More On "Oceania News"
Showing posts with label Oceania News. Show all posts
Your source for latest breaking Nigerian News, Entertainment, Sports and World News

The new Omicron coronavirus variant kept spreading around the world on Sunday, with two cases detected in Australia, even as more countries tried to seal themselves off by imposing travel restrictions.

Health officials in Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, said two passengers who arrived in Sydney from southern Africa on Saturday evening had tested positive for the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Both people were asymptomatic, fully vaccinated and in quarantine, NSW Health said. Another 12 passengers from southern Africa were also in 14 days of hotel quarantine, while around 260 other passengers and aircrew have been directed to isolate.

The Australian cases were the latest indication that the variant may prove hard to contain. First discovered in South Africa, it has since been detected in Britain, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Austria, Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong.

The discovery of Omicron, dubbed a “variant of concern” last week by the World Health Organization, has sparked worries around the world that it could resist vaccinations and prolong the nearly two-year COVID-19 pandemic.

Omicron is potentially more contagious than previous variants, although experts do not know yet if it will cause more or less severe COVID-19 compared to other strains.

Countries have imposed a wave of travel bans or curbs on southern Africa. Financial markets, especially stocks of airlines and others in the travel sector, dived on Friday as investors worried that the variant could stall a global recovery. Oil prices tumbled by about $10 a barrel.

On Sunday, most Gulf stock markets fell sharply in early trade, with the Saudi index suffering its biggest single-day fall in nearly two years.

In the most far-reaching effort to keep the variant at bay, Israel announced late on Saturday it would ban the entry of all foreigners and reintroduce counter-terrorism phone-tracking technology to contain the spread of the variant.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the ban, pending government approval, would last 14 days. Officials hope that within that period there will be more information on how effective vaccines are against Omicron.

Many countries have imposed or are planning restrictions on travel from southern Africa. The South African government denounced this on Saturday as unfair and potentially harmful to its economy – saying it is being punished for its scientific ability to identify coronavirus variants early.

In Britain, where two linked cases of Omicron identified on Saturday were connected to travel to southern Africa, the government announced measures to try to contain the spread, including stricter testing rules for people arriving in the country and requiring mask wearing in some settings.

The German state of Bavaria also announced two confirmed cases of the variant on Saturday. In Italy, the National Health Institute said a case of the new variant had been detected in Milan in a person coming from Mozambique.

VACCINE DISPARITIES

Although epidemiologists say travel curbs may be too late to stop Omicron from circulating, many countries – including the United States, Brazil, Canada, European Union nations, Australia, Japan, South Korea and Thailand – have announced travel bans or restrictions on southern Africa.

More countries imposed such curbs on Sunday, including Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.

Mexico’s deputy health secretary, Hugo Lopez Gatell, said travel restrictions are of little use in response to the new variant, calling measures taken by some countries “disproportionate”.

“It has not been shown to be more virulent or to evade the immune response induced by vaccines. They affect the economy and well-being of people,” he said in a Twitter post on Saturday.

Omicron has emerged as many countries in Europe are already battling a surge in COVID-19 infections, with some reintroducing restrictions on social activity to try to stop the spread.

The new variant has also thrown a spotlight on huge disparities in vaccination rates around the globe. Even as many developed countries are giving third-dose boosters, less than 7% of people in low-income countries have received their first COVID-19 shot, according to medical and human rights groups.

Seth Berkley, CEO of the GAVI Vaccine Alliance that with the WHO co-leads the COVAX initiative to push for equitable distribution of vaccines, said this was essential to ward off the emergence of more coronavirus variants.

“While we still need to know more about Omicron, we do know that as long as large portions of the world’s population are unvaccinated, variants will continue to appear, and the pandemic will continue to be prolonged,” he said in a statement to Reuters on Saturday.

REUTERS
Your source for latest breaking Nigerian News, Entertainment, Sports and World News
Police officers in protective face masks patrol a public transit station in the city centre during lockdown

Australia’s largest city of Sydney will further ease social distancing curbs on Monday, a month after emerging from a coronavirus lockdown that lasted nearly 100 days, as close to 90% of people have got both doses of vaccine, officials said.

Although limited to people who are fully inoculated, the relaxation in the state of New South Wales, home to Sydney, lifts limits on house guests or outdoor gatherings, among other measures.

“We’re leading the nation out of the pandemic,” said state premier Dominic Perrottet, as he called for a “final push” to reach, and even surpass, a milestone of 95% vaccinations.

Several hundred people held an anti-vaccine protest on Sunday in the state’s capital of Sydney, but such opposition is slight in Australia, where polls show vaccination opponents number in the single digits.

The southeastern state of Victoria recorded the majority of Australia’s 1,417 new coronavirus cases, with public health figures showing 10 more deaths.

There were no new infections in the remote Northern Territory, where a snap lockdown was extended until midnight on Monday to tackle a small outbreak in some areas.

Australia crossed the 80% mark of full inoculations on Saturday.

“That should give us all confidence in terms of opening up,” federal finance minister Simon Birmingham told broadcaster Channel 9 in an interview on Sunday.

Australia eased international border curbs on Monday for the first time during the pandemic, but only for its vaccinated public from states with high levels of inoculation.

However domestic travel is still hindered, as most states and territories keep internal borders shut. Western Australia state will re-open when it hits the 90% level of double vaccine doses, its premier said.

Despite the Delta outbreaks that brought lockdowns for months in the two largest cities of Sydney and Melbourne, Australia’s tally of COVID-19 infections is far lower than many developed nations, at just over 180,000 cases and 1,597 deaths.

REUTERS
Your source for latest breaking Nigerian News, Entertainment, Sports and World News
A member of the public receives a Pfizer vaccine

New Zealand’s 206 new daily community infections on Saturday carried it past the double-hundred mark for the first time during the coronavirus pandemic, as the nation scrambles to vaccinate its population of 5 million.

The most populous city of Auckland, which reported 200 of the new cases, has lived under COVID-19 curbs for nearly three months as it battles an outbreak of the infectious Delta variant, although restrictions are expected to ease on Monday.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she wanted Auckland residents to be able to travel for the southern hemisphere summer and Christmas.

“We will not keep Aucklanders isolated to Auckland through that period – we simply cannot do that,” Ardern told a news conference at the national gathering of her Labour Party.

Saturday’s cases served to remind people of the importance of vaccination as the number one protection against the virus, the health ministry said in a statement.

It said 78% of New Zealanders aged 12 and above had been fully vaccinated, while 89% had a first dose by Friday.

Once praised globally for stamping out COVID-19, New Zealand has been unable to vanquish the Delta outbreak in Auckland, forcing Ardern to abandon a strategy of eliminating the virus in favour of efforts to live with it.

Still, it has fared far better than many other countries, with tough curbs that kept infections to just under 7,000 and a toll of 31 deaths.

REUTERS
Your source for latest breaking Nigerian News, Entertainment, Sports and World News
Cleo Smith and her mother Ellie Smith leave a house where the girl spent her first night after being rescued in Carnarvon, Australia, November 4, 2021. AAP/Richard Wainwright via REUTERS

Australian police charged a 36-year-old man on Thursday with abducting a four-year-old girl from an outback campsite 18 days before she was found safe in a locked house.

The man was twice taken to hospital for self-inflicted injuries before being interviewed and charged with various offences related to the abduction, police in Western Australia state said in a statement.

The girl, Cleo Smith, had last been seen in her family’s tent in the early hours of Oct. 16 at the remote Blowholes Shacks campsite in Macleod. In the morning she was gone.

Her disappearance triggered an extensive search by land and air, along with roadblocks and scouring of CCTV footage.

She was found safe on Wednesday when police broke into a house in Carnarvon, a town about 100 km (60 miles) south of the campsite on the far northwest coast of the state. The house is 3 km (2 miles) from her family home, media said.

Police said the charges the suspect faces include one count of forcibly taking a child under 16. The suspect appeared in court and was due to appear again on Dec. 6, police said.

During his court appearance the man threatened journalists in the public gallery and asked them what they were staring at, the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported.

Police released an audio recording of their entry into the house and the discovery of the girl in a room. “We’ve got her. We’ve got her,” an officer could be heard saying.

After being asked her name a few times, the toddler answered: “My name is Cleo”. She had been found playing with toys with the light on, police said.

After meeting her family, state Premier Mark McGowan said Cleo was a “very bright, upbeat, sweet little girl” and looked “very well adjusted”, considering her ordeal.

Specialist child interviewers would speak with her, and authorities had instructed her parents on how to talk to her to preserve her memory, authorities said.

The hashtag #CleoSmith has been trending on Twitter since Wednesday, with a picture posted by police that showed a smiling Cleo waving from her hospital bed drawing nearly 54,000 “likes”.

Purple and pink balloons adorned the streets and many landmarks in Perth, the capital of Western Australia, were lit up in blue on Wednesday night to thank police for their efforts.

REUTERS
Your source for latest breaking Nigerian News, Entertainment, Sports and World News
Bodycam footage shows a man speaking to 4-year-old Cleo Smith, who went missing from an Australian outback campsite more than two weeks ago and was found in a locked house on November 3, as a security officer carries her during her rescue, in Carnarvon

A 4-year-old girl who went missing from an Australian outback campsite more than two weeks ago has been returned safely to her parents after she was rescued by police from a locked house, authorities said on Wednesday.

Police broke into a house in Carnarvon, a town about 100 km (62 miles) south of the campsite, early on Wednesday and found Cleo Smith in one of the rooms.

“One of the officers picked her up into his arms and asked her ‘what’s your name?’. She said ‘My name is Cleo’,” Western Australia Police Deputy Commissioner Col Blanch told media.

A man has been taken into custody in relation to the disappearance, he said.

Cleo was last seen in her family’s tent in the early hours of Oct. 16 at the remote Blowholes Shacks campsite in Macleod, about 900 km (560 miles) north of Perth, the capital of Western Australia state.

When her parents woke in the morning, she was gone.

Police had feared the girl had been abducted and offered a A$1 million ($743,000) reward for any information leading to her whereabouts.

“What a great day. We now have returned Cleo to her loving parents. It’s a wonderful day for this little girl and her loving family,” the state police commissioner, Chris Dawson, told media.

A team of 140 people had been working on the case with police fielding more than 1,000 tips from the public.

Police said the abduction appeared to have been opportunistic and they expected to file charges later in the day.

“She is physically OK. That was evident from the start,” said state police homicide squad Senior Sergeant Cameron Blaine, who was one of four people to rescue the child.

“Taking her to the hospital we got assurance of that from people that know what they are doing.”

He said finding her was “without a doubt” the best moment of his career.

“She is a very sweet, energetic girl, very trusting and very open with us,” he said.

Footage released by police showed the moment the girl was carried out of the house, her arms around a policeman.

After introducing himself, Blaine asked her: “Are you OK? We are going to take you to see your Mummy and Daddy, OK? Is that good?” to which she smiled and nodded.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison also welcomed the “wonderful, relieving news”.

“Cleo Smith has been found and is home safe and sound. Our prayers answered,” Morrison said on Twitter.

REUTERS
Your source for latest breaking Nigerian News, Entertainment, Sports and World News
File photo: President Emmanuel Macron inspects French nuclear submarine 'Suffren' EPA-EFE/LUDOVIC MARIN

French President Emmanuel Macron said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison lied to him over the cancellation of a submarine building contract in September, and indicated more efforts were required to rebuild trust between the two allies.

In Rome for the G20 summit, the two leaders were meeting for first time since Australia scrapped the multi-billion dollar deal with France as part of a new security alliance with Britain and the United States unveiled in September.

The alliance, dubbed AUKUS, which could give Australia access to nuclear-powered submarines, caught Paris off guard, prompting it to recall ambassadors from Washington and Canberra amid accusations that France had been betrayed.

“I don’t think, I know,” Macron said in response to a question whether he thought that Morrison had lied to him

“I have a lot of respect for your country,” he said in comments on Sunday to a group of Australian reporters who had travelled to Italy for the summit of leaders of the top 20 economies.

“I have a lot of respect and a lot of friendship for your people. I just say when we have respect, you have to be true and you have to behave in line, and consistently, with this value.”

Morrison told a media conference later the same day that he had not lied, and had previously explained to Macron that conventional submarines would no longer meet Australia’s needs. The process of repairing ties had begun, he added.

Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce urged France to view the matter in perspective.

“We didn’t steal an island, we didn’t deface the Eiffel Tower. It was a contract,” Joyce told reporters in Moree, 644 km(400 miles) northwest of Sydney.

“Contracts have terms and conditions, and one of those terms and conditions and propositions is that you might get out of the contract.”

On Friday, U.S. President Joe Biden said the handling of the new pact had been clumsy, adding that he had thought France had been informed of the contract cancellation before the pact was announced.

REUTERS
Your source for latest breaking Nigerian News, Entertainment, Sports and World News
Diners eat outside St Kilda's Rococo restaurant in Melbourne

Melbourne, Australia’s second-biggest city, began its first weekend out of the world’s longest string of Covid-19 lockdowns with spontaneous street parties, live music and packed pubs, bars and restaurants.

Home to about five million people, Melbourne endured 262 days, or nearly nine months, of restrictions during six lockdowns since March 2020, longer than the 234-day continuous lockdown in Buenos Aires.

Despite rain on Saturday morning, people queued for barbers and breakfast restaurants, all of which are open only to the fully vaccinated.

Late on Friday, people broke into a spontaneous street party in Melbourne’s southeast and many rejoiced with their first drink in months in a pub with friends, social media footage showed.

Although the Delta outbreak continues to spread, with 1,750 new cases and nine deaths reported on Saturday in Victoria state, of which Melbourne is the capital, the ease in restrictions came the state’s full-vaccination rate reached 70 per cent.

While most retail outlets remained closed, authorities said further easing will come once 80 per cent of Victorians are fully inoculated, estimated by next weekend.

“Let’s not slack off, let’s increase the pace as we get to the 80 per cent milestone – but also the 90 per cent vaccination milestone,” Jeroen Weimar, Victoria’s Covid-19 response commander, said on Saturday.

While small but violent anti-vaccinations protests have taken place in Melbourne and other cities this year, Australians overwhelmingly support vaccinations, with polls showing the percentage decisively opposed in single digits.

Nearly 72 per cent of adults in Australia are now fully vaccinated and nearly 87 per cent have received one shot. According to a national strategy, lockdowns will be unlikely once 80 per cent of Australians are fully inoculated.

Sydney, Australia’s largest city, celebrated its reopening two weeks ago, after reaching the vaccination threshold of 70%. On Saturday, New South Wales state, of which Sydney is the capital, recorded 332 Covid-19 cases and two deaths.

Weekend newspapers were filled with travel advertising for the coming months, as international border restrictions start to ease from November. Flag carrier Qantas Airways is speeding up plans to restart flights to many destinations and upsize some planes amid “massive demand”.

REUTERS
Your source for latest breaking Nigerian News, Entertainment, Sports and World News

Britain and New Zealand have reached agreement in principle on a free trade deal designed to reduce tariffs, improve services trade, and take London one step closer to membership in a broader trans-Pacific trade agreement.

Prime ministers Boris Johnson and Jacinda Ardern sealed the deal in a Zoom call on Wednesday after 16 months of negotiation.

“This is a great trade deal for the United Kingdom, cementing our long friendship with New Zealand and furthering our ties with the Indo-Pacific,” Johnson said in a statement.

It comes only months after a similar British agreement with Australia as ministers in London look to flesh out a post-Brexit pivot away from relying on commerce with the European Union.

“This deal serves New Zealand’s economy and exporters well as we reconnect, rebuild and recover from COVID-19, and look forward into the future,” Ardern said at a news conference in Wellington, adding the deal was the country’s best ever.

Tariffs on 97 per cent of the products will be eliminated for both countries the day the deal comes into force, Ardern said.

The immediate economic impact of any deal on Britain’s 3 trillion dollar economy is expected to be negligible according to British analyses published in 2019 and 2020. An updated economic analysis will be published when the deal is signed, for which a date has not been set.

New Zealand said the deal would provide a boost of almost NZ$1 billion to its GDP. It’s the South Pacific nation’s second deal this year after sealing an upgraded trade pact with its biggest trading partner China in January.

PACIFIC TILT

UK-New Zealand trade was worth £2.3 billion pounds ($3.18 billion) last year. The agreement signals a return of close trade ties between the nations that were curtailed when Britain joined the then European Economic Community in the 1970s.

It also aligns with Britain foreign policy push for more influence in the Indo-Pacific to try to moderate China’s global dominance.

The deal took longer than expected to reach, coming nearly two months after a target date. Britain’s opposition Labour Party criticized it, saying it harmed farmers and failed to deliver on jobs, exports or economic growth.

However, ministers see it as another stepping stone toward joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) – an 11-country bloc including Australia, Singapore and Mexico.

CPTPP membership has emerged as Britain’s top post-Brexit trade aim after the prospects of a quick and comprehensive deal with the United States faded. Britain is hoping to become a member by the end of 2022.

Under the trade pact, tariffs on dairy products will be gradually eliminated after five years. It also will end annual tariffs of NZ$14.1 million on wine, New Zealand’s largest export to the UK.

It gives significantly more access for New Zealand’s beef and sheep meat to the British market, and all tariffs will be eliminated after 15 years, which upset Britain’s farmers.

“The government is now asking British farmers to go toe-to-toe with some of the most export-orientated farmers in the world, without the serious, long-term and properly funded investment in UK agriculture that can enable us to do so,” National Farmers’ Union President Minette Batters said.

REUTERS
Your source for latest breaking Nigerian News, Entertainment, Sports and World News
File photo: People wait in line at U.K. citizens arrivals at Heathrow Airport in London2021. REUTERS/Guy Faulconbridge/File Photo

Fully vaccinated passengers arriving in England from low-risk countries from Oct. 24 will no longer have to take expensive COVID-19 tests, the British government said on Thursday.

Last month the government simplified the rules for international travel to England in a boost to the tourism industry, which has blamed the testing and complicated rules for the slowness of a recovery in air travel over the summer.

The government said that from Oct. 24, the start of school half-term holidays across much of England, fully vaccinated passengers and most under 18s arriving from countries not on the red list could take a lateral flow test on or before day two of their arrival, rather than a PCR lab test.

Lateral flow tests are cheaper and provide a faster result.

“Taking away expensive mandatory PCR testing will boost the travel industry and is a major step forward in normalising international travel and encouraging people to book holidays with confidence,” Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps said in a statement.

The government said passengers must use lateral flow tests purchased from a private provider listed on the government’s website, rather than free ones available as part of the government Test and Trace scheme, and passengers must upload a photo of their test and booking reference to verify the result.

Anyone with a positive lateral flow test will be provided with a free confirmatory PCR test through the National Health Service.

Australians have been unable to travel internationally for more than 18 months without a government waiver REUTERS/Loren Elliott/File Photo

Sydney will allow in fully vaccinated travellers from overseas from Nov. 1 without the need for quarantine, the country’s most populous state said on Friday, although the easing of strict entry controls will initially benefit only citizens.

The move comes as New South Wales state is expected to reach an 80% first dose vaccination rate on Saturday, well ahead of the rest of Australia, and brings forward the expected return of overseas travel by several weeks.

“We need to rejoin the world. We can’t live here in a hermit kingdom. We’ve got to open up,” New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet said.

Australia closed its borders in March 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic, allowing entry almost exclusively to only citizens and permanent residents who are currently required to undergo two weeks of hotel quarantine at their own expense.

As well ditching plans for home quarantine, which had been expected to replace the hotel stays, Perrottet said New South Wales would welcome all overseas arrivals. But he was quickly overruled by Prime Minister Scott Morrison who said the government would stick with plans to first open the border to citizens and permanent residents.

“This is about Australian residents and citizens first. The Commonwealth government has made no decision to allow other visa holders … to come into Australia under these arrangements,” Morrison told reporters in Sydney.

He said the parents of Australians citizens living overseas may be permitted to travel to the country.

ECONOMIC REVIVAL

Australians have been unable to travel internationally for more than 18 months without a government waiver, and thousands of citizens and permanent residents in other countries have been unable to return after Canberra imposed a strict cap on arrivals to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Many of these are now expected to return via Sydney, even though some COVID-19 free states in Australia have closed their borders to New South Wales.

Qantas Airways said it would bring forward the restart of international flights from Sydney to London and Los Angeles by two weeks to Nov. 1 and would consider bringing forward some other destinations that had been expected to start in December.

Major airlines like Singapore Airlines, Emirates and United Airlines have continued to fly to Sydney throughout the pandemic but due to strict passenger caps, most of their revenue has been from cargo. The announcement should allow them to begin selling more seats on those flights and potentially adding more services.

New South Wales, meanwhile, reported 399 COVID-19 cases on Friday, well down from the state’s pandemic high of 1,599 in early September.

Neighbouring Victoria state, where vaccination rates are lower, reported 2,179 new locally acquired cases, down from a record 2,297 a day earlier.

Canberra, the national capital, on Friday exited its more than two-month lockdown, allowing cafes, pubs and gyms to reopen with strict social distancing rules.

The country’s overall coronavirus numbers are still relatively low, with some 139,000 cases and 1,506 deaths.

REUTERS
Your source for latest breaking Nigerian News, Entertainment, Sports and World News
The first morning of pubs and many other businesses re-opening to vaccinated people, following months of lockdown orders REUTERS/Loren Elliott

Unvaccinated to remain in lockdown until Dec 1 

Sydney’s cafes, gyms and restaurants welcomed back fully vaccinated customers on Monday after nearly four months of lockdown, as Australia aims to begin living with the coronavirus and gradually reopen the country.

Some pubs in Sydney, Australia‘s largest city, opened at 12:01 a.m. (1301 GMT) and friends and families huddled together for a midnight beer, television footage and social media images showed.

“I see it as a day of freedom, it’s a freedom day,” New South Wales (NSW) state Premier Dominic Perrottet told reporters in Sydney, the state capital. “We are leading the nation out of this pandemic but this will be a challenge.”

Perrottet warned that infections would rise after reopening, and virus-free states such as Western Australia and Queensland are watching what living with COVID-19 is going to look like amid concerns health systems could be overwhelmed.

While NSW’s dual-dose vaccination rate in people above 16 hit 74%, in neighbouring Queensland, whose borders remain closed to Sydney-siders, the rate is only 52% and the state government is following an elimination strategy with rapid lockdowns to control any outbreak.

Perrottet has declared an end to lockdowns in NSW and has strong support for reopening in Sydney, whose more than 5 million residents endured severe restrictions from mid-June following an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant.

The outbreak has since spread to Melbourne and Canberra, forcing lockdowns in those cities, even as case numbers dwindle in NSW.

New South Wales on Monday reported 496 new locally acquired cases, well down from their peak last month, while Victoria logged 1,612 new infections, the lowest in five days.

Under the relaxed rules for NSW, retail stores can open with reduced capacity, while more vaccinated people can gather in homes and attend weddings and funerals.

The state aims to hit an 80% vaccine rate around late October, when more curbs will be relaxed. But the unvaccinated must remain at home until Dec. 1.

“Enjoy the moment, enjoy it with your family and friends,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison wished Sydney residents. “Today is a day so many have been looking forward to – a day when things we take for granted, we will celebrate.”

Morrison, who must call an election before next May, has come under pressure to press all states to reopen borders to bolster the economy and allow families separated by state border closures to reunite by Christmas. Some states with few cases have not said when they will re-open their borders.

With the vaccine rollout gaining momentum, Australia is planning a staggered return to normal, letting fully vaccinated residents enter and leave the country freely from November, although New South Wales plans to bring forward those dates.

Australia shut its international borders in March 2020, helping keep its coronavirus numbers relatively low, with 130,000 cases and 1,448 deaths.

REUTERS
Your source for latest breaking Nigerian News, Entertainment, Sports and World News
Police officers in protective face masks patrol a public transit station in the city centre during a lockdown to curb the spread of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sydney,

Australia reported 2,357 new cases of the Delta coronavirus variant on Saturday, as the push to vaccinate the country’s population continues in order to end lockdowns and allow for the reopening of international borders.

An 18-month ban on international travel is set to be gradually lifted from next month for some states when 80% of people aged 16 and over are fully vaccinated.

Fifty-five percent of Australians were fully inoculated as of Friday, but nearly 80% have received at least one shot.

Victoria state, which reported a record 1,488 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday, on Friday ordered about 1 million employees across industries to receive at least one dose of a Covid vaccine by Oct. 15 to keep working.

Police in Melbourne, the state capital, on Saturday dispersed a small rally against the mandate and made several arrests for breaking public health rules that ban large public gatherings.

The state, with about a quarter of Australia’s 25 million people, has been in a hard lockdown since Aug. 5.

New South Wales state, battling the country’s biggest Delta outbreak, reported 813 cases and 10 deaths on Saturday. Nearly 88% of the state’s eligible population have been partially vaccinated and 65% fully.

Sydney, the state capital, has been under lockdown since June 26, with some restrictions scheduled to be lifted on Oct. 11 and more later in the month.

Australia’s most populous state is expected to be the first to fully open up once 80% vaccination is reached, but authorities have warned case numbers are expected to soar and hospitals will come under strain as Australia learns to live with Covid-19.

“I’m worried about how we are going to cope with it culturally,” Kirsty Keating, an Australia citizen originally from Scotland who lives in Sydney, told Reuters about the country’s reopening.

“Most of the people I know overseas have lived with Covid and we haven’t, and I think it could put a pressure on our health system and make everybody very tense.”

Saturday’s other infections were reported in the Australian Capital Territory, Queensland and South Australia.

Australia closed its international borders in March 2020. Since then, only a limited number of people have been granted a permit to leave the country for critical business or humanitarian reasons.

Citizens and permanent residents abroad have been allowed to return, subject to quotas and a mandatory 14-day quarantine period in a hotel at their expense.

“I think it’s great coming up to Christmas that people get to reunite with their families,” Peter Hendriks, a priest in Sydney, told Reuters about the decision to reopen borders.

REUTERS
Your source for latest breaking Nigerian News, Entertainment, Sports and World News
File Photo: The Royal Australian Navy's Collins-class submarine HMAS Waller as it leaves Sydney Harbour

Australia‘s Minister for Trade Dan Tehan said on Friday talks with the European Union over a trade deal have been postponed, as a row over Canberra’s decision to cancel a $40 billion deal with France escalates.

Australia last month cancelled a deal with France’s Naval Group to build a fleet of conventional submarines and will instead build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines with U.S. and British technology after striking a trilateral security partnership with those two countries.

The cancellation has angered France, which accused both Australia and the United States of stabbing it in the back. Paris recalled its ambassadors from both Canberra and Washington.

In solidarity with France, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has questioned whether the bloc could strike a trade deal with Australia.

Tehan on Friday declined to comment on the role the submarine deal had played in delaying negotiations but confirmed the 12th round of talks scheduled for Oct 12 had been postponed by a month.

“I will meet with my EU counterpart Valdis Dombrovskis next week to discuss the 12th negotiating round, which will now take place in November rather than October,” Tehan said in a statement to Reuters.

Your source for latest breaking Nigerian News, Entertainment, Sports and World News
A person walks past damage to the exterior of a restaurant following an earthquake in the Windsor suburb of Melbourne, Australia, September 22, 2021. AAP Image/James Ross via REUTERS

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake struck near Melbourne on Wednesday, Geoscience Australia said, one of the country’s biggest quakes on record, causing damage to buildings in the country’s second largest city and sending tremors throughout neighbouring states.

The quake’s epicentre was near the rural town of Mansfield in the state of Victoria, about 200 km (124 miles) northeast of Melbourne, and was at a depth of 10 km (six miles). An aftershock was rated 4.0.

Images and video footage circulating on social media showed rubble blocking one of Melbourne’s main streets, while people in northern parts of the city said on social media they had lost power and others said they were evacuated from buildings.

The quake was felt as far away as the city of Adelaide, 800 km (500 miles) to the west in the state of South Australia, and Sydney, 900 km (600 miles) to the north in New South Wales state, although there were no reports of damage outside Melbourne and no reports of injuries.

More than half of Australia’s 25 million population lives in the southeast of the country from Adelaide to Melbourne to Sydney.

“We have had no reports of serious injuries, or worse, and that is very good news and we hope that good news will continue,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Washington.

“It can be a very disturbing event, an earthquake of this nature. They are very rare events in Australia and as a result, I am sure people would have been quite distressed and disturbed.”

Quakes are relatively unusual in Australia’s populated east due to its position in the middle of the Indo-Australian Tectonic Plate, according to Geoscience Australia. The quake on Wednesday measured higher than the country’s deadliest tremor, a 5.6 in Newcastle in 1989, which resulted in 13 deaths.

The mayor of Mansfield, Mark Holcombe, said he was in his home office on his farm when the quake struck and ran outside for safety.

“I have been in earthquakes overseas before and it seemed to go on longer than I have experienced before,” Holcombe told the ABC. “The other thing that surprised me was how noisy it was. It was a real rumbling like a big truck going past.”

He knew of no serious damage near the quake epicentre, although some residents reported problems with telecommunications.

No tsunami threat was issued to the Australian mainland, islands or territories, the country’s Bureau of Meteorology said in a statement.

The quake presented a potential disruption for anti-lockdown protests expected in Melbourne on Wednesday, which would be the third day of unrest that has reached increasing levels of violence and police response.

REUTERS
Your source for latest breaking Nigerian News, Entertainment, Sports and World News
File photo: Defense Minister Florence Parly comes out from the new French nuclear submarine 'Suffren' in Cherbourg, north-western France EPA-EFE/LUDOVIC MARIN

France has cancelled a meeting between Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly and her British counterpart planned for this week after Australia scrapped a submarine order with Paris in favour of a deal with Washington and London, two sources familiar with the matter said.

Parly personally took the decision to drop the bilateral meeting with British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, the sources said.

The French defence ministry could not be immediately reached. The British defence ministry declined comment.

The sources confirmed an earlier report in the Guardian newspaper that the meeting had been cancelled.

The scrapping of the multi-billion-dollar submarine contract, struck in 2016, has triggered a diplomatic crisis, with Paris recalling its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra.

France claims not to have been consulted by its allies, while Australia says it had made clear to Paris for months its concerns over the contract.

French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. President Joe Biden will speak by telephone in the coming days to discuss the crisis, the French government’s spokesman said on Sunday.
Your source for latest breaking Nigerian News, Entertainment, Sports and World News
French President Emmanuel Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron will have a call with U.S. President Joe Biden in the next few days, the French government spokesman said on Sunday, amid a diplomatic crisis triggered by Australia’s cancellation of submarine contract with Paris.

France said on Friday it was recalling its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra over a trilateral security deal also involving Britain which sank the multi-billion dollar order for French submarines.

“President Biden asked to speak to the President of the Republic and there will be a telephone discussion in the next few days between President Macron and President Biden,” Gabriel Attal told news channel BFM TV.

France would be seeking “clarification” over the cancellation of a submarine order, Attal said.

The scrapping of the contract, struck in 2016, has caused fury in Paris, which claims not to have been consulted by its allies. The Australian government, however, says it had made clear its concerns for months.

After the initial “shock” of the cancellation, discussions would need to take place over contract clauses, notably compensation for the French side, Attal added.
Your source for latest breaking Nigerian News, Entertainment, Sports and World News
The French Embassy in Washington

France plunged into an unprecedented diplomatic crisis with the United States and Australia on Friday after it recalled its ambassadors from both countries over a trilateral security deal which sank a French-designed submarine contract with Canberra.

The rare decision taken by French President Emmanuel Macron was made due to the “exceptional gravity” of the matter, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement.

On Thursday, Australia said it would scrap a $40 billion deal signed in 2016 for France‘s Naval Group to build a fleet of conventional submarines and would instead build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines with U.S. and British technology after striking a trilateral security partnership. France called it a stab in the back.

A diplomatic source in France said it was the first time Paris had recalled its own ambassadors in this way.

Australia said on Saturday morning it regretted the recall, and that it valued the relationship with France and would keep engaging with Paris on other issues.

“Australia understands France‘s deep disappointment with our decision, which was taken in accordance with our clear and communicated national security interests,” a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said in a statement.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that France was a ‘vital ally’ and that the United States would be engaged in coming days to resolve the differences.

The French foreign ministry statement made no mention of Britain, but the diplomatic source said France considered Britain had joined the deal in an opportunistic manner.

“We don’t need to hold consultations with our (British) ambassador to know what to make of it or to draw any conclusions,” the source added.

Le Drian said the deal was unacceptable.

“The cancellation (of the project) … and the announcement of a new partnership with the United States meant to launch studies on a possible future cooperation on nuclear-powered submarines, constitute unacceptable behavior between allies and partners,” he said in a statement.

He added that the consequences “directly affect the vision we have of our alliances, of our partnerships and of the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe.”

LOW POINT

The row marks the lowest point in relations between Australia and France since 1995, when Canberra protested France‘s decision to resume nuclear testing in the South Pacific and recalled its ambassador for consultations.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday rejected French criticism that it had not been warned about the new deal, and said he had raised the possibility in talks with the French president that Australia might scrap the Naval Group deal.

Morrison insisted he had told Macron in June that Australia had revised its thinking.

“I made it very clear, we had a lengthy dinner there in Paris, about our very significant concerns about the capabilities of conventional submarines to deal with the new strategic environment we’re faced with,” he told 5aa Radio.

“I made it very clear that this was a matter that Australia would need to make a decision on in our national interest.”

The strain in multilateral ties come as the United States and its allies seek additional support in Asia and the Pacific given concern about the rising influence of a more assertive China.

France is about to take over the presidency of the European Union, which on Thursday released its strategy for the Indo-Pacific, pledging to seek a trade deal with Taiwan and to deploy more ships to keep sea routes open.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken tried on Thursday to calm the French outcry, calling France a vital partner in the region.

Pierre Morcos, a visiting fellow at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, called France‘s move “historic.”

“Reassuring words such as those heard yesterday from Secretary Blinken are not enough for Paris – especially after French authorities learned that this agreement was months in the making,” he said.

REUTERS
Your source for latest breaking Nigerian News, Entertainment, Sports and World News
An aerial view of the Subi reef, one of the tiny islands being claimed by China in the disputed South China Sea EPA-EFE/FRANCIS R. MALASIG

The Chinese embassy in Australia rejected on Fridays “unfounded accusations” against China made by the defence and foreign ministers of Australia and their U.S. counterparts after annual talks in Washington.

The two countries, in a statement after Australia-U.S. Ministerial Consultations, expressed concern over China‘s “expansive maritime claims in the South China Sea that are without legal basis”, and stated their intention to strengthen ties with their “critical partner” Taiwan.

The comments from Australia and the United States came a day after they announced a submarine deal as part of a security partnership that includes Britain, which China denounced as intensifying a regional arms race.

Australia and the United States also criticised China‘s imposition of national security legislation in Hong Kong last year that they said had weakened its electoral system, suppressed media freedom, and undermined the former British colony’s “one country, two systems” formula, agreed when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

They also expressed “grave concerns about China‘s “campaign of repression against Uyghurs”, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority in western China‘s Xinjiang region.

The Chinese embassy dismissed their accusations as a futile pressure tactic.

“This petty move to put pressure on China will be of no avail but a staged farce,” a spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Canberra said in a statement.

“We firmly oppose and reject the unfounded accusations and erroneous remarks against China on issues related to the South China Sea, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan and other China-related issues.”

Taiwan’s government welcomed the show of support from Washington and Canberra.

“Our country’s government will, on the existing solid foundation, continue to work closely with the United States, Australia and other like-minded countries to expand Taiwan’s international space, defend the democratic system and shared values,” said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou.

Speaking after the meetings in Washington, Australia and the United States also announced expanded military cooperation, including rotational deployments of all types of U.S. military aircraft to Australia.

REUTER
Your source for latest breaking Nigerian News, Entertainment, Sports and World News
File photo: Australia and France sign the 2016 submarine agreement EPA/DAVID MARIUZ

France accused U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday of stabbing it in the back and acting like his predecessor Donald Trump after Paris was pushed aside from a lucrative defence deal that it had signed with Australia for submarines.

The United States, Britain and Australia said they would establish a security partnership for the Indo-Pacific that will help Australia acquire U.S. nuclear-powered submarines and scrap the $40 billion French-designed submarine deal.

“This brutal, unilateral and unpredictable decision reminds me a lot of what Mr Trump used to do,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told franceinfo radio. “I am angry and bitter. This isn’t done between allies.”

In 2016, Australia had selected French shipbuilder Naval Group to build a new submarine fleet worth $40 billion to replace its more than two-decades-old Collins submarines.

Two weeks ago, the Australian defence and foreign ministers had reconfirmed the deal to France, and French President Emmanuel Macron lauded decades of future cooperation when hosting Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in June.

“It’s a stab in the back. We created a relationship of trust with Australia and that trust has been broken,” Le Drian said.

Relations between Trump and Macron soured during Trump’s presidency, and diplomats say there have been concerns in recent months that Biden is not being forthright with his European allies.

Washington’s actions in Australia are likely to further strain Transatlantic ties. The European Union was due to roll out its Indo-Pacific strategy later on Thursday and Paris is preparing to take on the EU presidency.

“This is a clap of thunder and for many in Paris a Trafalgar moment,” Bruno Tertrais, Deputy Director of the Paris-based think tank the Foundation of Strategic Research said on Twitter, referring to a French naval defeat in 1805 that was followed by British naval supremacy.

He said it would “complicate the transatlantic cooperation in and about the region. Beijing will benefit.”

Biden said on Wednesday France remained a “key partner in the Indo-Pacific zone.”

Morrison said in a statement that Australia looked forward to continuing to work “closely and positively” with France, adding: “France is a key friend and partner to Australia and the Indo-Pacific.”

REUTERS
Your source for latest breaking Nigerian News, Entertainment, Sports and World News
Fujian province, China September 13

New local COVID-19 infections more than doubled in China’s southeastern province of Fujian, health authorities said on Tuesday, prompting officials to quickly roll out measures including travel restrictions to halt the spread of the virus.

The National Health Commission said 59 new locally transmitted cases were reported for Sept. 13, up from 22 infections a day earlier. All of them were in Fujian, a province bordered by Zhejiang to the north and Guangdong to the south.

In just four days, a total of 102 community infections have been reported in three Fujian cities, including Xiamen, a tourist and transport hub with a population of 5 million.

The infections come ahead of the week-long National Day holiday starting on Oct. 1, a major tourist season. The last domestic outbreak in late July to August disrupted travel, hitting the tourism, hospitality and transportation sectors.

Fujian’s outbreak began in Putian, a city of 3.2 million, with the first case reported on Sept. 10. Preliminary tests on samples from some Putian cases showed patients had contracted the highly transmissible Delta variant.

The virus has since spread south to Xiamen, which reported 32 new cases of community transmission for Sept. 13 compared with just one infection a day earlier.

“The Putian government is a big client of ours,” said a staff at a Xiamen building survey firm, declining to be named.

“About half of our company went to Putian last week. They are now isolated at home, while the rest have gone to do their Covid tests.”

LOCKDOWN

Like Putian, Xiamen has locked down some areas of higher virus risk, cut offline classes at kindergartens, primary schools and high schools, closed public venues such as cinemas, gyms and bars, and told residents not to leave the city for non-essential reasons.

The first patient in the Xiamen cluster was a close contact of a case in Putian, Xiamen authorities said late on Monday.

Known for its mild weather and a laid-back lifestyle, Xiamen is a popular tourist destination domestically.

The Xiamen Gaoqi International Airport is also a key transportation hub linking the Yangtze and Pearl River Delta. About 60% of flights to and from Xiamen were cancelled on Tuesday, according to aviation data provider Variflight.

Both Putian and Xiamen began city-wide testing for the coronavirus on Tuesday. The cities, however, are yet to announce tough city-wide lockdowns as seen in early 2020 in China.

Three new cases of community transmission were also reported in nearby Quanzhou city, versus six infections a day earlier. Variflight data showed 70% of Quanzhou’s flights were cancelled.

One district in Quanzhou, where many of the cases work in or have visited Putian, has halted bus services, shut some public venues, suspended dining at restaurants, and required residents to avoid unnecessary trips out of the district.

“One wave after another,” said a bank manager in Xiamen. “It feels like the new normal now.”

New Zealand looks to boost COVID-19 vaccinations as new cases ease

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern asked New Zealanders on Tuesday to get vaccinated as soon as possible, as it was the only way to beat the spread of coronavirus and see curbs lifted in the biggest city of Auckland.

Tuesday’s 15 new infections in New Zealand were a drop from Monday’s figure of 33, but about 1.7 million people will stay in lockdown in Auckland until next week, as the government battles to hold down a cluster of the highly infectious Delta variant.

“The vaccine is the best tool we have in our toolbox and our ticket to greater freedom,” Ardern told a news conference. “The more people who are vaccinated, the fewer restrictions you have to have.”

Auckland’s lockdown has shut schools, offices and public places, with people allowed to leave home only for exercise or to buy essential items. In the rest of the country, the lockdown was lifted last week.

New Zealand had been largely virus-free for months until a Delta outbreak forced a snap lockdown on Aug. 17. It has infected 970 people so far, most of them in Auckland.

The lockdowns and international border closure since March 2020 have been credited with holding down COVID-19, but a slow vaccination effort has spurred criticism for Ardern. Just 34% of the population of 5.1 million have been fully vaccinated.

To boost the programme, New Zealand has bought doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from Spain and Denmark.

“There is nothing holding us back in Auckland when it comes to vaccines,” Ardern added. “There’s capacity to administer 220,000 doses of vaccine in the region this week.”

Vaccine buses will begin plying this week to reach more people, she said.

Infections ease in Sydney, curve flattening not seen yet

Sydney’s COVID-19 cases rose at the slowest pace in nearly two weeks on Tuesday, but officials said they needed to see a steady drop in daily cases before deciding whether the infection curve had flattened after 12 weeks in lockdown.

New South Wales (NSW) state reported 1,127 new local cases, the majority in state capital Sydney, down from 1,257 on Monday. Two deaths were reported.

“It’s too early to know if we’re flattening the curve, but we’re seeing, pleasingly so far, that cases haven’t been increasing as fast as they have been,” Jeremy McAnulty, NSW Executive Director of Public Health Response, told reporters in Sydney.

“We’ll look to see what’s happening throughout the rest of this week to know how we’re going.”

Nearly half of Australia‘s 25 million population is in lockdown, including people in Sydney and Melbourne, its largest cities, and the capital Canberra, as the country grapples with a third wave of infections from the fast-moving Delta variant.

Still, its coronavirus numbers are far lower than comparable countries, with around 77,000 cases and 1,102 deaths, and the mortality rate in the latest outbreak is lower than last year.

Sydney and Melbourne hope to come out of their extended lockdown around the middle of next month through higher vaccination rates. Officials hope to ease some tough curbs once two-dose vaccination rates in the adult population reach 70%, and then relax more curbs at 80%. Currently only 42% of Australia‘s adult population is fully vaccinated.

Victoria state reported two new deaths and detected 445 new local cases, down from the year’s high of 473 hit a day earlier, as it looks to accelerate the vaccination rollout in Melbourne’s hardest-hit suburbs, the state capital.

The federal government plans to move an additional 417,000 vaccine doses over the next three weeks for residents in Melbourne’s north and west, where most new infections are being detected. Pop-up hubs will be set up in schools, community centres and places of worship.

Authorities on Tuesday extended the lockdown in Canberra for four weeks until Oct. 15 as it reported 22 new local cases, up from 13 a day earlier.

REUTERS
Your source for latest breaking Nigerian News, Entertainment, Sports and World News
The normally bustling Wynyard Wharf on Auckland’s waterfront is seen deserted during a lockdown to curb the spread of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Auckland, New Zealand, August 26, 2021. REUTERS/Fiona Goodall

New Zealand extended a strict lockdown in its largest city on Monday, requiring 1.7 million people living in Auckland to remain indoors for at least another week to snuff out small outbreaks of the highly infectious Delta variant of coronavirus.

Health authorities recorded 33 new cases of the Delta variant of COVID-19 on Monday, all in Auckland, which was higher than 23 and 20 cases reported over the weekend.

“It’s clear there is no widespread transmission of the virus in Auckland, but so long as we have new cases emerging, there are risks,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a news conference, announcing the decision to prolong the city’s lockdown until Sept. 21.

After that, Auckland will move from level 4 to level 3, which means curbs will be eased slightly but offices, schools and public venues would still stay shut.

New Zealand had been largely virus-free for months until an outbreak of the Delta variant imported from Australia prompted Ardern to order a snap nationwide lockdown on Aug. 17.

The outbreak has infected 955 so far, most of which have been in Auckland.

The city is virtually cut off from the rest of the country, where the lockdown was lowered last week to level 2, enabling people go back to their offices and schools.

New Zealand’s lockdowns and international border closure since March 2020 have been credited with reining in COVID-19, largely freeing up day-to-day activities for people.

There have been just 3,593 cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand since the pandemic began, and 27 related deaths.

But Ardern has been criticised for a slow vaccination programme as the country battled the Delta outbreak. About 34% of its 5.1 million population has been fully vaccinated so far.

New Zealand has purchased Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine doses from Spain and Denmark to boost its inoculation programme.

REUTERS