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Covid-19 News Updates

Fourth COVID-19 shot approved for over-30s

Fourth COVID-19 shot approved for over-30s

An additional 7.4 million Australians will be entitled to receive another COVID-19 booster from next week after the Federal Government accepted recommendations from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) to expand the eligibility for a fourth shot to over 30s.

The updated guidance follows an increase in the number of people falling ill from respiratory virus infections, including COVID-19, over the past few months, placing an increased strain on the Australian healthcare system, particularly hospitals.

A contributing factor to the upsurge of COVID-19 cases comes from the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, which ATAGI says can partly escape the immune response generated by both prior vaccination and infection, with numbers expected to worsen over the coming months.

A first booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine has been shown to increase the immune response to these new subvariants but wanes over several weeks; however, a winter dose (the second booster dose) is anticipated to boost this immune response.

“We are in the early stages of a third Omicron wave, and our Government is absolutely committed to making sure as many people as possible are protected with the vaccine,” the Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler said.

“My message to everyone living in Australia aged 50 and over is to make sure you have the greatest protection against COVID-19 by having a fourth dose as soon as possible. If you are aged 30 to 49, and you want that extra protection, you can choose to get a fourth dose.

“The vaccine experts on the Australian Technical Advisory Group on immunisation have recommended it – and the Government has accepted this advice.”

ATAGI emphasised that people previously eligible for a winter booster dose remain at higher risk of severe disease and death from COVID-19 and should look to receive the booster dose as soon as possible; these include:

  • all adults aged 65 years or older
  • residents of aged care or disability care facilities
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 50 years or older
  • people who are severely immunocompromised (this will be their fifth dose)
  • people aged 16 years or older with a medical condition that increases the risk of severe COVID-19 illness
  • people aged 16 years or older with a disability, significant or complex health needs, or multiple comorbidities, which increase the risk of a poor outcome.

Adults aged between 50 to 64 years old are now recommended to receive a COVID-19 winter booster dose. Those aged between 30 to 49 are also now eligible, although the benefit for people in this group is less certain.

There was no support for making the fourth dose available to healthy adults under the age of 30 as it was not clear whether the benefits outweighed the risks in this population group.

ATAGI has also recommended that the interval between vaccine doses, or prior infection (whichever comes later), be reduced from four months to three months to provide earlier additional protection.

Individuals who have previously been infected with SARS-CoV-2, irrespective of which variant it may have been, should continue to receive recommended vaccine doses after three months, as prior infection alone will not provide sufficient protection against severe disease.

Vaccination, in addition to infection, as compared with prior infection alone, currently offers the best available protection against reinfection.

ATAGI acknowledges that increasing the uptake of fourth doses in the most at-risk population groups is anticipated to play a limited but important role in taking pressure off Australia’s health care system by reducing the risk of severe outcomes in individuals.

The group advises that other public health and social measures, in addition to vaccination, will have the most significant impact against the surge in Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 infections.  

This includes increased use of masks and expanding the use of antiviral treatment in people diagnosed with COVID-19, including those aged 50 years and above.

“My other message is that oral antiviral treatments can be life-saving for older people or people with chronic health conditions who are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19,” Butler added.

“It is vital a person starts the five-day oral treatment course as soon as possible after symptoms first appear.

“If you are at higher risk of severe illness, plan ahead. Speak to your doctor now about oral antiviral treatment for COVID-19.”

Almost 14 million people in Australia aged 16 and over have received three or more doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

However, take-up of the vaccine's first and winter booster doses are considered suboptimal according to ATAGI, with only 70.6 per cent and 59.5 per cent of the respective eligible populations having completed initial doses.

New Zealand scraps pre-departure COVID-19 tests

New Zealand scraps pre-departure COVID-19 tests

Business travel and holidays to New Zealand are set to become less of a hassle with the announcement passengers will no longer need a COVID-19 pre-departure test to enter the country as of Tuesday, 21 June. 

In the hope of enticing more tourists into the nation as the ski season kicks off, unvaccinated travellers will also be allowed to enter without quarantining. 

New Zealand COVID-19 Minister Ayesha Verrall confirmed the availability and cost of getting a test had increasingly become a barrier for people travelling to the nation.

"I'm advised the challenges pre-departure tests pose to visitors are now no longer outweighed by the public health benefits," she said. 

"Around 90 per cent of international arrivals undertake their required testing once they are in the country, with only a 2-3 per cent positivity rate. So we don't anticipate a significant increase in border cases once the requirement is lifted."

While more than 387,000 travellers arrived since the nation reopened its borders in February, the number of COVID-19 cases has slowly declined in New Zealand. 

However, the government is keeping a set of surveillance measures in place to detect new variants of COVID-19.

Travellers will still be required to self-test using a rapid antigen test (RAT) within the first 24 hours of arrival and again on day five or six. If the result of either test is positive, the person must get a PCR test.

Additionally, any traveller with COVID-19-like symptoms (e.g. hayfever) could be asked to provide a negative COVID test or a certificate from a health professional before boarding a flight.

The maximum penalty for breaching the Air Border Order’s vaccination requirements will be reduced from $4,000 to $1,000.

Dr Verrall said New Zealand was ready to relax the pre-departure testing requirement ahead of the planned 31 July reopening to all visa categories.

"We've taken a careful and staged approach to reopening our borders to ensure we aren't overwhelmed with an influx of COVID-19 cases," she said.

"Our strategy has worked, and as a result, it's safe to lift pre-departure test requirements much sooner than planned."

More than 95 per cent of eligible New Zealanders aged 12 or over are double-vaccinated. The nation's COVID-19 death toll currently stands at 1,359.

Two Melbourne-made COVID-19 vaccines to launch Phase 1 trials

Two Melbourne-made COVID-19 vaccines to launch Phase 1 trials

Two COVID-19 vaccine candidates created by the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity and Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences are moving into the Phase 1 clinical trial stage, with both projects looking for healthy volunteers.

The new vaccine candidates are distinct from existing vaccines in use globally because they focus on the immune response on the tip of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, called the receptor binding domain (RBD).

The RBD enables the virus to enter and infect cells in the body, eliciting more than 90 per cent of neutralising antibodies which can block the virus following SARS-CoV-2 infection.

The two candidates are:

  • RBD protein vaccine – it uses part of the virus protein, rather than genetic material or another virus, to elicit an immune response.
  • RBD mRNA vaccine – represents the virus genetic sequence that codes for the tip of the spike, which will lead to the production of the RBD protein.

According to the Doherty Institute, both candidates are ‘proof-of-principle’ variant vaccines that present the Beta variant to the immune system - the variant of concern back when the vaccines were being designed.

This is important at this point in the pandemic, as the Beta variant has two of the same key RBD mutations as the Omicron variants currently spreading through Australia (BA.1 and BA.2), so the scientists behind the candidates hope they may also improve immunity to Omicron.

University of Melbourne Professor Terry Nolan, head of the Vaccine and Immunisation Research Group at the Doherty Institute, will lead the Phase 1 trial and is recruiting 114 volunteers to participate.

“This trial will assess the safety and efficacy of a single dose of these vaccines as a fourth dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, therefore participants must have had their third dose at least three months prior to the study commencing,” Professor Nolan said.

“People who have been infected with COVID-19 are also eligible provided they had their infection at least three months prior, and have had their third vaccine dose.

“What’s also unique about this gold standard, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial is that it will be the first time a side-by-side comparison will be undertaken of two new COVID-19 vaccine platforms.”

Dr Georgia Deliyannis from the University of Melbourne performed most of the RBD protein vaccine experiments at the Doherty Institute, and said in pre-clinical trials the vaccine induced high levels of RBD-specific antibodies, including high neutralising antibodies following two doses.

“Immunity induced by the RBD protein vaccine protects against virus challenge in a mouse model of SARS-CoV-2 infection, even 100 days following the boost,” Dr Deliyannis said.

“As well as inducing strong neutralising antibody immunity to the Beta variant in mice, it also retains its potential to neutralise the original ancestral strain, and preliminary in-lab studies have demonstrated neutralising activity against other variants including Delta and Omicron.”

Doherty Institute director Professor Sharon Lewin said the need for next generation vaccines using innovative technology remains high, especially as new variants continue to emerge.

“Both vaccines are efficient to produce and can be rapidly modified to incorporate distinct or multiple RBD mutations arising in future variants,” said Professor Lewin.

“In addition, Australia needs the ability to manufacture its own vaccines to ensure our own supply should future global shortages occur, and to contribute to the global need for COVID-19 vaccines.”

Updated at 11.24am AEDT on 25 March 2022.

WA to ease COVID restrictions as ICU numbers remain lower than predicted

WA to ease COVID restrictions as ICU numbers remain lower than predicted

The Western Australian government will ease its Level 2 restrictions from next Thursday, 31 March, with the announcement coinciding with a record 8,616 new COVID-19 cases across the state.

The Level 2 public health and social measures, which were introduced on 3 March, will be relaxed to allow up to 30 people to gather indoors at home, the size of private outdoor gatherings to increased to 200, and Optus Stadium’s capacity to increase from 50 per cent to 75 per cent.  

Masks will remain mandatory indoors for all adults and schoolchildren in years three and above. However, mandatory check-ins will be abolished except for venues that carry proof of vaccination requirements.

"Western Australia's soft landing through the Omicron wave is on track - with COVID-19 hospitalisations and ICU admissions lower than expected thanks to our world-leading vaccination rate,” WA Premier Mark McGowan said.

"Given this, we can now ease most Level 2 measures back to modified Level 1 measures after only four weeks - just as we had planned.

"WA has been fortunate enough to mitigate the need to move towards more severe and sustained long-term restrictions seen elsewhere in the country - like working from home mandates and implementing a broader four square metre rule, which would have been far worse for WA jobs and businesses.”

COVID-safe settings in workplaces remain, and the two square-metre capacity rule will stay in place for venues such as hospitality, galleries, museums, places of worship, hairdressers and beauty salons.

However, WA businesses can look forward to capacity limits at nightclubs and hospitality venues increasing to 500 and will rejoice at their removal from 14 April.  

“There is no doubt that some businesses have done it tough while Level 2 measures have been in place,” McGowan said.

"My Government is supporting those businesses most impacted through our recent support packages worth more than $420 million, with more than $1.7 billion committed to businesses since the beginning of the pandemic.

"I thank all Western Australians for doing the right thing. We have only got to this position by doing what is required, when required, and now we can all benefit. As we continue through the Omicron wave, we will continue to review and adapt measures as necessary."

The relaxing of the restrictions is based on the latest health advice, but some rules remain unchanged. A limit of two visitors per day to residential aged care and disability facilities will be kept. There will also be no change to essential visitors only being allowed into hospitals.

Other changes include increased capacity for venues like cinemas and theatres to 75 per cent, check-ins will be scrapped for lower-risk sites like supermarkets and retail outlets, and the Crown casino will move to a two square metre rule.

"These new Level 1 measures strike the right balance between reducing the spread of Omicron and minimising the impact on businesses. Importantly, we are retaining stronger PHSMs for higher-risk settings, including hospitals and residential aged and disability care, to ensure our most vulnerable citizens are appropriately protected,” WA Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson said.

"Thank you to all those who continue to get tested and vaccinated, including a third dose when eligible - you are doing your bit to protect those in the community who might become more seriously unwell from COVID-19.

"Our very high vaccination rates have kept hospitalisations and ICU admissions down and enabled us to keep our restrictions modest and short-term."

WA announced 3,848 positive PCR tests and 4,768 RAT tests on 24 March, which brings the total number of active cases to 42,988 across the state. There are 209 people in hospital with COVID, with nine of those people currently in ICU.

There were seven deaths recorded across WA yesterday, but six died earlier this year. Almost three-quarters of the WA population over the age of 16 have received their third vaccine.

Updated at 7:30 am AWST on 25 March 2022.

100 million doses per year: Moderna to construct mRNA manufacturing facility in Melbourne

100 million doses per year: Moderna to construct mRNA manufacturing facility in Melbourne

Up to 100 million Australian-made mRNA vaccines will be produced in Melbourne from 2024 once Moderna’s new manufacturing centre is constructed.

Announced today, the multi-billion dollar landmark agreement between the Federal Government, Moderna and the Victorian Government means the biotech will give Australia the sovereign manufacturing capability to produce COVID-19 vaccines, and any other new and innovative respiratory mRNA inoculations.

The Federal Government also hopes the partnership will make Australia a regional hub for mRNA technology development and production, bolstering the local biotechnology sector in the process.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the agreement, which is expected to create “hundreds” of manufacturing jobs too, was an important milestone in securing Australia’s future pandemic preparedness.

“This is an Australian made shot in the arm that will protect Australians from future pandemics and secure a new manufacturing capability right here on our shores,” the Prime Minister said.

“This landmark agreement means that Australia can make up to 100 million world-leading mRNA doses every year, which can protect against evolving strains of COVID-19 or new respiratory diseases that emerge into the future.

“This will be the first mRNA production facility in the Southern Hemisphere, and will ensure Australians have quick and easy access to these lifesaving vaccines.”

The Moderna facility is expected to support about 500 jobs during construction, plus hundreds of indirect jobs, with up to 200 highly skilled staff to work at the facility once it's up and running in 2024.

Minister for Health and Aged Care Greg Hunt said securing a sovereign on-shore mRNA technology was critical and would soon be a reality.

“This agreement and strategic partnership with Moderna and the Victorian Government is crucial insurance for the health of the Australian population,” Minister Hunt said.

“It means Australians will have access to the most cutting-edge vaccination technology available both now and into the future.”

Updated at 10.30am AEDT on 24 March 2022.

“We're ready to welcome the world back”: NZ reopening to vaccinated Aussies on 12 April

“We're ready to welcome the world back”: NZ reopening to vaccinated Aussies on 12 April

Australian tourists will be welcomed into New Zealand without having to undergo any period of isolation from 11.59pm on 12 April, 2022 as our neighbouring nation brings forward the easing of border restrictions.

Initially pencilled in for July, the eased restrictions will allow all vaccinated Australians to enter New Zealand as long as they complete a pre-departure COVID-19 test (be it a PCR or RAT), as well as another test on arrival and a third on day five.

“We’re ready to welcome the world back,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

“We are a safe place to visit and New Zealand will be ready with open arms.”

The PM also announced that from 11.59pm on 1 May, 2022 travellers from visa waiver countries and those with valid visitor visas will also be permitted to enter New Zealand.

Ardern noted the eased border restrictions will be a boon for the local tourism industry, especially once Australians are allowed in, considering they historically made up 40 per cent of all international arrivals.

“They will be able to arrive in time for the Australian school holidays and provide a particular boost for the upcoming winter ski season,” Ardern said.

“Obviously we know that travel numbers will be below 2019 - it will take time to rebuild.”

The announcement comes after New Zealand already opened its borders to returning nationals earlier this year and those on critical worker visas without isolation earlier this week.

It was also made in the midst of a major spike in COVID-19 numbers for New Zealand, with the country reporting more than 21,000 new daily cases as of its last update, and no deaths reported yesterday.

“Ultimately, the most poignant moments of reopening to the world so far has surely been those when family and friends are reunited,” the PM said.

“I’m proud that New Zealand is a country able in this moment of time to provide a safe place for our tourists to return to.”

Updated at 10.38am AEDT on 16 March 2022.

COVID pandemic 2nd anniversary: 3 things we got wrong, and 3 things to watch out for

COVID pandemic 2nd anniversary: 3 things we got wrong, and 3 things to watch out for

Exactly two years ago, on March 11 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.

This was two months after there were reports of a mystery virus infecting people in Wuhan, the most populous city in central China. Early reports said the virus didn’t appear to be readily spread by humans.

Well, the SARS-CoV-2 virus could indeed be spread by humans. It quickly travelled around the world, and has so far infected more than 450 million people.

COVID-19, the disease it causes, has to date caused more than six million deaths, making it one of the most deadly pandemics in history.

In those early days we knew very little about the virus and COVID.

Here are three things we realised were wrong as the pandemic wore on, and three things we need to keep a close eye on as we approach the endemic phase, where the virus continues to circulate in the population at relatively stable levels.

1. Many were worried we wouldn’t get a vaccine

In early 2020 we didn’t know whether a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 was possible.

There had been previous attempts to develop vaccines against severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), two similar coronaviruses that also caused outbreaks this century. A few of these vaccines entered clinical trials, but none were approved.

Before COVID, the fastest developed vaccine was for mumps which took four years.

But in under 12 months, Pfizer/BioNTech developed a successful vaccine. Now we have 12 vaccines approved for full use in different parts of the world, 19 for emergency use, and more than 100 still in the clinical trial stages.

Both Pfizer and Moderna have also commenced clinical trials of an Omicron-specific vaccine.

There are also several research groups around the world developing vaccines aiming to work against all SARS-CoV-2 variants.

2. Some thought we didn’t need face masks

In the early days, without a vaccine, to reduce transmission we had to rely on individual preventative measures such as hand hygiene, social distancing and face masks.

Although there was widespread acceptance hand washing and social distancing protected against infection, face masks were much more controversial.

Before April 2020, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advised against the wearing of face masks by the public. There were apparently two reasons for this.

First, the CDC was afraid there wasn’t a sufficient supply of surgical and N95 masks, which were essential in high-risk settings.

Second, it was thought at the time asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic people could not transmit the virus (we now know they can).

However, on April 3 2020, the CDC changed its advice and recommended the general public wear multi-layered cloth face masks.

This has now been updated to wearing a well-fitting mask that is consistently worn.

With the advent of Omicron, some experts say cloth face masks aren’t up to the task and people should at least wear surgical masks, or even better respirator masks like a P2, KN95 or N95.

3. We worried a lot about surface transmission

In the early days of the pandemic, it was thought contaminated surfaces were a major means of COVID transmission.

People wore gloves when going to the supermarket (some still do), and washed food packages once they got home.

However, we now know the virus is spread primarily through aerosol and droplet transmission.

When a person coughs or sneezes, droplets containing mucous, saliva, water and virus particles can land on other people or drop onto surfaces.

Larger droplets tend not to travel very far and fall quickly.

Smaller droplets called aerosols, can stay airborne for an extended period of time before settling.

Scientists now believe transmission through touching contaminated surfaces is quite rare.

3 things to watch out for

There are three key issues we need to be aware of as COVID slowly becomes endemic.

1. New variants

There’s still the potential for new and more severe variants to hit us. One of the main reasons for this is the low rates of vaccination in many developing countries. The more the virus replicates in unvaccinated populations, the greater the chance of mutations and variants.

Vaccine manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna either manufacture the vaccine in their own facilities, or licence the right to produce the vaccine in other countries.

This puts it out of reach financially for most developing countries, who then have to rely on the COVAX initiative for supplies. COVAX is a worldwide facility funded by developed countries and donor organisations to purchase vaccines to be distributed to developing countries.

Researchers at the Texas Children’s Hospital’s Center for Vaccine Development have unveiled a protein-based vaccine called Corbevax. It uses established and easy-to-manufacture technology, and is being provided patent-free to developing countries. It has now received emergency use authorisation in India.

It has over 80% efficacy against symptomatic disease, though this is against the no-longer dominant Delta variant. Trials are currently under way to determine its efficacy against Omicron.

If approved, this should greatly help lift vaccination rates in many developing countries.

2. Waning immunity

Many older and vulnerable people had their third dose in November or December last year, with their immunity now waning fast.

We need to provide a fourth vaccine dose as soon as possible to the elderly and vulnerable.

3. Long COVID

Politicians are ignoring long COVID.

With thousands of cases a day in Australia, over the next year we will be getting a tsunami of people suffering from long-term health problems.

So, we simply cannot ignore high case numbers and would be wise to retain at least some public health measures (for example, face mask mandates) in order to bring case numbers down.

Some good news is that Australia’s Medical Research Future Fund will be funding research into long COVID this year.

The beginning of the end

State and territory governments are now dismantling public health measures such as the use of QR codes, social distancing measures and face mask mandates.

Their thinking is that although case numbers are still quite high, hospitalisations are going down – and of course, elections are in sight. Chief public health officers, who used to give daily briefings, are now rarely seen.

“Give us our freedom back” is now a commonly heard cry, even if the inevitable consequence means this is at the expense of elderly and vulnerable people.

In a nutshell, many believe we have moved already from epidemic to endemic status.

As much as we all wish for this to be over and life to get back to normal, we aren’t quite there yet.

But I think with better vaccines and improved treatments on the way, it’s at least the beginning of the end.The Conversation

Adrian Esterman, Professor of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, University of South Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

SA scraps rules on dancing, density requirements

SA scraps rules on dancing, density requirements

Police Commissioner Grant Stevens has announced South Australians will be able to dance and sing freely this weekend, in addition to seeing all density restrictions scrapped.

The current 50-person cap on home gathering will also be removed when restrictions ease on 12:01am, 12 March.

“It is good to be able to stand here and provide this much sought-after relief to a wide range of activities right across SA - including hospitality – and we certainly understand the pressures sectors have been under because of the restrictions,” Stevens said.

QR codes will also no longer be required for recreational transport, auctions and inspections, public transport, taxis, rideshare and education facilities.

Some people with COVID-19 will be directed to isolate for seven days instead of 10, with SA Health to make “direct contact” with positive cases to advise them of their quarantine requirements over the coming days.

The easing of restrictions comes despite SA recording 2,590 cases and four deaths in the latest 24-hour reporting period.  

There are currently 91 people with COVID-19 in hospital, including 11 in ICU and two requiring a ventilator.

There were 21,514 active cases in the state as of yesterday – the highest number reported since 29 January.

“We’ve always expected we’d see fluctuations in the daily case numbers,” Stevens said.

"The critical indicator for us is the number of people being hospitalised on a daily basis and that has reduced substantially and remains low and consistent.

"That tells us that while people may be contracting COVID-19 they are not becoming terribly sick with the virus, requiring that intensive medical support.

The state’s COVID-Ready committee will meet next week to determine whether any changes will be made for close contacts in quarantine or the mask-wearing mandate for indoor public settings.   

Updated at 10.15am AEDT on 11 March 2022.

WA rolls out another $72m business support scheme ahead of "rockiest month"

WA rolls out another $72m business support scheme ahead of "rockiest month"

Hot on the heels of last week’s $67 million support for WA businesses affected by COVID-19 comes a new $72 million business assistance package announced today by the Western Australian Government.

Aimed at Western Australian businesses most affected by Level 2 public health and social measures, the bulk of the new deal is in $66.8 million worth of Small Business Hardship Grants, while other funds include $2.8 million of payroll tax relief for large hospitality businesses and $2.1 million for a COVID-19 Commercial Sporting Franchises Support Program.

Small and medium businesses (SMEs) with a 50 per cent reduction in turnover year-on-year for any four week period between 1 January 2022 and 30 April 2022 are eligible to apply for the tiered grant.

"My government is committed to doing everything we can to help protect WA businesses, local jobs and the economy from the full brunt of COVID-19,” WA Premier Mark McGowan said after announcing the fifth business package since December.

"That is why we have now committed more than $420 million in business support since December, and a total of almost $1.7 billion since the beginning of the pandemic.

"We know that WA is about to enter its rockiest month - but under these Level 2 measures, businesses can continue to operate safely, so I encourage everyone to do the right thing, follow the health advice and support local businesses.

"With our world-leading vaccination rates and safe and sensible measures in place, Western Australians can have confidence to continue to support WA businesses - we will get through this together."

Owners of small and medium-sized businesses will be eligible for the following grants from the Small Business Hardship Grants Program:

  • $3,000 grant for sole traders (no employees);
  • $7,500 grant for micro-businesses (those with one to five employees);
  • $20,000 grant for small businesses (those with six to 19 employees); and
  • $50,000 for medium-sized businesses (those with 20 or more employees and with an annual payroll of up to $4 million).

Large hospitality businesses with payrolls of between $4 million and $20 million will receive a three-month payroll tax waiver if they have experienced at least a 50 per cent drop in turnover over any four week period between 1 January 2022 and 30 April 2022, comparable to the same period last year.

Eligible businesses that apply and receive funding from other recent business support programs, including the Level 1 COVID-19 Business Assistance Package, are also eligible to receive grants from the Level 2 package.

The $2.1 million COVID-19 Commercial Sporting Franchises Support Program includes a $35,000 rebate per game for venue hire costs until June 30, 2022, for commercial sporting franchises, such as the Perth Glory, Perth Wildcats, Perth Lynx and the Western Force.

This program also includes the waiver of public transport charges for home games for these teams in March - and a 50 per cent concession on public transport costs for events in April.

The announcement follows support provided through several recent arts and events support programs, including the revamped $10 million Getting the Show Back on the Road+ program, $3 million Event Suppliers Support Program, the $1.3 million Performing Arts, Theatres and Cinemas Assistance Program, and an additional $9 million to attract major events to WA.

It is expected that applications to these programs will open later this month.

"In Australia, the data shows that once a jurisdiction hits one thousand new cases a day, the peak of the Omicron outbreak is only a few weeks away,” McGowan said.

"The latest advice is that we should now expect to see WA reach the peak of cases in the next two weeks or so.

"That is how fast we expect Omicron to spread here and why we've had to move quickly to implement Level 2 public health and social measures.

"While we hope these measures will only need to be in place for a short time, or about four weeks, we know that there will be an impact on businesses regardless.”

WA recorded 1,770 new cases of COVID on Wednesday, bringing the active cases in the state to 6,979. Sixteen people remain in the hospital, with no patients in ICU.

As WA reopens its borders to the world tomorrow, with a 64.6 per cent COVID booster vaccination rate, the full state will move under level two restrictions.

Level 2 restrictions will include children from Years 3 upwards having to wear masks in all public indoor settings and will see major venue capacity cut to a 50 per cent limit. Home gatherings are limited to a total of 10 people indoors and outdoors, except weddings and funerals.

The measure also includes the two square metre rule and 150 patron capacity limit, for fitness venues, hospitality, entertainment venues, nightclubs, and galleries and museums, with seated service only. Private outdoor gatherings in a public space will be limited to 50 people.

Updated at 2:20pm AWST on 2 March 2022.

Tenant and landlord relief, alfresco program part of new $67m WA funding for businesses

Tenant and landlord relief, alfresco program part of new $67m WA funding for businesses

The Western Australian Government has today launched an additional $67 million of assistance packages to support businesses affected by COVID-19.  

As cases start to increase exceptionally within the state, the measures aim to assist small businesses with cash flow and support safe trading.

The package includes up to $6,000 in rent relief, outdoor dining and entertainment support grants, as well as further funding for business counselling services.

"As COVID-19 caseloads continue to increase, and with some public health and social measures in place to manage the spread of the virus, we expect some businesses will experience declines in revenue,” Premier of WA Mark McGowan said.

"For some, this impact will be greater than others and likely put pressure on their cash flow. Our latest $67 million businesses support package recognises these impacts and supports those businesses most impacted to get through the next phase of the pandemic.

"Over the past two years, Western Australians have done the right thing and supported local businesses and now is the time to continue to patron WA businesses, venues and events.”

The new support, consisting of eight tailored packages, is in addition to the McGowan Government’s $77 million Safe Transition Industry Support Package released earlier in February.

Small Business Rental Relief Package

  • $42 million Tenant Rent Relief Scheme providing grants of $3,000 to eligible small business tenants;
  • $10.7 million Landlord Rent Relief Incentive supporting eligible landlords with $1,500 - who voluntary match the Government's Tenant Rent Relief payments; and
  • $1.5 million Tenant Rental Credit Scheme providing a rental waiver or credit of $6,000 for eligible small business tenants of Government-owned buildings.

Outdoor Dining and Entertainment Support Package

  • $5 million Alfresco Support Program to reimburse small businesses in the hospitality sector with up to $5,000 for eligible costs associated with creating and expanding an alfresco area to meet the requirements of public health and social measures; 
  • $3.5 million Waiver of Liquor Licensing fees. Liquor licence renewal fees for 2022 will be waived and refunds provided for businesses that have already paid. One-off fees for variations to liquor licensing to enable alfresco services will also be waived, and fees for a COVID-19 occasional permit will be waived to permit the sale of takeaway alcohol as part of a takeaway meal;
  • $1.8 million Nightclub Assistance Program payments of up to $50,000 for eligible nightclubs impacted by capacity limits and social distancing; and
  • $1.3 million Performing Arts, Theatres and Cinemas Assistance Program, providing payments of up to $50,000 to provide cash flow assistance to a range of larger, indoor entertainment venues that are particularly affected by capacity constraints.

Other business support

  • $1 million Small Business Financial Counselling and Advisory Services funding to expand small business support services administered by the Department of Communities.

McGowan said Western Australians could have confidence in safely going out and socialising with friends and family, thanks to the state's "world-leading vaccination rate and sensible public health measures".

"Under these Level 1 public health rules and by keeping up our COVID safe practices, we can continue to operate safely and keep businesses in business," he said.

"Our strong financial position by maintaining a healthy budget has given us the capacity to provide this immediate assistance.

"Since December, we have provided four financial support packages for WA businesses, including the Safe Transition Industry Support Package, ReconnectWA and grants for businesses impacted by the Delta backpacker outbreak, taking the total investment to assist WA businesses through the pandemic to date to $1.6 billion."

The Western Australian hard border is set to open on 3 March - the date WA is forecast to reach 70 per cent third dose vaccination of its eligible 16+ population, with several requirements in place for those entering the state.

Anyone wishing to enter WA will need a registered G2G pass and be fully vaccinated. Interstate arrivals over the age of 16 will need to be triple-dosed. International arrivals only need two doses of an approved vaccine as they fall under Commonwealth government requirements as opposed to state mandates.

If you are vaccinated, there is no requirement to quarantine, but the unvaccinated will need to complete hotel quarantine for 14 days. All vaccinated arrivals are required to take a rapid antigen test within 12 hours of arriving in WA.

The Perth, Peel, South West, Wheatbelt, Great Southern and Pilbara regions have been under Level 1 measures since Monday, 21 February.

Level 1 measures include private indoor capacity limits of up to 30 people and a capacity limit of 200 people at private outdoor gatherings as long as people can adhere to the 2sqm rule.

The 2sqm density rule also applies to venues including hospitability, fitness, entertainment, galleries and museums, hairdressers, nightclubs (with a 500-capacity limit), Perth Crown complex, convention centres and community, recreation and youth centre facilities.

Masks are mandatory for anyone aged 12 or above in an indoor setting other than the home, unless an exemption applies.

Weddings and funerals have to adhere to the same capacity limits, and proof of vaccination is required to enter most venues including Perth Zoo and Perth’s Optus stadium.

Perth recorded 610 new cases on 24 February, bringing the total active cases to 2,272. There are currently seven patients in hospital with COVID, but none are in ICU.

1.2 million of the population, over 16, have received three doses – 60.1 per cent of the population. Ninety-six per cent of people living in West Australia have been double vaccinated.

Further public health and social measures (Level 2) may be introduced in the future to help reduce increasing transmission of COVID-19 and hospitalisations, if necessary.

The Australian Retailers Association (ARA) has welcomed the Government’s $67 million support package.

“Covid cases are continuing to rise in WA and additional restrictions have been put in place, so a decline in revenue is inevitable for some businesses as they battle through this challenging period,” ARA CEO Paul Zahra said. 

“We’ve been in close contact with the WA Government discussing the ongoing challenges for small businesses, and we appreciate the speed in which they have put these supports in place as a direct result of our advocacy.

“Rent is a significant pain point for small business, and with limited customers shopping in physical stores at the moment, many will struggle to pay their operating costs. The rent relief grants will help cushion the blow from the current wave of new COVID cases and help businesses to keep the lights on and their doors open.”

Updated at 1:10pm AWST on 24 February 2022.