LIVE – Updated at 04:25
Follow all the day’s news.
Scott Morrison to speak after national cabinet meeting
And what do you know, the prime minister, Scott Morrison, is due to speak in Canberra at 3.45pm, after the national cabinet meeting.
We know there’s been a bit of extreme weather around Australia of late, not just the deluge that hit Queensland a few days back but also ex-tropical cyclone Tiffany now causing flooding in parts of the Northern Territory.
If you happen to be in Sydney or coastal NSW, you’ll have needed a decent umbrella too. More than 40mm has fallen on the city so far today, and there’s an alert out from the Bureau of Meteorology for possible flooding on roads in coastal suburbs.
The two-day totals are well over 80mm, making it the wettest couple of days since the floods in March.
The La Nina weather pattern tilts the odds to favour a damp and relatively cool summer for eastern and southern Australia. The Bureau doesn’t expect the Pacific to shrug its La Nina conditions until autumn.
A warming climate also means the atmosphere can hold 7% more moisture per degree of heating, and of course, that’s what we [insert appropriate adjective] humans seem intent to do.
Anyway, Tiffany may be an ex-TC, but it might not be done just yet.
Some models predict big falls over inland and eastern Australia soon, and you have to hope they doesn’t land on saturated catchments, or we might get a bit more flooding.
Meanwhile, temperatures as high as 49 degrees were forecast for parts of the Pilbara today.
Back on the cancellation of the Australian Open draw. Apparently only minutes before it was due to start a Tennis Australia staffer told reporters it was all going ahead as planned.
Australian Open draw delayed as wait on Djokovic decision continues
Confirmation that the draw for the Australian Open has been delayed until further notice.
Curious … the Australian Open draw, which was just about to be held, has reportedly been postponed.
The Victorian Reason party MP Fiona Patten says the Victorian public service should trial a four-day working week.
Arrests made as protesters allegedly try to enter Parliament House
Police in Canberra have made a series of arrests after protesters allegedly tried to enter Parliament House, AAP reports:
Four people have been arrested outside Parliament House in Canberra after attempting to enter the building and protest unlawfully, ACT policing says.
Three men and one woman were arrested at the scene and all were transported to the ACT watch house.
A police official said capsicum spray was used during the incident to control the group.
Social media footage posted by an anti-mandatory vaccination group shows protesters engaging with a line of police outside Parliament House.
The group has been involved in a number of protests this week including outside the prime minister’s official Canberra residence.
We had reported earlier that police were gathering outside Parliament House because of a Sovereign Citizen protest.
Can we expect meat supplies to be tight for a while? Yes, if the slaughter rate is any guide. Here’s the one for beef:
With lamb supply also heavily affected by Covid disruptions:
More than $60m in contracts for rapid antigen tests will not actually add any more home tests to the national stockpile, AAP reports:
Urgent government tenders worth more than $60m for rapid antigen tests won’t add any more to the national stockpile.
The government placed five urgent tenders for the Covid-19 tests on Monday, citing “extreme urgency or events unforeseen”.
While the tenders will see more than 70m rapid tests purchased, they will not be added to the more than 200m rapid tests the government said would arrive in the country in coming weeks.
“This is not a tender for further RATs,” a federal health department spokesman told AAP.
“As per the Covid procurement rules, these contracts were issued as ‘urgent and unavoidable’ following a limited tender process.
“Each proposal was independently assessed against consistent criteria before the departmental delegate made the decision to procure the tests.”
As Covid-19 cases surge across the country, there have been large shortages of rapid antigen tests, which has put pressure on PCR testing clinics.
The opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, said the prime minister, Scott Morrison, should have listened to health experts and planned for the current virus outbreak.
“The national plan made it clear that once we opened up there would be an increased number of infections and we needed to make sure we planned for it,” he told the ABC.
Bodies such as the Australian Medical Association called for the government to acquire large numbers of rapid tests back in September.
The prime minister is meeting with state and territory leaders for the latest national cabinet meeting on Thursday.
National cabinet is set to agree upon a time frame for when concession card holders would be able to access free rapid antigen tests from pharmacies.
Concession holders would be eligible for 10 free rapid tests during a three-month period, with arrangements already finalised with pharmacies.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions again called for RATs to be free and easily accessible ahead of the meeting.
This thread is as good a way as any to pass the time while we wait on a decision regarding Novak Djokovic’s visa. It explains what could happen to the Australian Open draw (set to take place in an hour or so) if he is forced to withdraw from the tournament.
AAP reports that a peak body for aged care residents wants an ends to lockdowns in residential facilities:
Aged care’s peak advocacy body has called for an end to locking down elderly residents as Covid spreads through residential facilities.
The Council on the Ageing CEO, Ian Yates, says while locking down residential aged care facilities at the start of an outbreak is understandable, it can’t continue indefinitely.
“We are seeing far too many residents being locked up for very long periods of time when they indeed are fully vaccinated [and] the staff are all vaccinated,” he told Sky News on Thursday.
“We want to keep Omicron to the bare minimum, we are not going to keep it out of aged care when it’s widespread in the community but the impact is much, much less than in 2020 when we didn’t have the vaccines.”
The biggest immediate impact is staff shortages while access to rapid antigen tests in aged care is proving problematic, restricting the return of some staff and visitors to facilities.
Yates says facilities needed to be on the front foot to avoid prolonged lockdowns.
He called for residents to be able to have an essential visitor who can be treated as a pseudo-staff member to keep in contact with them.
Labor’s aged care spokeswoman Clare O’Neil has criticised the federal government facilitating “diabolical” conditions within aged care facilities, saying staff and residents had been neglected for the better part of a decade.
She also took aim at the low booster rate of staff, saying less than one in three have had a third jab.
But a spokesperson for the Health and Aged Care minister, Greg Hunt, said senior Australians have been a priority throughout the pandemic, noting the country has had one of the lowest levels of death in aged care from the pandemic.
The government has delivered 5.6 million rapid antigen tests to aged care facilities – “the largest deployment across the country of tests from the national medical stockpile”, the spokesperson said.
More than 1,700 facilities have had boosters administered to eligible residents and workers with a higher than 99% vaccination rate among staff.
All facilities are due for completion in January, the spokesperson said.
It is a particularly warm day in Melbourne too, so I’d expect it’s fairly ripe out there. As if 2022 wasn’t offal enough…
Confirmed Covid-19 numbers
Here’s what we know about the Covid-19 numbers so far today:
Cases – 92,264
- RAT – 61,387 (from 1 January)
- PCR – 30,877
Hospitalisations – 2,383
Deaths – 22
Cases – 37,169
- RAT – 16,843
- PCR – 20,326
Hospitalisation – 953
Deaths – 25
Cases – 14,914
- RAT – 2,812
- PCR – 12,102
Hospitalisations – 530
Deaths – 6
Cases – 1,020
- RAT – not yet included
- PCR – 1,020
Hospitalisations – 24
Cases – 550
Hospitalisations – 24
Deaths – 0
Fining people for failing to report a positive Covid test result is unhelpful and unnecessarily punitive, the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) says.
NSW and South Australian governments yesterday announced $1,000 fines for those who don’t report positive tests.
Greg Barton, spokesperson for the ALA, said:
Threatening to punish people with exorbitant fines for failing to report their results creates one more barrier for people who are already struggling to get tested, to understand the changing rules and [to] manage their health.
The policing and enforcement of this health order will be almost impossible. This punitive response will not work and may be counter-productive.
Being threatened with a $1,000 fine is a disincentive to get tested, especially when accessing a rapid antigen test is already expensive and difficult.
These fines will particularly hurt the most disadvantaged people in the community who are already struggling with losing their employment due to illness and having difficulty accessing and being able to afford rapid antigen tests.
Instead of focusing on penalties for failing to report results, the government must focus on ensuring everyone has access to testing and providing support for people who are unwell or are in isolation.
More bad news for little penguins: AAP report that a dog is thought responsible for killing 17 of them near Burnie in Tasmania.
You may recall our story from earlier this week about more deaths at a colony in Western Australia.
Here’s the story:
Wildlife authorities in Tasmania are calling for help to identify a dog thought responsible for killing 17 little penguins in the state’s northwest.
The birds were found dead at West Beach in Burnie on December 31.
Tasmania’s Parks and Wildlife Service released CCTV images of a dog that was in the area around the time of the attack.
“It is possible this dog is the animal responsible for the penguin deaths,” state compliance coordinator Michael Spaulding said.
“We ask anyone who may have information to assist with identifying this dog to please make contact with us.”
Post-mortem investigations determined the little penguins, the smallest of all penguins, died as a result of a dog attack.
“Dogs can cause a lot of damage to penguin colonies very quickly. It is important owners control or contain their pets effectively,” Spaulding said.
Tasmania in 2019 passed tougher laws increasing potential penalties for owners of dogs that kill sensitive wildlife.
Owners could be fined up to $5,040, have their pet destroyed, and be liable for other costs.
The penalty for taking a dog into a prohibited area containing sensitive habitat for native wildlife was increased to $3,360.
There were several mass penguin deaths due to dog attacks in 2018 and 2019, including one at Low Head where 58 perished.
The NT record 550 Covid cases, drop in hospitalisations
The Northern Territory reported an increase in Covid cases but a drop in hospitalisations on Thursday, AAP reports:
The Northern Territory has reported 550 new COVID-19 cases as it relaxes testing requirements to reduce PCR queue lengths and waiting times for results.
Thursday’s new infections in the 24 hours to 8pm on Wednesday bring the territory’s total active case load to about 3,000 with 24 in hospital, four fewer than the previous day.
Chief minister Michael Gunner said 18 patients were suffering severe symptoms and one was in intensive care.
“At the moment, all things considered, the growth in numbers is fairly controlled although it is highly unlikely we have reached our peak,” Mr Gunner told reporters on Thursday.
“We do not have a high proportion of severe cases which indicates our high vaccination rate is doing its job and our testing numbers are high”.
Under new testing rules for the NT, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests will also no longer be required to confirm a positive rapid antigen test (RAT) results, Mr Gunner said.
But people who test positive using a RAT will be required to report the result to the health department or face a hefty $5,000 fine.
“While they are not as accurate as PCR tests, rapid antigen tests are still pretty accurate,” Mr Gunner said.
“At the scale we are at now with hundreds of new cases a day, the margin of error of RATs [is] not a big issue”.
Positive COVID-19 cases exiting isolation will also no longer need to take a final PCR test to confirm they are negative, so long as they are not symptomatic. Additionally, close contacts can use a RAT in the first three days of isolating, instead of queuing for a PCR test.
Mr Gunner said RATs delivered results far quicker than PCR tests, which was important given the speed at which the Omicron variant could spread through the community.
“We are making these changes today because we don’t want Territorians to go through what people elsewhere went through over Christmas and New Year,” Mr Gunner said.
“We don’t want you stuck in queues for eight or nine hours waiting for a test and we don’t want you stuck at home waiting for five, six or seven days waiting for a result.”
Mr Gunner said the change would keep Territorians safe and let them get on with their lives.
The NT detected 352 new cases on Wednesday, 594 on Tuesday, 403 on Monday, 481 on Sunday and 594 on Saturday.
Allowing fossil fuel companies to extract gas from beneath the Lake Eyre basin would “blow out of the water” the Queensland government’s emission targets and make it more difficult for Australia to comply with its international obligations, a new report says.
Origin Energy was given approval by the state government to begin exploration for gas on leases in the basin in late December.
If allowed to proceed, the application could open up the region – home to one of the last major free-flowing desert river systems – to the extraction of fossil fuels across 225,000 hectares of Queensland’s channel country.
You can read the full story below:
Thank you Matilda for again demonstrating blogging skills that are as rare as an RAT.
With that, I shall hand you over to the amazing Nino Bucci who will take you through the afternoon’s news.
Australia Open ticket sales to be paused at 50% capacity.
Here is the full statement from the Victorian government on their decision to cap ticket sales for the Australian Open to 50% capacity.
All tickets sold to events that already have over 50% capacity will be honoured, however.
The search for missing Victorian teenager Krystal Cain, who was last seen in flood waters in south-east Queensland, has entered a fifth day, reports Marty Silk from AAP.
The 14-year-old became separated from her father when their car was submerged in flood waters on the Burnett Highway near Booubyjan, north-west of Gympie, in the early hours of Saturday.
Police have grave concerns about Krystal and will on Thursday reveal whether the search will be scaled back
Emergency services and volunteers in helicopters, boats, trail bikes, 4WD vehicles and on horseback have been looking for the teen.
Bauple farmer Steve Bottcher, 52, and a 22-year-old Sunshine Coast man were killed in the floods after ex-cyclone Seth dumped more than half a metre of rain on the Wide Bay-Burnett region.
There were tributes for Bottcher after the father of five was swept away when his boat capsized on his property on Monday night.
“Steve was a very fun loving man who was always up for a yarn and some coldies,” friend Haelee Faithfull wrote on a GoFundMe page set up to help pay for funeral costs.
It’s such a sad loss for his family and friends and our community.
ACT records 1,020 cases from PCR testing
The ACT has recorded 1,020 new Covid-19 cases today but this does not yet include results from at-home rapid tests.
The Herald Sun is reporting the crowd capacity at the Australian Open will be halved under new restrictions in an attempt to slow the spread of Omicron across Victoria.
It says all tickets that have already been sold will be honoured, even if the event goes over 50% capacity, but all further sales will be limited to stay within the new restrictions.
This has not yet been independently confirmed by Guardian Australia and I’ll bring you more updates as soon as I can.
Queensland health minister Yvette D’Ath has addressed a statement published by a minor Queensland nursing association overnight that suggested unvaccinated nurses were being welcomed back into the workforce in Queensland.
She has stated unequivocally that this is untrue:
I have seen reports overnight from the nurses professional association of Queensland who have put out statements on social media saying they welcome the government’s position to allow unvaccinated healthcare workers back into the workforce.
I want to make this clear that that’s not correct.
We are not, nor are we considering welcoming back unvaccinated healthcare workers into the health system. At all.
I hope that the NPAQ immediately clarifies that statement putting on social media.
Unvaccinated staff aren’t able to work in our hospitals. The only staff unvaccinated he will be allowed into our hospitals were still not allowed in clinical settings are those who have been granted exemptions, which there are very few, and there are those who are seeking exemptions currently. Those people aren’t allowed to work in the workplace unvaccinated so I want to make that very clear.
There are 530 cases in hospital, a slight rise from from yesterday, from 525 ward patients, and 26 inpatient intensive care patients in hospital at the moment.
It’s not a great difference since yesterday but we shouldn’t read too much into changes on a day-to-day basis. We need to look at trends. There were 33,849 tests performed yesterday by Queensland Health facilities.
Queensland chief health officer Dr John Gerrard is giving details on those six Covid-19 deaths overnight. He says none of these people had received a booster shot:
Two people in their 70s, three in the 80s and one over the age of 90.
All had underlying medical conditions. Three of them were in residential aged care. Five them were double vaccinated, one was unvaccinated and none had received a booster.
Our thoughts are with their families and loved ones today. Out of respect for families, I won’t say anything more clinically about these patients …
Sometimes it’s difficult to work out if an individual patient has died from or with Covid or to what extent the virus has played a part in their death. So from now on, our reporting will simply report the death that is, just that individuals that have had a positive Covid test around the time of their death.
‘The borders will be coming down’: Queensland to scrap all entry requirements
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says from 1am Saturday all of Queensland border requirements will be scrapped as the state heads towards 90% full vaccination:
Anyone coming domestically across into Queensland, either by our road or by air, they do not have to show that they have had their border pass, they don’t have to show that they have had a rapid antigen test but this is the time and the time is now right as we head towards hitting that 90% next week. In terms of international travel, we will wait until that is formally declared.
Annastacia Palaszczuk says there are 556 people in hospital, 26 in ICU and 10 ventilated in Queensland.
Queensland records six deaths and 14,914 new Covid-19 cases
Queensland has recorded its deadliest day in the pandemic, with six deaths and 14,914 new cases.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is speaking now:
When you think about during the whole two years of the pandemic, we lost seven people, to lose six in one day is a big shock and we are, our thoughts are with them. It’s quite upsetting …
Can I please express my deepest sympathies to the families of the loved ones that are passed away, these are people that make people’s grandparents, brothers, sisters, uncles and I think this will be a very difficult time for families at the moment? Unfortunately, we are in a pandemic but still, a very, very sad day for these families. The six people who have lost their lives are aged between their 70s and the 90s.
Police have descended on Parliament House after a Sovereign Citizen protest gathers outside.
More updates to come:
My colleague Ben Butler compiled this comprehensive overview of the supply chain problems that will exercise our state and federal (and territorial) leaders when national cabinet meets today.
A good place to start is finding more truck drivers, which is at the heart of the problem, says Nathan Roost, a partner at EY who specialises in supply chain operations:
Of late, the challenge has been road transport because of the shortage of truckies, but also the state-by-state differences in how each jurisdiction is handling Covid, and the restrictions to get you in and out.
The global nature of the constraints are also exacerbating the strains:
There’s tremendous demand right around the world. Sometimes we don’t get allocated what we want because the US or Europe are more important and a bigger market for some of these multinationals.
If it’s predictable, supply chains work fantastically … If demand is peaky, if demand is unpredictable, then that causes all kinds of havoc both for the manufacturers but also for logistics companies. It’s going to be a difficult six to eight weeks.
Roost adds that we’re all more conscious of the need to ensure we have resilient workforces and not just flashy new equipment.
Still, despite the strains we can expect for a while, he is confident that the enormous pent-up demand – aided by huge government spending and low-interest rates – will power the economy over these speed bumps:
There’s a shock, clearly in the short term, but I think longer term the economic momentum will remain somewhat positive.
We are just standing by now to hear from the Queensland premier with the state’s Covid-19 update.
Victorian Liberal MP James Newbury is trying to label Daniel Andrews’ rule allowing asymptomatic close contacts to go to work if they are deemed essential as a “soft lockdown”.
This government, when they announced some testing for free for concession cardholders, then went out afterwards and told pharmacists that they were on their own accessing the tests to be made available for concession cardholders.
It is just extraordinary the arrogance of this government and as I said, I think Australians are getting to the point whereby they want a government that actually governs and governs in their interest. Not one that always says, “I don’t hose,” or “it’s not a race’ when it comes to access to the vaccines, or, “I don’t drive a delivery truck.” Enough of the photo ops, enough of the photo ops, this bloke needs to do his job.
OK, we’re heading up north to check out what’s going on with Labor leader Anthony Albanese, who is speaking now in Rockhampton.
When the public hears comments like “the health system is under strain” or “hospitals are at breaking point”, it can be hard to grasp what it means.
NSW Health’s critical intelligence unit now says the share of intensive care beds taken up by Covid patients has increased from one-fifth a week ago to one-third in just a week.
Normally there’s not a lot of spare capacity to treat people in bad car accidents or who have heart attacks or other health events needing such care, so a shift of that proportion in one week rings alarm bells.
But within the wards of our hospitals, the strain is, if anything, more acute. A senior nurse in one of Sydney’s most prominent and typically well-resourced hospitals tells us nurse-to-patient ratios are soaring to dangerous levels.
Patients in the high dependency unit of this hospital would normally expect one nurse for every three patients. That’s now about one to five, and rising.
Resuscitation efforts usually involve as many as eight staff to bring somebody back to life; that’s now more like two or three now because of Covid curbs and staff shortages.
And this unit is taking Covid patients when they didn’t have them before, even during the Delta surge because of inadequate equipment to limit the airborne spread of Covid. Staff fear for the safety of non-Covid patients who have little immunity left.
Read more here:
If you know more please contact [email protected]
Daniel Andrews has been asked if he thinks Novak Djokovic will have his visa revoked, but the Victorian premier is trying to make it clear that this is the federal government’s problem, not his:
I’m not a punter, I’m not a betting person, what I’d say to you is those matters are for the federal government, I don’t issue visas, they do. I leave it to them …
That tournament is a lot bigger than any one person, it’s got a grand slam for a reason, it’s better than any one person. Just like the safety of our community is bigger than any one person.
Victorian premier Daniel Andrews says his government has no plans for additional business supports to help make up for the loss of customers and staff shortages Omicron has caused:
There are significant supports for those who are waiting for a test result, there are significant supports for those who lose hours of work … I’m not here to make further announcements and business support.
Businesses are open, there is no lockdown or restrictions … We have provided Victorian taxpayers, have provided to Victorian businesses, the best part of $10bn of business support so that very significant.
And I’m not here to make any further announcements about that.
The glaring shortages of rapid antigen tests have been well-documented.
But it appears shortages of PCR supplies are now also hampering testing efforts in Australia. ACT Health last night announced it was shutting down roughly half of its PCR testing centres due to what it described as “unavoidable supply issues”:
Shortages are being experienced across the country whilst demand for COVID-19 testing remains high.
This has obvious consequences for those who cannot find a rapid test but are symptomatic or are at high or moderate risk of exposure. I’ve asked other jurisdictions whether they are also experiencing PCR supply shortages.
Daniel Andrews says the government is also providing a supply of booster vaccines to help ensure supermarket staff are able to keep operating:
The other thing I should note just by way of example, we will provide a booster, a third shot booster supply to Woolworths and to Coles and to that sector and they will run booster clinics inside their business, so we are taking the booster program to them …
We will provide them with the supply and they will most likely engage a private provider to administer the vaccine. We do not have the staff to do it ourselves because we are doing kids and boosters more broadly.
That is another example of something spoke about yesterday and something we have agreed to do where we will take the booster program to them and that means they can get a higher rate of staff who are boosted and that is really important to drive down infection.
Were the supermarkets able to give you a forecast of how long it will be like this in terms of the supply shortage?
No. They are working as hard as they can and we are doing what we can to support them and obviously, they are assessing things daily, weekly. It is different in different parts of the state, different in different parts of the country as well, although these challenges are national they are not just challenges that Victoria faces.
Andrews has clarified that those tests will be used in cases where the government is the employer.
He is asked if the government will be supporting other large employers, such as Coles or Woolworths, with getting tests:
If and when we can help, obviously we will but that is and there are lots of different ways in which we provide that support and I think businesses genuinely appreciate and understand that not only is the government grateful to them, the community is grateful to them for the extra effort they are going to with the challenges and the pressures they are under but they also appreciate that there is only so much the government can do.
2.5m RATs to be given to Victorian government in coming days
Daniel Andrews has been asked if it will be the workplace or the essential worker who will be required to produce the rapid antigen tests when coming to work from close contact isolation, and what will happen if neither can get their hands on any:
National cabinet today I think we will talk about those issues, because they are hard to find.
There are 10m to be released from the national medical stock while Victoria would expect to get pro-rata, so about 2.5m.
They are different to the at-home kits, they are involved but they can take the of some of the kids that we have been using in different settings and that will free up some kits for these sorts of purposes.
Good news for Victorians awaiting a PCR test result, Jeroen Weimar says most are now coming back within two days:
Sixty-nine per cent now of PCR test results are coming back within 48 hours and over half are coming back the next day.
There is still work to do, it is still is short of the [time frames] we believe we should be at.
The slow recovery of the last seven days is directly associated with the introduction of rapid antigen testing into testing centres and there are now 64 testing centres that are able to offer rapid antigen tests to those they deem appropriate.
Here is testing commander Jeroen Weimar giving us the nitty-gritty details of the new essential services quarantine exemptions:
The premier outlined the sectors – emergency services, corrections, transport and freight distribution, etc. It is important to understand that it applies to those vital workers within those sectors. Those undertaking critical roles within the sectors, it is not an open slather for everyone in the sector.
It applies to close contacts of a Covid-positive case. Somebody who lives with somebody who already has C0vid and what we allow for is for that person to leave the normal seven-day quarantine and attend work for the critical work function. For the rest of the time they will be in quarantine. They can go to work and do the critical work and then they are returning to quarantine. Unable to do other social activities during the seven-day period.
It requires an individual to undertake a daily rapid antigen test before attending for work on that test must be negative and they need to be asymptomatic … they are required to wear a mask through the entire length of their duties at work, preferably an N95 mask.
Employers will be required to ensure that people are able to take separate meal breaks …
Clearly, if they become symptomatic in that time if they become positive during that time then they have to start a seven-day quarantine period as per normal.
Andrews says that the lack of delivery drivers has become the most critical bottleneck in the food supply chain across the state.
I had a meeting with supermarket CEOs yesterday and gave them a chance to reflect on some of the challenges that they are facing, we are a in ongoing contact and deep engagement with that sector and so many others but it was important to hear first-hand, and not the first time I have done – a bit important to hear first-hand about the challenges they are facing.
Last week was distribution centres and bottlenecks there, this week it is truck drivers and a shortage of those to move. There is a lot of stock in many different parts of their round but challenges are not so much about the availability of stock it is about moving the stock from one part of the country to the other. We continue to work with them and the unions to try and do whatever we can to ease that pressure.
These announcements, those made on Monday and the fact that we added to the list today, will support many different businesses in many different sectors to try and balance or deal with the challenges that we all face at the moment.
Victoria extends quarantine exemptions to critical industries
Daniel Andrews has confirmed that Victoria will extend the ability for essential workers to forgo close contact isolation if they are asymptomatic to the emergency services, education, critical utilities, custodial facilities and transport and freight sectors:
Cabinet have made a number of decisions last, yesterday afternoon and into the evening to add to that list and I am pleased today to be able to announce that, based on the hard work of our public health team, we are able to add to the list of food and food production, food distribution. We can also add emergency services, education, critical utilities, custodial facilities, transport and freight.
So all transport and freight, not just food production or food-related transport and freight, those sectors will join the food sector in a broad sense.
They will be exempt if they are playing a critical role, they will be exempt from having to do home isolation. They will need to take a RAT test for five days and if that is negative they can proceed to do that critical work that we need them to do and, in those circumstances and given where the pandemic is up to where our broader context, that is a safe setting and critically important that they play those key roles in those industries and the food sector more broadly.
Andrews has confirmed that of the state’s 37,169 cases, 16,843 were from positive rapid antigen tests.=:
Beyond that, a further 20,326 people received a positive PCR result from 62,406 results. That came to us yesterday. It gives us the total new number of cases, a new case tally of 37,169 and that takes the total number of active cases across the state that we know of through self-reporting rapid antigen tests and laboratory-confirmed PCR tests to 221,726.
Now there are some 953 people in hospital, that is steady on yesterday: 111 people in ICU, 29 on a ventilator.
Sadly, 25 people with Covid-19 have passed away and of those, 17 passed away in the last two days.
Of course, we send our very best wishes and our condolences to their families. This will be an incredibly difficult time for them.
Daniel Andrews press conference begins
Victorian premier Daniel Andrews is speaking now. He says vaccines are “nowhere near” as effective at preventing the spread of Omicron as they are with previous variants:
Nothing is more important at this stage in our fight against this global pandemic than those who are eligible for a third dose or a booster going to make an appointment and honouring that appointment, getting a booster.
That is what will give you greater protection, not just against severe illness and critical illness but also transmission of the virus and that is the Omicron challenge. We see small numbers of people who are gravely ill, that is a good thing, but the vaccines used to this point are nowhere near as effective at stopping Omicron from being transmitted as they were at stopping Delta cases.
That is a challenge we all live through at the moment, that is the challenge that industry and everyone faces.
Speaking of Novak Djokovic, The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre has joined forces with the Visa Cancellation Working Group, Refugee Advice and Casework Service to call for an “urgent inquiry” into Australia’s visa cancellation process following the fall out from the tennis star’s case.
Sanmati Verma, deputy chair of the Visa Cancellation Working Group said in a release issued this morning, that most people whose visas are cancelled are not given adequate time to respond:
There has been a huge increase in visa cancellation since 2014. The Novak Djokovic case has thrown light on the longstanding unfair and arbitrary use of the Commonwealth’s cancellation and detention powers.”
Most visa holders whose visas are cancelled on arrival are denied time to provide a response and the chance to get advice from a lawyer. Many are turned around at the border quickly while in immigration clearance with little or no recourse to redress, even if they face serious harm in their home country.”
Crown ready to accept takeover bid by Blackstone
The board of troubled casino empire Crown Resorts says it’s ready to accept a takeover bid by Blackstone after the private equity group sweetened its offer.
If it goes ahead, the takeover would see billionaire James Packer finally end his association with Crown (and trouser a fat payout for his shares).
In a statement to the ASX, Crown said Blackstone had increased its offer by 60c a share, to $13.10. This is a premium to yesterday’s closing price of $11.63.
There’s a bit more to be done to get the deal over the line – Blackstone needs to conduct additional due diligence work and make a binding offer. From Crown’s statement:
Should Blackstone make a binding offer at a price of no less than $13.10 cash per share then, subject to the parties entering into a binding implementation agreement on terms and conditions acceptable to Crown, it is the Crown board’s current unanimous intention to recommend that shareholders vote in favour of the proposal in the absence of a superior proposal and subject to an independent expert concluding (and continuing to conclude) that the proposed transaction is in the best interests of Crown shareholders.
Yesterday we allocated 65,000 rapid antigen test through our 64 centres and in the first week we have allocated 180,000 rapid antigen tests through those centres and that has become an important platform for us to ensure we can enable effective testing across the wider community.
That is also enabled the development and use of daily rapid antigen testing results and can I thank the 112,000 Victorians who have uploaded a positive result over the first few days, the first week that we have had the platform.
Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull is getting stuck into the Morrison government nice and early this morning, asking for an explanation as to why Australian rapid test technology has been used overseas but not on home soil:
deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce raised some eyebrows this morning when he told Nine’s Today that people should not panic about Omicron as it was like a “mild flu” for the double vaccinated:
It’s everywhere. It’s in Queensland, NSW, it’s – the place is alive with it. We are lucky it’s a mild case … for people who have been double vaccinated. And I’ve had it and it’s like a 2.5 out of 10 flu for a couple of days. That’s how I experienced it.
That is not for everyone, though, deputy prime minister. It’s a lot worse for a lot of people.
I know. I know. For some people … And, yeah, and for some people it can kill you. I am not putting aside the seriousness of it for some people.
But, you know, why do I say that? I say that so we don’t have this sort of complete panic because it’s – I’d be worried if the flu breaks out because a lot of people haven’t had the flu for a couple of years. We haven’t been in touch with it. And, you know, that will have a serious effect as well but we can’t shut down the country over that and we’ve got to move on.
With rapid antigen tests, we are bringing in tens of millions of these rapid antigen tests.
Just to clarify, Victoria has actually recorded 37,169 new Covid-19 cases overnight. The number in the 60,000s was the number of PCR tests conducted.
Apologies for that.
NSW Health has published details on how many of the cases reported today were part of the rapid antigen test backlog.
It says 61,387 positive RATs have been logged, dating back to 1 January. Of those, 50,729 were from the last seven days.
Victorian records 37,169 Covid-19 cases and 25 deaths
Victoria has also published its daily numbers (it started working through the RAT backlog several days ago). The state has recorded 37,169 new cases and, sadly, 25 deaths.
NSW records 92,264 Covid cases including a backlog of positive RATs
NSW has reported a record 92,264 cases of Covid-19, however, it’s important to note this number includes a backlog of tens of thousands of positive rapid antigent test results dating back to 1 January.
Sadly, 22 people have died in the latest reporting period.
Federal health minister Greg Hunt says nearly 350,000 Covid-19 vaccines were administered in Australia yesterday, including 254,112 booster shots.
We are standing by for those Victorian and NSW Covid-19 numbers to come through in about 20 minutes.
Remember, we are expecting a big jump in the NSW numbers as the state begins working its way through the backlog of positive rapid antigen tests.
An Extinction Rebellion activist whose home was raided by Western Australia’s counter-terror police over a chalk message has had the case against her thrown out by a Perth magistrate.
Rosa Hicks was one of six people arrested after a group of activists used washable chalk paint to write messages on a pedestrian bridge in Perth within view of Woodside’s headquarters to protest against the company’s development of the $16bn Scarborough gas project.
Hicks was not involved in applying the paint, arrived after the protest had started and took photos on someone else’s phone. She said she had not taken any active part and was very conscious of avoiding any violation of the conditions of her visa.
You can read the full report below:
Djokovic saga an ‘international embarrassment’, Albanese says
Just jumping back to Anthony Albanese for a moment – the Labor leader has labelled the Novak Djokovic saga an “international embarrassment for Australia”:
How do you get a visa in the first place?
Australia has a policy of not allowing unvaccinated people into Australia. The government is yet to explain how that occurred.
And this has been a debacle yet again, a government sitting back, waiting for a problem becomes a crisis before it acts.
This is an international embarrassment for Australia. Everyone knew about Novak Djokovic and the Australian Open. It’s not like we didn’t know when the date was. It’s been the leading sports story in the world for many months. How is it that it came to this?
Sydney Festival chair David Kirk says that the board “missed” that the Israeli embassy would be sponsoring the festival, a fact that led to dozens of acts pulling out.
He promised that a “comprehensive review” would now take place:
There is a lot of work for us to do after the festival … We’re intending to undertake a comprehensive review of everything that was done in the lead-up to this festival and what may have caused us to be in a position where artists felt unsafe.
They are important additions to make sure that whether it is waste or power, gas, all the way through to law enforcement at present, all of those sectors, they need to continue, regardless of the fact that we are in a global pandemic and have a variant of concern and exempting those workers, not all workers in those businesses but those workers is that make those sectors, exempting them from home isolation requirements is a commonsense way in which we can keep those services and important parts of our economy and society as close to normal as possible.
The opposition leader has been asked how he plans to win back Queensland in the upcoming election.
By being concerned with their interests – by listening. I have spent a lot of time in Queensland as the Labor leader but before that for many years. I think Queensland has trusted me to be able to deliver …
We are campaigning on … a better life with working families, with cheaper childcare, with dealing with Medicare and strengthening it, not undermining it like this government has done. Affordable housing. The second issue is that of secure work.
People knew as part of the national plan that we would face increased number of infections and therefore increased pressure.
But we have had now a circumstance whereby people can’t get access to their booster shots, they can’t get access to rapid antigen tests, and the government said pharmacists should go out and find them themselves. An extraordinary comment or position for the government to take.
And of course we know that there isn’t food on supermarket shelves in places right around Australia at the moment. And parents are under pressure because they were told their children could be vaccinated at this time and so many of them have struggling to get appointments.
Anthony Albanese is laying the blame of Australia’s Covid predicament squarely at Scott Morrison’s feet:
How is it we have got to this point? The rapid antigen tests were approved last September.
The national plan made it clear that once we opened up there would be an increased number of infections and we needed to make sure we planned for it. We needed Scott Morrison to do his job.
But he just went through saying we will all be together [at] Christmas, it will will all be right, without putting in place mechanisms required.
And in the tender that was bought by the government, some $62m of RATs that have been purchased, it was because of urgent and unforeseen circumstances … Why wasn’t there a normal commercial operation.
Well, this was foreseen.
Federal opposition leader Anthony Albanese is up on ABC now, and he has kicked off the morning by slamming the Morrison government for not buying rapid tests en masse earlier:
Working people have been saying that they needed access to testing, for example, for months after months. The Transport Workers’ Union wrote to the government last September about supply chains and the disruptions that could occur if they didn’t get access to rapid antigen tests and now we know this government only ordered en masse rapid antigen tests this week. It’s extraordinary their complacency.
We have had a grand slam of failures from this government, whether it’s tracing, testing, and quarantine. On each occasion they wait until … a problem becomes a crisis before Scott Morrison acts.
Further to our piece on traders on Melbourne retail and hospitality strip Chapel Street declaring a “code red”, a spokesperson for the Victorian minister for small business, Jaala Pulford, tells Guardian Australia she will meet with traders this afternoon.
National cabinet will meet today to discuss measures to increase the labour supply as a wave of staff shortages caused by the Omicron wave wreaks havoc across the Australian economy.
But so far states and the federal government appear to have little appetite for the cash handouts for which businesses are asking, with Scott Morrison calling for “patience”.
And at the Victorian state level, government sources indicate there’s a reluctance a return to the disaster payments or business grants handed out during the Melbourne lockdowns last year.
Figuring out who is eligible would be a problem, but one big issue appears to be who would pay for it. The state budget has already been blown up by Covid and proposals by traders that Canberra fund half seem so far have fallen on deaf ears.
Novak Djokovic could face a fine or even prison in Serbia after his admission that he broke isolation while he had Covid last month, lawyers have said, as the Serbian prime minister warned his behaviour appeared to be “a clear breach” of the rules.
The 34-year-old Belgrade-born tennis player is chasing a record-breaking 21st grand slam victory at the Australian Open beginning on Monday, but could yet be deported by the government which is unhappy with his medical exemption from inoculation.
Djokovic on Wednesday acknowledged that he knew he had tested positive when he attended a newspaper interview and photoshoot in the Serbian capital on 18 December, saying in a statement on social media he had made an “error of judgment”.
You can read the full report from Jon Henley and Milivoje Pantovic below:
Well, scratch that, Victor Dominello has just told Sunrise that the number of positive antigen tests registered with the NSW government is now up to 82,000:
As it goes, it is 82,000, but that is 82,000 over 12 days.
We expect to get a high number given that we have provided for people to put their data from 1 January. This is not just people putting in data from yesterday, it is people having rapid antigen tests on the second and third and fourth of January, putting that information in and getting it together. They are high numbers.
NSW minister admits RAT fines ‘almost impossible’ to enforce
New South Wales residents have rushed to post positive results from rapid antigen tests since the start of the year, as the state government admits it will be “almost impossible” to apply fines for non-compliance, reports AAP’s Jack Gramenz.
By Thursday morning, more than 78,000 people had uploaded positive results from tests taken since 1 January, customer service and digital minister Victor Dominello said.
This is a jump of about 25,000 from the 53,000 results posted by Wednesday afternoon.
The reporting system for positive RAT results went live on Wednesday morning and while the requirement only became mandatory on the day, NSW residents have been asked to add tests taken since the start of the year.
From January 19, the government will begin imposing a $1,000 fine on anyone who does not report their positive RAT result.
Dominello admitted to the Nine Network that will be very difficult to do but the government had to send a message that reporting a positive result was important.
It’s almost going to be impossible in many ways to enforce …
But the majority of the states and territories in the country have gone down the path of issuing a fine or putting a fine in place – Tasmania, South Australia, Northern Territory, ACT – and some have chosen the other path of just saying please do it.
Dominello said registering a test result was mainly about connecting infected people with any healthcare need they might need or federal government financial assistance.
The number of Covid-19 cases in NSW is expected to spike as the government begins adding RAT results to standard PCR test results.
NSW Health will provide an update on infection numbers at 9am on Thursday.
Hash Tayeh has been back behind the counter at the burger chain he founded, Burgertory, for the first time in three years as he struggles to keep the business going in the face of the Omicron wave.
He has been doing night shifts at his outlet on Chapel Street in Melbourne, a fashionable shopping and entertainment strip which local traders say has been overwhelmed by Covid-related staff shortages.
The pandemic taught him to “just never get too comfortable and always be humble”:
So I was helping them take orders, take out the rubbish, mop the floors, do the dishes – wherever they needed me.
Two hundred and sixty of Burgertory’s 400 staff have had Covid.
You can read the full report below:
Good morning everyone, it’s Matilda Boseley here on the blog with you, ready to bring you all the day’s news (as well as milking the fact that I now have Covid-19 for sympathy as much as humanly possible).
Now we are all bracing for a tidal wave of cases from New South Wales this morning as today is the first day rapid antigen tests will be included in the daily numbers. It’s expected that the sizeable backlog of positive results will result in a record high.
In the afternoon we also have a national cabinet meeting to look forward to. The main things on the agenda: students’ return to school for the 2022 year, and food supply chain security.
Leaders will also hear from Treasury officials on the economic reasons to keep schools open.
It’s expected the list of sectors classified as essential will also expand after the national cabinet meeting, to keep supply chains moving.
This all comes after Australia’s leading medical advisory group recommended this week that food and grocery workers be able to return to work after being a close contact of a positive Covid case, provided they then return a negative rapid test.
A similar proposal could be laid out for other sectors classified as essential, which could include road, rail and air transport, mental health, education and energy supply.
It’s expected transport and logistics workers will be prioritised.
Meanwhile, ministers have flagged the possibility jobseeker recipients could be deployed into workforces that are facing staff shortages.
A plan to increase the hours international students are able to work to 40 hours a fortnight is also being considered as a way to alleviate pressure on sectors hardest hit by the virus.
National cabinet will also settle on a date for when concession cardholders can access free rapid tests from pharmacies.
So as you can see there is plenty to get through! So why don’t we get cracking!
If you are among the tens of thousands of people who will be testing positive to Covid-19 on a rapid antigen test today, you’d better get up to speed on what to do next.
Check out our TikTok below that explains how to register your positive result with the government.
If that link doesn’t work for you, you can also check out the video here:
A Spanish radio station is reporting that the Spanish government is now investigating to see if Novak Djokovic entered Spain illegally at the end of last year, after the tennis star’s visa saga in Australia revealed he had travelled to the country.
Guardian Australia has yet to independently confirm this.
Source: Thanks msn.com