Children and adolescents in New South Wales will be able to visit each other at home – in a “friends bubble” – with the state continuing to ease coronavirus restrictions as vaccination rates rise.
The state detected 1,022 locally acquired Covid-19 infections in the past 24 hours, and recorded 10 deaths: eight men and two women.
With cases in the NSW’s north, the local government areas of Byron Bay, Tweed and Kempsey will be locked down from 5pm today, initially for at least seven days.
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From noon on Tuesday, the NSW “friends bubble” will allow anyone aged under 18 to choose two friends who can visit their home – establishing, in effect, a three-person friendship group. The visiting children must live within 5km or within the same local government area.
Each child is allowed two designated friends who can visit their home: those two friends must remain the same.
All adults in both families will be required to be doubly vaccinated.
The NSW health minister, Brad Hazzard, said the decision to allow children – many of whom remain unvaccinated – to visit other households was “a balancing act”.
“We’re in an epidemic and everything has to be a balance. The strict epidemiological view would be we all should stay somewhere away from everybody else for ever.
“But the mental health issues and other socialisation issues and the fact that we’re human beings means there has to be a balance and I think that’s where crisis cabinet strikes the balance. It’s a challenge.”
Hazzard said the friends bubble for children was made possible by NSW’s growing vaccination rates. Currently, across the state, nearly 80% of the eligible population has had one dose of a coronavirus vaccine: 48.3% have had two shots and are considered fully vaccinated.
Year 9 student Alyssa told a press conference the state’s extended and indefinite lockdowns had been “incredibly hard” on young people. She said the friends bubble would be a welcome respite from weeks of lockdowns.
“Children and young people definitely want to do the right thing and also be able to socialise because lockdown is incredibly isolating for everyone. Helping everyone feel connected will undoubtedly benefit their mental health at this time.”
The 1,022 new cases recorded is almost a 10% increase on Monday’s 935. However, the rolling seven-day average of new cases continues to fall. It is currently 1,181.
There are 1,266 Covid cases currently in hospital: 244 of those are in intensive care, 118 require a ventilator to breathe.
Of the 10 people who died with Covid-19, six were not vaccinated, two people had received one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine and two people – a woman in her 90s and a man in his 80s, both with serious underlying health conditions – had received two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine.
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There has been a single coronavirus case reported in Byron Bay. An infected person travelled from Sydney – with a permit – and, having initially tested negative, then tested positive to Covid-19.
“This person, as part of the course of their work, had a program of regular testing and I understand that the initial rapid antigen test and subsequent PCR was done upon arrival in Byron,” Dr Marianne Gayle, NSW deputy chief health officer, said.
“The rapid antigen test was negative but the PCR swab test returned a positive result. Hence the public health actions.”
Gayle said the lone case was now in isolation.
“The concern … is about a number of exposures in the Byron Bay area, a number of shops as well as some restaurants and pubs in the Tweed area as well.
“I urge residents of that northern NSW area and Byron Bay and Tweed LGAs in particular to have a look out for exposure venues that are listed.”
Stay-at-home orders will be enforced across the Kempsey, Byron Shire and Tweed local government areas from 5pm Tuesday.
The orders also apply to anyone who has been in the Byron or Tweed LGAs since 18 September, and the Kempsey LGA since 14 September.
“Everyone in the affected LGAs must stay at home unless it is for an essential reason, which includes shopping for food, medical care, getting vaccinated, compassionate needs, exercise and work or tertiary education if you can’t work or study at home,” NSW Health said.
“People who are fully vaccinated can attend an outdoor gathering of up to five people for exercise or outdoor recreation, as long as all of those aged 16 or older are fully vaccinated.”Internet Explorer Channel Network