Australian News

regional quarantine hotels ruled out, Health Minister Brad Hazzard says

The NSW government has ruled out moving coronavirus quarantine hotels to regional areas, the state’s health minister says.

The comments from Brad Hazzard came after the Queensland Premier revealed her government was considering turning rural mining camps into quarantine facilities.

Annastacia Palaszczuk said such a plan would be a “rational option” given a new, more contagious strain of coronavirus had entered Australia and spread in the Brisbane community.

But NSW authorities would not follow suit, Mr Hazzard said.

“This has been looked at very closely by the NSW public health team over the full duration of this particular pandemic,” he said.

“There’s strong views held in our public health team it makes sense to continue to have the hotel quarantine arrangements we currently have.”

He said the main concerns were around transporting arriving overseas travellers to the regions, which might pose a risk of spreading the virus in transit.

Authorities also want to be able to quickly transfer a patient whose condition deteriorates to a major hospital, something that would be harder to do if the quarantine facilities weren’t located in Sydney.

“We simply do not believe, the public health advice here in NSW, we don’t believe there would be an advantage, in fact, (it would mean) distinct disadvantages to consider moving our public health hotels out of the Sydney regional area,” Mr Hazzard said.

Earlier on Thursday, NSW Health issued a warning that anybody who had visited the Hotel Grand Chancellor in Brisbane since December 30 needed to immediately get tested and self-isolate for 14 days after they were last at the hotel regardless of their test result.

Contact tracers have spoken to all 10 NSW residents who were reported to have visited the hotel, Mr Hazzard said.

The new virus strain spread at the hotel after a man quarantining there was confirmed infected after returning from the UK.

Fears of wider community spread led the Queensland government to lock down Brisbane for three days last weekend.

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Australian News

SA borders open up to regional NSW

South Australia will allow people from regional NSW to come back into the state without having to quarantine for 14 days.

Premier Steven Marshall said the border changes would come into effect as of 12.01am on Thursday.

He said the requirement for those people was that they must get tested on day one, five and 12 of their stay in the state.

“The current hard border arrangements with those high community transmission zones in and around Sydney will remain for the time being, but we will continue to look at those on a daily basis,” Mr Marshall said.

He added there was no change to border arrangements with Greater Brisbane.

“We are hopeful that we will be able to lift that restrictions in the coming days, but we don’t want to go one or two days too early and then have a catastrophe on our hands,” Mr Marshall said.

“I know it’s been hugely inconvenient and I know people were hoping that we could do that yesterday or today, but we’re not in a position at the moment.

“There are still several worrying concerns there. There is still more testing to be done.”

SA chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier reiterated the state was looking for 14 days of no community transmission, or locally acquired cases, in Greater Sydney before opening up the border.

SA recorded two new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday – both repatriated Australians in hotel quarantine.

The state’s total number of cases is now at 590, and 12 are considered active.

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Australian News

Victoria reopens to regional NSW, permit system rules

Victoria will reopen its border to people from regional NSW from Monday night, Premier Daniel Andrews has announced.

Mr Andrews said from 5.59pm on Monday, regional NSW will become an ‘orange’ zone under Victoria’s new traffic light permit system for coronavirus risk.

People wanting to return to Victoria will need to apply for a permit before crossing the border or face “significant” fines.

“I’m pleased to say that regional NSW from 5.59pm tonight will become orange, will move out of the red zone and people from Victoria who want to travel home from those areas, you will be able to do so,” the Premier said.

Greater Sydney – including the Blue Mountains and Wollongong – remains in the red zone, as does Brisbane.

“Greater Sydney remains red and we will update that daily … the public health team will provide advice at the appropriate time and that can become orange and green at some point in the future,” he said.

“In terms of Brisbane, while the restrictions that have been imposed for greater Brisbane come off at 6pm tonight, the public health team is not 100 per cent confident we can have people from Brisbane returned to Victoria.

“Again that will be updated daily, late in the week hope to have more to say about Sydney, and Brisbane, I want to thank all of those people who are very patiently waiting, until the public health advice allows us to have those people return home.

“We know this is deeply inconvenient and challenging time for you, but there is no alternative but to follow the best public health advice and make sure we do nothing – any of us – do nothing to jeopardise the precious thing we have built here.”

Under the new permit system, people arriving from orange zones will need to take a coronavirus test within 72 hours after coming into Victoria, isolating both before and after their test and until they receive a negative result.

People from green zones will be able to enter the state once a permit has been obtained and don’t need to take a test.

If you have been in a red zone in the last 14 days, you will be turned back at the border.

Anyone who breaks the new rules faces a fine of $5000, although Mr Andrews said he hoped Victoria Police – who will still be patrolling the road border – would not have to issue any penalties.

Returned Victorian travellers arriving by plane or by water without a valid reason or exemption will be required to self-isolate at home for 14 days and will receive a fine of $4,957.

Professor Brett Sutton, the Victorian chief health officer, said the application process for a permit through the Service Victoria website should take only “a matter of minutes”.

“There is there‘s always a demand right at the beginning and people need to bear that in mind and have patience with the system, but this is a system that is going to be entered into for the long haul and it will be a very efficient system going forward … it will be very agile,” he said.

Professor Sutton said the decision to remove regional NSW from the red zone list came after potential outbreaks in areas such as the Central Coast, Broken Hill and Bermagui did not eventuate.

“They are all positives for regional NSW and that’s why it is going to have a determination of being an orange zone from 5:59pm tonight. In terms of Greater Sydney, the trend is positive, but there are ongoing cases, ongoing new exposure sites, ongoing transmission for the Greater Sydney area,” he said.

“Greater Sydney including Blue Mountains and Wollongong, will remain as red zones for now. There will be an ongoing review of Greater Sydney, in terms of mystery cases, ongoing transmission, the level and extent of exposure sites, and the chains of transmission.

“It is being referred to as a mop up exercise and the trend has been going down in terms of new cases every day that‘s a positive but the risk is still there. The designation of it as a red zone is appropriate in my view for now.”

He also said it was too soon to remove Brisbane from the red zone, as a hotel quarantine worker who tested positive for the virus was “out and and about” in the community up until January 7.

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Australian News

How regional students can get $5000 to study

Regional students are being urged to take up a $5000 relocation fund after surviving a difficult 2020.

The federal government introduced the Tertiary Access Payment (TAP), a $5000 payment for outer regional and remote students under the age of 22 looking to relocate for higher education, on January 1.

Government Services Minister Stuart Robert has urged remote students to check their eligibility for the grant.

“Services Australia is helping deliver this payment which is part of the Job-ready Graduates higher education reforms package,” he told NCA NewsWire.

“It’s all about helping students from rural, regional and remote Australia with the costs of relocating to undertake tertiary study.

“This will help kids from the bush prepare to take on the jobs of tomorrow by helping them get into study today.”

But Labor education spokesman Tanya Plibersek said the payment had been introduced as the government made things “deliberately tougher for our kids” by hiking up the cost of undergraduate degrees.

“If Scott Morrison wanted more country kids to have the chance to go to university, he wouldn’t be more than doubling the cost of a basic degree to a staggering $58,000,” she told NCA NewsWire.

“Changes made by the Liberal Party mean that from this year thousands of young Australians will be paying American-sized university fees.

“These young people will graduate with crippling debts at the same time as they are trying to get a permanent job, save a deposit for a house, or start a family.

“Scott Morrison should explain why he’s deliberately making life tougher for our kids.”

The payment will be issued in two instalments, one $3000 payment in the first half of the academic year, followed by a $2000 in the second.

To receive the grant, Year 12 leavers would have to meet Youth Allowance residency requirements and be relocating because they live more than 90 minutes via public transport from their higher education provider.

Those whose parents or guardians earned a combined $250,000 per year will not be eligible, while taking a gap year would also make a student ineligible.

Minister Robert said 2020 had been a difficult year for school leavers, many of whom had been forced to take study virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It has been truly inspirational to see the class of 2020 rise to the challenge and now we are encouraging you to claim early to give you more time to prepare for the next exciting chapter in your life,” he said.

“It has never been easier to claim online, so I would encourage all those young Australians pursing their aspirations through further study to lodge a claim for Youth Allowance, ABSTUDY or Austudy up to 13 weeks before your course or apprenticeship begins.”

More than 550,000 Australians were granted Youth Allowance last financial year, and 29,000 ABSTUDY claims were processed.

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Local News - Victoria

COVID-19 confirmed in regional Victoria, no new community cases

There are now about 200 people in isolation because they are linked to positive cases or their close contacts. Authorities are using a “third-ring” approach where positive cases, their close contacts and those people’s contacts are all asked to isolate.

The first three cases in the Victorian outbreak are all linked to a transmission event that likely occurred at the Smile Buffalo Thai restaurant at Black Rock on December 21.

The government suspects a traveller from Sydney was the likely source of the infection. The person was being tested on Thursday. All five cases announced after the first three are all linked to the initial cases.

Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley said genomic testing was underway to confirm the source of the Victorian outbreak.

Authorities suspect a Victorian who returned from NSW before border restrictions were introduced last month may have brought the virus home.

“The NSW link is still our primary line of investigation for this outbreak,” Mr Foley said.

“We expect genomic testing to come through very shortly and to assist us in confirming the lines of inquiry for our investigation.”

COVID-19 viral fragments have been picked up in a wastewater sample from Lakes Entrance, about 300km east of Melbourne.

The Victorian Health Department said the traces were detected on Tuesday and anyone in the Lakes Entrance area with symptoms should get tested for COVID-19.

Leongatha is about 200km west of Lakes Entrance.

The nearest testing facility for Lakes Entrance locals is the Bairnsdale Regional Health Service which is open from 9am-5pm today and over the weekend.

There will be an increase in wastewater samples taken from Lakes Entrance in the coming days to verify the finding.

University of Melbourne epidemiologist Tony Blakely predicted the Victorian government would soon tighten public health to suppress the growth of cases in the state.


Professor Blakely said he did not believe a hard lockdown would be required, but more modest measures would assist contact tracers to thwart the Victorian outbreak.

He said the government would likely ask the public to self-regulate their travel.

“I think we’re heading back into a tighter restrictions arrangement,” he said on ABC Radio Melbourne.
“Once people relocate back home by Monday … we’ll start seeing some restrictions on movement.”

Professor Blakely said the fresh outbreak was the first big test of the state’s contact tracing capacity since the second wave of cases ended.

He said the system was “hugely better” than the previous paper-based system.

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Australian News

No apply now button on $200 regional Vic travel voucher site

Thousands of Victorians trying to apply for the state government’s $200 regional travel vouchers have come across a major flaw in the online application system – there is no “apply now” button.

Despite the government website stating “Applicants must submit a registration online, via the ‘Apply now’ button on this page”, users cannot seem to find the feature.

The first 40,000 of 120,000 vouchers, valued at $200 each, were supposed to be made available at 10am on Friday in a bid to kickstart tourism spending to help regional Victoria rebound after the coronavirus lockdown.

Users have flocked to Twitter expressing their confusion and anger.

NCA NewsWire has also trawled the site, but cannot find an apply now button.

There are also huge queues for those calling a Business Victoria consultant via the information hotline.

The vouchers can be redeemed after people travel to regional Victoria and spend at least $400 on accommodation, experiences or tours.

It comes as business owners urge the state government to extend its travel vouchers program to central Melbourne in a desperate bid to revitalise the struggling CBD precinct.

Victoria Tourism Industry Council chief executive Felicia Mariani said operators in Melbourne’s CBD were crying out for an equivalent program which would see foot traffic increase in the city again.

“I know a lot of the operators in Melbourne would like to see a voucher program in Melbourne for sure,” she told the Today Show on Friday morning.

“What we do need to see, first and foremost we know our borders are opening again, our airport is busy again.

“I spoke to the guys from Melbourne Airport the other day. They are now seeing 20,000 people a day through the airport where a couple of weeks ago they were only seeing 1200 people a day through the airport.

“So we are getting visitors back in but we need that interstate travel. Because that‘s really who is going to stay in our hotels and stay in the city.”

Ms Mariani said many Victorians were opting to travel within the state over the Christmas and summer periods.

“Everyone I‘m talking to that has tried to get out and about is struggling to find accommodation right now,” she said.

“I guess that is a good thing. Not so good for us as the consumer but certainly really good for our operators.”

Minister for Tourism and Major Events Martin Pakula said he expected there to be very high demand for the vouchers.

“For this first tranche, I would expect demand to outstrip supply — that‘s been the experience in other parts of the country,” he said on Thursday.

“We‘ve tried to be generous but 40,000 is the limit for the first tranche and each tranche.”

“It‘s a perfect opportunity to enjoy an extra night’s accommodation on the weekend getaway, or experience one of our many tours or attractions.”

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Sebel hotel to test rising demand for regional tourism

“We are seeing good visitor numbers, especially in those areas within easy driving distance of major centres,” Mr Johnson said.

One of the latest to open its doors after recent relaxation of restrictions for regional Victoria is the Sebel in Yarrawonga. It has had a $35 million upgrade.

After two false starts due to the lockdown, the multimillion-dollar development is said to be setting a new benchmark in accommodation, dining, conference and events facilities for the Murray River region.

Accor Pacific are managers under the Sebel banner, and Melbourne-based development company Lotus Living are behind the hotel development, situated within its Silverwoods Golf and Lifestyle Resort.


It will comprise 63 studios rooms and apartments, with a further 54 rooms expected in stage two of the development later in 2022-23. It will initially open two of its three food and beverage venues – Stock & Barrel bar and casual dining and Sunset Pool Bar.

Accor Pacific chief executive Simon McGrath said he was confident The Sebel Yarrawonga would deliver “exceptional accommodation and an outstanding service experience for our valued guests”.

“Trusted brands, like The Sebel, bring quality and credibility to the serviced apartments sector, which has been rapidly growing in popularity,” Mr McGrath said.

“We are expecting to see a boom in this area, particularly in the current climate, as serviced apartments limit unnecessary contact with other guests and offer a safe and secure way to travel.”

Newly appointed general manager Rebecca Russell said it has been a challenging year but the hotel is finally ready to greet locals and regional travellers and eventually guests from Melbourne and interstate.

In Sydney, the newly constructed Holiday Inn Express Sydney Airport has opened and has seen a rising number of trans-Tasman arrivals and domestic travellers.

The newly-opened Holiday Inn Express at Sydney Airport, Mascot, Sydney

The newly-opened Holiday Inn Express at Sydney Airport, Mascot, Sydney

The 247-room, eight-storey hotel is on the doorstep of Sydney’s domestic airport terminal and is only minutes away from the international terminal.

Ronald Barrott, chief executive of the site’s owner, the Pro-invest Group, said the group’s first airport hotel was well positioned for the return of international and domestic travel.

“With the trans-Tasman travel bubble established between Sydney and New Zealand, and international arrivals increasing, we expect demand for this type of accommodation to grow,” Mr Barrott said.

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Local News - Victoria

Little River reclassified as regional Victoria

Residents from the Wyndham side of the river faced a $4957 fine for travelling to their local supermarket in Lara.


The change, which will see residents who were previously on the metropolitan side of the border now able to move freely into the rest of regional Victoria, comes into effect from 11.59pm on Thursday night.

“The border between metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria has been vital to containing the spread of coronavirus, but we know that this measure has had wider impacts for the Little River community,” said Member for Werribee Tim Pallas.

“Adjusting the ring of steel to go around Little River instead of through it will alleviate any confusion and unify this community under the same set of restrictions.”


The government said the current vehicle checkpoint on the Princes Highway at the Little River turn-off would remain in place due to “physical infrastructure requirements”, but that police would enforce the new metropolitan border which now ends Wests Road, Bulban Road, Edgars Road and Argoona Road, before connecting again with neighbouring LGA boundaries.

Member for Lara John Eren said the move was a win for the town, but reminded locals they still needed to abide by the restrictions in place for regional Victoria, which is currently under the third step of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown.

The boundary change means residents may need to apply for a work permit if their work is located in Greater Melbourne.

On the other side of the bay, Mornington Peninsula has also been mounting the argument for the Peninsula to be reclassified as regional Victoria, but so the government has so far shown no indication that would happen.

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WA regional players primed for Richmond Tigers in AFL grand final

Richmond could field five players born in regional WA in this Saturday’s AFL grand final against Geelong.

The club boasts a wealth of regional WA talent from across the Great Southern, South West and Wheatbelt regions.

Kamdyn McIntosh (Pinjarra), Liam Baker (Pingaring), Shai Bolton (Katanning), Marlion Pickett (Manjimup), and Nathan Broad (Wubin) are all expected to be named after playing in Friday’s preliminary final win over Port Adelaide.

Baker, who has played 41 matches for Richmond since being drafted in 2018, said the WA players were close.

“We’ve got a little group within a group, with all the boys who come out of WA — most are country boys as well,” he said.

“We get a lot of love from West Australians. We’re all excited about it and can’t wait to get back home.”

Marlion Pickett holds the ball in both hands wearing a yellow tigers training singlet
Marlion Pickett runs with the ball during a Richmond Tigers training session at Punt Road Oval in Melbourne.(AAP: Scott Barbour)

Baker said the bond was particularly strong this year, given players were not able to travel home or have family visit due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m away from most of my family and friends generally, but it’s been a bit different as I can’t go over or they can’t come over at the moment,” he said.

“My family are all back home on the farm in Pingaring. They’ll be watching the game from there.

“I’ll be wrapped when I can get home.”

Geelong also has a WA tinge with veteran defender and Northampton-product Harry Taylor a key defender and Perth-born Mitch Duncan and Sam Menegola lining up in the middle.

The club has strong historic links to WA with the likes of Polly Farmer and Mark Bairstow donning the blue and white hoops last century.

Business as usual for Tigers

Baker said Richmond were enjoying the week of preparations ahead of the final.

“We’re all about enjoying the week. It’s not easy to get to a grand final,” he said.

“It’s not easy to get to one, it could be your last, so we’ll be enjoying it.”

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Local News - Victoria

Regional city goes quiet as community awaits testing results

Mr Dunbabin was awaiting the results of Thursday’s tests to see whether his business might be affected or if he would be deemed a close contact.

“It’s such a fast moving situation. There aren’t really any hard and fast rules,” he said.

People queue for coronavirus testing at Shepparton Showgrounds.

People queue for coronavirus testing at Shepparton Showgrounds. Credit:Simon Schluter

By Thursday afternoon there were still just three confirmed positive cases.

Committee for Greater Shepparton chief executive Sam Birrell said the community had also imposed its own kind of lockdown as a precaution.

“A lot of businesses have gone into a voluntary shutdown for a few days to see how things even out,” he said.

Mr Birrell acknowledged there was frustration that the virus had spread to Shepparton from Melbourne and also with the long testing queues.

Committee for Greater Shepparton chief executive Sam Birrell.

Committee for Greater Shepparton chief executive Sam Birrell. Credit:Simon Schluter

But he said people understood a massive number of tests had to be carried out at short notice.

Goulburn Valley Health had to hastily establish drive-through testing after two of its sites were swamped on Wednesday, reaching capacity by the afternoon.

Long queues again emerged in the early hours of Thursday morning as people returned for testing.

Philip Barca, who owns the Barca.Love restaurant in Shepparton, said the Department of Health had been contacting local businesses, checking whether staff had any coronavirus symptoms, had visited any hotspots or were close contacts of a positive case.

Shepparton restaurateur Philip Barca says business had slowed significantly.

Shepparton restaurateur Philip Barca says business had slowed significantly.Credit:Simon Schluter

He was pleased he could answer no to all of the questions. But Mr Barca said business had slowed substantially. “We had most of our reservations cancelled,” he said.

However, he said that was preferable to a careless attitude among patrons. “I’d prefer them to go and get tested and isolate than come and make it worse.”

He said there was some irritation about the virus spreading to Shepparton, but people were determined to keep the numbers low rather than lashing out in anger.

“I think it’s something that’s got to be accepted.”

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