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Covid-19 News Updates
After four months in the doldrums due to its COVID-19 treatment in severely ill patients missing the mark, Melbourne-based biotech Mesoblast (ASX: MSB) is now pinning its hopes on fresh results that showed reduced mortality for under 65s.
Mesoblast was dealt a blow in December when a US trial failed to meet its 30-day goal of a 43 per cent reduction in mortality for patients suffering from severe acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) due to COVID-19 infection, cutting enrolments short for the study as well as the group's share price.
But the company founded and led by Dr Silviu Itescu pressed on with its 222 enrolled patients, and today revealed age could be a determining factor for the success of its stem cell treatment remestemcel-L.
Today's results demonstrate a 46 per cent reduction in mortality for patients aged under 65 who are treated with remestemcel-L, but not for those aged 65 and older.
When combined with the corticosteroid dexamethasone which has become part of standard care for critically ill COVID-19 patients on mechanical ventilation, Remestemcel-L was found to reduce mortality by 75 per cent in the under 65 demographic.
"Reduction in mortality in mechanically ventilated patients under 65 years old remains a critical unmet need since as many as 72 per cent of currently hospitalised patients across the US with COVID-19 are in this age category," says Itescu.
"This is similar to other causes of viral ARDS such as influenza where 70-80 per cent of patients in intensive care units are under 65.
"The reduction in mortality seen with remestemcel-L in this age group highlights the potential to make a meaningful difference in the treatment of diseases of excessive inflammation."
Itescu emphasises the complementary effects of Mesoblast's treatment with dexamethasone are particularly noteworthy, acting to target the inflammatory cytokine process driven by inflammatory macrophages and T-cells.
"Mechanistically, there is an understanding of synergy between the two. That probably in part explains why we've seen such exciting results in mortality reduction," he says.
Mesoblast's experts have formed the view that the negative third interim analysis that set back it plans may have resulted from a progressively ageing cohort of patients with more co-morbidities, whose median age rose from 59 in the first half to 67 in the second half.
The company believes a different dosing regimen might be needed to achieve mortality reduction in patients aged over 65 with co-morbidities.
"The mortality benefit observed with remestemcel-L in ventilator-dependent patients younger than 65, particularly in combination with dexamethasone, has the potential to change the treatment regimen in this critical patient population," says Mesoblast chief medical officer Dr Fred Grossman.
"As cases continue to surge in younger patients across the US, we plan to meet with the FDA to discuss next steps in the regulatory process."
Itescu says if remestemcel-L were to be approved for emergency use, Mesoblast still has a commercial agreement in place with Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis.
"We have plans for a factory scale-up, we have proprietary media that contains recombinant cytokines that enables substantial yield improvement, and potentially we could move from two-dimensional to three-dimensional bioreactor production," he says.
"We are preparing ahead of the curve, should we be in a position to launch such a product, particularly in the US."
He says vaccine roll-outs in places can be very effective, reducing new cases by as much as potentially 80 per cent, but that still leaves room for treatments like remestemcel-L should it be given the green light.
"Nonetheless, the continued emergence of variants, particularly from third world countries, the continued social interactions particularly in younger people who in the northern summer now will be outdoors and enjoying life I think means there will be continued endemic cases of this virus in various pockets," he explains.
"There will be continued surges, resurgences, etcetera and there will be a steady state of patients who will need ICU care, mechanical ventilation, and treatments for the worst outcomes and the highest mortality risks of COVID-19 - ARDS.
"We clearly see this as a potential therapeutic for the steady state, even in the setting of large numbers of patients being vaccinated.
"Even if an 80 per cent reduction in infectivity is a success through vaccination, that still will result in a large number of potential fatalities that could be prevented by the use of remestemcel-L, together with dexomethasone."
Updated at 10:04am AEST on 30 April 2021.
The regions of Perth and Peel in Western Australia will snap back to life tomorrow when many COVID-19 restrictions ease, but minor transitional controls will remain in place for another week.
The easing of restrictions from 12.01am on Saturday 1 May will see the two regions move closer to the return of pre-lockdown life, but the state's chief health officer says Perth and Peel will need to see through the full 14-day incubation period before all restrictions can be removed.
The changes come after the WA regions emerged from a three-day lockdown at 12.01am on Tuesday 28 April, imposed in response to the state recording a case of COVID-19 last week - WA's first instance of community transmission in over a year.
The following eased transitional restrictions will take effect from tomorrow until 8 May:
- Masks are not required outside except where physical distancing is not possible;
- Masks are mandatory for indoor public venues, including in the workplace and on public transport.
- Anyone who has been in the Perth or Peel regions since April 17 but has since travelled to another region must also wear a mask subject to the above conditions;
- 30-person limit in all homes for private gatherings;
- Nightclubs can open subject to the four square metre rule, with masks mandatory;
- Indoor and outdoor community sport can resume with spectators;
- Indoor weddings and funerals permitted for up to 200 guests without an exemption;
- Outdoor gatherings can take place with up to 500 people without a COVID event plan;
- One household can visit a patient per day in a hospital, aged care or disability facility; and
- Major stadiums, including Optus Stadium, RAC Arena and HBF Park can operate at 75 per cent capacity.
The following pre-lockdown measures will resume from 12.01am Saturday, 1 May:
- Seated hospitality venues, including restaurants, cafés, food courts and bars that provide seated service only, can open at 75 per cent capacity or apply the 2sqm rule - whichever is greater;
- Gyms, fitness centres, dance studios, beauty salons and hairdressers can open with the two square metre rule in place; and
- Public venues, including community centres, libraries, museums, galleries and recreation centres, can open with the two square metre rule in place.
Schools and childcare centres will remain open with the mandatory mask rule applying to all school staff and secondary students.
Further, all elective surgeries can resume, and places of worship can reopen to 100 per cent capacity.
"I'd like to personally thank each and every person in the Perth and Peel regions for their efforts during this difficult time. We are not out of the woods yet but so far things are looking very positive," says WA Premier Mark McGowan.
"The easing of restrictions means all businesses and workplaces will be able to reopen. It will see some of our hardest hit sectors - like hospitality - snap back to pre-lockdown restrictions - providing welcome relief for many small operators.
"It is my hope - and my expectation - that from Saturday, May 8, these relatively minor restrictions will be able to come off - and we completely return to where we were at before the lockdown."
Updated at 9.53am AEST on 30 April 2021.
Planning for a new purpose-built quarantine accommodation hub in Victoria will soon be underway after the state government settled on a preferred site in Mickleham for the proposed facility today.
Subject to the Commonwealth Government agreeing to cover construction costs and taking ultimate ownership of the hub, planning will start on the 500-bed quarantine facility at Donnybrook Road, Mickleham.
The Victorian Government expects the planning stage of the new project will cost around $15 million - a price it is ready to pay considering the delayed vaccine rollout in Australia and an increasingly dire COVID-19 situation around the world.
The preferred site is on Commonwealth land and is next to an existing animal quarantine facility.
If the Commonwealth agrees, it will operate the facility like it does Australia's only other standalone quarantine site - Howard Springs in the Northern Territory. To date, no outbreaks of COVID-19 into the community have been traced back to the hub near Darwin.
The final decision on whether to proceed with construction will be made in September, pending support from the Commonwealth and future insight on a range of matters, including the progress of the vaccine rollout, the efficacy of vaccines in preventing COVID-19 transmission, and Commonwealth decisions on rules governing travel into and out of Australia.
"It's clear this virus will be with us for some time," VIC Acting Premier James Merlino said.
"While we can't control how well or how fast other countries deal with the pandemic or their vaccine rollout, we can make sure our own quarantine system is as strong and safe as possible."
"The best time to start work on a standalone quarantine hub would have been 12 months ago - the second-best time is now."
The master plan for the new hub includes dedicated onsite services, including catering, that will support strong infection control and prevention measures. It is also designed with the ability to increase to up to 3,000 beds as part of a scalable build if a larger facility is determined to be required at any point.
The new hub will also be designed with relocatable cabins so that it can be utilised for alternative and future needs, including ongoing quarantine arrangements, crisis accommodation and other emergencies.
"We've seen how wildly unpredictable and dangerous this virus can be. This is our insurance policy to make sure we're doing everything we can to keep Victoria and Australia safe," Acting Minister for Police and Emergency Services Danny Pearson said.
"We've done the work to stack this project up and now we're asking the Commonwealth to get on board and help deliver it."
Updated at 1.15pm AEST on 29 April 2021.
Brisbane-based biotech firm AnteoTech (ASX: ADO) has officially launched its overseas expansion today following a trademark breakthrough in Europe two weeks ago for its low-cost, high-sensitivity rapid COVID-19 test.
The company's 'AnteoBind' technology - originally developed to test for the life-threatening infection Sepsis - already forms part of its customer Ellume's at-home COVID-19 diagnostics platform that is sold to the US, but now the group plans to sell its own product directly in the EU and UK.
Marketed as the 'EuGeni COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test', AnteoTech's single-use, disposable product will be rolled out across Europe where more than 46 million people have contracted COVID-19.
Unlike Ellume's tests which can be sold over the counter in the US at pharmacies such as CVS, EuGeni is currently only marketed as intended for healhcare professionals.
AnteoTech also plans to make the product available by mid-year in Australia, where strict rules are in place that prevent at-home testing for notifiable diseases such as COVID-19.
To fund its European expansion plans, AnteoTech has announced firm commitments to raise $12 million by issuing new shares at $0.26 each, representing a 20 per cent discount to the weighted average over the past 10 days. This will be followed by a $4 million share purchase plan (SPP) opening on 4 May.
Investors appeared undeterred by the capital raising discount however. At the time of writing, shares had surged 12 per cent this morning to $0.465 each.
"AnteoTech now has the necessary financial flexibility to scale up operations and accelerate its roll-out of its EuGeni reader platform and COVID-19 ART test, as well as our growing pipeline of other assay tests which will provide us with a considerable competitive advantage in the current market," AnteoTech CEO Derek Thompson said.
"This is a major milestone for the company, with our sights set on finalising approvals here in Australia and in the US where our technology is already being used by another Brisbane company (Ellume) to target the home test market."
AnteoTech's technology attracted the support of the Queensland Government, which provided a $1.4 million grant to help progress the COVID-19 rapid test through to commercialisation.
Thomson said as well as capturing a large slice of the European rapid test market, AnteoTech was ready to roll out a saliva-based version of the test, ending the need for invasive nasal swabs.
"We believe we have a superior test with high sensitivity and specificity based on our unique AnteoBind technology," Thomson said.
"We will soon enhance this offering with a saliva use case and new COVID-19/Flu A/FluB Multiplex test, which will give us a very strong competitive advantage over other products currently on the market."
Thomson added the company would also be delivering the vital Sepsis test, which is a very time-critical condition that is often missed, resulting in a very high global morbidity rate.
"From very humble beginnings, our very small scientific team has been working around the clock to bring forward this test platform, given its importance in helping to tackle the global pandemic," says Thompson, whose company had less than 20 employees a year ago.
"I also thank the Queensland Government for its contribution to the commercialisation of the test and platform."Never miss a news update, subscribe here. Follow us on LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter.
Business News Australia
The Federal Government has announced a temporary pause for incoming flights from India, where a new wave of COVID-19 has pushed hospitals to breaking point with one person reportedly dying from the virus every four minutes in New Delhi alone.
Given the pressure returning travellers from India are placing on hotel quarantine, the government has put flights from the South Asian country on hold until 15 May.
In the meantime, Australia will also be sending medical supplies to India, including one millions surgical masks and 500 ventilators.
The Prime Minister said it was a concern to see an increase in the percentage of cases in hotel quarantine with origins from India.
From 16 April there was a jump in hotel quarantine numbers from all origins, rising from 90 in a week to 143 in the most recent week.
"In this past week we saw that rise, and that was particularly in areas such as the Northern Territory and New South Wales, where we have direct flights into both of those areas.," the Prime Minister said.
"Proportionally, we saw higher numbers in Western Australia and South Australia, but in terms of the total number of cases originating in India then the overwhelming majority of those were in New South Wales and the Northern Territory.
"We don't think the answer is to forsake those Australians in India and just shut them off as some seem to suggest - that's not what my government's going to do. We will stand with the Indian community here and our friends in India as one of our closest and most strategic partners."
He said the pause was necessary to enable those quarantine facilities, particularly in the Northern Territory, to work through the system and return to lower case levels so that direct flights can resume and repatriate Australians.
"One of the challenges going forward is the testing regime for those embarking on flights, and so having the rapid antigen testing in place we think will support that, but that will give us several weeks to put those arrangements in place with the commercial operators," he said.
"Qantas has already indicated that they're able to do that, but working with other operators we'd want to be assured that those mitigations were in place."
The Prime Minister said the situation was escalating rapidly, and he welcomed the fact embarkation points such as Kuala Lumpur and Singapore had also been closed off.
"Those flights that were coming from Malaysia and other places were carrying Australians back from other parts of the world where the risk is not as great as it is in India, and so that means Australians will still be able to come home through those flights.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne said more than 19,400 Australians have returned from India since March last year.
"Since March of last year we have facilitated 38 flights out of India - 28 flights with Qantas from Delhi, from Chennai and from Kolkata, which have brought back 5,000 passengers," she said.
"When circumstances do allow through this temporary pause, we will resume those flights and if possible seek to review those flights and if possible seek to increase their frequency if we are able to," she said.
"We currently have just over 9,000 Australians registered in India - 650 of those are registered as vulnerable. As you would expect in the circumstances, this number will certainly increase in the coming days and weeks as people's circumstances change."
Minister Payne assured Australians in India and Indian-Australians here that four Indian network posts remain staffed by Australian diplomats who will continue to provide consular assistance to Australians in distress, including through DFAT's financial assistance program.
"Our posts will also be redoubling their efforts to maintain contact with Australian citizens in India to ensure that they are informed about travel settings, about any changes and about assistance programs."
Those consular contact numbers are 1300555135 from within Australia and (+61) 62613205 when calling from outside the country.
"I also want to reaffirm the great leadership and generosity that India has shown to the global community and throughout this pandemic," Minister Payne added.
"They have in fact exported over 66 million WHO-approved vaccines across the world. I know in our own region how important this has been in the Pacific - it includes gifting vaccine doses to Nauru and to Fiji. It has has also manufactured vaccine doses for Papua New Guinea, for the Solomon Islands, which have been delivered through the COVAX facility.
Updated at 3:30pm AEST on 27 April 2021.
Update (27 April): The lockdown was lifted overnight, but Western Australians must continue to wear masks in public at indoor and outdoor areas, practise physical distancing where possible, and maintain good personal hygiene at all times. Fitness clubs, gyms, casinos and nightclubs will remain closed, while other business will have a four square metre capacity rule and 20 patron limit in place. "The lockdown was the circuit breaker that we needed to help crush and contain the virus, and keep the community safe," WA Premier Mark McGowan said.
The Western Australian Government has called a snap three-day lockdown from midnight in the Perth and Peel regions, after a year-long run of no community transmission was broken by a hotel quarantine intra-room infection that has led to two known positive cases.
People in these areas will need to wear masks from 6pm tonight, and must remain home except for the usual exceptions such as essential work, shopping for essentials including groceries, medical or health care needs, and exercise with a maximum of four people.
Anyone who has left Perth or Peel since 17 April will need to wear self-isolate and the same mask rules will apply outside where they are staying.
The decision was made after it was revealed a man in his 50s who completed 14 days of quarantine at Perth's Mercure Hotel tested positive to the virus once he arrived in Melbourne this morning.
The man had tested negative on day 12 of hotel quarantine, was released on 17 April and according to Premier Mark McGowan is presumed to have been infectious in the community for five days.
After leaving hotel quarantine, the individual stayed with a friend and her two children in the Perth suburb of Kardinya and went to a Malaysian restaurant.
That friend tested positive to the virus after taking a rapid COVID-19 test today.
"We need to act and do what is necessary to prevent further community transmission," says Premier McGowan.
"We've gone more than 12 months of no community transmission and our lives in Western Australia have been normal compared to what we have seen around the world.
"We need to do everything we can to protect our way of life. That's why from midnight tonight, Perth and Peel will enter a three-day lockdown over the weekend until Monday night."
The decision also means ANZAC Day services will be cancelled, but the Premier urged people to take part in a driveway dawn service again this year.
"I know this is hard to take, and I wish we didn't need to be doing this, but we can't take any chances with the virus. We just can't," he said.
Premier McGowan confirmed the first case had also visited a swimming pool in Perth's southern suburbs on 18 April, had coffee in Leeming, ate dinner in Northbridge and stayed at St Catherine's College at the University of Western Australia (UWA).
"On the 19th he visited a Chinese traditional medical doctor, went to Northbridge again, and again stayed at St Catherine's College that night," McGowan said.
"On the 20th he visited Kings Park and Northbridge again, on the 21st he had breakfast in a common area at St. Catherine's College, before being driven by his friend to the airport."
The man then boarded flight QF778 from Perth to Melbourne at 1:05pm that day. Victoria Health is in the process of contact tracing the 257 passengers who were on board that flight.
"Locations for both the Victorian case and his friend will be finalised and released publicly as soon as possible. If you have been to these locations during the times listed, you will need to get tested and isolate until you return a negative test result," McGowan said.
"If people are deemed a close contact by public health officials, you will be tested and required to self-quarantine for 14 days.
"We're also obtaining CCTV vision to piece together more details. We know his accommodation at St Catherine's College at UWA has a separate bathroom, which is good news."
The Premier said contact tracing and COVID testing teams were being scaled up, with health officials to visit St Catherine's College to test people.
"Anyone at UWA if you're feeling unwell, you need to get tested as soon as possible," he said.
From tomorrow pubs, clubs, cafes and bars will close but will be allowed to provide takeaway food and beverages.
There will also be closures for gyms and indoor sporting venues, playgrounds and skateparks, cinemas, casinos, places of worship, libraries and other cultural institutions.
However, weddings and funerals will be allowed to go ahead with a maximum of 100 attendees (not including staff), but masks must be worn.
Updated at 2:48pm AWST
The Victorian Government will invest $50 million to establish mRNA vaccine and therapeutic manufacturing in Melbourne through partnerships with universities, researchers and Australian and international manufacturing companies.
Onshore production of mRNA vaccines, based on messenger RNA which is the molecule that essentially puts DNA instructions into action, has been identified by the Commonwealth Government as a national priority.
Victoria is already home to world-class vaccine manufacturing facilities owned by CSL (ASX: CSL) in the Melbourne suburbs of Broadmeadows and Parkville.
The state will work closely with the Commonwealth and world-leading experts from Monash University, the University of Melbourne, The Doherty Institute and other leading research institutes to develop the first mRNA manufacturing capability in the Southern Hemisphere.
mRNA vaccines are a promising alternative to traditional vaccines because of their high efficacy, capacity for rapid development, low-cost manufacture, and safe administration.
This has been highlighted by the success of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna which are manufactured in Europe and the United States.
"It's vital that we can develop and manufacture mRNA vaccines and treatments locally to ensure we have vaccine security here in Australia and across our region," VIC Acting Premier James Merlino said.
Not only is the move important in the fight against COVID-19, mRNA and other forms of RNA nanomedicines can be used in the treatment of cancer, rare diseases, cellular engineering and protein-replacement therapy.
"There are major advantages to this technology including high efficacy, rapid speed in development, and flexible manufacturing processes. Victoria is well positioned to be at the forefront of this effort," VIC Minister for Health Martin Foley said.
To date, the Federal Government has secured up to 170 million doses of Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Novavax vaccines, including 20 million extra doses of the jab from Pfizer.
The Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccine was recently recommended as preferred over the AstraZeneca alternative for recipients aged under 50, following advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) in response to blood clot risks.
As of today, 1.66 million vaccine doses have been administered in Australia, with 399,313 of those delivered in Victoria.
Updated at 12.11pm AEDT on 21 April 2021.
"New Zealand was Australia's second biggest source of international visitors before the pandemic. Today, it's about to go straight to number one," says Qantas CEO Alan Joyce.
As of today and for the first time since the pandemic began, Australians are being welcomed into New Zealand without having to complete two weeks of mandatory quarantine.
While the bubble gives many the opportunity to visit friends and family in New Zealand, it also means tourists from across the ditch will have confidence to see Australia without having to set aside a fortnight of isolated tedium when they get back home.
However, travel between the two countries will not be like it was pre-COVID. The guidance is for a "flyer beware" approach; if an outbreak is detected in certain part of Australia, travellers who have been to the affected area will not be compensated for any sudden quarantine required.
In any case the sector has been emboldened by the move, with airline Qantas (ASX: QAN) even adding new flight paths from tourist hotspots including the Gold Coast and Hobart to New Zealand.
Qantas says "Kia Ora"
For Qantas, today marks the first quarantine-free trans-Tasman flights in over 400 days and means 630 employees will get back to work.
The first international flight for Qantas was from Sydney this morning, with flights to resume across 14 other routes during the day.
In total, 29 Qantas/Jetstar flights between Australia and New Zealand will operate today.
Speaking from Sydney International Airport to farewell departing passengers, Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said the opening of the two-way travel bubble was a significant milestone for both countries.
"Quarantine-free travel has been almost 400 days in the making. Reopening these flights across the Tasman is a very important milestone in the recovery from the pandemic for Australia and New Zealand but also aviation and tourism," Joyce said.
"The opening of the two-way bubble is fantastic for the family and friends who are reuniting after so long apart and for the many jobs which are so heavily dependent on tourism. It means we'll be able to get more planes back in the sky and more of our people back to work.
"New Zealand was Australia's second biggest source of international visitors before the pandemic. Today, it's about to go straight to number one."
Airports open up to NZ
Australian airports are also flying high on the milestone today, with many friends and families to reunite in terminals this week.
Brisbane Airport Corporation (BAC) CEO Gert-Jan de Graaff says the travel bubble is vitally important as New Zealand is one of Queensland's most important international markets.
"Today is an incredible day for the many families and friends who will be able to reunite, but also for the thousands of businesses in Brisbane, the regions, and across Queensland who rely on tourism," he says.
"Brisbane Airport will welcome flights from Christchurch and Wellington for the first time since 28 March 2020, some 387 days, which, for us, it has felt almost as long as the last time the Wallabies won the Bledisloe Cup."
In 2019, around 1.5 million passengers flew between BNE and New Zealand, with more than 100 flights each week and five airlines operating services to five New Zealand cities (Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington, Dunedin, and Queenstown).
In Victoria more than 19 trans-Tasman flights will land in Melbourne today, which equates to approximately 4,000 seats.
Each week around 140 services will operate between Melbourne and New Zealand, and the number will rise to 180 weekly flights by the end of May taking the airport back to around 70 per cent of its pre-COVID flight capacity.
Melbourne Airport Chief of Aviation Lorie Argus said New Zealand was an important market to re-establish.
"We're absolutely thrilled to see international travel restart, bringing us one step closer to normality. Now people at both ends can dust off their passports to visit family and friends, and take that long-awaited holiday," Argus said.
"New Zealand is a significant market for Melbourne and Victoria. It is our most popular outbound international destination and our second busiest inbound market so we're confident both sides will be busy.
"Hopefully the safe reopening between Australia and New Zealand can be used as a blueprint for other international markets throughout the year."
Destination Gold Coast announces $1.3m marketing blitz in NZ
The Gold Coast turned out a big show for trans-Tasman arrivals this morning, including a sky diving display featuring giant Australian and New Zealand flags landing at the southern end of the airport during sunrise.
This extravaganza for visitors comes as tourism marketer Destination Gold Coast puts forward a $1.3 million marketing push to attract Kiwis to the city.
Destination Gold Coast CEO Patricia O'Callaghan says the campaign will debut on 21 April.
"We know New Zealanders can't wait to come back to the Gold Coast and they will be welcomed with open arms by our 4,600 tourism businesses," O'Callaghan says.
"Our $1.3 million marketing push is the Gold Coast's largest-ever spend in New Zealand, so the proportion of investment reflects the importance of re-engaging with this key visitor market.
"New Zealand was our second-largest international visitor market source pre-COVID and this is a significant milestone for Gold Coast tourism operators being the first international market to come back online in more than a year."
The 12-week campaign will entice New Zealanders to come and play through great value holiday offers promoted on national TV networks in partnership with House of Travel, New Zealand's most awarded travel group, and across cinema, digital placements and on social media.
O'Callaghan says Kiwis have a strong affinity with the Gold Coast.
"One per cent of all Kiwis live on the Gold Coast and we know an annual holiday to our region is a tradition for thousands of Kiwi families who will now be able to flee winter for a sun-soaked holiday.
"The marketing approach reinforces the Gold Coast as top-of-mind for families abroad and our visiting friends and relatives' market.
"The campaign will highlight the Gold Coast's top-rated travel activities and a breadth of lesser-known experiences in addition to our golden beaches, rainforest hinterland, iconic theme parks, alfresco dining and calendar of events."
Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate says the Gold Coast is a second home for New Zealanders.
"To our Kiwi cousins, I say come and play on the Gold Coast," he said.
"To see international flights arriving and departing gives us all great confidence that this is not the first travel bubble to expand out of the coast.
"Let's roll out the welcome mat just don't mention the rugby as we still can't pinch that trophy off them."
Queensland Airports Limited CEO Chris Mills said the airport team and tourism operators were extremely excited about the resumption of trans-Tasman travel, with 16 services scheduled in the first week alone.
"We have been waiting more than 12 months for the restart of international travel and today it begins with one of the Gold Coast's most important overseas markets and Australia's closest neighbour," he said.
"Given the impact of this separation on so many people, we are expecting to see lots of emotional reunions at Gold Coast Airport over the next few weeks.
"With 60,000 Kiwis living on the Gold Coast and the region rating highly on travel wish lists of New Zealand residents, we expect these services to be extremely popular in both directions."
Mills said the start of the inaugural Qantas Gold Coast-Auckland service on day one of trans-Tasman travel made the milestone day particularly special.
"Recovery is ramping up for the airport and the tourism operators we support, and Qantas starting the first international service in the airport's history has given us even more reasons to celebrate today," he said.
Air New Zealand taking off
On the other side of the Tasman, Air New Zealand (ASX: AIZ) is expecting more than 5,000 passengers to travel today between NZ and Australia.
Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran, a former head of Woolworths and Wal-Mart US, says the airline's trans-Tasman routes are firing on all cylinders.
"The accumulation of the opening of the trans-Tasman bubble and the start of the Kiwi school holidays has created a real sense of momentum and energy about the whole airline," says Foran.
"Monday will go down in history as one of the most monumental days for Air New Zealand and a real turning point for the airline. It's Day 1 of our revival.
"We estimate that three-quarters of our passengers crossing the Ditch will be family and friends reuniting with loved ones. We're humbled to be part of these reunions and reconnecting people who have missed out on so much over the last year."
Shares in AIZ are up 0.30 per cent to $1.64 per share at 12.01pm AEST.
Updated at 12.19pm AEST on 19 April 2021.
Brisbane and Seattle-based biotechnology company Implicit Bioscience has launched a Phase 2 clinical trial of its lead immunotherapy product to treat COVID-19 patients.
Implicit Bioscience, co-founded by renowned immunologist Professor Ian Frazer, will test the efficacy and safety of IC14 for treatment of hospitalised COVID-19 patients with respiratory disease and low blood oxygen in combination with the antiviral drug remdesivir.
The trial, called the COVID-19 and Anti-CD14 Treatment Trial (CaTT), is sponsored and funded by the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).
IC14, wholly owned by Implicit Bioscience, is a monoclonal antibody that works by dampening damaging levels of immune response to viral infections that result in respiratory distress and serious damage to the patient's lungs, heart, kidneys, brain and other organs.
It targets CD14, a master regulator of the immune response to infection and cellular damage, that is implicated in more than 500 diseases.
Professor Frazer says as the world welcomes COVID-19 vaccine candidates and a widespread prevention strategy, it remains vital to develop viable treatments that can help people who experience a life-threatening response to the virus.
"The emergence of new viral strains that may be resistant to current vaccines and drugs highlights the pressing need for interventions to help people during the early stages of COVID-19 respiratory disease," says Professor Frazer, the co-inventor of the cervical cancer vaccine.
"IC14 represents a world-first approach to treating the effects of COVID-19 and we are energised by the opportunity to participate in this important study.
"We hypothesise, from previous IC14 research in patients with sepsis and lung injury, that the investigational drug will help to control damaging levels of immune response to the viral infection. IC14 targets CD14, a master regulator of the immune response to infection and cellular damage, that is implicated in more than 500 diseases."
That hypothesis is supported by NIAID director Dr Anthony Fauci.
"By blocking a protein called CD14 during the early stages of COVID-19 respiratory disease, the monoclonal antibody IC14 could potentially temper the immune system's harmful inflammatory responses to SARS-CoV-2, thereby limiting associated tissue damage and improving patients' health outcomes," Dr Fauci said.
The Phase 2 clinical trial is part of a broader body of research being undertaken to unlock the potential of IC14.
IC14 is currently being studied in 125 COVID-19 patients with respiratory distress in 20 US hospitals.
"Between these two studies, IC14 will be studied in more than 400 COVID-19 hospitalised patients across the USA, across the full spectrum of disease, from the medical ward to the intensive care unit," Implicit Bioscience CEO Garry Redlich said.
"We are deeply honoured to have our immunotherapeutic antibody sponsored for such comprehensive clinical testing during the global pandemic and look forward to leveraging our learnings for a broad range of potential disease indications for this promising biologic drug."
The CaTT study will enrol between 300 and 350 hospitalised COVID-19 patients aged 18 years or older at 10 to 15 sites in the US. All participants will also receive intravenous infusions of the antiviral drug remdesivir for five consecutive days.
Results are expected in early 2022.
Implicit's trial follows in the footsteps of another immunotherapeutic approach to treating COVID-19 developed by Immutep.
The company is currently in the randomised portion of its EAT COVID trial, which is looking to see whether an experimental cance drug can boost the body's immune response while fighting off a COVID-19 infection.
Updated at 2.55pm AEST on 16 April 2021.
Queensland is poised to ease COVID-19 restrictions further tomorrow, removing the requirement to wear masks indoors and easing capacity limits on businesses, as the state goes 11 days without a locally acquired case of the coronavirus today.
From 6am AEST on Thursday 15 April, face mask wearing will only be mandatory at airports and on domestic or international flights departing or arriving in Queensland.
While no longer mandatory, Queensland Health still encourages those in the state to wear a mask on public transport, in a taxi or rideshare, in shopping centres, and in any space where physical distancing is not possible.
Restrictions on gatherings will also change, permitting 100 people to congregate at private residences. There will no longer be a limit to the number of people that can gather in outdoor public spaces.
Queenslanders will be permitted to visit aged care facilities, disability accommodation services, hospitals and correctional facilities too, provided they meet the visitor requirements of each facility.
Businesses will also welcome the easing of capacity limits from tomorrow, with the one person per two square meters rule back in effect. This applies for venues including restaurants, cafes, pubs, clubs, museums, art galleries, places of worship, convention centres and Parliament House.
Patrons at retail food services, entertainment venues and high risk businesses will be able to eat and drink while standing both inside and outside.
Dancing is also back in QLD, provided the one dancer per two square meter rule is abided by and physical distancing is observed both indoors and outdoors.
Venues with seating (like theatres, live music spaces, cinemas, indoor sport, universities and other higher education institutions) can have 100 per cent capacity, provided seating is ticketed and allocated.
Outdoor dance festivals and music festivals will still be required to abide by restrictions, but outdoor events like ANZAC Day parades do not need a COVID Safe Event Checklist or Event Plan anymore.
Open air stadiums will also be allowed to operate with 100 per cent ticketed and allocated seated capacity provided a COVID Safe Plan is in force. All patrons at these venues will be strongly encouraged to wear masks on entry and exit.
Weddings and funerals can have expanded attendance of whichever is greater:
- 200 people; or
- One person per two square metres; or
- 100 per cent capacity with ticketed and allocated seating.
QLD Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young reminded Queenslanders and visitors to the state to remain vigilant.
"It's great news that we're able to ease even more restrictions and while we're not yet returning to normal, we're steadily getting closer," Dr Young said.
"We're very lucky here in Queensland to be able to have gatherings and outdoor events, to go out to restaurants and cafes, go dancing and only have to wear masks in certain settings.
"But we must remember that we're still in the midst of a global pandemic. We must continue to be vigilant."Queensland recorded two new cases of COVID-19 today, but both are in hotel quarantine. In total there are 51 active cases of the coronavirus in the state.
Over the past 24 hours, 2,568 vaccines were administered, bringing the total number of vaccines in QLD to 115,025 since the rollout began.
Updated at 12.30pm AEST on 14 April 2021.
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