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NSW toughens Covid rules for airport transport workers as police seek advice on Sydney limo driver


Drivers in New South Wales transporting international passengers and aircrew will now be required to be vaccinated against Covid and wear a mask.

The new rules were introduced after there was confusion over whether the driver at the centre of the Bondi outbreak, who was not vaccinated and did not wear a mask, had breached the law.

As the cluster of cases from the state’s Bondi outbreak reached 65 on Friday, NSW Health announced changes to the public health order to require drivers and passengers in a vehicle transporting international passengers to wear a mask.

Earlier on Friday, NSW health minister, Brad Hazzard, seemed to concede that while air transportation guidelines had stated “the driver and all passengers must wear a mask that covers the nose and mouth at all times”, they were not enforceable..

During a press conference, Hazzard flagged the updated public health orders.

“We’re stepping up the guidelines on mask-wearing for those drivers of people coming in from international flights – whether they’re passenger flights or whether they’re cargo flights, they are crews involved with the transportation of passengers in some cases.”

The rules were also changed to require designated airport workers, quarantine facility workers and transport providers to be vaccinated.

Employers will be responsible for barring staff members from working if they haven’t had at least one vaccination, and employees must do a daily saliva test for Covid-19.

Authorities believe the driver from Bondi caught the virus from a US air crew some time in the fortnight before 11 June.

He had been working as a limousine driver transporting international air crews to and from Sydney airport, and health officials believe he may have caught the virus from three crew members of a FedEx freight plane.

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The NSW police commissioner, Mick Fuller, conceded that police do not yet know whether the driver breached any laws, saying he has sought urgent outside legal advice on the case.

“I’ve received mixed messages in terms of whether or not he has breached the health order, so we have sent it out for urgent legal advice now,” Fuller told the Sydney radio station 2GB.

“Why have we done that? I think [given] the significance of this outbreak and the community concern, I just need to tick every box, I suppose, in terms of making sure whether he has or hasn’t definitively breached the health order.”

The driver who is in his 60s reportedly told media he believes that he contracted the virus from a patron at a cafe he frequented in Vaucluse.

On Friday the NSW chief medical officer, Dr Kerry Chant, did not rule out that as a possibility, but said the flight crew remained the most “plausible” means of transmission.

“Obviously at the beginning when we have a diagnosis in someone who transports flight crew, I think that it is reasonable that we would make that assumption, and that is probably on strong epidemiological grounds, that that is likely to be the hypothesis,” she said.

“I think that I have stressed that throughout Covid, you have to keep an open mind to all different ideas, but that certainly, the advice that I’ve had, it’s consistent with that being the most plausible.”

But authorities have given little insight into the regulatory regime for drivers, and have by and large refused to answer questions on how they were being regulated in the lead up to the outbreak.

While rules for transport crews were beefed up earlier this month to require drivers to undergo daily testing for Covid-19, neither NSW police or the health department have answered questions about who was responsible for enforcing that rule.

The Guardian contacted the limousine driver on Friday, but he did not respond to questions. While police said on Thursday that they were investigating whether the company he worked for may have breached any law, the Guardian understands he is a sole trader.

Police have also briefed SafeWork NSW as part of its investigation into whether the driver may have breached any regulations.

The new rules commenced at 4pm on Friday 25 June, however, the new vaccination rule does not come into effect until noon on Monday 28 June. Sydney airport workers can get a Pfizer shot at the airport.



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