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Nation gets the wobbles as cases spread to four states, tourism cops $6b hit

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Australia could be on the verge of a national coronavirus outbreak as the highly contagious Delta strain sweeps the country.

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There are new cases in four states and territories and lockdowns or tight restrictions have been imposed in three capital cities, including masks across south-east Queensland. Another 18 cases have been added to Sydney outbreak.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called a National Cabinet meeting for late this afternoon, where government leaders will discuss whether to again reduce the number of international arrivals, overhaul or replace hotel quarantine, and fast-track the vaccination rollout.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian this morning acknowledged the Delta threat remained despite the lockdown, with some of the newly-confirmed cases having been in the community while infectious.

“We have to be ready for the numbers to bounce around and we have to be prepared for the numbers to go up considerably,” Berejiklian said.

Morrison has also convened a meeting of the national security committee of federal cabinet.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who sits on the national security committee, said it would receive a briefing from Australia’s chief medical officer.

Frydenberg said details about the latest developments would help inform decisions about vaccines and logistics.

But asked repeatedly what the national security committee could actually do, he did not give a firm answer.

Frydenberg said the committee’s deliberations would feed into a national cabinet meeting to ensure consistency around state border closures and restrictions.

“Bringing the leaders together and hearing the most up to date information is important to align the responses,” he told ABC radio.

“The prime minister is also talking to state and territory leaders about the importance of ensuring workers in some of these facilities where the vulnerable cohorts are are vaccinated as well.”

Morrison is expected to push state and territory leaders to make vaccines mandatory for aged care workers.

In NSW, the Bondi cluster continues to grow, as Sydney faces a second full day of a two-week hard lockdown.

Queensland is reintroducing restrictions after recording two new locally-acquired cases of coronavirus.

In Western Australia, a woman who returned from Sydney has picked up the virus, prompting increased restrictions including indoor mask use.

In the Northern Territory, an outbreak linked to a central Australian mine has grown to six cases, but the movement of hundreds of fly-in, fly-out workers across the country has state and territory health officials concerned.

The outbreaks and quarantine breaches have prompted a multitude of border tightening measures, including South Australia’s closure to all jurisdictions except Victoria and Tasmania.

WA also tightened its border for residents of Queensland, the NT and ACT, while Victoria added Darwin to its “red zone” list.

All states had already locked out Sydney residents.

Health authorities are continuing to track hundreds of passengers from five Virgin flights on Friday and Saturday which carried people between Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and the Gold Coast.

The alert was raised after a Sydney-based flight attendant tested positive to coronavirus.

The Tourism Forum estimates the latest COVID-19 outbreak and the border restrictions imposed on Sydney and NSW residents will devastate the mid-year school holiday period for travel-related firms, with spending predicted to be down by $6.3 billion nationally.

Forum chief Margy Osmond says NSW’s tourism sector will lose business worth $2.1 billion – or $153 million a day – almost one third of the total losses predicted nationally for the holiday period.

It’s the third school holidays in a row that a COVID outbreak had forced a lockdown in a capital city.

“While health remains the number one priority in the management of COVID-19 … I’m not sure how much longer we can survive while this lack of certainty continues,” Osmond said on Monday.

The latest outbreak was proof of how important it was for the vaccination program to be fast-tracked, Osmond said.

“The tourism industry continues to suffer from a lack of international travel and the lack of confidence among Australians in the domestic travel market and in planning holidays is diabolical, making it very difficult for businesses in our sector to stay afloat,” Osmond said.

TTF data showed that in the equivalent 2019 school holidays more than 1.7 million Australians travelled domestically but it’s predicted the Sydney lockdown will see that number drop by 73 per cent – to about 460,000 travellers.

Australia now has outbreaks in NSW, Western Australia and Queensland and the Northern Territory causing lockdowns, tightened restrictions and border closures.

This situation confirmed the federal government’s decision to end the Jobkeeper wage subsidy – particularly for the tourism industry – in March “was somewhat short-sighted”, Osmond said.

“They will now need to look very seriously at some other form of ongoing support for the tourism sector to ensure we come out the other side of the pandemic,” she said.

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