‘We still do not have complete data’: Beijing claims 60,000 people have died with the coronavirus
(See translation in Arabic section)
Sydney - Middle East Times Int’l: Chinese authorities have revealed almost 60,000 people have died with the coronavirus since restrictions were significantly eased.
Following major protests across the nation last year the government took a step back from its drastic zero-COVID approach, resulting in mass infections.
Among the easing of rules is the dropping of quarantine requirements which previously meant five days in a designated facility and three at home.
Case numbers skyrocketed from 150,000 to 218,000 from December 19 to 26, however China has been accused of lacking transparency around reporting.
Officials at the National Health Commission (NHC) say 59,938 people died between December 8 and January 12.
Included in the figure are 5,503 attributed to respiratory failure linked directly to COVID-19 and 54,435 caused by underlying health conditions.
The World Health Organisation last week was critical of Beijing’s definition of COVID-19 deaths with Emergencies Director Michael Ryan claiming figures under-represent the true impact.
“We still do not have complete data,” Mr Ryan said.
“We believe that the current numbers being published from China under-represent the true impact of the disease in terms of hospital admissions, in terms of ICU admissions, and particularly in terms of deaths.”
Governments around the world, including Australia, were quick to reinstate mandatory testing requirements for incoming passengers from China, Hong Kong and Macau.
In response Beijing’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin issued a warning to countries that imposed border restrictions against Chinese travellers.
“Regrettably, a handful of countries, in disregard of science and facts, have insisted on taking discriminatory entry restriction measures targeting China,” he said earlier this week.
Australian passport makes 10 most powerful list
Australia has one of the most powerful passports in the world, making the top 10 of the latest international passport index.
Ranked at equal eighth alongside Canada and Greece, Australia scored 185 value points in the Henley Passport Index, which ranks countries according to their “travel friendliness”.
Each country’s total value points equal the number of destinations passport holders can travel to without a visa, or easily attain a visa on arrival.
People in possession of an Australian passport can travel to 185 countries, one country less than New Zealand, Belgium, Czech Republic, Norway, Switzerland and United States, which finished in seventh position.
Japan, for the fifth consecutive year, was awarded the most points and finished first with easy access to 193 countries.
Singapore was second with South Korea and Germany trailing behind it.
Australian passport holders can enter 49 of 50 European countries without needing an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) or having to pay for a visa when they arrive.
Puerto Rico, Canada, the US and US Virgin Islands, however, require that Aussie visitors have an ETA before entering.
All Caribbean countries except Trinidad and Tobago allow Australian passport holders in without a visa. More than 12 Oceania countries allow Australians visa-free entry, including Fiji, New Zealand and Vanuatu.
Meanwhile, most countries in Africa ask that Australians pay for a visa when they arrive.
Passport strength had a distinct connection to economic power, according to the Henley Passport Index.
Financial writer and global investment expert Jeff Opdyke said passports represented a fiscal opportunity.
“A stronger passport isn’t just about greater freedom of movement: it’s about greater financial freedoms in terms of investing and entrepreneurial opportunities,” he said.
Adelaide to host global renewable energy forum as govt acts to protect industries
“The future of energy in Australia and the world is renewable, and sharing the latest knowledge with international partners and experts will help make that vision a reality.” Australian Energy Minister Chris Bowen.
Federal Climate Change and Energy Minister, Chris Bowen, and South Australian Minister for Energy and Mining, Tom Koutsantonis have welcomed the selection of Adelaide as host city for the 2024 International Renewable Energy Conference (IREC).
The Adelaide conference from April 7-11, announced by the Australian and South Australian Governments, will be the first to be held in Oceania.
IREC will bring together 3500 global leaders from government, industry, science and NGOs to share the latest developments in renewable energy and plan for a clean energy future.
This conference is also an opportunity to strengthen international trade partnerships and showcase Australia’s renewed climate leadership.
Adelaide is an ideal destination for the 2024 IREC conference, with South Australia’s world leading transformation of renewables in their grid, and a track record in navigating technical challenges in renewable integration while maintaining security, reliability and affordability of energy.
Mr Bowen said IREC 2024 was a fantastic chance to showcase the best of Australian, and Oceania’s, renewable energy.
“The future of energy in Australia and the world is renewable, and sharing the latest knowledge with international partners and experts will help make that vision a reality,” Mr Bowen said.
“Australia is on the path to becoming a renewable energy superpower. Forums like IREC will help us continue to work with global partners, the Pacific and First Nations to address key challenges in renewable energy and find the best path to a clean energy future for all.”
A key part of the Adelaide conference, dubbed AUSIREC 2024, will be to consult with and involve Australia’s First Nations peoples in deploying clean energy projects.
Mr Koutsantonis said the chance to host the event in Adelaide strengthens the state’s renewable energy credentials.
“The ability to host this significant event is a real feather in South Australia’s cap - 3500 delegates descending on the city next year will be a welcome boost to the tourism economy and creates a real opportunity to showcase our state’s clean green credentials,” he said.
“The conference will also showcase South Australia’s renewable energy agenda, including our planned hydrogen hub on the Upper Spencer Gulf.”
The Australian Government has released proposed reforms to the Safeguard Mechanism, as well as proposed details of the $1.9 billion Powering the Regions Fund, for further consultation.
Together, these reforms are the next step in supporting Australia’s biggest emitters to remain competitive in a decarbonising global economy and reduce their emissions.
Reforms to the Safeguard Mechanism have been proposed by heavy industry and big business, like the Business Council of Australia and Australian Industry Group, to end policy uncertainty and enable a predictable emissions reduction pathway to net zero by 2050.
The proposed package is based on feedback from nearly six months of consultations and should balance a need for emissions reduction in industry with greater competitiveness and flexibility in managing new obligations.
The Safeguard Mechanism was put in place by the previous Australian Government. It requires facilities that produce over 100,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases annually (around 215 facilities) to keep their net emissions below a baseline. However, under that government the mechanism proved ineffective at driving emissions reduction prompting calls for reform.
To help businesses and regional communities, the government announced an initial $600 million in funding from the Powering the Regions Fund for trade-exposed Safeguard facilities.
The government also begins further consultation on detailed design and implementation of the broader $1.9 billion Powering the Regions Fund.
The Fund will ensure the regions benefit from Australia’s net zero transformation by supporting decarbonisation, new clean energy industries, workforce development and credit purchase.
Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen said this was an important next step in ensuring the Safeguard Mechanism was fit for purpose.
“We’ve been extremely encouraged by the level of engagement in the process to date and look forward to continued constructive engagement as we finalise the design of these critical reforms for Australia’s net zero pathway,” he said.
“Reforms to the Safeguard will help create an effective, equitable and efficient trajectory to net zero. We know that that 70% of facilities, representing over 80% of scheme emissions, already have corporate commitments to net zero by 2050 – this reform helps deliver the framework to get there.”
NSW Govt to spend $1 billion on Western Sydney roads
The NSW Government said it will spend $1 billion from the WestInvest fund to upgrade critical roads across Western Sydney.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said the Government was backing the people of Western Sydney with this major investment in the road network.
“This is all part of our long-term economic plan for Western Sydney, which includes targeted cost of living measures including toll relief, $16 billion for critical transport infrastructure, more than $480 million on local hospitals and health services, and the construction of new schools.”
Minister for Metropolitan Roads Natalie Ward said the improvements are also targeted better flood evacuation routes for families in the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley and around Pitt Town.
“We are working towards widening Garfield Road East to a four-lane divided road, providing a flood evacuation route with increased capacity as well as better connection to the communities of Marsden Park, Box Hill, Richmond, Schofields and Rouse Hill,” Mrs Ward said.
“The Pitt Town Bypass is also a project the community has been calling for so I’m incredibly pleased we can deliver it, significantly increasing the community’s resilience to flooding events.”
The funding will support road projects across 15 Local Government Areas, including:
• $200 million for safety improvements on Elizabeth Drive, between Devonshire Rd and Western Road, Kemps Creek;
• $100 million to build the Pitt Town bypass;
• $100 million to enable the upgrade of a 3.4 kilometre section of Garfield Road East between Piccadilly Street, Riverstone and Windsor Road, Box Hill;
• $600 million for roads infrastructure upgrades within the 15 eligible Local Government Areas.
Vision available here: https://www.dropbox.com/scl/fo/x4ftzrjiiq01tvxioiyr6/h?dl=0&rlkey=d3ttz7n7pon0u53dgz7xtrnp5
NSW motorists to cash in on Toll Relief
Toll relief is on the way for drivers across our state with the NSW Liberal and Nationals Government’s Toll Relief Rebate Scheme open for applications from 24 January.
Treasurer Matt Kean said under the new and improved toll relief initiative, around half a million drivers will be able to claim 40 percent of their toll spend up to $750 a year.
“The new Toll Relief Rebate Scheme will start putting money back into drivers’ bank accounts once they spend $375 a year on tolls,” Mr Kean said.
“We’ve more than doubled the number of drivers eligible for toll relief and for the first time, pensioners will be able to claim a rebate while still receiving free car registration.”
Minister for Metropolitan Roads Natalie Ward said the new toll relief scheme will make traveling more affordable particularly for those in West and South West Sydney.
“Drivers from Casula to Liverpool, Rouse Hill and Campbelltown will be the big winners, but everyone across New South Wales will have the chance to cash in on the new Toll Relief Rebate Scheme,” Mrs Ward said.
“This is about putting more cash into the pockets of hardworking NSW families at a time when they are feeling the pinch from cost of living pressures.
“We’re making sure everyone gets the chance to use our world class motorway network which saves families precious time, gets tradies to more jobs and creates a safer journey for all.”
Minister for Customer Service and Digital Government Victor Dominello said the new scheme will be administered through Service NSW and payments would start flowing into bank accounts within days.
Vision and photos available: https://f.io/_rjSN7S9
Sydney metro leads the way with Australian First Technology
Sydney Metro is leading the way after awarding a $41 million contract for new technology, the first of its kind in Australia, which will mechanically fill the gap between train and station platforms.
The multi-million dollar contract will see this new mechanical gap filler technology installed at stations between Marrickville and Bankstown.
Minister for Transport, Veterans and Western Sydney David Elliott said commuters on the Bankstown line were a step closer to safer, more accessible platforms after the awarding of the contract.
“Hyundai Movex has been awarded the contract to design, supply and install 150 mechanical gap fillers at eight existing stations between Marrickville and Bankstown, which are currently being upgraded to Sydney Metro standards,” Mr Elliott said.
“The contract also includes 360 platform screen doors for the stations between Marrickville and Bankstown, designed to keep people and objects like prams safe from the gaps between trains and platforms and allow trains to get in and out of stations much faster.
“When a train arrives at a station, the mechanical gap fillers will automatically extend quickly from the platform to the train before the platform screen doors open, allowing safe and easy access for all customers.
“Sydney Metro is Australia’s only fully accessible railway with level access between platforms and trains and lifts at all stations.”
Sydney Metro Chief Executive Peter Regan said the new technology, designed with the curved platforms of the T3 Bankstown line in mind, marked another major milestone on the Sydney Metro City & Southwest project.
“The platform screen doors and mechanical gap fillers have undergone a stringent year-long testing program in a variety of Sydney weather conditions,” Mr Regan said.
“Following a tender process, Hyundai Movex mechanical gap fillers and platform screen doors were selected based on their performance, reliability and safety. The company’s gap filler technology is also used on metro systems in South Korea.”
Hyundai Movex will work with its partners in Australia, including Ricardo Rail to deliver the mechanical gap fillers and platform screen doors this year.
The upgrade of the Bankstown Line to metro standards also means all 10 stations between Marrickville and Bankstown will have lifts – including Punchbowl, Wiley Park, Canterbury, Hurlstone Park and Dulwich Hill which will be made fully accessible for the first time.
Government Welcomes Independent Review of ACCUs
The Albanese Government has welcomed the final report of the Independent Review of Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCUs) to ensure confidence in the integrity and effectiveness of the ACCU scheme.
The Review concludes the ACCU scheme arrangements are sound but recommends that after 11 years of operation, some sensible changes will strengthen the scheme.
Recommended updates include clarifying governance, improving transparency, and facilitating positive project outcomes and co-benefits.
The Government has accepted in principle all 16 recommendations of the independent panel, led by former Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb AC, to improve the scheme.
The Government commissioned the Review in July 2022 to explore how the scheme can best support Australia’s emission reduction targets, support cultural, social, economic and environmental outcomes and address concerns raised about the scheme’s integrity.
The Independent Panel reviewed the scheme’s architecture and governance, and the broader impacts of carbon projects including for agriculture, biodiversity, participation of First Nations peoples and regional communities.
A strengthened scheme will also provide increased opportunities for farmers, the agricultural sector and other participants in the carbon market.
The Panel consulted widely with industry experts, federal and state and territory governments, regional councils, First Nations and Native Title representative groups, carbon service providers and current and former administrators, reviewing over 200 submissions.
Minister Bowen said given the critical importance of the scheme to Australia’s sustained emissions reduction, the review was timely to ensure it is operating at the highest level and that all members of the public have confidence in its work.
“The Panel’s recommendations will help ensure Australia’s carbon crediting scheme has the highest integrity, and contributes to achieving Australia’s emission targets,” Minister Bowen said
“I am pleased to agree in principle to all the recommendations and I would like to thank Professor Chubb and the members of the Panel for their thorough and transparent review.”
The Government recognises that the Panel’s recommendations have implications for a wide range of market participants and other stakeholders, and will work with them on implementation, including any associated legislative amendments.
Importantly, the Government will ensure alignment with its new Nature Repair Market and ensure programs such as Climate Active are best practice in consultation with stakeholders.
The Panel’s final report and recommendations are available at https://www.dcceew.gov.au/climate-change/emissions-reduction/independent-review-accus
Honouring City of Parramatta’s rich heritage on Australia Day
Hot air balloon rides, live music, free workshops, science shows, native wildlife, historic racing cars, heritage tours, free amusements and sports activities are all part of City of Parramatta’s epic line-up of activities this Australia Day.
Kicking off at 6am with the return of Council’s hot air balloon spectacular and tasty barbecue breakfast, this year’s free event at Parramatta Park honours local heritage and First Nations culture with a series of free workshops and activities.
Community organisations and individuals who have gone above and beyond will be honoured during the announcement of City of Parramatta’s 2023 Citizen of the Year awards, before nearly 80 people from the local area become our newest Australian citizens at a special Australian Citizenship Ceremony.
City of Parramatta Lord Mayor Cr Donna Davis invites everyone to join the free, fun-filled family day of entertainment and activities in the park.
“The Burramattagal people have called our local area home for more than 65,000 years, and this Australia Day we’ll be honouring our rich local heritage with First Nations workshops, crafts and storytelling,” Cr Davis said.
“This day is a chance for our community to get together and connect with culture and traditions, while having fun with family and friends in the beautiful Parramatta Park.”
”Australia Day in Parramatta has become the go-to event for those living in Western Sydney, and I’m looking forward to welcoming many of them again this year.”
A rock-climbing wall and thrilling bungee trampoline will keep adventure seekers entertained, alongside Australian native animals and workshops for kids. A wide selection of hot and cold food, snacks and drinks will be available including crepes, bubble tea and ice cream.
History lovers can step back in time with a historic racing car display, showcasing motor vehicles harking back to 1952 when Grand Prix racing was held in Parramatta Park.
In the City’s north, Epping Aquatic Centre will be hosting a special Australia Day pool party from 11am to 5pm. There will be a classic sausage sizzle, DJ and pool inflatables throughout the afternoon.
Australia Day is presented by the City of Parramatta in partnership with Parramatta Park and PARKROYAL Parramatta.
Tickets for the hot air balloon rides were limited. Registrations closed on Tuesday 10 January.
Pool party, music and picnic to mark Australia Day in Hornsby Shire
Hornsby Shire Council invites residents to bring a picnic and a rug and ‘reflect, respect and celebrate’ this Australia Day at a day of free music, entertainment and swimming pool fun at Hornsby Park from 12pm-5pm.
The lively party for all the family will kick off with music from Gawura Cultural Immersions, a dance company of First Nations performers who perform all their songs in Dhaurug Dalang.
Local favourites the Funky Monkeys will get the party started with a selection of Australian hits and Lily Guerrero and her band will bring a Latin flavour to the day.
When you are ready for a dip, Hornsby Leisure & Aquatic Centre next to the park will have free entry from 1pm-4pm and lots of inflatable fun in the outdoor pool! For pool entry, please see the Aquatic Centre front desk. Capacity limits will apply.
Children will be kept busy with activities including free face painting and the whole family can go wild with inflatable basketball and soccer.
International food trucks will serve food to suit all tastes including German sausages, Asian street food, ice cream and frozen desserts.
In the morning, Council will also host an Australia Day Citizenship Ceremony at the park, welcoming 40 new Citizens from 15 countries, including India, South Africa, the Philippines, Iran, Ukraine and Brazil.
“We’re looking forward to welcoming the whole community to the beautiful surrounds of Hornsby Park to mark our national day,” said Hornsby Shire Mayor, Philip Ruddock.
“Supported by the National Australia Day Council, this year’s Australia Day event is more than just outdoor family fun and a wonderful afternoon of free entertainment, but an opportunity for us to come together to reflect, respect and celebrate,” said Mayor Ruddock.
Hornsby Shire Council’s Australia Day event runs from 12pm to 5pm at Hornsby Park, Peats Ferry Road, Hornsby and is FREE. For more information visit hornsby.nsw.gov.au/australiaday
New disaster dashboard to keep City of Parramatta safe and informed
A new disaster dashboard will help keep City of Parramatta residents safe and informed with real-time emergency updates and alerts from the Bureau of Meteorology, Live Traffic NSW and Rural Fire Services.
The new disaster dashboard offers a one-stop shop with live emergency information and advice including weather warnings, fire risk, air quality and road conditions plus handy emergency contacts.
City of Parramatta Lord Mayor Cr Donna Davis said the new dashboard provides up-to-date, reliable information to keep residents updated during emergencies and better prepared for weather events.
“With this year’s record-breaking rain from La Nina and constant high-risk weather events across NSW, it’s more important than ever that our communities feel safe, informed and connected.” Cr Davis said.
“Councils are an important source for local information and the City of Parramatta’s new disaster dashboard is a one-stop shop for advice and alerts about fire, flood, traffic and weather events. We encourage communities to check out our new dashboard, pin it, and keep it as a first point of reference.”
The new dashboard is now live at alerts.cityofparramatta.nsw.gov.au/
Australia launches first multicultural mental health helpline in NSW
People from diverse communities in NSW needing mental health support are set to benefit from an Australian-first multicultural mental health phone line service covering up to 30 languages.
Recently launched, the service is staffed by registered bilingual mental health professionals covering languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Greek, Korean, Vietnamese and Ukrainian.
Minister for Mental Health Bronnie Taylor said this new phone line would support people from diverse communities struggling with mental health to access services.
“While there is a wide range of mental health services available to all NSW residents, language and different cultural understandings of mental health can act as a barrier for people when accessing services,” she said.
“This new phone line will support people to get the help they need, with a specialist team of health care professionals ready to provide care and connect people with the appropriate services.”
Minister for Multiculturalism Mark Coure said this initiative again shows the NSW Government’s support for the state’s multicultural society.
“We understand that finding the right words to express how we are feeling can be hard, let alone for people that might struggle with English,” he said.
“This new service makes mental health support more accessible, and will give people the peace of mind to speak freely in a language they are more comfortable with,” Mr Coure said.
The Transcultural Mental Health Line is available Monday to Friday from 9am to 4:30pm on 1800 648 911. The centre’s website is www.dhi.health.nsw.gov.au/tmhc.
Global powerhouse techstars joins tech central
Local technology startups are set to boost their growth with Techstars, a global investment business providing access to capital, one-on-one mentorship and programming for early-stage entrepreneurs, joining Sydney’s Tech Central district.
Minister for Enterprise, Investment and Trade Alister Henskens said securing Techstars would cement Tech Central as a global innovation hub, with more support for global and local accelerators and incubators to follow later in the year.
“Already home to global powerhouses such as Atlassian, Canva, ROKT and Safety Culture, Tech Central will support the growth of next generation cutting-edge companies with the addition of Techstars, one of the largest pre-seed investors in the world,” Mr Henskens said.
“Techstars graduates include 20 $1B+ companies, startups that went on to raise millions of dollars, employ thousands of people and list publicly on stock exchanges around the world.
“This is a major coup for Tech Central and proves that the NSW Liberal and Nationals Government’s focus on growing the economy is attracting global companies and turbocharging our innovation ecosystem.”
Work to strengthen the NSW startup ecosystem and SME capability is one of the key pillars in the new Emerging Digital Technologies Strategy, which outlines how the NSW Government is growing the State’s innovation ecosystem to drive long-term equitable economic growth and competitiveness on the world stage.
Applications for the Techstars Tech Central Sydney Accelerator open today with a focus on seed and early-stage founders who are building businesses across AI, fintech, advanced manufacturing, cloud computing, robotics, cyber security, quantum computing, creative tech, and climate tech.
For further information on the Techstars Accelerator Program and to apply visit techstars.com/accelerators/tech-central-sydney-nsw.
Bonza airline approved to operate low-cost services
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has approved budget airline Bonza’s application to run regular passenger services.
CASA issued an Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC) to Bonza after the Sunshine Coast-based carrier successfully completed proving flights.
The AOC is the regulatory approval required by Bonza to fly scheduled passenger flights in Australia.
A CASA team has worked with Bonza since it submitted its application last year.
CASA Director of Aviation Safety and Chief Executive Officer Pip Spence said Bonza went through a rigorous assessment and validation process to ensure it could operate safely.
“The CASA and Bonza teams worked collaboratively throughout the application to ensure the airline’s operations met Australia’s high aviation safety standards.”
Ms Spence said the AOC process was designed to ensure that everyone boarding an aircraft in Australia could do so with confidence that they were travelling safely.
“Our assessment includes a thorough examination of technical documentation as well as verification and testing. The process examines whether the airline has the facilities, processes and trained personnel to comply with their operations manual.
“It involves conducting assessments of the carrier’s proposed operations, facilities, aircraft and the aerodromes to which they operate to ensure that they meet our safety requirements.”
Bonza’s inflight services will differ from other airlines in not having catering trolleys onboard; food and drinks will be ordered via an app and delivered directly to the passenger.
Bonza has already announced it will operate up to eight Boeing 737-Max 8 aircraft in its first 12 months of operation on 27 routes.