COVID case numbers spike in the Hunter's new clusters

HEALTH authorities have urged Hunter residents to wield every weapon in their arsenal against COVID-19 as a record daily surge in the region means the virus is "very close to every one of us".

Fifteen suburbs recorded cases as the region's unwanted milestone arrived on the same day NSW racked up 80 per cent first dose in its vaccination rollout. In the Hunter the fears of health professionals were confirmed when cases jumped from 14 on Tuesday to 27 yesterday, with the positive cases spread across all five lower Hunter local government areas.

Worse, clusters at Mayfield and Tenambit continue to swell as the health district acknowledged the initial source of their spread is unknown.

A dozen of the cases in yesterday's surge were infectious in the community, with another 12 isolating. Three were under investigation. Hunter New England Health said 13 are linked to two separate clusters, one at Mayfield and Charlestown and another at Tenambit. Of those 13, nine are linked and their source of infection known, the district said.

The latest figures mean the region is now grappling with more than 200 active cases and 550 close contacts isolating.

"Unfortunately the predictions we made about two days ago have come to fruition," Hunter New England Health's public health physician Dr David Durrheim said.

"We noted at that time that with a large proportion of our cases infectious in the community that we would see an increase in numbers and an increase in transmission in the community.

"This is really a source of concern. It means that the virus is very close to every one of us, and we really need to at this point take every measure we can to reduce our movement, reduce getting close to people, avoid any gatherings and keep that physical distance that is very helpful."

Dr Durrheim said people continued to stream in for vaccination, but that a first jab was "really just a primer".

"It only provides about 30 per cent protection, so you are really not protected from COVID if you've only had one jab," he said.

He urged people to stay vigilant in limiting movement, wearing masks and staying socially distanced to reduce their risk of acquiring COVID-19. Twelve people are in Hunter hospitals and none require intensive care.

Two are unlinked with an unknown source, and three remain under investigation. "The sources for these clusters is unknown," the health service said.

Tuesday's Hunter figures had included several cases linked to a Mayfield charity, City Sleep Safe, that provides emergency accommodation.

NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro reiterated that the 70 per cent vaccination target was a statewide figure. He said the region's spike in cases was not unusual given Delta's virulence.

Lake Macquarie's eight cases spanned Charlestown, Mount Hutton, Cardiff South, Windale, Fishing Point and Wyee Point. Five of Newcastle's cases were in Mayfield, with the rest spread between Hamilton South, Beresfield and Elermore Vale. Tenambit hosted all six Maitland cases, while Cessnock had two and Cliftleigh a third. Port Stephens added Shoal Bay and Fingal Bay cases. Hunter exposure windows at Newcastle Courthouse and a Merewether petrol station were among almost a dozen fresh casual contact sites added.

The courthouse's main entry area, its second level and court room 2.1 were exposure sites between 9.30am and noon on Friday. Wangi Wangi Bakehouse, Chemist Warehouse Mayfield, IGA Wangi Wangi, Officeworks Warners Bay, Diggers Bottle Shop at Hamilton South, Newcastle Central Plaza and Petquarters at Taylors Beach all had exposure windows listed, as well as Heatherbrae 7-Eleven, Woolworths Toronto and Merewether's Coles Express petrol station.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said authorities were finalising a compliance regime for how rules that will exclude unvaccinated people from hospitality premises and events can be enforced.

"It's got to be a good balance between making sure everyone is doing the right thing, but also making sure we don't cut corners," Ms Berejiklian said.

Mr Barilaro said it was up to businesses to open safely.

"No one's going to force a business to open, it will be up to businesses if they choose to open up under these conditions, or they can wait until we have 80 per cent double vaxxed population. We are not moving away from that," Mr Barilaro said.

"If I am going into a pub I want to know that I am going into a safe environment ... at the same time, for those staff, it would be unfair if some are vaccinated and some are not to have to take that risk. It is up to management to ensure the health and safety of their staff."

Curfews lifted overnight in Sydney, but Ms Berejiklian said, but "we can't move on anything else right now".

"We need everybody to hold the line," she said. "We've seen a stabilisation in the last few days, and we don't want that trend to go the wrong way."

IN COVID-19 NEWS TODAY: SEPTEMBER 15, 2021


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