The Victorian inquiry into the handling of hotel quarantine in the state will get underway at 10am this morning with opening statements from retired judge Jennifer Coate, and senior assisting counsel Tony Neal QC.
The long-anticipated inquiry will look at the use of contractors for security services for returned travellers in hotel quarantine, on what basis the contracts were given, what training the officers were given, as well as looking into the reports of guests allowed to travel between rooms and the rumours of sex between guards and guests.
Up until now Victorian premier Daniel Andrews has used the inquiry as the basis for refusing to answer questions on the government’s handling of the hotel quarantine debacle, and the launch of today’s inquiry will hopefully be the start of getting some answers.
No witnesses will be appearing today, and more hearings will be scheduled for next month, to report back to government at the end of September.
You can watch a livestream of the hearing here.
The prime minister is also holding a media event at 11am.
Sync your diaries, fam.
Victorian premier Daniel Andrews will hold a press conference at 11am, with the acting premier James Merlino, who is also the education minister.
People in Melbourne have been pretty quick to adopt the new rule around face masks.
The Victorian government first “requested” masks be worn in Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire, in circumstances where people can’t remain 1.5m away from each other, about a fortnight ago, and yesterday they announced that, from midnight on Wednesday, it would become mandatory to wear a mask in public.
These photos were taken yesterday afternoon.
Shoppers are seen wearing facemasks in the Acland Street shopping centre on Sunday. Photograph: Speed Media/REX/Shutterstock
A tram driver wears a mask in Melbourne on Sunday. Photograph: David Crosling/EPA
This woman walking in St Kilda yesterday is not only wearing a face mask, she’s also wearing an awesome jumper from Aboriginal-owned Melbourne brand Clothing The Gap. Photograph: Speed Media/REX/Shutterstock
Queensland records one new case of coronavirus
Queensland has recorded one new case of coronavirus overnight, ending a run of no new cases, but premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told reporters in Brisbane that she’s “not concerned about it”.
It is a person who was tested positive on a cargo vessel and they are now in hospital and they are completely secure. We have absolutely no concerns about that. We are monitoring that vessel.
We only have two active cases in Queensland. We had an ADF person who recovered, so we still only have two in Queensland. Our total is 1,072.
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Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told Sky News this morning that he supports the order mandating the wearing of masks.
Not in all circumstances can we safely socially distance and in those cases you certainly want everyone wearing a mask.
I think it is prudent that in Victoria masks are being worn.
What we need to do is flatten out that curve. It’s going to take a huge effort from the public here.
If you live in Melbourne, you will probably want to keep an eye on this heatmap of coronavirus cases in the city, compiled by Nick Evershed based on data released by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services.
Just don’t take the absence of a big red bubble in your local government area as a sign you can be lax about social distancing – this is only cases we know about.
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Here is a bit more detail on those tougher restrictions on the NSW-Victorian border.
From midnight on Tuesday, a border zone will be set up along the Murray River and criteria for cross-border travel with be tightened.
All current travel permits will be cancelled and residents in the border zone who wish to move between the states will have to reapply.
Travel will only be allowed for work, education or for medical care, supplies or health services.
“The growing rates of community transmission in Victoria have us on high alert,” NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said.
He said the new protocols will make it harder to obtain a permit and make it easier for the government to cancel them.
If NSW residents travel beyond the border zone into Victoria, they will be forced to self-isolate for two weeks when they return.
Border residents will be able to from Monday afternoon check online to see if their address falls within the new restrictions.
Among the changed permit requirements, staff or students of boarding schools or universities must self-isolate for two weeks and obtain a negative swab before attending school.
Seasonal workers from Victoria are also banned from entering NSW.
I consider Channel Nine reporter Andrew Lund to be the official mask compliance correspondent. A dispatch from the frontlines:
Can report 100% mask compliance amongst the few people on my train to work today. Good work Melbourne. Fingers crossed this is over soon ?
July 19, 2020
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Kelly said there was concern about the spread of the coronavirus in workplaces, after Victorian health authorities reported at the weekend that 80% of recent transmission of the virus had occurred where people work.
Among the workplaces of most concern were healthcare, aged care, meat processing plants and distribution centres – places with high staffing levels and workflow that makes social distancing difficult.
Asked if Australia should pre-emptively shut down meatworks to reduce the risk of the virus spreading, Kelly said:
We need to consider what is the risk and what is proportionate to that. We do need to eat, Fran.
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Speaking on Radio National, Kelly said the official national health advice on the use of face masks, from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, had not changed.
He told the Breakfast host, Fran Kelly:
Well, Fran, from the beginning the AHHPC has advised that masks have a use in certain circumstances … if not used properly they can be counter-productive.
Those certain circumstances, he said, were when people were working in close-contact in high infection risk environments, such as healthcare settings:
We have got a very different situation in Melbourne now where we have community transmission that is continuing to grow and this is another step that has been put into place in that context.
Kelly said he had “no regrets” about not recommending the widespread wearing of face masks earlier in the pandemic. He said he had asked infection control experts yesterday “to have a really close look again” at the evidence around the effectiveness of face masks but at this stage their advice had not changed.
He said the advice was always “in certain circumstances they may need to be used, and those circumstances now exist in Melbourne”.
He said people living in Sydney could consider wearing a face mask if they are in a community transmission hotspot, such as south-west Sydney.
The advice that we have given and that the NSW Health has also given is that people should consider wearing a mask in those places where community transmission has ben found as an abundance of caution.
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It will take ‘weeks’ for Melbourne’s daily coronavirus numbers to reduce, acting CMO says
Australia’s acting chief medical officer, Prof Paul Kelly, has told Radio National he is concerned about the community transmission reported in Batemans Bay and in south-west Sydney, but that the main focus remains on Melbourne.
He said it could take “quite some time” for the number of new cases reported daily in the Victorian capital to drop back down to double or single digits.
Certainly at least weeks … with this virus we have learned over time that the time between introducing a measure and seeing its effect is at least two weeks and sometimes longer than that …
I am very hopeful and some of the modelling we have around that decreased mobility, people mixing less, and people taking that health advice seriously in Melbourne shows a positive sign.
Kelly said the ADF presence in Victoria, with personnel now in place to help with contact tracing, “will have an effect”:
Patience is required. But for the people in Melbourne please take care and really listen to that advice from the health authorities.
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Urgent health warning issued for Batemans Bay soldiers club
NSW Health has issued an urgent health warning for anyone who visited the Batemans Bay soldiers club on Monday 13 July, Wednesday 15 July, Thursday 16 July and Friday 17 July.
Anyone who attended on these dates has been ordered to immediately get a test for Covid-19 and to self-isolate for a full 14 days, even if their tests are negative.
The order comes as the number of cases linked to the club outbreak has grown to eight, with four new cases recorded overnight – two people who dined at the club, a staff member and a close contact of a previously identified case.
NSW Health said:
Anyone who develops Covid-19 symptoms should also be retested, even if they have had a negative result previously.
People who attended the club on Tuesday 14 July have been advised to monitor themselves for symptoms and get a test if they develop.
A testing site has been set up at the Hanging Rock Oval car park on Beach Road, Batemans Bay, and another pop-up clinic will be set up today. There are also testing clinics at Goulburn Base hospital, Queanbeyan district hospital, Eurobodalla health service (Moruya), South East regional hospital, Cooma district hospital, Jindabyne clinic and Yass district hospital, with pop-up clinics at Malua Bay, Merimbula and Crookwell.
Anyone feeling unwell – even with the mildest of symptoms such as a runny nose or scratchy throat – is urged to seek testing and self-isolate. Do not go to work or catch public transport until you are cleared of Covid-19.
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One Victorian will be allowed up to Canberra – the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, will be in the capital on Thursday to give a budget update and outline new economic support measures including what the jobkeeper payment will look like after 27 September.
According to News.com.au’s Samantha Maiden, the new payment will be reduced from $1,500 a fortnight to $1,000, with tighter eligibility requirements and stricter rules for casual workers. Under the current program, casual workers who had been employed by the one employer for more than 12 months were eligible for the full flat rate. Under the new rules, Maiden reports, they will only be eligible for a part-time rate – regardless of the hours they work.
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The manager of opposition business, Tony Burke, has written to the Speaker and the Senate president to try to work out a set of infection control protocols that would allow parliament to meet in person under stricter health advice. He told the ABC he wants parliament to be conducted in-person, not remotely.
Scott Morrison cancelled the upcoming two-week sitting on Saturday, on the advice of the chief medical officer.
Labor wants to establish a bipartisan working group, which would include the chief medical officer, to “develop the protocols that would enable parliament to sit in a safe manner, as scheduled”.
Burke said parliamentary committees had successfully been conducted remotely for the past few months, but parliament would “lose something” by not being conducted face-to-face. He told Radio National:
It’s whether or not you’re willing to accept that we would lose something further by never having that gathering face to face, which is how parliaments all the world over function. Some people would say it makes no difference, that’s not my view … For a prime minister who has made a claim. to be able to confront them face to face is a different thing.
That’s a true statement, but also a statement that could be made about many workplaces. Particularly schools, which have returned to remote working in Victoria.
Why should parliament be different, asked the RN Breakfast host, Fran Kelly?
Burke said an online parliament should not be the starting point:
I’m not going to start with that or pretend that we don’t give a whole lot away … When you’ve got a government who at every turn has tried to stifle the face-to-face gathering, I am not going to say, ‘Well, there’s a pandemic now, let’s just try to do it all online.’ Face to face makes a difference.
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Warnings over Batemans Bay and Colac outbreaks
There are two outbreaks in regional Australia causing health authorities some concern.
They are at Batemans Bay, on the NSW south coast, and Colac, south-west of Melbourne.
There are now eight positive cases of Covid-19 linked to an outbreak at the Soldiers Club in Batemans Bay, including one staff member. Anyone who attended the club last week has been urged to get tested immediately and self-isolate for 14 days.
In Victoria six cases have been linked to the Australian Lamb Company, an abattoir in Colac. Abattoirs have reasonably high rates of transmission worldwide because they require close-quarters working. One of those who tested positive is a high school student who attends Trinity college in Colac. That school has been closed for cleaning until Thursday.
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The president of the Australian Medical Association of Victoria, Assoc Prof Julian Rait, says the rule mandating the wearing of face masks should be expanded to the major regional cities of Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong, where a lot of people commute to Melbourne.
Rait told AM:
I think it’s almost inevitable unless we can get ahead of the virus, get ahead of the infection, that we are going to need to do something like that.
He also said Victoria should reconsider the rules surrounding school attendance. At the moment, year 11 and 12 students in Melbourne and the Mitchell shire, as well as year 10 students undertaking VCE or VCAL studies and students who attend specialist schools, are attending on-campus while everyone else is doing remote learning. Rait said every workplace that could conduct its work remotely should do so:
The definition of an essential business seems to be very loose.
He said it was “alarming and surprising” that Victoria had continued to report hundreds of new cases a day despite apparently high adherence to stage three restrictions:
It is rather alarming and surprising that notwithstanding that movements have reduced and social distancing in Victoria seems to be better in Victoria than in other states that this infection has continued to spread.
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The inquiry into the failure in Melbourne’s hotel quarantine system will begin today. For weeks, Victoria’s premier, Daniel Andrews, has been deferring questions about what went wrong with the system, saying that will be a matter for the inquiry. Today the inquiry chair, the former judge Jennifer Coate AO and the senior counsel assisting, Tony Neal QC, will give their opening statements but no witnesses will be called. The inquiry begins at 10am and will be streamed online here.
Meanwhile, NSW has announced tougher border restrictions with Victoria. From midnight on Tuesday, two weeks after the first border restrictions between the two states were put in place, a border zone will be set up along the Murray River and the reasons for cross-border travel will be tightened. All permits will expire and will have to be reissued. Under the new rules travel will only be allowed for work, education and medical care. NSW residents who travel beyond the border zone into Victoria will have to self-isolate for 14-days on their return.
Also on border restrictions, tougher rules requiring people from NSW to undergo 14 days of hotel quarantine, at their own cost, if they travel into WA came into force last night. The new tighter restrictions mirror those in place against travellers from Victoria.
And people in Melbourne are sharing patterns to make reusable cloth masks after the announcement yesterday that, from midnight on Wednesday, it will be compulsory to wear a mask or face covering when you leave your home in Melbourne or the Mitchell shire. The fine for not wearing a mask is $200, although there will be some reasonable excuses. People in regional areas of Victoria, and in NSW, have also been advised to wear masks.
Chief Health Officer, Victoria
No. No mask required at home or solo in your car. But please be patient as we get all the FAQs done and online. This isn’t even in effect yet and not enforced until Wednesday.
July 19, 2020
Wayne Gatt, the secretary of the Police Association of Victoria, told ABC those fines would only be issued as a “last resort”. But he said that was because he expected compliance to be high.
I think enforcement should be the last resort, I think everybody in the community should do the right thing or want to do the right thing.
Let’s crack on. You can follow me on Twitter @callapilla and email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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