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‘Nothing to fear’ as Austrian far-right enters government

Austria's President Alexander Van der Bellen (L) shakes hands with the Chairman of the Freedom ..

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Austria's President Alexander Van der Bellen (L) shakes hands with the Chairman of the Freedom Party (FPOe), Heinz-Christian Strache (R). Photo: Alex Halada/AFP

Austria's far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) was in triumphant mood Saturday after agreeing a coalition deal with the conservatives, capping a year of successes for Europe's nationalist movements.

As the parties met to rubber-stamp the accord struck the previous day, Herbert Kickl, the FPOe's secretary general and Austria's next interior minister, said he had "very, very good feeling".

"Nobody has anything to fear," Kickl said, one of six FPOe ministers in the new government including defence and foreign affairs. Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache, 48, will be vice-chancellor.

The agreement reached by Sebastian Kurz's People's Party (OeVP) and the FPOe sets Kurz, 31, up to become chancellor and also the world's youngest leader.

Kurz and Strache were to unveil their programme on Saturday afternoon, with the government likely to be sworn in on Monday.

The OeVP came first in October snap elections after Kurz — who is known as "wunderwuzzi" or "whizz-kid" — rebranded the formerly staid party as his own personal "movement", promising to get tough on immigration and to lower taxes.

Economy and security

"Our aims are quite clear. We want to ease the tax burden for people, we want to strengthen our economy, which will bolster our social system," Kurz said late on Friday.

"And first and foremost we want to increase security in our country, including by combatting illegal immigration," Kurz told reporters.

The anti-immigration FPOe came third in the election with 26 percent of the vote, which was double the stunning 13 percent notched up by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) in elections the month before.

Both Kurz and Strache stoked concerns about immigration following a record influx in 2015, and also took advantage of voter fatigue with the OeVP's previous "grand coalition" with the Social Democrats (SPOe).

Their success was mirrored in elections elsewhere in Europe this year.

Geert Wilders' Freedom Party became the second-largest in the Netherlands, France's National Front was in a runoff for the presidency in May and the AfD entered the Bundestag, re-drawing Germany's political map.

Real power

But the FPOe is rare in western Europe, having translated its ballot box success into real power. Last year it came close to winning the largely ceremonial presidency.

The last time the FPOe entered government was in 2000 under Joerg Haider, its controversial leader at the time who has since died, in a move which saw Austria briefly ostracised within the European Union.

This time though the reaction is likely to be much more muted with the FPOe seen as having mellowed and with Europe more inured to rightwing parties.

Several different groups including the anti-fascist "Offensive against the Right" have said they plan to stage demonstrations on Monday in Vienna.

The FPOe is also ambivalent about the EU but the joint programme shows that Kurz has managed to ensure the government will be decidedly pro-European, political analyst Thomas Hofer said.

"The European part is very strongly influenced by the OeVP and it is ruled out that there might be a referendum on Austria's membership of the EU or other international organisations," Hofer told AFP.

'A clear mandate'

"The election gave a clear mandate from the Austrian people to take people's concerns seriously in this country, to listen and to avoid a repeat of the mistakes of recent years," Strache said Friday.

"That covers lots of areas — security, illegal immigration and also the tax cuts that are needed… The main thing is the responsibility to represent the people of this wonderful homeland."

Kurz and Strache's news conference later was to be held atop the Kahlenberg hill overlooking Vienna and the Danube river, a location of major symbolic importance for the FPOe.

There, in 1683, a Polish king launched an attack that broke the Ottoman siege of Vienna. Some of Europe's nationalists liken the 17th-century Ottoman offensive to the immigration of Muslims in recent years.

"They say there is no real relevance but of course at least for the FPOe it has some relevance with 1683," Hofer told AFP. "The pictures up there will be pretty nice."

By Simon Sturdee

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Australia

Sydney seaplane crash: Exhaust fumes affected pilot, report confirms

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The pilot of a seaplane that crashed into an Australian river, killing all on board, had been left confused and disorientated by leaking exhaust fumes, investigators have confirmed.

The Canadian pilot and five members of a British family died in the crash north of Sydney in December 2017.

All were found to have higher than normal levels of carbon monoxide in their blood, a final report has found.

It recommended the mandatory fitting of gas detectors in all such planes.

British businessman Richard Cousins, 58, died alongside his 48-year-old fiancée, magazine editor Emma Bowden, her 11-year-old daughter Heather and his sons, Edward, 23, and William, 25, and pilot Gareth Morgan, 44. Mr Cousins was the chief executive of catering giant Compass.

The family had been on a sightseeing flight in the de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver plane when it nose-dived into the Hawkesbury River at Jerusalem Bay, about 50km (30 miles) from the city centre.

The final report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) confirmed the findings of an interim report published in 2020.

It said pre-existing cracks in the exhaust collector ring were believed to have released exhaust gas into the engine bay. Holes left by missing bolts in a firewall then allowed the fumes to enter the cabin.

“As a result, the pilot would have almost certainly experienced effects such as confusion, visual disturbance and disorientation,” the report said.

“Consequently, it was likely that this significantly degraded the pilot’s ability to safely operate the aircraft.”

The ATSB recommended the Civil Aviation Safety Authority consider mandating the fitting of carbon monoxide detectors in piston-engine aircraft that carry passengers.

It previously issued safety advisory notices to owners and operators of such aircraft that they install detectors “with an active warning” to pilots”. Operators and maintainers of planes were also advised to carry out detailed inspections of exhaust systems and firewalls.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-55862128

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Australia

Australia unlikely to fully reopen border in 2021, says top official

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Australia is unlikely to fully open its borders in 2021 even if most of its population gets vaccinated this year as planned, says a senior health official.

The comments dampen hopes raised by airlines that travel to and from the country could resume as early as July.

Department of Health Secretary Brendan Murphy made the prediction after being asked about the coronavirus’ escalation in other nations.

Dr Murphy spearheaded Australia’s early action to close its borders last March.

“I think that we’ll go most of this year with still substantial border restrictions,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Monday.

“Even if we have a lot of the population vaccinated, we don’t know whether that will prevent transmission of the virus,” he said, adding that he believed quarantine requirements for travellers would continue “for some time”.

Citizens, permanent residents and those with exemptions are allowed to enter Australia if they complete a 14-day hotel quarantine at their own expense.

Qantas – Australia’s national carrier – reopened bookings earlier this month, after saying it expected international travel to “begin to restart from July 2021.”

However, it added this depended on the Australian government’s deciding to reopen borders.

Australia’s tight restrictions

The country opened a travel bubble with neighbouring New Zealand late last year, but currently it only operates one-way with inbound flights to Australia.

Australia has also discussed the option of travel bubbles with other low-risk places such as Taiwan, Japan and Singapore.

A vaccination scheme is due to begin in Australia in late February. Local authorities have resisted calls to speed up the process, giving more time for regulatory approvals.

Australia has so far reported 909 deaths and about 22,000 cases, far fewer than many nations. It reported zero locally transmitted infections on Monday.

Experts have attributed much of Australia’s success to its swift border lockdown – which affected travellers from China as early as February – and a hotel quarantine system for people entering the country.

Local outbreaks have been caused by hotel quarantine breaches, including a second wave in Melbourne. The city’s residents endured a stringent four-month lockdown last year to successfully suppress the virus.

Other outbreaks – including one in Sydney which has infected about 200 people – prompted internal border closures between states, and other restrictions around Christmas time.

The state of Victoria said on Monday it would again allow entry to Sydney residents outside of designated “hotspots”, following a decline in cases.

While the measures have been praised, many have also criticised them for separating families across state borders and damaging businesses.

Dr Murphy said overall Australia’s virus response had been “pretty good” but he believed the nation could have introduced face masks earlier and improved its protections in aged care homes.

In recent days, Australia has granted entry to about 1,200 tennis players, staff and officials for the Australian Open. The contingent – which has recorded at least nine infections – is under quarantine.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-55699581

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Australia

Covid: Brisbane to enter three-day lockdown over single infection

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The Australian city of Brisbane has begun a snap three-day lockdown after a cleaner in its hotel quarantine system became infected with coronavirus.

Health officials said the cleaner had the highly transmissible UK variant and they were afraid it could spread.

Brisbane has seen very few cases of the virus beyond quarantined travellers since Australia’s first wave last year.

It is the first known instance of this variant entering the Australian community outside of hotel quarantine.

The lockdown is for five populous council areas in Queensland’s state capital.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the measure on Friday morning local time, about 16 hours after the woman tested positive.

Ms Palaszczuk said the lockdown aimed to halt the virus as rapidly as possible, adding: “Doing three days now could avoid doing 30 days in the future.”

“I think everybody in Queensland… knows what we are seeing in the UK and other places around the world is high rates of infection from this particular strain,” she said.

“And we do not want to see that happening here in our great state.”

Australia has reported 28,500 coronavirus infections and 909 deaths since the pandemic began. By contrast, the US, which is the hardest-hit country, has recorded more than 21 million infections while nearly 362,000 people have died of the disease.The lockdown will begin at 18:00 on Friday (08:00 GMT) in the Brisbane city, Logan and the Ipswich, Moreton and Redlands local government areas.

Residents will only be allowed to leave home for certain reasons, such as buying essential items and seeking medical care.

For the first time, residents in those areas will also be required to wear masks outside of their homes.

Australia has faced sporadic outbreaks over the past year, with the most severe one in Melbourne triggering a lockdown for almost four months.

A pre-Christmas outbreak in Sydney caused fresh alarm, but aggressive testing and contact-tracing has kept infection numbers low. The city recorded four local cases on Friday.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government has pledged to start mass vaccinations in February instead of March as was planned.

Lockdown interrupts ‘near normal’ life in Brisbane

Simon Atkinson, BBC News in Brisbane

At 8:00 today I popped to the local supermarket for some bread, milk – and because it’s summer here – a mango. I was pretty much the only customer.

When I went past the same shop a couple of hours later it was a different story – 50 people standing in the drizzle – queuing to get inside as others emerged with bulging shopping bags. “Heaps busier than Christmas,” a cheery trolley attendant told me. “It’s off the scale”.

Despite the “don’t panic” messages from authorities, pictures on social media show it’s a pattern being repeated across the city.

While shutdowns are common around the world, the tough and sudden stay-at-home order for Brisbane has caught people on the hop here after months of near normality.

But while such a rapid, hard lockdown off the back of just a single case of Covid-19 will seem crazy in some parts of the world, I’ve not come across too many people complaining.

And I don’t think that’s just because Aussies love to follow a rule. This is the first time the UK variant of the virus has been detected in the community in Australia.

And nobody here wants Brisbane to go through what Melbourne suffered last year. Even if it means going without mangoes.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-55582836

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