Calls for fresh insight into lockdown triggers

Four new locally acquired cases of coronavirus were detected in Victoria on Tuesday. Each case has been epidemiologically linked to the state’s current outbreaks, and all have been in isolation throughout their infectious period. One new Covid case was also detected in hotel quarantine, bringing the total number of active cases across the state to 124. Premier Daniel Andrews said it was still too early to guarantee restrictions would be further eased next week. “Pleasingly we’ve seen very low case numbers and they’ve all been tucked away,” he said.“We hope that trend continues and if it does we’ll get advice from the chief health officer and hopefully we’ll he able to take some positive steps.“If we keep following these rules, as challenging as they are, then there’s every chance we’ll keep these numbers low, and with low numbers you have more options.”Of Tuesday’s four new cases, two are linked to the Young & Jackson cluster, one is linked to the Coolaroo cluster and the other is a workplace contact of the Moonee Valley testing site.Ten people are now in hospital with Covid-19 in Victoria. Three of those are in ICU, and one person is on a ventilator.More than 90 per cent of primary close contacts have been cleared, with 536 cleared on Monday.More than 3000 remain in quarantine.CALLS FOR FRESH INSIGHT INTO LOCKDOWN TRIGGERSAn inquiry into the pandemic’s impact on the tourism and events sectors in Victoria has called for governments to provide more certainty on the triggers for lockdowns and border closures.It comes as a report from the Legislative Council’s Economy and Infrastructure Committee, tabled to parliament on Tuesday, made 22 recommendations that were critical to the recovery of both sectors. Committee Chair Enver Erdogan said Victoria’s tourism and events sectors were among the industries most affected by the virus. “Tourism relies on people being able to move about freely and events cannot happen without people being able to come together safely. Both of these have been difficult and, at times, impossible during the pandemic,” Mr Erdogan said.The state government has provided a number of support packages over the past 18 months which have assisted the tourism and events sectors, including the large Business Support Fund, but the Committee heard that more can be done.Among the recommendations, the Committee called on Visit Victoria to develop individual support packages, including funding and future marketing campaigns, specific to the strengths and needs of each tourism region in Victoria, including Melbourne.The report also recommended the Victorian government establish an events industry taskforce to review and revise its consultation processes with the events sector, as well as consider options to support businesses who have been ineligible for the Business Support Fund, including sole traders.O’BRIEN’S BID FOR RAPID TESTINGIt comes as Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien stood on the steps of state parliament to call on the government to adopt rapid Covid tests more widely. The party leader demonstrated the tests by taking a nasal and throat swab, with a negative result returned 15 minutes later.The Liberal Nationals want to see the tests used for major events and access to visit people in hospital and aged care.But when asked about the tests, Mr Andrews said the current advice was not to use them in these situationsHe said they worked best when used frequently, such as for daily testing.“I won’t be taking advice from people on the front steps of parliament, if it’s all right with you; I’ll be taking from experts,” Mr Andrews said.“You’re not going to see me ditching advice in favour of political stunts.”Mr O’Brien said rapid testing was already used in the system and were a good tool to avoid restrictions. “It should be used across Victoria to keep us safe and keep us open,” he said.“We need to be able to get back to our lives … And rapid testing is a way we can do it.“The accuracy of rapid testing is between 95 per cent and 99 per cent.“At the moment when we’ve got people going to major events the testing option is zero.”However, chief health officer Brett Sutton said the use of rapid antigen tests was not justified given Victoria’s relatively-free Covid status.“When we are in a situation, where we are in Victoria, where there are … virtually no cases, we want a test that will tell us that we are negative all of the time,” he said.“When you are doing tens of thousands of tests per day, you don’t want dozens of false positive cases that you need to chase up as they are real cases, put others in quarantine and declare them primary close contacts when that is not a correct result.”Professor Sutton said the widely used PCR test was the “genuine gold standard”.“It is the test that has the highest accuracy of detecting a positive case or a negative case,” he said.“A rapid antigen test is reasonably good in that setting, but it’s not a perfect test by any means. You really want a supremely accurate test if you have a true positive case out there. “You want to find every single one of them.”Professor Sutton added he would always hold consideration for rapid antigen testing if it was relevant to the specific circumstances. “If we were in a situation where we had hundreds of cases and our testing system was under significant strain and that turnaround time for tests were three, four, five days — and you instead wanted to be able to get the infectious individuals tested and get that test result quickly and therefore isolate their most primary close contacts — that might be different,” he said.“We’re not in a space now where it would provide much additional value.”Victoria Vaccine LocatorQLD’S DELTA COVID CLUSTER WORSENSQueensland’s Delta outbreak has worsened overnight, with the state recording 16 new Covid-19 cases on Tuesday morning.The current cluster, which was first detected at Indooroopilly State High School last week, now stands at 47.All 16 new cases have been linked to the high school. Of the new cases, one case is a student from Indooroopilly State High School, two are students at Brisbane Girls Grammar, three cases are from Ironside State School, and five new cases are family contacts of previously confirmed cases.Dozens of new exposure sites were listed late on Monday, with health authorities urging all southeast Queensland residents to regularly check the list and get tested.NSW RECORDS 199 NEW CORONAVIRUS CASESHealth officials have put more suburbs on notice for encouraging Covid-19 to “creep” after New South Wales recorded 199 new locally acquired cases of Covid-19, Premier Gladys Berejiklian has revealed.“Unfortunately, 50 of those were infectious in the community and that‘s the number we’re really watching to try and get down as much as we can,“ NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.Of 199 locally acquired cases, 88 were linked to a known case or cluster, 67 were household contacts and 21 were close contacts while the source of infection for 111 cases is under investigation.PAYMENT PLAN FOR JABBED AUSSIESAll Australians who are fully vaccinated by December 1 would receive $300 under a Labor plan to fast-track the rollout and kickstart the economy.The cash would be paid to anyone who has received both jabs, including adults who are already vaccinated and kids as young as 12 who will be able to access the vaccine from next week.Labor leader Anthony Albanese will unveil the $6bn plan on Tuesday. If an election is held before December 1, a new Labor government would deliver the payments, but Labor would not send out the cash if elected at the poll that is more likely to be held next year.“The government has failed on its two jobs this year, the rollout of the vaccine and fixing quarantine,” the Opposition leader said.“It needs to use every measure at its disposal to protect Australians and our economy.”The Opposition will push Scott Morrison to introduce the incentive by December 1, arguing the government’s vaccine rollout plan shows enough jabs will be available to vaccinate 80 per cent of the eligible population by then.Last Friday, the Prime Minister said the national cabinet had agreed 70 per cent would be the threshold to reduce the reliance on lockdowns and ease restrictions for vaccinated Australians.Once the country reaches 80 per cent, lockdowns will only be used in “highly targeted” circumstances and vaccinated Australians will be exempt from all domestic restrictions.The national cabinet agreed incentives may be offered in the phase between 70 and 80 per cent. But in a statement, Mr Albanese — along with shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers and Opposition health spokesman Mark Butler — said the $300 offer “would be a further incentive for Australians to be fully vaccinated and would deliver a much-needed shot in the arm for businesses and workers struggling from lockdowns”.“Vaccinations are a race Australians can no longer afford to lose,” they said.“The faster this is achieved, the faster the recovery as we emerge from the lockdowns that are bleeding hundreds of millions of dollars a day from the nation’s finances.”“Labor will continue to propose constructive solutions to protect the health of Australians and the economy.”When asked about federal Labor’s proposal to offer $300 incentives for those who got the jab, Mr Andrews said supply was still the biggest issue facing the rollout.Meanwhile, the idea has been slammed by Finance Minister Simon Birmingham, who has labelled it as “unnecessary and unlikely to work”.“We looked at it, and the evidence says it’s unnecessary and unlikely to work,” he told the ABC.“It’s clearly unnecessary in the sense that Australians are responding … They do want to get their vaccines.”Vaccine FiguresMr Birmingham said Labor’s plan was “insulting” to the Australians who were already doing the right thing and getting vaccinated, accusing Mr Albanese of “splashing cash and hoping for the best.”Vaccine rollout chief Lieutenant General John Frewen met with business chiefs last month and discussed vaccine incentives, such as airlines offering free frequent flyer points.But he said such incentives were not “as necessary” at the moment because there was “a lot of interest from the community about getting vaccinated”.“I think perhaps later in the campaign when we’re starting to get to those people who are less convinced or a bit more hesitant, that may be a better time for incentives,” General Frewen said.Mr Morrison intervened last month to back Port Melbourne’s Prince Alfred hotel, after the nation’s medical regulator tried to block its campaign to give free beer to vaccinated patrons.A range of incentives have been trialled overseas, including vaccine lotteries, while US President Joe Biden has encouraged state governments to offer $100 payments to people who are vaccinated.MAJOR AUSSIE VACCINE PASSPORT MOVEThe federal government today takes the first tentative step towards introducing a Covid-19 vaccination passport in a move that many industry groups have welcomed to re-open society for business.But some said they wanted to be protected against claims of discrimination from potential customers who refused to show proof of a Covid-19 jab.Services Australia, in a deal with Apple and Google, will now allow digital certificates to readily show Covid vaccination records on both iPhone and Android devices.Read the full story here.VIC TIGHTENS BORDER WITH NSWVictoria will tighten its border restrictions with New South Wales, introducing rules for people in the travel bubble between the states, despite no cases in the region.It comes as the Herald Sun can reveal new details of the government’s rent relief scheme for businesses, with support to kick in for those whose turnover falls by at least 30 per cent.There were two new coronavirus cases in Victoria on Monday; both were linked to current outbreaks and in quarantine while infectious.Health Minister Martin Foley on Monday announced border residents could now only move between NSW and Victoria for six essential reasons. These include access to goods and services, including medical care and a Covid test, and for care and compassionate reasons.NED-1859 State of our bordersBorder crossings are also allowed for work, education, vaccination appointments and sport and exercise. Residents cannot travel further than necessary for these activities, which means they must use the closest possible location.Mr Foley said that under previous rules, border bubble residents on the NSW side could holiday in Lorne and shop in Bourke St. He said there had been no cases in the region but the tougher rules were based on expectations the outbreaks in NSW will “get worse before they get better”.Authorities also scrapped limits for group bookings at hospitality, venues, tours and gyms.More than 38,000 people are booked in for a first dose of the Pfizer vaccine at state hubs this week, with another 3000 appointments available. Deoples COVID-19 Victorian Exposure Sites TableHUNT SUPPORTS RAPID TESTINGAustralians may soon be able to have on-the-spot Covid-19 checks at pharmacies or even at home as the federal government backs the expanded use of rapid antigen testing.Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said he was “very supportive” of the technology and wanted it to be used more widely, including ultimately for self-diagnosis. It comes as Australia’s expert immunisation panel has cleared the way for about 220,000 children aged 12-15 to receive the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine from next Monday.The vaccine will initially be available to children in that age group who have specific medical conditions — such as asthma, diabetes and obesity — or live in a remote community or identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.Mr Hunt said the nation’s immunisation experts were likely to approve the Pfizer vaccine for all children over 12, possibly by the end of the month, once they received further data from overseas.At least 18 rapid antigen tests are currently approved for use in Australia and can deliver results within about 15 minutes. The Therapeutic Goods Administration said a PCR test involving throat or nasal swabs remained the “gold-standard” because rapid antigen tests were typically less accurate, particularly for asymptomatic patients.Scott Morrison will on Tuesday release modelling from the Doherty Institute and Treasury which informed the national cabinet decision last week to set vaccination targets of 70 per cent and 80 per cent to reopen Australia and reduce the reliance on lockdowns.A lockdown in southeast Queensland has been extended to Sunday, as authorities scramble to contain a new Delta outbreak that has widened with 13 new cases, including 10 children.The death toll from Sydney’s outbreak reached 15 as a cluster at an aged-care home grew to 20 cases after a “superspreading event” at a “Christmas in July” party.

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