Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Friday it has terminated its $ 1 billion deal for the vaccine candidate being developed by the University of Queensland (UQ) and global biotech company CSL because trial participants were returning false-positive HIV test results.
There were fears these results could undermine confidence in other vaccine candidates, so the decision was made not to go forward with the next phase of trials.
Professor Paul Young, head of the UQ’s vaccine team, said they were “devastated” by the outcome.
As the vaccine’s molecular clamp technology uses two fragments of a protein found in HIV, researchers anticipated that this kind of reaction may be seen in some of the volunteers but not on this scale.
“But we weren’t expecting that all of the [trial participants] would respond with this low-level antibody that was picked up in the tests,” he said.
“That was the unexpected finding.”
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Almost 40,000 Australians stuck overseas have had their hopes dashed of returning home in time for Christmas, with photos of near-empty planes adding insult to injury to those desperate to come home.
Sydney man Albion Haxhnikaj has been stranded in Turkey trying to get a flight home for three months.
When he finally managed to secure a spot on a Qatar Airlines flight last week he was horrified to see the plane was almost completely empty.
“Yeah look it did make me angry,” Mr Haxhnikaj told 7NEWS.
“I asked myself, why is it so hard to come back home?”
Picture: Albion Haxhnikaj/Facebook
Strict international flight caps set by the Australian government mean there are about 30,000 empty plane seats each week.
Any Aussies wanting to be home in time for Christmas had to arrive in Australia by December 11 to allow them enough time to finish their mandatory two week quarantine and be out by Christmas day.
In September Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was keen to get an many Australians home as possible by Christmas and has insisted the government was making “good progress” on its commitments.
Since September the number of stranded Aussies has increased from 24,000 and is now edging closer to 40,000.
Mr Haxhnikaj wasn’t the only returning traveler that has been shocked by the empty plane seats.
Multiple travellers have shared pictures and videos of rows of vacant seats, questioning why such strict international caps are still in place.
Appalling Aus politics #auspol, we already have quarantine as a safe guard…why continue this misery for thousands trying to shelter at home during a global pandemic and second EU wave @GregHuntMP @M_McCormackMP @MarisePayne @Birmo @SenatorWong @AlboMP @BringThemHome6 @KKeneally https://t.co/TLK4N57gf6
— Deric Samji (@deric_samji) November 24, 2020
Flying to Australia during Covid and the government flight caps. An empty plane. 26 people on board. @7NewsAustralia @7NewsSydney@theprojecttv @abcnews @Channel10AU @CBSNews @SkyNewsAust @ScottMorrisonMP @KKeneally @SenatorWong #StrandedAussies #BringThemHome #RemoveTheCaps pic.twitter.com/BFqmHUTC6K
— Tijana Petrovic (@tptrvc) December 1, 2020
I’m so grateful that Qatar got me back to Sydney, but honestly Australia needs to sort the caps out as the flight was next to empty. It breaks my heart that there are so many Aussies trying to get home & all these empty seats #strandedAussies #RemoveTheCaps pic.twitter.com/1LF4C7Guuv
— Emily Swales (@e_swales) November 23, 2020
Flight from Singapore to Sydney last night …. just shows this issue is government caps on arrivals . We have loads of hotel space and empty flights. PM, you promised to get #strandedAussies back by Xmas. #ScottyFromPhotoOps #auspol #removethecaps #7NEWS #9News pic.twitter.com/jNOfHrILVW
— Jimbo Jones (@james14132888) December 9, 2020
New South Wales has recorded six new cases of COVID-19 but all are in hotel quarantine.
There were no new locally acquired cases reported to 8pm on Friday, NSW Health said in its update on Saturday.
There were 10,214 tests conducted in the 24-hour period.
NSW recorded no new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 in the 24 hours to 8pm last night.
Six cases were reported in overseas travellers. This brings the total number of cases in NSW since the start of the pandemic to 4,450. pic.twitter.com/afFMQ2FzX2
— NSW Health (@NSWHealth) December 12, 2020
“Testing numbers are falling again, which is a concern,” the health department said.
“With restrictions eased, borders having reopened and Christmas just two weeks away, it is important that we do not drop our guard against the virus.
“Please come forward for testing immediately even if you have only mild symptoms. Don’t wait until Monday to see if your runny nose or sore throat goes away.”
Victoria’s Deputy Chief Health Officer Professor Ben Cowie has provided an update on the five people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in hotel quarantine.
“We’re now six days into the return of international flights to Melbourne and the resumption of mandatory quarantine in Victoria,” he told reporters on Saturday.
“I understand that as of 11pm last night, we had received a total of 735 people into the program. And of those people, we currently have 680 accommodated in quarantine hotels and 55 people accommodated in the health hotels including the five people who have tested positive for COVID-19.
“So today marks the first time in six weeks that Victoria has recorded active cases of coronavirus.”
Professor Ben Cowie. Picture: Sky News
The previous bungled scheme resulted in an inquiry but the new program started on Monday, December 7.
“We’re specifically geared up to identify, treat and support return travellers who test positive,” Prof Cowie said.
“It’s what CQV (COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria) have been trained for and are prepared for.”
He said the system was designed on the premise of positive infections and the detection of positive cases demonstrates “it’s working”.
“While, obviously, we’d all prefer that there were no active cases, we’re confident that the changes made to strengthen the program will ensure that we manage this in a way that keeps return travellers, the workers caring for them and the Victorian community as safe as possible,” he said.
Prof Cowie said the five cases are a man aged in his 30s, a man in his 50s, a woman in her 20s, a woman in her 30s and a woman in her 50s.
“All are being cared for in the health hotel and will remain there until they have been cleared both from a clinical perspective, for their own welfare, and from a public health perspective, when they no longer present any risk of transmission of COVID-19 to the community,” he said.
“Further to that, deep cleaning of their former quarantine hotel rooms as appropriate is underway.”
Asked how many of the five had to be moved to a health hotel, Prof Cowie said “some” had originally been in quarantine hotels “and subsequently transferred when they tested positive for COVID-19”.
Victoria has recorded five new cases of coronavirus, the first in more than 40 days since the virus was contained.
The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services announced the five cases, all acquired from overseas, are now in hotel quarantine, which resumed earlier this week.
The 5 active cases are those that are internationally acquired and in quarantine.
— VicGovDHHS (@VicGovDHHS) December 11, 2020
Five of Australia’s former prime ministers have pledged to get the COVID-19 vaccine when it is available and approved for use in Australia.
The Daily Telegraph reports Malcolm Turnbull, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott and John Howard, the oldest at 81, are all on board.
The news comes after the University of Queensland and global biotech company CSL abandoned its vaccine candidate clinical trials due to false-positive HIV test results.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday announced the Federal Government had secured an additional 20 million doses of the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine, bringing the total to 52.8 million, and another 11 million of the Novavax vaccine, bringing that total to 51 million.
“As part of our strategy, it means that we’ve been able to reposition and redeploy both our resources and our capability to deliver these vaccines,” Mr Morrison said.
“The AstraZeneca vaccine, of course, is manufactured here in Melbourne by CSL.”
Anyone in the Batemans Bay area on the New South Wales south coast is urged to get tested for COVID-19 if they have symptoms after fragments of the coronavirus were detected at the sewage treatment plant.
“The presence of SARS-CoV-2 in sewage may reflect the presence of people who have recovered from COVID-19 such as people released from hotel isolation returning to their place of residence,” NSW Health said on Friday.
“However, NSW Health is concerned there could be other active cases in the local community in people who have not been tested and who might incorrectly assume their symptoms are just a cold.”
People in the Batemans Bay area are being urged to come forward for testing if they have any COVID-19 symptoms after fragments of the virus that causes COVID-19 were detected in samples from the sewerage system that serves Batemans Bay. Read more: https://t.co/aDzUGtXY4K pic.twitter.com/rQr3MBsmSW
— NSW Health (@NSWHealth) December 11, 2020
The United States land borders with Canada and Mexico will stay closed until at least January 21 – the day after Joe Biden’s inauguration as President.
Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf has confirmed the extension of restrictions on non-essential travel.
In order to continue to prevent the spread of COVID, the US, Mexico, & Canada will extend the restrictions on non-essential travel through Jan. 21. We are working closely with Mexico & Canada to keep essential trade & travel open while also protecting our citizens from the virus.
— Acting Secretary Chad Wolf (@DHS_Wolf) December 11, 2020
In Canada, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair said the decisions “continue to be based on the best public health advice available to keep Canadians safe.
We are extending non-essential travel restrictions with the United States until January 21st, 2021. Our decisions will continue to be based on the best public health advice available to keep Canadians safe.
— Bill Blair (@BillBlair) December 11, 2020
Inauguration Day is January 20, 2021.
US President Donald Trump has expressed frustration at the time it’s taking America’s Food and Drug Administration to issue an emergency use authorisation for the coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer.
Last night, after a day-long hearing, an FDA advisory committee voted to recommend the vaccine’s approval.
FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn released a statement promising the organisation would move “rapidly” to finalise an official authorisation.
It hasn’t been rapid enough to satisfy Mr Trump.
The President went after Dr Hahn on Twitter today, calling the FDA a “big, old, slow turtle” and ordering its head to “get the dam (sic) vaccines out now”.
“Stop playing games and start saving lives!!!” he said.
Anton Nilsson, NCA NewsWire
The NSW pandemic initiative that would give each resident $ 100 to spend on food and entertainment has been delayed for an important reason.
A trial version of the program was set to begin this week but has instead been postponed.
The decision to push back the trial of the “dine and discover” program until early next year was made after businesses that were to partake in the scheme asked for a delay.
Restaurants in The Rocks, a central Sydney neighbourhood where 500 residents were supposed to get a sneak-preview of the voucher scheme from last Wednesday, felt that holiday business was going well enough without the voucher scheme.
Many were booked out and asked for it to be rolled out in January instead, when crowds are expected to thin out.
The pilot rollout was supposed to come ahead of the statewide launch of the program in mid-January.
Another trial was planned for the outback town of Broken Hill starting Monday, December 14. That has also been delayed until January.
The state government is hoping to use the pilot phase of the program to iron out any wrinkles before rolling out the voucher giveaway across the state.
Anyone who wants to receive a voucher must register for an account with Service NSW.
The money will come in the form of four $ 25 vouchers, with half the cash earmarked for food and the other half for fun.
Department of Health Secretary and former chief medical officer Brendan Murphy told reporters today that the risks of the University of Queensland’s vaccine became “a bigger problem than anyone had anticipated”.
The decision to abandon UQ’s vaccine trial was made public early this morning, after trial participants returned false positive HIV test results.
Professor Murphy said “no warnings were ignored” about the possibility of false-positives in the trial.
Picture: Gary Ramage/NCANewsWire
“The possibility of false positives was raised by the University of Queensland very early on and was seen as a very, very unlikely possibility because the fragment of the HIV virus molecule was small,” he said.
“It was unfortunately an unexpectedly high rate when the data came in.
“The risks were appropriately taken and unfortunately it just became a bigger problem than anyone had anticipated.”