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Covid-19 News Updates


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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QLD sets up border business support hub in Coolangatta

QLD sets up border business support hub in Coolangatta

As communities in Coolangatta and the Tweed Shire continue to struggle with strict restrictions for crossing the border, the Queensland Government has established a pop-up business hub to let residents know about available support schemes.

With no end in sight until lockdowns are eased in NSW, and amidst an impasse between the two state governments over the establishment of a border bubble or a temporary redrawing of the border further south, Queensland's Minister for Employment and Small Business Di Farmer visited Coolangatta last week to take stock of the situation.

"We know that COVID-19 is having a huge impact on small businesses, and for those close to the border it’s especially difficult right now," Minister Farmer said.

"I went to Coolangatta last week to speak with small businesses and listen to what they’re going through.

"A number of businesses weren’t aware of the support that’s available, so we’ve organised for Business Queensland to set up a pop-up Support Hub and proactively go and speak to small businesses in the area."

She said staff from Business Queensland have been in Coolangatta since Monday, and the Business Support Hub formally opened today.

"Their job is to make sure local businesses can get access to every single bit of government support for which they’re eligible," the Minister said.

"They’re going door to door to businesses too, to make sure people know the Hub is there.

"We will also have someone there from the Queensland Small Business Commissioner’s office, who will be able to help with leasing issues."

The Hub is at Kirra Hill Community and Cultural Centre on Garrick Street.

Minister for Communities and Housing Leeanne Enoch said a range of face-to-face support was available at the Hub to help small business owners navigate the current challenges, including access to information, referrals, and available grants.

"We want to make sure that small businesses have access to the support and information they need,” Minister Enoch said.

"As part of this service, counsellors from Lifeline are on hand to talk to those who need emotional support or financial counselling services.

"A representative from Centrelink is also at the hub to provide information and assist with applications for Australian Government grants and financial aid.

Minister for Youth Affairs and Member for Gaven, Meaghan Scanlon, said a range of support was available, including grants of up to $30,000 and a nearly $50 million package for tourism and hospitality businesses.

"That’s on top of more than 400 $5,000 Business Basics grants recently announced for small businesses on the Gold Coast, as well as major infrastructure projects creating jobs like the M1 upgrade to the border,” Minister Scanlon said.

"Coolangatta and Tweed Heads might be in different states, but they’re essentially the same community. Businesses have staff and shops - and even family - either side of the border.

"Talking to businesses, the fall in foot traffic and the staffing and business management issues stemming from the border are the number one issue right now."

Scanlon said she was hearing the message "loud and clear" about how hard the impacts of the border closure have been.

"I want businesses to know we are working hard to find a solution," she said.

"We reached out to the New South Wales government a while ago and were told no, but now the Queensland Deputy Police Commissioner and the New South Wales Border Commissioner are meeting to see how the two governments can work together so we can reduce the impact on the community.

"I really welcome this change and want us all to work together so we can help those small businesses on the border doing it tough, while still protecting the health of Queenslanders."


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COVID-19: The Swiss cheese infographic that went viral

COVID-19: The Swiss cheese infographic that went viral

A visual representation of how to prevent transmission of SARS-CoV-2 struck a chord with many in 2020. I won’t rehash all that has already been written about the Swiss cheese infographic but this is a small timeline, some links and some of the thinking that went on. Much of the detail is already on the New York Times piece along with a very sun-gazing photo of yours truly if you need content for the office dartboard.

Professor James T Reason proposed a layered approach to reducing the risk of accidents due to human error.

I really liked this approach for communicating risk reduction. Adapting it creates a simple way to get across that no single intervention (layer) is perfect, Each layer has its failings (holes) that can come and go and be made worse. Using lots of layers provides a better chance of preventing transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

By the way, in Reason’s 1990 publication, this model wasn’t associated with cheese.

No Swiss cheese here – but a hole (limited window of accident opportunity) is apparent in an inadequate defence. Reason intended the order of these layers to be relevant, but for the COVID-19 Swiss cheese defence model version I put together, I moved away from the order of layers being important in favour of the package of layers (risk-reducing interventions) being key to preventing transmission SARS-CoV-2. 
This is Figure 1 copied from J Reason, “The contribution of latent human failures to the breakdown of complex systems”, Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B. 327, 475-484 (1990) [1]

Swiss cheese model (SCM)

In 2000, Prof Reason nicely illustrated his concept for a Swiss cheese model to describe a system approach to overcome innate human fallibilities.[3]

Figure copied from James Reason’s “Human error: models and management”, BMJ 2000; 320: 768-70. [3]

Holy thinking

Where do these holes come from? Let’s look at masks. We know they are good for preventing the wearer from spreading their virus-laden aerosols to others and into the air. They also serve some role in preventing a wearer from inhaling those aerosols. So what causes holes in this imperfect layer of risk reduction? Here are some ideas…

  • The mask is not worn properly (under the nose, on the chin, too loose)
  • Not disposing of the mask properly, putting others at risk of handling it
  • Not sanitising your hands after handling the mask
  • Fiddling with the outside of the mask while wearing it without sanitising your hands before touching your face or someone else
  • Not cleaning your mask properly or often enough
  • Sharing masks
  • Not using the right type of fabric or enough layers for your mask
  • Overconfidence that wearing a mask will be highly protective and thus engaging in risky behaviours as a result of that confidence

And those are just some of the holes in one layer! 

You can see how sometimes there might be more or fewer holes, or bigger or smaller holes, at some times compared to others, depending on the behaviour of the mask-wearer. And if the holes in one layer line up with the holes in another layer – a virus can get through. 

Prof Reason proposed this model as a way to layer multiple imperfect defences so as to maximise the chance of preventing catastrophic failure – the aviation industry has used it a lot. But catastrophe can also arise from acquiring SARS-CoV-2 infection. As we now know too well. Reason said while speaking about the model in an interview in Australia in 2005 …

…when you build defences against known hazards, you try to do the best you can but you build them in layers, but they’re never perfect. They’re like Emmenthal, they’re like Swiss cheese, they’ve got holes in. And so you can have several layers of cheese.

and

It’s like Sod or Murphy and the malign furies with the knitting needle trying to find the way through, and very rarely they do, but of course the holes opening and shutting and moving around, they’re not actually like Swiss cheese, and they’re being opened or shut by people at the sharp end who maybe making errors or by designers who fail to anticipate this particular trajectory of accident.

I also found it interesting that Prof Reason noted..

he had in his head these two notions: the biological or medical metaphor of pathogens, and the central role played by defences, barriers, controls and safeguards (analogous to the body’s auto-immune system) 

 

Leadership pressure to “get back to normal” or “live with the virus”

Something else noted by Reason, which I think we’ve seen a lot of, is the impact of leadership pressure (he highlights this in terms of management [1]) as a cause of big failures or aligned holes.

Pressures that include needing to meet deadlines and to cut costs. In the case of COVID-19, I’d argue a driving pressure was to get back to making profits and to restore individual freedoms at the expense of societal safety and protecting those who made our current lives possible; our parents.

Wherever restrictions were dropped while lots of cases still circulated (I don’t know where the percentage came from that suggested a level of safety at which opening was fine, but it was far too open to variability and interpretation), a surge was sure to follow. It usually only took a holiday or a seasonal change or life as usual to fan those embers into another bushfire (aka “Wave”).

One early COVID-19 failure was the inability to accept that it was the pandemic itself that could create economic hardship through a range of its impacts on our communities. When not reined in, it kept doing so.

This failure was fuelled by a narrative that the required (shorter period of) harsher restrictions to contain pandemic virus transmission was unachievable because it would cause too much harm. Instead, we have watched considerable longer-term harm befall many regions and regions that underwent the short-term pain, start bouncing back to a border restricted life-as-usual.

If 2020 taught us anything, it was that we were capable of a lot more than we knew. We could even eliminate transmission of an efficiently transmitting respiratory virus – something I didn’t think we could do up until this year. 

My first view of Swiss cheese related to COVID-19

I first saw a version of this via @sketchplanator on Twitter sometime around October 4th (their image also links to a different version for the Cleveland Clinic, below).

 

I loved this version but it felt like it missed some specifics that would be useful to add for a broader understanding of what the public could do, and should expect to have done, to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2. 

I tend to overload my own graphics and was conscious of that habit, but still thought more would be better. So I drew up my own version and tweeted it out.

My first version 

I was sure I’d missed important bits out. And of course, the first version had a typo. Evolution ensued. 

I next went to my wife and to specific people (thanks Jody!) and to Twitter as a whole, seeking thoughts and advice (which I sometimes did take, and sometimes didn’t). That can be a…hard process sometimes. But very worthwhile.

The red arrow was enhanced to highlight that when the holes (failings in any given layer/intervention) aligned, the virus could possibly get through multiple defences – so the more layers the merrier. And the tone of the text under the cheese was flipped from negative to positive.

Prof Reason further described the many holes…

though unlike in the cheese, these holes are continually opening, shutting, and shifting their location.

Version 2 added a layer

October 15th saw a vaccine slice and combined contact tracing with fast and sensitive testing as well as hand and surface cleaning. 

One of the freed-up layers was used to introduce isolation and quarantine and a new government Comms and financial support slice. This layer should include education in its messaging, to make sure everyone is on the same page in understanding what’s happening and why. 

Government support should include the measures necessary to support workers who have to be away from work to prevent spread and who will thus lose vital income. It also includes support for those paying and collecting (to prevent eviction or rises) rent and support for business.

The suggestion was raised that there be a break glass “lockdown” button. It wasn’t added then but see version 4 below).

 

 

Version 3

October 24th saw the third version emerge. Its arguably greatest addition - "the misinformation mouse” – a symbol of the erosion caused by niggly sowers of lies or simply non-expert opinion they feel must be shared with or shouted at the world. The unfortunate consequence is that these “mice” while being completely wrong, provide often a sort of comforting wrongness that rings true for those who are simply overwhelmed by the scope and complexity of a pandemic’s many facets.

These poisonous pests can undermine actions needed to save lives and protect health and livelihoods. They are not your friends. In some instances, those views are held by national leaders and the consequences are many more preventable deaths than might otherwise have been attributed to the less influential but usually louder individuals or groups.

 

Version 3 also added two more slices including limiting time inside, the need for ventilation, preferring outdoors to indoors and the introduction of air filtration; all to combat an aerosol-borne virus. It also added the need to stay home if sick to the physical distancing slice.

And thanks to the University of Queensland crew, who had already adapted a version for internal communication with students, I added their rough groupings of personal and shared responsibilities.

Using Swiss cheese: a concept not dogma

As with all aspects of this infographic, the groupings are not a mandate (there is overlap between layers and groups) just as the layers are not in a specific order of importance nor are the number of holes representative of the degree of dodginess of any given layer. 

The overall idea is to convey a concept. Which it seems to have succeeded in doing.

Version 4

This is newly made for this blog – it includes a layer called border controls – because, without this, it’s almost impossible to imagine seriously getting a pandemic under meaningful and long-lasting control in a given region – if that’s your aim. 

We’ve seen the world over that when borders are open there is a constant incoming source of new virus (including novel variants which create further headlines and fear) and it, along with the clusters they trigger, can easily overwhelm contact tracing and laboratory testing capacity. Once those have gone under, it’s the wild west of transmission.

What worked well for Australia and New Zealand?

If I was pushed to create a personal (this is my opinion), ranked, Top 10 of what was needed to prevent the spread of this or any future – perhaps more severe – respiratory virus pathogen, then my current list would include the need for:

  1. Early communication
  2. Regular communication (look to Victoria, Australia for its example of daily loooong briefings)
  3. Authentic communication (look to Victoria & Queensland)
  4. Anti-misinformation communication – flexible, nimble, animated and relatable
  5. External border controls
  6. Internal border controls
  7. Lockdowns (adequately financially supported and with good mental health support as well as constant reminders to see to normal health issues – cancers, heart disease, you name it)
  8. Testing capacity must meet turnaround times of <48 hours and have in place additional surge capacity
  9. Contact tracing
  10. Quarantine and isolation that is backed up by public health direction supported by law (protocols should be in place before they’re needed)

Making the cheese accessible to all

Apart from tweeting the image and it being picked up by media all over the world, I quickly placed the image (.png format) and an editable vector graphic (.svg format) version of it onto my Figshare page

This page includes a CC BY 4.0 open-access license which lets you share and adapt the image and only asks for credit for the source and an indication of any changes you make. [4] Thanks to a number of people – but especially Dr Prital Patel – for creating over two dozen different language variants that you can grab from that site and share among your own communities. 

Plus a graphical/icon version and a mug-sized version in case you want to make your own version to have in the office (see my how-to on Twitter, if the Redbubble mug doesn’t do it for you).

References

  1. The contribution of latent human failures to the breakdown of complex systems
    https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rstb.1990.0090
  2. Absent-mindedness/Risk Management
    https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/healthreport/absent-mindednessrisk-management/3452526
  3. Human error: models and management
    https://www.bmj.com/content/320/7237/768
  4. The Swiss Cheese Respiratory Virus Defence
    https://figshare.com/articles/figure/The_Swiss_Cheese_Respiratory_Virus_Defence/1308261
  5. Swiss Cheese Respiratory Virus Pandemic Defence by VirolDownUnder
    https://www.redbubble.com/shop/ap/65034354

This article was originally published on Virology Down Under, a blog run by renowned infectious diseases expert Associate Professor Ian Mackay. Business News Australia republished the piece with permission from Mackay.


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Australia secures 500,000 early Pfizer doses in vaccine swap with Singapore

Australia secures 500,000 early Pfizer doses in vaccine swap with Singapore

With 35 per cent of Australian residents aged 16 and older now vaccinated with two doses, the Federal Government will be able to expedite the vaccine roll-out after a swap deal was reached with Singapore.

Australia will receive 500,000 Pfizer doses through the agreement this week and will return the favour to the city state in December.

"That comes on top of some 4.5 million that we already have planned for September, and the one million Moderna doses, and the many other millions of doses that are available from our AstraZeneca production," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said today.

"That means there are 500,000 doses extra that will happen in September that otherwise would have had to wait for several months from now, accelerating our vaccination program at this critical time as we work towards those 70 per cent and 80 per cent targets," he said.

"This will greatly assist the national vaccination program that brings in two important age groups...16 to 29s which have already begun this week, and of course the 12 to 15-year-olds who there's 1.2 million of...they start bookings from 13 September."

The announcement comes a fortnight after the Commonwealth Government reached a deal to source an additional one million Pfizer vaccines from Poland, while the PM emphasised Australia's vaccination rates had recently  been higher on a per capita basis than "the best of weeks" in the US and UK.

"Tasmania is leading the charge with the highest double-dose vaccination rate in the country, and New South Wales is running first when it comes to first dose vaccinations around the country, and others are close behind," Morrison said.

58.7 per cent of eligible Australians have had their first dose, which is up by more than 18 percentage points compared to a month ago, while the share of fully vaccinated Australians has almost doubled.

Updated at 1:16pm AEST on 31 August 2021.


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COVID restrictions hammer retail again in July as turnover falls nearly 3 per cent

COVID restrictions hammer retail again in July as turnover falls nearly 3 per cent

Australian retail turnover fell 2.7 per cent in July 2021 according to the latest figures released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) - the largest monthly dip this year.

New South Wales saw the biggest drop in retail trade out of all the states and territories, with sales down 8.9 per cent in July compared to the previous months, followed by South Australia (down 3.3 per cent) and Queensland (down 0.9 per cent).

All other states and territories experienced rises with the strongest in Victoria (up 1.3 per cent). Victorian turnover rose as some restrictions from the prior month were eased further in early July, however, sales remained subdued due to a twelve-day lockdown from mid to late July.

“Lockdowns and stay-at-home orders in many parts of Australia continued to impact retail trade in July, with many non-essential retail businesses closing their physical stores,” ABS director of quarterly economy wide surveys Ben James said.

“In particular, the first full month of lockdown in New South Wales, following the Delta outbreak in June, saw retail turnover in the state fall 8.9 per cent.

“This was the largest fall of any state and territory since August 2020."

By industry, the largest falls were in cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services (down 12.3 per cent), clothing, footwear and personal accessory retailing (down 15.4 per cent), and department stores (down 11.4 per cent).

Food retailing saw a rise in sales of 2.3 per cent as COVID restrictions kept people at home, limiting their mobility.

Australian Retailers Association CEO Paul Zahra said the lockdowns are taking a heavy toll on small businesses in particular, and the impacts are likely to be felt for many more months.

“Businesses have been left reeling from the Delta devastation and today’s figures confirm the severity of the lockdowns and the impacts they have on retail spending,” Zahra said.

“Consumer and business confidence has been shattered by the recent outbreaks in multiple states, and the state and federal supports just haven’t been enough to save a number of businesses from closing their doors permanently.

“The lockdowns are also having an impact on employment, with payroll jobs falling by nearly 9 per cent in Greater Sydney since the stay-at-home orders were introduced in late June, and a significant proportion of those losses were in the retail industry.”

Updated at 2.49pm AEST on 27 August 2021.

ACT to remain in lockdown but click & collect services to restart from midnight

ACT to remain in lockdown but click & collect services to restart from midnight

Small retailers in the Australian Capital Territory will be permitted to operate local delivery and click & collect services from midnight tonight, but the Territory will remain in lockdown after 21 new locally acquired COVID-19 cases were reported.

The ACT’s Chief Minister Andrew Barr outlined the changes for small retailers, which will be in place until at least Thursday, 2 September.

The new public health directions will allow small retail businesses to have a maximum of two people at the premises to operate local contactless delivery services or a click & collect service.

To counterbalance this, some of the large essential businesses will also be required to move to a similar contactless delivery or click & collect service, including hardware, pet supply and office supply stores.

“These stores will of course remain open for Canberrans to access the essential items they need, but that access will be via contactless means,” Barr said.

“These small amendments to the public health directions allow a small amount of additional activity at a small business level that counterbalance that with addressing what has been a major issue of the most checked-in places in Canberra in the last two weeks.”

Barr also mentioned the ACT Government has been engaging with the construction industry to develop strict COVID-safe arrangements to enable a staged reopening of the sector from 3 September.

“Subject to the public health situation not deteriorating over the next week, the Government is targeting a gradual re-commencement of construction from Friday, the third of September,” Barr said.

“This gradual recommencement would start with civil construction, new roads and suburban infrastructure for example. It would also include the manufacturing, fabrication, testing and equipment supply that will enable construction projects to recommence.”

Of the ACT’s 21 new COVID-19 cases, 15 are linked to known outbreaks and six are still under investigation.

11 people are currently hospitalised with COVID-19, and one person remains in intensive care in a critical condition.

Updated at 12.11pm AEST on 27 August 2021.

"Dancing is back": QLD to lift restrictions today

"Dancing is back": QLD to lift restrictions today

After 20 days of no known COVID-19 cases active in the community, Queenslanders will have more freedoms from 4pm today including 100 per cent capacity at stadiums, permission to dance, and relaxed density limits of one person per two square metres at hospitality venues.

There are now just 30 active cases in the Sunshine State, where 48.25 per cent of eligible people have received their first vaccine dose and 29.45 per cent have had two doses.  This compares to 62 per cent of the population having received their first jab in locked-down NSW.

QLD Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said people would be allowed to have up to 100 visitors in their homes, and 200 people would be able to attend weddings or funerals.

"For the young people, dancing is back," she said, although dancing will be allowed for all ages.

"Stadiums can have 100 per cent capacity, but patrons must wear a mask going in. They must wear a mask seated unless they're having a drink or they're eating at their seat.

"Indoor events like theatres, university lectures, can have 100 per cent capacity, and of course community sport is well and truly back."

However, the Premier noted masks would still be really important.

"Of course, if you're outside that's not a problem, but of course going into cafes and restaurants you need to wear your mask. You must also check in," she said.

"Our high school students will also still need to wear these masks, but what I'm going to do is we will review these mask requirements every two weeks.

"This is an added protection for us. I really want to make sure that we're doing everything we can in case we do get that outbreak. We do know it's on our doorstep in New South Wales, that there are still flights that come in."

Deputy Premier Steven Miles also revealed encouraging signs towards improving the lot of QLD-NSW border communities whose lives have been upended by the limits on movement.

"We do though acknowledge that the border restrictions have an impact - a disproportionate impact - on those that live on the border," he said.

"I'm really pleased to report that we've had an approach from the Deputy Premier of NSW to work with them to collaborate on border arrangements so that we can reduce the impacts of them on their community.

"You'll recall that not long ago the Premier wrote to the Premier of NSW and asked for that collaboration. At that stage it was declined, however we certainly welcome this change of heart."

He said both governments would work together to to put in place whatever measures they can to keep the border safe but also minimise impacts to the extent that it is possible.

Deputy Premier Miles also welcomed the news that the Commonwealth Government has appointed a contractor to construct its national quarantine facility at Pinkenba.

"This is welcome progress and we certainly look forward to them finally constructing this facility," he said.

Updated at 12:03pm AEST on 27 August 2021.

 

Pfizer bookings for children aged 12 to 15 opening from 13 September

Pfizer bookings for children aged 12 to 15 opening from 13 September

Following updated advice from Australia’s immunisation advisory group, the Federal Government has announced children aged 12 to 15 will be able to book an appointment for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine from 13 September.

The Pfizer vaccine is currently the only jab recommended for use in Australia for this age group by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) after it expanded its advice this morning.

In a statement released today, ATAGI says the benefits of offering COVID-19 vaccination to all younger adolescents outweigh the known or potential risks of the jab.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison today said ATAGI’s latest advice gives the Government confidence to expand vaccine eligibility from 13 September.

“We’ll allow that to commence, and then on the 13th of September people will be able to make those bookings,” Morrison said.

“Principally I’ll see that happening through the GP network, and that provides the opportunity for family vaccinations - for the family to go along together across those age groups.”

ATAGI recently recommended vaccination using Pfizer for adolescents with specific medical conditions, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and those in remote communities, but today’s decision expands it to the balance of the population.

The Group says there is high-level evidence indicating strong immunogenicity and vaccine efficacy against symptomatic COVID-19 in adolescents from clinical trials of Comirnaty (Pfizer) and Spikevax (Moderna).

In results of an ongoing phase III Comirnaty trial with over 2,000 participants aged 12-15 years, vaccine efficacy against symptomatic COVID-19 from seven days after dose two was 100 per cent.

After dose one and before dose two, there were three COVID-19 cases (within 11 days after dose one) among Comirnaty recipients compared with 12 cases in the placebo group resulting in vaccine efficacy of 75 per cent.

“Vaccinating adolescents is anticipated to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infections, hospitalisations and deaths due to COVID-19, and other complications such as Paediatric Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome Temporally associated with SARS-CoV-2 (PIMS-TS) and long COVID-19,” ATAGI said.

“Although the severity of COVID-19 is less in adolescents (with approximately 4-7 per cent experiencing severe outcomes) compared with adults, adolescents appear to have infection rates similar to adults.

“The SARS-CoV-2 Delta Variant of Concern (VoC) has demonstrated increased transmissibility across all age groups and is associated with an increased risk of developing COVID-19 for adolescents in the absence of vaccination. Potential new VoCs may also pose a greater risk to non-immune children and adolescents in the future.”

In addition, ATAGI anticipates vaccinating adolescents will contribute to a reduction in SARS-CoV-2 transmission in the broader population.

“Once a large proportion of adults are vaccinated, susceptible children and adolescents will account for a higher proportion of continued infections in the community contributing to transmission. This has been seen in countries such as Israel and the USA,” ATAGI said.

“While there is some uncertainty regarding the relative contribution by adolescents to the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in the wider community, studies published in 2020 exploring SARS-CoV-2 spread within family clusters have reported children as index cases in about 4 per cent of households.”

ATAGI says other benefits of vaccination include reduced disruption to education by preventing transmission and outbreaks in schools, as well as less disruption to sports and other organised activities.

NSW reports 882 new COVID-19 cases

The announcement comes as NSW today reported 882 new locally acquired COVID-19 cases, of which more than 80 per cent were in Western and Southwestern Sydney.

Two more deaths were also recorded - both men with underlying health conditions who had received one vaccine dose.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian welcomed the announcement from the Federal Government about expanding Pfizer eligibility to 12 to 15-year-olds.

"We're really looking forward to transitioning children back to face-to-face learning,” Berejiklian said.

“We know what a difficult time this is, and we thank everybody - all the community groups and stakeholders who have been working with Education and Health to ensure the safety of our students, teaching staff and parents during this difficult time.”

NSW Health authorities also reported there are more cases than they would like to see in the LGA of Camden and the rest of the Penrith LGA where tighter restrictions are not already in place.

"There could be a chance that those areas could be designated local government areas of concern," Berejiklian said.

Currently there are 12 Penrith suburbs - Caddens, Claremont Meadows, Colyton, Erskine Park, Kemps Creek, Kingswood, Mount Vernon, North St Marys, Orchard Hills, Oxley Park, St Clair, and St Mary’s - that are listed as areas of concern.

“We're just asking everybody in Camden, and the rest of the Penrith local government area just to be extra careful, just to continue to do the right thing, make sure you come forward and get vaccinated to ensure that you can continue the way you are in the foreseeable future," the Premier said.

Meanwhile, Victoria today reported 79 new locally acquired COVID-19 cases, of which at least 19 were in quarantine during their infectious period.

The State also announced today that it will implement a new departing hotel quarantine permit for those who completed hotel quarantine interstate, with a requirement they be tested on day 17 and a strong recommendation for testing on day 21.

Updated at 11.22am AEST on 27 August 2021.

Regional NSW lockdown extended until 10 September as state records 1,029 COVID-19 cases

Regional NSW lockdown extended until 10 September as state records 1,029 COVID-19 cases

Regional New South Wales will remain in lockdown until at least Friday, 10 September due to concerns over the continuous rise of case numbers in the state's west.

However, those living in NSW can look forward to restrictions being eased slightly from the middle of next month as the state’s vaccine roll-out has been progressing well under the circumstances.

Today's announcements from Premier Gladys Berejiklian comes after NSW reported a new daily record of case numbers today, with 1,029 infections reported in the 24 hours to 8pm last night.

Three more deaths were also reported, bringing the number of deaths related to this latest COVID-19 outbreak in the state to 79.

Deputy Premier John Barilaro said the Western Health District was on a “knife’s edge” today, with the region reporting 35 new cases.

“We’re sitting on a knife’s edge - it’s a tinder box ready to explode,” the Deputy Premier said.

“I do apologise for those communities that don’t have any cases today, but I put it this way: the reason you may not have cases is because of the restrictions in place.

“Now is the time to stay united.”

Barilaro said he was particularly concerned about a case in the country town of Parkes.

“The case in Parkes concerns us because we can’t identify the source,” Barilaro said.

NSW Health's ongoing sewage surveillance program has recently detected fragments of the virus that causes COVID-19 at the sewage treatment plants in Tamworth, Merimbula, Cooma and Brewarrina. These detections are a concern as there are no known cases in these areas.

Premier offers a slice of hope for vaccinated population

After NSW achieved 6 million jabs earlier this week, the state’s Premier has offered vaccinated citizens a sign of things to come with restrictions to ease somewhat in mid-September.

From 13 September, households and families in the local government areas (LGAs) of concern will be permitted to leave the house for an hour of recreation, on top of the hour of exercise already permitted.

Families will be allowed to sit in the park for one hour, so long as all of the adults in the group are vaccinated.

Similarly, in areas outside of the LGAs of concern (the rest of Greater Sydney and regional NSW), five people will be allowed to gather outdoors as long as all are vaccinated from 13 September.

The changes to the lockdown restrictions will not impact any of the other rules currently in place, meaning the 5km radius travel rule still applies.

“We know that people coming together is what people miss the most,” Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.

“And whilst there are various options that we looked at, that was the option that met the mental health needs and wellbeing of our community but also provided the lowest risk setting.”

Berejiklian reiterated that once the state hits the 70 per cent mark of its population fully vaccinated, which could come as early as mid-October, she will be in a position to ease restrictions further.

“We’re asking industry to dust off their COVID safety plans, get the QR codes in check,” she said.

“We’re also working on an app in New South Wales that will allow you to sign into the venue but also have proof of your vax all in one, to make it as simple as possible.”

Updated at 11.44am AEST on 26 August 2021.

QLD to go ahead with Toowoomba quarantine facility modelled on Howard Springs

QLD to go ahead with Toowoomba quarantine facility modelled on Howard Springs

The Queensland Government has today announced a partnership with the Wagner Corporation to build a 1,000-bed quarantine facility adjacent to the Toowoomba airport, with expectations 500 beds should be operational by the end of 2021.

Modelled on the Howard Springs facility in the Northern Territory, the cabin-style accommodation is aimed at alleviating a hotel quarantine system that is currently stretched and not fit-for-purpose.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says the facility in Wellcamp, Toowoomba will have 1,000-bed capacity by the first quarter of next year.

"This is a commitment by the Wagner family working with the Queensland Government to say to the people of Queensland 'we want to keep you safe', and the best way to keep you safe and to keep Delta out of Queensland is to build, as quickly as possible, a regional quarantine facility," she says.

The announcement follows the news last week that the Federal Government would proceed with a purpose-built quarantine facility in the Brisbane suburb of Pinkenba, which is expected to be ready by mid-2022.

"The Queensland Government will continue to work collaboratively to progress the Commonwealth’s Pinkenba facility, but we need more options to get returning Australians home safer," says Deputy Premier Steven Miles.

"Following countless leaks from the nation’s hotel quarantine system, it’s clear there is an urgent need for alternative facilities in Australia.

Miles highlights the facility will be built at a greenfield location that is ready for construction.

"In fact early works are underway as we speak, and it is adjacent to an airport. It will be the first facility after Howard springs to be completed and be accommodating returning travelers," Miles says.

He says there will be a mix of single, double and family accommodation in cabin style with balconies, and importantly, no hallways adjoining rooms which have been vectors for virus transmission.

"COVID-positive patients who require hospital care will be treated in one of the five COVID hospitals that we currently use that we currently transfer people to," Miles says.

"By funding this facility ourselves and building this facility ourselves, we can ensure that it replaces current hotel quarantine usage that will allow us to take travellers who are currently within the cap and put them into this facility, reducing the need for hotel quarantine."

The facility will be built by the Wagner Corporation with accommodation modules to be manufactured in Queensland. Once the facility is up and running it will be operated by the state government, which has a one-year lease with options that can be extended to two or three years.

"When you consider that the last lockdown alone cost more than $1 billion in economic impact and compensation, you can see just what fantastic value it will be if we can avoid just one lockdown, let alone  more with this new facility," Miles says.

"The work has started now. It's time for the politics to end, the facility will be built."

John Wagner has thanked the Queensland Government for having the confidence in his family to go ahead with the facility, and for keeping the state's residents safe.

"As the landlord of this facility to the Queensland Government we are working through the final design criteria to make sure we have the best fit-for-purpose regional  accommodation facility for return travellers that there is in country or in fact the world," he says.

"This is going to be a great economic boost for Toowoomba. It will create a lot of local employment. Our local producers, just by the fact that we have to produce 3,000 meals a day, will really benefit from this and it will help get Queensland out of COVID and on the road to economic recovery, which we desperately need."

Health Minister Yvette D'Ath also points to the ongoing need for quarantine measures even once vaccine targets have been reached, in line with the Doherty Institute's findings that have formed the basis for discussions around the loosening of measures.

"Their own report says we will need to keep some public health measures in place - test, trace, isolate and quarantine. So even with high vaccination rates, we must continue these public health measures, which means we will continue to need quarantine facilities and we will need to make sure they're purpose built and they're keeping our community safe."

Updated at 11am AEST on 26 August 2021.

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