The Australian and international news stories you need to know today, Thursday August 19.

Australia completes Afghan rescue flight.

Australia's first RAAF flight out of Kabul this week picked up just 26 people, comprised of Australian citizens and Afghan nationals with Australian visa, plus one foreign official who worked for an international agency.

That flight landed at an Australian airbase in the UAE on Wednesday morning.

"The transfers are done to our base in the Emirates, where capacity has already been established with medical support available, to provide that medical support and to process their further onward transfer to Australia," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

The PM made no mention of the Afghan interpreters who worked for the Australian army over the past two decades whose lives are now at risk as the Taliban seek revenge.

Morrison said efforts to extract Australians and Afghans who helped allied forces over the past two decades would ramp up in subsequent flights.

"This is not a simple process," he told reporters in Canberra.

"It's very difficult for any Australian to imagine the sense of chaos and uncertainty that is existing across this country, the breakdown in formal communications, the ability to reach people."

READ MORE: Exactly what you can do to help people in Afghanistan right now. 

Regular flights are scheduled in coming days but forecast poor weather may hamper evacuation efforts.

Cabinet's national security committee is meeting daily to discuss getting people out of Afghanistan, which is now under Taliban control.


Mr Morrison concedes not all Afghans who helped Australia will be rescued as part of the operation.

The first flight dropped off key foreign affairs, home affairs and defence personnel working to evacuate Australians and Afghan nationals.

Australia will provide 3000 humanitarian visas this financial year to Afghan refugees desperately trying to flee the Taliban.

That will come from the existing intake, rather than a special allocation, and is below other nations' commitments.

Canada and Britain have offered resettlement to more than 20,000 people at risk and the United States is accelerating its visa application process.

Also on Wednesday, US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman claimed the Taliban may be blocking Afghans from evacuating Kabul, despite their claims to the contrary.

Sherman made the remarks at a news briefing in Washington, where she said in the last 24 hours US military flights had evacuated approximately 2000 more people.

Chaos has continued outside the airport, with a Taliban official blaming Western forces for a "chaotic evacuation plan" from Afghanistan.

Australia's third wave yet to peak.

Australia's third wave of COVID-19 infections is threatening to eclipse the daily tally of last year's second wave and is reaching into younger age groups.

NSW smashed its daily infection high with 633 new cases on Wednesday. Three deaths were also reported.


With 24 new cases in Melbourne and 22 in Canberra, there were 679 local infections nationwide on Wednesday, just 19 short of the worst day during last year's second wave.

As well, the average age of infection is trending lower, and has dipped into the teens in the ACT.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian says her state hasn't seen the worst of the outbreak that has since spread to other states and territories, and New Zealand.

But federal officials say Australia's case numbers will soon fall.

"We're really expecting to see and anticipating that we will see a decrease in those numbers shortly," newly appointed federal deputy chief health officer Sonya Bennett said in Canberra.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison insists that rapid mass vaccination of those aged 16 and up will work and is sticking with the current priority age groups.

Just under half of eligible Australians have had a first dose of the vaccine and 27.5 per cent are fully vaccinated.

Despite rising outbreaks in schools, health officials are standing by the current focus on adults.

Over the last seven days 1.7 million doses have been administered.

The military has been called in to speed up vaccinations for vulnerable Indigenous communities in western NSW, where cases are growing.

Labor has warned the military units will fail without trusted Aboriginal elders working alongside them.


Victoria records 57 cases, as Melbourne marks 200th day in lockdown.

Victoria has recorded 57 new local COVID-19 cases, 13 of whom were infectious in the community.

Contact tracers have linked 54 of the cases back to the state's outbreak, with three still under investigation.

A pop-up vaccine hub and testing site have been set up in the beachside suburb of St Kilda in Melbourne, as concern grows about the number of people unknowingly infected with COVID-19 in the area.

Fifteen coronavirus cases have been linked to St Kilda in recent days, six of them mystery infections, including a homeless sex worker.

COVID-19 Commander Jeroen Weimar is asking anyone who lives or works in the area to come forward for testing even if they don't have symptoms. 

Melbourne is 14 days into its sixth lockdown, which was extended on Monday until September 2.

August 19 also marks an unpleasant milestone for Melburnians - the 200th day under lockdown restrictions since the pandemic began.

NT to learn if COVID-19 lockdown will end.

The Northern Territory is expected to find out if a COVID-19 lockdown triggered by an infected US defence contractor will end as planned.

Greater Darwin and Katherine were locked down for three days on Monday after the man travelled from Sydney via Canberra to Darwin.

It's set to end at midday on Thursday, with the Territory recording no virus cases linked to man.


Chief Minister Michael Gunner said he was "fairly confident but not completely certain" the lockdown would end as planned.

"We are feeling good. It's looking pretty sweet," he said on Wednesday.

Restrictions, such as wearing face masks in public, are likely to apply for one week.

Qantas 'right model' on workplace vaccines, Morrison says.

Businesses would do well to follow Qantas' model of requiring COVID-19 vaccinations, Prime Minister Scott Morrison says.

Qantas pilots, cabin crew and airport staff will need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 within three months.

The deadline for other workers, such as those in head office, to receive both doses is March 31 next year.


The airline believes this will not only safeguard staff but protect customers and the broader community.

Qantas will grant exemptions for employees who provide documented medical proof as to why they cannot be vaccinated.

Mr Morrison said while individual companies had to make their own decisions, and the government would not mandate vaccines, the Qantas move was commendable.

"They've come up, I think, with a fair and and well-intentioned direction," he told reporters.

"They've shown, I think, the right model about how you go about this."

Kefu leaves hospital after home invasion.

Wallabies star Toutai Kefu has left hospital along with two family members after they were injured in a violent home invasion in suburban Brisbane.

The 47-year-old suffered critical wounds to his abdomen while trying to defend his family in the early hours of Monday morning.

In a post to Facebook on Wednesday, Kefu said he was out of hospital with adult children Josh and Madi, and was hopeful wife Rachel would join the family tomorrow.

"We just want to say thank you for everyone's support, we feel very lucky and grateful," he posted.

Two 15-year-old boys have been charged with attempted murder, assault causing grievous bodily harm, break and enter and other offences over their alleged involvement, while a 13-year-old is accused of burglary and wounding.

The 13-year-old has also been charged over an earlier burglary that saw a silver Hyundai SUV stolen from a Forest Lake home.

Police said they found the car at Springfield Lakes on Wednesday.

The New Zealand outbreak came from NSW.

The genie could be out of the bottle in New Zealand, where one COVID-19 case jumped to a cluster of 10 on Wednesday, the first day of a new nationwide lockdown.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed the arrival of the dreaded Delta strain on Wednesday and a genomic link from the Auckland outbreak to the NSW outbreak.

"Our case has originated in Australia. Our job now is to work through how and when it got here," she said.

Three COVID-positive cases from NSW had been through NZ managed isolation hotels since July 1, with Ardern saying this would be authorities first line of inquiry.


The lockdown is New Zealand's first nationwide lockdown since May last year.

Some Australian states have also updated travel restrictions for NZ.

Tasmania has blocked non-Tasmanians from entering, WA is requiring a fortnight of self-isolation on arrival and SA will quarantine arriving Kiwis, as with other international arrivals.

Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said generic modelling suggested the cluster could grow to around "50 and 120 cases".

NSW minister Dominello has Bell's palsy

NSW Customer Services Minister Victor Dominello has revealed he has Bell's palsy - a condition that can cause one half of the face to droop.

Mr Dominello posted on social media after "a number of people commented on my droopy eye" after Wednesday's COVID-19 press conference where he spoke alongside Premier Gladys Berejiklian.


"Some people thought - I was winking at the cameraman. Some thought I had a stroke," he said.

"I have actually been diagnosed with Bell's palsy."

Earlier this week he felt pain in his skull and on Wednesday he developed pins and needles on the right side of his tongue, but didn't notice any droopiness around his eye.

"I only took it more seriously this afternoon - after a number of people sent me a screenshot of the press conference and others contacted my office prompting me to seek urgent medical advice.

"Thanks to everyone who reached out," he said.

His diagnosis was a reminder to everyone to look after their health, even while most people are focused on the COVID-19 crisis, he said.

Bell's palsy usually resolves on its own within six months.

Barty back to winning ways in Cincinnati.

Ash Barty has forged her way back into winning ways at the Cincinnati Open, making hard work of beating British qualifier Heather Watson in her first match since her shock opening round exit at the Tokyo Olympics.

Australia's world No.1, who hadn't played a tour match since winning Wimbledon over five weeks ago, needed to shake off some ring rust on Wednesday before finally disposing of Watson's impressive challenge 6-4 7-6 (7-3) after a tough one hour 46 minute duel in the Grandstand Arena.


Barty said she had to "dig deep" to finally subdue the world No.67's resistance after being left deeply frustrated by her shock loss in the draining heat of Tokyo.

Around the world.

- The International Monetary Fund has suspended Afghanistan's access to its resources due to a lack of clarity over the recognition of its government since the Taliban seized control of Kabul.

- At least 47 people are dead after another attack by Islamist militants in northern Burkina Faso, state media is reporting. Among the dead are 30 civilians and 14 soldiers, early reports say.

- The World Health Organization is urging US pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson to stop shipping COVID-19 vaccines to rich countries in the face of vaccine scarcity in Africa.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was incomprehensible that J&J were exporting their South African-manufactured product to wealthy countries that already had enough doses and that they should urgently prioritise the African continent.

Just 10 countries account for 75 per cent of all COVID-19 vaccines administered worldwide, with low-income countries having barely vaccinated 2 per cent of their populations, he said.

-With AAP.

Feature image: Getty and FlightRadar.