COVID-19

Australia needs to ‘ramp up’ COVID jabs

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the states will “continue to ramp up” their vaccination programs, in order to meet the goal of having every Australian who wants the jab receiving it by October. “We’re really confident that all of the states will continue to ramp up, I understand that there have been different paces … but all of them have good plans,” Hunt said, according to the ABC. “There will every week be challenges that will need to be overcome, but that’s been the story of the last year.”Previously, Hunt had said 80,000 doses would be circulated in the first week, with a “cautious and conservative” estimate that 60,000 would be administered. However, ABC reported that only 63,140 doses were distributed, and 33,702 injected.On average, about 10,000 doses of the COVID-19 jab are given in Australia daily – well behind target. MYSTERY FLIGHT RETURNS Qantas will bring back its popular 1990s trend of mystery flights in a bid to assist local tourism industries that have been financially crippled by the coronavirus pandemic. The country’s major carrier will offer customers mystery flights from Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney to undisclosed interstate locations for day trips co-ordinated by the airline and local tour operators. Qantas’s mystery destinations are a nostalgic trend brought back from last century, where customers used to be able to rock up to the airport and hop on a last minute flight to any location where seats were still available.“Our customers tell us that where they can and can’t travel within Australia has been a bit of a mystery lately,” Qantas chief customer officer, Stephanie Tully said. “These flights turn that mystery into a positive by creating a unique experience for the many people keen to start travelling again.” Flights will be on one of three Qantas Boeing 737 planes located at the major airports, with economy fares beginning at $737.The all-day package includes meals and in-flight beverages, plus activities on the ground which range from wine making, gourmet lunches and snorkelling on tropical islands. Each major city has a different interstate destination with a flying time of roughly two hours. Tickets sales will begin on Thursday midday. Qantas noted the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines had boosted certainty around state borders remaining open, allowing the major carrier to organise destinations outside of each respective state. Ms Tully said the flights are intended to assist tourism operators in regional areas which have been financially scarred from the pandemic. “The vaccine rollout is bringing a lot more certainty and domestic border restrictions should soon be a thing of the past,” Mr Tully said. “As well as helping bring more of our people back to work, these mystery flights are another way to support tourism operators in regional areas especially, who have been hit particularly hard by several waves of travel restrictions.”The mystery flights are off the back of recent promotions run by Qantas that included its Flight to Somewhere and Flight to Nowhere specials, which were scenic getaway flights with low-level fly-bys of iconic Australian landmarks. Qantas said the customers will be given clues before the trip to ensure they are clothed and prepared for the appropriate outing. On-board experiences will also include scenic fly-bys of landmarks en route to the destination.INTERNATIONAL BORDER BAN EXTENDEDThe federal government has announced that it will be extending the international border ban until June, citing the emergence of the various mutations of COVID-19 that have been detected in Kent, England, South Africa, and Brazil, and which have been spreading globally.The extension was announced on Tuesday evening.Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the Governor-General had extended the “human biosecurity emergency period,” which was first imposed on March 17, 2020, to June 17 to “ensure the Australian government has the powers to take any necessary measures to continue to prevent and control COVID-19”.This extension will mean it has been 15 months since Australians have been allowed to leave the country without exemption, and will continue to mean 40,000 Australians stranded overseas might not be able to re-enter the country.“The extension of the emergency period is informed by specialist medical and epidemiological advice provided by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) and Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer,” Mr Hunt said in a statement.“The AHPPC has advised the Australian government the COVID-19 situation overseas continues to pose an unacceptable public health risk to Australia, including the emergence of more highly transmissible variants.“The extension of the emergency period for a further three months is about mitigating that risk for everyone’s health and safety.”Hotel quarantine will remain in place until at least the mid-2021, if not the rest of the year. About 40,000 Australians are overseas and cannot return home, outpriced by airline fares, and then by hotel quarantine fees.National Vaccine RolloutSTATES LAGGING BEHIND IN VACCINE ROLLOUTNew data from the federal health department has revealed that Victoria and Queensland trail the rest of the nation in their plans for distributing COVID-19 vaccines, according to a report in The Australian.Victoria has administered only 30 per cent of the available doses allocated to hospital and quarantine workers at state Pfizer vaccination centre.Queensland has only administered 22 per cent. In contrast, according to the Health Department, NSW has used 75 per cent of the doses available in its state Pfizer hub. Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is calling on the federal government to provide more information on the number of doses to arrive in Australia at the end of the month so that co-ordination can begin.But Health Minister Greg Hunt said Pfizer has not yet told the government how many doses they will deliver in week four of the vaccine rollout. But he said there are more doses on the way and the country would be “scaling up,” “It is over 30,000. Soon it’ll be up to a million and two million.”On Monday Gladys Berejiklian said that NSW was in the dark about vaccine rollouts and accused the federal government of not giving NSW enough information on how many doses of the vaccine were on the way. “We’d like some certainty. We have been given a rough idea. Beyond week four, we are waiting for that information,” Ms Berejiklian said.“We need to know exactly what those doses will be so that we can invite people to come and get the vaccine. The online booking system we have been running relies on us advising people that they can get the vaccine.”HEALTH MINISTER HITS OUT AT ANTI-VAXXERSHealth minister Greg Hunt has slammed anti-vaxxers for spreading “ ludicrous” theories about Australia’s vaccine rollout.“Some of these anti-vaxxers are peddling false and clearly irresponsible views – frankly,” he said. “Whether it is about 5G and Bill Gates and mind-control. Ludicrous, ludicrous things.”Mr Hunt said there had been no sign so far that anti-vaxxers were planning major protests at vaccination centres, while confirming the Department of Home Affairs was in contact with the Department of Health to monitor the situation.It comes as the first doses of overseas-made AstraZeneca vaccine have arrived in Australia. The shipment – containing 300,000 doses of the jab – arrived at 9.20am on Sunday. Batch testing of the vaccines will be undertaken by the TGA to ensure the doses meet Australian standards before they join the rollout in just over a week.Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the vaccine arrival was part of the rollout “ramp up”.“This is the next step as we ramp up the vaccine rollout,” he said.“The University of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine will undergo the same rigorous TGA process to batch check the vaccine that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine underwent.“We will now be able to scale up the vaccination rollout to our priority groups, including our most vulnerable Australians and to our frontline border and health workers.”The rollout of the AstraZeneca jab is due to begin on March 8. Australia has a purchase agreement for 53.8 doses of the Oxford-developed coronavirus vaccine. About 3.8m doses are due to arrive in the first half of this year, with a further 50m made in monthly batches in Melbourne by CSL. Mr Hunt said the introduction of the jab into the rollout would make it easier than just relying on the Pfizer vaccine which has complex storage needs.“Having AstraZeneca available in Australia provides an easier avenue for distribution across the nation, meaning people in rural, regional and remote areas will not have to travel as far to receive their vaccine,” Mr Hunt said. “The cold chain requirements of this vaccine – it can be stored and handled in the same way as any other vaccine – make it a very good candidate for a country like Australia.”When you can get the COVID vaccine?CASH BOOST FOR AVIATION SECTOR Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has flagged targeted financial support for the aviation sector when the wage subsidy JobKeeper scheme ends next month.It comes after Qantas reported a half-yearly net loss of $1.03bn amid the coronavirus pandemic.“The domestic tourism market is going to pick up, particularly as the vaccine is rolled out confidence comes back, and we don’t see those borders closing as frequently as we saw, over the course of last year,” the Treasurer told Sky News.“With respect to the government support. We are looking at other measures that we can put in place – post JobKeeper — to support a range of industries including the aviation sector.”ALERT OVER MELBOURNE WASTEWATER FRAGMENTS Victoria recorded no new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday.The Department of Health announced there were zero fresh cases after 7440 tests were conducted across the state.There were no locally or overseas acquired infections for the second day in a row, while there is still 15 active cases in Victoria.The last recorded cases of community transmission were announced on Friday, when two people were identified as being positive.They were already in isolation and are close contacts to a case linked to the Holiday Inn cluster.Victorians are relishing their first weekend since restrictions were relaxed back to the conditions in place before the Black Rock outbreak in December.From 11.59pm on Friday they can now host up to 30 people in their home per day and 100 people can gather outdoors.Masks are only required on public transport, in ride share vehicles such as Uber and taxis, in settings such as aged care facilities and in some larger retail settings including indoor shopping centres and supermarkets.Density limits remain for hospitality, beauty, gyms and health venues, while attendances for funerals and weddings are still capped depending on the size of the hosting setting.Offices are now able to welcome back up to 75 per cent of staff.COVID-19 fragments have been detected in wastewater in Melbourne’s outer west, with residents urged to get tested.NED-3164-Vaccines-Comparisonchief health officer Brett Sutton said the viral fragments were “weak” but residents and recent visitors to the area with “even mild symptoms” should arrange a coronavirus test immediately.The suburbs in the wastewater catchment area are Taylors Hill, Plumpton, Hillside, Sydenham, Delahey, Caroline Springs, Burnside Heights, Kings Park, Albanvale, Burnside and Deer Park.Professor Sutton said the viral fragment was from a sample collected on February 22.“Anyone who has been in these suburbs and has any symptoms of COVID-19 from 20 to 22 February is urged to get tested,” he said.“Fragments of the virus detected in wastewater may be due to a person with COVID-19 being in the early active infectious phase.“Or it could be because someone is continuing to shed the virus after the early infectious period.”NAT – Stay Informed – Social Media

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