Show key events only
And with that, we are going to end Thursday’s blog.
Before we go, let’s recap the big stories from today:
NSW recorded 12,226 new Covid cases and one death, Victoria 5,137 cases and 13 deaths, Tasmania 92 cases, Queensland 2,222, the ACT 253, South Australia 1,374, the Northern Territory 37 and Western Australia one.
The national total was 21,343 new cases.
A child under two who was Covid-positive died in South Australia.
Ghislaine Maxwell was found guilty after sex-trafficking trial in New York.
The federal health minister, Greg Hunt, told people to “avoid the mosh pit” this New Year’s Eve amid rising cases.
The independent expert group OzSage released a set of Covid policy recommendations, saying it was “deeply concerned” by the spike in case numbers.
The federal Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, took aim at the prime minister, Scott Morrison, over the shortage of rapid antigen tests.
Old Parliament House was set alight by protests linked to “sovereign citizen” groups.
The prime minister said Omicron was a “game changer” after national cabinet met.
National cabinet agreed on a new definition of “close contact” and said Covid testing centres would provide rapid antigen tests.
The PM also said free rapid antigen tests will only be provided for those who meet “close contact” criteria.
More than 50% of eligible people have had their booster shot.
Tasmania announced it would drop PCR tests for interstate arrivals.
The Western Australian premier, Mark McGowan, said WA agreed “in principle” to national cabinet’s new definition of close contact.
Another act pulled out of Sydney festival over Israeli embassy sponsorship.
And that is it! We will see you tomorrow for the last blog on the last day of the year.
at 3.29am EST
And we have a statement from the prime minister, Scott Morrison, about the national cabinet meeting.
Here are some lines from it:
Omicron case numbers continue to increase in Australia and globally. Omicron continues to show greater infectivity than the Delta variant, but with less severity. Prof Kelly noted that a recent study from South Africa has confirmed a 73% reduction in severity of disease with Omicron compared with Delta.
Total active cases in Australia have reached over 110,000 cases. However, hospitalisation, ICU and ventilation case numbers remain low and within anticipated capacity. There were 1,481 cases in hospital, 122 cases in ICU with 51 of those requiring ventilation. These numbers are remaining relatively constant.
National cabinet has agreed to Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) advice to reset TTIQ in the context of high case numbers and the Omicron variant, so that Australians can continue to live with Covid-19.
The revised approach is complementary to the importance of vaccinations including boosters and existing public health and social measures.
Specifically, national cabinet agreed to revised definitions for who is a close contact, how they are isolated and testing arrangements.
at 2.21am EST
AMA criticises national cabinet’s new definition of who is a close contact
The Australian Medical Association has released a statement following the national cabinet decision to adopt a new definition of who is a close contact.
The AMA president, Dr Omar Khorshid, said narrowing the definition to household contacts will lock in very high transmission rates and accelerate the outbreak of Omicron.
“We will miss so many more cases with this new, more narrow definition of a close contact,” Khorshid said.
“Anyone catching Omicron in a restaurant or pub for example and who are asymptomatic won’t know they’re infected and could pass the virus on to more vulnerable people.
“The change will help to preserve testing capacity and should limit the number of furloughed health workers, but it will come at the cost of accelerating the outbreak.”
File photo of AMA president Omar Khorshid speaking at the National Press Club in Canberra earlier this year. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP
Khorshid said hospitalisations would rise in the coming weeks because of the high case numbers.
The AMA called for the release of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee’s (AHPPC) advice and modelling that supports the national cabinet decision.
“Without the release of AHPPC’s advice, it is very difficult for us to share the prime minister’s confidence that this move will assist in keeping Australians safe and healthy.”
at 2.18am EST
One child in hospital following the Hillcrest jumping castle tragedy has been released. The other is expected to be released next week ❤️
December 30, 2021
Cricket referee David Boon will be out of action for the Sydney Test after testing positive for Covid.
In a statement, Cricket Australia announced Boon was in hotel quarantine:
The ICC match referee for the Vodafone men’s Ashes series, David Boon, has tested positive to Covid-19 following a PCR test,” the statement read.
Steve Bernard, a member of the International Panel of ICC Referees and based in NSW, will take over as match referee for the fourth Ashes Test match, starting on January 5 at the SCG.
It is anticipated that David Boon will return to the role for the fifth Test in Hobart, starting on January 14. He is asymptomatic and fully vaccinated, including having a booster.
Boon will remain in Melbourne and in line with Victorian state government health guidelines will continue quarantining for 10 days.
David Boon at The Gabba prior to play on day one of the First Ashes Test on 8 December. Photograph: Dave Hunt/AAP
at 2.14am EST
Opera Australia’s much-loved New Year’s Eve performance of La Bohème is cancelled due to a Covid outbreak.
In a statement, CEO Fiona Allan said:
Enormous thanks to everyone at the company who have worked tirelessly, trying everything possible to get us back on stage but I don’t think any of us could have foreseen just how fast Omicron would spread and the effects it would have on the industry.
As disappointing as this news is, both for our performers and for our audiences who we know were very much looking forward to attending NYE, we must now turn our full attention to opening the summer season on Tuesday 4 January.
Opera Australia’s production of La Bohème at the Sydney Opera House. Photograph: Prudence Upton/Opera Australia
Opera Australia is contacting New Year’s Eve ticket holders, who have paid upwards of $269 a seat, to offer credit vouchers and full refunds. On Wednesday, Guardian Australia learned there were more than 20 positive Covid cases at Opera Australia across the performing company. Opera Australia is scheduled to present full seasons of La Bohème, Turandot, Otello, The Marriage of Figaro and La Juive from 4 January-26 March.
Here’s yesterday’s story:
at 1.31am EST
More sporting fixtures have fallen victim to the surge in Covid infections, the latest being Thursday’s Big Bash League meeting of the Perth Scorchers and the Melbourne Stars in Melbourne, because of a positive case in the Stars camp.
Saturday’s A-League Men’s game between Western Sydney Wanderers and Western United has also been called off, as has the A-League Women’s match between Melbourne City and Newcastle Jets, scheduled for Sunday.
The A-Leagues said in a statement an unspecified number of City players had tested positive but were not feeling unwell, while the cases causing the men’s postponement were in the Western United squad.
Despite a rash of cancellations the governing body continues to insist the season will continue.
at 1.26am EST
When’s a good time to release some bad data… how about the eve of New Year’s Eve?
So today, the Queensland government has published the delayed Statewide Landcover and Trees Study (SLATS) that covers land clearing for the 2018-19 year.
During those 12 months, landholders cleared 680,688 hectares. It’s a bit tricky to compare with previous years – such as the 392,000 hectares reported cleared in 2017-18 – as the remote technology has been improved.
Still, it appears that Queensland is clearing a lot of land. The 2018-19 tally amounts to about 3,800 times the size of Melbourne’s CBD, or more than 2,400 times Sydney’s.
“This report is a carbon bomb that threatens to blow up the commitments to net zero emissions by 2050 made by the Queensland and Australian governments,” Dr Stuart Blanch, WWF-Australia conservation scientist, said in a statement.
“It shows clearing has likely been significantly under-reported in previous reports. The latest SLATS data was compiled using satellite images that are three times more accurate than the previous imagery and cover much more of the state. The data provides a new national best-practice standard that all governments and industry should adopt,” Blanch said.
To give the amount some context, Australia’s national greenhouse gas inventory estimated landclearing in the 2018 calendar year was about 370,000 hectares nationwide. In that year, the commonwealth government also claimed the land sector was a net sink in the order of more than 20m tonnes of carbon dioxide.
As Guardian Australia reported a couple of months ago, there is good reason to think Australia’s statistics underestimate the amount of landclearing that is going on. Today’s figures from Queensland are only going to add to those concerns.
at 1.20am EST
Another act pulls out of Sydney festival over Israeli embassy sponsorship
Another act has withdrawn from the 2022 Sydney festival in protest against Israeli embassy sponsorship.
Today the intercultural dance company Marrugeku pulled its performance of Jurrungu Ngan-ga [Straight Talk] out of the festival program. The company put out the following statement:
We took this decision in light of Sydney festival’s actions to seek and retain funding from the state of Israel. It is our responsibility to ensure that the strong voices within Jurrungu Ngan-ga: First Nations Australians, people seeking asylum alongside allied settler artists from diverse backgrounds, can perform with clear liyan (spirit and wellbeing). It is critical that the dancers will be heard, particularly in these circumstances as Jurrungu Ngan-ga embodies the essence of solidarity.
The company added:
With that in mind we respectfully ask that the festival review their decision to return the funding for the sake of community harmony, the cultural safety of artists and the benefit of our audiences.
The show will still run at Carriageworks from 26-29 January, just not under the umbrella of the festival. Tickets issued through festival will be cancelled and refunded by the festival, and punters can secure new tickets here.
As Guardian Australia has previously reported, a number of acts have pulled out of Sydney festival over the $20,000 sponsorship deal with the Israeli embassy to stage a production of the Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin’s Decadance by the Sydney Dance Company.
The protests have been backed by a coalition of Arab and pro-Palestinian organisations (including the Arab Australian Federation, Greens for Palestine, Independent Australian Jewish Voices, Jews against the Occupation Sydney, the Sydney representative for BDS and United Australian Palestinian Workers) and assorted artists and academics.
Yesterday Karla Dickens pulled her work Return To Sender out of the festival. Other artists to have withdrawn include Blake prize-winning artist Khaled Sabsabi, Malyangapa and Barkindji rapper Barkaa, South Asian dance company Bindi Bosses, the Arab Theatre Studio, the Bankstown poetry slam and journalist Amy McQuire.
at 1.25am EST
Australia recorded 21,343 new cases in total
Here is a breakdown of all the new cases today:
NSW recorded 12,226 cases
Victoria recorded 5,137 cases
Queensland recorded 2,222 new cases
South Australia recorded 1374 new cases
Tasmania recorded 94 new cases
The ACT recorded 252 new cases
The Northern Territory recorded 37 new cases
Western Australia recorded one new case
The national total for Thursday: 21,343 new cases.
at 1.03am EST
ACT chief minister Andrew Barr has released a statement after nat cab.
Here are a few lines about rapid antigen tests from it:
NSW will provide around 1 million RATs at cost to the ACT from 17 January 2022.
We have more RATs on order to respond to the evolution of testing arrangements in the context of higher case numbers and community transmission.
National cabinet has also agreed to work on a concessional RAT supply arrangement to provided highly subsidised tests to low-income households. Further details will be provided in the coming weeks.
at 12.48am EST
Victoria has closed some testing sites because of the heat.
Some testing sites have had to close for the remainder of the day due to the excessive heat.
📍Bundoora, La Trobe University
📍Cranbourne East, Casey Fields
📍Deer Park, IPC Health pic.twitter.com/XUJh7T6wDY
December 30, 2021
at 12.41am EST
McGowan is asked if WA will adopt the new close contact definition before 5 February. He says:
In this morning’s meeting there is wide acceptance, in particular from the prime minister, that Western Australia is different.
And we don’t have large numbers of cases. In fact, we have one case today.
NSW had 11,000. So we are in a very, very different position to the other states. Which is why our testing, tracing isolation and quarantines ystems are all still working.
Overthere, they have all collapsed. So that’s why we are able to hopefully eliminate this, because our systems are still working.
And so we will adopt those rules around close contacts at some point in time in the future when necessary, if we get to high caseloads. So that’s the agreement of the meeting this morning.
Obviously it wouldn’t be, in my view, it wouldn’t be before February 5.
‘We are in a very, very different position to the other states’: Mark McGowan at his media briefing in Perth today. Photograph: Matt Jelonek/Getty Images
at 12.44am EST
McGowan says the positive case in now in hotel quarantine.
He is a 27-year-old male backpacker. He’s a close contact of an existing case.
He shared a bathroom with that person. He is not vaccinated. It’s believed he was infectious in the community.
So therefore there is a range of exposure sites we have published already, and probably more will be published shortly.
at 12.44am EST
Looking forward, if we keep getting vaccinated, getting our third doses, if we learn the lessons from other jurisdictions that have allowed the virus to spread, it means we will be in the best possible position to safely reconnect with the rest of the world.
Everyone wants to move forward and move forward safely. If we stick together do the right thing by each other, by checking in, getting vaccinated, following the public health advice, we will all get through this.
at 12.36am EST