Floods inundate eastern states

Millions of people have been ordered to stay home today, as intense rain and flooding linked to climate change drenches south-east Queensland and northern NSW.

What we know:

  • At least seven people have died in Queensland as areas of the south east experience their worst flooding in more than a decade (Nine); 
  • South-east Queensland schools will be closed on Monday, public transport services cancelled and residents urged to work from home (Brisbane Times); 
  • Flooding of the Brisbane River reached 3.5m on Sunday, and during today’s high tide at around 8am could reach 4m after more than 400mm of rainfall was recorded in a day (Courier Mail $);  
  • Water levels in Wivenhoe Dam have reached 180% of capacity, triggering fears of a repeat of the 2011 floods (ABC); 
  • Defence minister and Queensland MP Peter Dutton set up a GoFundMe page for flood victims, prompting critics to ask: “isn’t this the role of government?” (The Guardian); 
  • In northern NSW evacuation orders have been issued for areas including South Murwillumbah, Kyogle and parts of Lismore (ABC); 
  • Lismore’s flooding was expected to smash all-time records overnight, with flood levels to peak at 13.5m;
  • A search for a Lismore man believed to be missing in floodwaters will resume this morning;
  • A weather system known as “atmospheric rivers” is causing the floods, and is more likely because of climate change (The Conversation). 
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Russia on nuclear high alert

President Vladimir Putin has put Russia’s nuclear deterrent on high alert, as Ukrainian officials meet their Russian counterparts for talks.

What we know:

  • Putin ordered Russian nuclear forces on “high alert” in response to what he described as aggressive statements by NATO leaders and economic sanctions imposed on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine (AP); 
  • A senior US defence official said the move could potentially “make things much, much more dangerous”;
  • A Ukrainian delegation will meet with Russian officials for talks at the Belarus border (Reuters); 
  • Ukrainian forces have so far prevented Russia from seizing any major population centres, with intense fighting around Kyiv and Kharkiv;
  • The EU decided for the first time in its history to supply weapons to a country at war, while Germany will boost defence spending;
  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday pledged Australia will work with NATO to deliver weapons to Ukraine (ABC); 
  • Australia will also consider taking in additional Ukrainian refugees on top of its existing annual humanitarian allocation (SMH); 
  • Nearly 400,000 Ukrainian civilians, mainly women and children, have fled into neighbouring countries;
  • Fake viral footage about the war is spreading on social media, with users urged to verify sources before sharing (The Conversation). 
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NSW Covid hospital numbers falling

Australia recorded a further 27 deaths of people with Covid-19 on Sunday, as NSW hospital patient numbers continue to drop.

Around the country:

  • NSW recorded seven deaths and 6014 new infections, with 58 people in intensive care and 1146 patients in hospital – fewer than half the number this time last month (SBS); 
  • Victoria recorded 17 deaths and 5052 new cases, with 274 people in hospital and 38 in ICU;
  • Queensland recorded one death and 3571 new cases, SA two deaths and 1467 new cases, and WA 1027 new cases;
  • The ACT reported 495 new infections and the NT had 368 new cases.
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Palmer sick with Covid, pneumonia

Unvaccinated billionaire Clive Palmer has tested positive to Covid and is also being treated for pneumonia.

Palmer began developing symptoms on Monday, prompting him to cancel his National Press Club speech in Canberra (Canberra Times). 

The United Australia Party head was rushed to hospital on Thursday after becoming increasingly sick over the previous two days, but has returned home where he remains unwell (The Australian $). 

Palmer has repeatedly questioned the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, and his political party is campaigning against Covid-19 restrictions and vaccine mandates (Daily Beast). 

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Australia-based Kiwis fly home

New Zealand has begun to reopen its international border, allowing its fully vaccinated citizens and permanent residents in Australia to return.

Five flights carrying 910 passengers will cross the Tasman today, with passengers to isolate at home for seven days and undergo two rapid antigen tests – although the requirement to isolate at home is under debate (stuff.co.nz). 

There are more than 500,000 New Zealanders based in Australia, many of whom have been separated from friends and family at home for years (7News).

Vaccinated citizens from elsewhere will be allowed in from March 13, while Australians are expected to be able to enter the country no later than July.

All international tourists are set to be allowed in from October.

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The last thing we want to see is people go without food or not have the access to food that they need. That’s one of the really, really sad ramifications of higher prices.

GrainGrowers chair Brett Hosking notes that although Australian farmers are expected to profit from the Ukraine crisis pushing grain prices up by 50%, it’s hardly news to celebrate (The Age).

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Postscript: Zelenskyy’s unlikely journey, from comedy to wartime leader

He found a new home in movie acting and comedy — rocketing in the 2010s to become one of Ukraine’s top entertainers with the TV series “Servant of the People”. In it, he portrayed a lovable high school teacher fed up with corrupt politicians who accidentally becomes president. Fast forward just a few years, and Zelenskyy is the president of Ukraine for real (AP).

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