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COVID-19 in Australia

Weekly COVID news at a glance

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1 Mandatory jab for authorised workers

This week, the Victorian government extended its requirement for vaccination of certain essential workers to all authorised workers in the state. This is a tough call but justified by a unique set of circumstances and the temporary nature of the mandate.

Mandatory vaccination has always been controversial because it comes with significant downsides. There are often better ways to get the high vaccination coverage needed. This new mandate makes access to work and income contingent on receiving this medical intervention for now 1.25 million Victorians.

Mandates challenge the foundations of valid consent which says vaccination should be given voluntarily. They can disproportionately affect those lacking access to vaccination or to accurate documentation of the vaccines they have had.

2 Victoria backs construction industry

The Victorian government has announced a multi-million-dollar support package to provide financial aid for the construction industry for the two weeks under lockdown.

$196-million-dollars will go towards one-off cash grants to eligible businesses, including sole traders. More than 700-thousand businesses in Melbourne, the City of Greater Geelong, Surf Coast Shire and Mitchell Shire will be eligible. 

Sole traders will receive a $2-thousand-dollar one-off payment and other businesses will receive payments of between $2,800 up to $8,400 dollars based on their annual payroll. Applications for the program will open in mid-October and more information can be found by googling the Victorian Government’s Business Cost Assistance Program.

3 NSW set to hit vaccine milestone this week

NSW is just days away from hitting its 70 per cent double dose vaccination target, with a significant easing of restrictions set for October 11. Just over 67 per cent of residents over the age of 16 have had two jabs, with 88 per cent having their first dose.

The new freedoms for fully vaccinated residents will be triggered next Monday and are set to include eased household and outdoor gatherings, reopening hospitality, retail stores and gyms, reopening stadiums and theatres and increasing capacity limits for weddings and funerals.

From next week, fully vaccinated people who are identified as a close contact of a positive case will only need to isolate for seven days, down from 14.

4 Changing freedom roadmap plan refused 

The man expected to be NSW’s next premier, Dominic Perrottet, has refused to rule out making changes to the roadmap to freedom set out by his predecessor Gladys Berejiklian. Mr Perrottet will be running for the top job on Tuesday against Planning Minister Rob Stokes.

When announcing his candidacy in a press conference on Sunday, Mr Perrottet refused to confirm whether he would keep the current Covid roadmap if elected. Mr Stokes said he would keep the original freedom plan if he was to be elected Premier.

Under the current plan, a number of restrictions are due to ease for fully vaccinated residents on October 11, with even more freedoms to come at the 80 per cent vaccine milestone, including regional travel for Sydneysiders. Unvaccinated residents across the state will be required to live under lockdown restrictions until December 1.

5 Queensland could face NSW-style outbreak

An epidemiologist has issued a dire warning to Queensland as the state begins to look ahead to borders re-opening. Professor Nancy Baxter said despite the state’s recent successful attempts at containing Delta outbreaks, the worst could still be coming. 

“At some point Queensland’s luck will run out and end up in Sydney situation or a Melbourne situation,” she said. 

As of yesterday, Queensland had, along with Western Australia, the lowest vaccination rate in the country with numbers hovering around 48 per cent double dose. However, the state government allowed thousands to gather at Suncorp Stadium for the NRL grand final last night, though a late cap of 75 per cent capacity was imposed.

6 Vaccinated given the chance to win $1 million

Australians vaccinated against COVID-19 are being given the chance to win $1 million thanks to a new campaign dedicated to accelerating the country’s vaccination rates.

The Million Dollar Vax campaign will give away a total of $4.1 million worth of prizes to people vaccinated against the virus in the next four and a half weeks.

It will award $1000 gift cards to entrants daily on top of the ultimate $1 million prize, which will be given away on 5 November.

The campaign is the work of the Million Dollar Vax Alliance, a collaboration of philanthropists and corporations who want to drive vaccination rates above 80 per cent nationally as quickly as possible.

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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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