Pathology units were working through the night to process a record 44,466 tests recorded in the last 24-hour reporting period alone, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.
“There are hundreds of thousands of staff across the state working 24-7… with the bad weather in the last few days we’ve seen a lot of people in the rain testing people under very difficult circumstances,” Ms Berejiklian said.
On Tuesday Ms Berejiklian said the trend was heading in the right direction but the situation was volatile and all options were on the table for Christmas Day.
If the NSW government decides on Wednesday not to implement tighter restrictions on private gatherings and case numbers stay low, there will still be hundreds of tracers, healthcare workers and epidemiologists who’ll be foregoing a Christmas lunch of prawns and mince pies to work on Christmas Day.
That’s what many would prefer, rather than deal with the fallout of any move to ease restrictions that could lead to a surge in cases.
“Sure, having all your aunts and cousins and grandparents over for Christmas in numbers that could pulverise a whole leg of ham, a turkey and a giant pav[lova] would be a great time … but will the food coma be worth it if we’re all stuck isolating at home in the new year?” said one Sydney-based contact tracer who spoke on condition of anonymity.
NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said her team was scaling up their contact tracing force.
“As you’d imagine with us taking a very low threshold [for] venues it does generate a lot [of work],” Dr Chant said.
Once the operations team has the latest list of venues, text message alerts are sent by a service called Protocom to anyone who signed via QR code during the exposure time-frames.
The system uses a ‘hub and spokes’ model, with centralised operations and contact tracing teams working with public health units across NSW.
Each contact tracer will make hundreds of phone calls and conduct dozens of in-depth interviews with close contacts of confirmed cases over the next crucial few days.
One of the biggest challenges for contact tracers was incomplete record-keeping by affected venues.
Dr Chant said “a proportion” of the Protocom alerts hadn’t gone through because people had incorrectly entered their phone numbers.
“I can understand that when people are out they are not thinking about that, but if people could just be particularly attentive,” Dr Chant said.
On Monday Health Minister Brad Hazzard admonished individuals who called themselves Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse when signing into venues as “stupid as it gets”.
Dr Chant also raised concern that some venues who used private QR code service providers were having trouble finding out how to access those records when they were pinged as sites visited by infectious cases.
She urged all venues who used any service other than the Service NSW code system to find out how they can retrieve their records, particularly over the Christmas period.
NSW Health staff have repeatedly stressed their greatest allies have been the people of NSW who line up for hours to get swabbed, wear face masks as recommended, and stay home when directed.
“The NSW community has generally been incredibly positive and compliant,” Dr Chant said.
“There have been cases where we have had to involve police, but that is not the usual way. The vast majority of people do the right thing.”
“They don’t want to be the reason that there is transmission spread into the community, they want to protect their loved ones,” Dr Chant said.
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Kate Aubusson is Health Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.