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‘We’ll miss them’: COVID subdues ‘schoolies’ celebration


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Packed crowds were replaced by sets of well-behaved boys and girls on separate tables, the beer-soaked dance floor exchanged for table service and deafening DJs displaced by background music.

“By the end of the night, though, they had all found a way to chat with one another,” he said. “Human nature, it’s a great thing, it’ll always find a way to overcome those barriers.”

Mr Upham said he’s expecting 1000 to 1500 school leavers to come down by next weekend, fewer than half of the usual 3000 partygoers that descend on the small coastal town. His hotel, licensed for 1100 people, is allowed just 300 under pandemic guidelines.

Like all 2020 cultural touchstones, schoolies too feels the weight of the pandemic.

“With restrictions on the venues and the possible activities, limits to shared accommodation, entertainment and transport, there has been a significant number of booking cancellations,” said Surf Coast Shire councillor Gary Allen.

“It’s early days, but from the level of booking cancellations we anticipate that less than half the normal number of schoolies will be in Lorne,” Mr Allen said.

The Lorne Hotel

The Lorne HotelCredit:The Age

The cancellations have hit accommodation providers hard and meant the season that usually yields a solid income before the Christmas rush hasn’t materialised.

“It’s a shame because we really love having them down here,” said general manager of Great Ocean Road Cottages Paki Henry, “they don’t make a lot of trouble any more and they’re only here for a week. We’ll miss them if they don’t come.”

Assistant Commissioner Russell Barrett said police would be patrolling popular schoolies locations and enforcing social distancing.

“We know that 2020 has been a very difficult year for everyone – none more so than our year 12 students who have sadly missed out on a lot of milestone moments in their final year of schooling,” Mr Barrett said.

“We understand many school leavers will be looking forward to celebrating the end of this huge year with their friends, however, these celebrations must be held in a safe and responsible way that also adheres to the Chief Health Officer’s directions.”

A typica schoolies scene in Lorne

A typica schoolies scene in LorneCredit:Joe Armao

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how our scientists led the COVID fight


It is just one of many contributions Melbourne has made to the global fight against COVID-19.

Our southern city is Australia’s scientific powerhouse – it typically captures about half of all government research funds.

The city has a huge concentration of scientists; perhaps 10,000 researchers of different stripes, all working within walking distance of each other in the sprawl of research institutes in Parkville. When crisis loomed, they were ready.

“I’m biased. But I think Melbourne has made an outsized contribution. We have punched above our weight,” said Professor Shitij Kapur, dean of health sciences at the University of Melbourne.

We have led the way on basic research to understand what the virus does to our bodies. We have started work on promising new cures. And our epidemiologists have worked closely with government at every level, ensuring our public health response was among the very best in the world.

Professor George Lovrecz and Mylinh La at CSIRO's vaccine manufacturing plant in Clayton. They hold a bottle filled with cells that will be used to produce protein for the vaccine. Behind them is a machine that will eventually be used to purify the vaccine.

Professor George Lovrecz and Mylinh La at CSIRO’s vaccine manufacturing plant in Clayton. They hold a bottle filled with cells that will be used to produce protein for the vaccine. Behind them is a machine that will eventually be used to purify the vaccine.Credit:Scott McNaughton

Grown in goo

The University of Queensland’s ‘molecular clamp’ vaccine is filled with tiny proteins identical in shape to the spike protein SARS-CoV-2 uses to bind and enter human cells.

How do you make a protein? You grow it – in a vat.

All cells have tiny protein factories in them. Feed in genetic code and the factory makes a protein.

After the UQ team perfected the shape of their spike-mimic, they put that genetic code into a line of Chinese hamster cells, and sent the tiny, precious vial down to Professor Nilsson’s team.

At Clayton, the team grew that tiny seed into a huge batch of cells pumping out proteins.

But making enough vaccine to immunise millions of people requires those cells to be pumping out protein at peak production. Professor Nilsson’s team carefully tweaked the nutrient levels over and over, trying to get the mix right – while also racing against the clock, as cases and deaths piled up.

They delivered about 10,000 doses needed for the first patients to be injected at the University of Queensland in July.

“It’s an amazing feeling. You realise you’re contributing in real time to a process that could make a huge difference to many, many people’s lives,” she said.

The backup plan

Announcements from Moderna, Pfizer and AstraZeneca that their vaccines appear effective is good news.

But these vaccine developers are understandably focused on speed. Many scientists suspect these first generation vaccines will be good enough to save lives, but not good enough to end the pandemic altogether.

They think we’re going to need second-generation vaccines. That’s what Professor Colin Pouton and his Monash University team are working on.

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UQ’s vaccine mimics the entire spike of SARS-CoV-2. Unfortunately, there are several other coronaviruses that infect humans (they typically cause colds). Their spikes look a lot like CoV-2s.

Professor Pouton suspects the immune systems of people who have been infected with a common coronavirus are likely to be making antibodies for those viruses – rather than COV-2.

“Young people are not suffering. Old people generally do suffer, and some are getting really seriously ill and dying. You have to figure out what is going on there,” said Professor Pouton. “We think older people have seen lots of coronaviruses in the past.

Professor Pouton’s solution: a vaccine that uses just the very tip of CoV-2’s spike, so there is no chance of crossed immune wires.

If it works, it could be administered to the elderly as a second-generation vaccine. They hope to begin clinical trials within six months.

Making a bank

None of these projects are possible without the basic science that unpicks exactly how COVID-19 invades our cells.

For much of that, we have Dr Irani Thevarajan’s Doherty Institute team to thank.

For years, they had been worried about a key pandemic problem: how do you fight a virus you know nothing about?

The key, they realised, was immediately getting top-quality data. To that end, they built a research project that could be activated as soon as a pandemic hit.

In January, when word reached our shores about a mysterious pandemic in Wuhan, they hit the button.

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Their study, called SETREP-ID, managed to capture one of the first people in Australia with the virus, back before it even had a name.

Their study is about depth not breadth. They have tracked the course of COVID-19 through a person’s body in blood, stool and urine samples and close studies of antibody responses.

All those samples will be kept in a biobank, and the patients will be tracked for the next six months to monitor any long-term changes.

It’s unglamorous but vital work; some 16 research projects are using their data right now, and they helped publish the first-ever study of the immune response to COVID-19 in February – a big deal.

“I think it was a key contribution, when no one really had an understanding of this particular virus,” said Dr Thevarajan. “There were no other platforms in the country that were able to do this.”

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Investors bank on vaccine as ASX recoups COVID losses


“I think this could be our Santa Rally,” Mr Dawes said.

“We are doing it now and we will end the year flat, I think we will pretty much end the year between 6600 points and 6700 points.”

The S&P/ASX 200 has, according to Refinitiv data, added more than $200 billion to its market cap so far in November and is on track for its best month since it launched in 2000.

It is now just 40 points shy off where it started the year. After a strong start to 2020, the index was hit hard as the pandemic hit Australian shores, falling more than 30 per cent in March. While it remains below the February 20 record high close of 7162.5, the ASX 200 is now out of correction territory.

The banking and mining titans dominated gains in the market on Tuesday, while energy companies soared as the Oxford University/Astra Zeneca vaccine trials further lifted hopes for global travel, sending oil prices surging to their highest in months. All sectors closed higher.

The trials showed the vaccine had an average 70 per cent success rate in preventing the coronavirus, with efficacy rising to as high as 90 per cent in some tests. Further sweetening the result was the fact that the vaccine does not need to be kept at extremely cold temperatures like the recent candidates developed by Pfizer and Moderna.

“Vaccine news over the last few weeks has given markets renewed confidence that there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Nomura Australia investment strategist Andrew Ticehurst said.

”Global activity could pick up and global travel could pick up.”

Energy firms – among the most beaten-down sectors in 2020 – rose on Tuesday, easily outpacing the wider index as oil prices jumped on a buoyant outlook for fuel demand.

Beach Energy was the market’s best performer, up 8.2 per cent to $1.86, while Origin Energy rose 5.2 per cent to $5.05, Santos climbed 3.9 per cent to $6.36, and Woodside Petroleum climbed 3 per cent to $22.64.

Westpac’s chief economist Bill Evans said the banks and travel sectors have boosted the ASX in recent weeks as the economic recovery and vaccine timetable appears to be better than expected.

The economic and jobs data has been encouraging, he said, which was making economists optimistic the economy could avoid a ‘fiscal cliff’ as government and debt support winds back.

“There is optimism about the positive flow of data that we have seen, particularly around labour and spending,” Mr Evans said.

“The cliff is a December quarter effect rather than September quarter. We are now starting to see December quarter data look quite strong as well. Banks were the ones that suffered the most when the economy (went down) and if the economy is going to recover more quickly, that would support banks.”

The big four lenders each hit eight-month highs, with ANZ leading the pack.

It rose 3.1 per cent to $22.97, followed by a 2.6 per cent gain for both Westpac and NAB, and a 2 per cent leap for Commonwealth Bank to $81.16.

Gold miners suffered as soaring risk appetite whacked precious metals prices, but iron ore giant BHP climbed 3.4 per cent to a near three-month high of $38.30. Rio Tinto added 2.2 per cent to $103.13 and Fortescue Metals rose 2.7 per cent to $18.09.

Additional risk was removed from the table on Tuesday when Donald Trump took to Twitter to all but concede defeat in the US presidential election, backing the transition of power to the incoming Biden regime despite his recent efforts to overturn the result.

“It is hardly a surprise,” Mr Ticehurst said, “but if market participants sense that this transition will be smoother, that is positive for sentiment.”

Markets also applauded news that President-elect Biden plans to name former Federal Board chair Janet Yellen as his Treasury Secretary.

The cherry on top came in the local news that the border restrictions between NSW and Queensland would be lifted on December 1, pushing Qantas stocks up 3.9 per cent to $5.57.

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One week to determine charges over COVID lie


South Australian Police believe within one week they will determine if anyone will face charges over the lie that sent the state into lockdown.

Assistant Commissioner Peter Harvey said almost 500 hours of footage had now been looked at that could help establish if there was a direct link between a 36-year-old Spanish national and quarantine hotel, Peppers Adelaide.

“There are a lot of subplots within our investigation, which I cannot go into, and we undertake a process in regards to Peppers to see what happened in and at the hotel and if there is any relevance from a contact tracing point of view and if there were people there that shouldn’t have been,” he told ABC Radio.

Mr Harvey said rumours or innuendo surrounding the Woodville Pizza Bar played no part in the investigation.

“The obligation, well practised by these investigators, is to strip away the emotion and look at the facts,” he said.

“My goal is within the next week or so is to have an answer so it’s put to rest either way.”

He said he could not comment on if his earlier comments that there was no evidence of criminal activity or a motive had changed.

“There’s nothing I can make a comment whether there is enough evidence or not, but we’re very pleased that we’re progressing to the point where we will have an answer in the very near future.

“It may be nothing that is presented to any court at all. Equally, there may so watch this space.”

The Spanish national tested positive to COVID-19 and lied to contact tracers about how he contracted the virus, telling contact tracers he purchased food from the pizza bar.

Based on that information, health authorities suspected he caught the virus during a short period of time while in the store picking up his order or off the pizza box itself.

It caused concern that the outbreak was more virulent than it actually was, leading to the nation’s strictest lockdown during the pandemic.

The man – who is in Australia on a temporary graduate visa and works at the Stamford medi-hotel in the CBD – later admitted he was actually an employee at the Woodville Pizza Bar.

This made him a close contact of another confirmed case who also worked at the business as well as working as a security guard at Peppers Adelaide quarantine hotel.

Mr Harvey fronted the media for the first time on Monday and said investigators were waiting to speak to two other people related to the pizza shop who were in hotel quarantine.

“They are certainly working with solicitors. They are seeking legal advice and legal representation before we speak any further, which is their right, and that is appropriate,” he said.

SA Police’s Task Force Protect is investigating if there was any criminal activity by anyone before or after advice was given to SA Health before the lockdown.



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When Australia will see a COVID vaccine


Hopes for a speedy coronavirus vaccine have been boosted with announcements that two potential candidates are more than 90 per cent effective.

The results have exceeded the expectations of experts and could mean doses of the vaccines may be available in the US by the end of the year.

But one of the reasons these vaccines have been produced so quickly is because they use an experimental technique for producing a new type of mRNA vaccine, which has never been approved before.

Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use mRNA technology and the novel nature of the vaccines have raised questions about how safe they are.

Up to now vaccines have been developed using a weak or dead version of a virus, or by using a laboratory-made protein.

For example, the development of a flu vaccine can involve creating a diluted form of the virus by incubating it in chicken’s eggs.

However, mRNA vaccines can be created entirely by scientists in a laboratory using chemicals, enzymes, bacteria or live cells.

RELATED: Aussies who could prolong the pandemic

Essentially the scientists make a synthetic version of the virus’s messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA). Once this is injected into the body, the mRNA prompts the body to make a particular protein, which is detected by the immune system and this causes the immune system to make antibodies to fight against it.

The vaccine basically trains the body what to do if it comes into contact with the protein again.

Traditional vaccines also coach the body on how to fight a virus but this is done through injecting tiny amounts of the virus or the protein into the body, rather than triggering the body to make the protein itself.

ARE THE VACCINES SAFE?

Professor of Immunology, Magdalena Plebanski of RMIT University, told news.com.au that the nice thing about mRNA vaccines is that they don’t last long.

“After it is used to make the protein to induce the immune response, that’s it, it disappears,” she said.

“It’s not something that hangs around for a while so it’s expected to have a high safety profile,” Prof Plebanski said.

However, Prof Plebanski said while scientists did understand parts of how the mechanism worked, they didn’t understand 100 per cent why the vaccines were so effective.

“We still don’t know how it activates such a strong immune response,” she said.

This is why careful testing of the vaccines’ safety is important and Prof Plebanski said this was happening. Participants in final Phase III trials of both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines will be monitored for up to two years.

RELATED: Coronavirus could ‘fight back’ against vaccine

Prof Plebanski said the reason why the vaccines were developed so quickly is because of the massive injection of funding and attention on finding a treatment for the coronavirus.

Prior to the pandemic, mRNA technology was already quite reasonably advanced and was being developed for use on other diseases. The process for developing the vaccines had also been through initial safety trials.

“As far as I can see there is no skimping on any monitoring safety,” Prof Plebanski said.

She said every single vaccine was being put through the process set out by peak regulatory bodies in the US and Europe, which considered safety their most important factor.

“There are benchmarks they have to hit before they can be considered safe,” she said.

“They are being put through the wringer and they have to be, there should be no shortcuts.”

MODERNA VACCINE

US biotech firm Moderna announced on Monday that its vaccine mRNA-1273 is 94.5 per cent effective.

Out of 30,000 people who participated in the Phase III trial, just five people caught the coronavirus among the vaccinated group, while 90 people in its placebo group were infected.

Two doses were given to the participants 28 days apart.

Adverse reactions to the vaccine were generally mild or moderate in severity and included injection site pain in 2.7 per cent of people.

The only other adverse reactions seen in more than 2 per cent of participants were recorded after the second dose and included fatigue (9.7 per cent), muscle pain (8.9 per cent) joint pain (5.2 per cent), headache (4.5 per cent), pain (4.1 per cent) and redness at the injection site (2 per cent).

These symptoms generally didn’t last long.

RELATED: Moderna announces vaccine breakthrough

One advantage this vaccine has over its rival Pfizer version is that it doesn’t have to be stored in extremely cold temperatures.

The vaccine can be stored for 30 days between 2C to 8C, which is within the temperature range of a normal fridge. If it is stored at -20C it can last for up to six months.

In comparison the Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored at -70C, which requires a special freezer only found at major hospitals.

Moderna plans to apply for emergency approval in the US and the world within weeks.

When will it be available? Moderna expects to have about 20 million doses ready to ship in the US by the end of the year. It says it’s on track to produce 500 million to a billion doses globally in 2021, however, Australia has not secured supply of this vaccine yet.

PFIZER VACCINE

Not to be outdone, the US-German collaboration between Pfizer and BioNTech announced on Wednesday further trial results showing its vaccine to be 95 per cent effective.

This is good news for Australia as Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed this month that the government had signed an agreement for 10 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine if it was successful.

The BNT162b2 vaccine also requires two doses, given 21 days apart.

The trials showed that of the 43,000 participants in the Phase III trial, only eight people in the vaccine group got the coronavirus, compared to 162 in the placebo group.

The vaccine was also found to be more than 94 per cent effective in people older than 65 years.

The only adverse reactions seen in more than 2 per cent of participants were fatigue (3.8 per cent of people) and headache (2 per cent).

RELATED: Pfizer announces vaccine is 95 per cent effective

The main limitation of the Pfizer vaccine is that it needs to be stored at -70C, which requires a special freezer only found at major hospitals.

Pfizer is developing GPS-tracked shipping containers with dry ice to try and get around this problem.

The company applied for emergency use approval from the US Food and Drug Administration for its vaccine on Friday (local time). The FDA said its vaccines committee will meet on December 10 to discuss the request.

When will it be available? About 1.3 billion doses are expected to be rolled out by the end of 2021. About 10 million doses are expected to be available in Australia from early to mid 2021 – subject to approval by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

OTHER VACCINES WITH POTENTIAL

As well as the Pfizer candidate, Australia has also bought doses of three other promising vaccines.

This includes the University of Oxford vaccine, which is being developed by AstraZeneca based on a chimpanzee adenovirus.

This is currently in Phase III trials and if successful, it could be available in Australia from early 2021 and would be manufactured locally by CSL.

On Thursday, the makers said trials showed it safely produced a robust immune response in healthy older people, while producing fewer side effects than in younger people.

Earlier this year the trial was put on hold while there were investigations into a suspected adverse reaction in one participant but the trial has since resumed.

If it’s successful Australia will get 3.8 million doses delivered in early 2021, with a further 30 million doses to be manufactured in Australia throughout the year.

Another vaccine in Phase III trials is Novavax and the Morrison Government has signed an agreement to buy 40 million doses.

It will be available as early as the first half of 2021 if it is successful.

The University of Queensland is also developing a part-taxpayer funded vaccine. Although it is still in Phase I trials, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said this month the trial had shown promising signs and it could be available by late 2021.

Both Novavax and the Queensland University vaccines use innovative molecular clamp technology.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has identified 48 “candidate vaccines” at the stage of clinical trials in humans, up from 11 in mid June.

Twelve of them are at the most advanced Phase III stage, during which a vaccine’s effectiveness is tested on a large scale, generally involving tens of thousands of people across several continents.

Russia claims to have developed a vaccine that is more than 90 per cent effective and several state-run Chinese labs also have promising candidates.

However, WHO’s emergencies director warned Wednesday that vaccines would not arrive in time to defeat a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic that appears to be sweeping across the United States and Europe.

“I think it’s at least four to six months before we have significant levels of vaccination going on anywhere,” Michael Ryan said during a public question and answer session live on social media.

charis.chang@news.com.au | @charischang2





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Cricket Australia sends ODI squad to Sydney, BBL players to NSW North Coast amid Adelaide COVID outbreak


Australia’s one-day international squad members have rushed to Sydney, and Big Bash League players have fled Adelaide en masse, as Cricket Australia tries to plot a path around a growing COVID-19 cluster.

The Adelaide Strikers have flown out for a pre-season camp in Coffs Harbour, while Adelaide-based players from other BBL sides will also now call the New South Wales North Coast home.

Players were enjoying a week off when they got the call to urgently pack and prepare to relocate, with some making the dash back home from Kangaroo Island.

Adelaide’s coronavirus outbreak, which comes one month out from the first Test between Australia and India at Adelaide Oval, has also prompted Cricket Australia (CA) to alter travel plans for its limited-overs squad.

White-ball paceman Kane Richardson, who recently welcomed his first child with wife Nyki, has remained at home in Adelaide.

But players from Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania — who have been forced to self-isolate as per their states’ rules regarding anybody who recently travelled from Adelaide — touched down in Sydney long before their planned arrival on Sunday.

CA chief executive Nick Hockley thanked players and staff for their understanding regarding changes to travel schedules and “their commitment to ensuring the summer of cricket is a huge success”.

“I would also like to thank the various leadership groups across Australian cricket for coming together over the past 48 hours and taking quick, decisive action,” Hockley said.

“CA has taken a proactive approach.”

CA is also likely to rejig the itinerary of its Australia A squad, which includes Test captain Tim Paine, as it seeks to avoid more logistical headaches before a tour game in Sydney starts on December 6.

Paine and other high-profile teammates were part of the Sheffield Shield hub in Adelaide, which wrapped up last week.

No Shield player visited any of the locations flagged by South Australia Health.

At this stage there is no suggestion that Adelaide’s pink-ball Test could be shifted away from the city, but that could easily change if the COVID-19 outbreaks grows.

Twenty cases are now linked to the original cluster, with another 14 considered at high risk of infection.

SA Premier Steven Marshall said he was “hopeful the cricket will go ahead”, but that he was yet to speak with anybody at CA.

Wicketkeeper Alex Carey is among Australia’s Indian Premier League contingent already training and quarantining in Sydney.

But the South Australian’s wife Eloise and son Louis were part of the COVID-19 chaos.

They opted to jump on a plane and rush to Sydney, wanting to ensure they could see the 29-year-old for the first time since he departed for a tour of England in August.

“Unfortunately the news out of Adelaide wasn’t great over the last 24 hours,” Carey told reporters.

“The [Strikers] boys have been able to get back to Adelaide, pack their gear up and get on a flight out as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the South Australian Cricket Association (SACA) cancelled all games under its umbrella for the next fortnight as per the state’s recent restrictions on sport.

AAP



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One new covid case linked to Parafield


South Australia has recorded just one new infection overnight, which was a close contact of the known cluster, according to the Premier.

It brings the total number of recorded and suspected coronavirus infections linked to the cluster to 20.

Speaking on breakfast radio shows ABC Radio and 5AA, Steven Marshall said it was an anxious time for the state but welcomed the encouraging news.

“The good news is that overnight there’s been just one new infection,” Mr Marshall said.

“The advice was go hard and go early, and get on top of this straight away. We can’t let this get away and that’s what we did.

“What I’m pleased about is how quickly we’ve been able to get onto the situation at the moment. We put the net over SA yesterday.

“It’s still early days and there is still an anxious 24-48 hours ahead but the good news is it is a different situation to what we had yesterday morning.”

Following Monday’s spike in COVID cases, the Northern Territory, Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania quickly closed their borders to the state, which was something Mr Marshall said he expected.

Some of South Australia’s federal politicians returned to Canberra on Monday night, ahead of a fortnight of parliament sitting in December, to reduce the risk.

“We’re putting excellent, transparent data through to all of those jurisdictions so their chief health officers can assess the risk and make decisions,” the Premier said.

“I expected yesterday that many would impose the border controls and restrictions but I think if we get on top of this, and that’s certainly our intention, then I think we might see those lifted fairly swiftly as well.”

Mr Marshall said if the state got its community transmission under control quickly it would look back into accepting the same amount of repatriated Australians.

“It’s always under review but we set our upper limit at a capacity we were comfortable with. Obviously at this point we’ve had to cancel any flights that come into SA this week because we need to preserve as much of our capacity for our medi hotels as we can.

“We need to play our part in repatriating stranded Australians stuck overseas and I think we carefully calibrated our capacity but as we know it is a very contagious disease, even when you everything right so there is still risk associated with this.”

Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said the general feeling around the SA community was to get things under control and back to where it was prior to November 15.

Mr Stevens – who is also the state co-ordinator – also clarified some restriction changes on 5AA radio.

He said private gatherings at public parks or beaches were capped at 50, all indoor social gatherings were capped at 10 people at private residents and unnecessary intrastate travel was advised against.

Unlike the maximum number of people at funerals, the cap at weddings remained at 150 but dancing while consuming alcohol is no longer allowed.

“Given the fact there is hopefully a maximum of two weeks for these imposed restrictions, it was grossly unfair to those people who had planned weddings for the next two weekends to pull the rug out from under them after they paid money, made arrangements, and potentially had people coming from interstate,” Commissioner Stevens said.

“We know this (the restrictions) causes a massive impact on businesses and individuals but this is hopefully only for a short period of time. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

“We’re not out of the woods but if we woke up this morning to find out we had another series of cases in the double digits then we ought to have been very worried about that.

“The fact so many people are lining up for testing is a real testament to the people of SA who are taking this seriously.”

Testing stations across Adelaide saw thousands of people lining up for hours, with some even being turned away.

Mr Marshall thanked South Australians for doing the right thing and getting tested.

“We knew there was going to be delays. people knew there were going to be delays but they still did it because they knew the consequences of this getting away would be absolutely catastrophic so I’m very grateful to everyone who is doing the right thing.”



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COVID nurse in fight over in-person rental inspections


“My health and safety is at risk in my own house when it’s the one place that I should feel safe.”

Restrictions in Victoria have eased to allow for in-person inspections. Under the rules, only 15 minutes are allowed for appointments that are limited to one agent and one prospective purchaser or tenant and another member of their household.

Real Estate Institute of Victoria president Leah Calnan said the majority of disputes in the pandemic have been over rental payments and evictions, of which a moratorium was still in place, but in-person inspections are becoming more of an issue.

“Whilst there were some transactions and sales that took place during the stage four lockdown, that did allow virtual inspections to take place, now the state’s opening back up people want to view in person,” Ms Calnan said.

“They’re not going to outlay hundreds of thousands of dollars on a virtual inspection.”

Consumer Affairs Victoria, which set up the Residential Dispute Resolution Scheme in April, has fielded calls from more than 55,000 tenants, landlords and agents during the pandemic and, as of last month, a spokesperson said they’ve resolved about 14,000 disputes.

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Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal figures show there were 21,260 tenancy disputes between March and September, or about 115 a week on average.

Tenants Victoria chief executive Jennifer Beveridge said their legal advice lines continued to be in high demand, including from renters who are still being issued notices to vacate in the moratorium.

“We have seen concerning behaviours from some agents and landlords in refusing genuine requests for rent reductions in the first place, resulting sometimes in delayed outcomes,” Ms Beveridge said.

“Tenants have shared many stories of agents being very slow in responding to requests or refusing to consider the special circumstances. Agents and landlords in some cases have only offered a deferral of the full rent, which means debt accumulates for the tenant already in financial hardship.”

Ms Calnan, a property manager, said there’s been stress on landlords too and she has clients who have had properties vacant for months.

“It’s an easy comment to make – they’re an investor, they took the risk – but it’s not as easy as that. They still have costs and expenses and mortgages they need to put on hold, just like everyone else,” she said.

Ms Lambert, who also works as a critical care nurse across three major hospitals, took her landlord and real estate agent to VCAT to prevent in-person inspections from occurring, arguing virtual inspections would be sufficient as she comes to the end of her lease.

Her legal representatives at Gordon Legal said Ms Lambert had to prove why she should be exempt, confident that being employed as a frontline healthcare worker at tests sites would constitute ‘exceptional circumstances’ under the Residential Tenancies Act.

But VCAT and the real estate agent disagreed, and she’s now required to accommodate inspections.

“I don’t think it’s fair. I’m a high risk of getting infection and I’m a high risk of infecting others,” Ms Lambert said.

“I’ve got three months left (on my lease), that’s all I’m asking for.”

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International travellers still biggest risk says Mark McGowan amid four more COVID cases


Four international travellers tested positive for COVID-19 last night as more than 2000 people took advantage of the lifting of hard borders to cross into WA, Mark McGowan said this morning.

The Premier said there were few delays as families split apart for eight months by border restrictions were joyfully reunited.

Three West Australians and one Queenslander who tested positive for COVID after flying in from overseas were in hotel quarantine.

Mr McGowan said WA still had a “safe regime” despite relaxing its domestic border arrangements.

“What the test results overnight show is that international arrivals of Australians is clearly the biggest risk to the State,” Mr McGowan said.

“Making sure anyone returning from overseas is quarantined is the right way to go. It keeps us safe, it ensures we can test and protect our citizens.”

Under WA’s new controlled border arrangements, travellers from all states except Victoria and NSW can enter without having to self-isolate for 14 days.

By 4.30am, 2,087 people had arrived in WA from within Australia by road or by air, including 1392 on 14 domestic flights.

Nearly 450 people drove through the border checkpoint at Eucla and 246 came through Kununurra.

Another 10 domestic flights are expected to arrive today, but none from Victoria or NSW.

Mr McGowan said 449 international travellers had also arrived on four different flights, with around 1000 returning Australians flying in to Perth each week.

He repeated his call to keep the nation’s international borders shut for as long as another year, until a vaccine could be rolled out.

“The world appears to be on the cusp of a vaccine,” he said.

“Hopefully by the end of next year we can roll it out to all our citizens. Why don’t we wait until then before we start opening international borders.”



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State concerned about COVID ‘incursion’ from NSW


One of Victoria’s biggest COVID-19 concerns is people from NSW bringing the virus in, Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng says.

Victoria now has three active cases in the whole state, compared to 23 in NSW, nine in Queensland and 53 in New Zealand.

Professor Cheng said Victoria’s case numbers were “about as good as it can get” after the state recorded zero new cases and zero new deaths for the 15th day in a row on Saturday.

“What we’re still concerned about are two things,” he said.

“One is that there may still be the potential for hidden chains of transmission out there — obviously that chance is decreasing as time goes on.

“And then, obviously, the potential from incursion of cases from outside, from New Zealand or New South Wales.”

NSW will open its border to Victoria on November 23.

A NSW Health spokeswoman said the state had recorded no locally acquired cases in the past seven days but remained vigilant in the fight against COVID-19.

“NSW Health will continue to work closely with our colleagues in Victoria and other jurisdictions to protect the health and safety of people throughout Australia,” she said.

In the 24 hours to Saturday morning, 14,614 Victorians were tested for coronavirus.

Professor Cheng also said 515 historical, unknown cases had been reclassified after the Department of Health and Human Services deployed a new data mining algorithm.

There were about 4200 historical COVID-19 cases with an unknown source, meaning DHHS does not know how the person caught the virus.

The reclassified cases are mostly from July and August.

The algorithm analysed information such as workplaces, residential addresses, and outbreak locations to find links that were not discovered manually, Professor Cheng said.

“It’s important to correct the record so that we can analyse the data correctly to make sure we have learnings for next time,” he said.

Meanwhile, Melbourne residents flocked out of the city on Friday evening, as the city celebrated its first opportunity to have a weekend getaway in months.

The ‘ring of steel’ banning travel of more than 25 kilometres from the home, and Melbourne residents going to regional Victoria, was lifted on Monday.

The next step on the ‘Roadmap to Recovery’ for Victoria is scheduled for November 22.

Premier Daniel Andrews announced on Monday the following changes to restrictions would come into effect from 11.59pm on that Sunday:

  • Up to 10 people will be allowed inside a home at one time
  • Up to 50 people can gather outdoors
  • Indoor physical recreation – including gyms – can have up to 100 people with classes of up to 20
  • Indoor community sport can go ahead with up to 100 people and outdoor with up to 500 people
  • Weddings and funerals allowed with up to 100 people, unless at a private residence
  • Hospitality venues can have 100 people indoors and 200 outdoors

For the full list see the ‘Third Steps’ guide at the bottom of this statement from Daniel Andrews.



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