Australia Announces Nearly $40bn In Virus Relief

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (R) speaks as he stands with the Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg during a press conference at Australia's Parliament House in Canberra on March 22, 2020. DAVID GRAY / AFP
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (R) speaks as he stands with the Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg during a press conference at Australia’s Parliament House in Canberra on March 22, 2020. DAVID GRAY / AFP

 

Australia on Sunday announced a $38 billion spending plan to limit the economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic, as citizens were told to cancel domestic travel plans to slow the virus spread.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the latest Aus$66 billion announced Sunday brought government and central bank measures to support the economy to Aus$189 billion — or nearly 10 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

“These extraordinary times require extraordinary measures and we face a global challenge like we have never faced before,” he told reporters in Canberra.

“Today’s announcement will provide hope and support for millions of Australians at a time when they need it most.”

READ ALSO: Colombia Announces First Coronavirus Death

Small businesses and non-profits will receive cash subsidies of up to Aus$100,000, unemployment payments will be temporarily doubled and pensioners will receive Aus$750 cash.

Workers whose income has fallen by at least 20 percent due to the coronavirus outbreak will be able to access their retirement funds early, with those facing hardship allowed to withdraw up to Aus$20,000 over two years.

Frydenberg said the economic shock was now expected to be “deeper, wider and longer” than was believed just 10 days ago and additional measures would be required.

The country appears poised to slip into recession as a result of the coronavirus outbreak after a record 29-year run of economic growth.

Australia has recorded more than 1,300 cases and seven deaths from COVID-19.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government was also “moving immediately” to recommend against non-essential travel, warning further measures were imminent to deal with localised outbreaks.

He said work-related trips, the transport of essential supplies and travel on compassionate grounds could continue but people should cancel any other travel plans ahead of the upcoming Easter school holidays.

“More stronger measures will be coming and they will be coming in more localised areas to deal with outbreaks,” Morrison said.

“What that means is, what may be necessary in a part of Sydney may not be necessary at all in… other parts of the country.”

Australia has already sealed off its borders, putting in place an unprecedented ban on entry for non-residents in the hope of stemming the rise of COVID-19 infections.

Four Australian regions — the island state of Tasmania, South Australia state, Western Australia state and the Northern Territory — have also implemented a 14-day self-isolation period for all visitors.

Announcing the state’s border closure Sunday, Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan said he was considering using Rottnest Island — a popular tourist destination and former Aboriginal prison site — as a quarantine zone for people who refuse to self-isolate or are unable to do so.

New South Wales and Victoria states on Sunday announced a shutdown of non-essential services, with supermarkets, pharmacies and petrol stations among those businesses that are exempt.

Morrison said political leaders would meet Sunday evening to consider stricter isolation rules.

78-Year-Old Is Australia’s First Coronavirus Fatality

Australia on the map.

 

A 78-year-old man evacuated from the coronavirus-stricken Diamond Princess cruise liner in Japan died at a Perth hospital Sunday, becoming Australia’s first fatality from the disease, officials said.

His 79-year-old wife was also infected with the disease during the cruise and remains in a Perth hospital, a spokeswoman for the Western Australian state health department told AFP.

The couple were among about 160 Australians evacuated from the Diamond Princess last month and they tested positive for the coronavirus during their flight home.

READ ALSO: South Korea Wages ‘All-Out Responses’ To Virus With 376 New Cases

They were immediately transferred to isolation units in the Perth hospital on February 21 while the rest of the evacuees were quarantined in a former miners’ camp near the northern city of Darwin.

Andrew Robertson, Western Australia’s chief medical officer, said the couple initially seemed to have only a mild version of the illness, but that the man’s condition subsequently deteriorated.

He insisted both had been isolated early and that their cases posed “no risk to the general community or (medical) staff”.

Earlier Sunday, health authorities in New South Wales state confirmed a 26th case of coronavirus in Australia after a man in his 40s who had travelled from Iran was diagnosed with the disease.

He was the second Australian infected in Iran. All other cases of the disease in Australia other than the Perth couple involved people who had come from China’s Hubei province, where the virus was first reported.

AFP

Australia Launches National Inquiry Into Bushfires

FILE PHOTO: A firefighter conducts back-burning measures to secure residential areas from encroaching bushfires in the Central Coast, some 90-110 kilometres north of Sydney on December 10, 2019. PHOTO: Saeed KHAN / AFP

 

Australia set up a national inquiry Thursday into its month-long bushfire crisis that affected three in four Australians and prompted widespread criticism of the government for its sluggish response to the blazes.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the vast scale of the fires — which killed more than 30 people and destroyed thousands of homes — required a new response from the bushfire-prone nation.

The Royal Commission inquiry will be tasked with finding ways to improve Australia’s preparedness, resilience and response to natural disasters, but has been criticised as an effort to put off tackling the problem.

Australia has seen dozens of inquests into the causes of bushfires and steps that could be taken to mitigate them, with mixed results.

Many measures from the dozens of inquests going back to the 1930s have still not been implemented.

The opposition Labor party accused Morrison of trying to “shift attention to the things that he thinks are politically convenient to talk about” rather than “actually fixing climate change and getting emissions under control.”

Morrison said panel would be asked to consider establishing new powers for the federal government to declare a national state of emergency, which he argued would allow a faster response to fires.

The conservative leader, who was criticised for his sluggish reaction to the months-long crisis, has defended his actions by pointing to regulations requiring states to formally request federal assistance.

He claimed to have operated in a “constitutional grey zone” by deploying thousands of troops and reservists to assist in the bushfire recovery.

“We did that without clear rules,” Morrison said.

The most recent crisis has sparked calls for Australia’s conservative government to take immediate action on climate change, with street protests urging Morrison to reduce the country’s reliance on coal.

The prime minister belatedly acknowledged the link between the bushfire disaster and a warming planet, but also made clear his government plans to focus on climate adaption and building resilience ahead of measures to cut emissions.

The inquiry will be led by former Air Force chief Mark Binskin, along with retired Federal Court judge Annabelle Bennett and environmental lawyer professor Andrew Macintosh.

Morrison said they would be required to report their findings by August 31, “so recommendations can be acted upon before our next bushfire season”.

The most recent bushfire season began in early September, with the first deaths recorded a month later.

AFP

Malaysia Suspected MH370 Downed In Murder-Suicide – Former Australian PM

(FILES) This file photo taken on March 7, 2015 shows Indian sand artist Sudarsan Pattnaik creating a sculpture of missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 on Puri beach in eastern Odisha state.
J .K. Jagdev / AFP

 

Former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott has claimed “very top” level Malaysian officials believed vanished Flight MH370 was deliberately downed by the captain in a mass murder-suicide.

The Malaysia Airlines jet vanished on March 8, 2014 carrying 239 people — mostly from China — en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

No sign of the plane was found in a 120,000-square kilometre (46,000-square mile) Indian Ocean search zone and the Australian-led search, the largest in aviation history, was suspended in January 2017.

A US exploration firm launched a private hunt in 2018 but it ended after several months of scouring the seabed without success.

The disappearance of the plane has long been the subject of a host of theories — ranging from the credible to outlandish — including that veteran pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah had gone rogue.

In an excerpt from a Sky News documentary airing Wednesday, Abbott claims he was told within a week of it vanishing that Malaysia believed the captain had intentionally downed the jet.

READ ALSO: Elated Passengers Leave Cambodia Cruise Ship After Virus All-Clear

“My very clear understanding from the very top levels of the Malaysian government is that from very, very early on here, they thought it was murder-suicide by the pilot,” he said.

“I’m not going to say who said what to whom but let me reiterate, I want to be absolutely crystal clear, it was understood at the highest levels that this was almost certainly murder-suicide by the pilot — mass murder-suicide by the pilot.”

Zaharie’s family and friends have long strongly rejected such claims as baseless.

Malaysia’s former premier Najib Razak, who was in power during the tragedy, said suspicions over the disappearance weren’t made public and there was no proof that the pilot was responsible.

“It would have been deemed unfair and legally irresponsible since the black boxes and cockpit voice recorders had not been found,” he told online portal Free Malaysia Today.

“There was no conclusive proof whether the pilot was solely or jointly responsible.”

Najib said the scenario involving the pilot was “never ruled out” during the search for the plane.

Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, the former head of Malaysia’s civil aviation regulator, criticised Abbott’s remarks and said there was not sufficient proof to support the idea.

“It is only a theory,” Azharuddin, who led the regulator when Flight MH370 disappeared, told AFP.

“You do this speculation and it will hurt the next of kin. The family of the pilot will also feel very bad because you are making an accusation without any proof.”

In 2016, Malaysian officials revealed the pilot had plotted a path over the Indian Ocean on a home flight simulator but stressed this did not prove he deliberately crashed the plane.

A final report into the tragedy released in 2018 pointed to failings by air traffic control and said the course of the plane was changed manually.

But they failed to come up with any firm conclusions, leaving relatives angry and disappointed.

Six passengers were Australian, including four from Queensland state, where Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk this week suggested authorities may pursue an inquest into their deaths.

Dams Overflow As Australia Braces For More Floods

This picture taken on February 10, 2020, shows a van surrounded by localised flooding in an area in Sydney. Heavy rain has given hope to Australia’s drought-stricken regions, but scientists warned on February 11 that sustained falls were needed to end a years-long dry spell. PHOTO: Saeed KHAN / AFP

 

Dams near Sydney overflowed on Thursday after days of torrential rain, as Australia braced for more storms expected to bring dangerous flash flooding to the country’s east.

Recent downpours have brought relief to areas ravaged by bushfires and drought — as well as chaos and destruction to towns and cities along the eastern seaboard.

On Thursday, Nepean Dam south of Sydney was at full capacity and spilling over, with video footage showing excess water cascading over the dam wall and downstream.

Two other dams in New South Wales, Tallowa and Brogo, were also overflowing and more dams could reach capacity in the coming days, a WaterNSW spokesman told AFP.

This picture taken on February 10, 2020, shows a general view of a flooded area in Sydney. Heavy rain has given hope to Australia’s drought-stricken regions, but scientists warned on February 11 that sustained falls were needed to end a years-long dry spell. PHOTO: Saeed KHAN / AFP

 

A devastating months-long bushfire crisis that killed 33 people has effectively been ended by the downpours, with just one blaze yet to be brought under control in New South Wales.

Hundreds of people have been rescued from floodwaters in recent days.

Police said a man’s body was discovered in a flooded river on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast on Thursday, though the cause of his death was not immediately clear.

Wild weather is set to ramp up again from Friday, with the Bureau of Meteorology forecasting ex-Tropical Cyclone Uesi would bring “damaging to destructive winds” and heavy rainfall to remote tourist destination Lord Howe Island.

Senior meteorologist Grace Legge said storms were also expected for Queensland and New South Wales — with areas still recovering from bushfires likely to be hit again.

“Any showers and thunderstorms that do develop are falling on already saturated catchments, so there is a risk with severe thunderstorms of flash flooding,” she said.

Emergency services have warned residents in affected areas to be cautious in the dangerous conditions.

AFP

Toxic Bushfire Haze Blankets Eastern Australia

Tourists wearing masks take photos as the Opera House (back, C) is enveloped in haze caused by nearby bushfires, in Sydney on December 10, 2019. Toxic haze blanketed Sydney on December 10 triggering a chorus of smoke alarms to ring across the city, as Australians braced for “severe” weather conditions expected to fuel deadly bush blazes. PHOTO; PETER PARKS / AFP

Toxic haze blanketed Sydney Tuesday triggering a chorus of smoke alarms to ring across the city and forcing school children inside, as “severe” weather conditions fuelled deadly bush blazes along Australia’s east coast.

Fire engines raced office-to-office in the city centre with sirens blaring, as inland bushfires poured smoke laden with toxic particles into commercial buildings.

Emergency services responded to an “unprecedented” 500 automatic call-outs inside a few hours according to New South Wales Fire and Rescue’s Roger Mentha.

A regional fire headquarters miles from the nearest blazes was itself evacuated while throngs of mask-wearing commuters choked their way through thick acrid air and the organisers of a harbour yacht race declared it was unsafe to proceed.

“The smoke from all the fires is just so severe here on the harbour that you just can’t see anything, so it’s just too dangerous,” said spokeswoman Di Pearson of an event that normally foreshadows the famed Sydney-Hobart yacht race. “The vision is just so poor.”

Some of the city’s commuter ferries were also cancelled “due to thick smoke” and school kids were kept inside at breaktime and sent home early as pollution levels soared far above “hazardous” levels.

For weeks the east of the country has been smothered in smoke as drought and climate-fuelled bushfires have burned. But the scale of the problem on Tuesday shocked even hardened residents.

Bruce Baker — an 82-year-old who lives in Gosford, north of Sydney — said he was skipping his daily morning walk because of the smoke.

“This is the worst it’s been, for sure,” he told AFP. “It dries your throat. Even if you’re not asthmatic, you feel it.”

Authorities recommended that the vulnerable cease outdoor activity altogether and that everyone stay inside as much as possible, although one couple braved the toxic air to get married on the waterfront in front of Sydney Harbour Bridge shrouded in smog.

A cricket match between New South Wales and Queensland also went ahead, despite a barely visible ball.

Tuesday had been expected to bring strong winds and high temperatures that made for “severe conditions where embers can be blown ahead of the fire into suburbs and threaten properties.”

But New South Wales Rural Fire Service said “deteriorating fire conditions have been delayed by a thick blanket of smoke” over the east of the state.

As the day developed there were nearly 100 bushfire incidents in the state of New South Wales alone and dozens more in Queensland.

Total fire bans were put in place across much of the east of the country and in large parts of western Australia.

Temperatures in some inland areas eased past 44 degrees Celsius (111 Fahrenheit).

The ‘big dry’

To the northwest of Sydney, several fires already burning for weeks have combined to create a “megafire” that has already destroyed 319,000 hectares (788,000 acres) of land, mostly inside national parks.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison  — who for weeks has not commented on the smoke haze — defended his government’s handling of the fires and said there were no plans to professionalise the countryside’s largely volunteer force.

“Our policy is sensible when it comes to addressing and taking action on climate change. Our actions on climate change are getting the results they’re intended to get,” he said.

Morrison’s conservative coalition has been criticised by former fire chiefs for failing to heed warnings about climate change.

The crisis has been propelled by a prolonged drought that has made vegetation tinder dry.

The Bureau of Meteorology has reported that Australia experienced its driest November on record this year.

The “big dry” has left farmers desperate and small towns facing the prospect of running out of water completely.

A swathe of the east of the country has seen “rainfall deficiencies” since early 2017 — almost three years.

Many dams in New South Wales are empty and almost all are well below capacity.

Firefighters south of Brisbane recently reported 1,000 litres of water were stolen from tanks at their station.

Amid the shortage, Tuesday also saw the toughest water restrictions in a decade being introduced for Sydney — with curbs on everything from hosepipe use to washing cars.

AFP

‘Uncharted Territory’ As Bushfires Rage Across Australia’s East

Smoke from rural bushfires are seen over Sydney Harbour on October 31, 2019. Sydney residents coughed and spluttered their way around Australia’s largest metropolis as a bank of smoke from rural bushfires enveloped the city prompting health warnings. Saeed KHAN / AFP

 

 

Dozens of bushfires raged out of control across eastern Australia on Friday, blocking escape routes for residents and shuttering the main highway linking major cities on the country’s Pacific coast.

More than 90 blazes pockmarked the New South Wales countryside, 50 of them uncontained, tearing through tens of thousands of hectares.

“We are in uncharted territory,” New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told public broadcaster ABC. “We have never seen this many fires concurrently at emergency warning level.”

Authorities said fires had breached containment lines and forced the closure of the Pacific Highway linking Sydney and Brisbane in two places.

Emergency warnings were introduced for 14 flashpoints, bringing warnings to evacuate immediately.

READ ALSO: Five Killed, 120 Injured In Iran Earthquake

In some areas, residents were told to simply “seek shelter as it is too late to leave”.

Local radio stopped normal programming and provided instructions about how to try to survive fires if trapped at home or in a vehicle.

A prolonged drought, strong winds, low humidity and high temperatures have conspired to make the landscape a tinderbox.

“It’s a very dynamic, volatile and dangerous set of circumstances,” said Fitzsimmons.

Bushfires are common in Australia, but the country is gearing up for busy bushfire season with record temperatures predicted for the summer months.

Consumer Watchdog Sues Google Over Location Data Use

(FILES) A file photo taken on November 20, 2017 shows logos of US multinational technology company Google displayed on computers’ screens. Google is dropping out of the bidding for a huge Pentagon cloud computing contract that could be worth up to $10 billion, saying the deal would be inconsistent with its principles. The decision by Google, confirmed to AFP in an email October 9, 2018, leaves a handful of other tech giants including Amazon in the running for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract aimed at modernizing the military’s computing systems. PHOTO: LOIC VENANCE / AFP

 

Australia’s consumer watchdog on Tuesday announced legal action against Google for allegedly misleading customers about the way it collects and uses personal location data.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) claims Google collected, kept and used “highly sensitive and valuable personal information” of Android phone and tablet users without giving them an informed choice.

The tech giant is accused of making misleading on-screen representations about the location data it was collecting and when certain Google Account settings were enabled or disabled.

ACCC chair Adam Sims said the watchdog was seeking “significant penalties” and for Google to acknowledge its past behaviour was “inappropriate”.

“We’re also alleging that some of the behaviour is continuing,” he told reporters in Sydney. “We want declarations that the current behaviour should not continue.”

The ACCC says that between 2017 and 2018 Google failed to disclose that both “location history” and “web & app activity” settings needed to be switched off to prevent location data collection.

The Silicon Valley titan allegedly also told customers such data would only be used for their personal use of Google services, and did not disclose that it may be used for other unrelated purposes.

Those actions constituted a breach of Australian consumer law, claims the ACCC, which has instituted proceedings in the Federal Court.

A Google spokesperson said the company was reviewing the details of the allegations and would defend itself in court.

The lawsuit stems from an 18-month ACCC inquiry into the power of digital platforms, which resulted in calls for far-reaching new regulations on tech giants.

The watchdog urged tighter controls on the use of personal data and measures to ease Facebook and Google’s dominance of online advertising.

The government is due to announce which of the ACCC recommendations will be implemented by the end of the year.

AFP

Cardinal Pell Appeal Ruling To Be Announced August 21

 

The ruling in Australian Cardinal George Pell’s appeal against his conviction on historical child sex abuse charges will be handed down on August 21, court officials announced Thursday.

Pell, 78, the former Vatican number three, was sentenced in March to six years in prison after being convicted of sexually assaulting two choirboys in the 1990s.

A three-judge panel of Victoria state’s Supreme Court has been deliberating his case since hearing his appeal over two days in early June.

The judges can decide to reject the appeal, order a retrial or acquit Pell, the Catholic Church’s most senior convicted child molester.

Pell was convicted of sexually abusing the two choirboys in 1996 and 1997 after Sunday Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral when he was Archbishop of Melbourne.

His lawyers raised 13 objections to his conviction on five counts of sexual abuse, arguing it was “physically impossible” for the cleric to have committed the crimes in a crowded cathedral.

They cast doubt on everything from the timing of the incident following Sunday services to whether he would have been able to move his cumbersome archbishop’s robes enough to commit the assaults.

The appeal maintains that the case against Pell was unreasonably dependent on the testimony of a single victim –- the other died in 2014 — and fell short of proving his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Prosecutors insisted the jury verdict against the one-time top Vatican official was “unimpeachable”.

Whichever side loses the appeal is expected to take their case to Australia’s High Court — the country’s final court of appeal.

Since his conviction, Pell has been removed as the Vatican finance chief and lost his place in the so-called C9 Council of Cardinals that is effectively the pope’s cabinet and inner circle of advisers.

The Vatican has opened its own probe into Pell’s actions. If his conviction is upheld, it could lead to his expulsion from the priesthood.

AFP

World Number One Halep Stunned In Sydney

Simona Halep of Romania hits a return against Australia’s Ashleigh Barty during their women’s singles second round match at the Sydney International tennis tournament in Sydney on January 9, 2019.  PETER PARKS / AFP

 

World number one Simona Halep’s preparations for next week’s Australian Open suffered a huge setback Wednesday when she was bundled out of the Sydney International at the first hurdle.

The Romanian hadn’t played since withdrawing from the WTA Finals in October with a herniated disc and was no match for fast-rising Australian Ashleigh Barty, who scored the biggest win of her career 6-4, 6-4.

Halep, the reigning French Open champion, and 2018 Australian Open runner-up had a bye through to the second round, meaning she heads to Melbourne Park for the opening Grand Slam of the year with just one game under her belt.

“It was a great match after almost four months (since the last one). I think I played a good level of tennis but I had no inspiration in some important points,” she said.

“She played really well and deserved to win. But I was also very close to winning.

“No pain at all, that is a great sign,” she added of her back. “The tennis is good, I just have to believe in myself more.”

Barty, who ended a breakthrough 2018 with a WTA title in Zhuhai and is now ranked 15, brought the momentum into the new year and is now in the quarter-finals, where she will meet either Belgian 10th seed Elise Mertens or Estonian Anett Kontaveit.

She had already accounted for another French Open winner, Jelena Ostapenko, in the opening round and had an extra gear against Halep, breaking serve twice to win the first set.

 Nothing to lose 

Halep, without a coach after splitting with Darren Cahill who wanted to spend more time with his family, was first to break in the second set and had a chance to hold for 5-3.

But Barty was undaunted, using her signature court craft to break straight back and secure victory two games later.

“It was extremely difficult conditions, very swirly down at court level. So I figured if I’m going to play Sim anytime, and it’s her first match, it was now. I was very happy to make the most if it,” said Barty.

“I had nothing to lose out here so I just came out and played with freedom. I believed I could win.”

Earlier in the week, Halep admitted the back injury that ended her 2018 season early was “very scary”.

The early finish to 2018 was a disappointing end to a spectacular season, which saw the 27-year-old secure the year-end number one ranking for the second year running.

She got off to a stellar start, reaching the Australian Open final and went on to win the Shenzhen Open, the Rogers Cup and her debut Grand Slam crown at Roland Garros.

In other matches Wednesday, Switzerland’s Timea Bacsinszky beat Australia’s Sam Stosur 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 to make the last eight, where she will meet Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus following her three-set win over Priscilla Hon.

In the men’s draw, third-seeded Argentinian Diego Schwartzman booked his place in the quarters by beating Spain’s Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in two sets. He will meet Japanese qualifier Yoshihito Nishioka, who ousted Russian Andrey Rublev.

Veteran Italian Andreas Seppi is also through to face top seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, while fifth-seeded Alex De Minaur set up an all-Australian last eight tie with Jordan Thompson.

AFP

Nigerians Usher In New Year With Prayers And Fireworks

Nigerians have joined the rest of the world in ushering in the year 2019.

Earlier, Sydney and Hong Kong put on stunning fireworks displays in a spectacular welcome to the New Year, among the first in a wave of celebrations for billions around the world.

Australia’s largest city organised its biggest-ever fireworks display, using a record amount of pyrotechnics as well as new effects.

Colours lit up the city’s skyline for 12 minutes and dazzled the more than 1.5 million spectators who packed the harbour front and parks.

 

New Year’s Eve fireworks erupt over Sydney’s iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House during the fireworks show on January 1, 2019.
PETER PARKS / AFP

An earlier thunderstorm did not dampen the spirits of revelers who camped out at vantage points, some since the morning.

To mark the international year of indigenous languages in 2019, the harbour also hosted a ceremony celebrating Aboriginal heritage that included animations projected onto the bridge’s pylons.

In Hong Kong, hundreds of thousands of revelers packed the streets on both sides of the city’s Victoria Harbour for a spectacular 10-minute firework show.

Some $1.8 million worth of pyrotechnics bathed the city’s skyscrapers in a dizzying array of colours accompanied by a score that included Auld Lang Syne sung in Cantonese, Mandarin and English.

Fireworks explode over Victoria Harbour during New Year celebrations in Hong Kong on January 1, 2019.
ANTHONY WALLACE / AFP

In Nigeria, many Christians took to their various churches where night vigils held to herald the new year.

While some Nigerians took to the churches, there were others at city centres and parks where official countdown concerts took place.

The One Lagos Fiesta was one of the events put together to usher in the new year, with various artists and performers thrilling revelers who thronged to the venue of the fiesta put together by the Lagos state government.

And when the clock struck 12am signaling the berth of a new day, Nigerians across the country especially in Lagos, took to the streets in jubilation. At certain centres around Nigeria’s economic hub, major firework displays lit up the skies as each-one bad the other “Happy New Year”.

President Urge Nigerians To Vote Without Fear

President Muhammadu Buhari has in his New Year Message reminded Nigerians that there are new opportunities to be explored in 2019.

Buhari who reminded Nigerians of the polls in 2019, told the people that the election is not a do or die affair, hence, they must not approach the process with fear.

The President made the call in a New Year Message sent out on Monday, December 31.

According to the President, 2019 is a very significant year in the nation’s history and as such Nigerians must brace up for the new moral grounds to be broken.

Sydney, Hong Kong Kick Off 2019 Parties With Dazzling Fireworks

New Year’s Eve fireworks erupt over Sydney’s iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House during the fireworks show on January 1, 2019. PETER PARKS / AFP

 

Sydney and Hong Kong put on stunning fireworks displays in a spectacular welcome to the New Year, among the first in a wave of celebrations for billions around the world.

Australia’s largest city organised its biggest-ever fireworks display, using a record amount of pyrotechnics as well as new effects. Colours lit up the city’s skyline for 12 minutes and dazzled the more than 1.5 million spectators who packed the harbour front and parks.

An earlier thunderstorm did not dampen the spirits of revellers who camped out at vantage points, some since the morning.

To mark the international year of indigenous languages in 2019, the harbour also hosted a ceremony celebrating Aboriginal heritage that included animations projected onto the bridge’s pylons.

In Hong Kong, hundreds of thousands of revellers packed the streets on both sides of the city’s Victoria Harbour for a spectacular 10-minute firework show.

Some $1.8 million worth of pyrotechnics bathed the city’s skyscrapers in a dizzying array of colours accompanied by a score that included Auld Lang Syne sung in Cantonese, Mandarin and English.

Fireworks explode over Victoria Harbour during New Year celebrations in Hong Kong on January 1, 2019. ANTHONY WALLACE / AFP

 

Revellers were packed shoulder to shoulder on the densely crowded streets, many festooned with LED lights and sparkly glasses reading “2019”.

In the Indonesian capital Jakarta, more than 500 couples tied the knot in a free mass wedding organised by the government, with fireworks shows cancelled out of respect for tsunami victims.

New Year’s Eve celebrations were also called off in nearby Banten province, where the disaster struck on 22 December killing more than 400 people.

In Japan, locals flocked to temples to ring in 2019, as US boxing superstar Floyd Mayweather came out of retirement to beat Japanese kickboxer Tenshin Nasukawa in a multi-million-dollar “exhibition” bout outside Tokyo.

Around the world

Fireworks explode over the Chao Phraya River during New Year celebrations in Bangkok at the start of January 1, 2019. Krit Promsakla Na Sakolnakorn / AFP

 

The party atmosphere is set to sweep across major cities in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas as the clock ticks past midnight.

A strong police presence has become a key element of the festivities, to protect crowds that could be targeted in terror and vehicle attacks.

In Moscow, concerts and light shows will be held across the Russian capital’s parks and more than 1,000 ice rinks have been opened for merrymakers.

In Paris, a fireworks display and sound and light show under the theme “fraternity” is set to go ahead on the Champs-Elysees despite plans for further “yellow vest” anti-government protests at the famed avenue.

In Berlin, music lovers will party at a concert at the Brandenburg Gate, but a popular German tradition of setting off fireworks to mark the occasion has been banned in some other cities over safety concerns.

Britain’s capital London will usher in the New Year by celebrating its relationship with Europe amid turmoil over the Brexit referendum vote to leave the EU, with the fireworks display at the London Eye to feature music from the continent’s artists.

Scottish capital Edinburgh’s traditional Hogmanay celebrations will also take on a pro-European theme ahead of the year in which Britain is due to exit the union.

Revellers in Dubai will flock to see fireworks at the world’s tallest tower, Burj Khalifa, while another United Arab Emirates city — Ras al-Khaimah — will attempt to set the Guinness World Record for “longest fireworks show”.

Rio de Janeiro’s famous hilltop statue of Christ the Redeemer will be brought to 3D life with special light projections before fireworks illuminate the city’s Copacabana beach where around two million revellers, many dressed in white, will party till dawn.

Looking ahead to 2019

People watch special children’s fireworks near the Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, on December 31, 2018. Robin UTRECHT / ANP / AFP

 

As the world parties, many will also look forward to 2019 and wonder whether the turmoil witnessed during the previous year will spill over into the next.

The political wrangling in Westminster over Brexit was one of the key stories of this year, with a resolution yet to be reached ahead of the scheduled March 29 departure.

US President Donald Trump dominated headlines in 2018 as he ramped up his trade war with China, quit the Iran nuclear deal, moved the American embassy to Jerusalem and met his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong Un in Singapore for a historic summit.

North Korea’s commitment to denuclearisation will remain a major political and security issue into next year, as will Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s reassertion of control after Trump’s shock military withdrawal announcement.

The war in Yemen, which started in 2014 and has already killed about 10,000 people and left some 20 million at risk of starvation, could take a crucial turn after a ceasefire went into effect in mid-December.

Numerous countries go to the polls in 2019, with key elections in India, Afghanistan, Indonesia, South Africa, Argentina and Australia.

Major sporting events on the calendar include the Rugby World Cup in Japan, the cricket one-day international World Cup in England and the athletics World Championships in Qatar.

New Year’s Eve fireworks erupt over Sydney’s iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House during the fireworks show on January 1, 2019. PETER PARKS / AFP

 

AFP