The state recorded its deadliest day of the pandemic on Monday, with 18 dead including a three-year-old boy whom Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said had ‘significant’ underlying health conditions.
Hospital admissions also climbed as 2030 people were hospitalised with the virus and 159 were in intensive care, about half of whom were unvaccinated.
Monday’s fatalities surpassed the previous high of 16 deaths reported on Sunday.
Children aged between five and 11 became eligible for vaccination on Monday, less than three weeks before classes resume, but there is a recommended eight-week gap between the first and second doses.
Premier Dominic Perrottet is determined to see children back in classrooms on the first day of term and has so far resisted calls to delay the return of students, as other states have done.
Opposition Leader Chris Minns says the government should use public schools as vaccination hubs to get as many children vaccinated as possible.
He has also called on the premier to release a plan for the resumption of in-class learning, including determining how many teachers are likely to be out of the workforce because they either have COVID-19 or are a close contact of someone who does.
Video: NSW hospital system under pressure (9News.com.au)
While five to 11-year-olds became eligible for the COVID-19 jab on Monday, more than 78 per cent of those aged 12 to 15 are already fully vaccinated.
There were 20,293 new infections reported on Monday, but the number of daily cases is expected to rise later this week when the government updates the ServiceNSW app to allow people to register positive results from rapid antigen tests.
The first of the state’s 50 million rapid antigen tests will also begin arriving this week, as the government looks to source another 50 million tests to reach NSW in late February and March.
The state-procured tests are intended for schools, social housing, vulnerable, remote and Indigenous communities, Mr Perrottet says, but the rest of NSW can expect to see “a substantial amount of supply being available through private supply chains as well”.
However Mr Minns says until those tests arrive the government is not meeting the minimum obligation to provide a way for people to know whether or not they are infected.
The ‘extremely exorbitant’ cost of the tests currently available was also hurting essential workers and their families, Mr Minns says.
Meanwhile isolation requirements have changed for some essential workers in a bid to combat stock shortages on the shelves of supermarkets.
Furloughed food logistics and manufacturing staff are allowed to leave self-isolation to attend work if they have no symptoms, wear a mask, and undergo daily rapid antigen testing.
The hospitality sector has called for similar treatment and while Mr Perrottet says he ‘completely understands’ their concerns, the focus needs to be on essential workers for the time being.
He says it’s better for the hospitality industry ‘to have the issue of labour shortages than be closed’.
Source: Thanks msn.com