The Australian and international news stories you need to know today, Thursday September 23.

Vic braces for more earthquake aftershocks.

Victorians have been told to brace for more aftershocks and monitor for signs of building damage after the state's largest earthquake in history.

The magnitude 5.9 quake hit about 9.15am on Wednesday, with the epicentre between Mansfield and Rawson in the state's northeast.

The 10km deep earthquake - the biggest on record in the state - was felt across Melbourne and as far away as Canberra, Sydney and Adelaide.

Authorities say there are no reports of injuries.

At least six aftershocks have been registered between 2.4 and 4.1 on the Richter scale, and further tremors are expected in coming days and possibly months.

"We are asking people to know what to do: drop, cover and hold is the key message," State Emergency Service chief officer Tim Wiebusch told reporters.


There were more than 100 calls for assistance after the initial earthquake, with 55 of those in metropolitan Melbourne. Most were for minor structural damage to chimneys, facades and older buildings.

Mr Wiebusch has urged anyone who discovers building damage to contact a licensed builder or technician, with emergency repairs still allowed under COVID-19 restrictions.

Vic protesters to rally for fourth day after "disrespecting" Shrine of Remembrance. 

Melbourne is bracing for its fourth day of protests, as police report the demonstrators are no longer mainly tradies angered by mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations or the construction industry shutdown.

About 300 to 400 protesters again swarmed the Victorian capital on Wednesday, despite stay-at-home orders and repeated warnings from authorities.

Chanting "every day" from the Shrine of Remembrance, hundreds without masks - some still wearing high-visibility clothing - marched through the city to the war memorial.

Heavily armed police surrounded the shrine, leading to a tense stand-off with protesters that lasted about three hours. 

Riot squad members appeared to fire tear gas, rubber bullets and other non-lethal rounds when some of the mob became increasingly hostile and refused to leave.

Two officers suffered head injuries after bottles were thrown at them.

Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Ross Guenther said 215 arrests were made over the course of the day and condemned the occupation of the shine for political purposes.


"It was completely disrespectful that the crowd ended up at the shrine, which is such hallowed ground in this great city," he said.

The protests initially began in opposition to mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for the construction sector and the closure of building site tea rooms, but have since turned into wider unrest.

"Our general observation from the people on the ground was that there weren't as many tradies involved," Mr Guenther said.

Victoria recorded 628 new coronavirus cases and three more deaths on Wednesday, the highest daily tally of the state's current outbreak.

Meanwhile, the regional city of Ballarat emerged from a seven-day lockdown at midnight on Wednesday, although strict rules remain.

Second major outbreak at Sydney hospital as NSW Health calls staff out of retirement. 

Two dozen people at a southwest Sydney hospital have contracted COVID-19 in a week - its second major outbreak in months.

The exposures occurred across six wards at Liverpool Hospital, a South Western Sydney Local Health District spokesperson confirmed on Wednesday evening.

Those infected include 13 patients and two staff members in the orthopaedics ward, five patients in the geriatrics ward, three patients and one staff member in the neurology ward, two patients and one staff member in the renal ward, one patient in the cardiothoracic ward, and an intensive care nurse.

All staff members who have tested positive for COVID-19 are fully vaccinated, the spokesperson confirmed.


The previous outbreak, sparked when a nurse unknowingly worked while infectious in late July, left 12 people dead.

There are currently 1232 COVID-19 patients in hospital in NSW, with 242 in intensive care units and 122 on ventilators.

Government modelling suggests daily COVID-19 infections may have already hit a high in NSW, but hospitalisations will peak in October.

However there is good news for some NSW regions, with another four emerging from lockdown after going days without further COVID-19 cases.

Lismore and Albury were released from stay-at-home orders at midnight after no new cases were reported in the regions since they were locked down on September 16.

Several local council areas in the state's west were freed overnight too, with Gilgandra and Brewarrina now at least 14 days virus-free.

Restrictions will also ease in Narromine from Saturday provided the town has no cases or sewage detections before then.


The announcement prompted the Queensland government to announce Lismore and Brewarrina would rejoin the border bubble from Thursday.

NSW reported 1035 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 and five deaths in the 24 hours to 8pm on Tuesday.

Australia nears 50 per cent vaccination coverage.

Almost three-quarters of Australians aged 16 and above have received their first coronavirus vaccine dose seven months into the rollout.

More than 10 million people are fully vaccinated, with 48.5 per cent of the over-16 population having received both jabs, while 73.4 per cent have had a single shot.

A national reopening agreement has set 70 and 80 per cent double-dose coverage as crucial milestones to easing restrictions.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who is meeting with world leaders in the United States, continues to entice people to be vaccinated with the prospect of borders opening.


"We keep that up, people will be able to travel again. Particularly in those states that are achieving those marks," he told reporters in Washington DC.

"I want to encourage everyone across Australia to go and get that jab."

Almost one in five per cent of children aged five to 11 have received a jab in the eight days since they were included in the rollout.

Tourism and Trade Minister Dan Tehan said the nation was on track to lift travel restrictions this year.

"We have to stick to the national plan that will see our international border open up - at this rate by Christmas at the latest," he said.

More than 45,000 Australians are stranded overseas with the figure rising in recent months due to reduced passenger arrival caps. About 4700 are considered vulnerable.

Glimmer of hope for Sydney NYE fireworks.

Sydneysiders may yet get their family-friendly harbourside fireworks display on New Year's Eve, despite the City of Sydney announcing its cancellation.

It would be the second consecutive year the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the cancellation of Sydney's 9pm fireworks on Sydney Harbour before the main event at midnight.

An extraordinary meeting of council will be held within the next fortnight to determine the city's New Year's Eve plans.

Councillor Linda Scott, Labor's candidate for the upcoming mayoral elections, says the decision to cancel the 9pm fireworks and scale back the midnight show was made without consultation with businesses or council.

"The Lord Mayor needs to explain to the world why she has unilaterally scaled back this major event for our global city," she said in a statement.


"The Lord Mayor should publish the NSW Health advice she has received, if any ... and explain why fireworks at midnight are COVID safe, but those at 9pm are not."

Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Wednesday also offered hope that the 9pm fireworks might go ahead, pointing out the state government had taken over managing the event in 2020.

"I would think that no matter what happens, no matter what situation we are in, the fireworks are always a sign of hope for the new year and the NSW government is considering its options," she said.

NSW truckie sparks virus scare in WA, SA.

A NSW truck driver who visited Western Australia and South Australia last week has tested positive for COVID-19, prompting public warnings over exposure sites.

But authorities say at this stage the case won't impact the AFL grand final in Perth on Saturday.

A second driver who travelled in the same truck has tested negative for the virus.

WA Health Minister Roger Cook said he was confident the risk to the wider community was low, given the pair were in WA for less than 48 hours, from September 16 to 17.

He said they slept in their truck and had indicated they wore masks any time they left the rig. 

SA Health said it had identified 10 exposure sites with most concern surrounding shower blocks at roadhouses in Penong on the state's west coast.


There were also sites of concern at Port Augusta, Wudinna and the Border Village. 

Also on Wednesday, the WA government confirmed coronavirus vaccines would be mandatory for staff of WA's ports who access or work with vessels exposed to the virus.

The government has set a deadline of October 15 for all workers to have had at least one COVID-19 jab.

Parcel delivery workers strike across Aust.

Workers at a major parcel delivery service are striking across the country, dealing another blow to Australia's overwhelmed postal system.

Up to 2000 StarTrack employees walked off the job at midnight, after crisis talks and a bid to have the strike action blocked both failed on Wednesday.

The Transport Workers Union says this makes up 70 per cent of the total workforce, but StarTrack says barely a third of the total workforce voted to strike.

The company petitioned the Fair Work Commission on Wednesday to block or delay the strike, claiming it would jeopardise lives and health by impacting vaccine supply.

But the TWU said they had promised to support any medical deliveries, and the FWC on Wednesday night ruled the strike could proceed.

Meetings between StarTrack and the TWU on Wednesday also failed to secure a solution to a dispute over pay and conditions.

The workers want the company to guarantee labour hire workers will receive the same pay and conditions as regular employees and caps on the use of lower-paid external workers.


They also want to be offered work before the company contracts it out.

Australians are already facing unusual wait times for deliveries, as Australia Post - which owns StarTrack - struggles under the pressure of a lockdown-induced online shopping blitz.

NRL players want say in rules review as code prepares to announce vaccine requirements. 

Rugby League's biggest names have called on the NRL to give them a greater say in rule changes, demanding a seat at the league's end-of-season review.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the Rugby League Players' Association also opposed a proposed increase in fines of up to $125,000 for male players.

It comes after a season of ongoing feuds between the NRL and the RLPA, and the first joint meeting of the men's and women's Player Advisory Groups.

The group includes Daly Cherry-Evans, Wade Graham, Christian Welch, Damien Cook, Josh Hodgson, Ali Brigginshaw, Kezie Apps and Millie Boyle.

The call for a greater say in rules comes after player discontent over several changes made in the past two years amid claims of not being consulted.

Meanwhile, the NRL is yet to announce its stance on vaccine requirements, but Wests Tigers chairman Lee Hagipantelis says he's "absolutely convinced" the NRL and its clubs will terminate the contracts of players who choose to turn down the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Hayne victim's civil case heard in court.

Jarryd Hayne's rape victim has filed an "embarrassingly hopeless" case against the jailed former NRL star, his lawyer has told a NSW court.

The victim, a woman aged in her late 20s, is claiming damages for battery and assault in the NSW Supreme Court, after Hayne was convicted of sexual assault in March.


He is appealing that conviction.

Hayne did not appear at a NSW Supreme Court directions hearing on Wednesday regarding the civil suit but his lawyer attacked the quality of the woman's claim.

David Baran said the case pleads out a re-enactment of what was alleged in the criminal trial and had a "whole multitude" of issues.

Those include no explanation for the torts of battery and assault and no detailing of a claim for aggravated damages

Regardless, the case would be impacted by Hayne's criminal appeal hearing in November, when he seeks to again agitate a defence of consent.

Registrar Karen Jones agreed to adjourn the civil case until February 2 to permit the conviction appeal to be finalised.

Willie Garson remembered as "endlessly funny" and "a source of light."

Tributes have been paid to Sex And The City actor Willie Garson following his death aged 57.

Garson was best known for playing flamboyant talent agent Stanford Blatch, the close friend and confidante of Sarah Jessica Parker's Carrie Bradshaw.

He reprised the role in the two Sex And The City films and had been working on the upcoming HBO Max spin-off series And Just Like That. While Garson's character was a gay man, the actor was straight. 

Garson had reportedly been diagnosed with cancer. 

Cynthia Nixon, who plays Miranda Hobbes in Sex And The City, shared a tribute on Twitter.


She said: "So deeply, deeply sad we have lost @WillieGarson. We all loved him and adored working with him. He was endlessly funny on-screen and in real life. He was a source of light, friendship and show business lore. He was a consummate professional- always."

Michael Patrick King, executive producer of Sex And The City and And Just Like That, said Garson had been dedicated to his work even while ill.

Mario Cantone played Garson's on-screen partner in Sex And The City.

He said: "I couldn't have had a more brilliant TV partner. I'm devastated and just overwhelmed with Sadness. Taken away from all of us way soon. You were a gift from the gods. Rest my sweet friend. I love you."

Around the world. 

- The United States has promised to buy 500 million more COVID-19 vaccine doses to donate to other countries as it comes under increasing pressure to share its supply with the rest of the world.

Vaccination rates in some countries, including Haiti and the Democratic Republic of Congo, are less than 1 per cent, a Reuters tracker shows.

- The number of new COVID-19 cases continued to fall last week, with 3.6 million new cases reported globally, down from 4 million new infections the previous week, the World Health Organisation says.

Last week's drop marked the first substantial decline for more than two months, with falling COVID-19 cases in every world region.

- With AAP

Feature image: Alexander Bogatyrev/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Asanka Ratnayake/Getty/NSW Health.

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