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Australia welcomes NZ arrivals, Gold Coast splashes out on trans-Tasman marketing blitz

Australia welcomes NZ arrivals, Gold Coast splashes out on trans-Tasman marketing blitz

"New Zealand was Australia's second biggest source of international visitors before the pandemic. Today, it's about to go straight to number one," says Qantas CEO Alan Joyce.

As of today and for the first time since the pandemic began, Australians are being welcomed into New Zealand without having to complete two weeks of mandatory quarantine.

While the bubble gives many the opportunity to visit friends and family in New Zealand, it also means tourists from across the ditch will have confidence to see Australia without having to set aside a fortnight of isolated tedium when they get back home.

However, travel between the two countries will not be like it was pre-COVID. The guidance is for a "flyer beware" approach; if an outbreak is detected in certain part of Australia, travellers who have been to the affected area will not be compensated for any sudden quarantine required.

In any case the sector has been emboldened by the move, with airline Qantas (ASX: QAN) even adding new flight paths from tourist hotspots including the Gold Coast and Hobart to New Zealand.

Qantas says "Kia Ora"

For Qantas, today marks the first quarantine-free trans-Tasman flights in over 400 days and means 630 employees will get back to work.

The first international flight for Qantas was from Sydney this morning, with flights to resume across 14 other routes during the day.

In total, 29 Qantas/Jetstar flights between Australia and New Zealand will operate today.

Speaking from Sydney International Airport to farewell departing passengers, Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said the opening of the two-way travel bubble was a significant milestone for both countries.

"Quarantine-free travel has been almost 400 days in the making. Reopening these flights across the Tasman is a very important milestone in the recovery from the pandemic for Australia and New Zealand but also aviation and tourism," Joyce said.

"The opening of the two-way bubble is fantastic for the family and friends who are reuniting after so long apart and for the many jobs which are so heavily dependent on tourism. It means we'll be able to get more planes back in the sky and more of our people back to work.

"New Zealand was Australia's second biggest source of international visitors before the pandemic. Today, it's about to go straight to number one."

Airports open up to NZ

Australian airports are also flying high on the milestone today, with many friends and families to reunite in terminals this week.

Brisbane Airport Corporation (BAC) CEO Gert-Jan de Graaff says the travel bubble is vitally important as New Zealand is one of Queensland's most important international markets.

"Today is an incredible day for the many families and friends who will be able to reunite, but also for the thousands of businesses in Brisbane, the regions, and across Queensland who rely on tourism," he says. 

"Brisbane Airport will welcome flights from Christchurch and Wellington for the first time since 28 March 2020, some 387 days, which, for us, it has felt almost as long as the last time the Wallabies won the Bledisloe Cup."

In 2019, around 1.5 million passengers flew between BNE and New Zealand, with more than 100 flights each week and five airlines operating services to five New Zealand cities (Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington, Dunedin, and Queenstown).

In Victoria more than 19 trans-Tasman flights will land in Melbourne today, which equates to approximately 4,000 seats.

Each week around 140 services will operate between Melbourne and New Zealand, and the number will rise to 180 weekly flights by the end of May taking the airport back to around 70 per cent of its pre-COVID flight capacity.

Melbourne Airport Chief of Aviation Lorie Argus said New Zealand was an important market to re-establish.

"We're absolutely thrilled to see international travel restart, bringing us one step closer to normality. Now people at both ends can dust off their passports to visit family and friends, and take that long-awaited holiday," Argus said.

"New Zealand is a significant market for Melbourne and Victoria. It is our most popular outbound international destination and our second busiest inbound market so we're confident both sides will be busy.

"Hopefully the safe reopening between Australia and New Zealand can be used as a blueprint for other international markets throughout the year."

Destination Gold Coast announces $1.3m marketing blitz in NZ

The Gold Coast turned out a big show for trans-Tasman arrivals this morning, including a sky diving display featuring giant Australian and New Zealand flags landing at the southern end of the airport during sunrise.

This extravaganza for visitors comes as tourism marketer Destination Gold Coast puts forward a $1.3 million marketing push to attract Kiwis to the city.

Destination Gold Coast CEO Patricia O'Callaghan says the campaign will debut on 21 April.

"We know New Zealanders can't wait to come back to the Gold Coast and they will be welcomed with open arms by our 4,600 tourism businesses," O'Callaghan says.

"Our $1.3 million marketing push is the Gold Coast's largest-ever spend in New Zealand, so the proportion of investment reflects the importance of re-engaging with this key visitor market.

"New Zealand was our second-largest international visitor market source pre-COVID and this is a significant milestone for Gold Coast tourism operators being the first international market to come back online in more than a year."

The 12-week campaign will entice New Zealanders to come and play through great value holiday offers promoted on national TV networks in partnership with House of Travel, New Zealand's most awarded travel group, and across cinema, digital placements and on social media.

O'Callaghan says Kiwis have a strong affinity with the Gold Coast.

"One per cent of all Kiwis live on the Gold Coast and we know an annual holiday to our region is a tradition for thousands of Kiwi families who will now be able to flee winter for a sun-soaked holiday.

"The marketing approach reinforces the Gold Coast as top-of-mind for families abroad and our visiting friends and relatives' market.

"The campaign will highlight the Gold Coast's top-rated travel activities and a breadth of lesser-known experiences in addition to our golden beaches, rainforest hinterland, iconic theme parks, alfresco dining and calendar of events."

Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate says the Gold Coast is a second home for New Zealanders.

"To our Kiwi cousins, I say come and play on the Gold Coast," he said.

"To see international flights arriving and departing gives us all great confidence that this is not the first travel bubble to expand out of the coast.

"Let's roll out the welcome mat just don't mention the rugby as we still can't pinch that trophy off them."

Queensland Airports Limited CEO Chris Mills said the airport team and tourism operators were extremely excited about the resumption of trans-Tasman travel, with 16 services scheduled in the first week alone.

"We have been waiting more than 12 months for the restart of international travel and today it begins with one of the Gold Coast's most important overseas markets and Australia's closest neighbour," he said.

"Given the impact of this separation on so many people, we are expecting to see lots of emotional reunions at Gold Coast Airport over the next few weeks.

"With 60,000 Kiwis living on the Gold Coast and the region rating highly on travel wish lists of New Zealand residents, we expect these services to be extremely popular in both directions."

Mills said the start of the inaugural Qantas Gold Coast-Auckland service on day one of trans-Tasman travel made the milestone day particularly special.

"Recovery is ramping up for the airport and the tourism operators we support, and Qantas starting the first international service in the airport's history has given us even more reasons to celebrate today," he said.

Air New Zealand taking off

On the other side of the Tasman, Air New Zealand (ASX: AIZ) is expecting more than 5,000 passengers to travel today between NZ and Australia.

Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran, a former head of Woolworths and Wal-Mart US, says the airline's trans-Tasman routes are firing on all cylinders.

"The accumulation of the opening of the trans-Tasman bubble and the start of the Kiwi school holidays has created a real sense of momentum and energy about the whole airline," says Foran.

"Monday will go down in history as one of the most monumental days for Air New Zealand and a real turning point for the airline. It's Day 1 of our revival.

"We estimate that three-quarters of our passengers crossing the Ditch will be family and friends reuniting with loved ones. We're humbled to be part of these reunions and reconnecting people who have missed out on so much over the last year."

Shares in AIZ are up 0.30 per cent to $1.64 per share at 12.01pm AEST.

Updated at 12.19pm AEST on 19 April 2021.

Brisbane biotech to trial "world-first" COVID-19 immunotherapy treatment

Brisbane biotech to trial "world-first" COVID-19 immunotherapy treatment

Brisbane and Seattle-based biotechnology company Implicit Bioscience has launched a Phase 2 clinical trial of its lead immunotherapy product to treat COVID-19 patients.

Implicit Bioscience, co-founded by renowned immunologist Professor Ian Frazer, will test the efficacy and safety of IC14 for treatment of hospitalised COVID-19 patients with respiratory disease and low blood oxygen in combination with the antiviral drug remdesivir.

The trial, called the COVID-19 and Anti-CD14 Treatment Trial (CaTT), is sponsored and funded by the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

IC14, wholly owned by Implicit Bioscience, is a monoclonal antibody that works by dampening damaging levels of immune response to viral infections that result in respiratory distress and serious damage to the patient's lungs, heart, kidneys, brain and other organs.

It targets CD14, a master regulator of the immune response to infection and cellular damage, that is implicated in more than 500 diseases.

Professor Frazer says as the world welcomes COVID-19 vaccine candidates and a widespread prevention strategy, it remains vital to develop viable treatments that can help people who experience a life-threatening response to the virus.

"The emergence of new viral strains that may be resistant to current vaccines and drugs highlights the pressing need for interventions to help people during the early stages of COVID-19 respiratory disease," says Professor Frazer, the co-inventor of the cervical cancer vaccine.

"IC14 represents a world-first approach to treating the effects of COVID-19 and we are energised by the opportunity to participate in this important study.

"We hypothesise, from previous IC14 research in patients with sepsis and lung injury, that the investigational drug will help to control damaging levels of immune response to the viral infection. IC14 targets CD14, a master regulator of the immune response to infection and cellular damage, that is implicated in more than 500 diseases."

That hypothesis is supported by NIAID director Dr Anthony Fauci.

"By blocking a protein called CD14 during the early stages of COVID-19 respiratory disease, the monoclonal antibody IC14 could potentially temper the immune system's harmful inflammatory responses to SARS-CoV-2, thereby limiting associated tissue damage and improving patients' health outcomes," Dr Fauci said.

The Phase 2 clinical trial is part of a broader body of research being undertaken to unlock the potential of IC14.

IC14 is currently being studied in 125 COVID-19 patients with respiratory distress in 20 US hospitals.

"Between these two studies, IC14 will be studied in more than 400 COVID-19 hospitalised patients across the USA, across the full spectrum of disease, from the medical ward to the intensive care unit," Implicit Bioscience CEO Garry Redlich said.

"We are deeply honoured to have our immunotherapeutic antibody sponsored for such comprehensive clinical testing during the global pandemic and look forward to leveraging our learnings for a broad range of potential disease indications for this promising biologic drug."

The CaTT study will enrol between 300 and 350 hospitalised COVID-19 patients aged 18 years or older at 10 to 15 sites in the US. All participants will also receive intravenous infusions of the antiviral drug remdesivir for five consecutive days.

Results are expected in early 2022.

Implicit's trial follows in the footsteps of another immunotherapeutic approach to treating COVID-19 developed by Immutep.

The company is currently in the randomised portion of its EAT COVID trial, which is looking to see whether an experimental cance drug can boost the body's immune response while fighting off a COVID-19 infection. 

Updated at 2.55pm AEST on 16 April 2021.

Masks no longer mandatory in Queensland from tomorrow with restrictions to ease

Masks no longer mandatory in Queensland from tomorrow with restrictions to ease

Queensland is poised to ease COVID-19 restrictions further tomorrow, removing the requirement to wear masks indoors and easing capacity limits on businesses, as the state goes 11 days without a locally acquired case of the coronavirus today.

From 6am AEST on Thursday 15 April, face mask wearing will only be mandatory at airports and on domestic or international flights departing or arriving in Queensland.

While no longer mandatory, Queensland Health still encourages those in the state to wear a mask on public transport, in a taxi or rideshare, in shopping centres, and in any space where physical distancing is not possible.

Restrictions on gatherings will also change, permitting 100 people to congregate at private residences. There will no longer be a limit to the number of people that can gather in outdoor public spaces.

Queenslanders will be permitted to visit aged care facilities, disability accommodation services, hospitals and correctional facilities too, provided they meet the visitor requirements of each facility.

Businesses will also welcome the easing of capacity limits from tomorrow, with the one person per two square meters rule back in effect. This applies for venues including restaurants, cafes, pubs, clubs, museums, art galleries, places of worship, convention centres and Parliament House.

Patrons at retail food services, entertainment venues and high risk businesses will be able to eat and drink while standing both inside and outside.

Dancing is also back in QLD, provided the one dancer per two square meter rule is abided by and physical distancing is observed both indoors and outdoors.

Venues with seating (like theatres, live music spaces, cinemas, indoor sport, universities and other higher education institutions) can have 100 per cent capacity, provided seating is ticketed and allocated.

Outdoor dance festivals and music festivals will still be required to abide by restrictions, but outdoor events like ANZAC Day parades do not need a COVID Safe Event Checklist or Event Plan anymore.

Open air stadiums will also be allowed to operate with 100 per cent ticketed and allocated seated capacity provided a COVID Safe Plan is in force. All patrons at these venues will be strongly encouraged to wear masks on entry and exit.

Weddings and funerals can have expanded attendance of whichever is greater:

  • 200 people; or
  • One person per two square metres; or
  • 100 per cent capacity with ticketed and allocated seating.

QLD Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young reminded Queenslanders and visitors to the state to remain vigilant.

"It's great news that we're able to ease even more restrictions and while we're not yet returning to normal, we're steadily getting closer," Dr Young said.

"We're very lucky here in Queensland to be able to have gatherings and outdoor events, to go out to restaurants and cafes, go dancing and only have to wear masks in certain settings.

"But we must remember that we're still in the midst of a global pandemic. We must continue to be vigilant."

Queensland recorded two new cases of COVID-19 today, but both are in hotel quarantine. In total there are 51 active cases of the coronavirus in the state.

Over the past 24 hours, 2,568 vaccines were administered, bringing the total number of vaccines in QLD to 115,025 since the rollout began.

Updated at 12.30pm AEST on 14 April 2021.


Quarantine-free travel to WA effective for all Australian states from 19 April

Quarantine-free travel to WA effective for all Australian states from 19 April

Western Australia will soon be able to welcome any interstate traveller and New Zealand arrivals from 19 April as the state moves to drop border restrictions.

New advice from the state's health officials means Queensland and New Zealand will be designated as "very low risk" jurisdictions from 19 April.

This means the rest of Australia and our neighbours across the ditch will be able to travel to WA without having to complete two weeks of self-quarantine on arrival.

WA Premier Mark McGowan says the COVID-19 situation in his state is "very encouraging", allowing for border restrictions to be eased.

"Our situation in WA is very encouraging and if it continues to track the way it is, it will demonstrate good reason for further changes - pending public health advice at the time," says McGowan.

"While these changes are very positive, Western Australians should not underestimate the virus and its ability to disrupt and destroy lives and livelihoods. 

"It was less than two weeks ago that Queensland went into a snap three-day lockdown following an outbreak, and while our border arrangements allow for safe travel it is also a fast and effective measure to stop the virus. That is why I will not hesitate to bring back hard borders should we need to protect Western Australians from COVID-19."

Travellers will still be expected to register for a border permit before travelling into WA and must consent to a health screening at Perth Airport.

WA stadiums moving to 100 per cent capacity from tomorrow

At midnight tonight major venues in WA like Optus Stadium, RAC Arena, HBF Stadium and HBF Park will be allowed to fill 100 per cent of the fixed seating capacity for events.

In addition, indoor and outdoor venues with fixed seating in WA will be premitted to operate at 100 per cent capacity.

Seated hospitality venues, including restaurants, cafés, food courts and bars that provide seated service only, will remain at 75 per cent capacity. This is based on the latest public health advice, due to their higher risk of increased mixing and face to face interactions.

The two square metre rule will continue to apply to all other venues and facilities with a mixture of seating and standing, unfixed seating or standing alone. 

It is expected these arrangements will be in place for at least a month before being reviewed by WA's Chief Health Officer, and if the situation remains encouraging, the Chief Health Officer is set to make more recommendations on further easing of restrictions.

"While these changes are welcomed and will be enjoyed by our community, it's also a timely reminder that we must continue to practise COVID-safe principles," says WA Health Minister Roger Cook.

"Whenever you're out and about, please remember to check-in at venues using the SafeWA app and remember to stay at home if unwell.

"Western Australians have done a remarkable job to eliminate COVID-19 and I thank everyone for their efforts."

Updated at 4.21pm AEST on 9 April 2021.

Australia strikes deal with Pfizer to double vaccine intake to 40 million

Australia strikes deal with Pfizer to double vaccine intake to 40 million

The Australian Government has reached a deal with Pfizer overnight to increase the vaccine supply by 20 million doses, doubling the expected incoming orders this year to 40 million.

These new doses are expected to be ready in the fourth quarter of 2021, but the government will be pushing to bring the delivery date forward.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was yesterday recommended as preferred over the AstraZeneca alternative for recipients aged under 50, following advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) in response to blood clot risks.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the breakthrough as "very welcome news", particularly in light of the information received by ATAGI last night.

"Australia has entered into four separate agreements for the supply of COVID-19 vaccines, and these include agreements with Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Novavax and COVAX, and these agreements now total up to some 170 million doses," Morrison said.

An "informed consent" approach is now encouraged for health departments and vaccine recipients, prompting a decision from NSW Health to temporarily suspend administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine until adequate guidance materials are available.

The data to date globally shows an extremely low probability for AstraZeneca vaccine recipients suffering from blood clots - far lower than side effects for common pharmaceutical products such as contraceptive pills for example - and the vaccine is still the recommended choice for people aged 50 and over.

"Vaccinating our elderly Australians remains a key priority that also supports the continued opening up of Australia, because the risk factor of severe illness amongst the most vulnerable is therefore reduced," the PM said.

"I want to stress again that the advice that has been received, the recommendations from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation is not a ban on the AstraZeneca vaccine. It is not a prohibition on the AstraZeneca vaccine.

"It recommends and notes that the risk of these side effects are remote, they are very rare.

"We're talking in the vicinity of five or six per million, which is a rather rare event but it must be acknowledged so Australians can make informed decisions about their vaccination and their health care with their medical professionals, with their doctor."

The government is also recalibrating its plans for the vaccine roll-out to new groups, but the core focus remains on the '1a' and '1b' groups.

The first of these cohorts includes quarantine and border workers, frontline health workers, and aged care and disability care staff, while the latter comprises elderly adults aged 70 and over, other health care workers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults aged 55 and over, adults with an underlying medical condition or significant disability, and critical or high-risk workers such as those in meat processing, fire and emergency services, and the police force.

Australia has so far delivered one million vaccines and will implement a daily system for updates about how the roll-out is tracking.

National Cabinet exploring more travel bubbles

The Prime Minister also discussed other matters raised in today's National Cabinet meeting including the possibility of new travel bubbles.

The National Cabinet has asked the Medical Expert Panel to deliver more information about what thresholds need to be met to let Australians travel overseas and return without having to go into hotel quarantine.

"This will be a major change," the PM said.

"We want to open up more, we want to do it safely, we want to ease restrictions, we want to do that in a consistent way across the country."

With a trans-Tasman bubble expected to launch this month, the PM already has his sights set on the next opportunity for international travel.

If all goes to plan, Singapore is the next destination on the cards for Australians.

The National Cabinet also agreed today that large, seated gatherings can have a 100 per cent capacity, on the condition that Australia's international borders remain substantively closed.

Updated at 1:33pm AEST on 9 April 2021.

NSW temporarily pauses administration of AstraZeneca vaccine for all ages

NSW temporarily pauses administration of AstraZeneca vaccine for all ages

NSW Health has temporarily paused the administration of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in light of recommendations issued last night by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI).

The pause in administration of the vaccine to all age groups at NSW clinics is in effect until informed consent information is updated.

A NSW Health spokesperson says AstraZeneca vaccinations for those aged 50 years and over will recommence later today.

"As with all other vaccines, informed consent is required before administering COVID-19 vaccines, ensuring recipients make decisions based on an understanding of the risks and benefits," says the NSW Health spokesperson.

"Following the new advice from the Commonwealth last night, informed consent information will be updated to provide patients and those administering the AstraZeneca vaccine with the latest information."

The Pfizer vaccine will continue to be administered as planned at NSW Health clinics.

The news comes after the Federal Government accepted recommendations from ATAGI that the Pfizer vaccine is preferable for people aged under 50.

It saw the Government place the onus on the public to decide whether or not they will receive the AstraZeneca vaccine, with health officials developing resources to let Australians give "informed consent" before receiving the jab.

The recommendations follow the discovery of rare and potentially deadly side effects experienced by a tiny portion of younger AstraZeneca vaccine recipients.

Updated at 12.40pm AEST on 9 April 2021.

Government favours Pfizer over AstraZeneca for under 50s

Government favours Pfizer over AstraZeneca for under 50s

Due to "very rare" and potentially deadly side effects experienced by a tiny portion of younger recipients of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, the Federal Government has now recommended a preference for the Pfizer vaccine in people aged under 50. 

The recommendations, presented to the Federal Government this evening by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI), mean the later stages of the national vaccine rollout will have to be adjusted.

It also sees the Federal Government place the onus on the public to decide whether or not they will receive the AstraZeneca vaccine, with health officials developing resources to let Australians give "informed consent" before recieving the jab.

Health officials still encourage older Australians receive the "highly effective" AstraZeneca vaccine, as side-effects are less likely for people aged 50 and over. 

Health Minister Greg Hunt emphasised this blood clot condition is extremely rare around the world. 

"This remains a highly effective vaccine, safe for over 50s on the advice we've received," Hunt said.

Chief Health Officer Paul Kelly outlined five recommendations to the public regarding the AstraZeneca vaccine:

  1. At the current time, the use of the Pfizer vaccine is preferred over the AstraZeneca vaccine in adults aged less than 50 years who have not already received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
  2. Immunisation providers should only give a first dose of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to adults under 50 years of age where the benefit clearly outweighs the risk in individual circumstances.
  3. People that have had their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, without any serious adverse events, can safely be given their second dose. This includes adults under the age of 50.
  4. People who have had blood clots associated with low platelet levels after the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine should not be given the second dose.
  5. The Department of Health further develop and refine resources for informed consent that clearly convey the benefits and the risks of the AstraZeneca vaccine for both immunisation providers and consumers of all ages.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has stressed the choice to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine is still up to the individual.

"This is not a directive. This is not an instruction," the PM said.

"Why we're here tonight is just to be very upfront with Australians, so Australians can know that they're getting all the information that we have, and they can feel informed about the decisions they make about their own health.

"We want to empower them in those decisions."

Until today, most young Australians were set to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine later in 2021 as part of the Federal Government's staged vaccine rollout.

In light of the Government's decision to adopt ATAGI's recommendations, the rollout will be recalibrated. This process will be conducted over this coming weekend.

Department of Health Secretary Professor Brendan Murphy says authorities are talking to Pfizer to secure more supply of its vaccine. Additional supply would build on 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine already secured. 

"Pfizer have committed to 20 million doses this year, and we're working with them almost on a daily basis to see when they can increase their supply," says Murphy.

"We're confident that at some stage in the near future we will get improved supply of Pfizer. 

"We will finish [vaccinating] aged care in the coming weeks, and that will free up the Pfizer vaccine, and all of that Pfizer will go to those under 50."

Taking guidance from European data

ATAGI has held two meetings over the past two days as the AstraZeneca vaccine side-effects issue has escalated worldwide, with the European Medicines Agency (EMA) yesterday declaring a "possible link" to very rare cases of unusual blood clots with low blood platelets.

In a similar vein as Australia's "informed consent" response, the EMA reminded healthcare professionals and people receiving the vaccine to remain aware of the possibility of these rare side effects within two weeks of vaccination.

"So far, most of the cases reported have occurred in women under 60 years of age within 2 weeks of vaccination. Based on the currently available evidence, specific risk factors have not been confirmed," the EMA said.

"People who have received the vaccine should seek medical assistance immediately if they develop symptoms of this combination of blood clots and low blood platelets," the agency reported.

These conditions include shortness of breath, chest pain, swelling in your leg, neurological symptoms such as severe and persistent headaches or blurred vision, and tiny blood spots under the skin beyond the point of injection.

The EU's Pharmacovigilance Risk Assessment Committee (PRAC) carried out an in-depth review of 62 cases of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis and 24 cases of splanchnic vein thrombosis reported in its drug safety database (EudraVigilance) as of 22 March, 18 of which were fatal.

"The PRAC noted that the blood clots occurred in veins in the brain (cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, CVST) and the abdomen (splanchnic vein thrombosis) and in arteries, together with low levels of blood platelets and sometimes bleeding," the agency said.

"COVID-19 is associated with a risk of hospitalisation and death. The reported combination of blood clots and low blood platelets is very rare, and the overall benefits of the vaccine in preventing COVID-19 outweigh the risks of side effects.

"One plausible explanation for the combination of blood clots and low blood platelets is an immune response, leading to a condition similar to one seen sometimes in patients treated with heparin (heparin induced thrombocytopenia, HIT)."

In response, the committee has requested new studies and amendments to ongoing ones to provide more information and will take any further actions necessary.

Updated at 7.39pm AEDT.

WA's hard border to Queensland comes down

WA's hard border to Queensland comes down

Queensland is now considered a "low risk" state according to health authorities in Western Australia, meaning the hard border to travellers has come down.

The change, which came into effect overnight, means travel from or via Queensland is allowed, though arrivals will still need to self-quarantine for two weeks upon landing in WA.

In addition, arrivals will need to present for a COVID-19 test on day 11, undergo a health screening and temperature test at Perth Airport, and be prepared to take a COVID-19 test at the airport if necessary.

The WA chief health officer will continue to monitor and review border controls to determine if restrictions to QLD travellers can be eased further in the future.

"On March 27, Queensland was moved to a medium risk rating following a community outbreak. Since then Queensland authorities have done an excellent job to contain the virus," says WA health minister Roger Cook.

"So it is pleasing that we can now act on the latest health advice to change the risk rating to low.

"We will continue to act in the interests of all Western Australians to ensure our State remains as safe as possible."

Other states and territories still have border restrictions in place to travellers from QLD in the wake of last week's COVID-19 outbreak.

In Victoria, the Greater Brisbane area (which includes Brisbane, Ipswich, Logan, Moreton Bay and Redlands) is designated as an 'orange zone'.

This means travellers from Greater Brisbane must apply for a permit to enter VIC and isolate on arrival until a negative COVID-19 test result is received.

Travellers to New South Wales from Greater Brisbane must complete an entry declaration form before travelling. In addition, travellers who have been to any close contact or casual contact venues in QLD must be returning NSW residents to enter the state.

South Australia is requiring arrivals from Greater Brisbane to self-quarantine until a negative COVID-19 test is received. Travellers must also submit to testing on days five and 13 after arriving in SA.

Tasmania now considers QLD to be a "low risk" area, meaning there are no restrictions on arrivals. However, those who have been to any of the close contact venues visited by confirmed COVID-19 infections are still not permitted to enter TAS.

The ACT has eased travel restrictions from Greater Brisbane, however public health requirements such as self-quarantine remain in place for those that have been to exposure sites.

The Northern Territory no longer considers QLD a COVID-19 hotspot, so there are no restrictions on entering the territory.

Updated at 10.21am AEDT on 7 April 2021.

Quarantine-free travel to New Zealand in effect from 19 April

Quarantine-free travel to New Zealand in effect from 19 April

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has described the upcoming re-opening in two weeks as an "important first step", while travel agents and airlines along with their investors have responded enthusiastically, albeit cautiously in the case of Virgin Australia. Meanwhile, Accommodation Australia has thrown a wet blanket on the news, seeing 'very little benefit' for a struggling tourism sector. 

Australians will be free to travel to New Zealand without having to self-quarantine from 19 April, after our neighbour's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the terms for a two-way, Trans-Tasman travel bubble today.

The Trans-Tasman travel bubble will come into effect from 11.59pm NZT on 18 April, giving loved ones across the pond the opportunity to finally reconnect from the 19th.

"The Director General of Health considers the risk of transmission of COVID-19 from Australia to New Zealand to now be low, and that quarantine-free travel would be safe to commence," Ardern said. 

"Cabinet accepts that advice, and is confident not only in the status of Australia but also in our ability to manage the travel arrangements."

However, travel between the two countries will not be like it was pre-COVID. The guidance is for a "flyer beware" approach; if an outbreak is detected in certain part of Australia, travellers who have been to the affected area will not be compensated for any quarantine needed.

"People will need to plan for the possibility of having travel disrupted if there is an outbreak," Ardern said.

"To help people plan ahead, and make decisions around their travel, we want to share as much information as we can about our decision making."

Travellers to NZ will be booking on "green zone" flights, further reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission from Australia.

"When those in Australia currently make the welcome decision to come to New Zealand, they'll be making a booking on what is called a green zone flight - that means there will be no passengers on that flight who have come from anywhere but Australia in the last 14 days," Ardern said.

"They will also be flown by crew who have not flown on any high-risk routes for a set period of time.

"Passengers will need to provide comprehensive information on how they can be contacted while in New Zealand. They won't be able to travel if they have cold or flu symptoms. When they fly they will be required to wear a mask on the flight and will also be asked to download a NZ COVID Tracer app."

In addition, new airport protocol will be enforced, ensuring flights with returning overseas travellers from other countries do not overlap with those travelling within the bubble.

"On arrival passengers will be taken through what we call the green zones, meaning there'll be no contact with those who are arriving from other parts of the world and going into isolation or quarantine facilities," the NZ PM said.

"We'll also be undertaking random temperature checks of those arriving as an extra precaution; all of that alongside of course the usual welcome that we like to give all those who are either our guests or are returning to Aotearoa-New Zealand."

Officials in NZ will be working closely with their Australian counterparts to monitor any potential outbreaks, and information will be provided to travellers about the status of the border.

New Zealand authorities will be taking a similar approach to managing outbreaks in Australia as for regions in their own country.

For example, if an outbreak of COVID-19 were detected in Adelaide after the bubble comes into effect, travellers from other states and territories would not be impacted, but flights from South Australia in that scenario would likely be temporarialy paused.

The recent outbreak of COVID-19 in Queensland has not put a dampener on the announcement either, with the New Zealand cabinet confident that outbreak is contained.

"Cabinet believes any residual risk can be managed," Ardern said.

"The Director General of Health will also give final confirmation of any conditions of travel that may affect Queensland by next Wednesday."

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison described today's announcement as an important first step.

"This is the first of many more steps I believe as we get back to a more normal position, not only over the course of this year, but beyond," he said.

"Australia and New Zealand have led the way when it comes to managing COVID. We have ensured that both our countries, despite dealing with the virus, have not suffered the same types of virus impacts that we've seen in so many other countries around the world.

"I very much appreciate the arrangement that the New Zealand government has come to today and we welcome them back, as indeed Kiwis will be welcoming Aussies, and all in time for ANZAC Day too which is tremendous."

Prime Minister Morrison highlighted the Trans-Tasman route was one of Australia's busiest in terms of volume.

"That means more planes in the air, it means more jobs on the ground and in the air as well for our airlines, it means further support for our travel agents who book many of the first of the international that we will see for Australians."

The effects have already been felt on the country's travel agents and airlines. Flight Centre (ASX: FLT) and Webjet (ASX: WEB) have seen their shares rise by 4.4 per cent and 4.7 per cent respectively. Meanwhile, Qantas shares have risen by more than 3 per cent.

Qantas and Jetstar to run 122 NZ return flights per week, Virgin hesitates

Qantas (ASX: QAN) and its subsidiary Jetstar will restart flying to NZ when the bubble opens later this month, but complex border requirements have seen Virgin Australia delay most of its trans-Tasman services until 31 October.

Australian airline Qantas has encouraged Aussies to pack their jandals and hop on one of 122 return flights operating every week across the Tasman.

The national carrier will also launch two new routes direct from Auckland to Cairns and the Gold Coast, bringing the total number of weekly seats on flights between the two nations to 52,000.

"Restarting flights to New Zealand is about more than starting to rebuild our international network, it's about reconnecting families and friends and getting more of our people back flying again," Qantas domestic and international CEO Andrew David said.

"Hopefully, stories of missed weddings and birthdays on either side of the ditch will now be a thing of the past.

"We know Australians are keen to head overseas again, so we expect strong demand for flights to New Zealand and there are many Kiwis who can't wait for a winter escape to warmer weather in Australia."

Qantas' enthusiasm is not shared by rival Virgin Australia, with the now-private airline hesitating on relaunching its services between Australia and New Zealand.

According to a company spokesperson, the evolving border requirements add complexity to Virgin's business.

As such, the airline is suspending the sale of most New Zealand services until 31 October 2021. A limited schedule for flights to and from Queenstown will remain available for booking from 18 September.

"The New Zealand Government's decision to establish quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand is a step in the right direction and provides a boost of confidence for travellers looking to reunite with family and friends and do business across the Tasman," the Virgin spokesperson said.

"We are working with Air New Zealand to provide impacted customers with alternative options and will be contacting them directly. In all cases, options to select new travel dates or obtain a refund to the original form of payment are being made available."

Meanwhile, Air New Zealand (ASX: AIZ) CEO Greg Foran has welcomed PM Ardern's announcement.

"This is terrific news. I know Kiwis and Australians have been wanting to reconnect with family and friends for a year now and we're incredibly excited to be playing a part in those reunions," Foran said.

Air New Zealand trans-Tasman flights are now on sale - a move that has been welcomed by AIZ shareholders, with stocks up 7.28 per cent to $1.70 per share at 3.31pm AEDT. 

Travel bubble no silver bullet for tourism, but still welcome

Scott Morrison explained Australian tourism had benefitted from opening its borders to New Zealand travellers, and today's news would help that further as Kiwis could visit Australia without needing to quarantine when they return home.

However, the Accommodation Association has issued a statement claiming there will be very little real benefit for Australia's tourism sector in the short term.

The peak body claims tailored support is still desperately needed for Sydney and Melbourne CBD properties which rely so heavily on international and corporate markets.

"The opening of the trans-Tasman corridor is a very welcome step in the right direction but the reality is while it's good news for the travel sector, given most travellers will be catching up with friends and families there's very little immediate benefit for our tourism sector or our hotels and motels," Accommodation Association CEO Dean Long said.

"With the end of JobKeeper and given the massive holes in the market especially in Australia's international hubs of Sydney and Melbourne, the flow on benefits for our hotels and motels, and the many small businesses who supply them is negligible.

"There's no doubt it will be a big kick along for consumer confidence but it doesn't erase the need for tailored support for our accommodation sector. The reality is it's great news for our travel sector but not so good for tourism."

Long said NZ would have a net positive gain from an open border with Australia.

"Australians represent over 50 per cent of all visitors to NZ and we spend nearly $1700 per trip with the majority on their ski fields," he said.

"Total spend prior to COVID was $2.5 billion with 1.5 million Aussies visiting as at year end December 2019. Kiwis spend around $1,800 per trip with 1.2 million visitors to Australia, with total spend of $2.1 billion."

The Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC) was much more optimistic in its response, stating the bubble would help re-establish some of Australia's long term travel relationships, marking the first step in reopening our export tourism industry to international visitors.

"Our industry will be very happy to hear that a travel bubble has been agreed between the Australian and New Zealand governments which will see one of our most significant markets back online," ATEC managing director Peter Shelley said.

"Australian tourism businesses, like those across the world, have suffered severely with the closure of international borders and this marks an initial step towards re-establishing our $45 billion annual export industry.

"Thousands of tourism businesses across the country have suffered a severe drop in their income with the closure of international borders and many are simply holding on for announcements like this."

A recent ATEC survey of the export industry showed Australian inbound tour operators (ITOs) were suffering the most under the international border closures with 80 per cent operating with less than 10 per cent of their pre-COVID revenue.

"While our tourism product supplier members are doing their best to turn to the domestic market and are working hard to make ends meet, ITOs are only staying afloat with the help of the Federal Government's travel agent grants program now that the JobKeeper subsidy has ended," Shelley said.

"Without the re-opening of borders or the certainty provided by ongoing government support, a large number of ITOs will be out of business within months, taking with them a significant pipeline of forward bookings made by international travellers and millions of dollars in revenue.

"ITOs are the businesses which sell Australian tourism product across the world and while they are small in number, they deliver a huge amount of business across the country, especially to regional areas which have developed strong destination appeal for international visitors.

"The reopening of international borders will be wholeheartedly welcomed across the industry and particularly by those businesses whose entire future rests on international visitation."

Queensland Airports welcomes Trans-Tasman bubble

Queensland Airports CEO Chris Mills has welcomed the news, with the Gold Coast Airport to host trans-Tasman services.

Flights between the Gold Coast and New Zealand have already gone on sale, with an average of four flights per day from 19 April to take off.

"We have been working closely with our airline and travel industry partners and government throughout this crisis to ensure we would be ready to facilitate flights between the Gold Coast and New Zealand at the earliest opportunity," Mills said.

"Pre-COVID-19, this was our largest international market, with about 520,000 passengers flying between Gold Coast and New Zealand annually.

"The Gold Coast is one of the first destinations Kiwis want to come and visit. These services are sure to be busy in both directions, with 60,000 Kiwis calling the Gold Coast home."

Shares in listed airports are also rising this afternoon, with Sydney Airport (ASX: SYD) up 3.14 per cent to $5.26 per share, and Auckland International Airport (ASX: AIA) up 1.2 per cent to $7.16 per share.

Updated at 3.18pm AEST on 6 April 2021.

With Bluesfest down and out, calls get louder for business interruption fund

With Bluesfest down and out, calls get louder for business interruption fund

Arts and industry peak body Live Performance Australia (LPA) has ramped up longstanding calls for a business interruption fund for the sector after yesterday's shock cancellation of the Byron Bay Bluesfest.

LPA chief executive Evelyn Richardson says the live entertainment industry cannot sustain continued "hit and runs" as the industry reels from the music festival's cancellation and Brisbane's sudden lock-down.

"One case of community transmission has shut down a major regional event with a $10 million plus loss that will destroy a business with a thirty-year trading history owned by someone who is risking everything to run his event in a COVID safe manner," Richardson says.

"LPA has been calling for a Business Interruption Fund since last year. This is now a matter of urgency. It should be top of the agenda at the next National Cabinet meeting on 9 April.

"This has cost hundreds of jobs, musicians who were about to perform their first gig in a year have been shut down, thousands of people who were attending the seated, COVIDSafe approved event have been turned away, and the local regional economy has been severely impacted."

This is the second consecutive year that Bluesfest has been cancelled. In response to last year's interruption, the Bluesfest Group commissioned a report by Lawrence Consulting which found the cancellation led to $203.6 million in lost tourism spending for NSW.

Now Richardson and the LPA are calling on the NSW Government to step up and provide support to Bluesfest to ensure it survives a second shut down due to public health directives.

"This is irrefutable proof that a business interruption fund is critical to the survival of live entertainment events in an environment where no promoter or producer can get insurance," she says.

"This is a watershed moment. Our industry has worked with all governments to get our people back to work, our shows back on stage and touring.

"However, continued snap lockdowns and border restrictions are killing consumer and industry confidence. We have been shut down for a year. We can't survive the next six to 12 months without some form of insurance."

She says the industry is trying to get back on its feet and get people back into work.

"At which point do we move to living with COVID? Our industry is getting theatre shows back on stage while we look to October to kick start our live music sector. We need certainty that we're not going to be shut down and that our governments can respond and manage community transmission," the LPA chief says.

"We all know that COVID is with us for a long time so we need to reframe the national narrative around this.

"We are also very concerned about the vaccine rollout which appears to have stalled. Urgent attention needs to be given to ramping up the rollout nationally. It's time for a military style operation so we can avoid closures like this in the future."

Updated at 13:34pm AEDT on 1 April 2021.