After a horror few weeks of skyrocketing infection numbers, furloughed staff across essential services and mass testing delays, the New South Wales government has announced a major reversal of multiple Covid-19 restrictions in a bid to bring the Omicron caseload under control.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet met with the government's Covid economic recovery committee this morning to sign off on the measures, which were decided following a meeting of the committee on Thursday.
The changes – which come after the state reported 70,000 cases across the last 48 hours and another 38,625 cases on Friday – will be in place from tomorrow until at least January 27.
Singing and dancing will be prohibited in hospitality venues (including pubs, clubs, nightclubs, bars and restaurants), entertainment facilities and major recreation facilities. The restriction will not apply to weddings or for students, instructors and performers.
There will also be a pause on certain non-elective surgeries.
"That's Category 3 which is not-elective surgery that's non-urgent in the next 365 days, until mid-February," Perrottet said.
While the "overwhelming majority" of major events in NSW will proceed, those deemed to be at a "high-risk venue" will be postponed where necessary.
Perrottet also urged NSW residents to "minimise mingling where possible".
"If you're in a hospitality venue, if you can sit down while drinking, please do so. Minimising mingling during this period of time obviously provides greater assistance across the board and with household visitations, please where you can, minimise those household visitations and as well when you're having events indoors," he said.
"If you can have those events outdoors, we highly recommend it."
NSW Health also revealed new modelling on the state's current outbreak.
"We have modelled three different scenarios over this period of time as pressure on the health system builds over the next few weeks. This is in line with what we did during the Delta outbreak," Perrottet said. "What is encouraging from this model is that even in a worst-case scenario, we have the capacity in our health system right now."
As of Friday, there were 1738 people in hospitals across the state with Covid-19 and 134 of those in intensive care.
The reintroduction of restrictions marks a huge turnaround for the Premier, who has repeatedly insisted since taking office that NSW would stay open despite the high caseload.
But last week he warned "targeted responses" would be implemented if the health situation worsened.
"The alternative is, as we move through this next phase of the pandemic is to go back into lockdown," Perrottet said last Tuesday.
"That is not what we're doing in NSW, that is not the alternative that we're considering.
"We've said we will tailor our response to the situation that comes. If evidence changes, we will have targeted restrictions in place.
"But the key metric here is vaccination rates, that is our key to success."
NSW Health Deputy Secretary Susan Pearce said on Wednesday the ministry planned to more than quadruple the number of jabs it was delivering at its state hubs, with hopes to deliver more than 300,000 vaccines a week by the end of the month.
It comes as hospitals prepare for Covid-related admissions to triple as infection numbers continue to surge, forcing further cuts or delays in care that could have long-lasting health effect.
Doctors and experts told The Guardian that while hospitalisation rates have increased, the system could still be a fortnight from a rise comparative to the jump in cases, given the time it takes for infected people to get ill enough for admission.
"There isn't much sign of an uptick yet," one senior NSW health official said. "But we are worried, very worried."
The concern is shared inside hospitals, with another senior doctor saying that on present trajectories, "in two weeks we'll be having 400 admissions a day".
"It's currently very alarming in the medical world," they said.