Good evening and thank you for reading our live coverage of the day’s events. If you’re just joining us now, there’s been no shortage of action today. Here’s what you need to know.
- Melbourne and parts of Victoria were rattled by a 5.9 magnitude earthquake on Wednesday morning, the largest earthquake ever recorded on land in Victoria. The tremors caused building damage, including in Melbourne’s Chapel Street, but authorities said the coronavirus-related lockdown appeared to have protected people from injury from falling debris in streets that would usually attract a lot of foot traffic. There were reports of violent shaking from Geelong to Gippsland, but tremors were also felt across parts of Sydney, Adelaide, Launceston and Canberra.
The epicentre of the earthquake was near Mansfield, about 130 kilometres north-east of Melbourne, at a depth of 10 kilometres.
- Victoria’s Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp warned aftershocks from the earthquake would be felt for weeks and months. While it was unlikely they would equal or exceed the 5.9 magnitude quake, Mr Crisp said “there is a chance of significant aftershocks to impact Victoria”. There have been six aftershocks so far, of the following magnitudes: 3.5, 4.1, 2.5, 3.1, 2.4 and 2.9.
- Victoria SES chief officer Tim Wiebusch said there had been no injuries reported as a result of the quake but at least 100 requests for assistance, largely relating to minor structural damage such as facade and chimney collapses.
- Victorian riot police used tear gas and fired non-lethal rounds at protesters in Melbourne this afternoon to disperse them from the Shrine of Remembrance. The protests in the city, now in a third day, appear to have been triggered by the Andrews government’s move to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for the construction industry, but participants also appear to oppose lockdowns. Police estimated about 300 protesters were at the war memorial, and 20 to 30 per cent of them had received infringement notices so far. Two police officers sustained head injuries from bottles being thrown at them. A third officer was in hospital for observation after suffering chest pains.
- The Melbourne offices of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union have been targeted during the days of protests, despite the fact the CFMEU did not support the vaccination mandate (but is pro-vaccination). While the union has said only a minority of protesters are union members and the crowds include far-right extremists, the exact composition of the crowd is difficult to ascertain. You can follow the separate live coverage of the protests here.
- The Hawthorn RSL condemned the use of the Shrine of Remembrance as a rallying point for anti-vaccination and anti-lockdown protesters. The war memorial was a “sacred place for Australians to commemorate those who fought and died for us” and it was “not appropriate to use this location for any protest”, it said in a tweet.
- NSW reported 1035 new local coronavirus cases and five deaths today, as the state reached 83 per cent first-dose vaccination coverage for people aged 16 and over. The five deaths included a woman in her 50s who died at home in western Sydney and tested positive for COVID-19 after her death. “That is under the coronial jurisdiction and the cause of death will be determined in due course,” NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said.
- The other deaths were an unvaccinated woman in her 50s who died at RPA Hospital, a person in their 60s, a person in their 70s and a woman in her 80s from the Wollongong area who was fully vaccinated but had underlying health conditions.
- Lockdowns in the Albury, Lismore, Gilgandra and Brewarrina local government areas will end at midnight tonight. NSW Health said the lockdown in the Narromine local government area would also be lifted from Saturday, September 25, “provided Narromine has no cases or sewage detections before then”.
- Victoria recorded 628 new local cases of COVID-19 today, its highest daily total in more than a year, and three deaths. A woman in her 50s from Wyndham, a man in his 70s from Wyndham and a man in his 80s from Darebin all died after contracting the virus. There are 257 people in the state’s hospitals with COVID-19, 58 of whom are in ICU, and 37 people on ventilators. Of the cases who were in hospital yesterday, about 81 per cent were not vaccinated, 15 per cent were partially vaccinated and 3 per cent of people were fully vaccinated.
COVID-19 vaccination will be mandatory for all staff at schools and early childhood centres in Victoria and staff must have a first dose by October 18 or a booking within one week of that date, Victorian Education Minister and Deputy Premier James Merlino announced today. Staff must be fully vaccinated by November 29 unless they have a medical exemption, under the government’s vaccination mandate for schools.
Ballarat, in regional Victoria, will end its seven-day lockdown from midnight tonight. Deputy Premier James Merlino said health authorities felt confident a coronavirus outbreak there had been contained. “My thanks to the entire community of Ballarat, the five reasons to leave your home will no longer apply,” he said during the state’s health update. “And the settings in Ballarat will align with the areas of regional Victoria, not in lockdown.”
- Queensland has recorded one new local case of COVID-19, as the state announces more walk-in vaccination clinics. Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the new local case was linked to an existing cluster at Sunnybank and was detected in home quarantine, so was not of concern. Following the recent “Super Pfizer weekend” in which vaccination hubs opened the doors to walk-ins, Ms Palaszczuk said walk-ins would be allowed from today at the Caboolture, Doomben, Kippa-Ring and the Brisbane Entertainment Centre clinics. Queensland and Western Australia have opened eligibility to the Pfizer vaccine to people aged 60 and over.
- The ACT recorded 17 new cases of COVID-19, the majority of whom were infectious in the community. One case was in isolation throughout their infectious period and at least 11 were infectious in the community. The remaining five cases are under investigation. Twelve people are in hospital and two people are on ventilators in intensive care.
This is Michaela Whitbourn signing off on the live blog for the evening. Broede Carmody will be back early tomorrow morning.
NSW Health has identified a chiropractic facility in the Southern Highlands, adjacent to the ACT, as a close contact location for COVID-19.
The department added a number of new close and casual contact venues of concern to its list today.
Provolution Health at 182 Crawford Street, Queanbeyan has been identified as a COVID-19 exposure site from 9am to 10.15am on Wednesday, September 15.
“Anyone who attended this venue is a close contact and must immediately get tested and self-isolate for 14 days regardless of the result,” NSW Health said.
The Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional local government area remains in lockdown.
Victorian upper house MP Bernie Finn has come under fire from his colleagues again, after he berated the state’s police force as “the modern incarnation of the Despot’s militia” on social media.
Mr Finn said on Facebook: “I have always been a staunch supporter of the men and women of Victoria Police.
“I can’t extend that support to the modern incarnation of the Despot’s militia. It horrifies me!”
Liberal spokesperson for police, Brad Battin, commented on the post, saying that was not the view of the party. “The police are delivering on bad laws by a terrible Government,” Mr Battin said.
“The front line can’t choose which laws to follow. There are ways to fix this, we need to get rid of Daniel Andrews.
“As a former police officer I understand what it is like to face protesters – it is not great.”
“Despot” is an apparent reference to Andrews.
James Newbury joined in the criticism of Mr Finn, saying Victoria Police “can’t pick and choose what laws to enforce”.
“Your comments do not reflect the views of the Liberal Party and you should withdraw them immediately and apologise,” he said.
Earlier this year, Victorian Liberal Party members said former leader Michael O’Brien’s political standing was being damaged by his continued refusal to rebuke upper house Mr Finn after his controversial comments about riots at the US Capitol.
Meantime on Wednesday, federal Veterans Affairs Minister Andrew Gee rebuked the protesters, calling their take-over of the Shine of Remembrance “disgraceful” and saying “those who participated in it are to be condemned in the strongest possible terms”.
“They should be ashamed of themselves,” he said.
“The Shrine of Remembrance is one of our country’s most significant memorials and holy places.
“It is a place of solemnity and quiet reflection. To use it as a protest site violates this sanctity and denigrates and disrespects the memory of those who have served and sacrificed so much for our nation.
“There can be no justification for this outrage.”
A 24-hour nationwide strike by about 2000 delivery workers at StarTrack will go ahead from midnight after the national industrial tribunal rejected the company’s argument that it would imperil health and safety by delaying coronavirus vaccines.
The Transport Workers Union, which represents the striking workers who make up about 70 per cent of the overall workforce, has said it will not knowingly hinder vaccine deliveries through its strike.
That prompted StarTrack to drop its attempt to have the strike terminated and instead try to delay it, the union said.
Though the sides could not come to an ultimate agreement of all sites and services to be exempted from the strike to allow the vaccine rollout to go ahead unimpeded, Fair Work Commission member Ian Cambridge ultimately decided that the risk posed to the community by a potential one or two day strike to vaccine deliveries in some areas was “of very low order”.
The government’s vaccine taskforce has previously said it wasn’t expecting any disruptions from the strike, though Communication Minister Paul Fletcher, who is responsible for StarTrack because it is owned by Australia Post, has criticised the union’s decision to strike during the pandemic.
At issue are what the union says are insufficient job security protections in the company’s pay agreement.
TWU secretary Michael Kaine said the commission had seen through what he called StarTrack’s “deplorable tactic”.
A StarTrack spokesperson said: “Our commitment to deliver for Australians is unwavering. While we respect the decision of the Fair Work Commission, there will be delivery impacts tomorrow, at a time when the delivery of essential items has never been more important.”
More schools in Victoria have been identified as COVID-19 exposure sites.
Authorities listed nearly 50 new exposure sites on Wednesday evening; among them, the tier-1 or close contact Our Lady Help of Christians School at Brunswick East in Melbourne’s inner north.
That school was declared a tier-1 site on Wednesday, September 15 and Thursday, September 16 between 9am and 3.30pm.
Lalor North Primary School – also in the city’s north – was declared tier 1 on Thursday, September 16 between 8.40am and 3.50pm, and on Friday, September 17 between 8.40am and 3.10pm.
Mount Hira College at Keysborough in Melbourne’s south east was declared tier 1 on Friday, September 17 between 8.10am and 3.45pm.
Bacchus Marsh Primary School, about 50 kilometres north-west of Melbourne, was declared tier 1 over two days: on Wednesday, September 15 between 8.30am and 9.10am and 3.15pm and 3.40pm, and on Thursday, September 16 during the same timeframes.
Meantime, Green Leaves Early Learning Highlands at Craigieburn in Melbourne’s outer north was declared a tier-1 exposure site on Saturday, September 18, Sunday, September 19 and Monday, September 20 between 9am and 6pm.
Ballarat Gov Hub in the regional city was declared a tier-1 site over five days, from Monday, September 13 through to Friday, September 17, between 7am and 5pm on each day.
Authorities also identified a number of new tier-2 sites, including several venues at Hamilton in south west Victoria, a business complex at Narre Warren and a McDonald’s at Elsternwick, both in Melbourne’s south east, a Costco at Epping in the city’s north, a grocery store in the west, and the Ballarat Gov Hub over several days.
A full list of Victorian exposure sites can be found here.
A second major COVID-19 outbreak is unfolding at a south-west Sydney hospital, with 24 patients testing positive in the past week.
The new exposures have occurred across six wards at Liverpool Hospital, a South Western Sydney Local Health District spokesperson confirmed on Wednesday evening.
Twelve people died when a virus exposure occurred across the hospital’s geriatric and neurology wards earlier this year.
Those infected in the past week included 13 patients and two staff members in the orthopaedics ward, two patients and one staff member in the renal ward, three patients and one staff member in the neurology ward, five patients in the geriatrics ward, one patient in the cardiothoracic ward and an intensive care nurse.
The source of the exposures is under investigation.
“We thank all those at Liverpool Hospital for their continued dedication to providing outstanding patient care to all patients during these most challenging of times,” the spokesperson said.
“There are strict infection control protocols and procedures in place to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection among patients and staff, which includes regular testing of staff and the use of appropriate personal protective equipment.”
Staff members who were not authorised to speak publicly said Liverpool Hospital was due to open its 10th COVID-19 ward this week.
The Hawthorn RSL has condemned the use of the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne today as a rallying point for anti-vaccination and anti-lockdown protesters.
The protesters have since been dispersed by riot police.
The war memorial was a “sacred place for Australians to commemorate those who fought and died for us” and it was “not appropriate to use this location for any protest”, the Hawthorn RSL said in a tweet.
Victorian riot police have used tear gas and fired non-lethal rounds at protesters in Melbourne to disperse them from the Shrine of Remembrance.
The war memorial is now entirely empty.
As the protesters left the Shrine of Remembrance, still chanting “every day” to indicate they will be back to protest again, police followed them through the surrounding gardens and continued firing at them. The protesters are now making their way back into the city.
Today’s protests mark the third day of unrest in Melbourne’s CBD.
The initial protest appears to have been triggered by the Andrews government’s decision to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for construction workers, and was centred on the Melbourne offices of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union. This is despite the fact that the CFMEU did not support the mandate.
The Victorian secretary of the CFMEU, John Setka, has said he is pro-vaccination but would prefer to persuade union members rather than force them to get the jab.
The CFMEU says the majority of the protesters are not union members and the crowds include far-right extremists.
The protests now seem to be aimed both at lockdowns and COVID-19 vaccinations more generally.
NSW Health says stay-at-home orders will be lifted for three local government areas in regional NSW in a staggered fashion.
From midnight tonight, the orders will be lifted in Gilgandra and Brewarrina.
As reported earlier today, lockdowns in the Albury and Lismore local government areas also end at midnight tonight.
Stay-at-home orders will also be lifted in the Narromine local government area from this Saturday, September 25, “provided Narromine has no cases or sewage detections before then”.
NSW Health said Gilgandra, Brewarrina and Narromine had been “deemed low-risk and have not recorded any COVID-19 cases or positive sewage detections for 14 days”.
Some restrictions will remain in place, and the latest rules can be viewed here.
If you are not familiar with the falcons living in Melbourne’s Collins Street, today might be the day to make their acquaintance.
There is a live feed of their movements on YouTube and the footage today showed one falcon’s reaction to the tremor in Melbourne. Their expression pretty much sums it up.
From all reports, the falcons are alright.
Victoria will be hit by aftershocks in coming weeks and months after the magnitude 5.9 earthquake caused building damage across Melbourne and was felt as far away as Canberra, Sydney, Adelaide and Northern Tasmania.
Geoscience Australia said the epicentre of the earthquake was near Mansfield, about 130 kilometres north-east of Melbourne, at a depth of 10 kilometres, just after 9.15am. It was the largest on-land tremor ever recorded in Victoria.