The Northern Territory survives a year of coronavirus without death or outbreak


Last April, as coronavirus was taking hold in Australia, Northern Territory health authorities issued a stark warning: community spread of the deadly virus would be inevitable in the NT.

But a year to the day since the NT recorded its first case — a 52-year-old tourist who had been overseas before flying from Sydney to Darwin — the pandemic has so far proven that prediction wrong.

The NT is one of the last Australian jurisdictions to have avoided community transmission, and it also boasts the nation’s lowest caseload and no deaths.

(The ACT has recorded one case from an unknown source, but health authorities do not regard this as community transmission.)

The majority of the NT’s 106 cases have been linked to the federal government’s repatriation program. Its locally acquired cases — all linked to interstate travel — can be counted on one hand.

What is behind the NT’s success in its first year battling coronavirus?

Experts say it is a combination of effective public health controls and the territory’s unique demography — and a healthy dose of luck.

Part science, part environment, part luck

Hassan Vally, an epidemiologist with La Trobe University, said the NT government’s decision to act swiftly and decisively throughout the pandemic — including by closing the border for several months — effectively stamped out risk.

He said several factors unique to the NT had also played out in its favour, including its small population, low population density, and reduced air travel compared to major cities.

On top of that, he added, was a strong element of chance.

“I think this is one of those situations where chance plays a huge role, and sometimes we underestimate the role of chance,” he said.

“When you have low transmission, which we’ve sort of had in Australia in general, randomness and random effects and chance play an even greater role.”

Hugh Heggie, the NT’s Chief Health Officer, agrees luck has played a role — including when the 52-year-old tourist visited a busy Darwin hotel and grocery store before testing positive.

“We do also fortuitously have an outdoor lifestyle, unlike [where the virus originated] in China, where there’s very dense living in high-rise apartments.”

Dr Hugh Heggie is the NT’s Chief Health Officer.(

ABC News: Felicity James

)

The ‘gold standard’ quarantine facility

Asked what he thought the year’s major risks had been, Dr Heggie pointed to the efforts to repatriate Australians from the coronavirus-stricken city of Wuhan and the Diamond Princess cruise ship via Darwin.

But he said two early choices — the decision to quarantine those people at a former workers camp south of the city, and to engage specialist health teams — helped keep those risks at bay.

Deakin University epidemiologist Catherine Bennett agreed.

She said the Howard Springs facility, which has been deemed the ‘gold standard’ of quarantine, is a key part of why the NT dodged hotel quarantine-related outbreaks that prompted lockdowns and restrictions in other states.

The same factors allowed the NT to play a leading role in the ongoing effort to repatriate stranded Australians on federal government-organised flights.

“So less pressure, better natural facilities available that could be adapted for quarantine, and stopping that spread into the community via the quarantine workers or people being released too soon,” she said.

“All those things have been kept with a really tight lid on, and that’s what’s protected the community from these wider spread transmission events.”

A worker at the Howard Springs quarantine centre dons personal protective equipment.
Workers at the facility follow strict infection control protocols.(

AAP: Glenn Campbell

)

Professor Bennett also agreed the NT had also been lucky, pointing to a surge in quarantine demand in Alice Springs last year that saw hundreds of people arriving from a hotspot overload available facilities.

Outbreak not ruled out

Does the NT’s success so far mean its contact tracing and public health systems lack the experience of other states?

Professor Bennett did not necessarily believe so.

“Sometimes you just don’t know until the system’s tested. But the good news Australia-wide is that our chief health officers are all working together, and so other states are learning from states that have had more community transmission,” she said.

“The other [risk] is, the less exposed people have been to the direct and indirect impacts of COVID, the less front-of-mind it might be for the importance of vaccines.”

NT Deputy Chief Health Officer Di Stephens receives a COVID-19 vaccine from a nurse.
The coronavirus vaccine rollout began in the Northern Territory last week.(

ABC News: Michael Franchi

)

Dr Heggie said the early stages of the vaccination rollout were progressing as planned.

But he has repeatedly warned about the risk complacency poses to the NT, and said the battle to prevent community transmission is not over yet.

“I can’t say we won’t, because there’s always the possibility of breaches of infection control, and there’s also sometimes breaches of behaviour,” he said.

“We’ve got a way to go, for most of this year, to continue to protect us.”

Thank you for spending your time with us on My Local Pages. We hope you enjoyed seeing this news update about the latest NT news items published as “The Northern Territory survives a year of coronavirus without death or outbreak”. This story was posted by My Local Pages Australia as part of our local news services.

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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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Reflecting on a difficult year


AN exhibition opening at Shirley Burke Theatre this week reflects on the trials and tribulations of the last 18 months.

The 2020 Shelter in Place exhibition features art and poetry which touches on the fires of 2019, the uncertainty of isolation in lockdown, and the emergence at the other end.

The exhibition is a collaboration between visual artist Sharon Monagle and poet Rose Lucas. The key theme for their work was the importance of local community and the idea of place.

The free showcase runs from 16 April to 15 May at the G3 Artspace in the Shirley Burke Theatre – 64 Parkers Rd, Parkdale.

First published in the Chelsea Mordialloc Mentone News – 14 April 2021

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A year after Black Summer fires there’s progress on pasture recovery for eastern Victorian farmers


Farmers in eastern Victoria are still working to restore lost pastures more than a year on from the Black Summer bushfires.

More than 1.5 million hectares were burnt in the fires, including 6,300 kilometres of fencing. Farmers in East Gippsland and the state’s north-east lost 7,500 head of livestock.

Farmers must now replace the lost stock, but also grow the grass needed to feed them.

Remediating pasture is something Agriculture Victoria Livestock Extension Officer, John Bowman, said could take years.

Mr Bowman talked through pasture management and recovery strategies with farmers at Butchers Ridge, between Buchan and Gelantipy, yesterday as part of a TopSoils farm walk.

The Rogers family hosted the farm walk at their property, where they showed the difference between pastures which were burnt in the bushfires and those left untouched.

Amy Rogers said quick thinking was needed to help alleviate the pressure on the farm.

“One of the first things we did was pretty much quit any (stock) we didn’t need to have here so we sold all our lambs in the first three weeks after the fires,” Ms Rogers said.

“We sent about 160 cows to South Gippsland on agistment as soon as we could, weaned the calves and put them in a feedlot compound and sacrificed one paddock.

“We tried to get as much stock off the paddocks as we could.”

Ms Rogers said getting rid of the stock so quickly “was a big winner”, however even the unburnt paddocks suffered because they were stocked at a higher rate which has slowed recovery.

Mr Bowman toured the property and said it highlighted the absence of some of the normal pasture species in the burnt paddocks.

“There was quite a bit of flat weed and different weeds in there … basically the opportunistic weeds had occupied the bare patches left by the fire and started to infiltrate the pasture,” he said.

Although a higher proportion of weeds set seed after a fire, Mr Bowman said it’s not all detrimental.

“Even some of the weeds are quite nutritious and delicious for stock to eat and they will eat them, but you want the clovers, cocksfoots, phalaris and ryegrasses back in the pasture because they produce all year round.”

The Rogers have also been heartened by the success of a lucerne crop which is helping reduce the need for them to purchase silage.

“We had barley crops in before the fire … but the ryegrass and lucerne is just new,” Julie Rogers said.

“It’s a trial but I think it will become permanent.”

Similar farm walks will be held across other fire affected parts of East Gippsland in coming weeks.

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NIMH » One Year In: COVID-19 and Mental Health


It has been just over a year now since the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic struck the United States full force. A year of hunkering down and Zooming in, teleworking and telepsychiatry, economic and social upheaval, and steady scientific progress. Looking back to last March, we knew this would be difficult. But we didn’t know how difficult. And we certainly didn’t know that the challenge of COVID-19 would last this long.

This year has been a challenging one on multiple fronts. For many Americans, this challenge has been overwhelming, affecting their mental health. Understanding the impact of the pandemic on mental health, and on those with serious mental illness, is critical to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) mission of responding with research that will pave the way for prevention, recovery, and cure.

From prior research on disasters and epidemics we mostly knew what to expect. In the immediate wake of a traumatic experience, large numbers of affected people report distress, including new or worsening symptoms of depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Most people will recover, though that recovery can take some time. A notable fraction of people will develop chronic symptoms severe enough to meet criteria for a mental illness, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or major depressive disorder. People who experience more severe stressors, such as exposure to the dead or dying, and people with more prolonged disruptions are more likely to experience enduring symptoms that would benefit from intervention. We also know that people are more likely to develop chronic or severe reactions if they have one or more risk factors, such as poor social supports, financial difficulties, food or housing instability, or a history of mental illness. Receiving economic or social supports and using coping strategies can lower these risks and maximize a person’s chances for recovery.

It seems that much of what we have learned from past disasters and epidemics is holding true in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Several surveys, including those collected by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), have shown substantial increases in self-reported behavioral health symptoms. According to one CDC report, which surveyed adults across the U.S. in late June of 2020, 31% of respondents reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, 13% reported having started or increased substance use, 26% reported stress-related symptoms, and 11% reported having serious thoughts of suicide in the past 30 days. These numbers are nearly double the rates we would have expected before the pandemic. As in prior studies, this survey showed that risk factors for reporting anxiety symptoms or suicidal ideation included food insufficiency, financial concerns, and loneliness.

The CDC, NIMH, and numerous other government agencies and non-profit organizations have been spreading the message that physical distancing doesn’t mean we must stop supporting one another. In fact, research shows that helping others is a coping strategy that can reduce the mental health impacts of the pandemic. We also know that addressing people’s basic needs can help alleviate their psychiatric symptoms. For example, one study showed that food insufficiency was independently associated with all symptoms of poor mental health, but that association was mitigated for those who received free groceries or meals.

Early in the pandemic, there were concerns that suicide rates would increase. So far, data from the CDC suggest that overall suicide death rates have remained steady or have even fallen during the pandemic.

Yet, there is also cause for concern in the emerging data. There is clear evidence that the pandemic has not affected all Americans equally. As is often the case, unfortunately, the most vulnerable among us are also feeling the mental health effects most intensely. Job loss, housing instability, food insecurity, and other risk factors for poor outcomes have disproportionately hit minority communities. And while overall suicide rates may have remained steady, data from states such as Maryland and Connecticut suggest that, early in the pandemic, the number of African Americans dying by suicide increased.

Emerging data also indicate that people with schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses have also been hard hit by the pandemic. Individuals with schizophrenia, for instance, are nearly 10 times more likely to contract COVID-19 and are nearly three times more likely to die from it if they do fall ill, compared with individuals who do not have a mental illness. Finally, deaths due to opioid overdose rose substantially in the context of the pandemic. These data remind us that we need to work hard to address long-standing disparities and ensure access to life-saving medical and psychiatric care is available for all Americans.

Indeed, the pandemic has raised awareness of mental health symptoms and service needs. Crisis intervention services such as SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Helpline (1-800-985-5990) and the Crisis Text Line (text HOME to 741741) reported substantial increases in volume early in the pandemic, reflecting anxiety and distress brought on by COVID-19’s many uncertainties. And although data indicate the volume of mental health and suicide risk visits to emergency departments initially dropped when states issued stay-at-home orders, these visits increased again after stay-at-home restrictions were lifted. 

The CDC, NIMH, and other agencies have been working hard to raise public awareness of the resources that are available to support people’s immediate mental health needs, including the Disaster Distress Helpline, the Crisis Text Line, and the Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK). In addition, many mental health care providers made a rapid transition to phone- and computer-based telehealth, with widespread adoption across both private and public mental health systems. 

The mental health impacts of COVID-19 continue. From all that we know, it is clear these impacts will outlive the pandemic itself. Therefore, it is crucial that we work together to apply evidence-based strategies to support the mental health needs of all Americans and to make these strategies broadly available, especially in vulnerable communities.

References

Bray, M. J. C., Daneshvari, N. O., Radhakrishnan, I., Cubbage, J., Eagle, M., Southall, P., & Nestadt, P. S. (2020). Racial differences in statewide suicide mortality trends in Maryland during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. JAMA Psychiatry. http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.3938

Czeisler, M. É., Lane, R. I., Petrosky E., Wiley, J. F., Christensen, A., Njai, R., Weaver, M. D., Robbins, R., Facer-Childs, E. R., Barger, L. K., Czeisler, C. A., Howard, M. E., & Rajaratnam, S. M. (2020). Mental health, substance use, and suicidal ideation during the COVID-19 pandemic — United States, June 24–30, 2020. Morbidity Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), 69, 1049–1057. http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6932a1external icon

Mason, M. Welch, S. B., Arunkumar, P., Post, L. A., & Feinglass, J. M. (2021). Opioid overdose deaths before, during, and after an 11-week COVID-19 stay-at-home order — Cook County, Illinois, January 1, 2018–October 6, 2020. MMWR Morbidity Mortality Weekly Report, 70, 362-363. http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm7010a3

McKnight-Eily, L. R., Okoro, C. A., Strine, T. W., Verlenden, J., Hollis, N. D., Njai, R., Mitchell, E. W., Board, A., Puddy, R., & Thomas, C. (2021). Racial and ethnic disparities in the prevalence of stress and worry, mental health conditions, and increased substance use among adults during the COVID-19 pandemic — United States, April and May 2020. MMWR Morbidity Mortality Weekly Report,70, 162–166. http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm7005a3external icon.

Mitchell, T. O., & Li, L. (2021). State-level data on suicide mortality during COVID-19 quarantine: Early evidence of a disproportionate impact on minorities. Psychiatry Research, 295. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2020.113629.

Nagata, J. M., Ganson, K. T., Whittle, H. J., Chu, J., Harris, O. O., Tsai, A. C., Weiser, S. D. (2021). Food insufficiency and mental health in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2020.12.004.

Nemani, K., Li, C., Olfson, M., Blessing, E. M., Razavian, N., Chen, J., Petkova, E., & Goff, D. C. (2021). Association of psychiatric disorders with mortality among patients with COVID-19. JAMA Psychiatry. http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.4442

Wang, Q., Xu, R., & Volkow, N. D. (2021). Increased risk of COVID-19 infection and mortality in people with mental disorders: Analysis from electronic health records in the United States. World Psychiatry. https://doi.org/10.1002/wps.20806

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Victorian police start searching Mount Hotham for two campers missing for more than a year


Police will forensically analyse two shovels that have been found in their search for two campers who went missing in the Victorian High Country.

Russell Hill and Carol Clay went missing from their campsite in the remote Wonnangatta Valley last March.

Police have long suspected that the pair met with foul play, but have been unable to find any trace of them.

“I think the most likely scenario … is that there are other parties involved in this,” Detective Acting Inspector Tony Combridge said.

Detectives have shifted their search for the pair to Mount Hotham, a few hours north-east of the campsite, after receiving new information in their investigation.

Inspector Combridge said the search was now focussing on a “small radius” near the Great Alpine Road.

“It’s not a large area, not like we’ve been searching previously,”  he said.

He said the search was likely to continue into Thursday.

Members of the Missing Person Squad and Search and Rescue officers have been scouring rugged terrain and dense bushland in the new location.

A number of items have been found, including two shovels, but their relevance to the investigation was still being determined, he said.

Earlier this month, Search and Rescue officers and NSW cadaver dogs searched the Wonnangatta Valley for the pair.

Last month, police received what they called an “item of interest”, but would not reveal what that was.

Inspector Combridge told ABC Radio Melbourne that police were optimistic about solving the case.

“Every day we open this case and start to work on it we hope for answers,” he said.

“It’s a high-value search area. As people may be aware, that part of the world is spectacular scenery, but from a search point of view it’s uniquely challenging.”

Mr Hill and Ms Clay were last heard from on the night of March 20, when Mr Hill made contact with friends who were part of an amateur radio club.

At 2:00pm the next day, other campers found Mr Hill and Ms Clay’s camp site burnt out, with their car still there.

Mr Hill and Ms Clay were missing from the camp site, along with Mr Hill’s drone and mobile phone.

Last month, police put out a public appeal for help identifying a white dual cab ute that was in the Wonnangatta Valley at the time Mr Hill and Ms Clay were camping there.

The ute was seen near a nearby suspension bridge and long-drop toilet on March 19, and was the only car in the area at the time police have not been able to identify.

Inspector Combridge said that appeal had led to an enormous amount of information and police had to enlist more staff to go through it all.

The area being searched is incredibly remote, he said.

“There are parts of that bush that have probably never have actually been walked on by humans,” he said.

Inspector Combridge played down any suggestion that the disappearance of Mr Hill and Ms Clay was connected to other disappearances in the area.

“If you’re looking for the common link, it’s quite likely the remoteness and the nature of the terrain of the area itself,” he said.

“This investigation sits separate to the other investigations.

“We review all missing persons investigations, obviously, but this investigation is the one that we are focused on.”

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Man From Snowy River legend ‘cracks’ on as High Country celebrates tumultuous year


What started as an idea to attract tourists to Victoria’s High Country has turned into a passion to preserve Australia’s bush heritage.

This weekend’s Man From Snowy River Bush Festival at Corryong had crowds capped at 5,000, but in its 25 years it has expanded from a one-race event that took competitors up and back a mountain to the current five-day format.

Festival board member Peter Hunt said a total of seven events now showcased the horsemanship of stockmen and women.

The festival had become not only a nod to Jack Riley, the original High Country legend, but also a way of preserving bush skills, he said.

“I’ve got an eight-year-old grandson who can plait his own whip — his father taught him — that makes me very proud.

“Whip-cracking is on display here for people who have never seen it.

“If we don’t do that, it will be lost forever.”

Wagga Wagga-based whip-maker Anthony Rennick started in the trade when his father went to an RM Williams plaiting school and made a whip and a belt 28 years ago.

Mr Rennick is a member of the Australian Whip-crackers and Plaiters Association — one of a handful making it a full-time profession.  

He has sold his whips across the globe and was at this year’s festival displaying his trade and repairing many a crack.

“There is a big interest in whip-cracking and all the young kids running around here, it’s like it’s joined to their arms.

“It’s good to see.”

Lucy Adams from Wakool won the festival’s ladies whip-cracking championships at just 14 years of age.

Runner-up Kerry Toyer of Batemans Bay said it was fun to break the sound barrier with just the flick of a wrist.

Ms Toyer started the sport more than 20 years ago when she was travelling with a bullock team displaying Australia’s pioneering and transport history.

She has watched the enthusiasm for whip-cracking grow.

Ms Toyer said the championships were getting bigger every year, but doing well was not as easy as it looked.

“It’s all about the technique; you cannot force a crack out of the whip, you’ve got to get it rolling on itself.”

Regular maintenance and dressing of the whip helped to keep it in shape, she said.

International horseman Guy McLean has been a regular at the festival since 2000.

The official Australian stock horse ambassador displays his horses, recites poetry, and is a poster boy for the nation’s bush heritage.

“When I first came here it was mainly the competitors; everyone dressed like me with a stock hat,” he said.

“Now, you see a lot of people in shorts and fancy city clothes.”

Mr McLean said horsemanship was still at the heart of the festival, but it had grown to keep the heritage and the legends of the past alive.

“It’s the real deal — the person who wins this could make a life on the land and probably run those brumbies down the mountain just like Jim [Jack Riley] did.

“To put ourselves to a test, to rise to it, and to know the horse will always have our back — there is nothing like it.”

This year’s Man From Snowy River Challenge, which tests the most gifted and skilled horse and rider teams, was won by Morgan Webb.

The festival was postponed last year due to the pandemic.

It was a major blow for the community, with Corryong severely impacted by the 2019-20 bushfires and desperate for tourism dollars.

Crowd numbers were reduced to almost half this year due to COVID-19 restrictions, but it was still a welcome boost for the economy, with hundreds of families camping and thousands attending.

The festival board estimates the festival can generate up to $5 million for the Upper Murray community.

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Sydney Royal Easter Show, one of world’s biggest ticketed events this year, staged without COVID case


The Sydney Royal Easter Show has made an extraordinary and triumphant return after the COVID-19 pandemic shut the gates last year.

With major events cancelled here and abroad, this could be the biggest ticketed event in the world in 2021, with almost 700,000 people expected to go through the gates by the time it closes on Monday night.

Staging the event was a “massive risk”, according to the man responsible for running the event safely.

Darryl Jeffrey, the chief operating officer for the Royal Agricultural Society (RAS), said he sat down with NSW Health last year to discuss the likelihood of going ahead with the event.

He was surprised by how supportive the department was.

“At that stage, the most they had approved was 50,000 for the NRL Grand Final, and we essentially wanted to run the largest attended event in the world.”

It could have turned into a public health disaster for the RAS if there had been a COVID outbreak.

“We lost millions of dollars last year. We knew we were going to lose money again on this year’s show, but we thought we needed to do it again.

“We didn’t want to be two years of not having the Easter show.”

He said the other reason the RAS, a not-for profit association, wanted to go ahead was to provide some inspiration for the events sector.

“If we could get this event off the ground, the rest of the events industry in NSW and Australia would say, ‘If you can run the Easter Show, you can run anything’, because you don’t get any bigger.”

Ground-breaking technology tracks numbers

Two ladies making scones with a sign to "wash hands often" in the background.
CWA members had to follow COVID rules despite their effort to break the record for the most scones sold at the show.(

Supplied: Alys Marshall

)

Numbers at the show were capped at 60,000 people a day — a big cut given 129,000 people passed through the gates on Good Friday in 2019.

New technology developed by Sydney company PMY Group was used to track the number of people at the event and in the pavilions.

The system tracks body mass and traffic lights at the entry indicates when venues are getting close to COVID capacity.

People standing around a social distancing sign at the Sydney Royal.
Cameras tracked the numbers of people in and out of exhibition halls.(

ABC Rural: Hugh Hogan

)

PMY has developed systems for other major venues around Australia, including Flemington racecourse, the Sydney Cricket Ground and other stadiums in Melbourne and Perth.

There hasn’t been a single breach of protocols at the Royal Easter and no cases of COVID-19, according to Mr Jeffrey.

“Western Sydney Health have visited a number of times and they haven’t mentioned anything of major concern that they want us to adjust,” he said.

Sleepless nights as Queensland locks down

The Brisbane outbreak of COVID-19 just two days before the start of the Easter show threatened to cancel this year’s event as well.

The RAS was prepared to take advice from NSW Health if the risk was deemed to great and Mr Jeffrey said there were some sleepless nights as that outbreak unfolded.

“We sent an email to every single person who had bought an Easter Show ticket reminding them of their obligations.”

A sign saying "Be a Goat - Greatest of all time" to encourage people to maintain social distancing.
COVID safety measures at the show enabled the event to go ahead.(

Supplied: Alys Marshall

)

The world is watching

Show society groups from around Australia have visited the Sydney Royal to see what lessons have been learnt.

Other countries are also interested, according to Mr Jeffrey.

“They could not believe what we were doing.”

It could well be that, like the Australian film industry, major global events may come to Australia on the back of the success of the Royal Easter Show.

Thank you for visiting My Local Pages. We hope you enjoyed reading this article on National and New South Wales News and updates published as “Sydney Royal Easter Show, one of world’s biggest ticketed events this year, staged without COVID case”. This news article was presented by My Local Pages Australia as part of our Australian news services.

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Government sets goal to inoculate all Australians by the end of the year as Labor slams lack of vaccine deals



Trade Minister Dan Tehan says the government is aiming to have all Australians vaccinated with at least one dose of a COVID-19 jab by the end of the year as he is set to travel to Europe on Wednesday “to ensure supply of the vaccine”.

The Morrison government is aiming to have all Australians inoculated with at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year.

But Trade Minister Dan Tehan says the world is still under the cloud of a pandemic and things can quickly change.

Last week the government’s vaccine program suffered a major set-back after health authorities recommended the AstraZeneca vaccine should only be given to people above 50 due to the risk of blood clotting.

It was the vaccine the government was relying heavily on, but it has since secured an additional 20 million Pfizer vaccine doses that will be shipped from abroad later in the year.

Federal Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Dan Tehan
AAP

“That is definitely the aim, that is the goal we have set trying to have all Australians have a dose by the end of the year,” Mr Tehan told Sky News’ Sunday Agenda program.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison had originally planned to have all Australians vaccinated by October.

“When you are dealing with a pandemic, there is a lot of unknowns and you have just got to make sure you set your goals and are prepared to adjust those as things occur,” Mr Tehan said.

‘Vaccine diplomacy’ trip

The minister is about to embark on a “vaccine diplomacy” trip to Europe from Wednesday.

He will speak with the European Union and his ministerial counterparts in France, Germany and Brussels.

“I will also be meeting the director-general of the World Trade Organization to talk about what we can do to ensure supply of the vaccine, not only for Australia but globally,” Mr Tehan said.

Pacific nations will soon have shots of coronavirus vaccine manufactured in Australia to distribute, with the Morrison government promising to export 10,000 doses a week.

The government says it’s going to put its domestically produced AstraZeneca product to good use in neighbouring countries, starting with hard-hit Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste.

Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu will also begin to receive doses in the coming weeks.

In a joint statement, Health Minister Greg Hunt, Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Minister for International Development and the Pacific Zed Seselja said: “Our region’s health security and economic recovery is intertwined with our own.”

The new advice on the AstraZeneca vaccine has forced a temporary halt to vaccinations on Queensland’s Cape York Peninsula and in the Torres Strait, where the northernmost island is just a few kilometres, or a short dinghy trip, from COVID-hit PNG.

People in those northern reaches who’ve had a first AstraZeneca jab with no adverse effects have been advised to go ahead with the second follow-up jab.

But the Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service says it has no surety around plans for the over-50s, who are the majority of the region’s population.

“We are yet to receive information from the Commonwealth as to how and when the necessary doses of Pfizer might be delivered to regions such as ours in order to comply with the new vaccination recommendations,” the service said on the weekend.

‘Bad situation made far, far worse’

Shadow Minister for Health, Mark Butler expressed concern over the small number of vaccine deals Australia holds.

“What we were saying well back into last year was not simply based on our thoughts, but the expert advice that best practice was to have five or six deals on the table to ensure there were backups in the system,” Mr Butler told ABC’s Insiders Program.

“We are now in a very difficult situation, Australia was already way behind schedule in the vaccine rollout, not in the top 100 nations in the world.

“And a bad situation has been made far, far worse by these unforeseen events around the AstraZeneca vaccine.”

Mark Butler is the Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing.

Mark Butler is the Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing.
AAP

Department of Health Secretary, Professor Brendan Murphy has previously defended the government’s stance, saying they had decided to go with Pfizer over Moderna because of the company’s “capacity to deliver.” 

But Mr Butler says “as many options [as possible] should have been on the table.”

“I don’t think anyone has suggested that we should have gone with Moderna instead of Pfizer,” Shadow Minister Butler said.

“But what you see in the UK and in Europe, [is] that they are going with both.

“Moderna will be delivering 20 million vaccines to the UK, highly effective, state-of-the-art vaccine.”

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NIMH » One Year of Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics, and Anticipating New Challenges


This piece was authored in collaboration with leadership across NIH and represents a unified effort to meet the testing-related challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic with excellence and innovation.

Over the past year, our team of NIH leaders has used this blog to report on an initiative called Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics—or RADxSM for short. The RADx initiative includes five key components designed to address the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic by ensuring that companies make and distribute tests to detect SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19; develop ways to deliver those tests and results directly to people—independent of their age, race, ethnicity, disability, financial status, or where they live; and invest in innovative approaches to detect emerging and spreading infections. NIH has also added a new component to RADx—to find ways to understand and address the concerns of people worried about testing, vaccine safety, and efficacy. The RADx components are described below.

RADx-Up

RADx Underserved Populations (RADx-UP) is a significant investment to bring testing to traditionally underserved communities. Last fall, we launched a nationwide program, involving more than 60 research teams and a Coordination and Data Collection Center, to better understand the needs of people in a wide range of communities, and to ensure that underserved communities have adequate access to COVID-19 testing, and return results in ways that are actionable to promote health. We estimate that up to 500,000 people will participate in the study in more than 33 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico—representing a broad spectrum of communities of color and socially vulnerable populations. RADx-UP is collaborating with the NIH Community Engagement Alliance (CEAL) Against COVID-19 Disparities to further amplify the NIH’s focus on communities hardest hit.

RADx Tech / RADx ATP

Through two programs within the RADx initiative—RADx Tech and RADx ATP (Advanced Technology Platforms)—researchers aim to accelerate evaluation, validation, and scale up of promising COVID-19 testing technologies for laboratory, point-of-care and at-home settings, and provide guidance on when to test. More than 700 applications were submitted to the programs’ unique “innovation funnel” review process over a three-month period. To date, 29 projects have progressed through multiple phases of review to receive contracts for expansion of manufacturing and clinical studies. RADx Tech and RADx-ATP-supported companies have increased COVID-19 testing capacity across the United States by more than 150 million tests and compressed the typical multi-year tech commercialization process into approximately six months.

RADx-rad

RADx Radical (RADx-rad) is designed to support innovative research programs focused on developing novel and potentially “radical” ways to detect infectious disease from SARS-CoV-2 or other agents, and evaluate community spread. Unlike the RADx Tech and RADx-ATP programs, which focus on developing technologies that can be delivered in the near term, projects within RADx-rad may require additional time for development. While some of these projects may not be available in the near term to respond to the current COVID-19 pandemic, they could be potentially applicable to deploy quickly for future pandemics. Currently, RADx-rad projects involve a broad array of activities that range from analysis of wastewater for infectious agents, like SARS-CoV-2, all the way to the development of artificial sensory devices to detect volatile organic compounds that uniquely emanate from individuals carrying an infection. Most notably, RADx-rad provides a mechanism for giving radical ideas a chance to demonstrate efficacy and promise.

RADx Data Management Strategy

A central focus of the RADx data management strategy is the safe management of data that is collected, standardized, and harmonized as a result of the implementation of new and novel testing methodologies. The close collaboration with RADx data and coordinating centers to develop and implement common data elements and models is important to the success of this strategy; along with the facilitation of harmonized data sharing on a secure cloud-based data platform. This platform, the RADx data hub, will provide a research data repository of curated and de-identified RADx COVID-19 data—allowing researchers to find, aggregate, and perform data analysis. The data hub will also enable researchers to share results of their analyses (citing relevant data) with collaborators and the external community; and provide a portal where researchers can find additional data and information from other NIH-supported COVID-19 resources.

Although programs such as RADx have helped create COVID-19 tests and make them more available to the public, our work and your work is not done.

Image about vaccinated people needing to continue testingVaccines will go a long way in bringing protections to society and researchers are still learning how well the vaccine prevents people from spreading the virus. Public health measures, such as wearing face masks and frequent testing, continue to be important in efforts to contain this pandemic and address its consequences on society. Testing resources and places to get tested have become more accessible, but still need to be more widely available, affordable, and convenient. Even once people are vaccinated, testing for the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the nasal passage or in saliva needs to continue. This will help detect and identify new variants, discover asymptomatic infections, and help reduce community spread. As case rates decrease, these strategies will be complemented by the expansion of contact tracing to control the pandemic.

As vaccines help reduce the overall national prevalence of COVID-19, it’s important to pay attention to local trends in the percent of people who test positive and continue to test accordingly. Baseline testing should be adjusted to match regional and community needs and to prevent surges in community transmission. As the prevalence of positive tests decreases in a population, it will become cost-effective to test pooled samples from multiple donors by highly sensitive molecular tests, followed by testing of individual samples from any pools that are positive. Access to inexpensive rapid antigen tests authorized by FDA for self-testing and serial screening will continue to expand. Finally, tests that are designed to detect the presence of specific SARS-CoV-2 variants will become available. Ultimately, we’ll need to have baseline testing platforms and protocols in place to identify future outbreaks, detect other pathogens, and leverage these advances for accessible testing and treatment of other diseases.

Funding Opportunity

NIH recently issued a Notice of Intent to alert the community about four upcoming Funding Opportunity Announcements—expected to be published in April. This Notice solicits intervention research on COVID-19 diagnostic testing among underserved and vulnerable populations.

What’s Next?

The three W’s will remain an important part of society for some time:

  1. Wash your hands often and for at least 20 seconds.
  2. Wear your mask correctly for maximum protection.
  3. Watch your distance and avoid indoor gatherings without masks. 

People need to be aware of and encouraged to sign up and use the exposure notification apps created by public health authorities and available on iPhone and Android devices. This secure electronic effort complements contact tracing and appears to be effective at saving lives by alerting people if they have been exposed to COVID-19 and providing guidance for further action.

Our response to COVID-19 is built not only on lessons learned over the past year, but also on the sustained investment in biomedical research of the past decades. We are proud of our agency and researchers for their efforts to mobilize and tackle this destructive pandemic. We are also very grateful to our research participants in communities around the country.

We’re interested in hearing how we could better serve the public.

Top Row (left to right):

Diana W. Bianchi, MD, Director, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

Patricia Flatley Brennan, RN, PhD, Director, National Library of Medicine

Noni Byrnes, PhD, Director, Center for Scientific Review

Gary H. Gibbons, MD, Director, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Second Row (left to right):

Joshua Gordon, MD, PhD, Director, National Institute of Mental Health

Susan Gregurick, PhD, Associate Director for Data Science and Director, Office of Data Science Strategy

Richard J. Hodes, MD, Director, National Institute on Aging

Helene Langevin, MD, Director, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

Third Row (left to right):

Jon R. Lorsch, PhD, Director, National Institute of General Medical Sciences

George A. Mensah, MD, Division Director, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Eliseo J. Perez-Stable, MD, Director, National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities

William Riley, PhD, Director, NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research

Bottom Row (left to right):

Tara A. Schwetz, PhD, Associate Deputy Director, National Institutes of Health

Bruce J. Tromberg, PhD, Director, National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering

Nora D. Volkow, MD, Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse

Richard (Rick) P. Woychik, PhD, Director, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

Thank you for stopping by and seeing this story on Mental Health and related news updates called “NIMH » One Year of Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics, and Anticipating New Challenges”. This news release was presented by MyLocalPages as part of our news aggregator services.

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