NSW is tracking better than the best case scenario predicted by health authorities, the Premier says, on a day the state reported a record 29 deaths.
Another 63,018 COVID-19 cases were also announced on Friday, as the state works through a backlog of results from rapid at-home tests, which could be reported only from Wednesday.
Some 37,938 cases came from rapid tests (RATs), 24,329 of them within the previous seven days.
The other 25,080 were diagnosed from PCR, laboratory processed tests.
NSW Health cautioned some cases were being counted more than once, from multiple rapid tests and PCR tests.
The deaths of 15 men and 14 women, aged between their 40s and 90s, reported on Friday make it the deadliest day of the pandemic for NSW.
The number of patients in hospital is also steadily climbing, now at 2525 with 184 in intensive care.
But Premier Dominic Perrottet said on Friday the state was doing better than expected.
“We are currently tracking, on both the ICU and hospitalisation rate here in NSW, better than the best case scenario,” he said.
“It is going to be a difficult few weeks ahead, but the tracking that we are releasing today is very reassuring and encouraging.”
Hospitalisations and ICU numbers are expected to plateau next week.
Research released a week ago predicting the impact of the Omicron wave on the state’s health system found that in a worst case scenario, 6000 people could be hospitalised in NSW at the peak of the outbreak.
Some 600 would be in intensive care.
In the best case scenario, only 3158 people will be hospitalised and the number in ICU will peak at 270.
In comparison, at the peak of the Delta outbreak in September when the number of infections was a fraction of the current rate, there were 1266 people in hospital with COVID-19 and 244 in intensive care.
Chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant said the peak of the state’s outbreak would hopefully be soon, but warned research indicated one in two people in NSW might still get the virus during this wave of infections alone.
“Not all of those will have symptomatic infections or even know that they’ve been infected,” she said.
However, that still left half the population, she said, which demonstrated why authorities were trying to slow the spread of the virus, allowing people more time to get booster shots.
On Thursday, chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly said he expected daily case numbers would peak in NSW soon, even though authorities still don’t have a really accurate picture of the growth of infections across the state.
Also on Friday, Mr Perrottet announced more close contacts would be able to return to work early if they have no symptoms of COVID-19.
Workers in utilities, IT, welfare, funeral homes and cemeteries, air and sea freight and logistics and prisons are now permitted to leave isolation if their employer determines that their absence poses a high risk of disruption to delivering critical services, and they are unable to work from home.
Surf life-savers, rescue volunteers and the media are also exempt, joining workers in agriculture, manufacturing, health, transport, postal and warehousing.