There has been a grim COVID update for NSW, with warnings the state could face 25,000 cases a day by the end of January.
The state’s daily tally of coronavirus infections jumped by more than 500 on Wednesday – with 1360 reported, up from 804 on Tuesday.
Chief health officer Kerry Chant said health authorities believed the rapid uptick was being driven by the Omicron variant.
There are 110 confirmed cases of the variant across NSW, as the state’s daily infections more than quadrupled in a week. It is the first time in months that NSW has had more than 1000 cases in a single day.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard said cases were bound to surge further, with research from the University of NSW warning the variant’s reproduction rate could climb above 1.5.
“What they are telling us is that by the end of January we could be looking at 25,000 cases of the virus every single day,” he said on Wednesday.
“That takes us to about 175,000 cases in a week. That is a big difference to the 1360 today, which is already a cause for concern.”
While the variant seems to be more transmissible but bring less serious illness, Mr Hazzard said those numbers should compel NSW residents to get vaccine boosters as soon as they were eligible.
He begged those who aren’t vaccinated at all to have “a rethink”.
The last time NSW’s daily infection caseload was higher was on September 11, when it had 1599 cases. But the state’s hospitalisations and deaths are a fraction of what they were then.
There was one death on Tuesday – a fully vaccinated woman in her 90s who caught her infection at an aged-care facility in south-west Sydney.
Meanwhile, 166 people are in hospital, with 24 in intensive care and seven on ventilation.
More than 93 per cent of NSW’s population is fully vaccinated.
Hospitalisation increases generally lag infection spikes, but Premier Dominic Perrottet was sure the hospital system would cope. He urged the community to focus on ICU numbers, rather than case numbers.
“I know the media wants to lead on cases but please also report on the ICU numbers, they are just as important,” Mr Perrottet said.
“Case numbers will increase, and they will increase tomorrow and the next day and the day after that.
“We need to learn to live alongside the virus and I want to instil confidence in our people that we can do that.”
The Hunter region is the biggest headache for authorities, accounting for about a third of Tuesday’s cases, with 424 infections.
The explosion in cases stems from superspreader events in Newcastle.
Among them is an outbreak at The Argyle House nightclub on December 8, with more than 200 out of 680 revellers since testing positive.
“It is likely that the overwhelming majority of the cases in Newcastle will be the Omicron variant of concern,” NSW Health said.
Despite this week’s jump in cases, NSW will push ahead with plans to redefine close contacts as only those who live in the same household as a positive, or who have spent a lot of time in that households.
Close contacts will no longer have to isolate for seven days – instead being required only to wait for a negative result from a PCR test.
It’s a substantial change from current rules, which have defined close contacts as anyone who has been in the same indoor environment as a positive case for more than 15 minutes.
Also from Wednesday, unvaccinated people in NSW are subject to the same restrictions as those who have been fully jabbed, for the first time in three months.
QR code check-ins have also been scaled back and masks are required only in high-risk settings such as public transport.
There is no longer a cap on visitors in homes, hospitality venues, or on numbers at outdoor gatherings.
Victoria maintains masks, dumps some vaccine rules
Victorians will no longer need to be fully vaccinated for non-essential retail, weddings, funerals and to use real estate services under state government changes to public health orders.
The state had 1405 COVID cases and a further three deaths on Wednesday.
They include another four of the Omicron variant, as concerns grow about potential superspreader events at two Melbourne nightspots.
Health Minister Martin Foley will sign pandemic orders on Wednesday under the new Public Health and Wellbeing Act, which will come into effect at 11.59pm and continue until January 12.
“There are tweaks … informed on a wide measure by a relative uncertainty that the Omicron variant brings,” he said of the rule changes.
“Omicron has changed the landscape.”
Among the changes, children under 18 will no longer be required to show proof of their vaccination status at venues, including hospitality.
The mandatory vaccination requirement will be removed for all customers in retail, real estate and for those attending weddings, funerals or places of worship.
However, hair and beauty customers must still be fully vaccinated, as are patrons attending restaurants, bars and cafes.
Victoria is managing 10,781 active cases.
There are 365 patients in hospital, 84 of whom are actively infected with the virus in intensive care and 46 on ventilators.
It is Victoria’s highest number of hospitalisations since November 16, when 394 people were in hospital with the virus.
But there are concerns about an confirmed Omicron infection that attended Sircuit Bar in Fitzroy between 9pm-midnight on Friday and then Collingwood’s Peel Hotel between 11.30pm-3am.
Chief health officer Brett Sutton said more than 850 people had checked into both venues for the relevant time periods.
All have been deemed close contacts and must get a PCR test immediately and isolate at home for seven days if fully vaccinated, or 14 if not.
– with AAP