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Australia’s detained medical-evacuation refugees fear coronavirus

Melbourne, Australia – Some 65 asylum seekers detained in a suburban hotel in Australia’s second -biggest city of Melbourne for months are concerned their cramped living conditions leave them highly susceptible to the novel coronavirus. Mostafa Azimitabar, 34, has been detained in a third-floor room of the Mantra Hotel since December 2019, when he arrived…

Australia’s detained medical-evacuation refugees fear coronavirus

Melbourne, Australia – Some 65 asylum seekers detained in a suburban hotel in Australia’s second -biggest city of Melbourne for months are concerned their cramped living conditions leave them highly susceptible to the novel coronavirus.
Mostafa Azimitabar, 34, has been detained in a third-floor room of the Mantra Hotel since December 2019, when he arrived from Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea for medical assistance as part of Australia’s now-repealed medical evacuation laws.
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He says the cramped and restricted living conditions pose a huge risk should COVID-19 get into the building.
“The Australian government have locked us up in Mantra Hotel and it’s not a safe place because of the coronavirus,” said Azimitabar.

“Twenty-three hours a day I am in my room. It’s very scary to go outside because there are many officers who are working here, around 30 officers during the day and 30 during the night. They go outside, they come inside. They don’t get tested before entering,” Azimitabar explained. 
Azimitabar said that the asylum seekers are all housed on one floor of the hotel, with rooms being shared by two or three people at a time.
They are constantly monitored by security guards and have limited space to walk around – a narrow corridor and a few “games rooms”.
The other six floors of the hotel are also being used by regular guests, which means that the virus could potentially be brought into the hotel at any time.
“[At] any time the virus could come to this place, and we don’t want to catch this virus. We are really trapped and have no power to protect ourselves.
“If I catch this virus – I have asthma – I think I will die.”
Controversial policy
Originally from the Kurdish region of Iran, Azimitabar says he fled in 2013 because his life was in danger.

Mostafa Azimitabar,34, has been detained in a third-floor room of the Mantra hotel in suburban Melbourne since December 2019 [Ali MC/Al Jazeera] 

His aim was to seek asylum in Australia by first travelling to Indonesia and catching a boat with people-smugglers to Christmas Island. 
However, his quest for safety and freedom was shattered when the Australian authorities intercepted the boat he was travelling on. 
He was sent to Manus Island – where he would remain imprisoned for six-and-a-half years. 
“Seven years ago I came to Australia for help,” he said. “We are people seeking safety and freedom. But instead, the Australian Government imprison us and they don’t have any solution for us,” he said. 
Under an arrangement with PNG, the Australian government has used the island – and others like it, such as Christmas and Nauru – for its controversial “offshore processing” of refugee claims.
In December 2019 Azimitabar was transferred to Australia for medical treatment due to chronic asthma and has been at the Mantra ever since. 
He is just one of around 1,400 asylum seekers currently detained indefinitely in detention centres and other “Alternative Points of Detention” (APODs) such as the Mantra hotel, all of whom are deemed to be at high risk of contracting COVID-19.
Dormitory risks
Professor Josh Davis, president of the Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases (ASID,) said “in closed and dorm-style accommodation – like immigration detention centres – it’s not possible to practice social distancing.
“It’s highly likely that if coronavirus is circulating in the community that it will be introduced sooner or later into one of these detention centres. And once that happens, it will spread like wildfire – as has happened in other closed environments like cruise ships.”

The Mantra hotel in suburban Melbourne is what is known as an ‘Alternative Point of Detention’ and one floor is being used to hold a number of asylum seekers with up to people in each room [Ali MC/Al Jazeera] 

Davis said the best solution would be to release detainees and house them in the community, and notes that other countries – such as Turkey and Iran – have already done this with prisoners.
He says that he understands that the Department of Immigration is taking steps towards screening staff, but that this only applies to staff who are already displaying symptoms.
“That’s not going to be enough to offset the risk,” Davis explained. “We know that people can be infectious 24 to 48 hours before they get symptoms. So screening staff is good, but it’s not going to prevent it from entering detention centres.”
A spokesman for the group Refugee Action Collective, Chris Breen, says that he, and others in the community, are prepared to house detainees for the foreseeable future.
“There’s been visitors built up over time, there’s lots of friends and supporters [and] charities in the community,” said Breen. “Some of the people have got friends and family here. So yes, we are saying release them into community care.”
So far, the Australian government has ignored calls not only from ASID, but also from the United Nations, which has expressed concern about the vulnerability of refugees worldwide to COVID-19. 
The Department of Home Affairs declined to comment on the Mantra hotel situation to Al Jazeera, and referred instead to a statement on its website.
“If clinically indicated, detainees will be tested in line with advice from health professionals and will be isolated pending test results,” the statement says, adding that detention health service providers have “conducted public health awareness activities and posted information at sites on hand hygiene and other preventative measures detainees can take.”
Lockdown without end
But for Azimitabar and the detainees, such a response is inadequate.
“If just one of us gets this virus, all of us [will] get it quickly. It is impossible to practice social distancing in this place. (The Australian government has) really put us in danger. They have placed us at an extremely high risk of contracting this coronavirus.”He also cites the continuing effect on asylum seekers’ physical and mental health due to prolonged detention with movement now even more restricted.”Our bodies are getting weaker day by day. There is no outdoor space for breathing here. There is not any place for walking. There is just a narrow corridor outside, a small kitchen and small rooms for playing table tennis and pool.”Before the coronavirus outbreak, the detainees would be taken downstairs to eat, he said,  but now “most of the guys eat food inside their room.””There is not any outdoor space. We are completely locked up exactly like a hostage,” he said.Until a change in the Australian government’s policy, Azimitabar will continue to mark time in the third floor of a suburban hotel, writing poems and painting.And while people in the rest of the world remain confident they will one day emerge from lockdown, for Azimitabar – and 1,400 other asylum seekers like him – there is no end in sight. “What do the Australian government want from us? What is our crime? For what crime have we been imprisoned for seven years?” he asked.”Sometimes I feel like I am not alive.”
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Australia’s Queensland shuts border: Coronavirus live updates |NationalTribune.com

Some 24,000 health workers in South Africa have contracted the coronavirus, 181 of whom have died, according to the health ministry. More than 18.55 million people around the world have been diagnosed with the new coronavirus as of Wednesday, up more than 400,000 in just one day. More than 11.1 million have recovered, while over…

Australia’s Queensland shuts border: Coronavirus live updates |NationalTribune.com

Some 24,000 health workers in South Africa have contracted the coronavirus, 181 of whom have died, according to the health ministry.
More than 18.55 million people around the world have been diagnosed with the new coronavirus as of Wednesday, up more than 400,000 in just one day. More than 11.1 million have recovered, while over 700,000 have died.
Amid fears of widespread coronavirus infections among voters, Sri Lankans will head to the polls on Wednesday to choose a new parliament in an election the party of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is widely expected to win.
Mexico’s health ministry has reported 6,148 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 857 additional deaths, bringing the total in the country to 449,961 cases and 48,869 deaths.
Here are the latest updates:
Wednesday, August 5
12:25 GMT – Trump says he may suspend payroll tax
US President Donald Trump said he may suspend the payroll tax himself as part of his administration’s efforts to help the economy after the coronavirus shutdown, after the idea faced opposition in Congress in talks on the next relief bill.
“Well I may do it myself,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News.
“I have the right to suspend it, and I may do it myself – I have the absolute right to suspend the payroll.” He added.
12:05GMT – German-Chinese coronavirus vaccine trial begins in China
Clinical trials on humans have begun in China for a potential coronavirus vaccine developed by German pharmaceutical group BioNTech with Chinese company Fosun Pharma, the companies said.
Seventy-two participants have already received their first dose following approval for the phase 1 trial from Chinese regulatory authorities, BioNTech and Fosun Pharma said in a statement.
The vaccine candidate, known as BNT162b1, is one of four based on BioNTech’s proprietary mRNA technology.

More than 200 candidate vaccines are currently being developed with roughly two dozen at the stage of clinical trials with human volunteers [FILE – Dado Ruvic/Reuters]

Another, BNT162b2, is being evaluated in a global phase 3 trial conducted by BioNTech and US giant Pfizer which started on July 27.
The phase 1 trial in China involves 144 participants who will receive two doses 21 days apart. Those aged 18-55 will be the first to take part, followed by older people.
11:45 GMT – Vietnam confirms 41 new infections
Vietnam’s health ministry on Wednesday reported an additional 41 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the country’s total to 713 infections, with eight deaths.
Forty of the new cases are linked to Danang, the new coronavirus epicentre where Vietnam on July 25 detected its first locally transmitted infections in more than three months.
There were two other cases reported earlier in the day.
There have been 264 cases since the virus resurfaced in Danang, which include all eight of the country’s COVID-19 deaths. Infections have since been found in at least 10 locations in Vietnam.

Last month, Vietnam detected its first locally transmitted infections in more than three months [Hoang Khanh/AFP]

11:15 GMT – Third of Afghans estimated to have contracted virus: health ministry
Nearly a third of Afghanistan’s population – or 10 million people – has been infected with the coronavirus, according to health ministry estimates published on Wednesday.The figure comes from a survey based on antibody tests on around 9,500 people across the country, with technical support from the World Health Organization, health minister Ahmad Jawad Osmani said at a press briefing.

The virus entered Afghanistan in February as thousands of migrants returned from neighbouring Iran, which at the time was the region’s worst-hit nation [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

The survey estimated that 31.5 percent of the population had contracted the virus, with the highest infection rate in Kabul where more than half of the city’s five million population were thought to have been infected. But the country of around 32 million people has only limited testing capacity and has officially declared just 36,000 cases and more than 1,200 deaths.”A second wave of the infection is happening everywhere in the world and we cannot be an exception. We will use the findings of this survey to better prepare ourselves for a possible second wave,” Osmani said.
10:30 GMT – Hong Kong reports 85 cases as authorities battle third wave
Hong Kong reported 85 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, including three that were locally transmitted, as authorities battle to control a third wave of the outbreak which has seen a resurgence in infections over the past month.
Since late January, around 3,700 people have been infected in Hong Kong, 42 of whom have died.

Wednesday’s figure was up marginally from Tuesday’s 80 cases [Kin Cheung/AP]

10:00 GMT – Indonesia reports more than 1,800 new cases, 64 new deaths
Indonesia recorded 1,815 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases in the Southeast Asian country to 116,871, data by the country’s health ministry showed.
There were 64 additional deaths, taking the overall number of fatalities to 5,452, the data showed. 
09:45 GMT – Russia’s coronavirus cases surpass 865,000
Russia reported 5,204 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Wednesday, bringing its nationwide tally to 866,627, the fourth largest caseload in the world.
Russia’s coronavirus taskforce said 139 people had died over the last 24 hours, pushing the official death toll to 14,490.

Only US, Brazil and India have reported more cases than Russia  [Dmitri Lovetsky/AP]

09:25 GMT – Hundreds of Peru women, girls gone missing during virus lockdown
Hundreds of women and girls have gone missing and are feared dead in Peru since a lockdown was imposed to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.
From March 16 through June 30, a total of 915 people – 606 girls and 309 women – were reported missing, according to authorities.
Last week, Peru’s women’s ministry said 1,200 women and girls had been reported missing during the pandemic – a higher figure that included the month of July.
“The figures are really quite alarming,” Isabel Ortiz, a top women’s rights official, told the Reuters news agency on Tuesday.
Read more here.
09:15 GMT – Philippines reports more than 3,400 new cases
The Philippines’ health ministry reported 3,462 new coronavirus infections and nine additional deaths.
In a bulletin, the ministry said total infections had risen to 115,980, putting the tally just behind Indonesia’s 116,871 cases, which is the highest in East Asia.
Coronavirus deaths in the Philippines have reached 2,123.
08:45 GMT – Coronavirus infects 24,000 South African health workers
Some 24,000 health workers in South Africa have contracted the coronavirus, 181 of whom have died, since the pandemic hit the country in March, the health minister announced on Wednesday.South Africa is the hardest-hit country in Africa with at least 521,318 infections diagnosed so far, accounting for more than half the continent’s cases.Health Minister Zweli Mkwize told a news conference that the numbers of health workers who tested positive for coronavirus stood at 24,104 with 181 deaths.

The numbers of infected health care workers translates to around five percent of the country’s total caseload [Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters]

08:05 GMT – Gargling solution flies off Japan’s shelves after governor touts anti-virus effect
Japanese drugstores were stripped bare of gargling solution by Wednesday, a day after the governor of the western prefecture of Osaka suggested it could help fight coronavirus, triggering panicked buying reminiscent of the early days of mask shortages.
Hundreds of thousands of people posted pictures of emptied shelves on Twitter, accompanied by handwritten “Out of Stock” notices, as they canvassed suggestions on how to acquire the coveted antiseptic.
On Tuesday, Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura said a study showed a smaller viral load in the saliva of 41 patients with mild symptoms after regular gargling with a medicine infused with povidone-iodine solution than in those who had not.
“Perhaps we can even overcome the coronavirus with gargling medicine,” he told a mid-afternoon news conference, speaking of the study on those convalescing in regional hotels which was released by an Osaka hospital.

Banners notifying sold-out of gargling medicine displayed at empty shelves at a drugstore in Tokyo [Issei Kato/Reuters]

07:10 GMT – Indonesia’s virus-hit economy contracts for first time in two decades
Indonesia’s economy contracted in the second quarter for the first time in more than two decades as it was slammed by coronavirus restrictions, with warnings that the recovery could be among the weakest in Southeast Asia.Output in the region’s biggest economy slumped 5.3 percent on-year in April-June, the statistics agency said.”Economic activity in Indonesia collapsed in the second quarter,” research house Capital Economics said in note after the figures were published.”A failure to contain the virus effectively and inadequate policy support means the recovery is likely to be one of the slowest in the region,” it added.

Indonesia has announced a stimulus package worth more than $48 bn to help offset the impact of the virus [Reuters]

06:35 GMT – Ukraine reports record daily new coronavirus cases
Ukraine reported a record daily high of 1,271 new coronavirus cases on August 4, the country’s council of security and defence said on Wednesday.
The number of new infections has increased sharply in the past two months following the gradual lifting of restrictions that began in late-May.

 Ukraine has started to gradually lift its coronavirus restrictions [Reuters]

The total number of cases rose to 75,490, including 1,788 deaths and 41,527 recovered as of August 5.
05:50 GMT – Czechs record biggest daily jump in cases since end-June
The Czech Republic reported on Wednesday its biggest daily jump in new coronavirus cases since the end of June as a recent uptick in infections stays elevated.
The central European country of 10.7 million recorded 290 new cases on Tuesday, Health Ministry data showed, bringing the total number of cases detected to 17,286. Of those, 11,812 have recovered and 383 have died of the COVID-19 illness.
05:30 GMT –
Hello, this is Hamza Mohamed in Doha taking over from my colleague Ted Regencia in Kuala Lumpur.
04:50 – Global coronavirus deaths exceed 700,000, one person dies every 15 seconds on average
The global death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 700,000 on Wednesday, according to the Johns Hopkins University and Reuters tallies, with the United States, Brazil, India and Mexico leading the rise in fatalities.
Nearly 5,900 people are dying every 24 hours from COVID-19 on average, according to Reuters calculations based on data from the past two weeks.
That equates to 247 people per hour, or one person every 15 seconds.
The United States and Latin America are the new epicenters of the pandemic and both are struggling to curb the spread of the virus.
03:45 GMT – Latin America now has world’s highest death toll
Latin America has surpassed Europe to become the region with the highest coronavirus death toll worldwide, according to a Reuters tally.
The region has now recorded more than 206,000 deaths, approximately 30 percent of the global total.
Brazil, the Latin American country most affected by the novel coronavirus, has now recorded a total of 95,819 deaths as of Tuesday. Mexico, the second-most affected country in the region, has recorded 48,869 deaths.
The spread of the pandemic has also accelerated in Colombia, Peru, Argentina and Bolivia.

03:38 GMT – US health chief to visit Taiwan
US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar will visit Taiwan in coming days, making the highest level visit by a US official in 40 years in a move likely to anger China which claims the island as its own.
“Taiwan has been a model of transparency and cooperation in global health during the COVID-19 pandemic and long before it,” Azar said in a statement.
“I look forward to conveying President Trump’s support for Taiwan’s global health leadership and underscoring our shared belief that free and democratic societies are the best model for protecting and promoting health.”
03:09 GMT – Australia’s Victoria reports deadliest day of pandemic
Australia’s second-most populous state of Victoria has reported its deadliest day of the coronavirus outbreak with 15 deaths in the last 24 hours and a record daily rise in infections.
The state reported 725 new cases compared with 439 a day earlier.
It recorded its previous one-day high of 723 cases and 13 deaths last week.
02:08 GMT – US gov’t urged to let other firms make remdesivir
A bipartisan group of state attorneys general has urged the US government to allow other companies to make Gilead Sciences’ COVID-19 treatment, remdesivir, to increase its availability and lower the price of the antiviral drug.
The coalition of more than 30 state attorneys general called on the government to act or allow states to do so, saying in a letter to US health agencies that Gilead “has not established a reasonable price” for remdesivir.
“Gilead should not profit from the pandemic and it should be pushed to do more to help more people,” the letter said.

WHO COVID Debrief on global coronavirus vaccine efforts (4:08)

The drugmaker is charging most US patients $3,120 per course, or $520 per vial of remdesivir.
Gilead said in a statement that the AGs were misrepresenting facts about access to remdesivir and that the regulatory actions proposed are unauthorised under these circumstances and would do nothing to speed up access.
The medicine is one of only two that have demonstrated an ability to help hospitalized COVID-19 patients in formal clinical trials.
01:39 GMT – Australia’s Queensland shuts state border
Australia’s Queensland state will close its border with New South Wales (NSW) state to hold back a second wave of COVID-19 infections.
A surge in coronavirus cases in Melbourne, the country’s second-largest city, has forced the state of Victoria to impose a night curfew, tighten restrictions on people’s movements and order most businesses to stop trading from Wednesday night.
Other states are imposing new restrictions of their own to prevent any spillover form Victoria and Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, who has already shut her northeastern state’s border to Victorians, said travellers from NSW and the capital Canberra also would be barred from Saturday.
“We have seen that Victoria is not getting better, and we’re not going to wait for New South Wales to get worse. We need to act,” Palaszczuk said at a news conference in Brisbane.

00:45 GMT – US fraud losses near $100m
US losses from coronavirus-related fraud and identity theft have reached nearly $100m since the pandemic emerged in March, while complaints of COVID-19 scams have at least doubled in most states, a consumer protection group has said.
A report from the Socialcatfish.com, based on government data, highlighted the vast scope of a fast-growing criminal cottage industry – from phoney stimulus-check offers to shopping scams and fake cures – preying on people already distressed by the pandemic and its economic fallout.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the study found California, Florida, New York, Texas and Pennsylvania – the most populous of the 50 US states – to be the five most targeted by coronavirus scams in the country.
Together, they accounted for about a third of more than 150,000 instances of COVID-related fraud reported nationally by the Federal Trade Commission from mid-March, when the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic, through July, the report published on Tuesday showed.
Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. I’m Zaheena Rasheed in Male, Maldives.
For all the key coronavirus-related developments from yesterday, August 4, click here.
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Australia’s Victoria declares state of disaster over coronavirus |NationalTribune.com

The state premier of Australia’s Victoria has declared a state of disaster to help contain the surge in coronavirus cases as he reported 671 new infections – almost double the previous day.  In a news conference on Sunday, Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews also announced a curfew in the city of Melbourne and new movement restrictions for…

Australia’s Victoria declares state of disaster over coronavirus |NationalTribune.com

The state premier of Australia’s Victoria has declared a state of disaster to help contain the surge in coronavirus cases as he reported 671 new infections – almost double the previous day. 
In a news conference on Sunday, Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews also announced a curfew in the city of Melbourne and new movement restrictions for its residents.
Andrews said that, for six weeks beginning on Sunday until the middle of September, a curfew will be imposed daily from 8pm (10:00 GMT) to 5am (19:00 GMT) the next day.
Within the same period, residents of Melbourne are not allowed to travel beyond five kilometres (3.1 miles) from their residence, and only one person per household is allowed to shop for groceries once a day.
On Saturday, the state of Victoria reported 397 new COVID-19 cases.
Meanwhile, a stay-at-home order will also be imposed for areas outside Melbourne starting at midnight on Wednesday.

More restrictions on businesses will be announced on Monday, the state premier added.
As this developed, Melbourne residents headed to the supermarket on Sunday before a new lockdown.
Social media users posted images of empty shelves and queues at local supermarkets. One eyewitness told Reuters news agency that the line had doubled in size as he left the supermarket.
Earlier on Sunday, Australia’s national government expressed support for the strictest measures yet imposed by the state of Victoria.
The backing by the federal government, ruled by a Liberal Party-led coalition, for the measures by Victoria’s Labor Party government shows national unity of message across the political spectrum in a country with a loose federal system.
Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, is already under a reimposed six-week stay-home order, but it has been struggling to rein in COVID-19.
Record numbers of new infections of the virus were reported last week, prompting warnings of further restrictions.
Education Minister Dan Tehan told Sky News that the federal government would “absolutely” support Victoria in ramping up its measures.
“We will continue to offer as much support as we can,” Tehan said. “There’s no question these are very difficult times in Victoria.”
Australia has fared far better than many other countries in keeping the coronavirus from spreading but at a high economic cost.
It has recorded approximately 17,300 coronavirus cases and 200 COVID-19 deaths, but the recent surge in Victoria has proven difficult to contain.

A group of police and soldiers patrol the Docklands area of Melbourne [William West/AFP]

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