The New South Wales police commissioner, Mick Fuller, has conceded that police do not yet know whether the driver who sparked Sydney’s Covid-19 outbreak breached any laws, saying he has sought urgent outside legal advice on the case.
As the cluster of cases from the state’s Bondi outbreak grew to 65 on Friday, questions about the state’s regulatory regime for drivers transporting international aircrew remained opaque.
Fuller admitted he had received “mixed messages” about whether the limousine driver was in breach of any public health orders, and had sought legal advice over 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.”
Authorities believe the Bondi man 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.
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 existing 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.
While air transportation guidelines state “the driver and all passengers must wear a mask that covers the nose and mouth at all times”, the NSW health minister, Brad Hazzard, on Friday seemed to concede that this was not covered by an enforceable public health order.
During a press conference, Hazzard confirmed he would update public health orders to include “stepping up” the guidelines to ensure they were complied with.
“We’ve been on this journey for 16 months and, by far, the majority of our community comply with the orders, and they comply with the guidelines that are set under those orders,” he said.
“We will, though, now be having orders that will be effective as from 4pm today requiring that people comply with those guidelines effectively.
“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 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.