The Australian and international news stories you need to know today, Friday January 21.

WA border to stay closed beyond Feb 5.

West Australians face being kept indefinitely within their own state after Premier Mark McGowan went back on his government's plan to reopen the state's borders next month.

Mr McGowan announced the backflip during a late-night press conference on Thursday, saying WA's hard borders will remain in place indefinitely.

He claimed it would be "reckless and irresponsible" to proceed with the planned February 5 reopening given the surge in Omicron COVID-19 cases across the country.

The premier had promised to reopen the borders once the state's double-dose vaccination rate reached 90 per cent. It is currently at 89 per cent.

More compassionate exemptions will be granted from February 5, when the borders had been due to be brought down.

McGowan says the health system is "strong and ready" but he'd like to see WA's third dose rate to get as high as 90 per cent. 

It currently sits at 26 per cent.

NSW expected to surpass 1000 virus deaths milestone today.

As NSW nears a grim milestone, a leading epidemiologist has warned the state's plateauing case numbers won't be reflected in its death toll for some time.

There are "promising" signs the state is past the worst of the outbreak, Deakin University epidemiologist Catherine Bennett told AAP.

While case numbers are unlikely to drop rapidly, as you would expect with a peak, Prof Bennett says they seem to have plateaued  - with 30,825 positive results reported on Thursday.


Hospitalisations are no longer climbing rapidly either - dropping by 82 on Thursday to 2781 patients, the first fall since December 13.

However, the number of people becoming seriously ill, and dying, with the virus may not drop for weeks, she says.

NSW reported another 25 deaths on Thursday, and is likely to cross the 1000-death threshold on Friday.

ICU admissions also remain high, with 212 people being cared for, 68 on ventilators.

States to announce specific school plans as Morrison's 'forklift' plan shutdown.

Students and teachers will have a clearer idea how schools will operate as states and territories unveil their COVID-safe plans in coming days.

The federal government has agreed to split the cost of surveillance testing for those states and territories wanting to roll out such a scheme.

But no consensus was reached at Thursday's national cabinet meeting on the best way of approaching the first term of 2022.

NSW and Victoria have vowed to keep on track with reopening as scheduled, while Queensland and South Australia have pushed back the start of school to allow more children to get vaccinated.

Tasmanian schools will return on February 9 with rapid antigen tests and masks provided to teachers, and the ACT is planning for a return to on-campus learning for the start of term one, but more details would be made available when the plans are finalised.


Scott Morrison has abandoned a proposal to allow 16-year-olds to drive forklifts after it was rejected by states and territories in Thursday's meeting. 

As reported by The Guardian, the prime minister took the idea to the meeting as part of a package of measures to tackle staff shortages caused by Omicron. 

Due to the dangers of operating a forklift, "high-risk work" licences are only available to those aged 18 and over in many states. 

Morrison said that national cabinet had “agreed to proceed no further with the issue of 16-year-old forklift drivers”.

Infant's body found in NSW, woman released.

A woman has been released by police without charge after the body of a baby boy was found at a home in southern NSW.

Officers searched the house in Corowa near the Victorian border on Wednesday night after concerns were raised about the welfare of a three-month-old boy.

There they found the body of a child.

The body was located in a freezer wrapped in plastic, according to media reports.


A 40-year-old woman was arrested and taken to Albury Police Station. She was released on Thursday morning.

Police say investigations are ongoing, with Strike Force Walumil established.

A post-mortem examination will be held to determine the cause of death. 

The home is now a crime scene and specialist forensic officers are examining it.

31yo man faces court for the murder of teacher Ashling Murphy.

The man charged with the murder of Irish primary teacher Ashling Murphy, who was killed on the banks of a canal in Tullamore while out for a jog, has appeared in court.

Jozef Puksa, 31, was brought before Tullamore District Court just before 8.15pm local time, and was heckled by an angry crowd of a few hundred people as an unmarked police car delivered him to the courthouse.


He was taken into custody on Tuesday, after being discharged from hospital in Dublin where he had presented himself with injuries the day after 23-year-old Ashling was murdered.

Her death on January 12 sparked international outrage.

The judge presiding over the case remanded Mr Puska in custody and he will appear again on 26 January.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home. 

Around the world.

- Nick Kyrgios is out of the Australian Open running after a second-round loss to title favourite Daniil Medvedev.

Medvedev had to deal with a hostile crowd in favour of the home player on Rod Laver Arena. He later told Eurosport, "It’s just a little disappointing when they are making so much noise between 1st and 2nd serve, I guess some people just have a low I.Q."

- Former Pope Benedict XVI failed to take action against clerics in four cases of alleged sexual abuse in his archdiocese when he was Archbishop of Munich, a report says.

- With AAP

Feature image: Matt Jelonek/Getty/Mark Kolbe/Getty/Jenny Evans/Getty.

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