Northern Beaches cluster highlights risks of NSW Government’s inaction on New Year’s Eve

Friday, 18 December 2020

Media release from Darcy Byrne
Mayor of the Inner West

In the wake of the COVID-19 cluster on the Northern Beaches, Inner West Mayor Darcy Byrne has once again called on the NSW Government to provide COVID-safe plans for all parks on the Sydney Harbour Foreshore, not just those in the CBD and North Sydney.

The Government’s refusal to put forward a COVID-safe plan for New Year’s Eve risks a major outbreak in Balmain and Birchgrove on December 31.

The Government’s announcement that access to the CBD and North Sydney will be strictly limited, while access to vantage points in Balmain and Birchgrove will be completely unrestricted, led Council to write urgently to the Premier and Chief Health Officer on November 25 seeking clarification about how the plan will be safely implemented.

Weeks later the Government has refused to put forward these plans, leading councils across Sydney to close foreshore parks and warn the community about the serious risk of COVID-19 transmission if large crowds attend the parks.

“The outbreak on the Northern Beaches demonstrates just how quickly a COVID-19 outbreak could take off on New Year’s Eve as crowds flock to the harbour,” said Inner West Mayor Darcy Byrne.

“We are less than two weeks from New Year’s Eve and the Government is still stubbornly refusing to work with councils, or put forward any COVID-safe plan for what has the potential to be the riskiest date on the 2020 calendar.

“I fully support the strict measures the Government has put in place for the CBD and North Sydney, but they seem to have forgotten that this virus doesn’t stop at council borders. Having 30,000 or 40,000 people crowd into our small, harbourside parks with no limit on numbers and no contact tracing capacity is a recipe for disaster.

“Every year tens of thousands of Sydneysiders descend on Balmain and Birchgrove for the fireworks display. The Government has now incentivised everyone in Sydney who wants to see the fireworks to flood into our local parks, with no restrictions or directions, creating a large-scale public health risk.

“In September, I publicly called for the New Year’s Eve fireworks display to proceed as I think people need something to look forward to after a very hard year. I offered the Government full cooperation in ensuring the fireworks could proceed, my only precondition has always been that there must be a COVID-safe plan for management of crowds, endorsed by the Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant.

“Instead of prioritising public health, the Government seems to have put their heads in the sand. Consequently, I am now sounding an alarm - complacency could result in the first day of 2021 being marked by an outbreak of the virus.

“Pubs, restaurants, sporting events and workplaces all require detailed COVID-safe plans to open, so why does the Government think tens of thousands of revellers pouring into crowded harbourside parks can be managed without a plan?

 “As a result of the Government’s refusal to take responsibility, or even discuss how to manage public health risks, Inner West and other councils have had to take the decision to declare our foreshore parks closed. Regardless, there will still obviously be tens of thousands of people planning on attending harbourside parks.

“In the context of the pandemic, these risks require urgent attention and immediate collaboration if they are to be managed safely. The NSW Government must take responsibility for this,” said Mayor Byrne.

Please find attached a copy of Council’s November 25 correspondence to the Premier, Health Minister, Police Minister and Chief Health Officer (PDF 188.5KB).

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Page last updated: 25 Feb 2022