China lashes Australia over Uyghur plight, after Marise Payne claimed ‘credible evidence’ of abuse

Beijing’s mouthpiece has rubbished claims of a genocide in Xinjiang as “nonsense” a day after Marise Payne said there were “credible reports” of systematic abuse of Uyghur women.

The Foreign Minister on Thursday hit back at an extraordinary press conference held by the Chinese embassy that lashed Australia for its criticism of human rights abuses in China.

Ms Payne said Australia would continue to be “clear and consistent” in raising abuses in Xinjiang, where human rights groups estimate one million Uyghurs have been detained in internment camps.

But in an article published in Beijing’s mouthpiece Global Times on Friday, Australia was accused of spreading “groundless rumours” about Xinjiang.

“Their claim of ‘genocide’ in Xinjiang is also nonsense since local people have lived a peaceful and prosperous life, thanks to Xinjiang’s governance,” it read.

RELATED: Payne: ‘Credible reports’ of Uyghur abuse despite bizarre press conference

“Australia is condoning the instigation of hatred and hostility against Chinese people by letting these rumours spread unchecked.”

Australia has consistently avoided following the UK and Canada in declaring a genocide was underway in Xinjiang, but Ms Payne said there credible reports showed the “systematic abuse and torture of women” in the region.

“These are matters which we have raised at the highest level,” she said.

“Australia has always been very clear, not just in relation to (the abuse of Uyghurs), but in relation to matters of human rights more broadly.

“Where they are of concern to us we will make clear our views, no matter where they occur.”

Australian journalists were on Tuesday shown a video by Chinese officials – titled ‘Xinjiang is a Wonderful Land’ – which rejected claims the Uyghur population was targeted in the region.

Veteran Liberal backbencher Eric Abetz blasted the “sickening display of propaganda”, though Ms Payne preferred to laud the freedom of speech allowing Ambassador Cheng to hold the press conference.

The publication accused Australia’s political elite of hiding behind freedom of speech to “incite hatred” against individuals from China.

“Any defamation should be condemned and held accountable,” it said.

“Western elites try to use so-called freedom of speech to justify their badmouthing China, while at the same time, they claim that none of this is aimed at Chinese people and they are against racism.”

The Australia Uyghur Association’s Bahtiyar Bora said the Chinese embassy had declined a request for representatives to meet with Ambassador Cheng following the press conference.

“Tell us where are our loved ones, where are our friends,” he said in an interview with Sky News.

“Why they can’t (we) go back to our country and see our relations?”

The Chinese embassy did not respond to NCA NewsWire’s request for comment.

It comes as a prominent critic of Beijing based in Canberra says she has been subjected to an online “smear campaign” by Chinese trolls.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Vicky Xu, who regularly covers the plight of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, said online bots had been sharing explicit images falsely purporting to show her.

“Good morning. Photos being posted on Twitter and elsewhere are not my nudes. That woman is clearly not me. Not all Asian women look the same,” she wrote on Twitter.

“I suppose people behind the smear campaign can resort to deepfake etc. next.

“So for when that happens – not my sex tape either.”

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Question PM can’t answer after ‘rare but serious risk’ for AstraZeneca vaccine

Prime Minister Scott Morrison concedes he can no longer guarantee that every Australian adult will be vaccinated by the end of the year – a setback that could have huge implications for international border closures and the economy.

The fallout will take some time for the Morrison Government to work through after it was hit with new health advice on Thursday night to advise anyone under 50 to consider the alternative Pfizer vaccine – if it’s available.

One of the first impacts is likely to be a “recalibration” of not just the rollout timetable but Qantas’ hopes of reopened international borders from October 31.

RELATED: ‘Rare but serious risk’ leads vaccine to be avoided

RELATED: Australia reacts to drastic change to COVID-19 vaccine rollout

More than 5,000 words were uttered by the Prime Minister, his health minister and a top bureaucrat during a late night press conference on Thursday to announce the new advice on the AstraZeneca vaccine.

But in those thousands of words, the Prime Minister was at pains not to answer some big questions.

“In terms of what the overall implications are at this stage, it’s too early to give you that answer,’’ the Prime Minister said.

“I mean, this now has to be considered. The impacts assessed. And the program evaluated and recalibrated and, once we’ve done that, we’ll be in a better position to understand those implications.”

What will it mean for international border closures?

Again, the PM said it was too early to give a definitive answer.

“Well, I’ve already answered the first question on several occasions. I don’t propose to do that again,’’ the Prime Minister snapped towards the end of the press conference.

Asked if there was a rough time table for everyone to be vaccinated, he cut off the question.

“No, we don’t. No, we don’t. We’ve learnt this evening, and I think we have to take the time to assess the implications for the program.

“When we’ve done that, we may be able to form a view. But I don’t think anyone should expect that any time soon. This will take some time to work through the implications.”

The good news is that compared to many other parts of the world we remain in one of the safest countries for COVID-19 transmission in the world.

Australians may be living in a ‘golden cage’ but unlike London or the US life is largely returning to normal.

“The fundamental protections we have in place in Australia at the moment with how we’ve been suppressing COVID have been very important, and Australians are living life here very different to how people are in other countries,’’ the PM said.

But there’s no doubt the government’s ultra cautious approach to the risks of the AstraZeneca vaccine could have huge implications for the economy.

As the PM himself argued earlier in the day there’s plenty of other medicines – including the contraceptive pill – that carry much higher blood clot risks.

So why argue against delivering a vaccine that experts say is safe and effective to under 50s? The simple explanation is that it comes down to a balancing of risks.

If the risk of death from COVID-19 is very low is it worth delivering a vaccine that carries the (rare) risk of a deadly blood clot?

Not everyone agrees with where the government has landed and experts stress the advice not to use the AZ vaccine on under 50s is not an order it’s simply the official advice.

You can still choose to have the vaccine if you wish to take an informed risk.

“The key principle of our management of the COVID-19 pandemic has always been to base our decisions on the expert medical advice,’’ the PM said.

“It has not been our practice to jump at shadows. It has not been our practice to take unnecessary precautions.”

The official advice now recommends the following: at the current time, the use of the Pfizer vaccine is preferred over the AstraZeneca vaccine in adults aged less than 50 years who have not already received a first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine.

The chief medical officer Paul Kelly said 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.

The second recommendation is that immunisation providers should only give a first dose of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to adults under 50 years of age where benefit clearly outweighs the risk for that individual’s circumstances.

The third recommendation is that people that have had their first dose of the COVID-19 AstraZeneca without any serious adverse events can safely be given their second dose.

This includes adults under the age of 50, and people who have had blood clots associated with low platelet levels after their first dose of COVID-19 AstraZeneca should not be given the second dose.

“What does this mean for the program? For Phase 1, which is vulnerable people, we will pretty much continue as we are,’’ Health Department secretary Brendan Murphy said.

“Those over 70 and 80 will continue to get AstraZeneca at their GPs and be confident in its efficacy and its safety. For those healthcare workers under 50, they will now be prioritised to Pfizer, and that might delay that particular phase of 1b. But that’s the only phase that might be delayed. The important thing is that all of the vulnerable people – those vulnerable to severe COVID – will be covered, as we planned, by the middle of the year.”

“Clearly, when we move into the broader, younger population later on, we will have to recalibrate by reprioritising some Pfizer for younger people, and we are now reviewing all of the vaccine purchases we’ve made.”

Australia is still expecting 51 million Novavax later in the year and is looking at if it can bring other vaccines forward.

Pfizer has committed to 20 million doses this year which is enough to vaccinate 10 million people in two hits. But so far we’ve only got around 1 million doses.

To vaccinate everyone under 50 however the Morrison Government needs an estimated 12 million doses.

Health Minister Greg Hunt will not say when or where those Pfizer doses are coming from.

“We don’t identify, for security reasons, the specific source,’’ he said.

And with that, the PM, his health minister and the nation’s most senior health advisers exited the late night press conference to the sound of cameras flashing.

On Thursday night AstraZeneca said: “We respect the decision taken by the Australian Government based on advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) to recommend AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine be used in those over the age of 50.

“AstraZeneca has been actively collaborating with regulators and expert advisory groups around the world, including the TGA and ATAGI in Australia to understand the individual cases, epidemiology and possible mechanisms that could explain these extremely rare events.

“We note that the current situation in Australia with very low to no community transmission of COVID-19 was a factor in this updated recommendation from ATAGI and their view that the risk-versus-benefit assessment for the use of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine may be different for Australia compared to other countries, such as those with widespread transmission.”

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Australia reacts to drastic change to COVID-19 vaccine rollout

After a week of dizzying news surrounding Australia’s lagging vaccine rollout, we’ve been hit another blow overnight.

The Prime Minister announced during a snap, late night press conference on Thursday night that Australians under the age of 50 should not receive the AstraZeneca vaccine and instead be offered an alternative where possible.

READ MORE: AstraZeneca vaccine only to be given to over 50s in Australia

The PM said regulators made the decision to offer an alternative following confirmation of a “rare but serious risk” of fatal blood clots.

Chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly said the fatal blood clotting was a “very rare event”.

The change came after a rush review by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) that advises on the vaccine strategy and the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

The PM said the Pfizer jab is now “the preferred vaccine” for those under 50.

Australia’s COVID-19 rollout is largely dependant on local manufacture of the AstraZeneca vaccine — and this announcement could be a spanner in the works.

On ABC’s 7.30 program, host Leigh Sales described it as a “huge development given how reliant Australia is on the vaccine.”

In a fiery interview with Sales on Tuesday night, Professor Brendan Murphy said he “rejected” the idea Australia was failing in its COVID-19 vaccination program.

Dr Murphy “completely rejected” Sales’ accusation that the Australian public sees the rollout as “anything other than amateur hour”.

And it seems the response to Thursday nights news is no different. Commentators including Patricia Karvelas described the vaccine strategy as a “bungle”, meanwhile the PM had “failed”, according to some.

Here’s the talk online.

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Marise Payne hits back at Chinese embassy press conference, says ‘credible evidence’ of abuse

Foreign Minister Marise Payne says there are “credible reports of the systematic abuse and torture” of Uyghur women in response to an extraordinary press conference by the Chinese embassy.

Australian journalists were invited to a press conference on Wednesday where they were shown Chinese government propaganda videos denying the abuse of the Muslim minority Uyghur population in Xinjiang.

Chinese ambassador Cheng Jingye lashed out at what he described the “distorted coverage” of Xinjiang, and slammed Canberra for its criticism of Chinese human rights abuses.

But Ms Payne said Canberra would continue to be “very clear” about its “deeply held concerns” over Xinjiang, where human rights groups estimated a million Uyghurs had been detained in internment camps.

RELATED: China denies abuse of Uyghurs in bizarre press conference

“These are matters which we have raised at the highest level,” she told Sky News on Thursday.

“I made a statement with my New Zealand counterpart at the end of last month about these issues, and we work closely with our international counterparts.”

Ms Payne claimed credible reports showed the “systematic abuse and torture of women” in Xinjiang, alongside re-education camps, religious oppression and forced sterilisations.

She said Australia had consistently pushed for the United Nations high commissioner for human rights to be granted “open and free” access to the region, but had been rejected by the Chinese authorities.

In surreal scenes, Australian journalists were shown a video – entitled “Xinjiang is a Wonderful Land” – claiming the region had been “transformed … into a land of life, a land of thriving vitality”.

Various Uyghur Muslims were videoed denying their religious freedoms had been curtailed, while representatives from the Chinese regimes staunchly denied wrongdoing.

Beijing has insisted its crackdown in Xinjiang was a response to a separatist insurgency driven by Uyghurs, and denied human rights abuses in the camps.

Liberal backbencher Eric Abetz described Wednesday’s event as a “sickening display of propaganda”, but Ms Payne was more reticent to criticise the display directly.

“The first thing that I would reinforce is the value of a free media, a free press, and free speech,” she said.

“So that opportunity is available to diplomats in Canberra … I think that speaks volumes about the principles that do underpin our democratic system.”

Mr Cheng declared China would “not swallow the bitter pill of sanctions” in what was deemed a warning to Canberra.

Ms Payne stressed Canberra had not imposed sanctions on Beijing, but said it had been “clear and consistent” in using international mechanisms to address human rights abuses.

“Australia has always been very clear, not just in relation to (the abuse of Uyghurs), but in relation to matters of human rights more broadly,” she said.

“Where they are of concern to us we will make clear our views, no matter where they occur.”

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Polar cold snap to bring subzero temperatures, snow to parts of NSW

A pair of Antarctic cold fronts will bring subzero temperatures and snow to parts of NSW this weekend.

Sydney will experience a dramatic 10 degree drop in just a few days, with Friday’s 30C weather giving way to temperatures in the low 20s by Monday.

On the NSW south coast, temperatures will drop in two stages as the cold fronts succeed each other.

Friday’s temperatures between 22 and 25 degrees will drop to around 20 degrees by Saturday, and then down to a low of 17 on Sunday.

Not far from the coast, the Canberra region will be much colder, with Saturday morning temperatures of around 5C before the mercury will be expected to hover around the zero mark by Monday.

“The really cold weather will come by Monday or Tuesday, that’s because the cold front brings cooler air, and the wind needs to settle down before it gets really chilly,” the Bureau of Meteorology’s Jiwon Park explained.

Unlike the capital, the coast will be buoyed by unseasonably warm water temperatures.

“The south coast will remain a bit warmer because of the influence of the water,” Mr Park said.

“We are seeing sea surface temperatures remaining slightly warmer than usual.”

In fact, with the ocean temperature remaining around the mid-20s around Batemans Bay, and a few degrees cooler at Merimbula, south coast residents who want to stay warm may want to hit the surf.

The places where the polar conditions will really be felt include the alpine region, Monaro, the ACT, the southern tablelands and parts of the central tablelands like the town of Oberon.

“In parts of those areas we may see temperatures dropping down to below zero degrees during the early part of next week,” Mr Park said.

“There might even be some snow in some parts.”

In the Southern Alps, the snow level could drop below 1200 metres above sea level.

Where it doesn’t snow, the next few days are expected to be drier overall then the beginning of the week, Mr Park said.

“We’ve been under the influence of a moist easterly, and with the passage of the consecutive cold fronts from Friday to Sunday, there’ll be a replacement of that moist easterly by a cooler and drier southerly wind,” he said.

“It will be very dry.”

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China denies abuse of Uyghurs in bizarre press conference

The Chinese government has held an extraordinary press conference in Canberra, trotting out members of a Muslim ethnic minority to deny they had been persecuted by the communist nation.

The Chinese embassy in Canberra invited Australian journalists to the meeting on Wednesday to defend Beijing’s human rights record in Xinjiang Province, where human rights groups believe more than a million Muslim Uyghurs have been sent to internment camps.

But in a surreal press conference, Chinese ambassador Cheng Jingye insisted Uyghurs were not subjected to oppression in Xinjiang.

Journalists were shown a propaganda video – entitled “Xinjiang is a Wonderful Land” – depicting the region as one of economic development and “well-maintained” social stability.

China has long insisted the camps are designed to quell a growing separatist movement in the region, driven by the Uyghur population.

It comes amid a growing international outcry over the abuse of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

Canada’s parliament in February declared a genocide was under way in the region, while UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab accused China of a “highly disturbing program of oppression” last month.

“This is one of the worst human rights crises of our time and I believe the evidence is clear, as it is sobering,” he said.

More to come …

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Most common side effects of the AstraZeneca COVID vaccine

Thousands of people who have stepped up for their vaccine have been tracked to see how they fare afterwards and the results are in.

The latest reports show those who receive the AstraZeneca vaccine, which will make up the bulk of Australia’s rollout, have a 50 per cent chance of developing mild side effects.

AusVaxSafety has been monitoring the safety of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines since Australia’s rollout started on February 22 and surveys people three days after their COVID-19 jab.

More than 57,000 people who have received their first dose have responded to the survey and 35.4 per cent have reported no adverse event.

Among the 37,011 people who reported one or more adverse events, the most common were fatigue, headache, muscle and body aches, injection site pain and chills.

RELATED: How worried should you be about the blood clot risk?

AusVaxSafety said these symptoms were known to occur after vaccination.

“They are generally mild and short-lived,” its report said.

“As with any adverse event reports, not all symptoms reported may be caused by the vaccine; they may be coincidental and due to other causes.

“These expected adverse events are related to the immune response to vaccination and are expected to resolve within 1-3 days after vaccination.”

More than 23 per cent of people vaccinated reported missing work, study or routine duties for a short period and just 1.6 per cent said they saw a doctor or went to the emergency department in the days after their jab.

AusVaxSafety has not received any reports of clotting problems, despite reports there’s a link between AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine and blood clots.

Investigations are underway overseas to determine if the rare syndrome is a side effect from the AstraZeneca vaccine or just a coincidence.

The European Medicines Agency is expected to announce its findings this week.

The EMA last week recommended that countries should keep using the AstraZeneca vaccine because the benefits outweighed the risks, as nations including Italy suspended their rollout of the jab.

Today the nation’s top health official said Australia would push ahead with its vaccine rollout despite not having the answers to the clotting issue.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) investigated one case possibly linked to the vaccine, but Health Department secretary Brendan Murphy said “one case is not a strong signal” and insisted “safety is absolutely paramount” to authorities.

A 44-year-old Melbourne man who received the jab on March 22 was found to have abdominal clots and low platelet levels on Friday

“Our regulator and ATAGI are advising that we continue with our program, that the benefit of vaccination outweighs any potential risk,” Dr Murphy told reporters in Canberra.

Dozens of cases of clotting have been reported worldwide since the vaccine was rolled out. Seven people have died from blood clot complications in the UK, as well as two in Norway and one in Denmark.

The AstraZeneca shot is Australia’s main vaccine, comprising almost all of the doses purchased by the Federal Government – 50 million of which will be produced locally by drug manufacturer CSL.

RELATED: Speed of Australia’s vaccine rollout ranked 90th in the world

RELATED: PM needs to accept vaccine rollout is an ‘unmitigated disaster’

AusVaxSafety also has separate reports for the Pfizer vaccine and data that combines reactions for both.

Overall, one in two people reported a side effect for either vaccine, among 165,209 who have responded to the survey.

The side effects reported for Pfizer are similar to the AstraZeneca responses.

Tasmania and Victoria are going to take part in the AusVaxSafety COVID-19 vaccine safety surveillance program soon, which complements the TGA’s monitoring activities.

About 855,000 people across the country have received the jab as of April 5, despite the Prime Minister predicting that four million Aussies would be vaccinated by the end of March.

Scott Morrison today said the reason for the discrepancy was because millions of doses didn’t arrive in Australia.

“3.1 million of the contracted vaccines that we had been relying upon in early January when we’d set out a series of targets did not turn up in Australia,” he said.

Mr Morrison said supply issues had been addressed overnight.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the state was “stepping up” to help fix delays in the rollout by setting up a mass vaccination hub in Sydney.

The hub will be in addition to the 100 vaccination sites that are already running across the state and will be located at Homebush.

“We anticipate that post-the 300,000 (vaccinations) that we are responsible for we will be able to do around 60,000 vaccinations a week, half will be done at Homebush and the other half across the other 100 sites across the state,” Ms Berejiklian said.

Ms Berejiklian also took a subtle swipe at the PM during the announcement, saying NSW’s ability to vaccinate people depended on a steady supply of vaccines from the Federal government.

“New South Wales doesn’t want to see further delays and that’s why we are stepping up to support the Commonwealth,” she said.

“Can I also make this really critical point, our ability to do 60,000 vaccinations a week depends on us getting the supply of the vaccine from the Commonwealth.

“At the end of the day the Commonwealth is responsible for getting the vaccine to the states. They’re responsible for making sure we have those doses to be able to give out.”

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Brendan Murphy says Australia does not have answers on blood clot reports

Australia does not have answers on whether the AstraZeneca vaccine causes blood clots but the advice remains to push ahead with its vaccine rollout, the nation’s top health official has revealed.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group (ATAGI) has recommended Australians continue to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine despite concerns it may be linked to rare clotting events reported globally.

It comes as the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) investigated one case possibly linked to the vaccine, which will make up the bulk of Australia’s rollout.

Health Department secretary Brendan Murphy said on Wednesday “one case is not a strong signal” but insisted “safety is absolutely paramount” to Australian authorities.

“Our regulator and ATAGI are advising that we continue with our program, that the benefit of vaccination outweighs any potential risk,” Dr Murphy told reporters in Canberra.

He said authorities were “continually reviewing the situation”, with the TGA and ATAGI meeting frequently throughout the week.

He said authorities were also working closely with the UK, which has already administered 18 million AstraZeneca doses.

“That’s what’s going to give us the true picture of whether this is a real problem and whether it has any significance,” he said.

“The UK has had so much more experience than we have. They’ve got the better data. Europe has better data, and that’s why we’re looking at their data to see whether this is a real problem and whether we need to do anything about it.

“At the moment, we don’t have those answers.”

An official at the European Medicines Agency claimed on Wednesday there was a causal link between the vaccine and clotting following a spate of cases reported across the globe.

The UK has paused a trial into the vaccine on children after reporting 30 cases but has continued with its vaccine rollout.

Australia has previously relied on shipments of AstraZeneca vials from Europe, which has been plagued by supply issues.

But onshore production is key to the federal government’s rollout strategy, with drug manufacturer CSL to produce 50 million doses in Melbourne.

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