Tasmanians reflect on a year of living and working since COVID hit


When Andy Bading took his seat on a plane for the final leg of a journey home after a family holiday in Vanuatu, he didn’t know he would be touching down in a state about to be changed dramatically by coronavirus.

Mr Bading and his wife, Mel, learned from media reports that his seat had been close to a man who, on March 2, 2020, became the first person to test positive to COVID-19 in Tasmania.

“We freaked out, obviously. We have a child who has immunodeficiency disorders and things like that, so first concern was that,” Mr Bading said.

“But the biggest concern was public health didn’t contact us, we had to contact them, and they didn’t know what to tell us. It was very confusing.”

Mr Bading self-isolated at home, but quickly developed a high temperature and drove to the Launceston General Hospital to be tested for COVID-19.

“They instantly isolated me and they put me in a room and they wore the whole dark suit and everything like that with the signs on the door.”

Testing revealed Mr Bading had not contracted COVID-19, but instead had swine flu.

When he recovered he returned home to Hadspen and transitioned to working from home as harsh coronavirus restrictions were introduced around the state.

While the harshest restrictions have since been lifted, Mr Bading said life in Tasmania has yet to return to pre-COVID normality.

“Obviously you don’t shake people’s hands or give them a cuddle,” he said.

“The other main difference is no travel. And we’re looking forward to doing that again, because we love cruises.”

Andy and Mel Bading enjoyed their last overseas holiday for a year before flying back to Launceston.(

Supplied: Andy Bading

)

“I wanted to protect everybody”

The Launceston General Hospital’s head of infectious diseases, Katie Flanagan, was driving her daughter to a rowing competition when she got a phone call telling her there was a likely COVID case at the hospital.

The roadside phone call began 12 months of intense work to ready the hospital to safely treat patients with the virus.

Professor Flanagan’s team was in charged of managing the first case, a man who had flown from Iran to Launceston, via Malaysia and Melbourne.

“At that point we had absolutely nothing set up in the hospital in terms of how we would manage a large number of COVID patients coming through,” she said.

Professor Katie Flanagan sitting in her chair.
Professor Katie Flanagan led the Launceston General Hospital’s response to treating Tasmania’s first COVID patient.(

ABC News: Chook Brooks

)

“What it did was kick us into action,” Professor Flanagan said.

Professor Flanagan oversaw the creation of a COVID-19 ward and an escalation plan at the hospital.

“My close colleagues and staff, we had this terrible fear because you could see what was happening in certain countries around the world where hospitals became overwhelmed, and we had to prepare for that scenario,” she said.

“I wanted to protect everybody as well as I could.”

Cleaner planned to isolate in garage

Hospital cleaner Jason Beck had been keeping up to date with international media reports about COVID-19 and wasn’t surprised when it appeared in Tasmania.

Two members of Mr Beck’s family have pre-existing medical conditions.

Fearing he might be exposed to COVID-19 at work, he bought his own PPE and a supply of N-95 masks.

“Because two people would be at risk here, and I work at the hospital in high volume areas, with critical patients, I thought that was the best way to approach it, because I obviously don’t want to make anyone sick,” Mr Beck said.

He and his family decided if the situation worsened, Mr Beck could live in the garage under their house.

“I had a workshop and downstairs area where I could go and be isolated down there,” he said.

A year after Tasmania’s first COVID case, Mr Beck was excited about the rollout of coronavirus vaccines.

“Now there’s light at the end of the tunnel, I think, and before the vaccine you just didn’t know what was going to happen, you couldn’t plan anything,” he said.

But he said the community was still wary of future coronavirus outbreaks.

“With health things, it’s usually two weeks later everyone forgets and we go back to normal life. I really feel that is not the case this time,” he said.

Launceston resident in the area under his house where he planned to self-isolate.
Launceston resident Jason Beck in the area under his house where he planned to self-isolate if he contracted COVID-19.(

ABC News: Laura Beavis

)

“People had that fear going on”

After Tasmania’s first COVID case, work at the Launceston General Hospital changed dramatically for registered nurse Stephanie Lee.

Within months she was caring for COVID patients in the hospital’s intensive care unit.

She and her colleagues also began to worry about a change in the way community members reacted to seeing health care workers in scrubs outside of the hospital.

“Being a nurse we’d always been the most trusted profession and all of a sudden people were seeing us and sort of had that fear going on,” Ms Lee said.

Stephanie Lee standing on the lawn.
Nurse Stephanie Lee said she and her colleagues were worried when their work scrubs attracted negative attention outside the hospital.(

ABC News: Laura Beavis

)

Ms Lee and other nurses stopped wearing their uniform to and from work.

Ms Lee believes some parts of her life and work changed by COVID will remain that way.

“I think there’s some things that won’t ever go back to the way that they were,” she said.

Community support kept shops and cafes afloat

A year after Tasmania’s first case of COVID-19, Daniel Alps’s supermarket and cafe is still doing things differently than 12 months ago.

“Before COVID we never used to do deliveries or any of those types of things — our business model changed,” Mr Alps said.

He said adapting to changing coronavirus rules by temporarily switching to takeaway-only service and extending commercial kitchen-level hygiene practices to the entire cafe had been challenging, but support from local customers remained strong throughout.

Daniel Alps in his cafe.
Daniel Alps closed the seated area of his cafe and switched to takeaway service as coronavirus restrictions were introduced.(

ABC News: Laura Beavis

)

Homewares retailer Lindi McMahon watched from her shut shop as foot traffic in Launceston’s city centre quickly dwindled under Tasmania’s initial lockdown.

“We basically had our website, so we were selling online. We were lucky that we already had that in place,” Ms McMahon said.

“We did local deliveries as well. So we would take things to people’s homes, so that they could still shop with us.”

After 12 months of living with COVID, Ms McMahon said Tasmanians had altered their shopping habits.

“I think the fact that people can’t travel internationally and things now, we find that there’s more people shopping locally, which in way has been a bonus for local businesses,” she said.

Homeware retailer Lindi McMahon in the store.
Homeware retailer Lindi McMahon focused on online sales when coronavirus restrictions closed her store.(

ABC News: Laura Beavis

)

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3 mRNA vaccines researchers are working on (that aren’t COVID)


The world’s first mRNA vaccines – the COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna – have made it in record time from the laboratory, through successful clinical trials, regulatory approval and into people’s arms.

The high efficiency of protection against severe disease, the safety seen in clinical trials and the speed with which the vaccines were designed are set to transform how we develop vaccines in the future.

Once researchers have set up the mRNA manufacturing technology, they can potentially produce mRNA against any target. Manufacturing mRNA vaccines also does not need living cells, making them easier to produce than some other vaccines.

So mRNA vaccines could potentially be used to prevent a range of diseases, not just COVID-19.

Remind me again, what’s mRNA?

Messenger ribonucleic acid (or mRNA for short) is a type of genetic material that tells your body how to make proteins. The two mRNA vaccines for SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, deliver fragments of this mRNA into your cells.

Once inside, your body uses instructions in the mRNA to make SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins. So when you encounter the virus’ spike proteins again, your body’s immune system will already have a head start in how to handle it.

So after COVID-19, which mRNA vaccines are researchers working on next? Here are three worth knowing about.

1. Flu vaccine

Currently, we need to formulate new versions of the flu vaccine each year to protect us from the strains the World Health Organization (WHO) predicts will be circulating in flu season. This is a constant race to monitor how the virus evolves and how it spreads in real time.

Moderna is already turning its attention to an mRNA vaccine against seasonal influenza. This would target the four seasonal strains of the virus the WHO predicts will be circulating.

But the holy grail is a universal flu vaccine. This would protect against all strains of the virus (not just what the WHO predicts) and so wouldn’t need to be updated each year. The same researchers who pioneered mRNA vaccines are also working on a universal flu vaccine.

The researchers used the vast amounts of data on the influenza genome to find the mRNA code for the most “highly conserved” structures of the virus. This is the mRNA least likely to mutate and lead to structural or functional changes in viral proteins.

They then prepared a mixture of mRNAs to express four different viral proteins. These included one on the stalk-like structure on the outside of the flu virus, two on the surface, and one hidden inside the virus particle.

Studies in mice show this experimental vaccine is remarkably potent against diverse and difficult-to-target strains of influenza. This is a strong contender as a universal flu vaccine.

Read more: A single vaccine to beat all coronaviruses sounds impossible. But scientists are already working on one

2. Malaria vaccine

Malaria arises through infection with the single-celled parasite Plasmodium falciparum, delivered when mosquitoes bite. There is no vaccine for it.

However, US researchers working with pharmaceutical company GSK have filed a patent for an mRNA vaccine against malaria.

The mRNA in the vaccine codes for a parasite protein called PMIF. By teaching our bodies to target this protein, the aim is to train the immune system to eradicate the parasite.

There have been promising results of the experimental vaccine in mice and early-stage human trials are being planned in the UK.

This malaria mRNA vaccine is an example of a self-amplifying mRNA vaccine. This means very small amounts of mRNA need to be made, packaged and delivered, as the mRNA will make more copies of itself once inside our cells. This is the next generation of mRNA vaccines after the “standard” mRNA vaccines seen so far against COVID-19.

Read more: COVID-19 isn’t the only infectious disease scientists are trying to find a vaccine for. Here are 3 others

3. Cancer vaccines

We already have vaccines that prevent infection with viruses that cause cancer. For example, hepatitis B vaccine prevents some types of liver cancer and the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine prevents cervical cancer.

But the flexibility of mRNA vaccines lets us think more broadly about tackling cancers not caused by viruses.

Some types of tumours have antigens or proteins not found in normal cells. If we could train our immune systems to identify these tumour-associated antigens then our immune cells could kill the cancer.

Cancer vaccines can be targeted to specific combinations of these antigens. BioNTech is developing one such mRNA vaccine that shows promise for people with advanced melanoma. CureVac has developed one for a specific type of lung cancer, with results from early clinical trials.

Then there’s the promise of personalised anti-cancer mRNA vaccines. If we could design an individualised vaccine specific to each patient’s tumour then we could train their immune system to fight their own individual cancer. Several research groups and companies are working on this.

Yes, there are challenges ahead

However, there are several hurdles to overcome before mRNA vaccines against other medical conditions are used more widely.

Current mRNA vaccines need to be kept frozen, limiting their use in developing countries or in remote areas. But Moderna is working on developing an mRNA vaccine that can be kept in a fridge.

Researchers also need to look at how these vaccines are delivered into the body. While injecting into the muscle works for mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, delivery into a vein may be better for cancer vaccines.

Read more: 4 things about mRNA COVID vaccines researchers still want to find out

The vaccines need to be shown to be safe and effective in large-scale human clinical trials, ahead of regulatory approval. However, as regulatory bodies around the world have already approved mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, there are far fewer regulatory hurdles than a year ago.

The high cost of personalised mRNA cancer vaccines may also be an issue.

Finally, not all countries have the facilities to make mRNA vaccines on a large scale, including Australia.

Regardless of these hurdles, mRNA vaccine technology has been described as disruptive and revolutionary. If we can overcome these challenges, we can potentially change how we make vaccines now and into the future.

Authors: Archa Fox – Associate Professor and ARC Future Fellow, University of Western Australia | Damian Purcell – Professor of virology and theme leader for viral infectious diseases, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity The Conversation

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What do you think about this? – How To Keep Your Biological Clock Working Properly.


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Coronavirus vaccine rollout continues, doctors working to increase doses given per day


Australia needs to vaccinate 200,000 people every day to reach the goal of all adult Australians being able to get their first vaccine dose by the end of October.

As of Monday, 541,761 Australians have received the vaccine, according to Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt who gave an update on the state of the rollout.

“The latest guidance I have is we remain on track for all the first doses before the end of October,” said Mr Hunt.

Australia has just finished the first week of Phase 1B rollout, the first stage of broad vaccination in the community, which is available to 6 million Australians.

It includes those aged over 70, critical workers like police and people with some underlying medical conditions.

But so far the daily target of 200,000 vaccinations has proved to be a challenge.

In the first week of Phase 1B, a total of 259,000 people were vaccinated.

In an e-mail to Australian GPs last week, reported by the Guardian, the Health Department also acknowledged “teething problems”.

Teething problems have included confusion between some GPs and the Federal Health Department over who was supposed to provide needles to use with the vaccines and frustration around the National Booking Scheme.

Royal College of General Practitioners (RACGP) president Karen Price said early hurdles were inevitable and said the public should have faith that authorities are working tirelessly to ramp up vaccinations.

“Most of us are on the phone all weekend, talking 24/7 about making sure we get this right for the public,” she said.

“It really is a national effort and for that, I am very, very grateful because like everybody else in Australia and pretty much around the world, I want my life back, and I want my kids to have their life back, and I want my community to have their life back.”

Leading health economist Stephen Duckett said now was the time for health officials to reflect on some of the early challenges seen in the vaccine rollout, and to make changes before more Australians became eligible for the jab.

“We set a target of four million, we’ve got 600,000 or so. That is a long way short of the target,” said Dr Duckett of the Grattan Institute.

“What are we going to do differently into the future? My hope is also that we are going to do things very differently in April and May from what we did in March.”

He said the early rollout had encountered logistical challenges.

“GP’s don’t know how many vaccines they’re going to get, they’ve booked patients, then they have to unbook patients.

“There have been problems in the distribution where the number of vaccines that have been allocated to GPs have been too many for small practices and too few for large practices.”

A spokesperson for the Health Minister said everyone who wants a vaccine will have the opportunity by the end of October.

“We have every confidence in our GPs, who in In the last week administered almost 120,000 vaccines, bringing our total number of vaccinated Australians to 541,761,” the spokesperson said.

“Mr Duckett predicted in March 2020 that Australia would run out of ventilators three weeks later. In reality, we had capacity of 7,500 ventilators and approximately 50 people on COVID ventilation at the time of the peak.

“He is entitled to different views but comments such as these utterly and profoundly incorrect predictions […] on ventilation should be taken into account.”

Dr Duckett has previously claimed this criticism takes his comments out of context.

Elizabeth Jackson, an expert in supply chains from Curtin University, said she believed Australia would reach the daily vaccination target soon and learning lessons from this early period would help develop the supply chain.

“I can completely understand the frustration [but] in Australia, we enjoy highly efficient supply chains and we’re just not used to having to go without or wait,” Dr Jackson said.

Health Minister Greg Hunt has said that GPs were the “cornerstone” of the national rollout strategy.

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Working dogs help farmers open up about mental health




Working dogs are moving beyond the day-to-day running of farms and into a program helping farmers talk mental health. Jane McNaughton reports.

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Scott Morrison working with Christian Porter on ‘perceived conflicts of interests’ amid reshuffle speculation


Prime Minister Scott Morrison has avoided speculation about an imminent Cabinet reshuffle, despite concerns involving two senior ministers currently on leave.

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds and Attorney-General Christian Porter are both on leave following separate issues not involving their portfolios.

The former has apologised for her handling of a rape allegation by former staffer Brittany Higgins; the latter has commenced defamation action against the ABC over a story about a historical rape allegation he has denied.

Mr Morrison said he would be commenting only when reshuffle decisions were made but he was working with issues of “perceived conflicts of interest” with Mr Porter while he was on leave.

“In relation to Mr Porter’s return to the Cabinet, I’ve been considering the advice of the Solicitor-General about conflicts of interest that may arise in relation to that defamation action against the ABC and the way they’ve handled these matters,” he told the ABC.

“I’ll consider that and also in terms of the ministerial code of conduct that deals with perceived conflicts of interest.”

Other ministers also refused to comment on the widely reported speculation today.

Flautist Kiri Sollis performed as Arts Minister Paul Fletcher announced a funding package.(

ABC News: Ian Cutmore

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Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said he would not comment on media speculation and Arts Minister Paul Fletcher, announcing a $135 million funding package for the arts sector, said he was focused on his job.

“The only shuffles I’m interested in are the soft shoe shuffles I want to see our artists performing on stage in great musicals funded under the RISE program,” Mr Fletcher said.

The Restart Investment to Sustain and Expand (RISE) fund is a competitive grants program that received an additional $125 million today, to be spent by arts businesses and organisations by the end of the year.

The other $10 million goes to Support Act, a charity that works to help artists with crisis relief and mental health.

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Man dies in West Melbourne apartment building while working on elevator


A young man has been electrocuted while working alone on an elevator in a West Melbourne building.

On Monday around 7.15pm, police were called to an apartment complex at Batman Street after the man was found.

Emergency services tried to revive the 21-year-old, but he died at the scene.

“It is believed the 21-year-old was undertaking electrical work on a car stacker elevator when the incident occurred,” WorkSafe said in a statement.

Police are not treating his death as suspicious.

Along with police, WorkSafe investigators and firefighters were at the scene overnight.

They spoke with other people in the building.

Police will prepare a report for the coroner.

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Android apps crash for some users, Google working on a fix


Some Android users have been facing issues with apps like Gmail crashing due to a system component and Google is working on a fix.

Users took to social media platform, including Twitter and Reddit on Tuesday, to report issues with their apps.

DownDetector, a service that tracks internet outage, recorded over 1,000 reports related to Gmail.

Google first acknowledged the issue at 4:30 am IST on Tuesday.

“We’re aware of a problem with Gmail affecting a significant subset of users. The affected users are unable to access Gmail. Affected users are reporting the Gmail app on Android crashes,” it had posted on the official Google Workspace status page.

It had then recommended users use the desktop Gmail Web interface instead of the Gmail Android app.

The issue is caused by a system component called Android WebView powered by Chrome that allows Android apps to display web content.

When a user reported issues with a Samsung Note 10 phone, the official Samsung US support account suggested removing the WebView update and restarting the phone to resolve the issue.

“Hi! Thanks for bringing this to our attention. Please remove the Webview Update and then restart the phone. Here are the steps: Go settings > apps > tap the three dots in the top right corner > show system apps > search for Android System WebView > select Uninstall updates,” read a tweet from the official Samsung US support account (via The Verge).

The tech giant is currently working on a fix for the issue.

“We are aware of an issue with WebView causing some apps on Android to crash for some users,” Google said in a statement as quoted by The Verge.

“We are currently working to fully validate the scope and a fix is in progress,” it said.

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Spain poised to trial four-day working week


Spain is poised to become one of the first countries in the world to trial a four-day working week.

The plan would allow workers to spend fewer hours in the office – with no reduction in pay.

The test run has been proposed by the left-wing party Más País – which argues that longer hours don”t necessarily mean higher productivity.

Details of the project have not been thrashed out but the party has proposed a three-year, €50m, project that would allow interested companies to join the trial with minimal risk.

Companies’ costs would be covered at 100% the first year, 50% the second year and 33% in the third year.

Iñigo Errejón of Más País said on Twitter that the four day week was launching the debate of our times, adding that its time had come.

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Security guard assaulted while working for SA Police to have Bali hut repaired as part of his rehabilitation



A security guard who was injured while employed by South Australia Police will have repairs on his home and backyard Bali hut carried out as part of his rehabilitation.

The South Australian Employment Tribunal this week upheld the man’s request for the repair services to be provided, finding that it would help him cope with his psychological injury.

The 52-year-old man was violently assaulted while working as a protective security officer in November 2017.

He suffered a range of physical injuries to his hand, his right shoulder and his neck, and has undergone nine surgeries to date.

He was also diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after the incident.

In his findings, the tribunal’s deputy president Stephen Lieschke said the man believed the timber on his backyard Bali-style hut had been in need of resealing since the end of 2017.

Repairs to the man’s carport were also requested.

“Since the emergence of the damage to the carport, the applicant hears rodents in his roof space at night time,” Mr Lieschke said.

Lack of maintenance causing stress and anxiety

Mr Lieschke said the fact the man could no longer keep on top of the maintenance — as he did prior to his injury — and the deterioration was causing him a “heap of stress and anxiety”.

“The applicant believes this is not helping him to recover from the chronic PTSD,” Mr Lieschke said.

“While I accept this belief, it is not accepted as a medical opinion.

“The applicant is very proud of his house. He considers it a reflection of who he is and of his standing in the community.”

The cost of the labour to carry out the repairs on the Bali hut was quoted as between $2,700 and $2,750.

The cost of carrying out the repairs on the carport was quoted at $3,200.

“The applicant will supply the material, just as he would have had he been able to do the work himself,” Mr Lieschke said.

Mr Lieschke said the refusal by South Australia Police to provide the services was “unreasonable”.

“I set aside the respondent’s determination and determine that the respondent is to promptly establish a recovery/return to work plan that incorporates the provision of these services, in accordance with these reasons,” he said.

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