Ross River virus cases are surging in La Niña conditions and mosquito control needs a silver bullet


Australia’s wet, humid summer is leading to a surge in both mosquito populations and the number of Ross River virus cases in humans.

For insect sprayer Dave Ross, he is close to both the problem and the solution.

His sister Michelle caught the virus months ago and has been struck by “excruciating” pain.

Mr Ross has since been working with councils and homeowners to help reduce mosquito numbers and the risk of anyone else getting the virus.

Now with Spider Sprayers in Victoria’s south-east, near an East Gippsland hotspot, it has meant the busiest season of his 15 years in business.

“We’re not taking on any more work. We physically can’t get through the workload at this stage,” he said.

The director of Monash University’s Institute of Vector-Borne Disease, Professor Cameron Simmons, studies how the virus spreads and multiplies.

“Ross River virus really exists in a reservoir of animals, not humans. Most years it’s circulating between a variety of different mammal species,” he said.

While most cases of the virus are asymptomatic, Sale GP David Monash said unpleasant symptoms can develop.

“The classic symptoms of Ross River are a mild rash, joint aches and pains, and a bit of a mild fever,” he said.

“The problem with Ross River fever is the long term consequences. You can get joint damage.”

Sufferers have set up Facebook groups to share their symptoms and how they manage them, with some users describing the fatigue and arthritic pain as “terrible”.

Ross River virus infections have already reached record levels across the country with almost 2,000 cases recorded last year in New South Wales.

Queensland, home of the titular Ross River where the arbovirus was first identified, has recorded 3,533 cases in 2020 and 2021.

Victoria has recorded 448 cases across Victoria — centred on the Bellarine Peninsula, the Surf Coast and East Gippsland — with isolated outbreaks occurring across the state.

Victoria’s executive director for communicable disease, Dr Bruce Bolam, said in a typical year about 200 cases are notified to the department.

In Victoria, councils are responsible for controlling mosquito populations with 12 councils currently participating in the state’s mosquito-borne disease program and receiving funding for mosquito surveillance and vector control.

But controls, using indiscriminate larvicides, are a controversial approach.

“Spraying on public land is always going to be difficult. People have all sorts of different opinions so it’s a really hard one to juggle,” insect sprayer Dave Ross said.

“Gone are the days of mass spraying like they used to do.”

Despite that, the East Gippsland Shire general manager of environment Fiona Weigall said they used some larvicides to combat the Ross River virus they considered endemic across Gippsland Lakes.

“Council monitors a number of breeding locations for the presence of mosquito larvae and manages these areas, as required, with biological larvicides,” she said.

But with the risk of the virus proportionate to population size, Mr Ross said the usual methods of population control have done relatively little.

While spraying has fallen out of popularity, councils have taken to trapping as a way to predict the risk of of an outbreak.

Professor Simmons said despite that, outbreaks rarely occur in the same place.

“The unpredictability of these outbreaks makes effective management difficult, even when we know it’s going to be a wet year,” he said.

But the trapping of mosquitoes also provides an opportunity for a better understanding of the spreader.

“There’s room for much greater research to understand the mosquito species responsible for different outbreaks in different settings,” Professor Simmons said.

“In Victoria I would say it’s relatively poorly understood.”

Unlike seasonal diseases like influenza, the health response to Ross River virus is often on the back foot.

Health authorities have only just issued a warning for Gippsland — despite 79 cases across its six shires.

“The challenge for this particular disease is that it’s episodic,” Professor Simmons said.

“It doesn’t happen every year, so our response is always a reactive response.”

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Overnight traffic conditions changed on Pacific Motorway



Residents and motorists along the Pacific Motorway will experience changed overnight traffic conditions from this weekend on the Pacific Motorway at Yelgun.

The changes are in place to carry out concrete slab replacement work.

Work will require one southbound lane of the highway to be closed, about 24 kilometres north of the Ewingsdale interchange, while the existing concrete pavement is removed and replaced to provide a smoother, safer and longer lasting surface for motorists.

Speed restrictions will be in place for both northbound and southbound motorists, with occasional brief stoppages for southbound road users.

To minimise impacts to motorists, work will be carried out overnight starting Sunday, February 14, from 6pm to 3am, and is expected to be complete by 3am on Friday, February 19, weather permitting.

Motorists are advised to drive to the conditions, and follow the directions of signs and traffic control.

Transport for NSW thanks motorists for their patience during this time.

For the latest traffic updates download the Live Traffic NSW App, visit livetraffic.com or call 132 701.



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Western Australia’s bushfire destroys over 70 homes


SYDNEY, Feb. 3 (Xinhua) — The bushfire at east of Perth, capital of the state of Western Australia (WA), destroyed more than 70 homes but there was no evidence of any life loss so far, local authorities said on Wednesday.

Although an approaching cyclone might bring heavy rain to Perth, the relief was believed to be still days away and the adverse conditions were expected to worsen before that and might threaten more homes and lives.

“That is a concern ahead of some difficult conditions today where we’re going to see the wind shift to the southeast and that’ll bring that northern flank under pressure,” WA’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) Commissioner Darren Klemm said.

“We’re into day three in this fire. And it is going to continue to be a challenging fire for at least the next three, four or five days,” he said.

The bushfire aggravated the predicament Perth was facing as the city just plunged into a strict 5-day COVID-19 lockdown triggered by a local case of the mutated virus found in Britain.

Over 200 firefighters were working in the field day and night trying to contain the blaze, which had already burned through more than 9,400 hectares of land.

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Perth Hills fire crews brace for difficult conditions




The WA Premier is warning more property losses are expected as conditions worsen. Briana Shepherd reports.

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Bushfire in Australia’s Perth destroys 59 homes


SYDNEY, Feb. 2 (Xinhua) — An out-of-control bushfire in Australia’s west coast city of Perth has destroyed at least 59 homes, local authorities confirmed Tuesday.

There has been no loss of life and six firefighters sustained minor injuries.

Commissioner of the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) of the state of Western Australia Darren Klemm told reporters Tuesday that the number of homes lost in the blaze was likely to grow as damage assessments continued.

“This will be devastating news for the owners and occupiers of these homes, and our thoughts are with them,” Klemm said.

“The rapid damage assessment team will continue … There is a likelihood that the number of homes lost will increase once that work has been completed.”

The blaze in Perth’s northeastern suburbs has ripped through more than 8,000 hectares so far. An emergency warning is still in place for parts of the shires of Mundaring, Chittering and Northam, and the city of Swan.

More than 200 firefighters and aerial crews are battling the blaze and a large aerial tanker from the state of New South Wales (NSW) will soon join the battle.

Klemm said the fire was not contained or controlled and the conditions were still challenging.

“We are still in really difficult conditions. There is a lot of work to be done on the fire to make it safe and we are a long way from that point,” he said.

“The main task for today is to try to keep the fire within the boundary that we had this morning.”

Meanwhile, Klemm warned people not to return to the area under emergency warning.

“People living within the emergency warning area cannot return home – it’s too dangerous,” he said.

“You’ll be risking not only your own life but the lives of emergency services personnel who may have to assist you.”

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Israel Folau agrees to social media conditions as St George Illawarra Dragons offer two-year $1 million deal


However the NRL has recently indicated to the Dragons that it will consider the application and will not make a decision until they have reviewed the proposal and spoken to the relevant parties, including a potential meeting with Folau himself.

“The NRL is one of the best sporting competitions in the world, we want to attract the best athletes in the world, and I’m not surprised there’s interest from athletes wanting to play in our competition,” chief executive Andrew Abdo said on Tuesday afternoon.

Israel Folau arrives at the Federal Court in Melbourne in 2019.Credit:Justin McManus

“At the moment there’s nothing before the NRL or the ARLC to consider. If there’s a formal application made, there’s a registration process and that due process will be followed and considered.”

The Dragons board has approved the approach, which is believed to include a verbal commitment for $450,000 in 2021 and $550,000 in 2022. The club has also informed its major sponsors of its intention to sign Folau, with all of the club’s partners agreeing to stay on despite front-of-jersey sponsor St George Bank expressing concerns.

St George Illawarra chief executive Ryan Webb confirmed the club was in the process of luring the former Queensland and Australian representative.

“We are always on the lookout for great players,” Webb told the Herald. “We have enquired with the NRL about Israel and we will work with them to hopefully see him join us in 2021. We understand there will be a range of opinions in regards to this decision, but we believe he would be a good addition to our club.”

Israel Folau settled his unfair dismissal case with Rugby Australia.

Israel Folau settled his unfair dismissal case with Rugby Australia.Credit:Janie Barrett

Folau was meant to play for Catalans in the Super League this year, but returned home over the summer after the birth of his first child to be closer to his sick mother in law.

The news of the Dragons’ potential signing of Folau came on the day they lost skipper Cameron McInnes to the Sharks from next season on a four year deal worth around $2.2 million.

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The Dragons have left money aside to sign Folau from this year, and won’t use it to entice Andrew McCullough to the club as a back-up hooker until they have an answer from the NRL.

When V’landys was appointed as chair of the ARL Commission, he was asked about the prospect of allowing Folau back into the sport.

“The game is inclusive. Israel’s comments are not inclusive,” V’landys said at the time. “When I was a kid and kids used to get bashed up because they were different, I used to go and defend them. And a lot of them, it’s because their role models or their peers made them that way.

“I have no tolerance for people that put other people’s lives [at risk] or [commit] violence. It’s a big statement to make. With due respect to Israel, what he says, young kids listen to. He is a role model. They act on it. And when you’re a kid at school and you get bashed up because you’re different, I don’t think that’s a good thing.”

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Storm Brings Dangerous Travel Conditions to New York City



Heavy snow blanketed New York City on Monday, February 1, with National Weather Service forecasters expecting the wintry conditions to continue throughout the day. The weather service for New York City said the storm could dump up to 24 inches of snow across the region, with “near blizzard conditions” in some areas. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio restricted “all non-emergency travel” after 6 am on Monday in anticipation of heavy snow and strong winds. This footage shows a mail truck revving its engine as it navigates a snow-covered street in Long Island City in Queens. It also shows people attempting to move a van that became stuck at the intersection. Credit: Storyful via Storyful

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Canberra weather: Bureau say afternoon thunderstorm possible in ACT unlikely to bring damaging conditions | The Canberra Times


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A thunderstorm may hit the ACT this afternoon, ahead of a humid and rainy weekend. Canberra is set to receive up to 30mm of rain across Friday with the Bureau of Meteorology forecasting a possible storm in the afternoon. Bureau forecaster Abrar Shabren said if a storm does hit it would likely not bring severe or damaging conditions but be a “garden variety” system. “There is a lot of moisture hanging around with the trough that has moved across,” he said. “[There is also] a ridge of high pressure the state is sandwiched between with a trough to the west and north of the state that is dragging a lot of moisture causing the unsettled conditions.” Rain fell through most of Thursday into Friday morning. Canberra Airport recorded 21.6mm before 9am on Friday. A top of just 19 was forecast for Friday, with much of the ACT staying around the high teens, Mr Shabren said. However, throughout Saturday and Sunday the temperature will increase up to 27 degrees while the rain remains, making for very humid conditions. Mr Shabren expected the wet weather would ease by Tuesday with sunny days to return on Wednesday. A severe weather warning has been issued for heavy rain in parts of NSW west of Canberra, stretching from Ivanhoe to Tumbarumba. “A cloud band with embedded thunderstorm activity associated with tropical moisture drawn over NSW by a trough over the west of the State has the potential to produce locally heavy rainfall,” the Bureau warns. “Widespread totals of 25-50mm of rain expected across the warning area today with locally heavier totals of 40-70mm possible in a 3 to 6 hour period, especially with thunderstorm activity.” In the 6 hours to 2am Condobolin recorded 66mm.

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New conditions for Pilbara Energy proposal




Fortescue Metals Group may be required to regularly revise and publicly release the greenhouse gas management plan for its new Pilbara power station following an appeal by the state’s peak conservation body.

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British Gas staff start five-day strike over pay and conditions


British Gas engineers will launch a five-day strike from Thursday in a dispute over pay and conditions.

Thousands of staff could walk out in response to an attempt by the firm to push through pay cuts by threatening to fire workers, union GMB has said.

It accused Centrica, which owns British Gas, of provoking the strike, which it said would cause “massive disruption”.

Centrica said it would prioritise vulnerable households and emergencies during the walkout.

In a statement, GMB national secretary Justin Bowden said the actions of British Gas had “tarnished” its reputation.

“The use of fire and rehire threats has been condemned across the political spectrum and caused huge anger among this dedicated workforce,” he said.

He also suggested that the strike would cause “massive disruption to customers in the depths of winter”.

A Centrica spokeswoman said: “We’ve done everything we can with the GMB to avoid industrial action.

“While we’ve made great progress with our other unions, sadly the GMB leadership seems intent on causing disruption to customers during the coldest weekend of the year, amid a global health crisis and in the middle of a national lockdown,” she said.

“We have strong contingency plans in place to ensure we will still be there for customers who really need us.”

Almost 90% of GMB members voted for industrial action in a ballot of 9,000 members last month in response to an attempt by Centrica to cut some salaries by up to 10%, the union said.

In total, more than 7,500 staff could walk out, although Centrica said GMB had committed to ensure emergency callouts were not affected, adding that it also had contractors that it could call upon.

‘Our business needs to change’

In June, Centrica said it planned to to cut around 5,000 jobs to “arrest the decline” of the company.

It has been losing customers to rivals and, in February last year, blamed a big loss in 2019 on the energy price cap and falling gas prices. Centrica has since said the coronavirus crisis has shown how the company could be “agile and responsive”.

Commenting on the strike, Centrica said 83% of workers had already accepted its new terms and conditions, which it said protected base pay and pensions.

“This shows most of our people understand that our business needs to change because customer needs are changing,” the spokeswoman said.

“GMB’s mandate for strike action is weak; they are fighting against modernisation and changes which will help to protect well-paid jobs in the long-term and are doing so at a time that our country needs everyone to pull together.”



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