Speculation is mounting around how many more days Victorians will be in lockdown, as mystery cases remain high and a new cluster emerges in Melbourne.
New South Wales ambulance crews are stretched amid record case numbers and people with symptoms needing emergency treatment.
In a surprise easing of restrictions on the day cases hit 1035, the NSW government confirmed restrictions on weddings would be eased to allow five guests at a ceremony.
Meanwhile, it’s hoped a new compensation scheme for medical professionals administering Pfizer and AstraZeneca will help to get more Australians vaccinated.
We’ll start with that news then wrap up the latest on each lockdown.
Doctors protected against claims
Medical professionals who administer coronavirus vaccines will be protected against legal action over side effects and Australians who have an adverse reaction will be able to apply for compensation.
That’s under a no-fault compensation scheme which was outlined by Health Minister Greg Hunt on Saturday, as the federal government also faced calls to fund extended opening hours for GPs to deliver more doses.
The scheme will be administered by Services Australia, with Australians who suffer injury and loss of income due to a COVID-19 shot able to register their intent to claim from September 6.
It will cover the costs of injuries above $5000 due to a proven adverse reaction.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and Australian Retail Association, among others, welcomed the indemnity provisions.
RACGP president Karen Price said the scheme would give peace of mind and protection to GPs, “the backbone of the vaccine rollout” who had delivered over half of all vaccinations across Australia.
It came as Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley called for the federal government to help enable GPs to ramp up the number of patients they vaccinate even further.
A trials at a handful of Melbourne clinics showed GPs have the capacity to deliver more jabs, if they’re made available and opening hours are extended.
He wants the Commonwealth to pay for clinics to be open later and on weekends, to help meet demand, particularly as those eligible for vaccination expands to teenagers.
“We are demonstrating, because someone has to, that the GPs can do more,” Mr Foley said.
A third of Australian adults are now fully vaccinated for COVID-19, with children next on the list.
Vaccine bookings for those aged 12 to 15 to open from September 13.
New South Wales
In NSW, paramedics say they are being stretched as the state continues to accumulate COVID-19 infections by the hundreds each day, with demand equivalent to the “busiest New Year’s Eve”.
There were 1035 new local infections and two more deaths reported on Saturday, taking the state’s death toll from the current outbreak to 83.
The two people who died were a western Sydney woman in her 80s in Westmead Hospital and one in her 70s from the Blue Mountains at Nepean Hospital after acquiring her infection there earlier this month.
It’s the fourth death linked to an outbreak at the hospital.
The state’s health system continues to strain under the caseload created by the outbreak.
There are almost 800 COVID-19 cases admitted to hospital, with 125 people in intensive care and 52 ventilated.
At least two western Sydney hospitals – Westmead and Blacktown –have called “code yellows” this week as their caseload climbs.
- Click here to see the NSW exposure sites
NSW Ambulance Commissioner Dominic Morgan said there had been so many calls for ambulances in the past three days it was the equivalent demand on paramedics as the “busiest New Year’s Eve”.
Mr Morgan said that on Friday 450 patients required paramedic assistance for suspected or actual COVID-19.
“When we receive calls that do not require an ambulance immediately, it can have dire consequences,” he said, noting an instance of an ambulance taking 25 minutes to get to an 18-year-old suffering from cardiac arrest.
Also on Saturday, Health Minister Brad Hazzard announced that from 12.01am on Friday people would be allowed to get married with up to five guests at a wedding, as well as people “obviously necessary for the actual service”.
“I would say to anybody who is getting married it would be a really good idea if you asked your guests to make sure that they are double vaccinated but it is not going to be a requirement in the health orders at this stage,” Mr Hazzard said.
The Victorian lockdown is scheduled to end on Thursday but that is looking unlikely given how many infections have spread between strangers and the source of some cases remains a mystery.
Both The Sunday Age and Sunday Herald Sun newspapers report that senior ministers have confirmed the government expects to extend the lockdown.
Labor MPs have told The Age they will push for eased restrictions including a relaxation of rules for people who are fully vaccinated.
Victoria added 64 new COVID-19 infections to its caseload on Saturday, 28 of them involving community exposure.
They include four fresh cases in the Port Melbourne area, with exposure sites at a Fisherman’s Bend supermarket and a car wash and auto warehouse.
The cluster is “of some concern”, COVID response commander Jeroen Weimar said.
“We’ve not seen that crop up before, so we are very keen to make sure that doesn’t become anything else.”
- Click here to see the full list of Victorian exposure sites
He warned of growing case numbers in Melbourne’s northern and western suburbs, but said there was also evidence of undetected cases in bayside areas in the southeast, with a total of 41 cases under investigation by contact tracers.
Meanwhile, an outbreak in Shepparton in the Goulburn Valley region has grown to 85 cases, with seven new cases recorded.
The outbreak has also spread to Echuca, after an aged care worker at the Wharparilla Lodge was infected by her partner.
Most of the 88 residents at the home have had both doses of the COVID jab, while about 40 staff have been furloughed.
The aged care worker, who was fully vaccinated, has since returned a negative test.
Health authorities say 49 of the state’s new local cases are linked to current outbreaks and 36 were in quarantine throughout their infectious period.
The ACT has recorded 26 new locally acquired COVID-19 cases, a number of them still under investigation.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr says there are now 237 virus cases within the territory in total, with four now fully recovered.
Twenty of the 26 infections recorded in the 24 hours to Friday evening have been linked to existing outbreak cases.
ACT Chief Health Officer Kerry Coleman says 15 of the latest cases were in quarantine while infectious, seven were in the community for at least part of time and four are under investigation.
The ACT is hoping to crack the 80 per cent full vaccination mark with the opening of a mass clinic next week.
The AIS Arena clinic will replace the centre at Garran on September 3, delivering as many as 24,000 Pfizer shots a week depending on supply.
Canberra already has the best vaccination rate in the country, ticking over 40 per cent on Friday.
Mr Barr has described the vaccination program as the government’s single-biggest priority over the next three months.
“Our target is not 80 per cent of the eligible population being vaccinated – we are aiming for much more than that,” he said on Friday.
“The government, in partnership with local GPs and pharmacies, will be doing everything we can to provide vaccines to all eligible Canberrans – including 12 to 15 year olds.”
Bookings made at the Garran centre will be automatically transferred to the new AIS Arena clinic.
Cases over coming days will be used to decide whether to end Canberra’s lockdown on Thursday as scheduled.
- Click here to see the ACT exposure sites
In the meantime, small and non-essential retailers are able to have two people on site for the purpose of contactless delivery, and click and collect orders.
Large essential retailers, such as shops selling hardware and building supplies, are restricted to delivery or click and collect for all but trade customers.
The change follows concern over the number of people heading to Bunnings, which racked up 19,000 check-ins in a single day.
Construction work is also set to restart gradually from Friday.