NSW has recorded 1,331 new Covid-19 cases and six deaths overnight as residents enjoyed the first weekend of picnics after outdoor gathering restrictions were eased.
Sydneysiders made the most of their relaxed cap on outdoor gatherings to exercise and catch up with friends on Saturday.
On Monday, outdoor gatherings were eased allowing up to five vaccinated people to gather if they were living outside the 12 local government areas of concern.
Residents living in the LGAs are only allowed to leave with members of their household – and for only two hours at a time.
Police have also increased their presence across Sydney ahead of planned anti-lockdown rallies on Saturday.
Officers arrived at Sydney Park, in St Peters, in busloads and were ready on cycles and on foot to prevent demonstrators massing, as a police operation blocked several roads in the area.
Bystanders say they saw several buses, reserved for police, parked around the area. Officers were also seen riding bicycles and monitoring on foot.
The police presence was described as a ‘ring of steel’, the phrase used throughout the pandemic to describe operations preventing unwanted movement of the public along major roads.
Police also focused on another possible protest site nearby, at Victoria Park, where they managed to break up an anti-lockdown protest before it gained any momentum last month.
NSW is also gearing up to test a pilot home-quarantine program that, if successful, could expedite the return of international arrivals
The new cases come as police prepared arrived at Sydney Park, in the inner west, ahead of planned anti-lockdown rallies
NSW police promised an equally ‘highly visible’ operation to prevent protesters from gathering in large numbers for another march.
Metropolitan Field Operations deputy commissioner Mal Lanyon also said police would be ready to respond to any last-minute location changes.
‘We are continuing to monitor online commentary and have put in place an extremely mobile police operation with significant resources, to respond to whatever situation we are faced with,’ he said.
Meanwhile the leaderless anti-lockdown protests in NSW are diverting an enormous amount of police resources that could otherwise be used to help with the COVID-19 crisis.
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller says anti-lockdown protests are wasting valuable resources that could otherwise be diverted to help with the state’s escalating COVID crisis.
On Tuesday police broke up almost 100 small anti-lockdown protests across NSW, arresting more than 150 people and issuing 570 fines.
Last month 1500 police turned out in force in Sydney to quell protests which followed a larger violent protest in the CBD in July.
NSW is also gearing up to test a pilot home-quarantine program that, if successful, could expedite the return of international arrivals.
The test run, announced by the state government on Friday, involves 175 vaccinated people quarantining at home for seven days, monitored by geolocation and facial-recognition technology.
The police presence was described as a ‘ring of steel’, the phrase used throughout the pandemic to describe operations preventing unwanted movement of the public along major roads
NSW police promised an equally ‘highly visible’ operation to prevent protesters from gathering in large numbers for another march
If successful, it is expected the NSW government would move to rapidly scale-up the program to allow many more international arrivals.
Hotel quarantine arrangements would remain for unvaccinated people under the plan.
There are more than 40,000 Australians stranded overseas due to border closures, and Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters on Friday she hoped many of them could be home for Christmas.
The Business Council of Australia has welcomed the plan, saying the nation needs to get rid of bottlenecks, such as hotel quarantine, that stop Australians returning home and prevent skilled workers entering the country.
‘We urge all state and territory leaders to follow the NSW example, put the nation first and start planning to re-join the rest of the world,’ BCA Chief Executive Jennifer Westacott said in a statement.
NSW passed another milestone on Friday, with half of the state’s population now fully vaccinated.
But several regional areas will spend this weekend back in lockdown.
The Glen Innes Severn council area, inland from Coffs Harbour, will be under a week-long lockdown from Saturday after a COVID-19 case was detected there.
Syndeysiders exercising at Centennial Park as the city continues to push through a hard lockdown
As a result, Queensland has reinstated border restrictions with the region.
The Hilltops local government area in the state’s south, which encompasses the town of Young, is also under seven-day restrictions.
Albury and Lismore had been sent back into a week-long lockdown on Thursday.
There are 1245 COVID-19 patients in hospital in NSW, with 228 patients in intensive care and 112 on ventilators.
More to come