Sydney reopens as Australia looks to live with COVID-19

Sydney reopens as Australia looks to live with COVID-19
Customers wait at a barber shop on the first day of many such businesses re-opening to vaccinated patrons, following months of lockdown orders in Sydney on Oct. 11, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 11 October 2021

Sydney reopens as Australia looks to live with COVID-19

Sydney reopens as Australia looks to live with COVID-19
  • But state Premier Dominic Perrottet warns that infections would rise after reopening

SYDNEY: Sydney’s cafes, gyms and restaurants welcomed back fully vaccinated customers on Monday after nearly four months of lockdown, as Australia aims to begin living with the coronavirus and gradually reopen with high rates of inoculation.
“I see it as a day of freedom, it’s a freedom day,” New South Wales (NSW) state Premier Dominic Perrottet told reporters in Sydney, the state capital. “We are leading the nation out of this pandemic but this will be a challenge.”
Perrottet warned that infections would rise after reopening, and virus-free states such as Western Australia and Queensland are watching what living with COVID-19 is going to look like amid concerns health systems could be overwhelmed.
While NSW’s dual-dose vaccination rate in people above 16 hit 74 percent, in neighboring Queensland, whose borders remain closed to Sydney-siders, the rate is only 52 percent and the state government is following an elimination strategy with rapid lockdowns to control any outbreak.
Perrottet has declared an end to lockdowns in NSW and has strong support for reopening in Sydney, whose more than 5 million residents endured severe restrictions from mid-June following an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant.
The outbreak has since spread to Melbourne and Canberra, forcing lockdowns in those cities, even as case numbers dwindle in NSW.
New South Wales on Monday reported 496 new locally acquired cases, well down from their peak last month, while Victoria logged 1,612 new infections, the lowest in five days.
Under the relaxed rules for NSW, retail stores and restaurants reopened with reduced capacity, and more vaccinated people were allowed to gather in homes and attend weddings and funerals.
The state aims to hit an 80 percent vaccine rate around late October, when more curbs will be relaxed. But the unvaccinated must remain at home until Dec. 1.
Kyl Raggio, owner of the KR Performance gym in the Sydney suburb of Randwick, said Australia could no longer afford to rely on rolling lockdowns to combat the virus.
“I hope that we can deal with whatever happens now moving forward, looking at the rest of the world hopefully we can stay open and do our thing,” said Raggio, who welcomed his clients back into his training facility early Monday morning.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison urged Sydney residents to “enjoy the moment.”
“Today is a day so many have been looking forward to — a day when things we take for granted, we will celebrate,” he said.
Morrison, who must call an election before next May, has come under pressure to press all states to reopen borders to bolster the economy and allow families separated by state border closures to reunite by Christmas. Some states with few cases have not said when they will re-open their borders.
With the vaccine rollout gaining momentum, Australia is planning a staggered return to normal, letting fully vaccinated residents enter and leave the country freely from November, although New South Wales plans to bring forward those dates.
Australia shut its international borders in March 2020, helping keep its coronavirus numbers relatively low, with 130,000 cases and 1,448 deaths.


UK to increase foreign aid spending by 2024 — but delay could cost lives

UK to increase foreign aid spending by 2024 — but delay could cost lives
Updated 27 October 2021

UK to increase foreign aid spending by 2024 — but delay could cost lives

UK to increase foreign aid spending by 2024 — but delay could cost lives
  • London cut foreign aid spending by billions last year to manage pandemic
  • Poverty, child labor, child marriage will persist until aid budget increased, charity tells Arab News

LONDON: Britain’s plans to increase foreign aid spending back to pre-pandemic levels by 2024 have been welcomed by charities, but some have told Arab News that the delay could have serious humanitarian ramifications.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced on Wednesday that London would return to its legal obligation to spend 0.7 percent of gross domestic product — around $5 billion in real terms — on foreign aid by 2024, up from the current 0.5 percent implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our improving fiscal situation means we will meet our obligations to the worlds’ poorest,” Sunak said while delivering the Treasury’s annual budget announcement. “Today’s forecast shows that we are in fact scheduled to return to 0.7 percent in 2024 and 2025.”

The cuts were forced through Parliament after much resistance from cross-bench politicians, who warned that massive reductions to the UK’s aid spending would have dire real-world consequences for countless people the world over, including many in the Middle East.

Some charities and humanitarian organizations have welcomed Sunak’s pledge to increase foreign aid spending back to 0.7 percent.

“We welcome the projection for UK aid funding to return to 0.7 percent in 2024/25. In the meantime, UK aid remains a critical lifeline for millions of people in need of urgent assistance, with humanitarian needs soaring, due to a mixture of COVID-19, climate and conflict,” Richard Blewitt, an executive director at the British Red Cross, told Arab News.

“We call on the government to ensure aid continues to be allocated on the basis of need. UK aid needs to be prioritized for the most vulnerable communities in the world where suffering is reaching unprecedented levels.”

But others have warned that the three-year delay could have serious consequences for vulnerable Syrians, Yemenis and others, as well as a negative impact on the UK’s security and the country’s post-Brexit ambition to become “Global Britain.”

Charles Lawley, head of communications and advocacy at Syria Relief, told Arab News that “the most optimistic scenario is that there is only a minor increase in suffering, and the NGO community and other donors are able to fill the gaps left by such a huge aid budget reduction” until the aid is increased later in the decade.

“However, it is likely that the cuts will mean a rise in poverty and a rise in negative coping mechanisms such as selling assets, child labor and early marriage.”

His organization has been providing life-saving aid and support in Syria throughout the country’s brutal war.

Because of the aid cuts, “the most vulnerable in Syrian society will be exposed to even greater risk,” Lawley said.

“A situation that creates desperation usually results in a poorer security situation. People could very well look for income through groups that do pose a threat to UK interests,” he added.

“These are not the actions of the ‘soft-power superpower’ that ‘Global Britain’ was meant to be. This is the action of a short-sighted little England.”


France releases list of possible sanctions against Britain in fishing row

France releases list of possible sanctions against Britain in fishing row
Updated 27 October 2021

France releases list of possible sanctions against Britain in fishing row

France releases list of possible sanctions against Britain in fishing row
  • France could notably step up border checks on goods from Britain

PARIS: France on Wednesday released a list of sanctions that could come into effect from Nov. 2 if sufficient progress is not made in its post-Brexit fishing row with Britain and said it was working on a second round of sanctions that could affect power supplies to the UK.
France could notably step up border checks on goods from Britain and prevent British fishing boats from accessing French ports, if the situation regarding the fishing licenses did not improve, the Maritime and European Affairs Ministries said in a joint statement.


Criminal charges against Alec Baldwin not ruled out: DA

Criminal charges against Alec Baldwin not ruled out: DA
Updated 27 October 2021

Criminal charges against Alec Baldwin not ruled out: DA

Criminal charges against Alec Baldwin not ruled out: DA
  • Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies: ‘He’s obviously the person that fired the weapon — all options are on the table at this point’
  • Sheriff Adan Mendoza: ‘We’re going to determine how those (live rounds) got there, why they were there, because they shouldn’t have been there’

LOS ANGELES: Criminal charges against actor Alec Baldwin, who shot dead a cinematographer and wounded a director on the set of his latest movie, have not been ruled out, the local district attorney said Wednesday.
“He’s obviously the person that fired the weapon,” said Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies, whose area of responsibility covers the set of “Rust.”
“All options are on the table,” she told a news conference, adding: “No one has been ruled out at this point.”
An investigation into last Thursday’s fatal shooting has recovered 500 rounds of ammunition from the set in New Mexico, Sheriff Adan Mendoza told reporters, adding detectives believe they were a mix of blanks, dummies and live rounds.
“We’re going to determine how those (live rounds) got there, why they were there, because they shouldn’t have been there,” Mendoza said.


WHO: Europe had most COVID-19 cases, deaths over last week

WHO: Europe had most COVID-19 cases, deaths over last week
Updated 27 October 2021

WHO: Europe had most COVID-19 cases, deaths over last week

WHO: Europe had most COVID-19 cases, deaths over last week
  • WHO said cases in its 53-country European region recorded an 18% increase in COVID-19 cases over last week
  • In WHO's weekly epidemiological report on COVID-19, Europe also saw a 14% increase in deaths

GENEVA: Europe stood out as the only major region worldwide to report an increase in both coronavirus cases and deaths over the last week, with double-digit percentage increases in each, the United Nations’ health agency said on Wednesday.
The World Health Organization said that cases in its 53-country European region, which stretches as far east as several former Soviet republics in central Asia, recorded an 18 percent increase in COVID-19 cases over the last week — a fourth straight weekly increase for the area.
In WHO’s weekly epidemiological report on COVID-19, Europe also saw a 14 percent increase in deaths. That amounted to more than 1.6 million new cases and over 21,000 deaths.
The United States tallied the largest number of new cases over the last seven days — nearly 513,000 new cases, though that was a 12 percent drop from the previous week – and over 11,600 deaths, which was about the same number as the previous week, WHO said.
Britain was second at more than 330,000 new cases. Russia, which has chalked up a series of national daily records for COVID-19 deaths in recent days, had nearly a quarter million new cases over the last week.
WHO officials have pointed to a number of factors including relatively low rates of vaccination in some countries in eastern Europe. Countries including Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Georgia had some of the highest rates of infection per 100,000 people in the last week.
Overall, WHO’s vast Americas region — which has tallied the most deaths of any region from the pandemic, at more than 2.7 million — saw a 1 percent uptick in deaths over the last week, even as cases fell by nine percent. Cases in WHO’s southeast Asia region, which includes populous countries like India and Indonesia, fell 8 percent even as deaths rose 13 percent over the last week.


Greece blames Turkey after migrants drown in Aegean

Greece blames Turkey after migrants drown in Aegean
Updated 27 October 2021

Greece blames Turkey after migrants drown in Aegean

Greece blames Turkey after migrants drown in Aegean
  • Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi: ‘Four bodies were retrieved without carrying personal lifejackets — the victims were aged four, 11, 25 and 28 years old’
  • Notis Mitarachi: ‘The Turkish authorities must do more to prevent exploitation by criminal gangs at source — these journeys should never be allowed to happen’

ATHENS: Greece has blamed Turkey for a migrant boat sinking in the Aegean that claimed the lives of four people including two children, noting that Ankara should prevent smugglers from risking peoples’ lives at sea.
“Four bodies were retrieved without carrying personal lifejackets. The victims were aged four, 11, 25 and 28 years old according to the coroner’s report,” Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi told a news conference on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Mitarachi tweeted four children died after the accident near the island of Chios in which 22 people were rescued.
On Wednesday, he said one to four people were thought to be missing based on the testimony of survivors. Three people were still in hospital, the minister said, adding that the migrants had come from Somalia, Sudan and Eritrea via Turkey.
“The Turkish authorities must do more to prevent exploitation by criminal gangs at source. These journeys should never be allowed to happen,” Mitarachi tweeted on Tuesday.
In a statement, the coast guard said the boat had set out from Turkey amid strong winds, and that none of the occupants had been given a life vest by the smugglers.
Merchant Marine Minister Yiannis Plakiotakis said the smugglers had shown “criminal disregard for human life.”
The coast guard added that in addition to the adverse weather conditions, the boat was overloaded and as a result, its underside came off.
“All those rescued are in good health and were taken to Chios harbor,” it said.
In a statement earlier, the coast guard had said 27 people were thought to be inside the boat, according to the survivors.
Coast Guard patrol boats, a NATO vessel, nearby ships and fishing boats and two helicopters were participating in the search.
According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, more than 2,500 people have crossed the Aegean from neighboring Turkey this year, compared to over 9,700 in 2020.
Over 100 people died or are missing in migrant boat incidents last year, the agency’s data show.
Greece blames Turkey for not taking sufficient action to curb smugglers who send out migrants in unsafe boats and dinghies from its shores.
“This is the reality of the exploitation of migrants by criminal gangs in the Aegean — unscrupulous smugglers putting lives at risk in heavily laden unseaworthy dinghies,” Mitarachi said on Tuesday.