Online teaching – Second time round, schools are better at lockdown learning | Britain


AT ELEVEN O’CLOCK in the morning, a class of 15- and 16-year-olds at Harris Boys’ Academy East Dulwich in south London is grappling with one of the most confusing periods in British history. Their teacher has explained the plots that swirled around Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots, and is creating impromptu quizzes on Microsoft Teams to check their knowledge. His pupils, who are working from home, all turn out to know that the Treaty of Edinburgh was signed in 1560. “Sir, come up with a harder question,” types one boy.

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In March last year, when the government told them to close for the first time, schools were taken by surprise. Some far-sighted teachers hastily handed out photocopied worksheets to keep their pupils busy, or sent them by email. But although many private schools delivered live online lessons during the first national lockdown, few state schools did. Millions of children drifted. In late May 34% of teachers told Teacher Tapp, a polling app, that at least half of their pupils appeared to be doing no work at all.

Teachers were equally surprised when schools were forced to close again on January 5th. Up until the last minute, the prime minister and his hapless education secretary, Gavin Williamson, were assuring them that they could stay open; primary schools were even told to reopen for just one day after the Christmas holidays before being ordered shut again. They will stay shut at least until mid-February, and probably for longer.

This time round they are coping with online teaching much better. Some are now so confident in their newfound digital techniques that they are beginning to think about how to keep using them even after they are allowed to open their gates.

The Sutton Trust, an education charity, finds that 54% of teachers are now holding live online lessons, up from just 4% last March. Although a live lesson is not necessarily better than setting tasks for children to work on in their own time, it breaks the monotony and keeps pupils engaged. They are responding well. Only 7% of teachers now believe that at least half of their pupils are doing no work. Parents say that nearly half of secondary-school-age children are putting in at least five hours a day—more than twice as many as last time around.

The Department for Education promised last spring that it would send laptops to all children who needed them. Many schools correctly surmised that the devices would not appear soon, and ordered their own. Ark, an academy chain with almost 29,000 pupils in mostly poor districts, has distributed 12,000 devices, less than half of them from the government. By the autumn many schools were sharpening online teaching. Although they were still open at that time, in areas with rampant covid-19 so many pupils were isolating at home that schools had to offer them something.

Nobody believes that online teaching is as good as the in-person kind. But Emma Turner, a former headteacher who now trains teachers at the Discovery Schools Academy Trust in Leicestershire, says that it has nonetheless forced teachers to adopt some good habits. Their explanations must be shorter and sharper. Knowing that some pupils are viewing their lessons on smartphones, they are learning not to clutter their slides with text—something that is usually undesirable whether you are teaching online or in-person. Ms Turner also thinks that the old-fashioned parents’ evening, when parents must leave work early and talk to teachers while squatting on tiny chairs, is due for an overhaul. Online meetings turn out to work well.

For the past few weeks, teachers in the most adept schools have been able to do something that they could not before. By setting online quizzes during lessons, they can discover instantly how many of their pupils have grasped a concept, and thus whether it is time to move on. That will end when classrooms reopen. But Matt Jones, the principal of Ark Globe Academy in London, thinks that more teachers will move to setting virtual homework. Rather than simply telling their students to read a text before the next class, they will set tests to make sure they do. Bluffing will become a little harder.

Editor’s note: Some of our covid-19 coverage is free for readers of The Economist Today, our daily newsletter. For more stories and our pandemic tracker, see our hub

This article appeared in the Britain section of the print edition under the headline “Steep learning curve”

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Deja vu in Wuhan as restrictions return one year after first lockdown


Blue, a hue associated with lockdown – blue face masks, blue emergency tents, blue metal sheets that sealed streets – is back in the city’s colour palette.

“For us Wuhan residents, we’ve already been through this,” said Wang Hui, 37, a chauffeur. He’s been tested for COVID-19 so many times – always negative – he’s lost count. “This is just the way it is.” Social distancing may be a nuisance, but it beats the alternative – complete lockdown. Saturday marked exactly a year since Wuhan residents were sealed in their homes for 76 days, confused and scared by a mystery virus killing their neighbours and relatives. Even before the latest virus flare-up, many were wary of surprise outbreaks and have been happy to keep exercising precautions.

Wang, for instance, is due to receive a vaccine – prioritised by the government as his job means coming into contact with different people daily. “I’ll get the jabs, but after that I’ll still wear a face mask.”

Ms Ma, a shop attendant, half-joking, jumped away when this reporter from Beijing approached. The capital city is rushing to mass test residents after finding transmissions in some neighbourhoods.

“Ah, stay far away from me!” she said, describing how a friend living in one of Beijing’s affected districts was recently ushered into quarantine upon arriving in Wuhan.

“We have to stay vigilant,” said Ms Qin, 55, while walking her two dogs. “I still don’t take the subway these days; it’s way too crowded and I’m scared of the risks.”

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Most people are doing their best to live with this new normal, slipping face masks below their chin to slurp spicy sesame noodles, a speciality, and shouting over loudspeakers triumphantly proclaiming Wuhan a “heroic city”, followed by reminders to ventilate indoor spaces.

“We aren’t exactly relaxed about the situation,” said Mr Li, 52. “But we do have to find ways to live with the stress.” For him, that means enjoying a cup of aged pu’er tea in his teahouse – a new location with cheaper rent.

The resurgence is alarming for Beijing a few weeks ahead of Chinese New Year, a travel period that ramped up infection spread across the country last year. This year, authorities have urged its 1.4 billion people to stay put.

It also comes as Beijing is eager to tout containment success and export its vaccines – a way to deflect growing global anger over its mistakes, which some health experts say may have exacerbated the pandemic.

Residents wear masks while queuing to buy milky tea in Wuhan on the first anniversary of lockdown.Credit:Getty Images

A massive new exhibition in Wuhan boasts of victory in what Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party leader, called the “people’s war” against the virus.

Visitors walk through China’s official narrative, which sources all virus achievements to Xi and praises him for pulling the country out of misfortune, making zero mention of missteps.

But there’s no mention of key figures – Ai Fen, punished for being one of the first doctors to sound the alarm, or Zhang Yongzhen, the virologist who mapped and shared the genome publicly without official permission.

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Whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang appears near the end on a wall of martyrs, but the sign omits that he was reprimanded by police after warning colleagues about a virus from which he later died.

Chinese government officials have stopped saying “lockdown”, instead using the euphemistic term “wartime measures” to mean the quarantine of millions, which occurs even if only a handful of infections are discovered. “Wuhan is the safest city in the world,” agrees Ma Lianping, 32, who owns a noodle shop across the street from Jinyintan Hospital, one of the first in the world to start treating coronavirus infections.

“I don’t really know about the government’s figures,” said a man running a funeral goods shop across from a crematorium. At pandemic peak, he saw dozens of corpses transported daily to be burned, more than the 10 or so a day now.

A few blocks from Wuhan Central Hospital, where Dr Li worked and later died, a cafe has on its menu “the whistleblower coffee – a 100 per cent controversial drink”.

More than 40 clinics in Wuhan have started administering vaccines. Nationwide, 15 million doses have been given, enough for about 1 per cent of the population.

Authorities aim to vaccinate 50 million people before Chinese New Year on February 12.

But some in Wuhan are again bedding in for the holiday. “No, I don’t trust the vaccine. It was developed based on last year’s virus,” said Mr Li, a taxi driver slated to receive a vaccine. “Now, new variants are circulating.”

The Telegraph, London

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Voices From China’s Covid Crisis, One Year After Wuhan Lockdown


They are survivors, essential workers and specialists still trying to understand the physical and emotional effects of the coronavirus. They make up a tapestry of people, offering a view of the first months of the pandemic, and of what China’s recovery means.

A year after the Covid-19 lockdown in the Chinese city of Wuhan — the first in the world, and still one of the harshest — we asked six people, some of whom we spoke to at the height of the outbreak, to describe what they have been through.

These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.

One day in August, our manager reminded us that drivers always had to wear masks, no matter how much the situation had improved. Personally, I don’t know if it’s PTSD, but I always wear a mask. I’m probably the only driver in our company who still always carries hand sanitizer in my pocket and uses it regularly.

I always thought I wasn’t afraid of death. But I found out during the epidemic that I’m terrified of it. I missed my wife, my 5-year-old twin boys, my father, so much. I thought, if I survive this, what will I do?

So after the lockdown lifted, my first thought was going home. I stayed two months. In the past, I would stay two or three days, maybe a week, then hurry back. I don’t make a lot of money, and my mind was always on making more. But now, my thinking has changed. If I make a little more money, what’s the use?

I never thought that this sudden epidemic would create a situation where everyone said thank you. I was shocked. Wasn’t respect for people like experts, academics, celebrities? How could it go to a delivery worker? It made me so happy.

Now, things have gone back to the way they were last year. This is human nature.

Zhang Yongzhen, a virologist, came under immense official pressure after he released the full sequence of the new coronavirus on Jan. 11 of last year, in defiance of Chinese government orders. He remains absent from Beijing’s narrative of how the country beat the virus, in contrast with Zhong Nanshan, the government-appointed doctor celebrated for announcing what many experts had already figured out: that the virus could be transmitted by humans.

At that time, I made four findings about the virus. One, it was like SARS. Two, it was a new coronavirus. Most important, the virus was transmitted through the respiratory tract. I also thought it was more infectious than the flu virus. Even then, I thought it must be able to spread from humans to humans.

If more experts had shared my opinion from the beginning, then we may not have needed Zhong Nanshan to say something.

Whether in the United States or in China, we need to cultivate a group of critics — real scientists in the field. China really needs it. Zhong Nanshan is old. Who will be the next to dare to speak the truth? You must have enough courage to speak the truth.

I have since encountered some difficulties in terms of my work and funding for my programs. But I don’t regret anything I did. I trusted myself. I have so much experience, my team has made so many discoveries over the years, that we were able to make accurate judgments.

I hope you can mention one thing. My wife passed away on Oct. 13, 2019. We got married in 1989 and we were together for 30 years. If I have made any contribution to society, it is because of the support of my wife.

Blair Zong, 34, was one of hundreds of Americans who were evacuated from Wuhan, and she published a visual diary in February chronicling her quarantine on a military base in California. She is now in Austin, Texas, working as an event planner and a nanny.

After Wuhan locked down, I was nervous and anxious. I heard rumors about people dying and things got really scary. Someone sent me a report that said America was evacuating citizens, so I called the consulate. I made the decision to go and said goodbye to my mom and grandparents.

The day I left quarantine, there was a lady behind me in line in the San Diego airport who was coughing nonstop. I remember thinking at the time that it was a bad sign, but I also felt like there was no way the virus could spread here that badly. Everything was normal again.

But then starting in March, people here started buying up toilet paper, and the panic came back. The situation had stabilized in China, so my friends there started to mock me, asking: “Do you regret going back now?” One of my college friends in Wuhan sent me a package of goggles and masks.

I have become more calm and more careful about life. I accept everything as it comes. I’m trying to be more eco-friendly.

As Wuhan focused on fighting the coronavirus, Zhao Qian, 29, struggled to get medical treatment for her newborn daughter, who had a life-threatening heart condition.

At the time, hospitals weren’t taking in any patients, including our daughter. We tried so hard, we tapped every possible resource and connection, and it was only through our efforts that we were able to save our daughter’s life. All of the doctors had gone to the frontline.

Overall, though, the country’s policies were quite good. I remember when all the supermarkets were closed, some volunteers were still helping me buy food. No matter what unpleasant hearsay or rumors there may have been, I think the country was very powerful. Wuhan people are now very safe. It’s very reassuring.

Any Chinese person should feel very proud. No matter how great the hardship, even with an outbreak that was so serious that other countries couldn’t control it, as long as the people are unified, I think we can get through anything.

Lei Wuming, 50, a psychology professor at the Wuhan University of Technology, began hosting funerals over WeChat, a popular messaging app, to give grieving families a way to mourn.

Back then, I was like a priest hosting these funerals. I was also a psychologist. I helped create an atmosphere for families to express their grief. First, to express their grief, and second, to cherish the memories.

It brought families closer. They recalled the same memories and the same person and it made their relationship closer. They were huddling together to keep warm.

The families would set up a chat group. Then I would join. I would play some funeral music and then make a speech. Then I would name each person who would talk, one by one. They could choose to talk, type or even send emojis.

It was social support, so the family would feel, “I am not alone here. I have families and friends who are there for me.”

In retrospect, our death toll compared to Western countries — if it is truthfully reported — ours is quite low. But at the time of the pandemic, we didn’t think like that. We thought we were done for.

After Liu Pei’en’s father died from the coronavirus last January, he vowed to pressure the authorities to take responsibility for initially concealing the outbreak.

Looking back at the first half of last year, I was so angry. The local officials threatened me. I left Wuhan, and they still wouldn’t let it go. They harassed my relatives. They wanted to make it seem like I had a mental illness.

But in the second half of the year, I began to change. I devoted myself to studying Buddhism. Faith allows you to understand life and truth. I could see that retribution and killing have been a part of humanity from ancient times to the present.

My heart began to calm down. I am no longer angry and full of hate. Still, the pain is raw and I cry a lot.

I spend a lot of time praying. I try to donate as much money as I can to temples and other charity organizations for the poor and elderly around Wuhan. I have given more than 100,000 yuan ($15,000) in my father’s name, to help him earn merit.

Any dreams I had for making money before have now faded. Because what is the use of money anyway? Money can’t buy back life.

I realized I was ignorant when I thought I could sue the government. Nothing will come of it. And if you take a step back, everyone is guilty and will face karmic retribution.

I only care about the people around me, about being myself. I’m planning to take my mother to Sanya for Chinese New Year. That’s where we were going to go last year before my father was infected.

Reporting and research was contributed by Keith Bradsher, Albee Zhangand Coral Yang.

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Pride And Caution In Wuhan On Lockdown Anniversary


Exactly one year after it thrust the word “lockdown” into the global conversation, Wuhan passes the anniversary on Saturday with a mix of pride at recovering from the coronavirus and caution over a possible relapse.

A year ago Saturday, Wuhan shocked the world by ordering 11 million anxious citizens be confined at home, beginning a traumatic 76-day lockdown that underscored the growing threat of a then-mysterious pathogen emanating from the city.

One by one, adjacent metropolises in hard-hit Hubei province quickly followed suit, as did cities and entire countries worldwide as Covid-19 went global.





Anxiety lurks below the surface as localised clusters multiply across China, reviving memories of Wuhan’s ordeal
 AFP / Hector RETAMAL

But while the world’s pandemic struggles continue, Wuhan today is nothing like that locked-down ghost town of a year ago, with traffic humming, sidewalks bustling, and citizens packing public transport and parks.

Yet anxiety lurks below the surface as localised clusters multiply across China, reviving memories of the city’s ordeal.

They remain vivid for Huang Genben, 76, who spent 67 days in hospital fighting Covid-19 last year, spitting up blood and expecting to die.



While the world's pandemic struggles continue, Wuhan today is nothing like that locked-down ghost town of a year ago


While the world’s pandemic struggles continue, Wuhan today is nothing like that locked-down ghost town of a year ago
 AFP / Hector RETAMAL

“When I closed my eyes at night I didn’t know if I would open them again,” Huang told AFP.

Like many Chinese, he expresses pride at the “great efforts” made by the Beijing government and citizens to contain the pandemic, exemplified by hard-hit Wuhan.

The virus has killed at least two million people globally and continues to spread, but in China less than 5,000 deaths have been reported by authorities, the vast majority coming in Wuhan at the pandemic’s outset.



The government has pushed an official propaganda narrative -- starring Wuhan -- focusing on a "heroic" Chinese response and recovery


The government has pushed an official propaganda narrative — starring Wuhan — focusing on a “heroic” Chinese response and recovery
 AFP / Hector RETAMAL

And the city’s relaxed scenes — elderly dancers spinning in parks and crowded bars selling “Wuhan Stay Strong” craft beer — contrast with the rolling lockdowns, surging death rates and overwhelmed hospitals overseas.



There are no known lockdown commemorations planned Saturday by Beijing, which remains tight-lipped on the pandemic's early days


There are no known lockdown commemorations planned Saturday by Beijing, which remains tight-lipped on the pandemic’s early days
 AFP / Hector RETAMAL

“We can tell from the results that the policy of the government was correct, the cooperation of (Wuhan) citizens was correct. I feel pain seeing the epidemic all over the world,” Huang said.

The government has pushed an official propaganda narrative — starring Wuhan — focusing on a “heroic” Chinese response and recovery.

But there are no known lockdown commemorations planned Saturday by Beijing, which remains tight-lipped on the pandemic’s early days amid accusations it covered it up or mishandled the outbreak, allowing it to spread.

The virus is generally believed to have spread outward from a Wuhan wet market where exotic animals were sold as food.

But China has otherwise released little information on its origins, fuelling calls in the west for more transparency.

The lockdown anniversary comes with World Health Organization experts just days from completing a two-week quarantine in Wuhan before launching a planned investigation into the coronavirus’s origins.

The WHO said Friday it was too early to draw any conclusions as to whether the pandemic started in China.

“All hypotheses are on the table,” said WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan.

While other nations, notably the United States, have dithered on their coronavirus response, Wuhan shut down completely, plunging its economy into recession.

State media reports — and activity on the streets — attest to an impressive recovery, but some say it remains incomplete and many residents voice wariness of a viral resurgence.

Xu Jiajun, a 58-year-old street vendor of local foods, drinks, and other items, said times remain tough.

“The situation is not good. I don’t have a stable income like I did before. Things have changed,” he said.



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Dozens Fined Over Illegal Car Meet Amid London Lockdown


The Metropolitan Police fined 49 people for breaching COVID-19 rules after an “illegal car meet” in Romford, London, on the night of January 16-17. “It is unacceptable that people are still breaking the rules at a time when there is so much pressure on the NHS,” police said after responding to reports of “around 50 vehicles” gathered in the Ferry Lane area. “The restrictions are clear enough and there is no excuse for this sort of selfish behaviour that puts lives at risk and causes a nuisance for nearby residents who are doing the right thing by staying at home.” Credit: Metropolitan Police via Storyful

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‘It’s a critical situation:’ Dragon’s Den star Arlene Dickinson on struggle of small business to survive the second lockdown


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A “mind-blowing” third of Ontario businesses are not expected to survive this second lockdown.

Dragon’s Den star and Venture Communications founder Arlene Dickinson talks with Financial Post’s Larysa Harapyn about what small businesses, their communities and the government need to do improve those odds.

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UK Coronavirus LIVE: Matt Hancock says UK ‘on home straight’ as vaccine rollout expands and Government looks at March lockdown end


H

ealth Secretary Matt Hancock has said the UK is “nearly on the home straight” out of the pandemic as the vaccine rollout gathers pace.

But Government sources have “dismissed as speculation” reports that every adult in Britain could be vaccinated by the end of June. Other reports state the government is looking at relaxing lockdown restrictions in March.

Live updates

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More here on Dominic Raab saying it is the Government plan to have offered all UK adults a jab by September 

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UK lecturers warn of strike action over ‘unsafe’ conditions

The union representing  lecturers has ruled out face to face this academic year over covid fears.

Members of the University and College Union are to ballot members with the threat of strike action if the government tries to force them back onto campuses. 

The moves comes as the National Union of Students called for universities to stop charging students fees and offer them rent rebates while they are unable to use their accommodation. 

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Tokyo reports 1,592 new covid cases

Japan has extended a state of emergency in Toyko after 1,592 new cases were reported in the city.

The government has announced seven more zones in and around the city where restrictions are to be beefed up.

Tokyo is the host city for the Olympics scheduled for the summer.

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Sir Ed Davey: ‘Gavin Williamson is worst education secretary we’ve had in living memory’

Sir Ed Davey has said that Gavin Williamson is “the worst education secretary we’ve had in living memory”.

Asked whether university students should be financially recompensed for the disruption of their education during the pandemic and who should pay for it, the Lib Dem leader said: “I think it should be the Government.

“I think the Government has really let down universities, it has let down schools, frankly. I mean the fiasco from Gavin Williamson, the way he has mismanaged this whole crisis for our children and young people and students.

“That is why I have called for him to resign. I think he is the worst education secretary we’ve had in living memory.”

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Government ‘looking at quarantine hotels and enhanced monitoring’

Dominc Raab told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday when asked about the reports: “We will consider all the measures in the round.”

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Dominic Raab dismisses claims that the Government had been “too slow” in setting up border measures

Dominic Raab dismissed claims that the Government had been “too slow” in setting up border measures to prevent the importation of new coronavirus variants.

He told the Andrew Marr show on the BBC: “I don’t accept that we have been too slow in this – we are broadly the same pace in terms of Canada and Germany.”

He said “all the potential measures” would be kept under review when asked about quarantine hotels.

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Government hopes it can start to lift lockdown measures in March

Dominic Raab told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show: : “I think it is true to say that when we get to a situation in the early spring, perhaps March, if we succeed in hitting those targets – we have made good process so far – we can start to think about the phased transition out of the national lockdown.

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Lockdown won’t be lifted ‘with one big bang’ with March key month

Dominic Raab said the government was looking to March for the lifting of the lockdown but warned the process would take time. 

The Foreign Secretary told Sky’s Sophie Ridge programme: “It won’t be done in a big bang but a phased way.”

He said the decision on whether restrictions could be eased would be made in March. 

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Foreign secretary: ‘we can’t guarantee people will get second jab within 12 weeks’

The government  cannot guarantee people will get their second Pfizer jab within 12 weeks as planned.

He told Sky’s Sophie Ridge on Sunday show: “That’s the aim.”

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Raab: ‘Don’t book summer summer holiday’

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab today said he did not think people should book summer holidays despite plans to lift the lockdown in March.

He told Sky’s Sophie Ridge on Sunday programme: “I don’t think it’s appropriate for you book a holiday”.

Raab said people should only plan essential travel.

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Vic won’t budge on Open player lockdown | Cowra Guardian


A fourth Australian Open arrival has tested positive for coronavirus, as Victoria’s quarantine boss refuses to “water down” hard lockdown directions for players deemed close contacts.

COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria commissioner Emma Cassar on Sunday confirmed a broadcast team member on a flight that landed from Los Angeles on Friday has returned a positive test.

It means four people from the 1200-strong international tennis contingent have tested positive, with the Victorian government continuing to defend its decision to push ahead with the grand slam tournament.

The positive tests have forced 125 close contacts aboard the planes from Los Angeles and Abu Dhabi into hard lockdown for the next two weeks, including 47 players.

They were originally given an exemption to leave their quarantine hotel to train for up to five hours a day if they returned a negative test.

But the positive tests mean they are considered close contacts and confined to their rooms unable to practice.

“It’s far from ideal, but COVID is far from ideal,” Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio told reporters on Sunday.

“It’s about being COVID-safe and it’s about taking these steps … so that we can actually see the Australian Open happen.”

Romania’s Sorana Cirstea and France’s Alize Cornet have both suggested they were previously told only those within the same section of the positive case would go into lockdown, not the entire flight.

Ms Cassar said Victorian authorities had not been liaising directly with players, but made the rules clear to Tennis Australia.

“Those rules haven’t changed,” she said.

Despite some of the affected players complaining of unequal practice time, Ms Cassar insists the decision won’t be reversed.

“The program is set up to keep people safe,” she said.

“We will not be modifying the program or watering it down under any circumstances.”

Open players, staff and officials were sternly warned they could be moved to a more secure hotel as two guests were scolded for breaches.

A player opened his door to try to have a conversation with a training partner down the hallway, while a non-player shouted Uber Eats to others on the floor and opened the door to “praise his great efforts”.

Ms Cassar said the pair had been formally warned and she is considering transferring persistent breachers to a medi-hotel where they’ll have a police officer stationed outside their room.

“It is really low-level, but really dangerous acts which we can’t tolerate,” she said.

The Australian Open broadcast team member’s case was among seven new overseas acquired infections reported in Victoria on Sunday.

All test results from the international tennis cohort were expected to be returned by 3.30pm and will feature in Monday’s figures.

From just over 11,000 tests results received in the 24 hours to Sunday, Victoria recorded its 11th consecutive day without a locally acquired case.

It comes as Greater Brisbane’s travel risk rating was downgraded from “red” to “orange” on Saturday evening, allowing stranded Victorians to cross the border with a permit.

There were 20,435 permits issued in the 24 hours to 8am on Sunday as part of the state’s “traffic light” system, with the health department reporting an immediate spike in applications after the downgrade.

Those stuck in Sydney have been given hope they will soon be able to return home as well, with Premier Daniel Andrews flagging on Saturday that he was preparing to dramatically reduce the red zone in NSW.

But no announcement was forthcoming on Sunday, as NSW reported six new locally acquired cases.

It comes as private workplaces prepare to return to 50 per cent capacity from Monday, while public service offices are able to ramp up to 25 per cent.

Mask rules will also ease to pre-Christmas levels, making them only mandatory in some settings.

Australian Associated Press



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Northern beaches COVID-19 outbreak has hurt businesses rebounding from the first lockdown


“It has been very quiet since we returned on January 4. It is always quiet in January in the city when people are on holidays. But people are also scared to move around now and very cautious about travelling around on public transport.”

A survey released on Friday shows that, while business conditions across NSW improved strongly towards the end of last year, around one in four firms is still at “high risk of failure” once emergency pandemic support measures such as the federal government’s JobKeeper wages subsidy, interest waivers and other hardship measures are withdrawn in coming months.

Business confidence in the state was positive in the December quarter for the first time since June 2018, the research by peak body Business NSW shows. However, the survey pre-dated the northern beaches lockdown and abrupt state border closures over the Christmas-New Year period which is likely to have affected sentiment.

“The first quarter of this calendar year will be crucial for many businesses,” said Business NSW chief Nola Watson.

Marino Plagiotis said the latest outbreak had been a disaster for his business. Credit:Edwina Pickles

Sydney Business Chamber executive director Katherine O’Regan said retail trade had strengthened leading into Christmas and then fell quiet after recent COVID-19 outbreaks. She said many businesses that planned a return to the office early in January had put things “on pause”.

“Many businesses have said if you can work from home up until Monday, January 18th, then do that,” she said. This had impacted surrounding retailers and coffee shops who have missed the usual January return of foot traffic seen in previous years.

“Things were looking optimistic and then just fell off a cliff as the hotspot was determined,” Ms O’Regan said. “If there are ways and means we can flatten the curve for businesses, that would be useful.

“For the CBD, we need to think about how we drive that foot traffic back in a more sustainable way.”

Mandatory masks was an example of strategies that could help give businesses more certainty to reduce the “ups and downs” in business.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard on Thursday said public health directions for workplaces, which allow employers to choose whether staff should be at work in person, are appropriate. The state government has softened its position since late last year when it urged employers to return staff to workplaces, saying it would “lead by example” by returning the public service.

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“We see no reason to change the current arrangements which largely leave it to the employers and their staff to determine whether or not people should be at work,” Mr Hazzard said.

The Business NSW survey showed there was a bigger share of businesses prioritising expansion of their operations in the December quarter (38 per cent) than prioritising downsizing of their business (30 per cent). More firms also expected the economy to strengthen in the future (47 per cent) than expect it to weaken (26 per cent). But demand for new labour remained very soft with only once in six firms reporting increased staffing levels in the quarter.

Ms Watson said business conditions in the state were turning the corner following the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic but warned “vulnerability will hang over the small business sector” for much of this year.

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UK lockdown may last until late spring and we may need to wear masks ‘forever’


Britain is in a “Grand National-style” race to beat coronavirus but could remain in lockdown until late spring, England’s deputy chief medical officer warned.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam warned it will take three months before the impact of the vaccine programme starts to make a difference.

He joined in the vaccination effort at the weekend, volunteering to help at the Richard Herrod Centre in Nottingham in his free time.

Speaking to The Sun, he said: “The vaccine effects are going to take three months until we see them properly, and until then no one can relax.

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Prof Jonathan Van Tam (left) assisting with the Covid-19 vaccination programme

“We are probably in the last few furlongs of this race – like in the Grand National. We just have a couple more fences, we have just got to stick with it.”

He said people need to “be patient” until the impact of the vaccine can be felt, and continue to follow social distancing rules.

After pictures of him donning scrubs and PPE to carry out vital jabs, he said: “Thank you to all the volunteers and staff for the professional and warm welcome.

“We are at the worst stage of the pandemic so far and the situation is extremely concerning but your contribution will make a positive difference.”



Prof Jonathan Van-Tam speaks at a Downing Street briefing on coronavirus
Prof Jonathan Van-Tam has likened the race to beat Covid-19 to the Grand National

Prof Van-Tam also told LBC Radio that the current coronavirus vaccines should remain effective against mutations.

He added that his “hunch” is that they will not be “outwitted” by new variants for many months.

The emergence of more infectious strains of Covid-19 in the UK and South Africa has raised concerns about the ability of the vaccines to continue to offer protection.

But Prof Van-Tam said that the vaccines being used produce a “polyclonal response”, stimulating production of a range of antibodies against different parts of the virus.

“Therefore, the idea that a mutation of the virus would in one go outwit the whole of the vaccine is pretty low,” he said.

“So if we were to see an effect, it would be a small degradation rather than going off a cliff.”



A medical professional in PPE, carries a patient onto an ambulance
Prof Van-Tam warned people would need to ‘be patient’

Asked whether, in time, an annual jab will be required against a different strain, as happens with flu, Prof Van-Tam said: “I can’t say it will be every year yet, but I can say that I don’t think we will ever eradicate coronavirus.”

Giving his best estimate on how long the current vaccine will be effective against mutations, he said: “How long is a piece of string?” but added: “I would say it’s going to be many months that the vaccine is going to work for, but I’m not basing that on data, I’m basing it on a hunch.”

Prof Van-Tam, who also helped to give vaccinations at a clinic on Tuesday, defended the decision to prioritise giving as many people as possible a first dose rather than keeping supplies back to offer booster shots.

He conceded that data on the protection offered by a single dose only extends to 42 days but it is “not plausible” to think that the effects will wear off immediately after that date.



Members of the public queue at a mass Covid-19 testing site in the Liverpool Tennis centre
The deputy chief medical officer said we are at the worst point of the pandemic so far

The Government aims to offer booster doses after around 10 to 12 weeks, rather than around three to four weeks as originally planned.

The “constrained supply situation”, because of the time it takes to produce vaccine doses, means the new approach is the right one, he said.

“We have all got older loved ones and if we want to protect as many as we can as quickly as possible, with a meaningful amount of protection, then the right strategy for us is to give the initial first dose and come back for the second when we have given more people the initial first dose,” he said.

“If you have got two grandparents and you have got two vaccines, what do you do – do you give two doses to one and leave the other one with nothing?”

Asked about the evidence for the protection offered by a single dose, Prof Van-Tam said: “If you take an extremely purist answer and say, ‘where do the data end?’, the data end at 42 days (for the Pfizer vaccine).

“But if you take an expert science viewpoint, it’s just not plausible that the protective effectiveness is going to disappear after that point, and we are very confident that there will be plenty of protection on board right up until the second dose is given.”



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