nsw covid-19
(Image: AAP/Joel Carrett)

VACCINE NATION

A total of six million people in NSW have received their first vaccination, as SBS reports. Premier Gladys Berejiklian will reveal either tomorrow or Friday the new freedoms that the double-vaxxed will get in mid-September. There are rumours that hairdressers and nail salons will be able to book in inoculated clients, as Sky News says. Meanwhile New Zealand’s outbreak, which began with a NSW-related case, has worsened. Active cases have jumped to 148 after 41 new infections were recorded — and most are among Samoans, NZ Herald reports.

From today, Victorians can get the Pfizer vaccine (if they’re aged 16-39), The Age confirms — and this news is seeing more than 10,000 people a day cancelling their AstraZenenca appointments in response. Premier Daniel Andrews is urging Victorians “to honour their vaccine bookings, saying an appointment for AstraZeneca today is better than the hope of an appointment for Pfizer in several weeks’ time,” Guardian Australia reports. Until today, most people aged 18-39 could only get the AZ vaccine, but now 830,000 Pfizer appointments are reportedly available — and you can book one here. Victoria had 50 new infections yesterday, while the ACT reported 30.

Sydney woman Ianeta Isaako, 30, on Monday became the youngest woman in NSW to die with COVID-19, the Herald Sun ($) reports. Tributes flowed for the mum-of-three on social media as her husband remains hospitalised with the virus, the SMH says. It’s the 75th death in NSW since mid-June. It is yet to be reported whether Isaanko had health conditions that made her particularly vulnerable — or whether she was vaccinated.

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TRI-UMPH?

It’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s anniversary — that is, three years since he was jetted into the nation’s top job, swerving the party — and the country — away from then-right-faction darling, Peter Dutton. Morrison marked the occasion by delivering a “homily” on unity to colleagues, Guardian Australia says, saying he intends to stay in power beyond the looming May election. He also acknowledged the ongoing support from Michael McCormack and Barnaby Joyce.

Despite the sluggish vaccine rollout and outcry over our paltry Afghan refugee commitment, Morrison had a rather quippy exchange with the opposition leader in Question Time. Anthony Albanese, who has been beelining attacks on Morrison, asked yesterday “Would Australia be closer to reopening if the prime minister had not failed his two jobs on vaccine and quarantine?”. Morrison replied, “As I said before, anyone who thinks the prime minister of this country only has two jobs isn’t up to the job, Mr Speaker”. Snap.

Morrison went on to say he had been focusing on evacuating people from Afghanistan — not his smartest moment considering calls to evacuate expats and friends of Australia have been coming for months — even years. Well, perhaps it could be worse under a prime minister Peter Dutton, who said back in 2016 that taking more refugees would mean people who are not “numerate or literate in their own language, let alone English … would be taking Australian jobs”, as BBC reported.

CONDITION REPORT

US Vice President Kamala Harris’s south-east Asia tour has come to a frightening halt after two possible incidences of Havana Syndrome were identified at her next destination, Hanoi, the SMH reports. Havana Syndrome is the name given to a condition that displays a host of mysterious symptoms — some people hear a loud piercing sound and feel intense pressure in the face, while pain, nausea, and dizziness sometimes follow. It’s thought that “targeted microwaves or sonic attack” could be the cause, and there’s speculation Russian military intelligence are behind the attacks. Two people were reportedly medivac’d out of Vietnam, NBC says, and the Harris camp continued on.

Just last week, the US Embassy in Berlin confirmed they were investigating several staff illnesses which looked like Havana Syndrome, The Wall Street Journal ($) says. Some of those struck down with the mysterious illness were intelligence officers or diplomats working on Russia-related issues like gas exports, cybersecurity and political interference.

In the latest on her tour, Harris has castigated China in a speech in Singapore — she accused Beijing of coercion and intimidation in the disputed South China Sea, and said the US would “stand with our allies in the face of threats”, as BBC reports.

ON A LIGHTER NOTE

Dogs. A shining light of slobbery buffoonery and blind affection in a boring, sometimes locked-down pandemic for so many. And they’re doing more than just keeping us company. They’re sniffing out COVID in hospitals. They’re comforting nervous nellies as people get their vaccine. And in the US, they’re even helping save the turtles.

John Rucker and his six dogs — all chocolatey Boykin spaniels — have undertaken a quest to protect North America’s box turtles. Box turtles live up to 100 years old, but their habitat has been disrupted by humans. So the six dogs sniff them out and gently bring them back for observation, allowing Rucker to collect what experts call “priceless” data about the endangered species. Rucker, who describes himself as the only professional dog-aided turtle tracker in the US, said it began as a hobby. But now he and his floppy-eared crew work with universities, herpetologists, and conservation groups, crossing the US in a specially fitted out van (with six kennels, naturally).

“When I’m out in the fields or in the forest looking for turtles, it’s an alternative to the stressful artificial world that humans have created, where there’s telephone lines and cell towers and traffic signals and red lights,” says Rucker. “The dogs and I do not connect with that. We find it utterly foreign. The world we do connect with is nature and the world of turtles.”

Hope you find some peace and solace within nature today.

THEY REALLY SAID THAT?

Now, it’s like that movie in The Croods — people wanted to stay in the cave … and that young girl, she wanted to go out and live again and deal with the challenges of living in a different world. Well, COVID is a new, different world, and we need to get out there and live in it. We can’t stay in the cave and we can get out of it safely.

Scott Morrison

The prime minister rather bizarrely referenced a children’s film about cavemen to describe states who are still aiming for a COVID elimination strategy. WA’s Mark McGowan responded that it was a fairly “odd thing to say” and confirmed his state “are not living in caves — we are living a normal life”. There are no restrictions in WA, but there are tough border closures in place.

CRIKEY RECAP

Pandemic politics presents a simple question: who can deliver the least awful death toll?

“It’s March 2022. More than 80% of Australians have been vaccinated. Morrison faces an election within two months. But the NSW premier Dominic Perrottet, still new in the job after Berejiklian “succumbed” to pressure and resigned in December, calls and tells him he has no alternative but to lock down his state. More than 100,000 people have had to be hospitalised since October as more than 2.5 million people have contracted the virus.

“His contact tracers are hopelessly overwhelmed and have been since November. More than 8000 people across the state have died. The strain on the NSW hospital system is unbearable, and the diversion of medical resources to battling COVID is leading to a spike in deaths from other causes. That’s what might unfold in NSW if the national modelling by a team of academics led by University of Western Australia’s Zoë Hyde is correct, on a pro rata basis.”


Morrison draws battle lines for freedom election

Morrison is right to start preparing us for the future. Australia has to open up at some point. Once it does wind back some restrictions, case numbers will inevitably rise. Vaccines will protect many from death and serious illness. Pushback from some premiers who have maintained that lockdowns will be used even when vaccine targets are met is a clear sign of how messy the shift in our thinking is already proving.

“But like so much of what Morrison touches — from the vaccine rollout to the Afghanistan evacuation — his attempt to prepare Australia for a post-vaccinated world suffers from a case of too little, too late. We’ve known for months that Australians would need to fundamentally readjust their expectations around case numbers and, one day, living with the virus. Articulating what that means, and guiding the country through such a shift, requires a kind of vision and leadership Morrison lacks.”


Don’t be taken in by their buffoonery — Clive Palmer and Craig Kelly are dangerous

“Also on Monday, Australia’s medical regulator the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) reported it had detected rising levels of importing and prescribing ivermectin to treat COVID, an unproved treatment favoured by anti-vaxxers. The use of this unproved and dangerous treatment is linked to Kelly, who has been promoting it non-stop on social media and in Parliament. Palmer promoted hydroxychloroquine (also beloved by Kelly) and donated millions of doses to the Australian government.

“The two have a track record to telling people to use experimental treatments, putting themselves and others at risk. The legacy of the pairing of Kelly and Palmer is unlikely to be one of political success. It’s more likely to be remembered as an expensive effort to convince Australians to put themselves at risk, rather than trusting the tools that have been proved to keep them safe.”

READ ALL ABOUT IT

Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts dies aged 80 (The Guardian)

What Pfizer expansion means for Victorians (Herald Sun) ($)

Afghanistan: Secret Kabul talks between CIA and Taliban — US media (BBC)

Paralympics opening ceremony: pandemic, politics and plenty of fun (The Guardian)

Displacement and debt: The hidden costs of hosting the Olympics (Al Jazeera)

Shocking loophole in new law that could allow underage residents to buy booze online (The Australian) ($)

The impact of Delta and lockdown on Aussie house prices (news.com.au)

Israeli troops kill Palestinian teenager in occupied West Bank (Al Jazeera)

‘I was petrified’: Scammers impersonate federal agents in bid to rob Australians (The Age)

United States nears first major steps to control CO2 emissions (Al Jazeera)

He was the ‘perfect villain’ for voting conspiracists (The New York Times)

THE COMMENTARIAT

I’m 14 and I want the COVID vaccine – why can’t Australia’s politicians tell us when we’ll be safe?Anhaar Kareem (Guardian Australia): “Listening to Gladys Berejiklian speak, the recurring message, as it should be, was to get vaccinated. My mother and father have had both shots of the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine. In the front room of our house sits my grandmother watching the press conference alone as we are currently isolating from her. Thankfully she is also fully vaccinated. However, my three younger sisters and I are not vaccinated; at the age of 14 it is not an option for me.

“It’s scary for my family and many other families with children when we look to the future. What the premier has outlined is that if vaccination rates hit 70% to 80%, NSW could start to open up. But will that take children such as myself into account? With the Delta strain infecting many children and even causing hospitalisations and death among adolescents and young people, how will young people be safe?”

Use 6 million jab mark to close the lockdown gender gapPru Goward (AFR): “One point about the so-called beauty industry is the dominance of female business owners and staff in this sector. Already classified as low-paid workers, hairdressers and nail technicians are out of work, forgotten by all but their clients. Now is the time for the sector to negotiate conditions that would allow some reopening of their businesses, such as vaccinated staff serving vaccinated customers or even, as the construction sector managed, frequent testing and prioritisation for the jab.

“Many of the sector’s workers are young and no doubt the AstraZeneca hysteria has meant many are waiting for Pfizer, but the time for hesitation is gone. Delta has removed that luxury … If the beauty sector does not force itself to the top of the queue, a whole group of independent, hardworking female small business owners is heading for serious financial trouble and many will never reopen. Watch what that does for the economic gender gap.”

HOLD THE FRONT PAGE

The Latest Headlines

WHAT’S ON TODAY

Australia

  • Author David McLean and essayist Michael McGirr join Ann Rennie in launching her book, Blessed: Meditations on a Life of Small Wonders via webinar.

  • Former national mental health commissioner Sam Mostyn speaks about the mental health impacts of the pandemic in a webinar with Beyond Blue’s Georgie Harman, Muslim Women’s Association’s Maha Abdo and USYD’s Ian Hickey.

  • Former European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom speaks in an Australia Institute webinar called “Trading Away Australia’s Climate Ambition” with journalist Michael Brissenden.

Wadandi Noongar Country (also known as Margaret River)

  • CinefestOZ kicks off today, a five-day film festival with red carpet events, film premieres, industry Q&As and more.

Darumbal Country (also known as Yeppoon)

  • Queensland’s Leader of the Opposition David Crisafulli speaks on the impact of the pandemic on business, hosted at Vue Wine Bar & Restaurant.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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