News Coronavirus No new local Australian COVID cases, arrivals to lift soon

No new local Australian COVID cases, arrivals to lift soon

Medical staff work at a COVID-19 pop-up testing centre in Melbourne. Photo: AAP
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Australia has recorded another day of no locally acquired cases of COVID-19.

NSW, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia all on Saturday announced they had recorded no new local COVID-19 cases in their respective 24-hour reporting windows.

Western Australia, which on Saturday exited its five-day lockdown after a hotel quarantine worker picked up the virus, also reported no new cases.

However the Victorian government announced it has changed mask policies for hotel quarantine staff and will review hotel air flow, seeking to avoid a repeat of this week’s two suspected COVID-19 leaks.

Hotel quarantine staff in Victoria have since Thursday been required to wear a face shield and surgical mask while on the job.

Staff were previously wearing only an N-95 mask.

Hotel quarantine organisers from Wednesday also established “buffers” between family groups and other guests, resulting in 140 rooms being taken out of the system, and staggered food delivery times.

The moves follow a case of suspected COVID-19 transmission among two separate groups of guests at Melbourne’s Park Royal Hotel, and a worker at the Grand Hyatt testing positive to the coronavirus.

The moves come as more stranded Australians prepare to return home when international arrival caps return to higher levels.

Victoria will increase its weekly hotel quarantine capacity to 1310 from February 15 as a month-long national “slowdown” on arrivals concludes.

NSW will from February 15 return to a cap of about 3000 people a week, while Queensland is reverting to 1000 and SA to 530.

NSW Health is now asking returning overseas travellers to take an additional test after emerging for 14 days in hotel quarantine.

The day 16 test is not mandatory but strongly recommended as an enhanced measure to protect the community.

Travellers emerging from hotel quarantine will be contacted by NSW Health contact tracers on the sixteenth day, to assess their health and ask them to attend a nearby testing clinic.

Elsewhere, Western Australia will retain its halved cap of 500 until the end of the month.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the increased caps after a national cabinet meeting with state and territory leaders on Friday.

The return to more arrivals – having been briefly paused due to the emergence of the contagious UK and South African virus strains – will coincide with the commencement of the Australian vaccination program.

Hotel quarantine workers, frontline staff and border officials are first in line for the Pfizer coronavirus jab, along with the elderly and most vulnerable.

Department of Health head Brendan Murphy says the risk of the virus leaking from hotel quarantine will reduce once its workers have had the jab. State borders could then also be relaxed on a lasting basis.

While he was hesitant to give a possible time frame for when Australia’s international border restrictions will ease, Professor Murphy said officials would keep a close eye on how well the population was protected after vaccinations.

“Progressively over the second half of this year we should see a trajectory towards normality,” he told a parliamentary inquiry on Friday.

The government hopes most Australians will be vaccinated by late October.

Australia has secured more than 150 million doses of various vaccines.

-with AAP