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EFCC arrests ‘travel agent’ over ‘N8.4m Canadian visa scam’ - THE CABLE

JUNE 29, 2021

The Kaduna zonal office of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) says it has arrested one Mary Aweh Olaleye, identified as a travel agent, for her alleged involvement in defrauding two Nigerians of N8.4 million.

According to a statement by the anti-graft agency on Monday, the said travel agent had obtained the sum from Tochukwu Asika and Monday Alabi, under the pretext of securing visas to Canada for them.

The commission explained that the arrangement dated back to 2018, when the duo reportedly approached Olaleye to arrange a trip.

The trip was, however, said to have been suspended, and Olaleye reportedly offered to convert the arrangement to securing visas for Asika and Alabi.

“The complainants alleged that sometime in 2018, they contacted the suspect to arrange a trip to Turks and Caicos Islands for them, for which they paid him the sum of One Million naira (N1,000,000,00) each, totaling Two Million Naira (N2,000,000.00),” the statement reads.

“Two days to their departure, the suspect allegedly informed them that the trip had been put on hold and offered them an alternative; a visa to Canada which they accepted and paid a cumulative sum of Four Million Two Hundred and Forty Thousand Naira (N4,240,000.00) respectively, for visa, consultancy fee and air tickets.

“The complainants further stated that after a long hiatus, the suspect called and issued them the Canadian visa and Yellow Fever cards, and informed them they will be travelling through Kenya. However, upon arrival in Kenya, they were arrested by Kenyan Immigration Officials for possession of fake Yellow Fever cards and detained.

“Upon, release from detention after being issued with new Yellow Fever cards, the duo made spirited efforts to contact the suspect to get her Kenyan Representative to assist them with the connecting flight to Canada but could not reach her as she had switched off her mobile lines. The complainants were later re-arrested by Kenyan Immigration and deported to Nigeria.

“All efforts to retrieve their money proved abortive, hence the recourse to EFCC.”

The commission added that Olaleye failed to respond to several invitations by the EFCC, “until a lien was placed on her account”.

“She was subsequently arrested at her bank in Abuja and brought back to Kaduna for further investigation. She would be charged to court as soon as the investigation is concluded,” EFCC added.

Endangered CBN’s anchor borrowers’ programme - THE GUARDIAN

JUNE 29, 2021

For a country battling insecurity and facing severe food shortages, it is scary that a novel government programme to boost food production and encourage farmers is heading for the rocks, going by reports that insecurity and its attendant deprivation of farmers to access farms has become a clog in the programme’s wheel of progress. Handicapped by inability or fear to cultivate their farms, the producers and beneficiaries of the agricultural loans are expressing reservation about their ability to repay the loans. Only a concerted effort by the Federal Government to clamp down on insecurity can save the situation, but so far, there is no sign of that official commitment.

Unless urgent steps by the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration are taken to halt the incessant attacks by rampaging bandits and herdsmen on farmlands across the country, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP) would be in jeopardy and may fizzle out thereby plunging billions of naira advanced to farmers down the drain. Yet, food shortages and hyper inflation on food products confronting the country are getting critical by the day.

Such development would amount to double jeopardy for weary and displaced farmers, majority of who now depend on food handouts in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. This creates more despair than hope among the populace who now face the prospect of food shortage which is already manifesting in various ramifications. The attacks persist and succour appears not to be in sight. Is there a way out of what appears to be a desperate situation?

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in line with its developmental function established the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme, which was launched by Buhari on November 17, 2015 and is intended to create a linkage between anchor companies involved in the processing and small holder farmers (SHFs) of the required key agricultural commodities. The programme thrust of the ABP is provision of farm inputs in kind and cash (for farm labour) to small holder farmers to boost production of these commodities, stabilise inputs supply to agro processors and address the country’s negative balance of payments on food. Thus, at harvest, the farmers supply their produce to agro-processors who pay cash equivalent to the farmers’ accounts.

The programme evolved from the consultations with stakeholders comprising Federal Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development, state governors, millers of agricultural produce and smallholder farmers to boost agricultural production and non-oil exports in the face of unpredictable crude oil prices and its resultant effect on the revenue profile of Nigeria. It is basically aimed at creating economic linkage between smallholder farmers and reputable large-scale processors with a view to increasing agricultural output and significantly improving capacity utilisation of processors.

However, with bandits and killer herdsmen forcing farmers who took the ABP loans to abandon their farms, the farmers are bemoaning their losses and wondering how they would be able to repay the loans they took. And if they don’t pay back, the CBN will not give them another loan. It is a national issue that has assumed disturbing dimension and requires urgent intervention by both the federal and state governments.

The farmers’ ordeal is akin to the predicament of farmers in the North-East where a brutal Boko Haram war is raging, which has unleashed terrorists, bandits and herdsmen on hapless citizens in the areas. The people who used to produce enough food to eat and sell to other parts of the country are now beggars, famished in refugee camps.

According to the farmers, the bandits not only force them out of the farms, they unleash their cattle to destroy their entire crops and they are left with nothing to harvest. The bandits also warned the farmers never to return to their farms again, thus making famine a potential threat to the country.

The CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, at the launch of the 2021 wet season input distribution in Ado-Ekiti recently said a total of 3, 107,890 farmers had been financed for the cultivation of 3,801,397 hectares of land across 21 communities through 23 participating financial institutions. He also stated that the sustainability of the programme depends on the repayment of loans accessed by farmers. The implication of that is that without the farmers being able to repay the loans, the ABP is in jeopardy and may indeed go down the drain except the farmers get a respite by way of insurance cover or direct intervention by the Buhari administration to call the bandits and killer herdsmen to order.

The ABP is a very progressive scheme that could make Nigeria to be self-sufficient in food production. It represents a hedge against food insecurity. Government should adopt stricter measures to end the raging insecurity crisis across the country. In particular, the Federal Government must address possible presence of internal sabotage within its security apparatus. More importantly, it must urgently allow states to partake in security through the establishment of state police, to work in tandem with federal police and the military. The ABP should not be allowed to die; and Nigerians deserve to live and work in peace; which the government has a duty to broker.

Diesel price jumps to N280, LCCI says inflation’ll rise - PUNCH

JUNE 29, 2021

BY  Femi Asu


The price of a litre of Automotive Gas Oil, also known as diesel, has risen to N280, buoyed by the recent increase in global oil prices and naira devaluation.

The PUNCH had reported on February 24, 2021 that some filling stations in Lagos had increased diesel price to N250 per litre, while many others sold it at between N220-N245 per litre.

The global oil benchmark, Brent crude, which averaged $62.28 per barrel in February, stood at $75.10 per barrel as of 5:15pm Nigerian time on Monday.

Our correspondent observed on Monday that the price of the product, which is not regulated by the government, ranged from N270 to N280 per litre in several filling stations in Lagos.

Mobil, Capital Oil and Gas as well as Oando filling stations, all along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, sold the product for N280, N279.9 and N275 per litre. The product was sold for N267.50 per litre at NNPC Retail stations.

Diesel is mostly used by businesses to power their generators amid lack of reliable power supply from the national grid.

“The high diesel cost is taking a huge toll on operating and production costs across sectors. It is a case of multiple jeopardy for businesses,” the Director-General, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Dr Muda Yusuf, told our correspondent on Monday.

He noted that purchasing power had been weak and the exchange rate of the naira to the dollar had depreciated sharply.

Last month, the Central Bank of Nigeria devalued the naira as it adopted the NAFEX exchange rate of N410.25 per dollar as its official exchange rate, days after removing the N379/$ rate from its website.

The naira fell to 502/$1 on Monday at the parallel market from 500/$1 on Friday.

“There is foreign exchange market illiquidity. The cargo clearing at our seaports is a nightmare. The security situation has inflicted an elevated risk to investment,” Yusuf said.

According to him, diesel cost also has profound implications for transportation and logistics costs.

He said, “Most of the trucks that move freight across the country are powered by diesel. The consequences are that sales are dropping, inflationary pressures will intensify, profit margins are being eroded and industrial capacity utilisation will drop.

“Elevated pressure on general price level exacerbates the poverty situation in the economy.”

The President, Association of Small Business Owners of Nigeria, Mr Femi Egbesola, described diesel price hike as alarming, saying, “It is just too much for us to bear.”

“The prices of all factors of production are increasing; even electricity tariff has gone up, and the government knows that about 90-95 per cent of industries rely more on diesel,” he said.

He said the government should be able to mitigate the rise in diesel price, adding, “Yes, we know that it has been deregulated but then government should also be aware that there are certain price hikes that can kill industries, particularly small and medium enterprises.”

Egbesola, who noted that the incomes of many Nigerians had been eroded by inflation, said the diesel price hike would cause increases in the prices of commodities.

He added, “So, it means fewer people will buy the products, and it means businesses will make less profits. This will result in loss of jobs and may cause the closure of factories or companies.

“The only alternative will have is electricity supply from the national grid. But now we are having less supply of electricity than before.”

The National Bureau of Statistics, in its latest diesel price watch report, said the average price paid by consumers for the produce increased by 0.69 per cent month-on-month and by 8.99 per cent year-on-year to N238.82 in May from N237.19 in April.

EFCC arrests Travel Agent for visa scam - P.M.NEWS

JUNE 29, 2021

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Kaduna Zonal office have arrested one Mrs. Mary Aweh Olaleye, promoter of Victoria Travels Resorts Ltd.

Olaleye was arrested for allegedly obtaining Eight Million Four Hundred and Eighty Thousand Naira from two prospective travelers by false pretense.

She allegedly obtained the sum from the duo of Tochukwu Casmir Asika and Daniel Monday Alabi under the pretext of helping to procure Canadian Visas and other travel arrangements for them.

The complainants alleged that sometime in 2018, they contacted the suspect to arrange a trip to the Turks and Caicos Islands for them, for which they paid him the sum of One Million Naira(N1,000,000,00) each, totaling Two Million Naira (N2,000,000.00).

Two days to their departure, the suspect allegedly informed them that the trip had been put on hold and offered them an alternative; a visa to Canada which they accepted and paid a cumulative sum of Four Million Two Hundred and Forty Thousand Naira (N4,240,000.00) respectively, for visa, consultancy fee and air tickets

The complainants further stated that after a long hiatus, the suspect called and issued them the Canadian visa and Yellow Fever cards, and informed them they will be traveling through Kenya. However, upon arrival in Kenya, they were arrested by Kenyan Immigration Officials for possession of fake Yellow Fever cards and detained.

Upon, release from detention after being issued with new Yellow Fever cards, the duo made spirited efforts to contact the suspect to get her Kenyan Representative to assist them with the connecting flight to Canada but could not reach her as she had switched off her mobile lines. The complainants were later re-arrested by Kenyan Immigration and deported to Nigeria.

All efforts to retrieve their money proved abortive, hence the recourse to EFCC.

The suspect severally shunned invitation by the Kaduna Office of the EFCC until a lien was placed on her account. She was subsequently arrested at her bank in Abuja and brought back to Kaduna for further investigation.

She would be charged to court as soon as the investigation is concluded.

Quarantine-free travel to the US unlikely to make a comeback this summer - THE TELEGRAPH UK

JUNE 29, 2021

Hopes have been dashed that flights between the UK and US will restart this summer, hitting the travel plans of millions of Britons.

Talks between officials on either side of the Atlantic are unlikely to reach a conclusion by the end of July as had been hoped.

A rise in Delta variant cases in the UK and uncertainty over the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine mean discussions may drag on until September, the Financial Times reported.

The delay will come as a huge blow to British Airways and Heathrow airport, both of which have pinned their hopes of a meaningful return of transatlantic flights this summer.

For BA, these routes are among their most profitable. For Heathrow, there are fears that failure to restart services to the US will leave the door open to EU airports to fill the void - making it even more difficult for the London base to regain its crown as Europe’s busiest airport from Paris.

Non-Americans have been unable to travel to the US since the start of the pandemic, contrasting with the partial reopening of services to short-haul destinations since March 2020. Arrivals to the UK from the US must quarantine for at least five days - meaning that lucrative business class services are effectively not viable for investment bankers that typically frequented them.

Earlier this month The Sunday Telegraph revealed that French premier Emmanuel Macron was seeking to lure Wall Street banks away from the City. Mr Macron invited an elite group of global banking heads including JP Morgan boss Jamie Dimon and his Goldman Sachs counterpart David Solomon to a “Choose France” event at the Palace of Versailles on June 28 to make the case for investing in his country. US President Joe Biden agreed earlier this month that Washington officials would participate in a working group with the UK to explore reopening the skies above the Atlantic. But British officials are said to have struggled to convince their American counterparts to relax restrictions.

A UK official told the FT: “This is not going to happen soon. We thought July was the earliest we might be able to get something in place, but now it’s looking more like September.” Another talks insider added: “The Biden administration is in no hurry . . . and the chances of anything happening before August now seem to be zilch.” The status of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has complicated matters further. The FTSE 100 pharmaceuticals giant has elected to apply for a full legal licence from the US Food and Drug Administration rather than a temporary alternative. This decision means it is likely to be months before regulators authorise the jab. A UK diplomat said: “AstraZeneca is proving a real problem. If the US doesn’t recognise it, it means millions of Brits won’t be eligible to travel if we agree to a new corridor.” Sean Doyle, BA chief executive, has repeatedly called for the UK-US corridor to be reopened since taking over last Autumn.

He said earlier this month: “We urgently need them to look to the science and base their judgements on a proper risk analysis, allowing us all to benefit from the protection offered by our successful vaccine rollouts.” John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow’s boss added: “We cannot continue to keep locked-up indefinitely. “Politicians should seize on the successful vaccination programmes in our two countries to begin looking to a future where we manage Covid rather than letting it manage us.” Another airline exposed to the restrictions is Virgin Atlantic. Chief executive Shai Weiss said: “There is no reason for the US to be absent from the UK ‘green list’. This overly cautious approach fails to reap the benefits of the successful vaccination programmes in both the UK and the US.”

EXCLUSIVE: UAE Suspends Direct Employment Visa For Nigerians Over Rising Crimes - SAHARA REPORTERS

JUNE 29, 2021

SaharaReporters learnt from credible sources that the UAE police are searching for more Nigerian nationals and conducting raids and arrests to get them jailed.


BY SAHARAREPORTERS, NEW YORKJUN 29, 2021

The United Arab Emirates government has suspended Direct Employment Visa for Nigerians, as a result of the increasing rate of crimes involving Nigerians in the Middle-East country.

SaharaReporters learnt from credible sources that the UAE police are searching for more Nigerian nationals and conducting raids and arrests to get them jailed. 

Sources noted that this is the norm in Abu Dhabi particularly.

“We all are shouting that our country is bad, and that our government is not rising to our needs, which is true, but our reputation abroad is also fast declining due to our character.

“Two weeks ago, some Nigerians killed one another for selfish reasons at Sharjah, and another one just happened here in Abu Dhabi, when some guys went to an Arab man’s house, killed him, his wife and took away a huge amount of money from them.

“The UAE government is now tracking every Nigerian in Abu Dhabi and they have also banned every Direct Employment Visa from Nigeria until further notice,” the source said.

“For like one week, this city (Abu Dhabi) has been hot. They (the police) are just arresting anyone on sight now. There was a cult incident where Nigerian cult members hacked one another in an area in Abu Dhabi here. It is not easy. As of yesterday (Monday), they have put restrictions on visas for Nigerians. For now, no work permit for Nigerians in UAE generally. The crisis started from Sharjah and last week in Abu Dhabi,” another Nigerian told SaharaReporters.

SaharaReporters had reported in January 2021 that the UAE arrested and detained, without prosecution, many Nigerians in a series of sting operations targeted at irregular migrants.

SEE ALSOUAE Operatives Storm Houses, Detain Nigerians Without Prosecution

The UAE security operatives had raided the homes of many African migrants, most of whom are Nigerians, living in towns including Al Qouz, Abu Hail, Sharjah, Al Barsha, and Deira.  

According to a victim, about 80 percent of the persons arrested are legal residents while the remaining 20 are those with either visit visas or visa-related issues.

When contacted, the Chairperson of Nigerians In Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, had said the affected persons would have to liaise with the mission in UAE for more information.

Another victim of the arrest in UAE corroborated the government’s explanation but explained that some stayed back because their travel documents were withheld by their employers.

Crime rates have been rising among Nigerians in the UAE.

SaharaReporters had on February 22, 2021, reported that a 33-year-old Indian man in Dubai was robbed of Rs 55,30,806 by a gang of four Nigerian women after being lured into a fake massage parlour through a dating app.

The case was heard at the Dubai Court of First Instance.

According to Dubai Police, three Nigerian women were arrested from Sharjah after intensive investigations, while a fourth woman was still at large.

The three Nigerian defendants have been charged with robbery, issuing threats, keeping the victim forcefully confined inside an apartment, and prostitution.

FG reveals why UAE banned flights from Nigeria to Dubai - DAILY POST

JUNE 29, 2021

The Federal Government has given further reasons the United Arab Emirates (UAE) banned flights from Nigeria to Dubai.

The Minister of aviation, Hadi Sirika made this on Monday while briefing the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19 in Abuja.

Sirika accused the UAE of discriminatory protocols, adding that Emirates and other airlines, including KLM, gave conditions unacceptable to Nigeria.

He explained that UAE insisted that Nigerians intending to visit its country must use Emirates or spend two weeks in the alternative carrier’s country before entering Dubai.

He, however, said that talks were ongoing to resolve the matter.

“Emirates wanted us to do the test 48 hours before boarding, and 48 hours is not yet the incubation time.

“They expect us to do a rapid test at the airport, fly seven hours later and then follow us to our hotel or our accommodation and do another test when we arrive Dubai.

UAE lifts ban on travels between Nigeria, Dubai. “The protocol, unscientific, appeared targeted at only Nigerians.

“They also insisted that in addition to the test on arrival and other tests, that Nigerians cannot fly to UAE except through Emirates airlines. However, they made it clear that if we choose to do so through other airlines we must remain in the country of that airline for two weeks if we are Nigerians before we can enter Dubai.

“What this means is that if Nigerians buy ticket on Ethiopian airline, they must remain in Addis Ababa for two weeks, whether they have a visa or not, before proceeding to Dubai.

“We honestly think Its too much considering the fact that majority of Nigerians are petty traders, and the ticket of Emirates, in this case, maybe higher than other airlines,” he said.

Alphabet Jumps Into Drone Air-Traffic Control With Flight App - BLOOMBERG

JUNE 30, 2021

BY  Alan LevinBloomberg News

(Bloomberg) -- Alphabet Inc.’s drone-delivery venture, Wing, is releasing free software for U.S. drone users to get permission to fly near sensitive areas such as airports.

The entry of Wing, which is using its corporate cousin Google’s mapping expertise, instantly makes it one of the more significant players in the burgeoning arena of tracking unpiloted aircraft. Starting Tuesday, Wing’s OpenSky application will be available on Google Play and Apple Inc.’s App Store.

While Wing’s vision of creating a massive drone delivery network is still years away, the new application is a stepping stone toward that goal, which requires well organized traffic patterns and widespread civilian compliance.

“With nearly two million registered drones in the U.S. already, regulatory compliance of all drones will allow them to share the sky safely,” Wing said in a press release. “Moreover, compliance will ultimately expand the uses and benefits of drones -- among them emergency response, commercial inspections and contactless delivery -- to more people.”

Wing is one of 15 companies that have an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration to grant drone flight approvals through an agency system known as Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability, or LAANC.

Seven of those companies are already offering services to the public, including Airmap Inc., Aloft Technologies Inc. and aerospace giant Airbus SE. Hobbyists from the Academy of Model Aeronautics have a partnership with UASidekick LLC for similar services.

Wing’s OpenSky will allow civilians to get permission to fly near airports or over some densely populated cities, provided other FAA safety rules are followed.

Wing has been testing its automated drone delivery system in Australia, Finland and in rural Virginia.

Existing applications are generally free, but some include fees for additional functions.

The FAA is still in the process of expanding drone uses. It finalized requirements for the devices to broadcast their identity and is working on the framework for allowing them to fly longer distances.

Younger Canadians are dropping their financial advisers in favour of DIY investing - THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

JUNE 30, 2021

Millennials, more so than any other demographic, are ready to drop their financial adviser to pursue Do-It-Yourself (DIY) investing instead.

According to a recent report from global comparison site Finder.com, nearly one in three Canadian millennials (33.7 per cent), say they plan to quit working with their financial adviser or are seriously considering it. Generation Z follows close behind, with 31 per cent thinking of moving on from their advisers in favour of DIY investing.

In contrast, only 21 per cent of Generation X and 11 per cent of Baby Boomers say that they’re ready to let go of their advisers, or at least considering it.

Sheldon Petrie, a 39-year-old application engineer living in Kitchener, Ont., quit working with his former adviser a few years ago after realizing how much the fees were costing him.

“When I first started with mutual funds, I thought that I had no options but to pay the fees. It was around the time that I got my current house I started researching personal finance in Canada and I really came to the stark realization that a 2 per cent + fee every year just erodes your returns,” Petrie said.

Petrie educated himself on investing through different subreddits, podcasts, YouTube channels and books. “I learned that investing really wasn’t all that complicated,” he said.

Petrie wanted to see if he’d be happier using a robo-adviser approach or a self-directed approach, so he moved his TFSA monthly contributions over to Wealthsimple and his RRSP to Questrade in a couch potato portfolio. The latter was a three-fund portfolio comprised of low-fee ETFs. Now, he’s fully invested at Questrade using asset allocation ETFs. He has also since hired the services of a fee-only planner who provides a financial review and planning advice.

Petrie is not alone on wanting to save money on investment fees. Among all generations surveyed, the most common reason for firing an adviser was to save money on fees (54 per cent) followed by “having more control over my money” (42 per cent).

Notably, Generation Z was eager to have greater control over their investments, more so than any other generation (48 per cent). And, what stood out among millennials was that 25 per cent value the convenience of newer online and mobile investment options.

“I think what Generation Z and millennials are noticing is that these new options for investing for their future take away a lot of those barriers that existed even a few years ago,” said Nicole McKnight, PR Manager at Finder.com, who analyzed the survey data and wrote the Finder.com report.

““You might have had to ask your financial adviser, ‘How do I make a trade on the stock market?’ or maybe they would need to do it for you. A lot of those barriers have been taken away.”

Additionally, since many millennials and Gen Z feel shut out of the housing market and aren’t receiving the same workplace pensions their parents did, they’re feeling increased pressure to take a more active role in planning for their financial future, McKnight said.

“We aren’t bound to the same thinking and ideas that our parents had,” Petrie added. “For them, access to ETFs and low-cost investing was non-existent to most Canadians. None of my parents knew anything about investing other than GICs and mutual funds.”

Petrie points out that many millennials aren’t even banking the same way as their parents. In Petrie’s case, he got fed up with the fees of traditional banks in his 20s and moved to President’s Choice Financial, now known as Simplii Financial.

Before younger Canadians make the leap to DIY investing, it’s important they do as much research as possible to learn their own risk tolerance and the pros and cons of different accounts, such as trading within a TFSA, RRSP or unregistered account, McKnight said.

New investors should also be careful not to put all of their money on trends like meme stocks.

“If you going to try jumping on a bandwagon, set aside a certain portion of your savings that you’d be comfortable losing,” McKnight said. “When it comes to investing, it’s all about diversifying.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2021.

Leah Golob, The Canadian Press

Lockdown measures extended in Australia as officials try to contain outbreak of delta variant - REUTERS

JUNE 30, 2021

KEY POINTS

  • Australian officials extended lockdown and social distancing measures to more of the country on Wednesday, with four major cities already under a hard lockdown to contain an outbreak of the Delta variant.
  • Around one in two Australians are under stay-at-home orders, with millions others subjected to movement curbs and mandatory mask-wearing.
  • With more than five million residents of greater Sydney under a two-week lockdown, New South Wales state reported 22 new locally transmitted cases on Wednesday.


A person exercises at the Sydney Opera House during a foggy start to the day on June 30, 2021 in Sydney, Australia. A person exercises at the Sydney Opera House during a foggy start to the day on June 30, 2021 in Sydney Australia. Lockdown restrictions continue as NSW health authorities work to contain a growing Covid-19 cluster. Brook Mitchell | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Australian officials extended lockdown and social distancing measures to more of the country on Wednesday, with four major cities already under a hard lockdown in a race to contain an outbreak of the highly contagious Delta coronavirus variant.

Around one in two Australians are under stay-at-home orders, with millions of others subjected to movement curbs and mandatory mask-wearing amid Covid-19 flare-ups in several locations.

With more than five million residents of greater Sydney under a two-week lockdown until July 9, New South Wales state reported 22 new locally transmitted Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, all linked to prior infections.

That was up slightly from the previous two days, but still below the peak of the current outbreak of 30 new cases reported on Sunday.

“New South Wales is demonstrating a steady rate of cases at this stage ...but to date our fears about huge escalation haven’t materialized and we certainly want to keep it that way,” state Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.

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With a total of around 170 new locally transmitted cases since the first infection was detected two weeks ago in a limousine driver who transported overseas airline crew, NSW is the worst-affected state or territory in the current outbreak.

Residents of Sydney, Perth, Brisbane and Darwin were joined in lockdown on Wednesday by those of the outback town of Alice Springs, the gateway to UNESCO World Heritage-listed Uluru. Officials issued stay-at-home orders for the town after a potentially infected traveler used the airport.

South Australia, meanwhile, reported its first locally transmitted cases for 2021, but stopped short of imposing a full lockdown, saying they believed the threat was contained.

Officials instead limited home gathering and urged people to wear masks in public after they reported five new cases - a miner who had returned home from a Northern Territory mine and his wife and children who had been in self-isolation.

Elsewhere in the country, Queensland reported three new locally acquired cases, Western Australia logged one and the Northern Territory recorded none.

Singapore on Wednesday said travelers from Australia will have to undergo home quarantine for a week from Friday.

Vaccine woes

Lockdowns, tough social distancing, swift contact tracing and a high community compliance have helped Australia quash prior outbreaks and keep its Covid-19 numbers relatively low. It has reported just over 30,550 cases and 910 deaths since the pandemic began.

But less than 5% of its 20 million adult population has been fully vaccinated, leading to criticism of a sluggish national inoculation drive.

Ampoules of the Corona vaccine of the Swedish-British manufacturer AstraZeneca stand on a table in a GP practice. Ampoules of the Corona vaccine of the Swedish-British manufacturer AstraZeneca stand on a table in a GP practice. Nicolas Armer | picture alliance | Getty Images

The federal government on Monday announced it would indemnify doctors who administer AstraZeneca’s vaccine shots to people under 60, after previously preferencing Pfizer doses for that age group due to blood clot concerns.

Two deaths have been linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine, a 52-year-old woman and a 48-year-old woman.

However, Queensland state authorities said they would not endorse the move, saying it would unnecessarily put their younger population at risk.

“I don’t want an 18-year-old in Queensland dying from a clotting illness who, if they got Covid probably wouldn’t die,” Queensland state Chief Health

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