WA abandons reopening plan

Western Australia’s borders will remain closed indefinitely, after Premier Mark McGowan abandoned his plan to reopen in a late night press conference.

What we know:

  • McGowan said the “game changer” of Omicron wreaking havoc interstate had forced him to delay the planned February 5 reopening, which was based on the Delta variant of Covid-19 (ABC); 
  • “If we proceeded with the original plan, we would be deliberately ceding thousands upon thousands of Covid cases into WA and at this point in time that is not what I am going to do,” McGowan said;
  • McGowan said the state needed to reach a third dose booster vaccination rate of “at least 80%, perhaps 90%”;
  • WA’s third dose vaccination rate is now at 25.8% for over 16s;
  • The state’s slow vaccine rollout and delayed reopening means immunity is waning for many double-vaccinated Western Australians, raising the question of whether boosters will also wane by the time targets are reached (WA Today); 
  • The list of people exempt from the hard border will be expanded, with a focus on compassionate reasons, but they will still have to isolate for 14 days;
  • About 6000 passengers were due to arrive at Perth Airport on February 5, with up to 80,000 interstate and international passengers expected in the first two weeks (The West Australian); 
  • WA’s AMA president Dr Mark Duncan-Smith said delaying the re-opening was “a gutsy call” but national president Dr Omar Khorshid said McGowan was a “one-trick pony” on managing Covid.
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Djokovic’s anti-vax stance sealed fate

The Federal Court has revealed the reasons why it rejected Novak Djokovic’s appeal of his deportation, as the tennis star considers suing the Australian government.

What we know:

  • The Federal Court revealed on Thursday it found Immigration Minister Alex Hawke's decision to cancel Djokovic’s visa was not irrational or illogical (ABC); 
  • Hawke’s concern that the support of anti-vaccination groups for the unvaccinated world No.1 may encourage protests was rational, the court found;
  • “An iconic world tennis star may influence people of all ages, young or old, but perhaps especially the young and the impressionable, to emulate him,” the court said;
  • It comes as Djokovic is reportedly weighing up whether to sue Australia for more than $6m – a figure that includes the prizemoney he expected to collect by winning the Australian Open for a 10th time (Fox Sports); 
  • It has also been revealed that Djokovic holds a majority stake in a Danish biotech firm aiming to develop a treatment to counter Covid-19 (Reuters).
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TGA approves Novavax vaccine

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has granted provisional approval for the Novavax Covid-19 vaccine.

What we know:

  • The approval covers the use of Novavax as a vaccine for adults, but it is not yet approved for children or as a booster (NewsGP); 
  • Novavax has also been approved in India, the EU, Indonesia and the Philippines;
  • The first shipment of the vaccine is due to arrive next month from India, although the number of doses has not been revealed;
  • It is hoped unvaccinated Australians reluctant to use the mRNA vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna will come forward for Novavax, which is a traditional protein-based vaccine;
  • More than half of doctors in a poll last year reported daily inquiries from patients saying they were “waiting for Novavax”;
  • A clinical trial from December 2020 to February 2021 achieved 90.4% efficacy in preventing Covid-19 infection;
  • The antiviral treatments Lagevrio and Paxlovid were also approved as the first oral treatments for Covid-19 (SBS). 
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ANZAC aid flights land in Tonga

The first aid flights have reached Tonga from New Zealand and Australia, five days after a devastating volcanic eruption and tsunami.

The planes, laden with water, temporary shelter kits and electricity generators, landed at Tonga’s main airport after hundreds of volunteers used wheelbarrows to help clear ash from the runway (BBC). 

Tongan journalist Marian Kupu said the thickness of the ashfall made clearing the runway difficult, and posed a possible health threat to the volunteers, who were “mainly young boys”.

Australian and New Zealand authorities have confirmed that the aid drops will be contactless, to prevent the risk of Covid spreading to the virus-free island.

“The aircraft is expected to be on the ground for up to 90 minutes before returning to New Zealand,” said New Zealand’s Defence Minister Peeni Henare.

No personnel will disembark from Australian planes.

A New Zealand naval ship is also due to arrive in Tonga shortly with more than 250,000 litres of fresh water and desalination equipment, as locals grapple with critical water shortages.

With undersea cables damaged, communication with Tonga remains limited.

Aerial images taken by the New Zealand Air Force, meanwhile, indicate that several villages have been wiped out on islands that have yet to be reached.

One Tongan had to swim for 28 hours after getting swept out to sea during the tsunami (Nine). 

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Beijing warns Olympians to keep quiet

The Beijing Olympic Committee has warned that athletes who protest at the upcoming Winter Olympics face “certain punishment”.

Senior official Yang Shu said “the politicisation of sports is one of the things opposed by the Olympic Charter” and that “dedicated departments” would establish if any protests violated Chinese laws or the Olympic spirit (SMH). 

Ahead of the Tokyo Games last year the International Olympic Committee amended its charter to allow athletes to express their views before the start of competition, on the field of play and at press conferences.

An app that all participants must download includes a list of keywords – such as Tiananmen Square massacre, Xinjiang and Tibet – that triggers surveillance, and a feature that allows users to report “politically sensitive” content.

It comes as a number of countries join a limited boycott of the Beijing Games, in which officials won’t go but athletes will (Politico). 

The countries include the US, Australia, UK, Canada, Belgium and Lithuania.

Other countries say they won’t send officials due to Covid concerns, including New Zealand, Austria and Sweden.

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Sometimes the greatest enticement to people is to say: ‘don’t go there’.

As the Omicron wave prompts foreign countries to issue travel warnings for Australia, Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce says it is all part of the plan to lure over backpackers using the power of reverse psychology (ABC).

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Postscript: ‘Unpalletable’: Scott Morrison hits reverse on plan to allow under-18s to drive forklifts

Scott Morrison has abandoned a proposal to allow children to drive forklifts after it was rejected by states and territories and criticised as a dangerous “brain fart” by unions ... the prime minister took the idea to Thursday’s national cabinet meeting with state and territory leaders, as part of a package of measures to tackle staff shortages caused by the Omicron wave crippling supply chains (The Guardian).

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Max Opray is Schwartz Media’s morning editor and a freelance writer.