NSW has recorded another 22,577 COVID cases and five deaths as the state’s largest outbreak continues to surge.
It is another new daily case record, surpassing Friday’s 21,151.
Five deaths were recorded, while 901 people are hospitalised and 79 are in intensive care.
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NSW closed the year recording more infections in one week than it did throughout Delta-induced lockdowns.
That outbreak began with an infected limousine driver on June 16, leading to lockdowns that eventually covered the whole state and ended as restrictions began easing for fully vaccinated residents on October 11.
During that period the state recorded 63,338 cases.
In the final week of 2021, with the more transmissible Omicron variant rampant, pathology labs pushed to their limit and most restrictions ended, the state recorded 75,258 cases, including 21,151 on December 31, when it also recorded six deaths.
Some of the differences between the two outbreaks include the new variant, 93.5 per cent of the state having received two doses of a vaccine, and a new premier in charge of the government’s response.
With vaccination rates high, Premier Dominic Perrottet has focused attention on the number of people in hospital and intensive care units, rather than the number of daily cases.
On the final day of 2021 there were 832 people with the virus in hospital, 69 of them in intensive care.
During the Delta peak, on September 21, there were 1266 hospitalised infections and 244 people in intensive care.
Despite comprising about six per cent of the population, unvaccinated people make up the majority of those in intensive care, Health Minister Brad Hazzard says.
To ensure hospital systems can cope, asymptomatic health workers who are in isolation due to being a close contact of a positive case will be permitted to leave isolation in “exceptional circumstances”, NSW Health announced on Friday night.
The exemption to the public health order signed off by Mr Hazzard means close contacts can leave self-isolation to attend work if they have been identified by their employer as critical and cannot work from home.
The exemption only allows them to go from home to work and if they develop symptoms they have to get a PCR test and can’t return to work until they test negative.
Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant warned earlier in the week there were likely more cases than health authorities knew about as testing systems faced backlogs caused by a huge demand for tests in the lead-up to Christmas.
National cabinet has changed isolation requirements for positive cases and close contacts and rapid antigen testing is taking the place of PCR tests in most circumstances.
Mr Perrottet says NSW will face short term challenges while waiting for 50 million rapid antigen tests the state has ordered, expected to arrive later in the month.
“We are continually looking at whether we need to purchase more,” Mr Perrottet said on Friday.
The new cases were from 148,410 PCR tests and results have been delayed as demand has spiked.
The surge in cases to end the year has prompted some criticism of the Perrottet government that remained largely resistant to reintroducing restrictions, placing an onus on “personal responsibility”.
Opposition Leader Chris Minns said the government’s plan had been “chaotic and confusing” and the state was unprepared for millions of people to live with the virus.
“You’ve got a situation where pregnant women are waiting five and six hours to get PCR tests and it’s clear the government was not prepared for the large increase in numbers over the last six or seven days,” Mr Minns said on Friday.
© AAP 2022