Thursday, April 30, 2020

Finkel urges drug trial prudence

Australia’s chief scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, has cautioned against claims of sudden cures for COVID-19, as results from preliminary drug trials dominate media headlines. Finkel issued the warning on Wednesday at the launch of the Rapid Research Information Forum, which will provide advice on the virus to the federal government. He told Guardian Australia that while open sharing of data is important, “with openness comes the need for the public to understand that the answers are not simple and that understanding is achieved through the weight of evidence from multiple trials.” In a recent University of Queensland pre-clinical test for a potential vaccine, media reports did not mention the testing was done in cell cultures from animals. On Wednesday the World Health Organization said it was too early to judge a preliminary trial of an experimental drug that hastened recovery times, a result that led to a United States stock market surge. The news comes as a report from the Australian Institute of Criminology found reputed cures for the virus, including blood that allegedly belonged to recovered coronavirus patients, are being sold on the dark web.

A western Sydney aged care home recorded its 12th COVID-19 death on Wednesday, with the operator expecting more fatalities in coming days. The facility has been turned into a “pseudo” hospital, with 20 registered nurses, 25 carers, 11 cleaners and a GP working to help residents, although families have criticised a lack of communication from the operator, Anglicare. It comes as Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday highlighted the low number of infections – less than 1 per cent of Australia’s total – in residential aged care to put pressure on facilities to let family members visit. Operators are lobbying for a $1 billion-plus federal rescue package in exchange for any lifting of restrictions, taking out a full-page advertisement in today’s Sydney Morning Herald and The Age calling for “a national approach for visits in aged care homes that respects the need for strong infection control, balanced with [residents'] needs ... for social and emotional supports.” 

The United Kingdom’s COVID-19 death toll has spiked to 26,097 after fatalities outside hospitals were included in official figures for the first time, such as deaths that occurred in aged care homes. The expanded criteria means the toll included 3811 deaths not previously counted. With 765 new deaths registered in the 24 hours to 5pm on Tuesday, the United Kingdom now has the third highest coronavirus death toll in the world after the US and Italy.

The Northern Territory government has announced more restrictions will be relaxed from midday on Friday. Rules limiting the number of attendees at outdoor weddings and funerals will be lifted, and playgrounds will also be opened. The news comes after an earlier announcement that parks and reserves will be reopened. Details about the easing of other restrictions will be revealed by Chief Minister Michael Gunner today, including information about when businesses will be able to return to normal operations.


“While the class of 2020 will graduate, their finish line looks like no other year in modern memory. And teachers across Australia, faced with preparing year 12 students for the vagaries of assessments and examinations in the middle of a deadly pandemic, know their students will absorb these conditions unequally.”


“Trust us, Scott Morrison and Greg Hunt are saying: this time we’ll do the right thing and only use your data for the single purpose for which it was intended. And we’ll store it securely. We won’t use it to prosecute or breach or cut anyone off anything ... It won’t be like Robodebt or co-payments or rebate freezes or metadata collection or My Health records or the national census or mutual obligation or any of those other times we flagrantly breached your trust. If enough of you download COVIDSafe, everyone – maybe even the freeloaders – gets rewarded with fewer restrictions. It’ll be wonderful!”


“The initial inspiration for Hearts and Bones was a photograph taken by a French photojournalist in Côte d’Ivoire in the early 2000s of a group of soldiers surrounding a man down on his knees, with a gun pointed at his head. The man had a look of sheer terror, says Lawrence, who saw the image at a World Press Photo exhibition in Sydney and began thinking about creating a photojournalist character for a screenplay.”


“An independent scientific panel commissioned by the Queensland government recommended a ban on fracking in the environmentally sensitive Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre basin, but the experts’ findings were made secret by the state … After approaching the government to seek a response, Guardian Australia was subsequently contacted unsolicited by the gas industry lobby, which stated it was aware of the story and offered to provide a comment.”


“Billionaire miner Andrew Forrest has been accused of ambushing the Australian government after he parachuted one of China’s top diplomats into an official event, blindsiding Health Minister Greg Hunt. Mr Forrest, the Fortescue chairman, surprised Mr Hunt by inviting Victorian China Consul-General Zhou Long to speak alongside him … Mr Zhou used the opportunity to repudiate the Australian government’s criticisms and praise China's handling of the virus.”


“Parents have taken to naming newborns after the coronavirus, apparently unperturbed by the prospect of their children being forever associated with a deadly pandemic. When Colline Tabesa gave birth to a healthy baby girl in the central Philippine city of Bacolod on April 13, she and the father John Tupas decided to mark the occasion with a show of gratitude ... And so, Covid Marie it was.”

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