News Coronavirus Masks, check-ins, unvaccinated – NSW rules to change as cases spike
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Masks, check-ins, unvaccinated – NSW rules to change as cases spike

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Masks will be dumped in most situations across NSW from Wednesday, despite a jump in virus cases. Photo: Getty
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NSW will push on with plans to scrap almost all virus rules and return freedoms to the unvaccinated on Wednesday, despite COVID cases leaping to a 10-week high.

There were 804 infections across the state on Tuesday, up 268 on Monday.

It is the highest daily number since the NSW lockdowns ended, and compares to a recent low of 179 on November 30.

There have also been a flurry of warnings about the virus’ spread in pubs and other venues. NSW Health is battling to contain several large outbreaks, and issued an alert for a Newcastle pub on Monday.

There were more than 100 new COVID infections in Newcastle on Tuesday, with numbers in the city skyrocketing after a superspreader event at a city nightclub, The Argyle House, last Wednesday.

NSW Health said that 650 people had checked into the event. By Tuesday afternoon, state Health Minister Brad Hazzard had confirmed that more than 200 had so far tested positive to the the virus, most likely with the new Omicron variant.

Dr David Durrheim, the health protection director for Hunter New England Health, said case numbers would increase.

“The high level of transmission at this event, it’s going to probably be one of the highest transmission events this year in any single venue, probably anywhere in the world,” he said.

There are also new alerts for Newcastle’s Finnegan’s Hotel, and the Newcastle Exhibition and Convention Centre last Friday night.

Mr Hazzard said he was concerned about the spike in cases, but the government was committed to keeping its promises of eased restrictions.

“At the moment, our government here in NSW is very keen to get us all back to normality … to our previous life,” he said on Tuesday.

From Wednesday, unvaccinated people will be free to mingle with everyone at pubs, cafes, gyms and shops across NSW.

Density limits will be scrapped at venues and masks will no longer be mandatory in shops. They will still be required on public transport and planes, as well as for indoors front-of-house unvaccinated hospitality staff.

Check-ins will be required only in high-risk settings such as hospitals, pubs, clubs and gyms, and singing and dancing will be permitted indoors and outdoors for everyone.

Mr Hazzard said the explosion of cases in the Hunter region in recent days was a reminder of how infectious the virus was – particularly for the unvaccinated.

“The sensible thing to do would be, if you have chosen not to be vaccinated, I would not be hanging out with too many unvaccinated when the numbers have quadrupled in the last few weeks,” he said.

He also urged NSW residents to get booster shots, if they were eligible.

“There’s a lot of people who think two doses, that’s it. No, it’s not. Clearly the evidence is you need a third dose. We may even need more later on to keep us safe. For heaven’s sake, go and get your booster,” he said.

“To the unvaccinated, it’s not fair to health workers that you can be so selfish to think that being unvaccinated is OK.

“Give up on the current views you have and go get vaccinated.”

Despite the jump in cases in the Newcastle area, Mr Hazzard ruled out a snap lockdown.

“NSW is not planning on any snap lockdowns. What we’re planning on is making sure the community understand the need to have boosters and being vaccinated,” he said.

He also had urged the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation to further review the timeline for booster shots – which it reduced from six months to five at the weekend.

“My view as health minister of NSW is that ATAGI should be looking at
that closely, with regard to in fact bringing on the boosters as early as three or four months,” Mr Hazzard said.

NSW Health said there were 85 cases of the Omicron variant across the state on Tuesday. More are expected in coming days, as results of genomic testing are confirmed.

Hospital rates in the state remain low, with 168 people being treated for COVID. They include 21 in intensive care – the lowest number since July 18.

NSW had one death during the reporting period.

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Victoria’s mask rules are scheduled to change this week – but the change is yet to be confirmed.

No confirmation on Victorian mask rules

Victoria is also poised to lift more virus rules this week, despite another day with more than 1000 new infections.

The state had 1189 cases and a further six deaths on Tuesday, while the number of people in hospital has jumped to the highest in almost a month.

Hospitalisations with COVID were up 40 on Tuesday to 364 on Tuesday.

Of those, 80 patients are actively infected with the virus in intensive care and 44 on ventilators, an increase of four from Monday.

The seven-day hospitalisation average is 327, a rise of 15 from Monday.

More than 92 per cent of Victorians aged over 12 are fully vaccinated against the virus.

Victoria was expected to lift most mask requirements from Wednesday. Acting Premier James Merlino refused to confirm that on Tuesday, saying only that there would be an announcement later in the week.

“Whether it’s Omicron or Delta or the next variant, it’s vaccines that protects the citizens, protects families and means that we can enjoy the freedoms that we do right now,” he said.

Under Victoria’s new pandemic legislation, the state’s health minister must consider the latest advice before making changes to virus measures.