The NSW Premier has announced the Hunter will go into lockdown from 5pm Thursday.

All Hunter LGA’s including Lake Macquarie, Port Stephens, Maitland, Cessnock, Singleton, Muswellbrook Newcastle and Dungog will be subject to the same harsh restrictions as Greater Sydney.

Everyone in these areas must stay at home unless it is for an essential reason. People in these Local Government Areas cannot have visitors in their home, including social visits from family and friends outside of their household.

It follows three local schools closing due to positive cases as well as a number of exposure sites being listed including Target Glendale and the Auchmuty Library at the University of Newcastle.

Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant says she believes the infection source came from a gathering at Blacksmiths on Friday night

“We now think that the source extended from a gathering on Blacksmiths beach on Friday night,” Dr Chant said.

It’s also believed the gathering was attended by people from Greater Sydney.

“We believe that there may have been people there from Greater Sydney and that’s how it was introduced,” Dr Chant said.

Investigations into the gathering are underway.

From 5pm Thursday only certain reasons to leave the home will be allowed including, Shopping for food or other essential goods, hospitality venues will move to takeaway, medical care, exercise outdoors in groups of 2 or fewer, schools will move online, work or tertiary education.

Financial support for impacted businesses is available via the Service NSW website or by calling 13 77 88. Individuals who lose more than eight hours of work are eligible for the federal COVID-19 Disaster Payment and can apply via Service Australia.