Tag: NSW


Some COVID cases being counted twice in NSW due to teething issues with RAT reporting


NSW Health has conceded teething problems with its rapid COVID-19 test reporting system means some people may have been counted twice.

Key points:

  • NSW health says it's working through "data and related issues" related to rapid antigen test reporting 
  • Epidemiologist Adrian Esterman says modelling is now hard due to the influx of RAT results
  • Shadow health minister Ryan Park says the data is also inaccurate due to the shortage of RATs

This was problematic for making public health decisions as the Omicron outbreak drags on, a leading epidemiologist said.

NSW Health said yesterday's 91,928 reported COVID cases, which included at least 61,387 rapid antigen test (RAT) results, contained double ups.

The system to self-report RATs in NSW went live on Wednesday, making it mandatory to upload any positive RATs received since January 1.

This back-dating has made the numbers "messy", epidemiologist Adrian Esterman said, and NSW Health has acknowledged their data may have errors.

"There may be some cases included in these numbers where people have reported positive RATs on multiple days," a Health spokesperson said.

"And/or where people have also had a positive PCR test during the same reporting period."

The spokesperson said more detailed breakdowns of the registered RATs would be provided in "due course" but could not say when this would be.

"It’s very early days and the teams are still working through all the data and related issues. But when NSW Health can reliably provide more detailed breakdowns, we will."

Adrian Esterman says calculating the reproduction rate now gives "ridiculous answers" due to the influx of RATs.(Supplied: University of South Australia)

Professor Esterman said the cases in NSW were now "almost impossible" to make sense of, so accurate modelling was difficult.

"The introduction of RAT reporting has muddied the waters and made it more difficult to interpret these things … and we need to know what's happening so we know when to take additional measures," he said. 

"For example, in New South Wales, unless something more is done in terms of public health measures, the hospital system is going to be in deep strife."

In Victoria, RATs started to be counted around a week ago and like NSW, cases quickly doubled overnight because people reported past infections.

Professor Esterman said calculating the overall percentage of positive tests was complicated as it was not known how many people were testing negative at home.

For this reason, he wanted Australia to follow the UK's lead and issue RATs with QR codes which people scan before testing themselves, and then register a negative, positive or void test result. 

But he wasn't hopeful this would happen in Australia.

"It won't happen. We never seem to do what other countries are doing for some reason, which is a great shame."

Premier Dominic Perrottet has long discouraged the public from focusing on case numbers, but Shadow Health Minister Ryan Park said accurate data on the rate of infection mattered greatly.

"Information is important: important for epidemiologists, for modelling and decision making. It's important for policymakers … it gives a sense of how widespread this is," Mr Park said.

Shadow Minister for Health Ryan Park says the most pressing issue is making more rapid antigen tests available.
 

He said the "unreliable" data NSW Health was providing at the moment was of "considerable concern".

"The figures are not true representations of the level of community cases and that's because it's relying on people to comply and because the government hasn't made rapid antigen tests available right across the community," he said.

"I've got people contacting me every single day, spending days upon days scrounging across the community for tests. Those people, through no fault of their own, have not been able to do what what's required of them so there's no accurate dataset."

The state government has ordered 50 million RATs, which have already started to arrive in NSW, and are seeking to procure another 50 million.

Mr Perrottet said national cabinet decided not to distribute free tests to the wider community because private supply chains would "be compromised through that approach".

He said private providers should have more supply in coming weeks.

Professor Esterman said NSW's case numbers should "settle down" in about four to five days after the influx of RATs, which would allow experts to calculate an accurate reproduction rate.

"The good news is that New South Wales is approaching a peak. I can't tell you exactly when it will be, but probably the next two or three weeks and things will start getting better.

"It's really just a matter of whether their health system can cope the next two or three weeks with such high case numbers and high hospitalisation."

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Angus is among the NSW children not getting a jab today as delivery issues hit day one roll out


Suzannah Nicholson's seven-year-old son, Angus, was due to get his first COVID-19 jab today at their local GP clinic in Glebe in Sydney's inner-west.

Key points:

  • Dr Danielle McMullen says vaccinations for 5-11-year-olds will not be completed before school starts
  • Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt says there are three million vaccines available for this age group
  • In the 12-15-year age group, 78.1 per cent are fully vaccinated

However, over the weekend, Ms Nicholson received a call from their doctor, saying the practice had not yet received its supply of child-strength Pfizer vaccines, so the booking would be postponed until further notice. 

Ms Nicholson is among many parents across NSW whose appointments, made weeks ago, have been either delayed or cancelled ahead of today's nationwide vaccine rollout for 5 to 11 year olds.

"I'm angry, because I was organised, I wasn't scrambling for an appointment," Ms Nicholson said.

"We've been lying low, given the explosion in case numbers, so we could get to Monday so he could get his vaccination and we could have a level of protection."

Australian Medical Association NSW president Danielle McMullen said many GPs have had to cancel appointments due to shipments not arriving.

"We are hearing more frustration from members that the rising COVID-19 cases has meant a whole lot of logistics and delivery delays," Dr McMullen said.

This, she said, meant that a number of clinics across the state did not get a delivery.

"It will leave clinics having to cancel their vaccine bookings," she said.

Dr McMullen says a lot of clinics have not received their suppy of vaccines.(ABC News)

Vaccine clinics, doctors and pharmacies have been taking bookings for weeks, since the Pfizer vaccine was approved by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) last month.

The dose is a third of the amount given to people aged 12 and over, with two doses given eight weeks apart.

While the Sydney mother organised the booking in December, her family was now, Ms Nicolson said, in a "holding pattern" until their clinic receives supply.

"It creates uncertainty … I haven't sent my son to vacation care so he's not exposed there and that means he can't get vaccinated so I've done everything I can and now it's all up in the air," Ms Nicholson said.

Read more about the spread of COVID-19:

The disruption comes amid pleas from both Premier Dominic Perrottet and NSW Health's Dr Jeremy McAnulty for parents to get their children vaccinated.

Yesterday, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said there were three million COVID does available for children and that was "more than enough for every single child in Australia to be vaccinated".

"Obviously that occurs over a period of weeks. Not every child will be available or able to do it all in one particular day and practices have a certain volume," Mr Hunt said.

"That is to make sure that people in rural, regional, non-English-speaking areas, lower social economic areas have the same access and so there are multiple options."

'Gaps emerging again'

NSW Teachers Federation president Angelo Gavrielatos said that, with schools reopening at the end of the month, some parents still could not get a booking for their children.

"Quite frankly, that angers us. We have been banging on about this since October last year, to make sure that the rollout is effective and efficient, and yet here we are with gaps emerging again," Mr Gavrielatos said.

"This is another monumental failure of the federal government. This all should have been foreseen."

Mr Gavrielatos says it's another monumental failure of the federal government.(ABC News)

Dr McMullen said demand for bookings had been high for weeks.

"Parents and children are really keen to get vaccinated and, as GPs, we want to vaccinate them, for this really important part of pandemic management, she said.

"This is one more delay and one more thing our poor medical reception staff have to face — more than anyone — is having to let parents know their appointment is cancelled."

She also said it would be a major problem for some clinics, with re-bookings needed.

"All I can do is implore parents to be patient. Shifting patient [appointment times] depends on staff availability.

"It is a challenging time to find that spare space at the moment when we are also doing booster shots, caring for COVID patients and doing general practice care as well."

Read more about the spread of COVID-19:

Schools face an uncertain time

Mr Gavrielatos said the impact of delaying children's vaccinations would have a flow on effect for schools, with a COVID-19 peak hitting the state just when school resumes.

"We have serious concerns ahead of school resuming at the end of the month," he said.

"We are having a follow-up meeting with senior education officials this week to continue to discuss all options [we have] to mitigate risk and options for the event when schools are non-operational."

It's a concern shared by Ms Nicholson, who fears the return to school will be "problematic" after two years of already disrupted schooling. 

"It also pushes the second appointment back, which will be further into Term 1 and you can maintain the rhetoric about getting kids back day one, term 1 but for how long? "

Ms Nicholson says the delay in getting Angus vaccinated will push back even further his second jab.(Supplied)

Dr McMullen said it was known that vaccinations for children aged 5-11 years would not be completed before school starts.

"We already knew that children will not be fully vaccinated by the time school starts," she said.

"Obviously, the best thing we can do is be fully vaccinated and have booster shots as adults. And to get our kids vaccinated as soon as we can."

The Premier has reiterated that schools will be going back as planned, on "day one, term 1", and rapid antigen testing will be the key to making that happen.

"There will be challenges as we move through the return-to-school program but, ultimately, we can't let perfection be the enemy of good,' Mr Perrottet said. "We need kids back in class."

Currently, 93.7 per cent of eligible residents aged 16 years and over are fully vaccinated in NSW, with 95.1 per cent having had at least one dose.

In the 12-15-year group, 81.5 per cent have had a first jab and 78.1 per cent are fully vaccinated.

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


‘Out of touch with reality’: NSW doctor says hospital staff suffering burnout, as Premier backs system


An emergency doctor working at several Sydney hospitals has challenged the NSW Premier to spend a week in an emergency department to get a glimpse of what life is really like on the COVID-19 frontline. 

Key points:

  • The doctor says staff are suffering "enormous burnout"
  • The Premier and Chief Health Officer are confident in the system's ability to face COVID case rise
  • One mother says she waited a week for support as her child battled COVID

The senior doctor, who wished to remain anonymous, said Dominic Perrottet's repeated assertion that hospitals were in a "strong position" was "out of touch with reality".

The real picture, she said, was one of overworked doctors and nurses who are having to take extra shifts and cancelling their leave to help out. 

"Staff are working harder and longer. That is the only thing holding the system together and it's not a long-term option," she said.

Hospitalisation data released by NSW Health covering the period to 8pm on Sunday showed the highest number of people being treated with COVID since September 23.

There were 1,204 people with COVID in the state's hospitals, up from 1,066 the day before.

Only 95 patients were in intensive care, with 25 people on ventilators.

Responding to the doctor's challenge, Mr Perrottet doubled down on his comments about the readiness of the NSW health system, saying "our state is standing strong".

"Our focus now — and we monitor it every single day — is our health system capacity, including our hospitalisation rates and our ICU capacity," he said.

"This spirit and the efforts of everyone over the last two years, especially our frontline health workers, have been extraordinary."

LIVE UPDATES: Read our blog for the latest news on the COVID-19 pandemic Dominic Perrottet says the health system remains in a strong position.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

The doctor, however, said she has seen colleagues experiencing "enormous burnout", which she claimed had forced some to quit their jobs or enter an early retirement.

"Every health care worker and cleaner and administration worker in hospitals knows how far from the truth this is," she said.

"All of them are so upset when they hear him making those comments because it shows such a disconnect between his reality and their reality.

"It would be a wonderful thing if he could spend a week in a hospital to see the reality that everyone is living with."

Chair of the Australian Medical Association's NSW branch Michael Bonning said the high number of staff being forced into isolation due to COVID concerns was making it difficult to staff hospitals properly.

"It just means pushing [staff] harder and harder [when] one of the things we were trying to do across this Christmas period was to try to give staff downtime, to try to prepare them for … what comes next," he said.

NSW COVID-19 update

COVID-19-related hospital admissions continue to rise as the health union warns that the system will soon reach a critical phase.

Read more

On Monday, Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said NSW Health had one of the largest workforces in the country but, like many health systems around the world, it was under stress.

"Whilst we are very well placed … in that global context to manage this case burden, it is important that we all play our part in not placing unnecessary burden on the health system," she said.

There were 20,794 new cases reported yesterday from 96,765 official tests — a positivity rate of more than 21 per cent.

The peak of NSW's hospitalisation numbers for COVID was 2,166, which came at the height of the last year's deadly Delta wave on September 21.

At that point, there were 244 people in intensive care wards.

Mr Perrottet said ensuring the health system had the resources it needed during the pandemic was his "number one priority".

"As we move to this next stage, there will continue to be challenges thrown our way but we will keep tackling them and succeed," he said.

The strains on the health system have been felt by a mother from NSW's north coast, who says her family was without support while her young son with special needs suffered from severe COVID symptoms.

Kim Dawson told the ABC her eight-year-old son, Eli, who has non-verbal autism, was tested on Christmas after contracting the virus from his carer.

By the time health workers rang to offer medical equipment — including an oxygen monitor — it was New Year's Day and he had already recovered, Ms Dawson said.

"It just seems laughable it took so long for someone to contact us," the East Ballina woman said.

Dr Kerry Chant says the hospital system is there for the people who need it.(AAP: Mick Tsikas)

It took five days for the test result to confirm Eli had the virus — in the meantime, he battled a fever and woke up one morning barely able to breathe.

Ms Dawson said her son often had extreme responses to viruses and developed croup.

"We were very close to calling an ambulance but we managed to calm him down," she said.

She said her family had been caught in a "perfect storm" of rising case numbers and holiday-goers ballooning out wait times for COVID tests.

NSW Health said it "has the largest and most skilled health workforce" in Australia with more than 140,000 staff.

The state government has recently altered self-isolation laws to allow asymptomatic health staff who are deemed close contacts to return to work if they hold critical roles.

"Since the start of the pandemic, NSW Health has engaged in forward planning with clinicians to ensure our hospitals have capacity to care for COVID-19 patients who need to be hospitalised," a spokesperson said.

"NSW's healthcare system is fully integrated and staff can be deployed to different parts of the health system as needed due to patient demand, workforce supply challenges and the hospital's capacity to surge."

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Reduced isolation for NSW healthcare a ‘catch-up’ measure to stop system ‘collapsing’


Tired and overworked healthcare workers in New South Wales were left with no choice but to support reducing the isolation rules for asymptomatic staff deemed close contacts of COVID-19 cases.

Key points:

  • Expert says reducing isolation for asymptomatic healthcare staff made complete sense
  • President of the doctors union says patients will not be put in danger as a result of the change
  • He also says healthcare workers have not been first in the government’s mind

Under an exemption to the Public Health Order signed by Health Minister Brad Hazzard on Friday night, these staff can now be ordered back to work. 

Australian Salaried Medical Officers Federation (ASMOF) NSW president Tony Sara said hospitals were running out of staff and the pressure on the system was enormous.

In the latest reporting period, 901 people needed hospital care — a figure that has been creeping up in the past fortnight and is expected to soon hit 1,000.

"We're loading our hospitals with COVID-positive patients who need to be in hospital," Dr Sara said.

"We therefore had to reduce the ISO requirements, we don’t agree with it but essentially if the health system is not to collapse then ourselves, the nurses and the HSU [Health Service Union] — we don’t have a lot of choice but to agree.

"We have to make sure we supply the required services to normal patients as well as COVID patients."

UPDATES: Read our round-up of the latest news on the COVID-19 pandemic Dr Sara says patients will not be at risk of catching COVID due to the isolation changes for staff.(ABC News)

The ASMOF, which represents thousands of doctors, said close to 2,000 healthcare workers a day have been taken out of the system due to COVID and the changes to isolation were about "playing catch-up".

Dr Sara said it was a measured change that would not put patients in danger of getting infected.

"Staff in NSW will wear full PPE consistent with the circumstances, that will be face shields, it will be masks and gowns," he said.

"Within one-and-a-half metres of a patient, it will be a P2 mask, so I don’t believe patients need to be concerned about the staff looking after them."

It's a view shared by University of Sydney infectious disease specialist Robert Booy.

What you need to know about coronavirus:

He said the new isolation strategy made "complete sense".

There were too many people off work due to being furloughed or because they were "being too careful".

He said some facilities like the Children's Hospital in Westmead were already operating along similar lines.

"For a couple of weeks now, if you're a close contact, you get a rapid antigen test each morning before you come to work," Professor Booy said.

"To ensure you're not infectious, you're not likely to transmit — it makes complete sense."

Concerns about workers spreading the virus within the hospitals were mitigated by "a lot of layers of protection".

"Not only do people come to work with a negative test, they also come without symptoms, they also wear personal protective equipment," he said.

The Opposition has put the blame on Premier Dominic Perrottet for not putting in place a strategy to deal with the fallout from Omicron and increase resources.

The Opposition says the Premier is completely unprepared to deal with the spike in cases.(ABC News)

Shadow Police Minister Walt Secord said the turnaround from encouraging people to isolate to now trying to get them back to work was evidence of a stressed health system.

He said workers were exhausted and the Premier was completely unprepared.

 "You have to put yourself in the situation of health care workers — nurses, doctors paramedics, even cleaners," Mr Secord said.

"Rules are being quickly changed and without consultation and they’re not been communicated, that’s absolutely unfair but it also puts the community at risk."

For Dr Sara, the government's decision to fully lift restrictions on December 15 could be called into question but for now, he is focused on preventing workplaces from losing more staff.

He said experts had warned about the transmissibility of the Omicron variant and its potential to overload the system.

"There is some frustration how it's gone over the last few weeks. Members feeling frustrated that Dr Chant's advice was not taken and look to where we’ve got to," Dr Sara said.

"Doctors and nurses have done the hard yards these last few years, they’re tired, they were looking forward to Christmas and now they are going back to work.

"This is not an ideal situation and it seems the needs of the frontline healthcare workers have not been first in the government’s minds."

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Infectious diseases expert says the NT must heed Omicron lessons from NSW, eastern states


An infectious diseases expert says the Northern Territory only needs to have one super-spreader event for the Omicron variant to begin spreading like it has in Australia's eastern states.

Key points:

  • A leading epidemiologist says the NT could have an Omicron super-spreader event like those seen in NSW if COVID-19 restrictions are not in place
  • NT Health Minister Natasha Fyles says the Doherty Institute's coronavirus hospitalisation modelling does not account for the Omicron variant
  • Low-vaccinated Indigenous communities remain the NT's biggest health risk

His warning came after the NT tallied a record high of 37 new coronavirus cases on Thursday.

Of those cases, one was a nurse at Royal Darwin Hospital and two were people who attended the same birthday party in Darwin as a nine-year-old girl, who was recently identified as a case of community transmission.

No new cases of community transmission were confirmed yesterday.

NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner said authorities would change local public health settings if case numbers rapidly increased.

"At this stage, our measures are working," he said.

"We've got a low risk of incursion and we're being able to stay on top of it [and] our community transmission rate is on the floor."

Professor Mike Toole, an honorary Burnet Institute epidemiologist, said now that Omicron was in the community, Territorians should look to other states and territories for an indication of what lies ahead.

"Because you have so few restrictions, all you need is one infected person to go into a nightclub, or a bar, or a pub, or a cafe or a restaurant and spread it to many people," Professor Toole said.

"And we've never had a variant as infectious as Omicron."

So far, the NT government has resisted reintroducing measures like mask mandates, despite growing calls from Aboriginal health groups and infectious diseases experts for stronger health measures.

No clear hospitalisation modelling

In New South Wales, where Omicron cases have exploded in recent weeks, more than 745 COVID-19 patients are receiving treatment in hospital, with at least 60 in the ICU.

On Thursday, NT Health Minister Natasha Fyles conceded the highly contagious variant was a "game changer" that may affect the Doherty Institute's latest modelling around hospitalisations in the NT.

The Institute's modelling, released in November, showed that with 80 per cent of people aged 16 and older fully vaccinated, the NT's health system would be able to handle 30 to 100 COVID-19 cases per day.

Although Omicron appeared to result in fewer hospitalisations than Delta, Ms Fyles said several COVID patients in the NT had required hospital care for illnesses other than the virus, which "wasn't necessarily taken into account" with the initial modelling.

As of Thursday afternoon, there were 21 coronavirus patients in NT hospitals, but none in intensive care.

Professor Toole said if hospitals continued to fill up with COVID patients who were not sick enough to be in the ICU but still required hospital beds, the health system could buckle.

"This is the season when there's the most road trauma, the most domestic violence, the most attempted suicides and drug overdoses," he said.

"We can't afford to further pressure the health system."

Read more about the spread of COVID-19:

Concerns for remote communities

Sheralee Taylor, acting CEO of the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, said she was "very concerned" about the prospect of an Omicron outbreak, given many hospitals were already facing widespread staff shortages.

"I'd hate to be in a situation like NSW, which is out of control," she said.

"It'd be devastating if Omicron reached our remote communities, particularly with low vax rates."

Professor Toole said for this reason, the NT should be the "most risk-averse jurisdiction" in Australia.

"We cannot afford to allow this virus to spread in communities where there are high rates of obesity, diabetes and other underlying risk factors," he said.

Dr Robert Parker, president of the Australian Medical Association's NT branch, agreed that low vaccination rates in some Indigenous communities was "the main risk factor in the Territory".

Dr Parker says COVID-19 is here and vaccination is our best protection now.(ABC News: Michael Franchi)

"Obviously, people in those communities are at risk of getting severe health problems — potentially even fatal problems — which therefore adds pressure on hospital beds," he said.

Dr Parker said Territorians were now facing the real risk of catching COVID-19 when socialising, and urged them to get vaccinated and wear face masks when social distancing was not possible.

"Vaccination will protect the health system," he said.

"Appalling illness that wiped out whole families are now gone because of vaccines."

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


QR check-ins and two-metre rule mandatory in NSW from today


Several COVID-19 restrictions return in NSW today in an attempt to curb soaring infection numbers which have put "substantial pressure" on testing centres and furloughed about 2,000 healthcare workers.

Key points:

  • The capacity rules for indoor venues are in place until January 27
  • The Health Minister says everyone will get Omicron 
  • The Opposition says the government needs to have a better plan to manage the health care system

The arrival of the hyper-infectious Omicron variant of the virus triggered a backflip by the NSW government, which had relaxed many COVID-safe measures on December 15.

Mask mandates returned on Friday, with face coverings made compulsory in all indoor non-residential settings, including for hospitality staff and in offices, unless eating or drinking.

Today, mandatory QR code check-ins are back and apply to the following:

  • Retail premises
  • Food and drink premises
  • Pubs, small bars and registered clubs
  • Hairdressers, spas, nail, beauty, waxing, and tanning salons, tattoo parlours and massage parlours 
  • Gyms (except dance, yoga, pilates, gymnastics, and martial arts studios)
  • Hospitals
  • Residential care facilities or hostels (except in relation to the residents)
  • Places of public worship, like churches, mosques, temples, meeting houses and synagogues
  • Funeral, memorials and gatherings afterwards
  • Nightclubs
  • Casinos
  • Strip clubs, sex on premises venues, sex services premises
  • Indoor music festivals with more than 1,000 people.

The Premier calls the reintroduction of these rules "cautious changes".(ABC News: Timothy  Ailwood)

Hospitality venues including pubs, restaurants and clubs will again be subjected to a maximum one person per two square metres indoors until January 27.

Density limits for outdoors remain the same.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet called these "modest" and "cautious" changes.

The recent spike in cases is again battering the hospitality sector.

Infected staff or the hundreds in isolation have forced many businesses to close during what should be one of their busiest trading periods.

Publican Mitchell Crum is COVID-positive, along with a number of his employees.

The pandemic has been "crippling" for publican Mitchell Crum.(ABC News)

The pandemic has been "crippling" for his pub in the Sydney inner-city suburb of Chippendale, and having to again close early last week was "extremely hard".

"I couldn't continue like this for much longer to be honest, financially and emotionally, it's been a bit of a rollercoaster," Mr Crum said. 

Mr Perrottet said the pressure on businesses was among the challenges of living with the virus, and one that "we have to face up to". 

He also warned there will many more "sacrifices" and "inconveniences". 

'All going to get Omicron'

Health Minister Brad Hazzard said yesterday it was likely every person in NSW and the country would contract Omicron.

"We're all going to get Omicron," Mr Hazzard said.

"And if we're all going to get Omicron, the best way to face it is when we have full vaccination including our booster."

Mr Park says it is time the Premier showed some leadership.(ABC News)

Shadow Health Minister Ryan Park said the Premier was not showing any leadership in "holding up his hands and saying everyone is going to get Omicron".  

COVID boosters brought forward

Australians will soon only have to wait four months between their second COVID vaccine and booster, with plans to reduce the gap even further.

Read more

"Where is the plan for our hospitals, where is the plan for more testing clinics?" Mr Park said.

"Where is the plan to increase our vaccination hubs and where is the plan to ensure our hospitals have enough staff?"

The state government yesterday urged people to only get tested if they have symptoms, are identified as close contacts, or as part of their travel requirements.

Mr Hazzard said wait times for COVID test results had ballooned to 48 to 72 hours, with many people waiting even longer than that to get a result.

"If you're not getting results until three or four days, which is the case, it may well be that you have developed a positivity or positive viral response anyway and you wouldn't know it," he said.

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Experts urge NSW to reintroduce COVID restrictions after state sets new national record of cases


The NSW government is being urged to take a cautious approach to the rise of COVID-19 cases, and reintroduce restrictions.

Key points:

  • NSW is relaxing rules at the same time as cases are hitting record numbers
  • The head of the AMA calls that "bizarre timing"
  • NSW Health will no longer routinely carry out genomic sequencing for the Omicron variant

The call from Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid came after the state set a national record on Saturday, with 2,482 locally acquired infections.

NSW Health says it is likely the majority of them are the Omicron variant.

A raft of restrictions, including those around masks, QR check-ins and proof of vaccination, were relaxed this week. Changes were also made to definitions of close contacts and isolation status.

Dr Khorshid said living with the virus did not mean letting it rip like in NSW, where instead of the curve being flattened, it was almost vertical.

'"It's very bizarre timing from the New South Wales government to pull out a mask mandate just when you are seeing an incredible spike in cases that matches what's happening around the world," he said.

He said mandatory measures were urgently needed to protect the healthcare system and workers who had been "stepping up for an awfully long time now".

Dr Khorshid says living with COVID-19 does not mean letting it rip.(ABC NEws)

University of Queensland infectious disease physician, associate professor Paul Griffin, also supports bringing back some restrictions.

"With the sharp increase in case numbers, I would like to see at least some of these simple mitigation strategies reintroduced," Dr Griffin said.

"And by that I mean, masks and checking in and maybe caps on venues, for example, so we can at least limit the spread to a degree."

For weeks, Premier Dominic Perrottet has been shifting the focus from case numbers to the rate of hospitalisations.

There are currently 206 people in hospital with COVID-19, with 26 of them in intensive care.

Dr Khorshid warned that while those numbers were low, they would change.

LIVE UPDATES: Read our blog for the latest news on the COVID-19 pandemic

"Hospitalisations lag behind infections quite significantly, by a week or even two weeks," he said.

"It's too late once we actually see a sharp rise in hospitalisations.

"And the right thing to do right now is try and flatten that curve a little bit, because we don't know what proportion of people who get Omicron are going to end up in hospital."

From today, genomic sequencing for the Omicron variant will no longer be routine, but will only be carried out in specific circumstances .

The NSW government said it was monitoring case numbers and hospitalisations closely in case it needed to reintroduce restrictions, including lockdowns. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison however, hosed down talk of lockdowns, saying Australia was ready to live with the virus.

Mr Morrison said hospitals had been preparing for more admissions. 

"But the real issue is how many people are experiencing serious illness," he said.

"The case numbers are not translating into immediate pressure, but that's not to say it won't.

"But we're ready for this. We planned to live with the virus, we didn't plan to remain shut in."

Four COVID cases at a caravan park in Byron Bay prompted authorities to tell up to 500 schoolies to leave the site.(Supplied)

Thousands of people across the country will be spending Christmas in lockdown.

Up to 500 schoolies who were staying at a caravan park in Byron Bay were told yesterday to return to Sydney after four COVID cases were confirmed.

They were screened with rapid antigen tests prior to getting on their buses and flights, and those who tested positive now have an anxious wait for the results of a follow-up PCR test. 

While Omicron cases surge in NSW, Victoria's numbers have held steady at 19. However, that state's COVID numbers remain high at 1,504, with seven deaths in the most recent reporting period.

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


COVID situation worsens in western NSW as restrictions ease, health workers test positive


COVID-19 case numbers are once again rising in New South Wales' central west, with hospital workers and school children caught up in the latest clusters.

Key points:

  • Hospital staff in Orange have contracted COVID-19 with cases in the region expected to keep rising
  • More than 70 people in the Western NSW Local Health District have contracted the virus since the start of the week
  • An outbreak among students from a K-12 school in Orange is spreading

Five healthcare staff at Orange have contracted the virus and 31 other workers are also in isolation as a precaution.  

The Western NSW Local Health District (LHD) confirmed none of the positive cases contracted the virus in the hospital setting. 

In the LHD, 38 new COVID cases have been found in the latest reporting period. 

It is the highest daily number since October, when the region's Delta outbreak was unfolding. 

Of those, there are 12 in both Orange and Bathurst, four each at Dubbo and Molong, two in Blayney and one each at Forbes, Mudgee, Oberon and Trangie.

COVID numbers will rise

In a statement, the LHD said as the holiday period kicked off so would COVID. 

"We expect to see the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the WNSWLHD rise in line with increasing levels of transmission across the state," a spokesperson said. 

The spike came a day after mask wearing and restrictions for unvaccinated people eased in NSW, which is on the brink of reaching the 95 per cent double dose vaccination rate.  

Anyone who had their first jab five months ago is eligbile for a booster shot and is being urged to do so to keep their immunity high. (ABC News: Bension Siebert)

Despite people being afforded greater freedoms heading into Christmas, the local health authority warned indoor mask-wearing and QR check-ins were still necessary. 

"As the state continues to open up, it is up to all of us as individuals to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect ourselves, our loved ones and our communities," the spokesperson said. 

Those who had their second vaccine five months ago are being told to book in for a booster as soon as possible. 

School outbreak grows

A cluster at the Orange Christian School has grown to 29 cases. 

The K-12 school was told two parents had the virus last Thursday. 

A cluster of COVID cases has been detected among students and their families at the Orange Christian School.(ABC Central West: Xanthe Gregory)

Since then eight adults and 21 students have tested positive but staff members remain in the clear. 

Principal Ken Greenwood said most infections are among children in years 3 and 4, and all cases are limited to the primary school. 

"We're concerned of course about the number of families that have had their holiday plans interrupted while they isolate," Mr Greenwood said. 

The vaccination status of the students is not known but the virus is mostly spreading among children under 12 years old, an age group not eligible for a dose until January 10. 

"Fortunately to this point none of the symptoms of the students have been very significant," he said. 

Students have been on holidays for one week, and he said that distance should help slow the spread of the virus among the community. 

"It's certainly better to happen at this time than when school is in full swing from the point of view of transmission," he said. 

"I'm hoping the worst has passed."

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


‘Fed up with these crooks’: NSW man accused of trying defraud COVID business relief scheme of more than $500,000


A man from NSW's north west has been charged with attempting to defraud a New South Wales COVID-19 financial support scheme of more than half a million dollars.

Key points:

  • A Warialda Rail man has been charged with 51 offences, including obtaining financial advantage by deception
  • The 21-year-old is accused of making fraudulent applications worth $530,000
  • Strike Force Sainsbery is investigating fraudulent applications made against COVID government relief schemes

Strike Force Sainsbery was set up in November to investigate fraudulent applications made against the micro-business grant program.

Investigators allegedly identified 51 applications totalling $530,000 believed to have been made by one person.

Police allege he received $320,000, which was paid into multiple accounts in his name, while 19 applications were declined.

A 21-year-old man was arrested at Nowra on Thursday and police seized a Mercedes Benz utiliy from Culburra, on the state's south coast.

LIVE UPDATES: Read our blog for the latest news on the COVID-19 pandemic Police allegedly seized computer equipment, drones and jewelery from a Warialda Rail property. (Supplied: NSW Police)

Investigators also executed a search warrant at a property at Warialda Rail, near Moree the state's north, where they allegedly located and seized jewellery, drones, a bio-diesel converter, and computer equipment.

The Warialda Rail man has been charged with 51 offences including obtaining financial advantage by deception, intention to defraud by using falsified documents, and knowingly dealing with the proceeds of crime.

'Sainsbery is onto you'

NSW Crime Commander, Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith, said metadata was being analysed by detectives as part of the ongoing investigation.

"We have the use of specialised technology to help identify anomalies through the mass analysis and cross-referencing of metadata, which then undergoes further analysis and investigation by detectives," he said.

"I again warn those who've made fraudulent claims that Strike Force Sainsbery is onto you."

"It's best to come forward before we come to you."

A utility was also seized from Culburra on the NSW south coast. (Supplied: NSW Police)Ongoing investigation

The state's Police and Emergency Services Minister, David Elliott, said he expected detectives would make more arrests.

"Bogus claims are a fraud against every person in NSW, especially those who've been doing it tough," Mr Elliott said.

"These types of schemes are intended to ease financial pressures outside of an individual's control … they're not for fraudsters to treat themselves to a good time.

"We know that people are fed up with these types of crooks and this strike force will stop at nothing to bring them to justice," Mr Elliott said.

The accused man is due to face Nowra Local Court in January.

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


The anticipated rise in COVID cases in NSW is finally here — and La Niña is not helping


Wet weather and social gatherings are being blamed for rising COVID-19 case numbers in NSW, more than seven weeks after the state's "Freedom Day".

Key points:

  • The Golden Sheaf Hotel, Oxford Tavern and Albion Hotel have been hit with outbreaks
  • Backpackers at a Bondi Beach hostel were forced into isolation
  • An expert says the bad weather is keeping people indoors, creating high-risk settings for transmission

Yesterday, the state recorded 516 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 — the highest daily total in more than two months.

NSW residents had been told to expect an uptick in infections once restrictions were lifted, but case numbers, hospitalisations and intensive care admissions have remained stable.

Health authorities say the increases are being driven by pubs, clubs and end-of-year parties.

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"What we've been observing is increased transmission in larger social venues such as pubs, clubs and party settings," Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said on Wednesday.

There have been recent outbreaks at the Golden Sheaf Hotel at Double Bay, the Oxford Tavern at Petersham and the Albion Hotel at Parramatta.

Dr Chant says the virus is spreading in larger venues.(AAP: Mick Tsikas)

In Sydney's east, 90 people were forced to isolate in their rooms at Noah's backpackers hostel at Bondi Beach after a COVID-19 case was detected.

Epidemiologist Angela Webster said there were many factors contributing to the rising cases.

"People are coming together more and celebrating the end of the year," Professor Webster said.

"We've seen a lot more movement, people have been drifting back to work, we know people have been socialising more, and we've had bad weather so people have been in inside venues a lot more."

Petersham's Oxford Tavern is among the venues with recent COVID outbreaks.(ABC News) At least five COVID cases have been confirmed following a party on a cruise boat on Sydney Harbour.(ABC News)

She said the persistent rain, driven by the La Niña weather event, was creating a higher risk setting for the spread of the virus.

"The impact of the weather of course is that people don't want to be outside and they close doors and windows.

"And so when people have been coming together to celebrate the end of the year, they've been doing more so in indoor environments that may not be well ventilated."

Last weekend, a party boat cruise on Sydney Harbour with more than 100 people on board, resulted in at least 11 COVID-19 cases.

Professor Webster said that cruise took place on a rainy day so attendees were in the inside area with doors and windows closed.

Health authorities are urging anyone with symptoms not to attend social gatherings.

They're also recommending that people consider taking at-home rapid antigen tests if attending a large social function.

The seven-day moving average in hospitalisations is holding steady, though there is usually a lag period between rising cases and a corresponding rise in hospital admissions.

Professor Webster said having such a high proportion of adults fully vaccinated meant that people might not become so unwell.

Professor Webster says the weather is helping to spread the virus.(Supplied)

The wearing of masks and the use of QR codes to check into venues is being scaled back when restrictions ease on December 15 for both vaccinated and non-vaccinated people.

Professor Webster said people could still continue to take measures like mask-wearing to protect themselves.

She also said people could avoid indoor venues that weren't well-ventilated.

"I certainly will still be wearing a mask when I go to the supermarket or when I go to crowded places.

"I will avoid indoor venues which aren't well ventilated but it doesn't mean I won't have fun."

Professor Webster attended a work Christmas party yesterday afternoon, which she said took place outdoors.

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


NSW south coast businesses grapple with ‘diabolical’ staff shortages ahead of predicted bumper summer


Job vacancies are on the rise across the NSW south coast, prompting many businesses to feel "bittersweet" about the busy months ahead. 

Key points:

  • South Coast businesses cut back operations ahead of a busy summer due to staff shortages
  • Business NSW believes the shortages will remain until international borders fully reopen
  • Local job vacancies have increased by more than 17 per cent in the last month

The state's South Coast relies heavily on tourism trade, particularly from Sydneysiders, Canberrans and Victorians during their peak summer holidays.

However, executive director of Business NSW Adam Zarth said current staffing shortages were a major concern for businesses ahead of Christmas.

"It's a diabolical problem for business owners down there," he said.

"And it's not expected to improve either until backpackers return to our shores and foreign migration can restart again."

Executive director of Business NSW Adam Zarth says staff shortages are currently being felt most by businesses across the South Coast.(ABC Illawarra: Sarah Moss)

Mr Zarth said job vacancies across the South Coast had drastically increased in the past month alone.

"We've seen an increase over the past month of 17.1 per cent in job vacancies," he said.

"And over the year we've seen almost a 30 per cent increase in job advertisements across the region.

So, this shows just how tight it's getting out there."

Businesses from right across Australia are struggling with the shortages ahead of summer.(ABC News: Brian Hurst )Businesses scramble to adapt

For Pambula pub licensee manager Grant Kennedy, the expected surge in tourists alongside a shortage of skilled workers has forced them to change their business model and cancel live music.

"We had to cancel about eight solo artists that we already had booked between now and February and a New Year's Eve band, which I feel very sorry for," he said.

"We just can't commit [because] we wouldn't have the staff to be able to service it."

Pub licensee manager Grant Kennedy says the decision to cancel live music is sad but necessary.(ABC South East: Keira Proust)

Mr Kennedy said after a challenging two years of border closures and bushfires an influx in visitors was well needed, but the reality of staff shortages was disheartening.

"It's sort of bittersweet," he said.

"We're all hearing how busy it's going to be; however, everyone is finding it very difficult to get their staffing levels back up to what they were pre-COVID."

Find more local news

Omicron brings uncertainties

Jade Griffiths owns a cinema in Narooma and has also struggled to attract staff, but said it was the uncertainty around the summer ahead that was most concerning.

"It is hard to plan because the last two years have been quite unstable so it's hard to know what to predict," she said.

"Our biggest fear is that something may happen to the borders and travel restrictions."

Jade Griffiths bought the local cinema in Narooma from her grandparents in 2019.(Supplied: Jade Griffiths)

Ms Griffiths took over the business from her grandparents in 2019 and has endured the bushfires and COVID-19 lockdowns since then.

She said the next six months would determine whether they could survive as a small local business.

"I wouldn't say it's quite a make or break yet but it's definitely getting close to that," she said.

"If it continues to be quiet in the next six months or so I would start getting quite concerned."

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Triple whammy: Day of chaos looms in NSW as train drivers, bus drivers and teachers walk off the job


NSW commuters face a day of chaos today, as train and bus workers go on strike on the same day the state's public school teachers walk off the job. 

Key points:

  • Train staff are striking over privatisation fears
  • Bus drivers in south-west Sydney are taking action over pay and contracts
  • The industrial action by transport workers comes on the same day as the NSW teachers' strike

Major disruptions to rail services are expected across New South Wales as train drivers take industrial action in a dispute over privatisation and safety conditions.

The Rail Tram and Bus Union has warned that travellers should expect lengthy delays, as its members refuse to operate the foreign-made trains that make up 75 per cent of the state's fleet.

Frustrated commuters wait at a bus stop in Sydney's CBD during yesterday's bus strike. (AAP: Brendan Esposito)

Buses will also be out of action in Sydney's south-west between Parramatta, Liverpool and Bonnyrigg, as 300 drivers strike over a pay and conditions dispute with Transit Systems, their employer after privatisation.

Yesterday, 1,200 bus drivers in the inner west stopped work for 24 hours, calling for the NSW government to intervene as negotiations with Transit Systems stalled.

Adding to the government's headaches, teachers across the state will also strike today for the first time in a decade over staff shortages and pay.

Which transport services are impacted? There are expected to be major disruptions to rail services across New South Wales.(ABC News: Taryn Southcombe)

No train services will run on the T5 Cumberland Line, with passengers encouraged to change trains at Granville.

There will be heavily reduced services and more stops for customers using the T1 North Shore & Western, T2 Inner West & Leppington, T3 Bankstown, T4 Eastern Suburbs & Illawarra, T7 Olympic Park, T8 Airport and South lines.

Transport for NSW has arranged bus replacement services to run between Lidcombe and Bankstown on the T3 Bankstown Line and between Wollongong and Kiama and Wollongong and Port Kembla.

Regional trains, including those to and from the Blue Mountains, Central Coast, Newcastle and South Coast, will run on a weekend timetable.

There is no change to the Hunter Line, Southern Highlands Line and train services between Kiama and Nowra.

Buses stand idle during yesterday's drivers' strike in Sydney.(AAP: Biana De Marchi)

Buses will also be affected by strike action for the fourth time in a week, with 300 drivers in south-west Sydney walking off the job for 24 hours. 

Bus services to Parramatta, Liverpool and Bonnyrigg are likely to be impacted.

Why are transport workers striking?

Rail workers are taking industrial action amid fears that the NSW government is planning to privatise train operations, following on from the privatisation of bus services.

"We know that actions like this are an inconvenience to commuters, but the ball is in the court of management and the government," said Rail, Tram and Bus Union NSW secretary Alex Claassens.

"They can stop this action by simply agreeing to workers' basic asks around safety, hygiene and privatisation."

Rail workers plan to hold further action next Tuesday, December 14.

School strike explainer

Teachers will join thousands of other public servants taking industrial action and parents are being warned to make alternative care plans for the day.

Read more

Unions are warning of a "summer of chaos" ahead, with more industrial action planned.

Bus workers are blaming the NSW government for the ongoing disruption, which follows the privatisation of some bus services. 

"The NSW government has fostered an environment of industrial chaos," said Unions NSW secretary Mark Morey.

The bus union said new workers were being employed under different contracts to former government employees, and were being paid less for doing the same work.

"We have a depot here where workers are working side by side and being paid different rates," Mr Morey said.

Bus drivers are taking industrial action over alleged pay disparities. (AAP: Bianca De Marchi)

The NSW government's wages cap means public sector pay rises will be capped at 2.5 per cent.

Unions say public transport staff deserve more.

"These workers were out in COVID. These workers kept this state going. They are asking for modest pay rises and the government is refusing to provide those,"Mr Morey said.

"The Reserve Bank has called for wages growth of 3 per cent, yet the country's biggest employer, the NSW government, won't let the moths out of its wallet."

The government said negotiations were continuing and urged the unions to cancel the industrial action.

"Now is not the time for the unions to be carrying out any action," said Sydney Trains chief executive Matt Longland.

"As always, we will do everything we can to minimise impacts to customers but we implore the union to call off their disruptions and consider the impacts on the NSW community during this challenging time."

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Why are NSW bureaucrats calling for a radical surge in immigration? Here’s their economic logic


Did you hear that senior bureaucrats in New South Wales are pushing for an aggressive surge in immigration?

They say Australia should welcome 2 million migrants over the next five years, at roughly 400,000 people a year.

They say we need to make up for the lost population growth we experienced during the pandemic.

Why would they push for something so extreme?

I'll show you where the logic comes from.

The 'three Ps'

Economists have competing theories about where economic growth comes from.

But one school of thought, which has been embraced by Australia's Treasury officials, says growth originates from three sources:

  • Population
  • Participation
  • Productivity

Together, they're called the "three Ps."

According to the theory, the larger your population, and the more people who participate in your labour force, the more workers you have.

And the more productive they are, the more they can produce over time.

Those three factors determine your economy's long-run potential growth rate.

If you can lift the trend rate of growth of any of them, you'll lift the potential growth rate of the economy itself.

But when you learn to think in those terms, it's not long before you start to wonder how you might play around with those "three Ps" to engineer growth.

For example, what if you kept population and participation steady, but you cranked up productivity?

The thought experiments can be fun.

But let's get a bit more serious.

If three Ps become two?

Economists have been wondering if Australia is getting close to hitting the growth limit of one of those Ps: Participation.

See the graph below.

Since the late 1970s, the proportion of all working-age people who participate in the labour force has increased from roughly 60 per cent to a recent high of 66.3 per cent.

It's been driven by huge numbers of women entering the workforce, as the old male breadwinner model of the post-war economy was abandoned.

But how much higher can that participation rate go?

It's taken more than 40 years to increase 6 percentage points. Are we nearing its natural limit?

If so, the consequences could be significant.

It means we won't be able to boost the long-term growth rate of the economy by lifting the participation rate any higher. That lever is exhausted.

So, let's turn to productivity.

If two Ps become one?

Productivity is very important.

It's difficult to measure, but economists say it's the key driver of long-term improvements in our material standard of living.

It's a measure of the rate at which goods and services can be produced for each unit of input (labour, raw materials, capital etc).

According to the Productivity Commission, the average Australian worker produces about as much in one hour today as it took a full day's work to produce at Federation in 1901.

It says this improvement in productivity has allowed incomes to rise even while working hours have fallen and Australian households have been able to enjoy more leisure.

However, officials say our productivity performance has recently become woeful.

They say in the decade before COVID-19 hit our shores, Australia experienced the slowest per person growth in incomes, and output, in sixty years.

See the graph below.

They say the consequences of the slow growth in productivity can be seen in what's happened to households.

They say gross national income (GNI) per person grew strongly between 1999-00 and 2011-12, but then it fell until 2015-16 before then growing at a slower rate until 2018-19.

They say if pre-2011-12 growth rates (1959-60 to 2011-12) had persisted until 2019-20, then GNI would have been about $11,500 per person in 2019-20.

"That is, average incomes would have been about a tenth higher than they were had this faster growth persisted," the Productivity Commission said in June.

See the graph below.

Average incomes per person have not been growing at the rate they were before 2012(Source: Productivity Commission, "Productivity Insights: June 2021," Recent Developments, page. 45)

So let's get back to the 3Ps.

As you can see, something serious has happened to our productivity growth.

If policymakers knew how to fix it you'd think they would.

So where do you turn for some serious economic growth?

The last P standing

According to the 3Ps framework, all you have left is population.

But since you can't force Australians to have millions more children to boost population growth, you have to turn to immigration.

That's why bureaucrats in the New South Wales public service have advised the state's Premier, Dominic Perrottet, to push a "national dialogue on an aggressive resumption of immigration levels," as the Australian Financial Review reported.

They say it will be "a key means of economic recovery and post-pandemic growth."

Now you know where they're coming from.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


How a cycle trail is sparking the NSW economy


There's a moment every time I get out on the road on the bike to do some touring. 

It happens on day one when I've left the city or town behind, when there's no sound apart from the wind in my ears and the wheels on the road and no one watching except for maybe the odd cow.

It's then that I let out an almighty WOO-HOO of delight.

Because there's nothing quite so liberating as packing up your gear on a bike and having the feeling that you can go anywhere you want.

And so it was that after a good seven months without leaving Sydney (apart from three weeks working in Tokyo for the Olympics and two weeks in hotel quarantine), I hot-footed it out of Sydney with a friend and cycling mate, Pete, as soon as the lockdown lifted and headed for the Central West Cycle (CWC) Trail in inland New South Wales.

David Mark took on the Central West Cycle Trail as soon as he could get out of Sydney.(Supplied: Peter Hughes)

Everyone who goes cycle touring does it for different reasons, but for me, it's the epitome of "the journey, not the destination" – I just love the freedom of the open road.

But the CWC has the added bonus of being a pretty good destination, particularly after wonderful winter rain has greened up the countryside and made the native flowers bloom.

Made by cyclists, for cyclists

The CWC is a 400-odd kilometre loop in the central west of New South Wales linking the major towns of Mudgee, Dubbo and Wellington and a handful of smaller ones including Gulgong, Dunedoo, Mendooran and Ballimore.

It was opened last June by a group of local cyclists who'd grown tired of lobbying for a rail trail in their neck of the woods.

Local cyclists opened the track themselves after getting fed up waiting for a rail trail in their area.(Supplied: Peter Hughes)

Stumped by the politics of bureaucracy of getting something happening, they decided to do it themselves.

"All of us in our little cycling group had been overseas for these week-long cycling holidays and we were frustrated that Australia and particularly NSW wasn't offering anything like that," president of the Central West Cycle Trail Group Barbara Hickson said.

"We know how much trouble we'll go to, to get a week-long holiday in France or Italy in the past, so we needed to have one here.

"So, we all got enthusiastic very quickly and went out there and searched for the quietest back roads, the nature trails, the bush tracks that we could put together to give people a big cycle," Hickson said.

Barbara Hickson is president of the Central West Cycle Trail Group.(Supplied: Barbara Hickson)

They mapped the byways, forest roads and trails, putting up yellow stickers to point the way, developed a website with downloadable maps and got local businesses on board.

With little fanfare, the Central West Cycle Trail was born.

It's one big, beautiful loop

Australia does have a few rail trails — mainly in Victoria — where old rail lines have been ripped up and replaced with a path for cyclists.

I've done one beautiful trip with my family from Wangaratta to Bright at the foot of the Victorian Alps, with a side trip to Beechworth.

The Brisbane Valley Rail Trail in Queensland is another popular route and Australia's longest at 161 kilometres.

Rail trails are great, but they're expensive to set up and as the CWC group found, there can be a mountain of bureaucracy to overcome.

The CWC is a 400-odd kilometre loop linking the major towns of Mudgee, Dubbo and Wellington.(Supplied: Peter Hughes)

There are other long-distance cycle trails in Australia, notably the 1,070-kilometre Munda Biddi Trail linking Perth and Albany in Western Australia and the Mawson Trail, which runs 900 kilometres from Adelaide to the Flinders Ranges.

But the beauty and uniqueness of the CWC is that it's a loop — the organisers were really keen that you could start or finish anywhere.

And because almost all of the route is on country roads and fire trails, it's pretty rare to get passed by a car.

Friends, fresh air and freedom

Pete and I began our journey in Mudgee and only had to ride a few kilometres before we turned off the highway and were into the back roads and soon even quieter gravel.

After 30 kilometres, we made it to the beautiful little town of Gulgong and saw our first group of fellow cyclists lingering outside a cafe.

David Mark's first stop on the journey was a cafe in Gulgong.(Supplied: Peter Hughes)

"This must be the place," I said to one of the women.

"It's a place," she replied.

Her name was Luisa Fearnside, from Sydney, and she was teaming up with Jocie and Geoff Evison, also from Sydney, to do the route the day lockdown lifted, like us.

Before long, we were comparing notes about the routes we were planning to take.

Geoff and Jocie had recently bought serious steel bikes with massive tyres that could take on anything and were keen to search out the toughest alternative routes.

Geoff and Jocie Evison travelled from Sydney to do the route the day lockdown lifted.(Supplied: Luisa Fearnside)

"The trail allows you to choose your adventure so you can choose how long your days are, where you stay, whether you camp, whether you stay in a pub," Jocie said.

"And also, for me, I really like getting out into country NSW and spending a bit of money."

So, after spending a bit of money, we headed back out onto the road — Pete and I on the main trail for the small town of Dunedoo, while our new friends went on the back road via the intriguingly named Slap Dash Creek.

We chanced upon them again when our paths met up 30-odd kilometres later. Luisa hadn't lasted long on one of Jocie's old bikes, and so she'd driven off to Dubbo to hire a replacement.

Jocie enjoying her cycle on the road to Dunedoo.(Supplied: Geoff Evison)

They'd had a ball with their big tyres on a trail suitable for mountain bikes but told us we'd made the right decision to stick to easier dirt roads on our gravel bikes.

While we pushed on, they turned the other way for a date with a farmer, who was offering lunch for passing cyclists.

Keeping the local economy moving

Barbara Hickson says the CWC is boosting many aspects of the local economy.

"It's helping everyone, all sorts of people, breweries, cheesemakers, cafes and farmers," she said.

Cyclists are stopping in at cafes, breweries and farms along the way, which is helping the local economy.(Supplied: Geoff Evison)

"There are farmers that have come on board to offer morning tea or lunch. They are wonderful because they offer breaks in those longer distances."

In Dunedoo (population 750) the CWC is bringing money into the town via cyclists who stay at an Airbnb or the local pub and spend money at the local bakeries and cafes, said another organiser, Sharon Nott, who lives in the town.

"You're looking at around $75 for each cyclist," she said.

That may average around 10 to 20 people a day, but she said that when the trail was at its peak earlier this year, there were up to 45 riders a day passing through.

When the trail was at its peak earlier this year, about 45 riders a day passed through.(Supplied: Geoff Evison)

The next night we stayed at the Royal Hotel in Mendooran, with a population of just a couple of hundred people, and were one of six groups of cyclists drinking and eating at the pub, some staying in the rooms and some camping out the back.

Licensee Kylie Ward said her seven rooms are booked out on most nights by cyclists, whereas it used to be just the odd shearer or motorist needing a break.

"I'm employing more staff and putting on kitchen hands to try to make it a pleasant experience for everyone," she said.

"We didn't realise how big it (the CWC) was going to be, I didn't realise cycling was so big."

She's even added vegan and vegetarian options to the menu.

Dave and Pete snap a selfie outside the Mendooran Hotel.(Supplied: Peter Hughes)Earning your pie and pint at the pub

Barbara Hicks said the trail can have up to 100 riders on it at various locations at any one time.

"It's so egalitarian — people can camp the whole thing and right through to lots of golden oldies like myself," she said.

"I spoke to a couple, and they were both over 75 and they'd bought e-bikes especially for the trip."

The next day between Mendooran and Ballimore was a highlight as we rode through Goonoo State Conservation area.

After turning off the tarmac, we averaged less than 10 kph for the first hour or so as we navigated rocks and patches and got temporarily bogged in patches of deep sand on forest roads, but taking in the explosion of spring wildflowers made it worthwhile.

The spring wildflowers in the Goonoo State Conservation area were pretty spectacular.(Supplied: Peter Hughes)

That afternoon we shared a beer at the local hotel with a friendly local horse and met Martin Hesse from Sydney, who'd got up to at 4:30 to drive to Gulgong and had then just ridden in one day what we'd done in three as he raced to catch up with our three new friends, Luisa, Jocie and Geoff.

Turns out Martin is hard core. He's ridden from Perth to Adelaide across the Nullarbor against the wind averaging 220 kilometres per day, but sometimes up to 330, so a mere 180 was nothing to him.

Martin (left) and Geoff (right) on the Central West Cycle Trail.(Supplied: Jocie Evison)

The next night, we all met up at a pub in Wellington to swap notes about the trail and what we loved about cycle touring.

"You could do the whole thing in a single ride if you really wanted to," he said.

"Or, you could spend seven days having the time of your life and it is accessible to all sorts of riders and abilities and bikes.

"So, the equipment, there's no pre-set list, there are no barriers to ability, the days can be as short or long as you like," Martin said.

For Martin, cycle touring is about a totally immersive experience.

"So, you have all of your senses involved when you're travelling on a bike," he said.

"And the sheer distances that you can cover are quite extraordinary, so you really are travelling in the true sense of the word."

Jocie loves being out in nature, and the sense of accomplishment she gets from cycling.(Supplied: Geoff Evison)

"It's the speed of the travel," Luisa added.

"It's a little bit faster than walking, but you still get an opportunity to really soak in the views and the area and the wildlife and you get to see things that you don't see when you're travelling at the speed of a car."

For Jocie Evison, it's, "being out in nature and also the sense of accomplishment".

"You've earned your pie and a pint in the pub afterwards," she said.

Jocie and Luisa take a well-earned rest after a day of cycling.(Supplied: Geoff Evison)

Ah yes, the pub. There's a theme emerging.

"The exercise, the pubs and supporting the local business, but for me, it's meeting people along the way," Geoff Evison said.

"I think anyone who's prepared to get out there and exercise on a bike and propel themselves is going to be an interesting character and probably has a story to tell.

"And we met some fascinating people doing the bike touring but obviously the locals as well."

A horse is just part of the crew outside the Ballimore pub.(ABC Sport: David Mark)Get on your bike

The following day we got hammered by the rain as we cycled the last stretch of our ride between Wellington and Gulgong.

We decided to do the first 40 kilometres on the highway because of the rain and not wanting to risk a very slippery and muddy dirt road, which can play havoc with a bicycle's drive train.

Rain pelted down on Dave and his cycling mates on the last day of their journey, but it was a rewarding one.(ABC Sport: David Mark)

As cars and trucks flew by at 100 kph – some frighteningly close – it was a reminder of why the trail organisers had chosen the roads less travelled.

We'd learnt our lesson and so for the last 30 kilometres we turned back on the trail through some beautiful country roads and despite the rain, we had one of the best rides of the five days.

We soon arrived back in Gulgong and the same cafe with a friendly CWC sticker on the door — wet and tired after 350 kilometres, but happy.

I'm like lots of other keen cyclists in Australia, who have gone and explored other parts of the world that are well set up with cycling infrastructure.

A few years ago, I spent a magic three weeks cycling 1,500 kilometres through France, Switzerland, Germany and Austria.

But apart from a few overnighters, I've done very little cycle touring in my own country.

The Central West Cycle trail has inspired me to do more and clearly, thousands of others are jumping on board.

Jocie and Luisa enjoying the journey.(Supplied: Geoff Evison)

As Martin Hesse told me: "The support is definitely there, but also everyone is realising this untapped opportunity that comes with the cycling community."

Barbara Hickson is hoping more community groups in parts of regional Australia will follow their lead and map out their own cycle trails.

Australia facing 'once-in-a-lifetime opportunity' as cycling booms

We're getting on our bikes like never before in Australia, and experts say we have to seize this opportunity to reshape our cities.

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"I'd tell them, firstly I know it might be a bit of work to start with but do it, and your payment is the thanks from everyone," she said.

"Honestly, there's not a week goes by when we're not thanked by a cyclist, a business, a farmer, there's a lot of gratitude in it."

Elite sport is what 0.01 per cent of the population are employed to do.

Sport is what the rest of us do for fun.

Cycle touring is one of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to get some exercise, get out of your comfort zone and visit parts of the country that you may never get to at a pace that means you take it all in.

Give it a try. Get on your bike.

Some of Australia's long distance cycle trails

  • The Central West Cycle Trail
  • The Central West Cycle Trail links the major New South Wales towns of Mudgee, Dubbo and Wellington, via the smaller towns of Gulgong, Dunedoo, Mendooran, Ballimore, Wongarbon and Geurie. The trail is around 400 kilometres long including side trips to Dubbo and Mudgee. It's suitable for most bikes, but mountain, touring and gravel bikes with wider tyres are best.
  • https://centralwestcycletrail.com.au/
  • Victoria's rail trails
  • Victoria has a plethora of rail trails around the state. The longest is the Great Victorian Rail Trail, which covers 134 kilometres from Tallarook to Mansfield and is used by cyclists as well as bushwalkers and horse riders. The Murray to the Mountains runs 116 kilometres between Wangaratta to Bright with various side trips to other towns. The East Gippsland Rail Trail runs 94 kilometres between Bairnsdale and Orbost. There are many other trails for short day and overnight rides.
  • https://www.travelvictoria.com.au/experiences/adventureactivities/railtrails/
  • The Brisbane Valley Rail Trail
  • The Brisbane Valley Rail Trail in Queensland is the longest in Australia at 161 kilometres. It runs from near Ipswich to Yarraman. It's most suitable for mountain and touring, gravel or cyclocross bikes.
  • https://www.brisbanevalleyrailtrail.com.au/
  • The Mawson Trail
  • The Mawson Trail in South Australia starts just north of Adelaide and runs a staggering 900 kilometres north to the Flinders Ranges on country roads, state forest and national park fire trails, farm access tracks and unused road reserves. The organisers recommend using mountain bikes or sturdy touring bikes.
  • http://www.southaustraliantrails.com/trails/mawson-trail/
  • The Munda Biddi Trail
  • The Munda Biddi Trail is another epic one, this time in Western Australia linking Perth and Albany over 1,070 kilometres through a network of bush tracks and firebreaks and some disused rail lines. You can do the whole thing or shorter day trips.
  • https://trailswa.com.au/trails/munda-biddi-trail
  • The Tasmanian Trail
  • The Tasmanian Trail does what it says on the tin. It covers the length of the island over 480 kilometres from Devonport in the north to Dover in the South, and is designed for walkers and horse riders as well as cyclists. Most of the trail is on roads and tracks but there are sections which go through virgin bush, farmland and there are some river crossings. This one's for mountain bikes only.
  • http://www.tasmaniantrail.com.au/

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Flooding fears, dams at capacity as NSW braces for another soaking


Northern and central New South Wales are bracing for another day of heavy rain that could cause major flooding in a number of towns.

Key points:

  • The Bureau of Meteorology has issued a severe weather warning for parts of the state
  • The wet weather has come at a terrible time for farmers trying to harvest crops
  • The state's dams are at risk of spilling with many close to full capacity

Up to 110 millimetres is forecast to fall at Moree, while Tamworth and Narrabri are expected to receive between 40 and 70mm.

The Central West is also in line for more rain, with West Wyalong expected to see up to 60 millimetres and Condobolin forecast to get between 25 and 45mm.

A flood watch remains in place for a number of catchments across the north and Central West.

"That type of rain normally causes flash flooding and that's where we see that real risk of people getting caught, particularly on roads," Colin Malone from the State Emergency Service said.

"We want people to make smart choices — at the end of the day it's about them coming home."

Moderate to major flooding is expected on the Upper Macintyre, Gwydir, Peel and Namoi rivers.

In the Central West, minor to major flooding is likely on the Lachlan River, near Forbes.

The Bureau of Meteorology has issued a severe weather warning for heavy rainfall for the north-west and parts of the Central West.(Supplied: BOM)Harvest scramble

The rain has come at a bad time for farmers in the north-west trying to harvest broadacre crops.

Adrian Brown from Gravesend, between Warialda and Moree, said he had managed to reap some of his crop, but had to stop on Wednesday as the low pressure system moved in.

"We'll probably be pulled up for a while now," he said.

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Mr Brown said he was concerned the rainfall would impact grain quality and yields.

"Especially in the barley — a lot of it's already laying down," he said.

"We've got one crop that's nearly flat on the ground.

"We'll just have to sit and wait out today … maybe a bit of office work."

Dams could spill

Many of the state's dams, which were almost empty during the drought, are now at or near capacity.

Wyangala Dam near Cowra is sitting at 99.6 per cent.

Water NSW said it escalated releases in the days leading up to this rain event, but had now eased off so it did not exacerbate the flooding.

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Spokesman Tony Webber said outflows would resume after any flooding had peaked to create more storage space.

"It's very much depending on the extent of the flooding, but inevitably if we are above 100 per cent at the dam – and that seems to be likely – there will need to be some operation to reduce that storage to at least full supply level," he said.

In the north, Keepit Dam near Gunnedah is at 96 per cent capacity and the severe weather is expected to impact the storage.

Water NSW increased its releases from more than 2,000 megalitres a day to more than 20,000 this week.

"These releases are well below minor flood level," Mr Webber said.

"The intention is just to build some capacity in the storage to capture what we anticipate will be some fairly substantial inflows coming into that dam on the back of the bureau's forecast for some quite heavy rain."

Find more local news

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Live: All the COVID news you need to know in the one spot


A significant contact tracing effort is continuing today as Greater Darwin enters its fifth day of "lockout" restrictions.

Stay up-to-date on the coronavirus outbreak

No new local COVID-19 cases have been diagnosed since the weekend, but the government yesterday extended the "lockout" after new information came to light.

Follow live.

Key events

Log in to comment

To leave a comment on the blog, please log in or sign up for an ABC account.

Live updates

By Bridget Judd

PinnedCase numbers

If you don't see your state or territory yet, don't worry — case numbers aren't always released until the afternoon.

Press conferences won't be streamed live on the blog everyday, but we'll provide a link when major announcements are expected.

NSW:

Victoria:

Queensland:

ACT:

Western Australia:

Northern Territory:

Tasmania:

South Australia:

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2m ago2 minutes agoMon 8 Nov 2021 at 9:31pm

By Bridget Judd

Key EventIn some more good news, restrictions will ease in Canberra from Friday

Restrictions in the ACT are set to further ease from 11:59pm Thursday night, with the next round of changes fast-tracked.

  • Face masks will only be required in high risk settings, like hospitals and aged care facilities, on public transport and in schools
  • There will be no limits on home visits or informal outdoor gatherings
  • Indoor and outdoor entertainment venues with fixed seating can have events at 100 per cent capacity
  • Restrictions on cinemas and swimming pools will be relaxed
  • Organised sport can recommence in indoor settings
  • Density limits will ease in most businesses and shops to allow one person for every two square metres, with no density limits outdoors for most activities

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13m ago13 minutes agoMon 8 Nov 2021 at 9:21pm

By Bridget Judd

Questions from the audienceHiya! Just wondering if you can please clarify where we can get a booster shot in SA – is it only from pharmacies? I had my 2nd dose almost exactly six months ago now and keen for a booster, but none of the online vax booking forms have a booster option. (And if it is just pharmacies, where is the list of available pharmacies? I can't find it anywhere.) Thanks for your help!

-Boosters

Morning, Boosters.

According to the SA government, the boosters are being rolled out in two waves:

  • Currently eligible: Frontline workers who received their vaccinations as part of phase 1A when the rollout first began — that includes frontline hospital, GP and testing clinic staff, medi-hotel and quarantine pathway workers, aged and disability care staff and residents
  • December 1: Anyone aged 18 and over who received their second shot at least six months ago

If you fit into that first category (which I'm assuming you do), you can walk into any SA Health vaccination clinic to receive your booster dose.

Frontline staff will need to show their employee identification at the clinic and will also be able to book online for their booster dose from November 8.

If you're in that second category, bookings for Pfizer booster doses will be available at all SA Health COVID-19 vaccination clinics. 

Will we need to wear masks on public transport in QLD once we hit 80%? Tired of arriving at work with half my makeup inside my mask !!

-El

You and me both — I reckon I've got about half of Sephora in there.

To answer your question, though, the details are a bit skint at the moment (beyond the fact that they won't be required in schools/workplaces etc).

Hopefully we'll have a bit more clarity later in the day.

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20m ago20 minutes agoMon 8 Nov 2021 at 9:13pm

By Bridget Judd

Schools are the new COVID breeding ground and parents are losing their patience with shutdowns

While case numbers are dropping in all age groups in NSW and Victoria, they're falling faster among adults.

And that means younger people — who are fast becoming the only groups of unvaccinated people mingling in close quarters — are dominating reported coronavirus cases.

People aged 0-19 are close to making up half of NSW's cases each day, and Victoria is trending the same way.

And that's unlikely to change soon, with 5-11 year olds unlikely to be able to get a vaccine before the end of this year.

Read the full story.

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30m ago30 minutes agoMon 8 Nov 2021 at 9:03pm

By Bridget Judd

WA has hit 80pc single dose coverage

Good stuff, sandgropers.

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36m ago36 minutes agoMon 8 Nov 2021 at 8:58pm

By Bridget Judd

Live in Victoria? Getting married soon?

Weddings, funerals and religious gatherings can still go ahead under Victoria's COVID settings, but you can invite more people if everyone attending is fully vaccinated.

  • If the vaccination requirements are met, then you can have 1 person per 4 sqm indoors, or 1 person per 2 sqm (up to 500 people) outdoors
  • If vaccination status isn’t being checked, then attendance is limited to 30 people plus select others required for the service
  • If these events are happening at a private home, then the household visitor limits of 10 people apply – regardless of vaccination status

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47m ago47 minutes agoMon 8 Nov 2021 at 8:46pm

By Bridget Judd

Key EventChiropractors and osteopaths in SA must have had at least one COVID vaccine dose by December

Chiropractors and osteopaths in South Australia who work face-to-face with patients must have had at least one COVID-19 vaccination by December 6.

SA Police issued the emergency direction after leaving them off a list of health care workers that had to be vaccinated by yesterday.

By November 30, disability workers and in-home and community aged care workers will join them.

Anyone visiting a residential aged care facility will also need to be fully vaccinated from December 6.

Reporting by Patrick Martin

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55m ago55 minutes agoMon 8 Nov 2021 at 8:39pm

By Bridget Judd

Good luck to all the year 12s sitting your HSC exams todayJust wanted to pop on before all of the busyness happens and say a good luck to all of my fellow year 12s sitting their first HSC exam today. We’ve all got this!

-Good luck

Keep your heads up and remember: it doesn't matter if you score terribly, because you can always become a journalist.

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1h ago1 hours agoMon 8 Nov 2021 at 8:31pm

By Bridget Judd

Flying doctors on alert for looming COVID outbreak in the bush

The Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) and the LifeFlight aeromedical rescue have already transported 88 suspected or confirmed COVID patients in Queensland since the pandemic began.

With the state's border rules set to relax in December, the RFDS is working to get ahead of the deadly disease, travelling to isolated communities to deliver and administer doses of the vaccines.

In figures released by the Commonwealth on Monday, outback Queensland has 53.2 per cent of its eligible population fully vaccinated, and 63.4 per cent with one dose.

RFDS chief medical officer Katie Clift says she's worried about regions that are a long way from a major hospital.

"We're particularly concerned for those areas where we know that the vaccination rate is lower than ideal," Dr Clift said.

"Vaccination will reduce disease severity but also the spread of the disease."

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1h ago1 hours agoMon 8 Nov 2021 at 8:19pm

By Bridget Judd

Key EventMasks won't be required when Queensland hits 80pc single-dose coverage — and we're expecting that today

In some welcome news for the Sunshine State, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says the mask mandate will be removed when 80 per cent of eligible Queenslanders have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

That means no masks indoors, including schools, cafes, pubs, clubs, hairdressers and workplaces.

At last count yesterday, 79.4 per cent of Queenslanders aged 16 and over had received their first COVID shot.

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1h ago1 hours agoMon 8 Nov 2021 at 8:16pm

By Bridget Judd

Key EventContact tracing efforts in Darwin now focused on Noonamah Tavern

A significant contact tracing effort is continuing today as Greater Darwin enters its fifth day of "lockout" restrictions.

No new local coronavirus cases have been diagnosed since the weekend, but the government yesterday extended the "lockout" after new information came to light.

Chief Minister Michael Gunner says contact tracing efforts are now focused on the Noonamah Tavern exposure site.

"The source contact spent just over four hours at the Noonamah Tavern from 2:12pm to 6:17pm," he says.

"We believe there were about 350 people who frequented the hotel during this period, but we had just 47 check-ins.

"The lack of check-ins has greatly increased the workload for our contact tracers."

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1h ago1 hours agoMon 8 Nov 2021 at 8:13pm

By Bridget Judd

Good morning, I'm Bridget Judd and I'll be bringing you today's COVID updates from across the country.

As always, you can send in your questions and comments by hitting the big blue button up the top.

Grab a coffee and let's get into it.

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


See if you’re a winner or a loser in this year’s federal budget


Australia

Find out who’s getting a cash boost and who’s missing out in Josh Frydenberg’s 2021 federal budget.

Winner: Vaccines


An extra $1.9 billion will be spent on our vaccine strategy over the next five years, with the government also confirming it’s set aside a pool of money to invest in mRNA vaccine production in Australia.

Currently, mRNA vaccines can’t be made in Australia but after the official health advice that the preferred COVID-19 vaccine for people under 50 be Pfizer (mRNA), many called on the government to look at producing them locally.

While mRNA technology was in development before the pandemic, it hadn’t been used in vaccines until companies like Pfizer and Moderna rolled out their treatments.

The government invested heavily in the AstraZeneca vaccine and manufacturer CSL given it was a type of vaccine already used and could be produced locally.

The budget doesn’t say how much funding the government will provide for mRNA production because of “commercial in confidence sensitivities”.

But it does say that it’s asked the Department of Industry to work with the Department of Health to develop onshore manufacturing capabilities for now and long-term use.

The government is also chipping in another $1.5 billion for COVID-related health services like testing and contact tracing.

Loser: Renewables


There is no new direct funding in the budget for renewables, except for $30 million over the next year for a big battery and microgrid project between Katherine and Darwin in the Northern Territory.

Most of the government’s spending on energy is focused at low emissions technologies.

The government’s putting $643.4 million over the next four years into low emissions technologies, including $539 million in funding for two “clean” energy schemes announced before the budget by the Prime Minister.

It includes $275 million towards developing four more hydrogen production hubs in regional areas, and $237 million for carbon capture and storage projects (CCS) and hubs.

Critics from the Climate Council and The Australia Institute have raised concerns with both projects, saying unless hydrogen is produced using entirely renewable power it will still contribute toward emissions.

On CCS, the Climate Council has labelled it an “extremely expensive” technology that does not deliver zero emissions and hasn’t worked around the world.

Winner: Women


Last year’s budget was criticised for its lack of specific focus on funding for women — while this year is a completely different story, the funding across multiple areas falls below what many services and advocates had called for.

In addition to changes to the childcare subsidy, the government’s tipping in $354 million for women’s health.

That includes $100 million for improving cervical and breast cancer screening programs, including extending the free mammogram service to now cover women aged 40 to 74 (previously it was for women aged 50 to 74).

More than $47 million is being put toward depression services for pregnant women and new mothers, $95.9 million on screening of embryos during IVF and $13.7 million to reduce pre-term birth rates, especially among Indigenous communities.

The government’s spending $27 million on programs to reduce eating disorders and $21.6 million on other health initiatives including education and pain management programs for endometriosis.

It’s also putting $998 million over the next four years towards reducing domestic and family violence, and supporting survivors.

That funding covers money for frontline services and specific programs for migrant, refugee and Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander women.

For perspective, Women’s Safety NSW said it estimated the sector needed $1 billion a year just for frontline services.

There’ll also be a new trial program which gives women fleeing violent relationships up to $5,000 in assistance, split into a $1,500 payment and $3,500 in expenses like rent, legal fees and furniture.

There’s also money for consent and respectful relationship education and $320 million over four years for legal services.

To help women when they retire, the government will now make it so that employees who earn less than $450 a month will be paid the superannuation guarantee.

The change was sparked by the Retirement Income Review which found that of all the people affected by the previous threshold, 63 per cent were women.

But there’s no mention or suggestion of tacking super payments on to Paid Parental Leave payments, which industry advocates say is one of the key ways to close the super gap between men and women.

Building on last year’s budget, there’s more investment to encourage women into STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education, with $42.4 million over seven years for 230 scholarships for “higher level STEM qualifications”.

Lastly, a new four-year scheme will offer 10,000 single parents who have dependent children assistance to buy a home with as little as a 2 per cent deposit.

According to the latest ABS data, 81 per cent of single parents are women, meaning the program could potentially give many a leg up into the housing market.

Loser: International tourism


When the last budget was handed down in October, the government assumed that international borders would begin to gradually reopen towards the end of this year.

But given the issues with the vaccine rollout and ongoing international outbreaks, the government’s now saying the border won’t open until at least mid-2022.

That’s bad news for tourism operators who rely on international visitors.

While the government announced just under $60 million in last year’s budget to help some of these businesses diversify their markets, there’s little extra support this year.

Instead, the government is extending its zoo and aquarium support package and extra money for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

Winner: Aged care


The government is putting an extra $17.7 billion toward aged care over five years, or roughly $3.5 billion a year.

While it’s a significant injection, it’s worth noting the royal commission into aged care declared the sector was underfunded by about $10 billion a year.

The money will be spent on 80,000 new home care packages over the next two years, bringing the total to more than 275,000 by June 2023.

As at June 30 last year there were more than 100,000 people on the waiting list for home care packages, with the royal commission recommending the wait list be cleared by the end of this year, something that will not happen with the current spend.

The government is also tipping in $3.9 billion over the next four years to mandate the “care minutes” of 240,000 aged care residents and 67,000 people accessing respite services — another of the royal commission’s recommendations.

By October 1, 2023, providers will be required to provide three hours and 20 minutes of care, per resident, per day, including 40 minutes with a registered nurse.

There’ll also be a new government-funded “Basic Daily Fee” supplement of $10 per resident a day for providers to improve care and services.

Workforce training is also on the agenda, with $216 million over three years to provide more specialised training and $91.8 million over two years for 13,000 new home care workers.

Respite care and support services will also be boosted by $798 million over the next five years.

There is also money to help make it easier for senior Australians to navigate the aged care system, including $200 million for a new star rating system to make the performance of aged care providers clear.

Winner: Child care


After being criticised for not providing any new childcare funding in last year’s pandemic-focused budget, the government is putting an extra $1.7 billion over the next three years into the industry.

The $566 million or so a year will go toward changes to the Childcare Subsidy Scheme which will come into effect in July 2022.

Under the changes, the annual $10,560 cap on households with an income of more than $189,390 will be abolished, matching Labor’s pledge.

If you have one child in childcare, the subsidy stays at 65 per cent but if you have two or more, it’s 95 per cent for each kid.

While the government estimates the changes will help around 250,000 families, others have argued it will still mean childcare is unaffordable for hundreds of thousands of other families who only have one child in care.

Neutral: Young people


An additional $500 million over two years will be directed to the JobTrainer program to create an estimated 163,000 places and reduce to the youth unemployment rate which is sitting at 11.8 per cent.

JobTrainer was unveiled last year and was one of the government’s plans to drive job creation in the wake of the pandemic by up-skilling school leavers or people who are unemployed through free or low-fee courses.

The government will have to work with the states and territories — who fund half the scheme — to have it extended until the end of 2022 like it hopes to.

The government’s apprenticeship wage subsidy scheme is also being extended to the tune of $2.7 billion.

It’s expected to help create 170,000 new positions, but it’s worth remembering the money goes to employers and there’s no guarantee that apprentices will be kept on when their training finishes or when the subsidy ends.

But for school leavers or young people who don’t want to skill up in the areas targeted by JobTrainer like childcare, aged care and IT, or aren’t interested in an apprenticeship, there’s little in the budget.

There is going to be $21 million for 5,000 extra short course places at non-university higher education providers this year, but no extra funding for local university places.

The youth-focused JobMaker hiring credit, which provides incentive for businesses to hire young people, will still be available but is only expected to support 10,000 jobs over the next two years, instead of the 450,000 predicted last year.

Loser: Migration rate


With the international borders still closed until at least mid next year, our migration numbers are expected to keep going backwards.

It’s now expected that net overseas migration will fall by around 97,000 by June this year — a bigger drop than the 72,000-person decrease it predicted in last year’s budget.

Migration will fall by a further 77,000 people between 2021-22 due to the border closure.

The budget predicts that it’ll then increase to 235,000 in 2024-25, but as the last year’s proven those figures really are just estimates that could change amid the uncertainty of COVID-19.

Winner: Preschool


Usually the government provides annual funding for preschool, but this year it’s giving a firmer commitment, promising $1.6 billion over the next four years.

The funding agreement still has to be worked out with the states and territories and will pay for at least 15 hours a week.

From 2024 the money will be be tied to attendance targets, with a goal to introduce a new “preschool outcomes measure” in 2025.

Winner: Gaming industry


The government’s announced a 30 per cent refundable Digital Games Tax Offset to try and attract more of the $250 billion global game market to Australia.

To get the offset, eligible businesses have to spend at least $500,000 on certain games expenditure.

Exactly what that includes is still being worked out, and will be decided after the government consults with the industry.

The offset is part of the government’s $1.2 billion package on a range of measures to improve our digital technology and “digital economy”.

The package also includes money to improve MyGov and My Health Record, as well as research into artificial intelligence and cyber security.

Loser: Universities


Universities around the country which rely on international students are likely to continue to struggle given the delay on borders reopening, the slow COVID-19 vaccine rollout and no clearer picture on the future of hotel quarantine.

Making matters worse there is no specific funding for universities in the budget.

The budget now estimates the international border will open in 2022 and while the government is working on a three-step plan to achieve that, it relies on the majority of the population being vaccinated.

Some university heads, like the ANU’s Vice Chancellor Brian Schmidt, have already said the number of international enrolments for next year is down on their forecasts as students turn to other countries like the United Kingdom and the United States.

“Students are preferencing going to places that are open, even with COVID running rampant,” he said.

There is some hope, states like Victoria and NSW are considering alternative plans to hotel quarantine — like using empty student accommodation — to get international students back as soon as possible.

Winner: Small brewers


Small brewers and distillers — the little guys of the industry — are getting some more help this year with $255 million in tax relief.

From July 1 this year anyone who is eligible will be handed back up to $350,000 worth of taxes.

That’s a big increase from the 60 per cent refund of taxes up to a $100,000 annual cap at the moment.

But big booze companies aren’t eligible.

Winner: Taxpayers


The so-called “Low and Middle Income Tax Offset” will remain in place for another year.

The tax rebate, which workers receive after completing their tax returns, is worth different amounts to different income groups.

It was supposed to finish on June 30 but it will be extended by another 12 months.

This is how much you can expect to land back in your bank account if you’re in any of these wage brackets:

WageOffset$37,000 or less$225Between $37,001 and $48,000$255 plus 7.5 cents for every dollar above $37,000 up to a max of $1,080Between $48,001 and $90,000$1,080Between $90,001 and $126,000$1,080 minus three cents for every dollar of the amount above $90,000Neutral: International students


While the continued border closure until 2022 may mean students cannot come or return to Australia to study, the government has made some changes so that those who are here can work more.

The fortnightly limit of 40-hours of work for international students with jobs in hospitality and tourism is going to be scrapped.

A similar change was made for anyone working in agriculture, health or aged care.

And while there are plans being considered in Victoria and NSW to bring international students back to Australia outside of hotel quarantine, the budget only goes as far to say that “small phased programs” for international students will start late this year.

Winner: Mental health


An extra $2.3 billion is being invested into the National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan, and will be shared across five key areas.

Around $250 million has been set aside for early intervention, including a new digital platform that’ll provide online counselling, peer and clinical support, and referrals.

A further $298 million will go directly to suicide prevention. The federal government is going to work with the states and territories to fund aftercare for every person discharged from hospital after a suicide attempt.

The biggest share of cash will go to treatment, with $1.4 billion for a new national network of mental health treatment centres for adults, youth and kids.

A further $107 million will be spent on supporting vulnerable Australians, specifically Indigenous people.

And finally, the government is putting $202 million to increase the workforce, offering scholarships and clinical placements for nurses, psychologists and allied health practitioners working in the mental health space.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has also announced a new National Suicide Prevention Office will be formed.

The new money is in response to the findings from a report by the Productivity Commission into Mental Health and comes in the wake of increased pressure on mental health support providers throughout the pandemic.

Loser: New residents


There aren’t a lot of cuts in this budget, but one way the government is expecting to save a lot of money is by making “newly arrived residents” wait four years across the board for “most” welfare payments.

The new rule will start on January 1, 2022 and is expected to save $671 million over five years.

There’s no more detail in any of the budget papers about who counts as a new resident and what payments they will be blocked from receiving, but the change is something the Australian Council of Social Service has already flagged as “very concerning”.

Winner: Businesses


As well as the support announced for particular industries like small brewers, video gaming and medical and biotech start-ups, the budget also has a few perks for other businesses.

Last year’s business write-off perks are being extended by another 12 months.

That means businesses with a turnover of up to $5 billion will be able to write off the full value of any eligible asset like a work vehicle or equipment they bought between last budget and June 30, 2023.

The extension also mean any losses incurred up to June 2023 can be offset against prior profits made going back to the 2018-19 financial year.

Winner: Farmers


Farmers will benefit from the instant asset write-off which has been extended until June 2023, allowing them to immediately deduct the full cost of eligible depreciable assets.

There’s also $200 million for a National Soil Strategy that will include rebates for farmers that share the results of soil testing, and $370 million for biosecurity measures to stop the spread of pests and diseases.

The government will spend almost $60 million trialling ways to reduce emissions through livestock feed and soil management.

It’ll also waive almost $15 million of debt owed by more than 5,000 farmers receiving the Farm Household Allowance from Centrelink.

But those looking for an answer to the shortage of farm workers or a new international trade strategy to deal with the fallout from Australia’s deteriorating relationship with China may be disappointed.

Winner: Medical start ups


One of the new ideas in the budget is a new tax program aimed at encouraging medical and biotech companies to stay in Australia while they develop and then sell their ideas.

In a nutshell the “patent box tax regime” will tax any income from a company’s patent at a concessional rate of 17 per cent starting from July 1, 2022.

For comparison, large businesses are taxed at 30 per cent and small-to-medium enterprises at 25 per cent.

Start-ups are an area the government is focusing on this budget, with $500 million in other new measures to make Australia an attractive place for businesses.

Part of that includes removing red tape and changing tax rules to encourage the use of employee share schemes, which the government says are important for start-ups to attract and retain staff.

Neutral: Refugees


The government is keeping its reduced cap of refugee places at 13,750 a year after lowering it by 5,000 in last year’s budget.

But it is extending funding for support services that help women on temporary visas who may be experiencing domestic and family violence.

Credits:

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


This week’s floods were ‘nature’s warning’. But the solution creates a potential catastrophe


Australia

The Warragamba Dam wall needs to be raised to help prevent the devastating floods seen in Sydney this week — but there is a cost upstream too.

Almost 150 years ago, a torrent of water poured out of the Blue Mountains and filled western Sydney like a bathtub.

Floodwaters rose to nearly 20 metres in some areas, with the high-water line still marked at some parts.

Over the years serious — albeit smaller — floods have hit Sydney several times.

This week was one of the worst ever seen.




Photo:

The floodplains in Windsor, western Sydney. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)



Photo:

Some of the damage from this week’s floods (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)



Photo:

A house fully submerged in the Windsor area. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito )

But as bad as the latest flood is, 1867, by comparison, went even higher.

Almost 100 years later the Warragamba Dam was built.

It was never intended to be a flood mitigation dam. Its purpose to provide 80 per cent of Sydney’s drinking supply.

When not full, it can mitigate floods by catching some of the rainwater that would otherwise flow into parts of western Sydney.


Video: Water spilling from the Warragamba Dam

(ABC News)

But when the dam is full and overflowing — like it was this week — it offers no protection.

Pouring trillions of litres into the basin below.

Leaving devastation in its wake.

And it’s almost inevitable that one day a flood as bad as 1867 — and worse than this week — will come again.

Every year, there’s thought to be a 0.2 per cent chance that will happen.

Development in the floodplain has since exploded: 134,000 people live and work in the area, and that’s expected to double in the next 30 years, according to Infrastructure NSW.

So the NSW government is charging ahead with a radical plan — an idea which, in some form or another, dates back at least to the 1990s — to raise the wall of the dam by between 14 and 17 metres.

It says the move will protect lives and property and would have slowed the peak of the floods this week, likely saving some homes and businesses. Some experts disagree.

But to protect those living on the floodplain there is a cost upstream.




Photo:

Upstream, pristine wilderness is at risk. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

With a higher dam wall, thousands of hectares of unique World Heritage bushland will be flooded, and according to government documents obtained by the ABC much of that will be severely damaged.

Thousands of sites of Aboriginal importance are also in the development’s path.

The United Nations World Heritage Committee has warned the project would threaten the World Heritage status of the Blue Mountains, risking what’s known as its “Outstanding Universal Values”.

And traditional owners have compared it to a potential Juukan Gorge catastrophe.

But for the minister driving the project, Stuart Ayres, it’s a matter of lives versus heritage.

“We’ve got to trade off some environmental impact to be able to protect properties downstream,” Mr Ayres says.

He thinks recent flooding carries important lessons that can’t be ignored.

“This is nature’s warning that you have to be prepared, you have to get ready and you have to take flood mitigation in the Hawkesbury-Nepean seriously.”


Video: Drone footage of the Warragamba Dam

(ABC News)

But others believe there’s another way.

To show you what’s at stake, we have to travel a long way into the wilderness.

Into an area of enormous global significance.

Far beyond the dam wall.

‘The things that will be lost’

This is Gandangara country, in the NSW Southern Highlands.

The Indigenous people of this land have been displaced before.

To make way for the original dam to be built in the 1950s, Kazan Brown’s grandmother was forcibly removed from her land.

Her home is now at the bottom of Lake Burragorang — the artificial lake created by Warragamba Dam. An area with thousands of culturally significant sites and artefacts.




Photo:

Taylor Clark (pictured left) and her mother Kazan Brown are fighting to preserve the culturally significant sites left on their country. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)



Photo:

This land is connected to an ancient song line. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)



Photo:

The land contains significant ancient sites and artefacts. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

Now, Ms Brown fears history is on the verge of repeating itself.

“If the wall’s raised, once we have the first flood, there’ll be burial sites, there’ll be art sites, scar trees, campsites, shelters, all sorts of things that will be lost,” she says.

Kazan Brown would instead like the government to consider alternative options.

“People think [the raising of the wall] is for extra water supply for Sydney, but it’s not. It’s for development and flood mitigation.”

“There’s got to be a better way.”

Ms Brown’s daughter, Taylor Clarke, 23, is studying law, and determined to protect her culture.

She worries deeply about the loss of even more of her family’s heritage, and its impact on connecting with culture on-country.

“If that’s gone, it’ll never be real to my kids and it’ll never be real to my grandkids,” she says.

“That’s where the connection is built.”

One of the last wild rivers

Tracking further west, the bush becomes dense.

Deep in the Australian wilderness, but right on Sydney’s doorstep, it is an area of enormous global significance, protected by the United Nations as World Heritage.




Photo:

The Kowmung is the last declared wild river in NSW. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

It’s also home to the Kowmung — one of the last official “wild rivers” in NSW.




Photo:

Roger Lembit worked as an ecologist on an attempt to raise the height of the Warragamba Dam wall in the 1990s. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

Avid bushwalker and prominent ecologist Roger Lembit has been coming here for more than 40 years.

When he was in his 30s he was diagnosed with leukaemia.




Photo:

Roger Lembit on the shore of what he describes as one the state’s most pristine waterways. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

He would meditate, imagining he was here, on its banks.

“In some ways, it was better than a painkiller because it just took my mind off the other things that were happening to me, it is part of the reason why I’m still alive.”

When the NSW government wanted to raise the dam in the 1990s, he was hired to assess the environmental impacts — impacts he documented that saw the project ultimately shelved.

If the dam is raised, he says, water will back up along these banks during floods.

Mr Lembit says inundation could last up to two weeks, a timeframe which would likely have a permanent ecological effect.

“Last time, [in the 1990s] these sorts of issues were brought to the attention of the [Carr] government,” he says.

“It decided not to proceed partly on the basis of the significant environmental impacts that were going to be caused.”

The proposal



Photo:

Before the wall (ABC News: Brendan Esposito )




Photo:

An artist’s impression of the new height. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito and Emma Machan)

The government has not yet released the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the dam-raising project, despite promising it more than two years ago.

Leaked drafts of the EIS, obtained by the ABC, reveal widespread and severe impacts are predicted along the unique upstream environment in the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.

Take the critically endangered regent honeyeater. It’s thought there could be as few as 200 of the small birds remaining.

Many forage and breed in habitat that the draft EIS found would likely be destroyed by the dam-raising project.

It found up to half the remaining population could be impacted.

The expert ecologists writing the draft EIS also warned temporary inundation would cause permanent damage to the environment.




Photo:

A snippet of the pristine environment. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)



Photo:

The critically endangered regent honeyeater. (Supplied: Lachlan Hall)

So extensive are the projected impacts to endangered plants, animals and ecosystems, that the compensation bill for the government — the amount it could be required to pay to “offset” the damage — amounts to $2.88 billion in a draft assessment from 2019.

NSW Minister for Western Sydney Stuart Ayres argues the government doesn’t need to pay that bill because the inundation is temporary and only occurs during big floods, despite the ecologists saying the impacts would be permanent.

According to Roger Lembit, that assessment “makes no sense whatsoever”.

“It sounds to me like a scientific fraud,” he says.

The choice

Mr Ayres says the recent floods serve as a warning from nature that things need to change quickly.

And he’s clear about the trade-off involved in raising the dam.

“There’s no doubt there’ll be an impact on ecosystems and environment,” he concedes. “We also know the bush is resilient and it will regenerate.

“Ultimately, this is a going to be a choice about where you store floodwater; either behind a flood mitigation dam wall or whether it’s in people’s living rooms.”




Photo:

Flood damage in a lounge room in western Sydney this week. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

Mr Ayres says the government has considered other flood mitigation options, including blasting open Sackville Gorge, in the nearby Hawkesbury River, which acts as a chokepoint for escaping water.

“[But] the best performing option was increasing the height of the dam wall,” he says.

Hawkesbury City councillor Nathan Zamprogno also supports the raising of the wall and believes it is a necessity to keep his community safe.

This week he watched as the newly built Windsor Bridge — built several metres higher than the old bridge — was covered by water for days.

Homes and businesses were destroyed. And in other parts of the state, lives were lost.

“What’s missing from this debate is the voice of people most at risk,” he says.

Michael Micallef is one.




Photo:

Michael Micallef had to kayak around his property after this week’s floods. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

His house in Pittown flooded and “basically became a houseboat”.

“It was surrounded by water — it came through the walls,” he says.

“We were stuck inside because we couldn’t get in the back or front. So we put the kayak in to get out.”

He lost carpets and furniture, and his neighbour’s house was flooded by more than a metre of water.

But the community quickly pulled together to support him.

Mr Micallef says it has been hard, but with the waters receded — and people coming together — the mood is improving.




Photo:

Michael Micallef wades through floodwater after this week’s floods.  (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)



Photo:

Jason Adam, from South Windsor, looking on as his home was sandbagged for protection this week. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)



Photo:

Many communities were hit hard by the flooding. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

According to Nathan Zamprogno, this week is an example of how the economic and environmental costs of raising the dam wall are a small price to pay for the safety of his community.

“You’ve got to balance these things wisely, and I don’t believe the people who are opposed to this project have done that in a way that’s fair.”

Yet many opponents of the project fear it would lure people into a false sense of security that the valley is safeguarded against floods.

There are also fears the project would be used to justify further development of the floodplain, something the government denies

Is there another way?

As the debate rages on, other alternatives are quickly being brought into focus.

Shortly after the Juukan Gorge catastrophe, the Insurance Council of Australia withdrew its support for the Warragamba project, calling “for the exploration of alternative mitigation options to reduce flood risks”.

Kazan Brown thinks they were spooked by the blowback Rio Tinto received after destroying the Juukan Gorge caves, and worried they would invite something similar.

Similarly, since the floods this week, NSW Emergency Services Minister David Elliot, Deputy Premier John Barilaro and Premier Gladys Berejiklian have all emphasised the need to consider other options.

In 2019, the government released an “options assessment” that concluded raising the dam had the highest “net benefit”. In other words, it was the most cost-effective option.

That assumed the project would cost $690 million. But documents released under FOI laws suggest the construction could cost as much as $1.6 billion.

And the leaked draft EIS documents show compensation for environmental damage could add nearly another $3 billion.

Dam wall compensation bill revealed
Leaked documents show the NSW government tried to avoid paying nearly $3 billion for environmental damage expected to occur as part of its plan to raise the dam wall  

Chief among the alternative options raised by several government ministers this week is to use the existing dam as flood mitigation by leaving the top 12m empty.

It means plans for desalination plants would need to be accelerated to make up for the shortfall.

Jamie Pittock, a water management expert at ANU, says the most important thing to do is to stop development in the floodplain.

“I would really rather see that money invested in a permanent safety solution of moving people out of harm’s way,” Professor Pittock says.

Back along the Southern Highlands, Taylor Clarke worries raising Warragamba Dam will result in the loss of even more of her traditional lands and the continuation of traditions that have survived for tens of thousands of years.




Photo:

Taylor Clarke is fearful of losing her connection to her country. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

“As I stand here and have that whole picture and have that wash over me, I think what I feel is sadness and disappointment,” she says.

“I will continue to fight this until we win, but I’m disappointed this is what it’s come to and that the importance of this doesn’t mean anything to the people who are making the decisions.”

Credits

Reporting and research: national environment, science and technology reporter Michael Slezak and the Specialist Reporting Team’s Penny Timms

Photography and additional videography: The Specialist Reporting Team’s Brendan Esposito

Editing and digital production: the Specialist Reporting Team’s Emily Clark and Nick Sas

Design: Emma Machan

Drone videography: Supplied

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Massive drop in NSW coronavirus infections continues


Sydney 2000

New South Wales has recorded two more coronavirus deaths, bringing the state’s total to 26, as the number of new cases continues to decline.

Key points:

  • Two more passengers from the Ruby Princess cruise have died
  • Sixty-six crew members have now tested positive
  • Only nine new COVID-19 infections were recorded in NSW in the past 24 hours

Health Minister Brad Hazzard said a 74-year-old woman died in John Hunter Hospital, while a 79-year-old man died in the Northern Beaches Hospital.

Both were passengers on the infamous Ruby Princess cruise ship and contracted the virus while on board.

In the 24 hours to 8:00pm on Sunday, the state recorded only nine new COVID-19 cases, despite more than 2,600 people being tested.

The total number of confirmed infections in NSW is now 2,863.

Coronavirus update: Follow the latest news in our daily wrap.

The single-figure increase came after seven new infections were recorded the previous day, although only about 800 people were tested then.

“The fact that we had nine new cases clearly indicates that we are moving in the right direction, but we still have a lot more to do,” Mr Hazzard said.

“No one should think that we can slacken off in the efforts that we’re trying to undertake at the moment.”

Coronavirus questions answered
Breaking down the latest news and research to understand how the world is living through an epidemic, this is the ABC’s Coronacast podcast.

It has also been revealed 66 Ruby Princess crew members have now tested positive to the virus.

Dr Christine Selvey, NSW Health Acting Director of Communicable Diseases, said some of those employees were close to recovery, though, as infections were spread across several weeks.

She rejected calls for all crew members to be tested as test kits only returned a positive result when someone had symptoms, not during the incubation period.

Mr Hazzard said it was still unclear who “patient zero” on the ship was almost a month after it docked at Circular Quay in Sydney.

“I think the jury is well and truly out on that, in the sense of who brought it onto the ship,” he said.

What you need to know about coronavirus:

Meanwhile, Mr Hazzard warned aged-care workers to stay home if they were unwell after a nurse at a facility in Western Sydney went in for six days despite having coronavirus symptoms.

Mr Hazzard said the woman, who worked at the Anglicare Newmarch House in Caddens and eventually tested positive, put vulnerable people at risk.

One resident has since tested positive and another is waiting for test results.

“We have talked about this numerous times but now it appears that some staff are still going to work, even when they have symptoms,” he said.

“Please don’t go to work if you’re feeling sick. Just don’t go.”

In a statement, Anglicare said all residents were now self-isolating in their rooms and any staff who had close contact with the infected people were self-isolating at home.

Anglicare said it had deployed staff specially trained in working with COVID-19 to work with the resident who tested positive.

It said all other staff had been directed to wear full personal protective equipment when caring for residents.

NSW Health has also identified several new areas where more testing should be conducted due to community transmission, including Penrith, Liverpool, Westmead, Blacktown, Cumberland, Randwick and Ryde.


Video: Dr Norman Swan looks at some of the drugs that could treat COVID-19 and their drawbacks

(7.30)

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Want to come home to Queensland? You’ll need a special permit


Brisbane 4000

The Queensland Government is implementing strict new coronavirus rules for Queenslanders returning home from interstate.

Key points:

  • Anyone wanting to go into Queensland will require a permit, including residents
  • Drivers with Queensland licence plates will no longer be freely allowed to enter
  • Annastacia Palaszczuk says border control measures could be toughened further

From tomorrow night, anyone returning home will need a special permit to cross back into Queensland.

Anyone who has visited a virus hotspot like Sydney will need to quarantine for 14 days upon returning home.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said her message to Queensland residents was “now is not the time to go into New South Wales”, and warned border controls could get even tougher.

“We are not ruling out further measures into the future, so you do not want to get caught across the border,” she said.

“Everyone please stay in your state.”



Photo:

The new permit requirements will be in force from Friday night. (AAP: Dave Hunt)

Coronavirus update: Follow the latest news in our daily wrap.

Police Minister Mark Ryan said the change meant drivers with Queensland licence plates would no longer be waved through at the border.

“No one is immune to these stricter border controls… this is about making sure we’re all keeping safe and we’re all staying within our state and staying at home unless we’re going out for essential purposes,” he said.

Ms Palaszczuk added: “You’re not supposed to be going on a holiday into NSW. What we’re saying to Queenslanders is, do the right thing, and stay in Queensland.”



Photo:

The new measures place even tougher restrictions on those wanting to cross into Queensland. (ABC Gold Coast: Dominic Cansdale)

This morning Ms Palaszczuk tweeted the latest coronavirus figures from Queensland Health, which showed 10 new cases overnight, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 953 — 576 of them current.

Qld COVID-19 snapshot

  • Confirmed cases so far: 987
  • Deaths: 5
  • Patients tested: 72,313

Latest information from Queensland Health.

Queensland Health director-general John Wakefield said having only 10 new cases was a “tremendous result” for the state, and a further indication that the rate of new infections was slowing.

He said that came despite “significantly increasing our testing, over 3,000 patients yesterday” to include people in Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Cairns who showed symptoms but were previously not being tested because they had not been overseas recently or been in contact with confirmed cases.

Dr Wakefield thanked frontline healthcare workers and support staff including cleaners, food and services staff.

“Whilst we all retreat from COVID into our homes, those people go out into that environment to care for us and to care for our loved ones,” he said.

Queensland police said as of midnight Wednesday, officers had issued 239 fines for people breaching public health directions.

Stay up-to-date on the coronavirus outbreak

They had also refused entry to 947 vehicles at state borders, and directed 2,638 people re-entering Queensland into quarantine.

Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll said too many people were still “recklessly and blatantly disregarding” coronavirus rules.

She said most people had been compliant but it was proving extraordinarily difficult to control the number of people using Gold Coast beaches.

“Last weekend we had so many people descend onto the Gold Coast that those social distancing measures were so extraordinarily difficult to enforce, people were still sunbaking, congregating, and this is what we want to avoid,” she said.

“What we’re saying is please can you just stay home for these next few weeks. You can still get out and do your exercise, but do it locally.

“Our strategy has always been communication, compassion and then ultimately compliance, and I think the messaging is getting across. People are phoning in and genuinely complaining about people because they’re concerned when people are breaching those rules.”

Five Queenslanders have died from COVID-19 and 372 have recovered.

Queensland has done 66,766 tests, more than any Australian state except NSW.

Gladstone region to get dedicated COVID-19 hospital

Meanwhile, Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles said the acquisition of the Gladstone Mater Misericordiae Hospital would further enhance the capability of the local area’s public health response to COVID-19.

“We have funds set aside to purchase the Gladstone Mater and add it to the central Queensland Hospital and Health Service’s capacity,” Mr Miles said.

“That will, during a COVID-19 outbreak, allow us to have a dedicated COVID ward of 34 beds as well as a dedicated COVID intensive care unit of between four and 12 beds.

“At the end of the pandemic, we will complete a purchase of the hospital, add it to the stock of the Central Queensland Hospital and Health Service and we are working through a model, which will allow private providers to continue to operate from that hospital.”

Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said it would be “absolutely superb” as a COVID-19 hospital for when it would be needed.

“It’s got everything that could be needed — in fact, if I designed the facility and built it for that purpose, it couldn’t have been better,” Dr Young said.

Mercy Health and Aged Care, which currently operates the Gladstone hospital, last year reduced its operating hours after closing the hospital’s maternity ward in 2018.



Photo:

The Queensland Government is purchasing the private Gladstone Mater Misericordiae Hospital. (ABC News: Jemima Burt)

Gladstone MP Glenn Butcher said the city’s residents could be assured health services in the area would “get better and better”.

“Not only can we help Gladstone get through this pandemic — if and when it comes — but we can also afterwards take it under the wing of Central Queensland Health and Hospital Service and turn it into a co-shared facility,” he said.

“Certainly tough times for the Gladstone region, but this is a reason for us to have a big cheer and a big smile without any hugs today in Gladstone.”

Rent assistance measures

Residential and commercial property owners in Queensland are also set to be given tax relief in order to pass on savings to struggling tenants.

Owners will be given a three-month land tax refund, followed by a three-month deferral — if their tenants are struggling from economic hardship.

It also means tenants cannot be evicted during the next six months, if they can’t pay their rent due to the impact of the pandemic.

Queensland Treasurer Jackie Trad said the State Government had allocated $400 million for the measures.

“It includes every land owner — so mum and dads that have a property and that is the source of their revenue — if they are taxed according to our land tax regime, they will be eligible for a refund and they will be eligible for a deferral,” she said.

Ms Trad said the Office of State Revenue [OSR] would be able to take applications from next week.

“There will be the capacity to hop online and have a look already,” she said.

“But in terms of that one-on-one engagement, from next Tuesday, as soon as Easter is over … the Office of State Revenue will be up and running and taking enquiries and progressing registrations and applications.”

Who should present to COVID-19 clinics?

  • People with a fever (or history of fever) or acute respiratory symptoms, AND, in the last 14 days:
  • they were a close contact or a household contact of a confirmed case, OR
  • they had been overseas, including on a cruise

Testing is also possible for people who have a fever (or history of fever) or acute respiratory symptoms, AND:

Queensland Health has set up testing and fever clinics for people who may be infected with COVID-19.
Patients who are tested should remain isolated at home until they receive their test results.
For more information about coronavirus call 13HEALTH (13 43 25 84) or go to the Queensland Health website


Video: Professor Paul Young discusses the search for a coronavirus vaccine

(7.30)

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


NSW Premier says some coronavirus restrictions could be eased next month


Sydney 2000

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian says the state’s tough coronavirus social-distancing rules could be relaxed as early as next month.

Key points:

  • The Premier said lifting restrictions came with “risks”
  • There were 48 new COVID-19 infections in NSW, the lowest number since March 19
  • NSW Police will increase social-distancing patrols over the Easter long weekend

Yesterday, she described social distancing as “a way of life” that would remain until a COVID-19 vaccine was found.

When asked today about the chances of the restrictions being eased on May 1, she said that was possible, and that the laws would be assessed on a month-by-month basis, based on health advice.

“If the advice in a couple of weeks is that there might be a couple of aspects that we can tweak to provide relief to our citizens, well then, we’ll take that advice,” she said.

Coronavirus update: Follow the latest news in our daily wrap.

However, she said despite the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the state stabilising, lifting restrictions “comes with a risk”.

“When you do lift any of the restrictions, it does mean that more people will be admitted to our hospitals and more people who will succumb to the virus,” she said.

“Every time you relax a restriction, more people will get sick. More people will die.”

Coronavirus rules explained Can I go fishing? Can I visit my parents? The 16 reasons you can leave home under NSW’s tough COVID-19 measures.

Last week, NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said the state’s tough social-distancing laws would be in place until the end of June, and that he would not seek to extend them.

“People will have gotten the message by then, hopefully,” he said.

NSW Health confirmed 48 new coronavirus infections this morning, taking the state’s total to 2,734.

It is the lowest number of new cases recorded since March 19 — the day the Ruby Princess cruise ship docked in Sydney.

What the experts are saying about coronavirus:

Chief Medical Officer Kerry Chant said 2,900 people were tested for COVID-19 yesterday, up from 2,100 the day before.

The Premier said she wanted to quadruple NSW’s ICU capacity and that there were 1,000 beds with ventilators available already.

“That is something that we’re working hard on behind the scenes and it’s positive news,” she said.

“We’ve been able to double our capacity already.”

Commissioner Fuller said officers would be out in force over the Easter weekend in a bid to enforce social-distancing bans.

“We will be going through caravan parks early, issuing warnings to people who may think that they can get around these laws,” he said.

“It’s important over this weekend that we continue the good work and we continue to isolate, as frustrating as that may be.”

What you need to know about coronavirus:


Video: Dr Sanjaya Senanayake discusses coronavirus latest and the need to maintain social distancing

(7.30)

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


World-renowned koala bushfire victims released back into the wild


Port Macquarie 2444

Several world-renowned koalas rescued from a New South Wales fireground have now returned home having recovered in the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital.

Key points:

  • Several koalas rescued from a New South Wales fireground have returned home
  • Following a full recovery, the koalas have been released back to the Lake Innes Nature Reserve
  • The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital has been temporarily closed due to the coronavirus

It has been more than five months since a bushfire razed a large area of Lake Innes Nature Reserve, a known koala hotspot on the NSW mid-north coast.

One of the first koalas to be rescued and treated at the hospital was Anwen.

“Pictures of her had gone around the world. She was quite severely burnt,” said the hospital’s clinical director Cheyne Flanagan.

The koala became part of many homes around the world through the hospital’s online adoption page and her recovery was closely watched.

“She’s recovered really well, gained weight [and is] looking really good,” Ms Flanagan said.

“Her burns have healed, she’s good claw-return, so it’s all about letting them be koalas again.”

Home at last

Anwen was one of several koalas released back into their habitat.



Photo:

The hospital’s goal is to get animals returned to where they came from. (ABC Mid North Coast: Kirstie Wellauer)

Whilst the bushland is looking quite different to what they knew, Ms Flanagan is confident they will settle in nicely.

“There’s good vegetation here and there’s plenty to sustain them so we’re really happy,” she said.

“This is our goal, to get animals returned to where they came from, and that’s exactly what we’ve done.”

A mother and a joey, a young male, and another female koala were released in neighbouring trees.

There is a method to the release program, aimed at encouraging breeding.

“We’re putting a ratio of males to females to mimic what happens in the wild,” Ms Flanagan said.

“So this young male here, oh boy, he’s in for a surprise in the next few months.

“Hopefully there will be heaps of young koalas in the near future.”



Photo:

Laundry baskets are used to transport the koalas from the koala hospital to their natural environments. (ABC Mid North Coast: Kirstie Wellauer)

Koala Hospital volunteer Jeremy Bear said it had been a great achievement to be able to bring them back.

“It’s great to see that we are doing such a good job that we can get these koalas back out there,” Mr Bear said.

“Some of them we obviously lost along the way. But [there are] the amazing stories of the ones that have survived and hung in there and bounced back very well.

“Seeing them up in a tree in their native environment is wonderful.”

COVID-19 closes hospital

The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital has temporarily closed to the public because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But hospital president Sue Ashton said it may give volunteers some much-needed respite.

“Because of the bushfires we all worked, our volunteers worked, almost around the clock to keep the koalas in good health, to treat them, to keep the facility open,” she said.

“This is a forced break and I think some of our volunteers are probably well overdue for a bit of a break.”



Photo:

Final checks before Anwen’s release. (ABC Mid North Coast: Kirstie Wellauer)

Mr Bear agreed, saying it “does just take the pressure off”.

“If someone’s not feeling well they don’t have to feel guilty for not coming in. They can do the right thing and stay home,” he said.

“Most of the volunteers have said they still want to come in, they still want to be there, they still want to help.

“If we’ve got less koalas it’s easier to spread the load between us and it also means we can get in, get the job done, and leave the hospital so we are not having too much contact with other people.”

The outlook for the koalas is “really questionable”, Ms Flanagan said, with potentially up to an 85 per cent decline in NSW with the changing climate.

“It’s a long road ahead. Whether they’ll ever recover good numbers we don’t know,” she said.

“But we certainly are going to do our best to try and achieve that goals with buying land and conserving habitat and trying to breed as many as we can.”

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


NSW is bending the curve but a concerning trend is on the rise


Australia

The rate of new coronavirus infections in New South Wales is trending down, but community transmission is on the rise.

In the past week, there has been a 350 per cent surge in infections caught locally with no known link to a confirmed case.

“It’s probably the most concerning component of the figure we’ve had to date,” Australia’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said.

According to Professor Kelly, it justifies the Federal Government’s tough new ban on gatherings of more than two people.

As of today, police in NSW have the power to issue on-the-spot fines of $1,000 to anyone congregating in groups of three or more.

It’s an extraordinary measure but one other states are adopting too.

Coronavirus update: Follow the latest news in our daily wrap

If new cases are slowing, is the crackdown necessary?

Here are the numbers health authorities argue justify the crackdown.



Stay up-to-date on the coronavirus outbreak

While the data isn’t absolute, it provides clues about how the virus is spreading in the community.

Health authorities have attributed the slowdown in new daily cases to a fall in returning travellers and social restrictions starting to bite.

But community transmission cases don’t appear to be dropping in the same way.

Coronavirus questions answered
Breaking down the latest news and research to understand how the world is living through an epidemic, this is the ABC’s Coronacast podcast.

Tim Newsome from the University of Sydney says infections transmitted within the community have a higher chance of exploding in size.

“Returning travellers are like a drip-feed of new cases, but when the virus becomes established in the community to some extent the cat is out of the bag,” Dr Newsome said.

He argues cases that can be traced back to a known contact or an overseas traveller are far easier to control.

It is harder to identify lone cases, especially where people are displaying little or no symptoms.

“If we don’t know who has the virus, then each person is infecting around two or three others and that’s when you see the real exponential rise,” he said.

William Rawlinson from the University of NSW cautions against considering the overall figures in isolation.

“The fact the numbers are dropping is a good sign, but you need to take into account that’s the number of positive diagnoses — there might be a much larger number that are untested that have the infection,” Professor Rawlinson said.

What the experts are saying about coronavirus:

How low does the number need to go?

Professor Kelly says there would need to be a significant downward trend for restrictions to be lifted, but he stopped short of providing a ballpark figure.

“We want to see the curve not only flatten but bend downwards, and then making that decision about when to take the foot off the brake will be very difficult,” he said.

He suggests it could be a staggered approach, but the details have not been finalised.

“How we would make that exit strategy is certainly something we are very much working on at the moment, as much as an escalation strategy,” he said.

Either way, he says, current restrictions are likely to last months as Australia watches how other countries manage their next steps.

Your questions on coronavirus answered:


Video: The rate of COVID-19 infections appears to be slowing but don't celebrate yet

(7.30)

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Border Force boss slaps down NSW Government over handling of coronavirus cruise ship


Sydney 2000

The Australian Border Force (ABF) commissioner has tipped a bucket on the NSW Government over its handling of the arrival of a coronavirus-stricken cruise ship in Sydney last week.

Key points:

  • The total number of coronavirus cases in NSW has jumped to over 1,000
  • In the 24 hours to 8:00pm yesterday, 211 people returned positive results
  • Many of the new cases are linked to passengers from the Ruby Princess cruise ship

As the cases of COVID-19 passed 1,000 in NSW today, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said “all of us have to take responsibility” about why the Ruby Princess was allowed to dock.

Later in the morning, Australian Border Force (ABF) commissioner Michael Outram pointed the finger squarely at the NSW Government, saying its health department had given the green light for passengers to disembark, despite several people onboard being tested for coronavirus.

About 2,700 passengers got off at Circular Quay last week and more than 100 have since tested positive for COVID-19.



Photo:

Passengers disembarked from the Ruby Princess at Circular Quay on March 19. (AAP: Dean Lewins )

“The Department of Agriculture officials advised my officers that New South Wales Health had conducted a risk assessment, had rated the risk as low and that health officials would not be attending the vessel,” he said.

“As a result of that information, all of the passengers were given a green light to disembark.”

Coronavirus update: Follow all the latest news in our daily wrap

In the 24 hours to 8:00pm yesterday, 212 new cases of coronavirus were confirmed in NSW, taking the state’s total number of infections to 1,029.

NSW’s Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said many of the new COVID-19 cases were linked to the Ruby Princess.

Yesterday a woman in her 70s who contracted the virus on the ship became the seventh coronavirus-related death in NSW.

NSW Premier grilled on COVID-19 cruise
The Government comes under fire for multiple COVID-19 cases on the Ruby Princess cruise ship. Watch the full press conference here.

Mr Outram said the ABF was responsible for customs and migration controls at the border, but not health screening.

“People can make their own minds up about what went wrong and no doubt further down the track there will be lots of inquiries about what happened,” he said.

Mr Outram said having seen the criticism directed against his organisation and officers he felt it was important “to clarify some actual facts.”

A report will be released in coming days on decisions the Berejiklian Government made around the Ruby Princess.

Dr Chant stressed there was nothing NSW Health could have done with the information they had at the time.

She said most passengers displayed symptoms of the virus only after disembarking but confirmed that one passenger was taken straight to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital after the ship docked.


Video: NSW authorities confirm first infections in children under 10.

(ABC News)

Despite the record rise in new cases, the Premier insisted “some” degree of control is being maintained over the virus.

Ms Berejiklian said most people in NSW with coronavirus had been infected overseas or after direct contact with someone who had been overseas.

“That tells us to an extent that we are maintaining some control over the virus,” Ms Berejiklain said.

Coronavirus questions answered
Breaking down the latest news and research to understand how the world is living through an epidemic, this is the ABC’s Coronacast podcast.

The state has recorded its first two cases of coronavirus in children under 10, after a two-month-old boy and seven-year-old girl tested positive yesterday.

Dr Chant said the cases were not linked, and that both had contact with confirmed adult cases.

She said they were now at home with minimal symptoms.

Last night Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a new crackdown on social gatherings, which Ms Berejiklian said she supported.

She acknowledged the tighter measures would likely mean more people would be sacked.

But as a result of added pressure on Service NSW, the Premier announced 1,000 extra staff would be hired to work for the State Government agency.


Video: Dr Norman Swan explains how Australia could beat COVID-19

(ABC News)

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


‘The problem is just over the horizon’: Rise in NSW coronavirus infections, state’s total passes 400


Sydney 2000

Health authorities in NSW have confirmed 83 new coronavirus infections in the 24 hours to 8:00pm on Friday.

Key points:

  • NSW Health has banned travel to Lord Howe Island
  • Four cruise ships have experienced cases of COVID-19 in relation to travel out of Sydney
  • A religious service attended by 300 people on March 8 in Ryde has resulted in seven cases

The new cases take the state’s total number of COVID-19 infections to 436 and represent NSW’s largest increase over a 24-hour period.

A total of 46,456 people have been tested and cleared in NSW.

Out of the 436 cases, 218 were picked up overseas, 92 have been cases caught from a contact and 74 have been diagnosed as locally acquired, but with an unidentified contact.

The remainder are being investigated.

Coronavirus update: Follow all the latest news in our daily wrap

NSW Health has also declared a ban on travel to Lord Howe Island from 5:00am on Sunday in a bid to restrict the spread of the virus.

The ban means access to Lord Howe Island is restricted to residents, health workers and other essential service workers.

Any new arrivals within permitted categories will be subjected to a 14-day quarantine.

Stay up-to-date on the coronavirus outbreak

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard encouraged people to heed advice on social distancing, amid the rising number of infections.

“The problem is just over the horizon on the basis of the numbers that we’re now seeing,” he said.

“Particularly here in New South Wales, they are showing a substantial increase.

“We will all remember the numbers in the last few days, they’ve effectively doubled just in the last week.

“Save yourself and save your family. Listen to the messages that are coming out, not just from Government officials but from doctors.”

Coronavirus questions answered
Breaking down the latest news and research to understand how the world is living through an epidemic, this is the ABC’s Coronacast.

Elsewhere, seven people have been confirmed as COVID-19 cases after attending a church service with a congregation of more than 300 people.

The Sydney Church of Christ service took place at Ryde Civic Centre on March 8.

Close contacts of cases have been put into self-isolation and NSW Health is warning attendees of the service to be alert for symptoms.

What the experts are saying about coronavirus:

Yesterday, Mr Hazzard revealed several people on board the Ruby Princess cruise ship, which docked in Sydney earlier in the week, had tested positive to coronavirus.

He warned the 2,700 passengers that disembarked they could have been exposed to COVID-19, and urged them to self-isolate for 14 days.

Today, NSW Health named three other cruise ships which have had confirmed COVID-19 cases onboard.

A 67-year-old passenger has been diagnosed after travelling on the Ovation of the Seas out of Sydney.

The ship is now at sea with only crew on board.

A woman in her 20s has been diagnosed with COVID-19 after travelling on the Voyager of the Seas, which returned to Sydney from New Zealand on March 7.

On a later trip on the Voyager of the Seas, a 66-year-old man was confirmed as having COVID-19.

The other case involves a passenger on the Celebrity Solstice, who travelled on the cruise ship before it docked in Sydney on March 20.

The Ruby Princess remains at sea between Sydney and Wollongong after recording four confirmed cases of COVID-19.


Video: What is it like to actually have coronavirus?

(7.30)

External Link:

Ask us your coronavirus questions

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Minister issues warning as number of coronavirus cases in NSW surges past 200


NSW

There have been 39 new confirmed coronavirus cases in NSW in the past 24 hours, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard has said.

Key points:

  • Minister warns that NSW needs to be prepared for an exponential increase in cases
  • Premier says it’s too early to say whether NSW should shut down bars and restaurants
  • Sydney Opera House cancels all performances until at least March 29

It is the largest increase in a 24-hour period, overtaking yesterday’s record rise of 37 cases.

NSW now has 210 confirmed cases across the state.

There are 1,482 cases under investigation, with 28,552 cases tested and excluded, NSW Health said.

Ninety cases of the 210 were acquired overseas, 54 were likely due to contact with a confirmed case and the remainder were either under investigation or unknown.

The largest age group affected is the 30-39 group, with 52 cases.

Mr Hazzard said the state needed to be prepared for an exponential increase in infections.

“This virus has very much a mind of its own and it knows that at the moment across the world, it’s winning the battle,” he said.

“Here in NSW, I think we’re holding the line but we still need to do a lot more work.”

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said it was too early to say whether the state could follow the actions of virus-hit locations overseas by closing venues such as bars and restaurants.

“I don’t want to speculate on that as yet,” she said.

“Please know that we are in regular, daily contact with the health experts. We are motivated by the advice we have from experts.

“We are not at that stage yet [of closing venues]. But I do appreciate all of us, including myself, are taking extra precautions as we should, so there is no doubt been a downturn in what people normally do.”

Coronavirus update: Follow all the latest news in our daily wrap

The latest update on cases follows the announcement by the State Government today of a $2.3 billion coronavirus stimulus package, including a $700 million funding boost for NSW Health’s frontline services.

Ms Berejiklian said the package would be split between healthcare and other measures including tax exemptions aimed at keeping people in jobs.

“A huge component will go directly towards the health system, to purchase more equipment, to put on additional staff, and to take care of every patient that comes through,” she said.

“We also appreciate given the extra measures of social distancing and social isolation, the impact this is having on our community.

Coronavirus questions answered
Breaking down the latest news and research to understand how the world is living through an epidemic, this is the ABC’s Coronacast.

“That’s why the package today includes a huge component to relieve small businesses and medium-sized businesses of payroll tax, but also to ensure that government does its bit in employing more people in certain areas during this difficult time.”

Elsewhere, the Sydney Opera House announced it was cancelling all public performances from today until at least March 29.

Sydney Opera House chief executive Louise Herron said it was the venue’s responsibility to protect the public from the spread of coronavirus.

“This is not a decision we have taken lightly but these are unprecedented events,” she said.

Nothing is more important to us than the health and safety of our artists, audiences, visitors and our valued staff.”


Video: Dr Norman Swan explains coronavirus terminology

(ABC News)

External Link:

Ask us your coronavirus questions

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


NSW handed Sheffield Shield as coronavirus bring season to abrupt finish


Australia

New South Wales has been awarded this season’s Sheffield Shield title, with Cricket Australia (CA) cancelling the final.

External Link:

cricketcomau tweet: Final sheffield shield standings

CA has also recommended all grade and amateur cricket should cease, bringing the 2019-20 cricket season to an abrupt end.

The decision to cancel the final round of the Sheffield Shield season was made on Sunday, but there was still a suggestion the decider could be played, starting on March 27.

“By effectively cancelling the remainder of our season, Cricket Australia is playing its part in protecting fans, players, staff, volunteers and match officials during this unprecedented global health issue,” CA boss Kevin Roberts said.

“These are difficult decisions, but the right ones in the circumstances.

“As organisations around the world rally to slow the spread of the coronavirus, it’s important that we also provide decisive leadership.

Coronavirus update: Follow all the latest news in our daily wrap

“We hope that by taking these actions now, in addition to those announced in recent days, we can contribute to flattening the curve of coronavirus and society returning to normal as quickly as possible.”

Coronavirus questions answered
Breaking down the latest news and research to understand how the world is living through an epidemic, this is the ABC’s Coronacast.

New South Wales was awarded the title, its 47th, by ending the truncated season on top of the table, 22.23 points ahead of last year’s champions, Victoria, with one round to play.

The Sheffield Shield season has been decided by a five-day final since the 1982/83 season.

The Australia first-class domestic competition has taken place every year since 1892/93, with breaks for World War I and World War II.

Australia had already cancelled its upcoming international cricket commitments due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The ODI series against New Zealand was cancelled after one game, which Australia won by 71 runs behind closed doors at the SCG on Friday, after New Zealand implemented tough travel restrictions on Saturday.

Your questions on coronavirus answered:

The subsequent three-match T20 tour of New Zealand, set to take place later this month, was also cancelled.

The final two rounds of country’s domestic championship, the Plunket Shield, was also cancelled, with Wellington awarded the title after ending the season on top of the ladder.

What the experts are saying about coronavirus:

Australia’s women’s team cancelled its tour of South Africa where all sport was later suspended.

Elsewhere, England cancelled its upcoming two-Test tour of Sri Lanka, with the players flying home immediately.

In India, the IPL twenty20 competition has been suspended until April 15.


Video: Dr Norman Swan explains coronavirus terminology

(ABC News)

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Chart shows how many people have recovered from coronavirus in Australia


Australia

The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia has surpassed 700 after Queensland health authorities reported a record 50 new cases in a single day — three times the state’s previous daily record of 16.

In NSW, on the other hand, the daily number of new cases has fallen for the first time in eight days.

It is unclear whether the figures for new cases are related to higher rates of testing or other factors that may influence the number of new confirmed cases. This is because state health authorities do not consistently report the number of people tested each day.

(Tap/hover on any chart for more information.)

The figures come from a national database of confirmed COVID-19 cases, compiled by ABC News.

The database tracks confirmed cases by gender, age, location, source of infection and other information published in case reports from state and federal health authorities.

It is supplemented with additional reporting by ABC News and updated daily to show the spread of the disease across Australia’s states and territories.

The latest update was just before 7pm AEDT on Thursday, March 19.

The figures include the details of every confirmed case since January 25, when NSW and Victoria reported the country’s first four cases.

To date, state and territory health authorities have reported 709 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia.

This includes 142 new cases in the past 24 hours, with Queensland, WA and Victoria recording their highest daily count of new cases so far.

Nationally, six people have died and 46 have recovered after being diagnosed with COVID-19. More than 650 confirmed cases are current across the nation.

The NT is the only state/territory without any confirmed cases.

(A previous version of this story said every state and territory had recorded at least one confirmed case. However, the only confirmed case in the NT was a resident of NSW, so this is now recorded in the data for NSW.)

NSW has the highest number of cases, making up 43 per cent of the total number of infections, followed by Victoria, then Queensland.

However, the picture shifts when population size is taken into account. Adjusting the figures for the number of residents shows NSW has the highest rate of infection per 100,000 residents, followed by Queensland, then SA.

The ACT has the lowest rate of infection, followed by Tasmania, then WA.

The database provides insight not only into how and where people are catching the disease but also who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Most confirmed cases are people in their 50s, followed by those in their 30s. In Australia, three times as many people in their 50s have been diagnosed with the virus, compared to people in their 70s.

However, this gap narrows when the numbers are adjusted for the size of each age group, with people in their 50s roughly twice as likely to be among the confirmed cases as those in their 70s.

Age-specific figures show people in their 50s have the highest infection rates, followed by people in their 60s.

Across the country, more men than women have tested positive for coronavirus, but the figures vary significantly between the states and territories.

When a case is confirmed, health authorities undertake detailed tracing to identify the source of transmission.

However, authorities have provided information about the potential source of transmission in less than half of confirmed cases.

Of these, most were acquired overseas, with overseas contact accounting for three times as many cases as transmission via local contact with a confirmed case.

However, these figures also reflect Australia’s testing criteria, which has focused testing efforts on patients who have recently returned from overseas and those who have had close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19.

In a minority of cases, authorities have named the countries visited by people who have tested positive for the virus. Among these cases, the United States was the most common country visited, followed by Italy, China, Iran and the UK.

Your questions on coronavirus answered:


Video: Dr Norman Swan explains coronavirus terminology

(ABC News)

Notes about this story

  • Population figures sourced from ABS Australian Demographic Statistics, Jun 2019
  • Dates refer to the date the case was reported by authorities, except in these instances:

    – The 5th, 6th and 7th confirmed cases in Victoria have been assigned to the date they were first cited in official press releases. These cases were first announced on March 1, as having recovered from the virus.

    – Dates for the 7th and 8th confirmed cases in Queensland (Diamond Princess cruise ship evacuees) are based on ABC News reports. The 9th confirmed Queensland case, another Diamond Princess evacuee, was first announced in a press release on March 3.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Vincent Ryan sexually abused more than 30 children. But he thinks he should remain a priest


Australia

Vincent Ryan is a Catholic priest and a paedophile, convicted of sexually abusing more than 30 children. In Australia’s first television interview with a convicted clerical sex abuser, Ryan said there was no reason why he should not remain a priest.

“It’s a duty. I’ve committed myself to it,” he said. “It’d have to be a very serious reason, unless I’m stopped by authority, for me to make that decision and at this moment I don’t see it.”

In the ABC’s Revelation series, filmed on the eve of Ryan’s 2019 criminal trial, the paedophile priest is seen performing mass in his home, wearing holy vestments and blessing the communion wine and bread.

Following his fourth conviction in March 2019 on charges of sexually abusing two boys in the Newcastle region in the 1970s and 1980s, Ryan, 81, is currently serving a prison sentence in NSW of three years and three months.



Photo:

Following his fourth conviction, in March 2019, Ryan is currently serving a prison sentence in NSW of three years and three months. (Revelation/In Films)

‘I will have a conscience problem’

Survivors of Ryan’s abuse have condemned the Church’s failure to remove Ryan from the priesthood. Peter Dorn was a victim of Ryan’s as a primary school boy in Maitland in the 1970s.

“How does the church want somebody like that? How did they say that’s a person acting on behalf of God? They’ve got no decency, they’ve got no compassion,” Dorn said. “They say they have acknowledged it, but if they still recognise him as a priest, you know that’s disgraceful.”

When Ryan was first arrested in 1995, the church withdrew his “faculties”, meaning he was no longer able to perform religious duties in public, hear confession or call himself “father”.



Photo:

When Ryan was first arrested in 1995, the church withdrew his “faculties”, meaning he was no longer able to perform religious duties in public or hear confession. (Revelation/In Films)

However, he remained a priest and can still say the Catholic mass in private.

The current bishop of Maitland-Newcastle, Bill Wright, told the ABC in August last year that he had written to the Vatican about Ryan’s status.

“The full range of things that have come to light and considerations of the time, all of these things are as matters of fact in what I’ve sent to Rome,” the Bishop said. “So they’ve been raised.”

Bishop Wright confirmed on Sunday in a letter to parishioners that he had received no response from Pope Francis or the Vatican about Ryan.

Ryan questioned whether he would in any case accept a decision to remove him from the priesthood and no longer say mass.

“I will have a real quandary, because I will want to obey the church, but I will have a conscience problem. I don’t know what I’ll do,” he said.

Penance was ‘three Hail Marys and a decade of the Rosary’

Gerald McDonald is another of Ryan’s victims. He was assaulted while an altar boy with Ryan in Merewether in the 1970s and said he felt by allowing Ryan to remain a priest, the church was “condoning a paedophile”.

“It makes me sick … That’s exactly what they’re doing,” he said.

Coming face to face with the Catholic Church’s worst serial paedophiles
Sarah Ferguson talks about her toughest project yet — interviewing two of the Catholic Church’s worst serial paedophiles in a ground-breaking documentary.

Ryan enjoyed the protection of the church in multiple ways during the decades of his offending against children, including taking advantage of the secrecy of confession. Ryan told the ABC that he confessed to a priest that he was sexually assaulting children,

“I don’t know the exact words, but they would have been aware that I … that I had offended against children because … I can remember one priest saying, ‘you’ll go to jail if you don’t stop this’,” he said.

Ryan said he knew the priest would not break the seal of confession.

“How could he follow up the seal of confession? What can he do?” said Ryan, who claimed his penance was “three Hail Marys and a decade of the Rosary”.

Ryan said he felt better having been given absolution for his sins by the priest. “Momentarily I felt free, yes,” he said.



Photo:

Ryan enjoyed the protection of the church in multiple ways during the decades of his offending against children. (Revelation/In Films)

Bishop Wright said he believes the priest, from the Redemptorist Monastery in NSW, was correct to keep Ryan’s confession secret.

“I’m afraid I’d have to say I believe he should have kept his confidence,” Wright said.

‘It’s part of the sex abuse crisis’

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse recommended law reform to lift the protection of confessional privilege for reports of child sexual abuse.

All of Australia’s states and territories have committed to following the recommendation.

Australia’s Catholic Church leaders insist the sanctity of the seal of confession must be upheld even it means protecting priests who are breaking the law.



Photo:

Ryan was sent to the Vatican to study at Propaganda College, along with a handpicked group of Australian seminarians that included George Pell. (Revelation/In Films)

Bishop Wright said: “Yes, I think the law is intruding into a place of personal conscience where it should not be.”

Ryan was ordained as a priest in Rome by Pope Paul VI in St Peter’s Basilica in 1966.

He was sent to the Vatican to study at Propaganda College, along with a handpicked group of Australian seminarians that included George Pell.

Ryan explained the effect of ordination:

“It meant you were set apart and you had this special mark on you. That was the theology of the church at that stage … If you were an ordained minister, of course you were more important than a married person.”

Bishop Wright explained how that transformation created a damaging culture in some quarters of the church.



Photo:

Ryan was ordained as a priest in Rome, by Pope Paul VI in St Peter’s Basilica in 1966. (Revelation/In Films)

“Believing that membership of the in-group, the clergy specifically of course, confers a certain status and privilege … It becomes clericalism, I guess, when it’s unanswerable and it allows people to stand on their status and get away with things that as human beings they shouldn’t,” Wright said.

“I think everyone agrees it’s part of the sex abuse crisis.”

Some Cardinals believe children sent to ‘tempt’ them

Ryan blames his immediate superiors in the Catholic Church for not monitoring him closely once they learnt in the early 1970s that he had abused children. He claims the church’s priority was self-defence.

“The church still was in a fortress, defending itself against all these horrible [people] wanting to drag it down,” said Ryan, who went on to abuse many more children in multiple parishes over two decades until he was caught.



Photo:

Ryan blames his immediate superiors in the Catholic Church for not monitoring him closely once they learnt in the early 1970s that he had abused children. (Revelation/In Films)

When interviewed for Revelation, former president of Ireland Mary McAleese, a devout Catholic and qualified canon lawyer, said there were Cardinals who in her presence had blamed children for the crimes committed against them.

“What they’re saying is these children, you know from the age of seven with the use of reason and the age of discretion, are capable of grave sin,” she said.

“There is a belief that, yes, that the children have been used by the devil to tempt or seduce or to subvert the vocation of a man who was called by God.”

When asked if he could be forgiven for his decades of abuse of children, Vincent Ryan has no doubt: “By God,” he said. “Most certainly.”

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Dogs sniff out cane toads moving into burnt-out bushland in NSW


Lismore 2480

Cane toads have been a big problem in far-north New South Wales for decades, but the recent bushfires are making matters worse as cleared, charred land makes it easier for the pests to move into new territory.

Key points:

  • Passively trained conservation dogs are sniffing out cane toads that are moving into bushfire-affected land in northern NSW
  • Cane toads find it easier to move across burnt-out land rather than jumping through lush undergrowth and over logs
  • Landcare member Tamar Cohen says dead red-belly black snakes and freshwater turtles are early signs of a cane toad invasion

The village of Rappville, south of Casino, was hit by a firestorm in October that destroyed 15 homes, and is in the buffer area of the newly formed cane toad biosecurity zone.

Tamar Cohen, of the Border Rangers Richmond Valley Landcare Network, said the community needed to work together to eradicate the feral amphibians that could travel as far as a kilometre in one night.

“Burnt land makes it easier for toads to travel as they’re basically lazy,” she said.

“When a bushfire comes through and it clears out a lot of the undergrowth and logs, we’re finding that cane toads can move much quicker through those landscapes.

“So the concern with Rappville, as with other towns impacted by the bushfires, is that cane toads can now move in much easier than before.”

Ms Cohen said the toads picked easy pathways, such as roads and mowed lawns, but found it difficult to move through natural vegetation because they were not good jumpers.



Photo:

Cane toads find it easier to move through burnt-out land, like this beef property near Rappville in northern New South Wales. (Supplied: Wendy Pannach)

Dogs have high degree of hunting ability

Ms Cohen said cane toads had been found on properties near the Richmond Range National Park.

This was causing concern because the national park was one of the few remaining forests in the area that had not been destroyed by the fires and was home to threatened species that were vulnerable to cane toads.

“We’ve got native frogs and small reptiles that are already struggling to survive, so we don’t want them killed by the poisonous cane toads,” she said.

“The first thing property owners see with cane toad invasions is dead red-belly black snakes, dead pythons, and dead freshwater turtle species.”

A special Rappville team has been established to control the pests and Sydney dog trainer Steve Austin has been using his English springer spaniels, Tommy and Becky, along with cocker spaniel Emma, to help hunt them out.

“The dogs have a high degree of hunting ability,” Mr Austin said.

“They can find the toads by scent and stand and point with their nose to alert me they are there.

“All three dogs are conservation dogs, which means they have been trained in a passive response.

“They stop and stare at their catch, but do not hurt it.”



Photo:

A toad-buster volunteer finds a string of cane toad eggs in a jelly like substance hidden under leaves in a dam. (Supplied: Scott Lenton)

Built for native birds

Like many Rappville locals, Cathy Cook is upset many native species were lost in the bushfires.

She believed any remaining species must be protected.

“Everyone is spewing about losing the natives but when the first lot of rain came, the first thing you heard was a bloody cane toad,” Ms Cook said.

“There were millions of cane toad eggs in our dam and that was two weeks between the rain — so I was armed with my butterfly net to get them.”

Ms Cook was concerned the toads would also move into Bungawolbin and Whiporie.

“We’ve built our place for native birds and we have a lot of native flowers and trees,” she said.

“We also look after our dams for the native frogs to live in.

“I love hearing the native frogs croaking away in summer and then you hear ‘brrrr’ start up amongst it all, and it’s like ‘You weren’t invited toads! So go away’.”

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news




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