New South Wales recorded six new cases of locally acquired Covid-19 on Sunday, including a healthcare worker in the radiology and cardiology ward of a western Sydney hospital.
Testing numbers in the state have also dropped, and the chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, has called on more people to get tested, especially in the suburbs of Bankstown, Lidcombe, Auburn, Berala and Wentworthville.
The premier, Gladys Berejiklian, told reporters that the six people were all close contacts of a person who was announced on Saturday to be Covid-19 positive.
“Five out of the six are the spouse and children of the one case we had yesterday – and the sixth person is a person who had a very close contact of them in very close proximity,” she said.
Berejiklian said all six people were near Berala but genomic testing was yet to be done that could confirm whether they were associated with the Berala cluster.
Alerts have been issued for Concord Repatriation General Hospital from 12-14 January after a staff member tested positive.
The person worked three shifts at the hospital’s cardiology and radiology wards while potentially infectious.
Chant said: “The person’s role involves minimal patient contact and they wore a face mask during each shift.”
She said seven close workplace contacts had been tested and had so far tested negative.
NSW conducted 12,700 tests over the 24 hours from 8pm Friday to 8pm Saturday, which Chant said was a worryingly low number.
“That is a decline among testing levels,” Chant said. “It is critical that we get those testing rates up very high.”
She especially called on more testing in Bankstown, Lidcombe, Auburn, Berala and Wentworthville.
Berejiklian said higher levels of testing were crucial to discovering chains of infection, and eventually easing restrictions. But she said that would still take some months.
“Just to put things into perspective, the Crossroads outbreak that we had, took up to four months to quash,” she said.
“We’re only a month after the initial outbreak we had just before Christmas. We’re doing really well, but our ability to go back to more normal lifestyle, our ability to ease some of the restriction does rely on people coming out and getting tested.
“Anyone in a household that’s got a cough or cold, fever, headache, loss of taste and smell, please just get tested, don’t say, ‘I’ll just wait another day or take some Panadol and it might get better,’ please go and get tested.”
Earlier on Sunday, the federal health minister, Greg Hunt, nudged state governments to ease internal border restrictions as he declared the removal of the last Covid-19 hotspot in Australia.
Hunt said the chief medical officer, Prof Paul Kelly, had on Sunday removed the last remaining federal hotspot definition in Australia – the hotspot for the greater Brisbane area.
That step came after Kelly reviewed data from the last 14 days and the handling of the case involving the UK variant in hotel quarantine.
Earlier on Sunday, Victoria recorded no new cases of community transmission, though it did record seven cases in returned travellers.
On Saturday, organisers of the Australian Open announced that three people had tested positive across two charter flights bringing in tennis players and tournament staff.
No players have so far tested positive, and a total of over 1,200 people – including players, staff and entourage, and tournament staff – are due to arrive in Melbourne before the tournament starts on 8 February.
Berejiklian said the tennis players had raised an issue of “consistency” as Victorians in NSW were still not allowed to enter the state.
“I think people in NSW want to go home to Victoria,” she said. “I think people want to know that their freedoms are being considered in view of what’s happening and I think there’s an issue with consistency that’s a cause for concern.
“I always said I can’t understand why the border was closed in the first place,” she said.
“There isn’t anywhere in Australia that’s currently being designated as a hotspot. So why shouldn’t people be able to return home? And why shouldn’t Australians be able to move around freely? I have always been arguing for that. And I think this international event highlights the inconsistency of that.”
Hunt said the removal of the hotspot declaration showed Australia was “containing” the virus.
“It’s important to understand that our real challenge, our real threat, is international, not domestic,” Hunt said.
“We are very keen to ensure that our priority is bringing Australians home [from overseas] and also as a result of the removal of the last of the hotspot definitions, ensuring that Australians who are within our own borders are able to reunite with their families as soon as possible.”