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Hopes of early vaccine amid NSW outbreak

The federal government has raised hopes two coronavirus vaccines will be rolled out sooner than expected after the national death toll rose by one.

A NSW man in his 70s who was infected with COVID-19 in March recently died of respiratory complications, the state government revealed on Monday.

The death raised the state’s COVID-19 toll to 56 and the national toll to 909.

As NSW deals with a growing cluster on Sydney’s northern beaches, Health Minister Greg Hunt suggested a plan to roll out two coronavirus vaccines in Australia by the end of March could be expedited.

“Our goal is to under-promise, over-deliver, and we expect that Australians will be fully vaccinated by the end of October, on the basis of it’s free, it’s universal and it’s entirely voluntary,” Mr Hunt told reporters on Monday.

“We’ve seen some very heartening reports over the weekend of an expected uptake of up to 80 per cent.

“We would like to see as many Australians as possible be vaccinated but, in order to do that, they have to have the confidence that our regulators are making sure that every safety step is ticked.

“And we’re ticking all of those boxes just a little bit earlier than expected.”

One vaccine has been developed by AstraZeneca and the UK’s Oxford University and the other by Pfizer and BioNTech.

Australia has ordered more than 50 million doses of the former and 10 million of the latter. Most of the AstraZeneca purchase will be produced in Australia by CSL.

AstraZeneca global chief Pascal Soriot last weekend said he believed his company’s vaccine had the “winning formula” in terms of storage and efficacy.

The AstraZeneca serums can be stored in a fridge while the Pfizer formulations have to be stored at -70C in specialised equipment.

Meanwhile, NSW is trying to suppress a COVID-19 outbreak in Sydney’s northern breaches, which has now grown to 126 cases.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced the area will remain in lockdown into the new year after five new local virus cases were reported on Monday.

Current stay-at-home orders applying to residents north of the Narrabeen Bridge will be extended until at least January 9, while people in the southern area have to remain at home until January 2.

A plan to give frontline coronavirus workers from around NSW prime seats to the famous New Year’s Eve fireworks on Sydney Harbour has also been cancelled.

“It’s too much of a health risk having people from the regions and from Sydney and from broader regional areas congregate all in the CBD,” Ms Berejiklian said.

Elsewhere, a woman who was found after fleeing hotel quarantine in Perth has been charged with failing to comply with a health direction and is due back in court on January 4.

Jenny Maree D’ubios, who recently arrived back in Australia from Madrid, tested negative for COVID-19 after being found at Rockingham hospital on Sunday night.

Ms D’ubois faces a maximum penalty of $50,000 or 12 months in prison if convicted.

Victoria on Monday recorded its 59th consecutive day without a locally-acquired COVID-19 case but uncovered two new cases in hotel quarantine.

Queensland, which has gone 104 days without any community transmission, recorded five new cases in hotel quarantine on Monday.

Queensland Health reported that two cases detected on the Lady E super yacht in Cairns had been determined as historical cases and were no longer considered infectious.

All other crew had returned negative results and all crew were continuing their 14-day quarantine.

South Australia on Monday recorded one COVID-19 case in hotel quarantine, while Western Australia recorded three COVID-19 cases in hotel quarantine.

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