NSW teachers and senior students in greater Sydney and surrounds will have to wear masks when they return to school next term.
Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said the new COVID-safe rules will apply to schools inside areas affected by the stay-at-home orders – greater Sydney, the Blue Mountains, Central Coast, Wollongong and Shellharbour.
Masks will be mandatory for all staff in all school settings, as well as students from year 7 upwards when onsite learning resumed after July 19, she said on Thursday.
Ms Mitchell said she understood it was a challenging time for students, staff and parents but schools were prepared to manage the restrictions.
In regional areas, masks will be recommended for all staff in all school settings as well as high school students.
On Wednesday, Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced pupils in NSW’s lockdown areas would learn from home when school resumed next week. There will be strict COVID restrictions for regional schools.
Meanwhile, harsher localised restrictions could be introduced for communities in Sydney’s south-west if COVID-19 continued to spread rapidly in the area, she warned.
Lockdown orders governing five million people in Sydney and its surrounds have been extended for a third week – until at least July 16 – after being initially due to end on Friday.
Business NSW estimates the lockdown is costing the state $1 billion a week.
But with the number of new cases who have spent time in the community while infectious remaining high, it might not be enough to stop the spread in some suburbs as the epicentre of the virus outbreak moves from Sydney’s east to the south-west.
Ms Berejiklian warned case numbers would spike in coming days due to the highly infectious Delta strain of the virus spreading rapidly in the local government areas of Fairfield, Liverpool and Canterbury-Bankstown.
Data from NSW Health shows there have been 11 cases in Fairfield, six in Canterbury-Bankstown and four in Liverpool in the past two days.
Ms Berejiklian said if the situation further deteriorated in those communities, harsher localised restrictions might be imposed.
She invoked her Armenian background when appealing to people in multicultural communities to stay home.
“Can I please say to the communities in those areas – many of them have a similar background to me – please don’t mingle with family,” she said.
“It’s hard. But can I just say to everybody please don’t mingle with family, don’t think it’s OK to go visit your cousins, don’t think it’s OK to have sleepovers.”
Fairfield Mayor Frank Carbone said on Thursday he was concerned south-west Sydney was being unfairly targeted, saying “this isn’t a Fairfield problem, I won’t take anyone pointing finger at Fairfield”.
“We have very large families out here. It doesn’t take away the responsibility [or] take away the need for [all of] us to be vigilant,” he told Nine Network.
“Ultimately we all need to do our best to make sure we contain the virus. It doesn’t matter where you live, the eastern suburbs or western suburbs we are all in this together.”
NSW had 27 new local cases on Wednesday. Just 13 were in isolation for the entirety of their infectious period.
Ms Berejiklian has already foreshadowed a significantly higher number on Thursday.
There have been 357 local cases in NSW reported since June 16, when the first case was detected in an unvaccinated Sydney airport limousine driver.
NSW Health issued nearly 20 alerts for venues of concern late on Wednesday night. They included supermarkets at Casula, Bonnyrigg, Maroubra, Revesby, petrol stations at Condell Park and Pagewood as well as a pizzeria at Waverley.