British army helps clear backlog of virus-stranded drivers

Around 1,000 British soldiers were spending Christmas Day trying to clear a huge backlog of truck drivers stuck in southeast England after France briefly closed its border to the U.K. then demanded coronavirus tests from all amid fears of a new, apparently more contagious, virus variant.

Even as 4,000 international truck drivers spent yet another day cooped up in their cabs, some progress was evident Friday, with traffic around the English Channel port of Dover moving in an orderly fashion towards the extra ferries that were put on to make the short crossing across to Calais in northern France.

The military personnel were directing traffic and helping a mass testing program for the drivers, who must test negative to enter France. French firefighters have also been drafted to help the military test drivers for coronavirus.

Officials from Britain’s Department for Transport said all but three of the 2,367 coronavirus tests conducted so far have been negative.

France closed its border for 48 hours to the U.K. last Sunday after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said a variant of the virus that is 70% more transmissible is driving the rapid spread of infections in London and surrounding areas. As a result, the capital and many other parts of England have seen lockdown restrictions tightened and family holiday gatherings cancelled.

Most of the testing is being conducted at a disused airfield at Manston Airport, 20 miles (33 kilometres) from Dover. Free food and drink was being sent to the stranded truck drivers and more than 250 portable toilets were put in at Manston, with 32 others placed along the gridlocked M20 highway.

“The most reassuring thing is that food is getting through at Manston, and I have to say a big thank you to everyone who volunteered to help drivers stick it out in cold conditions in the days leading up to Christmas,” said Duncan Buchanan of Britain’s Road Haulage Association.

The mood among the stranded drivers appeared to be mostly sanguine, especially compared to their anger earlier this week at the situation and the lack of facilities.

“I know it’s been hard for many drivers cooped up in their cabs at this precious time of year, but I assure them that we are doing our utmost to get them home,” said British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

The virus has been blamed for over 1.7 million confirmed deaths worldwide, including nearly 70,000 in Britain, the second-highest death toll in Europe behind Italy.

On Saturday, Britain is extending tighter lockdown restrictions to more areas as authorities try to stem the spread of the new variant. Over the past two days, the U.K. has recorded its two highest daily infection numbers, at just below 40,000. That is stoking fears that the country’s beloved National Health Service will face acute capacity issues in its hospitals soon and thousands more people will die from the virus.

In a video message to the nation, Johnson said this Christmas was “not about presents, or turkey, or brandy butter” but about hope, in the form of coronavirus vaccine shots being delivered and more vaccines being developed.

“We know there will be people alive next Christmas, people we love, alive next Christmas precisely because we made the sacrifice and didn’t celebrate as normal this Christmas,” the prime minister said.

Johnson said Thursday that more than 800,000 people in Britain have received the first dose of the vaccine developed by American pharmaceutical firm Pfizer and German biotechnology company BioNTech. The U.K. was the first country in the world to approve the vaccine and began inoculations for health workers and those over 80 on Dec. 8.

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Covid: Cancer scan backlog raises late detection fears

Leeds man who ‘begged’ for MRI scan dies from cancer

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As SA-Victorian border reopens after COVID-19 shutdown, doctors prepare to attack backlog

South Australian medical specialists are preparing to work overtime to clear a months-long backlog of overdue consultations with patients in regional Victoria once the state border opens on December 1.

Health services in Mildura rely on several visiting specialists from the closest capital city, Adelaide, but almost all of them have been unable to practice in Victoria for months because they would have been required to self-isolate for two weeks on return to South Australia.

Ophthalmologist Arthur Karagiannis said the reopening of the border would make a big difference to his Victorian patients — especially the elderly and those unable to travel.

“A lot of them have got unstable eye conditions and it’s very suboptimal trying to manage these over the phone with the optometrists who have got their own backlog,” he said.

Dr Karagiannis said he would be visiting Mildura “almost weekly” in December and staying through to the weekend “to start to get through the backlog”.

He expects to catch up by the end of the first half of next year — “provided there is no change in the mindset of the Transition Committee [in SA]”.

As far back as June Mildura Private Hospital estimated more than 200 of its patients alone had already had elective surgery deferred.

Peter Herriman, a Mildura resident, has been waiting since March for a cataract operation.

“I can’t follow a couple of my favourite pastimes,” he said.

Hundreds of patients have had elective surgery deferred at Mildura Private Hospital.(ABC Mildura-Swan Hill: Christopher Testa)

Better approach needed in future

Dr Karagiannis had multiple applications for quarantine exemptions rejected by SA authorities this year.

He said SA Health needed to ensure visiting specialists were not blocked from travelling to and from Victorian clinics in the future.

“Let’s hope there is no third wave, but there needs to be some kind of framework that applies across Australia to allow patients that already have restricted access to medical services [to receive treatment],” Dr Karagiannis said.

Mildura’s state MP, Ali Cupper, said state governments needed to consult more with border communities instead of imposing ad hoc controls.

“We can’t just have the borders reopen and that’s the end of it,” she said.

“Far too often we have seen decisions made by politicians or bureaucrats who have no understanding of how border communities work, only to see the rules then change, time after time, once the realities were spelt out to them.”

Dr Karagiannis said SA authorities needed to understand the needs of interstate communities reliant on the state’s services.

“The mantra, as it has been for many months, is ‘Keeping South Australians safe’,” he said.

“I would be more than happy to sit down with [SA Chief Health Officer] Nicola Spurrier and her team so if this happens again, there are some sensible arrangements that can take place.”

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COVID-19 fears could get public out of jury duty, as Victoria encounters huge case backlog

Fear of contracting COVID-19 could be used as a valid excuse to get out of jury duty call-ups, Victorian County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd has said.

Pressure on the state’s justice system is set to ease from November 16, when juries will be brought back to courtrooms, with a backlog of about 750 County Court trials in Melbourne and up to 400 in regional areas.

New jury trials have been suspended since March. Plans for a July resumption were scrapped when the state’s second wave took hold.

Chief Judge Kidd said the Supreme and County Courts would take significant steps to reduce health risks, including staggered times for jury panel selections to avoid large crowds gathering in courtrooms.

Chief Judge Peter Kidd said the traditional jury system was well supported by judges.(ABC News: Tom Hancock)

Speaking to ABC Radio Melbourne, Chief Judge Kidd was asked whether prospective jurors could refuse to sit on the jury if they had concerns about spending days, or potentially weeks, locked in a deliberation room with others.

“I think the broad answer is yes,” he said.

“The juries commissioner will be asking prospective jurors, before they even come to court, about any concerns they have.

“We’re conscious that within the community, there are people who have certain health issues and other concerns relating to COVID and we want to manage that.”

Who is eligible for jury duty?

The outside of the County Court of Victoria building.
Other measures will include larger jury deliberation rooms, regular cleaning and potentially shifting family and media to overflow courtrooms.(ABC News: Patrick Rocca)

The Chief Judge said it was unlikely a medical certificate would need to be produced to be excused from jury service, and he was confident they would still find enough suitable members to run trials.

Other measures taken by the County and Supreme Courts include spacing jurors at least 1.5 metres apart, compulsory mask-wearing, larger jury deliberation rooms, regular cleaning and potentially shifting family and media to overflow courtrooms.

In Victoria, jurors can be randomly selected if they are over 18 and enrolled to vote.

Valid reasons to be excused from jury duty include old age, disability or illness, living more than 60 kilometres from court, caring for children, working for a small business or being a full-time student.

Previously, empanelled jurors would be required to attend court between 10:00am and 4:15pm each trial day.

The courts pay jurors $40 per day, increasing to $80 if a trial runs longer than six days. Employers are legally required to pay the difference between the juror payments and what a person would have normally earned in their job.

What about judge-only trials and plea-bargaining?

The Victorian Government has allowed courts to take the uncommon step of holding judge-only criminal trials during the pandemic.

They can only occur with the accused person’s consent, and according to a Nine Newspapers report last week, only six had taken place since July.

“I think we’ve had about 25 applications since it came in … we’ll see what happens at the end of the emergency as to whether the judge-alone trial regime remains,” Chief Judge Kidd said.

“The jury system is a good system and has the support of the judges.”

Chief Judge Kidd said nobody could be forced to plead guilty. He said the courts had done more case management during the pandemic with the aim of resolving cases early or receiving guilty pleas before a trial.

He pointed to 60 cases that were scheduled for trials that would no longer proceed, saving up to 450 court sitting dates.

“Ultimately, it’s not going to resolve all the trials and the backlog will remain. We need to look at other options,” the Chief Judge said.

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Partner visa processing backlog keeping couples apart as Department of Home Affairs wait time blows out

Celia met her husband Moses when they were working together in Kenya in 2012.

They have spent just five months of the past three years together, with Mr Audi having to return to Kenya days after they married.

The couple has been waiting nearly two years for Mr Audi’s partner visa to be approved.

Theirs is among a growing backlog in partner visa applications which is causing some couples to fear they will miss out on the chance to have children together.

Offshore partner visa applicants are facing waits of around two years to be approved to live with their spouses in Australia.

Celia and Moses Audi have joined with other Australians in the same situation to launch a parliamentary petition.(Supplied: Celia and Moses Audi)

Ms Audi said the uncertainty of not knowing when the visa would be granted was frustrating.

“It means that we can’t plan anything and it means that we can’t have a sense of any security around it,” she said.

“If we had a date, we could then work around it, he would know how to prepare to come over here but the not knowing has just left us in limbo indefinitely.”

They have spent just five months of the past three years together.

Ms Audi is worried the delay will mean she and her husband will lose the opportunity to have children.

“For us, it could cost us the chance to have a family, because I’m not getting any younger,” she said.

Ms Audi teamed up with other Australians in the same situation to launch a parliamentary petition.

Late on Monday, the Department of Home Affairs contacted Ms Audi telling her Mr Audi’s partner visa had been granted.

Celia and Moses Audi embrace.
Celia and Moses Audi say the delay has “left us in limbo”.(Supplied: Celia and Moses Audi)

The petition is calling for the Federal Government to overhaul its partner visa process to make it more streamlined and transparent.

“There’s no transparency, we can’t ring Immigration and find out what’s going on because they won’t tell us,” Ms Audi said.

“So, the petition has come about to say that it’s not okay to be keeping families ripped apart in Australia and it’s not okay when we’re paying nearly $8,000 per application to be not communicating with us about it.

“There are children who are growing up without their parents because they can’t see each other due to this.”

Blowout in application processing

In the 2014-15 financial year, the Department of Home Affairs approved 52,018 partner visa applications. Last financial year, it planned for partner migration to reach 39,799.

In the meantime, the backlog for applications awaiting assessment had blown out to 91,717 by March this year. Five years ago, it was 74,214.

Amelia Elliott and Bowie Domingo smile at the camera.
Bowie Domingo said the delay in processing was taking its toll on him and Amelia Elliott.(Supplied: Amelia Elliott and Bowie Domingo)

Melbourne couple Amelia Elliott and Bowie Domingo are also behind the campaign for change.

Ms Elliott said families were struggling with the instability and insecurity of not knowing whether their applications are progressing.

“We really want to unite the voices of people who are going through this visa process,” Ms Elliott said.

“A lot of them feel very alone, a lot of them feel powerless.”

Mr Domingo, who is from the Philippines, applied for his partner visa in 2018 around the same time as their wedding in Australia. The wait time was estimated at 11 to 16 months.

Mr Domingo is still waiting to hear the outcome of his application 22 months later.

Amelia Elliott and Bowie Domingo dance on their wedding day.
Amelia Elliott and Bowie Domingo say couples caught up in the process “feel very alone and powerless”.(Supplied: Amelia Elliott and Bowie Domingo)

Off-shore partner visa applicants can enter Australia on visitor visas, but they cannot work.

The visa application costs $7,715 but couples often fork out much more paying agent fees, tourist visa fees and flight costs.

Ms Elliott sold her apartment to help cover the costs of the visa process.

“We have spent $11,500 on the actual partner visa, agent fees and of course the over $7,000 government fee,” she said.

“We’ve spent $11,500 on tourist visas, agent fees and medicals, and $10,500 on flights.”

Mr Domingo said the delay in learning about their future was taking its toll in many ways.

“Financially, it’s always hard because my wife is the only one that’s looking after us at the moment and it’s really upsetting me mentally,” he said.

“It’s really frustrating not being able to work, I’m the type of guy that I don’t want to just be relying on someone, I want to be a provider, I want to work hard for my family, for my wife.

“We have these plans of building a family, of children, but to be able to build that future you have to have work, to have money.”

‘Unnecessary strain on relationships’

Under the rules for offshore applicants, Mr Domingo would have to leave the country when the Department of Home Affairs is due to decide on his application.

Ms Elliott said that requirement should be removed during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Currently with flights and quarantine it can cost in excess of $6,000 [to travel out of the country] just for the Government to tell them something they could basically tell them over the phone and grant while they’re here,” she said.

Amelia Elliott and Bowie Domingo selfie on a coastline.
Amelia Elliott sold her apartment to help cover the costs of the visa process for Bowie.(Supplied: Amelia Elliott and Bowie Domingo)

Melbourne migration lawyer Erskine Rodan said it was sad and regretful that people were having to wait so long.

“We believe it requires urgent attention from the Department of Home Affairs,” he said.

“The partner visas are there to ensure that partners can be here together as quickly as possible. I believe the program at the present moment is not taking too much notice of that particular issue.”

Mr Rodan said the delays were placing unnecessary strain on relationships.

He recommended couples look at whether a skilled migration visa would be a better option as it can be a shorter wait time.

“There are special programs for highly skilled people, which can get visas very quickly,” he said. “In the next 12 or 18 months, we’re going to need as much skills as possible from overseas as we can because the COVID-19 lurgy, as I put it, is causing a lot of problems economically, socially and for the migrant intake.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs said demand for partner visas is exceeding the planning level for that category, which is contributing to processing times.

“Priority within the family stream is given to visa places for partners and children, with partners accounting for the bulk of family migration program places,” the statement said.

“All visa applications are assessed on a case-by-case basis. Processing times vary according to individual circumstances and the complexity of the application, for example in relation to assessments of identity, health, character and national security.

“Applications are generally processed in the order in which they are received. This is to ensure fairness and equity to all visa applicants.”

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Partner visa application backlog criticised by former immigration official

A former deputy secretary of the Department of Immigration has joined a chorus of criticism over the growing backlog of partner visas awaiting approval by Australia’s Department of Home Affairs.

Offshore partner visa applicants are facing waits of around two years to be approved to live with their spouses in Australia.

Some have banded together to launch a parliamentary petition calling for the Federal Government to overhaul its partner visa process to make it more streamlined and transparent.

Abul Rizvi worked for the Department of Immigration managing the migration program from 1995 to 2007 and is now doing a PhD on Australia’s immigration policies.

Mr Rizvi said the number of partner visas granted fell sharply in 2017-18 from 47,825 down to 39,799, where it had remained.

“Clearly, the Government has been using administrative tools to limit the number of spouse visas,” he said.

The Federal Government sets a limit each financial year on the number of visas it will grant from all visa categories.

Last year it was capped at 160,000.

Mr Rizvi believes the number of applications has reached the six-figure mark.(Supplied: Helen Rizvi)

Under the Migration Act, this cap does not include a limit on the number of visas granted to a spouse, de-facto partner or dependent child of an Australian citizen or permanent resident.

Instead, the Government sets what it calls a planning level for partner visas, which last financial year was 39,799.

Mr Rizvi said the backlog of partner visa applications had reached more than 100,000.

“We now have the biggest backlog of partner applications we’ve ever had,” he said.

Mr Rizvi said he believed that if the Government’s partner visa planning level was ever challenged in court, the court would find against the Government.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs said “the partner visa program was not capped”.

“Planning levels are set by government in accordance with lawful administrative practices,” the spokesperson said.

“The size and composition of the migration program is set each year through the Australian Government’s budget process, which is informed by broad public consultations with state and territory governments, business and community groups and the wider public.

Documents released under freedom of information legislation by the Department of Home Affairs include letters sent in 2018 and 2019 from the Director of the Family Migration Program Management Section to departmental staff.

One dated June 7, 2018 stated:

“EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY there are to be no further grants in the Family stream until such time as the exact delivery position is confirmed and I come back to you with the number of places left available to grant before 30 June 2018.”

Another, dated February 6, 2019, stated:

“I write to you following on from my message of 21 January 2019 directing the temporary pause on grants for first stage Partner [redacted].

“As you may be aware, while the 2018-19 Migration Program has 190,000 permanent visa places, [redacted], this is a ceiling, not a target.

“The Government’s focus is quality not quantity and the Minister wants to maintain [redacted]. Please note: The temporary pause on grants continues for first stage Partner, [redacted].”

Visa delays separating parents and children

Last year, a high-risk pregnancy sent Melbourne woman Belma Cancar back to Australia from Bosnia and Herzegovina where she had been living with her husband Demir Cancar.

“It was quite risky and I don’t think that the medical care in Bosnia and Herzegovina, or anywhere actually, is comparable to the medical care that we can receive in Australia,” she said.

“But I never imagined that I would be separated from my husband for this long.”

Belma Cancar with her husband Demir hold newborn baby Zeid
Belma and Demir Cancar with newborn baby Zeid.(Supplied: Belma Cancar)

Mr Cancar missed his first child’s birth but came to Australia 10 days later once his tourist visa was granted, staying for three weeks before having to return to his home country.

“I’ve been raising my son for the last eight months alone and it’s taken a huge emotional and physical toll on me,” Ms Cancar said.

“It’s been really, really tough, as a first-time mum there are so many new experiences that you’re going through and you wish you had a partner to support you through this.”

Ms Cancar said both she and her husband were sad that he was missing their baby’s milestones.

“I don’t think anything beats the experience of being here to see him smile or laugh for the first time, take his first steps,” she said.

Shirshore Hirad smiles with two of his children.
It’s been more than two years since Shirshore Hirad’s children saw their mother.(Supplied: Shirshore Hirad)

Brisbane father of four Shirshore Hirad is raising three of his children alone, while his wife Muna Ismail lives in Malaysia with their youngest child.

The couple married in Somalia in 2012 and planned in 2017 to move to Australia, where Mr Hirad is a citizen.

It has been 26 months since Ms Ismail applied for her partner visa and the separation has been very hard on all the family.

“The kids all the time ask about their mum, even though we work hard to keep the family together through frequent visits back to Kuala Lumpur,” he said.

Mr Hirad says the Department of Home Affairs should better communicate with applicants about their progress.

“Not knowing anything at all about the application and that process, not having anyone to talk to — you can’t talk directly to anyone who is responsible for your application — it is frustrating to say the least.”

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The personal impact of the elective surgery backlog

The delays in elective surgeries thanks to the pandemic, though required, have been tricky to offer with for all those suffering, writes Alyce Sala Tenna.

ON TUESDAY 7 April 2020, I been given a phone phone from the Alfred Hospital in Victoria as affirmation for epilepsy neurosurgery the next Friday. The objective of the neurosurgery was to manage my drug-resistant epilepsy.

The contact had been anticipated and tentatively prepared since going through revolutionary investigative operation just prior to Xmas. Fourteen probes were being surgically inserted into my mind to check brainwave action for 1 week.

Beforehand, using typical monitoring solutions experienced proved to be quite complicated. Soon after many years of remaining unsure where the seizure zone was in my brain, the region was finally confirmed. Health professionals were eventually able to provide a probable healing option — epilepsy surgical procedures. The operation had a 50% opportunity to halt the seizures, nonetheless, the likelihood to regulate the seizures with medication was a slim 5% prospect.

Probe incision wounds from the investigative medical procedures (Image supplied)

After receiving the news that I was without a doubt a medical procedures candidate for my drug-resistant epilepsy in December, just about every 2nd of the day dragged though I waited for the hospital to connect with with a affirmation of operation date. At this stage, I had been identified and suffering the impacts from epilepsy for 23 several years — around 3-quarters of my daily life.

In the months that followed, I cleared my e-mail inbox, unsubscribing from all electronic mail activity so that I would be alerted with e-mails only from the hospital. I held my breath in the hope it was the medical center calling each time I obtained a simply call from a non-public quantity. I barely slept at night time and when I did, I dreamt of the operation I experienced been ready for considering that I was a teenager. My impending freedom from seizures likely awaited me.

Jim's Mowing and Karen's Bunnings dangerous adventures

In March, the Federal and Condition Governments declared a maintain on any course two or three surgeries. Surgical procedures have been quickly on maintain to redistribute professional medical sources in the anticipated inflow of coronavirus sufferers in April.

Although my epilepsy surgical procedures had been labeled as semi-urgent, it was nevertheless classed as class Two. My reaction to hearing the information prospective delays to course two and a few elective surgeries was like struggling through the operation devoid of anaesthesia, paralysed without just about anything I could do. Notwithstanding what I was suffering from on an psychological level, my uncontrolled seizures that lingered for the duration of this time ended up incredibly risky. For example, the working day I gained confirmation of surgical procedures in April, my associate came house to find me lying on the floor in a pool of my very own blood from a head harm I might sustained during a seizure.

Nonetheless, I gained acceptance for surgical procedures from the Alfred Healthcare facility amid the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to a robust drive of urgency by the medical professionals. Months soon after the procedure, I am now minus a smaller portion of my still left frontal lobe. I have only seasoned two seizures, as opposed to the 20-odd I would have seasoned experienced I not gone through surgical procedure.

Initially night time publish-procedure from epilepsy neurosurgery (Image supplied)

Australia confronted a backlog of 400,000 elective surgery instances according to an intercontinental examine revealed in The British Journal of Surgery. Worldwide, the similar review projected that the overall selection of adult elective operations cancelled has been 28 million just in the COVID-19 12-week peak, or 2 million for each week.

In Might, the Key Minister agreed to resume all elective surgeries. Now, in a entire circle, Victorian Premier Dan Andrews has announced elective surgeries in Melbourne and regional Victoria are to be postponed, except for class just one and the most urgent category two procedures.

Adding to the backlog is the variety of people ditching personal wellbeing care because of charge, position losses and the worsening economic downturn. In accordance to the latest Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, additional than 10,000 people have cancelled procedures just in the first quarter of this 12 months. Men and women that could be evenly distributing the load to non-public and community hospitals. Elective surgical procedures will also be minimized to no additional than 50% of common exercise across all public hospitals and 75% in non-public hospitals.

My epilepsy was screening at the very best of situations, the two in my expert and private existence. Any hold off to the wait grew to become practicably insufferable. Although I am not arguing the elective surgery ban is unneeded in Victoria, the delay only amplified the impacts from my epilepsy.

We applaud all all those who have and carry on to perform so really hard on our entrance line to take care of the COVID-19 pandemic successfully. Having said that, we now want to feel about running the repercussions to the health and fitness process. How will Australia’s health and fitness process prioritise the 400,000 additionally elective surgical procedures candidates? When elective surgical procedures are back on, will further sources be utilized to run to catch up on the backlog? Finally, how will every single affected person be prioritised?

Alyce Sala Tenna lives in Perth, Western Australia. Outside of managing her epilepsy, Alyce works at a consultancy as an environmental scientist.

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