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Covid-19 News Updates


CSL gets green light to manufacture AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

CSL gets green light to manufacture AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

Melbourne-headquartered biotech CSL (ASX: CSL) has passed a critical hurdle in its plans to produce 50 million COVID-19 vaccines in Australia, after the Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA) today gave approval for the company's subsidiary Seqirus to manufacture the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The announcement allows for Australia's vaccine program to be scaled up as Phase 1B oriented towards the elderly and vulnerable starts tomorrow involving more than 1,000 general practices nationwide, to be ramped up progressively to 4,000 by the end of April.

In that timeframe the vaccine will also be rolled out at more than 100 Aboriginal Health Services and 130 Commonwealth-operated, GP-led respiratory clinics, while authorities are aiming to redirect one million vaccines produced in Europe to Papua New Guinea (PNG) where the virus has become widespread.

The latest decision follows TGA approval on 16 February for overseas-manufactured AstraZeneca vaccines to be administered to patients in Australia. 

"Today's approval is a critical and very exciting milestone in Australia's response to the COVID-19 pandemic," the TGA said today.

"Manufacture of biological medicines such as vaccines is a highly-specialised process and the establishment of Australian manufacture of COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca by CSL - Seqirus has involved extensive work by both industry and the TGA over the last six months.

"Specific approval of Australian manufacturing by TGA was required to ensure that the locally-manufactured vaccine had exactly the same composition and performance as overseas-manufactured vaccine, was made to the same quality and is free of contaminants."

The active raw vaccine material is being manufactured at CSL-Behring Australia in Broadmeadows, while the final doses are manufactured with the vials filled and packed at Seqirus in Parkville.

Quality testing is also being carried out at both these Victorian sites.

"The final step for the Australian-manufactured vaccine is TGA batch release, which is required for each and every batch of any vaccine supplied in Australia," the TGA said.

"This involves a review of documents supplied by the commercial sponsor describing how the vaccine batch was made, tested, shipped and stored as well as TGA's in-house laboratory testing to ensure the vaccine has been manufactured according to the required standards.

"Receipt of the final batch release documentation from AstraZeneca is anticipated imminently and it is anticipated that the first batches will be released in the next few days."

The Australian Government has purchased 50 million doses of the vaccine, which will be manufactured by CSL on AstraZeneca's behalf.

The first doses out of 20 million Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines arrived in Australia in mid-February.

Updated at 8:23 AEDT on 21 March 2021.

IDT looks to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines on-shore

IDT looks to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines on-shore

Victorian pharmaceuticals manufacturer IDT Australia (ASX: IDT) has announced it is looking into the possibility of utilising its facilities to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines.

The Australian Government has requested IDT Australia undertake a feasibility study for the proposal, which if successful would see IDT supplement CSL's (ASX: CSL) ongoing manufacture of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Shares in IDT surged on the announcement, up 54.05 per cent to $0.28 per share at the market close - a price not seen by IDT since 2016.

Utilising its facilities in Boronia, Victoria, the move would build on work already done by IDT during the pandemic for the Federal Government in its initial COVID-19 response efforts.

In August 2020, the Government tendered a request seeking information regarding IDT's capability and capacity to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines.

The company responded saying its facility was set up to produce the vaccines, and was able to be deployed as a primary or secondary site of manufacture of commercial quantities of a vaccine.

If IDT is to go ahead with manufacturing vaccines, it would complement biotech giant CSL's ongoing work in producing 30 million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine on-shore.

The announcement comes in the midst of Australia's rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, which is potentially being threatened by European nations withholding shipments of the vaccine due to the EU's assessment of Australia as a low-risk nation.

Earlier this month, Italy blocked a shipment of the AstraZeneca vaccine bound for Australia.

According to Italy's Minister of Foreign Affairs Luigi Di Maio, the shipment of 250,000 doses ordered by the Australian Government was blocked because the pharmaceutical giant had failed to supply the European nation with promised doses.

Italy's decision was backed by the European Commission, with EU regulation allowing countries that manufacture vaccines to prevent doses from being exported and marketed overseas.

The news also comes just days after Australia promised to send more than one million doses of the vaccine to Papua New Guinea, which is currently being hit by a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Though details are scant regarding IDT's potential role in the on-shore manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, its assistance in the manufacturing effort would be vital in Australia's success against the coronavirus.

The company says it will provide updates as additional information comes to hand.

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QLD to lift restrictions today as infected doctor's contacts test negative

QLD to lift restrictions today as infected doctor's contacts test negative

The Queensland Government will lift restrictions on hospitals, aged care and disability services from noon today, following a week of extensive contact tracing after a Princess Alexandra (PA) Hospital doctor tested positive to COVID-19 last week.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said approximately 650 of the doctor have been tested.

"The good news here is 99 per cent of them have come back, and all are negative," the Premier said.

"As of noon today, all restrictions on hospitals, aged care and disability service providers are lifted.

"I know there's a lot of people out there that need to go and see their loved one, so from 12 noon today you're free to go and do that."

She thanked the café, pub and gym that were involved with contact tracing.

"Their check-in data was excellent. You can see how far we've come in this pandemic when you have these processes in place now which makes it so much easier for our contact tracers to do the right thing," the Premier said.

The state's chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young thanked the doctor from the PA, describing her as "absolutely magnificent".

"She did everything right, and that's why I say it is the virus at fault, it really is. There is nothing that I can see that she could have done differently," Dr Young said.

"In our hospitals we have people who actually watch while someone is putting PPE (personal protective equipment) on and taking it off, that's how seriously this is taken.

"Although knowing that she had not done anything that would cause her to be infected, the first hint - and it must have been absolutely the first hint - she went and got tested, and those first tests had very, very high CT values which means there was very little virus, so I'm actually not surprised there hasn't been any further transmission."

The Premier highlighted there was no evidence of failure at the Hotel Grand Chancellor, which will begin taking people back into the hotel for quarantine, except for level one where contagions are believed to have taken place.

"The CCTV I'm advised has found no breaches whatsoever, so we do know this is a highly contagious strain."

The Premier added there were nine new COVID-19 cases reported in hotel quarantine in the last 24 hours, of which six came from Papua New Guinea (PNG), taking the state's total active case number to 57.

As part of the State and Federal Government's strategy to contain the potential spread of COVID-19 from PNG, so far 159 people in the Torres Strait have been vaccinated with more to come.

In non-coronavirus news, the Premier added an aggressive tourism campaigns would start this weekend targeting travellers from NSW and VIC.

Updated at 11:15am AEST on 19 March 2020.

WA reopens border to VIC, eases business restrictions

WA reopens border to VIC, eases business restrictions

For the first time in almost a year, travellers from any part of the country can now enter Western Australia with a "very low risk" status after the border to Victoria reopened overnight.

Now that Victoria is in the ranks of all other states and territories for travelling into WA, travellers from the state will be able to enter WA provided they complete a G2G pass declaration, do not have any COVID-19 symptoms and will be willing to be tested on arrival.

Capacity has been increased to 75 per cent for a wide range of venues including restaurants, cafes, food courts, bars, theatres, concert halls, cinemas, comedy lounges, performing arts centres, places of worship, function centres, stadiums and funeral parlours, as well as community, recreation or youth centre facilities.

If the 2-square-metre rule is greater than 75 per cent capacity, the greater option will be permitted for these particular venues and events.

Meanwhile, the 2sqm rule will continue to apply to all other unfixed seating venues and facilities, including nightclubs, unseated events/festivals, galleries, libraries, sport and recreation facilities, museums, amusement parks, wildlife parks and the zoo, adult entertainment premises, outdoor venues with unfixed seating, pop-up events, casino and gambling venues, arcades, and events with COVID event plans.

WA first put a hard border in place to the rest of the country in April 2020.

Updated at 12:42pm AWST on 15 March 2021.

QLD flags "major concerns" over high COVID rates in PNG

QLD flags "major concerns" over high COVID rates in PNG

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk hopes to speak with Prime Minister Scott Morrison within the next 24 hours after tests in neighbouring Papua New Guinea (PNG) revealed much higher than expected rates of COVID-19.

The state's authorities have already fast-tracked vaccinations in the Torres Strait amidst the worsening situation in PNG.

"We have major concerns now about what is happening in Papua New Guinea," Premier Palaszczuk said in a press conference this morning.

"We have been assisting with some tests in Papua New Guinea, and out of the 500 tests that our health authorities have done for Papua New Guinea, 250 have come back positive.

"Papua New Guinea is on the doorstep of the Torres Strait and Queensland, and I hope that I'll be able to speak to the Prime Minister or the Prime Minister's office in the next 24 hours just to talk about our concerns there."

She said conversations would look at incoming flights from PNG, as well as the issue of many Queenslanders who work or live in the country.

Queensland Acting Chief Health Officer Dr Sonya Bennett said the circumstances called for a coordinated response.

"I think there's an issue there for the Federal Government. I understand that they are providing some assistance into Papua New Guinea, but maybe we need to look at a vaccine roll-out program there as well," she said.

"It's right on our doorstep and it is a real risk, and as you know that's why we're getting our Torres Strait Islanders vaccinated as quickly as possible.

"I think we have to look at the flights. We know that the charter flights from Ok Tedi mine have already been suspended."

QLD community transmission update

The Sunshine State is also getting on top of any potential outbreak after its 59-day streak of no community transmission was broken on Friday, 12 March with a doctor from the Princess Alexandra (PA) Hospital testing positive to the virus

The individual had contact with COVID-positive patients in the early hours of 10 March, and tests indicate a low level of the virus which means they may have only been infectious in the community for around one day on 11 March.

A public health alert was issued on Saturday for four locations the doctor visited on 11 March - the Morning After Café in West End, Corporate Box Gym in Greenslopes and the Stones Corner Hotel, as well as the McDonald's Drive-Thru on Old Cleveland Road, Coorparoo.

The doctor's closest contacts have all tested negative to the coronavirus, but the Premier says 24 hours are still needed to see if there's any community transmission spread from the case.

QLD reported six new cases of COVID-19 today, all in hotel quarantine and none of them in the Hotel Grand Chancellor, which was put into lockdown over the weekend after there appeared to be contagion between guests on one floor, two of whom were patients seen by the doctor who became infected.

All guests who were on that floor between 5-9 March will be asked to go into quarantine and be tested again. People who stayed on other floors during that period will also be asked to get a test and isolate until they receive a negative result.

"All staff are tested daily through saliva tests and we have had no positive in staff, so that's very reassuring, but we're also retesting staff today through the usual gold standard nasal swab testing as well just to be sure," Dr Bennett said.

"There's also a lot of work to understand what the event may have been. We've seen this before - we know that some people are highly infectious and that is likely the case in this instance, and can transmit the virus through very little exposure."

QLD now has 38 active cases of COVID-19.

NSW update

On Saturday night NSW Health was notified of a new case of COVID-19 in a security guard who has been working in the hotel quarantine system and is now in isolation.

All four household contacts of this case have so far tested negative for COVID-19, and will self-isolate for a fortnight.

NSW Health has noted the security guard visited Pancakes on the Rocks in the Sydney suburb of Beverly Hills between 10:45am and noon on 13 March, and calls on anyone who was there at the time to be tested and isolate for 14 days regardless of the result.

Authorities have also listed venues and public transport routes where people who were present at the indicated times should monitor for symptoms and get tested should they appear.

  • Bexley Aquatic Centre, 9-9:30am on 13 March
  • Dae Jang Kum Korean restaurant, Haymarket at 12:15-12:20am on 13 March
  • 7 Eleven, Haymarket at 12:20-12:25am on 13 March
  • Hudson's Coffee Shop, Hurstville Private Hospital at 8:30-9am on 8, 9, 10, 11 & 12 March
  • Coles, Hurstville Station at 8-9pm on 10 March
  • T4 line, Hurstville to Central on 12 March, departing 6pm Hurstville and arriving Central at 6:30pm
  • T4 line, Central to Hurstville on 13 March, departing Central 7am and arriving Hurstville at 7:30am

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said 8,000 people were tested on Saturday.

"The fact that we went 55 days without a case is almost miraculous during a pandemic," she said.

Global update

Globally, Brazil overtook India as the second-worst hit country by COVID-19 over the weekend with close to 11.5 million total cases and more than 278,000 deaths. This is out of a global total that has now surpassed 120 million and 2.67 million deaths.

Many nations likely have vastly underreported cases of the virus but the USA has by far the highest number of active cases at 7.37 million, followed by France (3.7 million), Brazil (1.14 million), Belgium (728,518) and the UK (635,997).

In terms of the vaccine roll-out Israel is the global leader, far ahead of the next most-vaccinated country the UAE which has almost 66 out of every 100 people vaccinated, then the UK (37/100), Chile (34/100) and the US (32/100).

Updated at 9:41am AEST on 15 March 2021.

More support for SMEs incoming as loan scheme extended

More support for SMEs incoming as loan scheme extended

The Federal Government will be extending and expanding its 'SME Loan Guarantee Scheme' as part of its commitment to provide up to $40 billion in lending to small and medium enterprises.

So far, more than 35,000 loans worth more than $3 billion have already been provided, but now the scheme will be targeted to support businesses that have still been relying on JobKepper during the March quarter.

The expanded Scheme will also increase the size of eligible loans, increasing from $1 million under the current Scheme to $5 million. Maximum loan terms under the expanded Scheme will also be increased from 5 to 10 years.

"This SME Recovery Scheme is part of the next step in our plan to help small businesses stand on their own two feet as the economy recovers from COVID-19," Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said.

"The expansion and extension of the loans will back businesses that back themselves and will help businesses who continue to do it tough build a bridge to the other side of the crisis and keep their staff employed."

Further, the $50 million Business Events Grants Program will also be extended by three months to support Australian businesses to hold multi-day business events, covering up to 50 per cent of costs incurred in participating business events during the 2021 calendar year.

The support has been welcomed by the Australian Banking Association (ABA) CEO Anna Bligh, saying it will help fuel Australia's economic recovery.

"This is the right product for the times. It includes more flexibility, and will allow small businesses to re-stock, rebuild and recover", Bligh said.

"The new phase of the scheme will make more businesses eligible and allow banks to provide more funding and support to businesses, particularly those still doing it tough."

The Government has also extended the following programs to 30 September 2021:

  • the Domestic Aviation Network Support (DANS) and Regional Aviation Network Support (RANS) programs,
  • the 50 per cent waiver of domestic air services charges for Regular Public Transport (RPT) and aeromedical flights, and
  • the International Freight Assistance Mechanism.

The $94.6 million Zoos and Aquarium program will be extended by six months to support zoos, aquariums and wildlife parks to maintain their animal populations where their tourism revenue has been affected by travel and social distancing restrictions.

The COVID-19 Consumer Travel Support Program will also be extended for three months beyond 13 March.

Updated at 11.46am AEDT on 11 March 2021.

After a year of pain, here's how the COVID-19 pandemic could play out in 2021 and beyond

After a year of pain, here's how the COVID-19 pandemic could play out in 2021 and beyond

One year ago today, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the first caused by a coronavirus.

As we enter year two of the pandemic, let's remind ourselves of some sobering statistics. So far, there have been more than 117.4 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 around the world; more than 2.6 million people have died. A total of 221 countries and territories have been affected. Some 12 of the 14 countries and territories reporting no cases are small Pacific or Atlantic islands.

Whether the race to end the pandemic will be a sprint or a marathon remains to be seen, as does the extent of the gap between rich and poor contestants. However, as vaccines roll out across the world, it seems we are collectively just out of the starting blocks.

Here are the challenges we face over the next 12 months if we are to ever begin to reduce COVID-19 to a sporadic orendemic disease.

Vaccines are like walking on the Moon

Developing safe and effective vaccines in such a short time frame was a mission as ambitious, and with as many potential pitfalls, as walking on the Moon.

Miraculously, 12 months since a pandemic was declared, eight vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, have been approved by at least one country. A ninth, Novavax, is very promising. So far, more than 312 million people have been vaccinated with at least one dose.

While most high-income countries will have vaccinated their populations by early 2022, 85 poor countries will have to wait until 2023.

This implies the world won't be back to normal travel, trade and supply chains until 2024 unless rich countries take actions such as waiving vaccine patents, diversifying production of vaccines and supporting vaccine delivery to help poor countries catch up.

The vaccines have been shown to be safe and effective in preventing symptomatic and severe COVID-19. However, we need to continue to study the vaccines after being rolled out (conducting so-called post-implementation studies) in 2021 and beyond. This is to determine how long protection lasts, whether we need booster doses, how well vaccines work in children and the impact of vaccines on viral transmission.

What should make us feel optimistic is that in countries that rolled out the vaccines early, such as the UK and Israel, there are signs the rate of new infections is in decline.

 

What are the potential barriers to overcome?

One of the most salutary lessons we have learnt in the pandemic's first year is how dangerous it is to let COVID-19 transmission go unchecked. The result is the emergence of more transmissible variants that escape our immune responses, high rates of excess mortality and a stalled economy.

Until we achieve high levels of population immunity via vaccination, in 2021 we must maintain individual and societal measures, such as masks, physical distancing, and hand hygiene; improve indoor ventilation; and strengthen outbreak responses testing, contact tracing and isolation.

However, there are already signs of complacency and much misinformation to counter, especially for vaccine uptake. So we must continue to address both these barriers.

The outcomes of even momentary complacency are evident as global numbers of new cases once again increase after a steady two month decline. This recent uptick reflects surges in many European countries, such as Italy, and Latin American countries like Brazil and Cuba. New infections in Papua New Guinea have also risen alarmingly in the past few weeks.

Some fundamental questions also remain unanswered. We don't know how long either natural or vaccine-induced immunity will last. However, encouraging news from the US reveals 92-98% of COVID-19 survivors had adequate immune protection six to eight months after infection. In 2021, we will continue to learn more about how long natural and vaccine-induced immunity lasts.

New variants may be the greatest threat

The longer the coronavirus circulates widely, the higher the risk of more variants of concern emerging. We are aware of B.1.1.7 (the variant first detected in the UK), B.1.351 (South Africa), and P.1 (Brazil).

But other variants have been identified. These include B.1.427, which is now the dominant, more infectious, strain in California and one identified recently in New York, named B.1.526.

Variants may transmit more readily than the original Wuhan strain of the virus and may lead to more cases. Some variants may also be resistant to vaccines, as has already been demonstrated with the B.1.351 strain. We will continue to learn more about the impact of variants on disease and vaccines in 2021 and beyond.

 

A year from now

Given so many unknowns, how the world will be in March 2022 would be an educated guess. However, what is increasingly clear is there will be no "mission accomplished" moment. We are at a crossroads with two end games.

In the most likely scenario, rich countries will return to their new normal. Businesses and schools will reopen and internal travel will resume. Travel corridors will be established between countries with low transmission and high vaccine coverage. This might be between Singapore and Taiwan, between Australia and Vietnam, and maybe between all four, and more countries.

In low- and middle-income countries, there may be a reduction in severe cases, freeing them to rehabilitate health services that have suffered in the past 12 months. These include maternal, newborn, and child health services, including reproductive health; tuberculosis, HIV and malaria programs; and nutrition. However, reviving these services will need rich countries to commit generous and sustained aid.

The second scenario, which sadly is unlikely to occur, is unprecedented global cooperation with a focus on science and solidarity to halt transmission everywhere.

This is a fragile moment in modern world history. But, in record time, we have developed effective tools to eventually control this pandemic. The path to a post-COVID-19 future can perhaps now be characterised as a hurdle race but one that presents severe handicaps to the world's poorest nations. As an international community, we have the capacity to make it a level playing field.The Conversation

Michael Toole, Professor of International Health, Burnet Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

QLD offers $200 vouchers to boost Far North tourism

QLD offers $200 vouchers to boost Far North tourism

Tourism operators in the Cairns and Great Barrier Reef region will be given a demand-driven lifeline now that JobKeeper support will finish at the end of this month, with the state government offering $200 vouchers to travellers in the region.

There will be 15,000 of the vouchers available to Queenslanders who spend on tourism experiences in the region over the next four months, and if the scheme proves successful the model could be rolled out elsewhere in the state.

Launched yesterday, people have three days until 11 March to enter the draw to secure one of the vouchers that can be used anytime between 15 March and 25 June.

As a tourism destination that has been historically highly dependent on international visitors, Cairns has been particularly hard hit economically be COVID-19.

"Our Cairns Holiday Dollars offer will be rushed as similar schemes in other states have been heavily oversubscribed," Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said, drawing on similar initiatives in NSW and VIC.

"The vouchers give people the chance to go on tours and experience some of the attractions in the Far North and we'll cover 50 per cent of the cost, up to $200.

"The vouchers can be used for trips to the Great Barrier Reef, guided tours around the region, bungy jumping, day spas, and entry to wildlife parks, zoos and aquariums."

The $3 million injection is the first time in Queensland that a government has offered vouchers to bolster and support the tourism industry, according to Palaszczuk.

"But these are extraordinary times and Tropical North Queensland tourism operators have done it very tough over the last 12 months," she said.

"It's expected the initiative could generate an extra visitor spend of up to $14 million for the Cairns and Great Barrier Reef economy.

"If the $3 million plus promotion, in partnership with Tourism Tropical North Queensland proves a success it could well be rolled-out for the Gold Coast, the Whitsundays and Brisbane."

Tourism Minister Stirling Hinchliffe said Cairns and Port Douglas were world-famous for their warm Far North Queensland hospitality.

"The Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef region has always been a popular gateway destination for international visitors," Mr Hinchliffe said.

"Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 800,000 overseas visitors had landed in Cairns every year and contributed more than $1 billion to the region's economy.

"To have almost a third of your visitor economy wiped out by COVID's closure of the international border is a big hit in anybody's language."

He said the travel vouchers were the perfect excuse for Queenslanders to pack a bag this Easter and discover why the Far North has such an "impeccable international visitor reputation".

"By spoiling yourself with an unforgettable Cairns tropical holiday, you'll be supporting jobs and helping Queensland tourism rebuild better.

"Supporting Queenslanders is what Queenslanders do."

Member for Cairns Michael Healy said rebuilding the tourism industry was an important part of the government's economic recovery plan for Tropical North Queensland.

"This strategy will pump millions of dollars into local businesses which is exactly what we need right now," he said.

Incentivising tourists to travel to the Tropical North won't only deliver a great return for operators in the short-term, it will help us to grow our domestic visitor base long into the future."

Tourism Tropical North Queensland Chief Executive Officer Mark Olsen welcomed the Cairns Holiday Dollars as an incentive for visitors to add an additional experience to their Cairns and Great Barrier Reef holiday.

"Our region's diverse tourism experiences showcasing two World Heritage areas have helped turn the Cairns and Great Barrier Reef region into an international destination," he said.

"This is an exciting opportunity for Queenslanders to discover that you can experience the Great Barrier Reef with an Indigenous sea ranger, see the world's oldest rainforest while floating on a raft or go jet boating alongside the city."

Eligible tourism experiences could include boat or bus tours, other on-land or marine tourism experiences, reef experiences, scenic flights, short day trips, multi-day tours, spa experiences, galleries and exhibitions.

Mass redundancies forecast nationwide

The Australian Tourism Industry Council (ATIC) has today warned tourism businesses are already planning mass redundancies across industry due to the lack of certainty with the impending end of JobKeeper.

ATIC Executive Director Simon Westaway said to avoid further redundancies tourism enterprises need immediate answers on whether direct federal support will be available.

"Tourism businesses only require short-term assistance until the national vaccine rollout brings back confidence in domestic travel," Westaway said.

"The federal tourism package must include direct financial assistance to at risk tourism businesses."

He said the tourism business in capital cities was most at risk due to the downturn in interstate travel.

"The tourism Industry is not looking for more grant programs or pork-barrelling in a few regions," he said.

"Direct financial assistance should go to all tourism businesses at risk including sole traders and small family businesses as well as major airlines.

"Industry surveys show significant tourism job losses and business closures will occur due to a lack of confidence in domestic travel."

Photo: Australia.com

Updated at 7:17am AEST on 8 March 2020.

Italy blocks AstraZeneca vaccine shipment bound for Australia

Italy blocks AstraZeneca vaccine shipment bound for Australia

A shipment of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine destined for Australia has been blocked by Italy and the European Commission.

According to Italy's Minister of Foreign Affairs Luigi Di Maio, the shipment of 250,000 doses ordered by the Australian Government was blocked because the pharmaceutical giant had failed to supply the European nation with promised doses.

Italy's decision was backed by the European Commission, with EU regulation allowing countries that manufacture vaccines to prevent doses from being exported and marketed overseas.

Di Maio said in a Facebook post that Italy holds no hostility toward Australia, noting the EU considers Australia a "non-vulnerable" country with regards to COVID-19.

The move is believed to be the first time a European country has blocked a shipment of vaccines to an overseas nation.

Italy is in a very different position to Australia currently, with more than 20,000 new COVID-19 cases recorded yesterday, and nearly 100,000 dead since the beginning of the pandemic.

As of 3 March 2021, Italy had administered more than 4.7 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, representing just a fraction of the country's more than 60 million citizens.

It comes as the first doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine were administered in Australia today.

A doctor in regional SA was the first to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine this morning, with a further 1,000 doses to be administered to the population of Murray Bridge.

Updated at 10.42am AEDT on 5 March 2021.

International travel ban extended by three more months

International travel ban extended by three more months

International travel will be off the cards for Australians until at least 17 June after the Federal Government extended the ban for an additional three months.

The ban is part of the Government's 'human biosecurity emergency' declaration, which gives the Australian government powers to take measures in order to prevent and control COVID-19 spread.

According to a statement from Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care Greg Hunt, the extension of the emergency period is informed by medical and epidemiological advice.

"The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) has advised the Australian Government the COVID-19 situation overseas continues to pose an unacceptable public health risk to Australia, including the emergence of more highly transmissible variants," Hunt said.

"The extension of the emergency period for a further three months is about mitigating that risk for everyone's health and safety."

In addition to banning Australians from travelling overseas, the powers also include the following emergency determinations which have been extended for a further three months:

  • Pre-departure testing and mask wearing for international flights;
  • Restrictions on the entry of cruise vessels within Australian territory;
  • Restrictions on trade of retail outlets at international airports.

"These restrictions can be amended or repealed if no longer needed," Hunt said.

"In particular, the Australian Government continues to work closely with state and territory agencies, national health committees and the cruise industry to develop a framework for the staged resumption of cruise ships in a manner that is proportionate to the public health risk."

While the COVID-19 situation in Australia is currently under control, overseas the virus continues to spread.

Yesterday, 294,930 new coronavirus cases were detected in the world, bringing the global total to more than 114 million.

The USA recorded the most new cases yesterday with 53,547 infections, followed by Brazil with 38,394, and Italy with 13,094.

Updated at 9.35am AEDT on 3 March 2021.

 

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