Police are urging people across NSW to do the right thing to stop Sydney's "perilous" COVID-19 outbreak spreading into regional areas, as Lake Macquarie - on the edge of the Central Coast lockdown zone - recorded the highest number of health order breaches in the state from Tuesday into Wednesday.
NSW COVID cases: Latest case numbers, July 15, 2021
It comes as the Berejiklian government yesterday extended the Greater Sydney lockdown until at least July 30 after 97 new Coronavirus cases were recorded. Restrictions will also remain in place in regional NSW until at least the end of the month.
Police handed out 34 COVID-related fines in Lake Macquarie Police District in the 24-hours to 7am on Wednesday - 27 for people failing to wear masks when required to do so.
Deputy Commissioner Mick Willing, the new commander of NSW Police's Regional Field Operations branch, told the Newcastle Herald the case of an infectious person on a work site at Goulburn last week, which was made public on Tuesday, was an example of how "regional NSW is on a knife's edge".
"We can't let this disease seed itself outside Metropolitan Sydney," he told the Herald.
VIC Lockdown: Victoria enters fifth lockdown
"Most of regional NSW is doing the right thing, as you would expect, but we are getting a lot of calls on Crime Stoppers and [through] local police in relation to people breaching health orders.
"We're not taking a backwards step, we've got to do everything to try to protect regional NSW.
"People need to realise, as frustrating as this is for everyone, this is about keeping people safe."
Among the fines handed out at Lake Macquarie was a case of a 64-year-old woman from Fairlight, near Manly, who told officers she was on her way to her holiday house near Kempsey.
Then there was a man and woman from the Sydney suburb of Randwick who were stopped on the M1 before telling police they were on their way to their farm to do some photography.
"I guess there's a psyche out there where some people just think the rules don't apply to them," Deputy Commissioner Willing said.
"Those couple of cases - how could you not know what the public health orders are saying at the moment? It's willful blindness in some ways."
Deputy Commissioner Willing was recently handed the portfolio of Regional Field Operations.
During his three-decade career, he has been commander of the state's Homicide Squad and Counter Terrorism Unit and had a lead role in the government's bushfire response in early 2020.
NSW Health announced this week that people who live in lockdown zones will continue to be allowed to go to regional areas for essential work, but they must have the results of a negative COVID-19 test from within the previous seven days if they travel more than 50km from the boundary of the local government area where they reside - that will take effect from July 19.
Lake Macquarie Police District sits on the border of the Central Coast lockdown zone.
Deputy Commissioner Willing said movement from lockdown zones was a "great challenge" for police, who were asking employers and people enlisting contractors to think twice about asking workers to travel to regional areas.
He said officers were taking a "common sense approach" and had access to 24-hour legal advice, which they could ask for on a case-by-case basis.
"We know that thousands of people move daily between the Central Coast and Lake Macquarie and up further for work and for visiting loved ones, so it's a challenge," he said.
"If they can delay the work or get local contractors to do work, we are asking them to really consider that because this is such a perilous situation at the moment and we just can't have people willy-nilly leaving Sydney and putting regional people at risk."
Across the state, 65,322 COVID-19 tests were conducted in the 24-hours to 8pm on Tuesday, up from 49,055 the previous day.
Of the 97 new cases recorded, 24 were infectious in the community in Greater Sydney - that was the number Premier Gladys Berejiklian said had to get close to zero in order for the lockdown to be lifted.
IN THE NEWS:
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content: