Queensland has seemingly dodged a potentially catastrophic outbreak of COVID-19, and Brisbane residents are on Friday breathing easier as they wake to a massive wind back of restrictions.
As of 1am on Friday, masks are no longer mandatory, dancing is allowed once again, gathering restrictions have eased, and visitors are allowed back into hospitals, aged care facilities, prisons and disability accommodation.
For the last 11 days, residents of Brisbane, Logan, Ipswich, Redlands and Moreton Bay have been subject to strict restrictions following a three day lockdown.
It comes after a hotel quarantine worker from the Hotel Grand Chancellor tested positive for the highly infectious UK strain of COVID-19, and was unknowingly infectious in the community for three days.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and the state’s chief health officer were so concerned about what an outbreak would do to Queensland they locked the city down, before implementing a mask mandate and other restrictions.
Thursday marked 14 days since the last case of COVID-19 was in the community, and Dr Jeannette Young said she felt “comfortable” that Brisbane had dodged a bullet.
Ms Palaszczuk said Queensland had fought hard and fought fast and deserved to be rewarded for their efforts.
“Brisbane was Australia’s first battleground for this new strain,” she said on Thursday.
“A short, sharp shutdown was successful in keeping the movement of people and the virus to a minimum.”
“We have come through this together, we have come through it stronger, and we’ll continue to do that every single day.”
The AFLW has made several changes to the opening two rounds of its fixtures amid state border restrictions.
West Coast will host Adelaide in Perth and Melbourne will travel to the Gold Coast to play the Suns in round one
The Giants will face West Coast in Adelaide in round two
AFLW head Nicole Livingstone says the league is trying to be as “adaptable as possible” with is fixturing
Two matches in round one have been changed, with West Coast to host Adelaide in Perth — due to the open Western Australia-South Australia border — and Melbourne to travel to the Gold Coast to take on the Suns.
The Eagles were originally set to travel to the Gold Coast, while the Crows were fixtured to play the Demons at Casey Fields.
Greater Western Sydney’s temporary relocation to Adelaide, which is in place until at least the end of round two, has seen its round-two match adjusted.
The Giants will still open their season against the Dockers at Fremantle Oval on January 31 but will now host West Coast at Adelaide’s Norwood Oval on February 6 in round two.
GWS confirmed the round-two match would nominally be a Giants home match but they will not lose the right to host five home fixtures across NSW and the ACT.
Fremantle was due to play Collingwood away in round two but will instead play Adelaide at Norwood Oval on February 6.
The Magpies will now host Gold Coast that day, while North Melbourne’s clash with St Kilda at Melbourne’s Arden Street has been pushed back to February 7.
“The adjustments made to the first two rounds provides certainty into the early part of the season and allows the competition to remain as adaptable as possible as the season progresses in a constantly changing environment,” AFL head of women’s football Nicole Livingstone said.
“Throughout the planning process, we listened to and worked closely with each stakeholder to ensure the best possible outcome for everyone in the game.
“We openly acknowledge there are unique challenges and recognise the non-football commitments of both AFLW players and staff and through this open dialogue we know the AFLW community remains determined to work through them to achieve a full season.”
The mask mandate will end, dancing will return, and visitor and gathering limits will be eased across Greater Brisbane from 1am on Friday, after weeks of tight restrictions.
The move comes just two weeks after the city was plunged into a three-day lockdown in a bid to curb any community transmission of COVID-19 after a hotel quarantine worker tested positive to the highly contagious B117 strain.
Both she and her partner spent a number of days in the community while unknowingly infectious, prompting a “short, sharp” lockdown followed by ten days of tight restrictions before the Hotel Grand Chancellor cluster bottomed out at six cases.
But, with the confirmation on Thursday morning that no other cases had been detected in the community in the last 14 days, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told Brisbane residents they could “go back to our road map from December”.
She thanked the people of Brisbane, Logan, Redlands, Moreton Bay and Ipswich for their success in stopping the spread of the new strain.
“Brisbane was Australia’s first battleground for this new strain,” she said.
“We have come through together, we have come through it stronger and we’ll continue to do that every single day.”
As of 1am on Friday, masks will no longer be required at gyms and other indoor locations, however the chief health officer said they should still be worn “wherever you can’t social distance.”
Wedding and funeral guest limits will return to 200 people, private gatherings at homes will be capped at 50, and open-air stadiums will return to 100 per cent capacity.
Indoor venues including cafes, restaurants, bars, clubs, places of worship, libraries and art galleries will be able to host one person per two-square-metres, and private gatherings for up to 100 will be allowed in public spaces.
Ticketed venues including cinemas, theatres and live music venues will return to 100 per cent capacity.
And, just in time for the weekend, the dance ban will be lifted at all indoor and outdoor venues, subject to the one-per-two square metre rule.
All hospitality industry businesses must continue to comply with electronic contact tracing requirements.
Ms Palaszczuk said it was unlikely there would be any further easing of social restrictions “until the vaccine.”
Dr Jeannette Young said she wanted Queenslanders, particularly those in Greater Brisbane, to continue to come forward to get tested if they have “any symptoms at all”.
In the last 14 days, 103,549 people in Queensland came forward to get tested. Only 38 cases were detected in that time, all in hotel quarantine.
Queensland recorded just one case of COVID-19 on Thursday, an Emirates flight crew member who has already left the country.
New Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson is preparing to face a series of unique challenges as he takes charge of Australia’s women’s national team in the midst of a global pandemic and with the future of the Tokyo Olympics still uncertain.
Tony Gustavsson says he has spoken with Matildas players via video calls, but does not know when they will be able to meet in person
Gustavsson says he wants the team “to play as many games as possible against the best opposition possible” before the Tokyo Olympics
He says he will look to spend most of his time in Australia “from mid-next year”, but has been monitoring W-League games and highlights already
Gustavsson formally began his role earlier this month and has spoken with his players and staff online, but is yet to find out when his squad will be able to gather for the first time.
At the moment, the Swede is still preparing as if the Olympics Games will go ahead in July and August this year. If they do, it will be the Matildas’ first major tournament under their new coach.
Time is of the essence then for Gustavsson, who says he plans to make the most of every single minute he gets with his players.
“Obviously as a new coach and a coach in general, I would love to meet the team and meet the players. As a national team coach you always think you don’t have enough time, you want to have more days and more games,” Gustavsson said.
“It’s always challenging even in normal circumstances. Then with a pandemic going on, it’s difficult to get together and you get less time.
“I’ve tried to look at it this way, and this is how I’m wired as a person — I’m always trying to look at the possibilities.
“So instead of looking at it like we lose time, we need to make use of time. Meaning, we need to think differently now, maybe think outside of the box a little bit. So if we can’t get together physically, is there anything else we can do to gel and connect?
“This is a team that the majority of players have played together for a long time, so there’s already a camaraderie and togetherness and understanding with each other.”
Gustavsson has signed a four-year contract, which will take him beyond the 2023 Women’s World Cup, to be hosted by Australia and New Zealand.
This then is the start of the Matildas’ journey to that tournament and Gustavsson says he is no doubt that he wants to start that journey in style.
“And it’s easy to just look at the rankings and see who we want to play. We want as tough of a schedule as possible, even if it means it is challenging and there are difficulties for me coming in as a new coach.”
Gustavsson is still in Sweden but, depending on the pandemic, he is hoping to live in Australia “from mid-next year”.
He says he has been following the new W-League season from afar — though not to the extent he would like.
“It might sound like I haven’t watched anything — I’ve watched a lot — but as a coach you want to watch everything. I’m always going to feel like I haven’t watched enough,” he said.
“We have to show respect for what the league has done for the Matildas. In that sense, the W-League is very, very, very important for us.
“It’s a fantastic platform for young players to get exposed to games.”
For Gustavsson, who has previously been an assistant coach for the all-conquering US Women’s National Team, distance could prove to be a blessing because he can assess his squad without any preconceived ideas or judgements.
But already, Gustavsson says, he can see similarities between his Matildas players and the two-time World-Cup-winning Americans.
“I’ve had very little time now to get up to speed, so what I’ve told the players is that I want everyone to feel like it’s a blank paper, and the coach will look with fresh eyes and will give everyone a chance to showcase themselves.
“If I say, ‘We are short here,’ or, ‘We need to look here,’ I might be blinded to what I am watching. So I want to really open up and see from my end what I think about the roster.
“When I look at the Matildas and when I spoke to the players, I sensed some similarities between the teams [Matildas and USWNT] in terms of that passion and drive and attitude and fearlessness to step on the field.
“With that attitude that we can beat anyone.
“What stands out for me is the passion they have for their country and how proud they are to play for the Matildas.”
The COVID-19 vaccine rollout will not signal the end of restrictions with it likely to be months before Australia gets to see what a new normal looks like, the nation’s leading medical officer has warned.
Chief medical officer Paul Kelly said on Sunday it would likely to be the second half of the year before federal and state governments started to ease health and border restrictions.
However, persistent messaging about social distancing, coughing into your elbow, washing your hands, and home if you’re unwell will remain in place, he said.
“Every single person that gets their two doses of vaccine and gets that very strong protection against severe illness, will give people more confidence.
“It will give the public health system more confidence, will give our politicians — that need to make these decisions in the end — more confidence, about what a COVID-safe normal might look like in the second half of this year.”
Australia’s coronavirus vaccine rollout will begin next month.
First in line to be inoculated will be workers who have the highest exposure to COVID-19 including those working in hotel quarantine, transporting international arrivals, and health professionals.
“First priority is those that are at higher risk of exposure to the virus,” Professor Kelly said.
“That is the people that are working at our borders; the people working at our quarantine hotels; the nurses and other health professionals that are working in those settings; the cleaners; the transport workers that are transporting people to our quarantine hotels.
“They are the ones that are at highest risk of exposure so we need to get that vaccination out to them quickly.
“Same with our healthcare workers that are working at our hospitals and other frontline areas.”
He said Australia was fortunate when it came to the impacts of coronavirus — with more than 89 million cases worldwide that caused more than almost two million deaths.
There has not been a death of someone acutely sick with COVID-19 since October and there are just 41 people in hospital, he said.
“In the last 24 hours, we’ve had 13 cases — three of those, all in NSW, are locally acquired,” Professor Kelly said.
New South Wales Acting Premier John Barilaro says it is up to the Queensland Government whether the SCG will host back-to-back Test matches, with Indian officials reportedly expressing concerns about having to play under quarantine conditions in Brisbane.
Acting NSW Premier John Barilaro says Sydney is open to hosting the fourth Test
Reports suggest India is not happy to enter a hard quarantine in Queensland for the fourth Test
Australia has not lost a Test at the Gabba since 1988 and India has never won a Test there
The Australian and Indian teams are set to fly to Sydney on Monday to continue preparations for the third Test, before flying to Queensland for the fourth and final match.
However, a source in the Indian camp has reportedly expressed concern over the team being forced into a hard quarantine upon entry to Queensland, saying they would rather the final — and possibly deciding — Test be played elsewhere.
“Firstly, we’re putting on a Test and [NSW] Health is working with the SCG, Cricket Australia and organisers to make sure that when the next Test is played in Sydney it’s done in a safe way,” Mr Barilaro said.
“There are some concerns about the SCG and the upcoming Test that [NSW] Health is working with those organisations.
“The other thing we are concerned about is the Berala cluster.
“If you’re coming from that area, the broader Cumberland area, in real terms we encourage you to rethink about going to the Test and there may be more said by Health and the Government in the next day or so in relation to that.”
The situation in Logan is a good example of how community anxiety about the use of drones can be allayed over time and the pandemic has ended up reinforcing the usefulness of drones across a range of sectors, from delivery of goods and 3D mapping.
Jonathan Bass, head of Wing, which is owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet, says orders worldwide for the drone delivery company’s services have increased about five times since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and he expects the boost to be permanent.
“It’s great for people that might not be comfortable leaving their homes for any reason, outside of the pandemic situation,” he says. “It’s also very helpful for people that have young children and may not be able to run out to the shops or somebody who may be working from home on a given day.”
Wing is operating pilot programs in Logan and in Canberra, and has plans to expand its services into other locations in Australia.
“We started very early in Australia I think Australians are are generally keen on drones and keen on new technologies,” he says.
Wing faced some community opposition to its trials in Canberra from residents concerned about the noise and the impact on wildlife but Bass says redesigning the drones’ propellers to make them quieter has resolved most of these concerns.
“Since we made that change the feedback that we’ve received on noise has been dramatically more positive and that was definitely a big lesson for us from that trial,” he says.
Wing won’t reveal how much it is investing in the trials which enable businesses to use its drones to deliver items. However, other startups have already started making a commercial return from the technology.
Aeromedical logistics startup Swoop Aero, launched in 2017, is using drones to deliver medical supplies in Malawi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique. The startup raised an “eight figure sum” from investors including Right Click Capital and Tempus Partners in June.
Chief executive and co-founder Eric Peck says the company, with a team of around 40 people, has been able to compete with giants like Google by being quick to market with its service.
“We’re still a small nimble company and that gives us a lot of flexibility to be able to respond to market demands,” he says. “One thing we learned very early on is that just by getting into the market and working alongside of real paying customers you can really quickly learn.”
Swoop has also seen an significant uptake in demand as the coronavirus pandemic started to spread across the globe.
“When the networks were up and running it became a very logical choice to be able to deploy effectively small aircraft to fly over the top and move products between different areas in different regions,” he says. “It’s a contactless supply chain to move medical products around without having to have people go to and from little villages and have the dangers of transmission.”
Peck believes this increased demand will continue post-pandemic.
“It has really highlighted the need for continued and ongoing investment into public health,” he says. “Having a supply chain that is able to respond to a very dynamic situation like the one we face is going to be something that health systems across the world are willing to invest in into the future.”
Peck says Swoop’s operations in Australia and New Zealand are “about to start imminently” and now make commercial sense.
However, he adds the true inflection point for drone technology locally will come when there is a single, comprehensive regulatory system for the drone businesses to follow, instead of different regulations in different states and jurisdictions. Community perception of drones also needs to improve.
“We’ve noticed that people already have a lot of negative experiences with drones,” he says. “I think when those two things come together, that we can build community trust in the technology, it’s not just trying to spy on you.”
“The key inflection point is at the moment you need a human set of eyes piloting a drone they are reliable and cheap but you still need a human operating,” he says. “Artificial intelligence when a drone can autonomously pilot itself, even to the extent of one person piloting eight at a time, that is when the use cases will really explode. At the moment one set of eyes is expensive.”
Blackbird is an investor in surveying data analytics and 3D mapping startup Propeller Aero which raised $26 million in July this year.
Propeller Aero’s drone mapping technology is used by mining, quarry and construction companies to create 3D maps of their worksites.
“Propeller is one of the fastest growing companies in our portfolio, like Safety Culture and Canva it will be that kind of iconic company in a couple of years,” Scevak says.
However Scevak says Propeller is now moving beyond drones to its new product DirtMate, which will make maps in real time using Internet of Things sensors on machinery.
“We are still probably a couple of years away from that point of time that is when you will see every pizza and burrito delivered by drone,” Scevak says.
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Cara is the small business editor for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald based in Melbourne
Victoria’s border with New South Wales slammed shut at midnight, barring entry to anyone who didn’t make it there in time.
Vehicles arriving at border checkpoints after the deadline were turned around by police and instructed to return to NSW.
Yesterday Jeroen Weimar, the Victorian Health Department’s COVID-19 response commander, justified the state’s hardline stance.
“We need to close the border, because we do not wish to continue to import high-risk COVID cases back into Victoria,” Mr Weimar said.
“We do not think that would be right or fair for the Victorian community.
“We do not have the capacity to put hundreds of people into hotel quarantine because they elected to come home late.
“If there are people who’ve gone to NSW, we did not design and set up a hotel quarantine system to enable people who’ve gone on holidays in NSW to come back a bit later.”
However, some people rushing to the border last night had travelled from as far away as Queensland.
Photographer Simon Dallinger was at the Hume Freeway checkpoint. He reported that the last people allowed through, seconds before midnight, were Kelli Rippon and Rachel Bartlett. The pair had travelled from Brisbane to Dubbo, and then to Victoria.
They made it just in time. Others were not so lucky.
Health authorities in Victoria believe the virus has been spreading there for almost two weeks.
All 10 cases reported since Wednesday either dined at the Smile Buffalo Thai restaurant in Black Rock on December 21, or are close contacts of others who did.
“We know we have a likely starting point to December 21 – that is now at 10 or 11 days ago,” Mr Weimar said yesterday.
“That gives us great reason for concern that this may cause other chains of transmission to go back to that point.”
Across the border in NSW, three new infections were identified in Western Sydney yesterday.
Contact tracers are now scrambling to link the new cases to existing clusters.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian has warned tighter restrictions could be introduced across Greater Sydney if more cases arise without known links.
“If we get to a stage, or if we feel that there’s too many cases that are completely unlinked or unrelated, or something pops out unexpectedly that does cause concern, then of course we’ll adjust our settings if that’s the case,” Ms Berejiklian said yesterday.
Today residents on the northern beaches will learn whether their localised restrictions will be loosened. The lower northern beaches, in particular, may be brought under the same rules as the rest of Sydney.
Premium seats for frontline workers at Sydney’s iconic New Year’s Eve fireworks have been scrapped in response to the growing outbreak in the city’s northern beaches.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the scheme, designed to reward healthcare and other frontline workers for their efforts during the height of the pandemic, would no longer be going ahead as she announced restrictions for the rest of the city.
While the fireworks will go ahead, they can no longer be watched from the foreshore unless a person has a restaurant or hospitality booking with a good vantage point – and a permit from Service NSW to get into the city.
Restrictions will remain under their current provisions for greater Sydney with only 10 visitors to a home, including children.
The stay-at-home order for the northern beaches remains until January 2 for the southern zone and January 9 for the northern zone, but some relief has been given for New Year’s Eve.
Those in the northern region may only have five guests to their home on December 31, while up to 10 guests are allowed in homes in the southern region. In both cases, guests must be residents of the zone where the indoor gathering is held.
Outdoor gatherings for greater Sydney have also been reduced to 50 from the current 100.
The revelations come as NSW recorded five locally acquired cases of COVID-19 in the 24 hours to 8pm on Sunday, with an additional nine cases in returned travellers in hotel quarantine.
Ms Berejiklian apologised to frontline workers for cancelling their celebrations.
“For the four or five thousand of you (frontline workers), you won’t be allowed on the foreshore around Sydney, Unfortunately, we’re going to have to cancel that; we think it’s too much of a health risk,” Ms Berejiklian said on Monday.
“We’ll find another opportunity during the year to recognise what you have done. On New Year’s Eve, we don’t want any crowds on the foreshores around Sydney whatsoever.”
Ms Berejiklian urged business with New Year’s Eve functions in the CBD to obey the one person per 4sq m rule and be prepared to record all visitors.
“Unless it’s controlled, ticketed and seated we don’t recommend those events go ahead,” she said.
“So long as the 4sq m rule is in place, and those venues have COVID-safe plans and you have a permit from services New South Wales, you‘ll be allowed into those venues in the CBD.”
Bans on dancing, singing and talking loudly at gatherings also remain.
“Please know that singing, dancing and speaking loudly and mingling really accelerate the virus spreading. We ask everybody, please be careful this year,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“We know it‘s not the New Year’s Eve all of us hoped it would be. But that’s OK and we want 2021 to be better than 2020.”
Those who live in the CBD and are planning on having people over will need to obey strict conditions. There is a limit on 10 visitors to any home in the CBD, and all guests will need to have a permit to attend and log in via the Service NSW app.
“If you live in the CBD, you need to log in with Service NSW and provide the names of the 10 people coming to your home. We apologise that we have to be so strict, but this is to keep everybody safe,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“You can’t just because you feel like it jump on a bus or a train and come to the CBD on New Year’s Eve. That’s not the go. You have to be going to a specific location or being a resident of the CBD.
“Again, apologies for being so strict, but we want to make sure that we don’t have a super-spreading event on New Year’s Eve which then spoils it for everybody across the state.”
Ms Berejiklian said further announcements about the northern beaches lockdown would be made on January 2.