Good evening and thank you for reading our live coverage of the day’s events. If you’re just joining us now, here’s what you need to know:
- More than half (or 50.15 per cent) of Australians aged 16 and up are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and more than 26 million coronavirus doses have been administered across the country. A new daily record was set on Thursday when 347,000 doses of AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna were put into arms at mass hubs, GP clinics and pharmacists across the country. In another record for Australia, more than 2 million vaccine doses were administered in the past week.
- The head of the national COVID vaccine taskforce, Lieutenant General John Frewen, said Australia was delivering vaccines at one of the fastest rates in the world. Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer Professor Allison McMillan said vaccination rates were already having an impact on the pandemic. “We’re seeing the benefit now with all the effort of people in NSW and increasingly in Victoria,” she said. “We’re seeing transmission rate slowing; we’re seeing the impact of the restrictions on transmission.”
- NSW recorded 1043 new local coronavirus cases and 11 deaths. Two people died at home and tested positive to the virus after their death: an unvaccinated woman in her 80s from Sydney’s inner west who acquired her infection at her social housing complex and an unvaccinated man in his 40s from western Sydney who had underlying medical conditions. The other people who died were aged between their 50s and their 90s, and NSW Health said all had underlying conditions. Ten of the 11 people were unvaccinated and one was fully vaccinated. There are 1186 COVID-19 cases admitted to hospital in NSW. Of those patients, 232 people are in intensive care and 110 people are on ventilators.
- NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said coronavirus vaccination rates had gone “through the roof” in the state, including in Sydney’s hotspot areas in the west and south-west. “Across the state, NSW is at 84.1 per cent first dose [for people aged 16 and over] and 56.6 per cent second dose,” she said. The state was “inching closer and closer” to the 70 per cent double dose target where some restrictions will be relaxed for fully vaccinated people. That milestone is expected to be reached next month. One third of 12 to 15-year-olds in NSW have also received a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine.
- The NSW Premier sounded a note of caution about the road map to eased restrictions for fully-vaccinated people. “I am always wary of using terms like ‘freedom day’ because when we start to open up it must be step-by-step. It must be done cautiously,” she said. “We must remember that even though people may be fully vaccinated, if you are vulnerable and have other conditions you can still succumb and get the disease in a serious way, or worse. We need to make sure that what we do at 70 and 80 per cent is done cautiously … because otherwise too many people will end up in hospital.”
- While the NSW Premier was speaking about a cautious reopening, the NSW Treasurer appeared much more bullish. Dominic Perrottet told Sydney’s radio 2GB today that unvaccinated people should enjoy the same freedoms as everybody else once 80 per cent of people aged 16 and over in the state are fully vaccinated. Ms Berejiklian has made clear that only fully vaccinated people will be able to take advantage of a suite of eased restrictions once the state reaches the 70 per cent target. The state government has yet to release its road map to easing restrictions further when the 80 per cent milestone is reached.
- NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said coronavirus case numbers are declining in some of the worst-affected areas in the state’s outbreak, including the Canterbury-Bankstown and Cumberland areas. But there were concerns about rising cases in the Illawarra area, after 103 cases were reported in the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District. Dr Chant said there had also been a “high level detection” of coronavirus in the sewage in Jindabyne in the state’s south-east and urged people to get tested for the virus. The virus was also transmitting in Cowra in the state’s central west, including among young children.
- Victoria recorded 733 new, locally acquired cases of COVID-19 and one death, a woman in her 80s from Melbourne’s northern suburbs. The new total is down on yesterday’s tally of 766 cases. Health Minister Martin Foley said 84 per cent of these new cases were people aged under 50 and this outbreak “continues to be an overwhelming outbreak among both the unvaccinated and, disproportionately, younger Victorians” (this may, of course, be because older people had earlier access to vaccines).
- Mr Foley said 297 people were in the state’s hospitals with COVID-19, 66 of whom are in intensive care. Forty-six people are on ventilators. “In regards to the cases that were hospitalised yesterday, 77 per cent were not vaccinated, 19 [per cent] were partially vaccinated and 4 per cent of people were fully vaccinated,” he said.
- A small group of anti-vaccination and anti-lockdown protesters converged on the inner-northern Melbourne suburb of Northcote on Friday as protests continued for a fifth day in the city, but the group was forced to disperse as hundreds of police swarmed the scene. Despite the smaller crowds, Victoria Police said it had arrested more than 200 people over the course of the day, 31 of whom were in Northcote.
- Victorian Health Minister Foley said he was “very concerned” Wednesday’s protests against vaccine mandates and lockdowns in Melbourne’s CBD could become a superspreader event, after an attendee was hospitalised after testing positive for COVID-19. Mr Foley said the decisions of protesters had potentially prolonged public health measures. “Potential superspreader events make us very concerned, not just for the ill-advised protesters, but think about the Victoria Police members who’ve had to put themselves in harm’s way to protect the rest of us,” he said.
- A small number of Victoria Police officers were subsequently identified as close contacts of the protester. “The officers involved have been informed to get tested and isolate,” a Victoria Police spokeswoman said on Friday afternoon.
- Victorian health authorities have implored footy fans not to break lockdown rules by visiting people’s homes to watch the AFL grand final (which is being held for the first time in COVID-free Perth). Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton confirmed the curfew in Melbourne and some other local government areas will remain in place. “The overwhelming transmission that’s occurring is between households for people who are not aware that they’re positive… enjoy your fancy cheeseboards or whatever you want to enjoy at home, put the barbecue on, but also put your iPad up and have your phones on FaceTime.”
Victoria is unlikely to meet its 80 per cent first dose vaccination target for people aged 16 and over this weekend, Health Minister Martin Foley says, but is likely to reach that milestone next week. When the state hits the 80 per cent target, Melburnians will be able to travel up to 15km from their homes, and contactless outdoor sports will also reopen.
- Back in Perth, the “COVID-free” label needs a slight qualification. West Australian Premier Mark McGowan revealed this afternoon that a woman who had entered the state from NSW without approval had tested positive to COVID-19 in hotel quarantine. But he said the AFL grand final would proceed as planned in Perth on Saturday. Mr McGowan said he believed the woman was originally from WA. She had tested negative to the virus before her departure and had been directed to hotel quarantine immediately upon her arrival in the state because she did not have permission to enter.
- Mr McGowan also announced that from Wednesday next week Victoria would be reclassified an extreme risk state, which will stop all travel from Victoria to WA except for politicians and compassionate circumstances where a loved one is in palliative care.
- The ACT recorded 19 new cases of COVID-19, at least 13 of whom were infectious in the community. Four people were in isolation throughout their infectious period and two cases are under investigation. Twelve people are in hospital, including three people in intensive care. Two people are on ventilators. The territory has very high rates of vaccination overall: 83.5 per cent of people aged 12 and over have received a first dose and 57.3 per cent have received second dose. (The ACT counts everyone aged 12 and over in their vaccination totals while the national approach has been to count people aged 16 and over).
Queenslanders will no longer have to wear masks in public if they are sitting down, in a minor change to mask rules ahead of the NRL grand final. The state recorded no new COVID cases in the community on Friday, with 20 active cases in the state all contained in hotel or home quarantine. “Once you sit down, you can take your mask off,” Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said. “[It] doesn’t matter if you’re in a cinema, theatre, at school or work. But once you stand up, please put it on again because we don’t know who you’re coming into contact with.”
This is Michaela Whitbourn signing off on the blog for the evening. We’ll have more live news coverage for you from tomorrow morning.
Medical clinics and a flight school are among new COVID-19 exposure sites identified by Victorian health authorities.
MedicAid Medical Clinic in the regional city of Geelong was declared a tier-1 or close contact exposure site on Wednesday, September 22 between 11.45am and 1pm.
Anyone who attended the clinic during that timeframe has to immediately get tested for COVID-19 and quarantine for 14 days from the exposure, regardless of whether they receive a negative test result.
The University RMIT Flight School at the RAAF Base at Point Cook in Melbourne’s south west was declared a tier-1 site on Friday, September 17 between 8am and 5.30pm.
Also declared tier 1 was Kelly Reynolds Hair at Camperdown, about 190 kilometres west of Melbourne.
The remainder of new sites are tier 2, and include the Murray House Clinic at Berwick in Melbourne’s south east, and Warrnambool Train Station in Victoria’s south west.
A number of other venues in Warrnambool were also identified as tier-2 sites, as were several venues in Camperdown, a V/Line bus from Warrnambool to Camperdown, and several venues in the regional city of Bendigo.
Authorities also identified multiple new tier-2 sites at Brunswick and Coburg North in Melbourne’s north. A motel at Wodonga on the border of NSW and Victoria was identified as a casual contact site over three days.
A full list of Victorian exposure sites can be found here.
Victoria Police said it had arrested 215 people during a fifth day of unrest in Melbourne’s CBD and inner north.
“Police responded quickly as small groups of protestors gathered throughout the afternoon in various locations,” Victoria Police said in a statement.
Thirty-one people were arrested in the inner-northern Melbourne suburb of Northcote, police said, “after a group of up to 80 demonstrators attended at a park on Separation Street and a nearby shopping centre this afternoon” in contravention of public health orders.
“In total, 215 people will be issued with penalty notices for breaching the CHO [Chief Health Officer] directions.
“A number of other people will be charged with criminal offences including deception, theft and drug offences.
“Police are disappointed to see the number of people who are continuing to breach the CHO directions and remind those people that we will not tolerate their behaviour and will continue to arrest and fine them if they are found to be in breach of the CHO directions.”
A small number of Victoria Police officers have been identified as close contacts of a protester who attended an anti-lockdown, anti-vaccine rally in Melbourne’s CBD on Wednesday.
“The officers involved have been informed to get tested and isolate,” a Victoria Police spokeswoman said.
“For operational reasons, numbers will not be provided on how many officers were placed into quarantine as a precautionary measure.”
The spokeswoman said the community can be assured that “service delivery to the public will remain unaffected” while some officers are in quarantine.
Victoria’s Department of Health confirmed on Thursday that the person who attended the protests was in a Melbourne hospital being treated for COVID-19.
Victorian health authorities have identified nearly 30 new casual contact COVID-19 exposure sites, including a medical centre in Melbourne’s south-east and several supermarkets.
Casey Superclinic at Berwick was declared a tier-2 exposure site on Sunday, September 19 between 11am and 11.45am. Tier-2 contacts must get tested urgently for COVID-19 and isolate until receiving a negative result.
Many of the other new sites are around the city of Geelong in regional Victoria. They include a Chemist Warehouse, a bottle shop, supermarkets and a Kmart at Corio in the city’s north, a pharmacy and Aldi at Bell Park in the north west, and Coles and Woolworths at Lara, a town north-east of Geelong.
The new tier-2 sites also include a Woolworths at Wodonga on the Victorian and NSW border, as well as a Liquorland at Brunswick in Melbourne’s inner north.
Authorities warned there would be some tier-1 contacts identified at the otherwise tier-2 bottle shop.
A full list of Victorian COVID-19 exposure sites can be found here.
African countries whose populations have had little to no access to life-saving COVID vaccines have taken their urgent pleas directly to richer countries’ leaders at the United Nations annual General Assembly.
“The virus doesn’t know continents, borders, even less nationalities or social statuses,” Chad’s President Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, told the meeting of country leaders in New York.
“The countries and regions that aren’t vaccinated will be a source of propagating and developing new variants of the virus. In this regard, we welcome the repeated appeals of the United Nations Secretary-General and the Director-General of the [World Health Organisation] in favour of access to the vaccine for all. The salvation of humanity depends on it.”
The struggle to contain the coronavirus pandemic has featured prominently in leaders’ speeches over the past few days, many of them delivered remotely because of the virus. Country after country acknowledged the wide disparity in accessing the vaccine, painting a picture so bleak that a solution has at times seemed impossibly out of reach.
The World Health Organisation says only 15 per cent of promised donations of vaccines — from rich countries that have access to large quantities of them — have been delivered. The UN health agency has said it wants countries to fulfil their dose-sharing pledges “immediately” and make shots available for programs that benefit poor countries and Africa in particular.
Universities are urging the federal government to recognise Chinese COVID-19 vaccines to help open the door for the return of Chinese students.
State and federal governments on Friday approved a plan to allow up to 500 international students to enter NSW by the end of the year.
The plan requires all students, who will complete 14 days’ quarantine in Sydney, to be fully vaccinated with vaccines recognised by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, including Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, Moderna and AstraZeneca.
However, this precludes students from key markets including China.
NSW Vice-Chancellors’ Committee convenor Professor Barney Glover urged the medicines regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, and the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation to move quickly to advise the government about how people with non-approved vaccines, including those from China and Russia, can enter Australia under certain quarantine arrangements.
“That work is vital,” he said. “It needs to be a high priority. If you want to open your borders you need to have a broad vaccination strategy.
“We are encouraging the Commonwealth to move quickly on that. It is not just important for international education. It is going to be important for short visitation and long visitation.”
New Zealand has recorded nine new cases of COVID-19 in the community, all of whom are in Auckland.
“Of these new cases, all 9 are epidemiologically linked. Of yesterday’s cases, 7 people were potentially infectious in the community. The rest were in isolation during this time,” the NZ government said in an update.
“There are now 13 cases in hospital, all in the Auckland area. Of these, 3 are in an intensive care or high dependency unit. There are no cases to report at the border.
“The total number of active cases in New Zealand is 256 – this includes 228 cases in the community and 28 border cases.”
Thirteen people are in hospital in Auckland with COVID-19. Of those patients, three are in intensive care.
Auckland moved out of its strict “level four” lockdown to alert level three, which still involves stay-at-home orders, at 11.59pm on Tuesday. The rest of the country is at alert level two.
The level three restrictions in Auckland will be in place for at least two weeks and will be reviewed on October 4.
New Zealand lockdowns explained
- LEVEL 4: Stay home, safe recreational activity allowed in your local area; no gatherings; childcare closed but essential worker’s home bubble can be extended to allow a carer; schools closed; only supermarkets, petrol stations, pharmacies, health clinics open; green grocers, butchers, bakeries and fishmongers can sell only uncooked food online for delivery; masks obligatory when leaving the house.
- LEVEL 3: Stay home but can extend exclusive bubble to care for others; school and childcare open with limited capacity; more businesses can open but customers cannot enter (takeaway ok), public facilities still closed (eg gyms, pools, markets); masks required on public transport and shops/public venues.
- LEVEL 2: Gatherings of up to 100 people and domestic travel allowed; businesses can open with record keeping and social distancing; same for public facilities such as libraries, hairdressers, other services.
- LEVEL 1: No restriction on social gatherings; no restriction on personal movement; masks on public transport; check-ins and social distancing still required in public venues and businesses.
Dubai-based carrier Emirates has become the world’s first airline to implement a digital health pass for all passengers, following a successful trial that began in April.
The airline will use the International Air Transport Association’s “IATA Travel Pass” across its entire network after it slowly expanded its use to 12 routes in June.
The IATA Travel Pass is a mobile app designed to help travellers manage government requirements for COVID-19 testing and vaccination. The app holds encrypted data including verified COVID-19 test or vaccination results on a traveller’s mobile device. Travellers can then share the information with airlines to prove they have been vaccinated or undergone a recent COVID-19 test.
Along with confirming that passengers are OK to fly, the app will also feature up-to-date information on countries’ entry requirements. There is also a plan to include a registry of testing and vaccination centres.
Several other airlines around the world have been trialling the pass, including Singapore Airlines, Etihad and Qatar Airways.
Qantas confirmed in July that it would also use the IATA Travel Pass for Qantas and Jetstar international flights. Qantas currently plans to resume some international flights from December.
Protesters converged this afternoon on the Melbourne suburb of Northcote, shouting “every day” and occasionally hurling abuse at passersby, as anti-vaccination and anti-lockdown protests spilled into a fifth day.
Dozens of protesters gathered about 2pm, walking aimlessly around the car park at Northcote Plaza and at times on the road, stopping traffic.
But as quickly as it started, it was over, with police arriving in large numbers and forcing protesters to disperse.
At the nearby All Nations Park, metres from the Northcote police station, the short protest was watched by children playing in the playground and people picnicking on the grass. Someone from a nearby high rise balcony shouted “you suck” at the group, prompting jeers from the crowd.