8000 NSW tests a day to give us back our freedom
Anyone with even mild respiratory symptoms can be tested for COVID-19 from today, as the state builds a surveillance regime critical to relaxing virus restrictions.
Up to 8000 people will be swabbed per day under the new rules in a bid to gain better oversight of community outbreaks.
There will also be a push to ramp up testing on the weekends and more testing will be encouraged in regional NSW to pick up low-symptom cases.
The move is a critical step in preparing for an incremental winding back of restrictions, and will enable the government to have greater confidence in identifying any surprise outbreaks swiftly.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian confirmed the new testing plan tonight, saying: "This strategy is critical if we are going to lift any restrictions."
"NSW has one of the highest testing rates in the world and we want to see this boosted further," she said.
"This has helped us slow the spread of the virus.
"From today, anyone in NSW who has symptoms should come forward and get tested.
"This is important to reduce community transmission and deal with any local outbreaks."
It is a significant departure from early testing rules in the state, which restricted swabs to people who had either returned from overseas or had been in contact with a known case of the virus.
This was later expanded in virus hot spots, before friday's opening up of testing to the whole state.
New laboratory capacity will allow the volume of testing to be doubled.
Ms Berejiklian will urge healthcare workers, aged care staff or staff in other high-risk settings with symptoms to be immediately tested. Priority screening is also available to aged care residents and school staff.
As the state prepares for a gentle loosening of some restrictions, the Premier remains concerned about a second wave of infection.
The government now has 2000 ventilators, but considers its ICU capacity to be just 1147 - with the beds and ventilator access limited by the need for personal protective equipment for staff.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has identified testing as the first of three key areas that need to be bolstered before the government can consider relaxing restrictions in mid-May.
"If we are to move to a different phase when it comes to the restrictions we need an even broader testing regime than we have at this point," he said.
"Now we have one of the most extensive testing regimes in the world today but we need to do even better than that to ensure that we can have greater confidence that when we move to a lesser restriction environment, then we can have confidence that we'll be able to identify any outbreaks very, very quickly and respond to them."
Originally published as 8000 NSW tests a day to give us back our freedom