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Ventilator supply starts to increase as Tam warns of possible virus surge

OTTAWA — Only a small fraction of the 40,000 new ventilators Canada ordered for hospitals last spring have already been delivered but several companies involved say their production lines will start delivering the products faster in the next few weeks.

The promise of new arrivals comes as Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, warned Friday that a fall surge of COVID-19 cases could overwhelm the health-care system, including its supply of critical care beds and ventilators.

“What we know based on what we learned from other countries and cities that had a devastating impact in that initial wave, if you exceeded that capacity the mortality goes up really, really high,” she said.

Flu season and other respiratory infections common in the fall could put added pressure on the system if COVID-19 flares up in a big way.

Tam said there were many lessons learned from the spring, when the government was ill-prepared and without enough protective equipment for health-care workers, and feared a massive surge of COVID-19 would overwhelm the health-care system.

“We are much better prepared than we were before,” she said.

In March, Canadians watched in horror as northern Italy’s COVID-19 outbreak overran its health-care system, leaving doctors to choose which patients got a ventilator and which were left without one. That experience, coupled with warnings it could happen here too, compelled federal and provincial governments to order thousands of new ventilators.

But much like surgical face masks and N95 respirators, Canada didn’t already produce many ventilators domestically, and getting them from international sources is tough when global need for new ventilators is in the hundreds of thousands. So Canada asked firms here if they could step up, and out of that four new consortiums to build ventilators were formed.

A fifth contract was signed with Thornhill Medical, a Toronto firm that at that point was making about 50 of its portable breathing machines a month.

In all, Canada ordered 40,328 ventilators, for an estimated $1.1 billion, and as of Friday, it had just 606 in hand.

Paul-Emile Cloutier, the president of national health-care advocate HealthCareCAN, said there is concern about the status of the government’s orders for personal protective equipment and ventilators ahead of the possibility COVID-19 will surge again in Canada this fall.

“Details are crucial as we prepare for the expected next wave of COVID-19,” he said.

Procurement Minister Anita Anand said Friday the government is pushing on to get the entirety of the orders in place. A statement from her department said “Canada currently has sufficient ventilators to meet current demands” and that the ones on order are to bolster existing Public Health Agency of Canada stockpiles, as well as the units already in hospitals and provincial warehouses across the country.

But Health Canada won’t say how many ventilators the country now has in total. It will also not disclose any modelling for how many could be needed in a worst-case scenario situation. In March there were about 5,000 ventilators nationally, and another 500 in the national emergency stockpile.

Canada’s ability to plank the COVID-19 curve in the spring meant warnings about running out of ventilators never came to fruition.

John Walmsley, the executive vice president at Starfish Medical in Victoria, said that took the pressure off his new coalition, Canadian Emergency Ventilators, Inc.

“We have a little bit more elbow room to do things in a bit of a controlled manner but I would say we’re looking to get it done this year,” he said.

“We’re all concerned about a second wave and being ready for that and so we’re on board to deliver for that.”

Canadian Emergency Ventilators is still waiting for Health Canada approval before it can start shipping its promised 7,500 machines. It submitted the documents in June and it is taking a bit longer than expected to get the green light.

Once that happens, the Public Health Agency of Canada would have to test the product, and then the units that have already been built could be shipped, said Walmsley. He is still hopeful to fill the order by the end of the year.


Tree ferns are older than dinosaurs. And that’s not even the most interesting thing about them

With massive fronds creating a luxuriously green canopy in the understory of Australian forests, tree ferns are a familiar sight on many long drives or bushwalks. But how much do you really know about them?

First of all, tree ferns are ferns, but they are not really trees. To be a tree, a plant must be woody (undergo secondary plant growth, which thickens stems and roots) and grow to a height of at least three metres when mature. While tree ferns can have single, thick trunk-like stems and can grow to a height of more than 15 metres, they are never woody.

They’re also incredibly hardy — tree ferns are often the first plants to show signs of recovery in the early weeks after bushfires. The unfurling of an almost iridescent green tree fern fiddlehead amid the sombre black of the bushfire ash is almost symbolic of the potential for bushfire recovery.

Three blackened stumps with bright green fronds unfurl among burnt trees.
Ferns are often the first plants to grow back in a bushfire ravaged forest. AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts

Ancient family ties

Tree ferns are generally slow growing, at rates of just 25-50 millimetres height increase per year. This means the tall individuals you might spot in a mature forest may be several centuries old.

However, in the right environment they can grow faster, so guessing their real age can be tricky, especially if they’re growing outside their usual forest environment.

Read more: The coastal banksia has its roots in ancient Gondwana

As a plant group, tree ferns are ancient, dating back hundreds of millions of years and pre-dating dinosaurs.

They existed on earth long before the flowering or cone-bearing plants evolved, and were a significant element of the earth’s flora during the Carboniferous period 300-360 million years ago, when conditions for plant growth were near ideal. This explains why ferns don’t reproduce by flowers, fruits or cones, but by more primitive spores.

A shoot of the _Dicksonia antarctica_, ready to unfurl.
A shoot of the Dicksonia antarctica, ready to unfurl. JJ Harrison/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

In fact, fossilised tree ferns and their relatives called the fern allies laid down during the carboniferous then have provided much of the earth’s fossil fuels dating from that period. And tree ferns were a great food source, with Indigenous people once eating the pulp that occurs in the centre of the tree fern stem either raw or roasted as a starch.

Until recent times, ferns were quiet achievers among plant groups with an expanding number of species and greater numbers. Today, human activities are limiting their success by the clearing of forests and agricultural practices. Climate change is also a more recent threat to many fern species.

Species you’ve probably seen

Two of the more common tree fern species of south eastern Australia are Cyathea australis and Dicksonia antarctica. Both species have a wide distribution, extending from Queensland down the Australian coast and into Tasmania.

They’re often found growing near each other along rivers and creeks. They look superficially alike and many people would be unaware that they are entirely different species at first glance. That is, until you look closely at the detail of their fronds and run your fingers down the stalks.

A road cuts through a forest with tree ferns either side
Tree ferns are a familiar sight on road trips through forests and bushwalks. Shutterstock

C. australis has a rough almost prickly frond, hence its common name of rough tree fern, and can grow to be 25 metres tall. While D. antarctica, as the soft tree fern, has a smooth and sometimes furry frond and rarely grows above 15 metres.

Both contribute to the lush green appearance of the understory of wet forests dominated by eucalypts, such as mountain ash (Eucalyptus regnans).

Stems that host a tiny ecosystem

The way tree ferns grow is quite complex. That’s because growth, even of the roots, originates from part of the apex of the stem. If this crown is damaged, then the fern can die.

Read more: ‘Majestic, stunning, intriguing and bizarre’: New Guinea has 13,634 species of plants, and these are some of our favourites

At the right time of the year, the new fronds unfurl in the crown from a coil called a fiddlehead. The stem of the tree fern is made up of all of the retained leaf bases of the fronds from previous years.

The stems are very fibrous and quite strong, which means they tend to retain moisture. And this is one of the reasons why the stems of tree ferns don’t easily burn in bushfires — even when they’re dry or dead.

tall tree ferns with thick trunks.
Dicksonia antarctica is one of the more common species in Australian forests. Shutterstock

In some dense wet forest communities, the stems of tree ferns are a miniature ecosystem, with epiphytic plants — such as mosses, translucent filmy ferns, perhaps lichens and the seedlings of other plant species — growing on them.

These epiphytes are not bad for the tree ferns, they’re just looking for a place to live, and the fibrous, nutrient-rich, moist tree fern stems prove brilliantly suitable.

Engulfed by trees

Similarly, the spreading canopies of tree ferns, such as D. antarctica, provide an excellent place for trees and other species to germinate.

That’s because many plants need good light for their seedlings to establish and this may not be available on the forest floor. Seeds, such as those of the native (or myrtle) beech, Nothofagus cunninghamii, may germinate in the crowns of tree ferns, and its roots can grow down the tree fern trunks and into the soil.

Read more: People are ‘blind’ to plants, and that’s bad news for conservation

As time passes, the tree species may completely grow over the tree fern, engulfing the tree fern stem into its trunk. Decades, or even centuries later, it’s sometimes still possible to see the old tree fern stem embedded inside.

Still, tree ferns are wonderfully resilient and give a sense of permanence to our ever-changing fire-affected landscapes.


FBI team arrives this weekend to take part in Beirut probe

BEIRUT — A team of FBI investigators is due to arrive in Lebanon this weekend to take part in the probe of Beirut’s massive explosion, a senior U.S official said on Saturday after visiting the location of the blast.

David Hale, U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, called for a thorough and transparent investigation. He said the FBI team is taking part at the invitation of Lebanese authorities in order to find answers about what caused the Aug. 4 explosion which killed nearly 180 people and wounded thousands.

The cause of the fire that ignited nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate at Beirut’s port remains unclear. Documents have emerged showing the country’s top leadership and security officials were aware of the chemicals stored at the port. French investigators are also taking part in the Lebanese-led probe.

“We really need to make sure that there is a thorough, a transparent and credible investigation. I know that is what everyone is demanding,” Hale said.

Search and rescue crews flew in from around the world in the immediate aftermath. Hale toured the site of the blast with Lebanese army officers.

Many Lebanese want the probe taken out of the hands of their government, fearing that bickering among the long-entrenched political factions, notorious for corruption, won’t allow any results to come to light that are damaging to their leadership.

Top Lebanese officials, including President Michel Aoun, have rejected calls for an independent probe, describing it as “a waste of time” that would be politicized.

Late Friday, the leader of the powerful Hezbollah group said that he did not trust any international investigation, in a clear reference to the FBI assistance. Hassan Nasrallah said the cause of the explosion is still unclear, adding that any international probe would also have to clear Israel of any responsibility in the port explosion.

Nasrallah added that Israel will be met “with an equally devastating response” if the investigation points to its involvement.

Israel has denied involvement and so far no evidence has emerged suggesting otherwise. However, Aoun, who is supported by Hezbollah, has said it’s one of the theories being investigated.

On Saturday, French investigators were seen in boats and on the ground near the scene of the blast. A French helicopter carrier was docked at the port as French troops were unloading equipment.

French troops on foot and in vehicles were moving around the port. At a commercial part of the port that was not damaged by the blast, workers were unloading wheat. The U.N says 30% of the port remains operational.

Hale also stressed the need for full state control over ports and borders, in an apparent reference to claims that Hezbollah holds influence over both in Lebanon.

“We can never go back to an era in which anything goes at the port or borders of Lebanon,” he said.

Under pressure, Lebanon’s government resigned on Aug.10. For now, there are no formal consultations underway on who will replace Hassan Diab as prime minister and no likely candidate has emerged. But the flurry of diplomatic visits appeared designed to influence the forming of the new government.

Popular anger has swelled over the ruling elite’s corruption, mismanagement and political uncertainty. Western leaders have said they will send aid directly to the Lebanese people and that billions of dollars will not be pumped into the country before major reforms take place.

On Friday, the United Nations launched a $565 million appeal for Lebanon with immediate humanitarian assistance and initial recovery efforts.

Washington and its allies consider Hezbollah a terrorist organization, and have accused the Iran-backed group of abusing government funds. Local media have speculated that Hale would be pushing for a government that excludes Hezbollah.

Also on Saturday, families and friends buried Ralph Malahi, a 23-year old firefighter who was among 10 firefighters killed in the explosion.

Malahi was given a hero’s funeral, starting from the firefighter centre. Lifting Malahi’s coffin, thousands paraded through different parts of the city, shooting in the air in commemoration. His body finally arrived at a church in Furn el-Chebak neighbourhood in Beirut where prayers were held for Malahi.


How to talk to someone who doesn’t wear a mask, and actually change their mind

It could be a brother or sister. It could be a neighbour. It could be a person you work with. We probably all know someone who doesn’t wear a mask in public even though it’s compulsory or recommended where you live.

The media is quick to highlight people who think it’s their right not to wear a mask, such as #bunningskaren, or who become violent in expressing their objection.

But others can be persuaded, with the right approach.

So how do you know if it’s worth trying to convince someone to wear a mask? And what’s the best way to talk to them if you actually want to make a difference?

Yelling ‘Mask up!’ at them won’t work

People vary in how they perceive and tolerate risk, and how physically and psychologically vulnerable they are. So we may need to negotiate accepted behaviours, just as we did with HIV. Many of these conversations might be difficult.

We also need to watch our own emotions don’t cloud the message we want to convey. For instance, when we become angry, anxious, outraged or fearful, the person we are trying to communicate with might not hear the message we intended.

Worried woman using a smartphone
Having one of these conversations while you’re angry or anxious can backfire. www.shutterstock.com

We might want to convey: “I want you to wear a mask when you catch the train to see our father.” But instead, the other person hears the message: “I think you are behaving badly and I’m angry with you.”

Ironically, the pandemic makes this type of miscommunication more likely. When we are stressed or emotional, we are more likely to activate our body’s “fight, flight, freeze” mechanisms. This affects how we communicate and how our communication is received.

Read more: How to cut through when talking to anti-vaxxers and anti-fluoriders

If refusing to wear a mask is about maintaining a sense of control or is connected to a sense of identity — for example, if someone considers themselves “not someone who fusses” — then telling them to mask up could make them defensive.

Becoming defensive makes people not only less willing to listen, but less able to take in information, and or to appraise it accurately.

As a result, criticising someone’s views — for example, that wearing a mask doesn’t work — may lead them to “switch off” from what you’re saying and stick more firmly to their beliefs.

Read more: Parents’ decisions about vaccination and the art of gentle persuasion

So, what does work?

To communicate well, we need to prepare. The authors of the book Crucial Conversations recommend asking yourself what you want to achieve as an outcome and what you want for the relationship between you.

The goal is to keep the relationship respectful and the lines of communication open, so negotiations can continue as new pandemic circumstances arise.

You won’t completely change someone’s beliefs or actions. A better aim is to negotiate a change in behaviour that minimises harm. This might be: “Do as you choose at other times of course, but could we agree that just for now, you wear a mask when you visit Dad?”

Read more: Why are older people more at risk of coronavirus?

Respect, empathy, appeal to values

Identifying and respecting another person’s values and finding values in common reduces defensiveness and provides grounds for negotiation.

For instance: “I can see how important it is to you to be sceptical, and I absolutely agree, especially since the evidence changes so often. But since the evidence definitely shows that even some young, healthy people can get seriously ill, could I ask you to wear a mask on our trip?”

Young couple on sofa talking to each other
Ask the other person why they don’t wear a mask. You might be surprised. www.shutterstock.com

Asking someone why they are not wearing a mask, instead of telling them to wear one, is another helpful tool. This is a chance for someone to be heard, which lowers any defensiveness.

There are many reasons why people don’t wear masks. And hearing someone explain could provide an opportunity to problem-solve (especially if we ask how we can help, and refrain from giving advice).

Read more: It’s easy to judge. But some people really can’t wear a mask

Compassion or empathy allows us to support another’s position while more strongly maintaining our own.

For example, acknowledgements such as “I can relate! All these controls over our lives make me crazy and a lot of them make no sense” or “I might be wrong, and I might be overreacting”, can help with negotiating “please humour me and wear a mask, just on the train”.

Empathy can also help preserve the relationship while insisting on a boundary, such as: “Our relationship is so important, I really want to see you, and I hate saying this, but I can’t accept you visiting without a mask, at least until there are fewer cases.”

How a non-judgemental approach can win people over

Evidence shows some groups of men — such as younger men, more politically conservative men, men with lower health literacy, and men who endorse more traditional notions of masculinity — are among the most likely to resist wearing a mask.

Read more: Young men are more likely to believe COVID-19 myths. So how do we actually reach them?

Non-judgemental communication is as effective with men as with everyone else.

When Harvard professor Julia Marcus wrote about male anti-maskers without shaming or judgement, many men contacted her, willing to listen to her views on masks.

In a nutshell

If we are non-judgemental, empathetic, and clear in what we want to achieve, we can rise above counterproductive reactions, such as jumping in to tell someone off or dismissing someone’s concerns.

This allows us to be brave enough to tailor our communication to what the other person is able to hear, and to make it safe for the other person to speak. This is when our communication will actually work.


Fears over quarantine breaches at Albert Park special accommodation house

Vulnerable community members have been walking around Melbourne’s inner-south east despite a COVID-19 outbreak occurring at the special accommodation facility in which they reside.

Up to five residents and one staff member at Hambleton House, an Albert Park facility for residents with mental health or behavioural conditions, have tested positive to COVID-19, the Department of Health and Human Services confirmed late on Saturday.

The manager of the facility slammed the Victorian Health Department for handling the outbreak “atrociously” and not evacuating ill patients from the home.

The residents have been attending local shops, pharmacies and other public places since the outbreak began, according to the manager and a local resident, both of whom did not want to be named.

“The Health Department has been saying the positive residents would be taken away but no one has been transported,” the manager said.

“They have been out in the community all day … at shops and cafes.”

“They haven’t transported positive patients …. It’s been 48 hours [since the outbreak was identified].”

A Health Department spokeswoman said the department was considering relocating some residents.

A security company was hired by Hambleton House, a government-supported service, to ensure residents quarantined but the manager said the solution was ineffective. Police arrived at the house to assist the security detail about 6pm on Saturday.

The Health Department spokeswoman said “the health and welfare of residents at Hambleton House remains a key priority following a recent outbreak at the facility”.

“We are increasing on-site support with additional staffing, security and authorised officers to ensure the proprietors can manage the outbreak safely.

“Significant work has been undertaken on-site to ensure all relevant and necessary supports are in place and that all relevant cleaning protocols have been followed.”

The local state MP, Labor minister Martin Foley, has been made aware of the matter.

The Health Department has been assisting supported residential service providers with PPE and infection control planning as well as outbreak management as part of Operation Benessere, which included management of outbreaks at public housing towers.


Dartmouth hospital under lockdown after Portland St. shooting

HALIFAX — Halifax Regional Police are investigating after a man was shot in the 500-block of Portland Street, and the Dartmouth General Hospital was placed under lockdown Friday night.

Police say at 9 p.m. Friday, they received a report of possible gun shots in the 500-block of Portland Street.

Officers arrived on scene and confirmed a shooting had taken place. Police are asking the public to avoid that area as they investigate.

At 9:29 p.m., the Dartmouth General Hospital reported an adult male arrived with gun shot wounds. Hospital officials said alockdown was lifted after about two hours.

Police are asking anyone with information about this incident to call police or Crime Stoppers.

With files from The Canadian Press.


State arts service organisations: effective, engaged but endangered

This week the NSW government’s arts funding arm, Create NSW, removed or significantly reduced funding to arts service organisations including Writing NSW, Playwriting Australia, the National Association of Visual Artists (NAVA) and Ausdance NSW. This short-sighted trend of cutting funding to arts organisations began several years ago.

It is particularly objectionable at a time of a pandemic when support for creativity is needed more than ever. The arts are valued in their own right and as contributors to social and cultural inclusion, and should be recognised as part of an essential element in any COVID-19 recovery.

As research think-tank A New Approach reported recently, creative pursuits assist “individuals and communities to recover from disasters and trauma”. The Create NSW announcement also coincided with the Arts on the Hill campaign to actively connect artists with federal members of parliament.

The federal government’s policy since 2015 of reduced funding for the arts has wrought devastation across artforms in the small to medium sector and reduced funding to individual artists by an estimated 70%. The latest cuts to NSW arts service organisations indicate a more targeted approach to funding cuts.

Read more: Friday essay: the politics of dancing and thinking about cultural values beyond dollars

What are arts service organisations?

Arts service organisations have an incorporated, not-for-profit structure whose role is to advocate (or speak) on behalf of artists. Historically, they profile their artforms and artists, and promote standards for how artists should be treated. This includes due acknowledgement and remuneration in what is a substantially unregulated sector.

ArtsPeak, whose activities are currently on hold, is the “unincorporated federation” of 33 national arts service organisations such as Ausdance, Australian Writers Guild and Museums Australia. It defines arts service organisations as having a shared purpose to provide support including artform consultation and research, advocacy — such as changes to legislation, regulations and the adoption of “industry” standards — leadership, marketing and professional development. They protect and develop artists’ income generation capacity enabling them to sustain lifelong careers.

In 2017 the Australia Council for the Arts surveyed 111 arts service organisations. The report categorised their roles as encompassing public communication, maintaining industry standards, administering grants on behalf of the government or benefactors, and capacity building. As such, service organisations were recognised as filling gaps in artform development.

However, the scope to provide these services has diminished in NSW. This month, Arts NSW granted A$10 million to 58 key organisations over four years, a handful of which appear to be service organisations. In comparison, of the $45.4 million to 130 key organisations funded by Creative Victoria in 2018-19, 25 were dedicated industry and cultural development organisations. In the coming four years, Arts WA will support 37 arts organisations with $31 million, 11 of which are service organisations.

Read more: The problem with arts funding in Australia goes right back to its inception

NSW in the firing line

So, NSW arts service organisations appear to have borne the brunt of reduced state funding.

Diversity Arts Australia, the national advocacy organisation for artists from diverse cultural backgrounds, was a deserving but rare recipient of four-year organisational funding from the Australia Council, only to have Create NSW reduce its funding this year.

Writing NSW has lost all $175,000 of its annual funding in one fell swoop — a cut to one-third of its revenue, endangering the remaining two-thirds from income generating activities. It is that previously secure government funding that made it possible to generate the majority of its income from other sources.

Service organisations are perceived by some to be the least important component of the Australian arts system, and so less worthy of support in times of financial duress. This perception is misplaced, because the tailored professional development many offer increases the visibility, viability and inclusiveness of their artforms. This is particularly the case when professional arts training is under threat at the tertiary level.

Read more: Fee cuts for nursing and teaching but big hikes for law and humanities in package expanding university places

Writing NSW and Blacktown Arts Centre initiated the Boundless Festival in 2017 to bring emerging and professional writers from Indigenous and culturally diverse backgrounds together for the first time in Australia. Six additional organisational partners were also involved, highlighting the relationships between arts organisations that bring visions to reality. But it also highlights the domino effect after one falls, with others likely to falter as their burden increases.

An either/or approach

The role of arts service organisations has diversified beyond its historical role of political advocate. It now encompasses professional development and exposure to markets that otherwise would be outside the grasp of most individual artists and groups.

In the era of COVID-19, severe reductions in state or federal funding compounds the risk of losing these service organisations. This makes the positions of the artists and sector even more precarious.

Create NSW’s strategy in an already unsatisfactory arts funding environment is either to fund arts-producing organisations or service organisations. This binary approach favours arts production.

It does little to recognise the crucial place of arts service organisations in the value chain connecting creative and cultural activities that contributes at least $111.7 billion to the national economy.


As it happened: Victoria records four deaths, 303 new cases on Saturday, NSW seeks lower cases, Australian death toll at 375

We have made our live blog of the coronavirus pandemic free for all readers. Please consider supporting our journalism with a subscription.

Latest updates

We published a story last night taking a look at a couple of our bloggers and how we ended up working on these live blogs.

We had some lovely comments from readers and all our bloggers were blown away by that reaction so thanks so much for those kind words.

Since February, our newsrooms have helmed more than 130 coronavirus live blogs. It’s been a reporting exercise without precedent and the audience response has been enormous.

On the other side of the screen from the readers are our blogging team.

Link the dog at Matt Bungard's work station at home.

Link the dog at Matt Bungard’s work station at home.

There are many people inside the newsrooms who have pitched in on blogging shifts but there are a few who stand out for having done some very long, hard yards.

This article will give you an introduction to those who have brought you all the news during this pandemic and a little insight into how they do it.

So, in order of the number of shifts they’ve done since March, meet your bloggers.

Click here to read the story.

St Kilda Festival could be postponed due to COVID-19 despite not being scheduled to take place until February next year.

In a Facebook post on Saturday, City of Port Phillip councillor Andrew Bond explained the predicament of the current stage four restrictions plus the likelihood of ongoing difficulties in hosting public gatherings.

He said those issues have forced council to under a ‘yes or no’ vote at their council meeting this Wednesday.

Cr Bond said he would find it ‘extremely difficult’ to vote yes as the event usually draws 400,000 people or more to the area and has an economic benefit of $25-$30 million to Victoria.

It would be the 41st running of the event and Cr Bond said the council would likely vote to postpone it for a year with plans for it to return in February 2022.

Click here to read the story.

The Berejiklian government is forcing the victims of the Ruby Princess coronavirus outbreak to wait days for an acknowledgment NSW Health is responsible for inexcusable mistakes that sparked a public health emergency.

Health Minister Brad Hazzard would not comment on Saturday on the damning findings of an inquiry into the Ruby Princess debacle, which laid considerable blame at NSW Health for assessing the ship as “low risk” and allowing 2647 passengers to disperse into the community without further screening.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian did not address the findings of the report from the Ruby Princess inquiry on Saturday.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian did not address the findings of the report from the Ruby Princess inquiry on Saturday.Credit:Rhett Wyman

Mr Hazzard’s office instead referred to the commitment made by Premier Gladys Berejiklian to “respond early next week” as she publicly released the report on Friday.

The decision comes as NSW recorded nine new cases of COVID-19 in the 24 hours to 8pm on Friday. The cases include two employees of Chopstix Asian Cuisine in Smithfield RSL, in western Sydney. A case also dined at celebrity chef Rick Stein’s Bannisters by the Sea restaurant on the South Coast. Another student from Tangara School for Girls has also tested positive, taking that school’s cluster to 22.

Click here to read the full story.

A five-year-old girl was denied a medical procedure at a private hospital in Sydney’s inner east because she lives in a suburb in the south-west linked to a COVID-19 cluster.

Sophia Kokal’s endoscopy was cancelled the day before she was due to have the procedure to investigate the cause of her severe gut pain because she lived in Casula, her mother Catherine Kokal said.

Catherine Kokal's daughter, Sophia, was denied surgery at Double Bay Day Hospital because she lives in Casula.

Catherine Kokal’s daughter, Sophia, was denied surgery at Double Bay Day Hospital because she lives in Casula.Credit:Janie Barrett

Casula is the location of the Crossroads Hotel, which in July became synonymous with a COVID-19 cluster that grew to 58 cases.

“I’m just upset she’s still suffering the way she is and we don’t know why,” Mrs Kokal said.

Sophia has been taking adult doses of a drug called Nexium to manage acid reflux symptoms since she was seven months old. Her gastroenterologist took her off the drug earlier this year to see how she managed without it. But as Sophia’s pain quickly began to worsen, he decided to schedule an endoscopy.

But Mrs Kokal said a Double Bay Day Hospital staff member called her on July 22, the day before the scheduled procedure, to tell her it was being cancelled because the family lived in Casula.

Click here to read the full story.

Sydney will host the Australian premiere of a major international art exhibition after poaching the event from Melbourne when the city was forced into strict lockdown following its second wave of COVID-19.

Van Gogh Alive is a multi-sensory, interactive exhibition that has shown in 50 cities worldwide and attracted more than 6 million visitors.

Van Gogh Alive promises to stimulate the senses and engage new audiences.

Van Gogh Alive promises to stimulate the senses and engage new audiences. Credit:Grande Exhibitions

It was due to mark the grand opening earlier this year of The Lume in South Melbourne, a new 2000-square-metre immersive digital art gallery. The Lume’s launch has now been postponed until 2021.

The exhibition will instead be held at the Royal Hall of Industries in Moore Park in September, marking the first time the venue has hosted an event since April 2019 and coming after the Sydney Swans surrendered their lease on the building earlier this year.

Click here to read the full story.

A few weeks into Melbourne’s first lockdown, Helen bought herself a soft toy. It had been decades since the 51-year-old had shown any interest in such objects but, at that stage she hadn’t hugged another person in more than a month.

As a single person living alone, Helen was acutely aware of how much she was missing the touch
of loved ones. It was while roaming the aisles of IKEA, looking for a gym mat, that she stumbled across the toy section and thought, “Damn it; I’m going to buy myself one.”

“I thought, ‘If I hug somebody now, I don’t think I’ll ever let go.’ ”

“I thought, ‘If I hug somebody now, I don’t think I’ll ever let go.’ ”Credit:Getty Images

From the moment Helen picked up the stuffed lion cub and brought it to her chest, she felt soothed. “Even though that’s not physical contact with another human, it’s just about having something to hug, like a hot-water bottle in the middle of winter.”

And Helen was craving that feeling. She’d been diagnosed with depression years before and was worried about how prolonged lack of touch might affect her mental wellbeing.

Helen didn’t want to breach the rules and actually hug a friend. She didn’t want to risk it because of COVID-19, but she was also fearful of how she’d react.

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Nine new coronavirus cases have been confirmed in NSW, including one person who dined at celebrity chef Rick Stein’s south coast restaurant, bringing the state’s total to more than 3,750.

A spokeswoman for Mollymook restaurant Bannisters by the Sea said they were notified yesterday afternoon a person had dined at the venue on August 1 and subsequently tested positive for coronavirus.

“We are working with NSW Health to take the necessary precautions as they undergo contact tracing. The self-isolation period ends tonight at midnight,” the spokeswoman said.

“The health of our guests, staff and the local community is our top priority.”

NSW Health said anyone who was at the restaurant on August 1 between 8pm and 10.30pm for at least one hour is considered a close contact and must get tested for COVID-19 right away.

They must self-isolate until midnight Saturday, or until they have received a negative result, whichever is later.

Two staff members of Chopstix Asian Cuisine in Smithfield RSL have also tested positive to the virus.

NSW Health urged anyone who dined at the restaurant from Friday July 31 to Saturday August 9 to immediately get tested and self-isolate if symptoms occurred.

New Zealand has confirmed seven new coronavirus cases, while authorities are investigating whether the Auckland outbreak is linked to a Melbourne cold storage facility.

At a press conference on Saturday, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said that as part of the investigation into the source of the outbreak in New Zealand – which has still not been determined – he had been in contact with health officials in Victoria about a recent outbreak at an Americold cold storage facility in Melbourne.

“You’ll be aware that we have been doing some environmental testing as well at the Americold store in Mt Wellington, that is being processed today,” Bloomfield said.

“I have also had contact from my counterpart in Victoria who has linked me with their lab there, that is doing some genome sequencing on some [coronavirus] cases of employees in an Americold cool store there in Melbourne, just again to see if there is any possible linkage there, so we are looking at that possibility, it’s part of the overall puzzle and we are leaving no stone unturned.”

The possibility that the virus is linked to the Melbourne facility is just one of the avenues being examined by New Zealand authorities as they scramble to determine the source of the outbreak.

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There are now 89 active cases of COVID-19 in residential disability accommodation across Victoria.

About 65 of the cases are staff members and the remainder are residents.

Of the total cases, 64 of the infected people are in NDIS homes (including 19 residents), 24 are in government-regulated or funded “transfer” homes and one is in a state government-operated home.

The Victorian government last year transferred 547 disability residential homes and staff to five non-government providers, representing approximately 43 per cent of the disability accommodation market.

The total number of people receiving disability accommodation/respite services in Victoria is approximately 6500.


Ruby Princess inquiry blames NSW health officials for debacle

The inquiry commissioned by the Berejiklian government into the Ruby Princess COVID-19 disaster has laid blame on NSW health officials, who made “inexcusable” and “inexplicable” mistakes. It also exonerated the Australian Border Force.

In the report, the federal government was sharply criticised for refusing to allow an official to appear before the inquiry, with commissioner Bret Walker SC saying this belied Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s promise of full cooperation.

Some 2,700 passengers from the Carnival Australia cruise ship were allowed to disembark on March 19 before the test results for COVID-19 had come back. The passengers, some of whom had displayed respiratory symptoms, scattered widely, spreading the virus. This led to hundreds of cases, with some 28 deaths linked to the cluster.

Walker found serious mistakes and misjudgements on the part of health officials. He said that in light of all the information the NSW health expert panel had, “the decision to assess the risk of the Ruby Princess as ‘low risk’ – meaning, in effect, ‘do nothing’ – is as inexplicable as it is unjustifiable. It was a serious mistake”.

It should have been assumed there were possible infected passengers “who could transmit the virus and perhaps spark an outbreak of infection, if no steps were taken to prevent or limit that outcome”.

Passengers should not have been allowed to spread through the community until test results were known.

“The delay in obtaining test results for the swabs taken from the Ruby Princess on the morning of 19 March is inexcusable. Those swabs should have been tested immediately,” Walker said.

“The failure to await test results on 19 March is a large factor in this commission’s findings as to the mistakes and misjudgements that caused the scattering of infected passengers.”

Walker criticised the cruise line for not having enough swabs aboard but said, given this, there should have been dockside swabbing.

There has been speculation about whether the Australian Border Force had any responsibility for the disaster, but Walker stressed “neither the ABF nor any ABF officers played any part in the mishap”.

“The relevant legislative provisions make it crystal clear that the Australian Border Force (ABF), despite its portentous title, has no relevant responsibility for the processes by which, by reference to health risks to the Australian community, passengers were permitted to disembark,” he said.

But Walker was blunt about the federal government’s attitude to the inquiry. “The one fly in the ointment so far as assistance to this commission goes, is the stance of the Commonwealth.

“A summons to a Commonwealth officer to attend and give evidence about the grant of pratique for the Ruby Princess was met with steps towards proceedings in the High Court of Australia.

“Quite how this met the prime minister’s early assurance of full cooperation with the commission escapes me.

“This waste of time and resources, when time, in particular, was always pressing, was most regrettable.”

Walker said it seemed a “practical approach was swamped by a determination never to concede, apparently on constitutional grounds, the power of a state parliament to compel evidence to be provided to a state executive inquiry (such as a royal commission or a special commission of inquiry) by the Commonwealth or any of its officers, agencies or authorities.”

Labor’s shadow minister for home affairs, Kristina Keneally, said that on March 15, Morrison had said he was putting in place “bespoke arrangements” for arriving cruise ships.

“He promised cruise ships would be ‘directly under the command of the Australian Border Force’.

“What ‘bespoke arrangements’ did Scott Morrison put in place for arriving cruise ships? This report shows there were none,” Keneally said.


COVID-19 and pregnancy: what we know about what happens to your immune system

Any new infectious disease poses unique challenges to people who are pregnant during an outbreak. The effects of Sars, Zika and influenza in pregnancy highlight the potential immediate and longer term detrimental health outcomes a virus can have for both mother and baby. These risks include premature delivery of the baby with Sars, birth defects with Zika and greater risk of severe influenza.

Should we be as worried about pregnancy and COVID-19? There are a number of things we need to think about. These fall into two broad areas related to the effects on the foetus and the effects on the pregnant person themselves.

In both cases we need to think about the immediate effects during the pregnancy as well as the longer term health effects for both parent and child. The early evidence we have shows that changes to the immune system during pregnancy could be somewhat protective against the disease.

The parent

Early data from pregnant women with COVID-19 indicates that the disease is linked to premature birth and changes to the placenta that might reflect altered blood flow. This suggests that virus-associated disruptions do occur between parent and foetus.

However, these studies were of women with severe cases of the disease. We know very little about the effect of mild disease or asymptomatic infection in pregnancy. Understanding this is critical, as studies have highlighted that asymptomatic and mildly infected pregnant women far outnumber those requiring hospitalisation for COVID-19.

This indicates that pregnant people are not more susceptible to severe COVID-19, which was one of the greatest concerns at the beginning of the pandemic and led to them being categorised as vulnerable.

A baby sleeps in a crib at a maternity ward.
Changes to the immune system during pregnancy may help protect against COVID-19 before and after birth. Steve Parsons/PA

The apparent protective effect of pregnancy against severe disease might simply reflect the different immune responses to severe COVID-19 seen in men and women, and the fact that more men than women die from the disease in general. However, we do not see the same response in pregnancy with other viruses, such as influenza, suggesting something else is at play with SARS-CoV-2.

The foetus

So far, it seems that the foetus is very well protected from the passage of SARS-CoV-2 from mother to child (known as vertical transmission) and such passage, while possible, seems to be uncommon. This might be down to the natural features of the placenta, which produces molecules that stop the virus binding to placental cells. It could also be that the placental membranes limit infection by the virus.

Of course, it is very difficult to study the placenta prior to birth. Alternative measures, such as analysing cellular debris released from the placenta (known as extracellular vesicles) which can be found in a sample of the mother’s blood, are really needed to find out what features of the placenta might protect the foetus from infection and what effects the virus has on the placenta.

Any antibodies that a mother infected with SARS-CoV-2 makes will pass to the foetus across the placenta (known as passive immunity). This provides short-term protection from many infectious agents for the last months of pregnancy and for some months after the baby is born. These antibodies will also continue to be provided in breast milk if the baby is breast fed.

A mother breastfeeds her baby
Babies can acquire antibodies against viruses via breastfeeding. SeventyFour/Shutterstock

Early studies from China have shown that antibodies that protect against COVID-19 are present in newborns of women who had such antibodies. This confirms that passive immunity, where a baby essentially inherits antibodies from a parent, occurs with SARS-CoV-2. We now need some larger studies to investigate whether anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies are present in human milk to better understand the role of these antibodies in neutralising the virus and protecting the baby.

Molecules other than antibodies can also pass from parent to foetus. Pregnant women with severe COVID-19 have many of the hallmarks of an inflammatory response that we see in other people with similar symptoms. This includes elevated levels of molecules such as interleukin-6 (IL-6), which indicates that the immune response has been activated.

There are a number of studies showing that maternal immune activation can have detrimental effects on the developing foetus. Such activation is associated with increased risk of respiratory, cardiovascular, neurodevelopmental and other disorders in the offspring. Whether SARS-CoV-2 will have such long-term effects on the health of these children remains to be seen.

The role of the immune system

In a previous article, we discussed how the immune system changes during pregnancy, and it might be that unique features of this and other dynamic adaptations that occur with pregnancy provide protection from severe COVID-19.

A baby sleeps in a crib at a maternity ward.
The unique features of a mother’s immune system may protect against severe COVID-19 before and after birth. Steve Parsons/PA

Other examples of possible protective mechanisms include differences in the receptor molecules used by SARS-CoV-2 to invade human cells. Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) is the best known of these viral entry receptors but CD147, CD26 and others also have this role.

All of these receptors undergo changes during pregnancy, which might contribute to resilience. These receptors also occur as soluble forms that can be measured in blood and breast milk and might act as decoy receptors, stopping the virus from binding to cells.

What next?

Elaborating on why both the pregnant person and their child seem to be relatively resilient to severe forms of COVID-19 might help us understand other disease processes and identify ways to combat the disease.

Work from the UK Obstetric Surveillance System has shown that, as with the wider population, Asian and Black pregnant women are more likely to be admitted to hospital with SARS-CoV-2 infection. Therefore, we really need to consider the effects of ethnicity and other risk factors in our studies of COVID-19 in pregnancy.

This is especially important as these studies will support efforts towards the use of any vaccine in pregnancy.