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Australia news LIVE: COVID-19 cases continue to soar in NSW; Victoria expands Pfizer vaccine eligibility

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  • Major western Sydney hospital forced into ‘emergency’ operations
  • This morning’s headlines at a glance
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Major western Sydney hospital forced into ‘emergency’ operations

A major hospital at the epicentre of Sydney’s outbreak has been forced into “emergency operations”, reducing the number of COVID-19 cases arriving by ambulance for 24 hours and transferring several critical patients to other hospitals.

On Tuesday, Westmead Hospital announced to staff it was doing so to “support an internal disaster management response” as it deals with an increasing number of coronavirus infections.

“We acknowledge that we are no longer operating in a business-as-usual environment and careful assessment and response is required to manage future demand for our services,” the hospital’s acting general manager, Jenelle Matic, said in an email seen by this masthead.

Western Sydney Local Health District chief executive Graeme Loy said the measures were implemented following “unprecedented high demand” for the hospital’s services during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We are continuing to receive ambulances and emergency care continues to be available to everyone who needs it,” he said.

It came after ambulances queued for hours outside the hospital’s emergency department on Monday night. At times, paramedics said there were nine ambulances in the queue, including one which waited over six hours.

Greens NSW health spokesperson Cate Faehrmann said it was concerning western Sydney’s largest hospital was unable to cope with its caseload.

“We might not be anywhere near the peak of this outbreak, yet already the caseload is too much for Westmead to bear on its own,” said Ms Faehrmann, who has written to Health Minister Brad Hazzard calling for better resourcing of hospitals and ICUs.

Voters back national vaccination targets to ease restrictions

Most Australians want political leaders to stick to a national cabinet deal to ease restrictions when the vaccination rate hits key targets, with 62 per cent backing the plan and only 24 per cent saying states and territories should go their own way.

Voters are increasing their support for vaccinations at the same time many of them decide the country will not return to zero coronavirus cases, with 54 per cent saying it is not possible to achieve “complete suppression” again.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants state and territory leaders to stick to the plan to lift lockdowns once vaccination targets are reached.Credit:Fairfax Media

The exclusive findings lend weight to Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s call to the country to “get out of the cave” after weeks of dispute over whether to relax rules when the vaccine rate reaches 70 per cent and then 80 per cent of people aged 16 and over.

Read more about the latest Resolve Political Monitor here.

Rush to cancel AstraZeneca bookings as Pfizer access widened in Victoria

The Andrews government’s move to make the Pfizer vaccine available to Victorians aged 16 to 39 from Wednesday prompted widespread cancellation of AstraZeneca appointments at GP clinics and created lengthy delays on the state’s booking website on Tuesday.

Until today, people between 18 and 39 were able to get the AstraZeneca vaccine in Victoria, but Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s announcement last week making Pfizer available for people aged over 16 from August 31 meant people with AstraZeneca bookings had suddenly cancelled or were not showing up.

Premier Daniel Andrews has opened up accessibility to Pfizer.Credit:Justin McManus

Premier Daniel Andrews said on Tuesday that the Commonwealth’s surprise move had in part forced his hand. Though he has spruiked the efficacy and safety of AstraZeneca more than most state premiers, he said people who had booked for their first dose of AstraZeneca at state hubs would now have the option of receiving Pfizer instead.

From 7am on Wednesday, 830,000 more first-dose vaccine appointments will be available, more than half of which will be Pfizer. AstraZeneca – manufactured in Melbourne and stockpiled in its millions – will still be available to people aged 18 and over, but those aged 16 and 17 will receive only Pfizer.

Read the full story here.

This morning’s headlines at a glance

Good morning and thanks for your company.

It’s Wednesday, August 25. I’m Broede Carmody and I’ll be anchoring our live coverage for the first half of the day.

Here’s everything you need to know before we get started.

  • NSW has surpassed Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s initial target of 6 million coronavirus jabs. This equates to about 60.3 per cent of the state’s adult population. Yesterday, NSW recorded 753 new cases of coronavirus – down from 818 on Monday. NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant says while she hopes numbers are going down, it’s too early to see a trend. A mother in her 30s is among the latest people to die with the virus and there is growing pressure on the state’s hospitals.
  • Victoria is expanding its Pfizer eligibility from 7am this morning. Around 800,000 vaccine bookings will be made available today, and more than half of those are Pfizer jabs aimed at 16- to 39-year-olds. Victoria recorded 50 locally acquired cases yesterday, the majority of those infectious in the community.
  • The ACT recorded 30 new cases yesterday. This is the territory’s highest daily number of the current outbreak. It comes amid long queues at Canberra testing sites and pressure on food delivery services. There are more than 100 exposure sites.
  • There were two local cases recorded in Queensland on Tuesday. Both are interstate truck drivers. However, authorities say the pair pose a low risk to the Sunshine State. This is because they initially tested positive but later returned negative tests. Further investigations are underway.
  • And in federal politics, the majority of Australians would like to see political leaders stick to a national cabinet plan to ease restrictions when the nation hits key vaccination targets. Just 24 per cent of people would like their state or territory leader to go their own way (for example, keeping border closures in place).
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