Morning mail: Sydney awakes to restrictions, vaccines wasted, John McAfee dead

·8 min read
<span>Photograph: David Gray/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: David Gray/Getty Images

Good morning. Infectious disease specialists have called for greater focus on measures to prevent airborne transmission of coronavirus after the NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, announced that “scarily fleeting” encounters had driven the Sydney cluster involving the highly virulent Delta variant of Covid-19. Contacts of five to 10 seconds – instead of 15 minutes previously – are believed sufficient to spread the virus, prompting tens of thousands of people to abandon school holiday trips amid a raft of border closures and new restrictions.

Nurses in Victoria have slammed the wastage of vital Pfizer doses due to problems with the vaccine booking system that have left staff “very frustrated”. The federal government has announced it will shelve the troubled AstraZeneca vaccine by October, announcing its replacement with Moderna and Pfizer shots as it races to meet its pledge that every Australian will have vaccine access before the end of 2021. Berejiklian also indicated a full lockdown could be in store for Sydney, telling parliament her government would “not hesitate to go further and harder”.

The Delta variant is likely to cause 90% of new infections by September, Europe’s top disease agency has warned. The variant, first identified in India, is responsible for 99% of new infections in the UK and has risen this week from 4% to 10% of all cases in France. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has urged faster vaccination campaigns across the continent, where 57% of adults have had at least one dose. Scientists at Oxford are investigating whether the “wonder drug” Ivermectin, now being used in India, Mexico and across South America could become a highly effective shield against the virus.

An exclusive Melbourne private school used jobkeeper payments to top up its scholarship fund and provide fee rebates to parents, Guardian Australia has learned. Wesley College received $18.2m in jobkeeper subsidies, $5m of which was transferred to its scholarship fund, with parents offered a 20% discount on tuition fees. The principal, Nicholas Evans, said the government funds saved hundreds of jobs at the school and had been used to pay staff salaries from April until September 2020. Labor’s Andrew Leigh has condemned private schools using government money to “subsidise” tuition fees.

Australia

Great Barrier Reef
Coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef in 2016. Unesco denies it provided any assurance to Australia about its report before its release. Photograph: WWF Australia/AFP/Getty Images

Labor has asked the environment minister, Sussan Ley, to “explain the basis” of her claims that Unesco bowed to political pressure in listing the Great Barrier Reef as “in danger”, despite eight reports indicating increasing concern about its health.

An emboldened National party is flexing its muscles under Barnaby Joyce, demanding that the Liberals adopt major changes to the Murray-Darling basin plan as the two parties enter negotiations on a new Coalition agreement.

An Australian engineer, detained without charge in Iraq for 77 days, is losing hope he will be released, his wife has told Guardian Australia. Robert Pether faces three years in prison over what appears to be a contractual dispute involving his firm and the Iraqi government.

Ben Roberts-Smith has been accused of writing a threatening letter to a fellow SAS soldier and of setting fire to his own laptop, during the defamation trial involving the Victorian Cross recipient.

The world

Apple Daily newspaper on sale in Hong Kong
Apple Daily on sale in Hong Kong. The tabloid founded by Jimmy Lai had become a thorn in the side of the government and police. Photograph: Jérôme Favre/EPA

Hong Kong’s largest pro-democracy newspaper will print its final edition today in a move that observers say represents the death of press freedom in the territory. Chinese police raided the offices of Apple Daily last week. The EU and UK have heavily criticised the “chilling” move to “silence all opposition voices”.

The antivirus software pioneer John McAfee has been found dead in a Spanish prison hours after a court approved his extradition to the US to face tax evasion charges. The 75-year-old had previously claimed the charges were politically motivated.

UK and Russian defence forces have issued contrasting reports over the alleged firing of warning shots at a UK vessel patrolling near the Crimean peninsula in the Black Sea. A BBC journalist onboard HMS Defender confirmed that Russian military had “harassed” the ship.

The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has cancelled a trip to Munich amid protests from LGBTQ+ activists after Uefa’s decision to block the Euro 2020 host Germany from illuminating a football stadium in rainbow colours, in protest against homophobia under Orbán’s government.

Artificial intelligence has helped restore a Rembrandt masterwork 300 years after the original canvas was “trimmed” to fit between the doors of Amsterdam’s city hall. A contemporary copy of the work, The Night Watch, helped computer algorithms fill in the missing painting segments, pixel by pixel.

Recommended reads

A secondhand bookstore in Melbourne
A collaboration between Australian authors, libraries and researchers called Untapped: The Australian Literary Heritage Project, is working to digitise 200 of Australia’s most important lost books. Photograph: James Braund/Getty Images

Winning literary prizes is no guarantee of immortality. As researchers have found, one-sixth of Miles Franklin award-winning books have disappeared from print completely. But now, as James Shackell writes, a new project is seeking to remedy this. “Untapped is a collaboration between authors, libraries and researchers, and it came about because most of Australia’s literary heritage is out of print,” Rebecca Gitlin explains. And thanks to the initiative, up to 200 of Australia’s most “culturally significant” novels will appear as digitised versions in libraries across the nation this year.

“Winter is always a slower time for job growth.” And while payroll numbers are noticeably better than this time last year, there’s no dodging the fact that the Victorian lockdowns have disproportionately hit the hospitality and recreation sectors, Greg Jericho writes. “These two industries have consistently been the ones most hurt by lockdowns and travel restrictions – and crucially they are industries with high levels of casual and part-time workers.” And once again, it’s the public sector that’s helping create and replace jobs.

“If I were to describe my particular flavour of the 10 funniest things I’ve seen on the internet, the word dumb comes to mind.” This week’s curator Greta Lee Jackson hasn’t gone for highbrow giggles but, if you’ve ever failed to correctly identify common vegetables during potentially awkward supermarket confrontations, this week’s collection might be for you.

Listen

Right to repair. It’s one of the most pernicious concepts of contemporary capitalism but, as in-built obsolescence becomes widespread in industries like the smartphone sector, the Australian government is contemplating regulatory pushback to reduce electronic waste. Josh Taylor explores the issue on this episode of Full Story.

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

Sport

Reds v Blues, Super Rugby
Queensland’s Brandon Paenga-Amosa is tackled by Mark Telea of the Blues in the round four Super Rugby Trans-Tasman match at Suncorp Stadium. Photograph: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

To play or not to play? That’s the question facing Australian Rugby next season as, after winning just two games of 25 against NZ opposition last season, Super Rugby Australia debates continued isolation. Bret Harris outlines some potential formats.

Spain’s sputtering start to Euro 2020 has finally taken off, with a comprehensive 5-0 win over Slovakia in their final Group E encounter. La Roja were in imperious form, preventing their opponents from even a shot on goal in a blistering first half. Spain now face Croatia.

Media roundup

The advice to wear masks inside offices is deterring thousands of workers from returning to Melbourne’s CBD, business leaders have told the Age. Foot traffic remains as low as 15% compared with two years ago. A WA man whose mother died while he was stuck in hotel quarantine has gone on a hunger strike, the ABC reports. James Turbitt is hoping the act will “maybe turn some heads” over the limitations of compassionate exemption rules. And dozens of women have revealed the challenges of living in Fifo communities, reports the West Australian, including cleaners being repeatedly solicited for sex, and women having their underwear stolen off washing lines.

Coming up

The producer for the satirical comedy group Friendlyjordies, Kristo Langker, who was arrested for allegedly stalking the deputy premier John Barilaro, will appear in court.

The ACCC will release a report into power prices which will show costs have fallen and are likely to ease further.

And if you’ve read this far …

For centuries humans have wondered: are we alone in the universe? But while our gaze has drifted increasingly outwards, have aliens already had the same thought? Astronomers now have new clues as to where to look. Having scoured 2,034 star systems within 326 light years of Earth, they’ve come up with a shortlist of planets from which aliens would be perfectly placed to monitor human and radio transmissions. And there are 29 likely candidates.

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