“trends Are Heading, Generally Speaking, In The Right Direction,” The Covid-19 Response Minister, Chris Hipkins, Said.

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New Zealand’s Covid-19 response minister, Chris Hipkins The low case numbers will be welcome news for the country, which is attempting to wipe out the virus and continue its elimination strategy. New Zealand health officials are particularly attuned to “mystery cases” – those that cannot be linked to existing infections – as these could signal that the virus is spreading undetected through the community. Wednesday’s release of numbers had no mystery cases. “Trends are heading, generally speaking, in the right direction,” the Covid-19 response minister, Chris Hipkins, said. “But you never say never because things can change – they can change quite quickly.” Hipkins announced on Wednesday that the managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) system would be reopened for bookings after it was paused early on in New Zealand’s Delta outbreak. All those re-entering the country must book a place in MIQ and spend 14 days in a government-run quarantine facility. But spots in the facilities are limited and often booked out months in advance. New Zealanders stranded overseas report spending weeks unsuccessfully refreshing the site searching for a spot, and say the difficulty of getting home has taken a financial, emotional and psychological toll. The government said on Wednesday that bookings would restart on Monday, with the release of 3,000 rooms.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/sep/15/new-zealand-covid-reopens-miq-quarantine-border-bookings-new-cases-drop

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Illustration by Elia Barbieri For one thing, in a democracy people have a right to know on what basis decisions are being made: scientific advice can’t happen behind closed doors. After the shambolic BSE crisis of the 1990s, when the minister of agriculture, John Gummer, asserted without scientific justification that British beef was safe to eat (and tried to enlist his reluctant daughter to prove it), a public inquiry concluded that it is vital that science advice to government be transparent and open, and that scientific advisers be able to communicate directly with the public so that people could assess whether what ministers claimed was true. That right was vigorously asserted by Sir David King when he advised the Blair government on the foot-and-mouth epidemic and on nuclear power. It was a perceived initial lack of transparency in the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) at the start of the Covid crisis that led King to establish Independent Sage as an alternative, public-facing source of expert advice. The pandemic has also highlighted the tightrope that chief scientific officers such as Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance must walk. As civil servants, they are duty bound to support the government, and their careful chaperoning by ministers at press briefings led to questions about their independence. When government policy began to diverge markedly from scientific advice during the second wave, the tension was palpable. If a chief medical officer believes that a government policy poses a public health hazard or is downplaying dangers, then where should their allegiance lie? There is now a strong case for reconsidering the constraints placed on scientific advisers: the top/tap dichotomy fails to acknowledge their broader responsibilities, especially in the face of irresponsible or incompetent governance. And while the idea that they refrain from explicit policy recommendations (which include value judgments) makes sense in normal times, Jonathan Birch of the London School of Economics has proposed that a mode of “normatively heavy” advice that does include such recommendations – perhaps unconditionally (“Do this”) – is warranted in crisis situations. “Different norms apply to scientific advisers in extremis,” he argues.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2021/sep/27/should-scientists-run-the-country

Australia is grappling with a third wave of infections from the highly infectious Delta variant that has led to lockdowns in its two largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, and the capital, Canberra, affecting nearly half the country's 25 million people. These tough curbs and a decision to shut construction sites for two weeks over the rapid spread of the virus among workers triggered anti-lockdown protests in Melbourne, Australia's second-largest city, during the week. read more Police arrested more than 200 on Friday for theft, drug offences and breaching stay-at-home orders, authorities said, as small groups of protesters gathered throughout the afternoon at various locations. As most of Australia's southeast remains under strict stay-at-home restrictions, virus-free Western Australia is gearing up to host the Australian Rules Football Grand Final for the first time, in front of 60,000 fans at Perth Stadium on Saturday. Melbourne, which had hosted every Grand Final since 1898, was the sport's spiritual home until the pandemic forced a shift to Brisbane last year. Victoria on Friday reported one new death and 733 new infections, its second biggest daily rise in the pandemic, down from the record high of 766 on Thursday. Most cases were detected in Melbourne. Both New South Wales (NSW) and Victorian leaders have pledged more freedom to residents once full vaccinations in people older than 16 reach 70%, expected next month. So far, 57% have been fully vaccinated in NSW, above the national average of 50.1%.

https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/melbourne-cases-linger-near-record-levels-australia-hits-vaccine-milestone-2021-09-24/