Morning mail: Covid patient payment ‘unethical’, testing clinic chaos, five of the best

·7-min read
<span>Photograph: Laurent Gilliéron/AP</span>
Photograph: Laurent Gilliéron/AP

Thursday: Doctors condemn NSW government for considering charging unvaccinated patients for care. Plus: sign up now for Guardian Australia’s Five Great Reads

Good morning. Welcome to the final morning mail for 2021. No need to fret though, over the festive break we’ll bring you Five Great Reads, where Guardian Australia’s lifestyle editor, Alyx Gorman, will do the heavy lifting for you and find five of the most interesting, entertaining and thoughtful reads. Sign up here and receive it in your inbox from Monday to Friday. Here are today’s top stories.

A proposal by the NSW government that hospitals charge unvaccinated patients for their medical care has been condemned as “unethical” by the nation’s peak doctors body. The state health minister, Brad Hazzard, told media it was an option “under consideration by the NSW government” but did not elaborate on how the proposal would be enacted. Opening hours at Covid-19 testing clinics will be heavily reduced during the Christmas period, despite “unprecedented demand” and hours-long wait times in multiple states. In NSW, three out of four of the state’s 490 testing sites will be partially closed for Christmas and New Year’s Day, with Scott Morrison and Victoria’s Covid-19 commander, Jeroen Weimar, criticising interstate travel testing requirements.

Russia has claimed the US will hold talks early next year to consider its “security guarantees”, including a ban on Ukraine joining Nato. The Kremlin’s positioning of tanks and artillery along the Russia-Ukraine border has dramatically escalated tensions but the foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, remains adamant a diplomatic solution will be reached. A White House spokesperson said any dialogue “must be based on reciprocity”. Russia has denied using gas as a negotiating chip after it redirected supplies away from Europe and towards Russia for a second day running, despite record demand in the west during the height of midwinter.

Data from South Africa appears to add weight to claims the Omicron variant is less severe than previous strains but scientists have cautioned against extrapolating the findings globally. Countries such as Italy, that were notably struck during the first wave, have a median population age nearly 20 years higher than South Africa, suggesting it could yet disproportionately experience the virus. The World Health Organization has warned that booster drives in western countries could prolong the pandemic if they come at the cost of ensuring that the entire global adult population has sufficient access to vaccine supply.


Nigel Scullion launches the community development program in Arnhem Land
Nigel Scullion launches the community development program in Arnhem Land in 2017. The federal government will pay more than $2m after settling a class action which accused the scheme of being racist.
Photograph: Lucy Hughes Jones/AAP

The federal government will pay a traditional owners corporation more than $2m after settling a class action over a “work for the dole” program described as “modern-day slavery”. After a year of confidential mediation, a federal court judge approved the settlement, awarded to 10 of the nation’s poorest communities.

A sexual abuse victim in Tasmania has received a record payout of more than $5m in damages, with the state’s supreme court saying the figure recognises “the lifelong impact of child sexual abuse”.

The world

Pillar of Shame sculpture
Pillar of Shame by Jens Galschiøt on the Hong Kong University campus. Photograph: Kin Cheung/AP

A memorial to the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre appears set to be removed from Hong Kong’s oldest university, with security guards blocking media access to the sectioned-off area where the sculpture stands.

The EU claims to have taken a step closer to agreeing a 15% minimum corporate tax rate for multinational companies, despite Joe Biden facing challenges enacting the agreement.

Israeli archaeologists have unearthed a sunken treasure trove containing hundreds of Roman and medieval coins near the ancient city of Caesarea, including “exceptional” items of jewellery and gemstones.

Recommended reads

A tram operates on Newcastle&#39;s Hunter Street
Pre-pandemic, this would be the busiest week for Newcastle’s Hunter Street. Photograph: Darren Pateman/AAP

It’s the second-largest city in NSW but, after a Covid-19 outbreak, local business owners are describing Newcastle as “a ghost town”. “It’s like the apocalypse out there,” publican Luke Tilse tells Michael McGowan. “I feel like I’m running the last waterhole, and everyone’s coming here to drink the muddy water.” After more than 200 people contracted the coronavirus at a 1970s-themed nightclub event, the Hunter region is now home to more than 5,000 active cases: prompting the cancellation of football games, music festivals and a spate of restaurant and hotel closures.

A traditional Australian Christmas spread can be a daunting prospect if you’re vegan. But not eating meat shouldn’t mean the end to tasty and sumptuous festive fare – with a little imagination, you can conjure up “beet Wellington” or “faux gras” that rises to the occasion but caters for every palate, as the Vegan Butcher, Zacchary Bird, shows with these five recipes.

Organising Christmas can be stressful at the best of times, but what to do when a family member tries to one-up you? That’s the dilemma posed to advice columnist Eleanor Gordon-Smith: “If you feel insulted by what this aunt did, I’ll bet it’s not just because of the particulars of this invite. I’ll bet there’s a long backdrop of past behaviour and infinitesimally small gestures and inflections between you that serve as a kind of meaning decoder.”

Guardian Australia’s 10 funniest things on the internet series was launched as a short-term lockdown distraction. But while Covid-19 has long overstayed its welcome, it seems the appetite for some fun during these trying times remains insatiable. And now we want to know – what are your favourite online funnies from 2021? This week our staff get the ball rolling with theirs.


The best and worst of 2021: the internet. From senator Jacqui Lambie dancing on a table to Instagram accounts that brought a sense of community during lockdown – on today’s episode of Full Story, Michael Sun helps chart the highs and lows on online content.

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


Shortboard surfing event in Russia
‘In those final minutes of the heat, as I waited for nature to test my limited surfing ability, I felt deeper empathy for those I analyse at Olympics, World Cups and world championships.’ Photograph: Yelena Vereshchaka/TASS

As a sports writer, Kieran Pender has spent his fair share of time critically analysing the performances of professional athletes. Now an 18-month Covid-related seachange has afforded the scribe the chance to try his hand at competitive sport as he dips his toes into the world of surfing.

“Some sports are bigger than the Olympics.” But, as Beau Dure writes, ice hockey “is not one of those sports”. And the decision by the NHL and its players’ union to pull their participation at the Beijing Olympics due to Covid concerns could have inadvertently hastened the sport’s global decline.

Media roundup

Victoria could move today to expand its indoor mask mandate, the Age reports, with James Merlino set to outline any changes in coming hours. An elite Perth high school is under investigation by police after intimate images of a teenage girl, aged under 15, were shared via social media among students, the West Australian writes. And Peter Dutton has accused China of looking to militarise space, according to the Australian, claiming that Beijing is developing satellites that can attack other satellites.

Coming up

The first funeral of a child who died in the Tasmanian jumping castle tragedy will take place in Devonport.

Former Test cricket star Michael Slater will appear in court in relation to reportedly breaching an apprehended violence order.

And if you’ve read this far …

The Big Apple is notorious for its crushing real estate market but a viral TikTok video tour of “the smallest apartment in New York” has laid bare just how tough things are, in a clip that bears the tagline: “Whatever your expectations are, lower them.”Although the price is not listed, this “charming micro-apartment” could probably be yours for a cool $1,600 a month.

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