THE Hunter will lock down for a week, Premier Gladys Berejiklian has announced, bringing the region into the umbrella of "the toughest lockdown restrictions anywhere in Australia" in force for Sydney and the Central Coast.
Lake Macquarie, Port Stephens, Maitland, Cessnock, Singleton, Dungog, Muswellbrook and Newcastle local government areas will fall under the harsher restrictions as seen in greater Sydney from 5pm on Thursday.
Individuals should only leave their homes for work if they cannot work from home, exercise, essential shopping, to access medical treatment or on compassionate grounds.
It follows cases at schools in Maitland and Lake Macquarie, as well as an exposure at University of Newcastle's Auchmuty library.
NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant said the five cases detected in the Hunter so far "does not fully explain" the level of viral fragments found in sewage at Belmont, Burwood and Shortland treatment centres.
"We don't want anyone to be complacent that we have got the full picture at this stage," Dr Chant said.
"Those testing levels need to be high and can I thank the community, the community response has been amazing."
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Five people were being cared for in the Hunter and investigations were underway, but authorities believed the source of infection was a Lake Macquarie gathering.
"We now think that the source extended from a gathering on Blacksmiths beach on Friday night," Dr Chant said.
"We believe that there may have been people there from Greater Sydney and that's how it was introduced.
"We believe there are linkages back to western Sydney. "
Dr Chant said she was hopeful the media could help make finding the source of infection "the principal objective".
"That is in the best interests of everyone, at this time, to get to the bottom of it."
She also said there was no need to wait until lockdown began to take precautions.
"While those orders don't come in until 5pm today, I would ask people to act on that now," she said.
Overall NSW has recorded 262 cases in the past 24 hours.
45 infectious were infectious in the community, while five people have died in the same period; three in their 60s, one in their 70s, and one in 80s.
None had received two doses of any vaccine.
The Hunter cases included Maitland Christian School students were among those infected, and that schools would move to learning from home for the rest of the week.
"All of the parents and children [at Maitland Christian School] are asked to go home and isolate and we will provide further information," she said.
On the Central Coast, Dr Chant said eight of nine cases reside in the same household.
"Some of the children attended the Morisset High School," she said.
Ms Berejiklian said that she was "very grateful" at news the federal government would replace Hunter Pfizer vaccines seconded to Sydney.
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