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As it happened: Novavax vaccine human trials begin in Melbourne; COVID-19 cases top 5.4 million worldwide; Australia death toll at 102

The federal health minister has ordered an investigation into the alleged sale of counterfeit protective face masks in Australian hospitals, exposed by the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on Tuesday.

Acting Health Department Secretary Caroline Edwards told the Senate inquiry into the government’s COVID-19 response that Health Minister Greg Hunt had ordered the Therapeutic Goods Administration to examine “what might have happened”, after the publications revealed that private hospitals were sold to private hospitals.

Asked if the department had been aware of concerns that doctors and nurses exposed to COVID-19 may have been wearing defective masks, Ms Edwards said: “We are now.”

The TGA in March dropped strict regulations that required all masks to be tested before being registered in Australia in response to a global shortage of personal protective equipment.

Ms Edwards rejected the suggestion that defective masks had been let through by the TGA’s relaxation of the rules, saying that this only applied to masks acquired by the federal government for the national medical stockpile and not those sold on the private market.

“We changed the regulation so that certain equipment coming only into the national stockpile could skip some of the regulatory hoops on the basis that there would be post market reviews to check that that material is safe and so on,” Ms Edwards told the hearing.

“But [we] in no way changed the requirements for anybody else that’s using PPE for a therapeutic purpose – as opposed to if you buy it at the chemist for some other reason around your house.

“If it’s used for a therapeutic purpose, which you would expect in a hospital, it needs to go through the exact same regulatory process as always. So the TGA is going to go investigate the situation we have here.”

Before March 22, companies selling masks to hospitals first had to ensure their products passed independent testing and were registered by the TGA.

Experts have told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that mask manufacturers, many based in China, took advantage of the relaxed rules to register counterfeit masks and then use the government-issued registration certificate to sell them to private hospitals and other companies.

Up to half a million short-term casual workers in industries worst-hit by the pandemic could access JobKeeper if the federal government expanded the scheme to include workers employed at their workplace for fewer than 12 months.

As the government faces calls to widen its wage subsidy program, research suggests the young and poor – “those least able to cope” – will experience the most pronounced financial hit due to the pandemic.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Scott Morrison Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

The analysis from Melbourne University’s Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey suggests 28 per cent of the nation’s workforce, or about 3.5 million workers, worked in industries where businesses were forced to close, like hospitality, aviation and the arts, or those that experienced steep declines in turnover, including the real estate, apparel and automotive sectors.

Of these workers, about 500,000 are casuals who have not worked for the same business for more than 12 months, meaning they are ineligible for the $1500 fortnightly payment.

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Mexico’s capital registered 8072 more deaths in the first five months this year than the average from the same period over the past four years, an analysis by independent researchers showed on Monday, suggesting a possible surge due to the coronavirus.

Health officials have reported 1655 deaths from the virus in Mexico City, out of 7394 deaths nationwide. They have also acknowledged that the true death toll is higher, but difficult to estimate due to a low testing rate.

A sanitary team disinfects the Jamaica Market, which is scheduled to reopen today in Mexico City.

A sanitary team disinfects the Jamaica Market, which is scheduled to reopen today in Mexico City.Credit:PA

Software developer Mario Romero Zavala and economic consultant Laurianne Despeghel, whose analysis was published in Mexican magazine Nexos, tallied 39,173 fatalities this year through May 20 by extracting data from Mexico City’s online database of death certificates.

Over the prior four years, they calculated just 31,101 deaths on average during the same period, using the same database.

Mexico City’s official count of deaths from the coronavirus represents just over 20 per cent of the study’s “excess mortality” – a term used by epidemiologists to estimate the increase in deaths, versus normal conditions, attributable to a public health crisis.

Excess mortality is difficult to calculate in Mexico because the most recent data on fatalities from the national statistics institute is from 2018.

Despeghel said the analysis was only a first step to measuring the virus’ impact.

“While studying excess deaths allows us to identify a higher mortality rate during the COVID-19 crisis, it is not sufficient to attribute it directly or solely to the virus,” she said.

A Reuters review of data from 13 funeral homes in Mexico City showed that the excess mortality rate in the first week of May could be at least 2.5 times higher than the government’s tally of deaths from the coronavirus during that period.

Reuters

The university staff union’s plan for a national framework for campus-by-campus wage negotiations has been derailed just days before it was due to go to a ballot of all members.

At least 17 universities including the University of NSW, the University of Sydney, RMIT, University of Melbourne and University, Deakin, Curtin, the Australian Catholic University and Central Queensland University have rejected the plan which included a proposal for wage cuts of up to 15 per cent.

NTEU national president Dr Alison Barnes.

NTEU national president Dr Alison Barnes.

National Tertiary Education Union national president Dr Alison Barnes said the union was appalled that university vice chancellors had combined to derail the national jobs protection framework which was designed to save 12,000 jobs.

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Business groups have rallied behind Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s push to revamp Australia’s skills and training system and have called for a focus on digital technology, healthcare and construction.

But the government faces warnings that a revival will require a real funding boost after years of cuts that have made vocational training the “poor cousin” of higher education, with spending on the sector at its lowest level in a decade.

TAFE and the vocational education sector have faced funding squeezes and policy dysfunction for years.

TAFE and the vocational education sector have faced funding squeezes and policy dysfunction for years. Credit:Rob Homer

In a speech to the National Press Club on Tuesday, Mr Morrison zeroed in on a vocational training system he said was “marred by inconsistencies and incoherence” and “unresponsive” to the needs of industry. He called for a rewrite of a national skills and workforce agreement to secure more accountability for government spending.

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Will the Cats have an advantage with their home games in the revamped fixture played in Geelong? Did the AFLPA do enough for the players around the Crows’ infamous pre-season camp? What is Joel Selwood like as a leader?

From his stance on shorter quarters to how he felt about missing out on selection in round one, Josh Jenkins joins Michael Gleeson, Jake Niall and Caroline Wilson for a wide-ranging chat about football on and off the field.

Jenkins also discusses fellow Geelong recruit Jack Steven and what it was like for them to join a new club at the same time. How the Cats can best help their teammate as he returns to the team?

Bangkok: As about 24,000 Filipinos who lost their jobs abroad are being transported by land, sea or air to their provincial homes, their President warned local officials not to refuse them entry out of coronavirus fears.

The workers returned to the country in recent months as jobs dried up worldwide due to the pandemic. They were quarantined for two weeks in hospitals, hotels and makeshift isolation centres in Manila in a chaotic situation that delayed their trip home and sparked a myriad of complaints. Some had to wait for weeks for their coronavirus test results, but all being released and transported home have tested negative.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, wearing a mask, gestures during a meeting at the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, wearing a mask, gestures during a meeting at the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila.Credit:AP

President Rodrigo Duterte said in televised remarks that some provincial officials had refused entry to returning workers from abroad and warned them of possible lawsuits.

Authorities have been scrambling to decongest the quarantine facilities in the capital since about 300,000 more displaced Filipino workers are slated to come home soon.

AP

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The Morrison government is considering plans to boost the housing construction sector including large grants to buyers of new homes amid concerns a collapse in migrant numbers and slowdown in the property market will weigh on the nation’s economic recovery from the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday revealed there would be a “real impact” from the expected drop in migrants that would flow through the entire construction sector, which employs more than 1.1 million people.

The Morrison government is working on a plan to boost the housing construction sector with large upfront grants to buyers of new homes an option.

The Morrison government is working on a plan to boost the housing construction sector with large upfront grants to buyers of new homes an option.Credit:Joe Armao

The government is expecting a 30 per cent drop in net overseas migration this financial year before an 85 per cent fall in 2020-21.

The 2019-20 budget had assumed a net 270,000 increase in migration for 2019-20 and just a small drop the following year.

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Attempts by Dominic Cummings to justify the trips he made during lockdown while infectious have failed to quell anger within the government, triggering the resignation of a junior minister over the affair.

Douglas Ross, Under Secretary of State for Scotland, tendered his resignation on Tuesday morning, saying in a letter he accepted Cummings took actions “he felt were the best interests of his family. However, these were decisions many others felt were not available to them”.

“I have constituents who didn’t get to say goodbye to loved ones, families who could not mourn together, people who didn’t visit sick relatives because they followed the guidance of the government. I cannot in good faith tell them they were all wrong and one senior adviser to the government was right.”

Nearly two dozen Tory MPs have publicly demanded Cummings stand down and Durham police have pledged to investigate his movements in the region.

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Tokyo: Children under the age of two shouldn’t wear masks because they can make breathing difficult and increase the risk of choking, a Japanese medical group said, launching an urgent appeal to parents as the country reopens from the coronavirus crisis.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lifted a state of emergency for Tokyo and four remaining areas on Monday after the number of infections fell across Japan, but warned that it could be reimposed if the virus started spreading again.

A woman and baby wear masks to help protect against the coronavirus in Beijing.

A woman and baby wear masks to help protect against the coronavirus in Beijing.Credit:AP

To prevent the virus spread, health experts worldwide are recommending people wear masks when difficult to maintain social distancing as countries loosen restrictions following coronavirus shutdowns.

But the Japan Paediatric Association has warned parents that masks are too risky for infants.

“Masks can make breathing difficult because infants have narrow air passages,” which increases the burden on their hearts, the association said, adding the face covering also raises the risk of heat stroke for them.

Reuters

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