As it happened: WA records no new local COVID-19 cases as lockdown enters second day; scientists fear COVID-19 variants may be ‘taking the edge off’ vaccines
- Perth and two Western Australia regions are in their second day of a five-day hard lockdown after a hotel quarantine security guard contracted COVID-19. No additional cases emerged in WA on Monday. A bushfire is raging in Perth’s north-east, amid the city’s hard lockdown. Multiple homes have been lost and residents were forced to evacuate in the middle of the night.
- Federal Finance Minister Simon Birmingham says there are ‘questions for the WA government to respond to’ amid claims the state’s health authorities waited 11 hours to report a COVID-19 case in a hotel quarantine security guard to the rest of the country.
- Victoria has reached 27 days without a case of community transmission, while NSW has reported its 16th day without a local case and Queensland has clocked up its 22nd consecutive day of no locally acquired cases.
- Victoria’s staged return to work will be accelerated this month with health advice allowing office-based workplaces to return to 75 per cent capacity from Monday. Meanwhile, the Victorian government will move to extend its state of emergency laws until December 15.
- Prime Minister Scott Morrison says all Australians will have the chance to be vaccinated by October, but scientists fear the South African COVID-19 variant is ‘taking the edge off’ vaccines.
Recapping the news of the day and closing the blog
Hi all, David here closing the blog. My colleague Marissa Calligeros brought you most of the developments from around the country today.
This afternoon WA Premier Mark McGowan and Health Minister Roger Cook announced that lockdown would continue in the state for five full days despite no new cases. Mr McGowan said his “expectation” was that the snap lockdown would end by Friday evening if testing continued to deliver zero new cases.
These were the top stories today:
- Victoria has reached 27 days without a case of community transmission, while NSW has reported its 16th day without a local case and Queensland has clocked up its 22nd consecutive day of no locally acquired cases. A warning came late in the day for Victoria’s south-west after a weak detection of viral fragments from wastewater in Warrnambool on January 27.
- Pressure is mounting on Coalition MPs to rebuke Craig Kelly, the outspoken member for Hughes in southern Sydney, over his support for hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin as treatments of COVID-19.
- Victoria’s staged return to work will be accelerated this month with health advice allowing office-based workplaces to return to 75 per cent capacity. Premier Daniel Andrews is encouraging people to return to public transport, assuring commuters there will be extra cleaning on trams, trains and buses.
- Meanwhile, the Victorian government will move to extend its state of emergency laws until December 15. The Premier says it’s necessary and should not become a political issue.
- Residents of Perth and two other WA regions are on the second day of their five-day hard lockdown after a security guard at a city quarantine hotel contracted the highly contagious UK variant of COVID-19 and mingled in the community for five days, visiting 17 locations.
- To complicate matters, a bushfire is now raging in Perth’s north-east, amid the city’s hard lockdown. Multiple homes have been lost and residents were forced to evacuate in the middle of the night.
- It appears WA authorities have chosen not to adopt the ‘third ring’ contact tracing strategy used by other states to successfully stem outbreaks and health authorities believe it is safe to continue using the Four Points hotel, where the security guard contracted the virus, as a quarantine facility.
- Queensland’s Tourism Minister is leaning on the federal government to cough up the cash for ailing tourism businesses, particularly those in the state’s far north. Travellers from New Zealand are now allowed to fly into Queensland without undergoing quarantine.
- Brisbane-based firm Ellume has won a $300 million deal with the United States government to ramp up the production and distribution of rapid at-home COVID-19 tests.
- And UK health authorities fear the South African variant of COVID-19 is spreading undetected through the community. About 80,000 people in England will be offered urgent tests for the South African strain of the virus after 11 mystery cases emerged with no links to international travel.
NSW testing rates hit lowest levels since Christmas
COVID-19 testing in NSW has reached its lowest levels since the Christmas period, as the state recorded its 16th consecutive day without any locally-acquired cases.
There were about 6000 tests conducted in the latest reporting period, the lowest non-weekend figures recorded since Christmas Day.
A health worker carries out a COVID-19 test at the Merrylands drive-through clinic in Sydney.Credit:Getty
Daily testing numbers peaked at 63,600 on December 21 and have declined since then.
“NSW Health continues to be concerned by low rates of testing,” the agency said in a statement released on Tuesday.
“We urge people across the state to come forward for testing with even the mildest of symptoms that could signal COVID-19, such as a runny nose or scratchy throat.
“High testing rates play an important role in helping to contain the spread of the disease, as it gives us the best chance of finding new cases and preventing new chains of transmission from becoming established.”
Testing has fallen across all local government areas in Sydney in recent weeks, with the lowest weekend figures recorded in Burwood, where 25 tests were conducted on Saturday and Sunday, followed by Hunters Hill, with 58 tests.
Northern Beaches continues to have the highest testing numbers, with 768 tests conducted over the weekend.
RBA holds rates steady, extends bond buying program by $100b
The Reserve Bank board has held official interest rates at a record low 0.1 per cent at its first meeting of the year while revealing plans to create another $100 billion to buy government debt.
Governor Philip Lowe, who will make his first-ever address to the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday to outline the bank’s expectations for the economy, confirmed on Tuesday afternoon there would be no change in the RBA’s key policy setting this month.
Governor Philip Lowe will make his first-ever address to the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday to outline the bank’s expectations for the economy.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
The RBA cut the cash rate to 0.1 per cent in November while embarking on a quantitative easing program that included the purchase of $100 billion of government bonds and a cut in the interest rate it charged commercial banks under its term funding facility program.
In a surprise move, the board announced on Tuesday it would spend an extra $100 billion buying federal and state government bonds when the current $100 billion program ends in mid-April.
Dr Lowe said the bank would buy $5 billion a week of bonds in a move aimed at keeping a lid on government interest rates.
The bank’s decision to keep the cash rate target steady on Tuesday was not unexpected, with markets forecasting interest rates to remain around their current level for up to three years.
But a sharp lift in house prices and signs the jobs market is improving have lifted expectations the RBA would change its quantitative easing program.
Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Tuesday showed a 1.3 per cent increase in the number of payroll jobs across the country over the fortnight to January 16.
Read the full story here.
Please Explain podcast: mutant coronavirus strains causing headaches for vaccine manufacturers
Early stage clinical trial data from coronavirus vaccine manufacturer’s Johnson & Johnson and Novavax released late last week showed a decreased efficacy against the emerging South African variant of the virus.
The trials showed the vaccines provided between 49 and 57 per cent protection against the strain.
Australia will begin distributing vaccines at the end of this month from Pfizer, who is still awaiting fresh data on its ability to combat this new variant of COVID-19.
As the virus continues to mutate and new strains are being discovered, experts say scientists will need to chase the virus by changing the vaccine.
In today’s episode of Please Explain Daily, Nathanael Cooper and science reporter Liam Mannix discuss what these mutant strains are and how pharmaceutical companies are battling them.
Sutherland in hot water over alleged hub breach
Emerging all-rounder Will Sutherland is facing possible sanctions from Cricket Australia after allegedly breaking CA’s COVID-19 rules.
Cricket’s governing body confirmed on Tuesday that Sutherland, 21, fronted a code of conduct hearing on Monday in relation to an alleged breach of hub protocols.
While CA would not disclose details of the charge levelled against Sutherland, cricket sources indicated that it related to an alleged instance in which Sutherland played golf with non-hub people during his time playing in the Big Bash League for the Melbourne Renegades.
Will Sutherland allegedly breached Cricket Australia’s COVID-19 protocols.Credit:Getty
Players and staff in BBL hubs had been under strict instructions in relation to dealings with people who were not part of the hubs.
Earlier in the season, Brisbane Heat pair Dan Lawrence and Chris Lynn were both fined $10,000 for breaches of hub protocols.
A seam-bowling all-rounder, Sutherland was earlier this summer selected to play for Australia A. The son of former CA chief James Sutherland and brother of leading women’s player Annabel Sutherland, Will chose cricket over football, having been rated as a potential first-round AFL draft pick in 2017.
The Renegades’ season finished a week ago, at which point players were freed from their bubble restrictions.
Read the full story here.
Lockdown to stay for full five days despite zero new cases
Premier Mark McGowan said his “expectation” was that the snap lockdown in WA would end by Friday evening if testing would continue to deliver zero new cases.
“I share your encouragement by today’s numbers. The fact that we have had zero cases, two days in a row, particularly given the extensiveness of testing, is encouraging. We are going to continue to monitor the situation,” he said.
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton on Monday.Credit:Simon Schluter
The health department is advising anyone who lives in or has visited Warrnambool from 25 to 27 January to get tested for COVID-19 if they have any symptoms, however mild.
The warning comes as Victorian authorities received 485 travel applications from West Australians seeking to enter the state. As at 8am, authorities had approved five.
The Victorian government said every exemption is assessed on a case by case basis and is being processed as quickly as possible. Exemptions are limited and only granted in special cases.
“The rest of Western Australia outside of the red zone areas of the Perth metropolitan area, the Peel Region and the South West Region remain green zones,” they said in a statement.
“People travelling from a green zone can apply for a permit to enter Victoria if they have not been in a currently listed red zone or orange zone since 25 January (other than for transit), have not been in close contact with a coronavirus (COVID-19) case and do not have any coronavirus (COVID19) symptoms.”
On arrival in Victoria, they must monitor for symptoms and abide by local directions.
Currently, people who have arrived in Victoria from WA red zones between Monday, 25 January 2021 and 9:00pm on Sunday, 31 January are required to isolate, get tested within 72 hours of arriving and remain self-isolated until they receive a negative test result.
WA Health Minister admits leaving nation in the dark for almost 12 hours
WA Health Minister Roger Cook admitted the National Chief Medical Officer was not briefed about WA’s positive COVID-19 case until 11:30am WST (2:30pm AEDT) despite finding out about it at midnight.
Mr Cook conceded he knew about the positive case at the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee phone hook-up at 7:30am Perth time.
WA Health Minister Roger Cook.Credit:Peter de Kruijff
“At that point in time we were still getting all of the facts,” he said.
“Obviously we had a positive test, we knew about it, but we didn’t know the details.
“The Chief Medical Officer hadn’t had the opportunity to brief the Premier at that point.”
He said following the AHPPC meeting, WA’s Chief Medical Officer was not informed until four hours later.
Federal Finance Minister Simon Birmingham this morning said there were “questions for the WA government to respond to” amid claims the state’s authorities waited 11 hours to report a COVID-19 case in a hotel quarantine security guard to the rest of the country.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison this morning declined to comment WA health authorities waiting to raise the alarm about the positive case.
Perth hotel that produced positive case shut down to quarantine
Premier Mark McGowan has announced that the hotel where a security guard caught the highly infectious UK strain of the coronavirus would be shut down to overseas quarantine, forcing people released from the hotel from the 25th January to self-isolate.
Just yesterday, when questioned by WAToday, the WA Premier insisted the government would continue to use the hotel in the Perth CBD as a quarantine facility.
Arsiyanti Ardie fears for her health in hotel quarantine at the Four Points in Perth.
“Further investigations are underway to try to track down exactly how the case was transmitted. In the meantime, we have decided to take an extra cautious approach at this facility until we find out exactly what occurred,” he said.
“As a result, no further overseas arrivals will be going into this quarantine facility at present. Existing arrivals in quarantine at the Four Points hotel which were due for release in coming days will remain in quarantine until they complete an additional negative test.
“Anyone who has been recently released from this facility going back to the 25th of January is being contacted directly by our health teams to instruct them to remain in self-quarantine until they receive a further negative test result.
“I stress, these are all extra precautions we’re putting in place. We have learned from COVID-19 that you cannot take anything for granted.”
On Monday, Arsiyanti Ardie, who is in quarantine at the Four Points, raised concerns that air-conditioning was shared between rooms after she smelled cleaning products being used in other rooms on her floor.
She also said the PPE provided to staff at the hotel was poor quality and some staff were not even wearing it correctly.
WA Premier Mark McGowan refuted Ms Ardie’s claims and said authorities checked the air-conditioning on Tuesday morning and deemed it suitable.
WA health officials link security guard COVID-19 transmission to hotel guest with UK strain
Gene sequencing has linked a West Australian security guard who walked around the community, for several days, infected with the UK variant of COVID-19 to two recently returned overseas travellers with the virus from the hotel he was working in.
Mark McGowan.Credit:WA Today
WA Premier Mark McGowan said one of the arrivals had been staying on the same floor of the Four Points by Sheraton hotel the security guard was stationed.
“We are advised that the guards did deliver medication to the door of this particular quarantine guest,” he said.
“Further investigations are underway to try to track down exactly how the case was transmitted.“
No further overseas arrivals will be accommodated at the Four Points as a precautionary measure.
Mr McGowan said people already staying in the hotel would have to remain there until complete a negative test.
“Anyone who has been recently released from this facility going back to the January 25 is being contacted directly by our health teams to instruct them to remain in self-quarantine until they receive a further negative test result,” he said.
“I stress, these are all extra precautions we’re putting in place.”
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