10 things you need to know this morning in Australia

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NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard says health authorities expect the state could hit 25,000 cases a day by the end of January. The state recorded 1360 cases of COVID-19 yesterday, the highest tally in months. Chief Health Officer Dr. Kerry Chant said that, while the state did relax its rules yesterday, she encourages people to wear masks indoors anyway. She said health authorities think the Omicron variant is driving the spread. “We still don’t have enough information to inform our assessment about the severity profile, but we believe that that information will be emerging over the next two weeks,” Dr. Chant said.

In Victoria, masks will remain mandatory in shops and other high-risk settings, as the state government holds off on a planned relaxation of the rules. However, the rules applied to unvaccinated people have relaxed a little, and they are now allowed to access non-essential retail, real estate inspections, and auctions, places of worship, weddings, and funerals. (You still need to be vaccinated for a haircut or to get your nails done.)

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg will deliver the mid-year economic update today — probably the last one before an election. He’s expected to say that Australia’s unemployment rate will fall comfortably below 5% next year amid a continuing economic rebound. The last time the country had a run of unemployment below 5% was just before the global financial crisis. The time before that was the early 1970s.

Frydenberg is doing the media rounds this morning ahead of the announcement, and he’s also talking Omicron. His message on “Sunrise”: don’t freak out, and don’t impose lockdowns. “My message to the premiers is not to panic. Don’t overreact, show compassion and common sense. Understand that we need to live with the virus. [Nobody] wants to go back to lockdowns.”

Westpac chairman John McFarlane told shareholders the bank won’t stop funding fossil fuels in the short term. Facing a number of questions, McFarlane defended the bank’s performance on climate change. But environmental banking lobbyists Market Forces said the bank is having it both ways and has failed to square up its policy and practice with its commitments to the Paris Agreement.

The Nine papers are doing more reporting on the discrepancy in federal funding between Labor and Coalition seats. The Western Sydney seat of Lindsay, the only Labor seat in NSW won by the Liberal Party at the 2019 election, received $23.1 million in grants while three nearby Labor seats shared $6 million. When questioned yesterday about similar discrepancies in Peter Dutton’s seat of Dickson, Scott Morrison brushed it off and said, “Dickson must have a very good local member!”

Australian law has been tested by the transformation of the on-demand alcohol delivery industry since the start of the pandemic. Online beer, wine and liquor sales in Australia grew 27.2% over the past 12 months. The explosive growth of the sector represents a wholesale transformation of the Australian drinking culture and the laws that govern it, experts and industry told Business Insider Australia.

The team behind Tradervidz wants to educate the flood of first-time investors who have entered the market through the pandemic. Since launching in February, the platform has won over close to 1,000 new members and made more than $700,000 in profit. Looking to next year, the team wants to build on partnerships with Superhero and Digital Surge, and become a household name in financial education.

The UK has set a new daily record of COVID-19 cases amid the spread of the Omicron variant. On Wednesday, 78,610 new cases were recorded, which is about 10,000 more than the previous record. The government is relying on its booster program to prevent lockdowns.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the US, says people don’t need a “vaccine-specific booster” to fight the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. “Our booster vaccine regimens work again Omicron,” he said at a White House briefing Wednesday. Omicron has reached at least 36 states in the US and has affected more than 75 countries, CDC director Rochelle Walensky said at the briefing. 



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