Thousands of people rally in smoke-choked Sydney as bushfires burn



Thousands of people have gathered in Sydney asking the government to take action on climate change as the city remains blanketed by smoke pollution and as devastating bushfires continue to burn.

More than 7,000 people rallied at Sydney’s Town Hall on Wednesday as #SydneyisChoking started trending on Twitter.

The organisers said that the protest rally was organised to pressure the government to take urgent climate action and increase the funding for resource-depleted fire services.

It also wants the government to address serious issues raised due to the toxic smoke billowing around the city.

For weeks, a thick blanket of smoke has choked Sydney due to several massive bushfires around the harbour city.

It has resulted in air pollution 11 times worse than the typical hazardous level.

Many attendees were wearing face masks, a recent trend to cope with the smoke pollution in Australia’s most populated city.

Protesters displayed signs reading: `Fucking Do Something’, `For my grandkids’, and `Climate change is a public health emergency’.

A senator with the Greens Party, Mehreen Faruqi said on Twitter while attending the rally: “This is a climate emergency. Sydney is choking.

“NSW is burning. We demand action on the #ClimateEmergency.’’

Edited by: Hadiza Mohammed/Emmanuel Yashim


Coronavirus dominating United States pandemic rages in Australia’s Victoria, NSW



Genomic testing has shown that the virus leading a second wave of infections in the Australian states of Victoria and New South Wales (NSW) is the same as the one that has dominated the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, the Australian Financial Review (AFR) reported on Friday.

Lab testing has found that although the virus does not make those infected sicker, it does seem to grow faster and have a higher viral load than the strain that previously circulated in other countries, according to AFR, an Australian business and financial newspaper.

Researchers in Los Alamos in the United States state of New Mexico have found the D614G spike mutation, which has dominated the United States pandemic has a `fitness advantage’ when grown in labs, the report said.

What’s more, the genomic testing by the Doherty Institute in Melbourne has confirmed that it is this United States mutation that is now ravaging Victoria and NSW.

As of Friday afternoon there have been 22,743 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia and the number of new cases in the last 24 hours is 386, according to the Department of Health.

Of the new cases, Victoria confirmed 372 and NSW another nine.

Edited By: Halima Sheji/Silas Nwoha (NAN)
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New South Wales offers to host Australian Open as Melbourne battles COVID-19 spike



New South Wales (NSW) deputy premier John Barilaro says his state will be willing to act as a temporary host for major sports events such as the Australian Open tennis Grand Slam.

Barilaro said on Friday however that this should be if those events cannot be held in neighbouring Victoria due to COVID-19.

He said he had written to sports bodies and officials in Victoria offering help to stage the events, which he said held national significance.

“Some of these events down in Victoria are national events hosted in Victoria,” Barilaro told 2GB radio in Australia.

“It’s important for the economy, important for the Australian psyche when it comes to sport.

“Absolutely we should be able to work with Victorians to find ways to make sure these all happen. These events are far too important in this crisis to not have.”

Victoria is undergoing a second lockdown and has nearly 8,000 active COVID-19 cases, while NSW has about 800.

The Australian Open, which has been held in Melbourne since 1972, is due to start in January.

However, Tennis Australia (TA) said organisers had so far not drawn up contingency plans for the tournament to be moved out of Victoria.

“Our focus is to get through the next few weeks and our team is in full planning mode to deliver a great Australian Open in Melbourne,” TA Chief Executive Craig Tiley said in a statement emailed to Reuters on Friday.

“We obviously have great facilities in Melbourne and the AO is contracted and committed to Melbourne Park.”

Melbourne is also home to the Australian Football League’s title-deciding Grand Final, scheduled for October.

AFL Chief Executive Gillon McLachlan told reporters the Grand Final, which draws a capacity crowd to the 100,000-seat Melbourne Cricket Ground, was contracted to the stadium.

He added it was “not appropriate” to look at alternative venues.

The state capital also hosts the Spring Racing Carnival, the country’s biggest horse racing programme, from October to November.

Racing Victoria said in a statement it had no intention of relocating marquee races such as the Nov. 3 Melbourne Cup.

Victoria’s sports minister did not provide immediate comment.


Edited By: Olawale Alabi) (NAN)
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Australia’s second wave of COVID-19 crashes over domestic tourism hopes




Set on spacious beaches and showcasing the region’s many tourist draws, including the Great Barrier Reef and Gold Coast– smiling “Queenslanders” promised Australians a break from the global pandemic and the opportunity to travel again in safety.

However, this is just a beautiful wish depicted in a bright and upbeat on-screen ad campaign. The reality is, on Wednesday Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk declared Australia’s most populous city Sydney a COVID-19 hotspot — barring anyone who had been there in the previous two weeks from entering her state.

Since COVID-19 struck and effectively steamrolled international tourism, thousands of operators in Queensland’s billion-dollar industry have been weighing up the possibility of domestic visitation to fill the hole.

However, a sudden surge in cases in the State of Victoria and emerging clusters in New South Wales’ (NSW) state capital of Sydney, mean that close to half of the population now pose more risk than reward.

On Thursday, Victoria recorded its deadliest day of the pandemic with 13 virus-related fatalities, on top of a record 723 new cases. Meanwhile Queensland recorded just three new cases, which were all of known origin.

Paul Lim is an experienced scuba diver and general manager of Pro Dive Cairns in Queensland, offering dive training and tours on the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef.

Lim told Xinhua that business was currently at around 30 percent or less of normal and composed partially of interstate tourists, as well as some overseas travellers who were waiting out the virus in Australia.

“With the domestic borders opening up, we were seeing a good flow of traffic to our business, which is good, but nowhere near obviously the capacity that we were getting pre-COVID,” Lim said.

“Obviously now we’ll get some cancellations from the greater Sydney region of customers that can no longer get up here.”

Lim said that while the decision to ban visitors from Sydney was certainly bad for his immediate business, he understood the practical health reasons behind doing so.

“We’ve seen what’s happened down south in NSW and Victoria and it would be good to not have that jump one more border again,” he said.

With business way down, many in the tourism industry have survived only thanks to stimulus payments from the federal government, including the Jobkeeper program, which pays to keep workers on the books and businesses in a state of hibernation.

There are also those who have adapted to the strange times by restructuring to suit local tastes.

Stephen Arnerich, owner of Runaway Tours, which operates out of Sydney, told Xinhua that his company generally caters to the International market, but with the global pandemic has been forced to look closer to home.

“Normally, our business is around 95 percent overseas visitors. We get a lot of Chinese businessmen, we get a lot of cruise ship passengers from America,” Arnerich explained.

“Because of that our core business is not working at the moment, so we’re focusing on the domestic market, trying to get people from interstate to go on some of our more unusual tours.”

Because Australians are more familiar with classic attractions such as the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, Arnerich and his team have had to branch out into designing more unique getaways, focusing on elements such as wildlife watching and wine tours.

Regardless, the latest spike and simmering case numbers in Sydney are putting Arnerich’s hard work at risk.

“Obviously we’re not getting any Victorians up here, Queenslanders are a bit shy of coming down so we’re not getting many visitors to the state,” Arnerich said.

The uncertainty, which has typified the virus pandemic is adding to the difficulty of businesses to make a plan and have anything like a clear picture into their future.

“It depends on when they can get a vaccine, we’ve talked with Tourism Australia and they’re predicting the international market to return in mid-2021,” Arnerich said.

“For the domestic market, if we can suppress COVID-19 around Australia then hopefully that will improve within the next few months, depending what happens.”

Regardless, few people expect domestic visitors to fully plug the hole left by overseas tourists, and with case numbers rising in NSW and Victoria, Australia’s diverse tourism industry may have to adapt to the strange times once again.

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Australian military deployed to assist with state virus outbreak




The Australian Defence Force (ADF) will deploy over 1,000 military personnel to the state of Victoria to help contain an outbreak of COVID-19, authorities announced Thursday.

Victoria reported 33 new cases on Thursday, the state’s largest daily increase in close to three months, further fuelling concerns over a second wave of infections.

Premier Daniel Andrews said that the military would be assisting with a “testing blitz”, aiming to conduct 100,000 tests over the next 10 days, primarily across hotspot areas in the state capital of Melbourne.

Other States have agreed to help process the extra tests, which will be flown interstate by the ADF.

Wednesday marked the ninth straight day of double digit increases in Victoria’s case numbers, in contrast to most other regions reporting zero new infections for the past several weeks.

ADF personnel will also be involved in bolstering standards of the hotel quarantine system which has been linked to two of Victoria’s current outbreaks.

“Our soldiers are not law enforcement personnel… they are not security guards, but they are assisting those locations to make sure quarantine requirements are met,” Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds told the ABC.

Workers at a major supermarket distribution centre were also among the State’s new cases, with two employees forced to self isolate after they tested positive along with a number of their family members.

With the rest of the country looking to ease virus restrictions, Australians in other States have been told not to travel to Victoria and to avoid interacting with people from hotspot areas.

New South Wales (NSW), which has maintained an open border with Victoria throughout the pandemic, advised those travelling from Melbourne to self isolate for a period of two weeks.

Additionally Victorians were banned from attending sports matches, which in other states have begun allowing crowds of up to 10,000 people.

NSW Health Minister, Brad Hazzard, said that officials from the popular Rugby League and Aussie Rules sporting codes had confirmed they would not sell tickets to Victorians.

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