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Millions in Australia plunged into snap COVID-19 lockdown | Coronavirus pandemic News

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Nearly seven million people in state of Victoria will have to stay at home for a week in bid to contain new cluster of cases.

Nearly seven million people in Australia’s second-most populous state of Victoria will start a snap lockdown on Thursday night, as officials blame a sluggish vaccine rollout and hotel quarantine failures for a fresh virus outbreak that doubled overnight to 26 cases.

Victoria state Acting Premier James Merlino told reporters in Melbourne that starting from 11:59pm (13:59 GMT) local time people will only be allowed to leave their homes for essential work, healthcare, grocery shopping or exercise.

The order will remain in place for seven days.

“In the last day, we’ve seen more evidence we’re dealing with a highly infectious strain of the virus, a variant of concern, which is running faster than we have ever recorded,” Merlino said.

The strain is known as B1617, and was first identified in India.

The authorities tightened limits on domestic and public gatherings and made masks compulsory on Tuesday after the first new cases emerged.

Contact tracers have so far identified 10,000 primary and secondary contacts who would need to quarantine, test and self isolate, but Merlino said that number was likely to change.

Experts say the lockdown is designed to give the team the time they need to track down contacts while curbing the virus’s continued spread.

“Contact tracing is everything, Lockdowns are designed to give that team a fighting chance,” Catherine Bennett, the chair in epidemiology at Deakin University’s Institute for Health Transformation in Melbourne, told Al Jazeera.

“They are very efficient here. We have a great system. Something that I have championed all the way through is not just going to contacts of known cases but going to their contacts. In this outbreak we are going the next step again. If one person is identified as a case they’ll go to all their household members, test them and put them in quarantine then go to their close contacts, and their close contacts. They are throwing everything they can at it.”

State authorities say the federal government’s sluggish vaccine rollout was partly to blame for the latest lockdown.

“If more people were vaccinated, we might be facing a very different set of circumstances than we are today. But sadly we are not,” Merlino said.

It is the fourth time Melbourne has been plunged into lockdown since the pandemic began. Australia’s second-biggest city endured the country’s worst COVID-19 outbreak last year, which was only suppressed after nearly four months of strict curbs on daily life.

Commuters have already been ordered to wear face masks on public transport [William West/AFP]

Thousands of people across the city are already self-isolating after positive cases were found to have visited dozens of locations including two separate Aussie Rules football matches, a series of nightclubs and a medieval battle re-enactment.

Australia had largely contained COVID-19 after closing its borders and imposing strict quarantines on citizens who are able to return and residents had been enjoying few restrictions.

But its vaccination programme has failed to meet targets and critics say it has left the nation vulnerable to outbreaks.

The virus has leaked from hotel quarantine facilities 17 times in six months, according to the federal opposition Labor party, which has criticised the conservative government for refusing to overhaul the system.

“If we had an alternative to hotel quarantine for this particular variant of concern, we would not be here today,” Merlino said.

About 3.7 million vaccination doses have been administered so far in a population of 25 million and the government has pledged additional batches will be sent to Victoria in the coming weeks.

Public broadcaster ABC reported vaccines were yet to be delivered to almost 30 aged care homes in the state, despite hundreds dying when the virus swept through the facilities last year.

Australia has recorded about 30,000 cases and fewer than 1,000 deaths from COVID-19 – the vast majority in Victoria during last year’s second wave.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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New Zealand’s Hubbard selected as first transgender Olympian | LGBTQ News

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Laurel Hubbard, 43, will compete in the super-heavyweight women’s event in Tokyo.

Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard will become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics after being selected by New Zealand for the women’s event at the Tokyo Games, a decision set to test the ideal of fair competition in sport.

New Zealand Olympic Committee chief Kereyn Smith said 43-year-old Hubbard – who was assigned male at birth but transitioned to female in 2013 – had met all the qualification criteria for transgender athletes.

“We acknowledge that gender identity in sport is a highly sensitive and complex issue requiring a balance between human rights and fairness on the field of play,” Smith said in a statement.

Hubbard will compete in the super-heavyweight 87-kg category after showing testosterone levels below the threshold required by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The 43-year-old had competed in men’s weightlifting competitions before transitioning.

“I am grateful and humbled by the kindness and support that has been given to me by so many New Zealanders,” Hubbard, an intensely private person who rarely speaks to the media, said in a statement issued by the New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) on Monday.

Hubbard has been eligible to compete at Olympics since 2015, when the IOC issued guidelines allowing any transgender athlete to compete as a woman provided their testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months before their first competition.

Some scientists have said the guidelines do little to mitigate the biological advantages of people who have gone through puberty as males, including bone and muscle density.

Advocates for transgender inclusion argue the process of transition decreases that advantage considerably and that physical differences between athletes mean there is never a truly level playing field.

Save Women’s Sport Australasia, an advocacy group for women athletes, criticised Hubbard’s selection.

“It is flawed policy from the IOC that has allowed the selection of a 43-year-old biological male who identifies as a woman to compete in the female category,” the group said in a statement.

Weightlifting has been at the centre of the debate about the fairness of transgender athletes competing against women, and Hubbard’s presence in Tokyo could prove divisive.

Her gold medal wins at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa, where she topped the podium ahead of Samoa’s Commonwealth Games champion Feagaiga Stowers, triggered outrage in the host nation.

Samoa’s weightlifting boss said Hubbard’s selection for Tokyo would be like letting athletes “dope” and feared it could cost the small Pacific nation a medal.

Belgian weightlifter Anna Vanbellinghen said last month allowing Hubbard to compete at Tokyo was unfair for women and “like a bad joke”.

Australia’s weightlifting federation sought to block Hubbard from competing at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast but organisers rejected the move.

Hubbard was forced to withdraw after injuring herself during competition, and thought her career was over.

“When I broke my arm at the Commonwealth Games three years ago, I was advised that my sporting career had likely reached its end,” Hubbard said on Monday, thanking New Zealanders.

“But your support, your encouragement, and your aroha (love) carried me through the darkness.”

Olympic Weightlifting New Zealand President Richie Patterson said Hubbard had worked hard to come back from the potentially career-ending injury.

“Laurel has shown grit and perseverance in her return from a significant injury and overcoming the challenges in building back confidence on the competition platform,” he said.

Hubbard is currently ranked 16th in the world in the super heavyweight category.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Apple Daily could shut ‘in days’ after Hong Kong asset freeze | Freedom of the Press News

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Company adviser says action under security law means it cannot access some $50 million in funds to pay staff and vendors.

Hong Kong pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily will be forced to shut “in a matter of days” after authorities used the national security law imposed by China to freeze the company’s assets as it arrested the paper’s editor and four other directors, an adviser to jailed tycoon Jimmy Lai told Reuters on Monday.

Mark Simon, speaking by phone from the United States, said the company was no longer able to access its funds and would be holding a board meeting on Monday to discuss how to move forward.

“We thought we’d be able to make it to the end of the month,” Simon told the news agency. “It’s just getting harder and harder. It’s essentially a matter of days.”

His comments signal closure is imminent even after Apple Daily said on Sunday the freezing of its assets had left the newspaper with cash for “a few weeks” for normal operations.”

The news comes two days after editor Ryan Law, 47, and chief executive Cheung Kim-hung, 59, were denied bail after being charged under the security law with collusion with foreign forces.

Apple Daily’s editor-in-chief Ryan Law arrives back at the detention centre after he was remanded in custody on Saturday [Lam Yik/Reuters]

Three other senior executives were also arrested last Thursday when 500 police officers raided the newspaper’s offices in a case that has drawn condemnation from Western nations, human rights groups and the chief United Nations spokesperson for human rights.

The three have been released on bail.

Simon told Reuters it had become impossible to conduct banking operations.

“Vendors tried to put money into our accounts and were rejected. We can’t bank. Some vendors tried to do that as a favour. We just wanted to find out and it was rejected,” he said.

Speaking earlier to US news channel CNN, Simon said the company had about $50 million available, but was unable to access the funds.

The publisher has come under increasing pressure since its owner Jimmy Lai was arrested under the national security law last August, which marked the first time the company’s headquarters was raided. Lai, 73, is now jailed and facing trial under the national security law. In May, the authorities also froze some assets belonging to the longtime critic of Beijing has also had some of his assets frozen.

Three companies related to Apple Daily are also being prosecuted for collusion with a foreign country and authorities have frozen HK$18 million ($2.3 million) of their assets.

China imposed the national security law on Hong Kong last June saying it was necessary to restore “stability” to a territory that had been rocked by mass protests in 2019, some of which turned violent.

The broadly-worded law criminalises acts such as subversion, sedition, collusion with foreign forces and secession with possible life imprisonment, but critics have said it is being used to suppress legitimate political debate with dozens of pro-democracy politicians and activists among the more than 100 arrested since it was brought into force.





Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Birmingham Classic: Ons Jabeur beats Daria Kasatkina to win first title

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Tunisian second seed Ons Jabeur defeated Russia’s Daria Kasatkina in straight sets to win her first singles title at the Birmingham Classic.

World number 24 Jabeur triumphed 7-5 6-4 against the fourth seed to become the first Arab woman to win a WTA title.

In Berlin, Russian qualifier Liudmila Samsonova stunned Swiss fifth seed Belinda Bencic to win her first title.

The 22-year-old world number 106 battled back from a set down to win 1-6 6-1 6-3 in her first final.

Victories for Jabeur and Samsonova mean there have now been 10 first-time singles winners on the women’s Tour this year.

Jabeur broke Kasatkina’s serve three times to prevail in the first set, before successive breaks at the start of the second put the 26-year-old in control at 4-0.

Two-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist Kasatkina recovered to 4-3, but Jabeur held on to win a singles final at the third attempt.

It was a breakthrough week for Samsonova in Germany, during which she also defeated seventh seed Victoria Azarenka of Belaurus in the semi-final.

World number 12 Bencic won the first five games as she dominated the opening set, but Samsonova matched that feat in the second before completing her comeback with breaks in the first and ninth games in the deciding set.



Source – www.bbc.co.uk

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