Covid-19 vaccinations may begin in Australia as early as February, according to The Daily Telegraph, with the Pfizer shot to be offered under the first general approval (non-emergency) in the world. The paper is reporting a “more ambitious schedule”, claiming the rollout has been brought forward by two weeks, though there has been no official date announced. Business leaders, medical experts, the opposition and now Malcolm Turnbull are calling for vaccinations to begin as soon as possible, with new concerns that a delay could cost us the opportunity to achieve herd immunity if a more contagious strain gets into the community – highly probable according to epidemiologists. Turnbull, who retweeted the herd immunity argument from leading infectious diseases expert Raina MacIntyre, told The New Daily he would “encourage the government to respond to it”.
Pressure is mounting for Prime Minister Scott Morrison to ask the United States to pardon Julian Assange, despite government sources yesterday saying the PM had no intention of raising the matter with either Donald Trump or Joe Biden. The Nine papers have today published an editorial calling on Morrison to do so, along with a similar opinion piece from independent senator Rex Patrick, urging the PM to “change his mind” for both humanitarian and diplomatic reasons. Others calling for the pardon yesterday include opposition legal affairs spokesman Mark Dreyfus, independent MP Andrew Wilkie, and Nationals MP George Christensen (who, bizarrely, referred to the “deep state” in his reasoning). Speaking on radio yesterday, Morrison said Assange would be free to return to Australia if the extradition appeal fails, but his lawyers told news.com.au that this was not enough, with fears the US would begin attempts to extradite him from here.
The World Health Organization says China is preventing access to Wuhan, with the officials charged with investigating the origins of the pandemic refused entry to the country. Two members of the investigative team were not given visa clearances, despite China’s agreement in advance, with one sent home and the other waiting in a third country until entry is granted. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he had been in contact with senior Chinese officials, but it was not clear when they would be permitted entry. More Chinese intrigue closer to home, Liberal MP Gladys Liu and Education Minister Alan Tudge (then immigration minister) have been named in search warrants as the targets of a foreign interference plot, The Australian reports. The search warrants were made out for Melbourne community leader Di Sanh Duong, the first person charged under new foreign interference laws. Neither Tudge nor Liu are accused of any wrongdoing.
A new emergency warning is in place for a bushfire burning north of Perth, as three major fires continue to burn in WA. The “out of control and unpredictable” bushfire in Red Gully, about 100km north of Perth, has so far burnt through more than 9000 hectares of land, threatening lives and homes. Ocean Farms Estate residents have been urged to evacuate if possible, with residents told their homes will be impacted “imminently”. More than 200 volunteer and career firefighters are battling the blaze, which ignited on Saturday morning in the Shire of Gingin. Emergency warnings have also been issued for blazes at Beechina, east of Perth, and Wonthella in Geraldton.