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Covid-19 News Updates
A COVID-19 vaccine developed by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has been provisionally approved for use in Australia today by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
According to the TGA, the vaccine meets the high safety, efficacy and quality standards required for use in Australia.
The approval is for individuals 16 years of age and older, and two doses will be required - at least 21 days apart.
As such, the Australian Government will roll-out the vaccine into the community in stages - however, according to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the timeline has been slightly delayed.
Because of manufacturing and production challenges the roll-out will commence in late-February, rather than mid-month as previously advised.
If there are delays in shipping or production, the possibility remains that commencement could be in early March, however guidance remains for late-February.
Nevertheless, the Government hopes to vaccine around 80,000 people per month.
The vaccine was approved through the regular channels, and not on an emergency basis as done in countries like the UK and the US where COVID-19 is still running rampant through communities.
However, it has received "provisional" approval by the TGA, meaning it is valid for two years and subject to strict conditions such as the requirement that Pfizer continue to provide information to the approvals body on longer term efficacy and safety from ongoing trials and post-market assessment.
"Australians can be confident that the TGA's review process of this vaccine was rigorous and of the highest standard," the TGA said.
"The TGA will continue to actively monitor the safety of the Pfizer vaccine both in Australia and overseas and will not hesitate to take action if safety concerns are identified."
PM Morrison said the TGA approval was an important step in the fight against COVID-19.
"I welcome the TGA's approval of the Pfizer vaccine, with our own Australian experts finding it is safe, effective and of a high standard," the Prime Minister said.
"Australians should take confidence in the thorough and careful approach taken by our world-class safety regulator.
"Our priority has always been to keep Australians safe and protect lives and livelihoods. Today's approval is another big step forward for our community, particularly in the protection of our most vulnerable people."
News of the vaccine approval comes as Australia goes seven consecutive days of no community transmission of COVID-19.
There are currently no Australians on ventilation or in the ICU because of COVID-19 complications.
However, the situation is not the same overseas, with more than 25 million active cases in the world.
Just yesterday the US confirmed 173,067 new cases of COVID-19 and more than 3,000 deaths.
Meanwhile, 61,121 cases were confirmed in the UK yesterday, and 33,552 in Brazil.
In total there have been more than 99 million people infected with the coronavirus globally and more than 2 million have died.
Updated at 10.02am AEDT on 25 January 2021.
Travellers from Brisbane and regional New South Wales will be able to freely travel into Victoria from tomorrow when the state eases COVID-19 restrictions further.
In addition, Victorians will be able to enjoy larger home gatherings of 30 people from midnight tonight, following reduced exposure risk and continued low community transmission in the state.
As such, Premier Daniel Andrews and Minster for Health Martin Foley will declare Greater Brisbane and regional NSW as 'green zones', meaning travellers do not have to isolate for 14-days on arrival.
The Greater Sydney Local Government Areas (LGAs) of Blacktown City, Burwood, Canada Bay City, Canterbury-Bankstown, Fairfield City, Inner West, Liverpool City, Parramatta City and Strathfield Municipality will join the rest of Greater Sydney, Wollongong and Blue Mountains as orange zones.
For now, Cumberland LGA will remain a red zone. People from Cumberland are still not permitted to travel to Victoria without an exemption, exception or essential worker permit.
Anyone who is now in an orange zone and meets the permit criteria can now apply for an Orange Zone Permit from 6:00pm tonight.
Travel from an orange zone requires people to self-isolate, get tested within 72 hours of arrival and remain in quarantine until they receive a negative result.
Travel from a green zone requires people to watch and get tested if they have any symptoms at all.
"Victorians have done an incredible job getting tested and we're happy to be able make these changes to private gatherings in time for a public holiday so families can continue to enjoy a COVIDSafe Summer," Premier Andrews said.
Victoria reported no locally acquired cases of COVID-19 today, and one positive case in hotel quarantine, from 16,465 tests.
Globally there are now 98,085,548 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and more 2 million people have died from the coronavirus.
Updated at 10.48am AEDT on 22 January 2021.
Restrictions imposed in response to the UK COVID-19 strain cluster in Greater Brisbane will be lifted from 1am tomorrow, 14 days after the last connected case entered hotel quarantine.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said there were now just 23 active cases in the state, and the run of zero local transmission meant the local government areas (LGAs) of Brisbane, Logan, Ipswich, Redlands and Moreton Bay could return to December roadmap conditions.
This means up to 50 people will be allowed to gather in private homes, 100 people in public spaces, and 200 at weddings or funerals, while hospitality venues such as pubs, cafes and restaurants will go back to the one patron per 2 square metre rule.
"But I also remind everyone, don't forget to continue to leave your contact details at these venues - it is absolutely critical that you do that," the Premier said.
"And of course, all guests can dance indoors and outdoors," she said, adding people will also be allowed to stand and drink on licensed premises.
Premier Palaszczuk commended people in all the affected areas for doing a terrific job.
"Because of that it means that the masks also can come off, except of course where National Cabinet has mandated that the masks must be worn in our airports and on planes," she said.
"Also too, we're asking people that you are encouraged, if you are going into a crowded area on public transport, or in a shopping centre and you can't socially distance and you feel uncomfortable, just put a mask on - you can do that, that's entirely up to you."
She described Brisbane Australia's first battleground for the new strain of the virus.
"A short, sharp shutdown was successful in keeping the movement of people and the virus to a minimum," she said.
"We followed that with the mandatory use of masks in crowded places for the 14 day incubation period."The care Queenslanders have for each other is as plain as the masks we saw on thousands of faces."
QLD Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young highlighted the "enormous" amount of testing that had been done.
"We've not found other cases, so that is really good," she said.
"We did see those three initial cases all transmit to their closest contacts, so that gives evidence that this is a particularly infectious strain."
Dr Young also applauded the cleaner at the start of the outbreak who came forward to alert authorities of her conditions, and the ongoing support she provided to contact tracers.
Updated at 9:25am AEST on 21 January 2021.
Brisbane-based medical technology company Ellume has sent its first shipment of rapid COVID-19 home testing kits to the USA today, with plans to send 20 million tests to the country by the end of 2021.
The exports to the USA - where to date there have been more than 410,000 deaths from the virus and almost 25 million reported cases - are part of a US National Institutes of Health (NIH) initiative to scale up production with US$30 million (AUD$40 million) in support of the Australian company.
Founded by 2020 Brisbane Young Entrepreneur of the Year Dr Sean Parsons, Ellume harnessed its years of development in fluorescent immunoassay technology to find a fast detection solution for COVID-19.
In December its efforts were rewarded with US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for the testing kits.
Deputy Premier and Minister for State Development, Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning Steven Miles visited Ellume's Richlands facility to congratulate the company on its achievement.
"Ellume is another successful Queensland manufacturer rolling up its sleeves to fight the global pandemic and employing hundreds of Queenslanders to do so," Minister Miles said.
"We have the best manufacturers in Queensland, and we will always back them, as we continue our economic recovery and create jobs."
Miles confirmed the Queensland Government was providing funding to the company from the Essential Goods and Supply Chain program, announced in May 2020.
"This funding will allow Ellume to increase manufacturing of its suite of rapid testing kits at its new facility in Richlands," he said.
"The company's 300-plus employees currently working at the Richlands production laboratory are currently scaling up to manufacture more than 200,000 testing kits a day, and at full capacity, the facility will be capable of producing 10 million tests a month."
Ellume CEO Sean Parsons said the funding would allow the company to install state-of-the-art automated production lines to assemble its suite of rapid COVID-19 tests for export.
"The funds from the State Government will greatly assist in upscaling manufacturing to meet the growing demand for Ellume's products, providing greater supply security," Dr Parsons said.
"This is world-leading and life-saving diagnostic testing technology, created and manufactured right here in Queensland."
Miles said Queensland was in an enviable position thanks to the hard work of all Queenslanders.
"Thanks to our world-best health response, Queensland has avoided the significant case numbers experienced overseas," Miles said.
"It is a testament to our hard work and wonderful healthcare system that we can manufacture at-home COVID-19 tests right here in Queensland and export them overseas to countries who need it."
The company has plans to expand availability of its tests into Europe later this year, subject to securing the required approvals.
Updated at 3:46pm AEST on 20 January 2021.
After a third consecutive day of no new locally transmitted cases of COVID-19 in New South Wales, Premier Gladys Berejiklian believes the state could soon be on track to having similar conditions to those that were in place before the Northern Beaches outbreak in December.
At a press conference in the Mid North Coast, the Premier thanked the 20,000 people who got tested in the 24 hours to 8pm yesterday, which was almost double the previous day's figure.
"We had a good health advice this morning and consultation with colleagues, and the best health advice is that we should wait another week before we ease restrictions," Berejiklian said.
"But I do want to assure the community that the government's intention is to get as close to pre-Avalon conditions as possible next week," she said, clarifying this did not depend on having zero new cases every day, but numbers must remain low with good testing rates.
However, she emphasised people needed to go back to work in a COVID-safe way, with the right settings in place in light of the more contagious strains of the virus.
"In particular I'd like to highlight masks for example on public transport might be something that stays in place indefinitely, but for the vast majority of restrictions, we would like to see things go back to pre-Avalon as close as possible next week.
"Together we've achieved the results we have and relief is around the corner. Now, if we move too quickly in easing all these restrictions, that could cause a flare-up we don't want.
"More importantly, we don't want to be in a position where we're announcing things ad hoc."
Elsewhere, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said her state was "100 per cent on track" to lifting its restrictions - such as gathering limits, numbers of patrons per square metre and mask wearing requirements - if everything goes well in the next 24 hours. But her comments did not relate to border restrictions for visitors from hotspot areas, which remain in force.
Updated at 11:30am AEDT on 20 January 2021.
The majority of Sydneysiders as well as residents from the Blue Mountains and Wollongong will soon be able to enter Victoria under a relaxation of rules announced today by the state's Premier Daniel Andrews.
From 6pm tonight only the following 10 local government areas (LGAs) in NSW, all in western Sydney, will be classified by the Victorian authorities as red zones, meaning if someone has visited these areas in the past 14 days they will not be allowed in without an exemption:
- Blacktown City
- Canada Bay City
- Fairfield City
- Inner West
- Liverpool City
- Parramatta City
"What the detailed and extensive evaluation of the epidemiological conditions in Greater Sydney, indeed in New South Wales, is that transmission and cases are pretty much confined to those local government areas," Premier Andrews said.
"We have not seen cases and spread or contacts that are in isolation in those other 25 local government areas," he said, in reference to the Sydney LGAs that were relaxed from red to orange under the state's 'traffic light' system, whereby visitors must apply for a permit.
"Based on the same detailed analysis, from 6pm tonight the Blue Mountains and Wollongong will also be downgraded from red to orange."
The Premier also confirmed 16 LGAs in NSW alongside the Victorian border will be downgraded at the same time from orange to green.
"What that will mean, not so much for local residents because they're already in a bubble, but for visitors to those communities if you travel into NSW you will need a permit to come back but you will not have to isolate and get a negative test.
"That's a consequence of having seen no cases there for a sufficient period of time.
"All in all this is a very good day when you look at 50 per cent of office workers in the private sector and 20 per cent in the public sector going back to work today, reverting to the mask rules that we had in place in Christmas time as opposed to New Year," he said, adding there had now been 12 days with zero cases and strong testing numbers.
Updated at 2pm AEDT on 18 January 2021.
Victoria had the worst economy in Australia in 2020 "by far" according to Deloitte Access Economics, but is forecast to record the country's fastest economic growth in 2021 at 5.4 per cent.
Deloitte's latest Business Outlook Report says it would be a "mug's game" to claim different approaches to COVID-19 from Australian states were better or worse than others, with every state and territory well positioned to continue recovering in 2021.
"Victoria chose the hammer over the dance. The hammer worked, but the risk was the harder hit to its economy would delay recovery," the report said.
"So it's superb news that Victoria's recovery to date has been remarkable.
"And NSW has danced divinely, successfully using its tracing capabilities as a shield of steel, and so allowing it to outperform the national economy."
In terms of forecast growth rates, Victoria is ahead of Queensland (4.6 per cent), New South Wales (4.4 per cent), Western Australia (3.5 per cent), South Australia (3.4 per cent), Tasmania (3.4 per cent), the Northern Territory (3.2 per cent) and the Australian Capital Territory (2.4 per cent).
"Australia is one of just five nations - Taiwan, China, Vietnam, New Zealand and ourselves - who enter 2021 very well-placed," the Deloitte report exclaimed.
COVID numbers are very low, the vaccine news is excellent, confidence is rebounding, Victoria is catching up to the recovery already underway elsewhere, there are heartening developments in job markets, and China's trade war with Australia has so far at least actually added to national income rather than hurt it."
Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas described the assessment as welcome news, supporting recent economic indicators showing Victoria's economy is rebounding, such as strong growth in employment and retail spending.
Victoria's labour market has bounced back faster than Deloitte first anticipated. Employment increased by 4.8 per cent in the two months to November.
The latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) also shows positive signs of recovery, with more than 150,000 Victorians finding work in the last quarter of 2020. According to the data, employment increased by 74,000 in November on the back of an increase of 82,000 in October.
The forecast of a strong recovery after the pandemic restrictions follows the broad range of stimulus measures outlined in November's state budget.
"The early positive results of the hard work of all Victorians in contributing to our economic recovery are encouraging - and shows our strategy is working," says Pallas.
"It shows how important our strategy of driving case numbers down and opening up has been to getting our economy going again.
"Jobs will remain front and centre in our recovery plans as we continue to invest in employment support across Victoria, together with our record pipeline of infrastructure projects."
Melbourne workers keen to return to city workplaces
The recovery forecast coincides with a Roy Morgan survey of more than 500 workers in the City of Melbourne, which found the majority want to get back to their workplaces so long as COVID-safe plans are in place.
"Almost 60 per cent of people surveyed wanted to return for improved health and wellbeing, and 53 per cent were motivated by the improved productivity of the office environment," says City of Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp.
"Our message to workers returning to the city is that we've missed you, welcome back.
"We want Melbourne businesses to thrive again because they are a vital part of what makes our city great."
The Lord Mayor says the research shows while many people have embraced greater flexibility and convenience working from home, they don't want to live at work.
"More than 90 per cent of people were willing to return to the office," she says.
"The research shows people miss the benefits of working face-to-face, including the increased collaboration and socialising, along with the atmosphere and buzz of the city."
The Lord Mayor adds business leaders have a critical role to play in bringing people safely back to the workplace, with more than half those interviewed indicating their decision to return was largely influenced by their direct manager or CEO.
"We welcome the Victorian Government's decisions to continue the staged return to workplaces and, when the time is right, the City of Melbourne is committed to having 100 per cent of our workforce return safely," she says.
"We encourage employers across the city to do the same as restrictions ease.
"We are working with the Victorian Government and the business community to ensure workers feel confident they are returning to a COVID-safe environment."
The surveys took place between Friday 27 November and Thursday 10 December 2020, with the following key findings:
- Almost two thirds of respondents were either willing to return to their central Melbourne workplaces or had already returned by late November and December, while 44 per cent were willing to return and 15 per cent had already returned.
- More than 90 per cent of workers willing to return to work.
- COVID-safe procedures and adherence to measures was the most commonly cited factor leading to people feeling safe to return to work.
- 64 per cent of respondents said the city atmosphere was a drawcard and motivated them to return, including the opportunity to go to cafes, support local businesses and enjoy the buzz of the city.
City Activation portfolio chair, Councillor Roshena Campbell, says prior to COVID-19 city workers made up almost half of the city's average daily population, so their safe return is critical to keeping city businesses viable and Melburnians in jobs.
"Melbourne faces a new challenge of trying to create economic growth after the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic," says Cr Campbell.
"Having office workers begin to return today is an important step forward for city businesses that have recently endured some of the toughest trading conditions in generations.
"We're already seeing more people return to Melbourne each day, enjoying the restaurants, shops, bars and art galleries that make Melbourne the engine room of Victoria's economy."
Updated at 10:52am AEDT on 18 January 2021.
Following yesterday's proposal from Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk to move quarantine services to regional mining camps, New South Wales Health Minister Brad Hazzard has rejected a push to do the same in his state.
Speaking to ABC News Hazzard said NSW's current system is working well and is able to cope with the large number of returning overseas travellers the state receives every day.
"New South Wales has taken by far the majority of people coming back into our hotel quarantine system," Hazzard told ABC News.
"So it will be very challenging to find a regional area that can cope with that.
"Secondly, our public health officialsindicated that [regional quarantine] would create further risks for us, particularly in transporting people on busses."
Despite his rejection of the push for regional quarantine in NSW, Hazzard welcomes the proposal made by other states.
"We're not saying to Queensland don't do it that's their call, we're not saying to WA don't do it that's their call, they have mining camps and other areas that might work for them," Hazzard said.
"All of our systems around the country are based on people they're human systems, so it's a constant matter to try and find any little holes where there might be a hole.
"We've had over 115,000 people pass through the Sydney quarantine system, and I think we've maybe had three relatively small issued. So that's a very small number in a very, very big system."
NSW recorded zero new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 today for the second day in a row.
However, Premier Gladys Berejiklian was disappointed with the number of tests done yesterday, and has called upon those in the state to get testing numbers up so restrictions can be eased.
"I want to stress to the community that relief is on its way so long as we maintain low or zero numbers of cases on a daily basis and also so long as we get those testing rates high," Berejiklian said.
Updated at 12.41pm AEDT on 15 January.
Mask rules and capacity limits in office spaces will ease for Victorians on Sunday evening as the state goes more than a week without new local cases of COVID-19.
According to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, the efforts of contact tracers to contain an outbreak of the coronavirus in the state mean he is comfortable to dial down restrictions.
As such, from 11.59pm AEDT on Sunday 17 January, masks will only need to be worn in "high-risk" environments like shopping centres, supermarkets, and on public transport.
Further, private sector business will be able to return to having 50 per cent of the workforce in the office, while the public sector will move up to 25 per cent of the workforce present.
"To produce eight days of zero is something that all of our public health team can be proud of," Andrews said.
"It doesn't mean that we should ever take for granted the precious things we've built. That's why we've had to make very difficult decisions.
"I think pausing for the week was the right choice to make, given there was some uncertainty."
The Premier also confirmed there are 18 people in VIC who stayed at Brisbane's Grand Chancellor Hotel during the period when a cleaner at the hotel contracted the UK variant of COVID-19.
As such, VIC health officials have asked those 18 people to either isolate and get tested, or just get tested, depending on when they were staying at the hotel.
"There's not one blanket answer, it depends on when they were in hotel quarantine," Andrews said.
"Because of the infections that have already been recorded in hotel quarantine between staff and residents...circumstances are very much based on each person's travel movements and when they were in hotel quarantine."
Updated at 12.29pm AEDT on 14 January 2021.
Those returning to Queensland from overseas could be completing their mandatory fortnight of quarantine in the state's mining camps if a proposal from the Premier is approved.
Speaking at a press conference this morning, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said she was looking at using QLD mining camps to accommodate international travellers instead of CBD hotels.
At this stage the idea is simply a proposal, but the Premier will be raising the concept at the next National Cabinet meeting to seek approval from the Federal Government.
According to Palaszczuk, accommodation at mining camps is ideal for quarantine purposes: the facilities are top quality, complete with balconies for fresh air, and staff can stay on site.
The proposal follows the latest case of community transmission in Queensland, contracted at CBD-based Hotel Grand Chancellor by a cleaner of the quarantine facility.
That case, a positive infection of the UK variant of COVID-19, sent the city of Brisbane into a three-day lockdown last week.
The proposal mirrors the approach taken by the Northern Territory government where returning travellers are accommodated at the Howard Springs quarantine facility - a disused workers camp.
"With this new strain, we have to put all options on the table, and these are sensible, rational options," Palaszczuk said.
"Howard Springs works very well in the Northern Territory, and there's no reason why we couldn't do something similar here in Queensland.
"We are looking at alternative plans to hotel quarantine that is based right in the midst of the CBD where you have a whole lot of staff that come in from all around and you have people flying in and out of airports."
The announcement comes as QLD reported four new cases of COVID-19 today, all in hotel quarantine. None of the new cases were detected in Hotel Grand Chancellor.
Hotel Grand Chancellor public health alert issued in NSW
NSW Health has asked anyone who stayed at the Hotel Grand Chancellor in Brisbane since 30 December 2020, either as a returned traveller or as a staff member, to isolate for two weeks.
The alert comes after six cases of the UK variant of COVID-19 were linked to the hotel.
According to NSW Health the Queensland Government said there were people staying at the hotel who have since returned to NSW.
"NSW Health is working with Queensland Health to identify these people so our contact tracers can provide public health advice and updated information as it becomes available," NSW Health said.
"This variant is known to spread more easily from person to person than other strains of the COVID-19 virus."
Photo via AUSCO Modular
Updated at 10.57am AEDT on 14 January 2021.
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