Australia’s Prime Minister defends climate stance amid wildfire disaster

Australia’s Prime Minister defends climate stance amid wildfire disaster
In this image made from video, Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison looks at fire damage from helicopter near Gospers Mountain, New South Wales Monday, Dec. 23, 2019. (AP)
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Updated 23 December 2019

Australia’s Prime Minister defends climate stance amid wildfire disaster

Australia’s Prime Minister defends climate stance amid wildfire disaster
  • Around 200 wildfires were burning in four states, with New South Wales accounting for more than half of them, including 60 fires not contained
  • The disaster has led to renewed criticism that Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative government has not taken enough action on climate change

PERTH, Australia: Australia’s embattled prime minister defended his government’s climate policy on Monday, as authorities warned that the wildfires ravaging the country’s most populous state could fester for months.

Around 200 wildfires were burning in four states, with New South Wales accounting for more than half of them, including 60 fires not contained.

The disaster has led to renewed criticism that Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative government has not taken enough action on climate change.

Morrison rejected calls to downsize Australia’s lucrative coal industry. Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal and liquefied natural gas.

“I am not going to write off the jobs of thousands of Australians by walking away from traditional industries,” he told Channel Seven.

Morrison made the rounds on several Australian television networks Monday morning in the aftermath of his much criticized family vacation to Hawaii during the wildfire crisis.

He eventually cut short his vacation and returned to Sydney over the weekend before visiting evacuation and emergency control centers and the families of two firefighters killed battling blazes last Thursday southwest of Sydney.

“We all make decisions. You do as a parent, I do as a parent. We’ll seek to balance our work life responsibilities and we all try to get that right,” Morrison told Channel Seven.

Video posted on Facebook by firefighters in South Australia state and shared with The Associated Press shows a firefighter giving water to a thirsty koala Sunday as fires raged in Cudlee Creek, a town 40 kilometers (25 miles) northeast of Adelaide, the state capital.

More than 3 million hectares (7.4 million acres) of land has burned nationwide during a torrid past few months, with nine people killed and more than 950 homes destroyed. About 850 homes have burned in New South Wales, which last week was paralyzed by a seven-day state of emergency amid catastrophic conditions.

There is expected to be some desperately needed relief this week for New South Wales, with cooler conditions forecast. The state’s Rural Fire Service commissioner, Shane Fitzsimmons, however, painted a bleak long-term picture.

“We’ve got to keep in mind that we’re not expecting any rainfall to make any meaningful difference to these fires until January or February,” he said. “That’s still a way to go. We’re still talking four to six weeks at best before we start to see a meaningful reprieve in the weather.”

Morrison’s coalition government won a surprise third term in May. Among its pledges was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26% to 28% by 2030 — a modest figure compared to the center-left opposition’s pledge of 45%.

Morrison insisted Australia would meet its emission targets. “I’m going to maintain the course of responsible management, responsibly addressing the changes of climate change and responsibly ensuring that we can grow our economy in what is a very tough climate at the moment,” he said.

Later on Monday, Morrison took an aerial tour of the bushland where the Gospers Mountain megafire destroyed dozens of homes and around 484,000 hectares (1.19 million acres) northwest of Sydney.

Morrison said a scheduled meeting in March of state and federal leaders, where the wildfire crisis is expected to be a major talking point, would not be moved forward. “What will happen after these fires is we’ll plan to do it even better next time,” he told reporters. “There are already options and proposals that are being worked on now for us to consider.”

The opposition Labor party has pressed Morrison to consider compensation for volunteer firefighters. “They (fire commissioners and chiefs) are very comfortable with the arrangements we have,” Morrison said. “What is particularly taxing during this fire season is the length and that’s why I’m taking advice from fire commissioners on what is best needed to continue to support that important volunteer force.”

Areas south of Sydney remain worst affected, with an emergency warning currently in place for Shoalhaven, while a fire at Grose Valley in the Blue Mountains, a popular tourist destination, is currently at the watch and act level.


Classic COVID-19 symptoms changing: UK-led study

Classic COVID-19 symptoms changing: UK-led study
Updated 19 min 10 sec ago

Classic COVID-19 symptoms changing: UK-led study

Classic COVID-19 symptoms changing: UK-led study
  • Headache now most common symptom
  • Time to update list of classic symptoms: Expert

LONDON: A leading British scientist has said it is time to update the list of “classic” COVID-19 symptoms, after research found that a headache and sneezing are now among the most common signs of the disease.

Prof. Tim Spector is co-founder of the ZOE COVID symptom study, which draws on global contributors to report their symptoms once they test positive for the virus. It is the world’s largest study into the symptoms of COVID-19.

Spector said a headache now tops the list of most common symptoms, with 60 percent of people who test positive experiencing one.

A runny nose and sore throat are also “going up that list,” he added, and sneezing is now fourth, though it is often confused with hay fever.

Of the original “classic” symptoms, only a persistent cough remains in the top five, with fever and loss of smell dropping to ninth and seventh place respectively.

These developments, Spector said, mean governments must update their guidance. “We do need a much broader flexible approach to this as the virus changes and the populations change,” he added.


Philippines raises cap on health professionals going abroad

Philippines raises cap on health professionals going abroad
Updated 33 min 12 sec ago

Philippines raises cap on health professionals going abroad

Philippines raises cap on health professionals going abroad
  • The Philippines, one of the world’s biggest sources of nurses, reached its annual cap of 5,000 health worker deployments late last month

MANILA: The Philippines has increased the number of nurses and health care workers allowed to go overseas to 6,500 annually, a senior official said on Friday, amid high demand for its health professionals.
The Philippines, one of the world’s biggest sources of nurses, reached its annual cap of 5,000 health worker deployments late last month.
Those with contracts as of May 31 can take up overseas employment, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement. That means another 1,500 nurses and health care staff can work abroad, according to the labor ministry.
The labor minister on Wednesday said he would seek approval to allow 5,000 more health care workers to be deployed abroad, but a nurses’ group said there were many more than that hoping to find jobs with better pay abroad.
Health workers under government-to-government labor deals, such as that with the United Kingdom, are exempted from the new cap.
Roughly 17,000 Filipino nurses signed overseas work contracts in 2019, but the Philippines put a temporary halt on that in 2020, to shore-up its health sector as coronavirus hospitalizations rose sharply.
Jocelyn Andamo, secretary general of the Filipino Nurses United, said the additional 1,500 was frustrating.
“It is very unrealistic compared with the huge need for nurses,” she said.


India should brace for third COVID-19 wave by October, say health experts

India should brace for third COVID-19 wave by October, say health experts
Updated 18 June 2021

India should brace for third COVID-19 wave by October, say health experts

India should brace for third COVID-19 wave by October, say health experts
  • So far, India has only fully vaccinated about 5 percent of its estimated 950 million eligible population

BENGALURU: A third wave of coronavirus infections is likely to hit India by October, and although it will be better controlled than the latest outbreak the pandemic will remain a public health threat for at least another year, according to a Reuters poll of medical experts.
The June 3-17 snap survey of 40 health care specialists, doctors, scientists, virologists, epidemiologists and professors from around the world showed a significant pickup in vaccinations will likely provide some cover to a fresh outbreak.
Of those who ventured a prediction, over 85 percent of respondents, or 21 of 24, said the next wave will hit by October, including three who forecast it as early as August and 12 in September. The remaining three said between November and February.
But over 70 percent of experts, or 24 of 34, said any new outbreak would be better controlled compared with the current one, which has been far more devastating — with shortage of vaccines, medicines, oxygen and hospital beds — than the smaller first surge in infections last year.
“It will be more controlled, as cases will be much less because more vaccinations would have been rolled out and there would be some degree of natural immunity from the second-wave,” said Dr. Randeep Guleria, director at All India Institute Of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).
So far, India has only fully vaccinated about 5 percent of its estimated 950 million eligible population, leaving many millions vulnerable to infections and deaths.
While a majority of health care experts predicted the vaccination drive would pick up significantly this year, they cautioned against an early removal of restrictions, as some states have done.
When asked if children and those under 18 years would be most at risk in a potential third wave, nearly two-thirds of experts, or 26 of 40, said yes.
“The reason being they are a completely virgin population in terms of vaccination because currently there is no vaccine available for them,” said Dr. Pradeep Banandur, head of epidemiology department at National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences.
Experts warn the situation could become severe.
“If children get infected in large numbers and we are not prepared, there is nothing you can do at the last minute,” said Dr. Devi Shetty, a cardiologist at Narayana Health and an adviser to the Karnataka state government on pandemic response planning.
“It will be a whole different problem as the country has very, very few pediatric intensive care unit beds, and that is going to be a disaster.”
But 14 experts said children were not at risk.
Earlier this week, a senior health ministry official said children were vulnerable and susceptible to infections but that analysis has shown a less severe health impact.
While 25 of 38 respondents said future coronavirus variants would not make existing vaccines ineffective, in response to a separate question, 30 of 41 experts said the coronavirus will remain a public health threat in India for at least a year.
Eleven experts said the threat would remain for under a year, 15 said for under two years, while 13 said over two years and two said the risks will never go away.
“COVID-19 is a solvable problem, as obviously it was easy to get a solvable vaccine. In two years, India likely will develop herd immunity through vaccine and exposure of the disease,” said Robert Gallo, director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland and international scientific adviser, Global Virus Network.


UN proposal seeks arms embargo and democracy in Myanmar

UN proposal seeks arms embargo and democracy in Myanmar
Updated 18 June 2021

UN proposal seeks arms embargo and democracy in Myanmar

UN proposal seeks arms embargo and democracy in Myanmar
  • Draft resolution condemns deadly violence by security forces and calls on the junta to unconditionally release those in arbitrary detention

UNITED NATIONS: The UN General Assembly is expected to approve a resolution calling on Myanmar’s junta to restore the country’s democratic transition and for all countries “to prevent the flow of arms into Myanmar,” diplomats said.
The draft resolution also condemns deadly violence by security forces and calls on the junta to unconditionally release the ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint “and all those who have been arbitrarily detained, charged or arrested.”
The 193-member assembly is scheduled to consider the resolution, which has more than 50 co-sponsors, on Friday afternoon and its sponsors are hoping it will be approved by consensus to send a strong message to the military of global opposition to its Feb. 1 takeover and support for a return to Myanmar’s democratic transition, though any nation can call for a vote.
The draft resulted from negotiations by a so-called Core Group including the European Union, many Western nations and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations known as ASEAN, which includes Myanmar.
A UN diplomat said there is an agreement with ASEAN to seek consensus, but what will happen with ASEAN members if there is a vote remains unclear.
The resolution’s approval would mark one of the few times that the UN’s most representative body expressed itself against a military coup and called for an arms embargo.
Canada’s UN Ambassador Bob Rae, a member of the Core Group, said Thursday that everyone has been working hard “to reach a broad consensus” on the text, and discussions were still under way on whether it would be approved by consensus or be put to a vote.
Myanmar for five decades had languished under strict military rule that led to international isolation and sanctions.
As the generals loosened their grip, culminating in Suu Kyi’s rise to leadership in 2015 elections, the international community responded by lifting most sanctions and pouring investment into the country. Her party was reelected by a landslide in November elections, but the military contends the vote was fraudulent and took over before the new Parliament was seated.
Widespread opposition to the junta’s rule began with massive nonviolent protests. After soldiers and police used deadly force to crush the peaceful demonstrations, a low-level armed insurrection has emerged in both the cities and countryside.
Last week, the UN human rights office cited credible reports that at least 860 people have been killed by security forces since Feb. 1, mostly during protests, and that more than 4,800 people — including activists, journalists and opponents of the junta — are in arbitrary detention.
Speaking of the draft resolution, Canada’s Rae said: “I think it’s a strong statement by the General Assembly about our strong opposition to what’s been happening in Myanmar, and our strong desire for a shift back to a process of attaining democracy in the country, civil and economic rights for everybody including the Rohingya.”
The draft calls on “the Myanmar armed forces to respect the will of the people as freely expressed by the results of the general election of Nov. 8, 2020. It also said the Parliament should be allowed to convene and the armed forces and other national bodies should be brought into an “inclusive civilian government that is representative of the will of the people.”
Unlike Security Council resolutions, General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, but they do reflect global opinion and supporters of the draft believe it will have an impact.
Rae, a former Canadian special envoy to Myanmar, doesn’t believe the nation can return to its past isolation since people in Myanmar “have developed a taste for openness, for democracy, for participation, and for social and political rights,” he said. “And I don’t think the people are going to lose that taste. And I think that the answer is to do everything we can to sustain democracy.”


South Korea to mix-and-match COVID-19 vaccine doses for 760,000 people

South Korea to mix-and-match COVID-19 vaccine doses for 760,000 people
Updated 18 June 2021

South Korea to mix-and-match COVID-19 vaccine doses for 760,000 people

South Korea to mix-and-match COVID-19 vaccine doses for 760,000 people
  • Several countries have already approved such dose-mixing mainly due to concerns about rare and potentially fatal blood clots
  • Over 27 percent of its 52 million population have been inoculated with at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine

SEOUL: Some 760,000 South Koreans who have received a first dose of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine will be offered Pfizer’s vaccine as a second shot due to shipment delays by global vaccine sharing scheme COVAX, the government said.
Several countries, including Canada and Spain, have already approved such dose-mixing mainly due to concerns about rare and potentially fatal blood clots linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine.
A Spanish study found that giving a dose of the Pfizer shot to people who already received the AstraZeneca vaccine is highly safe and effective, according to preliminary results.
Some 835,000 doses of the AstraZeneca’s vaccine from COVAX were scheduled to arrive by the end of June, which South Korea planned to use mainly as a second shot for around 760,000 health and frontline workers who had received their first dose in April.
The shipment is delayed to July or later, while the country had used up available AstraZeneca reserves to meet stronger than expected participation in its vaccination campaign which helped the country meet its first-half inoculation target ahead of schedule.
Over 27 percent of its 52 million population have been inoculated with at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine as of Thursday, and the country is on track to meet a target of 70 percent by September and reach herd immunity before November.
The government expects to receive 80 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines in the third quarter including 10 million in July. They are from AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna.
South Korea said last month it will conduct a clinical trial that mixes COVID-19 doses from AstraZeneca with those from Pfizer and others.
It has so far run a trial in 100 health workers to examine the formation of antibody and other immune effects, Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) director Jeong Eun-kyeong told a briefing on Thursday.
South Korea reported 507 new infections by midnight on Thursday, for a tally of 150,238 cases, the KDCA said, with a death toll of 1,996 since the pandemic began.