Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley says the latest COVID-19 wave will peak sometime this month, followed by a “long tail of a slow decline”.
Victoria recorded 12,007 new infections today – the highest single-day total for the state since early February, when the original Omicron wave was subsiding.
“As we see higher levels of infectivity … as movement happens around the community, as there is more indoor activity as the weather gets colder, you would expect that to start to be reflected in chains of transmission,” Mr Foley said.
“[There will be] a peak in April and a long tail coming down in May.”
Mr Foley said the advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee was while cases would not be as high as what they were in January, there would be an increase in coming days and weeks. He said the Victorian government is focused on ensuring the healthcare system is ready to deal with rising COVID-19 cases.
Opposition health spokeswoman Georgie Crozier said the health system is under pressure because the Andrews government “failed to plan, failed to prepare and failed to invest prior to COVID”.
“We need to take a common-sense approach to [easing isolation rules]. Of course, listen to the health experts. But don’t let them make the decisions on behalf of Victorians,” Ms Crozier said.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet is in the northern part of his state this morning.
He and NSW education minister Sarah Mitchell have announced additional payments for flood-affected communities. Specifically, there will be $500 payments to parents whose children have lost educational materials (such as textbooks) due to recent flooding.
Teachers can also access up to $1000 payments to replace classroom materials lost or damaged in floodwaters.
“We know that education is crucial,” NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said.
“I want to thank our teachers, who have had to relocate [this] school [behind me]. The commitment they had to get our kids back to school as quickly as possible [is inspiring].
“We hear from many children, the importance of being back in school is incredibly important. Not just for educational outcomes, but for the mental health of our children as well.”
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has put the onus on changing COVID-19 close contact isolation rules back on the federal government, following increased calls for the state to scrap them.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said it is ultimately up to the Premier as to whether Victoria does away with close contact isolation requirements. At the moment, close contacts of COVID-19 cases in Victoria must isolate for seven days.
At his first in-person press conference since coming out of isolation because of the virus, Mr Andrews said he was “surprised” the federal government had suggested the responsibility to change the rules lies with the states.
“National cabinet, which is chaired by the Commonwealth, asked the Australian Health Principal Protection Committee – [which is] again, chaired by the Commonwealth, to have a look at this very issue,” the Premier said.
“They came back as a group of experts and they said, ‘Not at this time.’ Hopefully that time comes, though, and we’re able to make those changes.”
Mr Andrews said the committee’s decision made sense, given COVID-19’s current surge was expected to “peak in the next few weeks”.
“I see some people … [saying], ‘There was no infection in my household, so that should be the rule for every household.’ Well, in my house – despite our best efforts – that’s not what happened. So I think it’s a bit dangerous to look at just one household; it’s always best to look at the views of experts.”
Returning to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and Foreign Minister Marise Payne says Australia will offer its expertise when it comes to a formal inquiry into Russia’s alleged war crimes.
Senator Payne will soon travel to Belgium where she will reaffirm Australia’s offer of assistance to the International Criminal Court (located in the nearby Netherlands).
“It’s difficult to find the words,” the Liberal senator told Channel Seven when asked to describe the photographs and footage emerging from the outskirts of Kyiv.
Ukrainian officials have accused Russian forces of torturing and killing civilians in Bucha, located about an hour from Ukraine’s capital. Russia says those killings occurred after its soldiers had withdrawn from the town. However, satellite images appear to contradict the Kremlin’s claims.
“It’s beyond appalling,” Senator Payne said. “It’s horrific. It’s obscene.
“It is absolutely the work of the International Criminal Court … for these actions to be investigated. Australia has offered two qualified professionals to work in that international process. And I look forward to reaffirming that offer when I am in Brussels this week.
“What we have seen in the last [few] days, particularly in Bucha … is the butchering of people in mass graves … [and] the use of rape as a weapon of war. It is appalling. And it must be investigated in the context of the war crimes issues that have been raised. Australia stands very strongly in relation to that, and we’ll stand with our international partners to ensure that’s the case.”
United States President Joe Biden has called for a war crimes trial against Russia President Vladimir Putin, but has stopped short of accusing Russia of genocide (something Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has done).
Ukraine, climate change and federal politics are dominating local headlines.
Here’s what else is making news across the country
In business news
Optus customers around the country are having trouble making and receiving calls this morning.
The telco confirmed it is aware that some voice customers may be experiencing issues. A spokeswoman said it was investigating the cause as a priority.
“We apologise to impacted customers and thank them for their patience while affected services are restored,” she said.
In NSW, a 15-year-old British girl remains in hospital and is being treated for shock after her family were caught in a landslide while bushwalking in the Blue Mountains yesterday.
The girl’s father and nine-year-old brother died. Her mother and 14-year-old brother remain in hospital in a critical condition. Sarah Keoghan has further details here.
Meanwhile, two people have died after a helicopter crash near the NSW Snowy Mountains.
In Victoria, Premier Daniel Andrews has fronted media for the first time since emerging from COVID-19 isolation.
He lashed the Commonwealth government over the federal budget, saying while it was clear Victoria was not receiving its “fair share” of infrastructure funding, the state was not “sitting around for the Commonwealth government to fund infrastructure properly”.
He rejected Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s suggestion the responsibility to change COVID-19 isolation rules lies with the states.
He also responded to news the Ombudsman has started probing the alleged politicisation of Victoria’s public service, saying, “last time I checked, political association is one of those inalienable rights”, and people were capable of separating their views from their professional roles.
Meanwhile, Richard Baker and Simone Fox Koob report that Daniel Andrews’ key conduit to Melbourne’s Indian community, bottle shop owner Luckee Kohli, secured a $1 million state government grant for a Sikh temple with which he had previously been closely involved.
Victoria’s daily coronavirus numbers have also been published.
There are 12,007 official cases of COVID-19 reported today, along with eight deaths. Today’s tally is up on yesterday’s 10,011 cases.
There are currently 339 people Victorian hospitals with COVID-19. Of those, 18 are in ICU.
Today’s hospitalisations are up on yesterday’s 305 patients.
NSW’s daily coronavirus numbers are in.
The state has recorded 19,183 new cases of COVID-19 and 12 deaths. Today’s tally is up on yesterday’s 15,572 cases.
There are 1467 people in NSW hospitals with COVID-19. Of those, 56 are in intensive care.
Today’s total hospitalisations are up on yesterday’s 1418 patients.
Staying with the criticism levelled at Prime Minister Scott Morrison for a moment, and Labor frontbencher Chris Bowen has weighed in.
The shadow climate change minister says it’s important to remember that those lashing the PM come from his side of politics.
Here’s what Mr Bowen told RN Breakfast:
The concerns over the Prime Minister’s character are now well established. And well established not by the Labor Party, but when his own Deputy Prime Minister called him a liar and a hypocrite.
These people know … him over a period of many years, in Catherine Cusack’s case and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells. So this is not a political attack by the Labor Party. This is a character assessment by the people who have worked with him very closely.
The Australian people have [paid] a direct price. Flood victims are paying a direct price for the political manipulation, for the dishonesty. Australians… need government at their time of greatest crisis
Federal Liberal MP for the Victorian seat of Goldstein Tim Wilson has appeared on ABC radio to defend the Prime Minister’s record.
It comes after NSW upper house Liberal Catherine Cusack told Radio National listeners that Scott Morrison had “totally lost his moral compass” and she won’t vote for the PM “full stop”.
“[Those comments are] just not even remotely relatable to any experience I’ve had,” Mr Wilson told RN Breakfast host Patricia Karvelas.
“The Prime Minister and I have had a number of differences of opinion over time. He knows that, I know that. I’ve always found my engagement with him to be incredibly professional and engaged on good faith. Because in a free society, people can have a diversity of views.”
Asked whether he is confident he can retain his seat at the upcoming election – given he will face off with high-profile independent challenger Zoe Daniels – Mr Wilson said he is “extremely confident”.
“The energy and the buzz of hundreds of locals that turned up [to my campaign launch] sent a clear message … that the community isn’t for sale to Simon Holmes a Court [the billionaire financially backing independents advocating for greater action on climate change].”
Defence Minister Peter Dutton has been doing the media rounds this morning off the back of reports which say the government will accelerate the acquisition of new weapons, including long-range missiles for fighter jets.
While fronting Seven’s breakfast show Sunrise, Mr Dutton was asked about United States President Joe Biden calling for a war crimes trial against Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Here’s what the Defence Minister had to say:
[Russia] should be investigated. Action should be taken against [Putin]. Because he is a brutal autocrat and the use of chemical weapons… the use of brutality against women and children just doesn’t faze him.
When you’re seeing theatres bombed, when you’re seeing residential areas bombed, and the potential of mass graves or executions… that is, straight up and down, the act of a war criminal.
This should be investigated as quickly as possible.