A young man has been ordered to pay $10,000 after allegedly skipping self-isolation then going clubbing in Newcastle before testing positive to COVID-19.
NSW Police say the 20-year-old was directed to self-isolate at a Newcastle property from last Wednesday because he was a close contact of a positive case.
Instead, they say, he attended a licensed premises on Wharf Road that night, and went to another person’s house on Saturday.
A Wednesday night party at the Argyle House nightclub on Wharf Road has now seen more than 200 people acquire the virus.
Newcastle is the epicentre of the Omicron-fuelled outbreak in NSW, with the Hunter responsible for 633 of the record-high 1742 cases in NSW in the 24 hours to 8pm on Wednesday.
That’s another 209 in Newcastle than the previous day, with NSW Health saying the majority are the highly-transmissible Omicron variant.
NSW Health’s deputy chief health officer Jeremy McAnulty said superspreading events stemming from people socialising in large venues like pubs and clubs were responsible for the cluster.
“We’re particularly urging people in the local Newcastle community to seriously consider deferring any social events … until after Christmas in order to keep family Christmas gatherings safe,” he said on Thursday.
The sacrifice would “protect their loved ones, the vulnerable and essential workers”.
An alert was issued on Wednesday night for another Newcastle pub.
Anyone who was at the Cambridge Hotel on Hunter Street between 6.30pm on Friday and 2.30am on Saturday must get tested and isolate for seven days.
All household contacts of close contacts should also be tested and self-isolate until a negative result is received.
The record number of cases came a day after Health Minister Brad Hazzard revealed modelling on the Omicron strain predicted cases could soar to 25,000 a day by the end of January.
The previous highest daily tally in NSW was on September 11 when there were 1599 local cases.
Thursday’s figure was a jump of 382 from Wednesday, and NSW has now confirmed 122 cases of the Omicron variant.
Treasurer Matt Kean revealed on Thursday the hole the Delta outbreak had dealt the state’s finances – announcing a blowout in the 2021/22 budget deficit to $19.5 billion from the $8.6 billion deficit forecast in June.
He urged everyone to get a booster shot as soon as possible.
“We know that’s the best way to deal with this virus and to get our economy going,” he said.
Despite restrictions easing on Wednesday with mask mandates largely ditched in public places, Mr Kean urged people to maintain the practice “inside and in high risk settings”.
Authorities are hoping the high vaccination rates – 93.3 per cent of adults in NSW are fully jabbed – will keep the stress on the health system to a minimum.
There are 192 people (up from 166) with COVID in hospital, 26 of them in ICU (up two).
Brett Holmes, the general secretary of the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association, said if the 25,000 cases a day scenario eventuated “then we are in a dire position in terms of what the staff could sustain”.
“I don’t think that there’s any health worker in NSW who doesn’t have a chill going down their spine about seeing that massive jump in the numbers,” he told ABC TV.
He urged people to continue wearing masks, saying “it’s not difficult compared to being isolated for 14 days or worse – being sick for an extended period of time”.
Mask mandates possible in Queensland
Queensland authorities are “actively considering” a return to compulsory masks after another 22 COVID cases on Thursday, including 18 who were out and about while potentially infectious.
The warning came as health authorities said the Omicron variant was likely to spread rapidly across the state within weeks.
“There is nowhere in Queensland where you can hide from this virus,” Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said, urging people to carry and wear masks.
“The virus is coming into Queensland but we are going to decide how quickly it comes in. We are doing this in a safe way.”
Thursday’s local cases came from Brisbane, the Darling Downs, the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast, West Moreton and the Wide Bay. Most were acquired interstate.
Such a high number of new cases – up from six on Wednesday – would previously have put areas of Queensland at risk of lockdown. Instead, the state’s chief health officer Dr John Gerrard is considering mask mandates – and has warned that people will die as the Omicron wave escalates.
“I can tell you that we are identifying additional cases of Omicron hour by hour so there will be more cases tomorrow,” he said on Thursday.
“We are expecting this surge of the virus to occur within weeks here in Queensland.
“We are currently working on that modelling [similar to NSW], but we are expecting many cases. I think it is likely we will see fatal cases, particularly among the unvaccinated.”
Three earlier Queensland cases were confirmed to have the Omicron variant, including a man who flew from Newcastle to Townsville via Brisbane.
Another four Omicron cases were confirmed in Queensland on Thursday, including two in home quarantine and two cases acquired overseas, Ms D’Ath said.
Victoria mulls boosted booster rollout
Victoria is considering expanding its stable of state-run vaccination sites before Christmas to aid the rollout of COVID-19 booster shots, as daily cases hit a six-week high.
Roughly 720,000 Victorians are eligible for a booster after the interval was shortened this week from six to five months from the second jab.
The state government had previously flagged it would close eight state-run vaccination clinics by mid-December, including the Royal Exhibition Building and the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.
But it is now exploring scaling up to meet rising demand, with more than 10,000 doses administered at state-run facilities on Wednesday.
“We are investigating whether to expand operations through to Christmas to make sure people have access to their boosters,” Acting Premier James Merlino said on Thursday.