COVID-19 brought chaos, but for some Australians 2020 meant leap year proposals and beating cancer


Whichever way you look at it, 2020 is a year that will be remembered for generations to come.

For many people, there has been loss, insurmountable challenges and heartache.

While for others, amid unexpected twists and turns, there has been much joy, love and some opportunities.

Here is a glimpse into some of those magical moments and reflections as shared with the ABC.

A leap year proposal

A man and woman hug tightly in a selfie photo, with his arm around her neck, close up to the camera both looking ecstatic
Sarah K Jones and Craig Freier celebrate after she proposed on February 29, 2020 — a leap year.(Supplied: Craig Freier)

But away from the engagement celebrations, the pandemic was gripping the globe and grinding the aviation industry to a halt.

Mr Freier’s work changed from month-on, month-off to two months off at a time without pay — and he considered himself one of the lucky ones.

“I could have been one of the guys that isn’t gonna work at all for another year,” he said.

“And just taking more time to be with people instead [of] [running through life 15 minutes at a time, which is all we tend to afford people these days.”

Mum is six months clear of melanoma

By her own accounts, Debbie Butler’s year started off “pretty rough” when she was told that melanoma had spread from her lungs and ribs to her brain.

Family of mum, dad and two seven-year-old girls, all smiling and looking happy
Debbie Butler, husband, Adrian Crennan and daughters, Hannah and Gemma, are excited to celebrate Christmas 2020 after all they’ve been through this year.(Supplied: Debbie Butler)

She underwent Gamma Knife radiosurgery and immunotherapy treatment that led to “significant swelling” of the brain, an inability to drive, and memory loss.

“I tried to tell my sister that there are elephants at the zoo and I kept saying, ‘You know the big animal with the long nose, is it a camel?’ and she’s going, ‘No, no that’s not a camel … Oh, do you mean the elephant?’ ‘Yes, I meant the elephant’.”

“I couldn’t find [the words for] lots and lots of nouns, my kids’ birthday, I couldn’t tell you the months of the year.”

Because of the pandemic and precautions with oncology patients, she faced some of the most terrifying moments alone.

“When I went to the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane for the Gamma Knife radiosurgery I had to go on my own,” Ms Butler said.

“So I was going in and I was having a frame screwed into my skull, going into a machine that was going to shoot Gamma beams into my brain — on my own.”

There was concern the cancer was progressing because she was so sick, but then her body responded to treatment.

“I’m really happy, the chances of this treatment failing now is sitting at around 5 per cent.”

Ms Butler faces another 18 months of treatment but in the meantime feels blessed to spend Christmas with husband Adrian Crennan and seven-year-old daughters Hannah and Gemma.

“It’s certainly something that’s a relief to all of us and makes us very happy,” she said.

Young family cherishes time together

If it were not for the pandemic, Duncan Thomson — a fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) worker in Antarctica — may well have missed the birth of his second child.

Family of mum, dad, young boy and baby sitting on rocks at the beach, all smiling
Rachel Thomson says the pandemic has led to the family’s spending more time together.(Supplied: Madison Kowe)

But history did not repeat for this Sunshine Coast family, and when the couple’s second child Eli was born in April Mr Thomson was there.

“My husband couldn’t go back to work because of COVID … so he’s now been home since March,” Ms Thomson said.

Ms Thomson said it had been an “amazing” time, affording their eldest child the longest period he had ever had with his FIFO dad.

Sharing the sprinkler with … geese

Usually renowned for their unfriendly personality, the geese on this Julia Creek property where Libby O’Meara and husband John Schulz were caretaking were anything but.

A woman stands among a gaggle of geese outside
Libby O’Meara and her husband John Schulz have enjoyed their time volunteering at Julia Creek this year.(Supplied: John Schulz)

“The geese are in very close proximity, sharing the sprinkler and that was just a lovely sight to see and … they’d get all wet and their wings would go.”

The couple jumped at the chance this year to look after the property and its menagerie of animals — including pigs, sheep, horses, cattle, turkeys, geese and chickens — but it meant battling temperatures of up to 45 degrees.

The six-week adventure — more than 1,600 kilometres from their Sunshine Coast home — came on the back of the birth of grandson Darcy, a coastal Queensland holiday and returning to Australia from riding New Zealand’s Otago Rail Trail just as the pandemic unfolded.

Pandemic ‘worked in our favour’

Rob Post, 44, and Kate Harris, 35, from Queensland’s Scenic Rim region ended up living together and fell in love because of the pandemic.

“It’s kind of worked in our favour because we sort of were stuck in the same vicinity and we couldn’t travel,” Mr Post said.

“We basically hung out every day and did some local walking that we were allowed to do.

Man and a woman sit on top of a mountain, smiling
Rob Post says he and partner, Katie Harris, fell in love during the lockdown.(Supplied: Rob Post)

After coming out of a long-term relationship, Mr Post turned to hiking which ultimately led the pair to meet on Christmas Day last year.

“I started hiking just for the mental health side of things,” he said.

“I always loved the views and the challenge and an adventure so it kind of fit in real well with where I was at in my life, and it just so happened that I met Kate along the way,” he said.





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A typical family’s food bill will jump by almost $700 next year — the biggest leap in more than a decade


It’s only going to get worse for Canadians who are already feeling stretched at the grocery store, with food prices set to rise in 2021 due in no small part to COVID-19.

The 11th annual Food Price Report, a collaboration between Dalhousie University, the University of Guelph, the University of Saskatchewan and the University of British Columbia, predicts that food prices will rise by three to five per cent next year, outpacing general inflation.

The annual cost of groceries for the average Canadian family will go up by five per cent in 2021 — by almost $700, the largest dollar increase the report has yet predicted. That figure doesn’t include restaurant spending and groceries purchased through e-commerce.

“It’s going to be a tough year,” said Sylvain Charlebois, a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University and the report’s lead author.

The rise in food prices will be driven by meat, produce and bakery. Meat prices in particular are expected to rise by 4.5 to 6.5 per cent, as is the price of vegetables.

The price of meat products, especially chicken and pork, are expected to remain higher because of the increased cost of production associated with COVID-19 restrictions, Charlebois said, and the same goes for eggs. However, when it comes to beef, the “worst is behind us,” he said.

“We are expecting both chicken and pork to drive prices higher at the meat counter,” he said.

Bakery prices will also rise between 3.5 and 5.5 per cent, he said, in part because commodity prices are higher.

In 2021, according to the study, a family comprised of one man, one woman and two children (a boy and a girl, 14-18 and 9-13, respectively) is expected to spend $13,907 on groceries — $695 more than the same family would have spent in 2020.

However, this year, for the first time, the report has added annual grocery spending estimates per individual, based on age and gender. For example, a woman between 19 and 30 is predicted to spend $3,256.34 on groceries in 2021, while a man between 31 and 50 is expected to spend $3,559.37.

Using these estimates, families can calculate how much their individual household is likely to spend, instead of relying on one “average family” total that doesn’t represent the diversity of families across Canada, said Simon Somogyi, report co-author and the Arrell Chair in the Business of Food at the University of Guelph.

The price of oil and the Canadian dollar are normally the two strongest factors impacting food prices, said Somogyi, alongside other metrics like commodity prices and employment rates.

But every year, researchers have to deal with some wild cards when predicting food prices, said Charlebois — the biggest of which is usually climate change.

This year, COVID-19 was the new wild card, said Charlebois, and will continue to be in 2021.

Last year’s report predicted food prices would increase by two to four per cent in 2020, and the average family would spend $487 more annually than the year before. The team put out an update to the prediction in March when the pandemic struck, but the price predictions remained around the same, despite the factors changing.

Despite the pandemic, last year’s predictions were more or less accurate, Charlebois said, though they couldn’t account for the dramatic drop in spending on food service caused by COVID-19.

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Prior to the pandemic, the average household spent around 38 per cent of their total food spending outside of the house, according to the report. After a sharp drop at the beginning of the pandemic, that number is now closer to 25 per cent, Charlebois said.

“Because food service became such a wild card this year, we decided for 2021 to just not look at it and just look at price behaviour,” he said.

Somogyi added that restaurant prices are also expected to rise next year, but it’s harder to predict what the industry will look like. The pandemic has made food price predictions more difficult — consumer behaviours have changed drastically in 2020, he said, pointing to the rise in home cooking and gardening.

And the wildfires in California will continue to impact produce prices, said Somogyi, especially over the winter months when Canada imports the most in terms of fresh fruits and vegetables.

“If you’ve got bad winter storms or fires in California and then smoke damage to fruits and vegetables, that has a big impact on the quality of the product we get here … and increases the price,” he said.

As well, the fees placed onto suppliers by several grocery giants could impact food prices in the long run, said Charlebois.

Somogyi said the pandemic has shed a light on the power dynamics within the Canadian grocery industry, driving forward the possibility of a grocery code of conduct — something many industry players have wanted for a while.

He said the trend toward grocery e-commerce, as well as food boxes like HelloFresh, is here to stay.

“I think the investment the grocery stores have made and our trial of it during the pandemic has allowed us to understand its value,” he said.

The pandemic has already increased food insecurity for many — the Food Price Report notes that food banks saw demand rise by 20 to 50 per cent, depending on the area. The need to save money will impact consumer behaviour, Charlebois said.

For instance, he predicts an increase in spending on private labels, such as President’s Choice or Life, as people look to “trade down” and save money.

And Somogyi thinks the upcoming ban on certain single-use plastics could also impact food prices in 2021 and beyond.

“That means that companies will use more recyclable plastic, which is more expensive, and that cost gets passed on to us.”





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Helping Businesses Take A Digital Leap (VIDEO)



AsianScientist (Nov. 6, 2020) – Nearly a year into the coronavirus pandemic, and it seems like most of the world has become used to the new normal. While border restrictions and public health protocols are still in place, digital tools like the now-ubiquitous Zoom and QR codes have allowed life to go on as usual. In fact, according to McKinsey, COVID-19 has fast-tracked digitalization by at least five years. Digitalization, however, is easier said than done.

Even in leading technology capitals like Singapore, some businesses are hesitant to go digital. For the past few years, annual surveys have shown that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) based in the city-state continue to resist digitalization due to the perceived high costs. As the Assistant Chief Executive for Sectoral Transformation of the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), it’s Ms. Jane Lim’s responsibility to encourage businesses in Singapore to finally take that digital leap.

“We help companies of all sizes, whether they are SMEs looking to take their first digital steps or larger companies seeking to be digital champions,” explained Lim.

Her group is particularly interested in SMEs for several reasons. SMEs not only employ two-thirds of the local workforce, but also account for nearly half of Singapore’s GDP. However, as Lim pointed out, such companies often lack dedicated IT departments.

In hopes of making digitalization more accessible to SMEs, Lim and her colleagues at IMDA’s Sectoral Transformation Group run a national initiative aptly called SMEs Go Digital.

“We provide step-by-step guides to SMEs to help them identify suitable digital solutions,” she said.

Her team ensures that SMEs are continuously supported throughout their digital journeys by pre-approving digital solutions and even lowering the cost of adopting such solutions through grants.

Now, Lim is setting her sights on 5G. Similar to how 3G introduced the world to on-the-go Internet browsing and 4G enabled the rise of smartphones, Lim is excited for 5G to unlock new possibilities in frontier technologies like the Internet of Things and virtual reality.

“Singapore is on track to have two nationwide networks with full-fledged 5G capabilities by 2025,” she shared. “We’re developing a vibrant 5G ecosystem to help companies realize the commercial possibilities of the technology. This will create more innovation and job opportunities, as well as position Singapore as an international digital metropolis.”

Aside from her day job of driving digital transformation in various sectors, Lim is also a passionate advocate for gender diversity in technology. In Singapore, women in technology are a rare breed, with only 30 percent of infocomm media roles occupied by women. Given the anticipated boom in tech opportunities due to digitalization, Lim is keen to introduce more women into the pipeline of talent.

To achieve this, the Singapore Women in Tech initiative was launched in 2019 along with industry, government and community partners to attract, retain as well as develop talented women in the tech workforce. As a pioneering woman in tech herself, Lim was recently recognized on the inaugural Singapore 100 Women in Tech list for her contributions in developing Singapore’s digital economy.

Though it’s only been two years since Lim joined IMDA, she’s certainly made a big impact in a short amount of time. Amidst all the rapid technological changes, Lim is determined to ensure that everyone has a place in the digital future.

“If we were to fast-forward to the next decade, I would imagine that our lives would be very different,” Lim said. “The only constant is going to be change. We will need to be agile, bold, curious and make sure no one is left behind.”

———

Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.


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Jamal Murray’s Improved Finishing Was A Big Part Of His Playoffs Leap With Nuggets


The unexpectedly explosive and dramatic shooting duel which broke out last August between Jamal Murray and Donovan Mitchell in the first-round playoff series between the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz cast a bright spotlight on the dazzling three-point shooting performances in which both players made developmental breakthroughs that elevated their respective games to the highest level of postseason play they had yet achieved in their young careers.

To call it a history-making showdown is no exaggeration, with Murray and Mitchell scoring the highest point total of two opposing players in NBA history, becoming just the third and fourth players after Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson with multiple 50-point games in the same series, and hitting other record-setting milestones in the process.

By September 1, at the end of the first two weeks of playoff action in the NBA bubble in Orlando, Florida, not only were both Murray and Mitchell among the top-five scoring leaders – Mitchell at the top with 36.3 points per game in that window, and Murray fourth with 31.6 – but among high-volume three-point shooters averaging five or more attempts per game, they were in the top three in percentage from the arc as well – Murray leading this time with 53.3%, and Mitchell third with 51.6% – according to NBA.com (the source for all statistics used in this article).

Understandably, it was their surprisingly prolific three-point shooting, executed with such ridiculous accuracy, that got the lion’s share of the spotlight in coverage of the rival duo’s shootout.

In Murray’s specific case, however, there was another critical component of the leap he made in his scoring production and efficiency relative to previous performance: His improved finishing at the rim and in the paint.

Broadly speaking, there were two engines driving the recent surge in Murray’s postseason finishing game. The first is simply scoring at a higher percentage at the rim, or more specifically for our purposes here, in the restricted area (RA) of the paint, as well as in the non-restricted portion (non-RA) of the painted area.

As the chart above shows, Murray made a modest, but non-trivial improvement in his shooting at the rim from 62.3% in the 2019 playoffs to 65.9% in 2020, a 3.6% bump. In the non-RA paint, however, his percentage leapt all the way from a lowly 39.1% to a much more efficient 51.0%.

But that’s only part of the story, as the other key driver of Murray’s improved shooting in the paint was a shift toward a much more efficient shot distribution that would make Daryl Morey and the rest of the NBA analytics crew proud.

This chart depicting the percentage of Murray’s total shots he attempted from the restricted area versus in the non-RA paint shows how he increased his share of field goal attempts (FGA) at the rim from 21.0% to 25.4%, while slashing his non-RA paint FGAs from 25.4% of his total shots to just 13.7%.

This shift was one component in a larger shift from a less efficient to a more efficient shooting profile in which Murray ramped up higher-value shots at the rim and three-pointers while scaling back lower-value midrange attempts.

Nearly all basketball players would likely see improvements in their overall shooting percentages if they, as Murray did in the 2020 playoffs compared with 2019, cut out seven percent of their lower-efficiency midrange attempts and shifted them to the rim and three-point arc.

But it was Murray’s improvement in finishing in particular which really enabled him to transfer a significant portion of his shooting from the non-RA painted area to attempts taken closer to the hoop.

And even more specifically than that, it was his newfound ability – aided in part by the additional muscle he tacked on during the NBA coronavirus hiatus – to actually get to the rim more often, which allowed Murray to drastically cut down the floaters in the non-RA paint which had been among his more frequent less efficient shots in the 2019 playoffs.

The film below shows some of Murray’s missed floaters from his postseason outing last year.

One type of trouble he was (literally) running into frequently was getting cut off on his drives and ending up blocked off, with nowhere to go but just float up a prayer.

At times it almost seemed that Murray’s feet were a step ahead of his hesitating brain, with the intent to make it all the way to the rim betrayed by not yet having a well-conceived plan to get there.

The Jamal Murray who showed up in the bubble had a much crisper read on the floor, finding weak spots in the defense and mapping out his lanes for more decisive, slashing drives to the basket.

Murray may not be known for a lightning-quick first step or being the fastest guy on the court, but he has a kind of tricky speed which gets defenders off balance and opens up his route to the rim.

One of the biggest joys of Murray’s improved finishing is how seamlessly his creativity, cleverness and skill with the ball, footwork and touch on finishes have all completely come together.  

Murray’s added strength has helped him to optimize the use of his body as a shield against rim protectors as he cuts and spins his way to the hoop.

Rudy Gobert emerged as one of Murray’s favorite defensive targets in this line of attack, as seen here:

And here:

The growth in Murray’s ball handling skills has also served him well in becoming a better finisher. Whereas in the past he was more prone to dribbling around without much purpose, now in isolation he probes more purposefully, with a handle he trusts to go at defenders in ways he can weave and spin his way to the basket.

Jamal Murray’s display of improved finishing in the 2020 playoffs is incredibly encouraging for his continued development. The skills he’s employing to both get to the rim more and them score there at a higher percentage are durable, less subject to the slumps and streaks that can come with perimeter shooting.

Next season and beyond, Murray should be fully capable of replicating this brand of getting to the basket more consistently and finishing there both efficiently and with style. Or at the very least, this is far more likely to stick at or near the level of his playoff performance than his 45.3% three-point shooting, which will inevitably fall at least partway back to Earth.

And if he wants to be an All-Star (and he does) and crystalize the leap he made in the bubble, cementing his improved finishing will be a critical part of that process.



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Alibaba Shares Leap After Ant Group IPO Filing


Shares in Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba jumped to a new record Wednesday morning, a day after the group’s financial arm filed paperwork for a joint Shanghai and Hong Kong listing.

The IPO for Ant Group, the financial technology arm of Alibaba, is being billed as one of the world’s largest listings, potentially eclipsing the record $29 billion raised by Saudi Aramco last year.

The company filed paperwork on Tuesday evening for a joint listing closer to home as tensions spiral between the United States and China.

It did not detail a timetable for its public offering or how much money it hopes to raise. But the filing has already created a buzz.

As the market closed for lunch, Alibaba’s Hong Kong shares were up 3.57 percent at HK$278.8.

Alibaba, which is listed in both Hong Kong and New York, is China’s largest e-commerce conglomerate and is owned by billionaire Jack Ma.

Ant Group is a behemoth in the Chinese e-payments market, operating Alipay, one of the two dominant online payment systems in China, a country where cash, cheques and credit cards have long been eclipsed by e-payment devices and apps.

Bloomberg News, citing people familiar with the listing, say Ant group is targeting a valuation of about $225 billion, with a $30 billion IPO if markets are favourable.

In its filing Ant said it will use the proceeds to expand cross-border payments and enhance its research-and-development capabilities.

The decision not to list in New York is a major loss for US markets but it comes as Washington ramps up scrutiny of Chinese companies, especially tech firms.

“The greater concern is that if the US passes a sanction of some sort, the other markets in India, Southeast Asia where Ant is looking for growth could be affected,” Mark Tanner, managing director of Shanghai-based consultant China Skinny said.

Video app TikTok is currently suing the US government after Donald Trump signed an executive order giving Americans 45 days to stop doing business with its Chinese-owned company ByteDance.

Trump accuses TikTok of being a national security risk.

China has accused Trump of modern day piracy and of using his executive order to effectively force the sale of TikTok to a US company.



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India passes 500,000 coronavirus cases after daily leap of nearly 20,000 infections


India now has more than 500,000 verified coronavirus cases, according to governing administration figures released Saturday that showed a report day by day leap of 18,500 new infections.

Authorities explained a whole of 15,685 people had died after an additional 385 fatalities were additional to the toll in 24 hours.

The pandemic is not envisioned to peak in India for numerous a lot more months and industry experts say the selection of situations could go 1 million just before the end of July.

COVID-19 testing in New Delhi this week.

AAP

Some state governments are looking at imposing new lockdowns. A really hard-hitting nationwide lockdown that started off 25 March is slowly getting eased since of the destruction prompted to the economy.

The virus has notably hit India’s densely populated cities and there are now key concerns for New Delhi which has overtaken Mumbai with just about 80,000 situations.

The city’s govt has predicted it will have 500,000 infections by the close of July. It is currently applying railway carriages to residence clients and has taken in excess of resorts and banquet halls to decrease the strain on challenging-pressed hospitals.

The federal government has been criticised above a lack of tests that gurus say has concealed the correct selection of situations in India, which now stands at 509,000.

The place is now fourth in the earth for the quantity of infections, driving the United States, Brazil and Russia, although it has a a lot lessen loss of life toll.

In a bid to increase tracing initiatives, Delhi authorities have known as in 33,000 overall health workers to monitor about two million persons in sealed off zones across the city of 20 million men and women.

But towns across the country of 1.3 billion people today are braced for a enormous wave of new instances in coming weeks.

“It is very likely that we are heading into a state, until we are able to boost a demanding physical distancing system or a difficult lockdown, where by the rate of infection will continue on to maximize,” reported Anant Bhan, a foremost general public overall health skilled.

“In contrast to China, wherever the pandemic was relatively extra concentrated close to Wuhan and a couple other metropolitan areas, India has a far more diffused distribute that makes it a little bit more complicated for the healthcare system,” he advised AFP.

Mr Bhan mentioned India could possibly see numerous peaks in coming months due to the fact the unfold of the virus “is variable across the state”.

People in Australia have to continue to be at least 1.5 metres absent from others. Look at your state’s limitations on collecting boundaries.

Testing for coronavirus is now widely accessible throughout Australia. If you are experiencing chilly or flu signs, arrange a examination by contacting your doctor or get hold of the Coronavirus Health Info Hotline on 1800 020 080.

The federal government’s coronavirus tracing application COVIDSafe is out there for download from your phone’s app shop.

SBS is fully commited to informing Australia’s assorted communities about the most current COVID-19 developments. News and data is out there in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus



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HomeBuilder scheme leads to ‘massive leap in activity’


HomeBuilder scheme leads to 'massive leap in activity'

Despite drawing widespread criticism, the government’s HomeBuilder grant is leading to a jump in activity for Australian builders, according to REA Group’s chief economist Nerida Conisbee.

“We saw this massive leap in activity following the announcement, and so much so that inquiry levels jumped 70 per cent and it’s now the highest level we’ve ever recorded,” she told Sky News on Saturday.

Image: Getty



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Retail leap spurs ASX to flat finish


The S&P/ASX 200 closed flat yesterday, just 0.1 points lower than where it started the session. However, the index had an interesting journey during the day, falling by 120 points at the open, or 2 per cent, to hit 5100 points.

It spent the rest of the day climbing back up, boosted by late morning news of an 8 per cent increase in retail sales for March, and strong US futures in the afternoon. An absence of bad corporate news kept sentiment on track.

Meanwhile, analysts at Macquarie Research warned ASX-listed stocks remain quite expensive, with price to earnings multiples still higher than the 18-year average.

“These are not cheap valuations for a contracting economy where over one-third of the largest ASX companies have withdrawn guidance.”

Macquarie said such rich valuations will constrain further upside over the short-to-medium term, noting that consensus earnings per share (EPS) downgrades are still roughly half the level seen during the GFC.



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