Australia's largest city of Sydney will further ease social distancing curbs on Monday, a month after emerging from a coronavirus lockdown that lasted nearly 100 days, as close to 90% of people have got both doses of vaccine, officials said. Although limited to people who are fully inoculated, the relaxation in the state of New South Wales, home to Sydney, lifts limits on house guests or outdoor gatherings, among other measures. "We're leading the nation out of the pandemic," said state premier Dominic Perrottet, as he called for a "final push" to reach, and even surpass, a milestone of 95% vaccinations. Several hundred people held an anti-vaccine protest on Sunday in the state's capital of Sydney, but such opposition is slight in Australia, where polls show vaccination opponents number in the single digits. The southeastern state of Victoria recorded the majority of Australia's 1,417 new coronavirus cases, with public health figures showing 10 more deaths. There were no new infections in the remote Northern Territory, where a snap lockdown was extended until midnight on Monday to tackle a small outbreak in some areas. Australia crossed the 80% mark of full inoculations on Saturday. "That should give us all confidence in terms of opening up," federal finance minister Simon Birmingham told broadcaster Channel 9 in an interview on Sunday. Australia eased international border curbs on Monday for the first time during the pandemic, but only for its vaccinated public from states with high levels of inoculation. However domestic travel is still hindered, as most states and territories keep internal borders shut. Western Australia state will re-open when it hits the 90% level of double vaccine doses, its premier said. Despite the Delta outbreaks that brought lockdowns for months in the two largest cities of Sydney and Melbourne, Australia's tally of Covid-19 infections is far lower than many developed nations, at just over 180,000 cases and 1,597 deaths.
Australia's Victoria state removed entry restrictions to citizens of neighbouring New South Wales on Friday, allowing almost blanket reciprocal travel between the country's two biggest states ahead of the busy Christmas period. Travel between the pair, home to more than half Australia's 25 million population, has been severely disrupted for months because of an outbreak of Delta variant-fuelled Covid-19 cases. "Victoria and NSW have been through so much over the last few months, and we're pleased that more families will now be able to reunite just in time for Christmas and the holiday season," Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said in a statement late on Thursday. Travel company Flight Centre (FLT.AX) said "open borders between Australia's economic powerhouses" will be a major boost for hotels, airlines and other tourism businesses as flights resume between Sydney and Melbourne, one of the busiest domestic routes in the world before the pandemic. Victoria on Friday downgraded all virus hotspots in its neighbour to safe for the first time in months, and also permitted unvaccinated NSW citizens to enter without quarantine. Victoria had already opened up entry for fully vaccinated New South Wales residents without quarantine last month, after closing its border in July. New South Wales, which had allowed entry throughout the crisis to vaccinated Victorians provided they complete a two-week quarantine, earlier this week dropped the quarantine requirement. However, it remains closed to any unvaccinated travellers aged above 16 from its neighbour. Adult double-dose vaccination rates have neared 90% in New South Wales and 83% in Victoria. Both states continue to report cases as they shift to a strategy of living with the virus on the back of the high vaccination rates. Victoria reported 1,343 cases on Friday, while New South Wales reported 249. Australia has reported a total of about 177,000 cases and 1,794 deaths, far lower than many other comparable countries.
All fully-vaccinated Australian citizens and permanent residents will be able to leave the country without a special exemption from Nov. 1, authorities said on Wednesday, as Australia eases coronavirus restrictions amid a rise in vaccination rates. Australians have been unable to travel abroad for more than 18 months without a government waiver, while thousands of fully-vaccinated residents living abroad have been unable to return due to a cap on arrivals to slow the spread of Covid-19. Many of these are now expected to return after Sydney and Melbourne ended quarantine rules for inoculated travelers from Nov. 1. Other cities, mostly virus-free, are expected to ease their border rules once they reach higher vaccination rates. "The national plan is working ... (it) is about opening Australia up and that is because the vaccination rates are climbing so high," Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Seven News on Wednesday. Australia's drug regulator, meanwhile, provisionally approved a booster dose of Pfizer Inc's (PFE.N) COvid-19 vaccine for people aged over 18, as first-dose vaccination levels in people over 16 neared 90%. Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the rollout is expected to begin by Nov. 8 once the government receives advice from the country's vaccination technical advisory group. The decision to lift the travel ban from next week comes after Singapore on Tuesday said it would allow quarantine-free entry to travellers vaccinated against COVID-19 from Australia from Nov. 8. A third wave of infections fuelled by the Delta variant forced lockdowns in Australia's biggest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, and both have been gradually easing restrictions after racing through their vaccination targets. Even with the Delta outbreaks, Australia has fared better than many comparable countries, with around 164,000 cases and 1,669 deaths. Victoria state reported 1,534 new cases on Wednesday, up from 1,510 a day earlier, while those in New South Wales rose to 304 from 282.
Australian officials plan to roll out Covid-19 booster shots soon to prevent a resurgence of cases, as residents in the two largest cities of Sydney and Melbourne begin to enjoy more freedoms after months-long curbs. Australia has ditched its Covid-zero strategy in favour of suppressing the coronavirus, after largely stamping out infections for most of this year, and is now aiming to live with the virus through higher vaccinations. Officials are gradually shifting their focus to booster shots as double-dose vaccinations levels in Australia's adult population nears 75%. Almost 87% of people above 16 have received their first dose since the national rollout began in February. "We think what is going to happen is that a booster shot will be made available from six months from your second dose," Lieutenant General John Frewen, head of the vaccination taskforce, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp on Monday. Advice from the country's immunisation advisory group on booster shots "is imminent", he said, adding health workers, and staff and residents in aged care and disability centres would be offered the doses in the initial phase. Amid a surge in vaccinations, Victoria on Monday logged its lowest rise in daily infections in nearly three weeks at 1,461, while cases dipped for the fourth straight day in neighbouring New South Wales (NSW) to 294. Officials in Victoria are looking to ease more restrictions on gatherings and movement on Friday, just a week after Melbourne, the state capital, exited its sixth lockdown during the pandemic. Sydney lifted its lockdown two weeks ago. Double-dose vaccination rates in Victoria's adult population will top 80% by then - a level where masks will not be mandatory outdoors and people free to travel throughout the state. That rate neared 85% in NSW, home to Sydney, with the state tipped to hit 90% next week. The next set of restrictions will be eased on Dec. 1, when the lockdown rules will lift for the unvaccinated, according to the state's reopening plan.
Melbourne, Australia’s second-biggest city, began its first weekend out of the world’s longest string of Covid-19 lockdowns with spontaneous street parties, live music and packed pubs, bars and restaurants. Home to about 5mn people, Melbourne endured 262 days, or nearly nine months, of restrictions during six lockdowns since March 2020, longer than the 234-day continuous lockdown in Buenos Aires. Despite rain on Saturday morning, people queued for barbers and breakfast restaurants, all of which are open only to the fully vaccinated. Late on Friday, people broke into a spontaneous street party in Melbourne’s southeast and many rejoiced with their eating out in months in a pub with friends, social media footage showed. Although the Delta outbreak continues to spread, with 1,750 new cases and nine deaths reported on Saturday in Victoria state, of which Melbourne is the capital, the ease in restrictions came the state’s full-vaccination rate reached 70%. While most retail outlets remained closed, authorities said further easing will come once 80% of Victorians are fully inoculated, estimated by next weekend. “Let’s not slack off, let’s increase the pace as we get to the 80% milestone -- but also the 90% vaccination milestone,” Jeroen Weimar, Victoria’s Covid-19 response commander, said on Saturday. While small but violent anti-vaccinations protests have taken place in Melbourne and other cities this year, Australians overwhelmingly support vaccinations, with polls showing the percentage decisively opposed in single digits. Nearly 72% of adults in Australia are now fully vaccinated and nearly 87% have received one shot. According to a national strategy, lockdowns will be unlikely once 80% of Australians are fully inoculated. Sydney, Australia’s largest city, celebrated its reopening two weeks ago, after reaching the vaccination threshold of 70%. On Saturday, New South Wales state, of which Sydney is the capital, recorded 332 Covid-19 cases and two deaths. Weekend newspapers were filled with travel advertising for the coming months, as international border restrictions start to ease from November. Flag carrier Qantas Airways is speeding up plans to restart flights to many destinations and upsize some planes amid “massive demand”.
One of the world’s most locked-down cities reopened late yesterday, with Melbourne residents hoping this sixth bout of stay-at-home restrictions will be their last. Five million people in Australia’s second-biggest city have endured lockdowns totalling more than 260 days since the beginning of the pandemic. But now that 70% of eligible people in Melbourne and surrounding Victoria state are fully vaccinated, restrictions that began on August 5 were lifted. State deputy premier James Merlino hailed the state’s “extraordinary efforts.” “I hope everyone enjoys those first reunions with their families, the first footy, netball and cricket training with the kids,” Merlino said. Half a dozen lockdowns have taken their toll on the once-buzzing city, which prided itself on a vibrant arts scene and cafe culture. In 2021, it lost the mantle of Australia’s most liveable city amid violent anti-lockdown protests and a small exodus of residents to Covid-free regional towns. Authorities yesterday announced a fresh boost to mental health funding and services, in a nod to the burden placed on Melbourne residents. Multiple studies have found elevated levels of psychological distress during the pandemic, official government research shows. David Malaspina, owner of loved Melbourne eatery Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar, said lingering Covid-safe rules were “exceptionally challenging” but he was excited to welcome back customers. “Our city’s great because of the people that are here. We would like to see our people back,” he said. While fully vaccinated Melbourne residents now have increased freedoms, they cannot leave the city and retail shops must remain closed until the double-dose rate lifts to 80% – likely within weeks. Limits on patrons at cafes and restaurants, however, remain in place, squeezing business owners who are also grappling with staff shortages caused by international border closures. Australia’s ABC News reported yesterday that Victoria will also lift quarantine requirements for international travellers at the end of the month. Sydney and surrounding New South Wales state are also set to scrap the requirements on November 1. While varying rules make it difficult to directly compare lockdowns — Toronto eateries were reportedly closed to diners for more than 360 days while Buenos Aires was under harsh restrictions for much of 2020 — Melbourne has spent among the most days under stay-at-home orders.
The Australian city of Sydney will allow the entry of fully vaccinated travellers from overseas from November 1 without the need for quarantine, authorities said yesterday, although the easing of strict entry controls will initially benefit only citizens. The decision comes as New South Wales state, of which Sydney is capital, is expected to reach an 80% first-vaccination dose rate today, well ahead of the rest of Australia, which will enable it to bring forward the entry of overseas arrivals by several weeks. “We need to rejoin the world. We can’t live here in a hermit kingdom. We’ve got to open up,” New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet said. Australia closed its borders in March 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic, allowing entry almost exclusively only to citizens and permanent residents, who have to spend two weeks in hotel quarantine at their expense. As well as ditching plans for home quarantine, which had been expected to replace hotel stays, Perrottet said New South Wales would welcome all overseas arrivals. But he was quickly overruled by Prime Minister Scott Morrison who said the government would stick with plans to first open the border to citizens and permanent residents. “This is about Australian residents and citizens first,” Morrison told reporters in Sydney. “The (federal) government has made no decision to allow other visa holders...to come into Australia under these arrangements,” he said. Unvaccinated travellers from overseas will also be allowed back into New South Wales, but only 210 each week and they will have to undergo hotel quarantine upon arrival. Australians have been unable to travel internationally for more than 18 months without a government waiver, and thousands of citizens and permanent residents in other countries have been unable to return after Canberra imposed a strict cap on arrivals to slow the spread of Covid-19. Many of these are now expected to return via Sydney, even though some Covid-19 free states in Australia have closed their borders to New South Wales. Qantas Airways said it would bring forward the restart of international flights from Sydney to London and Los Angeles by two weeks to November 1 and would consider bringing forward the resumption of flights from some other places that had been expected in December. Major airlines like Singapore Airlines, Emirates and United Airlines have continued to fly to Sydney throughout the pandemic but due to strict passenger caps, most of their revenue has been from cargo. Singapore Airlines said it would open seats on all 17 of its weekly flights to Sydney for sales to eligible travellers. Previously, 10 of the flights had been cargo only. New South Wales, meanwhile, reported 399 Covid-19 cases yesterday, well down from the state’s pandemic high of 1,599 in early September. Neighbouring Victoria state, where vaccination rates are lower, reported 2,179 new locally acquired cases, down from a record 2,297 a day earlier. The capital Canberra yesterday exited a more than two-month lockdown, allowing cafes and gyms to reopen with strict social distancing rules. Australia’s overall coronavirus numbers are relatively low, with some 139,000 cases and 1,506 deaths.
Canberra firefighters rushed to a store in Australia's capital Friday after reports of a gas leak -- only to find the smell was caused by the penetrating waft of durian fruit. Emergency responders instructed the public to avoid the area as they hunted in vain for the source of the leak at the Dickson shopping precinct. "After an hour on scene" Canberra's emergency services agency said "the owner of a tenancy above the shops advised of the potential source of the incident." "It was not a gas leak, but in fact a Durian fruit. The fruit gives off a very pungent smell and can waft some distance." Grown across tropical Southeast Asia, fans love the "king of fruits" for its bittersweet flavours and creamy texture. But those less fond of the pungent produce compare its odour to rotting garbage -- or in this instance a gas leak -- and it is banned from many hotels and on public transport.
Sydney will scrap all quarantine requirements for travellers from next month, officials said Friday, an abrupt step toward reopening Australia's long-shuttered borders. In a surprise announcement, Premier Dominic Perrottet of New South Wales said that from November 1 vaccinated travellers would be allowed to enter the state without quarantine of any kind. "For double vaccinated people around the world, Sydney, New South Wales, is open for business," Perrottet said. "Hotel quarantine will be a thing of the past. This is a significant day for our state." The decision was a head-snapping turnaround for a country that slammed shut its borders 19 months ago and introduced some of the world's toughest Covid-19 restrictions. But Perrottet's suggestion that tourists and students could be weeks away from returning to Australia was promptly slapped down by the country's Prime Minister Scott Morrison -- whose government controls borders, while quarantine rules are a state issue. "All we are talking about now is Australian citizens, residents and their immediate families," Morrison said, insisting he would not open the borders to visitors just yet. Since March 2020, travel to and from Australia has been virtually banned and anyone who gains permission to enter must fork out many thousands of dollars and agree to be locked in a hotel room for 14 days. The rules meant tens of thousands of Australians were stuck overseas and tourism ground to a halt. Critics dubbed the country a "hermit state". Perrottet -- recently appointed as premier of Australia's most populous state when his predecessor resigned in a corruption scandal -- has been quick to put his stamp on the Covid response. Regardless of mixed messages from state and national governments, airlines and the travel industry welcomed the news as a major step toward normalisation. Flag carrier airline Qantas said it was bringing forward the resumption of international flights, putting on five flights a week from Sydney to London and four from Sydney to Los Angeles. A spokesperson for Virgin Australia said it was "fantastic news for travellers, the aviation industry, and the thousands of businesses and communities in the state who rely on open borders and the economic injection that tourism provides". The last 19 months have been devastating for Australia's tourism industry, with visitor numbers down 98 percent from pre-pandemic levels, according to Tourism Australia statistics. New South Wales' plan is expected to allow more Australians to return, but is likely to lead to tensions with other states. Under a national post-pandemic road map, borders were to gradually reopen in November, with only Australians and permanent residents allowed in with mandatory home quarantine. Friday's announcement raises the prospect that Sydney residents will be allowed to visit Paris but not Perth, given Western Australia's borders with the rest of the country remain closed. Sydney's 100-plus-day lockdown lifted last week and lingering rules are gradually being phased out as vaccination levels for adults approach 80 percent. Medical experts have predicted a spike in cases once restrictions are lifted, and have urged policymakers to move slowly.
Sydney's cafes, gyms and restaurants welcomed back fully vaccinated customers on Monday after nearly four months of lockdown, as Australia aims to begin living with the coronavirus and gradually reopen with high rates of inoculation. Some restaurants in Sydney, Australia's largest city, opened at 12:01 a.m. (1301 GMT Sunday) and friends and families huddled together for a midnight dinner, television footage and social media images showed. "I see it as a day of freedom, it's a freedom day," New South Wales (NSW) state Premier Dominic Perrottet told reporters in Sydney, the state capital. "We are leading the nation out of this pandemic but this will be a challenge." Perrottet warned that infections would rise after reopening, and virus-free states such as Western Australia and Queensland are watching what living with Covid-19 is going to look like amid concerns health systems could be overwhelmed. While NSW's dual-dose vaccination rate in people above 16 hit 74%, in neighbouring Queensland, whose borders remain closed to Sydney-siders, the rate is only 52% and the state government is following an elimination strategy with rapid lockdowns to control any outbreak. Perrottet has declared an end to lockdowns in NSW and has strong support for reopening in Sydney, whose more than 5 million residents endured severe restrictions from mid-June following an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant. The outbreak has since spread to Melbourne and Canberra, forcing lockdowns in those cities, even as case numbers dwindle in NSW. New South Wales on Monday reported 496 new locally acquired cases, well down from their peak last month, while Victoria logged 1,612 new infections, the lowest in five days. Under the relaxed rules for NSW, retail stores and restaurants reopened with reduced capacity, and more vaccinated people were allowed to gather in homes and attend weddings and funerals. The state aims to hit an 80% vaccine rate around late October, when more curbs will be relaxed. But the unvaccinated must remain at home until Dec. 1.
Australian doctors warned a too-rapid easing of Covid-19 curbs in Sydney could put pressure on health systems and risk lives, as the city prepares for key restrictions to be relaxed next week after more than 100 days in lockdown. Stay-at-home orders are due to be lifted on Monday after New South Wales state this week hit its 70% target of full vaccination for its adult population, and owners of restaurants and other public venues are now scrambling to arrange supplies and staffing. While an easing of restrictions on travel for Sydneysiders outside of their local government areas had previously been flagged, authorities on Thursday also decided to bump up permitted limits for home gatherings, weddings and funerals - earning the ire of the Australian Medical Association (AMA). "New South Wales must not be reckless at this critical time," AMA President Omar Khorshid said in a statement, adding that "too fast or too early" could result in avoidable deaths and the reintroduction of lockdowns. State Premier Dominic Perrottet has defended his decision to bring forward the easing of several restrictions amid a steady fall in infections, saying the pandemic "is an economic crisis too". Officials have a staggered plan to ease limits on gatherings as full inoculation hits 70%, 80% and 90% of adults and while movement around the city will be permitted from Monday, restrictions on travelling to regional areas remain. Stuart Knox, owner of Fix Wine, a downtown restaurant and bar, said it was exciting to be re-opening even if preparing was difficult. "We're still flying blind, we've got no idea as a CBD restaurant how many people are coming back and it's all murky what we're going to deal with," he said. He added he was still unsure how to check patrons' vaccination status as required since a promised smartphone app was not yet operational. Daily infections in New South Wales rose on Friday to 646 cases, the majority in Sydney, up from 587 on Thursday. They had previously fallen for the past seven days as first-dose inoculations in people over 16 near 90%. Eleven new deaths were registered. State Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said genomic sequencing has uncovered a new Delta strain in eight new cases and more tests will be conducted to trace the source. "There is no indication that this new strain presents any differences regarding transmission, vaccine effectiveness or severity," she said. Victoria state logged a record 1,838 new cases on Friday, the highest number of any state in the country since the pandemic began, exceeding the previous high of 1,763 set three days earlier. There were five new deaths. The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews - one of the most vocal proponents of tough restrictions to rein in outbreaks - was fined A$400 ($300) on Friday for breaching the state's mask mandate after media photographed him walking mask-free from his car to two news conferences this week. "Whilst this was an oversight, oversights matter. Everyone needs to follow the rules and I am sorry it occurred," the Australian newspaper quoted Andrews saying. Australia is fighting a third wave of infections fuelled by the Delta variant. In addition to Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra have also had lockdowns imposed, forcing the closure of thousands of businesses. The country's cumulative Covid-19 numbers are, however, still far lower than many comparable countries, with some 122,500 cases and 1,405 deaths. Neighbouring New Zealand, which had stayed largely virus-free for most of the pandemic until a Delta outbreak in mid-August, reported 44 new local cases, up from 29 on Thursday.
Australia will begin to reopen its borders next month, the country’s prime minister said yesterday, 18 months after citizens were banned from travelling overseas without permission. Scott Morrison said vaccinated Australians would be able to return home and travel overseas “within weeks” as 80% vaccination targets are met. On March 20 last year Australia introduced some of the world’s toughest border restrictions in response to the coronavirus pandemic. For the last 560 days, countless international flights have been grounded, and overseas travel has slowed to a trickle. Families have been split across continents, an estimated 30,000 nationals were stranded overseas and foreign residents were stuck in the country unable to see friends or relatives. More than 100,000 requests to enter or leave the country were denied in the first five months of this year alone, according to department of home affairs data. “The time has come to give Australians their life back. We’re getting ready for that, and Australia will be ready for takeoff, very soon,” Morrison said. He also announced that vaccinated residents would be able to home quarantine for seven days on their return, dodging the current mandatory and costly 14-day hotel quarantine. The exact timing of the border reopenings will depend on when Australian states reach their 80% vaccination targets, and crucially on local political approval. The most populous state of New South Wales currently has 64% of those aged over 16 fully vaccinated and has indicated it will hit 70% and 80% targets this month. But most Australian states — notably West Australia and Queensland — still have no widespread community transmission, are pursuing a strategy of “Covid-zero”, and remain shut to other parts of the country. Responding to the announcement WA Premier Mark McGowan said he didn’t expect international travel to return to his state until 2022, and wouldn’t set a date for relaxing even domestic borders. Australian flag carrier Qantas welcomed the decision, announcing it would restart flights to London and Los Angeles on November 14. Expats and foreign residents gave the news a cautious welcome on social media forums. But experts say many Australians will remain cautious about booking travel for fear of snap lockdowns or other disruptions. And the impact of the unprecedented period in the country’s history could be felt for years to come.
A cameraman filming for an Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) documentary captured the moment a "salty" leapt from the water and snatched the drone carrying his camera. Video recovered from the wrecked drone shows it skimming above the water towards a crocodile, that is floating virtually stationary, with only its head above the surface, in a lagoon at a crocodile park in Darwin. Then the beast's tail flicks, and a millisecond later the nose and widening jaws and teeth appear directly in front of the lens. The drone and camera are plunged into the green murky water, coming to rest upside-down of the lagoon's bed as the turbulence clears. The cameraman, Dane Hirst, was unaware at first what happened but the grandfather of a child that witnessed the attack broke the news that the drone, newly purchased for the shoot, wouldn't be coming back, ABC reported. A park official said the bite-mangled drone was found two weeks later on the shore of the lagoon. But, the video card survived. The drone has been hung in the ABC news room.
Australia will begin to reopen its borders next month, the country's prime minister said Friday, 18 months after citizens were banned from travelling overseas without permission. Scott Morrison said vaccinated Australians would be able to return home and travel overseas "within weeks" as 80 percent vaccination targets are met. On March 20 last year Australia introduced some of the world's toughest border restrictions in response to the coronavirus pandemic. For the last 560 days countless international flights have been grounded, and overseas travel has slowed to a trickle. Families have been split across continents, an estimated 30,000 nationals were stranded overseas and foreign residents were stuck in the country unable to see friends or relatives. More than 100,000 requests to enter or leave the country were denied in the first five months of this year alone, according to Department of Home Affairs data. "The time has come to give Australians their life back. We're getting ready for that, and Australia will be ready for takeoff, very soon," Morrison said. He also announced that vaccinated residents would be able to home quarantine for seven days on their return, dodging the current mandatory and costly 14-day hotel quarantine. The exact timing of the border reopenings will depend on when Australian states reach their 80 percent vaccination targets, and crucially on local political approval. The most populous state of New South Wales currently has 64 percent of those aged over 16 fully vaccinated and has indicated it will hit 70 and 80 percent targets this month. But most Australian states -- most notably West Australia and Queensland -- still have no widespread community transmission, are persuing a strategy of "Covid-zero" and remain shut to other parts of the country. Friday's announcements could mean that within a month it is easier for those in Sydney or Melbourne to travel to London or New York than to go to Perth or Brisbane. Australian flag carrier Qantas welcomed the decision, announcing it would restart flights to London and Los Angeles on November 14. - 'Fortress Oz' -Expats and foreign residents gave the news a cautious welcome on social media forums. But experts say many Australians will remain cautious about booking travel for fear of snap lockdowns or other disruptions. And the impact of the unprecedented period in the country's history could be felt for years to come. "Australia has been a fortress nation with the drawbridge pulled up to the rest of the world," Tim Soutphommasane, an academic and former Australian race discrimination commissioner told AFP. "What we're seeing now with this announcement of borders being reopened is akin to Australia re-entering the world, and it's long overdue," he said. A Lowy Institute poll in May showed that a plurality of Australians backed the tough border measures, with 41 percent of those in support. Only 18 percent said fellow nationals should be free to leave. "Australia in recent decades has been an emphatically open and multicultural and cosmopolitan country. "It has been a trading nation. But covid has seen the nation turn the clock back," said Soutphommasane. He added: "There has been a sense of parochialism and insularity that has shaped the nation's response to Covid-19. The rest of the world may well be looking at this thinking that Australia has changed fundamentally as a country."
Australia’s Victoria state notched up a daily record of 847 locally acquired cases of Covid-19 and one death, government figures showed yesterday as health officials warned the public to stay home ahead of a major national sporting final. Authorities expect case numbers in the state to keep rising until mid November as it races to raise vaccination rates above the 70% double dose threshold, up from around 46% currently. With the Australian rules football grand final, a major national sporting event, that was due to take place yesterday evening, Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton warned fans to stay home to avoid putting “you, your friends and your households at risk.” The match, between two Melbourne teams, would usually be played in the city but has been moved to coronavirus-free Western Australia. However, authorities are still worried fans in Melbourne could gather in households to watch the broadcast game, breaching lockdown rules. Anti-vaccination protests that hit state capital Melbourne this week spilled into the suburbs on Friday, with police arresting more than 30 people in the city’s inner north. Authorities are concerned the protests may fuel a worsening outbreak of the virus after one protester was admitted to hospital with Covid-19 late on Thursday. “The violence is obviously horrible, and spitting at healthcare workers, being violent with police is obviously a devastatingly damaging way to deal with your anger,” said Sarah Whitelaw, state vice president of the Australian Medical Association. It will be next week before the impact of cases associated with the protest can be seen, and hospitalisations will follow a few weeks later, adding pressure to the healthcare system, she told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “The potential is very very real.” Elsewhere, New South Wales state logged 11 deaths and 1,007 new daily acquired coronavirus cases, government data showed. Sixty people have died from the virus in the state this week, the highest weekly number since the pandemic began and more than the 58 deaths last week. New infections however show signs of stabilising at around 1,000 a day amid a state wide vaccination drive. Around 85% of people over 16 years of age have had a first vaccination dose, while 58% of the population have had a double dose. Lockdown restrictions are set to ease when 70% and 80% of the adult population are fully vaccinated.
Police in Australia’s second largest city of Melbourne arrested more than 200 people after projectiles thrown by protesters injured two officers yesterday, the third consecutive day of demonstrations against Covid-19 curbs. Golf balls, batteries and bottles were among the items thrown at police during the protests held in defiance of stay-at home orders after a two-week closure of building sites to rein in infections, which rose again in the state of Victoria. Police are bracing for more demonstrations in the next few days, said deputy commissioner Ross Guenther, adding that the motives of some participants had seemed unclear. “There weren’t as many tradies involved...there are other small breakaway groups that see benefit in hijacking these things,” Guenther told reporters. “We’ve got plenty of resources. We will vary our tactics, if that is what we need to do, but of course, my message is, ‘Don’t come into the city.’” Earlier, authorities and union officials had said extremist and far-right groups also joined the protests. “There were some people there who you would say were from the building industry,” state premier Daniel Andrews told reporters. “There were others who were not...they are not there to protest, they are there for a fight, pretend to be protesting.” The protests came after decisions by authorities to make vaccines mandatory for construction workers and shut construction sites from Tuesday, citing non-compliance with health rules. Groups of protesters roamed the streets and about 300 gathered at a city landmark, but most avoided clashes with busloads of police after protests on Tuesday in which more than 2,000 demonstrators damaged property and injured three police. Media complained after police asked the aviation authority to declare a no-fly zone above Melbourne, the capital of Victoria, in what Guenther called an effort to ensure that footage gave away no details of police tactics to protesters. Later, the decision was modified to let TV helicopters film on condition of an hour’s delay in broadcast, he added. Television images showed a police group using capsicum spray and foam baton rounds to disperse hundreds of protesters at the Shrine of Remembrance, which honours war service. Many protesters face fines of A$5,000 ($3,626) for breaches of Covid-19 directives, Guenther added. Some protesters have refused to speak to reporters on the scene, chanting “Fake news” when approached, media said. Others held banners with the slogan, “End lockdown now!” Australia’s largest cities of Sydney and Melbourne, as well as the capital, Canberra, have been in lockdown for weeks to restrain a Delta outbreak. The lockdown is the sixth for Victoria’s capital of Melbourne, the most of any Australian city since the pandemic began. Authorities aim to resume daily activities in Sydney and Melbourne in a staggered fashion, easing some curbs when the share of fully vaccinated adults in the population reaches 70%, which is expected next month. Further relaxations will follow when the figure hits 80%. Some 54% of people aged 16 and above are fully vaccinated in the most populous state of New South Wales and 45% in the southeastern state of Victoria. Victoria recorded 628 new infections yesterday, the year’s biggest one-day rise, exceeding the previous high of 603 a day before. New South Wales, whose capital is Sydney, had a total of 1,035 new infections, up from 1,022 on Tuesday.
Police fired pepper balls and stinger grenades at violent anti-Covid lockdown protesters on the streets of Melbourne as Australia’s second-largest city – under stay-at-home orders for the 233rd day in total – descended into chaos. Protesters dressed as construction workers clashed with police for the second consecutive day yesterday, assaulting officers, smashing police car windows, throwing bottles and stones, and damaging property. After gathering in the early morning, between 1,000 and 2,000 protesters, the vast majority of them young men, marched across Melbourne – paralysing the city and shutting down a major arterial bridge – chanting “every day”, a reference to a promise to keep protesting daily until Melbourne’s Covid restrictions are lifted. Police said 62 protesters were arrested and three police officers were injured along with one journalist. Victoria’s police chief commissioner, Shane Patton, said officers used pepper balls, foam baton rounds, smoke bombs and stinger grenades which deploy rubber pellets. “These crowd control equipment munitions were necessary … because we can’t allow this type of conduct to go on,” he told reporters later in the day. Video footage on social media showed police cars trying to leave one area before a mob attacked the vehicles with bottles and smashed windows. A line of riot police, weapons raised, then drove the protesters back. “We will stop this protest,” Patton said. “We will then step back and investigate and hold those to account who need to be held to account. The message is clear – you can’t come in and break the law. We will hold you to account. Crowds like this are for cowards.” Patton said police had “intelligence” that protests were planned for today too. He implored people to stay at home. “No one benefits from this type of conduct, we will be out in force again, I can assure you of that,” he told reporters.“I won’t disclose what our tactics will be, but they will be different. Please just stay home, we do not want a confrontation.” The protests started with members of the powerful Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), who were resisting a government mandate for compulsory vaccinations in order for them to continue to work on building sites. The union has said it is in favour of members being vaccinated but it opposes jabs being compulsory. However, the initial rally appeared to have been hijacked by far-right extremists, allegedly including neo-Nazis and anti-vaccination groups, who organised on Telegram, Facebook and WhatsApp. Many of them arrived at the protest dressed in hi-vis clothing. The former union boss and ex-federal opposition leader Bill Shorten blamed far-right groups for driving the protest and the violence that ensued. Shorten labelled the protesters “man-baby Nazis”. It is not clear how many of the protesters yesterday were CFMEU members. The protests were not centrally organised but a list of demands circulated online called for an end to Covid lockdowns and mask mandates. There were calls for Australia’s mooted vaccine passports to be abandoned. The list also demanded the resignation of the Victorian premier, Dan Andrews, and called for the widespread distribution of unproven coronavirus treatment ivermectin. The premier yesterday evening said there was “no excuse for the terrible behaviour we have seen in our city over the past two days”.“Acts of violence and disruption won’t result in one less case of Covid – in fact, it only helps the virus to spread,” Andrews said. Victoria’s construction industry has been shut down for a fortnight because of high rates of Delta variant transmission and poor compliance with health orders on building sites. About 50% of building sites inspected failed Covid safety tests, the government has said. So-called “freedom” protests have been growing steadily more confrontational in Melbourne – and more difficult for police to control. A broader protest on Saturday also descended into violence with police overrun by protesters who, pushed out of the inner city, moved to suburban streets. More than 200 people were arrested in those protests and 10 police officers were injured, including three who were hospitalised with broken bones. Yesterday morning, protesters gathered outside the CFMEU building in Melbourne’s CBD before marching to the steps of Parliament House, wearing hi-vis gear, chanting and setting off flares.
Several police officers were wounded and hundreds of protesters were arrested in Australia’s second-most-populous city yesterday in violent clashes at an anti-lockdown march. Officers used pepper spray and made over 200 arrests in Melbourne as several hundred attendees flouted stay-at-home orders and marched through an inner-city suburb. The illegal gathering comes as the city goes through its sixth lockdown since the pandemic started, with the wider state of Victoria reporting over 500 cases of Covid-19 on Saturday. Police said six officers were taken to hospital after they were pelted with projectiles and trampled in clashes with the crowd of around 700 people. “What we saw today was a group of protesters that came together, not to protest freedoms, but simply to take on and have a fight with the police,” Victoria Police Commander Mark Galliott told media. Police attempted to reduce access to the centre of the city, blocking roads and stopping public transport in a bid to avoid a repeat of violent scenes at a rally that drew thousands last month. But marchers then relocated, with footage from one incident showing a crowd charging through a police line as scuffles erupted along a tram route. Huge numbers of police managed to deter a similar gathering in Sydney, with officers swarming a park where the protest had been due to go ahead. New South Wales Police said they arrested around 20 people in the city, mainly across the public transport network, while several others were arrested in smaller gatherings around the state. Both cities are enduring lengthy lockdowns as authorities race to vaccinate a way out of restrictions amid growing outbreaks. Australia successfully pursued “Covid-zero” for most of the pandemic, enabled mainly by closed international borders and restrictions on movements. But the arrival of the Delta variant plunged its two largest cities back under stay-at-home orders earlier this year, and authorities are now aiming for a 70% vaccination rate before further easing lockdowns. A police officer interacts with a man at Sydney Park. Police keep watch at Sydney Park.
Australian officials will trial a home quarantine system for fully vaccinated international travellers arriving in Sydney, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said yesterday, as the country moves to reopen its borders despite persistent Covid-19 cases. Australia closed its international border in March 2020 in response to the pandemic, allowing entry almost exclusively to citizens and permanent residents who are required to undergo a mandatory two-week hotel quarantine at their own expense. “This is the next step in our plan to safely reopen, and to stay safely open,” Morrison said, adding the trial could set the standard for the way “we live with Covid-19.” Sydney, which has received more returning residents from abroad than other Australian city, will trial the seven-day home quarantine program later this month. Authorities will use a mobile phone app and face recognition technology to monitor compliance by around 175 people, including residents, non-residents and some Qantas air crew. “This is very welcome news for our crews who have been flying overseas to bring Australians home and to carry essential freight, chalking up months in quarantine since the pandemic began,” Qantas Chief Executive Alan Joyce said in a statement. The use of the technology, already piloted with returning defence personnel in South Australia state, has been criticised by privacy campaigners. Australia has locked down Sydney and Melbourne, its largest cities, and the capital Canberra, impacting nearly half its 25mn population, in response to an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant that began in June. Victoria reported 510 new cases, the majority in state capital Melbourne, yesterday, its second-highest daily rise this year, and one death. New South Wales reported 1,284 new cases, most in Sydney, down from 1,351 on Thursday, and 12 deaths. Morrison announced the home quarantine trial ahead of a national cabinet meeting later in the day where federal and state leaders plan to discuss vaccine passports and further easing of curbs. The federal government’s reopening plans are predicated on Australia reaching a 70-80% vaccination rate for its adult population. The national rate is currently at around 45% but is expected to pick up speed with just over 70% of people over the age of 16 having received a first dose. Both New South Wales and Victorian leaders have outlined new freedoms for vaccinated adults, with some restrictions in gatherings and travel in Melbourne was to ease from Friday night after Victoria reached its 70% first-dose target a week early. However, not all state and territory leaders agree with the reopening plans, with some preferring to maintain an eradication strategy.
Sydney’s coronavirus cases rose at the slowest pace in nearly two weeks yesterday, but officials said they needed to see a steady drop in daily cases before deciding whether infections had peaked after 12 weeks in lockdown. New South Wales (NSW) state reported 1,127 new local cases, the majority in state capital Sydney, down from 1,257 on Monday. Two deaths were reported. “It’s too early to know if we’re flattening the curve, but we’re seeing, pleasingly so far, that cases haven’t been increasing as fast as they have been,” Jeremy McAnulty, NSW executive director of public health response, told reporters in Sydney. “We’ll look to see what’s happening throughout the rest of this week to know how we’re going.” Nearly half of Australia’s 25mn population is in lockdown, including people in Sydney and Melbourne, its largest cities, and the capital Canberra, as the country grapples with a third wave of infections from the fast-moving Delta variant. Still, its coronavirus numbers are far lower than comparable countries, with around 77,000 cases and 1,102 deaths, and the mortality rate in the latest outbreak is lower than last year. Sydney and Melbourne hope to come out of their extended lockdown around the middle of next month through higher vaccination rates. Officials hope to ease some tough curbs once two-dose vaccination rates in the adult population reach 70%, and then relax more curbs at 80%. Currently only 42% of Australia’s adult population is fully vaccinated. The lockdowns are expected to cause a sharp contraction in Australia’s economy this quarter, Reserve Bank of Australia governor Philip Lowe said yesterday, but he was confident activity would rebound quickly once restrictions were eased. “We expect the economy to be growing again in the December quarter, with the recovery continuing into 2022,” Lowe said in a speech. Victoria state reported two new deaths and detected 445 new local cases, down from the year’s high of 473 hit a day earlier, as it looks to accelerate the vaccination rollout in Melbourne’s hardest-hit suburbs, the state capital. The federal government plans to move an additional 417,000 vaccine doses over the next three weeks for residents in Melbourne’s north and west, where most new infections are being detected. Pop-up hubs will be set up in schools, community centres and places of worship.