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Covid-19 News Updates


Queensland to drop domestic border restrictions from Saturday

Queensland to drop domestic border restrictions from Saturday

Those travelling into Queensland from interstate will no longer be required to obtain a border pass or prove they have tested negative to COVID-19 from 1am on Saturday 15 January, as the state creeps closer to another vaccine milestone.

The state’s premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the changes to border restrictions are possible because nearly 90 per cent of Queensland’s eligible population have had two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine - a threshold she expects will be crossed next week.

Once that target is hit the Premier anticipates changes to Queensland's international border rules will be made, but Palaszczuk said “we will wait until that is fully declared”.

At that point, restrictions for fully vaccinated international arrivals will lift, but unvaccinated overseas travellers will still be required to do quarantine.

“We need to take this step today,” Palaszczuk said.

“I think every Queenslander wants to thank the men and women, especially our police service, that have done a great job.”

 

 

It comes as Queensland today reports 14,914 new cases of COVID-19 and six deaths from the virus, taking the state’s total to 17 deaths since the pandemic began in 2020.

Updated at 11.53am AEDT on 13 January 2022.

Victorian transport, freight, education workers exempt from isolation as of next Tuesday

Victorian transport, freight, education workers exempt from isolation as of next Tuesday

More workers in critical sectors of the Victorian economy will be exempt from close contact isolation requirements from next Tuesday, as the impact of Omicron continues to wreak havoc on the supply chain and the delivery of essential goods and services in the state.

As announced today by Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, workers in emergency services, education, critical utilities, custodial facilities, transport and freight will join workers in the food production sector as being eligible for the exemption from 11.59pm on Tuesday 18 January.

Under the conditions of the exemption, the worker may return to work if it is necessary for continuity of operations and if other options have been exhausted. The exemption will apply to attending work only, not any other settings.

In order to be eligible, the worker must first notify the employer of their status as a contact and both parties must consent to the worker returning to the workplace. They are already required to be fully vaccinated.

“Whether it’s waste or power, gas, all the way through to law enforcement, prisons, all of those sectors - they need to continue regardless of the fact that we are in a global pandemic,” Andrews said.

In order to reduce the risk of a contact attending work while infectious, a number of measures will be in place including:

  • The worker must undertake a daily Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) for five days and return a negative result prior to attending work each day
  • They must wear a face mask at all times, with exceptions in the case of eating or drinking, or safety reasons, and a P2/N95 respirator is preferred
  • The worker cannot enter shared break areas and the employer must try and facilitate solo break time. The employer must also take reasonable steps to deploy the worker in areas where transmission risk is lower
  • If at any time the worker develops symptoms or tests positive on a RAT, the exemption no longer applies – they are a case, must isolate for seven days, and must notify others including their employer.

“The worker’s rights are protected, and they can’t be directed to work if they are a contact – the worker has to agree to come in, just as they have to agree to the various preventative measures that will reduce risks for others,” Andrews said.

Andrews also noted he spoke with supermarket CEOs yesterday to understand the current constraints on the industry and what they’re facing, emphasising that trucking and freight is the key pain point for the sector right now.

“Last week [the challenge] was distribution centres and there are some real bottlenecks there this week,” he said.

“This week it’s about truck drivers, and a shortage of those to move stock.

“A lot of other challenges are not so much about the availability of stock, but about moving that stock from one part of the state, or one part of the country to another. So we’ll continue to work with them and the unions to try and do whatever we can to ease that pressure.”

The announcement comes as Victoria reported 37,169 new cases of COVID-19 across the state, and in combination with the 92,264 new cases reported in New South Wales brings Australia’s daily tally to more than 100,000 new infections already.

The other Australian states and territories are yet to report the latest case numbers, but yesterday Tasmania reported 1,583 new cases, Queensland 22,069, South Australia 3,715, ACT 1,078, the Northern Territory 352 and Western Australia just two.

In total, Australia reported 103,685 new cases yesterday, 49 deaths, 3,976 people in hospital with the infection, and 341 in intensive care.

Updated at 10.57am AEDT on 13 January 2022.

Staff shortages mean "code red for retail" as hospitality operators plead for government support

Staff shortages mean "code red for retail" as hospitality operators plead for government support

"The tap was turned on in a far lesser time and right now it is code red for retail, so to turn your back right now would be a waste of every dollar you’ve put in over the last 22 months," says Chrissie Maus, general manager of the Chapel Street Precinct in Melbourne.

Businesses operating in one of Australia’s largest retail, hospitality, entertainment and lifestyle precincts have had around 35 per cent of staff come down with COVID-19 since the Christmas period, prompting closures and calls for government support as Omicron besets activity and the ability of managers to plan for the future.

Add to that the effects of "snowballing debt" for many and deferred rents kicking in, and Chrissie Maus of the Chapel Street Precinct says her organisation's 2,200 businesses are at crisis point.

"I don't like to say it, but we're in a lockdown without a lockdown, and with no government cash flow support," says Maus, who is currently recovering from COVID herself but is expecting a virtual meeting soon with Victorian Minister for Small Business Jaala Pulford.

"We’ve never had a time where so many businesses have been unable to open or are closed given staff shortages or people who have tested positive to the virus," she says.

"We’re in a far worse position now 22 months later than we have ever been. They [the Federal and State Governments] could share the cost like they did last time."

Chapel Street Precinct general manager Chrissie Maus.

 

Chapel Street Precinct executive chairperson Justin O’Donnell says practically every business in the group - which also includes Greville Street, Prahran - would be better off financially if the state went back into lockdown given the minimal lockdown government cash support.

"That's how slaughtered our poor businesses owners are feeling. Many are working seven days a week as well as double shifts just to cover staff who are not allowed to work," he says.

"We are in the eye of a perfect storm: deferred payroll taxes and wage increases are kicking in now. Chapel Street Precinct is at a crisis point and needs government cash support."

Liam Ganley of Ganley Group - owner of Angus & Bon Steakhouse on Greville Street and St Kilda venues The Fifth Province and Freddie Wimpole’s - has had to close twice since the busy Christmas period with 70 per cent of staff having contracted COVID.

Ganley's steakhouse in Prahran just opened up again last night, and has had more staff come down with the virus since then.

"It’s becoming almost impossible to write a roster, and the problem is that we’re already at bare bones in terms of staff," he says.

"Our losses are a lot more severe than they were during lockdown because we're getting absolutely no help whatsoever.

"We’re trying to maintain the same level of customer service, but it’s just very difficult. Last night the general manager was at the bar making drinks because he had no staff," he says.

He adds some customers show little sympathy for this predicament and still leave bad reviews if they have to wait too long for drinks.

"They just don't get how bad the industry really is and how stuck we all are for staff," Ganley explains.

Angus & Bon.

 

Colin Kelly of Naughty Nancy's says some customers even leave bad reviews when staff follow the rules by asking for vaccine certificates, adding to all the other worries the industry has to deal with. In Kelly's case, all of his staff have caught COVID-19 and the business was forced to close over the peak Christmas period.

"All it takes is for one person to go out sick, and it ruins a whole night and potentially a week. As it’s transpired this year, it took one person to contract the virus and then subsequently the whole team caught it," he says.

"The staff have all recovered, everybody’s back to work but what we’ve found now is venues that mightn’t have had it when we had it, have it now and they're closed or they can't get staff.

"You used to be able to forecast your week – you don’t know anymore. What used to be spread out over 10 to 15 venues is now spread between two to three venues going through the same thing we went through three or four weeks ago."

The restaurateur would like to see the government put forward a clear plan of action, claiming the hospitality industry has been "kept in the dark".

"We’re the ones that have suffered throughout the past two years. We’re the first venues to get closed down, the last to reopen, we’re the ones with the most heavily imposed restrictions on us," he says.

"Every time they make an announcement, it takes two or three days for the actual parameters being enforced to trickle down the line."

Naughty Nancy's.

 

Burgertory Burgers founder and managing director Hash Tayeh has also found the public are not empathetic towards the plight of hospitality companies' staff shortages, describing the current moment as an "unprecedented time - insane to say the least".

"We’ve had to reduce our trading hours across the board with most stores, and four of our stores have actually closed temporarily. We’ve got 260 of our 400 staff infected with COVID – it’s really tough times," he says.

"I hadn’t worked in any of the stores in two years, but I’ve been doing night shifts at our Chapel Street location just so we can keep the doors open.

"Last year we opened 11 stores and that put us as the second-biggest gourmet burger chain in Victoria. We had planned to open up another 15 this year, but I've had to put the brakes on and just see how this is going to play out."

It is a situation Tayeh says has left staff overworked and stressed.

"We’re trying to give them the best support that we can, which is why a lot of my head office staff are working in stores," he says, clarifying the shift from in-store to delivery has meant sales are not an issue for Burgertory at the moment, but finding staff is.

"People are just exhausted, they’re over it, they’re over the different variants, restrictions, doing extra hours, not knowing if they’re going to get COVID, putting up with angry customers who don't understand that we're not short-staffed because we want to be; we’re short-staffed because we don't have a choice."

Burgertory Burgers.

 

Arthur Georgiou, owner of South Yarra dining institution Caffé e Cucina which has been around since 1988, is about to reopen his doors tomorrow after a 13-day closure.

"We were meant to open on the 2nd of January after having the one day off on the 1st of January, but over that 24-hour period there were way too many staff that weren’t feeling too well," he explains.

"Most of them had rapid tests, and most of them had come back positive unfortunately so we made the decision to close.

"Unfortunately 80 per cent of the kitchen got COVID. When you get a majority swing that great in one section of the restaurant, then you can’t operate."

He says the restaurant took a conservative approach of giving affected staff 10 days off rather than seven.

"When you’re in the business of wellbeing and making sure that the people who help you have a successful business are healthy, it’s not just about them being healthy straight away after being in isolation," Georgiou says.

"Being in isolation takes a lot out of you both mentally and physically, so if they have a negative PCR test and you think they can come back to work the same way they were working before they got COVID, then you’re surely mistaken.

"We’ve never done this in 33 years and here we go, we’ll come back bigger and stronger like we have the previous six lockdowns," he says.

He says even with the reopening, bookings are looking like they'll be much lower than normal tomorrow due to diminished demand and concerns over Omicron from the general public.

"Normally we would do 80 people for lunch and 140 for dinner – tomorrow we’ll do 20 for lunch and 80 for dinner.

"I don’t want a handout and freebies forever, but there has to be a better way. There has to be some sort of support mechanism that can be activated."

Caffé e Cucina.

 

Ingham's shares drops as Omicron hits workforce

Ingham's shares drops as Omicron hits workforce

Poultry producer Inghams Group (ASX: ING) has today announced it is facing staff shortages and impacted sales performance as Omicron pecks away at its workforce nationally.

While all of its Australians site remains operational, the company’s production and distribution capabilities have been disrupted due to "significantly lower levels of staff availability".

The company also noted the current COVID-19 outbreak is impacting its logistics operations and some of its suppliers and customers.

Following the announcement, shares in ING have fallen by more than 7 per cent to around $3.28 per share.

“Following the COVID issues we faced in calendar 2021, the recent Omicron surge in Australia has presented unprecedented challenges to Ingham’s Australian business, with many Ingham’s employees being forced to isolate at home due to contracting COVID in the community or as a result of being close contacts,” Inghams Group CEO and managing director Andrew Reeves said.

“We are currently maintaining our Australian processing operations while seeking to ensure the safety and engagement of our employees, many of who are demonstrating outstanding levels of commitment to work through the current challenges.”

Unsure of how long the disruptions will last, Ingham’s said it was premature to draw conclusions on the overall impacts on business and trading results.

The poultry producer's announcement comes after the states of Queensland, Victoria and News South Wales implemented measures which allow close contacts to return to work provided they are asymptomatic in order to reduce the risk of staff shortages in essential industries such as food.

“I would like to acknowledge the recent announcements by both Federal Government and State Governments on changes to isolation rules for close contacts in the food sector which should assist to alleviate some of the current staff shortages," Reeves said.

Despite the ongoing challenges COVID-19 brought in FY21, Ingham’s reported revenue of $2.67 billion, an increase of 4.4 per cent on the year prior ($2.55 billion).

Meanwhile, its statutory NPAT increased by 107.7 per cent, from $40.1 million in FY20 to $83.3 million.

The company expects to release its first-half results for FY22 to market on 18 February.

“As operating conditions begin to stabilise, we expect our production capacity to recover relatively quickly to meet customer and consumer demand," Reeves said.

“We will continue to closely manage our working capital and inventory and seek to implement initiatives to minimise the financial and other impacts of COVID through the second half.”

Updated at 11.11am AEDT on 11 January 2022.

OzSAGE: Major COVID course correction immediately required

OzSAGE: Major COVID course correction immediately required

Australian governments must immediately take action to tackle the present COVID crisis by delaying the return to face-to-face schooling, and reinstating necessary infection mitigations and financial supports.  

The health system is under immense strain, businesses are shutting due to sick staff. Consumer spending estimates show Australians are in a shadow lockdown already. Mass workplace absence due to COVID-19 is already affecting supply chains, food and diesel availability. Exponential growth of the epidemic, predicted to peak in late January by NSW modelling, means unprecedented case numbers will threaten every sector, not just the health system. Sending unvaccinated children back to school at the predicted epidemic peak will worsen the situation.  

Repeated claims from politicians and some health leaders are wrong – that cases ‘do not matter’; that cases had ‘decoupled’ from hospitalisations; and, that the spread of Omicron is a wave that we must ‘ride’. These statements undermine the gravity of the situation, and erode trust in decision-making and leadership, especially when the community is left without access to testing or support. OzSAGE notes the World Health Organization’s latest briefing which states that Omicron is not mild and should not be described as such. 

“A major course correction is required to support our health system, businesses, children and the general health and wellbeing of all Australians,” OzSAGE Member James Bolster said.  

“Every Australian needs access to free rapid tests and N95/P2 masks, because public health must be publicly funded. And, additional infection reduction measures must be reinstated, alongside financial supports for individuals and businesses who have already been hit by reduced activity caused by this outbreak,” Mr Bolster said.   

In addition to recent recommendations, OzSAGE recommends the following immediate actions:

  • Free rapid tests and N95/P2 masks, readily available to everyone 
  • Reinstatement of work from home arrangements, and additional social distancing and venue measures; for the avoidance of doubt, most states and territories must increase their present infection reduction measures further than recent changes 
  • Reinstatement of significant financial support packages for both individuals and businesses impacted by COVID 
  • The postponement of face-to-face schooling for primary and secondary students to enable double vaccination of children; to avoid the late January peak of the present wave (per NSW modelling), and; to ensure indoor air standards are able to be met at all schools. This action must include hybrid learning or alternative arrangements for vulnerable children requiring supervision and emotional support, as well as appropriate IT provisions and support 
  • Review the recent reclassification of ‘close contact’ to align it with evidence and best health practice  
  • Preparation and release of a disaster plan before the further deterioration of conditions, including how disaster resources (such as military support, as seen in UK) will operate to support logistics, food security, the health system and communities. The plan must incorporate vulnerable communities including regional, rural and remote communities, people with disabilities, people at risk from domestic violence, older Australians, economically disadvantaged and First Nations peoples.

Updated at 9.05am AEDT on 11 January 2022.

ARA: Three quarters of retailers currently have staff in isolation

ARA: Three quarters of retailers currently have staff in isolation

New figures from an Australian Retailers Association (ARA) survey shows staff shortages are the most pressing challenge facing the industry at the moment, with 76 per cent of respondents saying they have staff in isolation due to COVID-19.

Half the retail businesses surveyed ranked ‘staff shortages’ as the number one challenge currently, followed by ‘lack of customers’ and ‘supply chain/delivery issues’, with a third noting they had limited trading hours in some locations while one in five had closed locations due to the problem.

The findings demonstrate an “ongoing juggling act for retailers and their rostering managing the current isolation requirements”, according to ARA CEO Paul Zahra.

“We’ve entered an unprecedented staffing challenge as more people are infected with COVID than at any stage before in the pandemic. This builds on an existing skills crisis within the retail and hospitality sectors,” Zahra said.

“Many retailers are having to limit trading hours or close stores altogether because they don’t have the staff available. For small businesses, a couple of cases can wipe out their entire workforce. 

“We welcome the moves to ease isolation requirements on essential workers who are close contacts. However, more needs to be done to ease the pressure on this critical workforce so they can adequately staff their stores and move essential goods efficiently across the country.”

Zahra reiterated calls to the Federal, State and Territory governments to work more closely with the industry to clear any impediments to getting people safely back to work, and return domestic supply chains to a more sustainable footing.

“Whilst we expect supply chain challenges to linger for the rest of the year due to global pressures, we do expect this short-term congestion to ease in the coming weeks as Omicron cases hopefully peak and decline as predicted by the health authorities,” Zahra said.

“Retailers are working intensely to solve these challenges for their customers as they have throughout the pandemic. We ask that customers remain patient and respectful towards their teams during this intense period.”

Updated at 2.56pm AEDT on 10 January 2022.

VIC food and beverage workers exempt from close contact rules, boosters mandatory for key sectors

VIC food and beverage workers exempt from close contact rules, boosters mandatory for key sectors

The Victorian Government has today announced workers in key settings such as health care, hospitality and aged care will be required receive a third COVID-19 vaccine dose before being permitted to work on site from 12 January.

The latest announcement comes as the Victorian Government follows Queensland and New South Wales in changing the rules for close contacts of a COVID-19 case, allowing food and beverage workers to attend work if they are asymptomatic in order to ensure Victorians can continue to access essential supplies.

Under the new pandemic orders, workers in healthcare, aged care, disability, emergency services, correctional facilities, quarantine accommodation and food distribution must get their third dose before being permitted to work onsite from 11.15pm 12 January.

Workers eligible for a third dose on or before Wednesday 12 January will have until Saturday 12 February to get their third dose. Workers not yet eligible for a third dose will be required to get it within three months and two weeks of the deadline to receive their second mandatory dose.

This means residential aged care workers must receive their third dose by 1 March, and health care workers by 29 March. Disability, quarantine accommodation, correctional facilities, emergency services, and food distribution workers will need to receive their third dose by 12 March.

Food distribution workers includes manufacturing, warehousing and transport (freight/port) workers involved in food distribution. Retail supermarket staff are not included in the mandate.

“This order responds to the increased risks of COVID-19 exposure to critical workers, their proximity to vulnerable people, the higher risk of the virus spreading in their workplace and the need to protect access to essential goods and services,” the Victorian Government said.

'All Victorians continue to be encouraged to get their third dose as soon as they become eligible and we’ll continue working with public health experts and industry on vaccination requirements.”

In line with changes made by Queensland and New South Wales over the weekend, Victoria has also moved to allow workers in key sectors to go to work even if they are a close contact, as long as they asymptomatic.

Those in the manufacturing, distribution or packaging of food and beverages including retail supermarket workers may be exempted from close contact isolation requirements in order to attend work, if it is “necessary for continuity of operations and other options have been exhausted”.

Exempt workers must also undertake daily rapid tests for five days and return a negative result prior to attending work under the new rules which come intro effect on 11.59pm 12 January.

In addition, face coverings must be worn, using N95/P2 respirators if possible. Both the worker and workplace must consent to the worker’s return.

In addition, indoor dance floors within hospitality and entertainment venues must close from 11.59pm on 12 January. Venues will still be permitted to operate and there are no more changes to the density settings currently in place.

Indoor dance floors at weddings will still be permitted under the change, but the Government notes hosts and gusts “should still consider the risks of dancefloors and choose to locate them outdoors if possible”.

“Victoria is open and the community is encouraged to support businesses in a COVIDSafe way,” Victorian Minister for Health Martin Foley said.

“Closing indoor dancefloors is a simple but important step – we know they pose an extraordinary risk of mass transmission.”

Further, new visitor restrictions will be applied to hospitals and aged care settings. Residents at aged care centres will continue to be permitted up to five visitors per day, but visitors must return a negative RAT result before entering. If no RATs are available at the facility, residents will be permitted no more than two visitors.

Visitors in hospitals must have received two doses of the vaccine or must return a negative RAT result before entering. Adult visitors who are not fully vaccinated must wear an N95 mask during their visit. Standard face masks continue to be mandated for children aged 8 and above.

Finally, Foley has announced fully vaccinated international arrivals will no longer need to get a second PCR or RAT five to seven days after their arrival.

The State Government says this change is in line with the decision of National Cabinet last week and recognises the high levels of COVID-19 transmission currently in the community.

Updated at 11.38am AEDT on 10 January 2022.

Australian children aged five to 11 now eligible for COVID-19 vaccination

Australian children aged five to 11 now eligible for COVID-19 vaccination

From today, children across Australia aged between five and 11 are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine as the next phase of the immunisation program kicks into gear.  

Children will be able to receive two doses of the the paediatric Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine eight weeks apart as recommended by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI). The dose administered is one-third of the dose given to people aged 12 and older.

Despite concerns about appointment availability, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt assured there will be enough vaccine supply for children.

“We have approximately two million doses that are available over the course of the coming weeks,” Hunt said.

“And then that will be supplemented by an additional million before January 3 for a population of 2.3 million children.”

“We want to encourage all parents to bring their children forward over the period between now and the end of January, to protect them and to help protect the community with the vaccinations.”

According to SA Health, children with pre-existing conditions are at greater risk of severe disease from COVID-19, including children with type 1 diabetes, obesity, a history of prematurity, heart disease, immunocompromising conditions, and complex and chronic illnesses.

As it stands, more than 73 per cent of children between 12 to 15 years old have been fully vaccinated. To date, Pfizer is the only vaccine approved for use for children aged between five to 11.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is also currently evaluating an application from Moderna for its COVID-19 vaccine to be used in Australia for children aged six to 11. The government has already put supply deals in place with the pharmaceutical giant should it be approved by the TGA and recommended by ATAGI.

Bookings can be made using the Vaccine Clinic Finder.

Updated at 10.43am AEDT on 10 January 2022.

Asymptomatic ‘critical workers’ in QLD, NSW permitted to work if close contacts

Asymptomatic ‘critical workers’ in QLD, NSW permitted to work if close contacts

UPDATE (11.11AM AEDT, 10 JAN 2022): Prime Minister Scott Morrison has this morning confirmed The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) has endorsed changes to close contact rules for asymptomatic workers in critical sectors. The proposal is now before National Cabinet for approval.

The states of Queensland and New South Wales have moved to permit ‘critical workers’ to attend a workplace if they are deemed close contacts, as long as they are fully vaccinated and are asymptomatic.

Both states cite the risk to essential services and the supply chain as an impetus to change the rules which will permit workers to continue to provide services while classified as close contacts.

    In NSW, critical workers will only be eligible to leave self-isolation if their employer determines that their absence from the workplace poses a high risk of disruption to the delivery of critical services or activities, and they are unable to work from home.

    These workers must wear a mask and comply with risk-management strategies put in place by their employer, including daily Rapid Antigen Tests.

    NSW says the following industries fall under the new rules:

    • agriculture (biosecurity and food safety personnel undertaking critical duties)
    • manufacturing (production and manufacturing of food, beverages, groceries, cleaning and sanitary products)
    • transport, postal and warehousing (food logistics, delivery and grocery fulfilment)

    Meanwhile, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the move was restricted to a narrow range of industries to ensure essential services and supplies like groceries, petrol, energy, water, freight and others could continue. 

    Workers in the state will need to be fully vaccinated, must wear a mask at work, and be asymptomatic.

    Those eligible and able to work during the usual close contact quarantine period will also be required to:

    • travel to and from work in a private vehicle
    • while travelling and working, wear appropriate PPE
    • maintain personal hygiene (hand washing etc)
    • undertake regular symptom surveillance 
    • undertake a RAT on Day 6, consistent with the requirements for all close contacts.

    If at any stage they develop symptoms, they need to return to quarantine immediately.

    “We know the number of COVID-19 cases will continue to rise over the coming weeks,” the Premier said.

    “People need to be able to have their lights on, have food in the fridge and have running water.

    “We want to ensure our hospitals are staffed, food continues to be delivered to our supermarkets and we can still fill our cars at the petrol station.”

    A ‘critically essential worker’ will be defined as someone employed in one of the following industries, who must be in the workplace to do their job:

    • health 
    • emergency services, including Police
    • the resource sector  
    • power/utilities
    • agriculture and fisheries production
    • freight and logistics
    • public transport
    • teachers
    • essential retail such as supermarkets and stores in remote locations/communities
    • major manufacturing, distribution, and critical supply chains (for example food and petrol).

    The announcements come after the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) urged the Federal Government to redefine the definition of a ‘close contact’, arguing the current interpretation of the term is too narrow.

    The ACTU hopes the term can be redefined to include contact with a COVID positive case that happens in a workplace, ensuring workers who are isolating or awaiting a test result can access pandemic leave payments.

    “It is ridiculous to think that Omicron only spreads in the home and that only household contacts should be considered close contacts and eligible for payment. Workers are currently being forced into isolation without pay when exposed at work. This is ridiculous and dangerous,” ACTU acting secretary Liam O’Brien said.

    “Australian workers are back in lockdown but this time there is no economic support available. With no money, how can Australian workers be expected to afford the overpriced and inaccessible RATs they require?

    “Scott Morrison’s failure to secure free and accessible rapid tests is forcing Australia back into lockdown. Workplace close contacts must be able to access the same economic support as everyone else.”

    AHPPC endorses new close contact rules for critical workers

    Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has this morning confirmed the decision making committee for health emergencies has endorsed a national plan that would enable asymptomatic workers deemed close contacts to continue working in critical industries including food processing, food production and emergency services.

    The plan will be presented to National Cabinet today, and Morrison said he expected to receive endorsement from state and territory leaders soon regarding the changes which have already been implemented by NSW and QLD.

    As endorsed by the The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), the plan would allow asymptomatic close contacts to go to work in the critical sectors deemed crucial for the national supply chain and the population's health and safety.

    Morrison said he is looking to take the new rules into other critical sectors including the transport sector and other distribution tasks, noting the rules do not apply for those in customer facing roles like at supermarket checkouts.

    "As the case numbers continue to rise, the volume of cases will of course have an inevitable impact on the workforce, so we're looking to maximise those who can remain in the workforce," Morrison said.

    "This is an incredibly tough time on business; there aren't lockdowns but there are many people obviously impacted by being close contacts or people being weary or those indeed who  have COVID themselves, and that is having an impact on consumer spending.

    "This will be a case for a while yet while Omicron walks its way through and moves to its peak, but that means it is very tough on business. So we're working to ensure that we can alleviate the impact on business."

    Updated at 9.48am AEDT on 10 January 2022.

    NSW bans singing and dancing from tomorrow, some elective surgeries put on hold

    NSW bans singing and dancing from tomorrow, some elective surgeries put on hold

    New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet has announced new measures for hospitality and entertainment venues in order to combat the spread of COVID-19, while category three surgeries will be put on hold to reduce the strain on the healthcare system.

    From tomorrow until 27 January, singing and dancing will be banned in hospitality venues, entertainment facilities and major recreation facilities. The rules will not apply to weddings, dance classes or performers in those settings.

    Elective surgeries which are not required within 365 days will also be paused until mid-February.

    “An overwhelming majority of major events across News South Wales will proceed,” said the Premier.

    “Only in circumstances where NSW Health deems that event to be a high-risk event, then we will contact those organisers and work through the current COVID-safe plans with you." 

    The new measures are an attempt to slow down the spread of COVID-19, as almost 50 per cent of cases in the past week have come from people aged between 20-39 years old.

    “When you're dancing on a dance floor, when you're energised and singing in a group and moving around, then you're actually risking exposing people that you would normally day to day not come into contact with,” Chief Health Minister Dr Kerry Chant said.

    “We're really just trying to slow the spread, reduce the introduction to new social networks as a mechanism of slowing the spread”.

    In line with National Cabinet’s plan to ease testing requirements, NSW will implement a system to report positive rapid-antigen COVID-19 test results.

    “We're working with our partners in Service New South Wales to establish a mechanism so that you can actually register your positive rapid-antigen test (RAT),” said Chant.

    “In this current setting of such high case numbers, if you've got symptoms and you've got a positive rapid test – then you’re a case.”

    “If you're a household contact or you've had those high-risk exposures, [and] you’re also positive – you’re a case.

    “Now if you had no exposures to anyone - it's really unusual that you have got a positive test. Under those circumstances you might get a PCR to validate it.”

    Booster shots will also be mandated for frontline healthcare workers and teachers.

    “Moving forward, we're not as interested in absolute case numbers," said Chant. 

    “What we're very interested in is making sure the right people with COVID are getting the care they need - if there's interventions we can do to support better outcomes or to manage the underlying health conditions.”

    The state has recorded 38,625 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, with 1,738 patients in hospital and 134 in ICU. The death toll has grown to 11.

    Updated at 2.10pm AEDT on 6 January 2022.

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