Genomic testing finalised for foreign military cases as two repatriated Australians test positive to COVID-19 in Darwin

Genomic testing on two positive COVID-19 cases among an international military cohort in Darwin shows they are not linked to the mutant UK strain of the virus, as it emerged that two more repatriated Australians in quarantine in the Top End have tested positive.

The latest cases include a 30-year-old woman who flew on a repatriation flight from London to Darwin on January 16, and a 16-month-old girl who arrived from India on January 19.

Both are asymptomatic and remain under the care of an Australian Medical Assistance Team at the international section of the Howard Springs quarantine centre, on the outskirts of Darwin.

To date, 61 positive cases have been reported among the 3,054 international passengers to arrive in the Top End since the government-arranged repatriation flights began in late October.

All returning Australians on repatriation flights into the NT are required to undertake 14 days of mandatory supervised quarantine at Howard Springs.(ABC News: Jane Bardon)

Genomic testing on two other positive cases — which were detected last week among a group of foreign military personnel and their families staying at the Travelodge hotel in Darwin’s CBD — show they are not connected with highly-transmissible mutations of the virus, including the UK variant.

The use of the inner-city hotel as a quarantine facility for the military arrivals has been the subject of significant criticism from health groups, including the Australian Medical Association, the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance NT and the Darwin-based Danila Dilba Health Service.

They have accused health authorities of putting vulnerable people in Darwin’s CBD at risk, and say the cohort should have been sent to the government-run Howard Springs facility, which has been praised as the gold standard of infection control in Australia.

An ADF soldier, wearing uniform, stands outside the Travelodge in Darwin.
An ADF soldier stands outside the Travelodge in Darwin.(ABC News)

So far, three of the almost 300 arrivals staying at the Travelodge have tested positive to COVID-19, and around 80 have completed their mandatory 14-day stay at the hotel.

Despite many of the foreign officials arriving at the hotel at the start of January, it took a further two weeks before the Travelodge was officially prescribed by the NT Chief Health Officer as a quarantine facility.

The NT Health Department has downplayed the hotel’s delayed designation as a quarantine centre, saying it was simply an administrative procedure that formalises its use.

“All procedures and processes have been followed in line with Chief Health Officer Directions,” a spokesperson said.

“Strict infection control measures have been implemented and continue to be adhered to, as per NT Health requirements.

“No person can just leave mandatory quarantine and no person, in this instance, has left quarantine before their 14 days was completed.”

The NT Government has also approved the Juno Centre in Tennant Creek as an isolation centre if the Todd facility in Alice Springs reaches capacity.  

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Lines Form in Beijing as China Ramps up COVID-19 Testing

Long lines formed in parts of Beijing, China, on January 22, as mass COVID-19 testing was launched following consecutive days of new cases. Chinese state media reported that two Beijing districts – Dongcheng and Xicheng – had begun testing on Friday, with the aim of testing more than 2 million residents over the weekend. This footage shows a long queues of people on Friday. The National Health Commission reported a total of 103 new cases of coronavirus on mainland China on the same day. This weekend marks one year since the Chinese city of Wuhan was placed under a two-and-a-half month lockdown in a bid to quarantine the coronavirus outbreak. Credit: Luke Giles via Storyful

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New studies show how Apple Watch can help detect COVID-19 prior to symptoms and testing

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NSW Premier In Disagreement With Moving Hotel Quarantine To Regional Areas

Hotel Quarantine

For the second day in a row, New South Wales has recorded no locally acquired COVID-19 infections within the 24 hours until 8:00 pm Thursday.

According to the Premier Gladys Berejiklian, more than 16,000 people came forward for testing, yet she cited that she wanted to see further increase in these figures.

In a statement, she revealed, “The Government is very much in the space of considering health advice easing restrictions and I want to make that clear.”

“But we won’t have the confidence to do that unless we have higher rates of testing, because that will assure us that we have captured all previously undetected cases of the virus, which may still be infectious in the community.” She added.

When asked for specifications regarding what changes might be at stake for Greater Sydney next week, she declined to comment and pointed out that they are looking at an overarching ease of restrictions.

Greater Sydney is currently at seemingly tight restrictions with a limit of five visitors per home and mandatory wearing of masks in venues, which includes supermarkets and on any public transportation.

As asserted by the Premier “We would much rather have a holistic change in restrictions rather than doing it in little pieces.”

Ms Berejiklian then explained that she did not support the idea of shifting hotel quarantine to regional areas, which is a directive her Queensland counterpart is proposing to the National Cabinet for approval. 

Backing the claims was Health Minister Brad Hazzard as he agreed with Ms Berejiklian, telling media just this morning that immediacy to metropolitan hospitals was imperative for the hotel quarantine system to work accordingly.

(Image source: Health Times)

F1 2021 News: Daniel Ricciardo, Testing, Lando Norris, driver line-up, McLaren, homework

Daniel Ricciardo is set to be put under an intense pre-season with McLaren giving their star recruit “homework” to make sure he has a fast start to life at his new team.

While typically drivers are given time to get familiar with their surroundings, testing has been reduced to three days in 2021.

As such, McLaren have a key objective to make the most of the pre-season time with Ricciardo, setting a clear goal for the Aussie superstar.

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Daniel Ricciardo has joined McLaren. (Photo by Mark Sutton – Pool/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

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Pre-flight testing for returning Aussies

Pre-flight testing of returning Australians will be introduced to help prevent the spread of the more transmissible variant of COVID-19 identified in the United Kingdom.

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SA Premier to repeat call for pre-flight coronavirus testing at National Cabinet meeting

South Australia’s Premier will again lobby National Cabinet for the introduction of pre-flight COVID-19 testing for all returning international travellers, amid ongoing concerns about new strains of the virus.

Steven Marshall previously raised the idea in November as part of an eight-point plan in the wake of South Australia’s Parafield cluster.

Under the plan, which would have to be approved by National Cabinet, all returning travellers would be required to undergo mandatory coronavirus tests.

They would then have to return a negative result before boarding their flights.

National Cabinet was next due to meet in early February but that was brought forward following urgent calls from state and territory leaders, amid the threat of an aggressive and highly contagious strain from the UK.

The strain has been detected in recent arrivals in Adelaide, while another variant linked to South Africa has also been detected in Australia.

Mr Marshall said he raised the idea of pre-flight testing with National Cabinet in December, and would again make the case at tomorrow’s meeting.

“We are very concerned with what’s happening with the situation around the rest of the world,” he said.

Mr Marshall said he had spoken to other premiers about the proposal, while Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier has also raised it with interstate counterparts.

National Cabinet was brought forward from early February amid new coronavirus strains.(ABC News: Dean Faulkner)

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews today called for similar measures, and also wants masks to be worn on all domestic and international flights.

While Mr Marshall said he would like to see overseas citizens return home if they wished to do so, his priority was protecting the local community.

“We’re very supportive of the repatriation of Australian citizens who are stranded overseas,” he said.

“We believe that a pre-flight test will provide an added level of risk mitigation for those people that are coming in … we’ve got to keep our protection, and our population protected.

“If we can find even a small percentage of people who have COVID prior to getting on a flight and eliminate them from the flight, that’s got to be a benefit for our nation.”

A doctor in protective gear talks to a woman outside a coronavirus testing clinic
Pre-flight testing is necessary to protect against the new strains, Mr Marshall says.(AAP: David Mariuz)

South Australia today recorded no new coronavirus cases but has 10 active cases, all of whom are in hotel quarantine and acquired the virus overseas.

“The second and third waves happening in other countries are producing devastating consequences on the health systems in those countries and we don’t want those problems here,” Mr Marshall said.

While testing of passengers before they board overseas flights is not currently mandatory, some airlines require it.

The ABC has contacted the office of Health Minister Greg Hunt for comment on the pre-flight testing proposal.

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Testing chief advises Victorians against travelling anywhere in Queensland – 3AW

Victoria’s COVID-19 testing chief has advised Victorians to reconsider travel to any part of Queensland as the state grapples with a COVID-19 case.

Greater Brisbane had been declared a hotspot after the new, more transmissible strain of the UK-based virus was detected in a quarantine hotel cleaner.

Greater Brisbane will go into hard lockdown for three days while contact tracers work to establish who the case came into contact with.

COVID-19 Response Commander Jeroen Weimar said Victorians who can return home, should do so sooner rather than later.

“If you are in greater Brisbane, stay there,” he told Heidi Murphy on 3AW Drive.

“At this point, there is no closure of other parts of Queensland.

“My advice would be start making plans to come home [if you are in other parts of Queensland] unless you intend to be up there for a significant period of time.

“I would not be planning a trip to Queensland at this time. Let’s see how this case develops over the next few days.”

Anyone who has arrived from Brisbane since January 2 needs to get tested immediately and isolate until Monday, when a further assessment will be made.

Click PLAY below to hear the full interview

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Test for the ages develops amid times most testing

Just quietly, one of the epic Test cricket series is developing between Australia and India. World events and crowd limits will deprive it of the atmosphere generated during, say, the 2019 Ashes, but even if their noise is filtered through masks, Test cricket lovers are gurgling with satisfaction.

For a ninth straight day, the balance remained unresolved. Session by session and even hour by hour, just when the advantage swung one way, it snapped back the other. When Steve Smith was forging a marvellous century, his first in Australia since 2017 and his first in his home city since 2015, there was an underlying tidal change towards India. At the moment Smith and Marnus Labuschagne had seemed to cement a definitive Australian bridgehead, the whole thing fell in a heap. The majority of Smith’s innings, as supreme as it was, took place in the guise of a rearguard action.

Steve Smith’s innings was the usual mix of the orthodox and the unorthodox.Credit:AP

The visitors, coming out to chase a total 100 runs shy of dominance, seemed to be getting on top when Shubman Gill and Rohit Sharma blunted the new ball. But the stylishness and timing of the Indian openers’ strokeplay obscured the grimness of the struggle.

Australia clung like a terrier to their elegant cuffs. For every glorious boundary there were 20 balls that had to be kept out with the most watchful defence. And then, just as the attritional grind seemed to be wearing down the Australians, Josh Hazlewood picked up Sharma with a return catch, Patrick Cummins had Gill taken smartly in the cordon, and Nathan Lyon produced one of his best spells, a constant threat to India’s two big guns – who now remain at the crease, ready to seize back the initiative this morning.

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Australian Formula 1Grand Prix Pushed Back To Later This Year

It was recently announced that the Australian Grand Prix will be postponed to the back end of the Formula 1 season. Along with this sudden postponement, Bahrain will be replaced as the opening race in March, this year.

The announcement was made by Aston Martin team owner Lawrence Stroll.

This move was made due to the pandemic and toughing up of Australia directives on safety restriction. It has been widely flagged across the media, but it is yet to be confirmed by Formula 1 or local organizers.

According to the Canadian billionaire, “Melbourne has been — it’s not officially announced but it will be — not cancelled but postponed. We will go there sometime in the fall [northern autumn] and the first race will be in Bahrain.”

Formula 1 has been circulating in social media the existing 2021 schedule, which has the season supposed to be starting with the Melbourne race on March 21.

That said, there have been numerous speculations that current restrictions requiring international arrivals in Australia to undergo a two-week hotel quarantine period would make it difficult to get F1 teams and support staff in place in time to allow the race to proceed.

Just earlier this week, the Australian Grand Prix Corporation pointed out it was working closely with the Victorian Government and Formula 1 on the “conditions and arrangements relating to the staging of the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne in 2021”.

Should the speculations be of truth, this will be another major blow as last year’s race was cancelled just hours before the first Friday practice session was due to begin, also due to coronavirus concerns.

Last season’s race calendar had to be re-written due to the global pandemic, with an eventual 17 rounds in Europe and the Middle East and some circuits including Bahrain hosting two Grands Prix.

Mr Stroll was speaking ahead of the announcement of a new team title sponsorship with IT company Cognizant. Formula 1 teams have agreed to the change in a virtual meeting with Formula 1’s new chief executive Stefano Domenicali last Monday.

As per sources the same meeting also agreed for pre-season testing to move from Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya to Bahrain, the date is yet to be set.

Mr Stroll has further expected lingering difficulties.

(Image source: 7News)

“I do believe we’re in for difficult two or three months. There is a light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccine. I think the first few races will be slightly challenging. “

But he assured that Formula 1 management and the FIA could still deliver races as17 races were conducted last year in 23 weeks “without really any major hiccups and in a very impressive manner.”