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What we know today, Friday August 20

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NSW has extended its lockdown until the end of September and imposed some curfews after reporting another 642 locally acquired cases and four deaths overnight.

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NSW records 642 local cases, lockdown extended

NSW has reported 642 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 and four deaths as curfews are imposed in western Sydney’s council areas of concern and the city’s lockdown is extended to September 30.

All of NSW is currently locked down and facing enhanced police compliance measures as authorities battle to contain the spread of the virulent Delta strain.

There were 644 new local cases in the 24 hours to 8pm on Thursday, but two were acquired in the ACT and are isolating in southern NSW.

Of those cases, the isolation status of more than 500 remain under investigation.

A permit system will from Saturday also come into force for people travelling between Greater Sydney and regional NSW.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant have repeatedly and vociferously denied the efficacy of curfews as a public health measure amid the outbreak.

Curfews from 9pm to 5am will nevertheless be imposed in western Sydney’s 12 local government areas of concern from Monday.

People in these areas will also be limited to one hour of exercise, and NSW Police will be given the power to lock down entire apartment blocks due to COVID-19 cases.

Masks will also be mandated at all times – indoors and outdoors – across NSW from Monday.

“This is also for police, it makes it easy for them to make sure that everybody is sticking to the rules so this (means) mask-wearing outdoors unless you’re exercising,” Berejiklian said.

COVID-19 vaccinations for NSW healthcare workers will also be mandated by the end of next month.

All healthcare workers must have at least one jab by September 30.

Frydenberg threatens support payment cut

States have been warned federal lockdown support will not be maintained at current levels when nationally agreed vaccine coverage targets are reached.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said hitting 70 and 80 per cent vaccination rates would reduce the need for stringent lockdowns, a key finding of Doherty Institute modelling.

“We need to provide hope for the future and states can’t expect that the Commonwealth’s emergency economic support will continue at the scale it is now,” he told the ABC on Friday.

National cabinet will meet on Friday with a reopening agreement between federal, state and territory leaders beginning to fray.

Premiers and chief ministers earlier in the month backed the Doherty plan to reduce city-wide lockdowns at 70 per cent and all but eliminate heavy restrictions at 80.

Frydenberg’s warning was issued after WA Premier Mark McGowan flagged lockdowns could continue even after the higher threshold was reached.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk argues the modelling is based on achieving 70 per cent coverage with very little coronavirus circulating.

Vic records 55 new cases

Victoria has reported 55 new local COVID-19 cases after health authorities warned strong day 13 testing would keep numbers high.

The health department on Friday confirmed 49 of the cases are linked to known outbreaks, while 25 were self-isolating throughout their infectious period.

It leaves six locally acquired cases under investigation.

Two overseas-acquired cases were also reported in hotel quarantine.

COVID Testing Commander Jeroen Weimar said 2000 close contacts were due to leave isolation on Thursday after day 13 testing, pushing up positive cases.

He said health authorities “still have more work to do” to determine where the virus has spread, noting the next 14 days of lockdown will be crucial.

“We’re determined to get to the bottom of every case,” he told ABC Radio on Thursday night.

Melbourne is just over two weeks into its sixth lockdown, which has been extended until at least September 2.

Afghanistan evacuation flight lands in Australia

The first evacuees from Afghanistan have arrived in Perth as Australia continues a complex rescue operation in the wake of the Taliban takeover of Kabul.

The flight from Dubai arrived in the early hours of Friday with around 90 evacuees on board loaded onto buses for transfer to hotel quarantine.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said federal officials were working with the WA government to ensure the evacuees received medical and mental health support.

“This has been a difficult and distressing ordeal for many of the evacuees and we will help them through completing the mandatory 14 day quarantine,” Morrison said.

Evacuees from Afghanistan are seen arriving at the Hyatt hotel in Perth this morning (AAP Image/Richard Wainwright).

WA has agreed to take in the passengers above the state’s weekly quarantine arrivals cap.

Other states will also be asked to help as the evacuation program continues.

On Thursday a further 76 Australian citizens and Afghans with protection visas were airlfited out of the Afghan capital to a base in the United Arab Emirates.

Another 40 Australian Defence Force personnel and provisions were also flown into Kabul to help with the rescue mission.

The latest evacuation adds to 26 people extracted from Kabul during the first flight.

Morrison said weather and security issues were presenting challenges: “We are moving as quickly as we can,” he said.

The government has defended offering 3000 humanitarian places to Afghans fleeing the Taliban despite other nations pledging intakes more than six times that figure.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke expects the initial commitment could rise to 5000 as the situation unfolds in Afghanistan.

Australia reaches jab milestones

More than half of Australia’s population aged 16 and above has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with South Australia posting another daily record for vaccinations.

The national milestone was reached on a record day of immunisations with 309,010 doses administered nationwide, according to the latest Federal Government vaccination data, as the behind-schedule rollout catches up.

South Australia posted a new daily record with 17,093 vaccines administered across the state on Wednesday, following an expansion of Pfizer eligibility to under 40s.

It means 47.8 per cent of the eligible population in SA has received at least one dose of a vaccine, with more than 27 per cent fully protected.

Australia has fully vaccinated 28.2 per cent of its population aged 16 and above.

But the milestones coincided with a new daily high in nationwide cases which exceeded 750 in Australia for the first time during the pandemic.

A steep rise in coronavirus cases in NSW continues to fuel national concerns with the state’s Delta strain outbreak linked to clusters in Melbourne, Canberra and New Zealand.

Victorian health authorities urged people to remain calm about 57 new cases in Melbourne, with 54 linked to existing outbreaks and 44 in isolation throughout their infectious period.

In the ACT, there were 16 cases as authorities work on driving down cases in Australia’s locked down capital.

Labor continues to attack the government over the pace of the vaccine rollout which started six months ago.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said Australia had reached 50 per cent for first doses on the same day it was announced Americans would start receiving third booster jabs from next month.

“We are way behind,” he told 3AW radio.

“The problem we have is that Scott Morrison said it wasn’t a race and it was a race. Other countries have got ahead of us.”

Ahead of a meeting of National Cabinet today, the Federal Government is waiting for the expert immunisation panel ATAGI to give the green light for 12 to 15-year-olds to be vaccinated.

The prime minister said he was keen to see children vaccinated this year if the medical advice approved the move.

“I want to assure parents in particular, vaccinating children is something we take really seriously and we do it very carefully,” Morrison said.

NSW braces for tough road ahead as crisis deepens

New South Wales must steel itself for a “difficult” September and October as the state’s COVID-19 case numbers continue to break records, Premier Gladys Berejiklian says.

“We want to be very clear … that September and October will be difficult for NSW,” the premier told reporters on Thursday.

The state again broke its record for cases yesterday, with 681 people testing positive in the 24 hours to 8pm on Wednesday, after a then-record 633 cases were reported the day before.

Most of Thursday’s cases were again in western Sydney and southwest Sydney.

A man in his 80s also became the 61st death of the outbreak, which started in mid-June.

But the premier said there is a “light at the end of the tunnel” as vaccination numbers rise, with the State Government currently looking at ways to give vaccinated people more freedom in September when NSW reaches six million jabs.

But Berejiklian on Wednesday refused to elaborate on what exactly that would look like.

Deputy Chief Health Officer Marianne Gale said the “vast majority” of positive cases were doing the right thing.

“What we are seeing is that transmission occurs so easily in households and … those people that provide essential services, who worked in aged care, work in disability, who work in healthcare settings, who work in factors, work in shopping centres,” she said.

“And so, transmission is happening between workplaces and households.”

The state broke another record for daily vaccinations on Thursday, with 132,439 people reported to have received the jab.

Some 55.2 per cent of people over 16 have now had at least one dose of the vaccine.

The entire state is now in lockdown until at least August 28, after the government extended restrictions in regional NSW by another week.

Broken Hill has not recorded a new case since Monday when a local resident tested positive to the virus on Monday and was infectious in the community for three days.

Port wary of Bulldogs’ mids ahead of crucial clash

Port Adelaide expect the Western Bulldogs’ star-studded midfield to come out firing when they face off in their crucial AFL top-four clash at Marvel Stadium tonight.

The stakes are high with the Power eyeing off a top-two finish and the Bulldogs working to stay in the top four.

The Bulldogs have lost two games on the bounce, with plenty of scrutiny on their midfield efforts against Essendon and Hawthorn.

But Hinkley, whose Power were bested by the Bulldogs’ midfield in their loss back in round nine albeit without Zak Butters and Xavier Duursma, is wary of what they can deliver.

“Everyone is talking about the quality of their midfield and the microscope has been put on them for not getting it done at the level they were,” Hinkley told reporters on Thursday.

“But we know how good and talented they are.

“We still have to be able to match it around the midfield, we have to be able to push them and test them when we get the ball in our half, and we have to clearly stand up when it is coming the other way.”

Bulldogs counterpart Luke Beveridge said he expected his midfield to settle over the coming weeks, with Josh Dunkley and Adam Treloar both only recently returning from their respective long injury lay-offs.

“When you consider the boys who have played through that midfield throughout the course of the year, they’ve done such an enormous job of getting us into this position of helping getting us into this position,” Beveridge said.

“So no, I didn’t give them a rocket. There’s always honest conversations around what we need to improve on and they have them with each other as well.

“Probably with ‘Dunks’ and Adam coming back into the fold in recent times, the chemistry there will continue to grow and hopefully the planets align a little bit better on Friday night and it’s a sharing of the load.

“The boys who are playing through those roles understand how critical they are to the prospect of us winning the game and I anticipate that they’ll put their best foot forward on Friday.”

Carey dropped in T20 World Cup shock

Selectors insist South Australian Alex Carey has not lost his status as Australia’s next first-choice wicketkeeper despite Josh Inglis bolting into the Twenty20 World Cup squad at his expense.

George Bailey on Thursday unveiled Inglis as the shock pick in his first squad as head selector, naming the 26-year-old in Australia’s 15-man squad for the T20 tournament in the UAE and Oman.

Steve Smith is back with Cricket Australia confident his elbow will be pain-free and back to full fitness for the first game against South Africa on October 23.

Josh Hazelwood and Mitch Marsh are the other big winners, named off the back of being two shining lights in horror tours of Bangladesh and the West Indies without Australia’s IPL stars.

But it’s the selection of Inglis as Matthew Wade’s back-up, ahead of both Carey and Josh Philippe, that has raised the most eyebrows.

The Perth Scorchers ace has never played for Australia in any format but has impressed as the leading run-scorer in England’s T20 blast with 531 at an average of 48.27 and strike-rate of 175.82.

“I fully appreciate the bolter look about it but he’s certainly someone we’ve had our eye on for some time,” Bailey said.

“His performances in not just T20 but all three formats have been really impressive.”

The call would have come as a shock to Carey, who captained Australia in the one-day series against West Indies with Aaron Finch injured.

Carey is also considered as the successor to Tim Paine behind the stumps in Test cricket, as well as a potential future captain in that arena.

“With Alex, it’s just based on performances and I want to be really distinct in separating one-day cricket and T20 here,” Bailey said.

“Even on this most recent tour his one-day cricket has been fantastic and I was highly impressed with the way he played and led the team in pretty challenging circumstances.

“We see him playing a lot more games of cricket for Australia and having a really big role in the culture of the team and the leadership of the team going forward.”

AUSTRALIA’S T20 WORLD CUP SQUAD: Aaron Finch (capt), Ashton Agar, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Josh Inglis, Mitch Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Kane Richardson, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis, Mitchell Swepson, Matthew Wade, David Warner, Adam Zampa. Travelling reserves: Dan Christian, Nathan Ellis, Daniel Sams.

-With AAP and Reuters

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