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Morning Mail: Covid Positive Test Rate Hits New High, Canada’s Mysterious Neurological Disease, 2022 Movies

Ggood morning and happy new year! It’s nice to be back in your inbox and we hope you stayed safe and had a happy holiday season. The year is off to a tumultuous start with many states reporting record numbers of Covid infections and a growing number of hospitalizations, exacerbated by concerns about test availability. But there is some hope, with new studies indicating that the Omicron variant currently spreading around the world is less severe than its predecessors.

Australia registered 32,000 new Covid cases on Sunday and the positivity rate reached 20.3%, meaning one in five people tested had Covid. The figure is well above the 5% needed by the WHO to control the spread of Covid. So what does a 20% rate mean for Australia? Here’s our explanation. On Sunday, 1,066 people were hospitalized with Covid – an increase of 18% per day after the number had already doubled between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve. The number of PCR tests in NSW dropped by nearly 30,000 in 24 hours after the government encouraged people not to queue unless they had symptoms or were in close contact. Victoria’s health minister is expected to make an announcement in the coming days on expanding access to rapid antigen testing after extreme heat caused the closure of eight of the state’s test sites on Saturday, wiping out queues and waiting times for test results.

In some much needed positive Covid news – there is more research suggesting that the Omicron variant is less severe than other variants. New studies suggest the variant is more likely to infect the throat than the lungs, which scientists believe may explain why it appears more contagious but less deadly than other versions of the virus. Some research has suggested that lateral flow tests detect Omicron better when the throat is swabbed rather than the nose.

US politician Liz Cheney, a Republican member of the House committee investigating the Capitol attack, says her side must choose between Donald Trump and the truth. “We can either be loyal to Donald Trump or we can be loyal to the Constitution, but we can’t be both,” she told CBS’s Face the Nation. On Sunday, Mississippi’s Cheney and Bennie Thompson, the committee chair, again discussed the possibility of a criminal referral for Trump for his failure to stop the riots or for obstructing the investigation.

Australia

Poor Western diets and antibiotics can deplete the diversity of the microorganisms in our gut and affect our health and mood, but this bacteria can get a boost from someone else’s poop. Photo: Rawf8/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Our gut microbiome has a far greater effect on health than anyone ever imagined, according to emerging science, leading to stool transplants and designer gut bacteria. Researchers in Adelaide are harnessing the power of “super poop” in new treatments for the increasing number of people turning to fecal transplants for its health benefits.

It was an aquatic horror weekend across the country after three men and a seven-year-old boy died in separate drowning incidents. A number of people were also rescued from the water in other incidents, prompting authorities to beg the public to exercise caution while swimming and fishing.

The world

The official number of cases investigated is 48, but multiple sources say the cluster could now be as many as 150.
Several new cases of progressive neurological disease in New Brunswick have involved caregivers of those affected, suggesting a possible environmental trigger. Photo: Zoonar GmbH/Alamy

A whistleblower in Canada has warned that an increasing number of young people appear to be suffering from a progressive neurological disease that has baffled experts. Young adults without prior health triggers develop troubling symptoms, including rapid weight loss, insomnia, hallucinations and limited mobility.

The Covid crisis is over Sri Lanka is on the brink of bankruptcy and faces a deepening humanitarian crisis as inflation rises to record levels, food prices skyrocket and treasuries run dry. Half a million people have sunk into poverty since the pandemic struck, with rising costs forcing many to cut back on food.

Russia ‘very likely’ to invade Ukraine and can only be deterred by ‘massive sanctions’, the chairman of the US House Intelligence Committee said Sunday, adding that an invasion could backfire on Moscow by drawing more countries into NATO’s military alliance.

Oxfam India has said its work in the country will be at risk by the government’s refusal to renew a license that allows it to receive funds from abroad.

Recommended Reads

Hugo Weaving in Loveland, Leah Purcell in The Drover's Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson and Zac Efron in Gold – Australian films all set to be released in 2022.
Hugo Weaving in Loveland, Leah Purcell in The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson and Zac Efron in Gold – Australian films all set to be released in 2022. Photo: Dark Matter/John Platt for Roadshow Films/Stan

The past few years have certainly reminded us that no one can predict the future and no one knows what’s around the corner. However, we can rest assured that whatever troubles befall us, artists will fight on, fight the good fight, tell stories and take us to places of imagination and enlightenment. As usual, the new year offers a range of Australian movies to look forward to. Hugo Weaving, Rose Byrne and Zac Efron star in some of the big movie releases of 2022, with directors George Miller, Ivan Sen, Baz Luhrmann and Gracie Otto at the helm.

For Benjamin Giles, running 2000km in 2021 was the first resolution he kept for more than two weeks. But it wasn’t easy – it took an app, a long lockdown and an injury to achieve its self-imposed goal. But above all, it took an obsession. “I was way behind schedule. But I was also obsessed, and it was mathematically possible that by running 7 miles a day for six weeks, with one rest day a week, I could reach my Christmas Eve goal.”

Pruning is usually a technique applied to roses in winter, but more recently, the term gardening has cropped up when sociologists talk about our social lives. People have cut friends amid Covid – they became “more insular and bond-oriented”, and now many aren’t sure how to start rebuilding their social lives.

Listen

One of our best Full Story episodes of 2021 was this Guardian investigating scheme allowing foreigners to purchase citizenship in Vanuatu, or “golden passports” – and thus visa-free access to the EU and the UK. Pacific editor Kate Lyons and freelance reporter Euan Ward speak with Laura Murphy-Oates about how this passport system works and how it can be abused.

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

Sport

Former Australian rugby player Blake Ferguson has been arrested in Japan for alleged drug possession. Ferguson’s future in Japan’s rugby union competition is now in serious doubt, given the seriousness of drug possession in the country.

Australian Open boss Craig Tiley says there is “something to play for” before the saga surrounding Novak Djokovic’s performance at Melbourne Park is resolved. The world No. 1 has consistently refused to reveal whether he has been vaccinated against Covid-19, a requirement to work in Victoria.

Media overview

Northern Territory Police have launched a “major investigation” into the death of a child under five years of age in remote Central Australia on New Year’s Day, according to the ABC. A 99-year-old former Manly ferry has sunk in Sydney Harbor after a decades-long effort to restore the derelict ship, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.

Soon

Labor is expected to announce a policy of setting up a strategic fleet of supply ships.

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