Support for people who have lost work during the pandemic will be scaled back, as vaccination rates rise and the Morrison government looks for ways to discourage states from locking down.
Meanwhile, another part of regional Victoria has been plunged into lockdown and Queenslanders are awaiting news on whether a growing cluster in that state will result in a snap shutdown of Brisbane.
Two coronavirus clusters have been found in Brisbane ahead of Sunday’s NRL grand final.
A truck driver who was one of four locally acquired cases reported on Tuesday was infectious in the community for more than a week.
Here’s the latest coronavirus news on Wednesday morning.
Govt winding back support
The federal government’s COVID-19 disaster payment has supported around two million Australians with more than $9 billion in payments made since it was announced in June this year.
Under the payment, eligible recipients have received $750 per week if they lost over 20 hours of work, $450 per week if they lost between eight and 20 hours, and $200 per week for those on income support payments who lost over eight hours of work.
But that will be phased out once a state or territory reaches 70 per cent full vaccination of its population 16 years and older, in line with the Phase B of the national plan to exit the pandemic.
In the second week, the payment will be brought into line with JobSeeker at $320 for the week for those who have lost more than eight hours of work, while the payment will end for those on income support.
“For those who haven’t already returned to the workforce following the end of the temporary payment as the economy opens up, the social security system will support eligible individuals back into work,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said.
The government will keep another support measure – the pandemic leave disaster payment – in place until June 30, 2022.
“As restrictions ease, the economy is well positioned to bounce back,” Mr Frydenberg said.
“Today’s announcement about the winding down of the COVID disaster payment will provide businesses and households with the certainty they need to plan for the future.”
He said the government was working with the states and territories in lockdown on tapering business support payments once vaccination rates hit 70 per cent in those jurisdictions. The government would have more to say about that support shortly, Mr Frydenberg said.
Victoria’s Latrobe Valley region has been plunged into a seven-day lockdown to curb a growing COVID-19 outbreak believed to be linked to a household gathering.
Residents in the City of Latrobe, which encompasses the Gippsland towns of Moe, Morwell and Traralgon, entered lockdown just before midnight on Tuesday.
They are now living under the same restrictions as those in Melbourne, aside from curfew.
Health Minister Martin Foley said the illegal social gathering, held over the AFL grand final weekend, was “regrettable”.
Active cases in the region have now jumped to 18, with a further four infections confirmed on Tuesday afternoon. They will be reported in Wednesday’s tally.
Meanwhile, a Melbourne business owner and financial planner will face court accused of using fake driver’s licences to sneak into Perth to attend Saturday’s AFL grand final.
Prahran restaurant and bar owner Hayden Burbank, 49, and finance firm managing director Mark Babbage, 38, are alleged to have flown into Perth on September 22 after arriving in Darwin from Melbourne on September 14.
They were pictured posing inside the Optus Stadium change rooms on Saturday with Melbourne player Alex Neal-Bullen after the side’s drought-breaking premiership win.
The photo was posted on the AFL’s official Instagram account.
WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said they received an anonymous public tip-off that the men had been in Victoria 14 days before arriving in the state.
The pair was arrested at Bunker Bay in the state’s southwest on Tuesday morning after police issued a public appeal to track them down.
They spent the night in police custody and on Wednesday morning will face court charged with breaching the Emergency Management Act, which can attract fines of up to $50,000 and a maximum jail term of 12 months.
“How people could knowingly put others at risk in these times is selfish and contemptible,” Mr Dawson told reporters on Tuesday.
One of the men has tested negative for COVID-19 and the other’s result was inconclusive.
Mr Dawson said health authorities believed the initial result was a false positive and he will be retested overnight.
A woman, believed to be a WA resident, who was with Mr Burbank and Mr Babbage when they were arrested has also tested negative. She is unlikely to be charged.
Two other Victorian men also entered WA via South Australia for the AFL grand final. One has returned home to Melbourne, while the other has been arrested and faced Perth Magistrates Court on Tuesday.
He also returned a negative COVID-19 test result and will remain in custody until October 8.
“While we’ve got people charged with serious offences, there’s nothing at this point to indicate that it (the AFL grand final) has put the community at risk,” Mr Dawson said.
Queenslanders are bracing for more COVID-19 cases after four new cases emerged in Brisbane.
The state recorded its first mystery case in 50 days on Tuesday, when an Eatons Hill man in his 30s who works in the aviation industry tested positive.
He was infectious in the community for three days and his wife has also returned a positive test, but the man had only been inoculated a week prior, meaning he was not fully protected.
The third case is that of a woman who returned three negative tests during two weeks in hotel quarantine before testing positive five days after her release.
Queensland health’s primary concern is that of a truck driver who was infectious in the community for eight days and stayed at two hotels and a inner-city boarding house.
Exposure sites were listed on Tuesday for Eatons Hill, Rocklea, Albany Creek, Aspley and South Brisbane, with venues across these suburbs listed as close contacts or casual contacts.
These include two unnamed hotels at Spring Hill, and the Adalong Student Guesthouse at South Brisbane and McDonald’s Southbank.
The state government has also moved to mandate at least one jab for truck drivers entering Queensland after seven truck drivers have entered the state who have been infectious in the community since August 24.
Freight drivers must receive their first jab by by October 15, and two jabs by November 15.
In light of the new clusters, Queensland Health has changed the directives for mask wearing in the Moreton Bay and Brisbane local government areas.
Masks are now mandatory indoors and in all public settings where social distancing isn’t possible.
The four cases reported on Tuesday have brought a cloud over the NRL grand final plans, just days before 50,000 people are expected to descend on Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium on Sunday.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said there had been no discussions with the NRL over a potential plan to move the event.
“When my phone rings I’ll be updating people, but there is no concern at the moment,” she said on Tuesday.
Queensland administered 18,482 vaccinations in the reporting period until Tuesday, with 64.1 per cent of the eligible population having received their first dose.
As NSW looks forward to ushering in the “COVID-normal” era in December, unvaccinated people have been warned they will likely remain barred from many venues.
NSW will emerge from lockdown in a fortnight after almost four months of stay-at-home orders for large parts of the state.
In December, public health orders will no longer prevent unvaccinated patrons from intermingling, but Health Minister Brad Hazzard said business owners could still deny them entry.
And those who refused the jab were likely to remain barred from most hospitality and entertainment venues as well as air travel, he said.
Residents of a Manly hotel in Sydney’s northern beaches have been asked to test and isolate following exposure in the building.
“The source of the COVID-19 infection is currently under investigation,” a Northern Sydney Local Health District spokesperson said.
On Tuesday, NSW reported 863 new local coronavirus cases – dipping below Victoria’s 867 daily infections – and seven deaths.
Of the seven people who died, one person was in their 40s, one in their 50s, two in their 70s, two in their 80s and one in their 90s.
It takes the toll for the current outbreak to 316.
Socially-distanced reintroductions to hospitality venues and hairdressers will begin from October 11, at 70 per cent full vaccination coverage.
About two weeks later, the state is expected to reach 80 per cent coverage, triggering additional freedoms and the resumption of regional travel.
These freedoms will only be restored for the fully vaccinated.
There are currently 1155 COVID-19 patients in NSW hospitals, with 213 in intensive care units and 113 on ventilators.
Mask-wearing isn’t going anywhere in Canberra as the ACT progressively relaxes restrictions from Friday.
The territory recorded 13 local cases on Tuesday, 11 of which could be linked.
Just one person was in quarantine the whole time and at least seven were partly in the community while infectious.
Restrictions will ease slightly from Friday, with household visitors capped at two and outdoor recreation increased to four hours.
Lockdown is slated to end at 11.59pm on October 14, after which up to five people can visit a home and 25 people can gather outdoors.
Pubs, restaurants, places of worship and hairdressers will be among the venues allowed to reopen with density limits.
ACT Chief Health Officer Kerryn Coleman says compulsory mask-wearing will remain.
“It’s going to be really important and central moving forward, particularly in things like public transport, in higher density indoor gatherings,” she told reporters.
“So bear with us and get used to those masks.”
The ACT anticipates travel resuming with NSW and Victoria before Christmas, but expects to remain locked out of relatively COVID-free jurisdictions for longer.
ACT Policing said officers would continue to enforce compliance including with the territory’s border crossings, masks, check-ins and businesses.