NSW is just weeks away from “effectively cutting loose” after almost three months in COVID-19 lockdown, the health minister says.
But everyone needs to remain disciplined until 70 per cent double-dose vaccination coverage is reached.
NSW reported 1063 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 and six deaths in the 24 hours to 8pm on Wednesday as the state’s Delta outbreak surpasses 50,000 infections.
Of the six deaths, one person was in their 50s, one in their 60s, one in their 70s, two in their 80s and one in their 90s.
It takes the toll for the current outbreak to 266, while the number of cases since June 16 has surpassed 50,000.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard on Thursday acknowledged the pandemic had been “gruelling” for everyone and reiterated hospitalisations in NSW would not peak until October.
But as vaccination coverage among those 16 and over continues to rise, the end of lockdown is drawing near.
Once 70 per cent double-dose coverage is reached, fully vaccinated NSW residents can again visit the homes of others and attend hospitality venues, retail outlets, gyms and sport matches.
These freedoms may be restored as soon as October 11, the Monday after the 70 per cent mark is likely to be reached.
Additional freedoms – including international travel – will be restored at 80 per cent double-dose coverage.
More than 83 per cent of NSW residents 16 and over have had at least one jab, and 55.46 per cent are fully vaccinated.
“We are getting there, it’s a really positive time,” Mr Hazzard said.
“We’re moving towards Christmas and it looks like we’ll all be able to effectively cut loose – there’ll be some restrictions but we’ll be able to have a much better life in the coming weeks.”
There are currently 1244 COVID-19 patients in hospital in NSW, with 233 in intensive care units and 112 on ventilators.
Meanwhile, two dozen people have contracted COVID-19 in the second major outbreak at Liverpool Hospital in southwest Sydney, with six wards affected.
Those infected include 13 patients and two staff members in the orthopaedics ward, five patients in the geriatrics ward, three patients and one staff member in the neurology ward, two patients and one staff member in the renal ward, one patient in the cardiothoracic ward as well as an intensive care nurse.
All hospital staff members who tested positive for COVID-19 are fully vaccinated and Mr Hazzard says the cause of the new outbreak remains unclear.
The previous outbreak, sparked when a nurse unknowingly worked while infectious in late July, left 12 people dead.
NSW Health has launched a recruitment campaign to boost its pandemic response workforce, aiming to attract health professionals who may have retired, are taking a break from work or are now working elsewhere.
Lismore and Albury were released from stay-at-home orders at midnight after no new cases were reported in the regions since they were locked down on September 16.
Several local council areas in the state’s west were freed overnight too, with Gilgandra and Brewarrina now at least 14 days virus-free.
Restrictions will also ease in Narromine from Saturday provided the town has no cases or sewage detections before then.
The Glen Innes and Orange local government areas will also exit lockdown from Friday, but Hilltops will remain locked down.
Meanwhile, a NSW Parliament staff member has tested positive for COVID.
Parliament’s executive director of corporate services Kelly McFadyen sent an email to MPs on Thursday informing them of the case.
The person was in parliament on Tuesday and Wednesday last week when the Legislative Council tried to sit and tested negative to the Rapid Antigen Testing on those days.
“Advice this morning from the parliament’s occupational hygienists … is that there is extremely low risk to the parliamentary community and no testing or isolation is required for those who came into contact with the staff member last week,” she said.