Federal Investigators warn of counterfeit COVID-19 vaccine fraud


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)

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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.

Investigators are studying how the vaccine will be packaged and creating a mass database to identify fakes.

RELATED: President Trump praises Operation Warp Speed as Moderna’s vaccine candidate heads into FDA review

 





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Europeans discover they are HIV positive ‘3 years after they infected’, experts warn


Europe has made good progress towards a goal of eliminating AIDS by 2030 but late diagnosis of HIV remains a significant problem, new figures reveal.

The data released to mark World AIDS Day on December 1 showed new diagnoses in the EU and European Economic Area (EEA) had declined by 9% since 2010.

AIDS cases declined by nearly a quarter in the same period, the figures show.

The vast majority of new cases are emerging in Eastern European countries, particularly Russia and Ukraine.

But the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said the number of undiagnosed HIV cases was increasing.

It can take three years for the average European person infected with HIV to be diagnosed, it added.

“Too many people throughout the [region] are diagnosed late (53%), increasing their risk of ill health, death and onward HIV transmission,” the ECDC said.

“The high number of AIDS diagnoses in the East confirms that late HIV diagnosis remains a major challenge.”

HIV positive people who are not aware they are infected have no access to drug treatments and risk unknowingly passing the virus onto others.

Nearly 137,000 people were diagnosed with the virus in Europe in 2019 — 25,000 of these were in countries of the European Union and European Economic Area (EEA).

The highest number of cases per 100,000 people in Western Europe were reported in France, the United Kingdom and Germany.

No cure, but effective treatments

HIV began spreading around the world four decades ago and killed millions of people in the 1980s and 1990s.

The virus damages cells in the immune system, weakening people’s ability to fight everyday infections.

When a person’s immune system becomes severely damaged, they develop AIDS, which can be life-threatening.

There is no cure for HIV, but drug treatments are now extremely effective at allowing most people to live healthy lives.

Winnie Byanyima, director of the United Nations programme UNAIDS, said it was important the world did repeat “the same mistakes it made in the fight against HIV” when responding to COVID-19.

“Even today, more than 12 million people are still waiting to get on HIV treatment and 1.7 million people became infected with HIV in 2019 because they could not access essential services,” she said.

One of the world’s Sustainable Development Goals is to eliminate AIDS at a public health threat by 2030.

Byanima said the goal was “already off track before COVID-19”, adding: “We must end the social injustices that put people at risk of contracting HIV. And we must fight for the right to health.”



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Police warn against phishing scam that uses fake Pizza Hut advertisements


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.

A screengrab of a fake Pizza Hut website used to run a phishing scam. (Image: Singapore Police Force)

“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.



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Police warn people not to post ‘unconfirmed’ sightings



A SENIOR police officer has urged people to refrain from posting unconfirmed updates and reports during emergency services operations which he said can cause unnecessary distress and confusion.

Richmond Police District Acting Inspector Russell Ewing said a recent example occurred when they were conducting a large scale search for an alleged missing swimmer in Evans Head.

A post on a community information website claimed the missing woman had been confirmed as having been safe at home all along.

“I want to remind the community not to post any supposed updates on social media which have not been confirmed by police reports,” Act Insp Ewing said.

“Please be mindful that unconfirmed reports can cause distress or confuse the investigation.”

Act Insp Ewing said as soon as police had information they would released it through media and their own social media channels.

Meanwhile, he confirmed the search for the missing woman swimmer has been halted for the moment.

“The search has been suspended as there has been no report of anyone missing,” he said.

“We have undertaken a thorough check and no-one has been reporting missing and we have located no abandoned cars or campsites.”

Act Insp Ewing said one possibility was that people who reported the swimmer missing saw her enter the water but not come out again.

“It is possible the swimmer has no idea she has been reported as missing,” he said.

He said anyone with any information should contact Crimestoppers on 1800 333 000.





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Sydney faces heightened flood risk over summer, BOM and emergency services warn


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.

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.”

During the last La Niña in 2012, Warragamba Dam spilled over and around 75 per cent of NSW was affected by floodwaters.(AAP: Mick Tsikas)

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.

gage indicating La Nina level reached
Conditions are now officially at La Nina levels.(Supplied: Bureau of Meteorology)

“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.”

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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.

Water pours into the Parramatta River at the Parramatta Ferry Wharf during during torrential rain.
Torrential rain has caused damage and disruption to Sydney suburbs in recent years.(Audience submitted: Jon Fowell)

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.

Commissioner York said pet owners should take notice of the SES Get Animals Ready website.

It recommends planning for what to take, how to transport your pets and understanding where the animals can go during an emergency.

If you need to evacuate

Stay calm, follow your plan and listen out for updates.

Along with an emergency kit, residents can take warm clothing, essential medications, a mobile phone and charger and waterproof bags.

You can raise furniture and other valuables onto beds or into roof spaces, turn off power and gas and place sandbags in the toilet bowl to prevent sewage backflow.

When leaving, do not walk or drive through flood water — just 30 centimetres of water can sweep away a car.

Keep away from fallen powerlines and let family and friends know your location and where you are going.

Keep listening to your local ABC Radio station on a battery-powered radio, listen online or via the ABC listen app for updates and instructions.

Those caught in floodwater should call for help immediately from the SES on 132 500 or triple-0 in a life threatening situation.



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Tourists visiting WA’s popular South West must be bushfire ready, authorities warn


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.

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.”

Water-bombing plane over Margaret River bushfire
A water-bombing plane over a Margaret River bushfire.(Supplied: Christa Walsh)

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.

A range of cars and caravans lined up in traffic along a regional one lane highway
Heavy traffic on Bussell Highway is common during the summer holidays.(ABC South West: Gian De Poloni)

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.”



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Coronavirus explosion overseas will ‘really test’ Australia’s hotel quarantine program, experts warn


The explosion of COVID-19 cases overseas will strain Australia’s hotel quarantine system and increase the chance of “leakage” into the community, leading epidemiologists say.

Victoria isn’t accepting return international travellers, but the number of positive cases in NSW hotel quarantine has doubled in the past two weeks, data has shown.

This follows the Federal Government’s increase of the international arrivals cap from 6,000 to 6,290 people per week.

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.”

Melbourne’s ‘perfect storm’

Melbourne’s second wave of COVID-19 proved just how much rides on quarantine being watertight, with one infected hotel manager causing mass infections and months of lockdowns.

“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.”

Fiona Stanaway is not overly concerned by the increasing cases in hotel quarantine.

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.”

A woman wearing glasses looks at the camera.
Mary-Louise McLaws says NSW is “very fortunate” to have only one quarantine breach.(Supplied: UNSW)

The national review into hotel quarantine also called the hotel program “vulnerable to breaches” and backed a national quarantine facility.

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.

A police officer and an Australian Border Force officer stand wearing face masks outside the Mercure Hotel in Perth.
Police and Australian Border Force officers provide security at the Mercure Hotel in Perth.(ABC News: Steve Johns)

“[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 international travellers 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.



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Biden presidency would calm but not cure trade troubles with U.S., business groups warn


Article content continued

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.”



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Coronavirus: Police warn of ‘greater levels of enforcement’ for COVID rule breakers | UK News



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.

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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.”

On Tuesday the UK reported 397 people had died within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test, the highest number since May.

There were also 20,018 new COVID-19 cases, compared with 18,950 on the previous day.



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Insurance companies warn of “disaster chasers” as Saturday’s Queensland storm leaves some homes unlivable


Insurance companies are warning victims of Saturday’s destructive storms to watch out for “disaster chasers” as the damage bill tops $100 million.

Some insurers have received reports of tradespeople unaffiliated with their companies offering urgent repairs that would not be covered.

Homes in south-east Queensland were battered with massive hailstones, damaging cars and leaving some homes unliveable.
Homes and vehicles in Queensland were battered by heavy storms last week. (9News)

Peter and Cathy Morcus have been forced to move in with their son after the roof of their house collapsed.

“We just got to the stage where we’d got the house the way we wanted it,” she told 9News.

“It doesn’t get better every time you look at it.”

Tarps have been used to temporarily patch roofs and thousands of homes remain without power.

Concerns have been raised over insurance claims. (9News)

The SES says it still has more than 1500 jobs to complete across the region.

The Bureau of Meteorology says more dangerous weather is possible in the lead up to summer.

“The whole month of November is the most common time to see these supercell thunderstorm outbreaks,” Meteorologist Peter Glassen said.

The suburbs of Springfield, Rosewood, Greenbank and Boronia Heights were the hardest hit, as well as parts of the Sunshine Coast.

The Insurance Council of Australia has labelled the weather event a “catastrophe”.



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