As it happened: NSW restrictions eased for household, public gatherings as UK COVID-19 death toll surpasses 100,000

Summary

  • NSW and Victoria have recorded zero new locally acquired cases.
  • Vaccines should handle all known COVID-19 variants, early evidence suggests.
  • Britain has passed 100,000 deaths from COVID-19.
  • NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has announced an easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

Australia’s vaccine plan under a cloud following new European export rules

Australia’s vaccine rollout plan is under a cloud after the European Union slapped export controls on COVID-19 vaccines produced within their territory, including the Pfizer and AstraZeneca jabs the Morrison government is relying on.

The controls, which effectively mean vaccine producers must ask for permission before shipping vials outside the region, will at the very least slow the distribution process for countries outside Europe.

The government remains confident the vaccine program will commence in late February, despite the European Union controls.Credit:AP

A spokesman for Health Minister Greg Hunt did not answer specific questions about what the European decision means for Australia’s vaccine rollout. Australia has ordered 10 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which is being manufactured in Belgium. The first shipment of at least 80,000 doses is due by the end of February.

The country is also expecting 1.2 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to be imported into Australia from Europe as local manufacturing of that vaccine ramps up. On Monday, that number was revised down from the previously expected 3.8 million due to global supply issues.

Mr Hunt remains confident Pfizer will still deliver the first lot of 80,000 vaccines at the end of February, a spokesman said.

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Calls for police to return to Melbourne as COVID response triggers station closures

The police union is demanding the state government dramatically cut the number of officers working at border checkpoints after multiple police stations were forced to close over the weekend due to widespread staffing shortages.

Victorian police union secretary Wayne Gatt said the sheer number of officers deployed to the coronavirus response had led to sporadic closures of stations. He said police could be better used fighting crime now that cases of coronavirus had plummeted.

Victorian Police Association secretary Wayne Gatt.Credit:Paul Rovere

The strain on police resources was amplified in recent days with more than 1600 police officers remaining split between border checkpoints and hotel quarantine, and about another 800 deployed to Invasion Day rallies on Tuesday.

Counters at police stations in Richmond, Fitzroy and Collingwood were all shuttered over the weekend due to a lack of staff, Mr Gatt said, with officers taken out of crime, homicide and highway units and dispatched to the state’s border checkpoints.

“Over the weekend we saw closures at Richmond, Fitzroy and Collingwood. Cheltenham has been operating effectively closed for a while,” he said.

“There have been stations sporadically having to close because of a sheer lack of numbers available. On any given shift, they might just have to shut the front doors.“

The union’s calls come as Victoria reached 21 consecutive days without a new locally acquired COVID-19 case on Wednesday and two new cases emerged in hotel quarantine.

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Federal and state governments working to establish vaccine hubs

Acting Chief Medical Officer Professor Michael Kidd says the federal government is currently working with states to establish the “30 to 50 major hubs” which will distribute the COVID-19 vaccine.

The vaccine will be distributed first to workers dealing with international arrivals or quarantine facilities, frontline health workers and those living in aged care or with a disability.

Acting Chief Medical Officer, Professor Michael Kidd.Credit:SMH

“These initial 30 to 50 major hubs, where the Pfizer vaccine will be going to are going to be in large centres,” Professor Kidd said.

“They’ll be places where those priority groups will either come to those centres – the hospital workers the other health care workers at risk of coming in contact with COVID-19, the quarantine workers and the border workers – they will be taken, taking the vaccine from those hubs, with our outreach teams to the residential aged care and disability care centres.”

‘Evolving rapidly’: No change to green zone measures with two more cases in New Zealand

Acting Chief Medical Officer Professor Michael Kidd says two new cases have emerged in New Zealand, meaning the federal government has not yet made a decision about lifting the pause on green zone flights.

“We’ve been advised by the New Zealand authorities that two more positive cases have been identified in New Zealand in people who had also been in hotel quarantine at the Pullman Hotel in Auckland,” Professor Kidd said.

Acting Chief Medical Officer Professor Michael Kidd.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

“The situation is evolving rapidly.”

The current suspension is in place until 2pm tomorrow.

Professor Kidd said Australian authorities would be monitoring and liaising with New Zealand health authorities closely.

“We will be following up the details of both of these cases with the New Zealand authorities once further details, including the results of additional testing, are known,” Professor Kidd said.

“The Australian government has not made a decision about whether to lift the pause on green zone flights.”

‘Grim milestone’: Chief Medical Officer says over 2 million COVID-19 deaths

Acting Chief Medical Officer Professor Michael Kidd says that over 2 million people have lost their lives in the course of the pandemic.

“Globally over 2,150,000, people are reported to have lost their lives to COVID-19, over the past few years,” Professor Kidd said.

Acting CMO Professor Michael Kidd.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

“This is a grim milestone.”

Professor Kidd said that Australia’s ongoing performance in relation to the pandemic was good.

“We’ve also this week had the very exciting news about the approval of the Pfizer vaccine by the Therapeutic Goods Administration and plans are underway to come into the rollout of the vaccination of Australians,” he said.

“This will be the largest mass immunisation programme our country has ever seen.”

Why John Millman wanted to be put back into hotel quarantine

Given the scathing reviews of hotel quarantine that have come from some tennis players, it’s hard to imagine someone volunteering to be locked up for two weeks for a second time.

But that is exactly what Australia’s second-highest ranked male tennis player, John Millman, did.

John Millman thinks the courts at Melbourne Park will play differently this year.Credit:Getty Images

Millman, who will partner Alex de Minaur in Australia’s ATP Cup singles campaign next week, investigated trying to be let inside the quarantine bubble in Melbourne. He wanted join coach Peter Luczak and practise on the Melbourne Park courts, where he believes conditions will be different to last year.

Millman, who completed two weeks of hard quarantine in Sydney late last year when he returned home from overseas, also defended his first-round ATP Cup opponent’s comments likening quarantine to prison.

But with the chaos of recent border closures, Millman was originally stuck in Queensland before driving to Melbourne from Canberra to start his Australian Open journey.

The world No.38 spoke to The Age and the Herald just before practice at Xavier College in Kew on Wednesday.

Read the full story here.

Professor Michael Kidd gives COVID-19 update

The Australian Government Acting Chief Medical Officer, Professor Michael Kidd, provided an update on COVID-19.

Black Friday sales kept the cost of clothes down at the end of 2020 but childcare and tobacco costs increased significantly.Credit:Louise Kennerley

The annual growth in prices was also 0.9 per cent, well below the Reserve Bank’s target of between 2 and 3 per cent. Economists expect the result to contribute to sluggish wage growth.

The biggest contributors to price rises over the last three months of the year were childcare and tobacco, both driven by government policies. Childcare jumped 37.7 per cent after the government’s fee-free childcare arrangements introduced during the pandemic, came to an end, while tobacco costs increased 10.9 per cent due to rising taxes.

Domestic holiday travel costs increased 6.3 per cent as state and territory borders reopened after COVID-19 restrictions. Medical and hospital services recorded a 2.5 per cent rise following a jump in private health premiums in October after a six-month freeze. Food and non-alcoholic drinks increased 0.2 per cent, while meals out and takeaway foods were up 1.1 per cent.

Read Jennifer Duke’s full story here.

‘Wartime effort’: Biden administration to boost vaccine supply

Washington: The Biden administration is ramping up the distribution of coronavirus vaccines, announcing a new plan to deliver enough doses to protect 300 million Americans – nearly the entire US population – by the end of the northern hemisphere summer.

President Joe Biden announced a surge in vaccine deliveries to states on Wednesday (AEDT) along with the news that the federal government would buy an extra 100 million doses each of the approved coronavirus vaccines from Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna.

Vials of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a mass vaccination super-site in Chula Vista, California. Credit:Bloomberg

“This is enough vaccine to vaccinate 300 million Americans by end of summer, early fall,” Biden said, meaning most Americans would be vaccinated by about the end of August.

He described the push to increase supply as a “wartime effort”.

The purchases would increase available supply by 50 per cent, bringing the total to 600 million doses.

Even more vaccine could be available if federal scientists approve a single-dose shot from Johnson & Johnson, which is expected to seek emergency authorisation in the coming weeks.

Read the full story here.

Updated: First Queensland cities to receive COVID-19 vaccine named

The first five Queensland cities to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine have been named.

Health workers in Brisbane, Cairns and Townsville, the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast will be vaccinated first.



Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said those cities had been chosen as workers there were more likely to be infected by returning travellers.

Hospital workers, quarantine and border staff and those working and living in aged care and disability accommodation will receive the Pfizer vaccine within the next few weeks.

“Then, as we get those newer vaccines that can be distributed more easily because they don’t need to be managed at those very, very low temperatures as the Pfizer vaccine does, we’ll be able to spread that vaccine out throughout the state,” she said.

Read the full story here.

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