Victoria and Queensland relax mask rules as Omicron peak passes


Mask rules are set to be relaxed in Australia’s three biggest states, with authorities also considering removing isolation requirements for household contacts of Covid-19 cases as part of a “big shift” towards living with the virus.

The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, announced that from 11:59pm on Friday, the public health recommendation for Victorians to work or study from home will be removed and masks will only be required in certain settings including public transport, hospitals and primary schools, and for workers in hospitality, retail and large events.

It aligns with a similar plan which will take effect in New South Wales from Friday.

“We’re going to a situation on Friday where there are essentially no Covid rules, or so few that it’s unrecognisable to what it was a year ago, and indeed what it was two years ago,” Andrews said on Tuesday.

The Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, also said her government would relax the requirement to wear masks in most indoor settings, from 6pm on 4 March.

She told parliament the state was now confident that the peak of the Omicron wave had passed.

Australia to reopen borders to international travel


Australia has announced the reopening of its borders to vaccinated tourists and other visa holders for the first time in almost two years.

“If you’re double vaccinated, we look forward to welcoming you back,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

The reopening, on 21 February, will be welcome news for many sectors including international education.

Australia has had some of the world’s strictest border controls throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

In March 2020, the government closed the borders. It barred most foreigners from entering the country and put caps on total arrivals to help combat Covid.

Some international students and skilled migrants have been permitted to enter the country since last December.

Welcome to 2022, the year this pandemic ends


In 2022, the COVID-19 pandemic will end. Driven by the inexorable, inevitable spread of the Omicron variant and the use of vaccines, the global population will generate immunity to this virus.

The basic proposition of a pandemic, an infectious disease spreading globally among an infection-naive population, will be void. We will live our lives again as part of the incredibly social and incurably optimistic human species that thrives on this planet and has emerged from countless pandemics over history stronger and more capable of managing the next.

With a significant contribution from Australian science, COVID-19 is now the most treatable respiratory virus known to man. The case-to-fatality ratio of Omicron is likely to be less than that of influenza, and not a particularly bad flu at that. That will allow us to release all but the least intrusive of restrictions.

Most critically, this means we can leave behind any policy that impacts upon a child’s education in the name of COVID-19 control. It means our adolescents and young adults will be free to associate, to travel the nation and the world, and any restriction to that liberty will arise in only the most dire threat to our health. Such a threat grows more and more improbable by the day.

In light of our community success, the evolution of the virus to a milder form and effective new treatments, the time for mandates and whole-of-community restrictions is therefore over. The case for fear of COVID-19 is now restricted largely to the social media platform of Twitter.

2022 will be the year the pandemic ends. It could even be sooner than we think.

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Australian Government says Omicron COVID variant appears ‘manageable’, border pause only temporary


Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt says the government’s “overwhelming view” is that the Omicron variant is “manageable” and that advice is that it may be milder than other variants.

Mr Hunt said the government’s decision to pause planned easing of border restrictions for international students and other eligible visa holders was done out of an “abundance of caution”.

Wednesday’s planned partial border reopening has been pushed back until December 15.

“All of this is done on the presumption that we will recommence from 15 December, but medical advice will guide our decision-making throughout,” Mr Hunt said.

“We’re doing this out of an abundance of caution but our overwhelming view is that while it’s an emerging variant, it’s a manageable variant.”

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said the five people who had tested positive to the Omicron variant in Australia were experiencing “mild or, in fact, no disease”.

However, he said, there were still many unknowns about the variant.

Australia hits 80% vaccination target


Australia has passed another vaccine milestone, with more than 80 per cent of residents over 16 now fully vaccinated against coronavirus, as Victoria recorded 1268 new cases and seven deaths from the virus.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison thanked those who had been involved in the “extraordinary effort” to drive up the vaccination rate, saying it will allow the country to remain safely open.

“That’s four out of every five [Australians vaccinated]. How good is that?” he said in a video posted to Facebook.

“This has been a true national effort: in cities and suburbs and towns, in hospitals and pharmacies, in aged care facilities, disability homes.

“Australians haven’t just kept themselves safe, we’ve kept each other safe over these two years. I know it’s felt like a long journey, and that’s because it has been. But together, we’ve saved well over 30,000 lives.”

Around 36 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have now been administered across the country.

Returning Australians touch down in Sydney as COVID-19 restrictions on international flights are eased


Tearful reunions have returned at Sydney Airport for the first time in 20 months with landing Australians able to hug relieved family and friends waiting to greet them.

From this morning, hotel quarantine and the cap on arrivals have been scrapped for fully vaccinated travellers.

Fourteen international flights are expected to land in Sydney today.

One of the first passengers to land was desperate to see his sick mother.

“I am really scared and emotional because I really want to see my mum because the doctors say she hasn’t got long,” he told reporters.

Passengers are required to take a COVID-19 test before boarding and again upon landing.

Priority has been given to Australian citizens and permanent residents and their immediate families.

The borders are not yet open to overseas tourists and international students.

“Today Sydney has reopened Australia to the world,” NSW Jobs, Investment and Tourism Minister Stuart Ayres said.

“It is so great to be here in the arrivals hall seeing the smiles on people’s faces, the heartfelt, warm embraces of family members reuniting for the first time in many months.”

Melbourne bids farewell to COVID-19 lockdown and the controversial curfew


Victoria has finally downed one of the bluntest and most controversial public health tools used during the pandemic.

As of today, the lockdown has lifted from Melbourne, and along with it, the curfew.

There are hopes the measures will not be needed again any time soon in a highly vaccinated population.

With the eased restrictions come a raft of returned freedoms, including dine-in hospitality, more outdoor activities and limited household visits.

Counts of days spent under lockdown vary, but most find Melburnians have now spent the longest period under COVID-19 lockdown as any city in the world.

But while the usefulness of lockdown in curbing movement and preventing a catastrophic overwhelming of health systems has been broadly accepted, the curfew has remained a controversial measure.

Western Sydney residents enjoy ‘Freedom Day’ after months of harsher lockdown restrictions


They’ve suffered more than most during NSW’s lockdown, but excited Western Sydney residents have today been out in force, enjoying their new freedoms.

After 106 days in lockdown, queues of shoppers counted down the final minutes of the Sydney lockdown while waiting in line outside Kmart stores in Casula and Mount Druitt.

Retail shops, restaurants, pubs and hairdressers were permitted to reopen on the stroke of midnight to customers fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Subjected to harsher restrictions than the rest of Sydney, residents of the 12 local government areas (LGAs) of concern endured nighttime curfews and strict limits on how far they could travel.

NSW Premier Dominic Perottet said the Canterbury-Bankstown area and Western Sydney would continue to be monitored but he hoped today’s reopening conveyed a message of unity.

Queensland records zero local cases of COVID-19, one in hotel quarantine, as state reaches 70% first-dose mark


Queensland has recorded zero locally acquired cases of COVID-19, with just one case detected in hotel quarantine.

It comes after a passenger who flew into Queensland without a valid border pass tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday.

Queensland Health announced the Brisbane Airport as a close contact site over the weekend, after a person from New South Wales landed at the domestic terminal on Saturday morning.

“They’re no risk to the community here, but the airport itself is an exposure site around that gate,” Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said.

Queensland has not recorded a locally acquired cases since October 5, with parts of the state’s south-east and Townsville easing some restrictions last Friday.

There have been 6,825 COVID tests over the past 24 hours, with 21,712 vaccines administered yesterday, meaning Queensland today passed the 70 per cent mark for over-16s who have received their first jab.