Monday, February 22, 2021

Australia begins vaccine rollout

Australia’s nationwide vaccine rollout begins today, with hotel quarantine workers, frontline healthcare staff and aged care residents among those first in line for the jab. Health Minister Greg Hunt promised “more than 60,000 doses in 240 aged care centres, and 190 towns and suburbs” administered by the end of the week. The rollout begins with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine given to initial priority groups. More groups will begin to get the AstraZeneca vaccine in March, including people aged over 70, Defence Force personnel and police, and the disabled and vulnerable. The vaccines will be offered for free, with recipients needing two doses several weeks apart. A handful of people – including a World War II survivor and Prime Minister Scott Morrison – received the first shots of the Pfizer vaccination on Sunday. 

A third woman has alleged she was sexually assaulted by the same former government adviser accused of the 2019 rape of Brittany Higgins in Parliament House. The 2016 Coalition election campaign volunteer alleged she was assaulted after a night drinking with the man. The woman said the then staffer plied her with strong drinks and then took her to his hotel room where she passed out and was allegedly assaulted. The woman “was barely out of school”, reports The Australian. “Hearing Brittany Higgins’ story, it was so eerily similar, it made me think this person has a pattern of behaviour,” she told the paper. It comes as Brittany Higgins is expected to formally lodge a police report about her alleged sexual assault on Wednesday. Over the weekend, Prime Minister Scott Morrison continued to be questioned over when he knew about the incident. He has endorsed an external complaints process for parliamentarians and their staff.

The number of young Australians with disabilities surviving on below-the-poverty-line welfare benefits has increased by more than 300 per cent over the past decade, reports Guardian Australia. Mary Sayers, the Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA) chief executive, said the figures had “exploded” for reasons including that governments had tightened access to the disability support pension, which is paid at a higher rate. There was a 372.8 per cent increase among jobseekers aged between 20 and 25 with a partial capacity to work, up from 5308 in 2009 to 25,096 in 2020. CYDA is calling for a permanent boost to income support payments.

Tens of thousands of people continued to demonstrate in Myanmar on Sunday to denounce the military coup, coming out again after security forces fired on protesters and killed two the day before. The military has been unable to quell the demonstrations and a civil disobedience campaign of strikes against the coup and the detention of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, even with a promise of new elections and stern warnings against dissent. In Myitkyina, in the north, people laid flowers for the dead protesters.

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“At some point – in the moment between getting up from the bed and sitting down on the cold tiles – the woman in the bed and the woman watching merge. I am convinced I am not a human being. I know I exist in a living, breathing body. But I know that even if the body lives and breathes, there has still been a death. The woman who had been quietly and calmly home alone that night is gone. There is the person, ‘Dhanya before she thought she would die’, and the body, ‘Dhanya after she thought she would die’.”

“After many restaurants were forced to close or move to takeaway-only during the state’s 112-day lockdown in 2020, Valentine’s Day, Lunar New Year and extra crowds from the Australian Open were set to make Saturday and Sunday some of the biggest trading days since the pandemic began. Fridges were full of extra produce for booked-out dining sessions, but restaurateurs were instead greeted with the news they would have to pivot to takeaway-only trading again, as the state entered its third lockdown since the pandemic began. Conservative estimates have put the loss for Melbourne restaurants at $100 million.”

“Bridget McKenzie says the Nationals are ‘very, very keen to make a positive, progressive contribution to the energy and emissions debate’. All the evidence to hand suggests this is not true … When Barnaby Joyce stands up in parliament and calls for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to be allowed to invest in coal, he isn’t speaking to regional Australia. As much as he wants to pretend this is about regional Australia.”

Guardian Australia has closed a deal to include its news in Google News Showcase. The news website is the latest local publisher to come to terms with Google for payment of news. Seven West Media and News Corp made announcements last week.”

“Melbourne fund manager Munro Partners has dumped its longstanding holding in Facebook, claiming the tech giant’s dispute with the Australian government over news content is just the tip of the iceberg. Munro Partners chief investment officer Nick Griffin bought into Facebook when it was first listed on Nasdaq in 2012 and the stock has ranked among its top five holdings for a ‘long time’. But over the past two years, Munro– which manages $3.7 billion – has reduced its exposure to Facebook and last month sold its remaining stock for $130 million.”

“There’s a common theme to the phrases used by Christchurch locals. ‘We used to have…’ ‘There used to be…’ ‘Before, there would’ve been…’ ‘This was once…’ Every visitor to New Zealand’s second-largest city is fully aware of what this is code for: the time before 12.51pm, February 22, 2011, or, as locals refer to it, the Second Earthquake.”

“The ABC’s critical alerts on bushfires and other emergencies will now include updates from QAnon and other conspiracy groups, to enable the alerts to be shared on Facebook. ‘An alert has been issued for a bushfire that’s started in the eastern part of SMITH in the SHIRE OF JONES and TOM HANKS is running a child trafficking network funded by THE CLINTONS #WWG1WWA’ an example alert reads.”

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