A PROM-themed party held at a Newcastle nightclub last week has been linked to at least 84 COVID-19 cases as the Hunter's latest outbreak swells and health officials brace for a "rapid acceleration" of Omicron infections.
Newcastle hotels, bars, shops and venues began to fall like dominoes on Monday, as people began receiving notifications they were close or casual contacts at a string of new exposure sites from the weekend.
It comes after an event held at Argyle House on Wednesday, December 8, led 680 patrons to be deemed as close contacts.
A University of Newcastle medical ball held at Newcastle NEX on Friday, December 10, has since been named as a second gathering of concern.
Long queues of cars banked up at COVID testing sites across the region on Monday. Hunter health authorities say they are almost certain it is the Omicron variant of COVID-19 circulating in the region, with the results of genomic sequencing expected to confirm this in coming days.
Dr Tony Merritt, Hunter New England Health's public health controller, said COVID-19 was now "quite widespread" in Newcastle.
He thinks the case numbers in the coming days will be "substantial".
"We've had a very rapid acceleration in a way we haven't seen previously," he said. "We are now aware of a large number of other smaller gatherings that are very likely to be impacted by the spread of COVID and the Omicron variant."
Dr Merritt said they had recommended the household members of close contacts from Argyle House and the medical ball be treated as "secondary close contacts" given the transmissibility of Omicron. This appears to have impacted Newcastle Knights players who were sent home to test and isolate after members of their households were linked to the Argyle House cluster.
Official numbers released on Monday put Newcastle and the Hunter's new COVID cases at 26. But health officials confirmed at least 60 further cases had since been linked to the Argyle House cluster, which would be reflected in Tuesday's numbers.
IN THE NEWS:
COVID case alert notifications have been sent out for popular Hunter venues including The Great Northern Hotel, Queens Wharf Hotel, and The Cambridge following the growing case numbers linked to the Argyle House event. Most of these alerts advised patrons to monitor for symptoms and get tested if feeling unwell, unless they heard otherwise from NSW Health.
The Greenroof in Hamilton announced on social media it was temporarily closing for cleaning and staff testing on Monday as a "precaution", as did Queens Wharf Brewery.
There were 680 people who checked in using the QR code to attend Argyle House on December 8 until the early hours of December 9, with all of those patrons now considered close contacts.
"Given the high transmission of COVID-19 at the venue, we ask household contacts of anyone who attended to also immediately get tested and isolate until the close contact tests negative," NSW Health said.
People were typically displaying COVID symptoms about 48 hours after exposure.
Danny Buderus, the Newcastle Knights general manager of football, said the club had sent players home to test and isolate on Monday.
"The club has had some secondary contacts that live with a couple of players," he said. "We sent everyone for a test and, when negative, we will resume training as soon as possible."
Anyone who attended Argyle House from 9pm on December 8 until 3am, December 9, is classified as close contact. Likewise, about 100 people who attended the University of Newcastle Medical Ball at Newcastle NEX on Friday night, December 10, is considered a close contact and must immediately be tested and isolate for seven days. Of the 201 active cases confirmed in the Hunter, four are receiving care in hospital, and two are in intensive care.
One active case has been confirmed to have the Omicron variant in Cessnock, but health authorities said this person was isolating and not linked to the city cluster. Testing sites across the Hunter were bombarded on Monday as demand for COVID swabs boomed.
A woman who's family member attended Argyle House on Wednesday night said the flow-on effect of the experience was "incredibly stressful".
NSW LOCKDOWN ROADMAP: THE RULES FROM DECEMBER 15
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet is calling for calm, saying Omicron "was always going to get here". The following applies to all people, from tomorrow, regardless of vaccination status:
MASKS AND QR CODES
- Masks will only be required on public transport and planes, at airports, and for indoors front-of-house hospitality staff not fully vaccinated
- QR check-ins only required for hospitals, aged and disability care facilities, gyms, places of worship, funerals or memorial services, personal services, pubs, small bars, registered clubs, nightclubs, strip clubs, sex on premises, and indoor music festivals with over 1000 people
VISITING FRIENDS AND FAMILY
- No limit to number of visitors in your home
- No limit to number of people for outdoor public gatherings.
- All visitors to residents in aged care facilities and disability homes permitted in line with the location's policies
RESTAURANTS AND HOSPITALITY
- No person limit in hospitality venues
- Singing and dancing is permitted indoors and outdoors for all
EXERCISE AND RECREATION
- No person limit in gyms, indoor recreation and sporting facilities
SHOPPING AND PERSONAL SERVICES
- Non-critical retail reopens to all.
- No person limit for personal services including hairdressers, spas, beauty and nail salons, tattoo and massage parlours
WORKING FROM HOME
- Employers allow staff to work from home at their discretion
- International travellers who are not fully vaccinated still need to quarantine on arrival for 14 days
TRAVEL AND TRANSPORT
- Travel between Greater Sydney and regional NSW permitted for all
- Carpooling permitted for all
- Caravan parks and camping grounds open for all
EVENTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
- No person limit for major recreation facilities like stadiums, theme parks and race courses
- No person limit for entertainment facilities like cinemas and theatres
- No person limit for outdoor public gatherings and recreation
- Music festivals reopen with 20,000 person limit
- Amusement centres and play centres open to all
- No person limit for information and education facilities like art galleries, museums and libraries
WEDDINGS AND RELIGIOUS CEREMONIES
- Weddings and funerals permitted with no person limit, eating and drinking allowed while standing and dancing permitted for all
- Singing and dancing indoors permitted by all.
- Places of worship open to all
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