FILE – This March 16, 2020 file photo shows vials used by pharmacists to prepare syringes used on the first day of a first-stage safety study clinical trial of the potential vaccine for COVID-19. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
OAN Newsroom UPDATED 8:26 AM PT – Wednesday, December 2, 2020
As the COVID-19 vaccine nears Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval in the U.S., federal investigators are warning about counterfeit vaccines.
Department of Homeland Security officials said criminals are looking to take advantage of the pandemic by attempting to sell unapproved treatments and prevention for COVID-19. Investigators have already identified 60,000 websites suspected of fraudulent activity.
Back in April, the feds launched Operation Stolen Promise to combat such coronavirus-related fraud.
“It was a global strategy that brought together our Global Trade Investigations division, our financial division, cybercrimes division as well as our international operations to combat the illicit activity relating to COVID-19 fraud,” said Steve Francis, Director of National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center.
As the world focuses on a potential #COVID19 vaccine, ICE’s #HSI focuses on stopping those who intend to fill the marketplace with counterfeit treatments. Learn more about Operation Stolen Promise 2.0: https://t.co/yohpBm0xOj pic.twitter.com/7ZIOPjcsK5
SINGAPORE: Police on Sunday (Nov 29) warned members of the public of a phishing scam involving fake advertisement for fast food chain Pizza Hut.
The fake advertisements are on Facebook or Instagram and offer “cheap Pizza Hut deals”, the police said in a news release.
After victims clicked on the URL embedded in the advertisement, they were directed to a fake Pizza Hut website where they were purportedly deceived into placing their pizza orders and providing their banking details and one-time passwords (OTP) for payment.
“Most of the victims only realised that they have been scammed when they subsequently discovered unauthorised transactions in their bank accounts,” the police said.
The police reminded members of the public to adopt crime prevention measures such as:
– Be wary of URL links provided in unsolicited advertisements and text messages, especially those related to deals that seem too good to be true
– Always verify the authenticity of the information with the official website or sources
– Never disclose personal or Internet banking details and OTP to anyone
– Report any fraudulent transaction involving your e-payment accounts to the e-payment service provider immediately
People who have information on such scams can call the police’s hotline at 1800-255-0000 or submit the information online at www.police.gov.sg/iwitness.
If last summer was defined by devastating bushfires, the Bureau of Meteorology and emergency services are warning that floods and storms are the weather patterns to watch out for in the coming months.
SES, BOM warn Sydney faces heightened flood risk over summer
Suburbs near Nepean, Hawkesbury and Georges rivers most vulnerable
Residents urged to start preparing now and have a flood plan in place
With dam levels already above 90 per cent and a La Niña phenomenon expected to bring more rain to the east coast, Sydneysiders are being urged to prepare for the possibility of a damaging deluge.
There are a series of practical steps residents can take to minimise their risk.
Why is there a heightened risk?
Months of rainfall from as far back as February have caused dam levels to rise and moisture content in the soil to increase, according to the BOM’s Agata Imielska.
“Our dam levels in the Greater Sydney area are at just over 95 per cent capacity, with Warragamba Dam sitting at just over 97 per cent,” she said.
“If we get any heavy rainfall in that area it’s more likely to produce flooding because of the limited capacity for our soils to absorb that moisture.”
Compounding these factors is the onset of a La Niña, a climate-influencing phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), which describes ocean and atmospheric circulations over the Pacific Ocean.
During a La Niña phase, Australia’s northern waters are warm with increased convection.
This allows more moisture to be lifted into the air than normal, typically resulting in increased rain and warm temperatures at night.
“If we look to our next three months we are expecting La Niña to continue through summer with above average rainfall across the Sydney area and large parts of Australia,” Ms Imielska said.
“Australia really is the land of drought and flooding rains.
“A lot of us still have the dry conditions and bushfires at the front of our mind but really we need to be looking to that quite drastic shift from drought conditions to having flood risks.”
What areas could be affected by flooding?
Residents across the Greater Sydney region should be alert to the dangers of storms and flooding but there are key locations that are more vulnerable.
Suburbs around the Nepean, Hawkesbury and Georges rivers are most at risk of being inundated.
New South Wales State Emergency Services (SES) Commissioner Carlene York has been preparing her team to assist residents in need.
She said staff would be on alert and ready to help in the event of a heavy downpour but there were also a number of precautions residents could take to prepare now, and in the lead up to a likely flood event.
Make a flood plan
Coming up with a home emergency plan in the event of a flood is an essential part of preparations.
Obtaining a copy of your local council’s flood plan is key to finding out the location of problem areas, evacuation routes and relief centres.
“Think about what you need to take in an emergency kit,” Commissioner York said.
An emergency kit can include important documents, a portable AM radio with spare batteries, a first aid kit, a torch, candles and waterproof matches.
“Tie things down, make sure your gutters are clean and be aware of the conditions of trees around your home,” Commissioner York said.
If a flood warning is issued, residents should identify the safest route to the nearest relief centre and leave with plenty of time.
Residents can also decide which items they want to put in a higher spot and think about what to do with the contents of fridges and freezers.
Firefighters are pleading with tourists to be fire ready ahead of what is expected to be one of the busiest holiday periods in the South West of Western Australia.
The South West region is fully booked for the summer holidays
Authorities say the busy tourist season is coinciding with the bushfire period
Tourists and campers need to prepare ahead of time and be aware of daily fire ratings
Tourism operators are reportedly fully booked this Christmas, despite the state’s hard border which is finally being relaxed commencing this weekend.
The increase in tourists coincides with the region’s summer bushfire season.
Andrew Wright, the DFES district officer for the South West, said the department was keeping an eye on the predicted increase in tourist numbers at summer hotspots.
“Especially within our national parks where there might be free camping or bush camping areas, and we’ll be consulting with our partners at Parks and Wildlife just to make sure that we’ve captured everybody.”
Campers, tourists prepare ahead
Mr Wright said the most important thing for tourists to be aware of was the daily fire danger ratings.
He said if the rating reached severe or catastrophic on certain days, campers especially should consider moving elsewhere.
Airbnb guests are also encouraged to have a bushfire escape plan prepared.
“If you’re in an Airbnb or something similar where you’re unfamiliar with the territory, it’s important that you understand whether the hosts already have a fire plan in place,” Mr Wright said.
“If not that, you need to actually make that plan for yourselves and understand where you can go if need be.”
Jenny Lee from the Margaret River Busselton Tourism Association said demand was higher than previous years with more WA tourists holidaying in their own state.
“I would say that there’s been even stronger demand compared to previous years.
“But summer holidays are our peak season and we would normally expect accommodation to be booked out.”
The rise in COVID-19 cases in quarantine has not been unexpected, with infections surging in the US, Europe as well as Pakistan and India, which are the top two countries of origin for return travellers in Sydney.
NSW has had only one quarantine scare — when two security guards at the Sydney Marriott Hotel tested positive in August.
But epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaws said the program was about to be “really tested”.
“There will be the occasional incident as hotels are not purpose built for quarantine,” said Professor McLaws, who is an advisor to the World Health Organization.
“This virus doesn’t understand rules and regulations, it just uses any opportunity, like contaminated surfaces or staff letting their guard down.”
“It was a perfect storm, what happened in Victoria. That would be hard to replicate in any other state but the possibility is always there,” Professor McLaws said.
The differing levels of virus surveillance in some parts of the world were making it very hard to accurately judge risk right now, she said.
“India cannot keep up and not everyone is getting tested and there is severe under-reporting in Bangladesh.”
Epidemiologist Tony Blakely from the University of Melbourne said hotel quarantine seemed to be working well in NSW but there was now increased pressure on the system.
He admitted leakages were unlikely but said they could occur “from time to time” due to inaccuracies or carelessness.
“For example, the one-in-a-thousand (or more) person who is infected beyond 14 days, but not detected by testing, gets out of quarantine and haplessly passes it on to someone,” Professor Blakely said.
“[Or] the staff member at quarantine who picks it up, tests negative — it happens, about 20 per cent of the time — and takes it home.”
But epidemiologist from the University of Sydney, Fiona Stanaway, said the climbing cases in hotel quarantine shouldn’t cause unnecessary alarm.
“The rates are going gangbusters overseas so yes there will be more people positive but I think it is a risk that can be managed,” she said.
“Rates were really high in the US and Europe in March and April and that was managed here. I don’t think there’s necessarily a cause for concern about this third wave here.
Dr Stanaway said people in quarantine were tested on days two and 10, making the chance of them infecting anyone in the community “really small”.
She said a strong hotel quarantine system had to be complemented with an effective contact tracing team in case of leakage.
“And that’s really all we can do until there’s a vaccine unfortunately.”
Professor Blakely said NSW and Victoria had “very, very” good contact tracing systems and Queensland was also good, but the rest of the states were yet to be tested.
Quarantine facilities outside major cities
The Federal Government recently indicated it intends to scale up Darwin’s Howard Springs Facility so it can process about 1,000 international returnees a month.
Professor McLaws said Australia’s handle on COVID-19 relied on national quarantine facilities being set up outside of city centres.
She said the former workers camp of Howard Springs, which sits 25 kilometres outside of Darwin, ticked a lot of boxes.
“If the numbers of positive return travellers become so high, without a purpose-built environment, without really good airflow change, without high-level trained staff, there will be a spillover and it will go into the community,” she said.
“Hotel quarantine was a reasonable interim solution to bring Australians back safely but it’s now been nine months since the public health emergency was called.”
NSW takes the lion’s share of return travellers at 3,000 per week but NSW Health said hotel quarantine was “running well” and services had been increased to meet the new arrival caps.
While NSW Police manage the quarantine hotels, NSW Health runs the ‘health hotels’ that accommodate those who require medical support.
A NSW Health spokesperson told the ABC the Sydney Local Health District was currently seeking out extra apartment blocks to use as quarantine facilities and was recruiting more staff.
There are currently 532 patients in health hotels in Sydney — 65 of whom are COVID-19 positive.
“[In a health hotel] there are designated floors for patients who are positive, negative or pending a result. Physical separation of patient cohorts according to COVID-19 status is a critical part of the infection prevention control process,” the spokesperson said.
Getting more Australians home
All the experts agreed getting more Australians home was a risk worth taking.
“I think we do want to keep international connections alive, and some risk is worth it,” Professor Blakely said.
“Moreover we need to seriously consider taking in international students again — who after all come from very low-risk countries most of the time, for example, China, Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea.”
Queensland and Western Australia recently upped their intake of internationaltravellers to 1,150 and 1,165 per week respectively.
South Australia now takes 600 passengers per week, an increase from 240.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told the ABC there were about 45,400 Australians overseas who were registered with DFAT and 35,700 waiting to return home.
The Prime Minister has previously flagged the possibility of home quarantine for travellers coming from “safe” countries but Professor McLaws said this could be a big gamble.
“How do we ensure they don’t have visitors popping over to their home?
“We would need to ensure they can’t take off any monitoring devices … home quarantine could be a disaster depending on where they are coming from,” she said.
In addition to committing billions of dollars to federal purchases of American products, materials and services, the platform promises to bring critical supply chains back to the U.S.
“Canada needs to make the case for the role we play in America’s economic security, and why North America should be treated as a region when thinking about supply-chain security,” Agnew said.
Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said Canadian businesses should undoubtedly expect warmer Canada-U.S. relations under a Biden presidency, with fewer erratic trade policy and fewer issues “popping up in the middle of the night” than during the past four years.
However, he too cautioned about protectionism and the need for Ottawa to prepare for continued trade skirmishes.
“With a growing protectionist sentiment in the U.S. across both parties, Canadian firms will need our government to work hard to keep access to the U.S. market (as) open as possible,” he said.
Canadian firms will need our government to work hard to keep access to the U.S. market (as) open as possible
Dan Kelly, CFIB
Still, the head of the association representing Canada’s aluminum industry — which was twice hit with tariffs by the Trump administration — expected less “volatility” if Biden becomes president.
“It certainly will be a shift from confrontation to collaboration, in terms of attitude,” said Jean Simard, chief executive of the Aluminum Association of Canada.
He said Biden, who served as vice-president under former U.S. president Barack Obama, has been public about his belief in multi-lateralism and “working with allied countries on shared undertakings.”
People who ignore coronavirus restrictions should be prepared to “face the consequences of greater levels of enforcement”, police have warned.
The chief constables of five forces in the north-west of England have said in an open letter that they will “collectively target” the minority of people who break the rules by holding large gatherings, music events and parties.
Their words come just days before tougher restrictions are brought in across England in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
The senior officers, from the forces covering Cheshire, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Merseyside, said their forces had taken a “very measured” approach to enforcement and used a model of “engage, explain, encourage and only as a last resort, enforce”.
“Sadly we have seen a minority right across the North West who seem incapable of demonstrating any civic responsibility and complying with regulations.”
They said the public wanted a “consistent and robust” approach to enforcement and that the introduction of local restrictions had seen forces take a “firmer stance” over restrictions and move more quickly to issue fixed penalty notices.
They wrote: “We know how hard this is, but we need to maintain that shared purpose we had in the first lockdown to defeat the virus and, ultimately, save lives.
“To the minority who feel the restrictions don’t apply to them be prepared to face the consequences of greater levels of enforcement.
“We will collectively target those who flout the restrictions, particularly those organising large gatherings and music events, repeatedly holding parties or deliberately causing harm to our communities by not following the restrictions such as self-isolating where necessary.
“Where we have issued fixed penalty notices a significant proportion of recipients think they can ignore them.
“We are therefore seeking support from government and the judiciary to consider how we bring these people to justice rapidly.”