Byron Bay and surrounds return to lockdown

Hannah RyanAAP
Three northern NSW areas are going into lockdown after an essential worker tested positive.
Camera IconThree northern NSW areas are going into lockdown after an essential worker tested positive. Credit: AAP

An essential worker who travelled from Sydney and later tested positive for COVID-19 has sparked a new lockdown in Byron Bay and surrounding areas in northern NSW.

Byron Shire, Tweed and Kempsey local government areas will enter a seven-day lockdown from 5pm on Tuesday, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said.

The worker had a valid permit to travel to the northern part of NSW and had tested negative using rapid antigen testing.

But the more reliable PCR test revealed on Monday that they had the virus.

The person was active in the community after arriving at Ballina airport on Saturday morning on a Virgin flight.

Deputy Chief Health Officer Marianne Gale said the person was now isolating after visiting shops, restaurants and pubs over the weekend.

Anyone who's been in Byron Shire or Tweed Heads since September 18 will have to adhere to the stay-at-home orders, even if they've left the area.

"It's somebody who has travelled into the area with an appropriate permit and had actually had both a rapid antigen test and a PCR test," Mr Hazzard said.

"Rapid antigen tests have a certain degree of efficiency and they don't always show up and in this case it didn't."

Mr Hazzard said he's spoken with local MPs and community leaders who understood the necessity of the lockdown.

Whether the lockdown can be lifted next Tuesday will depend on the testing rates, vaccination numbers and case numbers.

"So far, those areas have been kept relatively safe but we need the community to keep getting tested so that the public health team can be very, very certain of what we need to do at the expiration of those seven days," Mr Hazzard said.

Some 60.9 per cent of eligible Byron Shire residents have received one dose of the vaccine, and 34.9 per cent have had two doses.

That's far below the state average of 82.46 per cent first dose and 53.0 per cent double dose.

Vaccination in the Tweed is also below the state average with 71.7 per cent of people getting a first dose, while 45 per cent are fully vaccinated.

Mr Hazzard acknowledged there was a "degree of (vaccine) hesitancy" in the northern area, but also acknowledged that supply had not been "what it could have been".

He said there should be better availability now.

The mid north coast area of Kempsey will also enter a seven-day lockdown on Tuesday.

Two cases were diagnosed in the area on Saturday.

The two were close household contacts of each other, the local health district said on Sunday. Their infections were not acquired in Kempsey.

Kempsey's vaccination rates are also significantly lower than the state average.

Fully vaccinated residents in locked-down areas will be able to gather in groups of five outdoors despite the stay-at-home orders.

Elsewhere in the regions, 50 new cases were diagnosed in the Illawarra Shoalhaven in the 24 hours to 8pm on Monday.

The Central Coast had 27 new cases, 18 were in the Hunter New England district, nine were in southern NSW, seven in western NSW, six in the far west, and five in Murrumbidgee.

The state recorded 1022 new local COVID-19 cases in total.

Virus fragments have also been found in sewage samples in Ballina and Wardell in the state's north.

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