NSW authorities have stopped daily reporting of the isolation status of coronavirus patients, and whether they are linked to known clusters.
The move came on Friday, as the state reported another 882 local COVID cases.
For the first time, the daily update came without any information about how many of the new cases were linked to existing outbreaks.
Also missing was information about how many had been in isolation while infectious – a key figure that has shown how the majority of new virus patients have spent at least some time in the community as the state’s outbreak has spread.
“With current case volumes, this data is not a meaningful representation of case investigations,” a spokesperson told the ABC.
The data will instead be included in a weekly report.
Just 10 days ago, as the state’s daily case tally hit 452, NSW Health said it had also stopped listed many of the growing number of virus exposure sites across Sydney. Instead it would focus on settings with the “highest risk”, director of health protection Jeremy McAnulty said.
Both decisions also likely reflect the growing strain on NSW’s contact tracing as COVID cases continue to soar.
With Friday’s update, there have now been 16,556 local infections in NSW since its Delta outbreak began in mid-June. It has had 22,157 local virus cases since the pandemic began and – for the first time – has passed Victoria as the state with the highest number.
Victoria, which confirmed another 79 local infections on Friday, has had a total of 21,773 cases throughout the pandemic.
NSW also reported two more COVID-related fatalities on Friday. They were a man in his 60s from Sydney’s Nepean Blue Mountains District who died at Nepean Hospital and a man in his 90s from western Sydney who died at Concord Hospital. Both caught the virus in Sydney hospitals.
They take the state’s toll from the current outbreak to 81.
Heading back to school
Also on Friday, Premier Gladys Berejiklian revealed her plan for students to begin a staggered return to the classroom from October 25.
Under the plan, all students are due to return to school by November 8, and the HSC will be pushed back to November 9.
There will be strict restrictions, including banning large gatherings and mandating vaccinations and mask-wearing for staff.
High school students will also have to wear masks and primary school students will be encouraged to do so, for the first time.
“Minimal mixing, not having extra adults, no assemblies or large gatherings,” Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said on Friday.
NSW Teachers Federation president Angelo Gavrielatos said the return to school will be conditional on the NSW vaccination rate reaching 70 to 80 per cent of the population and fewer than 50 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people.
But he cautiously welcomed the government’s plan.
“It’s not without its challenges … but these are the health measures that are necessary to keep people safe,” Mr Gavrielatos said.
“The road map is something that we would aspire to … ultimately we want students to return to face-to-face teaching and learning.”
As of Friday, NSW had 62 per cent of its eligible population who had received at least one COVID shot.
Children aged 12 to 15 were officially added to Australia’s vaccine rollout on Friday. Bookings for the age group will open from September 13, following a green light from the national expert immunisation panel.
In NSW, kindergarten and year one students will return to the classroom on October 25, followed by years two, six and 11 the following week.
All students will be back at school by November 8, or week six of term four.
Year 12, who are already able to attend school up to two hours a day, will also be able to increase their time on campus from October 25.
For students in NSW local government areas that come out of lockdown earlier, they will be able to return to the classroom immediately.
All people who work in a school setting will need to be vaccinated by November 8.
Mr Gavrielatos said it remained unclear whether teachers would face the sack if they refused to get vaccinated.
“We will continue to encourage all teachers to be vaccinated consistent with the advice from their doctors, because we recognise that vaccinations are key to getting us out of this pandemic,” he said.
“Clearly there are employment implications arising from the announcement today mandating vaccinations for teachers, that’s a public health order.”
When asked if teachers will lose their jobs if they refuse to be vaccinated, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said: “They are issues and challenges we will work through.”
About 70 per cent of teachers are already partially vaccinated.
The Universities Admissions Centre said it supported the changes to the HSC, reiterating its commitment that students will still receive an ATAR.