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World’s youngest leader Sebastian Kurz slips into the hot seat in Austria

“Whizz-kid”, “Basti Fantasti” and “Messiah” are just some of the monikers given to new Austrian Chan..

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"Whizz-kid", "Basti Fantasti" and "Messiah" are just some of the monikers given to new Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, 31, as of Monday the world's youngest leader.

His conservative People's Party (ÖVP), revamped by Kurz as a more hardline "movement", agreed late on Friday a coalition deal with the far right that saw him sworn in on Monday.

"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 told reporters late Friday after agreeing the coalition.

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

The takeover of the ÖVP in May by "Emperor Kurz", with his rosy cheeks, large ears and composure belying his young age, was as swift as it was radical.

First he killed the unhappy coalition with the Social Democrats (SPÖ). Then he rebranded the ÖVP and its black party colour as a turquoise "movement" tough on migrants and easy on taxes.

The strategy of "putting Austrians first" propelled the sluggish ÖVP to pole position in opinion polls and Kurz to near-rock star status.

Wherever he went during the election campaign, fans sporting turquoise T-shirts would chant his name and women asked if they can hug him.

Selfie sessions with Kurz, always in slim-cut suits and tieless white shirts, lasted over two hours.

Haider comparison

Observers say there has not been such euphoria over an Austrian politician since Jörg Haider, the magnetic but controversial far-right leader who died in 2008.

In slick campaign adverts where he is scaling the Alps, Kurz promised — echoing his new partners the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) — to slash taxes and red tape and "return this beautiful country to the peak".

"The time is now," read election posters with Kurz staring into the distance.

His appeal as an agent of change is remarkable given that he has been a key cog in the political machine he now seeks to overhaul.

The only child of a secretary and a teacher, Kurz joined the ÖVP's youth wing in 2003.

As its chief, he drew ridicule with a 2010 council election campaign featuring the slogan "Schwarz macht geil", or "Black makes you hot".

Kurz posed with skimpily clad girls on top of a black Hummer, the "hot-o-mobile", and distributed black condoms.

Meteoric rise

This blunder notwithstanding, the former law student — he never finished his degree — enjoyed a meteoric rise, becoming secretary of integration in 2011 and foreign minister two years later, aged 27.

Full of praise for Hungary's populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Kurz claims credit for closing the Balkan migrant trail in 2016.

The move saw the Austrian named one of the most influential Europeans by the Politico news website.

The private politician — he is not often seen in public with longterm girlfriend Susanne — ran a campaign as immaculate as his trademark gelled-back hair, showing a maturity and toughness well beyond his years.

But some critics have accused Kurz of being a "mini-dictator" running the party as a "one-man show".

And analysts have warned that Kurz's election will be an "earthquake" for the European Union, despite his pro-European pledge.

"He's a 'Haider light' version," said Paris-based Austria expert Patrick Moreau, adding that Kurz's ideas on everything from immigration to economic policy represent a "complete rupture" with the EU.

Bromance

At Friday night's press conference, Kurz and FPÖ chief Heinz-Christian Strache appeared to have struck up a personal rapport — despite Strache's at times vicious attacks in the election campaign.

But some worry that Kurz has given too much away to the FPÖ, with the far-right party securing the interior, defence and foreign ministries in the coalition deal.

Political analyst Thomas Hofer said the fact that all of Austria's security services will now be controlled by the FPÖ "will draw some criticism".

But Hofer added that Kurz wanted to ensure that unlike his party's previous "grand coalition" with the centre-left, this administration will not become gridlocked.

"What he wanted to achieve is that both parties have their real responsibilities. In previous governments the parties blocked each other and Kurz wants to avoid that," Hofer told AFP.

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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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