Prime Minister Scott Morrison crisscrossed Australia in a final day of campaigning, insisting he could still win Saturday's election despite polls pointing to a change of government or hung parliament. Morrison and Labor opposition leader Anthony Albanese targeted marginal seats across four states in the last 48 hours of the six-week campaign as data showing wages growth being outstripped by inflation and record low unemployment gave fodder for competing claims on who would best manage the economy. More than half the votes had already been cast by Friday evening in the compulsory voting system, with a record 8 million pre-poll and postal votes, the Australian Electoral Commission said. An Ipsos opinion poll published by the Australian Financial Review showed Labor leading Morrison's ruling Liberal-National coalition 53% to 47% on a two-party preferred basis, where votes are ranked by preference and distributed to the top two candidates. But Labor's primary vote shrunk to 36% to the coalition's 35%, with minor parties and independents attracting nearly a third of voters, raising the prospect of a minority government. Morrison, in a blitz of media interviews on Friday, said he could still win, and pointed to his economic competence. "What I've demonstrated over these last three years - not everybody's agreed with me... and not everybody likes me - but that's not the point. The point is, who can manage the nation's finances to keep downward pressure on rising interest rates, downward pressure on cost of living?" he said on ABC News Breakfast, before campaigning in Western Australia. Albanese campaigned with former Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard in the South Australian capital of Adelaide, broadening his attack to the government's record on gender equality and climate change, issues championed by independent candidates. Gillard, Australia's first woman prime minister and an international campaigner for women's leadership, urged women to vote Labor, saying, "I am very confident it will be a government for women." In 2010, after the election delivered a hung parliament, Gillard formed a government after extended negotiations with independents and minor parties. Several so-called "teal independents" are challenging key Liberal-held seats, campaigning for action on climate change after some of Australia's worst floods and fires, and criticising the government on integrity and equality. Morrison pledged to become "inclusive and bring more people with us" if re-elected, after polling showed his personality could be a hurdle for the Liberal vote, particularly women. read more Another challenge for the major parties is a A$40-million advertising blitz by billionaire Clive Palmer's United Australia Party, which is fielding candidates nationally. ABC election analyst Antony Green said unlike the previous election, Palmer's advertising blitz had not singled out Labor for attack, which could affect preferences and the result. Election rules were changed on Friday to allow telephone voting by voters who test positive for Covid-19. COST OF LIVING BATTLES The government has played up its credentials in supporting the economy through the Covid-19 pandemic, pointing to data on Thursday that showed Australia's jobless rate fell to 3.9% in April, the lowest in 48 years. Labor said businesses had struggled to find workers after borders were closed and highlighted other data that showed wages had grown just 2.4%, the lowest since 1998. It wants to boost the minimum wage to keep pace with inflation of 5.1%. "Australians are doing it tough, they know that wages have gone backwards by 2.7%," Albanese said on Friday. Asked about the chance of no clear result on election night as independents drew votes, he urged people to vote Labor instead. "There's three more years of the same or there's myself, who wants to bring the country together, who wants to be inclusive, wants to end the division, wants to end the climate wars," he said.
Australia posted its lowest jobless rate in 48 years Thursday, a potential pre-election boost to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who is fighting to stay in power. The unemployment rate dipped to 3.85 percent in April, the official statistics body said, delivering a dose of good news two days before federal elections. It was the lowest unemployment level since 1974 -- when flared trousers were in fashion and US president Richard Nixon resigned over the Watergate scandal. "More Australians are in work now than ever before," said the ruling conservative Liberal-National Party coalition's employment minister, Stuart Robert. "Even in the face of global shocks like the war in Europe, Australia's economy has remained resilient," he boasted. "Now is not the time to risk our economy on an opposition that has no plan and makes things up on the run." Opinion polls show the ruling conservative coalition lagging a little behind the opposition Labor Party in a tightening election race. But surveys indicate the rising cost of living, not employment, is a priority for voters. Opposition Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese's economic credentials have been questioned by Morrison, notably since he forgot the unemployment rate when quizzed by reporters more than a month ago. Albanese has said he supports a rise in the minimum wage in line with inflation, which has shot up to 5.1 percent as prices soar in the shops, at gasoline stations and on the housing market. Australia's economy created an additional 92,400 full-time jobs in April, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said. That helped to trim April's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate just slightly below the revised 3.93-percent rate of the previous month. - 'Staff shortages' - "Overall, today's data remain consistent with a still-tightening labour market and continued difficulty for firms in finding labour," said National Australia Bank economist Ted Nugent. "This should see stronger wages growth emerge as the year progresses." Many employers say they are struggling to find staff in the tight jobs market. "We're definitely still feeling staff shortages," said Matt Jenkins, human resources manager at Sydney restaurant group Applejack Hospitality. "I know for chefs, they can have multiple job offers at a time. And even candidates that we're speaking to, they're sitting on offers for weeks while they still canvass the market," he told AFP. Bruno Goncalves, co-owner of Edes Restaurant and Bar in central Sydney, said he found it particularly hard to recruit experienced staff. More foreign jobseekers were becoming available, he said, since the re-opening of Australia's international borders, which were shuttered for nearly two years to keep out the Covid-19 virus. Those foreign candidates were mostly inexperienced, leaving the business with supervisory managers and "fresh, zero-experienced" workers but very few experienced bar and waiting staff.
Former Australia all-rounder and two-time World Cup winner Andrew Symonds has died following a car accident in Queensland, Cricket Australia (CA) said on Sunday. Symonds was aged 46. He had played 238 matches, including 26 tests, for Australia between 1998-2009. Police said the accident occurred in Hervey Range, 50 km from Townsville on Saturday night. The car Symonds was driving left the road and rolled, according to a police statement, which described it as a single vehicle incident. Andrew Symonds of Deccan Chargers watches the ball after playing a delivery from South African bowler Roelof van der Merwe of Royal Challengers Bangalore during their IPL Twenty20 final match at The Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg on May 24, 2009. AFP Queensland Police said an investigation into the crash has been opened. "Emergency services attempted to revive the 46-year-old driver and sole occupant, however, he died of his injuries," the police statement said. CA chairman Lachlan Henderson said Australian cricket had lost "another of its very best". "Andrew was a generational talent who was instrumental in Australia's success at World Cups and as part of Queensland's rich cricket history," he said in a statement. << Andrew Symonds bowls during the IPL Twenty20 cricket match between Mumbai Indians and Delhi Daredevils at The Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on May 07, 2011. AFP ________ "He was a cult figure to many who was treasured by his fans and friends. "On behalf of Australian cricket our deepest sympathies are with Andrew's family, team-mates, and friends." Symonds was a member of Australia's World Cup-winning teams in 2003 and 2007 and appeared in 198 one-day internationals in addition to 14 T20 Internationals. Known for his swashbuckling batting and electric fielding, he could bowl both off-spin and medium pace. "Everyone had him earmarked as a white ball player," former team mate Mark Taylor told Channel Nine. "He wanted to prove to the world he could play test cricket and he did that way. "He was just an entertainer. He wanted to go out there and have fun and play the game he remembered to play it as a kid. "At times he got in trouble for not going to training or maybe having a few too many beers...but that is the way he lived his life and the way he wanted to play his cricket also." Symonds' death occurred with Australian cricket still coming to terms with the passing of all-time greats Rod Marsh and Shane Warne, who both died in March. Symonds' career-high test score of 162 not out came against India in a 2008 Sydney match remembered more for a racism controversy around him. Andrew Symonds looking on during the game against New Zealand at an ICC World Twenty20 warm-up match at the Oval in London on June 2, 2009. AFP An Anil Kumble-captained India team threatened to abandon the series after bowler Harbhajan Singh was deemed by a match referee to have racially abused Symonds, a ruling that was later overturned. "Shocked to hear about the sudden demise of Andrew Symonds," Harbhajan, who later played with Symonds at Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League (IPL), tweeted. "Gone too soon. Heartfelt condolences to the family and friends. Prayers for the departed soul." Kumble also took to Twitter to express his condolence. Former Pakistan fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar also mourned the death of his friend. "Devastated to hear about Andrew Symonds passing away in a car crash in Australia," Shoaib tweeted. "We shared a great relationship on & off the field. Thoughts & prayers with the family."
China is "very likely" to put troops in the Solomon Islands after signing a contentious security deal with the Pacific nation, Australia's home affairs minister said Wednesday. The deal was announced by Beijing last Tuesday, weeks after a draft version leaked on social media and sparked concern it could open the door to a Chinese military presence in the South Pacific. Asked how realistic it was that China would request to put troops in the Solomon Islands within the next year, Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews told 4BC radio it was "very likely". "It is likely that will be the path that China will be taking in the Pacific region," she continued. Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has repeatedly said there will be no Chinese military base built in his country under the security deal but has not made the final version of the pact public. The leaked draft contained provisions allowing for Chinese security and naval deployments to the Solomon Islands, including language stating the "forces of China" would be empowered to protect "the safety of Chinese personnel" and "major projects". Andrews questioned the timing of Beijing's announcement of the deal in the run-up to the Australian federal election on May 21, which has been dominated by debate about foreign policy and Pacific diplomacy. "Beijing is clearly very aware that we are in a federal election campaign here at the moment," she said. "We talk about political interference and that has many forms." Beijing's announcement of the security deal also came just days before a well-publicised visit by US officials to the Solomons. One of Australia's top intelligence officials raised concerns late Tuesday about the potential presence of Chinese police in the Pacific nation, which was rocked by violent protests last November that were fuelled in part by rising anti-China sentiment. Speaking at the Raisina Dialogue in India, Director-General of Australia's Office of National Intelligence Andrew Shearer described the Solomon Islands as "a fragile, volatile country". He said Chinese policing tactics "deployed so ruthlessly in Hong Kong, for example ... could incite further instability and violence".
An Australian minister yesterday met with the leader of the Solomon Islands and asked him not to sign a proposed security agreement between the Pacific island nation and China that Australia opposes. Despite a national election campaign putting the Australian government in “caretaker” mode, when ministers traditionally avoid diplomatic engagement with other governments, Minister for International Development and the Pacific Zed Seselja visited Honiara with the support of Australia’s main opposition Labor Party. Canberra is concerned the security pact, details of which have not been made public, could be a step towards a Chinese military presence less than 2,000km from Australia. “We have asked Solomon Islands respectfully to consider not signing the agreement and to consult the Pacific family in the spirit of regional openness and transparency, consistent with our region’s security frameworks,” Seselja said in a statement after meeting Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare and other ministers. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing yesterday that the security co-operation between China and the Solomon Islands was not targeted at any third party and did not contradict the co-operation the Pacific nation has with other countries. Australia should “respect the sovereign and independent choices made by China and the Solomons and not instigate confrontation,” Zhao said. Officials from China and Solomon Islands have initialled but not yet signed the security pact, which Australia, New Zealand, US and some Pacific islands neighbours have criticised as undermining regional stability. Australia is Solomon Islands’ top development partner and would allocate A$160mn ($119mn) in support this year, Seselja said. “We welcome recent statements from Prime Minister Sogavare that Australia remains Solomon Islands’ security partner of choice, and his commitment that Solomon Islands will never be used for military bases or other military institutions of foreign powers,” he said. On Tuesday, a leaked memo surfaced on social media showing the Chinese government had told the Solomon Islands in December it wanted to send a security team of 10 Chinese police with weapons to protect embassy staff in the wake of riots in Honiara in November. The Solomon Islands government said yesterday no Chinese guns had entered the country other than a shipment of replica weapons used by Chinese police training officers. The December request by the Chinese embassy was “held in abeyance” as the government continued to monitor the security situation after the November riots saw buildings burned, the statement from Sogavare’s office said.
Deadly floods swept Australia’s east coast yesterday, stranding people on bridges and rooftops and forcing tens of thousands to flee their homes. Dozens of emergency warnings are in effect across the states of Queensland and New South Wales, where a week-long “rain bomb” has dumped 3.2 feet of water on some areas. Several waterways have burst their banks or broken through levees, inundating towns and forcing residents to evacuate or seek safety on higher ground. Nine people have died and more than a thousand people have been rescued. Authorities have warned that more fatalities are likely. The latest victim was a woman in her 80s whose body was found by police inside a home in the country town of Lismore. “She is yet to be formally identified,” said New South Wales Police. In the usually laid back surf town of Byron Bay, Hannah Leser had enjoyed the weekend celebrating her wedding with 150 guests. But the new bride and groom are now rescuing friends stranded in the nearby towns of Ballina and Mullumbimby in a borrowed four-wheel-drive. About 30 people are camped at a house where the couple were to spend their honeymoon. “It’s chaos but all of our friends and family are safe,” she said. “This is not quite the honeymoon I expected but it is what it is.” Australia’s military has deployed two MRH-90 Taipan helicopters to aid the rescue effort. In one daring aerial rescue, the crew plucked two people to safety as muddy waters lapped at the corrugated metal roofing of their home. Live television images on public broadcaster ABC showed a rescuer sitting on the roof with the pair, preparing to strap them to the chopper’s winch. “We’ve seen people stranded on roofs for hours, we’ve seen children being rescued, we’re seeing people stranded on bridges,” said New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet. Emergency services were overwhelmed by calls for help and flotillas of makeshift rescue boats fanned out across towns as people tried to ferry their neighbours to safety. In Lismore, local member of parliament Janelle Saffin had to swim to safety after she was stranded in the floodwaters. “We went to the verandah, hanging on to the rafters,” she told Nine Newspapers. Local resident Danika Hardiman was rescued on Monday after she woke up to find floodwaters had reached the balcony of her second-floor apartment in the town’s main street. She and her partner managed to climb up to the roof and were eventually rescued by “two guys in a boat, two locals”, she said, describing the scenes in Lismore as “horrific”. “Imagine you’re in a boat sailing past people’s roofs,” she said. Makeshift evacuation centres have been set up in primary schools, recreation centres and retired service members’ clubs.
Tens of thousands of Australians were ordered to flee their homes yesterday, as torrential rain sent floodwaters to record levels, leaving residents stranded on the rooftops of their homes. Eight people have died, and the country’s weather bureau has warned further severe thunderstorms and intense rainfall will cause “life-threatening flash flooding” across a swathe of the central Pacific coastal region. In the country town of Lismore, resident Danika Hardiman woke yesterday morning to find mud-brown floodwaters had reached the balcony of her second-floor apartment. She and her partner managed to climb up to the roof, where they were spotted by passing kayakers, who flagged down a makeshift rescue boat. “We were rescued by two guys in a boat, two locals,” Hardiman said, describing the scenes in Lismore as “horrific”. “Imagine you’re in a boat sailing past people’s roofs,” she said. “The scary thing is this is just the beginning, there’s lots of rain to come.” With the town’s levees already breached, 43,000 residents were ordered to leave by yesterday morning. Emergency services were overwhelmed by calls for aid, leading some locals — including Lismore’s mayor Steve Krieg — to turn to social media for help. “If anyone has a boat and can get to Engine Street, there’s a pregnant lady sitting on her roof. Help please,” he posted on Facebook yesterday. Emergency rescue services said they had also deployed a helicopter to pluck other stranded residents from rooftops. More than 400 millimetres (16 inches) of rain has fallen in the past 24 hours around Lismore, with the town’s Wilson River still rising, according to the weather bureau. Water levels in Lismore have not yet reached their expected peak of 14 metres — but they are already the worst floods the town has experienced. Flooding across eastern Australia has now killed eight people, after a man in his 50s died yesterday when his car was swept away by floodwaters in the northern state of Queensland. Millions of people have been told to stay home and nearly 1,000 schools in Queensland remain closed because of the floods. A 70-year-old man miraculously survived after his houseboat, swept along by the raging Brisbane River, collided with a ferry terminal and quickly sank. Members of the public were able to rescue the man, with one telling public broadcaster ABC they had linked arms to create a human chain and fish the man from the river unharmed. “I don’t know how he survived it, to be honest,” onlooker Matthew Toomey said. Rain has battered eastern Australia for the better part of a week as an extreme weather system — the tail end of a wet summer fuelled by La Nina — has moved south down the country’s coast, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.
Torrential downpours lashed eastern Australia yesterday, raising deadly floodwaters to decades-long highs, swamping homes and sweeping away cars. Police in the eastern state of Queensland said that they had found the body of a 37-year-old male, raising the flooding death toll to five people since early this week. At least one person is still missing. Images of southeast Queensland broadcast on Australian media showed homes and roads flooded, areas of land transformed into lakes and a large chunk of a concrete pier floating down the fast-running Brisbane River. The water snatched the car of a team of four emergency services workers who were heading to rescue a family from their flooded home overnight, said state police disaster coordinator Steve Gollschewski. “The vehicle in which they were travelling was swept off the road into floodwaters. Three of our members were rescued. One of those members is deceased,” he told a news conference. Elsewhere, another man’s body was found overnight. “In some parts of southeast Queensland, this is the biggest event that they will see in a number of decades,” said the state police and emergency services minister, Mark Ryan. “And the rain has not stopped – in fact, there are some parts where it is intensifying.” The Queensland town of Gympie was facing a “hell of a lot of water” as the Mary River rose, Gympie Mayor Glen Hartwig was quoted as saying by national broadcaster ABC. Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the Mary River could rise above 21m (69’) at Gympie. It may exceed levels last seen there in February 1999, the bureau of meteorology said. As a precaution, Queensland would be issuing evacuation alerts, notably targeting about 700 residents in the Gympie area, the premier said. “If we don’t do this now people will become isolated and trapped,” she warned. The premier said that her “heart goes out” to the volunteer emergency services worker, 62-year-old Merryl Dray, who died “trying to save her community”. Emergency services had responded to over 1,800 calls for help in 24 hours in southeast Queensland, officials said. Rainfall in some areas of the state had exceeded records going back decades, said senior Queensland meteorologist David Grant. He predicted further rain today as the weather system moved away more slowly than had been anticipated. “There is now going to be an increased risk of dangerous and life-threatening flash flooding, and even the potential for localised landslides,” he told a news conference. Heavy rain also hit the state capital Brisbane. “Essentially we’ve seen a month’s worth of rainfall fall in one day for just Brisbane alone,” Grant said. Rescuers undertook 132 rescues in swift water conditions in 24 hours, said Greg Leach, Queensland’s commissioner for fire and emergency services. “Our catchments are completely saturated. Our rivers are rising. We have flash flooding,” he said. “Now is not the time to be out in southeast Queensland if you don’t have to be.”
Australia on Monday fully reopened its international borders to travellers vaccinated against the coronavirus after nearly two years of pandemic-related closings as tourists returned and hundreds of people were reunited with family and friends. More than 50 international flights will reach the country through the day, including 27 touching down in Sydney, its largest city, as the tourism and hospitality sectors look to rebuild after getting hammered by Covid-19 restrictions. "It is a very exciting day, one that I have been looking forward to for a long time, from the day that I first shut that border right at the start of the pandemic," Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in the island state of Tasmania, which relies heavily on tourism. After being away from loved ones for months there were many emotional reunions, including for Cindy Moss who travelled from the U.S. state of Kentucky to see her daughter. "I just haven't seen her in so long and it was such a big thing to be able to get over here. So I'm so excited," she said after hugging her daughter, her voice cracking with emotion. Tourism is one of Australia's biggest industries, worth more than A$60 billion ($43 billion) and employing about 5% of the country's workforce. But the sector was crippled after the country shut its borders in March 2020. Once a champion of Covid-suppression strategy, Australia shifted away from its fortress-style controls and relentless lockdowns since late last year and began living with the virus after reaching higher vaccination levels. Skilled migrants, international students and backpackers have been allowed to fly into Australia since November in a staggered reopening exercise. Passengers flying to Sydney were greeted from the air with "Welcome Back World!" painted on a sign near the runways while people in kangaroo costumes welcomed travellers and a DJ played music from a van festooned with a banner saying "You were worth the wait". "It is a party out here, music playing, smiles on people's faces, they will be dancing soon, I'm sure," Tourism Minister Dan Tehan told broadcaster ABC from Sydney airport as he gave travellers gift jars of Vegemite, an iconic Australian food spread, and stuffed koala toys. Tehan said he was hopeful for a "very strong" rebound in the tourism market, with Qantas looking to fly more than 14,000 passengers into Australia this week. Virgin Australia said it was seeing positive trends in domestic bookings and continued to assess demand for international flights. All trains in Sydney, meanwhile, were cancelled on Monday after pay disputes between the union and the state government, taking some shine off the reopening. As borders fully reopen, Australia's outbreak of the Omicron coronavirus variant appears to have passed its peak with hospital admissions steadily falling over the past three weeks. The bulk of Australia's pandemic total of about 2.7 million confirmed cases has been detected since the emergence of Omicron in late November. Total deaths stood at 4,929. Just over 17,000 new cases and 17 deaths were registered by midday on Monday with the Northern Territory due to report later.
Starting February 18, people travelling to Australia have a new way to provide the health information required to enter the country - the Digital Passenger Declaration (DPD). Australian ambassador to Qatar Jonathan Muir shared the information on his Twitter page, with the details of the DPD available at https://covid19.homeaffairs.gov.au/digital-passenger-declaration The Digital Passenger Declaration has replaced the Australia Travel Declaration. All passengers arriving by air into Australia should complete the DPD. "You can start your DPD seven days before your flight and submit it within 72 hours prior to your departure for Australia. This is because you must provide your health information and declaration (vaccination status and Covid-19 test result) within 72 hours before your flight," the DPD webpage states. When filling out the DPD, one will need to: 1. Provide the contact details, including a contact phone number in Australia 2. Make a legally binding declaration in relation to one's vaccination status 3. Make a declaration regarding one's last 14 days' travel history 4. Make a declaration that one is aware of the quarantine and testing requirements that apply when coming to Australia and in the state or territory one is landing, and the penalties for non-compliance. The Digital Passenger Declaration requests critical health information. "You must be able to provide evidence that the critical information was completed before boarding the aircraft. This is an enforceable requirement. A person who fails to comply with the requirement may be liable to a civil penalty (fine) of 30 penalty units (currently 6,660 AUD). This is set out in section 46 of the Biosecurity Act 2015," the webpage explains. Giving false or misleading information to the Australian government is a serious offence. If convicted, the maximum penalty is imprisonment for 12 months. States and territories may also apply penalties in order to enforce compliance with public health orders. This may include Covid-19 testing and self-isolation or quarantine requirements. "If you do not comply with requirements including pre-departure and post-arrival testing, you may face serious penalties, including jail time or significant fines. Requirements may change at short notice," the webpage adds. One can complete the DPD at https://dpd.homeaffairs.gov.au/ One will need to create an account, which will allow the person to manage current and future declarations in one place. "Ensure you have completed the health section and provide all critical health information within 72 hours before your departure. Providing this information is an enforceable requirement. It will help ensure you don’t experience unnecessary delays at the airport, or when you arrive in Australia," the webpage notes. One does not have to pay for the DPD — it is free. Before starting the declaration, one should have the below information ready: 1. flight number 2. valid passport 3. travel history (14 days before the flight) 4. destination and quarantine arrangements (if required) 5. Covid-19 vaccination record or acceptable proof you cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons You will also need to provide a negative Covid-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test or other nucleic acid amplification test result within three days of the flight’s scheduled departure to Australia, or a medical certificate as evidence of a negative Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) taken under medical supervision within 24 hours before the flight’s scheduled departure to Australia. You can upload this by logging back into your DPD account when you have the test result. Each passenger is required to complete a DPD. Parents or guardians should complete a declaration for any child under 16 years of age. Anyone who is 16 years old or over should complete their own declaration. A completed Digital Passenger Declaration does not guarantee travel to Australia. Once you have submitted the Digital Passenger Declaration, you will see a summary screen that you must show (either electronically or printed) before you board your flight and on arrival in Australia. Check-in staff will review your health status, it will either show: 1. Complete: the information you have entered in your declaration indicates you meet Covid-19 health requirements for boarding. You will still need to show your documentation at check-in. Your airline will make the final decision to let you board your flight. 2. Incomplete: you have not submitted your health information. The Digital Passenger Declaration requests critical health information. You must be able to show evidence that you completed the critical information before boarding. 3. Confirmation required at check-in: this means you may not have met the requirements for travel to Australia. You need to be confirmed at check-in. Your airline will decide if you can travel. If the airline allows you to travel to Australia, you may need to quarantine on arrival. Before you start your DPD you should check the Department of Health website (https://www.health.gov.au/health-alerts/covid-19/international-travel/inbound). This has details on the important health rules passengers need to follow when coming to Australia. All passengers should check the arrangements in both their place of arrival and place of final destination, as quarantine requirements (https://www.health.gov.au/health-alerts/covid-19/international-travel) are different in each Australian state and territory. If you need help completing your Digital Passenger Declaration, visit the frequently asked questions page at https://immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/help-text/dpd/Pages/faq-english.aspx
Sydney authorities on Thursday deployed baited lines to try to catch a giant great white shark that devoured an ocean swimmer, as beach communities in Australia's largest city were rocked by the first such attack in decades. Drones scoured the ocean from the air, spotters launched on boats and six drum lines were set to try to catch the creature, which is believed to be at least three metres (10 feet) in length. Police believe they have identified the victim, a 35-year-old ocean swimmer who was attacked on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, leaving shocked fishermen and golfers to watch helplessly from nearby cliffs. A rescue helicopter and four ambulances were dispatched, but the victim perished after suffering what emergency responders described as "catastrophic injuries". It was the first fatal shark attack in Sydney since 1963. "Based on footage provided by the public including eyewitness accounts... shark biologists believe that a White Shark, at least three metres in length, was likely responsible," the state government's Department of Primary Industries said. The department announced it was deploying "six SMART drumlines" around Little Bay Beach, near where the attack occurred in the city's east. Drum lines feature hooks loaded with bait and are used to trap sharks that can then be tagged and moved to deeper ocean away from the coast. Their use is controversial because hooked animals have been known to die before being moved, and non-target species can become snagged. - 'We all know the risks' - The attack has rocked beach communities in Sydney's east, where being in the water is a part of everyday life. Each morning before dawn and later as the sun sets, surfers, swimmers and paddleboarders flock to the waves to work out or take a break from the strains of work life. According to Sports Australia, 4.5 million Aussies swim regularly and at least 500,000 surf. Whales, dolphins, rays and several species of shark live along the coast and it is not uncommon to spot animals in the water, or to hear the ringing of shark alarms urging everyone back to the beach. But most Sydneysiders take the risk in their stride. "We all know that we take a risk every time we get in the water," said 45-year-old Kim Miller, who took up ocean swimming when she returned to Sydney in 2020. At the beginning, she admitted "I was scared of seaweed, and fish. I did have a real fear around it." "When I first started seeing grey nurse sharks at (nearby) Maroubra, I thought I'd run on water. But it was such a peaceful, beautiful experience that I found myself diving down to get closer to them." On Thursday, as 13 beaches across the city were closed, swimmers' WhatsApp groups filled with graphic images of the attack and messages to check if friends were safe and well. An 800-competitor ocean swimming race scheduled for the area on Sunday has been postponed. "It's hit a little bit closer today when we heard it was a long-distance ocean swimmer, knowing it's a route that we've done so many times," Miller said. "I feel a little bit sick this afternoon." Her morning swim on Thursday was confined to an ocean pool, but she insisted "eventually we'll all have the courage to get back in". "I know it's going to take a while to get those images out of my head. A lot of the time when I'm swimming it is with the hope of seeing beautiful sea life, or not even thinking about it. It's going to take some time to get back to that."
Australia will reopen its borders to tourists from February 21, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced yesterday, ending some of the world’s strictest and longest-running pandemic travel restrictions. “It’s almost two years since we took the decision to close the borders to Australia,” Morrison said, announcing borders will reopen to all visa holders “on February 21 this year”. “If you’re double vaccinated, we look forward to welcoming you back to Australia,” he said. Australia’s ports and airports slammed shut to tourists in March 2020 with the aim of protecting the island continent against the surging global pandemic. Since then, Australians have mostly been barred from leaving and only a handful of visitors have been granted exemptions to enter. The rules have stranded nationals overseas, split families, hammered the country’s multi-billion-dollar tourist industry and prompted often bitter debates about Australia’s openness to the rest of the world. “Bout time,” said Melbourne resident Marshall McDonald. “It’s exciting. It almost feels like the end of a period of hermit kingdom-ness ending.” Every month of “Fortress Australia” policies has cost businesses an estimated US$2.6bn, according to the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “Our borders will have been closed to international tourists for 704 days,” the chamber said in a statement. “This decision will allow our flailing tourism sector to recover, saving businesses and saving livelihoods.” In recent months, rules have been gradually relaxed for Australians, long-term residents and students. The latest decision will see almost all remaining caps lifted. It comes after the country’s long-standing “Covid-zero” policy was abandoned, vaccination rates rose and the once stellar track-and-trace system collapsed under a wave of Omicron cases. Only a handful of countries remain closed to tourists — among them Japan, China, New Zealand and several Pacific Island nations. For Australia’s travel and tourism sector – which struggled as visitor numbers fell almost 98% compared to pre-pandemic levels – the news brought elation. “We’re very excited about being able to reopen,” said Tony Walker, managing director of the Quicksilver Group, which operates cruises, diving and resorts across the Great Barrier Reef. “The last couple of years have been incredibly difficult for us,” he said, urging people overseas to “come visit”. Over the course of the pandemic, the firm went from 650 employees down to the 300 it has today. Walker said he expected “it will take some time to recover” from the past two years. Many tourism operators around Australia are experiencing staff shortages, given how few backpackers and working holidaymakers are coming. Despite the announcement, travel within Australia will still be restricted. The vast state of Western Australia remains closed to most non-residents. It is currently easier to travel from Sydney to Paris than from Sydney to Perth.
Australia said on Monday it will reopen its borders to vaccinated travellers this month, ending two years of misery for the tourism sector, reviving migration and injecting billions of dollars into the world No. 13 economy. The move effectively calls time on the last main component of Australia's response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which it has attributed to relatively low death and infection rates. The other core strategy, stop-start lockdowns, was shelved for good in December. The country had taken steps in recent months to relax border controls, like allowing in skilled migrants and quarantine-free travel arrangements - "travel bubbles" - with select countries like New Zealand. But the reopening, which takes effect on Feb. 21, represents the first time since March 2020 that people can travel to Australia from anywhere in the world as long as they are vaccinated. "If you're double-vaccinated, we look forward to welcoming you back to Australia," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at a media briefing in Canberra. The tourism industry, which has relied on the domestic market that has itself been heavily impacted by movement restrictions, welcomed the decision which comes three months before Morrison is due to face an election. "Over the two years since the borders have been closed the industry has been on its knees," said Australian Tourism Export Council Managing Director Peter Shelley by phone. "Now we can turn our collective efforts towards rebuilding an industry that is in disrepair," he added. Tourism and Transport Forum CEO Margy Osmond said the industry was "thrilled" by the reopening, but would need coordination to ensure Australia was competitive as a destination. "It's not as simple as just turning on the tap and we see numbers of international tourists back where they were pre-Covid," she told reporters. International and domestic tourism losses since the start of the pandemic totalled A$101.7 billion ($72 billion), according to government body Tourism Research Australia. International travel spending in Australia plunged from A$44.6 billion in the 2018-19 financial year to A$1.3 billion in 2020-21, TRA said. Shares of tourism-related stocks soared as investors cheered the prospect of a return to profit growth. Shares of the country's main airline Qantas Airways Ltd jumped 5% while shares of travel agent Flight Centre Travel Group Ltd surged 8%. Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said in a statement the company was looking at flight schedules to determine ways to restart flights from more international locations soon. As elsewhere in the world, Australian Covid cases have soared in recent weeks due to the Omicron variant which medical experts say may be more transmissable but less virulent than previous strains. But with more than nine in 10 Australians aged over 16 fully vaccinated, new cases and hospitalisations appear to have slowed, the authorities say. The country reported just over 23,000 new infections on Monday, its lowest for 2022 and far from a peak of 150,000 around a month ago. Morrison meanwhile said the government would send up to 1,700 Australian Defence Force personnel to fill staffing shortages in the aged care sector, following complaints of understaffing and fatigue due to increased pressures brought by the pandemic. Around 2.4 million cases have been recorded in Australia since the first Omicron case was detected in Australia in November. Until then, Australia had counted only around 200,000 cases. Total deaths stand at 4,248 since the pandemic began.
Australia could use its defence forces to help manage a Covid-19 outbreak in the aged-care sector that has stretched staffing and forced many homes into lockdowns, the prime minister said on Friday as national infection numbers remained on a downtrend. The government has come under pressure over the spread of the Omicron variant in aged-care homes, with Richard Colbeck, minister for senior Australians and aged care services, drawing criticism after he attended a cricket match instead of appearing before a parliamentary committee looking into the outbreaks. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he had asked the ministers of defence and health to see how defence forces could support care homes, where many staff have had to isolate because of infections. Morrison said about 560 aged-care residents had died since Omicron hit in late 2021. He told reporters the defence force was not a "shadow workforce" for the sector and cautioned against "simple solutions to complex problems" but said they had to consider options. "When you're the prime minister, and the minister for health and aged care, and the minister for defence, you have to deal with practical options that work," he said. The Australian Defence Force has been involved in managing the pandemic response, with a lieutenant general put in charge of the vaccine rollout and troops made part of the monitoring of lockdowns in big cities. Total daily Covid-19 infections dipped across Australia on Friday and were on track to be the lowest in more than a month, with about 30,000 new cases logged in the biggest states. With some states still to report figures, a total of 81 deaths had been reported on Friday.
Australia's Covid-19 hospitalisation rate fell to its lowest in nearly three weeks on Wednesday, while a steady rate of daily infections raised hopes the worst of an outbreak fuelled by the Omicron coronavirus variant may have passed. Hospital cases fell to about 4,600 on Wednesday, with all states seeing a dip in admission numbers, after a peak of nearly 5,400 a week ago. "We've seen the peaks of Omicron, I think, come through in (New South Wales and Victoria)," Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who is under pressure over his handling of the Omicron wave, told a media briefing. With Covid-19 hospitalisations stabilising, Morrison said he had tasked health officials to check the impact on the health system before easing more border curbs. Morrison said last week he hoped international borders may fully reopen "before Easter". Australia is going through a staggered border reopening allowing in only skilled migrants, international students and backpackers. Airlines and tourism businesses, already battered by rounds of lockdowns over the past two years, are hoping for a quick re-opening to all tourists. Fuelled by fast-spreading Omicron, Australia's total infections surged over the past two months, most in its most populous states of New South Wales and Victoria, with about 2.3 million cases recorded. Until then, it had only detected some 200,000 infections since the pandemic began. About 8.2 million boosters have been administered as of Wednesday, shots for half of the eligible population, with authorities pressing people to get their third dose soon to mitigate the threat of severe illness from Omicron. New South Wales and South Australia said they would allow a staged return of non-urgent surgeries from Monday after hospitalisation rates steadied. On Wednesday, Australia reported 70 new deaths, down from a record of 98 set last Friday, and just over 40,000 new cases.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was to announce a A$2bn plan to boost manufacturing by commercialising the country’s research, an initiative that comes against a backdrop of worsening polls months before an election. Morrison, in an address to the National Press Club in Canberra, will reflect on lessons learned from storms, floods and the Omicron coronavirus wave that disrupted Australians’ summer, according to excerpts of his speech seen by Reuters. He will also outline his government’s focus on building health and economic resilience, officials said. Morrison will say efforts to boost manufacturing and supply chain resilience in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic need to be linked to world-class research at universities. He will say that 85% of Australia’s research is rated at or above world standard, yet it continues to underperform in achieving commercialisation outcomes. “We need to find and develop a new breed of researcher entrepreneurs in Australia,” Morrison will say in the speech. His government will fund a A$2.2bn plan to commercialise research, including A$1.6bn for a programme to bridge a so-called valley of death for early-stage research caused by higher levels of risk and uncertainty about commercial returns. “We know this is not insurmountable. Other countries have made a better fist of solving this problem,” he will say. The science agency CSIRO will get A$150mn to expand a venture capital programme backing start-ups. Another A$296mn will be allocated over the next decade to universities to fund 1,800 PhDs and 800 fellowships with an industry focus. Only 40% of Australia’s researchers work in private industry – well below the OECD average, he will say. “This, together with low mobility between industry and the university sectors, leads to culture and capability gaps that reduce the ability of Australian businesses to innovate.” A Newspoll conducted for the Australian newspaper on Monday showed satisfaction with Morrison’s performance dropped 5 points to 39% in January, the lowest since March 2020, amid criticism of his government’s handling of the Omicron outbreak. An election is due in May or earlier.
The first humanitarian flights arrived in volcano and tsunami-stricken Tonga, five days after the dual disaster cut the Pacific kingdom off from the rest of the world. Tonga has been inaccessible since Saturday, when one of the largest volcanic explosions in decades cloaked the nation in a layer of ash, triggered a Pacific-wide tsunami and severed vital undersea communication cables. Two large military transport planes from Australia and New Zealand touched down at Tonga’s main airport – only recently cleared of a thick layer of ash after painstaking effort. “Landed!” said Australia’s international development and Pacific minister Zed Seselja, hailing the arrival of a C-17 “carrying much needed humanitarian supplies”. “A second C-17 is now on its way,” he added. Among the equipment on board was said to be a “skid-steer loader with a sweeper” to help keep the runway clear of ash. New Zealand confirmed its C-130 Hercules has also landed. “The aircraft is carrying humanitarian aid and disaster relief supplies, including water containers, kits for temporary shelters, generators, hygiene and family kits, and communications equipment,” New Zealand foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta said. More than 80% of the archipelago’s population of 100,000 have been impacted by the disaster, the United Nations has estimated, and initial assessments indicate an urgent need for drinking water. The first smattering of images to emerge from Tonga’s capital Nuku’alofa show ashen buildings, toppled walls and streets littered with boulders, tree trunks and other debris. Tongans worked for days at the airport trying to clear the runway of ash so that much-needed aid could arrive. The work was painfully slow, with only a few hundred metres being cleared each day. With the air bridge now open, nations are rushing to get aid in. Japan has announced it will send two C-130 aircraft, and nations from China to France have indicated they will also provide assistance. But strict Covid protocols that have kept Tonga virtually virus-free mean the delivery of supplies will be “contactless”. New Zealand commander James Gilmour said: “There will be no contact between the New Zealand Defence Force and anyone on the ground.” The crew was only expected to be on the ground for 90 minutes. Three people were killed when the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano exploded on Saturday, triggering tsunami waves that ripped down homes and caused widespread flooding. Waves as high as 15m (50ft) were reported to have destroyed almost every home on some outlying islands. The Tongan government has called the dual eruption-tsunami “an unprecedented disaster” and declared a nearly one-month national emergency. When the underwater caldera exploded, it fired debris 30km into the air and deposited ash and acid rain across the kingdom of 170 islands – poisoning water supplies. “Water supplies across Tonga have been severely impacted by ashfall and saltwater from the tsunami,” said Katie Greenwood of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. There are also fears for the island’s food supplies, with a tearful national assembly speaker Fatafehi Fakafanua saying “all agriculture is ruined”. Australia and New Zealand are also sending help by sea, with Royal New Zealand Navy ships HMNZS Wellington and HMNZS Aotearoa expected to arrive in Tongan waters today. They are carrying water supplies and a 70,000-litre-a-day desalination plant, as well as navy hydrographic and dive personnel to survey shipping channels. Australian military relief ship the HMAS Adelaide is also standing by in Brisbane. It is Canberra’s “hope and intent” the ship will depart for the island kingdom today, an Australian official said. HMAS Adelaide will carry “water purification equipment and additional humanitarian supplies”, as well as two Chinook heavy-lift helicopters. The eruption released a pressure wave that traversed the planet, travelling at supersonic speeds of about 1,230km per hour, New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research said. It broke a vital undersea communications cable linking Tonga with the rest of the world, leaving Tongans overseas scrambling to contact loved ones. While partial communications were restored Wednesday, mobile phone network provider Digicel said the high number of calls to the island was producing delays. It is expected to be at least a month before the undersea cable connection is fully restored.
Naomi Osaka played the role of smiling assassin and top seed Ashleigh Barty was ruthlessly efficient at the Australian Open yesterday as they moved closer to a potential fourth-round showdown. Rafael Nadal ramped up his march towards an unprecedented men’s 21st Grand Slam crown but needed five match points to put away tenacious qualifier Yannick Hanfmann. The impressive Barty, chasing a first title at her home Slam, barely broke sweat in her second round match, breezing past Italian qualifier Lucia Bronzetti 6-1, 6-1 in just 52 minutes in the heat of Rod Laver Arena. Not to be outdone, defending champion Osaka rushed through the first set 6-0 against Madison Brengle but then had a couple of dicey moments in the second set, before polishing it off 6-4, greeting the beaten American with a smile at the net. Rivals Barty and Osaka, who share six major titles between them, are now one victory away from a last-16 showdown at Melbourne Park. But first Barty, the Wimbledon champion and hot favourite in Melbourne, faces a potentially tricky task against 30th seed Camila Giorgi. The ultra-consistent Barty, who won the lead-up tournament in Adelaide, hasn’t dropped her serve for 48 straight games over five matches this year. Japan’s Osaka faces American Amanda Anisimova, a budding talent who sprang a shock in defeating Olympic champion Belinda Bencic. Osaka, winner of the 2019 and 2021 Australian Opens, has vowed to have more fun on court this year, following a difficult last year in which she said she had suffered from depression. “I am a bit of a perfectionist. I feel that if I compare myself to the past I will never be satisfied,” she said, to cheers from the crowd. In-form eighth seed Paula Badosa, who won the Sydney warm-up tournament, and French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova both sailed through to round three in two sets. Maria Sakkari, the Greek fifth seed, also won with little fuss. With defending champion Novak Djokovic deported on the eve of the season’s first Grand Slam, the men’s draw has opened up for Spanish veteran Nadal. The 20-time Slam winner, who recently won his first tournament after five months out battling a foot injury, was never really troubled by the German Hanfmann until the end. Down 3-5, 0-40, the world number 126 fought back to extend the contest and saved two more match points, before finally succumbing 6-2, 6-3, 6-4. Next up for the 35-year-old Nadal is Russian 28th seed Karen Khachanov, which should be an altogether bigger test of his title credentials. Nadal, the sixth seed, could face third seed Alexander Zverev in the quarter-finals but he is refusing to look that far ahead. “I don’t know, I am in the third round, I need to win very tough matches to be there,” the Spanish great said. “I never think that far. You can imagine now less than ever, no?” he added, an apparent nod to his recent injury struggles. Nadal also had Covid last month. Olympic champion Zverev made light work of Australian hope John Millman, dismissing him in three sets, the German’s power game silencing the partisan crowd. Seventh seed Matteo Berrettini, who endured frequent lavatory trips in a gutsy four-set win on Monday, defeated American Stefan Kozlov and plays teenage 31st seed Carlos Alcaraz. Also through, after surviving in five sets over Korean Kwon Soon-woo, was Canadian 14th seed Denis Shapovalov. But Poland’s 10th seed Hubert Hurkacz was a notable casualty at the hands of Frenchman Adrian Mannarino. Second round results Men’s singles: Miomir Kecmanovic (SRB) bt Tommy Paul (USA) 7-6 (9/7), 7-5, 7-6 (10/8); Lorenzo Sonego (ITA x25) bt Oscar Otte (GER) 2-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-1; Christian Garin (CHI x16) bt Pedro Martinez (ESP) 6-7 (1/7), 7-6 (7/4), 2-6, 6-2, 6-2; Sebastian Korda (USA) bt Corentin Moutet (FRA) 3-6, 6-4, 6-7 (2/7), 7-5, 7-6 (10/6); Pablo Carreno-Busta (ESP x19) bt Tallon Griekspoor (NED) 6-3, 6-7 (6/8), 7-6 (7/3), 3-6, 6-4; Carlos Alcaraz (ESP x31) bt Dusan Lajovic (SRB) 6-2, 6-1, 7-5; Matteo Berrettini (ITA x7) bt Stefan Kozlov (USA) 6-1, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1; Reilly Opelka (USA x23) bt Dominik Koepfer (GER) 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (7/4); Denis Shapovalov (CAN x14) bt Kwon Soon-woo (KOR) 7-6 (8/6), 6-7 (3/7), 6-7 (6/8), 7-5, 6-2; Rafael Nadal (ESP x6) bt Yannick Hanfmann (GER) 6-2, 6-3, 6-4; Alexander Zverev (GER x3) bt John Millman (AUS) 6-4, 6-4, 6-0; Radu Albot (MDA) bt Aleksandar Vukic (AUS) 6-4, 7-6 (7/4), 6-4; Adrian Mannarino (FRA) bt Hubert Hurkacz (POL x10) 6-4, 6-2, 6-3; Aslan Karatsev (RUS x18) bt Mackenzie McDonald (USA) 3-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 Women’s singles: Ashleigh Barty (AUS x1) bt Nuria Brancaccio (ITA) 6-1, 6-1; Camila Giorgi (ITA x30) bt Tereza Martincova (CZE) 6-2, 7-6 (7/2); Amanda Anisimova (USA) bt Belinda Bencic (SUI x22) 6-2, 7-5; Nuria Parrizas (ESP) bt Maryna Zanevska (BEL) walkover; Jessica Pegula (USA x21) bt Bernarda Pera (USA) 6-4, 6-4; Veronika Kudermetova (RUS x28) bt Gabriela Ruse (ROM) 6-2, 7-5; Barbora Krejcikova (CZE x4) bt Xiyu Wang (CHN) 6-2, 6-3; Jelena Ostapenko (LAT x26) bt Alison Riske (USA) 4-6, 6-2, 6-4; Victoria Azarenka (BLR x24) bt Jil Teichmann (SUI) 6-1, 6-2; Elina Svitolina (UKR x15) bt Harmony Tan (FRA) 6-3, 5-7, 5-1 ret; Madison Keys (USA) bt Jaqueline Cristian (ROM) 6-2, 7-5; Wang Qiang (CHN) bt Alison Van Uytvanck (BEL) 2-6, 7-6 (7/5), 6-3; Marta Kostyuk (UKR) bt Sara Sorribes (ESP x32) 7-6 (7/5), 6-3; Paula Badosa (ESP x8) bt Martina Trevisan (ITA) 6-0, 6-3; Naomi Osaka (JPN x13) bt Madison Brengle (USA) 6-0, 6-4; Maria Sakkari (GRE x5) bt Qinwen Zheng (CHN) 6-1, 6-4
Australia coach Justin Langer said he is proud of the team’s achievements over the last two months and while his current contract is winding down he is not anxious about his future ahead of talks with cricket board officials. The 51-year-old’s tenure looked to be on thin ice last year amid reports that his coaching style had caused dressing room discontent. But the former test batsman has since guided Australia to their maiden Twenty20 World Cup triumph in November and oversaw their 4-0 Ashes romp against England earlier this month. “I’m never edgy (about future),” Langer told SEN Radio. “Whatever happens from now on, we can all be incredibly proud of this little period.” Langer said the success was down to their immaculate preparation before the big competitions. “We had two missions: to win the World Cup and to win the Ashes. “To do that in such a short period is a monumental effort and we’re all really satisfied with that, we’re all really happy about that, we’re all really, really proud of that. I sit here at the moment feeling really content with the last two series.” Cricket Australia’s high performance chief Ben Oliver has said players would be consulted before making a decision on Langer’s future. Langer’s former teammate Ricky Ponting said the board should give him a new deal. “I can’t see how he’s not (offered another contract),” Ponting told www.cricket.com.au website. “I know there was a bit of noise created the last couple of weeks and Cricket Australia giving no assurances to him continuing on. I can’t see how Justin can’t go on.” Australia will tour Pakistan in March, their first to the South Asian country since 1998, to play three tests, an equal number of one-day internationals and a Twenty20 match.
The Pacific Island nation of Tonga was virtually cut off from the rest of the world yesterday, after a massive volcanic blast that crippled communications and stalled emergency relief efforts. It is two days since the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano exploded, cloaking Tonga in a film of ash, triggering a Pacific-wide tsunami and releasing shock waves that wrapped around the entire Earth. But with phone lines still down and an undersea Internet cable cut — and not expected to be repaired for weeks — the true toll of the dual eruption-tsunami disaster is not yet known. Only fragments of information have filtered out via a handful of satellite phones on the islands, home to just over 100,000 people. Tonga’s worried neighbours are still scrambling to grasp the scale of the damage, which New Zealand’s leader Jacinda Ardern said was believed to be “significant”. Both Wellington and Canberra scrambled reconnaissance planes yesterday in an attempt to get a sense of the damage from the air. And both have put C-130 military transport aircraft on standby to drop emergency supplies or to land if runways are deemed operational and ash clouds allow. There are initial reports that areas of the west coast may have been badly hit. Australia’s international development minister, Zed Seselja, said a small contingent of Australian police stationed in Tonga had delivered a “pretty concerning” initial evaluation. They were “able to do an assessment of some of the Western beaches area and there was some pretty significant damage to things like roads and some houses,” Seselja said. “One of the good pieces of news is that I understand the airport has not suffered any significant damage,” he added. “That will be very, very important as the ash cloud clears and we are able to have flights coming into Tonga for humanitarian purposes.” Major aid agencies, who would usually rush in to provide emergency humanitarian relief, said they were stuck in a holding pattern, unable to contact local staff. “From what little updates we have, the scale of the devastation could be immense – especially for outlying islands,” said Katie Greenwood, IFRC’s Pacific Head of Delegation. Even when relief efforts get under way, they may be complicated by Covid-19 entry restrictions. Tonga only recently reported its first-ever coronavirus case. What is known is that Saturday’s volcanic blast was one the largest recorded in decades, erupting 30km into the air and depositing ash, gas and acid rain across a swathe of the Pacific. The eruption was recorded around the world and heard as far away as Alaska, triggering a tsunami that flooded Pacific coastlines from Japan to the United States. The Tongan capital Nuku’alofa was estimated to be cloaked in 1-2cm of ash, potentially poisoning water supplies and causing breathing difficulties. “We know water is an immediate need,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters. After speaking to the New Zealand embassy in Tonga, she described how boats and “large boulders” washed ashore. Wellington’s defence minister said he understood the island nation had managed to restore power in “large parts” of the city. But communications were still cut. The eruption severed an undersea communications cable between Tonga and Fiji that operators said would take weeks to repair. “We’re getting sketchy information, but it looks like the cable has been cut,” Southern Cross Cable Network’s networks director Dean Veverka told AFP. “It could take up to two weeks to get it repaired. The nearest cable-laying vessel is in Port Moresby,” he added, referring to the Papua New Guinea capital more than 4,000km from Tonga. Initially, it was believed the fault was due to power failure following the powerful eruption, but further testing once power was restored indicated a break in the cable. Tonga was isolated for two weeks in 2019 when a ship’s anchor cut the cable. A small, locally operated satellite service was set up to allow minimal contact with the outside world until the cable could be repaired.