Vaccine rollout inspires Gladys Berejiklian to push national borders

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has vowed to ramp up pressure on national cabinet to formulate a logical and uniform approach to domestic border closures now the COVID-10 vaccine rollout has begun.

With Prime Minister Scott Morrison among the first Australians to receive the Pfizer jab on Sunday, Ms Berejiklian said there were no more excuses for rogue state premiers to slam borders shut at the first sign of an outbreak.

National cabinet is due to meet again this month.

“I’m going to continue, at national cabinet, to press the issue of internal borders within Australia now that the vaccine rollout has started and (because) we‘ve seen no community transmissions in NSW for a serious (37 consecutive) number of days,” she told reporters at Batemans Bay on the NSW south coast.

“Even when do have (a case) we have managed it well. We should not shut down borders just because there are a few cases we might be worried about. That is no way to run our nation, internally.”

Domestic borders have reopened following various closures during the past few weeks. South Australia had banned travellers from Victoria during the Holiday Inn outbreak.

Western Australia only allowed travellers from NSW back in the state on February 16 for the first time since the outbreak on Sydney’s northern beaches in December.

Ms Berejiklian warned that if a national approach was not adopted, the economic effects would be crippling.

“I understand the international borders (being shut), but I don‘t understand the internal borders,” she said.

“We need to start thinking about the future because we run the risk of being left behind.

“We (Australians) have done incredibly well on the health side, but we also need to do well on keeping the economy going, keeping jobs going because the rest of the world is opening up.

“We do need to think about how we treat each other as states. ”

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Qantas launches new flights to Coffs Harbour and Byron Bay

With holidays in our own backyard being more sought after than ever before, Qantas has added three new routes to its domestic flight schedule as the major airline seeks to set up new travel corridors while the international flight market remains frozen.

The airline hopes to capitalise on pent-up demand for domestic travel while overseas destinations remain off-limits due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Australian airline announced on Friday that from next month, the three new routes will be between Melbourne and Coffs Harbour, Brisbane and Coffs Harbour, and Canberra to the ever popular Byron Bay.

The announcement comes just two months after the airline announced seven new routes in December including Melbourne to Wagga Wagga, Merimbula, Mount Gambier, Albury and Newcastle.

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According to QantasLink CEO John Gissing, the new routes will go on sale from $129 one way, and provide Australians with more options to explore more of Australia’s own backyard.

“With international borders closed, we want to make it even easier for travellers to holiday around Australia,” said Mr Gissing.

“The beautiful coastal hubs of Byron Bay and Coffs Harbour continue to be incredibly popular with travellers, so it makes sense to provide direct connections from other capital cities to make them even more accessible.

“These new flights are good news for local businesses, hospitality and tour operators, helping drive tourism and reviving the industry that has been hurting from COVID-19.”

Currently, Qantas operates up to 20 return flights per week between Sydney and Ballina Byron Bay and 28 weekly return flights between Sydney and Coffs Harbour.

The newly announced routes will have the following schedule in 2021:

– Melbourne to Coffs Harbour – flights will operate daily with Qantas’ Boeing 717 aircraft.

– Brisbane to Coffs Harbour – flights will operate four days per week with the turboprop Q400 aircraft.

– Canberra to Byron Bay – Qantas’ first ever direct service connecting the two destinations, offering two flights per week with the turboprop Q400 aircraft. Flights will initially operate in April and Qantas will look to continue the service from July in line with demand.

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Perth, Melbourne Crown Towers hotel makes Forbes’ best in the world list

One of the world’s most prestigious travel awards has named two Australian hotels among the best in the world.

As part of the annual Star Awards, Forbes Travel Guide said that while London is the leader of the pack for five-star properties, Crown Towers in Melbourne and its affiliate in Perth also received the prestigious nod of recognition. In Sydney, The Darling walked away with the five-star award as well.

In its 63rd year, the Forbes Travel Guide is a complex rating system against up to 900 rigorous standards.

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The awards are the only global rating system for luxury hotels, restaurants and spas, and enlist inspectors who objectively and independently gather information from a hotel stay to help determine the Star Award which is awarded to a property each year.

Only the best of the best achieve the coveted Five-Star award, with all crucial elements such a beds, drinks, service, meals, amenities, housekeeping and the ability to exceed expectations all taken into account.

Speaking to, Amanda Frasier, Forbes executive vice president of standards and ratings, said the process to determine the five-star winners “begins by selecting qualified hotels within destinations we cover to receive an incognito inspection”.

“That evaluation is conducted over two nights and three days by a trained FTG inspector with expertise in the luxury hospitality space,” Ms Frasier said.

“Forbes Travel Guide pays for all its own inspections. The evaluator objectively assesses more than 500 hotel standards, and the final report provides detailed observations on the experience from a guest point of view.”

Ms Frasier said there is a special algorithm used to “determine the rating”. The primary focus in on service, while 25 per cent of the final award is facility-based.

“Service standards can cover anything from more simple gestures, such as smiling and eye contact, to a closer assessment of the staff’s ability to be intuitive and natural when engaging with a guest,” she said.

“We strongly believe luxury service is most elegant when it is not forced or robotic, and our standards are composed in such a way to provide credit for these positive encounters.”

Ms Frasier said that both Crown Towers Melbourne and Crown Towers Perth stood out to the inspectors within the Australian market.

“These are top hotels in their destinations and not only boast stellar locations and facilities, but some of the best service, too,” she said.

“While both hotels performed consistently across several assessed areas – a trait of a typical Five-Star winner – the Perth location stood out with a top-class housekeeping team and sterling bar service, while the Melbourne property particularly excelled in its food service program.”

Ms Frasier said that beds to reach the five-star rating within a hotel, for example, must have a mattress of exceptional quality, the linens have to be soft and comfortable, the pillows full, and there also must decorative elements that make the presentation interesting such as scatter cushions or an inviting throw.

For service, perhaps a deal breaker for any luxury stay, means a staff member not only has to “be extremely professional, but also demonstrate intuitive, thoughtful and anticipatory service”. This may include staff magically knowing what you want, even before you ask or offering pressing and shoe shine service for business travellers.

Elsewhere around the world, nine hotels in Tokyo received the five-star rating, while 10 New York hotels received the crown.

Scotland received its first five-star win with The Balmoral, a Rocco Forte Hotel, in Edinburgh.

A new element of this year’s awards is for the ‘Hotel Instagram of the Year’, which was given to the Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi.

The hotel has 145,000 followers, and was given the award based on the resort for “curating a feed that radiates personality, engages with followers and has an overall stunning aesthetic”.

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SA police to investigate fatal crash near Victorian border

SA police are investigating the fiery crash that killed a truck driver in Victoria near the Bordertown checkpoint where motorists queued to cross before borders closed at midnight.

Even though Victorian Police are looking into the death, SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said he instigated an inquiry into how the state’s border checkpoints were managed.

He said a traffic management expert was deployed with a senior police officer to make sure the current set up was appropriate.

Mr Stevens said it was not fair to speculate if a lack of resources at the Bordertown checkpoint led to the fatality.

“I think we should conduct our inquiries and provide factual information based on the information that we’re able to obtain and be clear in our assessment as to what the circumstances were,” he said.

“Any loss of life on our roads is a tragedy and impacts on so many people.

“This truck driver’s family is now grieving and the people he works with, his friends, his colleagues are all experiencing significant loss.”

The three trucks collided along the Western Highway in Victoria, which is the continuation of the Duke highway in SA.

Just before 2.30am, one truck crashed into the rear of another station truck and hit into a third about 5km east of the border.

All three vehicles burst into flames.

Premier Steven Marshall and SA chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier both offered condolences during a press conference on Thursday afternoon.

It was also announced travellers from NSW and Western Australia would longer need to undergo mandatory COVID-19 testing upon arrival into SA.

Mr Marshall said the changes would come into effect from midnight on Saturday.

It comes as SA closed its border with Greater Melbourne at 12.01am on Thursday.

“We know this (the UK) variant is at least 50 to 70 per cent more transmissible so for people who have been to Victoria, have come across the border and are not in quarantine, it is very important that you all take a look at the DHHS (Department of Health and Human Services) website regularly,” Professor Spurrier said.

Professor Spurrier praised her Victorian counterparts for their contact tracing and felt “positive that things would settle down fairly quickly”.

She said the state usually looked for 14 days of no locally acquired cases before easing border restrictions but said it may not be necessary with Greater Melbourne.

“It’s too early to say how long we’ll have that border up for and it will depend on how things go over the next couple of days,” Professor Spurrier said.

“I’m feeling relatively confident, as we’re getting more and more information from Victoria. I’m hopeful that this will settle down.”

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Cathay Pacific axe all long-haul flights to Australia, excluding Sydney

Cathay Pacific Airways has announced they will be axing all flights to Australia, except routes servicing Sydney, following Hong Kong’s plan to introduce tough new quarantine rules on airline crew.

The airline announced the intention to cull flights to most of Australia, as well as Vancouver, San Francisco and Frankfurt in response to the local government’s new ruling that will force flight staff into quarantine for 14 days if they leave China.

The reduction in flights is expected to begin on February 20 and last until at least the end of the month.

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With flights to Brisbane, Perth, Melbourne and Auckland now on the cutting room floor, only the airline’s five weekly flights between Hong Kong and Sydney will remain in place.

“In view of the Hong Kong SAR Government’s latest announcement, with effect from February 20, 2021 our Hong Kong-based pilots and cabin crew are required to undergo 14 days of hotel quarantine plus 7 days of medical surveillance when they return to Hong Kong after being on duty,” the airline confirmed in a statement, as reported by Executive Traveller.

“The new measure will have a significant impact on our ability to service our passenger and cargo markets,” noted Cathay Pacific chief operating officer Ronald Lam.

According to local media, flights in the region that will go ahead include Taipei, Beijing, Shanghai, Jakarta, Surabaya, Osaka, Tokyo, Manila, Singapore and Bangkok.

In addition to Sydney, the long-haul flights that survived the cull include to Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, plus flights one-way from Hong Kong to London and one-way from Amsterdam to Hong Kong.

It is understood the airline made the decision following the government’s announcement on

February 5 following growing concern over the risk of importing mutant strains of COVID-19.

The new order requires city-based pilots and cabin crew to quarantine in a designated hotel for 14 days, before re-entering the community and undergoing an extra seven days of medical surveillance involving regular temperature checks and health monitoring.

The decision comes just weeks after Emirates backflipped on their decision to no longer fly into Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

The airline’s sudden U-turn to resume flights to the east coast of Australia came as the Australian government lifted international arrival caps within Australia from mid-February.

The number of people allowed to fly into NSW, Queensland and Western Australia were halved at the beginning of January in response to the new strain of the virus from the United Kingdom.

But the weekly cap will now increase from 4127 to at least 6362 nationwide.

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Queensland new border restrictions, declaration passes back from Saturday Feb 12

Travellers entering Queensland from Victoria will be forced to complete a border declaration pass as authorities sweat over the coronavirus outbreak in Melbourne.

Deputy premier Steven Miles said the Sunshine State wanted to rule out any chance of a threat in the community after Melbourne’s cluster grew to eight.

Those entering Queensland will be forced to declare if they have or haven’t visited any of the exposure sites revealed by Victorian health authorities.

The new border restriction will come into effect from 1am on Saturday.

Mr Miles said the outbreak has not required Melbourne to be listed as a hotspot at this stage with the declaration system providing enough of a buffer between Queensland and known infection points.

“We are in a process of reinstating the border declaration system,” he told reporters on Thursday morning.

“That will allow us to check whether they have been in any of the locations that have been identified by the Victorian contact tracers, whether they are required to get tested, and to notify them that that is the case, and require that they isolate if that is the case.

“And also keep a record of people coming to Queensland from areas that may, down the track, need to be declared a hot spot so we can contact them.”

The decision comes after South Australia announced it would close its border to greater Melbourne last night.

Under the changes, travellers who have been in Greater Melbourne on or after 4 February will no longer be allowed to enter SA unless they are a returning resident, are genuinely relocating, are essential travellers or are escaping domestic violence with approval prior to entry. COVID-19 testing and self-quarantine may apply to these people.

People who have been at the Holiday Inn Melbourne Airport on or after 12.01am 27 January or are a close contact of a person who has must contact SA Health immediately and quarantine at an authorised location for 14 days, receiving COVID-19 tests on days 1, 5 and 12.

Anyone who was in South Australia before 12.01am on Thursday having visited Greater Melbourne must have immediately taken a COVID-19 test and self-quarantined until they received a negative test result, and must get tested again on day 5 and day 12.

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Swimmer stalked by two sharks in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty

This is the terrifying moment a swimmer flees for his life as two sharks snap at his heels.

The man was swimming in the water at Ōhope Beach, a popular spot in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty, when he heard an onlooker scream that there were sharks next to him.

Another family filmed the dramatic scenes as the sharks cruised along the beach.

In the footage two fins can be seen jutting out of the water as waves crash onto the beach.

Phil Squire with his 15-year-old daughter Eliza when beachgoers started to say they had seen two sharks out in the water, behind where the man was swimming.

Mr Squire told local media outlet Stuff that he thought the sharks may have been bronze whalers.

“There were quite a few people gathering around when they realised a shark was there,” he said.

“People were shouting, ‘Shark, shark!’ Two fins appeared near the man and he got a huge fright and took off.”

The incident occurred in January but rumours of shark sightings along the coast were keeping a lot of people out of the water, despite it being a hot day, Mr Squire said.

“Information does travel up and down the beach and I guess one of the clues that there might be a problem was that there were a lot of people out of the water.

“It was a very hot day and I guess it was unexpected to have sharks that close.”

One of Mr Squire’s daughters had been surfing at the west end of Ōhope Beach during their holiday, and had passed over some stingrays, he said.

“She was a bit nervous, she was definitely staying on her board with the possibility of sharks and stingrays around … but I think it added to the excitement.

“We did a lot of surfing around those beaching but weren’t dipping our toes in, in case they got nibbled.”

Despite being a keen surfer himself, Mr Squire said he’d never encountered sharks.

He came forward with the video after reading news of recent shark sightings in Auckland.

Earlier this year, a shark attack at Waihī Beach, another popular beaching spot, took the life of a young woman.

Kaelah Marlow, 19, suffered bites to one of her legs when she was attacked while swimming in New Zealand. She was pulled alive from the sea but paramedics were unable to save her.

“I’m a surfer and you realise these areas are the sharks’ natural habitats and people visiting rightfully need to be careful,” Mr Squire said.

He urged other surfers and swimmers to be “be sensible” and exercise good water safety.

“Watch out for each other in the water,” he said.

“If you see something, let other folks know and exit the water safely.

“It is better to err on the side of caution, keep an eye out to spot anything unusual.”

This article originally appeared on The Sun and has been republished with permission

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Canberra hot air balloon sculptures fail to fly

Unfavourable winds have delayed the flight of a new power couple of hot air balloon sculptures.

Canberrans gathered before dawn on Sunday to see the launch of the iconic Skywhale and her new partner, Skywhalepapa.

But unfavourable winds meant the 30m high structures were unable to be let loose across the ACT sky.

The Skywhales, designed by artist Patricia Piccinini, did not get clearance from air traffic control to takeoff because of the direction the wind was blowing.

The balloons needed an easterly wind to take off but the morning’s gusts were coming in from the west, which would pushed them towards Canberra airport.

They at least provided a spectacular backdrop for selfies while they were anchored to the ground although they did manage to launch about 30m into the air.

The sculptures were officially unveiled on Sunday outside the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra’s Parliamentary Triangle.

After three flights across Canberra, the balloons are to take a two-year national tour across the country, including to many regional centres.

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extra checks announced on returned travellers

NSW Health officials have stepped up hotel quarantine testing procedures despite the state bringing up its 20th straight day without a positive case.

The zero local case result came after 12,521 tests in 24 hours, with an additional two cases also detected in returning international travellers.

NSW Health said they would be ramping up checks on people after they left hotel quarantine and asking them to get tested two days after they departed.

Contact tracers will call the returned traveller 48 hours after their quarantine period ends and ask them to attend their local testing clinic.

“If travellers being tested on day 16 are asymptomatic, they will not have to isolate further due to the lower risk of them returning a positive result,” NSW Health said.

Authorities are also targeting people who have recently been in Victoria.

Those entering NSW via Victoria via air and rail are required to complete a passenger declaration form.

Providing false information could result in an on-the-spot fine, NSW Health said.

Non-NSW residents who have visited the public exposure sites listed by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services are banned from entering the state.

“NSW Health continues to urge people to come forward for testing with even the mildest of cold-like symptoms that could signal COVID-19, such as a sore throat, cough, fever or runny nose,” NSW Health said.

“After testing, you must remain in isolation until a negative result is received.”

Meanwhile, additional cleaning squads have been rolled out across the Sydney CBD transport network.

Transport Minister Andrew Constance said roving teams at Central, Town Hall, Wynyard, Circular Quay and Martin Place were cleaning touch points and handing out free masks.

“In addition to the cleaners on our services, we have now rolled out additional cleaning squads to keep stops, waiting areas and even bike racks clean to help stop the spread of COVID-19,” Mr Constance said.

“More than 1,000 touch points are cleaned each shift at Central, Town Hall, Wynyard, Circular Quay and Martin Place, and more than 92,000 masks have been handed out to customers since the squads first popped up during the Northern Beaches outbreak.

“The teams can be deployed quickly to areas where there has been a COVID-19 breakout or where a major event is taking place, like the SCG for the cricket.”

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Annastacia Palaszczuk’s shot at Gladys Berejiklian

Annastacia Palaszczuk has fired a warning shot to Gladys Berejiklian, telling Australia’s leaders if you criticise Queensland, don’t come to the state.

The rivalry between the premiers heated up again on Friday ahead of a national cabinet meeting about vaccines and the quarantine system.

Speaking on Today, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian was asked when she would visit the Sunshine State.

But Ms Berejiklian said she hoped all premiers would come to NSW because it was the “only state where everybody is welcome, all of the time”.

“You don’t have to worry about being locked in or locked out, come to NSW,” she said in a gibe.

But the Queensland Premier wasn’t having a bar of it when asked about the remarks later in the program.

“Everyone from NSW is welcome to come here, Gladys used to go to Palm Cove,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

“But maybe if she will criticise Queensland, don’t come to Queensland.”

A showdown is also brewing between the pair over Australia’s vaccine rollout, scheduled to begin later this month.

Scott Morrison on Thursday revealed Australia had secured another 10 million Pfizer doses, doubling Australia’s order for a jab considered the world’s most effective protection from COVID-19.

Ms Berejiklian said she was keen to ensure quarantine workers across the nation were at the front of the queue for the vaccine.

“NSW has more of those workers as we are carrying the larger burden,” she said. “I hope that’s made available as soon as possible.

“Returned travellers are bringing it with them, so if we can make sure everybody in and around that system is vaccinated, that reduces the risk to the whole community.”

But Ms Palaszczuk said Australia’s most vulnerable needed to get the vaccine first.

“I think everyone needs to get their share, it’s not just for NSW people,” she said.

Elderly Australians, hotel quarantine and healthcare workers are in the government’s first priority group for the vaccine.

Ms Berejiklian denied the national cabinet meeting on Friday would be fiery, instead saying it would be “constructive”.

Australia’s international arrival cap will also be discussed after hotel quarantine capacity was halved last month in NSW, Queensland and Western Australia in response to the highly infectious UK strain.

There is also expected to be a war of words over Australia’s quarantine system, with Victoria and Perth both recording a case among hotel quarantine workers this week.

Ms Palaszczuk said more needed to be done to control the spread of coronavirus in hotels, which were not built for the UK variant.

“This virus is actually circulating in the corridors,” she said.

“We have got to do more – our quarantine is our last line of defence when it comes to protecting Australians.”

A report into Brisbane’s hotel quarantine infection in January will be handed down on Friday, prompting Ms Palaszczuk to ramp up calls for quarantine to be moved out of the cities to regional worker camps.

“You can only put options on the table,” she said. “It is up to the PM to come to the party and help.”

Ms Berejiklian has publicly opposed the move to establish regional quarantine facilities and raised concerns about the potential spread of the virus during the long travel from the airport to quarantine.

“We should really look at making sure the systems we have are foolproof as much as possible,” she said.

But the sentiment was rejected by Ms Palaszczuk who said: “If Gladys had an outbreak like we have had in other states, she might change her mind.”

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the advice to the government was that hotel quarantine remained the most effective way forward.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese said: “If you have to quarantine people, it’s better to quarantine people away from large populations”.

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