News National COVID: National cabinet to consider modelling, mask mandates

COVID: National cabinet to consider modelling, mask mandates

Some states are re-introducing masks and calling for booster shots to be brought forward.
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The Doherty Institute is predicting 200,000 Australians could contract coronavirus every day by late January if states do not reintroduce some restrictions.

The ‘worst-case scenario’ has been sent to state leaders to consider ahead of Wednesday afternoon’s national cabinet meeting.

NSW had a record 3057 infections and two more deaths on Tuesday, while Victoria had 1245 and six additional deaths.

South Australia reported 154 infections, Queensland 86, the ACT 16, the Northern Territory 14 and Tasmania four.

The ACT has become the latest jurisdiction to tighten virus restrictions.

From Wednesday, masks are required across indoor retail and hospitality venues as well as aged care, workplaces and on public transport in the national capital.

Visitors to aged-care are also limited to five a day.

Overseas, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ruled out banning Christmas gatherings.

New York’s mayor is giving a $US100 ($140) payment to anyone getting a booster jab before the end of the year, to encourage more people to get vaccinated.

And US President Joe Biden is expected to announce 500 million rapid antigen tests will be given out for free.

It came as a a 50-year-old unvaccinated man is believed to be the first known recorded fatality from Omicron in the US.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation’s European chief has warned countries a another COVID “storm is coming”, and advised the widespread use of boosters for protection.

Here’s what you need to know.

Snap meeting to discuss new modelling

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will use an “informal” online national cabinet meeting on Wednesday to urge states to hold the line on restrictions, having dismissed a return to lockdowns.

On Wednesday, he played down the likelihood of 200,000 cases a day for Australia.

“[It’s an] extreme case scenario that assumes that nobody does anything, nobody gets boosters, there are no changes that take place, no one exercises commonsense,” he told the Seven Network.

Chief medical officer Paul Kelly labelled media reports of the Doherty Institute modelling – which was prepared for Wednesday’s meeting – as misleading.

Professor Kelly stressed that 200,000 cases a day was the worst case of all possible scenarios. It included assumptions such as the Omicron variant being as severe as Delta.

Other assumptions factored in included a limited booster program, lack of hospital surge capacity and no changes to public health measures.

“None of these five assumptions represent the likely state of events, let alone all of them together,” Professor Kelly said.

“Presenting that scenario as the likely scenario that will occur is highly misleading.”

National cabinet will also receive advice on whether three jabs will be needed for someone to be defined as fully vaccinated, as well as if the time frame between a second and third jab should be shortened.

Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid poured cold water on the thought that early boosters would be a silver bullet in stopping the spread, saying more people being eligible won’t help the pace of the rollout.

“I know everyone’s desperately keen to get their booster but changing eligibility doesn’t magically mean the rollout is going to go faster,” he said.

“The problem with rolling out boosters is your access to vaccinators, to people who actually put the needle into the arm. We don’t have the capacity … to actually deliver more boosters than are being done at the moment.”

Dr Khorshid said sensible measures like wearing masks or simple social distancing requirements would put a “handbrake” on the spread without destroying Christmas while the booster rollout caught up.

He also called on leaders to enact a national plan in direct response to the Omicron variant.

“Omicron … may be mild, but we just don’t know,” he said.

“Now is not the time to be taking risks with people’s lives and with our economies going into next year.”

The Rural Doctors Association of Australia has called for the federal and state governments to urgently mandate mask wearing at all indoor public venues, to ensure Christmas gatherings do not become super-spreader events.

“It is time again for our governments to lead from the front, and to do so with consistency across the country” RDAA president Dr Megan Belot said.

England rules out Christmas lockdowns

Britain has had more than 90,000 coronavirus cases in the past day, but authorities will not tighten restrictions further before Christmas.

“There is no doubt that Omicron continues to surge with a speed unlike anything we’ve seen before,” Boris Johnson said in an announcement shared on Twitter.

“The situation remains extremely difficult but I also recognise that people have been waiting to hear whether their Christmas plans are going to be affected.

“What I can say tonight, is that naturally we can’t rule out any further measures after Christmas – and we’re going to keep a constant eye on the data, and we’ll do whatever it takes to protect public health.”

US to give out at-home tests

US President Joe Biden will announce later on Wednesday (Australian time) that he will make 500 million rapid COVID tests available for free.

Omicron has become the dominant strain in the US, accounting for nearly three-quarters of all new cases.

An unvaccinated man in Texas became the first American to die of Omicron on Tuesday.

“The individual was at higher risk of severe complications from COVID-19 due to his unvaccinated status and had underlying health conditions,” Harris County Public Health said.

Striking a more dire tone about the risks of remaining unvaccinated, Mr Biden will lay out initiatives in a speech that aims to persuade Americans to protect themselves from the fast-spreading variant, a senior administration official said.

The measures include activating 1000 military medical personnel to support hospitals.

“We will also note that if you are unvaccinated, you are at high risk of getting sick. This variant is highly transmissible and the unvaccinated are eight times more likely to be hospitalised and 14 times more likely to die from COVID,” a White House official said.

With the holiday travel season already begun, COVID cases are surging in the US, prompting local and federal officials to again confront just how far to go to combat the virus.

Federal officials said that Omicron accounted for 73 per cent of all new cases, up from less than 1 per cent at the beginning of the month.

New virus cases rose 9 per cent in the US in the past week but are up 57 per cent since the start of December, according to a Reuters tally.

The number of hospitalised patients has increased 26 per cent this month.

There have been almost 51 million infections and 809,268 coronavirus-related deaths reported in the US since the pandemic began, the most of any country.

‘Another storm is coming’

In Vienna on Wednesday morning, World Health Organisation European chief Hans Kluge said Omicron was the dominant variant in several European countries, including Britain, Denmark and Portugal.

“We can see another storm coming,” Mr Kluge said.

“Within weeks, Omicron will dominate in more countries of the region, pushing already stretched health systems further to the brink.

“The sheer volume of new COVID-19 infections could lead to more hospitalisations and widespread disruption to health systems and other critical services.

He said governments must prepare for a “significant surge” in cases, the BBC reports.