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Coronavirus Australia: vaccine could arrive before the New Zealand travel bubble

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced quarantine-free travel with Australia - just not yet. Signs are good for a COVID-19-free Christmas, but not so much in Byron Bay. Here's Monday's briefing.

John Holland boss Joe Barr warns business confidence is still being held back by fears of another round of arbitrary state border closures if there's a fresh outbreak. Airport operators want the government to come up with rules for overseas-administered vaccines so travellers can plan with certainty.

A COVID-19-free Christmas looks increasingly likely across the country. NSW lifted its work from home rule; South Australia decided it’s once again safe to stand at a bar for a drink; and Victoria can’t print its regional holiday vouchers fast enough to keep up with demand.

All nine new cases across the country - three in NSW, two in the Nothern Territory, and one each in Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia - are foreign travellers in quarantine, and take the national caseload since the pandemic began to 27,849, with 908 deaths.

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Pity tourism operators in southern Queensland and northern NSW, where weather wild enough to wipe all the sand from Byron Bay’s beach hit just as post-restriction holiday arrivals should be picking up.

Further south, life in Sydney is bouncing back to normal. Public transport capacity is being lifted due to demand, there are more cars on the road than before lockdown and restaurants are filling with customers celebrating the end of a tough year. “Like nothing happened,” said Matias Munoz, whose Italian bistro in Barangaroo is taking 400 bookings a day.

Bel & Brio assistant restaurant manager Matias Munoz says the Italian eatery is just as busy as it was before the pandemic. Jessica Hromas

Victoria is a step behind thanks to its second wave, which a parliamentary inquiry concluded was worsened by a contact tracing system that was woefully underprepared because of state government complacency.

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The rollout of the Pfizer vaccine in the virus-wracked United States lifted Wall Street futures and the local sharemarket, which is now on track for one of its best quarters in 20 years. Afterpay led the surprise rally, elbowing out Insurance Australia Group to guarantee itself a spot in the top 20 listed companies.

Aspen Medical booked a 650 per cent jump in revenue thanks to nearly $1.3 billion in government contracts to supply medical equipment. Pacific Smiles is grinning, too, as people surge back to the dentist after a lockdown hiatus.

The world’s demand for electricity plunged because of the pandemic, as did greenhouse gas emissions, but the drop-off won't last, the International Energy Agency says. The Australian market's share of renewables should rise to 24 per cent next year. Fundies at international climate talks at the weekend were split on how entrenched ethical investing will be next year.

Roxanne Assoulin likes that her jewellery appeals to her six grandchildren as much as it does to the fashion set. “Childlike, not childish,” the designer says of her signature colour-blocked enamel tile pieces. She believes inspiring joy is more important than ever right now.

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