Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Calls for calm as it's revealed ZERO patients with Omicron have been admitted to ICU in Australia

Not a single Covid patient in Australia's ICU wards has the Omicron variant even a month after the mutant strain arrived on our shores.

Panic is setting in across the country as cases rise at an astronomical rate, worst in NSW which had a record 3,057 new infections on Tuesday.

But Health Minister Greg Hunt downplayed the seriousness of the latest Covid outbreak, insisting 'you are less likely to go to hospital with Omicron and you are less likely to lose your life with Omicron'.

'But having said that, the best protection is to be vaccinated. And if you are eligible and due for your booster, now's the time to come forward.'

A national cabinet meeting on Wednesday between state and federal leaders is set to map out the festive season for Australia, with NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet pushing to reduce booster wait times from five months to four.

There are 37 Aussies who have been hospitalised with Omicron, but none have yet been admitted to ICU, something experts say is thanks to high vaccination rates.

Mr Perrottet wants Australians to be able to get third third shot four months after their second after health advice it protects against to new variant.


Melbourne researchers have turned one of the world's most-used drugs into a nasal spray which they hope could prevent COVID-19 transmission

Northern Health medical divisional director Don Campbell said he had a "crazy idea" that the blood-thinning drug heparin could stop the virus growing in cells.

But it wasn't until his wife asked "well, what are you going to do about it?" that he got to work.

Nearly two years later, with the help of researchers at Melbourne, Monash and Oxford Universities, his team has been able to replicate international findings that heparin can block the transmission of COVID-19 and prevent infection.

The spray coats the nose but does not go down into the lungs. The researchers say it is cheap, easy to distribute and is expected to be effective against mutant strains of the virus including the Omicron variant.

"It won't matter if a new variant comes along, this drug will block that protein from infecting the cells," Professor Campbell said.

"I'm very confident that we can demonstrate that it will work, and people will be using this before they go to the shops and before they go to school."

Household contacts to be part of trial

The treatment has received $4.2 million from the Victorian government to undergo clinical trials.

Over the next six months, 340 Victorian households will be given the heparin nasal spray or a placebo, within hours of their household contact testing positive, to reduce transmission.

"The treatment will be given to household family contacts of the persons who get COVID, and we will also give it to the person who is infected," Professor Campbell said.

"We want to get to them within 24 hours of the diagnosis being known and we are confident we can do that."

Heparin is the second most-widely used drug on earth and is stable at room temperature for more than three months, meaning it can be widely distributed.

Director of the Lung Health Research Centre at the University of Melbourne, Gary Anderson, said the spray would be easy to use — two puffs each nostril, three times a day.

Professor Anderson is excited about the science behind the treatment, describing it as "cool".

"When [COVID] first gets into the nose it binds to a molecule called heparan and if it mutates that binding site it can't bind," he said.

"Heparin is so close in structure to heparan that it binds on and paralyses the virus, so it stops it infecting and also stops it spreading to others."

"One of the wonderful things about heparin is it is already available on the market as an approved product for another purpose, it doesn't require refrigeration and can be stored in plastic vials so it can be distributed very widely and effectively," Professor McIntosh said.

"We are not proposing this as an alternative to a vaccination, it is a supplement for people who can't be vaccinated, but we do imagine it will be very widely used."

The nasal spray treatment is one of seven local coronavirus treatment research projects that will share in $13 million of funding from the Victorian government.

Victorian Medical Research Minister Jaala Pulford said it's hoped the heparin nasal spray can be manufactured locally.

"Coronavirus is not going away any time soon and our amazing researchers are doing work that stands to make a real difference," Ms Pulford said.

"These projects will benefit not just Victorians but people around the world."


Tasmanian mother offered zoo pass after disclosing daughter's allegations of sexual abuse to school

A single mother whose daughter was allegedly sexually abused by an older boy on school grounds was offered a year-long family pass to a zoo by the school.

The abuse is alleged to have happened last year in a school building and in the family's driveway, and was occasionally witnessed by the woman's son.

Both the daughter and the son have intellectual disabilities.

Elaine — whose real name cannot be used to protect the children involved — said the response from the Education Department since the alleged abuse was disclosed earlier this year had left her in "absolute disbelief".

She is facing homelessness in four weeks as she struggles to secure a new property for a fresh start.

"[My children are] checking locks, they're in my bed every night having night terrors," Elaine said. "They're asking me where they're moving and where they'll go to school and I can't give them an answer because I don't know."

Elaine's daughter, who the ABC will call Rose, disclosed the alleged abuse in July this year, telling her mum it happened over several months when she was seven.

Elaine contacted the school, police and family paediatrician, and waited about 10 days to hear from an Education Department representative.

She said police told her the boy's parents were refusing to allow him to be interviewed, meaning the case was unlikely to proceed.

Within a month, the boy returned to school, while her children were placed in online learning and offered a pass to ZooDoo.

Tasmania's Education Department has spent decades ignoring students, shielding abusers and seeking to protect itself from legal, financial and reputational risks, an independent inquiry finds.

Elaine said the professional supports offered did not cut it and was worried the boy had perpetrated abuse against other children.

"I respect they have [child protection organisation] Bravehearts to encourage children to speak up but when they speak up nothing is being done," she said.

"It's automatic damage control … I was warned the Department of Education's go-to tactic was to gaslight, but I've been in absolute disbelief."

A review into sexual abuse in public schools, commissioned by the state government and released earlier this year, found student-on-student abuse was "significantly more prevalent" than adult-on-student abuse.

However, according to professors Stephen Smallbone and Tim McCormack, most policies focused on prohibiting sexual abuse perpetrated by school employees.

"In one sense this disparity of treatment is both understandable and appropriate," the report said.

"The problem with the disparity of course is that principals and other staff have little guidance on how to respond to allegations of peer sexual abuse."

Police closed Rose's file without laying charges.

In a statement, Tasmania Police Assistant Commissioner Jonathan Higgins said the force had teams of detectives dedicated to investigating sexual assault.

"When dealing with alleged child offenders for any crime, investigators are bound by legislation regarding criminal responsibility," he said.


New gas-fired plant for the Hunter Valley gets state approval

A controversial $600 million gas power plant proposed for Kurri Kurri in the Hunter Valley has won NSW government planning approval despite its critics saying it is unneeded and will increase the state’s emissions.

The development is being funded by the federal government and comes after Energy and Emission Reductions Minister Angus Taylor called on the private sector to provide an extra 1000 MWh of power capacity to protect against price rises when the Liddell power plant closes in 2023.

On Monday evening the state government confirmed it had secured approval, after the planning department earlier issued and then withdrew statements saying it had been approved.

A spokesperson for the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment said the application was approved following rigorous assessment and consideration of community feedback.

“This project will improve energy reliability and security in the National Energy Market as it brings on renewable energy from wind and solar farms, and transitions away from coal-fired power generation over the next 10-15 years,” the spokesperson said.

“The project will provide on-demand energy when the grid needs it and will only operate on average two per cent over a year.”

Critics and some energy analysts say the 660MW it will contribute to the network is unnecessary given the amount of new renewable energy capacity being brought online.

“If it was necessary, the market would have called for it, but it didn’t,” Tony Wood, head of the energy program at the Grattan Institute think tank said. “That is why it is being publicly funded.”

Earlier this month NSW Energy Minister Matt Kean, who has developed a policy based on replacing fossil energy with renewable, also voiced scepticism about the project.

“If the federal government wants to invest in the industries of the past, good luck to them. I’m not going to knock back half a billion dollars worth of Commonwealth funding,” he was reported as saying by the Cessnock Advertiser.

The plant will be owned and run by the federal government’s power company Snowy Hydro.

Earlier this year, then-chairwoman of the Energy Security Board, Dr Kerry Schott, told the Guardian the plant was unlikely to hold prices down because there were cheaper alternative energy sources and the private sector won’t build it. “Because it doesn’t stack up”, she said.

Nic Clyde, the NSW spokesman of the Lock the Gate Alliance, which campaigns against the expansion of the gas and coal industry said the project was a “$610 million white elephant that will waste scarce public funding that is desperately needed elsewhere, and that will drive up energy prices, not bring them down”.

After final federal government approval, construction is expected to begin in early 2022 with the plant to be up and running in mid-2023, ahead of the closure of the Liddell power station.




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