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Thailand prepares to welcome back tourists after devastating shutdown



Bangkok’s hotels, street food carts and tuk-tuks are preparing to welcome back tourists as Thailand gears up to re-open on November 1 to fully vaccinated visitors.

Hotels, street food carts and tuk-tuks are gearing up for the return of tourists to Bangkok as Thailand prepares to re-open on November 1 to fully vaccinated visitors after 18 months of Covid travel curbs.

From November 1, fully vaccinated visitors travelling from more than 40 “low-risk” countries will be allowed to enter with a negative Covid result, retesting again upon arrival.

Originally published as Thailand prepares to welcome back tourists after devastating shutdown




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Beijing Games organisers say virus ‘biggest challenge’, 100 days from start



Protecting the Beijing Winter Olympics from the coronavirus is the “biggest challenge”, organisers said Wednesday, as millions of people in China were under stay-at-home orders to contain small outbreaks 100 days before the Games.

“The pandemic is the biggest challenge to the organisation of the Winter Olympics,” Zhang Jiandong, executive vice president of the Beijing Organising Committee, told a press conference.

Originally published as Beijing Games organisers say virus ‘biggest challenge’, 100 days from start




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More than 100 people join legal fight against Victorian vaccine mandate



Authorised workers, employer groups and healthcare workers have joined a mass legal action against the Victorian government’s mandates on vaccines.

A legal challenge to Victoria’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate has been taken up by more than 100 people, some authorised workers, amid concern the order is forcing businesses to close and people to lose work.

The state’s vaccine mandate, believed to be the strictest in the world, has forced millions of authorised workers including lawyers, politicians, real estate agents, teachers and taxi drivers to take the jab or risk losing their income.

The matter has also linked in with Victorians’ access to greater freedoms out of lockdown, with now only double-vaccinated people allowed to work in and attend hospitality and retail settings.

But some have opted to fight back, with an originally small legal challenge, initiated by a teacher and her husband, now expanding to include more than 100 complainants across multiple industries.

The original action was filed by relief teacher Belinda Cetnar and her horticulturalist husband Jack Cetnar, concerned they would lose their jobs in schools if they declined to get vaccinated.

Fresh documents filed in the Supreme Court showed 112 plaintiffs have since joined their case, including 52 authorised workers, more than 20 employer groups and 17 healthcare workers.

The group is accusing chief health officer Brett Sutton and other senior health bureaucrats of breaching the state’s Human Rights Charter when they imposed the mandates.

Several nurses, a police officer, a Department of Justice bureaucrat and a surgeon have been named as plaintiffs.

One plaintiff is currently employed by vaccine manufacturing company CSL in Melbourne and worked on the production of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Such a legal challenge is the first in Victoria, with previous legal challenges to the same public health orders across Australia being largely knocked back.

Mr and Mrs Cetnar claimed in court documents earlier this month the mandatory policy was an “extreme measure” and inconsistent with human rights provisions.

In a statement of claim, Mrs Cetnar argued the directives for mandatory vaccinations were not a proportionate response to the pandemic and questioned the safety and efficacy of the coronavirus vaccine.

“They do not uphold a citizen’s rights to autonomy and informed consent in medical treatment and procedures,” she wrote.

“The blanket mandate approach does not consider the human rights of those it is imposed.”

A trial was originally set to begin on October 21, but has now been adjourned to a later date as more people join the action.

The Victorian mandate has hit dozens of industries and is believed to be affecting around 1.25 million workers across the state.

Melbourne man Munna Hill, who worked for Amazon, lost his job as a delivery driver when the mandate came in on October 15.

Mr Hill said he had chosen not to get the vaccine due to concern about the potential short-term and long-term side effects and the current lack of long-term safety data.

In the days since, he has struggled to find employment.

“I have no idea what I’m going to do, to be honest,” he said.

“I’ve been making a few phone calls to my mates, but so many industries are following the guidelines, even cash in hand jobs are really hard to find.

“I’m really struggling to pay my bills, even buying groceries every week and paying loans for property.

“I’m just draining my savings account; I think maybe in a month I won’t be able to do it anymore.”

Employment Law expert with the University of Sydney, Dr Giuseppe Carabetta, said the important difference between Victoria and the other states was Victoria had a Human Rights Charter.

“Human rights law allows for limitations on human rights where necessary to protect public health and the fundamental right to life. However, such restrictions must be necessary and proportionate to the risk and balanced against individual rights,” Dr Carabetta said.

“What the courts will ultimately have to address in determining the validity of a health order is whether any interference with individual rights is justified for the protection of the community.”

She said the courts would likely examine how coercive the mandates are, whether they allow for exemptions, how serious sanctions are and what interests are at stake.

“While mandates for high-risk sectors such as health or aged care are likely to be upheld, the question will be a more interesting and more complex one when it comes to mandates for less high-risk settings.”

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Originally published as More than 100 people join legal fight against Victorian vaccine mandate




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Unvaccinated players can compete at Australian Open: leaked email



A leaked WTA email says unvaccinated players will be welcome at the Australian Open

Unvaccinated players will be allowed to compete at the Australian Open but must complete 14 days in hotel quarantine, according to a leaked WTA email Monday, although a government official insisted the matter was not yet settled.

The rules would also likely apply to the men’s tour, leaving the door open for world number one Novak Djokovic to defend his title at Melbourne Park in January.

The email said that players fully inoculated against coronavirus would not have to quarantine or remain in bio-secure bubbles, enjoying “complete freedom of movement”.

“We feel the need to reach out to you all to clear up false and misleading information that has recently been spread by other parties about the conditions the players will be forced to endure at next year’s Australian Open,” the email read.

Vaccinated players could arrive any time after December 1, must have a negative test within 72 hours of departing for Australia and test again within 24 hours of arrival. Otherwise, there will be no restrictions, the email said.

– Still talking –

“We’re still talking to the Commonwealth (national government) about whether the rule for international unvaccinated arrivals is either 14 days quarantine or they’re not coming into the country at all,” he said in response to the leaked email.

Nine-time Australian Open champion Djokovic is one of many players who have refused to share their vaccination status, casting doubt over whether he will defend his title.

Reports have put the vaccination rate for tennis players at between 50 and 60 percent, but Pakula spoke with Australian Open chief Craig Tiley on Monday and he believed they were much higher.

Melbourne is in Victoria state, which on Friday emerged from one of the world’s most prolonged series of Covid lockdowns, in total more than 260 days since the pandemic began.

mp/ar/pst

Originally published as Unvaccinated players can compete at Australian Open: leaked email




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Peru surpasses 200,000 Covid deaths: officials



In this file photo taken on October 19, 2021, a health professional assists a COVID-19 patient at a hospital in northern Peru

Peru, which has the world’s highest Covid-19 death rate per capita, has surpassed 200,000 deaths from the coronavirus, the health ministry said on Friday.

The ministry announced 25 new deaths over the previous 24 hours, taking the South American country over the symbolic threshold with 200.003 deaths since the pandemic started in March 2020.

With 6,065 deaths per million population, Peru’s Covid mortality rate is the highest in the world, according to an AFP count based on official data.

“We’re maintaining a high level of control,” health minister Hernando Cevallos said recently.

The fall in infections has allowed the government to relax some healthcare measures and reactivate parts of the economy.

Peru’s number of deaths is only surpassed in Latin America by Brazil and Mexico, although those countries’ populations are almost seven and four times greater respectively.

“We need to get vaccinated so there is no more sadness in homes and no more orphans,” Mirtha Garcia Espinoza, a 39-year-old mother of two widowed by the pandemic, told AFP.

Last week that was down to 169, according to official figures.

The government hopes to vaccinate 70 percent of its population over 12 by the end of the year.

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Originally published as Peru surpasses 200,000 Covid deaths: officials




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Pfizer says Covid vaccine 90% effective in younger children



Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine is more than 90 percent effective in preventing symptomatic disease among children aged 5-to-11, the company said in a document released Friday that put forward its case for authorization.

The new data was published on the website of the Food and Drug Administration, which has called an advisory panel of independent experts to meet Tuesday to vote on whether to green light the shot.

“VE (Vaccine Efficacy) against laboratory-confirmed symptomatic Covid-19 occurring at least 7 days after Dose 2 in evaluable participants without evidence of prior SARS-CoV-2 infection was 90.7%,” the document said.

There were no cases of severe Covid and no cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), a rare but serious post viral condition.

Pfizer argued that “although the mortality rate for Covid-19 in children is substantially lower than that in adults, Covid-19 was among the top 10 leading causes of death for children 5 to 14 years of age between January and May 2021 in the US.”

There were no cases of myocarditis or pericarditis — inflammation or inflammation around the heart — but there were not enough study volunteers to be able to detect highly rare side effects. 

This is the first time Pfizer has released an efficacy estimate for its Covid vaccine in younger children, along with a detailed dataset.

Throughout the pandemic, pharmaceutical companies have been making major announcements through press releases with scant data, a situation that has frustrated some experts.

The administration of President Joe Biden has said it stands ready to roll out shots for the country’s 28 million 5 to 11-year-olds as soon as the vaccine is authorized by science agencies. 

ia/bgs

Originally published as Pfizer says Covid vaccine 90% effective in younger children




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Confusion reigns over Queen Elizabeth II’s health after hospital stay



Images of Windsor Castle after the queen returned there after having “attended hospital on Wednesday afternoon for some preliminary investigations,” according to Buckingham Palace.

Questions mounted Friday about the health of 95-year-old Queen Elizabeth II after she had tests and spent a night in hospital, despite royal officials saying she was resting at home.

Buckingham Palace had said on Wednesday morning that she pulled out of a planned engagement in Northern Ireland and had been advised to rest on medical advice.

She returned from King Edward VII’s Hospital in central London to her Windsor Castle home west of London and was said to be “in good spirits”.

She stayed overnight for “practical reasons”, said to be because it was too late to make the 26-mile (42-kilometre) trip back to Windsor.

The development follows several busy weeks during which the monarch undertook more than a dozen public engagements, including hosting a reception Tuesday for global business leaders at Windsor Castle.

Royals author Robert Hardman told the BBC there would be “a mild degree of irritation at the palace this morning” that news of the queen’s overnight hospital stay had become public.

However, veteran BBC royal correspondent Nicholas Witchell said royal officials “have not been giving us a complete, reasonable picture of what has been occurring”.

“We must hope that we can rely on what the palace is now telling us,” he added, calling assurances that the queen was in good spirits “a handy phrase that the palace dusts off at moments such as this”.

“Royal sources had been keen to encourage the impression that she had just overdone it but may struggle to convince the public now,” he noted.

Queen Elizabeth II is head of state in the UK and 15 other realms around the world, including Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

The palace said she was back at her desk on Thursday afternoon undertaking “light duties”.

Her late husband, Prince Philip, died in April just a few weeks before his 100th birthday, months after spending four weeks in hospital receiving treatment for a pre-existing heart condition.

Last week, she was seen for the first time at a major public event using a walking stick, but royal officials said it was not linked to any specific health condition.

“She hates people making a fuss of her in general but particularly to do with health,” added Hardman.

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Originally published as Confusion reigns over Queen Elizabeth II’s health after hospital stay




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