Melbourne bids farewell to COVID-19 lockdown and the controversial curfew


Victoria has finally downed one of the bluntest and most controversial public health tools used during the pandemic.

As of today, the lockdown has lifted from Melbourne, and along with it, the curfew.

There are hopes the measures will not be needed again any time soon in a highly vaccinated population.

With the eased restrictions come a raft of returned freedoms, including dine-in hospitality, more outdoor activities and limited household visits.

Counts of days spent under lockdown vary, but most find Melburnians have now spent the longest period under COVID-19 lockdown as any city in the world.

But while the usefulness of lockdown in curbing movement and preventing a catastrophic overwhelming of health systems has been broadly accepted, the curfew has remained a controversial measure.

Western Sydney residents enjoy ‘Freedom Day’ after months of harsher lockdown restrictions


They’ve suffered more than most during NSW’s lockdown, but excited Western Sydney residents have today been out in force, enjoying their new freedoms.

After 106 days in lockdown, queues of shoppers counted down the final minutes of the Sydney lockdown while waiting in line outside Kmart stores in Casula and Mount Druitt.

Retail shops, restaurants, pubs and hairdressers were permitted to reopen on the stroke of midnight to customers fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Subjected to harsher restrictions than the rest of Sydney, residents of the 12 local government areas (LGAs) of concern endured nighttime curfews and strict limits on how far they could travel.

NSW Premier Dominic Perottet said the Canterbury-Bankstown area and Western Sydney would continue to be monitored but he hoped today’s reopening conveyed a message of unity.

Australian border to reopen for first time in pandemic


Australia will reopen its international border from November, giving long-awaited freedoms to vaccinated citizens and their relatives.

Since March 2020, Australia has had some of the world’s strictest border rules – even banning its own people from leaving the country.

The policy has been praised for helping to suppress Covid, but it has also controversially separated families.

“It’s time to give Australians their lives back,” PM Scott Morrison said.

Australia has recorded more than 1,300 deaths from Covid-19 and more than 107,000 cases of infection.

People would be eligible to travel when their state’s vaccination rate hit 80%, Mr Morrison told a press briefing on Friday.

Travel would not immediately be open to foreigners, but the government said it was working “towards welcoming tourists back to our shores”.

Denmark drops “red” status for all countries including UK regions


Denmark has dropped the most restrictive “red” travel classification for all countries including England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, meaning vaccinated travellers from these countries will no longer need to self-isolate on arrival.

“The national COVID-19 task force on travel restrictions has decided to deactivate the red safety valve for all current red countries and regions,” Denmark’s foreign ministry said in a press release.

“The task force’s decision is due to the fact that the delta variant has become dominant both in Denmark and globally and thus has now outcompeted the other virus variants (beta and gamma), which are no longer considered by the health authorities to be particularly worrying.”

The change will see 21 countries move from “red” to “orange”, including Argentina, Botswana, Colombia, Cuba, Costa Rica, Eswatini, Fiji, Iraq, Iran, Malaysia, Mozambique, Lesotho, Libya, Zambia, Malawi, South Africa, Tunisia, Zimbabwe, Russia, Panama, Namibia, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

This means Denmark’s foreign ministry no longer advises Danish residents against travelling to these areas.

It also means that travellers from these areas, if vaccinated, will no longer need to go into self-isolation on arrival in Denmark, have a “worthy purpose” to travel to Denmark if they are resident in an OECD country, show a negative PCR test at the border, or to get a PCR test on arrival.

The Good News From Lollapalooza Music Festival About COVID


Lollapalooza certainly looked scary from above. The Chicago music festival, held at the end of July, brought footage of enormous crowds of people squashed together, presumably shouting and singing and generally spraying aerosols:

Now, however, health officials in Chicago are saying that Lollapalooza does not appear to have been a superspreader event, as some feared it would be.

Out of nearly 400,000 people who attended the festival, just 203 tested positive for the virus, as NBC Chicago reported. The vast majority of people at the event—at least 88 percent—were vaccinated. While the case numbers include breakthrough cases (127 of them), festivalgoers who were unvaccinated were four times as likely to be among those cases.

Yes, it’s possible that those people spread the virus to others after the event, and that testing and self-reporting missed some cases; we also still don’t really know how breakthrough infections connect to long COVID. But this news has to be taken as good, because the numbers from Lollapalooza seem to confirm that the delta variant is not a fundamentally different virus from the one we’ve been enduring since last spring.

‘Light at the end of the tunnel’: New Zealand welcomes border reopening plans

New Zealand’s much-awaited, albeit cautious, roadmap for reopening its borders has given businesses and families a taste of hope for the future, though health experts warn that it is dependent on improving the country’s vaccination strategy to reach vulnerable communities.

The prime minister Jacinda Ardern laid out the reopening plans at a forum in Wellington on Thursday, 17 months after borders closed in March 2020.

Ardern indicated that, all going well, vaccinated travellers from low-risk countries will be allowed to skip quarantine and enter the country early next year. Travellers from medium-risk countries would undertake some form of self-isolation or a shorter stay in a quarantine hotel, while MIQ would still be required for those coming from high-risk countries, or those who are unvaccinated.

The proposals are contingent on an accelerated vaccine rollout in the next few months as the country seeks to avoid the lockdowns that are currently taking place in Australia.

Business leader and former chief executive of Air New Zealand Rob Fyfe said he felt encouraged that the strategy was “a clear signal of intent to open up”.


UK – France moves to amber list and green list expands


Fully-vaccinated passengers returning to England, Scotland and Northern Ireland from France will no longer need to quarantine after Sunday.

Under widespread changes to the traffic light system for travel, France is being moved from amber-plus to amber.

It was added to the list last month amid concerns about the Covid Beta variant, which scientists believe may be more resistant to vaccines.

However the travel industry says the government has not gone far enough.

Germany, Austria and Norway are among seven nations being added to the green list as part of the changes.

Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have been moved from the red list to the amber list. But Mexico is among four countries now considered to be among the highest risk destinations going on to the red list.

The changes from 04:00 BST on 8 August raise the total number of countries or territories on the green list – where all travellers can return from without having to quarantine – from 29 to 36.

Covid in Scotland: Most restrictions to end from 9 August


Almost all of Scotland’s remaining Covid-19 restrictions are to end from 9 August, Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed.

Social distancing will be dropped in most settings, meaning more capacity in pubs and restaurants and larger crowds at sporting events and concerts.

And close contacts of those who test positive for Covid will no longer have to self-isolate – as long as they are fully vaccinated and test negative.

However, the wearing of face coverings in some public spaces will continue.

The first minister also said a “gradual approach” will be taken to returning workers to offices, warning that the virus still poses “real challenges”.

While the changes would restore a “substantial degree of normality”, she said they do not “signal the end of the pandemic or a return to life exactly as we knew it”.

She said: “Declaring freedom from or victory over this virus is in my view premature.”

The number of new Covid-19 cases has fallen markedly from the peak of the “third wave”, with Ms Sturgeon saying the infection rate had fallen by two-thirds since early July.

The percentage of tests coming back positive has also fallen, as has the number of patients being admitted to hospital and intensive care wards with the virus.

The first minister said uptake of the Covid-19 vaccine had been “exceptional”, and that this – along with the fall in cases – made it possible to lift most of the legal restrictions still in force.

From Monday, 9 August, the current limits on the number of people who can meet up will be dropped, as will social distancing rules in most settings.

Covid pandemic in UK ‘could largely be over by October,’ says Professor Neil Ferguson


The Covid-19 pandemic in Britain will largely be over within three months, a leading epidemiologist predicted on Tuesday.

Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London, believes cases are now “plateauing”. He is still urging “caution” as there could be a new peak after lockdown laws were scrapped last Monday.

But he stressed vaccines had “fundamentally changed” the equation in combating the disease.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The effect of vaccines has been huge in reducing the risk of hospitalisation and death and I’m positive that by late September, October time we will be looking back at most of the pandemic.

“We will still have Covid with us, we will still have people dying from Covid but we will (have) put the bulk of the pandemic behind us.”

New York City announces ticker tape parade for Covid-19 pandemic heroes


New York City will hold a ticker tape parade to celebrate the health care staff, first-responders and other essential workers who got the city through the Covid-19 pandemic, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday.

The event will be the first official parade hosted in the city since the pandemic began early last year.

The parade will be held July 7 on the Canyon of Heroes parade route in downtown Manhattan and will include groups of essential workers marching and standing on floats.

The mayor said the event is meant to celebrate “the people who kept us alive, the people who kept this city going — no matter what.”

It will be “a day to celebrate and appreciate the heroes who often go unsung,” de Blasio said, calling it “a parade you will remember for the rest of your life.”

The announcement comes as the city has a Covid-19 positivity rate of just 0.59% — setting a new record for the city’s lowest rate since tracking that statistic, de Blasio said. Now, about 65% of adults have had at least one Covid-19 vaccine, and the average daily deaths is in the single digits.