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What we know today, Tuesday January 18

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NSW and Victoria recorded 58 COVID deaths overnight, with NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet saying his state has to “push through” and “get on with life”.

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36 more COVID deaths in NSW, 22 in Victoria

NSW and Victoria recorded 58 COVID deaths overnight, with NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet saying his state has to “push through” and “get on with life”.

The state’s death toll now sits at 921, an increase of 165 in a week.

Some 29,830 positive tests were reported in the 24 hours to 8pm on Monday, including 13,763 from self-reported rapid antigen tests.

Hospitalisations have increased 30 per cent in a week to 2850, with 209 COVID-19 patients in intensive care.

About 26.5 per cent of people aged over 16 have had a booster shot, but the first-dose rate remained stable at 95.2 per cent.

About six in seven children aged five to 11 are yet to receive a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine – a fortnight out from the start of term one.

Tuesday’s figures come as the NSW premier conceded the health system was under pressure but assured the public the state was on the “hard but right” road.

“We have to get on with life,” he told the ABC on Tuesday.

“If we decide to continue the approach where we had a highly unvaccinated (sic) population and go into lockdown, that would have substantial consequences for men and women right across the state in terms of being able to provide food on the table for their family.”

Some supermarket shelves are also bare due to supply chain issues while businesses are being forced to close due to the vast number of staff isolating.

However “these are issues we will overcome,” the premier said, putting hospital pressure down to “just the course of the pandemic”.

While the spread of Omicron was faster than expected, he said the health system was tracking better than the best-case scenario in modelling published earlier this month.

That scenario predicted hospitalisations would peak at 3158 people with 270 in ICU.

Meanwhile, the first 1.2 million rapid, at-home tests ordered by the NSW government have arrived, with another 15 million expected within a week.

The government’s order of 50 million will be distributed to schools, social housing, vulnerable and remote communities.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports the state’s 1.2 million students would need to take RATs twice a week under one proposal for the return to school.

Parents may also be asked to supervise children in classrooms to counter staff shortages and prevent a return to homeschooling.

Victoria recorded 20,180 new COVID-19 cases and 22 deaths overnight.

The new infections confirmed by the health department on Tuesday include 11,747 from rapid antigen tests and 8433 from PCR tests.

It is the second consecutive day case numbers have declined in the state.

It brings the total number of active cases in the state to 235,035 – a fall of about 10,000 cases since Monday.

There are 1152 patients in hospital, a decrease of 77 on the previous day.

The number of people in ICU has decreased by two to 127, though 43 people are now on ventilation, an increase of five.

Voting opens for public school teacher strike

South Australian public school teachers are being asked to cast their vote on whether to strike on the first day of school over COVID safety concerns – but the Premier says it’s “too early” to consider such drastic action.

The Australian Education Union SA branch executive yesterday decided to recommend a strike on Wednesday February 2 if the State Government doesn’t adequately address a raft of COVID safety issues.

The industrial action will need to be endorsed by a ballot of AEU members which opens today and closes on Monday.

AEU state president Andrew Gohl told InDaily “this is all about safety”.

“This is all about doing everything that’s reasonable and practical to mitigate the spread of COVID within our workplace,” he said.

Gohl said if teachers agreed to take the strike action, “we would say we are stopping work (that day)” and it would be “up to the (Education) Department” to determine how to manage vulnerable children and those of essential workers who would still need to physically attend schools.

Asked if the strike could last more than a day, Gohl said that would be decided later if the initial action was endorsed.

The recommendation to strike comes amid concerns teachers could be forced to isolate from their own families indefinitely as close contacts of students, while still being required to teach in classrooms, under the State Government’s “totally unworkable” hybrid return-to-school plan.

Unions representing public and private school teachers are united in their opposition to the Government’s “half pregnant” plan to send multiple year levels back to school for face-to-face learning from February 2, but keep others at home for online learning.

They wanted the Government to instead delay the start of the school year by two weeks to properly plan for how schools can safely return for both staff and students, as Queensland has done.

The Government’s plan allows students in preschool, reception and years 1, 7, 8 and 12 to return to classrooms for the start of the new school year from February 2, while remaining year levels will learn from home nearly for two weeks until February 14 when all year levels will be allowed back.

The union’s concerns include a lack of information and planning around the use of rapid antigen tests in schools, a lack of transparency about the decision not to use air purifiers like Victoria is doing, and the COVID-positive isolation and close contact requirements for teachers.

Yesterday Premier Steven Marshall said it was “too early for the unions to be talking about striking”.

“We still haven’t finalised exactly what that return to work strategy is going to look like,” he said.

“We got the bulk of our strategy out last Friday… but we did say we needed a bit more time to work through with the National Cabinet the use of rapid antigen tests to aid that return to work.

“So we should have better advice coming in the coming days.”

Regarding concerns teachers would be in constant isolation outside of work after coming into contact with COVID positive students, Marshall said “we’re working through those issues at the moment”.

“We are seeking further advice,” he said.

Health unions and Premier to meet today over ‘crisis’

Three peak health unions will meet with the Premier and Health Minister this morning to discuss South Australia’s healthcare system and its ability to cope with the ongoing pandemic.

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation SA branch, the South Australian Salaried Medical Officers Association and the Ambulance Employees Association of SA will discuss their concerns with Premier Steven Marshall and Health Minister Stephen Wade in an online meeting starting at 10am.

The unions – representing 25,000 nurses, doctors and paramedics – wrote to the Premier on Friday seeking an urgent meeting.

“The pressure on the health system is relentless and has caused ramping, overcrowding, delayed and missed care,” their letter states.

“Health professionals have and continue to work short staffed, double shifts and under extreme pressure and duress. Ultimately, this results in poorer service and poorer health outcomes for the community for whom our member’s care.

“As Premier, it was you and your Government’s decision to reopen the borders.”

The unions said as case number rise, their members are experiencing issues including unprecedented ambulance delays of up to seven hours for emergency cases; staff shortages requiring others to work up to 18 hours a day; lack of personal protective equipment; overflowing hazardous waste bins and lack of breaks.

SA police force hit by COVID and isolation requirements

About 300 police officers and support staff are out of action each day either with COVID or isolating as a close contact, the Police Commissioner has revealed.

Grant Stevens told reporters that as of yesterday, 129 SA Police officers had tested positive and were in quarantine, and another 180 officers and staff were isolating as close contacts.

“We’re talking around 300 staff per day are absent from the workforce because of COVID,” Stevens said.

“At this point in time we are able to manage that.

“It does put some stresses on us in terms of our operational capability but not to the extent that it impacts on the service we are providing.”

Warm welcome as Djokovic returns home

Novak Djokovic after landing in Belgrade, Serbia yesterday. Photo: Darko Bandic/AP Photo

Novak Djokovic has kept a low profile as he returned to the place where he will always be welcome following his deportation from Australia.

A small but noisy band of supporters were at Belgrade airport to greet the world No.1 on Monday lunchtime.

However, they saw little of the 34-year-old as the Serbian hero was whisked through passport control and customs, then driven by his brother Djordje to his apartment in Belgrade.

The official Tanjug news agency reported that Djokovic’s mother, Dijana, said her son will remain in Belgrade in the coming days and won’t make statements for the media.

“God bless you Novak,” read one of the banners held by fans at Nikola Tesla Airport who chanted “You are our champion!” and, using the diminutive of his name, “We love you, Nole!”

“Novak, welcome home, you know that we all support you here,” said Snezana Jankovic, a Belgrade resident. “They can take away your visa, but they cannot take away your Serbian pride.”

“I think he entered history as a hero, as a man and as a fighter against this evil which is called corona-circus,” added Marko Strugalovic, 60, at Belgrade airport.

Earlier Djokovic had worn a mask and accepted selfies with fans as he arrived in Dubai en route from Melbourne, changing planes for the six-hour flight to Belgrade.

Djokovic had tested positive for COVID-19 in Belgrade on December 16 but attended an interview with L’Equipe newspaper on the 18th, which he later described this “an error” of judgement.

Asked if Djokovic would face any penalties for flouting his isolation while being infected when he returns to Serbia, Serbian officials said he would not because the country is not in a state of emergency.

However, his unvaccinated status could cause further problems in his pursuit of a record-breaking 21st major after the French sports ministry stated a new law barring unvaccinated people from sports venues, restaurants and other public places will apply to sportsmen too.

That would prevent Djokovic playing at the French Open in May though a spokesperson noted the pandemic situation “could change by then.”

Ash Barty charges into Open second round

Ash Barty of Australia plays a backhand return to Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine during their first round match at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne yesterday. Photo: Hamish Blair/AP Photo

Embracing the hype and pressure, Ash Barty has made an early Australian Open statement with a 6-0 6-1 thrashing of Lesia Tsurenko to cruise into the second round.

In a ruthless performance on Rod Laver Arena, a steely-eyed Barty raced through the straight-sets victory in just 54 minutes to continue her perfect start to the year.

Australia’s world No.1 opened the season with singles and doubles glory in Adelaide and stamped her Open favouritism once more on Monday night.

In her third consecutive year as the top fancy in her home slam, Barty conceded she still had to handle the butterflies of hitting centre court on opening night.

“It never changes. I think I’m probably more relaxed before I walk out onto court, but once I do walk out there, it’s, for me, always a little bit of a dry mouth and it’s exciting to know that we are warming up to play the Australian Open,” she said.

“You have to be able to enjoy these moments and certainly not take them for granted. So I think it’s probably a little bit twofold.

“I’m quite relaxed before, and I know what I’m going to go out there and try and do.

“But once you do get out there, there is that five minutes for the warm-up and settling in before that first point is played, always nice to settle those butterflies a little bit.”

If Barty felt the weight of expectation, she certainly didn’t show it, appearing relatively nonplussed as she dismantled Tsurenko.

The top seed also played Tsurenko in the first round at Melbourne Park in 2020.

On that occasion, Barty had to fight back from a set down to reach the second round.

But there were few moments of resistance from Tsurenko this time around as an imperious Barty took just 24 minutes to claim the first set, dropping only 12 points.

Barty staved off an early attack from Tsurenko, comfortably saving two break points when leading 2-0, then kicked into another gear to seize the upper hand.

UK to provide anti-tank weapons to Ukraine

Britain says it is supplying Ukraine with anti-tank weapons to help it defend itself from a potential invasion, during a stand-off with Russia which has massed troops near the Ukrainian border.

Western countries say they fear Russia is preparing a pretext for a new assault on Ukraine, which it invaded in 2014.

Moscow denies any plans for an attack, but has said it could take unspecified military action unless the West agrees to a list of demands, including banning Ukraine from ever joining NATO.

Talks last week ended with no breakthrough.

Kyiv has asked Western countries for arms to help it protect itself.

“We have taken the decision to supply Ukraine with light anti-armour defensive weapon systems,” British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told parliament on Monday, saying the first systems were already delivered and a small number of British personnel would provide training for a short period of time.

He did not specify the number or type of weapons that were being sent, but said: “They are not strategic weapons and pose no threat to Russia. They are to use in self-defence.”

Kerr misses out on FIFA Best award

Sam Kerr has been beaten to the FIFA Best Women’s Player of the Year award by Barcelona’s Alexia Putellas.

The Matildas captain was one of the three nominees along with Putellas and another Spanish midfielder Jenni Hermoso, also of European Champions League winners Barcelona.

Robert Lewandowski, of Bayern Munich and Poland, won the men’s award ahead of Lionel Messi and Mo Salah.

The awards were done remotely with guests appearing by video link, though the Australian captain was not on screen as she is preparing for the Matildas’ opening Asian Cup tie in India on Friday.

-With AAP and Reuters

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