New Greater Sydney rules: masks at Mass and congregations of 100

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Participants attend Christmas Mass in St Mary’s Cathedral on 25 December 2020. From midnight on 2 January 2021, congregations in greater Sydney, the Blue Mountains and NSW’s Central Coast will be capped at 100. Masks will also be compulsory at all religious services. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

While 20,000 spectators will be permitted to attend the New Year’s Cricket Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground commencing on 7 January, congregations in all places of worship in greater Sydney will be limited to no more than 100 persons, Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced at a media conference on Saturday 2 January.

Meanwhile, masks will be compulsory at all places of worship in greater Sydney from midnight 2 January 2021 as NSW health authorities scramble to contain an outbreak of COVID which broke out in late December on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.

However children under 12 are excluded from the necessity to wear masks.

Fines from Monday

A $200 fine will be imposed from Monday 4 January on those who do not comply, Premier Berejiklian said.

The NSW government’s health order covers the Blue Mountains, Wollongong and the Central Coast of NSW as well.

Congregations limited to 100 …

The Premier also announced that congregations will be capped at 100 persons.

Premier Berejiklian defended her decision on the go-ahead for the New Year’s Test as necessary to preserve jobs and keep public morale high.

… but 24,000 at a Cricket Test allowed

However the apparent continuing contradictory approach had attracted criticism from public health experts who had already questioned why up to 24,000 people would be able to attend the Test, risking a super-spreader tsunami of infections, when other public events such as New Year’s Eve celebrations had been cancelled on the grounds of risks to public health.

Among those were Professor Raina MacIntyre, head of biosecurity and research at the University of NSW.

Speaking to Sydney commercial radio station 2GB on New Year’s Eve, she criticised Premier Berejiklian’s gradual approach as “piecemeal restrictions in the middle of what is a very serious outbreak.”

In relation to large public gatherings such as the Cricket Test, Prof MacIntyre and other health experts have warned that the specific risk comes from common areas of high-contact such as public toilets and food and beverage counters.

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