The day that was, Wednesday 29 December
Alright, it’s time to wrap up the blog for the day. Here’s what happened:
- It was another day of record Covid figures across Australia, with a total of 18,243 cases.
- NSW recorded 12,201 cases and three deaths; Victoria recorded 3,767 cases and five deaths.
- Queensland recorded 1,589 cases, as state premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced that from 1 Jan, interstate arrivals would not require a PCR test for entry but a negative rapid antigen test result would suffice.
- SA recorded 1,472 new Covid cases, with premier Steven Marshall announcing a reduction in elective surgery, and that the state would no longer conduct pre-departure PCR tests for interstate travellers.
- The ACT recorded 138 cases, Tasmania 55, the NT 19, while two community cases were recorded in WA.
- Prime minister Scott Morrison brought forward the planned national cabinet meeting to tomorrow, in light of the growing Omicron epidemic.
- Pathologists warned Australian laboratories were “running at capacity”, while the Australian Medical Association’s vice president, Dr Chris Moy, said the peak body had asked the government for a testing plan when it announced the country was opening up.
Ciao for now!
An update on the Perth hills bushfire, from AAP:
A bushfire in the Perth hills has been controlled and an evacuation order has been downgraded to watch and act.
The blaze is burning within containment lines in High Wycombe, 18km northeast of the city, at the foot of the hills and close to Perth Airport.
“There is a possible threat to lives and homes as a fire is approaching in the area and conditions are changing,” the updated warning issued on Wednesday afternoon said.
An earlier emergency warning had instructed residents in the path of a bushfire to leave, with homes under threat.
A run on rapid antigen tests (RATs) in chemists and supermarkets across Australia has left governments scrambling for supplies as they seek to change the way people get tested for Covid.
RATs have been available in the US, Europe and parts of Asia since March this year, but the Australian testing regime has relied on the more expensive PCR tests as its program’s cornerstone.
Now, as case numbers surge and the system comes under increasing strain, state and federal governments have sought to promote RATs as an intermediate step before people join a queue to be tested.
In response, RATs have been flying off shelves in supermarkets and pharmacies, raising concerns about a lack of supply.
Read the full story:
Summer heat predicted to round out 2021
It’s hard to believe it’s only two years since much of eastern NSW and Victoria was blackened by the huge bushfires of the 2019-20 Black Summer (which actually began in the spring, but that’s a quibble).
Anyway, parts of the south-east will get a blast of summer heat to round out 2021 and usher in the New Year. The Bureau of Meteorology is already putting out a few warnings:
Bom has highlighted a heatwave will build in coming days.
Melbourne, for instance, is in line for 38C on Friday for New Year’s Eve, which would make it the second-hottest day of 2021 for that city, if that prediction is reached. January 1 won’t be much cooler, with a 23C minimum before a 36C maximum for the Victorian capital.
Adelaide is also in the hot zone, with a string of 36, 38 and 37C days, starting tomorrow.
Bushfire risks will be elevated in both SA and Victoria, reviving memories of the big blazes from a couple of years ago for more than a few.
Residents in path of Perth bushfire told to evacuate
Residents in the path of a bushfire in the Perth hills have been told to evacuate their homes.
The south-west of WA has experienced a record-breaking heatwave this week, with concerns about the rate at which the region is drying out due to climate change.
The emergency warning was issued for a blaze in High Wycombe, 18km northeast of Perth at the foot of the Darling Scarp and close to Perth Airport.
“You are in danger and need to act immediately to survive. There is a threat to lives and homes,” the warning issued on Wednesday afternoon said.
The fire started near the intersection of Sultana Road West and Smokebush Place east of the airport.
Residents have been warned that leaving at the last minute could be “deadly”.
“If the way is clear, leave now for a safer place,” the warning said.
By about 1pm on Wednesday Perth had reached temperatures of 39.5C.
Summary: Australia’s Covid figures
To recap, 18,243 new cases were recorded in Australia today:
- NSW: 11,201 cases, three deaths
- Victoria: 3,767 cases, five deaths
- Queensland: 1,589
- SA: 1,472
- ACT: 138
- Tasmania: 55
- NT: 19
- WA: two cases
The test positivity rate reported today was 7.1% in NSW, 6.47% in SA, 5.01% in Victoria, and 4.56% in Queensland – the highest they’ve ever been.
To quote NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant from earlier today: “there’s probably more disease in the community than the numbers reflect”.
Across the ditch, New Zealand has reported its first community exposure to the Omicron variant.
The person, who arrived from the United Kingdom earlier this month, tested positive after briefly being active in the community in Auckland.
Australia’s share market has risen to its highest level in more than three and a half months, according to AAP. The ASX 200 closed 1.21% higher at 7509.8 points.
The rise “has been helped by a broad-based rally across sectors as investors largely ignored a surge in Omicron coronavirus cases locally and overseas.”
So that’s good news, I guess.
A Covid update from SA Health. The figure reported at the press conference this morning was 1,471 new Covid cases in the state, but this appears to have been revised to 1,472 cases.
Here’s Adrian Esterman, a professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at the University of South Australia, on the situation in Queensland:
And on the NT:
As a reminder, the Reff – the effective reproduction number – gives an estimate of the number of people an infected person will pass Covid on to, on average.
We’ve been hearing a lot about ridiculously long testing queues over the past week. Our video team has collated some footage from around the country. Take a look:
It’s been a tough two years for the arts, with no sign of reprieve anytime soon, unfortunately.
Elissa Blake has been reporting on Covid sweeping through the casts of musical theatre shows in Sydney and Melbourne, with major live productions forced to cancel performances.
At least 90 performers have tested positive to the highly infectious virus and whole companies have been forced into isolation.
Here’s the story:
Here’s a summary of today’s Western Australia Covid update:
- Two new locally acquired cases were recorded overnight, from 4,352 tests. That brings the state to 25 active cases currently.
- The first case is a known close contact of the French backpacker and already in quarantine. The second case is yet to be interviewed by contact tracers.
- WA Health has identified 704 new close contacts (54 yet to be tested) and 1,260 casual contacts (214 yet to be tested).
Economists watching for signs of Omicron impact
Just a couple of weeks ago, there was every reason to expect Australia’s economy in 2022 would be booming, with the peak nicely aligning with the likely federal election period.
The Omicron variant had just landed in the country, though, and posed only a cloud on the horizon at that point.
By mid-December, though, modelling indicated NSW alone might be recording 25,000 Covid-19 cases a day by the end of January. On that day, the state registered 1,360 new cases, making the prediction seem a bit of a stretch.
That was then. With 11,000-plus daily cases reported today, that 25,000-figure might not be far away given the lag in testing and receiving results, and the limits on how many people can get tested because of holiday curbs and staff shortages.
Economists had hoped to be among those enjoying the Christmas to New Year’s lull, not least because the main statistics sources, such as the ABS, won’t resume until 10 January.
Now they are among those watching for signs that consumer and business confidence will be dented by disruptions to holiday plans and the fallout that may have on spending in the economy.
The answer, so far, is that it’s too early to tell. Transactional data will take a while to be collected to tell if cancelled holidays just mean the money gets spent closer to home.
Alan Oster, the NAB Group chief economist, noted the market was already bracing for a negative retail sales figure for December compared with the previous month. That was more because of the growing popularity of Black Friday online sales rather than a demand dent from Omicron.
“I would have thought confidence might have had a bit of a hit,” Oster said. “[As for] actual conditions, their sales, their profits, their employment, I suspect less so.
“It will be soft, and people will say it was Omicron but it won’t be – it’ll be the change when people buy from Black Friday rather than Boxing Day sales,” he said.
NAB’s last economic report for 2021, released on 17 December, predicted Australia’s economy would rebound sharply from the 1.9% contraction in the September quarter. The bank is predicting a 4% expansion for Australia’s economy, less than the Reserve Bank of Australia’s 5.5% forecast.
“I’m not sure [Omicron’s] going to change the outcome that much but I would not want to be defending a 5.5 to 6% growth rate in 2022,” Oster said.
“We always assumed that international travel wouldn’t really start at least until the middle of next year,” he said, adding NAB’s other key assumption remains that governments will not lock down borders.
Thanks Cait Kelly. I’ll be here with you for the rest of the day.
In sad news out of Tasmania, 12-year-old Peter Dodt, a victim of the Devonport tragedy, has been remembered by family and friends as a “little hero” who tried to save others caught up in the jumping castle.
Peter was enjoying end-of-year celebrations at Hillcrest Primary School on 16 December when a gust of wind picked up the bouncing castle and several inflatable zorb balls.
AAP has the story:
Peter, one of six who died in the incident, was farewelled at a moving funeral service in Devonport on Wednesday afternoon.
Dozens of people gathered for the service, with bright green balloons adorning the walls along with large photos of Peter.
His cousin Jye Dodt said while Peter was “always up to a little no good”, he was a hero who fought until the end in hospital, which allowed his father to say goodbye.
“Peter was our little hero who was always there to lend a helping hand,” Dodt said.
“Peter had his life taken too soon in a tragic accident … and in typical Peter fashion he was stubborn and fought until the end.
“Turns out he wasn’t only our little hero, but it sounds like he attempted to help the other children on the jumping castle as well.”
A poem written by Peter’s mother Miranda McLaughlin was read out to mourners.
“No words can express the loss that I feel, I’m sure it’s not possibly real. You left behind your heart and soul, never will our hearts feel whole,” the poem said.
“Forever young and free you will be, fly high little man and remember me, love Mum.”
Two boys badly injured in the accident were moved out of intensive care last week after their condition improved from critical to stable.
Funerals for Jalailah Jayne-Maree Jones and Addison Stewart will be held in Devonport on Thursday and Friday.
More than $1.4m has been raised for the families via an online fundraising page, while the federal government has committed $800,000 to counselling and support for the region.
The Devonport city council is collecting countless tributes left outside the school to create a permanent memorial.
The coroner is investigating the circumstances around the accident and will receive reports from Tasmania police and WorkSafe Tasmania.
And that is it for the Western Australia Covid presser. I am going to hand over to Donna Lu to take you through the afternoon.
The premier says:
We have massive orders in for rapid antigen tests for Western Australia. We expect to have 8m by 5 February and we expect to get more after that.