Police will patrol Sydney’s beaches on Sunday to enforce social distancing rules, with thousands expected to head to the water on a warm spring weekend.
Australia’s local COVID-19 case numbers look set to break records for a third consecutive day after more than 2000 infections were reported on Saturday.
The rise in cases was driven largely by NSW, with 1599 local cases recorded in the 24 hours to 8pm on Friday, along with 450 cases in Victoria, 15 in the ACT, and five in Queensland.
It was the highest number of cases for the country so far during the pandemic and comes as some states look to ease lockdown restrictions.
As temperatures rose near 30 degrees on Saturday, thousands of Sydneysiders flocked to the city’s beaches and parks to make the most of the weather.
However Police Minister David Elliott warned people not jump too early.
“Hold your horses Sydney,” said Mr Elliott said.
“From Monday we will get a little taste of freedom with picnics being allowed. And that’s going to be great.”
From Monday Greater Sydney residents can attend a gathering of up to five people for outdoor recreation if they are fully vaccinated.
Meanwhile, former prime minister Tony Abbott has been fined $500 after a passer-by snapped him not wearing a mask at Manly Beach on Wednesday.
NSW Health minister Brad Hazzard said no-one was outside the law.
“It does not matter who you are, whatever station you have in life, there are orders. Nobody likes to have these orders but it is to keep everybody safe and I hope people will comply with the orders,” he said.
Mr Hazzard has flagged easing more outdoor restrictions before reaching the 70 per cent vaccination target, saying “fresh air we know is the safest place to be at the present time”.
He defended the government’s decision to scrap the state’s daily public briefings, weeks before the COVID-19 crisis is expected to peak.
Mr Hazzard said the health team needed “clear air” to think through the COVID-19 response and reducing the frequency of the media conferences would free up hundreds of hours each week.
“There is a massive team of people getting ready, drawing in all the information, we then are in here probably three or four hours beforehand,” said Mr Hazzard.
“That time is taken out from the time we need to do the things you want us to do.”
“We will still have press conferences … they might not be absolutely every day.”
With NSW’s record 1599 cases announced on Saturday, state opposition leader Chris Minns said it was not the time to cut back the media briefings.
“If the premier has other priorities, that is fine, it can be fronted by the deputy premier or the treasurer or the minister for health — that’s what’s happened over the last 12 weeks.”
“But we can’t deny the fact that we are entering one of the most difficult and worrying periods of the entire pandemic.”
Federal Labor Leader Anthony Albanese, who lives in Sydney’s inner west, also criticised the move.
“I do find it jarring that on the day in which nine deaths were announced and record numbers of infections, accountability went backwards, not forwards,” he told reporters on Saturday.
Victoria’s trains suspended
All of Victoria’s regional train services have been suspended a day after the state registered its highest number of daily coronavirus cases in the latest outbreak.
The Department of Transport said coaches would replace all V-Line services on Sunday after more than 180 drivers and operational staff were placed in isolation following four positive coronavirus tests among workers.
“Out of an abundance of caution we are suspending all trains on Sunday to limit the spread and to keep everyone safe,” the department said in a statement issued late on Saturday evening.
Of the 450 new infections reported in Victoria on Saturday, 75 have been linked to known cases and outbreaks.
Victoria now has 2793 total active cases, including 407 children under nine years old, 449 people aged between 10 and 19 years old, 97 people in their 20s, and 485 people in their 30s.
“We continue to see this outbreak being concentrated in the young and the unvaccinated,” Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley told reporters.
The state has 143 people in hospital with COVID-19, up 17 from Friday, with 34 of those people in intensive care units and 26 of them on a ventilator.
Eighty-nine per cent of those people in hospital have had no vaccination jab, while 11 per cent of them have had one dose.
None of them are fully vaccinated.
“Replacing trains with coaches will allow for services to continue to operate, give passengers certainty for Monday and help contain the outbreak,” the Department of Transport said.
It added that coaches will operate to an hourly frequency across most lines and not the scheduled Sunday train timetable.
The ACT is bracing for an outbreak in its only adult prison, with a detainee among the territory’s latest COVID-19 case count.
Health authorities were advised early on Saturday morning a detainee at the Alexander Maconochie Centre had tested positive for COVID-19.
The patient, who will be included in the numbers announced on Sunday, had been transferred into the prison, ACT Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman said on Saturday.
Investigations into what contact the person had with others are underway, she said.
Another 15 cases acquired in Canberra were announced on Saturday, as the territory passed another COVID-19 vaccination milestone.
More than 75 per cent of the population has received at least one dose.
Pfizer for everyone
South Australia will become the first state to make the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination available to all residents aged over 12 years, including those above 60.
Premier Steven Marshall made the announcement less than 24 hours after the Northern Territory confirmed over-60s in the Top End could get the Pfizer jab.
“It’s on for young and old,” Mr Marshall told reporters on Saturday.
“From Monday, children aged 12 to 15 and people aged 60 and over will be able to book in for Pfizer vaccinations at state-run clinics.
“We know there have been many people over the age of 60 who said, ‘We don’t want the AstraZeneca, we want the Pfizer jab, this is why we are not having the jab’,” the premier said.
He encouraged South Australians who had already received a first dose of AstraZeneca to get a second AZ shot.