Monday, August 23, 2021

What Australia can learn from Israel's Covid-19 experience

Australia should look at Israel to learn how to deal with Covid-19 once the country has achieved a high vaccination rate, a leading diseases expert has said.

Professor Tony Blakely of the University of Melbourne said Australia can 'learn a lot' from Israel which under one of the fastest jab rollouts in the world has vaccinated 78 per cent of over 12s, the majority with Pfizer, but is suffering a surge in cases.

Australia has targeted a 70 per cent vaccination rate to start living more freely and without lockdown; and 80 per cent to get back to 'normal' life without masks, social distancing and QR codes.

However, last Sunday, Israel brought back restrictions including vaccination certificates or negative coronavirus tests to enter a range of public spaces such as restaurants and bars, cultural and sports venues, hotels and gyms.

The nation of 9million is recording about 6,000 Covid-19 cases a day and 120 deaths a week.

Many of the infected are unvaccinated but 59 per cent of Covid-19 patients in hospital on August 15 were fully jabbed, with 87 per cent of them over 60.

This is largely because data shows the effectiveness of the Pfizer jab wanes over time. In response, Israel is now rolling out booster shots to anyone over 50 who had their second dose more than five months ago.

Professor Blakely said Australia and other countries around the world are learning from the Israeli experience.

'First of all, it's a bit gloomy, we can't escape that,' he told Daily Mail Australia.

'They're seeing waning immunity I believe mostly amongst the elderly but we're learning as we go. After time the virus can take off again.'

Professor Blakely said the data shows booster shots are required to increase protection and said there are two options - either use the same vaccine for the third dose or mix and match.

'What we'll increasingly do is we'll use new mRNA vaccines to cover new variants,' he said.

This would involve giving someone who had two shots of Pfizer a shot of Moderna while people who had received AstraZeneca could get Pfizer as their booster. 'As soon as we're fully vaccinated we'd immediately go back and boost AstraZeneca recipients and offer them Pfizer,' he said.

'There is emerging evidence that you get a really good protection if you mix vaccines.

'After Christmas we'd be boosting all people over 60 and all people less than 60 who've had AstraZeneca,' he said.

'And then we'd open the international borders and hopefully be OK.'

Professor Blakely said the world will try out different combinations of vaccines to work out which gives the best protection.

'I'm confident we'll find a way to mix and match mRNA vaccines with each other or maybe people who've had Pfizer will be offered AstraZeneca because that comes in from another angle. We've got a lot to learn,' he said.

'I'm confident we'll find a way to win the arms race against the virus. But it's not going to be smooth sailing and Israel is another example of that.'

Professor Blakely warned that western nations will face backlash from the World Health Organisation for rolling out boosters while people in poor countries have not had a single dose.

He said that booster shots were 'not the best policy' from a global perspective because new dangerous variants could emerge in unvaccinated nations.

'The real threat to humanity is this virus mutating again to become completely resistant to vaccines and the chance of that goes up in direct proportion to the amount of infections across the planet,' he said.

However, the US and European nations are already planning to roll out booster shots, so Australia will likely follow suit.

In the likely event that booster shots are recommended in Australia - where 28.2 per cent are fully vaccinated so far - the Prime Minister has ordered 85 million doses of Pfizer to arrive in 2022 and 2023.

The first batch will enter the country in the first three months of next year, allowing the first vaccinated Australians - who had their second doses in March 2021 - to take a booster shot a year later.

Pfizer CEO Albert Boula confirmed in July that the effectiveness of the vaccine does steadily diminish, but said it reaches about 84 per cent effectiveness at six months.

The jab is most effective between one week and two months after the second dose, and drops by an average of 6 per cent every two months.


Meanwhile, studies of the Moderna vaccine show 94 per cent effectiveness six months after the second dose.


Studies on AstraZeneca indicate that a single dose induced immunity for at least one year, with an even stronger immune response after either a late second dose or a third dose.

A delay of up to 45 weeks between the first and second jab was found to produce a very strong response, or a third jab after six months.

Source: AstraZeneca, Gavi Vaccine Alliance, The Lancet

The Government has also ordered 51 million doses of the American Novavax vaccine - which is expected to be approved and rolled out in the second half of this year - and 15 million doses of booster or variant-specific versions of the Moderna vaccine.

Both could act as booster shots.

Health Minister Greg Hunt told 2GB radio last week: 'The supplies are very deep and strong. The expectation is that if a booster were required – and frankly, it's far more likely than not on all the advice we have – it would be about a year after you had your vaccination.

'So, no decision yet, but the preliminary medical advice is that it will be in the order of 12 months after your first jab. But it's not a final decision.'

Professor Blakely also said some restrictions may still be required in Australia after 80 per cent of people are vaccinated, such as vaccine passports to enter venues.

He said this would be a 'good risk reduction strategy' but was 'no panacea' because vaccinated people can still catch and spread the virus even with fewer symptoms.

'I think it's a dumb idea because it gives a false sense of security and is going to be problematic to administer.

'But it will be used because it gives people an incentive to get vaccinated,' he said.

Professor Blakely warned that contact tracing and testing will 'probably' be in place for years to come, unless governments aim for herd immunity by letting infections circulate freely while vaccinations and boosters are administered.

'If that was our strategy - and I don't think we're ready for that yet - we'd basically want to get it over and done with as quickly as possible,' he said.

Health department's full statement on booster shots
'The Government has accepted the medical advice of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) that additional or booster doses beyond the two-dose course are not currently recommended.

'The Government is actively monitoring this evidence and has strong working relationships with a wide range of international agencies to discuss the development of COVID-19 vaccines.

'Australia is well prepared for booster vaccines if they are required. This has been taken into account in the purchase agreements already in place.

'The Australian Government has secured 60 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine for 2022 and 25 million doses for 2023. This is in addition to the 40 million Pfizer doses being delivered in 2021.

'The Government has also secured 25 million doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, including 15 million doses of booster or variant-specific versions of the vaccine.

'The Government also has an Advance Purchased Agreement with Novavax for 51 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine. The Novavax protein-subunit based COVID-19 vaccine could be used as a booster dose


Parents at “wits’ end’’ over home schooling as students struggle in lockdown

Parents are at their “wits’ end’’ with home schooling as lockdowns rob some children of six months of classroom learning, federal Education Minister Alan Tudge has warned.

Urging teachers to “get vaccinated tomorrow’’, Mr Tudge called for schools to reopen once 70 per cent of Australian adults have been immunised against Covid-19.

“I’m deeply concerned about kids not wanting to go to school or dropping out altogether because they’ve missed months of learning, in some cases,’’ he told News Corp Australia.

“I’m concerned about the number of teenage girls presenting to the Butterfly Foundation (charity) with eating disorders.

“I’m very worried about child abuse that might be occurring because in some cases school might be the only safe place for a kid.

“Many parents who are at home are also at their wits’ end as well.

“Kids are becoming addicted to their devices because sometimes the only way a parent can do their work is to give a device to their kid (to play with).’’

With a million Australian children in lockdown – including Victorian students who have missed out on 200 days of school – Mr Tudge said schools should only close as a “very last resort’’.

“Teachers should be getting vaccinated tomorrow,’’ he said.

“Based on the Doherty (Institute immunisation) advice, when we hit 70 per cent of the population vaccinated, schools can be open in areas without outbreaks.”

Queensland is the only state that has bumped teachers to the front of the queue for vaccines, while Victoria prioritises teachers who work closely with special needs children, and NSW gives priority jabs to teachers in hot spots.

An angry Australian Education Union federal president Correna Haythorpe said she had been calling on the federal government for months to make teachers, principals and school support staff a priority for Covid-19 vaccines, as essential workers.

She said teachers would be “deeply offended’’ to be told to get a vaccine immediately, when they had to wait with everyone else for a jab.

“Education workers are ready to roll up their sleeves and get a vaccine,’’ she said.

“They have been ready for months. Our members are eager to return to the classroom as soon as possible … but can only return to face-to-face learning when it is safe to do so.’’

Mr Tudge said home schooling was tough on “parents trying to work at the same time’’.

He called for clearer lesson plans for parents helping children learn at home. “There’s too much gobbledygook language in education,’’ he said. “It’s not necessary, it’s confusing to parents and we should be using simple language that parents, teachers and others can understand.’’

The Smith Family, a charity that sponsors 58,000 school students from disadvantaged families, warned that many children do not have digital devices or internet to study at home.

“Disadvantaged kids are already behind in their learning and our big fear is that lockdowns will exacerbate the existing gap,’’ The Smith Family’s head of policy and programs, Wendy Field, said.

“One in five of the families we help on low incomes do not have a device connected to the internet.’’

Ms Field said some children from migrant households had to help their siblings with home schooling, while others were in lockdown caring for disabled parents.

“The longer the lockdown goes, the more worried we get,’’ she said.

A survey by online tutoring service Cluey Learning found that 60 per cent of Year 12 students fear the disruption from Covid-19 lockdowns will lower their tertiary entrance scores.

Six out of 10 students said they studied less at home, compared to learning in the classroom.

News Corp Australia’s series, Lockdowns: The Real Cost, has exposed the toll Covid-19 closures are having on children’s mental health, as cooped-up kids suffer unprecedented rates of anxiety, depression and eating disorders.

A Mission Australia survey of 25,000 teenagers aged 15 to 19 has exposed widespread distress over school closures, as teens struggle to learn at home alone.

And a Unicef Australia survey of parents found that two-thirds would vaccinate their children immediately if they could, and that half want their children to continue attend classrooms during lockdowns.


Woodside-BHP merger paves way for Australia's 'last' major LNG development

For more than 50 years, the name Woodside has been synonymous with oil and gas in Australia.

Although preceded by Australian mining giant BHP in the petroleum game, Woodside rose to become the local champion of an industry that fuelled much of the world's economic activity.

Such was Woodside's financial and political importance in Australia, in 2001 the then treasurer Peter Costello famously torpedoed a takeover bid by Royal Dutch Shell on national interest grounds.

But as the ground shifted underneath the fossil fuel industry in recent years and investors began spurning fossil fuels, a little-acknowledged reality began dawning on observers.

Woodside was — without the successful execution of a last-gasp LNG development — seemingly a company without much of a future.

That was until this week when news of a proposed tie-up between Woodside and the oil and gas arm of mining giant BHP led analysts to say the company now had a path forward.

Deal 'clears path' for Woodside

The deal would involve the merger of the two businesses in a transaction valued at $41 billion.

Crucially, Graeme Bethune from consultancy EnergyQuest said the agreement would pave the way for the planned $US12 billion Scarborough LNG development off Western Australia's north-west coast.

Doubts had been growing about whether Scarborough would go ahead given BHP owns 26.5 per cent of the project and had been tight-lipped about when or whether it would commit to a final investment decision.

Mr Bethune said the proposed new Woodside would own 100 per cent of the project and have few qualms about proceeding.

"Getting other joint venture partners across the line on major investment decisions is always tough," Mr Bethune said.

"So, certainly, Woodside having 100 per cent of Scarborough will make it much easier to go ahead with the project."

As part of the deal, Woodside will acquire what Mr Bethune said was a raft of high-performing oil and gas assets around the world including some in the Gulf of Mexico.

He said these assets were "major generators of cash" and would significantly boost Woodside's financial firepower.

However, Mr Bethune said that, while Woodside would roughly double in size thanks to the BHP deal, the window of opportunity for big new "greenfield" oil and gas developments was closing.

Scarborough 'could be last'

Provided Scarborough went ahead, Mr Bethune said, it could be the last major LNG project of its kind developed in Australia.

"The cheapest kinds of expansions in LNG are brownfield projects, either incremental expansions of existing projects and backfilling them too," he said.

"I don't think we should be in a search for brand new projects.

"I think we've got a good basis for incremental expansion of our existing projects."

Recent uncertainty about the fate of Scarborough stands in contrast to the record of the gas industry over the past 15 years, when $300 billion was spent on giant new projects around the country.

Alison George, head of research at responsible investment firm Regnan, said concerns about the oil and gas industry's carbon emissions were making it much harder for new projects to go ahead.

Ms George said such concerns might have ensnared Scarborough but the BHP merger would "clear a path" and buy Woodside "time and money" to figure out a life beyond fossil fuels.

She noted Woodside itself had identified hydrogen and ammonia as other options to pursue as the world shifted towards net-zero emissions.

A narrow route widens

"The existing fields Woodside operates were starting to decline and had an outlook of decline," Ms George said.

"So, they were really looking for what were the next assets they could develop that were going to continue to let them operate the infrastructure they have. "The pathway to that was narrower. There were fewer choices for that.

"Now, with this much more diversified asset base, there are many more opportunities."

Benefits not without risks

According to Ms George, the BHP deal clarified Woodside's position as an oil and gas "pure play" while elevating it to a league among the world's biggest producers.

Ms George noted this could make it easier for Woodside to attract money from overseas investors but there were potential downsides as well.

She said that, by becoming a major oil and gas player internationally, Woodside "may be sticking its head above the parapet" regarding its environmental performance.

"With the scale that it's bringing to Woodside, it's going to bring it to the attention of a lot of investors who may not have necessarily paid attention in the past," she said.

"It's also going to bring it to the attention of climate activists in a new way.

"So, while Woodside has certainly heard strongly from its local institutional shareholder base on the climate transition in recent years, I think this move may well make that more intense and those conversations more diverse globally."

This week, Woodside's chief executive, Meg O'Neill, said the deal — which would be paid for by issuing scrip to BHP shareholders — took account of BHP's liabilities for decommissioning declining assets in places such as Bass Strait and Western Australia.

Ms O'Neill said the fact Woodside was not assuming any debt as part of the deal also meant it would be well placed to chase "low carbon opportunities" in the future.


The public can no longer turn a blind eye to repeat youth offenders

The tragedy of turning a blind eye to youth crime is that it has allowed Labor’s soft sentencing to continue and juvenile crime to escalate out of control, writes Peter Gleeson.

Peter Gleeson

Toutai Kefu is fighting for life after a home invasion turned into a horrific stabbing at his Brisbane home.
Why is the Queensland public so apathetic and disinterested in rampant juvenile delinquency and serious youth crime?

Why are we putting up with this madness where armed teens are terrorising families in their own homes?

Or drug-addled teens are allegedly crashing cars into people out on an afternoon walk, killing them, while on bail?

Is it because we now live in a society where unless it hurts or affects you or your family, nobody gives a toss?

What a terrible indictment on the transactional - some would say selfish - nature of society today.

The tragedy of turning a blind eye to youth crime is that voters have telegraphed to Labor politicians that they are okay with hoisting the white flag up on these errant monsters.

The Palaszczuk Government deserved to lose seats in North Queensland at the last election because it allowed - through soft sentencing and idealistic judicial decisions - juvenile crime to escalate out of control.

Yet Labor won every seat in Townsville and Cairns. What that demonstrates to Labor strategists is that they don’t have to worry about juvenile crime as an election issue.

Voters don’t care. So because the Palaszczuk Government is run by the Left faction, which believes kids deserve a second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth - in some cases scores of chances - before they are put behind bars.

The kids think it’s Christmas because they can steal cars, rob people with knives, terrorise local communities, knowing that soft judges and magistrates won’t put them into detention.

Let’s not forget that Labor has ruled in this state for 26 of the past 30 years, meaning the judiciary is stacked with its lefty mates.

So the kids, through a smart lawyer, tell the magistrate that they’ve had a hard life and they give them a slap on the wrist.

The definition of a hard life right now is a former Wallaby legend named Toutai Kefu who nearly died after being stabbed during a home invasion, allegedly by a 15-year-old.

These kids need to stop playing the victim and harden up. The Labor Government will preach about how it is getting tough on these young crims, introducing stricter bail laws and even trialling GPS trackers on the youngsters to ensure police know their whereabouts.

But it’s all spin, a charade. This week, it was revealed that not one Gold Coast teenage criminal had been fitted with a GPS tracker months into a trial to tackle youth crime.

They’re not serious about youth crime, and Queensland voters, we’re the mugs for letting them get away with it.




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