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Covid-19 News Updates
With Queensland's health officials to lift a hotspot declaration for Greater Melbourne, the state will soon allow all travellers from the Victorian capital to enter without restrictions.
As such, from 1am on Saturday, 27 February, Queensland will reopen its border to all of Greater Melbourne, with travellers to no longer require a border pass to enter the state.
"It's great news for families and Victorian friends who can once again experience all that our great state has to offer," said Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.
Victoria once again recorded no new cases of COVID-19 today from 18,282 test results.
Updated at 12.04pm AEDT on 25 February 2021.
Melburnians will be free to travel into South Australia from 12.01am this Friday as state Premier Steven Marshall eases restrictions on venues to allow for dancing.
With Victoria yet again recording no new cases of COVID-19 today, the South Australian Transition Committee has made the decision to reopen borders to Melburnians from Friday.
As such, anyone from the Greater Melbourne area will be free to travel into SA without going into mandatory quarantine, nor will they need to be tested on arrival.
"I know this is going to be a huge relief," Marshall said.
"Victoria has got on top of their outbreak, we're grateful for the work that they have done, and now we're looking forward to welcoming people from across that border."
SA has also eased some restrictions on nightlife venues to allow the state's partygoers to dance while drinking.
For venues with a capacity of 200 people or less, dancing while drinking is now permitted as long as other COVID-19 requirements are abided by, including mandatory QR code scanning, and the presence of a COVID marshal.
For venues with a capacity of 200 to 1,000 people, dancefloors will be permitted but limited to 50 people at a time.
Venues with a capacity of more than 1,000 people will only be allowed to have dancing if an approved COVID safety plan is in place.
"I know a lot of people are going to be relieved that dancing is allowed back in South Australia," Marshall said.
"We're going to be very carefully monitoring how this goes and hopefully it goes extremely well.
"As the vaccination program rolls out there may be a further easing of restrictions down the track."
NSW eases gathering restrictions
From 12.01am on Friday, February 26, some restrictions in New South Wales will ease to hold larger gatherings at homes and allow dancing at weddings.
The new rules will allow for:
- 50 visitors allowed in homes
- 30 people allowed to dance at weddings, with guests permitted to rotate on and off the dance floor
- 50 people allowed in gym classes subject to the 4 square metre rule
- 30 people allowed to sing indoors
- 100 per cent capacity at cinemas
Updated at 12.32pm AEDT on 24 February 2021.
Australian pharmaceutical company Starpharma's (ASX: SPL) anti-COVID nasal spray VIRALEZE has been approved for sale in Europe and the UK today, and is now on track to launch next month.
Shares in SPL have spiked on the announcement, up more than 9 per cent in early trade.
Starpharma hopes the launch of the product will be a major step forward in the fight against COVID-19, with the product shown to be virucidal rapidly inactivating more than 99.9 per cent of SARS-CoV-2 within 60 seconds.
"Starpharma is pleased to have successfully developed a product that has the potential to assist with the fight against the global COVID-19 pandemic," says Starpharma CEO Dr Jackie Fairley.
"We have already undertaken substantial launch preparations, including manufacturing in Europe, to ensure VIRALEZE is available to consumers and businesses as early as possible.
"The spray is easy to use and convenient and works rapidly, without being absorbed into the bloodstream. If you are about to walk into the supermarket, you would use it. The same is true for public transport, elevators, planes, bars and restaurants."
VIRALEZE has been shown to be effective against other respiratory viruses, including influenza, RSV, and other cold-causing coronaviruses in laboratory studies.
The product is expected to be available for sale online, direct to European and UK consumers next month.
A roll-out of VIRALEZE to European pharmacies is planned, and in parallel, Starpharma is undertaking discussions with B2B consumers, as well as with potential commercial partners seeking sales and marketing rights.
"Starpharma is focussed on making the product as widely available as possible, with further registrations and roll-out planned," says Fairley.
"We know from consumer research conducted with the Boston Consulting Group, that VIRALEZE has strong appeal for European customers across all age groups."
Despite a widespread rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine worldwide, the number of new infections continues to grow in the countries Starpharma is targeting.
Yesterday the UK reported more than 9,000 new infections of the coronavirus and 214 deaths.
France is currently in the midst of a surge in cases, with more than 22,000 new cases detected yesterday, and thousands of cases were reported in countries like Spain, Italy, and Germany.
Shares in SPL are up 9.55 per cent to $2.41 per share at 10.17am AEDT.Never miss a news update, subscribe here. Follow us on LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter.
Business News Australia
Three new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 have been detected in Victoria overnight, but they pose no threat to the public.
According to Victoria's health minister Martin Foley, the three new cases are from the same family and were previous residents of the Melbourne Airport Holiday Inn where the COVID-19 outbreak occurred.
"One member of the household, who was not at the Holiday Inn, was considered a secondary contact and had been isolating from other family members," Foley said.
"All three had negative tests - multiple negative tests between the 10th and 12th of February. All have been quarantining at home during their infectious periods."
These latest cases come just after Victoria completed its five-day circuit-breaker lockdown to quash an outbreak of the highly infectious UK variant of COVID-19.
The entire state left lockdown at midnight on Wednesday, but some restrictions remain limiting gathering numbers at homes and imposing caps on hospitality venues.
Masks are also mandatory in Victoria indoors.
Overseas the COVID-19 situation is different; global deaths from the coronavirus are approaching 2.5 million. In the US alone, deaths have surpassed 500,000.
Australia is set to commence the rollout of a COVID-19 vaccination program next week, with the most vulnerable Australians and frontline health workers to be vaccinated first.
Updated at 11.22am AEDT on 19 February 2021.
New data from Australia's largest banks shows 91 per cent of deferred loans have resumed repayment, with just 5 per cent of deferred business loans yet to resume.
From the four major banks, 78,556 loans remain deferred. 60,562 are housing loans, 11,263 are business loans, and the remainder are a mixture of personal loans and credit cards.
According to the Australian Banking Association (ABA) these figures demonstrate an "encouraging sign of recovery", but the organisation notes there are still many Australians who need further support as the pandemic continues.
"Every customer is different. Banks are taking a careful and measured approach that takes into account every customer's individual circumstances", ABA CEO Anna Bligh said.
The ABA says banks will be working directly with those in hardship on an individual basis as part of the next phase of pandemic support to find a tailored solution.
As part of this support, banks have developed an industry-wide, consistent approach to hardship and a new online tool to guide customers in financial hardship and improve transparency.
"This is about ensuring that no customer is left in the dark as we emerge from the pandemic. It represents a compact between banks and their customers as we navigate the uncertain path ahead," Bligh said.
"Customers can expect a thoughtful and compassionate approach, with clear and transparent explanations, regardless of who they bank with. This step-by-step guide will help customers navigate the path out of the pandemic.
"Australian banks will continue to help customers and businesses turn the corner after the pandemic, while providing a fair and compassionate approach to those who can't get back on their feet."
Updated at 12.16pm AEDT on 18 February 2021.
With no new cases recorded in Victoria overnight, the state's Premier Daniel Andrews has announced the five-day "circuit-breaker" lockdown will end tonight.
As such, from 11.59pm AEDT today, most of the harsh restrictions will fall away with Victoria essentially returning to pre-lockdown rules.
Victorians will be allowed to leave the house for any reason and can travel anywhere they like within the state as the 5km bubble rule is removed.
However, masks will still be required to be worn indoors, and outdoors where physical distancing is not possible.
Households will be permitted to have five visitors at any one time, and schools will reopen tomorrow.
Public and private sector workers can return to the office with 50 per cent allowed on site.
Retail and hospitality can resume with the same density limits that were applied pre-lockdown.
The same goes for religious gatherings, weddings, and funerals, which must abide by location-specific density limits.
Sport can resume, and entertainment will also restart with capacity limits in place
Andrews said the next nine days will be vital to ensure the current Holiday Inn outbreak remains under control.
"There are still nine days to go for the 14-day period of the last of the positive cases," Andrews said.
"Next Friday we'll be able to be even more definitive about the epidemiological picture across the state.
"And that means that whilst we can revert to almost all of the settings that applied last Friday, our COVID-safe Summer settings, there are some exceptions."
The news comes as Victoria reports no new locally transmitted cases of COVID-19, and none in hotel quarantine.
These good results came from 39,258 test results the biggest single day of testing that Victoria has done throughout the pandemic.
"To see so many people go and get tested is proof that we know what to do, we stick together, there's great community spirit and its really acknowledgement that this is a shared challenge," said Andrews.
Updated at 10.57am AEDT on 17 February 2021.
The Victorian government is exploring the possibility of a purpose-built quarantine centre, in order to avoid yet another COVID-19 outbreak from a Melbourne CBD hotel.
Speaking to the press this morning, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said this new facility, if approved, would replace most of the work currently being done by hotels to accommodate international arrivals.
The centre will be based on the Howard Springs model used by the Northern Territory government to house returned travellers, and would be located either at Avalon Airport or Melbourne Airport.
If the centre is constructed, people would be staying at the same location but would not share the same spaces.
Based on advice from public health experts and COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria, the following specifications would be implemented in the design of any such hub:
- Flat structures (not multi-storey) that are adequately spaced are preferable;
- Designs that allow for strict IPC protocols that are already in place in the existing program;
- Individual rooms that cater to a variety of family sizes with self-contained bathroom facilitie;
- High quality or separate ventilation systems per room, including the use of windows;
- Surfaces that are easily cleaned, to enable the highest standard of IPC protocols; and
- Separate and adequately sized staff facilities.
"I think that there is a compelling argument for this not just in Melbourne, not just in the Northern Territory; I know the Queensland Government are working in partnership with the Commonwealth around a facility of similar structures," Premier Andrews said.
"I think we do have to have a proper conversation at a National Cabinet level about what we can do to reduce the risk, particularly in light of this UK strain.
"We're going to get on and built it, so it's just a matter of exactly how big it is. But Melbourne and Avalon Airports are standout candidates."
The Victorian government says the facility could also be used in the future for emergency needs, including ongoing quarantine arrangements or bushfire emergency accommodation.
The announcement comes as Victoria reports two new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 today, both connected to the Holiday Inn outbreak.
Both cases were isolating meaning there are no further exposure sites in Melbourne.
The state is expected to emerge from a strict five-day lockdown tomorrow at midnight, with Andrews today saying he will have further announcements about the next steps tomorrow.
"This strategy is working. We are well placed to be making changes tomorrow night," Andrews said.
"I'm not in a position to definitively commit to that, because these next 24 hours will, of course, be crucial."
Updated at 12.15pm AEDT on 16 February 2021.
The first shipment out of 20 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 have arrived in Australia ahead of the country's first vaccinations that are planned for next week.
More than 142,000 doses have landed at Sydney Airport, and have been securely transported to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) for batch testing to ensure the vaccines meet Australia's strict quality standards.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the country is on track for the first and most vulnerable Australians to start receiving the vaccine from 22 February.
"The vaccine has landed and we're stepping up our fight against the pandemic," the Prime Minister says.
"Once the final safety checks are completed we can start rolling out the vaccine to our most vulnerable Australians and to our frontline border and health workers.
"The hard work of Australians has meant we're in an enviable position in our fight against the pandemic so we've been able to take the time to properly assess our vaccine decisions and give our world-class regulator the time they need to review the safety of the jabs."
He says while the government is taking the time neede to get the roll-out right as part of Australia's COVID-19 Vaccine and Treatment Strategy, he is confident all Australians who wish to be vaccinated against the virus will receive a vaccine this year.
Approximately 80,000 doses will be released of the Pfizer vaccine in the first week. Approximately 50,000 vaccines will be made available for the states and territories for hotel quarantine and border workers and frontline healthcare workers. Approximately 30,000 vaccines will be made available for the Commonwealth vaccine in-reach workforce to aged care and disability care residents.
It is expected that of these, at least 60,000 will be administered by the end of February with others to be continually administered thereafter.
Subject to TGA approval and shipping confirmation of the international AstraZeneca vaccine, it is expected these numbers will double from early March. Phase 1a remains on track for first round doses to be delivered within a six week period.
In lessons learnt in rollouts around the world and on the advice of experts, approximately 60,000 vaccines will be provisioned to ensure consistent supply and sufficient stock for second doses. The second dose of the vaccine will be administered at 21 days after the first dose.
The Phase 1a priority groups will ensure our quarantine and border workers, frontline healthcare workers and aged care and disability care residents and staff that the most vulnerable will receive priority access to the vaccine.
"The Pfizer vaccine will save lives and protect lives," says Minister for Health and Aged Care Greg Hunt.
"Australians can be reassured this vaccine has gone through rigorous, independent testing by the Therapeutic Goods Administration to ensure it is safe, effective, and manufactured to a high standard.
"These vaccines will now go through further batch testing to further check for quality and efficacy, ensuring all Australians have confidence in the vaccines they receive."The Pfizer vaccine will be delivered through hospital 'hubs' across Australia, and in residential aged care and disability care facilities.
Logistics company DHL has been engaged to support the distribution of the Pfizer vaccine across Australia.
The company, along with a network of 200 ultra-low temperature portable freezers, will ensure Australians across the country, including in rural and remote areas, are able to access the Pfizer vaccine, which needs to be stored at minus 70°C.
By following the medical advice, Australia has maintained a diverse portfolio of vaccines, and are constantly engaging with international counterparts and vaccine sponsors to access the best available information on vaccine developments worldwide.
Pending TGA approval, the Government has also secured 53.8 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses and 51 million doses of the Novavax vaccine. Each is sufficient to vaccinate every Australian who chooses to be vaccinated in 2021.
The Australian Government has also signed up to the international COVAX facility, which provides access to a range of vaccines to immunise up to 50 per cent of the Australian population.
Updated at 1:49pm AEDT on 15 February 2021.
Australia's travel bubble with New Zealand has been suspended once again after three new cases of COVID-19 were detected in Auckland over the weekend.
The New Zealand city has gone into a three-day lockdown to ensure the outbreak does not worsen.
According to a statement from the Department of Health, Australia's chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly convened an urgent late-night meeting yesterday to discuss Auckland's lockdown.
"It was decided at this meeting today that all flights originating in New Zealand will be classified as Red Zone flights for an initial period of 72 hours from 12.01am on 15 February," the Department of Health said.
"As a result of this, all people arriving on such flights originating within this three-day period will need to go into 14 days of supervised hotel quarantine."
The Federal Government will leave individual states and territories to decide how to manage people who have already arrive in Australia from New Zealand and who may pose a risk of transmitting COVID-19.
Meanwhile in Australia, Victorians are in the middle of a five-day "circuit-breaker" lockdown to slow the spread of a highly transmissible variant of COVID-19 in Melbourne.
The state's Health Department announced this morning there is one new locally acquired case of COVID-19, and one new case in hotel quarantine.
Yesterday, there were two new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 in Victoria, and one new locally acquired case on Saturday.
Updated at 9.57am AEDT on 15 February 2021.
All of Victoria will enter a strict five-day lockdown from 11.59pm tonight in order to slow the spread of the Holiday Inn COVID-19 outbreak that has since grown to 19 cases.
According to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, the Stage 4 lockdown is necessary to allow contact tracers to manage this outbreak of the UK variant of COVID-19, described as "the fastest moving, most infectious strain of coronavirus we have seen".
In response, Queensland has announced it will be closing its border to all people who have been in Greater Melbourne from 1am on Saturday with the measures to be in force for 14 days at which point a review will be made.
New South Wales is requiring any Victorian that entered the state on or after 29 January 2021 to remain at home or place of residence until midnight on Wednesday, while Western Australia has implemented a hard border with VIC.
As such, from 11.59pm AEDT today, Victorians will be required to stay at home for five days until 11.59pm on Wednesday.
Exceptions have been made for Victorians to leave the house for four reasons:
- Shopping for necessary goods,
- Caregiving and compassionate reasons,
- Essential work or permitted education,
- And exercise for two hours per day with household members, an intimate partner, or one other person who is not from the same household.
However, Victorians must stay within 5km of their homes if leaving.
In addition, masks must be worn everywhere other than in the home
Private and public gatherings will not be permitted, and all Victorians have been encouraged to work from home where possible.
Schools will close but will remain available on Monday to Wednesday next week for vulnerable children and children of frontline health workers.
Places of worship will be closed other than for broadcasting of services, funerals can have a maximum of 10 people in attendance, and all weddings are not permitted.
Most non-essential businesses and places of gathering will close too including:
- Hairdressing and beauty services
- Real estate auctions
- Indoor physical recreation and sport venues
- Outdoor recreation and community sport
- Swimming pools
- Community facilities including libraries
- Creative studios
- Entertainment venues
- Non-essential retail
Hospitality venues will move to takeaway only and outdoor playgrounds will stay open.
Andrews also indicated that flight cancellations are likely during the five-day period, except for those already on their way.
As reported by the Associated Press, the Australian Open tennis tournament will continue but no crowds will be permitted to spectate.
In addition, Victoria's Department of Health has updated its earlier public health alert about a café in Melbourne Airport to include all of Terminal 4.
As such, anyone who was in Terminal 4 of Melbourne Airport on Tuesday 9 February between 4.45am to 2pm must isolate for 14 days and get tested for COVID-19.
Outbreak moving "at light speed"
According to Premier Andrews, the five-day lockdown is warranted because of the way positive infections are presenting to Victorian health officials.
He said onces cases test positive, they have already infected all of their close contacts making it difficult to conduct contact tracing.
As such, this "circuit-breaker" lockdown will give contact tracers the room required to get on top of this fast-moving variant of COVID-19.
"It's not moving quickly. It's at light speed," Andrews said.
"We must assume there are further cases in the community than we have positive tests for and that it is moving at a velocity that has not been seen in our country.
"If we wait for that theory to be proven correct, it will be too late. Then we face the prospect of being locked down until a vaccine is rolled out...that's months."
This five-day lockdown is similar to successful circuit-breaker lockdowns done in SA, QLD and WA.
"This is a short, sharp blast the same as we've seen in Queensland and WA that will give us the what we need to get ahead of this faster moving virus," Andrews said.
"Right now, we are reaching close contacts well within the 48-hour benchmark. But the time between exposure, incubation, symptoms and testing positive is rapidly shortening. So much so, that even secondary close contacts are potentially infectious within that 48-hour window.
"It shows just how incredibly infectious this virus is. And our public health team tell us it's only getting faster."
Andrews has also called upon the Federal Government to consider changing the rules around repatriation of Australian citizens and oter international travellers.
"It's a different virus and we should have a mature discussion about just how many people are coming back (to Australia) and the circumstances in which they're coming back and why they are given the opportunity this way," he said.
States implement border restrictions
In response to Andrews' announcement, Queensland Deputy Premier Steven Miles has announced the border will be closed to people who have been in greater Melbourne for a period of 14 days, starting 1am saturday.
QLD will review the new border arrangement with Melburnians in 14 days.
South Australia, which closed its border to Greater Melbourne earlier this week, has now shut its borders to the entire state of VIC.
Further, anyone in SA who has been through Tullamarine Airport from 7 February is required to get tested and isolate until a negative result is received.
Western Australia has now implemented a hard border to VIC.
In New South Wales, anyone who has been in VIC at any time on or after Friday 29 January 2021 remains at their home or place of residence for the five-day period lockdown period.
Tasmania has declared all of VIC a high-risk state, meaning all travellers to Tasmania will have to self-isolate for two weeks at their home or in hotel quarantine.
Victorians will also be blocked from entering the Australian Capital Territory from midnight tonight, and any returning residents will be required to isolate at home until the five-day period is over.
Finally, any Melburnian entering the Northern Territory will be required to isolate for two weeks at the Howard Springs quarantine facility.
Updated at 1.35pm AEDT on 12 February 2021.
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