NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has announced an abrupt end to her daily updates of the coronavirus situation across her state.
From next week, updates will be online, via NSW Health staff.
Ms Berejiklian and other government ministers will provide public updates only on an “as needs basis”.
“From next week, the 11am information will be done by health staff through video link and [Health Minister Brad Hazzard] will intermittently hold press conferences as required,” she said on Friday.
“Sunday will be the last day we officially do a press conference in this way.”
The announcement came as NSW posted its worst day yet in the pandemic and with millions of residents facing several more weeks in lockdown
Cases surged to a record high of 1542 on Friday after several days of lower numbers.
There were also nine more deaths, taking the state’s COVID toll since the outbreak began to 162. They were a man in his 30s, another in his 50s, two in their 60s, two in their 70s, a woman in her 40s, another in her 50s and one in her 80s.
It also came with the state’s devastating virus caseload expected to peak next week and the hospitals expecting a surge of patients. It sparked anger at Ms Berejiklian’s briefing.
“We’re going to see hospitals come under the greatest stress they have ever seen and you and your ministers are about to cancel this press conference. Are you going into hiding?” Seven Network journalist Chris Reason asked.
But Ms Berejiklian said the move was about “accepting that we need to live with COVID”.
“Can I just say clearly and loudly to the people of NSW, we will be here whenever we need to communicate something very important to the community,” she said.
“All of us have to start accepting that we need to live with COVID because COVID will be around for three or four years and it is not tactical to do everything … I can assure the people of this state and they can judge me on my record, whenever I need to speak directly to the public, I absolutely will, but we also have to make sure that as a government, we normalise the way we do things every day, that we accept it.”
Earlier, Ms Berejiklian doubled down on her plan to reopen NSW for the fully vaccinated at 70 per cent double-dose coverage. She denied she had ignored health advice but needed to weigh it up with public policy.
The unvaccinated in NSW have a little over a month to get double-jabbed if they want to visit friends, dine out, travel to the regions or go to the barber or gym.
Under a roadmap out of COVID-19 lockdown announced by the Premier on Thursday, a suite of restrictions will be eased when 70 per cent of the state’s eligible residents are fully vaccinated – expected by mid-October.
These freedoms will be restored only for the fully vaccinated – and will come as the state is likely still reporting about 500 coronavirus cases every day.
On Friday, NSW reached 43.6 per cent of its adult population fully vaccinated, with 76.4 per cent having had a single dose.
Ms Berejiklian denied reports chief health officer Kerry Chant wanted to wait until NSW reached 85 per cent coverage before reopening.
She insisted Dr Chant – who was absent from Thursday’s announcement of the reopening details and Friday’s briefing – signed off on the plan.
Ms Berejiklian said it was the state government’s job to also consider other factors, including mental health, freedom of movement and relationships.
“What we need to do is always weigh up that health advice with public policy and I would never do anything where the health experts completely objected to anything or did not think it was safe,” Ms Berejiklian told the Nine Network on Friday.
“It is going to be challenging, but it’s a road all states will have to take.”
As a sole exception, up to five fully vaccinated NSW residents outside the 12 western Sydney council areas of concern can convene for picnics from Monday.
The freedoms to be restored in mid-October will be policed via a vaccination status feature added to the Service NSW app’s QR code check-in tool.
But the government has emphasised some restrictions on movement may still be required in areas where case numbers are too high.
Some virus-free regional areas – including the north coast, Riverina and Murrumbidgee – will be released from lockdown today.
Stay-at-home orders in COVID-free regional areas of NSW will end at midnight Friday. But the state government has warned these areas face a return from to snap lockdowns if COVID cases climb too high.
Elsewhere, pressure is mounting for Victorian health authorities to outline freedom measures for when the state hits its milestone of 70 per cent of people over 16 fully vaccinated.
Premier Daniel Andrews said experts were still nutting out a plan.
“I’ve got some draft modelling [but] it’s still got a bit more to go. I know it’s very frustrating, you’d love to be able to turn this around in 24 hours, but they need more data as well,” he said.
Victoria confirmed 334 COVID more local cases on Friday, and another fatality. So far, four people have died in the state’s current Delta outbreak.
The ACT had 24 more local cases on Friday, including 18 linked to known outbreaks or exposure sites. Chief Minister Andrew Barr will unveil a plan on Tuesday to gradually reopen Canberra.