Health authorities are investigating whether an illegal party is the source of the Central Coast Covid outbreak which has plunged the Newcastle and the Hunter region into lockdown.
Five new cases have been identified on the Central Coast – all of which are school students – as Sydney’s spiralling coronavirus crisis spreads north into regional towns.
Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said on Thursday contact tracers are continuing to investigate but believe the initial infections stem from a party on a Lake Macquarie beach.
Lake Macquarie, the Hunter and the Central Coast have had next to no Covid cases but the Central Coast is in lockdown along with Sydney, the Blue Mountains and Illawarra.
Five new Covid cases have been identified on the Central Coast, including two students of Maitland Christian School (pictured)
While the party was not banned under local Covid restrictions, Dr Chant said some attendees are believed to have breached rules by travelling from locked-down areas.
‘We believe there may have been people there from Greater Sydney and that’s how it was introduced,’ Dr Chant said.
As the highly infectious Indian delta strain seeps into regional areas, Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced on Thursday the Newcastle and Hunter region – more than 100km north of Sydney – would enter a one-week lockdown from 5pm.
The local government areas that will go into lockdown are Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, Maitland, Port Stephens, Cessnock, Dungog, Singleton and Muswellbrook.
Residents in those LGAs will face the same strict stay-at-home orders as five million residents across Greater Sydney, who are in lockdown until at least August 28.
Dr Kerry Chant said health authorities believe the source of the Central Coast outbreak was a gathering at Blacksmith Beach (pictured) on Friday
Two students at Lake Munmorah Public School tested returned positive coronavirus results overnight, sending two schools and hundreds of staff and kids into isolation
Overnight it was revealed two of the students who tested positive in regional NSW attended Lake Munmorah Public School on the Central Coast.
Their older sibling of one student also tested positive and goes to Morisset High School near Lake Macquarie.
There are also two positive cases at Maitland Christian School in the Hunter Valley, with parents and teachers being informed via email on Thursday morning.
All three schools were shut down for deep cleaning on Wednesday after the positive tests and hundreds of students and stuff sent into isolation.
A Target employee working at Stockland Glendale shopping centre has also tested positive, with the building the latest high-risk exposure site.
Although social-gatherings are discouraged, Dr Chant thanked those who attended the beach party for being forthcoming about their actions.
‘If you have made a wrong judgement, if you have taken course of action that you regret, please tell us the truth,’ she said.
‘That will allow us to find out who was there and stop any chains of transmission.’
Newcastle residents flocked to get tested after learning of the new outbreak. Pictured: People queue for testing at The Mater Hospital in Newcastle
The alarming development comes as NSW reported 262 new locally acquired Covid cases on Thursday, with at least 72 of those people circulating in the community for all or part of their infectious period.
Five people have also died – three in their 60s, a man in his 70s and a woman in her 80s. None were fully vaccinated.
‘No one who has died has had both doses of vaccine. I cannot stress enough how it’s so important for everybody of all ages to come forward and get the vaccine,’ Ms Berejiklian said on Thursday.
‘All staff and students are asked to self-isolate until you receive further advice,’ Lake Munmorah Public School posted on social media.
Meanwhile, the unions representing both NSW public and private school teachers are urging the NSW government to delay the return to school of Greater Sydney’s year 12 student on August 16.
A massive queue has formed for Covid testing at Morriset as Morisset High School awaits deep cleaning after a student tested positive to Covid 19
The NSW Teachers Federation and the Independent Education Union of Australia joined forces on Thursday to resist the plan, saying it’s premature considering Covid-19 is still surging in Greater Sydney.
Since the end of June the highest number of Covid-19 infections (more than one quarter) had occurred among those aged 0-19 years, they said in a joint statement.
‘The situation in relation to Covid-19 and the Delta variant in NSW is clear. As the premier said, ‘things are only likely to get worse’,’ they said.
‘As teachers, we are determined to welcome students back to face-to-face learning as soon as possible, but this can only happen when it is safe to do so.’
On Wednesday Premier Gladys Berejiklian cast doubt on when year 12 students would return to school saying, ‘we will have more to say about that’.
There are currently 51 Covid-19 patients in NSW in intensive care, with 24 ventilated.