Australia news LIVE: QR codes back in NSW as state records 5715 new COVID cases; Victoria extends indoor mask mandate as daily infections rise above 2000

Australia news LIVE: QR codes back in NSW as state records 5715 new COVID cases; Victoria extends indoor mask mandate as daily infections rise above 2000

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6.30pm on Dec 23, 2021

The day in reviewBy Michaela WhitbournGood evening and thank you for reading our live coverage of the day’s events. If you are just joining us now, here’s what you need to know.

NSW has responded to public health advice and made masks compulsory in all non-residential indoor settings in NSW from midnight tonight, after days of describing masks as a matter of “personal responsibility”. The state reported a new national record of 5715 COVID-19 cases today and one death. A man in his 40s from western Sydney who was not vaccinated and had underlying health issues died at Westmead Hospital. The state’s Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerry Chant, said 80 per cent of new infections were the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the virus. The mask mandate will remain in place until January 27, Premier Dominic Perrottet said. Masks were already compulsory on public transport, in airports and on planes. From December 27 to January 27, the state will also reintroduce the one-person per 2 square metre density rule for indoor hospitality venues, including pubs, clubs, restaurants and cafes.NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet today.Credit:Rhett Wyman

While the Perrottet government was not explicit about this today, it appears that the mask rules apply to people aged 12 and up, with younger children encouraged to wear masks if practicable. Babies should not wear masks as they pose a choking hazard.NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant today.Credit:Rhett Wyman

NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said that “pulling together multiple pieces of evidence from overseas countries such as South Africa and the UK, and using some of our own emerging data … indicates that infection with Omicron is likely to be milder than infection with [the] Delta [variant], with the risk of hospitalisation being around 60 per cent to 80 per cent less than for Delta”. But she said “the issue is the increased transmissibility, leading to high case numbers, and the impact this is having on vulnerable settings, vulnerable people and critical workforces.” She also warned that being young didn’t necessarily mean you would experience milder disease. “You can be hit hard. Please get vaccinated. Get your first vaccine, get your second and get your booster.”QR code check-ins are coming back as COVID-19 cases rise in NSW.Credit:Brook Mitchell

QR code check-ins will also be compulsory in NSW, including in hospitality and retail settings. This reverses changes made on December 15, when QR codes were scrapped. The state government said in a media release that it was also “asking people to reduce mingling where they can including when eating and drinking, work from home where possible and hold events outside”.NSW’s new transport minister, David Elliott, said there will be no further easing of capacity limits on public transport services in the state until late January. Transport services will operate at 75 per cent capacity.NSW is also procuring rapid antigen tests to be used by residents in cases where a “gold standard” PCR test is not necessary. Rapid antigen tests should not be used by symptomatic people in lieu of a PCR test or by people who have come into contact with a confirmed COVID case.Acting Victorian Premier James Merlino today.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

The mask rules are slightly tighter in Victoria. From 11.59pm tonight, all Victorians aged 8 and up are required to wear a mask in all non-residential indoor settings. Masks must also be worn while moving around at major events attracting at least 30,000 people, but can be taken off by patrons while sitting down.Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley said authorities were also recommending to hospitality venues that they stick to seated service where possible, and that dance floors stay in outdoor, well-ventilated areas. “These changes will help us protect the most vulnerable people in the community while more Victorians go and get their third dose,” Mr Foley said.

WA Premier Mark McGowan today.Credit:Hamish Hastie

Western Australia has also mandated masks in all non-residential indoor settings, after the state recorded one new case of COVID-19 in the community. The case, a 25-year-old unvaccinated traveller, entered the state lawfully from Queensland on December 12 without needing to get tested for the virus. This was the day before WA reintroduced a hard border with Queensland. From 6pm tonight until at least 6am on Tuesday, December 28, masks will be mandatory in all public indoor settings including workplaces, shopping centres, hospitality venues and public transport in Perth and Peel. WA Premier Mark McGowan said the man attended a range of venues while infectious, including nightclubs, shops and museums.“The mask mandate will not apply to the home and will not apply people doing vigorous indoor exercise. We are recommending masks be worn outside when you cannot physically distance,” Mr McGowan said. “High-risk, large public events like music festivals will be cancelled during this period and all nightclubs closed. All dancing [is] banned except for weddings. In addition, the mask rules will apply to anyone who has been in Perth or Peel since Thursday, 16 December and are now located in a different part of the state. I know this is not the news we wanted to hear two days before Christmas, but unfortunately this is the reality of COVID-19. No matter how hard our border controls, the border can sneak into Western Australia. We now need to face the potential of community transmission in Perth and Peel.”

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.Credit:Getty Images AsiaPac

Queensland has recorded 369 new cases of COVID-19, up from 186 cases yesterday, as the premier warned that case numbers were going to escalate and the virus was “right throughout our community”. It is another daily record for the state. As of 5am today, masks are required to be worn in Queensland in theatres and cinemas and by hospitality staff, in addition to in supermarkets and shops, on public transport and ride-shares.“I thank Queenslanders for masking up,” Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said this morning. “I want everyone to stay safe over the Christmas and New Year period but we will see an escalation in cases like we’re seeing in other states. “This virus is here. It is right throughout our community. We are living with this virus. This is the next stage of the pandemic. Everyone wants to get on with their lives but we are going to see a big impact on those who are unvaccinated.”As a result of today’s changes, masks are now mandatory in all indoor settings outside the home in NSW, Victoria, Western Australia, Tasmania and the ACT, and in many indoor settings in Queensland. Masks are also required in all of those jurisdictions on public transport and ride-shares, and when on planes.This is Michaela Whitbourn signing off on the live blog for 2021. My colleagues will have the latest updates for you online tomorrow and throughout the holiday period.

6.16pm on Dec 23, 2021

NSW Police beef up presence at COVID-19 testing sites amid reports of aggressive behaviourNSW Police say they will beef up their presence at COVID-19 testing sites in the state amid reports of a rise in anti-social and aggressive behaviour.

As Josh Dye reported earlier today, snaking queues with hours-long waits have become a common sight across COVID-19 testing clinics throughout Sydney as people wait for negative results before heading to Christmas celebrations or travelling interstate.

Cars queue at the Roselands drive-through COVID-19 testing clinic at dawn on Thursday. Credit:Brook Mitchell

In a statement just now, the force said:

While the majority of people attending testing sites in recent days have behaved appropriately and followed the direction of police and NSW Health professionals, there have been reports of a general increase in unruly and abusive behaviour.

In response to these reports, the NSW Police Force will deploy additional police tasked with proactively patrolling testing sites to ensure NSW Health staff can continue to do their vital job without being the target of abuse.

Deputy Premier and Police Minister Paul Toole said “police will have a strong presence at our busiest testing clinics, ready to deal with anyone taking out their frustrations on people trying to care for our community”.

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said “anyone caught behaving in an offensive manner, or abusing/assaulting NSW Health staff, will be arrested and dealt with appropriately”.

Deputy Commissioner Mal Lanyon, Metropolitan Field Operations, added that “the majority of the community continues to be respectful and patient and that is appreciated”.

“Police stand ready to respond to any anti-social behaviour targeting NSW Health staff and disrupting the operations of testing sites,” Deputy Commissioner Lanyon said.

5.40pm on Dec 23, 2021

WA reintroduces mask mandate, cancels large public events after COVID-19 case confirmed in communityBy Michaela WhitbournAs the state recorded one case of COVID-19 in the community, Western Australia has moved to impose wide-ranging restrictions.

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From 6pm tonight until at least 6am on Tuesday, December 28, masks will be mandatory in all public indoor settings including workplaces, shopping centres, hospitality venues and public transport in Perth and Peel.

“The mask mandate will not apply to the home and will not apply people doing vigorous indoor exercise. We are recommending masks be worn outside when you cannot physically distance,” WA Premier Mark McGowan said.

“High-risk, large public events like music festivals will be cancelled during this period and all nightclubs closed. All dancing [is] banned except for weddings.

“In addition, the mask rules will apply to anyone who has been in Perth or Peel since Thursday, 16 December and are now located in a different part of the state.

“I know this is not the news we wanted to hear two days before Christmas, but unfortunately this is the reality of COVID-19. No matter how hard our border controls, the border can sneak into Western Australia. We now need to face the potential of community transmission in Perth and Peel.”

Read more on the new rules from Peter de Kruijff here.

5.36pm on Dec 23, 2021

WA records one new case of COVID-19, in an unvaccinated backpackerBy Michaela Whitbourn and Daile CrossWestern Australia has recorded one new case of COVID-19, in an unvaccinated backpacker who attended several bars, shops and other venues in Perth while potentially infectious.

Health authorities had identified a number of exposure sites across the state, WA Premier Mark McGowan said. To date, there were five close contacts, but he expected the list of contacts would grow.

Premier Mark McGowan reveals details of Perth’s COVID-positive backpacker.Credit:Hamish Hastie

“Nightclubs, shopping centres, bars, museums, restaurants; he has been to lots of places, so [there are] lots of people who have potentially been exposed,” Mr McGowan said.

“When people are in proximity in nightclubs, dancing, they can be super-spreader events.”

The backpacker, who is 25, travelled into Western Australia from Queensland earlier this month, Mr McGowan said.

“He felt sick on Sunday and got tested yesterday. The result came through this morning and it was a strong positive.

“The advice at this point is that it is unlikely to be the Omicron strain and therefore more likely to be the Delta variant.

“Investigations have confirmed the backpacker came into Western Australia 11 days ago on Sunday night, December 12. The day before, in fact, I’m advised, one hour before we introduced a harder border with Queensland.

“On Saturday, December 11, we announced that Queensland would be reclassified from very low risk to low risk as of 12.01am on Monday, December 13.

“Under a very low-risk setting, the backpacker therefore wasn’t required to be tested before arriving. Unfortunately, the backpacker is not vaccinated. His girlfriend is also symptomatic and has been tested and moved into hotel quarantine.

“Further investigations have confirmed he has been living with four other people at a house in Girrawheen. These four people have been camping, but they have since been contacted and are now undergoing testing. They will also be directed into hotel quarantine.”

5.32pm on Dec 23, 2021

South Australia records 484 new cases of COVID-19By Michaela WhitbournSouth Australia has recorded 484 new cases of COVID-19 in the state, a new daily record in the state. It’s a dramatic increase on yesterday’s 198 cases.

SA reopened its borders to fully vaccinated interstate travellers on November 23.

5.14pm on Dec 23, 2021

Watch: WA COVID-19 updateWA Premier Mark McGowan will provide a COVID-19 update at about 2.15pm local time (5.15pm AEDT). You can watch it live here.

5.00pm on Dec 23, 2021

Vulnerable children ‘must be at the front of the queue’ for vaccineBy Dana DanielA leading child immunisation specialist has called for children with health conditions to be prioritised for coronavirus vaccines, as parents struggle to secure bookings and advocates warn that children with disabilities are being left at risk of severe COVID-19.

Children with “a major medical problem” such as cancer, chronic heart, lung, liver or kidney disease, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy should be “pushed to the front of the queue,” infectious disease pediatrician Professor Robert Booy said.

Children with serious illnesses should be prioritised for the COIVD-19 vaccine, a leading immunologist says.Credit:Getty

The University of NSW professor, who is an affiliate at the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, said GPs, pharmacists and state health authorities must ensure the vulnerable status of seriously ill children was factored into their booking systems.

“When parents ring up to book, if they say my kid is particularly vulnerable, they should prioritise them,” Professor Booy said.

Health Minister Greg Hunt this week urged Australian parents to embrace the COVID-19 vaccination for young children, after the Therapeutic Goods Administration provisionally approved the Pfizer vaccine for use among 5 to 11-year-old children on December 5.

But some parents, including those with medically fragile children, have struggled to find a booking, despite the federal government initially stating that bookings for appointments from January 10 would open on December 15.

Read the full story here.

4.33pm on Dec 23, 2021

Australian Open officials say they will abide by any conditions imposed by Victorian governmentBy Scott SpitsAustralian Open tennis officials, who this week expressed confidence the event would proceed without major disruptions, said they would abide by any conditions imposed by Victorian health authorities.

The Australian Open starts on January 17 but other lead-up events take place at Melbourne Park from January 4.

Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic in February this year.Credit:AP

“We are looking forward to a great Australian Open and as always, will work with health authorities and follow the conditions at the time to ensure a safe and comfortable experience for everyone,” said a spokesperson.

Tournament boss Craig Tiley said the removal of crowd zones, introduced last year to assist with contact tracing, would make the tournament more attractive to spectators.

“We have a COVID-safe plan that’s been approved by the government,” Tiley said.

“It’s gold standard. We will manage the crowd accordingly. It’s going to be a safe place to be.

“If there’s a position where we’ve got to limit the numbers, we’ll manage that accordingly.

“The good thing is there won’t be any zones. You’re going to be able to move across the entire precinct.”

The Victorian government announced today that patrons attending major events attracting at least 30,000 people will need to wear a mask while moving around, but can remove their mask while seated.

4.26pm on Dec 23, 2021

Contact tracers swing into action after positive COVID-19 case bar-hops through PerthBy Hamish Hastie and Peter de KruijffWest Australian contact tracers have sprung into action after it emerged that a positive COVID-19 case attended a number of venues in Northbridge in inner-city Perth on Saturday night.

WA Health has sent text messages to attendees of the Geisha Bar and Connections Nightclub on James Street and Perth Mess Hall on Francis Street, warning them they were at the venues when a COVID-19 case was present.

The messages warned attendees to immediately isolate from others in their home and get a COVID-19 test.

They directed that they must isolate until they returned a negative test result or unless instructed otherwise by WA Health.

“You have been identified via the SafeWA app as having been at Geisha Bar when a COVID-19 case was present,” a message to a Geisha Bar patron read.

Perth Mess Hall staff are isolating for 14 days and the venue is waiting for further information from WA Health.

WAtoday has contacted WA Health, the Premier’s office and WA Police but no government agencies would comment.

Read the full story here.

4.14pm on Dec 23, 2021

A recap of the new rules in NSW, VictoriaBy Michaela WhitbournNSW and Victoria have announced a number of new coronavirus rules today, and there are subtle differences.

Here’s what’s new in NSW:

From midnight tonight, masks will be compulsory in all non-residential indoor settings in NSW. The mask mandate will remain in place until January 27, Premier Dominic Perrottet said. Masks are already compulsory on public transport, in airports and on planes. From December 27 to January 27, the state will reintroduce the one-person per 2 square metre density rule for indoor hospitality venues, including pubs, clubs, restaurants and cafes.While the government was not explicit about this today, it appears that the mask rules apply to people aged 12 and up, with younger children encouraged to wear masks if practicable. Babies should not wear masks as they pose a choking hazard.NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet today.Credit:Rhett Wyman

QR code check-ins will also be compulsory in NSW, including in hospitality and retail settings. This reverses changes made on December 15, when QR codes were scrapped. The state government said in a media release that it was also “asking people to reduce mingling where they can including when eating and drinking, work from home where possible and hold events outside”.NSW’s new transport minister, David Elliott, said there will be no further easing of capacity limits on public transport services in the state until late January. Transport services will operate at 75 per cent capacity.The state is also procuring rapid antigen tests to be used by residents in cases where a “gold standard” PCR test is not necessary. Rapid antigen tests should not be used by symptomatic people in lieu of a PCR test or by people who have come into contact with a confirmed COVID case.And here are the new rules in Victoria:

The rules are slightly tighter in Victoria. From 11.59pm tonight, all Victorians aged 8 and up are required to wear a mask in all non-residential indoor settings. Masks must also be worn while moving around at major events attracting at least 30,000 people, but can be taken off by patrons while sitting down.Victoria’s Acting Premier James Merlino.Credit:Getty

Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley said authorities were also recommending to hospitality venues that they stick to seated service where possible, and that dance floors stay in outdoor, well-ventilated areas. “These changes will help us protect the most vulnerable people in the community while more Victorians go and get their third dose,” Mr Foley said.

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