Australia’s COVID-19 epicenter extends hard lockdown

Victoria state premier Daniel Andrews on the lockdown extension: “We cannot open up at this time. If we were to we would lose control very quickly.” (AFP)
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Updated 06 September 2020

Australia’s COVID-19 epicenter extends hard lockdown

  • Gradual easing of restrictions over the following two months
  • If state opened up too quickly it would be on track for a third wave by mid-November

MELBOURNE: Australia’s coronavirus hot spot state of Victoria on Sunday extended a hard lockdown in its capital Melbourne by two weeks to the end of September as infection rates have declined more slowly than hoped.
State Premier Daniel Andrews on Sunday extended the hard lockdown, in place since Aug. 2, to Sept. 28 with a slight relaxation, and mapped out a gradual easing of restrictions over the following two months.
Melbourne’s stage 4 restrictions, which had been due to end on Sept. 13, shut most of the economy, limited people’s movements to a 5-kilometer zone around their homes for one hour a day and imposed a night time curfew.
“We cannot open up at this time. If we were to we would lose control very quickly,” Andrews said at a televised media conference.
Victoria, Australia’s second most populous state, has been the epicenter of a second wave of the coronavirus, now accounting for about 75 percent of the country’s 26,282 cases and 90 percent of its 753 deaths.
The state on Sunday reported 63 new COVID-19 infections and five deaths, down from a peak of 725 new cases on Aug. 5.
Andrews said modelling showed cases would continue to average around 60 a day by next weekend, and if the state opened up too quickly it would be on track for a third wave by mid-November.
By contrast, Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, has had no more than 13 cases a day since early August.
Andrews has resisted pressure to lift restrictions, which the federal government has blamed for dragging Australia deeper into its first recession in nearly 30 years, while other states have largely reopened their economies.
“You’ve got to defeat the second wave and do it properly. Otherwise you just begin a third wave. A third wave will mean we can’t do the economic repair that people desperately want us to do,” he said.
Starting from 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 13, some stage 4 restrictions will begin easing, with the nightly curfew starting at 9 p.m. instead of 8 p.m., people will be allowed outdoors for up to two hours instead of one, and those living alone will be allowed to have a visitor.
After Sept. 28, if average daily infection rates have dropped to between 30 and 50 for 14 days, child care, construction sites, manufacturing plants, and warehouses, will go back to normal, allowing 101,000 workers to return to their jobs.
Schools will also partially reopen and outdoor gatherings of up to five people would be allowed.
After Oct. 26, if daily infection rates have dropped below five over the previous two weeks, cafes and restaurants could reopen, mostly for outdoor service, and shops and hairdressers would reopen.
At the same time, the curfew would be lifted, there would be no limits on leaving home, outdoor gatherings could increase to 10, homes would be able to have five visitors, and some adult non-contact sports could resume.
After Nov. 23, cafes, bars and restaurants could have more people indoors, schools could reopen more fully, museums and other entertainment venues could reopen, public gatherings of up to 50 people would be allowed, and up to 20 visitors to homes.
“I know people are disappointed. I’m disappointed too that we cannot open up faster. But the key point here is to open and stay open,” Andrews said.
Restrictions in regional Victoria will ease from Sept. 13.


Study finds AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine follows genetic instructions

Updated 22 October 2020

Study finds AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine follows genetic instructions

  • Bristol University virology expert David Matthews: The vaccine is doing everything we expected and that is only good news in our fight against the illness
  • AstraZeneca, which is developing the vaccine with Oxford University researchers, is seen as a frontrunner in the race to produce a vaccine to protect against COVID-19

LONDON: AstraZeneca’s Oxford COVID-19 vaccine accurately follows the genetic instructions programmed into it by its developers to successfully provoke a strong immune response, according to a detailed analysis carried out by independent UK scientists.
“The vaccine is doing everything we expected and that is only good news in our fight against the illness,” said David Matthews, an expert in virology from Bristol University, who led the research.
AstraZeneca, which is developing the vaccine with Oxford University researchers, is seen as a frontrunner in the race to produce a vaccine to protect against COVID-19.
The first data from late-stage large-scale clinical trials being conducted in several countries around the world, including Brazil, the United States and Britain, are expected to be released before the end of the year.
The vaccine — known either as ChAdOx1 or AZD1222 — is made by taking a common cold virus called an adenovirus from chimpanzees and deleting about 20% of the virus’s instructions. This means it is impossible for the vaccine to replicate or cause disease in humans.
The Bristol researchers’ focus was to assess how often and how accurately the vaccine is copying and using the genetic instructions programmed into it by its designers. These instructions detail how to make the spike protein from the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19.
Once the spike protein is made, the immune system reacts to it, training the immune system to identify a real COVID-19 infection.
“This is an important study as we are able to confirm that the genetic instructions underpinning this vaccine ... are correctly followed when they get into a human cell,” Matthews said in a statement about the work.
His team’s research was not peer reviewed by other scientists, but was published as a preprint before review.