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Covid-19 News Updates

Australia strikes deal with Pfizer to double vaccine intake to 40 million

Australia strikes deal with Pfizer to double vaccine intake to 40 million

The Australian Government has reached a deal with Pfizer overnight to increase the vaccine supply by 20 million doses, doubling the expected incoming orders this year to 40 million.

These new doses are expected to be ready in the fourth quarter of 2021, but the government will be pushing to bring the delivery date forward.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was yesterday recommended as preferred over the AstraZeneca alternative for recipients aged under 50, following advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) in response to blood clot risks.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the breakthrough as "very welcome news", particularly in light of the information received by ATAGI last night.

"Australia has entered into four separate agreements for the supply of COVID-19 vaccines, and these include agreements with Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Novavax and COVAX, and these agreements now total up to some 170 million doses," Morrison said.

An "informed consent" approach is now encouraged for health departments and vaccine recipients, prompting a decision from NSW Health to temporarily suspend administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine until adequate guidance materials are available.

The data to date globally shows an extremely low probability for AstraZeneca vaccine recipients suffering from blood clots - far lower than side effects for common pharmaceutical products such as contraceptive pills for example - and the vaccine is still the recommended choice for people aged 50 and over.

"Vaccinating our elderly Australians remains a key priority that also supports the continued opening up of Australia, because the risk factor of severe illness amongst the most vulnerable is therefore reduced," the PM said.

"I want to stress again that the advice that has been received, the recommendations from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation is not a ban on the AstraZeneca vaccine. It is not a prohibition on the AstraZeneca vaccine.

"It recommends and notes that the risk of these side effects are remote, they are very rare.

"We're talking in the vicinity of five or six per million, which is a rather rare event but it must be acknowledged so Australians can make informed decisions about their vaccination and their health care with their medical professionals, with their doctor."

The government is also recalibrating its plans for the vaccine roll-out to new groups, but the core focus remains on the '1a' and '1b' groups.

The first of these cohorts includes quarantine and border workers, frontline health workers, and aged care and disability care staff, while the latter comprises elderly adults aged 70 and over, other health care workers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults aged 55 and over, adults with an underlying medical condition or significant disability, and critical or high-risk workers such as those in meat processing, fire and emergency services, and the police force.

Australia has so far delivered one million vaccines and will implement a daily system for updates about how the roll-out is tracking.

National Cabinet exploring more travel bubbles

The Prime Minister also discussed other matters raised in today's National Cabinet meeting including the possibility of new travel bubbles.

The National Cabinet has asked the Medical Expert Panel to deliver more information about what thresholds need to be met to let Australians travel overseas and return without having to go into hotel quarantine.

"This will be a major change," the PM said.

"We want to open up more, we want to do it safely, we want to ease restrictions, we want to do that in a consistent way across the country."

With a trans-Tasman bubble expected to launch this month, the PM already has his sights set on the next opportunity for international travel.

If all goes to plan, Singapore is the next destination on the cards for Australians.

The National Cabinet also agreed today that large, seated gatherings can have a 100 per cent capacity, on the condition that Australia's international borders remain substantively closed.

Updated at 1:33pm AEST on 9 April 2021.

NSW temporarily pauses administration of AstraZeneca vaccine for all ages

NSW temporarily pauses administration of AstraZeneca vaccine for all ages

NSW Health has temporarily paused the administration of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in light of recommendations issued last night by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI).

The pause in administration of the vaccine to all age groups at NSW clinics is in effect until informed consent information is updated.

A NSW Health spokesperson says AstraZeneca vaccinations for those aged 50 years and over will recommence later today.

"As with all other vaccines, informed consent is required before administering COVID-19 vaccines, ensuring recipients make decisions based on an understanding of the risks and benefits," says the NSW Health spokesperson.

"Following the new advice from the Commonwealth last night, informed consent information will be updated to provide patients and those administering the AstraZeneca vaccine with the latest information."

The Pfizer vaccine will continue to be administered as planned at NSW Health clinics.

The news comes after the Federal Government accepted recommendations from ATAGI that the Pfizer vaccine is preferable for people aged under 50.

It saw the Government place the onus on the public to decide whether or not they will receive the AstraZeneca vaccine, with health officials developing resources to let Australians give "informed consent" before receiving the jab.

The recommendations follow the discovery of rare and potentially deadly side effects experienced by a tiny portion of younger AstraZeneca vaccine recipients.

Updated at 12.40pm AEST on 9 April 2021.

Government favours Pfizer over AstraZeneca for under 50s

Government favours Pfizer over AstraZeneca for under 50s

Due to "very rare" and potentially deadly side effects experienced by a tiny portion of younger recipients of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, the Federal Government has now recommended a preference for the Pfizer vaccine in people aged under 50. 

The recommendations, presented to the Federal Government this evening by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI), mean the later stages of the national vaccine rollout will have to be adjusted.

It also sees the Federal Government place the onus on the public to decide whether or not they will receive the AstraZeneca vaccine, with health officials developing resources to let Australians give "informed consent" before recieving the jab.

Health officials still encourage older Australians receive the "highly effective" AstraZeneca vaccine, as side-effects are less likely for people aged 50 and over. 

Health Minister Greg Hunt emphasised this blood clot condition is extremely rare around the world. 

"This remains a highly effective vaccine, safe for over 50s on the advice we've received," Hunt said.

Chief Health Officer Paul Kelly outlined five recommendations to the public regarding the AstraZeneca vaccine:

  1. At the current time, the use of the Pfizer vaccine is preferred over the AstraZeneca vaccine in adults aged less than 50 years who have not already received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
  2. Immunisation providers should only give a first dose of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to adults under 50 years of age where the benefit clearly outweighs the risk in individual circumstances.
  3. People that have had their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, without any serious adverse events, can safely be given their second dose. This includes adults under the age of 50.
  4. People who have had blood clots associated with low platelet levels after the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine should not be given the second dose.
  5. The Department of Health further develop and refine resources for informed consent that clearly convey the benefits and the risks of the AstraZeneca vaccine for both immunisation providers and consumers of all ages.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has stressed the choice to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine is still up to the individual.

"This is not a directive. This is not an instruction," the PM said.

"Why we're here tonight is just to be very upfront with Australians, so Australians can know that they're getting all the information that we have, and they can feel informed about the decisions they make about their own health.

"We want to empower them in those decisions."

Until today, most young Australians were set to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine later in 2021 as part of the Federal Government's staged vaccine rollout.

In light of the Government's decision to adopt ATAGI's recommendations, the rollout will be recalibrated. This process will be conducted over this coming weekend.

Department of Health Secretary Professor Brendan Murphy says authorities are talking to Pfizer to secure more supply of its vaccine. Additional supply would build on 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine already secured. 

"Pfizer have committed to 20 million doses this year, and we're working with them almost on a daily basis to see when they can increase their supply," says Murphy.

"We're confident that at some stage in the near future we will get improved supply of Pfizer. 

"We will finish [vaccinating] aged care in the coming weeks, and that will free up the Pfizer vaccine, and all of that Pfizer will go to those under 50."

Taking guidance from European data

ATAGI has held two meetings over the past two days as the AstraZeneca vaccine side-effects issue has escalated worldwide, with the European Medicines Agency (EMA) yesterday declaring a "possible link" to very rare cases of unusual blood clots with low blood platelets.

In a similar vein as Australia's "informed consent" response, the EMA reminded healthcare professionals and people receiving the vaccine to remain aware of the possibility of these rare side effects within two weeks of vaccination.

"So far, most of the cases reported have occurred in women under 60 years of age within 2 weeks of vaccination. Based on the currently available evidence, specific risk factors have not been confirmed," the EMA said.

"People who have received the vaccine should seek medical assistance immediately if they develop symptoms of this combination of blood clots and low blood platelets," the agency reported.

These conditions include shortness of breath, chest pain, swelling in your leg, neurological symptoms such as severe and persistent headaches or blurred vision, and tiny blood spots under the skin beyond the point of injection.

The EU's Pharmacovigilance Risk Assessment Committee (PRAC) carried out an in-depth review of 62 cases of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis and 24 cases of splanchnic vein thrombosis reported in its drug safety database (EudraVigilance) as of 22 March, 18 of which were fatal.

"The PRAC noted that the blood clots occurred in veins in the brain (cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, CVST) and the abdomen (splanchnic vein thrombosis) and in arteries, together with low levels of blood platelets and sometimes bleeding," the agency said.

"COVID-19 is associated with a risk of hospitalisation and death. The reported combination of blood clots and low blood platelets is very rare, and the overall benefits of the vaccine in preventing COVID-19 outweigh the risks of side effects.

"One plausible explanation for the combination of blood clots and low blood platelets is an immune response, leading to a condition similar to one seen sometimes in patients treated with heparin (heparin induced thrombocytopenia, HIT)."

In response, the committee has requested new studies and amendments to ongoing ones to provide more information and will take any further actions necessary.

Updated at 7.39pm AEDT.

WA's hard border to Queensland comes down

WA's hard border to Queensland comes down

Queensland is now considered a "low risk" state according to health authorities in Western Australia, meaning the hard border to travellers has come down.

The change, which came into effect overnight, means travel from or via Queensland is allowed, though arrivals will still need to self-quarantine for two weeks upon landing in WA.

In addition, arrivals will need to present for a COVID-19 test on day 11, undergo a health screening and temperature test at Perth Airport, and be prepared to take a COVID-19 test at the airport if necessary.

The WA chief health officer will continue to monitor and review border controls to determine if restrictions to QLD travellers can be eased further in the future.

"On March 27, Queensland was moved to a medium risk rating following a community outbreak. Since then Queensland authorities have done an excellent job to contain the virus," says WA health minister Roger Cook.

"So it is pleasing that we can now act on the latest health advice to change the risk rating to low.

"We will continue to act in the interests of all Western Australians to ensure our State remains as safe as possible."

Other states and territories still have border restrictions in place to travellers from QLD in the wake of last week's COVID-19 outbreak.

In Victoria, the Greater Brisbane area (which includes Brisbane, Ipswich, Logan, Moreton Bay and Redlands) is designated as an 'orange zone'.

This means travellers from Greater Brisbane must apply for a permit to enter VIC and isolate on arrival until a negative COVID-19 test result is received.

Travellers to New South Wales from Greater Brisbane must complete an entry declaration form before travelling. In addition, travellers who have been to any close contact or casual contact venues in QLD must be returning NSW residents to enter the state.

South Australia is requiring arrivals from Greater Brisbane to self-quarantine until a negative COVID-19 test is received. Travellers must also submit to testing on days five and 13 after arriving in SA.

Tasmania now considers QLD to be a "low risk" area, meaning there are no restrictions on arrivals. However, those who have been to any of the close contact venues visited by confirmed COVID-19 infections are still not permitted to enter TAS.

The ACT has eased travel restrictions from Greater Brisbane, however public health requirements such as self-quarantine remain in place for those that have been to exposure sites.

The Northern Territory no longer considers QLD a COVID-19 hotspot, so there are no restrictions on entering the territory.

Updated at 10.21am AEDT on 7 April 2021.

Quarantine-free travel to New Zealand in effect from 19 April

Quarantine-free travel to New Zealand in effect from 19 April

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has described the upcoming re-opening in two weeks as an "important first step", while travel agents and airlines along with their investors have responded enthusiastically, albeit cautiously in the case of Virgin Australia. Meanwhile, Accommodation Australia has thrown a wet blanket on the news, seeing 'very little benefit' for a struggling tourism sector. 

Australians will be free to travel to New Zealand without having to self-quarantine from 19 April, after our neighbour's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the terms for a two-way, Trans-Tasman travel bubble today.

The Trans-Tasman travel bubble will come into effect from 11.59pm NZT on 18 April, giving loved ones across the pond the opportunity to finally reconnect from the 19th.

"The Director General of Health considers the risk of transmission of COVID-19 from Australia to New Zealand to now be low, and that quarantine-free travel would be safe to commence," Ardern said. 

"Cabinet accepts that advice, and is confident not only in the status of Australia but also in our ability to manage the travel arrangements."

However, travel between the two countries will not be like it was pre-COVID. The guidance is for a "flyer beware" approach; if an outbreak is detected in certain part of Australia, travellers who have been to the affected area will not be compensated for any quarantine needed.

"People will need to plan for the possibility of having travel disrupted if there is an outbreak," Ardern said.

"To help people plan ahead, and make decisions around their travel, we want to share as much information as we can about our decision making."

Travellers to NZ will be booking on "green zone" flights, further reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission from Australia.

"When those in Australia currently make the welcome decision to come to New Zealand, they'll be making a booking on what is called a green zone flight - that means there will be no passengers on that flight who have come from anywhere but Australia in the last 14 days," Ardern said.

"They will also be flown by crew who have not flown on any high-risk routes for a set period of time.

"Passengers will need to provide comprehensive information on how they can be contacted while in New Zealand. They won't be able to travel if they have cold or flu symptoms. When they fly they will be required to wear a mask on the flight and will also be asked to download a NZ COVID Tracer app."

In addition, new airport protocol will be enforced, ensuring flights with returning overseas travellers from other countries do not overlap with those travelling within the bubble.

"On arrival passengers will be taken through what we call the green zones, meaning there'll be no contact with those who are arriving from other parts of the world and going into isolation or quarantine facilities," the NZ PM said.

"We'll also be undertaking random temperature checks of those arriving as an extra precaution; all of that alongside of course the usual welcome that we like to give all those who are either our guests or are returning to Aotearoa-New Zealand."

Officials in NZ will be working closely with their Australian counterparts to monitor any potential outbreaks, and information will be provided to travellers about the status of the border.

New Zealand authorities will be taking a similar approach to managing outbreaks in Australia as for regions in their own country.

For example, if an outbreak of COVID-19 were detected in Adelaide after the bubble comes into effect, travellers from other states and territories would not be impacted, but flights from South Australia in that scenario would likely be temporarialy paused.

The recent outbreak of COVID-19 in Queensland has not put a dampener on the announcement either, with the New Zealand cabinet confident that outbreak is contained.

"Cabinet believes any residual risk can be managed," Ardern said.

"The Director General of Health will also give final confirmation of any conditions of travel that may affect Queensland by next Wednesday."

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison described today's announcement as an important first step.

"This is the first of many more steps I believe as we get back to a more normal position, not only over the course of this year, but beyond," he said.

"Australia and New Zealand have led the way when it comes to managing COVID. We have ensured that both our countries, despite dealing with the virus, have not suffered the same types of virus impacts that we've seen in so many other countries around the world.

"I very much appreciate the arrangement that the New Zealand government has come to today and we welcome them back, as indeed Kiwis will be welcoming Aussies, and all in time for ANZAC Day too which is tremendous."

Prime Minister Morrison highlighted the Trans-Tasman route was one of Australia's busiest in terms of volume.

"That means more planes in the air, it means more jobs on the ground and in the air as well for our airlines, it means further support for our travel agents who book many of the first of the international that we will see for Australians."

The effects have already been felt on the country's travel agents and airlines. Flight Centre (ASX: FLT) and Webjet (ASX: WEB) have seen their shares rise by 4.4 per cent and 4.7 per cent respectively. Meanwhile, Qantas shares have risen by more than 3 per cent.

Qantas and Jetstar to run 122 NZ return flights per week, Virgin hesitates

Qantas (ASX: QAN) and its subsidiary Jetstar will restart flying to NZ when the bubble opens later this month, but complex border requirements have seen Virgin Australia delay most of its trans-Tasman services until 31 October.

Australian airline Qantas has encouraged Aussies to pack their jandals and hop on one of 122 return flights operating every week across the Tasman.

The national carrier will also launch two new routes direct from Auckland to Cairns and the Gold Coast, bringing the total number of weekly seats on flights between the two nations to 52,000.

"Restarting flights to New Zealand is about more than starting to rebuild our international network, it's about reconnecting families and friends and getting more of our people back flying again," Qantas domestic and international CEO Andrew David said.

"Hopefully, stories of missed weddings and birthdays on either side of the ditch will now be a thing of the past.

"We know Australians are keen to head overseas again, so we expect strong demand for flights to New Zealand and there are many Kiwis who can't wait for a winter escape to warmer weather in Australia."

Qantas' enthusiasm is not shared by rival Virgin Australia, with the now-private airline hesitating on relaunching its services between Australia and New Zealand.

According to a company spokesperson, the evolving border requirements add complexity to Virgin's business.

As such, the airline is suspending the sale of most New Zealand services until 31 October 2021. A limited schedule for flights to and from Queenstown will remain available for booking from 18 September.

"The New Zealand Government's decision to establish quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand is a step in the right direction and provides a boost of confidence for travellers looking to reunite with family and friends and do business across the Tasman," the Virgin spokesperson said.

"We are working with Air New Zealand to provide impacted customers with alternative options and will be contacting them directly. In all cases, options to select new travel dates or obtain a refund to the original form of payment are being made available."

Meanwhile, Air New Zealand (ASX: AIZ) CEO Greg Foran has welcomed PM Ardern's announcement.

"This is terrific news. I know Kiwis and Australians have been wanting to reconnect with family and friends for a year now and we're incredibly excited to be playing a part in those reunions," Foran said.

Air New Zealand trans-Tasman flights are now on sale - a move that has been welcomed by AIZ shareholders, with stocks up 7.28 per cent to $1.70 per share at 3.31pm AEDT. 

Travel bubble no silver bullet for tourism, but still welcome

Scott Morrison explained Australian tourism had benefitted from opening its borders to New Zealand travellers, and today's news would help that further as Kiwis could visit Australia without needing to quarantine when they return home.

However, the Accommodation Association has issued a statement claiming there will be very little real benefit for Australia's tourism sector in the short term.

The peak body claims tailored support is still desperately needed for Sydney and Melbourne CBD properties which rely so heavily on international and corporate markets.

"The opening of the trans-Tasman corridor is a very welcome step in the right direction but the reality is while it's good news for the travel sector, given most travellers will be catching up with friends and families there's very little immediate benefit for our tourism sector or our hotels and motels," Accommodation Association CEO Dean Long said.

"With the end of JobKeeper and given the massive holes in the market especially in Australia's international hubs of Sydney and Melbourne, the flow on benefits for our hotels and motels, and the many small businesses who supply them is negligible.

"There's no doubt it will be a big kick along for consumer confidence but it doesn't erase the need for tailored support for our accommodation sector. The reality is it's great news for our travel sector but not so good for tourism."

Long said NZ would have a net positive gain from an open border with Australia.

"Australians represent over 50 per cent of all visitors to NZ and we spend nearly $1700 per trip with the majority on their ski fields," he said.

"Total spend prior to COVID was $2.5 billion with 1.5 million Aussies visiting as at year end December 2019. Kiwis spend around $1,800 per trip with 1.2 million visitors to Australia, with total spend of $2.1 billion."

The Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC) was much more optimistic in its response, stating the bubble would help re-establish some of Australia's long term travel relationships, marking the first step in reopening our export tourism industry to international visitors.

"Our industry will be very happy to hear that a travel bubble has been agreed between the Australian and New Zealand governments which will see one of our most significant markets back online," ATEC managing director Peter Shelley said.

"Australian tourism businesses, like those across the world, have suffered severely with the closure of international borders and this marks an initial step towards re-establishing our $45 billion annual export industry.

"Thousands of tourism businesses across the country have suffered a severe drop in their income with the closure of international borders and many are simply holding on for announcements like this."

A recent ATEC survey of the export industry showed Australian inbound tour operators (ITOs) were suffering the most under the international border closures with 80 per cent operating with less than 10 per cent of their pre-COVID revenue.

"While our tourism product supplier members are doing their best to turn to the domestic market and are working hard to make ends meet, ITOs are only staying afloat with the help of the Federal Government's travel agent grants program now that the JobKeeper subsidy has ended," Shelley said.

"Without the re-opening of borders or the certainty provided by ongoing government support, a large number of ITOs will be out of business within months, taking with them a significant pipeline of forward bookings made by international travellers and millions of dollars in revenue.

"ITOs are the businesses which sell Australian tourism product across the world and while they are small in number, they deliver a huge amount of business across the country, especially to regional areas which have developed strong destination appeal for international visitors.

"The reopening of international borders will be wholeheartedly welcomed across the industry and particularly by those businesses whose entire future rests on international visitation."

Queensland Airports welcomes Trans-Tasman bubble

Queensland Airports CEO Chris Mills has welcomed the news, with the Gold Coast Airport to host trans-Tasman services.

Flights between the Gold Coast and New Zealand have already gone on sale, with an average of four flights per day from 19 April to take off.

"We have been working closely with our airline and travel industry partners and government throughout this crisis to ensure we would be ready to facilitate flights between the Gold Coast and New Zealand at the earliest opportunity," Mills said.

"Pre-COVID-19, this was our largest international market, with about 520,000 passengers flying between Gold Coast and New Zealand annually.

"The Gold Coast is one of the first destinations Kiwis want to come and visit. These services are sure to be busy in both directions, with 60,000 Kiwis calling the Gold Coast home."

Shares in listed airports are also rising this afternoon, with Sydney Airport (ASX: SYD) up 3.14 per cent to $5.26 per share, and Auckland International Airport (ASX: AIA) up 1.2 per cent to $7.16 per share.

Updated at 3.18pm AEST on 6 April 2021.

With Bluesfest down and out, calls get louder for business interruption fund

With Bluesfest down and out, calls get louder for business interruption fund

Arts and industry peak body Live Performance Australia (LPA) has ramped up longstanding calls for a business interruption fund for the sector after yesterday's shock cancellation of the Byron Bay Bluesfest.

LPA chief executive Evelyn Richardson says the live entertainment industry cannot sustain continued "hit and runs" as the industry reels from the music festival's cancellation and Brisbane's sudden lock-down.

"One case of community transmission has shut down a major regional event with a $10 million plus loss that will destroy a business with a thirty-year trading history owned by someone who is risking everything to run his event in a COVID safe manner," Richardson says.

"LPA has been calling for a Business Interruption Fund since last year. This is now a matter of urgency. It should be top of the agenda at the next National Cabinet meeting on 9 April.

"This has cost hundreds of jobs, musicians who were about to perform their first gig in a year have been shut down, thousands of people who were attending the seated, COVIDSafe approved event have been turned away, and the local regional economy has been severely impacted."

This is the second consecutive year that Bluesfest has been cancelled. In response to last year's interruption, the Bluesfest Group commissioned a report by Lawrence Consulting which found the cancellation led to $203.6 million in lost tourism spending for NSW.

Now Richardson and the LPA are calling on the NSW Government to step up and provide support to Bluesfest to ensure it survives a second shut down due to public health directives.

"This is irrefutable proof that a business interruption fund is critical to the survival of live entertainment events in an environment where no promoter or producer can get insurance," she says.

"This is a watershed moment. Our industry has worked with all governments to get our people back to work, our shows back on stage and touring.

"However, continued snap lockdowns and border restrictions are killing consumer and industry confidence. We have been shut down for a year. We can't survive the next six to 12 months without some form of insurance."

She says the industry is trying to get back on its feet and get people back into work.

"At which point do we move to living with COVID? Our industry is getting theatre shows back on stage while we look to October to kick start our live music sector. We need certainty that we're not going to be shut down and that our governments can respond and manage community transmission," the LPA chief says.

"We all know that COVID is with us for a long time so we need to reframe the national narrative around this.

"We are also very concerned about the vaccine rollout which appears to have stalled. Urgent attention needs to be given to ramping up the rollout nationally. It's time for a military style operation so we can avoid closures like this in the future."

Updated at 13:34pm AEDT on 1 April 2021.

Brisbane lockdown to be lifted at noon: "Easter is good to go"

Brisbane lockdown to be lifted at noon: "Easter is good to go"

The three-day lockdown in Greater Brisbane will be cut short by five hours at noon today after the state reported just one new community case of COVID-19 overnight.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the government had two preconditions for lifting the lockdown which have both been met - no cases of unlinked community transmission and high testing rates.

After 34,711 tests in 24 hours and all known positive cases accounted for, Premier Palaszczuk said "Easter is good to go" and has called on other states and territories to lift Greater Brisbane's hotspot status.

"I understand a lot of families in the greater Brisbane have made plans, and the last thing we want to see are accidents on our roads at 5pm this afternoon into the evening," the Premier said.

"So if you have plans the lockdown is lifted from 12 noon today, and I encourage people to take care on the roads. Please be safe and enjoy your time away with family and friends."

She added there had been high arrival numbers at the Gold Coast and Cairns airports, boding well for the holiday season at two of Queensland's main tourism destinations.

As a precaution, restrictions previously applied to the rest of Queensland will be applied state-wide for 14 days, including mandatory mask wearing while inside, at hospitality venues, in public transport or where social distancing is not possible. Visitor numbers to private residences will be capped at 30.

People will need to carry masks at all times when outside the home, and patrons at restaurants, bars or cafés will need to be seated.

"We have to unfortunately keep those restrictions that have been in place for the rest of Queensland for the next 14 days because we're not completely clear," QLD Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young said.

"We think we can manage it with those restrictions, and with the response that we've seen from Queenslanders.

"But it doesn't mean the outbreak is over. It just means that I don't believe we need a lockdown to manage this outbreak going forward - we can use those other restrictions."

Premier Palaszczuk also brought good news to churchgoers as Easter Mass will be able to go ahead across the state with a one per two square metre rule in place for congregations.

There were also nine overseas-acquired cases reported overnight who are all in hotel quarantine. This takes the state's total number of active cases in hospitals to 82, of which 68 were locally acquired.

The latest case attended the Byron Bay party where cross-infection into NSW residents has prompted heightened restrictions for four local government areas and a devastating blow for the Bluesfest, which was due to start today but instead was cancelled for the second year in a row.

NSW reported zero new cases of community transmission today, but restrictions and recommendations announced yesterday for the state's north remain in place.

NSW Health released an update for several locations of concern yesterday evening, while numerous contact tracing alerts have been issued in Queensland, particularly in the Brisbane suburbs of Hamilton, Everton Park, Newstead and North Lakes, as well as several bars across Brisbane City and Fortitude Valley.

Check in QLD mandatory from 1 May

Following in the footsteps of other states like NSW and SA, Queensland will soon make its new COVID-Safe check-in app mandatory for most hospitality businesses across the state.

Premier Palaszcuk said new requirement would come into force from 1 May, allowing contact tracers to more readily access information at a critical time for Queensland's public health response.

"Alongside testing, contact tracing is our most valuable tool to stop the spread of COVID-19 in our community," the Premier said.

"Over the past 12 months, we have relied on our team of contact tracers to quickly identify and assist anyone who may have been exposed to the virus.

"So it is absolutely essential that our contact tracers have access to relevant, legible and timely information, to do the important work to keep all Queenslanders safe."

The 'Check in Qld' app can be downloaded on Google Play or Apple App Stores.

"When we work together and do our part to comply with Public Health Directions, we can look forward to better days ahead, with eased restrictions and greater confidence while visiting venues," the Premier said.

Dr Young said the mandate was necessary, with a number of recent COVID-19 cases linked to popular hospitality venues.

"Since 27 March, we've seen dozens of restaurants and cafes added to our list of COVID-19 contact tracing locations, including as locations for close contacts," Dr Young said.

"We all understand the threat the virus poses in confined, enclosed spaces even when people are practicing social distancing and hand hygiene and as we work to contain the highly-contagious UK variant, we must do everything possible to assist our health authorities.

"I thank hospitality businesses for their understanding and their cooperation as we streamline and accelerate contact tracing in Queensland."

Deputy Premier Steven Miles said more than 13,500 businesses had registered with the app so far with 3.8 million check-ins since its launch a month ago.

"The new mandate will ensure that wherever Queenslanders drink or dine, their records will be kept securely," he said.

"I hope this move will bring customers greater peace of mind when choosing to dine-in at Queensland's great pubs, restaurants and cafes."

Minister for Digital Economy Leeanne Enoch said there had been strong support for the app so far.

"The app has been downloaded more than 1.2 million times," Minister Enoch said.

"From restaurants, pubs and cafes to hairdressers, libraries and gyms, the Check In Qld app has been helping Queenslanders stay COVID safe.

"One of the best features of the app is that you only need to enter your details once and the app remembers them for future check ins."

Originally published at 9:14am AEST on 1 April 2020, updated at 11:20am AEST.

Bluesfest cancelled over community transmission fears

Bluesfest cancelled over community transmission fears

Popular music festival Bluesfest will not go ahead over this Easter long weekend as planned after New South Wales Health Minister Brad Hazzard signed an order cancelling the event.

According to NSW Health, the cancellation was made to minimise the risk of COVID-19 spreading in the local Byron Bay area after the region reported one locally acquired case today.

"NSW Health acknowledges that the cancellation of Bluesfest is disappointing for ticket holders and event organisers, however while urgent investigations and contact tracing are ongoing, NSW Health is adopting a cautious approach to keep everyone safe," NSW Health said.

Minister Hazzard says the festival's organisers are working on rescheduling the blues and roots festival for another date.

"While the cancellation of Bluesfest is disappointing for music lovers and the local community, I hope that ticket holders would support Bluesfest and hold on to their tickets as I understand Bluesfest will be working on a new date as soon as possible," says Hazzard.

The Bluesfest group issued a statement this afternoon lamenting the cancellation of what was to be the first major festival to occur in Australia since the summer of 2019-20, which would have had a capacity of 16,500 people over the five days that were planned.

Organisers noted the team had worked day and night for a year to achieve the approved COVID-19 Safety Plan - the first of its kind in the music industry.

"This is one of the most difficult statements I have ever had to make. We really wanted to be at the forefront of the return of live music at Pre-COVID-19 level," Bluesfest director Peter Noble said.

Organisers said they felt deeply for everybody affected, the fans, the artists and Bluesfest staff.

"But in the end, the health of our community must come first," they said in the statement.

"We will be having discussions regarding Bluesfest postponement and will update everybody soon. However, this weekend we will be packing down the event that was cancelled within 24 hours of gates due to open.

"All patrons will be contacted by Moshtix directly once we have an update on how to proceed."

The disappointing news for ticketholders comes after one new case of COVID-19 was reported in Byron Bay, leading to new restrictions for the Byron, Ballina, Tweed and Lismore shires.

The individual in his 20s visited the Byron Beach Hotel with three friends who have since tested negative to the virus, but they were all seated in close proximity to the Queensland group that was celebrating a hen's night in Byron Bay last Friday.

While unknowingly infectious, the man visited two Ballina venues on Sunday, 28 March - the Henry Rous Tavern between 1:20-2:20pm and the Ballina Golf & Sport Club between 2:25-2:35pm.

Full details of the latest NSW health alerts for venues can be found here.

A report prepared for the Bluesfest Group by Lawrence Consulting last year estimated the 2020 cancellation led to $203.6 million in lost tourism spending for NSW, implying foregone employment for approximately 1,158 people with the worst effects in accommodation and food services, retail and the arts.

Festival patron surveys conducted in 2019 indicated daily expenditure of $304 per person at the Bluesfest, representing a foregone annual stimulus of $30.8 million to Byron Shire and $51.3 million to the Northern Rivers region.

Originally published at 4.11pm AEDT on 31 March 2021, updated at 5:45pm AEDT.

New restrictions for Byron, Ballina, Tweed and Lismore shires

New restrictions for Byron, Ballina, Tweed and Lismore shires

NSW authorities have today identified one new COVID-19 case linked to an infected group from Queensland that visited the Byron Beach Hotel last Friday, leading to health alerts for four local government areas (LGAs) in the state's north.

The individual in his 20s visited the venue with three friends who have since tested negative to the virus, but they were all seated in close proximity to the QLD group that was celebrating a hen's night in Byron Bay.

While unknowingly infectious, the man visited two Ballina venues on Sunday, 28 March - the Henry Rous Tavern between 1:20-2:20pm and the Ballina Golf & Sport Club between 2:25-2:35pm.

Full details of the latest NSW health alerts for venues can be found here. 

"What we're asking people to do if you attended those venues, please immediately self-isolate and get a test, and we will be advising you after we've done that formal risk assessment," NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said.

"This gentleman, promptly on hearing about this issue presented for testing, immediately did the right thing in terms of self-isolation."

In response, Premier Gladys Berejiklian has announced tightened restrictions for the LGAs of Byron Bay, Ballina, Lismore and Tweed.

Under the new settings, from 5pm today masks will be mandatory while shopping, on public transport and for hospitality workers, the 4 square metre rule will be applied to hospitality venues where patrons must be seated, and only up to 30 people will be allowed to visit private residences.

"It is a very strong preference that if you live in any of those four local government areas that you don't travel outside those local government areas - we won't be policing that, but it's very strong advice," Premier Berejiklian said.

"If there is community transmission we don't want it seeded to other parts of New South Wales.

"We're not going to tell people to stop going to those four regions over Easter," she said, although she has asked people who are planning to visit those areas to reconsider their plans.

The Premier said the people of NSW needed to be on high alert, and called on those in the relevant LGAs to come forward for COVID-19 testing.

"The reason why we're not going as far as the other states is because the systems we have in place, we feel we can get on top of things as they are, but it is an evolving situation and if the health advice changes of course we will reconsider that," she said.

"But at this stage there is absolutely no cause for us to close borders, there is no cause for us to go beyond what we're advocating."

Dr Chant also noted authorities could not be absolutely sure which shops infected cases visited in Byron Bay, so anyone who was walking around the town's main retail area from 26-28 March should get tested for the virus.

She also urged people in the Byron vicinity to make the most of the "quite delightful" weather and spend more time in outdoor environments that are much lower risk.

The unfolding situation in northern NSW has also raised concerns over the Byron Bay Bluesfest, with discussions ongoing between event organisers and the government to determine whether it can go ahead in a COVID-safe way.

"For those who might be intending to come [to Bluefest] just be very alert to the messages that will come from the New South Wales Government in the next 12 to 24 hours," Health Minister Brad Hazzard said.

"It is important but and complex - so complex - that we weigh up the competing interests and trying to let people do what we've always done in New South Wales, and have as much freedom as possible.

"It's difficult. It would have been better if the Bluesfest had been perhaps in another few months instead of right now, or it would have been better if we hadn't had a hen's party in Byron Bay that appears to have now brought down our more secure North Coast area into now a highly suspect area."



In a Facebook post yesterday, the Byron Beach Hotel thanked the community for their support and highlighted work with NSW Health was ongoing.

"Our affected Beach Hotel staff are following NSW Health directives to be tested immediately and isolate until further notice," the hotel said in the Facebook statement.

"As we continue to create and nurture an environment of trust so that our people feel valued, we continue to support our team wholly throughout their period of isolation.

"With our precautionary expert deep clean now complete, and with the support of NSW Health and local Police, we feel confident to safely reopen our doors."

Updated at 12:14pm AEDT on 31 March 2021.

"Encouraging news" as QLD records two new community cases

"Encouraging news" as QLD records two new community cases

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk congratulated the state's residents for a "mighty" effort to try and contain a COVID-19 outbreak with more than 33,000 tests overnight, revealing just three new cases including one in hotel quarantine.

The two cases of community transmission are both connected to a nurse who works at the Princess Alexandra (PA) Hospital, which went into lockdown last night while the Mater Hospital nearby also sent home some staff after it was revealed a COVID-19 case visited its maternity ward.

Yesterday evening Queensland Health also announced several new venues visited by known cases, flagging Gold Coast locations and events including a surf life saving competition in Tugun, the HOTA Markets at Bundall, a few cafés and an escape room in Southport.

But the Premier is encouraged by the figures to date as Greater Brisbane crosses the halfway mark of its three-day lockdown. Of the Queensland's 71 active cases in hospitals, only 13 were acquired locally.

"This is fantastic news that over the past 24 hours there have been 33,408 tests - that is a massive, massive number. I think that's probably our highest," Premier Palaszczuk said.

"If we see the same number of test results tomorrow, this is very, very encouraging news. The fact that we do not have any unlinked community transmission in the Southeast or in our state is absolutely encouraging news."

The Premier said if the news is still encouraging tomorrow, the hotspot for Greater Brisbane will be lifted.

From 8am today, only staff who have had their COVID-19 vaccines can look after people with the virus in the state's hospitals.

"I want to thank [Chief Health Officer] Dr [Jeannette] Young for putting that mandate in place. It makes sense and that'll be an added protective measure for our staff," the Premier said.

Today's new cases are part of the cluster involving the original PA nurse who was infected, although they are not believed to have caught it from her but rather the same returned overseas traveller at the hospital.

"The nurse was fantastic, she really is to be commended. She developed symptoms at 11 O'Clock on Sunday morning, immediately came forward and got tested. We had a very rapid testing turnaround, so we've got that result late on Sunday," Dr Young said.

Updated at 9:27am AEST on 31 March 2021.