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Morning mail: hunt for Victoria’s ‘patient zero’, Belarus protests, lockdown transformations | Australia news

Good morning, this is Lauren Waldhuter bringing you the main stories and must-reads on Monday 17 August.

Top stories

The inquiry into Victoria’s hotel quarantine program will continue its hunt for “patient zero” today as it examines what sparked the state’s second outbreak. Public health experts will give evidence on genomic testing which the government has previously said helps link hotels to the fresh wave of infections. Security companies and return travellers could give evidence later this week. Meanwhile, Victoria has asked the federal government for help containing Covid-19 outbreaks in residential disability care facilities which are managed by commonwealth authorities. It comes as the premier Daniel Andrews says the state’s infection numbers are heading in the “right direction” after 279 more cases were reported on Sunday and 16 deaths. But Andrews couldn’t say whether restrictions would ease at the end of the six-week lockdown. In aged care, Victoria will deploy more public hospital nurses and health workers to private providers.

Around the world 300,000 people tested positive for Covid-19 in 24 hours – the highest daily increase so far. Spain is introducing a string of new measures to try and slow soaring case numbers, as a second wave sweeps Europe. Italy is mandating Covid-19 testing for more summer travellers, while new infections in France topped 3,000 for a second day. The UK government is facing the threat of legal action over an algorithm it used to predict school exam grades, after assessments were cancelled during lockdown. Up to 40% of students saw their grades lowered and many lost university places. Meanwhile, South Africa has eased its lockdown rules after the president, Cyril Ramaphosa, said the country’s outbreak, which has battered the economy, has passed its peak.

Australian tradies and teachers will be able to work across borders under new licence rules. The changes will allow workers to move from one jurisdiction to another without applying for a fresh licence. The changes will also apply to real estate agents. The government hopes it will help create jobs, with unemployment tipped to peak at 10% by the end of the year.

Australia

Labor wants assurances Australia won’t be at the back of the queue for a coronavirus vaccine and has urged the government to keep negotiating deals to secure doses of any successful vaccine.

A surfer has saved his wife from a shark attack after punching it in the head until it released her. The 35-year-old woman is recovering in hospital after the shark mauled her near Port Macquarie.

Bill Shorten has lashed out at the profit-driven aged care sector. The shadow government services minister said the industry was sacrificing care to make money and creating faultlines in the system.

The world

Belarusian opposition supporters rally in Minsk



Belarusian opposition supporters rally in Minsk. Photograph: Yauhen Yerchak/EPA

Tens of thousands of Belarusians have gathered in Minsk for the biggest protest in the country’s history. The country’s authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko, is facing the first serious challenge to his 26-year rule after he claimed victory in an election in which he officially secured 80% of the vote, but was widely seen as rigged. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, told Lukashenko in a phone call on Sunday that Moscow stood ready to provide help in accordance with a collective military pact if necessary.

US Democrats are demanding an urgent hearing with the postmaster general about why he cut postal services months out from the election. Democrats say the changes could mean mail-in votes are not counted in time for November’s presidential contest.

Experts and volunteers are scrambling to save Mauritius’s marine wildlife and pristine beaches after a huge oil spill. Authorities say poor sea conditions are hampering efforts to remove the remaining oil on the Japanese tanker.

Facebook’s algorithm “actively promotes” Holocaust denial content, according to a UK-based investigation, adding pressure on the social media giant to remove antisemitic content.

Recommended reads

Alex Harrison ... ‘It’s taken lockdown to get me out of the cycle.’



Alex Harrison … ‘It’s taken lockdown to get me out of the cycle.’ Photograph: Provided by Alex Harrison

Lockdown isolation can be painful but it has inspired some people to turn their life around. Six readers explain how pausing and reflecting has lead to a 2020 transformation, including beating a gambling addiction, confronting sexuality and processing grief.

Witness K is in the dock but institutions vital to Australia’s democracy are on trial, writes Ian Cunliffe. He looks at Australia’s relationship with Timor-Leste and what the fallout from the Witness K “spy scandal” means for Australia’s legal and criminal justice systems. “Some people seem to be above the law. Those people do not include the whistleblower and his lawyer, Bernard Collaery.”

Peter B Scott-Morgan is on a path to becoming a human cyborg. Since being diagnosed with motor neurone disease, Scott-Morgan has harnessed technology to transform what it means to live with the disease. His stomach has been re-plumbed to deliver nutrients automatically, his vocal cords have been removed so he can breath artificially and his eyes help him speak. But he’s just getting started. “I refuse simply to stay alive” he writes to Michael Segalov. “I choose to thrive!”

Listen

Why are people protesting in Belarus? The eastern European country isn’t known for grabbling global headlines but the world has watched as its authoritarian ruler, Alexander Lukashenko, faces a serious challenge to his legitimacy. Belarusian journalist Hanna Liubakova explains why anger levels are high, while Andrew Roth explains Lukashenko’s 26-year grip on power.

Full Story

Belarus: why are people protesting and could it bring down a president?


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

Sport

Chloe McCardel sets off from Abbotts Cliff beach near Folkestone on her record-breaking swimming attempt.



Chloe McCardel sets off from Abbotts Cliff beach near Folkestone on her record-breaking swimming attempt. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

Australian swimmer Chloe McCardel has broken the men’s record for most swims across the Channel. It took the 35-year-old endurance swimmer just over 10 hours to make her 35th crossing. She now only trails British woman Alison Streeter, who has completed the challenge 43 times.

Ronnie O’Sullivan has won the World Snooker Championship final. He clinched an 18-8 victory over Kyren Wilson in Sheffield to secure his sixth world title.

Lewis Hamilton has claimed victory at the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona. With no repetition of the tyre problems that blighted Mercedes last week, Hamilton extended his championship lead.

Media roundup

Victorian doctors were ignored when they warned about infection dangers within the state’s hotel quarantine program before cases rose, the ABC reports. The Sydney Morning Herald says Australia is poised to sign a multimillion-dollar deal to secure up to 30 million doses of Oxford University’s potential Covid-19 vaccine. In the Australian, Wesfarmers chief executive Rob Scott has called for a tax overhaul, saying it should “sound alarm” that more funds are being invested offshore than in Australia.

Coming up

We’re expecting New Zealand to confirm its election date and whether its Covid-19 outbreak might affect the vote.

Public hearings begin at both Victoria’s Covid-19 hotel quarantine inquiry and at Queensland’s own health response inquiry.

The Australian Tax Office will front the inquiry examining the robodebt scandal.

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