South Africa’s shots shortage slows vaccination drive

Johannesburg: South Africa is likely to miss its target of inoculating as many as 1.5 million people against the coronavirus by the end of this month because sufficient shots aren’t available, the nation’s deputy health minister said.

The country began dispensing Johnson & Johnson vaccines on February 17 as part of a clinical trial that enabled it to bypass normal regulatory procedures. While the government has secured 11 million of the single-dose J&J shots, 20 million vaccines from Pfizer and additional supplies through the Covax facility that supplies free doses to nations in need, they aren’t due to arrive as soon as the government had hoped.

“We expect now only to complete 700,000 vaccines by the end of March,” Deputy Health Minister Joe Phaahla said in an online briefing to lawmakers on Friday. “We are expecting more Johnson & Johnson vaccines and some from Pfizer, but we will still be behind target. However, we hope to be back on track once production of the various vaccines ramps up.”

Vaccine shortages are a global issue, and are particularly acute across Africa, because wealthy nations pre-paid to secure early deliveries.

South Africa has inoculated about 92,000 people so far, and aims to reach two-thirds of its population of 60 million by year-end. It pivoted to using the J&J shots after a small study indicated that a vaccine developed by AstraZeneca Plc and the University of Oxford has little impact on mild infections with a variant of the virus that’s most dominant in South Africa. Once additional shots become available, the government aims to administer as many as 250,000 a day.

Asnath Masango, right, and Carol Ditshego, left, brief a patient before giving her a COVID-19 test at the Ndlovu clinic in Elandsdoorn, as part of the Johnson & Johnson vaccination trial. Credit:AP

The inoculation of health-care workers should be completed around mid-April, while others in high-risk categories are due to begin receiving shots in May, Anban Pillay, a deputy director-general in the health department said in a separate online briefing. Vaccines will be dispensed through mobile units, pharmacies and workplaces as dispensing steps up, he said.

“The pace at what we are vaccinating now is at the pace of what can be allowed in terms of the study,” Pillay said. “Once we get out of the study we can open up many more sites and things can move much faster.”

Stavros Nicolaou, head of the health-work unit at lobbying group Business for South Africa, said sufficient vaccines had been secured to cover 6 million people by the end of June, but as many as 8 million are needed for essential workers and the most vulnerable.

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Covid-19 vaccination: Health Ministry answers frequently asked questions (FAQs)

The Centre has come out with detailed frequently asked questions (FAQs) on Covid-19 vaccination, in an attempt to answer many questions that are being asked by the general public.

Here are the answers to the questions on Covid-19 vaccination:

Should you avoid alcohol after receiving the Covid-19 vaccine?

The Health Ministry says that as per experts “there is no evidence of alcohol impairing the effectiveness of the vaccine”.

A healthcare worker prepares to administer a vaccine at a private hospital in New Delhi. (AP Photo: Altaf Qadri)

Claims on social media suggested the Covid-19 vaccine could affect female fertility. Is it true?

The Health Ministry says rumours or social media posts suggesting Covid-19 vaccines could cause infertility “are not true and totally baseless”.

“None of the available vaccines affects fertility. All vaccines and their constituents are tested first on animals and later in humans to assess if they have any such side effects. Vaccines are authorised for use only after their safety and efficacy are assured,” the ministry says.

What are the precautions one needs to take after receiving the vaccine?

The Health Ministry has assured that both the vaccines are safe but in “case of any discomfort or complaint”, the beneficiaries are advised to visit the nearest health facility or call the health worker whose phone number is given in the CoWIN SMS received after vaccination.

What medications should be avoided before taking the Covid-19 vaccine and for how long?

The Health Ministry says there are no such instructions: One can take one’s regular medication uninterruptedly. Just inform the vaccinator about the medicines you consume.

Senior citizens after receiving the first dose of Covid-19 vaccine at Rajiv Gandhi Super Speciality Hospital in New Delhi. (Express Photo: Praveen Khanna)

The Health Ministry has advised caution in vaccinating persons with a history of bleeding or coagulation disorder. How does a person know if he/she has a coagulation disorder? What tests can be conducted?

The Ministry has said that in a few bleeding disorders, like haemophilia, persons should take the vaccine “under the supervision of their treating physician”.

Also, patients who are admitted to hospital or ICU and have bleeding problems “should delay the vaccination till they are discharged”.

However, several people with heart and brain disorders are on blood thinners like aspirin and anti-platelet drugs “can continue with their medicines and have the vaccines”, and that vaccines are absolutely safe for this category.

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If I suffer from hypertension, Diabetic Mellitus, Chronic Kidney Disease, heart disease or lipid disorders, can I safely take this vaccine?

Overall, the vaccine is safe and efficacious in adults with comorbidity, the Health Ministry has said, adding that the maximum benefit of getting the Covid vaccine ‘is for those who have such comorbidities”.

“However, if you are concerned for any specific reason, please consult your doctor,” it has recommended.

The health advisory also states that those with immunity issues should be cautious about taking the vaccine. What are the markers of ‘immunity issues’?

The Health Ministry says immune issues are of two types: one, immunosuppression due to any disease such as AIDS, and people on immunosuppressant drugs such as anti-cancer drugs, steroids; second, immunodeficiency in people who suffers from some defect in the body’s protective system such as congenital immunodeficiency.

“Currently, available Covid vaccines do not have any live virus and therefore individuals with immune issues can have the vaccine safely. But the vaccine may not be as effective in them,” the Health Ministry has said.

It also emphasised that this category of patients “should inform the vaccinator about the medicines they consume and if they are suffering from any known immune issues”. “The vaccinator should have a record of one’s medical condition,” the Health Ministry has said.

Registration for the Covid-19 vaccine drive, in Ahmedabad. (Express Photo: Nirmal Harindran)

Is the vaccine contraindicated in a person with chronic diseases?

Chronic diseases and morbidities like cardiac, neurological, pulmonary, pulmonary, metabolic, renal and malignancies, etc. are not contraindicated, the Health Ministry has reiterated.

“In fact, the benefit of Covid vaccines to reduce the risk of severe Covid disease and death is for those who have these co-morbidities,” it said.

If I had Covid-19 and was treated, should I take the vaccine?

The Health Ministry has said that “development of immunity or duration of protection” after Covid-19 exposure is not established; therefore it is recommended to receive the vaccine even after Covid-19 infection. “Wait for 4-8 weeks after recovery from Covid symptoms before getting the vaccine,” it has recommended.

I have an allergy to a specific drug. Can I get vaccinated?

The Health Ministry has listed the category of persons with a history of immediate or delayed onset anaphylaxis or allergic reaction to pharmaceutical products, food items, injectable therapies – as a contraindication. Therefore, this category is not advised to take the vaccine.

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Goulburn health workers to travel to Wollongong to get vaccination | Goulburn Post

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Health workers from Goulburn will now have to travel to Wollongong to get their COVID-19 vaccination. The Southern NSW Local Health District (SNSWLHD) will begin COVID-19 vaccination of far south coast health workers, from Batemans Bay to Eden, at South East Regional Hospital (SERH), Bega on Tuesday. SNSWLHD confirmed that the NSW Government has announced Wollongong as a COVID-19 vaccination hub from March 15, 2021, where staff from Bombala, Braidwood, Cooma, Delegate and Goulburn will be vaccinated. READ ALSO: New officers welcomed to the Hume Police District The first staff to receive COVID-19 vaccinations will be those at highest risk of exposure to COVID-19 positive patients. This group includes workers in emergency departments, aged care and COVID-19 testing clinics. Chief Executive Margaret Bennett says that this is a momentous occasion and an important turning point for a region that has faced significant challenges in recent years following drought, bushfires and floods. “We are so pleased that our Priority 1a health workers will be among the first Australians to receive a COVID-19 vaccination,” Ms Bennett said. “Our teams have worked tirelessly managing our local COVID-19 response. We are encouraged and relieved to know those frontline staff will all be immunised in coming weeks.” Liverpool Hospital will manage the outreach clinic at South East Regional Hospital. Did you know the Goulburn Post is now offering breaking news alerts and a weekly email newsletter? Keep up-to-date with all the local news: sign up below.


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Cairns Hospital begins first rollout of COVID-19 vaccination in regional Queensland

The COVID-19 vaccination rollout has begun in Cairns, the first site in regional Queensland to deliver the jab.,Staff say they're excited about returning to a new sense of normality,Up to 100 frontline staff, including healthcare workers and hotel quarantine personnel, will today receive their first doses of the Pfizer vaccine at Cairns Hospital.,Executive director of medical services, Dr Don Mackie said at full capacity, the hospital would vaccinate more than 250 people per day.,”We've done a lot of planning, a lot of preparation, there's been some really intensive training, so we're ready really to get on with this,” Dr Mackie said.,”Given that we have the airport here, we have the border here, and we have the people working in hotel quarantine here, we're one of the priority areas for Queensland.,”We can run up to 256 people a day through this clinic, and this will be the core clinic for people in phase 1a [of the rollout].”,Among the first recipients of the vaccine was Dr Simon Smith, an infectious diseases specialist at Cairns Hospital.,”It's incredibly exciting,” Dr Smith said.,”It's amazing that within one year of the pandemic, we have not one but two vaccines coming to Far North Queensland that are both safe and effective.,”Personal protective equipment that we use on a daily basis does provide a lot of protection against COVID-19, but a vaccination is the next level.”,Clinical nurse consultant Tania Cahill has spent much of the pandemic assisting with international border screening at the Cairns Airport.,”We wear personal protective equipment, we are educated in how to wear that correctly and safely … so this is just another layer of protection, and I really welcome it,” Ms Cahill said.,”It gives me great confidence, and I encourage everybody [to get the vaccine] because the more people that get vaccinated, the quicker we'll return to normality, the new normality.”,Registered nurse Kristy King said all her colleagues in the fever clinic were hugely excited about taking the first step towards being vaccinated against COVID-19.,”We're frontline workers, we're at the [quarantine] hotels, so we're as close as you can get to those people who are COVID-positive,” Ms King said.,”COVID is new for everybody, it's fluid and ever-changing, so we have to move and implement new changes on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis.,”But everyone's adapted and done a really, really good job … and that's reflected in the low case numbers and no community transmission from hotel quarantine which shows how good our processes are.”

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Experts doubt October vaccination target

Medical experts believe the federal government’s coronavirus vaccination target will be hard to achieve unless jab rates are dramatically ramped up.

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South Australian public servants allowed to get COVID-19 vaccination while on the clock

Public sector workers in South Australia will be able to attend COVID-19 vaccination appointments during paid work hours under a new provision by the state government.

Under the new provision published by the commissioner for public sector employment, public sector workers can attend scheduled COVID-19 vaccination appointments during their normal work hours, including travel time.

They will also have access to their paid sick leave entitlements if they experience an adverse reaction.

The provision also includes that employees who have used up all of their sick leave can potentially access special leave with pay.

Treasurer Rob Lucas said ensuring the timely delivery of the vaccines was a priority.

“The government is doing all we can to support those public sector workers who choose to have the COVID-19 vaccination when their turn comes,” he said.

“These new provisions will ensure they are not out of pocket while doing so.”

About 14,000 people have stayed in Adelaide’s medi-hotels since March last year.(ABC News: Michael Clements)

SA waiting on $6 million in medi-hotel bills

Meanwhile, the state government has issued about $10 million worth of medi-hotel bills since the pandemic began.

The state’s COVID-19 response select committee held a public hearing on Thursday.

Lynne Cowan, deputy chief executive of SA Health, told the hearing 14,000 people have stayed in South Australia’s medi-hotels since March last year.

“These include around 12,200 people arriving to Australia from overseas, 1,500 people arriving from interstate during periods where there have been interstate outbreaks and 400 local people who have been close contacts,” she said.

Ms Cowan said $3.6 million of the invoices issued had been paid.

“That doesn’t mean all of those are overdue, some of them are actually recent bills,” she said.

“There will be people who have had payment options as part of that process.”

She said payment exemptions had also been granted in some circumstances.

Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Emily Kirkpatrick told the hearing that close contacts were not charged when they were required to stay in medi-hotels.

“There is no specific financial arrangement that we have within the medi-hotel operational structure for individuals who are placed as close contacts,” she said.

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Maharashtra awaits guidelines on role of private sector in next phase of Covid vaccination

While the Centre has, in its review meeting with states and union territories, stressed on improving the pace of vaccination in Maharashtra, health officials are awaiting directives on the involvement of the private sector in rolling out the Covid-19 vaccine.

From March 1, Covid-19 vaccination will be extended to people aged 60 years and above, and those above 45, who have comorbidities.

States and union territories have been advised to expand vaccination sessions to all public healthcare facilities, along with CGHS and PM-JAY empaneled hospitals, from March.

State Immunisation Officer Dr D N Patil told The Indian Express, “We need to wait for standard operating procedures and guidelines from the Centre…. The announcements have been made and presently, we have enough doses for the listed vaccine beneficiaries – 28.37 lakh doses of Covishield vaccine and 4.8 lakh doses of Covaxin.”

Maharashtra has vaccinated 11.09 lakh vaccine beneficiaries so far. After Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra is on the fifth spot, with the highest number of vaccinations. In Pune district, 65.2 per cent healthcare workers have been vaccinated (73,624). Satara district has registered 75.4 per cent vaccination of healthcare workers (19,667) and Solapur district has registered 80 per cent vaccination of healthcare workers (27,147)

However, at Mahratta Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture, president Sudhir Mehta has pointed out that given the rising case load in Maharashtra and Kerala, the central government should prioritise vaccination of the vulnerable population in these two states.

“Pune, which is again emerging as the epicenter of the disease, would need 2 million doses and that should be provided forthwith. The logic is simple — the crisis in these two states is acute and all efforts should be taken to defuse the same. The government’s decision to include the private sector in the vaccine rollout is certainly welcome,” Mehta told The Indian Express.

He also raised concerns about the lack of preparation to roll out the third phase of the vaccine. “The COWIN app will be rolled out and soon technical glitches can be anticipated due to the heavy rush to register. The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation has generated its own database, which will be exported onto the COWIN platform once it is launched. Something similar could have been done at least in Pune and Mumbai to make the experience seamless,” said Mehta, who is also among the founders of a voluntary group, Pune Platform for Covid Response.

“We are waiting for more clarity on what is termed as comorbidity, which would be a criterion for 45 plus people to get the vaccine. Such a definition would help the authorities be better prepared. The pandemic at its present stage is certainly scary… given the fact that Pune’s numbers are again on the rise. The vaccine rollout should be as smooth as possible to arrest the spread of the disease. Uncontrolled spread would force the hands of the authorities towards a lockdown, which would have catastrophic effect,” said the MCCIA president.

– Stay updated with the latest Pune news. Follow Express Pune on Twitter here and on Facebook here. You can also join our Express Pune Telegram channel here.

Indian Medical Association member Dr Sanjay Patil, who is also chairman of the Hospital Board of India, Pune Chapter, said that the IMA has requested Pune Municipal Corporation authorities to start a vaccination centre on the IMA campus. “IMA’s 15 to 20 hospitals are ready to participate in the vaccination drive,” said Dr Patil.

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Agribusiness owners concerned about liability for COVID-19 outbreaks if employees refuse vaccination

As Australians line up to receive the first batch of COVID-19 vaccinations this week, agribusiness owners are scrambling for answers and say government agencies have offered little support and guidance about the rollout.

Employers want to know if they can force their workers to have the vaccine and, if their employees choose not to, can employers guarantee a safe workplace?

Catherine Velisha runs a food picking and packing business, Velisha National Farms in Werribee, near Melbourne and said she is desperate for more industry-specific information about how to talk to staff about their vaccination plans.

“As an employer of these people, what do we do with people who are vaccinated and those who aren’t?” she said.

“What are our rights? Do we run two workforces, are we able to make vaccination compulsory?

Ms Velisha said the lack of clarity is a pressing legal issue, and she is concerned she could be liable if a COVID-19 outbreak occurs and some employees have refused to get the jab.

“Where does the onus lie?” she said.

“Is it going to be a law or legislation that governments make, or will it fall on each employer and the needs of their businesses and people?

Corporate lawyer at NS8 Group, Neil Salvador, said the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act was ill-equipped to give clear direction to employers on their responsibilities regarding vaccination, and the legislation needed to be reviewed.

“Within the act there are a number of obligations and primarily it is to keep people within the business as safe as possible, as far as what is reasonably practicable,” he said.

“We need to think about whether mandatory vaccinations might assist with alleviating some of that risk.”

Mr Salvador said individual businesses under the current act are required to undertake a risk assessment and determine if there is a significant risk posed if some staff are not vaccinated.

“Once you do that risk assessment, you might find that you can’t have social distancing and workplace bubbles for a variety of different reasons,” he said.

While an employee’s right to refuse a COVID-19 vaccination is yet to be tested, Mr Salvador said discrimination issues could arise if people are refused shifts based on their personal health choices.

“The heart of the matter here is adverse action — that is, an employer discriminating by not employing someone who is not vaccinated,” he said.

Ms Velisha said although she will get vaccinated, it would be a tough call to demand that of her workforce.

“If I was advising people I’d advise they get vaccinated, but I don’t really know if that’s the right of the employer to do,” she said.

The Fair Work Ombudsman said the overwhelming majority of employers should assume they will not be able to require their employees to be vaccinated against coronavirus.

“The Australian Government’s policy is that receiving a vaccination is voluntary, although it aims to have as many Australians vaccinated as possible,” the Ombudsman said in a statement.

There are however, limited circumstances where an employer may require their employees to be vaccinated but that is dependent on the particular workplace, and each employee’s individual circumstances.

The Ombudsman said a range of factors should be considered by an employer including state and territory laws and whether an enterprise agreement or employment contract includes a provision requiring vaccinations.

“Employers should obtain their own legal advice if they are considering making coronavirus vaccinations mandatory in their workplace or if they operate in a coronavirus high-risk environment, for example health care or meat processing.”

Mr Salvador said both state and federal governments should be involved in deciding if vaccines should be mandatory in sectors such as food processing and packing, subject to medical advice.

“Business owners are looking for practical advice and guidance with how to deal with these matters,” Mr Salvador said.

The ABC contacted the Federal and Victorian governments for comment.

A spokesperson for the Federal Department of Health said additional advice on prioritisation of people into the ‘critical’ and ‘high risk’ workers category would be advised as “the program rolls out based on dose availability at that time”.

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A new digital vaccination passport will be trialled on flights between Auckland and Sydney

Air New Zealand will trial a digital travel pass to give airlines and border authorities access to passenger health information, including their Covid-19 vaccination status, the carrier said Monday.

The scheme, dubbed a “vaccination passport” by industry observers, is intended to streamline travel once borders reopen by allowing passengers to store their health credentials in one place.

“It’s essentially like having a digital health certificate that can be easily and securely shared with airlines,” said Air New Zealand chief digital officer Jennifer Sepull.

The proposed scheme relies on an app developed by the International Air Transport Association and other airlines including Etihad and Emirates have already signed up for their own trials.

Air New Zealand aims to trial the pass on flights between Auckland and Sydney, beginning in April. 

The association’s senior vice-president Nick Careen said the app is an important milestone in restarting international travel as global vaccine rollouts get underway.

“Governments can be confident that passengers who are ‘OK to travel’ are in full compliance of Covid-19 travel requirements,” he said.

Mr Careen said the app ensured privacy by giving users control of the health data they provided.

Australia formed a one-way trans-Tasman travel bubble with New Zealand in May last year. Under the agreement residents from New Zealand would be allowed to travel in and out of Australia without quarantine.

New Zealand was supposed to allow travellers from Australia into their country by the end of March this year. 

But, due to new outbreaks in both countries, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern now says talks are still ongoing as to when they will open the bubble. 

New Zealand has been praised globally for their efforts to stamp out the virus. The country was among the first in the world to impose border restrictions and internal lockdowns.

They have reported a total of 2357 cases and 26 deaths since the pandemic began.

The Air New Zealand trial begins in April.

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Sydney news: NSW Premier says vaccination program could be fully administered within months

Here’s what you need to know this morning.

NSW could be vaccinated sooner than expected

The NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian says the whole state could be vaccinated against COVID-19 within months.

The rollout of the vaccine started yesterday with those who work in the hotel quarantine system and frontline healthcare workers at the front of the queue.

The Premier told ABC radio that even though October has been flagged as the deadline for everyone in the community to receive their jab, it could be much earlier than that.

“We’re hopeful that if some of the supplies that we hadn’t anticipated are coming in sooner than expected, it could be within months that large cohorts of the public are invited to have the vaccine.”

Magic mushrooms totalling 46kg seized

The mushrooms have an estimated street value of more than $700,000.(Supplied: NSW Police)

A Western Sydney man will face court today after police seized almost three quarters of a million dollars in “magic mushrooms”.

Detectives discovered more than 46 kilograms of the hallucinogenic mushrooms when they raided a clandestine drug lab at a home in Greystanes earlier this month.

A 26-year-old man was arrested yesterday and charged with manufacturing a large commercial quantity of prohibited drugs.

He’s been refused bail to face Parramatta Local Court today.

Public housing mould dispute

Window covered in mould
Melissa’s window is covered in mould that no cleaning will get rid of completely.(ABC News: Jack Fisher)

Melissa Smith ended up in hospital, despite pleading for help for years, after a mould infection took hold of her social housing unit in south-east Sydney.

Black mould began to grow on the carpet of Ms Smith’s apartment in Chifley in 2019 and it gradually spread to the ceiling and windows.

The apartment block Ms Smith lives in is owned by the NSW government but social housing tenants are managed by St George Community Housing (SGCH).

She has pleaded with SGCH to take action but she said all her requests for help had fallen on deaf ears.

Reward for missing man now $1m

The NSW Government has increased the reward to $1 million for information over the suspicious disappearance and suspected murder of William Roach nearly three decades ago.

William “Bill” Roach, 25, was last seen on Barney Street, Armidale, on December 31, 1993, and was reported missing in early 1994.

In 2010, a coronial inquest found that it was likely Mr Roach had died but the cause of death was undetermined. His body has never been located.

The investigation is the subject of a new NSW Police podcast.

COVID voucher trial extends

Women cheers over pizzas at a restaurant outside
The first phase of the voucher trial was a success, the NSW government said.(AAP: James Gourley)

The NSW Government has rolled out its second phase of the $100 dining voucher trial in Sydney’s CBD, Northern Beaches and Bega Valley.

Announced in November, the State Government said it would gift every adult $100 to spending on dining and entertainment in a bid to resuscitate some of the sectors hit hardest by COVID-19.

Minister for Customer Service, Victor Dominello, said the first phase of the trial, piloted in The Rocks and Broken Hill, was a success.

The results from the pilot program will inform the state wide rollout, scheduled from March.

Taxi and ride sharing use drops

A line of taxis
Taxi usage dropped more than rideshare in both regional and urban areas.(Supplied: NSW Government)

Taxi and ride sharing services have suffered as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an annual transport survey.

Taxi use in Sydney dropped from 49 per cent in 2019 to just under 31 per cent in 2020, the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) found.

Rideshare use fell from 51 per cent to 44 per cent during the same period.

“COVID-19 has clearly had a major impact on all transport services with lockdowns, venue restrictions and concerns about crowds,” acting IPART member Mike Smart said.

Road rages sees woman assaulted

A CCTV picture of a man in a black shirt and black pants
Police were called to Wattle Street in Ultimo following the road rage incident.(Supplied)

NSW Police are appealing for information after a woman was assaulted in a road rage incident in Sydney’s CBD last week.

Police were told the 37-year-old woman was crossing a road in Ultimo when the driver of a black SUV beeped the horn and verbally abused her.

Police will allege the man followed her into a nearby café where he physically assaulted her before throwing her bike into the street and smashing her mobile phone.

She sustained minor injuries to her hands and wrists.

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