OMICRON AND ON
The wait time for your booster may be about to get shorter — again. Originally we had to wait six months after our second shot to get our booster, but that was reduced to five months a couple weeks ago. Now, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet wants it to be four months, The Australian ($) reports, and the federal government says they’re waiting to hear what the ATAGI thinks. Britain has actually reduced their wait time even further — to three months, the AFR adds.
But AMA president Omar Khorshid says a shorter timeframe won’t make a difference unless we create more places to get jabbed — so Prime Minister Scott Morrison will reportedly today urge his state and territory counterparts to reopen more than 200 vaccine clinics that have closed in the last six weeks. Health Minister Greg Hunt says there are 5 million boosters waiting to go into arms at GPs, pharmacies and clinics — appointments can be found on booking websites like COVID-19 Near Me and the government’s Vaccine Clinic Finder, The New Daily adds, but some are finding it hard to nab an appointment.
Boosters alone can’t stop Omicron though, according to new Doherty Institute modelling reported by the SMH — without low to medium restrictions we could see 200,000 cases a day in late January and early February — yikes. The ACT mandated masks again yesterday, as The Daily Mail reports, but Morrison is holding steady on “common sense” when it comes to mask-wearing rules. Over in the US, where they’re seeing an average of 146,000 cases a day, “all of us have a date with Omicron,” Johns Hopkins Centre for Health Security’s Amesh Adalja says (can’t we just be distant acquaintances instead?). He says the very best way to encounter the strain is to be “fully vaccinated”, as ABC reports, which, over there, means having had all three shots.
Liberal MP Andrew Laming is being taken to court by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), SBS reports. In the run-up to the 2019 election, Laming allegedly posted five times on Facebook via a page called “Redland Hospital: Let’s fight for fair funding”. But the rules state that politicians have to authorise stuff that could sway voters during an election — you know that super-fast line at the end of TV ads that goes something like “Authorised-by-Joe-Bloggs-Member-for…”. The law didn’t always apply to social media posts, but the rules tightened in 2016. Laming apologised and said he hoped they’d sort it out without litigation. Guardian Australia adds that they discovered Laming was operating 35 Facebook groups back in April — one for each suburb in his Bowman electorate.
Also in some hot water is South Australian independent Troy Bell, who has been charged with 52 offences after an ICAC investigation, The Advertiser ($) reports. The offences related to the state MP’s accommodation allowance — Bell’s actually already repaid $42,000 claimed since 2014 out of “an abundance of caution”, ABC continues. But he says he’s going to take his appeal to the High Court, and questioned the timing of the new charges ahead of the state 2022 election. If his name is ringing a bell (mind the pun), it could be because the former state Liberal resigned in 2017 following an unrelated theft case, as The Canberra Times ($) reports.
WATCH THIS SPACE
We could be about to see back in time all the way to the Big Bang, The New York Times reports. The James Webb Space Telescope will launch on Friday, unfurling on the way up like some sort of $10 billion reverse origami — and with 344 things that could go wrong, it’s more complicated than anything ever attempted in space. So how the heck is it going to show us our origins? Well, our universe is expanding, and the first stars and galaxies are hurtling away from us — but like an ambulance siren sounding lower and lower as it drives away from us, the blue light of those early galaxies is getting longer and redder. This telescope will, for the first time, look at that infrared light, as Slate explains. It means we’ll be able to see, for the first time, these very early galaxies, some of which were formed 13 billion years ago. Fascinating stuff.
In only slightly less important news, a bunch of high school kids are sending yoghurt to space, Guardian Australia reports. Deconstructed yoghurt, that is — the kids want to perfect the conditions that astronauts would need to make their own batch of the creamy stuff, so they’re sending frozen milk and “good bacteria” to the International Space Station via a SpaceX rocket launched from Florida. The idea is to see what type of yoghurt is produced when using either soy or cow’s milk, and whether it takes one, two, or three days — they’ll find out when samples return in a month and a half. Bless.
It comes as China has launched 50 satellite deployments this year, up from 35 last year, The Australian ($) reports. Australian space industry firm LeoLabs’s Terry van Haren says the US hasn’t launched more than 50 since the Cold War, and reckons about 70-80% of Chinese satellites were either military or dual-use.
ON A LIGHTER NOTE
Like it or loathe it, it’s well and truly panettone season. The fruity loaf is actually Italy’s national Christmas cake, and the country chomps through a whopping 9.5 million of them every year. But a panettone is actually notoriously tricky to make. It takes 72 hours, The New York Times explains, with several precise stages of kneading and leavenings in order. Once it bakes, it’s hung upside down like a sleeping bat to make sure its voluptuous muffin top stays round. In the last few years, as Broadsheet tells it, Aussie bakers have been putting their own twist on the polarising sweet loaf — we’re seeing sourdough-panettone love affairs, and even a croissant-panettone diplomatic crossover (and check out Nigel Slater’s citrus hack). “I think panettone is an art form,” declares Boris Portnoy from Melbourne’s All Are Welcome bakery.
So when the panettone from Giotto, a bakery outside Padua in Italy, was crowned one of the 10 best in the whole country, the bakers were chuffed. Particularly as this panettone is made in prison. A crew of inmates wake up at 4am six days a week to bake goodies for local pastry shops and hotels, under the watchful direction of professional pastry chefs. It’s a tough gig to score — but once the inmates are cleared to work, they can make up to $1600 a month. And it’s paying in more ways than one — an inmate’s chance of reoffending drops from 70% to 5% if they work, the paper continues. Plus, one of the supervising chefs says, it changes the guys. An inmate become “passionate”, he says, and through getting “a sense of responsibility for what he is doing, begins to trust himself and others again”.
Wishing you a little passion in your Wednesday, too.
But for the most part, across all of our 260 sites, we’re getting through [tests] in 40 minutes on average, and we have expanded sites where we’ve got particular gaps in the southeast.
Put aside a chunk of time if you’re seeking a COVID test in Victoria, according to the acting premier. Merlino asked for people’s patience and acknowledged the inconvenience of the lengthy wait times. Indeed 15 testing sites temporarily closed yesterday at 9am because they were at capacity, like Bourke Street’s walk-in clinic and Albert Park’s drive-through, but Melburnians can head along to the Town Hall where there’s a pop-up testing site until the end of January.
“What is evident, however, is that personal responsibility, or even a reversion to mask mandates and gathering restrictions, isn’t sustainable without the continued efficacy of vaccines. Evidence from the UK is that booster vaccinations more than halve the already much lower rate of symptoms among those with a double vaccination.
“In the UK you only have to wait three months for a booster and can book one as soon as two months after your second dose. In Australia we’re still forcing people to wait five months.”
“But what remains muddy is the long-term effects, known as long COVID. Before vaccines were readily available, many abroad complained of fatigue and body aches, depression and loss of taste for months after recovering.
“Up to 20,000 Australians may have already developed long COVID. Some could suffer symptoms for a year — although the impact vaccines will have is still not known.”
“The governing rules are drafted lazily and enforced barely at all, but this much is explicitly clear: it is illegal to use a staff member employed under the MOPS Act for party political purposes.
“It is patently bullshit to suggest, as the Department of Finance does, that installing an MP’s taxpayer-funded staff member at party HQ could serve any purpose that isn’t party-political.”
READ ALL ABOUT IT
Libya electoral commission dissolves poll committees (Al Jazeera)
Ghislaine Maxwell’s fate in hands of jury as deliberations begin (The New York Times)
Turkey rolls out economic rescue plan, reversing lira spiral (The Wall Street Journal)
Coalition has no plan to help the low-wage battlers — Jim Chalmers (The Australian) ($): “Flogging off ‘Back in Black’ mugs then delivering more consecutive deficits than any government in a hundred years is testament to that. The economy would be stronger were it not for the mistakes made on vaccines and quarantine. The budget would be stronger were it not weighed down with tens of billions of dollars in rorts and waste, and there’d be more room to fund essential services such as Medicare and the NDIS.
“The time for taking lectures from Liberals and Nationals on responsible economic management is well and truly over. Now Morrison and Frydenberg say they’ll fix the budget but they won’t say where the cuts are coming from until after the election. When our economy needs a comprehensive strategy for the recovery, we get instead a two-part plan for secret slush funds this term, and secret cuts next. No wonder so many Australians finish the year asking, ‘Is this really the best we can do?’ They understand we can’t risk another three years like the past eight.”
Why has no person of colour ever served on the High Court? — Andrew Leigh (The AFR): “In 120 years, no judge of colour has ever been appointed to the High Court of Australia. Asian Australians comprise 10% of the Australian population. Yet across all courts, the Asian Australian Lawyers Association estimates that only 1% of Australian judges are Asian-Australian.
When it comes to gender, the figures aren’t much better. Across federal and state courts, only 39% of judges are women. This is despite the fact that women comprise a majority of lawyers, and a majority of the population as a whole. The share of Australians with a non-Anglo background is high and rising. Yet if you go into any courtroom in the country, it’s most likely that you’ll see a white bloke on the bench … Since the Coalition won office in 2013, it has appointed five High Court justices. All are white. Three are men. Two are the children or spouses of previously Coalition-appointed High Court justices.”
HOLD THE FRONT PAGE
WHAT’S ON TODAY
Kombumerri Country (also known as the Gold Coast)
Eora Nation Country (also known as Sydney)
Minister for Emergency Management Bridget McKenzie, and representatives from Emergency Management Australia and the Department of Home Affairs, will be at the RAAF Base in Richmond to welcome the new B737 Large Air Tanker.
Biomedical engineer Kat Usop will host a AI and Gamification seminar that will explain what machine learning can do in business, held online.