Australia economy climbs back to pre-pandemic size


Australia’s economy has continued its rapid rebound, to grow larger than it was before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Official figures show that gross domestic product (GDP) rose by 1.8% in the first quarter, beating expectations.

Growth was spurred by a soaring demand for commodities around the world and spending by consumers and businesses.

Last year, Australia was tipped into recession after lockdown measures were imposed across the country.

Rising household spending, investment by businesses, and higher prices of iron ore and gas exports helped drive the expansion, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The country’s speedy recovery has been helped by its ability to contain coronavirus outbreaks, which boosted consumer and business confidence.

78,113 people attend the traditional ANZAC Day AFL match in Melbourne, the biggest attendance at a global sporting event since the start of the pandemic


A crowd of 78,113 packed into the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) for an Australian rules match between Collingwood and Essendon on Sunday, the highest attendance at a sports stadium anywhere in the world since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Authorities in Australia’s southern state of Victoria, of which Melbourne is the capital, on Friday raised the cap on the attendance at the 100,000-seater arena to 85,000 ahead of the traditional Anzac Day blockbuster.

Sunday’s attendance was higher than the 67,200 and 66,352 crowds attracted to the first two Twenty20 cricket matches between India and England at the 132,000-capacity Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad in March.

Anzac Day, which commemorates a bloody battle fought by the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) during World War One, is an iconic day in the regional calendar with bumper crowds guaranteed at sporting fixtures.

The Collingwood Magpies and Essendon Bombers, two of the best-supported teams in the Australian Football League (AFL), have met since 1995 on what is a public holiday when it falls on a weekday.

Last year, the match was played at an empty MCG but the fans were back with a vengeance at the cavernous stadium on Sunday, emitting a roar when the commemorative pre-match preliminaries were completed.

New Zealand to open travel bubble with Australia on April 19


New Zealand announced Tuesday it will open a long-anticipated travel bubble with Australia on April 19 now that both countries have been successful in stamping out the spread of the coronavirus.

The start of quarantine-free travel between the neighboring nations will come as a relief to families who have been separated by the pandemic as well as to struggling tourist operators.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said health officials believe the risk of the virus being transmitted from Australia is low and that travel is now safe.

“The bubble will give our economic recovery a boost and represents a world-leading arrangement of safely opening up international travel while continuing to pursue a strategy of elimination and keeping the virus out,” Ardern said.

Australian drug regulator releases first batches of locally made AstraZeneca vaccine


More than 800,000 locally manufactured doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been approved for release to Australians providing a significant boost to the country’s rollout effort.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration announced on Tuesday evening it had approved the release of four batches manufactured at CSL-Seqirus’s Melbourne facilities. They comprise a total 832,200 doses.

The approval follows two previous TGA ticks for the AstraZeneca vaccine. The first approval was for the internationally manufactured version of the vaccine and the second – on the weekend – allowed the shots to be manufactured in Australia.

The Australian regulator tested the four CSL batches at its laboratories in Canberra and reviewed extensive manufacturing documentation to ensure the vaccine performed in the same way as the internationally manufactured vaccine – and was of the same quality.

“The TGA’s clearance of the vaccine for local manufacture is a major step in Australia’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic,” the regulator said in Tuesday’s statement. “We will now be able to provide secure access to large numbers of doses of a domestically-produced vaccine, with the Australian government having procured 50m doses for delivery in the coming months.”

Australian PM is vaccinated as rollout begins


Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has received the coronavirus vaccine as the country prepares to start inoculations this week.

His jab was televised on Sunday in order to help boost confidence in the vaccine rollout across Australia.

Vaccinations officially begin on Monday and at least 60,000 doses are expected to be administered next week.

On Saturday, small crowds of anti-vaccination demonstrators gathered to protest against the launch.

Mr Morrison was part of a small group of people vaccinated on Sunday along with some frontline health workers and care home residents. Australia’s chief nurse Professor Alison McMillan and Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly were also immunised.

Speaking at ahead of his vaccination, Mr Morrison said: “Tomorrow our vaccination programme starts, so as a curtain raiser today we’re here making some very important points; that it’s safe, that it’s important, and we need to start with those who are most vulnerable and are on the front line.”

The first person to be vaccinated in the country was 85-year-old Jane Malysiak.

The first vaccinations in Australia will be the Pfizer vaccine which has been granted approval for use.

Australia’s medical regulator earlier this week also granted provisional approval for the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, which is expected to be rolled out next month. Health Minister Greg Hunt says he will receive the AstraZeneca vaccine in the coming weeks.

COVID-19 vaccines touch down in Australia, New Zealand, inoculations to start


Australia and New Zealand have received their first COVID-19 vaccine deliveries and will begin rolling out inoculations in the coming week, while populous cities of Melbourne and Auckland remained locked down following the emergence of new cases.

“The Eagle has landed,” Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters in Canberra on Monday as the first shipment of 142,000 doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc and Germany’s BioNTech touched down.

Vaccination in Australia will start from Feb. 22.

In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the first batch of 60,000 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines had arrived and would undergo safety checks before border workers start receiving vaccinations from Saturday.

“This will be the largest full-scale vaccination campaign in this country’s history,” Ardern said.

“We have purchased enough vaccines to cover all New Zealanders and to do so for free. That includes all those in New Zealand regardless of their visa status,” Ardern said.

AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine approved for use in Australia by TGA


Australia’s medical regulator has approved the Oxford University-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for use in Australia.

It is the second vaccine given the green light by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) after it approved the Pfizer vaccine last month.

In a statement, the TGA said it had approved the vaccine for use in people aged over 18 years.

It said while people over the age of 65 “demonstrated a strong immune response” to the vaccine, there were not enough people infected by COVID-19 in the clinical trials to determine the overall efficacy for that age group.

Groundbreaking COVID-19 Treatment Found In Unexpected Cancer Drug


An unexpected COVID-19 drug derived from a rare sea animal and historically used to treat cancer is found to be 27.5 times more effective than the Gilead Sciences’ popular coronavirus drug remdesivir, a study published in the journal Science on Monday revealed.

The treatment, known as Aplidin or Plitidepsin, is developed by the Spanish drug company PharmaMar. It has clinical approval in some countries, such as Australia, for treating multiple myeloma, a form of bone marrow cancer. The drug was identified as a potential COVID-19 treatment in March 2020 by a team of scientists at the University of California, San Francisco. Since then, it has completed phase 1 and phase 2 clinical trials and is expected to enter a phase 3 trial before seeking regulatory approval.

Australia posts zero virus cases, state chief calls for ‘Pacific bubble’


Australia recorded a fourth day of zero coronavirus cases on Thursday, prompting the chief of the country’s most populous state to call for a special travel “bubble” with Pacific island nations.

New South Wales has reined in an outbreak in mid-December that prompted a strict lockdown in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, while broader social distancing rules and mandatory mask wearing were imposed for the rest of the city.

Signalling those restrictions were set to be eased next week, Premier Gladys Berejiklien told the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper the federal government should consider establishing a travel arrangement with the Pacific.

“There is no reason why we shouldns’t aim to travel to New Zealand or some of the Pacific Islands well within the next 12 months,” Berejiklian said.

The comments come after Australia’s chief medical officer Paul Kelly cautioned about restarting international travel, given the country was in an “envious position” compared to most of the world.

Unlike other countries, Australia has closed its international borders, only allowing its stranded citizens back home.

Australia on track to record zero COVID-19 cases for second straight day


Australia is on course to record its second straight day of zero local COVID-19 cases, helped by tougher restrictions on public movement and internal borders, but authorities continued to urge more people to get tested to track undetected cases.

Australia has been seeking to contain fresh virus outbreaks since last month with impacted regions placed under lockdown and masks made mandatory indoors but infection rates seem to have stabilised after low cases in recent days.

New South Wales (NSW), the country’s most populous state, flagged it could ease restrictions soon if testing numbers rise as more tests could help trace all unknown infections.