The New South Wales government’s COVID-19 readiness is set to be tested on Tuesday when thousands of public school children head back to class.
Victoria is also bracing for outbreaks in schools as over a million students begin what the state government hopes will be a full term of on-campus learning.
Monday saw another 44 COVID-19 deaths across the country, with the bulk occurring in NSW, which recorded 27 fatalities.
There were eight deaths in Victoria, six in South Australia and three in Queensland.
There were more than 33,000 infections nationwide reported on Monday, which included 13,026 in NSW, 10,053 in Victoria, 7462 in Queensland, 1505 in SA and 537 in the ACT.
There were 504 new cases in Tasmania, 760 in the Northern Territory and 22 in Western Australia.
Here’s a wrap of the latest local coronavirus headlines.
And don’t forget, people who had their second coronavirus vaccine dose three months ago are now eligible to receive a booster after the national rollout expanded again.
School return the big test
About 40 per cent of Australian children aged between five and 11 have received one vaccine dose.
States are relying on other protections including improvements to classroom ventilation, air purifiers and mandatory rapid tests.
Time will tell if those methods are enough to stop the spread of coronavirus.
Chair for the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Jane Halton said schools’ COVID-safe measures would reduce transmission.
“That should give parents confidence, particularly using rapid antigen tests,” Professor Halton told the Nine Network.
“We’ll have a strategy that means for the next four weeks we will be able to surveil this and be able to tell exactly how many cases have come from schools reopening.”
Acting federal Education Minister Stuart Robert said on Monday that modelling indicated there would be an increase in transmission, but didn’t reveal what the expected increase would be.
“The key thing is its safe for kids to go back to school. We have to get back to normal,” Mr Robert told Sky News.
Catholic school children across NSW returned to school on Monday but most state pupils start their new year on Tuesday, sending thousands of students back to the classroom amid the state’s Omicron outbreak.
With students returning, Premier Dominic Perrottet unveiled a $155 million scheme for parents of primary school students to get access to $500 vouchers to help with the cost of before-and after-school care.
The vouchers will be available through Service NSW, from February 28, via the same app used to distribute the Dine and Discover vouchers rolled out last year, the government says.
It is the latest in a series of moves to ready the state for the new school year, including the government distributing around eight million rapid antigen tests in preparation for classes.
Strict anti-virus protocols have also been implemented including improved ventilation, vaccinations, mask wearing, twice weekly RATS, and the segregation of year groups, it says.
In addition to schools, the government is focused on keeping businesses afloat, with Treasurer Matt Kean reiterating his plea for the federal government to provide further COVID-19 assistance for Omicron-hit firms.
The state has unveiled a $1 billion support package for businesses hurt by Omicron, but Mr Kean wants the federal government to also pitch in.
The new business support includes a payment of up to $5000 per week, or 20 per cent of payroll, for firms with a turnover between $75,000 and $50 million who suffered a 40 per cent downturn in January, and are projected to do the same in February.
“The NSW government is doing its bit and will continue to call on the Commonwealth to stand by small businesses,” Mr Kean said on Monday.
However NSW Labor leader Chris Minns described the business package as “too little too late” for struggling NSW enterprises.
“You’ve got seven weeks since the Omicron wave smashed the NSW economy and some businesses will have to wait an extra month until money is in their account, it’s just not good enough,” Mr Minns said.
Scott Morrison to announced aged-care bonus
Expect major debate over the federal government’s priorities on Tuesday as Prime Minister Scott Morrison makes a speech to the National Press Club.
Mr Morrison will announce the federal government is preparing to roll out bonus payments to workers across residential aged care homes struggling with the ongoing wave of COVID-19 infections.
Workers will be eligible for payments of up to $400 each, paid pro rata based on hours worked, this month. The second payment will follow in May.
Staff providing care, food and cleaning services in government-subsidised facilities will be eligible as well as those in the federal home care scheme.
More than 400 virus deaths this year have been in aged care facilities, amounting to about a third of more than 1160 overall fatalities.
Labor’s health spokesman Mark Butler accused the Morrison government of failing older Australians as aged care facilities struggled to obtain rapid antigen tests and personal protective equipment.
The minister responsible for aged care, Richard Colbeck, will on Wednesday front a Senate committee focusing on the COVID-19 pandemic.
He has come under intense fire for skipping an earlier hearing on January 14 and going to the cricket.
Australia’s vaccine rollout coordinator Lieutenant General John Frewen and Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly are also due to appear alongside representatives from the Therapeutic Goods Administration and Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation.