NSW reports 22,577 new cases of COVID-19 and five deaths as Sydneysiders ring in New Year

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NSW has recorded 22,577 new cases of COVID-19 and five deaths on Saturday, as thousands gathered to celebrate the New Year in Sydney and across the state.

There are 901 coronavirus patients in hospital, with 79 in intensive care; a rise from Friday’s figures of 832 and 69 respectively. The number of patients in NSW hospitals has more than doubled since this time last week, when there were 388 hospitalised on Christmas Day.

ICU staff treating COVID-19 positive patients in St Vincent’s Hospital.Credit:Kate Geraghty

There were 119,278 tests in the 24-hour period to 8pm on Friday, a decrease from 148,410 on the previous day.

The numbers come as NSW Health confirmed, late on New Year’s Eve, that healthcare staff who are close contacts of a COVID case can be ordered back to work before completing the required seven days’ isolation if they are deemed to be essential by a senior manager.

The move is to ensure “continued delivery of essential health services” and will apply to asymptomatic workers in public and private facilities “in exceptional circumstances”, a spokesperson said.

If the workers develop any symptoms of COVID-19 they are required to seek a PCR test and not attend their workplace until a negative result is received.

Members of the public queue for a COVID-19 test at the Bondi Beach drive-through on New Year’s Eve.Credit:AAP

“The exemption allows these close contacts to leave self-isolation to attend their workplace, provided they have been identified by their employer as critical to the service and cannot work from home,” a NSW Health spokesperson said.

“Under the exemption, healthcare workers must travel directly to and from their residence to their workplace. They are required to wear a mask at all times in their workplace, unless eating or drinking or providing services where it needs to be removed.

“These workers are also required to comply with risk-management strategies put in place by their employer.”

The change was enacted by Health Minister Brad Hazzard, who signed an exemption to the state’s public health orders on New Year’s Eve.

Meanwhile, there are growing concerns NSW’s official daily coronavirus tally is falling short of the actual rate, with some people testing positive with rapid tests at home which are not counted in the official tally.

NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said a PCR test allows healthcare staff to identify positive cases in “anyone with complex medical conditions, anyone with underlying health conditions or if you’re living with people with those conditions”.

“At the moment, we’re saying if you have a positive test, get tested using a PCR test,” Dr Chant said.

Those wishing to get tested have contended with large queues and hours-long waits, with some being turned away when testing reaches capacity.

On Friday, NSW Health said those who test positive for the virus must isolate for seven days after the day of their positive test.

If they have no symptoms after those seven days – such as a sore throat, runny nose, cough or shortness of breath – they are free to leave their home without receiving a text message from authorities or taking another test.

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