Pfizer COVID vaccine approved by TGA, NSW Police to watch 2021 Australia Day celebrations, Victoria records no local COVID-19 cases

However, there are many unknowns –this is a provisional approval, rather than full registration. It remains unclear if the vaccine will have any effect on reducing the transmission of the virus. It also remains unclear what effect the vaccine has on asymptomatic COVID-19, as people in the trial were only tested for COVID-19 if they had symptoms.

It also remains unclear just how long the vaccine will be effective. In monkeys, declining antibody and immune-cell levels over five weeks were noted.

On the basis of the data at hand, the TGA decided to approve the vaccine only for people aged over 16.

For the very frail – people aged over 85 – the TGA recommends nurses and doctors vaccinate on a “case by case basis”, as the potential benefits of the vaccine must be weighed against the risks of exposing a very frail person to the vaccine’s standard flu-like side-effects.

They will also need to decide themselves whether to jab pregnant women, with the TGA saying there is only limited human data to guide advice. The same goes for people with autoimmune disorders or those with compromised immune systems.

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Victoria records six new COVID cases in quarantine, no local infections

Victoria has recorded six coronavirus cases in hotel quarantine as the state’s stretch of no local infections reached 19 days.

There are now 31 active cases in the state, with 11,806 tests in the previous 24 hours.

It is unclear whether any of the quarantine infections are connected to the Australian Open.

A total of 72 players remain in hard lockdown after three chartered flights to the Australian Open returned positive COVID-19 case.

They include former Australian Open champions Victoria Azarenka and Angelique Kerber as well as 2019 US Open winner Bianca Andreescu.

Unable to leave their rooms to train, an extra women’s tennis tournament in the lead-up to the Open on Feb 8 has been announced, seen as an olive branch to athletes given the disadvantages they faced in the build up to a two-week grand slam event.

“This has been a particularly challenging time for the athletes in hard lockdown and we, along with the WTA and ATP, aim to do everything we can to help,” Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said.

“These changes to the lead-in events have been made to give the 72 players a little bit of extra time to help them prepare. We also will prioritise them for things like practice sessions, gym and ice baths.”

Emerging Ukranian talent Dayana Yastremska is among those locked down, but won’t feature in any tournament after her appeal to lift a doping ban was rejected on Sunday.

The world No.29 sparked controversy when she was filmed on a Tennis Australia charter flight to Melbourne for the Open despite testing positive to a banned substance in an out-of-competition sample.

She was then placed in a hard 14-day lockdown after a passenger on that flight returned a positive test of their own.

Her situation worsened when the International Tennis Federation released a statement on Sunday saying that an independent tribunal had denied the 20-year-old’s application to have her provisional ban lifted.

Portugal’s Joao Sousa will miss his first grand slam since 2013, joining British great Andy Murray as a grand slam casualty because of a positive COVID-19 test.

Sousa since returned a negative test and has no symptoms, but with a 14-day quarantine on arrival has run out of time to join the field.

His withdrawal comes after it was revealed three non-playing people in hard lockdown who tested positive after travelling for the Open had the highly-contagious UK strain of the virus.

Monday also marks the one-year anniversary of Australia’s first coronavirus case, a man in his 50s in Victoria who had arrived in the country from Wuhan.

In that time, the nation has recorded more than 28,700 cases and 909 deaths. In stark contrast, there have been 25 million cases in the US alone and in excess of 400,000 deaths.

NZ COVID case contacts test negative

Meanwhile, New Zealand appears likely to avoid a fresh lockdown despite a new COVID-19 case being identified in the community.

On Sunday, health authorities revealed a 56-year-old Northland woman had tested positive for the virus after completing her 14-day isolation on arrival to New Zealand.

The woman returned two negative tests while in her compulsory hotel stay, and was released on January 13 before travelling around the region with her husband.

On Monday morning, COVID-19 Minister Chris Hipkins revealed two of the woman’s six identified close contacts – her husband and her hairdresser – had returned negative tests.

“That’s some good news,” he told Radio NZ.

Health officials are continuing to rapidly contact trace the woman’s contacts and movements, asking for people who have interacted with her to isolate and get tested.

“Her husband would without doubt be her closest contact. That coming back negative is a good sign. We’ll know more as the day unfolds as to what the overall risk of this case is,” Mr Hipkins said.

The woman has been praised by authorities for tracking her movements using the government’s COVID Tracer app and reporting her symptoms to health workers.

The health department has released a list of the 28 places she visited on her travels since being released, including supermarkets, cafes and retail stores.

Mr Hipkins said new testing stations were being opened in Northland but the case wouldn’t prompt the government to tighten its border regime.

“We haven’t got any evidence that the 14-day isolation and two tests isn’t sufficient,” he said.

“Around 100,000 people that have gone through that process, not one of them has taken COVID-19 out into the community with them

-with AAP

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New Zealand records first local COVID-19 case in months; today marks one year since Australia’s first confirmed cases

Israel will close its only major airport for at least a week, authorities said Sunday, effectively sealing itself off from international travel in a bid to vaccinate more of its population before new variants of the coronavirus take hold.

The cabinet agreed Sunday to bar incoming and outgoing international passenger flights at Ben Gurion International Airport from midnight Monday until at least the end of January, unless a parliamentary committee votes to overturn the plan.

Ben Gurion Airport in Israel (note, photo is from pre-pandemic timesCredit:Andrew Burton

The few exceptions will include cargo flights, medical evacuations and “firefighting flights,” according to the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Departures will be banned except for certain extreme cases, including family funerals and legal proceedings, which will require individual approval by health authorities.

A variant of the virus first identified in the United Kingdom, which appears to be significantly more contagious, has been detected in some of Israel’s latest positive cases, according to media reports.

Washington Post

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Force sweat on NSW, QLD COVID-19 cases as Super Rugby AU forges on

That threshold is believed to be a streak of 14 days with five or fewer new cases transmitted within the community.

“The Western Force are monitoring the COVID-19 situation closely, and are in constant contact with Rugby Australia and the police commissioner,” Force head of rugby Matt Hodgson said.

“We have not been advised of any proposed changes to the home-and-away schedule already published.”

RA have several contingency plans in place if the WA border is locked to the Reds and Waratahs and Hodgson said the Force were also prepared for “alternatives”, should the current schedule be thrown out due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

“As you’d expect in the current environment, our preparations include a number of alternatives if a traditional home-and-away season is not achievable,” he said.

“But we’re well into preparation for our first home game against the Brumbies on 19 February, and looking forward to welcoming WA rugby fans back to live Super Rugby AU matches.”

RA are desperate to avoid a situation similar to last season, which left the Rebels on the road for months.

Some Rebels staff who then joined the Wallabies did not see their families in person for almost nine months.

The one element RA have up their sleeve is time.

The Brumbies are due to travel to Perth in round one before the Force enjoy their first bye of the season in round two.


If the WA border situation is not resolved by the time round three arrives – when the Waratahs will host the Force in Sydney – RA will likely activate a bubble set-up which would permit travel to and from Perth but restrict players and staff from doing anything outside of playing and training.

If that isn’t possible, RA would then look to relocate the worst affected franchise as they did with the Rebels last season.

But RA will push on with Plan A – which involves playing the season as is currently scheduled – until it is impossible to do so.

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Aussie states further ease border restrictions as no locally acquired case

SYDNEY, Jan. 23 (Xinhua) — Australia’s state of West Australia (WA) will reopen its border to the state of New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland from Jan. 25 as the latter two continued to record zero locally acquired COVID cases.

Travellers from NSW and Queensland, two of Australia’s most populous states, could enter West Australia but still need to get into self-quarantine for 14 days in a suitable premise and be prepared for possible test at the airport clinic and during the quarantine.

NSW and Queensland were kept out of West Australia’s border after concerning COVID situation recorded in the two states. NSW witnessed reappearance of locally acquired cases and small case clusters shortly before Christmas last year while the mutant strain of virus found in Britain was detected in a local case in Queensland earlier this month.

“WA’s careful and cautious approach has stood us in good stead and our controlled border arrangements have kept us safe allowing for swift action to stop the virus in its tracks,” WA Premier Mark McGowan said.

At the same time, Australia’s biggest city of Sydney, also capital of NSW, were also reviewed as less risky by the neighbouring states of Victoria and Australian Capital Territory, which allowed travellers from Greater Sydney to enter from Friday afternoon except the Cumberland local government area in west Sydney where a local cluster originated.

Queensland and South Australia still keep their borders closed to Greater Sydney while Queensland said it will review the border rule on Jan.28.

All Australian states and territories on Saturday recorded zero locally acquired cases.

However, as for the international border, Australia started to apply stricter rules from Friday which require international travellers into Australia to have a COVID test negative results within 72 hours before boarding a flight and face masks are mandatory on international flights and in airports.

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UK COVID-19 strain found in three Australian Open cases; Virus traces found in Sydney sewage”

The global rollout of COVID-19 vaccines has failed to ignite CSL shares despite boosting offshore pharmaceutical firms, with analysts warning that vaccine making won’t be a key revenue driver for the homegrown biotech giant

CSL scientists at the company’s Broadmeadows production facility in Melbourne with the AstraZeneca vaccine ‘freezers’. The biotech giant confirmed last week that the first batches of bulk product for the vaccine had been completed.

CSL shares have dropped 3.6 per cent to $274.60 in the first three weeks of 2021, with the price dipping earlier this month after concerns over Australia’s reliance on the AstraZeneca vaccine which CSL is producing in Melbourne.

Meanwhile, global vaccine stocks are booming, with the Nasdaq healthcare index up 9.3 per cent so far this year compared with the local health index’s drop of 1.7 per cent.

Companies at the forefront of the vaccine rollout have continued to build momentum. German firm BioNTech is up 26.5 per cent year-to-date to $US108.44, Moderna has gained 17.2 per cent year-to-date to $US131.02, while Novavax is up 12.4 per cent to $US126.98.

Click here to read the story.

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Spain’s health minister to resign as COVID-19 cases hit new daily high

FILE PHOTO: A medical staff member administers a PCR test to a nursing home worker during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Durango, Spain, January 14, 2021. REUTERS/Vincent West

January 21, 2021

MADRID (Reuters) – Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa will resign next week to campaign in regional elections in Catalonia, an official from his party said on Thursday, while national authorities reported a record 44,357 new daily coronavirus cases.

“By Thursday of next week at 12 midnight, he will have given up his portfolio,” Miquel Iceta, the secretary of the Catalan Socialist Party, said in a news conference.

Illa, who has overseen Spain’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, had said he would step down when campaigning got underway for the election, which is set to take place on Feb. 14.

Spain has been routinely reporting record daily coronavirus infections since the end of December, but a top health official said the recent surge appeared to be stabilising.

“The increases we are seeing are getting smaller every day, which implies that we have reached an inflection point,” Fernando Simon, the country’s health emergency chief, said in a separate news conference to present the data.

Despite that optimism, the nationwide incidence of the virus as measured over the past 14 days climbed to a new high of 796 cases per 100,000 people on Thursday from 736 cases the previous day.

Simon warned that pressure on hospitals would likely continue into at least the next week.

The latest figures brought the cumulative total of coronavirus cases in Spain to 2,456,675, while the death toll increased by 404 to 55,041.

(Reporting by Nathan Allen and Joan Faus, Editing by Andrei Khalip and Paul Simao)

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UK COVID-19 strain found in three Australian Open cases; Virus traces found in Sydney sewage”

“Christmas Island is far too remote to be used … in our opinion. It actually means that you are putting at risk the lives of the people who you are quarantining,” said Dr Khorshid.

“But mainland facilities, not too far from appropriate levels of healthcare, are definitely worth considering in the longer term,” he said, while adding that by the time new facilities were completed, they may no longer be needed.

Support for alternative models of quarantine has been growing, buoyed by the threat of a more infectious UK strain of coronavirus, and continued leaks from city hotels across the country.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has plans to quarantine returned travellers at regional mining camps, with a number of options on the table, including in Gladstone and Toowoomba.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews also backed a potential collaboration with the Commonwealth this week, saying there was an argument to have a series of large facilities for thousands of people, similar to Howard Springs.

He said the facilities could also be used for bushfires and other future emergencies.

“We couldn’t build a facility that say housed a couple of thousand people safely with all protocols without the federal government’s help. But there’s an argument I think, to maybe do that.“

The issue of quarantining people in regional Australia was briefly raised at Friday’s National Cabinet, according to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who said he was keeping an open mind on the Queensland government’s proposal.

Camp-style quarantine facilities offer a number of benefits, including access to fresh air and better separation of returned travellers. They are also challenging to set up and run.

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Human trafficking cases in Thailand hit decade low due to COVID-19

BANGKOK, Jan 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Police in Thailand last year launched the lowest number of human trafficking investigations in a decade as coronavirus restrictions on businesses and borders hindered criminal networks, according to a soon-to-be released government report.

A total of 131 cases were filed last year – down from 288 in 2019 – showed the data, which was compiled to inform an annual U.S. report ranking countries on their anti-trafficking efforts.

Of those probes – the lowest annual number since 81 in 2010 – about 90% involved sexual exploitation while most of the others were related to forced labour, the report found.

“Curfews and temporary closures of … businesses reduced possible opportunities for sex and labour trafficking,” said the report, revealed exclusively by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“A greater number of migrant workers returned to their home countries awaiting the re-opening of workplaces, while border-control restrictions made it more difficult for transnational organised crime groups to commit human trafficking”,

it said.

Thailand has pointed to improved efforts to stop trafficking in recent years, under scrutiny from the United States and following criticism of its failure to tackle abuses in its lucrative seafood and textile sectors, as well as the sex trade.

Advocates and anti-trafficking experts questioned whether the drop in cases was solely due to less criminality, and said the fallout from the pandemic may have led to more labour exploitation among certain groups such as migrant workers.

“COVID-19 did not result in fewer human trafficking crimes, but it resulted in authorities doing less inspections,” said Papop Siamhan, a lawyer with expertise in human trafficking and director at the Human Rights and Development Foundation.

“For instance, last year fewer authorities were inspecting fishing vessels, so it’s not surprising that the numbers have lowered,” he added.

Yet police colonel Choosak Apaipakdi said authorities had targets to meet on anti-trafficking inspections, and that performing such visits had not been hindered by the pandemic.

“The Thai government is not staying idle,” said Choosak, superintendent at the government’s anti-trafficking division.

“The prime minister has ordered the Royal Thai Police to increase prevention of human trafficking,” he added.

The number of victims identified last year – 229 – was also the lowest in a decade but campaigners have questioned whether high totals in previous years were a result of officials misidentifying smuggled migrants as trafficking victims.

Unlike trafficking, which involves deception or control over another person for the purpose of exploitation, smuggling means entering another country illegally and is generally consensual.

Trafficking convictions fell last year to 141 – a 35% drop from 2019 – as fewer cases were sent to court, the data showed.

The report is due to be sent to U.S. officials by the end of January. Last year, Thailand was ranked as a middling Tier 2 in the U.S. Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, which noted that the country was making significant efforts to combat the crime.

Thailand is home to an estimated 610,000 modern slaves – about one in 113 of its population of 69 million – according to the 2018 Global Slavery Index by human rights group Walk Free.

(Reporting by Nanchanok Wongsamuth @nanchanokw; Editing by Kieran Guilbert. Thomson Reuters Foundation, Visit

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Genomic testing finalised for foreign military cases as two repatriated Australians test positive to COVID-19 in Darwin

Genomic testing on two positive COVID-19 cases among an international military cohort in Darwin shows they are not linked to the mutant UK strain of the virus, as it emerged that two more repatriated Australians in quarantine in the Top End have tested positive.

The latest cases include a 30-year-old woman who flew on a repatriation flight from London to Darwin on January 16, and a 16-month-old girl who arrived from India on January 19.

Both are asymptomatic and remain under the care of an Australian Medical Assistance Team at the international section of the Howard Springs quarantine centre, on the outskirts of Darwin.

To date, 61 positive cases have been reported among the 3,054 international passengers to arrive in the Top End since the government-arranged repatriation flights began in late October.

All returning Australians on repatriation flights into the NT are required to undertake 14 days of mandatory supervised quarantine at Howard Springs.(ABC News: Jane Bardon)

Genomic testing on two other positive cases — which were detected last week among a group of foreign military personnel and their families staying at the Travelodge hotel in Darwin’s CBD — show they are not connected with highly-transmissible mutations of the virus, including the UK variant.

The use of the inner-city hotel as a quarantine facility for the military arrivals has been the subject of significant criticism from health groups, including the Australian Medical Association, the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance NT and the Darwin-based Danila Dilba Health Service.

They have accused health authorities of putting vulnerable people in Darwin’s CBD at risk, and say the cohort should have been sent to the government-run Howard Springs facility, which has been praised as the gold standard of infection control in Australia.

An ADF soldier, wearing uniform, stands outside the Travelodge in Darwin.
An ADF soldier stands outside the Travelodge in Darwin.(ABC News)

So far, three of the almost 300 arrivals staying at the Travelodge have tested positive to COVID-19, and around 80 have completed their mandatory 14-day stay at the hotel.

Despite many of the foreign officials arriving at the hotel at the start of January, it took a further two weeks before the Travelodge was officially prescribed by the NT Chief Health Officer as a quarantine facility.

The NT Health Department has downplayed the hotel’s delayed designation as a quarantine centre, saying it was simply an administrative procedure that formalises its use.

“All procedures and processes have been followed in line with Chief Health Officer Directions,” a spokesperson said.

“Strict infection control measures have been implemented and continue to be adhered to, as per NT Health requirements.

“No person can just leave mandatory quarantine and no person, in this instance, has left quarantine before their 14 days was completed.”

The NT Government has also approved the Juno Centre in Tennant Creek as an isolation centre if the Todd facility in Alice Springs reaches capacity.  

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