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The Riverina and several other parts of regional NSW will leave lockdown on Saturday after days of speculation they would be spared from an extension of stay-at-home orders.
Various restrictions will be in force, including masks, but visitors will be allowed in homes, small outdoor gatherings are permitted, and retail and hospitality venues can re-open with capacity restrictions.
NSW recorded 1405 new cases of COVID-19 in the community in the 24 hours to 8pm on Wednesday, premier Gladys Berejiklian announced in the Thursday virus update.
Another five deaths have been recorded, bringing the death toll from the Delta outbreak to 153.
In other news
More than 156,000 tests were carried out across the state on Wednesday, NSW Health data shows, with the majority of cases still concentrated on two local health districts [LHDs] in Sydney - the South Western Sydney and Western Sydney LHDs recorded 450 and 394 cases respectively. Another 211 were found in the Sydney LHD.
Sewage surveillance has detected fragments of the virus at Tamworth and Lightning Ridge plants in western NSW, at the Glen Innes treatment plant in the New England and the southern NSW centres of Culburra Beach and Moruya. There are no recent cases in those locations, prompting NSW Health to urge everyone to monitor for the onset of symptoms and to get tested and isolate if they appear.
The Western NSW LHD and Dubbo continues to bear the brunt of the regional outbreak, with 24 new cases emerging on Wednesday.
It's a region that won't be coming out of the lockdown that was scheduled to end at midnight Friday.
The lockdown will lift at 12.01am on Saturday for regions deemed low risk and which have seen zero cases for at least 14 days, deputy premier John Barilaro announced.
"For regional and rural NSW today, vast amounts of the regions will open - Mid North Coast, the north coast, north-west, Albury, to Riverina and Murrumbidgee areas," Mr Barilaro said.
"For the areas coming out of lockdown, you are not coming back to a pre-lockdown environment. There will be capacity limits for our hotels, cafes and restaurants, including the four square metre rule, mask wearing, social distancing. There is rules around certain activities that won't recommence. Community sport won't be permitted yet.
"We know through the sewage surveillance, there is seeding across the regions and there is a risk that the COVID pandemic continues in regional and rural NSW."
Almost 40 local government areas will remain under stay-at-home orders after the weekend.
From midnight Friday, homes that emerge from lockdown can have up to five visitors - not including children aged 12 and under - and up to 20 people can gather outdoors.
One case is one case too many in the regions, Mr Barilaro said, flagging the emergence of a case will lead to a minimum 14-day lockdown for communities.
Masks will still be mandatory for all indoor public venues, and only hospitality staff will be required to wear a mask when outdoors.
Standing while drinking will be permitted outside at reopened hospitality venues, which must adhere to one person per 4sqm inside and two people per 2sqm outside.
Retail can reopen, with the one person per 4sqm rule.
The interstate, trans-Tasman situation
Weddings and funerals can have up to 50 guests, with eating and drinking while seated only, and dancing permitted at weddings.
Schools will re-open with level three COVID-safe measures in place, and the public can return to sporting facilities including swimming pools.
Students will be back in the classroom from Monday despite there being just one week left until holidays, Mr Barilaro said.
"They return at a Level 3 COVID plan within schools, which means no extracurricular activities, no assemblies, there's a range of mask-wearing provisions," he said.
Caravan parks and campgrounds will also reopen in the regions emerging from lockdown.
The LGAs of Bathurst, Bega, Blayney, Bogan, Bourke, Brewarrina, Broken Hill, Cabonne, Central Coast, Central Darling, Cessnock, Dubbo, Dungog, Eurobodalla, Forbes, Gilgandra, Goulburn Mulwarre, Kiama, Lake Macquarie, Lithgow, Maitland, Mid-Coast, Mid-Western, Muswellbrook, Narrabri, Narromine, Newcastle, Orange, Parkes, Port Stephens, Queanbeyan-Palerang, Shellharbour, Shoalhaven, Singleton, Snowy Monaro, Upper Hunter, Walgett and Wingecarribee will all remain under lockdown.
The Murrumbidgee Local Health District has not had a COVID-19 case during this outbreak and has been without one for more than a year.
There have been some brushes with the virus in the region in recent weeks, with a number of venues listed as exposure sites after COVID-positive workers travelled through the area and fragments of COVID-19 being detected in sewage surveillance.
More on the pandemic:
The MLHD confirmed on Wednesday that hundreds of Harden residents returned negative COVID test results after an essential worker who tested positive for the virus travelled through the town at the end of last week.
Dozens of workers at a southern Riverina pet food factory were tested and isolating after a Wodonga truck driver stopped at the plant before testing positive to COVID last week.
A third test of sewage at Temora's plant returned a negative result at the weekend, after fragments of the virus were found twice in routine testing.
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