As NSW recorded another daily milestone of 681 COVID-19 cases, and another week of lockdown for the regions, the premier insists more jabs will pave the way to freedom.
Gladys Berejiklian announced regional NSW would stay in lockdown with the rest of Greater Sydney until at least August 28 due to the outbreak in western NSW and other parts of the state.
But Ms Berejiklian "can see the light at the end of the tunnel" as the state posted another record of 132,439 vaccinations on Wednesday.
"They are difficult times for all of us. The next few weeks will be hard, but no doubt that once we get those high vaccination rates life will feel much better. It will look much rosier," Ms Berejiklian said on Thursday.
A man in his 80s from southeast Sydney died at St George Hospital, bringing the number of COVID-related deaths to 61 since June 16.
There were 25 new local COVID-19 cases reported in western NSW to 8pm on Wednesday, taking the total for the region to 167.
Deputy Premier John Barilaro said extra cases in Wilcannia that would be counted in Friday's numbers were worrying.
Western NSW residents have reported major delays in test results. In Cobar, some residents had waited five or six days for results.
One woman who was in Dubbo and then displayed symptoms said the mobile number she was told to text for results was twice replaced with a new number.
Meanwhile, a Wellington man tested with his wife last Friday waited 131 hours for his result.
The contact tracing system is also under strain, with a quarter of cases last week waiting more than a day to be interviewed.
Epidemiologist Catherine Bennett said all tracing systems reached a point where the sheer number of cases overwhelmed.
But NSW was still doing an amazing job of keeping the reproductive rate at about 30 per cent, she told AAP.
The isolation status of 459 cases remains under investigation, while 463 of the known cases are from southwest and western Sydney.
The premier said these areas were unfortunately and consistently reporting high numbers.
There are 474 COVID-19 patients in hospital, with 82 in intensive care and 25 are ventilated.
Another epidemiologist, Professor James McCaw, warned daily COVID-19 cases could spiral well up to 2000 within a month given the thousands of unlinked cases.
The goal of six million jabs for NSW residents by the month's end is on track with 53 per cent with their first dose and 28 per cent fully vaccinated.
Vaccine hubs are popping up across western and southwest Sydney, as authorities try to get 530,000 Pfizer doses into the arms of under-40s in those areas in under three weeks.
But NSW Police are investigating "fraudulent vaccination bookings" that AAP understands targeted people using the Chinese language social media app WeChat.
Users were asked to pay $300 to secure a quick turnaround booking for Pfizer at a major hospital in Sydney meant for frontline essential workers.
Deputy Police Commissioner Gary Worboys said it was terribly concerning that NSW police fined 671 people - 393 of whom were outside their home without a reasonable excuse.
Meanwhile, a worker at Cobham Youth Justice Centre in Sydney's west has also tested positive for COVID-19, the department confirmed.
Greens MP David Shoebridge said distressed parents had contacted him and had heard some children had been discouraged from being vaccinated by staff.
"This is a very vulnerable population and many with co-morbidities," he told AAP.
NSW Opposition Leader Chris Minns said no one wanted a stricter lockdown "but the alternative is too grim to bear at this point".
"We can't face a prospect of 2000 daily cases. It would be too much of a stretch on our health system," he told the ABC on Thursday.
Australian Associated Press