Australia news LIVE: Medical regulator considers COVID-19 rapid antigen testing in workplaces, homes; ACT lockdown extended as infections rise in NSW, Victoria

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Key posts

  • Outdoor freedoms could be granted for Victorians within days
  • NSW to review COVID-19 hotspot boundaries across Sydney suburbs
  • Widespread use of COVID-19 rapid antigen testing in workplaces, homes on the cards
  • NSW trials home quarantine with returning Paralympians
  • The morning’s headlines at a glance
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Outdoor freedoms could be granted for Victorians within days

Outdoor social gatherings may be among the first activities to resume under Victoria’s new road map to reopening, due to be revealed on Sunday.

A similar approach was taken by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, and a most easing of restrictions on outdoor recreation for fully-vaccinated people kicked in on Monday.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews confirmed the government was assessing whether rules around gatherings could be eased safely when the 70 per cent first-dose vaccination target for people aged 16 and over is reached within days.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.Credit:Paul Jeffers

“I’ll have more to say about schools, more to say about social gatherings, more to say about the economy and all of its different sectors. All of that will be out there on Sunday,” he said.

“I’m not necessarily promising that everything will be open when people want it to be open.”

The government committed weeks ago to increasing the travel limit from five kilometres to 10 kilometres and the exercise time limit from two to three hours when the 70 per cent first-dose target was hit. This was initially forecast to be September 23, but quicker vaccine uptake means it may be reached by Friday.

Mr Andrews said the government had not decided whether “modest” easing of restrictions would start the same day the state reached 70 per cent first-dose vaccine coverage, or if the changes would be delayed by a day or two to coincide with Sunday’s road map announcement.

Read the full story here.

NSW to review COVID-19 hotspot boundaries across Sydney suburbs

The NSW government is reviewing COVID-19 hotspot boundaries, with pressure mounting to free suburbs from harsher restrictions as vaccination rates in some areas rise as much as 66 percentage points in less than two months.

A review is under way to amend how health authorities target areas with rising case numbers, addressing concerns that alternatives to blanket lockdowns for local government areas could be needed in future outbreaks.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian is being urged to alter COVID-19 hotspot boundaries.Credit:Nick Moir

Liberal MPs have been urging Premier Gladys Berejiklian to rethink the boundaries dividing Sydney and release suburbs with low case numbers from harsher settings.

But modelling from the Burnet Institute released on Tuesday said harsher restrictions, and not rising vaccination rates, had the greatest impact on slowing the spread of coronavirus in south-west and western Sydney.

Under present restrictions, the institute said case numbers in other parts of Sydney would soon overtake the hotspots and warned against relying solely on vaccination to halt the spread.

“It may be necessary to impose greater restrictions … at least, in some of the LGAs with higher growth rates to curb this growth,” the report said.

Read the full story here.

Widespread use of COVID-19 rapid antigen testing in workplaces, homes on the cards

In case you missed it yesterday, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has asked the country’s medical regulator to expedite its consideration of the widespread use of COVID-19 rapid antigen testing in workplaces and for home use as the federal government presses ahead with plans to allow Australians to travel overseas by the end of the year.

Rachel Clun and Anthony Galloway report that rapid antigen testing is used in many contexts overseas including in the US and Britain as a way of monitoring COVID-19 cases, but it has not yet been broadly deployed as a weapon against the virus in Australia.

Health Minister Greg Hunt says rapid antigen testing will play a greater role in Australia’s response to the pandemic.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Asked earlier this month when we were likely to see rapid antigen testing in homes, Mr Hunt said:

I think that will be a matter for the state chief health officers, because at this point, they’ve wanted to rely on what are called the polymer chain reaction or PCR tests. These are the ones that everybody knows.

I’m hopeful that we’ll have them at the earliest possible time. But they’re already being used by us in aged care homes, on departure from overseas in India. We were using them in Howard Springs in the Northern Territory when we had clinical control.

So it’s something that we’re used to using. They play an important role, and they’ll play an increasingly important role.

As Sherryn Groch explains, about 20 rapid antigen tests are already authorised for use in Australia by its medical regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) but you need training to use one; generally a registered healthcare worker will come in to perform them. Home testing kits, along the lines of those used in the UK, are banned in Australia.

But the tests are not as effective as the “gold standard” PCR lab test.

You can read the full explainer here.

NSW trials home quarantine with returning Paralympians

The NSW government is trialling a home quarantine program with Paralympic athletes who returned to Australia from Japan earlier this month.

NSW Health confirmed to the Herald that 17 Paralympians are undergoing 14-day quarantine at their homes after exemptions by the state government.

Madison de Rozario won two gold medals at the Tokyo Paralympics. Credit:Getty

Every Paralympian who competed in Tokyo was double-vaccinated before departure, with those quarantining at home undergoing the same COVID-19 testing as those in the hotel system.

“This model has been included as part of the NSW home quarantine trial which has allowed more Paralympians to participate,” a NSW Health spokeswoman said in a statement.

“Exemptions were provided to 17 Paralympians to home quarantine where it was considered they would be more suitably cared for in their home due to high care needs, including equipment requirements.”

Dual gold medallist Madison de Rozario, who won a thrilling wheelchair marathon on the final day of competition, was among the athletes granted an exemption for home quarantine.

South Australia is also trialling home quarantine. The federal government has described home quarantine as a key plank in the plan to resume international travel for fully-vaccinated Australians.

Read the full story here.

The morning’s headlines at a glance

Good morning and welcome to our live coverage of the day’s events. I’m Michaela Whitbourn and I’ll be anchoring the blog for the first half of the day. Here’s everything you need to know from the past 24 hours in news:

  • Rapid antigen testing for COVID-19 in workplaces and homes is expected to be part of Australia’s pandemic response arsenal as restrictions are eased in NSW and elsewhere for fully vaccinated people. Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has asked the country’s medical regulator to expedite its consideration of the use of the tests in workplaces and for home use. He said home-based testing and quarantine, as well as the digital vaccination certificate and a new digital border pass, would bring Australians closer to overseas travel.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

  • The NSW government is reviewing COVID-19 hotspot boundaries, as vaccination rates rise sharply in some areas of concern. The City of Sydney, which is not on the list of 12 local government areas of concern, is being watched closely by authorities as infections in that area rise.
  • NSW recorded 1127 new local cases of COVID-19 and two deaths on Monday: a woman in her 80s and a man in his 50s, both from Sydney.
  • The hotspot review comes after mayors of Sydney’s locked-down councils met yesterday with Premier Gladys Berejiklian. A call to reopen swimming pools in the city’s 12 hotspot local government areas was a key point raised by mayors, as was the curfew, over-policing, vaccination permits for essential workers, and the strained mental health of residents of western and south-western Sydney.

      Canterbury-Bankstown mayor Khal Asfour at a meeting with three fellow mayors from western Sydney and Premier Gladys Berejiklian.Credit:Facebook

      • Outdoor social gatherings may be among the first activities to resume in Victoria under the state’s new road map to reopening, due to be revealed on Sunday.
      • Victoria recorded 445 new local coronavirus cases on Tuesday and two deaths: a Craigieburn man in his 20s, who died at home and was diagnosed with COVID-19 post-mortem, and a St Albans woman in her 80s, who died in hospital. Later on Tuesday, the Australian Services Union announced one of their Victorian members, 46-year-old Martin “Marty” Blight, had also died with COVID-19. The state’s construction union opposed mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for the industry. Regional Victoria hit its target for 70 per cent of the population having received a first COVID-19 vaccine dose.

      ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

      • The ACT’s lockdown was extended for four weeks on Tuesday until Friday, October 15, as Chief Minister Andrew Barr said it was the “least worst option available” and “we are all in this situation because of a failure in NSW”. The territory recorded 22 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, only two of whom were in quarantine during their whole infectious period.
      • Queensland recorded one new case of COVID-19 in home quarantine: a 15-year-old girl who attends St Thomas More school in Brisbane, where a case emerged last week and two more emerged on Monday. One case was also detected in hotel quarantine. Authorities believe the cluster is under control.

      WA will become the third state or territory to open up the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to every age group from next Monday.

      • Western Australia will open up the Pfizer vaccination to over-60s from Monday, after the state’s top doctor declared confidence in supply of the sought-after vaccine.
      • Tasmania reported no new cases of COVID-19, as did the Northern Territory. South Australia reported one overseas-acquired case in a medi-hotel.
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