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No locally-acquired COVID-19 cases

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Australia has marked another day with no locally acquired cases of COVID-19 as more stranded Aussies prepare to return home when international arrival caps return to higher levels.

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NSW, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia all on Saturday announced zero local COVID-19 cases in their respective 24-hour reporting windows.

Western Australia, which on Saturday exited its five-day lockdown after a hotel quarantine worker picked up the virus, also recorded no local cases.

South Australia has two active cases of COVID-19.

Some 57,000 people in WA have been tested for the virus since Sunday.

The Victorian government on Saturday also announced it had changed mask policies for hotel quarantine staff and would review hotel air flow, seeking to avoid a repeat of this week’s two suspected COVID-19 leaks.

Hotel quarantine staff in Victoria have since Thursday been required to wear a face shield and surgical mask while on the job.

Staff were previously wearing only an N-95 mask.

Hotel quarantine organisers from Wednesday also established “buffers” between family groups and other guests, resulting in 140 rooms being taken out of the system, and staggered food delivery times.

The moves follow a case of suspected COVID-19 transmission among two separate groups of guests at Melbourne’s Park Royal Hotel, and a worker at the Grand Hyatt testing positive to the coronavirus.

Victoria will increase its weekly hotel quarantine capacity to 1310 from February 15 as a month-long national “slowdown” on arrivals concludes.

NSW will from February 15 return to a cap of about 3000 people a week, while Queensland is reverting to 1000 and SA to 530.

WA will retain its halved cap of 500 until the end of the month.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the increased caps after a national cabinet meeting with state and territory leaders on Friday.

The return to more arrivals – having been briefly paused due to the emergence of the contagious UK and South African virus strains – will coincide with the commencement of the Australian vaccination program.

Hotel quarantine workers, frontline staff and border officials are first in line for the Pfizer coronavirus jab, along with the elderly and most vulnerable.

Department of Health head Brendan Murphy says the risk of the virus leaking from hotel quarantine will reduce once its workers have had the jab. State borders could then also be relaxed on a lasting basis.

While he was hesitant to give a possible time frame for when Australia’s international border restrictions will ease, Professor Murphy said officials would keep a close eye on how well the population was protected after vaccinations.

“Progressively over the second half of this year we should see a trajectory towards normality,” he told a parliamentary inquiry on Friday.

The government hopes most Australians will be vaccinated by late October.

Australia has secured more than 150 million doses of various vaccines.

– with AAP

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