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Covid-19 News Updates


Hunter and Newcastle in lockdown from 5pm today as COVID spreads into regional NSW

Hunter and Newcastle in lockdown from 5pm today as COVID spreads into regional NSW

Eight local government areas (LGAs) in the Hunter and Upper Hunter regions of New South Wales will go into lockdown from 5pm today for one week, after COVID-19 cases were detected in the area.

It comes as NSW recorded 262 new cases of community transmission over the last 24 hours, with 110 (42 per cent) of those cases isolating during their entire infectious period.

Five people died as a result of the virus yesterday, following two deaths the day before. 

NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant believes the emerging cluster in the Newcastle area can be linked to a gathering at Blacksmiths Beach on Friday night.

Elsewhere in regional NSW, higher detections of COVID-19 via surveillance testing have been found in sewage from Armidale and Dubbo.

With the Hunter New England Local Health District (LHD) currently providing care for and supporting five people diagnosed with the virus, authorities have mandated a one-week lockdown for the LGAs of Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, Maitland, Port Stephens, Cessnock, Dungog, Singleton and Muswellbrook.

The rules during the week will be the same as the lockdown restrictions for Greater Sydney, meaning face-to-face schooling is off and residents can only leave the house for essential reasons.

"That will commence at 5pm tonight and go until midnight next Thursday - so a week. Similar to what occurred in Orange," NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.

"And hopefully, similar to what occurred in Orange, we'll see that restrictions will lift at that time.

"I cannot stress enough how it's so important for everybody of all ages to come forward and get the vaccine."

Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said the five Hunter New England cases were reported overnight, and therefore would be included in the numbers to be released tomorrow.

"While the source of the infections continues to be investigated, we now think that the source originated from a gathering on Blacksmiths Beach on Friday night, which is believed to be the source of the initial cases," she said.

"Can I just thank the people involved? I mean, not that I want to see gatherings, but I also want to people to tell us the truth if they've made a wrong judgement."

It is known that two of the new cases are students at Maitland Christian School, which has been closed for cleaning today.

"All of the parents and the children are asked to go home and isolate, and we'll provide further advice as we work through the day," Dr Chant said.

"Also, we're calling out that a couple of venues but I do have to say that as the contact tracers go through the other cases, there may be other venues."

Those locations include the Auchmuty Library at the University of Newcastle and Target at Glendale Shopping Village.

Chant has reinforced the message that the stay-at-home provisions under the new Hunter region lockdown do not permit visitors to the home; rules that apply to all home visits from people outside the household including family and friends.

"We're also moving schools to learn from home for the week. In addition, the Morisset High School has also been closed for cleaning, and that's following a confirmed case with a student at the school," she added.

"This student resides in the Central Coast, and this case is not linked to the other cases. Separately, there's a case in the Central Coast," she said, noting eight of the nine cases in that region are in the same household.

To bolster the push for vaccination uptake Berejiklian today announced NSW has secured an extra 180,000 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine from the Federal Government which will arrive from 9 August.

"We can redirect those doses we've taken from the regions for the HSC students, and it also means we can put the balance into those eight local government areas in Greater Sydney of concern in particular," the Premier said.

"I'm urging everybody to come forward and get vaccinated. It doesn't matter which vaccine you're offered."

Dr Chant echoed Berejiklian's plea for vaccine uptake today, pointing to the fact there are 51 people in the ICU, including younger people. There are 290 COVID cases admitted to hospital in total in NSW, and 24 on ventilators.

"I want to acknowledge that younger people have not had the opportunity to be vaccinated because of the access to Pfizer and I just want to indicate that I'm aware with that," Dr Chant said.

"But my comments are that please, now is the time to strongly consider getting vaccinated if you're over 18.

"Even one vaccination reduces hospitalisation and death, both Pfizer and AstraZeneca, by 70 per cent, and two doses achieves about 90 per cent effectiveness against hospitalisation and death. We have the tools to allow us to protect ourselves and our loved ones from COVID."

The CHO has urged people in Armidale and Dubbo to come forward for testing as COVID levels in their respective wastewater plants have risen.

"Whilst in Armidale there had been a low detection previously and that was thought to be related to a case in that area, it is no time for complacency. The levels in the sewage have become higher, and we are concerned that there may be active cases in the area of Armidale," Dr Chant said.

"Also, the Dubbo sewage plant, that also has had a detection."

Updated at 11.29am AEST on 5 August 2021.

"Encouraging" signs as most new QLD cases were in isolation, Pfizer vaccines to arrive early

"Encouraging" signs as most new QLD cases were in isolation, Pfizer vaccines to arrive early

One in every hundred Queenslanders came forward for testing yesterday in a new daily record for the Sunshine State, which has recorded 16 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 including only four who were infectious while in the community. 

Two days ago Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young indicated she would need to see new cases having been in quarantine for their full infectious period in order to lift the lockdown this Sunday.

Deputy Premier Steven Miles said it was encouraging all the new community cases can be directly linked to the Indooroopilly school cluster which has now risen to 79 infections.

The majority of the new cases are students of or can be linked to Ironside State School, with the remainder connected to Brisbane Grammar School including a student and a teacher.

"Also encouraging is the fact that of the cases reported today, only three were infectious in the community for one day, and one was infectious in the community for two days," Miles said, with those dates being 30-31 July.

However, the list of exposure sites in Brisbane continues to grow with highly frequented locations including the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), Coles Toowong, Woolworths Ashgrove, Stafford City Shopping Centre, Aldi in the Gap Village, The Gap Football Club, Indooroopilly Shopping Centre, and the Hyperdome Shopping Centre.

Of concern given its demographics is the listing of the Keperra Retirement Village, while a memorial service in Kenmore was also listed as an exposure site.

This adds to numerous additional sites added in recent days throughout Brisbane from Sunnybank to Woolloongabba to Fortitude Valley, not to mention various sites in the Cairns area.

With 11 local government areas across Southeast Queensland still in lockdown, the state's residents pulled out all stops to get tested in a bid to stamp out the virus.

"Queenslanders outdid themselves again when it comes to getting tested for COVID-19. We did 52,351 tests, another record for Queensland," Miles said.

"A fantastic result - what we have to do from here is keep it up."

The Deputy Premier also revealed a breakthrough with the Commonwealth Government to secure an earlier supply of Pfizer vaccines, which are set to be delivered in two batches next week and the following week.

"Last night, I can advise Queenslanders that the Prime Minister phoned the Premier and they had a very productive conversation," Miles said.

"The result of that conversation is that the Commonwealth will bring forward the delivery of some Pfizer vaccines that were allocated to Queensland for September and bring those forward to August.

"They're not additional vaccines, but they will allow for Queensland Health to do more vaccinations in August."

Miles explained the high numbers of people in quarantine in relation to the latest outbreak has led to localised constraints for home delivery services.

"Yesterday we became aware of some slight delays with online ordering," he said.

"This is a localized issue around the Indooroopilly area because of the sheer number of people in the inner western suburbs and western suburbs who are subject to those quarantine directions.

"We're working closely with Woolworths and Coles in particular, to see what improvements can be made to ensure that we can be getting supplies to people in quarantine."

Meanwhile, the State Government has engaged the Care Army and NGOs to assist with the delivery of click and collect orders.

Updated at 10:51am AEST on 5 August 2021.

SPC makes COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for all staff before year-end

SPC makes COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for all staff before year-end

Iconic fruit processing business SPC is at the forefront of private companies in Australia by mandating that all its staff be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of November to gain entry to any company location.

The decision mirrors moves made internationally by other companies like Microsoft, Google and Disney, with SPC stressing the decision will ensure the health and wellbeing of all staff and the broader community.

"Lockdowns are not a sustainable solution and the Australian economy needs to open up again," SPC chairman Hussein Riafi said.

"The Delta variant poses a significant threat to our people, our customers and the communities we serve. The only path forward for our country is through vaccination.

"As a company, we believe it is the right thing to do and we must go further to minimise risk and to protect the people we care about from the Delta variant."

As part of the mandate, all casual and permanent staff as well as contractors must have at least the first dose of the vaccine scheduled by September 15, with the first dose administered by the end of October.

Any visitors to a site run by Shepparton-based SPC, famous for its Goulburn Valley and SPC brands, will also be required to be vaccinated.

To support workers all staff will be offered compensation via paid time off when required to receive their vaccination as well as special paid leave of up to two days for any staff who may become unwell after receiving the jab.

For those with a pre-existing condition and are unable to receive the vaccine, their circumstances will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

"We have already implemented rigorous safety plans at all our sites in response to the pandemic," SPC CEO Robert Giles said.

"These plans have ensured our people's health, safety and job security while ensuring business continuity for the essential service we provide to the broader community. But Australian companies must go further by rapidly vaccinating their staff.

"By taking proactive steps now, we are shoring up our company for the future. We firmly believe that it will be manufacturers and innovators like SPC who will help drive Australia's post-COVID economic recovery."

Updated at 9.33am AEST on 5 August 2021.

No new COVID cases for Victoria

No new COVID cases for Victoria

Victorians have achieved a significant milestone within 10 days of the lifting of their fifth lockdown since the pandemic began, reporting zero new cases in the 24 hours to midnight.

Jeroen Weimar, Deputy Secretary at the Department for Health and Human Services (DHHS), says it is a pattern the state's authorities would like to keep up for as long as possible, reiterating the importance of compliance with border pass rules for travellers arriving into Victoria.

"We still have, unfortunately, nine people in hospital with coronavirus, two of whom are in ICU (intensive care unit) and both of those are on a ventilator," Weimar said.

"Of course, we send our very best wishes to all those nine people and to the others who continue to recover from coronavirus here in Victoria."

The state has recorded a total of 220 cases since the latest outbreak began in mid-June, but the number of active cases has reduced to 99.

"We had over 400 exposure sites. We're now down to 33 exposure sites we continue to manage.

"We've undertaken a total of 815,000 coronavirus tests since the 12th of July - 30,117 of those yesterday. That gives an average of around 32,000 tests a day."

Weimar added sustained high and effective testing numbers are so important in giving the public health team a really good understanding of the pattern of community transmission, and has enabled them to "get on top of it".

Updated at 12:02pm AEST on 4 August 2021.

NSW daily cases rise again to 233 as concerns raised over Newcastle waste water detections

NSW daily cases rise again to 233 as concerns raised over Newcastle waste water detections

The spread of COVID-19 shows no signs of abating in NSW where 233 daily cases were reported this morning, while two people died of the virus yesterday including a Southwest Sydney man in his 20s and a woman in her 80s who passed away at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.

Fewer than half the new cases are linked to a known case or cluster, and an even lower number - 92 - were in isolation throughout their infectious period.

By NSW Health's definitions, 47 cases were infectious in the community, and the isolation status of 73 cases remains under investigation.

Both the Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant raised concerns about very high sewage rates in the Hunter-Newcastle area.

"The sewage detected high viral load, which suggests they could be undetected cases up around the Newcastle area, so we're really keen to have people come forward to get tested -  there will be a list of the drive-through places that people can go to," the Premier said.

Dr Chant noted the detections were found in the Shortland and Burwood Beach sewage treatment plants, as well as lower detections at the Belmont sewage treatment plant.

She called on people across all of the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie areas to monitor for symptoms, but particularly residents in Birmingham Gardens, Shortland, Maryland, Fletcher, Minmi, Cameron Park, Mayfield, Stockton and Fern Bay.

"It is critical that we can get those testing levels up to really understand as soon as possible whether there is any undiagnosed cases there so that we can make the best public health decisions," Dr Chant said.

"In terms of other sewage detections, we have had low levels of detection from the Coffs Harbour sewage treatment plant, and the Mudgee sewage treatment plant. Again, we want to see high rates of testing there."

Updated at 11:34am AEST on 4 August 2021.

NSW sets vaccination targets after confirming 199 local COVID-19 cases

NSW sets vaccination targets after confirming 199 local COVID-19 cases

New South Wales recorded 199 locally acquired cases of COVID-19 in the 24 hours to 8pm last night, with almost a quarter of those people being out in the community during their infectious period.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian also highlighted plans to reach the six million mark for administered vaccine doses by the end of the month, as currently only 19.2 per cent of the adult population has received two doses.

"We're looking forward to us getting more jabs - six million is the target I want to set by the end of August 29," the Premier said.

"We're at 3.9 million. I suspect we'll be at four million by end of the week or in the next few days.

"The more of us that get vaccinated, the greater chance we have to live freely."

Efforts to vaccinate the population will be focused on the eight local government areas of concern: Fairfield, Canterbury-Bankstown, Liverpool, Cumberland, Blacktown, Parramatta, Georges River and Campbelltown. The Premier is urging people to avoid entering them during this period.

"Workplaces and households are the main places where the virus is transmitting."

"If you must leave the house, assume everybody you are coming into contact with has the virus."

Testing rates continue to be strong after 104,536 people came forward yesterday. There are a total of 53 cases in ICU, with 14 patients aged 40 or under.

Updated at 11:45am AEST on 3 August 2021.

"Stay put": Queensland CHO reveals key metric for lockdown lifting as 16 new cases recorded

"Stay put": Queensland CHO reveals key metric for lockdown lifting as 16 new cases recorded

Update (1:57pm): Since this story was published more exposure sites have been listed by Queensland Health, including Brigidine College and a swim school in St Lucia.

Queensland has reported 16 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 overnight, with Chief Health Officer (CHO) Dr Jeannette Young encouraged by the fact all were linked to the Indooroopilly school cluster.

Two more schools have been added to the growing list of exposure sites as well - Holy Family School in Indooroopilly and St Aidans Anglican Girls' School in Corinda - and given the nature of the latest outbreak, nine of the new cases are young people.

The update lifts the total number of positive cases in the cluster to 47, after 34,718 Queenslanders came out to get tested yesterday - a figure that is still shy of the 40,000 daily testing goal set by the CHO.

There are now 7,995 people in quarantine in the state including more than 400 health workers, which is putting the health system under increased strain. 

Dr Young also confirmed all cardiac surgeons at the Queensland Children's Hospital (QCH) had to be in quarantine, so authorities have worked through how one of them will be able to operate on urgent cases as they arise.

"We do have a large proportion of of our critical health workers now in quarantine, so unfortunately we have had to delay some surgery and some outpatient work to manage that," she clarified.

When asked what it would take to lift the lockdown this coming Sunday, Dr Young gave an indication of what the state would need to achieve.

"I will want to have seen that any new cases that have been coming up have been in quarantine for their full infectious period," she said.

This cannot be said of the latest cases, some of whom have been infectious in the community for up to six days.

"It's too early in the outbreak to expect that all of these people will have been in quarantine," she added.

The CHO said 20 per cent of people infected with COVID-19 don't develop any symptoms but can still pass on the virus, which is why lockdowns work because they allow the virus to "burn out".

"We do need to continue testing throughout all of those 11 LGAs and throughout Queensland. It's really important so that we can just make sure that we don't have any other transmission events, any outbreaks happening," she said.

"Please don't move the virus. So wherever you are in the 11 LGAs, if you can at all just stay put so that that virus then doesn't move, because we know that there are people out there who could have been infected and have no symptoms.

"If you don't need to leave home, don't leave home."

She also clarified her recommendations for people who are not able to wear masks for medical reasons.

"If you cannot wear a mask because of a medical reason - and there are medical reasons for it - and you haven't been vaccinated, you are at really high risk, so stay home and the Care Army has been activated again and they will help if you can't organise food or essential goods," she said.

"Don't go out of your home if you can't wear a mask, I hope I'm being really clear.

"That is to protect yourself. Please don't find excuses to not wear a mask. I think masks have stopped the last 14 incursions of this virus into our state from spreading; it is just this 15th one that has led to spread. Masks are absolutely critical."

Dr Young said she was also pleased to see very little traffic on the roads this morning, which shows residents are listening to the authorities' recommendations about the clearest pathway out of lockdown.

Click here for the full list of updated exposure sites, which health authorities recommend you check regularly if you are in or have been in Queensland recently.

Updated at 10:47am AEST on 3 August 2021.

Domestic border closures see Qantas stand down 2,500 crew

Domestic border closures see Qantas stand down 2,500 crew

Around 2,500 Qantas (ASX: QAN) and Jetstar employees will be stood down for approximately two months in response to COVID-19 outbreaks around Australia that have forced most domestic borders to be closed for an extended period of time.

The airline claims the stand down is a "temporary measure" to manage a significant drop in flying caused by COVID restrictions, particularly in Greater Sydney, and the knock-on border closures in all other states and territories.

Qantas says no job losses are expected.

"This is clearly the last thing we want to do, but we're now faced with an extended period of reduced flying and that means no work for a number of our people," Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said.

"We've absorbed a significant amount of cost since these recent lockdowns started and continued paying our people their full rosters despite thousands of cancelled flights."

The airline says today's decision will impact domestic pilots, cabin crew and airport workers, mostly in New South Wales but also in other jurisdictions.

Employees will be given two weeks' notice before the stand down takes effect, with pay continuing until mid-August. After August the airline says workers can claim government disaster payments.

Joyce said lockdowns and border closures decimated the domestic aviation sector last month.

"Qantas and Jetstar have gone from operating almost 100 per cent of their usual domestic flying in May to less than 40 per cent in July because of lockdown in three states," he said.

"Hopefully, once other states open back up to South Australia and Victoria in the next week or so, and the current outbreak in Brisbane is brought under control, our domestic flying will come back to around 50 to 60 per cent of normal levels.

"Based on current numbers, it's reasonable to assume that Sydney's borders will be closed for at least another two months. We know it will take a few weeks once the outbreak is under control before other states open to New South Wales and normal travel can resume."

The CEO said the successful rollout of the Federal Government's COVID-19 vaccination program is key to ensuring the industry can fly steady domestically, but issues surrounding international travel remain.

"This vaccine rollout means the end is in sight and the concept of lockdowns will be a thing of the past. Australia just needs more people rolling up their sleeves as more vaccine arrives.

"The challenge around opening international borders remain. There are still several thousand Qantas and Jetstar crew who normally fly internationally and who have been on long periods of stand down since the pandemic began.

"Higher vaccination rates are also key to being able to fly overseas again, and finally getting all our people back to work."

Updated at 9.18am AEST on 3 August 2021.

Rent relief incoming for commercial tenants in Victoria

Rent relief incoming for commercial tenants in Victoria

New legislation will be introduced today by the Victorian Government to provide rent relief to commercial tenants that have experienced a loss in turnover of more than 30 per cent during the pandemic period.

The Commercial Tenancy Relief Scheme will see eligible businesses benefit from rent relief, with tenants and landlords encouraged to enter negotiations as soon as possible.

Under the Scheme, relief will be calculated by comparing business turnover for the final quarter of FY21 with turnover from the pre-pandemic corresponding period in FY19.

Tenants will only be eligible if the drop between the two periods is greater than 30 per cent, and the decrease will also determine the amount of initial relief available to the tenant.

Businesses that were not operating in 2019 will not be excluded from the scheme, with special arrangements to be put in place to assess turnover impacts for new companies.

Eligibility for the scheme will be a one-time test; businesses which are eligible at the beginning of the scheme will remain eligible throughout, with the proportion of rent relief adjusted in line with their turnover.

Landlords will also receive assistance from the Government in the form of land tax relief of up to 25 per cent, and small landlords who can demonstrate "acute hardship" will be eligible to apply for payments as part of a $20 million fund.

"It's encouraging to see the way tenants and landlords are working together to achieve fair outcomes and this new legislation will ensure they get the support they need," Minister for Small Business Jaala Pulford said.

"We know many small businesses have had a tough time due to the pandemic, but these changes will provide them with more security going forward and help them get back on their feet."

Updated at 9.58am AEST on 3 August 2021.

SA returning to 50 per cent capacity limits from Thursday but mask mandate to remain

SA returning to 50 per cent capacity limits from Thursday but mask mandate to remain

From midnight on Wednesday 4 August, a number of restrictions on businesses in South Australia will be eased, but many rules including mask mandates and private gatherings limits will remain as the state tentatively returns to pre-lockdown settings.

The eased restrictions will come a week after SA completed a seven-day lockdown which saw an outbreak of the Delta variant of COVID-19 successfully suppressed in the state.

As of 12.01am on Thursday 5 August, businesses can return to 50 per cent capacity or the one person per two square metre rule while gyms will move to the one per four square metre capacity rule.

Sports will return for competition but there will be some conditions with regards to the number of spectators that can attend.

Masks will still be mandated in all high risk settings, for personal care appointments, on public transport and in indoor public spaces where social distancing is difficult.

Home gatherings will remain limited to 10 people, singing and dancing will still be banned, and schools will keep mask restrictions in place.

The state's border bubble arrangements will also change slightly, allowing competitive sport to occur.

"Historically, [border bubble travel] has been for school, for shopping, medical or work-related services," SA Premier Steven Marshall said.

"We'll be adding a further one this week which is for people to attend sport - we recognise that in the country competitive sport is very important to mental health and wellbeing."

The state's Premier also encouraged South Australian residents currently in Southeast Queensland to consider returning home soon as there is a possibility travel restrictions could tighten if the state's outbreak worsens.

Currently SA is only allowing returning residents to travel from Southeast Queensland who must quarantine at home for 14 days on arrival.

"If they can return to South Australia now, this would be our advice. We don't know that this week is going to hold for Queensland," Marshall said.

"We know that the lockdown in Southeast Queensland has been moved from three days right through to Sunday this week.

"This is something everybody should consider at the moment because there is a possibility that we could move to level six restrictions for South Australian residents as with those people in New South Wales."

Updated at 12.32pm AEST on 2 August 2021.

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