Australian officials tighten Sydney lockdown as COVID-19 cases rise

A medical worker prepares to administer a test at the Bondi Beach drive-through coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing centre in the wake of new positive cases in Sydney, Australia. (REUTERS file photo)
A medical worker prepares to administer a test at the Bondi Beach drive-through coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing centre in the wake of new positive cases in Sydney, Australia. (REUTERS file photo)
Short Url
Updated 23 July 2021

Australian officials tighten Sydney lockdown as COVID-19 cases rise

A medical worker prepares to administer a test at the Bondi Beach drive-through coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing centre in the wake of new positive cases in Sydney, Australia. (REUTERS file photo)
  • New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Friday suspended for at least eight weeks the so-called “travel bubble” with Australia that allows movement between the two countries without quarantine

SYDNEY: Australia’s New South Wales state on Friday reported its biggest daily rise in new COVID-19 cases this year, prompting state officials to tighten lockdown measures in Sydney in what they called a “national emergency.”
State Premier Gladys Berejiklian also flagged the likelihood that stay-home orders for the country’s biggest city would be extended beyond the current end date of July 30.
“There is no doubt that the numbers are not going in the direction we were hoping they would at this stage,” Berejiklian said as she announced 136 new cases in New South Wales.
Total infections in Australia’s worst outbreak since the peak of the pandemic last year have jumped to just over 1,900 since the first case was detected in a Sydney limousine driver transporting international flight crews in mid-June.
The outbreak of the fast-moving Delta strain was carried across borders to the neighboring states of Victoria and South Australia, leading to measures that have put more than half the country’s population in lockdown. That has shut down down large parts of the economy, even as other parts of the world, including Britain and the United States, open up..
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Friday suspended for at least eight weeks the so-called “travel bubble” with Australia that allows movement between the two countries without quarantine. The arrangement had already been paused for travelers to and from New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.
Crucially, at least 53 of the new cases in Sydney were infectious in the community before being diagnosed. Authorities have said that figure needs to be near zero for a lockdown in the New South Wales capital to be lifted.
State chief health officer Kerry Chant said a national vaccination program needed to be refocused on the Sydney hotspots.
“I have advised the government today that this is a national emergency, and requires additional measures to reduce the case number,” Chant said.
A formalized “national emergency” would typically unlock federal government funding and other assistance.
In contrast to New South Wales, Victoria state officials reported a fall in new daily cases on Friday to 14, adding that 10 of those were in quarantine during their entire infectious period.

VACCINE ROLLOUT
With just over 32,500 COVID-19 cases and 916 deaths, Australia has fared much better than many other developed economies, but stop-and-start lockdowns and a sluggish vaccine rollout have frustrated residents.
About 15 percent of adult Australians have been fully vaccinated, a rate that is well behind many other developed nations.
Morrison on Thursday apologized for the slow vaccination rollout. His government is targeting full vaccination of the adult population by the end of the year. Just 15 percent have been vaccinated so far.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt on Friday said the country’s drug regulator has approved the use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in children aged 12 to 15, although there were no immediate plans to add that group to the national rollout.
The Sydney lockdown is currently scheduled to run until July 30, while strict stay-home orders in Victoria and South Australia are in place until July 27.


US calls for Somalia leadership to resolve ‘dispute’

US calls for Somalia leadership to resolve ‘dispute’
Updated 16 sec ago

US calls for Somalia leadership to resolve ‘dispute’

US calls for Somalia leadership to resolve ‘dispute’
  • The long-brewing dispute escalated this week when Farmajo suspended Roble's executive powers

WASHINGTON: The United States called Monday on the president and prime minister of Somalia to resolve their "dispute," so as not to further delay the country's electoral process, with the African nation's presidential election scheduled for October 10.
"Cooperation among Somalia's leaders — particularly President Farmaajo and Prime Minister Roble — is essential to ensure that the country quickly completes its ongoing electoral process," State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
"The dispute between President Farmaajo and Prime Minister Roble risks complicating this process and needs to be resolved immediately and peacefully."
The rivalry between President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, popularly known as Farmajo, and Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble has raised concerns for the country's stability.
The long-brewing dispute escalated this week when Farmajo suspended Roble's executive powers, a move the premier rejected as unlawful.
Somalia is due to vote for a president on October 10, but the leaders' spat threatens to imperil the repeatedly delayed poll and distract from efforts to confront a long-running Islamist insurgency.
The months-long delay has "concerned" Washington, Price said, stressing that any further postponement "increases the potential for violence and plays into the hands of al-Shabaab and other extremist groups seeking to destabilize the country."
The radical Islamist group Al-Shabaab, whose insurgency was unleashed on Somalia in 2007, control large rural areas and regularly carry out attacks in the capital.


US officials defend expulsion of Haitians from Texas town

US officials defend expulsion of Haitians from Texas town
Updated 9 min 3 sec ago

US officials defend expulsion of Haitians from Texas town

US officials defend expulsion of Haitians from Texas town
DEL RIO, Texas: More than 6,000 Haitians and other migrants have been removed from an encampment at a Texas border town, US officials said Monday as they defended a strong response that included immediately expelling migrants to their impoverished Caribbean country and using horse patrols to stop them from entering the town.
Calling it a “challenging and heartbreaking situation,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas issued a stark warning: “If you come to the United States illegally, you will be returned. Your journey will not succeed, and you will be endangering your life and your family’s life.”
Isaac Isner, 30, and his wife Mirdege, took wet clothing off their 3-year-old daughter Isadora after crossing the Rio Grande to Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, Monday afternoon. They had been in Del Rio, Texas, for seven days but decided to return to Mexico after a friend showed cellphone video of the US expelling migrants.
“They were putting people on a bus and sent them to Haiti just like that without signing anything,” Isner said.
His family has an appointment this month with Mexico’s asylum agency in the southern city of Tapachula, and they think they could be safe in Mexico.
Most migrants, however, still haven’t made up their minds.
“We don’t know what we’re going to do,” said a second Haitian man, who declined to give his name but said he crossed into Mexico Monday for food, leaving his wife and child in Del Rio. “The US is deporting and now Mexico won’t just sit back and do nothing. We don’t know where to go.”
Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s foreign minister, said about 15 percent of the Haitian migrants in Mexico have accepted refuge there. So far this year, about 19,000 Haitian migrants have requested asylum in Mexico.
“Mexico does not have any problem with them being in our country as long as they respect Mexico’s laws,” he said.
Mexico was busing Haitian migrants from Ciudad Acuña Sunday evening, according to Luis Angel Urraza, president of the local chamber of commerce. Mexico’s immigration agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But a federal official told The Associated Press on Sunday that the plan was to take the migrants to Monterrey, in northern Mexico, and Tapachula, in the south, with flights to Haiti from those cities to begin in coming days.
Mayorkas and US Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz said they would look into agents on horseback using what appeared to be whips and their horses to push back migrants at the river between Ciudad Acuña and Del Rio, a city of about 35,000 people roughly 145 miles (230 kilometers) west of San Antonio where thousands of migrants remain camped around a bridge.
Both officials said during an afternoon news conference they saw nothing apparently wrong based on the widely seen photos and video. Mayorkas said agents use long reins, not whips, to control their horses. Ortiz, the former chief of the Del Rio sector, said it can be confusing to distinguish between migrants and smugglers as people move back and forth near the river. The chief said he would investigate to make sure there was no “unacceptable” actions by the agents.
“I don’t think anyone seeing that footage would think it acceptable or appropriate,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said when asked about the images at a nearly simultaneous briefing. She deemed the footage “horrific” and said the matter would be investigated.
Later Monday, the Department of Homeland Security issued a statement calling the footage “extremely troubling” and promising a full investigation that would “define the appropriate disciplinary actions to be taken.”
Mayorkas said 600 Homeland Security employees, including from the Coast Guard, have been brought to Del Rio. He said he has asked the Defense Department for help in what may be one of the swiftest, large-scale expulsions of migrants and refugees from the United States in decades.
He also said the US would increase the pace and capacity of flights to Haiti and other countries in the hemisphere. The number of migrants at the bridge peaked at 14,872 on Saturday, said Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, a labor union that represents agents.
“When it was reported that were flights going back to Haiti, it got around almost immediately,” he said. “There has been talk that some of them are going to go back (to Mexico) but we have not seen very much movement.”
The rapid expulsions were made possible by a pandemic-related authority adopted by former President Donald Trump in March 2020 that allows for migrants to be immediately removed from the country without an opportunity to seek asylum. President Joe Biden exempted unaccompanied children from the order but let the rest stand.
Any Haitians not expelled are subject to immigration laws, which include rights to seek asylum and other forms of humanitarian protection. Families are quickly released in the US because the government cannot generally hold children.
More than 320 migrants arrived in Port-au-Prince on three flights Sunday, and Haiti said six flights were expected Tuesday. The US plans to begin seven expulsion flights daily on Wednesday, four to Port-au-Prince and three to Cap-Haitien, according to a US official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. Flights will continue to depart from San Antonio but authorities may add El Paso, the official said.
The only obvious parallel for such an expulsion without an opportunity to seek asylum was in 1992 when the Coast Guard intercepted Haitian refugees at sea, said Yael Schacher, senior US advocate at Refugees International whose doctoral studies focused on the history of US asylum law.
Similarly large numbers of Mexicans have been sent home during peak years of immigration but over land and not so suddenly.
Central Americans have also crossed the border in comparable numbers without being subject to mass expulsion, although Mexico has agreed to accept them from the US under pandemic-related authority in effect since March 2020. Mexico does not accept expelled Haitians or people of other nationalities outside of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
In Mexico, local authorities of border municipalities have asked for help from state and federal authorities. Claudio Bres, the mayor in Piedras Negras, about 62 miles (100 kilometers) southeast of Ciudad Acuña, told local media that the official agreement is to turn back all the buses with migrants to prevent them from reaching the border. He said that last weekend around 70 buses passed through his town.
Haitians have been migrating to the US in large numbers from South America for several years, many having left their Caribbean nation after a devastating 2010 earthquake. After jobs dried up from the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, many made the dangerous trek by foot, bus and car to the US border, including through the infamous Darien Gap, a Panamanian jungle.
Some of the migrants at the Del Rio camp said the recent devastating earthquake in Haiti and the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse make them afraid to return to a country that seems more unstable than when they left.
“In Haiti, there is no security,” said Fabricio Jean, a 38-year-old Haitian who arrived in Texas with his wife and two daughters. “The country is in a political crisis.”
But Mayorkas defended his recent decision to grant Haitians temporary legal status due to political and civil strife in their homeland if they were in the United States on July 29, but not to those being sent back now.
“We made an assessment based on the country conditions ... that Haiti could in fact receive individuals safely,” he said.
Six flights were scheduled to Haiti on Tuesday — three to Port-au-Prince and three to the northern city of Cap-Haitien, said Jean Négot Bonheur Delva, Haiti’s migration director.
Some migrants said they were planning to leave Haiti again as soon as possible. Valeria Ternission, 29, said she and her husband want to travel with their 4-year-old son back to Chile, where she worked as a bakery’s cashier.
“I am truly worried, especially for the child,” she said. “I can’t do anything here.”

Australia’s New South Wales reports rise in local COVID-19 cases to 1,022

A police officer interacts with a man at Sydney Park on September 18, 2021, following calls for an anti-lockdown protest rally amid the coronavirus pandemic. (AFP)
A police officer interacts with a man at Sydney Park on September 18, 2021, following calls for an anti-lockdown protest rally amid the coronavirus pandemic. (AFP)
Updated 40 min 51 sec ago

Australia’s New South Wales reports rise in local COVID-19 cases to 1,022

A police officer interacts with a man at Sydney Park on September 18, 2021, following calls for an anti-lockdown protest rally amid the coronavirus pandemic. (AFP)

SYDNEY: Australia’s New South Wales state, the epicenter of the country’s worst coronavirus outbreak, reported 1,022 locally acquired cases on Tuesday, up from 935 a day earlier.
Ten new deaths were recorded in the state, taking the total number of fatalities in the latest outbreak to 255.


FBI searches Florida home of Gabby Petito’s boyfriend

FBI agents begin to take away evidence from the family home of Brian Laundrie, who is a person of interest after his fiancé Gabby Petito went missing on September 20, 2021 in North Port, Florida. (AFP)
FBI agents begin to take away evidence from the family home of Brian Laundrie, who is a person of interest after his fiancé Gabby Petito went missing on September 20, 2021 in North Port, Florida. (AFP)
Updated 58 min 17 sec ago

FBI searches Florida home of Gabby Petito’s boyfriend

FBI agents begin to take away evidence from the family home of Brian Laundrie, who is a person of interest after his fiancé Gabby Petito went missing on September 20, 2021 in North Port, Florida. (AFP)
  • Laundrie has been named a person of interest in the case, but his whereabouts in recent days were unknown

NORTH PORT, Florida: FBI agents and police Monday searched the home of the boyfriend wanted for questioning in the death of 22-year-old Gabby Petito, whose body was discovered over the weekend at a Wyoming national park months after the couple set out on a cross-country road trip.
The FBI gave no details on the search by at least a dozen law enforcement officers, but agents removed several boxes and towed away a car that neighbors said was typically used by 23-year-old Brian Laundrie’s mother. Local media said Laundrie’s parents were seen getting into a police vehicle.
Laundrie and Petito had been living with his parents at the North Port home before the road trip on which she died.
The young couple had set out in July in a converted van to visit national parks in the West. They got into a fight along the way, and Laundrie was alone when he returned in the van to his parents’ home on Sept. 1, police said.
In Wyoming, the FBI announced on Sunday that agents had discovered a body on the edge of Grand Teton National Park, which the couple had visited. No details on the cause of death were released. An autopsy was set for Tuesday.
“Full forensic identification has not been completed to confirm 100 percent that we found Gabby, but her family has been notified,” FBI agent Charles Jones said.
Laundrie has been named a person of interest in the case, but his whereabouts in recent days were unknown.
Petito’s father, Joseph, posted on social media an image of a broken heart above a picture of his daughter, with the message: “She touched the world.”
In an interview broadcast Monday on TV’s “Dr. Phil” show, Joseph Petito said Laundrie and his daughter had dated for 2 1/2 years, and Laundrie was “always respectful.” During the interview, which was recorded before his daughter’s body was found, Petito said the couple had taken a previous road trip to California in her car and there were no problems.
“If there were, I would have discouraged going on the trip,” Petito said.
Petito said his family began worrying after several days without hearing from their daughter.
“We called Brian, we called the mom, we called the dad, we called the sister, we called every number that we could find,” Petito said. “No phone calls were picked up, no text messages were returned.”
Petito said he wants Laundrie to be held accountable for whatever part he played in Gabby’s disappearance, along with his family for protecting him.
“I hope they get what’s coming, and that includes his folks,” Petito said. “Because I’ll tell you, right now, they are just as complicit, in my book.”
The FBI said investigators are seeking information from anyone who may have seen the couple around Grand Teton.
Police looking for Laundrie searched a 24,000-acre Florida nature preserve over the weekend without success. Investigators had focused intently on the area after Laundrie’s parents told police he may have gone there.
Petito and Laundrie were childhood sweethearts who met while growing up on New York’s Long Island. His parents later moved to North Port, about 35 miles (55 kilometers) south of Sarasota.
A man who saw Petito and Laundrie fighting in Moab, Utah, on Aug. 12 called 911 to report a domestic violence incident, according to a recording of the call obtained from the Grand County Sheriff’s Office. The man said that he saw Laundrie slap Petito while walking through the town and proceeded to hit her before the two got in their van and drove off.
Video released by the Moab police showed that an officer pulled the couple’s van over on the same day after it was seen speeding and hitting a curb near Arches National Park. The body-camera footage showed an upset Petito.
Laundrie said on the video that the couple had gotten into a scuffle after he climbed into the van with dirty feet. He said he did not want to pursue a domestic violence charge against Petito, who officers decided was the aggressor.
Moab police separated the couple for the night, with Laundrie checking into a motel and Petito remaining with the van.
In the footage, Gabby Petito cried as she told the officer that she and Laundrie had been arguing over her excessive cleaning of the van. She told the officer she has OCD — obsessive compulsive disorder.
On “Dr. Phil,” her father said that wasn’t literally true. She just likes to keep her living area orderly and was using slang, he said.


EU ministers voice “solidarity” with France on submarine deal: Borrell

EU ministers voice “solidarity” with France on submarine deal: Borrell
Updated 58 min 10 sec ago

EU ministers voice “solidarity” with France on submarine deal: Borrell

EU ministers voice “solidarity” with France on submarine deal: Borrell

UNITED NATIONS: European Union foreign ministers voiced solidarity Monday with France, which was angered by Australia’s cancelation of a submarine contract, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.
“The ministers expressed clear solidarity with France. This announcement ran counter to calls for greater cooperation with the European Union in the Indo-Pacific,” Borrell told reporters after EU ministers met on the sidelines of the United Nations.