Gladys Berejiklian and the NSW Government have come under heavy scrutiny after doubling down on their decision to allow the Sydney Test to go ahead despite a dramatic rise in the state’s Covid-19 numbers.
Just over 12 hours after Cricket Australia confirmed the historic ground could host the January 7-11 Test against India, Sydney's numbers dramatically spiked.
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NSW recorded 18 cases of local transmission on Wednesday - their highest in 10 days - and also had a new cluster emerge outside of the northern beaches.
Sydney's Test was only possible after an 11th hour agreement by the Queensland Government to grant exemptions to players and officials to cross the closed border for the fourth Test at the Gabba.
As part of the deal, players will move from Melbourne to Sydney just days out from the Test and remain in a strict bio-secure bubble that will limit contact with the outside.
On arrival into Queensland conditions will be just as stringent, with players only allowed to leave the hotel to train or play under the terms of the exemption.
But on Wednesday morning, NSW premier Berejiklian announced stricter rules for New Year’s celebrations after cases jumped.
But she reiterated the plan was to still go ahead with the SCG Test with additional safety plans.
“The best health advice to us is that 50 per cent capacity of that venue in an outdoor setting is safer than being in a household in confined spaces,” Premier Berejiklian said at a press conference.
“So outdoor settings, ticketed, seated, controlled events are deemed to be safer than having too many people within a household.
“So that is the best health advice provided to us and, in fact, this morning we even tightened the COVID-safe plan to make sure there’s additional information, masks available for anyone catching public transport.
“So everything is being done in all aspects of the community to keep everybody safe.”
But fans were left bewildered and frustrated after hearing the new restrictions.
Many questioned how the government could proceed with the Test at the SCG and ensure a safe environment.
Others called for the Australia and India to remain in Melbourne and to play another Test at the MCG.
The Sydney Test should be played with no spectators
— Norman Swan (@normanswan) December 30, 2020
I love the SCG & the NY Test & appreciate all that Cricket NSW has done to help this tour happen. But... I don’t think this is the right decision. Like all cricket tours now, this is a house of cards built on a bowl of jelly and we’re picking it up & trying to move it. #AUSvIND
— Melinda Farrell (@melindafarrell) December 30, 2020
Australia's Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly admits he wouldn't be taking his family to the SCG for the third test.
— Natalie Yoannidis (@NatYoannidis) December 30, 2020
I absolutely love the cricket and the SCG test in particular, but I’m struggling to reconcile the decision to go ahead given restrictions announced today.
— Jihad Dib MP (@jihaddibmp) December 30, 2020
Summarising Gladys, the two safest scenarios are:
1. At a home gathering with less than 5 people
2. At the SCG with more than 20,000 people
— 💧 Susan Smith (@SusanSmithAus) December 30, 2020
I mean, let's be serious: we're not letting crowds gather on the foreshore for NYE but we're letting them gather for the New Year's Test Match? Sure, you can control the SCG better, but you're still taking a substantial risk.
And is that risk justified?
— Mark Pesce #WearAMask 😷 (@mpesce) December 30, 2020
3rd Test announced - decided to stay in Sydney at SCG despite health warnings.
Next minute - announced there are 18 new locally acquired cases in NSW (Greater Sydney)
MCG anyone? #CricketAustralia #mcg #coronavirus #COVID19Aus #nswcovid19 #nswpol
— Grant Smith (@GSmith_24) December 30, 2020
— Anthony Brown (@brown_ant) December 30, 2020
Households in Greater Sydney are now limited to having no more than five people visit their homes until further notice as cases skyrocketed just one day out from the turn of the year.
Cricket Australia confident of Sydney protocols
That had prompted questions over whether a surge in Sydney cases could impact those exemptions, but interim Cricket Australia boss Nick Hockley said there was no such risk.
"That was precisely the reason why we have our biosecurity protocols," Hockley said.
"It's why we have measures in place and why we are in a bubble in Sydney.
"The arrangements we have with the Queensland Government are that we can keep the players and broadcast crew all safe and they can move safely into Brisbane."
Hockley would therefore not divulge whether other contingencies are in place in the event that the exemptions do become problematic.
Working in Cricket Australia's favour at least is that they have been able to whittle the travelling party down from around 100 to 30, with limited need for moving broadcast crew.
The next great challenge for the organisation now remains what movements players can make after the Brisbane Test.
Given they will have been in Sydney within two weeks of it finishing, exemptions may be required for them to return to their home states.
Other players, including Matt Wade, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Starc and Moises Henriques could require similar exemptions to feature as marquees at the end of the BBL season.
"Players who are going onto the BBL, we will work to get the necessary exemptions if there are restrictions still in place," Hockley said.
"We are working closely with the whole government to get this whole summer to happen.
"I think the strength of our biosecurity protocols gives us confidence in that regard."
Speaking before the news of the increased case numbers, Hockley also said the 50 per cent capacity for crowds at the Sydney Test was only a "baseline" that could still rise.
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