Australia news LIVE: NSW, Victoria COVID-19 cases grow; WA locks in border reopening

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Key posts

  • Experts warn against ditching face mask rule for Victorian shoppers
  • UK reports first Omicron death
  • Scott Morrison prepares for election fight on economy, vows to pursue lower taxes
  • Almost 2 million COVID alerts issued in NSW as celebrations drive transmission
  • Moderna to produce millions of mRNA vaccines in Victoria in new deal
  • This morning’s headlines at a glace
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Experts warn against ditching face mask rule for Victorian shoppers

Epidemiologists warn a rule requiring Victorian shoppers to wear masks indoors should not be scrapped this week given growing Christmas crowds and uncertainty about the severity of the Omicron strain.

Premier Daniel Andrews announced last month a requirement for retail customers to wear masks would be lifted by Thursday, unless there was a significant jump in hospitalisations.

However, this public assurance is now under a cloud, with state government officials refusing to comment on whether it will proceed as planned, citing the legal requirements of the new pandemic laws.

Victoria’s state of emergency powers expire at 11.59pm on Wednesday (and will be replaced by the government’s new pandemic laws. The first major announcement of coronavirus restrictions under the legislation is expected in the coming days, but whatever is announced, epidemiologists say that the mask-wearing rule should stay for now.

More on Victoria’s road map here.

UK reports first Omicron death

To overseas news briefly, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced the country has recorded its first death of someone with the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Coronavirus cases are currently on the rise in the UK and tougher restrictions have been imposed (for example, people are being told to work from home and vaccination certificates are being checked at large venues).

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.Credit:Getty

“Sadly, at least one patient has now been confirmed to have died with Omicron,” Johnson told reporters.

“So I think the idea that this is somehow a milder version of the virus – I think that’s something we need to set on one side – and just recognise the sheer pace at which it accelerates through the population.”

Britain’s Health Secretary Sajid Javid says the Omicron variant now accounts for about 40 per cent of London’s coronavirus infections.

The first Omicron cases were detected in the UK in late November.

Australia has not recorded any deaths from Omicron. Yesterday, a person with the Omicron strain was admitted to a NSW hospital.

with Reuters

Scott Morrison prepares for election fight on economy, vows to pursue lower taxes

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has vowed to pursue lower taxes as one of his fundamental goals in the recovery from the pandemic, preparing for an election fight on the economy by warning against “busy-body” intervention by a Labor government.

Mr Morrison named tax as a key issue in a warning that the economic recovery could not be taken for granted, amid forecasts of an improvement in the budget to be revealed within days.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is ramping up his rhetoric ahead of the next election.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

“Our economy is primed for growth. But securing our economic recovery in 2022 cannot be taken for granted,” he said last night.

“We must continue to get the fundamentals right – lower taxes, less regulation and sound public financial management.”

The government is expected to gain more fiscal room to announce personal tax cuts before the federal election when the mid-year budget update is released this Thursday, with Deloitte Access Economics forecasting a $103 billion improvement in deficits over four years.

Read the full story here.

Almost 2 million COVID alerts issued in NSW as celebrations drive transmission

More than 1.9 million coronavirus case alerts have been issued in the Service NSW app over the past fortnight as end-of-year celebrations drive an upswing in the state’s cases.

The alerts, issued between November 29 and December 13, include directions to monitor for symptoms, as well as to test and isolate as contacts of a case. There have been several instances of all patrons at a hospitality venue being placed in isolation for a week as clusters linked to nightclubs and pubs threaten to push daily cases into the thousands by the end of the year.

People queue for COVID-19 testing at Honeysuckle in Newcastle on Monday, after a nightclub party seeded 84 cases.Credit:Darren Pateman

A NSW Health spokesperson said they were unable to confirm how many people were now considered close contacts.

Half of Sydney’s systemic Catholic schools elected to learn from home this week as families attempt to avoid being deemed a close contact before Christmas.

But hundreds of other families are awaiting their fate after their children were potentially exposed at school.

More on the situation in NSW here.

Moderna to produce millions of mRNA vaccines in Victoria in new deal

Australia will produce millions of mRNA vaccines a year from 2024 in a deal secured by the federal government with Moderna and the Victorian government to build a local manufacturing facility in the state.

The in-principle agreement to create the country’s first mRNA manufacturing facility will also allow priority access to non-pandemic vaccines including potential influenza shots, which Prime Minister Scott Morrison says will be critical for protecting Australians.

Australia will produce millions of doses of mRNA vaccines a year in a deal struck with Moderna to manufacture the vaccines onshore.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

“The new mRNA manufacturing facility in Victoria will produce respiratory vaccines for potential future pandemics and seasonal health issues such as the common flu, protecting lives and livelihoods,” he said.

Health Minister Greg Hunt says the facility will be key to the country’s medical manufacturing future and help meet the country’s COVID-19 vaccine needs.

Read more about the deal here.

This morning’s headlines at a glace

Good morning and thanks for your company.

It’s Tuesday, December 14. I’m Broede Carmody and I’ll be anchoring our live coverage for the first half of the day.

Here’s everything you need to know before we get started.

  • Victoria will soon house an mRNA manufacturing facility the federal government says will help future-proof Australia when it comes to new pandemics. The facility will be able to produce millions of vaccines. Victoria recorded 1290 cases of COVID-19 yesterday and two deaths.

Millions of mRNA vaccines will soon be able to be made onshore.Credit:AP

  • In NSW, the Newcastle nightclub outbreak has grown to include a second venue. Meanwhile, thousands of Sydney rail workers are due to walk off the job today and passengers can expect delays. The state reported 536 cases of COVID-19 yesterday, but zero deaths.

Hundreds of people have been deemed close contacts after attending The Argyle House nightclub in Newcastle. Credit:Darren Pateman

  • In federal politics, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has admitted in a speech last night that his government didn’t do everything right when it came to the beginning of the pandemic. However, he insists his government still saved lives. He has also pledged to cut taxes and repeated his call for governments to step back from people’s lives after the last two years.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants the next election to be about the economy. Credit:Edwina Pickles

  • Western Australia has locked-in 12.01am on Saturday, February 5 as the date it will reunite with the rest of the country. The date is set in stone, according to WA Premier Mark McGowan, barring “some unforeseen emergency or catastrophe which we can’t predict”. He is confident the state will reach a 90 per cent vaccination target (for people aged 16 and up) by February.

WA Premier Mark McGowan.Credit:Matt Jelonek

  • Queensland is gearing-up to introduce vaccine mandates after reopening its borders early yesterday morning. From Friday, unvaccinated patrons and staff will not be allowed to enter many hospitality and entertainment venues such as cafes and clubs. Queensland Police boss Katarina Carroll has warned that people will face fines if they flout the law.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.Credit:Getty

  • Elsewhere, the Northern Territory recorded 17 cases of COVID-19 yesterday. Authorities have effectively declared the whole of Katherine an exposure site. And the ACT recorded three new cases.

A COVID-19 testing site at Katherine in the Northern Territory.Credit:Krystle Wright

  • And in international news, the UK has recorded its first official death of someone with the Omicron coronavirus variant. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says it shows “the sheer pace at which” the new variant can sweep through the population. He introduced tougher coronavirus restrictions late last week. And US President Joe Biden has promised to do whatever is needed to assist communities recently hit by deadly tornadoes.
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