The Australian and international news stories you need to know today, Thursday October 29.

"Boxing Day level crowds" at Melbourne retail and hospitality venues.

Melburnians have been celebrating their freedom from lockdown in style, enjoying hospitality venues, retail and the reopening of their city.

Lines out the door could be seen at major shopping centres, Kmart stores and cafes and restaurants across the city on Wednesday, with Chadstone Shopping Centre reporting "Boxing Day level crowds."

Foot traffic across parts of the CBD has returned to 80 per cent of what it was before COVID-19 with 16,200 shops now back in business.

Melbourne set a world record this month, becoming the first city in the world to successfully crush its second wave in a matter of weeks, after Premier Daniel Andrews enforced a tough virus lockdown.

Victorians enjoying outdoor eating in Richmond, Melbourne on the first proper day of lifted restrictions. Image: Darrian Traynor/Getty. 

At least 13,900 fines worth a whopping $20.15 million were dished out to Victorians for breaching the chief health officer’s directions and not wearing masks since the lockdown was reimposed in July.


After two days of zero deaths and zero new cases, Victoria recorded two new COVID-19 cases and two deaths on Wednesday.

Rudd says Epstein IPI donations disturbing.

US financier and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein donated $A920,500 to the International Peace Institute between 2011 to 2019, a revelation the think-tank's chair Kevin Rudd says is "deeply disturbing".

The former Australian prime minister, who became vice-chair of the UN-affiliated organisation in 2014 and chair in 2018, has convened an extraordinary board meeting after reports IPI president Terje Rod-Larsen borrowed $US130,000 from convicted pedophile Epstein in 2013.

"I first learned of contributions from Epstein's foundations to the IPI in November 2019 through reporting by the Norwegian press. I was blindsided by this," Mr Rudd said in a statement to Norwegian business newspaper DN on Wednesday.

"These revelations were deeply disturbing to me and to other members of the board. IPI's work includes combating human trafficking and sexual violence."

Mr Rudd said the recently reported financial links between Norwegian diplomat Rod-Larsen and Epstein were also concerning.

Epstein was convicted in Florida in 2008 of procuring an underage girl for prostitution. In July last year, he was arrested on federal charges for the sex trafficking of minors in Florida and New York but was found dead in his US prison cell a month later.


Virus vaccine on track for early next year.

Australia is on track to receive its first batch of coronavirus vaccinations early next year.

The federal government has pumped $1.7 billion into two lead vaccine candidates.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the latest trials of the Oxford University AstraZeneca vaccine were very positive.

"There are no guarantees but this week's results, coming out of phase three trials, are deeply important," Mr Hunt told parliament on Wednesday.

"It means we are on track for first vaccines to be delivered in the first quarter of 2021.

"Equally, the results coming out of the early phase of trials in relation to the molecular clamp are also very positive."

The molecular clamp is being developed at the University of Queensland. Both vaccines will be produced at a CSL plant in Melbourne if they prove successful.

Older Australians are considered the most vulnerable and will be the priority for receiving a vaccine.

PM blasts unacceptable Qatar examinations.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has slammed the strip searches of 13 Australian women in Qatar, saying he shuddered after learning about the invasive procedures.

The group of female passengers were subjected to the examinations earlier this month after a premature baby was found in a bathroom at Doha airport.

Mr Morrison said the Qatari government had been given a clear message the incident was unacceptable.


"It was appalling," he told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.

"As a father of daughters, I could only shudder at the thought that anyone would, Australian or otherwise, be subjected to that."

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials on Wednesday confirmed 13 Australians and five women of other nationalities were strip searched after being dragged off planes.

DFAT became aware on Tuesday 10 flights were involved, almost a month after the incident happened.

The Qatari government said a newborn was found in a garbage bin, concealed in a plastic bag and under rubbish on October 2.

Australia lobbies China on jailed citizens.

Australia is continuing to lobby for more information about two citizens locked up in China who consular officials haven't seen for at least a month.

Journalist Cheng Lei has been detained on suspicion of endangering national security, while writer Yang Hengjun has been charged with espionage.

Australian officials visited Ms Cheng in a Beijing detention centre twice last month, but haven't been able to speak to her since September 28.

Cheng and Hengjun have been imprisoned in China. Image: Facebook. 

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary Frances Adamson said the Australian ambassador made representations about the case in the past week.


"There would be very few interactions we would have with the Chinese in which her case would not be mentioned," she told a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra on Wednesday.

Consular staff haven't seen Dr Yang since September 22, with the government yet to receive any further information about the charges.

Some espionage offences are punishable by death in China.

NSW and QLD residents warned to avoid floodwater.

Emergency services are urging people to avoid floodwaters as many parts of NSW brace for wild weather including thunderstorms, heavy rain and strong winds.

The Bureau of Meteorology issued a severe thunderstorm warning on Wednesday for Lismore, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Armidale, Orange, Tamworth, Moree and Dubbo.

The NSW State Emergency Service is warning residents not to drive, walk or ride through floodwater in the event of flash flooding, as it can contain chemicals, garbage and sewage.


Rain is also expected to develop or return to a number of regions in coming days, including Sydney, the Central Coast, Hunter and Illawarra. 

Queensland is also still being battered by severe weather, with homes still without power on Thursday morning in the state's southeast. 

100,000 lightning strikes were recorded during the already two-day storm cell. Tuesday was the second wettest day Brisbane has seen in 20 years, recording 72mm in the evening alone. 

Palaszczuk clear winner in election debate.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has won the first leaders' debate after defending her state border closures and attacking the Liberal National Party over election costings.

Undecided voters in the audience said Ms Palaszczuk was the "clear winner" at Wednesday's People's Forum, according to the Courier Mail.

Ms Palaszczuk received 53 per cent of the vote, while LNP leader Deb Frecklington received 30 per cent. Seventeen per cent were undecided.


The premier used the debate to lay into LNP leader Deb Frecklington about election costings, which she has promised to release on Thursday.

"Every Queenslander needs to know tonight - how is Deb Frecklington going to pay for all of these commitments she's been talking about during the election?" Ms Palaszczuk said.

Queenslanders polling day is October 31.

Meghan seeks to delay newspaper court case.

Meghan Markle has asked a London court to delay the trial of her privacy action against a British tabloid after a judge ruled the paper could amend its case to include details from a recently published biography.

Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, is suing Associated Newspapers over articles in the Mail on Sunday that included parts of a handwritten letter she had sent to her estranged father, Thomas Markle, in August 2018.

Last month, the Mail successfully applied for permission to amend its case, arguing that the couple had cooperated with a biography about them, Finding Freedom, which was published in August.


A hearing to consider costs and case-management issues was due to take place on Thursday ahead of a trial in January.

But Meghan's lawyers have submitted an application for the trial to be put back to a later date. A judge will decide on Thursday on the plea.

Around the world.

- France will go back into lockdown for almost five weeks as the country battles to curb its surge in coronavirus cases. Residents won't be allowed to leave their homes except for essential reasons such as work, exercise or to go to the supermarket. Schools will remain open, but regional travel is banned.

- Germany will impose an emergency month-long lockdown that includes the closure of restaurants, gyms and theatres.

- New highs in coronavirus cases or deaths have been marked in Italy, Poland, Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland, Greece, Portugal, Iran, and Russia.

- A Bali Nine member is among three Australian prisoners who have been diagnosed with coronavirus inside Indonesia's notorious Kerobokan jail.

- Boris Johnson has used a call with Scott Morrison to emphasise the importance of setting ambitious climate change targets to cut emissions, forcing the Australian prime minister to defend his decisions. 

- With AAP

Feature image: Darrian Traynor/Du Yang/China News Service/Getty/AAP /Dan Peled/POOL.

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