NSW has reported a record 38,625 new Covid-19 cases and 11 deaths with Dominic Perrottet set to reintroduce tough restrictions in a massive backflip on his promise to keep the state open.
The premier is considering suspending elective surgery, shutting nightclubs, banning singing and dancing in pubs, and pausing major events.
The changes to the rules are expected to be finalised later this morning despite Mr Perrottet claiming it was time to learn to ‘live with the virus’, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.
Hospitalisation rates have continued to climb with 1,738 patients being treated – up from 1,609 reported on Thursday. ICU figures have also increased to 134 – an uptick from 131.
Venues are set to be discouraged from allowing people to standup while drinking. Meanwhile, major events would be risk-assessed by NSW Health and postponed if required.
Further Covid-19 restrictions could be introduced on Friday such as nightclub closures, a ban on singing and dancing and pausing major events (pictured, Sydneysiders attend Christmas parties for 2021 end-of-year celebrations)
NSW on Thursday also reported six deaths including a vaccinated and otherwise healthy ACT man in his 20s who died at Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital.
The other fatalities were four men and a woman aged in their 60s, 80s and 90s. Two were from Lake Macquarie in the Hunter Region and three from western Sydney.
The number of people in hospital (1609) and intensive care units (131), as well as those on ventilators (38) also rose.
Premier Dominic Perrottet warned the state may suspend elective surgeries to relieve pressure on the hospital system.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet is expected to finalise anticipated restrictions on Friday morning as he reveals Covid-19 testing sites are at capacity (pictured, people endure long queues for PCR tests in Sydney during January)
Private hospitals could also be asked to help ‘in managing … these increases in cases’, he said.
Australian Medical Association NSW president Danielle McMullen said the indication elective surgery could be cancelled was ‘yet another sign of a system in crisis’ and suspending surgeries was an ‘avoidable’ move that ‘will have profound consequences for patients’.
‘Elective surgery shouldn’t be a tap that government turns on and off to cover for serious cracks in our healthcare system,’ Dr McMullen says.
Under new restrictions venues could be discouraged from allowing people to standup while drinking (pictured, seated diners enjoy a meal and drinks at Sydney’s Opera Bar in October)
Many of NSW’s testing sites and pathology labs are also under strain due to high demand.
Mr Perrottet said the testing system was at full capacity and it will take time to relieve the pressure as people adjust to new testing guidelines.
Under changes approved on Wednesday by national cabinet, people who test positive after a rapid antigen test won’t have to get a PCR test to confirm the result.
Employers should also stop asking workers to get PCR tests when they are asymptomatic.
‘Given the current strain on the system, (PCR tests) are taking days to come back, so the (need) as we move forward for employers to be saying that to employees, is very, very low,’ the premier told Sydney radio 2GB.
Opposition Leader Chris Minns said NSW is in a crucial period where it needs to protect the hospital system and find a way to monitor the prevalence of the virus in the community as testing shifts predominantly to RAT kits.
Mr Perrottet said the testing system was at full capacity and it will take time to relieve the pressure as people adjust to new testing guidelines (pictured, healthcare workers administer PCR tests at St Vincent’s Hospital drive-thru clinic, Bondi Beach, on New Year’s Eve)
‘The government still needs to be aware where those cases are popping up so that resources can be deployed,’ Mr Minns said.
Health authorities could be left ‘flying blind’ if there was no way for people to self report their results from RAT kits, he said.
Unlike PCR tests, RAT results are not registered.
The AMA is meeting with NSW Health on Thursday to establish how infections detected under the kits will be tracked.
Some of the 50 million RAT kits recently ordered by NSW will begin arriving next week.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has backtracked on his call for calm that NSW would stay open despite surging Covid-19 case numbers
They will be distributed in conjunction with the federal government through pharmacies and ‘potentially in testing centres and vaccination hubs’, as well as to frontline staff in schools, Mr Perrottet said.
The federal government still faces calls to provide RAT kits for all Australians following the announcement they would only be provided free to six million concession cardholders across Australia, with each person able to get 10 over the next three months.
The deal is predicted to cost the federal government $850million and comes after escalating calls for free tests loudened amid crippling nationwide shortages.
Australian Medical Association NSW chair Michael Bonning said providing some free tests did not go far enough.
Some of the 50 million RAT kits recently ordered by NSW will begin arriving next week amid stock shortages (pictured, a healthcare worker undertakes a rapid antigen test)
‘We need more rapid antigen tests in the community so that people can be making good choices about activity, but also detecting disease early so that then they can stay away from others,’ Dr Bonning told Nine’s Today program.
The move hoped to alleviate pressure on testing facilities around the country struggling to keep up with demand as states record numbers of new infections.
In just two days NSW recorded 70,000 Covid-19 infections and a significant spike in hospitalisations as Omicron sweeps the state.
NSW Health Deputy Secretary Susan Pearce said on Wednesday it planned to quadruple vaccinations at its state hubs.
More than 300,000 jabs are expected to be delivered by the end of January as the government prepares a ‘targeted’ response to the Omicron outbreak.
‘The alternative is, as we move through this next phase of the pandemic is to go back into lockdown,’ Mr Perrottet said last Tuesday.
‘That is not what we’re doing in NSW, that is not the alternative that we’re considering.
‘We’ve said we will tailor our response to the situation that comes. If evidence changes, we will have targeted restrictions in place.
‘But the key metric here is vaccination rates, that is our key to success.’