New South Wales has reported 356 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 and four virus-related deaths as the state extends new restrictions for people living in the Byron Shire.
The deaths included two men in their 80s, one woman in her 80s, and one man in his 70s, with one of them linked to an overseas acquired case.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian said none of the three people who died after contracting the virus in Australia were vaccinated and all of them had died in hospital.
The new deaths brought the total number linked to the current outbreak to 32.
The grim figures are the highest in the state since the beginning of the pandemic, 147 have been linked to a known case or cluster while the source of infection for 209 cases remains under investigation.
At least 97 were in the community for at least part of their infectious period.
It comes hours before NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant and Health Minister Brad Hazzard face a special parliamentary inquiry over advice given to the state government about the Sydney lockdown.
The state is now in its seventh week of lockdown and transmission is mostly occurring at critical workplaces and between households.
Ms Berejiklian said cases were still rising in the Canterbury-Bankstown area but were declining in Fairfield. The two areas are part of the eight LGAs deemed particularly high risk.
She also noted there were no additional cases in Tamworth and Armidale, which went into a snap seven-day lockdown on Saturday.
But the Hunter region has reported additional cases after plunging into a seven-day lockdown on Thursday.
Ms Berejiklian once again reiterated the state’s goal to reach six million vaccinations by the end of August.
She said about 3000 HSC students had already had their first jab under a new program targeting Year 12 students in the eight high-risk LGAs. Up to another 11,000 have booked a vaccine appointment, and NSW is on track to reach 4.5 million jabs across all age groups by the end of Tuesday.
Health officials revealed 357 COVID-19 cases had been admitted to hospital, with 60 people in intensive care, 28 of whom require ventilation.
Byron locks down
New restrictions have been introduced for the Byron Shire, Richmond Valley, Lismore and Ballina Shire local government areas until 12.01am on Tuesday 17 August.
They will have the same rules as Greater Sydney, Tamworth, Armidale, Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, Maitland, Port Stephens, Singleton, Dungog, Muswellbrook and Cessnock.
Everyone in these areas must stay home unless they have a reasonable excuse to leave. No visitors are permitted, including family and friends.
Compliance in the gun
Mr Hazzard said NSW “would be fine” if people followed the rules.
He estimated about five per cent of people were not complying and said it was affecting the state’s ability to bring down case numbers.
“We have asked in the epicentre at the moment of this virus – that is, in Canterbury-Bankstown – for the police to reinforce the existing rules,” he said.
“If people applied the rules, if they complied with the rules and law and applied an element of common sense and modicum of decency to the rest of the committee, we would be fine.”
The health minister said police were actively investigating whether the positive case of COVID-19 in Byron Bay had broken the law by travelling to the town from Sydney. Reports suggest the man drove to Byron Bay to view a property there, which is not a permitted reason to leave home.
Health officials were repeatedly pressed to explain why they had so far refused to introduce tighter restrictions given an uptick in case numbers into the seventh week of lockdown.
At the height of its second wave in 2020, Victoria imposed an 8pm curfew and introduced a so-called “ring of steel” around the city that prevented people travelling to the regions.
Dr Chant said the evidence around curfews “is not strong”.
“I think what I’m concerned about is the crowding in shopping centres and places where we have seen transmission events in small shops,” Dr Chant said.
“So I’ve asked police particularly to focus on adherence to those density restrictions … I really want people to be staying outside of shops and waiting outside and going in almost one at a time into shops.”
Better news in Queensland
Meanwhile, Queenslanders received more positive news on Tuesday, with just three new cases of coronavirus confirmed in the state.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said all had been linked to the Indooroopilly cluster in Brisbane and none were in the community while infectious.
“It is wonderful, wonderful news,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
Victoria confirms 20 new cases
Victoria had 20 more local COVID cases on Tuesday. All were linked to existing outbreaks and five were in quarantine throughout their infectious period.
But state authorities are increasingly worried about the spread of coronavirus through a western Melbourne shopping precinct, with 25 cases now linked to the Caroline Springs Square centre.
Testing commander Jeroen Weimar said “it’s a busy, important shopping centre” and urged residents to check exposure sites regularly.