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Covid-19 News Updates

Good ventilation the key for safe return to the office, says OzSAGE

Good ventilation the key for safe return to the office, says OzSAGE

OzSAGE, an Australian network of experts formed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, has highlighted the need for workplaces to have appropriate ventilation in order for employees to safely return to the office once lockdowns lift.

In a statement released yesterday, OzSAGE said safe, clean indoor air (not to be confused with ventilation of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units), must be prioritised in a post-COVID world.

“SARS-CoV-2 spreads through the air. The risk of COVID-19 infection is higher in indoor spaces, and it’s even higher when those indoor spaces are poorly ventilated,” OzSAGE said.

“Respiratory aerosols from breathing and speaking accumulate in indoor spaces, much like cigarette smoke but invisible. Risk of infection increases risk over time. Spending 10 minutes indoors in a poorly ventilated room is less of a risk than spending hours in there – so homes and workplaces are high risk.

“Good ventilation is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection, in concert with other mitigations, including density limits, the use of PPE and the use of air purifying devices.”

OzSAGE said high risk of COVID-19 transmission can be identified with the three V’s and T (any of these is a red flag, and more than one indicates a higher risk):

  • Venue: Multiple people indoors, where social distancing is often harder.
  • (Poor) Ventilation: Staying in one place with limited fresh air.
  • Vocalisation: Talking, shouting or singing will increase aerosolisation of the virus.
  • Time: The amount of time spent in the venue in relation to the risk. Less time is better.  

In order to mitigate these risks, OzSAGE proffers the following solutions:

  • Test: Use a CO2 meter to check and to monitor ventilation in the space.  This tells you how much of other people’s exhaled breath you are inhaling. If it is a public space, consider making the reading visible to the public. Don’t guess, test. CO2 meters are cheap and easily accessible.
  • Remediate: Act as required to improve ventilation to the target level of less than 800 ppm.
  • Ameliorate: If immediate ventilation improvements are impractical, ameliorate conditions using air purifying devices. At a minimum, these should have a HEPA filter and the size of the unit should be matched to the space. Alternatively, relocate activities outside or to a better-ventilated venue.

“Think of COVID as spreading like deadly cigarette smoke – it builds up and is removed in the same way, but you can’t see it. Just as workplaces must be free of smoke, we must provide fresh air and sometimes filters and masks to protect workers and visitors,” OzSAGE’s Professor Geoff Hanmer said.

“By ensuring we breathe fresh air, we can avoid most COVID transmission. Where we can’t freshen up rooms, we need good masks, filters to clean the air, and less people.

“Something as simple as opening windows and not recycling air inside vehicles can make a tremendous difference.”

Updated at 12.39pm AEST on 7 September 2021.

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Gold Coast tourism operators "hanging on by a thread"

Gold Coast tourism operators "hanging on by a thread"

Destination Gold Coast CEO Patricia O’Callaghan said the city is “in the fight of its life” after new research released today found tourism jobs in the Queensland hub have been cut by 20 per cent in 12 months.

The research, commissioned by the Tourism and Transport Forum (TFF), also forecast tourism employment on the Gold Coast will drop by another 4,000 full-time and part-time jobs from now until Christmas if current travel restrictions remain in place.

Destination Gold Coast chairman Paul Donovan said his heart goes out to the 4,600 tourism businesses suffering during this time.

“We are proudly Australia’s favourite holiday destination, but our operators are hanging on by a thread,” Donovan said.

“Our local tourism industry relies on people travelling to enjoy what the region has to offer and with more than half of Australia’s population under travel restrictions, the impact on the Gold Coast is significant.”

O’Callaghan said it was “heartbreaking” to watch tourism operators from mum and dad businesses right through to major hoteliers and theme parks struggle to hold on financially and retain a skilled workforce.

“These figures are heartbreaking,” O’Callaghan said.

“We know the industry will bounce back once people are able to travel again, but until that happens, the industry is requesting targeted financial support from the Government.

“Measures around business hardship grants and financial mechanisms that allow employers to retain skilled staff and keep them connected to the business until economic conditions improve will be critical.”

TTF CEO Margy Osmond said the sector is reeling having lost the critical Sydney and Melbourne visitors for the July school holiday period – the third peak holiday period in a row decimated by lockdowns. Similarly, the outlook for the upcoming September school holidays is looking bleak.

Kate Forrester, who runs family-owned operator Gold Coast Watersports, said her and her husband are nervous about the upcoming school holidays. 

“We are currently running at 10 per cent, so the loss to our bottom line is enormous which has led to reducing staff hours just so we can retain our skilled jet ski tour guides, parasail and jet boat captains,” Forrester said. 

“As a business owner, we are clinging on to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but at the end of the day we need urgent support to keep afloat.”

The research comes after Roy Morgan unveiled 1.36 million Australians were unemployed in August, down 60,000 in July, for an unemployment rate of 9.5 per cent.

The latest data represents a contraction in the Australian workforce driven by COVID-19 lockdowns, down more than 200,000 to 14.4 million, including the 1.36 million looking for work.

Roy Morgan’s unemployment figure of 9.5 per cent for August is nearly 5 percentage points higher than the current ABS estimate for July 2021 of 4.6 per cent.

However, the ABS figure for July counts as employed an additional 181,000 Australians who were working zero hours for ‘economic reasons’ and 207,000 Australians who were working zero hours for ‘other reasons’ – such as being forced out of work by mandatory lockdowns.

In addition to those who were unemployed, 1.18 million Australians (8.2 per cent of the workforce) were under-employed – working part-time but looking for more work, a drop of 159,000 (down 0.9 percentage points) from July.

Roy Morgan CEO Michele Levine says the lockdown of Australia’s two largest states throughout the month of August has led to drops across all key employment estimates including the workforce as a whole as well as employment and unemployment – all down on July.

“Although the latest Roy Morgan employment estimates for August show unemployment falling 0.2 percentage points to 9.5 per cent, the broader picture shows this is not due to increasing jobs but rather the impact of lockdowns directly impacting over half of the Australian population,” says Levine.

“Unfortunately, the lockdown of over 15 million Australians in NSW, Victoria and the ACT during August is set to continue throughout the current month of September. However, the ‘relatively’ positive news is that the vaccination program has significantly accelerated in recent weeks as locked down people in NSW and Victoria rush out to get vaccinated and the full vaccination targets of 70 per cent and 80 per cent of the population are set to be reached earlier than initially forecast.

“Despite the positive trends on vaccination the next two months are still set to be very hard for the retail, hospitality, recreational and personal businesses that rely on close personal contact. During this period it remains absolutely imperative that both Federal & State Governments offer businesses negatively impacted by the lockdowns a sufficient level of support to ensure business closures over this period are kept to a minimum.”

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Victorian Government boosts business support during extended lockdown

Victorian Government boosts business support during extended lockdown

With Victoria expected to remain under some form of lockdown until at least October, the State’s Government has boosted financial support for small and medium-sized businesses impacted by the restrictions.

The package, jointly funded by the Commonwealth and Victorian Governments, is now worth around $4.3 billion, with businesses support payments now confirmed to cover the four-week period ending on 30 September.

The vast majority of payments will be deposited automatically into businesses’ bank accounts, while a new tiered payments system for the Business Costs Assistance Program will allow for higher payments to businesses with more workers.

Business Costs Assistance Program payments will be automatically made at rates of $2,800, $5,600 and $8,400 a week over September, depending on payroll size.

Eligible cafes, restaurants and bars will continue to receive Licensed Hospitality Venue Fund payments of between $5,000 and $20,000 per week.

A major boost to the Small Business COVID Hardship Fund will increase the grant amount to $20,000 for around 35,000 businesses, and the deadline for applications will be extended.

An Alpine Support Package will help sustain resorts through the remainder of the season and September school holidays with an automatic top-up payment of between $10,000 and $40,000, depending on business location and whether they employ staff.

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the announcement builds on $45 billion in direct economic support delivered to Victorian households and businesses since the start of the pandemic.

“The Morrison Government understands the significant impact extended lockdowns have on individuals and businesses right across Victoria,” Frydenberg said.

"We will continue to support Victorians, with our ongoing economic assistance to meet the challenges of the Delta strain.”

"Already, the Commonwealth has provided $1.3 billion in COVID-19 disaster payments to Victorians, supporting the incomes of around 500,000 individuals and in partnership with the State Government, committed more than $4 billion to small and medium sized businesses over course of this lockdown.”

Details about Victorian business support payments is available at

Victoria today reported 246 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19, up from 183 cases on Sunday and 190 on Saturday.

Meanwhile, New South Wales recorded 1,485 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 yesterday and three deaths, the Australian Capital Territory reported 15 new cases, and Queensland announced one new local case who was in home quarantine while infectious.

Updated at 9.53am AEST on 6 September 2021.

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"From Downing Street to Down Under": Australia secures 4 million Pfizer doses from the UK

"From Downing Street to Down Under": Australia secures 4 million Pfizer doses from the UK

Australia has “4 million reasons to be hopeful today” according to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who today announced a swap deal with the UK which will see 4 million extra doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine arrive this month.

The deal will see Australia double the number of Pfizer doses available during September, with the jabs to be distributed across states and territories on a per capita basis.

It comes just a few days after the Federal Government secured an early procurement of 500,000 Pfizer doses through a swap deal with Singapore, building on an extra million vaccines from Poland acquired earlier in August.

“From Downing Street to Down Under we’re doubling down on what the Pfizer doses are here in Australia this month,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

“This will enable us to bring forward significantly the opportunity for Australia to open up again under the national plan.

“The bringing forward of these doses, I think, should be a great cause for hope right around the country.”

The extra doses will build on Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout which has so far seen 20.3 million doses delivered, of which more than 10 million have been AstraZeneca jabs.

Australia is also now at the point where 80 per cent of over 50s have had their first dose.

“Let’s keep this going Australia, because at these rates we are really going to be able to hit the marks that we all want to hit in the weeks and months ahead,” Morrison said.

“These 4 million doses of hope today I think will only give us further encouragement.”

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 situation is worsening in New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory.

NSW today reported 1,431 locally acquired cases of COVID-19 and 12 deaths as the State’s Premier Gladys Berejiklian warned case numbers are going to continue to increase before a peak.

"As I have said previously, the best health advice I have is that we anticipate a peak in cases in the next fortnight,” Berejiklian said.

In Victoria, 208 locally acquired cases were reported today and one death. Of the 208, 96 cases were linked to known outbreaks.

The ACT today recorded 18 new locally acquired COVID-19 cases, of which 15 were in the community while infectious.

Updated at 12.21pm AEST on 3 September 2021.

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Introducing OzSAGE, a source of expert advice for how to reopen Australia from COVID safely

Introducing OzSAGE, a source of expert advice for how to reopen Australia from COVID safely

Australia is in the middle of its worst COVID-19 outbreak. Our hospital system is under strain. Vulnerable communities are being hit hard. And more than half the nation is locked down.

There is an understandable desire to know when we can reopen. But there is also an even more important need to know how we can reopen.

The national plan endorsed by the prime minister and state and territory leaders goes part of the way to answering this question.

It sets thresholds for the proportion of the 16-plus population vaccinated beyond which it says certain restrictions can be less common.

But it doesn’t talk much about the other things we will have to do.

How we reopen is as important as when

It’s the big gap in the national approach. And it needs to be filled. Now.

That is what OzSAGE aims to do. OzSAGE is an additional expert resource for governments and business, health, education, community and non-government agencies in Australia.

Inspired by the UK Independent SAGE (Independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies), OzSAGE members have expertise in public health, infectious diseases, epidemiology, Aboriginal health, engineering, the built environment, occupational hygiene, behavioural and social science, multicultural engagement, communications, law, data science, public policy and economics.

Ventilation will become a priority

Our first piece of advice on how to best live with occasional outbreaks centres on ventilation and what we are calling vaccines-plus.

Ventilation (and filtration) is about providing safe air and limiting transmission in shared spaces. These include workplaces, health and aged care, schools, prisons, social venues and homes, especially where overcrowding is present. COVID is airborne, meaning prevention requires safe air.

Vaccines are essential to our pandemic exit strategy, but overseas experience shows current vaccines alone are not sufficient to fight the Delta variant.

“Plus” refers to testing, contact tracing, masks and other non-pharmaceutical strategies that will continue to be required in the medium term to fight Delta, and may need to be scaled up or down depending on severity of the epidemic.

Our first recommendations have been with politicians for a week.

They are released publicly this morning.

One of the things that made Australia’s 2020 pandemic response world-leading was that we acted early to keep the virus under control. This gave us options other countries did not have.

As we reopen we should ensure we do so safely enough to retain what economists call “option value” — the ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

Our approach should entail the following elements.

1. Living with occasional outbreaks rather than widespread disease

COVID-19 is here to stay, but we don’t have to resign ourselves to losing all the gains won in 2020. We should aim to control COVID-19 in the same way we control measles, which is even more contagious.

Right now that requires ventilation and “vaccines-plus” to manage outbreaks. But the level of innovation in vaccines is extraordinary.

When boosters or vaccines matched to variants are available, herd immunity ought to be possible using a smart and agile vaccine strategy.

2. Leaving no-one behind

Vaccine targets should be met for all, not only for the population as a whole but also for subgroups, recognising structural and social disadvantage.

These include all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, residents of remote and regional Australia, and other vulnerable high-risk and disadvantaged groups.

While vaccination is not available yet for all children, we recommend additional steps to protect them and make schools safe.

3. Protecting the health system

Australia has one of the best healthcare systems in the world. Despite this, urgent non-COVID care is already suffering in NSW.

We plan to outline a range of strategies essential to preventing the loss of health workers and protecting hospitals and their patients in cities and in regional areas.

The best-laid plans to reopen will be disrupted if the capacity of the health system to deal with COVID and non-COVID care is exceeded by a surge.

I am proud to be part of an expert group that will provide independent, cross-disciplinary advice on how to open up safely.

What’s next?

Our advice will be informed by the best evidence, but will be practical. It will provide government, business, and community organisations with a series of tangible measures that can be taken to ensure we can reopen safely.

Nobody knows what 2022 will hold. But we need to ensure Australia is in a position to consolidate its successes and avoid repeating its recent mistakes.

Proper ventilation is a start. We will have more to say in coming weeks.The Conversation

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW

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


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WA to tighten border restrictions with Victoria

WA to tighten border restrictions with Victoria

Western Australia will reclassify Victoria as a ‘high risk’ jurisdiction from midnight on Monday, 6 September, as the COVID-19 situation in the eastern state worsens.

The adjustments mean from 12.01am on Monday, anyone entering WA from Victoria, or who has travelled through the state in the past 14 days, will be subject to the following conditions:

  • proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test in the 72 hours prior to departure;
  • proof of receipt of at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, where eligible;
  • a mandatory requirement to use the G2G Now app on arrival in WA; and
  • COVID-19 tests on days two and 12. 

It comes as Victoria today reported 208 new locally acquired COVID-19 cases, 96 of whom have been linked to known cases and outbreaks.

In addition, WA’s chief health officer has recommended changes to the ‘medium risk’ settings under the state’s controlled border arrangements.

As such, effective Monday, approved travellers are required to undertake a pre-travel COVID-19 test 72 hours prior to departure to give greater certainty of the non-infectious status of travellers entering WA.

The state says the changes are in response to the escalating situation in the Australian Capital Territory and New South Wales.

Under WA's controlled border arrangements, South Australia, Northern Territory and Tasmania are currently classified as 'very low risk' jurisdictions, which means travellers from and through these jurisdictions are not subject to self-quarantine and regular COVID-19 testing requirements.

Queensland is currently at 'low risk' settings, the Australian Capital Territory is under 'medium risk' settings and New South Wales is classified as an 'extreme risk' jurisdiction. 

"Our thoughts are with our friends in Victoria, the ACT and New South Wales as they battle through their growing outbreaks,” WA Premier Mark McGowan said.

"Upon the latest advice from the Chief Health Officer we are implementing some additional safeguards to give greater certainty to Western Australians that approved travellers entering from higher risk settings like Victoria and the ACT are doing so safely.

"These adjustments under our controlled border arrangements strengthen the requirements for approved travellers entering our State.”

Updated at 10.10am AEST on 3 September 2021.

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Australia Post to pause e-commerce parcel collections as 500 staff in isolation

Australia Post to pause e-commerce parcel collections as 500 staff in isolation

With 500 Australia Post staff in self-isolation, the company has decided to temporarily pause Parcel Post collections from e-commerce retailers in New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory for three days from Saturday.

The pause, which will start at 7am on Saturday 4 September and last until 7am on Tuesday 7 September, will allow Australia Post to help manage record volumes in parts of the network to return them to a safe and manageable level.

“Australia Post currently has 500 people in necessary self-isolation, placing increased pressure on our network, while we also manage flight restrictions, temporary facility closures, and parcel volumes as high as our Christmas peak period,” Australia Post says.

“Only our standard Parcel Post service is impacted, with Express Post, Premium, Startrack Express and letters, to remain unchanged across our network. 

“There is no impact on Post Offices, which remain open for all usual business including collecting carded parcels.”

Items lodged at post offices and standard post boxes will also continue to be collected for processing and collections in all other states and territories remain the same.

“Deliveries will continue across the weekend and parcel processing continues, as our people deliver record amounts of parcels to Australians,” Australia Post says.

“We sincerely apologise to our customers for the inconvenience.”

Updated at 11.11am AEST on 2 September 2021.

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Hospitals "ill prepared" for reopening, AMA says

Hospitals "ill prepared" for reopening, AMA says

Australian hospitals are not prepared to cope with plans for easing COVID-19 restrictions, according to the Australian Medical Association (AMA) which has today called for new modelling based on staffing capacity to guide reopening plans.

In a dire warning to leaders, the AMA has written to the Prime Minister, state premiers and chief ministers telling them hospitals, and the people who work in them, are in danger of being locked into a “permanent cycle of crisis”.

The letter, from AMA president Dr Omar Khorshid, said the hospital system would be overwhelmed with an easing of restrictions - even with increased vaccination rates.

“Even pre-COVID, emergency departments were full, ambulances ramped, and waiting times for elective surgery too long.” Dr Khorshid said.

“While National Cabinet is considering the cost of expanding intensive care capacity for an expected COVID surge, a funding top-up alone won’t cut it. The Commonwealth will need to address the longer-term public hospital funding crisis.

“We must urgently prepare our health system before opening up and to do that we need new modelling based on our hospitals’ ability to cope with the associated increase in caseload.”

Dr Khorshid said new modelling should be commissioned to contemplate all aspects of the impact of COVID-19 on Australian hospital’s and the primary care sector.

“Staffing, for instance, is already a significant problem right across the health sector, exacerbated by international border closures,” Dr Khorshid said.

“Modelling should also contemplate the cost, efficiency impact and supply of enhanced PPE and infection controls, and the inevitable reduction in patient throughput, especially where COVID-19 positive and negative patients are treated at the same facility.

“The practice of furloughing staff exposed to COVID-19 won’t be sustainable once caseloads increase and this is one of the reasons the AMA called for vaccination to be mandated for all employees and contractors in hospitals and community health settings.”

The president also said modelling may show a higher level of vaccination is required to ensure the hospital sector remains functional once restrictions are fully eased.

“The AMA believes a vaccination rate higher than 80 per cent of the adult population is likely to be required to avoid repeated lockdowns given the existing constraints on hospital capacity and staffing,” Dr Khorshid said. 

“If we throw open the doors to COVID we risk seeing our public hospitals collapse and part of this stems from a long-term lack of investment in public hospital capacity by state and federal governments.

“Our hospitals are not starting from a position of strength. Far from it. As well as ambulance ramping, we have the lowest bed-to-patient ratio in decades, our emergency and elective performance continues to decline, and our doctors and nurses continue to barely cope with their workloads and the constraints of the system.”

Updated at 10.19am AEST on 2 September 2021.

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Victorian lockdown extended until vaccine target reached, but regions may open up earlier

Victorian lockdown extended until vaccine target reached, but regions may open up earlier

With daily local case numbers now in triple digits, the Victorian Government has announced "almost all" of the current lockdown restrictions will remain in place until 70 per cent of the population has had at least one dose of the vaccine.

In mid-August the government extended lockdowns until at least 2 September, but back then the daily community infection numbers were around a sixth of the 120 recorded in the 24 hours to midnight last night.

The Premier has emphasised Victorians cannot afford to open up and let this virus run free, but he expects the first dose vaccine target will be reached around 23 September. Currently only 45 per cent of Victorians have received at least one jab.

"This is not where we wanted to be as a community, but we need to keep cases low so we can get more people vaccinated," the Premier said.

"So my message is: if you are over 18 and you want to keep you and your family safe, don’t wait. AstraZeneca is available now. Make a booking to get vaccinated."

However, there will be some small concessions with playgrounds to re-open from 11:59pm on 3 September, allowing for children with only one parent or carer. There will be QR codes for check-in, and adults should not remove their masks to eat or drink.

In-home care – like babysitters – will also be expanded to school aged children but only if both parents are authorised workers.

Epidemiological conditions and the health advice will also be reviewed to consider easing parts of regional Victoria next week.

Once the vaccine target has been hit there could be a further easing of restrictions, for example expanding the radius for exercise and shopping from 5km to 10km, a longer permissible period for exercise of up to three hours, allowing outdoor personal training with up to two people plus the trainer, and reopening communal gym equipment and skateparks.

At that point, private inspections of unoccupied premises for a new purchase or end of lease will be permitted but only one household may attend at a time, with the agent staying outdoors during the inspection.

Victoria’s construction workforce will also be able to increase to 50 per cent when 90 per cent of their workers have received at least one vaccine dose, subject to epidemiology at the time. Up to five staff will be able to work onsite at entertainment venues to broadcast performances.

"There’s a million things that we miss about life before the pandemic and a million things we’re looking forward to doing again once we’re through this outbreak – each of those is a reason to get vaccinated," Health Minister Martin Foley said.

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Queensland hotel quarantine pause to ease earlier than expected

Queensland hotel quarantine pause to ease earlier than expected

A pause on permitting arrivals from interstate into Queensland's hotel quarantine system will ease from Saturday, 4 September, allowing residents to return from hotspots in limited numbers.

It comes just a week after the State Government took steps to slow down the influx of Australians from locked-down areas relocating to the Sunshine State, placing a pause on arrivals into hotel quarantine.

At the time, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the pause would last two weeks, but more room has been made available, allowing the restrictions to ease sooner than expected.

“The pause has only just begun so our quarantine remains under considerable strain,” the Premier said.

“But I have listened to those who are undergoing considerable hardship and ordered authorities to begin assisting as soon as possible.”

Starting Saturday, 4 September:

  • 50 additional hotel rooms will become available
  • These additional rooms will be given to returning Queenslanders or people relocating to Queensland who have been prioritised for entry early
  • More will be offered as they become available

Officials will contact approved applicants.

From Monday, 6 September, the application process will reopen to those seeking to relocate to the State as well as returning Queenslanders. However, those wishing to relocate will have to prove they are genuine either with proof of employment or change of residential status.

Queensland reported no new cases of COVID-19 today, in contrast to the 1,116 new local cases in New South Wales, 120 in Victoria and 23 in the Australian Capital Territory.

Updated at 12.17pm AEST on 1 September 2021.

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