Tag Archives: Australia

Australia abandons COVID-19 vaccination targets after new advice on AstraZeneca shots

Australia has abandoned a goal to vaccinate nearly all of its 26 million population by the end of 2021 following advice that people under the age of 50 take Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine rather than AstraZeneca’s shot.

Australia, which had banked on the AstraZeneca vaccine for the majority of its shots, had no plans to set any new targets for completing its vaccination program, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a Facebook post on Sunday afternoon.

“While we would like to see these doses completed before the end of the year, it is not possible to set such targets given the many uncertainties involved,” Morrison said.

Authorities in Canberra changed their recommendation on Pfizer shots for under-50s on Thursday, after European regulators reiterated the possibility of links between the AstraZeneca shot and reports of rare cases of blood clots.

Australia, which raced to double its order of the Pfizer vaccine last week, had originally planned to have its entire population vaccinated by the end of October.

Australia’s hardline response to the virus largely stopped community transmissions but the vaccination rollout has become a hot political topic — and a source of friction between Morrison and state and territory leaders — after the country vaccinated only a fraction of its four million target by the end of March.

About 1.16 million COVID-19 doses have now been administered, Morrison said, noting the speed of Australia’s vaccination program was in line with other peer nations, including Germany and France, and ahead of Canada and Japan.

Australia began vaccinations much later than some other nations, partly because of its low number of infections, which stand at just under 29,400, with 909 deaths, since the pandemic began.

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CBC | Health News

Australia and New Zealand to launch ‘travel bubble’ April 19 in pandemic milestone

New Zealand will allow quarantine-free visits by Australians from April 19, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Tuesday, creating a “travel bubble” for the neighbouring nations that have closed their borders to the rest of the world to eradicate COVID-19.

Though most Australian states have allowed quarantine-free visits from New Zealanders for months, New Zealand has continued mandatory quarantine from its neighbour, citing concern about small COVID-19 outbreaks there.

The virus has effectively been eradicated in both countries, with minor outbreaks a result of leakage from quarantined returned travellers. Australia has recorded about 29,400 virus cases and 909 deaths since the pandemic began, while New Zealand has had just over 2,100 confirmed cases and 26 deaths.

“The Trans-Tasman travel bubble represents a start of a new chapter in our COVID response and recovery, one that people have worked so hard at,” Ardern told reporters in the New Zealand capital Wellington.

“That makes New Zealand and Australia relatively unique. I know family, friends and significant parts of our economy will welcome it, as I know I certainly do.”

Other neighbouring countries have proposed special travel zones, but the New Zealand-Australia arrangement is among the first that does not involve mandatory COVID-19 testing.


New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announces conditions for quarantine-free travel with Australia on Tuesday. (Mark Mitchell/New Zealand Herald/The Associated Press)

About 568,000 New Zealand-born people live in Australia, according to 2018 figures, equivalent to 2.3 per cent of Australia’s population and Australia’s fourth-largest migrant community.

Australia supplied 1.5 million, or 40 per cent of arrivals in New Zealand in 2019, the year before the pandemic shut borders, contributing $ 2.3 billion Cdn to its economy, according to New Zealand figures. Arrivals were forecast to reach 80 per cent of that level by early 2022, Ardern said.

“Tourism operators can now take bookings with confidence and scale up their staffing,” said Chris Roberts, CEO of New Zealand travel industry body Tourism Industry Aotearoa.

‘Flyer beware’

Flights to and from some Australian states could still be suspended if there were local outbreaks, Ardern warned. She said travellers must wear masks on flights and undertake New Zealand contact tracing, while the travel bubble did not apply to people transiting via Australia from other countries.

The bubble would operate under a “flyer beware” system, with no new support from the New Zealand government for people stuck in Australia by cancellations at short notice, Ardern said.

Travel would operate state-by-state, and would follow a virus risk traffic-light system, with travel as normal in green-light zones, halting for 72 hours in orange zones and halting for an extended period in red-light zones.

Air New Zealand Ltd and Qantas Airways Ltd said they would ramp up flights between Australia and New Zealand to more than 70 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, reducing the airlines’ cash burn when they are almost wholly reliant on domestic markets for revenue.

“I’ll certainly be digging out my passport for the first time since I joined the airline to head across the ditch to see my family, and I’m especially looking forward to meeting some of my grandchildren for the first time,” said Air New Zealand CEO Greg Foran.

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EU, Italy halt AstraZeneca vaccine shipment to Australia

A shipment of over a quarter million AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccines destined for Australia has been blocked from leaving the European Union, in the first use of an export control system instituted by the bloc to make sure big pharmaceutical companies would respect their contracts.

The move, affecting only a small number of vaccines, underscores a growing frustration within the 27-nation bloc about the slow rollout of its vaccine drive and the shortfall of promised vaccine deliveries, especially by Anglo-Swedish AstraZeneca.

The ban came at the behest of Italy, and the EU did not raise objections to the tougher line Rome has adopted in dealing with vaccine shortages in the bloc since a new government led by Mario Draghi came into power last month.

Italy’s objections centred both on the general shortage of supplies in the EU and on “the delays in the supply of vaccines by AstraZeneca to the EU and Italy,” a Foreign Ministry statement said.

It said it also intervened because of the size of the shipment, more than 250,700 doses, that would go to Australia, which it did not consider a vulnerable nation.

Italy said it had informed the company on Tuesday. AstraZeneca refused to comment. The Financial Times first reported on the issue late Thursday.

The EU’s export controls previously raised concerns in Canada over whether they could affect vaccine delivery here. But the European Commission signalled in February that the export controls would only be used “in very limited cases.” At that time, CBC News reported that a vaccine delivery to Canada had already been authorized.

WATCH | Tension over delivery of needed vaccines:

The European Union says it may move to curb shipments of COVID-19 vaccines to other countries after manufacturer AstraZeneca reported major production problems. 3:07

Shortages prompt control effort

Faced with shortages of doses during the early stages of the vaccine campaign that started in late December, the EU issued an export control system for COVID-19 vaccines in late January, forcing companies to respect their contractual obligations to the bloc before commercial exports can be approved.

The EU has been specifically angry with AstraZeneca because it is delivering far fewer doses to the bloc than it had promised. Of the initial order for 80 million doses to the EU in the first quarter, the company will be struggling to deliver just half that quantity.

There were rumours that the company was siphoning off from EU production plants to other nations, but CEO Pascal Soriot insisted that any shortfall was to be blamed on technical production issues only.

The EU has vaccinated only eight per cent per cent of its population compared to over 30 per cent, for example, in the United Kingdom. Australia is still very much at the start of its vaccination drive.

With such an action, the EU is caught in a bind. On the one hand, it is under intense pressure to ramp up the production of vaccines in the bloc while on the other hand it wants to remain an attractive hub for pharmaceutical giants and a fair trading partner to third countries.


A man wearing a protective mask sits at Gianicolo Hill in Rome on Tuesday. (Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters)

The EU thought it had made perfect preparations for the rollout of vaccinations, heavily funding research and production capacity over the past year. With its 450 million people, the EU has signed deals for six different vaccines. In total, it has ordered up to 400 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and sealed agreements with other companies for more than two billion shots.

It says that despite the current difficulties it is still convinced it can vaccinate 70 per cent of the adult population by the end of summer.

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Microsoft, European publishers side with Australia in fight with Facebook over news

Microsoft is teaming up with European publishers to push for a system to make big tech platforms pay for news, raising the stakes in the brewing battle led by Australia to get Google and Facebook to pay for journalism.

The Seattle tech giant and four big European Union news industry groups unveiled their plan Monday to work together on a solution to “mandate payments” for use of news content from online “gatekeepers with dominant market power.”

They said they will “take inspiration” from proposed legislation in Australia to force tech platforms to share revenue with news companies and which includes an arbitration system to resolve disputes over a fair price for news.

Facebook last week blocked Australians from accessing and sharing news on its platform in response to the government’s proposals, but the surprise move sparked a big public backlash and intensified the debate over how much power the social network has.

Google, meanwhile, has taken a different tack by cutting payment deals with news organizations, after backing down from its initial threat to shut off its search engine for Australians.

Platforms must ‘adapt to regulators’

The EU’s internal market commissioner, Thierry Breton, expressed support for Australia, in the latest sign Facebook’s move has backfired.

“I think it’s very regrettable that a platform takes such decisions to protest against a country’s laws,” Breton told EU lawmakers.


The European Union’s internal market commissioner Thierry Breton, seen here in February 2020 in Munich, Germany, expressed support for Australia, in the latest sign Facebook’s move to block citizens there from accessing and sharing news on its platform has backfired. (Johannes Simon/Getty Images)

“It’s up to the platforms to adapt to regulators, not the other way around,” he said, adding that what’s happening in Australia “highlights an attitude that must change.”

Breton is leading the EU’s sweeping overhaul of digital regulations aimed at taming the power of the big tech companies, amid growing concerns their algorithms are eroding democracy.

WATCH | Facebook and Australia are in a standoff. Is Canada next?:

Facebook blocked news posts for Australian users as the government plans to make technology companies pay for sharing news content. There are concerns something similar could happen to Canadians. 7:37

EU countries to adopt new copyright rules

Microsoft is joining forces with two lobbying groups, the European Publishers Council and News Media Europe, along with two groups representing European newspaper and magazine publishers, which account for thousands of titles. The company has expressed support for Australia’s plans, which could help increase market share of its Bing search engine.

European Union countries are working on adopting by June revamped copyright rules set out by the EU executive that allow news companies and publishers to negotiate payments from digital platforms for online use of their content.

But there are worries about an imbalance of bargaining power between the two sides and the group called for new measures to be added to the upcoming overhaul of digital regulations to address the problem.

WATCH | Newspaper publisher on making tech giants pay for news:

Bob Cox, publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press, says local news could be in trouble if the government doesn’t take bold action. 6:09

Publishers “might not have the economic strength to negotiate fair and balanced agreements with these gatekeeper tech companies, who might otherwise threaten to walk away from negotiations or exit markets entirely,” the group said in a joint statement.

Google and Facebook have resisted arbitration because it would give them less control over payment talks.

Facebook did not reply to a request for comment. Google said it already has signed hundreds of partnerships with news publishers across Europe, making it one of journalism’s biggest funders and noted on Twitter that it’s working with publishers and policymakers across the EU as member countries adopt the copyright rules into national legislation.

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Come From Away plays to (almost) packed crowds in Australia, restoring sense of community

While most theatre companies wait to safely welcome back audiences, Come From Away is playing eight shows a week in Melbourne, Australia, to an almost packed house.

The musical retelling of how the citizens of Gander, N.L., responded during the events of 9/11 is one of the most successful Canadian theatrical exports, spawning numerous productions in North America, Britain and Australia.

Nine months into its run in Melbourne, Come From Away was forced to close its doors as the country worked to get the coronavirus under control.

Now, with the number of daily new COVID-19 cases in Melbourne down to single digits, Come From Away has raised the curtain again. The Australian production, which resumed on Jan. 19, was one of the first shows to welcome back audiences, with new safety measures.

Contact tracing is required for all ticket holders, as is mandatory mask-wearing, and the 1,003-seat Comedy Theatre is limited to 85 per cent capacity.


Musical director Luke Hunter describes how ‘moving’ it was to hear a live audience roar after living through months of Australia’s restrictive lockdown measures. (CBC News)

Luke Hunter, the company’s musical director, remembers all too well the months of strict lockdown stuck in his apartment. He says the feeling from audiences when the cast returned to work surprised him.

Come From Away ends with a dramatic flourish as the lights go out and Hunter stands on a chair playing the accordion.

On the show’s opening night, the crowd roared. “I’d forgotten how impactful it is to hear the sound of a group of people that have been through an experience together…. It was really moving,” Hunter said.


In Melbourne, fans such as Mike Benjamin are returning to see the show again because of what it represents.

“With the show being uplifting, it is that sense [that] I’m able to return to a sense of normality. It does warm the soul.”

As Benjamin drove home after the show, he listened to a news item about a new case of COVID-19 discovered in the community. While he said he doesn’t relish the idea of another lockdown, he thinks that’s why the musical’s message resonates.

“I think the big theme there is about looking out for other people and recognizing that we’re in this together.”


A big fan of Come From Away, Mike Benjamin, shown with a friend, went to see the musical again as soon as it reopened in Melbourne. (Submitted by Mike Benjamin)

American actor Sharriese Hamilton plays Hannah in the Australian production and understands all too intimately the toll the virus can take.

When the production first shut down, she flew home to Chicago, where restrictions were less effective.

Hamilton lost some of her relatives to COVID-19, including the family’s matriarch. She went from performing for hundreds to trying to grieve over loved ones via Zoom.


Sharriese Hamilton went home to Chicago when Come From Away first shut down in March 2020. After losing family members to COVID-19, she now channels that experience into her nightly performances. (CBC News)

Now she finds herself back on the other side of the globe, where the sun is shining and theatres are open. Seeing the audience there waiting, Hamilton choked back tears.

“Being in that room with all of those people who came out and put their masks on, it was an overwhelming feeling. I think we all were just like, ‘Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry.'”

For Hunter, Hamilton and the rest of the cast and crew, the pandemic has changed what Come From Away stands for.

“It’s definitely deepened the message,” Hamilton said. “There’s a very different energy amongst us on stage and amongst the audience that we’ve been through something and we need each other.”

Performers talk about providing a service and feeling the audience respond and revel in the shared experience. But Hunter says the Australian company is also acting as a beacon for the the other Come From Away companies, still waiting to return.

“I’m acutely aware … when I sit down to conduct the show that there are four other companies of this show that are not doing what we get to do,” he said.

WATCH: Come From Away theatre companies send messages for opening night:

While the show goes on in Melbourne, the four other Come From Away productions sent messages to be played on opening night. ‘Chookas’ is an Australian expression that means good luck or break a leg. 1:18

For opening night, the Come From Away teams on Broadway, in Toronto and London, as well as with the touring company contributed a special video message played for the audience.

In the now-familiar mosaic of Zoom squares, the cast and crew members wished the Melbourne company “Chookas,” an Australian expression similar to break a leg or good luck.

“It has been unexpected to feel that responsibility, heartwarming as well,” Hunter said.

WATCH | Australian audiences return to theatre for Come From Away:

With its low COVID-19 case numbers, Melbourne, Australia, has reopened its theatres to audiences, and Come From Away — set in Gander, N.L., after 9/11 — is one of the first productions returning to the stage. 2:03

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U.S. company trials coronavirus vaccine candidate in Australia

A U.S. biotechnology company began injecting a coronavirus vaccine candidate into people in Australia on Tuesday with hopes of releasing a proven vaccine this year.

Novavax will inject 131 volunteers in the first phase of the trial testing the safety of the vaccine and looking for signs of its effectiveness, the company’s research chief Dr. Gregory Glenn said.

About a dozen experimental vaccines against the coronavirus are in early stages of testing or poised to start, mostly in China, the U.S. and Europe. It’s not clear that any will prove safe and effective. But many work in different ways, and are made with different technologies, increasing the odds that at least one approach might succeed.

“We are in parallel making doses, making vaccine in anticipation that we’ll be able to show it’s working and be able to start deploying it by the end of this year,” Glenn told a virtual news conference in Melbourne from Novavax’ headquarters in Maryland.

Animal testing suggested the vaccine is effective in low doses. Novavax could manufacture at least 100 million doses this year and 1.5 billion in 2021, he said.

Manufacture of the vaccine, named NVX-CoV2373, was being scaled up with $ 388 million US invested by Norway-based Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations since March, Glenn said.

The results of the first phase of clinical trials in Melbourne and Brisbane are expected to be known in July, Novavax said. Thousands of candidates in several countries would then become involved in a second phase.

The trial began with six volunteers being injected with the potential vaccine in Melbourne on Tuesday, said Paul Griffin, infectious disease expert with Australian collaborator Nucleus Network.

Grew copies of protein 

Most of the experimental vaccines in progress aim to train the immune system to recognize the “spike” protein that studs the coronavirus’ outer surface, priming the body to react if it was exposed to the real virus.

Some candidates are made using just the genetic code for that protein, and others use a harmless virus to deliver the protein-producing information. Still other vaccine candidates are more old-fashioned, made with dead, whole virus.

Novavax adds another new kind to that list, what’s called a recombinant vaccine. Novavax used genetic engineering to grow harmless copies of the coronavirus spike protein in giant vats of insect cells in a laboratory. Scientists extracted and purified the protein, and packaged it into virus-sized nanoparticles.

“The way we make a vaccine is we never touch the virus,” Novavax told The Associated Press last month. But ultimately, “it looks just like a virus to the immune system.”

It’s the same process that Novavax used to create a nanoparticle flu vaccine that recently passed late-stage testing.

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Australia launches controversial COVID-19 tracking app as New Zealand prepares to open for business

The Australian government launched a controversial coronavirus tracing app on Sunday and promised to legislate privacy protections around it as authorities try to get the country and the economy back onto more normal footing.

Australia and neighbouring New Zealand have both managed to get their coronavirus outbreaks under control before it strained public health systems, but officials in both two countries continue to worry about the risk of another flareup.

“We are winning, but we have not yet won,” Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said at a televised briefing announcing the app’s launch

The app, which is based on Singapore’s TraceTogether software, uses Bluetooth signals to log when people have been close to one another. It has been criticized by civil liberties groups as an invasion of privacy.

The Australian government, which wants at least 40 per cent of the population to sign up to make the effort effective, said the voluntary app, which would not track location, is safe.

Only public health will access data

The app’s stored contact data will enable health officials to trace people potentially exposed to infections.

“It will help us as we seek to return to normal and the Australian way of life,” Hunt said. “No one has access to that, not even yourself … only a state public health official can be given access to that data.”

A legislative directive ensuring that will be proposed to the parliament in May, the health ministry said on the app’s website on Sunday.


In this March 21 photo, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern holds up a card showing a new alert system for COVID-19 in Wellington, New Zealand. New Zealand implemented some of the strictest lock-down measures in the world and is set to begin lifting those Tuesday. (Nick Perry/The Associated Press)

A few countries, including South Korea and Israel, are using high-tech methods of contact tracing which involves tracking peoples’ location via phone networks, though such centralized, surveillance-based approaches are viewed as invasive and unacceptable in many countries.

Trust in governments in Australia and New Zealand has risen since the start of the pandemic, opinion polls show, with leaders of both countries — ideologically opposite — hailed for their management in suppressing the coronavirus.

The rate of increase in new cases has been below one per cent for two weeks now in both countries, much lower than in many other countries.

New Zealand to ease measures Tuesday

On Sunday, Australia’s states of Queensland and Western Australia said they would slightly ease social distancing rules this week to allow for larger outdoor public gatherings, among others, but officials in Victoria, second most populous state, said they were not ready to relax the state’s hardline restrictions.

Australia reported 16 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, which took its total to 6,703, according to health ministry data. There have been 83 deaths.

In New Zealand, there were four new confirmed cases, bringing the total to 1,121. Eighteen people have died, health ministry data showed.

On Tuesday, New Zealand will start to ease some of the world’s strictest lockdown measures, and is also set to roll out a tracing app soon, but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has warned this is not the only panacea.

“We have been very clear on from the beginning that no tracking app provides a silver bullet,” Ardern said earlier this month.

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Canadian Forces sending plane, crew to help fight Australia wildfires

Canada is sending a military transport plane and about 15 military personnel to help fight bushfires in Australia.

The Canadian Forces say the CC-177 Globemaster is leaving Monday.

The plane and crew are to transport fire retardant from the U.S., free up Australian airlift capacity and take images of fires from the air to measure them and predict how they might spread.

They’re going as part of Operation Renaissance, a standing mission that sends military help to other countries coping with natural disasters.

Canada has already sent about 100 firefighters and experts to Australia to help combat the fires that have consumed millions of hectares of bush, particularly in the southeastern part of the country.

Last week a Canadian-owned air tanker crashed as it dropped a load of fire retardant in an alpine valley, killing its three American crew.


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Firefighting plane crashes in Australia, kills 3

Three people died Thursday when a C-130 Hercules aerial water tanker crashed while battling wildfires in the Snowy Monaro region of Australia’s southern New South Wales state, officials said.

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian confirmed the deaths and crash in comments to reporters as Australia attempts to deal with an unprecedented fire season that has left a large swath of destruction.

“The only thing I have from the field reports are that the plane came down, it’s crashed and there was a large fireball associated with that crash,” said Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons.

He said all three aboard were U.S. residents.

“Unfortunately, all we’ve been able to do is locate the wreckage and the crash site and we have not been able to locate any survivors,” he said.

The Lockheed C-130 Hercules was contracted through American aerial firefighting company, Coulson Aviation (USA), of Portland, Ore. In a statement, the company said it will send a team to the site to assist in emergency operations.

Fires close Canberra airport 

Berejiklian said there were more than 1,700 volunteers and personnel in the field, and five fires were being described at an “emergency warning level.”

Also Thursday, Canberra Airport closed because of nearby wildfires, and residents south of Australia’s capital were told to seek shelter.

The blaze started Wednesday but strong winds and high temperatures caused conditions in Canberra to deteriorate. A second fire near the airport that started on Thursday morning is at the “watch and act” level.


A supplied image obtained January 8, 2020, shows Country Fire Authority (CFA) strike teams performing controlled burning west of Corryong, Victoria, Australia, January 7, 2020. Picture taken January 7, 2020. ( Jason Edwards/AAP/Reuters)

“Arrivals and departures are affected due to aviation firefighting operations,” the airport authority said in a tweet.

Another tweet from traffic police said “the fire is moving fast and there are multiple road closures in the area. Please avoid the area. Local road blocks in place.”

Residents in some Canberra suburbs were advised to seek shelter and others to leave immediately.

“The defense force is both assisting to a degree and looking to whether that needs to be reinforced,” Defense Minister Angus Campbell told reporters.

“I have people who are both involved as persons who need to be moved from areas and office buildings that are potentially in danger, and also those persons who are part of the (Operation) Bushfire Assist effort,” he said.

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Q&A | David Common answers your questions about the Australia fires

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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