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What we know today, Friday October 8

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Victoria has posted a national record 1838 new cases of COVID-19 and five deaths, with more than 110 people in the state battling the virus in intensive care.

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Vic records 1838 new cases, five deaths

Victoria has posted a national record 1838 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 and five deaths, as the state stays the course with its lockdown exit strategy.

The health department confirmed the latest cases on Friday – the highest daily tally of any state or territory since the pandemic began.

The deaths take the toll from the current outbreak to 75.

It is the ninth straight day the state has reported more than 1000 cases, with active infections soaring to 16,823.

There are now 564 Victorians in hospital battling the virus, an increase of more than 40 per cent from a week ago, including 115 in intensive care and 74 on a ventilator.

Ambulance Victoria on Friday confirmed it will be introducing new measures from next week as it braces for a growing number of COVID-19 patients.

For the first time in its history, two paramedics will no longer be deployed in each ambulance.

A single paramedic may instead be joined by a driver from the Australian Defence Force, St John Ambulance Australia, State Emergency Service or a student.

The service has had four of its five busiest days in history in the last two weeks.

More than 77,554 Victorians were tested for the virus in the 24 hours to Friday morning, while 36,600 vaccinations were administered at state-run sites.

Some 55 per cent of Victorians aged above 16 are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while 84 per cent have received their first dose.

Once 70 per cent of the state’s population above 16 is fully vaccinated, expected around October 26, Melbourne’s curfew will ease, the travel limit will be expanded and venues can open outdoors to the fully vaccinated.

But Victorians will have to wait until the 80 per cent double-dose target is reached, forecast for November 5, for significant changes including Melbourne hospitality reopening for seated service and visitors to be allowed in homes.

NSW reports 646 cases, 11 deaths

NSW has reported 646 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 and 11 more deaths ahead of a planned easing of restrictions on Monday.

In the 24 hours to 8pm on Thursday, there were 103,388 tests and Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant says it’s critical that high testing rates continue.

“It’s an exciting time but I caution everyone to do everything safely,” she said on Friday.

There have now been 414 COVID-19 deaths since the start of the outbreak in June, including nine men and two women in the last 24 hours.

Some 856 people are in NSW hospitals with COVID-19 with 170 of them in intensive care and 75 on ventilators.

There was also concern about the increase of COVID-19 infections in the Hunter New England area with 97 cases reported there.

ACT records 40 new COVID-19 cases

Canberra has recorded 40 new coronavirus cases as the ACT begins its final week in lockdown.

Of the new cases reported on Friday, 21 have been linked to known cases while 19 are still under investigation.

There were 10 cases that were infectious while in the community, with nine being in quarantine during their contagious period.

Health authorities confirmed the number of cases associated with a cluster at the Centenary Hospital special care nursery remains at five, with no new infections diagnosed.

The nursery outbreak also includes two babies,with both being transferred to a pediatric ward.

There are also five babies who have been identified as close contacts and are in quarantine.

Investigations are continuing into the source of the outbreak, but a hospital worker who has tested positive was directly caring for one of the babies who later developed symptoms.

The hospital worker was fully vaccinated.

There are now 16 COVID cases in ACT hospitals, with six of them in intensive care and five on a ventilator.

Vic premier under fire for maskless walk

Premier Daniel Andrews is under scrutiny for possibly breaching COVID-19 restrictions after he was filmed walking through state parliament’s car park without a mask on.

Victoria Police have confirmed they are assessing a video circulating on social media of Andrews walking without a mask on as he arrived at parliament on Thursday.

“As the incident is being reviewed by investigators, we will not be providing further comment at this stage,” a spokeswoman said.

Andrews was wearing a mask as he was driven into parliament but took it off before he walked to awaiting media.

Currently, Melburnians aged over 12 must wear a fitted face mask whenever they leave their home, indoors or outdoors, unless a lawful exception applies, including for broadcasting purposes.

Third COVID jab recommended for most vulnerable Australians

Australians with severely compromised immune systems will be offered a third coronavirus jab to maximise protection against the deadly disease.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation on Friday released new recommendations for all people aged 12 and above with certain conditions or undergoing specific therapies.

A Pfizer jab is preferred for people two to six months after their second dose with a minimum interval of four weeks in exceptional circumstances.

Severely immunocompromised people who received their second dose more than six months ago should get another injection as soon as possible.

ATAGI will monitor evidence around duration of protection for immunocompromised people and provide further advice about waning vaccine protection or risk from variants of concern.

“ATAGI will provide further advice on booster doses for healthcare workers, older adults and the general population separately,” the expert panel said in a statement.

Read the full story here

SA grain harvest to provide record returns

South Australia’s grain harvest is set to reap record returns with an estimated farm gate value of $2.8 billion in 2021/22.

A State Government report says grain production is expected to reach 7.98 million tonnes, close to the 10-year average of eight million tonnes.

But prices are up, largely due to unfavourable growing conditions in other grain-producing countries.

“While the report highlights South Australian grain production remaining average depended on spring rains, record prices for some varieties are driving strong returns to the grain industry,” Primary Industries Minister David Basham said.

The report shows an area of 3.9 million hectares has been sown this year, with above-average rainfall in July contributing to crop establishment with most districts having average to above-average yield potential.

However, it said below-average August rains and the continuing drier trend in early September had emphasised the need for good spring rains to finish the season.

Mandatory jab deadline for SA healthcare workers

All South Australian healthcare workers in public and private hospitals must have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by November 1, following a change in the state’s emergency management direction.

The new mandate, effective as of 5pm on Thursday, applies to all clinicians, ambulance workers, allied health workers, cleaners, administrative and executive staff and students on placement, regardless of whether they work in a patient or a non-patient area.

They must also be able to show evidence of a booking to have a second dose within one month of receiving the first dose.

Those who provide a medical certificate can be exempt from the new rules.

The new direction follows national cabinet’s agreement last week to mandate vaccines for healthcare workers.

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, the Federal Government’s peak health advisory body, recommended the move for all states and territories across all healthcare sectors.

A similar vaccine mandate came into force on Thursday for truck drivers entering South Australia, following the detection of nearly a dozen COVID-positive cases linked to interstate truck drivers over the last month.

All Australian aged care workers are also subject to mandatory vaccination.

Hundreds of South Australian aged care staff were legally banned from working in the sector last month after failing to receive a vaccine by the September 17 deadline.

South East restrictions under the spotlight

South Australia’s transition committee will today decide whether to ease a series of tough COVID-19 restrictions on the state’s South East, after no new cases were detected in the region over the past week.

The Grant, Wattle Range and Mount Gambier council areas were on Monday subjected to a series of tighter restrictions after a and Mount Gambier resident, a woman in her 40s, tested positive to the virus on Sunday.

The restrictions currently include a one person per four-square-metre density rule, a home gathering cap of two visitors, a maximum of 10 people at weddings and funerals and bans on private functions and sport.

Premier Steven Marshall yesterday flagged that a Friday meeting of the transition committee could see the restrictions lifted.

“We’re very pleased with the people in Mount Gambier because they have turned up in very large numbers to be tested,” Marshall told ABC Radio on Thursday.

“We will be looking at the restrictions in the South East, we know that they’re very punishing on businesses, individuals in Mount Gambier.

“It has been an anxious couple of days – we still don’t know the origin of this woman’s infection which is always a little bit worrying.

“But in this case, there’s been a high level of testing and no new cases.”

SA Health say they are currently in the “final stages” of an investigation into where the woman in her 40s contracted the virus, as it remains unclear whether she was in Melbourne before returning to Mount Gambier.

The health agency said information on the case would only be shared “where reasonably required to prevent a public health risk”.

The woman is currently quarantining in the Tom’s Court medi-hotel with her four teenage children.

Victoria eyes early international student return

Victoria will begin welcoming international students back to the state from the end of this year, if the Federal Government agrees.

The state has submitted a plan proposing the students will be in addition to Victoria’s existing international arrivals cap, so they don’t displace returning Australians.

“This sensible plan will progressively get students who are enrolled at Victorian universities, TAFEs and colleges safely into Victoria so they can undertake their studies,” state Trade Minister Martin Pakula said on Friday.

“A gradual return of international students means we can keep Victorians safe and not affect places for returning Australians.”

Under stage one of the plan, 120 places will be available each week for international university students.

Those undertaking practical work to continue or complete their degrees or postgraduate research students will be prioritised.

Universities will fund extra quarantine places for student visa holders, who will have to cover the cost of their flight to Melbourne.

Students will be quarantined in dedicated accommodation managed by COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria.

Stage two will cover arrivals of international students enrolled in TAFEs, English-language courses, private colleges and secondary schools.

Around 47,000 international students are enrolled with Victorian institutions but remain offshore because Australia’s international borders are closed due to coronavirus.

New lab for SA plant-based food sector

The State Government is spending $2 million to establish a plant-based food incubator laboratory in the Waite Research Precinct, in a bid to boost South Australia’s plant and cereal production.

The laboratory, located in Adelaide University’s Waite campus, will be developed over the next 12 months and used for industry research purposes.

Plant-based foods have no animal source or artificial ingredients.

The State Government says a fully established plant-based food sector in South Australia has the potential to deliver $2 billion in revenue, 1500 jobs and a $500 million increase in Gross State Product by 2030.

“The plant-based food sector is rapidly emerging in Australia and we believe South Australia could become a national leader, attracting investment to potentially create thousands of new jobs,” Primary Industries Minister David Basham said.

“South Australia’s grains industry is a world leader and we are well-placed to take advantage of this demand as the producer of some of the best plant-based protein sources.

“Already we produce 75 per cent of Australia’s lentils, 30 per cent of fava beans and almost 40 per cent of field peas along with a well-established strong cropping sector.

“Our $2 million investment in a plant-based food incubator at Waite Research Precinct will help fast-track development of this emerging sector and explore opportunities to grow our agriculture industry and create jobs.”

Minister for Trade and Investment Stephen Patterson said the goal of the incubator would be to solve problems the industry has in developing successful plant-based ingredients.

“The aim of the incubator with its new food technology infrastructure is to enable experimental and pilot trials to occur, in liaison with industry, to help identify solutions to some of these issues,” Patterson said.

“This emerging sector complements our existing food industries, building on our reputation as the state for quality food and beverages across the red meat, dairy, grains, seafood and wine sectors.”

AMA concerned NSW reopening too quickly

Doctors are concerned that NSW’s revised roadmap out of COVID-19 restrictions could see the state relaxing too quickly.

The Australian Medical Association of NSW said changes to the state’s plan to exit lockdown could overwhelm the hospital system with virus cases and burn out healthcare workers.

“We’ve got a new premier in the driver’s seat, but that’s not a good enough reason to deviate from the course previously set,” AMA NSW President Danielle McMullen said.

“Keeping people safe must be the premier’s top priority.

“Relaxing restrictions too soon will not be a ‘popular’ decision if it means the number of people contracting the virus and ending up in hospital skyrockets.”

Newly minted Premier Dominic Perrottet on Thursday announced a revised strategy to reopen NSW.

After meeting with the crisis cabinet on Wednesday, when the state reached a 70 per cent double-dose vaccination milestone, Perrottet announced the changes, with the state to emerge from months of lockdown on Monday.

As part of the new plans, indoor gatherings will be capped at 10 people, not counting children under 12. Outdoor gatherings will be lifted to 30 people.

For weddings and funerals, 100 people can attend.

NSW indoor swimming pools will also be able to open for lessons, training and rehabilitation activities.

All school students will be back in the classroom by October 25, meaning all teachers will have to be fully vaccinated by then.

Pfizer asks US to approve jabs for young children

Pfizer is asking the US government to allow use of its COVID-19 vaccine in children aged five to 11.

The US pharmaceutical giant and its German partner BioNTech on Thursday officially filed its application with the Food and Drug Administration.

FDA’s advisers are scheduled to debate the evidence on October 26. If regulators agree, shots could begin within a matter of weeks.

Pfizer have already announced that a lower dose of its vaccine worked and appeared safe in a study of the youngsters.

The vaccine is currently only available only to those as young as 12.

It comes after Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt last month encouraged Pfizer to apply to the Therapeutic Goods Administration for approval in children aged five to 11 concurrently with their US application.

“I note the announcement that Pfizer International is now intending to apply for regulatory approval of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5 to 12,” Hunt wrote to Pfizer Australia managing director Anne Harris on September 21.

“I encourage and invite Pfizer to submit a parallel application to the TGA for Australian regulatory approval at the earliest possible time.”

Children currently make up about 27 per cent of all US COVID-19 cases and an increasing percentage of hospitalisations, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

That reflects the high contagiousness of the Delta variant among unvaccinated people.

While kids are less susceptible to severe COVID-19, they can spread the virus to others, including vulnerable populations that are more at risk of severe illness.

-With AAP and Reuters

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