Australia reports third case of omicron COVID-19 variant

Australia reports third case of omicron COVID-19 variant
Non-Australian citizens and permanent residents who have been to South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, the Seychelles, Malawi, and Mozambique within the past 14 days will not be able to enter Australia. (AFP)
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Updated 09 December 2021

Australia reports third case of omicron COVID-19 variant

Australia reports third case of omicron COVID-19 variant
  • South African man who flew from Johannesburg to Darwin last Thursday tested positive for the new variant

CANBERRA: Australian authorities announced on Monday a third case of the omicron COVID-19 variant as government leaders reconsidered plans to relax border restrictions this week.
A South African man who flew from Johannesburg to Darwin last Thursday tested positive for the new variant at Australia’s most secure quarantine facility at Howard Springs, Northern Territory Health Minister Natasha Fyles said.
New South Wales state authorities reported on Sunday that two travelers from South Africa to Sydney had become Australia’s first omicron cases. Both were fully vaccinated, showed no symptoms and were in quarantine in Sydney.
New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet said Monday there could be a third omicron case in Australia’s most populous state.
In the 24 hours since Sunday, 141 passengers on five flights arrived from the nine countries affected by the omicron variant, officials said. All the travelers were in quarantine.
Senior federal government ministers are meeting Monday to consider the national response, including whether to alter plans to relax border restrictions starting Wednesday.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australian authorities “will not hesitate to take additional steps if the medical evidence is that more” action is required.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced last week that starting Wednesday, vaccinated students, skilled workers and travelers on working vacations will be allowed to land at Sydney and Melbourne airports without quarantining.
Vaccinated citizens of Japan and South Korea with certain Australian visas would also be allowed in without quarantining, as well as people on humanitarian visas, the government said last week.
Morrison on Monday urged a calm response to omicron, which the World Health Organization has designated a variant of concern.
“There’s no evidence to suggest that this leads to any more severe disease. If anything, it’s suggesting a lesser form of disease, particularly for those who are vaccinated,” Morrison told Nine Network television.
“Case numbers of themselves are not the issue. It’s about whether people are getting a worse illness or it’s going to put stress on your hospital system,” Morrison said.
New South Wales and Victoria, Australia’s second-most populous state, as well as the national capital Canberra have introduced a blanket 72-hour quarantine requirement for all international arrivals.
Hunt announced on Saturday that because of the concerns about omicron, non-Australian citizens and permanent residents who have been to South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, the Seychelles, Malawi, and Mozambique within the past 14 days will not be able to enter Australia.
Australians will be allowed in but must quarantine for 14 days.


WEF opens with discussion on the global food crisis

WEF opens with discussion on the global food crisis
Updated 23 May 2022

WEF opens with discussion on the global food crisis

WEF opens with discussion on the global food crisis
  • Executive director of the UN World Food Programme David Beasley: We’ve got to get those fields (Ukraine) back operational, we’ve got to get those silos full again
  • UAE Minister for Climate Change and the Environment Mariam Al-Mheiri: Let’s keep markets open, the flow of food needs to keep flowing because if food does not flow we get famine

DUBAI: One third of the world’s food supply is wasted every year, which is why the world food crisis was one of the pressing topics discussed on the first day of panel discussions at the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland.

Panelist David Beasley, the executive director of the UN World Food Programme, said the world is facing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.

“Because of this crisis, we are taking food from the hungry to give to the starving,” Beasley said.

He explained that if the port of Odessa in Ukraine doesn’t open, it will add to the complexity of the global problem. “We’ve got to get those fields back operational, we’ve got to get those silos full again.”

The WFP executive director said that failure to open the ports is a declaration of war on global food security.

When he took this job there were 80 million people close to starvation, he said. Right before COVID, it had risen to 135 million.

When the pandemic came along, the number shot up to 276 million people and has now increased to 325 million.

“Now here’s the most startling fact, out of that 276 or 325 million there are 49 million knocking on famine’s door in 43 countries, and those are the 43 countries we have got to be extremely concerned about,” he said.

The executive director of the WFP explained that if developed nations do not address the issue in the crisis-hit 43 countries it will result in famine, destabilization and mass migration.

Also participating in the talk was Mariam Al-Mheiri, the UAE’s Minister of Climate Change and the Environment, who spoke about the responsibility of countries who are in a better position than others.

“Let’s keep markets open, the flow of food needs to keep flowing because if food does not flow we get famine,” she said. “In a way we are all somewhat to blame for where we are, one way or the other.”

She also urged nations to put in place more ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) by incorporating more food systems in their NDCs.

Philip Isdor Mpango, vice-president of the United Republic of Tanzania, agreed that actions on a national level are crucial to evade the global food crisis.

“We have to deal with the mega investments currently in agriculture,” he said. “We have to invest in irrigation, we have to invest in rural roads, we have to invest in smart agriculture, and we also have to deal with land allocation issues for larger scale cultivation.”

Beasley said that organizations and donor nations need to be more strategic with how they move into nations that need to improve productivity.

“Every 1 percent increase in hunger is a 2 percent increase in migration,” he said, concluding the session on the global food crisis.

WEF, held this year from May 22 to 26, is an annual meeting that allows Business, tech and political leaders from around the world to share insights and exchange expertise. This year’s conference was held in person for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.


Thailand hopes to welcome 100,000 Saudi visitors by 2023

Thailand hopes to welcome 100,000 Saudi visitors by 2023
Updated 23 May 2022

Thailand hopes to welcome 100,000 Saudi visitors by 2023

Thailand hopes to welcome 100,000 Saudi visitors by 2023
  • The roadshow to Saudi Arabia is an ‘historic moment’ for the Thai tourism industry, says official 
  • Thailand will promote its luxury, health and wellness services to the Kingdom’s travelers

BANGKOK: Thailand is hoping to welcome 100,000 annual Saudi visitors by 2023, tourism officials said on Monday, as the country prepares to attract families, medical tourists and millennials from the Kingdom. 

Thai tourism officials last week held the “Amazing Thailand Roadshow to Saudi Arabia,” marking the Southeast Asian nation’s first tourism promotion campaign since the two kingdoms restored diplomatic ties in late January. 

Bilateral relations, which had stalled in the 1980s, were renewed following Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s visit to Riyadh, which was the first senior leadership meeting between the two countries in over three decades. 

The two governments have since signed cooperation agreements to promote trade, investment and labor recruitment, with officials now set to enhance cooperation in the tourism industry. 

As part of its efforts to attract families, medical tourists and millennials from Saudi Arabia, Thailand is set to promote its luxury, health and wellness services, which officials from the Tourism Authority of Thailand identified as a “niche market.”

“In 2019, there were more than 30,000 visitors from Saudi Arabia to Thailand, and it is expected that the market will grow to 100,000 by 2023,” Chattan Kunjara Na Ayudhya, deputy governor for international marketing at the authority, told Arab News. 

Kunjara Na Ayudhya described last week’s roadshow, which had involved over 40 Thai stakeholders, as an “historic moment” for the Thai tourism industry. 

“Businesses such as hotels, tour agencies and hospitals received the booking immediately after the end of the event. It is a good sign of the growing Middle Eastern market,” Kunjara Na Ayudhya said. 

More than 2,000 Saudi tourists visited Thailand in March after Saudia launched its first direct flight between the kingdoms after bilateral ties were renewed. Kunjara Na Ayudhya said the number “has grown significantly” in recent months, adding that there were more than 4,700 Saudi travelers visiting between May 1 and 10.  

Thailand is currently the fifth most popular destination for Saudis, according to Riyadh-based online travel agency Almosafer. 

The Thai government will also expand its halal tourism promotion and is encouraging its provinces to have halal food centers, he added.  

Thai officials, in cooperation with Saudia, said they plan on inviting over 30 tourism agencies from the Kingdom to participate in next month’s 2022 Thailand Travel Mart in Phuket.

“It will be the first time that the agencies from Saudi Arabia will join the event in Thailand,” Kunjara Na Ayudhya said.


After 2017 Marawi battle, displaced Filipinos hope to return home  

After 2017 Marawi battle, displaced Filipinos hope to return home  
Updated 23 May 2022

After 2017 Marawi battle, displaced Filipinos hope to return home  

After 2017 Marawi battle, displaced Filipinos hope to return home  
  • Fighting forced more than 300k people from their homes and left over 1,100 dead
  • More than 17,000 families from Marawi remain displaced, govt data shows

DAVAO CITY: Five years after pro-Daesh militants took control of Marawi in the Philippines, hundreds of displaced residents on Monday staged protests around the city in renewed calls to be allowed to return home.

The five-month battle in the predominantly Muslim city on the island of Mindanao began on May 23, 2017, leaving more than 1,100 people dead and forcing more than 300,000 from their homes. The Philippines army was able to reclaim the city on Oct. 23 that year, making it the country’s longest urban battle in modern history.

After widespread destruction in the once picturesque lakeside town, the government has in the years since led rebuilding efforts, including the reconstructions of dozens of mosques and other public infrastructure.

But some Marawi residents, locally known as Maranaos, are still unable to return home.

“Although public facilities for the people were rebuilt, the immediate concerns of the internally displaced people of returning to their homes remain unresolved,” Drieza Lininding, chairman of the Moro Consensus Group that led Monday’s protests, told Arab News, adding that Maranaos had to endure more hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 17,000 families from Marawi remain displaced as of April this year, according to government data. Most of the public is still unable to access the city’s 40-hectare area that used to be its commercial district, while thousands are still living in temporary shelters mushroomed on the outskirts of the city.

“We reiterate our demand for the Philippines government to accelerate its efforts on rebuilding the city by prioritizing the immediate, safe and dignified return of the displaced families back to their places of origin.”

The government’s inter-agency task force in charge of the city’s reconstruction, Bangon Marawi, said that there is nothing preventing Maranaos from returning to their homes.

“We have a process. They should apply for a permit and show us proof they own the lot to avoid future land conflict issues,” Felix Castro, who heads the task force, told Arab News.

“It’s unfair to claim we have prevented them. These people complaining — it seems they ignore our process. Those who managed to provide the necessary documents were already given permits and they have started their home construction.”

Yet many who left in the middle of the battle five years ago also left behind most of their belongings.

“We can’t provide proof of ownership since when we left our homes we left everything, including the important documents,” Amenodin “Ding” Cali, 56, a protester, told Arab News.

“Besides, we don’t have money to use in securing those documents they wanted from us,” Cali added, alluding to the fees associated with acquiring the government permits.

Outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte last month signed the Marawi Compensation Act, which paves the way for the creation of a nine-member board that would process the claims of Maranaos.

Aside from resolving the issues of displacement, the government should remain alert for threats in Mindanao, said Rommel Banlaoi, a counterterrorism analyst at the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research.

“There are still personalities opposing the government and they want full separation of Mindanao. These active militants are remnants but there are new emerging leaders still aligned with Daesh,” Banlaoi said.


Greece says blocks hundreds of migrants from crossing Aegean

Greece says blocks hundreds of migrants from crossing Aegean
Updated 23 May 2022

Greece says blocks hundreds of migrants from crossing Aegean

Greece says blocks hundreds of migrants from crossing Aegean
  • Over 3,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Greece this year, including over 1,100 last month
  • Greece regularly blames Turkey for not taking sufficient action to curb people smugglers

ATHENS: Greece said on Monday it had prevented around 600 migrants from crossing the Aegean Sea into its territorial waters from neighboring Turkey, in the largest attempted entry this year.
A spokesman for the Greek coast guard said five sail boats and four dinghies had set off from the Turkish coast early in the morning.
“Greek patrol vessels were able to quickly locate the vessels and inform the Turkish coast guard,” the spokesman told AFP.
A coast guard statement said its boats had used “visual and sound signals” to keep the asylum seekers out of Greek territorial waters.
All the vessels either headed back or were intercepted by the Turkish coast guard, he added.
“All the incidents occurred inside Turkish territorial waters” near the Greek islands of Chios and Samos, he said.
A migration ministry source said migration flows to the Greek islands in the first four months of 2022 were nearly 30 percent higher than in the same period last year.
Over 3,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Greece so far this year, including over 1,100 last month, according to data from the migration ministry.
There is also heightened migrant activity on Greece’s land border with Turkey because the water levels is low on the River Evros that divides the two countries, a border official said on Monday.
According to the latest ministry statistics, from April, there are more than 2,300 asylum seekers in camps on the Greek islands of Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Kos and Leros, all near Turkey.
New camps funded by the European Union were recently completed in Samos, Leros and Kos. Others on Lesbos and Chios are to follow.
Greece regularly blames Turkey for not taking sufficient action to curb people smugglers who send out migrants in unsafe boats and dinghies from its shores, in breach of a 2016 accord with the EU.
Greece is a member of the 27-nation bloc but Turkey is not.
Greece’s tough border controls have been dogged by accusations from rights groups that the Greek coast guard has been engaging in illegally forcing migrants to return to Turkey.
Athens has always denied that its security forces engage in illegal pushbacks.
In March, Greece’s national transparency authority said a four-month investigation found no evidence of such practices.
EU border agency Frontex has also repeatedly been accused by rights groups of illegally returning migrants across EU borders.
Frontex head Fabrice Leggeri resigned last month amid an investigation by the European anti-fraud office OLAF, reportedly into alleged mismanagement.


Long fuel queues persist in Sri Lanka despite scramble to deliver supplies

Long fuel queues persist in Sri Lanka despite scramble to deliver supplies
Updated 23 May 2022

Long fuel queues persist in Sri Lanka despite scramble to deliver supplies

Long fuel queues persist in Sri Lanka despite scramble to deliver supplies
  • Another 40,000 metric tons of petrol supplied by India reached Sri Lanka on Monday
  • New Delhi delivered 40,000 tons of diesel to its southern neighbor two days earlier

COLOMBO: Long queues snaked around gas stations in Sri Lanka’s commercial capital and its outskirts on Monday even though the island nation’s government was scrambling to deliver fuel supplies and douse any unrest as it battles a devastating economic crisis.
Kanchana Wijesekera, Sri Lanka’s minister for power and energy, said supplies of 95-octane gasoline, mostly used in cars, had been received and were being distributed across the country of 22 million people that has been struggling with fuel shortages for months.
“With the 2 cargo vessels unloaded, petrol stocks will be available for the next 6 weeks comfortably,” Wijesekera said in a tweet.
Another 40,000 metric tons of petrol supplied by India had also reached Sri Lanka on Monday, the Indian High Commission (Embassy) said, two days after New Delhi delivered 40,000 tons of diesel to its southern neighbor.
Sri Lanka is in the throes of its worst economic crisis since independence, as a dire shortage of foreign exchange has stalled imports and left the country short of fuel, medicines and hit by rolling power cuts.
The financial trouble has come from the confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic battering the tourism-reliant economy, rising oil prices and populist tax cuts by the government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother, Mahinda, who resigned as prime minister this month.
M. Sudeera, an auto-rickshaw driver, was waiting in a two-kilometer (1.5-mile) -long queue at Kumbuke, on the outskirts of Colombo, to fill his vehicle, a popular form of public transport in the city and its suburbs.
“Last time, I spent two days in line for 3,000 rupees ($8.46) worth of fuel. With that I did a few hires but it’s barely enough to cover costs,” Sudeera said, standing beside parallel queues of auto-rickshaws, cars and motorcycles.
“Usually we run during the day and spent the night in line for fuel,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Veteran politician Ranil Wickremesinghe, who took over as prime minister earlier this month, has warned of hardship worsening over the coming months, including food shortages.
Protests against the government’s handling of the crisis have continued for weeks, and erupted into violence earlier this month in which nine people were killed and over 300 injured. But the protests have been peaceful since then, although anger against the government is high.
Inflation in the island nation rose to 33.8 percent in April, compared to 21.5 percent in March, according to government data released on Monday.
Wickremesinghe’s cabinet was expanded on Monday, with eight new ministers sworn in for portfolios including agriculture, fisheries, industries, transport and highways, water supply and irrigation.