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Child under five among record NSW virus deaths

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A young child is among 18 COVID-related deaths on NSW’s deadliest day of the pandemic yet.

Monday’s record toll came as the number of people hospitalised and seriously ill with the virus in NSW continues to climb.

There are now 2030 COVID patients in the state’s hospitals, a rise of 103 on the previous day.

Of those, 158 are in intensive care – eight more than the day before.

An all-time high of 16 deaths was reported on Sunday, but the record was broken 24 hours later with Monday’s update.

Chief health officer Kerry Chant said the child, who was younger than five, had serious underlying health conditions and died at home in south-western Sydney.

The other fatalities were six women and 11 men, including one man in his 30s who died in a Sydney hospital.

There were also 20,293 infections reported on Monday from 84,333 conventional PCR lab tests. No data is available yet from rapid tests.

Among those who contracted the disease is deputy premier and Nationals leader Paul Toole, who confirmed he tested positive for the virus on Sunday after his whole family became infected.

NSW Governor Margaret Beazley and her husband, Dennis Wilson also have the virus. They are reported to be suffering minor “flu-like” symptoms.

The true growth of infections across NSW is likely far higher than Monday’s figures indicate, with most people encouraged to take rapid, at-home tests instead of the conventional PCR.

There is no way to report rapid test results in NSW yet. A system is due to come online mid-week, at which point case numbers are expected to surge again.

A further 50 million at-home rapid test kits have been bought by the state, on top of the 50 million already held in reserve, Premier Dominic Perrottet said on Sunday.

The newly-purchased rapid tests would be a “core part” in getting kids back to school at the end of the month, he said.

While just over 78 per cent of children aged 12 to 15 in NSW have been fully vaccinated, primary school-aged children – those between five and 11 – became eligible for their first doses only on Monday.

With a three-week gap recommended between jabs, very few will be fully vaccinated when classrooms open their doors amid the nation’s biggest outbreak.

That has prompted the Queensland government to delay the return to classrooms by two weeks, to February 7.

Mr Perrottet is adamant NSW will not follow suit.

“There will be challenges as we move through the return-to-school program but ultimately we can’t let perfection be the enemy of good. We need kids back in class.”

Meanwhile, isolation requirements for more close contacts have been scrapped, in an effort to stem the outbreak’s impacts on supply chains.

Shoppers have been faced with empty shelves as the crisis hits supermarkets.

Food logistics and manufacturing staff furloughed as close contacts are now allowed to leave self-isolation to attend work if they have no symptoms.

They also have to wear masks and comply with risk-management strategies, including daily rapid antigen tests.

The new rules apply to critical workers in biosecurity and food safety, the production and manufacturing of food, beverages, groceries, cleaning and sanitary products, and food logistics, delivery and grocery fulfilment.

The Transport Workers Union lashed the changes as reckless, while the Shop, Distributive and Allied union warned authorities to ensure staff did not become the targets of abuse due to food and other shortages.

“There is no doubt that there is a crisis, a shortage of workers in road transport supply chains,” TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine told ABC’s Radio National.

“[But] we think there is a real danger that this will make matters worse.”

NSW train and bus timetables will also be adjusted from Monday to help provide services while managing staff shortages.

-with AAP