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Chief medical officer Paul Kelly responds to AstraZeneca vaccine concerns


Australia’s chief medical officer Paul Kelly has defended the decision to roll out the AstraZeneca vaccine in the wake of concerns about its effectiveness.

Infectious diseases experts have joined medics in calling for authorities to halt the rollout in favour of coronavirus vaccines with higher efficacy rates to ensure herd immunity.

This follows results from several trials that showed that the Oxford University-AstraZeneca jab had an efficacy rate of between 62-90 per cent depending on the doses.

Professor Kelly said AstraZeneca vaccine was well above the World Health Organisation’s 50 per cent efficacy threshold.

“All of the three vaccines that have so far published their data in peer-viewed journals – AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna – show a very significant effect against severe illness,” he said on Wednesday.

“They’re all good at protecting against severe illness and death. That’s why I say that lives will be saved by the AstraZeneca vaccine, I have no doubt about it.”

RELATED Virus plea: ‘Listen to the experts’

He conceded he was troubled by what he called “selective” reporting over AstraZeneca’s efficacy, warning it could undermine confidence in the jab.

“Confidence is absolutely the most important thing, and that’s what worries me about the coverage we had today in relation to the AstraZeneca vaccine,” he said.

“People will be nervous, of course. We need to give more information and we’re doing that. So I am worried about the selective use of the data that we have.”

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is expected to approve the Pfizer vaccine by the end of January, with a rollout pencilled for mid to late February for five million Australians in priority groups.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is expected to have completed the approval process in February.

Professor Kelly said the jab would prevent death and severe illness 100 per cent of the time, like the Pfizer vaccine.

He said both vaccines would only be rolled out if they had the full tick for safety, efficacy and production quality.

“The EU has also pre-purchased 400 million doses of AstraZeneca, the US has pre-purchased 300 million doses of AstraZeneca, and the UK 100 million doses of AstraZeneca. So we‘re not an outlier there,” he said.

The UK has already begun immunising people with the jab under emergency approvals.

Most Australians are expected to get the AstraZeneca vaccine because it can be made in Melbourne, unlike the Pfizer vaccine that has to be imported from overseas due to its mRNA technology.

Infectious diseases physician Professor Peter Collignon told Sunrise that the AstraZeneca vaccine might not be as good as the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

But he said those would be in short supply because they were not readily available and had to be stored in minus temperatures.

“I would be all for rolling out this (AstraZeneca) vaccine because it is much better than anything that is going to be available for quite a while,” Professor Collignon said.

Health Minister Greg Hunt on Tuesday refuted claims the government was conceding its vaccine strategy would not provide herd immunity.

“This is what the medical expert panel of Australia, the one that has helped keep us safe, has recommended,” Mr Hunt said.

In the wake of efficacy concerns, Labor leader Anthony Albanese told 2GB that the government should have invested in six vaccine candidates instead of three.

The opposition has long called for the rollout of the vaccine to be brought forward following the approval process.

But Mr Albanese said the party had never argued that authorities should circumvent the TGA process.

“We need to listen to the experts,” he said.

“Once it (the TGA) approves it, the vaccine should be rolled out.”



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Police officer allegedly assaulted on the job


A man will front court after allegedly assaulting a senior constable who was responding to a domestic-related incident in the NSW Orana region.

The police officer was responding to the incident at a home on Merilba Street, in Narromine, at about 4pm on Christmas Eve when he was allegedly repeatedly punched in the head by a man after getting out of his vehicle.

The constable fell to the ground and was allegedly continually assaulted and knocked unconscious.

A woman, known to the accused, then intervened and the officer regained consciousness.

The man then allegedly took the officer’s police radio and smashed the vehicle’s windscreen before throwing it across the road.

The officer managed to call for help from inside the car before a member of the public helped him until paramedics arrived.

A 27-year-old man was arrested at the scene once more police arrived.

The Narromine man was charged with a string of offences, which included assaulting a police officer in execution of duty cause actual bodily harm and contravening prohibition/restriction in AVO (DV).

He was refused bail and was due to appear in Dubbo Bail Court on Christmas Day.

The constable was taken to Narromine Hospital before being taken to Dubbo Hospital for further treatment.

The officer has since been released from hospital.



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Top medical officer rules out changing UK border rules


Flights from the UK will continue despite a highly infectious COVID-19 strain wreaking havoc across the country’s south, Australia’s acting chief medical officer says.

The new variant has forced the UK’s south into its harshest level lockdown for Christmas.

Countries across the world, including France and other European nations, have also slapped travel bans on people entering from Britain.

But Paul Kelly said there was no need for Australia to follow suit, despite two people undertaking hotel quarantine in Sydney being found to have the new variant.

He said the Australia’s quarantine system, which forces arrivals from the UK to undergo 14 days in isolation, was well-equipped to deal with the new strain.

“We have a lot of Australian citizens that live in the UK right now wanting to come back to Australia and we still are welcoming them,” he said on Tuesday.

“If you are a person coming by yourself into a hotel room for two weeks, you’re not going to transmit that out of that room.

“And in most of the cases, for most of the time, our quarantine system has been very safe and effective.”

Professor Kelly said only four of the almost 2500 confirmed total cases in hotel quarantine were from the new strain.

He stressed although the new variant was particularly infectious, there was no evidence that it caused more severe symptoms or reduced the effectiveness of vaccines.

It comes after Transport Minister Michael McCormack was asked on Tuesday if Australia was considering stopping flights from the UK.

“Indeed,” Mr McCormack told ABC Radio National.

“We continue to review all of these arrangements.”

Mr McCormack said the two people in Sydney with the variant were a concern and that Australia’s expert medical panel was meeting daily with the prime minister.

“It is not just a concern for Australia, it’s a concern worldwide,” he said.

“We continue to monitor these and will act accordingly.”

More than 38,000 Australians stuck overseas have registered to come home with Australia’s foreign affairs department.

In October, Australians in the UK deemed vulnerable were first in line for a charter flight home.

But thousands still remain stranded as parts of the UK enter tough lockdowns, with 33,364 people testing positive for COVID-19 on Monday.

Prof Kelly also confirmed the new variant would not force Australia to expedite approval for a COVID-19 vaccine, which is set to rollout in March.

The UK and US both issued emergency approval for the Pfizer vaccine this month, while the EU’s medicines regulator on Monday recommended its use across the 27-country bloc.

But Prof Kelly said with Australia keeping the virus under control in relative terms, the government would stick to its current time frame.

“There are several countries in the world that have emergency-use authorisation, because they have emergencies,” he said.

“The US (had) 200,000 cases yesterday. They have an emergency, they need to get on with it. Same in the UK, same with Europe overnight.

“We are not going down that pathway because we don’t have anywhere near that need right now. But we’re certainly not stopping in our preparations.”



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ex-police officer accused of indecently assaulting Kim Elzaibak


An 88-year-old former police officer accused of repeatedly indecently assaulting his stepdaughter decades ago has faced court for the first time in Australia.

Robert Scott appeared in the Melbourne Magistrates Court on Monday via videolink wearing a mask and used a walking stick to enter the room.

He is charged with four counts of indecent assault and one of gross indecency against his stepdaughter Kim Elzaibak, when she was a child between 1974 and 1979.

The elderly man allegedly assaulted his stepdaughter while he served with Victoria Police, where he worked from 1965 until 1975.

His lawyer Adrian Dessi told the court on Monday his client had osteoarthritis, used a cane, had a pacemaker, was hearing-impaired and had prostate issues.

It was also his first time in custody, Mr Dessi said.

Ms Elzaibak was also tuned in to the hearing after she had previously been granted a court order so she can speak openly as a complainant and be named.

Ms Elzaibak told NCA NewsWire after the hearing it was a relief to see her alleged abuser in the court.

“It was a very surreal experience,” she said.

She feared the ongoing coronavirus pandemic could have prevented Mr Scott from being extradited back to Australian shores.

But seeing him on the screen was a “reality check”.

“It was massive for me to see him there,” she said.

However she said having to go to court in order to speak out as an alleged sex assault victim was “ridiculous”.

The former policeman was living at Carlisle, in northwest England, when he was charged with the offences in 2017 but fought his extradition back to Australia.

The former cop argued in the British courts it was oppressive for him to leave his home because of his physical and mental health and the passage of time.

But Senior District Judge Emma Arbuthnot found Mr Scott should return to Victoria to face the allegations.

She noted Victorian police investigated the allegations “at a snail’s pace” after Ms Elzaibak first came forward in 2000 and then again in 2013.

The former officer appealed the decision but it was rejected in October this year.

Mr Scott will next appear in court in February and made no application for bail.



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Local News - Victoria

‘Guidance’ for police officer on duty when Tanya Day had fatal fall


Two Victoria Police officers criticised by a coroner for their conduct on the day in 2017 that Yorta Yorta woman Tanya Day suffered a fatal fall while in custody have escaped serious disciplinary action.

Prosecutors announced in August that there would be no charges against Sergeant Edwina Neale and Leading Senior Constable Danny Wolters, despite deputy state coroner Caitlin English referring the officers to be assessed for criminal charges.

Tanya Day in the Castlemaine police cell where she hit her head at least five times.

Tanya Day in the Castlemaine police cell where she hit her head at least five times.Credit:Coroners Court of Victoria

The Age revealed on Thursday that the police force and the State of Victoria were being sued by the family of Ms Day, whose death from injuries sustained in a fall in the cells of the Castlemaine Police Station in December 2017 came after she had been detained for public drunkenness.

In the wake of the tragedy, one of the state’s highest profile Aboriginal deaths in custody of recent years, the state government has said it will remove the offence of public drunkenness from the statute books.



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NSW police officer accused of sexual assault of teen girl


A NSW police officer has been charged with sexual assaulting a teenage girl, the department said.

The 29-year-old male officer was arrested on Tuesday morning and taken to Lismore police station, a spokeswoman said.

He was identified as a senior constable working in the state’s northern region, but police would not give out more details.

The investigation into the man’s alleged crimes was initiated in September.

That month, the police Professional Standards Command established Strike Force Yalu to investigate “reports of misconduct,” the department said in a media release.

The PSC is a specialist command that reports to the Deputy Commissioner for Investigations and Counter Terrorism, tasked with investigating serious criminal allegations involving police officers.

The man was charged with three counts of aggravated sexual intercourse with a child aged between 14 and 16.

He was suspended without pay, has been refused bail and is expected to face Lismore Local Court on Wednesday.

The investigation continues.



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Local News - Victoria

Zero active coronavirus cases in state Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton celebrates end of second wave


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“Hopefully we will be doing exactly the same thing for Victoria and we’ll see their case numbers today and tomorrow and be able to make that announcement,” she said.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews confirmed there were also no new cases to report on Tuesday, for the 25th day in a row.

Mr Andrews warned despite the pleasing milestone, outbreaks could re-emerge before a vaccine is rolled out nationwide.

“Every single Victorian can be proud of the part they’ve played in defeating the second wave but even a big run of days, 25 days of zero, is not the same as having a vaccine,” he said.

“Not everybody gets tested, and because not everybody gets tested perhaps quite as quickly as they should, we have to assume that there is more virus out there.”

Click play to see how Victoria’s second wave unfolded:

There were more than 9900 tests processed on Monday. On most weekdays last week, testing numbers were above 17,000.

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Mr Andrews reminded Victorians with any symptoms at all to get tested quickly.

“We all still need to keep playing our part, be vigilant. We know that it’s probably still out there bubbling, perhaps at a very low level.”

Monash infectious diseases physician Rhonda Stuart said the recovery of the final coronavirus patient was wonderful, “not just for the team looking after them at Monash, but for the whole state,” she told radio station 3AW.

The man and his wife – hospitalised since November 1 – were the last two remaining active cases in the state until the woman in her 80s was discharged from hospital on Thursday.

The couple both fell ill with the disease in early October and have pulled through after a serious battle with the virus, Dr Stuart said.

“They both had a stormy course really.. [but] they made it through and did really well,” she said.

Monash Health was able to secure an exemption from state authorities to allow the couple’s daughter to visit them in hospital during the darker stages of their battle with the virus.

“I think that emotional support makes a difference [to recovery],” Dr Stuart said.

“The wife was discharged last week and the gentleman was discharged last night so they could go home and be together and start living a normal life.”

The treating team from Monash Health had also treated the state’s first confirmed case of the virus.

Data from the Department of Health and Human Services shows that March 1 was the last time there were no active cases in Victoria.

Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng noted the absence of any active cases in the state was “certainly a milestone” given there were 7880 in Victoria on August 11.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said Tuesday’s triple-zero day of no new cases, no deaths and no active cases was “a testament to Victorians who endured and succeeded in a monumental task”.

“How sweet it is,” he wrote on Twitter. “Something to be so, so proud of.”

Today also marks the first time there have been no COVID patients in Victorian hospitals since March 14 (the day the health department started publishing this figure). At the peak of the second wave there were 675 people in hospital because of coronavirus.

Meanwhile, pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca has released results from phase three coronavirus vaccine trials showing its vaccine candidate was 70 per cent effective in preventing COVID-19.

However, the researchers also found the efficacy hit 90 per cent based on a regime where a person is given an initial half-dose followed by a second full dose.

The breakthrough is so significant that the company will start rolling out hundreds of millions of doses of its new coronavirus vaccine by Christmas.

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It comes as Qantas chief executive officer Alan Joyce said international travellers hoping to come to Australia would need to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

“We are looking at changing our terms and conditions to say, for international travellers, that we will ask people to have a vaccination before they can get on the aircraft,” he told A Current Affair on Monday evening.

Whether you need that domestically, we will have to see what happens with COVID-19 in the market, but certainly, for international visitors coming out [to Australia] and people leaving the country, we think that is a necessity.”

With Lydia Lynch, Bevan Shields, Mary Ward, Laura Chung

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Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton spotted without mask


A picture of Victoria’s chief health officer sitting at a picnic without wearing a face mask has sparked heated debate online.

Professor Brett Sutton was snapped having a picnic in Bright without wearing a face mask – something he has been advising people to wear throughout the pandemic.

However the Department of Health and Human Services website advises that “you can take your face mask off when eating or drinking”.

Some believed the image was photoshopped and Professor Sutton is yet to respond to the controversy. But others have accused the top health official of hypocrisy for breaking his own rules.

“What were his health directives? You must wear a mask and you must social distance? Do as I say, not as I do,” one person wrote.

Another said, “Why did Brett Sutton have his photo taken without a mask in the weekend in Bright? Outside, not drinking eating or exercising. All bets are now off buddy”.

One woman wrote, “He is actually supposed to be wearing a mask like the rest of us !!! If out and about on the beach anywhere !!! Unless he has an exemption he has broken his own rules !!! BRETT SUTTON has made it look confusing now !!! Just doesn‘t look good !!!”

RELATED: Victoria facing years of mandatory masks and restrictions

Others leapt to his defence, saying it shouldn’t be necessary given zero cases in Victoria lately and the fact he was at a picnic.

“I saw a photo online Brett Sutton wasn’t wearing a mask,” one person said on Twitter.

“Mask should be optional now! If we have #Zero cases in the next few days masks should not be mandatory. We will have more health issues! And we have had 17K in testing.”

“People always have to look for something to hate on. You can’t eat or drink with a mask on,” another person wrote.

Earlier this month leading epidemiologists challenged Daniel Andrews’ firm stance on face masks, expressing surprise at the Premier’s failure to relax rules on face coverings as he announced a range of other freedoms for Victorians.

“At this stage I am not announcing any changes to masks,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s too much to ask and there are plenty of countries around the world that wish they had worn masks months ago.”

Professor Sutton also fell victim to his own rules recently, not being allowed to enter a pub.

The brewery cheekily posted the news late on Saturday night.

“Sorry you couldn’t get on the beers, Mr Sutton. Proving that literally all of Melbourne is in Bright this weekend, we had to turn away Victoria’s Chief Health Officer, Brett Sutton, twice today!

“Pictured here with our long-time bar staffer Wayne, Mr Sutton was a great sport when our staff explained that under his own COVID-restrictions, we unfortunately did not have the space to seat him.”



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NT Police officer Zachary Rolfe to stand trial for murder


Northern Territory police officer Zachary Rolfe has been committed to stand trial for murder in the state’s Supreme Court after 19-year-old Kumanjayi Walker was shot dead in his bedroom last year.

Rolfe was charged with murder just days after the November 9 shooting, following mass protests in Alice Springs, Perth and Sydney.

He is accused of firing his Glock three times and hitting Walker, after the teenager stabbed the officer and his partner with a pair of metal scissors at his home in Yuendumu, 300km from Alice Springs.

The officers had gone to the home to arrest Walker on charges including breaching the terms of a previous suspended sentence.

The prosecution previously argued in court that while Rolfe’s first shot may have been justified, his second and third were not, The NT News reported.

Defence lawyers for Rolfe said the cop’s actions were “justifiable defensive conduct”.

Judge John Birch found the case had enough merit to go to the Supreme Court, but his reasoning has been suppressed as to not prejudice the upcoming trial.

Walker’s cousin, Samara Brown, announced the news of the Supreme Court trial in video shared to the Justice for Kumanjayi Walker Facebook page.

“It is just a huge relief to everyone, we are incredibly grateful for the outcome,” she said.

“As soon as it was announced everybody just started crying … it was a huge relief for everyone.

“We are so grateful for this win and just want to send all of our love and gratitude for everyone who shows up and supports us.”

Outside the courthouse, a large group had formed, who were seen waving Aboriginal flags after the decision was announced.

The case will be mentioned in the Supreme Court in Alice Springs on November 25, and Walker’s family expect the trial to start next year.

Rolfe is the first police officer in the Northern Territory to stand trial for murder over an Indigenous death in custody.



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Local News - Victoria

Victoria Police officer sacked over filming wife’s friend in shower, but charges dropped


“I do not ask or expect forgiveness, but only ask that you remain the friend for [my wife] that you have always been. All I can say, for what it’s worth, is I am truly deeply sorry and remorseful,” the policeman said in an SMS message on May 12 last year.

He vowed to seek “professional help”.

It was not the first time the officer had attempted to secretly film the woman, according to her sworn statement that was referred to Professional Standards Command – Victoria Police’s internal watchdog.

In July 2016, she noticed a phone behind a sliding door in the bathroom.

“My heart was in my mouth and I felt sick. I knew immediately it would be my word against his and he was a serving Victoria Police officer,” she said in the sworn statement.

The 41-year-old woman had been a close friend to the officer’s wife for more than 25 years and regularly stayed at their home in Garfield, about 80 kilometres south-east of Melbourne.

On May 9 last year she suspected the policeman would attempt to film her again and took her camera to the bathroom, where she captured the incriminating footage.

A screen grab taken from footage  showing what is believed to be the former police officer's mobile phone being used to film the woman through a bathroom window.

A screen grab taken from footage showing what is believed to be the former police officer’s mobile phone being used to film the woman through a bathroom window.

The woman, who has asked not to be identified, made an official complaint to police at Cranbourne station on June 13 last year, and the officer was charged with several offences in October last year.

However, the charges against the senior constable were withdrawn in May this year, while the woman is still attempting to take out an intervention order against the disgraced officer.

A Victoria Police spokeswoman refused to explain why the legal case against the officer had been dropped.

“A male senior constable from the Southern Metro region was charged with use [of] optical surveillance device offences in October 2019. The charges related to an incident in May 2019 while the member was off duty, however, were later withdrawn at court,” the spokeswoman said.

She confirmed he had been dismissed in September following a hearing by Professional Standards Command.

Gregor Husper, principal lawyer with the Police Accountability Project, said he was baffled by the decision to drop the criminal charges.

“It’s hard to imagine a case where you could have stronger evidence. We need to start sending a message that we are not going to tolerate this type of sexualised violence against women, particularly by members of Victoria Police,” he said.

“It’s not sufficient that they [police] simply lose their job. They should face the justice system like anyone else.”

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