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Australia sets COVID-19 case record as search for treatment ramps up

Greg Hunt
Australia is investing in research to find a new antibody treatment for COVID-19 patients. Photo: AAP
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A search by Australian researchers to find another treatment for COVID-19 has ramped up as the country’s daily coronavirus cases surpassed 1900 for the first time during the pandemic.

The federal government on Saturday announced it would contribute $5 million to researchers at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne to find a new antibody treatment to fight the virus.

Antibody-based therapies – which are widely used to treat infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases and cancer – block the entry of the virus into cells and stop infection.

Two COVID-19 treatments – Remdesivir and Sotrovimab – have already been approved in Australia and are currently being used to treat patients across the country, but more are needed, Health Minister Greg Hunt says.

“The considerable expertise of Australia’s world-class health and medical researchers is critical for ensuring preparedness and the safety of all Australians and the global community,” he said in a statement.

“We are backing our best and brightest researchers to drive innovation and contribute to global efforts to control the COVID-19 outbreak.”

It comes as number of infections across the country climb to record levels.

Some 450 new locally acquired cases were reported in Victoria on Saturday – an outbreak high – and five new cases among members of one family in Queensland, where a lockdown could be looming.

“There is no lockdown today,” said Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

But the government may have to take “very quick, fast action” if they see seeding outside the family in the next 24 to 48 hours, she warned.

Friday marked the a record increase of cases in Australia – more than 1900 – driven largely by 1542 new infections across NSW.

Victoria reported 334 new cases, while there were 24 in Canberra, and one in Queensland.

Despite Sydney’s crisis driving hospitalisations higher and leading to another nine deaths, the NSW government is pursuing its freshly revealed reopening strategy.

All fully vaccinated people will be offered a suite of freedoms when double-dose coverage hits 70 per cent.

That’s put heat on the Victorian government to follow suit with a road map out of Melbourne’s lockdown linked to vaccination rates.

There is a national agreement to reduce the chances of lockdowns at 70 per cent and only use highly targeted restrictions at 80 per cent, a plan some premiers from virus-free states have since distanced themselves from.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said border restrictions would increasingly amount to “lockouts” when other states opened.

“Lockdowns and lockouts once you get above that 80 per cent vaccination rate, they do more harm than good,” he told 2GB radio on Friday.

But he ruled out withholding infrastructure or GST funding from Western Australia or other hardline states because it would punish people.

Australia has fully vaccinated 41.1 per cent of its population aged 16 and above, while 66.1 per cent have received a first dose.

-AAP

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