Thousands of NSW residents in a handful of COVID-free regional areas have woken to their first day of freedom in four weeks.
Stay-at-home restrictions have lifted for much of the state’s northeast and southwest, including in the regional centres of Coffs Harbour, Wagga Wagga and Albury.
Masks will be mandatory at indoor public venues, but hospitality venues, shops, sporting facilities and beauty services have all been cleared to reopen with restrictions.
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Up to to five people will be allowed in a home and up to 20 can gather outdoors.
Entertainment venues like cinemas and theatres can also open with conditions, and outdoor and stadium events can also resume, with limits on attendees.
Weddings and funerals will be limited to 50 people, with churches and places of worship to open subject to the four square metre rule and no singing.
But for the bulk of NSW residents, those freedoms remain weeks away, with lockdown to continue in Sydney, for the southern parts of the state, the southeast, the Illawarra, the Shoalhaven, Hunter, Central Coast, central west and parts of the far west.
There worse is yet to come in many of the locked-down areas, with cases expected to peak in the next week, putting significant strain on hospitals and ambulances.
NSW ambulances are already enduring a daily level of demand typical of New Year’s Eve as they transport hundreds of suspected COVID-19 patients each day.
Some 3500 people diagnosed with or suspected of having the virus were transported by ambulances in NSW in the past two weeks, NSW Ambulance Commissioner Dominic Morgan told reporters on Friday.
The number of new locally-acquired cases reported remains high too, with 1542 testing positive to the virus in the 24 hours to 8pm on Thursday.
Nine people also died in the reporting period, including two who passed away at home.
There are 1156 patients in NSW in hospital, with 207 in intensive care and 89 ventilated.
© AAP 2021