The NSW government has ruled out a statewide lockdown, even as COVID bleeds into more regions and the ACT begins a snap lockdown.
Additional military troops are likely to be called into virus-hit areas of NSW and may be used to help administer AstraZeneca vaccines.
NSW reported 345 more local COVID-19 cases in the 24 hours to 8pm on Wednesday and at least 91 were in the community while infectious, while 138 remain under investigation.
Two Sydney men in their 90s also died, including one resident of Wyoming Aged Care in Summer Hill. One of the men had received one vaccination dose while the other was fully vaccinated.
“We can understand people in their 90s are frail and vulnerable,” deputy chief health officer Marianne Gale said on Thursday.
The majority of the NSW population is already in lockdown, including more than six million people in greater Sydney and surrounds. They are under-stay-at-home orders at least until August 28 as authorities battle to contain the virulent Delta strain outbreak.
North-west NSW, Dubbo, Armidale, Tamworth, Byron Bay and the Hunter region are also enduring snap lockdowns.
On Thursday, the ACT announced it would begin a snap shutdown at 5pm after a case of COVID – its first in more than a year – was detected in Canberra.
The infected man, who is in his 20s, spent days in the community before his positive diagnosis. ACT chief health officer Kerryn Coleman warned he had visited “a large number of venues”, while the source of his infection is not yet confirmed.
By early Thursday afternoon, reports had emerged of panic buying at Canberra supermarkets.
“This is a very serious situation and we want you to take it seriously. But we also want you to stay calm and be thoughtful about your actions,” ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said.
“Like every other jurisdiction has had to do, we want to remind you that supermarkets will remain open and grocery shopping will continue to be allowed during this seven-day lockdown. There is no need for panic buying.”
Confirmation of the man’s infection came just hours after NSW Health sounded the alarm about the virus in wastewater samples on the NSW south coast.
More than 18,000 residents from Bomaderry were urged to remain on alert for virus symptoms. There are no known coronavirus cases in the area.
But despite the ongoing seepage of the virus from Sydney, Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the state government had no intention of implementing a statewide lockdown.
He admitted health systems in rural areas – particularly in north-west NSW, home to large Indigenous populations – were stretched.
The rural community of Walgett and surrounds, in NSW’s north-west, was sent into a snap lockdown with little more than an hour’s notice on Wednesday night after it was found a positive case had spent time in the community.
“There is a defining difference between NSW and other states – we have always tried to keep as much of NSW open as possible,” Mr Hazzard said.
“We will progressively look at those areas that have problems but at this stage I don’t see any reason on the advice I’ve had to date why we would move further than [where] the problems are.”
Also on Thursday, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the Sydney local government areas of Bayside, Strathfield and Burwood would face restrictions akin to those in the city’s west and south-west from 4pm.
There are now 12 council areas under the harsher restrictions, involving more than half of greater Sydney’s residents.
They remain confined to their local council areas unless they are authorities workers. All shopping and exercising must be within five kilometres of home.
Ms Berejiklian has also flagged tougher lockdown compliance measures, anticipating more military assistance in the coming days.
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller was working with health officials on a range of measures to let the government know “what he needs to clamp down on compliance”, she said.
Mr Fuller will report back to the government by week’s end.
Ms Berejiklian and NSW Health’s Dr Gale both reiterated that all adults in greater Sydney should urgently seek out any available vaccine.
“People are realising, you might think you are OK with the virus but your closest loved ones will not be,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“[Military help] might involve them using their logistical expertise, especially in relation to dispensing the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“We know many communities are responding to word of mouth and turning up without making bookings. We want to make sure we have additional points of access for that to be the case.”
Meanwhile, NSW Health said workers at Sydney Markets in Homebush would have access to COVID-19 vaccinations this week, at overnight pop-up clinics set up on site.
The AstraZeneca clinics started on Wednesday night, running from 10.30pm to 5.30am, and will open again overnight on Thursday.
To make it easier for delivery drivers and stall operators to get vaccinated, day clinics will also open on Friday and Saturday for workers.
More than 6400 supermarket and food industry workers have so far been vaccinated at the NSW Health Vaccination Centre at Sydney Olympic Park.
NSW has 62 COVID-19 patients in intensive care, with 29 ventilated.