TUESDAY, DECEMBER 21
Australians who are currently fully vaccinated against COVID-19 could have that title stripped away unless they get a third jab under a proposed new rule.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is set to meet with state and territory leaders on Wednesday for an emergency national cabinet meeting to discuss the growing number of Omicron cases in the country.
Previously, the body was not scheduled to meet until early next year.
One of the main topics up for discussion is expected to be booster shots, with some health experts and groups, including the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI), pushing for the wait time between the second and third jab to be slashed a second time.
The group is reportedly also reviewing whether Australians should be required to have three doses of a COVID-19 vaccine to be considered fully immunised, according to 7News.
The federal government’s chief medical officer, Professor Paul Kelly, has written to the Prime Minister, state premiers and territory chief ministers urging the reinstatement of mandatory mask-wearing indoors amid the rapid spread of the Omicron COVID variant.
Speaking on behalf of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) ahead of Wednesday’s emergency national cabinet meeting, Prof Kelly said mask mandates should be reimposed before case numbers rise too high.
“Masks should be mandated in all indoor settings including retail, hospitality when not eating or drinking, and entertainment facilities,” said the advice sent to leaders, first reported on by the Sydney Morning Herald.
“Implementation of mask-wearing measures should occur prior to Omicron case escalation to have maximum benefit.”
*South Australia will no longer require interstate travellers to have a COVID-19 test on arrival, if they’ve tested negative 72 hours prior to travel and don’t have any symptoms.
Waiting times at testing clinics across the state have reached six to eight hours at some sites.
“We apologise for the lengthy delays that some people have experienced,” Premier Steven Marshall said.
SA will also lobby National Cabinet to reduce the waiting period for booster shots from five months to four months.
The government is also considering making rapid antigen tests available to the general community in SA.
NSW has recorded 3,057 COVID-19 cases and two deaths in the 24 hours to 8pm yesterday.
It is the first time daily cases have reached the 3,000 mark anywhere in Australia.
Hospitalisations again increased today to 284, up from 261 yesterday.
There are now 39 patients in intensive care.
The latest infections figures have come from 136,972 tests.
The uptick in cases comes just days before families and friends gather for Christmas after a difficult year, including 107 days in lockdown due to the Delta outbreak.
However, tens of thousands of infected people and their close contacts may now be forced to spend the holidays in self-isolation.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet reiterated calls for calm, saying hospital and ICU figures were still low.
Mr Perrottet said his government’s pandemic response was about balancing keeping people safe and boosting the economy.
“The pandemic is not going away, we need to learn to live alongside it,” he said.
The state government and health experts are at loggerheads over restrictions which were eased on December 15.
Calls have been made by epidemiologists and medical peak bodies for the return of masks in indoor settings and QR code check-ins.
Victoria has recorded 1,245 new local COVID-19 cases and six deaths, as demand for testing overwhelms several sites in Melbourne.
There are 392 people in hospital with COVID-19, of whom 73 are in intensive care and 43 are on a ventilator.
The health department said a further 43 people were in ICU but their infections were no longer considered active.
The state’s seven-day average for hospitalisations has steadily increased over the past fortnight, from 296 on December 7 to 387 today.
The new cases were detected from 66,888 test results received yesterday.
There are now 13,355 active cases of the virus in Victoria, and 641 people have died during the current outbreak.
Melburnians hoping to get early COVID-19 tests this morning have again been frustrated by long queues and temporary venue closures.
Testing centres at Albert Park, South Melbourne, Burwood, Wantirna, and Keysborough all reached capacity shortly after opening this morning.
There were x doses of vaccine administered at state-run sites yesterday as well as more vaccinations at GP clinics and other venues.
Women will not be able to buy the contraceptive pill over the counter at chemists after the national medicines regulator handed down its final decision.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) was considering two different applications to move some of the ingredients in the pill into a category that would mean it could be legally sold at pharmacies.
Under the proposals, the pill would only be sold in certain circumstances where a woman could prove she had been prescribed the same pill within the last two years.
The applications also said the pharmacist could consult with women about whether the pill was still the right contraceptive choice and refer the person back to their prescribing doctor if needed.
Like other prescription-only medication, women have to see their GP when their script for the pill runs out.
The TGA had already made an interim decision to reject the application but had called for further submissions before making a final decision.
“I consider that while the proposed changes would address some barriers affecting access to ongoing supply of oral contraceptives, I do not feel the benefits of supply from a pharmacist outweigh the risks to women’s health when supplied without consultation from a medical practitioner,” the author of the decision, who was not named, said.
“I remain of the firm view that medical practitioner involvement is required and the current scheduling of oral contraceptive substances under Schedule 4 remains appropriate.”
The final decision also said that regular appointments with a GP allowed doctors to review whether the pill was still the best option for women and to conduct routine health screening like pap smears and tests for sexually transmitted infections.
The TGA’s final decision did note “the clinical capabilities of pharmacists” but reiterated that the decision should remain with doctors.
The Australian Medical Association (AMA) had previously said pharmacists were not the right people to give advice to women on the medication, given it came with risks like blood clots and some could increase the risk of breast cancer.
“Pharmacists, while experts in medicines, are not qualified to make clinical assessments,” AMA president Dr Omar Khorshid said when the interim decision was handed down.
But Natalie Willis from the Pharmacy Guild of Australia described the interim decision as “patronising” and “insulting” to both women and pharmacists.
“It’s saying exactly that about women, that they’re not intelligent or informed enough to make these decisions on their own behalf and ask questions where they need to,” she said.
A man in the US is in custody after a missing college student was found alive in his home — naked and covered in coal, authorities said.
Madelyn Allen, a 19-year-old student at Snow College in Ephraim, Utah, was reunited with her family after being rescued late Saturday, the New York Post reports.
It came five days after she disappeared from her dorm room, Snow College Police Chief Derek Walk told reporters at a press conference Sunday.
Brent Neil Brown, 39, who allegedly held Allen captive at his Loa home for days after meeting her online, is facing felony counts of aggravated kidnapping, rape, object rape and obstruction of justice, KSTU reported.
“We don’t have a lot of information about him,” Walk told reporters. “We don’t know how extensive his relationship or her knowledge of him is thus far.”
Allen, originally from Kaysville, had met Brown in an online chat group and arranged to have him pick her up on December 13, according to a probable cause affidavit obtained by the Salt Lake Tribune.
Security footage at the community college showed Allen leaving her dorm room while carrying a plastic bag. Her roommates reported her missing when she didn’t return the following day, court documents show.
Brown allegedly became violent in ensuing days while allowing Allen to text her family once on December 14. He then took the teen’s phone and wallet, tied her up while he was at work and threatened to go after her family if she left or told anyone about him, the affidavit states.
Investigators ultimately used mobile phone tower information to track down the missing teen in the town of about 500 residents, the newspaper reported. Loa is nearly 145km from Snow College.
Brown answered the door to his home and said he was alone, but police later found Allen in a basement room, where she was naked and covered in coal, court documents show.
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