Victoria records one new local COVID-19 case as authorities raise concern over low testing numbers



One fresh local coronavirus case has been recorded in Victoria, along with a list of new exposure sites dotted through Melbourne’s north.

Victoria has recorded one new community case of COVID-19, which is likely connected to the larger Kappa strain outbreak responsible for Melbourne’s recent two-week lockdown.

For now though, it remains a “mystery case”, testing commander Jeroen Weimar said on Saturday.

The case, a young father who lives in central Melbourne, did everything right, Mr Weimar said, getting tested as soon as he noticed symptoms.

His three family members were tested on Saturday morning and are awaiting results.

Mr Weimar said low testing numbers over the past several days continued to be a major concern because authorities believe there are “other branches (of infection) out there that are not yet discovered”.

“We need to make sure we run this to ground now. We do not want to go through this (lockdown) again,” he said.

Mr Weimar encouraged Victorians to call each other out if they notice a friend, colleague or hospitality worker exhibiting COVID-19 symptoMs.

“Call them out in the nicest possible way. Ask them have they had a test,” he said.

Health authorities added 19 new exposure sites to the state’s list on Friday, mostly linked to a Reservoir case detected a couple of days ago.

Summer Hill Medical Centre in Plenty Road, Reservoir is listed as a “tier 1” site, meaning anyone present at that location on 5 June between 8.45 and 10.30am must get tested and quarantine for 14 days.

The rest of the new exposure sites are “tier 2”, requiring immediate testing and isolation until a negative result is received.

These include a medical clinic, chemist and Coles Express in Taylor’s Hill on 31 May and an electrical supplies wholesaler in Thomastown Rexel Aust for three full days on 19, 20 and 21 May.

There are now 74 active cases in the state, including returned travellers in hotel quarantine.

Three new cases were acquired overseas and in hotel quarantine on Saturday.

Just over 15,000 test results were received in the 24 hours to Friday and 20,660 vaccine doses were delivered.

Melbourne emerged from two weeks of lockdown on Friday, following a climb in local cases since late May.

Melburnians are now allowed to travel up to 25km from home and meet outside in groups of up to 10 people. Masks are required indoors and outdoors. Hospitality, retail and schools have reopened.

READ MORE

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The latest outbreak spread through the local government area of Whittlesea, north of the city, and the seaside suburb of Port Melbourne, forcing Melbourne into a two-week “circuit breaker” lockdown.

There are still 2300 primary close contacts seeing out quarantine.

Separately, a west Melbourne family were infected with the highly infectious Delta strain and that also became a cluster during lockdown.

There are 764 primary close contacts to that cluster still quarantining.

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This Wallabies squad will be full of promise, but there’s areas of concern


Injuries will play a role in the make-up of the Wallabies’ 38-man squad to be announced on Sunday, with Jordan Petaia and Suliasi Vunivalu already ruled out and a handful of contenders working their way back from various ailments.

The 40-man training squad that Wallabies coach Dave Rennie selected in March also provides an insight into his thinking, although it was telling that Rennie said this week that up to 20 per cent of his squad would only be confirmed after the final round of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman. That’s a high percentage, so the coach might be using a motivational tool here, but there is no doubt that the likes of rising Brumbies lock Nick Frost can do himself a favour with a compelling performance in the final round.

Frost, Rob Leota, Kyle Godwin, Irae Simone and Lachlan Lonergan could all come into this category: players whose claims are all worthy but aware they are in a close race.

My 38-man squad is as follows – a 21-17 forwards-backs split – with a short explanation of the thinking in each positional unit.

Hookers: Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Feleti Kaitu’u, Lachlan Lonergan. It was tempting to go for four hookers given Paenga-Amosa’s pending exit. Kaitu’u works his way in after consistent form and Lonergan is the longer term development option. Folau Fainga’a and Jordan Uelese have gone sideways.

Props: Taniela Tupou, Allan Alaalatoa, Tom Robertson, Angus Bell, Scott Sio. The inclusions of Robertson and Sio are the big changes from the training squad. Robertson’s form has been irresistible for the Force, while there was some real enthusiasm about Sio’s carries against the Hurricanes last week.

Second-rowers: Izack Rodda, Matt Philip, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Trevor Hosea, Sitaleki Timani. A tough call here as Nick Frost is effectively overlooked for Rodda, who is back from France. The young Brumbies lock will be a Wallaby, but there is no harm in letting him get another year of maturity into his frame.

Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper.

Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper.Credit:Getty

Back-rowers: Michael Hooper (captain), Harry Wilson, Rob Valetini, Rob Leota, Fraser McReight, Seru Uru, Lachlan Swinton, Isi Naisarani. Two big calls here: bringing in Naisarani and Uru. The former is likely heading overseas, but the Wallabies have to be real here: if Wilson goes down, Naisarani’s physicality is better than the next contender. Uru has been told to muscle up in defence by Reds coach Brad Thorn, but he can be moulded into a Test No.8. Liam Wright and Angus Scott-Young are the unlucky exclusions.

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Embalming is vital in the funeral industry, but a lack of skilled practitioners is causing concern


Deanne Edwards spends a lot of time with dead people.

“It’s such a fascinating world,” Ms Edwards said.

“That’s my utmost thought the whole time.” 

After nearly a decade of working as a funeral director, she became an embalmer to help bring comfort to loved ones as they grieve.

Embalming is a procedure to sanitise, restore and preserve a body after death.

Ms Edwards has noticed a lack of embalmers in South Australia.(

ABC News: Lincoln Rothall

)

Ms Edwards was privately trained by a South Australian master embalmer and is hoping to one day become a qualified trainer.

After taking up the practice, she noticed there was a lack of embalmers in South Australia.

“There are just too many people who have retired, and not enough people to train new people or continue the practice as they get older,” she said.

A woman in red hair handles surgical equipment in a dimly lit room
Deanne Edwards said she had experienced the impact of a lack of embalmers in South Australia firsthand.(

ABC News: Lincoln Rothall

)

“There has been a situation where I have needed someone that has more qualifications than myself, but they’re not available.”

She said advances in refrigeration technologies and an increase in cremation had impacted the age-old trade.

But despite that, Ms Edwards said more people in the industry needed to take up embalming.

Training blocks need addressing

Australian Institute of Embalming board member Ian Warren said South Australia lacked embalmers.

“There is not a shortage of people interested in wanting to do the course … we would have two or three enquiries a week,” Mr Warren said.

“The issue is that you really need to be working in the funeral industry, and then working for a company that does embalm and has a qualified embalmer who’s happy to take on students and be their mentor.”

Bottles of surgical chemicals sit on a table next to a white and blue towel
Embalming is often required if a body needs to be sent overseas for burial or if there is a long delay between the death and interment.(

ABC News: Lincoln Rothall

)

He said some students may be required to complete up to 50 embalmed bodies with their mentor before they are allowed to work by themselves.

Mr Warren is also a chief tutor at Mortuary and Funeral Educators, which is one of two registered training organisations in the industry.

“We have not had any students [in Adelaide] for at least seven years, so there is a bit of an issue that’s probably unique to Adelaide.”

A man wearing a blue suit, tie, white shirt and glasses sits with hands folded looking at camera in a dimly lit room
SA/NT Australian Funeral Director’s Association president David Lawlor.(

ABC News: Lincoln Rothall

)

The president of the SA/NT Australian Funeral Director’s Association, David Lawlor, said embalming was still a key part of the industry.

“If someone is being repatriated overseas they would need to be embalmed,” he said.

“Or if there is a delay between the death and the funeral taking place then there would be a need to embalm the body.”

He agreed there wasn’t a huge uptake of new trainees in South Australia, but didn’t believe there was a shortage of embalmers.

“I think at the moment we’re OK but in the future, we need more students to come through as embalmers retire.”

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VUI-21APR-02 reclassified as ‘variant of concern’, says U.K. govt.


Move aimed at alerting health authorities all over the world to the threat the mutations on the variant pose

Public Health England (PHE) has declared a coronavirus variant, closely related to the Indian Variant (B.1.617) as a Variant of Concern. While such a labelling is specific to the United Kingdom as scientists there are seeing the variant making up a growing proportion of cases in the United Kingdom, it is more aimed at alerting health authorities all over the world to the threat the mutations on the variant pose to the future evolution of the pandemic.

Dr. Anurag Agrawal, Director , Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, told The Hindu that an advisory group in India, INSACOG (India SarsCOV Genome Consortium), concerned with the genome details of Indian coronavirus variants, too had classified B.1.617 and all its sub lineages as VOC.

“Following a rise in cases in the U.K. and evidence of community transmission, PHE has reclassified VUI-21APR-02 (B.1.617.2), classified as a Variant Under Investigation (VUI) on April 28 as a Variant of Concern (VOC), now known as VOC-21APR-02. This is based on evidence which suggests this variant, first detected in India, is at least as transmissible as B.1.1.7 (the Kent variant). The other characteristics of this variant are still being investigated,” the government authority said in a statement as part of its weekly updates on the coronavirus variants.

Insufficient evidence

“There is currently insufficient evidence to indicate that any of the variants recently detected in India cause more severe disease or render the vaccines currently deployed any less effective. PHE is carrying out laboratory testing, in collaboration with academic and international partners to better,” their statement further noted.

While there are several coronavirus variants identified as ‘variants of interest’, only a few such as the U.K. strain (B.1.1.7) or the South Africa variant (B.1.351) the Brazil variant (P.1) are globally considered VoCs because of their ability to rapidly spread globally, infect easily and pose a threat to the efficacy of existing vaccines as well as treatments.

The Indian variant, (B.1.617) also known as the ‘double mutant’ was characterised by two mutations L245R and E484Q in the spike protein of the coronavirus, the region that plays the most significant role in gaining entry into lung cells. However there are now at least 3 affiliated lineages: B.1.617.1, B.1.617.2 and B.1.617.3 and Health Ministry officials and experts warned this week that these lineages were becoming the dominant variants in India. India doesn’t yet officially classify B.1.617 as a VOC, though a scientist connected with India’s genome sequencing efforts told The Hindu that India’s Health Ministry may now classify it so. “B.1.617 should be a VOC but 617.2 doesn’t have E484Q whereas there are a whole set of other mutations in the spike protein in 617.2 that are helping it proliferate,” the person cited earlier added.

Shahid Jameel, virologist and head of an advisory committee to India’s genome consortium, said the U.K. naming a variant as a VOC could be seen as “request” by a country to the World Health Organisation (WHO) to classify a new variant as a VOC. “India too could have done so. This variant is rapidly rising in India and would likely promote efforts by other bodies to test the efficacy of our vaccines against the mutations in this lineage.”

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Yellen seeks to tamp down concern over US government spending under Biden


  • Treasury secretary backs tax rises on rich to pay for big plans
  • Republicans push back against expansive infrastructure aims

The US treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, on Sunday sought to tamp down concerns that Joe Biden’s plans on infrastructure, jobs and families will cause inflation, saying spending will be phased in over a decade.

Related: The first 100 days of Biden were also the first 100 without Trump – that’s telling | Robert Reich

Continue reading…

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Two more Louis Riel Division schools move to remote learning as superintendent shows concern


The superintendent of Louis Riel School Division worries in-class learning may be unsustainable as the third wave of COVID-19 continues to push more schools into remote learning.

College Jeanne-Sauve and Lavallee School will go remote starting Monday, making it three schools in the division now learning from home.

Ecole Marie-Anne Gaboury moved to remote learning on April 26.

“I have concern for the impact the third wave is having on our education system,” LRSD superintendent Christian Michalik said in a letter sent to families.

“The growing proportion of students learning from home due to self-isolation requirements while still having students learning in brick-and-mortar classrooms may become unsustainable.”

Michalik says the decision to move the two additional schools to remote learning is not only because of growing case numbers, but the number of families opting to keep their kids home and the growing inability to fill the increasing number of staff absences.

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READ MORE: Winnipeg school moving to remote learning for two weeks

He said on Friday, there were 428 staff absences across the division with 111 of those unfilled.

The Manitoba Teachers’ Society (MTS) put out a call Thursday for all schools to be moved to the red, or critical, level on the province’s Pandemic Response System.

Premier Brian Pallister says the province is doing everything it can to keep kids in school.

“For many people, they need the structure of a classroom and they need direct contact with an educator or a teacher,” said Pallister Thursday. “When we talk about a circuit-breaker, I can’t help but think that break might be the break in the relationship between a teacher and a student, and we don’t want that to happen.”

The latest numbers on the province’s dashboard shows there have been 416 cases in Manitoba schools in the last two weeks, with 171 of those being variant of concern cases.


Click to play video: 'St. Vital school outbreak'







St. Vital school outbreak


St. Vital school outbreak

 






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What strains are of concern and under investigation?



Prime Minister Boris Johnson cancelled his trip to India next week amid concern over the country’s rising coronavirus cases and its Covid-19 variant, which is also present in the UK.

Only a few hours later on Apr 19, Matt Hancock confirmed that India had been added to the “red list” for international travel. It comes after 103 cases of the Indian variant have been identified in the UK, of which the “vast majority have links to international travel”.

Viruses constantly change through mutation, and the emergence of new variants of coronavirus is a natural part of this process.

Some variants will emerge and then disappear, while others persist and can have worrying mutations.

Each variant that enters the UK will be assessed by experts, and if considered to be potentially dangerous will become a variant under investigation (VUI). 

This may then be upgraded to a variant of concern (VOC) if the potential danger is deemed to be sufficient. 

What is the difference?

All Covid variants, if considered to have concerning epidemiological, immunological or pathogenic properties, are raised for formal investigation.

At this point they are designated Variant Under Investigation ( VUI ) with a year, month, and number.

Following a risk assessment with the relevant expert committee, they may be designated Variant of Concern ( VOC ).

Scientists are particularly concerned about variants of coronavirus that have key changes in the spike protein of the virus.

Mutations in a specific region of the spike protein may allow the virus to evade or partially evade the effectiveness of vaccines or natural immunity. One mutation of particular concern in this area is called E484K.

Variants of concern with the E484K mutation seem to spread more easily and more quickly than other variants, which may lead to more cases of Covid-19 and, subsequently, more death.

Some variants may also cause more severe disease.

Which ones are in the UK?

To date, Public Health England (PHE) has seven variants under investigation (VUI), including the one from India, of which 77 cases have been identified in the UK.

A VUI is a variant that is being closely examined by experts to see whether it is more deadly, can transmit more easily or may evade vaccines.

If it meets any of these criteria, it moves from being under investigation to become a variant of concern (VOC).

There are currently four variants of concern in the UK. These are the variant first found in Kent, the Kent variant with a specific E484K mutation, the Brazilian variant (carries E484K) and the South African variant (carries E484K).

Here is when they entered the UK. 



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Major contact tracing effort continues across Brisbane as immunologist warns unknown source of COVID infection is ‘definitely a concern’


A major contact tracing effort will continue in south-east Queensland today as authorities work to determine if a new locally acquired case of COVID-19 in a Brisbane landscaper has spread further in the community.

Genomic testing on Friday linked the 26-year-old Stafford man’s infection to another cluster in early March, which involved a doctor at Brisbane’s Princess Alexandra Hospital and two returned travellers in hotel quarantine in the city.

He visited numerous locations across Brisbane and the Moreton Bay region before testing positive on Thursday at the Nundah Respiratory Clinic, sparking a major contact tracing investigation.

Authorities said the man was highly infectious, and released a list of locations he had visited, saying anyone who had been to them at the same time should get tested immediately.

The man had the UK strain of the virus and was active in the community for several days before developing symptoms and getting tested.

Queensland’s Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said the source of his infection remained unknown, but said an unidentified intermediary was probably the link between the first cluster and the new infection.

University of Queensland immunologist Dr Larisa Labzin said the new case showed there could be transmission within the community.

“It’s entirely possible that some people have caught it and they haven’t known that they’ve had it, because it doesn’t necessarily give you symptoms.

“That makes it a bit tricky for testing.”

Health authorities have reimposed restrictions on visitors at residential aged care facilities, disability accommodation centres, correctional facilities and hospitals across Brisbane and Moreton Bay, to be reviewed on Monday.

Dr Labzin said the extent of the spread from the Stafford man would likely depend on how active he was in the community and how strictly people were following COVID-safe measures.

“It’s really a question of whether distancing practices were still being met, including good hygiene, because we know that that plays a huge part in limiting the spread,” she said.

“We’re lucky at the moment, it’s quite warm, so we’re spending a lot of time outside and that definitely helps us prevent transmission.

“Even while things appear to be pretty normal with not many cases around, it can very easily change … so, it’s always worth making sure you wash your hands and you’re still maintaining that distance — you’re still being COVID safe.”

Dr Young has urged the community to be vigilant with their COVID safety in response to the new case.

The use of masks hasn’t been mandated but people have been asked to wear them in crowded situations this weekend.

Dr Labzin said the level of response from the government was appropriate, but people could take further action on their own accord.

“Even if masks haven’t been mandated, if it’s something small that you can do, that will make it safer for you, and for everyone else, like maintaining good hygiene, maintaining that distance, those things are really important.”

“We have to stay vigilant.”

On Friday evening Queensland Health updated the list of locations visited by the man while infectious.

Mamma’s Italian Waterfront Restaurant at Redcliffe has been listed as a close contact venue.

Anyone who attended the restaurant between 12:30pm and 3:10pm on Sunday March 21 is being told to quarantine themselves at home immediately and call 13HEALTH.

People who have been at any of the casual contact venues listed below are being told to get tested and isolate themselves at home until they receive a negative result.

Saturday March 20

Sunday March 21

Monday March 22

Thursday March 25

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Phase 1b vaccine rollout starts in the Northern Territory, amid concern over anti-vax messaging


Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner received the AstraZeneca vaccine this morning, as Phase 1b kicked off and his government worked to combat ‘concerning’ anti-vax messaging.

Mr Gunner said he wanted to be first up to receive AstraZeneca, to bolster public confidence in the coronavirus vaccine.

“I want to give the public every confidence in AstraZeneca, in its clinical safety,” he said.

“The vaccine is free, it is safe and it is effective.

Phase 1b also marks the start of the vaccination program for Aboriginal adults.

The Australian government changed the parameters of the Phase 1b rollout earlier this month to include more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and remote residents.

The changes mean that vaccination teams heading to remote Aboriginal communities can immunise all adults over the age of 18 who want the vaccine, rather than just people over 55 or those who met the previous criteria.

Other people eligible under phase 1b include people over the age of 70, adults with specified underlying medical conditions, any remaining frontline health care workers who were not a part of Phase 1a, critical and high-risk workers such as police, fire, emergency services and meat processing workers.

The AstraZeneca vaccine will now be delivered as a part of the Phase 1b rollout.(

ABC News: Michael Donnelly

)

Mr Gunner said he had become concerned over some recent messaging from online anti-vaccination groups.

“There are some Territorians out there, some Australians out there, who have had a history of being vaccinated and want to be sure that this vaccination is safe,” he said.

“We can trust our doctors, we can trust the research they do, we can trust their clinical advice.

Mr Gunner acknowledged there were also concerns about AstraZeneca in remote Aboriginal communities but that the government would be ramping up its messaging.

“I think we’ve done a very good effort on keeping people as informed as possible, there are some questions around at the moment, around the world, when it comes to vaccinations,” he said.

“I’m not surprised that people in remote areas have questions but we are more than happy to answer them.”

Information ‘not from health sources’

Chief Minister Michael Gunner sits in a health clinic, as two staff give him the AstraZeneca vaccination.
Chief Minister Michael Gunner said he wanted to show confidence in the vaccine.(

ABC News: Michael Donnelly

)

NT Chief Health Officer Dr Hugh Heggie also received the AstraZeneca vaccine and urged people to register to receive the jab.

“It is one of the most important things you can do when it comes to protection from serious disease,” he said.

“I’ve seen deafness and severe brain damage from measles.”

Dr Heggie said they were aiming to have all eligible people in the Northern Territory vaccinated by the end of the year and that the NT and federal governments would work to combat misinformation.

“It’s not so much people who are against vaccination but there may be a view, and this is not just about Aboriginal people, that this virus is not real or indeed that it is only certain groups of people in the population that get this virus.”

Dr Hugh Heggie stands for a portrait.
Dr Hugh Heggie says he has seen people with life-long disabilities from diseases that are now vaccine-preventable.(

ABC News: Michael Donnelly

)

Communities could be waiting months for vaccine

NT Health Minister Natasha Fyles said vaccinations would begin this week in remote communities, with 13 Aboriginal community health organisations working to provide the jab.

“The challenge in the Northern Territory is our large geographical area,” she said.

“When we go into remote communities we will make sure that we vaccinate whoever might be available, we won’t be strict in the categories because we need to roll this out right across the Territory.”

Vaccine clinics will also be established in Tennant Creek, Katherine and Gove.

The shoulder of a volunteer is seen as they receive an injection by a person wearing gloves.
Despite concerns, medical clinics are booked out for days in advance for vaccine doses.(

AP: Siphiwe Sibeko

)

Ms Fyles said there was no rush to rollout Phase 1b as there has been no community transmission in the Territory.

“It could be months before a community sees the vaccine, so we do need to be timely in the information,” she said.

Arafura medical clinic practice manager Patricia Crompton said, despite some concerns, they had been inundated by the demand for the vaccine and had hundreds of doses booked in advance.

“We will be doing 550 doses per week,” she said.

There are 10 general practitioner clinics and three respiratory clinics administering the vaccine within this first week of Phase 1b.

People eligible for Phase1b can call approved clinics or their Aboriginal health clinics to book an appointment.

So far NT Health has administered 5083 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, including 467 Territorians who have received a second dose and are now fully vaccinated.

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Fresh injury concern for Blues ahead of Tigers clash


Carlton’s Jack Martin is in some doubt for Thursday night’s season-opener against Richmond.

SEN’s Chief Sports Reporter Sam Edmund understands that Martin is experiencing calf tightness and is no certainty to take his place in the Blues’ line-up to face the reigning premiers.

Carlton quartet Harry McKay (ankle), Jacob Weitering (hip), Levi Casboult (knee) and Jack Newnes (ankle) are also under injury clouds for Round 1.

Mitch McGovern (back) and Zac Williams (suspended) will miss the Tigers clash.

Blues veteran Eddie Betts is available after overcoming a calf complaint.







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