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Getting ‘crushed’ on Melbourne’s path to coronavirus success



“It was pretty grim. There was a lot of sadness in people’s eyes. A lot of fear of the unknown.”

Matt Lanigan is describing life on Melbourne’s Chapel St during the city’s recent four-month lockdown.

“The streets were completely deserted. It was like something out of [post-apocalyptic film] Mad Max,” says Mr Lanigan, who owns cafe Lucky Penny on the iconic shopping strip.

Melbourne first went into lockdown in March, but its second, which began in July after a fresh Covid outbreak, was a bigger blow. That lockdown went on to become one of the longest and strictest in the world.

“It was brutal,” Mr Lanigan says of trying to keep his business afloat. “It was like I was in a boxing match and I just got knocked to the floor. For a moment there, I felt like maybe it wasn’t worth getting up.”

But things are slowly turning around. On Friday, Melbourne and the state of Victoria achieved one measure of “elimination” of the virus – 28 consecutive days with no new infections. After seeing daily cases soar above 700 in July and August, the city is seen as an example for the rest of the world on how to handle a second outbreak.

Now on reopened Chapel St, music and chatter fill the air as people enjoy their Sunday brunches. Customers are coming in and out of shops on both sides of the road. The scene is very Melbourne.

Despite the high spirits, everywhere you look there are signs of how battered this city has been.

Many businesses are still shut, some displaying “for lease” signs. Others are open but half empty. Placards saying “support local” dot Melbourne.

Not far from Chapel St, Melissa Glentis runs a cafe called Dilly Daly.

“Most of Melbourne was feeling just crushed,” she says. “Our spirits were crushed, the streets were dead. I didn’t actually want to come to my own business, which I’ve worked [on] my entire life to get to this point.

“It was a roller coaster of emotions. There were days where we just didn’t want to get off the couch. I just wanted to stay home and cry.”

The lockdown divided the city between those who supported it and those who said it was too extreme and too long.

The huge public health benefit has also come at a huge cost. Melbourne’s economy could be reduced by up to A$110bn (£60bn; $81bn) over the next five years because of the pandemic. Victoria is projected to lose up to 325,000 jobs this year alone, according to a report by the City of Melbourne.

Mr Lanigan says his business barely survived – he offered takeaway services, created an online grocery store, and took up a government subsidy called JobKeeper.

“We could have easily just shut the doors. Instead we decided to push harder.” Part of that, he says, was deciding to use his takeaway window as a way to keep the local community connected.

“They would come down and have a five or a ten-minute conversation [at the window]. It was their one piece of social interaction for the day.”

It became clear through these conversations how dire the situation had become for many people, he says.

“We were hearing about people not having food on their tables. Every second person you spoke to was struggling with something. I could see the fear everywhere. From people telling me ‘I’m missing my mum, I’m worried about my grandma,’ to ‘I’ve had enough’.”

After a three-hour conversation to talk a friend out of suicide, he decided to take a mental health first aid course online.

“He had a breakdown and he was on the edge of killing himself,” Mr Lanigan says. “He’d lost his events company, and there was no roadmap, no direction, no hope.”

“The conversations I was having sitting at that window on the street every day, it was evident that people needed help, and I needed to be more qualified and confident to give it.”

He says the real economic and mental health toll will become clearer in the months to come, especially when government wage subsidy schemes end.

“I think you’ll see the real fallout in March, April and May next year. That will be when you get a real understanding of the unemployment figures, a real understanding of the mental health toll, a real understanding of the suicide figures,” he says.

On Friday, Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton said the 28 days without a new infection was “rightly worthy of celebration”, but acknowledged many had “suffered enormously”. More than 800 people in the state had died, he added.

“So it’s only right that many of us still feel anxious, angry or burdened by sadness,” he tweeted.

Ms Glentis says that reopening feels like she’s starting from scratch, with the shop sometimes empty on weekdays.

“The business was decimated. We’ve lost a lot of our regular customers and our corporate customers in the area. A lot of the residents moved. It means that we literally have to start from zero again.”

“It is a little bit soul-destroying, but I am the most positive person, and we will work as hard as we can to get back to where we were.”

Ms Glentis says she is anxious about another outbreak, however.

“What worries me the most is having to do this all over again. I don’t think on a personal level, I will be able to get through this again.”

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Brazil’s indigenous communities fear mining threat over war in Ukraine



Maurício Ye’kwana worries about the future. He comes from the community of Auaris, in northern Brazil, close to the border with Venezuela.

The area, part of the Yanomami Indigenous Territory, is rich in gold, diamonds and minerals – and illegal miners want a piece of it. In all, there are an estimated 20,000 illegal miners on the land.

“It’s got worse in the past few years,” Maurício says, explaining that during the pandemic, the number of planes, helicopters and boats linked to illegal mining increased.

He’s only 35, but it’s the younger generation that concerns him – boys increasingly being lured into illegal work.

“The young people are the best boat drivers,” he says. They can earn as much as 10,000 Brazilian reais ($2,140; £1,645) for a single trip.

Maurício has come to Brasilia to take part in the Free Land Camp, an annual event that brings together indigenous communities looking to defend their land rights.

On Brasilia’s main esplanade, a grand avenue that leads to Congress and the presidential palace, communities from across the country have erected hundreds of tents.

Milling around the camp are indigenous Brazilians, many of them wearing feathered headdresses, intricate beaded jewellery and painted with geometric tattoos identifying their tribe.

This year, the event has taken on an even bigger meaning.

President Jair Bolsonaro has made it his mission to push economic development in the Amazon. In his latest attempt to make inroads into indigenous territories, he has cited the war in Ukraine. Brazil relies heavily on imported fertilisers for its agribusiness industry – more than 90% of its fertilisers come from abroad, and Russia is its most important partner.

“A good opportunity arose for us,” Mr Bolsonaro said of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He has argued that by mining in indigenous territories, Brazil can build more of its own potassium reserves.

It’s an argument questioned by some experts.

“Only 11% of the reserves are inside indigenous lands and other states like São Paulo and Minas have reserves,” says politician Joenia Wapichana, the first indigenous woman voted into Congress in 2018. “It’s a false narrative that tries to confuse the minds of the Brazilians, making them believe it’s important, that people won’t have food on their table.”

Also, it’s not a short-term fix.

“From a technological and environmental perspective, the licences needed and the infrastructure – it all takes time. Being able to offer these products to the Brazilian market would probably take seven to 10 years,” says Suzi Huff, Prof of Geology at the University of Brasilia. “We’re talking about an extremely sensitive area in which care needs to be taken. It’s false to say that it will solve Brazil’s problems.”

The bill has been in the works since 2020. But last month, the lower house voted to consider it under emergency provisions, removing the need for committee debates.

“It’s very clearly blackmail,” says Prof Huff. “Bolsonaro saw an opportunity to continue with this project of allowing mineral exploration including in indigenous lands and used the scarcity of fertilisers in Brazil to move forward with this project.”

It was expected to be voted on in the lower house this week, but that hasn’t happened – and few believe, in this election year, that it will. Not even the big players in the industry agree with it, with the Brazilian Institute of Mining last month saying it was a bill “not suitable for its intended purposes”, and calling for broader debate.

While a delay in voting is seen as a relief by indigenous leaders, it’s still a challenge on the ground.

“A fiery political discourse encourages invasions in indigenous lands,” says Joenia Wapichana. “The fact that Bolsonaro says he supports mining, that he will regulate mining in indigenous lands already exposes the indigenous people and makes them more vulnerable.”

The discourse is, of course, deeply political, especially with elections around the corner. On Tuesday, former president Lula da Silva – and the man leading in the polls to win October’s vote – made a visit to the camp.

“Today the headlines are about a government that doesn’t have scruples when it comes to offending and attacking the indigenous communities who are already on this land,” he said.

The response was huge cheers of “out with Bolsonaro” – but there are still six months until the elections. And this is Brazil – much can change in politics here, and the future of Brazil’s indigenous tribes is more uncertain than ever.

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Homes engulfed as deadly landslide hits Colombia



A landslide triggered by heavy rains has killed at least 14 people in central Colombia, officials say.

Another 35 people were now in hospital after several homes were engulfed in the Dosquebradas municipality, Risaralda province, on Tuesday.

The officials issued a photo showing a gash in the lush foliage covering a mountain overlooking the area.

Other residents living close to a swollen river nearby have been moved to safety.

Rescue teams have been searching in the mud for more survivors, Colombia’s disaster management officials said.

“A very loud noise scared us. We went out and saw a piece of the mountain on top of the houses,” taxi driver Dubernei Hernandez told the AFP news agency.

“I went to that place and it was a disaster, with people trapped.”

Mr Hernandez said he helped dig up two bodies and a survivor. At least five homes were buried by the mud, he added.

There are fears that the death toll will rise further.

Landslides are common in Colombia and houses built on steep hillsides are at particular risk during the country’s rainy season.

In 2019, at least 28 people were killed after a landslide hit the south-western Cauca province.

Two years earlier, more than 250 people were killed when a landslide hit the town of Mocoa, in the southern Putumayo province.


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Mexico violence: Third journalist killed this year



A Mexican journalist has been shot dead in the northern border city of Tijuana, officials say, the third journalist to be killed in the country this year.

Lourdes Maldonado López, who had decades of experience, was attacked in her car as she arrived home on Sunday.

She had previously said she feared for her life, and was enrolled in a scheme to protect journalists, activists said.

The country is one of the world’s most dangerous for journalists, and dozens have been killed in recent years.

Many of those targeted covered corruption or powerful drug cartels. Campaigners say the killings are rarely fully investigated, with impunity virtually the norm.

The motive for Maldonado’s killing was not clear and no-one has been arrested.

During a news conference in 2019, Maldonado asked President Andrés Manuel López Obrador for his “support, help and labour justice” because, she said, “I fear for my life”.

She was referring to a labour dispute with Jaime Bonilla, who was elected governor of Baja California state later that year as a candidate from the president’s Morena party. Mr Bonilla, who left office late last year, owns the PSN media outlet, which had employed Maldonado.

Maldonado had sued the company for unfair dismissal and, last week, said she had won the lawsuit after a nine-year legal battle. Mr Bonilla and PSN have not commented.

Rights group Article 19 said she had previously been attacked because of her work and was registered in the Mexican government’s programme to protect journalists.

The campaign group Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said it was “shocked” by the murder.

The killing came six days after photojournalist Margarito Martínez was shot dead outside his home in Tijuana. He covered crime in the city, with his work appearing in national and foreign media.

A week earlier, José Luis Gamboa Arenas was found dead with stab wounds in the eastern city of Veracruz. An editor at the Inforegio and La Notícia news websites, he often wrote articles about organised crime and violence.

Exact numbers of victims are hard to come by as investigations often get nowhere, and different studies apply different criteria in counting the dead.

According to Article 19, 24 journalists were killed between December 2018, when President López Obrador took office, and the end of 2021.


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