The Hunter has experienced only a small fraction of the coronavirus surge predicted in briefings to hospital staff two weeks ago.
Nurses and doctors were told to prepare for up to 1600 cases in the Hunter New England Health district, a cumulative 240 hospital admissions and 64 intensive care patients by today, April 8.
HNEH's latest daily update on Tuesday said it was caring for just 12 COVID-19 patients in hospital, five of whom were in ICUs.
It reported no new confirmed cases in the district in the 24 hours to 8pm on Monday. HNEH also recorded no new cases on Friday.
The March 26 briefing for hospital staff was based on the number of confirmed cases continuing to double every three and a half days.
But the growth rate of infections has slowed drastically since that date. The doubling time for confirmed cases has blown out to 11 days in Australia, NSW and in the HNEH district due to social distancing and the "travel ban effect".
NSW has about twice as many cases, 2686, as it did on March 26. It added another 49 cases in its Tuesday data update, the lowest rise since March 21.
It is a similar story across Australia and in the Hunter, where confirmed cases have grown from 142 to 248 in 11 days, about one sixth of what was predicted.
The Tamworth local government area has 12 COVID-19 patients and has not recorded any new confirmed cases in over a week.
About 100 COVID-19 patients are in hospitals across the state, 37 of them in ICUs.
Hunter infectious diseases physician and academic Josh Davis said the slowdown had given nurses and doctors crucial extra time to prepare.
"There's certainly a palpable feeling around the hospital of people feeling a little bit less anxious in the last couple of days as the curve has flattened a little bit, but I think people shouldn't start relaxing yet," Dr Davis said.
The caveat on the promising numbers is the rate of community transmission.
The number of coronavirus infections with an unknown source has risen in NSW from 250 to more than 400 in the past week, prompting the government to increase testing in "hot spots".
"We don't yet know whether local community transmission is going to ramp up," Dr Davis, who is president of the Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases, said.
He said John Hunter Hospital, by far the region's largest, was still preparing for a "large number" of ICU and non-ICU admissions.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian suggested on Tuesday that the community should expect social distancing to be the "new normal" until a vaccine was found, which could be 18 months away, if ever.
"Not having physical contact, socially distancing, is, at the very minimum, a way of life for us," she said.
"Because we have to be honest with ourselves: until a vaccine is found, there is no simple way to deal with this issue."
Forty-eight people have died of COVID-19 complications in Australia, including 33 in their sixties and seventies. Only one person under the age of 60 has died.
Dr Davis said he was happy with the social distancing measures in place around the country, how most people were complying with them and the media's coverage of the pandemic.
"From my point of view, I'd much rather that the public messaging be around the sort of worst- or moderately worst-case scenario than the best-case scenario," he said.
"Australians tend not to be very good at following public health orders, and it seems to have been better in the past few days, but I think it's important that people understand how bad it could get."
He said the rollout of lockdown measures was "a bit slower than it ideally should have been", but he had sympathy for a government trying to implement radical changes very quickly.
"I think now we've reached the point of a very good set of measures, and the compliance with those does seem to have improved a lot lately.
"Hopefully, we'll be seeing that with the epidemic curve over the next few weeks.
"What we're seeing now is travel ban effect. We need to watch over the next couple of weeks what happens."
The death toll in NSW stands at 21, three more than a day ago.
A 90-year-old man, a resident of Opal Care Bankstown, died in Liverpool Hospital. He was the second person from the nursing home to die of COVID-19 complications.
A 90-year-old man became the sixth person from Dorothy Henderson Lodge, in the north-west Sydney suburb of Macquarie Park, to die.
An 87-year-old female passenger from the ill fated Ruby Princess died in Sutherland Hospital.
A survey by research firm Roy Morgan issued on Tuesday shows 20 per cent of Australians believe the threat posed by the coronavirus is exaggerated, up from 15 per cent a week ago.
Far more men (25 per cent) than women (16 per cent) think the threat is exaggerated.
The survey of 987 adults last weekend shows the public is far more approving of government handling of the pandemic than it was a week earlier.
Nearly two thirds of respondents said the federal government was doing a good job, up from 43 per cent last week.
Satisfaction in the NSW government's coronavirus performance rose from 38 per cent to 59 per cent.
Australians are also less pessimistic about how the pandemic will play out.
A majority of 59 per cent still believe the "worst is yet to come", but this is down from 85 per cent a week ago.
Again, the numbers are skewed along gender lines. Far more women, 65 per cent, are pessimistic than men (53 per cent).
A third believe the situation will remain the same and 8 per cent believe it will improve, up from 4 per cent last week.
About three quarters of Australians remain fearful they or someone in their family will be infected, the same ratio as last week.
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