ICU patient numbers rise again as NSW records 5715 new COVID cases

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The number of people in NSW hospitals with COVID-19 has increased to 347, up from 302 on Wednesday, as the state recorded 5715 new cases and one death.

Forty-five patients were in ICU, up from 40 on Wednesday. In September, there were 244 people in intensive care and 1266 in hospital with COVID.

The NSW government is refusing to re-introduce mandatory indoor mask wearing or other social distancing measures despite advice from the Doherty Institute and the growing case numbers across Sydney.

Another 160,471 people got tested on Wednesday in the lead-up to Christmas. Snaking queues with hours-long waits have become a common sight around COVID-19 testing clinics throughout the city as people wait for negative results before heading to Christmas celebrations or travelling interstate.

Cars queue at the Roselands drive-through COVID-19 testing clinic at dawn on Thursday. Credit:Brook Mitchell

NSW is trying to procure a mass order of rapid antigen tests to be made freely available, which could help relieve the queues for PCR tests.

Anyone travelling to Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory requires a negative swab three days before travel, meaning healthy people are clogging up the system for bureaucratic reasons.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk flagged on Wednesday that rapid antigen tests could be accepted instead of PCR tests for entry into the state from January 1.

The country's chief medical officers have said that large-scale, non-targeted, asymptomatic testing is "neither epidemiologically sound nor a cost-effective approach to identify disease transmission", and should be strongly discouraged.

On Wednesday, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the government is also looking at whether unvaccinated people could be charged for medical costs related to COVID-19 treatment.

“There is certainly discussion taking place as to whether it is fair that unvaccinated people occupy intensive care beds at a very substantial cost to taxpayers, putting the lives of health staff at risk,” NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said.

Smokers, drinkers and people with poor diets are not charged for healthcare costs incurred from their lifestyle choices.

Senator Jacqui Lambie rejected any proposal to charge certain people outside the Medicare system, labelling it unethical.

"Everybody pays their taxes in this country. We've always had free health care," she told Today. "People that smoke, that get lung cancer, we look after them. We do everything we can. That is the Australian way."

Federal Employment Minister Stuart Robert also rubbished the NSW suggestion.

"Healthcare is freely available as a basic right for Australians," he said. "I think it's an unwise direction should any state wish to go that path."

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