Australia live news updates: Scott Morrison considering response to Omicron strain; five Covid deaths in Victoria; new NSW flood warnings

Australia live news updates: Scott Morrison considering response to Omicron strain; five Covid deaths in Victoria; new NSW flood warnings
© Photograph: James D Morgan/Getty Images A passenger awaiting their PCR test for Covid 19 at Sydney airport. The Australian government is expected to update travel advice for those travelling to or from countries where Omicron Covid variant found.

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New South Wales health says it is “working closely” with the federal government and other states and territories “to rapidly understand the implications of the new Covid-19 variant of concern, Omicron.

No cases of the Omicron B.1.1.529 variant of concern of Covid-19 have been identified in NSW to date.

NSW Health is urging all travellers who have been in southern Africa, including South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, and Eswatini, in the 14 days before arriving in Australia to get a COVID-19 test and isolate immediately. All people in the household should also isolate until further notice. Travellers who have been in southern Africa are asked to call NSW Health on 1800 943 553.

NSW Health is also contacting all international travellers who have arrived in the last 14 days by text message and phone asking anyone who has been in southern Africa to get a test and isolate and to remind all other travellers of their testing requirements.

The emergence of this new variant reinforces the critical importance of all fully vaccinated travellers who return from overseas complying with the NSW Health guidelines; there are requirements to be tested and restrictions on attending certain high-risk premises.

People who have arrived from overseas must have a COVID-19 PCR test within 24 hours of arriving and another test around day six. Travellers who have not been in southern Africa are not required to isolate while waiting for their results unless they have symptoms. If symptoms present at any time after arrival travellers should get tested at a PCR drive-through clinic or other COVID testing facility.

ACT records seven new Covid cases


The Australian Capital Territory (which now has 96.7% of people aged over 12 double-vaccinated) has recorded seven new Covid-19 cases.

Morrison and Hunt considering response to Omicron Covid variant

26 Nov 2021 23:49

We’re expecting an announcement from the Australian government in the coming hours to detail measures in response to the newly discovered Omicron variant of Covid-19.

Health minister Greg Hunt said yesterday there were no plans to restrict flights from South Africa or elsewhere in response to the development.

Overnight, US, the UK, Europe and a host of other jurisdictions placed travel restrictions on southern Africa.

The Sydney Morning Herald and the Age are reporting that the prime minister, Scott Morrison, Hunt, the health department secretary, Brendan Murphy, and the chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, met early this morning to discuss what measures might now be necessary.


26 Nov 2021 23:46

We expect to hear from the federal government at 12.30pm (AEDT).


26 Nov 2021 23:12

Some significant flood warnings for NSW rivers from the BOM.

⚠️Updated Moderate to Major #Flood warning issued for the #BelubulaRiver at #Canowindra and #MandageryCreek at and #EugowraTown. Major flooding is possible at #EugowraTown. See for details and updates; follow advice from @NSWSES. #NSWFloods

— Bureau of Meteorology, New South Wales (@BOM_NSW) November 26, 2021


26 Nov 2021 22:40

Stephen Sondheim, the master craftsman of the American musical, has died at the age of 91.

A big loss.


26 Nov 2021 22:36 Peter Hannam

Burrendong’s storage level rose 10 percentage points in 24 hours – including a 0.5% rise per hour for five hours – requiring overnight dam releases that reached 30GL/day before being scaled back to 5GL/day this morning to avoid increasing downstream river levels already rising due to high tributary inflows, WaterNSW said.

Keepit Dam has cut releases almost entirely to avoid adding to a record flood peak in the Mooki River, due to reach Gunnedah later today.

Elsewhere, Chaffey Dam on the Peel River continues to spill in large volumes, while WaterNSW teams are monitoring inflows into Burrinjuck and Blowering Dams on the Murrumbidgee, where successful storage operations are expected to have created sufficient capacity to capture the majority of inflows, WaterNSW said.

The rain should back off for a few days but return for most of eastern NSW by mid next week.


26 Nov 2021 22:25 Peter Hannam

Some more info about flooding alerts in NSW.

The state’s inland rivers are a concern. WaterNSW say flows down the unregulated Mooki River in northern NSW appear to be twice the height of any previous flow.

That is headed towards the Namoi River, which is already a major flood threat in places. Towns like Gunnedah and Narrabri may be in for some flood activity.

WaterNSW said it is also continuing to monitor storage levels at the state’s major regional supply dams, almost all of which are receiving constant inflows and are in excess of 90% of storage capacity.

“WaterNSW dam personnel are on round-clock flood operations at several dams, with the Keepit Dam on the Namoi River and Burrendong Dam on Macquarie River the primary regional focal points overnight,” the agency said.

Burrendong Dam (at about 140% full) received huge inflow volumes on Friday which have pushed the storage to almost filling the dam’s 500GL flood mitigation zone.


26 Nov 2021 22:23

New South Wales double-dose vaccination rates have hit 94.5% for people over 16.

For those 12-15, the rates are also increasing rapidly. 81.2% have had a single dose; 76.2% are fully vaccinated.

Victoria’s numbers are for all people, aged 12 and over. They hit the 90% double-dose rate earlier this week.

NSW reports 235 new Covid cases

26 Nov 2021 22:20

New South Wales has recorded 235 new cases and zero deaths.

NSW #COVID19 update – Saturday 27 November 2021

In the 24-hour reporting period to 8pm last night:

– 94.5% of people aged 16+ have had one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

– 92.3% of people aged 16+ have had two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine

— NSW Health (@NSWHealth) November 26, 2021

Five Covid deaths and 1,252 cases in Victoria

26 Nov 2021 22:15

Victoria has recorded 1,252 new Covid-19 cases and five deaths.

We thank everyone who got vaccinated and tested yesterday.

Our thoughts are with those in hospital, and the families of people who have lost their lives.

More data soon: #COVID19VicData

— VicGovDH (@VicGovDH) November 26, 2021


26 Nov 2021 22:04 Peter Hannam

With so much rain in recent weeks and widespread falls in lately there are many flood alerts current in NSW.

Warragamba Dam is spilling this morning at a peak rate of about 60-80 gigalitres a day.

That pace, though, is well shy of the 500GL (or about one Sydney Harbour) that spilled at the height of the March floods.

And the rain should ease up today and for a few days so any flooding on Sydney’s outskirts should be minor for now at least.


26 Nov 2021 21:54

Here’s a helpful explainer – everything you need to know about Omicron.

Related: Omicron: everything you need to know about new Covid variant


26 Nov 2021 21:54

There’s also some news around for football fans this morning. If the Socceroos end up (as looks likely) finishing third in their World Cup qualifying group, the path to Qatar next year will go through a playoff with a South American country.

At this stage that could be Colombia, Uruguay, Chile or Peru. They’re all good. We are … well, not blessed with our best ever generation of players, frankly.

But then again, who cares about the men’s side when the Matildas have their best ever crop. They play the USA in a friendly this afternoon. Here’s hoping Sam Kerr is passed fit.


26 Nov 2021 21:24

The Queensland human rights commissioner, Scott McDougall, says the commission has received a spike in inquiries due to confusion about the state’s Covid border rules.

McDougall said that in the past few weeks, since the Queensland government announced its plans to reopen the state border, more than a third of inquiries had been about Covid issues as a lack of detail had “created a vacuum where misinformation is able to be spread”.

“We’re very much aware of the confusion and the lack of clarity for people trying to make sense of our border reopening plans,” McDougall told Guardian Australia.

“Since they were announced a couple of weeks ago Covid issues have been the subject of over a third of all our inquiries – at times nudging 40% – and almost all those are in relation to the restrictions after borders reopen.

Related: Queensland Human Rights Commission flooded with inquiries due to Covid border confusion


26 Nov 2021 21:20

Given the emergence of Omicron, it’s worth reflecting on this piece from Nyasha Chingono about how some of southern Africa’s “white garment” churches have undermined vaccination rollouts.

Related: ‘We are protected by prayers’: the sects hampering southern Africa’s vaccine rollout


26 Nov 2021 21:16

We should hear more about the Australian government’s response to Omicron later today.

Meanwhile the European Centres for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has followed the World Health Organisation and classified it a “variant of concern”.

A report published by the ECDC says: “[It] is the most divergent variant that has been detected in significant numbers during the pandemic so far, which raises concerns that it may be associated with increased transmissibility, significant reduction in vaccine effectiveness and increased risk for reinfections.”


26 Nov 2021 20:53

Good morning everyone and welcome to Saturday. This is Ben Smee in Brisbane bringing you the weekend version of Guardian Australia’s live news blog.

As always, there’s a bit to get through.

All eyes are on Australia’s reaction to the new and stronger Covid variant threatening to spread from southern Africa.

The latest variant, given the name Omicron by the World Health Organisation and listed as a variant of concern on Saturday morning, first emerged in Botswana and has been detected in South Africa, Hong Kong, Israel and Belgium.

It has double the number of mutations as the Delta variant that sparked a third wave of outbreaks and lockdowns in Australia this year.

Australian health minister Greg Hunt previously said “the world is looking and learning about the strain … if the medical advice is that we need to change, we won’t hesitate.”

Parts of New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria are on flood watch for the second weekend in a row. A Queensland man died in floodwaters yesterday, and authorities have issued some fairly serious warnings. Severe thunderstorms are likely to lash most of the east coast.

WaterNSW confirmed this morning that Warragamba Dam started spilling shortly after 9pm last night.

“Preliminary estimates are that the spillway outflow could peak at a rate of approximately 100 gigalitres per day (GL/day), one-fifth of the March spill event that peaked at 500GL/day.

“Inflows to the dam storage are rising as a result of multiple recent rain events, with latest rates of >38 GL/day expected to rise and showers to persist.”

It’s Saturday, so that can only mean one thing. That’s right, it’s anti-vaccination rally day. There are a few protest marches scheduled, including the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast and Canberra. We’re not expecting anything on the same scale as last weekend, but will keep you abreast of anything relevant.

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