Australia news LIVE: Queensland border reopens; Omicron COVID-19 cases expected to grow in NSW, Victoria – The Sydney Morning Herald

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Good evening and thank you for reading our live coverage of the day’s events. If you are just joining us now, here’s what you need to know.
Western Australia will reopen its borders to the rest of the country and the world at 12.01am on Saturday, February 5. WA Premier Mark McGowan said 80 per cent of the state’s residents aged 12 and up are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and 89.1 per cent have received a first dose. He said he was confident the state would reach a 90 per cent vaccination target by February 5. The reopening date is set in stone, he said, barring “some unforeseen emergency or catastrophe which we can’t predict”. Josh Dye has everything you need to know about interstate travel requirements here.
WA Premier Mark McGowan made a border announcement today.
International borders remain on track to reopen later this week, the federal health minister said.Credit:Getty
Australia’s international borders remain on track to reopen later this week, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt says. As Broede Carmody and Rachel Clun report, Mr Hunt said this morning that students and some skilled labour visa holders would be allowed into the country from Wednesday, December 15 (although not into every jurisdiction). The border has yet to re-open to international tourists, although fully vaccinated Australians are free to depart overseas. The international border was set to reopen on December 1, but that was delayed to allow health experts to gather more data about the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 that was discovered at the end of November.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.Credit:Chris Hyde/Getty Images
Hundreds of people have been deemed close contacts after attending The Argyle House nightclub in Newcastle. Credit:Darren Pateman
NSW will fall short of its 95 per cent double-dose vaccination target – but why?Credit:James Brickwood
Victoria has recorded 1290 new cases of COVID-19 and two deaths. That’s up on yesterday’s 1069 cases. There are 323 people in Victorian hospitals with COVID-19. Of those, 77 active cases are in intensive care. Forty are on a ventilator. The Victorian government says 92 per cent of residents aged 12 and up are fully vaccinated against the virus. The state has confirmed three cases of the Omicron variant of the virus, all of which are in returned travellers. Another nine cases are under investigation.
A COVID-19 testing site at Katherine in the Northern Territory.Credit:Krystle Wright
This is Michaela Whitbourn signing off on the blog for today. My colleague Broede Carmody will be back with you early tomorrow morning.
NSW Health has issued a fresh alert for a Newcastle venue after it was visited by confirmed COVID-19 cases, including some likely to have the Omicron variant.
Anyone who attended Finnegan’s Hotel from 6.30pm on December 10 to 2.30am December 11 is a close contact and must immediately get tested and isolate for 7 days.
In a statement issued on Monday night, NSW Health said all household contacts of close contacts must also be tested and self-isolate until a negative result is received by everyone in the household.
“This venue was visited by confirmed cases of COVID-19. It is likely some of these cases have the Omicron variant of concern,” the statement read.
NSW Health is appealing for anyone who did not check in using the QR code to urgently get tested and isolate, and for the community to ensure other potential attendees are aware of this advice.
Genome sequencing to confirm if the cases have the Omicron variant is underway.
The new case alert come as health authorities are working to contain an outbreak at a Newcastle nightclub that is already one of the state’s largest ever COVID-19 transmission events.
Good evening and thank you for reading our live coverage of the day’s events. If you are just joining us now, here’s what you need to know.
Western Australia will reopen its borders to the rest of the country and the world at 12.01am on Saturday, February 5. WA Premier Mark McGowan said 80 per cent of the state’s residents aged 12 and up are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and 89.1 per cent have received a first dose. He said he was confident the state would reach a 90 per cent vaccination target by February 5. The reopening date is set in stone, he said, barring “some unforeseen emergency or catastrophe which we can’t predict”. Josh Dye has everything you need to know about interstate travel requirements here.
WA Premier Mark McGowan made a border announcement today.
International borders remain on track to reopen later this week, the federal health minister said.Credit:Getty
Australia’s international borders remain on track to reopen later this week, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt says. As Broede Carmody and Rachel Clun report, Mr Hunt said this morning that students and some skilled labour visa holders would be allowed into the country from Wednesday, December 15 (although not into every jurisdiction). The border has yet to re-open to international tourists, although fully vaccinated Australians are free to depart overseas. The international border was set to reopen on December 1, but that was delayed to allow health experts to gather more data about the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 that was discovered at the end of November.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.Credit:Chris Hyde/Getty Images
Hundreds of people have been deemed close contacts after attending The Argyle House nightclub in Newcastle. Credit:Darren Pateman
NSW will fall short of its 95 per cent double-dose vaccination target – but why?Credit:James Brickwood
Victoria has recorded 1290 new cases of COVID-19 and two deaths. That’s up on yesterday’s 1069 cases. There are 323 people in Victorian hospitals with COVID-19. Of those, 77 active cases are in intensive care. Forty are on a ventilator. The Victorian government says 92 per cent of residents aged 12 and up are fully vaccinated against the virus. The state has confirmed three cases of the Omicron variant of the virus, all of which are in returned travellers. Another nine cases are under investigation.
A COVID-19 testing site at Katherine in the Northern Territory.Credit:Krystle Wright
This is Michaela Whitbourn signing off on the blog for today. My colleague Broede Carmody will be back with you early tomorrow morning.
Temperatures in Melbourne dropped by more than 9 degrees over a 30-minute period on Monday evening, bringing an end to the city’s hot summer weather until Friday.
The cool change rolled through Melbourne’s CBD at about 7pm on Monday, after earlier sweeping Geelong. (This post was first published at 6.50pm and updated after the cool change hit).
The mercury dropped from a balmy 29.7 degrees at Olympic Park, near Melbourne’s CBD, at 7pm to 20.3 degrees by 7.30pm. The temperature at the weather station peaked at 32.7 degrees at 3.17pm.
Tom Delamotte, senior forecaster at the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said the temperature in the city would drop to around 20 degrees tonight, but there was only a “slight chance” of a brief shower or two following the trough.
“We have had a trough of low pressure crossing Victoria today, and as that trough moves through, we’re seeing a south-westerly wind change move across the state with it,” he said.
“It will be quite a squally change for people in bayside areas, and we could see some gusts up to around 70 kilometres per hour.
“Considering we’re experiencing quite light winds now, it will be quite a change for those enjoying the warmer conditions on the beach.”
It’s the date that’s been highly anticipated for almost two years, and the West Australian Premier says it all came down to health advice.
Mark McGowan said that despite some projections the state would open to the rest of the country and the world in late January or even mid-February next year, the health advice was to reopen in early February.
West Australian Premier Mark McGowan Credit:Matt Jelonek
“Health advice said on or after the 4th of February,” he said.
“It [February 5] is the day after the first week of school [after the summer holidays], so kids won’t be required to wear masks on the bus or trains during their first week of school,” he said.
“It lets families get through the first week of school without any of those sorts of disruptions.
“What we expect is vaccination rates will slow a little bit over Christmas and New Year … we’re very confident by February 5 we will hit 90 per cent double dose [vaccination target] for the entirety of Western Australia [aged 12 and up].”
Mr McGowan said the only thing that would move the goalpost for the February 5 opening would be “some unforeseen emergency or catastrophe which we can’t predict”.
“But that’s the nature of COVID,” he said. “It’s a very safe bet that on February 5 this transition will occur.”
People attending major events in Western Australia including sporting matches and concerts at Optus Stadium, HBF Park and RAC Arena from February 5 will need to show proof of double-vaccination against COVID-19 to gain entry to the venues.
As reported earlier today, February 5 marks the date the state will reopen its interstate and international borders.
The requirement to show proof of vaccination will also apply to anyone entering nightclubs and Crown casino.
WA Premier Mark McGowan said masks would be required when using public transport, catching a taxi or rideshare service, or visiting a hospital, aged care home or corrections facility.
Mr McGowan said QR code check-ins would remain, and conditions of entry would continue to be enforced for some remote Aboriginal communities where vaccination rates were low.
He warned that if regional areas like the Pilbara, Kimberley and Goldfields failed to achieve an 80 per cent vaccination rate for people aged 12 and up by February 5 then “enhanced public health measures” would be enforced there.
The measures would include proof of vaccination for access to pubs, bars, restaurants, cafes, bottle shops, indoor entertainment venues, gyms, and fitness centres. Masks would also be required at other indoor venues that would not require proof of vaccination status like supermarkets.
People would not be able to travel to those areas by air without proof of vaccination.
The interim arrangements will be reviewed four weeks after February 5.
Mr McGowan said if WA did not reach 90 per cent vaccination rate for people aged 12 and up by February 5, additional restrictions would be introduced for people who haven’t been vaccinated. Those restrictions are yet to be determined.
Planning a trip to Western Australia in February? Josh Dye has spared you the hassle of navigating the COVID-19 rules and restrictions for interstate travel across Australia.
He’s just updated it to cover the announcement from the WA government that interstate and international borders will reopen in WA at 12.01am on February 5 next year.
Simply plug in the details of your trip using the travel planner below.
Note that most states and territories require a permit to enter, and in some cases you’ll require approval in advance. All jurisdictions except Victoria require travellers to be fully vaccinated.
Also, if you’re venturing beyond NSW, Victoria or the ACT, you’ll need a COVID test up to three days before travelling. Make sure you pick a clinic that will return your results on time.
Some jurisdictions also require COVID-19 tests after arrival, including WA within 48 hours of arrival if the trip is for more than five days. People travelling to Queensland from interstate hot spots (NSW, Victoria and the ACT) will require a test on day five. Queensland’s borders reopened today.
The Northern Territory, which will reopen to fully vaccinated travellers from December 20, requires two further tests after arrival, on days three and six.
Western Australia is just over seven weeks away from lifting its hard border, giving thousands of families the chance to be reunited with loved ones after the New Year.
The February 5 date is locked in, giving West Australians and local businesses certainty and the ability to plan and be ready to be ready for the transition early next year, Premier Mark McGowan said.
“This is a date some in the community have been waiting to hear for a long time,” he said.
“Many people have family abroad that they’ve been unable to see for nearly two years.
“I’m sure this day will be cause for relief or even celebration; for others [such as immunocompromised people] this is an announcement that will cause great concern.”
Mr McGowan said it was understandable that some people in the community may be worried about the reopening but assured them that the WA government would remain careful and cautious.
“We put the lives and livelihoods of Western Australians first and the state has been the envy of the world with the best health and best economic outcomes, not just in Australia but in the world.
“We have followed the health advice but with a vaccination rate of 90 per cent and reasonable public health measures the health advice is clear: we can safely ease our border controls and reconnect WA.”
As noted below, WA’s travel rules differ depending on whether a traveller is coming from interstate or overseas.
People aged 12 and up who are travelling from interstate must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 unless ineligible or medically exempt. Domestic arrivals staying for more than six days in WA will need to return a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test 72 hours before departure and then take another test within 48 hours of arrival.
People staying for five days or less will only need to return the negative PCR test 72 hours before departure.
West Australians who leave the state for five days or less will not need to take a test before returning but will need to do a PCR test within 48 hours of being back in WA.
Vaccinated international travellers entering Australia through Perth will have to return a negative PCR test 72 hours before departure and then take two more tests, one within 48 hours of arrival and the second on day six of being in WA.
There will be no quarantine requirement for fully vaccinated international travellers. Those who have not been jabbed or have taken a vaccine that is not approved in Australia will need to spend 14 days in isolation in a hotel or the soon-to-be built federal quarantine facility in Bullsbrook.
West Australian Premier Mark McGowan has announced he will ease the state’s hard border to the rest of the country and the world at 12.01am on Saturday, February 5.
Mr McGowan said 80 per cent of the state’s residents aged 12 and up are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and 89.1 per cent have received a first dose.
WA Premier Mark McGowan.Credit:Peter de Kruijff
“I am confident that this is the right time and the right way to take this important step,” Mr McGowan said.
“All domestic arrivals [aged 12 and up] must be double-vaccinated,” Mr McGowan said, unless ineligible or medically exempted.
Interstate travellers require proof of a negative PCR test within 72 hours before departure and must take another test within 48 hours of arrival in WA, if the trip is for more than five days.
If the domestic trip is for five days or less, travellers will be expected to get the test before departure but will not be required to undertake another test in WA. Those leaving WA to travel interstate will not be expected to get a test before returning home, but will need to take a PCR test within 48 hours of arrival in WA.
Mr McGowan said that when the borders reopened COVID-19 wouldn’t magically go away and “we begin a new phase of pandemic management in WA”.
“With the ability for the virus to enter the community a number of things will change in our approach,” he said.
Quarantine-free travel will be possible with COVID-positive jurisdictions, both international and interstate.
“International arrivals will still be required to return a negative PCR test result within 72 hours prior to departure and undergo a PCR test within 48 hours of arrival in Perth and on day six.
“If they are double-vaccinated there will be no requirement for quarantine.
“Unvaccinated [people] or those who have not had an approved vaccine will still be required to undertake 14 days of quarantine, whether at a hotel or at the designated Commonwealth facility when it comes online.”
He said that the state was entering the next phase of its management of the pandemic “from the safest possible position”.
Mr McGowan had flagged that the state would not reopen to the rest of Australia and the world until 90 per cent of residents aged 12 and up were fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The February 5 reopening date is firm and the plan is expected to proceed even if that target is not met, although Mr McGowan believes it is eminently achievable.
“What we expect is vaccination rates will slow a little bit over Christmas and New Year … we’re very confident by February 5 we will hit 90 per cent double dose [vaccination target] for the entirety of Western Australia,” Mr McGowan said.
Mr McGowan said the only thing that would move the goalpost for the February 5 opening would be “some unforeseen emergency or catastrophe which we can’t predict”.
“But that’s the nature of COVID,” he said. “It’s a very safe bet that on February 5 this transition will occur.”
West Australian Premier Mark McGowan held a press conference at about 2pm local time (5pm AEDT) about the state’s border reopening plan. We will have the playback clip for you shortly.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has insisted his visit to Australia has nothing to do with China despite enhancing defence ties with Canberra amid increasing tensions with Beijing.
Australia and South Korea finalised a $1 billion defence contract, pledged to boost defence industry ties and strengthen critical minerals and clean energy trade in agreements signed by President Moon and Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Canberra on Monday.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison meets with President of South Korea Moon Jae-in on Monday.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
“We will continue to cooperate with Australia for peace in this region,” Mr Moon said.
“The state visit I make at this time has nothing to do with our position over China.”
South Korea recently adopted a more cautious approach than neighbouring Japan to China because of its reliance on Beijing to negotiate a peace deal with North Korea. This has sparked fears Asia’s fourth-largest economy is being left behind by the members of the Quad grouping of Australia, the United States, India and Japan.
Read the full story here.
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