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Australia likely to reopen to international students and skilled workers next week

Jacob Scott

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Scott Morrison has signalled Australia is likely to open up to international students and skilled workers next week, while health authorities continue to weigh up whether to adjust the timing of booster shots.

The federal government revealed it would extend emergency powers for a further two months to February 2022, keeping in force mandatory mask wearing for international flights and restrictions on international travel from countries deemed high-risk.

The impact of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 was top of the agenda for the final national cabinet meeting of the year, but Morrison said his government was inclined to reopen to international students and skilled workers on 15 December.

That was originally due to happen at the beginning of December, but it was delayed to allow authorities to gather more information about the Omicron variant.

Asked on Friday whether the borders would open on that date, Morrison said the government was “taking more advice at the moment, but that is certainly our disposition”. He planned to “keep moving forward, not to go back”.

Despite Morrison’s upbeat message, the federal government has decided some measures need to remain in place for longer.

The chief medical officer, Prof Paul Kelly, briefed national cabinet that Australia was “still in the early stages of understanding the Omicron variant”, according to a summary issued by Morrison’s office.

The meeting noted that the federal health minister, Greg Hunt, had extended the human biosecurity emergency period under the Biosecurity Act to 17 February.

Hunt said the arrangements, which have been in place since March 2020 “to protect Australians during the Covid-19 pandemic” and extended several times, would continue based on health advice.

Hunt said the two-month extension would “allow the important measures currently in place to continue as the government continues to reopen Australia and act decisively to respond to the emergence of the Omicron variant”.

That would see the extension of mandatory pre-departure testing and mask wearing for international flights, restrictions on international travel from high-risk countries, and restrictions on outbound international travel for unvaccinated Australians.

But the federal government is keeping open the option of revoking any of these rules earlier than February “to take into account the latest medical advice”, as more information is gained about Omicron.

The extension will also continue restrictions on the entry of cruise ships to Australia. But Hunt said the government would “continually review, on a monthly basis, whether the current restrictions on cruise ships can be safely lifted or amended”.

The meeting also received an update from the national vaccination coordinator Lt Gen John Frewen on administering vaccine boosters and delivering them across Australia.

That follows the announcement that children aged five to 11 will be able to receive the Pfizer Covid vaccine from 10 January.

The Labor MP Alicia Payne told Sky News: “I think parents will really welcome this approval for children. I know many parents have been really hanging out and waiting for their children to be able to be vaccinated.”

Fewen briefed leaders “on the plans to close the gap in vaccination rates between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and the general population, and on preparations under way to administer Covid-19 vaccines to children aged 5 to 11 years, including targeted communication strategies”, Morrison’s statement said.

National cabinet decided to update existing Covid-19 outbreak management plans to protect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities “in light of the Omicron variant and current outbreaks in the Northern Territory”.

The Northern Territory detected four Covid cases in Katherine, as a cluster linked to three crowded households continued to grow.

Earlier, Morrison gave a hint that the federal government was considering bringing forward booster shots.

“We are continuing to review the evidence about how that time period for the booster shot might be able to be reduced … and we’re working with the medical experts on those issues,” he told reporters in Sydney on Friday morning.

Morrison played down the severity of the illness caused by Omicron, saying that was “potentially quite a game changer with the pandemic around the world about how the virus may well step down, but we’ll see”.

National cabinet is next due to meet in February, when it will consider fresh advice from Kelly and the Doherty Institute on what threshold should be met to move to phase D of the national reopening plan.

The meeting on Friday noted “significant progress in reopening Australia”, with Western Australia set to reach 80% over-16 double-dose vaccination coverage within days, meaning all parts of the country will have entered phase C of the plan.

Morrison told 2GB radio he did not believe state premiers would rush again to close domestic borders, suggesting the response to the Omicron variant had been “a good test” of holding their nerve.

He praised the South Australian premier, Steven Marshall, for not closing the state border and the Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, for the imminent reopening of its border.

Morrison urged all Australians who had their second Covid-19 vaccine dose at least six months ago to come forward to receive booster shots, “because that will be important as we go into next year”.

Queensland reported on Friday four new locally acquired Covid-19 cases and two interstate-acquired cases out in the community.

Queensland’s health minister, Yvette D’Ath, said a Gold Coast lockdown was unlikely but urged residents to get vaccinated and wear a mask. “Today is the day that we’ve been planning for,” she said.

Victoria recorded two new cases of the Omicron variant among travellers who landed in Melbourne from Dubai on 30 November.

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‘Moon Knight’ Took Marvel in a Different Orbit, but It Didn’t Rise to the Occasion

Jacob Scott

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Before anyone writes that off as an anomaly, “Eternals” tackled a similar introduction of a dense mythology on the bigger screen, with equally mixed results. It’s a reminder that while film-goers have had more than a decade to get to know characters like Iron Man, Captain America and Thor, introducing some of these lesser-known heroes can pose a more formidable challenge beyond catering to the most ardent fans.
For Marvel, there are warning signs in that, since “Moon Knight” will be followed by several series based on second-tier characters, although the next two on the horizon, “Ms. Marvel” (which is due in June) and “She-Hulk,” at least have the benefit of sharing franchises and name recognition with existing Avengers.
Ultimately, “Moon Knight’s” murky storytelling appeared to squander its principal assets, which included the cool look of the character — a costume that was too seldom used — and the presence of Isaac, who possesses additional genre credentials via the “Star Wars” sequels.

Taking its time in peeling back the layers of the character’s complicated backstory, “Moon Knight” took a weird plunge into the Egyptian mythology behind it, in ways that became increasingly confounding and surreal.

By the time the protagonist’s two halves, Steven Grant and Marc Spector, wound up in a psychiatric hospital talking to an anthropomorphic hippo in the penultimate chapter, the question wasn’t so much being able to keep up with the story as whether bothering to do so was worth the effort.

The sixth and final episode brought the plot to a messy close, seeking to stop the goddess Ammit from proceeding to “purify the souls of Cairo, and then the world.” In the customary credit sequence, the producers capped that off by introducing a third personality, Jake Lockley, also rooted in the comics. While that seemingly spelled the end for the show’s villain (Ethan Hawke), the finish — giving the god Khonshu the protégé he sought — paved the way for further adventures should Marvel so choose.

That last twist might be cause for celebration in narrower confines of the Marvel fan universe, but “Moon Knight” too often felt like it was one long Easter-egg sequence, conspicuously preaching to that choir.

Granted, Marvel has made clear that Disney+ offers the chance to explore different kinds of stories, but “Moon Knight” feels at best like a quirky showcase for Isaac and at worst a failed experiment in terms of execution and tone.

That doesn’t mean this “Moon” won’t somehow rise again, if the closely held streaming data justifies it. But the promise that surrounded this property has faded, providing further evidence that even Marvel isn’t immune from setbacks as it moves into its next phase.

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Start-up Pony.ai says it’s the first self-driving company to get a taxi license in China

Jacob Scott

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Autonomous driving start-up Pony.ai can collect fares for robotaxi rides in parts of two major Chinese cities as of Sunday.

Pony.ai handout

BEIJING — Self-driving start-up Pony.ai announced Sunday it received a taxi license, the first of its kind in China.

The license allows Pony.ai to operate 100 self-driving cars as traditional taxis in the Nansha district of the southern city of Guangzhou, the company said.

The Chinese start-up, which is backed by Toyota, received approval from Beijing city late last year to charge fees to operate a commercial robotaxi business in a suburban district of the city. It is not the same as a taxi licence.

Baidu’s Apollo Go also received approval in the same Beijing district last year.

Pony.ai was valued at $8.5 billion in early March. The company said its Nansha taxi license required 24 months of autonomous driving testing in China and/or other countries, and no involvement in any active liability traffic accidents, among other factors.

The start-up said it plans to launch commercial robotaxi businesses in two other large Chinese cities next year. The company is already testing self-driving cars in those cities and in California. 

Robotaxis in China currently have a human driver present for safety.

— CNBC’s Arjun Kharpal contributed to this report.

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How to watch Timberwolves vs. Grizzlies: TV channel, NBA live stream info, start time

Jacob Scott

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Who’s Playing

Memphis @ Minnesota

Current Records: Memphis 2-1; Minnesota 1-2

What to Know

The Memphis Grizzlies’ road trip will continue as they head to Target Center at 10 p.m. ET this past Saturday to face off against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Memphis will be strutting in after a win while Minnesota will be stumbling in from a loss.

The Grizzlies are hoping for another victory. They beat the Timberwolves 104-95 this past Thursday. The victory came about thanks to a strong surge after the first quarter to overcome a 39-21 deficit. Memphis’ success was spearheaded by the efforts of power forward Brandon Clarke, who had 20 points in addition to eight rebounds, and shooting guard Desmond Bane, who shot 7-for-15 from beyond the arc and finished with 26 points and six boards.

Barring any buzzer beaters, Memphis is expected to win a tight contest. They might be worth taking a chance on against the spread as they are currently on a two-game streak of ATS wins.

Memphis’ win brought them up to 2-1 while the Timberwolves’ defeat pulled them down to a reciprocal 1-2. A couple offensive stats to keep in the back of your head while watching: The Grizzlies come into the game boasting the second most points per game in the league at 115.6. But Minnesota is even better: they rank first in the league when it comes to points per game, with 115.9 on average. Tune in for what’s sure to be a high-scoring contest.

How To Watch

When: Saturday at 10 p.m. ET Where: Target Center — Minneapolis, Minnesota TV: ESPN Online streaming: fuboTV (Try for free. Regional restrictions may apply.) Follow: CBS Sports App Ticket Cost: $76.96

Odds

The Grizzlies are a slight 2.5-point favorite against the Timberwolves, according to the latest NBA odds.

The oddsmakers had a good feel for the line for this one, as the game opened with the Grizzlies as a 3-point favorite.

Over/Under: -110

See NBA picks for every single game, including this one, from SportsLine’s advanced computer model. Get picks now.

Series History

Memphis have won 19 out of their last 28 games against Minnesota.

Apr 21, 2022 – Memphis 104 vs. Minnesota 95 Apr 19, 2022 – Memphis 124 vs. Minnesota 96 Apr 16, 2022 – Minnesota 130 vs. Memphis 117 Feb 24, 2022 – Minnesota 119 vs. Memphis 114 Jan 13, 2022 – Memphis 116 vs. Minnesota 108 Nov 20, 2021 – Minnesota 138 vs. Memphis 95 Nov 08, 2021 – Memphis 125 vs. Minnesota 118 May 05, 2021 – Memphis 139 vs. Minnesota 135 Apr 02, 2021 – Memphis 120 vs. Minnesota 108 Jan 13, 2021 – Memphis 118 vs. Minnesota 107 Jan 07, 2020 – Memphis 119 vs. Minnesota 112 Dec 01, 2019 – Memphis 115 vs. Minnesota 107 Nov 06, 2019 – Memphis 137 vs. Minnesota 121 Mar 23, 2019 – Minnesota 112 vs. Memphis 99 Feb 05, 2019 – Memphis 108 vs. Minnesota 106 Jan 30, 2019 – Minnesota 99 vs. Memphis 97 Nov 18, 2018 – Memphis 100 vs. Minnesota 87 Apr 09, 2018 – Minnesota 113 vs. Memphis 94 Mar 26, 2018 – Memphis 101 vs. Minnesota 93 Dec 04, 2017 – Memphis 95 vs. Minnesota 92 Feb 04, 2017 – Memphis 107 vs. Minnesota 99 Nov 19, 2016 – Memphis 93 vs. Minnesota 71 Nov 01, 2016 – Minnesota 116 vs. Memphis 80 Oct 26, 2016 – Memphis 102 vs. Minnesota 98 Mar 16, 2016 – Minnesota 114 vs. Memphis 108 Feb 19, 2016 – Memphis 109 vs. Minnesota 104 Jan 23, 2016 – Minnesota 106 vs. Memphis 101 Nov 15, 2015 – Memphis 114 vs. Minnesota 106

Injury Report for Minnesota

No Injury Information

Injury Report for Memphis

Dillon Brooks: Game-Time Decision (Foot) Santi Aldama: Out (Knee) Killian Tillie: Out (Knee)

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