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Canadian fire crews cheered in Australia as front-line teams prepare for the worst –



Exhausted after a nearly 16-hour flight from the opposite side of the world, Canadian wildfire specialists were cheered by Australians on arrival this week at Sydney’s airport.

They’re the latest to join the growing Canadian presence supporting the battle against Australia’s destructive wildfires, in a season of record-shattering temperatures.

“It’s something we really have to wrap our heads around,” says Alberta’s Morgan Kehr, senior representative of the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre. “We have seen extreme fire behaviour in Canada. But not over the geographic area we are dealing with here. Or with the frequency.” 

The added Canadians arrived as the Australian state of New South Wales recorded a stunning milestone: the amount of area burned is now 20 times larger than an average year, consuming homes, farms and neighbourhoods. 

Q&A | Ask questions about the Australia fires

Beginning at 5:30 p.m. ET Tuesday, David Common is on the ground in Cobargo, New South Wales, answering your questions about the fires. Submit your questions and join the conversation by heading to the CBC News YouTube, Facebook or Twitter

CBC’s David Common is in Australia answering your questions. 0:00

They are not front-line firefighters, but specialists in aviation, logistics and fire behaviour prediction, to understand how the fires will grow, where they’ll move and how they might be contained.

The number of Canadian wildfire specialists in Queensland and New South Wales is fluctuating, but is believed to now be at 95.

Australia can use the help.

Firefighting force nearly all volunteers

Two strike teams from the Rural Fire Service prepare to move in to tackle hotspots and flareups after a fire as the battle against the flames in Australia continues. (David Common/CBC News)

The pace of this fire season, which started weeks earlier than usual, and has been sustained by tinder-dry conditions from three years of drought and unrelenting heat waves, is testing the Rural Fire Service, an almost-entirely volunteer force.

“It’s the largest voluntary fire service in the world,” group captain Will Lee says as he dispatches firefighters to douse a scorched forest where the insides of trees are still burning, and threaten to ignite a new bushfire.

“A fire came through here the other day, fairly ferociously, and it was stopped by a ton of heroes.”

The firies, as they’re known in Australia, form the largest volunteer fire organization in the world. Some have decades of experience with the service, but not all can take time away from their regular jobs as Australia fights its worst fires in years.

WATCH: Canadian volunteers extinguish spot fires in Australia

Canadian wildfire specialists arrived in Sydney, joining the growing Canadian presence supporting the battle against Australia’s destructive wildfires, in a season of record-shattering temperatures. 0:25 

As firefighter Rosemary Seberry uncoiled a hose to provide slack to her colleagues snaking through the forest, she pointed to the others on the firefighting team: three teachers (herself included), an arborist and an Uber driver.

“Today’s job is to prevent the fire from jumping across the road,” she hurriedly told a CBC crew.

To do that, the crew, ranging in age from their teens to well into their 60s, are using water and foam to cool still-burning trees, after the main front of the fire has moved through.

Australian law allows each volunteer 10 days away from their jobs to respond to fires. But many have gone well beyond that, some stretching their service into months. 

The all-volunteer crew of this firefighting team from Austinmer, Australia, is made up of three teachers, an arborist and an Uber driver. (David Common/CBC News)

For those who can, it’s meant another set of hands to confront flames that can sometimes tower over 40 metres. Fire crews told CBC News the water held in an external tank on one of their fire trucks boiled, after the truck itself was caught inside the fire, resulting in damage to the vehicle but no injuries. 

Some of the hottest fires have melted the aluminum and magnesium used in cars, leaving rivers of molten metal running from the burned husk of a vehicle.

Conditions about to get worse

All those suffering from the smoke and flames got a small respite this week as temperatures cooled into the 20s, and small amounts of rain were recorded along the eastern and southern coasts of the country.

It was not enough to extinguish the flames but, in some cases, did put the fires advance into neutral. But the explosion is coming.

By Friday, temperatures will soar once again into the 30s and winds will pick up, enough that seemingly-dormant or slow-moving fires will once again reach monster proportions.

Extra firefighters are being called in for the weekend, as 3,000 Australian military reservists join the front lines of the battle.

Teacher Rosemary Seberry is using her summer holiday to fight bushfires. (Sylvia Thomson/CBC News)

An enormous navy ship, HMAS Adelaide, is preparing to take in those expected to flee for safety toward the water. It has set up hundreds of cots on board, and has landing craft ready to ferry evacuees from beaches to the safety of the open water.

And the new batch of Canadians will be at work, just as the worst of it resumes. 

“I have been in the rural fire service for over 20 years and have never seen it to this magnitude,” Insp. Ben Shepherd explains from the RSF’s operations centre in Sydney.

Because it is summer during Canada’s winter, the two countries have long shared resources when the other doesn’t need them. But as the fires worsen, fire seasons have lengthened.

“Where traditionally we would have seen a quiet time of the year, we don’t have that anymore,” says Shepherd.

Some of the Canadians will be leaving Australia soon, in part to prepare for Canada’s annual forest fires and the mitigation work that happens in the spring, hoping to avoid catastrophes like the kind Australia is now experiencing.

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U.N. seeks record $41 billion for aid to hotspots led by Afghanistan, Ethiopia



The United Nations appealed on Thursday for a record $41 billion to provide life-saving assistance next year to 183 million people worldwide caught up in conflict and poverty, led by a tripling of its programme in Afghanistan.

Famine remains a “terrifying prospect” for 45 million people living in 43 countries, as extreme weather caused by climate change shrinks food supplies, the U.N. said in the annual appeal, which reflected a 17% rise in annual funding needs.

“The drivers of needs are ones which are familiar to all of us. Tragically, it includes protracted conflicts, political instability, failing economies … the climate crisis, not a new crisis, but one which urges more attention and of course the COVID-19 pandemic,” U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths told reporters.

In a report to donors, the world body said: “Without sustained and immediate action, 2022 could be catastrophic.”

Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Ethiopia and Sudan are the five major crises requiring the most funding, topped by $4.5 billion sought for Taliban-ruled Afghanistan where “needs are skyrocketing”, it said.

In Afghanistan, more than 24 million people require life-saving assistance, a dramatic increase driven by political tumult, repeated economic shocks, and severe food insecurity caused by the worst drought in 27 years.

“We are in the business in the U.N. of trying to urgently establish with support from the World Bank as well as the U.N. system, a currency swap initiative which will allow liquidity to go into the economy,” Griffiths said.

“The absence of cash in Afghanistan is a major impediment to any delivery of services,” he said. “I am hoping that we get it up and running before the end of this month.”

In Ethiopia, where a year-old conflict between government and Tigrayan forces has spread into the Amhara and Afar regions, thousands have been displaced, while fighting, drought and locusts push more to the brink, the U.N. said.

Nearly 26 million Ethiopians require aid, including more than 9 million who depend on food rations, including 5 million in Tigray, amid rising malnutrition rates, it said.

“Ethiopia is the most alarming probably almost certainly in terms of immediate emergency need,” Griffiths said, adding that 400,000 people had been deemed at risk of famine already in May.

Noting that heavy fighting continued, with government forces battling Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front forces who have moved closer to the capital Addis Ababa, he added: “But capacity to respond to an imploded Ethiopia is almost impossible to imagine.”


(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Richard Pullin)

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Doug Ford applauds new COVID-19 travel restrictions, says more discussions with feds to be held –



Ontario Premier Doug Ford thanked the federal government for implementing new travel restrictions in a bid to stop the spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant and said more discussions will be held about possibly expanding new testing rules to travellers from the United States.

Ford made the remarks at an unrelated press conference in Mississauga Wednesday morning.

Several Omicron variant cases have already been confirmed in Ontario, and Ford said while it is a “cause for concern” it is “not cause for panic.”

“Every day we hold off more cases entering our country, the more time we have to learn and prepare,” Ford said.

Read more:

Canada expands travel ban, seeks booster guidance

“So the best thing we can do right now is fortify our borders. Our best defence is keeping the variant out of our country. We welcome the actions from the federal government and I want to thank the feds for taking action to date.

“We implored them last week to act quickly and be decisive on the borders and they did.”

In a statement last Friday, Ford called on the federal government to enact travel bans on “countries of concern” and the feds followed through just hours later.

On Tuesday, they expanded that ban to three additional countries.

Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said foreign nationals from Nigeria, Malawi and Egypt who have been to those countries over the past two weeks will not be able to enter Canada. This added to the seven other African countries barred by Canada on Friday: South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini.

Click to play video: 'Egypt, Malawi and Nigeria added to Canada‘s travel ban amid more restrictions'

Egypt, Malawi and Nigeria added to Canada‘s travel ban amid more restrictions

Egypt, Malawi and Nigeria added to Canada‘s travel ban amid more restrictions

Canadians and permanent residents, as well as all those who have the right to return to Canada, who have transited through these countries over the past two weeks, will have to quarantine, be tested at the airport, and await their test results before exiting quarantine, Duclos said.

It was also announced that all air travellers entering Canada — excluding those coming from the United States — would have to get tested when they arrive and isolate until they receive a negative result. That measure applies to all travellers, regardless of vaccination status.

Duclos said Wednesday that it will take time to implement the new measure.

In his statement last week, Ford also called for point-of-arrival testing to be put in place.

He also said he advised the province’s chief medical officer and Public Health Ontario to “immediately implement expanded surveillance” and update planning to “ensure we are ready for any outcome.”

The Omicron variant has now been detected in many countries around the world, including, as of Wednesday, the United States.

Ford was asked if he would support expanding the new testing rules to those arriving from the States.

“I would always support anything that can be cautious to prevent this variant coming into our country. So, again we’ll have a discussion with the federal government. That’s their jurisdiction, it’s not ours,” Ford said.

“They work collaboratively with all the provinces and territories and I’m always for going the cautious route as I think people have seen over the last 20 months.”

The premier added that “it doesn’t take much to get a test at the airport.”

Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said Wednesday that it’s too early to say whether Canada’s latest requirement to test arriving air travellers will be extended to include those coming from the United States.

“We need to be prepared and ready if we need to adjust that decision to include travellers from the U.S. We haven’t made that decision yet,” he said.

Read more:

Feds, provinces considering expanding COVID-19 tests for U.S. travellers amid Omicron

When asked what provincial measures are being considered in response to the Omicron variant, Ford said they will make sure there is expanded testing capacity and contact tracing.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said there is still much that isn’t known about the variant, including how effective vaccines are against it.

She said the province is “continuing with all of our precautions” and said it’s important to keep border restrictions in place until more is known about the variant.

Elliott also said more information will be released in the coming days “with respect to age categories” on booster shots.

— With files from Saba Aziz and The Canadian Press

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Omicron ‘blaming’ shows persistence of racism in healthcare -advocate



The persistence of racism is evident once again with the “blaming and shaming” of African nations for the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, health advocate Dr. Joia Crear-Perry said on Wednesday.

Speaking at a Reuters Next panel on racial disparities in Black maternal healthcare, Crear-Perry said the medical profession in the United States needed to stop resorting to racist tropes and start truth-telling.

“Even if you look at the latest blaming and shaming that’s happening around the latest Omicron variant you see the same history, the same racist trope of blaming certain places, assuming white nations and nations that have majority-white populations are going to need to be protected from places who are not,” she said.

“That’s the same legacy and history that shows up in health and same legacy and history that we have to have truth-telling around in order for us to stop that behavior of blaming and shaming and harming people.”

More than 50 countries have reportedly implemented travel measures to guard against Omicron, many of them banning travelers from southern African countries.

In guidance issued this week as reports of the Omicron variant spread, the World Health Organization (WHO) said: “Blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.”

To watch the Reuters Next conference please register here


(Reporting by Donna Bryson in Denver; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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