Daniel Andrews plans pilot for casual workers’ sick pay but Morrison government critical



Lukas Coch/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Victorian government plans a pilot scheme for up to five days sick and carer’s pay, at the national minimum wage, for casuals or insecure workers in priority industries.

Even though the initiative is at a very early stage, with $5 million in Tuesday’s state budget for consultation on the pilot’s design, the federal government immediately attacked the move.

Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter said it “raises a number of major issues”.

Once underway, the pilot would run two years in selected sectors with high casualisation. It could include cleaners, hospitality staff, security guards, supermarket workers and aged care workers.

“The pilot will roll out in two phases over two years with the occupations eligible for each phase to be finalised after a consultation process that will include workers, industry and unions,” a statement from Premier Daniel Andrews’ office said.

Casual and insecure workers in eligible sectors would be invited to pre-register for the scheme.

While the pilot would be government-funded, any future full scheme would involve a levy on business.

Andrews said: “When people have nothing to fall back on, they make a choice between the safety of their workmates and feeding their family.

“This isn’t going to solve the problem of insecure work overnight but someone has to put their hand up and say we’re going to take this out of the too hard basket and do something about it.”

But Porter said a fully-running scheme would put “a massive tax on Victorian businesses”, which would be paying both the extra loading casuals receive and the levy.

“After Victorian businesses have been through their hardest year in the last century, why on earth would you be starting a policy that promises to finish with another big tax on business at precisely the time they can least afford any more economic hits?”

Porter said it would be better to strengthen the ability of workers to choose to move from casual to permanent full or part-time employment if they wished.

He said this was what had been discussed in the recent federally-run industrial relations working group process involving government and employee and employer representatives.

“It must surely be a better approach to let people have greater choice between casual and permanent employment than forcing businesses to pay a tax so that someone can be both a casual employee and get more wages as compensation for not getting sick leave – but then also tax the business to pay for getting sick leave as well.”

Porter claimed the Victorian approach would be “a business and employment-killing” one.

In the pandemic the federal government has made available a special payment for workers who test COVID-positive or are forced to isolate and don’t have access to paid leave. The Victorian government has provided a payment for those waiting for the result of a COVID test.

The Morrison government will introduce an omnibus industrial relations reform bill before the end of the parliamentary ar, following its consultation process.

A central objective will be to streamline enterprise bargaining. Scott Morrison told the Business Council of Australia last week: “Agreement making is becoming bogged down in detailed, overly prescriptive procedural requirements that make the process just too difficult to undertake”.

He said various issues needed addressing. “The test for approval of agreements should focus on substance rather than technicalities. Agreements should be assessed on actual foreseeable circumstances, not far fetched hypotheticals.” Assessments by the Fair Work Commission should happen within set time frames where there was agreement from the parties.

Morrison said key protections such as the better off overall test would continue but “our goal is to ensure it will be applied in a practical and sensible way so that the approval process does not discourage bargaining, which is what is happening now”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Halting the Oxford vaccine trial doesn’t mean it’s not safe – it shows they’re following the right process



Shutterstock

Nigel William Crawford, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and Jim Buttery, Monash University

Only days after the federal government announced a A$1.7 billion vaccine deal to roll out COVID-19 vaccines to Australians in 2021, one of the two candidates has halted its phase 3 trials after a participant became ill.

The AZD1222 vaccine, considered one of the frontrunners in the global race for a COVID-19 vaccine, was developed by the University of Oxford and has been undergoing testing with British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.

Melbourne-based biotechnology company CSL has committed to producing and supplying more than 30 million doses of the vaccine to Australians if it’s found to be safe and effective.

But this pause in the trials doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not safe. Rather, it indicates the testing is progressing as it should, with due consideration of safety.

What happened?

There’s been no official statement on the nature of the incident that caused the trial to be halted. We only know it was a suspected adverse reaction in a participant in the UK. (Phase 3 trials for the AZD1222 vaccine have been taking place in several countries.)

The New York Times has reported the participant was diagnosed with transverse myelitis, an inflammatory condition than affects the spinal cord and can be sparked by viral infections.

Transverse myelitis is very rare, with between one and eight new cases per million people per year.

Most people will recover, but may be left with some symptoms such as weakness.




Read more:
Putting our money on two COVID vaccines is better than one: why Australia’s latest vaccine deal makes sense


In the world of vaccine safety, transverse myelitis is one of several conditions collectively known as a serious acute neurological episode (SANE) temporally associated with vaccination. Others include Guillain-Barré syndrome and acute disseminated encephalomyelitis.

“Temporal” suggests they occasionally occur some time after vaccination, but we don’t know whether the relationship is one of cause and effect. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to find what caused these conditions, and it’s important to look for other infections that may be associated with the diagnosis.

There are a couple of things worth noting in this case. First, in the UK branch of the trial, not all participants were receiving the AZD1222 vaccine. To ascertain its effectiveness, researchers have given a control group a type of meningococcal vaccine (MenACWY) that has already been licensed. As the trial is double-blinded, we don’t yet know whether the affected participant received the COVID-19 vaccine.

Second, AZD1222 is not a “live-attenuated” vaccine — it’s not made from live SARS-CoV-2 virus. (It does use a chimpanzee adenovirus vector, but this doesn’t replicate or cause disease in humans.) It’s not impossible the transverse myelitis — if confirmed as a diagnosis — was related to the vaccine. But it wouldn’t be possible for the vaccine to cause a COVID-19 infection, which could then spark the myelitis.

Further, phase 2 and 3 trials involve much broader populations than the young, healthy adults who typically participate in early testing. The UK trial of AZD1222 includes people 70 years and older, which naturally increases the risk of temporally associated adverse events.

So what next?

AstraZeneca will already be investigating the incident, with input from external regulatory bodies such as the study’s data safety monitoring board, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

These independent bodies will review all parts of the investigation, such as an MRI on the participant to confirm the diagnosis, and look at which of the groups the person was in (whether they received AZD1222 or the other vaccine).

They will try to find out what caused the illness, but this may not be possible. It will be particularly hard to prove the vaccine caused the illness with only one case. Illnesses like transverse myelitis, although rare, have a “background rate” of occurrence already in the community.

The World Health Organisation provides a framework to assess the cause of an adverse event following immunisation. AstraZeneca and the independent bodies monitoring their processes will follow this or similar frameworks to evaluate the event.

Once they’ve reviewed the incident, they will decide whether to resume the trial. Given the impetus to move quickly with this, we’d expect this to happen in a matter of days.




Read more:
Russia’s coronavirus vaccine hasn’t been fully tested. Doling it out risks side effects and false protection


It’s not a bad thing

This halt on the trial doesn’t indicate the vaccine isn’t safe — we’ll need to see further evidence before we can ascertain this.

But it does reflect robust processes for a clinical trial. In a sense, this is what phase 2 and 3 clinical trials are designed for — to pick up any potential safety issues and investigate them further.

These sort of things happen occasionally in other clinical trials too. We just don’t hear about it. There’s perhaps never been so much attention on a single clinical trial as there is on the trial of this and other potential COVID-19 vaccines.

We’re not sacrificing safety for speed

In the course of this pandemic, we’ve often heard that fast can’t be safe in the context of a vaccine. We don’t feel that’s the case here.

The reason these trials are moving so fast is largely because recruitment is happening quickly. The phase 3 trials of AZD1222 will have 40,000-50,000 participants in total.

Beyond the AZD1222 vaccine, we’re seeing open disclosure of processes and transparency around any issues. This includes a pledge from the major pharmaceutical companies to keep safety at the forefront when evaluating COVID-19 vaccines.

Of course, there are exceptions to this — notably the Russian vaccine, which has published some phase 1 data but reportedly gone into widespread use before completing all of the standard safety and effectiveness checks.




Read more:
Whoever invents a coronavirus vaccine will control the patent – and, importantly, who gets to use it


In Australia, we follow certain steps to assess the safety of new vaccines. If the trial of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine resumes and it proves safe and effective, Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) will see the data and interact closely with regulatory bodies around the world to ensure it’s safe to use.

The TGA is also responsible for post-marketing surveillance, which we regard as phase 4. When the vaccine is being rolled out, we continue to monitor for adverse events, and follow these up using both jurisdictional vaccine safety units, such as SAEFVIC in Victoria, and active surveillance systems, such as Smartvax and Vaxtracker.The Conversation

Nigel William Crawford, Associate Professor, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and Jim Buttery, Professor of Paediatric Epidemiology, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Oxford immunologist on coronavirus vaccine: our early results look highly promising



Numstocker/Shutterstock

Rebecca Ashfield, University of Oxford

A vaccine against COVID-19 is urgently needed if we’re to stop the virus spreading and prevent potentially millions of further deaths. We’re now one step closer to that goal.

Today, we published early results from our clinical trial of the vaccine ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 (also known as AZD1222), designed by the University of Oxford and developed in partnership with AstraZeneca. The preliminary data shows that it is safe and induced a strong antibody response in all vaccinated volunteers, suggesting that an effective vaccine could be within reach.

This trial was the first time that the vaccine had been given to humans: 543 healthy adults aged 18-55 were vaccinated with a single dose of ChAdOx1 nCoV-19. A further 534 people were given a control vaccine that gives similar minor reactions, including injection site redness and mild pain. Volunteers are having their immune response (both antibodies and T cell levels) monitored for at least 12 months, and will also be observed to see whether or not they develop COVID-19.

The preliminary data from the trial clearly demonstrates that the vaccine induces an antibody response within 28 days. This response is in a similar range to that in individuals who have recovered from COVID-19, providing encouragement that the vaccine will be able to protect the majority of people against infection.

Ten volunteers were also given a second “booster” dose of the vaccine. This increased the antibody response to even higher levels, and 100% of blood samples from this group showed neutralising activity against COVID-19 infection in a laboratory setting.

The vaccine also induced T cells that specifically recognise SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. It’s encouraging to see both antibody and T cell responses, as together this is the right kind of immune response that could lead to protection against the virus. Importantly, the vaccine demonstrates an acceptable safety profile, with no vaccine-induced severe adverse events – that is, no major side-effects.

We were confident testing the vaccine in humans after encouraging trials with mice and rhesus macaque monkeys. These had shown that the vaccine was safe and induced a robust immune response. Significantly, the vaccinated monkeys were protected from severe disease after they were challenged with a much higher dose of SARS-CoV-2 than humans would encounter through natural exposure.

How does this vaccine work?

Vaccines work by training the immune system to recognise and fight off infectious agents (pathogens), such as bacteria and viruses. Vaccines do this by presenting the immune system with a readily identifiable part of a pathogen, which the immune system remembers so that it can quickly respond should it encounter that same pathogen in the future.

Most vaccines in development for SARS-CoV-2 – including this one – focus on presenting the spike protein that decorates the surface of the virus. It’s this protein that allows the virus into human cells by binding to a molecule on their surface called ACE2.

Illustration of the SARS-CoV-2, showing the spike proteins on its surface
The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, with its spike proteins shown in red.
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Wikimedia Commons

There is a broad range of approaches to vaccine design; ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 is what’s known as a viral vector vaccine. To make this vaccine, particles of a different, harmless virus (called ChAdOx1) are loaded with the portion of SARS-CoV-2 DNA that instructs cells how to build the spike protein.

When these ChAdOx1 particles infect human cells, the coronavirus DNA is then “expressed”, building the spike protein for the immune system to respond to. Importantly for vaccine safety, the viral vector can’t replicate and cause an ongoing infection.

The ChAdOx1 viral vector has been used to make eight vaccines already in clinical trials for other human diseases, including Mers (Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome), a coronavirus that is related to SARS-CoV-2.

What happens now?

Crucially, we need to demonstrate that the vaccine is effective – that it results in significantly lower (ideally zero) cases of COVID-19 in the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccinated group versus the control group. Falling infection rates in the UK are an excellent outcome for the health of the nation, but may compromise the ability to show this.

If there are no cases of COVID-19 in the group receiving the control vaccine, comparing that group to the vaccinated group would be meaningless. Deliberately infecting people with the virus may be possible in future (after careful consideration of the ethical implications), but is not currently allowed.

For this reason, a second trial has been launched in approximately 10,000 UK individuals, focusing on health workers, and further trials are being conducted in Brazil and South Africa, where infection rates are much higher. The expanded UK trial will include children and older adults to estimate vaccine efficacy in these age groups. Immune responses in people over 70 are often lower than those in younger adults.

It’s essential to follow the vaccine-induced immune response over a period of at least one year, to estimate whether booster injections will be required, and if so how often. My personal prediction – based on decreases in antibody levels in individuals infected with other types of coronavirus, rather than data from the current vaccine trial – is that we’re likely to need yearly boosters, similar to annual flu jabs.

Finally, if the vaccine proves effective, rapid manufacture of potentially billions of doses would be required to supply the world. To facilitate this, AstraZeneca has already initiated a large-scale vaccine manufacturing programme, aiming to have hundreds of millions of doses with delivery starting by the end of 2020. Agreements are in place to provide the vaccine to low-income and middle-income countries and also to the UK, Europe and the US.The Conversation

Rebecca Ashfield, Senior Project Manager, Jenner Institute, University of Oxford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What Najib Razak’s corruption trial means for Malaysia – and the region



File 20190404 160930 1a1hfx6.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Former Prime Minister Najib Razak arriving in court in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday.
Fazry Ismail/EPA

James Chin, University of Tasmania

The corruption trial of Najib Tun Razak, the former prime minister of Malaysia, has finally begun following two postponements and an attempt on the opening day of the trial for a third. Many Malaysians were starting to wonder if Najib would ever get his day in court.

Najib’s lawyers have used every legal manoeuvre at their disposal to try to delay the trial as long as possible. These tactics verged on the ridiculous a month ago when Najib’s main lawyer claimed his pet dog had injured his wrist. The move worked – the former PM was granted another reprieve.

The trial over Najib’s role in a financial scam involving Malaysia’s 1MDB sovereign wealth fund will certainly not proceed smoothly, and the defence is sure to file new objections to higher courts to try to stop it again.

The reason Najib wants the trial delayed is simple: if he is found guilty, it will have a major impact on other upcoming trials.




Read more:
What’s next for Najib Razak, Malaysia’s disgraced former prime minister?


His wife is also charged with money-laundering in connection with the scandal. (She’s accused of splurging on designer clothes and handbags during million-dollar shopping trips.) If Najib is found guilty, this would undoubtedly strengthen the case against her. Several ministers who served under Najib have also been charged with corruption.

Najib himself also faces several other trials related to the 1MDB scandal. For the government, the current trial is by far the simplest and easiest to prosecute. It involves 42 million Malaysian ringgit (A$14.5 million) that made its way from SRC International, a former unit of 1MDB, to Najib’s personal account. All these transactions occurred in Malaysia, unlike the other cases, which involve international transactions and multiple jurisdictions. The paper trial for this trial is straightforward.

Najib has pleaded not guilty to all charges and claimed the money in his accounts did not come from SRC International.

If Najib is found guilty, he will automatically lose his seat in parliament and face possible jail time. Being an MP gives him the platform to influence politics and say anything he likes against the current government, led by his political rival, Mahathir bin Mohamad.

Najib is already working on his political comeback – part of the strategy is to maintain a high profile as an MP through social media.

Najib tried to bolster his image with video of him singing a Malay version of The Manhattans’ 1970s song, ‘Kiss and Say Goodbye’

How Malaysians are viewing the trial

Many Malaysians want the trial to proceed without any more interruptions, because it would show the accountability process is finally working in Malaysia. Najib and his government were ousted from power in last year’s election because voters wanted the PM (and his wife) to face trial over the corruption allegations. Previously, it was understood that if you held a high political office, you were likely to get away with corruption.

If Najib isn’t convicted, many will likely wonder if there was any point to the change in power. The new government knows this and must deliver a credible trial. There is no other political option.

If Najib and his expensive lawyers are able to continue delaying the trial, Malaysians may start to lose faith with the new administration. Mahathir has publicly pledged to jail Najib for corruption before he hands over power next year to party leader Anwar Ibrahim, and if he cannot deliver on this, it will damage his successor’s political capital.




Read more:
Now that Malaysia has a new government, the real work begins reforming the country


Najib may even try to delay his trials until after the next election, due in 2023, so he can continue to mount his political comeback.

Far more important for Malaysia, however, is the issue of political immunity. No previous leader has ever been charged with corruption and it is vitally important the rule of law is applied here for future generations.

This has regional implications, as well. Many activists in countries such as Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand see the Najib trial as a benchmark for tackling corruption in their own countries.

In many Southeast Asian countries, a culture of impunity persists at the highest levels of government. There is a belief among many political leaders that once they leave office, the sins they committed while in power will not lead to jail. It is as if this is one of the benefits of being elected to office.

In the coming days, expect more delay tactics by Najib’s defence team. The case might even be halted again due to a legal challenge on a point of law.

But given the stakes involved, I have no doubt the new Malaysian Attorney-General, Tommy Thomas, will make sure Najib’s trial goes ahead. Malaysia as a nation cannot have closure over the 1MDB affair until he is called to answer for his alleged crimes.The Conversation

James Chin, Director, Asia Institute Tasmania, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Guatemala: Former Leader Guilty of Genocide


The link below is to an article reporting on the guilty finding in the trial of Guatemala’s former leader of genocide.

For more visit:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-22490408

Egypt: Latest Persecution News


The link below is to an article reporting on the latest persecution news out of Egypt, including a man to face trial for ripping pages out of a Bible.

For more visit:
http://global.christianpost.com/news/egypt-to-hold-rare-blasphemy-trial-for-man-who-tore-up-bible-82319/