A woman crosses an empty street in Melbourne on Sunday.
Melbourne and the rest of Victoria will stay in lockdown until at least Wednesday, as the coronavirus cluster linked to the Holiday Inn grew to 16 on Sunday. Photograph: Wayne Taylor/Getty Images

Morning mail: Melbourne cluster at 16, US divided over Trump acquittal, Myanmar crisis

Melbourne and the rest of Victoria will stay in lockdown until at least Wednesday, as the coronavirus cluster linked to the Holiday Inn grew to 16 on Sunday. Photograph: Wayne Taylor/Getty Images

Thursday: Pfizer vaccine to arrive this week as Victoria deals with hotel quarantine outbreak. Plus: should you brush your teeth with toothpaste tablets?

Last modified on Sun 14 Feb 2021 15.08 EST

Good morning, it’s Imogen Dewey kicking off your week on Monday 15 February, with the latest on Melbourne’s Covid cluster, Donald Trump’s impeachment acquittal, and the ongoing problem of dark money in Australian politics.

There are now 16 confirmed cases in the outbreak linked to Melbourne’s Holiday Inn quarantine hotel, with 940 primary close contacts identified. One expert is blaming “poor infection control” in Victoria. Still, the federal health minister Greg Hunt says there’s a light at the end of the tunnel with the Pfizer vaccine due to land this week and shots to begin in the last week of February, as scheduled. As the UK hits its milestone of 15m vaccinations, China has fired back at the US over allegations Beijing withheld information about the virus outbreak from World Health Organisation investigators. And Auckland is now in a three-day lockdown after New Zealand confirmed three new cases this weekend.

There has been a divided reaction in the US after former president Donald Trump was acquitted on a charge of insurrection linked to the January Capitol attack; a 57-43 vote in the Senate reflected split opinion across the country. After just seven Republicans joined every Democrat and independent in voting to convict, scrutiny turned to the Democrats’ (failed) tactics, and critics described the acquittal as a racist vote. In a Saturday night statement, President Joe Biden said the substance of the charge was not in dispute, calling on Americans to stay vigilant and defend their “fragile” democracy. Boris Johnson has called the whole thing a “kerfuffle”. One commentator dismissed Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s excoriating speech – just moments after acquitting his former boss – as a “hostage video”. But as debates continue over Trump’s grip on the GOP, some are talking about a changing of the guard.

Almost 40% of the money injected into Coalition parties in the past 20 years came from unidentified sources, new analysis shows. Dark money is a problem across the major Australian parties, but it is more pronounced for the Coalition. “It means [voters] are in the dark about where the real influence is in the political system,” a former NSW supreme court justice told the Guardian. “That’s very unfortunate for the democratic system and I think it is just very discouraging for voters.”


When the NSW and federal governments announced $177m in joint funding for bushfire recovery, the Blue Mountains received no money.
When the NSW and federal governments announced $177m in joint funding for bushfire recovery, the Blue Mountains received no money. Photograph: Andrew Merry/Getty Images

Labor has stepped up its criticism of bushfire recovery grants, after a damage report by a former Coalition economic adviser showed 48.1% of the Blue Mountains area was fire-affected, yet it missed out on funding.

Australia has dramatically overreacted to speculation over Chinese-backed development on a Papua New Guinea island, one expert says, adding that plans for a fishing plant and city on the island in the Torres Strait were designed to “ruffle feathers”.

A survey of top economists reveals most believe Australia’s lack of social housing is hurting the economy and exacerbating inequality. Labor meanwhile looks likely to ditch Shorten-era housing policies but says its election platform is not yet set.

And how much is good parental leave and childcare policy worth to the country? At least $166bn, according to new economic modelling (almost double the amount of coal exports). The report from lobby group Parenthood also suggests lifting female workforce participation to equal that of men could bring in $187bn to the economy by 2050.

The world

Tanks on the streets of Myanmar have prompted a US embassy warning of “military movements” in the main city of Yangon. The embassy has also said it expects the internet to be cut in coming hours.

Several hundred women formed human chains in Moscow and St Petersburg on Sunday, using Valentine’s Day to support the wife of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny and other political prisoners.

Guinea has entered an Ebola “epidemic situation” with seven cases confirmed, including three deaths – the first known resurgence in west Africa since the 2013-16 epidemic killed more than 11,300 people across the region.

A spate of unprovoked stabbings apparently targeting homeless people in New York City subways has left two people dead. Local radio reported a man taken into custody late on Saturday wearing blood-soaked clothes and shoes.

Recommended reads

Scott Morrison
‘Australia looks like becoming totally isolated from the G7 and internationally on climate change.’ Photograph: Luis Ascui/Getty Images

“Australia’s lack of effort on climate change is going to cost us,” writes physicist and climate scientist Bill Hare. As global momentum builds with a firm G7 agenda, we are “sadly, the global poster child for a lack of effort … deeply exposed to carbon border tax adjustments due to our lack of action in reducing emissions. Despite the government’s rhetoric and repeated statements that it will meet its weak targets at a canter, the numbers are there for everyone to see, and they are not good.”

Should you brush your teeth with toothpaste tablets? Yes, they are now a thing – and a $20m market expected to double in the the next five years. “Small minty potatoes” compared to the $18bn global toothpaste industry, but given how much more sustainable they are than toothpaste in a tube, you might start seeing more of them around. Except … do they work? James Shackell puts his body (teeth) on the line to find out.

“Our understanding of Covid and the vaccines is constantly evolving. That’s a good thing.” Public health expert Abby Bloom explains why shifting data on the pandemic (think transmission, prevention, vaccine “rankings”) is just what we should be seeing – and runs through the list of major “known unknowns” still awaiting answers.


After 34 years together, Melbourne couple Phil Kafcaloudes and Jackie Rees-Kafcaloudes have had some tough conversations about kids, ageing and the meaning of commitment. In today’s episode of Full Story, Alexandra Spring asks them how they stay together.

Full Story

Valentines: how Phil and Jackie stay together


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


Removing AFLW crowds is one way to deal with a lockdown, but rolling border closures and restrictions will undoubtedly cause more headaches for the AFL. At some point, it will simply run out of options.

Grigor Dimitrov has booked an Australian Open quarter-final with unheralded Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev after engineering an upset win over Dominic Thiem. Earlier, Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka secured hard-fought fourth-round wins. Ever the showman, Nick Kyrgios played up to the empty stands before exiting stage left, seizing one last opportunity to mock Novak Djokovic – who says he’s “gambling” on fitness after an injury in round three.

Media roundup

Two of Tasmania’s oldest galleries will apologise to the state’s Aboriginal communities today for stealing and mistreating cultural heritage, the ABC reports. The Age has revealed the ABC’s new diversity rules for external producers, with director of entertainment and specialist programming Michael Carrington telling the paper: “We need to do more to better reflect the wonderful diversity of this nation.” According to the Australian, a jobseeker “revamp” currently being considered could see all support payments streamlined into a single payment ($). And the Australian Financial Review is flagging “the most significant change to insider trading rules ($) in decades”.

Coming up

Both houses of federal parliament are sitting this week.

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