Everything we know as June 21 ‘freedom day’ under threat due to soaring Covid infections


Boris Johnson is set to announce on Monday whether a final easing of coronavirus restrictions in England will go ahead as planned on June 21.

However, there are a number of reports claiming that this so-called ‘freedom day’ is due to be delayed for a month due to the growing concerns about rising covid infections.

The last stage of the road map out of lockdown would see an end to all legal limits on social contact, a reopening of nightclubs, no restrictions on the size of weddings or other gatherings, and the return of large audiences for events such as theatre performances.

Do you thinking the final easing of restrictions should be delayed? Share your opinion in the comments section below



People sit outside a mobile Covid-19 vaccination centre at Bolton Town Hall on Wednesday
Vaccines have been delivered at an impressive rate across the UK

The Government has said the decision to lift restrictions will be based on four tests. These are;

  • Whether the vaccine rollout is continuing successfully
  • If evidence shows vaccines are reducing hospital cases and deaths among people who have been vaccinated
  • That infection rates are not risking a surge in hospital cases that would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS
  • That the Government’s assessment of the risks has not been fundamentally changed by new variants of concern

Based on these four tests, the latest data offers a mixed picture.

Cases, infections and hospital admissions are all rising, although still well below the peak of the second wave of the virus and the vaccines are continuing to prove successful in reducing the number of deaths.

But there is new evidence the Indian variant of Covid-19 is now responsible for up to 96% of new cases – with a 60% increased risk of household transmission compared to the Kent variant last year.

Here we look at the current situation before the begin decision is announced next week.



Vue cinema customer scans phone in face mask
Most restrictions have already been eased, including returning to indoor venues like cinemas

COVID VARIANTS

The Delta variant of coronavirus, first identified in India, is driving the rise in infections and case rates, and is now responsible for up to 96% of new Covid-19 cases, Public Health England said on Friday.

It is also believed to have a 60% increased risk of household transmission compared to the Alpha variant, which originated in Kent at the end of last year.

Growth rates for Indian variant cases are doubling in some regions in as little as 4.5 days.

But while this variant now accounts for the overwhelming majority of new cases of Covid-19, Public Health England said it was “encouraging” that the increase is “not yet accompanied by a similarly large increase in hospitalisations”, adding that the vaccination programme is continuing to reduce the impact of the variant among sections of the public where there is high take-up of both doses.



A map showing daily active cases of symptomatic coronavirus
A map showing daily active cases of symptomatic coronavirus in the UK

Out of 383 cases of the Indian variant in England up to June 7 that required an overnight stay in A&E, 251 (66%) were unvaccinated, 66 (17%) were more than 21 days after their first dose of vaccine and 42 (11%) were more than 14 days after their second.

And of the 42 deaths in England to June 7 of people who were confirmed as having the Indian variant of Covid-19 and who died within 28 days of a positive test, 23 were unvaccinated, seven were more than 21 days after their first dose of vaccine and 12 were more than 14 days after their second dose.

INFECTION RATES

The proportion of people testing positive for coronavirus in England has increased in recent weeks.

Around one in 560 people in private households in England had Covid-19 in the week to June 5 – up from one in 640 in the previous week, according to estimates published on Friday by the Office for National Statistics.

It is the highest level since the week to April 10.

These figures are still very low compared with the peak of the second wave in January; the latest estimate of one in 560 people is the equivalent of 0.2% of the population, well below the 2.1% estimated at the start of the year.

But the downwards trend in infections since January has gone into reverse, with the latest numbers continuing to show an increase.



Commuters wearing face coverings due to Covid-19, travel on a Transport for London
But infections are increasing again, largely due to a new variant of covid

North-west England had the highest proportion of people of any region in England likely to test positive for coronavirus in the week to June 5: around one in 200.

South-west England had the lowest estimate: around one in 1,920.

Meanwhile the rate of new confirmed cases of Covid-19 in England is now at its highest level for three months.

A total of 60.1 cases per 100,000 people were recorded in the seven days to June 7 – the highest since March 5.

The rate hit 680.6 per 100,000 at the peak of the second wave in early January.

Around nine in 10 local authority areas in England (89%) are currently recording a rise in rates.

This is the highest proportion since the start of the year.



A nurse swabs the throat of a traveller as he administers a COVID-19 test in Heathrow Airport
Coronavirus still poses a risk, and vaccines don’t offer 100% protection

The biggest increases are all in Lancashire, including Ribble Valley (up week-on-week from 159.3 to 389.2), South Ribble (133.6 to 327.7) and Blackburn with Darwen, which continues to record the highest rate in England (up from 441.6 to 668.0).

Other areas of the country are now starting to record steep rises, however.

These include Staffordshire Moorlands (up from 42.7 to 110.7) and Wandsworth in London (33.4 to 93.7) .

HOSPITAL CASES AND DEATHS

The vaccine rollout has played a major role in helping reduce the number of Covid-19 hospital patients and deaths since the start of the year.

Up to May 30 2021, vaccines had averted around 42,000 hospital admissions and more than 14,000 deaths in older adults in England, according to the latest estimates from Public Health England.

This includes 11,800 deaths among people aged 80 and over.

Hospital cases are rising again, however.

A total of 158 hospital admissions of people with Covid-19 in England were reported for June 9, according to NHS England.



Behind the scenes at University Hospital Southampton during the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic at the largest NHS hospital on the South Coast of England.
There are concerns about a third wave of infections and the effect it would have on the NHS

This is up from 101 a week earlier and is the highest number since April 12.

The seven-day average for admissions currently stands at 120, the highest since April 21.

The number of Covid-19 patients in hospital in England stood at 884 as of 8am on June 11.

This is up from 805 a week earlier, while the seven-day average currently stands at 856 patients, the highest since May 16.

Two regions are now seeing a clear rise in patient numbers: north-west England, where the seven-day average is currently 246, the highest since April 24, and in London, where the average stands at 253, the highest since May 19.

Other regions have yet to see a similar trend, however – and in all areas the level of patients is still well below that of the peak of the second wave.

VACCINE ROLLOUT

Some 34.3 million first doses of Covid-19 vaccine have now been delivered in England – the equivalent of 77.5% of the adult population.

A further 24.7 million second doses have also been given, meaning 55.8% of people aged 18 and over are likely to be fully vaccinated.

The Government has said it is on target to offer all people aged 50 and over both doses of vaccine by June 21, and for all adults to be offered a first jab by the end of July.

Vaccine take-up varies among different age groups, however.



The trend of daily new cases of coronavirus in the UK by vaccination status
The trend of daily new cases of coronavirus in the UK by vaccination status

The latest available breakdown from NHS England, showing vaccinations up to June 6, shows 91.8% of people aged 80 and over have had both doses of vaccine – suggesting 8.2%, or around one in 12, are not yet fully vaccinated.

Some 97.4% of 70 to 79-year-olds are estimated to be fully vaccinated, along with 90.8% of people aged 60 to 69 and 72.5% of those aged 50 to 59.

There are also differences in take-up among other groups.

Only 68.7% of staff in older adult care homes are estimated to be fully vaccinated, compared with 90.5% of residents of these homes.



Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson has a decision to make, and is set to announce it on Monday

Some 88.8% of people classed as clinically extremely vulnerable have had both doses, though for London this figure is just 79.5%.

And 68.7% of those aged 16 to 64 classed as ‘at risk’ or a carer have received both doses of vaccine, dropping to 66.6% in north-west England and 58.8% in London.

The figures suggest there continue to be some groups of the population where the level of protection offered by both doses of Covid-19 vaccine is lagging behind the rest of the country.



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Ryanair tourist flight from Athens is forced to land in Belarus by MiG-29 fighter jet ‘after bogus bomb threat so authorities could arrest 26-year-old journalist opponent of hardman president Lukashenko’



A Ryanair flight was forced to land in Belarus following a ‘bogus bomb threat’ that was allegedly used as a ploy to arrest a prominent journalist.

The airliner full of tourists made an emergency landing at Minsk Airport today after being escorted by a MiG-29 fighter jet amid reports of a bomb on board.

The plane had been travelling from Athens in Greece to Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania.

Once the plane had landed, Roman Protasevich, 26, a critic and opponent of the country’s President Alexander Lukashenko, who was on board, was detained. 

Opposition leaders have slammed the incident, saying the plane was forced to land in Minsk as a pretext to detain Protasevich, the founder of Polish-based NEXTA, an opposition news outlet. 

The Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has condemned the forced landing of the airliner, which had flown from Athens earlier today, and demanded the immediate release of all of the passengers. 

Reports say Protasevich’s activism has led to him being included on a terror list, for which he could face the death penalty. 

An official Belarus Telegram channel claimed they saved Europe from a terrorist incident in bringing down the Ryanair plane bound for the Lithuanian capital Vilnius.

The Belarus defence ministry confirmed the detention of Protasevich, who had been living in exile.

Human rights centre Vesna also said: ‘Roman Protasevich was detained. He was on the Ryanair flight Athens-Vilnius.’

Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, widely seen to have won last year’s presidential election against Lukashenko before being forced into exile, said: ‘It is absolutely obvious that this is an operation by the special services to hijack an aircraft in order to detain the activist and blogger Roman Protasevich.

‘The regime endangered the safety of passengers on board and all civil aviation for the sake of reprisals against a man who was the editor of the largest Belarusian independent Telegram channels.

‘Only for this he was recognised as a terrorist, and only for this now in Belarus Roman can face the death penalty.’

Belarus is the last country in Europe to use the death penalty.

‘We have already informed the Ryanair office and the International Civil Aviation Organisation, demanding to start an investigation into the incident and take measures up to the exclusion of Belarus from ICAO,’ Tikhanovskaya added.

She warned: ‘From now on, not a single person flying over Belarus can be sure of their safety.

‘After all, the regime is abusing the rules of air traffic in order to capture those who disagree.’ 

The Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis condemned the forced landing of the plane to arrest Protasevich. 

He said: ‘The forced landing of a commercial plane to detain a journalist is an unprecedented, shocking act. We demand all passengers’ immediate release. 

‘Tomorrow’s #EUCO [European Council] must address the need to step up pressure on Belarus. Enough is enough.’

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Newspaper headlines: ‘Threat to freedom’ as PM warns of variant ‘risk’



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Severe storm warning issued as large hail, heavy rain threat looms


The weather bureau has issued a severe storm warning for Queensland’s south-eastern corner with four storm cells moving through the area on Wednesday afternoon.

As much as 100 millimetres of rain and large hail were forecast from the state’s south-east and up to Rockhampton, with inland areas battered overnight by hail the size of golf balls.

The Queensland severe storm map, issued early on Wednesday afternoon.

The Queensland severe storm map, issued early on Wednesday afternoon.Credit:Bureau of Meteorology

The bureau warned of severe storm cells near Jandowae, north-west of Toowoomba, Tipton, west of Toowoomba, and Mount Beerwah, between Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast.

The cells were moving east and the weather bureau said they were “likely” to bring damaging winds, large hailstones and heavy rainfall that may lead to flash flooding.

Earlier in the day, the Bureau of Meteorology predicted storms to hit areas including Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Wide Bay and up to the Sarina region, north of Rockhampton.

At 11am, the Bureau said thunderstorms were possible from the west of the Darling Downs up to Bamaga in the north of the state, while severe thunderstorms were likely for the south-east region.

Meteorologist Shane Kennedy said rainfall totals up to 100 millimetres were possible, but more widely about five to 20 millimetres. Brisbane was predicted to receive up to 40 millimetres.

“We’re likely to see severe thunderstorms all through south-east extending up to the north of Rockhampton,” Mr Kennedy said.

“So large hail, damaging winds, and even flash flooding.”

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Possible shutdown of Line 5 not a threat to Canada’s energy security: ambassador


Canada’s ambassador to the United States says that while the potential shutdown of Line 5 is a serious issue, it’s not a threat to Canada’s national energy security. 

“It is not a threat to Canada’s national economic or energy security,” Kristen Hillman told CBC News Network’s Power & Politics on Thursday.

“I think that it is an important dispute or disagreement that exists between Enbridge and the state of Michigan that needs to be taken very seriously. And we are taking it very seriously.”

Line 5, which runs through Michigan from the Wisconsin city of Superior to Sarnia, Ont., crosses the Great Lakes beneath the environmentally sensitive Straits of Mackinac, which link Lake Michigan to Lake Huron.

The pipeline carries petroleum east from Western Canada. Once it hits Ontario, most of the crude oil is turned into fuels that meet almost 50 per cent of the province’s fuel demands. The remainder of the supply is sent on to Quebec refineries through Line 9, where it provides 40 to 50 per cent of that province’s fuel supply.  

WATCH | Hillman on the significance of Line 5:

Canada’s Ambassador to the U.S. Kirsten Hillman tells David Common on Power & Politics that operation of the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline should continue despite the Michigan government’s push to have it shut down by May 12. 3:07

The threat to the pipeline’s viability kicked off in November when Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer revoked the 1953 easement — which has allowed the pipeline to operate without incident for more than 65 years — over fears of an oil spill.

Enbridge was granted approval to replace the underwater line with a tunnel, but Whitmer’s election in 2019 put a stop to those plans.

The notification that the easement was being withdrawn said the pipeline should be shut down by May 12, prompting concerns on both sides of the border that shortages of essential fuels would follow. 

“One of the governor’s top priorities is to protect and defend the Great Lakes, which are vital to Michigan’s economy. The Great Lakes … 350,000 jobs in Michigan. We cannot risk the devastating economic, environmental and public health impacts of a catastrophic oil spill in the Great Lakes,” said Whitmer’s spokesperson Chelsea Lewis-Parisio.

Enbridge took Michigan to U.S. federal court over the dispute and both parties were ordered to find a resolution through mediation last month.

Hillman says finding a compromise between Enbridge and the state of Michigan is the only way the impasse will be resolved. She said she remains optimistic that, despite the firm date in the notice, the oil will continue to flow, at least in the short term.  

“We understand from the advice that we have received that there’s a good chance that the pipeline … will continue operating during the course of the litigation and mediation,” she told guest host David Common.

(Enbridge)

Fuel for Pearson

All the jet fuel produced at Pearson International Airport in Toronto is made with crude supplied by the pipeline. Enbridge, which owns Line 5, says that Ontario’s fuel supply would be cut in half if the pipeline is shut down. But its closure would not only affect Quebec and Ontario.

Enbridge says shutting down the pipeline would also harm Michigan, which gets 55 per cent of its propane needs from the more than 540,000 barrels of light crude oil, light synthetic crude and natural gas liquids that travel through Line 5 before being refined into propane in the state.

Enbridge senior vice president Mike Fernandez said that he’s also confident the pipeline will continue to operate beyond May 12, but the passing of the deadline will likely prompt protests from anti-pipeline activists. 

“The reason I say that is because the matter right now is situated in a U.S. federal district court that has prompted both parties, that is the state and Enbridge, to work through a mediator,” Fernandez told Common. 

“If the state took actions, they would be acting outside the standard of good faith that’s normally required in such mediation.”

WATCH | Fernandez on the May 12 deadline:

Enbridge Senior Vice President Mike Fernandez tells David Common on Power & Politics that he doesn’t expect the Michigan government to act to shut down the Line 5 pipeline on May 12. 2:24

The Conservative Opposition has been harshly critical of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, saying its inaction on the energy file will result in the pipeline being shut down. 

The Tories blamed the killing of another pipeline, Keystone XL, by the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden, as evidence the Trudeau government did not fight hard enough to keep it alive.

The party were granted an emergency debate in the House of Commons to discuss the issue, which is taking place tonight. 

“Line 5 is not a new project, it is not a diversification, it is a line that has been a consistent and critical supply for Canada for decades,” Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said in the House. “Now because of the inaction on behalf of the Liberal government this critical piece of energy infrastructure is at risk.”

Green MP Elizabeth May told O’Toole that the people of Michigan were keen to shut down Line 5 because of the Kalamazoo River oil spill in July 2010, when an Enbridge pipeline burst. 

“This is about pipeline pollution … we need to find an alternative to get those goods to market and allow the government of Michigan to keep a campaign promise to protect the Great Lakes,” May said.

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan dismissed the Conservative attacks, saying accusations that the Liberals failed to act and are willing to let the pipeline die are totally false. 

“You can’t solve this issue with false bravado, by beating your chest while simultaneously sticking your head in the sand like members so often do, by calling people who disagree with you ‘brain dead,'” O’Regan said referencing the insult levied against Michigan’s governor by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. 

“That bombastic approach does a great disservice to our oil and gas workers and it does nothing to advance their cause.”

You can watch full episodes of Power & Politics on CBC Gem, the CBC’s streaming service.

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Thursday evening UK news briefing: French threat



The stand-off is, at first glance, a row over logbooks, lobsters and licences. But it is the result of a perfect storm of British, French and European politics and, inevitably, Brexit.

Europe Editor James Crisp explains why the technicalities of fishing licences in the 12 miles around Jersey’s coasts are vitally important for French fishermen. 

Patrick O’Flynn says that sending Royal Navy vessels might be a “stunt”, but argues it is a very good one.

And read The Telegraph‘s view that French belligerence is only the start of the fishing industry’s worries.

Elections pose huge test for leaders – and constitution

Much is at stake as millions of Britons vote for the first time in nearly two years. So-called Super Thursday is a huge test for Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer, who is fighting for his political survival. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has just as much to prove when it comes to asserting his dominance in the former Red Wall. But Politics Live Editor Catherine Neilan says it is Scotland that has significant constitutional consequences – with opinion polls split. With voting open until 10pm today, Tom Harris argues that there is no reason to announce the results a day later. Follow live results and reaction overnight here. And our gallery has the best pictures of dogs at polling stations.

Team GB launches heat-resistant kit for Tokyo

It was accused of being “too blue” in 2012. But there is no mistaking the red on the new Team GB Olympic kit unveiled today. A red stripe within a deconstructed Union flag is the most prominent feature of the Adidas-designed clothing for the Tokyo Games this summer. It is also heat-resistant. Read our Fashion team’s verdict on the world’s kits. Meanwhile, the new England football crest featuring a cub, lion and lioness was dubbed “PC nonsense” and faced a backlash. See the “inclusive” design.

At a glance: Coronavirus evening briefing

Travel: Good news – and bad | Britain’s biggest tour operator has slashed the prices of PCR tests for holidaymakers to £20, more than half the cost of the cheapest to date. TUI is to offer the deal to travellers who book holidays with the company to green list destinations. Only a “tiny handful” of countries will initially be on the quarantine-free list. Meanwhile, Australia announced that its borders will remain closed to the majority of international arrivals for longer than expected.  

Also in the news: Today’s other headlines

Around the world: Questioning a way of life

When Covid hit New York’s close-knit ultra-orthodox Jewish community, it barrelled through it like a tornado. But the pandemic had a much more unpredictable impact too – leaving many to do the unthinkable: consider leaving and starting a life outside the community. Read US Correspondent Josie Ensor‘s dispatch from New York.

Thursday long-read: What I want men to understand about the menopause

Meg Mathews is one of the UK’s foremost menopause campaigners, determined to use her profile to end the stigma surrounding it. She reveals what she has learnt – and why it is not just a women’s issue. Read the full article.

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Major delays on Sydney trains after NSW police lock down Town Hall station over ‘threat’


Sydney trains were running behind schedule on Wednesday afternoon after police shut down a CBD station over a suspected “threat”.

While police would not confirm the nature of the threat, officer conducted a sweep of Town Hall station on Wednesday morning and diverted commuters away from there.

“Some sort of threat was made,” a police spokeswoman said shortly before midday.

“As a precaution, we’ve locked it down and are doing sweeps of the area. We will continue the sweeps until we are satisfied there is no threat.”

Police gave the all-clear at 12.16pm.

“A police operation at Town Hall Station has concluded with nothing found,” a tweet from the force said.

But the lockdown had already caused major disruptions to train traffic, as trains going to North Sydney and through the city circle were suspended.

Police entered the station shortly before 11am. Trains were suspended at Town Hall between 11.25am and 12.26pm.

“Major flow on delays are affecting the Sydney Trains network. Stopping pattern changes will occur,” Transport for NSW tweeted after services were resumed.

Commuters were asked to delay any non-essential travel or arrange alternative transport.

Light rail services were also temporarily paused, but resumed about 11:50am, with delays to some services.

Transport for NSW officials were working on establishing a bus service to replace the trains between Central and North Sydney at midday.

According to a statement from the agency’s Transport Management Centre:

  • T2 Inner West & Leppington Line are starting and ending their trips at Central
  • T3 Bankstown Line are starting and ending their trips at Central
  • T4 Eastern Suburbs & Illawarra Line are starting and ending their trips at Central, (trains are not running between Central and Bondi Junction)
  • T8 Airport & South Line are starting and ending their trips at Central
  • Central Coast & Newcastle, Blue Mountains and South Coast Line trains may start and end their trips at different stations than usual

Passengers who were already in transit were advised there would be significant delays, and were asked to listen out for announcements and check displays in the train and bus system for updates.

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Coalition allocates $600m for new ‘resilience’ agency to help combat threat of natural disasters | Coalition


The Morrison government will use next week’s budget to establish a national recovery and resilience agency and create a new climate service to help manage the risk of natural disasters.

The government will allocate $600m to the agency to fund resilience projects such as bushfire and cyclone-proofing houses, building levees for flood control, and improving the resilience of telecommunications and essential supplies.

Senior government figures, including Scott Morrison and the deputy prime minister, Michael McCormack, are on the road in regional Queensland ahead of next Tuesday’s economic statement in Canberra.

The Coalition on Wednesday will also foreshadow a new round of the Building Better Regions Fund with a budget of $250m, as well as funding for business cases for water infrastructure projects in Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania to the tune of $22.3m.

In the six months before the last federal election, the government awarded more than $630m worth of grants from programs like the better regions fund, which faced significant criticism for its distribution of cash to Coalition electorates.

Ahead of what is shaping up to be a big-spending budget, with initiatives in mental health, aged care, and childcare, the Reserve Bank of Australia revised its economic growth projections upwards on Tuesday. The central bank is now predicting the Australian economy will grow by 4.75% in 2021 and 3.5% in 2022.

The reserve bank cited a pickup in business investment and household spending “supported by the strengthening in balance sheets over the past year” as reasons for the more optimistic growth forecast. The bank predicts Australia’s unemployment rate will hit 5% by the end of 2021 and 4.5% by the end of 2022.

While forecasting a strengthening in the economy, the RBA kept interest rates on hold, explaining it will not lift the cash rate until “actual inflation is sustainably within the 2 to 3% target range” which is “unlikely to be until 2024 at the earliest”.

In a recent speech framing the objectives of next Tuesday’s budget, the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, said the government would avoid austerity budgeting until the economic recovery from the first recession in 30 years is secured. The government will embark on fiscal repair once unemployment has dropped below 4%.

The government says the recovery and resilience agency, which is part of the response to the royal commission that followed the catastrophic bushfires in the summer of 2019-20, will oversee the bushfire recovery, including the $2bn fund the government has already allocated, and drought and flood responses.

The agency will be led by Shane Stone, the former chief minister of the Northern Territory and federal president of the Liberal party during the Howard era, who currently chairs the National Drought and North Queensland Flood Response and Recovery Agency and the Advisory Board to the National Drought and North Queensland Flood Response and Recovery Agency.

The government says from July 2021, the agency will incorporate the disaster risk reduction and recovery functions from the Department of Home Affairs, and absorb rural financial counsellors currently managed by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.

In a statement, the government said it would upgrade the national situation room in Emergency Management Australia, and create the new climate service within the environment department “to generate new information and insights that will better inform policy development, program design and better understand future climate and natural disaster risks”.

The environment minister, Sussan Ley, said Australia needed to be prepared for more extreme weather events due to climate change. “The collaboration between the Bureau of Meteorology, the CSIRO, the Australian Bureau of Statistics and Geoscience Australia is critical to delivering rich insights drawn from an expanded range of data sources,” the minister said.

Morrison says the disaster agency is required because “in the past two years Australians have faced floods, bushfires, cyclones, drought and now the Covid-19 pandemic and I’m determined to keep Australians safe and support the recovery of communities and regions right across Australia”.

McCormack will use a speech in Queensland on Wednesday to declare regional and rural communities are at the heart of the government’s economic recovery plan after the pandemic.

According to speech extracts, McCormack will say: “This extra money for a sixth round of the Building Better Regions Fund is a $250m vote of confidence in the future of our regions”.

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Coomera Connector route puts the Eagleby Wetlands under threat, residents say


The project is set to ease congestion and provide an alternative route to the M1 between Loganholme and Nerang, but a local federal politician said it could be a “nationally important habitat” for migratory species, referring the matter to the Commonwealth.

A group of Eagleby residents has opposed the project for years, concerned about the impact on the Eagleby wetlands — a flood plain home to birds and reptiles.

“We were devastated. We have been working for two years,” said Marilyn Goodwin from the Eagleby Community and Wetlands Group.

“We are going to keep fighting against the project — we believe there are other avenues apart from the state government, if they won’t listen.”

“The creatures that live in this area, the birds, the animals, the insects … will they move house? Will they know where to go?

“This area is also a major flood plain, and as a flood plain it protects other suburbs further upstream.”

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Ransomware is the biggest cyber threat to small business – are you prepared?


The Australian Government is doubling down on the ransomware threat to local small and medium-sized businesses with a $1.67 billion investment to build new cybersecurity and law enforcement capabilities. That’s because ransomware remains the biggest cyber threat to small and medium-sized businesses – and the problem is only getting worse.

While the ransom cost itself hasn’t increased much in the last few years – rising from $US4300 in 2018 to $US5600 in 2020 – the downtime costs associated with being held to ransom has skyrocketed.

In 2018 the average cost of ransomware-associated downtime for small and medium-sized businesses was $US46,800, a figure that rose to $US274,200 in 2020. While some of that rise can be slated back to business getting better at estimating what downtime costs, it’s also a reflection on how disruptive being held to ransom can truly be.

To pay or not to pay?

The recently released Australian Government report Locked Out: Tackling Australia’s Ransomware Threat found one in three adult Australians were impacted by cybercrime in 2019, and that cyberattacks cost the Australian economy $29 billion every year.

It also found that 61 per cent of executives consider a ransomware attack likely in the next twelve months and that 62 per cent of small and medium-sized businesses have experienced a cybersecurity incident.

While cybercrime is on the rise, there’s also the possibility that actually paying a ransom could also be illegal.

In certain circumstances, the report indicates, paying a ransom might be unlawful under Australian law. The “instrument of crime” provisions within the Criminal Code Act are broad, and the available defences are narrow.

If an organisation pays a ransom, the report continues, there is a real risk the payment may be used in the commission of further offences. That’s why the Australian Government recommends against paying a ransom if your IT is infected. So, what are the solutions to the ransomware menace?

Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery is the answer

For small and medium-sized businesses, the best defence against ransomware is to use a managed service provider (MSP) which implements a business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) plan for your organisation.

While MSPs might seem expensive, most SMEs don’t have a dedicated IT person or team able to handle their technology needs. And the cost of an MSP, as we have seen, pales in comparison to the expense of downtime, both in real-money terms and also reputationally for the business.

An MSP will make sure you’re running the latest software and that the software is always updated. They will also backup your data into a secure cloud location and create a plan so that if you’re infected, you can “rollback” to the last clean copy of your software and data.

In fact, 91 per cent of managed service providers said clients’ business continuity and disaster recovery products in place are less likely to experience significant downtime due to ransomware. Many are also able to recover in around 24 hours.

The final piece in the puzzle is making sure your staff are trained to spot cyber threats and act accordingly. An MSP can put training programs in place, and ensure your staff are regularly refreshed on the latest cybersecurity threats and trends.

Ransomware is the biggest cybersecurity threat SMEs face. It can bring a business to its knees, and without BCDR, there is no sure-fire way back to normality. Given that paying a ransom could be illegal, SMEs need to make sure they’re protected and can deal with the inevitability of a ransomware attack.

James Bergl, Regional Vice President – APAC, Datto



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