Australia treasurer tests positive for COVID-19 as cases hit a record

Australia treasurer tests positive for COVID-19 as cases hit a record
Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Wednesday, July 7, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 08 January 2022

Australia treasurer tests positive for COVID-19 as cases hit a record

Australia treasurer tests positive for COVID-19 as cases hit a record
  • Other high-ranked Australian lawmakers including Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and Defense Minister Peter Dutton have contracted and overcome the illness

SYDNEY: Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said he tested positive to COVID-19, joining other top government officials in contracting the disease as the daily infection rate surpassed 100,000 for the first time amid an outbreak of the omicron variant.
“Like thousands of Australians, I tested positive today to COVID-19,” Frydenberg wrote in a short message which he posted to Twitter and Facebook late on Friday.
“I have the common symptoms and am isolating with my family,” he added without elaborating or disclosing which variant he had.
Other high-ranked Australian lawmakers including Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and Defense Minister Peter Dutton have contracted and overcome the illness.
Under current Australian COVID-19 guidelines, people who return a positive test and those deemed “close contacts” must isolate for seven days.
Australia has been posting successive record numbers of new daily infections, with another surge on Saturday.
The country reported 116,024 new cases, smashing the previous day’s record of just over 78,000. Nearly 100,000 of the new cases were in the most populous states Victoria, which is home to the upcoming Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, and New South Wales.
The state of Western Australia had not reported its daily count. Victoria noted that its daily caseload, which more than doubled the previous day’s to 51,356, included the results of rapid antigen tests taken up to a week before that could only be tabulated after being submitted on a website starting from Friday.
The country reported 25 new COVID-19 related deaths, its highest since the peak of the Delta wave in October 2021.
Australian leaders, including Frydenberg, have been urging the country to move on from a strategy of stop-start lockdowns now that more than 90 percent of the population aged over 16 is fully vaccinated.
But state leaders have been reintroducing restrictions amid exploding case numbers, mostly of the highly transmissible omicron variant. A day earlier, New South Wales canceled non-urgent surgery to clear hospital space for COVID-19 patients and resumed a ban on dancing and drinking while standing up in bars.


African scientists baffled by monkeypox cases in Europe, US

African scientists baffled by monkeypox cases in Europe, US
Updated 22 May 2022

African scientists baffled by monkeypox cases in Europe, US

African scientists baffled by monkeypox cases in Europe, US
  • "This is not the kind of spread we’ve seen in West Africa, so there may be something new happening in the West,” says Nigerian virologist

LONDON: Scientists who have monitored numerous outbreaks of monkeypox in Africa say they are baffled by the disease’s recent spread in Europe and North America.
Cases of the smallpox-related disease have previously been seen only among people with links to central and West Africa. But in the past week, Britain, Spain, Portugal, Italy, US, Sweden and Canada all reported infections, mostly in young men who hadn’t previously traveled to Africa.
There are about 80 confirmed cases worldwide and 50 more suspected ones, the World Health Organization said. France, Germany, Belgium and Australia reported their first cases Friday.
“I’m stunned by this. Every day I wake up and there are more countries infected,” said Oyewale Tomori, a virologist who formerly headed the Nigerian Academy of Science and who sits on several WHO advisory boards.
“This is not the kind of spread we’ve seen in West Africa, so there may be something new happening in the West,” he said.
To date, no one has died in the outbreak. Monkeypox typically causes fever, chills, rash and lesions on the face or genitals. WHO estimates the disease is fatal for up to one in 10 people, but smallpox vaccines are protective and some antiviral drugs are being developed.

A section of skin tissue, harvested from a lesion on the skin of a monkey infected with monkeypox virus, is seen at 50X magnification. (CDC/Handout via REUTERS)

British health officials are exploring whether the disease is being sexually transmitted. Health officials have asked doctors and nurses to be on alert for potential cases, but said the risk to the general population is low. The European Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommended all suspected cases be isolated and that high-risk contacts be offered smallpox vaccine.
Nigeria reports about 3,000 monkeypox cases a year, WHO said. Outbreaks are usually in rural areas, when people have close contact with infected rats and squirrels, Tomori said. He said many cases are likely missed.
Dr. Ifedayo Adetifa, head of the country’s Center for Disease Control, said none of the Nigerian contacts of the British patients have developed symptoms and that investigations were ongoing.
WHO’s Europe director, Dr. Hans Kluge, described the outbreak as “atypical,” saying the disease’s appearance in so many countries across the continent suggested that “transmission has been ongoing for some time.” He said most of the European cases are mild.
On Friday, Britain’s Health Security Agency reported 11 new monkeypox cases, saying “a notable proportion” of the infections in the UK and Europe have been in young men with no history of travel to Africa and who were gay, bisexual or had sex with men.
Authorities in Spain and Portugal also said their cases were in young men who mostly had sex with other men and said those cases were picked up when the men turned up with lesions at sexual health clinics.
Experts have stressed they do not know if the disease is being spread through sex or other close contact related to sex.
Nigeria hasn’t seen sexual transmission, Tomori said, but he noted that viruses that hadn’t initially been known to transmit via sex, like Ebola, were later proven to do so after bigger epidemics showed different patterns of spread.
The same could be true of monkeypox, Tomori said.
In Germany, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said the government was confident the outbreak could be contained. He said the virus was being sequenced to see if there were any genetic changes that might have made it more infectious.
Rolf Gustafson, an infectious diseases professor, told Swedish broadcaster SVT that it was “very difficult” to imagine the situation might worsen.
“We will certainly find some further cases in Sweden, but I do not think there will be an epidemic in any way,” Gustafson said. “There is nothing to suggest that at present.”
Scientists said that while it’s possible the outbreak’s first patient caught the disease while in Africa, what’s happening now is exceptional.
“We’ve never seen anything like what’s happening in Europe,” said Christian Happi, director of the African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases. “We haven’t seen anything to say that the transmission patterns of monkeypox have been changing in Africa. So if something different is happening in Europe, then Europe needs to investigate that.”
Happi also pointed out that the suspension of smallpox vaccination campaigns after the disease was eradicated in 1980 might inadvertently be helping monkeypox spread. Smallpox vaccines also protect against monkeypox, but mass immunization was stopped decades ago.
“Aside from people in west and Central Africa who may have some immunity to monkeypox from past exposure, not having any smallpox vaccination means nobody has any kind of immunity to monkeypox,” Happi said.
Shabir Mahdi, a professor of vaccinology at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, said a detailed investigation of the outbreak in Europe, including determining who the first patients were, was now critical.
“We need to really understand how this first started and why the virus is now gaining traction,” he said. “In Africa, there have been very controlled and infrequent outbreaks of monkeypox. If that’s now changing, we really need to understand why.”


WHO expects more cases of monkeypox to emerge globally

WHO expects more cases of monkeypox to emerge globally
Updated 22 May 2022

WHO expects more cases of monkeypox to emerge globally

WHO expects more cases of monkeypox to emerge globally
  • 92 confirmed cases and 28 suspected cases of monkeypox have been reported from 12 member states
  • 23 new confirmed cases reported in Spain were linked to a sex den, authorities said

LONDON : The World Health Organization said it expects to identify more cases of monkeypox as it expands surveillance in countries where the disease is not typically found.
As of Saturday, 92 confirmed cases and 28 suspected cases of monkeypox have been reported from 12 member states that are not endemic for the virus, the UN agency said, adding it will provide further guidance and recommendations in coming days for countries on how to mitigate the spread of monkeypox.
“Available information suggests that human-to-human transmission is occurring among people in close physical contact with cases who are symptomatic,” the agency added.
Monkeypox is an infectious disease that is usually mild, and is endemic in parts of west and central Africa. It is spread by close contact, so it can be relatively easily contained through such measures as self-isolation and hygiene.


EXPLAINER: Why monkeypox cases are rising in Europe


“What seems to be happening now is that it has got into the population as a sexual form, as a genital form, and is being spread as are sexually transmitted infections, which has amplified its transmission around the world,” WHO official David Heymann, an infectious disease specialist, told Reuters.
Heymann said an international committee of experts met via video conference to look at what needed to be studied about the outbreak and communicated to the public, including whether there is any asymptomatic spread, who are at most risk, and the various routes of transmission.
He said the meeting was convened “because of the urgency of the situation.” The committee is not the group that would suggest declaring a public health emergency of international concern, WHO’s highest form of alert, which applies to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said close contact was the key transmission route, as lesions typical of the disease are very infectious. For example, parents caring for sick children are at risk, as are health workers, which is why some countries have started inoculating teams treating monkeypox patients using vaccines for smallpox, a related virus.
Many of the current cases have been identified at sexual health clinics.

On Friday, health authorities in Spain reported  23 new confirmed cases mainly in the Madrid region where the regional government closed a sauna linked to the majority of infections.
The total tally in Spain has now reached 30, while 23 confirmed cases have now been identified in neighbouring Portugal, where nine new cases were detected on Friday.
Madrid authorities have been working on tracing the cases mainly from a single outbreak in a sauna, regional health chief Enrique Ruiz Escudero told reporters on Friday. The word sauna is used in Spain to describe establishments popular with gay men looking for sex rather than just a bathhouse.
Early genomic sequencing of a handful of the cases in Europe has suggested a similarity with the strain that spread in a limited fashion in Britain, Israel and Singapore in 2018.
Heymann said it was “biologically plausible” the virus had been circulating outside of the countries where it is endemic, but had not led to major outbreaks as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns, social distancing and travel restrictions.
He stressed that the monkeypox outbreak did not resemble the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic because it does not transmit as easily. Those who suspect they may have been exposed or who show symptoms including bumpy rash and fever, should avoid close contact with others, he said.
“There are vaccines available, but the most important message is, you can protect yourself,” he added. 

 


After divisive presidential campaign, Marcos faces challenge of uniting Philippines

Presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (AFP)
Presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (AFP)
Updated 22 May 2022

After divisive presidential campaign, Marcos faces challenge of uniting Philippines

Presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (AFP)
  • ‘Candidate for change’ has promised unity to voters weary of years of political polarization and pandemic hardship
  • With initial count largely complete, Marcos has more than 31 million votes, more than double that of his closest rival

MANILA: Days after clinching a landslide victory in one of the most divisive presidential elections in the history of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos now faces the challenge of fulfilling his campaign promise to unite the country.

Marcos, the son and namesake of the late dictator, is set to take over from President Rodrigo Duterte as the country’s leader for the next six years.   

While the election results are still unofficial, over 98 percent of an initial count has been completed, with Marcos having more than 31 million votes, more than double that of his closest rival, the outgoing Vice President Leni Robredo.   

Just stabilize the economy, curb inflation and do not kill us.

Jarrah Brillantes, Community development worker

Other contestants included boxing legend Manny Pacquaio, who is now a senator; Isko Moreno, a former actor and current Manila mayor; and Panfilo Lacson, a senator and former police chief.

Marcos’ running mate, Sara Duterte-Carpio, the daughter of the incumbent president, is also leading in the vice-presidential race with more than triple the votes of Senator Francis Pangilinan, who ran in support of Robredo. They are expected to take office on June 30.

During his election campaign, Marcos, who is widely known by his childhood nickname “Bongbong,” has portrayed himself as the candidate for change, promising unity to voters weary of years of political polarization and pandemic hardship.

“He promised unity. I hope he can do that,” Eccleo Gregorio, a taxi driver in Manila who voted for Marcos, told Arab News. “I also expect him to give Filipinos a better life by bringing down the prices of commodities, gasoline, electricity, and making sure to raise workers’ wages.”

Allan Bergonia, a reporter, expects Marcos’ incoming administration to “show us the real change.”

“As they promised, together, we Filipinos will rise again,” Bergonia said, adding that the victory proved that Filipinos wanted a return to “the old style of Marcos system of government.”

In the months leading up to the election, an online campaign portrayed the Marcos regime as a “golden age” in the country’s history.

Yet for other Filipinos, Marcos’ family name remains a painful reminder of two decades of widespread corruption and human rights abuses committed by his father, who was ousted in a popular uprising 36 years ago.

Jarrah Brillantes, a community development worker, told Arab News that she believed Robredo could solve the country’s woes, not the president-elect of whom she had few expectations.

“Just stabilize the economy, curb inflation and do not kill us,” she said.

Angie, a writer who gave only her first name, said that she was uncertain about what the future would offer under a new Marcos regime.

“I am hoping and praying that the new leadership will be able to bring about their promised peace and unity by digging deep and working hard across political colors to overcome pandemic challenges for the sake of all Filipinos,” she said.

With Marcos promising voters that he will continue Duterte’s policies, Jude, a supporter who works for the current administration, said that he expected the future leader to “sustain the projects and programs” launched by his predecessor.

“The majority of Filipinos have spoken, which should be respected,” he said, requesting that his last name not be revealed. “They want a genuine government, pro-poor, pro-people, that can sustain and further improve what the present administration has implemented.”

Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, said that he will reserve his comments until the final count is made public.

But he said that if Marcos takes office, a rapid return of his father’s loyalists is likely.

“The immediate thing that will happen is there will be redeployment of political forces,” Casiple told Arab News.

“But if he does reach out to his political opponents, which is very doubtful, then he might be able to achieve his unifying battle cry … All political forces would have to adjust their strategies vis-a-vis the new Marcos regime.”

 


Australia’s new leader overcame crash, party coup rumblings

Australia’s new leader overcame crash, party coup rumblings
Updated 22 May 2022

Australia’s new leader overcame crash, party coup rumblings

Australia’s new leader overcame crash, party coup rumblings
  • At the time, his Labour Party trailed behind the conservative government in opinion polls, struggling to cut through during the Covid-19 pandemic
  • Albanese, nicknamed “Albo,” was elected to parliament in 1996, and in his first speech thanked his mother, Maryanne Ellery, for raising him in tough circumstances

SYDNEY: Anthony Albanese, Australia’s newly elected prime minister, was rushed to hospital last year after a four-wheel-drive slammed into his car.
“I thought that was it,” he told a local radio station.
At the time, his Labour Party trailed behind the conservative government in opinion polls, struggling to cut through during the Covid-19 pandemic.
But the near-death experience changed his life, Albanese told media.
In its wake, the opposition leader, 59, recovered on all fronts: overcoming serious injury, shrugging off rumblings of a party leadership coup and shedding 18 kilograms (40 pounds) — an image revamp that raised some eyebrows.
His suits went from baggy to tailored, his bookish wire-framed glasses switched for “Mad Men“-style black full-rims.
Vitally, though, he was able to pull ahead of the country’s ruling conservative coalition in the polls and carry his party to victory.
Albanese, nicknamed “Albo,” was elected to parliament in 1996, and in his first speech thanked his mother, Maryanne Ellery, for raising him in tough circumstances.
The pair lived in public housing in Sydney during Albanese’s childhood and his single mother often struggled to make ends meet.
“It says a lot about this country,” he said on the eve of his election, voice cracking with emotion. “That someone from those beginnings... can stand before you today, hoping to be elected prime minister of this country tomorrow.”
The aspiring politician joined the left-wing Labour Party in high school and later became deeply involved in student politics at the University of Sydney.
He was the first person in his family to go to university and has said his working-class roots shaped his worldview.
Albanese says his mother, a Catholic, decided to take his father’s name.
“I was raised being told that he had died. That’s a tough decision. It says something about the pressure that was placed on women,” he said.
His only child, Nathan, was born in 2000, inspiring Albanese to meet his own father with only a photo to help track him down.
The pair was able to reconcile in his father’s Italian hometown, Barletta, before Carlo Albanese died in 2014.
“The last conversation we had was that he was glad that we had found each other,” the politician told ABC.
In the 26 years since Albanese was first elected to parliament, Labor has only held government for five years — during the tumultuous terms of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.
Albanese first became a minister after Rudd’s 2007 election victory and rose through the Labor ranks, finally taking over the opposition leadership after the party’s crushing loss in 2019.
The Labor leader stumbled at times on the campaign trail, including forgetting the country’s unemployment and main lending rates.
“Everyone will make a mistake in their life. The question is whether you learn from it. This government keep repeating the same mistakes,” he said.


UNHCR chief arrives in Bangladesh to meet Rohingya refugees

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi attends a news conference at the U.N. in Geneva.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi attends a news conference at the U.N. in Geneva.
Updated 21 May 2022

UNHCR chief arrives in Bangladesh to meet Rohingya refugees

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi attends a news conference at the U.N. in Geneva.
  • Filippo Grandi will meet with the Rohingyas ‘to discuss their needs, challenges and hopes for the future’
  • Repatriation of the Rohingyas is the highest priority, activists said

DHAKA: UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi arrived in Bangladesh on Saturday to meet Rohingya refugees amid expectations that the visit will help to restart talks over their repatriation.

Bangladesh is host to more than 1 million Rohingya refugees who fled violence and persecution in neighboring Myanmar, the majority of whom have been living in congested camps at Cox’s Bazar, a fishing port in the country’s southeast.

To ease pressure on the overcrowded border camps, officials want to eventually transfer 100,000 refugees to Bhasan Char — an island settlement in the Bay of Bengal several hours’ journey away from the mainland — and have moved about 30,000 Rohingyas since the end of 2020.

Though Bangladesh and Myanmar promised in April 2018 to proceed with safe, voluntary, and dignified repatriations of the Rohingyas, the commitment has yet to become a reality.

Back in Bangladesh on a comprehensive visit including exchanges with the government, partners and civil society, as well as field missions to Rohingya refugee sites.

Filippo Grandi, UNHCR chief

Grandi, whose last visit to the South Asian country was in 2019, will meet with Rohingya refugees “to discuss their needs, challenges and hopes for the future,” the UNHCR said in a statement. He will also “highlight the need for sustained international support” during his meetings in Bangladesh.

“Back in Bangladesh on a comprehensive visit including exchanges with the government, partners and civil society, as well as field missions to Rohingya refugee sites,” Grandi said in a tweet.

His visit is expected to reorient focus on repatriation of Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar, discussions of which have been stalled further since Myanmar’s military took power in a coup in February 2021. Though talks between Bangladesh and Myanmar finally resumed in late January, they have yet to come to an agreement.

“At the moment repatriation for the Rohingyas is our highest priority,” Nur Khan, a prominent human rights activist in Bangladesh, said.

“We need to resume the repatriation discussion soon and the UNHCR may play a vital role here to bring all the stakeholders to the table as soon as possible.”

Bimal Chandra Sarkar, executive director of local NGO Mukti, said financial expenses to address the refugees’ needs are becoming a concern for humanitarian workers.

“Repatriation of the Rohingyas is the most burning issue for us,” Sarkar, whose organization also works in Cox’s Bazar, told Arab News.

“Bangladesh is suffering a lot for allowing these Rohingyas to live here on humanitarian grounds.”