Eight local government areas (LGAs) in the Hunter and Upper Hunter regions of New South Wales will go into lockdown from 5pm today for one week, after COVID-19 cases were detected in the area.
It comes as NSW recorded 262 new cases of community transmission over the last 24 hours, with 110 (42 per cent) of those cases isolating during their entire infectious period.
Five people died as a result of the virus yesterday, following two deaths the day before.
NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant believes the emerging cluster in the Newcastle area can be linked to a gathering at Blacksmiths Beach on Friday night.
Elsewhere in regional NSW, higher detections of COVID-19 via surveillance testing have been found in sewage from Armidale and Dubbo.
With the Hunter New England Local Health District (LHD) currently providing care for and supporting five people diagnosed with the virus, authorities have mandated a one-week lockdown for the LGAs of Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, Maitland, Port Stephens, Cessnock, Dungog, Singleton and Muswellbrook.
The rules during the week will be the same as the lockdown restrictions for Greater Sydney, meaning face-to-face schooling is off and residents can only leave the house for essential reasons.
"That will commence at 5pm tonight and go until midnight next Thursday - so a week. Similar to what occurred in Orange," NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.
"And hopefully, similar to what occurred in Orange, we'll see that restrictions will lift at that time.
"I cannot stress enough how it's so important for everybody of all ages to come forward and get the vaccine."
Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said the five Hunter New England cases were reported overnight, and therefore would be included in the numbers to be released tomorrow.
"While the source of the infections continues to be investigated, we now think that the source originated from a gathering on Blacksmiths Beach on Friday night, which is believed to be the source of the initial cases," she said.
"Can I just thank the people involved? I mean, not that I want to see gatherings, but I also want to people to tell us the truth if they've made a wrong judgement."
It is known that two of the new cases are students at Maitland Christian School, which has been closed for cleaning today.
"All of the parents and the children are asked to go home and isolate, and we'll provide further advice as we work through the day," Dr Chant said.
"Also, we're calling out that a couple of venues but I do have to say that as the contact tracers go through the other cases, there may be other venues."
Those locations include the Auchmuty Library at the University of Newcastle and Target at Glendale Shopping Village.
Chant has reinforced the message that the stay-at-home provisions under the new Hunter region lockdown do not permit visitors to the home; rules that apply to all home visits from people outside the household including family and friends.
"We're also moving schools to learn from home for the week. In addition, the Morisset High School has also been closed for cleaning, and that's following a confirmed case with a student at the school," she added.
"This student resides in the Central Coast, and this case is not linked to the other cases. Separately, there's a case in the Central Coast," she said, noting eight of the nine cases in that region are in the same household.
To bolster the push for vaccination uptake Berejiklian today announced NSW has secured an extra 180,000 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine from the Federal Government which will arrive from 9 August.
"We can redirect those doses we've taken from the regions for the HSC students, and it also means we can put the balance into those eight local government areas in Greater Sydney of concern in particular," the Premier said.
"I'm urging everybody to come forward and get vaccinated. It doesn't matter which vaccine you're offered."
Dr Chant echoed Berejiklian's plea for vaccine uptake today, pointing to the fact there are 51 people in the ICU, including younger people. There are 290 COVID cases admitted to hospital in total in NSW, and 24 on ventilators.
"I want to acknowledge that younger people have not had the opportunity to be vaccinated because of the access to Pfizer and I just want to indicate that I'm aware with that," Dr Chant said.
"But my comments are that please, now is the time to strongly consider getting vaccinated if you're over 18.
"Even one vaccination reduces hospitalisation and death, both Pfizer and AstraZeneca, by 70 per cent, and two doses achieves about 90 per cent effectiveness against hospitalisation and death. We have the tools to allow us to protect ourselves and our loved ones from COVID."
The CHO has urged people in Armidale and Dubbo to come forward for testing as COVID levels in their respective wastewater plants have risen.
"Whilst in Armidale there had been a low detection previously and that was thought to be related to a case in that area, it is no time for complacency. The levels in the sewage have become higher, and we are concerned that there may be active cases in the area of Armidale," Dr Chant said.
"Also, the Dubbo sewage plant, that also has had a detection."
Updated at 11.29am AEST on 5 August 2021.
Help us deliver quality journalism to you.
As a free and independent news site providing daily updates
during a period of unprecedented challenges for businesses everywhere
we call on your support