Daily News Round-up

December 17, 2021

Picture: AAP Image / Darren England

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 17

Masks will be mandatory in shops, hospitals, aged care, public transport and ride share vehicles across Queensland from 1:00am tomorrow.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the state-wide mandate this morning but stopped short of covering workplaces, bars and clubs.

She said because bars, clubs and hospitality venues became open to only vaccinated patrons from today, she did not need to extend the mandate there.

However Ms Palaszczuk “strongly advised” patrons to wear masks if they cannot socially distance.

“We’re not expecting lockdown over the Christmas and New Year, by wearing these masks we’re hoping to slow the spread of this virus,” she said.

“This is a small price to pay for your freedom.”

The Premier said the mandate will be reviewed when Queensland reaches the 90 per cent full vaccination mark.

It comes after the state recorded its first cases of the highly transmissible Omicron variant in the community this week.

New South Wales today recorded its highest COVID-19 daily cases with 2,213 infections (its highest COVID-19 daily cases ever, Victoria’s cases have also consistently been above 1,000 in recent days.

Ms Palaszczuk said an estimated 60,000 travellers are expected to arrive in the state from southern hotspots these holidays.

“That’s a lot of people coming into our state, seeing family and their loved ones, but we just need that protection so we can enjoy our freedoms,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

“We are seeing more cases and we definitely don’t want to see a massive escalation over Christmas-New Year.”

NSW has recorded its highest COVID-19 daily cases ever with 2,213 infections and one death in the 24 hours to 8pm yesterday.

There are 215 people in hospital, including 24 in intensive care.

As of last night, 94.8 per cent of people aged 16 and over have had one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 93.3 per cent of the same age group have had two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The transmission rate and concerns over the Omicron variant has prompted NSW Health to issue a “red alert” for hospitals meaning restricting the number of people allowed to visit healthcare facilities.

NSW Health is urgently trying to contact hundreds of people who went to a Taylor Swift-themed party at the Metro Theatre in Sydney on Friday night.

So far, 97 people of the 600 people who attended the event have tested positive for COVID-19.

NSW Health believes transmission is being driven by the Omicron variant.

There were 127,583 swabs completed in the most recent reporting period.

Victoria has recorded 1,510 new local COVID-19 cases and seven deaths.

There are now 12,578 active cases of the virus in Victoria, and 624 people have died during the current outbreak.

There are 386 people in hospital with COVID-19, of whom 82 are in intensive care and 43 are on a ventilator.

The health department said a further 36 people were in ICU but their infections were no longer considered active.

The new cases were detected from 82,301 test results received yesterday.

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Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein has made an emotional public address in the wake of the jumping castle tragedy that claimed five young lives and left others injured.

The five children in years five and six were killed when a sudden gust of wind picked up a jumping castle at Hillcrest Primary School in Devonport, Tasmania at around 10am on Thursday morning.

The school was holding a “Big Day In” celebration to mark the last day of the 2021 school year when the jumping castle and inflatable Zorb balls were picked up by a weather event, with nine children falling from a height of 10 metres.

Three children remain in hospital in a critical condition on Friday, with one now recovering at home after being discharged.

Fronting the media on Friday morning along with Tasmania Police Commissioner Darren Hine, Mr Gutwein said the tragedy was “beyond comprehension”.

He said authorities were considering flying in specialist counsellors to help the grieving community.

“It is devastating, heartbreaking. It’s just simply incomprehensible,” he said.

“What should have been a celebration for the end of the school year turned into an unfortunate tragedy for our young children at Hillcrest Primary.”

Commissioner Darren Hine said the investigation was ongoing and police were preparing a report for the coroner with the support of WorkSafe Tasmania.

While he was not able to reveal specific details, as many details will be “a matter for the coroner”, he said police understand there were around 40 Year 5 and 6 students taking part in the end-of-term activities at the time.

He confirmed three boys and two girls died in the tragedy.

One girl was 11 years old, and the other four children were 12 years old.

“Several adults were also in attendance when the inflatable equipment lifted into the air and they rendered first aid until emergency services arrived,” he said.

“There is no doubt this incident will leave its mark and I know people are sending their thoughts and prayers from right across the country and even further afield.

“We will be doing everything we can to support the community through this tragedy. Police are liaising closely with the families of the children involved.”

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Sex and the City actor Chris Noth has denied sexual assault accusations reported by the Hollywood Reporter, saying his encounters with two women in 2004 and 2015 were consensual.

Mr Noth has faced renewed public interest in his role as Mr Big on the HBO television series due to its revival And Just Like That, and a subsequent viral video that has now been pulled from circulation.

He issued a statement in response to the Hollywood Reporter story in which two women, using pseudonyms, alleged he assaulted them in Los Angeles and New York in 2004 and 2015.

The two women told the Hollywood Reporter that his return to the franchise had triggered memories of their experiences with him.

“The accusations against me made by individuals I met years, even decades, ago are categorically false,” Mr Noth said in a statement.

“These stories could’ve been from 30 years ago or 30 days ago — no always means no — that is a line I did not cross. The encounters were consensual.

“It’s difficult not to question the timing of these stories coming out.

“I don’t know for certain why they are surfacing now, but I do know this: I did not assault these women.”

Elements of the stories were corroborated by friends of the women, who the Hollywood Reporter also spoke to.

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Australia and the United Kingdom will today formally sign a free trade deal, which is expected to make it easier for Australians to live and work in Britain, as well as eliminating or phasing out tariffs on a vast range of products, including lamb, beef, sugar and dairy.  

Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison announced an in-principle agreement on the FTA back in June, but negotiators have spent the past six months finalising the text. 

Today the two countries will agree to immediate tariff-free quotas on a number of Australian exports, with plans to scrap the taxes entirely in a decade, as well as cutting $200 million worth of costs imposed on imported British cars, whisky, confectionery, biscuits and cosmetics.

Trade Minister Dan Tehan said the deal covered nearly all Australian business with the UK.

“It is a true free trade agreement, it covers all areas,” Mr Tehan said.

It is the first new free trade deal struck by the United Kingdom since it left the European Union and has been spruiked by Mr Johnson as evidence that Britain can strike out on its own and open up new markets to soften the economic impact of Brexit. 

To secure it, Mr Johnson had to stare down some of his own backbenchers and reassure the UK farm lobby, which warned that a flood of Australian agricultural exports could hurt British farmers. 

In contrast, Australian farming groups gave full-throated backing to the FTA, saying it will provide farmers with welcome new export opportunities.

The agreement will also make it easier for younger Australians to live and work in the United Kingdom – and for Brits to come here – by increasing the age limit for the working holiday visa to 35. 

For both countries, though, the total economic benefits are modest. The United Kingdom estimates an FTA could lift its GDP (gross domestic product) by around $900 million, while modelling suggests Australia’s economy could be boosted by around $1.3 billion.

However, the United Kingdom believes the deal will make it easier for its companies to bid for Australian government contacts, as well as open up new opportunities in financial and legal services.

The UK also hopes that the agreement will help it generate momentum in other trade negotiations, including its pitch to join the massive CP-TPP — a sprawling trade agreement taking in 11 Pacific Rim nations, including Australia. 

In June, Boris Johnson said the agreement was “important economically” but “more important politically and symbolically”. 

ENDS