Threat Assessment Report 2021 outlines dire state of world after COVID-19 pandemic

A major new report released by intelligence agencies in the United States has painted a picture of a chaotic and potentially disastrous few years ahead for the entire world.

Significant global disruption sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had a year-long impact on not just health, but economies, societies and general security stability, is obviously front and centre.

But not far off in the background are equally alarming threats – great power competition among nations, the disruptive effects of ecological degradation and a changing climate, an increasing number of empowered non-state actors, and rapidly evolving technology.

The Annual Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community report, declassified for release on Tuesday, highlights how a perfect storm of terrifying factors have combined to produce a “diverse array of threats”.

It outlines a complex series of risks facing the west, and explains how those threats will likely clash with other dangers, raising the “potential for cascading events” in the near future.

It makes for unsettling reading and a stark reminder that those hoping for an imminent return to normal life post-COVID will be severely disappointed.

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Four main nations of concern

Considered the world’s modern-era global cop, keeper of the peace and defender of its allies, the US has long identified countries of concern in these reports.

This year’s assessment is no different, going into detail about four nations that pose a threat to the US, its interests and its allies – China, Russia, Iran and North Korea.

“Major adversaries and competitors are enhancing and exercising their military, cyber, and

other capabilities, raising the risks to US and allied forces, weakening our conventional deterrence, and worsening the longstanding threat from weapons of mass destruction,” the report states.

Rather than slowing down those efforts, the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have given something of a cover – a convenient distraction to advance nefarious causes.

Individually, and in some cases in partnership, these four countries have “demonstrated the capability and intent to advance their interests at the expense of the US and its allies, despite the pandemic”, the report highlights.

But its Beijing’s multi-faceted scheme to drastically grow its global domination that features prominently in the report.

“China increasingly is a near-peer competitor, challenging the US in multiple arenas – especially economically, militarily, and technologically – and is pushing to change global norms,” the report states.

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Its whole-of-government strategy to spread China’s influence throughout the world while simultaneously undercutting the might of the US will likely gather pace.

So too will its pointed attempts to “drive wedges between Washington and its allies and partners”.

At the same time, Beijing is increasingly showing off its military strength and political might in order to pressure its regional neighbours and other strategically important nations to bend to its will, the report states.

“In the South China Sea, Beijing will continue to intimidate rival claimants and will use growing numbers of air, naval, and maritime law enforcement platforms to signal to southeast Asian countries that China has effective control over contested areas.”

Similarly, China is pressuring Japan over contested parts of the East China Sea, the report stated.

“Beijing will press Taiwan authorities to move toward unification and will condemn what it views as increased US-Taiwan engagement.

“We expect that friction will grow as Beijing steps up attempts to portray Taipei as internationally isolated and dependent on the mainland for economic prosperity, and as China continues to increase military activity around the island.”

Generally, China will continue “pursuing its goals of becoming a great power, securing what it views as its territory, and establishing its pre-eminence in regional affairs by building a world-class military, potentially destabilising international norms and relationships”, the report states.

Meanwhile, Russia continues to push back against the US “where it can globally, employing techniques up to and including the use of force”.

“We assess that Moscow will employ an array of tools – especially influence campaigns, intelligence and counter-terrorism co-operation, military aid and combined exercises, mercenary operations, assassinations, and arms sales — to advance its interests or undermine the interests of the US and its allies.

“We expect Moscow to insert itself into crises when Russian interests are at stake, it can turn a power vacuum into an opportunity, or the anticipated costs of action are low.”

On Iran, the report describes the rogue nation remaining “a regional menace with broader malign influence activities”.

North Korea is labelled “a disruptive player on the regional and world stages” in the report.

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How COVID is changing the world

It will be some time until the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are behind us and no longer felt, the report warns.

Governments and societies around the globe will continue to be strained, “fuelling humanitarian and economic crises, political unrest and geopolitical competition”.

“No country has been completely spared, and even when a vaccine is widely distributed globally, the economic and political aftershocks will be felt for years.

“Countries with high debts or that depend on oil exports, tourism, or remittances face particularly challenging recoveries, while others will turn inward or be distracted by other challenges.”

The report adds: “The economic and political implications of the pandemic will ripple through the world for years.”

Coronavirus has also provided an opportunity for nations like China and Russia to benefit, including via what’s been dubbed “vaccine diplomacy”.

This influence-building could have broad social, political and security implications for years to come.

Another consequence of COVID-19 is the potential for other diseases to flare up in vulnerable populations, the report states.

“COVID-19-related disruptions to essential health services – such as vaccinations, aid delivery, and maternal and child health programs – will increase the likelihood of additional health emergencies, especially among low-income countries.

“As examples, the pandemic has disrupted HIV/AIDS treatments and preventive measures in Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as measles and polio vaccination campaigns in dozens of countries.”

Other major challenges facing the world

The threat assessment report delves into a range of other risks, from the changing climate to terrorism and organised crime.

On the environment, it outlines how ecological degradation and climate change will “continue to fuel disease outbreaks, threaten food and water security, and exacerbate political instability and humanitarian crises”.

Right now, much of the effects of a changing climate on America and its security are felt “indirectly in a broader political and economic context”, the report states.

But warmer weather will likely produce direct and immediate threats, it adds, via more intense storms and flooding, for example.

Elsewhere, surges in migration – which can threaten security and stability, place strain on vulnerable nations, spark illness and disease outbreaks, cause humanitarian disasters and more – will grow.

Central American populations particularly are likely to relocate rapidly, due to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with environmental disasters like drought, hurricanes and other extreme weather.

In addition, regional conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq continue to fuel humanitarian crises.

The report also details how organised crime gangs have adapted to the challenges to the drugs trade presented by COVID-19.

And it identifies Islamic State, al-Qaeda and Iranian militants as the biggest plotters of attacks against US people and interests, and to varying degrees, directly on the US.

“Despite leadership losses, terrorist groups have shown great resiliency and are taking advantage of ungoverned areas to rebuild.”

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Green dots on Sydney trains to be scrapped from Monday, government says

Sydney commuters can feel free to ignore the green dots on trains and buses from Monday morning as services move to greater capacity.

With city services to run at 75 per cent capacity, and regional trains at 100 per cent, commuters will no longer be urged to sit apart from each other, the NSW government has announced.

“Health advice now allows public transport services to increase capacity, which means people can now sit next to each other on their trip,” according to Paul Toole, who is acting as transport minister while Andrew Constance is on leave.

The green dots – which were rolled out to remind passengers not to be close to each other during the height of the coronavirus pandemic – will remain on seats and floors. But they will no longer mean anything.

Government policy is catching up to reality, as Sydneysiders living in a COVID-free city have largely ignored the dots for months.

“No one is paying attention to them, I don’t think,” Chippendale commuter Erin Roper, 22, said.

“Maybe back at the start (of the pandemic), but definitely not now.”

Her regular rush hour train rides on the Inner West line are often packed, she said.

“I don’t think anyone is really paying attention to the dots as much – I know I don’t worry about sitting on them as long as they’re away from someone.”

Nick Coomer, 21, from Camperdown, has had a similar experience.

“I think the dots are useful when there are less people on the train, but when it’s packed you don’t take notice of it,” he said.

“There’s no way to stand on the green dots when there are people around you.”

NSW has enjoyed long streaks without local COVID-19 cases since community spread of the coronavirus was mostly stamped out last year.

An outbreak that began in Sydney’s northern beaches in December was among a few notable exceptions.

The increased capacity comes three weeks after the state government scrapped a mandate that threatened fines if commuters didn’t wear masks.

Part of the reason the dots will remain on the trains is that they might come in handy again if another outbreak occurs.

“We know the fight against COVID isn’t over, so we’ll keep green dots on services in case we need them again down the track,” Mr Toole said.

From Monday, Waratah train capacity will increase from 86 riders to 122 per carriage.

Typical two-dot buses will be able to carry 66 people, up from 42.

Light rail trains will be able to carry 156 commuters per carriage, up from 54.

And Freshwater ferries will be able to handle 800 passengers instead of the current 543.

Enhanced cleaning of the services will continue, Transport for NSW chief operating officer Howard Collins said.

“We are still asking customers to plan ahead before they leave home, register their Opal card for contact tracing when needed and follow good hygiene practices including staying home if unwell,” Mr Collins said.

“Wearing a face mask is still an important part in limiting the spread of the virus if there is an outbreak, and remains strongly recommended on public transport, especially during those busier times on the network.”

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Labor pledges $91m to reduce Aboriginal incarceration rates and reduce deaths in custody

A “seismic shift” has been proposed to reduce the rate of Indigenous people being locked up in prison as the number of First Nation Australians dying in custody continues to rise.

Thursday marks 30 years since the Royal Commission in Aboriginal Deaths in Custody handed down its landmark report but the anniversary has come to represent a day of mourning, with at least 474 Indigenous Australians killed in custody or police pursuits since.

The number of deaths can only decrease by reducing the horrific rates of incarceration, according to shadow spokeswoman for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney.

She said an elected Labor government would introduce a $91m suite of changes aimed at improving the disproportionate number of Aboriginals locked up in prisons.

First Nation Australians represent just 3 per cent of the country, but since the royal commission, the number of Aboriginals behind bars compared to the prison population has more than doubled from 14 to 30 per cent.

In some regions, that figure is closer to 90 per cent.

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The proposal will focus on improving the socio-economic influences that often lead to Indigenous Australians being incarcerated to reduce the likelihood of reoffending.

Ms Burney wants to do this by investing in 30 key communities across the country by boosting various services including rehabilitation services, family or domestic violence support, homelessness support and school retention initiatives.

The idea, which is supported widely by advocates and justice academics, is to address the cause of crime by adopting a holistic approach to figure out why the individual has committed an offence rather than slapping increasingly harsh punishments each time they enter the court system.

“We’re arguing that the most important thing is to look at the underlying factors that contribute to people being locked up,” Ms Burney told the NCA NewsWire.

“Things like intergenerational trauma, the amount of children who are put in the child protection system, overcrowding, lack of education and employment opportunities, and poor health.

“This package is not about having rose-coloured glasses, it is about looking at the reality and looking at evidence where we see things working.”

Ms Burney cited the community-led Maranguka Project in Bourke, NSW, where justice reinvestment has led to an “extraordinary reduction” in violence, juvenile reoffending and major crime categories.

The community has also reported an increase in youths staying in school to complete year 12 studies.

“The other thing is it looks at alternatives to custodial sentences,” she said.

“It doesn’t mean you’re soft on crime and there is no way in the world I would ever argue that violent crime should not be treated seriously. But for many Aboriginal people, the sentences are very short and the number of deaths we’ve seen happen on remand.”

Ms Burney therefore suggests a safer and more productive alternative to imprisonment would be ideal when the crime was less serious.

Another alarming statistic to emerge in the 30 years since the royal commission findings were handed down was the sharp increase in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island women being imprisoned.

This cohort is the fastest growing prison demographic, with a frightening 90 per cent of those having experienced family violence.

Antoinette Braybrook, chair of Indigenous incarceration advocacy group Change the Record, said the rate of women thrown into jail meant “children are being ripped away from their mothers at stolen-generation levels”.

“And still women are not being supported to escape family violence,” she said.

“We call on governments to invest in our communities, our services and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership to build strong and safe futures for our women.”

Ms Burney said this frequency of women ending up behind bars had a tangible knock-on effect for Aboriginal communities as children were taken from their homes as a result and left in a child protection system where they were statistically more likely to end up in the prison system.

“So there is a real connection,” she said.

“You can’t just talk about 50 custodies over here and child removal over there.

“It’s got to be looked at in a holistic way.”

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Bertie Beetle ice creams now sold exclusively at Aldi

Getting a Bertie Beetle showbag has to be one of the highlights of Sydney’s Royal Easter Show.

The iconic chocolate, sold at stores across the country during the 1970s, is available at agricultural shows around Australia and is easily the nation’s most popular showbag.

But if you can’t get your hands on a Bertie Beetle showbag this year then Aldi has the next best thing – Bertie Beetle ice cream.

The discount supermarket is exclusively stocking the cold sweet treat after fans spotted it in stores last week, can reveal.

The Peter’s ice cream, which costs $4.99 for a six pack, previously made a limited-run appearance in Woolies back in 2019.

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“OMG … found this today at our local Aldi store,” one shopper wrote in the Aldi Fans Australia Facebook group.

“No need to go to the Royal Easter Show Sydney lol.”

Her post got dozens of comments from others excited at the find.

“Oh these are so delicious,” one person wrote.

“Why did you have to post, I’m on a strict diet for a few months,” another commented.

Others said they “nearly bought a few boxes for my wife” or were “going now” to their nearest Aldi to stock up.

But some preferred the chocolate the old school way, with one person advising: “Better to mix crushed up Bertie Beetles through your favourite vanilla ice cream.”

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Speaking to NCA NewsWire, Nestle Oceania head of corporate affairs Margaret Stuart said the sweet treat was invented in 1963 and initially sold in stores, but decades later a deal was struck to sell it mainly in showbags at major events.

“Bertie is much more successful in a showbag than it was in store,” she said.

When Bertie was born in the ’60s, to rival Cadbury’s Freddo Frog, its original maker Hoadley’s Chocolates used waste from Violet Crumble trimmings to produce the chocolate treat.

Then in 2011 the company stopped using waste honeycomb and switched to sourcing other honeycomb pieces.

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Bertie’s branding has evolved over the decades too, including its packaging and also the shape of the chocolate itself.

“Bertie has changed shape and changed his wrapper,” Ms Stuart said.

“It used to be a little beetle-shaped chocolate wrapped in foil.”

There are about 50 independent “retro” confectionary stores across the country that sell the honeycomb beetle, according to the product’s agency Chicane Marketing.

Showbags can also be purchased online. But otherwise the only way to indulge in the honeycomb treat is to line up with the masses at the annual show.

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Labor’s Kristina Keneally accuses Peter Dutton of cancelling trip to Christmas Island

Kristina Keneally has accused Peter Dutton of “cancelling her trip” to Christmas Island last minute in a series of angry tweets.

It comes on a bad day for the new Defence Minister, who, according to the Courier Mail, is “facing a revolt on the high seas” over the emergence of an outrageous video of scantily-clad twerkers deployed to the recent formal commissioning of a war ship.

At the same time, the national auditor has launched an probe into a controversial funding program overseen by Mr Dutton.

The former home affairs minister cut millions in funding to organisations strongly recommended for grants, and redirected the money to his own hand-picked recipients, according to the ABC.

Labor requested the auditor-general look into the Safer Communities Fund, which Mr Dutton oversaw, after allegations the program had been used to target marginal seats.

The National Audit Office (ANAO) confirmed in March it was considering the move and on Wednesday wrote to Labor senator Ms Keneally to confirm an audit was under way.

Two hours later, Ms Keneally found out more news.

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The frontbencher sent a series of Twitter posts confirming Mr Dutton cancelled her trip to visit the Tamil family, who were taken into detention in 2018 after they were denied a visa which would have allowed them to stay in Australia.

The Sri Lankan family were transferred to Christmas Island in 2019. Nades and Priya Murugappan came to Australia by boat in 2012 and 2013 respectively.

They settled in Biloela, a town of about 6000 in Central Queensland, and started a family, having Kopika, now 5, and Tharunicaa, 3.

The Federal Court judgment said the parents were considered “unauthorised maritime arrivals” under Australian law.

Although their daughters were born in Australia, their parents immigration status also made the two girls “unauthorised maritime arrivals”, the judgment said.

Ever since, they have been waiting in detention to learn the outcome of a Federal Court fight to avoid deportation.

In February, the court ruled their fight was successful, and the family can stay in Australia for now.

They will remain on Christmas Island, an Australian territory where an immigration detention facility is located.

The Department of Home Affairs at the time said it was aware of the decision and was considering the implications.

“The Australian Government’s policy is clear; no one who attempts illegal maritime travel to Australia will be settled here,” it said in a statement.

“The family’s claims to engage Australia’s protection obligations have been comprehensively assessed on a number of occasions by the Department of Home Affairs, various merits review bodies and appealed though multiple courts including the Federal Court to the High Court.

“At no time has any member of the family been found to be owed protection.

The family remains in detention, as only the Minister for Immigration can grant their visa application and allow them to return to Biloela.

Ms Keneally has been supporting the family and their plight to return home and on Wednesday, confirmed she had been granted permission by the Australian Border Force at 4.50pm to visit the detention centre on Christmas Island and meet with Priya, Nades and the children.

But just 22 minutes later, she claims she received an email from Mr Dutton canning the trip.

“The Defence Minister has determined that the Special Purpose Aircraft can no longer be made available for the Committee’s travel,” she says the email read.

Ms Keneally fired back: “Dutton cancelled the trip.”

Supporters of the family say the decision was “truly appalling”. has sought comment.

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Dr Anthony Fauci’s verdict on Australia’ COVID-19 pandemic response

The man who’s advised the United States through the COVID-19 pandemic has issued a stark warning for Australia and the rest of the world.

Dr Anthony Fauci said it didn’t matter if Australia had coronavirus cases under control, every country needed to be on top of the disease in order to maintain the threat.

The top infectious diseases expert in the US spoke about how Australia had handled the pandemic in a lecture for the University of New South Wales tonight.

He praised the “capability and uniformity of citizens” in Australia when we went into lockdown and emerged from it.

“When you shut down, you really shut down, very effectively,” he said via video for the Inaugural David Cooper Lecture.

“Then when you had a situation where you opened up again, you responded quickly and efficiently and I’m sure not everybody in Australia was excited about having to shut things down but you did it in a way which was really quite uniform, but importantly, effective.

“If you look at the United States … we had an inconsistent response which allowed us, unfortunately for us, to really do worse than essentially any other country, which is really extremely unfortunate.”

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Dr Fauci said the US death tally hitting over 555,000 and up to 80,000 new infections recorded at the weekend showed just how badly his country was doing.

“Australia I believe was one of the better countries in the entire world in how you responded and unfortunately we have not done nearly as well as we should have done,” he said.

US President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser said while he was a loyal American, he was a realist, and there was one main issue threatening his country’s safety.

“It is unfortunate we are living right now in our country in a time of profound divisiveness. I think anyone who pays any attention to what’s going on in the United States sees that,” he said.

“In some respects, that happens in different countries, but when it spills over in the middle of the worst, most historic pandemic of a respiratory disease that we’ve had in over 100 years, if there’s anything you want, is you want people to be pulling together in uniform.

“It’s sort of like being in a war, the common enemy is the virus and we should all be fighting the virus, and not fighting with each other, so that has really been one of the real difficulties we’ve had to face.”

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The tension with former president Donald Trump

Dr Fauci said things had shifted “from the top” in the US, following significant tensions when Mr Trump was in power.

“President Biden wants science to rule, he said that behind the scenes to us on his medical team, and he has said it publicly, that we are going to be driven and ruled by science and facts, and when something goes wrong, we’ll try and fix it and won’t blame anyone,” he said.

“That has worked extremely well, however, we still have a degree of divisiveness in the country and we still have situations where governors, because of their independence, are essentially defying some of the recommendations and guidelines from public health, which is one of the reasons, together with the variants, why I believe despite our great success with vaccines, we’re in a race between the potential for a real surging of cases and the fact we’re putting vaccines into people’s arms extremely efficiently.”

Dr Fauci said it was “painful” to contradict what Mr Trump was saying at the height of the pandemic which led to “strain and stress” between them.

“Even now after the former president is no longer in office, he still talks about that, which is unfortunate,” he said.

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How vaccinations will save the world

Speaking about how Australia could look to the US in its handling of their vaccine rollout, Dr Fauci said Mr Biden made it his “very top priority”.

“What he’s done, for example, is open up community vaccine centres, get vaccines to the pharmacies, develop mobile units to go out to get the people who are in poorly accessible areas, and got people who would be administering the vaccine out into the field as fast as he could,” he said.

“Those are retired physicians, military personnel, nurses, medical students, as many people as you possibly can to get out there and administer it. So it was really making it the highest priority to get vaccine into people’s arms – and it works.

“If we keep doing that over the next few months, I believe we will finally get the overwhelming majority of people vaccinated in the next several months, which I hope will then turn things around and get that level of daily infections down to a manageable level.”

How worried Fauci is about COVID-19 variants

Dr Fauci said he was always concerned in general about virus variants but the one that was dominant in the US, the UK variant, wasn’t a concern unless it beat vaccination efforts.

“The vaccine works well against it but the trouble is that variant has the capability of spreading much more efficiently than the original virus that seeded this country, so we’re going to have an issue of what I would call a race between getting people vaccinated and not getting another surge,” he said.

Dr Fauci said the critical issue was the world working together.

“Even if you control it well in your own country, the way Australia has done … when you ultimately get it controlled, if you want to maintain the control, you want to have control throughout the entire world because as long as there’s the dynamic of virus replication somewhere, there will always be the threat of emergence of variants which can then come back and even though most of the rest of the world is vaccinated, it can threaten the world that has felt that is has controlled the virus when they’re still quite vulnerable,” he stressed.

He also spoke about the threat of vaccine hesitancy, calling it a “stumbling block” for mass vaccination.

“I believe vaccination is the answer,” he said.

“Variants are a problem, no doubt, but we are a fortunate…we now have several vaccines that are highly efficacious.

“The issue is we’ve got to get the overwhelming major of the population vaccinated.”
Dr Fauci said people in the US didn’t want to get vaccinated for reasons that weren’t related to public health, labelling it “unjustified scepticism” and “political ideology”.

He said vaccines had proven to be the “most extraordinary preventive modality for infectious diseases”.

“How does the acceptance of that or not become a political issue? Unfortunately in many respects it has,” he said.

“It really is a complication of an anti-science atmosphere that has evolved with a certain type of political persuasion that scientists don’t know what they’re talking about, a lot of this is fake news, a lot of it doesn’t really exist. I mean, to say things like that when you have a terrible pandemic looking you straight in the eye in some respects is inexplicable but unfortunately it’s happening.

“That’s one of the real issues that I said from the get go, one of the more difficult aspects of this entire endeavour here has been is it has occurred in a situation of very intense divisiveness in our country and also, not just the United States.”

He said ultimately common sense should prevail and those people would follow suit when they saw the impact mass vaccination had on their community or country.

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Children poisoned at Melbourne early learning centre

A dozen children had to be given emergency treatment on Wednesday afternoon after they accidentally consumed a dangerous substance while at a Melbourne early learning centre.

The children were at the daycare centre in Caulfield, in Melbourne’s south east, when they were reportedly poisoned with what is suspected to be a cleaning fluid, according to 7 News.

The chemical fluid was mistakenly put into a drink which was then given to the infants, according to the report.

Fire Rescue Victoria said emergency responders were called and told of “multiple occupants suffering a suspected reaction to an unknown substance”.

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“Firefighters arrived on scene in six minutes and worked quickly to establish the source of the reactions.

“Crews identified there was no Hazmat risk, and the likely cause of the reaction was through a food source.”

“FRV crews worked alongside Ambulance Victoria, local council, and Victoria Police at the scene,” the spokesperson added.

None of the 12 children required hospitalisation.

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Australia’s final hope won’t arrive until end of 2021

There aren’t many viable options left on the table to save Australia’s bungled COVID-19 vaccine rollout program.

The government went all-in on the AstraZeneca jab, which formed the vast majority of ordered doses, but it’s been abandoned for virtually everyone under the age of 50 due to rare but serious blood clotting risks.

Instead, those millions of people have been told to wait for the Pfizer vaccine but the government only ordered 20 million doses – the first chunk of which went to healthcare workers, hotel quarantine staff and aged care residents.

Getting more doses hasn’t been easy. In addition, a hasty top-up order of 20 million more won’t start shipping here until the end of 2021.

The single shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine won’t be considered, because it too carries the risk of rare blood clothing. And for some reason, the government didn’t place an order for the promising Moderna jab.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s pledge last year that Australia would be “at the front of the queue” when vaccines were available is now a bitter and distant memory.

Instead, world rankings put us on par with Botswana, and 76th out of 152 countries.

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The final realistic vaccine hope lies in the form of one being produced by the US biotech firm Novavax, which is currently in phase three testing.

Australia has purchased 51 million doses, which is enough to comfortably cover the entire population.

There’s just a slight catch … and it will dash any hopes of a speedy turnaround in our dire COVID inoculation fortunes.

How does the Novavax jab work?

Like the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines, Novavax is given in two doses, although the recommended time between them is yet to be confirmed.

Unlike Pfizer’s vaccine, the Novavax option can be stored at fridge temperature and doesn’t require extremely cold conditions to maintain its integrity, Professor Jamie Triccas, an expert in medical microbiology at the University of Sydney, explained.

“The vaccine also uses a different technology to the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines,” Professor Triccas wrote in an article for The Conversation.

“It’s a ‘protein subunit’ vaccine – these are vaccines that introduce a part of the virus to the immune system, but don’t contain any live components of the virus.

“The Novavax vaccine uses a version of the spike protein made in the lab. The spike proteins are assembled into tiny particles called ‘nanoparticles’, which aim to resemble the structure of the coronavirus, however they cannot replicate once injected and the vaccine cannot cause you to get COVID-19.

“In order for these subunit vaccines to generate strong protective responses, they need to include molecules that boost your immune system, called ‘adjuvants’.

“The goal of these adjuvants is to mimic the way the real virus would activate the immune system, to generate maximum protective immunity.

“Novavax includes an adjuvant based on a natural product known as saponin, an extract from the bark of the Chilean soapbark tree.”

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How effective is the Novavax jab?

Novavax is in the midst of phase three trials for its COVID-19 vaccine, but interim data released in March was very promising.

“When tested in the UK in a clinical trial including more than 15,000 people, the vaccine was 96 per cent effective at preventing COVID-19 disease for those infected with the original strain of the coronavirus,” Professor Triccas wrote.

“This compares well to the Pfizer vaccine, with an efficacy of 95 per cent, and recent data from AstraZeneca, demonstrating 76 per cent efficacy against COVID-19.”

Its efficacy in preventing illness from new variants of concern is a mixed bag, studies to date indicate.

A trial found the vaccine was still effective against the B117 strain, known as the UK variant, with an 86 per cent efficacy.

“This is good news because the B117 variant is now dominant in many European countries, is more transmissible and deadly than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus and is responsible for most of the cases that have arisen recently in Australia,” Professor Triccas said.

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But in combating the B1351 variant, the South African strain, the vaccine is less promising, with efficacy dropping to 55 per cent.

“Novavax, along with the other major vaccine companies, are developing booster vaccines to target the B1351 variant,” Professor Triccas said.

“Novavax are planning to test a ‘bivalent’ vaccine, which targets two different strains, using the spike protein from both the original Wuhan strain and the B1351 variant.”

There is not data on its protection against the P1 or Brazilian strain, which is wreaking havoc through South America.

Promisingly, the Novavax jab appears to be safe, causing mainly mild adverse events such as tenderness at the point of infection, Professor Triccas wrote.

No serious adverse reactions were recorded in early clinical testing.

“In the larger trials, adverse events occurred at low levels and were similar between the vaccine and placebo groups,” he said.

When will it arrive in Australia?

And herein lies the issue with the final COVID-19 vaccine hope for the majority of Australians.

Official vaccine rollout information provided by the federal Department of Health still advises: “If the vaccine is proven to be safe and effective and is approved for use, it will be available in Australia as early as the first half of 2021.”

But that’s no longer the case. Not by a long shot.

Its arrival and deployment in Australia will take much, much longer than originally hoped, with Novavax running behind schedule in securing a contract with the European Union to produce components of the vaccine there.

That’s because of a shortage of essential materials from an Indian partner. So, the planned launch has been delayed from June to September.

“They remain on track on their advice to us for a likely delivery in the third quarter, commencing then and proceeding from then on,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said last week.

It still then needs to be approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

Original targets set by the government have been entirely abandoned, after the first – to vaccinate four million Aussies by the end of March – fell woefully short.

Mr Morrison then conceded it’s unlikely another goal, of every person who wants a vaccine getting it by October, will be met.

“The government has not set, nor has any plans to set any new targets for completing first doses,” Mr Morrison said.

“While we would like to see these doses completed before the end of the year, it is not possible to set such targets given the many uncertainties involved.

“We will just get on with the job of working together to produce, distribute and administer the vaccines as safely and efficiently as possible.”

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Scott Morrison flags ‘mass vaccination’ to get covid jabs back on track

Scott Morrison has flagged “mass vaccination options” for Australians aged 50 to 70 from June for the first time, raising hopes it could hold the key to getting the majority of Australians protected against COVID-19 by the end of the year.

The prospect of Australians lining up at sports stadiums and big clinics could become a reality by mid-year with the government racing to consider options.

The Prime Minister has previously dismissed calls for mass vaccination clinics arguing that it was unsuitable in the early stage of the rollout for vulnerable, elderly people in aged care.

However, after pressure from NSW to consider mass vaccination clinics in recent weeks he’s now flagging the option of vaccine “hubs” to ramp up the program from June for people aged 50 to 70. That could be extended to under 50s in the final quarter of the year.

“Equally there’s an option to work – and I’ve discussed this with at least one premier – about how mass vaccination could be an option earlier, say in June or July, for those over-50 groups that are in the balance of the population,” Mr Morrison said.

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Mr Morrison said the mass vaccination option – which would require a massive recalibration of the program – could hold the key to ramping up the rollout.

“We want to ensure we can get systems in place, to understand the risks associated with that, what resourcing is required and to be able to direct those programs as a national cabinet (meeting),” he said.

“That’s what the meetings are for.”

Stung by accusations of a “bungled” rollout, the PM abandoned a pledge to deliver a timetable to vaccinate all adults by the end of the year at the weekend.

But Mr Morrison hinted that may still be possible if mass vaccination clinics could be rolled out for those aged under 50 later in the year when extra Pfizer imports become available in the final three months of the year.

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“It’s important that we get people aged over 50, particularly those aged over 70, which is the target group right now, vaccinated, because they are the most vulnerable population, particularly as we go into winter,” he said.

“As we move into the second half of this year, when we were planning to move into the balance of the population, those between 50 and 70 and those of younger ages as well.”

The PM said the Pfizer vaccine deliveries will increase in the weeks and months ahead but the big imports of Pfizer and Novavax were expected in the final quarter of the year.

“So that will mean we’ll need to change our rollout to go to mass vaccination options, and that will have to be done in partnership with the states and territories,” he said.

“Now, if we can do all that then there is the possibility that can be achieved by the end of 2021. But at this stage, there are too many uncertainties.”

The PM also warned Australians that if international borders are reopened and the vulnerable vaccinated we may need to move to a “new normal” of tolerating some COVID-19 cases.

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“And if we want to treat COVID like the flu, then we have to have the same tolerance for COVID as we have for the flu,” he said.

“And people get the flu and there would be cases of COVID if the international borders were lifted, there would be cases and we’d have to be confident and comfortable that that would be in Australia’s interest to have potentially large numbers of cases of COVID, knowing that it would not lead to the horrific outcomes that we saw, in particular in Victoria, when the second wave ripped through particularly Melbourne.

“And so they are real legitimate questions that need to be worked through with states and territories. There’s a lot of focus on the daily number of cases, both by state governments, their chief health officers and their premiers, but also by the media.

“And so we would need to be, I think, of one mind that if we were to go to those steps later in the year or soon after, then they would have to be an appreciation that would come with case numbers for COVID in Australia. And we would have to be understanding of what that meant.”

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison appears with former Attorney-General Christian Porter

The Prime Minister has appeared in public with Christian Porter for the first time since the senior cabinet minister was stripped of his Attorney-General role.

The two were spotted together during a media event in Perth on Wednesday afternoon.

Mr Porter has been embroiled in controversy since revealing himself as the minister at the centre of a historic rape allegation involving a 16-year-old girl in 1988, a claim he emphatically denies.

He has never been charged and police confirmed there was “insufficient evidence” to proceed with an investigation, labelling the matter “closed”.

The controversy has plagued the government over many weeks, however, with Scott Morrison being criticised by the opposition and wider public over the handling of the matter as well as Brittany Higgins’ claim she was raped in parliament by a former Liberal staffer.

In mid-March, Mr Porter launched defamation proceedings against the ABC and its journalist Louise Milligan, claiming he had been subjected to “trial by media” in relation to the historic allegations.

Milligan, a Four Corners reporter, broke the news an anonymous letter outlining the unsubstantiated allegations had been sent to Mr Morrison, Labor frontbencher Penny Wong and Greens senator Sarah-Hanson-Young.

Milligan did not name Mr Porter, referring to a “senior cabinet minister”, but he revealed himself publicly days later.

In a statement from Mr Porter’s lawyers confirming the defamation proceedings, it was claimed that despite not being named, “the article made allegations against a senior cabinet minister and the Attorney-General was easily identifiable to many Australians as the subject of the allegations”.

“Over the last few weeks, the Attorney-General has been subjected to trial by media without regard to the presumption of innocence or the rules of evidence and without any proper disclosure of the material said to support the untrue allegations.

“The trial by media should now end with the commencement of these proceedings.”

Mr Porter was stripped of his Attorney-General duties at the end of March amid criticism the role created a conflict of interest given his decision to launch defamation proceedings against the ABC.

He now serves as the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology.

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