Australia’s biggest states hold off relaxing coronavirus lockdowns

A delivery man cycles past a street art in Sydney on May 8, 2020. Australia’s government unveiled a three-stage plan to get the economy back to a new “COVID-safe” normal by the end of July. (AFP)
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Updated 09 May 2020

Australia’s biggest states hold off relaxing coronavirus lockdowns

  • Canberra, and some states, on Saturday allowed people to start visiting each other again
  • New South Wales and Victoria plan to outline plans for easing business restrictions only next week

MELBOURNE: Australia’s most populous states held back from easing COVID-19 restrictions on Saturday even as some states allowed small gatherings and got ready to open restaurants in line with the federal government’s three-stage plan for reopening businesses.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday outlined plans to remove most curbs by July in a three-step process to get nearly 1 million people back to work, as the country has reined in new COVID-19 infections to less than 20 a day with strict lockdowns.
Australia’s total deaths from COVID-19 remain just below 100.
The nation’s capital, Canberra, and some states, on Saturday allowed people to start visiting each other again, with indoor and outdoor gatherings, including weddings, of up to 10 people allowed.
In South Australia, outdoor dining at restaurants and cafes will be allowed from Monday for up to 10 people, and in the Northern Territory, pubs, bars and restaurants will reopen next Friday.
However, the states of New South Wales and Victoria, which make up more than half the country’s population and nearly two-thirds of the country’s COVID-19 cases, plan to outline plans for easing business restrictions only next week.
New South Wales Health Minister Brad Hazzard said on Saturday nearly 300,000 people have been tested for coronavirus in the state, and while 3,000 of those had tested positive, 82 percent of them were already well again.
Ahead of Mother’s Day on Sunday, Hazzard urged people not to let their guard down on social distancing and hand-washing when visiting their mothers.
“It’s really tough to not be able to hug your mum or kiss your mum, but it would be the wisest course to not do that,” Hazzard said.
Many nursing homes around the country started allowing limited visits this weekend, with some requiring temperature checks and proof of flu vaccinations before allowing visitors in with strict social distancing of 1.5 meters (4.9 ft).
While schools reopened last week in Western Australia and South Australia, the state of Queensland got ready to send kindergarten, year 1, 11 and 12 students back to school on Monday.
“I’ve got a very excited grade 1 student who can’t wait to get to school in my household and I’m sure there are many, many other kids and mums eager for that return to school,” Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles told reporters on Saturday.
Australia and New Zealand Banking Group, Australia’s fourth largest bank, told staff it was preparing for a staged return to work, with no more than 35 percent of its people to be in the office at any one time.
New Zealand reported two new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, taking the country’s total to 1,492 cases. There have been 21 deaths linked to the coronavirus.


UK vaccine frontrunner could be available in first half of 2021

Updated 6 min 16 sec ago

UK vaccine frontrunner could be available in first half of 2021

  • Human trials of the vaccine will expand to hundreds more people in the “coming weeks.”

LONDON: A leading British scientist has said a Covid-19 vaccine could be rolled out across the country as early as the first half of next year.

Professor Robin Shattock leads the team working on Imperial College London’s vaccine, one of the UK’s two most promising research programs. He told Sky News: “We anticipate if everything goes really well, that we'll get an answer as to whether it works by early next year.

“Assuming that the funding is there to purchase that vaccine, we could have that vaccine rolled out across the UK in the first half of next year.”

Shattock also warned that there was “no certainty” that any of the vaccines currently being developed would work, but said the risk of that is “very, very low.”

Imperial College London is now conducting human trials of their vaccine, with 15 volunteers having received it so far. Shattock said this will be ramped up in the “coming weeks” to include another 200 to 300 patients.

“I think we're very lucky in the UK that we have two very strong candidates, the one from Imperial, the one from Oxford, and so we’re pretty well placed, but there's still not a certainty that either of those two will work,” he said.

Oxford University is also developing a vaccination for Covid-19, in partnership with British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca.

While Shattock said he hopes Imperial College London’s vaccine will be available for the whole of the UK in the first half of next year, it is unclear how long it would take for it to be available outside of the country.

The UK, European Union and the US have all invested huge sums into vaccine development, and struck deals with pharmaceutical companies worth hundreds of millions of dollars each to ensure first-in-line access to successful vaccinations.

However, international organizations such as the UN, International Red Crescent and Red Cross, and Doctors Without Borders have raised concerns that the world’s poorest countries will be unable to access vaccinations and effective Covid-19 treatments due to rich countries outspending them.