NSW will remain a divided state for the Christmas break, with different rules across four zones designed to get it safely through the next few days.
The division will help to partially save the festive period for Sydney’s coronavirus-hit Northern Beaches – where 250,000 people have been in a quasi-lockdown since last Saturday.
On Wednesday, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced tweaks to the lockdown to allow limited gatherings.
But the region will be split into two. Residents north of the Narrabeen Bridge, at the epicentre of the cluster, will be allowed to host up to five people in their homes – although guests must live within that designated zone, which stretches west as far as the Baha’i Temple.
- Confused? See NSW Health’s full explanation here
At the southern end of the peninsula, in suburbs such as Manly, up to 10 people will be permitted to visit homes. Locals remain banned from leaving the area for gatherings elsewhere.
“If you’re a resident of the northern part of the Northern Beaches … you cannot leave your area. You are still in lockdown,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“You can’t accept anybody [from] outside your community and I apologise for that but we have to maintain a lockdown in that area – with one exception.
“On [December] 24th, 25th and 26th, you’re allowed to have five people into your home, but they must be people from within that region.”
Across the rest of Sydney and the Illawarra, residents will be allowed to host unlimited numbers of children aged under 12 in their homes, in addition to the maximum of 10 adults per household, for the next three days.
Regional NSW is not affected by rule changes announced on Wednesday.
The tweaks will last until December 26.
“We will be letting people know on Boxing Day what December 27 looks like for the southern part of the Northern Beaches,” Ms Berejiklian said.
NSW had eight new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 in the 24 hours to 8pm on Tuesday. Seven were connected to the Avalon cluster, which now has 97 infections.
The eighth case is a close contact of an infected quarantine nurse who was confirmed COVID-positive on Tuesday. NSW Health now believes the nurse is genomically connected to the Avalon cluster, rather than COVID-positive returned travellers.
The tally of eight local COVID-19 cases came from almost 42,000 tests.
Thousands of people across NSW are self-isolating because of infections or exposure to the Avalon outbreak. They will continue to do so over the festive period.
People on the Northern Beaches have also been told to avoid visiting aged care facilities, while those in greater Sydney have been advised to take extreme care.
“The less mobility there is, the less risk of the virus being transmitted throughout the community further,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“Whilst we appreciate the modest changes we’ve made over the next three days, we also accept and respect the fact that many families and individuals may choose not to take up that opportunity.
“Everybody has had a very difficult year … some people’s stress levels and mental health capacity are already at breaking point.”
But Labor health spokesman Ryan Park criticised the government’s Christmas restrictions as confusing and complex.
“We need restrictions to be as simple as possible to keep the community safe, these rules need to be crystal clear,” Mr Park said.
NSW Health has issued dozens of alerts for venues across Sydney and the regional towns of Orange and Gundagai amid the Avalon outbreak.
- See a current list of venues of concern here
More than 100,000 Central Coast residents have also been urged to seek COVID-19 testing if they feel unwell after virus fragments were found in sewage analysis at Kincumber.
States dig in on border closures
Elsewhere, state and territory borders remain closed to people travelling from greater Sydney.
Ms Berejiklian has criticised some of those impositions – on Tuesday, she urged other premiers to “hold their nerve” before slamming borders shut.
On Wednesday, Victoria’s testing commander Jeroen Weimer said border restrictions were being reviewed daily, but would not change before Christmas.
“I’m happy to talk to you every day about whether we’ll do it that day,” he said.
“But we’re not going to do it tomorrow.”
He declined to speculate on the possibility of changes before New Year’s Eve.
To the north, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk fired another volley in her border war of words with Ms Berejiklian.
“If there hadn’t been the cluster outbreak in the Northern Beaches, well no one would have had to take these measures and everybody would have been seeing their family and friends over this Christmas and new year period,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
“I think it’s a bit rich for NSW to start blaming Queensland and Victoria and whichever other state and territory she wants to blame.
“This has happened in NSW, it has happened in the Northern Beaches, and we wish them all the very best, but we do not want our lifestyle compromised.”
Queensland has reimposed a hard border excluding arrivals from greater Sydney until at least January 8.
Also on Wednesday, NSW Health revealed a Qantas international air crew member who recently arrived in Darwin and then flew to Sydney has COVID-19. That person is in self-isolation.
Qantas said in a statement that the crew member wore a mask on the domestic flight, which occurred more than 48 hours before he had symptoms.
Decisions on Sydney’s New Year’s Eve and upcoming sporting events will be made after Christmas.