Australia coronavirus news live: Tighter restrictions in force for NYE as Sydney’s Croydon cluster causes concern and Victoria announces new cases

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Sydney Opera House makes masks mandatory

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Guardian Australia asked the NSW police force whether it was aware of reports of Tony Abbott stopping at the cafe and talking with locals.

The NSW police media unit said there was no update to its earlier statement, which said officers had conducted “extensive inquiries, which included consultation with NSW Health”.

A spokesperson said police said had been called to a café at Church Point about 11am on Tuesday “following a report that a number of cyclists, who were believed to be from the southern area of the Northern Beaches, had gathered” – but when they arrived officers found “there were no cyclists, nor a large group”.

“After receiving further information, police attended a home at Forestville, where they spoke with a 63-year-old man.” Abbott is 63 years old. The spokesperson said the inquiries determined that the man “did not breach the public health orders”.

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Qld worried about NSW-Vic cases

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AMA: make masks mandatory

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Venues in south-western Sydney and the Illawarra added to NSW public health alert list

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Epidemiologists have been responding to the new cases in Victoria and New South Wales, and new restrictions announced for Victoria ahead of New Year’s celebrations.

A professor of epidemiology with La Trobe University, Hassan Vally, said reforms made to Victoria’s public health system during the second wave meant a strong and effective response could be expected this time around. He said mandating masks and tightening New Year’s Eve restrictions was an appropriate response “that made sense given the potential for super-spreading events” at large gatherings.

You can see how much work the Victorian government has done even in just the last 24 hours to understand the epidemiology.

But the psychology of these restrictions might be a bit tough for Victorians, especially happening hours before the new year. It is clear the psychology and attitude of Victorians is very different after all they have been through and it’s understandable if this feels like a blow to them.

Vally said the situation in New South Wales was “incredibly concerning”.

You get the feeling that while they are holding the line, they are right on the edge.

No one would criticise New South Wales for doing more, they’re more likely to face criticism if they weren’t doing enough. They’re really just holding ground at the moment. I understand they have confidence in their system, and they should, but it’s a very fine line, the spread of cases just seems to be getting wider.

The chair of epidemiology at Deakin University, Prof Catherine Bennett, said masks indoors was wise in Victoria, and that the public health response so far was impressive, with three cases already linked to a common venue when a New South Wales returned traveller was there.

Bennett said:

“This gives us a fighting chance of closing this down quickly, especially if we all do our bit to suppress transmission risk until we know we are out of the woods.

Small restrictions now help protect against the need for much more significant measures in two weeks time.”

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NSW woman arrested after allegedly speeding through Victoria checkpoint and evading police

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The Morrison government has welcomed the United Kingdom’s emergency use authorisation of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine as “an important and heartening moment for the UK, Australia and the world”.

But the government is sticking with March as Australia’s vaccine rollout commencement date, while expressing hope that domestic vaccine production and international imports may be achieved ahead of schedule. It is emphasising that outbreaks in places like the UK and US – which are accelerating vaccinations – are far more dire than the situation in Australia at present.

When asked for comment, a spokesperson for the federal health minister, Greg Hunt, said it was “important to note that the emergency use authorisation is not a formal and final regulatory approval, and is in response to the emergency situation being faced in the UK”.

“This vaccine is on track and we’re hopeful we will have both domestic production and international imports ahead of schedule. And I think that’s reassuring, reaffirming, and an important point of hope. On the basis of scientific advice, the Australian government has recently secured an additional 20m doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine. This will mean a total delivery of 53.8m AstraZeneca vaccine doses in 2021, covering the whole of population requirements.”

Hunt’s spokesperson said AstraZeneca was continuing to provide documentation to the Australian regulator “and that means that we will have, subject to our regulators agreeing, a safe, effective, and plentiful vaccine”.

Asked about any changes to the timeframes for Australia’s rollout, Hunt’s spokesperson said: “Our government has set March as our commencement date. This ensures we not only have a safe and effective vaccine, but we have the strongest safety and assessment processes through the Therapeutic Goods Administration.”

For more on the vaccine rollout plans, see my colleague Melissa Davey’s story from earlier this week:

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What’s happened so far today

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