THE COVID crisis in NSW will likely get worse before it gets better after the state recorded 239 new locally-acquired cases of the virus on Thursday.
Of the new cases, 88 were in the community for part or all of their infectious period, prompting tighter restrictions for those living in the eight local government areas "of concern" in Sydney, as well as an increased police presence and harsher penalties for those not complying with the public health order.
"Based on those numbers we can only assume things are going to get worse before they get better," NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Thursday.
"We know the numbers are too high ... we all want to come out of lockdown.
"Expect to see more police on the ground, more enforcement."
But it is not just the daily case numbers that have continued to climb.
The number of COVID-19-related deaths linked to the current Sydney outbreak has reached 13, and there are now 182 people in hospital with COVID-19.
Of those, 54 are in intensive care and 22 require ventilation.
"And they are young," NSW chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, said.
"Two in their teens, eight are in their 20s, four are in their 30s and three are in their 40s.
"This is not only an old person's disease."
COVID vaccination NSW
Dr Chant said only 25 per cent of people aged over 70 were yet to receive their first COVID-19 vaccine.
She said the consequences of someone over 70 contracting this strain of the virus would be "almost inevitably" tragic.
Neither of the two people who had died on Wednesday - a woman in her 90s and a man in his 80s - had been vaccinated.
Both were household contacts of confirmed cases.
"Disturbingly, we are still seeing these case numbers rise, and we are still seeing too many people infectious in the community," she said.
"At this level of cases, we are going to continue to see deaths.
"Too many elderly people in our community are not protected.
"We cannot live with the Delta strain with the current level of vaccination."
Ms Berejiklian announced people living within the eight Sydney local government areas of concern will now be required to wear a mask whenever they are outside their home.
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From midnight on Thursday, they must also stay within a five kilometre radius.
Police will also have the power to shut down any public premises, worksite, workplace or business that continues to "flout" public health orders.
And across the state, penalties would increase from $200 to $500 for people not wearing masks where required.
"Vaccinations will be part of our road to freedom," Ms Berejiklian said.
"Please know the vaccination rate will gives us the freedom to make decisions about how live more freely moving forward."
Almost 111,000 people were tested for COVID-19 in the 24 hours to 8pm on Wednesday.
Ms Berejiklian said the government had been looking "closely" at lifting the lockdown in some areas on the perimeter of Greater Sydney - such as the Central Coast.
"But it's really important to note that when you have so many cases lurking in the community... but also when you have critical workers going into communities, you have to accept the risk is everywhere," Ms Berejikian said.
"That's why all of us have to be vigilant no matter where we live.
"Because that risk is there.
"While your community may not have any cases today, you could very well tomorrow."
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