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After Criticism, Australia Lifts Pandemic Travel Restrictions to Allow New Zealand Woman and Her Dying Sister’s Reunion

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(CANBERRA, Australia) — A woman has tearfully embraced her dying sister in Australia after weeks of bureaucracy wrangling over pandemic travel restrictions.

Australia had rejected Christine Archer’s request for permission to fly from New Zealand four times before her story attracted media attention.

Her only sister Gail Baker was diagnosed with incurable ovarian cancer in late March after both countries stopped international travel. Baker has perhaps weeks to live.

Archer was eventually allowed to fly to Sydney and spent only a week in hotel quarantine before testing negative for the coronavirus. International travelers are usually quarantined for two weeks. Family friends drove the retired nurse 490 kilometers (300 miles) from Sydney to the New South Wales state coastal town of Bowraville.

Archer finally hugged her younger sibling in the front yard of Baker’s home on Wednesday. It was their first reunion in six years.

“Words can’t explain how I feel, to be honest.” Archer told Australian Broadcasting Corp. in an interview aired on Thursday.

“I’m just so happy that I finally got to be here and be with her. The last two weeks have been the hardest or the longest two weeks of my life,” Archer said.

Read more: Visiting My Sick Mom Could Put Her Life at Greater Risk. But How Many More Times Will I Get to See Her?

Archer was surprised that her persistence paid off. But she is adamant that Australia made the right decision in allowing her to remain with her sister in her final days. “I wondered whether the Australian government had any compassion at all with their rejections,” Archer said.

“I honestly don’t know what they were thinking. I know it’s an awful time at the moment with the virus … but, I mean, there are some things you’ve got to be a bit lenient on and I felt this was one of them,” she said.

“I didn’t think I was ever going to see Gail again. That would’ve been the worst thing in the world if that had happened,” she added.

Australia’s Department of Home Affairs relented on Archer’s travel application after it allowed the New Zealand Warriors rugby league team to relocate from Auckland in preparation for the Australian football competition restarting next week.

The department declined to explain its change of heart on the sisters’ reunion, saying in a statement it did not comment on individual cases.

New Zealand has largely succeeded in its goal of eliminating the virus. It has reported no new infections over the past four days and most of the people who contracted the virus have recovered. About 1,500 people have been reported as having the virus including 21 who died.

Australia has had similar success in slowing the virus spread although New South Wales remains the worst-affected state. Australia expects New Zealand will become the first international destination with which regular passenger travel will resume because of the low risk of infection.

Australia has recorded 7,079 virus cases and 100 deaths. Australia’s population is five times larger than New Zealand’s.





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Russia Declares Emergency Following Spill of 20,000 Tons of Oil in the Arctic Circle

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Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a state of emergency in the city of Norilsk after a massive oil spill in the Arctic region. An estimated 20,000 tons of fuel from a power plant spilled onto a road, and a large part made its way into an river on May 29.

A “considerable amount” of the oil seeped into the Ambarnaya River in Siberia, Putin said Wednesday during an official meeting about response to the fuel leak. The President appeared shocked to learn that local authorities were first flagged to the incident by social media—two days after it happened and criticized the region’s governor Alexander Uss during the televised meeting, Reuters reported. “What — are we to learn about emergency situations from social networks? Are you alright healthwise over there?” Putin said.

The leak was caused by “accidental damage to a diesel fuel storage tank” at a plant operated by a subsidiary of Norilsk Nickel and a cleanup effort is underway. The company, which is a major producer of palladium, high-grade metal nickel, platinum and copper, said it would “do its maximum” to resolve the issue Tuesday on Twitter.

The government’s environmental agency is assisting the company with “joint aerial inspections” of the river to “search for possible diesel contamination occurrences” Norilsk Nickel said in a statement Wednesday.

They said in a statement Thursday that the “incident could have been caused by soil thawing” and ruled out “negligence in operating the tank” after inspecting the scene. “The tank is inspected every other year. There is a whole list of criteria for the inspection, which normally results in the tank tagged as serviceable,” he explained,” said Sergey Dyachenko, Nornickel’s First Vice President and Chief Operating Officer.

It remains unclear what the cause of the spill may be. Dmitry Streletskiy, a professor at George Washington University, told Bloomberg, “The cause is yet to be determined and is likely a combination of both climate change and infrastructure-related factors.”

The Arctic region is particularly fragile and the overall damage could be immense. Oleg Mitvol, former deputy head of Russia’s environmental watchdog Rosprirodnadzor, said there had “never been such an accident in the Arctic zone,” the BBC reported. Mitvol said the clean-up could take between five and 10 years and cost 100 billion roubles ($1.5 billion).





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Brazil overtakes Italy as country with third-highest coronavirus deaths

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Brazil records 1,349 deaths in day, with Mexico also registering over 1,000, as Latin American countries seek to reopen * Coronavirus – latest updates * See all our coronavirus coverageBrazil has overtaken Italy as the country with the third-highest Covid-19 death toll after another 1,233 fatalities took its total tally to 33,781.The figure was published by Brazil’s health ministry on Thursday night and means only the United States and the United Kingdom have registered more deaths because of the pandemic. In an online broadcast shortly before the numbers were released, Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro made almost no mention of the victims but continued to publicly attack efforts to slow the advance of coronavirus with quarantine measures and social distancing. “We can’t go on like this. Nobody can take it anymore,” Bolsonaro said of the shutdown efforts being implemented by state governors and mayors across Brazil. “The collateral impact will be far greater than those people who unfortunately lost their lives because of these last three months here,” Bolsonaro said.The numbers – which came after Mexico reported a record daily tally of more than 1,000 deaths on Wednesday – reinforced fears that Latin America’s two biggest economies, and other countries in the region, were facing a bleak few months.Mexico’s death toll now stands at nearly 12,000 with the number of infections rising above 100,000 on Wednesday. Chile is also grappling with a growing crisis, this week extending a quarantine of the capital, Santiago, as the country’s total number of fatalities rose to nearly 1,300.Despite the worsening situation, many parts of the region are moving towards reopening, against the advice of most medical experts.Miguel Lago, the director of Brazil’s Institute for Health Policy Studies, said reopening was a mistake that was likely to cause an explosion of infections and pile further pressure on hospitals that were already struggling to cope with the pandemic.“I am very worried … We are going to witness hospitals collapsing in almost every state,” Lago warned. “I think the worst is still to come.”Coronavirus cases have now been detected in more than 70% of Brazilian cities, with the south-eastern states of Rio and São Paulo particularly badly hit.Lago said Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, bore particular responsibility for the dire situation: both for the incompetence of his government’s response and for the political self-interest he believed had driven Bolsonaro to deliberately undermine social distancing in order to protect the economy – and his chances of re-election in 2022.“He doesn’t care about the lives of the Brazilians who will die because of his absolutely irresponsible behaviour,” said Lago.Lago described the rightwing populist’s reaction as even more lacking than those of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, the leaders of the two countries with the highest Covid-19 death tolls.José Manoel Ferreira Gonçalves, a civil society activist who recently denounced Bolsonaro at the United Nations for alleged crimes against humanity, said the president’s “shameful” response had condemned Brazil to “carnage”.“We are adrift,” said Gonçalves, a member of the group Engineers For Democracy.On Thursday Mexico’s president, the leftwing populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador, urged his 129 million citizens not to allow the rising numbers of deaths and infections to condemn them to “psychosis, apprehension or fear”.“I think our strategy has been the right one,” he reportedly told reporters in the southern state of Chiapas which he is visiting after restarting his travels this week as part of what he calls Mexico’s “new normal”. “We were lucky enough the pandemic didn’t arrive here first, which gave us time to get ready.”López Obrador attacked media reports about Mexico’s record day of recorded deaths – the world’s second highest on Wednesday, after Brazil – as “alarmist and irresponsible”.Chile also suffered its worst day of confirmed deaths on Wednesday, with 87 reported fatalities.Despite their ideological differences, Bolsonaro and López Obrador, who swept to power in 2018 amid a wave of anti-establishment voter rage, have both positioned themselves as champions of the poor, determined to get their countries back to work in order to protect jobs and livelihoods.But their countries look set to suffer some of the world’s highest Covid-19 death tolls, with Mexico’s coronavirus tsar, Hugo López-Gatell Ramírez, this week admitting another 20,000 lives could be lost.“We are still a long way from the end of this epidemic,” he told the El Universal newspaper.



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Navy Veteran Freed After Being ‘Held Hostage’ In Iran, Returning to U.S.

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(Bloomberg) — Michael White, a U.S. citizen and Navy veteran imprisoned in Iran since 2018, was released on Thursday and is en route home, a family spokesman said in a message that thanked President Donald Trump’s administration and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.

“For the past 683 days my son, Michael, has been held hostage in Iran by the IRGC and I have been living a nightmare,” according to a statement from Joanne White that was posted on Twitter by spokesman Jonathan Franks. “I am blessed to announce that the nightmare is over, and my son is safely on his way home.”

The move comes days after Sirous Asgari, an Iranian scientist imprisoned in the U.S., was deported from the U.S. on June 2 after being accused by federal prosecutors of trying to steal research secrets from Case Western Reserve University, according to the Associated Press.

White left Iran aboard a Swiss goverment aircraft, AP said. The apparent prisoner trade represents a rare sign of diplomacy between Washington and Tehran as the U.S. continues to ramp up sanctions on the Islamic Republic over its nuclear program.

In March, Iran released White on medical furlough, partly answering a call from the U.S. to free prisoners as a goodwill gesture amid the coronavirus outbreak. White, who has been suffering from cancer, was detained in July 2018, just before leaving Iran, for reasons that remain unclear.

The navy veteran from Imperial Beach, California, spent 13 years in the U.S. military before retiring for medical reasons, according to Franks. He was deployed during Operation Desert Storm on the USS Abraham Lincoln, where he served as a data clerk, he said.

“I am incredibly grateful to the administration, especially the team at the State Department for their work on Michael’s case and I owe the Swiss diplomats who have worked so hard to keep Michael safe a debt I can never repay,” White’s mother wrote.

The Trump administration has made freeing American prisoners abroad a key foreign policy priority. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo in April warned that any country “wrongfully” detaining Americans will be held “strictly responsible” if they become infected and died of the coronavirus.

After White had left Iranian airspace, Trump tweeted that he “will never stop working to secure the release of all Americans held hostage overseas!”

Iran’s often competing intelligence agencies have a long record of targeting Iranians with dual nationality as well as foreign nationals, detaining them on vague security charges and then using them to gain leverage in negotiations with Western countries, often over financial and political disputes.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ intelligence arm continues to arrest Iranian dual and foreign nationals on vague charges such as “cooperating with a hostile state,” according to the World Report 2020 by Human Rights Watch. At least a dozen of these individuals remain behind bars, deprived of due process, and are routinely subjected to pro-government media smear campaigns, it said.





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