THE Lower Hunter's 1354 new COVID-19 cases will be an "underestimation" of the virus circulating in the community with official PCR testing rates dropping by about 45 per cent.
As the state government prepares to mandate the registration of positive rapid antigen tests, COVID-related hospitalisations in the Hunter have doubled in the past week.
Nine people are currently in the district's intensive care units with the virus.
It follows the deaths of two Hunter women - both aged in their 80s - from the Cessnock and Muswellbrook areas.
Across the wider Hunter New England region, there were 1661 new cases of COVID-19 officially confirmed via PCR testing in the 24 hours to 8pm on Monday.
But the NSW government's growing reliance on rapid antigen tests and the closure of multiple drive-through clinics in the Hunter is reflected in the area's significant decline in official PCR testing numbers which dropped from about 78,100 between December 19 to 25, to just over 43,350 from January 2 to 8. But daily testing figures dropped as low as 3,335 in Hunter LGAs on January 8 - an 85 per cent drop from the pre-Christmas peak of 21,581 tests on December 20.
This week it is expected NSW will move into a "dual reporting system" for infections that also includes positive, self-administered rapid antigen test results which will be reported through the ServiceNSW app.
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Hospitalisations in Hunter New England jumped to 106 people on Monday.
A week ago, there were 70 people in Hunter hospitals with COVID-19, up from 27 the week prior.
In NSW, there were 25,870 new cases and 11 deaths reported on Monday - six women and five men.
Of the 11 who died, nine were vaccinated and two were not.
NSW Health's Dr Jeremy McAnulty said there were now 2186 patients with COVID in hospital in NSW, with 170 of those in intensive care, and 51 requiring ventilation.
"As increasingly people follow NSW Health's advice to use rapid antigen tests for diagnosing COVID-19, the number of PCR tests will underestimate the true number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19," he said.
Most of the Hunter's new COVID cases were in Newcastle, where there were 370 new cases, then Lake Macquarie, which had 342 cases, and Maitland, which had 210. Cessnock recorded 138 new cases, Port Stephens had 131, Muswellbrook had 65, and there were 46 in Singleton. There were 46 cases recorded in the Upper Hunter, and 11 in Dungog. The new figures take the total number of active infections in the district to 24,146.
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