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Victoria in the midst of ‘second wave’ of COVID-19, Australian health experts say


Infectious disease experts across the country are calling on authorities to lockdown coronavirus hot spots in Victoria.

It comes after the state recorded 75 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, the largest increase since 70 cases were recorded on March 31 and Victoria’s fourth-highest single day increase since the start of the pandemic.

And South Australia has dumped its plan to lift quarantine measures for Victoria, NSW and the ACT next month on the latest health advice.

Professor of Hospital Infection and Infectious Diseases Control at the University of New South Wales Mary-Louise McLaws said Victoria was experiencing a resurgence of “epic proportion”.

“Victoria has had three distinct risk categories – community that is mostly family clusters, quarantine hotel staff, and health providers … but what is particularly driving this is the interconnection between these three risk groups,” she said.

Professor McLaws said instructions about wearing masks needed to be clearer.

“It’s time the authorities accepted the WHO Mask Guidelines for people living in areas with high infection and those who find themselves in situations where they cannot keep physical distancing such as in public transport and hot spots,” she said.

The messaging that masks only work by protecting uninfected persons from an infected person who is wearing the mask is not correct – otherwise why do health workers wear a mask while carrying for someone with COVID.”

Griffith University School of Environment and science professor Hamish McCallum said Victoria was “clearly” in the midst of a second wave of coronavirus.

“Certainly, the rise in daily reported cases looks qualitatively very similar to the initial wave in March. However, this does need to be viewed in terms of the increased testing and relaxation of the criteria for testing,” he said.

“We will be seeing more asymptomatic cases among these positives than was the case back in March.

“Victoria‘s percentage of positive tests is now less than 0.5 per cent, whereas it was about 2 per cent in mid-March.”

Director of the UQ Centre for Clinical Research at the The University of Queensland Professor David Paterson said Victoria’s weakness was “leakage” from quarantine.

“Quarantine hotel workers were not adequately trained in infection prevention and the quarantined travellers were not cleared prior to release,” he said.

“This weakness, coupled with community complacency, has led to further spread in the community.”

Meanwhile, South Australia has scrapped a plan to lift all its remaining border restrictions next month amid the spike in coronavirus cases in Victoria.

Premier Steven Marshall said the July 20 date to lift quarantine measures for Victoria, NSW and the ACT had been abandoned on the latest health advice. He said SA may move separately on NSW and the ACT, but no date had yet been set with the state’s transition committee to consider that issue on Friday.

“We are increasingly concerned about the outbreaks which are occurring in Victoria,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

“At this stage, we cannot possibly lift that border (with Victoria) on the 20th July as we were hoping to do.” Mr Marshall said the decision would also mean any AFL teams coming into South Australia from Victoria would be required to isolate for two weeks, as well as any returning SA teams that played in Melbourne.

“We apologise to the many people who will have to make changes but our number one priority is the health, safety and wellbeing of all South Australians,” he said.

SA previously lifted its border quarantine measures for Western Australia, Queensland, Tasmania and the Northern Territory and remained on track to do the same for other jurisdictions until the surge in COVID-19 cases in Melbourne. On Monday, 75 new infections were reported there, after 90 new cases over the weekend.

SA also reported three new cases on Monday, but all among about 260 Australians repatriated from India on Saturday.

In response to Victoria’s spike in cases, South Australia has also bolstered its policing of the border, with 260 officers stationed there to check on people entering the state.

Greater surveillance of backroads is also being conducted.



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In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, China forces out foreign reporters


After 24 years reporting in China, Chris Buckley — a highly regarded and experienced foreign journalist — has been forced to leave the country he has devoted his career to amid a worsening crackdown on foreign media.

The Australian reporter for the New York Times left Beijing with his wife on Friday bound for Sydney after China’s Government refused to renew his press card when it expired in mid-February while he was reporting in Wuhan.

He is the 19th foreign journalist expelled or forced to leave China in the past 12 months, and the second Australian.

Even as he prepared to leave the country, the Government made its presence felt.

At least four men followed and filmed Buckley as the ABC met him for an interview on his final day in China near the New York Times office in central Beijing.

One of the men retreated into a coffee shop as Buckley attempted to talk to him.

Reporting from the cradle of coronavirus

Buckley risked his health by travelling to the city believed to be the epicentre of the viral outbreak on the day it was locked down in January.

Chris Buckley sitting in his office with the New York Times branding on the wall
Chris Buckley has been working as a translator, researcher and reporter in China for 24 years.(ABC News: Cecily Huang)

He was then told to stop reporting on the unfolding crisis when his press card expired the following month.

“It was a very frustrating time being in Wuhan, seeing all the dramatic developments with the lockdown and then the city beginning to overcome the epidemic but being prevented from reporting on it,” he told the ABC.

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Due to increasingly tight lockdown rules in Wuhan, Buckley was forced to ride share bicycles around the empty city for interviews.

“On one of those days, I did about 24 kilometres on a rather small share bike,” he said.

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A ‘stronger’ China clears out foreign journalists

With China and the US locked in an increasingly bitter battle for global influence and trading barbs about the origins of COVID-19, the number of foreign reporters on the ground in China is now the lowest for many years.

Chris Buckley dressed in traditional Chinese garb with three women
Chris Buckley speaks fluent Mandarin and has a PhD in China studies from ANU.(Supplied: Chris Buckley)

Buckley’s departure comes after another Australian working for US media, Phillip Wen of the Wall Street Journal, was expelled in February along with two colleagues.

A further 14 American journalists working at the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post were expelled in March.

Some Chinese staff working for US media have also been forced to quit their jobs by the division of China’s Foreign Ministry that employs and manages them on behalf of international media organisations.

“These trends have deepened under [President] Xi Jinping and I think they’re likely to continue for a while,” he said.

Unlike Wen, who was officially expelled over a guest opinion column headline deemed racist by China’s Government, Buckley has been told he can reapply in future to come back.

He was asked to leave China in 2012 and spent three years in Hong Kong before he was allowed to return.

“This time does feel different because China’s changed so much,” he said.

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“The Chinese Government feels that it’s stronger, it’s more assertive and it’s less likely to heed messages or pressure from outside to let journalists back in,” he said.

‘Chris is respected as the gold standard’

Along with a Hong Kong-based colleague, Austin Ramzy, Buckley published one of the biggest scoops in decades last November when they revealed more than 400 pages of Chinese Government internal documents.

Chris Buckley looking at his phone in a restaurant
Chris Buckley’s reporting on the treatment of Chinese Muslims caused an international scandal for Beijing.(Supplied: Chris Buckley)

They detailed a ruthless campaign of coercion in China’s far-west Xinjiang region based on ideas from internal speeches by Mr Xi himself.

The policies culminated with hundreds of thousands of ethnic minority Uyghurs and Kazakhs being separated from their families and interned in re-education centres, some of which still operate to this day despite pervasive efforts of Chinese authorities to thwart reporting.

“I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that Chris is respected as the gold standard for reporting not just on China, but also Chinese elite politics,” said Richard McGregor, a Senior Fellow with the Lowy Institute and former journalist.

“His insights come from old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting, a painstaking reading of Chinese language sources and decades of experience — all skills that will not be easily replaced,” he said.

When asked why Buckley was being forced to leave the country, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said: “The laws and regulations are the laws and regulations.”

Buckley was stuck in Wuhan when his visa expired and therefore unable to apply for a renewal in Beijing.

Hu Xijin is an influential editor of a nationalistic Communist Party-run tabloid called the Global Times, which has previously attacked New York Times reporting.

“As someone in the media, I feel regret that he can no longer continue to work in China,” he told the ABC.

“But I believe this isn’t just a problem of the Chinese side. I hope China and the US can have more mutual respect and can jointly create better working conditions for each other’s journalists.”

China’s escalating media war with the US

Beijing’s move to expel 14 American journalists in March was tit-for-tat in a rapidly escalating information war between the US and China.

A group of journalists wearing face masks at a press conference
With China and the US both pushing conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 origins, the number of foreign reporters on the ground in China is now the lowest for many years.(Reuters: Thomas Peter)

The abrupt expulsions came after the White House announced it would not renew 60 work visas for Chinese state media employees in the US, in a bid to limit visas to a similar number granted by Beijing to American reporters.

It came after an earlier effort to designate Chinese government media outlets in the US as “diplomatic entities”.

Tom Mitchell, the Financial Times Beijing bureau chief, said that the White House’s efforts for reciprocity unintentionally forced top investigative reporters from China.

“US traded queens for pawns. Bad chess move,” he wrote on Twitter.

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Aside from the 19 foreign journalists recently forced to leave, dozens are stuck outside the country waiting for visas.

At least four Australian journalists working for different media outlets have been waiting for months.

“The Chinese Government has been very energetic and supportive of sending more Chinese journalists abroad because I think they want Chinese people to understand the rest of the world better,” said Buckley.

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