Sunday, January 16, 2022

Fully Vaccinated Australians In Hospital For COVID-19 Surpass Unvaccinated

This sounds a bit alarming at first but it just reflects that the vaccinated are a much larger pool to draw from

For the first time, New South Wales (NSW) has seen more fully vaccinated patients hospitalised with COVID-19 compared to the number of unvaccinated patients as the Omicron outbreak continues to edge toward its peak.

Data published by the NSW government’s COVID-19 Critical Intelligence Unit has revealed that as of Jan. 9, 68.9 percent of COVID-19 patients aged 12 and over in hospitals had two doses of the vaccine, with 28.8 percent unvaccinated.

The number of double-dose vaccinated patients in intensive care units (ICUs) also surpassed those of the unvaccinated, with 50.3 percent of the vaccinated presenting to ICU with COVID-19, more than the 49.1 percent who are unvaccinated.

However, based on the data presented, unvaccinated individuals appear to be six times more likely to be hospitalised and nearly 13 times more likely to be sent to ICU than those who are fully vaccinated.

This is considering that the number of unvaccinated patients appears to be over-represented in the figures—7.3 percent of the NSW population aged 12 and over at the time were unvaccinated, but they made up half of the COVID-19 ICU patients in the NSW Health system. At present, Australia does not permit alternative treatments, such as ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, which are available and used in other countries.

According to NSW Health, 95.1 percent of people aged 16 and over have received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 93.7 percent have received two doses as of Jan. 11.

The rise in the proportion of hospitalisations amongst the fully vaccinated comes both amid the spread of the Omicron variant of the CCP virus in Australia, along with the loss in the efficacy of the available COVID-19 vaccines.

A spokesperson for NSW Health told The Epoch Times on Jan. 11 that Omicron had supplanted Delta as the primary variant spreading in NSW, but that it also appeared to be less dangerous than its predecessor.

“The Omicron variant is associated with a lower rate of hospitalisation and ICU admission,” the spokesperson said.

While the state recorded 32,155 cases of the virus on Jan. 9, 2,030 were hospitalised, and only 159 had been sent to ICU. As of Jan. 12, the total number of cases has jumped to 53,909, with 2,242 hospitalised and 175 in ICU.

“NSW Health urges the community to continue to practise COVID-safe behaviours to keep themselves and the community safe, including wearing a mask indoors, maintaining physical distancing, and practising hand hygiene.”

The spokesperson also reminded those eligible to receive their third booster dose of an available COVID-19 vaccine—which can now be done four months after receiving the second dose—to raise the effectiveness of immunity granted by the vaccine.

“We continue to encourage everyone who has not yet done so to get vaccinated and anyone who is now eligible for their booster dose to get it without delay. The COVID-19 vaccines available in Australia are safe and very effective at reducing the risk of serious illness and death.”

In the United States, it has been reported that 2 out of the three available COVID-19 vaccines dropped below 50 percent efficacy after six months, according to a study published in November 2021.

To combat this, NSW has mandated booster shots for all education staff, joining other states that have implemented vaccine booster requirements.

NSW is also currently working to better understand the effects of the new COVID-19 variants.

“NSW Health is prioritising the whole genome sequencing of COVID-19 for patients in ICU in order to better understand the impact of both the Delta and Omicron variants,” the spokesperson said


Is Australia weathering the climate storm?

Australia has benefited from the effects of two La Nina years, much to chagrin of catastrophists.

In a land of boom and bust, feast and famine, drought and flooding rains, it is a time of plenty. For the nation’s climate catastrophists, an inconvenient set of realities has captured the natural world. Back-to-back La Nina weather systems plunged Australia’s average temperatures in 2021 to their lowest levels in a decade.

Rains that were predicted by experts either not to come or to fall out of phase with agricultural needs have failed to heed the script. The nation’s great river systems have been recharged after a period of extended drought that some thought would never end. Dams and water catchments are full and agricultural production is at record levels. The Great Barrier Reef is tracking levels of healthy coral cover not seen for decades across its entire system, an area the size of Italy.

Scientists insist the underlying warming trend, suppressed by La Nina, is still there. But for nature lovers everywhere the present conditions reinforce a belief that nature is not broken, the natural cycles continue to operate and that resilience persists on land and at sea.

The Great Barrier Reef has become a proxy for the existential threat of climate change. But the latest results from long-term monitoring by the Australian Institute of Marine Science shows that coral growth has been recorded in all regions. Hard coral cover on the Northern Reef has risen from a low in 2017 of 13 per cent to 27 per cent last year. For the Central region, hard coral cover has risen from a low of 11 per cent in 2012 to 26 per cent. In the Southern region hard coral cover has risen from a low of 12 per cent in 2011 to 39 per cent.

According to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the AIMS report “shows that despite a decade of impacts such as marine heatwaves, the Great Barrier Reef is still a resilient ecosystem and can recover from extreme events if disturbance-free periods are long enough”. Despite the bounce-back in coral cover, the Great Barrier Reef remains subject to an international push to have it listed as a World Heritage asset in danger.

For farmers, the news is also positive.

The Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics says the value of agricultural exports in 2021 is a record high. When the final numbers are in, production is expected to have increased year on year for every major livestock commodity and almost every major crop commodity – with farmers forecast to produce the largest volume ever. ABARES executive director Dr Jared Greenville says Australia is enjoying an extraordinary combination of favourable conditions and 30-year price highs. “It would be the first time in at least half a century that production will increase for so many products at the same time,” Greenville says.

Things will change, of course. Booming vegetation fed by healthy rains will dry out once La Nina passes, intensifying the risk of bushfire. There is still a chance that elevated sea temperatures will cause problems for some areas of the Great Barrier Reef this year.

But according to the Bureau of Meteorology annual climate statement, 2021 was the coolest year in nearly a decade and wettest since 2016. By the end of 2021 – and for the first time in five years – no large parts of the country were experiencing rainfall deficits and drought conditions.

This week, Sydney’s Warragamba Dam was at 100 per cent capacity and the average across the Greater Sydney catchment is 96.9 per cent. In southeast Queensland, the Wivenhoe Dam, used for water storage and flood mitigation, is at 52 per cent but other dams in the region are full and spilling across the catchment. In Melbourne, storage levels are at 89.5 per cent.

Announcing BoM’s 2021 temperature data, climatologist Dr Simon Grainger says: “After three years of drought from 2017 to 2019, above-average rainfall last year resulted in a welcome recharge of our water storages but also some significant flooding to eastern Australia.”

In 2021, Australia’s mean temperature was 0.56C above the 1961-1990 climate reference period. It was the 19th-warmest year since national records began in 1910, but also the coolest year since 2012. Rainfall was 9 per cent above the 1961-1990 average, making 2021 the wettest year since 2016, with November the wettest on record.

Visitors to Sydney’s Bondi Beach enjoy the arrival of higher summer temperatures. Picture: NCA Newswire/Flavio Brancaleone
Visitors to Sydney’s Bondi Beach enjoy the arrival of higher summer temperatures. Picture: NCA Newswire/Flavio Brancaleone
Of course, Australia is not the world.

According to figures released by US space agency NASA on Friday, Earth’s global average surface temperature in 2021 tied with 2018 as the sixth-warmest on record. Global average temperatures in 2021 were about or about 1.1 degrees Celsius warmer than the late 19th-century average, the start of the industrial revolution.

A separate, independent analysis by US weather agency National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also concluded that the global surface temperature for 2021 was the sixth-highest since record-keeping began in 1880.

“The complexity of the various analyses doesn’t matter because the signals are so strong,” says Gavin Schmidt, director of GISS, NASA’s leading centre for climate modelling and climate change research. “The trends are all the same because the trends are so large.”

NOAA says many factors affect the average temperature in any given year, such as La Nina and El Nino climate patterns in the tropical Pacific. NASA scientists estimate the La Nina weather pattern may have cooled global temperatures by about 0.03 degrees Celsius from what the average would otherwise have been.

But at a time when the United Nations has declared “Code Red for humanity” because of climate change, on the ground there is evidence that things are not being received quite as the headlines would suggest. This has implications for green groups wanting to harness public support to push for nature. And for politicians on the hustings looking for advantage in a tightly contested federal poll.

The Australian Conservation Foundation has been testing public opinion on nature and been surprised at what it found.

Ninety-five per cent of those surveyed say it is important to preserve nature for future generations to enjoy.

This sentiment was shared across all voting groups including Liberal, National, Labor and Greens. On the question of feeling deeply connected to nature in Australia, the biggest response was among National voters on 86 per cent, higher than among Greens voters on 79 per cent. Counter to the narrative of environmental doom, respondents overwhelmingly felt the state of the environment was excellent, good or fair. Only 13 per cent thought the state of nature was poor or terrible.

Climate change was listed as a concern by 74 per cent of respondents, behind bushfires, floods and plastic waste. Cost-of-living pressures was the biggest concern for 95 per cent of respondents. Only 32 per cent could be considered “active nature protectors” or “diehard nature worriers”, with the majority “hopeful”, “detached” or “unconcerned”.

According to the report, active nature protectors and diehard nature worriers believe nature is in a fair or poor state while all other segments believe it is good or excellent.

ACF nature campaigner Jess Abrahams says green groups must learn the lessons of the climate wars and have a message other than catastrophe. He uses the cry-wolf analogy of a fire alarm that is tuned out because it never stops ringing. The findings are in line with published research that the indiscriminate use of negative appeals results in emotional burnout and a decreased likelihood of acceptance of any messages – even the important ones.

Abrahams says the survey, conducted by research group fiftyfive5, is a strategy document and represents the new approach that ACF will take.

“We need to speak to more than just the deep green and this has given us a lot of help on how to do that,” Abrahams says.

“It is a love message – tapping into people’s love of nature. People who vote Nationals report a stronger connection to nature than almost the Greens.

“A lot of people who are very sceptical about the climate debate are really knowledgeable and passionate about mangroves and fish breeding and the impacts of dredging. People in regional areas have a deep understanding of these issues.”

For campaigners, there is frustration that positive attitudes to the state of the environment do not properly reflect the full suite of research. That challenges exist will be confirmed in the upcoming State of the Environment report, due for release early this year.

But the results of the ACF research put a fresh perspective on how the major parties can approach their environmental credentials in the looming federal poll. Anthony Albanese has spent the past week on a tour of North Queensland, a vital area for the ALP given its comprehensive loss at the last election on the back of its perceived anti-coal and climate change message. This time, the message from Labor has been love of the Great Barrier Reef but support for mining as well.

Albanese says the market will decide if it was still profitable to dig coal up to burn for energy and, if that was the case, any project that clears environmental hurdles should go ahead.

Albanese told journalists he had no appetite for “these games” on coal.

“We have a positive message for Queenslanders. It’s one of regional jobs. It’s one of making sure there is secure work,” Albanese said in Cairns. “Existing power stations will continue to exist for the lifespan that’s been established. With regard to exports of resources, they’re dependent upon international markets, but they won’t be affected by our policy.”

Albanese says the ALP will “make sure that we provide support for the reef” to “make sure that it’s never ever put on that (World Heritage in Danger) list”.

The challenge for Labor is to narrow the gap between itself and the Morrison government on climate action without surrendering support in inner-city seats where it faces competition from the Greens.

The Morrison government has moved closer to the centre as well, adopting a net-zero target for 2050. The decision was taken in the lead-up to the much-hyped Glasgow climate conference and was in tune with the demands of corporations and international peers. But agreeing to a net-zero target for 2050 has given the Coalition less room to move against Labor. And despite embracing net zero, the Coalition is facing its own challenge in inner-city seats from climate independents bankrolled by businessman Simon Holmes a Court under the C200 banner.

On the hustings, concerns about supply lines and availability of rapid antigen tests are swamping the climate message.

Internationally, two months on from Glasgow, the World Economic Forum has put “climate action failure” at the top of the list in its 2022 Global Risks Report but the global politics of climate change is strained.

Glasgow ended with deep divisions between developed nations and the developing world on plans to stop the use of fossil fuels. Since then, the International Energy Agency has said global demand for coal will reach record levels in 2022 and continue to surge for at least three years.

“All evidence indicates a widening gap between political ambitions and targets on one side and the realities of the current energy system on the other,” the IEA says.

“This disconnect has two clear implications: climate targets are getting further out of reach, and energy security is at risk.”

Increased coal use is being driven primarily by China and India but it is also rising in Europe, Britain and the United States. Rising prices for gas have at least temporarily ended a trend of switching from coal to gas for power generation.

Faced with a shortage of energy partly due to the intermittency of wind generation, the European Union is preparing to approve gas and nuclear energy as “green” fuels, outraging environment groups.

But politicians everywhere are starting to feel the heat of rising energy costs.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who led the push against coal in Glasgow, is being warned the energy crisis represents a threat to his government.

Climate scientists rightly insist that the La Nina cycle, which has cooled temperatures across the globe, does not undermine the longer warming trend.

But the reverse is also true. Peaks in temperature and heightened bushfires that coincide with the El Nino phase must also be considered outliers rather than the norm.

US climate scientist Judith Curry says the latest IPCC report is less alarmist on future warming, discounting extreme scenarios and reducing the best estimate sensitivity of climate to rising levels of CO2.

The big unknown, Curry says, is the future impact of natural climate variability.

“It looks like all the modes of natural climate variability are tilted towards cooling over the next three decades,” Curry says in an interview published on her website.

“It looks like we’re heading towards a solar minimum. Any volcanic eruptions by definition are negative. And we expect the Atlantic multidecadal oscillation to shift to the cold phase on the timescale of about a decade.

“So all of these modes of natural variability point to cooling in the coming decades. This buys us decades to figure out what we should do.”

But despite lower average temperatures in 2021, NASA says there is no less cause for alarm.

“Science leaves no room for doubt: Climate change is the existential threat of our time,” says NASA administrator Bill Nelson. “Eight of the top 10 warmest years on our planet occurred in the last decade, an indisputable fact that underscores the need for bold action to safeguard the future of our country – and all of humanity.”

NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt told the Associated Press the long-term trend is “very, very clear. And it’s because of us. And it’s not going to go away until we stop increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere”.

But Curry says a sustained cooling would force people to reconsider. “If I’m right about natural variability having sort of a cooling effect in the coming decades, this will be the one piece of evidence that people will have to pay attention to,” she says.

“If that transpires, I would say that would be the single most effective thing at bringing this dialogue back to some level of rationality, but how much confidence do I have in that prediction? How much money am I going to bet on that?

“I don’t know, but it’s a very plausible scenario that natural variability will lead to cooling in the coming decades, or at least slow down the warming.

“On the current path, we are not managing this risk in a sensible way that would leave our countries stronger and less vulnerable to whatever may transpire in the future.


Covid-19: The kids are not all right

As schooling systems struggle to manage head-spinning changes to Covid-19 rules, many parents are despairing over possible delays to classrooms reopening. Already Queensland has postponed the start of term one for a fortnight, and South Australia is staggering the return to school for various year levels.

Open-air classrooms on verandas or under trees, air filters, rapid testing and hybrid models of classrooms and remote learning are the most likely scenarios as education departments rush to rewrite the school rules to deal with the wildfire Omicron outbreak.

Despite the eagerness to resume children’s education, many families are reluctant to send kids to school at the peak of a pandemic they have been conditioned to fear.

The Parenthood, an advocacy group for Australian parents, says the changing rules are confusing and distressing for families.

“Parents are unsure of what to do and children are asking lots of questions,’’ The Parenthood executive director Georgie Dent tells Inquirer.

“Many parents are really concerned about children being back in the classroom at the peak of the outbreak, while others are concerned about the mental health impact and do want their kids go back to school.

“Before Christmas hundreds of cases in a single day were of really serious concern and now we’ve ballooned to 100,000 cases a day and (politicians) are saying that’s OK – that’s a really big leap.’’

Teachers, burnt out by two years of on-off remote teaching, are threatening classroom boycotts unless governments do more to protect them in their workplace.

Scott Morrison invoked the wrath of teacher unions when he revealed on Thursday that national cabinet had exempted teachers and childcare workers from close contact isolation requirements.

Promising a more detailed back-to-school plan next week, he hinted that teachers would be given access to free rapid antigen (RAT) tests for regular surveillance testing of Covid-19.

Morrison warned that school closures would worsen the 10 per cent workforce absenteeism rate to 15 per cent, as parents would be forced to stay home to look after children.

“Schools open means shops open,’’ Morrison declared after the national cabinet meeting. “Schools open means hospitals are open. It means aged-care facilities are open. It means essential services and groceries are on the shelves.

“Childcare and schools are essential and should be the first to open and last to close where possible.’’

With 500 childcare centres closed this week due to Omicron outbreaks, the prognosis looks bleak for a seamless return to school at the end of the month. Only 6 per cent of primary school students have had their first dose of Covid-19 vaccines, although 75 per cent of high school students are double-jabbed.

Australian Education Union (AEU) president Correna Haythorpe is furious that teachers are being treated like “babysitters’’ so other parents can go to work.

“The vast majority of children will not be vaccinated for the return to school and that is of deep concern to our members because Omicron is highly transmissible,’’ she tells Inquirer.

“A two-week delay may not be long enough, and some states may have to shift to remote learning.’’

The union is urging teachers to stay home if they don’t feel safe working in classrooms.

“We will be saying to members that if you feel unsafe or uncertain or worried you are potentially putting other people at risk, you should not be going into a school environment,’’ she says.

“You should still be paid. If you are a close contact but not ill, you can work remotely. It’s not industrial action – members have sick leave and so on they can access.’’

The union’s advice flies in the face of national cabinet’s decision to lump teachers in with other essential workers who can continue working even if a household member is sick with Covid-19, provided they have no symptoms and a negative test.

Haythorpe says teachers should have access to free rapid tests, which are now even harder to find than masks were at the start of the pandemic.

“Teachers have worked so hard to provide education, whether remote or face-to-face, to put the students first,’’ she says.

“To be told the reason schools need to be open is for workforce considerations, rather than prioritising the education of our young people safely, is deeply offensive.

“You can’t on the one hand say teachers are essential and must go to work, and on the other hand not provide them with the essential tools that are needed to ensure their safety and the safety of students in their care.’’

National cabinet is working on the fine details of a back-to-school operational plan to cover potential school closures, infection control, mask wearing and surveillance testing for Covid-19.

Under the plan, schools and childcare centres are deemed to be essential “and should be the first to open and the last to close wherever possible in outbreak situations, with face-to-face learning prioritised’’.

State leaders have agreed that “no vulnerable child or child of an essential worker is turned away’’ from classrooms, implying that even if schools shut down, a skeleton teaching staff will be required to supervise children onsite.

As always, the states are going their own way: Victoria and NSW are adamant that schools will open on schedule but Queensland has postponed term one by two weeks, with Year 11 and 12 students starting remote learning a week before other kids head back to class.

South Australia is staggering return dates for different year levels, and is “looking closely’’ at the use of air purifiers in schools as it works to improve natural ventilation in classrooms.

A NSW Education spokesperson says that schools will be “made Covid-19 safe through a combination of physical distancing, mask wearing, strict hygiene practices and frequent cleaning of schools’.’ Rapid antigen test kits will also be used.


International students allowed to work more hours to help ease COVID worker shortage

Foreign students will be allowed to pick up more hours to help alleviate worker shortages as more people are forced into isolation due to Australia's Omicron COVID-19 outbreak.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the federal government will remove the 40-hour-a-fortnight cap on student visa-holder workers, meaning they will no longer have restrictions on the amount of hours they can work.

Forty-hour work limits on international student visa-holders were lifted for people in the tourism and hospitality industry in May last year.

Mr Morrison encouraged international students to return to Australia, and backpackers are also allowed into the country under working holidays visas, on the condition they are fully vaccinated.

There have been worker shortages in the food distribution and manufacturing industries recently because a large number of workers have had to isolate due to a surge of coronavirus cases.

Australasian Convenience and Petroleum Marketers Association (ACAPMA) CEO Mark McKenzie told the ABC the decision was welcome news for petrol-station owners.

"The extension of visa hours would provide a major relief in a pressure point we currently have in our workforce," Mr McKenzie said.




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