Australia

Regional News • Europe • Italy
Italy 'blocks' AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine shipment to Australia
Italy 'blocks' AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine shipment to Australia
Credit: Gencat (Creative Commons CC0 Waiver)

The Italian government has decided to block the export of a 250,000 doses shipment of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine produced in Italy to Australia.

Italy is the first European Union country to use the bloc's new regulations allowing exports to be stopped if the company providing the vaccines has failed to meet its obligations to the EU.

Italy's new Prime Minister Mario Draghi, an influential figure in Europe as the former president of the European Central Bank, argued in a videoconference with EU leaders that the rules should be applied rigorously, furious at reductions by AstraZeneca of up to 70% in the doses it was contracted to provide.

Sports
The city of Brisbane was chosen as 'preferred partner' to host the 2032 Olympic Games
Brisbane
Brisbane Credit: Sean Chin (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0)

Australia has taken a considerable step towards hosting their third Olympics after Brisbane was named as the International Olympic Committee’s “preferred partner” to begin talks over hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2032.

Following the recommendation by its Future Host Commission, the IOC will start a targeted dialogue with the Brisbane 2032 Committee and the Australian Olympic Committee to discuss the city's potential to host the Olympic Games 2032.

Under the IOC’s revamped selection process, it is seen as the first major step towards the bid being rubber-stamped as Brisbane seeks to follow in the footsteps of Melbourne and Sydney in becoming an Olympic host city.

Technology • Internet & Web
Australia passes new law requiring Facebook and Google to pay for news
Australia passes new law requiring Facebook and Google to pay for news
Credit: unsplash.com/Obi Onyeador

Australia's government has passed a new law that will require tech giants such as Facebook and Google to pay publishers for using their news content. Market regulator Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) publishers have had little negotiating power until now because they are so reliant on tech monopolies like Google and Facebook.

Business • Health Care
New Covid-19 mutation in California worries researchers
New Covid-19 mutation in California worries researchers
Credit: Ashley Winkler for Pendect

A corona mutation is circulating in California and other U.S. states that could be more contagious and dangerous. The data situation is still unclear, but some things seem worrying.

Now another mutation has emerged in California, it has already spread to other U.S. states and has also been detected in countries such as Australia, Denmark and Mexico. It was first discovered in December, reports the journal Science. Investigations suggest that this variant of Sars-CoV-2 could not only be more contagious but probably also takes more violent courses. According to this, intensive medical care and deaths occur more frequently - however, the data situation here is still very thin.

The researchers call the variants B.1.427 and B.1.429 - it occurs with slightly different mutations. Under a different naming scheme, it is also known as 20C/L452R.

B.1.427 / B.1.429 carries several mutations, but three seem to be particularly relevant. They affect the spike protein that the virus uses to dock with human cells. Mutation L452R, in particular, appears to increase infectivity. It apparently stabilizes the interaction between the spike protein and the receptor used by the virus. None of the three spike mutations are found in the virus variants from Great Britain, South Africa and Brazil.

Transportation • Air Transportation & Traffic, Flying
Air New Zealand to trial digital Covid vaccination passport on Auckland-Sydney flights
Air New Zealand plane
Air New Zealand plane Credit: Air New Zealand (Twitter Reproduction)

Travel pass – a Covid-19 vaccination passport app developed by the International Air Transport Association – will be tested on Air New Zealand flights between Auckland and Sydney from April on “to streamline the health verification process to help customers know what they need to take their next international trip safely”.

Technology • Internet & Web
Facebook reverses ban on news pages in Australia
Josh Frydenberg
Josh Frydenberg Credit: julian meehan (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0)

Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and communications minister Paul Fletcher announced on Tuesday a compromise had been reached as the legislation that would force Facebook and Google to pay news publishers for content was being debated in the Senate. Frydenberg said Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg had told him the ban would end "in the coming days" after the pair talked.

Australian authorities will introduce four further amendments, including one that means the government may not apply the code to Facebook if it can demonstrate a "significant contribution" to local journalism.

The proposed law was also seen by some as heavily influenced by the lobbying operations of media mogul Rupert Murdoch's News Corp - which owns many of Australia's major newspapers.

Technology • Internet & Web
Australian government pulls health ads from Facebook after news ban
Facebook logo
Facebook logo Credit: Illustration: Pendect, Ashley Winkler – Logo via Facebook (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 4.0)

The Australian government in Canberra announced on Sunday that it will no longer run ads on Facebook. The announcement came at the launch of Australia's vaccination campaign against the coronavirus. Health Minister Greg Hunt said the government would advertise vaccinations on the internet, just not on Facebook.

The dispute is triggered by a planned law to regulate the digital news market. The bill had been passed by the Australian lower house last week. The Senate is scheduled to vote on it by the end of this week.

Sports
Novak Djokovic wins his ninth Australian Open
Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic Credit: Australian Open (Twitter Reproduction)

The Serbian Novak Djokovic won his ninth Australia Open after a 7-5 6-2 6-2 win over Daniil Medvedev in less than two hours Sunday at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne.

Djokovic celebrated his 18th Grand Slam title, leaving him two behind Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal's record total of 20 Slam victories.

Technology • Internet & Web
Canada aims to introduce legislation forcing platforms to pay for news content
Canada aims to introduce legislation forcing platforms to pay for news content
Credit: unsplash.com / Solen Feyissa

Facebook is coming under increasing pressure over its dispute with the Australian government. Canada announced similar action against the platform as Australia. Canadian Culture Minister Steven Guilbeault sharply criticized Facebook and stressed that his country will not be brought to its knees. The occasion is the company's decision to block all news content in Australia

Sports
Naomi Osaka beats Jennifer Brady to win the Australian Open
Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka Credit: Twitter Reproduction

Japan's Naomi Osaka cemented her place as the outstanding star of the women's game by beating American Jennifer Brady 6-4, 6-3 in 77 minutes. The Australian Open was her fourth Grand Slam title.

"I have this mentality that people don't remember the runners-up," Osaka said. "You might, but the winner's name is the one that's engraved.

Technology • Internet & Web
Australian ministers say Facebook's news ban is "an assault" on democracy
Australian ministers say Facebook's news ban is "an assault" on democracy
Credit: unsplash.com/Brett Jordan

After Facebook blocked Australian users from accessing and sharing news on its platform, the Australian government heavily criticised the move, calling "an assault" to democracy while still moving forward in passing a law that would force Big Tech giants to pay for news.

“Facebook’s actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison wrote on Facebook. “They may be changing the world, but that doesn’t mean they run it.”

Technology • Internet & Web
Facebook blocks Australian users from finding or sharing news in response to law that would force platforms to pay news publishers
Facebook blocks Australian users from finding or sharing news in response to law that would force platforms to pay news publishers
Credit: unsplash.com / William Iven

On Wednesday, Facebook announced users in Australian will no longer be able to find nor share news from neither local or international sources as a response to a proposed Australian legislation that would force platforms to pay publishers for news content.

William Easton, the managing director of Facebook Australia & New Zealand, wrote in a blog post that the "proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content."

“It has left us facing a stark choice: attempt to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship, or stop allowing news content on our services in Australia. With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter,” he added.

Technology • Internet & Web
Google to pay UK publishers for news
Google logo
Google logo Credit: Rajeshwar Bachu

Google has launched Google News Showcase in the UK and Argentina, offering selected paywall content to users for free. News Showcase is already available in Germany, Brazil and, as of last week, Australia. Sundar Pichai, Google CEO, said the program would help the company pay $1 billion to publishers over the next three years.

Regional News • World
New Zealand responded to Covid-19 the best, Brazil the worst – study
New Zealand responded to Covid-19 the best, Brazil the worst – study
Credit: Illustration by Ashley Winkler for Pendect (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 4.0)

Sydney's Lowy Institute assessed the Covid-19 response of 98 countries on six different criteria – including cases, deaths and testing – and ranked New Zealand's response to the virus the best. The other countries that made the top 10 are Vietnam, Taiwan, Thailand, Cyprus, Rwanda, Iceland, Australia, Latvia and Sri Lanka. The United States, Mexico, Colombia and Iran and Brazil were in the bottom five, with Brazil being ranked at the bottom.

Law
Tse Chi Lop, the alleged Chinese-Canadian drug kingpin, is arrested in Amsterdam

One of the world's most-wanted fugitives, the 56-year old billionaire Tse Chi Lop, was arrested at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, police announced on Saturday. Tse Chi Lop is the alleged leader of a vast Asian drug syndicate responsible for up to 70% of all narcotics entering Australia.

He was arrested at the request of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) without incident during a stop-over on a flight from Taiwan to Canada.

Regional News • Oceania
Google threatens to shut down search in Australia if digital news code goes ahead
Google logo
Google logo Credit: Google

Google has threatened to remove its search engine from Australia and Facebook has threatened to remove news from its feed for all Australian users if a code forcing the companies to negotiate payments to news media companies goes ahead.

The move would mean the 19 million Australians Google users would no longer be able to use Google Search.

At a Senate hearing in Canberra on Friday, Google Australia Managing Director Mel Silva said the draft legislation "remains unworkable," and would be "breaking" the way millions of users searched for content online.

Regional News • Oceania
Australia unlikely to fully reopen border in 2021
Australia unlikely to fully reopen border in 2021
Credit: Michael Coghlan from Adelaide, Australia, via Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0)

The Australian government's chief medical adviser, Brendan Murphy, has told ABC TV that lifting substantial border restrictions is not expected in 2021, despite an early start to the vaccination campaign. Australia's borders have been closed to travellers since March 2020 to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

"I think that we'll go most of this year with still substantial border restrictions – even if we have a lot of the population vaccinated, we don't know whether that will prevent transmission of the virus," Professor Murphy said.

"And it's likely that quarantine will continue for some time. One of the things about this virus is that the rule book has been made up as we go."

Sports
Andy Murray could miss Australian Open after positive Covid-19 test
Andy Murray could miss Australian Open after positive Covid-19 test
Credit: Courtesy of Twitter / Andy Murray

Andy Murray has tested positive for coronavirus before his flight to Melbourne to complete in the Australian Open. Murray is in good health, isolating at home and still hopeful of travelling to Australia.

Regional News • Oceania
2 cases of new UK Covid-19 strain detected in Australia
2 cases of new UK Covid-19 strain detected in Australia
Credit: unsplash/Fusion Medical Animation

Two travellers from the United Kingdom were found to be infected with the newly detected UK Covid-19 strain after arriving in New South Wales, Australia. The two individuals have been placed in hotel quarantine.

Climate & Environment
Report: November 2020 was the hottest on record, by a clear margin
Report: November 2020 was the hottest on record, by a clear margin
Credit: unsplash.com / Eelco Böhtlingk

The surface air temperature in this year's November was higher than any year before on record.

The temperature anomaly was the highest in much of Siberia, the Arctic Ocean and bordering coastal seas, extending into western and northern Alaska, the far north-west of Canada, the Tibetan Plateau and East Antarctica. Temperature records were also broken in parts of Europe and heatwaves were experienced in parts of Australia.

The average temperature from December 2019 to November 2020 is almost 1.3°C above the pre-industrial level defined in the IPCC Special Report on “Global Warming of 1.5°C”.