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 that anyone who lives or works in the Woollahra, Waverley, Randwick or Sydney council areas must not leave home for a week from midnight on Friday.
Sydney recorded 17 new locally acquired cases overnight, bringing the latest outbreak to 65.
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At least three staff at a Double Bay hair salon were working between June 15 and 23 while infected, possibly exposing up to 900 people to the virus.
Seventeen people at a birthday party in Sydney's west last weekend have now contracted the virus, demonstrating how easily the Delta variant can spread.
Ms Berejiklian warned that the number of positive tests could increase 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.
Highway patrol officers are stopping cars and checking licences to ensure people are not breaching travel rules.
Health authorities have already detected virus remnants in the Bourke sewerage system.
The Hunter has 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, construction sites or hotel rooms.
Hunter New England Health public health physician Craig Dalton told ABC radio on Friday that Hunter people should not travel to Greater Sydney.
"We're really asking people to reconsider that travel [into Sydney] for the school holidays and to stay put," Dr Dalton said.
He said the Delta variant was a "very, very infectious virus, and we're still learning a lot about it".
"Please put a mask on," he said. "We know that masks are very protective against transmission, so this is a really important rule.
"I think we need to thank people who are putting masks on rather than be concerned. It's the right thing to do."
A data analysis released by Associated Press on Friday showed less than 1 per cent of COVID deaths in America are among those who have been vaccinated.
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.
Authorities would also enforce the use of QR codes in businesses and at events as required under public health orders.
NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Gary Worboys said on Friday that police had issued seven infringement notices overnight to people who had been caught breaking mask-wearing rules.
"It doesn't mean that there will be road blocks ... [but] police will continue to be vigilant on our transport system, on our roadways, in shopping centres, hotels and clubs," he said.
"The mask-wearing [incurs a] $200 on-the-spot fine, breaching public health orders is $1000, and, of course, people can be put before the court if they continue or persist in those offences."
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.Port Stephens MP Kate Washington
Port Stephens MP Kate Washington said the Hunter needed to "snap back" to its way of 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 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."
So far, no other parliamentarians nor their staff have tested positive.
"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 perspective or a visitor point of view."
She said businesses should not take bookings from the affected LGAs, which are City of Sydney, Waverley, Randwick, Canada Bay, Inner West, Bayside and Woollahra.
Ms Berejiklian said health authorities expected household contacts of confirmed cases to return positive tests.
"Our aim is to make sure that we get on top of any potential spread and that we also get on top of any chains of transmission that our testing hasn't picked up," she said.
NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said the stay-at-home orders would act as a "circuit breaker" to give contact tracers time to get on top of exposure sites.
"Where people have been totally in isolation for that fully infectious period, they pose no risk to the community," Dr Chant said.
She was more concerned about people who had been infectious in the community before isolating, such as clients of Joh Bailey hairdressers in Double Bay.
"We have at least three staff members who were working whilst infectious and, with two confirmed cases amongst clients so far, I expect more cases," she said.
NSW Health added several exposure sites, including two cafes in Potts Point, two cafes in Alexandria and a health club in Bondi Junction, to its list of venues of concern on Thursday evening and Friday morning.
The National Retailers Association said the seven-day lockdown would "inflict carnage" on Sydney CBD retailers and cost as much as $750 million in lost retail sales.
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