Masks on flights and rapid testing for UK travel to be endorsed by National Cabinet

National Cabinet is expected to approve new measures to strengthen COVID-19 protections covering international and domestic travel in response to the growing threat of the new and highly transmissible UK strain of coronavirus.

Premiers and chief ministers will be asked on Friday to urgently examine the new measures for overseas travellers.

They include mandatory mask use on all domestic and international flights.

Travellers from the UK will be required to undergo rapid testing pre-flight and post-flight that would deliver a result within hours or even minutes.

Other passengers flying into Australia would undergo ordinary testing both before and after their travel.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison this week announced an urgent meeting of state and territory leaders would be held ahead of schedule because of concerns about the UK’s more infectious mutation of the virus.

“Getting Australians home is important but [so is] keeping Australians safe and ensuring the robustness of our processes and the quarantine arrangements, particularly with the additional risks that come with the more contagious strain,” Mr Morrison said.

On Thursday night the Queensland Government announced a cleaner has the more contagious strain of the virus.

Earlier on Thursday, Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said the National Cabinet would review measures beyond the hotel quarantine system.

“We know that hotel quarantine is safe,” he said.

“We need to, though, look at what else — if anything — needs to be done.

“That is what will be discussed at National Cabinet.”

The ABC has confirmed chief health officers from around the country have spent Thursday discussing how to properly implement enhanced screening of overseas arrivals to prevent possible transmission of the virus.

There are some legal concerns over how to enforce rapid COVID-19 tests at overseas airports and whether masks should be made compulsory on arrival at airports or only once passengers are boarding flights.

Under current rules, it is mandatory for passengers to wear a mask if they fly to, from and within New South Wales or Victoria, while airlines recommend customers also have them on other services.

Around 40,000 Australians remain stranded overseas, having registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as wanting to return home but unable to secure flights.

The Prime Minister and state and territory leaders are expected to monitor the spread of the UK variant over coming weeks and could mandate rapid pre-flight COVID tests for passengers departing from other nations.

The ABC has approached the Federal Government for comment.

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Trump ‘ashamed’ to have endorsed Republican Georgia governor

U.S. President Donald Trump said Sunday he was “ashamed” for endorsing the Republican governor of Georgia after he lost in the state to Democrat Joe Biden.

Trump has seethed over losing the southern state, which hadn’t voted for a Democrat for president in nearly 30 years. In January, the state will decide whether the GOP retains control of the U.S. Senate when voters decide two run-off Senate races.

Trump said on Fox News that Gov. Brian Kemp has “done absolutely nothing” to question the state’s results. Trump has made baseless accusations that illegal votes cost him the election in Georgia and beyond. His legal challenges have failed in several states.

Trump backed Kemp’s campaign in 2018, boasting that his “full endorsement” helped him edge rising Democrat Stacey Abrams.

In this month’s presidential contest, Biden beat Trump by about 12,670 votes.

Democrats hope for two other upset victories in twin Senate races on Jan. 5 against Republican office holders. That would deny Republicans their majority, keeping the GOP with 50 seats, while Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris would be available for tie-breaking votes.

Democrat Jon Ossoff is challenging Sen. David Perdue while Rev. Raphael Warnock takes on Sen. Kelly Loeffler. No candidate won at least 50% of the vote share in this month’s election, leading to the head-to-head runoffs.

Ossoff said Sunday that a Republican-controlled Senate will hit the Biden administration with the same “obstructionism” it mounted against former President Barack Obama.

“It will be paralysis, partisan trench warfare,” he told CNN. “At a moment of crisis, when we need strong action.”

Loeffler on Fox News said GOP victories would be a “firewall to socialism” and the Democratic policies of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. It is Loeffler’s first election cycle after Gov. Kemp appointed her to the seat in January when her predecessor resigned.

Trump on Saturday plans to arrive in the state he lost to campaign for the GOP incumbents.

“We’re making sure that Georgians are fired up to turn out to vote,” Loeffler said. “If we vote, we will win this election.”

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Scott Morrison says a national vaccination policy has been endorsed by National Cabinet. This is what he said

Australian’s national vaccination policy has been endorsed by the National Cabinet.

It outlines that there’ll be a national system to monitor immunisation levels and individual vaccination status.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says Australia needs to be ready for when vaccines have been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

And with forecasts that a vaccine could be available in Australia from early 2021, it’s likely going to happen sooner rather than later.

Here’s what we know so far about how a successful COVID-19 vaccine would be rolled out in Australia.

The University of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine could be available early next year if it is proven safe.(Reuters: Amanda Perobelli)

Who gets the vaccine first?

A successful vaccine will first be handed out to three priority groups under the plan.

They include those at increased risk of exposure including health and aged care workers, those working in critical jobs and those at an increased risk of getting COVID-19.

What will the vaccine dose cost me?

COVID-19 vaccines will be available for free to all Australian citizens, permanent residents and most visa holders, according to the Australian COVID-19 Vaccination Policy.

However, under the plan, visa sub-classes 771 (Transit), 600 (Tourist stream), 651 (eVisitor) and 601 (Electronic Travel Authority) will be excluded.

How will Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine be rolled out?

Planning is underway while the vaccines are being developed but it’s difficult to set a plan in stone because each vaccine will have its own storage, handling and administration requirements.

At this stage, the Federal Government is set to work on regulation of vaccines, their acceptance from manufacturers, storage and transport, funding policy and data collection and monitoring.

The state and territory governments will look after how a successful vaccine will be delivered to people at vaccination sites.

A nurse wears full PPE at work
Healthcare workers would be among those to get the vaccine first.(Supplied: Wollongong Hospital)

Where will the vaccine come from?

We don’t know yet. While development is happening at a breakneck pace, a vaccine is yet to be approved by the TGA.

But according to the Australian COVID-19 Vaccination Policy, these are the four leading contenders:

  • The University of Oxford/AstraZeneca: it is one of the most progressed vaccines in development globally. Doses will be in Australia from early 2021, but available to Australians only once proven to be safe and effective and approved for use by the TGA. It will be manufactured by multinational biopharmaceutical company CSL in partnership with the developer, international pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.

    A woman in a white lab coat and safety glasses uses a syringe to measure something
    One of the key vaccines likely to be approved first is being developed by the University of Queensland and CSL.(Supplied: University of Queensland)
  • The University of Queensland/CSL: This is the vaccine mentioned by Mr Hunt. If approved for use it is expected to be available in Australia in the second half of 2021. The vaccine doses purchased by the Australian Government will be manufactured in Australia at CSL’s biologics facility in Broadmeadows, Victoria.
  • Novavax: If approved, it will be available in Australia as early as the first half of 2021. It is expected that 40 million doses will be made available in Australia during 2021, which will supply enough doses to cover Australia’s adult population. Doses for Australia will be manufactured in several locations across Europe.
  • Pfizer and BioNTech: if approved for use, it will be available in Australia from early 2021. The vaccine doses purchased by the Australian Government will be made in the United States, Belgium and Germany.

A patient is injected with a vaccine during a clinical trial.
The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccination would be manufactured overseas and if approved, would be ready early next year.(AP)

Australia has also signed up to COVAX, which is a global vaccine agreement co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO), epidemic response group CEPI and the Vaccine Alliance of Governments and Organisations. It has a broad portfolio of potential vaccines candidates and aims initially to have 2 billion doses of an effective vaccine available globally by the end of 2021. Australia’s $120 million commitment will allow purchase of sufficient vaccine doses to cover 50 per cent of the population.

How many doses of the vaccine will I need?

At this stage, it’s highly likely that two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine will be required for immunisation.

It also looks like each patient will need to have two doses of the same vaccine (for example, two doses of the Oxford vaccine or two doses of the UQ vaccine).

What if I don’t want to get vaccinated?

It won’t be a mandatory vaccination. But the Government will be encouraging everyone to get vaccinated and is giving assurances that there won’t be any shortcuts taken in the development of the new vaccine.

This is pretty complicated, how will all this be monitored?

The Australian Immunisation Register keeps track of Australia’s overall immunisation levels, as well as an individual’s immunisation status.

Under the rollout plan, the Federal Government’s digital health database My Health Record is also expected to play a key role in recording vaccinations.

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Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene, who endorsed QAnon, wins uncontested seat of Georgia in US election

Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene, who expressed racist views and support for QAnon conspiracy theories in a series of online videos, has won a US House seat representing north-west Georgia.

Her candidacy was bolstered by President Donald Trump, who has called her a “future Republican star”.

Ms Greene was heavily favoured in the conservative district even before Democratic challenger Kevin Van Ausdal suddenly dropped out in September, saying he was moving out of state.

Ms Greene is a businesswoman and political newcomer who has gained large followings on social media, in part by posting incendiary videos and comments.

Ms Greene has claimed in online videos that Black and Hispanic men are being held back by “gangs and dealing drugs”, alleged an “Islamic invasion” of Government offices, and accused Jewish billionaire George Soros of collaborating with Nazis.

She has also embraced QAnon, a far-right US conspiracy theory centred around the debunked belief that Mr Trump is fighting a secret campaign against “deep state” enemies and a child sex trafficking ring of satanic paedophiles and cannibals.

In more recent videos and posts, she has attacked everything from the Black Lives Matter movement to the use of face masks to protect against coronavirus.

After some of her comments came to light, Ms Greene was condemned by some future House colleagues within her own party, but many other Republicans, including Mr Trump and Republican senator Kelly Loeffler, have embraced her.

She had a blunt message for her detractors in a speech after winning a Republican primary run-off in August: “I will not apologise.”

The President took to Twitter then to congratulate Ms Greene.

“Congratulations to future Republican Star Marjorie Taylor Greene on a big Congressional primary win in Georgia against a very tough and smart opponent,” Mr Trump tweeted after her primary win.

Ms Greene initially started campaigning for a different House seat, challenging Democratic representative Lucy McBath in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, made up of suburbs north of Atlanta.

She switched to the more conservative 14th District after Republican Tom Graves announced he was not seeking re-election.

Democrats were unable to replace Mr Van Ausdal on the ballot because he dropped out too close to the election, leaving Ms Greene essentially unopposed in the race.

The seat has been open since Mr Graves stepped down in October.

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Planet America’s John Barron explains the basics about the US electoral college.


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