Here are all the latest developments in the coronavirus pandemic in Australia. This is Mostafa Rachwani and it’s Friday 28 August.
Aged care minister under pressure
The federal aged care minister, Richard Colbeck, has continued to face scrutiny over the government’s handling of aged care during the pandemic. The senator has been criticised for the tragic failings in the sector, at one point appearing to turn his back on questions from the Senate floor.
More than 350 aged care residents have died because of the virus, with Labour pursuing the government on the matter when parliament resumed this week.
This came after the royal commission blasted the Morrison government for failing to establish independent monitoring and reporting.
The Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, said in a speech at the National Press Club on Thursday that the sector would need “structural changes” and pointed the blame at for-profit care – but stopped short of saying Labor would end the practice.
Numbers continue to fall in Victoria
The Victorian chief health officer, Prof Brett Sutton, said daily case numbers were “clearly trending in the right direction” but he did not expect the figures to drop below 100 until next week.
Case numbers have fallen to their lowest point since July, with 113 new cases reported on both Thursday and Friday. The state’s death toll now stands at 496, with all 12 deaths on Thursday linked to aged care.
The premier, Daniel Andrews, has yet to outline how the state will ease its lockdown, with restrictions due to expire on 13 September, instead saying the plan will be dependent on the data at the time.
Quarantine hotel inquiry hears of guards misbehaving
Melbourne’s hotel quarantine inquiry continued this week, with details emerging of poor behaviour from security guards and of senior officials saying police should have taken a leading role.
The inquiry, which began last week, heard of security guards re-using personal protective equipment, “hitting on” staff, slipping notes under guests’ doors and intimidating nurses during the program. The inquiry has also heard of concerns from guests about a lack of food and the cleanliness of their rooms.
This comes as a senior staff member at the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions revealed that state authorities had advised against the use of masks and gloves among hotel staff to conserve PPE.
She also outlined that the decision to use private security companies – a key focus on the inquiry – was presented as a “fait accompli”. She said Victoria police had “preferred” that private security guards acted as the “first line of security”.
Schoolies week in Queensland cancelled
The Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, has announced that schoolies – the huge end-of-school celebrations on the Gold Coast – would be cancelled.
The annual bonanza, a right of passage for many high school students, usually attracts thousands of revellers but in 2020 the risk is too high for the state government. Palaszczuk encouraged high school students to still book a holiday with friends but to make it a quiet affair.
The announcement came as the state’s number of active cases rose to 20. The state has introduced limits on people living in the Gold Coast, including restricting the number of people allowed to gather to 10 people.
Church objects to Oxford vaccine
Australian church leaders raised questions about the government’s decision to enter a deal with the University of Oxford to provide Australia with its potential Covid-19 vaccine, if it clears trials.
The religious objections centred on the use of cell-lines from an “electively aborted human foetus” and were outlined in a letter to the prime minister, cosigned by the Catholic archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, the Anglican archbishop of Sydney, Glenn Davies, and the Greek Orthodox archbishop of Australia, Makarios Griniezakis.
The cell-line in question is a well-known cellular “workhorse” and has been used for medical research and vaccine development for decades.
The prime minister rebuffed the church leaders’ objections on Friday, saying on 2SM radio that the cells were cloned from those extracted from the original cell-line. Scott Morrison, a practising Christian, also went on record saying he and his family would be taking the vaccine.
Tasmania extends state of emergency
Finally, Tasmania has extended its state of emergency until the end of October. The current state of emergency was due to expire on Sunday, but the premier, Peter Gutwein, announced the extension on Friday, citing the advice of state health authorities.
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Source: The Guardian