NSW has recorded 646 new Covid cases and 11 new deaths from the virus as Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant warned of a worrying new mutation in the Delta strain.
Officials in the state said two women and nine men were among the 11 Covid-related fatalities in the 24 hours to 8pm on Thursday night.
Dr Chant said genome sequencing carried out on eight cases in NSW had detected a different variant of the highly-contagious strain that has plunged Greater Sydney into lockdown for the past 12 weeks.
‘We’ve found a new strain of Delta that has different sequencing to the current strain circulating in Sydney,’ she said as she announced the latest figures in a live video address on Friday.
The state’s deputy premier earlier on Friday denied claims Dr Chant – NSW’s top health official – refused to endorse Premier Dominic Perrottet’s accelerated easing of lockdown restrictions, as new data shows the hospital system is under less strain than predicted.
Overnight it was reported she did not support the changes made to Freedom Day by Mr Perrottet – before she was ‘snubbed’ from his first press conference.
Dr Chant was noticeably absent on Thursday as the new premier unveiled a raft of changes to the roadmap out of lockdown.
But on Friday morning NSW Deputy Premier Paul Toole rejected reports she was not on board with the changes.
‘No, that’s not the case,’ he told Sunrise. ‘I had a crisis cabinet the day before and Kerry Chant was in the meeting. We don’t make decisions without the support of NSW Health or Dr Kerry Chant.’
It comes as NSW Health figures exclusively obtained by Daily Mail Australia reveal demand on the health system was actually lower than expected in October – the month cases and hospitalisations were supposed to peak – due to high vaccination levels.
Newly-minted Premier Dominic Perrottet on Thursday announced a revised strategy to reopen NSW
It comes as the Australian Medical Association of NSW has warned easing restrictions too quickly could inundate the hospital system with Covid cases and burn out workers.
‘We’ve got a new premier in the driver’s seat, but that’s not a good enough reason to deviate from the course previously set,’ AMA NSW President Danielle McMullen said.
‘Keeping people safe must be the premier’s top priority.
‘Relaxing restrictions too soon will not be a ‘popular’ decision if it means the number of people contracting the virus and ending up in hospital skyrockets.’
But in a statement provided to Daily Mail Australia, NSW Health said high vaccination rates meant demand on the health system was actually lower than expected in October, despite predictions case numbers would peak.
Modelling by NSW Health predicted the demand for hospital beds from Covid patients would peak in October, but instead the number of hospital admissions had fallen by 27 per cent since the peak on September 17.
‘Thanks to the faster-than-estimated rates of vaccination, this demand is currently tracking lower than expected,’ a NSW Health spokesman told Daily Mail Australia.
‘However, our hospitals and ICU remain very busy with patients with Covid-19 and there are currently cases throughout the state.’
The Doherty Institute’s Katherine Gibney said while Covid case numbers will go up as restrictions loosen, easing out of lockdown is inevitable.
‘Hopefully with high vaccination rates we’ll be protected against the more severe disease and those requiring hospitalisation and ICU but we are expecting these to increase in the coming weeks and couple of months,’ Dr Gibney told ABC TV on Friday.
‘It has to be done. We can’t live in lockdown indefinitely.’
The new state leader announced an overhaul of NSW’s roadmap out of lockdown on Thursday (pictured, bar staff make drinks in Sydney)
Mr Perrottet on Thursday announced a revised strategy to reopen NSW.
After meeting with the crisis cabinet on Wednesday, when the state reached a 70 per cent double-dose vaccination milestone, Mr Perrottet announced the changes, with the state to emerge from months of lockdown on Monday.
As part of the new plans, indoor gatherings will be capped at 10 people, not counting children under 12. Outdoor gatherings will be lifted to 30 people.
NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant. Speculation has swirled around why Dr Chant was not present at Thursday’s press conference with one political reporter claiming she was in disagreement with Mr Perrottet’s revisions
For weddings and funerals, 100 people can attend.
NSW indoor swimming pools will also be able to open for lessons, training and rehabilitation activities.
Restrictions will ease further when 80 per cent of the adult population is fully jabbed, expected around October 25.
That’s when 3,000 people will be allowed at ticketed outdoor events and nightclubs can reopen, but without dancing.
Masks also won’t be required in office buildings in an attempt to encourage workers back into Sydney’s CBD.
‘We’ve got a new premier in the driver’s seat, but that’s not a good enough reason to deviate from the course previously set,’ AMA NSW President Danielle McMullen said
While the AMA NSW urged the premier to ‘pump the brakes’ on the easing of restrictions, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and lobby group Business NSW welcomed the state government’s road map changes
These freedoms will apply only for the fully vaccinated until December 1, when freedoms are restored for the unvaccinated.
While AMA NSW urged the premier to ‘pump the brakes’ on the easing of restrictions, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and lobby group Business NSW welcomed the state government’s road map changes.
Up to 10 residents excluding children will be allowed to gather inside homes across the state, and as many as 100 permitted to attend weddings and funerals (pictured, Opera Bar in Sydney)
‘With NSW passing the 70 per cent double vaccination rate threshold… Australians are beginning to get their lives back,’ Mr Morrison said.
However the hospitality sector had mixed feelings, with Restaurant and Catering Australia disappointed the caps on patrons were not increased or scrapped.
Speculation meanwhile has swirled around why Dr Chant was not present at Thursday’s press conference with one political reporter claiming she was in disagreement with Mr Perrottet’s revisions.
‘I have confirmed with multiple sources who are aware of the discussions last night with Dr Chant, that she did not fully endorse this new roadmap,’ 9 News political reporter Chris O’Keefe tweeted.
‘The Chief Health Officer warned the new premier all of these changes come with risk, but changing a roadmap that was only nine days old was ultimately a matter for the government.’
NSW’S LOCKDOWN ROADMAP: THE CHANGES
These apply to people who are fully vaccinated.
FROM OCTOBER 11:
* Indoor gatherings capped at 10 people (up from five)
* Outdoor gatherings capped at 30 people (up from 20)
* Weddings and funerals capped at 100 people (up from 50)
* Indoor swimming pools to reopen
* Workers in regional areas can return to their workplace if they’ve had one vaccination, but must be fully jabbed by November 1
FROM OCTOBER 25, AFTER NSW HITS 80 PER CENT DOUBLE-DOSE COVERAGE:
* Indoor gatherings capped at 20 people
* Outdoor gatherings capped at 50 people
* Ticketed outdoor events capped at 3000 people
* Nightclubs can reopen (no dancing)
* Masks no longer have to be worn in office buildings
CHANGES TO THE BACK-TO-SCHOOL PLAN:
* Kindergarten, Year One and Year 12 return on October 18
* All other years return on October 25