Australia omicron variant spreads, testing reopening plans

Australia omicron variant spreads, testing reopening plans
Pedestrians walk through a shopping plaza in the city centre, as the state of New South Wales surpasses the 90 percent double-dose coronavirus disease vaccination target for those aged 16 and over, in Sydney, Australia, No. 9, 2021. (File/Reuters)
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Updated 04 December 2021

Australia omicron variant spreads, testing reopening plans

Australia omicron variant spreads, testing reopening plans
  • Queensland authorities suspected its first Omicron case in a person who traveled from South Africa

MELBOURNE: The Omicron coronavirus variant spread in Australia on Saturday, testing plans to reopen the economy as a cluster in Sydney grew to 13 cases and an infection was suspected in the state of Queensland.
Federal authorities are sticking with a plan to reopen the economy on the hope that the new variant proves to be milder than previous strains, but some state and territory governments have moved to tighten their domestic border controls.
Australia reported its first community transmission of Omicron on Friday at a school in Sydney. Authorities are investigating the source and said more cases were expected.
Queensland authorities suspected its first Omicron case in a person who traveled from South Africa and that genome sequencing was ongoing.
“The public health unit have ruled out that it is Delta but we haven’t been able to confirm if it is Omicron,” state Health Minister Yvette D’Ath. “But it is being treated as if it is.”
Authorities in South Australia said on Saturday that arrivals from New South Wales, Victoria and the capital territory will be tested. The state reopened its domestic borders only days ago for the first time in months.
Several thousand people protested vaccination mandates in Melbourne, with the demonstrations now a weekly event that has been attracting groups of regular citizens, as well as far-right and conspiracy theory supporters.
A smaller counter-protest called to stop the far-right movement in the city and support vaccinations.
The state of Victoria, home to Melbourne, requires full vaccination to access most hospitality services and non-essential retail, as well as to work in health care and many other industries.
Nearly 88 percent of Australians over the age of 16 have been fully vaccinated, health data showed.
Anti-vaccination supporters number in single digits in Australia, according to polls. But unvaccinated patients make up the vast majority of those hospitalized with the coronavirus. In Victoria, 90 percent of the 44 people in the intensive care have not been fully vaccinated, health data showed.
Despite battling many outbreaks this year, leading to months of lockdown in Sydney and Melbourne — Australia’s largest cities — the country has had only about 834 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 7.9 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the World Health Organization, a fraction of many other developed nations.
Australia has had just under 215,000 cases in total and 2,042 deaths.


‘Appalled’ US suspects Uyghur abuse approved at Beijing ‘highest levels’

‘Appalled’ US suspects Uyghur abuse approved at Beijing ‘highest levels’
Updated 36 min 46 sec ago

‘Appalled’ US suspects Uyghur abuse approved at Beijing ‘highest levels’

‘Appalled’ US suspects Uyghur abuse approved at Beijing ‘highest levels’
  • "We are appalled by the reports and the jarring images," State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters
  • The United States accuses Beijing of carrying out genocide against the Uyghurs

WASHINGTON: The United States voiced horror Tuesday at new files on the incarceration of China’s Uyghur minority and said they showed that abuse was likely approved at the highest levels in Beijing.
“We are appalled by the reports and the jarring images,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.
“It would be very difficult to imagine that a systemic effort to suppress, to detain, to conduct a campaign of genocide and crimes against humanity would not have the blessing — would not have the approval — of the highest levels of the PRC government,” he said, referring to the People’s Republic of China.
The United States accuses Beijing of carrying out genocide against the Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim, Turkic-speaking people in the western region of Xinjiang, where rights groups say more than one million people have been rounded up.
“We have and we continue to call on the PRC to immediately release all those arbitrarily detained people, to abolish the internment camps, to end mass detention, torture, forced sterilization, and the use of forced labor,” Price said.
Adrian Zenz, an academic who has probed the treatment of the Uyghurs, published a leak of thousands of photos and official documents that shed new light on violent methods to enforce mass internment.
The files, parts of which have been verified by multiple news organizations including the BBC and Le Monde, also provide a window into life in detention facilities.
Photos appear to show officers restraining hooded and shackled inmates with batons, while other guards wearing camouflage stand by with firearms.
The release comes just as UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet started a visit to China that was criticized by the United States, which says that she had not secured sufficient access.
The US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said in a tweet that Bachelet “must take a hard look at these faces and press Chinese officials for full, unfettered access — and answers.”


Boat carrying Rohingya fleeing Myanmar capsizes, killing 16

Boat carrying Rohingya fleeing Myanmar capsizes, killing 16
Updated 24 May 2022

Boat carrying Rohingya fleeing Myanmar capsizes, killing 16

Boat carrying Rohingya fleeing Myanmar capsizes, killing 16
  • There were 35 survivors of Saturday's accident that took place Saturday off Myanmar’s southwestern coast
  • UNHCR said at least 17 Rohingya, including children, had died

BANGKOK: At least 16 people from Myanmar’s Rohingya minority have died after a storm capsized the boat they were traveling on to seek refuge in another country, officials and a recovery team member said Tuesday.
There were 35 survivors of Saturday’s accident that took place Saturday off Myanmar’s southwestern coast and four people were missing, the officials said.
UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, expressed shock and sadness about the accident in a statement and said at least 17 Rohingya, including children, had died.
The boat left the western state of Rakhine last Thursday and encountered bad weather two days later off Ayeyarwaddy Region on Myanmar’s southwestern coast, causing it to capsize, the statement said.
The Rohingya, a Muslim minority, have long been persecuted in Myanmar. More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled the country to neighboring Bangladesh since August 2017 to escape the brutal counterinsurgency campaign of Myanmar’s military following an attack by a Rohingya insurgent group in Rakhine State.
Myanmar’s government has denied accusations that security forces committed mass rapes and killings and burned thousands of homes, but the US government recently labeled actions by the country’s military as genocide.
There are more than 100,000 Rohingya left in Myanmar, confined in squalid displacement camps, along with those living in crowded refugee camps in Bangladesh.
Groups of Rohingya from camps in both countries embark on hazardous voyages to the Muslim-majority countries of Malaysia and Indonesia to seek a better living.
“Some 630 Rohingya have attempted sea journeys across the Bay of Bengal from January to May 2022,” the UNHCR statement said, with women and children making up 60 percent of those trying to flee.
The statement added: “The risk of abuse at the hands of smugglers and the peril of the sea journey itself are both exacerbated during prolonged journeys, when a safe harbor for disembarkation cannot be found.”
An Ayeyarwaddy Region resident said the 16 bodies, including those of two young boys, were recovered near Pathein township, about 300 kilometers (180 miles) west of Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city. He spoke on condition of anonymity because Myanmar’s military government seeks to tightly control the flow of information.
A local official, who also requested anonymity for the same reason, said most of the 50 people on board the boat were men under 30 years old. He said the bodies were buried and that the 35 survivors were taken away by the security forces.
Maung Maung Than, a spokesperson for the Ayeyarwaddy Region government, confirmed that the accident happened but did not give further details.
“The latest tragedy shows once again the sense of desperation being felt by Rohingya in Myanmar and in the region,” Indrika Ratwatte, UNHCR’s director for Asia and the Pacific said in the agency’s statement. “It is shocking to see increasing numbers of children, women and men embarking on these dangerous journeys and eventually losing their lives.”


Avoid Iraq reconstruction mistakes, Maryam co-founder warns

Avoid Iraq reconstruction mistakes, Maryam co-founder warns
Updated 24 May 2022

Avoid Iraq reconstruction mistakes, Maryam co-founder warns

Avoid Iraq reconstruction mistakes, Maryam co-founder warns
  • The Ukraine4All: Constructing an Inclusive Future event invited business and political figures, as well as young Ukrainian global leaders, to discuss the future of Ukraine

DAVOS: Public- as well as private-sector funding is vital for the reconstruction of Ukraine in a post-war scenario, but ensuring corruption does not stall rebuilding efforts is also essential, a Maryam Forum Foundation panel said at the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The Ukraine4All: Constructing an Inclusive Future event invited business and political figures, as well as young Ukrainian global leaders, to discuss the future of Ukraine after the end of hostilities in its war with Russia.

Panelist and Maryam co-founder Khaled Janahi said that failures in previous Western reconstruction efforts in countries such as Iraq cannot be repeated.

“The issue is, (Ukraine needs) 1 trillion dollars and it’s how to make sure that out of that trillion dollars, $980 billion is really used properly, spent by the Ukrainians, with the help of outside, to build up Ukraine, whether it is hard infrastructure or soft infrastructure and to have the institutions around it,” he said.

“And only 20 billion of it going to corruption, instead of 400 billion going to corruption and 600 (to rebuilding).”

He said that the mistakes of the US reconstruction project in Iraq, which he said was still “effectively a failed state,” were a good lesson to learn from.

“The Americans invaded, they left, and in the Arab world we have the story ‘Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves’ — they left forty thieves in the country,” Janahi said.

“In that country, they are still paying the price for these forty thieves.

“It is not only Ukrainians that have to fight their own corruption from the inside, we also have to make sure about the outside,” he added.

Janahi said that compared to refugees from the MENA region, those fleeing Ukraine would have better opportunities.

“We have all these refugees — Syrian, Palestinians, Yemenis — and the good news is that Ukrainians won’t be the same," he said.

“Ukranians will be looked after and they will come out of this because the world is going that way, and that’s the way the world is.

“And one reason is we, as the Arabs, are not pushing for those guys from our part of the world to be looked after.

“We live in a world today that is run by rulers, not by leaders. Even if they are elected, a lot of them are rulers not leaders. Unfortunately what’s happened, whether it’s Syria or now in Ukraine, it proves the point,” he added.

Panellists discussing the post-war future of Ukraine during the Maryam Forum Foundation panel 'The Ukraine4All: Constructing an Inclusive Future.' (AN Photo/Daniel Fountain)

His fellow panellist, businessman Martin Sorrell, said it will require a collaborative effort from both the private and public sectors if the Ukrainian reconstruction project is to prove successful.

“The fundamental issue is that Putin will remain in power, and Putin will continue to pursue (this war). The only way you are going to be able to reconstruct Ukraine is by not relying on the private sector on its own —there must be an effort from government institutions,” he added.

“I don’t think the private sector on its own will do the business. It will take concerted, coordinated public sector and government intervention on a significant scale.”

Eric Cantor, former US congressman and house majority leader, agreed, and also warned of the potential for corrupt officials to derail the rebuilding project.

“The private sector won’t be first — government has to be the catalyst,” he said. “But I also think there has to be transparency. You’ve got to see where the corruption is.

“How do we keep the taxpayer dollars out of the hands of the oligarchs? How do you make sure the procurement process in the cities and towns of Ukraine, that you don’t see government officials taking some of that money?

“That image has to now grow into how the world can believe that Ukraine can build a new Ukraine, and not the way it was,” he added.


Malaysia welcomes back Middle Eastern tourists after pandemic lull

Malaysia welcomes back Middle Eastern tourists after pandemic lull
Updated 24 May 2022

Malaysia welcomes back Middle Eastern tourists after pandemic lull

Malaysia welcomes back Middle Eastern tourists after pandemic lull
  • Southeast Asian nation ranked as a top destination in the Global Muslim Travel Index since 2015
  • Influx of tourists expected from June when school holidays start in many Mideast countries

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is welcoming back visitors from the Middle East after two years of pandemic closures, with businesses in the tourism sector expecting to attract especially those who arrive for family holidays.

Malaysia’s tourism ministry has been ramping up its promotional activities in a bid to attract 2 million international visitors this year following the reopening of the country’s borders in April to allow quarantine-free travel.

“We’ve just participated in Arabian Travel Market, and we’ve seen how keen they are to travel,” Mohmed Razip Hajji Hasan, director-general of the Islamic Tourism Center, an entity under the Ministry of Tourism, told Arab News.

“People are looking to experience travel again, and our industry players can take advantage of the reopening of borders to attract this niche market known for their longer stays and higher spending habits.”

The coronavirus pandemic brought the Malaysian tourism industry to a standstill and this year’s target is over 10 times lower than the 26.1 million arrivals it saw in 2019.

Malaysia is popular with visitors from the Middle East and has been ranking as a top destination in the Global Muslim Travel Index since 2015.

To further develop a welcoming environment for Mideast travelers, Hasan said that the ministry is working with airlines, tour operators and hoteliers to offer privacy and safe spaces for families.

Omar Hameed, manager at the Al-Diuf Al-Arabia Tourism and Travel agency, said that he is positive Malaysian tourism will start picking up by next month, the end of the school season in many Middle Eastern countries. Many visitors from the region do not need visas to enter the country.

“It will be peak tourism season for Malaysia by then as most Middle Eastern families will want to have their vacation here,” he told Arab News. “It is not as crowded as in Indonesia.”

But some in the hospitality business say that the country still has issues to address in order to be a comfortable destination.

“Many people love Malaysia, but unfortunately some of the small things need to be corrected,” said Alaa A., owner of Hadramot House, a restaurant that serves Yemeni food in Bukit Bintang — an upscale shopping district in Kuala Lumpur, which is popular among visitors from the Middle East.

He cited the problems tourists face with taxi drivers, who often refuse to use meters and seek to charge much higher fixed fares.

Before the global pandemic, Malaysia received about 400,000 visitors from the Middle East in 2019. Travelers from Saudi Arabia topped the arrivals, accounting for a quarter of the visits.

Even though the tourism industry is still picking up the pace, Arab News was able to meet Saudi tourists in the Malaysian capital.

Wisam and her husband Basil said that they have been traveling across Malaysia for the past two weeks and found it easy to explore the country.

“We have been to Kuala Lumpur, Langkawi Island, Penang Island and Genting Highlands. We enjoyed it,” Wisam said. “It is my first trip to Malaysia and it is beautiful.”


Criticism of Western double standards over Ukraine ‘fair’: RUSI chief

Criticism of Western double standards over Ukraine ‘fair’: RUSI chief
Updated 24 May 2022

Criticism of Western double standards over Ukraine ‘fair’: RUSI chief

Criticism of Western double standards over Ukraine ‘fair’: RUSI chief
  • Syrian, Afghan refugees ‘certainly not treated the same way,’ says Karin von Hippel

DAVOS: Accusations of double standards over the West’s approach to the Ukraine conflict and its refugee influx compared to conflicts elsewhere in the world are fair, said the director general of the Royal United Services Institute, a British defense and security think tank.
The crucial difference in the Ukraine conflict, however, is that it involves Russia, a nuclear power and one of the world’s biggest energy suppliers, Karin von Hippel added.
“I think it’s a fair criticism (of the West), and certainly Afghans, Syrians, these big groups of refugees, were not treated the same way,” she told Arab News at the World Economic Forum.
“Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey welcomed Syrian refugees, but now you have Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia all doing the same with Ukrainians. It’s the normal way things happen, but the added dimension is Russia has nuclear weapons, and also has so much fuel that so many countries rely on,” she added.
“(Nuclear weapons) could cause huge damage, so it’s a conflict for Europe, and Europe is dealing with it as best it can.”
While the EU, the US and Canada have actively supported and armed Ukraine, von Hippel said there should be more global pressure put on the Kremlin to cease hostilities.
“I think there could be more of a global effort to put pressure on Russia, (including) countries in the Middle East that have influence with Russia, to end this war, to also let Russians know that killing civilians in this way is not the way you can behave in the 21st century, just like (the world) did on Syria,” she added.
“Countries pushed very hard on (Syrian President Bashar) Assad. While it didn’t work with Assad, they did isolate him.
“What I worry about after this is how does (Russian President Vladimir) Putin get reintegrated? I’d hope he could remain an international pariah, and he’s going to be in a similar position (to Assad). He’s gone too far, just as Assad went way too far.”
Von Hippel drew similarities between eventual reconstruction in Ukraine and the cycle of rebuilding in Lebanon.
She also expressed hope that levels of corruption seen in Afghanistan’s rebuilding efforts could be avoided in Ukraine.
“If you look at Lebanon, I was there in 2007 when the Israelis bombed the Hezbollah areas, and so much of that has already been rebuilt. Lebanon has been rebuilt several times,” she said.
“It will be a healthy injection into the (Ukrainian) economy. The question will be about corruption, especially with a rush to get the money in.
“The world will be watching, but it isn’t just governments that spend the money. All sorts of companies get awarded contracts.
“You saw it in Afghanistan — all these American companies spent way more money than they knew how to spend and didn’t really achieve anything.”