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Commending everyone currently in a Covid testing line.
Lines at the Randwick testing centre in New South Wales are looking similar to Melbourne.
What we know ahead of national cabinet meeting
Good morning. If you’ve been following the news in the last 24 hours, you’ll know that the national cabinet meets later today. Before the leaders meet at lunchtime, let’s step out what has happened behind the scenes over the past few days.
- Last night, the Nine papers broke a story detailing new modelling undertaken by the Doherty Institute outlining some scenarios given the arrival of the Omicron variant.
- I’m told Doherty did some work for the health department and the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee earlier this month. A paper with a preliminary set of assessments, titled Anticipating Impacts of Waning and Boosting Immunity on Delta and Omicron Epidemics, went to the health department on 17 December.
- That work and further advice from the AHPPC went to Scott Morrison on 18 December.
- According to material I’ve seen, on 18 December, Morrison wrote to the premiers and chief ministers asking them to “respond to me with a strategy for your jurisdiction by close of business 23 December 2021”.
- The PM said the objective needed to be “to ensure maximum coordination of our efforts to control the spread of Covid-19 over the holidays”.
- Just so your understand the options, the AHPPC gave leaders the following advice: masks should be worn in indoor settings, particularly high risk settings; vaccination coverage needed to be increased through boosters; jurisdictions should maintain tracking, tracing and quarantine strategies; the international travel ban on high risk countries could be removed now Omicron was spreading rapidly around the world; jurisdictions should develop specific strategies to protect vulnerable settings and individuals, like residential aged care.
- Further on face masks, the AHPPC said wearing them was “particularly important in high risk settings”. The health advisers said masks should be mandatory “in all indoor settings including retail, hospitality when not eating or drinking, and entertainment facilities”. The health advisers added: “Implementation of mask wearing should occur prior to Omicron case escalation to have maximum benefit”.
- That advice looks pretty clear and unequivocal, right? But New South Wales has resisted and Morrison has talked about personal responsibility.
- Tracking back to midday and the national cabinet, I’m told the current plan is NOT to circulate any updated advice Doherty may have. Updated work will be referred to during today’s deliberation, but not circulated. This was the guidance early this morning.
- The final thing to note is this is a pandemic and this is a group of leaders – all things liable to change without notice. Stay tuned. We’ll report updates as they happen.
In better news, the reference rate in Victoria is now at 0.98%.
And it’s been a huge day for testing.
In NSW, though, 2.48% of tests came back positive. As we know, Omicron is expected to account for a number of cases in the state.
This is quite a significant development in Israel:
To clarify as many media outlets have been reporting, some people simply can’t access Covid tests after being turned away at testing centres, or not receiving results within the 72 hour timeframe.
Turning to hospitalisations, there are now 302 people hospitalised with the virus in New South Wales including 40 people in ICU. That’s an increase of 18 people hospitalised since yesterday.
Heading to Victoria, there are 394 people in hospital including 70 in ICU. That’s an increase of two in hospital since yesterday, and a decrease of three people requiring intensive care. So numbers are relatively stable there.
NSW records 3,763 new cases
Numbers in New South Wales are in, and it’s another record. There have been 3,763 new Covid cases.
That’s a rise of more than 700 on yesterday’s number, a previous record day.
Sadly, there have been two deaths.
Video: All you need to know from the Government’s coronavirus briefing (Evening Standard)
AAP are reporting 13 testing sites are now closed in Melbourne.
The Northern Territory government has today released $1.64m of land across seven sites for registered Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) providers to develop into accessible housing blocks for people living with a disability.
The new SDA homes will provide housing for up to 20 people, and will be spread across Darwin, Palmerston and Alice Springs.
Australia’s chief medical officer Paul Kelly has released a scathing statement in response to Doherty modelling which has predicted up to 200,000 cases per day in a “worst case” scenario:
I wish to address selective and misleading media reporting about ongoing modelling used to inform decision making by governments. Recent modelling, both in Australia and internationally, presents a range of potential scenarios as a result of the Omicron variant. While modelling is an important tool to help guide decision making, it is just one of a range of tools and cannot be viewed in isolation. Modelling helps to prepare for all scenarios and to mitigate the risk associated with the pandemic.
A preliminary scenario, of many being considered to help inform decision making, presents one of the worst case of all potential scenarios including assumptions that the Omicron variant is as severe as the Delta variant, an absence of hospital surge capacity, a highly limited booster program, no change to baseline public health and social measures and an absence of spontaneous behaviour change in the face of rising case numbers. None of these five assumptions represent the likely state of events, let alone all of them together, therefore presenting that scenario as the likely scenario that will occur is highly misleading.
AMA calls for reintroduction of some restrictions ‘given the uncertainty’ of Omicron
AMA vice president Dr Chris Moy has just appeared on ABC News Breakfast, calling for the reintroduction of some restrictions in light of the new variant of the virus:
The AMA’s position is given the uncertainty about Omicron and already the pressure we are seeing across the country it makes absolute sense as soon as possible to implement pretty simple things like mask-wearing which has been shown to reduce the spread of Covid, but also things like re-institution of QR codes in New South Wales and also some density limits at the moment, because what we are seeing is massive outbreaks, a lot stemming from places like nightclubs and pubs.
That seems to make sense, while we make sense of what Omicron brings to us and whether it is something that, despite the predictions of a large number of cases, whether it is something that is going to be very serious and is going to cause significant disease, breakthrough the vaccines and cause a lot of hospitalisations.
Victorian premier Daniel Andrews will temporarily return from leave to attend today’s national cabinet meeting. Acting premier James Merlino yesterday called for the shortening of the interval between booster shots.
Channel 10 is reporting 11 testing sites have already closed in Melbourne:
International doctors call for immediate release of Julian Assange
More than 300 doctors around the world have written to deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce today urging him to seek Julian Assange’s immediate release from prison in the UK on medical grounds.
The letter cites concern over Assange’s apparent mini stroke, warning it may be “the tip of a medical iceberg”:
Indeed his symptoms suggest as much. It is therefore imperative that Mr Assange be released from prison, where his health will otherwise continue to deteriorate and where his complex medical needs cannot be met.
In appendices to the letter, the doctors have released all former correspondence with the federal government – including previously unpublished material – in which they warned of cardiovascular pathology.
Perhaps our concerns were previously dismissed by your colleagues as hyperbolic. They are not. On the issue of cardiovascular pathology, we have been proven right. We do not wish to be proven right on the issue of Mr Assange’s survival.
We implore you, as Deputy Prime Minister, to intervene with the UK Government to seek Mr Assange’s immediate release on urgent medical grounds. We reiterate that he is an Australian citizen innocent in the eyes of the law, and guilty of and charged with nothing in the UK.
Confidence in interstate travel plummets over Omicron uncertainty
The threat of state and territory borders slamming shut as the Omicron variant spreads is front of mind for many Australians, with confidence in travelling interstate now lower than it was this time last year before the vaccine rollout had begun.
A survey of traveller confidence commissioned by the Australians Airports Association (AAA) has found that only 72% of respondents would be willing to cross state borders these holidays compared with 86% last Christmas.
While there is growing uncertainty about Covid rules going into the festive period, the survey also found that 97% of travellers are not booking trips more than three months in advance.
Of the 500 respondents, 62% said they feared the risk of border closures, while 35% expressed concern over health risks.
New South Wales and Victorian residents are the most willing to travel interstate, while Western Australian and Queensland residents are the least willing to travel across state lines.
Just 45% of fully vaccinated respondents who were regular travellers before the pandemic are willing to book a flight abroad.
James Goodwin, AAA chief executive said “there is a real fear among the travelling public that borders could close again as a result of the current Omicron strain and rising case numbers”.
Passenger numbers at Australian airports are still well-below pre-pandemic levels, even with Christmas just days away. There is going to be a long lag between the opening of state and territory borders and full consumer confidence when it comes to taking to the skies again.
In Melbourne, testing at Albert Park has been suspended before opening after reaching capacity for the third day in a row:
Deputy Labor leader Richard Marles is up on ABC radio national, and is asked about Morrison’s response to the Doherty Modelling which predicted up to 200,000 cases a day. To refresh, Morrison said it was “very unlikely”:
Modelling is what it is, it gives a range of possibilities, I guess the prime minister was outlining that but there’s a whole lot of challenges that are now being faced by the country and what’s really clear is we need leadership and what’s also clear is we’re not getting that from Scott Morrison.
If the gap in getting the booster is reduced to four months, 7.2 million Australians become eligible to get a booster as of Saturday week…the first thing here is the government needs to guarantee there is going to be supply. All of this scenario should have been foreseen, we’ve known for months the country is going to be opening up…we’ve known for months a proper booster rollout is critical in this time.
Morrison is asked whether rapid antigen tests will be made free in Australia as has been done in the UK. He says the government is “looking at all these options”, and brings up sunscreen again:
We have never had a set and forget policy when it comes to managing the pandemic. As I think people have seen, everything from jobkeeper to the Covid disaster payment, the support we provide to pharmacists and GPs for the vaccination program. I mean, we pay the states to deliver the vaccines, I do not know if people know that.
And we are watching those rates in hospitals, at the moment, they are performing very well. You remember, Victoria has over – had over 1,000 cases a day for some time now and their hospital system is standing up very well. The same is true here in New South Wales was not one of the advantages we have got is the time of year, unlike overseas in the northern hemisphere where they are in winter, we are in summer. That means you can meet outdoors … where you can, it’s a beautiful time of year, do it outside. But remember … wear a hat and wear sunscreen!
Still on Morrison, who is going really hard on this sunscreen analogy, partially as a way to plug that sunscreen campaign announced yesterday:
The other thing that everybody needs to do is as you say, we have good exercise common sense. It’s like wearing sunscreen and a hat.* We were talking about that yesterday with the sunscreen campaign. Wear a mask indoors in public areas, wash your hands, particularly for young people. Can I encourage you on this? Because that is where Omicron is moving most rapidly, amongst young people.
*Yeah, mate, except sunburn isn’t highly contagious.
Back to Covid: the prime minister Scott Morrison has just appeared on breakfast television rejecting Doherty Modelling which predicted up to 200,000 Covid cases per day under a “worst-case” scenario.
The modelling that has been reported is a very unlikely, extreme case scenario that assumes that nobody does anything, nobody gets boosters, there are no changes that take place, no one exercises common sense. We saw similar numbers at the start of the Covid pandemic which were never realised.
The chief medical officer and I just want to assure people that those sorts of numbers are [not] what we are expecting, they … are extreme scenarios.
In non-Covid news, Daniel Hurst has an exclusive today which shows Australia’s defence department wrote to France’s Naval Group a week before the submarine contract was cancelled, acknowledging the successful completion of one requirement for moving to the next stage of the project.
The letter acknowledged that at least one of those conditions was “successfully completed” as of 8 September, and said the Australian government “has, to date, demonstrated its commitment to working collaboratively with Naval Group”:
It’s three sleeps until Christmas and I’m crossing my fingers for Santa to bring the end of Omicron and, ideally, the novel coronavirus.
Caitlin Cassidy here with you this morning to guide you through the news.
Today, it’s all about the national cabinet, which will be gathering this afternoon for an emergency meeting to discuss the issues posed by the new variant.
The prime minister Scott Morrison yesterday rejected the return to Covid lockdowns and called for the move from a “culture of mandates to a culture of responsibility”.
But it comes with New South Wales premier Dominic Perrottet under increasing pressure to reintroduce restrictions after a record 3,057 Covid cases were detected yesterday, amid rising hospital admissions.
Perrottet will today push for the interval between Covid booster shots to be brought forward, which is expected to be high up on the agenda at the national cabinet amid discussion on indoor mask use.
Australian Medical Association president Dr Omar Khorshid yesterday called for the reintroduction of some restrictions to deal with the new variant including the reintroduction of density limits and mask wearing.
The ACT is today joining Queensland and Tasmania in reinforcing indoor mask restrictions.
Meanwhile, testing lines are already starting to form as interstate travellers rush to test negative in the lead-up to Christmas.
Let’s dive in.
Source: Thanks msn.com