Australia and Oceania

Flowers, cheers and tears as Australia’s border reopens

by Andrew LEESON Australia’s international border reopened on Monday almost 600 days after a pandemic closure began, sparking emotional scenes at Sydney airport as loved ones reunited. Shortly after dawn, bleary-eyed passengers began to trickle into the arrivals terminal at Kingsford Smith International and were quickly wrapped up in the tearful embraces of flower-clutching relatives. On March 20 last year, Australia introduced some of the world’s toughest border restrictions in response to the coronavirus pandemic. […]

Australia approves vaccine booster shots for adults

SYDNEY, Australia (AFP) — Australia on Wednesday authorized booster shots of Covid-19 vaccines for over-18s, with the third dose expected to be offered to the entire population from next month. The Therapeutic Goods Administration regulatory authority said it had granted provisional approval for one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to be given as a booster shot to adults. “The provisional approval means that individuals aged 18 years and older may receive a booster (third dose), […]

New Zealand sets 90% vaccine target to end lockdown

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AFP) — New Zealand set a 90-percent vaccination target Friday for scrapping lockdowns as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern unveiled a plan to open up despite the stubborn grip of the Delta variant. Ardern said her goal had shifted from eliminating Covid-19 to minimising its spread in the community by ramping up vaccinations. She said the change meant New Zealanders would not be subject to stay-at-home orders and business shutdowns, provided they were […]

Australia sets $1 million reward for missing four-year-old

SYDNEY, Australia (AFP) — Australian authorities on Thursday offered Aus$1 million (US$750,000) for information leading to the discovery of a missing four-year-old girl feared abducted from a remote campsite last weekend. Cleo Smith disappeared from her family’s tent in Western Australia during the early hours of Saturday, sparking an extensive air, sea and ground search. But after six days of fruitlessly combing in the area surrounding the Blowholes campsite — a coastal tourist spot about […]

Melbourne eases months-long Covid lockdown restrictions

MELBOURNE, Australia (AFP) — One of the world’s most locked-down cities will reopen late Thursday, 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 percent of eligible people in Melbourne and surrounding Victoria state are fully vaccinated, restrictions that began on August 5 will be […]

Grapefruit-sized hailstones hit Australian town

BRISBANE, Australia (AFP) — A tropical north Australian town has been pounded by “record-breaking” hailstones the size of mangoes or grapefruit, with some shattering car windscreens. The giant hailstones measured more than 16 centimetres (six inches) in diameter, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said Wednesday. They hit Yalboroo when a storm swept through the small town about 1,000 kilometres (621 miles) north of Brisbane late Tuesday. Social media images showed the icy monsters spilling out of […]

New Zealand Covid cases hit record despite vaccination push

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AFP) — New Zealand recorded its highest number of daily coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic on Tuesday as a Delta-variant outbreak that dashed the nation’s “Covid Zero” hopes showed no signs of easing. Health authorities announced 94 new virus cases, exceeding the previous daily record of 89 set in April last year during the first wave of Covid-19 infections. While case numbers remain low by most international standards, they […]

Sydney to scrap quarantine, readies to welcome overseas visitors

by Andrew BEATTY SYDNEY, Australia (AFP) — 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 […]

Palau nears 100 percent Covid vaccination

KOROR, Palau (AFP) — The tiny Pacific nation of Palau has emerged as one of the world’s most vaccinated places with more than 99 percent of the eligible population fully protected against Covid-19, according to data released Thursday. In a population of about 18,000, almost 15,000 people have been fully vaccinated, according to the country’s ministry of health and human services. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said that meant […]

New Zealand health workers, teachers told ‘no jab, no job’

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AFP) — New Zealand announced Monday a sweeping “no jab, no job” policy for most healthcare workers and teachers to prevent the spread of Covid-19. “We can’t leave anything to chance so that’s why we are making it mandatory,” said Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins, who is also the education minister. Doctors, nurses and other frontline health workers must be double-jabbed by December 1 while everyone working in the education sector who […]

Sydney lockdown ends after 106 days

by Andrew BEATTY SYDNEY, Australia (AFP) — Elated Sydneysiders were emerging from almost four months of “blood, sweat and no beers” early Monday as a long coronavirus lockdown was lifted in Australia’s largest city. Sydney’s more than five million residents have been subjected to a 106-day lockdown, designed to limit the march of the highly transmissible Delta variant. With new infections now falling — New South Wales state recorded 477 cases on Sunday — and […]

Sydney readies for ‘freedom day’ after long virus lockdown

by Andrew BEATTY SYDNEY, Australia (AFP) — Australia’s largest city will emerge from a 106-day lockdown on Monday, as Sydney authorities confirmed coronavirus vaccination targets had been met. Stay-at-home orders will be lifted for the Harbour City’s five-million-plus people now that 70 percent of state residents over 16 have been double jabbed. “The light at the end of the tunnel is now very, very close,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Thursday, hailing the reopening announcement. […]