A Maitland GP has warned a COVID-19 outbreak could easily happen here with people still travelling between Sydney and Maitland.
People working in Sydney and living in Maitland, who continue to travel back and forth, and people moving back to Maitland from Sydney, are among the accounts Dr Craig Richards, of Lorn Surgery, has recorded over the past few weeks and it's making him very nervous.
With Greater Sydney facing another month in lockdown and 239 new cases announced on Thursday - including 66 who were infectious in the community - Dr Richards said Maitland people must remain vigilant.
On Friday NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced there had been 170 new cases recorded to 8pm on Thursday, with at least 42 infectious in the community.
"There is a reasonable flow of movement still going on between the two areas and there is still a fair bit of movement between the hotspots and Maitland, so we are still at risk of exposure," he said.
"Without a 'ring of steel' around Sydney - like Melbourne had last year - there is a risk to us here and it does make me nervous."
New cases of the delta strain have also been recorded on the Central Coast.
More than 400 doses of the Pfizer vaccine will arrive in Maitland next week, but they will be specifically for aged care workers.
"We have received 420 doses for residential aged care staff and they are eligible for the Pfizer irrespective of their age," he said.
"We'll hold a clinic at Maitland Showground within the next week or two and hopefully we'll be able to vaccinate all of them in a single day."
Another AstraZeneca clinic will run at Maitland Showground on Tuesday for residents, with a capacity to administer up to 600 vaccinations.
If an outbreak occurs here the number of community transmission cases would dictate whether people under the age of 60 should have the AstraZeneca vaccine instead of waiting for Pfizer, Dr Richards said.
"If we had 20 or 30 cases in Maitland then everyone 50 and above should get vaccinated with AstraZeneca," Dr Richards said.
"If we had 3500 cases in Maitland then everyone over 30 should get AstraZeneca, but, even with 3500 cases in Maitland the under 30s are still better off waiting for Pfizer.
"What might change the numbers is if it becomes apparent that the delta strain is a more serious infection for younger people."
Dr Richards said anyone over the age of 18 can choose to receive the AstraZeneca jab, even if there is no outbreak here.
"You've always been able to get AstraZeneca if you are over 18, it's just a more complex conversation about risk verses benefit," he said.
"We are vaccinating younger people as long as they have read the information and understood the risk of the vaccine versus the risk of getting COVID-19."
So where do things stand right now in Maitland?
"The risk for people under 60, and particularly under 30, of dying from COVID-19 if they are unvaccinated is so exceedingly low that you really have to work hard to justify giving them an AstraZeneca rather than advising them to wait for the Pfizer vaccine, but of course that advice would change if there was an outbreak here," Dr Richards said.
Dr Richards believes the Sydney and Melbourne outbreaks could have been avoided if those capital cities had been vaccinated first.
"My main gripe about the vaccine program is that they rolled out the vaccines to areas based on equity of access to the vaccine not equity of risk of being exposed to COVID. I think they should have vaccinated Sydney and Melbourne before they vaccinated the regions," he said.
"The only way it is going to get to the regions is if there is an outbreak in a capital city that's receiving overseas travellers.
"I think that was a political error, and I think that if they had rolled out the vaccine in the first place to create a ring of protection around returned travellers in the capital cities in quarantine we wouldn't have an outbreak."
Bookings at the Lorn Surgery's showground clinic can be made online at lornsurgery.com.au or by phoning 4933 2622.