New Zealand records 100 days without domestic virus case but warns against complacency

Residents exercise at Hagley Park in Christchurch, New Zealand, Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020. New Zealand on Sunday marked 100 days since it stamped out the spread of the coronavirus, a rare bright spot in a world that continues to be ravaged by the disease. (AP)
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Updated 09 August 2020

New Zealand records 100 days without domestic virus case but warns against complacency

  • New Zealanders have returned to normal life, but authorities are concerned that people were now refusing testing
  • New Zealand has 23 active cases in managed isolation facilities, and 1,219 COVID-19 cases in all so far

WELLINGTON: New Zealand marked 100 days without a domestic transmission of the coronavirus on Sunday, but warned against complacency as countries like Vietnam and Australia which once had the virus under control now battle a resurgence in infections.
New Zealand’s successful fight against COVID-19 has made the Pacific island nation of 5 million one of the safest places in the world right now.
New Zealanders have returned to normal life, but authorities are concerned that people were now refusing testing, not using the government contact tracing apps, and even ignoring basic hygiene rules.
“Achieving 100 days without community transmission is a significant milestone, however, as we all know, we can’t afford to be complacent,” Director-General of Health Dr. Ashley Bloomfield said.
“We have seen overseas how quickly the virus can re-emerge and spread in places where it was previously under control, and we need to be prepared to quickly stamp out any future cases in New Zealand,” he said.
New Zealand has 23 active cases in managed isolation facilities, and 1,219 COVID-19 cases in all so far.
Vietnam, which went for three months without detecting any domestic transmission, is now racing to control a new outbreak in Danang.
Neighbouring Australia’s second-biggest city, Melbourne, has gone into a six week lockdown due to a surge in cases. The second wave of cases in Melbourne has been largely a result of lapses in quarantining.
“For countries like Australia and New Zealand the source of such outbreaks is likely to be from managed isolation and quarantine facilities because of the large numbers of people held there and the multiple shifts of staff involved in looking after them,” said Michael Baker, Professor of Public Health at the University of Otago.
There have been cases of returning New Zealanders sneaking out of quarantine, and other security slip ups.
New Zealand last week ramped up testing at quarantine facilities and clinics, and started work on technology to track people using Bluetooth technology.
Ardern kicked off her re-election campaign on Saturday calling it a ‘Covid election’.
But a resurgence of cases due to “Covid fatigue” could spark a backlash against her, and give the opposition a chance to work their way back into the election contest. (Repotring by Praveen Menon; Editing by Michael Perry)


Fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh goes on despite US mediation

Updated 24 October 2020

Fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh goes on despite US mediation

  • Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a war there ended in 1994
  • After failed attempts by Russia to broker a truce, Pompeo hosted the Armenian and Azerbaijan foreign ministers for separate talks

STEPANAKERT, Nagorno-Karabakh: Rocket and artillery barrage hit residential areas in Nagorno-Karabakh on Saturday hours after the United States hosted top diplomats from Armenia and Azerbaijan for talks on settling their decades-long conflict over the region.
The heavy shelling forced residents of Stepanakert, the regional capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, into shelters, as emergency teams rushed to extinguish fires. Local officials said the city was struck with Azerbaijan’s Smerch long-range multiple rocket systems, a devastating Soviet-designed weapon intended to ravage wide areas with explosives and cluster munitions.
Nagorno-Karabakh authorities said other towns in the region were also targeted by Azerbaijani artillery fire. There was no immediate information about casualties.
Officials in Azerbaijan claimed that the town of Terter and areas in the Gubadli region came under Armenian shelling early Saturday, killing a teenager. They also said 13-year-old boy died Saturday of wounds from an earlier shelling of Ganja, Azerbaijan’s second-largest city.
Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a war there ended in 1994. The current fighting that started Sept. 27 marks the worst escalation in the conflict since the war’s end and has killed hundreds, perhaps even thousands, according to official reports.
After two failed attempts by Russia to broker a truce, the US waded onto the scene on Friday, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hosting the Armenian and Azerbaijan foreign ministers for separate talks.
“Both must implement a cease-fire and return to substantive negotiations,” Pompeo said in a tweet after the negotiations.
Those words were ignored on the ground.
“Just now a bomb exploded in my garden,” Georgiy, a resident of Stepanakert who only gave his first name amid the war jitters, said after the overnight attack. “If this is the so-called cease-fire, let the whole world see this cease-fire.”
Georgiy, who was born in Stepanakert, said he would stay home despite the fighting.
“This is my motherland, I’m not going to leave it,” he said. “All the people will stand until the last.”
According to Nagorno-Karabakh officials, 963 of their troops have been killed, and 37 civilians also have died. Azerbaijan hasn’t disclosed its military losses, but said that over 60 civilians were killed and about 300 were wounded in the four weeks of fighting.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that according to Moscow’s information, the death toll from the fighting was significantly higher than officially reported by the warring parties, nearing 5,000.
Russia, the United States and France have co-chaired the so-called Minsk Group set up by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to mediate in the conflict, but they haven’t scored any progress after nearly three decades.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has said that to end hostilities Armenian forces must withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh. He has insisted that Azerbaijan has the right to reclaim its territory by force since international mediators have failed.
Turkey has thrown its weight behind Azerbaijan, vowing to support its ally “on the battlefield or the negotiating table.” It has trained Azerbaijani military and provided it with strike drones and long-range rocket systems that gave Azerbaijan a strong military edge on the battlefield.
Armenian officials say Turkey is directly involved in the conflict and is sending Syrian mercenaries in to fight on Azerbaijan’s side.
Turkey has denied deploying combatants to the region, but a Syrian war monitor and Syria-based opposition activists have confirmed that Turkey has sent hundreds of Syrian opposition fighters to fight in Nagorno-Karabakh.