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What we know today, Thursday June 17

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The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation has changed its advice on the AstraZeneca vaccine, lifting the recommended age for the jab to over 60.

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ATAGI expected to change AstraZeneca advice

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation is reportedly expected to change its advice on the AstraZeneca vaccine, lifting the recommended age for the jab to over 60.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is currently recommended for all over 50s, but is not advised for the younger cohort due to extremely rare but sometimes fatal blood clots.

But ATAGI has recommended the federal government lift the recommended age for receiving the AstraZeneca jab from over 50 to over 60.

Health Minister Greg Hunt this afternoon confirmed the government has accepted this advice, with Pfizer now the preferred vaccine for under 60s.

It follows a 52-year-old woman in New South Wales who died last week after developing blood clots after having the AstraZeneca jab.

The new advice would present another obstacle to Australia’s vaccination rollout, given AstraZeneca’s is the only vaccine administered by general practices who shoulder the bulk of the nation’s rollout.

As of last week, more than 3.6 million doses of AstraZeneca have been administered nationwide since the rollout kicked off in February.

The majority of the federal government’s 40 million Pfizer vaccines are not due to arrive until the last quarter of 2020.

Hunt is meeting with state and territory counterparts to discuss the new advice and potential changes to the immunisation program.

“We will move to open access to Pfizer immediately for 40 to 59 years,” he told reporters today.

“This will open for approximately 2.1 million people who are in that 50-59 group who have not yet received vaccinations.

“In terms of supply … this month we’re expected to receive 1.7 million [Pfizer doses] and next month that will grow to 2.8. million.

“It is a change, and we recognise that does bring some challenges.”

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said ATAGI balanced the risk-benefit of the AstraZeneca vaccine with “where we are right now in Australia in relation to the Covid 19 pandemic”. 

“The benefit of AstraZeneca in the over 60s remains much higher than the risk of this particularly rare but sometimes serious syndrome,” Kelly said.

“And so people over 60 should still be rolling up to their GP or wherever they are getting their AstraZeneca vaccine, and get that first dose.

Kelly also said anyone who has already had their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine “should feel very confident to have their second dose”.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was cautious about the prospect of having all Australians vaccinated by the end of the year.

“There are shocks that come along the way, as we’re only seeing again now,” Morrison told Sky News this morning.

“And, you know, you have to deal with those and you have to respond to them.

“We want to continue to encourage people to come forward and get those vaccinations, but then you’ve got the additional supplies which have been coming through for Pfizer and you’ve got Moderna to come in later.

“And the sprint later in the year will be very important.”

Three cases in NSW, transmission at Sydney cafe

A coronavirus outbreak in Sydney’s eastern suburbs has grown to three, after a woman in her 70s was exposed to COVID-19 at a cafe.

NSW is once again on high alert after two new locally-transmitted were detected on Wednesday and a number of busy venues were declared potential exposure sites.

The third person – the woman in her 70s – tested positive after visiting one of those sites, the Bell Cafe in Vaucluse.

Additionally, a man in his 40s has tested positive in the Baulkham Hills area.

But NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant Health cautioned this might be a false positive or an old case “as the viral load in his system was very low”.

“On that basis, it could be a false positive or it could be an old case,” she told reporters on Thursday.

The alarm about the latest outbreak began on Wednesday night when NSW Health discovered a man in his 60s and his wife had tested positive for COVID-19.

The Bondi man works as a driver and had transported international flight crews.

High Court rejects Leyonhjelm appeal bid

The High Court has rejected former senator David Leyonhjelm’s application for leave to appeal Senator Sarah Hanson-Young’s defamation win against him.

This comes three months after the full Federal Court dismissed Mr Leyonhjelm’s appeal against an earlier judgment and nearly three years after he made comments in the Senate that sparked the defamation battle.

The Greens senator was previously awarded $120,000 damages and costs against her former upper house colleague over comments that portrayed her as a hypocrite and misandrist after he told her to “stop shagging men”, when he believed she said in parliament that “all men are rapists”.

Leyonhjelm argued in court that what he said was governed under parliamentary privilege or qualified privilege, as well as disputing the acts were caused by malice.

Hanson Young said in a statement that “at the time, all I wanted was an apology but instead he continued to attack me”.

“I am pleased this decision draws these three years to a close and that the thousands of dollars of damages that Mr Leyonhjelm must pay will go on to benefit the important work of two charities, the Working Women’s Centre South Australia and Plan International.”

A two-to-one majority of the full Federal Court refused to overturn the defamation finding against Leyonhjelm, but all three judges rejected his appeal ground relating to parliamentary privilege.

Senator Hanson-Young said that unanimous decision sends a strong message to parliamentarians that they are not above the law.

“Women across the country have had enough, just like I had when I took this action,” she said.

Erin Phillips signs on with Crows

The AFLW’s most decorated player, Erin Phillips, says she has no thoughts of retirement after signing on with Adelaide for another season.

The 36-year-old has set her sights on extending her career beyond 2022.

“I’m not going into this season thinking it’s my last,” Phillips said in a statement on Thursday.

“Hopefully there’s a couple of years still left in me.”

Phillips, the AFLW’s greatest player, has won the competition’s best-and-fairest award two times.

She is also a dual club champion at Adelaide and the linchpin of the Crows’ two premierships in 2017 and 2019, winning the best-afield medal in both grand finals.

Her output last season was curtailed by a lingering knee injury – she played hurt in Adelaide’s grand final loss to Brisbane and then had arthroscopy surgery.

“I have been given the green light by my surgeon and medical staff at the Crows after my knee arthroscopy,” Phillips said.

“And I feel confident that my body still has good footy left in me.

“I’m really excited to have signed on with this incredible team for another year.”

Australia to watch European virus numbers

Coronavirus hospitalisation numbers in well-vaccinated European nations could be crucial to Australia’s decision to restart international travel.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the federal government would be keeping a close watch on the rates of serious illness in coming months.

“We will see over the course of this summer in Europe, where a lot of people will be moving around under those new arrangements, and we’ll be able to see what the impact of that is,” he told Sky News.

“If the virus is there but the hospitalisations and the serious illness don’t occur and we see that on a sustained basis, well that says there is a potentially different pathway there.

“But the jury is not in on that yet. New variants like Delta and so on can change all that.”

Victoria’s latest lockdown was triggered by health authorities’ concern about cases of the Delta and Kappa variants.

Australia has edged past six million doses as the sluggish vaccine rollout continues to gather momentum.

But the portion of the population that is fully immunised remains low, with the latest official figure around three per cent.

In contrast, major European nations are reporting high vaccination rates with the United Kingdom having administered two doses to almost 58 per cent of adults.

No new Vic cases ahead of restrictions easing

Victoria has recorded no new locally acquired coronavirus cases, ahead of a further easing of restrictions across Melbourne and the regions on Friday.

The Health Department on Thursday confirmed just one new COVID-19 case involving a returned traveller in hotel quarantine.

The total number of active cases in the state is now  54.

Some 25,635 Victorians were tested in the 24 hours to midnight on Wednesday while 15,610 received a COVID-19 vaccine dose at state-run hubs.

It comes ahead of an easing of restrictions in Melbourne and regional Victoria from Friday.

Under the latest changes, Melbourne residents will be able to travel to regional Victoria with the removal of the 25km journey bubble, host two adult visitors plus their dependents per day and gather outdoors in groups of 20.

West End Brewery closes doors

The final kegs are set to come off the production line at Adelaide’s historic West End Brewery today, ending more than 160 years of making beer on the site.

The last kegs will be filled on Thursday after brewing company Lion in October announced plans to close the facility.

“Unfortunately, due to excess brewery capacity across Australia, the tough decision was made to close the site late last year,” Lion Supply Chain Director Ian Roberts said.

“During this transition, Lion has done its best to care for and offer a raft of support to the West End team as each of them faced this period of change.”

Lion will move production of West End beer to other breweries in its network and has pledged to maintain the same recipe.

It said the original West End Brewery tower building had also been heritage-listed and the company was working with Heritage SA to ensure its preservation as part of the site redevelopment.

A significant museum of artefacts at the site were also being catalogued and sorted and would be donated to the State Library of SA and other local historical and cultural institutions.

Lion says about a third of its workforce in SA, those involved in sales and sponsorship roles, would stay on.

Premier Steven Marshall said the end of beer production at the brewery was a sad day for South Australia.

“West End has been on that site for a long period of time. It’s an iconic South Australian business and we’re very sad that it will be leaving,” he said.

Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas said the “sad reality” is once icons like this leave they are “lost forever”.

“I can’t help but wonder if more could have been done to save this brewery and save these jobs,” he said this morning.

“I want to thank all of the workers who have been proud to make local South Australian beer at the site throughout the decades.”

New program aims to reunite children in state care with parents

A new program focusing on reuniting parents with their children in state care is set to be launched in South Australia today following its operation in other states.

Not-for-profit Uniting Communities says the New Parent and Infant Network (Newpin) will work with parents who have had their children removed under a temporary protection order to improve their parenting capacity and develop effective family relationships.

Newpin is specifically targeted at reuniting children in state care who are under six years old and will work with parents for up to 18 months.

The program has been operating in NSW and the ACT for over 10 years, according to Uniting Communities.

Private investors are funding the South Australian program along with $15 million from the State Government under a “social impact investment funding model”.

Uniting Communities chief executive Simon Schrapel – who has previously criticised the State Government as the “laggard” in Australian child protection policy – said private investment in the Newpin program showed the commitment of the community to reducing the number of children in state care.

“Addressing the growing number of children in out of home care who can be successfully and safely reunified with their family needs to be one of the State’s top social and economic priorities,” Schrapel said.

“With practical intervention and support, relationships can be re-established which allows children to return to live safely with their family in their community.”

There were more than 4000 children living in state care in South Australia as of 2020.

Minister for Child Protection Rachel Sanderson said the Newpin program was “another major step” to improving social outcomes for children and vulnerable families.

“It is widely acknowledged that, where it is safe to do so, supporting children to return to their family is highly advantageous to their health and wellbeing and longer-term outcomes, such as education and employment,” Sanderson said.

The new program follows a damning report into the Child Protection Department released in February, which found the Department was “riddled with cultural issues” and its reporting of child abuse a “mess”.

Eynesbury Senior College to close

Eynesbury Senior College in the Adelaide CBD will close at the end of the academic year, the school’s chairman has announced, citing a lack of international students as the reason for its demise.

The Adelaide CBD college, which offers year 10, 11 and 12 classes to prepare students for university, has been operating on its Franklin Street campus since 2001.

The private senior secondary college was established in 1990 at Eynesbury House on Old Belair Road.

Chairman Stephen Spencer said the decision followed “careful and considered deliberation” from the college board, but the school’s model was “not viable” without international students.

“With international borders closed, ESC’s international education partner Navitas, which recruits and enrols international secondary school students, was forced to review its operations and will no longer offer secondary courses,” Spencer said.

“Before the international border closure, Navitas provided Eynesbury Senior College with up to 40 percent of its cohort through international students.  It also provides us with staff, our Franklin Street campus, and essential shared facilities.

“Unfortunately, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Navitas can no longer provide us with a campus or the necessary facilities, support and, importantly, the international students that we require to remain operational.

“Without these international students, the operating model for Eynesbury Senior College is not viable.”

Spencer said the College Council explored relocating its campus and partnering with other institutions, but there was “no viable alternative” to closing the school and continuing beyond this year could “compromise the quality” of student education.

May job figures tipped to show steady employment growth

Economists expect another solid rise in employment to be recorded in May when the Australian Bureau of Statistics releases its labour force report today, which should at least keep the unemployment rate steady at 5.5 per cent.

The national numbers for April saw the unemployment rate decrease from 5.7 per cent to 5.5 per cent.

Economists’ forecasts for today’s numbers centre on a further 30,000 increase in employment in May, although there is a wide range of expectations, from a 60,000 rise to a 19,000 decline.

The unemployment rate is expected to hold at 5.5 per cent even after six consecutive months of declines, although again forecasts range from 5.3 per cent to 5.7 per cent.

South Australia’s numbers for April showed unemployment higher than the national average at 5.7 per cent.

However, the figures represent a marked improvement from the start of the year when SA had an unemployment rate of 7.1 per cent – the worst in the nation.

South Australia’s underemployment rate also fell in April from 8.6 per cent to 8.3 per cent.

Today’s ABS figures come at a time of strong demand for workers, with job advertising having grown for 12 months in a row to be almost 40 per cent higher than pre-pandemic levels.

Biden, Putin agree to resume arms control talks at first summit

US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin have agreed at a “pragmatic” first summit to resume arms control talks and to return ambassadors to each other’s capitals after they were withdrawn earlier this year.

The discussions at the lakeside Villa La Grange in Geneva lasted less than four hours – far less than Biden’s advisers had said they expected.

Putin called Biden, 78, a constructive, experienced partner, and said they spoke “the same language”, but added that there had been no friendship, rather a pragmatic dialogue about their two countries’ interests.

He said it was “hard to say” if relations with the United States would improve, but that there was a “glimpse of hope” regarding mutual trust. There were no invitations to Washington or Moscow.

Putin, 68, who was first to brief reporters, said the meeting had been constructive, without hostility, and had showed the leaders’ desire to understand each other.

He also said Russia and the US shared a responsibility for nuclear stability, and would hold talks on possible changes to their recently extended New START arms limitation treaty.

But he showed little appetite for compromise on a range of other issues, dismissing Washington’s concerns about the arrest of opposition figurehead Alexei Navalny, about Russia’s increased military presence near Ukraine’s eastern border, and about US. suggestions that unidentified Russians are responsible for a series of cyber-attacks in the United States.

Arms control is, however, one domain where progress has historically been possible despite wider disagreements.

In February, Russia and the United States extended for five years the New START treaty, which caps the number of strategic nuclear warheads they can deploy and limits the land- and submarine-based missiles and bombers to deliver them.

Both sides had said in advance of the summit that they hoped for more stable and predictable relations, even though they were at odds over everything from arms control and cyber-hacking to election interference and Ukraine.

Relations between Moscow and Washington sank further in March when Biden said he thought Putin was a “killer”, prompting Russia to recall Antonov to Washington for consultations. The United States recalled its ambassador in April.

Putin said on Wednesday that he had been satisfied by Biden’s explanation of the remark.

Biden said he told Putin critical infrastructure should be “off-limits” to cyberattacks, saying the list of organisations that should be off-limits included 16 sectors that he did not identify.

“I looked at him and said how would you feel if ransomware took on the pipelines from your oil fields? He said it would matter,” Biden told reporters at a solo news conference.

-With AAP and Reuters

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