This brings us to the end of another national coronavirus blog. David here shutting it down for the night and recapping today’s top stories.
We had a couple of late-breaking COVID stories, including the news that all 17 close contacts of the Melbourne positive case this week have returned negative results.
Also, it was revealed that Scott Morrison has tasked his most senior bureaucrat with plotting a path towards post-pandemic Australia, where localised outbreaks of the virus are managed without locking down major cities, shutting businesses or closing state borders.
Other stand-outs of the day were:
- Clinics that waste COVID-19 vaccination doses could be stripped of their accreditation to administer them as one of the country’s top health officials warned immunisers’ lack of experience with multi-dose vials was a serious concern.
- Premier Gladys Berejiklian may have won over Prime Minister Scott Morrison with her proposal that NSW quarantine workers come first in line for a COVID-19 vaccine.
- Tennis officials are breathing a sigh of relief after Tennis Australia confirmed all 507 players and staff tested for COVID-19 on Thursday returned negative results.
- Gaps in infection control have been blamed for the spread of a highly infectious strain of coronavirus through a Brisbane quarantine hotel, triggering a national health emergency and the city’s three-day lockdown.
- When Abdullah Ahmed fled Myanmar for Australia in 2007, democratic protests in South-east Asia’s poorest country had given way to a familiar pattern of military brutality and ethnic sectarianism.
- The single positive case in a Victorian hotel quarantine worker has been confirmed as the more virulent UK variant of coronavirus. However, the state has recorded no new locally acquired cases of the virus.
- Surging property values across the nation are being closely watched by Reserve Bank of Australia governor Philip Lowe but he says the coronavirus pandemic’s effects on the economy would have been more difficult to grapple with if home prices had fallen.
- Even with a raft of new restrictions and a high chance they will run at a loss, the owners of some of Perth’s most popular pubs are frothing at the thought of pouring their first pint of the week on Friday.
See you tomorrow.
All of the close contacts linked to the positive Grand Hyatt COVID-19 case in Melbourne this week have tested negative.
The Victorian Department of Health issued the good news in a brief tweet sent out on Friday night.
It stated that all 17 of the Noble Park man’s household and social primary contacts, who had been tested for the virus, have returned negative results.
Health authorities had earlier confirmed the 26-year-old man was infected with the more virulent UK strain of the virus.
And just like that, Perth is out of lockdown.
The clock struck 6pm in Western Australia and, with no new local COVID-19 cases, residents in the Perth, Peel and South West regions were free to leave their homes and head out to pubs and restaurants – albeit with some precautionary measures still in place.
While the state’s South West – encompassing popular coastal holiday destinations Busselton and Margaret River – was free to go back to life as per usual pre-lockdown, Perth and Peel residents must still wear masks indoors and outdoors, and there’s a 4-square-metre rule in place for pubs, restaurants and cafes, limiting the number of patrons they can accommodate.
Perth’s Crown Casino and the city’s nightclubs remain closed, at least until 12.01am Sunday, February 14, when the restrictions are eased further.
Cool weather has blown in from a waning tropical low in the state’s north, helping firefighters in their battle against a monster blaze in Perth’s east which has claimed 86 homes and setting the city up for a wet weekend to end five days of dual crises.
WA Premier Mark McGowan admitted his decision to throw much of the state’s population into lockdown had weighed on his mind and kept him up at night but, while announcing the state’s roadmap out of lockdown late Thursday evening, said he had no regrets.
“Let’s imagine, had we not done this and we had cases out there incubating in the community and people moving around and spreading it, and then next week we suddenly have big eruptions of cases around Perth, well then everyone would rightly be saying, ‘Why didn’t you take action earlier’,” he said.
Many Perth publicans are throwing open their doors for the first time all week, despite being resigned to the fact that reduced capacity means they will likely not turn a profit.
“We understand it’s only five days so we are happy to follow those guidelines and take a little bit more pain in the five or six days in the hope that from next Sunday we get back to normal and we can run the businesses normally from there,” said Tim McLernon, whose pub The Camfield – which sits just outside Optus Stadium – is the city’s biggest with a usual maximum capacity of 2500.
The storm clouds looming over this year’s Australian Open developed from figurative to literal on Friday, as rain added another hurdle to the final preparations for the troubled tournament.
Like a nuclear doomsday clock, this year’s Open has been under constant threat from cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The positive test of a hotel quarantine worker in recent days was the latest setback to bring the minute hand closer to midnight.
With play halted on Thursday while hundreds of players were tested, a busy list of tune-up matches was planned for Friday — with some players playing twice. Meanwhile, organisers frantically put the final touches (sanitised, of course) on the event ahead of the first round of matches on Monday.
Heavy skies threatened to disrupt the schedule during the early part of the day, however the rain didn’t come soon enough for mercurial Australian hope Nick Kyrgios as he battled a sore knee during a straight sets 6-3, 6-4 loss to Croatian Borna Coric.
It was a typical Kyrgios performance in many ways, with some blistering shots, plenty of errors and two code violations: one for swearing and another for breaking a racquet, which he then hurled into the vacant seats. There were also several underarm serve attempts.
He was clearly frustrated by his left knee, clutching it during changes of serve and looking generally hampered as Coric moved him around the court and into the net. After one point he verbalised his annoyance, in usual blunt Kyrgios fashion, at being unable to get into the right positions to hit each shot.
Scott Morrison has tasked his most senior bureaucrat to plot a path towards post-pandemic Australia, where localised outbreaks of the virus are managed without locking down major cities, shutting businesses or closing state borders.
The prime minister said Australia’s successful suppression of the virus and the pending roll-out of the coronavirus vaccinations meant the levels of risks would shift in the coming months, absent of a third wave and the community response.
Announcing plans to lift state-based hotel quarantine caps and expand accommodation at the Howard Springs facility near Darwin, Mr Morrison said Australia would soon be in a place where governments could potentially manage the virus “like other conditions that are in the community”.
Key to changing the response to new cases will be weighing up the risks of minimising the risk of vulnerable Australians, who are more likely to become seriously ill or die from contracting COVID-19, while being prepared to live with the virus during day-to-day life. But Mr Morrison warned that was still “some way off”.
Phil Gaetjens, the secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, will work with his state and territory counterparts in the coming month to advise national cabinet on how Australian life could return to normal over the next year.
Clinics that waste COVID-19 vaccination doses could be stripped of their accreditation to administer them as one of the country’s top health officials warned immunisers’ lack of experience with multi-dose vials was a serious concern.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is also one step closer to approval, with Australia’s medical regulator now waiting on final answers from the pharmaceutical company before registering the overseas vaccine.
Appearing before a parliamentary committee on Friday afternoon, Department of Health secretary Professor Brendan Murphy said he has complete confidence in both the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration has not yet made a decision on what age range the AstraZeneca vaccine will be approved for, but it’s likely it will include those aged over 65.
“I happen to be able to 65 and I’m going to have the AstraZeneca vaccine,” Professor Murphy said.
But both vaccines come with logistic challenges. Professor Murphy said the multi-dose vials for both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines were “a significant cause of risk and anxiety” with the rollout.
“It is a significant risk because nobody in Australia that gives vaccines at the moment is experienced with multi-dose vials,” Professor Murphy said.
The Pfizer vials contain six doses. The vials of the AstraZeneca vaccine holds 10 doses.
Compared to a 5 per cent wastage rate from single-dose vials, 10-dose vials have wastage rates between 15-25 per cent, according to a World Health Organisation guidance document published in April 2019.
Tennis officials are breathing a sigh of relief after Tennis Australia confirmed all 507 players and staff tested for COVID-19 on Thursday returned negative results.
The Australian Open tweeted on Friday afternoon: “All tests conducted on AO quarantine participants yesterday have returned negative results.”
Earlier on Friday, Australian Open boss Craig Tiley told Melbourne radio station 3AW that they were awaiting 12 more results from the 507 tested.
All play at Melbourne Park on Thursday was cancelled after news emerged on Wednesday night that a residential support worker – who had worked at the Grand Hyatt hotel where arriving players completed mandatory quarantine after arriving in Australia – had tested positive to coronavirus.
“So far everyone is negative. We have a few pending, the pending ones are just a result of them being tested late last night,” he said.
Tennis officials face a battle to complete the schedule for six different men’s and women’s tournaments over the next three days before the Open begins on Monday. The Australian Open draw was also delayed until Friday afternoon.
Tiley on Thursday pledged that organisers were going “full steam ahead” with the grand slam, after Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said he expected the tournament wouldn’t be cancelled despite the new local positive case of COVID-19 connected to the hotel quarantine site.
Even with a raft of new restrictions and a high chance they will run at a loss, the owners of some of Perth’s most popular pubs are frothing at the thought of pouring their first pint of the week on Friday.
All venues except for the casino and nightclubs are allowed to reopen under the post-lockdown transition but familiar restrictions will be in place for the next week, including the 4-square-metre rule and 150-person capacity limit at venues, as well as seated service.
This year’s restrictions have the added element of face masks, which must be kept on at all times except for when eating and drinking while seated.
But despite the new rules, the prevailing sentiment among owners is one of gratefulness that they will only be in place for the next week, should the state record no new community transmission cases of COVID-19.
One of those venues readying the taps is Picabar in the Northbridge cultural centre, which will open its doors at 6pm tonight.
Picabar owner Brian Buckley said said the beers would be pouring at “6 o’clock and one second”.
In any normal Friday in February, with Fringe in full swing and the city rammed with people enjoying the warm nights, Picabar would be doing a roaring trade with a capacity of 481 people.
Mr Buckley said he was slightly disappointed the government didn’t allow for a few more punters, but they would suck it up for the week.
“I would’ve liked to have seen a 2-square-metre rule but it’s only a week,” he said.
“We’re just going to open as we normally do as if nothing’s different, we just have less people and they’ve got to be sitting down and wear a mask.”
Andy Freeman, the brains behind venues such as Hadiqa and The Flour Factory, said while they wouldn’t turn a profit under the new restrictions, they did adopt some of the processes from last year’s lockdown.
“There is no way we can make money with these sort of numbers but we are paying our salary staff and everyone anyway so let’s just open and try and maximise it, pay a bit of rent, pay a bit of wages and get the guys engaged back in the business,” he said.
“We do have a history … we’ve got the table plans, the kitchens know what to expect with set menus so we can try and minimise waste and maximise turnover, because if you’ve only got 30 people in a venue that holds 120 it’s not many, we need to maximise the dollars per person to cover the rent and wages.”
Munich: The US is on pace to vaccinate 75 per cent of its population against COVID-19 this year, while Canada would need almost a decade to reach that coverage level, according to Bloomberg data.
The starkly different trajectories show how unevenly countries around the world have kicked off the largest mass vaccination drive in history.
The Britain and Israel are also on a path to administer a two-dose vaccine regimen to three-quarters of people this year — reaching a rough estimate for when herd immunity might kick in — while much of Europe would need a few years for that.
Though overall the US is faring relatively well compared with other countries, the picture varies by individual states. Hawaii is headed for the key coverage level this year, with New York currently looking at summer 2022.
These projections are the latest feature on Bloomberg’s COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker, and are based on the average daily vaccination rates in different countries and US states.
When Abdullah Ahmed fled Myanmar for Australia in 2007, democratic protests in South-east Asia’s poorest country had given way to a familiar pattern of military brutality and ethnic sectarianism.
The then 20-year-old landed at Menai High School in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire. His deputy principal, Robert Lindsay, recalls questioning the young man on whether he really wanted to go back to school.
“His response was ‘sir, the Burmese military has stolen five years of my life, I’m going to take them back’,” says Lindsay.
In year 12, the other students at Menai High snuck into the school library at night. “The clock had ticked past midnight. There was Abdullah holding a torch over his books, studying,” says Lindsay.
By 2010 the Rohingya Muslim refugee was vice-captain of a school that had grown out of the shadow of the Cronulla race riots, two suburbs over.
“It was the best feeling ever,” says Ahmed. “It really gave me hope for my future in this new country, and I really felt that Australia is a country with equal opportunity.”