New Zealand records first local COVID-19 case in months; today marks one year since Australia’s first confirmed cases


Israel will close its only major airport for at least a week, authorities said Sunday, effectively sealing itself off from international travel in a bid to vaccinate more of its population before new variants of the coronavirus take hold.

The cabinet agreed Sunday to bar incoming and outgoing international passenger flights at Ben Gurion International Airport from midnight Monday until at least the end of January, unless a parliamentary committee votes to overturn the plan.

Ben Gurion Airport in Israel (note, photo is from pre-pandemic timesCredit:Andrew Burton

The few exceptions will include cargo flights, medical evacuations and “firefighting flights,” according to the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Departures will be banned except for certain extreme cases, including family funerals and legal proceedings, which will require individual approval by health authorities.

A variant of the virus first identified in the United Kingdom, which appears to be significantly more contagious, has been detected in some of Israel’s latest positive cases, according to media reports.

Washington Post

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GP claims delaying second dose of Pfizer vaccine beyond three weeks is an ‘unlicensed trial’ 


A GP has claimed delaying second doses of the Pfizer jab beyond three weeks is an ‘unregulated and unlicensed trial’ – but a Government vaccine expert says the move could save ‘thousands of lives’. 

Dr Rosie Shire, a member of the Doctors’ Association UK, raised concerns that studies of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine only show two doses three weeks apart to deliver 90 per cent immunity.

But Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said there is ‘no real evidence’ that a quicker follow-up dose was more effective.

To accelerate the rollout of the vaccine, the Government has opted to extend the gap between the first and second jab to 12 weeks to allow it to be administered to a greater number of people.

But the moved has proved controversial, with Matt Hancock forced to defend the delay, calling it ‘essential’ to save more lives more quickly. 

Dr Shire said: ‘What really concerns us is we don’t know what happens if you don’t give that second dose of vaccination after three weeks.

‘The fact is that people are being vaccinated now and being put into what is effectively an unregulated unlicensed trial, whereby they’re receiving this vaccination on the understanding that they don’t know what’s going on.’ 

The GP said that it was ‘really hard’ to explain to people they were vaccinating with the Pfizer vaccination that they would get ‘some immunity’ but that after three weeks it was unclear how much.

She added that it was difficult to obtain ‘informed consent’ from patients when doctors did not have the full information to give to them. 

But Professor Harnden said the extended gap may provide better protection in the long run.

He said: ‘We do believe you should have a second dose but we do believe that that can be delayed.’

Dr Rosie Shire, of the Doctors’ Association UK, raised concerns studies of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine only show two doses three weeks apart to deliver 90 per cent immunity

Prof Harden cited data from a study of the Moderna vaccine – which uses a similar technology to the Pfizer vaccine – which showed 1,000 people had 90 per cent immunity two months after receiving one dose.

‘If you look at the AstraZeneca data – which I accept is a different technology – it may be that the longer you leave the second dose the better protection you have,’ he said.

‘Hopefully not only will this strategy get more people immunised and protect the vulnerable elderly and save thousands and thousands of lives, it may in the end give protection to the population as a whole.’ 

But Professor Anthony Harnden (pictured), deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said there is 'no real evidence' that a quicker follow-up dose was more effective

But Professor Anthony Harnden (pictured), deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said there is ‘no real evidence’ that a quicker follow-up dose was more effective

Earlier today, when asked about the gap between doses, Mr Hancock told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: ‘We do know this policy is going to save lives.

‘So long as there is decent efficacy after the first dose, and we have a high degree of confidence that that’s the case, then in a situation where there is a limited supply… you want to get as many people to have as much protection as possible as quickly as possible.

‘If you have grandparents who are both in their 70s or 80s you obviously would want each of them to have one dose when you know that one dose is effective, rather than one to have the full two doses and one to have no protection at all.’ 

Yesterday Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty told colleagues The Guardian’s report that only a third of people who have received one injection were protected was ‘total nonsense’ which could threaten the uptake of the jab.

The newspaper quoted ‘Israeli experts’ but No 10’s vaccine advisers say the real figure is 89 per cent, starting 14 days after the first jab.

It was reported yesterday that a single shot of the Pfizer vaccine had led to a ‘major presence’ of antibodies in 91 per cent of doctors and nurses who received it in Israel within 21 days. 

Professor Harnden (pictured) said the extended gap may provide better protection in the long run

Professor Harnden (pictured) said the extended gap may provide better protection in the long run 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock defended the Government's decision to delay the time between vaccine doses

Health Secretary Matt Hancock defended the Government’s decision to delay the time between vaccine doses

The report quoted Israeli Covid commissioner Professor Nachman Ash as saying that a single dose of Pfizer appeared ‘less effective than we had thought’, once cases of asymptomatic infection were included, although those who had received their second dose had a six- to 12-fold increase in antibodies.

Later in the week, the paper reported that Israel’s health ministry had ‘moved to row back on comments’ by Professor Ash’s suggestion that single doses of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine had not given as much protection against the disease as had been hoped.

It quoted the Israeli Ministry of Health as saying that the ‘full protective impact of the vaccine’ had not yet been seen.

The Guardian said last night that it had reported both Professor Ash’s ‘initial comments’ and subsequent comments from Israel’s health ministry: ‘The Guardian’s independent readers’ editor has not received any complaints about either article.’

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TRUMP GONE, BIDEN NOW ADMITS HE CAN’T STOP THE DYING, EITHER. MEDIA NODS



When Trump was president, the Democrats and media carried on like every virus death was one he could have prevented. But with Joe Biden now president, it turns out that he can can’t do that much, either.
 

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Eleven Chinese miners saved after two-week ordeal, as rescuers race to find remaining ten


Rescuers in east China on Sunday pulled 11 miners from hundreds of metres underground where they had been trapped for two weeks, state media reported, as the race to locate the remaining 10 intensified.

The miners were brought to the surface starting from around 11 am Sunday local time, state broadcaster CCTV reported – a major breakthrough for a rescue operation that has captivated the nation. 

One miner was in “extremely weak physical condition” and rushed to hospital, CCTV said. 

The 11 miners were rescued after the air ventilator shaft was cleared, the official state news agency Xinhua reported, citing the operation’s command centre.

A further ten remain unaccounted for. 

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, rescuers carry a trapped miner to an ambulance in Qixia City in east China’s Shandong Province on Sunday.

AAP

Specialist teams have been battling difficult conditions since an explosion at the Hushan mine in Shandong province trapped the miners underground amid rising waters on 10 January. 

The explosion occurred in a ventilator shaft, causing a blockage that damaged the cable car. 

On Sunday morning the huge obstacles suddenly fell to the bottom of the shaft, allowing the operation to take a big step forward, rescue expert Du Bingjian said. 

“After the obstacles fell to the bottom of the shaft, the rescue team started to bring up the miners and suspended the drilling work,” Du told the Global Times.

“It is currently unclear when the rescuers will reach the Sixth Central Section where the missing miners are believed to be.” 

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, rescuers work at the site of a gold mine that suffered an explosion in Shandong Province on 12 January.

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, rescuers work at the site of a gold mine that suffered an explosion in Shandong Province on 12 January.

AAP

Lifeline shafts

State broadcaster footage on Sunday showed a small elevator carriage lifted to the surface, accompanied by rescue workers. A masked man, who appeared unable to stand, was carried out.

Later footage showed emergency workers lifting out other miners, who wore black shades to protect their eyes from the light. One appeared to be holding his hands as if praying. 

Contact was first established a week ago with a group of 11 miners trapped in a section of the mine around 580 metres below the surface.

One of them was seriously injured in the initial explosion and died after falling into a coma.

In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, rescuers work at the site of the gold mine that suffered an explosion in Qixia on Wednesday, 13 January.

In this photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, rescuers work at the site of the gold mine that suffered an explosion in Qixia on Wednesday, 13 January.

AAP

Another miner was found alive by rescuers as they attempted to reach the group.

Rescue teams have been lowering food, medicine and other supplies to the group through several lifeline shafts drilled into the rock. 

State media reported Friday that the health of the miners had been gradually returning to a “normal state” after regular deliveries of food.

Life detectors and nutrient solutions have been lowered to other parts of the mine in the hope of reaching those still missing.

In December, 23 workers died after becoming stuck underground in the southwestern city of Chongqing.

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Andrew Taubman, Val Keys, Barry Riley, Steve Mathews, Joan Brown, David Mason,


What a change it was from receiving hundreds of responses about the Light Horse Interchange poles early last week to just the one about the poles at Eridge Park (C8). Val Keys of Moss Vale has driven past these poles thousands of times and remembers when they were placed there. “The poles are called ‘Winds of Change’ and were commissioned as a public artwork by Wingecarribee Shire Council to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the townships of Moss Vale and Bowral. They were unveiled on 16th May 2013.” If you want more details about the artist and what the leaf on each pole represents, Val suggests the WSC website.

“I never realised how many Eastern Suburbanites have had tracheotomies until I noticed so many masks worn under chins,” observes Andrew Taubman of Queens Park. “Bravo, people!”

“In the late ’70s, as a 17-year-old in the Commonwealth Bank in Blacktown, I was issued a handgun (C8) and a large sum of money to walk the kilometre or so to the sub-branch at Westpoint,” writes Steve Mathews of Norfolk Island. “Before that day, I had never seen a gun. The consensus at a later staff training on handguns was that my best option would have been to throw the gun at any would-be robber, hoping to knock them out.”

More tales of teenaged bank tellers and guns (C8). Barry Riley of Woy Woy remembers that as “a teenaged Commonwealth Bank clerk in the ’60s, I often ferried cash to city branches that had run out. The gun they gave me for protection was useless since with heavy rolls of coin in one pocket and the gun in the other I needed both hands to hold my trousers up”.

In response to Richard Shields of Beecroft, David Mason of Scarborough writes that a number of years ago he “lived relatively close to the Bellambi Bowling Club, obviously in the Circumference of Consumption (C8). I came to the conclusion that my house was the ideal walking distance from the club, enabling the average punter to often discard their empty takeaway stubbie into my front yard”.

How to tell if you are old? Joan Brown of Orange has a theory. “Being able to remember when a warning had to be issued by the makers of TV sets about not putting a vase of flowers on top of the set, in case it toppled over and the water played havoc with the electronics.”

Column8@smh.com.au

No attachments, please. Include name, suburb and daytime phone.

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There are plenty of ‘power-mad premiers’ who simply ‘couldn’t care less’



Sky News host Paul Murray has taken aim at “power-mad premiers” across Australia who “couldn’t care less” about their individual citizens.

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Conor McGregor knocked out by Dustin Poirier in second round at UFC 257



Dustin Poirier has stopped Conor McGregor with a flurry of punches midway through the second round of their UFC 257 bout in Abu Dhabi, avenging his 2014 loss to the Irish superstar.

Poirier caught McGregor with a series of shots to the head, before buckling his knees with two left hands.

The American then sent McGregor to the canvas with a short right hand and finished the bout swiftly, causing stunned excitement among the few thousand screaming fans allowed to attend the bout.

“I think this is a title fight,” Poirier said of their lightweight bout.

“I’m the champion.”

In his first fight in a year, McGregor had a strong first round before he was stopped by punches for the first time in his mixed martial arts career.

McGregor, whose previous four losses all came by submission, stayed on the canvas for several moments afterward, gathering himself after his second loss in three fights since 2016.

“It’s hard to overcome inactivity over long periods of time,” said McGregor, who had not fought since beating Donald Cerrone last January.

“I just wasn’t as comfortable as I needed to be, but Dustin is some fighter. If you put in the time, you’re going to get cozy in here.

I have to dust it off and come back, and that’s what I will do … I’ll take my licks, but I’m gutted.”

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McGregor and Poirier met for the first time in September 2014 as featherweights, and McGregor won by knockout in just 106 seconds during his incredible early-career success.

He became the featherweight champion 15 months later, while Poirier rebuilt his career with just one loss in his next 11 fights.

With a second chance to derail McGregor while boosting his own hopes of regaining the lightweight title, Poirier did not miss.

Sporting a shaved head and a beard, McGregor pushed the action early against Poirier, who landed an early takedown before getting backed against the cage for stretches of the first round.

In the second, Poirier bothered McGregor with leg kicks before throwing the punches that ended the bout.

“We’re 1-1, so maybe we have to do it again,” Poirier said.

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In the co-main event at UFC 257, three-time Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler made a stunning UFC debut with a knockout of New Zealand’s Dan Hooker midway through the first round.

Chandler could be the next match-up for Poirier in a fight for the lightweight title apparently vacated by Khabib Nurmagomedov, who announced his retirement after his final victory last fall.

AP

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Coronavirus vaccine rollout on schedule in Australia despite Pfizer shortages overseas, Treasurer says


Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine shortages overseas are unlikely to affect Australia’s planned February COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

Australia has purchased 10 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, with the scheduled rollout hinging on the medical regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), approving the jab later this month.

Several European countries have complained supplies of the vaccine have fallen short of their orders.

But Mr Frydenberg said the nation was still scheduled to receive the jabs next month.

“We have the virus under control here in Australia, but we do want to roll out the vaccine,” he told reporters on Sunday.

“The TGA is going through its normal process but we’re still on track to receive the vaccines in mid to late February, I’m advised.”

The impact of Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine supply issues in Australia has been unclear, with mixed responses from federal leaders.

Australia has purchased 10 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.(AP: Mike Morones)

Last Thursday, Health Minister Greg Hunt said he had spoken to Pfizer as recently as Wednesday, receiving advice Australia was “still on track for first vaccines to be received in February”.

But the following day, Prime Minister Scott Morrison hinted the issues may affect the vaccine’s rollout in Australia.

“We’ve set out indicative timeframes where we would hope to commence in mid to late February. But that will obviously change and be subject to any impacts on production schedules overseas,” Mr Morrison said.

The ABC has confirmed the Federal Government has not received any advice from Pfizer that the delays overseas will be felt in Australia.

Health authorities have been aware of the potential for supply-chain vaccine issues offshore, amid huge global demand for a COVID-19 jab.

It is one of the reasons Australia has invested so heavily in the AstraZeneca vaccine, which can be made onshore.

Unlike the AstraZeneca jab, the Federal Government has opted to buy the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine from overseas rather than produce it in Australia.

That is because the vaccine is based on mRNA technology, which has never been successfully manufactured or distributed locally before.

Italy threatens to sue Pfizer

Pfizer last week said it was temporarily slowing supplies to Europe to make manufacturing changes that would boost output.

The move has prompted outrage from some European countries, with Italy threatening to sue the company for a breach of contract.

AstraZeneca has also reportedly told the European Union (EU) it will cut deliveries of its COVID-19 vaccine to the EU by 60 per cent because of production problems.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte took to Facebook to express his frustration with the delays.

“This is unacceptable,” he said.

“Our vaccination plan … has been drawn up on the basis of contractual pledges freely undertaken by pharmaceutical companies with the European Commission.”

Jab to be bulk billed

When the COVID-19 vaccine is rolled out in Australia, it will be bulk billed, the Government has confirmed.

As first reported by News Corp, doctors will be paid just over $30 for the first vaccine consultation, and about $24 for the second.

While the Pfizer jab will be delivered in hospitals and specialised hubs due to cold storage requirements, the AstraZeneca vaccine is expected to also be administered in GP clinics.

The Government has consistently promised the vaccine will be universal and free for everyone.

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Joe Biden inherits a deeply divided America, perhaps that’s why he gave a nod to Abraham Lincoln


With each inauguration of a new US president, we often hear about their predecessors.

Perhaps it’s because of the former presidents in attendance at the actual ceremony — or this year, the one who was not.

Joe Biden’s inauguration was a chance for “46” to put his own stamp on the role. But if you paid attention, you likely heard him reference another president: Abraham Lincoln.

What were the main throwbacks?

Aside from symbolic nods — such the service for COVID-19 victims at the Lincoln Memorial on January 19 — there were also two strong links back to Lincoln in President Biden’s inaugural address.

This line from Joe Biden referenced one of the most enduring phrases from Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address: the “better angels”.

US President Joe Biden used his inauguration speech to call for unity across the political divide.(Reuters: Patrick Samansky)

In the face of America’s challenges (at the time, civil war), it was a deeply personal call from the President to the best parts of human nature — positive, constructive, good elements of people’s characters.

You can read the full transcript here.

We also heard President Biden refer to the Emancipation Proclamation, a feature of Lincoln’s first term.

“When he put pen to paper the president said, and I quote: ‘If my name ever goes down in history, it’ll be for this act, and my whole soul is in it,'” cited Biden.

Abraham Lincoln issued the final version of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, several years into the Civil War. It declared that all slaves in the rebellion states would be free.

Many see the document as a turning point in the conflict. It wasn’t just about preserving the Union anymore; it was also about the (eventual) abolition of slavery — positioning it as essential to any post-war America.

It would become a defining feature of Lincoln’s presidency.

Why would Biden link to Lincoln?

To put it very simply: he can (somewhat) relate.

Although he will lead at a completely different time, much like president Lincoln, Joe Biden is grappling with the challenge of a deeply divided country.

For Abraham Lincoln it was the destructive, painful Civil War that saw years of bloody battles and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

The statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Washington Mall
The statue of Abraham Lincoln sits in the memorial at the Washington Mall.(ABC News: Michael Vincent)

More than a century on, President Joe Biden steps up at another volatile moment in US history.

Deep political divisions have long existed in the US, but four years of a Donald Trump presidency seemed to exacerbate tensions.

Just days before the inauguration, those tensions would be on violent display, with deadly riots at the very place Joe Biden would take the oath of office.

By his second inauguration in 1865, Abraham Lincoln had shifted his focus to a solemn call for healing.

“Let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle.”

His legacy as a man who brought the country together — a “Saviour of the Union” — is one that has long endured; in some ways held up as the prime example for his successors.

Joe Biden used his own presidential campaign to build a similar image of himself as a leader that would unify and heal, often referring to the election as a battle for the “soul of the nation”.

These sentiments were echoed in last week’s inaugural address.

“And we must meet this moment as the United States of America. If we do that, I guarantee you, we will not fail.”

In the same way that Lincoln called people to appeal to their “better angels”, Biden too called for tolerance and humility — and a fresh start.

“Let’s begin to listen to one another again. Hear one another, see one another, show respect to one another.”

“Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire, destroying everything in its path.”

The challenge ahead

These nods to Lincoln bring an element of familiarity back to US politics and with it, potentially, a sense of return to stability after years of turbulence.

What remains now is the reality of the challenges that lie ahead.

With the pandemic far from under control, the number of lives lost will continue to grow. Add to that the severe and ongoing economic impact.

Beyond that, there is the task of unpicking four years of leadership that sowed mistrust in the media and allowed misinformation to flourish.

The resistance will be fierce — 74 million people voted for Donald Trump. Many are still openly disputing the election’s result.

This week, under the gaze of the 16th president, Joe Biden began his own long process of leading healing, with a memorial for the 400,000-plus American lives lost to COVID-19.

Kamala Harris and Joe Biden honour COVID-19 in ceremony at Lincoln Memorial
The new Biden administration signals a shift in approach to COVID-19 — starting with a memorial service.(News Video)

It was a moment of strong symbolism that bound two different periods of deep loss for the country.

Abraham Lincoln did not get to see his own push for unity through. Just 42 days into his second term, he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth.

But his lessons endure almost like a presidential blueprint: appealing to the best parts of people and as a leader, being steadfast in the fight for what is right.

If President Biden’s inauguration was any measure, we may see even more nods to these ideas over the next four years.

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Sri Lanka’s health minister tests positive for coronavirus after promoting magic potions to fight COVID-19


Sri Lanka’s health minister, who publicly endorsed sorcery and magic potions to stop surging coronavirus infections in the island, has tested positive to COVID-19.

She and her close contacts will self-isolate, officials said on Saturday.

Pavithra Wanniarachchi had publicly consumed and endorsed a magic potion, later revealed to contain honey and nutmeg, manufactured by a sorcerer who claimed it worked as a life-long inoculation against the virus.

She also poured a pot of “blessed” water into a river in November after a self-styled god-man told her that it would end the pandemic.

The island nation of 21 million on Friday approved the emergency use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine only hours after Ms Wanniarachchi tested positive, officials said.

“Her antigen test returned positive on Friday and she has been asked to isolate herself,” a health ministry official said.

“All her immediate contacts have been quarantined.”

A junior minister who had also taken the potion made popular by Ms Wanniarachchi tested positive for the virus earlier this week.

Doctors in the island nation have said there is no scientific basis for the syrup, and there is no known cure for COVID-19.

But thousands defied public gathering restrictions to swamp a village in central Sri Lanka last month to obtain the elixir.

Sri Lankan health officials attend a mock COVID-19 vaccination drive after the Government approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines.(AP: Eranga Jayawardena)

Family members of another politician have also been infected after taking the syrup.

Pro-government media gave widespread publicity to the holy man, who claimed the formula was revealed to him by Kali, a Hindu goddess of death and destruction.

But the Government has since scrambled to distance itself from the man, whose preparation was approved as a food supplement by the official indigenous medicine unit.

Sri Lanka is in the grip of a coronavirus surge, with the number of cases and deaths soaring from 3,300 and 13 in early October to nearly 57,000 infections and 278 dead this week.

AFP

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