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European far right jubilant as Austria’s new government is sworn in

Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Sprache, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and President Alexander Van der B..

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Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Sprache, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and President Alexander Van der Bellen at Monday's swearing-in ceremony. Photo: AFP

With a heavy police presence keeping protestors away, Austria's far right was sworn in Monday as part of the Alpine country's new government, rounding off a triumphant year for Europe's nationalists.

The new coalition was agreed on Friday by the conservative People's Party (ÖVP) and the Freedom Party (FPÖ), pledging to stop illegal immigration, cut taxes and resist EU centralisation.

It will be led by Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who took over the ÖVP in May and yanked it to the right, securing his party first place in October elections. At 31, Kurz will be the world's youngest leader.

At his side for the investiture by Austria's president in the Hapsburg dynasty's imperial palace in Vienna was FPÖ chief Heinz-Christian Strache, 48, now vice-chancellor, and FPÖ general secretary Herbert Kickl, the new interior minister.

Strache has said Islam "has no place in Europe" and last year called German Chancellor Angela Merkel "the most dangerous woman in Europe" for her open-door refugee policy.

On Sunday, Strache trumpeted to his 750,000 followers on Facebook that the new government would slash social benefits for asylum-seekers.

"It will no longer happen that migrants who have never worked here a single day or paid anything into the social system will get thousands of euros in welfare!" he said in a post that has gained 9,000 "likes".

Kickl is a former speechwriter for Strache's predecessor Jörg Haider, whose 2000 entry into government prompted an outcry and soul-searching in Europe that appear largely absent this time.

More than 2,000 people took part in demonstrations on Monday, AFP reporters said, brandishing placards such as "refugees welcome" and "Nazis out" and "No Nazi pigs".

A heavy police presence of about 1,500 officers, with helicopters overhead and water-cannon trucks at the ready, blocked off the area around the Hofburg palace.

At one point police fired a smoke grenade when some protestors tried to break through a barricade, an AFP photographer said.

In 2000, several hundred thousand people took to the streets.

The FPÖ also obtained the defence and foreign ministries, while the ÖVP got finance, economy and justice amongst other portfolios, and will continue to handle EU affairs.

Bumper year

Both Kurz and Strache won over voters two months ago by stoking concerns about immigration after the record influx in 2015, mirroring elections elsewhere in Europe this year.

Geert Wilders' Freedom Party became the second-largest in The Netherlands, Marine Le Pen of France's National Front was in a runoff for the presidency and the Alternative for Germany entered the Bundestag.

But the FPÖ is rare in western Europe in having translated success at the ballot box into real power.

Speaking at a far-right congress in Prague on Saturday, Wilders said the FPÖ's entry into government was "an excellent result", while Le Pen called it "very good news for Europe".

"Every election demonstrates a form of rejection of the European Union," Le Pen said, echoing the euro-scepticism shown by the FPÖ in the past.

Pro-EU

Both Kurz and Strache emphasised however on Saturday that Vienna would stay staunchly pro-EU and that their plans for more Swiss-style "direct democracy" excluded a referendum on EU membership.

But Kurz said that during Austria's presidency of the EU, set for the second half of 2018, Vienna would press for Brussels to have less say in areas that he believes should be up to member states.

Kurz said he envisions an EU which should be "stronger in big questions and which should step back on smaller issues".

Kurz also said that Austria would not change its line on supporting EU sanctions on Russia imposed over Ukraine, even though the FPÖ, like other far-right groups, wants them lifted.

But according to their joint programme, Austria will "actively work" towards easing the sanctions "in unison" with the rest of the EU.

In addition the new government's programme says that Austria will seek support to "definitively" end Turkey's bid to join the EU, sparking anger on Sunday from Ankara.

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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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