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Australia Covid news live: NSW, Victoria cases, freedom, lockdown restrictions and vaccinations

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Victorians are still on track to see restrictions eased early, despite the state confirming another worrying spike in Covid cases and deaths today.

Welcome to Thursday’s live coverage of Australia’s Covid-19 situation.

Victoria has recorded another spike in Covid cases, with 2297 infections and 11 deaths confirmed in the 24 hours to midnight.

Despite the grim figures, there are still hopes residents will be able to come out of lockdown earlier than expected as the state hurtles towards its 70 per cent vaccination goal.

NSW recorded 406 new locally acquired Covid cases and six deaths on Thursday.

Follow below for today’s top updates. Keep refreshing the page for the latest news.

Victoria’s Covid cases skyrocket

Victoria has seen a worrying spike in Coivd-19 cases, with 2297 infections and 11 deaths recorded in the 24 hours to midnight.

That is the highest number of daily cases recorded anywhere in Australia since the beginning of the pandemic.

The previous Australian record was when 1946 Victorians tested positive to coronavirus on October 8.

Melbourne lockdown set to end early as vax rates soar

Despite today’s spike in Covid-19 cases, Victoria is still on track to introduce new freedoms for fully vaccinated residents earlier than expected.

Victorians have been promised eased restrictions once the state hits its 70 per cent double dose vaccination target, with an end to Melbourne’s lockdown being one of the key changes.

There are now at least 86.7 per cent of Victorians over the age of 16 who have had their first jab, with around 61.49 per cent fully vaccinated.

The state was originally predicted to hit the 70 per cent vaccination goal on October 26, but is now expected to reach the milestone a few days earlier on Friday, October 22.

Premier Daniel Andrews confirmed on Wednesday that restrictions would be eased the same day the vaccination target is reached.

“I look forward to being able to give people absolute clarity about what next week looks like, and the week after, and as far out as we can,” he said.

65 per cent of Aussies now fully vaccinated

Health Minister Greg Hunt has confirmed 65.4 per cent of Australians over the age of 16 have now received two doses of a Covid vaccine.

At least 83.6 per cent have received one dose.

“So, that protection is really coming in around the country. It’s a very important number and I want to thank Australians who are coming back for their second dose, and continue to urge them to do it,” Mr Hunt said.

“For those that haven’t had their first dose yet, there is ample access right around the country and we would urge you to continue to come forward. Those numbers are increasing every day, but we’d urge you to continue to come forward.”

NSW records 406 cases and six deaths

NSW has recorded 406 new Covid-19 cases and six deaths in the 24 hours to 8pm last night.

Detail that could derail 80 per cent freedoms

Premier Dominic Perrottet has once again flagged that changes could be made to NSW’s highly-anticipated Freedom Day 2.0.

Speaking on Thursday, the Premier said officials would be meeting today to discuss issues around reopening regional travel for vaccinated Greater Sydney residents.

NSW residents are set to get even more freedoms when the state reaches its 80 per cent double dose vaccination goal, with a vaccination surge meaning that goal could be reached this weekend.

This means, the freedoms could kick in on October 18, a week earlier than the projected October 25 date.

However, the vaccine surge has raised concerns that regional NSW areas haven’t had enough time to raise their vaccinations rates, meaning they could be at risk of Covid outbreaks.

Mr Perrottet will meet with the cabinet tonight to discuss those issues, with the possibility the highly-anticipated regional travel freedom could be delayed.

“It looks like from the efforts of everyone in the state that we’ll meet our 80 per cent target over the weekend … but there have been concerns about the different pace of the vaccine rollout in regional NSW,” he said.

“I will look at that today with members of the cabinet team when we also look at a range of issues in relation to our Covid response.”

On Wednesday afternoon, 76.5 per cent of residents over the age of 16 were fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

Yesterday, NSW Nationals Leader Paul Toole reminded reporters that he said just last week that the state was “weeks away” from allowing travel into the regions.

“We also need to make sure when it is discussed tomorrow that we are protecting regional NSW,” he said.

Major sign Qld could open for Christmas

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has offered a tough reality check to Queenslanders who still haven’t been vaccinated against Covid-19.

In a very pointed message, the Premier told unvaccinated residents the government has done “all we can to keep you safe” and the next step was up to them.

We cannot protect you if you won’t protect yourself,” she wrote on Twitter.

Ms Palaszczuk then pointed out there was not much time left if residents wanted to be fully vaccinated before Christmas.

“It takes five weeks from the first dose to be completely vaccinated. Five weeks from today is the 17th of November – that’s getting very close to Christmas,” she said.

“We are counting on Queenslanders to keep staying safe – let’s get it done.”

The reference to Christmas has also sparked speculation that the state’s tough border rules could be set to change, after Ms Palaszczuk repeatedly refused to budge on her border stance.

For months now, Victoria, the ACT and the majority of NSW have been considered “red zones”, meaning anyone who has been in these areas fro the past 14 days cannot enter Queensland.

Queensland residents wishing to travel back from these areas can only enter the state if they complete 14 days of mandatory hotel quarantine upon arrival.

Ms Palaszczuk’s message follows weeks of rising tensions in Queensland, with desperate businesses owners calling on the Premier to release a road map to reopening with NSW and Victoria.

Owner of The Breakers holiday apartments at Broadbeach, Michael Stephens, accused the Premier of not caring about struggling businesses.

“She gets up every morning and is acting like this is a State of Origin game,” he told The Courier-Mail.

“We are not just Queenslanders, we are Australians.”

Extra Dine and Discover vouchers for NSW

NSW residents will get two extra Dine and Discover vouchers in a bid to provide more support to businesses.

From December, residents will have access to one additional $25 voucher for hospitality venues and another $25 voucher for recreation and entertainment.

This is on top of the four vouchers that were already distributed to residents since March.

Residents will have until June 2022 to use the vouchers.

Premier Dominic Perrottet said the program has already injected close to $500 million into the NSW economy.

He also revealed the government would be making the changes to alfresco dining, which were announced last year, permanent.

“We know they have been incredibly successful here in the Sydney CBD. We want to bring life and laughter into the city during Summer,” Mr Perrottet said.

“We’re also offering up to $500,000 grants to councils right across the state to improve their high street amenities.”

The government will also provide $5000 grants to businesses to help them create alfresco dining spaces.

Huge holiday discounts for Queenslanders

Queenslanders have been offered major holiday discounts, in a bid to boost the state’s struggling tourism industry.

In a tweet, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said residents will be able to apply for huge discounts for tourism experiences airfares, bus fares and accommodation as part of the Great Queensland Getaway campaign.

“The campaign will offer promo codes for up to 50% off tourism experiences across Queensland,” she said.

‘Beginning of the end’ for AZ jab

It’s the “beginning of the end” for the AstraZeneca vaccine, with production of the jab on Australian shores to be suspended by Christmas.

The vaccine will no longer be made here, 9 News reports, with the safe and effective jab finally succumbing to months of hesitancy, after being linked to an extremely rare blood clotting side effect.

Demand for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines has now rendered the vaccine irrelevant.

“Obviously we don’t want to manufacture something that’s not going to be utilised, and we will have a number of options moving into the future,” University of Queensland Associate Professor Paul Griffin told the network.

“It obviously has received a lot of negative press and it’s a vaccine that has proven highly effective and very safe.”

Once the current order is complete, it’s expected the vaccine’s Melbourne manufacturer, CSL, will cease production, and the Federal Government will “almost certainly” not extend the contract beyond this year.

“Not withstanding the perhaps disproportionate criticism that this vaccine’s reputation has experienced, we couldn’t be prouder that the AstraZeneca vaccine has given protection to many millions of Australians,” CSL chairman Brian McNamee told investors.

Almost 12.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca jab have been given to Australians.

TGA considers Pfizer jab for 5 to 11-year-olds

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has granted a provisional determination to Pfizer for use of its vaccine in Aussie kids between the ages of five and 11.

“On 12 October 2021, the TGA, part of the Department of Health, granted a provisional determination to Pfizer Australia Pty Ltd in relation to its Covid-19 vaccine, COMIRNATY,” the TGA said in a statement.

“Currently, COMIRNATY is provisionally approved for use in individuals 12 years of age or older. The granting of this determination means that Pfizer is now eligible to apply to vary the provisional approval for the vaccine to include children aged 5 to 11 years.

“This provisional determination is the first step in the process and does not mean that an application for variation has been made by the sponsor – or that any such variation will be provisionally approved by the TGA.

“In making its decision to grant Pfizer a provisional determination for use in individuals 5 to 11 years, the TGA considered eligibility criteria, including factors such as the evidence of a plan to submit comprehensive clinical data in relation to use in this age group – and the seriousness of the current Covid-19 pandemic.”

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