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Postpone Christmas celebrations, Newcastle told

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There will be little Christmas cheer in Newcastle this year as people in the Hunter are urged to avoid socialising amid an escalating cluster of the COVID-19 Omicron strain.

After a series of super-spreader events, the Hunter is the epicentre of the Omicron-fuelled outbreak, reporting 633 of the record-high 1742 cases in NSW in the 24 hours to 8pm on Wednesday.

That’s 209 more cases in Newcastle than the previous day, with NSW Health saying the majority are the highly-transmissible Omicron variant.

NSW Health’s Deputy Chief Health Officer Jeremy McAnulty said super-spreading events stemming from people socialising in large venues like pubs and clubs were responsible for the cluster.

“We’re particularly urging people in the local Newcastle community to seriously consider deferring any social events… until after Christmas in order to keep family Christmas gatherings safe,” he stated.

The sacrifice would “protect their loved ones, the vulnerable and essential workers”.

An alert was issued on Wednesday night for another Newcastle pub.

Anyone who was at the Cambridge Hotel on Hunter Street between 6.30pm on Friday 10 December and 2.30am on Saturday 11 December must get tested and isolate for seven days.

All household contacts of close contacts should also be tested and self-isolate until a negative result is received. 

The record number of cases comes a day after NSW Minister for Health Brad Hazzard revealed modelling on the Omicron strain predicted cases could soar to 25,000 a day by the end of next month.

The previous highest daily tally in NSW was recorded on 11 September when there were 1,599 local cases, or 1,603 if infections contracted overseas are included.

The new figure is a jump of 382 from the previous day’s tally.

The state has now recorded 122 cases of the Omicron variant.

NSW Nurses and Midwives Association general secretary Brett Holmes said if the 25,000 cases a day scenario eventuated “then we are in a dire position in terms of what the staff could sustain”.

“I don’t think that there’s any health worker in NSW who doesn’t have a chill going down their spine about seeing that massive jump in the numbers,” he explained.

He urged people to continue wearing masks, saying “it’s not difficult compared to being isolated for 14 days or worse – being sick for an extended period of time”.

Treasurer Matt Kean revealed on Thursday the hole the Delta outbreak had dealt the state’s finances – announcing a blowout in the 2021/22 budget deficit to $19.5 billion from the $8.6 billion deficit forecast in June.

He urged everyone to get a booster shot as soon as possible.

“We know that’s the best way to deal with this virus and to get our economy going,” he said.

Despite restrictions easing on Wednesday with mask mandates largely ditched in public places he urged people to maintain the practice “inside and in high risk settings”.

Researchers from UNSW’s Kirby Institute have concluded two doses of a COVID vaccine has little to no effect on the transmissibility of the Omicron variant but protection against severe disease – particularly with a booster shot – remains.

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