Where bullets fly – America is experiencing the worst recorded increase in its national murder rate | United States


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Post-pandemic increase in household savings ‘a function of government support’



Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has spruiked the federal government’s COVID-19 economic support plan, saying Australia is a position to regain some of the losses experienced throughout the pandemic.

“History shows us that as confidence comes back into the economy after a crisis, after an economic downturn that people do spend those increased savings,” he told Sky News.

“There is an additional $200 billion plus on household and business balance sheets that was not there this time last year.

“That’s a function of the government’s economic support.

“The money is there to help fuel the economic recovery and to avoid a fiscal cliff when some of the temporary emergency economic supports taper off.”

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Withdrawing super as disposable income could ‘increase economic growth’



Sky News contributor Peter Switzer says the option for people to be able to withdraw their superannuation from their paycheque has “a number of payoffs” as it could be used to stimulate the economy.

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Brisbane chemist is accused of ripping off locals as they increase the price of facemasks to $59


Chemist is accused of ripping off locals as they increase the price of facemasks to $59 as Queensland bring in tough new rules about face coverings

  • A chemist in Brisbane’s north is charging $59 for a pack of 50 face masks
  • Opposition Leader David Crisafulli said it’s ‘taking advantage of people’s anxiety’
  • Face masks are now mandatory across Greater Brisbane until Monday evening

A chemist has been slammed for charging almost $60 for a packet of disposable face masks ahead of a government lockdown

Queensland Opposition Leader David Crisafulli snapped an image of the display at a  chemist in the Morayfield Shopping Centre in Brisbane‘s north, and then declared the move ‘isn’t on.’

‘Some shops in Brisbane are increasing mask sales by 400 per cent, taking advantage of people’s anxiety,’ he told the Courier Mail. ‘This (lockdown) is already hard enough for Queenslanders.’ 

Face masks have increased in demand after Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced all Brisbanites will be forced to wear a mask as health authorities scramble to contain an outbreak in the city.

A chemist in Brisbane’s north (pictured above) is charging $59 for a packet of 50 face masks

Queensland opposition leader David Crisafulli (picture above) has said increasing the price of face masks only 'adds to people's anxiety' during a lockdown

Queensland opposition leader David Crisafulli (picture above) has said increasing the price of face masks only ‘adds to people’s anxiety’ during a lockdown

Identical packs of 50 face masks are available at Kmart for $15 and a similar 50 pack can be purchased online for $5.

Some Chemist Warehouse outlets in Brisbane are already sold out of face masks, with one Terry White Chemist reportedly only selling five individual face masks per customer – in brown paper bags.

The development comes as Greater Brisbane goes into lockdown for three days, while contact tracers work to ensure the UK variant of COVID-19 is not circulating in the wider community.

From 6pm on Friday until 6pm on Monday, people in the local government areas of Brisbane, Moreton Bay, Ipswich, Redlands and Logan will be required to stay at home.

Activities such as shopping for essential items and exercise with no more than one other person are permitted, while people over the age of 12 not wearing a mask outside their home face fines of $200.

Following confirmation of the lockdown by the Queensland government, countless residents stormed the local supermarkets to stock up on groceries.

Shelves were stripped bare in the fresh produce section of some Woolworths stores, with toilet paper supplies dwindling in other supermarkets.

Panic buying in Brisbane (pictured above) has resulted in empty shelves at countless supermarkets

Panic buying in Brisbane (pictured above) has resulted in empty shelves at countless supermarkets

Lines to get into supermarkets and shopping centres (pictured above) have also dramatically increased in Brisbane ahead of the lockdown

Lines to get into supermarkets and shopping centres (pictured above) have also dramatically increased in Brisbane ahead of the lockdown

Car parks were also filled to capacity while lines of shoppers formed outside of supermarkets and snaked around shopping centres.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has urged Queensland residents to ‘treat the lockdown like a long weekend.’

‘Please, everybody, let’s be in this together, let’s stay at home, spend time your family and friends,’ she said.

‘It will be tough on everyone for these three days. I think everybody in Queensland, especially the Greater Brisbane area, knows what we are seeing in the UK and other places around the world is high rates of infection from this particular strain.

‘We do not want to see that happening here in our great state and that is why we are taking those strong actions.’

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it was a ‘wise call’ for Greater Brisbane to enter into a three-day lockdown. 

What the lockdown actually means for those in Greater Brisbane

Residents living in greater Brisbane will only be allowed to leave their homes for four reasons from 6pm on Friday.

1) Essential work

2) Healthcare or compassionate care

3) Essential shopping

4) Exercise in the local neighbourhood

Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has urged residents to avoid non-essential activities like going to the cinema.

Households will not be allowed to have more than two visitors per day.

Restaurants and cafes will only be allowed to open for takeaway.

Funerals and weddings will also be limited to 20 people.

Masks will also be made mandatory, though children under the age of 12 will be exempt.

The lockdown will be lifted at 6pm on Monday.

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COVID-19: UK records 1,041 COVID deaths and highest daily increase in cases | UK News


The UK has recorded its highest number of COVID-related deaths since 21 April, and the highest daily increase in cases.

The government figures reported on Wednesday afternoon showed another 1,041 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for the virus. This is the 10th time since the pandemic began that the daily number of deaths has been above 1,000.

The figure was a significant increase from the 830 deaths reported on Tuesday, with both days likely to contain some deaths that took place over the Christmas and New Year period that have only just been reported.

There were also another 62,322 cases reported, an increase from Tuesday’s 60,916 cases.

It brings the total number of test-confirmed cases in the UK to 2,836,801.

It was also reported on Wednesday that the number of COVID patients in UK hospital, as of Monday 4 January, has passed 30,000 for the first time – reaching 30,451.

This includes 26,626 patients in England, 1,966 in Wales, 1,282 in Scotland and 577 in Northern Ireland.

As of Tuesday, 2,645 hospital patients were on ventilators.

It comes after Boris Johnson warned the public that the easing of England’s third national lockdown will be a “gradual unwrapping” and not a “big bang”.

The prime minister told MPs earlier that the government will use “every available second” of the current shutdown to place an “invisible shield” around elderly and vulnerable people through the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.

The locations of seven mass vaccination centres were revealed by the government, along with plans to open them next week.

Analysis: Now, more than ever, is the time to get our COVID response right

By Ashish Joshi, health correspondent

We haven’t reported this many COVID-19 related deaths in a 24 hour period since 21 April 2020, but the warnings were there for everyone to see.

Deaths and infections have only been going one way. Sadly, that’s upwards.

Over half of the 1,041 deaths reported today are from England – 674 people.

The capital has been the worst hit, with 193 deaths. But if people think this is an exclusively London or south England problem, they are mistaken.

The Midlands recorded 108 deaths and other regions are not that far behind.

We are seeing a record number of infections. The government says the new variant, a much more highly infectious version of coronavirus, is driving this.

The number of infections recorded today is 62,322. But it must be remembered we are testing many more people than we were back in the spring.

But we know infections lead to hospitalisations. The health secretary said today the number of patients in hospitals in the UK as of Monday 4 January stood at 30,451. This is the first time it’s been above 30,000.

That is why the country has been placed in its third national lockdown. The health service is under pressure like never before – even more than it was during the peak of the first wave.

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Hancock: ‘Making vaccines like baking bread’

The country has been put on alert level 5, meaning there are 21 days to stop the NHS from being overwhelmed.

Some hospitals are almost there. An anaesthetist working in London’s Whittington Hospital told me the only empty beds in his ICU were the ones left by patients who had died. These were immediately filled by critically sick patients brought in from A&E. Patients are also being moved around from hospitals at capacity to ones with space.

Hospitals have already created surge capacity by turning over parts of their hospitals to COVID treatment. This is why some people are incorrectly comparing ICU capacity right now to previous years and saying they are the same. They are not.

Boris Johnson and his vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi have set an ambitious target for vaccinating the country and say it is the only way out this pandemic. But doctors are reporting severe shortages of the Pfizer vaccine. One in west London told me he had been promised 2,500 but now will only get 300 Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines. He is understandably furious.

Now, more than ever, is the time to get our COVID response right. The infections spread through Christmas mingling have not even started coming through yet.

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Cross-hemisphere rugby will help raise standards and increase interest and revenues


Given the ramifications of this tournament, which is a precursor to an expanded Pro16 featuring the four South African sides for next season, it is astonishing that there has not been more discussion around the implications of rugby’s first cross-hemisphere club league.

It has been obvious for some time that Super Rugby has issues, with dwindling crowds and player burnout from operating across seven time zones a key reason behind top SANZAAR players heading to Japan and Europe. The financial and player welfare rationales behind South African sides playing in the same time zone against European sides are obvious.

For the Pro14 this coup could transform a league which has operated in the shadow of the English Premiership and French Top 14. The financial benefits of access to the largest television market in Africa, and a country where rugby is the leading sport, are clear, as is South African rugby’s access to the wealthy European market. Pro14 playing standards will rise dramatically, while the injection of money should help player retention in South Africa.

When it comes to playing standards, the Pro14’s European clubs will need to up their game significantly, but the South Africans also believe it will help them raise their game. Indeed, Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber has been very positive about the upside of South African players being challenged by new referees, game approaches and interpretations. He sees the northern hemisphere game as closer in style to Test rugby, so thinks the exposure will benefit his players.

Yet the Rainbow Cup also has more far-reaching implications as a tournament with the potential to usher in the holy grail of a global season.

The most striking thing about this bold move is the speed at which it has happened. COVID-19 – which caused the South Africans to be jettisoned from Super Rugby – was the accelerant, but it shows the game’s administrators can move quickly if it is in everyone’s best interests. This could also be a template for moving swiftly elsewhere.

Another key factor is the thread which could eventually weave together a new future for rugby. Private equity company CVC now owns a significant minority of the Six Nations, English Premiership and Pro14, and it is safe to assume its eye-watering investment in the game is because it believes there is the potential to make money. Its previous route to sporting enrichment is instructive, with CVC turning its £1.8 billion investment in Formula One into £8 billion over eight years.

There has been persistent talk of the Springboks joining England and Ireland in the Six Nations in future.

There has been persistent talk of the Springboks joining England and Ireland in the Six Nations in future.Credit:Getty Images

It did so primarily by ratcheting up the amounts paid for television rights. CVC is an agent of change, and as a major partner in the Pro14 will clearly have had a say on the decision to launch the Rainbow Cup. It will also be seeking to promote financially advantageous change to the Premiership and Six Nations.

Innovative thinking can move mountains. For instance, SA Rugby recently committed the Springboks to play in the Rugby Championship until 2030, but with its four major teams now part of the European season, why not play in the Six Nations as well? CVC would no doubt be keen.

And where does a prospective Pro16 leave the Champions Cup? If the four South African sides become part of that infrastructure, it will produce a better tournament and significantly increased revenues.

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There will also be unintended consequences from the Rainbow Cup and Pro16, which have the potential to kick-start change in the English game. This is especially so as Nigel Melville recently started as executive chairman at Premiership Rugby after being director of professional rugby at the Rugby Football Union.

Melville is an open, innovative thinker who has a world perspective after many years with USA Rugby.

Melville was brought in at the behest of the clubs, with CVC’s agreement, and will have a remit to look at ideas such as conferences to allow an expanded league, expanded play-offs, and an end to relegation (or, failing that, an annual play-off with the Championship). There are concerns that the Premiership and Top 14’s dependence on benefactors is unsustainable and unwise, so the Pro16 could provide a template for change.

World Rugby will also be looking on to see what lessons can be learnt. Cross-hemisphere rugby is not without its challenges, as anyone who has played in Durban’s subtropical heat in January can attest, but the potential benefits of evolution are incredible.

The Rainbow Cup could mark a watershed for world rugby. The next 10 years could be a transformative era for the game. We live in interesting times.

Telegraph, London

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McConnell Blocks Trump, Democrats’ Bid To Increase Stimulus Checks To $2000


Topline

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday blocked a push by Senate Democrats to vote on legislation that would increase the size of direct payments to Americans to $2000, setting up a clash with President Donald Trump, Democrats and some members of his own party who have backed the legislation.

Key Facts

The Kentucky senator swatted away a motion by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to vote on the bill, which passed the House by a vote of 275-134 on Monday.

Before McConnell blocked the vote, he said the Senate this week would address three divergent “priorities” raised by the president, without laying out how he planned to do so: larger checks, Section 230 (a law that protects internet companies from liability) and voter fraud.

A large coalition of Senate Democrats have come out in support of bigger checks, while just four Republicans have said they would back the bill: Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue (R-Ga.) joined Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) in throwing their weight behind the proposal Tuesday.

On the floor, Schumer said the House bill was the “only way, the only way” to send out larger checks to Americans.

“Senate Democrats strongly support $2,000 checks—even President Trump supports $2,000 checks,” Schumer added.

Republicans, including McConnell, are apprehensive about sending larger checks because of worries about the bill’s price tag; $2000 direct payments would cost an additional $464 billion, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.

Key Background

Trump, focused mostly on debunked allegations of voter fraud, swooped in at the 11th hour to demand Congress send larger checks to Americans after lawmakers passed a stimulus package on December 21, threatening to veto the legislation unless his demands were met. The request shocked members of his party and his aides, and nearly derailed the package altogether after lawmakers were unable to quickly amend the bill. On December 27, Trump relented and signed the package—a bill that sends $600 checks to most Americans, among other relief—claiming Congress had promised to address his request for larger checks. Since then, Democrats have rallied around the president’s demand and used the proposal to drive a wedge into the GOP.

Big Number

44. That’s how many Republicans in the House voted in favor of the legislation to send $2000 checks to Americans.

Crucial Quote

“$2000 for our great people, not $600! They have suffered enough from the China Virus!!!” Trump said Tuesday in a tweet, reiterating his support for bigger checks.

What To Watch For

On Monday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) promised to filibuster an override vote on Trump’s veto of the defense bill unless McConnell schedules a vote on the House stimulus check bill. McConnell said Tuesday the upper chamber would vote on the veto override Wednesday.

Chief Critic

“My Republican colleagues seem more interested in funding defense than funding the defenseless,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said on the Senate floor Tuesday.

Further Reading

Loeffler, Perdue Back $2000 Checks As Turnout Lags In Georgia GOP Districts (Forbes)

House Passes $2,000 Stimulus Check Bill, But The Plan Will Face Opposition In The Senate (Forbes)





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Highest daily increase in UK coronavirus cases – Channel 4 News


The UK has recorded its highest daily increase of coronavirus cases, with 41,385 positive tests recorded in the last 24 hours. And those latest numbers don’t include Northern Ireland.

The government nevertheless says pupils in England should still start returning to school from next week, despite teaching unions calling for a delay.

Finland and South Korea are the latest countries to confirm cases of the new, faster-spreading variant in people recently returned from Britain.



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Australia vs India 2020-21 | MCG capacity could increase for bonus Test this summer


“We have lost a major event here, it’s no fun. I really do hope it gets away in Sydney but we are on standby, we are ready to go. There are a few challenges with that but, if we are needed, we are ready.”

Should the MCG be granted the third Test, with Fox expecting a call within 48 hours, he said he would “love” the chance to have a larger capacity but that decision would be made by CA and the Victorian government.

“I would love it but we have to go do what’s right for the community. If it’s confirmed the MCG is hosting it, we go back to the government and re-submit another plan and they will have a look at it. It’s more important we get this one away safely and then we will reassess after that,” he said.

Pakula said the Victorian government and health officials had taken a cautious approach in terms of capacity for the Boxing Day Test, having last week agreed to allow an extra 5000 into the stadium.

“This was always going to be the event where we were more on the conservative side in terms of numbers. We want to test the processes,” he said.

Pakula re-iterated that his government wanted Sydney to retain the third Test, one that raises money for the Jane McGrath Foundation, and he took a shot at NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro.

“I am sure Cricket Australia would like to see a slightly bigger crowd if they could get it. I think our position on that is, let’s wait and see for a decision on where the Test is,” he said.

“If the Test is going to be at the MCG, then Cricket Australia would submit a plan. If it’s for a slightly higher number, then that would be a matter for the CHO (chief health officer) to assess.

“When Victoria was having its issues, some ministers from north of the border, like Mr Barilaro, were actively trying to procure Victorian events (AFL grand final). I didn’t enjoy that and I don’t intend to behave like that myself, quite frankly.

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“The Sydney Test is a very important game. It’s the Jane McGrath Foundation fundraising Test, the pink Test … I really hope NSW get to a position where it can put that Test on. But as Stuart said, if we are needed, we are ready to go and, if we are needed, we will look and see what crowd numbers are once CA makes that call.”

CA said on Saturday it would work with the government on increasing attendance numbers – should the MCG be awarded the Test.

MCG curator Matt Page said he needed about 10 days notice to ensure a second pitch was up to standard.

CA and host broadcasters Fox Cricket and Channel Seven remain locked in discussions with government and CA for there are major issues in terms of quarantining in Brisbane for camera crew and staff.

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Smoking may increase some people’s risk of testing positive for COVID-19


Researchers in the United States have conducted a detailed analysis examining whether smoking increases or decreases the risk of testing positive for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

The team’s retrospective chart review of patients who tested positive or negative for COVID-19 during hospitalization found that smoking was associated with an increased risk of testing positive among patients aged 40 to 49 years.

On the other hand, men and patients who were aged 50 to 69 years were at an increased risk of testing positive for COVID-19, irrespective of their smoking status.

The study also found that no history of smoking was associated with a decreased risk of testing positive among patients with congestive heart failure (CHF), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and Parkinson’s disease.

“This is the first study to show that smoking increases the risk of COVID-19 positivity among the 40-49-year-old patients, while not smoking reduces the risk of COVID-19 positivity among the heart failure, COPD and Parkinson’s disease patients,” writes the researchers from the Peace Health Sacred Heart Medical Center in Oregon and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

A pre-print version of the paper is available on the medRxiv* server, while the article undergoes peer review.

Figure 1 below shows that while COVID-19 positive patients had a significantly lower prevalence of current smokers (9%), they also had a higher prevalence of never smokers (54%) compared to COVID-19 negative patients. Both COVID-19 positive (37 %) and negative (39.33%) patients had an almost equal former-smokers’ prevalence.

Figure 1 below shows that while COVID-19 positive patients had a significantly lower prevalence of current smokers (9%), they also had a higher prevalence of never smokers (54%) compared to COVID-19 negative patients. Both COVID-19 positive (37 %) and negative (39.33%) patients had an almost equal former-smokers’ prevalence.

Findings so far have been inconsistent

Since the COVID-19 outbreak began in Wuhan, China, late last year (2019), the association between smoking and the risk of developing the disease has been of significant interest to researchers.

Studies have reported a high prevalence of never smokers and a low prevalence of current and former smokers among COVID-19 patients, leading some to speculate that smoking reduces the risk of testing positive for COVID-19

“However, these studies never compared COVID-19 positive and negative patients,” said Samson Barasa and colleagues. Furthermore, “an increased risk of morbidity, mortality, and need for mechanical ventilator support has been reported among COVID-19-positive current and former smokers.”

In addition, a population-based study conducted in Israel found that never smokers were at a greater risk of testing positive for COVID-19, compared with current and former smokers, while an analysis of UK Biobank data found no association between smoking and COVID-19 positivity.

Figure 2 below shows that the 40-49-year-old patients had the highest (60.98%) and lowest (14.63%) prevalence of never and former smokers respectively. In contrast, the 70-100-year-old patients had the lowest (4.79%) and highest (52.05%) prevalence of current and former smokers respectively. The prevalence of current smokers was almost equal among the 20-39-year-old (22%), 40-49-year-old (24%) and 50- 69-year-old (23%) patients.

Figure 2 below shows that the 40-49-year-old patients had the highest (60.98%) and lowest (14.63%) prevalence of never and former smokers respectively. In contrast, the 70-100-year-old patients had the lowest (4.79%) and highest (52.05%) prevalence of current and former smokers respectively. The prevalence of current smokers was almost equal among the 20-39-year-old (22%), 40-49-year-old (24%) and 50- 69-year-old (23%) patients.

What did the researchers do?

Samson Barasa and team conducted a retrospective chart review of hospitalized patients (aged 18 years and older) who had tested positive (n=117) or negative (n= 277) for COVID-19 between 2nd February 2020 and 21st October 2020.

Using Poisson regression analysis, data were stratified by smoking status (never smoking versus a history of current or former smoking) and analyzed following adjustment for a range of potential confounding variables.

The study found that while COVID-19-positive patients had a significantly lower prevalence of current smokers compared with COVID-19-negative patients (9% versus 18%), they also they also had a higher prevalence of never smokers (54% versus 42%).

The prevalence of former smokers was similar between the positive and negative patients, at 37% and  39%, respectively.

How did the risk of testing positive differ between groups?

Current and former smokers aged 40 to 49 years were more likely to test positive for COVID-19 than never-smokers in the same age group.

By contrast, patients who were male and patients aged 50 to 69 years were more likely to test positive for COVID-19, irrespective of their smoking status.

“Although males and the 50-69-year-old patients were at higher risk of testing positive for COVID-19, smoking status had no influence on their COVID-19 positivity risk,” writes the team.

Patients with end-stage renal disease and non-COVID-19 respiratory viral conditions were at a lower risk of testing positive for COVID-19, regardless of their smoking status.

However, among patients with CHF, COPD, and Parkinson’s disease, never-smokers were less likely to test positive for COVID-19.

What are the study implications?

“Based on our study findings, smoking increases the risk of testing positive for COVID-19 among the 40 to 49-year-old current and former smokers, while never smoking reduces the risk of testing positive for COVID-19 among the CHF, COPD and Parkinson disease patients,” say Barasa and colleagues.

On the other hand, males and those aged 50 to 69 years are more likely to test positive for COVID-19, irrespective of their smoking status, they add.

“Our study emphasizes that smoking doesn’t reduce the risk of testing positive for COVID-19, while never smoking doesn’t increase the risk of COVID-19 positivity, despite COVID-19 positive patients having a low current-smokers’ prevalence and a high never-smokers’ prevalence,” concludes the team.



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