Barton Deakin Brief: COVID-19 National Update

Date: Nov 2020

COVID-19 National Update

18 November 2020

Overview

As of 19 November, there have been 9,498,046 tests for COVID-19 carried out in Australia. Of these, 0.3% were positive and 99.7% were negative.

As of 19 November, there have been 27,777 total cases. Of these, 25,328 have recovered.  There are an estimated 93 active cases in Australia.

There have been 907 deaths attributed to COVID-19.

To see the latest updates on the growing outbreak in South Australia, click here.

 

Commonwealth

The National Cabinet met for the 31st time on 13 November to discuss the ongoing recovery phase of the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia.  On the agenda were international travel caps, interstate border closures, a national vaccination policy including production and rollout, the review into contact tracing carried out by Australian Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel and the findings of the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements.

Seven of the eight states and territories reaffirmed their commitment to reopening by Christmas.  Western Australia continues to express reservations about the reopening roadmap.  Dr Finkel has identified additional epidemiological metrics to ensure transparency and clarity about the performance of each State and Territory in managing the virus as jurisdictions reopen.

Queensland will increase its arrival cap by 150. In the coming week the Prime Minister will discuss reopening Victoria to international arrivals with Premier Andrews.  At this stage there is no Government plan to return international students to Australia, with the Prime Minister citing the priority to return Australians first.  The Prime Minister reaffirmed that hotel quarantine for international arrivals will be mandatory for as long as the risk remains high in the rest of the world. States and territories will move from daily accounting to weekly accounting of arrivals to allow for some days of fewer arrivals to be made up on other days in the week.  Repatriation remains a significant challenge for the Federal Government, with around 35,600 Australians in the queue to return to Australia.  This number has grown by around 10,900 since the last meeting of National Cabinet.  The Prime Minister reported that 414,000 Australians had returned to Australia on commercial flights since the beginning of the pandemic.

Following the recent outbreak, South Australia has suspended all inbound international flights to ensure the state can meet the local quarantine requirements.

A national vaccination policy has been made public and endorsed by the National Cabinet.  It details the strategy for producing and distributing the vaccine, which will require the joint participation of the states and the Commonwealth.  There are currently four vaccine candidates of which Australia has advanced purchases for 134 million doses.  Professor Kelly welcomed the good results for the Pfizer vaccine and recognised that the AstraZenenca and University of Queensland vaccine candidates also show promise.  The nature and efficacy of the vaccine will bear strongly on the policy priorities, however Professor Kelly confirmed that vulnerable people, carers of vulnerable people and those in settings that see high rates of transmission will be of higher priority.  Professor Kelly stressed that the vaccine would be subject to all regulatory and safety requirements before it was rolled out and applauded Australians’ previous strong uptake of vaccines.

National Cabinet received and adopted all of the recommendations in Dr Finkel’s review of the nation’s contact tracing systems.  The review examined the public health measures and contact tracing systems in all Australian jurisdictions and concluded that there is good reason to be confident in all states’ and territories’ ability to manage the virus.  Dr Finkel suggested that states and territories carry out more frequent and more efficient computer simulations of outbreaks to test the robustness of the measures in place.  He also recommended a digital exchange of information to facilitate swapping of contact tracing data as people increasingly move between jurisdictions.  Dr Finkel emphasised that this would be a “light touch” system that opens the communication pathway between states and territories to share information.  He stressed that no storage or data reconciliation would be required, ensuring strong privacy protection.  It is unlikely that the system will require a legislative instrument, however it must comply with existing State and Federal privacy and data sharing laws.

The Prime Minister tabled the final report from the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements and acknowledged that there are good existing practical arrangements between the states and the Commonwealth.  The Report details how some of these arrangements can be improved, but those improvements should not interrupt the strong existing arrangements.

New South Wales

Premier Berejiklian announced on 19 November that special health orders will be in place to accommodate New Year’s Eve celebrations. Up to 3,000 will be able to attend outdoor events, provided that they comply with specific regulations. Anyone travelling to Sydney to visit family and friends at this time will be required to carry a permit.

On 17 November the NSW Treasurer, the Hon. Dominic Perrottet MP handed down the 2020/21 NSW State Budget which focussed on responding to COVID-19, rebuilding the NSW economy and communities including in the state’s regions and as well as jobs and securing  the state’s economic future.

From 19 October individuals diagnosed with COVID-19 have been directed by the Minister for Health and Medical Research, the Hon. Brad Hazzard MP, to self-quarantine at their place of residence. COVID-19 patients are compelled to provide the Chief Health Officer (CHO) with personal contact details including all contacts and places visited in the 28 days before diagnosis. Close contacts of confirmed cases can be directed to self-isolate for 14 days unless there is a written exemption from the Minister or CHO.

Since 16 October travellers from New Zealand entering New South Wales have not been subject to quarantine restrictions. Travellers from New Zealand can be required to self-quarantine if they have been in a New Zealand COVID-19 hot spot in the previous 14 days or have been assessed to be an unacceptable transmission risk by the CHO.

The NSW Government announced that the border with Victoria will reopen on 23 November, signalling the first free movement of people between the two states since early July.  This announcement follows weeks of near-zero community transmission of COVID-19 in both states, with the majority of new cases occurring in NSW’s hotel quarantine program. Tasmania has also opened its borders to NSW following an announcement from the Tasmanian Premier Gutwein on 3 November.

The NSW border with South Australia remains open at this stage, however non-essential travel has been discouraged.

Premier Berejiklian has repeatedly requested that other states open their borders by Christmas to allow for interstate familial festivities and economic reconnection.  On 3 November the Queensland Government allowed travellers from regional NSW only to travel across the border without quarantine, labelling 32 greater Sydney Local Government Areas as COVID-19 hotspots. The border zone between border towns in NSW and Queensland has been removed.

The NSW Government has relaxed public health restrictions on gatherings and movement.  The NSW Government is encouraging alfresco dining and other forms of compromise between supporting local businesses and remaining vigilant with the COVID-19 virus.  The requirement of a COVID-19 Safety Plan and registration as a COVID-Safe business is still mandatory.  Penalties for breeching Public Health Orders can be as much as $55,000, with a further $27,000 for each day an offense continues.

The following guidelines are in place for hospitality venues:

  • Maximum of 30 customers per booking and 30 customers per table at venues;
  • Corporate functions of up to 300 people at appropriate premises (subject to a COVID-Safe plan);
  • QR codes are mandatory across all food and retail businesses in NSW as of 23 November (either a unique code or one registered with the Service NSW app); and
  • Maximum capacity for patrons is 300, or the number allowable by one customer per 4 square metres indoors and one customer per 2 square metres outdoors.

The following guidelines are in place for beaches and parklands in NSW:

  • At beaches, one towel length (1.5m) is required between individuals;
  • More sets of flags will be set up on patrolled beaches;
  • Social distancing markers will be placed in parklands to maintain 1.5 separation; and
  • Outdoor gatherings will be limited to 30 people.

From 19 October individuals diagnosed with COVID-19 have been directed by the Minister for Health and Medical Research, the Hon. Brad Hazzard MP, to self-quarantine at their place of residence. COVID-19 patients are compelled to provide the Chief Health Officer (CHO) with personal contact details including all contacts and places visited in the 28 days before diagnosis. Close contacts of confirmed cases can be directed to self-isolate for 14 days unless there is a written exemption from the Minister or CHO.

Additionally, the Premier announced that as of 23 November:

  • Choirs of up to 30 people will be allowed to perform
  • Seated events will allow one person per 2 square metres
  • Outdoor church services will be able to increase from 300 to 500 people.

As of 1 December, 300 people will be able to attend funerals.

 

Victoria

On 8 November Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Health Minister Martin Foley announced a transition to the preliminary stages of the Last Step restrictions across Victoria.

The Premier noted Victoria has achieved an unprecedented containment effort and now must “stay safe to stay open.”

There are now no restrictions on reasons to leave home. The 25km travel restriction has been lifted as have restrictions on intrastate travel.

Face Masks

Victorians are required to wear a fitted face mask covering the nose and mouth. Masks are mandatory across all of Victoria when outside households for everyone over the age of twelve. Exceptions apply, including for relevant medical conditions.

Executive Adjustments

The Premier outlined key readjustments to how the Government will function going forward. The Government will not seek an extension to the State of Disaster; instead will seek an extension to the State of Emergency to 6 December.

The Crisis Council of Cabinet will also be dissolved to make way for regular Cabinet arrangements as well as the return to Cabinet Sub-Committees including the critical Expenditure Review Committee. Additionally, this will see a normalisation in the way the public service advises the Government and implements decisions.

Household Gatherings

Households are restricted to hosting two visiting parties (adult visitors plus any dependents), per day. Exceptions are made for visiting partners in relationships, caregiving and compassionate reasons or for receiving services.

Timeline and Staged Easing

The Victorian Government will continue to ease restrictions as case numbers decline before returning to a ‘COVID Normal’ environment, in mid to late December.

Most industries will remain restricted until 23 November. For details on Metropolitan Melbourne’s easement of restrictions roadmap see here. For details on the latest restrictions easement, see Hawker Britton’s brief here.

International Travel

International flights from New Zealand will be able to land directly in Melbourne from 9 November.

The Premier has advised the Prime Minister Scott Morrison that Victoria would join the trans-Tasman bubble, after seven days in a row of zero COVID-19 cases.

Borders

Victoria’s borders are open. However, on 19 November, Premier Andrews announced that there will be a hard border with South Australia as of midnight, given the recent outbreak.

 

Australian Capital Territory

From 9 October the ACT commenced part two of stage three of reopening in accordance with National Cabinet Guidelines. The number of individuals permitted inside indoor venues will be determined by the “one person per four square metre rule”. All gatherings can increase to 500 people. An exemption is required to hold gatherings of greater than 500 in accordance with the COVID Safe Event Protocol.

The requirement for patrons to be seated while eating and drinking will be removed for outdoor spaces.

Businesses, venues and facilities are strongly encouraged to request contact information from patrons using an electronic method. The free and secure Check In CBR app is available for venues to fulfil this requirement, which also removes the burden on venues to hold these records.

Venue capacity rules

Three venue capacity rules apply, subject to density restrictions being met:

  • Option 1: 25 people (excluding staff) across venues with a total usable space of 100 square metres or less.
  • Option 2 [For hospitality venues only]: 50 people (excluding staff) across venues with total usable space of between 101 and 200 square metres.
  • Option 3: Venues can have:
    • one person per four square metres of usable space in each indoor space (excluding staff);
    • one person per two square metres of usable space in each outdoor space (excluding staff); and
    • maximum of 500 people for each space.

Businesses must not exceed the capacity limit that applies under standard liquor or fire occupancy loading and regulatory conditions of the venue.

All previous requirements under Step 3.2 remain in place.

For ACT residents, domestic travel to and from the ACT is not restricted, except to and from Victoria. Anyone looking to return to the ACT after entering Victoria will need to apply for an exemption, and will be required to quarantine for 14 days after leaving Victoria.

ACT residents can return home from Victoria but are required to enter quarantine until 14 days after leaving Victoria, unless specifically granted an exemption from quarantine. ACT residents must notify ACT Health of their intention to return.

There are restrictions on transiting through NSW from Victoria by road. Any ACT resident wishing to enter the ACT from Victoria by road will need to additionally apply for a border entry permit from Services NSW.

ACT residents have been asked to reconsider non-essential travel to South Australia, however the border remains open.

 

Western Australia

On 27 June Western Australia commenced the fourth phase of reopening. The numbers permitted in any venue are determined by the ‘one person per two square metre’ rule.

Travel is now permitted throughout all regions within WA, except for entry into remote Aboriginal communities.

The border with South Australia is shut to anyone travelling without an exemption for essential services.  Anyone granted an exemption must undertake 14 days of self-isolation at suitable premises.  They must also present for a COVID-19 test within 48 hours of arrival and on day 11 of quarantine, or at any point when symptoms develop.

Very low risk states and territories

  • (No community cases in 28 days)
  • not required to quarantine
  • currently includes TAS, QLD, ACT and NT

Low risk states and territories

  • (Less than 5 community cases per day on a 14-day rolling average)
  • must self-quarantine for 14 days in suitable premises
  • must present for a COVID-19 test on Day 11 if still in WA
  • currently includes NSW and Victoria

International arrivals

  • must quarantine in a hotel for 14 days at own expense
  • subject to mandatory COVID-19 test within 48 hours of arrival and on day 12 of quarantine

From 24 October the maximum capacity is 60 percent for a seated performance or seated entertainment that is ticketed and takes place in a seated entertainment space.

These changes affect certain venues with one or more seated entertainment spaces that contain fixed seating and were regularly used for seated performances or seated entertainment immediately before 15 March 2020 or immediately before 23 October 2020.

This exemption does not apply to events that are required to develop a COVID Event Plan.

Eligible venues include:

  • theatres;
  • concert halls;
  • music auditoriums/amphitheatres;
  • cinemas;
  • comedy lounges; and
  • performing arts centres.

WA’s sport and entertainment venues (Optus Stadium, HBF Park, HBF Stadium and RAC Arena) will continue to operate at the capacity levels currently set by the Direction.

Phase 5 would see remaining restrictions removed, except WA’s hard border and access to remote Aboriginal communities. The two square metre rule and capacity levels for major venues will be removed, meaning all venues and businesses will be able to operate at full capacity.

The Chief Health Officer has made it clear that community spread in the eastern states still poses a threat to Western Australia and there are still concerns over the border arrangements of other states. Phase 5 will only go ahead when the Chief Health Officer is confident it is safe to do so. The decision around when Phase 5 comes into effect will be based on health advice.

Phase 6 will involve the lifting of WA’s hard border.

South Australia

The current COVID-19 outbreak in South Australia has grown to 35 active cases.  The Government is imposing Stay At Home emergency directions, effective from midnight on Thursday, 19 November. These restrictions will remain in place for six days as a ‘circuit breaker’.

The following will be closed:

  • All schools (except for children of essential workers and vulnerable children)
  • Takeaway food services
  • Shops (excluding essential food services)
  • Universities and tertiary education facilities
  • Pubs/restaurants/café/food courts
  • Elective surgery/ except cancer
  • Open inspections and auctions
  • Fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) work
  • Aged care and disability facilities will go into lockdown
  • Construction industry
  • Holiday homes and other holiday accommodation and no further bookings
  • Wedding and funerals cancelled and banned
  • Outdoor sport/fitness/exercise not permitted
  • Regional travel not permitted

The following restrictions will be in force:

  • People must stay at home (except essential service workers)
  • No exercise outside the home
  • 1 person per household per day may leave to purchase groceries
  • No regional travel
  • Masks must be worn outdoors
  • No weddings or funerals to take place
  • No construction to take place
  • Fly-in, fly-out workers on standby

The following essential services will be allowed to continue:

  • a supermarket, butcher, fruit and vegetable store or fishmonger (but not an indoor or outdoor market)
    • Note: only one person from a household may leave once per day to buy groceries
  • premises commonly known as a bottle shop
  • a financial institution
  • consular and diplomatic services
  • a post office
  • a pharmacy
  • a hardware store
  • a petrol station
  • vehicle and mechanical repair services
  • a distribution centre
  • a pet store or veterinary clinic
  • Urgent services necessary for the health and safety of any person, animal or premises
  • COVID-19 testing

Further announcements will be posted here.

There are penalties for anyone who breaks these restrictions. Fines of $1060 will be issued to individuals and $5060 to businesses who disregard the restrictions.

Anyone travelling into South Australia will be required to register with the South Australian Government. The requirements vary depending on place of origin.

  • Arrivals from ACT, NT, Queensland, Tasmania, Western Australia, and New South Wales will be required to register but will not be subject to other restrictions.
  • Travellers from Victoria will be able to enter South Australia subject to conditions of a travel permit, including self-quarantine. Entry permits will be issued to returning students, people relocating permanently, and those transiting through SA.
  • International travellers arriving directly from New Zealand are able to enter South Australia without the requirement of a 14-day quarantine period.

Exceptions to Victorian travel restrictions:

  • People living within 70 km of the Victorian border can enter South Australia and will not need to have been tested for COVID-19 within the last 7 days in order to enter South Australia, as was previously required.

Border restrictions will continue to apply in respect of entrants to South Australia from Victoria until 1 December, after which travellers will no longer be required to undertake 14 days of quarantine. Anyone currently in hotel quarantine will be required to remain there for an additional 14 day period.

Full South Australian regulations can be found here.

 

Tasmania

Since 26 October travellers from ‘low-risk areas’ (Queensland, the ACT, WA, the NT and New Zealand) have not needed to quarantine on arrival in Tasmania.  They need to provide information about their travel in the 14 days prior to arriving in Tasmania.  They must not have been to a medium or high-risk location before arriving in Tasmania, or they will need to undertake 14 days quarantine.  Since 6 November NSW has been classified as low-risk and from 16 November Victoria will be classified as medium-risk.  Travellers from Victoria must quarantine for 14 days, but may do so at home or in approved premises.  Victoria is expected to be reclassified as low-risk from 27 November.

From 16 November South Australia has been considered medium-risk, and anyone who has been in the state must self-isolate in suitable premises for 14 days.  There are exemptions for essential workers.  South Australians currently under isolation or quarantine direction may leave Tasmania, but must travel straight to the port of departure and should use private transport if possible or wear a mask on public transport.

Since 26 October an opt-in SMS tracking system is being used to ensure compliance of those in-home quarantine.  The location information will only be sent when the recipient of a text clicks the link to upload their current location (individuals are not live-tracked).  This system complements the physical compliance checks being carried out by the police and public health officials.

From 1 December a framework for COVID-Safe events will come into effect which will see restrictions on events reduce further in three stages.  See the stages here.

Since 31 August all travellers to Tasmania are required to fill out an arrival questionnaire, are subject to health symptoms questioning and have their temperature checked on arrival.

From 13 November the Tasmanian government will extend its stage three of reopening. The following gathering restrictions will apply:

  • The lesser of either one person per two square metres, 250 (indoors), or 1000 (outdoors)
  • Household gatherings to remain capped at 40 visitors

 

Queensland

Queensland has declared 20 local government areas in South Australia as hotspots.  Anyone who arrives from a declared hotspot will be turned away at the border.  Anyone currently in Queensland who was in a hotspot in the last 14 days should get tested regardless of symptoms and self-isolate until 14 days has passed since leaving the hotspot.

Queensland is also closed to people who have been in Greater Sydney and Victoria in the last 14 days. Border passes are still required for all entrants.

From 4pm on Tuesday November 17:

  • Up to 50 people can gather in homes and public spaces across Queensland;
  • Person limits in indoor premises will increase from 1 person per 4 square metres to 1 person per 2 square metres;
  • Up to 200 people can attend weddings and funerals, and all guests can dance at weddings, both indoors and outdoors;
  • Seated, ticketed indoor events like theatre, live music, cinemas and sports can increase patron numbers from 50 percent to 100 percent;
  • Outdoor events can have up to 1,500 people attend with a COVID Safe Event Checklist;
  • Open air stadiums can increase seated capacity from 75 percent to 100 percent with a COVID Safe Plan; and
  • Outdoor dancing will be allowed, including at events like outdoor music festivals or in beer gardens.

 

Northern Territory

Events with less than 100 people do not require completion of a checklist or safety plan. However, physical distancing and hygiene principles should still be considered and implemented.

Events and public gatherings of 100 to 500 people must complete a COVID-19 safety checklist.

Major events and public gatherings of over 500 people must submit a COVID-19 Event Safety Plan and receive formal approval from the Chief Health Officer prior to the event proceeding.

All people travelling to the Northern Territory must complete the border entry form.

If you are intending to travel to the Northern Territory from an identified coronavirus hotspot you are advised to cancel your plans. Likewise, if you are a Territorian intending to travel to a hotspot you are advised to cancel your plans.

Any exemptions granted before the 17 July 2020 are invalid if the person travelling has been in an identified hotspot.

Anyone arriving at the Northern Territory from or through a declared hotspot in the last 14 days must undertake 14 days mandatory supervised quarantine. This will be at your own cost. The cost per person for supervised quarantine is $2,500.

Currently, Metropolitan Melbourne and South Australia are declared hotspots.  On 2 November NSW was no longer declared a hotspot.

Mandatory supervised quarantine will be at the Howard Springs quarantine facility or another approved facility elsewhere in the Northern Territory

Further Information

For more information on COVID-19 and related government matters see Barton Deakin Briefs.

For information on Victorian, Western Australian, and Queensland responses to COVID-19 and related matters see here.

For more information, contact Barton Deakin here.

To stay up to date with the affairs of Coalition Governments and Oppositions around Australia, you can follow Barton Deakin on Twitter and LinkedIn. For more information on Barton Deakin please visit our website.


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