‘An outbreak in backpackers’: NSW to search for undetected COVID-19 cases in Sydney’s east

NSW will more aggressively search for undetected cases of COVID-19 in Sydney's eastern suburbs amid fears backpackers in Bondi could be spreading the virus into the community.

NSW Health will open a pop-up testing clinic in Bondi and will urge eastern suburbs GPs to ramp up coronavirus testing following an increase in cases of the virus among backpackers in the east.

Backpacker dorms are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 transmission, experts say.Credit:Cole Bennetts

There are 2032 coronavirus cases in NSW, with 114 new cases as of 8pm Monday, but despite the small drop in numbers, authorities are increasingly concerned about community transmission.

In the latest bid to slow the spread of the virus, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard signed sweeping new orders late on Monday that could see anyone who leaves their house without a "reasonable excuse" jailed for six months and face a $11,000 fine.

The order makes it unlawful to leave your place of residence except "to obtain food or other goods and services", work and education that cannot be done from home, exercise, medical or caring reasons, and a limited number of other reasons.

It also specifically states that "taking a holiday in a regional area is not a reasonable excuse" after Deputy Premier John Barilaro urged Sydneysiders to steer clear of the bush.

NSW Chief Medical Officer Kerry Chant said the small drop in the number of cases comes as fewer tests were being carried out. But she said that would be ramped up in hotspots.

"There has been an outbreak in backpackers," Dr Chant said.

She said there needed to be extra testing where there is clear community transmission and areas of "active clusters".

"I am urging increased testing," she said.

Police leave the Bondi Beach Backpackers after breaking up a public indoor gathering on last Friday.Credit:Cole Bennetts

The Herald last week reported hostels were still hosting parties despite tough new restrictions.

University of NSW senior lecturer Holly Seale, whose expertise is in public behaviours regarding infectious diseases, said the nature of dormitories meant viral cases could emerge in those settings.

Dr Seale said there was a higher chance of people sneezing or coughing on one other and touching shared surfaces, as well as sharing bathrooms and kitchen facilities.

Dr Seale said that while she wasn't opposed to the idea of moving backpackers to more isolated accommodation, she said that option may not be viable and authorities needed to look at tailoring health information to targeted groups to ensure messages about safe practises were being received.

"The measure of moving a backpacker into a hotel setting I think will need to be carefully reviewed, depending on who is responsible for the cost of that facility. This is a situation that’s not going away, we could be talking about months here," she said.

Waverley mayor Paula Masselos said her council had been informed by NSW Health it was reviewing measures to address concern over backpacker accommodation.

The council will also inspect the beachside venues amid heightened concerns over hostels.

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