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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Deja vu in Wuhan as restrictions return one year after first lockdown


Blue, a hue associated with lockdown – blue face masks, blue emergency tents, blue metal sheets that sealed streets – is back in the city’s colour palette.

“For us Wuhan residents, we’ve already been through this,” said Wang Hui, 37, a chauffeur. He’s been tested for COVID-19 so many times – always negative – he’s lost count. “This is just the way it is.” Social distancing may be a nuisance, but it beats the alternative – complete lockdown. Saturday marked exactly a year since Wuhan residents were sealed in their homes for 76 days, confused and scared by a mystery virus killing their neighbours and relatives. Even before the latest virus flare-up, many were wary of surprise outbreaks and have been happy to keep exercising precautions.

Wang, for instance, is due to receive a vaccine – prioritised by the government as his job means coming into contact with different people daily. “I’ll get the jabs, but after that I’ll still wear a face mask.”

Ms Ma, a shop attendant, half-joking, jumped away when this reporter from Beijing approached. The capital city is rushing to mass test residents after finding transmissions in some neighbourhoods.

“Ah, stay far away from me!” she said, describing how a friend living in one of Beijing’s affected districts was recently ushered into quarantine upon arriving in Wuhan.

“We have to stay vigilant,” said Ms Qin, 55, while walking her two dogs. “I still don’t take the subway these days; it’s way too crowded and I’m scared of the risks.”

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Most people are doing their best to live with this new normal, slipping face masks below their chin to slurp spicy sesame noodles, a speciality, and shouting over loudspeakers triumphantly proclaiming Wuhan a “heroic city”, followed by reminders to ventilate indoor spaces.

“We aren’t exactly relaxed about the situation,” said Mr Li, 52. “But we do have to find ways to live with the stress.” For him, that means enjoying a cup of aged pu’er tea in his teahouse – a new location with cheaper rent.

The resurgence is alarming for Beijing a few weeks ahead of Chinese New Year, a travel period that ramped up infection spread across the country last year. This year, authorities have urged its 1.4 billion people to stay put.

It also comes as Beijing is eager to tout containment success and export its vaccines – a way to deflect growing global anger over its mistakes, which some health experts say may have exacerbated the pandemic.

Residents wear masks while queuing to buy milky tea in Wuhan on the first anniversary of lockdown.Credit:Getty Images

A massive new exhibition in Wuhan boasts of victory in what Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party leader, called the “people’s war” against the virus.

Visitors walk through China’s official narrative, which sources all virus achievements to Xi and praises him for pulling the country out of misfortune, making zero mention of missteps.

But there’s no mention of key figures – Ai Fen, punished for being one of the first doctors to sound the alarm, or Zhang Yongzhen, the virologist who mapped and shared the genome publicly without official permission.

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Whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang appears near the end on a wall of martyrs, but the sign omits that he was reprimanded by police after warning colleagues about a virus from which he later died.

Chinese government officials have stopped saying “lockdown”, instead using the euphemistic term “wartime measures” to mean the quarantine of millions, which occurs even if only a handful of infections are discovered. “Wuhan is the safest city in the world,” agrees Ma Lianping, 32, who owns a noodle shop across the street from Jinyintan Hospital, one of the first in the world to start treating coronavirus infections.

“I don’t really know about the government’s figures,” said a man running a funeral goods shop across from a crematorium. At pandemic peak, he saw dozens of corpses transported daily to be burned, more than the 10 or so a day now.

A few blocks from Wuhan Central Hospital, where Dr Li worked and later died, a cafe has on its menu “the whistleblower coffee – a 100 per cent controversial drink”.

More than 40 clinics in Wuhan have started administering vaccines. Nationwide, 15 million doses have been given, enough for about 1 per cent of the population.

Authorities aim to vaccinate 50 million people before Chinese New Year on February 12.

But some in Wuhan are again bedding in for the holiday. “No, I don’t trust the vaccine. It was developed based on last year’s virus,” said Mr Li, a taxi driver slated to receive a vaccine. “Now, new variants are circulating.”

The Telegraph, London

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AFLW reshuffles early rounds of 2021 season amid border restrictions



The AFLW has made several changes to the opening two rounds of its fixtures amid state border restrictions.

Two matches in round one have been changed, with West Coast to host Adelaide in Perth — due to the open Western Australia-South Australia border — and Melbourne to travel to the Gold Coast to take on the Suns.

The Eagles were originally set to travel to the Gold Coast, while the Crows were fixtured to play the Demons at Casey Fields.

Greater Western Sydney’s temporary relocation to Adelaide, which is in place until at least the end of round two, has seen its round-two match adjusted.

The Giants will still open their season against the Dockers at Fremantle Oval on January 31 but will now host West Coast at Adelaide’s Norwood Oval on February 6 in round two.

GWS confirmed the round-two match would nominally be a Giants home match but they will not lose the right to host five home fixtures across NSW and the ACT.

Fremantle was due to play Collingwood away in round two but will instead play Adelaide at Norwood Oval on February 6.

The Magpies will now host Gold Coast that day, while North Melbourne’s clash with St Kilda at Melbourne’s Arden Street has been pushed back to February 7.

“The adjustments made to the first two rounds provides certainty into the early part of the season and allows the competition to remain as adaptable as possible as the season progresses in a constantly changing environment,” AFL head of women’s football Nicole Livingstone said.

“Throughout the planning process, we listened to and worked closely with each stakeholder to ensure the best possible outcome for everyone in the game.

“We openly acknowledge there are unique challenges and recognise the non-football commitments of both AFLW players and staff and through this open dialogue we know the AFLW community remains determined to work through them to achieve a full season.”

AAP

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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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Greater Brisbane’s COVID-19 restrictions to be relaxed tomorrow as Queensland records one new case


Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has confirmed the Greater Brisbane region will have coronavirus restrictions eased from early tomorrow morning.

It comes as health authorities announced one overseas-acquired case of COVID-19 had been recorded in hotel quarantine in the past 24 hours.

Ms Palaszczuk said the “absolutely tremendous news” meant Queensland could revert back to its roadmap from December.

Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said today marked 14 days since the last case in Queensland linked to the hotel quarantine cluster went into quarantine.

“In the end, we had over 1,200 contacts and they were all managed and none other than those six that I have described went on to get infected which is a really good sign that our strategies have worked here in Queensland,” Dr Young said.

The region was plunged into a snap three-day lockdown earlier this month and masks were made mandatory in indoor venues until January 22, after a hotel quarantine cleaner tested positive to the UK variant of coronavirus, resulting in a cluster at Brisbane’s Hotel Grand Chancellor.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk confirmed restrictions would be lifted tonight at a press conference in Brisbane.(ABC News: Rachel Riga)

Tomorrow’s lifting of restrictions will see the region return to the level of restrictions that were in place before Christmas.

As of 1:00am on Friday, millions in Greater Brisbane will no longer need to wear a mask in public places, except for in airports and while travelling on planes.

Indoor venues such as restaurants, cinemas and bars will be able to ease distancing limits to one person per 2 square metres, and dancing will be allowed again.

Up to 50 people will be allowed to gather in homes, while 100 people will be allowed in public spaces.

Visitor restrictions in aged care, hospitals, prisons and disability accommodation services will also be lifted from 1:00am.

Premier ready to ‘go hard’ on future lockdowns

The Premier said any further easing of restrictions would be unlikely until a vaccine was rolled out, but that she would continue to take advice from National Cabinet.

She said the State Government was prepared to “go hard and go quickly” on future lockdowns if that was the advice from the Chief Health Officer.

But Dr Young said she could not be certain whether another positive UK strain would trigger further lockdowns.

“We have to take each individual situation and work out what is the best response for that situation,” Dr Young said.

“We are still in the middle of this pandemic.

“We are getting more and more information from overseas about these new variants and what that means, but at the same time as we have that information we are getting information on the vaccine and that is very, very encouraging.”

Council cleaning worker wearing a mask pushing a trolley crosses George Street in Brisbane city on January 11, 2021.
From 1:00am tomorrow, Greater Brisbane residents will no longer need to wear a face mask in public indoor venues.(ABC News: Chris Gillette)

Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said while masks would soon no longer be mandatory, Queenslanders should continue wearing them in crowded situations.

“Whether you are on public transport, shopping centres, where you feel it is a crowded environment you can put your mask on and feel a bit safer and it is about protecting the people around you,” she said.

Ms D’Ath said tomorrow the state would return to having the lowest restrictions in the country.

“We not just want [testing] to continue, we need that to continue so we can move forward in opening up our economy,” Ms D’Ath said.

“They have done such a tremendous job in complying with these restrictions.”

Ms Palaszczuk said Queenslanders could expect a decision next week about opening up the border to the 35 local governments in Greater Sydney.

Police Deputy Commissioner Steve Gollschewski said in the past 24 hours, 29 people were refused entry to the state with 53 people directed into quarantine.

He said 2,975 people were currently in hotel quarantine across Queensland.

More than 7,400 tests have been conducted across Queensland in the past 24 hours, with 23 COVID-19 cases still active.

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Reversing restrictions in Brisbane

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk recently announced that Greater Brisbane will revert back the COVID-19 restrictions eased to how the setting was last December. This was after the state marked another day of no new community cases.

Starting from 1am tomorrow, the mask-wearing will no longer be compulsory in an indoor settings and increased level of crowd on gatherings will be permitted in homes, outdoors and at major events.

Overnight coronavirus updates on Queensland recorded one new case of the virus in hotel quarantine who is an Emirates crew member who has since departed the state.

The promised ease on restrictions in Brisbane include gatherings of up to 50 people inside homes, and 100 in public spaces; one person per two square meters in hospitality venues, such as pubs, cafes and restaurants with contact tracing requirements in place and up to 200 people at weddings and funerals.

In addition, all guests at such events permitted to dance, both indoors and outdoors, masks are no longer compulsory, except where required in airports and on planes under federal legislation.

As of now, on a gathering hosted in an indoor setting, only 20 people are allowed to participate, whilst business establishments must adhere to a four-square-meter rule indoors and only 100 people are permitted to attend weddings and funerals.

During the announcement, Ms. Palaszczuk said, “This is wonderful news today and can I sincerely thank the people of Great Brisbane in those local government areas of Brisbane, Logan, Ipswich, Redlands and Moreton – you have done an absolutely terrific job.” She then emphasized the wearing of masks was still encouraged in crowded spaces such as on public transport and in shopping centers.

Meanwhile, Dr. Jeanette Young, Queensland’s Chief Health Officer has described today’s coronavirus results as “excellent news” as she noted a 14 days mark since the last case related to the Grand Chancellor Hotel quarantine went into the program.

According to the doctor, “We have done an enormous amount of testing throughout Greater Brisbane and we have not found other cases. We did see those three initial cases all transmit to their closest contacts so that gives evidence that this is a particularly infectious strain.”

Thus, she encouraged the community that should they feel any symptoms, even the mildest, is urged to present themselves for a COVID test. Then, she have exalted COVID-19 test which could likely return results at around minutes.

“You use those when you want to pick up the majority of cases. We want to pick up every single case, not the 20th or 30th,” she said.

Yet, it is not applicable in Queensland yet as it was noted that Queensland’s testing capacity had no issues currently processing and turning around test results using its current, more sensitive testing.

NSW restrictions likely to be eased, Australian Open crisis continues, TGA to overlook COVID vaccine safety


Professor Kelly warned on Tuesday Australia had to be cautious in restarting international travel given the country was in an “envious position” compared to most of the world.

However, he added Australia was reviewing the health risk of neighbouring countries in the Pacific, while also in “close discussions” with New Zealand, whose residents are allowed into Australia.

Compulsory masks on public transport are likely to remain even after other restrictions are eased. Credit: Renee Nowytarger

NSW recorded no new local coronavirus cases for the third day in a row on Wednesday, prompting Ms Berejiklian to flag that restrictions will most likely be eased next week.

After 19,959 tests were recorded in the 24 hours to 8pm on Tuesday – nearly double that of the previous day – the Premier said the health advice was restrictions could start to be eased to what they were before the northern beaches outbreak in December.

Read the full story here.

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NSW records no COVID-19 cases, NSW restrictions flagged for easing, 2021 Australian Open crisis continues, TGA to assess Pfizer COVID vaccine safety


People in Sydney’s south-west are being asked to be “extra vigilant” in monitoring for symptoms after fragments of the virus that causes COVID-19 were detected in sewage at a treatment plant in Glenfield overnight.

The detection under the state’s ongoing sewage surveillance program comes as the state recorded no new locally acquired cases for the third day in a row on Wednesday.

The plant covers a catchment of 160,000 people.

“While this could reflect known returned travellers in the area, everyone living or working in Airds, Ambarvale, Appin, Bardia, Blair Athol, Blairmount, Bow Bowing, Bradbury, Campbelltown, Casula, Claymore, Currans Hill, Eagle Vale, Englorie Park, Eschol Park, Gilead, Glen Alpine, Glenfield, Gregory Hills, Holsworthy, Ingleburn, Kearns, Kentlyn, Leumeah, Long Point, Macquarie Fields, Macquarie Links, Menangle Park, Minto, Raby, Rosemeadow, Ruse, St Andrews, St Helens Park, Varroville and Woodbine should monitor for symptoms and get tested and isolate immediately if they appear,” according to a NSW Health statement.

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NSW records no COVID-19 cases, NSW restrictions flagged for easing, 2021 Australian Open crisis continues, TGA to assess Pfizer COVID vaccine safety


People in Sydney’s south-west are being asked to be “extra vigilant” in monitoring for symptoms after fragments of the virus that causes COVID-19 were detected in sewage at a treatment plant in Glenfield overnight.

The detection under the state’s ongoing sewage surveillance program comes as the state recorded no new locally acquired cases for the third day in a row on Wednesday.

The plant covers a catchment of 160,000 people.

“While this could reflect known returned travellers in the area, everyone living or working in Airds, Ambarvale, Appin, Bardia, Blair Athol, Blairmount, Bow Bowing, Bradbury, Campbelltown, Casula, Claymore, Currans Hill, Eagle Vale, Englorie Park, Eschol Park, Gilead, Glen Alpine, Glenfield, Gregory Hills, Holsworthy, Ingleburn, Kearns, Kentlyn, Leumeah, Long Point, Macquarie Fields, Macquarie Links, Menangle Park, Minto, Raby, Rosemeadow, Ruse, St Andrews, St Helens Park, Varroville and Woodbine should monitor for symptoms and get tested and isolate immediately if they appear,” according to a NSW Health statement.

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Joe Biden to block Trump’s plan to lift COVID-19 travel restrictions


Until Biden acts, Trump’s order ends restrictions the same day that new COVID-19 test requirements take effect for all international visitors. Trump is due to leave office on Wednesday (Thursday AEDT).

Last week, the head of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention signed an order requiring nearly all air travellers to present a negative coronavirus test or proof of recovery from COVID-19 to enter the United States from January 26.

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The restrictions Trump rescinded have barred nearly all non-US citizens who within the last 14 days have been in Brazil, the United Kingdom, Ireland and the 26 countries of the Schengen zone in Europe that allow travel across open borders.

The US restrictions barring most visitors from Europe have been in place since mid-March when Trump signed proclamations imposing them, while the Brazilian entry ban was imposed in May. Psaki added that “in fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19.” The Biden transition did not immediately respond to a request to comment on plans to expand the countries covered.

Biden, once in office, has the legal authority to reimpose the restrictions.

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Last week, Marty Cetron, director of CDC’s global migration and quarantine division, told Reuters those entry bans were an “opening act strategy” to address the virus spread and should now be “actively reconsidered”.

Airlines had hoped the new testing requirements would clear the way for the administration to lift the restrictions that reduced travel from some European countries by 95 per cent or more.

They had pressed senior White House officials about the issue in recent days.

Many administration officials for months argued the restrictions no longer made sense given most countries were not subject to the entry bans. Others have argued the United States should not drop entry bans since many European countries still block most US citizens.

Europe is in the middle of a highly contagious wave of coronavirus and Brazil has lost more than 210,000 people to COVID-19.

Reuters previously reported the White House was not considering lifting entry bans on most non-US citizens who have recently been in China or Iran. On Monday Trump confirmed he would not lift those.

Reuters

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