New South Wales has recorded the highest number of daily Covid cases since early October while Victoria reported 13 Covid deaths and 1,193 new cases on Saturday.
The news came as the Aacta awards were named as a Covid exposure site after a hospitality worker at the Sydney Opera House tested positive for the virus.
Victoria is now managing more than 11,400 active Covid cases. There are 323 Covid patients in Victorian hospitals, 68 of them in intensive care and 29 who require ventilation.
The latest six fatalities were of people aged in their 50s-90s. The others reported on Saturday died in November. This means the total number of deaths in Victoria since the pandemic began stands at 1,414.
NSW recorded 560 new Covid-19 infections and three related deaths on Saturday, with health authorities concerned that cases will continue to surge in the lead-up to Christmas. It was the highest number of daily cases in NSW since 9 October.
NSW also confirmed three more cases of the Omicron variant overnight, with that number expected to rise as the results of ongoing genomic testing are finalised. This brings the state’s total number of Omicron cases to 45, of which 31 were spread via community transmission.
No new cases of the Omicron variant were confirmed in Victoria on Saturday.
A Sydney Opera House spokesperson told Guardian Australia on Saturday they had been advised that an “employee of a food and beverage operator who worked at the Opera House from 8-9 December has tested positive for Covid-19”. The Aacta awards were held on 8 December.
“A thorough cleaning of affected areas has been carried out and we are taking all necessary steps as required by NSW Health,” the spokesperson said. “The Opera House currently has a number of measures in place in line with our Covid safety plan and our commitment to the health and safety of everyone on our site.
“Opera House patrons who attended the site on those dates are not required to take any action unless advised by NSW Health via the Service NSW check-in notifications.”
On Friday night, NSW Health listed two new exposure sites that had been visited by confirmed Covid-19 cases likely to have the Omicron variant.
Anyone who attended the Albion Hotel in Parramatta from 4.30pm on Sunday 5 December is considered a close contact and must immediately get tested and isolate for seven to 14 days, depending on their vaccination status.
Meanwhile, anyone who attended the Albion Hotel on Friday 3 December between 11am until 3am, or the Cult nightclub in Potts Point on Saturday 14 December from 9.45pm until 3am, is considered a casual contact, and must get tested and isolate until a negative result is received.
There have been a number of recent outbreaks in Sydney.
As of Friday, South Eastern Sydney Local Health District confirmed 17 Covid cases had attended the Golden Sheaf Hotel on 20 and 27 November.
There have also been 44 cases linked to a pub trivia night held at the Oxford Tavern in Petersham on 30 November. At least 11 people who attended a weekend party boat cruise on Sydney Harbour have tested positive for the virus, at least three of them with the Omicron variant.
Dr John Hall from NSW Health said authorities were “concerned about the increase of Covid-19 transmissions taking place in large social venues such as pubs, clubs and party settings”.
“Transmission in these types of settings is contributing to the increase in NSW, and we reiterate just how important it is for people to not attend social functions if they have any symptoms, even if mild,” he said.
The federal treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, said on Saturday that the government was still waiting on medical advice around its response to the Omicron variant, but that the data so far looked “encouraging”.
“The virus is certainly highly transmissible but perhaps not as severe as other variants,” he said.
“We have not seen the mass hospitalisations in South Africa, for example. The vaccination rates are lower than a country like Australia, and there is no evidence, as yet, that the vaccine is not a defence against Omicron.”
But epidemiologists are concerned that La Niña could cause a spike in Covid-19 cases, as a cool and stormy summer forces more people indoors at the same time the Omicron variant is spreading.
NSW is set to ease restrictions for unvaccinated residents on Wednesday, giving them the same freedoms as those who are fully vaccinated. The state will no longer require people to wear masks indoors – other than on public transport or planes, and at the airport – regardless of their vaccination status.
But Mary-Louise McLaws, a professor of epidemiology at the University of NSW and adviser to the World Health Organization, told the Guardian on Friday that it was too soon to ease restrictions and allow unvaccinated and vaccinated people to mingle unmasked in indoor venues.
“It’s definitely unwise to push ahead with the relaxations,” she said. “It is so much easier to ask Australians to continue wearing a mask and to wait until we know more about Omicron, and for those who are not yet fully vaccinated to wear a mask until we know more.
“It’s too cavalier to throw away these really successful infection prevention strategies.”
The ACT recorded 11 new Covid infections on Saturday, meaning there are now 76 active cases in the territory.
In Queensland, the health minister, Yvette D’Ath, reported one new case of community transmission on the Gold Coast, and announced changes to quarantine rules, starting January.
From 1 January, fully vaccinated Queenslanders who are deemed close contacts will only have to quarantine for seven days, instead of two weeks.
They will need to continue wearing a mask and avoid high-risk settings such as hospitals, aged care and correctional facilities for a further seven days, once they are released from quarantine.