Australia Covid live news updates: almost 500 extra Sydney cases undetected in community for days after mistake by major testing facility

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Australia Covid live news updates: almost 500 extra Sydney cases undetected in community for days after mistake by major testing facility” was written by Donna Lu (now) and Tory Shepherd (earlier), for theguardian.com on Tuesday 28th December 2021 03.29 UTC

Zero new cases for Western Australia:

Aboriginal children in Western Australia have been kept in detention after being granted bail because child protection services did not know where to house them, the Aboriginal Legal Service has said. Read the whole story here:

ACT records 252 new cases

252 new Covid cases have been recorded in the Australian Capital Territory. That’s 252 new cases, and 2,980 negative tests, which seems like quite a high positive rate – but there are a lot of variables in there.

Updated

In case you missed it in the excitement of Australia’s Ashes win: England’s performance in the third test was their lowest total in Australia since 1904.

Relive the glory (or the humiliation) here:

Hello! Donna Lu here, keeping the blog warm while Tory grabs a bite to eat.

We’ve been hearing a lot about long testing queues. Here’s a shot from Fran Kelly from earlier this morning:

New South Wales premier Dominic Perrottet has echoed health minister Brad Hazzard by attacking “tourism tests”.

Hazzard has been snarky with the Queensland government, and says their requirements for tourists to get tested before they visit is clogging up the NSW system.

As people keep reporting those long testing queues and wait times for results, Perrottet’s keen for people to switch to rapid antigen tests and is putting pressure on other premiers to do the same.

He’s promising free rapid tests for NSW by the end of January, and the government has put in an order for 20 million.

He also said pregnant women should not be sitting in testing queues (see below – it came up earlier in the Hazzard conference).

People queue to take Covid-19 PCR tests in Sydney on Tuesday.
People queue to take Covid-19 PCR tests in Sydney on Tuesday.
Photograph: Brendon Thorne/AAP

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Some more figures from Queensland:

Missing NSW children found safe after major search

Breaking! New South Wales Police have found the missing children, Hanna and Eli. (You can read the original story here).

Updated

A quick look at the United States now. Those without symptoms will now only have to isolate for five days, down from 10.

The Centers for Disease Control said after isolating, people should wear a mask when they are around other people.

It also recommended a five-day quarantine for those exposed to the virus who are unvaccinated or are more than six months out from their second mRNA dose or more than two months after the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and not yet boosted. You can read our US wrap here:

Australia has retained the Ashes! You can read all the details at our live blog:

Sydney lab identifies 486 new positive Covid cases after testing mistake

Another 486 people who were initially told their Covid test had a negative result were actually positive.

That is a total of 886 people to whom St Vincent’s hospital mistakenly gave the all clear.

First, 400 people were told on Christmas Day that their result was negative, only to be told later they were positive.

Yesterday the hospital’s pathology department (SydPath) said another 950 people who were tested in the days before Christmas were “prematurely” sent a text message saying they were negative when their actual results had not yet been confirmed.

Of those 950 people, 486 were eventually found to be positive. SydPath said:

Once again, we are sincerely sorry for this error and acknowledge the significant impact it has had on those involved.

In order to contend with the major increase in volume of tests SydPath had recently moved from an automated system to a manual system to expedite the release of negative test results. Unfortunately during this manual process a simple data processing error was made which led to the wrong test results being released. We have reverted to our automated systems to ensure this type of error cannot happen again.

Updated

Previously the advice was for those under 50:

If you’re after some more details on those changes in Queensland:

Tasmania reports 43 new cases

There are 43 new Covid cases in Tasmania, and the state government is (like others) considering switching to rapid antigen tests for interstate arrivals.

Tasmania was Covid-free when it reopened its interstate borders on 15 December, and 43 is the second highest daily infection tally since then, AAP reports.

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Some good (and useful!) info here from Sydney airport (update: this is just for international travellers):

Updated

Queensland reports 1,158 new cases

Queensland has recorded 1,158 new Covid cases but has no patients in intensive care or on ventilators.

Health minister Yvette D’Ath announced the government would scrap the day five test for people who have travelled from interstate. She said a positive rate from those tests of about 0.6% meant they were no longer necessary.

(Although, of course, anyone with symptoms should still get tested.)

She said anyone waiting now can leave, although there is a slightly confusing situation where border pass applications still require the test. D’Ath said people should “say yes” to that – but they don’t actually have to.

Updated

‘Sacred’ SCG Ashes test to go head, NSW minister says

January’s “sacred” Ashes Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground will go ahead, New South Wales health minister Brad Hazzard has announced.

NSW Health will work with Victorian health authorities to manage any potential cases so it can proceed, Hazzard said:

The SCG test is sacred, an important date at the start of the third year of our life with Covid-19. I want to assure the cricket-loving public, under our rules any players with exposure to a known case of Covid-19 would be asked to test and isolate only until a negative result was received.

If there are any cases within the teams, their support staff, or families, we will work with the people involved to ensure they are safe, and there is as little disruption to others as possible.

Updated

A teenager accused of continuing to party at an Adelaide nightclub after being told he was Covid-positive has been charged and denied bail. AAP reports:

A teen who partied at an Adelaide nightclub despite knowing he had tested positive for Covid-19 has been arrested. Police nabbed the 19-year-old Kensington Park man on Tuesday and charged him with failing to comply with emergency directions.

It’s alleged the man stayed at a nightclub in the city after being told by SA Health that he had returned a positive Covid-19 test result, and that he failed to quarantine.

Police denied the man bail. He’s expected to appear in Adelaide magistrates court on Wednesday. He faces up to two years behind bars or a $20,000 fine if convicted.

The state is on high alert after recording 842 new cases on Monday, the state’s highest single-day total. It topped the previous record of 774 on Sunday.

Updated

Sydney’s big musicals suspended due to Covid outbreaks

The Covid outbreak continues to batter Sydney’s performing arts sector during what should be the busiest time of the year, with two big musicals forced to cancel shows due to infections within the production.

On 22 December, performances of Hamilton at the Lyric Theatre were suspended “in response to positive Covid-19 results from within the Hamilton company”. The Lin-Manuel Miranda musical is due to reopen again on 5 January, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Come From Away suspended its performances at the Capitol Theatre from 26 to 30 December, and at the moment is planning a return to the stage on 1 January.

The Sydney production of Hamilton
The Sydney production of Hamilton has been suspended due to Covid cases in the company.
Photograph: Daniel Boud

Updated

More from Brad Hazzard, the New South Wales health minister. He is pretty keen on getting rid of a whole range of PCR tests in favour of rapid antigen tests.

He said he was talking to the federal government about removing the requirement for PCR tests for international arrivals, and pushing for hospitals to allow pregnant women to do rapid testing at home instead of queueing.

He was also asked by a reporter about new mothers being asked to do PCR tests before seeing their newborns. He said he hadn’t heard about it but didn’t want to see anything come between mothers and their babies.

Hazzard has also spoken to St Vincent’s hospital about errors that saw their pathology department mistakenly tell about 1,400 people their Covid tests were negative:

Unfortunately when people are under pressure, human errors are more frequent.

Updated

Brad Hazzard urges Queensland to drop PCR testing requirements

New South Wales health minister Brad Hazzard has doubled down on his attacks over “tourism testing”.

He blames Queensland’s requirement that visitors be tested before they come for contributing to long testing queues and waits for results.

He encouraged Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk in “the strongest possible terms” to change those requirements as the NSW system faces “huge pressures”:

It’s time that the PCR tests for tourism testing were dropped, preferably today. Rapid antigen tests make more sense for people who are about to cross the border.

Updated

Something a bit more chill, now – overseas customers are “lapping up” Australia’s ice-cream and dairy products, trade minister Dan Tehan says.

Australia had record ice-cream exports last financial year. Tehan said (and I think we can all agree):

A cold ice-cream on a hot summer’s day is one of life’s simple pleasures, and one we’re exporting to the rest of the world.

Updated

More footage of those queues – this one in Sydney. Yikes. A big thank you to everyone involved for their patience …

Updated

Back on those testing queues, waiting times for results and calls for more rapid antigen testing.

Social media is filling up (again) with reports of people waiting hours – and the day’s just started!

I mentioned Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is set to make a decision about their use soon, and that NSW health minister Brad Hazzard blamed Queensland for requiring travellers to get tested before they go.

AAP reports that she made her announcement “as hundreds of cars were still lined up at one north Brisbane testing site on Monday just ahead of it closing”:

Of the people AAP spoke to, around half were from interstate and were required to take a PCR test. Car batteries were going flat in the line and people, including the elderly, were forced to wait for hours in hot vehicles.

The numbers appear to correlate with people lining up in the ACT to get tested, with the territory’s health minister saying anecdotal evidence from testing teams pointed to half of all swabs being for people getting tested to travel.

Updated

A potentially deadly batch of ecstasy is circulating in New South Wales.

NSW Health said the “high-dose” pills had twice the average amount of MDMA in them. They’re blue, round and have a Superman logo.

Prof Andrew Dawson, the NSW Poisons Information Centre’s acting medical director, said high doses could cause severe agitation and paranoia, raised body temperature, seizures or fits, irregular heart rhythms and death.

Stay safe, people. And call triple zero if you (or someone you know) is unwell.

Updated

Victoria records 2,738 Covid cases and four deaths

Four people have died in Victoria and the state has recorded 2,738 new cases, with 361 people in hospital, 69 in ICU and 33 on ventilators:

Updated

NSW records 6,062 Covid cases and one death

There has been one death in New South Wales and 6,062 new cases, with 557 people in hospital and 60 in ICU:

Updated

There are various moves afoot to get more rapid antigen tests available, in more situations (see below – treasurer Josh Frydenberg was asked this morning if the federal government could play a bigger role).

Queensland is expected to make a decision on replacing PCR tests with rapid tests in some situations, AAP reports. Australian Capital Territory health minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said they could be useful for screening travellers.

NSW is set to make the tests free in the new year.

South Australia overturned its ban on rapid tests last week.

Labor’s health spokesman Mark Butler has called on the federal government to make them more affordable and accessible.

Updated

I always appreciate a fast-forward video but this one made me feel a little anxious …

Updated

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has told the ABC he is confident about Australia’s economic recovery despite the “new set of challenges” posed by the Omicron variant.

New Treasury analysis of a bunch of economic indicators show Australia is doing better than many countries. Frydenberg said:

[There] is reason to be confident but there is also reason to follow the health advice and to not be complacent. And so using common sense and compassion as opposed to fear and panic is the way to go forward.

Asked if the federal government would act to ease Covid testing queues and waiting times for results, he said it was encouraging states to adopt rapid antigen tests instead of PCR tests before travel.

And the federal government was doing the “bulk of the heavy lifting” in terms of paying for testing.

Updated

The Covid positive test rate in New South Wales has risen to 6.5%, the highest since the pandemic began.

The positivity rate is up from 1.73% a week ago and 0.71% a fortnight ago, a figure some epidemiologists say is likely to mean a proportion of cases are going undetected. Read more here:

Updated

Good morning

Good morning! Tory Shepherd here, suppressing some envy of all those who are lounging around at the beach, or reading, or still sleeping.

It’s set to be another big day of Covid news as the Omicron variant continues to wreak havoc. Australia hit the grim milestone yesterday of 10,000 new cases in a day.

We’ll let you know today’s results as they come in.

Testing stations have been overwhelmed – AAP reports that in New South Wales alone, the number of tests processed each day has plummeted by more than 60,000 while the number of new infections stays high.

Around the nation healthcare systems are coming under pressure – if not from infected patients, then from staff who have potentially been exposed.

About 2,000 NSW healthcare workers have been furloughed, prompting NSW Health to reduce the staff period of isolation from 14 days to seven:

Healthcare workers essential to service delivery, who are close contacts of a Covid-19 case in the household, will now be able to leave isolation and safely return to work after seven days.

They’ll have to have a negative PCR test on day six and an assessment plan in place.

Still in NSW, Sydney’s St Vincent’s hospital yesterday had to admit to a second error. First, its pathology department mistakenly told 400 people their Covid test was negative, when it was positive.

Then a further 995 negative test results were sent out, when the actual result was not yet known. Human error, apparently.

NSW health minister Brad Hazzard blames Queensland. He said their requirement that travellers get tested before they travel (“simply for tourism”) was putting pressure on the system:

The focus should be only on clinical testing. The energy and capacity of pathology is being sucked out of NSW.

I haven’t forgotten the other states and territories! I’ll keep you posted throughout the day.

Updated

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