The Federal Government is out of touch with Australian values


The Federal Government has shaped our nation into one that goes against the Australian values it promotes, writes Bilal Cleland.

NATIONAL ABORIGINES and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) Week this year was marked by government rejection of the Aboriginal and Torres Islander flags in the Senate chamber.

Meanwhile, our first law officer, Christian Porter and the Minister in charge of our Australian Values Statement, Alan Tudge, were the subjects of a Four Corners program on harassment accusations from female members of their staff.

The need for clear Australian values

Citizenship Minister Alan Tudge’s first major speech in March 2018, widely reported in regional newspapers, warned: ‘Multicultural Australia at risk.’

Fearing ‘ethnic separatism’, he stated that ‘Australia risks replicating ethnic unrest in Europe unless the Government intervenes’.

He also claimed:

“We have also got a general diminishing capacity or capability of the English language being spoken by new arrivals to this country over the last decade.”

This seems to be an echo of the 1939 ANA Congress in Warrnambool, worried about the entry of “aliens” into the country, with their inclination to form enclaves and not speak English.

The requirement

The Department of Home Affairs announced on 17 September 2020 that the updated citizenship test will comprise 20 multiple-choice questions, including five questions on Australian values:

‘A person will be required to correctly answer all five of the questions on Australian values, with a mark of at least 75% overall, to pass the test.

 

From 30 October 2020, most new visa and citizenship applicants will be required to affirm the updated Australian Values Statement (AVS).’

Then, on October 30 2020, the Home Affairs website announced:

‘From today, new applicants for most visas will be required to sign or accept an updated Australian Values Statement, with a greater focus on values like freedom, respect, equality and the rule of law.’

The reality

Since 2013, Home Affairs has been promoting Australian values very like those of 2020, including egalitarianism, mutual respect, rule of law, equality of opportunity.

The statements do not accord with reality.

Although we are one of the richest countries in the world per head of population, ‘The number of children living in poverty had gone up considerably in the last decade’.

Alongside this, we have 40 companies earning some $348 billion, which paid the least tax on the most income earned:

‘The top tax rate paid by any of them was less than 4%. Sixteen of the 40 paid no tax at all. If the 40 had paid 25% tax… the tax take would have been nearly $27,000 for each of the three and a quarter million people living below the poverty line.’

So much for egalitarianism, mutual respect and equality of opportunity.

As for the rule of law, Tudge chose to disobey an Administrative Appeals Tribunal decision on freeing a refugee and kept him in detention for an additional five days.

Federal Court Judge Justice Geoffrey Flick said that “the Minister has engaged in conduct which can only be described as criminal”.

Attorney-General Christian Porter defended Tudge, leaving him, as first law officer of the nation, open to the accusation that he had supported the right of ministers to break the law.

Then in June, Justice Flick had to threaten Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton with contempt of court over granting an Iranian refugee a protection visa.

The vilification directed by government members and their collaborators in the Senate towards Muslim Australians and towards First Nations people is also a matter of public record.

The AVS of rule of law, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of association and equality of opportunity for all people in Australia’ remains on paper so far as this ruling coalition is concerned.

By the way, there are doubts about the eligibility of Tudge to even sit in parliament. According to John Wren, he could be Canadian.

Alan Tudge's eligibility in question over possible citizenship breach

Bilal Cleland is a retired secondary teacher and was Secretary of the Islamic Council of Victoria, Chairman of the Muslim Welfare Board Victoria and Secretary of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils.

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Boris Johnson must self-isolate after being in touch with someone who has tested positive for Covid 


Boris Johnson has today insisted he feels as ‘fit as a butcher’s dog’ and ‘bursting with antibodies’ in a video message from his Downing Street flat where he must self-isolate for 14 days after a mask-free meeting with a Tory MP who later tested positive for Covid.  

The Prime Minister tweeted that he was ‘in good health and have no symptoms’ after standing close to Ashfield MP Lee Anderson – but his plans to ‘reset’ his Government after the departure of Dominic Cummings are in chaos.

Mr Johnson, who is launching a ten-point green plan including banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in 2030 instead of 2040, must self-isolate despite fighting off the virus after a spell in intensive care in April.

In the video posted to Twitter he said: ‘Hi folks, the good news is that NHS Test and Trace is working ever-more efficiently, but the bad news is that they’ve pinged me and I’ve got to self isolate because someone I was in contact with a few days ago has developed Covid.

‘It doesn’t matter that we were all doing social distancing, it doesn’t matter that I’m fit as a butcher’s dog, feel great – so many people do in my circumstances. And actually it doesn’t matter that I’ve had the disease and I’m bursting with antibodies. We’ve got to interrupt the spread of the disease and one of the ways we can do that now is by self isolating for 14 days when contacted by Test and Trace.’ 

Mr Johnson said he was self-isolating with a “high heart” that the country was getting on top of the virus, with rapid speed testing and hopes of having a vaccine roll-out before Christmas providing reasons for encouragement. 

On Thursday, the Prime Minister held a 35-minute meeting with a group of MPs including Mr Anderson who later tested positive for the virus. The pair didn’t wear masks.

Boris Johnson (pictured leaving Downing Street on Friday) has been forced to self isolate after coming into contact with MP Lee Anderson who tested positive for Covid-19

On Thursday, the Prime Minister held a 35-minute meeting with a group of MPs including Mr Anderson who later tested positive for the virus. Pictured: The PM and Mr Anderson at Thursday's meeting

On Thursday, the Prime Minister held a 35-minute meeting with a group of MPs including Mr Anderson who later tested positive for the virus. Pictured: The PM and Mr Anderson at Thursday’s meeting

In the message, said to have been circulating on a Whatsapp Group for Tory MPs, Boris Johnson explains the situation and says he 'feels better than ever'

Pictured: Part of the message from Mr Johnson said to have been circulating on a Whatsapp Group for Tory MPs

In the message, said to have been circulating on a Whatsapp Group for Tory MPs, Boris Johnson explains the situation and says he ‘feels better than ever’

In a rallying cry, Boris ends the message, said to have been circulating on a Whatsapp group for Tory MPs, by urging: 'Let's follow the rules and beat it together. All best, Boris'

In a rallying cry, Boris ends the message, said to have been circulating on a Whatsapp group for Tory MPs, by urging: ‘Let’s follow the rules and beat it together. All best, Boris’

Critics have questioned how the PM got to be in contact with an infected person - who was not in his own household - during the country's nation-wide second lockdown

Critics have questioned how the PM got to be in contact with an infected person – who was not in his own household – during the country’s nation-wide second lockdown

Mr Johnson took to Twitter to confirm that he has no symptoms of Covid-19 and will continue working while sequestered in No. 10

Mr Johnson took to Twitter to confirm that he has no symptoms of Covid-19 and will continue working while sequestered in No. 10

The pair stood a safe distance apart in the picture which was captioned: 'Breakfast with the PM. This morning I met with the PM at Number 10. I was there with my wish list for Ashfield and Eastwood. Investment is coming, you have my word on that'

The pair stood a safe distance apart in the picture which was captioned: ‘Breakfast with the PM. This morning I met with the PM at Number 10. I was there with my wish list for Ashfield and Eastwood. Investment is coming, you have my word on that’

Ashfield MP Mr Anderson (pictured with Mr Johnson in a file image)- part of Mr Johnson's Red Wall who helped him win the 2019 general election - wrote on Facebook that he was isolating

Ashfield MP Mr Anderson (pictured with Mr Johnson in a file image)- part of Mr Johnson’s Red Wall who helped him win the 2019 general election – wrote on Facebook that he was isolating

In full: The message said to have been circulating on a WhatsApp group for Tory MPs

‘The good news is that NHS test and trace continues to improve. The bad news is that I have been pinged!

‘This afternoon I got an email saying I had been in contact with someone (my hon friend the member for Ashfield) who has subsequently tested positive for Covid. And so I must now self isolate for 14 days. And I will!

‘It does matter that we were all following the guidance and socially distancing – see the Facebook photo. 

‘It doesn’t matter that I feel fine – better than ever – or that my body is bursting with antibodies from the last time I had it. 

‘The rules are the rules and they are there to stop the spread of the disease.

‘Will this slow me down or in anyway impede my work in the next few days? Of course not.

‘Yes we have the spending review and the integrated security review and the small matter of the EU talks. But we also have zoom and other miracles.

‘I am more confident than ever that we will end these exceptional measures on December 2 and continue to pummel Covid into submission.

‘We have two new scientific weapons – mass lateral flow testing and the real prospect of beginning a vaccination programme before Christmas.

‘And by the way, it is thanks to Kate Bingham and the vaccine task force that we have not only secured supplies but also laid on capacity to make vaccine in this country.

‘In the meantime I thank my honourable friend for Ashfield for being so punctilious and effective in identifying his contacts, even if it means my temporary incarceration.

‘Let’s follow the rules and beat it together. All best, Boris.’

Mr Johnson first took to Twitter on Sunday night to confirm that he has no symptoms of Covid-19 and will continue working while sequestered in No. 10. 

Ashfield MP Mr Anderson – part of Mr Johnson’s Red Wall who helped him win the 2019 general election – shared an image of himself and Mr Johnson to Facebook after the meeting this week.

The pair were not wearing masks as they stood apart in the picture which was captioned: ‘Breakfast with the PM.’

The news of Mr Johnson’s isolation has sparked criticism about Downing Street’s Covid-secure workplace measures with Labour MP Chris Bryant questioning how the PM got to be in contact with an infected person during the country’s nation-wide second lockdown.

The Rhondda MP wrote on Twitter: ‘I don’t understand. I thought England was in lockdown. What was the PM doing not maintaining a social distance with another MP? Have I missed something?’ 

On Sunday evening, Mr Johnson – who has no symptoms so therefore cannot get an NHS test – is thought to have messaged fellow Conservative MPs to say that he will stick to the rules as ‘it doesn’t matter that I feel fine — better than ever — or that my body is bursting with antibodies because I have already had the damn thing.’ 

In the message, he insisted that he was abiding by the rules during Thursday’s meeting – and would continue to do so during his 14-day isolation period. 

The PM was taken seriously ill after testing positive for coronavirus in March and spent three nights in the Intensive Care Unit at St Thomas’ Hospital in central London. 

Doctors plied Mr Johnson with ‘litres and litres’ of oxygen as his chances of survival balanced on a knife-edge.

It is possible to contract Covid-19 twice, with five confirmed cases of reinfection reported globally as of last month, however it is extremely rare, scientists say. 

The PM’s message, which is understood to have been circulated among a WhatsApp group for Tory MPs, said: ‘The good news is that NHS test and trace continues to improve. The bad news is that I have been pinged!

‘This afternoon I got an email saying I had been in contact with someone (my hon friend the member for Ashfield) who has subsequently tested positive for Covid. And so I must now self isolate for 14 days. And I will!

‘It does matter that we were all following the guidance and socially distancing – see the Facebook photo. It doesn’t matter that I feel fine – better than ever – or that my body is bursting with antibodies from the last time I had it.

‘The rules are the rules and they are there to stop the spread of the disease. Will this slow me down or in anyway impede my work in the next few days? Of course not.

‘Yes we have the spending review and the integrated security review and the small matter of the EU talks. But we also have zoom and other miracles.  

‘I am more confident than ever that we will end these exceptional measures on December 2 and continue to pummel Covid into submission.

‘We have two new scientific weapons – mass lateral flow testing and the real prospect of beginning a vaccination programme before Christmas.

‘And by the way, it is thanks to Kate Bingham and the vaccine task force that we have not only secured supplies but also laid on capacity to make vaccine in this country.

‘In the meantime I thank my honourable friend for Ashfield for being so punctilious and effective in identifying his contacts, even if it means my temporary incarceration.

The message ends: ‘Let’s follow the rules and beat it together. All best, Boris.’  

Tests have shown that many people who recover from Covid-19 do have antibodies which can which can produce future immunity.

But not enough is known about whether protection is long-term as the virus has only been known to science for less than a year.

Even if a patient is a-symptomatic, they may still be able to pass on the virus to people they are in close contact with.

Mr Johnson usually lives in a flat in No. 11 Downing Street with his fiancée Carrie Symonds and their six-month old baby boy Wilfred.

But he has announced that he will spend his isolation in No. 10 meaning Miss Symonds and Wilfred can carry on as normal.

His Tweet on Sunday night read: ‘Today I was notified by NHS Test and Trace that I must self-isolate as I have been in contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19. 

‘I have no symptoms, but am following the rules and will be working from No. 10 as I continue to lead the government’s pandemic response.’  

His decision to self-isolate comes exactly six days after  he was photographed taking a potentially ‘revolutionary’ test that experts hope could return results in under an hour and allow for students to return home for Christmas.  

Johnson was shown around the testing facility where the university is piloting Lateral Flow antigen tests which can test high proportions of asymptomatic people

Johnson was shown around the testing facility where the university is piloting Lateral Flow antigen tests which can test high proportions of asymptomatic people

Last Monday, the Prime Minister spoke with staff at the testing centre in De Montfort university in Leicester which is trialling the tests that can turn out results in under an hour.

He was pictured administering the swab himself while staff looked on in the city that was one of the first to go into a local lockdown earlier in the year.

The result of that test were not widely reported, but it is presumed he tested negative, as he continued his Prime Ministerial duties.

News of Mr Johnson’s second stint in isolation comes ahead of the Government’s big relaunch after the last few days brought political chaos to Downing Street.

Events culminated in the PM’s Svengali Dominic Cummings dramatically carrying his belongings out the front door of No10 in a cardboard box following a brutal reckoning that saw his closest ally Lee Cain fall on his sword, having failed to secure the key role of Mr Johnson’s chief of staff.

Yesterday, details were released of plans for ‘critical announcements’ that would set a ‘clear signal of his ongoing ambitions for the United Kingdom’. 

Downing Street said the measures ahead would include plans to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, moves for ‘levelling up’ across the country, and education and environmental investment initiatives. 

Mr Anderson wrote on Facebook on Sunday night: ‘Isolating. On Friday I lost my sense of taste at the same time my wife had a bad headache. I had no cough, no fever and felt well. We both had a test on Saturday and the result came in Sunday morning.

‘My wife and I both tested positive. I feel absolutely fine and my biggest concern is my wife who is in the shielded group. But we are both feeling good.’ 

Under Government guidelines, those who come in to contact with people who test positive must isolate for 14 days.

The Government’s official website states a ‘contact is a person who has been close to someone who has tested positive for Covid-19’.

Being ‘close’ to an infected person includes being within two metres from them for more than 15 minutes, having face-to-face contact of less than one metre, or being within one metre of someone for more than one minute without face-to-face contact.

CAN YOU CATCH COVID-19 TWICE? 

Early on in the pandemic, scientists were baffled as to whether or not you could catch Covid-19 twice. Now the evidence is more convincing, following a string of reports of re-infections all over the world. 

With some illnesses such as chickenpox, the immune system can remember exactly how to destroy it and becomes able to fend it off if it ever tries to enter the body again. 

Tests have shown that many people who recover from Covid-19 have antibodies – which can produce future immunity – but it is not known whether there are enough of them.  

However, antibodies are only one type of substance that can produce immunity. The immune system is a huge web of proteins that have different functions to protect the body against infection.

Others, including white blood cells called T cells and B cells, can also help the body to fight off disease but are more difficult to discover using currently available tests. 

Evidence is beginning to suggest that antibodies disappear in as little as eight weeks after infection with the coronavirus, scientifically called SARS-Cov-2.

On the other hand, T cells – which target and destroy cells already infected with the virus – are ‘durable’.

A promising study done on monkeys found that they were unable to catch Covid-19 a second time after recovering from it, which led scientists to believe the same may apply to humans.

The rhesus monkeys were deliberately reinfected by scientists in China to test how their bodies reacted.

Because the coronavirus has only been known to scientists for less than a year there has not been enough time to study whether people develop long-term immunity. 

 Last month, a 25-year-old man became the first person in the US to contract coronavirus for a second time – which struck him harder than his first bout of the disease.  

The unidentified patient first tested positive in April after showing mild symptoms of a sore throat, cough, headache, nausea and diarrhea. But, after recovering and receiving two negative tests, he began experiencing similar warning signs in May.

He tested positive – 48 days after the first negative test – and suffered a more severe infection. He was hospitalized, required oxygen, and endured coughs, muscle aches and shortness of breath. An X-ray also suggested viral pneumonia, which can be deadly. 

Genetic sequencing reveals the patient, of Washoe County in Nevada, was infected by two different strains of coronavirus. He is the world’s fifth known cases of COVID-19 re-infection.

In September, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Britain has seen the first ‘credible’ cases of coronavirus reinfections – but all are asymptomatic.

He told the Health and Social Care Committee that the first ‘credible’ cases of coronavirus reinfection were starting to be seen.

‘We have also just started to see the first credible cases of reinfection and, through genomic analysis, you can see it is a different disease to the one the person got the first time around.

‘But in all the cases that I have seen it has been an asymptomatic second infection that has been picked up through asymptomatic testing.’ 

On Monday, the Prime Minister was expected to meet Tory MPs from the newly formed Northern Research Group (NRG), which was set up to press the case for ‘levelling up’ northern England.

It is also an important week in the Brexit negotations as key players revealed a new deadline of next Thursday to make a deal before a virtual summit of EU leaders.  

On Sunday, Dublin’s foreign minister Simon Coveney warned it was ‘move week’ and there needs to be a settlement on the Ireland issue at least in ‘principle’. 

He said a deal was ‘doable’ but cautioned that there was still a major standoff over fishing, with the EU demanding 50 per cent of the catch in British waters and the UK saying it should only be 20 per cent. 

Environment Secretary George Eustice said the UK cannot be the ‘only country in the world that doesn’t control its own waters’.

But he said there did need to be ‘headlines’ of a trade agreement this week. ‘There does come a point frankly where businesses need to know what they are preparing for,’ Mr Eustice told Sky News’ Ridge on Sunday.

Mr Johnson’s self-isolation period means he will also miss facing Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on Wednesday. 

Following the news of the PM’s self isolation, Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg wrote on Twitter that he was ‘urgently exploring’ how to got more MPs participating in the chamber virtually.

Last week, Tory MP Tracey Crouch urged Mr Rees-Mogg to allow members to contribute to Parliament more often using modern technology. The Chatham and Aylesford MP, who has been working remotely during the pandemic, expressed her disappointment at not being able to take part in a Westminster Hall debate on the future of breast cancer services and the impact of Covid-19 on breast cancer diagnosis.

Mr Rees-Mogg replied that there is a ‘careful balance’ to be struck, insisting that scrutiny of legislation is best done in person.

On Twitter on Sunday night, he wrote: ‘Who cannot be moved by  Tracey Crouch among others making her brave appeal to contribute more to the Commons through virtual participation?

‘While the Government is advising the clinically extremely vulnerable not to go into work, we must and will work with House authorities to find a solution.

‘Whilst there are House resourcing issues for Westminster Hall, we can do something about the Chamber. 

‘I have been urgently exploring how we can support additional virtual participation in the Commons despite capacity constraints and hope to bring forward a motion soon.’

Ms Crouch said Mr Rees-Mogg’s plans were ‘very much pre-PM self isolation news’, writing on Twitter: ‘The @CommonsLeader rang me yesterday morning to advise he would change rules for clinically extremely vulnerable to participate in debates in the Commons but in true Jacob Rees-Mogg style wanted to announce to House not press.

‘This was very much pre-PM self isolation news.’ 

Mr Johnson is this week set to tackle how England’s second national lockdown will come to a close at the start of December. 

The PM is ironically also getting ready to reveal a reduction in the necessary isolation period for people who come into contact with an infected person to just 10 days – rather than the current 14, a source told The Times.

Furthermore – in a bid to reset his premiership – Mr Johnson will this week pledge to northern Tory MPs that he will not abandon them in favour of a more metropolitan agenda. 

Mr Johnson will tell MPs who helped propel him to victory in last year’s election that he will ‘never veer off the course’ that won him an 80-strong majority.

He will use the next fortnight to relaunch his leadership following the departure of Mr Cummings and  Mr Cain and amid worries he is being pushed into a ‘woke’ agenda by his Miss Symonds – who seems to have won the Downing Street power struggle.

Before being told to self-isolate, he was due to meet the newly formed Northern Research Group (NRG) today, before unveiling his ten-point point plan to tackle climate change later in the week, and then finalising details of the Spending Review that will be announced by the Chancellor next Wednesday. 

Allies of the Prime Minister last night said he will assure the northern MPs that levelling up the country is his ‘personal’ ambition and they will not be abandoned.

The group of more than 50 MPs wrote to Mr Johnson last month to demand that he does ‘not forget’ the commitments made at the election when he won a swathe of ‘red wall’ seats from Labour.

One of the ringleaders last night said there was concern within the group that the change in personnel in Downing Street will lead to the Prime Minister ‘forgetting the North and following a more metropolitan agenda’.

‘Northern working-class people are hard to win over and we have to deliver for them,’ the source added. ‘We want levelling-up to be put on the Government’s agenda.’

Mr Johnson is also rumoured to be planning a Cabinet reshuffle in the coming weeks which could see Health Secretary Matt Hancock (pictured) and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson on the chopping block

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson

Mr Johnson is also rumoured to be planning a Cabinet reshuffle in the coming weeks which could see Health Secretary Matt Hancock (left) and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson (right) on the chopping block

Another MP in the group said there needed to be ‘more flat caps and less top hats’ in Mr Johnson’s inner circle, adding: ‘Why not make his chief-of-staff from the North? There are only two MPs from northern seats in the Cabinet.’

The MP said that ‘if cultivated correctly’, northern backbenchers would ‘form a Praetorian Guard around the PM’.

But a Government source rejected as ‘utter rubbish’ suggestions Miss Symonds was trying to change the direction of No 10.

The source added: ‘There will be a change in approach in listening to MPs, and much more engagement. Dom didn’t do any of that, but that will change. No 10 will be a much more accessible building.’

Who is Lee Anderson? The MP who tested positive for Covid after PM meeting 

Ashfield MP Lee Anderson has tested positive for Covid-19 just days after a meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The 53-year-old former coal miner said on Facebook that he began experiencing coronavirus symptoms on Friday and, after being tested on Saturday, received a positive result on Sunday morning.

He met with Mr Johnson and a small group of MPs in Downing Street on Thursday morning, which means the Prime Minister is now self-isolating.

Mr Anderson was a long-time Labour Party member and served as a councillor in the Huthwaite and Brierly ward of Ashfield in Nottinghamshire where he was elected in 2015.

A vocal Brexiteer, having supported the Vote Leave campaign, Mr Anderson subsequently defected to the Conservatives in 2018 and was later elected as a Tory councillor for the Oakham ward in Mansfield.

He became the MP for Ashfield following the 2019 general election, succeeding Gloria De Piero – who stood down.

As a candidate, he said ‘nuisance’ council house tenants should be forced to live in tents and pick vegetables for 12 hours a day from 6am as punishment.

Mr Anderson was among three Tory MPs investigated over allegations of anti-Semitism in December 2019, and was said to be an active member of a Facebook group where George Soros conspiracies were promoted.

In September 2020, Mr Anderson spoke out about other MPs labelling each other ‘fat old racists’ if they supported Brexit.

He also accused Gary Lineker of ‘virtue signalling’ after the Match Of The Day host housed a refugee in his home, saying he should look after ‘the next boat of illegal immigrants’.

 

A No 10 spokesman said: ‘This Government is determined to improve opportunities for people across the country, regardless of their background or where they live. We were elected on an ambitious manifesto to deliver this agenda, investing in education, skills and our NHS, tackling crime and introducing tougher sentencing for those who commit the most heinous crimes, as well as concluding our trade negotiations with the EU.’  

Mr Johnson is also rumoured to be planning a Cabinet reshuffle in the coming weeks which could see Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson on the chopping block.

The two cabinet ministers suffered huge embarrassment this year amid the A Level results debacle and massive test and trace failures.

A source told the Mirror: ‘The PM is desperate to move on from internal warfare and show he’s got a firm grip on things. 

‘He thinks one way of doing that is to shake up his top team.’

Some insiders have claimed Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove could be drafted into take over either Mr Williamson’s or Mr Hancock’s current role.

Shortly after the Prime Minister announced that he had contracted coronavirus in March, Miss Symonds took to Twitter to say she too was exhibiting symptoms. 

She wrote: ‘I’ve spent the past week in bed with the main symptoms of Coronavirus. I haven’t needed to be tested and, after seven days of rest, I feel stronger and I’m on the mend.’

During an interview in May, the PM revealed just how serious his condition became.

Doctors were prepared to announce his death in case he lost his coronavirus battle, the PM said, admitting he was ‘a lucky man’.

Mr Johnson confirmed he was ‘not in particularly brilliant shape’ while battling the disease at St Thomas’ Hospital in central London and he was given ‘litres and litres’ of oxygen as medics fought to keep him alive in intensive care. 

He recalled his frustration that he could not seem to shake the virus and described how the sobering experience allowed him to see the ‘fantastic’ care offered by the NHS.

‘I realised it was getting pretty serious’, he told the Sun on Sunday, 

‘And I remember saying to myself, ”How am I going to get out of this?”’ 

He added: ‘To be honest, the doctors had all sorts of plans for what to do if things went badly wrong.

‘I was not in particularly brilliant shape because the oxygen levels in my blood kept going down.

‘But it was thanks to some wonderful, wonderful nursing that I made it. They really did it and they made a huge difference.’

The Prime Minister said staff nurse Luis Pitarma, 29, and ward sister Jenny McGee, 35, watched over him for 48 hours, giving him the vital care he needed. 

In a video recorded shortly after he was discharged, Mr Johnson thanked the ‘utterly brilliant’ doctors, and praised the nurses for their ‘astonishing’ care. 

He said: ‘I want to thank the many nurses, men and women, whose care has been so astonishing. I am going to forget some names, so forgive me, but I want to thank Po Ling and Shannon and Emily and Angel and Connie and Becky and Rachael and Nicky and Ann.’

Mr Johnson reserved special acclaim for two more, who he described as ‘Jenny from New Zealand, Invercargill on the South Island to be exact, and Luis from Portugal, near Porto’. 

He continued: ‘The reason in the end my body did start to get enough oxygen was because for every second of the night they were watching and they were thinking and they were caring and making the interventions I needed.’ 

Ms McGee has been in the UK for eight years after studying here then moving to St Thomas’ in central London.She previously worked at the Royal Melbourne Hospital for six years where she did her intensive care training.

Mr Pitarma, 29, was born in Aveiro, just 30 miles from Porto,  and is thought to have moved to London in 2014 after completing his medical qualifications in Lisbon. 

News of the PM’s isolation came as the UK reported a further 168 Covid deaths and 24,962 new cases. 

Sunday’s death toll is a rise of just 7.7 per cent on the 156 deaths reported last Sunday in a hopeful sign that fatalities may be flattening out.   

Ward sister Jenny McGee

Staff nurse Luis Pitarma

Ward sister Jenny McGee, left, and staff nurse Luis Pitarma, right, were singled out for praise by Prime Minister Boris Johnson after treating him during his stay in intensive care 

Mr Pitarma, from Aveiro, Portgual, circled in red, with colleagues. The nurse helped save Mr Johnson's life and was praised by Portugal's President

Mr Pitarma, from Aveiro, Portgual, circled in red, with colleagues. The nurse helped save Mr Johnson’s life and was praised by Portugal’s President

Mr Johnson's video message from inside no 10, after he was discharged from hospital

Mr Johnson’s video message from inside no 10, after he was discharged from hospital

The total number of cases reported on Sunday is 21 per cent higher than the figure recorded last Sunday. 

However, Sunday’s case load is one of the lower numbers seen this week after the Government recorded 26,860 positive tests yesterday, 27,301 on Friday and a massive 33,470 on Thursday.

Furthermore, ONS figures released this week showed that while daily case totals have been increasing recently, they are doing so at a slower rate than previous weeks.

Figures are usually lower on Sunday and Monday due to reporting delays over the weekend. 

This weekend the head of the ONS said that growth in infections is ‘slowing’. 

Professor Sir Ian Diamond says that while there remains an increase in the number of Covid cases, the data shows a ‘slowdown in the rate of growth’, providing a small ray of hope for an end to harsh countrywide restrictions. 

He told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday that Britain is in the grip of a second wave spurred on by teenagers and young adults – who are also starting to see a drop in the rate of infections.

Sir Ian said: ‘The good news is – yes – we are seeing a slow down in the rate of growth.

‘That means we’re still increasing and we are now in England at 1.25 per 1,000. That means that one in 85 people in England, we believe, have the virus.

‘In Wales, a little less at one in 100, in Scotland one in 135 and Northern Ireland one in 105. So yes we are continuing to increase the numbers, but the rate of growth is slowing.’   

England recorded 21,998 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, while Wales reported 1,333. Scotland recorded 1,159 and Northern Ireland reported 472 new cases.

People gather outside St George's Hall in Liverpool during an anti-lockdown rally protest against government restrictions during the second lockdown

People gather outside St George’s Hall in Liverpool during an anti-lockdown rally protest against government restrictions during the second lockdown

Anti lockdown protestors march through Bristol city centre today. It comes despite Priti Patel banning demonstrations duration of the second lockdown

Anti lockdown protestors march through Bristol city centre today. It comes despite Priti Patel banning demonstrations duration of the second lockdown

It comes as a weekly report from the Office for National Statistics found that England’s outbreak had stayed relatively flat in the first week of November, with only a four per cent rise in daily infections, indicating a potential slow down in the virus’ spread.

NUMBER OF PATIENTS IN LIVERPOOL HOSPITALS DROPPED 15% BEFORE LOCKDOWN

The number of coronavirus patients being treated in hospitals in Liverpool fell by 15 per cent in the week before the second national lockdown, according to official NHS data that further calls into question whether the autumn shutdown was justified. 

Ministers abandoned the three-tier scheme, which only came into force on October 14, last month and went with the crude national intervention, claiming that beds would soon be overrun.

Yet NHS England figures show there were 413 people with Covid-19 at Liverpool University Hospitals, the city’s biggest trust, on November 5, the day the country went into the second lockdown. This marked a 13 per cent drop from the 475 who were being treated the week prior, on October 30.

Liverpool – the country’s former Covid hotspot – was one of the areas in England living under the strictest Tier Three restrictions, which prohibited residents from meeting people they didn’t live with and saw pubs forced to close.

NHS England figures show there were 413 people with Covid-19 at Liverpool University Hospitals on November 5, down from the 475 who were being treated on October 30

NHS England figures show there were 413 people with Covid-19 at Liverpool University Hospitals on November 5, down from the 475 who were being treated on October 30

It offers more proof the tiered system was starting to work in controlling the epidemic – experts say interventions take about three weeks to have a statistically-noticeable effect – and casts doubt about whether the economically-crippling lockdown was needed.

However, it is true the trust is treating more Covid-19 patients than at the peak of the first wave – for comparison, there were 346 people with the virus in Liverpool’s hospitals on April 12. But the trust is thought to have at least 1,600 total beds, and, as of November 5, 1,268 were occupied by patients of all conditions. It suggests the trust, which cancelled scores of non-urgent operations to make room, is currently operating at 80 per cent occupancy – making it quieter than it was last December.

Major trusts in other Tier Three areas also saw declines in the number of Covid-19 patients in their hospitals before the second lockdown, suggesting the most stringent local measures were not given enough time to work.

For example, St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust in Merseyside was treating 105 people with the disease on November 5 compared to 118 the week before. A similar story is playing out in Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, where beds occupied by Covid-19 fell from 188 to 142 in the same time period.

But other Tier Three areas like Manchester and Lancashire have not seen a fall in Covid-19 hospital admissions – yet. Though the measures were not enforced until late October in these areas, which means the benefits could take another week or so to translate into the hospital data. This is because of the lag in time it takes for Covid-19 patients to fall seriously ill enough to need treatment. 

Professor Paul Hunter, an epidemiologist at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline: ‘I’ve got no doubts that Tier Three was working, personally I think the data is very clear that Tier Three was sufficient to bring down cases and I think most local authorities in Tier Two were working as well.’

A graph from the Office for National Statistics shows that while the number of infections in England has increased in recent weeks, the rate of increase is slower than previous weeks.

And another graph shows that positive cases are increasing most in the south east, south west, east Midlands and the north east of the country. 

SAGE scientists have warned Christmas is still in jeopardy unless social distancing rules are toughened up after England’s second lockdown.

Professor Susan Michie, a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), urged the public to resist breaking current rules, to ‘be in a position’ to spend the festive period with loved ones.

She also suggested that the announcement of a potential Covid-19 vaccine could lead to complacency with the measures, adding that the jab will make ‘no difference’ to the current wave. 

In other coronavirus news this weekend:

  • One of the scientists behind the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine says he’s confident that normal life will return by next winter;
  • Tens of millions of British-made Covid-19 vaccines could be rolled out by December, it has been claimed; 
  • The Health Secretary Matt Hancock has vowed to ring-fence a supply of coronavirus swabs for family visitors in the run-up to Christmas; 
  • Police yesterday scuffled with anti-lockdown and antivaxxer protestors and made dozens of arrests in Bristol and Liverpool city centres; 
  • Healthcare providers will be able to source products from manufacturers to sell to customers, but any such orders will be put at the ‘back of the queue’, according to government sources.

It comes after documents released by Sage on Friday warned that a return to the tiered system of coronavirus restrictions will see infections rise again.

When asked what should replace current restrictions when lockdown ends, Prof Michie told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘It’s too early to know. I think the next two weeks is going to be absolutely crucial.

‘They’re going to be a very challenging two weeks, partly because of the weather, partly because, I think, the promise of a vaccine may be making people feel complacent.

‘But the vaccine is very unlikely to come in until the end of the year or beginning of next year and that’s going to make no difference to the current second wave.

‘So I think for the next two weeks, everybody has to really get all their resolve together.’

Prof Michie, a behavioural scientist at University College London, advised the public to ‘really pay attention to resisting any urges to break the rules’ on social distancing and visiting other households.

‘Because that will maximise the chance that in two weeks’ time, on December 2, we’re in a position where actually we don’t have to continue the lockdown,’ she added.

‘And better still, what everybody wants, is to be in a position where they can spend the Christmas and winter holiday times with loved ones.’

When asked if this meant the gains during lockdown would be lost, Prof Michie said she was ‘quite hopeful’ after tough measures in Wales and Northern Ireland brought transmission rates down.

Newly-released documents, written the day before the second national lockdown was imposed, show a consensus statement prepared by a modelling subgroup of Sage raised concerns about returning to the tier system.

Modelling found that if the lockdown is ‘well-adhered to’, it is likely to reduce the reproduction number to less than 1, with hospital admissions and deaths expected to fall until at least the second week of December.

But the document, dated November 4, added: ‘If England returns to the same application of the tiering system in place before November 5, then transmission will return to the same rate of increase as today.’

Other documents from late October state that any hopes of families gathering at Christmas will also be dependent on the R value staying below 1 for ‘some time’. 

Meanwhile, confusion is emerging over how well the three-tiered system worked, as a senior Government adviser yesterday admitted that Tier Three does work and had been ‘having the effect it needed to have’ before England’s second lockdown started.

SAGE insisted, however, that it still isn’t clear whether the Tier Three rules are strong enough to keep the R rate below one in the longer term. R, which measures how many people each Covid-infected person passes the virus on to, must stay lower than one for an outbreak to shrink.

Promising figures published Friday by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) ¿ behind a surveillance scheme that randomly swabs tens of thousands of people to track the size of the outbreak ¿ suggested the country's coronavirus outbreak had slowed down. While the number of infections in England has increased in recent weeks, the rate of increase is slower that previous weeks

Promising figures published Friday by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) – behind a surveillance scheme that randomly swabs tens of thousands of people to track the size of the outbreak – suggested the country’s coronavirus outbreak had slowed down. While the number of infections in England has increased in recent weeks, the rate of increase is slower that previous weeks

Promising figures published Friday by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) ¿ behind a surveillance scheme that randomly swabs tens of thousands of people to track the size of the outbreak ¿ suggested the country's coronavirus outbreak had slowed down

An Office for National Statistics graph shows that positive cases are increasing most in the south east, south west, east Midlands and the north east of the country

Boris Johnson and his advisers have already confirmed England will return to a tiered local lockdown system in December, but exactly how it will look is not yet clear – SAGE advisers say it must be able to tighten the screw even more than in the past.

However, real-world data suggests that Tier Three rules already work well enough to bring the R at least to one, if not lower. 

COVID TEST POSITIVE RATE DROPS FOR FIRST TIME IN THREE MONTHS 

The percentage of coronavirus tests that come back positive has dropped for the first time in England in almost three months, according to official data. 

It raises further hopes that the country is getting a better grip on its second wave and may already be through the thick of it.

Experts say one of the most accurate and fair ways to track the virus’ trajectory is to look at test positivity rates – the proportion of swabs that come back positive.  

If a country has a high positivity rate it means the centralised system is struggling to keep up with the outbreak. But a low rate means only a small amount of the population actually have the disease.

A weekly Public Health England report published yesterday found 9.7 per cent of Pillar 2 tests carried out in the week up to November 8 yielded a positive result. This was down from 10.2 per cent the seven days prior.

It marks the first time the Pillar 2 test positivity rate has dropped since the week ending August 2. Pillar 2 are those done in testing centres, drive-through clinics and in people’s homes – which account for the vast majority of all tests. 

Pillar 1 tests – those done in hospitals – were also down week-on-week, dropping from 4.8 per cent to 4.5 per cent. It was the first time this figure had fallen since the week up to August 23.  

It comes as Britain announced another 33,470 positive cases on Thursday – 39 per cent more than last Thursday – despite indicators showing the outbreak is slowing down.

The case count is the highest since the Covid-19 outbreak began and comes a week after England’s second national lockdown started. It is an increase from 22,950 on Thursday.

Unofficial statistics, however, suggest that the country’s outbreak had already started to slow down and shrink before the lockdown began on November 5, and it is expected to continue shrinking throughout November during the stringent rules.

SAGE’s official estimate yesterday put the R rate in the North West – based on data from before the national lockdown and from during Tier Three – at between 0.9 and 1.1. This was down from a high of between 1.3 and 1.5 in mid-October, before Tier Three.

Department of Health testing data also shows that infection rates plummeted in Liverpool under the local lockdown rules, from a rate of 681 cases per 100,000 people to just 274 per 100,000 last week. 

Yesterday, the UK confirmed another 27,301 positive coronavirus tests and 376 deaths from Covid-19. Two more reports have added to the wealth of data showing England’s second wave started to level off last week.

SAGE’s own estimate of the R rate, based on data from before the national lockdown, saw it fall for the third time in a month to somewhere between 1.0 and 1.2 across the UK, down from 1.1 to 1.3 last week. This is the first time the advisers have thought R could be down to one since early September.

And in a weekly update from the Office for National Statistics, mass testing revealed that there were 47,700 new infections per day in England in the week up to November 6, up only marginally from the 45,700 the week before. It said infections ‘remains at about 50,000 new cases per day’.  

In a paper dated November 4 SPI-M, a group of scientists who crunch numbers for SAGE, warned that there still isn’t strong evidence that Tier Three lockdowns are tough enough to keep R below one.

The rules, which included the closure of pubs and bans on households mixing, were put in place over much of the North of England before a national shutdown was called. 

SPI-M said: ‘If England returns to the same application of the tiering system in place before 5th November then transmission will return to the same rate of increase as today.’ 

The experts added: ‘It is not yet clear whether tier 3 measures alone are sufficient to reduce the reproduction number below one.’ 

Released today by SAGE, the paper comes – confusingly – as a senior Government adviser admitted this afternoon that Tier Three was working well. The source added that Tier Two was also having the desired effect in some areas, though not as much as in Tier Three areas.

In the harshest tier, residents were prohibited from meeting people they didn’t live with and saw pubs were forced to close – but gyms, non-essential shops and restaurants could stay open.

In Tier Two, people were banned from mingling with anyone outside their own homes as well, but pubs could stay open. All three tiers had to abide by the national rules that were in place at the time including the 10pm curfew and rule of six.

But the expert, who wished to remain anonymous, suggested the scheme was not driving down infections quick enough because they came too late. SAGE had been warning for weeks that a ‘circuit-breaker’ would be needed to reset the epidemic and get it under control after a spike in cases in early autumn.  

Leader of the Oxford University and AstraZeneca-backed trial, Professor Andrew Pollard, says the team is 'optimistic' about getting the go-ahead for the 'miracle' vaccine by Christmas time

Leader of the Oxford University and AstraZeneca-backed trial, Professor Andrew Pollard, says the team is ‘optimistic’ about getting the go-ahead for the ‘miracle’ vaccine by Christmas time

They said ministers were keen to let families meet up during the festive period and not cancel Christmas – and under the tiered strategy that was not going to be possible.   

A separate paper, dated October 28, warned that social distancing could be loosened for a ‘limited time’ over Christmas if transmission gets low enough for NHS Test and Trace to keep on top of the outbreak. 

Creator of Covid vaccine is ‘confident’ life will return to normal by next winter 

One of the scientists behind the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine says he’s confident that normal life will return by next winter.

Professor Ugur Sahin, chief executive of BioNTech, said it was ‘absolutely essential’ to have a high vaccination rate before autumn next year to ensure success.

He acknowledged that the next few months will be ‘hard’ and that the promising preliminary results on the vaccine, created in partnership with Pfizer, will not have an impact on infection numbers in the current wave.

Interim results from the jab were found to be more than 90% effective, the two firms announced last week, but safety and additional efficacy data continue to be collected. 

‘If everything continues to go well, we will start to deliver the vaccine end of this year, beginning next year,’ Prof Sahin told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

‘Our goal is to deliver more than 300 million of vaccine doses until April next year, which could allow us to already start to make an impact.

‘The bigger impact will happen until summer, the summer will help us anyway because the infection rate will go down in summer.’

He added: ‘What is absolutely essential is that we get a high vaccination rate before autumn/winter next year, so that means all the immunisation, vaccination approaches must be accomplished before next autumn.

‘I’m confident that this will happen, because a number of vaccine companies have been asked to increase the supply, and so that we could have a normal winter next year.’ 

For this to happen, they said interventions must push R well below one and ‘maintain that for some time’. However, the scientists noted that the only time this has happened so far was during the March/April lockdown.

In a different ‘high and controlled’ cases scenario, which experts believe the UK is in at the moment but with potential for cases to drop, there would be ‘little to no scope for loosening of social distancing rules over Christmas’. 

A third scenario predicts a much worse outcome but is when Government interventions ‘are not sufficient to stop epidemic growth’, SPI-M said.

But SPI-M said stricter controls will then be needed than the three-tier system that was in place before lockdown.

It said: ‘The longer-term outlook depends on both the nature of non-pharmaceutical interventions that are implemented in England after December 2 and policies over the festive period.

‘If England returns to the same application of the tiering system in place before November 5, then transmission will return to the same rate of increase as today.’ 

It is hoped that R will drop in more places next week and the week after, as people remain under lockdown restrictions.

Professor Chris Whitty said in October the tiered system on its own was ‘not enough to get on top’ of the autumn epidemic, adding to SPI-M’s newly revealed concern that it may not be enough to surpress the virus in future, either. 

The expert who spoke yesterday said some form of the tiered system would need to remain in place in December to keep driving infections down further when the country re-emerges from the shutdown. 

‘On Tier Three, evidence looks like Tier Three in most places gets the R to one or below. That does have the effect needed to have,’ they said.

‘Tier Two in some places does the same depending on the place and how much it’s adhered to. Tier One doesn’t look like it does it. This gives you idea sorts of measures needed in future after lockdown to keep it under control.’  

When pressed, they would not give his opinion on relaxing measures at Christmas to let families spend the holidays together and said it was purely a ‘policy decision, not one for science’. 

SAGE fought tooth and nail for the second lockdown, presenting the Government with increasingly gloomy models that predicted thousands of daily deaths and hospitals being overwhelmed by December.

It is hard to judge the effects of the three-tier system because it was only used properly for a fortnight before the national lockdown was announced.

But there have been a number of signs to suggest the darkest forecasts would never have come true.  

SAGE’s estimate of the R rate declining is cause for optimism because it is based on back-dated information taken from before the national lockdown began. 

A health care worker injects the a syringe of the phase 3 trial of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine at Ankara University Faculty of Medicine, in Turkey last month

A health care worker injects the a syringe of the phase 3 trial of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine at Ankara University Faculty of Medicine, in Turkey last month

This means any changes that can be seen in it happened without the strictest nationwide measures in place – they may well have been driven by the tiered system. 

The group, which is led by the UK’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, said yesterday: ‘SAGE is confident that the epidemic has continued to grow in England over recent weeks. 

‘Although there is some evidence that the rate of growth in some parts of the country may be slowing, levels of disease are very high in these areas; significant levels of healthcare demand and mortality will persist until R is reduced to and remains well below 1 for an extended period of time.’ 

SAGE said the R rate is highest in the South West, where it is likely between 1.2 and 1.4 and in the East, at between 1.1 and 1.4. And it is lowest in the North West at between 0.9 and 1.1 and in London and the North East and Yorkshire, at between 1.0 and 1.2.  

Scientist leading Oxford University’s AstraZeneca backed trial says tens of millions of doses are ready to be rolled out by the end of the year 

Tens of millions of British-made Covid-19 vaccines could be rolled out by December, it has been claimed.  

Leader of the Oxford University and AstraZeneca-backed trial, Professor Andrew Pollard, says the team is ‘optimistic’ about getting the go-ahead for the ‘miracle’ vaccine by Christmas time.

The academic says their anti-viral would be ten times cheaper than Pfizer‘s product – which requires two injections several weeks apart and has to be stored at -78C. 

He told the Sun their vaccine is stored at ‘fridge temperature’ and is very close to demonstrating ‘efficacy’ – which Pfizer proved on its own version on Monday.  

Professor Pollard said: ‘We have been working tirelessly all year and can’t wait to see the results in the months ahead.

‘We are a small academic team in Oxford. It is a miracle that we have been able to conduct large scale trials in record speed.

‘Our partner AZ will deliver the vaccine on a not-for-profit basis.’

It comes after the Government said a further 462 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Saturday.

As of 9am on Saturday, there had been a further 26,860 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK, slightly down from 27,301 on Friday.

And British drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline has raised hopes of another Covid vaccine being made available early next year after revealing that it has already manufactured ‘millions of doses’.

Roger Connor, its president of global vaccines, told The Mail on Sunday that GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) had launched mass production and was now set to move into the final stage of trials.

‘We’re already getting into the millions of doses manufactured,’ he added. ‘We’re fully resourced and moving – in fact, we were celebrating starting up our Belgium facility the week before last.

British drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline has raised hopes of another Covid vaccine being made available early next year after revealing that it has already manufactured ¿millions of doses¿. Pictured: Headquarters in west London

British drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline has raised hopes of another Covid vaccine being made available early next year after revealing that it has already manufactured ‘millions of doses’. Pictured: Headquarters in west London 

 

People wearing face coverings queue for a coronavirus test at a centre in Liverpool

People wearing face coverings queue for a coronavirus test at a centre in Liverpool

‘You can imagine the sense of pride that creates in people working on it. They are completely buzzing because they know they’re going to make a difference.’

It comes after American giant Pfizer last week revealed its Covid vaccine is 90 per cent effective and could be available before Christmas.

GSK has committed to producing a billion doses of its jab next year and has previously said it was aiming for safety approval in the ‘first half of 2021’.

However, news of the ramp-up in manufacturing and progression of the trials will raise hopes the company can gain approval even earlier, opening up the possibility that its vaccine could be available by the spring.

Healthcare providers will be able to source products from manufacturers like BioNTech/Pfizer and Astrazeneca/Oxford to sell to customers, but any such orders will be put at the 'back of the queue', according to government sources

Healthcare providers will be able to source products from manufacturers like BioNTech/Pfizer and Astrazeneca/Oxford to sell to customers, but any such orders will be put at the ‘back of the queue’, according to government sources

GSK has committed to producing a billion doses of its jab next year (stock image) and has previously said it was aiming for safety approval in the ¿first half of 2021'

GSK has committed to producing a billion doses of its jab next year (stock image) and has previously said it was aiming for safety approval in the ‘first half of 2021’

The results of trials by UK giant AstraZeneca and Oxford University – which are working together on a vaccine – could come as early as this week or next week. Meanwhile, America’s Johnson & Johnson and Moderna are also thought to be nearing announcements.

GSK is working in three international tie-ups to develop an effective injection, all of which are set to move to the final stages of testing.

GSK is producing a so-called adjuvant – an ingredient used to create a strong immune response – which will be combined with antigens produced by French drugs firm Sanofi, Canada’s Medicago and China’s Clover Biopharmaceuticals, to create a vaccine. The vaccine is being made at sites across the UK, Europe, Canada and the US.

The GSK-Medicago trial of a plant-based vaccine is moving towards its final stages, with 30,000 volunteers across North America, Latin America and potentially Europe included in the tests.

The vaccine being produced by US pharma giant Pfizer (pictured, facility in Puurs, Belgium) and Germany¿s BioNTech is based on newer technology than GSK is using

The vaccine being produced by US pharma giant Pfizer (pictured, facility in Puurs, Belgium) and Germany’s BioNTech is based on newer technology than GSK is using

Mr Connor said trials for the GSK-Clover link-up will begin ‘in a couple of weeks’ and the GSK-Sanofi partnership could move into mass human testing ‘in the next few weeks’ after receiving encouraging results. He added: ‘We’re looking for approval of our vaccines in that first half of 2021 – the world’s going to need them.’

The vaccine being produced by US pharma giant Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech is based on newer technology than GSK is using.

As a result, Pfizer’s vaccine will need to be stored below minus 70C. The vaccines being developed by GSK, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson can all be stored at normal fridge temperature.

But news of the potential breakthrough comes as a leading expert warned that a limited supply of the raw ingredients needed for Covid vaccines such as Pfizer’s risks leaving much of the world’s population unprotected. 

Andrey Zarur, chief executive of GreenLight Biosciences, said that because the jabs are based on new technology, suppliers of the materials needed to make them do not yet have the capacity to churn out the vast quantities required.

‘The supply chain is just not mature enough. They have existed for laboratory-scale processes, which need nanograms, but they have to go from nanogram scale, to kilogram scale,’ he added.

 



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A touch of light: budgerigars, a postscript  


By MIKE GILLAM

Photo © Mike Gillam

Last week’s essay, Booms, busts and budgerigars, didn’t quite get to the bust part. In this pandemic year, A touch of light was not intended to add to anyone’s anxiety or despair, more to provide imagery of intrigue and beauty combined with interesting and delightful facts. Everyone knows that tragedy is best served with a dressing of hope and while I’ve done my best, events conspire against us.

These include, at the forefront, the harsh realities of inaction around the world and rising summer temperatures. To most Australians it’s unimaginable to contemplate life without air-conditioning and our myriad ‘creature comforts’ but we rarely consider that climatic extremes might pose a lethal threat to our wildlife. 

In Western Australia between January 11 and 17, 2009 at the Overlander Roadhouse in the state’s midwest more than 15,000 birds, mostly budgerigars and zebra finches, dropped dead during a fierce heatwave.

Autopsies revealed that they had indeed died from extreme heat exhaustion caused by temperatures topping 50C.

There are similar historical accounts of birds, mostly zebra finches, dying in droves during heatwaves but it seems likely we will be hearing a lot more of this in the future.

I know a great many Australians grew up in households with a pet budgie named Billie or Bluey. Last week I told the story about our interactions with a budgerigar we called Maximo, a small green bird with a great deal of heart and attitude. A note published in Australian Birdlife in March 2016 provides some evidence for our optimism about the happy ending he may have found, optimism that we all need in difficult times. 

The note, titled “Super Budgie”, came from a group of birders who that year found a dead budgerigar with a leg band, north of the Mungerannie Hotel between Maree and Birdsville.

Wild flocks were active in the area at that time. They inspected the bird and noted its generally healthy condition and concluded it had flown into one of the cables supporting a transmission tower. The leg band was removed and after some sleuthing it was traced to a breeder at White Hills, Victoria who verified that the bird, bred in 2009, had escaped that same year.

This captive bred bird had managed to fly at least 1100 km, joined a flock and survived for over five years in the wild! He finally died on 7 September 2014 in the company of wild budgerigars.

That’s why we can hope that Maximo eventually found his tribe in Centralia and lived happily ever after!

Our climate change future touches every living thing. It seems probable that mass deaths of budgerigars during heatwaves will eclipse the more inspiring reports of sensational budgerigar murmurations that I wrote about last week.

More and more people’s experiences of these remarkable birds are likely to be confined to the blue budgie in a gilded cage that has learnt to mimic its owner and play with its bells. Or look at itself in the mirror to ward off boredom and loneliness.

I post this at a time of great tension and anxiety amongst my friends in the US. The polls have closed in the Presidential elections and the counting has begun.

President Trump has said the United States will withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation. November 4 (tomorrow in the US) is the earliest possible effective withdrawal date.

A Trump defeat can only be good for our friends in the wilds of Centralia. 



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A touch of light: booms, busts and budgerigars


By MIKE GILLAM

All photos © Mike Gillam

Within 15 minutes of the mid-October shower, the first inteleyapeyape (Yeperenye moths) were emerging and next morning the damp ground was pock marked with exit holes where beetles, spiders, ants and centipedes had emerged en masse from a period of subterranean stasis.

The barking spiders cleaned out their holes overnight and applied a fresh ceiling of fine silk and radiating trip ‘wires’ to signal the nearby movement of potential prey.

Sticky tarvine, already well advanced and ready to receive hawk-moth eggs, was spreading rapidly. Within a few weeks the extensive vines supported a crop of Yeperenye caterpillars fattening the predatory birds, wasps and lizards.

Our two local dragons were already digging egg chambers. Gravid females would be conspicuous within weeks and the hatchling dragons would appear in late December and early January.

Hordes of sap sucking bugs continued to congregate on the fresh growing tips of Atalaya hemiglauca (white woods). The duel between tree growth and sugar loving bugs was well advanced and soon the invertebrates would turn to the developing bunches of white flowers forming a blanket of December snow. I selected a damaged seedling bleeding sap and licked off the crystalline liquid to check out the sweet flavour.

The great galah hunger was over and my favourite cockatoos now had a diversity of early Acacia seed and plentiful soft fruits of the bogan flea burr, a favourite, to choose from. Breeding had commenced and baby galahs were visible in hollows.

I was attracted by the sharp ping of berries striking the corrugated iron roof and instinctively peered into the dark green foliage of the white cedar tree (a native of NSW) searching out the ringneck parrots.

A pair of willy wagtails stepped forward to introduce themselves and I noticed the object of their concern, a perfect cup shaped nest with its silken lining of spider web.

The piping call of ringnecks accompanied a fresh clatter of cedar berries and I returned to the onerous task of pulling buffel grass seedlings.

A flight of budgerigars passed overhead. I heard them coming; a rhythmic chirrup, as if the wing beats of the flying host needed to keep time, like rowers in a race across the cloudless sky. Perhaps the flyway over our house is influenced by the presence of nearby hills but I think it’s more about tree cover, shade and lower surface temperatures within the street. In direct contrast much of the surrounding industrial estates are essentially treeless, all rising heat, bitumen and iron roofs, shunned by most birds.

The BOM meteorologist was right when she predicted the probability of a developing La Niña (“sublime spring”, 8 September, Alice News). Repeated rainfall in Darwin at the beginning of October, an early onset to the wet season, seemed to confirm the likelihood of drought breaking rain coming to Centralia this summer.

Over the past three weeks we’ve received some modest showers and lower temperatures that have kept the topsoil moist and increased the sap flow of growing plants. Elsewhere, across the region, localised thunderstorm super cells dumped heavier rain causing minor drainages to flow while less fortunate places missed out altogether.

Stating the obvious, surely there was never a better time to turn your back on exotic failures in your garden and embrace endemic solutions. Try to choose high quality plants carefully cross-matched to local soil conditions. Most species won’t thrive in the full spectrum of alluvial, colluvial and sandy soils, so choosing wisely matters.

If necessary, hire some-one with a post hole digger to help because appropriate preparation of every planting hole is critical. We are mostly focussed on planting trees, less so shrubs, and generally dig a cluster of two or three closely spaced holes collapsing the margins to form one hole, often 70 cm deep. An added benefit of digging so deeply is the occasional discovery of builder’s rubble and waste which must be excavated and removed before planting. (Contractors please note, this dumping is antisocial, at the very least).

Some mulch is added and mixed with soil to reduce compaction, assist water infiltration and rapid development of roots. A couple of wooden stakes straddle the hole and support leafy branches (prunings) that are secured with wire twitches, providing partial shade and summer respite for the young plant. Mulch will help to retain surface moisture.

Regular rainfall and the cooling temperatures that accompany a wet summer will greatly assist planting success.

Tragically, given government inaction around the world, we must anticipate and plan for significant releases of methane and commensurate increases in summer temperatures.

Today’s baby boomers will not bear the brunt of climate change but I can’t believe anyone is feeling relaxed about what’s coming. Wake up, it’s not enough to invest in more and more split system air conditioners and simply retreat from the challenges facing the biosphere. Planting significant and long lived shade trees is harder today than it was twenty years ago and in all likelihood it will be harder next spring than it is right now.

I believe we have a duty to plant vigorous local trees for future generations who might still enjoy the benefits of gardens that embody resilience and the wisdom and generosity of their forebears.

By creating vestiges of useful habitat throughout the suburbs, we will assist wildlife visibly struggling to cope with climate change.

Over several years I regularly climbed onto my house roof and tried to photograph the budgie mobs as they hurtled overhead each morning. These events often lasted for several weeks as small family groups and larger flocks relocated, all flying in the same general direction and responding to information unknown, presumably following thunderstorms or acting on the knowledge of mature birds to locate a seasonal food supply.

Is it the ripening Mitchell grass to the north or the button grass to the south, the woollybutt grass out east or the native millet and golden beard grass I saw in that intermont valley out west?

The white rooftop was blinding and I’d invariably get a suntan under my hat, the sunglasses producing pale rings around my eyes, made infamous by a disturbing politician that keeps millions of people awake at night. Regardless, the roof got me closer and was worth the discomfort. I was after a specific image that showed the birds flying in unison, of a moment when the wings fold tightly to the body; when they somehow redefine and transcend the magic of flight as we see it. I made numerous attempts, out of focus failures most of them, until finally the flock morphed into surreal sky surfers.

Occasionally the wild budgerigars would stop and rest in one of several tall Eucalypts and catch their breath for ten minutes or so. They’d chatter animatedly in the shade and some might flutter down to take a drink at the bird bath near the front door, just a sip or two because they were in travelling mode.

The appearance of a solitary budgie outside my office one summer, calling repeatedly, was a little unusual and I stepped outside to locate the source bird. Clearly distressed, the bird was panting, its wings half open trying to cool down.

Apparently the stranger had overlooked the large pool of water that we provide and watched me intently as I walked to get water and seed. It drank with obvious relief as I stepped back from the ceramic saucer and quickly turned to the nearby scatter of ‘canary’ seed. I sat on the step to my office and studied our guest. This was a large and handsome male but the colour of green did not match the vivid plumage of the wild mob, he was a paler green, known in the aviculture trade as aquamarine.

The escaped pet practically inhaled the seed and finished off with another long guzzle of water before climbing into the mid section of a Grevillea tree outside my door. He was fast asleep within minutes and was still there in the morning, looking dazed and tired so I replenished his food and water.

We provide support as required to a regular stream of lost birds, injured orphans, refugees and needy pensioners and over the years we’ve had more than our fair share of homeless budgies. Most move on within a week to who knows where, perhaps they are compulsive travellers who grew tired of captivity and opted to become suburban nomads. 

Each day we expected the aquamarine would continue his journey into the unknown but instead he seemed to settle in, watching the other birds intently and becoming more and more adventurous.

I began taking photographs of the stranger and soon realised I’d been sent a gift. In the early weeks he’d cower motionless when the alarm calls of white plumed honey eaters and magpie larks reverberated around the garden. Mostly he sensed rather than saw the grey ghost, a sparrowhawk that floated through on silent wings.

Gradually he joined the community of birds and gained in confidence venturing further and further from my office. He was certainly much stronger and within a month he’d mastered the flight paths and airways in the surrounding area. Here in the garden maze at least, the predatory raptors were no match for his newly acquired turn of speed.

Of course there’s a world of difference between a sparrowhawk and a hobby falcon or a peregrine for that matter but the falcons were rare in the general area and never ventured into our gardens.

One day a friend brought their young son to visit the budgerigar, an almost permanent fixture in the Grevillea striata outside my office door. I asked for his help in naming the bird and without hesitation he suggested Maximo.

Weeks became months and Maximo’s behaviour highlighted deeper problems for a flock bird leading a solitary existence. Such a pity that gorgeous blue female budgerigar from earlier in the year didn’t hang around. His amorous approaches to a naturally standoffish crested pigeon were rebuffed but there was something else, something much deeper weighing him down.

The sound of budgerigars flying overhead would always stimulate a burst of frantic chirruping from Maximo and endless failed attempts to fly up and join them.

Foolishly we became invested in the tiny bird’s struggle and actually believed that maybe it was possible for him to make this leap. While the wild budgerigars were sometimes less than 50 metres overhead they were however flying at 60 kph and Maximo simply couldn’t catch them, until one day he did. At the first sound of chirruping Maximo rocketed skyward and promptly vanished, heading N.N.W.

Our intrepid friend returned several hours later utterly spent. He drank and rested but over the next week or so his mood seemed well, sad! He no longer tore around the garden chattering enthusiastically for the simple pleasure of harassing and flushing the flock of ground feeding galahs. Another week passed and the melancholy Maximo abruptly disappeared having lived in our garden nearly four months learning to be semi wild.

Budgerigars are born to be Olympians and those raised in aviaries, we might assume, are physically challenged. But perhaps Maximo eventually found his tribe in Centralia.

The view from the roof rack had me blinking in surprise, an immense whale was floating along, following a range on the northern edge of the Simpson Desert. As I reached for a camera, the whale stretched and morphed into a serpent, the telephoto lens resolving several large flocks of budgerigars coalescing and dividing as they approached my position. Closer and closer they pulsed and chattered on wings that murmured through the mulga.

They are quite simply the largest organism in the sky. Now the lead group of perhaps five hundred performed their shimmering water dance; a spectacular spiralling column of descending green and yellow flashing in the late afternoon sunlight, tails pointing to the water, their rate of descent controlled by the thirst of those drinking at the bottom.

Five thousand more converged on the dam and I drove slowly forward excited in the knowledge that I’d located their latest water point and evening roost.

Some of the photographs I took revealed the exacting tightness of the flock and particularly of family groups within it. Pairs were flying wing tip to wing tip with their offspring in a protective cluster, doubtless bonded tightly by the uniqueness of their repeated calls.

Next morning, I turned a bend in the road and rushing towards me, just above ground level, a torrent of birds filling and spilling over the empty road ahead. Why were they flying so low?

Answering my own question, I realised they were just having fun. Resembling a funnel shaped wave, some ten or twelve metres high and four metres at the base, the leading edge filled the red road and spilled out above and beyond the walls of dense roadside mulga.

Instinctively, I turned off the engine, allowing the vehicle to roll forward engulfed in a whispering cloak of green. I admit to grimacing with concern, bracing for the splatter of bodies on the windscreen and then gasping as the leading wave opened up and swallowed me in a tunnel of green, yellow and black punctuated with sharp chinks of sunlight.

The rustle of 10,000 wings was clearly audible through the closed windows and the sense of flying was accentuated by the speed of the passing birds and the momentum of the rolling vehicle. Beside me with a long lens attached sat the camera and I cursed once more that I didn’t own a second camera body with a wide angle lens at the ready.

At sunset the murmurations were spell binding and I felt a strange sense of guilt that I was the solitary witness of such an epic ballet. The view finder is never expansive enough or close enough.

It took all my willpower to stay the course, to hunt as a falcon might, seeking the single frames that tell a story and not surrender to the easy splendour of a cinematic sequence that captures the ballet but less so, the performers. 

 

Resisting the temptation to review what I’d captured I drove home on the power of memory alone, elated. Back in the office I downloaded the frames and began the task of editing. I’m never really content with the final results but there’s a few frames that make the effort worthwhile and tomorrow’s another dawn with potential murmurations at sunrise and sunset.

 

 

 



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India in touch with China for mutual solution to Ladakh standoff


New Delhi said “the Indo-Pacific region was a particular focus” of the recent 2+2 talks with the United States

New Delhi: India on Thursday said it has “maintained communications” with China “to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution to the situation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh and restore full peace and tranquillity” there.

In yet another veiled message to China, New Delhi said “the Indo-Pacific region was a particular focus” of the recent 2+2 talks at the foreign and defence ministerial level with the United States, and “reiterated the importance of peace, stability and prosperity for all countries in this region”, adding that this was “possible only by upholding the rules based international order, ensuring the freedom of navigation in the international seas, promoting open connectivity and respecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states”.

 

In a statement, the MEA said, “The last round of the Senior Commander talks held on 12 October enabled in-depth discussions between the two sides resulting in enhanced understanding of each other’s positions. The two sides had agreed to maintain dialogue through military and diplomatic channels, and arrive at a mutually acceptable solution for disengagement as early as possible. They had also agreed to implement the understandings reached by the leaders of the two countries, not to turn differences into disputes, and jointly safeguard peace and tranquility in the border areas.”

The MEA Spokesperson added, “Accordingly we have maintained communications with the Chinese side with a view to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution to the situation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh and restore full peace and tranquility. As regards the next round of talks, we will let you know when we have further information to share.  … There is no connection between this and any extraneous issue. 

 



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A touch of light: kangaroo clans


By MIKE GILLAM

All photos © Mike Gillam

Like a great many preschool children of 1950s Australia, my early interest in wild animals was primed by photographers and film-makers working in Africa and the USA. Invariably these offerings focused on iconic species, mostly very large, so big cats, elephants, rhinos and bears led the charge. Australian wildlife came a poor second but familiar kangaroos, dingoes, emus and koalas, while quite poorly understood, were treasured elements in our emerging sense of national identity.

Suburbia was enriched with shards of remnant bush so I was always exploring and bringing back various wonders such as red back spiders and the spectacular emperor gum caterpillars to show my parents. These beautiful moth larvae were huge, the size of an adult human index finger; exquisite duck egg blue on the dorsum and coloured spires decorated with celebratory sparklers. (Little did I know that years later my adult gaze would turn so emphatically to the arid heart of the continent with its sacred caterpillar totems.)

The blue caterpillar was admired but the large female red-back in my open palm was unceremoniously dispatched with a rapid downward stroke of a straw broom. As I wiped the spider smudge from my stinging palm my distraught mother explained the dangers of spiders in a voice that broached no argument. I was conflicted, feeling at once sorry for the soft velvety spider and more than a little shocked by the accuracy and ferocity of her blow. Fortunately, my childhood was not blighted by broom phobia and for a time programs such as David Attenborough’s Zoo Quest series, 1954-63, satisfied my interest in more dangerous wildlife.

Looking back, I do wonder if the absent lion, grizzly bear thing has mocked Australian masculinity from the beginning of colonisation.  Dangerous snakes can be pretty scary but they have the sense to remain mostly hidden and an experienced snake catcher can neutralise a brown snake in less than a minute, so not much of a contest there. Our sense of nationhood, a strenuously promoted image of bronzed bushmen living in the harsh outback, demanded a mammalian adversary, something with arms and legs and capable of a sustained struggle. A flesh eating predator would be ideal. Such a pity that Tasmanian devils aren’t as big as Rottweilers, now that would help us overcome our nation’s gladiator inferiority complex.

Desperate for a credible adversary we played up the threat posed by kangaroos; what a stretch for mild mannered herbivores. For all their imaginary powers, they differ little from oversized rodents except they have a pouch. When showmen put boxing gloves on traumatised and abused bucks for the purposes of crass entertainment, the investment of myth-making in kangaroos reached a new low.

The 1891 story of Jack, the fighting Kangaroo with Professor Lendermann” in the magazine Melbourne Punch is the earliest record I could find of this bizarre but popular enterprise. Many boxing kangaroo acts followed, some touring London and the US but the macropod stars, appearing in rowdy and hilarious demonstrations daily, typically had short ‘careers’.

A circus blend of bizarre, cruel and comedic, the boxing ‘roo act has lost popularity in recent decades but it’s still possible to view such contests on YouTube along with unscripted fights between dogs and kangaroos that are particularly distressing.

I daresay many paid challengers, or should I say ‘actors’, took a fall after a ‘roo tap, to the delight of the paying spectators. Because of their superior height male red kangaroos, suitably confused and separated from their mob, were favoured for this spectacle. Notwithstanding that a well aimed double-barrel kick from their powerful hind legs has some potential for causing harm, their gentle features and delicate slender wrists never did look convincing to this small child.

Seriously, the paralysis tick of north Queensland knocks the ‘roo out of the ‘dangerous’ corner any day but our nation has a natural aversion to identifiers that are well, embarrassingly small. This is a contest of the biggest swinging you know what!

Yes, I know we have aquatic threats such as crocs and great whites but on land most of the continent is incredibly, stupefyingly safe from predators. There is nothing ripping through the fragile skin of our tent, no real threat from an unseen presence prowling beyond the firelight. Nothing that wants to eat human flesh, although now there is a certain virus that’s having an impact more shocking than all our worst nightmares combined. Fear not, you can buy boxing kangaroo, non-medical, face masks online!

I’ve heard various stories, usually greatly exaggerated because we have this human need for the colourful, of large male reds shot in the guts and mortally wounded, besting men and dogs. As a young man I confronted one such red kangaroo on the side of the road where it was propped up on its huge balancing tail, unsteady on two shattered hind legs. I’ll never forget his pain crazed face and glazed eyes. This was one of the few moments in my life that I wished for a gun but settled for a tyre lever. I cursed the indifference of the driver who’d left him in a pool of dried blood for what must have been hours. With considerable effort I dragged the carcass well away from the roadside so that eagles would not meet the same fate. I estimate he exceeded 75 kg.

The euro, Macropus robustus, is generally stockier but no less gentle and fearful. I’ve spent more than a decade trying to document their private lives and like the film makers Jan Aldenhoven and Glen Carruthers who brought us their acclaimed 1992 Kangaroos – faces in the mob, I soon discovered the endearing individuality of every member in our local mob. I can hear cries of stop this anthropomorphising human, masquerading as a detached photographer. Fair enough.

They are simple animals that display patient affection for their demanding young and a love of winter sun, resting in the summer shade, drinking clean water and feasting on fresh herbage. Unsuccessfully I search for words to describe their spirit and settle on beguiling and innocent.

There it is, words fail me and I decide to let the photographs fill the gaps.

I have a lucid moment and remove from the shortlist the cutest images of females with their joeys and more importantly, those of large muscular males looking like prize fighters and finally one showing a young male living near the Olive Pink botanical gardens. The animal has a huge open gash around his torso from a wire snare that still cut whenever he moved. Town Council rangers made a serious effort to dart the animal and remove the wire noose but the euro died during the attempt.

I have great memories of watching euros play in the half light of dawn, of families sprawled in the shade taking it in turns to be alert and watchful. There’s one valley I know that functions as a maternity site and nearby the final resting place for the lingering few, those that have cheated the usual violent death that awaits the old and frail, the young and naive.

As privileged humans most of us will never comprehend their vulnerabilities, fear and pain as they are hunted by wild dogs or bow-hunters or people who can’t shoot straight or worse, those who use illegal wire snares. Euros fear predatory people and canines most of all. Initially the males stay around to help protect the vulnerable young from these and other threats such as wedge-tailed eagles but they disengage as the joeys become less dependent. The sub-adults continue to hang out with their mother for many months learning the ways of life in the rocky hills even as she nurses a new joey in the pouch.

Shade and water are macropod essentials, even more so for these climate change losers. They need deep shade to keep cool and on hot days they can be observed assiduously licking forearms and inner hind legs, anywhere they can reach surface veins and arteries with their tongues. The wet skin helps to lower their body temperature, an essential behaviour for macropods with relatively few sweat glands.

I’ve come to know them very well; over time I gave them names so I can keep track and because it encourages me to care more about their welfare. Mostly I call them Alpha 1,2, 3, Beta 1,2,3 for both males and females but there’s also ‘Curly’ on account of his torn up ears. He was an old favourite that played with the joeys unlike Alpha 2, a sex starved contender male who terrorised all during brief appearances when Alpha 1 was travelling. Shaky, as her name implies is a young female that trembles dramatically if I make inadvertent eye contact.

Most of the males have ear damage, nicks and splits while the females don’t. I suppose this implies that the males damage one another with their raking front feet when they’re engaged in ritual combat. Some of the ear damage however seems more likely attributable to dogs. There’s even one or two on the outskirts of town who have no ears, just ragged stumps. Certainly I’ve watched male euros take the heat and try to draw off the dogs while the females and joeys make good their escape, so dogs are probably a factor.

The euros returned to our area after we trapped the runamok dogs and the Town Council rangers made some traction educating and fining the owners. This was a vital step in working with the country.

Before our grazing herbivores returned, the hillside was choked with introduced buffel grass and the resulting wildfires were impacting severely on the sacred wild orange trees. The euros continue to thrive, in part because of the dense buffel grass and their ability to browse Acacias when times are really tough.

Euro males have especially well developed forearms that are used for pulling down Acacia branches and equally important for tearing up shrubs as part of the territorial marking process. They adore the flowers of Acacia victoriae while their smaller relative, the black flanked rock wallaby, goes to considerable effort to find possibly their favourite food, the gorgeous trumpet flowers of spear bush, Pandorea doratoxylon.

I face a few moral dilemmas taking photographs of our mob, primarily how to avoid building kangaroo/human trust when such trust might be fatally misplaced. That said, the euro populations inhabiting the rocky hills encircling the town, thrive and survive precisely because so many people do notice them and the difficulties of their everyday lives. For our most persecuted wildlife resident, local people provide reliable water, shady verandahs and supplementary food during the drought years.

Naturally I mostly use long lenses and I’ve found that crawling and slithering on the ground is the best way to hang out with the macropods and avoid alarming them. If I get too close to Alpha 1’s current girlfriend he might stand up and stare intently whereupon I slither away and we’re cool.

I’ve never felt threatened by any of the big males encountered over the past decade. Once or twice I was challenged by Alpha 2 and I simply stood up, made myself big, widely spaced gorilla arms, stamped my foot and cough barked once or twice until he backed off.

Young males frequently engage in ritualised combat, slapping at each other’s faces and attempting to kick their opponent in the belly, chest or groin. I’ve seen many of these bouts and never seen significant injury. In fact, young male joeys initiate these physical play fights with their tolerant mums who must endure months of practice until their offspring find an equally enthusiastic sparring partner.

More serious interactions occur when the dominant male discovers a subordinate competitor attempting to mate with a clan female. On a good day a hard stare from Alpha 1 is sufficient and the challenger flees. Sometimes a chase ensues until both males are quite exhausted or until the dominant male pins the loser to the ground, straddling him and using his superior weight to make a point.

My favourite female euro shows obvious pleasure when she sees me, typically standing tall, leaning back, thrusting her stomach forward and tilting her head back. She acknowledges me by pointing her chin in my direction and I find myself responding in kind. In truth I’m just as likely to adopt some of these macropod mannerisms when I’m interacting with my own species.

Within the town area of Alice Springs arrenge still browses the shrubline on sacred sites that celebrate and honour this sacred totem. To the north east, remnant populations of arrwe, the rock wallaby, still grace the boulder fields and scree slopes between the town and the Telegraph station reserve.

This endangered species has vanished from much of its former range, a likely victim of predation by cats and foxes combined with competitive grazing pressure from rabbits. Their marvellous persistence in Alice Springs has little to do with good management and should not be taken for granted.

Taking photographs of macropods creates an intimacy that’s hard to convey. I’d been watching for hours and out of nowhere a goshawk swoops through the river valley on a practice run to startle an old inattentive rock wallaby, a comical moment of overreach for this undersized raptor. The wallaby doesn’t even feign concern and the nonchalant goshawk continues on its way.

When I photograph willy wagtails and magpie larks searching for engorged ticks on the bodies of resting macropods I’m reminded of those early images of African tick birds performing a similar role on the backs of rhinos or wildebeest. Little did we know what was happening in our own backyards.

Momentarily backlit by the setting sun, a female euro, Alpha 2, roused herself and I took her portrait. It was the height of summer and she’d been sleeping in the shade for hours, relaxed in the knowledge that others in the clan were watching and more importantly, listening. I didn’t notice the spider web on her long eye-brow hairs until I reviewed the image on the computer screen. A few years later I take my favourite photograph of Beta 1 standing, fists clenched in adolescent uncertainty.



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Touch Of The Fumbles: Consolation


Port fell at the final hurdle in heartbreaking fashion. Which our Fumbles correspondent takes no pleasure in whatsoever. Not at all. In any way. Really.

Look, I want to make something clear right from the outset.

I’m not about taking joy in the misfortunes of others – particularly when ‘others’ refers to Port Adelaide supporters, and their team’s abject inability to win their home preliminary final having finished top of the AFL ladder after a gruelling 17 rounds.

And by that I mean, I am.

Very much so, in fact.

However, now is a time for magnanimity.

And after all, these past few days has been tough for a lot of people in SA, as they faced great adversity with stoicism and dignity.

But enough about Crows supporters.

Ronee Blakley Marge Thompson GIF

And I do, in fact, genuinely empathise with Port supporters: I too well understand the pain of losing a tightly-fought preliminary final.

But take heart, Power fans. My own team, Adelaide, lost a few close prelims a few years back, but you know what? They persevered, kept trying and never gave up, and now, several years later… um…

Well anyway, chin up, Port.

Animated GIF

Look on the bright side.

At least a few of the players’ families weren’t there to see the game.

And regardless of which team won, the important thing is that a lot of Port and Richmond supporters both got heavily rained on.

Not to mention, of course, the pertinent consolation that this season doesn’t really count.

Which I’ve been saying all along, but which a lot of Port supporters only really cottoned on to around 10.30pm last Friday night, for some reason.

Animated GIF

Still, I must admit, even though the COVID Cup will always carry a heavy caveat and this year’s ladder positions will forever be qualified by the curtailed fixture, I was still getting a tad worried about that looming Port premiership.

I mean, can you imagine what it would have been like getting about in Adelaide for the next few weeks – not to mention the next few years – if Port had won the flag?

It would have made lockdown feel like an eminently attractive proposition.

True detective GIF - Find on GIFER

Although, there would have been something deliciously compelling about the prospect of a 2007 Grand Final rematch – bearing in mind, of course, that Geelong’s 119-point margin would need to be reduced to 95 to allow for the shortened quarters.

And it was a match-up that loomed large for much of Friday night – only for the COVID Cup to ultimately slip through Port’s proverbial fingers.

Animated GIF

So while 2020 has been a pretty terrible year all round, a year so bad that a Port Adelaide flag in the club’s faux anniversary year appeared its only logical culmination, we have been given a fleeting sign that things can still turn out ok.

Well, apart from Paddy Dangerfield making a Grand Final.

Richard Attenborough No GIF by Jurassic World

Bizarrely, some commentators seem to think the Gold-Jacket-Thieving Turncoat playing on the AFL’s biggest stage is in some way a Good Thing:

Although, to be fair, it’s ambiguous what ‘GF’ stands for in this context – certainly there’s at least one combination of words beginning with those letters that I tend to utter regularly when Paddy appears on my TV screen.

And, of course, as others have pointed out, the author does have a predilection for ambiguous acronyms:

But Geelong’s fairly routine victory over Brisbane was the one sour note on an otherwise fine weekend.

Because, if nothing else, it means I’ll be forced to enthusiastically support Richmond for the second week in a row.

Animated GIF

Frankly, this was not something I’d have envisaged on that bleak September day in 2017. Still, at least I’m well versed in the lyrics to their club song.

It also means that two Victorian teams will be playing in the AFL decider for the first time since 2011 – and they won’t be playing it in Victoria.

Still, luckily the AFL has trucked over that small patch of MCG turf, which should make both teams feel more at home.

But there’s something fundamentally strange about having to throw your lot in with the Tigers: even the AFL’s villain du jour, Tom Lynch, is beginning to rehabilitate his public image after a year in which his reputation has taken more knocks than one of his unfortunate opponents.

Tiger Tom celebrates a six pointer – which happened to be Richmond’s winning margin. Photo: Michael Errey / InDaily

In the aftermath of Richmond’s six-point triumph, Tiger Tom first found himself the target of an irate Port fan who opted to hurl his ‘Luke Beveridge’ at him, only to subsequently offer what appeared to be some choice words of encouragement to a despondent Power-supporting youngster in the crowd.

Because, of course, what you really want right after losing a close knockout final is a pep-talk from the victorious team’s least likeable player.

It would be like Jack Anthony going over to sympathise with the “right in front of me” guy after snaring the crucial free in ’09, right in front of him.

Right In Front Of Me

Still, you can’t say it wasn’t nice of Tom to offer a few words of consolation, presumably along the lines of: “Don’t worry, kid – I used to play for a shit team and now I’m rolling in cash and premierships, so things can get better.”

Although we can’t really be sure the Tiger forward was actually being nice to the kid at all. It’s entirely possible, for instance, he was simply perpetuating his standing as the game’s resident dickhead, offering the young fella a pointed: “Hey kid, look at the scoreboard – see that one goal we won by? I kicked that.”

The shared SA pain of watching Richmond celebrate a finals victory. Photo: Michael Errey / InDaily

Anyway, while the AFL-watching public’s collective attention turns to two Victorian teams in Brisbane, the post-season machinations continue, with the Crows signalling their intent to return to the glory days of ’97-’98 by appointing the guy who was running the state at the time to chair the club.

The AFL also stepped in to dole out punishments for Brad Crouch and Tyson Stengle’s recent indiscretion, with the former slapped with a two-game ban and the latter four – a harsh sanction, I felt, since they didn’t give him credit for taking a taxi on this occasion.

Then, of course, there was last night’s Brownlow Medal, our annual opportunity to ponder the success of players we either drafted only to see them quit for the lure of Moggs Creek, or planned to draft but somehow never got round to it.

The latest of which duly won last night’s league best and fairest in a canter. Apparently the Crows were keen to recruit SA boy Lachie Neale in 2011 but decided to get Nick Joyce instead (no, me neither). Which is kinda like picking Richmond to win the Preliminary Final but forgetting to actually put any money on them: good in an “I told you so” kinda way, but not actually very helpful.

Animated GIF

Neale helpfully shared the secrets of his success, revealing his match day routine is to lie down on the ground and stare into the sky for a few minutes to get his bearings.

Which, bizarrely, is the same as my match day routine. Although I tend to do it after I get home from the game.

Given its random Sunday night scheduling, I completely forgot all about last night’s Brownlow count and by the time I bothered to turn it on, there were only about four rounds left to go. Which was fairly symbolic of our season, come to think of it.

And of course, the usual smattering of players we’d either traded or delisted racked up plenty of votes for their new clubs, such as Gold Coast’s Hugh Greenwood, who finished in a tie for fifth spot.

Although of course, if he was younger and quicker he might have got more than 11 votes.

Players going for the ball, largely without success. Photo: Michael Errey

Anyway, even the prospect of a Paddy Premiership can’t dispel the sweet relief that we’ve somehow, however barely, managed to avoid a 2020 worst-case scenario: a Power pandemic. COVID-119.

And, of course, a third flag for the Tigers within four seasons would at least confirm that our Grand Final loss wasn’t simply (or merely, at least) the case of us dropping our proverbial bundle on the big day, but the start of a genuine footballing dynasty.

Just not ours, though.

But take heart, Port fans: losing to Richmond is character-building. And based on our recent experience, I can confidently say that having lost to the Tigers in a final after finishing top of the ladder, nothing else is likely to go wrong for you at any point in the near future.

In fact, the best thing you can probably do now is get the entire squad together for a team-building post-defeat retreat.

I hear the Gold Coast is nice this time of year.

Touch of the Fumbles is InDaily’s shamelessly biased weekly football column, published on Mondays during the AFL season.

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