Aussie states further ease border restrictions as no locally acquired case


SYDNEY, Jan. 23 (Xinhua) — Australia’s state of West Australia (WA) will reopen its border to the state of New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland from Jan. 25 as the latter two continued to record zero locally acquired COVID cases.

Travellers from NSW and Queensland, two of Australia’s most populous states, could enter West Australia but still need to get into self-quarantine for 14 days in a suitable premise and be prepared for possible test at the airport clinic and during the quarantine.

NSW and Queensland were kept out of West Australia’s border after concerning COVID situation recorded in the two states. NSW witnessed reappearance of locally acquired cases and small case clusters shortly before Christmas last year while the mutant strain of virus found in Britain was detected in a local case in Queensland earlier this month.

“WA’s careful and cautious approach has stood us in good stead and our controlled border arrangements have kept us safe allowing for swift action to stop the virus in its tracks,” WA Premier Mark McGowan said.

At the same time, Australia’s biggest city of Sydney, also capital of NSW, were also reviewed as less risky by the neighbouring states of Victoria and Australian Capital Territory, which allowed travellers from Greater Sydney to enter from Friday afternoon except the Cumberland local government area in west Sydney where a local cluster originated.

Queensland and South Australia still keep their borders closed to Greater Sydney while Queensland said it will review the border rule on Jan.28.

All Australian states and territories on Saturday recorded zero locally acquired cases.

However, as for the international border, Australia started to apply stricter rules from Friday which require international travellers into Australia to have a COVID test negative results within 72 hours before boarding a flight and face masks are mandatory on international flights and in airports.

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2021 Australian Open crisis continues, Paula Bardosa contracts COVID-19, NSW restrictions to ease, Scott Morrison flags slow COVID vaccine rollout


His predecessor Donald Trump left much of the planning to individual states, resulting in a patchwork of policies across the country.

Executive orders signed by Biden on Thursday will establish a COVID-19 testing board to ramp up testing, address supply shortfalls, establish protocols for international travellers and direct resources to hard-hit minority communities.

They require mask-wearing in airports and on certain public transportation, including many trains, airplanes and intercity buses.

The administration will expand vaccine manufacturing and its power to purchase more vaccines by “fully leveraging contract authorities, including the Defence Production Act,” according to the plan.

The Trump administration had invoked the law, which grants the president broad authority to “expedite and expand the supply of resources from the US industrial base” for protective gear, but never enacted it for testing or vaccine production.

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Biden will also direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reimburse states and tribes fully for the costs associated with National Guard-related efforts to battle the virus.

The measure restores “full reimbursement” from the FEMA Disaster Relief Fund for costs related to reopening schools. FEMA funds are typically dispersed after hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters.

Trump often sought to play down the severity of the virus, which has killed 405,000 people and infected more than 24 million in the US, the highest numbers anywhere in the world. Millions of Americans have been thrown out of work due to lockdowns.

Biden has pledged to provide 100 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine during his first 100 days in office. His plan aims to increase vaccinations by opening up eligibility for more people such as teachers and grocery clerks.

As of Wednesday morning, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention had administered 16.5 vaccine doses of the 35.9 million doses distributed.

Reuters

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Border restrictions ease across Australia, with Brisbane’s hotspot status set to be revoked



Travellers from Greater Brisbane will be able to enter South Australia without needing to quarantine under eased border restrictions that came into effect overnight.

Travellers from Brisbane must be tested for the virus on days one, five and 12 of their stay under the new rules.

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly is set to revoke Greater Brisbane’s “hotspot” status at a press conference on Sunday. 

Meanwhile, Victorians stuck in Brisbane are preparing to return home after the state government downgraded its COVID-19 risk assessment of the region.

Brisbane, Moreton Bay, the Redlands, Logan and Ipswich changed from a “red zone” to an “orange zone” as of 6pm on Saturday, meaning Victorians will no longer need to apply for an exemption to return home. 

Returnees will need to apply for a travel permit, which they will receive automatically. They must also take a COVID-19 test within three days of their arrival and self-quarantine until they receive a negative result.

Victoria on Sunday again recorded zero new locally acquired COVID-19 cases, the eleventh day in a row that it has done so.

The Victorian government is no longer intensely anxious about the COVID-19 leak from hotel quarantine in Brisbane, as the infection appears to have spread no further than a cleaner and her partner.

“From our point of view, there is sufficient stability that we can safely have those Victorians in Brisbane return home,” Mr Andrews said.

The same process will apply for anyone travelling from Brisbane, whether or not they live in Victoria.

Victorians stranded in Sydney should be hopeful that they will be able to return home soon as well, with Mr Andrews flagging on Saturday that he was preparing to dramatically reduce the red zone in NSW.

“I do hope to be able to make announcements very similar to what we’ve just announced with Brisbane in the next couple of days. But, again, it has to be based on advice,” Mr Andrews said.

Chief Health officer Brett Sutton said the trend in Sydney was good.

“There are clearly some local government areas within Greater Sydney that have now gone a number of days of cases without transmission. I will look very intensively at the epidemiology across greater Sydney over the next couple of days,” he told reporters.

The announcement will come in the next day or two, Mr Andrews said.

Mr Andrews said the government would be matching permit and testing data to ensure those who return from orange zones are tested as required.

NSW records one local COVID-19 case 

It comes as New South Wales recorded one new local coronavirus case, breaking a two-day streak of zero local infections.

Investigations into the source of infection for the western Sydney man continue but it’s most likely linked to the Berala bottle shop cluster, NSW Health said.

People who attended a medical centre at the same time as Sydney’s newest COVID-19 patient are now being urged to self-isolate.

All people who were in the dental, physio and imaging waiting room of the Wentworthville Medical and Dental Clinic between 11.30am and 1.15pm on Friday are now considered close contacts.

“(They) must immediately get tested and self-isolate for 14 days regardless of the result,” NSW Health said on Saturday afternoon.

“Anyone who was in other areas of the clinic at that time should monitor for symptoms and immediately isolate and get tested if they appear.”

For a full list of contact tracing locations, see the NSW Health website.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your jurisdiction’s restrictions on gathering limits.

If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus.

Please check the relevant guidelines for your state or territory: NSWVictoriaQueenslandWestern AustraliaSouth AustraliaNorthern TerritoryACTTasmania.



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UK lockdowns could ease in weeks with AstraZeneca vaccine


Lockdowns in the UK could be eased at the end of February as the imminent approval of a COVID-19 vaccine, produced by AstraZeneca, will permit the vaccination of as many as 15 million people, the Mail on Sunday reported.

The country’s health service would no longer be at risk of being overwhelmed by virus cases once that threshold is met, the newspaper said. The vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca will be approved shortly and rolled out across the UK from January 4, the Sunday Telegraph reported.

The UK became the first country in Western Europe to begin vaccinations, when it started using the Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE shot on December 9. More than 600,000 people have been vaccinated. The government is hoping 2 million people will get a first dose of one of the vaccines within two weeks of the January roll-out of the new shot, the Telegraph said.

The country has been one of the hardest hit in Europe with more than 70,000 deaths, the most in the region after Italy. Much of the UK has been moved into the harshest Tier 4 restrictions, which prohibit household mixing and forced the closing of pubs, restaurants and many businesses, after the discovery earlier this month of a more contagious strain of the virus.

Bloomberg



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COVID-19: Raw anger among lorry drivers in Dover as coronavirus testing fails to ease tensions | UK News


Around the port of Dover, all you can hear is the almost constant blast of vehicle horns.

But they’re not blaring in celebration of the port’s reopening – this is raw anger.

And the days of pent-up frustration, stranded in appalling conditions, finally spilled over into angry clashes with police just after dawn.

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Further clashes between angry drivers and police

Short scuffles that continued sporadically throughout the day and into the evening.

Overnight, dozens of lorries, vans and cars had blocked the main entrance to the ferry terminal.

Behind them were many hundreds of other vehicles, lining almost every street around Dover’s seafront.

The drivers here are determined not to lose their place at the front of the queue.

The 26-mile trip to the COVID-19 testing stations at Manston airfield would see them relegated to the back of a very long queue of more than 6,000 lorries.

Those I spoke to have already endured more than three days here. Potentially adding several more days to that wait is something they’re simply not willing to contemplate.

Police cars patrol as freight lorries and goods vehicles queue on a closed section of the M20 motorway which leads to the Port of Dover, near Ashford in Kent, south east England on December 22, 2020, after a string of countries banned travel including accompanied freight arriving from the UK, due to the rapid spread of a more-infectious new coronavirus strain. - Britain's critical south coast port at Dover said on December 20 it was closing to all accompanied freight and passengers due to the French border restrictions "until further notice". (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
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There has been enormous congestion on the M20

I spoke to Lukas, a Polish driver stranded here since Sunday night, and deeply suspicious of official assertions that rapid coronavirus testing is now underway.

“Where is the British Army to do the tests?,” he asks. I told him that testing stations had been set up at Manston.

But he simply didn’t believe me: “Yeah, we talk to other drivers on the radio who are at the airport. They’ve said there’s no testing there, they’re leaving.”

He’s partially right – testing has got off to a slow start. After several hours, two testing stations were up and running at the airfield, but they have processed only a relatively small number of lorry drivers.

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‘We have a problem with France’ – angry hauliers

Some drivers we saw got fed up of the wait and decided to leave.

And there’s the added problem of dealing with those who have been tested.

They can’t come here to the Dover ferry port because of the other drivers who are blockading the terminal.

Some are leaving by Eurotunnel, but until the blockade of the port is dealt with, they can’t get near here.

That promoted a decision by officials to set up a testing station at the entrance to the terminal.

Drivers use a van to shelter from the rain in Dover
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Drivers use a van to shelter from the rain in Dover

By mid-afternoon, dozens of testing staff arrived here and by early evening they had begun their work.

So those at the front of this queue are finally being tested, with the aim of getting out on ferries in the hours ahead.

But that has done little to ease the tensions here. People are still highly suspicious of the authorities.

One man was wrestled to the ground and arrested after he punched a police officer.

And with government officials admitting it will take several more days to deal with the backlog of stranded vehicles, it’s unlikely we’ve seen the last of the anger outside this port.



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Restrictions to ease on charter boat numbers


More people will be allowed on tourism charter boats after the Chief Health Officer approved relaxations to COVIDSafe requirements.

Private point to point ferry services under three hours travel time can operate 100 per cent of indoor seated capacity provided passengers are in ticketed and allocated seating.

Round trip day vessels can use up to 100 per cent of indoor seated capacity provided passengers are in ticketed and allocated seating.

Tourism Minister Stirling Hinchliffe said the changes would mean more visitors could enjoy the Great Barrier Reef.

“Assistant Tourism Minister Michael Healy and I have been working closely with the Marine Tourism operators who wanted greater flexibility with COVID-19 requirements,” Mr Hinchliffe said.

“The updated COVID Safe plan approved by the Chief Health Officer means Marine Tourism operators will be able accommodate more passengers onboard to improve business viability while meeting health obligations.”

The move comes after weeks of pressure from the LNP, led by Whitsunday MP Amanda Camm, for the State Government to scrap the restrictions.

Capacity limits have been in place on charter boats for months in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Under a Queensland public health order, tourism dive tours, fishing charters and boat operators have been forced to limit their capacity.

Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said this rule did not apply to aeroplane travel because contact tracers know where each person was seated compared to free movement on boats.

Whitsunday Charter Boat Industry Association president Tony Brown said these restrictions, on top of the NSW border closure, were impacting the viability of businesses in the Whitsundays during peak tourism season.

“We’re getting slammed twice in that regard,” he said.

Mr Brown said Whitsunday tourism operators were losing as much as $1.3 million per week.

One tourism operator told him they had received 250 email cancellations this week alone.

“The higher carrying vessels are wanting changes to help them lift their capacity and set up tracing systems so they can keep the information,” he said.

Whitsunday MP Amanda Camm. Picture: News Corp/Attila Csaszar

More stories:

Airlie clubs hit out at Premier’s call to sit down

Hospitality industry’s future post-COVID-19

Haunt is back with Alota Ffagina and Kinky the Clow

COVID restrictions eased for marine tourism

Private point to point ferry services under three hours travel time –

· Can operate at 100 per cent of indoor seated capacity provided passengers are in ticketed and allocated seating

· Passengers on day trips must return in their allocated seat

· Mask wearing encouraged

· Outside of household and social groups, one person per two seats

Round trip day vessels –

· Can operate with a capacity of one person per two square metres based on accessible indoor and protected outdoor spaces instead of previous one person per four metres, or;

· Can use up to 100 per cent of indoor seated capacity provided passengers are in ticketed and allocated seating

· Passengers must maintain 1.5 metres physical distancing in food and drink kiosk areas

· Operators must also manage the outdoor space to maintain one person per two square metres in these areas.

Share your thoughts on this issue through a letter to the editor:

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Whitsunday Times





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South Australia’s coronavirus restrictions ease in time for Christmas and New Year



South Australia’s coronavirus restrictions have eased today, allowing large home gatherings ahead of the festive season and stand-up drinking at pubs.

There are currently no known active cases of COVID-19 in South Australia and there have been 14 consecutive days with no new cases diagnosed in the state.

From this morning, the maximum number of people who can gather at a home has increased from 10 to 50, and patrons can stand up with a drink at the state’s hospitality venues.

In addition, a maximum of 200 guests are now allowed to attend weddings, up from 150, and 200 mourners can attend funerals

The limit on people at private functions at licensed venues has also increased from 150 to 200.

QR code check-ins have also been expanded to include retail outlets and supermarkets.

Other changes include:

  • Increasing capacity in cinemas from 50 per cent to 75 per cent, with a requirement for people to wear masks at indoor cinemas
  • Increasing density at gyms, from one person per 4 square metres to one person per 2 square metres
  • Allowing play gyms to reopen

Earlier this month, South Australia’s COVID-19 state coordinator and Police Commissioner Grant Stevens announced a relaxation of density restrictions, allowing hospitality venues to host one patron per 2 square metres.

He said at the time that the high uptake of QR code check-ins and South Australians’ high levels of compliance influenced the decision.

“The QR codes have been described as a game changer in terms of contact tracing, and the work that has been done to quarantine this cluster and put a ring around it, so it doesn’t spread any further through the community has been exceptional,” he said.

“The take-up of QR codes has given us some confidence to manage the risk around this current response to the Parafield cluster and that is the decision we have taken.”



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Voluntary Cashless Debit Card scheme fails to ease concerns of NT community groups


Aboriginal and community organisations in the Northern Territory say they are worried the Federal Government will try and force welfare recipients onto its Cashless Debit Card (CDC) scheme.

The Coalition’s controversial bill to extend the scheme passed the Senate late on Wednesday after some last-minute amendments.

The trial will continue for another two years in the current sites rather than become permanent, and the CDC will expand into the Northern Territory on a voluntary basis.

But some organisations say they do not trust the Commonwealth to support welfare recipients who choose to stay on the current Basics Card.

“I think that there will be some consultations out in remote communities, I very much doubt they will be in language, and they will be purporting all the benefits of the card without advising Aboriginal people living in remote communities of the incredible risks of rolling over to this card,” said Deborah Di Natale, the CEO of the NT Council of Social Service.

Social Services Minister Anne Ruston previously said that under the CDC program, NT recipients would get 50 per cent of their welfare payments in cash and the other half would be loaded on the card, which could not be spent on alcohol or gaming.

But Ms Di Natale flagged concerns about this being changed with little notice for recipients.

“At the whim of the minister, their income can go from a 50 per cent quarantine to an 80 per cent quarantine,” she said.

Liam Flanagan from ALPA fears the Commonwealth will make it “very hard” for people who choose to stay on the Basics Card(ABC News: Cameron Gooley)

The Arnhem Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation (ALPA) also holds concerns, despite the voluntary nature of the scheme.

“Our view is they will make it very hard for people that are on the Basics Card, whether that’s reducing the level of resourcing or support for that, making it much harder for people to stay on it long-term, harder to process exemptions, access support,” said ALPA’s general manager of community services Liam Flanagan.

“Our view is they will not tolerate the Basics Card and having the two systems running in parallel, it’ll be expensive for them … at the end of the day it was a last-minute Hail Mary amendment for them because they knew they were going to lose the vote.”

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Social Services Minister Anne Ruston denied the Federal Government would try and force people onto the CDC.

“People on the Basics Card are absolutely entitled to remain on that card if they wish and will continue to have the same level of support through Services Australia.

“Previous consultation has taken place in language with interpreters and will continue to be offered in that way.”

CLC policy manager Dr Josie Douglas looks at the camera from close range during the day in Darwin wearing a white shirt.
Central Land Council policy manager Dr Josie Douglas fears people will struggle to navigate the dual system.(ABC News: Terry McDonald)

Concerns over two card system

While some have welcomed news that the CDC will be voluntary, the Central Land Council is worried two separate welfare cards will confuse recipients.

“It will mean that people will have a dual system of income management and that will create confusion and it’s something that Aboriginal people in the NT simply didn’t ask for,” said the CLC’s policy manager Josie Douglas

“There will be additional pressure on Aboriginal community-based organisations to assist people to navigate this dual system.

“Income management, if we think back to the Intervention, was imposed on people in the NT — Territorians have an absolute right to be able to determine and have input into matters that affect their lives.”

ALPA says the scheme’s expansion will further complicate the relationship between the Federal Government and Aboriginal Territorians living in remote communities.

“With the first piece of significant policy that’s been rolled out post the new Closing the Gap agreement being something this punitive and it being done without any consultation or engagement, I think the damage has already been done to the credibility of this Government with remote Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory,” said Mr Flanagan.



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Knowing draft fate didn’t ease Jamarra’s nerves


Number one draft pick Jamarra Ugle-Hagan already loves the Western Bulldogs.

The Next Generation Academy product was last night snapped up with pick 1 in the National Draft after the Bulldogs matched Adelaide’s bid for the talented forward.

Ugle-Hagan, who grew up a Bombers fan, always knew he would end up at the Whitten Oval and is now thrilled to officially refer to himself a Dogs player having already experienced the culture of the club during his time as an academy prospect.

“As soon as I walked in the door on the first day when I went there, I had Jason Johannisen come up and introduce himself,” he said on SEN Breakfast.

“I expected that the boys were going to be like ‘top dogs’ and stuff, but obviously they’re good blokes in general.

“As soon as you walk in the club, everyone gets to you, even staff.

“I was an Essendon supporter for 17 years, then I walk into the Bulldogs for two weeks, and as soon as I left I’m saying to my parents, ‘bloody hell, I want to go for this club’.

“They’re just that nice. They’re a good club.”

From just outside Warrnambool via Scotch College and the Oakleigh Chargers, Ugle-Hagan has already been on the receiving end of some Bulldogs hospitality.

Without a pair of jeans, he called on the assistance of club captain Marcus Bontempelli to deck him out for the big day.

“I finished up at Scotch College as a boarder, so I moved everything back home,” he explained.

“Everything was at home and the first person I messaged was ‘Bont’. We’re similar height and same shoe size so I thought we’d be the same size pants.

“I messaged him and he said, ‘Come around at 1 o’clock, I’ll give them to you’. I was like, ‘Unreal, I’ll see you soon’.

“Then I went and borrowed his pants.”

Asked if Bontempelli offered up his best set of trousers, Ugle-Hagan felt perhaps the Doggies skipper was keeping his highest quality garb from the club’s newest star-in-the-making.

“I reckon he had better pants to be honest but I can’t complain, he looked after me,” he laughed.

Despite knowing what would eventuate on draft night, Ugle-Hagan admits he was a bundle of nerves beforehand.

“I didn’t expect anything,” he said further.

“I got out of the car with (manager) Robbie (D’Orazio), obviously I was still nervous, I was nearly about to spew.

“I don’t know why. The position I was in, I knew I was going to Footscray, but it was hard to sink in.

“I was nervous before my name got read out but I had my family and mates down at the pub which was unreal.”









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Coronavirus restrictions to ease in Queensland with people allowed back on the dance floor


For the first time in months, dancing will soon be allowed at all venues across Queensland as the Health Minister moves to further ease coronavirus restrictions.

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From midday next Monday, distancing limits will be eased in nightclubs and other events to allow dancing.

Currently, dancing is only allowed at weddings.

However, Health Minister Yvette D’Ath warned dancing would still not return to unfettered pre-COVID-19 contact and people should still try to maintain some distancing.

She said small dance floors and mosh pits were still not allowed but, “what we want to see is dancing spread out across a greater area”.

“We’re not just talking about dancing in our nightclubs, I’m so pleased that our seniors will be able to come back into our leagues clubs and our RSLs and do their line dancing … these things are really important.

“Socialising, getting out of your home, that interaction with other people is really important, especially for our elderly and vulnerable people.”

The number of people allowed to dance at one time will be restricted to one person per 2 square metres.

Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said Queenslanders need to use common sense.

“Dance with other people … but don’t dance in a whole group, not those mosh pits where you’ve got 100 people all squashed up together,” Dr Young said.

“If you dance with someone you’ve met that night, that’s of course fine, just be sensible about it.

“Stay with that person, with your friendship group, with your family, stay in those groups but be spread out.”

Christmas common sense

As for hugging on Christmas Day, Dr Young urged common sense, especially around vulnerable people.

Three new cases of coronavirus have been detected in hotel quarantine in Queensland, meaning 22 cases are considered active across the state.

There have been no cases of community transmission in Queensland for 86 days.

Dr Young defended the recent decision to stop allowing fresh-air breaks to people in hotel quarantine, saying the risk posed by those in hotels was now much higher.



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