donald trump
US President Donald Trump (Image: AP/Alex Brandon)

Australia’s relationship with China is under serious strain, but the United States looks increasingly like a failed state, leaving us between a rock and a hard place. Meanwhile, the Northern Territory gloats at the rest of the country, and some virus optimism perhaps?

The Territory gets the first laugh

Today, restrictions ease in a number of states across Australia. But nowhere gets it better than the Northern Territory, where the pubs are officially open. And didn’t the NT News just love to rub it in our faces. 

America is truly broken

Every day, the headlines out of the United States are more horrifying — rising death tolls, a bitter partisan divide over basic public health measures, a broken health system, and an unhinged, lying president. Yesterday, we got an insider’s view of the chaos, when a dumped health-official-turned-whistleblower told Congress the country is heading for its “darkest winter in modern history”.

Rick Bright, who alleged he’d been ousted from his high profile job at the US Department of Health and Human Services for warning the Trump administration about the dangers of the pandemic, said things will only get worse in America. 

“If we fail to develop a national coordinated response, based in science, I fear the pandemic will get far worse and be prolonged, causing unprecedented illness and fatalities,” Bright testified.

The official had also found his pleas for the US to boost its stocks of masks, ventilators and other important equipment had fallen on deaf ears. 

But China won’t save us

It was another wild week for Australia’s confused relationship with China. China banned beef from four Australian abattoirs, and is considering expensive barley tariffs. That follows a surge in hawkish chest-thumping out of Canberra, including calls for an international probe into China’s handling of the pandemic. There’s also a wide-ranging debate over how much we should blame China for the virus, and how strategic such finger-pointing is.

The hawkishness has also been amplified in the media, most prominently by The Daily Telegraph, which has run stories suggesting the virus leaked from a Wuhan lab, despite some intelligence sources worrying this theory is a strategic drop to aid the Trump administration.

The most aggressive proponent of that theory is the Tele’s political editor Sharri Markson, who’s getting red carpet treatment from the American reactionary media circus. This week, Markson appeared on a podcast hosted by Steve Bannon, former Trump strategist and founder of alt-right site Breitbart. Last week, she was on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show. 

Maybe some good vaccine news

In yesterday’s edition of Virus Watch, we told you why there’s good reason to believe we might never get a coronavirus vaccine. Today, we’re being optimists. We’ve never had more investment in finding a single vaccine, had more labs working feverishly on the one common goal, or clinical trials move at such a fast clip.

There have also been some small, early successful results. Like this trial at Oxford, where a vaccine prevented pneumonia in rhesus macaques monkeys exposed to COVID-19.

Yesterday, immunologist and Nobel Laureate Professor Peter Doherty expressed optimism about the potential for a vaccine, and suggested we’d have a clearly picture of where things are at by October. And while it’s true we’ve never found a vaccine for a coronavirus before (we lost interest in finding one for SARS or MERS when the pandemics dissipated), there are features of COVID-19 that should make us optimistic. For example, the virus tends to create antibodies in most infected patients, which is just the kind of immunological response we need for a vaccine to be effective.