Australia, under lockdown, sees jump in COVID-19 cases

Australia, under lockdown, sees jump in COVID-19 cases
New South Wales state, home to the country’s most populous city Sydney, logged 110 new coronavirus cases. (AFP)
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Updated 21 July 2021

Australia, under lockdown, sees jump in COVID-19 cases

Australia, under lockdown, sees jump in COVID-19 cases
  • Victoria state clocked 22 new cases, from nine the day before, its biggest increase since the outbreak began this month

SYDNEY: Australia’s two largest states reported sharp increases in new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, a blow to hopes that lockdown restrictions would be lifted with more than half the country’s population under stay-at-home orders.
New South Wales (NSW) state, home to the country’s most populous city Sydney, logged 110 new cases, up from 78 the day before, nearly four weeks into a lockdown of the city and surrounding areas to contain an outbreak of the virulent Delta variant.
Victoria state clocked 22 new cases, from nine the day before, its biggest increase since the outbreak began this month, as it nears its second week of statewide lockdown.
“Had we not gone into the lockdown a few weeks ago, the 110 number today would undoubtedly have been thousands and thousands,” said NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian at a televised news conference.
“But we need to work harder and, of course, all of us need to be on guard,” she added.
Health leaders have said their greatest concern is the number of people active in the community before receiving their coronavirus diagnosis, and that the number should be near zero before lifting lockdown.
Berejiklian said that number jumped to 43 on Wednesday, double the previous day, and that she could not say until the following week whether the city would exit lockdown by a July 30 target.
Overnight, NSW added three regional centers some 250 kilometers from Sydney to the list of areas under lockdown after a pet food delivery driver tested positive there, raising fears of local transmission.
“We know every day who’s going to walk though the door, but even the locals that do come in, they’re buying for like four days, rather than buying for every single day,” said Cameron Cassel, a butcher in Blayney, population 3,000.
Victorian authorities, meanwhile, said 16 of its 22 new cases were in quarantine during their infectious period, while exposure sites for the remaining six were “reasonably low.”
“That is something that should give us all a degree of confidence and hope that this response... is working,” said Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley.
A third state, South Australia, went into its first full day of a week-long lockdown on Wednesday, and reported one additional case.
A year and a half into the pandemic, some 13 million Australians are under hard lockdown, raising pressure on the federal government which has seen its polling at its lowest in a year due to a sluggish immunization program. Just over 11 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.
The main vaccine in the government’s arsenal, developed by AstraZeneca Plc, has been recommended for use only for people aged over 60 due to a remote risk of blood clotting, while a vaccine made by Pfizer Inc. has been restricted to over-40s due to limited supply.
Under mounting pressure, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday his government has asked its independent expert panel, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization, to relax its advice on the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“It’s for them to now constantly reconsider how that balance of risk applies and provide their advice accordingly,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra.
While the sluggish vaccine roll-out has frustrated voters, the introduction of shutdowns has also taken a toll on Australia’s A$2 trillion ($1.5 trillion) economy, which had roared back to pre-pandemic levels after the initial upheaval of early 2020.
Data published on Wednesday showed retail sales in June slumped 1.8 percent from a month earlier, nearly four times the drop foreshadowed by economists.
Morrison also said there would be a “significant impact” on GDP figures that will be published in early September, although he said advice from Australia’s central bank suggested the toll would be mitigated in the following quarter.
Australia has fared better than many other developed economies in keeping COVID-19 numbers relatively low, with just over 32,100 cases and 915 deaths.


China says US responsible for relations standstill, making ‘imaginary enemy’

China says US responsible for relations standstill, making ‘imaginary enemy’
Updated 26 July 2021

China says US responsible for relations standstill, making ‘imaginary enemy’

China says US responsible for relations standstill, making ‘imaginary enemy’
  • China’s vice FM Xie Feng made the remarks during a meeting with visiting US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman 

BEIJING: A high-ranking Chinese diplomat said some people in the United States view China as an “imaginary enemy” and that it was the main cause of tensions between the two countries.
Xie Feng, China’s vice foreign minister, made the remarks during a meeting with Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, according to a report by Chinese state television on Monday.
Sherman arrived in the eastern Chinese city of Tianjin for talks with Xie and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Sunday.
A day before her arrival, Wang had warned China would not accept the United States taking a “superior” position in the relationship.
Senior US officials on Saturday outlined Sherman’s expected position during the talks, saying the United States welcomes competition with Beijing but would insist on a level playing field and “guardrails” to avoid conflicts.
The tense back and forth comes amid already frayed relations between Beijing in Washington that have worsened in the months since an initial diplomatic meeting in March, the first under US President Joe Biden’s administration.
At the meeting in Alaska, Chinese officials railed against the state of US democracy while US officials accused the Chinese side of grandstanding during the meeting.
Ties have continued to deteriorate since, including a series of tit-for-tat sanctions and diplomatic barbs that have overshadowed the talks in Tianjin.
Sherman is expected to continue with the talks in Tianjin on Monday before traveling to Geneva to head a US delegation at nuclear arms control talks with Russia on Wednesday. 

 


After months of delays, Somalia postpones election amid threats of violence

Somalia’s leaders agreed last month on a voting timetable after months of stalemate. The country is facing violence by Al-Shabab militants. (AFP/File)
Somalia’s leaders agreed last month on a voting timetable after months of stalemate. The country is facing violence by Al-Shabab militants. (AFP/File)
Updated 26 July 2021

After months of delays, Somalia postpones election amid threats of violence

Somalia’s leaders agreed last month on a voting timetable after months of stalemate. The country is facing violence by Al-Shabab militants. (AFP/File)
  • The country’s Al-Shabab militants warned politicians last week against taking part in the vote

MOGADISHU: Somalia has postponed elections that were due to start on Sunday after months of delays in the deeply unstable Horn of Africa country, officials told AFP.

Indirect parliamentary and presidential polls were due to open on July 25 with four days of voting for the upper house by state delegates. The election cycle was due to end with a presidential poll on Oct. 10.
“Even though the plan was the upper house election to start around the various states today, there is a delay, the election may not take place as planned,” a member of the electoral commission said.
The delay was due to the fact that federal regions were neither able to submit candidates’ lists in time, nor to form local committees to cast the ballots, the source added.
A spokesman for the federal government, Mohamed Ibrahim Moalimu, told AFP that the elections were “postponed,” without providing details.
Last week, the country’s Al-Shabab militants warned politicians against taking part in the elections, which were due to kick off after months of deadlock and delays.
The threat, in an audio message purportedly recorded by Al-Shabab leader Ahmed Umar Abu Ubaidah, underscores the security challenges facing the election process in the country.
The Al-Qaeda-linked group has been fighting to overthrow the federal government since 2007 and frequently attacks government, security and civilian targets.
Somalia was plunged into an unprecedented constitutional crisis early this year, when President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and the leaders of Somalia’s five states were unable to agree on the terms of a vote before his term lapsed in February.

SPEEDREAD

Somalia was plunged into an unprecedented constitutional crisis early this year, when the country’s leadership was unable to agree on the terms of a vote before his term lapsed in February.

After months of stalemate that at times turned violent, the political leaders finally agreed last month on a voting timetable.
According to the agreed plan, delegates from the five federal states, chosen by various clans in that state, elect parliamentarians, who then elect a president. The process was due to kick off on Sunday.
But according to several sources, the sole state that was capable of carrying out a vote “during the week” was Jubaland. The state has already chosen its delegate committee and could publish a list of candidates “during the week.”
“We are expecting the election to take place soon,” said Mohamed Adan, a senior government official in Jubaland. Another source said the electoral process could kick off in the state later on Sunday.
In Puntland state, sources said the elections were delayed because of “technical reasons.”
In Galmudug state, the local parliament is on a break and will reconvene in early August.
In South-West state, the process is blocked because the regional president is out of the country.
Somalia’s political impasse exploded into violence in April when negotiations collapsed and the lower house extended the president’s mandate by two years, sparking gunbattles on the streets of Mogadishu. Under pressure the president, commonly known as Farmajo, reversed the extension and ordered his prime minister to reconvene with the state leaders to chart a fresh roadmap toward elections.
The ballots follow a complex indirect model whereby special delegates chosen by the country’s myriad clan elders pick lawmakers, who in turn choose the president.
Successive leaders have promised a direct vote but political infighting, logistical problems and the Al-Shabab insurgency has prevented such an exercise. The upper house vote will be followed by elections for the lower house from Sept. 12-Oct. 2, according to an updated timetable issued last week.
According to a statement issued in June, both assemblies were due to convene to vote for the president on October 10, but no date for this election was given in the updated timeline.
Somalia has not held a direct one-person, one-vote election since 1969, the year dictator Siad Barre led a coup and went on to rule for two decades.
Barre’s military regime collapsed in 1991 and Somalia sank into anarchy.


Putin warns of ‘lethal’ strikes at Russian warship parade

Putin warns of ‘lethal’ strikes at Russian warship parade
Updated 26 July 2021

Putin warns of ‘lethal’ strikes at Russian warship parade

Putin warns of ‘lethal’ strikes at Russian warship parade
  • The Russian leader’s boast comes days after military officials announced tests of advanced new weapons

PETERSBURG: President Vladimir Putin said on Sunday that Russia’s navy was capable of delivering lethal strikes against underwater and aerial enemy targets during a parade of warships in the port city of Saint Petersburg.

The Russian leader’s boast comes days after military officials announced tests of advanced new weapons, some of which come from an arsenal Putin has described as “invincible.”

“The Russian navy today has everything it needs to guarantee the protection of our country and our national interests,” he said.

“We can detect underwater, surface or aerial enemies and target them if a lethal strike is necessary,” Putin said according to a broadcast on state television.

The Russian leader was speaking on the sidelines of an annual parade of military vessels, flanked by naval officers in white, and also Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Putin said Russia had secured its place among the world’s leading naval powers, including by developing “the latest hypersonic precision weapons still unrivaled in the world.”

The US, China, France and other major powers have announced plans to develop their own hypersonic weapons and are expected to soon catch up.

With the second-largest arsenal of nuclear weapons in the world and a huge cache of ballistic missiles, Russia already has more than enough military capacity to deter its enemies.


America to continue air strikes supporting Afghan troops: US general

America to continue air strikes supporting Afghan troops: US general
Updated 25 July 2021

America to continue air strikes supporting Afghan troops: US general

America to continue air strikes supporting Afghan troops: US general
  • Since early May, violence has surged after the insurgents launched a sweeping assault
  • Taliban's assault has seen the insurgents capture scores of districts and border crossings

KABUL: The United States will continue air strikes in support of Afghan forces fighting the Taliban, a top US general said Sunday, as the insurgents press on with offensives across the country.
Since early May, violence has surged after the insurgents launched a sweeping assault just days after the US-led foreign forces began their final withdrawal.
The Taliban's deadly assault has seen the insurgents capture scores of districts, border crossings and encircle several provincial capitals.
"The United States has increased air strikes in the support of Afghan forces over the last several days, and we are prepared to continue this heightened level of support in the coming weeks if the Taliban continue their attacks," General Kenneth McKenzie, head of the US Army Central Command, told reporters in Kabul.
McKenzie acknowledged that there were tough days ahead for the Afghan government, but insisted that the Taliban were nowhere close to victory.
"The Taliban are attempting to create a sense of inevitability about their campaign. They are wrong," he said.
"Taliban victory is not inevitable."
McKenzie's remarks came as Afghan officials in the southern province of Kandahar said fighting in the region had displaced about 22,000 families in the past month.
"They have all moved from the volatile districts of the city to safer areas," Dost Mohammad Daryab, head of the provincial refugee department, told AFP.
On Sunday, fighting continued on the outskirts of Kandahar city.
"The negligence of some security forces, especially the police, has made way for the Taliban to come that close," Lalai Dastageeri, deputy governor of Kandahar province, told AFP.
"We are now trying to organise our security forces."
Local authorities had set up four camps for the displaced people who are estimated to be about 154,000.
Kandahar resident Hafiz Mohammad Akbar said his house had been taken over by the Taliban after he fled.
"They forced us to leave... I am now living with my 20-member family in a compound with no toilet," said Akbar.


UK health minister sparks fury by urging people not to ‘cower from’ COVID

UK health minister sparks fury by urging people not to ‘cower from’ COVID
Updated 25 July 2021

UK health minister sparks fury by urging people not to ‘cower from’ COVID

UK health minister sparks fury by urging people not to ‘cower from’ COVID
  • “Please — if you haven’t yet — get your jab, as we learn to live with, rather than cower from, this virus,” Javid tweeted
  • Britain has one of the highest official COVID death tolls

LONDON: British health minister Sajid Javid was accused of insulting coronavirus victims on Sunday after urging people to take a COVID-19 vaccine and “learn to live with, rather than cower from, this virus.”
Javid, who replaced Matt Hancock as health minister last month after his predecessor stepped down for breaking COVID rules by kissing an aide in his office, began his job by urging people to learn to live with the virus.
Britain, which has one of the highest official COVID death tolls, has shifted its strategy to fight coronavirus from using restrictions to limit its spread to opening up society in the hope vaccines will protect most people from serious illness.
Cases are high, but so is uptake of COVID-19 vaccines, and officials argue the shift is needed to help businesses in sectors such as hospitality and the night-time economy.
Writing on Twitter, Javid said on Saturday he had recovered after testing positive for COVID. “Symptoms were very mild, thanks to amazing vaccines,” he said.
“Please — if you haven’t yet — get your jab, as we learn to live with, rather than cower from, this virus.”
Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the Labour Party, was one of several lawmakers from opposition parties and people who have lost family members to the pandemic to criticize his use of the phrase “cower from.”
“127,000 people have died from this virus, tens of thousands of whom would still be here if it wasn’t for the catastrophic failures of your government,” she said on Twitter.
“So how dare you denigrate people for trying to keep themselves and their families safe.”