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Covid-19 News Updates

Hong Kong to ban Australian passengers for two weeks

Hong Kong to ban Australian passengers for two weeks

As case numbers soar in Australia, Hong Kong's authorities have opted to ban passengers who have been here within 21 days prior to arrival, even if they only stepped foot in Australia for two hours.

According to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's (DFAT) Smartraveller website, the new measure in Hong Kong will take effect from 8 January and the passengers it covers will not be allowed to board a flight to Hong Kong.

"For entry before 8 January, you’ll be subject to 21 days of compulsory quarantine at a designated quarantine hotel on arrival, followed by seven days of self-monitoring," Smartraveller reported in a notice, adding compulsory tests would also be needed.

However, only Hong Kong residents will be able to travel there from Australia prior to 8 January, and even then they won't be allowed to enter if they have been in Australia for more than two hours on that day or during the previous 21 days, according to Smartraveller.

The ban will be in place for two weeks, subject to review.

Hong Kong has also banned flights from seven other countries, including Canada, Britain, the United States, France, India, Philippines and Pakistan.

National Cabinet agrees to ease COVID testing requirements

National Cabinet agrees to ease COVID testing requirements

All states and territories except Western Australia are set to remove testing requirements for interstate travel, following a National Cabinet meeting where ministers also agreed to scrap the need to take a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test if you've already had a rapid antigen test (RAT) come back positive.

However, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a press conference this afternoon exceptions would still apply in Queensland and Tasmania for the time being.

"Queensland and Tasmania will make an announcement when they finally dispense with that RAT test requirement...that will be done in Queensland's case when they hit 90 per cent double dose vaccination, and Tasmania will be making an announcement on that in the course of the next week or so," the PM said.

"If it's not an essential test, you're not a close contact, you're not symptomatic, you shouldn't be in those lines."

He added there would also be no requirement for a second test post-arrival for those who are returning or arriving from overseas, provided their RAT on arrival is negative, "remembering that 99 per cent of those who are turning up at our airports are double vaccinated".

"We are not seeing large number of cases come through international arrivals. Cases are community transmission - that's where the greatest risks are," he said.

"There will no longer be that requirement for a second test other than in Queensland, where Queensland say they will still insist on that until we get to a position of 90 per cent double vaccination in that state."

The measures are aimed at alleviating the strain on RAT supplies and PCR testing infrastructure.

"We are looking at what is a relatively short term supply constraint, because we now have over 200 million tests between the Commonwealth and the States and Territories which they're on their way to Australia this month and next. The Commonwealth alone has 70 million," he said.

The Federal Government will also use the Biosecurity Act to include RATs in the price gouging provisions, meaning anyone who sells these tests at more than a 20 per cent mark-up could risk a $66,000 fine and up to five years in jail.

After Australia reported 64,715 daily cases today of which more than half were in NSW, these figures could well put the country in an unenviable Top 10 globally once other countries have submitted their data for the day.

Yesterday, Australia was 11th in the world for new daily cases at 47,695, but today's figure is more in line with the numbers reported in India.

"The rest of the country [except WA] now have case numbers that are on the trajectory of rapid escalation, just like we've seen in New South Wales and Victoria, and they're reporting the same limited impacts on their ICUs (intensive care units) and their ventilator requirements in those jurisdictions," the PM said.

Updated at 6pm AEDT on 5 January 2022.

QLD close contact rules change, SA ditches testing for interstate arrivals

QLD close contact rules change, SA ditches testing for interstate arrivals

COVID-19 rules for those in Queensland and South Australia are set to change, reducing the time needed to isolate for close contacts in the sunshine state, and the removal of testing requirements for those arriving down south.

As announced today by Queensland Deputy Premier Steven Miles, anyone who is deemed a close contact and is double vaccinated will be required to quarantine for seven days instead of 14 days.

This new rule comes into effect from 22 December, and close contacts must also get tested on day five of their isolation period.

There are no changes to quarantine requirements for close contacts that are unvaccinated; they must still isolate for 14 days and get tested immediately and on days five and 12.

Meanwhile, South Australia will no longer require intestate travellers to get tested for COVID-19 on arrival as long as they’ve tested negative 72 hours prior to travel.

The state’s chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier said she was “mindful” of the testing burden being placed on those coming into SA currently.

It comes as SA recorded 154 new cases of COVID-19 overnight, with five people in hospital.

Queensland however recorded 58 new cases of the coronavirus yesterday.

Updated at 1.23pm AEDT on 21 December 2021.

Moderna booster vaccine produces “reassuring” antibody resistance to Omicron

Moderna booster vaccine produces “reassuring” antibody resistance to Omicron

American pharmaceutical giant Moderna (Nasdaq: MRNA) has released new data on the efficacy of a booster shot to produce an immune response against the highly-transmissive Omicron variant of COVID-19, noting the results are “reassuring”.

The company says that the currently authorised 50 microgram booster of its mRNA vaccine increases Omicron neutralising antibody levels approximately 37-fold compared to pre-booster levels.

However, a 100 microgram booster, which is not yet approved, delivers increased neutralising antibody levels approximately 83-fold compared to pre-boost levels.

“The dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases from the Omicron variant is concerning to all. However, these data showing that the currently authorised Moderna COVID-19 booster can boost neutralising antibody levels 37-fold higher than pre-boost levels are reassuring,” Moderna chief executive officer Stéphane Bancel said.

“To respond to this highly transmissible variant, Moderna will continue to rapidly advance an Omicron-specific booster candidate into clinical testing in case it becomes necessary in the future.

“We will also continue to generate and share data across our booster strategies with public health authorities to help them make evidence-based decisions on the best vaccination strategies against SARS-CoV-2.”

As such, the company is continuing to advance the production of  booster candidates to address emerging variants of concern such as Omicron.

Moderna’s strategy includes evaluating the prototype vaccine at the authorised booster dose level of 50 micrograms, and a higher dose of 100 micrograms.

“Moving forward, given the strength of the mRNA-1273 and the speed at which the Omicron variant is spreading, Moderna’s first line of defense against Omicron will be a booster dose of mRNA-1273,” Moderna said.

“Given the long-term threat demonstrated by Omicron’s immune escape, Moderna will also continue to develop an Omicron-specific variant vaccine (mRNA-1273.529) that it expects to advance into clinical trials in early 2022 and will evaluate including Omicron in its multivalent booster program.”

Updated at 12.05pm AEDT on 21 December 2021.

How to have a safe(r) festive season with COVID-19 cases rising in our communities

How to have a safe(r) festive season with COVID-19 cases rising in our communities

As COVID-19 cases increase across the country, many people are asking what can I do to help my family and friends have a safe(r) Christmas? Unfortunately, between the Delta and Omicron variants of SARS-CoV-2, both of which are circulating widely in Australia, socialising also comes with significant risk of catching and spreading coronavirus.

OzSAGE offers the following suggestions to reduce spread of COVID-19, based on our Vaccine-PLUS and Ventilation strategy.

The virus predominantly spreads in an airborne fashion – SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted via tiny aerosols that accumulate in the air, particularly indoors in poorly-ventilated spaces, just like cigarette smoke does. Aerosols are more concentrated the closer you are to someone’s mouth and nose, which is why even in outdoor environments there is benefit in maintaining some distance, such as standing or sitting a bit further away from each other than we might have done before the pandemic.

The things we can all do to protect ourselves and reduce the risk of getting infected and passing COVID-19 to others include:

  • Get vaccinated and get as many vaccine doses as you are eligible for, as soon as possible. For most children aged 12 to 17 years, this means being double-vaccinated. For all adults, this means being triple-vaccinated.
  • Get your booster / third dose as soon as you are eligible. Third dose boosters are now available from five months since your second dose. Pfizer and Moderna are similar vaccines and you should get whichever you can access earliest.
  • Minimise contact with unvaccinated persons and do not be afraid to ask if people are vaccinated. While it may cause some social friction, spending less time with unvaccinated family members and friends will be safer for you and them, and for infants and children who are not yet eligible for vaccination. Approaching these conversations with kindness may also help encourage your unvaccinated loved ones to reconsider their decision.
  • Always wear a well-fitting mask when inside or in a crowded location outside – masks are effective in reducing the risk of you getting COVID-19 or passing it on to others if you are infected.
  • Minimise the risk of COVID-19 in the lead-up to large events on Christmas and New Year’s. For example, avoid large gatherings, shop online and have gifts and groceries delivered. If you don’t have time or don’t want to pay for postage, “click and collect” and spend the least amount of time possible collecting the items, always wearing a well-fitted face mask in public indoor spaces. Avoid spending time in busy indoor environments like pubs, where lots of people are unmasked and likely to be emitting virus-laden aerosols into the shared air. Consider skipping some functions entirely, particularly if you are planning to spend time over the holidays with anyone at higher risk (older folks, people who have medical conditions or a compromised immune system, etc.).
  • When hosting events such as Christmas lunch, conduct them outdoors as much as possible. Keep people a little bit further apart that you would have pre-pandemic, to reduce the potential for short-range aerosol transmission. Open as many doors and windows in your house or apartment as you can, to have safe, clean indoor air. Flush out the virus. Consider asking Santa for a portable HEPA filter and run it continually indoors (see this guide by OzSAGE member A/Prof Robyn Schofield) and read our ventilation advice).
  • If you have the mildest of COVID-19 symptoms or are a close contact, visit a testing site because a PCR test will give the most accurate result. If you don’t have any symptoms, use a rapid antigen test (RAT) which can be bought from the supermarket or pharmacy. The afternoon or morning prior to social events (for example, Christmas Day), use a RAT and ask your party guests to get tested. If you can afford a pack of tests, you can test people at the door and get the results in 15 minutes while they wait outdoors in the fresh air.
  • If you are an essential worker, make plans for childcare for if you get called to work (short staffing is more likely to happen as the number of cases increase).
  • Have a plan for if someone in your household gets COVID-19. Consider how to arrange things for others dependent on you: adults, children and animals, in case you suddenly become a contact and need to isolate or are unwell.
  • Are you visiting someone who is elderly or immunosuppressed? It is important that you know that even if this person is vaccinated (such as your grandparents, a friend with a kidney transplant, a neighbour having cancer treatment) they are still at risk of catching COVID-19 and can get very sick. 

Things you can do that might help:

  • In the week before visiting them, don’t go to events or locations where there is a higher chance of someone having COVID-19.
  • Take a rapid antigen test before visiting them.
  • Even better, take a rapid antigen test each day in the three days before visiting them.

None of these recommendations are perfect, but the more of them you implement, the lower the chance of catching or passing on the virus.

If we all do our best, we may be able to reduce risk and reduce the harm of COVID-19 on ourselves, our families, our friends and our communities.

We can also reduce the risk of super-spreading events (like the Argyle nightclub in Newcastle) and help start 2022 with much less COVID-19 than we might otherwise have.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and Happy Holidays from OzSAGE.

Updated at 9.10am AEDT on 20 December 2021.

Moderna to make mRNA vaccines in Victoria

Moderna to make mRNA vaccines in Victoria

Victoria will become the first place in the southern hemisphere to manufacture Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines after the state government penned an in-principle agreement with the Commonwealth Government and pharmaceutical giant Moderna.

The deal, announced today by Victorian Acting Premier James Merlino and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, will see Moderna base its new manufacturing and finishing facilities in VIC.

The deal is a boon for the nation’s vaccine security, ensuring manufacturing can be contracted locally to avoid global supply chain issues and to create a more robust defence against future pandemics.

The manufacturing facility will be capable of producing up to 25 million vaccine doses per year from 2024, with the capacity to scale up to 100 million doses per year to combat future pandemics.

It is expected to create up to 500 jobs during construction and around 500 ongoing roles – driving the development of a local mRNA ecosystem that does not currently exist in Australia.

Moderna currently produces an mRNA vaccine that is provisionally approved in Australia by the Therapeutics Goods Administration (TGA) to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, and was recently recommended by the nation’s vaccine advisory group for use as a booster shot.

The first mRNA-based vaccines were rolled out during the COVID-19 pandemic, and teach human cells how to make a protein that will trigger an immune response in our bodies.

As well as mRNA COVID vaccines, the new facility will be able to produce other therapeutics which can be used in the treatment of cancer, rare diseases, cellular engineering and protein-replacement therapy.

“This is a huge announcement not just for Victoria, but the whole country – being able to manufacture mRNA vaccines and treatments locally will lock in vaccine security both on our shores and across our region,” VIC Acting Premier James Merlino said.

Updated at 11.11am AEDT on 14 December 2021.

Western Australia reimposes home quarantine for Queensland arrivals

Western Australia reimposes home quarantine for Queensland arrivals

Travellers form Queensland into Western Australia will now need to quarantine for two weeks at home as ‘low risk’ border restrictions are reimposed on the Sunshine State.

It comes as QLD opens its borders to travellers from the entire country today, provided they are fully vaccinated and have had a negative COVID-19 result in the 72 hours prior to travel.

Based on the latest health advice, WA has transitioned QLD from a ‘very low risk’ jurisdiction to a ‘low risk’ jurisdiction, which permits travel subject to the following strict conditions:

  • provide proof of being double dose vaccinated against COVID-19 (if eligible)
  • present for a COVID-19 test on arrival (within 48 hours) and on day 12
  • self-quarantine for 14 days in a suitable premises
  • complete a G2G Pass declaration prior to arrival, stipulating they do not have any COVID-19 symptoms and which jurisdictions they have been in the previous 14 days
  • land arrivals to be met at the border checkpoint for a health screening and to have their G2G Pass checked before proceeding to their self-quarantine.  

“Anyone who arrived in WA between Wednesday 1 December and 12:01am, Monday 13 December, and has been at the listed Queensland exposure sites at the specified times between Wednesday 1 December and 12:01am, Monday 13 December, is required to self-quarantine for 14 days and be tested immediately (within 48 hours) and at day 12,” the Western Australian government said.

“Recent arrivals into WA from Queensland who have not been to any exposure sites are advised to get tested if they develop any symptoms that may be related to COVID-19.”

The move from WA comes after QLD eased its border restrictions overnight, following the state achieving 80 per cent of the eligible population fully vaccinated.

As of 1am this morning, the state reopened to travellers from hotspots in New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria.

Travel into the state is conditional on being fully vaccinated, receipt of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within the 72 hours prior to arrival into QLD, and agreeing to get another COVID test on day five following arrival.

For those who have not been in a hotspot in the last 14 days, there are no restrictions on entry into QLD.

Updated at 10.03am AEDT on 13 December 2021.

Booster shots now available sooner for fully vaccinated, Moderna gets ATAGI approval

Booster shots now available sooner for fully vaccinated, Moderna gets ATAGI approval

The emergence of new COVID-19 variant Omicron has seen advice from the nation’s vaccine advisory group on the timing of booster shots change as it hands down a recommendation that Moderna’s jab can be used as a third immunisation.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) now recommends COVID-19 booster vaccination for anyone aged 18 and older who completed their primary course five or more months ago.

This change is down from a previous recommendation of six months after the second shot, and comes in light of the new variant of COVID-19 called Omicron.

“Evidence is still incomplete on the transmissibility, capacity to cause severe disease and overall impact of the Omicron variant. While data suggest that past infection with an earlier variant does not provide significant protection against infection, it remains unclear whether prior infection may reduce severity,” ATAGI said.

“Early data suggest that the protection provided by COVID-19 vaccination against infections with the Omicron variant is impaired compared to those with the Delta variant, but further data are required on the effectiveness against severe disease.

“Preliminary data suggest that the increased antibody levels generated following a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose may offer improved protection against the Omicron variant. However, the correlation between antibody levels in laboratory studies and protection against infection and severe disease is not yet established.”

With Moderna now recommended by ATAGI as a booster shot and provisional approval for the jab given by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) last week, Australians can choose between receiving a Pfizer (Comiranty) Moderna’s Spikevax shot as a booster.

ATAGI considers the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines to be “equally acceptable” as booster shots for those aged 18 and older, including pregnant women.

“Both mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are preferred over the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine for the booster dose, including for people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine for their primary course,” ATAGI said.

“The AstraZeneca vaccine is not yet TGA approved as a booster but can be used as a booster for people who have contraindications to mRNA COVID-19 vaccines or who had AstraZeneca for their primary course.”

The body also said the weight of evidence suggests that booster shots increase antibody levels substantially, likely offering protection against both Delta and the new Omicron variant.

“The anticipated benefits of bringing forward the booster dose include earlier protection, particularly against severe disease in those at risk, and improved protection against COVID-19 due to the Omicron variant,” ATAGI said.

“Vaccine manufacturers have also signalled they are examining the need for and potential development of COVID-19 vaccines that may be more effective against new variants, however this is expected to take several months.”

Updated at 9am AEDT on 13 December 2021.

Moderna booster shot receives provisional approval from TGA

Moderna booster shot receives provisional approval from TGA

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has today provisionally approved the use of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine called SPIKEVAX for individuals 18 years and older in Australia.

The decision means those eligible may receive Moderna’s shot as a booster (third dose) at least six months after their second jab as long as the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) also gives it the green light.

According to the TGA, the first two vaccines received can be any of the other COVID-19 vaccines registered for use in Australia, noting the data on the use of SPIKEVAX as a booster with other brands like Pfizer or AstraZeneca is more limited.

The TGA also advises that severely immunocompromised people aged 12 years and over can received their third primary dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at least 28 days after the second dose.

“TGA provisionally approved the booster dose following careful evaluation of the available data supporting safety and efficacy,” says the TGA.

“The TGA's decision was also informed by expert advice from the Advisory Committee on Vaccines, an independent committee with scientific, clinical and consumer representation.”

Federal Minister for Health Greg Hunt noted the significance of the announcement, acknowledging ATAGI is yet to make its decision.

“In addition to the Pfizer booster, subject to final approval - a second green-light by ATAGI…Australians will have two options for boosters very shortly,” Hunt said.

“I think this is another important step. Every day we’re making new strides and new progress with the vaccine program.”

Pfizer provisionally approved for kids

Today's announcement from the TGA comes three days after the Administration provisionally approved the use of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine called COMIRANTY in children aged 5 years and older.

Like other age groups, the TGA says the use of this vaccine in children aged 5-11 years should be given in two doses at least three weeks apart. However, a lower dose (10 micrograms) will be given to children aged 5-11 years, compared to that used for individuals 12 years of age and older (30 micrograms).

The provisional approval was made following consideration of data from clinical trials conducted in the United States, Finland, Poland and Spain, which demonstrated effectiveness by showing that the immune response to the vaccine in children was similar to that seen in older people.

Clinical trials also showed that the safety profile in children is similar to that seen in adults with the observed side effects being mild. The most frequent adverse events seen in clinical trials in children aged 5-11 years were injection site pain, fatigue, headache, injection site redness and swelling, muscle pain and chills.

Further advice on the rollout of COMIRNATY to this age group will be provided to Government by ATAGI.

Updated at 3.48pm AEDT on 8 December 2021.

QLD Premier confirms borders to reopen four days early

QLD Premier confirms borders to reopen four days early

With Queensland health authorities expecting the 80 per cent double-shot vaccination target to be reached this week, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has announced an earlier border reopening for next Monday.

"I'm very conscious that we want to give people certainty - we want to give families certainty and business certainty, but also too, it's a big administrative function now that government has to do, police need time to set up, and we just want to make sure everything is in order," the Premier said this afternoon.

"To provide everyone with that certainty I can advise that we will be bringing forward the opening date of our borders from December 17 to 1am, Monday, December 13."

This includes a reopening to the hotspots of NSW, VIC and ACT.

"Fully vaccinated travellers from interstate hotspots can arrive by road or air," she said, although there are expectations for delays at the border.

"You must have a negative COVID test in the previous 72 hours, so please, you've got this date now so you can go and start organising that test, and no quarantine is required if you are fully vaccinated.

"If you are not fully vaccinated you must arrive by air only, and hotel quarantine for 14 days."

The Queensland Government has also changed its definition of what constitutes 'fully vaccinated', from the previous limit of at least two weeks since the second shot, to one week as per the national guidelines.

All arrivals from domestic hotspots must also get a second COVID test on day five when they get to Queensland.

The Premier acknowledged how tough the restrictions have been on border communities, whose residents she said would be able to move across the border freely as of next Monday provided they have a border pass which needs to be renewed every 14 days.

Updated at 3:19pm AEDT on 6 December 2021.