Coronavirus updates LIVE: Victoria hotel quarantine worker infected with UK strain as state records zero local COVID-19 cases; WA lockdown to end

Summary

  • 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.
  • It’s double doughnuts for NSW after the state recorded no new cases in the community or hotel quarantine for the first time in 10 weeks. Five people in NSW who were staying at a Victorian quarantine hotel when the virus was transmitted between guests in adjacent rooms have returned negative test results. 
  • West Australians can return to work and children will start school on Monday, with WA’s lockdown set to be lifted at 6pm local time (9pm AEDT) on Friday if the state remains free of further COVID-19 cases.
  • Epidemiologists have warned that COVID-19 will continue to leak out of quarantine unless more is urgently done to address the threat of aerosol transmission, after a hotel worker’s positive test forced Victoria to take a step back to mask-wearing and gathering limits.
  • The vaccine rollout and hotel quarantine will be high on the agenda when state and territory leaders hold a virtual National Cabinet meeting with the Prime Minister today.

Stormy weather looms over final preparations for fragile Australian Open

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.

Australia’s Nick Kyrgios prepares to throw his racquet into the stands.Credit:AP

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.

Read Tom’s full story here.

PM’s top man to plot path back to post-pandemic normal

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.

Department of Health Secretary Professor Brendan Murphy said the multi-dose vials required extra training for all vaccine providers.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

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.

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Negative test results for all 500 tennis players and officials: TA

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.

Patrons can expect to be able to tuck into a frosty pint from 6.01pm on Friday.Credit:istock

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.

The COVID-19 vaccine.Credit:SMH

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.

Read the full article here.

Sydney pharmacist’s fiancee stuck in Myanmar’s cycle of reprisal

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.

Sydney pharmacist Abdullah Ahmed has been waiting three years to get his fiancee out of Cox’s Bazar. Credit:Nick Moir

“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.”

Read the full article here.

‘Was it an overreaction? I don’t think so’: WA Premier defends five-day lockdown over single case

Premier Mark McGowan has defended his decision to plunge two million West Australians into lockdown in response to one coronavirus case, dismissing suggestions it was an overreaction.

“I’ve lain awake at night worrying … was it an overreaction? But I don’t think so,” he said.

“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’.”

Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan is seen with Chief Health Officer Dr Andrew Robertson and Police Commissioner Chris Dawson Credit:Getty Images

His comments follow a Perth hotel security guard testing positive for COVID-19 on Sunday, after having spent five days in the community while potentially infectious with the UK strain of the virus.

Nearly 500 close contacts and casual contacts of the man have since been identified and more than 50,000 people tested during a snap five-day lockdown of the Perth, Peel and South West regions.

WA Chief Health Officer Andy Robertson said the lockdown would lift at 6pm Friday if no further cases were detected.

“If we look at any group of people [infected with the virus], we know that a small percentage will be super spreaders … probably around 10 to 20 per cent … and then there’ll be some in the middle who spread normally and then we get people who are very ineffective at spreading and hopefully that’s been the case here,” he said.

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Masks mandatory as WA students head back to the classroom

West Australian students will head back to their classrooms on Monday, with masks mandatory for secondary students, parents and teachers.

Primary school students are not required to wear a mask.

Parents can drop children off on the school grounds but must be wearing a mask.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

Education Minister Sue Ellery said schools had been supplied with masks, however she expected secondary school students would use their own as they must wear one to get to school anyway.

“Students and staff will be wearing masks – those who are required – to get themselves to school anyway, but in the event a student or staff member doesn’t have one or it breaks, there are masks provided to private and public schools,” she said.

Teachers in the classroom would be permitted to take their mask off if it was necessary to communicate directly with students.

Parents will be allowed to visit school sites and drop off their children, particularly younger children for week one, but they must wear masks.

Classes will proceed as normal, however large assemblies will not be held for the next five days.

Read the full story here.

‘Surface exposed to the virus’ blamed for Brisbane hotel quarantine cluster

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.

Findings from a joint police and health investigation into a cluster of cases at Brisbane’s Hotel Grand Chancellor were “unable to determine the exact root cause of transmission” but it was most likely picked up from “a surface exposed to the virus”.

The Hotel Grand Chancellor in Brisbane has evacuated in January after a cleaner tested positive. Credit:Matt Dennien

The report made seven recommendations to overhaul protocols in quarantine facilities, including installing CCTV cameras to capture movements in and out of guests’ rooms and improved cleaning procedures.

Guests will be required to don masks when they open their doors to collect food and linen left outside and all door seals will be checked to “minimise under doors airflows”.

The report also recommends “ensuring air extraction and ventilation in corridors”.

“Whilst there are no specific findings of airborne transmission, airflow has been considered and forms part of good practice worldwide in minimising risk of transmission,” the report read.

“It is considered the cluster is most likely a result of multiple gaps in infection prevention and control.”

The report ruled out airconditioning and deliberate quarantine breaches as sources of the outbreak.

More than 100 people were evacuated from the Hotel Grand Chancellor in Brisbane’s CBD on January 13, after a casual cleaner tested positive for the highly infectious UK strain.

It was the first time the mutant strain had been detected outside of hotel quarantine in Australia and Queensland’s first locally-acquired infection in nearly four months.

Read Lydia’s full story here.

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