Latest battle to wipe out polio begins

In a huge immunisation effort in 150 countries, health teams will on Sunday launch what they hope will be the final push against polio.

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Stopping transmission of the contagious viral disease that has infected millions is possible within a year, experts say.

And full, official, global eradication could be declared by the end of this decade.

First, however, the vaccine that has successfully fought polio for more than 30 years needs to be switched for one that targets the last few areas of risk.

It won’t be easy, or cheap, but the World Health Organisation’s director of polio eradication, Michel Zaffran, says failure now – when there have only been 12 cases worldwide this year, in Pakistan and Afghanistan – means the virus could spread across borders again.

Success would make polio only the second human disease to be eradicated since smallpox was banished in 1980.

“Taking our foot off the pedal now could mean polio will within a few years spread straight back into large parts of the world and create 100,000 or 200,000 cases,” Zaffran told Reuters. “The job has not been done and will not be done until we have fully eradicated the virus.”

For the endgame in polio to succeed, a coordinated and complex vaccine switch is crucial.

Until now, many countries have been using a shot that protects against the three types of wild polio virus – type 1, type 2 and type 3 – but type 2 polio transmission has been stopped since 1999, meaning immunising against it now makes no sense.

In rare cases it also poses a risk that the weakened type 2 virus in the vaccine can seep into circulation and cause “vaccine-derived” polio infections.

So from April 17 to May 1, some 150 countries will engage in a synchronised switch to a bivalent, or two-strain, vaccine that contains no type 2 virus but targets types 1 and 3.

It’s a massive undertaking and a major step towards eradication, says Zaffran.

“We’re entering into uncharted territory. This has never been done before. But there’s no going back now.”

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative, launched in 1988, originally aimed to end all transmission of the disease by 2000.

And while there has been a 99 per cent reduction in cases worldwide since the GPEI launch, fighting the last one per cent of polio has been far tougher than expected.

In 2013, the GPEI said the global fight against polio would require $5.5 billion in funding, and more will be needed beyond that to keep a lid on the disease.

The virus, which invades the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis within hours, spreads rapidly among children, especially in unsanitary conditions in war-torn regions, refugee camps and areas where health care is limited.

In Pakistan and Afghanistan, the last two countries where polio currently remains endemic, conflict and propaganda have hampered progress, and in the past posed risks to others.

The campaign to eliminate polio in Pakistan is fraught with risk, with Islamist militants attacking health teams they accuse of being Western spies. A polio worker was shot and wounded in February and in January a suicide bomber killed 15 people outside a polio eradication centre in the city of Quetta.

In 2011, a polio virus from Pakistan re-infected China, which had been polio free for more than a decade.

In 2013, the disease re-emerged in Syria after a 14-year absence, prompting the need for a vast and expensive regional emergency vaccination campaign.

And last year, cases of type 2 vaccine-derived polio posed new threats in Ukraine and Mali.

Boost for Victoria police fight against gangs

New police, armoured vehicles and state-of-the-art technology will set up Victoria Police to become national leaders in the fight against gang crime, family violence and drugs.

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The $596 million Public Safety Package is the law and order centrepiece of the Victorian state budget announced by Premier Daniel Andrews on Sunday, alongside police Commissioner Graham Ashton and acting Police Minister Robin Scott.

“We promised to deliver everything Victoria Police need to keep Victorians safe and that’s exactly what we’ve done,” Mr Andrews said on Sunday.

“Hundreds more police and new state-of-the-art technology will mean those already on the front line have the support they need.”

Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton welcomed the funding, saying the injection of staff and technology would help Victoria Police deal with the many challenges ahead.

“There has been an increase in gangs operating in Victoria … and the task force (focusing on reducing gangs) will be doubled,” he told reporters.

The package includes 300 front line police officers, a further 106 specialist police and 52 support personnel.

Twenty new Special Operations Group officers will be recruited to expand police capacity to respond to terrorist incidents.

The budget also includes money for a heavy armoured vehicle and three new bulletproof vehicles for specialist units.

Police officers will also get bodyworn cameras, new tablets and IT equipment to help address the recommendations of the family violence royal commission.

Opposition police spokesman Ed O’Donohue took some credit for the announcement after the opposition’s pursuit of law and order issues.

“With police numbers today virtually the same as when the coalition left office, today’s announcement will only go some of the way to make up for Daniel Andrews’ neglect of Victoria Police,” Mr O’Donohue said.

WHAT’S INCLUDED IN THE PACKAGE:

* Hundreds of new general duties police

* A new heavily armoured vehicle

* Three new bulletproof vehicles

* Bodyworn camera, new tablets and IT equipment for those on the frontline

McLaughlin dominates on the Island

Reigning V8 Supercars champion Mark Winterbottom says Scott McLaughlin’s clean sweep on Phillip Island has inserted the Volvo young gun into the title conversation.

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McLaughlin was simply unbeatable on the Island, taking pole and storming to victories in both Saturday and Sunday races.

The superior pace of the Volvo S60 gave McLaughlin a drama-free drive, making the sensational look simple.

In Sunday’s 200km race, he beat home Winterbottom and DJR Team Penske man Scott Pye, celebrating with wild burnouts on the coastal circuit.

The points haul elevated McLaughlin to second in the championship and Winterbottom said he couldn’t think of a reason why Garry Rogers Motorsport couldn’t host an unlikely series winner.

“There’s probably eight guys genuinely in contention this year and they’re definitely at the top of that list,” he said.

“He was in a league of his own all weekend.”

McLaughlin arrived on the Island without success in 44 races but is now the only man with two wins to his name this season.

The 22-year-old leaves with a new lap record, $2000 for his pair of pole positions and with 300 championship points added to his tally.

“To have a weekend like this, I’ve never had it in my career,” McLaughlin said.

“It’s been amazing.”

Jamie Whincup (651 points) heads the overall leaderboard, 15 ahead of McLaughlin (636), with Winterbottom (627) and Craig Lowndes (615) in close range.

McLaughlin’s biggest challenge came on the opening lap from Jamie Whincup.

Whincup tried an audacious outside pass on McLaughlin but the 22-year-old held firm, refusing to yield and sending the Red Bull man wide onto the grass.

Team boss Garry Rogers applauded his effort from the garage.

“That’s what you want. You don’t want the ones who give up and sook it,” he told Fox Sports.

Whincup was able to recover from his wild ride without losing position, holding onto second place until the dying laps when he ran wide and allowed Winterbottom and Pye in for their podium positions.

In a first-lap frenzy, Fabian Coulthard struggled to get off the grid and Chaz Mostert was turned around by Garth Tander.

Coulthard would finish in the pits while Mostert would recover well to finish eighth.

Cam Waters’ tyre blow-out on the high-speed main straight brought a safety car and restart with just eight laps remaining.

It made no difference to McLaughlin, who continued unchallenged.

Mercedes felt like four-poster bed, says Hamilton

“It was like a four-poster bed today,” Hamilton, who started last and put in a feisty drive to battle his way up to seventh, told reporters.

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“The car was pretty damaged. I don’t know really what…I’m sure it was some aero components. But I think the suspension was damaged as well so the car was flexing like crazy.”

Hamilton, who went into the weekend aiming to kick-start his title defence with a third successive win in Shanghai, was forced to start from the back of the grid after failing to set a time in Saturday’s qualifying session due problems with his Mercedes engine.

He made a good start but collided with Sauber’s Felipe Nasr, dislodging his front wing which then got wedged underneath the car, damaging its floor and affecting its handling.

The Briton used good old-fashioned racing nous to work his way to as high as third at one stage, but because of the damage, his car chewed through its tyres and his challenge faded.

“Every time I did a stop I was having to come back through again and I wasn’t really gaining a lot of ground,” Hamilton, who stopped five times during Sunday’s race, said.

“At the end there was nothing left in the tyres…but anyway that’s racing and not a great finish for us this weekend but hopefully onwards and upwards.”

Hamilton’s team boss Toto Wolff said that without the damage, which cost him a “huge amount of downforce,” Hamilton could have been on for a podium finish.

“The best case would have been a podium, probably fourth was realistic case if you’re able to get through the race without any damage,” Wolff said. “Obviously he was so much down on aero that the car must have felt very, very difficult to drive.”

Hamilton last mounted the top step of the podium at the U.S. Grand Prix in October, where he also clinched his third world title.

He arrived in China hoping to turn the tables on team mate Nico Rosberg, who has won the last six races, including the opening three of the season.

Instead, he leaves trailing the German by 36 points in the standings.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

Ultra-nationalist resurgence in Serbia

Ultra-nationalists are set to return to Serbia’s parliament in an April 24 election after an absence of several years, boosted by growing discontent with Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic’s pro-European Union stance and austerity policies.

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They include firebrand Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj, whose popularity in Serbia was boosted by his acquittal last month of crimes against humanity by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Polls indicate Seselj’s Radicals and the right-wing Dveri grouping, which hold pro-Russian and anti-NATO views and demand an end to integration with the EU, will both get over the threshold needed to get into parliament and together could win about 25-30 seats in the 250-seat assembly.

While the ultra-nationalists are unlikely to challenge the prime minister’s strong hold on power, they will use the platform to attack his pro-EU course and fight any concessions he is forced to make during Serbia’s negotiations to join the bloc, which began in December.

Opinion polls suggest Vucic’s Progressive Party is on track to retain its parliamentary majority, but Seselj’s Radicals – who failed to win any seats in elections in 2012 and 2014 – could become the third-largest group in parliament.

Seselj, whose war crimes acquittal is being appealed by prosecutors, gives voice to the grievances many Serbs feel over NATO’s 1999 bombing of Serbia over the Kosovo conflict. Seselj was deputy prime minister at the time.

Seselj, 61, who has been battling colon cancer for several years, remains a fierce advocate of the “Greater Serbia” ideology that fuelled bloodshed in the 1990s Yugoslav wars.

His goal is to secure enough members of parliament – one third or 84 legislators – to block any attempt to change Serbia’s constitution if Belgrade comes under pressure during the EU negotiations to remove a constitutional reference to Kosovo being part of Serbia.

AUSTERITY FATIGUE

A sharp 2014 recession sent Serbia’s budget deficit soaring, forcing the government to seek a 1.2 billion euros ($A1.76 billion) loan from the International Monetary Fund, which demanded public spending and subsidy cuts, tax hikes and the privatisation of inefficient state firms as a condition.

EU membership will also require painful economic restructuring.

Analysts say austerity measures and an unemployment rate of 18 per cent have pushed voters towards the rightist parties.

Until two years ago, Suzana Arsic, a 52-year-old kindergarten teacher from Jagodina, voted for the pro-EU Democratic Party, but now she is changing sides.

“I’m going to vote for the Radicals this time. I didn’t like what I saw – plants were shut down, people lost their jobs and were pushed to expensive borrowing they couldn’t manage,” she told Reuters.

Serbia’s economy is set to grow 1.8 per cent this year, slower than its neighbours, the World Bank says. The average monthly wage of 357 euros is among the lowest in the region.

Many Serbs see little benefit from the country’s talks on joining the EU. A recent opinion poll found nearly 72 per cent of Serbs oppose joining the EU and NATO.

Vucic says joining the EU, Serbia’s biggest trading partner and investor, remains Belgrade’s No1 policy goal. The conservative leader is going to the polls two years early to seek a mandate for economic reforms needed to qualify for EU membership.

Vucic, who says Serbia will not seek to join NATO, warns of the dangers of rising nationalism.

“There can be no compromise with those who are pushing Serbia back in the past,” he said.

The ultra-nationalist resurgence is not causing great alarm in the EU for now because Vucic has ruled out a coalition with the right-wingers, diplomats say.

Many nationalist voters are not elderly Serbs nostalgic for the old Yugoslavia, but young people who remember little of the wars that accompanied Yugoslavia’s break-up.

Matthew chasing 2019 captaincy in native Scotland

The Scottish veteran was a playing member of the side beaten by the United States in the women’s equivalent of the Ryder Cup last season and wants to help exact revenge by winning a place back in the team under skipper Annika Sorenstam next year.

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Beyond that, Matthew would like nothing better than to lead Europe when the biennial team event is played at Gleneagles two years later.

“I’ll certainly put my name into the hat for Scotland,” the 46-year-old told Reuters in an interview held at Woburn, venue of the Ricoh Women’s British Open from July 28-31.

“To be captain in my own country would be a dream come true. I’ve loved the Solheim Cup, it’s been the highlight of my career.”

Matthew has made eight appearances in the biennial event between 1998 and 2015, emerging on the winning side three times.

The Scot has won four times on the LPGA Tour, including the British Open in 2009, and has a total of 10 victories on the Ladies European Tour.

Matthew has no plans to retire just yet and takes heart from the fact long-time Solheim Cup team mate Laura Davies is still playing at the age of 52 and that U.S. captain Juli Inkster remains an LPGA Tour campaigner at 55.

She also watched on television as 58-year-old German Bernhard Langer launched a brief title charge at the U.S. Masters earlier this month.

“At the moment I’m taking every year as it comes,” she said. “If I’m still playing well and enjoying it I’ll just keep going.

LEVEL PLAYING FIELD

“Laura is still playing, she’s older than me, Juli is still playing and look at Bernhard at the Masters. That’s the beauty of golf, it’s one of the few sports … where teenagers can compete with 40-year-olds on a level playing field.”

Matthew believes it is possible for the first 50-plus player to one day win a major championship.

“I think it could happen. We had Tom Watson at Turnberry going very close and Greg Norman,” she said, referring to the British Open near-misses by the American in 2009 and by the Australian at Royal Birkdale a year earlier.

“It’s been close, you just never know. Jack Nicklaus was 46 when he won (the Masters).”

Matthew missed the thrilling climax of this month’s Masters at Augusta National after dozing off in front of the television with American Jordan Spieth seemingly on the verge of a runaway victory before suffering a startling collapse.

“I must admit I fell asleep when Spieth got to about the 11th,” she explained. “I thought it wasn’t going to be too exciting.

“But I watched the highlights the next day and it was fantastic to see Danny Willett win.”

England’s Willett captured the coveted Green Jacket after defending champion Spieth dropped six strokes in three holes from the 10th.

Several pundits have suggested Spieth may never be the same again but Matthew sees the situation differently.

“Rory (McIlroy) was in that situation,” she said of the Northern Irishman’s final-round collapse at the 2011 Masters.

“Everyone in top-flight sport has been there and done that. Rory went out and won (the U.S. Open) straight after.

“Hopefully he (Spieth) can learn from it. I think it’s too early to be saying that.”

(Editing by Alan Baldwin)

Don’t judge 60 Minutes crew: families

Anxious families of the 60 Minutes crew detained in Lebanon over a botched child recovery operation are asking people to withhold judgment and focus on bringing them home.

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Speaking for the first time since journalist Tara Brown and her crew, Stephen Rice, Benjamin Williamson and David Ballment, were arrested on April 7, they cautioned the facts were still emerging.

“People forget that Tara, Stephen, Ben and Tangles were over there doing a job; covering a story,” they said in a joint statement on Sunday.

“The analysis can come later. Right now, the priority is getting them all home.”

Related

The TV crew and Brisbane mother Sally Faulkner are facing kidnapping charges after they were arrested following an alleged botched attempt to retrieve Ms Faulkner’s two children from their father, Ali Elamine, in Beirut.

Lawyers negotiating on behalf of Ms Faulkner and her estranged Lebanese-American husband have failed to reach agreement on custody of Lahela, five, and Noah, three, and the case will return to a Lebanese court on Monday.

“We haven’t spoken to our partners since before they were arrested,” Cara Williamson, Denise Rice, John McAvoy and Laura Battistel said in their statement.

“Very few of the facts are clear at this stage. If we don’t have all the facts, how can anyone else?”

They described events as a “living nightmare”.

“Some of us haven’t even told our children what’s happening yet,” they said.

“It’s not an easy conversation to have with a five- or seven-year-old who ask as they go to sleep each night when mummy or daddy is coming home.”

They said their natural instinct had been to fly to Beirut to support the crew, but they had been advised by people on the ground to stay put.

“From what we know, they are in good health, keeping their spirits up and are being well looked after by the Lebanese authorities.

“That is all that is getting us through at the moment.”

Sharks show their NRL title bonafides

Cronulla have emerged as genuine top four contenders just short of the quarter-way mark of the NRL season following their 40-16 dismantling of Canberra on Sunday.

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On the back of a brilliant Ben Barba double and guided by James Maloney and Andrew Fifita, the Sharks looked every bit a premiership threat in tearing apart the injury-hit Raiders.

It was their fourth win in a row, taking them to 5-2, with the strong start boding well after they limped out of the blocks to be 0-4 last year.

But most importantly, they put on a big score, something they have rarely done over seasons 2015-16. While renowned as scrappers and fighters, they showed that they were evolving into a slick attacking unit.

“We’ve probably been a team the last couple of years where we can go into a dogfight and scrap it out, but to be able to score 40 is pleasing,” coach Shane Flanagan said.

“We haven’t done it too often. I hope we can do it more regularly this year.”

The Sharks are now ensconced in the top four in third spot, only behind last year’s grand finalists Brisbane and North Queensland.

“I think we’re developing,” Flanagan said. “We’re improving week after week but there’s still a lot of improvement in us.”

Melbourne remain just outside the top four after a Cooper Cronk golden point field goal saw them rack up their fifth victory of the year, a 19-18 defeat of Wests Tigers.

Brisbane five-eighth Anthony Milford turned in a masterclass to lead his side to a 53-0 win over Newcastle with winger Corey Oates also bagging a hat-trick as they remained top of the table.

North Queensland meanwhile flexed their premiership muscle with a 44-18 dismantling of South Sydney on Friday which showed they look in good shape to be the first back-to-back champions in over 20 years.

The Warriors snuck home 24-20 against Canterbury but were struck a big blow when star recruit Roger Tuivasa-Sheck left the field with a possible season-ending knee injury.

After failing to score a point in their previous two outings, St George Illawarra got back in the winner’s circle as fullback Josh Dugan fired them to a 19-14 win over Gold Coast.

Kieran Foran made his return to Brookvale Oval a successful one with Parramatta rallying late to beat Manly 22-10 on Thursday night to sit in fourth.

Leicester challenge dented after Vardy sees red

Leicester coach Claudio Ranieri praised his side for saving a point, which put them eight clear of second-placed Tottenham Hotspur with four matches to play.

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Spurs’ match in hand is at Stoke City on Monday and if they win that they will narrow Leicester’s lead to five points.

“The sending-off changed the whole match, but I judge my players, not the referee,” Ranieri said without commenting on the red card.

“This was our soul, we play every match with blood, heart and soul, it was magnificent,” added the Italian whose team had won their last five games to close on their first English top-flight title.

West Ham almost scored in the second minute when Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel saved a header from Cheikhou Kouyate, tipping the ball on to his left-hand post before it rolled across the line and hit the other upright.

Vardy put Leicester ahead after a lightning counter-attack in the 18th minute with a left-foot shot into the corner of the net before picking up his first booking for a late challenge on Kouyate.

His second yellow came early in the second half when referee Jon Moss ruled he dived looking for a foul and the match gradually swung West Ham’s way.

They equalised through an 84th-minute Andy Carroll penalty after Wes Morgan hauled down Winston Reid and looked to have won the game two minutes later when Aaron Cresswell scored a stunning goal with a fierce shot from the edge of the box which dipped and swerved as it flew past Schmeichel.

But with only seconds of stoppage time remaining Leicester equalised when Ulloa scored from the spot after Carroll fouled Jeffrey Schlupp.

(Reporting by Mike Collett, editing by Ed Osmond)

Oates denied Broncos record in NRL romp

Not everyone at Brisbane was happy with Anthony Milford after he inspired their 53-0 NRL rout of Newcastle at Suncorp Stadium.

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Even Knights coach Nathan Brown could not help but marvel at Milford’s three-try masterclass on Saturday night.

However, Queensland hopeful Corey Oates admits he had a good-natured crack at Milford after he ignored support and completed his hat-trick late in the 10-try romp.

Towering winger Oates was a Milford pass away from a club record equalling fourth try, joining the likes of Steve Renouf, Karmichael Hunt, Denan Kemp, Justin Hodges, Israel Folau and Wendell Sailor.

“I tried to make him feel bad,” Oates laughed.

“You try not to think about it but when it comes closer it’s like ‘give me the ball’.

“But there’s no hard feelings.

“He deserved three.”

Milford shone as Brisbane showed no mercy to an injury hit Knights.

He even twisted the knife by kicking a cheeky field goal on full-time.

Yet the mention of Milford’s name brought a smile to Brown’s face post-match.

“He’s a brilliant little player, isn’t he,” he said.

“The combination (with halfback Ben Hunt) is terrific.

“If they play together eight or so years you’d think they would deliver a couple of premierships for the Broncos.

“It’s unfortunate when they are against you but it still great to watch.”

Hard marking Brisbane master coach Wayne Bennett couldn’t fault Milford.

“He was with a lot of good players but when we got on top he just enjoyed his footy,” he said.

“He was having fun out there. It wasn’t hard for him.”

Oates could be seen having a dig at Milford post-match after opting not to throw a final pass that would have sealed No.4 for the winger.

Broncos veteran forward Sam Thaiday believed it was a matter of time before Oates shared the club record.

“Corey has got plenty of time to break records,” he said.

“I am sure that chance will come again in his career.”

Oates may still achieve something Milford doesn’t this year – Origin selection.

Milford is banned from being picked for Queensland this year after breaking curfew at the Emerging Maroons squad.

Oates took another confident step toward a Maroons debut this year with his first career hat-trick.

“It’s a dream to play Origin but I am just enjoying my footy at the moment.”