After a horror few weeks of skyrocketing infection numbers, furloughed staff across essential services and mass testing delays, the NSW government is set to announce a major reversal of multiple Covid-19 restrictions in a bid to bring the Omicron caseload under control.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet will meet with the government's Covid economic recovery committee this morning to sign off on the measures, which were decided following a meeting of the committee on Thursday.
The changes – which come after the state reported 70,000 cases across the last 48 hours and another 38,625 cases on Friday – will include shutting nightclubs and banning singing and dancing in pubs, The Sydney Morning Herald reports.
Venues will be discouraged from allowing "vertical consumption" under the proposed changes, and there will also be a pause on some major events – risk-assessed by NSW Health – and certain elective surgeries.
The Premier flagged on Thursday that his government was "looking at suspending" some procedures.
"During the Delta outbreak, and the year before, we suspended elective surgery for a period of time. That is certainly something we are looking at now," he told 2GB radio.
"At the moment, the healthcare system is strong, but we will need to make some changes – I suspect on elective surgery and I would also expect in terms of our work with the private health system."
The new rules – for elective surgery at least – are set to come into effect on Monday.
As of Friday, there were 1738 people in hospitals across the state with Covid-19 and 134 of those in intensive care.
Government sources told the SMH the restrictions would not be branded a lockdown, but rather "safety measures".
The move marks a huge turnaround for the Premier, who has repeatedly insisted since taking office that NSW would stay open despite the high caseload.
But last week he warned "targeted responses" would be implemented if the health situation worsened.
"The alternative is, as we move through this next phase of the pandemic is to go back into lockdown," Perrottet said last Tuesday.
"That is not what we're doing in NSW, that is not the alternative that we're considering.
"We've said we will tailor our response to the situation that comes. If evidence changes, we will have targeted restrictions in place.
"But the key metric here is vaccination rates, that is our key to success."
NSW Health Deputy Secretary Susan Pearce said on Wednesday the ministry planned to more than quadruple the number of jabs it was delivering at its state hubs, with hopes to deliver more than 300,000 vaccines a week by the end of the month.
It comes as hospitals prepare for Covid-related admissions to triple as infection numbers continue to surge, forcing further cuts or delays in care that could have long-lasting health effect.
Doctors and experts told The Guardian that while hospitalisation rates have increased, the system could still be a fortnight from a rise comparative to the jump in cases, given the time it takes for infected people to get ill enough for admission.
"There isn't much sign of an uptick yet," one senior NSW health official said.
"But we are worried, very worried."
The concern is shared inside hospitals, with another senior doctor saying that on present trajectories, "in two weeks we'll be having 400 admissions a day".
"It's currently very alarming in the medical world," they said.
- By Natalie Brown, news.com.au