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COVID-19 in Australia

Why over 50s but not other Australians

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On 7th April night, the government announced a recommendation that alternatives to the AstraZeneca vaccine be offered to those aged under 50 due to an approximately one-in-4m risk of severe blood clotting.

Australia’s health advice has changed to preference the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine over AstraZeneca’s for a large portion of the country’s population. 

With the government accepting advice that the small risk of blood clots associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine means it should not be given to people under 50, its plan to vaccinate Australians against the virus is in disarray.

The government advice on the rare clotting was sensible, and that Australians should still have confidence in the overall safety and efficacy of the vaccine. But the public had already been fatigued by promises about the rollout that had gone unmet. Over the last eight months the public has been convinced by politicians that we’re only implementing measures like closed international borders and lockdowns until the vaccine arrives.

That was not something the governement could have foreseen. But other issues could have been foreseen – including vaccine nationalism, which involves other parts of the world blocking exports to secure their own supply.

 

/  Prime Minister Scott Morrison

 

So why is the vaccine OK for people over 50 but not ok for under 50?

The government says it’s taking a deliberately cautious approach by changing tack on the rollout strategy. It says it can do this because Australia has such low rates of community transmission, which reduces the urgent need to vaccinate the entire population.

But the risks of TTS — and COVID-19 — differ depending on your age.

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly explained it appeared that because the rare syndrome was likely an immune response, it had a greater chance of affecting young people with “robust” immune systems. And, as we know, your risk of death or hospitalisation from COVID-19 increases the older you are.

 

 

“This is based both on the increased risk of complications from COVID-19 with increasing age, and thus increased benefit of the vaccination, and the potentially lower — but not zero — risk of this rare event with increasing age,” Professor Kelly said.

/ Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly

 

In a nutshell, the government believes the AstraZeneca vaccine contains fewer risks and greater benefits for older people, and therefore is worth the very small risk associated with the vaccine for people over 50.

 

But is it true?

We don’t know.

The government should “take a pause, and review what’s been going wrong so far to try and reset and fix a lot of those governance and logistical issues, including squabbles between states and the federal government.”

The rollout will likely be affected now that the Pfizer vaccine is preferred for millions of Australians, as we have far more arms to jab than Pfizer vaccines in supply.

 

 

The government is working to improve Australia’s access to the vaccine, and it also has pre-ordered more than 50 million doses of the Novavax vaccine, which is still in development.

But in the meantime, its plan to have everyone partially vaccinated by October is in doubt.

 

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COVID-19 in Australia

Weekly COVID news at a glance

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1   Victoria’s new hotel quarantine accommodation plan

The Victorian government is continuing to investigate new hotel quarantine accommodation options, with a pet quarantine complex in Mickleham among the locations being considered.

The site, located in Melbourne’s north, was one of a few preferred sites being assessed as an alternative to hotel quarantine. Other locations included Avalon Airport and a youth jail site in Cherry Creek, but a source close to the government told The Age both have now been assessed as being unsuitable.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews had previously said the government’s plan is to build cabin-style units, similar to quarantine accommodation currently being used in the Northern Territory. Plans for new facilities emerged as a solution to quarantine issues following repeated transmission leaks of COVID-19 from hotel quarantine in both Victoria and other states.

 

 

2   Viral fragments in wastewater found in Vic suburbs

Victorians in Melbourne’s Western and North-Western suburbs are being asked to get COVID-19 tested following the discovery of strong viral fragments in wastewater in the area.

As an extra precaution, health officials have asked 246 close contacts of a recent positive case that arrived in Victoria from Perth to get re-tested for the virus despite previously returning a negative result.

COVID-19 viral fragments have also appeared in wastewater in several locations including. Benalla, where there have been repeated detections, and several other western, northern, north-western and outer eastern suburbs. Health authorities say the fragments are most likely coming from a non-infectious person who is shedding the virus from a previous infection. People in the areas of concern should continue practicing COVID-safe rules and get tested if they show symptoms of the virus.

More information on those locations can be found on the Department of Health website, or by calling the Coronavirus hotline on 1800 675 398.

 

 

 

3   New grant program for manufacturing businesses

A new Victorian government grant program is supporting manufacturers in expanding their businesses.

Manufacturing businesses can apply for up to $500-thousand-dollars in support as part of the Business Competitiveness Program. The Victorian Government said the funding is to help manufacturers implement new technologies and processes, covering up to a third of project costs.

Applications for a grant can be made through the BUSINESS.VIC.GOV.AU/MIDF webpage.

 

 

 

4   Extension of funding for telehealth medical appointments 

The federal government has announced it will extend funding for telehealth medical appointments until the end of the year.

The government quickly rolled out telehealth subsidies in March 2020 as the pandemic took hold, so Australians could continue to access health services during lockdowns via phone or video call appointments. The Federal Budget in May will see a six-month extension of the Medicare arrangements in place, allowing people to continue to have subsidised telehealth appointments.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt made the announcement and noted that telehealth appointments have been ‘life-changing’ for Australians over the past year, allowing people to continue to access health services safely from their homes.

 

 

 

5   AstraZeneca affected the vaccine rollout plan

Vaccination rates remain low across Australia after the program reset in early April due to issues raised with side-effects of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

While the AstraZeneca vaccine is no longer recommended for people aged under 50, it is being recommended for those over 50 and will be available to that sector of the public from next week through GP clinics.

The federal government has now abandoned all its initial targets for the rollout which were already falling short. In total, just over 2-million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have so far been delivered nationwide.

 

 

 

 

6   Reliance has dropped on the AstraZeneca vaccine

People in disability care homes with complex needs will now receive Pfizer vaccines, regardless of their age, as Australia reduces its reliance on the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities will also be given priority for Pfizer shots. But those who have already received their initial AstraZeneca vaccine dose will still receive their second shot.

Doctors are now urging the government to change the current distribution of vaccine doses, with some GPs receiving too many doses while others don’t get enough.

National Cabinet has decided GPs will receive more doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, while Pfizer is primarily being used for frontline workers at state vaccination hubs.

 

 

 

 

 

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COVID-19 in Australia

World Responses to Covid Crisis in India

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India is reeling from a new coronavirus surge, stretching hospitals to the limit with dire shortages of beds, oxygen and drugs, as the number of new cases rises to record levels each day, creating a national crisis with global repercussions. 

India grapples with a devastating Covid wave that has overwhelmed it’s hospitals, offers of aid, including from Australia, have flooded in from around the world. 

 

So how do countries react to this?

 

Australia

Prime minister Scott Morrison says that his government is currently working with India’s to determine how it can assist. The two countries together with the US and Japan, are in a bloc called the Quad, that has pledged to supply a billion doses of the Covid-19 vaccine across Asia

 

 

USA

In the end of April, the US said it would share 60 million AstraZeneca doses with other countries, the White House also announced it would partially lift the ban, and identify “specific raw material urgently required for Indian manufacture of the Covishield vaccine that will immediately be made available for India.” However, the announcement did not mention sharing AstraZeneca vaccine doses, of which the US has tens of millions stockpiled. The doses, which have not been authorized by the US Food and Drug Administration, have gone unused, with the exception of a few million shots sent to Canada and Mexico.

 

The UK

The United Kingdom is sending 600 pieces of medical equipment to India, including oxygen concentrators and ventilators, the government announced on 25th April. The aid follows a direct request by Modi to the UK. Western countries have been criticized for vaccine stockpiling, but on 28th April, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the UK didn’t have any spare vaccines to send. 

 

Pakistan

Neighboring Pakistan announced it would provide “relief support” in a “gesture of solidarity,” according to a statement from the country’s ministry of foreign affairs. The two nuclear armed states have a long and hostile history, and tensions have risen considerably in the past year. Pakistan is offering to send ventilators, PPE and other medical assistance.

 

Germany

Germany sent 23 mobile oxygen generation plants for use in military units tending to Covid-19 patients. They arrived in India at the end of April.

 

France

French president Emmanuel Macron expressed readiness to support India through the crisis. Details of how and what he plans to offer have yet to be revealed. Speaking on behalf of the EU, European Council president Charles Michel echoed Macron’s offer to help. He says they plan to discuss specifics during the India-EU Summit in Brussels on May 8.

 

China

Foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian says that Beijing is “ready to provide support and help according to India’s need.” Suspending old rivalries, they are currently in talks with Indian health officials.

 

 

 

If the Indian outbreak can’t be contained and spreads to neighboring countries with low vaccine supplies and weak health systems, experts warn the world risks replicating scenes witnessed in India — especially if newer, potentially more contagious variants are allowed to take hold. And, as India has a leading role in making vaccines for other nations, failing to stop its spread there could endanger the vaccine rollout worldwide.

 

 

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COVID-19 in Australia

WA premier: No wedding and athletic meets in pandemic

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Western Australia has reported no new community cases of coronavirus on day two of a snap lockdown for Perth and the Peel region, as the premier, Mark McGowan, blamed the federal government for allowing too many Australians to travel overseas to attend “weddings” and “athletics meets” during the pandemic.

/Premier Mark McGowan

 

“I don’t get why that should be allowed,” the premier said on Sunday.

McGowan announced there had been no new locally acquired cases but said there was one additional case in hotel quarantine. They were a “returning resident who has travelled back from India”.

Earlier on Sunday morning, the defence minister, Peter Dutton, said the WA government had made a “mistake” by using the Mercure Perth hotel where the latest outbreak originated.

 

/ Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton 

 

Dutton told the ABC’s Insiders program the hotel had previously been identified as being unsuitable but the state had other options available and the commonwealth wouldn’t be opening up military bases to house returned travellers as McGowan had suggested.

McGowan blamed the federal government for allowing Australians to travel out of the country to “Covid-infected countries”.

It’s been reported the man who was the first case of the latest cluster had travelled to India for a wedding and returned to quarantine at the Mercure Perth. His partner subsequently tested positive as did a 54-year-old Victorian man who had been staying in an adjacent room at the hotel.

McGowan on Sunday said some Australians had been allowed to go overseas “to a wedding or an athletics meet or a funeral”.

The premier said that the federal government had agreed to halve the state’s arrival cap for the next month after he declared the current rate of 1,025 returning travellers per week was “not sustainable”.

The state conducted 11,859 tests in the past 24 hours and vaccinated 316 people on Saturday. McGowan said that there were a total of 359 close and casual contacts of the confirmed cases.

Of the 303 close contacts, 73 people have returned negative results. Of the 56 casual contacts, 13 had returned a negative result.

 

/Mercure Perth hotel

 

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