The Loop: Israel approves fourth COVID vaccine dose, NYE celebrations in your city, and it’s a ruff day for the Westminster Kennel Club
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
Let's get you up to speed:
- British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell will appeal her conviction for setting up teenage girls to be sexually abused by financier Jeffrey Epstein
- The marriage between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver is officially over, more than 10 years after she petitioned to end her union to the action star
- Thousands of people have left messages on the social media account of the late Chinese COVID-19 whistleblower Li Wenliang. It's the second anniversary of the day he learned of possible pneumonia-causing virus cases in Wuhan and shared the information with fellow doctors
What Australians are searching for
- Kyrie Irving: the star guard says he's "grateful" to return to Brooklyn Nets practice after being sidelined due to his vaccination status
- Elizabeth Holmes: the jury weighing fraud charges against the former Theranos CEO is breaking until after the New Year's holiday
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.
A group of firefighters in the US city of Detroit who posed for a photo in front of a home engulfed in flames will face disciplinary action, the city’s Fire Commissioner said, labelling the stunt “inappropriate and unprofessional”.
- The firefighters were celebrating a colleague’s retirement
- The photo was later removed from the Facebook page
- The house was too dangerous to enter at the time the photo was taken
The photo was posted just before midnight on New Year’s Eve on a Facebook page for fire incidents in Detroit.
“Crews take a moment to get a selfie on New Years,” said a caption for the photo, which has since been taken down.
Firefighters were celebrating a retiring fire battalion chief, Deputy Fire Commissioner Dave Fornell said.
“There are a lot of ways to celebrate a retirement … Taking a photo in front of a building fire is not one of them,” Fire Commissioner Eric Jones said in a statement.
“Behind every fire is a devastated family or property owner.”
Mr Fornell said the photo was taken outside a vacant house in the city’s west, where the fire was reported at 6:34pm.
The house was too dangerous to enter, he said.
In a later post on the Detroit Fire Incidents Page on Facebook, the page’s administrators said they were “asked to post it by a fire fighter [sic] for the city of Detroit.”
“The only reason [the photo] was removed is we received messages by guys on the job stating that they had been threatened for the photo being posted,” the administrators said.
They said the firefighter was likely being threatened with “punitive actions”.
Hundreds of travellers in Central Australia who had plans to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Melbourne and Sydney were left stranded overnight when Jetstar cancelled two flights out of Uluru.
- Jetstar said IT issues were behind the cancellation of flights to Sydney and Melbourne
- Hundreds of passengers were bused more than 450 kilometres to Alice Springs to spend New Year’s Eve in the town
- Virgin and Qantas boarded their flights during the internet outage, using manual methods to check passengers in
Instead of travelling to Sydney and Melbourne, an estimated 250-300 passengers were bused more than 450 kilometres to Alice Springs where they arrived after 11pm before being placed on alternate flights on Wednesday.
Jetstar said the flights were cancelled due to a ‘Telstra IT issue’ affecting check-in systems.
Canadian Wade Kelly, who now lives Melbourne, said it was an extremely frustrating day.
“We sit on the floor [at the airport] for six hours, in that time there’s three to four announcements — Qantas and Virgin are able to board their flights, but we’re unable to board our flights, [and there’s] hundreds of people just sitting and waiting,” he said.
“They just kept on saying they couldn’t check people in without the internet, [but] somehow Qantas and Virgin still got their flights off”.
Qantas and Virgin both confirmed they had other measures in place to check passengers onto their flights despite the outage, though the Qantas flight was delayed by almost two hours.
‘It was unbelievable incompetence’
Mr Kelly said the only communication from the airline had been announcements at the airport saying there was an internet issue preventing check-in, and then a single email apologising for the inconvenience.
“It’s just unbelievable, it’s a comedy of errors, I don’t blame the staff but I do blame the administration of Jetstar,” he said.
“It was unbelievable incompetence, everything that should’ve been done wasn’t done and it’s just appalling.
“They’ve ruined everyone’s New Year’s Eve — some of these people have come around the world to be in Sydney or Melbourne for New Year’s, they’ve paid thousands and thousands of dollars.”
Mr Kelly said Jetstar did not explain why the passengers could not stay in Yulara and catch a flight the following day.
Holiday plans stay grounded
Passengers told the ABC they were given an apple, cheese and crackers, and a muesli bar for dinner, but one traveller said she could not eat any of the food provided as she had diabetes.
Wayne Thompson, NT Manager of the Australian Transit Group, was asked to organise several buses to Uluru from Alice Springs, and he said many of the passengers were upset.
“Talking to a couple of the Japanese younger couples, I felt very sorry for them because they had purchased premium rooms over Sydney Harbour to view the bridge to watch New Year’s Eve [fireworks] from their hotel room” he said.
Jetstar issued a statement saying all affected customers were provided accommodation, meal allowances and transport to and from hotels.
“A Telsta IT issue affected our airport check-in systems at Uluru (Ayres Rock Airport) yesterday, impacting two of our flights” the statement read.
“We appreciate delays are frustrating, particularly at this time of year and apologise to customers for the impact to their journey.”
Telstra confirmed it had a loss of mains power at the Indulkana telephone exchange in the APY Lands which impacted fixed line services in the region.
A Telstra spokesperson said a temporary generator was transported from Alice Springs and all services were restored at approximately 6pm on New Year’s Eve.
The spokesperson said the cause of the power loss was not yet known.
A Darwin emergency department doctor has used a Territory Government press conference concerning New Year’s Eve safety awareness to slam the NT hospital system, saying it is stretched beyond capacity.
- Dr Didier Palmer said the NT Health Minister was “fully aware” of issues facing the system
- He said patients would be “double bunked” throughout New Year’s Eve
- Health Minister Natasha Fyles said work was underway to “free up” more beds
During the press conference, Royal Darwin Hospital emergency medicine director Didier Palmer said the hospital was “completely full”, and that he had “just come out of crisis meetings because we have no beds”.
The press conference was organised to spread safety messages ahead of New Year’s Eve, and was also attended by NT Health Minister Natasha Fyles.
With Ms Fyles standing beside him, Dr Palmer said the hospital was already short 25 beds ahead of New Year’s Eve and that they were expecting up to 90 more admissions that day.
“People will be double bunked in the emergency department,” he said.
“We always cope, which is something the system relies on.
“We are putting patients in corridors because we just don’t have enough space — that’s not only at Christmas, that’s right the way through the year.”
He said the solution was more beds.
“We need more beds, and anyone that says different is a fool — [it’s] as blunt as that.”
Extra hospital not enough
Dr Palmer is also the emergency director at the Palmerston Regional Hospital.
He said the Palmerston Regional Hospital, opened in 2018, had not filled gaps in the system and had instead “created more demand”.
“[The Palmerston Emergency Department] is full all the time,” he said.
The $206 million hospital on the outskirts of Darwin was opened in part to support Royal Darwin Hospital.
“It’s a different sort of hospital — it’s a standalone emergency department with some low-acuity wards,” Dr Palmer said.
“We are we trying to change all these things, reconfigure all these things, but in fact we are worse off this year than we were last year.
“There are certainly plans to improve the number of beds, and the Minister is fully aware of that and over that issue as well.”
No simple solution: Fyles
Ms Fyles said the Territory Government acknowledged the problem and said the NT’s health system was not like others in Australia.
“Royal Darwin Hospital and the Palmerston Regional Hospital are very unique: we don’t have other facilities,” she said.
“There is work underway with the Health Department and Top End Health Service around what we can do to free up the emergency department to have that flow-through of beds available.
“We certainly will continue that work and I’ll be taking that to my cabinet colleagues in the coming months.”
Ms Fyles added that more needed to be done than simply adding extra beds into the system.
“It’s not as simple as putting on a bed. There needs to be the flow-through, the staff to support those beds,” she said.
Ms Fyles said that better long-term clinical planning, more infrastructure, and more staff funding were essential to fixing the overburdened system.
“We can’t simply shift patients at a certain acuity level out to Palmerston Hospital,” she said.
“Palmerston Hospital has opened as expected and is now running at full capacity.”