The Hunter has not had a new COVID-19 case in three weeks and the only way the virus will flare in the region is if someone imports it.
That is the message from Hunter New England Health public health physician David Durrheim after pubs, cafes and restaurants took their first tentative steps towards resuming normal trading on Friday.
Dr Durrheim said an "extraordinary increase" in testing had failed to reveal a single new case in the Hunter and New England districts since April 22, 24 days ago.
"We've been looking very, very actively for any local virus occurrence and the current testing level exceeds 45,000 people who have been screened," he said.
"In the last week it's effectively 900 people a day screened through the mega clinic at [Hunter] Stadium, so people have really participated and made sure they aren't infected with COVID-19.
"That gives us some reassurance that we've really put in a great effort as a community to hunt out the virus."
He said Google mobility data had shown that Hunter residents had largely been "magnificent" in restricting their movements and not travelling unnecessarily.
As people begin to move, and we get groupings of people getting together, then the risk exists certainly for re-importing the virus.Dr David Durrheim
But he expected to see more inter-regional movement as restrictions eased.
"This is the risk that faces us now," Dr Durrheim said.
"We do know there are cases every day in Sydney, small numbers, normally single-digit numbers, but not all of them are people who are in quarantine. There is still come community transmission in Sydney.
"As people begin to move, and we get groupings of people getting together, then the risk exists certainly for re-importing the virus into Hunter New England."
From Friday, the NSW government allowed public gatherings of up to 10 people, including in cafes, pubs and restaurants; up to five visitors to a household at one time; and the reopening of playgrounds, exercise equipment and outdoor pools.
Some Newcastle hospitality businesses and their customers took advantage of the new rules on Friday.
Dr Durrheim encouraged people to maintain social distancing and hand washing while catching up with friends and to stick with the five-visitor limit at home.
He said the experience of South Korea, where a 29-year-old man is believed to have infected more than 100 people after visiting several Seoul nightclubs this month, was a warning to Australians to remain careful as the economy opened up.
Public Health Act orders prohibit holidays in regional areas. Hunter residents can visit family and friends in Sydney, but Dr Durrheim discouraged such trips.
"Now is the time to catch up with nearby friends and family ... rather than embarking on broader travel."
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