Australia and Oceania

Australia’s second-biggest city eases lockdown as virus cases fall

  MELBOURNE, Australia (AFP) — Lockdown restrictions in Australia’s second-biggest city were eased slightly Sunday following a steady decline in new coronavirus cases, but officials stopped short of ending a controversial “stay-at-home” rule. More than 100 days after the lockdown was imposed on Melbourne’s five million residents to fight an out-of-control surge of Covid-19 cases, authorities said that as of midnight they were lifting a two-hour limit on the time people could spend outside their […]

Ardern wins landslide in New Zealand election

  by Neil SANDS Agence France Presse WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AFP) — Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern won a landslide victory in New Zealand’s general election Saturday, leveraging success battling Covid-19 to gain an unprecedented outright majority and the chance to implement her reform agenda. With two thirds of the vote counted, Ardern’s centre-left Labour Party was on 49.2 percent and forecast to take around 64 seats in the 120-member parliament. No leader has achieved an […]

New Zealand firefighters beating forest blaze

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AFP) — Firefighters in New Zealand battling a blaze that razed much of a small alpine village said they were making “good progress” Wednesday as high winds finally eased. The wildfire erupted in a mountain forest on the South Island in the early hours of Sunday morning and swept through the popular tourist spot of Lake Ohau, forcing residents to flee for their lives. Officials said it was miraculous no one was […]

Wildfires raze dozens of homes in New Zealand

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AFP) — Wildfires have destroyed dozens of homes in New Zealand, authorities announced Monday, saying it was a miracle no one was hurt when “a wall of orange” descended on a remote South Island village. The blaze began in a mountain forest early Sunday morning and, fanned by strong winds, swept through the village of Lake Ohau, forcing residents to flee for their lives. “The high winds meant the fire could not […]

New Zealand PM says ‘we beat the virus again’

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AFP) — Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declared on Monday New Zealand “beat the virus again” and announced restrictions in the country’s largest city would be eased, after a second Covid-19 wave was contained. The virus was believed to have been eradicated in late May after a strict national lockdown led to New Zealanders enjoying 102 days without community transmission. But a new cluster emerged in Auckland in August, forcing the city of […]

Repatriated student from PHL is Solomon Islands’ first recorded coronavirus case

Honiara, Solomon Islands (AFP) — The Solomon Islands announced they have lost the battle to stay free of the coronavirus, leaving just nine small, remote territories that have not reported a single case. Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare told the Pacific island nation in a televised address that a student who recently arrived from the Philippines on a repatriation flight carrying 96 passengers had returned a positive test. “It pains me to say that we have […]

Shallow 6.4-magnitude quake strikes off Tonga: USGS

NUKU’ALOFA, Tonga (AFP) — A shallow 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck off the Pacific island nation of Tonga on Thursday, the US Geological Survey said, but there were no immediate reports of damage. Despite the intensity of the quake, the Tonga Meteorological Service issued a brief statement saying there was no threat. The quake, downgraded from an initially reported magnitude 6.7, struck at a depth of 35 kilometres about 210 kilometres (130 miles) northeast of the country’s capital, […]

Briton, Australian killed clearing WWII bomb in Solomons

  HONIARA, Solomon Islands (AFP) — Two bomb disposal experts from Britain and Australia died in the Solomon Islands when World War II ordnance they were helping to clear exploded, officials said Monday. Police said the pair — who worked for the charity Norwegian People’s Aid — were storing munitions without permission in a residential area of the capital Honiara when the blast occurred on Sunday afternoon. Norwegian People’s Aid named the pair as Briton […]

New Zealand eases virus controls, eyes elimination

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AFP) — Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern moved most of New Zealand to the lowest virus alert setting Monday, saying the country was edging towards eliminating Covid-19. Ardern announced New Zealand would from late Monday move down to virus level one in its four-tier alert system, except for Auckland, where the country’s most recent outbreak emerged. “Our actions collectively have managed to get the virus under control,” said Ardern, whose government has been […]

Australia extends Melbourne lockdown despite drop in cases

  MELBOURNE, Australia (AFP) — Australian officials on Sunday extended a strict virus lockdown of the country’s second-biggest city by two weeks, saying new cases had not dropped enough to prevent another spike. Melbourne residents were due to exit a harsh six-week lockdown next weekend but face continued restrictions for months to come, with Victoria state premier Daniel Andrews saying the current lockdown would remain in place until September 28. “If we open up too […]

Palau invites US military to build bases as China seeks regional clout

  by Bernadette CARREON Agence France Presse KOROR, Palau (AFP) — The tiny Pacific nation of Palau has urged the United States military to build bases on its territory — which lies in a region where Washington is pushing back against growing Chinese influence. US Defense Secretary Mark Esper visited the island nation last week and accused Beijing of “ongoing destabilising activities” in the Pacific. Palau President Tommy Remengesau later revealed he told Esper the […]

New Zealand records first Covid-19 death in over three months

  WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AFP) — New Zealand recorded its first Covid-19 death in more than three months on Friday when a man in his 50s succumbed to the virus. Health officials said the man was part of a second-wave cluster of infections that emerged in Auckland last month, ending a spell of 102 days free of community transmission in the South Pacific nation. The death at Auckland’s Middlemore Hospital on Friday afternoon takes New […]