Boris Johnson admits coronavirus outbreak could be doubling every 20 days


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Coronavirus cases in the UK could be taking as long as 20 days to double in number, Boris Johnson admitted today as he rowed back from startling claims made by his top scientist only yesterday.

Sir Patrick Vallance warned the doubling time had dropped to just one week, during a televised address to the nation. And he made the terrifying prediction that the UK could be on course to hit 50,000 cases per day by mid-October, unless the outbreak is brought under control.

But Mr Johnson today appeared to undermine the pair as he stood in front of the House of Commons to unveil a wave of new measures designed to stop the spread of the disease, including making the Army available to help police enforce stringent new coronavirus rules.

The Prime Minister, who warned ‘this is the moment when we must act’, told MPs the figure was – ambiguously – somewhere between one and three weeks. Sir Patrick didn’t confess the range could be up to twenty days yesterday, and at the peak of Britain’s first wave, the doubling time of cases was just three days.

Experts lashed out at the ‘implausible’ claim, insisting there was simply no scientific basis for the extraordinary number of infections Sir Patrick had warned about. The stark prediction saw the chief scientific adviser and his colleague, chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty , dubbed Professor Gloom and Dr Doom.

Data based on diagnosed cases now suggest the outbreak is taking two weeks to double, rising from an average of 1,022 infections a day on August 22 to 2,032 on September 7 to 3,929 yesterday. Spain and France, whose outbreaks the UK is feared to be on par with, have yet to get anywhere close to the dreaded 50,000 cases a day mark.

One expert, Professor David Paton, said data had been presented unfairly to the public and demanded: ‘If they’ve got an explanation [for why the data was presented like that], then let’s hear it.’ Other critics accused Number 10 of deliberately trying to ‘scare’ people and Piers Morgan urged No 10 to tell the British public how they arrived at 50,000.

And Hugh Pennington, an emeritus microbiologist at University of Aberdeen, told MailOnline: ‘I think it was almost designed to scare us (the graph), it certainly wasn’t a scientifically accurate model. It wasn’t a model of anything. It didn’t take into account we are doing a lot. I was annoyed because they were naughty doing that.’ 

It comes as the UK statistics regulator today revealed it has had to ‘step in’ seven times during the pandemic to alert Government departments to ‘transgressions’ when ministers have quoted data that is not then quickly made available to the public.

The head of the Office for Statistics Regulation described such incidents as ‘disappointing’ and said the principle of ensuring such data is published must be ‘more strongly embedded’. Giving an example, he said he had to contact the Department of Health when a figure for the distance people were travelling to get a Covid-19 test was quoted ‘quite widely in the public domain, but the underlying data weren’t available’. 

Experts threw cold water on the dramatic graph presented by Sir Patrick and Professor Whitty, saying it was ‘implausible’ that case numbers would outstrip France and Spain by so much

Prime Minister Boris Johnson today announced a tightening of lockdown rules, including a requirement for pubs and restaurants to shut at 10pm, which he said could last for another six months

Prime Minister Boris Johnson today announced a tightening of lockdown rules, including a requirement for pubs and restaurants to shut at 10pm, which he said could last for another six months

As he unveiled his raft of new measures today, Mr Johnson said in Parliament: ‘I’m sorry to say that as in Spain, France and many other countries we have reached a perilous turning point. 

‘A month ago, on average, around a thousand people across the UK were testing positive for coronavirus every day. The latest figure has almost quadrupled to 3,929. 

‘Yesterday the chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser warned that the doubling rate for new cases could be between seven and 20 days with the possibility of tens of thousands of new infections next month.’

The 3,929 figure the PM referred to is the average number of coronavirus cases diagnosed each day in the week leading up to yesterday, September 21. That has almost doubled from 2,032 on August 22, suggesting a doubling time of two weeks. 

However, testing is still only expected to be diagnosing around half of the true number of Covid-19 cases. The Office for National Statistics estimates that 6,000 people per day are catching the virus in England and Wales, a figure which almost doubled from September 3 to 10. But the estimate was before the ‘Rule of Six’ officially kicked in, meaning the measure could have helped to slow the speed at which the outbreak is growing. 

The most recent published estimates of the epidemic doubling time – a measure of how fast cases are growing – put it at between seven and 17 days.

The REACT mass testing study, carried out by Imperial College London in conjunction with the Government, predicted on September 11 that it could be as fast as one week (7.7 days) based on test results from between August 22 and September 7.

Using longer term data from tests dating back to July 24, a more conservative estimate was made of a doubling time of 17 days – two-and-a-half weeks. 

Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Chris Whitty, holding a one-off televised briefing together yesterday, warned the public about the worst case scenario.

The chief scientific adviser said: ‘If that [rise in cases] continues unabated and this grows, doubling every seven days, then what you see, of course, let’s say there were 5,000 today, it would be 10,000 next week, 20,000 the week after, 40,000 the week after, and you can see that by mid-October, if that continued, you would end up with something like 50,000 cases in the middle of October, per day.’

The doomsday prediction was met by outrage in the scientific community, with critics accusing the advisers of ‘scaring people’ and touting ‘implausible’ numbers.   

Professor David Paton, an industrial economist at the University of Nottingham, said he was ‘shocked’ at the way the chief scientists presented infections data.

Reeling against yesterday’s presentation he said in a blog today: ‘Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance are eminent scientists and it is inconceivable that they did not know what they were doing in the briefing. 

‘On one level, they have accomplished their aim: the media is dutifully reporting the frightening ‘50,000 cases by 13th October’ figure and the groundwork has been prepared for the PM’s speech telling us what new restrictions he will be imposing on the country.

‘However, the price of politicising statistics is that you risk undermining public trust in government science.

‘If that is the long term effect of yesterday’s briefing, I wonder if Professor Whitty and Sir Patrick will continue to think it was a price worth paying.’

The number of people officially testing positive – now thought to be approximately half the number of true infections – has doubled once a fortnight over the past month

The number of people officially testing positive – now thought to be approximately half the number of true infections – has doubled once a fortnight over the past month

Sir Patrick stressed yesterday that his sobering scenario of 500,000 cases a day was based on a lot of unknowns. And he said it was 'not a prediction'

Sir Patrick stressed yesterday that his sobering scenario of 500,000 cases a day was based on a lot of unknowns. And he said it was ‘not a prediction’

NICOLA STURGEON BANS SCOTS FROM VISITING EACH OTHER IN THEIR OWN HOMES 

Scots will be banned from visiting each other in their own homes from tomorrow, Nicola Sturgeon said today as she reintroduced stringent lockdown rules.

The First Minister said that a ‘high proportion’ of new cases in the country were linked to transmission within private homes where social distancing and ventilation were more difficult than outdoors or public buildings.

She spoke to MSPs at Holyrood minutes after Boris Johnson has unveiled new lockdown measures in England, saying that his steps did not go far enough and her advice was that it ‘will not be sufficient to bring the R number down’ north of the border.

Addressing reports that measures in Scotland could be in place for up to six months, the First Minister said she hoped that would not be the case.

She told MSPs: ‘It is certainly the case, until scientific developments such as a vaccine change the game in the battle against Covid-19, it will have an impact on our lives.

‘That doesn’t necessarily mean that all of the new restrictions I am announcing today will be in place for six months.

‘By acting early and substantially, our hope is that these new measures will be in place for a shorter period than would be the case if we waited longer to act.’

Professor Paton pointed out that top officials and politicians have warned that the UK is likely following what is happening in France and Spain.

Those nations have recorded a significant rise in daily infections in recent weeks, and hospitalisations and deaths have gone up alongside them.

But they are nowhere near 50,000 per day – with an average 11,105 cases per day in Spain and 10,116 in France.

‘Of course, no-one knows with absolute certainty what will happen to cases in the UK over the next few weeks,’ Professor Paton added.

‘Indicating the likely number of cases if the UK followed Spain or France would not have been an unreasonable approach for Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance to take. 

‘So why didn’t they? The obvious suspicion is that 7,000-10,000 cases per day by mid-October might just not have been scary enough for people to accept imminent new restrictions on their way of life.’

Dr Daniel Lawson, a statistical science expert at the University of Bristol, said the number would not be realised because the country will act before it does.

He told The Guardian: ‘The number is plausible if the UK as a whole does not respond to the outbreak, but an increase in compliance and risk avoidance will make it unlikely to come about as predicted…

‘In other words, the scenario is unlikely to come about – but we do need to pay attention to it anyway, because the public do need to take action to lower the infection rate and only some of this is achieved by policy; the rest is done by us. If we ignore this scenario, it could yet come about, or worse restrictions put in place instead.’

Professor Pennington told MailOnline the claims of 50,000 cases a day ‘were not predictions’, adding: ‘They are just a back of an envelope calculation based on if the virus was to double every seven days. It isn’t going to do that because the virus doesn’t behave that way, and that was a worst case scenario if we did nothing. 

‘But we are doing a hell of a lot, even before today, wearing masks and those things.’

He added that the government was ‘naughty’ for talking about ‘these horrendous figures’ and using the graphs to illustrate how the outbreak could spiral out of control.

Professor Pennington said: ‘If they want to scare people, I wouldn’t have gone about it that way. I would have spoken about how serious the disease is.

‘We’ve seen pictures of people in intensive care, especially of doctors. I would’ve scared people with that because it’s a genuine problem. 

‘They were talking about what might happen if we went down the Spanish or French route. But they are not having the same increase of cases in that graph anyway.

‘I’m not sure who they were really addressing with their televised briefing. Obviously the public, but I suspect they were trying got also get the politicians to do something. 

‘I suppose they felt they haven’t got their message across. But today what has been proposed is not a circuit breaker, or travel restrictions. So the response is quite muted. It’s basically getting what people should be doing anyway.’

He added: ‘The virus in the UK, it’s active in Glasgow, North West and North East England, Birmingham and the South West. But in the South of England it’s reasonably quite quiet.’  

Professor Paul Hunter, a a medical expert at the University of East Anglia, said: ‘What they presented is the very worst possible case, given the state of the epidemic at the moment.

‘I think it is pretty implausible we will be seeing 50,000 cases a day by the middle of October. 

‘It’s important to bear in mind that they were not making a prediction, they were presenting an illustration of what would happen if cases continued to double, which they almost certainly will not.’

Professor Anthony Brookes, an expert in genomics at the University of Leicester, added: ‘Nothing they said was a lie. But they selectively presented things, and did not show the full picture.

‘They said it wasn’t a prediction. But look up a “prediction” – if you say cases are “doubling, doubling, doubling, and this is what you get” – it is a prediction.

‘I think it was and distorted unbalanced view of reality. I can’t say anything was technically wrong – cases have been increasing, and if you have doubling you will get those numbers. But it is selective view of things.’ 

‘Modelling is using guestimates and trying to predict the future. They want to prepare for what is coming down the road. But models are not data. They should be a way to try and replicate what was happened in the past and try and go forward.

‘The alternative is to try and go away form models and use real life, empirical data patterns – the real, factual unquestionable data. What’s happened in the past six months in the UK? And what has happened in other countries? I can’t see any empirical data that suggests 50,000 cases by mid-October.

‘The government are only relying on the numbers of positive cases. If you look at number of tests, you can make the case they have grown. ‘Exponential growth’ is too far – but it is a notable increase. That was last month and the first week of this month.

‘Since then, it’s carried on flat. There was a couple weeks it shot up, and then it’s gone flat. They haven’t spoken about this in their data.’ 

He added: ‘There is an increase in percentage of [proportion of positive] tests. But it seems to have been a 2-week event that has flattened now.

‘Twice over the summer we have seen exactly this. You ease up on lockdown. The rate goes up and then plateaus again. This is what it looks like to me. Given all of that – this recent concern about a second wave, it’s just unfounded.  

The University of Buckingham’s Professor Karol Sikora, who has regularly been critical of the Government’s coronavirus response, said: ‘They’re so negative. The graph for the worst case scenario, for 50,000 cases a day by next month, it’s just scaring people.’

And Steve Brown, a self-employed consultant with 20 years of experience in statistical modelling, specialising in transport, told MailOnline: ‘It’s a model. All models are wrong, but some are useful. Whether this one is useful depends on the purpose for which it was intended; if the purpose was to scare everyone, then it seems to have worked quite well, but if the purpose was to make an accurate prediction then less so.’ 

Mr Brown said it was possible advisers were ‘deliberately playing up the worst case’.

‘We know that SAGE is deliberately using personal fear to drive behaviour, that is documented in the minutes and is their policy,’ he said.

‘Although the graph presented by the Government advisors may not have been intended as a prediction, many people will understandably see it as such.’    

Professor Chris Whitty (right, with Sir Patrick Vallance on the left) appealed to the public’s selflessness in adhering to the rules and not just assuming they could 'take their own risks'

Professor Chris Whitty (right, with Sir Patrick Vallance on the left) appealed to the public’s selflessness in adhering to the rules and not just assuming they could ‘take their own risks’

STATS REGULATOR HAS HAD TO STEP IN SEVEN TIMES TO GET DATA PUBLISHED

The UK statistics regulator has had to ‘step in’ multiple times during the pandemic to alert Government departments to ‘transgressions’ when ministers have quoted data that is not then quickly made available to the public.

The head of the Office for Statistics Regulation described such incidents as ‘disappointing’ and said the principle of ensuring such data is published must be ‘more strongly embedded’.

Ed Humpherson, director general for regulation, said there has been a number of occasions on which he has had to intervene by contacting a department to tell them underlying data which is quoted by senior figures should be made available.

He told the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee: ‘We still find occasions where rightly, a minister from any one of the four administrations, a minister will answer a question using information that they have available to them and that’s quite appropriate and right.

‘Sometimes that information isn’t available publicly. And again that’s fine, if they know the answer to the question they should give the answer.

‘But we see that that is not then followed up by their departments making the data available publicly, and you’ll know chair that we’ve stepped in on seven occasions because I always copy you in to the interventions.’

Committee chairman William Wragg thanked him for ‘highlighting various transgressions’.

Mr Humpherson said it is mostly an issue of ‘awareness’ that figures need to be published once quoted, and that they ‘haven’t had very many repeat offenders’.

He told the MPs that it should be ‘a matter of course’ that the department makes the quoted information available, adding: ‘We will continue to intervene, but I’d much rather we didn’t have to.’

Giving an example, he said he had to contact the Department of Health and Social Care in England when a figure for the distance people were travelling to get a Covid-19 test was quoted ‘quite widely in the public domain, but the underlying data weren’t available’.

He also had to contact NHS Scotland and the Scottish Government when data on antibody testing had been quoted but was not available in the public domain.

In Northern Ireland he contacted health officials when the daily dashboard publication was suspended.

He said: ‘I wrote to the head of the Department of Health in Northern Ireland and said, you know, it’s not sufficient just to announce your numbers by Twitter, you need to put them out in a structured, orderly way.’

Dr Joshua Moon, a global health researcher at the University of Sussex, reiterated that the UK was taking action to avoid this ‘if nothing else was done’ projection.

He told MailOnline: ‘Spain and France actually did things to bring the rate of transmission down. The UK is doing more again to bring transmission down.

‘The trend is based on a standard epidemic curve which is exponential rather than linear so the calculation is based on the current doubling-rate rather than projecting it based on the current rate of case increase.

‘This is a more accurate depiction of how epidemics spread and the exponential growth of epidemics if they are left to their own devices.

‘In a no change scenario 50,000 cases per day is a somewhat realistic estimate. Do I think we will actually get to that? No. But there is a value in knowing the worst-case scenario.’

Piers Morgan, raging about the prediction on Good Morning Britain today, said: ‘If you want the headlines to be 50,000, that’s the figure you use, that’s what they did. 

‘But they haven’t explained, actually, what they’re basing it on given that in every other country nobody is projected to be anywhere near that by the middle of October. 

‘And that’s the problem. That the people who are sceptical about this, and don’t want any action, are saying ‘why have you reached that figure?’ And that’s what Boris Johnson has to answer – is to tell the British public why have we arrived at 50,000?’ 

It comes as the UK statistics regulator today spoke of having to get government departments to publish data they have quoted, saying the principle of ensuring such data is published must be ‘more strongly embedded’. 

Ed Humpherson, director general for regulation, said there has been a number of occasions on which he has had to intervene by contacting a department to tell them underlying data which is quoted by senior figures should be made available.

He told the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee: ‘We still find occasions where rightly, a minister from any one of the four administrations, a minister will answer a question using information that they have available to them and that’s quite appropriate and right.

‘Sometimes that information isn’t available publicly. And again that’s fine, if they know the answer to the question they should give the answer.

‘But we see that that is not then followed up by their departments making the data available publicly, and you’ll know chair that we’ve stepped in on seven occasions because I always copy you in to the interventions.’

Committee chairman William Wragg thanked him for ‘highlighting various transgressions’. Mr Humpherson said it is mostly an issue of ‘awareness’ that figures need to be published once quoted, and that they ‘haven’t had very many repeat offenders’.

He told the MPs that it should be ‘a matter of course’ that the department makes the quoted information available, adding: ‘We will continue to intervene, but I’d much rather we didn’t have to.’

Giving an example, he said he had to contact the Department of Health and Social Care in England when a figure for the distance people were travelling to get a Covid-19 test was quoted ‘quite widely in the public domain, but the underlying data weren’t available’.

He also had to contact NHS Scotland and the Scottish Government when data on antibody testing had been quoted but was not available in the public domain.

In Northern Ireland he contacted health officials when the daily dashboard publication was suspended.

He said: ‘I wrote to the head of the Department of Health in Northern Ireland and said, you know, it’s not sufficient just to announce your numbers by Twitter, you need to put them out in a structured, orderly way.’

Also before the committee was Professor Sir Ian Diamond, national statistician for the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

He said while there is a ‘rocky road’ ahead in the coming months there is ‘much better data’ now on coronavirus ‘so the Government has the information on which to make early decisions’.

Sir Ian said: ‘My view, very strongly, is that we are about to enter a rocky road but we have much better information than we had for the first wave on which to plot a route.’

He said as well as its household infection survey, the ONS also has surveys running in communal establishments such as care homes and prisons and will soon have some for schools and universities. He added that ‘it is not impossible that we will do airports and ports’.

Sir Ian was asked whether the increase in incident rate of coronavirus is nationwide and whether, therefore, measures are needed on a national basis.

He told the committee’s MPs: ‘One of the things that we are definitely seeing is that we, unlike some other European countries, do have a pandemic which is largely nationwide.’

He added: ‘My view is that at the moment we have a national – in England – largely national pandemic but one which is concentrated in urban areas.’

Asked about testing and tracing statistics which are published weekly, Mr Humpherson said they are ‘unquestionably more reliable, and they’ve improved out of all recognition’.

He added: ‘In fact, in some ways I now think that the test and trace information for England is more comprehensive than it is for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland.’



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Three people in hospital as Victorian authorities race to contain Casey coronavirus outbreak


Victorian health authorities say they’re working quickly to contain the state’s largest coronavirus outbreak, outside of aged care, in Melbourne’s south-east, as three patients linked to the cluster are admitted to hospital.

The first positive test in the Casey cluster was recorded just over two weeks ago, on September 4, and it has since grown to 34 cases.

In a statement, Monash Health said it was caring for three patients in relation to the Casey community outbreak.

All were in a stable condition on Friday night, with one of the three patients testing positive for COVID-19 so far.

Victorian health authorities confirmed yesterday that the cluster was spread across five households in the suburbs of Hallam, Clyde, Narre Warren South and Cranbourne North, which are all within the City of Casey local government area.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) said members of the five households had visited houses beyond the 5 kilometre radius permitted under metropolitan Melbourne’s stage 4 restrictions.

The chief executive of Monash Health, Andrew Stripp, said local community health care services were working closely with the DHHS and the Casey community to contain the “significant” cluster.

But he said the area’s infection prevention team and good local contacts were aiding a quick response to the outbreak.

“The community’s responding very well, the families themselves are isolating, so I think it’s travelling in the right direction,” Mr Stripp told ABC Radio Melbourne.

“Our community health services have been working with the local community very closely … and were able to respond and be on the ground and visit the houses and have what are sometimes difficult discussions, very personal discussions, in relation to the contact tracing process in a very successful way.”

Afghan community leader says CHO ‘singled out’ residents

A group of unidentifiable people walk in a park including two children on bikes.
The cluster is centred on the suburbs of Hallam, Clyde, Narre Warren South and Cranbourne North in City of Casey local government area.(ABC News)

Earlier this week, Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton offered to speak to multicultural groups in the Casey area.

“Having been to Afghanistan a couple of times over the years, I want to be able to reflect on my cultural experiences and the fact I know that there are universal motivations that every family has: to do the right thing, to protect their families,” he said.

Some local community leaders have expressed concern the remarks singled out the Afghan community, and warned the comments may make some community members feel “ashamed”.

Afghan community leader, Homaira Mershedi, said her community had been unfairly “singled out” over the Casey outbreak.

She also said she was concerned about the future when restrictions eventually started to ease, saying she feared Afghan businesses could suffer and children from the community could be bullied at school.

A woman in a face mask standing in a garden.
Afghan community leader Homaira Mershedi says some community members won’t want to get tested.(ABC News: Sarah Jane Bell)

But Mr Stripp said Monash Health had been working with all community leaders to ensure they knew the risks posed by COVID-19 and he urged people even with only the mildest of symptoms to get tested.

“Our team have been working with this particular [Afghan] community closely … we’re aware that in some areas that people are concerned that if they go into a testing station they’re more at risk of being infected.

“That’s not the case … we provide a safe environment for people to be tested,” he said.

Focus on Fountain Gate Shopping Centre visits

More than 4,000 people have been tested in the Casey area in the past week, and 11 testing sites are open including drive-though clinics in Dandenong and Cranbourne as well as other testing sites in Clyde, Hallam and Noble Park.

Other community support workers, including Leanne Petrides from the Cranbourne Information and Support Service, said everyone across the municipality was working to get the message out to people to get tested.

“[We] keep pushing the message, particularly over the next couple of weeks as it’s going to be absolutely vital,” she said.

Ms Petrides declined to mention the Afghan community, instead stressing that all people from across the entire Casey community were doing their best to stop the spread of the virus.

“I wouldn’t want to pick out any one community,” she said.

“We’ve seen people from many different communities, including, dare I say, my own Australian community who have been going out there and breaking some of the guidelines and rules that the Chief Health Officer has put down for us.”

A woman in a face mask with a white tent behind her.
Leanne Petrides from the Cranbourne Information and Support Service says getting a test is quick and easy.(ABC News)

Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng said yesterday there was a focus on testing people who had visited the Fountain Gate Shopping Centre in Narre Warren.

“We think that most of the cases are linked to contact between these households but there have been visits to Fountain Gate,” he said.

Ms Petrides said while Fountain Gate was a large shopping complex, people needed to stay within their 5km radius and not go out in groups.



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china bacterial leak infects thousands brucellosis outbreak


Several thousand people in northwest China have tested positive for a bacterial disease, authorities said, in an outbreak caused by a leak at a biopharmaceutical company last year.

The Health Commission of Lanzhou, the capital city of Gansu province, confirmed that 3245 people had contracted the disease brucellosis, which is often caused by contact with livestock carrying the bacteria brucella.

Another 1401 people have tested as preliminarily positive, though there have been no fatalities reported, the city’s Health Commission said. In total, authorities have tested 21,847 people out of the city’s 2.9 million population.

There has been a reported bacterial leak in the city of Lanzhou in north west China. (VCG) (CNN)

The disease, also known as Malta fever or Mediterranean fever, can cause symptoms including headaches, muscle pain, fever and fatigue. While these may subside, some symptoms can become chronic or never go away, like arthritis or swelling in certain organs, according to the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Human-to-human transmission is extremely rare, according to the CDC. Instead, most people are infected by eating contaminated food or breathing in the bacteria – which seems to be the case in Lanzhou.

This outbreak stemmed from a leak at the Zhongmu Lanzhou biological pharmaceutical factory, which occurred between late July to late August last year, according to the city’s Health Commission. While producing Brucella vaccines for animal use, the factory used expired disinfectants and sanitisers – meaning not all bacteria were eradicated in the waste gas.

The bacteria brucella is carried by cattle but can infect humans. (AAP)

This contaminated waste gas formed aerosols that contained the bacteria – and leaked into the air, carried by wind down to the Lanzhou Veterinary Research Institute, where the outbreak first hit.

People at the institute began reporting infections in November, and it quickly accelerated. By the end of December, at least 181 people at the institute had been infected with brucellosis, according to Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua.



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A Gabba AFL grand final could inject $17 million into Queensland — but a coronavirus outbreak may change that


Hosting the AFL grand final is tipped to deliver a much-needed, multi-million-dollar boost to Queensland’s economy, but tourism experts say the benefit will partly depend on the status of the state’s borders.

The AFL confirmed yesterday that Queensland had won the rights to host the 2020 grand final amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

It is the first time the annual sporting event has been held outside Victoria in its history.

The Gabba’s capacity is normally 42,000 but due to the pandemic only 30,000 spectators — just a proportion of the MCG’s usual 100,000 capacity — are expected to pack The Gabba for the night-time premiership decider on October 24, with Adelaide Oval the backup.

Announcing the news yesterday, AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan said the Queensland Government wanted to ensure it was “not just an event for Brisbane, but a festival of football for the state, from Far North Queensland to the Gold Coast”.

Queensland’s Treasurer Cameron Dick told ABC Radio Brisbane the grand final was expected to add $17 million to the state’s economy and generate about 80 jobs.

“Finals will add another $7 million, and television audience is $3 million or more,” he said.

“It’s a positive thing, I think there’s the tangible and intangible.

Mr Dick would not say how much was spent on the bid for the event.

Treasurer Cameron Dick says there are tangible and intangible benefits to Queensland hosting the grand final.(AAP: Darren England)

‘Things can change overnight’

It is understood the forecasted financial injections include tourists travelling from all states and territories except New South Wales and Victoria.

Currently, anyone travelling from New South Wales, Victoria, or the ACT must go into hotel quarantine at their own expense for two weeks.

University of Southern Queensland tourism lecturer Frances Cassidy said any economic shot in the arm was “very important,” but warned the event was still a while off.

“If it does get as high as $18 million, that’s fantastic, that will certainly help us,” Ms Cassidy said.

“I believe the CEO is talking about making tickets a priority for members in Queensland, which is great, but it would also be fantastic if the borders are open and if COVID-19 has settled down a bit.

“That way we can get more people from interstate as well.

“You’d have [income for] accommodation, restaurants … [but] at this stage we just don’t know.

“It’s a day-by-day situation and we need to watch and listen and wait to see what’s happening.”

Daniel Gschwind stands at the Cairns lagoon with sculptures in the background.
Queensland Tourism Industry Council CEO Daniel Gschwind says the move provides a “reputational boost” for Queensland.(ABC News: Brendan Mounter)

Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind said the forecast was a “confidence boost” for the sector and that interstate visitors would be a “bonus”.

“Longer term, it’s a very important reputational boost for Queensland, that confirms our reputation as an events centre.”

“[But] our hearts do genuinely go out to all Victorians and the sporting community.

“It’s a blow for them, it’s a sad day, I’m sure, to see the grand final go elsewhere.”



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California Surpasses 700,000 Coronavirus Cases Even as Its Outbreak Slows


Sicily’s president, Nello Musumeci, ordered all migrant centers on the island closed last weekend, saying it was impossible to prevent the spread of the illness in them. A court blocked the order, but his effort underlined the challenges Italy faces as right-wing politicians seek to rekindle a polarizing debate about immigration in a country hit hard by the pandemic, and now seeing its cases surge.

In the last two weeks, Italy’s seven-day average of new cases has more than doubled, from 476 on Aug. 15 to 1,192 on Friday, according to a New York Times database.

Franco Locatelli, the president of Italy’s Superior Health Council, a government advisory body, said migrants’ role in bringing the virus to Italy was “minimal.”

In the first half of August, around 25 percent of the country’s new infections arrived from abroad, according to Italy’s National Health Institute. Italians who had traveled accounted for more than half, and many other cases were among foreign residents returning to the country. Less than 5 percent were among new immigrants, the Health Ministry said.

About 11,700 migrants have reached Sicily since June, and 3 percent either tested positive upon arrival or during a quarantine period imposed at shelters.

Last weekend, a ship carrying hundreds of migrants from Africa and the Middle East, about 20 of whom had tested positive, was turned away by mayor after mayor in Sicily, before eventually docking in Augusta, in the southeast.

“Outlaw state,” Matteo Salvini, the leader of the anti-immigrant League party and a former interior minister, said on Twitter. “An invasion of illegal migrants, a boom of infections, Sicily is collapsing.”





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Melbourne coronavirus outbreak sees interstate nurses fly in to join COVID-19 frontline


The Perth suburb of Duncraig is a long way from locked-down Melbourne.

Masks aren’t mandatory and there’s no curfew.

It is where nurse Justin Holland calls home.

The 24-year-old usually works in the trauma unit at the Royal Perth Hospital, and has been watching the outbreak in Melbourne unfold.

“I think WA is in a little bit of a bubble at the moment.”

He is one of more than 90 West Australian nurses who have volunteered to fly across the country to help out on the COVID-19 frontline, most will be deployed in aged care homes.

“They need our help now but, who knows, tomorrow we might need their help, so it’s only fair to help out.”

A risky assignment

Justin Holland is one of hundreds of nurses from across the country helping out in Melbourne.(ABC News: Glyn Jones)

More than 2,700 Victorian healthcare workers have tested positive for coronavirus and many are isolating after being exposed to the virus.

After a callout from the Victorian Government, volunteers have also travelled from South Australia and Queensland to boost healthcare worker numbers.

Mr Holland acknowledged it was a risky assignment.

“Obviously, you know, there’s a risk of catching COVID,” he said.

“I’ve kind of told my friends and family quite recently, so they’re a little bit shocked, but they’re very happy for me.

“Yeah, they’re very proud of me.

Mr Holland will be in Melbourne for up to six weeks and when he returns to Perth he’ll have to quarantine in a hotel for a fortnight.

‘Thank you, you are really appreciated’

Nurse Emily Morris with marks on her face from a protective mask
Nurse Emily Morris had COVID-19 and is still struggling with fatigue.(Supplied: Emily Morris)

The arrival of interstate reinforcements is welcome news for Melbourne nurse Emily Morris, who works in the emergency department at the Royal Melbourne hospital.

“Thank you, you are really appreciated and, unfortunately, needed at the moment,” Ms Morris told 7.30 when asked about the interstate reinforcements.

Ms Morris has recently returned to work after recovering from coronavirus and said she had noticed a drop in her energy levels.

“Physically, it’s been exhausting.

“I’m so tired still. I’m tired but it’s been OK.”

‘Brain fog’ and fatigue a challenge

Sarah Robson and Sam Martin, both wearing protective masks, pose for a photo with their arms around each others shoulders.
Nurses Sarah Robson and Sam Martin both contracted COVID-19.(Supplied: Sam Martin)

Sam Martin and Sarah Robson are nurses and midwives at the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne.

They both had COVID-19 but are now testing negative.

The past month has been challenging for the young couple.

“I think it’s going to be a long time before either of us are doing full shifts in the hospital,” Mr Martin told 7.30.

“Knowing that there are still healthcare workers out there testing positive, it’s always quite confronting for us.”

After speaking to 7.30 in July, the pair took part in a Victorian Government advertisement, but shortly after filming, Sarah’s condition deteriorated and she was hospitalised again.

“To see her pain so out of control again, to see her respiratory function to be so poor, it was, yeah, really scary,” Mr Martin said.

Mr Martin is also struggling; he’s working from home in an online training role but can only manage a few days a week.

“So this sort of brain fog, as I tend to describe it, it feels like you just don’t have that mental clarity on any level,” he said.

Sarah Robson, wearing a mask, hugs her two sons while standing on green grass surrounded by bush.
After isolation, Sarah Robson has been reunited with her two sons.(Supplied: Sam Martin)

A bright spot for the pair after a long period of isolation was being reunited with Ms Robson’s two young sons.

“Just seeing their smiling faces and having them latch on and give us a massive hug and not let go for an hour, those are moments that we will carry with us forever,” Mr Martin said.

He also welcomed the interstate healthcare volunteers.

“To know that people are willing to help, regardless of what the situation is, I think that’s something that we can all take a bit of comfort in,” he said.



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South Korea to see tougher measures as new coronavirus outbreak spreads from capital – National


South Korea said on Saturday it will roll out tougher social distancing guidelines to curb the spread of coronavirus nationwide as it battles a new outbreak of the disease spreading from the capital, Seoul.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 315 new domestic coronavirus infections as of midnight Friday, the latest in a string of triple digit increases in new local cases.

Read more:
South Korea sees highest daily rise in new coronavirus cases since early March

South Korea used advanced contact tracing and widespread testing to contain its first outbreak of the novel coronavirus, but Asia’s fourth-largest economy has experienced persistent outbreaks in recent weeks, mostly in and around densely populated Seoul and the surrounding areas.

The latest numbers take the country’s tally to 17,002 with 309 deaths.

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In Seoul and some surrounding cities, the government has reimposed second-tier social distancing rules, including restricting large gatherings, banning in-person church meetings while closing nightclubs, karaoke bars, buffets and cyber cafes.






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Coronavirus: Thousands in South Korea protest against leader despite COVID-19 warning

The same guidelines will be imposed on other areas across the country effective Sunday. However, in some areas with fewer infections, the guidelines would be recommended rather than obligatory.

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“If we don’t curb the spread (of the virus) in early stages, this will grow as a large-scale wave. To us, there is nothing more important than focusing on responding to COVID-19,” Health Minister Park Neung-hoo told a briefing on Saturday.

Health authorities have categorized social distancing rules in three stages – stage 1 being the least intense and stage 3 the toughest, where schools and businesses are urged to close.

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Read more:
South Korea warns of looming coronavirus crisis as outbreaks soar

“If we enhance the social distancing guidelines to the third stage, it is inevitable that they will take a toll on people’s daily lives and economy. We urge you to the situation seriously,” KCDC deputy director Kwon Jun-wook told a briefing.

Kwon said South Korea has provided anti-viral drug remdesivir to treat 143 patients at 35 hospitals, but access to the drug has been irregular due to issues on the supplier side.

In June, South Korea asked drugmaker Gilead Sciences Inc to supply enough remdesivir to treat more than 5,000 COVID-19 patients in preparation for a possible second wave of infections.






Coronavirus outbreak: South Korea authorities looking at mobile phone data, credit cards to trace possible COVID-19 infections


Coronavirus outbreak: South Korea authorities looking at mobile phone data, credit cards to trace possible COVID-19 infections

The Health Ministry also said it was postponing its decision to pursue policies boosting the number of medical students until the COVID-19 situation stabilises.

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Thousands of South Korean doctors have staged strikes and protests over government plans to train new doctors, saying there enough doctors but better conditions and systems are needed to properly allocate them.

(Reporting by Heekyong Yang; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)






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