Aboriginal group blocks access to Australia’s Uluru over coronavirus fears

People block entry to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, home to Australia’s revered indigenous site of Uluru, to visitors from the coronavirus disease hotspots. (Mutitjulu Community Aboriginal Corporation via Reuters)
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Updated 04 August 2020

Aboriginal group blocks access to Australia’s Uluru over coronavirus fears

  • Locals said they were blindsided by the arrival of 43 tourists on a flight from Brisbane
  • Travel to the Northern Territory, including Uluru, has been severely restricted since the pandemic began

SYDNEY: Indigenous residents forced the closure of Australia’s famed Uluru national park Tuesday, after blocking tourists from accessing the sacred site amid fears over the spread of coronavirus.
About 30 members of the local community physically blocked dozens of tourists arriving from virus-hit eastern Australia from accessing the park entrance, said Glenn Irvine, manager of Mutitjulu Community Aboriginal Corporation, which handles local community issues.
Locals said they were blindsided by the arrival of 43 tourists on a flight from Brisbane, Queensland and decided to take action.
“We were of the understanding that the flight was canceled,” Irvine said.
“We asked for the national park to be closed,” he added. When that did not happen, “members of the community gathered at the park gate.”
After crisis talks with local authorities Tuesday, the park remained closed.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park said in a statement: “We have the utmost respect for Uluru-Kata Tjuta’s traditional owners and are continuing to work in good faith with them and all other parties to keep Mutitjulu residents safe.”
More than 395,000 people visited the park in the 12 months to June 2019, according to Parks Australia.
Irvine said there was now tacit agreement that the tourists — who remained nearby — would be tested for the virus and no more groups would come from COVID-19 “hotspots.”
Queensland has recorded just over 1,000 cases of the virus since the pandemic began and new cases have been relatively rare.
But even in areas where tourism is a mainstay of the local economy, many Aboriginal groups are fearful that any outbreak could badly hit remote Outback communities.
Travel to the Northern Territory, including Uluru — once known as Ayer’s Rock — has been severely restricted since the pandemic began.
Those measures were recently eased, but visitors from Australia’s COVID-19 hotpots are still required to quarantine for 14 days.
Brisbane is currently included on that list.
Overseas travelers remain banned from entering Australia except for some very closely prescribed cases.
Australia recorded 453 new cases Tuesday, taking the total to 18,728 with 10,787 recoveries. The death toll is now 232, after 11 more fatalities.


India’s controversial farm bills become law despite protests

Updated 27 September 2020

India’s controversial farm bills become law despite protests

  • Farmers’ organizations say one of the three laws could lead to the government stopping buying grain at guaranteed prices
  • Nearly 85% of India’s poor farmers own less than 2 hectares of land

NEW DELHI: India’s president on Sunday approved three controversial agricultural bills amid nationwide protests by farmers who say the new laws will stunt their bargaining power and instead allow large retailers to have control over pricing.
Farmers’ organizations say one of the three laws could lead to the government stopping buying grain at guaranteed prices, a move that would disrupt wholesale markets which have so far ensured fair and timely payments to farmers.
President Ram Nath Kovind’s approval is likely to further stir protests, leading farmers’ organizations said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already lost a key political ally from the northern Indian state of Punjab, one of India’s two bread basket states, where farmers form an influential voting bloc.
The country’s main opposition Congress party has also backed the protests.
Under the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill — one of the laws already approved by parliament — growers can directly sell their produce to institutional buyers such as big traders and retailers.
Nearly 85% of India’s poor farmers own less than 2 hectares (5 acres) of land and they find it difficult to directly negotiate with large buyers.
Modi’s administration has clarified that the wholesale markets will operate as usual, and the government only aims to empower farmers to sell directly to buyers.