Anti-vaxxers banned from venues: Premier gets tough
Anti-vaxxers who don't get the COVID jab could be prevented from entering certain venues - including pubs and clubs - under a suggestion flagged by Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
Ms Berejiklian has left the door open to the radical plan to "incentivise" the jab, with high vaccine take-up considered crucial to getting life back to normal.
Speaking exclusively to The Daily Telegraph, she indicated that certain venues may require patrons to prove their vaccination before entering.
"Clearly, opportunities to travel overseas or opportunities to enter certain workplaces or venues might be enhanced if you have the vaccine," she said.
"Some of those decisions could be inspired by government, (and) some of those decisions might be inspired by the organisation themselves."
If the plan goes ahead, hospitality venues - seen throughout the pandemic as "high-risk settings" - could be encouraged by the government to require proof of vaccination for patrons.
The government will have further discussions about the vaccine rollout in coming weeks.
"Obviously the vaccine rollout and the vaccine policies are the domain of the federal government, but certainly in NSW I would be encouraging people to have the vaccine once it's made available," Ms Berejiklian said.
If the plan goes ahead, government-run settings where a proof of a vaccine may be required for entry could include departmental buildings, police and fire stations, or Service NSW shopfronts.
It is believed that hospitality operators would be among the non-government organisations also playing a role in determining their own settings for who can enter.
"Some workplaces might say: 'if you're coming into work, this is our preference, or this is what you (need to) do'," Ms Berejiklian said.
"I think they're the conversations we need to have in the coming weeks."
Qantas boss Alan Joyce has already said that once a vaccine is readily available it will be a requirement for international travellers.
Allowing venues to deny access to people without the jab was broadly supported by Liberals speaking to The Telegraph on Sunday.
One minister said venues should be allowed to ask patrons to prove they had been vaccinated once the jab was available to anyone who wanted it.
The suggestion comes after Ms Berejiklian revealed that the Service NSW app could have the capacity to display a green tick as proof someone had been inoculated. That would require input from the federal government.
A spokesman for federal Health Minister Greg Hunt reiterated that "vaccination in Australia is and will remain voluntary" but that we have "some of the highest rates of vaccination in the world".
"Our goal is to have as high an uptake of the COVID vaccine as possible," he said.
Ms Berejiklian's suggestion that proof of vaccination could be an entry requirement to certain locations was made as part of an exclusive interview with The Daily Telegraph to outline the state government's priorities for the year ahead.
"This year has to be all about providing the best quality of life for our citizens during the pandemic, but also emerging post COVID as a strong economy, and a strong place to live and work," she said.
Ms Berejiklian said that some months ago, the government was "extremely concerned" about what would happen in March when the federal JobKeeper payment ended, but had been buoyed by a number of sectors that "are bouncing back".
She defended the state's approach to COVID restrictions, telling business "no matter what happens, you can be assured that we're not going to shut you down".
That is despite the recent Northern Beaches lockdown, in which residents were told to stay home, crippling business activity.
"We shut down activity, not businesses," Ms Berejiklian said, suggesting businesses that were able to pivot to new practices could still operate in a COVID-safe way.
Of the possible plan to allow venues to only allow vaccinated patrons in, one hospitality industry source said decisions about a "no jab, no entry" rule for patrons or staff should be made by individual businesses.
NSW reported six locally transmitted cases on Sunday.
BOFFINS TO GET COVID R&D BOOST
A single entity could be put in charge of research and development projects across the state in a bid to put NSW at the cutting edge of future discoveries like the vaccine for the next global pandemic.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian has revealed boosting research and development (R&D) capacity will be one of her government's main objectives in 2021.
"There's no doubt NSW has to increase its capacity in R&D," Ms Berejiklian told The Daily Telegraph in her first major interview of the year. "One of the main objectives for the year is to really focus in on R&D and how we can make ourselves global leaders."
One option being considered by the state government is to put a single entity in charge of research and development across multiple sectors.
She said the COVID pandemic has identified new opportunities for NSW.
"I think pleasingly we've maybe surprised ourselves at how resilient we've been and how we've managed to get through things the way we have. And I think that also lends itself to provide greater opportunities like greater emphasis and greater centralised function in government for R&D," Ms Berejiklian said.
On the hit list for future discoveries in NSW are ways to "enhance quality of life" and "create jobs".
The Premier said a vaccine for the next global pandemic should "100 per cent" be discovered in this state, "or the next ability to defend a cybersecurity attack".
Government has been working behind the scenes to develop a comprehensive research and development strategy with further announcements to come in the coming months.
Ms Berejiklian said she wants to keep reform objectives like a renewed focus on research and development "not just alive but progressing" alongside the government's COVID response.
The Premier's message at the start of 2021 is that her government "never sits on its hands".
38,000 AUSSIES ON THE LIST TO COME HOME
Less than 15 per cent of stranded Australians registered to return from overseas are considered "vulnerable" with new people now signing up at roughly the same rate as the government has been getting them home.
About 38,000 Australian citizens are currently registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as being overseas and wanting to return, of which about 5000 are considered to be in vulnerable situations.
The number of people seeking to return has not dipped below 30,000 for several months, despite more than 440,000 Australians coming back since the government recommended people reconsider the need to travel abroad in March 2020.
A DFAT spokeswoman said the government's "highest priority" was helping vulnerable Australians overseas.
"Since March, DFAT has helped over 39,000 Australians return on over 500 flights including over 12,800 people on 92 Government facilitated flights," she said.
"In the six weeks prior to Christmas, DFAT made over 50,000 offers of places on flights to Australians registered overseas."
Further government flights to support the return of vulnerable Australians overseas are planned from the United Kingdom, India, the US and other countries in the coming weeks.
Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said co-ordinating Australians' return was not "easy".
"It's got ongoing challenges in the type of new variants in COVID-19, great new challenges that we're just going to have to keep responding to and keep making adjustments necessary to maintain Australia's success in keeping people safe here," he said.
Labor frontbencher Bill Shorten said he was "perplexed" why the government had not been using more Commonwealth facilities as quarantine sites in the last eight months.
"I don't understand why we haven't implemented federally run quarantine facilities," he said. "It's a federal power."
MAN CHARGED WITH BITING COP IN MASK DISPUTE
A man has been charged after he allegedly failed to wear a face mask on public transport and bit a police officer on the stomach in NSW.
Police say the 43-year-old man was seen without a mask while travelling on a southbound train between Gosford and Woy Woy just after 3pm on Saturday.
When officers questioned whether he had a mask and asked for identification, he allegedly refused and became aggressive.
"As police attempted to arrest him, he tried to punch officers before OC spray was deployed," police said in a statement on Sunday.
The man allegedly punched a constable before he was wrestled to the ground and bit the constable twice on his stomach and finger, causing cuts and bruises.
After he was removed from the train, the man allegedly became violent again on the platform and kicked out at officers.
The constable was taken to Gosford Hospital for treatment and was later released.
The accused man has been charged with not wearing a fitted face covering on public transport, failing to comply with a direction, resisting an officer in the execution of their duty, and assaulting a police officer causing bodily harm.
He has been granted conditional bail and is scheduled to face Woy Woy Local Court on February 11.
Originally published as Anti-vaxxers banned from venues: Premier gets tough