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What we know today, Monday December 20

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As Adelaide COVID-19 testing sites report long queues and waits, some Melbourne sites have closed due to overwhelming demand, while the NSW Government resists calls to reinstate a mask mandate.

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Demand forces some Melbourne testing sites to shut

Overwhelming testing demand has created long queues and forced several sites to shut, as Victoria reported 1302 new COVID-19 infections and no deaths.

It is the first day the state has not reported a COVID-related death since September 16, and there are 13,175 active cases in the community.

A total of 406 patients are in hospital, 81 of whom are actively infected with the virus in intensive care and 43 on ventilators.

Strong testing demand in the lead-up to Christmas is putting the state’s testing system under pressure, with long lines forming on Monday morning.

At least 10 testing sites across Melbourne were temporarily shut at 9am after reaching capacity.

Acting Premier James Merlino said opening times at centres had been extended considering the number of people wanting to be tested as they prepared for leave or holiday travel during Christmas week.

“I know that there are particular sites where the wait is long but the average is 45 minutes to an hour or so,” Merlino told reporters on Sunday.

“I ask people to be patient. We’re expanding and extending it as much as we can.”

The state government has increased capacity by about 55 per cent since October, with about 260 sites now in operation across Victoria.

NSW resists mask mandate despite case concerns

There are 2501 new cases of COVID-19 in NSW and no deaths as the premier resists calls to reinstate mask mandates.

The new cases recorded in the 24 hours until 8pm on Sunday is a drop of 65 cases on the previous day’s record high of 2566.

There are 261 COVID-19 patients in hospital – up from 227 – and 33 people are in ICU – up from 28.

More than 81 per cent of people aged 12-15 have had one dose of a vaccine and 78.1 per cent have had both doses.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has written an article in the Daily Telegraph calling for calm as COVID-19 numbers surge.

“Case numbers are bound to rise, just as the modelling predicted, and we are all likely to have a close encounter with COVID,” he said.

“This is not to be taken lightly.

“The safety of the community is and always will be our top priority, and if the trajectory of an outbreak appears likely to put our health system under excessive pressure, we will change our approach, tailoring it to the circumstances and the evidence,” he said.

“For now, that is not the case.”

NSW is urging people to keep wearing masks indoors while other health experts are calling for mask mandates to return in those settings.

Dan Suan, an immunologist at Westmead Hospital, says the new Omicron variant is so contagious urgent action is required.

“Sydney is sleepwalking into a catastrophic disaster in January if we don’t do something about it right now,” he said in a Facebook post

However, Perrottet said it is a personal decision.

“It is time to shift the balance back to personal responsibility, because a strong, healthy society is built not on the dictates of government, but on the common pursuit of the common good,” he said.

On Sunday he insisted high testing rates, high vaccine rates and booster shots would protect the community.

Almost 60,000 booster jabs were administered by NSW health workers last week, up from 15,000 the week before, and NSW Health is aiming to administer double that number this week.

Perrottet said rising case numbers were “the new normal” and the key metric was intensive care presentations.

It is “incredibly positive” that they have so far held steady despite a huge surge in infections, he said.

Testing times boom as Spurrier highlights labour limits

South Australia’s COVID-19 testing stations are experiencing long queues, with chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier blaming the situation on limited access to labour.

The state yesterday recorded 80 new cases – 33 of whom acquired their infections in South Australia are were known contacts of a positive case. Five acquired the infections interstate and 42 cases were under investigation.

Spurrier told ABC Radio Adelaide this morning that new cases have been recorded overnight but she would not reveal the detail.

She said that a 19-year-old COVID-positive man, under investigation for allegedly attending a nightclub on Friday night, had not likely attended the Ashes test. His ticket had not been used and Adelaide Oval CCTV had failed to identify him.

Responding to concerns about long waits at testing stations, Spurrier said that South Australia was a small state and there were limits to how many staff could be recruited.

She encouraged people who needed work to contact Pathology SA.

“It’s a function of being a small state with only a small population,” she said.

“We have been recruiting and training… There’s absolutely no way we could be criticised that we haven’t put the resources in – we absolutely have.”

However, the Opposition accused the State Government of not being adequately prepared for the border reopening.

“Today marks 27 days since the borders have opened,” said Labor health spokesman Chris Picton. “The demand on testing was always going to increase after the borders opened and COVID cases in our community increased.

“The Marshall Liberal Government must urgently provide the resources required to deal with the inevitable increase in testing required.”

Also this morning, Spurrier responded to criticisms of delays in contact tracing and revealing new exposure sites.

She said SA Health had streamlined its contact tracing processes with an “embedded” series of interview questions provided to positive cases when they are notified.

South Australia has a total of 309 active cases of COVID-19. Four people are in hospital.

Australia urged to close booster gap

Australia is being urged to bring forward booster shots to help prevent thousands of additional COVID-19 infections as holidaymakers take advantage of open borders.

Epidemiologist Adrian Esterman wants the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation to follow the United Kingdom’s lead and recommend boosters three months after a second dose.

He fears leaving the gap at five months will result in “thousands of people infected for no reason”.

The University of South Australia professor anticipates booster shots becoming an annual event, if not more frequent than that.

“But at the moment, it’s still difficult to get a booster shot because of ATAGI’s ruling,” he told AAP.

“What we’ll see is that states and territories will be reintroducing more public health measures because they have to because our hospital systems will be too stretched.”

NSW on Sunday recorded 2566 new infections. There are 227 people in hospital, 28 of them in intensive care.

Professor Esterman thinks that state is in deep trouble as Premier Dominic Perrottet refuses calls to mandate masks indoors and bring back QR code check-ins for all venues.

“The epidemic curve (in NSW) is almost vertical. Cases are doubling every three days,” he said.

“I don’t think lockdowns are necessary, but states and territories should retain their public health measures.”

Victoria reported 1240 new cases and four more deaths. It has 392 COVID-19 patients in hospital, 81 of them in intensive care.

South Australia reported 80 new COVID-19 cases, Queensland 42 and the ACT 18.

There were nine in the Northern Territory as authorities there anticipated extending a lockdown in the town of Tennant Creek.

Tasmania reported three new infections as it prepared to mandate masks indoors.

Australia’s full vaccination rate for people aged 16 and older is sitting at 90.42 per cent. The first dose rate is nearing 94 per cent.

The number of boosters delivered into arms exceeds 1.3 million, with more than 640,000 doled out in the last week.

Lyon the day five danger man at Adelaide Oval

Travis Head has warned England they should never feel properly in against Nathan Lyon on day five in Adelaide as Australia hunt a 2-0 lead in the Ashes.

England face a mighty task to save the second Test, resuming at 4-82 in pursuit of a target of 468 and needing to bat out all of Monday with just six wickets to force a draw.

With 43.2 overs already bowled and Joe Root out, England would need to become just the sixth side this century to bat out 134 overs in a fourth-innings to force a draw.

And the tourists’ task is made no easier by a wicket that has already shown plenty of bite and turn throughout the game.

Lyon was once criticised for his inability to spin Australia to fourth-innings wins, but he has made the job his own at the Adelaide Oval over the years.

He took a five-wicket haul against Pakistan two summers ago to take Australia to a big win, and did likewise on the ground against India in 2014-15.

Another two wickets will also see him draw level with Shane Warne for the all-time leading wicket-taker on the ground, with 56.

“Having played Shield cricket against him here, you can feel like you’re in,” Head said.

“They might look comfortable, and there was a big period where Gaz might not feel like he’s in the game.

“The ball is spinning consistently past the bat. When is the opportunity going to come?

“And then once that does come, it sort of opens it up.

“We know we can hold sustained pressure with Gaz, that he is going to create opportunities.”

A loss for England would be near fatal for their hopes of regaining the Ashes, given only Australia’s team in 1936-37 has come back from 2-0 down to win a five-Test series.

Ben Stokes looms as England’s last real hope, needing something akin to his Headingley heroics in 2019 to save the game.

The allrounder has slowly worked his way into the series, admitting he was unhappy with his returns in Brisbane before being let down by his lower order in the first innings in Adelaide.

“They’ve still got some quality players,” Head said.

“Stokesy in the first innings set himself really well but ran out of partners.

“We know he’s a huge wicket tomorrow in the scheme of things.

“He played really well tonight (soaking up 40 deliveries to be three not out), letting the ball come to him and his defence is pretty sound.”

-With AAP and Reuters

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