The Hunter will not eliminate the coronavirus and will not emerge from lockdown this weekend, but residents will be able to drive to Byron Bay for a holiday in November if they are vaccinated.
That was the message from health authorities and Deputy Premier John Barilaro on Tuesday after the region recorded another seven new cases, four of whom were infectious in the community.
Hunter public health controller Dr David Durrheim said the region had little hope of defeating the highly contagious delta variant.
"Can we eliminate the virus in Hunter New England? Probably not," he said.
"We've seen multiple importations from Sydney every week, some of them legal, some of them less legal."
The government will announce on Thursday which parts of the state will escape lockdown this weekend.
But Mr Barilaro said this was likely to be limited to the north coast and south-west NSW, and not the Hunter.
"They're still low numbers, but you would have had exposure sites and people in the community who were infectious," he said.
It's going to be tough going for the Hunter.John Barilaro on the Hunter's lockdown prospects
"It's going to be tough going for the Hunter."
The state recorded 1220 cases on Tuesday, the third daily fall in a row after a record 1533 on Saturday.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian has predicted that case numbers will peak in the next two weeks at about 2000 a day, and the state's hospital modelling is based on that scenario. But Mr Barilaro said rising vaccination rates could be slowing the spread sooner.
"There is a sense of hope that we may have peaked here in Sydney, and that would be a good sign for everybody, but according to [chief health officer] Dr [Kerry] Chant we must give it another seven days."
The government soon would release its "road map" of how it would reopen at 70 per cent and 80 per cent rates of adult double vaccination.
Asked if the plan would allow for a fully vaccinated Newcastle resident to drive to Byron Bay in mid-November for a holiday, Mr Barilaro said: "Yeah, you will.
"Because the reality is in November we will be at the 80 per cent state average for double vaccination and the road map picks that up.
"There's a lot of anti-vaxxers up there but, remember."
The region's seven new cases included one in the tiny township of Booral, on the Bucketts Way, who was isolating while infectious.
The other cases were at Elermore Vale, Thornton, Cooranbong, Hillsborough and two at Shoal Bay. The Shoal Bay, Hillsborough and Elermore Vale cases were infectious in the community.
The Booral and Elermore Vale cases have not been linked to known sources.
Seven Hunter COVID patients were in hospital and one was in intensive care.
Emergency services personnel and volunteers involved in the search for missing boy "AJ" Elfalak at Putty were advised to take precautionary tests on Tuesday.
Hunter New England Health said it had recommended anyone at the search should have a test and isolate until receiving a negative result and have another test in five days.
"This request has been made as there were people in attendance from local government areas of concern with limited mask wearing and due to the nature of the search being close proximity," a spokesperson said.
"The request for testing includes the individuals who travelled from Western Sydney to participate in the search, along with all family members, SES and police."
Putty Community Association removed a Facebook post which said a positive case had surfaced at the town's St Shenouda Christian Coptic Orthodox Monastery.
The NSW cases announced on Tuesday included 22 on the Central Coast.
The government said eight more people had died with COVID-19, including an unvaccinated woman in her 70s at Dubbo Hospital and a Sydney man in his 50s.
NSW has 1151 COVID-19 cases in hospital, including 192 in intensive care and 75 requiring ventilation.
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