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What we know today, Wednesday July 28

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NSW has reported 177 new COVID-19 cases and one death, with millions of people in Greater Sydney and beyond to remain in lockdown for another four weeks.

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NSW lockdown extended as state records 177 new cases

NSW has reported 177 new COVID-19 cases and one death, with millions of people in Greater Sydney and beyond to remain in lockdown for another four weeks.

Of the new cases recorded in the 24-hours to 8pm on Tuesday, 68 were circulating in the community for all or part of their infectious period. The isolation status of another 62 remains under investigation.

A woman in her 90s died overnight in Liverpool Hospital, bringing the state’s death toll for the current outbreak which began mid-June to 11.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian confirmed the five-week lockdown will be extended until at least August 28 for Greater Sydney, the Central Coast, the Blue Mountains, Wollongong and Shellharbour.

“I am as upset and frustrated as all of you that we were not able to get the case numbers we would have liked at this point in time but that is the reality,” she said on Wednesday.

The extra time would allow more people to get vaccinated, particularly in areas most affected by the current outbreak.

“We really need people to do the right thing at all times,” she said.

“Do not let your guard down.”

The Parramatta, Campbelltown and Georges River local government areas have been added to five others meaning only essential workers can leave those zones.

“That localised, targeted response is what we hope will have the desired effect. Having fewer people mobile from those communities we know the virus is circulating,”  Berejiklian said.

But HSC students will return to the classroom on August 16 and those in the eight local government areas where the virus is spreading quickly will start being vaccinated with the Pfizer jab.

A singles bubble will be introduced, allowing those who live alone to nominate one designated family member or friend to visit for companionship, with restrictions in LGAs of concern.

PM announces virus support expansion

Workers who lose hours because of coronavirus lockdowns in NSW will receive weekly payments of up to $750 under a boosted federal support scheme.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the full-time rate will rise from $600 after a four-week extension of the lockdown in Sydney and surrounds was confirmed.

“Our measures of support are never set and forget,” he told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.

Part-time workers will be eligible for $450, up from $375, while welfare recipients will no longer be excluded.

People on Centrelink payments will be eligible for $200 a week if they lose more than eight hours of work.

The higher rate of coronavirus disaster payments is in line with the original rate of JobKeeper wage subsidies which were set at $1500 a fortnight.

Morrison said the disaster payments were faster, more effective and better targeted.

“We are not dealing with a pandemic outbreak across the whole country,” the prime minister said.

“JobKeeper was a great scheme but you don’t play last year’s grand final this year.”

He confirmed the new rates would apply to future lockdowns in other parts of Australia.

Qld records one new COVID case, 19 on ship

Queensland has recorded a new local COVID-19 case who has been infectious in the community in Brisbane for six days, and 19 new infections have been reported on a ship offshore.

The man completed hotel quarantine in Brisbane on July 17 and then stayed at a backpacker hotel in the CBD before becoming unwell and getting tested on Monday.

Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young says the man has likely been infectious in the community since last Thursday.

“Now we will go and contact trace the people in that backpackers’ hotel and other people that this gentleman’s been in contact with,” she told reporters on Wednesday.

“Now this is our 13th incursion of the virus into the community in Queensland over the last six weeks, so it is becoming increasingly concerning that we are having these repeated incursions of the virus into Queensland.”

Young said that the hotel quarantine system was clearly insufficient in containing the Delta variant of COVID-19.

She had also asked for all politicians in the state to be prioritised for vaccination due to the risk of them bringing the virus from Brisbane into the regions.

“I think this is escalating now, we have had 13 incursions of the virus into the community, into the Queensland community over the last six weeks,” she said.

“That is more than we’ve seen before for a long time, so I’m very worried.

“And most of those have been the Delta variant, so I just want to manage every single risk that I can think of as much as I can.”

Authorities have also recorded another 19 COVID-19 cases on a ship off the state’s coast after 17,816 tests overnight.

Dr Young said the ship is due to arrive in Weipa on Wednesday and the sick crew members will be transferred to hospitals on shore for treatment.

Victoria reports unlinked COVID case

Victoria has recorded an additional locally acquired COVID-19 case involving a testing site traffic controller, on its first day out of lockdown.

Health Minister Martin Foley confirmed the traffic controller at the Moonee Valley racecourse drive-through testing centre worked at least two days while infectious.

The site has closed and staff has been sent home to isolate as a precaution.

“We do believe there will be minimal risk,” Mr Foley told reporters on Wednesday.

The traffic controller was not a primary close contact of a previous case and has not been linked to Victoria’s current outbreaks.

“It’s obviously a concern, but we are in early minutes, if not hours, of understanding exactly what’s happened where it might have been acquired (he’s) at a testing site, obviously that’s a point we’ll look at in terms of how he might have acquired it,” Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said.

The new case was detected after the midnight deadline to report new cases.

The other eight new locally acquired cases reported on Wednesday are linked to Victoria’s current outbreaks and were in isolation for their entire infectious period.

There are now 198 infections linked to the outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant, which originated from NSW.

More than 35,000 test results were received in the 24 hours to midnight on Wednesday, while 19,349 vaccine doses were administered at state-run sites during the same period.

It comes as Victorians wake to a taste of freedom on Wednesday after its 12-day statewide lockdown was lifted.

Victorians can now travel any distance and leave their homes for any reason, but masks will remain compulsory indoors and outdoors.

A ban on home gatherings remains, however people are able to gather outside in groups of 10.

SA out of lockdown as students prepare to mask up

South Australia’s seven-day lockdown has ended this morning, as students and teachers return to school under new mask rules with the state set to remain under extensive restrictions for at least a week.

SA Health reported no new COVID-19 cases yesterday, giving authorities confidence to proceed with a scheduled ending of lockdown at 12:01am on Wednesday.

However, strict restrictions remain in place with public venues limited to a one person per four-square metre density cap.

Household and private gatherings are capped at 10 people, weddings and funerals at 50 while gyms are under a stricter density cap of one person per eight square metres.

Masks are also mandatory for public transport, healthcare services, aged care centres, personal care services and indoor public spaces such as shops.

Students above year 8 and teachers returning to school today are also be expected to wear masks indoors and while congregating.

The mask advice extends to students travelling on school buses and all adult visitors to education facilities, including Early Childhood Education and Care and OSHC staff.

Premier Steven Marshall said 90 pallets of masks were being delivered to high schools across South Australia on Tuesday, describing them as “a new part of the school uniform”.

“There will be more mask-wearing, whether or not we keep some level mandatory or whether it becomes strong advice – we really need to just see where this goes over the next week,” Marshall told ABC Radio this morning.

“The general principle is: if you can wear a mask, do wear a mask during this particular period where we are still concerned.”

Teachers are not required to wear masks while teaching in the classroom.

SA Education Department chief executive Rick Persse yesterday told reporters “we expect there will be a little bit of confusion in the early days but what we know is overwhelmingly people do the right thing”.

“We’re really looking for parents to send kids off to school … with the right message, they’re doing the right thing wearing masks, and through this we’re able to keep our schools open,” he said.

“We’ll have plenty of surgical masks available for staff and students if they forget.”

Persse said there wouldn’t be penalties if students failed to comply with mask directions, saying: “If we had a particular problem at a particular site, we would work out a bespoke solution to make sure that we had good compliance there.”

A total of 19 cases have been linked to the Modbury cluster, first detected last Monday, and more than 4000 South Australians in quarantine after visiting tier one or tier two exposure sites.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Vickie Chapman is encouraging hospitality businesses to apply for a licensed footprint extension in a bid to increase their capacity.

The hospitality industry has been calling for extended financial support due to public gathering restrictions limiting their capacity to 25 per cent.

Chapman said hospitality businesses could apply for a free short term extension of their licensed area.

“This means they could extend their service, allowing for the consumption of liquor, while seated, in a separate room, expanded outdoor area, or new outdoor area.

“This will enable businesses to utilise their full capacity, increasing the number of people they can have at any given time, while also offering new and unique dining experiences.”

Since the footprint extension offer was first introduced in May last year, 225 businesses have successfully applied, according to Chapman’s office.

The premier said the licence extension “is not possible for everybody, but it is very possible in country SA where often they have got other areas that they can licence”.

Former Labor ministers to restart Family First

A pair of former Labor ministers are quitting the party to reanimate the defunct Family First brand – with an aim to win an Upper House seat at next year’s state election.

Former SA Treasurer and Health Minister Jack Snelling and Employment and Higher Education Minister Tom Kenyon have sought assent from the Evangelical-based party’s founder Andrew Evans for the move – but it hasn’t been welcomed by its last senator Bob Day.

Snelling told InDaily the move was a reaction to attacks on religious freedom that had flourished under the Marshall Liberal Government, but conceded the Labor Party was not the vehicle from which to defend them.

“It was a really difficult decision – both of us have given our entire adult lives to the Australian Labor Party and the ALP has done an enormous amount for us,” he said.

“But in the last few years the political environment has shifted, particularly around religious freedom.”

He cited proposed new Equal Opportunity laws that would remove exemptions allowing religious-based organisations to discriminate on the basis of sexuality.

He also pointed to the recent euthanasia debate, which only included amendments allowing faith-based hospitals to opt out after an 11th-hour addition by Liberal backbencher Steve Murray.

“I don’t think the ALP is going to be taking the lead on opposing the removal of those exemptions,” he said of Attorney-General Vickie Chapman’s equal opportunity amendments.

“We don’t think the ALP is ever going to be a vehicle to prosecute that argument.”

Snelling is yet to officially register the party name, but he is not expected to run as a candidate.

It’s expected Kenyon will run in March as the party’s lead candidate in the Legislative Council, where they hope to capture some of the vote won by the since-disbanded Australian Conservatives in 2018.

Liberal Right-wingers have recently embarked on a recruitment drive in Pentecostal communities, but Snelling said the party’s response – to freeze or reject several memberships pending an investigation – should give many of those prospective members cause to return to a revamped family First.

“I think there’d be a lot of people who tried to join the Liberal Party in good faith who would certainly be upset by the way in which they were treated by the Liberal Party,” he said.

But Day, who has recently started his own “Family First 2.0”, the Australian Family Party, is sceptical, saying the pair were “longstanding members of the Labor Party with a long tradition in the union movement”.

“It’s a new party called Family First, but it’s not restarting Family First,” he said.

“I ran Family First for 10 years – I was senator and chairman… this is a new party.

“Family First was a Mazda 3 – this is a Ford Falcon with a Mazda badge on the front.”

-Tom Richardson

‘Not privatisation’: Ticketek to take over BASS box office

The Adelaide Festival Centre has announced its BASS box office will be taken over by national ticketing provider Ticketek, saying the controversial move is “not privatisation, it’s outsourcing”.

The announcement signals the end of BASS in South Australia after over 40 years of processing ticket sales for the state’s major arts institutions, including the Festival Theatre, Dunstan Playhouse, Space Theatre and Her Majesty’s Theatre.

In a media release on Tuesday, the Adelaide Festival Centre (AFC) said its new deal with Ticketek would provide the “most streamlined, up-to-date way to purchase tickets for shows and events at Adelaide Festival Centre venues”.

It also said that the deal would give patrons greater access to “blockbuster events touring nationally and internationally through TEG-owned Ticketek’s vast Australasian networks”.

It comes after InDaily reported union concerns that the AFC planned to “privatise” the revenue-making BASS box office as part of a review into its ticketing software.

Public Service Association assistant general secretary Natasha Brown said the AFC’s decision to outsource its ticketing service was “unwarranted”.

“This privatisation has taken place under the cover of a COVID lockdown, clearly in the hope that it will go under the radar,” she said.

The PSA said it would raise the issue when it is called to give evidence at a parliamentary select committee hearing into privatisation in South Australia.

The AFC has confirmed that current permanent and temporary BASS staff would be offered employment at Ticketek’s Adelaide office, while casuals would be offered the opportunity to work with Ticketek’s casual staffing pool.

-Stephanie Richards

Read the full story here

Winter festival looks to reopen

Illuminate Adelaide has announced that the Light Cycles experience in the Adelaide Botanic Garden will go ahead tonight, under guidance from SA Health.

Masks will need to be worn for the duration of the event and ticket-holders have been asked to arrive at the Gingko Gate at their allocated session time.

The update follows a statement yesterday from festival co-founders and creative directors Lee Cumberlidge and Rachael Azzopardi, in which they said they hoped to reignite outdoor elements of the festival as quickly as possible now that SA’s lockdown has ended.

Key experiences on the Illuminate program are the ticketed Light Cycles experience – a 2km trail featuring video projections, light effects, lasers, smoke and soundscapes by Canada’s Moment Factory – and a free City Lights trail encompassing installations and projections across the CBD, both of which were scheduled to run for the full 17 days of the festival.

Information about future Light Cycles sessions and other Illuminate Adelaide outdoor events are expected later today.

Ongoing restrictions have affected the festival’s planned live events this weekend. A show featuring The Avalanches with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra at the Entertainment Centre on Friday has now been rescheduled for October 13, and all ticketed MAAD (Music and Art After Dark) events in the West End have been cancelled.

However, the easing of SA’s restrictions means that the Van Gogh Alive digital exhibition – also part of the Illuminate Adelaide program – will reopen this morning.

The state-wide Umbrella Music Festival, which was just a few days into its three-week run when the lockdown began, will also resume with reduced-capacity gigs.

Read the full story on InReview.

-Suzie Keen

Inflation tipped to rise but RBA to maintain interest rates

The latest annual inflation figures are expected to show a huge jump in prices, particularly for fuel, and growing well above the Reserve Bank of Australia’s two to three per cent target band.

But RBA governor Philip Lowe won’t be reaching for his interest rate lever to stem the tide, being more concerned about what damage recent and ongoing virus lockdowns have done to Australia’s economic recovery.

Lowe and his board members have been anticipating a spike in inflation and see this as only a temporary rise as a result of a reversal of some COVID-19-related price reductions a year ago.

The RBA expects annual inflation to return to below two per cent by the end of the year.

It has repeatedly said it won’t lift the cash rate until inflation is sustainably within its target band.

The consumer price index for the June quarter is released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Wednesday.

Economists’ forecasts centre on a CPI rise of 0.7 per cent in the June quarter, taking the annual rate to 3.8 per cent.

This is up smartly from the 1.1 per cent pace as of the March quarter and partly reflects last year’s recession-related price slump falling out of the equation.

Forecasts range from an inflation rise of 0.4 per cent to 0.9 per cent for the quarter.

-With AAP and Reuters

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