Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended his "Fortress Australia" Covid-19 restrictions Tuesday, as experts warned that plans to keep the borders closed for another year will create a "hermit nation".
"Everyone is keen to get back to a time that we once knew," the conservative leader said in the face of growing calls for international borders to reopen.
"The reality is we're living this year in a pandemic that's worse than last year."
Last March, Australia took the unprecedented step of closing its borders to foreign visitors and banning its globetrotting citizens from leaving.
That prompted the first population decline since World War I, stranded tens of thousands of Australian citizens overseas and separated hundreds of thousands of residents from family members.
But the country now has almost no community transmission and life for most is relatively normal.
And the government's recent suggestion that borders could remain closed for another year has sparked fierce debate.
Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid on Tuesday warned: "Australia cannot keep its international borders closed indefinitely."
He called for improved quarantine facilities and vaccination efforts to permit borders to slowly open.
"At some point, it will not be possible to justify the maintenance of border closures given their impact on lives and livelihoods," he said.
A University of Sydney task force examining how Australia can safely reopen this week went further, warning the country "cannot continue to lock itself off from the world as a hermit nation indefinitely".
Panel member Professor Marc Stears said the initial snap measures to keep the pandemic at bay were understandable.
"You have to remember there really was terror," he told AFP. "At the start of the pandemic the Australian public were inundated with images from Italy and New York."
"There were strong demands for strong action, so the government took the decision to close the border. I don't think anyone really knew how effective a policy that would turn out to be."
But, Stears said, as much of the world tentatively reopens, the costs of isolation are mounting.
"Not only have you got immediate economic and social costs, but you have the character of the country in question here. There is a fork in the road moment for openness versus closedness."
- Vox populi -
The economic impact of border closures has been blunted by massive stimulus spending, but a growing number of business leaders from hard-hit industries are also speaking out.
Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka led the charge Monday, arguing Australia needs to accept that Covid-19 will not be eradicated and borders should gradually reopen.
"Some people may die, but it will be way smaller than with the flu," she said.
Morrison called the comments "somewhat insensitive", insisting he would maintain the tight border regime as long as necessary.
"I'm not going to take risks with Australians' lives," he said.
The border closures appear to have widespread public support. A recent Newspoll survey showed 73 percent of Australians want travel banned until at least mid-2022.
Leaders in Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia who made a virtue of banning travellers from other Australian states in response to outbreaks, have won reelection at a canter.
Slowly, officials are starting to link reopening borders to vaccine targets.
So far only three million doses have been delivered in a country of 25 million people.
The premier of Australia's most populous state New South Wales on Tuesday indicated a target of around 80 percent of adults fully vaccinated.
"I don't want us to be closed off from the world longer than we need to," said Gladys Berejiklian.
© 2021 AFP
Bill Gates's tenure at Microsoft has come under fresh scrutiny amid revelations that the tech giant probed the billionaire founder's intimate relationship with a staffer before he left the board of directors.
The latest news, days after Gates and his wife Melinda announced their divorce, could have major repercussions for the tech founder who has cultivated an image as one of the world's most dedicated philanthropists.
Recent reports suggested a streak of questionable behavior by the 65-year-old Gates, one of the most prominent members of the US business elite who has been the target of conspiracy theorists over his funding of the development of Covid-19 vaccines.
Microsoft confirmed reports over the weekend that its board began an investigation with an outside law firm of an affair with an employee.
"Microsoft received a concern in the latter half of 2019 that Bill Gates sought to initiate an intimate relationship with a company employee in the year 2000," a company spokesperson said.
But Gates has denied that the relationship prompted him to leave the Microsoft board last year.
A spokeswoman for Gates told the Wall Street Journal: "There was an affair almost 20 years ago which ended amicably."
She added that Gates's decision to "transition off the board was in no way related to this matter."
Other reports pointed to meetings between Gates and Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted sex offender who died by suicide while awaiting trial on trafficking charges.
Gates's team assured the board the Microsoft founder had met Epstein for "philanthropic reasons" and "regretted doing so," the Journal said.
The New York Times reported that Melinda Gates expressed dismay over her husband's meetings with Epstein but that Gates continued to meet him.
The Times reported Melinda Gates was also upset over a private settlement of a sexual harassment claim against her husband's financial manager, and about Gates's advancements toward other Microsoft employees.
The focus on Gates comes amid heightened scrutiny of sexual harassment and misconduct in the tech sector and the #MeToo movement which has already led to the downfall of a number of powerful men.
While none of the reports have suggested sexual misconduct by Gates himself, his actions and associations have nonetheless tarnished the image of a man long respected and admired.
"On the one hand, Americans disapprove of infidelity. So, his image will take a hit," said Alicia Walker, a Missouri State University professor and author of "Chasing Masculinity: Men, Validation, and Infidelity."
"On the other hand, folks tend to overlook men's infidelity as expected. This is especially the case for rich and powerful men."
According to the Times report, Melinda Gates hired divorce lawyers in 2019 to set in motion the breakup when revelations surfaced about her husband's relationship with Epstein, who had been awaiting trial on criminal charges when he was found dead, in what was ruled a suicide.
Gates co-founded Microsoft in 1975, building it into the world's most valuable company. He stepped aside as chief executive in 2000 and as chairman in 2014. He remained a board member until last year and has continued as a technical advisor to CEO Satya Nadella.
He and his wife, who co-founded the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation two decades ago to battle global poverty and disease, announced their divorce on May 3 after 27 years of marriage.
The breakup has raised questions about the future of one of the world's richest charitable foundations with 1,600 staff members and which provides some $5 billion each year in areas like global public health and development.
Gates himself has become a leading figure speaking out against climate change and promoting science-based solutions to the coronavirus pandemic, while becoming the target of conspiracy theorists who claimed he knew in advance about Covid-19.
Donald Trump, who loves to say he's a billionaire but always seems to avoid proving that, has already taken tens of thousands of dollars in government pensions.
Since leaving the White House in January, the twice-impeached one-term president has taken $65,600 in presidential pension payments, a spokesperson for the General Services Administration told Insider.
Trump unquietly donated his $400,000 annual salary during his four-year term, as he had promised to do as a candidate in 2016, and it's not clear what he has done with the pension he's been receiving since January.
The U.S. Constitution requires presidents to be paid a salary in office but does not require them to receive pension payments.
Spokesman Jason Miller did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the pension.
Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Raw Story Investigates and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.
$95 / year — Just $7.91/month
I want to Support More
$14.99 per month