FRIDAY, DECEMBER 10
The Omicron Covid-19 variant of-concern is less severe than first thought and could be an early indication that the virus is “stepping down”, the prime minister says.
Scott Morrison said it could potentially be a “game changer” across the globe as the world tries to recover from the two-year coronavirus pandemic.
“We have seen the severity of the illness playing out to date not as the early indications were and I think it‘s fair to say that is potentially quite a game changer with the pandemic around the world about how the virus may well step down,” he told reporters on Friday morning.
“Our plan is to keep moving forward, not to go back. We’re not looking in the revision mirror.
“We’re not going back to what Australians have had to go through. We’re going to go forward and we’re going to live with this virus.”
Department of Health secretary Dr Brendan Murphy said there was still much to learn about the new variant, but the early signs were positive.
“Information out of South Africa suggests that we‘re not seeing a high incidence of hospitalisation and severe disease,” he said.
“But we still need to learn more, we have to get information from other countries who now have significant clusters of this virus and we’re still doing lab tests on this variant.”
Dr Murphy stressed the importance of the Covid-19 booster as extra protection against Omicron.
“There is a suggestion that the vaccines will benefit from a booster to protect against the strain,” he said.
“We don’t know how it will spread in Australia, but we do know that it is here and it’s just likely to spread but we don’t need to panic, we just need to study it more and very importantly, make sure we get boosters.
“What we’ve seen across this country now with the transmission in Victoria and New South Wales is very low rates of hospitalisation and severe disease in the vaccinated population.
“These vaccines do protect people against serious disease.”
It comes as experts from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) on Friday gave final approval for Australian children aged five to 11 to start getting their Covid-19 jabs.
*A school on the Gold Coast has been closed on the last day of class after a confirmed COVID-19 case was at the school.
Families at the Broadbeach State School were alerted this morning and have been asked to get tested and isolate.
“There has now been a confirmed infectious case of COVID-19 at Broadbeach State School,” a phone message at the school said.
“Please keep your child and your household members isolated at home.
“All will need to be tested today. We are trying to set up a testing site at the school today.”
It comes as Woolworths at Pines in Elanora and a bakery in Currumbin on the southern Gold Coast have also been notified of a potential positive case that visited their businesses.
Queensland Health is yet to update its list of confirmed COVID exposure sites to include these locations.
*Victoria has recorded 1,206 new local COVID-19 cases and two deaths.
There are now 11,145 active cases of the virus in Victoria, and 582 people have died during the current Delta outbreak.
There are 313 people in hospital, of whom 61 are in intensive care and 25 are on a ventilator.
A further 43 people are in ICU but their infections are no longer considered active.
The new cases were detected from 66,784 test results received yesterday.
There were 3,925 doses of vaccine administered at state-run sites yesterday, as well as more vaccinations at GP clinics and other venues.
A woman has died after her car was swept from a car park on the way out of a fast food chain drive-through in Brisbane’s north during severe storms last night.
The woman, 44, and a male driver, 52, were attempting to leave Hungry Jack’s at Aspley at 8:00pm, when their sedan lost traction, police said.
It began floating in floodwaters from Little Cabbage Tree Creek, which had inundated part of the car park.
Neighbours raised the alarm at 8:00pm when they heard the woman screaming for help.
They joined emergency services with torches to try to find the woman.
The man was found a short time later, however the body of the woman was found inside the vehicle three hours later.
The vehicle had been swept 250 metres down the fast-flowing creek.
It took emergency services hours to locate the car, which was swept into Little Cabbage Tree Creek.(ABC News: Michael Rennie)
It was the fourth flood-related death in Queensland in three weeks, with the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) saying storm activity was at its peak when the incident occurred.
New Zealand has taken a major step in its plan to get its smoking population under five per cent by 2025, with the move meaning many children will never be able to legally buy cigarettes in the country.
The new legislation means New Zealanders aged 14 or under will be banned from buying tobacco, even as adults.
Each year the legal smoking age will be increased, with a new age group added to the ban list until the country is completely smoke-free.
The new legislation was announced on Thursday, with New Zealand’s associate health minister, Ayesha Verrall, branding it a “historic day for the health of our people”.
“We want to make sure young people never start smoking so we will make it an offence to sell or supply smoked tobacco products to new cohorts of youth. People aged 14 when the law comes into effect will never be able to legally purchase tobacco,” Dr Verrall said.
“We are also reducing the appeal, addictiveness and availability of smoked tobacco products.”
An independent, unofficial body set up by a prominent British barrister to assess evidence on China’s alleged rights abuses against the Uyghur people has found that the Chinese government committed genocide and crimes against humanity.
The Uyghur Tribunal, made up of lawyers, academics and business people, does not have any government backing or powers to sanction or punish China.
But organisers hope the process of publicly laying out evidence will compel international action to tackle alleged abuses against the Uyghurs, a largely Muslim ethnic group.
Tribunal chair Geoffrey Nice said the group was satisfied that forced birth control and sterilisation policies targeting Uyghurs in China’s far western Xinjiang province were intended to reduce the group’s population.
Geoffrey Nice says Xi Jinping and other senior officials “bear primary responsibility” for what has occurred in Xinjiang.(AP: Alberto Pezzali)
The abuse was part of comprehensive policies directly linked to President Xi Jinping and the highest levels of the Chinese government, he said.
The Chinese embassy in London did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Thursday that “the so-called forced labour and genocide in Xinjiang are entirely vicious rumours”.
Mr Wang was responding to a question about a law passed by the US House of Representatives to ban imports from Xinjiang, over forced labour concerns.
The Uyghur Tribunal concluded that it was beyond doubt that genocide and crimes against humanity were committed.(AP: Alberto Pezzali)
After examining evidence from witnesses, experts and leaked Chinese government documents for over a year, the Uyghur Tribunal concluded that it was beyond doubt that genocide and crimes against humanity were committed, including the torture and rape of scores of people who were among those held in vast detention centres.
“On the basis of evidence heard in public, the tribunal is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the People’s Republic of China, by the imposition of measures to prevent births intended to destroy a significant part of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang as such, has committed genocide,” said Mr Nice, a senior lawyer who previously led the prosecution of ex-Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic and has worked with the International Criminal Court.
He said Mr Xi and other senior officials “bear primary responsibility” for what had occurred in Xinjiang.
“This vast apparatus of state repression could not exist if a plan was not authorised at the highest levels,” Mr Nice said.
An estimated 1 million people or more — most of them Uyghurs — have been confined in re-education camps in Xinjiang in recent years, according to researchers.
The hearings are the latest attempt to hold China accountable for its policies targeting the Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim and ethnic Turkic minorities.
Former Empire actor Jussie Smollett has been found guilty of orchestrating a fake attack on himself, then lying to Chicago police about it.
Two brothers testified that Smollett recruited them to fake the attack near his home in downtown Chicago in January 2019.
They said Smollett orchestrated the hoax, telling them to put a noose around his neck and bash him while yelling racist and homophobic slurs, and that he said he wanted video of the incident made public via social media.
The jury found the 39-year-old guilty on five counts of disorderly conduct — one count for each separate time he was charged with lying to police in the days immediately after the alleged attack. He was acquitted on a sixth count, of lying to a detective in mid-February, weeks after he said he was attacked.
When Jussie Smollett told police he had been attacked by two men in downtown Chicago at 2am, the story attracted international headlines.
The actor told police the attackers yelled “This is MAGA country”, in reference to the then-president Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan.
Smollett, who is black and gay, said the attackers yelled racist and homophobic slurs, wrapped a rope around his neck, and poured an “unknown substance” on him, which he believed to be bleach.
Celebrities and politicians weighed in, many rushing to his defence and expressing outrage, until police, who said they had reviewed hundreds of hours of surveillance camera footage, said none showed the attack.
They later picked up two Nigerian brothers at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport after they learned at least one worked on Empire.
The investigation shifted, with investigators saying Smollett paid the two brothers $US3,500 ($4,880) to stage the attack because he was unhappy with his salary and wanted publicity.
Smollett was charged with disorderly conduct for filing a false police report about the alleged attack.
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