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NSW has broken its daily COVID-19 case record yet again and nine more people have died as a large swathe of the state eagerly anticipates the end of lockdown at midnight Friday.
Parts of the NSW that are free of the virus and deemed low risk will emerge from lockdown at 12.01am Saturday, after a month of stay-at-home orders.
All it will take to go back into a fortnight-long lockdown is a local case, deputy premier John Barilaro warned in announcing the easing on Thursday.
Of the 1542 new cases announced by premier Gladys Berejiklian on the eve of eased restrictions, the majority were found in two Sydney local health districts [LHDs].
Just over 76 per cent of the state has received one vaccination against the virus, and 43.6 per cent have received two doses, Ms Berejiklian said.
From Monday, there will also be a change in how information is delivered to the public, with daily NSW Health updates and intermittent press conferences from health minister Brad Hazzard to replace the current 11am arrangement, Ms Berejiklian said.
The main message remains that NSW cannot afford complacency.
"I want to give this strongest message, if I can, and that is that we cannot afford to have people drop their guard," the premier said.
In other news
The Delta outbreak death toll now stands at 162, accounting for the majority of NSW's 218 COVID-19 deaths.
Deputy chief health officer Marianne Gale offered sincere condolences on behalf of NSW Health to the families of the nine people who died from COVID-19.
Dr Gale also warned a range of regional communities to stay alert after sewage surveillance detected fragments of the virus.
"We continue to ask our communities in areas where we have had sewage detections and no known cases to please be vigilant for symptoms and come forward for testing," she said.
"They are people who live in Tamworth, in Lightning Ridge, Glen Innes, Culburra Beach and Moruya areas."
A man aged in his 60s died at home in western Sydney, Dr Gale said, as did a man in his 70s in Sydney's southern suburbs, with the remaining six passing away in hospital.
They were a man in his 70s from south-eastern Sydney in Prince of Wales Hospital, a woman in her 40s from south-western Sydney at Liverpool Hospital and man in her 50s from the Central Coast at Gosford Hospital.
A man in his 30s died at Nepean Hospital, a man in his 50s from south-western Sydney died in Liverpool Hospital and a man in his 60s from western Sydney died at Royal North Shore Hospital.
The interstate, trans-Tasman situation
Case numbers have climbed in the Illawarra Shoalhaven LHD, where 38 new detections of COVID-19 were found on Thursday.
The Western NSW LHD - which has been the epicentre of the regional outbreak - recorded another 28 cases, the Central Coast another 26, 13 new cases were found in the Hunter New England, five more in the Far West and three people were diagnosed in the Southern NSW LHD.
The deputy premier urged regional communities to keep up the vaccination fight, saying he did not want to have to lock down regions in the future.
"We still need to work and be vigilant and minimise travel and mobility if we're going to continue to stay out of lockdown," he said.
"We are in a good place to have the ability to have a level of freedom in the regions, I want to make sure I do not have to come to a press conference and say unfortunately we are closing parts down again."
Freedoms enjoyed by low risk regions from Saturday mirror those that will apply to the fully vaccinated state-wide once a double vaccination rate of 70 per cent is hit, a date expected to fall in mid-October.
More on the pandemic
Wagga businesses have welcomed the looming end of lockdown and are putting the foot down to be ready to fling open the doors on Saturday morning.
Mayor Greg Conkey said the news is good but he too remains nervous about potential cases cropping up.
"It's really good news for the city and I'm delighted Wagga has been included," he said.
"Am I nervous? I am extremely nervous, because just one case in this city will result in going back into lockdown for a two-week period."
Meanwhile, The Curious Rabbit Cafe's Vicki Burkinshaw said she would even open the doors at midnight if she could.
"I'm just so thrilled for our community and so thrilled for other business owners as well, it has been really hard for most of us, especially those people who were shut down,' she said.
"I'm so pleased we don't have to cancel so many events we have coming up."
However, not all business owners will be throwing doors open.
Mock Orange's Roslyn Mitchell said while the announcement is great for retail and other businesses, she won't be opening this weekend out of concerns around the safety of dine-in venues.
"I'm excited and happy for retail but for me, running a dine-in cafe with strangers mixing together is a concern," Ms Mitchell said.
"I don't want to be the centre of an outbreak when our loved ones who haven't been able to get the vaccine yet are still at risk."
On the sporting front, AFL NSW-ACT will wait to see whether they can apply to play under rules in the Public Health Order before making an official call on their seasons, billing it as their 'last Hail Mary' to keep hopes alive.
No premierships will be awarded as Football Wagga cancels its season, and rugby union clubs are expecting a similar fate as Southern Inland's board met on Thursday night.
Group Nine is awaiting advice from NSW Rugby League before deciding how to approach the outcome of their season.
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