Hunter residents and businesses have been urged to return to the vigilance of last year as the COVID Delta strain threatens to jump from Sydney during the school holidays.
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Residents in seven Sydney local government areas have been ordered not to leave the metropolitan area, and Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Friday morning that anyone who lives or works in the Woollahra, Waverley, Randwick or Sydney council areas must not leave home for a week from 11.59pm on Friday.
Sydney recorded 17 new locally acquired cases overnight.
At least three staff at a Double Bay hair salon were working while infected, possibly exposing up to 900 people to the virus.
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NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said she expected the number of positive tests to increase dramatically in coming days.
Police have said they will patrol the outskirts of Sydney to make sure residents of the seven affected LGAs are not venturing outside the metropolitan area amid fears the virus could spread to regional areas.
Health authorities have already detected virus remnants in the Bourke sewerage system.
Hunter New England Health has told Hunter people to reconsider plans to go to Sydney.
The region has so far escaped the health orders in place in the metropolitan area, but anyone who has been to Sydney, the Central Coast, Wollongong or the Blue Mountains in the past 14 days must wear a face mask in most non-residential settings. This rule does not apply to hospitals, schools, aged care centres, prisons, constructions sites or hotel rooms.
Newcastle City district commander Wayne Humphrey said on Friday that the time for educating people about COVID laws had passed and police would start issuing penalty notices.
He said holidays were not a reasonable excuse for people from the seven Sydney LGAs to be in the Hunter and police would be visible in vacation spots in the next fortnight.
Police would also enforce the use of QR codes in businesses and at events as required under public health orders.
Port Stephens MP Kate Washington said Hunter residents needed to "snap back" to the way they were thinking last year, when COVID was at its peak.
"Everyone's just got to be really cautious," she said.
"We've got to hope that everyone in the seven affected LGAs are doing the right thing and not leaving metropolitan Sydney, but we've also got to assume there is COVID amongst us anyway.
"As I understand, the Delta strain is so much more contagious, so the risks are much greater."
She said the timing was "terrible" for the Hunter tourism industry, but the consequences of a COVID outbreak in the region would be "far worse" than a few weeks with lower visitor numbers.
"There certainly has been a creep of complacency that we now need to wind back very quickly.
"We could easily be brought into those Sydney restrictions at any time."
"It brings it home very quickly because you can bring it home very quickly and very easily," she said.
"If we're staying home or going away, we all have to be doing the right thing.
"The QR codes are critical, from a business point of perspective or a visitor point of view."
She said businesses should not take bookings from the seven affected LGAs, which are City of Sydney, Waverley, Randwick, Canada Bay, Inner West, Bayside and Woollahra.
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