Hospital visitation rules are easing in NSW after a backlash from families denied the chance to be at the bedside of their loved ones to say goodbye because of COVID-19 restrictions.
As the state reported another 24 COVID-19 deaths and 10,130 infections on Thursday, Premier Dominic Perrottet announced changes to visiting guidelines.
Those gravely ill, dying, and giving birth will now be able to have visitors as a general rule.
The rule change applies to fully vaccinated visitors, or those with medical exemptions. Access will be granted if it is “beneficial for the patient’s emotional or physical wellbeing”, the guidelines state.
Those with COVID or who are close contacts remain barred from hospitals.
Under restrictions reintroduced at the height of the Omicron wave in December, loved ones of people in those categories had to apply for exemptions to visit.
Many had their requests denied, including a Sydney woman who spent five hours in a hospital car park while her mother died alone.
The protocols were intended to strike a “fine balance” between limiting the spread of COVID-19 in hospitals and making sure family support was available to those gravely ill and dying, Mr Perrottet said.
“Ultimately we want to see here is as people are coming to the end of their life, that their carers and their family members are able to spend those special moments with them,” he told the Seven Network’s Sunrise on Thursday.
“From time to time, we have had situations which have been quite heartbreaking when people have not been able to be with their mother and father as they have passed away.
“We believe the changes we have made today will ensure there is a presumption of compassion and understanding … and with caution in relation to making sure we don’t have COVID outbreaks in our hospital system.”
Mr Perrottet previously apologised for the hurt caused by the policy on behalf of the state.
The number of visitors each day will remain limited and hospitals will still be able to block visits where necessary.
The change came as the number of people in hospital with the virus in NSW dropped by 111 to to 1795.
Some 121 people remain in intensive care, down by 11 from Wednesday.
Mr Perrottet also promised to prioritise the resumption of non-urgent elective surgery in Sydney’s public hospitals.
Elective surgeries resumed in private hospitals and non-metropolitan public hospitals across NSW on Monday. There are significant backlogs that need to be cleared for people who have been waiting more than a year for, in some cases, life-changing surgery.
The state was also on track to ease other restrictions – such as indoor mask-wearing mandates, and density limits – as planned on February 27, he said.
Mr Perrottet will agitate for more changes in policy at national cabinet on Thursday. On the agenda will be discussion on including boosters as part of a full COVID-19 vaccination course and the return of cruise ships.
Almost half of the eligible population in NSW has received a booster shot as of Wednesday, and 44.2 per cent of primary school-age children have received their first shot.