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What we know today, Wednesday January 19

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New South Wales and Victoria have recorded another 50 COVID deaths and 50,000 new cases overnight.

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Another 32 COVID deaths in NSW

NSW has recorded a second straight day of more than 30 COVID-19 deaths, while fresh infections appear to be stabilising.

The state reported 32,297 new cases on Wednesday, including 12,450 from rapid antigen tests.

Thirty-two people died, adding to Tuesday’s total of 36. Overall, 18 per cent of all COVID-19 deaths in NSW have been reported in the past week.

The number of COVID-19 hospital patients rose 13 to 2863, with ICU numbers up eight to 217.

“The fact that our projections are tracking under (what was expected), the fact that the numbers have stabilised, give us some hope that we have been slowing the spread,” Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said on Tuesday.

Triple-dosed adults now sit at 27.8 per cent, while one in six children aged five to 11 have now had their first shot.

Other vaccination rates remain stable, with 81.9 per cent of the population now having received at least one dose. Children aged zero to four remain ineligible for vaccination.

Meanwhile, rapid antigen tests are being shipped to regional and rural school as officials prepare plans for the state’s 1.3 million students being tested twice-weekly.

Victoria has recorded 20,769 new COVID-19 cases and 18 deaths overnight.

The new infections confirmed by the health department on Wednesday include 10,726 from PCR tests and 10,043 from rapid antigen tests.

It brings the total number of active cases in the state to 253,827, which includes 1173 people in hospital, an increase of 21 on Tuesday’s figures.

The number of people in intensive care sits at 125 and there are 42 people on ventilation.

Victoria, federal government activate emergency hospital measures

A “code brown” emergency is set to come into force today across all Victorian metropolitan hospitals as the state braces for COVID hospitalisations to rise, while the federal government has activated an emergency agreement allowing private hospital staff to be redirected into the public system.

It comes after Australia recorded its deadliest day of the pandemic on Tuesday with 77 COVID-19 deaths, up from the previous high of 57 on January 13.

That figure included 36 deaths in New South Wales, 22 in Victoria, 16 in Queensland  more than double its previous high two in South Australia and one in the ACT.

The code brown order means each hospital will be able to postpone or defer less urgent care, while some staff may be reassigned or recalled from leave.

Staff will only have leave cancelled if “absolutely necessary”.

The unprecedented move will take effect from midday on Wednesday.

The federal government is also pulling its emergency levers by activating its private hospitals agreement, allowing staff to be redirected to the public system.

This will greenlight up to 57,000 more nurses and 100,000 staff for Omicron-affected areas across the country.

Acting Health Minister James Merlino announced on Tuesday that the code brown measure would last for four to six weeks, with hospitalisations from the Omicron wave expected to peak in February.

He said the state’s hospital system is under “extreme pressure” from staff shortages, with more than 4000 healthcare workers isolating after either testing positive for COVID-19 or as close contacts.

The code brown applies to all metropolitan Melbourne public hospitals, as well as major hospitals in Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, Shepparton, Albury Wodonga and Traralgon.

A code brown of this scale has never previously been declared across the Victorian health system, with the measure usually reserved for short-term emergencies, such as the Black Saturday bushfires and the deadly 2016 thunderstorm asthma event.

Meanwhile, South Australia’s COVID hospitalisation numbers spiked to 285 on Tuesday, up from 227 reported the day before.

Two people in SA died with the virus yesterday while there are 24 people in intensive care.

South Australia’s current Omicron waves, which saw another 3079 cases recorded yesterday, has already forced the State Government to postpone non-urgent elective surgery and move non-COVID patients to the private system to free up an additional 500 dedicated COVID bed spaces.

Man arrested over CBD tyre slashing spree

A man has been arrested and charged overnight after more than 90 parked cars were damaged in the Adelaide CBD on Tuesday morning, police say.

Around 3:15am on Tuesday, police received multiple reports of tyre slashing and damage to parked cars in the southern CBD.

Cars were damaged on a number of busy Adelaide streets, including Gouger Street, Waymouth Street, Wright Street and Morphett Street.

A 39-year-old Novar Gardens man was arrested in the CBD just before 9pm last night following a police investigation.

He was charged with several counts of property damage and will appear before the Adelaide Magistrates Court today after being refused bail.

Police say they have tallied more than 90 cars damaged in the spree and believe there may be other incidents of vehicle damage.

They are urging anyone who discovers damage to their car to report to police.

Three dead in Tonga disaster

Images taken from a New Zealand Air Force aircraft on Monday are some of the first to show the devastation experienced in Tonga. Photo: New Zealand Defence Force/Cover

All the homes on one of Tonga’s small outer islands have been destroyed by the massive volcanic eruption and tsunami over the weekend, with three people so far confirmed dead, the local government says, in its first update since the disaster hit.

With communications severely hampered by an undersea cable being severed, information on the scale of the devastation after Saturday’s eruption – causing waves up to 15 metres high – has so far mostly come from reconnaissance aircraft.

But the office of Tongan Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni said in a statement on Tuesday that every home on Mango island, where about 50 people live, had been destroyed, and only two houses remained on Fonoifua and Namuka islands which have suffered extensive damage.

Mango is about 70km from the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, which sent tsunami waves across the Pacific Ocean when it erupted with a blast heard 2300km away in New Zealand.

Tonga’s deputy head of mission in Australia, Curtis Tu’ihalangingie, earlier said pictures taken by the New Zealand Defence Force showed “alarming” scenes of a village destroyed on Mango and buildings missing on Atata island, which is closest to the volcano.

“People panic, people run and get injuries. Possibly there will be more deaths and we just pray that is not the case,” Tu’ihalangingie told Reuters.

Sovaleni’s office said a 65-year-old woman on Mango Island and a 49-year-old man on Nomuka Island had been killed, in addition to a UK citizen whose death was confirmed on Monday.

A number of injuries have also been reported.

https://twitter.com/ConsulateKoT/status/1483384039826464768

The United Nations said on Monday a distress signal was detected in the outlying Ha’apai islands, where Mango is located.

Tsunami waves reaching up to 15 metres had hit the Ha’apia island group and the west coast of Tonga’s main island, Tongatapu, the prime minister’s office said.

On the western coast of the main island, 56 houses were completely or seriously damaged and residents moved to evacuation centres.

A search and rescue operation began on Sunday for Atata island, which has a population of about 100 people.

“Challenges to sea and air transportation remain due to damage sustained by the wharves and the ash that is covering the runways,” the PM’s office said.

UK PM denies new allegations about lockdown parties

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has denied an accusation by his former adviser that he had lied to parliament about a lockdown party, saying nobody had warned him the “bring your own booze” gathering might contravene COVID-19 rules.

Johnson faces the gravest crisis of his tenure after revelations about gatherings during lockdowns, some when people in England could not bid farewell in person to dying relatives and the Queen was mourning her husband.

Johnson used a short interview to apologise for mistakes made in Downing Street, including for parties held by staff on the eve of the funeral of Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth’s husband.

“I deeply and bitterly regret that happened and I can only renew my apologies both to Her Majesty and to the country,” he said.

Johnson had already last week apologised to parliament for attending a May 20, 2020 gathering in the Downing Street garden.

He said he was there for 25 minutes to thank staff.

Asked if he had lied to the public and parliament, Johnson told reporters: “No. Nobody told me that what we were doing was, as you say, against the rules … I thought that I was attending a work event.”

But Dominic Cummings, a former senior adviser who left government under acrimonious terms in November 2020, said that Johnson had agreed the drinks party should go ahead.

Cummings said that he and at least one other adviser told Principal Private Secretary Martin Reynolds, the official who invited people to the party, that it should not go ahead.

The warning was sent via email and Reynolds checked with Johnson if the event should go ahead, according to Cummings.

“I told the PPS the invite broke the rules … The idea that the PPS would be challenged by two of the most senior people in the building, say he’d check with the PM then not – is not credible,” Cummings said in his blog.

“The PM agreed it should (go ahead).

“The events of 20 May alone, never mind the string of other events, mean the PM lied to parliament about parties.”

Senior civil servant Sue Gray is investigating about a dozen allegations of rule-breaking by Johnson, his team and officials at 10 Downing Street.

Cummings told Sky News he will be questioned by her investigation.

Kyrgios into Aus Open second round after dominant display

Nick Kyrgios after winning his first round Men’s singles match against Great Britain’s Liam Broady on Day 2 of the Australian Open at Melbourne Park last night. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

Nick Kyrgios has produced a typically lively display on return from a bout of COVID-19 to set up a blockbuster Australian Open second-round clash with tournament favourite Daniil Medvedev.

Less than a fortnight after testing positive to the virus, Kyrgios put some spark into a previously subdued Melbourne Park with a 6-4 6-4 6-3 first-round win over British qualifier Liam Broady on Tuesday night.

The 26-year-old from Canberra, wearing a red basketball-style singlet and trademark jewellery, lived up to his billing as the game’s greatest showman as he broke Broady’s serve in the opening game and whipped the John Cain Arena crowd into a frenzy.

He then blasted a 220km/h ace and followed it up with a cheeky underhand serve through his legs as he held to love to set the tone for the match.

Kyrgios sent down six aces in his first two service games and finished with 21 for the match, while landing 81 per cent of first serves in a dominant display.

The world No. 115 also hit 41 winners on the night as he delighted his raucous fans, later describing his favourite arena as a “zoo”.

“I had some doubts, a lot of messages (asking) if I was going to play, but I just couldn’t ask for a better team,” Kyrgios said.

“The last week has been tough, I did isolation, my girlfriend was there and I was lucky enough to have a tennis court just to hit some serves.

“Obviously I served f***ing well today.”

It was Kyrgios’ first match since September and the result snapped a five-match losing streak that dated to July.

Kyrgios will now meet second seed Medvedev, who defaulted into favouritism after Novak Djokovic’s extraordinary exit.

World No.2 Medvedev was runner-up to Djokovic at Melbourne Park last year before claiming his maiden major title by toppling the Serbian superstar at the US Open.

The Russian lost to Kyrgios in their two previous meetings – both in 2019.

“He’s an amazing player,” Kyrgios said.

“I knew that he was going to do some special things in this sport and he’s won a grand slam.

“I know that I’m going to have to play some pretty good tennis … and we’ll see what happens.”

-With AAP and Reuters

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