NSW’s daily tally of COVID infections has jumped by more than 500, as the state braces for further surges with unvaccinated people now free to shop and socialise.
There were 1360 cases detected in the 24 hours to 8pm on Tuesday, a jump of 556 on the 804 in the previous reporting period.
It is the first time in months that NSW has had more than 1000 cases in a single day, and comes as the unvaccinated enjoy renewed freedoms.
From Wednesday, unvaccinated people in NSW are subject to the same restrictions as those who have been fully vaccinated against COVID, for the first time in three months.
The NSW government has also honoured its pledge to significantly ease restrictions, despite a sharp rise in case numbers amid superspreading events in the festive season.
QR code check-ins have been scaled back across the state, and masks are required only in high-risk settings such as public transport and planes.
There is no cap on visitors in homes, hospitality venues, or on numbers at outdoor gatherings.
Business NSW said dropping the QR code check-in to enter shops, and ditching the requirement for customers to show their vaccination status, would give business owners a much-needed boost in the countdown to Christmas.
“This is the early Christmas present business owners and their employees have been waiting for,” Business NSW Chief Executive Daniel Hunter said on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, NSW Health said fully vaccinated arrivals from eight southern African countries of concern where the Omicron variant of COVID-19 emerged would no longer have to enter 14 days hotel quarantine, bringing all international arrivals under the same measures.
Chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant said all fully vaccinated international arrivals must self-isolate for 72 hours, have a negative result within the first 24 hours of arrival and avoid high-risk settings for a week.
The latest easing of restrictions – long-planned for December 15 – comes just as case numbers spike to a two-month high.
Infection numbers have more than quadrupled in the past two weeks.
Superspreader events are driving the spike, among them an outbreak at The Argyle House nightclub in Newcastle on the night of December 8, with more than 200 out of 680 revellers since testing positive.
Of the infections, 21 were the Omicron variant, taking the total cases of the strain in NSW to 85. Health officials have warned that more are likely as genomic sequencing is completed.
“The high level of transmission at this [nightclub] event, it’s going to probably be one of the highest transmission events this year in any single venue, probably anywhere in the world,” David Durrheim, the health protection director for Hunter New England Health, said on Tuesday.
There are also recent alerts for Newcastle’s Finnegan’s Hotel, and the Newcastle Exhibition and Convention Centre last Friday night.
On Tuesday, state Health Minister Brad Hazzard ruled out a snap lockdown to curb spiralling cases. But he urged anyone eligible to get booster vaccine shots.
Premier Dominic Perrottet is expected to provide a briefing, with Dr Chant and Mr Hazzard, later on Wednesday.