NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet says the state will face short term challenges while waiting for its order of rapid antigen tests to be fulfilled, as COVID-19 case numbers surged more than 70 per cent in a single day.
The state recorded 21,151 new infections and six deaths on New Year’s Eve.
The new cases were from 148,410 tests and results have been delayed as demand has spiked.
The premier said the bulk of the 50 million rapid antigen tests the government was seeking would be available in mid-January and distributed to priority cohorts.
“Clearly there will be some challenges as we move through this short term period due to a lack of access to rapid antigen tests so we are very much aware of that,” Mr Perrottet said on Friday.
“We are continually looking at whether we need to purchase more.”
Mr Perrottet attended an emergency meeting of national cabinet on Thursday.
Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said it is likely the case numbers are higher than those reported and urged anyone with the most minimal of symptoms to stay home.
Dr Chant suggested that people use rapid antigen tests before socialising but acknowledged that “availability is variable”.
There are now 832 people in hospital with the virus, including 69 in intensive care, 19 of whom require ventilation.
Around 95 per cent of people aged over 16 are fully vaccinated against the virus but Health Minister Brad Hazzard said more than half of the patients in intensive care with the virus were unvaccinated.
“We do know that the vaccinations make it far less likely that you will suffer any major consequences once you actually do get the virus and as I’ve said we are all probably going to get this virus at some point in the next year or two,” he said.
Mr Hazzard said the public health response had made Australia the “envy of the world”.
But NSW Opposition Leader Chris Minns said the government’s plan had been “chaotic and confusing” and the state was unprepared for millions of people to live with the virus.
“You’ve got a situation where pregnant women are waiting five and six hours to get PCR tests and it’s clear the government was not prepared for the large increase in numbers over the last six or seven days,” Mr Minns said on Friday.
“The international experience seems to demonstrate that the Omicron variant is not as deadly or as dangerous as previous variants of the COVID-19 pandemic but that’s good fortune rather than good planning or good management.”‘
With the state’s testing capacity under enormous pressure, NSW Health has requested people only seek PCR testing if they are experiencing coronavirus symptoms or have been advised to get one because they are a close contact of a confirmed case.
The rules for international arrivals will be changed so the thousands of people flying into Sydney daily can obtain a rapid antigen test rather than joining the queue at testing clinics.
Close contacts and people who test positive for COVID-19 will only have to isolate for seven days.
NSW Ambulance Commissioner Dominic Morgan said over the past four weeks the state’s ambulance services has seen a 50 per cent increase in Triple Zero calls.
Mr Morgan said while the biggest cohort of patients are COVID-positive patients, not all calls were medical emergencies and that morning someone had called emergency services because they were still waiting on a PCR test.
“These tie up our emergency medical call takers and divert us away from the cardiac arrests, the chokings, the drownings,” Mr Morgan told reporters on Friday.