Hamish and Zoe Foster Blake’s cheeky holiday to Great Barrier Reef and the Otways


If you’re going to see Australia, you need to see it in a big way.

That’s the message from comedian Hamish Blake and his wife Zoe Foster Blake who have teamed up again with Tourism Australia for a new campaign that urges Aussies to plan a “big” extended escape to bring some love back to the regions around Australia.

From beach-hopping to bush-bashing, Australian’s backyard really does have it all.

RELATED: Hamish and Zoe Foster Blake encourage big city escapes

RELATED: Hamish, Zoe Foster Blake spruik Aussie holidays in campaign

In their new ad, which is part of Tourism Australia’s Holiday Here This Year campaign, the couple showcases some of the “big” ticket items Australia has to offer for a domestic getaway.

While Tourism Australia has found domestic travellers have been shunning cities in favour of regional areas due to health and safety concerns, there has been a surge in shorter, more frequent, trips rather than traditional month-long getaways typically reserved for European summer holidays.

Couple visit incredible spots for ad campaign

The new $9 million ad campaign features the popular duo exploring some of Australia’s most scenic spots, including the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, the Otways in Victoria, and WA’s Purnululu National Park in the Kimberleys.

“Making this was complete stuff of dreams,” Foster Blake said on her Instagram alongside the new ad.

“My husband and I are the luckiest pigs in Australia getting to shoot (together!) at these breathtaking locations – places we’d always dreamed of visiting … but “never made the time.”

“If you’ve been thinking about – or putting off – a trip to one of Australia’s many epic spots, well, this is your year.”

Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister Dan Tehan said the new campaign will hopefully encourage Australians to travel more “further afield”.

“Australians typically spend more overseas than foreign tourists spend in Australia, so we want Australians to treat their domestic holiday this year like an overseas trip,” Mr Tehan said.

“The net impact of Australian tourist spending in Australia was a positive benefit to the economy of around $7.5 billion in the December quarter; and in 2019, holidays of five nights or longer contributed $31.8 billion to the economy.”

Longer holidays better for health and better for businesses

A recent report released by Tourism Australia revealed that Australians need to extend their holidays to be happier, healthier and more productive at work.

Dubbed the ‘Annual (leave) report’, the study showed that while Australians took 29.4 million overnight trips in 2020 – with 82 per cent of those trips being one to four nights – just 18 per cent were five nights or more.

Of those 18 per cent who took a longer break, the respondents noticed they were happier, less irritable and three times less likely to argue with their family, friends or partners. In addition, they were more likely to stick to healthy habits such as good diets and regular exercise programs after a longer holiday.

“With a backyard as vast as ours, Australians are spoiled for choice when it comes to epic destinations and holiday experiences,” Tourism Australia managing director Phillipa Harrison said.

“We have a reef so big you can see it from space, the world’s greatest rock formation, and mountain ranges that dominate over three states and more.

“To make the most of these epic holiday opportunities, we’re urging Australians to take a bigger break of five days or more and explore those parts of the country that are especially reliant on international visitors. Taking a longer break is not only good for our personal wellbeing but also for Australia and the many communities and businesses that rely on tourism.”

The Epic Holidays campaign will be rolled out across a range of channels including TV, print, online, social media, content partnerships, search, radio, cinema and outdoor advertising from today.



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Apple AirTags suspended by Officeworks due to child safety concerns


Apple insists its AirTags meet international child safety standards despite Officeworks suspending the sale of the newly-launched tile product.

In late April, Apple unveiled its own version of Tile technology, a device that uses Bluetooth to track personal belongings to your smartphone.

However, reports surfaced online of customers being told at Officeworks stores that the AirTag was temporarily unavailable, while the company also removed the product from its website.

“Eventually someone came downstairs from the office and explained that the AirTags have been recalled due to safety concerns of how easily the button-cell battery can be removed by a child,” a user posted on Reddit.

Officeworks confirmed the product suspension.

“The Apple AirTag range will temporarily be unavailable from purchase from Officeworks,” a spokesperson said.

“The product will not be stocked by Officeworks until further guidance is provided from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. Officeworks continues to work with Apple to address any safety concerns.”

However, the tech design giant stood behind its new product.

“AirTag is designed to meet international child safety standards, including those in Australia, by requiring a two step push-and-turn mechanism to access the user-replaceable battery,” Apple (Australia) told NCA NewsWire in a statement.

“We are following the regulations closely and are working to ensure that our products will meet or exceed new standards, including those for package labelling, well ahead of the timeline required.”

Australia’s Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) urged all commercial retailers to suspend and report product they thought could have dangerous button cell battery components.

“The ACCC is aware of reports raising concerns about the accessibility of button batteries in the Apple AirTag product,” an ACCC statement read.

“If a supplier finds a product they supply is unsafe, the ACCC expects the supplier to conduct a voluntary recall to advise consumers of the risk, address the safety issue, or remove the product from the market.

“If a supplier becomes aware of a serious injury, illness or death caused by a product they supply, the supplier must make a mandatory injury report through the Product Safety Australia website.”

AirTags are sleek and come in a leather casing, costing $45 each or four for $149.

They can be attached to keys, backpacks, luggage and other objects as you would a Tile.

The product uses an iPhone’s camera, accelerometer and gyroscope, along with visual and haptic feedback, to help locate the device.

They can be monitored in the Find My app.

In December 2020, the Federal Government announced new mandatory safety and information standards for button batteries and products that contain them.

There are requirements for secure battery compartments, child resistant packaging and warnings and information.

The standards include an 18-month transition period and will come into force on 22 July 2022, but are not mandatory now.

However the ACCC has urged manufacturers to comply with the standards before the deadline.



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Covid miscarriage conspiracy theory slammed as ‘madness’ by gynaecologist


Coronavirus has spawned almost as many wild theories as infections – from evil government plots to 5G towers transmitting COVID-19.

Now, with the vaccine rolling out, another crop of misinformation is doing the rounds of social media. And it’s making virus watchers shake their heads in dismay.

According to some, mRNA vaccines – such as the US-German Pfizer-BioNTech jab – can lead pregnant women to miscarry. This, apparently, is due to people “shedding” the vaccine to those who have not had the shot.

Epidemiologists have said there is no evidence to back up the fanciful claims and vaccine “shedding” is not a thing.

A butcher in Toronto is the latest to assert that the Pfizer vaccine could pose “side effects” to women.

He caused a small social media storm on the weekend when he announced on his Instagram account that anyone who had been vaccinated in the previous 28 days would have to remain outside the premises and instead be served on the street “to protect women”.

Dr Jen Gunter, a respected Canadian gynaecologist tweeted about the butcher’s claims and summed it up as “this is madness”.

Another doctor has said it’s a “dangerous” conspiracy designed to “weaken trust” in vaccines.

Canada is currently in a third wave of COVID-19 with around 8000 new cases a day. The province of Alberta now has more daily cases per capita than any other part of Canada or the US.

RELATED: Vaccine myth scientists struggle to bust

Butcher bans vaccinated customers

The social media account for the butchers, based in a northern suburb of Toronto, was previously focused on special offers and recipes. It is now concerned less about meat and more about opposition to masks and vaccines.

In a rambling video, owner Yehuda Goldberg said he was “taking a stand” for his customers many of who were “younger women in child-bearing years”.

He said numerous people in his neighbourhood had received a COVID-19 vaccine which he was not “judging “people for. He then appeared to judge the very same people.

“When you put your life and you put those around you in harm’s way, we will stand up and protect those who are not able to speak up.”

Mr Goldberg said that “for 28 days if you’ve been vaccinated, I’m asking you to please avoid coming into our store”. If the vaccinated must shop with him, he will only serve them outside the store.

In the video he cites a document from Pfizer that, he claims, shows women could have “issues” if they come into contact with someone who is vaccinated.

“Let’s say I get vaccinated and I then I shake hands with my friend who has a pregnant wife, his wife can have issues, it doesn’t mean that she will. It’s that there is a chance of it.”

The butcher said he only acts on “concrete evidence” but the evidence in this case seems flimsy.

RELATED: AstraZeneca v Pfizer: Vaccine side effects compared

Wild claims vaccine uniquely affects women

It seems to be the latest iteration of a conspiracy theory that the vaccine can be “shed” by those who have received the jab.

The Pfizer document used as evidence appears to be a November 2020 paper that lays out the criteria for a study into the safety and efficacy of the mRNA vaccine.

The study specifically sought to exclude pregnant women.

The document states that if a woman who takes part in the study becomes pregnant or a pregnant woman is exposed to someone who is taking part in the study Pfizer should be notified so the firm can study for any side effects.

Like in any medical trial, some of the participants would have received a placebo so could be contracting and transmitting COVID-19 despite thinking they were immune.

“A conspiracy designed to weaken trust”

The US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) has noted that all pregnancies have a risk of birth defect or miscarriage and has warned against automatically linking such an outcome with a vaccine.

There has been anecdotal evidence that some women have seen changes to their menstrual cycles after getting the vaccine. More studies may reveal it to be a minor side effect, like muscle pain or a fever.

“Anecdotal reports of some menstrual irregularities is not a reason to avoid getting the vaccine,” said Michelle Wise from the University of Auckland’s gynaecology department on website The Conversation.

“Getting infected with COVID-19 is much more likely to interfere with your health, including your menstrual health.”

There is limited data on COVID-19 vaccines and pregnant women. However, no specific safety concerns have been raised from the millions of vaccines administered.

The FDA added that in tests on pregnant female rats given the mRNA vaccine no adverse effects were seen.

However, pregnant women are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

As for the virus “shedding,” it doesn’t stack up.

“This is a conspiracy that has been created to weaken trust in a series of vaccines that have been demonstrated in clinical trials to be safe and effective,” Dr Christopher Zahn of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists told Reuters.

“Such conspiracies and false narratives are dangerous and have nothing to do with science.”

Vaccines cannot be passed from one person to another simply by being in the same vicinity. Quite simply, it’s not contagious.

“There is no way for a COVID-19 vaccinated person to ‘shed vaccine,’” the US Centres for Disease Control’s COVID-19 clinical team stated.

The COVID-19 virus can be “shed” by those infected and transmitted to others. But vaccines don’t use live viruses so there is no live virus to shed.

However, there may a small number of cases of fully vaccinated people who can still be infected and transmit the virus.

Mr Goldberg seems to have been stung by the backlash to his rule that the vaccinated cannot enter his store. In a further post on Monday, he said “fear” was leading people to turn on him.

Medical authorities have said people with questions about vaccines should consult their local GP, not their local butcher.



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Australia in talks with French firm Valneva


The federal government is in talks with a French company about potentially buying its vaccine for Australia’s rollout.

Biotech firm Valneva is working on an inactivated vaccine for COVID-19, which uses a sample of the virus that has been killed to trigger an immune response without creating an infection, similar to the flu and polio shots.

The vaccine, which is in its advanced stages of development, may produce broader protection to fight new COVID-19 variants and could become a potential booster shot option in the future.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health confirmed to news.com.au it was in contact with Valneva about the vaccine.

“The Australian Government continues to meet regularly with a range of COVID-19 vaccine and treatment developers and manufacturers, including Valneva,” the spokesperson said.

“The nature of these discussions are commercial in confidence.

“We continue to monitor ongoing clinical trials, review real world effectiveness of the vaccine rollout and continue to have a range of discussions with manufacturers.”

While the federal government’s discussions with Valneva does not mean it will commit to buying its vaccine, it suggests the government is continuing to look at options beyond the three deals it currently has with AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Norovax.

Valneva’s use of a killed virus is different to AstraZeneca’s approach, which is based on a modified cold virus, and Pfizer’s vaccine, which uses messenger RNA technology that delivers genetic instructions to the cells to create an immune response.

The UK government has ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine from Valneva — matching its order for AstraZeneca — and up to 10 other European nations have reportedly flagged interest.

Volunteers in the UK are being sought for the final stage clinical trial of the Valneva candidate. Early stage trials showed two doses triggered a good immune response and did not raise safety concerns.

If Australia did commit to ordering the Valneva vaccine, it would need to need to complete its stage three trials and be registered with the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

“Future investments will be subject to the advice of the COVID-19 Vaccines and Treatments for Australia – Science and Industry Technical Advisory Group (SITAG), and assessment of clinical evidence, including portfolio diversification and risk,” the Department of Health spokesperson said.

“SITAG will continue to provide advice to inform the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in Australia based on the most current data and epidemiology.”

Meanwhile, Australians over the age of 50 will be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine earlier, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt revealed on Friday.

He said phase 2a of the vaccine rollout will be brought forward to next week for people aged 50 and over, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders adults, and any critical or high risk workers who have not already been vaccinated.

“Already over 400 (GP practices) will be opening next week, so we will have 136 general practice respiratory clinics, commonwealth clinics opening next week,” Mr Hunt told reporters on Friday afternoon.

“They are bringing forward the phase 2a … it’s more opportunity for Australians to be vaccinated earlier.”

It follows a national cabinet meeting where the state premiers discussed the coronavirus vaccine as well as border concerns with India.

— with Anthony Piovesan, NCA Newswire



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Nauru Airlines plane forced to land at Brisbane Airport after flames, sparks spat out engine


A plane was forced to make an emergency landing at Brisbane airport after passengers noticed flames and sparks spurting from the engine.

The Nauru Airlines plane carrying 48 people experienced a compressor stall in one of its engines, causing it to choke and spit out flames.

The captain reportedly informed passengers there were no safety concerns before “following normal practice” and landing in the Queensland capital.

The emergency landing caused the brief suspension of all domestic and international flights as the tarmac was inspected.

Brisbane resident Amber Windle said the noises coming from the aircraft above led her to believe it was going to explode above her suburb.

“It sounded like it was going to explode, it was so loud,” Ms Windle told Channel 9.

“As it got closer I could tell that it was coming out of the plane, so I thought it was missiles because we‘re so close to the army barracks as well.”

Marsden local Amanda Blunt said the commotion in the sky set off her dogs as the aircraft made measures to turn back to the tarmac.

“We heard it in Marsden. Went outside to see what the dogs were barking at thinking it was fireworks in the distance, and saw flames coming out the back of the plane as it flew over,” she posted to Facebook.

An anonymous passenger said there was a “loud bang about 20 minutes before descending” and that “everyone on the flight tried to remain calm, however we weren’t aware what was going on”.

Another claimed a number of people on-board “were not in a good headspace after landing … certainly shaken by it all”.

Nauru Airlines CEO Geoff Bowmaker was quick to reassure customers the hiccup never warranted an emergency and at no time were passengers at risk.

“The pilots followed normal practice, which was to land under normal power and standard operating procedures,” he said in a statement. “The aircraft landed safely and taxied to the gate without incident, where its 48 passengers disembarked.

“The Captain informed passengers that a compressor stall can involve the appearance of sparks or flames because of the disruption to airflow through the engine.

“At no time was it necessary for an emergency to be declared.”

The plane was taken to a hangar for inspections to its engine before being cleared for another departure.



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Gold Coast beach bars could be open by Christmas, Mayor Tom Tate says


If the thought of a cocktail on the sand while taking in all that the Gold Coast has to offer sounds like paradise, a new ‘beach bar’ concept in Queensland will have you feeling like you’re in Greece in no time.

In a bid to reinvigorate the hard-hit tourism sector amid the coronavirus pandemic, Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate hopes to establish ‘beach bars’ at select locations along region’s 55km of sandy coastline.

These bars, while only in the development stage, would allow beachgoers to have a drink and a light snack without having to walk off the sand to a nearby bar or pub.

It’s a concept that’s already working for Adelaide, which launched the European-inspired ‘Mosley Beach Club’ for South Australians to visit and enjoy during the summer months.

A spokesperson for Mr Tate said their ‘beach bar’ idea wouldn’t be far off what’s been developed in Glenelg, with easy-to-move deckchairs, barriers and umbrellas installed rather than solid structures on the sand.

Gold Coast Council is pushing for a two-year trial for beach bars to be established in selected areas along the coastline, such as Burleigh or Miami Beach, pointing to a hopeful launch date of December 1.

But Deputy Premier Steven Miles said holiday-makers to the region shouldn’t get their hopes up just yet, given the initial concept design still had a long way to go prior to approval.

“We [State Government] are all for considering innovative ideas that will draw more people to our tourism centres, but they need to be done right and very carefully,” Mr Miles told media Tuesday.

“The reputation of our beaches and the Gold Coast worldwide is very important so we cannot jeopardise that.

“A proposal is under active consideration … and we will consider them very closely.”

Mr Miles said the design process of the beach bars and how they will function accordingly remained up for debate.

“There’s a wide range of planning regulations at play that we need to consider … impact on the beach, amenity, erosion … as well as the permanency of any structures,” he said.

Mr Tate said in a statement to news.com.au that the beach bar concept would be a welcome addition to the Gold Coast, that would only compliment the region’s “reputation as the number one domestic tourism capital of Australia”.

“We need to renew our tourism products,” Mr Tate said.

“A beach bar trial will showcase the 55km of open beaches at our doorstep and give visitors the chance to kick off their shoes, enjoy a light meal and a quiet drink as the sun sets behind the hinterland.

“I will absolutely rule out any commercial activation of our beaches beyond the enclosed trial area. This trial will bring us up to speed with other states that have established beach bars, drawing in thousands of tourists and locals annually.

“Once Council has finalised the concept (next three months), we will be calling on the State to approve the trial so we can look at starting in the 2021-22 summer break.’’

Last year, a similar albeit more permanent concept was floated at Sydney’s Bondi Beach.

Sydneysiders were urged to sign a petition that would see part of the iconic beach privatised for people with a “high net worth” such as doctors, bankers and models.

Amalfi Beach Club submitted a proposal to Waverley Council to block off a section of the beach, add in seating and serve customers food and alcohol right on the sand as they cannot “sojourn to Europe” amid the pandemic.

The proposal states the business would target people with a “high net worth” and a taste for luxury.

The proposal included an outline of the type of professionals that would possibly frequent the facilities, likely to be doctors, surgeons, bankers, investors, professional directors and business entrepreneurs.

The organisers had initially asked for the business to be run between November and February but that was knocked back, with Waverley Council deeming it “unsuitable based on Council policies and in the interest of our local community”.

The proposal was denied due to Council policies not supporting events on the sand during December and January, Bondi Beach being an alcohol prohibited area and the safety concerns around mixing drinking with swimming.



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Why Europe suspended vaccine and how Australia has responded


When Australia’s coronavirus vaccine roll out kicked off last month, many believed there was finally some light at the end of the tunnel.

But the hotly-anticipated initiative has already been marred by fears over the AstraZeneca jab’s safety after a string of European nations suspended their own vaccination programs due to concerns over potential blood clotting issues.

That has sparked renewed worry Down Under, prompting calls from some camps for Australia to also hit pause while the matter is investigated.

RELATED: Brisbane lockdowns to continue

WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?

The issue came to a head this week after a slew of European countries, including Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Spain and Italy, halted their roll outs of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The abrupt decision came after Austria reported serious adverse effects in two cases, including a 49-year-old nurse who died of severe blood coagulation 10 days after receiving the shot.

A 60-year-old woman in Denmark also died after developing a blood clot, and there are also reports of a death and three hospitalisations relating to blood clots in Norway.

WHAT’S EUROPE DOING?

So far, the roll out pauses across Europe are temporary and there is no indication the vaccination program will be abandoned altogether.

Some nations such as Italy and Romania have banned certain batches of the vaccine linked to the Austrian case, but at the moment governments have vowed the wider campaign will proceed as scheduled.

Authorities are currently investigating any potential links between the jab and adverse effects, and will provide updates as soon as possible.

POLITICAL STRIFE

However, the unfolding situation has already caused some political tension in Australia.

On Tuesday, outspoken Nationals senator Matt Canavan called for the Australian roll out to be paused alongside much of Europe, and that the “serious concerns” raised must be looked into.

“I don’t think all the capitals of Europe have been overtaken by anti-vaccine zealots. There is obviously legitimate concerns here,” he told Sky News.

“Given that we are a country where there is not really an imminent threat of coronavirus, I just don’t see how the risk of the vaccine outweighs, or is better than, suspending right now.”

“I just don’t think we can close our eyes to this evidence. The end goal has to be the health and safety of Australians.”

RELATED: Looming COVID crisis on our doorstep

But many other senior politicians insisted the vaccine is safe and the program would continue as planned, with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg repeating the World Health Organisation’s stance that there was “no evidence” the AstraZeneca vaccine had caused the blood clots.

“In the case of the United Kingdom, they have already distributed more than 12 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and they haven’t seen those trends or patterns across their community,” he told ABC RN on Tuesday.

“It is still the government’s intention to roll it out, as we’ve said.”

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly also dismissed Mr Canavan’s concerns, telling reporters this afternoon that: “There is no signal … of a link between AstraZeneca and blood clots.”

SHOULD WE BE WORRIED?

As the war of words continues, how concerned should ordinary Australians really be by the latest developments?

Firstly, it’s important to note the European Medicines Agency last week insisted there was “no indication” the clots were linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine, with Australian health authorities also maintaining the jab is safe.

That was echoed by the drug maker itself, which claimed there was no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots and other “thromboembolic” events among 17 million individuals who had already received the shot in the UK and the Eurpean Union.

And the World Health Organisation has also weighed in, with WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris saying no causal link had been established between the “excellent” shot and the blood clot cases that have emerged.

“It’s very important to understand that, yes, we should continue to be using the AstraZeneca vaccine,” Ms Harris said.

In an article penned for The Conversation, Australian health experts Nigel William Crawford, Hazel Clothier and Jim Buttery wrote that there would always be some who experienced a thromboembolic event at some point in their lives, but insisted that so-called “background rate” wasn’t necessarily tied to any particular factor, including a vaccine.

“Unfortunately, about 17,000 Australians suffer a thromboembolic event each year,” they wrote.

“So when vaccinating many millions of people, we expect a very small number of them to develop a blood clot that coincidentally occurs not long after they’ve received a vaccine.

“This doesn’t mean it was caused by the vaccine.”

That sentiment was echoed by Swinburne University’s dean and professor School of Health Sciences Bruce Thompson, who is also the president of the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand.

RELATED: How the vaccine will change our lives

“As of today in excess of 350 million vaccine doses have been given around the world. For those who have received the vaccine, there have been no deaths or hospitalisations due to COVID,” Prof Thompson said in a statement.

“There has been a hunch that of the people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine, a few subsequently developed blood clots either as a DVT [deep vein thrombosis] or in their lungs. “At this stage, there is no evidence at all that these are associated with being vaccinated. To stop a vaccination based on a hunch will lead to an increase in COVID deaths.”

And Paul Griffin, the director of Infectious Diseases at Mater Health Services and Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Queensland said he believed the situation in Europe was an “over-reaction”.

“While this is perhaps how these countries prefer to respond, we should make sure we don’t overreact in our country and that we continue to make evidence-based decisions based on the available data at hand,” he said.

“This vaccine has proven very safe and effective in large clinical trials.

“In fact in clinical trials now exceeding 60,000 participants, some of these events were observed in low numbers but there were actually fewer in the vaccinated group than in those that had not received the vaccine.”

So far, there have been no reports of blood clots among those who have already received their first vaccine dose in Australia.



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Hamish and Zoe Foster Blake encourage big city escapes in Tourism Australia campaign


From beach-hopping to bush-bashing, Australians have been enjoying our new-found travel freedom since border restrictions relaxed, but there’s one area we’re criminally overlooking – our big cities.

So travel-loving couple Hamish Blake and Zoe Foster Blake have teamed up again with Tourism Australia for a new campaign that urges Aussies to plan a city escape to bring some love back to the big smoke.

In their new ad campaign, which is part of Tourism Australia’s Holiday Here This Year campaign, the popular couple showcases what our cities have to offer for your next domestic getaway.

Speaking to news.com.au about the City Escapes campaign and their upcoming travel plans, the pair explained how Australia’s excellent cities leave us spoiled for choice.

“No offence to other countries, but let’s say if you go to America, you’ve got some good capital cities in America but you’ve got some duds. In Australia, we’ve got no duds. If it was up to me, the campaign would be called Australia: No Dud Cities,” Blake said.

“Every capital city is awesome in its own unique way. I do love that so much about Australia. Cities that are smaller, population-wise, are kind of even cooler because they’ve got their own art, culture, food, geography, cool hotels. The cities have boomed.”

“And also whether you’re going with children, or just your partner, or you’re going for nature, or you’re going for shopping – you’ve got all of it,” Foster Blake added. “Art galleries, museums – they’re smashing it.”

The couple said they already had a hit list of cities they planned to go to next with kids Sonny, 6, and Rudy, 3.

“We were just saying we feel embarrassed we haven’t been to MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) in Hobart,” Foster Blake said.

“Our kids like to be a bit free-range and barefooted and feral, so we’ll definitely head to somewhere that affords that sort of environment as well. That might be Perth, or Brissie.”

Blake agreed he was “dying to get back to Perth”.

“I haven’t been for a couple of years and again, I think one of my favourite things about Perth is that it’s that perfect mix between big and small,” he said.

“It’s obviously a big city but it’s spacious, there’s lots of little great pockets and there are amazing beaches.”

Tourism Australia has found domestic travellers have been shunning cities in favour of regional areas due to health and safety concerns.

Spending on overnight trips across Australia fell by $27.1 billion, or 34 per cent, in the year ending September 2020, compared to the previous year.

It has especially been felt in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Gold Coast and Perth.

Hotel occupancy has also taken a dive, with Melbourne, Sydney and Hobart the hardest hit – their occupancy rates have plunged to 33 per cent, 40 per cent and 49 per cent respectively.

Tourism Australia managing director Phillipa Harrison said tourism operators in Australia’s cities were still struggling almost a year after the country’s international borders snapped shut and lockdown restrictions inhibited domestic travel.

“Our cities are the key international gateways to Australia and transit hubs for travellers, so it’s no surprise that they’ve been hit the hardest in terms of tourism spend, hotel occupancy and aviation capacity over the past year,” Ms Harrison said.

“While our international borders remain closed and travel restrictions continue to fluctuate around the country, our cities run the risk of continuing to bear the brunt of this pandemic despite offering so many incredible, safe experiences and being more affordable than ever.

“As part of this campaign we are calling on Australians to help support their fellow Australians by booking a city escape, which in turn will help to support the thousands of city-based hotels, restaurants, bars, cultural attractions and experiences that rely on tourism for their livelihoods.”

As Hamish and Zoe look forward to their next city escape, they admitted there was one thing they’d have to contend with – their very opposing approaches to packing.

“He doesn’t pack until the night before, which gives me hives the morning of,” Foster Blake told news.com.au.

“I pack a week out, constantly curating, editing … and I do the kids’ suitcases as well. That will be our point of tension the night before.”

Blake admitted his packing habits were somewhat chaotic.

“For some reason, even though I know where we’re going and I know the temperature, as soon as I open my wardrobe my brain is filled with wild, 1 per cent contingencies,” he said.

“I’m packing wet weather gear on a whim, maybe three woolly jumpers for a beach holiday.

“Then when I get to the destination … it’s like a theatre sports game where I open up a bag and have no idea what’s in there.”

“But he’ll live in the same pair of shorts for seven days,” Foster Blake laughed.



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Safety concerns around rushed process addressed


The most common reason why some Aussies are hesitant about getting the COVID-19 vaccine has been debunked by experts.

The main concern people have around the jab is the worry that the vaccine isn’t safe because it’s been rushed.

But experts say this couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, the process in developing vaccines has been sped up – which leading health commentators say should actually be seen as a good thing.

Dr Omar Khorshid, president of the Australian Medical Association, assures people they can feel safe.

“Australia has not rushed through emergency approvals of these vaccines,” he wrote in an opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald this week.

“Any vaccine used in Australia will have met the strict guidelines of the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) before it is rolled out.”

RELATED: The Aussies least likely to get vaccine

RELATED: Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine concerns answered

Vaccinating against COVID-19 is the easiest way for Australians to get their normal lives back, but millions are hesitant to get the jab.

Our Best Shot is news.com.au’s campaign answering your questions about the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

Dr Claire Hooker, specialist in disease risk communication at University of Sydney, said Aussies can “rest very easy” over any safety concerns.

“The fact is the coronavirus vaccines are very, very safe,” she said.

“We know this is true because everyone is really worried any lack of safety would have an ongoing impact on other vaccination programs, and our TGA sets an extremely high standard for ensuring vaccine safety.”

In November, Dr Mark Toshner, director of Translational Biomedical Research at the University of Cambridge, summed up the issue in a piece for The Conversation, saying 10 years to develop a vaccine is actually a bad thing.

“It’s not 10 years because that is safe, it’s 10 hard years of battling indifference, commercial imperatives, luck and red tape,” he wrote.

“It represents barriers in the process that we have now proved are ‘easy’ to overcome.”

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Professor Adrian Esterman, epidemiologist at the University of South Australia, also highlighted this in a recent piece in Our Best Shot campaign.

“Before this hit us, when we tried to develop preventive vaccines for other things, there is so much red tape and bureaucracy – it all takes months, if not years,” he said.

“What we’ve done this time is do them parallel, all together, so the phases run at same time which has sped the whole thing up. Rather than desperately trying to get funding, there’s been bucketloads spent on it.

“These vaccines have gone through a very rigorous process to make sure they’re safe and work, certainly for Western nations. This time it’s just been easier because of all the money spent and improvements on process and testing.”

Professor Esterman said Australia is one of the most stringent countries in the world for vaccine approvals.

“The TGA won’t allow it if it’s not safe and effective, full-stop,” he said.



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Nearly 10 per cent of Australians will refuse jab


A staggering number of Australians have expressed reluctance to putting their arm forward for a COVID-19 vaccination, according to a new survey released by the federal government.

In the findings released on Tuesday night, 27 per cent of eligible Australian respondents aged over 16 were unsure if they would get a jab while 9 per cent said they would definitely not get the vaccine, with the main causes of the reluctance being a belief the long term side effects were unknown and the jabs were developed too quickly.

Only 48 per cent of the respondents said they would get the vaccine as soon as it was available, providing a concern to health authorities as the rollout is due to begin at the end of the month.

But the attitudes towards the vaccines appear to improve the longer the scheme is scheduled to be dispersed across the population, with 64 per cent saying they would definitely get it at some stage and 71 per cent declaring they would choose to have it some time by October.

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Curiously, the reservations are at odds with the understanding among respondents about the importance of the vaccine: 86 per cent agree the jab will help protect vulnerable Australians and 79 per cent agree vaccines across the population will reduce the risk of the health system being overwhelmed.

The three main motivators for choosing to take the jab, according to the government-commissioned survey, is protecting themselves from catching the deadly virus, keeping the country safe from coronavirus and protecting the elderly and most vulnerable.

The results follow findings from research group Ipsos earlier this month which found three in four Australians were willing to get the vaccine when it became available, revealing similar concerns about the rapid development.

“The early hesitancy we saw around the globe wasn’t being driven by the public buying into conspiracy theories,” Ipsos Australia director Jessica Elgood said.

“It was more likely to be reasonable, thoughtful people being hesitant because they didn’t know what they needed to know to make the right decision.”

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The Pfizer vaccine arrived on Australian shores this week and the Australian government has also thrown its support behind the AstraZeneca jab following fears over its effectiveness in people aged over 65.

On Tuesday, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) granted the AstraZeneca jab approval for use in people aged 18 and above, placing no upper age limit on its recommendation.

European regulators had butted heads over whether to approve the vaccine for people aged above 65 amid concerns over its effectiveness in that age group.

But the TGA quelled those fears, announcing approval on Tuesday and saying there were “no safety concerns in this age group” arising from clinical trials.

The administration’s John Skerritt said the jab’s rollout in the UK, where there was no upper age limit, showed a strong immune response among the elderly.

“Our analysis of the data gives us no reason to suspect that the vaccine would not be fully efficacious in older groups,” he said.

Various European countries have put an upper limit of 65 on the AstraZeneca vaccine, while Italy restricted its use to people under 55.

The TGA recommended a “case-by-case” assessment before administering the jab to people aged over 65 but Professor Skerritt clarified the only time the jab should not be recommended was when administering it would be futile.

“If someone only has a few weeks to live, you won’t give them a hip replacement and may not give them a vaccine,” he said.

“That’s what we’re talking about, but the vaccine is recommended for use in all ages.”

Australia has ordered 53.8 million AstraZeneca doses, 3.8 million of those sourced from overseas, with drug manufacturer CSL to produce the other 50 million doses in Melbourne in a move the government says will safeguard Australia against international supply issues.

The overseas doses are set to be administered in early March, with the Australian-produced doses to follow later that month.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said attention would turn to ensuring the vaccine was spread quickly and effectively across the country.

“It’s going to make a huge difference to how we live here in Australia this year and in the years ahead,” he said.

The jab will be administered in two doses, which are recommended to be spaced 12 weeks apart.

— With Finn McHugh



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