TUESDAY, September 14
NSW recorded 1,127 new locally acquired COVID-19 infections and two deaths in the 24 hours to 8:00pm yesterday.
A man in his 50s from Western Sydney, who had no underlying health issues, died at Concord Hospital.
A woman in her 80s from Western Sydney died at Ryde Hospital.
The areas of concern remain in Western and south-western Sydney, in Auburn, Greenacre, Bankstown, Liverpool, Merrylands, Punchbowl, Riverwood, Yagoona, Condell Park, and St Clair.
Deputy health officer Jeremy McAnulty said it was too early to tell if the drop in case numbers meant the state was over the highest peak of the outbreak.
“We’ve just had a weekend and that can mess up how many people get tested,” he said.
“There may be a factor of the weather in terms of influencing whether people get tested or not. So we’d like to see a few more days before we can have confidence about whether there is a trend.”
However, according to leading epidemiologists and an analysis of NSW Health infection data there are signs the COVID-19 curve in Greater Sydney is flattening after nearly 12 weeks of lockdown.
NSW Health modelling projected infections would peak this week, but chair of epidemiology at Deakin University Catherine Bennett said transmission of the virus was already slowing.
She said for much of the Delta outbreak, which has resulted in almost 39,000 cases and 184 deaths since June 16, the reproduction rate of the virus has been 1.3.
This critical number is how many people on average an infected person will pass the virus on to.
“Sydney’s looking quite good, for two weeks we’ve seen this consistent downward push on the reproductive number. In fact, for the last week it’s been sitting steady at 1, and that’s what you need to see for that flattening of the curve,” Professor Bennett said.
Fellow epidemiologist Adrian Esterman from the University of South Australia was also confident the curve was flattening, but told ABC Radio National this does not mean case numbers have peaked.
*Victoria has recorded 445 new locally acquired COVID-19 cases and two more deaths, as the state’s Delta outbreak continues to spread.
Of the new cases, 129 are linked to known outbreaks.
There were 42,694 test results received yesterday, and 36,615 doses of vaccine were administered at state-run sites.
The latest figures show 66.8 percent of the Victorian population aged over 16 has had at least one dose of vaccine, and 41 per cent are fully vaccinated.
The two deaths of people with COVID-19 take the state’s toll to 826 since the pandemic began.
There have now been six deaths in Victoria during the state’s Delta outbreak.
The last death from the virus was revealed on Friday and involved a man aged in his 70s from Coburg who was not vaccinated.
The new cases come after a Melbourne epidemiologist has raised concerns that lockdown fatigue and rule breaking appear to be causing Victoria’s Delta outbreak to spread faster than it did in New South Wales.
Tony Blakely has been mapping daily figures in both states and has found Victoria’s case numbers are rising at an average of 12 per cent each day, while New South Wales was only recording a 5 per cent increase at the same stage of its outbreak.
“That’s pretty high,” Professor Blakely told ABC Radio Melbourne.
“We’re so over it in Victoria that we’re not complying as well with the lockdowns as we used to.
“There is no doubt that hard lockdowns do slow the spread, as ugly as they are to do.”
*Queensland has recorded one new locally acquired case of COVID-19.
It was detected in a 15-year-old girl who attends St Thomas More College at Sunnybank in Brisbane.
It is linked to the cluster that began with a 13-year-old girl testing positive to the Delta variant last week.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said she was not concerned about the latest case.
“We’re not concerned about this at all because it’s linked to that Sunnybank cluster,” she said.
She thanked more than 1,000 families who are quarantining after being linked to the cluster.
“A big thank you to all those families who are doing absolutely the right thing, and staying at home. You are keeping Queenslanders safe,” she said.
One case was detected in hotel quarantine.
More than 13,000 tests were conducted in the past 24 hours.
The Premier said 38.33 per cent of eligible Queenslanders have now had their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 56.68 per cent are fully inoculated.
Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said it was good news.
“Looks like due to fantastic contact tracing work, and the superb work done by that family that we’ve managed to get this outbreak controlled so quickly, but we know that we could have another case coming to Queensland at any time,” she said.
Dr Young urged Queenslanders to keep doing the right thing.
“Could everyone please continue to do that work and come forward and get tested with only the minor, most minor symptoms, any symptoms at all,” she said.
The Premier said 9,000 vaccine doses were administered to children yesterday after 12- to 15-year-olds became eligible to get a jab.
“If you’re a parent, and you have a child who’s between that age group and now eligible … I urge you to go ahead and do this, it’s happening around the world,” she said.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has pushed back against criticism of the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan at a contentious congressional hearing where at least one Republican called on him to resign.
In testy exchanges with members of Congress, Mr Blinken defended President Joe Biden’s decision to pull out and pushed back on accusations that the State Department might have done more to help Americans and at-risk Afghans to be evacuated, blaming the previous administration for lacking a plan.
He repeatedly noted that Republican former President Donald Trump had negotiated the withdrawal agreement with the Taliban, and said President Joe Biden’s administration did not consider renegotiating because of threats from the group to resume killing Americans.
“There’s no evidence that staying longer would have made the Afghan security forces or the Afghan government any more resilient or self-sustaining,” Mr Blinken said.
“We inherited a deadline. We did not inherit a plan,” Mr Blinken said, referring to the Trump administration’s agreement to remove all US forces from Afghanistan by May 1.
Members of Congress — Mr Biden’s fellow Democrats as well as opposition Republicans — have planned hearings since the Taliban seized control of the country last month after a rapid advance.
Mr Blinken appeared on Monday before the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee and was to testify on Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the first Biden administration official to testify publicly to politicians since the Islamist militant group’s takeover.
Fireworks had been expected, given the amount of finger-pointing over how the two-decade-long US presence in the country ended. Republicans offered harsh criticism.
“The American people don’t like to lose, especially not to the terrorists. But this is exactly what has happened,” said Representative Michael McCaul, the panel’s top Republican.
Mr McCaul asked why assets like the Bagram Air Base were not maintained and why the administration had not reached surveillance and counterterrorism agreements with neighbouring countries.
“This is a national security threat as China moves in. For all I know they make take over Bagram,” Mr McCaul said.
Mr Blinken said the United States was actively working to identify threats.
Members of Congress asked a long list of questions about the rapid collapse of the US-backed Afghan government and the Biden administration’s scramble to evacuate 124,000 people, including Americans and at-risk Afghans.
Democrats expressed concern about Americans and at-risk Afghans still in Afghanistan who wish to leave, but backed the withdrawal as necessary, if painful, after two decades.
“I would welcome hearing what exactly a smooth withdrawal from a messy chaotic 20-year war looks like,” said Representative Gregory Meeks, the committee’s chairman.
Mr Blinken praised the evacuation as “a heroic effort” by diplomats, the military and intelligence officers.
He said the United States would continue to support humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, but through non-governmental organisations and UN agencies, not the Taliban.
Wallabies star Quade Cooper is among those set to find it easier to gain Australian citizenship, with the Federal Government tweaking eligibility rules for some visa holder
The Kiwi-born fly-half moved to Australia when he was 13, and made his 71st appearance for the Wallabies on Sunday, with a match-winning penalty against the Springboks.
However, Cooper has complained that he has been knocked back for Australian citizenship four times because his touring schedule and two years spent playing in Japan meant he had not met residency requirements.
The current rules dictate that an aspiring Australian citizen cannot be absent from Australia for more than 12 months in the four years prior to lodging their application.
On Tuesday morning, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke announced changes for the “most talented prospective Australians”.
“The unique work and travel demands on some of our most highly distinguished prospective Australians should not preclude them from making the cut,” Mr Hawke said in a statement.
“That’s why I have directed the Department of Home Affairs to apply greater flexibility in applying the residence requirement for eligible people.
“Exceptional people must not be prevented from becoming Australians because of the unique demands of the very work they do that makes them exceptional,” Mr Hawke said.
Without explicitly mentioning Cooper, Mr Hawke said exemptions to residency requirements would be allowed, with the pool of potential applicants including artists, scientists and leading business people.
“I think it’s thoroughly deserving for Quade,” Rugby Australia chief executive Hamish McLennan told ABC Radio Brisbane.
He said Wallaby Will Genia, born in Papua New Guinea, was also battling for citizenship.
“I’m sure there’s going to be another pool coming through,” Mr McLennan said.
“This just recognises, not only just for rugby but for all sports, if you play for this country I think you deserve to get citizenship.”
The Rugby Australia boss was asked whether he thought Cooper’s match-winning efforts on Sunday night helped further his cause.
“I don’t think it hurt,” he replied.
Shadow Home Affairs Minister Kristina Keneally said she had gone in to bat for Cooper, pushing his case in a meeting and in a letter to Mr Hawke in August.
“Quade is an Australian hero. His passport should match his jersey,” Senator Keneally tweeted on Monday night.
Lawyers representing Prince Andrew have challenged a US court’s jurisdiction in a civil lawsuit by a woman who accused him of sexually assaulting her two decades ago, when she was 17.
At a hearing in the US District Court in Manhattan, the prince’s lawyer questioned whether he was properly served with Virginia Giuffre’s lawsuit at all.
The lawyer, Andrew Brettler, also said Ms Giuffre appeared to have signed away her right to sue Queen Elizabeth’s second son in resolving a separate lawsuit in 2009.
Prince Andrew has denied Ms Giuffre’s accusations, and said he had no recollection of meeting her.
“This is a baseless, nonviable, potentially unlawful lawsuit,” said Mr Brettler.
“There has been a settlement agreement that the plaintiff has entered into in a prior action that releases the Duke and others from any and all potential liability.”
Mr Brettler also said Ms Giuffre had not properly served Prince Andrew under UK law and the Hague Convention, including when a process server left a copy on August 27 with a police officer guarding Royal Lodge, the prince’s home in Windsor, England.
Ms Giuffre’s lawyer, David Boies, rejected that claim.
Justice Lewis Kaplan directed Mr Boies to propose alternative means to serve Prince Andrew, and rejected Mr Bretter’s argument that Hague Convention procedures had to be “exhausted” before applying US procedures.
The next conference was scheduled for October 13.
In August, Ms Giuffre brought forward the lawsuit in a Manhattan federal court under the Child Victims Act to allege she was trafficked and abused on multiple occasions by the prince.
Ms Giuffre has also claimed she was abused by the late financier, Jeffrey Epstein, at around the same time as Prince Andrew’s alleged abuse.
Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, is a former friend of Epstein, a registered sex offender who killed himself in a Manhattan jail in August 2019 after he was charged with sexually exploiting dozens of girls and women.
The prince stepped down from royal duties and saw charities and other organisations distance themselves from him after he gave a November 2019 BBC interview now widely seen as disastrous concerning his relationship with Epstein.
According to the complaint by Ms Giuffre, Prince Andrew allegedly forced her to have unwanted sexual intercourse at the London home of Ghislaine Maxwell, the British socialite and Epstein’s longtime associate.
The complaint also said Prince Andrew abused Ms Giuffre at Epstein’s mansion on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and on a private island Epstein owned in the US Virgin Islands.
Ms Maxwell has pleaded not guilty to charges she aided Epstein’s sexual abuses and faces a scheduled November 29 trial before a different Manhattan federal judge.
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