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What we know today, Thursday July 29

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NSW has recorded its worst day for COVID-19 infections with another 239 cases – at least 88 of which were circulating in the community while infectious – as the state premier warns numbers are “likely to get worse before they get better”.

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Grim warning for NSW as cases spike

NSW has recorded its worst day for COVID-19 infections with authorities reporting another 239 cases – at least 88 of which were circulating in the community while infectious – with the state premier warning the numbers are “likely to get worse before they get better”.

Two people – a southwest Sydney woman in her 90s and man in his 80s – have died, taking the toll for the current outbreak to 13.

Of the record 239 cases – which surpasses the 212 cases recorded on March 27, 2020 – 66 were out in the community for their whole infectious period. At least 22 other cases were in the community for part of their infectious period.

The isolation status of another 70 cases remains under investigation.

The source of infection for 126 cases is also still under investigation.

“We can only assume that things are likely to get worse before they get better given the quantum of people infectious in the community,” Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters on Thursday.

“Can we stress again, as we have in the past weeks – most of these transmissions are occurring amongst households and in workplaces, but also in health settings.”

The 239 cases came from almost 111,000 COVID-19 tests.

There are 54 COVID-19 patients in NSW in intensive care, with 22 ventilated.

Greater Sydney and its surrounding regions are in lockdown until at least August 28 as health authorities battle an outbreak of the virulent Delta strain.

Berejiklian said the government had accepted police advice the eight virus-hit LGAs would be subject to mask mandates at all times, including outdoors.

Residents of those areas will also be limited to moving within 5km of home.

24 new Olympic COVID cases

Olympics organisers have announced 24 new coronavirus cases related to the Tokyo Games in their Thursday report.

It is the highest daily increase of cases linked to the Games since organisers began reporting cases on July 1.

Three unidentified athletes were among those affected, the report said. A total of 20 athletes have been infected so far.

The latest numbers bring the total number of positive tests linked to the Olympics to 193.

Japan’s capital is under a state of emergency for the duration of the Games, and Olympic competition takes place behind closed doors at all local venues.

Qantas to mandate vaccines for overseas flights

Qantas is set to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for all international travellers when Australia’s borders reopen.

The airline’s boss Alan Joyce has flagged mirroring requirements in Israel, Iceland and some European countries when overseas travel returns on a larger scale.

“Internationally we absolutely will and that’s becoming a standard around the world,” he told ABC radio on Thursday.

Joyce said he started lobbying governments in March to put his workers in a high priority category for immunisation.

“We believe that COVID vaccination should be a requirement for all aviation workers,” he said.

The company is surveying its workers to determine how many have had the jab.

The Transport Workers’ Union is calling for Qantas to ensure all workers in the company’s supply chain are immunised without losing pay.

A TWU survey of 800 aviation workers showed a third were fully vaccinated while many had trouble getting access to the jab.

Union secretary Michael Kaine accused Qantas of acting like a dictator over a problem that should have been solved by the federal government.

“The problem is not that workers aren’t getting vaccinated,” he said.

“The problem is that many workers either can’t get access to the vaccine or are finding that when booking vaccine appointments in advance they risk losing work ahead of rosters getting published.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is opposed to mandatory vaccinations and warned companies could be breaking employment laws if it became a requirement.

“It’s the wrong decision for Australia. It’s just not how we do things,” he told Melbourne radio 3AW.

Morrison believes high vaccination rates will be achieved without forcing people to have the jab.

“You can’t make compulsory things that aren’t able to be made compulsory under our laws,” he said.

“Any decisions that companies make have to be consistent with our laws and particularly our employment laws.”

First person uses WA’s assisted dying laws

The first person has used Western Australia’s new voluntary assisted dying laws to end their life in what Premier Mark McGowan says is a historic moment for the state.

The person has not been identified and the family is asking for privacy.

“We passed these laws so terminally ill Western Australians, who are suffering, could have the compassionate choice to end their lives with dignity,” McGowan said on Thursday.

“I can only imagine what an emotional time it must have been for the person involved and their loved ones.

“Death is a difficult issue, and we don’t like thinking about what the end of our lives may look like.”

WA’s new laws came into effect this month, with about 60 people expected to peacefully end their own lives within the next 12 months.

The state was the second after Victoria to activate voluntary assisted dying, with new laws also recently passed by the South Australian and Tasmanian parliaments.

Victoria records six new COVID cases

Victoria has recorded six new local COVID-19 cases but the source of a mystery case in a testing site traffic controller is still not known.

The Department of Health confirmed seven locally acquired cases were detected in the 24 hours to Thursday morning, including the traffic controller.

All other cases have been linked to Victoria’s current outbreaks and were in isolation for their entire infectious period.

It takes the number of cases linked to the state’s outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant to 204.

More than 42,000 test results were received in the past 24 hours, while about 19,000 vaccine doses were administered at state-run sites during the same period.

Trillion-dollar US infrastructure plan advances

A bipartisan infrastructure package of roughly $US1 trillion has passed a key milestone that moves the emerging legislation toward formal debate and possible passage.

The package received the 60 votes necessary to advance in the 100-seat US Senate on Wednesday.

The move came after negotiators from the Democrats and the Republicans reached agreement on the major components of the package that is a key priority of President Joe Biden.

The bipartisan agreement, which follows months of talks, is expected to gain strong support from lawmakers from both parties.

Democrats intend the bill which includes funding for roads, bridges, broadband and other physical infrastructure to be the first of a pair of packages, followed by a sweeping $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” package that faces staunch Republican opposition and some dissent among moderate Democrats.

Republicans blocked a similar move last week, saying details were not nailed down. In the latest bill, details on transit and broadband were still being finalised but lawmakers said legislative text would be completed soon.

The agreement includes $110 billion for roads,$73 billion for power grid spending, $66 billion for railways, $65 billion to expand broadband access, $55 billion for clean drinking water, $50 billion for environmental resiliency, $39 billion for public transit, and $25 billion in airports, the White House said.

SA border restrictions under spotlight

South Australia’s border restrictions with New South Wales and Victoria will come under the spotlight today ahead of a meeting of the state’s transition committee.

South Australian residents in NSW are currently barred from returning home unless they receive an exemption from SA Health.

NSW authorities reported another 177 COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, another daily high, with the lockdown of Sydney and its surrounds extended until August 28.

Chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier said yesterday that authorities had approved 200 applications on Tuesday night to allow SA residents to travel back from NSW, with SA Health working through hundreds more.

“We’ve expanded the team considerably to work through this,” she told reporters on Wednesday, noting that applications were being triaged to ensure those with end-of-life family situations could be prioritised.

However, Police Commissioner and state emergency coordinator Grant Stevens said police were looking at the NSW border to determine “whether there’s any opportunity to strengthen those borders”.

The comments came ahead of a meeting of the state’s COVID-19 transition committee today.

“The main focus of transition committee [on Thursday] is an update from [Spurrier] in terms of how we’re travelling, any further data we can access in terms of the current risk to the South Australian community, and what may occur at the end of this seven-day period after the ending of the lockdown,” Stevens told reporters on Wednesday.

“We’ll also be looking at our border arrangements, so fairly detailed discussions need to be had.”

SA’s border with Victoria allows SA residents to return home provided they self-quarantine for 14 days. Victorian travellers are barred from entering the state.

The police commissioner said a “key element” of any decision to relax restrictions with Victoria would be the border arrangements between Victoria and NSW.

SA Health recorded no new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday on South Australia’s first day out of lockdown.

Around 5000 people across Adelaide remain in home quarantine after visiting potential exposure sites.

SA Health yesterday added two new tier three exposure sites, both in the Aberfoyle Park shopping centre on Saturday, July 17.

Anyone who was at Getta Bargain in the Aberfoyle Hub Shopping Centre from 8:30am to 9:00am on Saturday, July 17, is asked to get tested immediately and quarantine until they receive a negative result.

The advice also applies to anyone who was at the Coles in the same shopping centre from 8:00am to 8:45am the same Saturday.

Health authorities also last night downgraded the status of six tier-one exposure sites after further investigation.

Two dead after Baroota crash

Two people are dead and a teenager has been critically injured after a crash in Baroota on Wednesday.

Police say they were called to the scene on the Augusta Highway in Baroota, around 30km north of Port Pirie, following reports a Holden ute crashed into a tree after leaving the road.

Both the driver, a 40-year-old man from Whyalla Norrie, and the front passenger, a 61-year-old woman from the same town, died at the scene.

Two other passengers in the ute – a 14 and an 11-year-old boy – were injured in the crash and flown to the Royal Adelaide Hospital for treatment.

The 14-year-old is in a critical condition while the 11-year-old is stable, according to police.

Road restrictions were in place on the Augusta Highway for most of Wednesday evening as Major Crash officers investigated the scene.

South Australia’s road toll for 2021 is now 60, compared to 55 at the same point last year.

Lucas tight-lipped on workers compo recommendations

Treasurer Rob Lucas says Return to Work SA has provided him with final recommendations on a controversial proposal to reform the state’s workers compensation laws – but has declined to reveal the contents of their advice.

The RTWSA proposal would tighten the Impairment Assessment Guidelines (IAG) which injured workers are evaluated against to determine whether they are eligible for compensation.

Currently, if a worker’s injury affects more than five per cent of their bodily capability, they’re entitled to a lump sum payment. If their injury affects more than 30 per cent of their bodily capability, they are deemed “seriously injured” and are entitled to ongoing income payments as well as a lump sum payment.

The proposed reforms would see 10 per cent deducted from an injured worker’s assessment if they have a pre-existing injury, prompting backlash from unions and the legal and medical sector who say thousands of workers could miss out on compensation payments.

RTWSA first floated the changes in a draft paper issued to stakeholders on May 28, with an intial four-week consultation period concluding on June 25.

Under the Return to Work Act 2014, Lucas as minister for industrial relations can approve amendments to the IAG – bypassing the need for legislative review – after a consultation period with medical practitioners who undertake impairment assessments.

Lucas revealed in Senate Estimates on Wednesday that the consultation process with the Ministerial Advisory Committee – which he said was “overwhelmingly” comprised of medical and union legal representatives – was extended until the last week of July.

“They asked whether I could extend [the consultation period] for them, I gave them an extra month,” he said.

“They’ve provided advice within that particular timeframe, and then in the last few days Return to Work SA having considered that advice and everything else has now given me some recommendations as to what, in their view, I should pursue.”

But Lucas declined to reveal the contents of the RTWSA advice which will inform his decision.

“I’ve got to consider the recommendations from RTWSA. I’ll make a decision and once I take that decision … [it] will be there for all and everyone to either applaud or oppose,” he said.

SA Unions secretary Dale Beasley said pushing through with the reforms without oversight would add “insult to injury”, telling reporters after the hearing that unions were left out of the consultation process.

“There has been no discussion with unions who represent injured workers. There is no Parliamentary oversight of these dramatic changes,” Beasley said.

“Medical specialists who understand workplace injuries oppose the changes. Lawyers who understand the law oppose the changes and unions who represent workers demand that the government drop these changes.”

Lucas also told the estimates hearing the State Government would conduct an independent review of South Australia’s GST agreement with the Commonwealth.

Race to find source of unlinked Vic COVID case

Close contacts of a Melbourne traffic controller who worked at a drive-through testing site for two days while infectious with COVID-19 are self-isolating as authorities race to find the source.

Health Minister Martin Foley confirmed the man, a traffic controller at the Moonee Valley Racecourse site, tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, two days after developing symptoms.

The new case was announced in addition to eight new locally acquired infections reported earlier on Wednesday, which were all linked to known outbreaks and isolating for their entire infectious period.

The testing site was immediately closed and dozens of staff who worked the same shifts as the man were sent home to isolate as a precaution.

“We do believe there will be minimal risk to those at the site,” Foley told reporters on Wednesday.

The site will reopen on Thursday following a deep clean.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the case was a concern, given the man is not a primary close contact of a previous case and hasn’t been linked to Victoria’s current outbreaks.

Sutton also said a number of household and social close contacts of the man have been identified and are undergoing urgent testing.

A petrol station, two supermarkets and a shopping centre in Frankston and Frankston South were also listed as exposure sites linked to the man.

Anyone who attended during the specified time frames is required to get tested for COVID-19 and isolate until they return a negative result.

Global virus deaths up 21 per cent in a week: WHO

The World Health Organisation says the global number of coronavirus deaths during the previous week climbed by 21 per cent.

Of the 69,000 new deaths, most were reported in the Americas and Southeast Asia according to the dataset spanning July 19-25.

More than four million people worldwide are confirmed to have died after being infected, the Geneva-based agency said.

It added that the number of COVID-19 deaths increased in all regions except for Europe.

The number of infections reported last week was 3.8 million, up 8 per cent from the previous week.

The countries that reported the highest number of infections last week are the United States, Brazil, Indonesia, the United Kingdom and India.

More than 194 million infections have been reported since the pandemic escalated in early 2020.

The WHO said that “if these trends continue, the cumulative number of cases reported globally could exceed 200 million in the next two weeks”.

Close to 3.7 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered globally, according to the WHO.

The Delta variant has been detected in another eight countries over the past seven days, which means it has a presence in 132 countries.

England ends quarantine for vaccinated EU and US travellers

England is to allow US and EU travellers who are fully vaccinated against coronavirus to enter without the need to quarantine.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced that the new rules will be in place from 4am on Monday August 2.

“We’re helping reunite people living in the US and European countries with their family and friends in the UK”, the minister said.

The Scottish Government has announced the rule change will apply to fully vaccinated EU and US visitors to Scotland from Monday.

The Welsh Government said while it “regrets” the move to remove quarantine requirements for EU and US visitors to England, it would be “ineffective” to have different rules for Wales.

Ministers in Northern Ireland will consider their position on the change at Thursday’s meeting of the powersharing executive. Health Minister Robin Swann will propose that the region also adopts the rule change from Monday.

Currently, only travellers who have received two doses of a vaccine in the UK are permitted to enter the UK from an amber country – such as the US and most of the EU – without self-isolating for 10 days, except those returning from France.

But ministers have decided to extend the exemption in England to those vaccinated in the US and the EU.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid added: “Our vaccination programme is building a wall of defence against this virus so we can safely enjoy our freedoms again, with seven in 10 adults in the UK now double jabbed.

“By reopening quarantine-free travel for travellers who have been fully vaccinated in European countries and the USA, we’re taking another step on the road to normality which will reunite friends and families and give UK businesses a boost.”

Travellers will be required to take a pre-departure test, and a PCR test on or before the second day after their arrival.

The air transport and travel sector have welcomed the move.

Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, told the PA news agency: “The significance of this decision can’t be overestimated.

“It will pump vital cash into the travel economy, and help salvage the rest of the summer.”

No reciprocal deal has been reached with the US, meaning UK visitors are still banned from entering due to coronavirus fears.

Travellers from France to the UK will continue to be required to enter quarantine.

Shapps also announced that international cruises will be permitted to restart from ports in England.

-With AAP and Reuters

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