Regional cases remain, kids back to school

·2-min read

Thousands of school students in NSW regional communities have returned to face-to-face learning as the state records 608 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 and another seven deaths.

COVID-19 infections continue to spread across the Hunter New England Local Health District, where 65 new cases were recorded in Lake Macquarie, Maitland, Newcastle, Cessnock, as well as in Gunnedah, where stay-at-home orders have been extended until October 11.

Elsewhere in the regions, there were 51 cases in the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, 28 on the Central Coast, 19 in southern NSW, eight in western NSW and six in northern NSW.

Stay-at-home orders are in force for the Lismore local government area and the town of Casino.

On the mid-north coast, two cases were recorded in the 24 hours until 8pm on Monday.

While Port Macquarie will be freed from lockdown on Wednesday, nearby Forster, Tuncurry and Taree have returned to stay-at-home orders until Monday.

With COVID-19 restrictions eased across many parts of rural and regional NSW, 721 schools - almost a third of the state's public schools - have welcomed all students back on site for the start of term four.

COVID-safe settings will include QR-code check-ins, no visitors, restricted activities, increased hygiene practices and the wearing of masks to protect the more than 140,000 regional children attending school this week.

Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said the staggered return to school would continue from October 18.

"After a disrupted term three, it is more important than ever that students receive the academic, social and wellbeing benefits of being in the classroom," she said.

"I know there remain some concerns in the community around the return to school, but students, staff and parents should feel confident our schools are as safe as possible."

Across the state, 88.5 per cent of people aged 16 and over had received their first vaccine, and 67.5 per cent were fully vaccinated as of midnight on Sunday.

If the state reaches its 70 per cent double dose vaccination target this week as predicted new rules scheduled to start on Monday will come into effect.

The regulations stipulate shorter isolation times for vaccinated people who come into contact with a COVID case.

Businesses will also have to take "reasonable measures" to stop unvaccinated people visiting their premises, such as checking their customers' vaccination status.

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