COVID-19 continues to decimate New York, George Pell was sprung from gaol and a notorious volcano rose from the ashes. What a fun week.
Hello and welcome to this week’s Current Affairs Wrap. We’ve had numbers of COVID-19 infections and deaths in New York increasing, a bit of good news for the UK PM and a polarising decision by the High Court back home.
The COVID-19 virus outbreak death toll has now passed 100,000 globally with the majority of the new cases and new deaths occurring at the virus’ new epicentre; New York City.
New York has seen a week of record-breaking deaths, bringing the total death toll in New York to 7,844. The only sliver of good news is that for the first time during the outbreak, New York yesterday experienced a significant drop in the number of intensive care admissions. General hospitalisations did increase to 290 on Thursday from 200 on the previous day but the modest increase still has them well below the peak of 1,426 COVID-19 admissions in New York last week. As it stands, the week saw the number of cases in New York State rise to 170,512 up from 159,937.
New York’s Hart Island, usually used as a public cemetery for the unclaimed dead, has seen new graves being dug constantly with the flow of the deceased increasing five-fold. In normal circumstances, there are approximately 25 burials per week from those who’s family or estate cannot afford a private burial – they are now burying around 125 people per week, and the number continues to rise.
In some rare good news, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson appears to now be on the slow road to recovery after ending up in the ICU with COVID-19 complications.
After three nights in the ICU following a worsening of his symptoms, Johnson was moved back to a regular ward on Thursday with his office saying he was in “the early phase of his recovery”. His father, Stanley Johnson, was a little more pragmatic, however, saying, “He must rest up. He has to take time”.
Mr Johnson also said that his son “almost took one for the team”.
In terms of when he can return to full duties, it’s still very much up in the air. Intensive care specialist, Duncan Young, indicated it was “almost impossible to know” how long a full recovery would take. He said, “He has been very ill and it will take a while. Nobody knows, in terms of shortness of breath and lethargy, in scientific literature, how long it takes to recover. It particularly depends on how ill you have been”.
The UK Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, has been filling in for Johnson with PM duties where necessary.
Anak Krakatau, the world-famous Krakatoa volcano in Indonesia, erupted late in the week with a significant expulsion of ash, smoke and lava. Episodes of “large magmatic eruption” are being reported from the island with ash plumes being sent up as high as 15km in the air.
Anaka Krakatau has been active of late, with a similar-sized eruption occurring in 2018. The Indonesian translation of Anaka Krakatau is “Child of Krakatau”. It was formed from the original Krakatau caldera in around 1927 following the huge eruption in 1883 that was big enough to trigger a period of global cooling afterwards
The eruption of Anaka Krakatau in 2018 triggered a deadly tsunami that killed 400 people however there is no word yet of any casualties as a result of this eruption. One Indonesian on Twitter summed up the situation perfectly, “We are fighting coronavirus. Please, go to sleep”.
Indonesia’s vulnerability to COVID-19 is currently a hot topic at the moment – volcanic eruptions are definitely the last thing our neighbour needs.
And another bit of good news from an unlikely source. Following a review into the COVID-19 outbreak, China has reclassified dogs from livestock to pets in a move that could potentially cause significant damage to the abhorrent dog meat trade in China.
The ministry said in a statement, “As far as dogs are concerned, along with the progress of human civilisation and the public concern and love for animal protection, dogs have been specialised to become companion animals, and internationally are not considered to be livestock, and they will not be regulated as livestock in China.”
How much of an effect on the dog meat trade the change will have remains to be seen. But it’s a damn good step in the right direction.
A little closer to home, and COVID-19 has caused a fatality not listed in the death count – the political career of NSW Arts Minister Don Harwin.
Harwin revealed that he had travelled to his Central Coast holiday home in direct violation of the federal and state isolation requirements currently in place. He was fined $1000 by NSW Police for relocating from Elizabeth Bay to Pearl Beach “in contravention of a current ministerial decision”.
Harwin still believes that he didn’t contravene any requirements however acknowledged that during the COVID-19 fight, his continuation in the NSW cabinet would be an unnecessary distraction. He said, “There is nothing more important than the work of the government in fighting the coronavirus crisis…I will not allow my circumstances to be a distraction from that work and I very much regret that my residential arrangements have become an issue during this time”.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced that Harwin had “appropriately resigned from cabinet”, and noted that “…while Minister Harwin has served the people of NSW well, and he continues to assure me that he did not break the rules, the orders in place apply equally to everybody,” she said.
The biggest non-COVID-19 story this week was the successful appeal by Cardinal George Pell over child sex offences which saw him released from prison after 400 days inside.
The appeal before the High Court of Australia was successful based on three main discrepancies in the prosecution’s case. The court indicated that these three discrepancies resulted in the court finding it impossible for both the jury and the Victorian Court of Appeal to completely exclude any reasonable doubt which must then result in an acquittal.
The first discrepancy was related to Pell’s normal practice of greeting congregants on or near the Cathedral steps after mass which is in contravention to the version of events put forward by his accusers.
The second was, “the established and historical Catholic Church practice that required that the applicant, as an archbishop, always be accompanied when robed in the Cathedral” – which again is in contravention to what has been alleged by his accusers.
The final was opportunity witnesses testifying about “the continuous traffic in and out of the priests’ sacristy for ten to fifteen minutes after the conclusion of the procession that ended Sunday solemn Mass” – which suggests that Pell simply wouldn’t have had the opportunity to commit the crime he was accused of.
The long and the short of it is that while the Jury were convinced of his guilt, and the Victorian Court of Appeal were convinced that the verdict was reasonable, the High Court believed that too much doubt existed in the evidence to confirm a conviction.
This doesn’t mean that the Cardinal didn’t commit the offences and doesn’t represent a legal declaration of innocence – it simply means that the evidence in the case, in the opinion of the High Court, was not sufficient beyond reasonable doubt.
Is this the end of the saga? Who knows. But from a legal standpoint, Pell has been acquitted and is a free man.
That’s it from me TBSers, have a cracking week!