The number of COVID-19 patients in hospital in NSW has nearly doubled over the past week, as testing clinics continue to be inundated ahead of Christmas.
There are 302 people now in hospital with the virus, up 18 from the day before. One week ago that figure was 166.
Forty of them are in the ICU, one more than the previous day, and 12 require ventilation.
Another two people died from the virus: a woman in her 80s from southeast Sydney and a woman in her 70s from southwest Sydney.
The steadily increasing numbers come as infections continue to skyrocket. A record 3763 people were diagnosed in the 24 hours to 8pm on Tuesday from 151,443 tests.
Despite the upwards trend, NSW will continue to mandate masks and QR code check-ins only in high-risk settings after national cabinet failed to agree on a mask mandate.
"Mask wearing in indoor spaces in public areas is of course highly recommended," said Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
"Whether it's mandated or not, that's what we should be doing."
The huge numbers of people getting tested is creating hours-long queues and occasionally lengthy wait times for results.
After NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard on Tuesday blamed "tourism testing" for the delays, national cabinet has asked a medical expert panel for advice on whether negative tests should continue to be required for interstate travel.
The state opposition is calling for rapid antigen tests to be made free to ease some of the pressure on PCR sites.
"People are struggling to get their hands on rapid antigen tests and when they do they're really expensive," Deputy Labor Leader Prue Car told reporters on Wednesday.
The tests retail for about $10 or $15 and are flying off the shelves.
Mr Morrison said the tests are sometimes already provided for free, like when they're mandated at schools, and they'll be used more and more as the Omicron variant spreads.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said he'd be pushing at national cabinet for the booster dose interval to be reduced, but the federal government will leave that decision to its immunisation advisory body.
Currently, boosters are due five months after a second dose, but NSW wants that moved forward to four months or less.
Mr Perrottet said booster shots are key to curbing the spread of Omicron.
Meanwhile, Transport Minister David Elliott was asked about speculation the government was considering a plan to make the unvaccinated pay for their own health care.
"The premier and the entire government has always said we have to have personal responsibility," he told reporters on Wednesday.
"That responsibility is everything from getting vaccinated to getting a booster to, in my mind, taking responsibility for the fact that you won't be able to work if you expose yourself to it."
The epicentre of the pandemic in NSW has moved away from Newcastle for the first time since the latest outbreak.
There were 834 new cases in the South Eastern Sydney LHD, while there were 623 in the Hunter New England, bringing the number of active cases there to 5728.
The vaccination rate remains the same, with 94.9 per cent of people aged 16 and over having had one dose, while 93.4 per cent have had two.
Some 81.5 per cent of people aged 12-15 have had one vaccine dose and 78.1 per cent are double-dosed.
The COVID-19 patients in intensive care continued to be mostly unvaccinated, Deputy Chief Health Officer Jeremy McAnulty said on Wednesday.
Australian Associated Press
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