More middle-aged deaths from COVID in NSW

By Luke Costin
NSW has recorded 45,098 new COVID-19 cases and nine deaths in the latest reporting period. (AAP)

More people aged in their 50s have died of COVID-19 in NSW, as a former prime minister joins the group of 250,000 residents currently isolating with the virus.

The state reported another 45,098 cases on Saturday, including 32,000 in Sydney health districts and 37 in prisons.

Authorities reported the deaths of four women and five men, aged in their 50s, 70s and 90s.

All but one lived in Sydney. The other was from Newcastle.

More than one-in-35 NSW residents has the virus, including former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.

His symptoms are "moderate so far", he said, while urging people to be polite and considerate to health workers that have encountered relentless pressure for two years.

New official modelling shows NSW hospitalisations - up 3.2 per cent to 1795 on Saturday - are expected to hit 4500 in late January.

The worst-case scenario places the peak of the hospitalisation above 6000, which is within the state's current capacity, Premier Dominic Perrottet says.

He has fended off criticism concerning his decision to ease restrictions last month as the state's Omicron outbreak took hold, saying Omicron required a different response.

"It is much, much less severe, and the approach we've taken is the right approach," he said on Friday, while reintroducing bans on singing and dancing at pubs.

"Clearly in the middle of a pandemic, when cases arise, that will dampen confidence but ultimately, the alternative is to lock down."

Dominic Perrottet has defended easing restrictions as NSW's Omicron COVID-19 outbreak took hold. (AAP)

Unlike Victoria and Tasmania, whose case totals on Saturday were mostly made of self-reported rapid antigen tests, NSW currently has no mechanism to cater for positive RATs.

NSW Health says symptomatic people who test positive to a RAT from Saturday should immediately isolate and treat themselves as a case.

While it told the public on Friday positive RATs must be reported, a system to do so won't be available until mid-next week, when the Service NSW mobile app is updated.

Knowing where positive RAT cases were essential to ensure doctors, nurses, hospital cleaners and either frontline workers were in the right place, particularly for regional areas, NSW Labor says.

"Wednesday doesn't seem that far away but in reality, we need that ability to update that status on the Service NSW app almost immediately," Opposition Leader Chris Minns said on Saturday.

He suggested the government plan a stocktake of available teachers ahead of term one and consider turning primary schools into vaccination hubs.

The current outbreak has led to a drop in spending in Sydney lower than any other time in the pandemic, according to data from ANZ.

The Tamworth Country Musical Festival has also been delayed until April while non-urgent elective surgery will be halted until at least February.

Patients requiring intensive care increased to 145, double what it was eight days ago. Forty people are on ventilation.

Immunisation levels have barely budged, with the double-dose vaccination rate 93.7 per cent for residents aged 16 and over and 78.1 per cent for those aged 12 to 15.

Vaccinations for children aged five to 11 begins on Monday.

Dr Kerry Chant said current figures are an underestimate, given the high spread in the community, difficulty accessing rapid antigen tests and the expected number of asymptomatic cases,


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