THERE are no active cases of COVID-19 in the Hunter, but it is "too early to call it over".
It has been almost three months - 87 days - since Hunter New England reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19, and the numbers have remained stable at 278 for almost four weeks.
Now, the region is free of active, known cases.
"Every one of our cases has been released from home isolation or from hospital," Hunter New England public health physician, Dr David Durrheim, said on Thursday.
"We have no infectious cases in the Hunter. Which is good news.
"But we are not an island.
"With the likelihood of our lovely valley, or Port Stephens, attracting visitors from other parts of Australia that are not virus-free, I think we should expect that we could get re-introduction."
Dr Durrheim said Flutracking data had shown rates of flu-like illnesses were historically low thanks to the effectiveness of social distancing measures.
"But in the past two weeks, we have seen a slight upsurge," he said. "From 0.2 per cent we are now seeing 0.4 per cent attack rates in a week - which means people are having the sort of contact again that allows other viruses, including flu, to spread and could also create an opportunity for COVID.
"It's too early to call it over."
Dr Durrheim said we must remain vigilant.
"We have to expect outbreaks like we have seen in other countries, and be ready to jump on them just as hard," he said. "Even at this point, we should still be keeping the distance, still be really rigorous with our hand hygiene, and make sure we clean surfaces.
"Anybody who has a cough or cold or symptoms needs to not go out and spread it around, and to make sure they haven't got COVID."
Dr Durrheim said other countries that had followed a "suppression direction" - such as Hong Kong and South Korea - had started seeing outbreaks when they relaxed restrictions.
"We don't think we have got rid of all of the virus in Australia - we haven't gone down the elimination route like New Zealand, and we have seen these unexpected cases - outbreaks in Victoria and until recently, in Sydney," he said. "We have to expect that we may get the experience what we have seen in South Korea and Hong Kong as venues open up.
"At the moment, we appear to be virus-free.
"We have done mega clinics looking for the virus, and we haven't found it."
Ahead of the long weekend, Dr Durrheim urged residents to remain cautious due to the possibility the virus was still "lurking".
"Normal respiratory viruses are starting to slowly ebb upwards," he said. "We know society is opening up. Cafes are opening up. The restrictions on meetings have been relaxed... We have aggressively looked for the virus, and we haven't found it. But we are not an island."
Dr Durrheim said until there was an effective vaccine for COVID-19, we had to continue to stand back, wash hands regularly, cover coughs and sneezes, and get tested if symptomatic.
"That doesn't mean we can't enjoy our long weekend travels, but with the number of people expected to take advantage of the relaxed travel restrictions, especially those from outside of our region, it could be more difficult to remember these good habits," he said. "The last thing we want is to go backwards just when things are starting to look good."
Clinics continue to operate at Calvary Mater, John Hunter, Maitland, Belmont, and Cessnock Hospitals.
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