New South Wales has reported 124 new locally acquired cases of coronavirus, its highest daily tally of the year.
Of the new cases in the 24 hours to 8pm on Wednesday, 48 people were infectious in the community.
The cases come from a record 85,185 tests.
There are currently 118 people in hospital with 28 in intensive care, 14 of whom are ventilated.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian says given the number of people infectious in the community, she expects the number of cases to rise even higher.
“We anticipate case numbers will continue to go up before they start coming down and we need to brace ourselves for that,” she told reporters on Thursday.
“[The virus] is spreading like we’ve never seen before.”
Of the new locally acquired cases, 67 are linked to a known case or cluster, 45 are household contacts and 22 are close contacts. The source of infection for 57 cases is under investigation.
There have now been 1,648 cases linked to the outbreak since 16 June.
Ms Berejiklian implored NSW residents on Thursday to get vaccinated, which she described as “our key to freedom”.
“The more people we have vaccinated, the quicker we can live life as freely as we would like,” she said.
Of those currently in intensive care, nobody has had two doses of the vaccine, which proves it works in preventing serious illness, she said.
The premier said cases had now spilled over from the Fairfield local government area to the Canterbury Bankstown and Cumberland area, with residents urged to come forward for testing.
NSW Health’s Dr Jeremy McAnulty said Sydney suburbs of particular concern were Merrylands and Guildford, Toongabbie, Seven Hills, Pendle Hill, Mount Druitt and Rooty Hill, Wollongong, Fairfield, Liverpool and Bankstown, Narwee, Campsie and Earlwood, Georges River, Bayside and Sutherland.
Residents of these areas are urged to come forward for testing even if they have only the mildest of symptoms.
The NSW Health list of exposure sites listed pharmacies in Merrylands, Auburn and Punchbowl among new venues of concern.
A gardening shop in Mascot was exposed for a three-hour stretch on Saturday.
Three sites in Wollongong and nearby Fairy Meadow also made the list.
The Palms aged care facility at Kirrawee, in southern Sydney, has confirmed a positive COVID-19 case among its staff, who was unvaccinated.
A statement on the facility’s website said most residents were fully vaccinated, and all would be treated as close contacts while the situation was assessed in more detail.
Two staff members at an aged care facility in Belrose have also tested positive.
NSW Health has extended its advice on surveillance testing to include health and aged care workers who live in the Canterbury-Bankstown LGA.
From Friday 23 July, these workers will be required to get a COVID-19 test every three days in order to leave the area for work.
The NSW figures come as Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced her state’s border with NSW would close from 1am on Friday.
“This is an important step that allows Queensland to safely ease COVID-19 restrictions across the state,” she said.
Meanwhile, people in the central-western town of Orange and its surrounds are in their second full day of a seven-day lockdown after a COVID-19 positive delivery driver from Sydney visited the area and infected another person.
The lockdown in the Orange, Blayney and Cabonne local government areas marks the first time a stay-at-home order has been imposed in regional NSW.
More to come…