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Australian News

French man deported over illegal Queensland rave breaching COVID rules


A French national has been deported for breaching COVID-19 restrictions by helping to organise an illegal New Year rave in Queensland.

The man, 29, had his working holiday visa cancelled following his involvement in the event, west of Gympie, and was removed from the country by Australian Border Force on Tuesday.

ABF enforcement acting commander Steven Darby said his removal showed the ABF was taking seriously the threats posed to the Australian community by people intentionally breaking coronavirus restrictions.

“The ABF will not tolerate non-citizens who choose to engage in criminal activity or behaviour of concern, particularly with respect to COVID-19 restrictions which can have a devastating flow on effect for our community,” he said.

“We hope this sends a strong message to others who think they can arrange or participate in reckless activities of this kind.”

Queensland’s New Year’s Eve restrictions capped gatherings at a home to 50 people and at 100 for public spaces.

If venues had a COVID Safe Event Checklist in place, up to 500 people were allowed at indoor events and up to 1500 people could gather at outdoor events.

Acting commander Darby said the ABF would continue working with state, territory and Commonwealth partner agencies to act decisively in protecting the community from the risk of harm posed by non-citizens breaching COVID-19 restrictions.

The ABF has powers under the Migration Act to cancel visas of non-citizens and remove them from the country if they are a risk to the health, safety or good order of the Australian community.

Eight visas have been cancelled since May as part of an ABF operation to help agencies ensure non-citizens are obeying government regulations to minimise the spread of the virus.

There have also been 24 field enforcement activities, 335 warnings issued and 15 notices of intention to consider visa cancellation given as a result of the operation.



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Australian News

The difference between the Australian Open COVID plan and rules at other international tournaments


The world’s best tennis players have had an abrupt introduction to the world of hotel quarantine and isolation upon their arrival into Australia.

Of all the players set to compete in the first major of the season, 72 are now in hard quarantine after three of the 17 charter flights were impacted by positive COVID tests.

Some players have criticised the hard quarantine, saying they did not know that everyone on a flight would have to quarantine in the event of a positive test, although that has been contradicted by some other players.

Regardless, the increase in restrictions the players are facing has come as a shock to their collective systems. So why is that?

What have the rules been at other tournaments?

Like most sports around the world in 2020, tennis endured a hiatus of several months, with tournaments, including Wimbledon, cancelled across the world.

However, after that period off, tennis got back underway, with the US and French Opens both taking place, in conjunction with their associated warm-up tournaments.

Those tournaments used very similar protocols to those being used in Australia.

At the US Open, players were placed in a bio-secure bubble, with allocated hotels close to the National Tennis Centre site at Flushing Meadows.

Naomi Osaka speaks into a US Open microphone while wearing a mask with Breonna Taylor written on it.
Naomi Osaka wore masks with names of people killed as a result of police brutality in America during the US Open.(AP: Frank Franklin II)

Players were regularly tested, twice within 48 hours of arriving in New York before being accredited, and then re-tested every four days after. At the Australian Open, players will be tested every day.

Heading off site, including visiting Manhattan, was banned and players had to wear masks when not on court.

The US Open even moved a warm-up event, the Cincinnati Open, to Flushing Meadows to reduce the amount of travel for players, much in the same way that the pre-Australian Open tournaments were moved from Perth, Brisbane and Sydney to Melbourne.

Players were told to wear masks at all times apart from playing, as well as subjecting themselves to daily temperature testing and a questionnaire before being allowed access.

The rules around the French Open, which took place two weeks after the conclusion of the US Open, were similar.

Simona Halep holds a trophy and a bunch of flowers while wearing a mask
Simona Halep won the Italian Open, prior to the French Open.(LaPresse via AP: Alfredo Falcone)

Were the players OK with that?

There was some dissent at the conditions imposed on players for the return to tennis.

Novak Djokovic, who has also called for changes in quarantine for players in Australia, criticised the conditions that were imposed for the US Open, saying it would be “impossible” to play tennis.

“The rules that they told us that we would have to respect to be there, to play at all, they are extreme,” Djokovic said in an interview with Serbian TV prior to the tournament.

“We would not have access to Manhattan, we would have to sleep in hotels at the airport, to be tested twice or three times per week … we could bring one person to the club which is really impossible. I mean, you need your coach, then a fitness trainer, then a physiotherapist.”

An image posted to Rafa Nadal’s Facebook account on September 2, 2020.
Rafael Nadal did not travel to the US Open, but won the French Open.(Facebook: Rafa Nadal)

Rafael Nadal also didn’t travel, questioning the safety of travelling during the pandemic.

“The situation is very complicated worldwide, the COVID-19 cases are increasing, it looks like we still don’t have control of it,” Nadal tweeted ahead of the Open.

“This is a decision I never wanted to take but I have decided to follow my heart this time and for the time being I rather not travel.”

He had no such qualms about travelling to France though, where he won a record-extending 13th French Open title.

Lack of quarantine around the world

Normally, the life of a tennis pro involves multiple smash-and-grab raids around the world — players fly in to a city, play and then fly out again once they’re done.

However, that’s not possible in Australia due to the federal requirement to quarantine.



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Australian News

Australian Open records 4th COVID case, some players attempting to breach quarantine rules


The Australian Open has announced a fourth case of coronavirus, with the commissioner warning some players and their entourages are attempting “dangerous acts” which are breaching quarantine rules.

Commissioner for COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria, Emma Cassar, made the announcement on Sunday afternoon as she flagged a number of people within the quarantine system have attempted to break the strict rules around their mandatory isolation.

The latest case is a member of the broadcast team, who tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving on a flight from Los Angeles.


There are now 62 people who have been identified as close contacts of the four cases, who will have to undergo 14 days of quarantine.

Emerging virus cases have left many players in doubt as to whether they’ll be able to practice before the grand slam event. Match practice is expected to commence on Monday.

Tennis Australia has confirmed no changes will be made to the schedule despite some players saying 14 days of isolation would hinder their performance.

A number of players have taken to social media to express their frustration at being stuck in a hotel room for the next two weeks and not being able to engage in proper training.

The positive cases will be transferred to Melbourne’s Holiday Inn, with Ms Cassar telling reporters some players and support crews who are testing the state’s quarantine regime might not be far behind them.

Ms Cassar flagged Victorian officials will issue fines and further action for players who try and breach the rules, which are designed to contain potential strains of coronavirus from entering Australia.

“We take all breaches really seriously,” she said.

“For the players, that is a fine of up to $20,000, a warning from the police, but what we have also considered today is for those who are persistently breaching or not willing to remain in their rooms, our other option would be to transfer people to the complex care hotel where there is a member of Victoria Police outside the door.”

It is understood the breaches have been linked to players and crew members leaving rooms to speak to one another.

“Some of these challenging behaviours include one player who opened his door to try and have a conversation with his training mate down the hallway,” Ms Cassar said.

“It is very low level, but they are dangerous acts that we cannot tolerate.”

Another example flagged by Ms Cassar was a player who shouted food for others within the hotel – which is allowed – before breaking the rules by opening his door to “praise himself for his great efforts”.

The complex care hotel is the Novotel situated in the city’s central business district.

Players infected with or potentially exposed to the US strain have been denied practice times on court under Victoria’s quarantine rules.

Results for people impacted by both the Los Angeles and Abu Dhabi flights are expected to be revealed at 3.30pm on Sunday.

Players who test negative for COVID-19 are able to begin practice Monday.



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Local News - Victoria

Selfish people who will always flout the rules


We have a highly contagious strain of COVID-19 in Australia. Throughout our lockdowns, it has been shown that people will flout the rules – eg, protests by anti-maskers, crowds at beaches and protests not socially distancing, people breaking quarantine, holding large parties and lying about where they have been.

People who feel the rules do not apply to them bring danger to the rest of us. All we need is one breach which turns into a ‘‘super spreading’’ event and we could be back in lockdown. Thank you to the government for protecting the health of Victorians and not trusting everyone to do the right thing.
Rhonda Ward, Mont Albert

Why we need dedicated quarantine facilities

Following the Northern Territory’s lead, at last a premier – Queensland’s Annastacia Palaszczuk (The Age, 14/1) – has realised that a mining camp with resident staff is safer and less stressful for quarantine than an inner-city hotel with windows that cannot be opened and transient staff.

An alternative would be to construct facilities on the plentiful grass areas surrounding most international airports. This would save the bus journeys into town and residents could be fed from the kitchens which supply meals to aircraft. Second best would be to use army barracks near the city, as Auckland is doing. My reading of Victorian history tells me that back in 1852, the independent colony built an isolated quarantine station when the population was less than 200,000.
Loch Wilson, Northcote

Discussing ‘parameters’ with unpredictable COVID

Victorian Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien says it is time ‘‘all premiers put their egos aside, sit down around the table with the Prime Minister … to give us something that is consistent and predictable so we can get on with our lives’’ (The Age, 12/1). Might I politely request that he first sits down with COVID and discusses these parameters.
Bruce McQualter, Richmond

So we trust the players, but not our fellow Victorians

I am a huge tennis fan and generally look forward to the major tournaments, but I am worried we will be inviting another horrendous lockdown if the Australian Open goes ahead. We are assured all safety procedures will be in place and everyone concerned will do the right thing.

However, when it comes to Victorians stuck outside our state, we cannot trust them to do the right thing so we will not allow them to return home. The Andrews government has done an awesome job in protecting us from the spreading of coronavirus, despite mistakes being made. But this hypocrisy over who it is safe to allow into our state is sickening. Premier, I am afraid you have lost me.
Janice Merrett, Seaford

Leap of faith about the tennis is not worth the risk

We are taking a mighty leap of faith that tennis players and their entourages will arrive from COVID-19 hot spots and be somehow exempt from any infection. Hotel quarantine has proven to be largely unsuccessful and yet if these ‘‘world’s toughest quarantine restrictions’’ are thought necessary, why take the risk? If we do not have the infrastructure to deal with the vast number of Australians returning home, why are tennis players receiving priority? The lure of television rights and huge money must be weighed up against against the law of probability.
Robert Walford, Ivanhoe

The very long wait for a ‘quick response’

Last October the Premier said he was confident the government would create a QR check-in system. We do not seem to have one yet. Could I remind Daniel Andrews that QR stands for ‘‘quick response’’.
Patrick Hennessy, St Kilda

THE FORUM

Controlling the spread

Please put all returning travellers into one central, controlled area. Only when each person gets a negative test can they be allowed to travel around our precious cities. Hotel quarantine is too risky with its airconditioning and inadequate ventilation. Fresh air and controlled isolation is best. Bring back Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital and the training we had there to prevent the spread of this dreadful virus.
Helen Stillwell, former nurse, North Balwyn

Support most vulnerable

As John Hewson (Opinion, 14/1) states, the pandemic has laid bare the Morrison government’s ducking of responsibility for aged care and quarantine. Both have became, by default, the responsibility of the states.

The federal government avoided responsibility by releasing asylum seekers into the community without adequate support and by incarcerating detainees in deplorable conditions, in breach of their human rights. Responsibility has again devolved on the states to provide for their physical and mental wellbeing. Will the government ever accept responsibility for the most vulnerable?
Virginia Schneiders, Mount Dandenong

The importance of super

Re the ‘‘opt-in super plan’’ (The Age, 13/1) As a single woman with a mortgage starting a new job, I was aghast when personnel told me how much money would be deducted for super contributions. When interest rates reached 17per cent, I took in students, cleaned houses and delivered local papers to try to make ends meet. It was a very scary time.

Given a choice, I would have ‘‘taken the money’’ in a heartbeat. If I had, 30years on, I would be totally reliant on the pension, still trying to make ends meet and worrying to the end of my days. My super is not a huge amount but it makes a huge difference. Single women are at high risk of living in poverty as they age, often because they have little or no super. Why would anyone want to increase the problem by reducing the amount of super available to other sections of the community, especially vulnerable, lower-paid workers?
Anne Heath Mennell, Tenby Point

The power of two MPs

There should be no surprise that senior Coalition members are loath to criticise Craig Kelly and George Christensen for their unfounded, ridiculous utterings. In the past, both have threatened to vote against the government if they were not given their way.

In 2016 when Malcolm Turnbull held a one-seat majority, he was forced to intervene to save Kelly from a preselection battle. He wrote to the Liberal Party’s acting state director, describing Kelly as one of the government’s ‘‘most consistent performers’’ and that he had a ‘‘fine reputation’’. Now Scott Morrison and Michael McCormack hold the one-seat majority. History repeats itself and self-interest triumphs over public good.
Brian Glass, Montrose

Inconsistent ‘free speech’

Could Michael McCormack, Josh Frydenberg, George Christensen or Craig Kelly confirm that if Julian Assange had ‘‘published’’ certain documents on Twitter and YouTube, rather than on WikiLeaks, they would have supported his right to free speech. Alternatively, which free speech is more dangerous – publication of lies or publication of the truth?
Tim Freer, Torquay

Protecting our planet

Australia was notably absent in the list of more than 50 countries which have pledged to protect 30per cent of the planet to halt species extinction and address climate change issues (The Age, 13/1). According to the World Wildlife Fund, Australia has the highest mammalian extinction rate in the world. This is not a partisan issue, it is a moral one.

Pope Francis has said, ‘‘Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence … We have no such right.’’ Does the Hillsong doctrine accord with the Pope’s? Will our Prime Minister provide leadership on this issue?
Lynn Frankes, Kew

Battle to save the Basin

I support not-for-profit organisation Odonata’s survey of the iconic and vulnerable platypus population (The Age, 14/1), and I have put my hand up to participate. I hope the elephant in the room – the outrageous theft of water from the environment to service inefficient agricultural crops – is not ignored. The Murray-Darling Basin is dying, and we must save it.
Michael Puck, Maffra

Heat can kill our dogs

It was my curly-haired dog, Fred, who alerted me to the desperate barking and whining from a similarly moppet of a dog. From my apartment balcony, I could see it jumping furiously inside the Range Rover on a day of 37 degrees. I went to investigate and found other people also concerned about the dog. As I was taking a photo of the car’s number plate, the owner came out from an eatery and said she was a “very responsible owner (because) I have a couple of windows (partially) opened’’. This is not responsible ownership and the police were not impressed. Please do not lock dogs in cars on hot days.
Erica Cervini, Prahran

Resentment of the ‘elite’

Tim Soutphommasane is right that Donald Trump is ‘‘as much a symptom as a cause of American democratic failure’’ (Opinion, 11/1). Citing Plato, he suggests the public needs to restore its faith in the elite political class. That the masses are too easily led astray by demagogues. ‘‘Elites matter because democracy needs its guardians, and sometimes the people fail,’’ he says.

Soutphommasane forgets that Trump is in office because it was the elites, not the people, who failed. In 2016 the Democrats put forward Hillary Clinton, the most ‘‘elite elite’’ there ever was, a career politician of 30years. It was the public’s resentment of her – and the political class she represented – that netted Trump the presidency. Perhaps the ‘‘elites’’ have some explaining to do as to why the people find them so distasteful.
Alex Langsam, Preston

Our thanks to the US

Those of us born prior to and during World War II will recall how the US saved the world from fascist domination by providing personnel, expertise, money and armaments to those nations under threat. After the conflict, it stepped into the devastation and poured billions and billions of dollars and many thousands of its experts and personnel to reconstruct Europe and Japan in order to prevent the breakdown of of societies as happened after World War I. It also took huge responsibility in the creation of the United Nations and its agencies.

Why are we, in Australia, so interested in what happens in the US? It saved our country, that is why. And now we are watching the breakdown of its society. I have not enjoyed the Americanisation of our culture – but I truly pray that the American people will achieve peace and prosperity once more. We have not forgotten.
Jennifer Raper, Brighton East

English copped abuse too

Peter Wiegard comments on ‘‘the disgusting behaviour meted out to our (Australian) team at the Old Trafford Ashes test in 2019’’ (Letters, 14/1). It brought back memories of Test matches at the MCG during Dennis Lillee and Geoff Thompson’s era when Aussie crowds were truly feral against opposition teams. In those days the players had not cheated (like David Warner and Steve Smith) but were simply representing their country against a powerful Australian team. Any English supporter will tell you the abuse was given to not only their team but their supporters as well.
Allen Perry, McKinnon

Most unsportsmanlike era

Before Rod Mackenzie gets himself into too deep a funk about the alleged lost gentlemanliness of Test cricket (Letters, 14/1), he might pause a moment to recall that the Bodyline series – a byword for ungentlemanly conduct – was played in 1932-33.
Scott McIntyre, Elsternwick

What more can Paine do?

Tim Paine: Almost three years of outstanding captaincy in difficult circumstances versus one hour of meltdown (for which he has apologised), and the tall poppy mafia cannot wait to crucify him.
Richard Wilson, Croydon

Congratulations all around

Bouquets to the Australian and Indian cricket Test teams. Thanks for an absorbing series, heading for an exciting finish at the Gabba. Talk about performing under pressure. We appreciate their efforts in really difficult, dare I say, unprecedented, circumstances.
Raeleene Gregory, Ballarat East

No excuses for behaviour

Tim Paine’s behaviour on the final day of the Sydney Test went against the spirit of what was promised following the Cape Town debacle. Calling an opponent a ‘‘dickhead’’ was hardly innocent banter. His desperation to use his mouth in such an undignified fashion was a sign of a captain quickly losing confidence in his mind to lead and in his hands to catch. Not only did it not work, it backfired. And the Australian team wonder why they are so disliked around the globe.
Arun Subramaniam, Vermont South

Sorry, you’ve lost me

I gave away my national cricket team after the disgraceful sandpaper incident. Not until they have an administration that gets back to the integrity of the gentleman’s game being of paramount importance to the team will I have any respect for them.
Neville Wright, Kilcunda

Racism or just a name?

Changing the name from Coon cheese to Cheer cheese (The Age, 14/1) is an insult to the family of the person who created the product. We have become too precious. There are lots of Coon surnames and most people are probably proud of theirs. If author and anti-racism activist Stephen Hagen was formally introduced to someone whose surname was Coon, would he still be offended?
John Cummings, Anglesea

AND ANOTHER THING

Credit:Illustration: Matt Golding

Politics

The orange has been impeached.
David Francis, Ocean Grove

Kelly and Christensen. What were you thinking when you voted for these blokes?
Jim Billings, Avenel

Keep it up, Bernie. You’re one of ALP’s best assets.
Pamela Pilgrim, Highett

Judging by McCormack’s performance, it is no longer rational to vote National.
Glenn Stanmore, Cohuna

The extra money must go into super, not pockets, so people have enough to retire on.
Katriona Fahey, Alphington

How dare the working class build up their wealth and savings for their retirement?
Dan Drummond, Leongatha

Could Australians storm Parliament House? Unlikely, especially if the surf’s up, footy or cricket are on, or the sun’s out.
Greg Tuck, Warragul

Media

If The Age chooses not to publish my letter, is it infringing my right to freedom of speech?
Damien Ryan, Frankston

In this time of misinformation, will Sky News be scrutinised?
Tom O’Bryan, Dromana

Shouldn’t social media that’s used to incite hatred be called anti-social media?
Henry Herzog, St Kilda East

Sport

If Paine focused more on his gloves and less on his mouth, things might have been different. Well done to the Indians.
Phil Hughes, Fitzroy

The ugly face of Australian cricket has returned, ironically instigated by the man charged with bringing about its cultural change.
David Seal, Balwyn North

Will the AFL be providing head protection for players this season?
Barry Revill, Moorabbin

If the grand prix were cancelled, Victorian taxpayers would save over $60million. It’s a no brainer.
Peter Heffernan, Balaclava

Note from the Editor

The Age’s editor, Gay Alcorn, writes an exclusive newsletter for subscribers on the week’s most important stories and issues. Sign up here to receive it every Friday.

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Up to 50% of city workers to return to office from Monday, mask rules relaxed


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“To get to this eight days in a row of zero is no small thing and it’s a credit to all of our public health team and a credit to all Victorians who play their part in doing so,” he said.

However, Mr Andrews predicted that many Victorians would continue to work from home, saying flexible working arrangements were no longer “a concept”, but “the lived experience for many people over a long year”.

“They’re gonna want much more flexible working arrangements,” he said.

“They can do the job from home for some part of the week and they’re going to want to do that.

“I’ve had nothing but positive feedback from many, many very big employers about productivity not really being impacted, [and] in fact, in many cases, actually being enhanced by people working in a much more flexible way.”

The return-to-work schedule was pushed back last Wednesday, when there were 28 active cases of COVID-19, and a man with no apparent link to the Black Rock cluster was diagnosed with the virus.

From Monday, up to half of all private sector workers can begin working from their desks again, while Victoria’s public service, the city’s largest employer, can bring back up to a quarter of staff.

Mr Andrews said the government had capped the return of public servants at a lower setting to give the private sector more capacity to bring workers back.

The news will be welcomed by many thousands of Victorians who have been working from makeshift home offices since March.

However, the Victorian Chamber of Commerce expects the return to be a slow, drawn-out process and major employers, including NAB, Westpac and ANZ, have said their staff will return in stages, mostly from next month.

As The Age revealed on Wednesday, a Fair Work Commission survey found that only 5 per cent of workers want to return to the office full-time.

The survey of 322 users of the social media site LinkedIn by researchers at Swinburne University found that 35 per cent of participants would prefer to work from home every day, and a majority would like to split their time between home and office.

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One of the report’s authors, John Hopkins, said most employers were developing plans to allow flexible work arrangements, but, in some cases, they were insisting workers return to the office full-time.

Industrial lawyers have warned workers could be sacked if they refuse a request from their employer to return to the office once their workplace is deemed safe and the Victorian government relaxes restrictions on attendance.

Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng said authorities were “relatively confident” there was no community transmission in Victoria, but urged people to remain vigilant.

“What we’d like to do is encourage employers to be flexible to allow staggered start times,” he said. “Employers hopefully understand the need to be flexible and to make sure that not everyone’s going into the building at the same time, but obviously it will be different for different employers.”

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Pre-COVID, almost half the estimated 1 million people who travelled into the CBD every day did so for work, leaving CBD businesses heavily reliant on office workers for financial survival.

At the 2016 census there were 37,341 residents of the CBD, almost half (45 per cent) of whom were students.

But since Australia shut its borders in March, applications by foreign citizens to study in Australia have collapsed by more than 80 per cent. The number of international students is expected to be half its pre-pandemic total by mid 2021.

Melbourne lord mayor Sally Capp said having office workers return to the CBD would be a lifeline for city retail and hospitality businesses.

Mr Andrews said: “This will be a massive boost not only for the office workplaces in the heart of Melbourne, but the cafes, restaurants, bars and shops that rely on their business – it will be fantastic to see the city coming alive again.”

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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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New COVID-19 rules for Qld


Greater Brisbane will be released from lockdown on Monday night, but tight restrictions will stay in place for the next ten days.

Queensland recorded no new locally acquired COVID-19 cases on Monday out of 18,904 tests, prompting the state’s premier and chief health officer to wind back movement restrictions from 6pm.

The city’s 2.5 million residents spent the weekend in lockdown while authorities raced to test and isolate anyone who came in contact with a hotel quarantine cleaner who contracted the highly contagious UK variant of COVID-19.

Annastacia Palaszczuk thanked Queenslanders for their “remarkable effort” over the weekend but said until at least January 22, Brisbane residents will continue to be required to wear a mask.

“We want to make sure that the incubation period, that 14 days, has totally lapsed before we return to normal,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

Residents of Brisbane, Ipswich, Logan, Moreton Bay and Redlands council areas will need to carry a face mask with them “at all times” until 1am on January 22.

“You will need to wear your mask in shopping centres, supermarkets, retail outlets and indoor markets,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

“In hospitals and aged care facilities, in churches and places of worship, libraries and at indoor recreational facilities such as cinemas, art galleries and gyms.”

Masks will also be required in indoor workplaces where workers cannot socially distance, as well as on public transport, and in taxis and ride shares.

Masks will no longer be required in private vehicles, and will not need to be worn while eating or drinking in restaurants or cafes, however front-of-house hospitality workers will continue to need to mask up.

“When in doubt, wear a mask, that is very simple,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

In addition, indoor hospitality and retail spaces will go back to the one-per-four square metre rule while one-per-two square metres will continue outdoors.

No dancing will be allowed except for at weddings, and patrons will only be able to eat or drink in hospitality venues while sitting.

“It is only for ten days and then hopefully, if we get zero community transmission over those ten days, then we can just go back to (being the same as) the rest of Queensland,” Ms Palaszczuk said

Up to 20 people will be allowed to gather inside a private residence until January 22.

Weddings and funerals will be restricted to 100 people, and outdoor stadiums will be allowed to operate at 50 per cent capacity.

At least 370 close contacts of the cleaner have been identified, 154 of which have so far tested negative.

It’s hoped restrictions on aged care homes, hospitals, disability accommodation and prisons will be eased on January 22 as well.

Queensland’s chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young said it was important to take a slow and steady approach to coming out of lockdown.

“The pandemic is still with us,” she said.

“We have achieved so much this past weekend. It’s important we come out of it carefully and sensibly.”

Since 6pm on Friday, residents had only been allowed to leave their home for four reasons, and had to wear a mask anytime they stepped outside their home.

Four cases of coronavirus were detected in returned travellers in hotel quarantine.

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new isolation rules to stop mutant strain spread


Returned travellers undergoing hotel quarantine in Sydney will face strict new procedures before being released.

The changes come as Australia tries to ward off new, highly infectious strains of COVID-19 from across the globe.

NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant on Saturday announced that when a person in quarantine tests positive for COVID-19, genomic sequencing would be carried out in a “timely” manner and be considered before their release.

The number of days a person who tests positive must remain in isolation following the onset of coronavirus symptoms will also be extended from 10 to 14 days following new medical guidance.

“We live in a global world and so all returning travellers are at increasing risk of having one of these mutations which need to be investigated,” Dr Chant said.

“We are putting safeguards in place and … we are managing our quarantine cases among overseas travellers differently.”

Previously, people who tested positive for a mild case of coronavirus could be discharged after 10 days from the onset of symptoms if they did not show any signs of the virus 72 hours earlier.

However, Communicable Disease Network Australia is now advising that this be extended from 10 to 14 days as a precaution.

Before a positive case leaves hotel quarantine, they will also now have to undergo an exit coronavirus antibody test, which will enable them to go if their result is negative.

If they still test positive – given remnants of the virus can linger – an expert medical panel will assess each case to determine if the person is still infectious before being released.

“No-one will be released without exit swabs or a clear understanding of their genomes and their genome sequence results,” Dr Chant said.

“People still may be released if they are PCR (antibody) positive but there will be an expert panel and additional testing around it.”

Dr Chant said the virus could be detected in people’s noses and throats up to four months after infection so the panel would ensure that people were not “permanently locked up”.

The number of places in hotel quarantine across NSW, Western Australia and Queensland was temporarily slashed in half under a national cabinet decision on Friday.

Scott Morrison said the international passenger caps would be reviewed in early February, as Australia manages the returning travellers that have been potentially exposed to new variants of the virus.

Caps in South Australia, Victoria and arrangements in the Northern Territory will remain in place.



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Local News - Victoria

Mourners caught across the border by ‘callous and insensitive’ rules


On New Year’s Eve the Victorian government closed the border to the entire state of NSW, and Ms Boyce’s original permit to fly home was revoked.

“I understood that I took a risk, but I didn’t realise that there would be nothing for me,” she said.

Footscray woman Rebecca Boyce.

Footscray woman Rebecca Boyce.

On New Year’s Day she phoned the Department of Health and Human Services to apply for another compassionate border exemption in order to fly back to Melbourne in time for the funeral.

“Even though the person I spoke to was very compassionate, [after the call] there was no response whatsoever,” she said.

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The day of Ms Boyce’s mother’s burial has now come and gone, but she has still not had any contact from the department and has had multiple attempts at reaching out to them go unanswered.

“I was told that they would get in touch as soon as they could,” she said. “I’ve heard nothing at all from DHHS [since].”

The department has said applications for border exemptions are being triaged, with medical emergencies and those with compassionate cases given priority.

Ms Boyce said she understood that there was large demand for the permits, but described the lack of any follow-up to her application as cruel.

“Why would my mother’s burial not be considered [as a compassionate case]?” she asked. “Even just to say to me, ‘sorry you don’t cut it’.”

“So I missed my mum’s burial – that’s horrid, I just don’t understand why – this must have been something that was foreseeable, that things could turn out this way and have the system in place. It’s just ridiculous.”

COVID reponse commander Jeroen Weimar.

COVID reponse commander Jeroen Weimar.Credit:Paul Jeffers

When asked about Ms Boyce’s case on Tuesday, Victoria’s COVID-19 response commander Jeroen Weimar said her scenario was exactly the type that should be fast-tracked for compassionate purposes – but would not be drawn on why her application hadn’t been approved.

“Absolutely [her case would meet the threshold]. Over the last few days we’ve seen some very, very difficult situations that people are in and obviously we will do everything we possibly can, we humanly can, to support people in those extreme times of need to get there,” he said.

“We have to balance that against the [health] measures.”

Pakenham man Medon Loupis also found himself on the wrong side of the border.

Mr Loupis drove to NSW this week to be with his father, who is in palliative care with late stage-four lung cancer on the Central Coast, but due to a quirk in the bureaucratic system, he is now stuck there until further notice.

“Just from talking to dad, it became very apparent I needed to come up here. I was with him this morning in the aged care facility [and] they said he could kind of die at any time,” he said.

“But before I left Victoria I called the Victoria coronavirus hotline and said ‘I need to go up to NSW, can I get an exemption to get back in?’ “

Despite Health Department staff being “kind and friendly”, Mr Loupis was firmly told that they could only process applications from people in NSW who were seeking to return.

He was told he would need to apply for an exemption, but was told “there was no category for us to grant you an exemption”.

While the compassionate category exists for people to enter Victoria to be with people who are dying, Mr Loupis was told there is no category for residents of Victoria to re-enter Victoria after providing end-of-life care in NSW.

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“So she said it is unlikely your application will be granted,” he said.

Both Ms Boyce and Mr Loupis said they were offended by the tone of Victorian authorities in public press conferences.

“This idea that ‘60,000’ other people came back, why can’t you?'” said Mr Loupis. “It feels callous and insensitive.”

The Victorian government revealed on Tuesday that 57 applications for border exemptions out of a total of 2300 had so far been approved. More than a thousand have been contacted about the progress of their application, while 630 have been asked to provide more evidence.

Mr Weimar continued to urge people with distressing cases to get in contact with the Health Department’s coronavirus hotline.

“I know it’s been an upsetting and distressing couple of days to try and understand how the border closure will impact you, [but] I would urge you to get in touch with us through our website or through our contact centre so we can assist you as quickly as possible,” he said.

On Monday Ms Boyce and her daughter held their own ceremony to honour her mother’s life on the banks of the Pambula River.

“It’s a very, very poetic and very majestic, beautiful place,” she said.

She has now applied again for a third permit, with hopes of getting home to Melbourne by the time her daughter starts back at school.

The Department of Health and Human Services did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.

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Local News - Victoria

Coronavirus return and indoor mask rules will make return to Melbourne CBD offices slow: employer groups


“Each city worker that returns means another coffee bought in our local cafes, an after-work drink in our bars and pubs and extra customers for our retail stores,” she said.

But COVID-19 restrictions were increased last week after Sydney’s outbreak extended to Melbourne and community transmission began again after 61 “double doughnut” days. The new restrictions included the necessity to wear masks indoors.

Most large employers surveyed by The Age say they won’t bring back large sections of their workforce next week, even if they are able to do so.

Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra said mandating mask use was an effective way to suppress virus transmission, but it would deter some employers from bringing staff back.

“We expect that the resurgence of community transmission in Victoria and return of some restrictions, including the requirement to wear masks indoors, will slow the return of office workers,” he said.

“We expect to see a gradual return to offices, with most [employers] indicating they will build towards 50 per cent of staff returning per day by early February.”

NAB, which has about 16,000 people across three Docklands sites, has previously said it would employ a “hybrid” model to balance working-from-home arrangements with commercial offices, and implement a desk-booking system.

In the meantime, the banking giant has told staff they must continue to work from home if they can do so, for the foreseeable future.

“Only those business-critical and front-line teams that are required to work on site, in branches and Business Banking Centres should be coming into a NAB building,” a spokesman said.

“In early 2021, we will look to accommodate more colleagues to return provided it’s safe to do so and in line with government advice.”

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ANZ had planned to bring staff back from late January or early February.

A spokesman said ANZ was monitoring the changing situation closely and would make a decision later this month about when to bring staff back to offices.

“Our plan was always to stagger the return of staff to ensure social distancing and any decision will be based on advice from government and health authorities,” he said.

“We haven’t made it mandatory for people to return to the office and if they are comfortable and can work from home, they are free to do so. However, we have made more space available should any of our people want to return to the office earlier.”

The Victorian public service – the largest employer of workers in the city – was due to bring back up to 25 per cent of its staff from Monday. A government spokesman said that subject to public health advice, the return to work goals would remain.

The Victorian public service would begin a phased return to work, with up to 25 per cent capacity from January 11, and up to 50 per cent on February 8, he said.

Acting Premier Jacinta Allan said on Monday that health authorities would review the evolving transmission rates during the week, and make a final decision about the risks.

“We need to review that over the course of this week and the public health advice again will guide that,” she said.

Acting Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan says public health advice will guide decisions.

Acting Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan says public health advice will guide decisions.Credit:Paul Jeffers

Ms Allan said the state was in “a very strong position” to slow and even stop the virus spread, and at this stage the government remained committed to allowing up to 50 per cent of workers to return.

“We’ll be having meetings over the course of this week,” she said. “The advice at this stage is that those settings won’t change but of course, as all of our settings are, they’re advised by the data and the health advice that goes with the data.”

Australian Super will not bring workers back into the office until Febrary, and a spokesman said the return would be “staged and flexible”.

Westpac, which employs about 1500 people, is in a period of corporate shutdown until January 18. A spokeswoman said the organisation planned to progressively increase the number of people working in its corporate offices when it was safe to do so.

The City of Melbourne has felt the loss of city workers keenly. Chief executive Justin Hanney said city workers comprised about half of the 1 million people who entered the city every day before the pandemic struck.

“Ensuring the safe return of city workers remains a priority to help boost Melbourne’s economic recovery and reinvigorate our streets,” he said.

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“Every extra worker we can safely bring into the city will make a major difference for our local businesses.”

Property Council of Australia Victorian interim executive director Michael Kandelaars said 61 per cent of respondents to a council survey wanted to come back to the office.

“Provided that employers have a COVID-safe plan in place and the health advice doesn’t change between now and Monday, we would continue to encourage the government to remain on track.”

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