Major changes to NSW contact tracing, as COVID cases spiral

NSW's virus cases have hit record numbers this week, while they are also climbing in Victoria.

NSW's virus cases have hit record numbers this week, while they are also climbing in Victoria. Photo: AAP

UPDATED 9AM, 18/12/2021 (AEDT)

NSW is shaking up contact tracing as its COVID cases surge to record levels, leaving those diagnosed with the virus to tell close contacts themselves.

It came as Deputy Premier Paul O’Toole told Sydney radio that the state government was considering reintroducing mask mandates as cases soared above 2000 on Friday.

NSW Health said confirmed virus patients would be required to isolate at home until cleared by a medical practitioner – and to spread the word about their diagnosis.

“Immediately inform your household and others who they have been in the same home with for four hours or more, and your workplace or education facility that they are close contacts and must follow testing and self-isolation requirements,” it said in a statement on Friday.

“You must also advise friends and other people you have spent time with socially that they are casual contacts and must follow testing and self-isolation requirements.”

The changes are similar to contact tracing rules in Victoria since mid-November, where positive cases are also responsible for notifying their workplace, school or childcare.

  • See NSW’s requirements for close contacts here

NSW had 2213 virus cases and one death on Friday, its biggest daily number of the entire pandemic as the Omicron variant causes more concern. The state’s daily case numbers have quadrupled in less than a week, from 536 on Monday, after several superspreader events.

Of most concern is Newcastle, where infections have skyrocketed. There were public health alerts for three more bars in the city on Friday:

  • The Great Northern Hotel, all day on Saturday, December 11
  • Finnegan’s Hotel, from 7pm on Saturday, December 11, until close
  • The Cambridge Hotel, from 7pm on Saturday, December 11, until close, and 6pm Sunday, December 12, until close

With the burgeoning caseload, NSW Health said it would concentrate its efforts on case interviews and detailed follow-ups with those catch the virus. There will also be a focus on high-risk sites, such as healthcare, aged care, disability care and correctional facilities.

Before Mr O’Toole’s 2GB interview, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet again urged residents to keep things in perspective as cases rise.

There are 215 people in hospital with the virus in NSW – up from 23 on Thursday. They include 24 in intensive care and eight on ventilators.

Intensive care numbers in NSW peaked at 244 in September, 10 days after the state recorded a previous record of 1599 local cases.

“It is obviously going to be a challenging time. We accept that,” Mr Perrottet said on Friday.

“But we need perspective.

“Our No.1 focus is to keep people safe, to keep hospitalisations and ICU numbers down.”

Rules for masks and check-ins were relaxed in NSW on Wednesday, despite the rising case numbers, with the unvaccinated now able to participate fully in society.

Mr Perrottet is under pressure from an array of high-profile figures – from radio presenter Ray Hadley to Burwood mayor John Faker – to reintroduce them. Chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant has also urged people to wear masks in indoor settings, although it is no longer required.

Hadley slammed the Premier’s stance earlier on Friday.

“I think he’s close to signing his political death warrant,” he said.

“He’s putting Sydney and NSW at risk.

Queensland – where there were 20 new infections on Friday – has reimposed a mask mandate for indoor spaces in response to the NSW surge. It will apply from 1am Saturday (local time).

Queensland chief health officer Dr John Gerrard said the move would slow the spread of Omicron and give Queenslanders an opportunity to get vaccine booster shots.

“We know that these cases will increase. We know that’s inevitable and that Omicron will inevitably become dominant and we will not be able to stop it,” he said.

“Mask wearing is not just about protecting yourself. It is also about protecting others. It works both ways. I think what we require is not particularly onerous.”

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said 105,923 people had applied for border passes to enter Queensland from southern hotspots since rules eased at the start of the week.

“This is a small price to pay for your freedoms,” she said.

“I want everyone to enjoy Christmas and new year … please think about yourselves, your family.”

The rules will be reviewed when Queensland hits 90 per cent of people fully vaccinated, which is likely in January.

Victoria had another 1510 infections on Friday, and seven more fatalities. Its hospitalisations are also rising, with 386 patients in hospital on Friday.

South Australia had a record 64 cases on Friday, but has only one COVID patient in hospital. It will also significantly ease virus rules from later this month.

In the Northern Territory, the town of Tennant Creek was sent into lockdown after the detection of eight coronavirus cases.

Despite the expanding caseload across the country, Prime Minister Scott Morrison called on states and territories to keep borders open ahead of Christmas.

“We can’t go back to lockdowns, we all know that,” he said.

“The fact I can stand here and tell you that right across the country 90 per cent of our adult population is [fully] vaccinated [and] more than a million Australians have had their booster shots … arms us to be able to deal with these new challenges.”

However, one health expert has warned there are growing signs a fourth wave of COVID infections is on the way ahead of the Christmas holidays.

Infectious disease expert Mary-Louise McLaws called on the federal government to make free rapid antigen tests available so people didn’t inadvertently spread the virus while travelling during the holidays.

“All of a sudden we have got the highest number we have had in NSW and I think this is sadly heralding a fourth wave,” Professor McLaws told Nine.

“We really do have to be careful because what we have learnt from the England experience when Delta happened [was] all of a sudden children became the target for the virus and this is exactly what is happening again.”

Children aged five-11 can receive COVID shots from January 10.

-with AAP

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