Sydneysiders face weeks – or even months – of tough virus rules even if they are freed from lockdown at the end of this week.
NSW had 18 more local coronavirus infections on Tuesday, a big drop from 35 on Monday.
But there are still concerns that many people are out and about while infectious, with shops and cafes named as new areas of transmission for the Delta strain of the virus across the state.
Seven of Tuesday’s cases had spent at least part of their infectious period out in the community.
The stay-at-home orders for more than five million people in Greater Sydney, Wollongong, Shellharbour, the Central Coast and the Blue Mountains regions are due to end at midnight on Friday.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian was tight-lipped about plans for beyond then. She has promised an announcement on Wednesday – but also sounded a note of caution.
“I anticipate that when we do come out of the lockdown it won’t be what life looked like necessarily before we went into lockdown,” she said.
“In between now and vaccinating a greater proportion of our population, we need to think about what life looks like.”
She has repeatedly nominated having 80 per cent of the population vaccinated before NSW can return to “COVID normal”.
“This Delta strain is likely to be dominant strain of the virus until we have further information and we also appreciate that we need to vaccinate more of our population before we can live as freely as we would like,” she said.
There have been 330 local virus cases in NSW since June 16, when the first case of the Bondi cluster was reported.
NSW has 26 COVID patients in hospital, including six in intensive care. The ICU patients are aged from their early 50s to their 80s.
The source of two of Tuesday’s cases remains unknown. Sixteen are linked to known outbreaks, including nine who are household contacts of earlier infections.
They include a third worker at a Baulkham Hills aged-care home. The cluster at the facility has grown to eight, including five residents.
The staffer worked while infectious but had received their first dose of AstraZeneca and did not expose any more residents.
The outbreak linked to an illegal party at the Meriton Suites in Waterloo has also grown, with seven positive diagnoses now among those who attended and five more in their close contacts.
In other developments, at least 500 nurses are in isolation after potentially being exposed to COVID-19 while working at Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association head Brett Holmes said on Tuesday.
Five wards have been identified as areas of exposure. Patients are being diverted to other hospitals, only urgent and emergency surgeries are going ahead and other nurses are being asked to work extra hours, he added.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard said this had put the hospital system under “enormous pressure” but with a total staff of 140,000, RNS was large enough to cope.
“That’s pressure but it’s not compromising patient safety,” he said.
At Fairfield Hospital, 120 health staff have been told to isolate, leaving others to work 12-hour shifts over the weekend.
Meanwhile, NRL forward Paul Vaughan has been sacked by St George Illawarra after hosting an illegal party at his home last Saturday, which was attended by 12 other Dragons players.
In an emergency meeting on Tuesday, the board decided to tear up the remaining 15 months of his deal, which was worth about $750,000 a season.
Vaughan was already fined $50,000 by the NRL and slapped with an eight-game ban for breaching COVID-19 protocols, as well as fined by NSW Police for breaking the health order.
Jack de Belin and other players also faced increased sanctions on top of the one-game suspensions and the $305,000 in fines handed out to the group by the NRL on Monday.
It was Vaughan’s second breach of the NRL’s biosecurity rules after he attended a cafe while in the NRL bubble last season.
The ex-NSW prop had already copped an eight-week suspension and a $50,000 fine from the NRL for hosting the party in Shellharbour on Saturday, breaking not only the NRL bubble but NSW health orders.
All 13 players, as well as Vaughan’s partner, were fined $1000 by NSW Police, and it has since emerged that de Belin misled authorities, the club and the NRL’s integrity unit to cover up he had been in attendance.
Dragons CEO Ryan Webb labelled the actions of the players as arrogant and flagged further club sanctions could be imposed on Tuesday.
“Nothing has been talked about to that level, but honestly I don’t know where it’s going to end up,” he told SEN Radio on Tuesday morning when asked if contracts would be torn up.
“It’s a pretty massive thing for the club, it’s not something we can solve with some light undertakings.
“There’s going to be some serious repercussions.”