from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: Delta Variant Escapes and a Cat is Trapped.

26 July, 2021.

Australia continues to lag behind in the vaccination stakes. Only 14 percent of us are fully vaccinated or 11% if you count the kids.

This level of vaccination is low if you are facing the spread of the Delta variant, as we are. Delta is establishing itself in the western and south-western communities of Sydney, faster than the contact tracers can follow.

It’s hard to gather the exact story of how, once again, Covid-19 managed to slip through all protective systems in place. This time it involved a case of three furniture removalists from Western Sydney who delivered to Melbourne – did not wear masks – and then travelled on to South Australia to deliver more furniture. Continuing mask-less.

I am not sure at what stage they realised they were infectious, but they were, and infected a few others in Melbourne who went on to infect many others. Some people are saying that Delta should be treated as a new virus, it is so very infectious. Last night’s news was that a 30-year-old has died in Sydney. Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, is looking more and more frustrated at each news conference as she announces that the numbers are not going down and the numbers of new cases who travelled around, infectious in the community, remains high.

There are cases in Victoria – a much smaller number, under 20, – and we, in South Australia, have locked down due to the threat of cases. We are tracking at 1-3 a day – but not active in the community. Close-contact Adelaide families have been put in medi-hotels in anticipation of the whole family being infected.

Of course, the borders have closed to and from NSW, South Australia and Victoria. Only Queensland, Western Australian and the Northern Territory are open to one another. New Zealand has shut down the travel bubble with Australia.

With the rise of fear over this Delta variant, and the economic impact on business, the relationship between the states has broken down with unseemly bickering. Gladys Berejiklian, Premier of NSW, made an impassioned plea in their ‘national emergency’ for help from other states. She asked for Pfizer vaccines to be rushed to NSW’s hotspots. The Premier wanted younger essential workers in SW Sydney to get vaccinated. She argued that this was in the interest of all of Australia.

Other states would have none of it. Some were more polite than others. Premier Andrews of Victoria was not one of the polite ones. ‘It’s not my problem to get the pubs open in NSW’. Worrying about pubs seems to be a very Australian response. Instead, Andrews argued for a ‘ring of steel’ to be placed around Sydney. If it was a ‘national emergency’ as Gladys had argued, then it was a ‘national responsibility that Sydneysiders are locked into Sydney’. Not much compassion there.

A moderate solution was found. 90,000 extra doses per week will head to Sydney, courtesy of the Federal government’s stockpile. They are also saying that the interval between 1st and 2nd Pfizer doses should be increased.

Meanwhile, our PM Morrison is trying to get the Astra Zeneca vaccine to be more widely recommended (‘reconsider the balance of risk’) in Australia. This must be done through our ATAGI advisory body. Morrison argued that circumstances had changed with the arrival of the Delta variant. But ATAGI would have none of this, nor would the Labor opposition, who are taking every opportunity to say that THEY would have made NO mistakes. Somehow, Labor would have found a reliable crystal ball and wisely foreseen the challenges of these last 18 months.    

One thing we have realised with this plague: there are experts and more experts and the range of expert opinions are manifold and nuanced.

https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2021/07/20/which-covid-19-vaccine-is-the-most-widely-accepted-for-international-travel

‘The AstraZeneca vaccine is the most widely accepted, with 119 governments recognising it—it is the most-used vaccine and it is also approved by the World Health Organisation (along with Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and two Chinese vaccines). By contrast, China’s CanSinoBio is recognised by just a handful of governments.’

Meanwhile, on a personal level, our holiday plans were laid waste once more. We were due to leave for a 10-day holiday in Far North Queensland. Not to be. Queensland started to designate various parts of South Australia as ‘orange’ zones, which would mean that we would have to isolate for 14 days if we had been in those zones during the previous 14 days. They backdated the requirement and the orange area grew to cover all of South Australia.

Luckily, we were able to change flights and accommodation to November, without penalty.

Friends of ours had taken off in their campervan for a 4-week bush trip to Queensland, but they would have to go through regional NSW. They turned back.

We remain under the spell of zero tolerance of Covid-19 infections. If we had higher vaccination rates, we might relax more. Last weekend – in tune with the European and UK protests, we had mask-less ‘freedom’ protests here. The police ruled them illegal but that did not deter 7,000 turning up in Melbourne and thousands in Sydney. Many were arrested. Action will be taken against others using photographs of the event. One wonders if any of the protesters will come down with Covid-19. Many carried anti-vaxx posters.

Yet another meme

Stupidity can be infectious.

On our home front, we made a mistake by leaving our feral cat trap open during the first night of the lockdown. We have been trapping feral cats on and off for years. They threaten – read destroy –  our wildlife: small marsupials, birds, lizards, snakes etc. Most of the feral cats are infected with feline Aids. Our local council encourages us by lending out traps. When we are successful, they will collect the cat and have it assessed. If the cat has ID in the form of a tattoo or a microchip, it is returned to the owner; if it is tame and could be rehomed, the cat is taken to the Animal Welfare League (AWL); if it is fiercely feral or infected, it is euthanised.

Anyway, unexpectedly, we caught a cat and I realised it was a young domestic cat. A pretty cat, not fierce: it looked like a long-haired Russian blue. For the first day, (and this was a lockdown day, so I was not meant to be wandering around), I dropped flyers in all our neighbourhood and phoned people I knew. No one had lost a cat. I alerted all online sites to this lost cat. For example, Facebook has a page called ‘Lost Pets of Adelaide’.

I borrowed a cat box and took the cat to our vet, where they ascertained it was not microchipped and had no tattoo. They agreed that it was a domestic cat. Perhaps it had been dumped or run away. But my vet could not hold it till the end of lockdown when the council would wake up and take action. AWL would not come to the house due to lockdown rules.

So, the choice was either to let it go (and we deemed it could not fend for itself) or ask the vet to euthanise it.

While I considered this and against my husband’s advice, I brought the cat home and put her/him in our spare bathroom with food, milk and water. By now, the cat was highly stressed. It leapt onto the window sill, glared at me with wild yellow eyes and hissed if I came close. Maybe it was feral!

Looking fierce

There was peace until 4 am when our pet dog, Roy, an old, blind Cairn Terrier, who dislikes cats intensely, woke up in our bedroom and realised that there was a cat in the house. There was no more peace for me. Roy spent the rest of the night with his nose against the door of the spare bedroom while I tried to stop him barking.

Daylight brought relief. Animal Welfare League, bless their kind hearts, agreed to collect the cat from my vet – with the appropriate social distancing.

After cleaning the bathroom, I posted online to thank those other kind hearts who had been trying to save this cat by finding its owner. I am now aware how many cat lovers are out there. That’s good – but keep the cats inside.  

‘In a 2012 report, the Australian Wildlife Conservancy estimates that each feral cat kills between five and 30 animals a day. It says taking the lower figure in that range and multiplying it by a “conservative population estimate” of 15 million feral cats gives a minimum estimate of 75 million native animals killed daily by feral cats.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-11-13/greg-hunt-feral-cat-native-animals-fact-check/5858282?nw=0

from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: Herding Cats … or … It’s Coming your Way.

Rottnest Island off Fremantle, Perth, West Australia. Wouldn’t you come here just to stay in this Quarantine Village?

February 8, 2021

This week our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, hosted a ‘National Cabinet’ meeting. This is his extra-political Covid-19 group, an ‘intergovernmental decision-making forum’ including the State and Territory Premiers and Chief Ministers. It is apparent that this is a challenging business for the Prime Minister and one where decisions in a time of pandemic are important to get right – for our country and for his political future. Eleven months have passed since this group was formed and the various state leaders are getting more and more techy and determined in their self-opiniated ways of dealing with Covid-19. (5 Labor, 3 Liberal politicians) . For the PM it must be like herding eight feral cats through a narrow door.

Obviously, Prime Minister Scott Morrison would like the gathering of premiers and ministers to discuss the issues relating to the pandemic in a reasonable, if not rational way. Everyone, of course, says they are following the science of medical advice. The trouble is there are various medical advisors and interpretations.

The issue of quarantining returning Australians from overseas (and various other travellers) is one that divides and stresses our states’ leaders. The press calls these differences, ‘deep rifts’. The Labour Premier of Queensland, Annastacia Palaszczuk, and the ultra-cautious West Australian Premier, Mark McGowan, would like the federal government to be more proactive in the face of the new more contagious strains of Covid 19. Everyone loves to have someone to blame.

The numbers of travellers are small. Over 210,000 international travellers have gone into hotel quarantine in Australia. 1.4% have returned a positive Covid test. 82 hotel staff involved in the quarantine process became infected. At the moment, just over 6,000 Australians (and tennis players!) are arriving per week directly into the various major cities. The states are responsible for their own quarantine systems and have thus reacted in different ways. Recently, Western Australia had a severe five-day lockdown after a single worker in the Sheraton Hotel contracted the virus – perhaps through airflow. He had a second job as an Uber or rideshare driver. Victoria and NSW recently each had single quarantine workers infected and those states used ‘hotspot’ strategy, finding out where the individual had travelled while infected.

The sporadic infections in quarantine continue. There is the story of how one quarantined family opened the door of their hotel room to gather in their meal, deposited in the corridor, and managed to infect the family across the hallway. So now we are becoming aware that the virus is far more airborne than previously thought. It is likely to travel through air conditioning systems in large establishments like quarantine hotels.

So the question is: should quarantining decisions be delegated to states? Are hotels suitable quarantine facilities? It appears that hotels have multiple gaps in their infection prevention systems. For example, corridors need separate ventilations systems; quarantine workers should not have second jobs and should wear masks even in corridors (perhaps double masks as they are recommending overseas).

So now our federal government is in process of investigating whether to organise remote quarantine stations outside of our major cities – more like refugee villages. Perhaps in Toowoomba outside of Brisbane or remote islands. Thus, our cities would be protected and we can lessen the impact on our lives in 2021-2022-2023. The support staff and health staff would be isolated in these camps as well. The Prime Minister compares this idea to fly-in fly-out remote mining camps where you stay for two weeks at a time. Rottnest Island has aleady been used for Vasco da Gama cruise passengers in March last year. Remember that Australia is a country of a few major cities and lots of space. (16 out of 25 million live in the 6 major cities).

Hardly a mining camp! Rottnest Island off Fremantle, WA

I think that all countries should take note. This is probably the way of the future. Can you imagine the situation when most people are vaccinated, but, with international travel, people arrive from across the world and require quarantine? We will have sporadic outbreaks for years to come. Maybe new strains will be arriving having bred in the countries that could not get access to enough vaccine. Maybe the virus will become less deadly, maybe our vaccines can be adapted fast enough and given out fast enough to dampen down the world threat. Reading about how wealthy countries are hoarding vaccine supplies and how third world countries are struggling to get access, I am not optimistic.

My daughter in Seattle was told by a friend working in childcare that they were advised that this situation may continue for years to come. Up to 2025. We could be living in a world of social distancing, sporadic outbreaks, new strains with strange numbering systems, reduced local and international travel and concern about all sorts of flu-like symptoms.

Our PM is now talking about vaccination rollout starting at the end of this month. Bearing in mind that the AstraZeneca vaccine is now in question.

‘On Monday morning South African authorities said they would suspend use of the AstraZeneca shot after clinical data showed it gave minimal protection against B.1.351, a variant of SARS-CoV-2 which contains several mutations that cut the ability of antibodies to neutralise the virus. (Sydney Morning Herald – Monday 8 Feb, 2021).

‘Know your virus variants

Three mutant varieties of COVID-19, first spotted in the UK, South Africa and Brazil, are more resistant to vaccines than the original strain.

The British B.1.1.7 variant was first seen in September.

  • There is some evidence, although not concrete, that the new variant may be slightly more deadly.
  • At this stage, evidence suggests the variant slightly reduces the effect of vaccine-generated antibodies but not enough to pose major problems.
  • The variant has several mutations that seem to make it significantly more transmissible. It has rapidly spread through the United Kingdom and is now emerging across the world.

South Africa’s B.1.351 is also known as N501Y.V2.
It was first spotted in South Africa in October last year.  

  • It concerns scientists because it has picked up a large number of different mutations. 
  • These mutations may make it more transmissible. It is not known if they make it more deadly. 
  • Human data suggests, but does not prove, these mutations allow the virus to reinfect people who have natural immunity to COVID-19. 
  • Early data suggests the variant’s mutations cut the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, by varying amounts depending on the vaccine.

Less is known about the  P.1 variant first spotted in Brazil.

  • It bears similar mutations to the South African variant, which scientists suspect may give it the ability to evade antibodies.’

(Sydney Morning Herald – Monday 8 Feb, 2021).