It happened, you got COVID. Is immunity the consolation prize?

Central Coast resident Mitch Rogers has just come out of two weeks of complete isolation, which he says was "pretty tough".

After contracting COVID early this year, the 32-year-old, who lives by himself, retreated to his Umina Beach home to ride out the symptoms. They ended up taking 14 days to subside, double the mandated seven-day isolation period.

But as he re-entered the world on Monday, returning to his job in the care sector, he was far from relieved. "I feel more cautious and nervous," he says.

How to prepare for a household case

When it comes to a household COVID-19 outbreak, it can pay to be prepared. Here’s what you should have in your isolation survival kit.

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Partly, he's worried that he could still be infectious and unwittingly pass the virus to someone else. (He thinks he caught the virus from someone who had recently left isolation and thought they were clear.)

But mainly, he's afraid to get sick again.

"The booster talk is confusing, some sources say you're meant to be immune for six months, some say six weeks," he says.

"I went to a takeaway place and I was the only person wearing a mask. I couldn't remember if the rules changed, but I didn't feel safe not wearing one."

More than a million Australians have now had COVID, and while many who have recently contracted the virus describe it as a weight off their shoulders, for others like Mitch, the anxiety has continued. 

So, does a COVID-19 infection mean you won't get it again? And how careful should you be when you leave isolation? Here's what the experts say.

I've recently recovered from COVID. Can I get it again?

Yes, but probably not for a little while.

That's because infections, like vaccinations, help your body create antibodies that fend off SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19. This immunity is most powerful immediately following an illness, when the cellular memory of the infection and neutralising antibodies are at their strongest.

"Someone who has been vaccinated previously and then gets an Omicron infection effectively gets their immunity 'boosted' by infection in a similar way to a third dose of vaccine," says Professor Miles Davenport, who leads the Kirby Institute's Infection Analytics Program.

LIVE UPDATES: Read our blog for the latest news on the COVID-19 pandemic

"The expectation is that this 'boost' to immunity should provide high levels of protection from Omicron infection for a significant period, likely up to 12 months."

Experts estimate Omicron currently accounts for upwards of 90 per cent of COVID-19 cases nationwide. But due to the influx of cases and delays with genomic testing, many people won't know whether they have contracted Omicron or the earlier, and more dangerous, Delta strain.

Lessons from India's Omicron outbreak

With the idea of herd immunity losing favour in India, a study out of South Africa could offer new hope about the hiIn India, the notion of "herd immunity", which lulled many into a false sense of security before Delta cases exploded last year, has disappeared from public discourse. 

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"Infection with one variant generally provides a degree of protection from other variants," Professor Davenport says. "Therefore, infection with Omicron will provide the strongest protection against [reinfection with] Omicron — but also weaker protection against other variants."

Recent research from South Africa suggests people who have recovered from Omicron may be better placed to stop a Delta infection. The study of 15 participants who had recently become infected with Omicron, led by the Africa Health Research Institute, found the participant's ability to neutralise the Delta variant increased more than fourfold. The results have not yet been peer-reviewed.

The same, however, does not appear to be true in reverse, with Omicron able to more easily evade immunity from other variants. But even so, epidemiologist Mary-louise McLaws, who advises the World Health Organization on COVID-19, says it's quite safe to assume you won't be reinfected with any variant within three months of recovery.

This is because neutralising antibodies are at their highest during that period, before beginning to wane. "With Omicron and Delta, we're probably not going to have our antibodies forever," she says. 

How long will the protection last?

That's up for debate, and will likely differ from person to person. Like Professor McLaws, Professor Steven Tong, an infectious disease physician from the Doherty Institute, estimates people who have recently recovered from Omicron should "have a pretty high level of protection" for at least three months.

"It's too soon with Omicron, we don't really know," Professor Tong says. "While I can speculate that I think you'll have some protection, we don't know that for sure."

In New South Wales, health authorities are playing it safe. While there is an exemption in place meaning people who have recently recovered from the virus do not have to isolate if they are a close contact, this only applies to people who have had the virus in the past month.

"People who have recovered from COVID-19 have a low risk of getting it again in the 28 days after you are released as most people develop some immunity," the NSW Health website reads.

But a bigger issue is whether another variant that's able to evade pre-existing antibodies, like Omicron, will come along. And if so, when?

"We don't know what will happen in six months time," Professor Tong says.

"People that have been infected with Omicron, you can't say whether they could be reinfected with another variant or not — but theoretically it's possible."

What about boosters?

Despite any previous COVID infection, you still need to get the booster.

But the spike in infection numbers has unfortunately coincided with the rush of vaccine appointments for kids and booster eligibility for adults, creating a logistical nightmare for organising bookings.

While you shouldn't go to a vaccination appointment if you have COVID-19 or symptoms, experts are still urging people to get their booster shot as soon as they are able. But when is the best time?

Federal health advice is unclear: while it says vaccination can be delayed by up to six months following an infection, due to a reduced chance of reinfection in this time, it also advises that there is no requirement to do this

When can you get a booster after COVID?

As Omicron cases soar, many people are faced with having to re-book their vaccination appointments. Here are some principles to help you decide when to lock it in.

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Professor McLaws recommends waiting three months after an infection to get a booster — assuming you are feeling well — because that's when your neutralising antibodies will start to wane. Professor Tong, however, says the sooner the better.

"If you've recovered from your acute illness, let's say you're two or three weeks down the track and you're back to normal, then that's a good time to have your third shot," he says. 

He stresses that even people who have recovered from the virus should still get whatever vaccine shot they are eligible for, as it will help protect against reinfection and hospitalisation down the line. 

"It does appear, at least with previous variants, that a previous infection and then vaccination on top of that, really does give you almost super immunity against COVID."

What you need to know about coronavirus:

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

Live: All the COVID news you need from across Australia

Get up to speed on all the coronavirus news from across Australia.

Stay up-to-date on the coronavirus outbreak

Follow all of today's news and updates as they unfold in the COVID live blog below. 

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Live updates3m ago3 minutes agoThu 13 Jan 2022 at 9:31pm

By Nicholas McElroy

Minister defends government decision not to order stockpile of rapid antigen tests

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham is defending the government's decision not to order large numbers of rapid antigen tests last year. 

Health experts and business leaders began urging state and federal leaders to stockpile the kits months ago. 

There's now a shortage of rapid antigen tests in Australia and the government has since bought millions that will arrive in the coming weeks and months. 

Minister Birmingham says P-C-R tests were initally the preferred option when delta was the main strain of COVID-19. 

"If we could have all predicted what the omicron variant would looked like of course you would have prepared for it in different ways," Mr Birmingham said. 

"But ultimately we modelled very carefully how we would reopen against the delta. Omicron has changed a lot of that."

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8m ago8 minutes agoThu 13 Jan 2022 at 9:25pm

By Nicholas McElroy

Here's the link to yesterday's COVID blog

While I'm at it, here are some of Thursday's key updates:

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22m ago22 minutes agoThu 13 Jan 2022 at 9:12pm

By Nicholas McElroy

Australian-made RATs await TGA approval amid supply shortage

By business reporter Michael Janda

As Australians struggle to get hold of a COVID-19 rapid antigen test, several Australian companies have been waiting months for local approval of their RATs.

Currently, only one of the 22 home tests approved by Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is made locally, with 16 sourced from China, two from the US and the others from Korea, Singapore and Germany.

However, with the global Omicron wave seeing surging demand for RATs around the world, there are concerns Australia's current supply shortage could be exacerbated if planned shipments are diverted elsewhere.

In particular, with the vast bulk of Australia's tests coming from China, a worsening Omicron outbreak there could further threaten supply if tests bound for export were requisitioned by the Chinese government.

Several Australian companies have developed COVID RATs locally, although at least two are waiting on TGA approval for tests that are already in use in Europe or North America.

Brisbane-based AnteoTech is one of those. Its chief executive Derek Thomson, told the ABC that a lack of supply was inevitable during major waves of new COVID variants such as Delta and Omicron without much earlier planning and investment by Australian governments.

"We were always going to run out of supply, and that's exactly what happened over the Christmas period," he said.

"It caught the governments on the hop, caught all the manufacturers on the hop.

"And so we're in the position that we're in. We've got a massive wave, we're saying that the frontline defence to that wave is rapid antigen testing, and no-one can buy one. So it's a disaster."

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27m ago27 minutes agoThu 13 Jan 2022 at 9:07pm

By Nicholas McElroy

Good morning to the ABC News COVID blog

It's great to be back for another day of updates. 

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

‘Quite overwhelming’: Academic calls out COVID trolls for abuse after her 6yo gets vaccine

A Gold Coast medical educator who was trolled online after sharing a photo of her daughter being vaccinated has called on big tech companies to do more to stop those with "radicalised" views from sharing misinformation.

Key points:

  • A Gold Coast mother and academic is trolled for posting a Tweet about her daughter's vaccination
  • Assistant professor and registered nurse Jessica Stokes-Parish says scientists regularly face online abuse
  • Dr Stokes-Parish wants tech companies to do more about users with radicalised views

Registered nurse and Bond University assistant professor Jessica Stokes-Parish earlier this week posted to Twitter a picture of her six-year-old daughter after she had received her COVID-19 vaccination, saying: "Long queues but we did it! #VaccinesWork".

But later that day, the tweet went viral with online harassment and bullying in which people attacked her for allowing her daughter to get the jab.

"It was a very innocuous little tweet," Dr Stokes-Parish said.

"My daughter was really excited to show off her band-aid and photo.

"My colleagues saw it and were like, 'So great'."

The Tweet that saw Jessica Stokes-Parish trolled online. (Supplied)

But that night, some Twitter users began labelling Dr Stokes-Parish a "terrible mother" and left other vile comments.

"They were saying that I should be ashamed to be a mother, that this poor child should be taken into child custody away from me because I was inept and disgusting," she said.

"That I was treating her like cattle to be put into a trial, that the child was unfortunate to have me as their mother."

She said some commenters were bots but others were real people.

"I spent all of Tuesday reporting, blocking and deleting the hundreds and hundreds of comments," she said.

Read more about the vaccine rollout:

Online abuse 'no surprise'

Dr Stokes-Parish said she had previously received a backlash online for posting about her research or science, and that many of her colleagues had also reported being trolled for sharing similar content.

"I guess I wasn't surprised," she said.

"I've had it happen before, but the sheer volume of attacks in this one was quite overwhelming.

"I've reviewed the data and I've worked out what the best evidence is for my family. I'm under no illusions that my views will not be shared by everyone and that's totally OK.

"I certainly didn't go out there to change everyone's mind, but I also don't expect to be vilified and harassed for simply sharing my views."

She said she was not intending to take further action, and hoped her experience would not dissuade other parents from taking their children to be vaccinated or sharing about it online.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.WatchDuration: 3 minutes 36 seconds3m 36s How to speak to your kids about their COVID-19 vaccination

"Part of my concern with sharing that I'd been attacked was because I'm really mindful that it is a really polarising time and that parents already have a huge amount of responsibility on them about the choices that they make — so I didn't want to kind of dissuade people from making the best decision that they could," she said.

The Gold Coast mum said she reported all the tweets to Twitter, which she said responded by telling her they did not "violate any terms and conditions".

"For me, that just highlights that, once again, the technology companies aren't really doing enough to prevent bullying and to prevent the sharing of false information," she said.

She said the experience was further proof that harassment of science communicators had become "the norm".

What you need to know about coronavirus:

'Extremist' views prevalent over vaccines

Dr Stokes-Parish said there had been an increase in the amount of content published online containing extremist and "radicalised" views during the pandemic, especially around COVID vaccines.

"It's the things that people perceive to have a personal impact on them — that's when they get quite aggressive and seem to go on the attack," she said.

She said past online harassment had made her "think twice" about sharing scientific information publicly.

"I've kind of developed a thick skin but it's very time-consuming spending hours and hours blocking and deleting," she said.

"It does make you hesitant to want to talk about science, especially with topics like vaccination that have so much importance for public health.

"If there's going to be that kind of flak, then it really does make you think twice."

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

It has cost a bomb, but with COVID and rain circling the cricket is on

History will be made in Hobart today when an Ashes Test begins in Tasmania for the first time, but it has hardly been smooth sailing to this point for the little city known for a big boat race.

A Tasmanian captaining the team, a COVID-free population, a tourism industry desperate for customers, perfect January weather, and the chance for Tasmanians to demonstrably support elite sport were all proffered as reasons to bring cricket's greatest rivalry to Hobart. 

One by one, each argument was whittled away.

Now, Tasmanians immune to the nation's sporting obsession are cursing the event and the $5 million it has cost, while diehards are literally holding their breath in the hope it won't become a test for the health system.

Tim Paine, the former captain, reportedly won't even be in Tasmania when the test is played after sensationally resigning in November.

Tasmanian Tim Paine captaining his country in Hobart's first Ashes Test was just not to be.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Restaurants and live venues have been struggling to find enough COVID-free staff to stay open in the lead-up to the match.

Tasmania's COVID rules and restrictions — everything you need to know

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Rain is forecast (though not much) for each of the first four scheduled days of the match.

And sports lovers now have to contemplate whether watching the game between rain delays on cool to cold nights, when they could just stay home and watch it on TV, is really worth risking COVID for.

Tasmania's Director of Public Health, Dr Mark Veitch, said the risks of disease transmission at the cricket have been mitigated in several ways.

"When you go to Bellerive, you're going to an outdoor stadium," he said. "You're almost certain to be vaccinated. You're mostly sitting down and you'll have a mask on.

"We determined earlier on that is acceptably safe arrangements to run the test match."

While the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne has had crowd capacity cut to 50 per cent, no further restrictions will be applied to Bellerive.

Health authorities say the measures in place at Bellerive will make it "acceptably safe".(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Dr Veitch said the circumstances of every venue and event were different and he described Bellerive Oval as particularly open and airy when compared to Melbourne Park.

"They're different sized ovals, different configurations," he said.

Hobart was selected to host the fifth and final Ashes Test as an 11th hour replacement for Perth, due to logistical issues trying to get the players past WA's strict border controls.

Tasmania had almost identical restrictions to WA before the state's border gates were opened on December 15.

A month later, Tasmania is dealing with more than a thousand cases of COVID-19 per day, with 8,000 active cases in the state.

Australia's Travis Head practices short leg fielding at Bellerive.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

While much smaller Tasmanian events continue to be cancelled left, right and centre – the sold-out test with up to 14,000 spectators will go on.

Poor crowds have been a distraction at Hobart's previous test matches played in November and December.

January should be the perfect month for cricket in Hobart.

The city has the second lowest average rainfall of any Australian capital city in January, but the broadcaster's insistence the match should be played at night could backfire.

Watching sport in Hobart is more comfortable during the day than at night, and there appears to be a far greater chance of weather delays affecting the match because it will be played under lights.

Stuart Broad and his English teammates loosen up at training in Hobart.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

The Bureau of Meteorology's forecast for the next three days is "Friday, very high chance of showers  … most likely in the late afternoon and evening".

"Saturday, medium chance of showers in the afternoon and evening. The chance of a thunderstorm in the afternoon and evening."

"Sunday, medium chance of showers, most likely in the afternoon and evening."

There would be a much reduced chance of rain affecting the match this weekend if it wasn't a day/night fixture.

Local spectators will be need to be armed with hats and sunscreen by day and puffer coats by night.

On the plus side for England, the weather might remind the team of home.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Perhaps the broadcasters are onto something — with a forecast like this the match might last into a fourth day despite the very green-looking pitch.

After years of naysayers (falsely) decrying poor sporting crowds for North Melbourne v Gold Coast Suns and Hawthorn v Fremantle AFL games, Tasmanians can rightly feel aggrieved that Hobart's crowds for highly anticipated event could be adversely affected by circumstances beyond our control.

Many ticket holders, not otherwise deterred by the prospect of rain and a large crowd in a pandemic, will be forced to stay home regardless. 

They are either amongst the thousands of people in Tasmania who already have COVID-19 or have been deemed close contacts. 

The ABC understands not even board members at Cricket Tasmania are immune and will be forced to sit out the biggest weekend in the organisation's history. 

Meanwhile, those in Perth this week might wryly contemplate an empty 50,000 seat stadium and only a handful of COVID-19 infections.

COVID-free cities hosting sporting events was so 2020.

The series has been a triumph for Pat Cummins and his Australian team mates.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

One thing is certain – regardless of how many spectators brave the elements (and their fellow spectators), this will be the biggest sporting event ever held in Tasmania.

"This is the holy grail of cricket," said Premier Peter Gutwein.

"For almost eight hours a day, in every cricket-loving nation across the world, Tasmania is going to be front and centre."

Let's hope the match is long remembered for being a super contest – and not a super spreader.

Want more Tasmanian news?

Set the ABC News website or the app to 'Tasmania Top Stories' from either the homepage or the settings menu in the app to continue getting the same national news but with a sprinkle of more relevant state stories.

Here's a taste of the latest stories from Tasmania:

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

Woman reveals fight to be by sister’s side as COVID cases keep families from dying loved ones

Kerry Evans and her sister Judith Krane were closer than most siblings.

Key points:

  • The rise in COVID-19 infections has forced ACT Health to prohibit hospital visits without an exemption
  • Kerry Evans' application for exemption was initially rejected, but eventually she was able to be with her dying sister
  • Canberra Health Services says it's a challenge to work out who should be granted an exemption and who should not

When Kerry's mother died when she was just five, Judith — who was a young adult by then — adopted her, going on to raise her. 

In 2021, just after Christmas, Judith was moved from a nursing home to The Canberra Hospital after a long battle with cancer.

There, doctors found multiple tumours in her brain.

At that point, the treatment team couldn't tell Kerry how long her sister had left to live and feared she might never wake up.

So, when Judith was moved to palliative care, Kerry immediately applied for an exemption to be by her side.

It came as a shock when she was rejected.

"I got a very quick response back saying I didn't meet the risk criteria," Kerry said.

"I was absolutely beside myself every night not knowing if I would be able to see my sister the next day, or if she'd be alive the next day."

Kerry Evans's exemption to visit her sister who was receiving palliative care at Canberra Hospital was originally declined due to strict COVID-19 restrictions. (ABC News: Adam Kennedy)

The email from Canberra Health Services suggested Kerry call her sister, but due to the brain injury, Judith was unable to speak.

"There were no steps, there was nothing in the email to suggest what you could do," she said.

When she did call, Kerry said it was next to impossible to get a doctor or nurse caring for her sister on the phone.

"I do understand they're understaffed due to COVID, but given she was in a state where we weren't even sure if she'd wake up, not being able to get a daily update caused so much anxiety and so much stress," she said.

"We just didn't know how she was."

Exemption process 'trickiest part of COVID response'

Exemptions to visit someone in hospital in the ACT are only being granted for a very small and specific number of cases, including those at the end of their life in palliative care.

It is a step that has been taken to limit the spread of COVID-19, with new known cases of the virus reaching a record high for Canberra yesterday.

Currently, exemptions to visit someone in hospital on compassionate grounds are applied for via email, as detailed on the ACT government's COVID-19 website.

For those overseeing this process, the difficulty comes in defining at what point a person is considered in their last few days of life, Executive Director of Patient Support Services at Canberra Hospital Karen Grace said.

"The consideration of exemptions is probably one of the trickiest parts of this COVID response, and certainly none of us take any of this lightly,' Ms Grace said.

Catch up on the main COVID-19 news from January 11 with a look back at our blog.

Ms Grace said the time a person is in palliative care can vary widely, from as little as a few days to a period of months.

"Sometimes if death is not likely to happen within the next few days, then it is possible that we would not be able to support an exemption in some cases," she said.

Frustrations as positive COVID cases allowed on wards Hospitals in the ACT are under pressure as the rate of COVID-19 infection increases, forcing ACT Health to stop visitation without an exemption.(ABC News: Ian Cutmore)

Kerry said it had been frustrating that her fully vaccinated family, who had also tested negative with rapid antigen tests, were unable to visit the hospital while COVID-19 positive patients could be admitted to every ward.

In recent days, the way Canberra Health Services treat patients who are COVID-19 positive but need treatment for a different illness or injury has changed.

Those with respiratory symptoms of the virus will continue to be cared for in a designated COVID-19 ward or area, but others can be cared for in the most appropriate ward for their condition.

But Ms Grace said people who are being cared for at the hospital who have COVID-19 are subject to strict infection control measures which simply can't be extended to visitors.

"We really only want people on campus who need to be on campus where it is absolutely essential so that we can reduce the foot traffic," Ms Grace said.

"There is that risk of community transmission of COVID-19.

"We're hoping, despite the increase in cases, we can minimise transmission in hospital."

As such, there are 40 negative pressure rooms in the ACT, and capacity to treat at least 60 patients with COVID-19 symptoms in the dedicated wards across The Canberra Hospital and Calvary Public Hospital.

There are 41 beds in the intensive care unit, and an additional eight beds will soon be available at The Canberra Hospital with the completion of the ICU expansion project, scheduled for early February.

'There needs to be more information' Kerry Evans was able to visit her sister after her exemption application was reviewed last week.(Supplied)

On Thursday last week, Kerry's exemption application was reviewed and she was given permission to visit her sister.

"I burst out crying and said 'I'm so sorry I couldn't get here'," Kerry said.

The next day, Judith was discharged from hospital and returned to the nursing home.

She continued to receive palliative care until she died on Sunday, Kerry by her side until the end.

Kerry credited her own determination with ensuring she was there in those last days of Judith's life.

"For anyone not as pushy or as stubborn as I am, they might find it hard to know where to go to," she said.

"There needs to be more information about next steps if your exemption is rejected."

Ms Grace said if the hospital had any alternative to changing visitor restrictions, they would take it.

"We understand that this is really difficult, but at this point in time, the hospital is where we care for our sickest and most vulnerable," she said.

"Our planning at the moment is very much maintaining this level of restriction for the next four to six weeks and hoping that by then we will see a flattening of the curve."

What you need to know about coronavirus:

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

Elderly refuse vital aged care help due to COVID fear, as staff shortages cause chaos

Despite being overwhelmed caring for her ill husband and nearly 90-year-old mother, Colleen James has decided not to accept help from carers, fearing the increased support may expose her family to COVID.  

Key points:

  • Elderly people are refusing care services due to a fear that COVID will enter their homes
  • A Gold Coast woman is the sole carer for two elderly family members who are fearful of catching COVID
  • Advocacy groups are "very concerned" that so many people are refusing vital services

According to an aged care and disability advocacy group, the 71-year-old is not alone.

Many elderly residents are refusing carer assistance during the pandemic.

Ms James, from the Gold Coast, had been travelling across the NSW border frequently to care for her mother.

"Then lots of things happened and my responsibilities quite substantially increased," she said.

Colleen James is now the primary carer of her elderly mother and husband.(Supplied: Colleen James)

"My stepdad passed away, we just lost my sister, so my Mum was in a pretty bad state and living on her own at this point. I was going to her house every day.

"Then when COVID happened [and] it became very, very hard going back and forth as I've got an elderly husband with multiple health issues who also needs quite a bit of care, so I was torn between caring for the both of them.

"It just began to overwhelm my whole life."

Ms James eventually decided to move her mother into her home to look after her full time and accept some help from outside carers.

"Which was wonderful, it was a big help for me, especially with the house and cleaning things," she said.

"But now because of COVID, I've stopped all of that and I'm taking it all back on board because I'm simply too afraid to have people here.

"Strangers coming into the house, it's [the pandemic's] just all too scary right now."

Services refused, staff shortages

Aged and Disability Advocacy Australia chief executive Geoff Rowe said Ms James's concerns were being felt across the country.

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"Colleen's story is very real. We saw during previous lockdowns that older people were very quick to refuse services in their homes because of their fear of catching COVID," he said.

"Often older people access aged care services in their home because they're unable to do those activities normally, like assistance with showering, dressing, help with meals or house cleaning.

"So they're not really services that older people can afford to miss out on."

He said available services were also being limited due to the number of workers who were unwell or being tested for COVID.

Geoff Rowe is worried people are suffering because they are going without basic care.(Supplied: Aged and Disability Advocacy Australia)

"We're hearing more and more frequently, stories of people unwell and unavailable on a daily basis, not just across aged care but disability as well," he said.

"We know that there are many people with a disability who receive services in-home and we're also hearing that they're getting to a crisis point where they can't get staffing."

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Mr Rowe said older generations were often more reluctant to concede they needed help.

"So I believe we are witnessing a significant group of older people who are at home, without contact and without access to services," he said.

"They are a group of people who won't put their hand up and say, 'I need help', so I'm very concerned about that group of older people, I'm very concerned about their welfare. 

"We hear about the crisis in aged care daily because they're our staff because they're our family who are speaking out about it."

With about 1.3 million aged care services users across the country, Mr Rowe said the number who were likely silently suffering was concerning.

He urged anyone needing assistance at home to talk to their service provider, who may be able to find ways to offer support in a "safe way", including wearing additional PPE, or using digital and other methods.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.WatchDuration: 3 minutes 36 seconds3m 36s How to speak to your kids about their COVID-19 vaccinationWhat you need to know about coronavirus:

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

‘Relentless, endless demand’: Regional health workers tell of heavy COVID toll

Registered nurse Amanda Short is about to resign from a job she's loved for nearly 40 years, saying she can't do it anymore.

The 59-year-old said COVID-19 was the "straw that broke the camel's back", as the pandemic exacerbates systemic pressures on regional NSW health care that has been under the spotlight during a state parliamentary inquiry.

"You're tired, you're burnt out — older nurses like me have been there for 40 years," she said. 

"I've picked up overtime for decades and decades, I've picked up when we've been short-staffed.

"You just know. One day you wake up and think, 'No, I can't do it anymore'." 

COVID infections have soared across regional NSW as the health system beyond Greater Sydney continues to grapple with thousands of cases, increasing hospitalisations and high demand for tests.  

Amanda Short prepares for another busy day on the wards.(ABC Coffs Coast: Claudia Jambor)

Nurses have been by the bedsides of at least 200 COVID patients across regional hospitals in recent weeks.

Ms Short, who is a delegate with the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association on the state's Mid North Coast, said the emotional toll of treating those hospitalised was immense, but she tried to put on a brave face.

"You do the best you can, but how do you reassure someone who is puffing their life away and tell them it will be OK?" she said.

"We have COVID survivors telling their story. A lot of people have permanent lung damage and long COVID."

Ms Short said there had been constant calls to work double shifts, which staff had recently started to turn down due to exhaustion.

"When I do a double shift, I am just knackered for the rest of the week," she said.

"You have no lifestyle, you just want to sleep."

Ms Short says senior nurses are bringing forward plans to retire due to the pressures of the pandemic. (ABC Coffs Coast: Claudia Jambor)'Relentless, endless demand'

On most days, Bellingen GP Trevor Cheney starts work at his clinic at 8am and finishes at 7pm. He also does shifts at the local hospital.

Dr Cheney said health workers in regional areas, especially in western NSW, had played many roles in the pandemic response in their local communities.

"The people seeing somebody in a medical practice are the same people seeing them in the hospital and the same people in the testing clinic," he said.

"That's a relentless, endless demand."

Amanda Short started nursing in her late teens.(Supplied: Amanda Short)

Despite the recent changes to COVID-19 testing by National Cabinet, waiting times at drive-through clinics are up to five hours with Mid North Coast health authorities citing the shortage of rapid antigen tests as a key factor.

Dr Cheney urged those in line to be considerate towards health staff.

"One thing I would say to people who are stuck waiting in queues at testing centres, all that stuff is added on to our normal work," he said.

"While someone might say, 'Five hours at a testing centre — that's an awful, horrible way to spend a day', the staff doing it have been spending 12 to 14 hours doing that day after day."

For Ms Short, the pressure has forced her to expedite her move into retirement, and she warned more senior staff would walk out the door as COVID pressures took their toll.

Read more about the spread of COVID-19:

The Nurses and Midwives Association's Liz McCall is a nurse in Byron Bay, NSW. (Supplied: Liz McCall)'It's crunch time'

The Nurses and Midwives Association in Byron Bay said staff shortages at the hospital were so serious the situation was becoming "almost untenable" with many nurses leaving due to burnout.

Association executive Liz McCall described the situation as "crunch time", and warned the loss of experienced nurses would have serious ongoing effects for the health sector.

"When they do go, the new graduates that are coming through and the junior staff [are] not going to have those mentors around," she said.

"The loss to the profession and the loss to our communities is immeasurable, absolutely immeasurable."

In a statement, the Northern NSW Local Health District said the workforce had been increased and upskilled to provide additional capacity if needed.

Ms Short is looking forward to spending more time at her Bellingen home with her dog Carla.(ABC Coffs Coast: Claudia Jambor)'Everyone pulls together'

During the long, harder days, Ms Short said one thing she valued was the camaraderie of her nursing team over the decades, especially during the pandemic.

"You usually find if you are really drowning, everyone pulls together," she said.

She said her focus was to lend a hand to junior staff to help them through.

"They are our new tomorrow and if they drown, they'll just get disillusioned with the system and go," she said.

"The whole ward just comes together, and you do what you can and when the next shift comes on you just muck in and that's the nice thing about nursing … you do have teams and support."

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

‘People are having COVID parties, trying to get infected’: Experts warn against Omicron complacency

With the highly transmissible Omicron COVID-19 variant spreading across just about every region in Australia, many have resigned themselves to getting the virus.

But experts are concerned that some people are going around, trying to catch it — at a time suitable to them — to "get it over with".

Although early signs indicate Omicron symptoms are milder than in other COVID-19 variants, epidemiologists are urging Australians to not play "Russian roulette" with their lives, and to get extra protection through booster shots.

Here's how getting the booster can make a difference.

Catch up on the main COVID-19 news from January 11 with a look back at our blog.Why you shouldn't 'just get COVID'

University of South Australia's chair of bio-statistics and epidemiology, Adrian Esterman, is concerned people — particularly younger Australians — are becoming blasé about the potentially deadly virus.

"You hear stories of people having COVID parties to try and actually get infected. They're playing with their lives and the lives of their loved ones," Professor Esterman said.

"Even though younger people are less likely to get sick and die — some do.

"We get 30-year-olds, who are dying from COVID-19 without any other pre-existing illnesses. 

"So, it's a bit like Russian roulette. It's up to them if they're willing to take that chance."

Experts are concerned young people are trying to get infected but warn they are playing Russian roulette with their health.(Unsplash: Tim Marshall)

He said it was incorrect to assume that everyone would get COVID-19, and that people should avoid it at all costs because there was no way of pre-empting how one would react to it.

"Up to a third of people who get infected, even mildly, end up with long-term health problems, which we call long COVID," he said.

"They can be things like pain, headache, brain fog, trouble breathing, nerve problems. In fact, COVID-19 can affect just about every organ of the body."

Professor Esterman said the only way to prevent the transmission to yourself and your loved ones was to get the booster.

From January 4, eligible Australians who received their second vaccine shot at least four months ago, have been able to receive a booster dose.

Read more about the spread of COVID-19:

What's the difference between two and three shots?

While two shots can minimise your risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19, topping the two with a booster can significantly reduce the chances of catching Omicron.

"Unless you get your booster, you get almost no protection against being infected with Omicron and we're seeing that now in the case numbers," Professor Esterman said.

Melbourne University epidemiologist Tony Blakely said that, although researchers were yet to obtain "precise" data, early signs showed boosting provided up to 70 per cent protection against infection with the Omicron variant.

"Boosting means, even if you are infected, you are less likely to pass it on … reducing the total number of people likely to get infected by the epidemic's end," he said.

How getting the booster helps end the pandemic

Professor Esterman said that, although we were "certainly nowhere near" the tail end of the pandemic, getting the booster would help speed it up.

"The more people we can get boosted ASAP, the more the wave of Omicron can be slowed down and the peak lessened — which will both reduce the number of people that get sick, and make it easier for health services to manage," Professor Blakely said.

So far, 43.8 per cent — or 3,651, 855 — of people aged 18 and over across the country had received their booster shot. 

Below is the breakdown of boosters administered by states, and the uptake.

States such as Victoria and South Australia have already mandated a third shot for people working in some sectors, such as health care.

Will 'fully vaccinated' change from two to three shots?

"It is inevitable that the definition of fully vaccinated will soon become three doses. I support that," Professor Blakely said.

The Department of Health said the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) currently considered people who've had two shots of a vaccine as fully vaccinated.

"This definition may be updated over time, based on emerging evidence, as required," a department spokesperson said.

Professor Blakely said it was anyone's guess how frequently, going forward, we would need to get boosters, but a "plausible scenario" was every six to 12 months.

There are early indications a booster shot can give 70 per cent protection from the Omicron variant.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

In addition to vaccinating the population, additional public health measures will be needed to slow the spread of Omicron and see the pandemic period transition to an endemic stage.

Meanwhile, New South Wales has banned singing and dancing in venues and Queensland has delayed the start of school year to help bring numbers down.

"They're almost certainly going to have to increase [public health measures] even more in the next two weeks, because hospital numbers are getting too high," Professor Esterman said.

"Right across Europe, for example, they are increasing public health measures. And what are we doing — we're relaxing them.

"So, the answer is, we are not managing it well."

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

Why you’re less likely to get severe COVID during NSW’s Omicron surge

It's a tale of two outbreaks — and, as Charles Dickens wrote in the opening line of A Tale of Two Cities: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

At least, that's the equation for NSW's hospitals when comparing COVID-19 data from last year's Delta surge with the current Omicron outbreak.

It's the best of times because the risk of getting severe disease right now, for most people, is lower.

But it's the worst of times because the number of people in NSW's hospitals with COVID-19 remains at its highest point ever, as a wave of infections washes over the state.

An ABC analysis of NSW Health data shows that while almost 2,200 patients are now hospitalised with COVID-19, only 7.8 per cent have been admitted to the ICU, and just 2.3 per cent need to be ventilated.

This compares with 18.4 per cent of patients who were in the ICU on September 14 last year, when case numbers peaked at 1,253 during the Delta outbreak.

Back then, 8.3 per cent needed ventilators. 

Peter Collignon, an infectious diseases specialist from the Australian National University, said both vaccinations and the less severe Omicron variant were responsible for the fall.

"I think overall, this is good news, mostly because it means the vaccines are doing what they're designed to do, which is keep people out of hospital and stopping them from dying," he said.

Nhi Nguyen, an intensive care specialist at Sydney's Nepean Hospital, said in a press conference on Sunday that anecdotally, patients with the Delta strain tended to get severe pneumonia and have long stays in intensive care.

"Whereas those with Omicron, irrespective of needing to be in hospital, their hospital stays are much shorter," she said.

"What we're seeing is they're not needing to go on the ventilators."

Nhi Nguyen says the patients she has seen with the Omicron strain haven't needed long stays in hospital.(AAP: Joel Carrett)

A spokesperson for NSW Health said that since December 1 there had been a trend towards shorter hospital stays compared with earlier in the pandemic.

But Professor Collignon said the highly infectious nature of the Omicron variant was putting huge pressure on the community.

"While it's spreading a lot more than I would have expected, at least from an individual point of view, your risk is lower. But from a society point of view, it's 10 times lower risk but 10 times more spread."

Peter Collignon says the population is generally better off for two reasons — vaccination and the Omicron strain.(ABC News: Tamara Penniket)

Hospitalisations are rising by 100 or more a day in NSW.

Modelling released by NSW Health last week showed that 4,700 ward beds were predicted to be occupied by COVID-19 patients at the peak of the Omicron outbreak, which is expected to arrive in the next fortnight.

The total bed capacity in NSW is 9,500, with 12,500 beds available when private hospitals are added.

ICU admissions are predicted to peak at 273 patients in coming weeks.

Non-elective surgery in NSW was cancelled last week to cope with the flood of patients and Premier Dominic Perrottet said on Sunday that the state's health system was under pressure as high numbers of staff become infected.

A spokesperson for NSW Health said from December 16 to January 4, three quarters of the COVID-positive patients in the ICU had the Delta variant, and 62 per cent were not vaccinated.

NSW Health data showed that from June 16, 2021 up to Christmas Day, 2.1 per cent of unvaccinated people with COVID-19 ended up in the ICU or died, five times higher than vaccinated cases.

Up to June 2021, when very few people were vaccinated, 3.6 per cent of people with COVID-19 were admitted to the ICU or died, or both.

Professor Collignon said with unvaccinated people disproportionately affected, the way to stem hospitalisations was to get even more people jabbed.

"We were much better off last year than the year before," he said.

"There was many less deaths relatively speaking in September, October 2021, compared to what we saw in Melbourne the year before.

"And now we're better off again, and it's a combination of the two — vaccination and Omicron."

In NSW, 93.7 per cent of the adult population have been fully vaccinated and 95.1 per cent have had one dose.

On Monday, children aged between five and 11 became eligible to get the jab.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

NT government changes COVID management system as businesses deal with shifting rules

In the space of a few short weeks, a jurisdiction once known for being largely untouched by COVID has started regularly recording case numbers well into the hundreds. 

Key points:

  • A four-day "lockout" is set to be replaced with a vaccine pass system today
  • The NT government says COVID cases will also be notified with an automatic text
  • Businesses say they are seeing the impact of rocketing case numbers

As more and more people in the Northern Territory test positive, locals are adjusting to the fact that going to work, eating at a restaurant or even having a knock-off beer could see them become a tally in the daily coronavirus figures.

Businesses say the spread of the virus into all regions of the Territory is having an impact — and now the NT government is introducing changes to cope with the rising caseload and help the health system manage.

"I think people are in fear. The streets have been really quiet," Sean Johnston, who owns a cafe in Darwin's CBD, said.

"And speaking to a few other business owners, it's the same thing: it's just been really quiet everywhere.

"I don't think it's a case of a normal slowdown outside the tourism season, it's just the case that people are staying indoors."

LIVE UPDATES: Read our blog for the latest news on the COVID-19 pandemic

He said trade was about 50 per cent down on where it would usually be at this time of year.

The Northern Territory is today expected to come out of a four-day "lockout" — essentially a lockdown for unvaccinated adults, who have only been able to leave their homes for medical services, essential goods and to provide care.

The government also intends to today implement a vaccine pass system, which will require proof of vaccination for people to enter pubs, clubs, casinos, restaurants, cinemas and large ticketed events.

What you need to know about coronavirus:

Mr Johnston said he and his staff had been working to make sure they understood the latest set of changes.

"It is difficult to keep up with the quickly changing conditions and stuff, but we're doing our best," he said.

Another Territory business owner, Antonio Mazza, said his customers were generally compliant but he was prepared to handle anybody who refused to provide evidence of their vaccination status.

"My younger staff, I've instructed that I'll ask if I have to ask — if they feel a bit intimidated," the Coolalinga cafe owner said.

"Not everyone's nice. Most people are, but some people aren't nice, so if that's the case I'll do the asking if need be."

Mr Mazza says most, but not all, customers are happy to show proof of their vaccination status.(ABC News: Housnia Shams)

The NT government has also changed its COVID management and notification systems after a fifth consecutive day of cases in the triple digits.

Now, people who return a positive result will have to complete an online registration form used to let health workers know how much care they require and if their infection can be managed at home.

The changes come after the source of the majority of the NT's new daily cases has been listed as under investigation for two days in a row.

Health Minister Natasha Fyles flagged changes to the notification system over the weekend.(ABC News: Che Chorley)

Over the weekend, Health Minister Natasha Fyles spoke about the strain the rising case numbers was putting on contact tracing teams.

She said the number of cases listed as being under investigation would continue to rise as the overall number of infections did.

"We need to make sure that we're doing the work that's important in terms of testing, working with individuals that are infected, trying to identify sources so we can get those onto the exposure sites and work out any close contact locations," she said.

"But going back and simply providing data for the sake of it is not where our focus is."

She encouraged Territorians who returned positive results to contact people they had recently spent time with to let them know of that result.

Mr Johnston said the government should consider offering businesses more support if the low level of trade continued.

"Once you have nights like we did last night, where there's just nobody around, people are in fear," he said.

"The government's got to look at what they can do to support us during those periods."

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

Primary school-aged Queensland children can get the COVID vaccine from today. Here’s what you need to know

Parents in Queensland are being urged to use the delayed start to the school year to get their children vaccinated against COVID-19, with the first doses to be given to children aged  five to 11 years from today.

Key points:

  • Experts say the vaccine is safe and effective for children
  • Parents with appointments at one Brisbane hub have had their bookings cancelled
  • GPs and pharmacies across Queensland will receive the bulk of the vaccine supply

For Brisbane mother Katie Betts, this phase of the rollout could not come soon enough: Her sons Oliver, 8, and Harrison, 5, will be among the first in the queue.

"I was keen to get them vaccinated as soon as it's humanly possible to do so," Ms Betts said.

"I got the booster straight away, so it seemed fairly logical to try [to] get the kids vaccinated as soon as they could as well."

Ms Betts said she had been watching news of Australia's skyrocketing Omicron outbreak "with great trepidation" and wanted to protect her children and others from the virus.

"I'm mostly worried about how they're going to pass it on to our vulnerable relatives," she said.

"But I also would be pretty worried about the effects that COVID could have on them, even if it turns out to be mild, whether they get longer-term problems after having it."

While Ms Betts had no trouble getting an appointment at a state vaccination hub through the Queensland Health website, others have not found making a booking so straightforward.

Sara Moore booked an appointment for her son at a centre in Capalaba for January 13, only to later find out the site isn't doing vaccinations for 5-11-year-olds.

Parents were told via text message to book at South Brisbane or Logan Entertainment Centre instead.

Ms Moore got another slot for January 22 but is frustrated about the delay. 

"We're doing everything we were told to do … then found out the location listed through [the Queensland Health] website is not even doing them and now I'm at the back of the queue."

Other parents have been unable to book appointments with their local GP or pharmacy for this week because of uncertainty about initial supplies.

Queensland Health Minister Yvette D'Ath said the Commonwealth was responsible for delivering the doses.

Why vaccinate children?

Queensland Children's Hospital infectious diseases paediatrician Julia Clark has treated children with COVID-19, both in the United Kingdom and in Brisbane.

"Although children aren't expected to get really unwell, they can become a little unwell and they can certainly transmit within their own families and then within their peer groups," Dr Clark said.

"So there's two reasons to get vaccinated: One is to help the child not have an illness which may be fever, muscle aches and pains.

"And the other great benefit is to keep them going to school … all of the home schooling that we've seen has had a huge impact on children."

Infectious diseases paediatrician Dr Julie Clark has experience treating children with COVID-19 and says it's important they get vaccinated.(Supplied: Children's Health Queensland)What vaccine will they get and is it safe?

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) recommended the use of the Pfizer vaccine for children aged five to 11 years, based on both clinical trials and real-world safety evidence.

Children in this age bracket will receive a lower dose of the vaccine — 10 micrograms — than those aged 12 years and older, who receive 30 micrograms.

Dr Clark said trials have shown "really good efficacy" for the Delta variant and "good efficacy" for Omicron and real-world data shows the vaccine itself is safe.

"With up to about seven million children now between the ages of five and 12 having been vaccinated worldwide, ongoing safety signals are not showing any significant problems within that [age group]."

Read more about the vaccine rollout:

Where can children get immunised?

In Queensland there are a few ways to go about it.

Can children be vaccinated at school?

In most places, no.

Ms D'Ath said pharmacists would offer vaccinations at about half a dozen schools in Far North Queensland because of a lack of GPs and pharmacies in those areas.

"But, as far as taking whole immunisation teams into the schools, we're not planning that yet, remembering that those programs are normally run by health workers and, right now, we need our health workers in our hospitals," she said.

When is the second dose due and when will children be protected?

ATAGI recommends children get their two doses eight weeks apart but also says: "The interval can be shortened in special circumstances to a minimum of three weeks — such as in an outbreak response, prior to the initiation of significant immunosuppression, or [prior to] international travel."

Dr Clark said it was a juggle between getting quick protection for children and an immune response that might be better in the long term.

"You would expect an immune response within the first two to three weeks having had the first dose," Dr Clark said.

"But the second dose is the one that really gives you really good protection … the theory is that you will get longer protection."

Want more local news?

We offer tailored front pages for local audiences in each state and territory. Find out how to opt in for more Queensland news.

Read moreWhat if my child is afraid of needles or has a phobia?

No one likes needles, but some children experience major needle anxiety.

"Vaccine clinics are trying to get as many children through as possible. They don't always have time to spend with children and adults who are scared," Dr Clark said.

"The first thing is talk to your GP or healthcare provider if they can do an individual response."

For children with a true needle phobia, Dr Clark said there were specific services.

"There are clinics that provide needle phobic set-ups that allow vaccination to be given, working through a whole process and that requires a (GP) referral," she said.

Does my child have to be vaccinated to go to school or childcare?

The State Government says vaccination is not mandatory for children.

What about babies and toddlers?

No COVID-19 vaccine has yet been approved in Australia for children under the age of five, but Pfizer is testing its inoculation in that age group.

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

Kids can get a COVID jab from today. But what if their parents disagree on vaccines?

Australian children aged 5-11 are eligible to receive their COVID-19 vaccine from today.

For many parents, vaccinating their child is a shared decision with both parents agreeing to go ahead.

But not all parents agree.

As we roll out COVID vaccines to younger children this week, what options are there if one parent wants to vaccinate their child but the other doesn't?

Why do parents disagree about COVID vaccines?

Before COVID, parents chose to vaccinate their children for a range of reasons. This included a feeling of social responsibility, a belief in the protective medical benefit and safety of vaccines, and possibly a financial incentive, driven by policies including "No Jab, No Pay".

However, for some, barriers to timely vaccination remain. For instance, childhood illnesses may have prevented vaccination, or it may be difficult to get to a vaccine clinic because of work commitments or lack of transport.

Others believe vaccination has unacceptable side effects or immunisation is ineffective in preventing disease. Others believe vaccines contain harmful substances, prefer natural or homeopathic alternatives, or mistrust medical evidence supporting the safety and efficacy of vaccination.

A minority of parents also falsely believe these apply to COVID-19 vaccines.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.WatchDuration: 2 minutes 59 seconds2m 59s Parents anxious about school return as child vaccination rollout due to begin.Why are disputes more of an issue now?

As we roll out COVID-19 vaccines to more children, vaccine disputes between parents may rise.

If parents disagree, what happens next partly depends on the age and maturity of the child.

For instance, teenagers aged 16 years and older are usually considered to have the capacity to consent for themselves. So if parents disagree, older teenagers with the capacity to consent can go ahead and get their shot anyway.

LIVE UPDATES: Read our blog for the latest news on the COVID-19 pandemic

Where disputes are likely to arise is for younger children. For those aged 12-15, vaccinators like to see agreement from the adolescent to be vaccinated plus consent from the parent or guardian.

For children under 12, a parent or guardian needs to provide consent as young children are not deemed to have the capacity to do so.

Written consent to vaccination is not required in Australia.

What happens next?

When parents disagree over whether to vaccinate their child, the child may be delayed in getting vaccinated or can remain unvaccinated until they can consent themselves.

Depending on the relationship between parents and whether it is safe to do so, parents can look together at reliable sources of information and answers to frequently asked questions about vaccination. These may address any misunderstandings or disagreements.

Omicron sparked calls to speed up COVID-19 boosters. But vaccine timing can be complex

The sharp increase in COVID-19 cases has prompted many people to call for an acceleration of the booster vaccination program. However, not everybody agrees that is a logical step.

Read more

Seeking external advice from a neutral third party, such as a GP or specialist immunisation service, is also recommended. Other options include getting in touch with community organisations, such as family relationships organisations, or the Family Relationship Advice Line (1800 050 321). These may be able to advise about mediation.

If these methods fail, going to court may be the last resort. This comes with significant financial and emotional costs, so is best avoided.

Australia's Family Court has set up a COVID-19 list to prepare for hearing disputes about children being vaccinated against COVID-19. The courts have already seen a rise in applications.

We can't say for certain how the courts will decide. What we do know, however, is what happened when non-COVID-19 vaccination disputes went to court.

The court has favoured vaccination

In research we have submitted for publication, we reviewed 27 cases involving parental disputes involving non-COVID-19 immunisations. These went to court in Australia between 2002 and 2021.

In 21 of those cases, the court decided in favour of the parent who supported vaccination. In five cases, the court declined to make a decision due to a lack of medical expert evidence presented and asked this be gathered for future hearings. In only one case was parental responsibility awarded to the party opposing vaccination.

In all cases where traditional Western medical expert evidence was presented, the court decided in favour of the parent who supported vaccination.

In many cases, courts made statements on the individual and public benefits of immunisation. Common themes across judgements included:

  • any potential risks of vaccination are greatly outweighed by the risk of harm from vaccine-preventable diseases
  • failure of a parent to immunise exposes a child to risk of harm
  • indirect benefits of immunisation to the community argues in favour of vaccination.

Many of these statements made about non-COVID-19 vaccines also apply to COVID-19 vaccines.

Based on prior experience, it seems likely courts will decide in favour of immunisation.

Start the discussion now

Almost 80 per cent of Australian 12-to-15-year-olds have had one dose of COVID vaccine and about 73 per cent have had two doses. So if vaccine uptake in this age group is an accurate guide of parents' views, we are likely to see similar high uptake in children aged 5-11.

Over 7 million children aged 5-11 in the US have received the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine and over 4 million have had two doses.

Clinical trial data of children this age showed they made antibodies and the vaccine showed efficacy. Real-world data is anticipated. There have been no safety concerns to date.

So, if you haven't already started talking about vaccinating your child, now is the time.

Nicholas Wood is an associate professor in childhood and adolescent health at the University of Sydney. Grace Barbara, a 4th-year medical student at the University of Sydney, conducted the review of legal cases and contributed to research mentioned in this article. This piece first appeared on The Conversation.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

An isolated WA has prepared for 300 daily COVID cases. It’s likely to get more than 3,000

As an explosion of COVID cases on the east coast obliterates government projections of how quickly the virus spreads, questions remain about how the WA health system will cope as the reclusive state finally moves to open its border.

Behind its hard border, Western Australia is the last place in the nation where daily case numbers remain in single digits.

Since April 2020, WA has seen minimal impact from COVID, with a little more than 1,200 cases recorded in the past two years. The state has only had three lockdowns, two lasting less than a week.

The WA government announced late last year it was opening its border on February 5.

Premier Mark McGowan promised the "softest landing" for the people of WA if they reached a target vaccination rate of 90 per cent.

This was informed by modelling — where different scenarios were played out mathematically — by the WA Health Department.

It assumes there will be public health safety measures, including mask mandates in some circumstances, medium levels of testing, tracing, isolation and quarantine and mandatory PCR testing pre-departure and testing upon arrival in WA for all international and domestic arrivals.

According to these numbers, the base model assumes community infections will become prevalent 120 days from the border opening.

The numbers looked far worse with just 80 per cent vaccination.

That model predicted 313 West Australians would die within 360 days of the outbreak, compared to 117 at 90 per cent.

And it forecast 987 cases per day at the peak of infection, with 178 general hospital ward and 32 ICU beds needed.

The WA Health Department points out that, as is the case for all models, actual outcomes are influenced by multiple factors that cannot be predicted or accurately modelled.

The scenarios provide a simulation, not forecast, of epidemic growth of the virus to 360 days following the onset of an outbreak.

Do you know more about this story? Contact Rebecca Trigger

The Omicron effect

With the advent of Omicron, the rate of infection in the eastern states far outstrips the base model numbers.

Jurisdictions similar to WA that also had border controls in place have much higher daily case numbers.

WA has a population of about 2.7 million people.

In South Australia, which has a population of about 1.8 million people, daily infections this week have averaged 3,200.

Tasmania, where 540,000 people live, recorded 1,489 COVID cases on Friday, almost double the previous day's 751 cases.

WA Deputy Premier Roger Cook said on Friday the state was still on track to relax border restrictions on February 5.

"That's the date we're working to, that's the date everyone's working to," he said.

"Obviously we continue to be advised and there's a few weeks to go yet."

Still waiting on updated modelling

Mr Cook said the WA government was watching what was happening with Omicron over east.

"Anecdotally, what we see is that there is a high uplift in relation to the number of … cases because of the transmissibility of the Omicron variant," he said.

"But we see it's not as impactful in terms of the acuity … in our hospital settings."

How bad is the Omicron COVID variant?

With the Omicron variant spreading fast around the world and set to become the dominant COVID-19 strain in the UK, there is one question everyone wants to know.

Read more

Mr Cook said while there was a large number of cases in ICU in the eastern states, it was primarily Delta cases making their way through the system.

He said the type and level of restrictions post-February 5 would not be set until closer to the date, and "would ultimately depend on the situation we're confronting".

"We know masks go a long way to making our people safer in the community. We know vaccination goes a long way," he said.

"We also know keeping people away from high-risk events and venues is another way we can keep people safe."

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He said the government was waiting on stronger evidence about the impact of Omicron to come through from the east coast and internationally.

WA Chief Health Officer Andy Robertson said new modelling taking into account Omicron data was underway and he expected to deliver it to the government in about a "week or so".

Dr Robertson said waiting to open the border until after other states' infection rates peaked wouldn't make a difference.

"[Post-peak] they'll still have large numbers of cases within their community, so the actual total cases in the community will still be widespread," he said.

Doctors, nurses warn of outbreak impact on hospitals

Earlier this week, Dr Robertson and acting director-general of health Angela Kelly released an update reassuring hospital staff the health service was ready to respond when COVID arrived in WA.

Not everyone agrees, with the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and the Australian Nurses Federation (ANF) raising serious concerns.

The ANF called on the government to delay reopening the border by a month, to better assess the impact of Omicron and allow time for fit testing of PPE to take place.

They also wanted to delay the reopening so the hundreds of graduate nurses due to start in February did not immediately become overwhelmed amid the outbreak, which the union warned would lead to high numbers leaving in their first year.

Nurses are concerned WA hospitals will be swamped once Omicron arrives in WA.(Supplied: Alyssa Currie)

They said this would further deplete a hospital system already struggling with staffing levels, and which would be placed under pressure as medical staff with COVID can't work.

ANF state secretary Mark Olson said if there was a serious Omicron outbreak, he expected elective surgery in WA would be cancelled within six weeks.

AMA WA president Mark Duncan-Smith said his expectation was the government would re-introduce public health controls similar to what was recently seen in Western Australia.

What you need to know about WA's reopening date

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Dr Duncan-Smith said strong public health measures "all the way up to lockdown" post-February 5 should be considered to slow the burn of COVID through the community.

"I don't expect lockdown would be needed unless we get the ultimate crisis, which is a medical system that is imminently about to collapse," he said.

But he said the hospital system didn't have the capacity to do business as usual at the moment, without a flood of COVID community cases.

"As evidenced by wards closing in Broome, going from 31 to 21 beds in the general wards, Geraldton emergency department struggling to find doctors to keep it open, Bunbury Hospital having one theatre shut because of staff shortages," he said.

"South Australia lasted less than two weeks before it had to compromise its elective surgery, and I expect that will happen in Western Australia."

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

Our political leaders haven’t learnt from past COVID mistakes, they just wait to listen to the mob

Just on a month ago, about the same time he was dumping social restrictions and advocating personal responsibility in dealing with COVID, NSW's still new Premier Dominic Perrottet made a speech arguing the need to think about the lessons the pandemic had taught us about our system of government.

What he specifically had in mind was the nature of the federation.

"The pandemic may not yet be over," he said.

"But now is the right time to start thinking about the lessons COVID has taught us about our federal system of government — and how we can respond."

It was a genuinely interesting speech, and vaguely refreshing to hear someone sounding like they were actually thinking about stuff in amidst the chaos of pandemic management.

Of course, some of it looks a little … sick now, given how the actions of Perrottet's government appeared to accelerate the spread of the already contagious Omicron variant.

LIVE UPDATES: Read our blog for the latest news on the COVID-19 pandemic

He said the Federation had allowed states to tailor their responses and for all to learn from each other. But the pandemic had also identified weaknesses in the system too, he said.

In the health system, in particular, these weaknesses "are all familiar: lack of clarity around who is responsible for what; buck passing, blame shifting, and sometimes hyper-parochialism".

"When it comes to COVID, no response has been perfect. No response could be. But we can learn from our mistakes."

On Friday, Perrottet was compelled to make a further backdown from his aggressive easing of restrictions position — what we might call the "all (no) singing and dancing" restrictions — as he also announced the suspension of non-urgent elective surgery until February, amid forecasts people with COVID could be taking up 6,000 beds in the state's hospitals by the end of the month.

It has been an expensive mistake. And hardly the only one made by a political leader in Australia.

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The perplexing and frustrating thing is how, particularly at the federal level, there seems to be so little learning from mistakes in this pandemic.

The Prime Minister was asked on Thursday whether the speed and spread of Omicron had prompted the government to go back and reconsider all the scenarios that might arise in future, and what contingencies they may require, so that we would be in a better position to respond faster to whatever the next variant might throw at us.

Scott Morrison's response was that this was what the health teams, and the national cabinet, do every day.

"The proof of that is in what are quite world leading outcomes", he said. "I mean, you want to judge a process, judge it by its outcomes and its outcomes is one of the lowest death rates, one of the strongest economies and one of the highest vaccination rates."

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Yes, a journalist followed up, it's also seen a nationwide shortage of rapid antigen test supplies.

"And if we did have the modelling and the Health Department doing its job and preparing for worst-case scenarios, why weren't we ready?" she asked.

The PM's response was that everyone globally was in the same boat, there were plenty of armchair critics and that he wouldn't accept the suggestion that health officials hadn't been doing their job.

"There's no guidebook to COVID. We all know that. And so I what I think is important is the country just focuses on the task ahead. Keep looking through that windscreen. That's where I'm looking. We're looking forward."

So the PM says he is not looking backwards (and perhaps, as a result, not learning anything). But if he is looking forward through the windscreen, it's not clear that he's looking through it in any great anticipation of possible hazards ahead, or that he picked up any driving tips on his recent visit to Bathurst, and is driving accordingly. (Since excruciatingly drawn out metaphors seem to be the order of the day these days).

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And it is indeed a grim view out the windscreen just now.

Just two weeks ago, the PM said Doherty Institute modelling showing Australia could reach 200,000 cases a day by late January or early February as "a very unlikely, extreme case scenario that assumes that nobody does anything; nobody gets boosters, there are no changes that take place, no one exercises common sense".

"The chief medical officer and I just want to assure people that those sort of numbers aren't what we are expecting," he told breakfast television.

Daily cases were already nudging 80,000 on Friday and political leaders around the country were starting to take drastic steps to keep systems functioning.

These measures came on top of the debacle which has seen the PCR-based testing regime overwhelmed, and authorities racing to try to alleviate the pressure by ramping up the use of rapid antigen tests (despite the fact there are not enough to go around), and that systems to record the results of such tests are only now being developed.

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A steady rise in the stories about people not being able to get appointments for their kids to be vaccinated, and of GP practices receiving Health Department emails saying expected deliveries of vaccine supplies were delayed, were other signs of a system in crisis.

The PM spoke this week of alleviating pressure on hospitals by getting people who are sick to contact their GPs – even though GP practices say they are not resourced to deal with the upsurge in demands for treatment and for booster rollouts.

Proactive leadership?

Most predictions seem to still point to this surge peaking sometime later this month or in February. But the chicanes along the way include the fact that, even on the official plan, 5 to 11-year-olds will have only received one dose of vaccine before school starts, and will be seeking the second dose just as the surge in people becoming eligible for boosters also hits.

Read more about the spread of COVID-19:

Overwhelmed hospital systems, a primary health care system unable to cope, the return of many restrictions, people staying at home and not spending money out in the economy, millions of people getting sick and/or being frustrated by access to vaccines for themselves or their kids: it's hardly a great backdrop for an election campaign. So we may at least be spared that misery until closer to May.

Despite everything the pandemic has thrown at us, our political leaders still seem incapable of anticipating, of getting proactive, even considering taking out a bit of policy insurance.

Instead, whether it is the policy or the rhetoric, it seems to still all be driven by waiting to find out what the mob thinks — on everything from an anti-vaxxer tennis star to an opposition which seemed reluctant to go hard this week on the issue of access to free rapid antigen tests until the issue had well and truly developed a head of steam in the media, lest they be attacked for appearing profligate.

Is it just that several generations of politicians who have been trained to be driven by polling have lost the art of detaching themselves from the safety of mob opinion and … actually leading? With all the risk that entails?

This pandemic shows such an approach is not just dispiriting. It can actually be fatal.

Laura Tingle is 7.30's chief political correspondent.

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SA ambos facing new ‘disaster measures’ amid increasing COVID numbers, union says

South Australia's ambulance service could resort to new "disaster measures" because the state's health frontline is struggling to cope with the pressures of growing COVID case numbers, a union says. 

Key points:

  • The SA ambulance union says paramedics could be paired with non-emergency ambulance officers
  • It comes after other response measures including the use of student drivers, and police taking patients to hospital
  • The ambulance service says it has "strong plans" in place to meet demand

SA reported more than 3,000 daily cases on Wednesday for the second day running, amid a total of 19,250 active cases, including 125 people in hospital.

But the SA Ambulance Employees Association (AEA) said 13 ambulances were "left unstaffed" across Adelaide and more than 20 staff were unable to come to work.

"We're seeing a lot of staff currently furloughed due to being a close contact, and a lot of staff just simply being sick or burnt out," AEA acting secretary Josh Karpowicz said.

"Unfortunately, some members are testing positive for COVID."

The AEA said, to address the depletion, the South Australian Ambulance Service (SAAS) may start "rationing" paramedics by pairing them "with non-emergency ambulance officers".

"On a normal ambulance there's normally two registered paramedics providing care to a patient in the community," he said.

"What will now happen is that some of our non-emergency ambulance officer workforce … will pair up with a paramedic on an ambulance, an emergency ambulance crew, and respond to emergencies in the community.

"You now no longer have two registered paramedics caring for critically unwell patients – you're splitting that between an ambulance officer and a paramedic.

"These are disaster measures, and they have never been implemented before.

"It's quite concerning we're hitting this level of incapacity so quickly."

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Last week, it was revealed that SAAS had been forced to bolster staff with student drivers, days after it was confirmed that police had, on occasion, been called upon to perform duties usually carried out by ambulance offices, by ferrying patients to hospital.

But SAAS has insisted that it has "strong plans" in place to meet COVID-driven increases in demand, and that recent recruitment meant there were "now more paramedics, ambulances officers and triple-0 call takers in South Australia than ever before".

"Whilst dealing with infectious diseases is part of day-to-day business for SAAS, we know there will be periods where we see a reduction in staff due to isolation and quarantine requirements," a spokesperson said.

"Since the start of the pandemic, SAAS has had strong plans in place to ensure that it is able to respond to increased demand due to COVID-19, as well as being able to respond to day-to-day medical emergencies, even with staff in isolation as anticipated."

Mr Karpowicz said that modelling relied upon to inform planning had not anticipated surges in COVID-19 case numbers "until February".

SAAS said it was now implementing measures in its pandemic response plan, including "post graduate paramedics assisting our existing patient transport officers and those officers providing additional driving duties".

"This is about flexing up our service and ensuring we have even more ambulances on the road, and is a safe and responsible measure," the spokesperson said.

The AEA and SAAS will meet today to discuss the situation.

What you need to know about coronavirus:

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

‘So many sick people in that line’: I need a COVID test but can’t get one. Now what?

Queensland's COVID-19 testing clinics are so overwhelmed, many people are being turned away without getting swabbed, while others are going to extreme lengths to get tested to protect family members, satisfy work and childcare requirements, or to have elective surgery. 

Key points:

  • You should get a rapid antigen test if you need to leave home quarantine or have been around other people with COVID-19
  • People with a positive RAT and mild symptoms will now not be required to line up for a PCR test
  • You should only get a PCR test if you have respiratory symptoms, a positive RAT, or if you live with people who have COVID-19

Some social media sites are awash with stories of frustrated Queenslanders waiting in queues for up to seven hours and tales of people lining up as early as 2:30am to try and beat the crowds for a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.

Nicola and Kyron Miethke — who have two small children; two-year-old Freya and four-month-old Mack — searched for a drive-through testing site after Kyron developed symptoms on Monday.

Mr Miethke, 36, tested positive on a rapid antigen test but needed to access a laboratory test for work reasons before National Cabinet late yesterday slashed the COVID testing requirements to ease pressure on the system.

Under the changes, people with a positive rapid antigen test will not be required to line up for laboratory testing.

The Miethkes drove to the MedLab testing clinic at Newmarket in Brisbane yesterday, arriving just after 7:30am, and queued for three hours before police told them to go home.

"We can't do anything but the drive-through option because we have two small children," Ms Miethke said.

"It was just a nightmare — we just feel so let down — people are having to suffer through this.

"I can only imagine they're going to change the rules in a few days' time and say rapid antigen tests are enough to say that you've got it."

Social media sites are awash with stories of frustrated Queenslanders waiting in queues for up to seven hours for PCR tests.(ABC News: Nibir Khan )'So many sick people in that line'

Hospitality worker Mark Miot began developing COVID-19 symptoms early this week.

He tested positive on a rapid antigen test on Tuesday and spent hours driving to several clinics while feeling unwell, trying to confirm the result with a PCR laboratory test, but most were closed.

The 43-year-old lined up at the Prince Charles Hospital on Brisbane's northside from 12:15pm but was turned away more than three hours later.

Mr Miot, who is fully vaccinated, needed a PCR laboratory test for work, but also to be able to see his children.

His 13-year-old daughter has epilepsy and he wants to ensure he is negative to prevent any risk of passing the virus to her.

He finally accessed a test after lining up for more than five hours yesterday at Redcliffe Hospital, north of Brisbane.

"There were so many sick people in that line — it was crazy, absolutely crazy," he said.

"It rained a little bit and then people were getting so upset that they'd waited so long, that they left."

Yesterday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced major changes to COVID-19 testing arrangements, wiping the requirement for a PCR.(ABC News: Alice Pavlovic)

Mr Miot, who believes he has the virus, has made a booking at the Health Hub at Morayfield, north of Brisbane, for another test on Monday to ensure he is negative before seeing his daughters, who live with their mother.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced major changes to COVID-19 testing arrangements, wiping the requirement for a PCR test, which can only be performed in a laboratory, if someone first tests positive on a rapid antigen test.

Queenslanders want to 'do the right thing'

The Los family, who live on the Sunshine Coast, developed mild symptoms a couple of days ago before finding out they had been in contact with someone who had tested positive.

"We are — not under the definition that the government gives — a close contact, but what we would deem a close contact in that we hung out with someone for the majority of the day who has tested positive to COVID," Michael Los said.

Mr Los, his wife Maddie and son Hamish have spent the last two days unsuccessfully searching for rapid antigen tests.

"We had actually bought some a couple of weeks ago when the borders opened," he said.

"My wife's family came up from Sydney and so we just wanted to have some to be sure.

"I've kind of had a bit of a sore throat and so we actually have used them all and now we need them and we don't have them, which is really frustrating and I wish I hadn't wasted it on a sore throat."

Michael and Maddie Los, with son Hamish, have spent the last two days unsuccessfully searching for rapid antigen tests.(ABC News: Elizabeth Cramsie)

Mr Los said it was difficult for people who were trying to do the right thing by their communities.

"Do we, with our son who is nearly two, can we legitimately sit in a car for six hours — I just don't think it's really an option," he said.

"It's a moral conundrum, I guess — we want to get tested and do the right thing.

"We've done the right thing throughout the whole pandemic.

"Our son was born the week of the lockdown, he came home and then a few days later Scott Morrison called a lockdown, so this whole time we've been really avid in trying to do this properly and trying to do the right thing."

'I just about cried'

Even families with older children and access to health service priority testing are finding it difficult.

When Kath Angus's children developed symptoms on New Year's Day, she opted for the staff priority line that would reopen the following day, but they still waited in line for two hours.

"My 11-year-old was quite unwell through this time — she had a fever, she had paracetamol which had brought it down a little bit — but she still just wanted to be rugged up in a blanket and lying down, so she slept on the asphalt, she slept on the grass, she slept in a chair, she slept on some carpet — once we were inside."

Kath Angus's 11-year-old daughter was so unwell she needed to lay on the pavement while waiting in the queue for a COVID-19 test.(Supplied: Kath Angus)

After an hour and fifteen minutes in the queue, Ms Angus was told that particular site would not test children under 12.

"I just about cried and said I didn't know and I knew I had to be tested as well because I have worked with a COVID-positive patient recently and so they put us through to the front of the line as priority because my daughter was so unwell," she said.

Within 24 hours they were notified that while Ms Angus was negative, both her children were positive — just a week away from being able to receive their first dose of the vaccine.

Both of Kath Angus's children were positive, just a week away from being able to receive their first dose of the vaccine.(Supplied: Kath Angus)

"[It] really does break my heart, particularly because as a healthcare worker, I'm triple vaccinated and I didn't get it and they've got nothing and they have got it and been unwell.

"I have a really heavy heart that they weren't protected as well as they could've been."

When to get tested?

Queensland Health said people should get a rapid antigen test for two reasons — if you need to leave home quarantine or if you have been around other people with COVID-19.

People should only get a PCR test if they had respiratory symptoms, had a positive rapid antigen test or if people in their home had COVID-19.

Under the changes, people with a positive rapid antigen test will not be required to line up for a PCR laboratory test.(ABC News: Alice Pavlovic)

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

Chris’s family gathering at Christmas resulted in four COVID cases, and his father in ICU on a ventilator

It was like any other Christmas Eve in Queensland — a family gathering to celebrate the festive season after a day at the coast.

The only difference, in 2021, was the Omicron strain of COVID-19 was rapidly spreading through the community.

Days after the small event, four out of six of Chris Healy's family were positive for COVID-19.

After learning she was a close contact, his mother sought a test on Christmas Day and by new year, his father Peter was admitted to hospital, becoming one of the first Queenslanders ventilated in intensive care during the current wave.

"He's 80 years old, my mum's in her mid-70s," Chris Healy said.

"Dad started feeling unwell and he actually said to me on the phone on the Sunday [after Christmas] that he felt like he probably did have it — that was his gut feeling.

"The effects of that escalated over the coming days and then on New Year's Eve he had a fairly ordinary night — shortness of breath, a bit of pain, so the ambulance was called on New Year's Day."

Catch up on the main COVID-19 news from January 5 with a look back at our blog'Not the greatest of starts to the new year'

His father Peter was admitted to the intensive care unit at Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane and was ventilated late that night.

"So not the greatest of starts to the new year," Chris said.

"Thankfully he's been improving and we remain pretty optimistic that with the great care the Prince Charles staff provides … I know they'll give him every possible chance to recover.

"We've learnt from the staff in the ward that he's becoming more responsive, so with a squeeze of the hand he's actually acknowledging I guess, some guidance that they're giving him in terms of his care.

"He's becoming more aware and Mum's been speaking to him over the phone."

Chris Healy, with his mum and dad, said the hospital staff at the Prince Charles Hospital had been "wonderful".(Supplied)

As of Wednesday there were two people with COVID ventilated in Queensland hospitals and eight more in intensive care units, as daily case numbers continue to reach new highs.

Chris Healy said the hospital staff at the Prince Charles Hospital had been "wonderful" in helping his family communicate with his dad.

"I've spoken to Dad — whilst it's been a one-way conversation, I've been able to talk to him and allow him to hear the voices of loved ones — me and my mum," he said.

"He's sedated, so he's in a dream state currently, so what I talked to Dad about was just what I've been up to — try to give him a bit of a window into my world.

"I actually bought the paper — he's an avid reader of the paper and reads that from cover to cover. 

"He loves to have a punt, a bet, so I walked him through the form guide."

Chris Healy says he is "pretty optimistic" his father will recover "with the great care the Prince Charles [Hospital] staff provides".(Facebook: The Prince Charles Hospital)'Haven't seen my kids'

Chris and his partner are both negative but his mother and two children tested positive.

His children spent about eight hours lining up for tests on Boxing Day and have been isolating separately from him, which he said had been tough, although they had not been seriously unwell.

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"I've delivered a couple of care packages to the kids because they'd been quarantining," he said.

"That's been difficult — I've not had a period of seven days where I haven't seen my kids, so that's been quite challenging.

"We've been Facetiming and phone-calling but it's the physical contact, being able to give them a bit of a squeeze or a hug — just some time where you're in close proximity.

"I delivered some provisions out to Mum and while we were able to chat at a distance, we're both masked up — I can't give her a hug, reassure her — it makes it difficult."

Mr Healy said he was also finding the sense of division, fear and blame around COVID-19 to be challenging.

"I think it's a case of trying to rise above all that … I think we'll look back in time and probably shake our heads at the way this, what it is that's played out, has actually happened," he said.

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Will a COVID time bomb blow up Tasmania’s chances of hosting the Ashes again?

It won't be poor weather or a lack of interest amongst Tasmanians that threatens a thin turn out to Hobart's historic first Ashes cricket test later this month. 

But COVID may turn people off as cases in Tasmania skyrocket. 

Ironically, it was COVID that opened the door for Tasmania to host the fifth Test after Western Australia was deemed unsuitable due to its strict quarantine requirements. 

Tasmania leapt at the chance, and paid $5 million to Cricket Australia for the right to do so — a decision made prior to the state's borders re-opening and before the reality of "living with the virus" had set in.  

Catch up on the main COVID-19 news from January 5 with a look back at our blog

However, since the state's gates were flung open on December 15, infections have grown alongside the wariness of Tasmanian punters — although the first two days of the Test sold out within hours. 

Ten days out from the historic fixture, Omicron is widespread, with Tasmania's Director of Public Health expecting 1 in 50 Tasmanians will contract COVID in the coming weeks.

Tasmanians who wish to witness sporting history, and watch Test cricket in their own backyard for the first time in five years, face the real prospect of getting sick.

"We have not heard any other advice from public health, so the Ashes will be going ahead," said Sport and Recreation Minister Jane Howlett on Tuesday. 

That's unlikely to change. Barring an outbreak of COVID amongst the travelling teams, the fixture will go ahead.

Tasmania paid $5 million to Cricket Australia for the right to host the Ashes.(Getty: Steven Markham/Speed Media/Icon Sportswire)

A day-night Test in mid-January is set up for the television broadcasters, which will have their prize.

But apprehension among locals is rising and there's every chance many Tasmanians will opt for the couch over the grandstand.

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It's a tough gamble for cricket fans; interstate counterparts can skip a year, mindful their capital's annual Test will roll around again in 12 months (unless they're in Perth).

Some Tasmanians will have bought tickets fearing not doing so could hurl the state back into Test cricket purgatory — another five-year wait, at best.

"I would hope that if the Test match doesn't proceed, or if it does proceed and numbers are low, that it's not a reflection on Tasmania as a destination to host iconic events like that in the future" said Labor Opposition Leader Rebecca White.

Cricket tragics will pray that Cricket Australia is listening, and not punish Tasmania for an underwhelming turnout, should that be the case.

Bellerive was awarded the fifth Test after Perth was deemed unsuitable because of strict COVID requirements.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Hobart must be afforded the same leeway as Melbourne, where the Boxing Day crowd was down due to COVID apprehension.

Read more about the spread of COVID-19:

Of course, the MCG is not at risk of ever losing its hallowed fixture. Nor should it be. 

Tasmania though, is in a dogfight. Cashed-up Canberra and emerging venues like the Gold Coast are jostling for content, waiting to pounce on any slip. 

How many of Tasmania's population — by comparison, the oldest and unhealthiest in the country — will risk turning up at Bellerive? Who knows. 

But if there are spaces in the pavilion, cricket's powerbrokers shouldn't rush to judgement.

Bellerive Oval is primed and prepped for the Ashes but will the crowds come?(ABC News: Luke Bowden)Want more Tasmanian news?

Set the ABC News website or the app to 'Tasmania Top Stories' from either the homepage or the settings menu in the app to continue getting the same national news but with a sprinkle of more relevant state stories.

Here's a taste of the latest stories from Tasmania:

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Macron in New Year’s address warns of “difficult weeks” due to COVID

Macron: the coming weeks will be difficult due to coronavirus In December, France faced two waves of coronavirus at once – “delta” and “omicron”, and on December 25, the number of cases per day exceeded 100 thousand people. At the beginning of January there may already be 250 thousand of them, the authorities warned

The next few weeks will be difficult for France due to a sharp increase in the number of cases of coronavirus. This was announced in a New Year's address by French President Emmanuel Macron, reports Reuters.

“The coming weeks will be difficult, we all know that”, “mdash; said the French president. This growth can be dealt with if people “ behave responsibly, '' he said. “ We will cope with this problem if we follow the same principles as on the first day of the pandemic, '' & mdash; added Macron.

In France on December 29, 174,296 new cases of coronavirus were recorded, follows from the data of the World Health Organization. 281 people died in a day. The total number of cases exceeded 9 million people who died & mdash; 120 thousand

At the same time, France overcame the level of 100 thousand cases per day on December 25. By early January, the number of cases can reach 250 thousand per day, said the head of the French Ministry of Health Olivier Veran. He attributed this to the fact that the country was faced with waves of two strains of coronavirus & mdash; omicron and an increase in delta cases, each requiring a different control measure. Against this background, the Paris authorities were obliged to wear masks in the city, even in the fresh air.

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Queensland mask rules toughened as authorities race to stamp out COVID outbreaks in vulnerable settings

Masks are now mandatory in almost every public setting in Queensland, in an attempt to slow the rapid spread of COVID-19 — which has already taken hold in several vulnerable locations.

Key points:

  • Authorities have also urged employers to revert to work-from-home arrangements
  • The Brisbane Youth Detention Centre is managing an outbreak that numbers at least 14 people
  • Torres Strait community leaders want to restrict non-essential travel to try and shield the region from the virus

From today, masks are needed in workplaces, waiting rooms, libraries, hairdressers, nail salons and in hospitality venues and indoor stadiums, except while seated.

They were already required for public transport, taxis and rideshares, cinemas and theatres and shops and supermarkets.

Authorities have also urged employers to revert to work-from-home arrangements as case numbers escalate daily.

The Brisbane Youth Detention Centre is managing an outbreak that numbers at least 14 people — two staff and 12 young people.

Emails show one of the COVID-positive staff members was not vaccinated but, under Queensland's rules, they could continue to work as long as they took a PCR test each day and wore personal protective equipment (PPE).

The centre has been placed into lockdown.

UPDATES: Read our round-up of the latest news on the COVID-19 pandemic'It's very scary for anybody getting COVID'

Chief executive of the Youth Advocacy Centre, Katie Acheson, said they understood from their clients that COVID-positive young people have been put into a "COVID section" and were only allowed out of their rooms to make phone calls.

"It's a little bit concerning for us because what does that mean as far as their access to services, their ability to socialise with other people and get some exercise — I mean, physical exercise is so important for mental health, particularly at a time like this — and we don't even know what the health supports will look like in these cases," she said.

"It was our assumption that situations were going to be managed to make sure that contact with young people would be limited with anybody who wasn't vaccinated.

"We've heard from parents that they weren't made aware, so it wasn't until they were informed that a young person had COVID, so we didn't even know there was COVID within the centre."

Youth Advocacy Centre CEO Katie Acheson said there needed to be better communication about how detention centre outbreaks were being handled. (Supplied)

Ms Acheson said it was important parents and loved ones of those in detention knew about conditions in the centre.

"They've obviously tested that whole population but parents — it's so important that the people outside are made aware of what's going on in this centre so they can adequately support the young people when they call," Ms Acheson said.

"It's very scary for anybody getting COVID, let alone a child who's in a prison, being isolated and alone and probably very scared.

"It's really important that we keep the families informed and at this point, we know of at least a couple of people who, that hasn't happened."

What you will need in your COVID preparation kit

Queensland's Chief Health Officer says there will be "thousands of cases" of coronavirus in the state in coming weeks, so the state government is urging you to put together a COVID preparation kit.

Read more

A spokesperson for the Department of Children and Youth Justice said the facility was immediately placed into lockdown to allow for testing and contact tracing.

"The department worked hard to inform all parents and carers of young people at the centre after the first case was detected there," the spokesperson said.

"Once test results were returned, the positive cases were quarantined in a dedicated accommodation section and are each being managed within their own rooms in accordance with advice from Queensland Health nursing staff based on site."

"The vast majority of staff and young people at all three of the state's youth detention centres are fully vaccinated."

The Brisbane Youth Detention Centre outbreak numbers at least 14 people — two staff and 12 young people.(ABC News: Mark Slade)

Only a "small number" of detention centre employees are subject to the exemption provisions which allow them to continue working with daily PCR testing and PPE until January 17 — at which time they will need to be fully vaccinated in order to keep working at the centre.

The department said all the young people at Brisbane Youth Detention Centre were well with some only showing very minor symptoms.

Three staff members and one young person have also tested positive at the West Moreton Youth Detention Centre.

Mayor's call for Torres Strait travel restrictions

In the Torres Strait, community leaders want to restrict non-essential travel to try and shield the region from the virus.

Torres Shire Council Mayor Vonda Malone said there were at least 12 cases in the area now.

"The families, we've been reassured that it is within the one household and a lot of the individuals within the household have been vaccinated so they are doing well, they're asymptomatic," she said.

Vonda Malone said travel restrictions had worked to prevent COVID spread in the past.(ABC News: Lucy Barbour)

Local authorities had been trying to improve vaccination rates, knowing exposure was coming when Queensland opened its border, but they did not expect cases to arrive before the new year.

Ms Malone said about 92 per cent of people in the shire — which covers the Torres Strait Islands and the northernmost part of Cape York Peninsula — had received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, but only 72 per cent were fully vaccinated.

"Whilst we have low cases now, we are concerned over the next couple of weeks, leading up to when school resumes and a lot of families are returning from the Christmas break, that we may have further outbreaks and whether or not we have the capacity to slow this down in our community," she said.

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"We had arrangements to restrict movement into the Torres, that was in 2020. That actually helped with not having that virus come into our region. The focus was on allowing for essential movement, essential services and obviously our returning residents.

"We want to make sure that we slow the movement of people."

Queensland's case numbers are all but certain to hit a new record again on Sunday, with the state's move to a different reporting period meaning the figure will also include 12 hours of positive results from overnight on Friday.

Cases are now being reported using 24 hours to 7:00pm daily, rather than 24 hours to 7:00am — allowing authorities to clarify detail ahead of the daily updates to the public.

What you need to know about coronavirus:

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

Tasmania is changing how it tests for COVID. Here’s how it works

As the number of COVID cases in Tasmania continues to rise, the state's testing clinics have been swamped by an increase in demand. 

Part of Tasmania's border reopening plan required travellers to have a negative PCR test in the 72 hours before they travelled into the state, but from January 1 rapid antigen tests will be accepted.

But as we start to live with COVID, testing goalposts in Tasmania have shifted — here's what you need to know.

When should I go to a testing clinic?

Under the changes the state government announced yesterday, PCR tests are now being prioritised for those who are symptomatic or have a positive rapid antigen test (RAT).

This is to ease the pressure on Tasmania's PCR testing systems, especially in the south, which has seen large numbers of asymptomatic people present for testing.

"Over the last three days we have had between two-thirds and three-quarters of those booking referrals coming from asymptomatic people," state health secretary Kathrine Morgan-Wicks said yesterday.

Only those who have COVID symptoms, a positive RAT test, or are close contacts with symptoms are eligible to have a PCR test at one of the state's testing clinics.

UPDATES: Read our round-up of the latest news on the COVID-19 pandemicWhat test do I need?

It depends on your situation, and whether you're experiencing any symptoms. 

If you do have symptoms of COVID-19, you can call the Public Health hotline who will arrange a time for you to receive a PCR test at one of the state clinics.

You can also call the hotline and arrange for a PCR test if you are a close contact of a positive case and have symptoms.

Travelling to Tasmania? Here's what you need to know

The Apple Isle is open to travellers again — so, what are the rules on masks? What is the deal with checking in? So many questions! We have all the answers here.

Read more

But the state government says anyone who isn't experiencing symptoms, including close contacts, doesn't need to be getting a PCR test in the first instance — instead, you can take a RAT test.

If that test is positive, you can then call the Public Health hotline and say your RAT test has returned a positive result, and you will then be booked in to have a PCR test.

Premier Peter Gutwein said this approach "is aligned with other jurisdictions both around the world and here in Australia".

If your PCR test comes back positive, you will then be directed to isolate in line with the state's COVID management guidelines.

View the latest list of exposure sites on the coronavirus.tas.gov.au websiteWhere do I get a rapid test?

Rapid tests are available for purchase at pharmacies, supermarkets and even selected petrol stations.

Recent surges in demand for the tests have seen limited stock, however, retailers say stock is arriving regularly.

Prices for the tests vary amongst retailers, but cost around $10-20 for a single test, and are often sold in packs of two, five or 10.

Some retailers have been selling packs of five tests for around $50, however, that price can fluctuate between tests and whether they require nasal or saliva swabs.

Rapid antigen tests such as this are available for purchase off the shelf in pharmacies.(ABC News: Maren Preuss)

To help manage demand for the rapid tests, the state government is also providing them for free to travellers at its sea and air ports, as well as those who are close contacts of a COVID case but aren't experiencing symptoms.

In the state's south, where the most acute testing pressures are being felt, two RAT test collection sites are being established at Rokeby on Hobart's eastern shore, and Glenorchy in Hobart's northern suburbs.

These distribution sites are being run by the Department of Health, and aren't yet being extended outside southern Tasmania.

"This RAT initiative will only occur at the moment in the south, as PCR testing is operating normally in our north and north-west sites," Ms Morgan-Wicks said.

Currently, Tasmania has 500,000 RAT tests in its stockpile to accommodate this, and has ordered an additional 2 million kits that will arrive in the coming month.

Long queues have been forming at testing clinics across Tasmania as more COVID cases are recorded.(ABC News: Scott Ross)What's a 'close contact' now?

Tasmania has signed up to the national definition of a close contact, which was agreed to by all states and territories at a National Cabinet meeting yesterday.

This means that a close contact is someone who has spent four or more hours with a positive COVID case in a household, or a household-like setting.

Mr Gutwein said this decision was to ensure "national consistency" and avoid "undue pressure being put on people to quarantine when the risk of them being infectious in reality is very low".

"The public health evidence shows that those living in the same household are in similar circumstances such as accommodation or care facility settings, as [COVID] cases have the highest chances of becoming positive, so the focus will be targeting those types of locations," Mr Gutwein said.

The change in defining close contacts also means public health authorities will manage potential close contacts at a site or venue on a case-by-case basis.

Close contacts at large events, such as the Taste of Summer in Hobart, will be managed on a case-by-case basis.(ABC News: Maren Preuss)This Tasmanian managed his COVID-19 at home. Here's how it went

Most Tasmanians who catch COVID-19 will manage it from their own homes. Simon Boot was one of the first to test out the government's COVID@home "virtual ward" program.

Read moreI'm a close contact. How long do I need to isolate for?

If you have been identified as a close contact of a positive case in Tasmania, you will be required to isolate for seven days, regardless of your vaccination status.

However, you will also have to take a RAT test on days one and six of your isolation, which will be provided to you by the state government. 

Previously, those who were vaccinated against COVID had to isolate for seven days, while those unvaccinated had to spend 14 days in quarantine.

I'm heading to the mainland for a holiday, do I need to test when I get back?

Lucky you! Under these changes you will only need to do a RAT test before heading home to Tasmania, and make sure you declare your negative result on your Tas e-Travel application.

You will also be provided with a RAT test upon your arrival at the Spirit of Tasmania ferry terminal, or one of the state's airports, and will be asked to use it if you develop any symptoms.

But if you've been away for less than seven days, you will be required to take a RAT test when you arrive — and that will be provided to you when you touch down on home soil.

Along with their baggage, these passengers will also be collecting a RAT test at Tasmanian airports from January 1.(ABC News: Maren Preuss)I'm coming to Tasmania for a holiday, what do I need to do?

Before you pay the island state a visit, you will be required to take a RAT test and declare your negative result on your Tas e-Travel application.

You won't have to bring your proof of a negative test with you — your declaration in registering your travel is enough from January 1 — but you will still have to have proof of vaccination to enter.

You will also be given a RAT test when you arrive and will be asked to take it should you have any symptoms while you're here, and if it has a positive result, you can arrange to have a PCR test.

Want more Tasmanian news?

Set the ABC News website or the app to 'Tasmania Top Stories' from either the homepage or the settings menu in the app to continue getting the same national news but with a sprinkle of more relevant state stories.

Here's a taste of the latest stories from Tasmania:

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The Loop: Israel approves fourth COVID vaccine dose, NYE celebrations in your city, and it’s a ruff day for the Westminster Kennel Club

G'day, g'day.

It's Friday, December 31 and you're reading The Loop, a quick wrap-up of the news you need to know.

One thing you should know — Israel has approved a fourth COVID vaccine dose

It becomes the first country in the world to do so as it braces for a wave of infections fuelled by the Omicron variant.

  • Nachman Ash, the director general of the Health Ministry, announced the decision to offer a fourth dose to those most vulnerable late on Thursday local time
  • He says the decision is based on early research, and that officials will consider expanding fourth doses to more people 
  • Israel currently has more than 20,000 active patients, including 94 who are seriously ill

One thing you'll be hearing about today — see ya' later, 2021

While it's not quite the "hot vaxxed summer" many Australians had hoped for, there's no need to completely abandon plans to ring in the New Year in style.

Whether you’re looking for fireworks or a more socially distanced soiree, here’s the lowdown on what's happening on New Year's Eve across Australia.

  • Sydney: Celebrations are going ahead, but the tradition of camping out harbourside to get a front-row seat is off the cards
  • Melbourne: Fireworks are being held across four, private "Celebration Zones" in an effort to reduce crowds and keep track of all attendees
  • Brisbane: The city’s official celebrations are back on after a year’s hiatus, and will light up the river at 8:30pm and again at midnight
  • Perth: Fireworks will go ahead at fewer locations this year — the city centre and parts of Fremantle, south of Perth, will light up around midnight
  • Adelaide: Up to 5,000 people will gather at Rymill Park for this year's "Light Up" New Year's Eve event, which is being held in lieu of the usual fireworks display
  • Hobart: Celebrations will largely be around the waterfront for the annual Taste of Summer food and wine festival at the Princes Wharf 1
  • Canberra: The city will play host to two fireworks displays over Lake Burley Griffin to ring in 2022
  • Darwin: The biggest annual New Year's Eve event in the territory is held at the Darwin Waterfront, with Amy Shark and The Veronicas headlining and two fireworks shows scheduled

News while you snoozed

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One more thing …

It's shaping up to be a ruff day for the Westminster Kennel Club.

The iconic dog show has been postponed because of COVID-19, with organisers yet to confirm a new date.

First held in 1877, the event attracts thousands of competitors from around the US.

And do you know what that means? This is just an excuse to show you all some dog videos.

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We'll be back this afternoon with your wrap of today's news.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

Beyond vaccines, these are the new COVID treatments you might hear more about in 2022

Two years ago today Wuhan's Municipal Health Commission in China put weeks of suspicion to rest and officially reported an unusual cluster of pneumonia cases in the city.

Ever since, lockdowns and closed borders, vaccines and ventilators have attempted to eradicate or control the disease we now know all too well as COVID-19.

In the process, Australia’s battle with the SARS-CoV-2 virus has normalised ideas that just two years ago felt like impossible tropes from history: city-wide lockdowns, restriction of movement within and between cities and countries, laws that kept family apart.

Yet with the Omicron variant delivering Australia's most significant outbreak of the pandemic, COVID-19 is arguably more powerful than ever.

Timing for Omicron booster

The sharp increase in COVID-19 cases has prompted many people to call for an acceleration of the booster vaccination program. However, not everybody agrees that is a logical step.

Read more

As we embark on another year overshadowed by this virus, and notwithstanding serious questions about how it may mutate in the future, now is a good time to reflect on how far medical science has brought us in two years.

Vaccines and rapid antigen tests are helping to manage serious disease and COVID spread. And for those who do contract the virus, a growing number of new treatments and therapies are being developed or approved for use in Australia.

Here’s a look at some of the treatment areas that you are likely to hear more about in 2022.

The 'MABs' – monoclonal antibodies

Monoclonal antibodies are proteins made in a lab that mimic the way the immune system fights viruses. They are given to a patient intravenously and set to work within hours.

MABs latch on to the spike protein of an invading coronavirus and boost the body’s immune response, hopefully preventing the virus from invading cells and causing illness.

Research suggests MABs can help people with mild COVID-19 disease if it is administered early in the infection.

Scientists still believe vaccination offers better protection because it generates a stronger immune response and is beneficial from the moment of infection. MABs will only be administered after a patient has tested positive. This means those at risk of severe disease may be too far into their illness before realising they need MAB therapy.

Monoclonal antibodies can be delivered to a patient intravenously.(Unsplash: Marcelo Leal)

Different MABs are useful as support to vaccination depending on what other health issues the patient is juggling and the severity of their COVID illness.

So what monoclonal antibody therapies are authorised for use in Australia?

UPDATES: Read our round-up of the latest news on the COVID-19 pandemicRegdanvimab (Regkirona)

A new therapy, provisionally approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration in December. Regkirona is used in adult patients with a confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Tocilizumab (Actemra)

This is another new one, also approved in December. Actemra is useful for very ill adult patients who are also receiving corticosteroids, supplemental oxygen or ventilation.

Casirivimab and imdevimab (Ronapreve)

Ronapreve received its provisional approval in October and can be used to treat patients from 12 years old, particularly those who do not have antibodies to SARS-CoV-2.

Sotrovimab (Xevudy)

Xevudy, provisionally approved in August, is designed to be administered within five days of symptoms showing in patients over 12 years.

Read more about the Omicron variant:

The 'VIRs' – antiviral medication

Antiviral medication can assist the body fight a virus and comes as an oral pill or as an intravenous infusion. Antivirals work by disrupting the way the virus replicates, slowing or stopping the spread and reducing symptoms. But as with MABs, vaccination is the preferred frontline defence.

A number of antivirals are being used for COVID-19 treatment however they are not yet readily available in Australia. That could change in 2022. This is where things stand:

Remdesivir (Veklury)

The TGA provisionally approved Veklury in 2020. It can be used in adults hospitalised with moderate to severe COVID-19.

However the WHO has recommended against its use.

Used to fight the Ebola virus, Remdesivir showed promise as a COVID drug but the WHO is now recommending against it.(Reuters: Ulrich Perrey/Pool )Nirmatrelvir and Ritonavir (Paxlovid)

Pfizer has a brand new antiviral medication that has been approved in the US but is under evaluation for use in Australia. Known also as PF-07321332 it is an anti-viral, Nirmatrelvir, taken in combination with the HIV drug Ritonavir.

Molnupiravir (Lagevrio)

This is another antiviral under evaluation in Australia, produced by Merck Sharp and Dohme and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics. This is delivered as a pill and is designed to be the first at-home treatment for COVID-19. It would be prescribed for people with a mild-to-moderate disease, but with comorbidities that place them at high risk for hospitalisation or death from a COVID-19 infection.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.WatchDuration: 1 minute 54 seconds1m 54s How accurate are rapid antigen tests?Advances in ICU therapy

Jill Carr, a virologist with Flinders University in Adelaide, is looking at improving treatment for COVID-19 patients who are admitted to an ICU.

"No matter how good a vaccine is, no matter how good our public health strategies are, there are still people who will get sick and end up in hospital," says Carr. "So how can we help them once they're in the ICU?"

Carr says that while ventilators can be life-saving for COVID-19 patients with severe disease the force needed to push oxygen into the body can also damage the lung.

"The COVID lung is quite different to the influenza lung," she says. "Getting oxygen into the lungs and across into the bloodstream is quite a challenge."

A supplied image shows ICU nurse Michelle Spiteri and anaesthetist and intensive care physician Dr Forbes McGain attending to a Covid-19 patient under the Covid Hood developed by McGain and Melbourne University at Footscray Hospital in Melbourne, Friday, July 17, 2020.(AAP: Supplied by Western Health, Penny Stephens)

Carr is using rat models to work out how to use ventilation better and what other treatments can be used in combination to dampen inflammation and improve oxygen transfer.

"Our studies aim to inform practise so that we know what pressure and flow rates are best applied to the ventilator," she says. "So that you can get oxygen into the patient's lung without causing a ventilator induced lung injury."

What you need to know about coronavirus:

Universal vaccines

Researchers are progressing quickly towards a variant-proof vaccine that could be administered as a booster and provide immunity from any COVID-19 mutation that turns up in the future.

The pathway between the research, and a marketable vaccine, remains long and difficult but Deborah Burnett from the Garvan Institute is hopeful her team can begin human trials in 2022.

With research teams from the Westmead Institute as well as in the US and Norway all studying the promise of a universal booster, 2022 may be the year we receive some hopeful news. 

Deborah Burnett. in the Garvan Institute’s Immunogenomics Lab, is researching a universal COVID vaccine.(Supplied: Garvan Institute)Repurposed or off-label drugs

Throughout the pandemic doctors have discovered that some drugs designed for one disease have potential benefits for treating COVID-19.

Of interest were several drugs developed to treat HIV and malaria.

Most famous are those given to former US President Donald Trump during his treatment for a COVID-19 infection in October 2020. 

Trump is said to have received the steroid Dexamethasone, the antibody treatment Regeneron and the antiviral drug Remdesivir, which the WHO says shows no evidence of being effective.

And Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration warns that a medicine used to treat one condition, does not mean it will be safe to treat another. It follows a rigorous process for checking medications before releasing them for authorised use.

Doctors who prescribe "off-label" medication must outline the risks to the patient and seek informed consent.

Doxycycline, has been used to treat a range of conditions since the 1960s and may also be useful for COVID-19.(Teka77)

Other medicines that have been touted as treatments throughout the pandemic but have been widely discredited for lacking evidence or causing harm. These have include ivermectin (used to treat parasites in animals), doxycycline (a broad spectrum antibiotic used to treat bacterial infections and also to prevent malaria) as well as the mineral zinc which is known to support the immune system but has been found to have no benefits when supplemented to treat COVID-19.

Another malaria medication – hydroxychloroquine – has also been shown to offer no benefit against COVID-19.

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

Everything you need to know about where and when to get a COVID booster shot in WA

With less than six weeks to go until Western Australia's border opens to the rest of the country and the world, eligible residents were already being urged to get COVID booster shots.

Earlier this week, the state became the first to put an expanded mandate in place, requiring workers already covered by vaccine rules — around 75 per cent of the WA workforce — to receive a third dose of a vaccine.

When announcing the move, Premier Mark McGowan said vaccination was the state's best defence ahead of the planned border easing on February 5.

"Everyone is strongly urged to receive their third dose when eligible, even if not covered by this [mandate] policy," he said.

Now, with a positive case visiting multiple locations across Perth, hundreds of casual contacts sent to get tested, and masks in place for the festive period, that push is even stronger.

UPDATES: Read our round-up of the latest news on the COVID-19 pandemicWhen am I eligible for a booster?

Changes to the booster time frame were announced on Friday. 

Currently, boosters are recommended for anyone over 18 who received their second dose of a COVID vaccine five months ago.

This will change in coming weeks, after advice from the Australian Technical Advisory group on Immunisation (ATAGI).

From January 4, the time frame will be four months after your second dose, and from January 31, three months.

Many states had been pushing for a shorter time frame.

Professor Jaya Dantas from Curtin University's School of Population Health said a shorter time frame made sense with the growth in the Omicron variant.

Epidemiologist Jaya Dantas agrees with shorteing the timeframe to get the booster shot.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

"With the Omicron variant already in Australia and over the world, I think reducing that timing from five months to between three and four months will be much more effective at this stage," she said.

What difference does a booster make?

AstraZeneca does not appear to provide good protection from Omicron infection but does offer protection from severe illness. 

How bad is the Omicron COVID variant?

With the Omicron variant spreading fast around the world and set to become the dominant COVID-19 strain in the UK, there is one question everyone wants to know.

Read more

mRNA vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna are also less effective at stopping Omicron infections, although early data suggests a booster helps restore this protection.

Essentially, two doses of a vaccine will help protect against severe disease and death, but a booster will help prevent infection.

A booster shot pushes your antibody levels back up to around where they were just after you were fully vaccinated.

Pfizer and Moderna are both recommended for use as a booster vaccine, while AstraZeneca can be used for people with contraindications to those vaccines.

If you are not eligible for a booster before the border opens but have had two doses of a COVID vaccine, Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly has reassured people protection does not suddenly disappear.

Vaccination rates in Western Australia remain lower than other states.(ABC News: Rebecca Trigger)

"Just because you get to three months, four months, five months or six months, you do not immediately lose your protection, that's not the case," he said.

But, he said a booster will push your Omicron protection back up towards the same level you had against the Delta variant.

How does the vaccine mandate expansion affect me?

All WA employees already mandated to be vaccinated for work purposes will be required to get a booster.

Those rules cover around a million people.

Group 1 industries — those deemed to have high transmission risk, like police, care services and border control — need to have two doses by December 31.

Group 2 industries — those deemed critical to the ongoing delivery of key services to the community like supermarkets, public transport and child care providers — need to have two doses by January 31.

The state government said after that second dose, people in the mandated industries need to receive their booster within a month of becoming eligible.

Mark McGowan has made the booster shot mandatory like first and second doses.(AP: Tatan Syuflana)

Due to the changing booster time frames, when that needs to happen will vary, but if someone in Group 1 got their second vaccination on the December 31 deadline, they would need a booster between the end of March and the end of April, as the three-month recommendation will be in place.

Likewise, if someone in Group 2 got their second vaccination on the January 31 deadline, they would have to get a booster between the end of April and the end of May.

Where can I get a booster?

There are lots of places to get a booster shot around WA, including state-run clinics like Claremont Showgrounds, GPs and pharmacies. 

How do you find out when you're eligible?

WA Health says a combination of email and SMS notifications are used for those who received their first or second vaccination at a state-run clinic.

But not everyone has received those, so it's worth keeping an eye on the time passed since your second vaccine dose yourself.

Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said, "they are working on the reminder situation".

"It's also good to check your vaccine certificate and you can ring up and get advice about booking a booster shot," she said.

How many people have had their booster?

Police Commissioner and Vaccine Commander Chris Dawson said that as of December 23 around 100,000 people had had a third dose of a COVID vaccine.

What you need to know about WA's reopening date

Life will change dramatically when WA opens its borders to the rest of Australia and the world on February 5. Here's how. 

Read more

Professor Dantas said it would take a significant effort to get people boosted before the border opened.

"We knew that between now and February 5, we needed 200,000 West Australians to get their second dose," she said.

"Those who have actually taken both the doses, to get them to have the booster dose would be a big effort."

As of December 23, 83.2 per cent of the WA population aged 12 and over had received two doses of a vaccine.

Vaccination rates in Western Australia remain lower than most states and territories.

How many boosters can be given before the border opens?

WA Health says as of December 24, with new booster time frames in place, around 950,721 people will be eligible between then and February 5 to receive a third COVID vaccine dose.

Some of those third doses will be as part of an immunocompromised person's regular schedule — they get three doses as standard.

Will children be vaccinated in time?

The Pfizer vaccine will start being offered to kids between five and 11 from January 10 — that dose will be one-third of the dose given to people 12 and over.

The WA Government said that date is in line with the expected vaccine supply from the federal government.

The recommendation for this group is that two doses are given, eight weeks apart, so there will not be time for a second dose before the border opens.

That interval is based on data from Canada, and it can be shortened to three in special circumstances like a significant outbreak. 

Professor Dantas suggested one shot would be sufficient until young children could get a second.

"One shot in those kids would be enough — we've had other populations in other parts of the world who've been vaccinated with Pfizer for five- to 11-year-olds," she said.

What you need to know about coronavirus:

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

Why Tasmanians can expect less, not more government intervention as COVID cases rise

In October, half of Tasmania was sent into a three-day COVID-19 lockdown because of one infected man's 18-hour incursion into the suburbs.

Two months later with about 200 active cases in the state, Tasmania's Public Health director Mark Veitch tells a COVID briefing that two cases do not have clear links to other known cases, news which might have, months earlier, been the top news item of the day.

So what has changed?

With borders opened up to travellers and case numbers on the rise, the island state is — as so many politicians keep saying — "learning to live with COVID", whether it likes it or not.

The daily press conferences have tapered off, with updates — as is the way of things these days — via social media.

Masks are mandatory in indoor public spaces in Tasmania.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Yesterday, the Tasmanian Department of Health's Facebook post advised there had been 43 new cases identified, bringing the total active case numbers to 243.

Crucially, there are no patients being treated in intensive care.


Tasmania's second-dose vaccination rate is up above 92 per cent for those eligible and over 16 years of age, with the first-dose rate a tick over 97 per cent.

The rate is above what the government wanted ahead of the border reopening and is likely one contributor to the marked change in tone from authorities.

Another contributor is the duress placed on the contact-tracing system, with it announced on Monday there would no longer be public listing of low-risk and casual contact exposure sites.

Money, it should come as no surprise, also talks.

"Some small businesses that have been listed on the COVID app that everybody gets to see have definitely had a reduction in business as a result of them being listed and that's grossly unfair, especially if all the place has been cleaned," Tasmanian Small Business Council chief executive Robert Mallett told the ABC on Monday.

The dialling back of government intervention — which includes the onus shifting onto Tasmanians who test positive to COVID-19 to notify their workplaces and household and close contacts — has been welcomed by Deakin University epidemiology chair Catherine Bennett, who described it as a "sensible step".

"We've seen in NSW and Victoria as case numbers rose, even before Omicron, that that's what you need to move to, a way to move ahead where people can let those around them know that they might have been exposed in a way that increases their risk of infection, they know to go off and have a test."

"It leaves the Health Department to focus on the more critical areas where they're seeing case numbers rise quickly or they've got particularly vulnerable communities."

UPDATES: Read our round-up of the latest news on the COVID-19 pandemic

Professor Bennett said the strain on those tasked with tracking and tracing the myriad of contacts from low and casual exposures should not be underestimated, with it being more sensible to devote resources elsewhere.

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"You reach a point where you can't contact trace quickly enough, because your numbers are so high … it's better if people can notify their contacts immediately, they're given the information they need to work out when they might have been infectious and can do that work."

Fronting the media on Tuesday and asked about the changes to COVID tracking and tracing, government minister Guy Barnett stayed on message.

"We all have a responsibility to make sure our family and friends are advised … we are acting on Public Health advice. They still have a role to play … I'd encourage individuals to make contact with family members if they've had close contact."

With Dr Veitch stating on Monday that authorities "believe that Omicron is a generally less severe infection, which will enable a lighter touch", it seems Tasmanians can expect less, not more, involvement from its government as everyone gets on with "learning to live with COVID".

A month from now, after the Christmas and New Year's parties are just Instagram memories and the case numbers climb into the hundreds, likely thousands, the message from government might need another round of adjusting.

A list of exposure sites is regularly updated on the Tasmanian government's website.

Information about travel can be found on the department of health website.

Want more Tasmanian news?

Set the ABC News website or the app to 'Tasmania Top Stories' from either the homepage or the settings menu in the app to continue getting the same national news but with a sprinkle of more relevant state stories.

Here's a taste of the latest stories from Tasmania:

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

How to fight a variant: This might be the hopeful COVID story you are looking for right now

In a state-of-the-art science lab, nestled into the genteel slopes of the NSW Southern Highlands, a group of genetically engineered mice have become frontline soldiers in the fight against COVID-19.

The mice have been inoculated with carrier proteins – used as the early building blocks of a new generation of vaccine — that scientists hope will make them resistant to any variant of SARS-CoV-2.

While still very early days, the goal is to create a variant-proof vaccine that is effective against not just the coronavirus mutations we have grappled with so far, but anything the virus throws at us in the months and years ahead.

“We are using some pretty cutting-edge technology,” says Deborah Burnett, a vet-turned-research officer with the Garvan Institute’s Immunogenomics Lab. “If the COVID-19 pandemic had happened even five years ago we would not have been able to do the kind of work we are doing now.”

A genetically engineered mouse from the Garvan Institute’s Immunogenomics Lab(Supplied: Australian BioResources)

As COVID-19 cases surge through the community with bleak predictions on how high the numbers will go, and the sheer anxiety of living with so much uncertainty — will you encounter COVID on a trip to the supermarket? How sick are you likely to become if infected? Who might you unknowingly transmit it to? Will hospitals cope? – the steady progress of science continues to offer hope.

Universal vaccines are the next great goal in efforts to control COVID-19, and Burnett and the Garvan Institute are not the only ones focused on their promise.

UPDATES: Read our round-up of the latest news on the COVID-19 pandemic

Vaccine researchers in the US and Norway, for example, are also progressing with variant-proof vaccine candidates.

And at Sydney’s Westmead Institute for Medical Research, Sarah Palmer and Eunok Lee are doing promising research into a variant-proof COVID booster shot.

The question now, Palmer says, is not so much how do we fight SARS-CoV-2, but "how do we fight a variant?"

"I think the best way to fight these variants is to develop a universal booster," Palmer says.

A surprising finding

Back in the Southern Highlands, Burnett explains that the mice used in the trials are raised in a controlled, pathogen-free environment so their immune system has not been primed by exposure to any other viruses. The mice are not given COVID-19, rather they are immunised with different carrier proteins sourced from a database of 192,000 different coronaviruses and mutations. Burnett then studies individual cells to determine what antibodies the mice have made from a lab at Garvan's Darlinghurst research hub in Sydney.

"We have access to these amazing mice that have been genetically engineered to make fully human antibody responses to vaccination,” she says.

"These mice really are quite ground-breaking technology and the next best thing you can have to a human. They give us ability to explore things that were previously very difficult to study in anything other than human trials."

Read more about the spread of COVID-19:

The Garvan mouse trials, being undertaken in collaboration with UNSW’s RNA and Kirby institutes, uncovered a surprising finding: immunisation with proteins from related viruses like SARS-CoV-1, or bat viruses, generated a more significant antibody response to key sites than using proteins from the virus that causes COVID-19.

“This was a pretty surprising and key finding and potentially suggests that maybe the ideal vaccine targets we should be using to protect people from COVID-19 could actually be proteins derived from related viruses rather than from the actual virus that causes COVID-19,” Burnett says.

Making the dream a reality The best way to fight variants is to develop a universal booster, Palmer believes.(Supplied: Westmead Institute)

At Westmead, Palmer's research uses a computer algorithm that looks at the genetic composition of the virus and hunts for stable portions of SARS-CoV-2, essential to its ability to mutate and survive and therefore unlikely to change.

This idea, also used by Garvan, works on a theory that if a vaccine can prime antibodies to attack these proteins then any mutation of COVID-19 that emerges in the future can still be brought down.

"We feel that if we identify those regions of the virus that can't change structurally because the virus would not be effective anymore, we could make a booster that would be effective against all the current variants and emerging variants as well," Palmer says.

Current vaccines work from the opposite direction. They identify spike proteins that are unique to a particular variant and disable that variant by targeting the specific protein. But, of course, when yet another new variant emerges, which Omicron has proven is all but inevitable, the vaccine is no longer optimal.

On the upside, the new mRNA technology behind vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna makes it relatively straightforward to tweak the technology so the vaccine can attack the new variant. But with highly infectious strains in the mix, the time lag while the vaccine is tweaked to respond to a new variant can allow it to spread.

And while existing vaccines still work for Omicron, they are likely to become less effective as SARS-CoV-2 becomes cleverer at mutating to avoid them.

It's easy to understand how a variant-proof vaccine would offer an even better solution.

The algorithm being used by the Westmead Institute – in collaboration with the Doherty Institute and University of Queensland – was built by Lee, a "brilliant" post-doctoral fellow, Palmer says.

It accurately identified regions of the virus that avoid 80 per cent of mutations found in Alpha, Beta, Delta and Omicron. This suggests these areas of the virus are stable across all variants.

Your COVID-19 questions answered

You were curious about Omicron, Christmas holiday travel, and booster shots. 

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And interestingly, the team has discovered that cross reactivity with other coronaviruses holds potential for a booster that could even protect against the common cold.

The next stage of Palmer and Lee's research involves making protein segments from 56 regions of the spike and nucleocapsid proteins. These segments are then tested against people who have had COVID to see how their T-cells – an important longer-lasting arm of the human immune system — react.

"What we're finding is that there is a very large T-cell response," Palmer says.

The results are almost ready to be published in a peer-reviewed journal showing that the team's research is effective in stimulating the immune system in patients recovering from COVID.

"We feel that's a really important piece of the puzzle to say, 'hey, these pieces of the protein will activate our immune system. And now we should think about putting them into a vaccine'," Palmer says. "We want to make this dream reality."

A lightbulb moment

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Palmer had spent large portions of her scientific career studying HIV. A vaccine for HIV has never been created because this virus mutates at an even faster rate than SARS-CoV-2. Vaccines just can't keep up.

So Palmer had already built a computer algorithm for HIV using the same concept of identifying stable parts of the virus. "And then COVID hit and we just pivoted and said 'ok, let’s use this idea for COVID as well'," she says.

Research data is drawn from a massive global database of 7.5 million sequences gathered from all SARS-CoV-2 variants, including hundreds of sequences specific to Omicron.

Omicron may be Alpha and Delta's love child and it shows the virus is adapting

As the world rushes to understand how Omicron will impact global control of COVID-19, new research suggests the virus may be changing shape again.

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When Palmer began studying Omicron in November, the database included just 64 sequences for this new variant.

"We just keep stacking these sequences up, feeding them into our computer program and looking at the regions that don't change," Palmer says. "We found that what we've selected holds true for Omicron, for Delta, Alpha and the original strain."

The realisation feels like a lightbulb moment: "We really, really feel like this is a way to develop a universal booster," she says.

The next step is to choose a "vehicle" in which to deliver the booster vaccine, which could use an existing vaccine like Hepatitis B, and then to test it in a mouse model. This is a job for 2022.

Previous research has also informed Burnett's work at Garvan. She says her lab shifted from a focus on autoimmune disease to COVID-19 as the pandemic ramped up.

"That knowledge gave us a different perspective for looking at SARS-CoV-2," she says. "We adapted our autoimmune research, asking, can we generate antibodies that cross react [with different viruses].

"Using our knowledge of antibody cross-reactivity we could understand which antibodies were targeting the key sites of vulnerability," she says.

Burnett was lead author of a paper elaborating these ideas that was published this month in the prestigious journal Immunity

“The emergence of Omicron has really validated what we found,” she says.

There's a money problem

It's no surprise that research like this comes at a cost. This kind of research is not only expensive but it can be risky if the investment doesn't result in a usable vaccine. 

"We are moving towards a vaccine very rapidly so we feel we have this brilliant idea but it does come down to funding," Palmer says.

Burnett says she hopes the Garvan research can result in a universal mRNA vaccine candidate in the latter half of 2022. But she also emphasises the need for funding in order to make that happen.

"What we're aiming to do is such a challenging thing: to make a vaccine that doesn't need updating," Burnett says.

Yet success or no success, funding or not, the work is also deeply meaningful, a point both Palmer and Burnett emphasise.

For Palmer, the HIV work continues in parallel with that for SARS-CoV-2: "We have learned that the technology, techniques and understanding we're developing for one virus can be applied to COVID," she says. "These are two of the world's greatest pandemics and we really need to continue working on both."

For Burnett, still relatively early in her scientific career, the opportunity to do research at the forefront of her field is "a privilege".

"A lot of researchers in their whole lifetime wouldn't get to work on something so topical that can have such an impact," she says.

“To be both the person affected by COVID in our society but also to know that the discoveries we are making are being used in real time to help inform decisions about how to control this virus is quite amazing."

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

I’m in isolation for the second Christmas in a row — but this time I likely have COVID

I'm spending Christmas in bed for the second year in a row.

After I wrote about my "isomas" last year, some readers compared it to a "John and Yoko Bed-in".

It's becoming tradition, but it's no protest — although right now, I'm tempted to stage one. Last Christmas, I was in bedroom jail as a close contact. This year, I have suspected COVID.

It might seem like a coincidence, but it's not — we all know the festive season is a cocktail of risk: increased mixing and travelling, plus staffing shortages making it harder to be tested or treated quickly.

This isn't even my first brush with COVID this month.

Catch up on the main COVID-19 news from December 24 with a look back at our blog

Two weeks ago, I went to a friend's apartment to celebrate their 30th birthday — the first 30th in my friend group that wasn't cancelled by COVID.

Soon after, we were locked in our bedrooms as close contacts for a week.

I emerged from my mini-lockdown drained and ready to enjoy the outside world. Within 24 hours, I seem to have contracted coronavirus.

In a cruel twist, my symptoms began on the day I was booked in for my booster shot. It began with a scratchy throat so mild that many would've missed it. I was on high alert from my week in iso, so I went straight to get tested.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.WatchDuration: 2 minutes 45 seconds2m 45s NSW reintroduces COVID rules: What do you need to know?Testing times begin

I live in the middle of Sydney, yet the nearest clinic is still a 20-minute drive away, adding 40 minutes to the average two-hour wait in the queue. I had to do this three-hour round trip twice in one week as a close contact: If I didn't have a flexible job, I don't know how I could've managed it.

Two years into the pandemic, we're still not triaging people in these queues — close contacts, symptomatic, or surveillance testing only — despite the 10 staff in high-vis supervising.

This time, turning up for my third three-hour ordeal, I was told the drive-through was closed due to "too much demand".

Some 55 hours later, I'm still waiting on my results, but with my significant symptoms, positive rapid antigen tests and positive PCR results from a slew of people I've seen, it's not looking promising.

Your COVID-19 questions answered

You were curious about Omicron, Christmas holiday travel, and booster shots. 

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It's hard to imagine insecure workers being able to afford to isolate for days on end — although there is a payment available in some situations (offline for maintenance next week, in a Utopia-esque twist).

Then, there's the fallout for interstate travellers, like my mother's partner, who was turned away at the airport from his flight to Queensland to see his family, as his results had not arrived in time.

Today, instead of resting with my symptoms, I've spent six hours on the phone trying to find someone to swab my elderly grandparents who I may have given the virus to. They're unable to travel to a clinic and everyone in my family is quarantined and likely has COVID too.

Scaling up testing to meet demand is clearly not simple, but the limits should've been better anticipated and stronger infection-control measures retained.

As an exceptionally contagious variant landed, why was the response to abandon public health measures, especially those that pose no cost to the economy, like mask wearing and QR codes?

I know that some view wearing a mask as an assault on their liberty, but spending my holidays in quarantine feels more constrictive.

In an attempt to protect my household, I'm now sleeping in a P2 mask for 10 days. If I had to choose, I'd take wearing it at the supermarket instead.

Christmas is cancelled

It feels like Groundhog Day watching the same pattern as the Northern Beaches outbreak last December play out across Sydney.

Dropping public health measures in the pursuit of normality, we've ended up with something so very far from normal.

Omicron may be Alpha and Delta's love child and it shows the virus is adapting

As the world rushes to understand how Omicron will impact global control of COVID-19, new research suggests the virus may be changing shape again.

Read more

Thousands will spend Christmas in bed with COVID, with thousands more in isolation, and even more too worried to see their older relatives. For so many of my friends, and both sides of my family, Christmas is, quite literally, cancelled.

So many of the venues, events and businesses the government were trying to boost are instead empty. There's fear in the air that wasn't there just weeks ago and it turns out that's bad for business too.

Of course we need to live with COVID, but the cost of transitioning overnight was laid bare to me when we attempted to take a relative to the emergency department earlier this week.

There was a five-hour wait to be seen, and no beds, so they were sent home.

I never expected we'd need an emergency department this Christmas, but that's their defining feature — you need them when you don't expect it.

The primary care system is similarly overwhelmed. After a Herculean attempt to book an appointment on Christmas Eve, I registered the onset of my symptoms with a GP.

I did this because, in NSW at least, you need a GP to clear you to leave quarantine 10 days after your symptoms begin. It was the first the GP had heard of the process, which is little surprise since it was apparently sprung on doctors without warning at a time when many were already shutting up shop.

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This time last year, I was terrified of passing on the virus to the people I loved with potentially catastrophic consequences.

This year, I feel relieved that we are vaccinated, offering at least some protection.

COVID is not the flu — but with vaccination, it feels more like one.

Read more about the spread of COVID-19:

A friend whose father recently spent a week on life support with COVID has gifted my family an oxygen meter — it saved his dad's life, telling them to call an ambulance even though he thought he was fine.

I hopefully won't need it, but they're readily available at chemists and a handy thing for every living-with-COVID home.

It turns out I'm absolutely saturated with oxygen, a hidden talent that will sadly hold no clout on my resume.

Merry COVID Christmas

There are other things I'm grateful for, too: that this illness will be fleeting (I hope). If you include my first round of isolation, I'll have quarantined for 17 days this summer. So many Australians with chronic illnesses never get to leave "bedroom jail".

After my last Christmas Bed-in, I was heartbroken to receive so many emails from others spending Christmas alone, not just because of COVID.

The pandemic has brought home how isolation truly feels, and I hope it leaves us resolved to reach out to those who live this daily.

So yes, this year I've swapped my champagne for a cocktail of Panadol and Nurofen.

Instead of pulling Christmas crackers I'm clipping the oxygen meter to my finger.

It's no celebration, but I'm raising a silent toast to all those in "isomas", and the rest of you, on this merry COVID Christmas.

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

Our best long reads of 2021 for your summer reading — with no COVID in sight

Just a quick note from me on the busiest weekend of the season to bring you some of the best reads the ABC has published this year.

From insider trading to Japanese princesses, there's plenty to dive into when you finally get to put your feet up.

I'll be back in your inbox in late January. They can't throw anything at us that we haven't managed this year, so let's do it all again — OK maybe not all of it — in 2022.

Happy Christmas!

Save The Last Dance for me Luc Longley before a Chicago Bulls game in1998.(Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)

When former basketball star Luc Longley sat down to watch the documentary series The Last Dance mid-last year, he was excited. 

Here was the story of the Chicago Bulls, led by Michael Jordan, considered by many to be the greatest sports team of all time and one in which Longley played a key role. 

So imagine Longley’s disappointment as each of the 10 episodes dropped and it became clear his contribution would be ignored. The 52-year-old had been wiped from history.

The women who have been the 'first' of their kind — and the men who tried to stop them Julie Bishop, Julia Gillard and Penny Wong.

The story of women in Australian parliaments is a tale that turns 100 this year with the centenary of Edith Cowan's 1921 election to the WA Parliament.

What is fascinating is the extent to which the voting fortunes of the female population have at key points turned on the judgement or instincts of a single man.

Police reveal how they cracked Australia’s biggest insider trading scam The Accomplice, Australian Story(Australian Story: Marc Smith/Julie Ramsden)

Lukas Kamay was winning. He drove a BMW Roadster, he had the fancy watches, the expensive suits, the glamorous girlfriend.

In one 25-minute burst of trading from a toilet cubicle at the NAB he turned $1.5 million into $2.54 million.

Kamay was confident, reckless, unstoppable and nearly untouchable — and he wanted more, and more.

It began with an 18th birthday party. The trial that followed still haunts Nadia

Nadia Bach didn't go to many high school parties. This one was an exception.

It was supposed to be a regular teen birthday party. Instead, it led to a police investigation, two trials and an experience one expert says should "shock our moral consciousness".

Born in Australia. Raised in detention. How did it come to this for the 'Biloela family'? The Murugappans are a family of four: mother Priya, father Nades, and their two daughters Kopi and Tharnicaa.(Australian Story: Robert Koenig-Luck)

This is the story behind the headlines of a family in limbo.

Media scrutiny of the Nadesalingams’ plight has been intense since Border Force descended on their place in Biloela at daybreak three-and-a-half years ago. 

Meet the Russian patriot groups on the rise

Vladimir Putin wants to reclaim Russia's former glory, and he expects the support of Russians across the globe, wherever they may live.

A Four Corners investigation has uncovered the activities of a cluster of dedicated pro-Russian nationalist groups operating here.

Some are explicit about their mission — to wage a propaganda war to help further the Kremlin's global agenda — prompting analysts to warn Australia that it should be paying close attention.

The mystery of the laughing girl and the stern matriarch in my family photo album Ellen Fanning was fascinated by the old photo she found in her grandmother's album.(ABC News: Jack Fisher)

Ellen Fanning had been looking at the photo for about eight years. Two dark-skinned Aboriginal women. A laughing girl and a stern-looking matriarch. Both dressed in starched white maid uniforms, like plantation workers from America's Deep South.

The women were not sitting in the lush garden of that vast sheep station by choice. Why were they in her grandmother's photo album?

At first the sinkholes swallowed a beachside resort. Then they kept spreading A section of highway buckled by a sinkhole.(Foreign Correspondent)

On the shores of the Dead Sea, a village lies in ruins, crumbling into great craters opening up in the earth. 

This was once the beachside resort at En Gedi, Israel, where families would come to float in the ultra-salty lake at the bottom of the world.

How Ghislaine Maxwell's life of privilege and tragedy led her to Jeffrey Epstein Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell.(Getty Images: Joe Schildhorn/Patrick McMullan)

Ghislaine Maxwell was once photographed with New York's celebrity elite. Now she is known as inmate 02879-509 and is about to go on trial for grooming girls for Jeffrey Epstein.

After the drama, this is how Jana Pittman became a career chameleon

Three-time Olympian, two-time world champion, fallen heroine, spat on in a parade, cancer scare survivor, soon to be mother-of-six, doctor, egg donor, TV warrior woman.

By her own admission, Jana Pittman feels like she's "lived five lives" during her 39 years on the planet.

'He's been in this room': Grace Tame's most powerful speech yet back at former school Grace Tame.(Australian Story: Luke Bowden)

Grace Tame has lost track of the number of speeches she’s given since being named Australian of the Year. She just knows she can't keep up this pace forever.

But the speech that had perhaps the most profound impact on her is the one she gave to senior students and teachers at St Michael’s Collegiate school in Hobart.

For it was here, 11 years earlier, that she was groomed and sexually abused over six months by a teacher. She was 15, he was 58.

Japan's shrinking imperial family is losing another princess. Here's why women keep walking away Princess Mako.(AP: Shizuo Kambayashi)

When Japan's Princess Mako announced she was planning to marry a commoner, it had all the hallmarks of a classic fairytale.

An old imperial law in Japan stipulates that female members are stripped of their title in the event they marry a commoner. 

But her fairytale took a strange turn a few months after the news of the engagement.

The digger from Shanghai

This is a story of how a determined group of five ordinary men — a mechanic, a cook, duco sprayer, sheep farmer and a labourer — beat the odds. Their Homeric tale of resilience, which took place 80 years ago, can now be told for the first time.

The cruel sea Young Libyan men await rescue in the Mediterranean.(Foreign Correspondent: Santi Palacios)

First there's only darkness as we pound across black water. Suddenly, the boat appears, illuminated in the moonlight. We slow the engine and pull up close enough to pass over life jackets, but not so close that they could grab our rescue craft.

More than 50 people are crammed into the small wooden boat — anxious mothers, crying babies, old men, young men, frightened children. There's no navigator, no safety gear and just an outboard motor sputtering like it is running on fumes in the vastness of the Mediterranean. 

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

‘Pro-choice’ WA Police officer wins injunction preventing him from being sacked over COVID jab

A WA Police officer has won a Supreme Court injunction preventing him from being sacked for refusing a COVID vaccination.

Key points:

  • Senior Constable Ben Falconer will keep his job until his case goes to trial
  • The Police Commissioner says he's still not allowed at police premises
  • Justice Jeremy Allanson says the court is not predicting the trial result

Ben Falconer, who has described himself as "pro-choice", had asked for a judicial review of disciplinary procedures regarding those officers who did not want a COVID vaccine.

Supreme Court Justice Jeremy Allanson has granted an injunction stopping the Police Commissioner from sacking Senior Constable Falconer until the case goes to trial.

Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said the ruling did not mean the officer could attend police premises.

"The decision of the Supreme Court is an interim decision and it only applies to a single police officer, not any other officers," he said.

WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson says unvaccinated officers still cannot attend police premises.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

"It does not affect the Chief Health Officer's order, so that means none of these police officers, this particular applicant will not be able to attend a police facility in the interim period."

The Commissioner said he did not want to make further comments on the matter while it was still before the courts.

Unvaccinated 'not diseased', court told

During the hearing on Thursday, counsel for the state Kenneth Pettit SC listed the benefits of vaccination, and said the applicant's inconvenience associated with being vaccinated was "not worth" one hospitalisation or lockdown.

Referring to 34 police workers who he said did not want to be vaccinated, he said the "burden" was not borne by the officers alone, as other workplaces were subject to directions.

Senior Constable Falconer's barrister said there was no evidence those who had not received the jab posed a threat to anybody, saying "people who are unvaccinated are not diseased".

Senior Constable Falconer (centre) made no comment as he left court after the ruling.(ABC News: David Weber)

Shane Prince SC referred to "bodily integrity" and said it was a common law right.

Justice Allanson said that by granting the injunction, the court was not predicting the result of any trial.

He said the trial needed to be held as soon as possible, preferably in the first quarter of next year, with a directions hearing set down for January 12.

Justice Allanson did say the Chief Health Officer's directions remained in force.

He told the court the "balance of justice required restraint".

Protesters have repeatedly taken to the streets of Perth to rally against vaccination mandates.(ABC News: Andrew O'Connor)

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

Closest Aboriginal community to Brisbane prepares for the worst of COVID

Sitting in the waiting room of her local walk-in vaccination clinic, Leila Cobbr is anxious as COVID-19 cases surge in surrounding towns and cities. 

Key points:

  • The Aboriginal community of Cherbourg is preparing for a COVID emergency
  • Only 58 per cent of residents are vaccinated, according to federal stats
  • The council is sourcing homes for quarantine and stockpiling food to help families

"I just don't feel safe going anywhere without my shot," Ms Cobbr said.

Ms Cobbr is undergoing chemotherapy and lives in Cherbourg, 250 kilometres north-west of Brisbane.

"I'm going through pancreatic cancer, so I've got to make it good for myself and my family and my husband," she said.

The Aboriginal community is the closest to the state capital, and just under 60 per cent of residents are fully vaccinated, according to federal government figures.

Catch up on the main COVID-19 news from December 24 with a look back at our blog The Cherbourg community has begun emergency preparations for a future COVID outbreak.(ABC Southern QLD: Jon Daly)Emergency preparations underway

The Local Disaster Management Group recently met to make emergency preparations for an outbreak.

"We are exposed to major cities, major populations, Sunshine Coast, Toowoomba, and Brisbane, so it's inevitable we're going to be impacted in a way that's significant," Cherbourg elder Sam Murray said.

It's sort of like holding back the tide in a way. I think we can only plan for the worst and hope for the best."

Homes to allow COVID positive people to quarantine away from family are in short supply.

Cherbourg elder Sam Murray says his community is hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.(ABC Southern QLD: Jon Daly)

"In Cherbourg, we've got the overcrowding issue, so for the bigger families we need to have those quarantine places," Cherbourg Aboriginal Shire Council chief executive Chatur Zala said.

Premises are being found within the community, and residents will be sent to hotels in surrounding towns for quarantine if needed.

The council is also stockpiling food supplies for families put into isolation.

"They would be out of food, medicine, nappies and baby powder, so food is going to be important for them to survive for those days," Mr Chatur said.

Darling Downs Health has reported a big increase in vaccinations administered in Cherbourg this week.(ABC Southern QLD: Jon Daly)Vaccination demand surging

According to federal government figures, Cherbourg has been lagging in vaccinations with only 58 per cent of residents over 16 years of age double dosed.

Darling Downs Health officials say that rate is likely higher due to inaccurate Medicare details of some residents.

Even so, Darling Downs Health COVID response leader Michelle Forrest said rates were substantially lower than the statewide average of 85 per cent fully vaccinated, and of concern.

"There are people with lower vaccination rates and we know there are lots of multi-generational families living together and people with poorer health outcomes, so they are most vulnerable," Ms Forrest said.

The health service has seen a four-fold increase in the number of people attending its walk-in vaccination clinic at Cherbourg Hospital in the past week.

"We're averaging about 30 vaccinations per clinic, and this Tuesday we saw 132 doses provided," Ms Forrest said.

Queensland COVID-19 snapshot

Reported in the past 24 hours:

  • New cases: 589
  • Tests: 30,684

Queensland's vaccine rollout (percentage of those aged 16+):

  • First dose: 90.24 per cent
  • Second dose: 85.6 per cent

Latest case information from Queensland Health.

Since Queensland borders reopened last week, 1,365 cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed.
Daily case records are tumbling, and the worsening outbreak is changing hesitant minds.

Cherbourg resident Noella Murray got her first vaccination dose this week.

"Before, a lot of people were hesitant, a lot of people were against it," Ms Murray said.

"I was at first, but I've had a bunch of friends and family members that have taken it so they deemed it safe."

Just under 64 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Queensland are fully vaccinated, according to the federal government.

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news