Israel and vaccines. A template for Britain? – Channel 4 News

28 Feb 2021

Is Israel’s vaccination programme a sign of hope for Britain?

Israel, like us, is easing out of a third lockdown and like us, has ensured the most vulnerable are vaccinated. But Israel is also far ahead of us in its vaccination drive – and is now using vaccine passports as it opens gyms, bars and restaurants – as it attempts to get back to normal. Our foreign affairs correspondent, Jonathan Rugman, explains the bumps along Israel’s road, as it battles vaccine hesitancy amongst the young, the flouting of rules from religious groups and the lack of support towards the Palestinians. Is Israel’s vaccination programme a sign of hope for Britain?



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COVID-19 vaccines touch down in Queensland ahead of first jabs on Gold Coast

Queensland’s Premier and Chief Health Officer are reassuring people about the safety of the state’s COVID-19 vaccination program, as the state government prepares to administer the first jabs on the Gold Coast tomorrow.

“What a response we’ve had from the world scientists to have developed a vaccine that is so safe and so effective so quickly,” Dr Young said.

Despite research by the Federal Health Department showing more than half of the adult population still had reservations about the vaccines, the State Government was now moving to boost confidence in them.

Dr Young said: “I’ll be there getting vaccinated, with whichever vaccine is offered to me, both of them are fantastic vaccines, the Pfizer vaccine or the Astra Zeneca vaccine, they great.”

Health Minister Yvette D’Ath sought to reassure people the vaccine had not been rushed.

“We haven’t had to fast-track this vaccination. It’s gone through a proper process to the Therapeutic Goods Administration,” she said.

“It’s received its approvals and now we can start delivering it in a staged sensible way.”

Dr Young said if governments got behind all vaccines in the way they have supported this one, all of them would be developed just as quickly.

“This time round, the whole world got behind all the scientists and funded it so that the scientists could actually keep going,” she said.

“They didn’t just have to stop and say, we now need some money.”

Hotel quarantine staff, border workers and frontline health care staff at risk of COVID-19 exposure will be the first to receive the jab this month, while individuals with higher risks will be part of category 1b.

The COVID-19 vaccines will be voluntary and free.

Queensland again reported zero new cases overnight. The state has just five active cases of the virus.

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Covid-19 News: Live Updates on the Virus, Vaccines and Variants

Credit…NBC News

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser for Covid-19, said on Sunday that Americans may still be wearing masks outside their homes a year from now, even as he predicted the country would return to “a significant degree of normality” by fall.

“I want it to keep going down to a baseline that’s so low there is virtually no threat,” Dr. Fauci said on the CNN program “State of the Union,” referring to the number of cases nationally that would make him comfortable enough to stop recommending universal masking. “If you combine getting most of the people in the country vaccinated with getting the level of virus in the community very, very low, then I believe you’re going to be able to say, for the most part, we don’t necessarily have to wear masks.”

Dr. Fauci appeared on a series of TV news programs on Sunday morning, where he was quizzed on the dangers of variants of the coronavirus, the schedule of the nation’s vaccine rollout and when vaccination would allow more students to return to schools.

On this last question, Dr. Fauci said on “Fox News Sunday” that he hoped high school students, far fewer of whom have gone back to classrooms compared with younger children, would be eligible for vaccination in the fall.

“That’s why we are pushing on those studies, to get them vaccinated,” he said of teenagers, who are currently the subject of clinical trials by Pfizer and Moderna. “That will likely occur in the fall; I can’t say it’s going to be on day one of when school starts in the fall term.”

Vaccinations for younger children, however, “likely will not be before the beginning of the first quarter of 2022,” Dr. Fauci said.

On the hotly debated question of whether people should wait longer than the recommended three or four weeks to get a booster vaccine, or even skip the second dose, Dr. Fauci said on NBC News’s “Meet the Press” that it was prudent for people to stick to the prescribed schedule.

“There are enough unknowns in that, particularly the durability of the protection,” he said.

He added that while that new data suggesting people who have had Covid could get enough protection from one dose was “really quite impressive,” it might be complicated to document who has had the virus.

He also addressed the subject of the mutated variant of the coronavirus identified in South Africa. In clinical trials involving the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine in that country, patients who were inoculated were not protected from mild or moderate illness caused by the variant, known as B. 1.351. Dr. Fauci said on “Fox News Sunday” that while it is still rare in the United States, “if it becomes more dominant, we may need a version of the vaccine that’s effective specifically against” it.

With the United States expected to surpass 500,000 deaths from Covid-19 in the coming days, Dr. Fauci told Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” that “we haven’t seen anything even close to this for well over 100 years,” since the 1918 influenza pandemic, adding, “People will be talking about this decades and decades and decades from now.”

United States ›United StatesOn Feb. 2014-day change
New cases69,740–44%
New deaths1,831–35%

World ›WorldOn Feb. 2014-day change
New cases348,034–22%
New deaths8,409–25%

U.S. vaccinations ›

Where states are reporting vaccines given

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci expressed optimism on Sunday that vaccination sites around the country would quickly recover from delays in coronavirus vaccine inoculations caused by weather-related shipping delays last week, and administer all six million missed doses while still ramping up the number of new appointments.

“We can play pretty good catch-up,” Dr. Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser for Covid-19, said on the NBC show “Meet the Press,” noting that two million of the delayed doses had already been shipped. “When you just, you know, put the foot to the accelerator and really push, we’ll get it up to where we need to be by the middle of the week.”

The rate of vaccinations in the United States, which had been accelerating after a chaotic start, fell last week after a winter storm blew through much of the country. About 1.52 million vaccine doses were being administered per day, according to a New York Times database. Although that is still above President Biden’s target, it was the lowest rate since Feb. 8.

The country has been racing to vaccinate as many people as possible before more contagious and possibly deadlier variants of the coronavirus become dominant, and the figure had been well above the president’s goal of 1.5 million doses for several days. It peaked at 1.7 million on Feb. 16 before a brutal winter storm hit states from coast to coast. The bad weather delayed shipments of vaccine supplies from two hubs: a FedEx center in Memphis and a UPS site in Louisville, Ky.

More than 2,000 vaccine sites were in areas with power outages, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Many were not only forced to close but left relying on generators to keep doses at the ultracold temperatures they require to prevent them from spoiling.

Texas, where the frigid storm left millions without power and water for a time, has reopened inoculation sites. The state has been assigned almost 600,000 first doses of the vaccine for the coming week, according to the state health department, up from about 400,000 first doses for the week of Feb. 15.

The doses that were supposed to be delivered last week are still waiting to be shipped to Texas from out-of-state warehouses, state health officials said. The missed doses are expected to be delivered in the first half of this week.

On Sunday, Houston’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, said on “Face the Nation” on CBS that vaccinations had resumed there and that a FEMA site would open Monday with the potential to administer shots to 6,000 people a day for the next six to eight weeks. He estimated the city could vaccinate more than 100,000 people in the coming week. “The people are resilient,” he said. “I’m very proud of the people in the city of Houston, how they have come together.”

In Dallas, a major vaccination hub at Fair Park reopened Sunday, but sites in Austin remain closed. The mayor of neighboring Fort Worth, Betsy Price, also appeared on “Face the Nation,” and said that vaccinations would resume in her city on Monday or Tuesday.

Last week’s bottlenecks and delays came just as states have broadened vaccine access to more groups, despite a limited supply that is not growing enough to keep up.

New York City said on Saturday that it had fewer than 1,000 first Covid-19 doses on hand because of the weather-related shipment delays. Mayor Bill de Blasio said that New York City had delayed scheduling up to 35,000 first dose appointments because of the shortage.

At the same time, New York State is still scheduling appointments for new mass vaccination sites opening in Brooklyn and Queens on Wednesday in partnership with FEMA.

The new sites, at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn and York College in Queens, are open to residents of only select ZIP codes and are intended to increase low vaccination rates in communities of color. Data released on Tuesday showed drastic disparities between vaccination rates in whiter areas of New York City compared with predominantly Black neighborhoods.

A person from a suburb east of New York City has been confirmed as the first New York resident to have been infected by a more contagious variant of the coronavirus that emerged in South Africa, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Sunday.

Few other details were offered about the case, including specifically when it was confirmed or whether the individual who was infected, a resident of Nassau County on Long Island, had recently traveled. It was not the first case of the South Africa variant to be found in New York; Mr. Cuomo announced last Monday that the variant had been detected in a man from Connecticut who was hospitalized in New York City.

The variant, known as B.1.351, was originally identified in South Africa in December, and has since been found in dozens of other countries and at least nine states, including California, Texas and Virginia. The variant carries mutations that help it latch on more tightly to human cells and that may help the virus evade some antibodies.

Its emergence in New York, which officials had warned was inevitable, underscored the dangers posed by new variants that may be more infectious or resistant to vaccines, particularly as the state’s vaccination effort continues to be hampered by a limited supply of doses.

“We are in a race right now — between our ability to vaccinate and these variants which are actively trying to proliferate — and we will only win that race if we stay smart and disciplined,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement on Sunday.

Two weeks ago, South Africa halted the use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine after evidence emerged that it did not protect participants in a clinical trial from mild or moderate illness caused by the variant.

Scientists in South Africa have also said that the immunity acquired by people infected by earlier versions of the coronavirus did not appear to protect them from mild or moderate cases when reinfected by the South Africa variant.

The Food and Drug Administration is working on a plan to update vaccines if the variant surges in the United States.

But Mr. Cuomo on Sunday also offered reason for optimism, noting that the statewide rate of positive test results was less than 3 percent for the first time since November. He said that hospitalizations also continued to decline statewide.

The chief executive of the Indian pharmaceutical giant that dozens of countries are counting on to supply them with Covid-19 vaccines said on Sunday that their deliveries might be delayed because it had been “directed” to fill domestic needs ahead of export orders.

“Dear countries & governments,” the executive, Adar Poonawalla of the Serum Institute of India, wrote in a tweet in which he warned of delays. “I humbly request you to please be patient,” he wrote, adding that his company had been directed to prioritize “the huge needs of India and along with that balance the needs of the rest of the world. We are trying our best.”

He did not say who had issued the directive, and the Serum Institute did not immediately return requests for comment.

India produces three-fifths of the world’s supply of all kinds of vaccines, and the country’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, has launched one of the world’s largest and most ambitious vaccination campaigns, aiming to inoculated India’s 1.3 billion people.

But even though the country already operates a huge immunization program, administering about 390 million shots against ailments like measles and tuberculosis in an average year, India is struggling to get Covid inoculations to the population. Less than 1 percent of Indians have been inoculated since mid-January. The pandemic has caused at least 10.9 million known coronavirus infections in India so far, more than in any other country except the United States.

The country’s regulators have approved two vaccines: one developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University and produced by the Serum Institute, and another — still in trials — developed by the National Institute of Virology with Bharat Biotech, a local pharmaceutical company that will make the doses.

The Serum Institute will also make doses of a vaccine developed by Novovax once it is approved.

Besides helping supply India and other clients, the company is expected to produce hundreds of millions of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and more than a billion Novovax vaccines to be distributed through the global vaccination initiative Covax, which aims to ensure that 92 low- and middle-income countries receive vaccines at the same time as the world’s 98 richer countries. Covax did not immediately respond to requests for comment about Mr. Poonawalla’s alert that foreign countries would have to wait for vaccines.

Many developing countries want the AstraZeneca vaccine because it is much less expensive and much easier to store and transport than other Covid vaccines now in use. That also makes it suitable for India’s vast vaccination campaign, which must reach from the towering Himalayan mountains to South India’s dense jungles.

The Indian government has increasingly used the country’s vaccine manufacturing capacity as a currency for its international diplomacy, in competition with China, which has made doling out shots a central plank of its foreign relations. Last week, for example, India promised to donate 200,000 vaccine doses for United Nations peacekeepers around the world.

Thousands of U.S. flags at the National Mall in January, as part of a memorial paying tribute to Americans who have died from the coronavirus.
Credit…Carlos Barria/Reuters

One year ago, when the coronavirus spread to the United States, few public health experts predicted its death toll would climb to such a terrible height.

At a White House briefing on March 31, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the top infectious-disease expert in the country, and Dr. Deborah L. Birx, who was coordinating the coronavirus response at the time, announced a stunning projection: Even with strict stay-at-home orders, the virus might kill as many as 240,000 Americans.

Less than a year later, the virus has killed more than twice that number. A nation numbed by misery and loss is confronting a number that still has the power to shock: 500,000.

No other country has counted so many deaths during the pandemic. More Americans have perished from Covid-19 than they did on the battlefields of World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined.

The milestone comes at a hopeful moment: New virus cases are down sharply, deaths are slowing and vaccines are steadily being administered.

But there is concern that new, more contagious variants of the virus could quickly undo the nation’s progress and lead to another spike. It will still take months to vaccinate the American public, and it may be months before the pandemic is contained.

The virus has reached every corner of America, devastating dense cities and rural counties alike. By now, about one in 670 Americans has died of it.

In New York City, more than 28,000 people have died of the virus — or one in 295 people. In Los Angeles County, which has lost nearly 20,000 people to Covid-19, about one in 500 people has died of the virus. In Lamb County, Texas, where 13,000 people live scattered on a sprawling expanse of 1,000 square miles, one in 163 people has died of the virus.

As the United States approaches the loss of half a million people to Covid-19, there are few events in history that adequately compare.

The 1918 influenza pandemic is estimated to have killed about 675,000 Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when the country’s population was a third of what it is now. But it also happened at a time when influenza vaccines, antibiotics, mechanical ventilation and other medical tools did not exist yet.

Deaths from Covid-19 in the United States came faster as the pandemic went on. The first known death occurred in February, and by May 27, 100,000 people had died. It took four months for the nation to log another 100,000 deaths; the next, about three months; the next, just five weeks.

Though daily deaths are now slowing, about 1,900 deaths in America are being reported each day. As of Saturday evening, the toll had reached 497,221.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, an independent global health research center at the University of Washington, has projected that the nation could reach more than 614,000 deaths by June 1. Factors like how well people adhere to guidelines like mask-wearing and social distancing, plus the speed of vaccinations, could affect that estimate.

A Chinese official bidding farewell on Feb. 9 to two members of the World Health Organization team that visited Wuhan, China, to investigate the origins of the novel coronavirus. <br /><br /><br />
Credit…Ng Han Guan/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President Biden’s national security adviser on Sunday urged the World Health Organization to dig deeper and China to release raw data on the origins of the Covid-19 virus, casting doubt on a completeness of coming report from the health organization.

“The only way to have a scientifically based investigation is to have access to all the data,” Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, said on “Face the Nation” on CBS, calling for “a credible, open, transparent international investigation led by the World Health Organization.”

The W.H.O. sent a team of investigators, mostly scientists, to China for four weeks over January and February to investigate the origins of the virus. The team said after returning to the United States that Chinese scientists refused to give them access to patient records and other critical data. The investigators are already working on a preliminary report, but Mr. Sullivan said more research was needed. “The W.H.O. still has more work to do to get to the bottom of exactly where this virus emerged,” he said.

Toward the end of the show on which Mr. Sullivan aired his concerns, Matthew Pottinger, President Trump’s former deputy national security adviser, made an appearance in which he continued to advance a discredited theory promoted by the previous administration and challenged by many scientists: that Covid-19 was the product of secret Chinese military experimentation in a lab in Wuhan, China.

While acknowledging some of the Trump administration’s “grave missteps,” such as not advising the America public soon enough to wear masks and not doing enough collection and analysis about the how the virus was spreading and evolving genetically, Mr. Pottinger said China misled U.S. public health experts by not disclosing that the virus could spread silently, carried by people who did not show symptoms.

“We were waiting to be fed information when the nature of that regime meant that we were not going to get that information,” Mr. Pottinger said. “They had a strong incentive to mislead their own public and the rest of the world about the nature of this virus.”

During his appearance, Mr. Sullivan lamented a decision by the Trump administration to dismantle a special White House office that the Obama administration set up inside the National Security Council to detect and address pandemics. And Mr. Pottinger said that, based on the Covid-19 experience, the Centers for Disease Control should establish “a new super body for pandemic preparedness and response,” with the person in charge attached to the White House.

Both men said that the U.S. intelligence community should have played a greater role in addressing the Covid-19 pandemic. Mr. Sullivan said the Biden administration would be increasing “its tools, its resources, its practices to focus on detecting, preventing and responding to pandemics.”

Mr. Pottinger, a former Marine intelligence officer who resigned from the Trump administration after Trump supporters invaded the Capitol on Jan. 6, said, “I don’t think that the intelligence community is going to be able to do more than that critical role of collecting and analyzing the information.”

A traveler receiving a rapid test for the coronavirus at the Czech-German border.
Credit…Matthias Rietschel/Reuters

As new variants of the coronavirus spread rapidly, a number of European countries are moving to reintroduce border controls, chipping away at what was once the world’s largest area of free movement.

Fearing the highly contagious and possibly more lethal new variants first identified in Britain and South Africa, both Germany and Belgium introduced new border restrictions this week, adding to steps taken by other countries.

The European Union sees free movement as a fundamental pillar of the continent’s deepening integration, but after a decade in which first terrorism and then the migration crisis tested that commitment, countries’ easy resort to border controls is placing it under new pressure.

The European Commission, the E.U. executive branch, has tried to pull countries back from limiting free movement since last March, after most imposed restrictions at the onset of the crisis.

“Last spring we had 17 different member states that had introduced border measures and the lessons we learned at the time is that it did not stop the virus but it disrupted incredibly the single market and caused enormous problems,” the commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen, told the news media last week. “The virus taught us that closing borders does not stop it.”

But Ms. von der Leyen’s remarks triggered a pushback from Germany.

“We are fighting the mutated virus on the border with the Czech Republic and Austria,” the German interior minister, Horst Seehofer, told the tabloid newspaper Bild. The commission “should support us and not put spokespeople in our wheels with cheap advice,” he snapped.

One factor that may help keep borders open is the vast and instant economic impact now felt from even minor closures.

Since Sunday, the only people allowed to enter Germany from the Czech Republic or the Tyrol region of Austria, where instances of the coronavirus variant that originated in Britain are rising, are those who are German, living in Germany, carrying freight or working in essential jobs in Germany. All have to register and show a negative coronavirus test result before entry.

But thousands of people in Austria and the Czech Republic commute daily to jobs in Germany, and after the new checks came into force, long lines began to form. By the end of the week, business groups were writing desperate letters asking Germany to ease or lift the restrictions.

Credit…The New York Times

From afar, the graphic on the front page of Sunday’s New York Times looks like a blur of gray, a cloudy gradient that slowly descends into a block of solid ink. Up close, it shows something much darker: close to 500,000 individual dots, each representing a life lost in the United States to the coronavirus.

Half of the front page was dedicated to the graphic. The prominent real estate conveyed the significance of this moment in the pandemic and the totality of the devastation.

Lazaro Gamio and Lauren Leatherby, both graphics editors at The Times, plotted out the points so they stretched chronologically down a long scroll, from the first reported U.S. death nearly a year ago to the current toll of often thousands of casualties per day.

The front page has been used to visualize the breadth of the pandemic before. When Covid deaths in the United States reached 100,000 last May, the page was filled with names of those who died. And as that number approached 200,000, the lead photograph on the page showed the yard of an artist in Texas, who filled his lawn with a small flag for every life lost to the virus in his state.

But unlike the previous approaches, Sunday’s graphic depicts all of the fatalities. “I think part of this technique, which is good, is that it overwhelms you — because it should,” Mr. Gamio said.

Since the onset of the pandemic, the Graphics desk has been working on what editors internally call “the State of the Virus,” an effort to provide visuals that capture the defining moments of this story. The goal of this particular visualization was to add context to a fluctuating death count: April 2020 felt like “the sky was falling,” Mr. Gamio said, but this winter has been markedly worse.

“There is just a certain numbness, I think, that is normal human nature when this has been going on for so long, but we’ve tried to just keep reminding people of what’s still going on,” Ms. Leatherby said. “And I think something striking about this particular piece that we were trying to drive home is just the sheer speed at which it was all happening.”

President Joe Biden touring the Pfizer manufacturing site in Kalamazoo, Mich., on Friday.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

The House version of President Biden’s coronavirus relief plan would add $1.9 trillion to the federal budget deficit over the next decade, the Congressional Budget Office estimated this weekend.

That figure is in line with Mr. Biden’s calls for a $1.9 trillion package, and it reflects Democrats’ determination to hold the line on the president’s calls to “go big” on stimulus despite pressure from Republicans and some liberal economists to scale back the plan, warning of possible inflation stemming from increased federal borrowing.

The legislation would fund measures to combat the pandemic, provide billions of dollars for schools and small businesses, temporarily bolster unemployment benefits, aid state and local governments, and deliver a round of $1,400 direct payments to individuals.

Most of the money is projected to hit the economy over the next year. The budget office estimated that about $1.6 trillion in new spending would occur this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, and in the 2022 fiscal year, which begins in October.

The rest of the money will be spent more gradually, the budget office said. Much of the delayed spending comes in the category of education.

Crescent Street, known for its nightlife in Canada, was quiet last month on the first night after a curfew was imposed by the Quebec government to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Credit…Christinne Muschi/Reuters

Canadians might be known internationally as nice, apologetic and fair-minded. But a very different Canadian persona has been exposed by a year of pandemic: one that shames people for contracting and potentially spreading the virus.

People are calling out not just authority figures like politicians and doctors for breaking the rules, but also their own relatives and neighbors.

Snitch lines set up across Canada have been flooded with tips about people suspected of breaking quarantine, businesses flouting public health restrictions, and out-of-towners siders with unfamiliar license plates who are seen in town and might be bringing the virus with them.

Facebook groups are full of stories of people being labeled potential vectors and are then refused service, disinvited from family gatherings, and reported to the police and public health authorities.

Experts worry that fear of being treated that way may be driving cases underground, delaying reports of Covid-19 symptoms and making people avoid getting tested.

“This is impacting our ability to contain the virus,” said Dr. Ryan Sommers, one of eight public health doctors in Nova Scotia who published a letter beseeching residents in the small Atlantic province to stop shaming one another.

Nova Scotia has one of the lowest coronavirus rates in the country, with just 12 active cases as of Feb. 16. But Dr. Sommers said vigilance has turned into hypervigilance. .

“We want to create a social norm where people will be supportive and caring and compassionate,” Dr. Sommers said. “Social media can be more virulent than the virus itself.”

In the country’s four eastern provinces, which have enforced self-isolation rules for anyone entering the region, the shaming is not just online, said Robert Huish, an associate professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, who is conducting a study of coronavirus stigma. It’s intimate, particularly in small communities, where “community cohesion quickly flips to become community surveillance.”

Some say the fear of stigma has become worse than the fear of contracting the virus.

Historically, stigma and shaming have faithfully trailed pandemics, said David Barnes, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania who studies the history of infectious diseases and epidemics. During the plague years in Europe, Jewish people were made into convenient scapegoats. When cholera afflicted Britain in the 19th century, working-class Irish people were blamed, Mr. Barnes said.

Most recently, gay men and Haitians were stigmatized during the AIDS epidemic in the United States.

“We make ourselves feel safer and superior by associating disease with people who are not like us, do things we don’t do or come from places unlike our place,” Mr. Barnes said. “We shouldn’t be surprised.”




Australia Begins Covid-19 Vaccination Campaign

Australia began vaccinating its population against Covid-19 on Sunday. Jane Malysiak, 84, a resident of a nursing home in Sydney, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison were among the first to receive a vaccine.

[laughing] “Twenty-five years.” “Oh.” “There you go.” [speaking quietly] “There we go.” [clapping] “What we’re demonstrating today is our confidence. I am supremely confident in the expert process that has been led to get us to this day. So from tomorrow, tens of thousands of Australians over the course of the next week can confidently come forward from those key priority groups that have been defined, to ensure that we move into this next phase of how we’ve been preparing and dealing with Covid-19.” “Well done, P.M.” “Put that there, thank you. Well done.” “Just roll up your —.” “Thank you.” “Great, that‘s all done.” “Thank you.” “Thank you.” “He’s doing the same.” “That was excellent, you had a good nail.” “Oh, good.” “Terrific. All done.” “Terrific.”

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Australia began vaccinating its population against Covid-19 on Sunday. Jane Malysiak, 84, a resident of a nursing home in Sydney, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison were among the first to receive a vaccine.CreditCredit…Joel Carrett/EPA, via Shutterstock

Australia began vaccinating its population against the coronavirus on Sunday, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and 19 other people getting shots a day after hundreds gathered nationwide to protest the vaccine rollout.

The first Australian to be vaccinated was Jane Malysiak, 84, who lives in a Sydney nursing home. She was followed by a number of quarantine and health care workers; the country’s chief health officer, Paul Kelly; and Mr. Morrison.

When asked by the person administering his vaccine whether he had any questions, Mr. Morrison replied, “No, I’m ready to go, just like the country.”

Australia, a country of about 25 million, aims to have four million people vaccinated by the end of next month. Prioritized groups are receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, though Australia has also approved the vaccine from Oxford University-AstraZeneca, which is being manufactured domestically. The vaccines are being distributed for free and taking them is not compulsory, although employers in some high-risk industries may be able to compel workers to vaccinate.

The event in Sydney was intended to build confidence ahead of the country’s official vaccine rollout on Monday, and it came a day after anti-vaccine protests took place in most major Australian cities.

In Melbourne, the police clashed with protesters and used pepper spray, according to the local news media. The police said they had arrested 20 people on charges including breaching public health orders and resisting arrest. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation estimated that the protest drew about 500 people.

Protests in other cities were largely peaceful. In Sydney, the police said more than 400 people protested, while in Brisbane, the ABC estimated there were over 1,000. Protesters chanted “Freedom!” and “My body, my choice.”

New Zealand officially began its own vaccine rollout over the weekend, also using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Both countries have recorded relatively few coronavirus cases and deaths, reporting zero locally acquired infections in the 24 hours before vaccinations began.

A wedding at the Empire State Building in New York this month.
Credit…Brittainy Newman/Associated Press

Weddings have always been emotional, but adding personal boundaries around safety and health, confusing government guidelines and the finer points of air filtration systems to the mix has pushed families and wedding planners to the edge.

Adept at negotiating fraught moments and achieving the impossible, wedding professionals are now also acting as health, infrastructure and grief experts. They face states, counties and cities with shifting and often senseless hodgepodges of guidelines and restrictions, or, sometimes, no rules at all.

“Everybody in the wedding industry is more confused than ever,” said Sonal Shah, who owns an event consulting company in New York. “One person in our office is dedicated to researching C.D.C. guidelines.”

In Texas, now gripped by a severe storm that forced power outages and water shortages, all venues can currently be filled to 75 percent capacity — but, as with a number of states, churches are exempt from that rule.

In North Dakota, an executive order ended capacity limits on weddings in mid-January, but state guidelines still offer numerous suggestions, such as limiting guest lists to 1,000 people in venues that can hold 2,000.

In New York, for now, weddings are capped at 50 people — indoors or outdoors. Religious ceremonies have to limit attendees to 50 percent of the venue’s capacity.

The Michigan guidelines are nearly impenetrable, but seem to indicate that no more than 10 people from no more than two households can gather indoors, and 25 people can gather outside, as long as there are no more than 20 people within 1,000 square feet — unless there is fixed seating, in which case a maximum of 25 people can gather, as long as attendance is limited to 20 percent of seating capacity of the outdoor area. Got that?

Regulations can also change unexpectedly, a challenge for events that are planned months in advance. Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, suggested in December that weddings be pushed to June or July of 2021 at the earliest.

But as vaccinations and hope spread across the United States, the race to schedule weddings is back on.

An industry market report — which vividly showed the suffering finances of the wedding industry in 2020 — predicts that there will be a significant increase in wedding revenue this year.

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Coronavirus vaccines arrive in South Australia ahead of first jabs for frontline health staff

South Australia’s Health Minister has urged the state’s public to ignore anti-vaccination “propaganda”, as local health authorities prepare to deliver the first round of coronavirus vaccines from Monday.

South Australia’s first 4,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine touched down at Adelaide Airport this afternoon, destined for two vaccination “hubs” at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and the Flinders Medical Centre.

The SA Government has said it aimed to vaccinate more than 1,700 people over the coming week — all frontline workers at Adelaide Airport and in the medi-hotel system.

“This is the first delivery of 4,000 doses — we will be needing 12,000 to deliver our first three-week program. My understanding is these will be weekly shipments,” SA Health Minister Steven Wade said.

The Pfizer vaccine needs to be kept at -70 degrees Celsius, and SA Health said dry ice would keep the doses at that temperature before they were escorted to “ultra-low temperature freezers” installed at the two hospitals earlier this week.

The first vaccine administered nationally occurred today in Sydney, where 84-year-old World War II survivor Jane Malysiak received the Pfizer shot.

Mr Wade said the arrival of the Pfizer vaccines marked an “exciting day” for the state — but he also lashed out at critics of the vaccine rollout, saying claims it would be mandatory were false.

“I really urge people not to listen to the anti-vaxxers. More than 200 million people have already been vaccinated against COVID-19 around the world,” he said.

“It’s an important part of putting this pandemic behind us.

South Australia’s first batch of coronavirus vaccines touched down at Adelaide Airport.(ABC News: Charlotte Batty)

On Saturday, hundreds of people gathered for a rally in Adelaide to express opposition to what organisers described as “enforced COVID-19 vaccinations”.

After a march through the city, a large crowd gathered on the steps of SA’s Parliament, holding placards with slogans including “my body, my choice”.

Acting Chief Medical Officer Michael Cusack said he respected “everyone’s opinion and their view”, but he moved to reassure the public.

“Although these are the first doses in South Australia, 200 million doses now have been delivered across the globe and that number is increasing very quickly.

“Of that, we’ve seen very little in the way of adverse effects and serious allergy numbers are very, very low indeed.”

A rally on the steps of SA Parliament opposed to coronavirus vaccinations.
Protestors rallied on the steps of SA Parliament to express reservations about the rollout.(ABC News: Charlotte Batty)

Dr Cusack said the vaccine had also proven to be highly effective overseas, and said the detection of two new coronavirus cases in SA, in hotel quarantine, was a timely reminder of the importance of vaccination.

“We will continue to see cases coming in and that obviously is the risk in the state,” Dr Cusack said.

“That’s why it’s so important that those people involved in the quarantine program and in the medi-hotels are in fact vaccinated at the earliest opportunity.”

One of the cases is a child, and the other is a woman aged in her 30s.

Both recently returned from overseas and have been in hotel quarantine since arriving.

SA Health said the woman’s case was considered an old infection but had been added to the state’s tally, which stood at 610, because it had not been counted previously.

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Coronavirus: Without vaccines, health-care workers in Africa dying of COVID-19

There are some days where Dr. Emilia Noormahomed gets so anxious about contracting COVID-19 that she feels sick — “like I can’t breathe,” she says. It’s a fear and anxiety shared by many of her colleagues as the death toll of those they know climb each day.

“We are not only seeing health workers dying, physicians die, but also every day we hear about someone that we know who passed away of COVID – every day now. So, it’s really very painful, very sad,” Noormahomed, a microbiologist at the Universidade Eduardo Mondlane School of Medicine in Mozambique, told CTV News via video.

COVID-19 is sweeping through her country, with hospitals reaching capacity as the population grapples with a surge in cases. The city of Chimoio announced plans to expand its morgue to accommodate the rising number of COVID-19 deaths.

“Mozambique was once an example of managing Covid-19 in Africa and we were praised for our ability to stop the first wave of infections from Covid-19. But now we are one of the countries with one of the fastest increases in cases in Africa,” its president, Filipe Nyusi, said earlier this month during a presidential address.

Around the world, nearly 195 million shots have been given to protect people against SARS-CoV-2 so far, with medical workers given priority in the majority of cases. But of those shots, 10 countries account for almost 90 per cent of them. And roughly three-quarters have been administered by 10 of the world’s wealthiest countries. More than 115 countries have yet to start immunizations.

This vaccination race has left Africa behind, with most countries on the continent yet to give a single dose. South Africa only just started this week. With very few — if any — medical care workers inoculated, they are dying in regions where they are scarce to begin with. 

In Mozambique, at least seven physicians have died, along with an unknown number of nurses. Others are dying in neighbouring Zimbabwe too, like Dr. James Hakim and Dr. David Katzenstein, both of whom died of COVID-19 in late January.

Most of the time, Noormahomed tries to pull herself together, telling herself to be patient, to take the necessary precautionary measures, to try not to get infected. Unlike her friends and colleagues, Noormahomed is not on the front lines, but everyone is still feeling a tremendous amount of stress.

“We get anxious, we get frightened,” she said, adding that some of them have trouble sleeping, while others have developed more serious mental health issues.


In Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, some 140 extra beds have been set up in tents by the city’s main hospital. They are trying to cope with the surge in COVID-19 patients hit with the B.1.351 variant first discovered in South Africa.

“This second wave is hard, it’s getting hard for us,” said Dr. Lucia Chambal, an internal medicine specialist at Hospital Central de Maputo and COVID-19 co-ordinator, over Zoom.

“We can see younger people coming to the hospital. We have people dying in younger age, with no comorbidities so this variant is rare, it’s very, very dangerous.”

Dr. Robert Schooley, who works at UC San Diego, home to a research and training program in Mozambique, has lost friends and colleagues to the disease.

“It’s really a real humanitarian crisis … it’s also having an impact on the health care workers because they’re getting sick,” said Schooley, an infectious disease specialist. 

These medical workers are often older, with more experience, but who also have other health conditions that make them particularly vulnerable. They are dying while they wait and it’s unfair, doctors in the region say. 

“We need vaccines. We definitely need access as soon as possible,” said Noormahomed.

“The priority should be given to the health professionals to the people in the high risk jobs.”


Health-care workers like Noormahomed are trying to call attention to their plight. They understand that wealthier countries are struggling to contain their own outbreaks, but they do not have limited resources the way developing countries like Mozambique does.

“We don’t have this capacity that they have to go to someone like Pfizer and say, ‘I will buy all doses,’” Noormahomed said.

“So they should not be so selfish. From the amount of dollars they buy, they should share some.”

It’s a vaccine inequity the World Health Organization warned about just weeks earlier by the agency’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“I need to be blunt. The world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure. And the price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries,” he said in January.

“Even as they speak the language of equitable access, some countries and companies continue to prioritize bilateral deals, going around COVAX, driving up prices and attempting to jump to the front of the queue. This is wrong.”

The Trudeau government came under heavy criticism earlier this month over its decision to receive 1.9 million vaccine doses from COVAX, a global vaccine initiative involving 180 countries, including Canada, that is meant to guarantee fair and equitable vaccine access to all countries. 

Ottawa invested $440 million in COVAX last fall, half to secure up to 15 million doses for Canada, and half to buy vaccines for low- and middle-income countries. It pledged another $75 million on Friday as G7 countries promised to step-up efforts to widen the global vaccine distribution.

Ottawa has also secured more than 400 million vaccine doses from multiple manufacturers, among the largest vaccine procurements per capita in the world. International Aid Minister Karina Gould has said Canada will donate excess vaccines to lower income countries.

Meanwhile, the COVAX program itself has been slow to get off the ground, leaving millions at risk. Some health charities in Mozambique have warned that even with these programs in place, it could take “three to five years” to vaccinate the country against the coronavirus, leaving health-care workers no choice but to keep working on the front lines, unprotected.

“The resilience of their health-care system is so much more fragile than ours, that it wouldn’t take too much more of this to really put them back to where they were 20 years ago in terms of trying to figure out how to pull things together and get the health-care systems going,” said Schooley.

“Unless we control this epidemic everywhere in the world we’re going to still see variants generated … so even if you don’t care about people who live elsewhere and all you care about is yourself — it’s not even good policy to allow these epidemics to go unchecked, and assume that it has no impact on you.”

With files from The Canadian Press

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We can have confidence in safety of the vaccines

Danger in rushing into another big building project

We need proper quarantine accommodation today, not in four months time (The Age, 18/2). There appears to be a lot of existing solutions to this problem, including establishing self-contained caravans at Avalon Airport. There is no need to rush into another large construction project that is certain to be rendered obsolete once we all have been jabbed. Better still, immunise returning Australians in our embassies before they arrive in Australia.
Juliet Allen, St Kilda West

Repurposing old sanatoria for modern day use

In the 20th century, people infected with tuberculosis were sent to purpose-built sanatoria – these facilities were isolated from the community, and patients had access to fresh air and sunshine. Are there any of these sanatoria still standing? Could they be re-commissioned to replace COVID-19 “hot” hotels?
Angela Gill, Moonee Ponds

How to avoid outbreaks: do not use hotels

Tim Thornton (Letters, 17/2) says it is not clear why there are inconsistent standards between hotel quarantine and healthcare settings. Hospitals are designed for infection control, hotels are designed to provide accommodation. Continue to use hotels and outbreaks will continue. The federal government needs to stop shirking its responsibility and step up.
Michael Lunney, Leopold

The importance of ventilation and fresh air

As far back as the early 18th century, writers on medicine and disease observed that hospitals needed high ceilings, big windows (that could open) and ventilators manufactured to help expunge germs. Perhaps premiers could add historians into their mix of advisers.
Paul Watt, Hawksburn

Let’s take vital precautions and get on with our lives

This most recent lockdown has led to serious financial and social effects on business and the community. Did the government consider identifying hotspots and then locking them down, as has happened in NSW, rather than a blanket ban which on this particular weekend (Valentine’s Day, Lunar New Year) placed greater stress on the community? It seems to me the general feeling is that this pandemic cannot be eliminated but can be controlled while we get on with our daily lives, with the necessary precautions (vaccinations, mask-wearing, sanitising etc).
Lee Palmer, Albert Park

Balance laypeople’s opinions with expert views

Tourism Australia’s managing director urges governments to accept a higher risk threshold of COVID-19 and learn to live with the virus (The Age, 18/2). The executive director of the Australian Tourism Industry Council says closing borders after a handful of cases is like “trying to crush a walnut with a sledgehammer”.

They can, and should, talk about the impact of the pandemic on their industry and ask how decisions take their circumstances into account. However, chief health officers and other people who understand the dynamics of how diseases spread must be shaking their heads. These people’s opinions should be published with a public health response.
Richard Jamonts, Williamstown


Take a fresh approach

Now that a quarantine facility could be built at Avalon airport, might we hope the state government retains ownership of it? Many builders of prefabricated and modular homes/bungalows around Melbourne could, presumably, deliver in a short time frame. Is it really necessary to always look to a foreign supplier? Also, why waste time sending Victorian officials to Howard Springs to inspect the motel-style set-up there?

If the new facility is built using public money, it could be redeployed elsewhere in the future to help address the dire shortage in public housing. It has been almost a year since the Prime Minister announced his hotel quarantine policy, and then turned his back on it, and it has clearly had a few problems. It is time to try something new.
Dianne Ounapuu, Nunawading

Why an on-site inspection?

It seems a no-brainer to construct a Howard Springs-type facility at Avalon Airport. So why in heaven do we need Victorian officials to travel to the Northern Territory, at taxpayers’ expense, to “inspect the motel-style set-up”? Surely a few photos and conference calls would suffice? It is a motel, not a top secret biological laboratory. With the lovely Litchfield Falls a punt kick away, and Kakadu a nice drive away, the word junket roars to mind. It is not quite as good as a fact-finding mission to the Bahamas, but pretty close.
Billy Miller, Yarraville

Next step: a railway line

Avalon Airport’s environs seems an ideal place for a purpose-built quarantine facility. It is close to medical support, remote from residential areas, and there is land available. Travellers can walk to the facility, eliminating the risk of cross-infection on buses.

With this in mind, now is the perfect time to build a railway line to our second-largest airport to support both it and a quarantine facility. At the very least, it is essential to reserve the rail corridor to Avalon before residential infill creates the same difficulty that has plagued Melbourne Airport for so many years.
Helen Lyth, Rippleside

Betting on lockdown 4

I have a suggestion for a new lotto game. Pick the number of days until the state’s next outbreak from hotel quarantine, the next lockdown and the length of that next lockdown. Imagine the payout you would have received from Victoria’s second one. (Current odds on the next outbreak is 14 days or less: evens.)
Paul Jones, Balwyn

All quiet, all good

For those people who claim that the lockdown was unnecessary because there were no newly acquired COVID infections, I would like to share something I learned as a medical student: You know that public health measures are working when nothing happens.
Professor Roy Robins-Browne, medical microbiologist, University of Melbourne

Not an interesting drop

The almost daily release of Michael O’Brien’s whine has critics bemused. Wednesday’s “white whine” was criticised as being thin, without substance and definitely not one to get the party going.
Caitriona Young, Warrandyte

A high price to pay

I was saddened to read that roses for St Valentine’s Day were flown in from Ecuador and Kenya – “Roses are red, retailers are blue” (The Age, 18/12). Think of the “flower miles”. It is remarkable that we have to endure the environmental damage and cost of this. It is also difficult to understand why a viable local supply chain does not exist.
Leslie Reti, Melbourne

Making sense of Joyce

A quote from Barnaby Joyce on net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 (7.30, 17/2). “I might offer one word of caution for those who are jumping on board saying they want it. You know, you can’t say I’m going to marry a person and then say you actually want to marry someone else. Once you say you’re in, you’re in”. Is our climate policy safe in this person’s hands?
Simon Gould, Arawata

A champion in every way

At her press conference on Wednesday, Ash Barty demonstrated why she is a true champion. Gracious in defeat, respecting the rules, no excuses, seeking to learn from her experience and focusing on the future. A shining example for us all.
Anne Lyon, Camberwell

Tennis’ unfair advantage

This 10-minute medical break is ridiculous. It simply lets a player break their opponent’s momentum. Tennis players should do what other sportspeople have to do: play through the pain or retire hurt and get off.
Geoff Lipton, Caulfield North

Toughen up, players

Ash Barty may or may not have lost her match due to an opponent’s medical break but why do tennis rules allow players to have a rest because their fitness fails them? If I get a cramp in a bike race, the whole field does not wait until my problem is resolved. Most athletic sports require participants to last the distance without outside assistance, surely an indication of a worthy winner.
Max Langshaw, Sunbury

Two great sportsmen

No smashed racquets, no abuse of umpires: just beautiful, finessed play between two champion tennis players. The Australian Open’s quarter final between Rafael Nadal and Stefanos Tsitsipas was something that our children should watch as an example of outstanding sportsmanship.
Barbara Mothersdale, Hawthorn

Standing up to Facebook

The notion that Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook think they can hold the Australian government to ransom is gob smacking. While this is being sorted out, maybe we can all access our news directly from original sources. And maybe Josh Frydenberg can incorporate into the discussion a way of convincing the head of arguably the world’s most successful corporation that it pay reasonable taxes here as the rest of us are expected to do.
Rosie Elsass, Brighton

News, the old style way

Who needs Facebook? If we need news, go straight to the source and try the news apps, emergency services and government bodies such as the Bureau of Meteorology. If you are set in your views of the world, Facebook will reinforce your prejudices. If you want trivia, Facebook again. However, for diversity and communications try the old ways. They still work.
John Seal, Hamlyn Heights

Facebook, who needs it?

I knew there were good reasons not to join Facebook and spend my declining years peering at a computer. It is possible to get all the information you need without Facebook, thank goodness.
Margaret Ady, Avondale Heights

Prosecute the offenders

The behaviour of parliamentarians and their staff needs to be held to account. There is a systemic problem in relation to the treatment of women in Parliament that should be addressed by an independent body with the power to prosecute. If the law can be broken so easily without any consequence within our halls of power, then what hope is there for the rest of society?
Paul Chivers, Box Hill

History of predatory acts

Back in the 1960s, a young woman friend of mine moved from Sydney to Canberra to take up a prestigious, graduate training position in one of our national cultural institutions. Six months later she was back, having reluctantly given up the position, appalled at the misogynistic workplace culture and predatory behaviour of male colleagues and fellow residents, many of whom had left their wives or partners behind in their home states and saw any young female as fair game. It seems that not much has changed there in 50 years.
Bronwen Bryant, St Kilda West

Cleaning up the mess

Yet another delivery of carpets, brooms and other cleaning requirements to Parliament House’s ministerial offices is probably on its way. Persisting with hiding and ignoring mistakes might just sweep you away, Prime Minister, sooner than you think.
Bill Longden, Hampton

No certain election winner

The comparison by Jon Faine between Scott Morrison and Jeff Kennett winning elections (Opinion, 18/2) is interesting. Most media commentators picked Kennett to win in 1999, and have Morrison as favourite for the next federal election. But a major difference is that Kennett was defeated by a highly regarded opposition leader in Steve Bracks and Morrison is still facing “car crash” Anthony Albanese, decent bloke that he is. It is always crucial that voters look at the potential prime minister as well as party policies on election day, and that can still go either way.
Barry Donovan, Aireys Inlet

Axe the tax incentives

It is good to see the Labor Party call out the fallacy of releasing super to assist first home buyers (The Age, 18/2). But to then argue that getting rid of stamp duty is the solution, and to intimate that this will not have the same effect on pushing up house prices as accessing super: am I missing something? Prices will only stabilise and become “more affordable” when demand is weaker than supply. Until the tax incentives on investment houses are reigned in, home affordability will never be addressed.
Mark Harwood, Ocean Grove

An uneven playing field

Jessica Irvine is blunt, but spot on, with her analysis of the causes of increasing house prices (Opinion, 18/2). In this, the cat is truly belled and the Australian notion of the fair go is exposed as as something of a sham. The absence of wealth taxes advantage property owners in particular and limits the access to the property market for current non-owners. Also, the absence of taxes on wealth accumulation and the low real rate of business taxes places a burden on Pay As You Go income tax contributors.
Peter O’Donoghue, Kensington


Credit:Illustration: Matt Golding


Facebook will restrict news feeds in Australia. So what?
John Mosig, Kew

Facebook is going to block news sharing on its platform. Now that’s good news.
Julie Perry, Highton

Morrison needs to get Jen to speak to Mark Zuckerberg.
Greg Lee, Red Hill


I hate to quote Trump but it’s time to clean the swamp.
Linda Mackie, Collingwood

Scott wears the trousers but Jenny chooses them for him.
Harriet Farnaby, Geelong West

Morrison’s comments, said with a straight face, are providing plenty of “pull the other leg” moments.
Hugh McCaig, Blackburn

Thank you, Jon Faine (18/2). The only way Scott will be Jeffed is if Wong leads Labor. Its current options look pale and grey.
Imelda Carthy, Camberwell


So, up to 7500 people at the tennis and thousands at the football, but only five visitors in homes and 20 at public gatherings.
Geoff McDonald, Newtown

O’Brien again proves he is a proponent of carp diem – find fault every day.
Les Aisen, Elsternwick

I’m sorry, Brian King (17/2), but as someone with a fear of guns, I’d rather have a jab than a shot any day.
June Collini, Diamond Creek

Australian Open

Ash is a wonderful role mode. She behaved exactly as we could hope after a disappointing loss.
Diana Goetz, Mornington

Barty, gracious in defeat, a sportsmanlike explanation for her loss and poo pooing media hype about Muchova’s medical break.
Ross Cropley, North Ringwood

In retrospect, perhaps Barty should have taken a similar break.
Rob Mathew, Yarraville

Could Nine replace flags in front of players’ names with three-letter acronyms. Not everyone knows all the flags.
John Cummings, Anglesea

Note from the Editor

The Age’s editor, Gay Alcorn, writes an exclusive newsletter for subscribers on the week’s most important stories and issues. Sign up here to receive it every Friday.

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WA to roll out COVID vaccines from Monday

At least 5,000 Western Australians should be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by mid-March with hotel quarantine workers to be among the first recipients.

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Vaccines: passports to normality?

After a year of mostly terrible news, the rapid roll-out of the coronavirus vaccination programme in the UK has at last brought some positive headlines.

Assuming that challenges with supply or new virus mutations do not derail the programme, it is likely that the entire UK adult population will have been offered a vaccination later in 2021. This brings with it the tantalising prospect of reopening the economy, and our lives returning to something approaching normality.

Despite the success of the vaccine roll-out, we know that covid-19 is not going to disappear immediately. None of the current vaccines offer 100% protection, and not everyone wants or is able to be vaccinated. So how can we reopen the economy and restore international travel without risking another wave of infections? One possible ‘solution’ is the introduction of so-called vaccine passports. A vaccine passport is a document, probably in electronic form, that provides official confirmation that the individual has had a recent and up-to-date vaccination against covid-19.

For individuals, particularly those who have received the vaccine already, there are clear and obvious benefits to a system of vaccine passports. But they do raise some very difficult legal and ethical challenges. Will businesses be guilty of discrimination if they refuse to serve customers without a vaccine passport? Can employers insist on their employees having a vaccine, and sack them if they don’t? What if an individual refuses the vaccine on religious grounds? Or because of an underlying health condition? And what about the risks of inaccurate data or data breaches?

At this stage, all this is theoretical. Not everyone has had the opportunity to be vaccinated and the current restrictions mean most businesses that may wish to rely on vaccine passports are closed. But governments across the world, including in the UK, are known to be looking at such measures. Separately, a number of private companies are working on technological solutions to allow individuals to ‘prove’ that they have been vaccinated. Once available, this technology is likely to prove very popular among people desperate to return to their former lives, particularly if businesses decide to restrict services only to those who can demonstrate that they have been vaccinated. There have already been media reports of travel companies insisting that customers are vaccinated prior to travelling, while Charlie Mullins of Pimlico Plumbers has written about his aim to make the vaccinate mandatory for new starters.

Businesses will need to think very carefully before requiring their customers to provide ‘proof’ that they have received a covid vaccine, particularly in the absence of any officially sanctioned vaccine passport, certification or other document. They will need to be sure that the data they are collecting is accurate, reliable and safe from manipulation. The types of manual vaccination appointment cards given by the NHS don’t provide sufficient reassurance, as they are not intended to be a definitive record and are clearly open to being copied or misused. Realistically, the importance of a vaccine passport, or lack of one, is likely to require some form of government involvement.

Assuming these practical challenges can be overcome, a business wishing to utilise vaccine passports will still need to comply with data protection law. This means having a valid lawful basis for collecting and retaining data, and ensuring that any data is used proportionately and only where necessary for a clearly defined purpose. Information about health merits special protection under data protection law, and so its use is tightly controlled. Businesses will need to justify their use of vaccine passports and clearly explain to individuals how information about them will be used.

If services are to be denied or employment restricted as a result of checking vaccine passports, then businesses will need to take into account equality and human rights legislation. Depending on the specific context, a blanket policy requiring individuals to show a vaccine passport may be disproportionate and therefore discriminatory. At the very least, businesses should put in place systems to allow individuals to explain why they may not be able to provide proof of vaccination and to challenge any inaccuracies in the data. There is a risk that some individuals will be effectively ‘blacklisted’ because of their failure to provide proof of vaccination, shutting them out of areas of public life as society begins to reopen.

Despite all of these issues, our collective desperation for a return to normality is likely to mean that we’ll see some sort of vaccine passport scheme in the near future. The challenge for government is to ensure that the scheme is accurate, available and secure. It will then be up to businesses to decide in what circumstances it is fair and lawful to insist on a vaccine passport.

Jon Belcher

Jon Belcher is a specialist data protection and information governance lawyer at Excello Law.

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Coronavirus latest: EU anti-fraud office widens probe to include fake Covid vaccines

George Russell in Hong Kong

Singapore’s economy continued to contract in the fourth quarter, according to data released on Monday, but at a slower pace than the previous quarter, as manufacturing, wholesale trade and finance grew as the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the city-state faded.

The south-east Asian country’s gross domestic product declined by 2.4 per cent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, according to revised data released by the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

The contraction was an improvement from the 5.8 per cent shrinkage in the preceding quarter, the ministry said.

On a quarter-on-quarter seasonally adjusted basis, the economy expanded by 3.8 per cent, following the 9 per cent growth recorded in the previous quarter, official data showed.

The ministry said it would maintain its GDP growth forecast for 2021 at 4-6 per cent.

“We raise our 2021 GDP growth forecast to 5.5 per cent,” said Brian Tan, Barclays analyst in Singapore.

Hawker’s apprentice Lim Wei Keat displays chickens at a food stall in Singapore

Manufacturing grew by 10.3 per cent year-on-year, extending the 11 per cent expansion in the third quarter.

“Growth was supported by output expansions in the electronics, biomedical manufacturing, precision engineering and chemicals clusters, which more than offset output declines in the transport engineering and general manufacturing clusters,” the ministry said.

The construction sector contracted by 27.4 per cent year-on-year due to declines in both public sector and private sector construction works, an improvement from the 52.5 per cent contraction in the third quarter.

The wholesale trade sector grew by 1.8 per cent year-on-year, a turnround from the 5 per cent contraction in the third quarter, the ministry added.

“The economy is on a recovery path after the strong rebound in Q3 and the trough registered in Q2,” said Irvin Seah, economist at DBS. “However, the pace of growth has slowed, as this V-shaped recovery turns into a square root shaped trajectory.”

Seah said Singapore had entered a normalisation process. “As economic activities gradually resume to norm, growth momentum will naturally revert to a more sustainable pace.”

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India to ship COVID-19 vaccines to Canada as diplomatic tension eases

India’s Serum Institute will ship COVID-19 vaccines to Canada within a month, its chief executive said Monday, a sign a diplomatic row triggered by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s comments on political protests in India was easing.

Trudeau said the months-long protests by farmers on the outskirts of Delhi were concerning, drawing a rebuke from the Indian government which said it was an internal matter.

Last week, however, Trudeau spoke to Indian counterpart Narendra Modi and they discussed the two countries’ commitment to democracy.

Modi also said India would do its best to supply COVID-19 vaccines sought by Canada.

On Monday Adar Poonawalla, the chief executive of Serum Institute of India (SII) — the world’s largest vaccine maker — reaffirmed that commitment.

“As we await regulatory approvals from Canada, I assure you, @SerumInstIndia will fly out #COVISHIELD to Canada in less than a month; I’m on it!” Poonawalla said in a tweet, using the brand name under which Serum produces the shot developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca Plc.

India’s SII has emerged as a key vaccine supplier amid the pandemic. Canada, like many other countries, is relying on foreign supplies because it is unable to produce the vaccine locally.

Experts and officials say India has been trying to use its vaccine dominance to shore up diplomatic support.

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