NSW has confirmed 608 new locally acquired cases of coronavirus and seven further deaths, as the state closes in on vaccination targets.
Health authorities reported the fresh infections were detected from 85,642 tests in the 24 hours to 8pm on Monday.
Sadly, another seven NSW residents died during that period, including six men and one woman.
Of the fatalities, one person was in their 50s, two people were in their 60s, three people were in their 70s, and one person was in their 80s.
Five were from south western Sydney, one person was from western Sydney, and one person was from Dubbo, NSW Health said.
Five were not vaccinated, and two had received a first dose only.
NSW Health reported 978 COVID patients in hospital on Tuesday, with 190 in intensive care. Of those, 136 have not been vaccinated, 39 have received one dose and 15 are fully vaccinated. Ninety four people require ventilators.
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The state’s vaccination rate is nearing its 70 per cent double dose target, with the promise of eased restrictions likely motivating residents to go out and get the jab.
As of midnight on Sunday, 88.5 per cent of the NSW population aged over 16 years old had received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 67.5 per cent had been fully vaccinated.
The daily case numbers were the lowest since August, marking the fourth day in a row with fewer than 700 cases.
But NSW Health’s Dr Jeremy McAnulty said there had also been “slight decline” in testing numbers.
“We really encourage people to come forward for testing as we get closer to more people getting vaccinated in the community,” Dr McAnulty said.
“It is really important we all maintain our vigilance for symptoms and come forward for testing so we don’t miss cases.”
School, elective surgery resumes for some
Meanwhile, more than 140,000 students in NSW regional communities returned to face-to-face learning at school for the start of term four.
With COVID-19 restrictions eased across many parts of rural and regional NSW, 721 schools – almost a third of the state’s public schools – welcomed all students back on site.
COVID-safe settings will include QR-code check-ins, no visitors, restricted activities, increased hygiene practices and the wearing of masks.
Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said the staggered return to school will continue from October 18.
“After a disrupted term three, it is more important than ever that students receive the academic, social and wellbeing benefits of being in the classroom,” she said.
“I know there remain some concerns in the community around the return to school, but students, staff and parents should feel confident our schools are as safe as possible.”
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Restrictions also eased in 19 private hospitals in NSW where non-urgent surgery resumed after it was cancelled in late August due to the pandemic.
Non-urgent surgery at public hospitals remains postponed.
“This is to ensure we retain adequate system capacity, as well as patient, staff and public safety, for the delivery of healthcare services during the COVID-19 response,” NSW Health said in a statement.
In regional NSW, stay-at-home orders are underway for the Lismore local government area and the town of Casino.
It comes as more regions enter lockdown, with Gunnedah, Cowra and Port Macquarie also added to the list of local government areas following stay-at-home orders.