Australia news LIVE: Booster shot wait times accelerated in NSW, Victoria as COVID-19 cases grow across the nation; 2022 Australian Open continues in Melbourne – The Sydney Morning Herald

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Good evening and thank you for reading our live coverage of the day’s events. If you are just joining us now, here’s what you need to know.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke and Novak Djokovic.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen, AP
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
Prime Minister Scott Morrison waiting to receive his COVID booster shot in November.Credit:Kate Geraghty
While Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews foreshadowed yesterday that national cabinet would consider whether a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine would be required in the future to be considered fully vaccinated against the virus, no decision has been made. Mr Morrison said today that making a third jab a requirement rather than an optional extra for full vaccination had been “an item of discussion for some time”. Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said a number of implementation issues needed to be considered” but “the third dose is [important] … if you have Omicron. If Omicron is present, it does increase protection against severe disease and against transmission and against infection”.
Pfizer’s COVID-19 Paxlovid pills. Credit:AP
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
The Victorian government has walked back its decision to pause IVF treatments in hospitals following advice from Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton overnight, Marta Pascual Juanola reports. Some IVF treatments will restart from today, with hospitals gradually scaling up their operations to enable procedures to resume fully from Wednesday next week.
Victoria’s Chief Health Officer, Brett Sutton.Credit:Joe Armao
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet.Credit:Kate Geraghty
Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
This is Michaela Whitbourn signing off on the blog for today. I will be back with you tomorrow morning.
Tasmania says its schools will reopen on February 9 under a back-to-school plan that includes the provision of rapid antigen tests to parents.
The state government said in a media release today that “parents will receive a Back to School COVID Care Package, with detailed information and two Rapid Antigen Tests, per child, to have for use if your child becomes symptomatic and requires a test”.
Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein. Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
Schools will also be provided with “a further two tests for every student per week to take home to test if required due to being symptomatic”, the government said.
The government said masks would be worn indoors by secondary school students, and schools would be provided with masks. Children in early learning and child care settings will not wear masks, but primary school children will be given the option to wear a mask.
NSW and Victoria are working closely together on a plan the states’ respective premiers say will reduce the risk associated with students returning to face-to-face learning amid current infection rates.
National cabinet discussed those plans today.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet told ABC TV earlier today that “we see rapid antigen tests playing an important role, at least in the short term as we move through this Omicron wave.
“But there’s obviously a range of factors involved as well. It’s going to be a difficult and challenging time as we get kids back in the classroom. But we can’t let perfection be the enemy of the good.”
with Broede Carmody
The Northern Territory has recorded 459 new cases of COVID-19, 364 of which were self-reported rapid antigen test results.
NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner said it took the number of active cases in the NT to “about” 3,970.
A COVID-19 testing site at Katherine in the Northern Territory.Credit:Krystle Wright
“There are currently 54 patients in hospital, with five patients requiring oxygen. One patient is in ICU,” he said.
Thailand will resume a quarantine-free visa program for vaccinated visitors after its suspension last month helped the tourism-reliant nation curb a new wave of COVID-19 infections.
International travelers can start applying for visas under Thailand’s Test & Go entry program from February 1, Rachada Dhnadirek, a government spokeswoman, said on Twitter.
Boats, tourists and vendors pack into the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market near Bangkok, Thailand. Credit:iStock
The quarantine-free entry will be extended to applicants of all nationalities, and they will need to undergo two COVID tests; one upon arrival and another on the fifth day, Rachada said.
The decision to ease entry barriers for travelers is in line with the government’s call to treat COVID-19 as endemic this year and efforts to revive the tourism sector that employs millions of people.
While Thailand saw a jump in new cases after the Christmas and New Year celebrations, they are far below their peak during the delta wave and have yet to overwhelm the nation’s health-care system.
The Test & Go program, which previously allowed vaccinated travelers from more than 60 countries to skip quarantine, helped attract about 350,000 visitors in just two months before it was suspended.
Authorities have since widened its Phuket Sandbox tourism program to three more regions to lure holidaymakers.
Bloomberg
As noted below, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke cancelled the visa of unvaccinated tennis star Novak Djokovic on the basis he might pose a risk of stoking anti-vaccination sentiment in the community.
The world number one’s lawyers argued in the Federal Court on Sunday that Mr Hawke had made a jurisdictional error because he was illogical, irrational or unreasonable in not considering whether cancelling Mr Djokovic’s visa may itself foster anti-vaccination sentiment in Australia.
The Federal Court – Chief Justice James Allsop and Justices Anthony Besanko and David O’Callaghan – disagreed and said the decision was lawful.
The court said the Minister had no obligation to consider what would happen if Djokovic was expelled from the country, only what would happen if he remained in Australia.
“It was not necessary for the Minister to consider and weigh in the balance the two ‘binary’ choices contended for by Mr Djokovic.
“The power to cancel relied upon by the Minister in this case arose once he was ‘satisfied’ that ‘the presence of [the visa] holder in Australia … may be … a risk to … the health, safety or good order of the Australian community’.
“No statutory obligation arose to consider what risks may arise if the holder were removed from, or not present in, Australia.”
The court said, in any event, the Minister had been “aware of any number of different consequences that might ensue if the visa were cancelled, including unrest”, but hadn’t regarded them as necessary to weigh in the balance.
In the court’s final remarks, which are also noted below, it said that Parliament made clear in the Migration Act that the Minister may cancel a visa if he or she is satisfied that the presence of its holder in Australia may be a risk to the health or good order of the Australian community.
“The Minister reached that state of satisfaction on grounds that cannot be said to be irrational or illogical or not based on relevant material,” the court said.
“Another person in the position of the Minister may have not cancelled Mr Djokovic’s visa. The Minister did. The complaints made in the proceeding do not found a conclusion that the satisfaction of the relevant factors and the exercise of discretion were reached and made unlawfully.“
As we reported earlier today, another 15 people have died in Victoria with COVID-19.
They were aged in their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, and their deaths bring the total number of deaths in the state since the pandemic began to 1751.
Of the 21,966 new COVID-19 cases the state reported on Thursday, 10,273 were recorded after people returned positive rapid antigen test results.
About 63 per cent of the people who self-reported their rapid antigen tests took the tests on Wednesday, while about 19 per cent took the tests on Tuesday. The remainder took their rapid antigen tests in the previous five days.
In its reasons for dismissing Novak Djokovic’s legal challenge to the cancellation of his visa, the Federal Court reiterates that the Migration Act says the Immigration Minister “may cancel a visa if he or she is satisfied that presence of its holder in Australia may be a risk to the health or good order of the Australian community”.
“The Minister [Alex Hawke] reached that state of satisfaction on grounds that cannot be said to be irrational or illogical or not based on relevant material,” the court said.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
“Whether or not others would have formed that state of satisfaction and the state of satisfaction as to the public interest is a consideration not to the point.
“The relevant states of satisfaction were of matters which involved questions of fact, projections of the future and evaluations in the nature of opinion.
“That is the position in this case. Another person in the position of the Minister may have not cancelled Mr Djokovic’s visa. The Minister did. The complaints made in the proceeding do not found a conclusion that the satisfaction of the relevant factors and the exercise of discretion were reached and made unlawfully.”
On this basis, the court rejected the challenge and ordered Djokovic to pay the government’s legal costs.
As we’ve noted already, the Federal Court was asked to review Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s decision to cancel Novak Djokovic’s visa on the basis that he may pose a risk to the “health, safety or good order of the Australian community”.
Lawyers for the federal government argued that the unvaccinated tennis star’s presence in Australia may stoke anti-vaccination sentiment.
Novak Djokovic left Australia on Sunday evening. Credit:AP
Djokovic’s legal team had argued on Sunday that Mr Hawke lacked any evidence to show the world number one’s presence may foster that sentiment.
The Federal Court had this to say about that line of reasoning:
An iconic world tennis star may influence people of all ages, young or old, but perhaps especially the young and the impressionable, to emulate him. This is not fanciful; it does not need evidence. It is the recognition of human behaviour from a modest familiarity with human experience. Even if Mr Djokovic did not win the Australian Open, the capacity of his presence in Australia playing tennis to encourage those who would emulate or wish to be like him is a rational foundation for the view that he might foster anti-vaccination sentiment.
The court added that “it was not irrational for the Minister to be concerned that the asserted support of some anti-vaccination groups for Mr Djokovic’s apparent position on vaccination may encourage rallies and protests that may lead to heightened community transmission”.
It was “open to infer that it was perceived by the public that Mr Djokovic was not in favour of vaccinations” and that his presence in Australia may cause others to emulate him, the court said.
The court said that the Minister had argued Mr Djokovic’s presence could not only encourage anti-vaccination groups, but also to people who simply may be uncertain or wavering as to whether they will be vaccinated.
The court said it was not irrational to infer that Mr Djokovic’s presence may be taken up by anti-vaccination groups in the future in support of their views.
“It was not irrational for the Minister to be concerned that the asserted support of some anti-vaccination groups for Mr Djokovic’s apparent position on vaccination may encourage rallies and protests that may lead to heightened community transmission.”
The court also said there was evidence that Djokovic had recently disregarded reasonable public health measures overseas by attending activities unmasked while COVID positive to his knowledge.
“It was open to infer that this, if emulated, may encourage an attitude of breach of public health regulations.”
It was “plainly open” to Immigration Minister Alex Hawke to infer Nokak Djokovic was opposed to vaccination against COVID-19, the Federal Court says in its reasons for rejecting a legal challenge by the tennis star to the cancellation of his visa.
The Serbian tennis star’s lawyers argued on Sunday that it was not open to Mr Hawke to make a finding about their client’s vaccination stance.
Novak Djokovic prepares to take his seat on a plane to Belgrade, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, last Monday after being deported from Australia.Credit:AP
They said Mr Hawke had not sought Djokovic’s current views on vaccination, and had relied on “selective” comments from a BBC article titled “What has Novak Djokovic actually said about vaccines?”.
In written reasons for its decision, published on Thursday afternoon, the Federal Court said: “We reject the proposition that it was not open to the Minister to find or conclude that Mr Djokovic had a stance that was well-known on vaccination and that he was opposed to it.”
They said that Djokovic’s views canvassed in the BBC article were “expressed and publicly known even before there was a COVID-19 vaccine”.
“Further, there was no issue … that Mr Djokovic was not, by January 2022, vaccinated. It was plainly open to the Minister to infer that Mr Djokovic had for over a year chosen not to be vaccinated since vaccines became available,” the court said.
“That he had a reason not to have a vaccination at the time of the decision in January 2022, apparently having contracted COVID-19 on or about 16 December 2021, did not say anything as to the position for the many months from the availability of vaccines to December 2021.
“It was plainly open to the Minister to infer that Mr Djokovic had chosen not to be vaccinated because he was opposed to vaccination or did not wish to be vaccinated.”
They said that while Mr Hawke had not asked Mr Djokovic about his present attitude to vaccines, that only meant that there was “no express statement to the contrary of what could be inferred to be his attitude up to January 2022”.
“Mr Djokovic had not volunteered any information when interviewed at the airport by officers of the Department of Home Affairs. He did not give evidence of any apparent change of attitude.
“It was also open to the Minister to infer that the public would view his attitude as the media had portrayed: that he was unwilling to be vaccinated.”
The Federal Court noted Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s reasons for cancelling Novak Djokovic’s visa, “entitled ‘Statement of Reasons’, comprised ten pages and 71 paragraphs”.
In the reasons, Mr Hawke referred to medical advice from the Commonwealth Health Department that the unvaccinated tennis star “is unlikely to be infectious with SARS-COV-2 and as such is likely to constitute a LOW risk of transmitting SARS-CoV-2 to others”.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke, left, and Novak Djokovic. Credit:Alex Ellinghausen, Getty
“Having regard to the specific additional control measures applicable to the Australian Open, ‘it is assessed that the risk of a transmission event related to the Australian Open is VERY LOW,’” the Department of Health advised the Minister.
Mr Hawke went on to say: “Although I make the assumptions above and accept that Mr Djokovic poses a negligible individual risk of transmitting COVID-19 to other persons, I nonetheless consider that his presence may be a risk to the health of the Australian community.”
He said he considered the world number one tennis player’s “presence in Australia may foster anti-vaccination sentiment leading to (a) other unvaccinated persons refusing to become vaccinated, (b) other unvaccinated persons being reinforced in their existing view not to become vaccinated, and/or (c) a reduction in the uptake of booster vaccines”.
The court said that “an important strand of reasoning was the Minister finding that Mr Djokovic was a high profile person with a position as a role model in the sporting and broader community”.
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