ACT records 13 new cases
The ACT has reported 13 new cases of Covid-19 overnight.
Victoria’s health department has faced court after it was charged over hotel quarantine failures that led to the state’s deadly second wave of Covid-19, AAP reports.
WorkSafe in September charged the Department of Health, formerly the Department of Health and Human Services, with 58 breaches of the Occupational Health Safety Act, after a 15-month investigation.
Counsel representing the department on Friday faced a filing hearing in Melbourne magistrates court.
Seventeen of the charges relate to failing to provide and maintain, as far as reasonably practicable, a working environment that was safe and without risks to health for its employees.
A further 41 charges are allegations of failing to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, that persons other than employees were not exposed to risks to their health and safety arising from conduct of its undertaking.
Between March and July 2020 the department was responsible for Operation Soteria, Victoria’s first hotel quarantine program.
A judicial inquiry into the program found 99% of the state’s second wave could be traced back to security guards who became infected at the Rydges on Swanston and Stamford Plaza hotels in May and June.
The second wave resulted in more than 18,000 new infections, 800 deaths and a lockdown that lasted 112 days.
WorkSafe alleges that the department breached occupational health and safety laws by failing to appoint people with infection prevention and control expertise at the hotels it was using.
It also alleges the department failed to provide security guards with face-to-face, expert infection prevention control training and written instructions on how to use personal protective equipment.
In all charges, WorkSafe alleges that Department of Health employees, Victorian government staff on secondment and security guards were put at risk of serious illness or death through contracting Covid-19 from an infected traveller, colleague or from a contaminated surface.
The maximum penalty for a body corporate for each of the charges is $1.64m, or $95.12m in total.
WorkSafe said the investigation reviewed tens of thousands of documents and multiple witness interviews.
It also reviewed material from last year’s judicial inquiry into the scheme, which laid bare the disharmony within the ranks of the Department of Health and Human Services, leading to the resignations of the department’s secretary Kym Peake and health minister Jenny Mikakos.
The inquiry found the department failed to accept its role as the primary department responsible, while senior members of the public health team, including chief health officer Brett Sutton, were excluded from its planning.
The responsibility of training guards, including in the use of PPE, was placed on security companies, while the department cleaned hotel rooms only if a returned traveller tested positive.
A complete overhaul of hotel quarantine was announced in December, with a dedicated agency, Covid-19 Quarantine Victoria, established to run the program.
It was again revamped in April, after hotel quarantine workers contracted the UK Covid-19 strain from returned travellers in February, triggering a statewide five-day lockdown.
The department is expected to face a committal mention on 10 March.
NSW Health has provided a bit more detail on today’s numbers, in lieu of a press conference.
Of the five deaths reported today there were three women and two men. One person was in their 30s, one person was in their 50s, one person was in their 70s, one person was in their 80s, and one person was in their 90s.
Three people were from south-western Sydney, one person was from Sydney’s inner city, and one person was from south-eastern Sydney. One person was not vaccinated, two had received one dose, and two had received two doses.
A man in his 70s who had acquired Covid-19 at the Greek Orthodox Community Home for the Aged in Earlwood died, the first linked to an outbreak there.
A woman in her 90s from south-eastern Sydney died at Prince of Wales hospital, where she acquired her infection.
There are now 482 cases admitted to hospital, with 125 people in intensive care, 67 of whom require ventilation.
New Zealand has committed to doubling its support for Auckland businesses suffering as a result of the Covid-19 restrictions and will increase assistance for low-income households.
Finance minister Grant Robertson said so far, roughly NZ$4.8bn in support payments has been paid out since the Delta outbreak began in August:
That amount exceeds the new operating spending we would have for a whole year for the whole country in most budgets. But we are not through this outbreak yet and, as we have done constantly over the past 20 months, we are adjusting in response to the circumstances.
Robertson said while New Zealand has one of the lowest Covid-19 mortality rates in the world, strong economic growth and low unemployment, the lockdowns are tough for Aucklanders.
He has committed to boosting the Covid-19 resurgence support payment from $1,500 for each eligible business and $400 for each full-time employee (50 FTEs maximum), to $3,000 for each eligible business and $800 for each FTE. This will apply from 12 November.
The boost will also include a $60m fund for business advice and mental health support in Auckland.
Income limits for hardship support will be temporarily lifted for four months from November.
Minister for social development and employment Carmel Sepuloni said this would allow more households to qualify for support towards food, clothing and electricity:
We know the extended Covid-19 restrictions are having an impact on low-income households who tend to have less certainty of work. Currently a single person working 30 hours per week on the minimum wage is not eligible for hardship assistance from Work and Income. We’re lifting the income limits for assistance to 40 hours at the minimum wage, or $800 per week and $1,600 per week for a couple with or without children.
Sepuloni said she expected up to 25,000 more grants would go to people not yet receiving help, at a cost of $9.6m.
The government has also established a $120m fund to accelerate Māori vaccination rates and support communities to prepare for the implementation of the new Covid-19 protection framework announced today.
Associate minister for health (Māori health) Peeni Henare said:
We know the recent lift in vaccination rates is the direct result of funding Māori providers and of Māori leadership efforts at a regional and national level. We need this to continue.
$60m will go towards accelerating Māori vaccination rates and $60m will support Māori and iwi-led initiatives to protect their communities against the virus.
Some more end-of-Melbourne-lockdown joy from our staff on the ground:
Scott Morrison was on 2GB with Ray Hadley.
There’s not a huge amount to report out of the interview but he did reiterate his call to speed up home quarantine in Queensland:
I mean, some months ago, people go, “Oh they said they weren’t going to do it.” I was very confident that as we got to where we’ve got with the vaccination rates, get to where we get to that, you know, the natural order of things would get these outcomes. So it’s good it’s opening up but [about 8,000 Queenslanders can’t get home]. We’ve got to get them home. We’ve got into quarantine working for them so they can get home.
News Corp global head Robert Thomson details what he discussed with prime minister Scott Morrison in New York over drinks last month:
We discussed the upcoming Glasgow conference – but not our Mission Zero coverage – Afghanistan, France, China.
The meeting’s purpose was to discuss international issues and Morrison did not meet Rupert Murdoch, Thomson confirmes
The global News Corp chief denies there is any editorial direction from above, saying newspaper editors in Australia have “local autonomy” but he concedes News Corp has a company “philosophy”.
NZ hit by 5.2 magnitude earthquake
New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern has been shaken mid-press conference by a 5.2 magnitude earthquake, AAP reports.
Tens of thousands of Kiwis reported the 5.9 magnitude earthquake to the monitoring website GeoNet this morning.
Ardern was temporarily thrown as she tried to answer questions about the country’s new Covid-19 strategy from Wellington’s Beehive.
“Sorry. A slight distraction,” she said, looking upwards as a rumble was felt in the executive building. “Would you mind repeating that question?” she asked, before carrying on.
The tremor was centred 30km south-west of Tamaranui, near Mount Ruapehu in the middle of North Island.
Originally estimated at 5.9 magnitude, it was downgraded by GeoNet minutes after the quake.
“Was stationary in the car and it rocked and rolled!” Twitter user Tenille Nicol said from Wellington.
The number of refugee and humanitarian visas granted by Australia was the smallest in 45 years last year, with only 5,947 visas issued, less than half of an already reduced annual program of 13,750 places.
A total of 4,558 visas were granted to refugees offshore, and 1,389 through the onshore protection process, the Department of Home Affairs’ 2020-21 annual report discloses:
The emergence of Covid-19 and the volatile global health landscape has significantly impacted the delivery of immigration and humanitarian programs. Covid-19 border measures continue to prevent travel to Australia for offshore humanitarian visa holders unless they hold a travel exemption. Granting in the offshore humanitarian program remained de-prioritised until 10 November 2020 when restricted granting for some cohorts commenced.
But the Australian government fractionally overfilled its migration program quota – 160,052 – in the same year.
Refugee Council of Australia chief executive Paul Power said over the past four years, the number of refugee and humanitarian visas issued had fallen from a 35-year high of 21,698 in 2016-17 to just over a quarter of that in 2020-21:
The government’s failure to fill a reduced refugee program stands in stark contrast with its ability to meet the full migration program quota of 160,000 places. This is a very clear illustration of the government’s priorities at a time when the global need for refugee resettlement is greater than it has ever been.
Power said refugees who had visas to travel to Australia also struggled to get exemptions to get into the country during Covid restrictions. Just over 700 of the 565,000 exemptions granted during 2020-21 went to refugee and humanitarian visa holders:
By the end of the 2020-21 financial year, more than 8,000 refugee and humanitarian visa holders remained outside of Australia, with more than 3,000 of them having applied for travel exemptions and had their applications rejected.
The Qantas timetable for restarting its international flights
Here’s a handy summary of the Qantas announcement today via AAP:
- Australia is preparing to reopen its international border to and from Sydney, NSW, for fully-vaccinated travellers from 1 November.
- Qantas and its low-cost carrier Jetstar will bring forward the restart of more international flights by up to three months.
- All initial flights are limited to Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families and parents, including Australians returning home.
- Some 11,000 Qantas and Jetstar domestic and international flight workers stood down during the pandemic will be back at work by early December.
The restarted Qantas routes:
- Sydney to Singapore, from 23 November
- Sydney to Fiji (Nadi), from 7 December
- Sydney to Johannesburg, from 5 January
- Sydney to Phuket, from 12 January
- Sydney to Bangkok, from 14 January
- A new route from Sydney to Delhi begins 6 December
- Flights from Sydney to Bali, Indonesia, are still in the negotiation stage
- Flights to Honolulu, Vancouver, Tokyo and New Zealand still expected to start from mid-December
- Flights from Sydney to London and Los Angeles are already on sale, amid high demand from Australians wanting to return home in time for Christmas
Labor has chosen its candidate to run in the NSW seat of Reid, Sally Sitou, currently held by Liberal MP Fiona Martin.
From the Victorian opposition leader on the day Melbourne emerges from what was originally supposed to be a seven-day lockdown, but ended up being 77 days:
Tell me a tweet format is dead without telling me a tweet format is dead.
News corp chief Robert Thomson has told the media diversity inquiry that the power of the digital platforms, in particular Facebook, is of concern as they are acting like publishers but they are not accountable as traditional publishers are. He said from New York via video conference:
There are so many routes by which we can be held accountable. We clearly make mistakes and we should be held accountable for mistakes.
Thomson listed a standards editor, readers editor, corrections editor, a media regulator and libel laws as mechanisms for accountability.
Thomson said News Corp was an extremely diverse company with different views within publications housed in the same building.
Labor senator Kim Carr challenged this claim, saying the News Corp tabloids in Australia often had the same angle on their front pages.
Good to see Victoria is now at 71% of the over-16 population fully vaccinated. Won’t be too long till the state reaches 80%.
Victoria records 2,189 new cases and 16 deaths
The media diversity inquiry will hear from the global head of Rupert Murdoch’s empire, Robert Thomson, this morning.
You can watch his evidence, which will be heard remotely, live.
Chair of the inquiry Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young is keen to grill Thomson about the company’s Mission Zero campaign, which runs counter to its record playing “a large role in the lack of climate action we have seen in Australia”.
Thomson is also expected to answer questions about the dominance of News Corp in Australia’s media landscape.
The invitation to front the Senate was accepted by the New York-based Thomson after the co-chairman of News Corp, Lachlan Murdoch, turned down a request to appear last month.