opinion

NSW is opening up on Monday. But the new premier is no longer following health advice.

On Thursday, two days into his new job, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet announced some changes to the state's roadmap out of lockdown. 

Monday October 11 was confirmed by his predecessor as the day the state would start to open back up. But after remarking on Wednesday that he would be "reviewing" some "issues" with the plan, Perrottet announced that a crisis cabinet meeting would be happening that night. 

After the shock departure of Gladys Berejiklian on Friday, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard spent the weekend rejecting concerns the state’s COVID-19 response would see "drastic" changes under a new leader.

And yet here we are. 

Watch: Perrottet being asked about Dr Chant's absence. Post continues after video.


Video via ABC

As announced on Thursday, ten people instead of five can now gather indoors from Monday, and 30 instead of 20 people can be together outdoors. 

One hundred people can now gather at a wedding and a funeral compared to just 50, and the reopening of indoor pools has been brought forward. 

Once the state hits 80 percent in a couple of weeks, face masks will no longer be required in offices as previously planned, and nightclubs can reopen months ahead of schedule. 

All school students will now go back to face-to-face learning on October 25, instead of the previously agreed upon staged approach. 

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It's the most brazen plan we've seen from any state or territory leader in Australia when it comes to the pandemic. While Gladys Berejiklian avoided lockdowns for as long as possible and was seen as generally more lax in her rules than her state and territory counterparts, Perrottet has shown he's even more keen to get the state open as fast as possible. 

But as the new premier announced the acceleration of NSW's plan out of lockdown on Thursday, there was a noticeable absence: NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant. The woman who stood beside Berejiklian during her daily press conferences for months. 

Perrottet was quizzed about it. 

"What does it say about your respect for Dr Kerry Chant after she has led us through this for the last two years, that you wouldn't invite her here today? It's a bit disrespectful?" asked Nine News political reporter Chris O'Keefe. 

"Dr Chant is one of my favourite constituents from Epping. We have a great relationship," he replied.

"But it is a health crisis," O'Keefe pressed. "The Chief Health Officer should be here."

"It's also an economic crisis," said Premier Perrottet.

By the evening, O'Keefe had confirmed that Dr Chant did not endorse the new roadmap changes, warning that they came at a risk. 

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Nowra surgeon Professor Martin Jones was one of the first medical professionals to give his grim prediction.

"Next Monday there will be approx two million people in NSW unvaccinated," he posted on Twitter.

"The joy of opening this state needs to be tempered by the 1000s of people who will need to attend funerals over the next six months for those killed by this virus.

"And it won't just be the unvaccinated!"

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The Australian Medical Association of NSW shared a similar opinion, warning that the changes could overwhelm the hospital system with virus cases and burn out healthcare workers.

"We've got a new premier in the driver's seat, but that's not a good enough reason to deviate from the course previously set," AMA NSW President Danielle McMullen said.

"Keeping people safe must be the premier's top priority. Relaxing restrictions too soon will not be a 'popular' decision if it means the number of people contracting the virus and ending up in hospital skyrockets."

Teachers were equally concerned.

"For the third time, and the second time in the space of a week, the complex and careful planning for the safe face-to-face return of all teachers and students has been thrown into disarray," tweeted NSW Teachers Federation President Angelo Gavrielatos.

"The so-called staggered return is now in tatters," he said in a statement, calling the changes "disrespectful" to teachers. 

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison and lobby group Business NSW are among those welcoming the state government's roadmap changes.

Katherine Gibney from the Doherty Institute said while COVID case numbers will go up as restrictions loosen, easing out of lockdown is inevitable.

"Hopefully with high vaccination rates we'll be protected against the more severe disease and those requiring hospitalisation and ICU, but we are expecting these to increase in the coming weeks and couple of months," Dr Gibney told ABC TV on Friday.

"It has to be done. We can't live in lockdown indefinitely," she added.

It's true. She's right, we can't. 

But the fear, as voiced by the NSW Doctors Reform Society and reported by AAP, is that opening up too quickly risks a higher numbers of infections and therefore deaths. 

We all want freedom. Being locked inside for nearly four months is far from ideal. 

But why risk all of our hard work for a few extra people at a post-lockdown dinner party, when we have 80 per cent freedoms on the horizon later this month?

As the Australian Medical Association of NSW hinted, perhaps the new premier is opting for a more 'popular' decision as he tries his new job on for size.

But at what cost?

Gemma Bath is a constituent of NSW and writer at Mamamia. You can keep up to date with her articles here, or follow her on Instagram,  @gembath.

Feature image: Mamamia/Getty.

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