NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard has warned the state could be seeing as many as 25,000 Covid-19 cases a day in January if current infection levels remain.
Cases have more than quadrupled in a week, and Wednesday’s 1,360 infections is the first time in months the state has recorded more than a thousand new cases in a single day.
Mr Hazzard said the reproductive rate of the virus was more than 1.5, with infection numbers close to doubling with each day.
‘The simple math…is we’re looking at 25,000 cases a day by the end of January,’ he said referencing modelling from the University of NSW during a press conference on Wednesday.
Chief Health Minister Dr Kerry Chant has meanwhile urged residents in the state to ‘limit’ their activities over the Christmas period as cases skyrocket and the Omicron variant wreaks havoc in the community.
“I would urge everyone to continue to wear masks in indoor environments. It’s a very tiny act and you’re protecting yourself and, more importantly, you’re protecting others,’ she said.
New South Wales has recorded 1,360 new cases of Covid-19 amid an easing of restrictions
The last time NSW’s daily case numbers were this high was on September 11, when 1,599 new cases were detected.
But the number of hospitalisations and deaths in NSW are a fraction of what they were then.
There was one Covid death on Tuesday and 166 people are in hospital with the virus, 24 of them in intensive care.
That compares with eight deaths reported on September 11, while 1,164 people were in hospital with Covid.
Meanwhile, Victoria recorded 1,405 infections overnight – up from 1,189 on Tuesday.
The Australian Medical Association’s Danielle McMullen has called for mask mandates to be extended amid rising cases in Australia’s two most populous states.
Sydneysiders are seen enjoying their new freedoms in Bondi on Wednesday morning after a string of restrictions were scrapped
Huge queues of cars are seen at a Covid-19 testing clinic in Bondi Beach on Wednesday following the surge in cases
Health workers are seen testing Sydneysiders at a drive through Covid clinic. Hospitalisations for the virus are down in the state on Wednesday
Masks are now only mandatory for NSW residents on public transport, in airports and planes, and for unvaccinated front of house hospitality staff. QR check-in codes have also been scrapped for most venues.
But Ms McMullen said the lifting of restrictions came too soon.
‘We’ve been worried in the weeks leading up to this and encouraging the government to reconsider the mask mandate in particular,’ Ms McMullen told the Today show on Wednesday.
‘We know that indoor masks are a really simple, cheap way of reducing the spread of Covid-19.
‘Unfortunately, they’re proceeding with lifting that mandate on masks, but we’re really encouraging people to keep their mask on indoors.’
She said she expected many within the community to be feeling ‘nervous’ about the easing of restrictions on Wednesday, adding Christmas celebrations could now be canned as a result.
Amid the new rule changes in NSW, there will also be no cap on visitors in homes, hospitality venues, or on numbers for outdoor public gatherings.
The unvaccinated, who have remained in quasi-lockdown since restrictions eased for the vaccinated in October, can return to hospitality venues and non-essential retail.
The changes also mean there will be no limit to the number of visitors you can have in your home.
There will also be no limit to the number of people allowed at outdoor public gatherings.
Masks are only required in select settings as of Wednesday with QR check-in codes also scaled back (pictured in Bondi Beach)
Crowds of Sydneysiders are seen at a cafe on Wednesday morning
All visitors to residents in aged care facilities and disability homes are permitted in line with their policies.
Non-critical retail will reopen to all and there will be no person limit for personal services – including hairdressers, spas, beauty and nail salons, tattoo and massage parlours.
Brothels are also allowed to open.
Deakin University epidemiologist Catherine Bennett says the latest infection numbers are not surprising because ‘we’re in spreader event time pre-Christmas’, with parties, large social events and end-of-school functions.
‘We won’t get in front of Omicron because it’s moving as fast, if not faster than Delta,’ she told ABC TV.
However, the variant was not concerning authorities as previous outbreaks because it was primarily infecting a younger, vaccinated cohort and presenting as a milder illness, she said.
‘The good news is that so far we haven’t seen that translate into a shift in hospitalisations,’ she said.
Booster vaccines would be important to reduce transmission, she said.
Meanwhile, 200 cases have been linked to the Argyle House nightclub in Newcastle.
Police are investigating a positive Covid case who attended the nightclub when they were meant to be in isolation, triggering an outbreak of more than 200 people.
NSW Health issued an alert for The Argyle House nightclub in Newcastle (pictured) late Sunday night identifying all attendees as close contacts after transmission of Covid at the venue on the night of December 8
The NSW Health Minister on Tuesday referred the reveller who attended the Argyle House nightclub in Newcastle to authorities, alleging they were under an order to self isolate and absconded quarantine.
‘Out of the roughly 650 to 680 people that were there at the club on Wednesday 8th December … there’s now more than 200 patrons who are positive to COVID,’ Brad Hazzard told Nine News.
Most of them are believed to have the highly infections Omicron strain, but further testing is underway to confirm.
The outbreak is linked to a boat party five nights earlier on Sydney Harbour where at least five people caught the virus.
Christmas and end of year celebrations are being given the blame for the sudden surge in cases in NSW.
Despite the spike in cases, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said he has no plans to implement anymore lockdowns.
NSW lockdown roadmap: the rules from Wednesday, December 15
These apply to everyone, regardless of vaccination status
MASKS AND QR CODES
- Masks will only be required on public transport and planes, at airports and for indoors front-of-house hospitality staff not fully vaccinated
- QR check-ins only required for hospitals, aged and disability care facilities, gyms, places of worship, funerals or memorial services, personal services, pubs, small bars, registered clubs, nightclubs, strip clubs, sex on premises, and indoor music festivals with more than 1000 people
EXERCISE AND RECREATION
- No limit to number in gyms, indoor recreation and sporting facilities
SHOPPING AND PERSONAL SERVICES
- Non-critical retail reopens to all
- No person limit for personal services including hairdressers, spas, beauty and nail salons, tattoo and massage parlours
WORKING FROM HOME
- Employers allow staff to work from home at their discretion
- International travellers who are not fully vaccinated still need to quarantine on arrival for 14 days
VISITING FRIENDS AND FAMILY
- No limit to number of visitors in homes
- No limit to number of people for outdoor public gatherings
- All visitors to residents in aged care facilities and disability homes permitted in line with their policies
RESTAURANTS AND HOSPITALITY
- No person limit in hospitality venues
- Singing and dancing permitted indoors and outdoors for all
TRAVEL AND TRANSPORT
- Travel between Greater Sydney and regional NSW permitted
- Carpooling permitted
- Caravan parks and camping grounds open
EVENTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
- No person limit for major recreation facilities like stadiums, theme parks and race courses
- No person limit for entertainment facilities like cinemas and theatres
- No person limit for information and education facilities like art galleries, museums and libraries
- No person limit for outdoor public gatherings and recreation
- Music festivals reopen with 20,000 person limit
- Amusement centres and play centres open to all
WEDDINGS AND RELIGIOUS CEREMONIES
- Weddings and funerals permitted with no person limit, eating and drinking allowed while standing and dancing permitted
- Singing and dancing indoors permitted
- Places of worship open to everyone
Source: NSW government