Tag Archives: Australia

Australia’s largest city posts record daily rise in COVID-19 cases, seeks military help

54 are in intensive care, 22 of whom require ventilation. Two new deaths were recorded, taking the total number of deaths in the latest outbreak to 13. The outbreak in Sydney leaves many with little to do but watch the Olympics, and Australian athletes said they hoped they could provide a little bit of joy with their performances.

“Just extremely grateful and happy that we
maybe sparked some joy in some people’s living
rooms or something for people to celebrate in
the time of lockdown,” Spencer Turrin, Australian Rower and Gold Medallist in the Men’s Four at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics told reporters in Tokyo.

Australia’s biggest city Sydney posted a record one-day rise in local COVID-19 cases on Thursday and warned the outbreak would get worse, as authorities sought military help to enforce a lockdown of 6 million people poised to enter its sixth week.

Australia has struggled to contain an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant in and around Sydney in recent weeks, which threatens to push the country’s A$2 trilion ($1.5 trillion) economy into its second recession in as many years. Despite an extended lockdown of Sydney, the state capital, New South Wales recorded 239 locally acquired cases in the past 24 hours, the biggest daily rise since the pandemic begun.

Read what Gladys Berejiklian the New South Wales Premier said below…

“We can only assume that things are likely to get worse before they get better given the quantity of people infectious in the community.

Berejiklian said one more person had died from
COVID-19, taking the death toll from the current outbreak to 13 and the overall national total to 921 With little sign that recent restrictions are reducing case numbers, Berejiklian said new curbs would be imposed on the southwestern and western areas of Sydney where the majority of COVID-19 cases are being found.

More than two million residents in eight Sydney
hotspots will now be forced to wear masks
outdoors and must stay within 5 km (3 miles) of their homes.

With even tighter restrictions set to begin on
Friday, New South Wales Police said it had asked for 300 military personnel to help enforce lockdown orders.

“With an increase in enforcement activity over
the coming week, I have now made a formal
request to the prime minister for (Australian
Defence Force) personnel to assist with that
operation, New South Wales Police
Commissioner Mick Fuller said.

All adults in Sydney have now been urged to
seek an Astraženeca vaccine. But citing rare
blood clots, many are reluctant and would prefer
to wait several months when Australia is
expected to receive additional Pfizer supplies.
Only about 17% of people above 16 years fully
vaccinated in New South Wales.
More than 2,800 cases have been detected so
far, with 182 people hospitalised.

Berejiklian on Wednesday extended the Sydney
lockdown by another month, but allowed the
majority of construction projects to resume as
long as workers do not come into contact with
residents.

The restrictions are likely to take a heavy
economic toll, with New South Wales accounting for more than a third of Australia’s economy. Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said he xpected the national economy to shrink in the September quarter but the ability to avoid a technical recession would depend on whether New South Wales can avoid a longer lockdown.

Berejiklian has said restrictions need to remain
as too few people in Sydney are vaccinated amid tight supplies of Pfizer vaccines, which Canberra had hoped to inoculate everyone under 60 years old.

“With respect to the December quarter, that does depend to a large extent how successful New South Wales, our largest state economy, is in getting on top of this virus,” Frydenberg told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Australia’s biggest city, Sydney adds four weeks to lockdown as Australia COVID-19 cases grow

Australia’s biggest city, Sydney, extended a lockdown by four weeks on Wednesday after an already protracted stay-at home order failed to douse a COVID-19 outbreak, with authorities warning of tougher policing to stamp out non-compliance says reporters.

Far from a planned exit from lockdown in three
days, the city of 5 million were told to stay home until 28 of Aug following persistently high case numbers since a flare-up of the virulent Delta variant began last month. The state of New South Wales, of which Sydney is the capital, reported 177 new cases for Tuesday, from 172 on Monday.

That is the biggest increase since an unmasked,
unvaccinated airport driver was said to have
sparked the current outbreak. The state also
reported the death of a woman in her 90s, the
11th death of the outbreak. Of particular concern, at least 46 of the new cases were people active in the community before being diagnosed, raising the likelihood of
transmission, said authorities.

The extension turns what was initially intended
to be a “snap” lockdown of Australia’s most
populous city into one of the country’s longest
since the start of the pandemic, and may spark
the second recession of the A$2 trillion ($1.47
trillion) national economy in two years,
according to economists.

According to State Premier Gladys Berejiklian statement, they have cautioned that active community transmission must be near zero before rules are relaxed.

Read what she said below…

“I am as upset and frustrated as all of you that we were not able to get the case numbers we would have liked at this point in time but that is the reality.

She also added that police would boost enforcement of wide-ranging social distancing rules and urged people to report suspected wrong doing, saying “we cannot put up with people continuing to do the wrong thing because it is setting us all back”. In one case, a mourning ceremony attended by 50 people in violation of lockdown rules resulted in 45 infections.

It was later reported that Australia has kept its COVID-19 numbers relatively low, with just over 33,200 cases and 921 deaths, out of a population of about 25 million, since the pandemic began.

To minimise the economic impact, the NSW
government said it would lift a ban on non-
occupied construction in most of Sydney.
However, it expanded a list of local government
areas within the city where the ban would stay
because of the prevalence of COVID-19 cases
there.

“It’s getting really difficult, day in and out, day by day, for us to continue running the same
business,” said Raihan Ahmed, a convenience
store owner at Bankstown, one of the main
affected suburbs. “Somehow we have to survive,
and we are trying our best.

Opinion polls have showed slipping support for
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government
amid criticism of a slow vaccination roll-out that has been blamed on changing regulatory advice and supply shortages

“There is no other shortcut, there is no other way through, we have to just hunker down and push through,’ Morrison said during a televised news conference in the national capital Canberra. All Australians who wanted to vaccination would receive it by the end of the year, and “l would expect by Christmas that we would be seeing a very different Australia to what we are seeing now’ he added.

Government said it was redirecting Pfizer Inc vaccine doses, which have so far been
restricted to people aged 40-60, from relatively unaffected regional areas to final-year school students in the worst-affected Sydney neighbourhoods.

The state and federal governments also said
they were expanding relief funding to enable
affected companies to keep paying wages
through the closure. In contrast to New South Wales, the states of Victoria and South Australia began their first day out of shorter lockdowns that halted outbreaks there.

‘Home and Away’ actor Dieter Brummer dies at 45

Australian actor Dieter Brummer, best known for his role as Shane Parrish on TV soap Home And Away between 1992 and 1996, has died aged 45. Brummer was found dead at a house in Sydney on Saturday by New South Wales police responding to a welfare call. The force said his death is not being treated as suspicious.

Brummer joined Home and Away aged 15 and
became a fan favourite crowned most popular
actor at Australia’s Logie TV awards for two
years running in 1995 and I996. He was also twice voted “prince of soap” by Dolly magazine readers, as viewers became enchanted by his storyline with George.

In a statement on Monday, Brummer’s family
said: “We lost our handsome, talented, funny,
complicated and beloved Dieter “He has left a massive hole in our lives and our world will never be the same” it added. “Our thoughts go out to all of you who knew him, loved him, or worked with him over the years.”

Brummer was enormously popular on Home and
Away during the 1990s, playing the love interest of Melissa George’s Angel Brooks. The Seven Network, which airs Home and Away in Australia, said it was “deeply saddened” by the
news. Dieter was a much-loved Home and Away
cast member and celebrated by Australien and
international audiences,” a statement said.

Brummer left the long-running soap when his
character was written out after dying from
septicaemia in 1996, but continued to act in TV
roles, including true-crime drama Underbelly
Winners and Losers and a 26-episode stint at rival soap. Neighbours. as Capt. Troy Miller, in 2011.

In later years, Brummer revealed he took up
a career as a high-rise window cleaner after
departing Home and Away to experience life out of the limelight. He told TV Tonight in 2010: “lt was a pretty intense time coming out of high school to receive all this fame and adulation. As great as it was, I wanted to prove to myself I could get my hands dirty and sweat for a buck as easily as standing around on set, being primped and preened.”

Biden poised to nominate Caroline Kennedy as US ambassador to Australia

US President Joe Biden plans to nominate Caroline Kennedy the daughter of former President John F. Kennedy, to serve as American ambassador to Australia, three people familiar with the search process told the Source, in one of the highest-profile envoy selections yet by the White House.

Kennedy, served as ambassador to Japan during the Obama administration. She is a longtime friend, ally and donor to Biden who endorsed the President’s candidacy early in the campaign and spoke last summer at the Democratic convention.

A White House spokesperson declined to comment, saying more ambassadors would be announced when the vetting process and the notification to host countries have been completed.

Kennedy’s appointment to Australia reflects the high priority the Biden administration is placing on the Asia-Pacific as it deals with an increasingly assertive China in the region and on the world stage.

The US and Australia share close trade ties and a robust military relationship, fighting side by side in every major conflict since World War I. The two countries are also members of the “Five Eyes alliance,” an intelligence sharing arrangement between the English speaking democracies of the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK.

If confirmed, Kennedy would come to the job with prior experience specific to the region. A graduate of Harvard University and Columbia University Law School, Kennedy served as ambassador to Japan from 2013 to 2017 as an Obama administration appointee.

In Tokyo, Kennedy worked on military and trade, among other issues, and became the second US ambassador to attend an annual memorial service marking the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

Kennedy’s prior experience includes work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, at New York City’s department of education, as well as work with her family’s foundations. She has edited best-selling books about American history, politics, and poetry, and co-authored two books about civil liberties.

In a reflection of Biden’s close relationship to the Kennedy political dynasty, Caroline Kennedy is the second family member he has nominated to fill a diplomatic post. The President has tapped the late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s widow, Victoria, to be his envoy in Austria.

Biden has spoken of the pivotal role the family has played in his own political career, touching on the inspiration he felt as a young man watching a fellow Irish Catholic American, John F. Kennedy, win the White House. Biden shares the experience of deep family tragedy with the Kennedys as well.

Born in 1957, Caroline was only 5 years old when her father was assassinated in 1963. Her uncle Robert Kennedy was assassinated in 1968 and her brother, John F. Kennedy Jr., died in a plane accident in 1999.

In 2009, eulogizing Ted Kennedy, Biden spoke about the debt he owed the late senator — both in helping him get elected and in helping him make it to Congress, where he served for more than 30 years.

Shortly after his election to the Senate in 1972, a car accident claimed the lives of Biden’s wife and daughter and severely injured his two young sons. At a memorial for Ted Kennedy in 2015, Biden told the family that without Ted Kennedy’s support, he would have abandoned his political career.

“It’s close to certain I would have never been sworn in as a United States senator if not for your father, your father’s encouragement,” Biden said, recalling that he had not shown up for his swearing in and hadn’t wanted to.

“I didn’t show up the day I was to be sworn in. It was your father, your father, who along with Mike Mansfield, sent the secretary of the Senate to a hospital in Wilmington, Delaware, to swear me in with my boys,” Biden recalled, adding that once he arrived in Congress, Kennedy “treated me like a little brother.”

A Pacific Island’s Covid-19 Crisis Has Become A Political Power Play Between China And Australia

Australia has longstanding economic and cultural ties with the Pacific, and it is crucial to the country’s national security to ensure the Chinese government doesn’t gain a large foothold in the region.

China and Australia have found another battleground for their deepening diplomatic standoff: the Pacific Islands’ pandemic response.

Canberra has hit back at Beijing’s claims it is derailing the rollout of Chinese vaccines in Papua New Guinea (PNG), the most-populous Pacific nation. “We support Papua New Guinea making sovereign decisions,” Australia’s minister for the Pacific, Zed Seselja, said in an interview on Wednesday.

That’s not the way Beijing sees it. In early July, Chinese state-run tabloid Global Times accused Australia of sabotaging China’s vaccine rollout in the Pacific. At a press conference earlier this month, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry slammed Australia for “undermining vaccine cooperation” in the region.

For years, the countries have jockeyed for influence in the Pacific, a region of 14 island nations and territories with a population of about 10 million people with strategic advantages for both sides.

The islands’ location between US and Asia makes them key military staging grounds and the potential site of future defense installations for either Australia or China.

Australia has longstanding economic and cultural ties with the Pacific, and it is crucial to the country’s national security to ensure the Chinese government doesn’t gain a large foothold in the region.

For China, the region represents an opportunity to expand its influence. Several of the islands are among the last nations in the world to recognize Taipei as a diplomatic partner over Beijing. The Chinese government would like to lure them away from Taiwan as part of its long-running strategy to isolate the island.

Now all that political maneuvering has turned PNG’s Covid-19 outbreak into another area of competition as Australia and China present themselves as benevolent partners.

Yet China’s 300,000 vaccine donations to the Pacific have failed to meet Australia’s nearly 600,000 — and with Canberra promising to supply another 15 million doses to the region, Beijing is on the backfoot.

Is there any truth to the accusations?

PNG avoided the worst of the pandemic in 2020, but this year its cases have skyrocketed, bringing its total to more than 17,000 reported cases and 179 deaths.

When PNG’s cases were starting to soar in February, China announced it would send vaccines. The shots it offered hadn’t yet been approved by the World Health Organization (WHO), so China agreed to provide trial data, according to the Global Times.

Yet PNG didn’t approve the vaccines until May. That delay, according to the Global Times, was due to Australian consultants “working in the shadows” in PNG to “manipulate” local policies.

“Australia has been found sabotaging and disturbing Pacific Island nations’ cooperation with China on vaccines and anti-virus measures,” the Global Times report claimed.

While Australia has dispatched health experts to PNG during the pandemic to strengthen government systems and provide frontline logistic support, Seselja said he wasn’t aware of them giving advice on Chinese vaccine efficacy.

He also noted that Australia had been contributing a range of health care expertise to PNG long before the pandemic.

“Our commitment to the Pacific is longstanding and comprehensive,” Seselja said. “Any suggestion we do it in response to other countries is not well founded if you look at decades of consistent wide-ranging support.”

Joanne Wallis, a professor in international security at the University of Adelaide, said it wouldn’t have been unreasonable for Australian health experts to act as consultants to provide information to PNG on the efficacy of different vaccines.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and PNG’s Covid-19 National Pandemic Response office did not reply to MB request for comment.

The reality for the delay in approving the Chinese vaccines was likely a simple case of timing.

PNG authorities said they wanted Sinopharm to get WHO approval before rolling the vaccine out. By the time that happened in May, PNG had found alternatives.

It had little choice. During March, the country of 7 million was reporting hundreds of Covid cases a day, raising fears the outbreak could overwhelm the island’s already fragile health system.

That month Australia announced it would send 8,000 doses of AstraZeneca to PNG. In April, PNG received 132,000 AstraZeneca vaccines from global vaccine alliance COVAX. Australia sent another 10,000 doses in May, and New Zealand sent 146,000 in June.

Australia is able to be so generous due to an excess of AstraZeneca shots at home. After initially intending to use AstraZeneca for its entire population, the government now only advises its use for those over 60, due to the greater risk of blood clots in younger people. Extra Pfizer vaccines have been bought for under the 60s.

Jonathan Pryke, director of the Lowy Institute’s Pacific Islands Program, said it was “terrible optics” that Australia wasn’t rolling out AstraZeneca to everyone domestically, but was happy to give it to Pacific countries. “The silver lining of that is that (Pacific Islands) are getting much more vaccine much earlier than they otherwise would have been, if these restrictions weren’t in place in Australia.”

Seselja dismissed the idea that AstraZeneca was not good enough for Australians. “It is good enough — millions of Australians are receiving it,” he said.

Sydney in lockdown, borders shut and hardly anyone vaccinated. How long can Australia go on like this?

In the window of a vintage shop in the Sydney suburb of Annandale, a sign expresses the frustration of many Australians with their country’s pandemic strategy.

“Dear Customers, We will be closed for the foreseeable future because Scott Morrison is a useless dickhead who only ordered enough vaccine to vaccinate 4% of the population 18 months into a pandemic,” reads the sign, shared on Twitter, in reference to the Australian Prime Minister.

Artist James Powditch put up the testy sign at the Roulette store and art studio he runs on Saturday, as the city of 5 million people, plus towns and cities in its surrounds, went into yet another hard lockdown, this time for two whole weeks. By Sunday, a cluster of coronavirus infections of the Delta variant that began in Sydney’s Bondi neighborhood had grown to 110 cases.

Australia was celebrated for its initial response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and for getting its economy more or less back on track long ago.

But with that security has come complacency, particularly in the federal government, which failed to secure enough vaccine doses to prevent the regular “circuit breaker” lockdowns that come every time a handful of cases emerge, or even the longer restrictions that Sydney is experiencing now. Australia’s borders, controlled by strict quarantine measures, have been all but shut for more than a year.

Now Australians, who basked in their early successes, are wondering how much longer this can go on.

“We can’t leave the country, people can’t come in, and we end up periodically in lockdowns, which cost a friggin’ fortune,” said Powditch.

“People have been accepting that this is a diabolically difficult situation, but once we start watching the rest of the world open up, we’re going to turn to anger over the way things like vaccines have been rolled out here.”

Already there are signs that Australians are getting weary of these sporadic disruptions to their lives. On Sunday, large crowds were seen on Bondi Beach, despite the stay-at-home orders. While outdoor exercise is allowed, images from Bondi showed people bathing in the winter sun and sitting on benches with drinks.

A 48-hour lockdown was also imposed in parts of Australia’s Northern Territory, including its capital, Darwin, after four Covid-19 cases were linked to a worker at a gold mine. He is believed to have become infected during an overnight stay at a quarantine hotel in Brisbane. Now painstaking efforts to trace all 900 workers who have left the mine for cities across Australia over recent days are under way, as the country relies heavily on a robust track-and-trace system to keep clusters contained.

Vaccine hesitancy

Australia has recorded just 910 deaths in its population of 25 million, one of the lowest per capita death tolls in the developed world, and cases have remained low as well.

While it beat much of the world in getting its economy back up and running, its tourism sector has taken a massive hit, its universities are struggling without the fees international students usually bring and some Australians, who travel abroad in relatively high numbers, are starting to feel the itch to go on holidays overseas.

Even New Zealand — the only country with which Australians had an open travel corridor — announced a three-day suspension of quarantine-free travel between the nations starting Saturday because of the outbreaks.

Australia has fully vaccinated just over 4% of its population, compared with more than 46% in the US and 47% in the UK, according to Our World in Data. Its rates are more comparable with Indonesia and India, which, like much of the developing world, were left out of the agreements with pharmaceutical companies that secured hundreds of millions of vaccine doses for most of the rich world.

Compounding the problem is hesitancy towards Covid-19 vaccines in Australia. One survey by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, with research firm Resolve Strategic, found 15% of adults surveyed were “not at all likely” and 14% were “not very likely” to take a vaccination in the months ahead. The survey was taken after an April ruling that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was linked to a very rare blood disorder side effect, involving blood clots.

Australian officials have said they hope to reach herd immunity — the point at which about 80% of the population is vaccinated — before reopening its borders. Prime Minister Morrison earlier said that may not be until mid-2022. More recently, he was even unable to commit to a Christmas 2022 reopening

In a question to the Prime Minister, journalists on Channel 9’s Today program on Thursday suggested that Morrison and his slow vaccine rollout were responsible for the ongoing lockdowns.

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Morrison replied by saying an increase in supply “will really kick in next month in July,” and that 600,000 Pfizer doses were due in next week.

“The challenge we’ve had, of course, has been with AstraZeneca. I mean, the medical advice has restricted its availability to those over 60, and prior to that over 50. Now, that was a big shock to the rollout and they are events outside of the government’s control,” he said, adding there were new supply arrangements with AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna.

“So, we’ll keep working towards that goal, by the end of the year, of offering that vaccine to everybody who would want one and there will be an escalating ramp-up as we move through the second half of the year,” he said.

Can’t get in, can’t get out

The government has also been criticized for leaving about 36,000 Australians stranded overseas. Caps on arrivals to the country have made booking seats on flights difficult and expensive, and the cost of quarantine is in the thousands of dollars. It’s the responsibility of the person arriving to foot the bill.

It’s just as hard for some living in Australia to get out. If someone from overseas has Australian citizenship or permanent residence, they need a government exemption to leave the country.

The result is not just holidays lost, but lost time with family and friends.

At the last census in 2016, around half the people living in Australia were either born abroad or had at least one parent born overseas.

One Brisbane resident from Canada, who is working in a hospital in health care, is hoping a speedier vaccine program will mean fewer border controls and, hopefully, a trip back home.

“I’m originally from Canada, and don’t know when I will see my family again. Honestly, I think at least 2 years,” the health care worker wrote in a message to CNN.

“We’re so frustrated! The vaccination process is ridiculous. I’m a health care worker in the top list of people and there was so much confusion. We were told to email and that we’d be contacted when our appointment was … then we’re told just to show up because that program was actually not recording anything,” she said.

“It’s still only open to [people age] 50+ even though spreaders are averaging 20-30 years of age. We’re sick of lockdowns, knowing the vaccine is out there.”

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And for some residents with strong ties abroad, there are more serious implications to this global isolation.

Katerina Vavrinec, a 34-year-old from the Czech Republic living in Sydney, said she has sought counseling for mental health issues arising from the separation from her friends and family, and the anxiety that has come with it. She hasn’t been to her home city of Prague for three years.

“Keeping borders shut is going to have a huge impact on people’s mental health,” she said, pointing to the high number of Australians with family ties overseas. “So this is going to have huge impact on the mental health of millions of people.” 

Vavrinec is on maternity leave and due to return to work in just over a week, though she’s not sure what that will look like in lockdown. But she’s found a silver lining.

“I’m actually quite happy that we’re in lockdown because I’ve been quite frustrated with the indefinite border closures. So I’m hoping that the lockdown forces people to realize that completely isolating Australia from rest of the world is not going to get us out of this.”