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Major testing shake-up as NSW reports record virus deaths

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From Wednesday, NSW residents who return a positive rapid test will be required to report their result. Photo: Getty
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NSW has reported yet another record for COVID deaths as it moves to make residents report positive results from rapid tests.

Premier Dominic Perrottet said the change to the testing regime was not just about tracking numbers, but also about ensuring NSW Health understood who has underlying conditions and might need more care.

From Wednesday, residents aged 16 and over have 24 hours to report their positive results to authorities using the ServiceNSW app or website.

“The app is seamless … it will only take a couple of minutes,” Mr Perrottet said.

Residents must report each positive result, unless they’ve tested positive on a PCR test within the previous four weeks. They also have to state if they have underlying conditions.

Anyone who tests positive from Wednesday must log the result. They also have the non-mandatory option of reporting positive cases since January 1.

The penalty for failing to register the result is a $1000 fine. Enforcement will start from January 19.

Those who get a positive rapid test result, but have no symptoms and no known exposure, are advised to take another home test within 24 hours or have a PCR test.

All other positive rapid test results will be treated as confirmed cases, with an obligation to isolate for seven days.

NSW has 100 million rapid tests on order. Mr Perrottet said they would be used to support essential workers in health and transport, and for schools.

“Obviously it is very clear across the state that there is a shortage of rapid antigen tests and as I have said, my expectation would be nationally – as the states and the federal government roll out their procurement program – that we will see greater access to rapid antigen tests across the board,” he said.

Services Minister Victor Dominello said authorities would use the app to determine if those who tested positive were low or high risk.

Mr Dominello said the app would “basically stratify” COVID-positive people into two categories.

“Over 99.99 per cent of people, they will be in that low-risk setting, and will be able to resolve COVID at home simply by resting and going through the requisite isolation,” he said.

“Those at higher risk, you will get a call or be contacted by NSW Health within 48 hours, and with a further survey, to make sure that you are OK.”

  • For more information on registering a positive test, see Services NSW

Wednesday’s announcement came as NSW set another record for its deadliest day of the pandemic, with 21 fatalities and another 34,759 cases reported.

However, chief health officer Kerry Chant said some of the latest deaths dated back as far as September. Authorities had waited for the findings of coronial inquests before linking some to the virus, she said.

The state reached the grim milestone only two days after the previous record – the 18 deaths reported Monday – and as the number of people hospitalised with the virus continues to rise.

There are 2242 COVID patients in NSW hospitals, 175 of them in intensive care.

The latest cases were diagnosed from 134,411 PCR tests on Tuesday, meaning one-in-four people tested returned a positive result.

However, until now, residents have not been able to report results from positive rapid antigen tests so authorities suspect the true number of infections is higher.

NSW Health has repeatedly warned the daily case numbers, which have surpassed several records in recent weeks, are not giving a full picture of the spread of the virus in the community.

Case numbers across the state plummeted from a high of more than 45,000 on January 7 to just 20,200 in two days after people were urged to use home swabs instead of joining queues for PCR tests.

Elsewhere, new restrictions on music festivals came into force on Tuesday. They require organisers to ensure no one sings or dances at the events aside from performers.

Organisers of the Grapevine Gathering music and wine festival in the Hunter Valley said they were “extremely heartbroken” to cancel the event four days before it was due to begin.

The Tamworth Country Music Festival was cancelled last week due to the impact of restrictions.

The festivals are the sort of event NSW Health has previously advised people to take a RAT before attending, but the tests are scarce.

Unions want tests made available free to essential workers, with the Transport Workers Union calling on MPs to give up their free tests and donate them to workers.

-with AAP