Coronavirus-hit Australian warship delivers disaster aid to Tonga

Coronavirus-hit Australian warship delivers disaster aid to Tonga
HMAS Adelaide is carrying about 80 tons of relief supplies, including water, medical kits and engineering equipment. (Australian Department of Defence via Reuters)
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Updated 26 January 2022

Coronavirus-hit Australian warship delivers disaster aid to Tonga

Coronavirus-hit Australian warship delivers disaster aid to Tonga
  • Crew of the HMAS Adelaide would follow drastic health protocols to ensure Tonga remains free from COVID-19

NUKU’ALOFA, Tonga: A coronavirus-hit Australian warship docked in Tonga on Wednesday, delivering desperately needed aid to the volcano-and-tsunami-struck nation under strict “no-contact” protocols.
Tongan Health Minister Saia Piukala said the crew of the HMAS Adelaide would follow drastic health protocols to ensure the remote Pacific kingdom remains one of the few places in the world still free of COVID-19.
“The ship will berth and no contacts will be made. Australians from the ship will unload their cargoes and sail from port,” he told reporters.
The Adelaide was deployed as part of an international aid effort after the January 15 eruption that generated massive tsunami waves and blanketed the island nation in toxic ash.
The warship is carrying about 80 tons of relief supplies, including water, medical kits and engineering equipment.
Despite all crew members testing negative before departing Brisbane, officials in Canberra on Tuesday said 23 coronavirus cases had been detected on the vessel.
Piukala said that number had increased to 29 by Wednesday.
The ship’s 600-plus crew are fully vaccinated, and the Australian Defense Force said Tuesday that the initial 23 patients were asymptomatic or only mildly affected.
It said the ship has a 40-bed hospital, including operating theaters and a critical care ward.
Piukala said contactless protocols were being applied to all relief supplies, including those aboard the HMAS Adelaide, meaning all goods offloaded from foreign planes or ships would be left in isolation for three days before being handled by Tongans.
The ship is said to be loaded with about 250,000 liters (66,000 US gallons) of water, buckets, jerry cans and portable field-testing kits that can now be offloaded.
“We can do that in a contactless way, spray the equipment so that the chance of passing on the virus is obviously negligible,” Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton said Tuesday.
“Under no circumstance will we compromise the health and well-being of those Tongans who have already had a concerted effort against the virus by protecting themselves, and the virus is not present on the island.”
But coronavirus restrictions are already hampering the aid effort in other ways.
Japan has announced its aid aircraft will pause trips between Australia and Tonga due to four COVID-19 cases among the mission’s staff.
“We are making sure that the impact on the mission is minimal, and once our review of anti-infection measures is completed, we’ll continue the mission,” a defense ministry official said.
Tonga closed its borders in early 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic swept the globe.
Since then, the nation of 100,000 has recorded just one COVID-19 case, a man who returned from New Zealand in October last year and has since fully recovered.
However, the devastating blast from the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, which lies about 65 kilometers north of the capital Nuku’alofa, has created what the Tongan government describes as an “unprecedented disaster.”
Entire villages were washed away by tsunamis, while ash has poisoned water supplies and destroyed crops.
Remarkably, there have been only three reported fatalities, which the UN humanitarian agency OCHA said was thanks to effective early warnings issued by the Tongan government.
OCHA said communications severed by the eruption were slowly being restored and assessment teams were visiting hard-to-reach areas to gauge the full scale of the disaster.
It said 85 percent of Tonga’s population had been affected, with access to safe water, ash clearance and food supplies the main priorities.


Putin says new military infrastructure in Finland, Sweden would demand reaction

Putin says new military infrastructure in Finland, Sweden would demand reaction
Updated 6 sec ago

Putin says new military infrastructure in Finland, Sweden would demand reaction

Putin says new military infrastructure in Finland, Sweden would demand reaction
  • Russian leader says NATO’s expansion is a problem for Moscow
President Vladimir Putin on Monday said Russia had no issue with Finland and Sweden, but that the expansion of military infrastructure on their territory would demand a reaction from Moscow, as the Nordic countries move closer to joining NATO.
Putin, speaking in Moscow at a summit of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), said NATO’s expansion was a problem for Russia and that it must look closely at what he said were the US-led military alliance’s plans to increase its global influence.

Tokyo COVID-19 curbs declared illegal in ‘Kill Bill’ restaurant case

Tokyo COVID-19 curbs declared illegal in ‘Kill Bill’ restaurant case
Updated 16 May 2022

Tokyo COVID-19 curbs declared illegal in ‘Kill Bill’ restaurant case

Tokyo COVID-19 curbs declared illegal in ‘Kill Bill’ restaurant case
  • The orders, enacted in the capital during various states of emergency, included shortened operating hours and a ban on alcohol sales

TOKYO: Japan’s “Kill Bill” restaurant operator prevailed in a court case on Monday that declared Tokyo’s now defunct COVID-19 infection curbs were illegal.
The orders, enacted in the capital during various states of emergency, included shortened operating hours and a ban on alcohol sales, though there was a compensating government subsidy. Businesses that didn’t comply were subject to fines.
Global-Dining Inc, which runs more than 40 restaurants, defied the restrictions, taking the city government to court over the matter.
The district court said the Tokyo government had not provided a “rational explanation” for the measures. The court determined they had been illegal but it denied Global-Dining’s claim for $0.80 (¥104) in damages.
The restrictions ended in March. Whether this ruling would inhibit the city government in acting against any renewed COVID-19 outbreak is unclear.
In a statement, Global-Dining president Kozo Hasegawa, said the case revealed the “injustice and sloppiness of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.” His company crowd-funded more than 25 million yen to fight the case.
Global-Dining’s Gonpachi restaurant, with a cavernous inner courtyard, inspired the fight scene in Quentin Tarantino’s first “Kill Bill” film. It was the site of a dinner between then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and then US President George W. Bush in 2002.


Indonesia tourist bus smashes into billboard, killing 14

Indonesia tourist bus smashes into billboard, killing 14
Updated 16 May 2022

Indonesia tourist bus smashes into billboard, killing 14

Indonesia tourist bus smashes into billboard, killing 14
  • The bus was returning from a trip to Central Java’s Dieng Plateau, a popular mountain resort

SURABAYA, Indonesia: A tourist bus with an apparently drowsy driver slammed into a billboard Monday on a highway on Indonesia’s main island of Java, killing at least 14 people and injuring 19 others, police said.
The bus, carrying Indonesian tourists from Surabaya, the capital of East Java province, was returning from a trip to Central Java’s Dieng Plateau, a popular mountain resort, when it hit the billboard on the Mojokerto toll road just after dawn, East Java traffic police chief Latief Usman said.
Television news showed police and medical personnel removing victims from the bus, which crashed just 400 meters before the highway exit.
Usman said police are still investigating the cause of the accident, but that the driver reportedly appeared drowsy before the crash.
He said police haven’t yet questioned the driver, who suffered severe injuries. Nineteen people were being treated in four hospitals in Mojokerto, mostly for broken bones.
Road accidents are common in Indonesia because of poor safety standards and infrastructure.


Ukraine says troops defending Kharkiv have reached Russian border

Ukraine says troops defending Kharkiv have reached Russian border
Ukraine says troops defending Kharkiv have reached Russian border. (Reuters)
Updated 16 May 2022

Ukraine says troops defending Kharkiv have reached Russian border

Ukraine says troops defending Kharkiv have reached Russian border
  • Ukraine said troops defending Kharkiv had repelled Russian forces and advanced as far as the border with Russia

KYIV: Ukraine said on Monday troops defending the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, had repelled Russian forces and advanced as far as the border with Russia.
Reuters could not immediately verify Ukraine’s battlefield account and it was not clear how many troops had reached the Russian border and where.
If confirmed, it would suggest a Ukrainian counter-offensive is having increasing success in pushing back Russian forces in the northeast after Western military agencies said Moscow’s offensive in the Donbas region had stalled.
Ukraine’s defense ministry said in a Facebook post that the 227th Battalion of the 127th Brigade of Ukraine’s armed forces had reached the border with Russia, adding: “Together to victory!”
Kharkiv region governor Oleh Sinegubov wrote on the Telegram messaging app that troops of the 227th Battalion had restored a sign on the state border.
“We thank everyone who, risking their lives, liberates Ukraine from Russian invaders,” Sinegubov said.
Ukraine has scored a series of successes since Russia invaded on Feb. 24, forcing Russia’s commanders to abandon an advance on the capital Kyiv before making rapid gains around Kharkiv.
Moscow calls its invasion of Ukraine a “special military operation” to rid the country of fascists, an assertion Kyiv and its Western allies say is a baseless pretext for an unprovoked war.


French city rekindles burkini row with pool rule change

French city rekindles burkini row with pool rule change
Updated 16 May 2022

French city rekindles burkini row with pool rule change

French city rekindles burkini row with pool rule change
  • Burkini seen as a symbol of creeping Islamism by its critics and an affront to France’s secular traditions

GRENOBLE, France: The Alpine city of Grenoble is set to reignite one of France’s recurring summer debates on Monday when it votes to authorize the “burkini” in state-run swimming pools.
The all-in-one swimsuit, used by some Muslim women to cover their bodies and hair while bathing, has become almost as topical as ice cream and sun hats during the holiday season in recent years.
Seen as a symbol of creeping Islamism by its critics and an affront to France’s secular traditions, many right-wingers and some feminists would like to ban it outright.
It is prohibited in most state-run pools — for hygiene, not religious reasons — where strict swimwear rules apply to all, including men who are required to squeeze into tight-fitting trunks.
Grenoble’s city council, dominated by the EELV green party, is set to scrap its bathing dress code on Monday, effectively authorizing long body coverings, beach shorts and topless bathing.
“Our intention is to remove all of the abnormal clothing restrictions,” mayor Eric Piolle said recently. “The issue is not being for or against the burkini specifically.”
Opponents see it differently, including the influential conservative head of the wider Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region, Laurent Wauquiez, who has promised to withdraw funding from the city.
“I am convinced that what Mr.Piolle is defending is a dreadful dead end for our country,” Wauquiez said at the beginning of May, accusing him of “doing deals with political Islam” to “buy votes.”
The regional spat has put the burkini back in the headlines nationally, animating French talk shows and the political class ahead of parliamentary elections next month.
The issue of how people dress for the pool touches on highly sensitive topics in France, including fears about the influence of Islam and threats to the country’s cherished secularism.
The right to worship freely is constitutionally protected, but the French state is also bound by law to be neutral in religious matters, including inside institutions.
“The burkini aims, purely and simply, to impose Islamist values at the heart of bathing areas and public leisure pursuits,” an open letter written by opposition councillors in Grenoble said last week.
Attempts by several local mayors in the south of France to ban the burkini on Mediterranean beaches in the summer of 2016 kicked off the first firestorm around the bathing suit.
The rules, introduced after a string of terror attacks in France, were eventually struck down as discriminatory.
Three years later, a group of women in Grenoble caused a splash by forcing their way into a pool with burkinis, leading the prime minister at the time to insist that the rules should be followed.
French sports brand Decathlon also found itself at the center of a similar row in 2019 when it announced plans to sell a “sports hijab” enabling Muslim women to cover their hair while running.
Monday’s vote in Grenoble “is an important moment for everyone concerned and their allies, but also in the fight against Islamophobia and control over women’s bodies,” local campaign group Citizens’ Alliance wrote on its Facebook page.
Demonstrations supporting and opposing the move are also planned in the city following the council meeting where mayor Piolle is expected to succeed in pushing through the change.
French feminists are split, with some seeing the burkini as a symbol of male oppression and others such as Caroline De Haas writing that “no one should be stigmatized in a pool because of their choice of swimwear.”
Grenoble would not be the first to change its rules, however.
The northwestern city of Rennes quietly updated its pool code in 2019 to allow burkinis and other types of swimwear.
The debate about the burkini comes as French Muslim women footballers are battling to overturn a ban on the wearing of religious symbols during competitive matches.
The French Football Federation currently prevents players from playing while wearing “ostentatious” religious symbols such as the Muslim hijab or the Jewish kippa.
A women’s collective known as “les Hijabeuses” launched a legal challenge to the rules in November last year.