Australia Covid news live: Scott Morrison announces change to isolation time as nation records more than 32,000 cases


Powered by article titled “Australia Covid news live: Scott Morrison announces change to isolation time as nation records more than 32,000 cases” was written by Mostafa Rachwani, for on Friday 31st December 2021 02.57 UTC

And with that I will hand over the blog to the ever-capable Cait Kelly. Thanks for reading, and have a happy new year.

Prof Adrian Esterman, an epidemiologist from the University of South Australia, has been on ABC News discussing the surge in case numbers, saying that “things are getting out of hand.”

Prof Esteman said the easing of restrictions in NSW likely sparked the surge, and hoped case numbers would peak before coming down in January.

In NSW we are not seeing it going anywhere near the peak yet. So numbers will keep going up at an exponential rate unless something else happens.

Modelling, as least for South Australia, has put the likely hospitalisation rate at 5%. Now, when you are starting to get 20,000 cases a day, that’s an awful lot of people going into hospital every single day. And taking up beds that other patients need.

So I think states and territories are going to struggle …Yes, Omicron is much, much milder which is a wonderful thing, but with sufficient numbers of cases then you will start getting hospitalisations going up.

And the other thing that no one mentions is the elephant in the room – long Covid.

And we have our politicians saying oh, look it doesn’t matter if cases go up because hospitalisations aren’t. I’m sorry, but it does matter if cases go up because there will be a reasonable proportion of those cases ending up with long-term health problems.


It appears the ABC’s 7.30 will be gearing back up in 2022 earlier than expected, most likely due to the surge in Covid case numbers:


The Antipoverty Centre has urged the government to reverse its decision to adopt changes to testing and isolation with regards to close contacts.

It says the changes throw society’s most vulnerable communities under the bus and weren’t made in the name of public health, but for economic reasons.

Jay Coonan of the Antipoverty Centre called the National Cabinet’s decision “heartless” and said it meant the poor will die at “even higher rates than we did last year”:

During soaring cases and rolling lockdowns in 2021 those without paid work were excluded from any financial support.

People in the lowest-paid jobs were confronted with the choice to starve or go to work and risk their own and their loved ones’ health. The results spoke for themselves: people in the poorest parts of the country were nearly four times [more] likely to die of Covid than those in wealthy areas.

With the complete rejection of public health measures to help keep the virus at bay, our governments have unanimously decided that business and industry lobby groups’ concerns are more important than our lives.


Back to NSW, with Perrottet again urging people not to line up for PCR tests unless a RAT test returns a positive result or people are directed to get tested by NSW Health.

Capacity and wait times have been a key issue this week, and Perrottet has doubled down in asking people to avoid queuing up unless absolutely necessary.

So my message today for people across our state is: if you are not required to be tested with a PCR test, don’t line up, because you will be taking the place of somebody who is required by NSW Health to receive that PCR test.

I understand that’s a change and that will take some time to adjust … The direction we provided as a government in the circumstances of an unvaccinated population [was] to go out there and get tested.

But today, as we move through this next phase in line with the position of the national cabinet, if you do not need a test, if you are not required to by NSW Health, please do not line up.


PM announces change to isolation time

The prime minister, Scott Morrison, has just issued the following statement – a “national cabinet update”:

Further to National Cabinet on 30 December 2021, and following further consultation with the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Health Officers, leaders have also agreed to remove the requirement for a Day 6 RAT for confirmed cases in isolation.

If confirmed cases remain symptomatic, they should remain in isolation. Anyone with symptoms will continue to seek a PCR test.


Perrottet maintains NSW in ‘strong position’

NSW premier Dominic Perrottet has stepped up for his presser, and has repeated that he thinks the state is in a “strong position” considering its high vaccination rate.

Perrottet says NSW will get through this outbreak on the back of the “effort and spirit of the people of our state”. (Not government policy, apparently.)

I know and understand that many people across our state today are anxious. But just like the challenges of the last two years, we will get through this challenge as well and come out stronger the other side.

And we’ll do that because of the effort and the spirit of the people of our state. We have made enormous sacrifices over the last two years, enormous sacrifices over this year as well, with many people not being able to say goodbye to their loved ones.

It has been an incredibly challenging year, but we stand here today in an incredibly strong position as we head into 2022 because of the efforts and the sacrifices and the great spirit of the people of New South Wales.

NSW premier Dominic Perrottet health minister Brad Hazzard arrive for a press conference on Sydney harbour today.
NSW premier Dominic Perrottet health minister Brad Hazzard arrive for a press conference on Sydney harbour today.
Photograph: Jenny Evans/Getty Images


Marshall has addressed why his state is adopting a different definition of close contacts to the rest of the country (except for WA). He says South Australia is a “different phase of the overall disease”.

So, in South Australia now, you’re a close contact if you’re a household or intimate partner, or those two exceptional circumstances in South Australia: if it is related to a vulnerable cohort – for example, an aged care facility [or] Aboriginal community, where there’s no logic in narrowing that down, because those two communities are more likely [to develop] higher-level illness.

And the other one, of course, is where we do have an identified transmission site.


SA to drop entry testing requirements for domestic travellers

South Australian premier, Steven Marshall, has announced the state has dropped any testing requirements for people looking to enter the state.

He also announced that travellers will no longer need to use the EntryCheck SA app, as well as no longer needing a rapid antigen test before entry.

It was not a good use of our resources at the moment, and so the EntryCheck requirement has been removed. The rapid antigen test requirement has been removed.

But we are asking all of those people coming from interstate into South Australia to observe exactly the same situation that we require of all South Australians, and that is to monitor their symptoms and to take action should they develop any symptoms.


SA records 2,093 new cases, four deaths

South Australia has reported another record daily increase in case numbers, reporting 2,093 new cases overnight.

Sadly, four deaths were reported.

There are now 44 people in hospital with the virus, with four in ICU.

South Australian premier, Steven Marshall, said the jump in case numbers was “in line with the very steep increases we’re seeing across the country”.

It is a further increase on yesterday, and obviously this would seem to be linked to activities that occurred on or around Christmas Day.

This is one of the reasons why we had to move very, very quickly on Boxing Day to try to slow the growth, the exponential growth, of positive cases here in our state because we know that many of those people ultimately end up in hospital and in ICU.


Foley has continued, saying that RATs should be widely available and free, and seemingly taking a swipe at the federal government for refusing to do anything about the shortage:

We prioritise those that are most at risk in the community, and we’ll work though those that are most at risk in the economy, the healthcare system.

… $10, $15, $20, sometimes $25 a pop is prohibitive for many families. And we think there’s a really important role for government to lead and to partner with the wider community in the provision of the tests.

We think they should be free. We think they should be widely available.


Foley says there is a national shortage of RATs

Foley has addressed the discussions around rapid antigen tests today, acknowledging there is a “national shortage” of the tests, and that they are hard to get, regardless of government procurement.

The Victorian health minister is being peppered with questions about the tests, saying he feels for those trying to get their hands on the tests. He says free and accessible tests are important in a pandemic response.

I know the private sector is equally procuring record amounts, and we’ll work closely with all parts of the community to get those rapid antigen tests out as a pillar of our testing system heading into the future.

Victorians have come to I think rightly see testing as a key part of ongoing public health response. Free testing is a critical part of that.

But at the moment we are really facing some challenges right across the country. And we’ll work through those challenges as quickly as we can whilst acknowledging the frustrations that that is creating for families and Victorians for a while.


Queensland records 3,118 new cases

Queensland has seen a huge jump in case numbers, reporting 3,118 new cases overnight.

A man in his 50s is in the ICU with the Delta variant.

There are now 11,697 active cases in the state.


Weimar says some Melbourne testing sites to close due to heat

Victoria’s Covid-19 commander, Jeroen Weimar, has warned that the severe heat Melbourne is facing today and tomorrow will affect health staff taking PCR tests, and has asked people to avoid getting tested if possible.

He said authorities are doing a “site by site assessment” in light of the forecast heatwave, with temperatures in Melbourne looking to peak at 38C today.

We’re expecting to peak temperatures of 38 degrees in Melbourne and in other parts of the state.

As a result of course, we are doing a site by site assessment of our testing system where we particularly have outdoor testing facilities. We are closing some of those sites as the temperature in those parts starts to rise.

You’ll appreciate of course that our staff have been out there for weeks and months on end … in full PPE, and the temperature in our outdoor testing tents is increasingly 10 degrees above the ambient temperature outside. Equally we do not want to see people waiting for long hours in cars in exceptionally hot weather.

So please, you only need to get a PCR if you have symptoms or if you have tested positive on a rapid antigen test.

A drive-through Covid-19 testing site in Melbourne’s Albert Park.
A drive-through Covid-19 testing site in Melbourne’s Albert Park.
Photograph: Con Chronis/EPA


Cricket Australia has released a statement which outlines that batter Travis Head will remain in Melbourne, and that he will not be available for the fourth test:

Australian batsman Travis Head has tested positive to Covid-19 following a routine PCR test.

Head is asymptomatic and will remain in Melbourne and isolate with his partner for seven days in line with Victorian Government Health requirements.

He will be unavailable for selection for the fourth Vodafone men’s Ashes Test, starting at the SCG on January 5.

The remainder of the Australian squad, their families and the support staff have undergone PCR and RAT tests this morning.

Both the Australian and England squads are expected to separately travel to Sydney as planned today.

As a precautionary measure Mitchell Marsh, Nic Maddinson and Josh Inglis have joined the Australian squad as additional cover.


Foley says a third of cases in Victoria are Omicron

Victorian health minister Martin Foley has stepped up for the daily Covid update, and has said that roughly a third of new cases in the state have contracted the Omicron variant.

He says he expects the new variant will become the vast majority of cases in the “near future”.

The minister also confirmed that the state had adopted the new close contact definition set out after national cabinet yesterday.


CA confirms Travis Head has tested positive

Building on the below reports, Cricket Australia have confirmed that batter Travis Head has tested positive.

Mitch Marsh, Nic Maddinson and Josh Inglis have been added to the squad in the interim.

In a statement, CA have said Head is asymptomatic and that they hope he will be available for the fifth test:

As part of our testing procedures, we are PCR testing players, their families and our support staff daily.

Unfortunately, Travis returned a positive Covid-19 result earlier today.

Thankfully, he is asymptomatic at this stage. We anticipate that he will be available to play in the fifth Vodafone men’s Ashes Test in Hobart.

We are grateful to our exceptional medical staff for all the work they have done throughout this series and we will continue to work with and support the players, their families and staff from both teams.


Reports are emerging of an Australian batter testing positive, meaning the virus has now infected both Ashes camps in the lead up to game four.

The Australian is reporting the Australian side have delayed their flight to Sydney amid reports of the diagnosis.

The flight was due at 12.35pm, but has been delayed as authorities scramble to work out if other players have been infected.

The English side has already seen seven positive cases among their camp.

It comes after reports of 14 cases among the Melbourne Stars team.

Chant says actual case numbers likely to be higher than reported

NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant has given a video update, and said that while case numbers are currently very high, it is “likely” actual case numbers are higher:

Whilst we’re reporting 21,151 cases in the community, it is likely that the case numbers are higher than that.

There is a lot of transmission of Covid occurring in our community and so the risk of transmission and acquiring Covid is high.


NSW Health updates hospitalisation figures

NSW Health has deleted and re-uploaded their Covid figures this morning, changing the number of people in hospital.

The initial figure had it at 763 in hospital, which represented a small jump over yesterday’s numbers.

But the updated number is 832, a significant jump in hospitalisations.

The number of hospitalisations yesterday was 747, which means there were 85 new hospitalisations overnight, not the initially reported 16.

NSW Health has tweeted the latest figure without providing any comment on the issue, so it is unclear where the mixup comes from.


Lastly, this is what the AHPPC recommended about isolation and quarantine requirements “in a high case-load environment”:

In a high case-load environment, there is a need for a modified, risk-based approach to quarantine and isolation settings. AHPPC advises that the isolation period for Covid-19 cases should be standardised regardless of vaccination status to a length of 7 days.

Household contacts or those identified as being at risk of significant transmission should quarantine for 7 days after last exposure to a case regardless of vaccination status and then, subject to a negative test on day 6, monitor for symptoms for a further 7 days and repeat testing if these occur. Other contacts who have been potentially exposed to a case but who are at lower risk of infection should monitor for symptoms and have RAT or PCR test if these occur.

All contacts should wear a mask when outside home, monitor symptoms and avoid visiting high risk settings for 14 days following exposure to reduce their risk of transmission to others. If RAT tests are positive, these should be followed by a positive PCR test to confirm the diagnosis.

You can read the full statement here.


The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) says the existing settings for testing were “placing considerable pressure on available laboratory resources”. Its statement says:

In a higher caseload environment where resources are strained, public health resources and clinical vigilance need to be directed to identification of cases most at risk of infection and/or severe disease, and settings where there are people at risk of severe disease.

And here’s what the AHPPC says about the management of contacts of Covid-19 cases (note it goes beyond household contacts to allow for possibility of workplace contacts if there’s a high transmission event):

Detailed follow up of individual cases and identification of all individuals with whom they have been in contact is not possible with high caseloads. Given significant levels of population exposure and consequent disruption to social and business functioning, it is also not desirable if large numbers of contacts are quarantined. Therefore, household or household-like contacts are the key group who should be required to quarantine as these individuals are the most likely to develop disease.

These will be defined, except in exceptional circumstances, as those who usually live with or who have stayed in the same household as a case during their infectious period …

In addition, where a significant transmission event has been documented those who were at this site or venue may be determined to be close contacts. This may include worksites.

The advice further adds:

There is still risk of transmission based on the nature of exposure for other contacts (such as in social, educational or workplace settings) who have had less extensive exposure to a case … This group will not be required to quarantine, except in exceptional circumstances, and may be required to undertake other behaviours to decrease their risk of transmission to others.

The AHPPC also says that for the effective control of outbreaks, “different management approaches will be needed for contacts in closed, high-transmission settings”, particularly where vulnerable individuals are concerned, such as residential aged care facilities and remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.


AHPPC says changes to testing, tracing, isolating and quarantining are ‘pragmatic’

The health advice that went to national cabinet yesterday argues the changes to testing and close contact definitions are “pragmatic” in “a high case environment and the living with Covid policy approach”.

A statement by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) – which brings together all state and territory chief health officers and is chaired by Australia’s chief medical officer, Prof Paul Kelly – was published overnight. It includes a lot more nuance than Morrison’s comments at the post-national cabinet press conference.

It is also interesting how the expert health panel justifies the changes, pointing to issues with community adherence and economic recovery. The AHPPC notes “current and expected future high caseloads necessitate a change in public health actions including policies and processes for test, trace, isolate and quarantine (TTIQ) to support public health sustainability, social cohesion and economic recovery”.

The advice says the effectiveness of TTIQ declines as case numbers in Australia increase:

The AHPPC acknowledges that public health efforts may not identify considerable numbers of cases and may not manage a significant proportion of the transmission risk. Public health efforts will be required to focus on highest risk and rely on individuals and workplaces to manage their own risk.

Consequently, the AHPPC stresses that the proposed changes will likely limit the ability of TTIQ to suppress transmission of COVID-19 at a population level but taking a focused outbreak approach can reduce the impact on the most vulnerable in our community.


Welfare recipients should get free access to rapid antigen tests, according to the Australian Council of Social Service, which has branded the federal government’s failure so far to adopt such a measure as “irresponsible and callous”.

The prime minister, Scott Morrison, said yesterday the government would not be making the rapid tests free, though he said “concessional” arrangements for those on low incomes and pensioners were being worked on. He did not give further details.

The Acoss president Peter McNamara said on Friday:

We are very concerned that people relying on income support payments just can’t afford $70 for a rapid antigen test kit, leaving them unable to assess their risk from Covid-19 for themselves, their families and the community.

It is irresponsible and callous of the federal government to fail to make provision for up to three million people already struggling to survive below the poverty line. Especially when we have evidence that people living in the lowest socioeconomic group have experienced almost four times as many Covid-19 deaths as people in the highest income group.

We know that the hardest hit by Covid-19 and all variants are people who are homeless, people with disabilities, First Nations people, especially those who live remotely, the elderly [and] single parent households.

McNamara also called for “greater clarity of information from the NSW and Victorian governments” on how people in these states can access free rapid antigen tests.

Those states initially said they would provide rapid tests for free, but were contradicted by Morrison’s announcement yesterday that no such policy would be adopted.


The Omicron variant has “created a significant speed bump for the economy” due to problems with testing and staff shortages, BIS Oxford Economics’ chief economist for Australia, Sarah Hunter, says.

But she says the rollout of vaccines and boosters means health outcomes are a lot better than last year and the chances of a return to hard lockdowns has been reduced.

“The reintroduction of some rules and restrictions will weigh on consumer spending,” Hunter said.

The challenges around test results and travel is a very tangible example of this, and some people may not feel comfortable going to settings that are likely to be crowded.

We’re also starting to see the impact on some businesses, where staff shortages are being created because individuals are having to go into isolation due to contracting Covid or being a close contact.

She said similar effects have been felt in the UK and Europe, where countries have been forced to relax isolation rules to keep essential services including healthcare and the food supply operating.

Despite soaring case numbers globally, very few countries have had to revert to a hard lockdown to protect their healthcare system, and so the drag on the economy will be much less pronounced than earlier in the pandemic.

… The vaccine is also a key reason why consumers and businesses feel more confident about the outlook. The protection it provides gives people confidence to at least start to return to normal, through increased travel, spending on services etc, and this response will also be a critical driver of positive momentum through the first few months of 2022.


Testing sites in SA close due to extreme heat

Sixteen testing sites across South Australia have had to shut down for part of the day today due to severe heat.

A number of metropolitan sites will be closed for a majority of the day, opening between 6.30am and 10.30am, and then again between 5.30pm and 8.30pm. These hours are expected to remain the same on Saturday as the heat persists.

The temperature is forecast to hit 39C on Friday and 37C on Saturday. With the state maintaining its reliance on PCR tests, these reduced hours will no doubt affect wait times at testing sites.


Tasmania records 137 new cases

Tasmania has set a new record for daily cases, reporting 137 new infections overnight.

There are currently 520 active cases in the state, with zero patients currently in ICU with the virus.

Health program director at Grattan Institute, Stephen Duckett, was on Sky News this morning, and labelled the federal government’s move to redefine a close contact as a “political decision”, not a public health decision.

Duckett said the changes had “nothing” to do with transmissibility, and everything to do with “managing PCR testing facilities”:

The reason they chose to change the definition of a close contact was nothing to do with transmissibility.

In fact it’s the reverse of what should have been done if you’re worried about transmission.

Omicron is more transmissible, not less transmissible, it’s more transmissible than Delta.

What it was about was managing the PCR testing facilities; in my case I waited in line longer than I had been exposed.

So it was entirely about managing the testing. Nothing about the risk to the whole population.


China’s foreign ministry has responded to reports that the Australian Department of Defence has not recommended scrapping a Chinese company’s long-term lease over the Port of Darwin.

Earlier this week, the Australian newspaper reported that a Defence review had found there were no national security grounds sufficient to recommend a government intervention to overturn the 99-year lease to Chinese company Landbridge. The newspaper reported the cabinet’s national security committee had not yet taken any action, because there was no formal recommendation from Defence for a national security intervention, but the Morrison government was still reviewing the matter.

The Australian government has yet to formally confirm the outcome. But when asked about the report, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, told a regular press conference in Beijing overnight:

“The economic and trade cooperation between China and Australia is mutually beneficial and win-win in nature. The Chinese government encourages Chinese enterprises to conduct investment cooperation overseas in line with market principles, international rules and local laws.

“Australia should stop overstretching the concept of national security and provide a fair and non-discriminatory business environment for Chinese enterprises operating in the country.”

In response to another question about closer cooperation between Australia and Japan, including over China’s growing military pressure against Taiwan, Zhao told the press conference: “What we need in the Pacific is the joint efforts of countries in the region to uphold peace, not attempts to drum up the so-called ‘threat’ theories or stir up trouble. All moves against the tide are doomed to fail.”


Queensland police: Don’t party too hard tonight

Talk about party poopers.

Queensland police acting chief superintendent Chris Stream was on the Today show on Channel 9 this morning, urging NYE revellers to go easy tonight.

“Don’t party too much – it’s been a hard year for many people,” he said, paradoxically.

Plan ahead. Watch your alcohol consumption in relation to the Covid-safe deployments.

We ask you to maintain masks and physical distancing.

If you’re going to areas and it’s crowded and you can’t physically distance, look for another area.

Yesterday, NSW police took a similar stance, saying they will be launching their usual crowd control operation, and will be monitoring “responsible activity on the road”.

NSW police minister Paul Toole yesterday said police would be “out in force”:

Police will be out in force on our roads and at events, not just in Sydney, but right across the state to make sure everyone rings in the new year safely.


In some perhaps mildly positive news, the South African government has announced overnight that the country has “passed its Omicron peak”.

The New York Times is reporting the South African Medical Research Council saying the peak of cases took four weeks, and began declining in two weeks.

Fareed Abdullah, from the council, said its speed was “staggering”.

The speed with which the Omicron-driven fourth wave rose, peaked and then declined has been staggering.

Peak in four weeks and precipitous decline in another two. This Omicron wave is over in the city of Tshwane. It was a flash flood more than a wave.

He said the rise in deaths over that period was small, and in the last week was “marginal”.

Now obviously, there are many, many caveats to add to this, including differences in vaccine uptake, infectious spread, government policy and so on, but there is at least some light somewhere in the world.

It is also worth pointing out that the Omicron variant’s spread in South Africa preceded Australia’s, peaking at more than 23,000 cases a day in mid-December.

But cases have been falling for two weeks, currently averaging 11,500 cases a day.


I would like to break up the pretty bad news with someone pulling a wheelie at a press conference yesterday:

I have to agree, more wheelies at press conferences please.


Adding to those numbers, I wanted to list here the hospitalisations.

NSW reported another 16 hospitalisations overnight, with 69 people currently in the ICU.

Victoria reported 32 hospitalisations overnight, with 54 people still in ICU.


Victoria records 5,919 new cases and seven deaths

Victoria has also reported an increase in case numbers, this time reporting 5,919 new cases – up from 5,137 yesterday.

Sadly, seven people died overnight.


NSW reports record 21,151 new Covid cases and six deaths

Another daily record for NSW, and another significant jump in Covid cases, with 21,151 locally acquired infections overnight.

There was also a jump in deaths, with six people sadly losing their lives.


South Australia refuses to adopt new close contact definition

So, it appears South Australia will resist the changes to the definition of close contact the national cabinet agreed to yesterday.

In a Facebook post earlier this morning, the premier, Steven Marshall, lays out his government’s definition of close contacts. Marshall says a close contact will be a:

  • Household and household-like contacts and intimate partners.
  • Those who have been in a setting where there has been significant transmission of Covid-19 (and there has been greater than 15 minutes face-to-face contact).
  • Those in high-risk communities/settings/workplaces where someone has tested positive to Covid-19 (and there has been greater than 15 minutes of face-to-face contact).

That is different to the definition introduced by Morrison, under which a close contact is someone who lives with or has been in a “household-like” situation with a confirmed Covid-19 case for at least four hours.

Marshall also refused to drop the reliance on PCR tests, saying close contacts will still need to get an “initial” PCR test and another one on day 6, or “immediately if symptoms develop”.

Yesterday, Morrison had said a RAT was enough for close contacts to be able to tell if they were still positive or not.

South Australia joins Western Australia as seemingly the only two states refusing to adopt the new changes.


So, I wanted to just zero in on the conversations surrounding rapid antigen tests this morning.

Chief executive of Pathology Technology Australia, Dean Whiting, told the Guardian all providers want is clarity.

It doesn’t matter to us whether they’re free, subsidised or other some other thing.

What we as an industry have been more concerned about is having a clear role for rapid testing in managing infections, in keeping the economy going and in keeping people safe.

In a sense I don’t think we really care if they are free or not in terms of supply of the tests, as long as there is a clear position from governments on the role of the tests. The industry doesn’t have a position because we sell to the government for market price and we don’t care if they are free or not.

I am on the record saying that if they were free it would improve access and equity in testing and access to tests. But that isn’t a point about market supply.

President of the Pharmacy Guild, Trent Twomey, also told the Guardian they had not been lobbying:

So our representation to them [the federal government] has always been that there needs to be a hybrid system, because it may only be $10 or $15 a test and yes, that may be a lot cheaper than a PCR test.

But $10 or $15 per person per household twice in a seven-day period is still not affordable for some low-income earners.

This, of course, all comes after Scott Morrison told reporters yesterday the reason RATs aren’t free is due to suppliers’ “concerns.”

You can read more on this with reporting from Michael McGowan, Ben Butler and Luke Henriques-Gomes at the link below:


Good morning

Good morning and happy New Year’s Eve to all. Mostafa Rachwani here with you to take you through the morning’s news.

We begin with the prime minister Scott Morrison, who yesterday announced changes to the definition of close contacts after a national cabinet meeting. The changes include shortening isolation periods for positive cases and restricting close contacts to someone who has been with a confirmed case in a home-like setting for more than four hours.

The changes became active from midnight last night, with thousands now free to leave isolation. The new definition comes with a new standard for testing so that close contacts need to only get a rapid antigen test, with the hopes this will ease congestion on PCR testing sites.

It comes after Morrison refused to provide rapid antigen tests for free to the general public, citing concerns by suppliers.

But industry groups have denied pressuring federal and state authorities to abandon a commitment to provide free kits.

More than 21,300 new Covid cases were reported yesterday across Australia, a new daily record for the country, with multiple states reporting record numbers.

Meanwhile, New Year’s Eve plans appear to be going ahead in major cities, with some authorities in Melbourne and Sydney encouraging revellers to come out for the occasion, in spite of surging case numbers.

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