Lives and livelihoods are being decided by the politics of lockdown.
The NSW Premier is under immense pressure from the Prime Minister as the vanguard state of prioritising living with the virus.
But living with Delta is a different equation.
A limousine driver transporting international flight crews unwittingly became the first case which would lead to ramifications for more than just the driver, his business or Sydney itself.
Gladys Berejiklian says she did the right thing, acting when she needed to, but two people have died and another city has been sent into lockdown as a result of this rapidly swelling outbreak.
Did NSW wait too long to act? Epidemiologists say the problem is a national one.
It wasn't until nine days after the first infection that restrictions were introduced across seven of the worst-hit local government areas.
Stay-at-home orders came as the next step for four of those areas.
But over 24 hours the caseload grew to 70, and those orders were thrown across the entirety of greater Sydney, the Blue Mountains, the Central Coast and Wollongong.
Labelled a "lockdown lite" by experts, the number of allowable household guests was curtailed, masks were mandated and venue capacity was cut down.
Contact tracers - widely regarded as Australia's best - seemed to have the situation under control; cases were growing by upwards of 20 a day, but few were unlinked to existing known cases.
Outdoor gatherings limited to two, and a 10-kilometre radius for exercise and browsing in shops was put in place.
Questions started to come at each daily press conference - why hadn't Sydney shut down harder, earlier?
One expert who thinks NSW should have locked down and mandated masks far earlier is Associate Professor James Trauer, who heads Monash University's Epidemiological Modelling Unit.
He notes suppression was the approach agreed to by national cabinet in early July.
"You can blame NSW, but it was the national policy to be taking this general approach," he says.
Trauer argues the Delta variant is impossible to suppress, and a national elimination approach needs to be adopted.
Lockdown, he says, shouldn't be the last resort.
Ian Marschner, a professor of biostatistics at the University of Sydney, agrees lockdown needs to be quick and intense to prevent much longer-lasting outbreaks.
Restrictions have worked to stop exponential case growth in NSW, but the system is vulnerable should someone fail to the follow the rules.
"We have this pool of infectiousness bubbling along ... it's ready to take off," he says.
Berejiklian has staked her credibility as the leader of the most critical state during the pandemic on one person: her Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerry Chant.
It's much like how Scott Morrison pinned his credibility on the advice of Professor Brendan Murphy early in the pandemic, and more recently on the ATAGI advice on the rollout (which he then criticised).
While Morrison has been slippery when pressed in interviews about what he has learnt, and whether he would have done anything differently, Chant has taken a more considered line.
"We provided the advice promptly when we saw there were cases of unrecognised chains of transmission in the community," she says.
"When we realised again that would not work ... we recommended a full lockdown and the government promptly implemented that lockdown."
Berejiklian heralds the number of people infectious in the community as the key figure when it comes to determining if the Sydney outbreak is getting under control - but that number keeps jumping.
"You only get one chance to go hard and fast," Dan Andrews intoned after confirming to reporters on Thursday that Victoria was dealing with 24 active cases - all linked to the NSW outbreak.
"I am not prepared to avoid a five-day lockdown now, only to find ourselves in a five-week or a five-month lockdown."
Burnett Institute modelling suggests unless Sydney turns to restrictions at least as tough as those imposed for Melbourne's stage-four lockdown in 2020, millions of people could remain under tight rules until the end of the year.
This includes closing non-essential retail, travel being restricted to a five-kilometre radius from home, and a strict list of businesses permitted to operate.
The institute's deputy director, Professor Margaret Hellard, says the modelling found if strict stage-four rules were imposed it could take as few as four weeks to stamp out community transmission.
When NSW entered lockdown, case numbers were significantly lower than Victoria's second wave.
That means the likelihood of NSW getting it under control would be higher, Hellard says.
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But there isn't much room to move before NSW is in it for the long haul.
University of Sydney clinical epidemiologist Professor Angela Webster says NSW restrictions had been implemented so as not to marginalise already disadvantaged communities.
"You could shut the shops, but then what about the people who can't shop online?" she says.
She notes communities worst affected, including Fairfield at the outbreak's epicentre, were largely made up of essential workers in a casualised workforce supporting large households.
"They are the cleaners and the security [workers], they are the labourers ... all the people that need to keep working," she says.
Communication needs to be clear, and easy to action, particularly for Sydney's large culturally and linguistically diverse community, she adds.
Rather than saying please don't go out, specific messages such as "one person per household can go shopping each day" are more helpful.
The transport industry, where this all began, was identified as a risk factor early in 2020 - but even there, there is still no clear plan to prevent the planting of the next seed of destruction.
Lockdown and travel interruptions could be the only lever we have to pull when the virus threatens.
Vaccination is the answer, Marschner says - particularly for young people, who tend to move the virus around more.
Until that happens, lockdown is what we've got for now.