Morning mail: Omicron wave ‘peaks’, bluebottle armada, Australia’s best tap water

·7 min read
<span>Photograph: Rick Rycroft/AP</span>
Photograph: Rick Rycroft/AP

Good morning. The Omicron outbreak of Covid cases appears to have peaked in New South Wales, Victoria and other parts of Australia, epidemiologists believe. Prof Adrian Esterman, an epidemiologist and biostatistician at the University of South Australia, said the Omicron wave had “absolutely certainly” peaked in NSW and Victoria. But with states recording tens of thousands of new daily cases and hospitals under immense pressure, it remains a long road out of the crisis. National cabinet met on Wednesday to agree on a common approach to school reopening, but states are expected to individually announce their plans in the coming days. Meanwhile, the reopening of Western Australia has been suspended to allow West Australians to get booster shots. And there are warnings that millions of Australians could be left empty-handed when the government’s free rapid test scheme launches on Monday, with pharmacies citing severe supply and cost pressures.

The United States has alleged that Russian intelligence is recruiting current and former Ukrainian government officials to take over the government in Kyiv and cooperate with a Russian occupying force. The US Treasury on Thursday issued sanctions on two Ukrainian members of parliament and two former officials it said were involved in the alleged conspiracy, which involved discrediting the current government of president Volodymyr Zelenskiy. “Russia has directed its intelligence services to recruit current and former Ukrainian government officials to prepare to take over the government of Ukraine and to control Ukraine’s critical infrastructure with an occupying Russian force,” the Treasury statement accompanying the sanctions said. Meanwhile, Kamala Harris has joined in on the White House’s campaign to repair Joe Biden’s flub on Ukraine in his press conference on Wednesday, where he revealed Nato is divided on how to respond to a “minor incursion” from Russia.

Skilled migrants and graduates still trapped by ongoing border restrictions for bridging visa holders have condemned their “brutally unfair” treatment by the Australian government, saying it will drive away workers at a time of dire labour shortages. Travel restrictions remain for those who hold bridging visa B (BVB), which usually allows holders to live in Australia and travel abroad while they await government decisions on more permanent visas. But BVB holders have found themselves stuck in Australia due to a combination of huge blowouts in visa processing times and the border restrictions, which make it near impossible for them to enter the country or to re-enter after leaving.

Australia

Bluebottles covering Curl Curl beach in Sydney.
Bluebottles covering Curl Curl beach in Sydney. Photograph: Jack Reynolds/Getty Images

Armadas of alien-like sea creatures called bluebottles have been washing up on Australian beaches in ‘“gobsmacking numbers”. Jellyfish expert Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin, who shares some fascinating facts about these “really strange alien creatures” says “they’re definitely terrorising us this year.”

Australia’s chief medical officer Prof Paul Kelly has conceded that children returning to school could create an increased risk of Covid transmission to their families, saying there would be “trade-offs” to getting students back in classrooms.

The national aged care regulator has intervened in a south-west Sydney nursing home at the centre of a Covid outbreak after finding it failed to meet quality standards relating to infection control and effective management of the outbreak.

A competition to find Australia’s finest drop of water has announced NSW’s Richmond Valley Council Casino Water Treatment Plant as its winner.

The world

Ivanka Trump in 2020. The select committee chair, Bennie Thompson, said they would be &#x002018;inviting some people to come and talk to us&#x002019;.
Ivanka Trump in 2020. The select committee chair, Bennie Thompson, said they would be ‘inviting some people to come and talk to us’. Photograph: Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

The House select committee investigating the Capitol attack will next ask Ivanka Trump, the daughter of the former president, to cooperate with the inquiry into the 6 January insurrection, the chairman of the panel, Bennie Thompson, said on Thursday.

An initial CIA investigation into the mysterious set of symptoms known as Havana syndrome has found that it is unlikely to be the result of a worldwide campaign of attacks by a foreign power against US diplomats and spies.

The former pope Benedict XVI failed to act against four priests accused of child sexual abuse when he was archbishop of Munich, a German investigation has claimed.

American film-maker Kelly Duda, who revealed how contaminated blood taken from prisoners in Arkansas was sold around the world, faces up to three years in prison in Italy if found guilty. Duda has been put on trial in Italy for “offending the honour or prestige” of an Italian prosecutor, an offence that dates back to Italy’s fascist period.

The billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s brain chip startup is preparing to launch clinical trials in humans that could “enable someone with paralysis to use a smartphone with their mind faster than someone using thumbs,” according to Musk. But Musk has a history of overpromising about the speed of the company’s development.

Recommended reads

Reindeer pulling sleighs in Breivikeidet, Norway.
Reindeer pulling sleighs in Breivikeidet, Norway. As the planet warms, the Arctic is turning greener. Photograph: Morten Falch Sortland/Getty Images

The climate crisis is turning the white desolate landscape of the Arctic green. As the planet warms, the Arctic treeline is accelerating towards the pole, turning the white landscape to green. The trees used to creep forward a few centimetres every year; now they are leaping north at a rate of 40 to 50 metres a year. In northern Norway, the trees that are rapidly taking over the tundra are threatening an ancient way of life that depends on snow and ice.

Don’t listen when people tell you about the noble value of a job, says advice columnist Eleanor Gordon-Smith. “While it’s true that some people find meaning in their career or use it to forge an identity they’re proud of, the fact that’s true for them doesn’t mean it should be for you.” Instead, try to find a way to restore your sense of agency.

Just as people hold on to a wardrobe full of clothes that they haven’t worn in years, we like to keep an idea of ourselves that is from the past. “I was pretending to be a hedonist,” writes Brigid Delaney. “But perhaps it was time to confront the fact that I was actually the opposite and had been for some time.”

Listen

Millions of Australians are heading to the supermarket and facing empty shelves, but it’s not due to a lack of supply.

Senior business reporter Ben Butler speaks to Laura Murphy-Oates about how the Omicron outbreak, and a shift in Australia’s Covid-19 strategy, has resulted in a supply chain crisis.

Full Story is Guardian Australia’s daily news podcast. Subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or any other podcasting app.

Sport

Football cartoonist David Squires’s latest sketch is on the Matildas’ bid for continental supremacy at the Asian Cup. Squires looks forward to the tournament in India but wisely steers clear of the upcoming reunion with former boss Alen Stajcic.

Media roundup

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has given preliminary approval for the Novavax vaccine. The ABC explains why the agency is pursuing a new vaccine even though most Australians are fully vaccinated. More than 4,600 people have been named and shamed in a government list containing the names of people who owe Tasmania millions, the Mercury reports. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that a thousand university students and retired principals have volunteered to step in and keep classrooms open amid teacher shortages when students return to school in NSW.

Coming up

Scott Morrison addresses the World Economic Forum. A media conference will be held after the Australia-United Kingdom ministerial meeting on defence ties and security. And a pre-inquest conference into the death of a refugee who died in Brisbane after collapsing on Manus Island.

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