By DAMIEN NOVAK
Face masks will once again be mandatory in indoor settings across the state from midnight tonight, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has announced, as the Omicron outbreak of Covid-19 continues to surge.
In a hastily arranged press conference this afternoon, the premier said the mask mandate would be in place until at least Thursday, 27 January, after the state recorded its highest ever daily total of Covid-19 cases.
The mandate would apply to all indoor settings except private homes, he said.
A total of 5,715 cases of Covid-19 were recorded in NSW yesterday, as well as one Covid-related death, increasing the strain on NSW Health resources.
“We’ve always said as we have moved through this that we will monitor the situation and the evidence in front of us,” Mr Perrottet said.
“The key indicators to us are not the case numbers but rather ICU numbers, hospitalisations, and in addition to that importantly the ability of our healthcare workers … to provide the care that people need if they’re seriously ill as they come into the hospital system.
“What we’re seeing at the moment is that many of our health workers, around 1,500 just today, are either sick or unable through testing requirements to be able to come into work.”
Density limits reintroduced
In addition to the new face mask rules, the premier also announced a return to density limits, with hospitality venues required to adhere to a one person per square metre rule from Monday, 27 December.
“We believe today’s changes are modest, cautious and take a precautionary approach. As we move through this holiday period to the end of January, the system is in a very strong position,” Mr Perrottet said.
Rapid antigen testing kits
In other measures designed to combat the spread of Omicron, QR code check-ins in all hospitality and retail settings will return, while millions of rapid antigen testing kits will be made available at clinics, GPs, hospitals and pharmacies, and delivered directly to NSW residents’ homes for free, the premier said.
“Providing rapid-antigen testing kits for those who want to do the right thing will help take the pressure of our testing clinics, while giving people confidence to get on with their lives,” he said.
“This will also help people monitor their own symptoms and go about their daily activities in a responsible manner helping protect their themselves, their families and the community.”
Omicron less severe?
Despite the worrying rise in Covid-19 cases, the premier said there was some cause for optimism, with indications the Omicron strain was less severe than the previously dominant Delta variant.
“It looks like the Omicron will be probably five times less severe than Delta,” he said, citing advice from NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant.
“The early signs are encouraging,” he said, while cautioning that more data was needed to make sure.
Vaccine calls renewed
Meanwhile, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard urged unvaccinated people to urgently book in for a jab.
“We had about 60 people in ICU over the last two weeks and 65 per cent, more than two-thirds, are unvaccinated people,” he said.
“My message to those out there who think this is still some sort of pixie land argument, that [Covid-19] doesn’t exist, is it does exist.
“And you might be one of those two-thirds who have ended up in our ICUs in the next week or two or three, it might be you. This is your chance to take it seriously.
“Come out, support yourself, support the community, support your family, and get vaccinated. Don’t take any notice of social media … Get vaccinated.”
There are now 347 people in hospital with Covid-19 in NSW, with 45 of those in intensive care.
Of the over 16 population, 93.5 per cent are double-dose vaccinated while 94.9 per cent have had at least one shot.