Genomic sequencing is underway on ten infections that could double NSW’s Omicron cases in what the chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant said was a “rapidly evolving situation”.
The latest suspected Omicron cases are part of a cluster at Regents Park Christian School in western Sydney, where 13 people have tested positive to COVID, and three are so far confirmed as Omicron.
Authorities are working to trace the source of the potential Omicron outbreak as the first student confirmed to have the new variant did not have any known link to southern Africa.
It could be the first confirmed community transmission of Omicron in NSW.
So far there have been 13 Omicron cases confirmed in NSW but if the ten cases under investigation are also found to be the variant it would push up the state’s tally to 23.
NSW recorded a rise in coronavirus infections on Saturday to 325.
Dr Chant said authorities were working to contain the spread of Omicron in NSW and thanked the school community linked to the cluster for their co-operation.
“It’s been an amazing turnout for testing … and that’s really been useful in us getting a rapid understanding of how the transmission has occurred,” she said.
The cluster has now also been linked to the the Sydney Indoor Climbing Gym in Villawood.
Dr Chant said she had been pleased to see a stabilisation of cases in the regions, but that metropolitan Sydney was starting to record an uptick in cases.
In other coronavirus news, travel plans of people in NSW, Victoria and the ACT could be impacted by SA’s latest border changes, and Australia expects to be vaccinating young children in January (more on these stories below).
SA border rule changes
The Christmas travel plans of thousands of Australians from the nation’s two biggest states are in doubt, as South Australia tightened its border over concerns about the Omicron coronavirus variant.
Premier Steven Marshall hasn’t ruled out locking out travellers from NSW, Victoria and the ACT, only days after they were welcomed back for the first time in months.
“It may become necessary. I hope it doesn’t,” he said on Saturday, before SA reported five new cases amid its unfolding outbreak.
“We would only do that if we wanted to make sure that we still enjoy a Christmas here in SA. This is a balancing act.”
Chief Public Health Officer Professor Nicola Spurrier on Saturday morning recommended to the state’s COVID-19 directions committee that borders be shut.
But instead the committee agreed to require all arrivals from NSW, Victoria and the ACT to be tested upon arrival.
There have been 15 cases of Omicron so far detected in Australia: 13 in NSW, one in the Northern Territory and one in the ACT.
Pfizer for kids
Kids aged five to 11 could start getting vaccinated in January as approval of the jab is imminent, the Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has confirmed.
Mr Hunt said the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) should make a call on Pfizer pediatric doses before year’s end.
It is understood the first shipment is due to arrive in Australia before Christmas.
“(The TGA) will provide that advice, ATAGI will then provide their response and we’re hopeful that if we’ve got two green lights we would commence the children’s pediatric doses in the first part of January,” he said.
While January 10 is a possible starting date for the rollout, it could commence a week either side.
Mr Hunt said Moderna booster doses for the general population are also on the cards, with confirmation by Christmas or sooner.
The TGA is also making progress on the protein-based Novavax vaccine and could issue a pre-Christmas approval for doses to become available in the new year.
Up to 10,000 people have protested in Melbourne’s CBD, in the first mass demonstration since the Victorian government passed pandemic laws.
The crowd marched through Treasury Gardens shouting “sack Dan Andrews” and “freedom”, with protesters carrying Eureka and national flags, as well as Donald Trump placards.
They sang The Seekers’ I Am Australian before hearing speeches from ex-Liberal MP turned United Australia Party leader Craig Kelly and others.
Mr Kelly said he was unable to hire a rental car after landing at Melbourne airport because he refused to show his COVID-19 vaccine certificate.
“I am no longer in a great city, I am here in a fascist medical state,” the NSW-based MP shouted.
The anti-mandate mob moved to the front of Flinders Street Station, bringing traffic to a standstill at the major intersection.
After more than an hour, some protesters headed for the ABC’s Southbank studios as police formed a line in front of the building, and asked to speak with the public broadcaster’s chair Ita Buttrose, who lives in Sydney.
They then set up outside Government House, the official residence of the state’s governor who will sign off on the pandemic bill.
At the peak of the rally, Victoria Police estimated 8000 to 10,000 people were in attendance.
“There was a significant police presence throughout the city and no arrests were made as of 5pm,” a spokesman said.
The Andrews government’s controversial new legislation, which passed parliament on Thursday, makes the premier and health minister responsible for declaring pandemics and making health orders.
It will replace the existing state of emergency on December 16 and makes Victoria the first state in Australia with pandemic-specific laws.