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COVID-19 in Australia

What’s behind Melbourne’s anti-lockdown protests

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Protests started last week after Victoria’s government first mandated COVID-19 vaccines for construction workers, and then shut the building industry down for two weeks. What started with large numbers of construction workers has been largely subsumed by anti-vaccination and anti-lockdown activists. And online groups are filled with messages espousing right-wing, extremist rhetoric. The decision to use the shrine to protest against mandatory vaccinations and COVID-19 lockdowns outraged veterans and many in the community.

Their own information universe

However, many protesters and their supporters do not see it that way. That is because they are in their own information universe.Through social media, app messaging groups and online livestreams, they have had a very different experience of this week’s protests. In that world, they saw police actions this week as close to outright tyranny. The legitimate right of protest has been squelched, they say, and people are being forced to live in a society divided between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. 

Protesters say their views are being silenced. However, these views are represented in the so-called mainstream media, but carefully and with context. So they avoid mainstream media and turn to livestreams when protests are taking place.

Groups coalescing around protests

Rukshan Fernando broadcasts a stream that typically attracts tens of thousands of viewers. He sees himself as a chronicler, but he does broadcast far-right posts and tweets and has a large, far-right following.This week, when protesters were scrambling to evade police and assemble in Melbourne’s CBD, many turned to Mr Fernando’s livestream to see what was happening. But it is apparent from the comments that scroll in his livestream that not all of those watching are in Australia. Many appear to be located in the US and the UK.Although there are many who rely exclusively on his and other similar content, he himself does not believe that is healthy.

“I always tell people, my audience … they shouldn’t look at me, or anyone, as a single source of truth. They should consume my content, they should consume mainstream media content, and use that to make up their mind,” he said.

Belinda Barnet, a senior lecturer in media and communication at Swinburne University, said Mr Fernando’s livestreams were not purely “raw and unfiltered, on-the-ground information”.“It is accompanied by a narration, so he’s kind of narrating the events, and he’s also choosing what to film and what not to film,” Dr Barnet said. “So, for example, in the recent riots he was quite big on filming police ostensibly being aggressive but didn’t seem to want to film the protesters being aggressive back.

Many joining protests have switched off mainstream news

Nonetheless, it’s clear Mr Fernando’s livestreams have provided a platform for several groups that have coalesced around these protests. Some of those on the streets of Melbourne were openly hostile to journalists. Others do not believe COVID-19 is really a major public health emergency. Some say the ongoing public health orders are part of an international plot. 

We’ve seen it in the US, but it’s happening here too

Many would argue that is very much being discussed on the ABC and other mainstream media outlets. But the thing is, there’s a good chance people who support these protests aren’t reading, watching or listening. They maybe, or are in their own silo. It is not just mainstream journalism they do not engage with. They are distrustful of a lot of official information, too, from governments and health officials. This is the environment in which their silo has been built, constructed of strong opinions and misinformation.

And yes, the rest of us do not get much exposure to that other world. Two closed loops, with less and less overlap. We have all seen it in America. More and more, it is happening here, too.

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COVID-19 in Australia

COVID-19 Vaccines Myths Busting #10

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Once you have had your vaccine shots you no longer need to take COVID precautions

The COVID vaccines are only one part of Australia’s overall strategy to get back to a new normal.

Initially, we will still need to continue with physical distancing, regular hand washing, and (in some situations) mask wearing. 

Some of these control measures may be reduced once the vaccine program is fully rolled out.  

 

The flu shot will protect me from COVID-19

Immunisation against influenza will not protect you against COVID-19.

If a person was infected with both the flu and COVID-19 it could be serious, so make sure to still get your annual flu vaccination. 

Dr Naidoo says while the flu vaccine won’t protect you against COVID-19, it will reduce your risk of getting the flu and associated complications.

“During this pandemic, you want to remain as fit and healthy as possible and vaccination is an important preventative tool,” she advises.

“In addition to getting vaccinated, adhering to simple and effective measures such as good hand and respiratory hygiene, physical distancing and isolating when unwell, is just as important to protect ourselves and our community from transmission of infectious disease.”

Just remember, there should be at least a seven day gap between your flu jab and any of your COVID-19 shots. 

 

The COVID-19 vaccines will modify my DNA

None of the COVID vaccines will modify your DNA.

The Pfizer vaccine is a messenger RNA vaccine (also called mRNA). The mRNA from the vaccine doesn’t enter the nucleus of our cells – where our DNA is kept. The mRNA is expressed for a short time and then our cells degrade it, so there is no way that the vaccine can modify your DNA.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is a viral vector vaccine – it uses a harmless, weakened animal virus to introduce the genetic code for the COVID-19 spike protein into our cells. The genetic code for the spike protein does not become part of our DNA. 

 

The vaccines have common serious and dangerous side effects

Serious side effects have been very uncommon so far with both approved Australian vaccines – the Pfizer and AstraZeneca variants.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has carefully considered the latest vaccination findings out of Europe and the UK, where there have been extremely rare instances of people developing a very specific syndrome involving blood clots with low platelet counts after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine. 

Studies have suggested it may occur in approximately 4-6 people in every one million people in the 4-20 days after the first dose of vaccine. However, higher rates have been reported in Germany and some Scandinavian countries.

As a result, ATAGI has recommended the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine is preferred over the AstraZeneca vaccine for adults aged under 60 years. This recommendation is based on the increasing risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19 in older adults – and hence a higher benefit from vaccination – and a potentially increased risk of blood clots following AstraZeneca vaccination among those aged under 60.

In addition, everyone in Australia will be screened for potential allergies or problems before they are vaccinated, using a safety checklist. And you will also have to remain at the place of vaccination afterwards to be monitored for at least 15 minutes. 

Mild side effects are common after any vaccine shot and it’s no different with COVID vaccines. Some common (but short-term) side effects of the vaccines are pain/swelling at the injection site, fever, muscle aches, fatigue and headache. These are signs the vaccine is working to stimulate your immune system.

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COVID-19 in Australia

Weekly COVID news at a glance

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1. International travel vaccination certificates

The proof will be available to Australian passport holders and Australian visa holders who have their COVID-19 vaccinations recorded on the Australian Immunisation Register, government ministers said in a joint statement on Sunday night.

 The proof will enable fully vaccinated Australians to depart Australia and travel internationally consistent with the National Plan to transition Australia’s COVID-19 Response.

It can be downloaded digitally or in printed form and is compatible with COVID-19 travel apps such as the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Travel Pass. The federal government has announced that international travel restrictions will start to ease from the beginning of November for fully vaccinated Australians.

 

2. Contact tracer changes

Victoria’s contact tracing systems are changing, as the state’s reaches what health officials hope is the peak of COVID-19 case numbers

Previously, the goal was to stop and track every case, but now the focus is on the cases that are the highest risk. It means people who test positive will be treated differently, depending on who they are, where they work and whether they’re vaccinated.

For example, when someone young and healthy tests positive, they might only receive a text to isolate. But someone who is at risk of severe illness, such as the elderly or immunocompromised, they will receive a call and further communication.

 

3. Home COVID-19 tests approved in Australia

Three COVID-19 self-test kits with an accuracy of around 97 per cent will hit pharmacy shelves on 1 November. The Therapeutic Goods Administration has given the Chinese-made tests the green light, as attention turns from lockdowns to living with the virus.

Two of the rapid antigen tests involve spitting in a tube while the third is a nasal swab. The instructions note that if there is a positive result, confirmation must be sought via a laboratory PCR test.

 

4. Quarantine-free travel 

Quarantine-free travel between Australia and the South Island of New Zealand is ready to resume, Chief Medical Official Paul Kelly says. He said NSW and Victoria have agreed to allow trips to restart from midnight on Tuesday given there has not been a COVID-19 case in the South Island since last year.

 “We hope to allow anyone who has been in the South Island of New Zealand whether Australian, New Zealanders or other nationalities, as long as they have been there for 14 days, to come in quarantine free.”

Health Minister Greg Hunt said he has also been in discussions with his Singaporean counterpart about a green lane travel bubble for fully vaccinated travellers from the Asian city-state. 

 

5. Supply for new COVID-19 treatments

Australia has secured two additional COVID-19 treatments, but Health Minister Greg Hunt has made it clear they are not replacing vaccinations.

The government has reached an agreement with Roche Products to supply 15,000 doses of the COVID-19 antibody-based therapy Ronapreve. Mr Hunt said the intravenous treatment given in the early stages of infection provides a 70 per cent reduction in the likelihood of someone being hospitalised or dying.

The government has also secured 500,000 courses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 oral antiviral drug, which will be available in 2022 subject to Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approval.

Pfizer’s COVID-19 oral antiviral drug

COVID-19 antibody-based therapy Ronapreve

 

6. Vaccines safe for fertility and pregnancy

Experts are concerned about pregnant women holding back from getting their COVID-19 vaccines due to misinformation. There is no evidence that the vaccine is harmful.

Scientific data shows that vaccines have no effect on fertility and are safe while pregnant. Senior Lecturer in Gynaecology and obstetrics, Michelle Wise, said there is evidence that the real cause of severe disease in pregnant women is the COVID-19 virus

Currently in the UK, one in six of the most critically ill COVID patients are unvaccinated pregnant women. Myths around vaccines affecting fertility can be traced back to American websites that highlighted a European doctor’s claims in 2020 while the vaccine was in stage 3 trials. But studies have since confirmed his claims were not proven or factual and there has been NO reports of infertility or miscarriage in relation to the vaccine.

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COVID-19 in Australia

Wilcannia celebrates two weeks covid free

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Wilcannia locals are celebrating the news there have been no new Covid cases for two weeks, but say they are now on the long path to recovery after the virus hit “like a cyclone” in August. 

As NSW lifts restrictions, one Aboriginal health expert warned that “we are still in the thick of it”, with new cases appearing in other Aboriginal communities every day.

“Given that we’re only four days out of lockdown, we might see an increase in Covid cases over the next couple of weeks,” Malouf, adjunct professor at the University of Sydney and Wakka Wakka–Wulli Wulli man, said.

In Wilcannia, thanks to the community’s own strong calls for help – which some say came far too late – the small town on the Baarka (Darling River) in far west NSW has gone from 153 cases to zero in 57 days.

Adams said governments are now “fully aware of what Covid can do to communities that have overcrowding”.

Wilcannia, with a population of about 720, recorded its first case on 18 August, when less than 20% of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population over the age of 16 had received their first dose of a vaccine, and only 8% had been fully vaccinated, despite being identified as a priority group since the early days of the pandemic.

By 26 August, it had a higher Covid transmission rate than the worst hotspots in Sydney, sparking demands for a coordinated state and federal response. 

Now that cases are at zero, 10 of those motorhomes have been transported to nearby Wentworth to help people self-isolate. A Covid community response team will remain in town for the foreseeable future, while local mental health teams are in the process of resuming their pre-Covid services, the spokesperson said.

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