Morning mail: Covid restrictions ease in NSW and Victoria, Biden warns on Ukraine, calls for calm after shark attack

Good morning. The US president, Joe Biden, has warned the threat of a Russian invasion into Ukraine is imminent. Covid restrictions in New South Wales and Victoria begin easing from today, and marine scientists call for calm after a fatal shark attack in Sydney.

Restrictions introduced to curb the spread of Omicron across Australia’s two most populous states will be eased over the next week as cases continue to drop in NSW and Victoria. The changes, similar across both states, will begin to take effect from Friday. However, the lifting of the indoor mask mandate remains another week away. In Victoria, from 6pm on Friday, density limits at hospitality and entertainment venues will be removed, dancefloors can reopen and QR code check-ins will no longer be required in retail settings, schools and many workplaces. In NSW, from 12.01am Friday, density limits will be scrapped, QR codes will remain only for nightclubs and music festivals with more than 1,000 attenders, and singing and dancing can resume at venues other than at festivals.

Joe Biden has said he believes Russia is on the brink of invading Ukraine, as he joined Nato allies in warning that shelling in the Donbas region may be an attempt to set up the pretext for an incursion. Claims of attacks by Russian-backed separatists at several locations in Ukraine’s eastern territory, including at a kindergarten and a school, were said to bear the hallmarks of an attempt to incite conflict. The UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, has claimed the shelling of a nursery school in the Donbas region was a “false-flag operation” aimed at discrediting the Ukrainian government. Ukraine also accused Russia on Wednesday of being behind a cyber-attack that targeted two banks and its defence ministry, which the country’s deputy prime minister said was the largest of its type ever seen. The Kremlin denied it was behind the denial of service attacks – attempts to overwhelm a website by flooding it with millions of requests – but the disruption reignited wider concerns of ongoing cyber-conflict.

Leading shark scientists have called for calm after the death of a male swimmer at a beach in Sydney’s east on Wednesday. Dr Vanessa Pirotta, a marine predator researcher at Macquarie University, said the incident at Little Beach had shaken the community because of its apparent randomness. “It’s not every day you hear of a shark incident like this,” she said. “That’s why there’s so many people talking about it, and the fact people have seen it first-hand means there’s a lot that plays on people’s minds.” Dr Leonardo Guida, shark scientist at the Australian Marine Conservation Society, said shark bites were traumatic incidents which “while rare, [required] thoughtful, evidence based action”.

Australia

Facebook Twitter Dennis Richardson has accused Liberal senator James Paterson of engaging in a ‘grubby’ and ‘despicable’ attempt to blacken his name. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

One of Australia’s most respected former public servants, Dennis Richardson, has accused Liberal senator James Paterson of engaging in a “grubby” and “despicable” attempt to blacken his name over comments Paterson made in an interview on Sky News.

Thousands of nursing and disability care students across Australia are being prevented from completing clinical placements required to graduate due to pandemic restrictions and the furloughing of senior staff who supervise them.

Taxpayer-funded ads exaggerated the federal government’s role in infrastructure projects, while a plan to include former deputy prime minister, Michael McCormack, had to be scrapped for breaching advice, an auditor general’s report has revealed.

Australians wanting to catch up on ABC television shows will soon need to create a free account and log in to watch programs on its streaming platform iView.

Teachers unions are calling on the NSW government to extend the supply of rapid antigen tests for staff and students, saying the program has helped to curb Covid-19 transmission in classrooms.

The world

Facebook Twitter Parag Agrawal became CEO of Twitter last year. Photograph: Ellian Raffoul/AP

Twitter’s new chief executive, Parag Agrawal, is reportedly taking a “few weeks” off for paternity leave after the birth of his second child, a move that drew cheers from other fathers as a positive step towards normalising men taking time off for childcare.

Days before the so-called “Freedom Convoy” reached Ottawa, starting a weeks-long occupation of Canada’s capital and triggering a string of copy-cat blockades, the federal government was warned that violent extremist groups were deeply involved in the protest movement.

The use of intrusive spyware by members of the European Union is expected to face new scrutiny following revelations that the mobile phones of two more Polish citizens with close links to an opposition senator were targeted by a client of NSO Group, according to security experts.

France and its European partners are to begin a military withdrawal from Mali after more than nine years fighting a jihadist insurgency, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, confirmed on Thursday.

Recommended reads

Facebook Twitter Kit Harington. Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi/The Guardian

As the Game of Thrones star Kit Harington swaps furs for modern dress to play Shakespeare’s Henry V, he reflects on what the play tells us about masculinity, and how it addresses the issues that drove his struggle with addiction. “I see it everywhere,” says Harington, who has given “toxic masculinity” a lot of thought over the years, even if he bristles at the phrase, not least because of the roles he has played. “I see confused men walking the streets. I see terrible role models. I see a lot of anger, and I think we need to start dealing with that anger – we as men, but we as a society as well.”

Merilyn Saunders loved sport, music, dressing up and, most of all, her family. The Melbourne grandmother died alone after contracting Covid in her aged care facility in January. Her family believe she was more vulnerable to the disease because she was nursing a broken heart after the death of her daughter. A mother to three children and grandmother to six, it’s unlikely Saunders, 79, would have been in aged care if it weren’t for the shock death of her daughter, says her brother, Colin Hughes. In this latest Lives Lost to Covid, her family remember her.

Mazar-i-Sherif was once the most secular and liberal of Afghan cities. But 20 years of corruption and misrule left it ripe for retaking by the Taliban. Will anything be different this time?

Listen

For years there’s been a global discussion about falling trust in the media, governments and the democratic process. Australia has often been thought of as isolated from these problems but, as we head into the upcoming federal election, we are seeing increasing evidence a lack of trust is permeating society. Lucy Clark talks to Lenore Taylor and Gabrielle Chan about how we can repel these threats to Australia’s democracy.

Full Story Threats to the foundations of Australian democracy – with Lenore Taylor Sorry your browser does not support audio – but you can download here and listen https://audio.guim.co.uk/2022/02/17-30056-FS_trust.mp3 00:00:00 00:23:52

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

Sport

Facebook Twitter Lachlan Henderson during a press conference at the MCG. Photograph: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

Cricket Australia’s new chairman, Lachlan Henderson, has said the board would reflect on its handling of Justin Langer’s contract after the head coach’s resignation in acrimony this month. Langer had hoped for a long contract extension after Australia won the Twenty20 World Cup and thrashed England in the Ashes but the former Test opener was offered only six months.

The Winter Olympics have been plunged into further controversy after Beijing 2022 spokesperson Yan Jiarong dismissed human rights violations among the Uyghur Muslim population as “lies” and insisted Taiwan was part of China.

From the Australian Open and its inaugural Pride day and the AFLW’s recent Pride round to this week’s announcement that Adelaide United will be hosting an A-League Men Pride game, the celebration and promotion of LGBTIQ+ inclusion in sport has gathered momentum of late. Pride celebrations must be engaged with but not simply to make a sport look progressive, writes Ryan Storr.

Media roundup

Australia’s new nation brand and tagline have been unveiled to sell the country to the world after the old logo was dumped for looking like a Covid particle, the Herald Sun reports. Anthony Albanese has sought to correct the record on his previous statements on China’s trade strikes against Australia and his attendance at the opening of the Chau Chak Wing Museum, WAToday reports, as the federal government doubles down on its attacks on the Labor leader.

Coming up

Restrictions on dancing, singing and QR check-ins lift in NSW and Victoria.

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