Sydney eases more COVID-19 curbs as vaccinations pass milestone

Sydney eases more COVID-19 curbs as vaccinations pass milestone
Staff members cheer to celebrate the re-opening of SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium to visitors following an extended closure due to coronavirus disease. (Reuters)
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Updated 18 October 2021

Sydney eases more COVID-19 curbs as vaccinations pass milestone

Sydney eases more COVID-19 curbs as vaccinations pass milestone
  • Masks will no longer be mandatory in offices and more people will be allowed to gather in homes and outdoors

SYDNEY: Thousands of children returned to school in Sydney on Monday after months of home learning as Australia’s largest city, buoyed by rising vaccination rates, eased more COVID-19 restrictions.
Masks will no longer be mandatory in offices and more people will be allowed to gather in homes and outdoors after New South Wales state, home to Sydney, reached an 80 percent double dose inoculation rate for people aged over 16 over the weekend.
The latest in a series of planned easing of restrictions marks a shift by Australia’s largest cities to living with the virus, a strategy officials have warned will bring a greater number of COVID-19 cases in coming weeks.
“This is not over, there is a long journey to go,” New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet said on Monday, urging people to strictly follow the remaining health rules.
Retail stores, pubs and gyms can allow more vaccinated patrons and nightclubs can reopen for seated drinking, while weddings can have unlimited guests. However, all must follow social distancing measures.
The return to the classroom has been staggered, with the youngest and eldest students — those in kindergarten, year 1 and year 12 — returning on Monday. All others return next week.
New South Wales reported 265 new cases on Monday, the lowest single-day rise in 10 weeks and well below a high of 1,599 in early September.
Neighboring Victoria reported 1,903 new cases, up from 1,838 a day earlier. State capital Melbourne is on track to begin exiting its lockdown on Friday as full vaccination levels near 70 percent. The city has endured around nine months under strict stay-home orders since March 2020 — the longest in the world, according to Australian media.
Some virus-free states, however, have flagged they will keep internal borders closed amid fears that reopening could overwhelm their health systems.
By contrast, the federal government said it would roll out its vaccination passport for international travel from Tuesday, a key step in its plan to allow Australian citizens to travel abroad from next month.
Authorities said last week that vaccinated international travelers, initially only citizens and permanent residents, will be allowed to enter Sydney from Nov. 1 without the need to quarantine.
With some 145,000 cases and 1,543 deaths, Australia’s exposure to the coronavirus pandemic has been relatively low.


UK Muslim mother grieving after death of daughter in gas explosion

UK Muslim mother grieving after death of daughter in gas explosion
Updated 7 sec ago

UK Muslim mother grieving after death of daughter in gas explosion

UK Muslim mother grieving after death of daughter in gas explosion
  • Sana Ahmad says ‘incredible little girl’ died after gas company’s negligence
  • ‘The explosion was so bad that it almost felt like missiles were dropped on the properties’

LONDON: A Muslim mother is mourning the death of her 4-year-old daughter, who was killed in a gas explosion in London.
Sana Ahmad, 28, said her world has been “torn apart” after the incident that killed Sahara Salman, “her incredible little girl,” the Evening Standard reported on Wednesday.
She accused the gas supplier to her home, Southern Gas Networks, of negligence after it allegedly ignored a complaint about a suspected gas leak in July, despite an engineer inspecting the property.
“I made a phone call to my mum because we had arranged for her to collect the children. My mum was going to make her way to the house at about 7:05 a.m. So, I’m on the phone and within seconds she heard me scream because there was a big bang,” Ahmad said.
“My instinct was to grab all my children but as I’d gone to the hallway Sahara’s room had collapsed already … The explosion was so bad that it almost felt like missiles were dropped on the properties. That’s how quickly the building started to fall down.
“My mum identified the smell on July 30. The first call we made to them was on the same day at 3:57 p.m.
“He (the engineer) said that he would send another guy who was higher up than him to inspect the property because he wasn’t totally sure. Unfortunately other guy never did show up. The work wasn’t fully carried out. They did tell us there were loads of little gas leaks — they said that pipes had been leaking but that they were minor leaks.
“The saddest thing is that we tried to prevent this from happening. The gas people should have ensured the safety of not only us, but every single person who lives in that area.
“Now we’re all suffering — the whole community. And now we all have to live with the trauma of a little girl dying.”
Ahmad’s local MP Siobhain McDonagh said: “This should never have happened, we will get to the bottom of it.”
A spokesman for Southern Gas Networks said: “Our deepest sympathies are with the family of the child who has tragically died as well as those injured.
“We’d like to reassure everyone that our engineers are working closely with the emergency services.
“Given the ongoing police investigation, it is inappropriate to comment any further at this stage.”


Iranian operative charged in plot to murder John Bolton

Iranian operative charged in plot to murder John Bolton
Updated 35 min 2 sec ago

Iranian operative charged in plot to murder John Bolton

Iranian operative charged in plot to murder John Bolton
  • Justice Department says it uncovered an Iranian plot to kill the former White House national security adviser
  • It announced charges against a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps

WASHINGTON: An Iranian operative has been charged in a plot to murder former Trump administration national security John Bolton in presumed retaliation for a US airstrike that killed a popular and powerful general in the country, the Justice Department said Wednesday.
Shahram Poursafi, identified by US officials as a member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, is currently wanted by the FBI on charges related to the murder-for-hire plot.
The Justice Department said 45-year-old Poursafi, also known as Mehdi Rezayi, had offered to pay individuals in the US $300,000 to kill Bolton, the former US ambassador to the United Nations.
Prosecutors said the act was likely in retaliation for the January 2020 strike that killed Qassem Soleimani, who was the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force.
In a statement, Bolton thanked the FBI and Justice Department for their work in developing the case.
“While much cannot be said publicly right now, one point is indisputable: Iran’s rulers are liars, terrorists, and enemies of the United States,” he said.
Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen, the Justice Department’s top national security official, said it was “not the first time we have uncovered Iranian plots to exact revenge against individuals on US soil and we will work tirelessly to expose and disrupt every one of these efforts.”
(With AP and AFP)


Fascism is history, Italy’s far-right leader says

Fascism is history, Italy’s far-right leader says
Updated 10 August 2022

Fascism is history, Italy’s far-right leader says

Fascism is history, Italy’s far-right leader says
  • The 45-year-old recorded a monologue in English, Spanish and French that rails at "the left" and defends her fight for "stability, freedom and prosperity for Italy"
  • Meloni has agreed an alliance to form a government with Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini's anti-immigration League

ROME: Fascism is history, Italy’s far-right leader Giorgia Meloni declared Wednesday in a video message aimed at international critics alarmed by her predicted victory in September 25 elections.
The 45-year-old, whose Brothers of Italy party is topping opinion polls, recorded a monologue in English, Spanish and French that rails at “the left” and defends her fight for “stability, freedom and prosperity for Italy.”
“I have been reading that the victory of Fratelli d’Italia in the September elections would mean a disaster, leading to an authoritarian turn, Italy’s departure from the euro and other nonsense of this sort. None of this is true,” she said in the video sent to international journalists.
She also condemned as “absurd” the notion she would put at risk far-reaching structural reforms agreed with the European Union in return for billions of euros in post-pandemic recovery funds.
Brothers of Italy, which Meloni founded in 2012, is a political descendant of the Italian Social Movement (MSI), formed by supporters of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini after World War II.
But she insisted in her video: “The Italian right has handed fascism over to history for decades now, unambiguously condemning the suppression of democracy and the ignominious anti-Jewish laws.”
Brothers of Italy was the only main party not to join the national unity government formed by Prime Minister Mario Draghi in February 2021 — and has since seen its poll ratings soar.
Since the coalition collapsed and Draghi resigned last month, it has remained in pole position with around 23 percent of support.
Meloni has agreed an alliance to form a government with Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League, but reiterated this week she plans to be prime minister if her party comes out on top.
Her rise has prompted a slew of negative headlines at home and abroad, to which her team is starting to respond, including with an interview to Fox News in English last month.
Meloni emphasises her Christian and family values, backs more defense spending, lower taxes and an end to mass immigration.
In her video, she says the “Italian conservatives” she leads are “a bastion of freedom and defense of Western values.”
While backing the EU’s tough response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, she is highly critical of the bloc and has ties to Spain’s Vox and Poland’s Law and Justice parties.
In her video, she emphasised the “shared values” with Britain’s Conservatives, the US Republicans and Israel’s Likud.


Sri Lanka introduces bill to clip presidential powers

Sri Lanka introduces bill to clip presidential powers
Updated 10 August 2022

Sri Lanka introduces bill to clip presidential powers

Sri Lanka introduces bill to clip presidential powers
  • If passed into law, the amendments would reinstate democratic reforms made in 2015

COLOMBO: A Sri Lankan government minister on Wednesday submitted to Parliament a constitutional amendment bill that would clip the powers of the president, a key demand of protesters calling for political reforms and solutions to the country’s worst economic crisis.
Justice Minister Wijayadasa Rajapakshe presented the bill, which would transfer some presidential powers — including those to appoint independent election commission members, police and public service officials, and bribery and corruption investigators — into the hands of a constitutional council comprising lawmakers and respected non-political persons. The council would then recommend candidates for these appointments that the president could choose from.
Under the proposed amendments, the president also would only be able to appoint a chief justice, other senior judges, an attorney general and a central bank governor on the recommendation of the council. The prime minister would recommend appointments to the Cabinet and the president would not be allowed to hold any ministry positions except defense.
The bill, which will undergo debate, must be approved by two-thirds of Sri Lanka’s 225-member Parliament to become law.
If passed into law, the amendments would reinstate democratic reforms made in 2015. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was ousted as president by angry protests last month, reversed those reforms and concentrated power in himself after being elected to office in 2019.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who succeeded Rajapaksa, has promised to limit the powers of the presidency and strengthen Parliament in response to the protesters’ demands.
Sri Lankans have staged massive street protests for the past four months demanding democratic reforms and solutions to the country’s economic collapse.
Protesters blame the Rajapaksa family’s alleged mismanagement and corruption for the economic crisis that has led to serious shortages of essentials like medicines, food and fuel.
The island nation is negotiating with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout program.
The protests have largely dismantled the Rajapaksa political dynasty that ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to Singapore last month after angry protesters stormed his official residence and occupied several key state buildings. His older brother Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned as prime minister in May and three other close family members resigned from their Cabinet positions before him.


Dozens missing after Greece rescues 29 migrants from capsized boat

Dozens missing after Greece rescues 29 migrants from capsized boat
Updated 10 August 2022

Dozens missing after Greece rescues 29 migrants from capsized boat

Dozens missing after Greece rescues 29 migrants from capsized boat

ATHENS: Dozens of migrants are reported missing from a sunken boat after Greece’s coast guard rescued 29 in the Aegean Sea on Wednesday.
The rescued migrants said their boat had set out from Antalya, Turkey, heading toward Italy with 60 to 80 people aboard, according to a coast guard spokesperson.
It had capsized and sunk off the island of Karpathos in the southern Aegean, spokesperson Nikos Kokkalas told state television. The search and rescue operation had begun in the early morning hours amid strong winds, he added.
The rescued migrants were Afghans, Iranians and Iraqis, another coast guard official said on condition of anonymity.
Greece was at the front line of a European migration crisis in 2015 and 2016, when a million refugees fleeing war and poverty in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan arrived in the country, mainly via Turkey.
The number of migrant arrivals has fallen sharply since then. But Greek authorities say they have recently seen a sharp increase in attempted entries through the country’s islands and land border with Turkey.