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NSW scales back tracing as cases skyrocket

People who get COVID-19 in NSW can only expect a phone call from NSW Health if they work at or have visited a high-risk setting like a disability group home, Aboriginal community or jail.

The scaled-back approach to contact tracing comes as NSW battles by far its most widespread outbreak spurred on by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

Daily case records were smashed again on Thursday as the state reported 5715 new cases.

With 1500 health workers isolating after being exposed to the virus, Premier Dominic Perrottet reinstated an indoor mask mandate from Friday morning.

Under the fresh approach to contact tracing, people who test positive get a text message from NSW Health asking them to fill out an online questionnaire.

About four in five people fill it out, said NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant on Thursday.

The results are then used to focus NSW Health resources so that the most vulnerable cases are interviewed.

Those who are only contacted by text are asked to let their contacts know about their diagnosis, a task which used to be performed by bureaucrats.

Contact tracing has been walloped by the Omicron outbreak. Just over one in two – 54 per cent – of people who test positive were fully interviewed within a day last week.

The week prior, that figure stood at 94 per cent.

The number of high-risk cases fully interviewed within a day also fell slightly, from 91 per cent to 89 per cent.

Omicron was now accounting for about four in five new cases in NSW, Dr Chant said.

Nearly three in four new cases are among people aged 10 to 39.

That was in part due to the higher transmissibility of the Omicron variant, and it overcoming the transmission prevention benefit of vaccines, she said.

While having people out and socialising was an important part of “living with COVID”, Dr Chant said a cautious approach was needed in the face of escalating case numbers.

She apologised for discouraging indoor singing and dancing at a time of parties, advising those high-risk activities be taken outdoors with people socially distancing.

Newcastle, where an outbreak was sparked by an active case going to clubs, has had nearly four in every 1000 residents test positive in the past three days.

Two in every thousand living in Sydney’s inner west, east and southern suburbs have also tested positive since December 20.

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