Coronavirus Australia live news: Authorities urge vigilance as COVID-19 fragments found in sewage at three Queensland sites

Daily death toll in the UK tops 1,600 for the first time

By Jack Hawke

The UK has recorded another grim milestone during the pandemic, with the daily death toll topping 1,600 for the first time.

On Tuesday the Public Health England confirmed another 1,610 people died within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test, topping the previous record of 1,564 daily deaths set last week.

There were also a further 33,355 new coronavirus cases recorded, which is down from the 37,535 recorded on Monday.

The UK has now recorded 91,470 deaths since the pandemic begun last March – the highest death toll in Europe and the fifth-highest in the world.

England and Scotland have been under a national lockdown since January 4 due to the spread of a highly-transmissible UK variant of the virus, which has been blamed for the spike in case numbers and deaths throughout the winter.

The lockdown has seen new cases come down from a seven-day average peak of around 60,000 new daily cases on January 7, though health officials have warned that the numbers of deaths will continue to rise even as reported cases start to come down.

The national lockdown is expected to last until at least mid-February, when the UK government plans to have vaccinated 15 million people classed as high-risk. 

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Police arrest Alexey Navalny upon arrival in Moscow. Russia’s authorities now must decide what to do with him.

The Russian authorities followed through on their threat to arrest opposition figure Alexey Navalny on Sunday, January 17, taking him into police custody after he landed at Vnukovo International Airport.

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Health authorities say most of the travellers quarantining in South Australia will be released.



January 15, 2021 17:07:03

South Australia will allow anyone from greater Brisbane into the state without having to quarantine from Sunday morning.

Source: ABC News
Duration: 38sec










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Authorities lose contact with Boeing 737 flight over Indonesia

A spokeswoman from Sriwijaya Air said the airline was investigating the incident. “The management is continuously making communications and investigations on the matter and will immediately issue official statement after gaining the correct information,” she said.

The aircraft is a 27-year-old Boeing 737-500, according to registration details included in the tracking data.

A spokesman for the search and rescue agency, Yusuf Latif, said it had not been confirmed how many people were on board. Local Metro TV reported the plane was carrying 56 passengers, along with two pilots and four cabin crew.

This radar image shows the flight path of Sriwijaya Air Flight 182 before it dropped off radar on via AP

Latif said search and rescue teams were on their way to search for the plane at Thousand Islands in the Java sea.

There were early reports of suspected debris off Jakarta.

The teams would scour the area. The flight’s status would be upgraded to “missing” if the preliminary search was inconclusive, Latif said.

Reliable tracking service FlightRadar24 has reported that the plane lost more than 3000 metres in altitude in less than one minute, about four minutes after departure from Jakarta.

Sriwijaya Air said in a statement it would gather detailed information about the flight before releasing further information.

A plane flying from Jakarta to Pontianak would spend most of the flight over the Java Sea.

Sriwijaya Air was founded in 2003 and is Indonesia’s third-largest airline. It carries more than one million passengers each month to mainly Indonesian destinations, but also offers international flights across Asia, including to China, Malaysia and Singapore.

Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago nation, with more than 260 million people, has been plagued by transportation accidents on land, sea and air because of overcrowding on ferries, aging infrastructure and poorly enforced safety standards.

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NSW records eight new COVID-19 cases, infections at BWS Berala put authorities on edge

Eight new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 have been recorded in NSW and contact tracers are tackling a “concerning” amount of transmission at a bottle shop in Sydney’s west.

Two cases are connected to the Avalon cluster on the northern beaches, five are connected to the Berala cluster in Sydney’s west and one is a household contact of a case in Wollongong.

Almost 19,000 tests were conducted in the past 24 hours.

The Berala cluster has now reached 13 cases and Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said the virus had spread easily during short visits to the BWS store on Woodburn Road in Berala.

“Irrespective of if you think it was just a fleeting visit to this premises, we want you to act in a very precautionary way and are asking for your assistance,” she said.

There is a health alert for anyone who visited the bottle shop on any day between December 22 and December 31.

“This is critical and I can’t stress enough how concerned we are about the transmission potential,” Dr Chant said.

“Can we please just everyone in that community respond? I know you can do it.

“We have set up a number of testing clinics and I would just ask that you go forward and just act in a very precautionary way.”

More than 2,000 people who attended the BWS have already been contacted and health authorities are reviewing CCTV footage to understand how transmission occurred.

Dr Chant said tens of thousands of people had been asked to isolate because all secondary cases of close contacts must quarantine until they received a negative test result.

“We will be attempting to contact you, but our records might be incomplete in terms of who was at that premise, so please reach out to your friends and family who you know used that bottle shop and check with them,” Dr Chant said.

She said the most “concerning” aspect of the transmission was how brief the exposure of cases had been at the BWS.

Coronavirus has spread between people at the Berala BWS even during brief visits to the store.(AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

Genomic sequencing has also revealed the Berala cluster, which is sitting at 13 cases, is linked to a quarantine transport driver who tested positive last month.

She said a close contact of that patient transport worker visited the Berala BWS on December 20 and triggered the cluster.

“A family group who had returned from overseas were transported to a health facility … unfortunately one of the patient transport workers acquired infection, passed it on to a colleague, [and] that colleague had been at the Berala BWS for a very fleeting amount of time, but what we now know is that transmission occurred,” Dr Chant said.

Face masks are now mandatory at indoor venues across Greater Sydney, which includes the Central Coast, the Blue Mountains and Wollongong.

Health Minister Brad Hazzard said common sense would apply, but “if you don’t have a good excuse, you will be fined” from midnight tomorrow.

“In wearing a mask, you will be keeping yourself, your locals, your families, your community, and, of course, possibly eventually the whole of New South Wales safe,” Mr Hazzard said.

A $200 fine applies for failing to wear a mask in the relevant spaces, which include public transport, all shops, beauty parlours, theatres and places of worship.

a couple walking down a shopping strip wearing masks
Masks were made mandatory for indoor venues today.(AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

Acting Commissioner Mal Lanyon said police would initially focus on compliance and informing people about the nature of the orders.

He said fines would be a “last resort” but he urged people to comply with the rules.

“I have no doubt that some members of the community will be asked to put a mask on when they’re either on transport or in a store. Can I ask that you do and don’t take offence,” Assistant Commissioner Lanyon said.

Despite intensive investigations, contact tracers have not been able to determine how the same strain of COVID-19 spread between Avalon on the northern beaches, Croydon in the inner west and Wollongong.

Dr Chant said it still was not known who patient zero was at the Avalon RSL in early December.

“It is actually challenging because [of] people’s recall of when symptoms were onset,” she said.

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Health authorities race to link Sydney’s ‘mystery’ COVID-19 cases as states close borders to NSW

ACT Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman said the strengthening of travel restrictions was necessary to protect the ACT community.

“In recent days we have continued to see around 80 non-ACT residents from COVID-19 affected areas of NSW travel to the ACT daily,” she said. “As a result, we now have around 2000 people in quarantine in the ACT, 25 per cent of which are non-ACT residents.

“We are putting in place strengthened travel restrictions to make it absolutely clear to non-ACT residents who live or have recently visited COVID-19 affected areas of NSW that they are not able to be in the ACT at this time.”

Applications for exemption must be submitted at least three days prior to travel, but no more than 14 days prior to the proposed travel date.

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Queensland border remains open to NSW, Victoria as authorities watch coronavirus clusters

Queensland’s border with regional New South Wales and Victoria will remain open, but the Chief Health Officer says she is closely monitoring the “very concerning” coronavirus clusters there.

Victoria recorded two new locally acquired cases today, while another three people tested positive in NSW.

Queensland declared Greater Sydney a hotspot in late December, with the border now closed to anyone who has been in the region since December 11.

Queenslanders returning from the hotspot zone can only enter the state by air and must go into hotel quarantine when they arrive.

In a statement, Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said she was monitoring the interstate outbreaks.

“So I continue to urge Queenslanders travelling to these states to reassess their plans.

“If it is not necessary [to travel], then consider staying here; the situation in Victoria and NSW is still very concerning.

“Queensland is in a good position right now because we acted quickly to declare Greater Sydney a hotspot.

“The health and safety of Queenslanders has, and always will be, our first priority when making these decisions.”

Other states have different border restrictions in place for NSW and Victoria, with Western Australia closing its border with Victoria last night.

Victoria is closing its border with NSW at 11:59pm tonight (Friday).

Second case of South African variant

Queensland Health said a second case of the South African variant of COVID-19, which is thought to be more infectious, had been detected in an overseas arrival.

Dr Young said the man in his 50s had returned from South Africa via the United Kingdom and Qatar and was now in hospital.

“This detection further highlights the importance of our hotel quarantine policy, especially for overseas travellers,” she said.

“Cases are rising at a rapid rate internationally and new variants like this one may be difficult to contain in the community.

“Our best approach is ensuring potential cases are detected where they pose no risk to other Queenslanders.”

Earlier this week, Queensland authorities announced a woman had become the first person in Australia found to have been infected with the variant known as 501.V2.

Wastewater concerns

Dr Young said routine sewage testing had detected viral fragments in wastewater treatment plants in Bundaberg and Elanora on the Gold Coast.

She said the results in samples taken on December 30 were “particularly concerning” given the cases in Victoria and NSW.

“These positive test results are concerning as they may indicate either a recovered case or undetected active cases living in or visiting the area,” she said.

“If there are active cases in the area, it is important that we detect them early to prevent further transmission.

“It’s not just residents we want to reach, but holiday-makers as well.

“We’ve announced 12 wastewater results in the past eight days, and Queenslanders are responding fantastically by getting tested — please keep it up.”

There were no new cases of coronavirus recorded in Queensland today.

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Finnish authorities have no tricks up their sleeve for coronavirus variants

AUTHORITIES in Finland are not devising stricter measures to prevent the spread of the new, possibly more transmissible, variants of the coronavirus in Finland, says Hannu Kiviranta, a research professor at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).

“The measures in place at the border will be enough as such, provided that people follow the recommendations and instructions,” he stated in a news conference in Helsinki on Tuesday.

Kiviranta told Helsingin Sanomat that the decision is justified for a number of reasons: No new variants are presently rampant in Finland. Results have been received for only about 200 of the sequences studied in the country. The chains of infection linked to the three known cases from the new variants have been broken. The number of infections has not increased during the holidays.

Nor is there evidence of a higher risk of mortality or intensive care admission associated with the variant discovered in the United Kingdom.

He added, however, that authorities could quickly resort to stricter measures if the new variants begin to cause infection clusters also in Finland. The measures would be coordinated by hospital districts and fall within the purview of municipalities, but they would not vary depending on the variant in question.

Liisa-Maria Voipio-Pulkki, the head of strategic affairs at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, pointed out that because there is preliminary evidence of the new mutations being more transmissible, people should adhere to the current instructions very diligently.

“We have a very good reason right now to be particularly careful to mitigate the whole epidemic,” she said. “We have no special tricks that’d see us approach the new viral mutation differently to the one we’ve had since spring.”

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and THL will convene this week to mull over extending the suspension of passenger flights from Great Britain beyond 4 January, according to Taneli Puumalainen, the head of infectious diseases control at THL.

THL on 21 December stated that people should get tested for the virus regardless of whether they exhibit any symptoms if they have returned from Great Britain or South Africa since 7 December.

Passengers arriving from any high-risk country are asked to either observe a 10-day quarantine upon their arrival or get tested for the virus in their country of departure or at Helsinki Airport. They should observe a three-day quarantine while waiting for the test results and take a second test if the results of the first are negative.

If also the second test comes back negative, they can end the self-monitored quarantine.

The instructions and recommendations vary slightly depending on, for example, the planned length of stay in Finland.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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NSW health authorities record 18 new COVID-19 cases, new Croydon cluster declared in Sydney

The NSW Premier has again tightened restrictions for New Year’s Eve and has declared a new coronavirus cluster in Sydney’s Inner West.

Yesterday, NSW health authorities recorded 18 positive COVID-19 infections, including six linked to what is being referred to as the “Croydon cluster”.

Those six cases are all members of an extended family, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.

“The Croydon cluster is of concern because there are no direct links at this stage,” she said.

“We anticipate because of the nature of that extended family’s movements that there will be more cases from that cluster.”

NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant said the six cases — three adults and three children — were spread across three households in south-western Sydney, the Inner West and closer to city.

“One of these cases was first reported yesterday morning as that case had come in very late, the prior night,” Dr Chant said.

The chief health officer said family members were in contact with others during the Christmas period.

Of the remaining 12 positive infections recorded overnight, nine are linked to the Avalon cluster, which now stands at 138.

Dr Chant said there were another three locally acquired cases under investigation, two of which were from the same household in Wollongong and another from northern Sydney.

The gathering restrictions have now changed in response to the rising number of cases and will affect New Year’s Eve plans across the state.

The maximum number of people allowed to gather in a household has now been reduced from 10 to five people in the Greater Sydney, Blue Mountains, Central Coast and Wollongong areas.

Outdoor gatherings in the same areas have also been reduced from 50 to 30 people.

The same rules for both the north and south zones of the northern beaches apply — a maximum of five people can gather in a household.

Outdoor gatherings in the north zone are also capped at five people but in the southern zone 10 people can gather outside.

“Our preferred advice is that people just stay home for New Year’s Eve, but if must have people over, don’t have more than five and please make sure you have adequate social distancing, good ventilation,” the Premier said.

These changes come into effect from midnight tonight (Wednesday, December 30) and will be in place until further notice.

All residential aged care facilities in the Greater Sydney area must stop allowing visitors until at least January 6, Dr Chant said.

“We understand the impact that this has, but at the moment, until we understand the full scope of transmission, we do not want to inadvertently have any introductions into our aged care facilities,” Dr Chant said.

This does not include visitors performing essential caring functions or end of life circumstances.

Regional aged care facilities will not be subject to these changes but must not allow people from Greater Sydney to visit.

Ms Berejiklian defended the Government’s decision to ease restrictions between Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, and said she was working off the best health advice at the time.

“What this demonstrates to us is during a pandemic, you have to take decisions based on the science and the data and that’s exactly what we have done at every step of the way,” she said.

“It’s always a balancing act of the health risk versus what restrictions you impose on the community.”

She said restrictions could always be flouted.

“We can put all the restrictions we like in place, but if people choose not to do the right thing or exercise good common sense, that is a huge risk to all of us and that’s unfortunately sometimes what happens.”

When asked if it would be reasonable for people to be disappointed by the Government’s handling of the Avalon cluster, the Premier said “that’s up to them”.

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