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Free rapid tests, check-ins return: NSW mulls massive COVID changes

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NSW is expected to bring back check-ins just a week after they were scrapped, as Omicron spreads across the state. Photo: AAP
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The NSW government is considering providing free rapid antigen tests in the mail and it’s likely there will be a return to mandatory QR check-ins at retail and hospitality venues.

But Premier Dominic Perrottet is still resisting bringing back mask mandates at indoor venues, despite NSW Health urging everyone to wear them in high-risk settings.

COVID-19 cases are spiralling in NSW and testing clinics are being overwhelmed.

Some 15,815 people have tested positive since December 16, and Wednesday’s record daily caseload of 3763 infections could be smashed on Thursday.

Mr Perrottet emerged from a national cabinet meeting on Wednesday to flag a plan to provide residents with the rapid tests, which are in short supply and expensive.

“Providing rapid antigen testing kits for those who want to do the right thing will help take the pressure of our testing clinics while giving people confidence to get on with their lives,” he said on Wednesday.

“This will also help people monitor their symptoms and go about their daily activities in a responsible manner helping protect themselves, their families and the community.”

The need to relieve pressure on COVID-19 testing sites across the state is becoming more urgent with just two days until Christmas, after days of long queues at the facilities.

People wanting to travel interstate or get the all-clear to attend Christmas celebrations are waiting hours to get a PCR test and around 72 hours to get a result.

COVID-19 restrictions eased in NSW on December 15 for all residents, including the unvaccinated, but the government is now expected to announce it will bring back mandatory QR check-ins at supermarkets, shops and hospitality venues.

South of the Murray, meanwhile, the Victorian government is also tipped to toughen up some virus rules.

The ABC is reporting state cabinet met late on Wednesday to discuss tightening some measures. An announcement is likely later on Thursday.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people in NSW face Christmas in isolation as the Omicron variant of COVID continues to run rampant.

Under current rules, people with the virus must self-isolate at home until medically cleared, even if fully vaccinated.

“If you are self-managing, you are able to leave self-isolation 10 days after your positive test, as long as you have had no symptoms for 72 hours – you will receive an SMS with this information,” NSW Health says.

Broadcaster Michael Turner, who is fully vaccinated, tested positive on Wednesday after suffering “nothing short of the worst” symptoms he’s had with any illness over the prior two days.

“It’s heartbreaking to be spending Christmas and New Year away from my family and potentially in hospital,” he said on Wednesday night.

“While things may be opening up, and we are vaccinated, it can still hit you hard and the symptoms for those who get the full blast are certainly not just a simple cold/flu.”

One in five cases uncovered in the past week has been in Newcastle or neighbouring Lake Macquarie, while the City of Sydney and Canterbury-Bankstown have experienced faster spikes in recent days.

After NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard on Tuesday blamed “tourism testing” for long queues at testing sites, national cabinet on Wednesday asked a national medical expert panel for advice on whether negative tests should continue to be required for interstate travel.

NSW’s double-dose vaccination rate sits at 92.61 per cent of people aged 12 and over.

The majority of infected patients in hospital intensive care units are unvaccinated, the health department says.

-with AAP