Thousands of people in COVID-free areas of NSW will be freed from lockdown within a day.
The lockdown will end at midnight Friday in parts of the state that have had no virus cases for the past 14 days.
They include the mid-north coast, the north coast, Albury, the Riverina and Murrumbidgee areas. Lockdown will continue for the southern parts of the state, the south-east, the Illawarra, the Shoalhaven, Hunter, Central Coast, central west and parts of the far west.
But NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro has warned stay-at -home orders could return if even one new local COVID-19 case emerges.
“I need to make this absolutely clear for all the communities that are coming out of lockdown today – it is a nice feeling but if there is an active case in your community, you will go back into lockdown for a minimum of 14 days. That is the commitment we have made to health,” he said.
“One case is one case too many in the regions.”
The NSW announcement has already prompted Queensland to signal a likely easing of its tough border rules for areas such as Tweed Heads.
At present, only certain essential workers who have had one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine are allowed to cross into Queensland from NSW.
An exemption allowing locals on both sides of the border to work, school or university, obtain healthcare or to provide care has been on hold since July 23.
“The Queensland border restrictions remain in place,” Queensland Deputy Premier Steven Miles said on Thursday.
“I have spoken to the NSW Deputy Premier today and we agreed the [NSW] Cross Border Commissioner and Queensland’s Disaster Coordinator should meet to discuss the new arrangements in northern NSW.”
NSW confirmed another 1405 local cases of COVID-19 and five further deaths on Thursday as it set a target to reopen cafes and restaurants.
The five deaths confirmed on Thursday take the total number in the current outbreak to 153.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian unveiled a plan for fully-vaccinated NSW citizens to be able to head back to pubs and cafes and get their hair cut from the Monday after the state reaches a 70 per cent double-dose vaccination rate among over-16s.
That target is expected to be met by October 18.
Ms Berejiklian said regional residents would still face some restrictions “to make sure we limit the spread of disease in our regional communities”.
In country NSW areas where stay-at-home orders will lift, hospitality venues and shops, hairdressing and nail salons can reopen with restrictions.
Up to to five people will be allowed in a home and up to 20 can gather outdoors. Gyms and sporting facilities will also be able to open.
There will be strict density limits for businesses and certain activities won’t resume – including community sport.
- See all of NSW’s rules for locked-down and open areas here
Mr Barilaro said people in the regional areas could return to shopping, working and enjoying time with family and friends albeit with restrictions.
“Schools will return, and they return at a level-three COVID plan within schools, which means no extracurricular activities, no assemblies, there’s a range of mask-wearing provisions,” he said.
Regional NSW had dozens of new COVID cases on Thursday, particularly in the Illawarra Shoalhaven and Central Coast. Chief health officer Kerry Chant urged people there to get tested and vaccinated.
In western NSW 24 cases were recorded, 22 on the Central Coast, 23 in the Illawarra Shoalhaven, 12 in the Hunter New England and four in the far west.
There were also three cases in the state’s south.
Mr Barilaro offered hope to other rural regions that remain under lockdown that restrictions could ease when they have had no new virus cases for 14 days.
“We look at sewage surveillance, exposure sites. They’re the thresholds we’ve set with NSW Health that will either put someone back into lockdown or have the opportunity for some to come out,” he said.