Before January 5, just two returned travellers in NSW had tested positive to the strain, which has now been detected in more than 45 countries.
Five patients have recovered from the strain in NSW, and nine remain in the Special Health Accommodation facility.
The state’s hotel quarantine system has also seen five patients with the B1351 coronavirus variant, which was first detected in South Africa and is also believed to be more highly transmissible than previous coronavirus variants. Four of these patients remain in Special Health Accommodation.
Mr Hazzard said he remained confident NSW’s hotel quarantine system could handle the variant cases, as Queensland authorities considered moving their system out of metropolitan areas.
“I think it’s fair to say we’re always on high alert about what might happen,” he said.
“It’s a human system. I suspect in the end they’ll find there was some human breach [in Queensland]. But that’s a matter for them. I have confidence in our public health system.”
Mr Hazzard said he was “pleased” to report the 10 NSW residents who completed quarantine at the Grand Chancellor Hotel after December 29 upon returning from overseas had been identified, tested and isolated after a public health alert was issued on Wednesday night.
Following the announcement of restrictions on CBD Australia Day events, the Health Minister said there would be information regarding rules for community events in Greater Sydney by Monday.
“If councils wish to have Australia Day ceremonies, and hopefully they will, they can certainly have those with up to 500 people, without any major concerns. They can have more than that if it’s a more structured environment, up to a couple of thousand,” he said.
Under the public health order, household gatherings are currently capped at five visitors. Outdoor gatherings in a public place are capped at 30 attendees.
There were 20,437 coronavirus tests during the reporting period, about the same number as was recorded on Wednesday.
Dr McAnulty said the state still wanted to see more than 25,000 daily tests, encouraging people to “egg on” family and friends to come forward for testing, particularly in western Sydney, south-west Sydney and the northern beaches, where recent cases have been identified.
NSW reported two new cases in returned travellers on Thursday, bringing the state’s case total since the start of the pandemic to 4854.
Contact tracers have not yet managed to find links for mystery cases from Mount Druitt, which have been genomically linked to the Berala cluster, and the upper northern beaches reported on Tuesday.
Amid lower case numbers, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said he would be looking to soon reduce the size of the “red zone” covering Greater Sydney, which bars travel into his state. Victoria shut its border to NSW on New Year’s Day, but reopened to regional NSW earlier this week.
“I just want to assure all Victorians, and particularly those that want to come home but can’t because it’s not safe right now, you will be in this circumstance for not a moment longer than the public health experts tell me you have to be,” Mr Andrews said.
Mary Ward is a health reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald.