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What we know today, Friday January 21

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Victoria and NSW have recorded another 66 COVID deaths, with the NSW virus toll now passing 1000.

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NSW COVID death toll passes 1000

NSW recorded another 46 COVID deaths overnight, with more than 1000 people now having died from the virus in that state.

Amid 25,168 new cases, the deaths brought the NSW toll to 1024, with 324 people dying in the past two weeks.

More than a quarter of the deaths have occurred in the last two weeks, during which 324 people died with COVID-19.

But hospitalisations dropped again to 2743 after falling for the first time since December 13 on Thursday.

The number of people in ICU also decreased to 209.

Another 20 COVID deaths were recorded in Victoria along with with 18,167 new cases.

Hospital admissions dropped by 110 to 1096, ahead of the state’s expected peak during the Omicron wave.

The number of Victorians in intensive care sits at 121 and there are 34 people on ventilation.

State Govt to reveal school return, RAT plan

The Marshall Government will today reveal more details about its back-to-school plan and the use of rapid antigen tests in educational settings, after national cabinet decided to let the states go their own way on the issue.

The government has already unveiled some aspects of its “hybrid” school model, with reception students and those in years 1, 7, 8 and 12 returning to classrooms on February 2 – two days later than originally scheduled – while other years will learn remotely for the first two weeks of term one.

Details to come on Friday include the likely settings in which rapid antigen tests will be used, which Premier Steven Marshall said yesterday could include special schools and the childcare sector.

However, Marshall emphasised that the advice from chief medical officer Paul Kelly at national cabinet was that widespread surveillance testing in schools is “sub-optimal”.

“It’s going to give a lot of false negatives, which in many ways is going to … give [people] a false sense of security,” he said on Thursday.

“I know that there are some states who want to put this into place, there are some limited applications of this that we are considering ourselves.

“We’ll be using rapid antigen tests as advised by SA Health to make sure that we can keep as many people at work and back at school as possible.”

The federal government has agreed to support states and territories that want to implement surveillance testing for schools on a 50-50 cost-sharing basis, although national cabinet yesterday failed to reach a unified approach on return to school despite weeks of talks.

Today’s expected announcement comes with the Education Department still facing the prospect of strike action from the Australia Education Union, with a lack of planning and information about the use of RATs among the key issues cited by the public sector teachers group.

AEU members have until next Monday to vote on whether to strike. Marshall said it was “premature” for the union to be voting on the proposal before the State Government issues the full details of its back-to-school plan.

The Premier also flagged yesterday he would provide details on when South Australia’s workers should return to the office and updated modelling on the state’s current Omicron outbreak.

SA Health yesterday reported 11 COVID deaths – five of which were in aged care settings – and another 3777 new cases.

There are currently 290 people in hospital with COVID although 47 were not admitted to hospital because of their infection, according to chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier.

The number of people in ICU climbed to 29 yesterday, as did the number of people requiring ventilation (6).

WA backflips on reopening borders

West Australian Premier Mark McGowan has broken his promise to reopen the state’s borders next month, claiming it would be “reckless and irresponsible” to do so given the surge in Omicron COVID-19 cases across the country.

McGowan announced the extraordinary backflip during a late-night press conference on Thursday, saying the state’s hard borders with every other jurisdiction in the country will remain in place indefinitely.

The Premier had promised to reopen the borders once the state’s double-dose vaccination rate reached 90 per cent. It is currently at 89 per cent.

More compassionate exemptions will be granted from February 5, when the borders had been due to be brought down, but anyone who makes it into WA from February 5 will still be required to quarantine for 14 days.

Interstate travellers will be allowed to self-quarantine but must be triple-dose vaccinated if eligible. International arrivals are required to enter hotel quarantine for seven days before being allowed to self-quarantine.

The decision raises serious questions about the government’s lack of preparedness after almost two years of border closures.

WA’s hospital system has struggled under the Labor government, with doctors and nurses concerned it could not handle a surge in COVID-19 cases.

“I know this decision will be unpopular with many people, as holiday plans and some family gatherings will have been disrupted. For that, I am sorry,” McGowan told reporters.

“If we proceeded with the original plan, we would be deliberately seeding thousands upon thousands of COVID cases into WA and at this point in time, that is not what I’m going to do.

“Especially when the science says we need to boost third doses and so many young children still need to get their vaccine.”

McGowan said the hard border controls would be further reviewed “over the course of the next month once the east coast has reached the peak of infection, and we have a better understanding of the true impact of Omicron”.

He denied the health system was not ready for borders reopening.

“The advice we have is the health system is strong and ready, but the problem is the rollout of the third dose,” he said.

“So all the advice we have is the third dose makes people’s resistance to Omicron stronger.”

McGowan said he would like the third dose rate to get “above at least 80 per cent, perhaps 90 per cent”.

WA’s third dose rate currently sits at about 26 per cent.

The decision was swiftly criticised by the Perth-based President of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Omar Khorshid, despite the group’s typically cautious approach to COVID-19 controls.

“Seems WA Premier @MarkMcGowanMP is a one trick pony when it comes to #COVID19. Hard border with the rest of the country and world remains despite almost 90% [vaxxed],” he tweeted.

“Was hoping for more courage from a Premier with an unprecedented parliamentary majority. This decision should be acknowledged as a failure by the WA govt to prepare and a broken promise.

“Omicron is here already and it will cause a significant outbreak in WA soon enough. Sticking our head in the sand won’t make it go away. Let’s prepare!”

Uncontrolled bushfire in SA’s South East

The Coles bushfire near Lucindale (Photo: supplied/Nick McBride)

Fire crews continue to battle an uncontrolled blaze near Lucindale in the state’s South East, although the CFS has downgraded the fire’s threat level.

The blaze, which ignited on Wednesday afternoon and has burned through more than 2500 hectares of grass, scrub and bluegum plantation, has forced the closure of nine roads in Coles, just south of Lucindale.

More than 150 firefighters will work in the 30km perimeter fireground today, the CFS said, with the agency downgrading the fire’s threat level to “monitor conditions” this morning.

The fire breached control lines overnight and remains out of control, the CFS said.

“If you are in this area stay alert, monitor local conditions and decide what you will do if the situation changes,” the CFS said in a statement.

“At this time there is no threat to life or property and firefighters are attending this fire.”

A severe fire danger rating is in place for the Lower South East fire district today with a maximum of 36 degrees forecast for Mount Gambier.

Man drowns after trying to rescue daughter

A man has drowned at Adelaide’s Grange beach while trying to rescue his daughter, police say.

Emergency services were called at around 11:15am on Thursday following reports a man had been pulled from the water and was unresponsive.

Despite the efforts of paramedics, the 49-year-old Seaton man was unable to be revived and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Police say it appears he entered the water to rescue his young daughter who was in trouble.

On Sunday, a 71-year-old man died at Waitpinga Beach on the Fleurieu Peninsula after rushing to the aid of two women who had got into trouble.

Adelaide Oval loses men’s T20 fixture to Melbourne

An Australian men’s Twenty20 match scheduled for Adelaide has been moved to Melbourne after Cricket Australia reshuffled its fixtures to minimise movement amid the latest COVID-19 outbreak.

Under the initial fixture for the five match T20 series, Australia was due to host Sri Lanka at the Adelaide Oval on February 18 while Brisbane’s Gabba (February 13) and Gold Coast’s Metricon Stadium (February 15) were also scheduled for games.

However, Cricket Australia confirmed on Thursday that the series will now only be played in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.

The SCG will now host the first two matches on February 11 and 13, before one game is played in Canberra on February 15 and the final two at the MCG on February 18 and 20.

The changes come after New Zealand’s white-ball tour of Australia was postponed on Wednesday, just a week before the Black Caps were due to land.

The short notice of the postponement has left CA without a back-up option, with too little time to organise replacement fixtures with another nation.

Meanwhile, the first of three scheduled Women’s Ashes T20s at Adelaide Oval went ahead as scheduled last night, with Australia emphatically beating England by six wickets in a record-breaking run chase.

Tahlia McGrath produced one of the finest games in T20 history to celebrate her coronation as Australia’s chief allrounder, making a statement with figures of 3-26 and an unbeaten 91 off 49 balls.

McGrath’s spell with the ball dramatically changed the match, restricting England to 4-169 when they looked likely to post something closer to 190.

Tahlia McGrath celebrates her half century last night (AAP Image/Matt Turner)

She then helped pull off the biggest T20 chase in Australia’s history with three overs to spare, coming in at No.3 and taking control of the game.

It marked the first time in history a female player has scored 75 or more and taken three wickets in a T20 international.

Kyrgios bows out of Australian Open

Nick Kyrgios is once again at a career crossroads following a gallant second-round Australian Open loss to title favourite Daniil Medvedev in four sets.

The Australian showman wowed fans with his incredible array of tricks but was eventually outclassed by the ice-cool Russian, bowing out with a 7-6 (7-1) 6-4 4-6 6-2 defeat on Thursday night.

While second seed Medvedev remains on track to capture back-to-back grand slam titles following his US Open breakthrough last September, Kyrgios faces another rankings freefall.

The 26-year-old, who peaked at No.13 in 2016, had dropped to 115 before this year’s first slam – following more than four months without a match.

He will now slide to at least 124, putting his guaranteed French Open spot in jeopardy unless he can recover ground before the Roland Garros slam begins in May.

Less than a fortnight after he was bedridden with COVID-19, Kyrgios dominated his first-round clash with British qualifier Liam Broady at Melbourne Park and tested world No.2 Medvedev.

“He’s just so confident right now and to be honest I threw everything I could at him,” Kyrgios said.

“I served consistently 220km/h for three-and-a-half hours and played pretty well from the back, created plenty of opportunities on return game.

“I’m super proud of my performance though, from where I was with my struggles the last four or five months.”

Kyrgios continued his complex relationship with local fans, feeding off their energy at a “rowdier than usual” Rod Laver Arena as he desperately searched for ways to crack Medvedev.

But their noise also left him frustrated at times as he pleaded with them not to call out during his service motion.

Kyrgios called on chair umpire Carlos Bernardes to control the crowd and also argued with him over what he thought was over-officiating of the 25-second time limit between points.

-With AAP and Reuters

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