Treaty banning nuclear weapons hailed as it takes effect without signatures from major powers


An international treaty banning nuclear weapons took effect on Friday, but the milestone is marred by the lack of signatures from the world’s major nuclear powers.

Despite the missing participants, the occasion was marked by praise from the United Nations and even Pope Francis. 

“The Treaty is an important step towards the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons and a strong demonstration of support for multilateral approaches to nuclear disarmament,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement. 

He praised “the first multilateral nuclear disarmament treaty in more than two decades,” and called on “all States to work together to realise this ambition to advance common security and collective safety”. 

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres

UN Photo

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons seeks to prohibit the use, development, production, testing, stationing, stockpiling and threat of nuclear weapons. 

Pope Francis heralded the treaty’s enactment during his general audience on Wednesday.

“This is the first legally binding international instrument explicitly prohibiting these weapons, whose indiscriminate use would impact a huge number of people in a short time and would cause long-lasting damage to the environment,” the pope said. 

“I strongly encourage all States and all people to work decisively toward promoting conditions necessary for a world without nuclear weapons, contributing to the advancement of peace and multilateral cooperation which humanity greatly needs today.”

January 20, 2021 : Pope Francis during the weekly general audience with the crib in Apostolic Palace, at the Vatican EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS...

Pope Francis during the weekly general audience with the crib in Apostolic Palace, at the Vatican on 21 January, 2021.

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The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Mauer, echoed those sentiments. 

“Today is a victory for our common humanity. Let us seize the moment – and take the Treaty all the way to its goal: a world without nuclear weapons,” he said in a statement.

By late October, 50 countries had ratified the treaty – originally adopted by 122 countries in the UN General Assembly in 2017 – allowing it to take effect on Friday, or 90 days from the 50th signature. 

Anti-nuclear activists still hope that the treaty will be more than symbolic, even without the buy-in of the world’s greatest nuclear powers, by stigmatising nuclear programs and challenging the mentality of the status quo. 

There are a total of nine nuclear-armed nations, with the United States and Russia holding 90 per cent of such weapons. The others are China, France, Britain, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea. 

Most nuclear powers insist their arms exist merely as deterrents and those that have refused to sign this treaty say they remain committed to the earlier nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which seeks to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

The Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons was drafted through an initiative by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), an NGO that won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts. 

Japan, the only country to have ever been targeted by a nuclear weapon, has for the moment also refused to sign the treaty, saying its effectiveness is dubious without the participation of the world’s nuclear powers. 

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Lockdown’s effect on our emotions


Is your mood all over the place throughout lockdown? Many of us in the UK are riding this emotional rollercoaster as the pandemic continues

The events of the last year have had a significant impact on our moods. As we navigate the difficulties of this pandemic – social distancing, homeschooling, redundancy, and more – many of us are regularly experiencing a wider range of emotions.

So, if you’ve had days where you’ve been crying one moment and laughing the next, you’re not alone, as new research has revealed that the average Brit currently experiences many different moods each day as they go through lockdown.

The study of 2,000 adults, commissioned by health and wellness company doTERRA, revealed half feel their moods follow the same pattern each day. It’s thought that each mood lasts for an average of three hours before the tone changes, with 47% admitting their feelings change more than they would like.

Kirk Jowers, Executive Vice President of doTERRA, said, “It’s only natural for people to feel a range of emotions throughout the day – especially with the lockdown causing such uncertainty at the moment. Our patterns, routines and activities can dictate how we feel and, naturally, the pandemic has altered many of our daily habits.

“In addition, work can bring its fair share of stress, while family and friends tend to impact us in a more positive way. We know that it’s vitally important to take time out for yourself and think about your wellbeing, and the research shows people are very open to looking at ways to improve their moods.”

One method that many of us are turning to in a bid to improve how we’re feeling is to search for information online. In fact, the number of people searching online for topics related to boredom, loneliness, and worry rose sharply at the beginning of the first lockdown, another new study shows.

Experts from Warwick Business School, the University of Ottawa, and Paris School of Economics examined Google Trends data from 10 countries across Europe and the United States. They found search patterns which suggested lockdown had “severely affected” mental health.

When compared to the same period in 2019, the number of searches in Europe at the time of the lockdown in 2020 for boredom rose by 93%, loneliness 40%, and worry 27%. Researchers found results were similar whether countries, states, or cities went into full or partial lockdown, suggesting that any form of restrictions had a substantial impact on wellbeing.

Nattavudh Powdthavee, Professor of Behavioural Science at Warwick Business School, said, “Our findings indicate that people’s mental health may have been severely affected by the pandemic and lockdown.

“There was a substantial increase in searches for boredom, loneliness, and worry. It may be necessary to make sure support is provided to help those struggling most with lockdown.”

Professor Abel Brodeur from the University of Ottawa said: “We did see the number of searches for sadness revert towards the norm, perhaps reflecting hopes that lockdown would be relatively short-lived.

“However, the effects on boredom and worry have not dissipated over time, and this snapshot of wellbeing in the first weeks of lockdown does not account potential fatigue as individuals grow increasingly tired of self-regulating as time passes.

“It’s a reminder that, while the economic cost of the pandemic and lockdown is considerable, there are other potential costs in terms of trust, disruption to schooling, and wellbeing. That is particularly relevant as many countries are going through a second wave of the pandemic and are facing fresh restrictions.”

How can I improve my mood?

If you feel like you’re on an emotional rollercoaster right now, that’s completely understandable. On particularly rough days, try to look for a little piece of joy that can help to lift your mood and make you feel better. In times of darkness, we must try to look for the light.

That might be something as simple as taking a walk and getting out into nature, listening to music, or having a nice cup of tea or coffee.


Jowers says, “There is certainly an appetite among Brits to find ways to improve moods and how they feel. Now, more than ever, many are looking to take time for themselves and their families to relax. Of course, research shows that taking a bath or going for a walk is beneficial, yet there are some other wonderful and natural ways to relax.

“In such unprecedented times, and particularly in January, people need a bit of a mood boost, so using essential oils as part of daily routines, aromatherapy, massage, yoga and other health and wellness activities is something the entire family can do to improve emotional wellbeing and find balance.”

Yes, it doesn’t have to be anything groundbreaking. Just give yourself one small thing to look forward to during the day, and practise this self-kindness each and every day.

And remember, it’s OK if you need a little help navigating this pandemic.

If you think you’d benefit from talking with a professional, don’t hesitate to reach out. Exploring your thoughts and feelings can be a big help. Learn more and find a therapist on Counselling Directory.





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Cuomo, de Blasio are ‘banking on a bailout from Biden’ while lockdowns are in effect: Gasparino


New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio are prolonging the coronavirus shutdown of New York because they are expecting a bailout from the incoming Biden administration and the Democrat-controlled Congress, FOX Business correspondent Charles Gasparino said Monday.

“What’s really horrible about this is the incompetence and kind of the callousness of Gov. Cuomo and Bill de Blasio. I mean, they are really banking on a bailout from Joe Biden and now the Democratic controlled-Senate,” Gasparino told “America’s Newsroom.”

“That bailout, basically, in their view allows them to do stupid things with the economy of New York like keep it closed down for as long as possible,” he added.

NYC CLINIC FRUSTRATED BY CUOMO’S VACCINATION GUIDELINES GETS APPROVAL TO DISTRIBUTE UNUSED DOSES

Gasparino said that prolonging the shutdown with the expectation of a bailout from the federal government “defies real logic.”

“It’s scary because, listen, people want to get back to work,” Gasparino said.

Gasparino said that Cuomo and de Blasio did not have a plan for the vaccine rollout, although it had been projected to be released several months ahead of the coronavirus plaguing the country.

“They’re going to pay an economic price for it and the real economy in New York City is going to suffer well into next year and what they are doing is they are hoping for a bailout. It is really a bizarre situation,” he said.

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A Manhattan health care center that sat on hundreds of doses of the coronavirus vaccine for two weeks has finally gotten approval to distribute the unused doses in a manner compliant with Cuomo’s strict rules.

Callen-Lorde Health Center received 600 doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine two weeks ago, as first reported by The New York Times, which was more than the clinic needed. As a result, about half of those doses sat in storage – because the clinic was unsure how they could be used in a way that did not violate state guidance.

A spokesperson for Callen-Lorde told Fox News on Friday that it received approval to begin distributing the doses in a manner compliant with regulations.

“We got the green light this week from the state to begin vaccinating community partners that fit the current criteria and have started to vaccinate those folks,” the spokesperson said. “We are now in conversations with an additional 10 community partners to begin vaccinating their staff next week.” 

However, as of Friday the center still had just shy of 300 doses remaining, indicative of the flawed rollout patterns observed in states throughout the U.S. at a time when confirmed virus cases are soaring.

Fox News’ Brittany De Lea contributed to this report.

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Fatigue is most common side effect of long Covid and it could last months – World News


Coronavirus symptoms, including organ malfunctions and depression, could plague sufferers for months after initial infection, according to a new study from China.

Sixty-three per cent of the 1,733 patients admitted to Wuhan’s Jin Yin-tan Hospital at the start of the pandemic in January 2020 were still suffering from fatigue in May.

A further 26 per cent still had sleeping problems and a third of patients showed signs of kidney problems, including a build-up of bodily waste in the blood.

Dr Cao Bin, of the China Japan-Friendship Hospital in Beijing, said the findings highlight “a need for post-discharge care”.



Passengers at Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan in March last year

The study also highlights the low levels of antibodies in some of the participants, meaning a sufferers’ immune system may only be able to fight offer reinfection for a short time.

Writing in the medical journal  The Lancet, the doctor said: “Longer follow-up studies in a larger population are necessary to understand the full spectrum of health consequences from Covid-19.”

He added: “Our analysis indicates that most patients continue to live with at least some of the effects of the virus after leaving the hospital, and highlights a need for post-discharge care.”



doctor wearing a facemask looking at a lung CT image from a patient at a hospital in Wuhan
A doctor wearing a facemask looking at a lung CT image from a patient at a hospital in Wuhan

In relation to antibodies, he said: “The risk of reinfection should be monitored.”

Further research by Dr Cao revealed that almost a quarter of the participants also suffered depression and anxiety nearly half a year after first being admitted to the hospital for treatment.

It comes amid claims the number of people who have been infected with Covid-19 in Wuhan – the original epicentre which saw huge public gatherings and parties for New Year’s Eve – could be around three times the official figure.

That’s according to a study by researchers based in the city.

With the Wuhan total population at more than 10 million, the researchers estimated that as many as 168,000 Wuhan residents were infected with the virus, compared to the official number of 50,340 hospitalised cases.

It’s believed that around two-thirds of the total number were asymptomatic.

Coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan at the end of 2019, with the first outbreak of the virus linked to a seafood market in the capital city.



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Victorian passengers in dark with no information as Brisbane lockdown comes into effect


But Melbourne man Michael Daffy told The Age that he and partner Justina Bryant had been told “not a single thing,” before, during or after their flight on what to do when they arrived.

Victoria’s COVID response commander Jeroen Weimar told Melbourne radio on Friday afternoon that authorities would greet incoming passengers at Tullamarine to advise them of the situation. A government spokesperson said later that the government would be contacting passengers using contact information supplied by the airlines, to advise them of their obligations.

Official advice stipulates that any Victorians who have returned from Brisbane between January 2 and midnight on Friday should isolate and get tested for the virus.

Mr Weimar also warned Victorians not to travel to Brisbane and recommended that people cancel their plans to go anywhere else in Queensland due to the risk of border closures to come. But those arriving in Melbourne last night were told nothing.

“Flying into Brisbane there was cops there who checked our licences and everything to make sure we hadn’t been into Sydney or whatever but nothing here coming back,” Mr Daffy said.

“I got a message from Qantas saying ‘Stay up to date’, but there’s been no information anywhere as to what the up-to-date information actually is,” said Ms Bryant.

Lisa Millar at Tullamarine airport on Friday evening.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

Another passenger, ABC journalist Lisa Millar, was also on the flight that arrived at about 5.30pm. She brought forward her return trip to Melbourne after the Queensland situation escalated. She said she “found it incredible” to have landed in Melbourne without being met by authorities.

“We weren’t told anything on board about what we should do, the only reason I know what to do is because I was connected to the wi-fi and I was reading about it on the way.” The difference between arriving in Melbourne and her arrival in Brisbane at the start of her trip was “startling,” she said.

Another Victorian family, made up of mother Jen, father Dan and daughters Pippa and Tilda – they did not want their surname used – said it was lucky that they happened to be on a flight home from Queensland on Friday night.

They had been holidaying in northern Queensland near Mackay and only passed through Brisbane airport to transfer to a flight to Melbourne. They were in the dark about whether they were required to be tested and isolate or not.

Qantas passengers Jen and Dan, with children Pippa and Tilda, arrive in Melbourne from Queensland on Friday.

Qantas passengers Jen and Dan, with children Pippa and Tilda, arrive in Melbourne from Queensland on Friday.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

The couple said they also were both “very surprised” not to have been met by health authorities at the airport.

“We were just told to check our restrictions and it was our responsibility [to stay up to date],” said Jen.

The Brisbane lockdown came as a family of four in Sydney tested positive to a new, more infectious South African strain of the virus, and an urgent meeting of national cabinet toughened the testing regime at the international borders.

The lockdown prompted supermarkets in Brisbane to reinstate buying limits on essential items as people rushed to the shelves to stock up, while a major highway out of Brisbane turned to gridlock as people tried to beat the lockdown.

Shoppers packed local shopping centres in Brisbane after the Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced a three day lock down.

Shoppers packed local shopping centres in Brisbane after the Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced a three day lock down.
Credit:Tertius Pickard

A Jetstar flight arriving in the Northern Territory from Brisbane on Friday turned around and flew straight back as passengers were newly required to spend 14 days in hotel quarantine. South Australia and Tasmania imposed a 14-day quarantine and Western Australia imposed a hard border to Queensland from midnight.

Associate Professor Adam Kamradt-Scott, a specialist in global health security at the University of Sydney, said a three-day lockdown was unlikely to be enough to halt the virus circulating in Brisbane. He predicted it would be extended to at least 14 days – the length of time it takes for any infected people to show symptoms.

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Anxious travellers overwhelmed airline phone lines. Virgin Airlines said it was operating Queensland services as usual but planned to make changes after the hotspot declaration.

The airline asked passengers travelling within the next three days to avoid calling and to visit its website instead as border restrictions were an “evolving situation”.

Qantas and Jetstar also said they had experienced a large volume of passengers trying to change their bookings.

Mr Weimar said the Health Department would provide further advice on Monday on the situation in Queensland, but his “personal” advice was for people not to travel there.

“There’s no closure on other parts of Queensland, I think my advice would be to start making plans to come home unless you plan to be up there for a significant period of time,” Mr Weimar told 3AW Radio Melbourne on Friday.

“We just don’t know. And as we’ve seen with NSW, we don’t know how this cluster is going to pan out over the coming days and weeks, so if you have a pressing need to be thinking of coming back to Victoria in the coming weeks, my personal advice would be I’d start thinking about making a plan to come home.

“I would not be planning a trip to Queensland at this time.”

The Victorian border with NSW remains shut. Nearly 580 Victorians and their dependents have now been granted exemptions since the border was abruptly closed on New Year’s Day with the number of applications in the system remaining steady on Friday at about 4000.

Victoria recorded just one new case of coronavirus on Friday, with a returned traveller in her 30s testing positive in hotel quarantine, after processing 23,000 tests.

An IT problem with private pathology firm Dorevitch led to the delay in processing the results of another 10,000 tests, all of which returned negative results. The data is expected to be included in Saturday’s totals.

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AstraZeneca vaccine trial: NIH ‘very concerned’ about serious side effect in vaccine trial


“The highest levels of NIH are very concerned,” said Dr. Avindra Nath, intramural clinical director and a leader of viral research at the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke, an NIH division. “Everyone’s hopes are on a vaccine, and if you have a major complication the whole thing could get derailed.”

A great deal of uncertainty remains about what happened to the unnamed patient, to the frustration of those avidly following the progress of vaccine testing. AstraZeneca, which is running the global trial of the vaccine it produced with Oxford University, said the trial volunteer recovered from a severe inflammation of the spinal cord and is no longer hospitalized.

AstraZeneca has not confirmed that the patient was afflicted with transverse myelitis, but Nath and another neurologist said they understood this to be the case. Transverse myelitis produces a set of symptoms involving inflammation along the spinal cord that can cause pain, muscle weakness and paralysis. Britain’s regulatory body, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, reviewed the case and has allowed the trial to resume in the United Kingdom.

AstraZeneca “need[s] to be more forthcoming with a potential complication of a vaccine which will eventually be given to millions of people,” said Nath. “We would like to see how we can help, but the lack of information makes it difficult to do so.”

Any decision about whether to continue the trial is complex because it’s difficult to assess the cause of a rare injury that occurs during a vaccine trial — and because scientists and authorities have to weigh the risk of uncommon side effects against a vaccine that might curb the pandemic.

“So many factors go into these decisions,” Nath said. “I’m sure everything is on the table. The last thing you want to do is hurt healthy people.”

The NIH has yet to get tissue or blood samples from the British patient, and its investigation is “in the planning stages,” Nath said. U.S. scientists could look at samples from other vaccinated patients to see whether any of the antibodies they generated in response to the coronavirus also attack brain or spinal cord tissue.

Such studies might take a month or two, he said. The FDA declined to comment on how long it would take before it decides whether to move forward.

Dr. Jesse Goodman, a Georgetown University professor and physician who was chief scientist and lead vaccine regulator at the FDA during the Obama administration, said the agency will review the data and possibly consult with British regulators before allowing resumption of the U.S. study, which had just begun when the injury was reported. Two other coronavirus vaccines are also in late-stage trials in the U.S.

If it determines the injury in the British trial was caused by the vaccine, the FDA could pause the trial. If it allows it to resume, regulators and scientists surely will be on the watch for similar symptoms in other trial participants.

A volunteer in an earlier phase of the AstraZeneca trial experienced a similar side effect, but investigators discovered she had multiple sclerosis that was unrelated to the vaccination, according to Dr. Elliot Frohman, director of the Multiple Sclerosis & Neuroimmunology Center at the University of Texas.

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Neurologists who study illnesses like transverse myelitis say they are rare — occurring at a rate of perhaps 1 in 250,000 people — and strike most often as a result of the body’s immune response to a virus. Less frequently, such episodes have also been linked to vaccines.

The precise cause of the disease is key to the decision by authorities whether to resume the trial. Sometimes an underlying medical condition is “unmasked” by a person’s immune response to the vaccine, leading to illness, as happened with the MS patient. In that case, the trial might be continued without fear, because the illness was not specific to the vaccine.

More worrisome is a phenomenon called “molecular mimicry.” In such cases, some small piece of the vaccine may be similar to tissue in the brain or spinal cord, resulting in an immune attack on that tissue in response to a vaccine component. Should that be the case, another occurrence of transverse myelitis would be likely if the trial resumed, said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. A second case would shut down the trial, he said.

In 1976, a massive swine flu vaccination program was halted when doctors began diagnosing a similar disorder, Guillain-Barré syndrome, in people who received the vaccine. At the time no one knew how common GBS was, so it was difficult to tell whether the episodes were related to the vaccine.

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Eventually, scientists found that the vaccine increased the risk of the disorder by an additional one case among every 100,000 vaccinated patients. Typical seasonal flu vaccination raises the risk of GBS in about one additional case in every 1 million people.

“It’s very, very hard” to determine if one rare event was caused by a vaccine, Schaffner said. “How do you attribute an increased risk for something that occurs in one in a million people?”

Before allowing U.S. trials to restart, the FDA will want to see why the company and an independent data and safety monitoring board (DSMB) in the U.K. felt it was safe to continue, Goodman said. The AstraZeneca trial in the United States has a separate safety board.

FDA officials will need to review full details of the case and may request more information about the affected study volunteer before deciding whether to allow the U.S. trial to continue, Goodman said. They may also require AstraZeneca to update the safety information it provides to study participants.

It’s possible that the volunteer’s health problem was a coincidence unrelated to the vaccine, said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Studies aren’t usually stopped over a single health problem, even if it’s serious.

Yet many health leaders have expressed frustration that AstraZeneca hasn’t released more information about the health problem that led it to halt its U.K. trial.

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“There is just so little information about this that it’s impossible to understand what the diagnosis was or why the DSMB and sponsor were reassured” that it was safe to continue, Goodman said.

AstraZeneca has said it’s unable to provide more information about the health problem, saying this would violate patient privacy, although it didn’t say how.

But there’s an exceptional need for transparency in a political climate rife with vaccine hesitancy and mistrust of the Trump administration’s handling of the COVID-19 response, leading scientists say.

“While I respect the critical need for patient confidentiality, I think it would be really helpful to know what their assessment of these issues was,” Goodman said. “What was the diagnosis? If there wasn’t a clear diagnosis, what is it that led them to feel the trial could be restarted? There is so much interest and potential concern about a COVID-19 vaccine that the more information that can be provided, the more reassuring that would be.”

The FDA will need to balance any possible risks from an experimental vaccine with the danger posed by COVID-19, which has killed nearly 200,000 Americans.

“There are also potential consequences if you stop a study,” Goodman said.

If the AstraZeneca vaccine fails, the U.S. government is supporting six other COVID vaccines in the hope at least one will succeed. The potential problems with the AstraZeneca vaccine show this to be a wise investment, Adalja said.

“This is part of the idea of not having just one vaccine candidate going forward,” he said. “It gives you a little more insurance.”

Schaffner said researchers need to remember that vaccine research is unpredictable.

“The investigators have inadvisedly been hyping their own vaccine,” Schaffner said. “The Oxford investigators were out there this summer saying, ‘We’re going to get there first.’ But this is exactly the sort of reason … Dr. [Anthony] Fauci and the rest of us have been saying, ‘You never know what will happen once you get into large-scale human trials.'”

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Mandatory mask rules come into effect in Greater Sydney as NSW works to contain COVID-19 spread


Mandatory mask restrictions are in place for many venues across Greater Sydney as NSW works to contain COVID-19 outbreaks while avoiding harsh lockdown measures.

The state reported seven new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, five of which from western and southwestern Sydney and linked to the Berala cluster.

“What we want to do is make sure we’re not in a situation where we are restricting people’s ability to go about their business,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Saturday.

“In fact, we want to increase economic activity, not diminish economic activity, and mask-wearing in these settings will ensure we have the confidence to do that.”

From midnight, masks became mandatory in shopping centres, on public transport, in places of worship, hair and beauty premises and entertainment venues such as cinemas.

All hospitality staff are also required to wear one, with anyone disobeying the health order to be fined $200 from Monday.

Children under 12 and those with specific health disorders are exempt but are encouraged to wear masks where possible.

A pedestrian is seen wearing a face mask at Darling Harbour in Sydney on 4 August, 2020.

AAP

The Australian Medical Association, which has long been calling for the move, said it was an important decision.

“This is … an acknowledgment that wearing face masks is one of our simplest weapons against the spread of coronavirus,” AMA President Dr Omar Khorshid said.

Stay-at-home orders will continue for residents north of the Narrabeen Bridge in the northern beaches until at least 9 January, while people in the southern half of the region will have the same restrictions as the rest of Greater Sydney.

Restrictions imposed on businesses and gatherings from midnight include gym classes reduced to 30 people and places of worship and funerals limited to one person per four square metres, and up to a maximum of 100 people per separate area.

Outdoor performances and protests are reduced to 500 people and controlled outdoor seated events reduced to 2000.

However Ms Berejiklian has defended allowing the Australia-India Test match to be played at the Sydney Cricket Ground from 7 January.

At least 20,000 people are expected to attend the match each day.

The premier said health officials, police and event organisers would do a walk-through to go over the event’s COVID-safe plan, and NSW Health would make judgements whether any adjustments are needed.

“We appreciate what people might say about us continuing to hold those events, but also consider the thousands of jobs it keeps, consider the sense of normality it gives us”, Ms Berejiklian said.

The new restrictions do not affect regional NSW, only Greater Sydney, but Ms Berejiklian urged all residents and visitors across the state to “practise COVID safe behaviours and get tested even if symptoms are mild”. 

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your jurisdiction’s restrictions on gathering limits. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus.

Please check the relevant guidelines for your state or territory: NSW, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, Northern Territory, ACT, Tasmania.



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Brexit officially takes effect as the UK leaves EU single market


The UK has left the European Union’s single market and customs union, ending nearly half a century of often turbulent ties with its closest neighbours.

The United Kingdom’s tortuous departure from the European Union took full effect as Big Ben struck 11:00 pm in central London, just as most of the European mainland ushers in 2021 at midnight.

Boris Johnson gives a thumbs up gesture after signing the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson called it an “amazing moment”, which would make Britain “an open, generous, outward-looking, internationalist and free-trading” country.

“We have our freedom in our hands and it is up to us to make the most of it,” he said in a New Year’s message to the nation.

Most people in Britain and in Europe are keen to draw a line under Brexit, which has dominated politics on both sides of the English Channel since the country’s narrow vote to leave in 2016.

The referendum on EU membership opened up deep political and social wounds which remain raw, with the consequences of Britain’s departure to be felt for generations to come – for better or worse.

The British pound surged to a 2.5-year peak against the US dollar before the long-awaited exit from the single market, 11 months since the country legally left the EU in January.

Britain has been in a standstill transition period since then, during fractious talks to secure a free-trade agreement with Brussels, which was only finally clinched on Christmas Eve.

‘Be our own bosses’

As of today, EU rules will no longer apply, and the free movement of more than 500 million people between Britain and the 27 EU states has ended.

Gibraltar, a British enclave off the coast of southern Spain, is the exception, after inking a last-minute deal with Madrid to avoid a hard border and major disruption.

Elsewhere though, customs border checks return for the first time in decades, and despite the free-trade deal, queues and disruption from additional paperwork are expected.

“It’s going to be better,” said resident Maureen Martin, from Dover on the southeastern coast of England, where most voted to leave the EU in 2016.

“We need to govern ourselves and be our own bosses.”

‘Our future is made in Europe’

Britain – a financial and diplomatic big-hitter plus a major NATO power – is the first member state to leave the EU, which was set up to forge unity across the continent after the horrors of World War II.

The EU has lost 66 million people and an economy worth $2.85 trillion, but Brexit, with its appeal to nationalist populism, also triggered fears other disgruntled members could follow suit.

“It’s been a long road. It’s time now to put Brexit behind us. Our future is made in Europe,” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday, as she signed the trade pact.

In January, flag-waving Brexiteers led by populist anti-EU former lawmaker Nigel Farage cheered and pro-EU “remainers” mourned.

But no formal events are planned for the end of the transition.

Public gatherings are banned due to the coronavirus outbreak, which has claimed more than 73,500 lives and infected nearly 2.5 million people in Britain, including Mr Johnson himself.

Mr Johnson is looking not only to a future free of COVID-19, but also of rules set in Brussels, as he attempts to forge a global identity for Britain for the first time since it joined the then European Economic Community in 1973. 





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Global economic inequality a side effect of vaccines development


“It’s clear that developing countries, and especially poorer developing countries, are going to be excluded for some time,” said Richard Kozul-Wright, director of the division of globalisation and development strategies at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in Geneva.

“Despite the understanding that vaccines need to be seen as a global good, the provision remains largely under control of large pharmaceutical companies in the advanced economies.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The UK is among the Western countries to have secured vaccines from multiple suppliers – in some cases doses exceed the number of people needing to be vaccinated.Credit:AP

International aid organisations, philanthropists and wealthy nations have coalesced around a promise to ensure that all countries gain the tools needed to fight the pandemic, like protective gear for medical teams as well as tests, therapeutics and vaccines. But they have failed to back their assurances with enough money.

The leading initiative, the Act-Accelerator Partnership – an undertaking of the World Health Organisation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, among others – has secured less than $US5 billion of a targeted $US38 billion.

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A group of developing countries led by India and South Africa sought to increase the supply of vaccines by manufacturing their own, ideally in partnership with the pharmaceutical companies that have produced the leading versions. In a bid to secure leverage, the group has proposed that the World Trade Organisation waive traditional protections on intellectual property, allowing poor countries to make affordable versions of the vaccines.

The WTO operates on consensus. The proposal has been blocked by the United States, Britain and the European Union, where pharmaceutical companies wield political influence. The industry argues that patent protections and the profits they derive are a requirement for the innovation that yields lifesaving medicines.

Proponents of suspending patents note that many blockbuster drugs are brought to market via government-financed research, arguing that this creates an imperative to place social good at the heart of policy.

“The question is really, ‘Is this a time to profit?'” said Mustaqeem De Gama, who works with South Africa’s mission to the WTO in Geneva. “We have seen governments closing down economies, limiting freedoms – yet intellectual property is seen to be so sacrosanct that this cannot be touched.”

In the wealthy nations that have secured access to vaccines, relief from the economic disaster brought on by the public health emergency is underway. The restrictions that have shut down businesses could be lifted, bringing meaningful economic benefits as soon as March or April.

Registered nurse Betty Hallman gives her colleague Norma Elizondo the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at University Hospital in Augusta, Georgia in the US.

Registered nurse Betty Hallman gives her colleague Norma Elizondo the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at University Hospital in Augusta, Georgia in the US.Credit:AP

For the moment, the picture is bleak. The United States, the world’s largest economy, has suffered death tolls equivalent to a 9/11 every day, making a return to normalcy appear distant. Major economies like Britain, France and Germany are under fresh lockdowns as the virus maintains momentum.

But after contracting 4.2 per cent this year, the global economy appears set to expand by 5.2 per cent next year, according to Oxford Economics. That forecast assumes annual growth of 4.2 per cent in the United States and a 7.8 per cent expansion in China, the world’s second-largest economy, where government action has controlled the virus.

Europe will remain a laggard, given the prevalence of the virus, according to IHS Markit, with the continent’s economy not returning to its pre-crisis size for two years. But a deal struck between Britain and the European Union on Thursday, preserving much of their trading relationship after Brexit, has eased the worst fears about a slowdown in regional commerce.

But by 2025, the long-term economic damage from the pandemic will be twice as severe in so-called emerging markets compared with wealthy countries, according to Oxford Economics.

Such forecasts are notoriously inexact. A year ago, no one was predicting a calamitous pandemic. The variables now confronting the global economy are especially enormous.

The production of vaccines is fraught with challenges that could limit supply, while their endurance and effectiveness are not fully understood. The economic recovery will be shaped by questions of psychology. Following the most profound shock in memory, how will societies exercise their freedom to move about once the virus is tamed? Will people liberated from lockdowns pack together in movie theatres and on aeroplanes?

Any lingering disinclination toward human congregation is likely to limit growth in the leisure and hospitality industries, which are major employers.

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The pandemic has accelerated the advance of e-commerce, leaving traditional brick-and-mortar retailers in an especially weakened state. If an enduring sense of anxiety prompts shoppers to avoid shopping centres, that could limit job growth. Online retailers like Amazon have aggressively embraced automation, meaning that an increase in business does not necessarily translate into quality jobs.

Many economists assume that as the vaccines ease fear, people will surge toward experiences that have been off-limits, thronging restaurants, sporting events and holiday destinations. Households have saved up as they have cancelled vacations and entertained themselves at home.

“If people’s spirits are eased, and some of the restrictions are lifted, you could see a spending splurge,” said Ben May, a global economist at Oxford Economics in London. “A lot of this will be about the speed and degree to which people go back to more normal behaviours. That’s very hard to know.”

But many developing countries will find themselves effectively inhabiting a different planet.

The United States has secured claims on as many as 1.5 billion doses of vaccine, while the European Union has locked up nearly 2 billion doses – enough to vaccinate all of their citizens and then some. Many poor countries could be left waiting until 2024 to fully vaccinate their populations.

High debt burdens limit the ability of many poor countries to pay for vaccines. Private creditors have declined to take part in a debt suspension initiative championed by the Group of 20.

Vials of the Pfizer vaccine are checked at the Madigan Army Medical Centre in Washington state, US.

Vials of the Pfizer vaccine are checked at the Madigan Army Medical Centre in Washington state, US.Credit:AP

Promised aid from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has proved disappointing. At the IMF, the Trump administration has opposed an expansion of so-called special drawing rights – the basic currency of the institution – depriving poor countries of additional resources.

“The international response to the pandemic has essentially been pitiful,” said Kozul-Wright at the UN trade body. “We are worried that as we move into the distribution of the vaccines, we are going to see the same again.”

One element of the Act-Accelerator partnership known as Covax is meant to allow poor countries to buy vaccines at affordable prices, but it collides with the reality that production is both limited and controlled by profit-minded companies that are answerable to shareholders.

“Most people in the world live in countries where they rely on Covax for access to vaccines,” said Mark Eccleston-Turner, an expert on international law and infectious diseases at Keele University in England. “That is an extraordinary market failure. Access to vaccines is not based on need. It’s based on the ability to pay, and Covax doesn’t fix that problem.”

On December 18, Covax leaders announced a deal with pharmaceutical companies aimed at providing low- and middle-income countries with nearly 2 billion doses of vaccines. The arrangement, which centres on vaccine candidates that have not yet gained approval, would provide enough doses to vaccinate one-fifth of the populations in 190 participating countries by the end of next year.

India is home to pharmaceutical manufacturers that are producing vaccines for multinational companies including AstraZeneca, but its population is unlikely to be fully vaccinated before 2024, according to TS Lombard, an investment research firm in London. Its economy is likely to remain vulnerable.

Even if masses of people in poor countries do not gain access to vaccines, their economies are likely to receive some spillover benefits from wealthier nations’ return to normal. In a world shaped by inequality, growth can coincide with inequity.

As consumer power resumes in North America, Europe and east Asia, that will drive demand for commodities, rejuvenating copper mines in Chile and Zambia and lifting exports of soybeans harvested in Brazil and Argentina. Tourists will eventually return to Thailand, Indonesia and Turkey.

But some argue that the ravages of the pandemic in poor countries, largely unchecked by vaccines, could limit economic fortunes globally. If the poorest countries do not gain vaccines, the global economy would surrender $US153 billion a year in output, according to a recent study from the Rand Corp.

“You need to vaccinate health care workers globally so you can reopen global markets,” said Clare Wenham, a health policy expert at the London School of Economics. “If every country in the world can say, ‘We know all our vulnerable people are vaccinated,’ then we can return to the global capitalist trading system much quicker.”

The New York Times

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