Australia live news updates: nation on alert over new Covid strain; Warragamba Dam spills amid flood warnings

Good morning everyone and welcome to Saturday. This is Ben Smee in Brisbane bringing you the weekend version of Guardian Australia’s live news blog.

As always, there’s a bit to get through.

All eyes are on Australia’s reaction to the new and stronger Covid variant threatening to spread from southern Africa.

The latest variant, given the name Omicron by the World Health Organisation and listed as a variant of concern on Saturday morning, first emerged in Botswana and has been detected in South Africa, Hong Kong, Israel and Belgium.

It has double the number of mutations as the Delta variant that sparked a third wave of outbreaks and lockdowns in Australia this year.

Australian health minister Greg Hunt previously said “the world is looking and learning about the strain … if the medical advice is that we need to change, we won’t hesitate.”

Parts of New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria are on flood watch for the second weekend in a row. A Queensland man died in floodwaters yesterday, and authorities have issued some fairly serious warnings. Severe thunderstorms are likely to lash most of the east coast.

WaterNSW confirmed this morning that Warragamba Dam started spilling shortly after 9pm last night.

“Preliminary estimates are that the spillway outflow could peak at a rate of approximately 100 gigalitres per day (GL/day), one-fifth of the March spill event that peaked at 500GL/day.

“Inflows to the dam storage are rising as a result of multiple recent rain events, with latest rates of >38 GL/day expected to rise and showers to persist.”

It’s Saturday, so that can only mean one thing. That’s right, it’s anti-vaccination rally day. There are a few protest marches scheduled, including the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast and Canberra. We’re not expecting anything on the same scale as last weekend, but will keep you abreast of anything relevant.

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