Queensland records one new case of coronavirus in hotel quarantine and one historical case from previous cluster


“We’re now accelerating the rollout of Pfizer across the state,” Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said on Monday.

“The biggest issue is supply,” Dr Young said.

It comes after Australia’s medical experts changed their official advice last Thursday, recommending against the use of the AstraZeneca jab for people under the age of 50 over concerns about the risk of causing a rare blood-clotting disease.

Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said Queensland Health is still trying to find ways to distribute the Pfizer vaccine — which requires refrigeration at low temperatures — to parts of the state that don’t have vaccine hubs.

“We need to train up our staff to learn how to handle the Pfizer vaccine,” Ms D’Ath said.

While Dr Young said the Pfizer vaccine’s storage and administration requirements differed to those of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

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The Corner Hotel in Richmond, Melbourne loses trademark battle in the Federal Court


The Corner Hotel in Melbourne’s Richmond has lost a Federal Court trademark battle over another venue’s use of the word ‘corner’.

The award-winning pub, which has hosted some of the world’s biggest music names, registered trademarks for The Corner, Corner Hotel, Corner and Corner Presents.

Operators Swancom took the CBD-based Jazz Corner Hotel, its associated Corner Cafe and Bird’s Basement music venue to court over their trademarks that include the word ‘corner’.

The three businesses are in the same building, owned by the same group and are close, but not actually on a street corner.

Federal Court Justice Michael O’Bryan on Friday dismissed Swancom’s claim against the venues, and the Jazz Corner Hotel’s counter-claim against the Richmond pub.

He said the Swancom and Jazz Corner trademarks were obviously similar in so far as their respective uses of the words hotel and corner.

But in his judgment delving into the definitions of the words ‘corner’, ‘pub’, ‘hotel’ and ‘jazz’, Justice O’Byran said the risk a member of the public might be confused about live music offered by the two venues was remote.

“I take judicial notice of the fact that, in Australia, hotels or, more colloquially, ‘pubs’ (a business licensed to serve alcoholic drinks on the premises) are often located on street corners,” Justice O’Bryan said.

The Richmond pub claimed the CBD venues’ use of terms including The Jazz Corner Hotel and The Jazz Corner Cafe, was deceptively similar to that used by Swancom.

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Victoria records first overseas COVID case in new hotel quarantine system


Victoria has recorded its first COVID infection in hotel quarantine since the state again started accepting international flights.

The new case is an international passenger who arrived in Melbourne on a flight from Doha on Thursday.

COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria (CQV), the government unit that runs the hotel quarantine program, said the person was a man in his 40s.

He returned a positive test result yesterday and was transferred to a health hotel last night, CQV said.

Health hotels are quarantine hotels set up specifically to hold people who test positive to the virus.

No new COVID infections were recorded in the community yesterday, taking Victoria’s streak of no locally-acquired cases to 43 days.

The new case is the first one recorded in an overseas arrival since international flights started arriving in Melbourne again on Thursday.

The hotel quarantine program was shut down and overhauled in mid-February after the virus leaked out from a hotel and sparked a five-day lockdown.

Measures introduced in this overhaul include only rostering on hotel quarantine staff who have had at least the first COVID vaccine dose, and doubling the number of times arrivals get tested during their stay.

Previously, international arrivals were only tested for COVID twice during their two weeks in quarantine, but they will now be tested upon entering the program and on days four, 12 and 14.

Staff who work in the program are tested daily on shift, and encouraged to get tested on their days off.

More than 2,800 hotel quarantine staff members have also undergone N95 mask fit-testing and refresher training.

“CQV has strict IPC [infection prevention and control] processes and procedures, daily staff testing and workers are N95 mask fit test and trained and well prepared to manage positive cases,” a CQV spokesperson said in a statement.

Data on the Victorian government website says 104 overseas arrivals are expected to land in the state today.

Yesterday, 4,810 vaccine doses were administered in Victoria, taking the total of jabs delivered in the state to 142,130.

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Vaccinated Aussies could avoid hotel quarantine


Australians who are vaccinated against COVID-19 could be able to travel overseas without going into hotel quarantine or even being asked to quarantine at home.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed on Friday that the health advisory committee had been tasked by the national cabinet to come up with a blueprint on options.

“What we are asking the medical expert panel to tell us is what are the thresholds that we need to be able to meet to do things such as the following – Australians who are vaccinated being able to travel overseas and return to Australia and not go into hotel quarantine, potentially not even into home quarantine at all,’’ the Prime Minister said.

“That will be a major change and to extent to which Australians returning from overseas who have had recognised vaccines also approved here in Australia with appropriate accreditation can return to Australia on that same basis and to enable potentially down the track travel from low-risk countries with similar vaccine arrangements.

“No one is saying that any of those things are coming in today but what we are working and planning for and have tasked the medical professionals who advise us on is what are the marks we have to meet to enable us to start opening up Australia more than we are now?”

Australia has already established a ‘travel bubble’ with New Zealand that was finalised in the last week and the PM hinted Singapore could be next.

“That will give us a greater deal of confidence about when we can move to other countries,’’ the PM said.

“I have mentioned Singapore before as an obvious next choice but at this stage it is still some time away. The message from the National Cabinet is we want to open up more, we want to do it safely, we want to ease restrictions, we want to do that in a consistent way across the country.”

There has been some speculation that in the early days of the international border reopening that priority will be given to business travellers and international students ahead of holidaymakers.

“You’re right, the risk may be such you may limit it to exempt categories,’’ the PM said.

“And that would be the sort of thing we would currently allow people to travel for, which is occurring right now, but that could be done with greater confidence because of the vaccination and when they return they may not then have to take up valuable places in hotel quarantine.

“Or it could be more broad as you say. But I can tell you one thing..the more Australians who are vaccinated, the more likelihood there is of being able to have the types of arrangements that I mentioned. If the vaccination population is lower, then that of course limits to options of borders, and of the other things that we’ve spoken about. So all of those options are on the table.”

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Melbourne hotel quarantine program restarts on Thursday with 300,000 vaccine target by May


As Melbourne rolls the dice for a third time on hotel quarantine, an expansion of the state’s vaccination program has been revealed.

On Thursday from 4.30am, returned travellers started arriving at Melbourne airport aboard flights from Colombo, Doha, Dubai and Singapore.

They have been taken to the Holiday Inn at Melbourne Airport and the Intercontinental on Collins Street, where they will stay for a fortnight.

The state hasn’t accepted returned travellers since February 13, when workers contracted the UK strain of COVID-19 from guests at the Holiday Inn.

At a press conference on Thursday, health officials were asked if all hotel quarantine workers received their first vaccine dose two weeks prior to the program restarting.

The response from infectious diseases expert Ben Cowie was “almost all” hotel workers have had their first.

“It’s far greater than 95 per cent. New people are continuously being employed into the hotel quarantine program,” he said.

“We’re ensuring they are vaccinated as they come in and then are deployed into the program.

“So yes, the vast majority of hotel quarantine workers have had their first dose and many have had their second dose.”

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Quarantine cowboy goes global with paper bag creations during hotel isolation


Art director David Marriott has been keeping himself – and people around the world – entertained while he spends a fortnight at the Rydges South Bank hotel by getting creative with the packaging that carried food to his room.

Mr Marriott, who travelled to the UK after his father died from COVID-19, told ABC Radio Brisbane he had brought a stereo and an art kit with him to keep busy in isolation.

He said he was inspired to make a hat with a poke bowl and then started cutting up the bags to cheer himself up.

“I kept all my bags and I thought, ‘I’m gonna make myself a hat for that brown paper cowboy I’ve been talking about’, so I got my scissors out and my glue and started making a hat,” he said.

“Then I thought, ‘Oh I need a jacket’, and then I made a jacket and a waistcoat and then a gun and then chaps — I made some chaps and then I made the whole outfit and thought, ‘Well, I need friends.’

“I found in my cupboard an ironing board and I dragged it out and put a desk lamp on it and I thought, ‘My God, there we go — there’s the skeleton of a horse’.

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Free climber George King scales skyscraper hotel in Barcelona without permission



George King, 21, was met by police after climbing a skyscraper hotel without safety equipment.

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Medevac refugees return to Nauru after more than a year in Australian hotel detention


Two medevac refugees who spent more than a year in Darwin immigration detention and were flown back to Nauru this week have spoken of unliveable conditions during their period of confinement.

Before departing for Nauru, the married couple had been in a group of 11 refugees still detained in an immigration facility near the Darwin airport after arriving in Australia for medical treatment in 2020.

They are the second group of refugees to be released from the Darwin facility after a family of four refugees, who had been in hotel detention for over a year, were resettled temporarily in Brisbane earlier this month.

Both ethnic Tamils escaped Sri Lanka about eight years ago by boat.

Kirubakaran Rasanayagam said he and his wife, Parmika Sutharsan, asked to go back to Nauru because they could not tolerate being detained any longer.

The couple left Australia on Monday morning.

“When we came to Darwin detention, it really was like a jail,” Mr Rasanayagam said.

“It caused a lot of mental health problems for us, like our life is being wasted.

Refugee advocates waved goodbye to the couple as they were taken back to Nauru.(

Supplied: DASSAN

)

The couple is involved in an ongoing federal court case in which their lawyers will argue their time in Australian immigration detention was illegal.

They will also consider seeking compensation.

Earlier this month, a federal court judge raised concerns about Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s handling of medevac refugees saying the detention could be illegal and there could be a case for compensation

Claims of night-time spot checks during sleep

The couple said that in Nauru, before coming to Australia, they had been able to live and work in the community while they awaited resettlement in the United States.

Mr Rasanayagam said the couple had also faced hostility from locals on the island — including when customers at his mobile repair shop refused to pay him.

Despite this, Mr Rasanayagam said a lack of respect and privacy from security at the Darwin immigration facility pressured the couple to seek a return to detention back on Nauru.

“The rooms are unlocked. They (security) come any time without knocking,” he said.

“This shouldn’t happen to other detainees who are still detained in Darwin.”

He also said security would enter detainees’ rooms and flash a torch into their faces while they were sleeping as part of a regular roll call.

“People are not treated with dignity and respect,” he said.

The Australian Border Force, which manages the facility, said it would not discuss individual cases.

“All external service provider staff are appropriately trained, and strict procedures are followed to ensure adherence to appropriate cultural and gender requirements,” the statement reads.

Parmika Sutharsan and Kirubakaran Rasanayagam sit in chairs on a small balcony in Darwin's immigration detention centre.
Kirubakaran Rasanayagam and Parmika Sutharsan say their privacy was breached in detention.(

Supplied

)

This month at least 69 medevac refugees have been released into the Australian community on bridging visas.

Mr Rasanayagam said the detainees did not understand why some people were released and others not when they were all brought to Australia for the same reason.

Refugees could return to PNG

The Department of Home Affairs said in a federal court hearing this week it was in talks with the Papua New Guinea government to return asylum seekers who had been brought to Australia from the island.

One flight to Papua New Guinea had been scheduled for March 23, although there are concerns it may not go ahead due to the rising number of coronavirus cases in the country.

A man wearing a brown shirt, black jeans and no shoes sits on the ground with his legs crossed, behind a high wire fence.
Refugees medevaced to Australia have been detained in a facility in Darwin.(

ABC News: Dane Hirst

)

In 2016, the federal government also committed to resettling the hundreds of refugees on Papua New Guinea and Nauru in a third country.

Amnesty International refugee coordinator Dr Graham Thom said despite those promises there were still around 200 people on the two islands waiting for settlement.

He said the charter flights highlighted the government had no clear plan to reduce the number of asylum seekers on Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

“It clearly shows the chaos,” he said.

“The government is now forcing people to choose between detention offshore, where they face medical neglect, or hotel detention in Australia, where they are locked in rooms for up to 23 hours a day.”

In a statement the Department of Home Affairs said “the Australian government remained committed to regional processing and third country resettlement”.

“Government policy is steadfast — persons under regional processing arrangements will not settle permanently in Australia.”

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Park Hotel Motel, gym among new exposure sites


Concerns of a COVID-19 outbreak in Byron Bay are growing with NSW Health officials adding a gym and a pub among several new exposure sites within the coastal region.

NSW recorded one new case of COVID-19 on Wednesday. The case became known after 8pm and will be included in Thursday’s numbers.

The new case was a man in his 20s who attended the Byron Beach Hotel with three of his friends, the same venue as a hen’s party where positive cases from Queensland were recorded.

On Wednesday afternoon, the annual Bluesfest musical festival was cancelled for a second straight year due to COVID-19 concerns.

Overnight, health officials added a handful of venues they consider high risk. The first is the Surfit 24/7 Epiq Gym at 5 Snapper Drive, Lennox Head on Sunday, March 28 between 6am and 11am.

The second is the Park Hotel/Motel at 223 Broken Heads Road, Suffolk Park on Sunday, March 28 between 1pm and 2pm.

“Anyone who attended the following new venues must immediately get tested and self‑isolate until they receive further advice from NSW Health,” a NSW Health statement read.

NSW Health also added several venues to a list of sites where anyone who attended between the hours indicated is considered a casual contact.

The first venue is Suffolk Park Bakery at 2 Clifford St, Suffolk Park on Saturday, March 27 between 11.15am and 11.40am.

Other venues are retail shops or grocery stores, but the time window for all is Saturday, March 28 between 12pm and 4pm:

  • Black sheep
  • Quiksilver Byron Bay
  • Surf, Dive & Ski
  • Tiger Lily Byron Bay
  • Kivari Boutique Byron Bay
  • Arnhem Clothing
  • Spell Designs
  • The Cellar
  • Aldi
  • Boards in the Bay, 12 Lawson Street
  • Byron Bay Central Pharmacy
  • Main Street Burger Bar
  • Surf, Dive & Ski, 2/14 Jonson Street
  • Ghanda, 3/8 Lawson Street

“Anyone who attended the venues at the times listed is a casual contact who must get tested immediately and self-isolate until a negative result is received,” NSW Health said.

“Please continue to monitor for symptoms and if they appear, isolate and get tested again.”

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‘Hotel deals and house swaps’: Returning to the office after a sea or tree change


Did you move to the coast or country during COVID-19, but kept your job in the city? 

If so, the long commute may be about to bite, as more bosses demand their employees return to the office for at least a couple of days per week.

So, what’s a person to do – other than suck it up, or try to plead the case for continued remote working? 

For many, the answer is a combination of long drives or train travel, broken up by nights spent crashing in family or friends’ spare rooms. Others are making the most of largely empty hotels or Airbnbs in the city to nab cheap last-minute deals.  

Or in the case of Angus Smith, who moved from Melbourne to Barwon Heads earlier this year, catching the ferry back to the big smoke.

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Angus Smith catches the 70-minute ferry to the Docklands before cycling to work along the Yarra. Photo: Supplied

While he and his partner used to spend most weekends in the coastal town prior to COVID-19, the Melbourne lockdowns sealed the decision to make a full-time sea change. 

“To be able to be locked out from friends, family and the surf beach was a bit much, and we thought we’re working remotely most of the time, so why not?” 

Smith, who works at an international humanitarian organisation, now throws his bike in the car for the scenic drive to Portarlington about twice a week, and catches the 70-minute ferry to the Docklands ($33 return), before cycling the last part of his journey along the Yarra River.

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Angus says the commute is his favourite part of the day. Photo: Supplied

On the ferry ride in, he does some work, and on his return journey, enjoys a glass of wine.

“I thought it was going to be a horrible commute but it’s actually my favourite part of the day,” he says.

Many companies are taking a more flexible approach to working from home, or slowly easing employees back into office life. For example, this week the Victorian government announced a new flexible work policy that requires public servants to return to the office at least three days a week.

By law, employers can give directions to their employees to work their normal hours at their workplace (except if they’re on approved leave), according to a Fair Work Ombudsman spokesperson.

“An employee can’t refuse an employer’s direction to perform work if the direction is lawful and reasonable,” the spokesperson said.

Of course, when you work for yourself, there’s more opportunity to be flexible, even when many of your clients are still in the CBD. 

20200326-Amber-Daines-Credit-Stephen-Blake-1-05694_e4t3zg
Last December Amber Daines and her family moved to Kariong on the Central Coast. Photo: Stephen Blake

That’s the case for business communications specialist Amber Daines. Last December, she and her family rented out their place in Gladesville, nine kilometres from Sydney’s CBD, to move to Kariong on the Central Coast.

But their move wasn’t really about the beach lifestyle. Rather, Daines’ eldest son had secured a spot at a sought-after sports college.

“We kind of all went, well COVID lets us work more flexibly, do we give it a couple of years and see how it goes?” says Daines. “A year ago I wouldn’t have even thought about it.”

She usually stays in a hotel for one to two nights each fortnight to meet her city clients, while her husband commutes more frequently to his full-time job and often stays with a friend.

Airbnb
Check Airbnb for cheap rooms. Photo: Peter Braig

“There are a lot of good deals at the moment,” says Daines, who always books hotels that offer free cancellations, just in case clients change meeting times. 

“During summer it was actually cheaper to stay in Sydney in a five-star hotel than to stay in an Airbnb on the Central Coast.”

Recently she stayed two nights for free, including parking, at a luxury hotel in Circular Quay, using points through American Express Travel.

Back in Victoria, sales manager and surfer Raphael Bieniara commutes to his Melbourne office two to three times a week, after moving from Elwood to Jan Juc last July. The drive takes about an hour and 20 minutes.

“I sometimes stay in Melbourne, so it’s a mix of both,” he says. “The commute I don’t mind, I’m listening to podcasts and I’m on the phone to customers.”

Bieniara says he has no regrets about the move – even with the much longer commute. “It was absolutely the right decision.”

How to find a cheap city crash pad

  • Check hotel websites and apps directly for a better price
  • Book a cheap private room on Airbnb
  • Dust off your Frequent Flyer points for a hotel stay
  • Find a youth hostel with barely any guests
  • Sign up to loyalty programs. For example, hotels.com offers a free night for every 10 nights booked
  • Try shopback.com.au for cheap deals and cash-back offers
  • Do a room trade with your city friends.

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