NSW premier to make changes to Covid restrictions as cases surge

The NSW Government is set to bring back QR check-in codes in hospital and retail venues as well as mailing free rapid antigen tests to NSW residents as Covid cases near 6000 a day.

The surge in cases has left testing clinics in NSW overwhelmed, some reporting wait times of up to five hours and some waiting days for results. In Victoria, some clinics were forced to close after being overrun by holidaymakers and those exposed to the virus.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet also flagged a plan to provide residents with the rapid tests after a national cabinet meeting on Wednesday, with people scrambling to buy tests before Christmas festivities.

A photo of Premier Dominic Perrottet looking off camera.
Premier Dominic Perrottet said QR codes would assist with contact tracing as cases surge in NSW. Source: AAP

"Providing rapid antigen testing (RAT) kits for those who want to do the right thing will help take the pressure off our testing clinics while giving people confidence to get on with their lives," he said on Wednesday.

"This will also help people monitor their symptoms and go about their daily activities in a responsible manner, helping protect themselves, their families and the community."

It is not yet clear when businesses will need to comply with reinstating QR check-in codes and when the RATs will be distributed, but the premier is expected to announce more details on Thursday.

NSW Minister for Customer Service Victor Dominello tweeted on Thursday morning "given the increasing Omicron numbers we’ll revert back to our pre-15 Dec check-in settings".

Mandate for masks unlikely for NSW

However, despite case numbers increasing daily, there is no plan to bring back mandatory masks.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison urged Australians to wear a mask, but said it's not necessary to make it compulsory across the country.

Close up of a rapid antigen Covid-19 test.
NSW is set to bring back QR code check-ins and provide free rapid antigen testing kits. Source: AAP

"So premiers will make calls about what’s the best way to encourage people to do that. Some like to use mandates, others like to use that encouragement and rely on the individual responsibility to achieve that.

"What matters is that people wear them, not whether people get fined or not."

Mr Morrison compared making wearing masks mandatory to having to mandate people to wear sunscreen and hats in summer.

"Again, wear a mask in an indoor setting. You don’t need to be forced to do it. It’s a very clear message — wear a mask," he said.

Tens of thousands face Christmas in isolation

Restrictions for all NSW residents —including the unvaccinated— were eased on December 15, with QR code check-ins scaled back and masks only required in high-risk settings like public transport and planes.

Caps on visitors in homes, hospitality venues, or outdoor gatherings were also lifted.

Cars lining up in a drive though Covid testing clinic.
There are long queues for Covid tests as people report wait times of up to five hours and some are being turned away. Source: AAP

As cases continue to skyrocket, tens of thousands of people in NSW are facing Christmas in isolation as the Omicron variant of Covid-19 continues to run rampant.

Under current rules, people with Covid-19 must self-isolate at home until medically cleared, even if fully vaccinated with household contacts required to self-isolate for seven days from the last time they had contact with a Covid-positive person and return negative tests.

Rapid antigen test could be a more effective option

Scott Morrison told Channel Nine's The Today Show on Wednesday the government was looking into possibly providing free rapid antigen tests, blaming travel restrictions for the lengthy Covid testing site waits.

"One of the big reasons we’ve got those queues in Victoria and NSW is you’ve got people who are required to get PCR tests before they travel into other states. Now that needs to be looked at," Mr Morrison said.

"Rapid antigen testing in those situations would certainly be a more effective option."

On Thursday, NSW recorded 5715 new Covid infections in the past 24-hour reporting period, and Victoria announced 2005 more cases and 10 more deaths.

NSW's double-dose vaccination rate sits at 92.61 per cent of people aged 12 and over.

According to the health department, the majority of Covid patients in hospital intensive care units are unvaccinated.

With AAP

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