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What we know today, Wednesday August 4

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A Sydney man in his 20s has died of COVID-19 in his home as NSW reports another 233 locally acquired cases, while Queensland’s cluster has grown to 63 on Brisbane’s fifth day of lockdown.

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Man in his 20s dead as NSW records 233 new cases

A man in his 20s with COVID-19 has died at home as NSW reported another 233 new locally acquired cases on Wednesday, at least 68 of which were out in the community while infectious.

The unvaccinated southwestern Sydney man is the second person under 30 to die of the virus in Australia, after a Victorian man’s death in August last year.

Local health authorities had been following up with him daily and he “suddenly deteriorated” on his 13th day of isolation, NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said.

“He was being checked daily and he did complain of feeling a little fatigued but the deterioration happened suddenly, is my understanding,” Chant said.

“We are aware that with COVID, you can get sudden deaths and I think that is important to understand that your health status can deteriorate.”

The death, the second since July 20 involving a person isolating at home, has been referred to the NSW coroner.

“It demonstrates again how this disease is lethal, how it affects people of all ages,” Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Wednesday.

An unvaccinated woman aged in her 80s also died in hospital on Tuesday, taking total deaths since mid-June to 17.

Of the new cases, at least 68 were in the community for part (21) or all (47) of their infectious period.

The isolation status of another 73 cases is unknown, while 130 cases are yet to be linked to a known cluster.

The cases, reported in the 24 hours to 8pm on Tuesday, mean 1489 cases have been recorded in a week.

“I actually think they will get worse,” Berejiklian said.

“If you look at the number of people infectious in the community, it indicates that perhaps we haven’t reached our peak.”

She said mobility data showed fewer people were moving than during Victoria’s 2020 winter lockdown, but NSW was facing a more contagious virus strain.

Facing questions about why Bunnings and other retailers were still open, the premier said restrictions were the harshest the nation had seen and the list of authorised workers was “very small”.

Overnight, NSW listed 275 different visits by positive cases at more than 170 venues.

Venues included a Parramatta Centrelink visited four times in eight days, several post offices, more than 50 supermarkets and two McDonalds visited more than a fortnight ago.

The additions were so extensive NSW Health unusually did not list each out in a media release or social media, instead directing people to check its website regularly.

Nearly 40 venues are Woolworths, extending from Brookvale in Sydney’s north to Figtree in Wollongong.

Meanwhile, residents of an apartment block in Campbelltown are in a severe lockdown after several residents were infected with COVID-19.

Similar action was taken earlier in the outbreak at unit blocks in Blacktown and Bondi Junction.

Holgate receives $1 million Aus Post payout

Former Australia Post boss Christine Holgate will receive a $1 million settlement for losing her job under a deal struck more than nine months after the acrimonious split.

Holgate left the organisation last year following a scandal over four luxury watches worth $20,000 being gifted to executives.

Australia Post has also agreed to pay $100,000 of the former chief executive officer’s legal costs.

In a joint statement, both parties revealed on Wednesday that $1 million would be given to Ms Holgate as a taxable employment termination payment.

“To finalise the matter so that both parties can move on, Ms Holgate has released Australia Post from all legal claims and Australia Post is making the payment without any admission of liability.”

Australia Post acknowledged it lost an effective chief executive following the events of October 22 when a furore erupted over the Cartier watches when the gifts were revealed in parliament.

“Australia Post regrets the difficult circumstances surrounding Ms Holgate’s departure from her role as CEO,” the statement said.

Qld records 17 new cases, cluster at 63

Queensland has recorded 17 new locally acquired COVID-19 cases, taking the west Brisbane Delta cluster to 63 cases with another unlinked case emerging in the state’s far north.

The cases were picked up after a recorded 51,479 tests in the 24 hours to Tuesday morning and are all linked to existing cases.

Deputy Premier Steven Miles says the outbreak, which has led to a lockdown of the state’s southeast until at least Sunday, has more cases than any previous coronavirus outbreak in Queensland.

“This has become our biggest outbreak since the first wave last year,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

Four cases are linked to the Ironside State School, two are linked to Indooroopilly State High School, one is linked to Brisbane Boys Grammar and nine cases are close contacts or family members.

Another new Delta case in Cairns, first reported on Tuesday, is not genomically linked to Brisbane cluster.

The case is a reef pilot who is fully vaccinated with Pfizer and he’s believed to have become infected from a ship off the coast.

Almost 10,000 people are in home or hotel quarantine, and two new cases recorded on Wednesday were not in the community for any point of their infectious period.

Chief Health Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young said the aim of the lockdown is not to eradicate the cluster but to ensure any new cases were in quarantine for their entire infectious period.

“It doesn’t matter (if) we’ve had those cases because they’re in quarantine, so it won’t stop us lifting the restrictions on Sunday,” she said.

“So please, everyone just think of what you can do in the next few days so we can lift this and we can beat all their predictions about how long it takes to get such a large cluster under control.”

Police issued 48 penalty infringement notices on Tuesday, including 34 for being out in the community during lockdown without a valid reason.

Victoria records zero case day

Victoria has reported no new cases of COVID-19 – its first clean sheet since the state’s lockdown-inducing Delta strain outbreak.

The health department confirmed no new local or overseas-acquired cases had been detected in the 24 hours to Wednesday morning.

It’s the first day since July 12 that the state has not posted a new local case of coronavirus.

Opposition leader Michael O’Brien seized on the “wonderful” figures to immediately call for restrictions to ease for offices, currently capped at 25 per cent capacity.

“Our city is a ghost town at the moment,” he told reporters at parliament.

“The bakers in there, the dry cleaners, the newsagents, the coffee shops – they are on their knees because nobody’s coming into the city.”

He also wants the ban on home visits lifted to make it easier for older Victorians to see their families, noting meeting in the park isn’t always an option.

“It’s the middle of winter, it’s Victoria,” O’Brien said.

“It would be nice to be able to get a reasonable amount of people home. I’m not going to put a number on it, I’ll leave that to the experts.”

Chief Health Officer Sutton said on Tuesday authorities would consider removing the home visits ban at the end of the current two-week restrictions on August 10.

Active cases continue to fall, dropping from 124 to 99.

More than 30,000 test results were received over the past 24 hours, while about 17,600 vaccine doses were administered at state-run sites.

Reduced capacity, new rules confirmed for Showdown crowd

SA Health has ruled that 15,000 people can attend the Showdown at Adelaide Oval on Saturday night, but no general admission tickets will be sold for the game.

Adelaide’s home clash with Port Adelaide, scheduled for 7:10pm on Saturday, will be the first AFL match played in South Australia since July 18.

The Stadium Management Authority late on Tuesday announced 12,000 members will be allowed to attend the event along with 3000 hospitality and club function attendees.

Under the new COVID management plan agreed between SA Health and the SMA, the 3000 corporate attendees must arrive at the gate between 5pm and 6pm. They will also be held back 15 minutes after the game to ensure a staggered exit from the ground.

The 12,000 members attending the game will only be allowed entry from 6:10pm onwards and will be asked to leave the ground first once the game is over.

“These staggered entry times are an important new COVID safety measure approved by SA Health that has enabled us to have a crowd for Saturday’s game through the minimising of crowd congestion,” the SMA’s Adam Vonthethoff said.

Masks will also be mandatory at all times in the ground except when eating and drinking, which must be done while seated.

Each row of seating in the stadium will be separated by two empty rows.

The Crows said they would contact members directly on Tuesday night with information on ticket access for different membership categories.

Crows CEO Tim Silvers said any game in front of the club’s members is “welcomed and much appreciated”.

“We also acknowledge this situation will not cater for all of our passionate members and we trust they will be understanding given these uncertain and challenging times,” he said in a statement.

A curtain-raiser SANFL game in the afternoon will be played without spectators.

State Govt cuts social housing eligibility

The State Government is significantly narrowing the eligibility criteria for social housing in a push to reduce wait times for Housing Trust properties and better target services to the state’s most vulnerable.

Income and household asset tests apply to people applying for social housing, with singles who earn $1023.36 a week and couples who earn $1338.24 a week currently eligible to apply for tenancy.

Under the threshold cuts, which are due to come into force on August 25, the eligibility income for singles will be reduced to a maximum of $715.05 a week and $1112.30 a week for couples.

Households with children will have a higher income threshold of $1747.90.

The most significant cuts come to the household assets test, which will be reduced by 90 per cent for both singles and couples.

The single household asset limits will drop from $482,500 to $48,250, while the couples asset limit will be cut from $616,000 to $61,600.

The State Government says the changes will not affect any current social housing tenants, although people on the social housing wait list will be assessed against the criteria if they are offered a home.

There were more than 17,000 people in SA on the waiting list for social housing in January, according to figures provided to the Budget and Finance Committee.

Human Services Lensink said an “early estimate” from the Housing Authority indicates 800 people currently on the waiting list will be affected by the changes.

She said the current asset limits were “overly generous” and did not target those most in need.

“Social housing should be a safety net for our most vulnerable and that’s exactly why we are drastically reducing income and asset social housing eligibility criteria,” she said.

“These reforms bring South Australia into line with the rest of the nation and any change to eligibility criteria will only affect new customers.”

The State Government says some people who fall outside the new eligibility criteria may still qualify for social housing if they have an urgent need, such as domestic violence or living with a disability.

Lensink told ABC Radio this morning that superannuation is not included as part of the assets test.

Shadow Human Services Minister Nat Cook said Labor was not opposed to a review ensuring those who need housing most urgently can access it, but said the eligibility reforms “won’t build one extra house or stop one person from sleeping on the streets”.

“In reality, people with this asset base were never going to get a house allocated,” she said.

“Instead of wasting precious resources tinkering with the waiting list, the government should be focused on people in crisis and rough sleepers.”

NSW vaccine push amid lockdown uncertainty

NSW is aiming to have six million doses of COVID-19 vaccines in arms by the end of the month as part of a push to get Greater Sydney out of lockdown.

But easing restrictions in September will depend on case numbers, which even Premier Gladys Berejiklian admits are “anyone’s guess”.

NSW recorded 199 new locally acquired cases in the 24 hours to 8pm on Monday, 82 of which were in the community while infectious.

“I have to be honest about this – [we don’t know yet] whether we’re through the worst of it or not,” Berejiklian told reporters on Tuesday.

“There’s clearly been a plateauing in the last week but we don’t know if we’ll see [the numbers] worsen before they get better.”

The outbreak of the virulent Delta strain will keep Greater Sydney and surrounding regions in lockdown until at least August 28.

The government’s willingness to ease the lockdown at the end of the month depends on vaccination rates and the case numbers.

But hitting the target of six million jabs – roughly equivalent to 50 per cent of the population – would not mean the state could fully open up.

Modelling provided to National Cabinet by the Doherty Institute and published on Tuesday suggests thousands would die if an uncontrolled outbreak occurred with 50 per cent vaccination coverage.

But Berejiklian said NSW “would never completely relax” at that rate.

Just over four million doses have already been administered in NSW, with 42.23 per cent of those aged 16 and over receiving at least one dose and just under 20 per cent fully vaccinated.

Some 460,000 shots were administered in the past week alone.

PM shoots down cash for jabs plan

Labor has ignited a public debate over incentives to get vaccinated for COVID-19 with its plan for $300 one-off payments, but the prime minister has dismissed the idea.

Scott Morrison and state and territory leaders have set a vaccination rate target of 80 per cent before harsh restrictions will be a thing of the past, after receiving the latest health and economic research. But scientists and political leaders are at odds as to how this can be achieved.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said he wanted people at their local bowling club to be asking each other: “Have you got your $300, have you been vaccinated?”

The prime minister said incentives were important to get to the target but the incentives being considered by the government were things like allowing vaccinated people to more easily travel, not “recklessly spending Australian taxpayers’ money”.

“This is a serious public health crisis, it is not a game show,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

“If they do have hesitancy about vaccine, I am not going to pay them off.”

Morrison said getting more points of distribution and greater supply would be key to reaching the goal.

Leading epidemiologist Peter Collignon said the cash payments – estimated to cost $6 billion – were not the solution.

“Currently, judging by long vaccine lines, not enough vaccine is the main issue, not hesitancy,” he said.

“Plus this may make some needlessly defer getting vaccinated, because they may think if they defer for a few months, they’re more likely get $300.”

Morrison was taken to task by Labor, having previously set up a “no jab no play” program for the childcare system.

The prime minister said that program was not about massively increasing child immunisation rates but “ensuring that others didn’t put those children at risk”.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said with 79 per cent indicating in a recent survey they intended to get vaccinated, there was no need for cash incentives.

So far 19.7 per cent of Australians over 16 have received their two doses of the vaccine, according to the latest Federal Government data. More than 200,000 jabs were administered across the country on Monday.

A total of 894,574 vaccines have been administered in South Australia, with 284,507 people (19.7 per cent of the eligible population in SA) fully vaccinated.

NY governor faces damning sexual harassment probe

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women in violation of US and state law, according to a five-month investigation by the state’s attorney general that has prompted Cuomo to swiftly deny any inappropriate conduct.

The investigation showed that Cuomo engaged in unwanted groping, kissing and hugging and made inappropriate comments to a total of 11 women, Attorney General Letitia James told a news briefing earlier on Tuesday, adding that the governor’s office had become a “toxic workplace” that enabled harassment to occur.

Investigators spoke to 179 people, including complainants and current and former members of the executive chamber, James said.

She said the probe resulted in a “clear picture” of what she called a “climate of fear” in which Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women, many of them young.

It was a civil investigation and will not directly lead to criminal charges against the governor.

“These 11 women were in a hostile and toxic work environment. We should believe women,” the attorney general said.

“What this investigation revealed was a disturbing pattern of conduct by the governor of the great state of New York.”

Cuomo sought to explain the encounters as his routine way of showing affection to others.

“I want you to know directly from me that I never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances,” Cuomo, a Democrat who has served as governor since 2011, said in pre-recorded remarks.

“I am 63 years old. I’ve lived my entire adult life in public view. That is just not who I am. And that’s not who I have ever been.”

The video he released showed multiple pictures of him hugging and kissing men and women of different ages in seemingly consensual interactions.

The findings, detailed in a scathing 168-page report, could nevertheless deal a devastating blow to Cuomo’s political future and hinder his administration.

Carl Heastie, speaker of the Democratic-controlled New York Assembly who has authorised an impeachment investigation into Cuomo’s conduct, called the report’s findings “disturbing” and said they pointed to “someone who is not fit for office”.

State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Senate majority leader, said the report detailed “unacceptable behaviour” by Cuomo and his administration and called on him to “resign for the good of the state”.

-With AAP and Reuters

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