For the second December in a row, COVID-19 is causing jitters across NSW in the lead-up to Christmas as the state records more cases than ever before.
NSW recorded 1742 infections on Thursday with the escalating case numbers driven by super-spreading events at large venues like pubs and nightclubs and exacerbated by Omicron.
The rising transmission rates prompted NSW Health late Thursday to place hospitals on “red alert” and restrict visits to health facilities.
Patients will be allowed visitors for compassionate reasons only and to provide essential needs including palliative care and supporting women in childbirth.
All visitors must be fully vaccinated and follow mask-wearing rules.
“We have temporarily restricted visitors to healthcare facilities due to increasing transmission rates with the emergence of the Omicron variant,” NSW Health tweeted on Thursday night.
“We have not made this decision lightly. We must always prioritise our vulnerable patients and staff who are arguably the most vital workers needed in a pandemic.”
We have temporarily restricted visitors to healthcare facilities due to increasing transmission rates with the emergence of the Omicron variant. pic.twitter.com/WyrFQhUO3b
— NSW Health (@NSWHealth) December 16, 2021
The latest significant cluster emerged from a Taylor Swift-themed dance party in the Sydney CBD on Friday.
At least 97 people have tested positive so far, NSW Health said on Thursday evening, with at least some of the cases likely to be the Omicron variant.
All 600 people who arrived at the Metro Theatre after 9pm were designated close contacts and forced to isolate for a week.
A series of super-spreader events in Newcastle have caused a wave of infections in the Hunter area, which was responsible for 633 of the new cases.
The majority are the Omicron variant.
Two 20-year-old men have been fined for attending one of the events – a Wednesday evening party at a nightclub – in defiance of self-isolation orders after they were designated as close contacts.
They both later tested positive. More than 200 people contracted the virus at the party.
Health authorities are now urging the Newcastle community to consider delaying social events until after Christmas to keep family gatherings safe.
Authorities are so concerned by the situation they’ve ordered the cancellation of a music festival scheduled to take place in the city on Saturday.
It comes exactly a year after a Sydney airport worker tested positive after a run of COVID-zero in NSW.
That case set in motion a COVID-19 outbreak in Sydney’s northern beaches, with the peninsula locked down and the rest of Sydney subject to caps on numbers for Christmas and New Year’s Eve events.
Premier Dominic Perrottet is adamant he won’t go back to the lockdowns and restrictions that dominated before NSW reached its high vaccination rate – currently 93.3 per cent.
The rules for masks and check-ins were relaxed on Wednesday despite the rising case numbers, with the unvaccinated now able to participate fully in society.
Testing numbers are also rising, with 143,938 results processed in the latest 24-hour period.
There were no new deaths reported on Thursday.
There are 192 people in hospital (up from 166 the day before), 26 of them in ICU (up two).
Intensive care numbers peaked at 244 in September, ten days after the state recorded its previous record of 1599 local cases.