NSW Health authorities are ramping up coronavirus testing in Sydney’s eastern suburbs where clusters of the disease have developed within the backpacker community.
There were 2032 cases of COVID-19 in NSW on Tuesday, an increase of 114 on the previous day. The death toll remains at eight.
It was the second consecutive day of a fall in the number of disease confirmations.
But NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant said that may reflect reduced testing over the weekend.
Some 35 of the infected people are in intensive care.
“Obviously, access to GPs over the weekend may have accounted for it,” Dr Chant told reporters on Tuesday.
“I’m just very cautious in interpreting the numbers because I know it has to be interpreted in the context of the testing rates.”
NSW Health is now directing doctors in Sydney’s Waverley Council area – which includes suburbs such as Bondi – to send more patients for COVID-19 testing.
A pop-up testing site in Bondi will also be established.
Dr Chant admitted there had been COVID-19 outbreaks in the backpacker community, many of whom are staying in hostels in the area.
Other cases include seven Chilean sailors visiting NSW and two more cases at the Dorothy Henderson Lodge aged care home in Macquarie Park in Sydney’s west. Four residents of the facility have already died.
The number of confirmed cases from the Ruby Princess cruise ship has hit 211, after passengers were allowed to disembark in Sydney without adequate checks on March 19.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian again implored people to remain home unless it was essential to go out, while gatherings of more than two people – apart from immediate family – indoors and outdoors are banned.
People in their 20s and 30s were the worst offenders when it came to flouting social isolation rules, she added.
The premier reiterated it was too soon to know if NSW had successfully “flattened the curve” after a series of shutdown measures.
“What’s of concern to all of us is the unknown, that level of community-to-community transmission. That’s the real threat – people walking around without symptoms, not realising they have this disease,” Ms Berejiklian told reporters.
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller has warned police will no longer issue cautions for those flouting self-isolation rules and instead hand out $1000 on-the-spot fines. Some 13 fines have already been issued.
Police can also arrest and charge people who repeatedly ignore health orders, which could incur a maximum penalty of six months in prison.
A Sydney man is already behind bars for allegedly ignoring his home self-quarantine twice on Saturday before trying to leave the serviced apartment in which he was subsequently confined.
Of the 2100 people who have returned to NSW from overseas destinations since Sunday and were placed into a 14-day hotel quarantine, about 80 had COVID-19 symptoms. They are now in higher levels of isolation.
Meanwhile, pharmacists in NSW can from Tuesday dispense medicines without a prescription and operate 24/7 for people who cannot get to their GP or don’t wish to leave home.
Ms Berejiklian this week said that unless there was a significant and unexpected spike in COVID-19 cases in NSW, the current restrictions would not be revised for a month.