News Coronavirus COVID: Sydney Harbour boat party’s Omicron links, and Olympics assurances
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COVID: Sydney Harbour boat party’s Omicron links, and Olympics assurances

Everything you need to know about COVID-19 booster shots.
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Five people who partied on a boat cruising Sydney Harbour have tested positive to the coronavirus – and two of them likely have the Omicron variant.

So far, 37 cases of Omicron have been detected in Australia.

Just 10 of those were acquired from overseas, meaning the variant is spreading here.

Australia’s fully vaccinated rate for over 16s has increased to 88.3 per cent while 93 per cent have had a first dose.

Experts are finalising their advice to government about the Pfizer vaccine for five to 11-year-olds, with approval for use in children possible by as soon as this week.

Overseas, meanwhile, Austria is letting people who are fully vaccinated come out of lockdown.

Spain has asked healthcare workers not to go to Christmas gatherings together after 68 doctors and nurses tested positive after attending a party.

And the other big coronavirus news early on Wednesday morning is that the International Olympic Committee says the pandemic won’t stop the Beijing Winter Olympics.

Here’s a wrap of the latest headlines.

Sydney cluster emerges

At least 140 people who were on a party boat at the weekend must isolate after five passengers tested positive.

In an alert late on Tuesday, NSW authorities said urgent genome sequencing was underway to determine whether cases were the Omicron variant.

“Preliminary results indicate two are likely to have it (Omicron),” NSW Health wrote.

“All cases are isolating at home.”

NSW Health said the cruise – operated by Cadman Cruises – departed from King Street Wharf 9 at 7.30pm on December 3, returning about 11pm.

The Friday night cruise was jointly marketed as “Flow Fridays – 90s Themed Boat Party” and “Freaky Sunday Afrovibe: The Last Dance”.

Thirty-one cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant have been registered in NSW.

The state had 260 COVID-19 cases from 58,706 tests in the 24 hours to 8pm on Monday.

Vaccines for kids

A call on final approval for a Pfizer vaccine designed for five to 11-year-olds could be granted as soon as this week.

Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation co-chair Professor Christopher Blyth said his organisation would provide the government with its findings regarding the COVID-19 vaccine after it finalised its advice this week.

Recommendations are likely to include the timeframes between first and second doses.

“We have looked at the safety data very carefully, because the risk benefits are different in this group compared to older people,” Professor Blyth said.

It comes as more than five million Americans in the same age range have been vaccinated, with chief medical officer Paul Kelly finding data regarding reported side effects as reassuring.

Australia’s vaccine rollout head Lieutenant-General John Frewen told a Senate committee on Tuesday that all 2.3 million children in that age bracket would be able to receive the vaccine by the time the first school term began.

Austria’s unvaccinated to stay in lockdown

The unvaccinated must continue to stay home when Austria lifts its wider general lockdown on Sunday, Chancellor Karl Nehammer has confirmed, a day after taking office.

Austria went into lockdown two weeks ago to counter a surge in daily COVID-19 infections to record levels, with restaurants, bars, theatres and non-essential shops shut to all but takeaway business.

Hotels are closed to tourists.

Infections have plunged since but intensive-care bed occupancy is still rising.

A week before that general lockdown, people not fully vaccinated against the coronavirus were placed under lockdown, barring them from roughly the same places that are now shut, allowed to leave home only for the same limited number of reasons as the whole country, such as going to work.

“The lockdown for the unvaccinated is staying,” Mr Nehammer said, while confirming that the wider lockdown would be lifted on Sunday (local time) as planned.

Details still need to be ironed out at a meeting on Wednesday between the government and the influential governors of Austria’s nine provinces.

“For all the unvaccinated who are suffering from the fact they are staying in lockdown, there is a clear offer: You can come out of it if you seize the chance to get vaccinated,” Mr Nehammer said.

Asked if restaurants and hotels would reopen at the weekend, Mr Nehammer said that had already been agreed to with provincial governors. The aim was to reopen businesses as broadly as possible.

Individual provinces can impose tighter restrictions. Vienna Mayor Michael Ludwig, one of the nine governors, said he expected non-essential shops and Christmas markets in the capital to reopen on Monday but restaurants and cafes would not fully reopen until a week later.

COVID linked to large Christmas party

At least 68 doctors and nurses who work in an intensive care unit in Málaga, Spain, have tested positive to the coronavirus after a Christmas party.

About 170 people were at the party last Wednesday, the BBC reports.

All guests returned negative antigen tests before the event but more than half are now isolating.

The infected staff were all fully vaccinated and are showing no symptoms, health authorities said.

Omicron won’t stop Olympics

The International Olympic Committee has ruled out postponing the Beijing Winter Olympics under any circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The emergence of the Omicron variant has raised concern globally, both in terms of its apparent transmissibility and over its ability to evade immunity from a previous infection.

The emergence of the virus in Wuhan ultimately led to the Tokyo 2020 summer Games being delayed by 12 months.

However, the head of the IOC’s Beijing co-ordination commission, Juan Antonio Samaranch, said there was no chance of that being repeated and that the Games would go ahead as planned in February next year.

Asked if there were any circumstances in which the Games could be postponed, Mr Samaranch said: “The answer is no. In all walks of life we have learned for the last two years in a COVID world you have to be flexible and adapt rapidly to changing conditions.

“We have that in Beijing. We have done all the rehearsals, all the possible situations, they have prepared for any possible contingency.”

Mr Samaranch said he was confident that keeping Beijing Games participants in a closed loop – away from the general population – would enable them to cope with any changes for the worse in the progress of the pandemic.

“It is not that we do not expect COVID to move on, or back, or forward, but it’s that we are ready for any movement that it takes place,” he said.

“We are happy to tell that you we are going to celebrate the Games in the time and shape expected.”

Olympic Games executive director Christophe Dubi said organisers had not confirmed ticket sale plans for the Games, but added: “The organisers are planning for the presence of spectators, including the concessions, food and beverages.

“I would expect (a decision will be taken on spectators) in the next few weeks because past this time anyway, it would be physically impossible to get the (sales) campaign up and running.”

It was announced in September that only people from mainland China would be able to attend the Games, barring visitors from overseas.

-with AAP