The number of daily Covid-19 cases in NSW has recently fallen to the lowest in months, but it’s a very different story just two hours north of Sydney.
A whopping 78 of Wednesday’s 444 new infections are in the Hunter New England Health District – that’s almost 20 per cent of the total cases.
“The focus has always been on Sydney where cases have started to stabilise but our cases just keep going up,” the member for Port Stephens Kate Washington told Yahoo News.
“We are not seeing the downward trend here and people are quite concerned.”
Health system under pressure
The climbing cases have reignited fears the health system outside of Sydney won’t cope with a predicted surge in Covid-19 patients as further restrictions are eased.
“The health system in most regional areas was broken before Covid came to town. Our services were already not meeting our needs,” Ms Washington said.
“The government needs to give assurances we will have the resources to cope with an inevitable rise in Covid cases.”
The ongoing rural health inquiry has heard harrowing evidence in recent months about a system that is overstretched, under-resourced and plagued by chronic doctor shortages.
New research published in the Medical Journal of Australia has also found the number of ICU beds in operation and staffed across regional areas has dropped 18 per cent over the past year.
Regional travel plans on hold
It comes amid speculation that travel to regional NSW could be delayed to allow vaccination rates in some parts of NSW to catch up.
The state is on track to reach the 80 per cent double dose target this weekend, potentially allowing a raft of restrictions to ease from Monday.
Premier Dominic Perrottet said a decision has not yet been made on whether the sought-after freedoms will be granted.
"The regional vaccination rate in New South Wales is not obviously at the same level as Greater Sydney's," he told reporters on Wednesday.
“I will work through that with the cabinet ministers tomorrow with our economic and health teams. And we should be able to provide a clearer update at back end of this.”
Ms Washington said she has been fighting for unrestricted travel to be postponed.
“We need longer to get our vaccination rates higher,” she said, pointing to major issues with supply.
“There was the complete shamozzle of the vaccine rollout and then our doses were diverted to Sydney. We have just been playing catch up this whole time.”
She said the lower rates of vaccination are “not about hesitancy, always about scarcity”.
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