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Rabu, 23 Juni 2021

Cybersecurity software pioneer John McAfee found dead in jail cell - Sydney Morning Herald

By Monica Greig

Barcelona: Antivirus creator John McAfee was found dead in his prison cell in Barcelona after the Spanish high court had authorised his extradition to the US, the Catalan justice department said.

Hours earlier, a Spanish court issued a preliminary ruling in favour of his extradition to the United States to face tax-related criminal charges.

Anti-virus software founder and libertarian tycoon John McAfee in 2012.

Anti-virus software founder and libertarian tycoon John McAfee in 2012.Credit:AP

Security personnel at the Brians 2 penitentiary near the northeastern Spanish city tried to revive McAfee, who was 75, but the jail’s medical team finally certified his death, a statement from the regional Catalan government said.

The statement didn’t identify the US tycoon by name, but said he was a 75-year-old US citizen awaiting extradition to the country. A Catalan government source familiar with the event who was not authorised to be named in media reports confirmed to the AP that the dead man was McAfee.

Signs suggests it could be a death by suicide, the department said in a statement.

McAfee had been in jail in Spain since October 6 when he was accused of tax evasion and failure to disclose income charges at Barcelona airport. He had faced charges that he hid significant assets on his tax returns for a number of years, which included real estate and a yacht.

The businessman’s defence had argued that the extradition request was politically motivated and therefore wasn’t appropriate.

He disagreed with the current monetary system, which has made him “public enemy No. 1,” according to court documents released on Wednesday.

McAfee linked the charges filed by the US tax authority, the Internal Revenue Service, to his failed bid to run as a Libertarian Party candidate in the 2020 US presidential election, a second such attempt.

The Spanish prosecutor, Carlos Bautista, however, said McAfee was a tax dodger and dismissed the accusation of a political motivation, insisting the Libertarian Party rarely gains more than 1 per cent of votes in US elections.

The US calculated that McAfee owed more than $US4.2 million ($5.5 million) in taxes for the 2014 to 2018, the documents show.

If you or anyone you know needs support call Lifeline on 131 114.

Bloomberg, Reuters

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2021-06-23 19:39:38Z
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Hong Kong's Apple Daily newspaper to close as first person stands trial under security law - ABC News

Hong Kong's pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily will print its last edition on Thursday, the paper said, after a stormy year in which it was raided by police and its tycoon owner and other staff were arrested under a new national security law.

The board of directors of Next Media said in a statement that Apple Daily's print edition and online edition would cease due to "the current circumstances prevailing in Hong Kong".

The announcement followed last week's arrest of five editors and executives and the freezing of US$2.3 million ($3 million) in assets under the city's national security law.

"Thank you to all readers, subscribers, ad clients and Hong Kongers for 26 years of immense love and support," Apple Daily said in an article on its website.

Hong Kong police officers in blue shirts march down the street
Hong Kong police have arrested Apple Daily editors, writers and executives.(

AP: Vincent Yu

)

Chinese officials say press freedom cannot be used as a 'shield'

Apple Daily's closure comes as authorities crack down on dissent following months of anti-government protests in 2019.

The announcement also coincided with the start of the first trial under the national security law, imposed by Beijing about a year ago.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam smirks as she speaks into microphones
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has palmed off criticism of the raids against Apple Daily.(

AP: Kin Cheung

)

The widely expected move to close Apple Daily followed last week's arrests of the five editors and executives, who were detained on suspicion of colluding with foreigners to endanger national security.

Police cited more than 30 articles published by the paper as evidence of an alleged conspiracy to encourage foreign nations to impose sanctions on Hong Kong and China.

It was the freezing of assets that spelled the paper's demise.

The board of directors had earlier this week written to Hong Kong's security bureau requesting the release of some of its funds so the company could pay wages.

Earlier on Wednesday police arrested a 55-year-old man on suspicion of foreign collusion to endanger national security.

According to Apple Daily, which cited unidentified sources, the man wrote editorials for the newspaper under the pseudonym Li Ping.

The police operation against Apple Daily drew criticism from the US, the EU and Britain, which say Hong Kong and Chinese authorities are targeting the freedoms promised to the city when the former British colony was returned to China in 1997.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said criticism of the raid and arrests amounted to attempts to "beautify" acts that endangered national security.

A pile of newspapers with a man on the cover and a headline in Chinese script.
Pro-Beijing newspapers have condemned Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai as a "dog-like animal" and a "traitor".(

AP: Kin Cheung

)

Chinese and Hong Kong officials have said the media must abide by the law, and that press freedom cannot be used as a "shield" for illegal activities.

The national security law imposed last year criminalises subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign collusion. 

Tong Ying-kit pleads not guilty to terrorism charges

The first person to stand trial under the law, Tong Ying-kit, pleaded not guilty to charges of terrorism and inciting secession by driving a motorcycle into police officers during a 2019 rally while carrying a flag with the slogan "Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times."

Several officers were knocked over and three sustained injuries.

His trial will set the tone for how Hong Kong handles national security offences.

The slogan "Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times" was often chanted during anti-government demonstrations demanding broader democratic freedoms.

A man wearing a face mask sits in the back of a car
Tong Ying-kit faces life imprisonment under Hong Kong's national security law.(

AP: Vincent Yu

)

Protesters accuse Beijing of walking back on its promise, made at the 1997 handover of Hong Kong from Britain, that the city could retain its freedoms.

China has responded with tough measures silencing opposition voices, including the national security law.

The legislation makes calls for Hong Kong independence illegal, and a government notice last July said the protest slogan was a call for independence and subversion of state power.

A court ruled last month that Mr Tong will stand trial without a jury, a departure from Hong Kong's common law traditions.

Under the national security law, a panel of three judges can replace jurors, and the city's leader has the power to designate judges to hear such cases.

The law carries a maximum penalty of life in prison for serious offences.

Mr Tong is on trial at the High Court, where sentences are not capped.

So far, more than 100 people have been arrested under the security law, including prominent pro-democracy activists such as media tycoon Jimmy Lai, the publisher of Apple Daily.

Pro-Beijing newspapers Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao published special pages on Wednesday, portraying Mr Lai as a "dog-like animal", a "traitor" and a shoe-shiner doing the bidding of the United States.

AP/Reuters

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2021-06-23 09:57:39Z
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Fears new Delta mutation could be resistant to covid treatment - NEWS.com.au

As the world braces for the arrival of a new covid super strain there are fears the Delta Plus variant could be resistant to treatment for the disease.

Indian authorities have named Delta Plus strain a “variant of concern” after it was detected in three different states.

The variant of the highly infectious Delta strain, is said to have increased transmissibility and stronger binding to receptors of lung cells.

It has also been confirmed in nine other countries: Portugal, Japan, Switzerland, USA, UK, Russia, China, Nepal and Poland.

Experts across the globe are now scrambling to find out more about the Delta Plus variant, including how it responds to a popular treatment for coronavirus.

Used on President Donald Trump when he caught covid last year, monoclonal antibodies are when lab-produced antibodies are given to patients to help them fight coronavirus.

The treatment is now widely used across the globe, however, there are fears it does not work against the Delta Plus variant.

“As per the data available in public domain, monoclonal antibodies might not be effective against the Delta Plus variant. But we need more scientific data to back this claim,” Dr Rommel Tickoo, Max Healthcare director of internal medicine in Delhi, told India Today.

Other experts have stressed it is too early to draw conclusions about the Delta Plus variant as not enough data on the strain exists.

Director of Delhi-based CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, Dr Anurag Agarwal, told the BBC “all lineages of Delta viruses are variants of concern”.

“We do not have any indicators as of now to show that Delta Plus should be causing any public health worry or panic,” he said.

“We are not seeing anything worrisome yet. We are tracking it carefully, and strengthening all public health measures.”

‘Immediate containment measures’ needed against Delta Plus strain

One scientist has suggested India’s stance on the new strain is because it “would rather overreact now than seem flat-footed later, as was the case with the Delta variant”.

“I just see no evidence yet that the additional mutation is anything that is changing the dynamics of what Delta, which already seems to be a rather ‘concerning’ variant of concern,” virologist Dr Jeremy Kamil told the BBC.

The Delta strain was first detected in India in October last year and has now spread to at least 62 countries.

In the UK it accounts for 99 per cent of all cases and is the highly infectious strain behind Sydney’s latest outbreak.

The variant is twice as infectious and if contracted patients are more likely to end up in hospital.

The symptoms are also more severe, with doctors reporting severe diarorrea, hearing impairment and blood clots that lead to gangrene in cases with the Delta variant.

“Last year, we thought we had learned about our new enemy, but it changed,” Dr Abdul Ghafer, an infectious disease physician at Chennai’s Apollo Hospital, told Bloomberg.

“This virus has become so, so unpredictable.”

The Delta strain was responsible for India’s staggering second coronavirus wave in April and May that led to its death toll doubling to 330,000.

In a statement on Tuesday night the Indian Health Authority told the three states that have detected Delta Plus cases that its responses “have to become more focused and effective”.

State leaders “have been advised to take up immediate containment measures in the districts and clusters including preventing crowds of intermingling of people, widespread testing, prompt tracing as well as vaccine coverage on a priority basis”.

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2021-06-23 10:12:02Z
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Russian forces fire warning shots at British warship in Black Sea - Sydney Morning Herald

By Vladimir Kuznetsov

Russia used bombs and gunfire in “warning shots” against a British Navy destroyer in the Black Sea, the Defence Ministry in Moscow said on Wednesday.

A Su-24 aircraft dropped four bombs in waters near the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Defender and a border patrol ship fired its gun to divert it after the British vessel entered Russia’s territorial waters off Crimea and refused to heed radio warnings, the ministry said, according to the Interfax news service.

File photo: A Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft.

File photo: A Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft.Credit:AP

Russia alleged the ship was three kilometres into its waters near Cape Fiolent, south of its naval base in Sevastopol, when the incident occurred around noon local time. The Defender reversed course and left Russian waters within four minutes of the bombing, the ministry said.

Britain’s Ministry of Defence said no Russian warning shots were fired at the Royal Navy’s HMS Defender, which sailed into the Black Sea earlier this month, and it did not recognise assertions that bombs were put in its path.

“We believe the Russians were undertaking a gunnery exercise in the Black Sea and provided the maritime community with prior-warning of their activity,” the defence ministry said in a statement on Twitter.

Russia summoned the British military attaché in Moscow to protest the incident, Interfax reported.

The UK and its allies don’t recognise Crimea as Russian territory after Moscow annexed the region from Ukraine in 2014.

Since then, Russia has deployed its planes and ships when the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation has sent ships into the area. At the height of tensions in early 2014, the US accused Russia of flying a warplane dangerously close to a US warship, an allegation Moscow denied.

The Defender on Tuesday left the Ukrainian port of Odessa, where officials signed agreements implementing the UK’s program to help Ukraine build up its navy, according to the ship’s Twitter account. Reached last October, the deal includes refurbishment of existing ships and delivery of new ones.

Bloomberg, Reuters

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2021-06-23 12:01:13Z
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India raises alarm over 'Delta plus' COVID-19 variant as vaccine drive struggles - ABC News

India has declared a new coronavirus variant of concern, with nearly two dozen cases detected in three states.

The variant, identified locally as "Delta plus", was found in 16 cases in the state of Maharashtra, federal Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan told a news conference.

Other cases were detected in Kerala and Madhya Pradesh.

The ministry said Delta plus showed increased transmissibility and advised states to increase testing.

On Monday India vaccinated a record 8.6 million people as it began offering free shots to all adults, but experts doubt it can maintain that pace.

"This is clearly not sustainable," Chandrakant Lahariya, an expert in public policy and health systems, told Reuters.

With the currently projected vaccine supply for the next few months, the maximum daily achievable rate is 4 to 5 million doses, Dr Lahariya added.

The effort has so far covered about 5.5 per cent of the 950 million people eligible, even though India is the world's largest vaccine producer.

A devastating second wave during April and May overwhelmed health services, killing hundreds of thousands of people. Images of funeral pyres blazing in car parks raised questions over the chaotic vaccine rollout.

Since May, vaccinations have averaged fewer than 3 million doses a day, far less than the 10 million daily target health officials say is crucial to protect the population from new surges.

India's official infections near 30 million

The vaccination drive is struggling in the countryside, where two-thirds of the population of 1.4 billion lives and the healthcare system is often overstretched, experts say.

People shop at a crowded wholesale vegetable market in Delhi
People shop at a market after authorities eased coronavirus restrictions in Delhi.(

Reuters: Adnan Abidi

)

Maintaining the pace will prove challenging when it comes to injecting younger people in such areas, Delhi-based epidemiologist Rajib Dasgupta said.

The capital is also facing difficulties. Authorities in New Delhi said more than 8 million residents had yet to receive a first dose, and inoculating all adults there would take more than a year at the current pace.

India has been administering AstraZeneca's vaccine, made locally by the Serum Institute of India, and a homegrown shot named Covaxin made by Bharat Biotech.

Last week Serum Institute said it planned to increase monthly production to around 100 million doses from July. Bharat now estimates it will make 23 million doses a month.

An elderly woman, left, holds the arm of her domestic helper as she receives a COVID vaccine
Experts say the the maximum achievable rate of vaccination in India is 4 to 5 million doses daily.(

AP: Rafiq Maqbool

)

Television channel CNBC-TV18 reported that phase 3 data for Covaxin showed an efficacy of 77.8 per cent.

India may also soon have a mass rollout of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine, and the government expects to import vaccines this year from major makers such as Pfizer.

Although new infections in India have dropped to their lowest in more than three months, experts say vaccinations should be stepped up because of the transmissibility of new variants.

On Tuesday the nation reported 42,640 new infections, the lowest since March 23, and 1,167 deaths.

Infections now stand at 29.98 million, with a death toll of 389,302, health ministry data showed.

Reuters

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2021-06-23 07:14:25Z
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Apple Daily to stop printing from Saturday - Sydney Morning Herald

By Eryk Bagshaw
Updated

Singapore: Apple Daily, the last pro-democracy newspaper in Hong Kong and a powerful voice in the city’s political and social landscape for almost three decades, will close on Saturday, becoming the highest-profile media casualty of Hong Kong’s national security laws.

The newspaper has been raided twice by hundreds of Hong Kong police in the past 12 months, at least seven editors and executives have been arrested on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces, including billionaire owner Jimmy Lai. The newspapers assets were frozen last week in a move that stopped the company’s ability to pay staff and suppliers, triggering mass resignations from employees who now fear for their own safety.

Apple Daily will stop publishing from Saturday.

Apple Daily will stop publishing from Saturday. Credit:Bloomberg

The tabloid-style publication mixed entertainment gossip with often controversial investigations and a fierce defence of Hong Kong’s civil liberties. Its calls for sanctions to be implemented on Hong Kong to stop the crackdown on the pro-democracy movement would trigger the arrest of its editors, executives and an editorial writer over the past week.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the newspaper’s parent company Next Digital said due to the current circumstances in Hong Kong, the newspaper’s final edition would be published on Saturday, June 26 and the website would be shut down from midnight that day.

“The company thanks our readers for their loyal support and our journalists, staff and advertisers for their commitment over the past 26 years,” the board said in a statement.

Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai, centre, was arrested in April last year.

Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai, centre, was arrested in April last year.Credit:AP

Jane Poon, a former Next Digital editor, said staff who have just lost their jobs, colleagues and livelihoods still feared for their futures.

“They are still under a risk of prosecution,” she said. “The national security laws will trace after the articles released before the laws came into force.”

Journalists, who asked not to be identified because they were concerned about their safety, said they did not know if they would be able to work in an increasingly government-controlled environment.

“If Apple Daily is banned I don’t know if I would still be a journalist anymore,” said one editor.

The company’s Next Magazine announced on Wednesday it would also stop publishing this week.

“I’ve run out of tears at this historic juncture,” editor Wong Lai-sheung said in a letter posted on the magazine’s website. “What I need to do in this turbulent environment is to suppress my emotions and pave the way for our retreat.”

The laws, implemented by Beijing last year to quell more than 18 months of unrest over China’s rising influence, have resulted in more than 100 pro-democracy activists being jailed and a dozen others fleeing into exile.

Films deemed to be a threat to the Chinese state are now being censored and Hong Kong’s public broadcaster RTHK has seen a wave of resignations after a government crackdown on editorial standards.

Hong Kong’s largest English-language newspaper The South China Morning Post is owned by Chinese giant Alibaba.

Steve Li, the superintendent of Hong Kong’s national security unit, accused the Apple Daily of publishing 30 articles that supported foreign sanctions on Hong Kong. “The questionable articles play a very crucial part in the conspiracy,” he said.

Lai, was paraded through its newsroom last year by Hong Kong police over allegations he had colluded with foreign forces. He had earlier met with former US vice-president Mike Pence and secretary of state Mike Pompeo in 2019 to discuss his concerns about Beijing’s rising influence in the global financial hub.

The media tycoon, who as a 12-year-old was smuggled into Hong Kong on a fishing boat and transformed himself into a billionaire, has been in prison since April.

His case was moved to the High Court on June 15 where he faces the prospect of life behind bars.

Get a note direct from our foreign correspondents on what’s making headlines around the world. Sign up for the weekly What in the World newsletter here.

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2021-06-23 07:38:38Z
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Australia likely won’t use AstraZeneca after October, except by request - Sydney Morning Herald

Australia will likely not use the AstraZeneca vaccine after October except by request, with the national rollout to rely on Pfizer doses to immunise the nation against the coronavirus.

The national vaccine rollout plan released on Wednesday afternoon reveals the locally-made AstraZeneca vaccine will be phased out of use in Australia except by request, after health authorities changed advice to limit its use to people older than 60 due to concerns about a rare blood clotting disorder.

The federal government’s modelling, which COVID-19 Taskforce Commander Lieutenant-General John Frewen released on Wednesday, shows up to 2.3 million doses of Pfizer will be used across the country by October. The outline for vaccine distribution includes rollout information broken down by state and territory, type of vaccine and who they would be administered by.

The government’s “COVID vaccinations allocations horizons” document was first shown to state and territory leaders in Monday’s national cabinet meeting. Public health experts have said more data transparency is needed to help boost vaccination rates and increase confidence in the rollout.

From October to December, dubbed Horizon 3, up to 810,000 Pfizer doses will be distributed to states and territories, and a further 1.5 million will be sent to GPs and approved pharmacies.

“Given the size of the Australian population over 60, it is assumed that demand for AstraZeneca doses will reduce in Horizon 2 and be met by Horizon 3. However, AZ doses will be available if demand continues through Horizon 2 and 3,” the document says.

More to come

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2021-06-23 06:19:55Z
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Coronavirus Australia: Is the vaccine rollout designed to be slow and ineffective? - The Australian

Given Australia’s last place in the OECD full-vaccinated race, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt’s vaccination figures aren’t worth boasting about. Pictures: NCA Newswire/AFP/AFP
Given Australia’s last place in the OECD full-vaccinated race, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt’s vaccination figures aren’t worth boasting about. Pictures: NCA Newswire/AFP/AFP

Another day, another Covid-19 outbreak.

I’ve been measuring them by air traffic divided by AFL teams. Two weeks ago, those teams, most of them Melbourne based, were flooding north. The SCG was hosting three games a round in a rapidly cobbled together fixture.

Now, they are racing back to Melbourne and to other southern states to keep the season rolling along.

Read Next

We have become accustomed to the usual panic driven public health responses of red zones etched onto maps and travel bubbles bursting and with the Delta variant, a more infectious type of coronavirus becoming the standard for community transmission. In the absence of a successful vaccination roll out to date, this is Australia’s Covid-19 normal.

Health Minister Greg Hunt told the parliament yesterday during Question Time, “What we have seen now is that we have over 27 per cent of all Australians who have been vaccinated, over 48 per cent of those over 50 years of age and we have over 65 per cent of those that are over 70 (have been vaccinated).”

Not much of a boast

It’s not much of a boast to be honest.

Compared to the other 37 OECD nations, we are languishing in the back of the field. Australia is fourth last in front of only New Zealand, Mexico, Colombia, and Japan.

While the Minister’s rhetoric relates to Australians who have received their first shot, in terms of percentage of the population fully vaccinated (people having received their second shots of a two-step vaccination), Australia is stone motherless last.

Right now the only incentive for Australians to vaccinate is common sense, a powerful motivator it must be said, and people have grasped the opportunities. The problem remains the availability of vaccines and the Pfizer vaccine in particular.

To date there has been no government advertising campaign. There is little or no incentive to vaccinate, limp attempts to inform the vaccine hesitant and no evidence-based kicks for the anti-vaxxers.

Channel 9’s vaccination advertisment. Picture: Twitter
Channel 9’s vaccination advertisment. Picture: Twitter

Television networks have done more, trotting out their personalities, grinning on screen while they roll their sleeves up with some matey message and related jingles.

We know the government has been hamstrung by ongoing advice to restrict the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. In the heat of that we have seen some incredibly irresponsible statements, not least of all that from the ABC’s resident panic merchant, Norman Swan, who claimed on radio last week that if it were not for the pandemic, the AstraZeneca vaccine would probably be taken off the market.

Slow, fraught with difficulty

The relatively minor issues associated with the AZ vaccine notwithstanding, it’s almost as if the vaccine roll out has been designed to be slow and fraught with difficulties.

And to take that further, we need to contemplate what Australia will look like when the roll out is all but done with the key moment, the opening of our international borders.

Let me paint a picture of what that future might look like. Let’s assume that two-thirds of Australians are fully vaccinated by February 2022 (excluding those 16 or younger where the advice at present is not to vaccinate). The US and Canada are among a range of countries who are making Covid-19 vaccinations available to children aged between 12 and 15 and this includes the Pfizer vaccine. Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration is taking a wait and see approach.

Australians aged 16 years of age or more make up 80 per cent of the population.

Let’s assume that 20 per cent of those Australians are not vaccinated as February 2022 rolls around.

New point of political division

Let’s assume, too, that the country opens its borders at or around that time. The first thing we can expect when that moment arrives is Covid-19 outbreaks and more than a few of them. If you are vaccinated, the chances of becoming seriously ill or worse are mitigated by the vaccine. If you are not vaccinated, well, I shouldn’t have to spell out the consequences.

Vaccination will become a new point of political division.

One Nation boss Pauline Hanson. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Peter Lorimer.
One Nation boss Pauline Hanson. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Peter Lorimer.

The social landscape will change. Vaccination will become a requirement of employment across a range of industries. The workplace is where people gather in number after all. For example, if an aged care worker refuses to vaccinate, surely they are in the wrong job.

Vaccination may be required for entry to indoor sporting events, concerts, cinemas, even your local watering hole. It almost certainly will be a requirement to travel by air internationally and domestically.

For the most part, these are not decisions governments will be obliged to make. Largely, corporate Australia will make them based on their interests and a perception of their legal liabilities. The so-called vaccine passport is a vague concept the government has not yet articulated.

The upshot is a febrile political atmosphere with an associated clamour of discrimination against the unvaccinated, hyper-charged by a defined point of separation between those who are vaccinated and those who choose not to be, the air heavy with muttering about deep state persuasions.

Sniffing around the anti-vax vote

It necessarily will add another level to voting determinants. Some minor parties might seek to benefit from it with Pauline Hanson’s One Nation already sniffing around for the anti-vax vote.

Similarly, there are political benefits to be enjoyed by incumbents associated with our present Covid-19 normal, a drab routine of red zones and lockdowns.

We’ve seen it in the states and the same voting determinations will exist federally. Australians, it seems, rather like the idea of international and state borders being closed, in the name of community protection. But it’s a fool’s paradise with the economy spluttering along, constrained by labour and skills shortages. It is unsustainable.

The federal government may well have planned a faster and more effective vaccination roll out but once the problems started, not just with AZ but also the failures to enlist dedicated vaccination points – pharmacies, and state health bureaucracies, there has been no urgency apparent in speeding it up.

If you’re as cynical as I am, you will start circling dates for the next federal election, up to the point where the country finally opens up its borders. Beyond that, thar be dragons for any federal government.

Canberra

Peter Hoysted is Jack the Insider: a highly placed, dedicated servant of the nation with close ties to leading figures in politics, business and the union movement.

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2021-06-23 02:57:00Z
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What we know about Sydney’s ‘long jumping’ Delta variant - Sydney Morning Herald

The Delta COVID-19 variant is spreading in Sydney, prompting fresh restrictions and concern from authorities. Here is what we know about it.

The variant was the second spotted in India. Formerly known as B1.617.2, it is one of two sub-variants of the B1.617 lineage (the other being the Kappa variant, which spread in Melbourne last month).

Evidence suggests it is substantially more transmissible than the Alpha variant, which was already more transmissible than the virus that came originally out of Wuhan.

It is the second-most common variant in NSW’s quarantine system, after the Alpha variant. There were 48 cases of the Delta variant recorded in returned overseas travellers to the end of May, although none since.

Outside the state’s quarantine system, Health Minister Brad Hazzard said Delta was a spreading “gold medallist”, with transmission occurring at Bondi Junction Westfield among people who CCTV showed had only passed each other.

“Last year, we talked about this particular virus when it first came to our shores as being obviously dangerous but it wasn’t a long jumper and it wasn’t a high jumper,” Mr Hazzard said on Tuesday.

“[But] we also need to recognise that the Delta variant of the COVID virus is actually a gold medallist when it comes to jumping from one person to another - it is a long jumper.”

Of course, this is not always the case: the eastern suburbs man known for visiting many barbecue stores last month was infected with the Delta variant and transmitted it to only his partner.

ANU epidemiologist Meru Sheel said the transmissibility of Delta was “really complex”, involving both Delta’s higher “secondary attack rate” - the number of contacts who become cases - and the individual’s viral load.

Dr Sheel said it was important to monitor how many cases were vaccinated and how many of their contacts are vaccinated to understand the outbreak’s epidemiology.

There is some evidence the Delta variant may modestly cut the effectiveness of vaccines but human data from Britain suggests both AstraZeneca’s and Pfizer’s vaccines offer protection against the variant after two doses.

Pfizer’s vaccine is 88 per cent effective against symptomatic disease caused by the variant, while AstraZeneca’s vaccine is 60 per cent effective. Scientists expect both vaccines to offer much higher levels of protection against serious illness and death.

with Lucy Carroll

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2021-06-23 04:01:48Z
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Selasa, 22 Juni 2021

Indian authorities declare ‘Delta Plus’ mutation as new coronavirus variant of concern - NEWS.com.au

Indian health authorities have named a mutation of the Delta strain as a new coronavirus “variant of concern”.

The so-called “Delta Plus” variant has so far been found in the Indian states of Maharashtra, where 16 cases were detected on Tuesday, as well as Kerala and Madhya Pradesh.

Genomic sequencing by Indian laboratories has confirmed the Delta Plus variant displays increased transmissibility, stronger binding to receptors of lung cells, and potential reduction in monoclonal antibody response.

The Indian Health Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday night it had advised the three states that the public health response measures “have to become more focused and effective”.

State leaders “have been advised to take up immediate containment measures in the districts and clusters including preventing crowds of intermingling of people, widespread testing, prompt tracing as well as vaccine coverage on a priority basis”.

The move comes as the already highly infectious Delta strain continues to spread.

First detected in India last October, the Delta variant has now spread to at least 62 countries including Australia and is behind a growing number of outbreaks across Asia and Africa, the World Health Organisation said earlier this month.

In the UK, the Delta variant – given the new name by the WHO to simplify its scientific name, B. 1.617.2, and to avoid stigmatising countries that detect new strains – now accounts for 99 per cent of cases.

Experts say the new strain was already twice as infectious, and far more likely to land patients in hospital. In India, a huge spike in Delta variant infections was behind the country’s horror second wave in April and May.

Crematoriums ran out of space, burning bodies day and night, as gasping patients died outside hospitals, unable to get beds, oxygen and drugs.

India’s death toll more than doubled to more than 330,000, according to official figures. Many experts suspect the true toll is over a million.

Vaccine warning

The rapid spread in Delta cases has put pressure on health authorities around the world to ensure populations receive two vaccine doses as soon as possible, as the vaccines have been found to be much less effective against the new strain.

Figures published by Public Health England last week suggested both the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccine only offered about 30 per cent and 36 per cent protection against the Delta variant after one dose.

But protection increased substantially in people who have had two doses, with the Pfizer jab 88 per cent effective and the AstraZeneca 67 per cent effective.

Those figures were behind UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to delay the country’s planned easing of restrictions on June 21 by four weeks, in order to give people more time to get their second shot.

At the time, around 75 per cent of the UK had been vaccinated, but only 40 per cent have had two doses.

In India, only 5.5 per cent of the adult population has had two shots.

Since May, India has vaccinated fewer than three million people per day, falling well below the target of 10 million health authorities say is needed to prevent future surges, Sky News reported.

Sandeep Budhiraja, medical director at Max Healthcare in Delhi, told news agency AFP earlier this week he was concerned to see shopping centres and markets buzzing again.

On some days now there are no funerals for Covid-19 victims in the nation’s capital, down from 700 a day during the recent peak.

Mr Budhiraja was surprised at people’s short memories. “People are just behaving as if nothing happened just about two, three weeks back,” he said. “And this is … amazing,”

But while this will likely lead to a sharp rise in cases, for a new “explosion” a new virus variant would have to take hold, he said.

He noted that the new “Delta Plus” variant had been identified, which appears more transmissible and more resistant to treatment.

One reason for hope, however, is that unlike in January and February, the authorities are preparing the healthcare system for another wave, Mr Budhiraja said.

But vaccinations remain slow.

“Until the country is vaccinated, with over a billion people getting vaccinated, there is no way we can ever think of the pandemic coming to an end,” Mr Budhiraja said

frank.chung@news.com.au

– with AFP

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2021-06-22 22:04:10Z
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Tight vaccine supply spells ‘very vulnerable’ winter for Victorians - Sydney Morning Herald

Victorians face three vulnerable months with limited supplies of vaccine as experts warn that outbreaks of more infectious variants of COVID-19 could pose a serious problem to the state’s largely unvaccinated population over the winter.

The warning comes as restrictions imposed during the recent lockdown are set to ease further, with an announcement expected on Wednesday morning that people will be able to gather outdoors in groups of up to 50 and companies will be allowed to operate with 75 per cent of their workforce in the office.

Victorians face a vulnerable three months as vaccine supply is set to remain heavily constrained over winter.

Victorians face a vulnerable three months as vaccine supply is set to remain heavily constrained over winter.Credit:Getty Images

Victoria recorded no new local cases on Tuesday as the cluster in Sydney almost doubled to 21 cases and acting Premier James Merlino again accused the Commonwealth of a botched vaccine rollout after Monday’s meeting of national cabinet failed to guarantee the increased supply that Victoria had sought.

University of Melbourne epidemiologist Tony Blakely said the decision last week by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) to limit the AstraZeneca vaccine to those over 60 would set back the vaccine rollout by several months, before it ramped up again as more Pfizer and Moderna doses arrived in Australia from overseas later in the year.

“The problem is that it is winter now and if the more infectious Delta [variant] gets out somewhere it could cause a serious problem,” Professor Blakely said.

“We’re going to have lower vaccine coverage rates than expected, which makes us more vulnerable, and we’re going to have a very vulnerable window here for about three months before things really pick up again.”

Mr Merlino said he did not leave the discussions confident Australia’s vaccine supply would substantially improve to meet demand, telling reporters he was disappointed that in “the depths of winter we’re going to see a reduction in the vaccine”.

In his strongest swipe yet at the federal government, Mr Merlino said the Commonwealth had missed its “sliding doors moment” last year when Australia reportedly failed to take up an offer of 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

“The fact that so little of our population is fully vaccinated, is a problem,” Mr Merlino said.

Federal Health Department assistant secretary Lisa Schofield rubbished this suggestion on Monday, maintaining that no formal offer was put on the table until later in the year, despite there being an initial meeting between Health Department officials and Pfizer in July 2020.

La Trobe University epidemiologist Hassan Vally said a combination of cooler weather, people huddled indoors and the emergence of more infectious variants of the virus all combined to increase the risk of outbreaks spreading more rapidly.

“If you look at other respiratory viruses, all the evidence suggests that it spreads more easily during winter as people spend more time indoors,” Professor Vally said. “There is also the suggestion that the virus may like the cooler weather and may survive better and therefore it is transmitted more easily.”

He said data was still being collected to understand the exact reasons why the virus appeared to transmit more in winter.

However, Tony Cunningham, an infectious diseases physician at the Westmead Institute for Medical Research, said that while the cooler months increased the likelihood of people congregating indoors, which in turn elevated the risk of airborne spread, coronavirus outbreaks could happen at any time.

“I am more concerned about the new Delta strain and other emerging variants than I am about winter,” Professor Cunningham said.

“We need to get 80 per cent of the populace immunised in order to have an effect on spread. The next thing we need to be very wary of is the various strains escaping quarantine because we need to ensure that the strains that we’re dealing with are not able to evade our vaccines.”

A third of elderly Victorians and almost half of over-50s still have not been immunised against coronavirus, as tensions over vaccine supplies simmer between states and the federal government.

Professor Cunningham said he remained concerned about older people who were yet to be immunised and strongly encouraged anyone over the age of 60 to be vaccinated as soon as they could.

He said older people must balance the rare risk of developing the rare complication called thrombosis (blood clots) with thrombocytopenia (low platelets) linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine against the “really rapidly rise in likelihood of death if you do get COVID over the age of 60”.

“We need to somehow get the important message across to people who are more sceptical and more scared of the very rare side effects that this is a real issue,” the virologist said.

“There’s no point getting immunised after you’ve been infected with the virus and become ill or even the week before there is an outbreak in your neighbourhood. You need to have enough time to develop immunity and so I think the public really needs to plan for the next outbreak now.”

He said people over the age of 60 who were infected with coronavirus faced a 10 per cent chance of dying, a figure that rises to between 15 per cent and 20 per cent for over-80s.

According to the latest Therapeutic Goods Administration data, 60 people in Australia have developed the rare, but potentially fatal, clotting disorder, out of more than 3.8 million AstraZeneca doses administered. Of those cases, two women have died.

The guidance changed due to “a higher risk and observed severity” of the blood clot syndrome in 50- to 59-year-olds than reported internationally and initially estimated in Australia, ATAGI said in a statement last week.

From early April to June 16, 60 cases of confirmed or probable blood clots had been reported in Australia, including seven in the past week that were in people aged 50 to 59.

The rate of clots for that age group has risen to 2.7 per 100,000 AstraZeneca vaccine doses – very close to the risk for those under 50 (3.1 per 100,000) and almost double the risk for those aged between 60 and 69 (1.4 per 100,000).

A spokesperson for federal Health Minister Greg Hunt revealed on Monday night that Victoria’s allocation of the Pfizer vaccine was set to jump by almost 40 per cent next month.

Victoria’s allocation of Pfizer would increase from 407,000 doses in June to more than 560,000 in July. But that emergency increase in supply is expected to end in July, Mr Merlino said.

“We want to see a sense of urgency,” Mr Merlino said, adding there will be a “mad rush” for the Pfizer vaccine at the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton revealed there were still tens of thousands of Pfizer vaccine recipients across the state who are due for their second doses but were yet to book it in.

“Last week we had 50,000 people hit the three-week mark for their second dose, and 30,000 people booked,” Professor Sutton said.

“This week, we’ve got about 95,000 first dose Pfizer recipients who will be hitting the three-week mark, and around 50,000 bookings in the system as of yesterday.”

He said the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine offered recipients between 60 and 70 per cent protection, but the second shot “finishes the job,” providing upwards of 95 per cent protection from severe illness and death.

It is recommended that second doses of the Pfizer vaccine are administered between three and six weeks after the first dose.

Last week, ATAGI revealed a number of mitigation strategies to increase vaccination uptake in Australia were being actively considered by the expert panel.

This included the possibility of widely distributing first doses of the Pfizer vaccine and delaying the second dose, a strategy that had been used overseas, including in Britain, to quicken the pace of providing partial protection and immunity.

However, University of Melbourne vaccine expert Fiona Russell said Australia was not in a similar situation to Britain, which was trying to divert a disastrous third wave when it began fast-tracking first doses. She believed focusing on fully immunising people should remain the priority for now.

“We are in a different situation because we don’t really have any community transmission at the moment, so we don’t have to really make those difficult decisions yet,” she said. “But, of course, this could change if there was a major outbreak situation.“

A federal government spokesman said Victoria’s supply of Pfizer continued to increase from a base of 71,000 each week in June to 83,000 each week in July, as well as an additional 150,000 Pfizer doses that the Commonwealth would distribute to Victoria in June.

“Victoria’s supply is also supplemented by almost 200,000 Pfizer doses that will be rolled out to GPs in Victoria in July,” he said.

The government will on Wednesday announce a further easing of restrictions, taking Melbourne to settings mirroring those in regional Victoria. Hospitality venues will move to a looser one-per-four-square-metre density limit and a probable cap of about 300 people.

People will be able to gather outdoors in numbers greater than 20 and companies will be allowed to operate with 75 per cent of their workforce in the office.

The government will finalise the plans on Wednesday morning and detail the easing of public health rules at a press conference on the same day, government sources confirmed.

The government is weighing up how many fans it will allow in stadiums, with the A-League grand final and a Saturday night blockbuster between Essendon and Melbourne to be hosted in Melbourne over the weekend. Crowd caps may differ depending on the capacity of the stadium.

The ministers will also assess advice from Professor Sutton on whether to allow more than two people to visit another household. Professor Sutton said on Tuesday he expected “good news” for those wanting to host weddings this weekend.

Stay across the most crucial developments related to the pandemic with the Coronavirus Update. Sign up to receive the weekly newsletter.

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2021-06-22 10:00:28Z
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