The Queensland Government instated a three-day lockdown of Greater Brisbane on Wednesday, following the discovery of COVID-positive hotel cleaner carrying the more-transmissible UK strain of the virus, with the woman visiting different parts of the city until testing positive on Wednesday.
Jetstar flights from Brisbane to Melbourne were cancelled on Saturday, leaving many Victorians struggling to get home.
Officer couple Steph Dugina and James Tomich said it was the frantic calls from family members in Victoria that made them come home from their holiday a day early.
Instead of visiting Dreamworld with four other Melbourne friends as planned, the pair spent a “stressful” night refreshing their phones and rebooking cancelled Jetstar flights three times over.
“We were just watching the cancellation messages come through. We didn’t know whether to risk paying for more flights or not,” Ms Dugina said.
“Then we booked with Virgin and just stayed up all night, waiting for it to be gone too.
“My mum said she wouldn’t sleep until we were actually on the plane – she was so relieved when I gave her a quick call to say we’d boarded.
“There’s a testing place just next to us, so we’ll just get tested and then go home.”
Those flying from Queensland had their ID checked before and after they got off the flight, and were greeted by rows of authorised officers in full personal protective equipment.
But travellers who flew into Melbourne Airport on Saturday morning said they were not explicitly told while on the flight or afterwards by authorised officers whether they needed to be tested for COVID-19 or isolate.
Peter Bentley had travelled to Queensland for a family member’s funeral but only spent a single day in Caloundra on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast before booking a return flight.
Staying less than 40 kilometres the Moreton Bay Council, which has now been declared a ‘Red Zone’, he was worried if he didn’t leave the state he would be stuck there indefinitely.
“I thought if they were going to proceed to shut down the Sunshine Coast, I’d be locked up there,” Mr Bentley said.
“I looked up flights coming back from the Sunshine Coast (on Saturday), and tickets were up to $1160, so I then had to fly through Brisbane.
“It was good when I got here that they had a big team of people checking ID.”
GP Sally McAleese and her husband Stu raced back from the Gold Coast hinterlands with their children Orla, 11, and Patrick, 13, fearing Victoria would close the border to Queensland swiftly “like they did for New South Wales”.
“As soon as we saw the news breaking, we decided to get out. We just didn’t want to get stuck there, to be honest,” Mr McAleese said.
Dr McAleese said they “didn’t realise the border had shut” to those from Greater Brisbane overnight.
“It was very stressful, just not knowing what was going to happen. Even on the plane, we weren’t sure if we would have to hotel quarantine,” she said.
“There was a lot of people there to meet us off the plane, they were asking lots of questions … like what we did during our time, so they could trace us if there was any issue.
“There weren’t necessarily any checks, but you would assume everyone was being honest.”
Virgin Airlines said on Friday night it was operating Queensland services as usual but planned to make changes after the hotspot declaration.
The airline asked passengers travelling within the next three days to avoid calling and to visit its website instead as border restrictions were an “evolving situation”.
Health Minister Martin Foley urged Victorians not to go to the five local government areas in Greater Brisbane across the next three days “in the interests of everybody”.
“The Queensland government, backed by the Prime Minister, have made it clear they are doing a short, sharp, three-day lockdown to deal with these issues, so as to allow the contact tracing teams to get on top of it,” he said at a press conference on Saturday afternoon.
“If you are in those five local government areas, stay where you are, do not move for three days, if you are in the rest of Australia, including the rest of Queensland, do not go to those areas.
“As we have established through this pandemic this virus does not respect state borders or holiday plans, it creates real havoc with the best-laid plans of Victorians and Australians.”
Get our Coronavirus Update newsletter
Stay across the news you need to know related to the pandemic. Sent Monday and Thursday. Sign up here.
Ashleigh McMillan is a breaking news reporter at The Age. Got a story? Email me at email@example.com
Tasmania’s thoroughbred horse jockeys and trainers are not convinced the damaged track at Hobart’s Elwick Racecourse can be fixed, saying a new track may need to be laid.
The Elwick racecourse has been deemed unsafe and racing has been suspended until late January
TasRacing has announced an inquiry into what went wrong
Jockeys and trainers are sceptical the track will be ready for Hobart’s summer racing carnival
All thoroughbred racing at the track has been postponed until January 24.
The decision was made after concerns about the safety were raised when about 40 large divots were found on the track.
Horse trainer Brendan McShane is one of those who doubt the track can be repaired — and certainly not in time for the next Hobart racing carnival on January 24.
The head of the Tasmanian Jockey Association, Kevin Ring, is another.
“I hope I’m wrong, but I think this track is going to have issues right through,” Mr Ring said.
Mr McShane said the track issues had made Tasmania a laughing stock in the racing world.
“It’s almost to a point now where there’s no return — it’s just a laughing stock,” he said.
“For me to see my life as being part of a laughing stock is not something that I’d want read at my funeral, that I was involved in the biggest laughing stock of Tasmania’s history.”
Some races moved
TasRacing chief executive Paul Eriksson said the concerns about the track and the postponement of racing at Elwick until January 24 had meant a number of programming changes.
The $100,000 Tasmanian Guineas was due to be run at Elwick on December 27, but has been moved to Launceston on January 8.
The changes also include an additional race meeting at Spreyton, increased prize money at the Longford meeting on New Year’s Day and three additional Tasbred races in January.
“Importantly, no feature events have been lost under the programmed changes,” Mr Eriksson said.
He said the changes were not ideal, but also not unreasonable.
The jockeys and trainers disagree.
“It costs owners, trainers and jockeys money and they don’t earn. And especially over Christmas, everybody else was earning all around the country in racing but we’re shut down again — not by the Government this time. This time we’re shut down by in-house issues,” Mr Ring said.
Mr McShane said it had an impact on the horses’ performance because they were trained to be ready to race on a certain date.
“We spend all year to prepare ourselves for our carnivals so that when the mainland counterparts come down we can compete against them toe to toe and they don’t take all of our prize money away.
“So the preparation for the trainers and the horses is now completely ruined.”
Cause of damage to be investigated
Racing Minister Jane Howlett was part of an inspection of the track on Tuesday. She has called for an inquiry into how the damage was caused and who was responsible.
TasRacing is in charge of maintaining the track with advice from Strathayr, which supplies the lawn.
Tas Racing said it had flown in additional experts from Strathayr to look at the track.
It is not yet clear which of the two organisations is responsible for the condition of the track.
“I don’t know if I can really go into the details of that — we’re still looking at what did happen and there will be an independent investigation where all of this will be made public — what we’re really focussed on is to make sure that the track is right,” Mr Eriksson said.
A $12 million upgrade of the track was only completed in February this year.
Mr Eriksson said work was undertaken in December but some sections of the track had not recovered “to what we wanted”, and he said plugs were put in but “did not take”.
The decision to use sand instead of loam under the track surface has also been criticised.
“Choosing a sand profile to grow the grass instead of loam was a mistake and that is the reason why we have so many problems with the track,” Mr McShane said.
“The clods that were coming up are all full of sand and the jockeys were finding it difficult to ride on it because they couldn’t see, and now we’ve got to this point where parts of the track are dying and falling to pieces.
“[Keep] the profile of the track so we still have the drainage and the base is good — the profile needs to be studied and it needs to be adapted to what will suit Tasmania and the Elwick race track.
“It’s just going to be problem after problem after problem.”
More than 350 Coles workers rallied in Sydney on Saturday protesting losing their jobs to robots.
The workers, from the Smeaton Grange distribution centre in Sydney’s outer southwest, descended on Belmore Park opposite Central Station from 2pm on Saturday.
They chanted “Coles stole Christmas” as they marched down George Street to the Coles at Broadway Shopping Centre.
Coles aims to have the Smeaton Grange facility fully automated in the next three years, workers have been told.
Smeaton Grange worker Matt, who asked that his last name not be used, told NCA Newswire he was protesting because he wanted “the opportunity to leave the company with some dignity”.
The facility has been closed for more than three weeks as a response to union threats of strikes, leaving workers without pay for 23 days.
Matt, who has four children under the age of 10 and has worked at Coles for seven years, said the closure had been “extremely difficult” in the lead-up to Christmas.
“The uncertainty is scary, it‘s a scary time,” he said.
“I want to get back to work; I want to negotiate a fair deal.”
He said automation was “just the reality”.
“We know what’s coming, we just want the opportunity to leave the business fairly and equitably.”
The union fears certain clauses in the workers’ contracts could allow Coles to get out of paying sought-after redundancy packages.
A Coles spokeswoman said the company had offered the Smeaton Grange workers a “very generous” 3.5 per cent wage increase up until closure and up to 80 weeks’ redundancy pay.
“However the United Workers Union have rejected our offer and are demanding a 5.5 per cent annual wage increase, which is almost eight times the current rate of inflation, and up to two years’ redundancy,” she said.
“Coles has been transparent with the UWU throughout months of negotiations that if they took industrial action at Smeaton Grange in the lead-up to Christmas we would close the site temporarily and make other supply arrangements to ensure that we could replenish our NSW stores over the busy Christmas and New Year period.”
She said Coles had not been disrupted by the closure of the facility.
United Workers Union logistics director Matt Toner said the workers weren’t looking for a pay rise.
“What Coles needs to address are the workers’ concerns … they need clear assurances they will be dealt with fairly and they won’t be sacked arbitrarily.”
Two years ago, three Coles distribution centres including at Smeaton Grange were told they would close in five years as part of a move to automation.
The woman and a teenage girl are the two new cases announced in the state on Sunday as health experts fear another outbreak in the city which had largely controlled the pandemic.
“Unfortunately this person did attend (school) during the infectious period,” Chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier said, according to The Advertiser.
“Anybody who attended the schools and develops symptoms will need to isolate and get tested.”
The adult student is a known contact of an existing patient in South Australia and is now isolated in a medi-hotel while the teen quarantines at home.
Prof Spurrier admitted there was “some potential” of community transmission after the state recorded six new cases in last week.
“I have been concerned with a case every day and now (on Sunday) two cases,” she said.
“We are really in a tenuous position at the moment with the number of active cases in South Australia.”
“We do not want to get anywhere near the level of community transmission … they are seeing in Victoria.”
The teenage girl returned to SA from Melbourne on Jetstar flight on JQ774 on July 26.
The development comes as Victorian premier Daniel Andrews announced the state would enter stage four lockdown with a curfew imposed on residents.
Fears are also escalating in New South Wales where experts have warned the number of citywide outbreaks in Sydney is evidence of community transmission.
University of Melbourne epidemiologist Professor Tony Blakely warned NSW is dangerously close to a second wave as aggressive as Victoria’s.
“I’m really concerned about NSW,” he said, speaking on Channel 10’s The Project.
“I’m very concerned NSW is going to tip over into something like what Victoria was four or six weeks ago,” Prof Blakely said.
“If I was the Chief Health Officer in NSW, I might become unpopular for saying this, I would be doing mandatory face masking but I’d put Sydney into stage three lockdown now before things get worse because you don’t want to end up where Victoria is.”
“Our school is situated in a high-risk area for infection by COVID-19. To reduce the risk to all staff and students at our school we will only be offering online learning and remote teaching.
“On-site learning supervision will not be available. This will only affect a number of students and we thank these families for their cooperation.”
Ms Byrne said the plan was made in consultation with Catholic Education Melbourne and would be reviewed next week.
But Catholic Education Melbourne executive director Jim Miles said schools should follow state health advice.
“Schools should only close if they have received advice from the DHHS to do so,” he said.
Independent Education Union branch secretary Deb James supported the move.
“This is a proactive decision by a school leader in an area of Melbourne where the potential for transmission is very high,” she said.
Victorian state schools are currently open to children of essential workers, vulnerable students and those in year 11 and 12, while specialist schools are open to all students.
Penola Catholic College principal Chris Caldow wants to see an official return to remote learning.
The Broadmeadows school is currently extending home-learning by one week for year 11 and 12 students, despite being cleared to reopen on Monday after recording a positive case, in an effort to stop any community transmission.
“I’d love for the government just to come out and say all VCE students are going remote but if they don’t I hope they’ll give us the freedom to make decisions for our own local communities,” Mr Caldow said.
“You’ve got to have that flexibility to do what’s in the best interests of your school community.”
Mr Caldow said teachers and students were finding remote learning easier this time and some VCE students were already staying at home.
“We’ve had a number of parents really anxious,” he said.
“A number of year 11s and 12s didn’t return anyway because parents made the decision it wasn’t safe to return.”
Education Minister James Merlino said if the state’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton changed advice on schools his department would act immediately.
Professor Sutton’s most recent advice remains that schools are low risk.
“I want to reassure you that schools remain safe places for students and staff when sensible steps are taken,” he said in a statement issued by the Education Department on Friday.
“The available data suggests that transmission in school settings is rare.”
A parent of a year 11 student in Melbourne’s south-east who spoke anonymously said schools needed to return to remote learning to stop uncertainty for students.
“We are going through a very stressful time. This way children can settle down and set a routine for study.”
Melbourne’s north-west is experiencing a spike in cases including at Catholic Regional College Sydenham, which shut this week after seven teachers and multiple students tested positive. Statewide, 96 schools remained closed on Friday after recording cases.
Get our Coronavirus Update newsletter for the day’s crucial developments at a glance, the numbers you need to know and what our readers are saying. Sign up to The Sydney Morning Herald’s newsletter here and The Age’shere.
Anna is a breaking and general news reporter at The Age.