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Australian News

Australians divided on how best to deal with COVID pandemic


Our Aussie leaders aren’t seeing eye-to-eye on how best to handle the pandemic – and it appears their constituents aren’t either.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and West Australian Premier Mark McGowan have repeatedly butted heads over how their respective state is keeping coronavirus at bay.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has also occasionally joined the debate, while the other leaders have tended to keep to themselves.

But the leaders’ war of words hit fever pitch this week, when Mr McGowan blasted NSW’s approach as plain “wrong”.

NSW has always approached coronavirus with a suppression strategy, with the state pushing for a strong testing regime and contact tracing system, and imploring its residents to learn to live with the virus.

Western Australia, which has also fared incredibly well during the pandemic with its strong economy and isolation from the rest of the country, has instead opted for an elimination strategy, closing borders as soon as a handful of cases are detected in various states and territories.

The state has now gone nine months with no community transmission.

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In a poll conducted by news.com.au, readers were asked to vote on the best way to deal with COVID-19.

Readers were asked if “robust contact tracing and living with the virus” was better when compared to “hard borders and short lockdowns for total elimination”.

At the time of writing, more than 60,000 people had voted in the poll over the past week, with the results split almost 50-50.

Around 54 per cent of Aussies believe the elimination strategy is the best approach to the pandemic, while 46 per cent voted for strong contact tracing and suppression.

Ms Berejiklian addressed the NSW criticism this morning, reaffirming the state’s “balanced strategy”.

We want to make sure health and safety always comes first, but, of course, mental health, wellbeing, and keeping jobs in the economy moving forward are also really critical and it is this balanced strategy that will continue,” she added.

I don’t mind what criticism we get from others, we feel very strongly that the New South Wales strategy to date has proven to be the best one for our citizens and we will continue on that path.”

The discovery of a number of mutant strains, including the variant found in the UK that’s been shown to be more than 70 per cent infectious than the original coronavirus, has triggered a strong reaction from Australia’s leaders.

The cap on returned travellers coming home to hotel quarantine will be slashed in half for the next month.

And, Queensland’s health authorities ordered an immediate three day lockdown of Greater Brisbane last week after a hotel cleaner was infected with the mutant strain.

The fears surrounding the mutated strain have only increased tensions among our state and territory leaders.

At a press conference earlier this week, Ms Berejiklian called on the nation’s leaders to “do better” when it came to border closures.

“As Premier of this state, I would love to have had input and say rather than closing all of New South Wales or Sydney from a particular state, please just consider the northern beaches or give us 24 hours to get back to you on how we can manage this,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“All I’m suggesting is as leaders, and again I include myself in this, all of us can and should do better when it comes to borders because it affects thousands of people, sometimes hundreds of thousands of people when multiple border changes are happening around the nation.”

Holding his press conference at the same time, Mr McGowan was asked how he might find common ground with NSW.

“There are five states and two territories doing one thing, and one state doing something different. I go with the majority,” Mr McGowan said.

“The states and territories that want to eliminate the virus, I think, have the right approach.

“The idea that you tick along with the virus and somehow that is a better model is wrong.

“And I just urge the New South Wales government and people in New South Wales to look outside of New South Wales of what other states and territories are doing in order to crush and kill the virus.

“That’s a better approach. The idea that somehow it’s better of the virus and then just manage it, I don’t think is the correct approach.”

While Ms Berejiklian didn’t directly respond to Mr McGowan’s comments on that day, her Deputy Premier John Barilaro did.

In an interview on 2GB Radio, Mr Barilaro called on the West Australian Premier to “stop lecturing us”.

“It is easy, he puts up the borders in WA, he cuts himself off from the rest of the nation, he called me un-Australian when I questioned him on his lecturing of New South Wales,” he said.

“I actually then returned fire but also gave a level of respect back saying, ‘it is your state, you make your decision’ but here he is again lecturing.

“I will tell you this, we have had COVID deaths in this nation but we will have more deaths from mental health and people locked away in isolation and not being able to reunite with family and Mark McGowan, that is what he stands for.

“I am happy to say that this morning and have a go straight back at him. Stop lecturing us and look after your own backyard.

“We are doing a great job on the eastern seaboard and why don‘t you become part of the rest of the country?”



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Australian News

Racism is not just a sporting matter, it is a matter for all Australians


Why does sport have such a problem with racism?

It’s a question we hear all the time, but it’s the wrong one.

It happens in sport because sport is part of who we are.

Sport is not separate to the schools we go to, the workplaces we are employed by or the suburbs we live in.

We often hear about sport being in the “DNA of the country”.

Racism happens in Australian sport because there is racism in Australia.

If you ask “does Australian cricket have a racism problem?”, the answer is yes, as do many Australian sports, as does Australia.

We hear about it in sport most frequently because sport is public — it’s played in the open, with a live audience, and at the level of a Test match between Australia and India it is broadcast around the nation and the globe with oodles of column space dedicated to it in our newspapers and online sites.

If our school playgrounds, backyard barbecues and office meetings were this public, we wouldn’t need to ask “why does racism always happen in sport?”

Alleged abuse at SCG not an isolated incident

Indian players wearing white cricket kit point towards a section of the crowd
The Indian players stopped play on the fourth day due to alleged abuse from the crowd.(Supplied: Fox Sports)

The latest racist incidents involve alleged abuse hurled from the crowd at the Sydney Test over several days. On Monday, spectators were ejected from the crowd after Indian bowler Mohammed Siraj complained to the umpire about their behaviour.

To deal with racism, white people like me, in a largely white country like Australia, need to listen as others tell of their experience and what they hear when we say things “we didn’t mean” or that was meant as “a joke”.

Those types of jokes are not funny and claiming ignorance is no longer acceptable. Just ask Eddie McGuire, the outgoing president of Collingwood.

He learned that suggesting one of the AFL’s greatest players, Adam Goodes, who is Indigenous, play King Kong in a movie promotion was no longer something Australians viewed as a joke.

Except McGuire is still president of Collingwood and Goodes no longer has anything to do with the game.

Collingwood conducted a review into racism and the culture of the club because of the well-documented experiences of former player Heritier Lumumba.

That review was delivered to the club board last year but has still not been made public — although it is believed that was one of the provisos for conducting the review.

Let me suggest some other names you might like to Google: Joel Wilkinson, Eddie Betts, Nicky Winmar (AFL players), Mel Jones, Lisa Sthalekar and Usman Khawaja (Australian cricketers), Marcia Ella-Duncan, Beryl Friday, Jemma Mi Mi, and Helena Saunders-Higgins (netballers). I could go on and on.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.

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Patrons are evicted from the SCG after Mohammed Siraj stops play.

It is not a white person’s place to decide what is racist and what isn’t

Of course, just as cricket isn’t the only sport with a problem, sport isn’t the only industry with a problem. And Australia is far from alone.

I mentioned in an interview I did with Indian TV channel NDTV last night that every country has issues with racism.

But as Australians, we don’t need to compare ourselves to the lowest common denominator, or any common denominator for that matter. As Australians, we should want to uphold the highest standards as a benchmark for others to aspire to.

And there are those inside sport’s governing bodies looking to make genuine change. It is hard.

It is particularly hard when all of those making the decisions about what to do and when to do it are white because, to be blunt, what would they know?

Taking advice from a side committee is not the same as taking advice from those in the most senior positions of influence who get to determine the agenda.

In sport, as in work, as in school, as in politics, those in power are white as the rule.

While racism remains just a side issue — one we’d rather would just go away than actually try to fix — it will remain.

In a predominantly white society, with a domination of white voices setting the daily news agenda, it is not a white person’s place to decide what is racist and what isn’t.

What is and isn’t racist is not a decision for the perpetrators

Mohammed Siraj holds his hands out wide above his head, holding a red cricket ball in his right hand
Spectators were ejected from the crowd on Monday after Indian bowler Mohammed Siraj complained about their behaviour.(AP: Rick Rycroft)

While we wait for the investigation into what happened at the SCG Test and the alleged racist comments, one thing is clear — deciding what is and isn’t racist is not a decision for the perpetrators but one for those who are on the receiving end.

We’ve seen this in the response to the SCG story — some in the media have rushed to excuse the actions, or to explain them away, others to downplay it.

No doubt some cricket fans are doing the same.

If a number of other visiting players say they heard racist comments too, and the visiting officials confirm the reports are genuine and of a serious nature, why is our first default position to doubt them?

I don’t have the answer to that question, but I could suggest one.



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Australians warned restrictions here to stay


The COVID-19 vaccine rollout will not signal the end of restrictions with it likely to be months before Australia gets to see what a new normal looks like, the nation’s leading medical officer has warned.

Chief medical officer Paul Kelly said on Sunday it would likely to be the second half of the year before federal and state governments started to ease health and border restrictions.

However, persistent messaging about social distancing, coughing into your elbow, washing your hands, and home if you’re unwell will remain in place, he said.

“Every single person that gets their two doses of vaccine and gets that very strong protection against severe illness, will give people more confidence.

“It will give the public health system more confidence, will give our politicians — that need to make these decisions in the end — more confidence, about what a COVID-safe normal might look like in the second half of this year.”

Australia’s coronavirus vaccine rollout will begin next month.

First in line to be inoculated will be workers who have the highest exposure to COVID-19 including those working in hotel quarantine, transporting international arrivals, and health professionals.

“First priority is those that are at higher risk of exposure to the virus,” Professor Kelly said.

“That is the people that are working at our borders; the people working at our quarantine hotels; the nurses and other health professionals that are working in those settings; the cleaners; the transport workers that are transporting people to our quarantine hotels.

“They are the ones that are at highest risk of exposure so we need to get that vaccination out to them quickly.

“Same with our healthcare workers that are working at our hospitals and other frontline areas.”

He said Australia was fortunate when it came to the impacts of coronavirus — with more than 89 million cases worldwide that caused more than almost two million deaths.

There has not been a death of someone acutely sick with COVID-19 since October and there are just 41 people in hospital, he said.

“In the last 24 hours, we’ve had 13 cases — three of those, all in NSW, are locally acquired,” Professor Kelly said.



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Pros and cons of each vaccine Australians could get


With a growing list of countries rapdily vaccinting their populations against coronavirus, there is mounting pressure on the Australian government to follow in its footsteps.

The Federal Govenrment has contracts in place for three different coronavirus vaccines, though the approval process is expected to take considerably longer than it has in the United Kingdom and United States.

The earliest approvals from Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration are expected by the end of January 2021, with doses then likely to be rolled out around March.

Here is a look at the pros and cons of each of the vaccine candidates that could be available to Australians next year.

PFIZER/BIONTECH

The Pfizer/BioNTech is probably the vaccine most people have heard about as it is the one being used by the UK government.

The vaccine is being developed by US pharmaceutical company Pfizer and German biotechnology company BioNTech.

This candidate is an mRNA-based vaccine which has never been approved before.

Up to now vaccines have been developed using a weak or dead version of a virus, or by using a laboratory-made protein.

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But mRNA vaccines can be created entirely by scientists in a laboratory using chemicals, enzymes, bacteria or live cells.

Essentially the scientists make a synthetic version of the virus’s messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA). Once this is injected into the body, the mRNA prompts the body to make a particular protein, which is detected by the immune system and this causes the immune system to make antibodies to fight against it.

Australia has ordered 10 million doses of the vaccine which will be manufactured off shore if the candidate is approved.

Recipients will need to get two doses of the vaccine 21 days apart. Pfizer and BioNTech are reportedly charging buyers $US19.50 ($A26.30) per dose.

Pros:

• The vaccine was found to be 95 per cent effective in protecting against COVID-19 in Phase 3 clinical trials. Of the 43,000 people in the trial only eight people in the vaccine group developed coronavirus, compared to 162 into the placebo group.

• It was also found to be more than 94 per cent effective in people over the age of 65.

• There have been minimal adverse reactions, with a small amount of participants experiencing fatigue and headaches after receiving the jab.

Cons:

• It must be stored at -70C. This means that an unbroken ‘cold chain’ must be maintained from the time the vaccine comes off the production line to the time when it is administered.

• This leaves the Australian government with three options: keeping doses in ultra-low freezers where they can last up to six months, keeping doses in eskies where they can last up to 15 days or storing doses in a regular fridge where they can last up to five days.

UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD/ASTRAZENECA

This vaccine being developed by University of Oxford and pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.

It is a viral vector vaccine which means it uses a weakened version of the virus, which is incapable of causing disease itself, to deliver an antigen into the body.

If this vaccine is successful 3.8 million doses will be delivered to Australia in early 2021. 50 million doses will be manufactured in Australia between from early 2021 in monthly batches through to September 2021.

The vaccine is expected to be around $A4 a dose.

Pros:

• The vaccine was shown to be 90 per cent effective when given as a half dose followed by a full dose a month later.

• It is significantly cheaper per dose than the other candidates.

• Can be stored between 2C to 8C for at least six months, allowing for easier manufacturing, distribution and storage.

• No serious safety events relating to the vaccine were observed during Phase 3 trials, with the shot “well tolerated” across different dosing regimens.

Cons:

• When given two full doses a month a part the vaccine showed a lower efficacy rate of 62 per cent, which is significantly lower than some of the other candidates.

• It was revealed the people that received the half-dose of the vaccine were all younger than 55, which raised concerns the 90 per cent efficacy for that dosage group may be skewed.

NOVAVAX

This vaccine candidate is being created by American vaccine development company Novavax.

Like the University of Queensland/CSL candidate, this is a protein vaccine.

Australia has ordered 51 million doses to be made available in 2021 if the vaccine is approved.

The Novavax vaccine is expected to be about $US16 (A$21.60) per dose.

Pros:

• Early clinical trials have shown the vaccine is generally well tolerated and can provide strong antibody responses.

• It only needs to be stored at refrigerator temperatures.

Cons:

• Results from its late stage clinical trials aren’t expected until early 2021, meaning exact percentages of the vaccine’s effectiveness have not yet been released.

• It is expected to be a lot more expensive per dose than the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, though it will still be cheaper than the Pfizer/BioNTech candidate.

RELATED: Truth about experimental vaccines

UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND/CSL

The Australian government also had an agreement to use the vaccine being developed by the University of Queensland and biotechnology company CSL.

This agreement was ended after Phase One trials showed participants were returning false positives for HIV as a result of the vaccine.

Follow up tests confirmed there was no HIV virus present and there was no possibility of the vaccine causing the infection, the decision was made not to go forward with the trials over concerns people may decrease confidence in other vaccine candidates.

University of Queensland researchers said they were “devastated” by the outcome.

“I think there’s probably a single word that sums it up, it’s devastated,” Professor Paul Young said.

“The last 24 hours or so have been particularly difficult. The last 11 months we’ve been living and breathing this project … it’s challenging times, but that’s science.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at “no point” did the government expect all of its vaccine candidates to be successful, which is why it entered into different agreements.



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Local News - Victoria

Australians make the most of Christmas in hotel quarantine


Sandy Duffield has made Christmas decorations out of the brown paper bags that meals are delivered in.

Sandy Duffield has made Christmas decorations out of the brown paper bags that meals are delivered in.Credit:Sandy Duffield

With the help of Fiona Pyke, who went through hotel quarantine in November, Ms Duffield organised for nurses to hand out chocolate bars to everyone tested for COVID-19 on Friday at Sydney hotels the Meriton Suites on Sussex Street and Adina at Town Hall. That included Ms Duffield and her family.

Hotel Quarantine Christmas also organised a Santa reading by video for children.

Ms Duffield said her hotel room at the Meriton looked like brown paper had “thrown up” on it after she used food delivery bags to make Christmas decorations with her two teenage daughters.

“You have never realised how many things you can do with masking tape and brown paper bags,” she said.

She also received a tree and bon bons from the hotel on Christmas Eve.

About 7000 people are spending their Christmas Day in hotel quarantine in Sydney. There are about 2000 doing so in Melbourne, including 48 who arrived from Greater Sydney or the NSW Central Coast since border controls were reinstated in the wake of the current COVID-19 outbreak in Sydney.

Another 140 international arrivals were expected to land at Melbourne Airport on Christmas Day, adding to the 1983 people who were in hotel quarantine as of 11pm on Thursday.

Four international planes are expected to arrive in Melbourne on Boxing Day along with another 111 domestic flights.

Scarlett, Harrison and Nick Bradshaw (aged six to 13) spent Christmas Eve decorating their room at the Novotel on Collins Street in Melbourne and making a gingerbread house.

The Bradshaw family at the Novotel in Melbourne after landing from London.

The Bradshaw family at the Novotel in Melbourne after landing from London.Credit:Emma Bradshaw

“We are so thankful to be home and can’t wait to get out into the sunshine in the new year,” mother Emma Bradshaw said, before the family of five spent Christmas Day on FaceTime with family.

The parents had a Christmas lunch of cold cut meats, prawns, chicken and roast vegetables while the children had burgers, fries and pudding with gingerbread men and ice cream.

Ms Bradshaw even managed to arrange pre-made pavlovas with fresh mango, strawberries and passionfruit thanks to a Woolworths delivery to the hotel room.

The Bradshaw children spent Christmas Eve making a gingerbread house.

The Bradshaw children spent Christmas Eve making a gingerbread house.Credit:Emma Bradshaw

The 500 children in Victorian hotels were also offered colouring-in books and activity packs.

“To help spread some holiday cheer, hotel quarantine staff are doing what they can to help residents celebrate Christmas with some presents delivered to their door, a traditional Christmas lunch and even a mini Christmas tree in their room,” a spokeswoman for the Victorian government said.

While Victorians in hotel quarantine can’t order care packages or, for the most part, presents delivered to their hotels –unlike in Sydney – they were able to order gifts through a special program with Target to be delivered for Christmas.

Ms Bradshaw said the “brilliant” program “really saved the day”.

Most hotels around the country provided classic Christmas lunches with staples such as ham, turkey or prawns for meat-eaters.

Target Australia staff arranging presents to be delivered to returned travellers in hotel quarantine in Melbourne.

Target Australia staff arranging presents to be delivered to returned travellers in hotel quarantine in Melbourne.Credit:Target Australia

NSW Health said every apartment in special health accommodation had been offered cut-out Christmas trees, decorations, a Christmas meal, and hampers with pudding and bon bons.

Extra psychology services were also supporting people struggling by themselves in quarantine over Christmas.

The Pirenc family at the Meriton on Sussex Street in Sydney.

The Pirenc family at the Meriton on Sussex Street in Sydney.Credit:Samantha Pirenc

The Pirenc family were relieved to be back in Australia at the Meriton, where they have three bedrooms between mother Samantha, father Lou and teenagers Tom and Manon.

“Knowing we would be here in quarantine on Christmas Day means we have all mentally adjusted to it months ago,” Ms Pirenc said. “We certainly feel very lucky to be home again and will be counting our blessing this Christmas.

“We are currently playing Monopoly right through to the end for the first time because we don’t have to be anywhere.”

At the Howard Springs quarantine facility in Darwin, Georgia Wilkinson, who has just come back from two years in Germany, was hoping to convince her neighbours to dance to carols on their balconies.

Guests decorated their balconies, too, and Ms Wilkinson’s neighbour Petra was dressed up in red with a Santa hat.

“I’m so relieved to be coming back to Australia now,” Ms Wilkinson said.

Christmas at the Howard Springs quarantine hotel in Darwin.

Christmas at the Howard Springs quarantine hotel in Darwin.Credit:Georgia Wilkinson

“I’m hanging fairy lights on the verandah but some people have gone all out with big blow-up candy canes, plus the baubles and stickers the quarantine facility gave us.

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NBA’s 2020-21 season to feature at least seven Australians, including Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons


At least seven Australians are set to feature during the 2020-21 National Basketball Association (NBA) season, with Ben Simmons the most likely to walk away with a Championship ring.

The NBA season gets underway on Wednesday, Australian time, after the league’s proposed November tip-off was pushed back to late December due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

The Simmons-led Philadelphia 76ers are equal fifth favourites to win the title, behind defending champions Los Angeles Lakers, Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks.

Here’s a look at the Aussies set to take to the court in the world’s premier professional basketball competition this season.

Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers)

Simmons, who averaged 16.4 points per game during the 2019-20 regular season, is rated as one of the brightest young stars of the NBA but is yet to reach his full potential.

He missed the 76ers’ 2020 playoff series with the Boston Celtics after injuring his knee.

The 76ers are now coached by Doc Rivers after parting ways with Brett Brown.

If Rivers can get the best out of the former number one NBA draft pick, then the talent-laden 76ers could be a force to be reckoned with.

Patty Mills (San Antonio Spurs)

Patty Mills drives for San Antonio Spurs while being defended against by Jeff Green and Kyle Korver of Cleveland Cavaliers.
Not much is expected of the Spurs this year, but Boomers fans are hoping Patty Mills (centre) continues to excel in San Antonio.(AP: Tony Dejak)

Thirty-two-year-old Patty Mills averaged a career-high 11.6 points last season and has been a regular impact player at the Spurs since 2012.

San Antonio are tipped to struggle this season, but Australian fans will be hoping Mills gets significant court time ahead of the 2021 Olympics.

Joe Ingles (Utah Jazz)

Joe Ingles grimaces and holds the basketball outstretched as a two defenders close in on him
Joe Ingles’ (left) long-range shooting prowess should be valuable to the finals-contending Jazz.(Reuters: Rick Osentoski, USA TODAY Sports)

Three-point specialist Joe Ingles had a slightly lower output last season but still averaged 9.8 points per game during the regular season and 9.1 in his seven finals.

The Jazz are expected to make the finals again and the hot hand of Ingles is set to play a key role in their chances of success.

Matthew Dellavedova (Cleveland Cavaliers)

Matthew Dellavedova celebrates a Cavs win over the Warriors
Matthew Dellavedova’s hard-nosed style put him on the Lakers’ radar, but he’ll start the season in Cleveland.(Reuters/USA Today: Kyle Terada)

Tough-as-nails workhorse Matthew Dellavedova was almost traded to the LA Lakers last month to be reunited with former Cavaliers teammate LeBron James.

The Lakers eventually decided against it and Dellavedova signed a one-year extension with Cleveland.

He averaged just 3.1 points per game last season and shot at a lowly 23.1 per cent from long-range.

Aron Baynes (Toronto Raptors)

Aron Baynes flies through the air with the ball, arm extended and ready to dunk.
Aron Baynes will be suiting up for the Raptors this year, after leaving the Suns.(Reuters: Joe Camporeale)

Aron Baynes shows no signs of slowing down at age 34 after averaging a career-high 11.5 points per game for the Phoenix Suns last season.

He even set the record for the most points scored by an Australian in an NBA game in a March win over Portland.

His long-range shooting has become a weapon over the past two years and he is a strong chance to return to finals action with a talented Raptors roster.

Dante Exum (Cleveland Cavaliers)

Utah Jazz guard Dante Exum grabs his left shoulder in pain against the Phoenix Suns.
Dante Exum will be hoping he leaves his bad injury luck behind him in Utah.(AP / Salt Lake Tribune: Leah Hogsten)

The number five pick from the 2014 draft, Dante Exum has been ravaged by injuries throughout his stop-start career.

The Utah Jazz finally lost patience and traded him to the Cavs early last season and he looks on track for a breakout campaign after sinking 23 points during a recent pre-season game.

Josh Green (Dallas Mavericks)

Josh Green slams a basketball through a hoop with one hand
Josh Green will be looking to translate his college success in Arizona to the NBA.(Arizona Athletics: Mike Christy)

The number 18 pick in the 2020 draft, Josh Green has already made a good impression at the Mavericks with his strong work ethic and no-nonsense attitude.

The former Arizona Wildcat isn’t expected to play huge minutes this season, but it will be an invaluable learning curve for the 20-year-old guard ahead of a possible Olympics debut for the Boomers.

Several other Aussies on the cusp

The number of Australians could rise to eight if Thon Maker wins the final spot on Cleveland’s list or Will Magnay earns an upgrade.

Magnay recently signed a two-way deal with the New Orleans Pelicans, but it’s expected the Brisbane-born centre will spend the bulk of his time with the club’s NBA G League affiliate Erie BayHawks.

Basketball player slams a basketball into the hoop.
Thon Maker played 60 games for the Pistons last season but was let go.(Reuters/USA TODAY Sports: Raj Mehta)

Jonah Bolden, who played three games for the Phoenix Suns in 2020 after 48 with the 76ers, is expected to continue his career in Europe after failing to land at another NBA club.

Spanish outfit Real Madrid is circling Bolden after American Anthony Randolph suffered a season-ending injury.

Boomers swingman Ryan Broekhoff is on the lookout for a new home after being waived by the 76ers earlier this month.

The Lakers are favoured to repeat as NBA Champions after signing James and Anthony Davis to contracts during the offseason and adding DeMar DeRozan and Montrezl Harrell.

The NBA season has already been reduced from 82 to 72 games due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the league will try to complete its 16-team playoffs between May 22 and July 22.

AAP



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Telstra taken to court over aggressive selling towards Indigenous Australians


Australia’s major telecommunications provider Telstra has been taken to court for admitting it aggressively sold mobile phone plans to vulnerable Indigenous communities.

On Thursday morning, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission confirmed it had taken legal action against the telco provider in the Federal Court following Telstra’s admittance of lobbing high cost mobile phone plans on Aboriginal people.

Telstra has admitted to breaching Australian Consumer Law between 2016 and 2018 after employees took advantage of 108 Indigenous customers and signed them up to multiple mobile phone plans without conducting credit checks or properly explaining terms and conditions.

Telstra has accepted a $50 million fine, to be confirmed by the court.

ACCC chair Rod Sims says Telstra’s wrongdoing caused severe personal financial hardship and ongoing distress for a number indigenous communities.

“These debts significantly impacted the affected individuals,” Mr Sims said.

“For example, one consumer had a debt of over $19,000; another experienced extreme anxiety worrying they would go to jail if they didn’t pay; and yet another used money withdrawn from their superannuation towards paying their Telstra debt.”

Telstra confessed that the five stores located in the Northern Territory, Western Australia and

South Australia used unfair selling tactics and took advantage of their bargaining position to sell products onto people whose first language may not have been English.

The ACCC said Telstra’s actions resulted in the customers incurring an average debt amount of $7400. Some cases were also referred onto third party debt collectors.

“In many instances, sales staff also manipulated credit assessments so consumers who otherwise may have failed its credit assessment could enter into postpaid mobile contracts. This included falsely indicating that a consumer was employed,” the ACCC said in a statement.

Mr Sims said despite Telstra becoming aware of these issues, it failed to act swiftly in rectifying the problem.

“This case exposes extremely serious conduct which exploited social, language, literacy and cultural vulnerabilities of these Indigenous consumers,” Mr Sims said.

“Even though Telstra became increasingly aware of elements of the improper practices by sales staff at Telstra licensed stores over time, it failed to act quickly enough to stop it, and these practices continued and caused further, serious and avoidable financial hardship to Indigenous consumers.”

Telstra board and senior management were unaware at the time of the serious misconduct by some of its retail staff.

The company has agreed to the filing of consent orders and joint submission of a $50 million fine, which will be decided by the court.



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When the COVID-19 vaccine will be ready for Australians


As scientists across the world race to produce a COVID-19 vaccine, many Australians are eagerly waiting for the groundbreaking jab to become available commercially.

The process has raised many questions not only about the timeframe but also where it will be available and who will get it first.

Here are some of the most common questions answered.

WHAT POTENTIAL VACCINE OPTIONS HAS AUSTRALIA SECURED?

There are several potential vaccine options being produced right now that could serve the Australian community.

The federal government has secured 134.8 million doses through agreements with The University of Queensland, AstraZeneca-Oxford University, Novavax and Pfizer.

Oxford University’s vaccine is in the most progressed stages, and if successful, 3.8 million doses will be delivered to Australia early next year, while another 30 million doses will be manufactured by CSL in Melbourne in monthly batches.

“I have this evening been briefed by the Australian CEO who has confirmed that AstraZeneca is now looking to proceed with Australia regulatory approval in the coming weeks, if not sooner,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said.

“Subject to approval, this means that Australians are very much on track for the first vaccines in March.”

In September, Novavax launched phase 3 its clinical trials in the UK, with large-scale trials planned for other countries later this year.

If successful, 40 million doses of the Novavax will be made available in Australia next year, and the federal government has the option to buy another 10 million.

Another option is the Pfizer vaccine, but before that is approved for use in Australia it must pass the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) rigorous assessment and approval processes.

If it does, 10 million doses will be available to Australians from early 2021. Those doses will be produced internationally, and the government has the option to buy more.

Back on home soil, scientists at the University of Queensland are working around the clock to make their potential COVID-19 vaccine a reality.

If successful, 51 million doses will be available from mid-2021 and manufactured in Australia by CSL.

Mr Hunt said it was likely different vaccines would be used in different circumstances, but what those “circumstances are” still remains unknown.

WHO WILL GET IT FIRST?

Earlier this month the federal government revealed who would take priority on the basis of advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI).

Three priority groups were identified including “those who have an increased risk, relative to others, of developing severe disease or outcomes from COVID‑19, and those working in services critical to societal functioning”.

On Tuesday Mr Hunt said the nation’s vaccination timeline was “beginning to strengthen”.

“The news from overseas is that we are on track for first vaccines in March. That will obviously start with the health workers and, if approvals are granted, for the elderly,” he said.

“It is common sense in Australia but also around the world (that) health workers and the elderly (were identified) as our priority.”

IF WE GET JABBED CAN WE GO OVERSEAS?

The Department of Health did not comment on this query specifically but was adamant that the vaccine was not mandatory.

“While the government fully supports immunisation, it is not mandatory and individuals maintain the option to choose not to vaccinate,” the health department said.

On Tuesday Qantas boss Alan Joyce revealed passengers would have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before they could travel internationally with the airline.

He also told A Current Affair he was not ruling out extending that to domestic flights.

“We are looking at changing our terms and conditions, to say for international, that we will ask people to have a vaccination before getting on the aircraft,” Mr Joyce said.

“We think for international visitors coming out, and people leaving the country, we think that’s a necessity.”

WHERE WILL PEOPLE BE ABLE TO GET THE VACCINE?

Australians will be able to get vaccinated at GPs, hospitals, respiratory clinics and state and territory vaccinations clinics.

It will not be available at your local pharmacy “due to the targeting of priority populations, cold chain storage requirements and the use of multi dose vials”, the health department said.

HOW MUCH WILL IT COST TO GET JABBED?

The vaccine is free and will be accessible to every Australian.

The federal government has purchased more vaccines than what is needed for the entire population.

Mr Hunt said the expectation was that all Australians would be given access to a free vaccine on a voluntary basis during the course of 2021.

HOW LONG BETWEEN JABS?
All vaccine candidates require two doses, administered about one month apart.



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International travel could return in 2021 for Australians


Get your passports ready people because international travel could be on the cards for as early as next year, but there is one big factor that will determine exactly when Aussies will be able to leave the country.

Minister for Finance, Tourism and Trade Simon Birmingham said overseas travel in 2021 is “not impossible” but will depend on how quickly an effective COVID-19 vaccine is developed and distributed to citizens.

“It’s not impossible. I would like to think we would see such success in terms of both the vaccines and their effectiveness,” Mr Birmingham told Sky News.

“Then of course the manufacturing rollout, distribution, uptake, all the other factors that come into how it is that a vaccine could change the way we look at things around this pandemic.”

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RELATED: Australia’s plan for overseas travel

He said ensuring Australians can get their freedoms back as soon as possible was one of the reasons the government has been working so hard to secure contracts with multiple promising vaccine candidates.

However, jetting off for an overseas holiday in the first half of the year might not be possible, with Mr Birmingham saying if international travel does resume in 2021 it will likely be later in year.

“I think the first half may be challenging but lets just see how we go in terms of how quickly we can secure, distribute, get that take up in relation to vaccines with the confidence and safety everyone needs,” he said.

The Australian government has secured contracts for four different vaccine candidates from Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Novavax and the University of Queensland.

RELATED: These are NSW’s new virus rules

Last week, Health Minister Greg Hunt said the government had secured enough vaccine doses to “vaccinate Australia three times over”.

“We also have access to another 25 million units of vaccine through what’s called the international COVAX facility,” Mr Hunt told FIVEaa radio host Leon Byner.

“So, we’ve got enough vaccine potentially, subject to success and approvals, to vaccinate Australia three times over.

“And you might say, well, why would you do that? Because nobody knows which vaccines will be successful. But, our medical experts have identified the class of vaccines that we need and the most advanced and likely vaccines and their choices appear to be very, very good.”

When a vaccine is approved it will likely be distributed to health workers and the elderly first before being rolled out to the rest of the country.

“Our expectation, again, remains, and indeed the guidance has been reaffirmed and strengthened, that we’ll be able to provide all Australians who seek to be vaccinated with a vaccine during and before the end of 2021,” Mr Hunt said.

Last week, Pfizer, one of the leading vaccine candidates, announced it would be submitting a request to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for Emergency Use Authorisation of it’s vaccine.

The pharmaceutical company has been created the vaccine in conjunction with biotechnology company BioNTech.

The candidate has recent demonstrated a vaccine efficacy rate of 95 per cent during phase three trials, with no serious side effects observed to date.

“Filing for Emergency Use Authorisation in the US is a critical step in making our vaccine candidate available to the global population as quickly as possible,” CEO and Co-founder of BioNTech Ugur Sahin said.

“We intend to continue to work with regulatory agencies worldwide to enable the rapid distribution of our vaccine globally.”



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Actor Matthew McConaughey honours Australians in Wild Turkey With Thanks platform


Hollywood actor Matthew McConaughey has lent his voice to honouring some of the local legends who worked to keep the rest of us healthy and safe during last year’s bushfires.

McConaughey recently reached out to three families who inspired him.

“Australians have a very quick reaction to tough situations and crises that (says), ‘All right, mate, what are we gonna do? Let’s take action,’” McConaughey said via a video call from his California home.

“There are certain people where it’s in their DNA – like Australians and like Texans, where I’m from – to go, ‘I’m not going to play the victim here, I’m not going to be victimised’.

“Yes, this is tragic, but I’m going to pull my boots up, I’m going to pull my bootstraps up and think, ‘OK, what am I going to do about this?’”

In his role as creative director for bourbon maker Wild Turkey, the Oscar winner visited Australia a year ago. At the time launching the Wild Turkey With Thanks platform, an initiative designed to protect and preserve the wilderness, McConaughey was on hand to witness the start of the catastrophic bushfires that swept across the Australian summer.

“So we were in Australia last year before COVID, before bushfires, before the droughts and the floods, we were sort of helping to urge people to go, ‘Hey, go explore your outdoors, go explore the wilderness around you’,” McConaughey said.

“And then this year, the bushfires come, the floods come, COVID comes and we said, well, let’s shine a light on some people and let’s say thank you to some people in Australia that really hunkered down and had the conviction to keep their places safe and to stay on the front lines to save (others), whether it was 600 koalas or (holding) down a pub in Batlow. So that’s what we’re doing, we’re reaching out to say thank you.”

McConaughey was particularly inspired by:

• Dana and Sam Mitchell, who rescued over 600 koalas on Kangaroo Island in South Australia;

• Linda and Matthew Rudd, who saved their 100-year-old pub from the bushfires while being the lifeline for the town of Batlow in New South Wales;

• Lin Baird, who navigated a difficult year to once again help Australians reconnect with the wilderness on horseback in Victoria’s Mount Bogong.

“We did surprise them, we called them out of the blue, so all of a sudden, Dana and Sam answer, and I was like, ‘Yep, it’s Matthew McConaughey here on Kangaroo Island with you,’” McConaughey said.

McConaughey and Wild Turkey are donating proceeds from all bottles sold during November and December to National Parks and Wildlife.

“Now, the challenge is how can we get people to go visit those places, to visit the many places we didn’t even get to shine a light on.

“Go there, even your tourism helps them out, just keep them alive and help them regenerate after the bushfires.”



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