want to do and it is, in fact, something that we cannot wait to shred.
“But it’s quite clear from the overwhelming number of people that are doing the right thing, that same overwhelming number of people have had a gutful of their fellow residents doing the wrong thing.”
The news marks a dramatic escalation of direct law enforcement intervention from the state government, which was hesitant to define which retail venues should close a matter of weeks ago.
News of the police force ramp-up comes just a day after the state and federal government announced boosted support payments for stood-down workers, with those elevated measures still too new to cause an appreciable decrease in movement and infections.
On top of the increased police presence, further rules have been announced for the LGAs of Blacktown, Campbelltown, Canterbury-Bankstown, Cumberland, Fairfield, Georges River, Liverpool and Parramatta.
From Friday, exercise and ‘singles bubble’ visits must occur within 5 kilometres of the home, and shoppers must not travel further than 5 kilometres, unless those goods are unavailable in their immediate vicinity.
Masks will also become mandatory outdoors, and the penalty for mask non-compliance will lift from $200 to $500.
Berejiklian said the new mask rule was partially designed to encourage police intervention.
“Obviously part of the reason why we’re mandating mask wearing for people living in those eight local government areas… is it makes it easier for police to enforce, because it is really important for us to focus on compliance,” she said.