The news of Sunday
All right, time for us to sign off now.
Here is what we learned today:
- New South Wales and Victoria have announced near-identical plans to slow the spread of Covid as students return to classrooms next week with both states relying on rapid antigen tests (RATs) in the first month.
- NSW teachers federation president Angelo Gavrielatos said the government should have gone further by mandating primary school students also wear masks in the classroom, and opposed the government’s plan to have teachers who are asymptomatic close contacts return to work.
- WA is on high alert after the number of daily local cases jumped to 24, with the health minister conceding they are unlikely to eliminate Omicron in the state.
- NSW records 20,324 new Covid-19 cases, 34 deaths.
- Victoria records 13,091 new Covid-19 cases, 14 deaths.
- Perth clocked its sixth consecutive day of temperatures over 40C.
- Jacinda Ardern cancelled all weddings, including her own as Omicron arrives in the country, warning that case numbers will soon shoot into the thousands.
That’s all for now, have a lovely evening everyone and I will see you bright and early tomorrow morning.
Sam McMahon courted by Liberal Democrats
Country Liberal senator, Sam McMahon, has confirmed reports in the News Corp tabloids that she has been approached to defect to the Liberal Democrats.
McMahon lost preselection to Jacinta Price, meaning she will likely exit the Senate after the next election.
In a statement, McMahon confirmed the approach and didn’t rule out defecting:
A former CLP president has made the allegation that I met with representatives of the Liberal Democrats. I have been open and on the record about being approached by many parties to run for them. It should not be surprising that most of the minor parties see tremendous value in an experienced Senator.
This would be a major headache for Scott Morrison, who already faces two government senators (Alex Antic and Gerard Rennick) and One Nation refusing to vote for government legislation in the Senate.
Australian Winter Olympics chef de mission Geoff Lipshut has no security or safety concerns for athletes in Beijing next month, with the team not taking any special precautions such as burner phones, reports Melissa Woods from AAP.
Lipshut felt the Olympics would be one of “safest places in the world” for athletes.
While Australia joined the United States, Great Britain and several allies in announcing they would not send dignitaries to the Games as a protest against human rights abuses by the Communist Party regime, Lipshut didn’t expect any issues for athletes.
I think our first aerial team went there in 2003 or 2004 and we’ve been going back every year since and there haven’t been any issues...
During the Olympic Games, I would expect the IOC to have done a lot of work and...the old saying is if you want to be in the safest place in the world, you should be an athlete in the Olympic Games.
I really think there’ll be less risk than normal.”
Lipshut said the team were being “careful” and would encourage athletes to access the internet from the village.
Several delegations have urged anyone headed to Beijing to take “burner” phones instead of their personal devices because of concerns their personal information could be compromised.
Aerial skier Danielle Scott didn’t feel she need to be overly cautious and wouldn’t be taking a replacement device.
No I don’t think I’ll be going excessively cautious...
It’s just maybe not doing anything financial or you know, risky things that you wouldn’t do anywhere around the world.
The surge of Omicron has also played havoc with the National Hockey League citing uncertainty caused by the pandemic to hold back all of its players from the Olympic tournament.
American broadcaster NBC also said it wouldn’t send announcing teams to China, citing the same virus concerns.
All athletes, officials and journalists must complete rigorous testing and stay within a “closed loop” that takes in competition venues and accommodation.
Organisers announced that no spectators, including local Chinese, would be at events.
The Australian athletes will start arriving in Beijing this week.
Interpreting services have faced increasing challenges in New South Wales during the Omicron wave, with patients struggling to access the service and long hold times on phone lines increasing the pressure.
Health workers and community advocates have described a system strained by the demands of the pandemic, especially when visitations are limited or restricted, leaving many elderly patients in the dark.
Amy*, an interpreter for NSW Health who asked to remain anonymous, said the system has long been under strain and the pandemic has only exacerbated long-term issues.
“It’s been grossly underfunded,” she said. “There’s just way too much demand for the amount of staff actually employed. Fifteen people are doing the job of 50 people.”
You can read the full report below:
Perth records it's sixth consecutive day above 40C
Perth has now recorded another blistering hot day, after the mercury peaked over 40C for the sixth consecutive day.
They are now only one day off the area’s all-time record of seven 40C+ days in a row. However, much to the relief of those in the city, they are unlikely to reach this as a cool change is expected to hit tomorrow.
WA health minister concedes 'we’re not going to eliminate Omicron'
WA health minister Amber-Jade Sanderson has conceded that Omicron has well and truly entered the state and can’t be eliminated, as case numbers jump to 24 today.
She heralded a move to a “suppression” strategy instead.
I think it’s clear that we’re not going to eliminate Omicron, it’s now about how we suppress and manage Omicron ...
That’s our intention as a government and certainly, that’s the advice of the chief health officer. He was very clear that it can’t be eliminated because it’s so transmissible.
She urged everyone in the Perth, Peel and South-West regions to up their testing numbers.
It’s a bit of a wake-up call for the broader community as well that we do have Covid in our community now and we really need to see those testing numbers higher ...
These testing numbers are not high enough. The better the testing numbers, the more confidence we have that positive cases are accounted for and they are in quarantine.
WA authorities urge people with even mild symptoms to get tested
After recording 24 local Covid-19 cases, WA authorities have urged everyone in the Perth, Peel and South West region to get tested for Covid-19 if they are experiencing even the mildest of symptoms.
This advice applies even if you haven’t visited any of the exposure sites listed on the health department website.
A man has surrendered himself to police after another man died following an assault in a remote Northern Territory community, AAP reports.
Officers were called to the community in central Australia on Saturday.
Two men, aged 18 and 19, were in a fight when the younger man allegedly assaulted the other with an edged weapon, police said.
The 18-year-old later surrendered himself to detectives who went to the remote community to investigate.
Police arrested the man and are questioning him.
Federal Labor’s health spokesman Mark Butler has told reporters in Adelaide that he is concerned only 25% of five to 11-year-olds have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, a week before school beings, AAP reports.
GPs say they simply can’t get enough doses to deal with the number of kids they have on their books.
Many GPs say the doses they’ve ordered simply aren’t even turning up.
Also worth nothing that there are still no Covid-19 cases in WA hospitals.
WA records 24 local Covid-19 cases
Western Australia’s numbers have been released for today, and as always they seem to be from an entirely different world from the rest of Australia. (There is still a reason to distinguish locally transmitted cases for one!)
The state has recorded 24 local cases and two related to interstate or international travel.
There is a by-election coming up in the NSW state electorate of Strathfield, due to the former opposition leader Jodi McKay stepping down.
And a new candidate has now come out of the woodwork, none other than the former Sydney Morning Herald columnist Elizabeth Farrelly.
The paper and Farrelly parted way after she allegedly “failed to disclose that she had registered as a candidate for the Labor Party in the Strathfield local government elections”, although she notes that she didn’t truly intend on running and did not feel there was any conflict of interest. She labelled the paper’s response as “grossly disproportionate”.
Now she has made a full foray into the political area, this time running as an independent, promising that she would demand a royal commission into the Sydney property development industry if elected.
Here’s what she has to say in her statement today:
Governments have lost their way. They have forgotten that they are meant to work for the common good. The major parties presume it’s business as usual but, if that means more of the same, then it’s time for a change...
For fifteen years I have watched the city I love ravaged by shonky development and greedy government. Every year, more public assets are sold off, public parks whittled away and majestic trees cut down for more motorways and skyscrapers thrown up without local services or amenities.
People in Strathfield are living with noise and pollution from the motorways, ugly overdevelopment, destruction of heritage, the privatisation of public space and apartment buildings that don’t allow rubbish trucks...
If elected, I will demand a Royal Commission into the Property Development Industry. I will oppose overdevelopment and the noise and pollution of destructive major roads. I will strive to make climate a central concern.
Perth has recorded a record fifth consecutive day over 40C as the Western Australian heatwave is expected to continue on Sunday before a cool change on Monday.
On Saturday, Perth reached 41.1C, the 10th day above 40C this summer, marking another record that could be extended on Sunday with temperatures expected to reach 39C or 40C.
Perth’s previous record for total summer days over 40C was seven days in 2015-16.
When Perth reached 40C on Friday for a fourth consecutive day it matched the previous record sequence reached in the WA capital on three previous occasions, including last Christmas.
You can read the full report below:
Watch out those around the Warrego and Georgia rivers in Queensland, there is a minor flood warning now in place for those areas.
Tennis Australia’s chief executive, Craig Tiley, has dismissed suggestions that Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic may sue the organisation and has claimed the world No 1 will be back at the Australian Open in 2023.
Tiley has maintained a low profile since Djokovic was deported a week ago. However, on Sunday, he spoke to ABC TV and said Djokovic was not considering taking legal action against Tennis Australia over its role in the saga.
“No,” he said when asked if Tennis Australia was being sued. “I mean there is going to be lots of reports on different things but we are in a position where we are focused on delivering an event right now and we will continue to deliver a great event.”
You can read the full story (by me) below:
If you happen to be reading the blog while lying on the beach in Sorrento, firstly, I am very jealous of you, and secondly, BEWARE!
There are four sharks currently circling the pier. Check out this drone footage of them:
The former premier of South Australia and former high commissioner to the UK, Mike Rann has taken the recent announcement, that some weddings in New Zealand will be paused due to Omicron, to slam the UK prime minister’s pandemic response.
Meanwhile, Queensland health minister Yvette D’Ath ruled out rapid antigen testing for school students twice a week after the NSW government announced a plan to do so, AAP reports.
She said there was no national health advice to do so, it was “not a comfortable test at the best of times” and rapid test supplies were limited in Queensland.
We believe that those tests are best focused in the areas where we need them the most, such as ...being able to get hold of them for critical essential workers, aged care, health.
The definition of “critical essential worker” will be broadened in Queensland to allow more workers who are quarantining as close contacts to go to work, with certain conditions.
It will now include workers in telecommunications, broadcasting and journalism, private and public aged care and the disability sector.
The guidelines will depend on workers agreeing to leave quarantine, she said, as some may be caring for sick family members.
D’Ath said it’s best practice for companies to test workers daily and it will be expected when more RATs arrive in the state.
Queensland’s Covid-19 hospitalisations and deaths are getting harder to accurately record as authorities reveal that private hospital virus patients haven’t been included in its figures.
Chief health officer John Gerrard said there were 863 patients being treated for Covid-19 in hospital and another 47 in intensive care and 17 people on ventilators, AAP reports.
He said while the number of hospitalisations had dropped over 24 hours, it didn’t indicate a downward trend yet.
That’s substantially lower than our projections for the total number of inpatients we’re expecting...
So I think there’s a lot more to come.
The CHO said it was becoming more difficult to distinguish which patients were in hospital because of Covid-19 and which patients had been admitted to hospital for other reasons but tested positive for the virus.
He admitted that almost everyone who died after testing positive was being recorded as a virus death.
Unless it’s very clear, very, very clear that someone has died from a completely unrelated cause...
We had a young person who died in a motor vehicle accident for example, about a week or two ago, who just happened to swab positive in the post mortem ... and clearly ... Covid wasn’t the cause.
Hospitalisations will rise in coming days as authorities add the data from private hospitals to the daily figures for the first time.
Gerrard said more patients in private facilities were testing positive and public hospitals had started transferring some stable Covid-19 patients to private hospitals.
South Australia records 2,062 new infections
South Australia has just published their daily case numbers, and the state has recorded no deaths and 2,062 new infections.
While the overall hospitalisation rate in the state has increased by two to 278, the number of patients in the ICU has decreased by 13, now sitting at just 24.
Omicron has breached New Zealand’s borders and started spreading in the community, Jacinda Ardern has said, meaning the entire country will be placed on the highest level of restrictions.
The outbreak has also forced the prime minister to cancel her wedding to Clarke Gayford, which was due to take place in the coming weeks at Gisborne on the North Island’s eastern coast.
Ardern said on Sunday the country would try to slow the spread of Omicron but it was expected New Zealand would reach 1,000 cases a day in the coming weeks and thousands a day after that. New Zealand has not previously reported that level of infection.
“I know hearing these sorts of case numbers will sound deeply concerning for people to hear,” Ardern said. “We’ll do everything that we can to slow the spread and reduce the number of cases we experience as a nation.”
You can read the full report below:
The opposition leader has been asked what he would have done differently if he were PM to make sure that RATs were readily available to all Australians.
Albanese says domestic production would have been the way to go:
I have been approached by a company that have offered the government rapid antigen tests at $3, $4 including freight from overseas, and they aren’t able to do a deal with the government.
The fact is we should have been manufacturing rapid antigen tests here in Australia. Why is it that that wasn’t put in place? We were told about 18 months ago now that we would be reducing mRNA vaccines here in Australia in nine to 12 months. That was to industry ministers 18 months ago and we are still not producing them here.
Why is it that Australian produced rapid antigen test are being exported overseas rather than used here because the federal government said it wasn’t interested in purchasing them?
We have just seen in the last fortnight the government finally stepped up to purchase rapid antigen test because of urgent and unforeseen circumstances.
Well, they were warned so many months ago that that wasn’t the case and yet the prime minister still won’t concede that any mistakes have been made which is why those same mistakes keep being repeated over and over again from a prime minister whose focus is always just on the 24-hour media cycle, always on the photo opportunity, never and actually doing his job.
Albanese has now moved on to chatting about the high rates of inflation in Australia. (TL;DR “It’s the Liberal’s fault and Labor will fix it.”)
Australians are really struggling with the cost of living. The truth is under this government, it is the first government in modern times in which wages aren’t keeping up with the cost of living. The first government of any political persuasion where that has been the case.
The government predicts that over the next four years, real wages will decline. That is, people will be worse off. In addition to that, you have childcare costs which have been soaring. You have costs of healthcare, costs in so many areas, that are leading to more pressure on family budgets.
That is why Labor has a plan. We have a plan for cheaper childcare, housing affordability, a plan to lift real wages and to support permanent work. We have a plan for more secure work with rising wages, dealing with living standards by having cheaper childcare and addressing cost of living issues.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese says it is a “real concern” that Australia is now considered to be a Covid danger zone by the EU, with an international warning now in place about travelling down under.
This is a real concern but not surprising given our infection rates are so high. Our infection rates are so high because there wasn’t the preparedness.
One of the reasons why the rollout of the booster is so slow compared to with European countries is because the rollout of the original vaccine was so slow and so when they finally announced a bring forward of the gap between the second shot and the booster shot after Greg Hunt said it was irresponsible to have that just one day beforehand, then they could only do it for four months originally, not three months, because of the supply issues.
It has consistently been a problem of supply. That is leading to Australia having very high infection rates. The past week has been Australia’s deadliest of this pandemic and the prime minister has dismissed all of this. This is just his usual complacent way, “It is not a race, nothing to see here, I am not responsible”, is his approach to leadership.
This morning the Greens launched its new schooling plan while speaking in the marginal seat of Griffith in Queensland.
Greens leader Adam Bandt said:
The federal government should be making sure classrooms are as safe as they can be for teachers, staff and students, but instead, they have dropped the ball.
If one single student or teacher ends up in hospital as a result of poor ventilation in their classrooms, Scott Morrison will have to answer for it.
There should be air filters and monitors in every classroom in the country.
If the government can find billions of dollars during the pandemic, to give to big corporations and billionaires who didn’t need it, then Scott Morrison can find $224m to put air filters and monitors in every classroom in the country so that students and teachers are as safe as they can be.
Scott Morrison has been very keen to get everyone back to work and back into classrooms as quickly as possible, but he’s had no regard for safety.
Gavrielatos also slammed the slow rollout of vaccinations for primary school-aged children.
It is highly regrettable that the vaccination rollout for five to 12-year-olds didn’t start until 10 January and the start was also bumpy. In October last year, we called on the federal government in order to ensure the efficient and successful rollout of the five to 11-year-olds and yet again it has failed as it has in many other instances.
Teachers federation says NSW should have gone further with Covid safety rules
NSW teachers federation president Angelo Gavrielatos says the government should have gone further by mandating primary school students also wear masks in the classroom.
In terms of mask wearing, the government has advised that masks will be required – surgical masks will be required by all teachers and all staff and high school students and strongly recommended for primary-aged students.
We believe the government should have gone further, making mask wearing a requirement for all in our schools in indoor settings, and certainly, we were advocating that the mask used should be the high-quality mask, the P2 masks.
He also strongly opposed the suggestion that teachers who are close contacts should continue to work if they are asymptomatic.
Any suggestion that staff would be directed to return to work when they are close contacts is quite frankly beyond comprehension because all that will do is increase risk rather than mitigate against risk. The other thing of course is it is not practical because those staff that are close contacts – recognising the redefinition of close contact that mainly being of one household – the staff that are deemed close contacts will invariably be caring for other members of their household.
These are not practical and quite frankly not supported as we are about mitigating risk.
Okay, so we just got that big news about the NSW back-to-school plan. Now it’s time to hear from the NSW teaching federation’s president, Angelo Gavrielatos, for his reaction.
It seems that the federation is broadly supportive of the measures but wish the government had gone further with some safety measures.
Today the government has announced its return-to-schools plan. It has announced a number of measures, a number of risk mitigation strategies. We will clearly be monitoring the implementation of those measures and importantly the effectiveness of those measures with a view to seeking urgent adjustments and improvements should they be required in order to offer the greatest amount of protection available to our students, our staff and their families.
This is not the start to the school year anyone wished for, and as I said, there will be regrettably disruption associated with the commencement of the school year, noting the experiences from other jurisdictions overseas where absences have been high due to infection rates, in many cases rendering schools non-operational.
These are difficult times, and we will be doing everything we can, as we have since the beginning of Covid and the pandemic nearly two years ago, to ensure the health and safety of students, staff and their families.
Despite the prime minister stating earlier in the week that he would attempt to get states to agree to ditch daily rapid antigen testing requirements for many workplaces, it seems that Queensland has no intention of doing so.
Health minister Yvette D’Ath says that disability support staff will be required to test frequently to ensure those they are caring for remain safe.
We know that they have a really critical job, especially when they’re caring for vulnerable people with very significant disabilities in their homes. This worker may be the only person that they see. Without them coming and helping with their care, then they will not get that care. So, it is really important, but we need to balance their safety and make sure that those very, very vulnerable people in their homes are not put at risk by taking the virus into that home. So that’s why they will need to undertake this more frequent testing.
I also want to say it is the government’s view that best practice is that where you are a close contact, and a critical essential worker and we are allowing you to come back into the workplace and you’re consenting to come back into the workplace, that where employers can, they should be testing daily because that is best practice.
I can report that we have 863 patients with Covid in our hospitals, 47 of those are in ICU, 33 non-ventilated and 14 ventilated.
I do want to say that is a slight decline and we welcome that decline in our public hospitals, but we are starting to move some of our Covid-positive patients in the private hospital system, and we will start reporting on the Covid patients in private hospitals in the next few days.
Let’s listen in to the Queensland press conference, where health minister Yvette D’Ath was speaking a short time ago.
She confirmed that at least one of the state’s recent deaths was a person in their 30s.
I do sadly have to report another 10 deaths in the last 24 hours. The age of those individuals range from their 30s to their 90s, and I just want to again pass on our condolences.
This is not easy, knowing that people are going to lose their lives from this virus, what it does is reinforce the importance of getting vaccinated and getting your booster.
ACT records 694 new Covid-19 cases
Finally, we also have the ACT’s numbers.
Luckily they have not recorded any deaths but did clock 694 new infections.
Hospitalisations have risen by four to 67, and there are now three people in ICU (up from one yesterday).
Queensland records 10 Covid deaths and 11,947 cases
While the Victorian press conference was going on, Queensland has also released their Covid-19 numbers.
Sadly 10 more people infected with Covid-19 have died in the last 24 hours, with the state reporting 11,947 new infections.
The state’s hospitalisation number now sits at 863 which is a decrease of 21 from yesterday, with 43 in ICU (down by nine).
Tasmania records 625 new Covid cases
Good afternoon everyone, it’s Matilda Boseley here with you and Tasmania has just released their daily Covid numbers.
They have recorded another 625 new Covid-19 infections and no deaths.
There are now 39 people in hospital, an increase of eight from yesterday, with three in ICU.
The presser is finished. And with that, I will hand over the blog to my amazing colleague, Matilda Boseley!
Andrews also suggested that national cabinet will mandate the third Covid-19 dose soon.
Out of respect that is a national process – I think that will happen soon. The data is so compelling that it is not two and an optional – it is three. It is a three-dose project. Once that is normalised as a national level, we can file that into the vaccinated economy and the way it works now. Again in the interests of safety, in the interests of less cases rather than more. In the interests of less people in hospital and hopefully me being here every day speaking about less not more tragedy.
Andrews was also asked about Novak Djokovic, and Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley’s comments on ABC News this morning.
Andrews said he hadn’t seen the comments yet, but that “at the end of the day my position is really clear: if you want to come here, get vaccinated”.
Rafa[el Nadal] had it right: it could have been all alright if he had just got vaccinated. Mr Tiley and all of his team, I wish them well as they enter the second week. This is a major event. It is the biggest thing in tennis in the first quarter of every year. Melbourne, London, New York, Paris, we are all connected by some things, one of them is grand slam tennis. This tournament is bigger than any one person. There is one person who thought he was bigger. But the tournament is happening without him.
A journalist asked Victorian premier Daniel Andrews when elective surgeries will return, citing calls from surgeons.
Those calls are monitored by the experts every day, and as soon as we can ... feel that it is safe and that we have significant capacity to resume services, that is exactly what we will do. I would make the point with the greatest respect to a surgical community that they do one part of the work, they have got to be supported by teams of people.
It is very rare there would be such a surgeon providing care to a patient. Even a day procedure ... there other members of the team and those other members of the team, as well as surgeons well, are very high need at the moment, we are employing all sorts of people in different ways.
But we have significant pressure in the system and that is principally because thousands of thousands of staff had to make a phone call to the supervisor to say, I’ve got it, I can’t come in I have got to start to look after my child who is not well, all those Covid realities, when you have thousands of people who cannot report to work, that puts pressure on the system.
Victorian students in grade three and above required to wear a mask to school
Okay, Merlino has clarified the rules around mask wearing.
He says that mask rules will remain as they were last term: students from grade three and above will be required to wear a mask indoors. Staff are required to wear a mask, other than when they are communicating or teaching in front of a classroom where a mask may impede their ability to teach, but [in that case] they can choose to continue to wear a mask. So the mask wearing arrangements are the same as term four, for grade three and above, it is a requirement.
For prep, one and two it is recommended but we obviously understand the common sense challenge of the very little ones wearing a mask.
Merlino is also asked about the definition of close contact in a classroom setting. Will students have to isolate if they learn that someone in their class has tested positive for the virus?
So the definition of primary close contact is household or household-like, so given that change to our broader settings across Victoria, the approach in schools and kindergartens will be in line with any communicable disease.
If a child is positive, the requirement on the parent or the carer is to notify public health, and also to notify the child’s school or kindergarten or childcare centre, and the school will contact other parents and say ‘there has been a positive case, look out for symptoms’... That is how we approach any communicable disease.
He says that what may be challenging is staff who get sick or need to isolate, and that some classrooms or schools may need to move to remote learning as a last resort.
That is why we have the support in place to minimise the impact as much as we can. There will be certain schools, some schools might be just a few staff away, other schools will be significantly impacted by staff shortages. Over the short period of time. So that is why we will be utilising casual relief teachers. We have a job opportunity pool, we are calling on retired teachers and inactive teachers, staff, administration staff, final year students, so that there is a pool of staff that can be allocated to a particular school where there is a challenge. There may be a very last option, remote learning for a school for the shortest period possible. But in terms of lockdowns, remote learning, the commitment we gave to the people of Victoria was to get vaccinated and we can move on from broad-based lockdowns, broad-based remote learning in our schools.
Deputy premier James Merlino is asked what will happen if the rapid antigen tests run out?
Merlino says the state government has 14m rapid antigen tests, which he says is enough to ensure every student and staff member in school or early childhood education has access to tests every week, for the first four weeks.
He adds that the state also has enough tests for ... “teachers who are close contacts, but [have] no symptoms, so that they can come back to school as exempt critical workers by undertaking a rapid test every day for five days.”
We have moved on to questions.
Andrews is asked whether there is any modelling about how many cases will emerge from schools reopening?
Andrews says it’s “a bit challenging for us to know”.
... We have so many kids, and so many people across the board who have this, but present with very mild symptoms or perhaps no symptoms. Unlike others, or unlike other times in the pandemic when we didn’t have 93-94% of the community having had two doses and a growing number of people having a third, we have a lot more people who are asymptomatic or not enough symptoms to register to prompt a test ... There will be hundreds of thousands of families that will be connected now.
Having school back on day one of term one is absolutely critical, it is what we said we would do and that is what we are delivering. It will be difficult and there will be challenges and not all will be smooth, but the benefits of that far outweigh any other policy approach, we cannot have kids at home anymore, because Victorians have got vaccinated. Third doses help us even more to remain protected. That is why we are out here almost every day, dozens of times asking, and indeed requiring some Victorians to be third dose protected.
Merlino also talked about what will happen if a student tests positive for Covid-19.
Parents will need to inform the school, and a message will go out to other parents and carers that there has been a positive case, so look out the symptoms. Parents will also need to report the case to the department of health.
Merlino says they will be taking “exactly the same approach as with any other communicable disease. I want to make this point really clearly”.
In line with the discussion, the principles of national cabinet, schools are first open ...That means that remote learning is an absolute last resort ... If there are staff shortages, [and need to close down, it will be for] the shortest period of time, only localised to particular schools. So schools are back to face-to-face learning and that is where it will stay.
Finally, when it is time to isolate, we will continue to provide our suite of online resources for students in prep right through. The way that we usually support students, if they have got glandular fever, if they are away for a significant period of time, there will be tasks that they are to complete, they will be supported by the school.
Merlino said that schools will at first deal with staff shortages internally through casual staff, or by combining classrooms temporarily.
But he said that the state also has “a pool of staff outside of the school ready and willing and able to support a school who are having staffing challenges”.
So retired or inactive teachers, support staff members, admin staff, final year university students, we will have a pool of people ready, willing and able to support schools if they are having those challenges.
Merlino talked about other features of the state’s back-to-school plan.
By the start of term one, 51,000 air purifiers will be in place in schools across the state, particularly focused on high risk settings. So things like music rooms, staff rooms, indoor canteens, six bays, rooms where there are, where there is poor ventilation. It will not be every single room, in every single school, but it will be 51,000. No other jurisdiction is rolling out our purifiers as we are here in Victoria.
More than 1,800 schools have applied for a shade sail [funding], because we are encouraging, of course, outdoor learning, as much as practicable, particularly in these warmer months, as we start term one. We have got sail construction already under way at more than 300 of these schools...
But it doesn’t sound as though Victoria will make masks mandatory in the classroom, in contrast New South Wales.
Here’s what Merlino said:
I can also announce we are delivering 30m surgical masks to schools in the first four weeks of term, with 5.8m surgical masks delivered in the first week. That includes N95 masks, children sized surgical masks as well as adult sized surgical masks. They will be recommended and available at the school. Of course, children can continue to work off masks, but we are recommending the use of surgical masks and we are providing those two schools.
Merlino says that staff must receive a third dose of a Covid-19 vaccine by 25 February, or within three months and two weeks of receiving their second dose, if they are not yet eligible.
This is an important part of our back-to-school plan. In terms of mandatory staff vaccinations, more than 99.7% of staff were double dosed by the end of term four. So I have got every confidence that staff will enthusiastically respond to the third dose vaccine mandate.
Deputy premier James Merlino is providing more detail about Victoria’s back-to-school plan.
He says that 14m tests will be delivered to schools and early childhood centres, with 6.6m ready for the first week of school.
He says that they recommend primary and secondary school students and staff, as well as early childhood education and care staff, test at home twice a week.
He adds that students and staff at specialist schools will be provided with enough rapid antigen tests to test at home five times a week, because those students are more medically vulnerable.
The Victorian government will also require mandating third doses for the teachers and staff.
Andrews talks about why third-dose vaccinations and health measures are important:
Doherty modelling has also confirmed for us, not only is a third dose important, but surveillance testing plays a part. Not in eliminating cases, not getting down to zero, but putting downward pressure on the number of positive cases, both at schools and in school communities and in the broader Victorian community. And what I think everyone watching and listening knows, every Victorian, the less cases we have, the less people finish up in hospital.
[With Omicron] we are not seeing quite as many people in intensive care, and if you just look at those numbers, people might scratch their head and think, well, why is this such a challenge? When you’ve got more than a thousand people that are in general ward beds, and they are still very unwell, they are just not critically unwell, but does put enormous pressure on the health system.
Every hospitalisation, whether it is in intensive care on the general ward bed, if we can all play our power to avoid any more hospital admissions, to avoid all the, all that pressure, that can be avoided...
Andrews says that students will be returning back to the classroom on day one, term one.
Students will be required to undertake twice-weekly rapid antigen tests to help detect cases for the first four weeks of school.
He says they won’t be able to detect every case necessarily, “given the amount of transmission that is in the community”, but it’s about “finding as many cases as we can and shutting down those chains of transmission”.
More than 50,000 air purifiers are also being provided to schools.
Premier Andrews says that Victoria and New South Wales will have almost identical back-to-school plans.
ACT records 694 new Covid-19 cases, no deaths
This brings the total number of active cases to 5,336.
There are 67 people in hospital with Covid-19.
Andrews says that 26,581 booster doses were administered in state hubs yesterday, the biggest Saturday so far.
He says that 1.6 million Victorians have gotten their booster so far, and there are 170,000 appointments available over the next 30 days.
Daniel Andrews media conference begins
Victorian premier Daniel Andrews is speaking to reporters about the state’s back-to-school plan.
One reporter asked what will happen if 20 or 30% of parents choose to keep their children at home, due to fears around them contracting the virus.
Obviously I think today’s announcement and particularly the specifics about rapid antigen test, I think that’ll give parents comfort and confidence in terms of what we have available in our school communities, to keep children safe.
Mitchell said that she feels confident about sending her own children to school. She added that the state saw similar school attendance rates at the end of last term compared to previous years.
That indicates to me that biological parents are happy to have the children back in school, they appreciate and understand the measures we have in place.
But if any parent has a concern, talk to your school, get an understanding of what the measures are in place in your particular school community, use the rapid antigen tests that will be provided to you, and obviously we expect to see our attendance rates high in line with where we were at the end of last year as well.
NSW education minister was asked about whether the state is prepared for teaching staff shortages, in case teachers contract the virus or become close contacts and are required to stay home.
Mitchell said that they will be drawing upon retired teachers, final year university students, departmental staff with teaching experience, and principals and vice principals.
So, in terms of our final year university students and our retired teachers, we already know that we have a pool of about a thousand staff we can draw on to fill those gaps, and I anticipate those numbers will increase over the coming days in the lead up to school.
We have hundreds of departmental staff who are themselves experienced teachers. We have a workforce within a bureaucracy that we can should we need to have them back in the classroom ... So if you need to call on any of our admin department staff to fill any gaps, they are available as well. We have lots of different opportunities and options available for schools, but it will be very localised...
We also have many teachers who are working but maybe in a non-teaching role, so you might have a deputy or an assistant principal who is not on a class but can be allocated to a class for a period of time to fill any gaps, so there are several layers of contingency in place ready to go to support schools if they should be impacted in terms of Covid and their staff.
Mitchell said that the plan is to require students to do two rapid tests a week for the first four weeks of the term, and then reassess the situation, adding that “we have more supplies available if this is something we need to continue with and we can do that”.
Mitchell reiterated that when a student tests positive, two things will happen: they will need to report the case to NSW Health via the Service NSW app, and they will need to let the school know.
The most important thing is, we are minimising the disruption and not having school closures due to Covid anymore, we are moving much more in line with what we are seeing in community settings. That is important and it is important for continuity of education and also important because we have done it in line with New South Wales Health and experts to make sure that we have Covid-safe schools and also keeping the score say.
A reporter asks whether parents will be told if someone in their child’s class, who they spent more than four hours with, tests positive for the virus?
Parents will be advised in terms of if there is a positive case in their child’s cohort. That is important because obviously what we are seeing is, yes, you have children together in the classroom but for instance, out on the playground, you may have all of kindergarten ... There will be sufficient information going out to parents, they will know what has happened in our school, they will also know that they need to monitor the symptoms and continue to test the children.
Okay, it’s time for questions.
One journalist asked what will happen to the other staff and students if another student in the classroom tests positive for Covid-19. If they have spent more than four hours together, will the other students and staff be considered close contacts and required to isolate?
Education minister Sarah Mitchell said no.
We are moving away from contact tracing and closing schools because of positive cases. If there is a positive case, the teacher or student does test positive to Covid either through being picked up, we want the rapid antigen tests where provided or there are PCR or other circumstances, they will need to let the school know, parents will know, you will be told as a parent that there is Covid in your school community...
You will know it Covid is in your child’s school, we will ask you to monitor the symptoms, and we will ask you to use the rapid antigen test kits that have been provided to you. This is a change from how we had the school settings last year. It really is about moving the school in line with a community setting, recognising that the schools have lots of action measures in place ... vaccination in adults, we have minimal mixing and mingling.
Mitchell says that the NSW government will be providing rapid antigen testing kits for staff in early childhood services to use twice a week.
It is about keeping those centres open for our families and children.
Mitchell reiterates that high school staff and students will need to wear masks indoors.
The minister adds that “we will recommend that our primary school students wear masks as well, and again, we have distributed more than 8m surgical masks to schools for this purpose.”
Mitchell says that many activities will be able to go ahead, such as music, sport, assemblies, excursions and camps, “in a Covid smart way, based on appropriate risk settings, parental consent and some of the measures, again, that our school communities and families are familiar with.”
She says that parents or family members will be allowed to come for the first day of kindergarten.
NSW schools will no longer close because of positive Covid cases
NSW education minister Sarah Mitchell adds that they will no longer be closing schools when there is a positive Covid-19 case in the community.
The state will also no longer be conducting contact tracing in schools anymore.
We are really moving schools in line with what we see in community settings. But parents and carers and family members will be notified if there is Covid in your school community, so again you can monitor for symptoms and your children and make sure you are using those rapid antigen tests that we have provided twice a week.
NSW education minister Sarah Mitchell is giving more information about rapid antigen tests for students.
Mitchell says that more than 6m RAT tests will be distributed to schools by Tuesday night, ahead of students’ return on 1 February.
She said that schools will be in touch with parents to organise the pick up of these tests.
All staff and students will be required to take a test before the first day back to school, and will then need to do twice-weekly surveillance tests for the first four weeks of term.
If students test positive, they will need to let their principal know, and also report the positive test via the NSW Health app.
Perrottet says that the state vaccination hubs are currently administering around 10,000 booster shots per day, but has the capacity to do around 250,000 per week.
Perrottet: NSW students will have two RAT tests per week
Perrottet says the state government is currently distributing rapid antigen tests (RATs) to 3,000 schools across the state, as well as early childhood education and childhood centres.
Schools will be provided with two rapid antigen tests per student per week, as well as tests for teachers.
Masks will be mandated for secondary school teachers and students, and will be highly recommended for students in year 3 and above.
Perrottet says that “we will also be having the same provision such as class cohort and, in addition to that, limiting visits to the school, and also ensuring Covid-safe plans for excursions and music and the like.”
Perrottet starts by talking about why it’s so important to get kids back to the classroom, “not just from an educational perspective, but from a mental health and social outcome perspective”.
NSW premier Dominic Perrottet is speaking to reporters about the state’s back-to-school plan.
Anthony Albanese has done a press conference in Melbourne with Labor’s candidate for Chisholm, Carina Garland, at which he has criticised the Morrison government’s handling of procuring rapid antigen tests and the vaccine rollout.
Albanese said government failures had caused “supermarket shelves that don’t have food, childcare centres closing”, aged care centres where Australians can’t see their loved ones, and “anxiety” in the lead up to schools reopening because parents aren’t sure they can get their children vaccinated in time”.
He said Scott Morrison “should give guarantee of at least one shot [for kids] before they go back to school”.
Asked what more the government could have done to secure RATs, Albanese said they “could’ve purchased them”, citing a company prepared to sell them for $4 per test that hasn’t been “able to do a deal with the government”.
We should have been manufacturing RATs here in Australia. Why wasn’t that put in place? We were told 18 months ago we would be producing mRNA vaccines in 9-12 months. Two industry ministers and 18 months ago, and we’re still not producing them.
Australia’s RATs are being exported overseas, because the federal government said it wasn’t interested in purchasing them. Now they’re purchasing RATs through contracts citing ‘urgent and unforeseen circumstances’ when they were warned [to buy them] months ago.
Albanese also took aim at the Coalition over the cost of living, stating this the first government in modern times where wages have not kept up with prices, with real wages expected to fall over the next four years.
Last week, a prominent member of the Liberals’ right faction, Tim James, snared the safe New South Wales state seat of Willoughby replacing the former Liberal premier Gladys Berejiklian, a leading moderate, in the lower north shore Sydney.
No one saw it coming.
Anne Davies writes that James’s preselection shows the growing influence of the hard right in the state.
Read the full story here:
Just a reminder that we expect to hear from NSW premier Dominic Perrottet at a press conference at 10am, where he will discuss the state’s return to school plan.
He will be joined by minister for education and early learning Sarah Mitchell and NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant, among others.
A search and rescue operation will resume for a fisherman missing since the early hours of Saturday after he was thrown from a boat along with another man and a dog on Sydney’s North Harbour, AAP reports.
The men, aged 25 and 49, launched their 3.5-metre runabout from Northbridge about 9pm on Friday before running into rough seas and capsizing about 3am on Saturday.
They clung to the boat before the 49-year-old man drifted away.
The younger man was spotted by a local fisherman in the water near Dobroyd Head at Balgowlah Heights shortly before 5am.
He was rescued by surf lifesavers on jet skis and taken to Little Manly Beach where he told police their boat flipped with his friend and a dog also on board.
The dog was found alive at nearby Cave Beach about 10.30am after the boat’s fuel tank and rubber mats were earlier recovered about 3.7km off the coast.
The older man, who has no fixed address and is living in a camper van on the north shore, had not been found as of Sunday morning after an air, sea and land search was halted overnight.
A NSW police spokesperson said the search will resume later on Sunday morning.
Let’s take a closer look at those numbers that have just come out of NSW and Victoria.
First up, in NSW 2,712 people are in hospital with Covid-19, and 34 people have sadly died. This is an increase on 30 Covid-19 related deaths recorded in the state yesterday.
In Victoria, 1,002 people in hospital have the virus, and 14 people with the virus have also tragically died. The state recorded 20 Covid-related deaths yesterday.
Around 31% of Victorians over the age of 18, and 32.8% of people in NSW, have received their booster shots.
Victoria records 13,091 new Covid-19 cases, 14 deaths
NSW records 20,324 new Covid-19 cases, 34 deaths
Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley denied reports that Novak Djokovic is suing his organisation.
He also unilaterally declared on ABC News this morning that Djokovic will be returning to Australia next year to attend the Australian Open.
Obviously I think he’s got to play out this year but that will be his intention. At the end of the day he’s the No 1 player in the world and he loves the Australian Open.
What you are saying is that you didn’t have the clarity from the federal government. Can I take from that you were shocked when Novak was stopped at the airport and shocked by what happened after?
Yes, I think what we constantly sought was clarity. Because our goal is always to do the right thing. Make sure Victorians are safe. We have been through a tough time in the past year. We didn’t want to put an event on that was going to ever compromise that safety. We currently are doing that today. And will continue to do that ... in this case it was so much complexity and so much contradiction, and even confusion leading into the event we constantly sought that clarity. And we will do the same thing over and over again.
Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley is speaking with ABC’s sports reporter Catherine Murphy about the Novak Djokovic saga.
Murphy pointed to letters from the federal government addressed to Tennis Australia which said that prior infection with Covid-19 wouldn’t be grounds for a medical exemption to travel and play in Australia unvaccinated. Murphy asks Tiley what changed to make Tennis Australia think the exemption would be valid.
I think again it’s important to know we have always tried to do the right thing. And the environment, the changing environment and even seeing it today, even just in the past week since things have changed in relation to the response to the pandemic. We were at the beginning of Omicron and that’s why we were constantly seeking clarity and there was a lot of complexity and contradiction of information before, after and it continues to be all the way through ...
Anthony Field (Blue Wiggle) is up on ABC Breakfast talking about the band’s shock Triple J Hottest 100 win.
He said that the band were planning on doing a faithful cover of Tame Impala’s Elephant, but ended up deciding to mash it up with their original Fruit Salad.
And Nick Webb and Natalie Waller from ABC music were kind of advising because this is all new area to me ... And they said, it sounds like a cover band. You have to throw something in that says Wiggles. I thought ‘Okay, let’s throw Fruit Salad’. It has a great riff and we swung it. Walking around Darling Harbour yesterday, people were coming up to me, all ages coming up to go, mate we voted for you. We are so happy for you. It just felt great. I don’t know why, and will never happen again.
Asked whether he followed the Hottest 100 every year, Anthony laughed and said:
No. I am 60 years old. Even when it started I wasn’t listening. It is the last year. Last year. Which was quite incredible. My daughter was having a party for one, because it is lockdown, and then that was the first time I heard about it. And I said next year I will party with you with this thing. And then who knew what was going to happen.
In case you missed it, The Wiggles (yes, the famed children’s band) took out first place on the Triple J Hottest 100 yesterday with their version of Tame Impala’s Elephant.
The Wiggles performed the cover last year for the station’s Like a Version series last year. It’s the first time that a Like a Version has won the Hottest 100.
The Wiggles’ cover did blow up last year. The song hit 1.3m plays on Spotify, over 3m views on YouTube, and was shared on TikTok.
The band beat out huge international pop stars who were tipped to win, like The Kid Laroi and Olivia Rodrigo, and local favourites like Gang of Youths.
Stay by The Kid Laroi and Justin Bieber took out the number two spot on the chart, making The Kid Laroi the highest placing Indigenous artist on the Hottest 100.
Anthony Field (Blue Wiggle) told Triple J that it was “one of the biggest things that has ever happened to us”, adding it was up there with the band’s Madison Square Garden performance.
It’s Justine Landis-Hanley here, ready to bring you the news today, Sunday 23 January.
Let’s dive straight in:
The NSW government will announce that students and staff at government and non-government schools will need to complete rapid antigen tests (RATs) twice a week during the first four weeks of term one.
The NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet, will discuss how the strategy will be implemented in a press conference due at 10am this morning.
A spokesperson for the premier told Guardian Australia about 6m RATs are being sent to NSW schools ahead of the start of term.
The Victorian government could also outline its plan to help staff and students return to school as the Omicron variant continues to sweep across the nation.
AAP notes that Victorian public and low-fee independent schools have been promised 51,000 air purifiers prior to classes resuming with 10,000 still yet to be provided.
A state government spokesperson said improving ventilation with a $190m package would reduce the virus’s spread when students return to classrooms.
“We are on track to have 51,000 air purifiers to schools for day one of term one 2022 with about 2,000 being delivered each day,” they said.
Victoria’s schools blueprint could also be announced on Sunday, the national newswire reports.