Sydney suffers deadliest day of pandemic as lockdown nears seventh week

Sydney suffers deadliest day of pandemic as lockdown nears seventh week
A health worker takes a swab sample from a resident at a COVID-19 drive-through testing site in western Sydney on Aug. 4, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 05 August 2021

Sydney suffers deadliest day of pandemic as lockdown nears seventh week

Sydney suffers deadliest day of pandemic as lockdown nears seventh week
  • Sydney struggles to contain the highly contagious Delta virus strain
  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison is under fire for a sluggish national immunization drive

SYDNEY: Sydney recorded its deadliest day of the coronavirus pandemic on Thursday as authorities launched an investigation into a beach party suspected of spreading the virus into a region outside the city, triggering a snap one-week lockdown there.
Sydney, Australia’s largest city which is nearing its seventh week of a planned nine-week lockdown, reported five deaths and a record daily rise in infections as it struggles to contain the highly contagious Delta virus strain.
Four of the five people who died were unvaccinated while one had one dose, state health officials said, as they implored residents to get inoculated as early as possible.
The nearby Hunter region, home to New South Wales state’s second-largest city of Newcastle, was locked down from Thursday evening after six new cases. The orders place an additional 615,000 people under strict stay-at-home orders, raising the total to 6 million people in the state.
Together with the northern city of Brisbane and it surrounds, about a third of Australia’s 25 million population is under stay-home orders.
Officials suspect the virus in the Hunter region spread from a beach party near Newcastle after people traveled from Sydney, an apparent violation of the city’s lockdown.
“Our strongest focus ... is getting to the bottom of how the disease was transmitted and introduced into Newcastle,” New South Wales Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant told reporters in Sydney.
New South Wales reported a record 262 new cases, most of them in Sydney, exceeding the previous daily high of 239 on Sunday, with officials blaming the Delta strain for a significant number of younger people in hospitals.
“As older people become vaccinated ... COVID will predominantly affect the unvaccinated, in this case younger people,” Alexandra Martiniuk, epidemiologist at the University Of Sydney, told Reuters.
Sydney is in shock after the death of a healthy 27-year-old man from the coronavirus on Wednesday — the state’s youngest on record.
With around 35,200 COVID-19 cases and 932 deaths, Australia has avoided the high caseloads of other developed countries but its vaccination figures are among the lowest, with only 20 percent of its population over 16 fully vaccinated.
New South Wales health officials are imploring residents, especially people above 60, to get inoculated.
The five deaths in Sydney included three men in their 60s, one man in his 70s and a woman in her 80s, taking the total number of deaths in the latest outbreak in New South Wales to 21.
Health experts expect the country to endure stop-and-start lockdowns until it reaches a high vaccination coverage although New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian has said she might ease some restrictions in Sydney when half the state’s adult population get vaccinated.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is also under fire for a sluggish national immunization drive, which critics say has forced Sydney into the months-long lockdown, shut large swathes of the economy and likely tipped Australia into its second recession in as many years.
“I’m a fortunate one to be in essential service, so I’m still working, still getting paid. For other people it’s a mixed bag. Some people are taking it really well and others not so well,” Keirom O’Donoughue, a pharmacy salesperson in one of the worst-affected suburbs of Bankstown in Sydney, told Reuters.
Neighboring Victoria and Queensland states are also on alert after new cases rose.
Victoria, which ended a lockdown only weeks ago, reported eight new cases, raising the prospect of more tight curbs.
In Brisbane, another 16 COVID-19 cases were reported, the same as the previous two days.


Can concerted action mitigate climate change’s worst impacts?

Can concerted action mitigate climate change’s worst impacts?
Updated 36 sec ago

Can concerted action mitigate climate change’s worst impacts?

Can concerted action mitigate climate change’s worst impacts?
  • Experts warn rich and poor countries alike will experience mass internal migration as a result of climate change
  • World Bank report predicts global warming-linked disasters will displace millions of people by 2050

LONDON: World leaders will gather on Monday at the UN’s New York headquarters for a closed-door session on climate change hosted by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. 

Johnson, who is scheduled to host world leaders in Glasgow in November for the COP26 climate summit, is expected to press delegates to pledge to reduce carbon emissions, with a particular emphasis on ending the use of coal.

It is hoped that world leaders will be free to speak frankly during the closed-door session rather than simply trotting out feel-good bromides or reverting to established positions. 

Johnson is likely to find a ready ear. Last week, Abdulla Shahid, the new president of the UN General Assembly and Maldives foreign minister, told Arab News that climate change will be among the most critical issues of his presidency.

The Maldives’ Abdulla Shahid is making climate change a critical part of his UN General Assembly presidency. (AFP)

And so it should be. The Maldives, an island nation in the heart of the Indian Ocean, is the lowest-lying country in the world, with an average elevation of just 1.5 meters. Rising sea levels caused by global warming pose an immediate existential threat to its future.

The focus on mitigating the effects of climate change cannot come soon enough for the hundreds of millions of people that the World Bank believes will be displaced as a result of global warming. 

A bombshell World Bank report published earlier this month predicted that without decisive action some 216 million people will be displaced by climate change by 2050 — more than 20 times as many people as were displaced by the Syrian civil war.

In a worst-case scenario, the World Bank’s Groundswell II report said that North Africa alone could lose more than 19 million people to climate migration — more than the entire population of Tunisia.

These people, the World Bank said, will be uprooted from their homes by a combination of rising sea levels, declining freshwater access and other issues, which threaten to undo decades of progress on poverty reduction, child mortality, development and education.

North African states, in particular, rely heavily on their agricultural industries to fuel economic growth and to feed their rapidly growing populations. Climate change threatens to devastate these industries, forcing millions from their homes.

Despite the doom and gloom of the report, Ferzina Banaji, communications lead for climate change at the World Bank, told Arab News: “There is a window of opportunity to act now but it is shrinking rapidly.

“Immediate and concerted action to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and support green, inclusive and resilient development could reduce the scale of internal climate migration by as much as 80 percent from as much as 216 million people to 44 million people across the six regions covered in the report,” Banaji said.

“In North Africa, where water stress will amplify already scarce water resources, it is critical to step up action on these fronts, building on the already strong efforts of the countries in the region.”

The diversification of livelihoods in the North African region away from agriculture could also improve its resilience to climate change. Although the World Bank report did not directly cover the Middle East, Banaji said that the “region already faces climate change impacts, particularly extreme heat and water stress, which are both expected to worsen in the coming decades.”

Even in a best-case scenario, tens of millions of people globally will undoubtedly be uprooted by climate change by 2050. And the future for these displaced people — disproportionately vulnerable and from lower and middle-income countries — is bleak.

Troels Hedegaard, an associate professor studying migration at Denmark’s Aalborg University, told Arab News that his research indicates that people look even less kindly on climate migrants than they do on those fleeing war and persecution.

“My research indicates that populations in Northern Europe view climate migrants less favorably compared to migrants fleeing because of personal persecution or civil war,” Hedegaard said. 

“They are, however, more welcome than migrants leaving because of economic reasons. I believe this is because this category of migrants is generally unknown to most people in Northern Europe.”

INNUMBERS

216 million - Estimated number of internal climate migrants worldwide by 2050.

19 million - Predicted number of North African internal climate migrants by mid-century.

80 percent - Possible reduction in scale of climate migration if action is taken to reduce emissions. (Source: World Bank)

(Source: World Bank)

In Northern Europe, one of the world’s most climate-resilient regions, Hedegaard cautioned that despite the relative safety, “it would be very difficult to gather public support behind granting climate migrants residency or any other kind of permanent stay.”

This difference in attitude, he said, could be related to long-standing global norms derived from supranational bodies, such as the UN, which have defined what it means to be a refugee — or not — for decades, and this could result in institutional barriers to external migration.

“Even though the terms climate refugees or environmental refugees are sometimes used to describe people displaced by climate events, they are not included in the United Nations 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol relating to the status to seek protection, and therefore they cannot seek asylum,” Hedegaard said.

Immediate global action on climate change could reduce impending large-scale climate migration by up to 80 percent, the World Bank has said, amid warnings over the future stability of North Africa. (AFP)

But according to Dr. Alex de Sherbinin, an associate director at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, the vast majority of future climate migrants are likely to be internally displaced — and while the emphasis, in general, is on poorer countries in the global south, rich countries such as the US are not exempt from these issues.

The US regularly experiences deadly wildfires, hurricanes, droughts and other such environmental catastrophes that scientists predict will only get worse. Now the US has adopted a strategy of “managed retreat,” de Sherbinen said. 

“The idea of ‘managed retreat’ is to implement a package of interventions such as home buyouts and re-zoning. In some cases managed retreat maeqeey not actually be a retreat — the place may be so valuable that you build flood barriers around it, for example, or take other measures to keep people in place.

The US regularly experiences deadly wildfires, hurricanes, droughts and other such environmental catastrophes that scientists predict will only get worse. Now the US has adopted a strategy of “managed retreat,” de Sherbinen said. 

“Places like the Netherlands have done that successfully for decades,” he said. “It’s not completely inconceivable. But in some cases, it may not be economically viable to protect the area.”

But while these efforts are continuing, de Sherbinin believes that they will never create a true safe haven for people within the US or elsewhere to completely protect them from the impacts of climate change.

“Climate change is with us to stay. The notion that we are going to find an ideal safe space where everyone can be perpetually safe from climate disasters is not going to be part of our 21st-century existence — or into the 22nd.

“We poked the beast, and it’s not going to stop affecting us.”

____________

Twitter: @CHamillStewart 


Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband calls for new British foreign secretary to prioritize wife’s return from Iran

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband calls for new British foreign secretary to prioritize wife’s return from Iran
Updated 19 September 2021

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband calls for new British foreign secretary to prioritize wife’s return from Iran

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband calls for new British foreign secretary to prioritize wife’s return from Iran
  • Ratcliffe said he would be speaking to the new British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on Sunday
  • Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been in custody in Iran since 2016 after being accused of plotting to overthrow the government

LONDON: The husband of a British-Iranian woman detained in Iran has called on the new British foreign secretary to ensure his wife’s return is a “top priority.”
Richard Ratcliffe told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show that he has given the names of 10 people he accuses of being involved with “hostage-taking” in Iran to Liz Truss ahead of a phone call with her on Sunday. 
“We’ve put in front of the new foreign secretary a file of names, those who are involved in Iran’s hostage-taking across the chain, so those involved in taking people, processing them, giving them judges, those who are involved in treating them badly in prison,” Ratcliffe said. 
“I’ve got a phone call with the foreign secretary today, to be speaking to her two days into the job is a positive sign for sure.
“Partly I just want to hear that this is a top priority and that Nazanin and the others who are being held as bargaining chips will be brought home,” he added.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been in custody in Iran since 2016 after being accused of plotting to overthrow the government.
Iranian media has linked her detention to the UK’s failure to pay an outstanding £400 million debt to Iran.
“This coming week she (Liz Truss) should be meeting with the new Iranian foreign minister in New York when they’re over for the UN event, so hopefully there will be a positive conversation,” Ratcliffe said.
“Right now I think enough needs to be enough, and it needs to be signaled really clearly to Iran that you can’t use innocent people in this way.
“I’d really like them to be firm, to be brave and make some clear steps,” he added.
Ratcliffe has been campaigning tirelessly to have his wife released from prison and urged former foreign secretary Dominic Raab to take a firmer stand against Iran over the issue.
“One of the key problems I feel these past years is there’s been no cost for the Iranian side to carry on holding Nazanin, to carry on holding others, and so we’ve seen that now there are more British citizens in prison than there were when Nazanin was first taken,” he said.


India reports 30,773 new COVID cases as it seeks to welcome back tourists

India reports 30,773 new COVID cases as it seeks to welcome back tourists
Updated 19 September 2021

India reports 30,773 new COVID cases as it seeks to welcome back tourists

India reports 30,773 new COVID cases as it seeks to welcome back tourists
  • India, which has so far administered 804.3 million vaccine doses, is looking to protect the population and welcome back tourists
  • The death toll rose by 309 to 444,838, the health ministry said on Sunday

NEW DELHI: India on Sunday reported 30,773 new coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours, taking the total to 33.4 million, as it seeks to reopen the country to overseas tourists.
The death toll rose by 309 to 444,838, the health ministry said.
India, which has so far administered 804.3 million vaccine doses, is looking to protect the population and welcome back tourists, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Saturday.
“India’s vaccination drive is not just a safety cover for health but is also a protective shield for livelihood,” Modi told health workers in the tourist state of Goa via video.
“Friends, there’s been very little talk about this, but India has given a lot of priority to its vaccination program in states whose economies are driven by the tourism sector.”


Macron to hold call with US President Biden

Macron to hold call with US President Biden
Updated 19 September 2021

Macron to hold call with US President Biden

Macron to hold call with US President Biden
  • France would be seeking “clarification” over the cancelation of a submarine order

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron will have a call with US President Joe Biden in the next few days, the French government spokesman said on Sunday, amid a diplomatic crisis triggered by Australia’s cancelation 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 cancelation 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 cancelation, discussions would need to take place over contract clauses, notably compensation for the French side, Attal added.


Boxer Manny Pacquiao to run for Philippine president in 2022

Boxer Manny Pacquiao to run for Philippine president in 2022
Updated 19 September 2021

Boxer Manny Pacquiao to run for Philippine president in 2022

Boxer Manny Pacquiao to run for Philippine president in 2022
  • Accepts the nomination of his political allies during the national assembly of the faction he leads
  • Despite his popularity, boxer-senator Pacquiao trails the front-runners in opinion polls

MANILA: Boxing star Manny Pacquiao said on Sunday he will run for president of the Philippines next year, after railing against corruption in government and what he calls President Rodrigo Duterte’s cozy relationship with China.
Pacquiao accepted the nomination of his political allies during the national assembly of the faction he leads in the ruling PDP-Laban Party, days after a rival faction nominated Duterte’s long-time aide, Senator Christopher “Bong” Go, as its presidential candidate.
That faction nominated Duterte for vice president, a move that critics called a cynical ploy by Duterte to retain power.
Go declined the nomination, but the rift between the Pacquiao and Duterte factions has escalated.
“I am a fighter, and I will always be a fighter inside and outside the ring,” Pacquiao, 42, a senator, said in a live-streamed speech during the assembly. “I am accepting your nomination as candidate for president of the Republic of the Philippines.”
Pacquiao’s faction has not expressed support for Duterte’s vice presidential bid. Duterte is prohibited by the constitution from running for a second six-year term as president.
One of the greatest boxers of all time and the only man to hold world titles in eight different divisions, Pacquiao was mum about his 26-year professional career.
Despite his popularity, Pacquiao trails the front-runners in opinion polls that have been topped consistently by Duterte’s daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio.
In July, Pacquiao was voted out as PDP-Laban leader, weeks after challenging Duterte over his position on China and record on fighting corruption, but his ouster was rejected by his faction.
Pacquiao, once a close ally of Duterte, had said more than 10 billion pesos ($200 million) in pandemic aid intended for poor families was unaccounted for, adding this was just one discovery in his planned corruption investigation.
His anti-corruption crusade comes as the Senate has opened an investigation into alleged overpricing of medical supplies and equipment purchased under the government’s pandemic response program.
Duterte challenged Pacquiao to name corrupt government offices to prove that the boxer was not just politicking ahead of the election.
Pacquiao countered by warning of jail for corrupt government officials: “Your time is up!”