Melbourne’s Moomba Festival officially called off over coronavirus concerns

Melbourne’s slow road out of coronavirus restrictions has claimed another victim.

The iconic Moomba Festival has officially been cancelled for the first time in more than six decades.

Melbourne City Council had already announced the parade, the Birdman Rally and the water skiing tournament would not take place.

But it was intended that the event, due to start on March 5, would go ahead with limitations.

Those included a small festival along the Yarra River for around 14,000 people per day.

However, that plan has also been scrapped, considered too risky following the five-day snap lockdown.

This year will be the first time since 1955 that Melbourne hasn’t hosted the Moomba Festival.

It comes after the Anzac Day March was also called off, with other traditional commemorations to be scaled back.

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The Cameron Smith era at the Melbourne Storm is officially over

Cameron Smith has officially handed the captaincy torch over at Melbourne Storm and it’s going go take two men to fill the legendary skipper’s boots.

Jesse Bromwich and Dale Finucane have been confirmed as co-captains after serving as long-time deputies to Smith, who, despite not making any formal announcements, won’t play at the NRL premiers any more.

Smith had been outright captain of Storm since 2008 and was the game’s longest serving captain before moving to Queensland following last year’s Grand Final win, where he is still considering his future in the NRL.

Storm coach Craig Bellamy conceded it was “very unlikely” Smith, who has been linked to the Gold Coast Titans, would return to Melbourne, but while the door remains open, it’s unlikely the future immortal will step through it.

Finucane and Bromwich will officially lead out the team together for the first time in the NRL season opener against South Sydney at AAMI Park on Thursday, March 11.

Bromwich, 31, made his debut for Storm in 2010 and has played 248 matches, headlined by three grand final wins (2012, 2017, 2020).

He has previously captained Storm in Smith’s absence on six occasions and led New Zealand in the 2016 Four Nations tournament and 2017 Anzac Test.

Finucane, 29, played his 200th NRL match in last season’s finals series and has lined up in 135 games for Melbourne since joining the club from Canterbury in 2015.

He has played in six grand finals for two premiership victories (2017 and 2020), made his State of Origin debut for New South Wales in 2019 and again featured in the 2020 Origin series at the end of last season.

Storm coach Craig Bellamy said Finucane and Bromwich had demonstrated their leadership qualities on and off the field for a number of seasons.

“Jesse and Dale were identified some time ago as possible future captains of our club,” he said.

“Through our leadership program, they have progressed and developed their leadership skills, especially in the last couple of years, and have had a great captain to learn from in Cameron Smith, who was a wonderful leader of our team for so many years.”

Bellay labelled Smith the “the best captain the game has seen in modern times”.

“With it now being very unlikely that Cameron will be part of Storm this year, now is the right time to promote Dale and Jesse to the joint captaincy role to take our club into the future,” he said.

Storm will have a six-man leadership group in 2020 including Cameron Munster, Kenny Bromwich, Felise Kaufusi and Christian Welch.

Hooker Harry Grant, who is set to take over Smith’s on-field position after returning from a year on loan to the Wests Tigers, was also included in Storm’s emerging leaders group.

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Acer’s 2-in-1 air purifier, the Acerpure Cool, is now officially in Malaysia

  • 3-in-1 HEPA filter can remove fine particles, air impurities, dust and bacteria
  • Features simple operation, can automatically adjust operation depending on air quality

The Acerpure Cool was one of the surprise announcements during last October’s [email protected] global press conference. It is, after all, a 2-in-1 air circulator and purifier coming from the Taiwan-based PC maker. It is now officially available in Malaysia and retails for US$319.80 (RM1,299).

[RM1 = US$0.246]

“As we become more concerned about health and wellbeing, many people are also more conscious of the quality of the air that we breathe in,” said Johnson Seet, Acer Malaysia’s consumer business, product and marketing director

“Acer Malaysia brought in our first 2-in-1 Acerpure Cool that purifies and cools the air at the same time so that you and your loved ones can breathe cleaner air be it at home or in the office,” he said.

“The Acerpure Cool continuously senses, assesses and improves air quality through its smart inbuilt technology,” he claimed.

The Acerpure Cool touts the ability to purify and circulate air around a room. At its core is a 3-in-1 HEPA filter, which consists of a pre-filter, activated carbon filter and HEPA 13 main filter. These work to remove fine particles and impurities in the air, including pet hair and dander, dust, as well as 99.97% of 0.3μm suspended particles and bacteria. Acer claimed.

Acer noted that it also works to isolate harmful gases and removes odours. The Ag+ Silver Coated Filter used in the device, Acer noted, went through extensive third-party laboratory tests to certify its efficacy in eliminating bacteriai and effectiveness against the activity of the H1N1 virus. This is to ensure that the Acerpure Cool minimises users’ exposure to harmful bacteria and viruses.

The Acerpure Cool is developed with homes, schools and workplaces in mind, adopting a simple design language with an LED touch panel and child safety locks. Via a PM1.0 air quality sensor, the unit supports real-time indoor air quality monitoring. The reading is displayed via three LED indicator lights of green, yellow and red.

Operation is also simplified – the air purifier mode can automatically adjust its operation to ensure better purification when poor air quality is detected. Acerpure Cool also claimed to release negative ions to help remove harmful gases in the air such as formaldehydeiii, and captures solid particles such as dust (PM2.5).

Acerpure Cool will be available at select Acer official online stores and Acer concept stores.

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Qld hotel cluster officially over, as state braces for Victoria fallout

Queensland health authorities are yet to declare Victoria a COVID hotspot.

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Argentina officially legalises abortion as women in Chile protest for reproductive rights

Argentina has become one of just a handful of Latin American countries to allow elective abortion, as neighbouring Chile initiated its own debate on decriminalising a procedure denied to most women on the continent.

President Alberto Fernandez signed a law that allows abortion until 14 weeks of pregnancy that was passed by the Senate on 30 December.

“Today we have a better, more equal society,” said Mr Fernandez, speaking from an event at a museum in the capital Buenos Aires.

“This is a great step towards equal rights, giving women the possibility to decide.”

Mr Fernandez added that it was “the culmination of a long struggle” waged by those wanting an end to abortion being “a crime that obliges secrecy and exposure to the risks involved” in back street procedures.

The government estimates that since 1983 more than 3,000 women have died from up to more than half a million secret abortions carried out in the country of 44 million.

Congress passed the bill last month, backed by women’s rights proponents, despite strong opposition from Evangelical Christians and traditional Roman Catholics and disapproval voiced by Pope Francis.

As a result, Argentina becomes the largest of just four Latin American countries where women can choose to have an abortion, joining Cuba, Uruguay and Guyana. 

In Mexico, terminations are allowed only in the state of Oaxaca and in Mexico City.

The region has some of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws. In El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, the procedure is banned, and women can be sent to jail even for having a miscarriage. 

In Argentina, terminations were allowed only if the pregnancy was the result of rape or endangered the woman’s life.

Between 2012 and 2020, more than 1,500 court cases were brought for abortions, according to the Centre for Legal and Social Studies.

The law “represents the state’s understanding what reproductive autonomy signifies to women,” Maria Teresa Bosio, the president of a group of Catholics in favour of the right to choose, told AFP.

The law allows for health care workers to express conscientious objection, but states that the abortion must be provided free of charge within 10 days of a request.

State guarantees

Mr Fernandez also promulgated a 1,000-day guarantee that women will receive state aid during pregnancy and for their child’s first three years.

“There will be a state behind (women) that will give them health care and guarantees so that their child can grow and develop,” said Mr Fernandez.

Chile also currently restricts abortion to cases of rape or when a woman’s life is endangered, along with unviability of the foetus. Until as recently as 2017, the country banned the procedure outright.

Women there took to the streets of Santiago on Wednesday to demand access to abortion as debate opened in Chile’s Congress on a bill seeking to allow elective abortion until 14 weeks of pregnancy.

Women hold up green handkerchiefs and shout slogans in front of La Moneda government palace during a pro-choice demonstration in Chile.

Getty Images South America

The protesters sported green neck scarves like the ones worn by their counterparts in Argentina and elsewhere in Latin America rallying for women’s reproductive rights.

The women also performed “A Rapist in your Path,” a song that has become a global anthem against sexual violence.

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Brexit officially takes effect as the UK leaves EU single market

The UK has left the European Union’s single market and customs union, ending nearly half a century of often turbulent ties with its closest neighbours.

The United Kingdom’s tortuous departure from the European Union took full effect as Big Ben struck 11:00 pm in central London, just as most of the European mainland ushers in 2021 at midnight.

Boris Johnson gives a thumbs up gesture after signing the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

Getty Pool

Prime Minister Boris Johnson called it an “amazing moment”, which would make Britain “an open, generous, outward-looking, internationalist and free-trading” country.

“We have our freedom in our hands and it is up to us to make the most of it,” he said in a New Year’s message to the nation.

Most people in Britain and in Europe are keen to draw a line under Brexit, which has dominated politics on both sides of the English Channel since the country’s narrow vote to leave in 2016.

The referendum on EU membership opened up deep political and social wounds which remain raw, with the consequences of Britain’s departure to be felt for generations to come – for better or worse.

The British pound surged to a 2.5-year peak against the US dollar before the long-awaited exit from the single market, 11 months since the country legally left the EU in January.

Britain has been in a standstill transition period since then, during fractious talks to secure a free-trade agreement with Brussels, which was only finally clinched on Christmas Eve.

‘Be our own bosses’

As of today, EU rules will no longer apply, and the free movement of more than 500 million people between Britain and the 27 EU states has ended.

Gibraltar, a British enclave off the coast of southern Spain, is the exception, after inking a last-minute deal with Madrid to avoid a hard border and major disruption.

Elsewhere though, customs border checks return for the first time in decades, and despite the free-trade deal, queues and disruption from additional paperwork are expected.

“It’s going to be better,” said resident Maureen Martin, from Dover on the southeastern coast of England, where most voted to leave the EU in 2016.

“We need to govern ourselves and be our own bosses.”

‘Our future is made in Europe’

Britain – a financial and diplomatic big-hitter plus a major NATO power – is the first member state to leave the EU, which was set up to forge unity across the continent after the horrors of World War II.

The EU has lost 66 million people and an economy worth $2.85 trillion, but Brexit, with its appeal to nationalist populism, also triggered fears other disgruntled members could follow suit.

“It’s been a long road. It’s time now to put Brexit behind us. Our future is made in Europe,” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday, as she signed the trade pact.

In January, flag-waving Brexiteers led by populist anti-EU former lawmaker Nigel Farage cheered and pro-EU “remainers” mourned.

But no formal events are planned for the end of the transition.

Public gatherings are banned due to the coronavirus outbreak, which has claimed more than 73,500 lives and infected nearly 2.5 million people in Britain, including Mr Johnson himself.

Mr Johnson is looking not only to a future free of COVID-19, but also of rules set in Brussels, as he attempts to forge a global identity for Britain for the first time since it joined the then European Economic Community in 1973. 

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Parafield coronavirus cluster now officially ‘closed’ 28 days after last case entered isolation

Adelaide’s Parafield cluster has been officially declared “closed” by South Australian health authorities, with today marking four weeks since the last coronavirus case linked to the outbreak went into quarantine.

The cluster was discovered when an elderly woman at the Lyell McEwin Hospital in Adelaide’s north tested positive on November 14.

It was soon linked back to a cleaner and a security guard at the Peppers Waymouth medi-hotel, as well as the Woodville Pizza Bar.

Thirty-three people tested positive as a result of the outbreak, which temporarily sent the state into the nation’s strictest lockdown.

The last locally acquired case was announced by SA Health on November 26, while another two cases already in hotel quarantine were revealed on November 28.

Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier said the 28-day period dated back to when the last person was put into quarantine.

“We have officially signed off the Parafield cluster as closed,” Professor Spurrier said.

The cluster was linked back to an overseas-acquired case at the Peppers Waymouth Hotel.(ABC News: Brant Cumming)

Health Minister Stephen Wade this morning said the official end of the cluster was a “significant event”.

“It is a tribute to the public health team and to the people of South Australia and the hard work that’s been done that we are able today to celebrate the closure of the Parafield cluster,” he said.

“The threat has not gone. We now face, at a distance, the threat of the northern beaches.”

Rules relaxed for wearing masks

Earlier, Mr Wade told ABC Radio Adelaide it was a “salutary time” to “appreciate how it takes time and effort to close down a cluster”.

“It took us 39 days to close down the cluster at Parafield and that was 33 cases,” he said.

“Northern beaches is only seven days in, they’ve already got 90 cases, so this will take time.”

At its height, the Parafield cluster sent more than 5,000 people into quarantine and prompted South Australian authorities to call an intense but short-lived lockdown.

A review has found poor ventilation in the corridor at the Peppers medi-hotel was likely responsible for the outbreak.

A junior doctor at the Lyell McEwin Hospital, Dr Dharminy Thurairatnam, has been credited with identifying the outbreak by ordering a test for a woman in her 80s, who had a slight cough and later tested positive.

Dr Dharminy Thurairatnam has been credited with identifying SA's coronavirus cluster.
Dr Dharminy Thurairatnam ordered the COVID test that led to the cluster being identified.(ABC News)

From today, masks will no longer be mandatory for health workers, including those in aged care, and people working in personal care services such as hairdressers, beauty salons and tattoo parlours.

“The mandatory mask use in some of our particularly high-risk locations needed to remain until today,” she said.

“Many of those places will continue to have mask use for their staff, but what it will mean is that they’ll have a little bit more flexibility, particularly for clients coming in.

“But if you go in to see your hairdresser or beautician and they’d like you to wear a mask, I’d urge you to follow their instructions because it’s for the safety of you as well as for the safety of them.”

Ex gratia payments for bungle

Meanwhile, the fallout from Sunday night’s border bungle, in which contradictory advice led to some incoming travellers from NSW incorrectly being turned away, is continuing.

Mr Wade said SA Health had so far received 18 submissions from people claiming expenses.

He said he could not say when payments would be made, or whether any had been made already.

The Government is not accepting any legal liability for the bungle, but said the payments were “ex gratia” and were paid out of courtesy.

“There is a whole range of factors that will need to be considered.

“It’s a multifaceted response to try and remedy the impact of the miscommunication.”

Mr Wade said more than 1 million mobile phones in South Australia were now registered for QR code check-ins at businesses across the state.

“New South Wales is demonstrating how important that QR code data is,” he said.

Professor Nicola Spurrier addresses the media.
Professor Nicola Spurrier praised the collective action to contain the cluster.(ABC News)

Professor Spurrier said “a number of people” were being released from quarantine today.

“That happens to be [from] the first of the international flights that started coming back,” she said.

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EU officially approves Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for rollout days after Christmas

The European Union finally gave the green light for the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine on Monday, paving the way for the first inoculations to start across 27 countries just days after Christmas.

The decision was rushed through under pressure from European governments after Britain and the United States authorised the jab weeks earlier.

The European Medicines Agency recommended the vaccine developed by US pharma giant Pfizer and German firm BioNTech for use, and the European Commission formally approved it hours later.

The EMA added that the vaccine would “very likely” be effective against a new strain of the disease spreading through Britain.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said vaccinations would start across the EU on December 27, adding that the vaccine was a “true European success story”.

“This is a very good way to end this difficult year and finally start turning the page on Covid-19,” von der Leyen said in Brussels.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn said the decision allowed a “road out of the crisis” while Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza said the EMA decision “is the news we have been waiting for”.

‘Historic scientific achievement’

The Amsterdam-based EMA, the drugs watchdog for the 27-nation EU, had moved the decision forward from December 29 under pressure from EU governments, particularly Berlin.

“It is a significant step forward in the fight against this pandemic that is causing suffering and hardship,” EMA chief Emer Cooke told an online press conference as she announced the decision to recommend the vaccine.

“This is really a historic scientific achievement, within less than a year a vaccine will have been developed and authorised against this disease.”

The urgency surrounding the virus has increased with the news that a fast-spreading variant is sweeping Britain, prompting a growing number of countries worldwide to suspend flights from the UK.

But EMA officials said they believed the Pfizer-BioNTech jab would be effective against it.

“At this moment there is no evidence to suggest this vaccine will not work against the new variant,” Cooke said.

The EMA’s head of vaccine strategy, Marco Cavaleri, added that while they were waiting for more data “for the time being we are not too worried”.

“It is very likely that the vaccine will retain protection also against this new variant,” he said.

“What would scare us is if we see multiple mutations”, particularly on the “spike” that the virus uses to enter human cells, but those had not been seen yet, Cavaleri added.

‘Cause for concern’

The EMA said it took longer than Britain – the former home of the agency – and the US because they used a special, short-term emergency authorisation.

The “conditional marketing authorisation” issued on Monday however lasts for one year and required more rigorous testing, it said.

The EMA also had to contend with a cyberattack in which data from the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines was stolen.

Cooke said the agency had “worked night and day” to speed things up, but needed to make sure the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was safe and effective, in order to avoid any doubts that could affect uptake.

“We know very well that the speed at which these vaccines were developed and authorised is a cause of concern for many Europeans,” said Harald Enzmann, chairman of the EMA committee that took the final decision.

But he said the authorisation followed “one of the largest trials we have ever evaluated for a vaccine” and that it “met the standards for robustness and quality that we have set out”.

The authorisation is for over-16s only and says that the vaccine should be given to pregnant women on a case by case basis, the EMA said.

Following a “small number” of reports of allergic reactions in Britain and the United States, the EMA had recommended that people should be kept under “close observation” for 15 minutes after vaccination.

A European decision on another vaccine, produced by US firm Moderna, is due by 6 January.

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Electoral College to officially vote Dec 14., President vows legal team still has resources to fight fraud

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks to members of New York state’s Electoral College before voting for President and Vice President in the Assembly Chamber at the state Capitol in Albany, N.Y., Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, Pool)

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UPDATED 11:02 AM PT – Monday, December 14, 2020

The Trump administration has vowed to continue pursuing legal challenges against election results as the Electoral College is scheduled to vote this week. In an interview Sunday, President Trump said his team still has resources in play, while also noting ongoing legal battles in local regions.

Thousands of supporters have gathered around the country, while agreeing with the sentiment that election fraud was significant enough to effect the 2020 election.

“Trump’s warned us about them for years. We’ve been warned about mail-in ballots forever, but the Democrats took every avenue to cheat in this election,” said Mellissa Carone, a witness of election fraud in Michigan. “We’ve got to get it back, it’s ours.”

Ahead of the election, each political party chooses electors or people who actually cast votes for president. As law dictates, the electors will meet on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, while reflecting the popular votes in their states.

The group consists of 538 electors and 270 are needed for a candidate to win the presidency. Most states, except Maine and Nebraska, will proceed with a “winner-take-all” method.

Documents are sealed at the conclusion of Tennessee’s 2020 Electoral College Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. (Andrew Nelles/The Tennessean via AP)

Many of the President’s supporters still believe in a second term for him.

“And that’s really why we are standing here today because we are in a crucial moment in the history of the United States of America,” said Michael Flynn, former national security advisor. “Remember, the courts do not decide who the next President of the United States will be.”

Once the Electoral College cast their votes, the states will send their votes to Congress where they will be counted again during a joint session. The President of the Senate, Vice President Mike Pence, will formally announce the results.

RELATED: Rep. Nunes: Must make sure every legal vote is counted

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Mount Everest has officially grown by nearly a metre after Nepal and China agree new height | World News

Mount Everest is officially higher than previously thought, Nepal and China have confirmed.

The joint announcement settles a long-running conflict over the height of the world’s tallest peak that straddles the countries’ shared border.

Kathmandu and Beijing each sent surveyors to the summit and agreed that the official height is 8,848.86 metres (29,031.69ft), slightly higher than previous calculations.

Everest towers among the Himalayas

Nepal had never before measured the mountain, but used a 1953 calculation by the Survey of India, which includes the snow cap, to put its height at 8,848 metres (29,028ft).

Meanwhile, China counted snow in its 2005 calculation of the rock summit, which was 8,844.43 metres (29,017ft) – that’s about 3.7 meters (11 feet) less than Nepal’s previous estimate.

Nepali Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi announced the findings on a video call.

Climber Ashish Gurung, who was also on the call, said the news was a big deal.

“We have to respect anything that becomes ‘plus’,” he said.

“The increase in height is a source of huge pride for Nepal and Nepalese people.”

Mountaineer Doug Scott, part of the first UK team to climb Mount Everest, has died. This photo of him was taken 01-Oct-1975.  Pic: PA
Mountaineer Doug Scott climbed Everest in 1975

Mountaineers had suggested a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in 2015 that killed nearly 9,000 people in Nepal may have affected Everest’s height.

The country, which is home to another seven of the world’s 14 highest peaks, sent its first team of surveyors to the peak in May last year.

A Chinese expedition then climbed the peak this spring, when the mountain was closed by both countries for other climbers due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Santa Bir Lama, president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, said: “This is a milestone in mountaineering history which will finally end the debate over the height and now the world will have one number.”

Everest’s revised height follows the death of one of the UK’s first climbers to reach the top.

Doug Scott and Hamish MacInnes in an icefall on Mount Everest
Doug Scott and Hamish MacInnes in an icefall on Mount Everest

Doug Scott, who has been described as one of the greatest mountaineers of his generation, climbed the world’s tallest peak in 1975.

The 79-year-old died from cancer on Monday, a charity he founded to help people in the Himalayas confirmed.

In a statement released today, the Community Action Nepal said he died peacefully at his home in the Lake District.

Scott was the first to climb, along with his Scottish partner Dougal Haston, Everest’s southwest face in 1975.

The southwest face is widely regarded as one of the greatest challenges in mountaineering due to its length and exposure to high winds.

At the time, Queen Elizabeth congratulated the team on a “magnificent achievement”.

Mr Haston died in an avalanche while skiing in Switzerland at the age of 36 in 1977.

Mr Scott also came close to death that year, when he broke both legs while abseiling from the peak of The Ogre, a relatively uncharted peak in the Himalayas.

He effectively crawled to base camp supported by two teammates, Mo Anthoine and Clive Rowland.

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