Helicopters and horseback police deployed to enforce lockdown orders in Sydney

Stay-at-home orders extended amid private school and rugby league Covid controversies

More than 100 police officers, including some on horseback, are being deployed to enforce coronavirus lockdown orders in response to breaches of them in Sydney’s southwestern suburbs.

Of the 38 Covid-19 cases confirmed in the state of New South Wales on Thursday, 21 were in southwestern Sydney, and the New South Wales state government is concerned about low testing rates in the area, which is home to large communities of immigrants.

Stay-at-home orders for Sydney and much of the state of New South Wales have been extended from two to three weeks amid a breakout of the Delta Covid-19 variant.

The police operation targeting southwestern Sydney will also use traffic and highway patrol officers, dog units and helicopters. Officers will patrol areas to enforce compliance and issue fines for breaches.


It has also emerged, in a controversy labelled "the jabs versus the jab-nots", that 163 boarders at one of Australia's most expensive private schools received the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine at a time when the country is struggling to get shots into arms.

Just 7.88 per cent of Australia’s population have been fully vaccinated and only 25.48 per cent have had even one dose.

But New South Wales’s health department subsequently said the distribution of the vaccines at St Joseph’s College, a Sydney Catholic school famed for educating Australian rugby internationals, was an error and that only Aboriginal pupils – who make up 4 per cent of the school population and are deemed a higher risk for Covid – were supposed to get the doses.

The error was emblematic of how Australia's vaccine rollout has been going. New South Wales health minister Brad Hazzard angered many when he answered "So what?" and "Move on" when questioned about the controversy.

Cause of delays

Australia's overreliance on the AstraZeneca vaccine and the ever-shifting age groups for which it is deemed suitable is thought to be the main cause of vaccination delays. Expectations had been raised last September when prime minister Scott Morrison said: "The federal government is providing hope through a sovereign vaccine plan which will keep Australia right up the front" of the international queue for vaccination doses.

The opposition Labour Party health spokesman Mark Butler recently reminded Mr Morrison of this, putting it to him in parliament question time that "we're so far back, we can't even see the front of the queue".

Some of the government’s Covid-19 spending seems to have offered little value. Consulting firm McKinsey Pacific Rim was paid A$660,000 (€418,000) for vaccine strategy advice, but the only document Australia’s health department could show for the money was an eight-page summary of publicly available data. But with much of the country back in lockdown the McKinsey story was barely reported.

A Covid-related sum that made much more news is the A$800,000 per year club contract rugby-league player Paul Vaughan lost after hosting a lockdown-breaching party last weekend. Twelve of his St George Illawarra team-mates who attended the party have received fines of up to A$50,000 and been banned for a game each, effectively ending the club's chances of making the NRL season finals.

Pádraig Collins

Pádraig Collins

Pádraig Collins a contributor to The Irish Times based in Sydney