New South Wales has recorded another 18 new coronavirus cases, including two more infections linked to a Sydney girls school.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the state remained on ‘high alert’ as she announced the new cases on Wednesday morning.
Of the new cases, only one case is a returned traveller from overseas while two are from Victoria.
The new cases have sparked a health warning for anyone who visited Rhodes IKEA on August 8 and Parramatta Westfield on August 5 after a confirmed case visited the locations while infectious.
One case has been linked to Our Lady of Mercy College in Parramatta, taking the cluster at the school to three.
The source of the newest case is under investigation, as it has not been directly linked to the previous two cases, with the school now closed for 14 days.
Students and staff have been advised to self-isolate for 14 days, monitor their health and get tested for COVID-19.
The school is expected to reopen on Monday, August 24.
The closure comes after several clusters popped up schools across the state with the number of cases linked to the Tangara School for Girls in Cherrybrook in the city’s north-west rising to 19 on Wednesday.
Ms Berejiklian issued a desperate plea to schools to not hold excursions and extracurricular activities amid reports an overnight religious retreat took place shortly before the first Tangara case was diagnosed.
‘Extracurricular activities, those excursions, overnight things which you would ordinary do are not acceptable during the pandemic,’ Ms Berejiklian said on Tuesday.
‘I’m absolutely paranoid about what I do myself, the worst thing to be would be unintentionally give it to others.’
The stern warning was echoed by the Independent Education Union of Australia.
‘Extra-curricular activities should be curtailed,’ branch secretary Mark Northam said in a statement.
An investigation is underway into reports several students attended an overnight religious retreat in Bargo, 90km south-west of Sydney, before they tested positive, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
The school insists it had nothing to do with the retreat and that it was organised by the nearby Eremeran study centre with the Catholic organisation Opus Dei.
‘The school has not held any camps or retreats for its students since March 2020, when the COVID-19 restrictions for schools came into place,’ a school statement read.
The Tangara School for Girls secondary campus will remain closed until at least August 24.
All students and staff and support staff at the secondary campus have been ordered to get tested for and self-isolate at home for two weeks, even if a negative test result is returned.
Despite the growing cases, Ms Berejiklian has announced NSW residents returning from Victoria will have their hotel quarantine fee waived for the next month to ease the financial burden on returnees.
The charge will be waived retrospectively and apply to NSW residents already in hotel quarantine after travelling from Victoria.
Ms Berejiklian said the NSW Government recognised the cost of hotel quarantine was a challenge for many NSW residents making their way home from Victoria.
‘Hotel quarantine is key to reducing the risk of seeding of COVID-19 from Victoria into NSW,’ Ms Berejiklian said.
‘We have listened to the concerns of NSW residents who say they cannot afford to come home to NSW and will now give them more time to return.
‘We are asking any NSW residents who are in Victoria and want to come home to make their way back to NSW before Friday, 11 September if they want to avoid paying for hotel quarantine.’
Health Minister Brad Hazzard said a number of NSW residents wanting to come home are experiencing hardship.
‘We understand the cost associated with hotel quarantine has made it difficult for NSW residents to return home from Victoria – that is why we have waived that cost for the next month,’ Mr Hazzard said.
‘These changes are also retrospective and will apply to NSW residents who have travelled from Victoria and are already in hotel quarantine.’
The moratorium on the hotel quarantine charge for NSW residents will expire at 12:01am on Friday, September 11.
There are 133 COVID-19 cases in hospital with eight patients in intensive care and seven being ventilated.