COVID restrictions will remain in force across Sydney for Christmas, despite just eight more cases in the Northern Beaches outbreak on Wednesday.
There will be “modest” changes to virus rules for greater Sydney, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said, with lockdown rules to ease for some residents of the Northern Beaches.
Nearly 42,000 test results were received in the 24 hours to 8pm Tuesday, a third day of bumper tests after more than 44,000 on Monday and 38,000 on Sunday.
NSW recorded eight locally acquired cases of COVID-19 in the 24 hours to 8pm last night, with an additional eight cases in returned travellers in hotel quarantine. Seven of the locally acquired cases are linked to the Avalon cluster. pic.twitter.com/f9dG20HVhI
— NSW Health (@NSWHealth) December 23, 2020
Just eight cases were recorded overnight. Seven of those are linked to the Avalon cluster, with the eighth being a contact of Tuesday’s case of a nurse who transported people from the airport to hotel quarantine. However, further genomic testing has indicated that nurse’s infection may be linked to Avalon too, not her quarantine job.
It’s also the third day in a row of a falling number of new cases in the Northern Beaches outbreak – after 30 on Sunday, 15 on Monday and eight on Tuesday. However, NSW is yet to track down the crucial ‘patient zero’ who initially seeded the virus into the region.
“That causes us a concern when we don’t know how that acquisition occurred,” said NSW Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerry Chant.
She specifically asked Central Coast residents to get tested, after sewage surveillance picked up traces of the virus at a treatment plant in Kincumber serving the Gosford area on Monday. Dr Chant said the 140,000 residents should be on “high alert” and get tested if they had even the mildest symptoms, following a confirmed case having visited Avoca last weekend.
She also revealed a Qantas staff member had tested positive, after flying from overseas into Darwin and then Sydney on December 18. Dr Chant said authorities were still scrambling to secure more details, with the case only confirmed shortly before the 11am press conference, but promised more information would come soon.
Christmas restrictions altered
Despite hopes for a broader relaxation of rules, some “modest” changes to restrictions will be temporarily applied for Christmas.
Greater Sydney’s current rule of only 10 visitors to a home each day will be “tweaked” so that children under 12 are not included for December 24-26. It will revert to current settings on December 27.
Things will also change for the Northern Beaches hotzone, currently under lockdown, with the area to be split into a northern and southern part.
Premier Berejiklian said the northern part, “the epicentre of the cluster”, would have stricter rules than the southern part. People in the Beaches are will remain under lockdown rules, but a new reason to leave home has been added – “to visit the home of others who live within this zone.”
North of the Narrabeen Bridge, in the ‘peninsula zone’, people will be able to have five visitors to their home, if all live in that same area. South of the bridge, people will be able to have 10 visitors, which “may include people from outside this zone, not including the Northern Beaches peninsula zone.”
if you're confused about the new rules in NSW on visitors, Northern Beaches "zones" (they are a bit confusing) here's the official statement from Berejiklian and Hazzard explaining it#auspolhttps://t.co/WElj160rza pic.twitter.com/31HqaN8gIr
— Josh Butler (@JoshButler) December 23, 2020
“Both the science and the health advice tells us there are two distinct parts of the Northern Beaches and we’ll separate those areas geographically,” Ms Berejiklian said.
The Premier flagged a revisiting of rules for the Northern Beaches and Greater Sydney on December 27, pending COVID numbers after Christmas.
‘Going to be stunned’ with test numbers
A huge contact tracing and testing operation is underway across NSW.
After investigation, NSW Health now believes Tuesday’s case of the nurse is not linked to her high-risk job. Instead, genomic sequencing has indicated the woman’s infection is linked to the Avalon cluster. But again, the link between the nurse and Avalon is still not clear, and under investigation.
Dr Chant and Ms Berejiklian again praised the work of contact tracers, who are compiling incredibly detailed lists of many dozens of venues visited by COVID cases, and health staff conducting record numbers of tests.
“I think you’re going to be stunned by the level of testing that we report [tomorrow],” Dr Chant said.
Tuesday’s reporting of 44,400 tests was the highest ever in NSW, with Wednesday’s 41,865 the second-highest. NSW Health told The New Daily it has “capacity to deliver many more if required”.
Scam text alert
NSW Health is also warning people against a text message scam doing the rounds, where fake COVID test results are being shared and donations for health authorities are being requested.
NSW Health will never seek donations or notify people of positive COVID-19 results by text message. If you test positive for COVID-19 you will get a phone call from NSW Health as a priority and told what to do next.
— NSW Health (@NSWHealth) December 22, 2020
Only negative COVID results are notified by text. People who return a positive test are phoned, never messaged.
-more to come