The NSW Hunter and Upper Hunter regions are about to begin a snap seven-day lockdown after a beach party near Newcastle, which authorities believe may be linked to a COVID-19 outbreak.
NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant said five new cases had been found in the Newcastle area and nine on the Central Coast.
“Obviously we’re very concerned about regional NSW,” she said on Thursday.
NSW confirmed 262 more local infections and five more virus-related deaths on Thursday, on its worst day in the current outbreak yet.
The deaths take the total number of fatalities linked to the existing outbreak to 21. They were three people in their 60s, one in their 70s and one in their 80s, and none were fully vaccinated (one had received a single dose).
Authorities are concerned that the virus that is raging across greater Sydney is seeping into the regions. NSW Health has picked up traces of COVID-19 in wastewater in Armidale and Dubbo.
The snap lockdown will take effect from 5pm Thursday and will apply across eight government areas in the Hunter and Upper Hunter where cases are on the rise.
Authorities believe a gathering at a beach near Newcastle that included a group from greater Sydney is responsible for the outbreak.
“We believe there is linkages back to western Sydney. That’s all I’m prepared to say on the matter because our focus is working with individuals to track down the chains of transmission,” Dr Chant said.
She wasn’t clear on whether the group was exempt from travelling when they met at Blacksmiths Beach in Lake Macquarie on Friday night.
“We think the source originated from a gathering on Blacksmiths Beach on Friday night.
“Can I just thank the people involved? Not that I want to see gatherings, but I also want people to tell us the truth,” she said.
“If they’ve made a wrong judgment, if they’ve taken course of action that they regret, please tell us the truth because that will allow us to find out who was there and stop any chains of transmission,” she said.
Eight areas of Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, Maitland, Port Stephens, Cessnock, Dungog, Singleton and Muswellbrook are affected by the stay-at-home orders.
They will face the same restrictions in force across the greater Sydney, Illawarra, Shellharbour and Central coast regions, including moving schools to learn from home.
“That means no school and the same stay-at-home provisions apply,” Ms Berejiklian said.
She also confirmed that some of the 180,000 extra Pfizer doses heading to NSW will be redirected to the regions.
“It means that in the week of 16 August, we can redirect those doses we had taken from the regions for the HSC students,” she said.
The recent outbreak has also closed several schools in the Central Coast area. There have been nine COVID-19 cases in the area, including eight from the same household.
Among the new cases on Thursday were five students from three local schools.
One student of Morisset High School at Lake Macquarie, which has about 800 students, has the virus. The school is closed for contact tracing and cleaning.
The student has two siblings who have also tested positive to COVID-19.
They attend a primary school on the Central Coast, Lake Munmorah Public School. It has also closed.