Does vitamin D protect against coronavirus?



Shutterstock

Elina Hypponen, University of South Australia

Recent headlines have suggested vitamin D deficiency could increase the risk of dying from COVID-19, and in turn, that we should consider taking vitamin D supplements to protect ourselves.

Is this all just hype, or could vitamin D really help in the fight against COVID-19?




Read more:
5 ways nutrition could help your immune system fight off the coronavirus


Vitamin D and the immune system

At least in theory, there may be something to these claims.

Nearly all immune cells have vitamin D receptors, showing vitamin D interacts with the immune system.

The active vitamin D hormone, calcitriol, helps regulate both the innate and adaptive immune systems, our first and second lines of defence against pathogens.

And vitamin D deficiency is associated with immune dysregulation, a breakdown or change in the control of immune system processes.




Read more:
Six things you need to know about your vitamin D levels


Many of the ways calcitriol affects the immune system are directly relevant to our ability to defend against viruses.

For example, calcitriol triggers the production of cathelicidin and other defensins – natural antivirals capable of preventing the virus from replicating and entering a cell.

Calcitriol can also increase the number of a particular type of immune cell (CD8+ T cells), which play a critical role in clearing acute viral infections (such as influenza) in the lungs.

Calcitriol also suppresses pro-inflammatory cytokines, molecules secreted from immune cells which, as their name suggests, promote inflammation. Some scientists have suggested vitamin D might help to alleviate the “cytokine storm” described in the most severe COVID-19 cases.

Is there a link between vitamin D and coronavirus? We’re not sure yet.
Shutterstock

Evidence from randomised controlled trials suggests regular vitamin D supplementation may help protect against acute respiratory infections.

A recent meta-analysis brought together results from 25 trials with more than 10,000 participants who were randomised to receive vitamin D or a placebo.

It found vitamin D supplementation reduced the risk of acute respiratory infections, but only when it was given daily or weekly, rather than in a large single dose.

The benefits of regular supplementation were greatest among participants who were severely vitamin D deficient to begin with, for whom the risk of respiratory infection went down by 70%. In others the risk decreased by 25%.




Read more:
My vitamin D levels are low, should I take a supplement?


Large one-off (or “bolus”) doses are often used as a quick way to achieve vitamin D repletion. But in the context of respiratory infections, there were no benefits if participants received high single doses.

In fact, monthly or annual vitamin D supplementation has sometimes had unexpected side effects, such as increased risk of falls and fractures, where vitamin D was administered to protect against these outcomes.

It’s possible intermittent administration of large doses may interfere with the synthesis and breakdown of the enzymes regulating vitamin D activity within the body.

Vitamin D and COVID-19

We still have relatively little direct evidence about the role of vitamin D in COVID-19. And while early research is interesting, much of it may be circumstantial.

For example, one small study from the United States and another study from Asia found a strong correlation between low vitamin D status and severe infection with COVID-19.

But neither study considered any confounders.

In addition to the elderly, COVID-19 generally has the greatest consequences for people with pre-existing conditions.

Importantly, people with existing medical conditions are also often vitamin D deficient. Studies assessing ICU patients have reported high rates of deficiency even before COVID-19.

So we would expect to see relatively high rates of vitamin D deficiency in seriously ill COVID-19 patients – whether vitamin D has a role or not.

Vitamin D affects our immune function.
Shutterstock

Some researchers have noted high rates of COVID-19 infections in ethnic minority groups in the UK and US to suggest a role for vitamin D, as ethnic minority groups tend to have lower levels of vitamin D.

However, analyses from the UK Biobank did not support a link between vitamin D concentrations and risk of COVID-19 infection, nor that vitamin D concentration might explain ethnic differences in getting a COVID-19 infection.

Although this research adjusted for confounders, vitamin D levels were measured ten years earlier, which is a drawback.

Researchers have also suggested vitamin D plays a role by looking at the average vitamin D levels of different countries alongside their COVID-19 infections. But in the hierarchy of scientific evidence these types of studies are weak.

Should we be trying to get more vitamin D?

There are several registered trials on vitamin D and COVID-19 in their early stages. So hopefully in time we’ll get some more clarity about the potential effects of vitamin D on COVID-19 infection, particularly from studies using stronger designs.

In the meantime, even if we don’t know whether vitamin D can help mitigate the risk of or outcomes from COVID-19, we do know being vitamin D deficient won’t help.




Read more:
Can you get the COVID-19 coronavirus twice?


It’s difficult to get enough vitamin D from food alone. A generous portion of oily fish can cover much of our need, but it’s neither healthy nor palatable to eat this every day.

In Australia we get most of our vitamin D from the sun, but about 70% of us have insufficient levels during winter. The amount of exposure we need to get enough vitamin D is generally low, only a few minutes during summer, while during the winter it might take a couple of hours of exposure in the middle of the day.

If you don’t think you’re getting enough vitamin D, speak to your GP. They may recommend incorporating daily supplements into your routine this winter.The Conversation

Elina Hypponen, Professor of Nutritional and Genetic Epidemiology, University of South Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Refugees need protection from coronavirus too, and must be released



AAP/Dan Peled

Claire Loughnan, University of Melbourne; Anthea Vogl, University of Technology Sydney; Caroline Fleay, Curtin University; Philomena Murray, University of Melbourne, and Sara Dehm, University of Technology Sydney

Pressure is growing to release people from immigration detention, with lawyers from Australia’s Human Rights Law Centre mounting a court case on behalf of a refugee seeking protection from COVID-19. They argue the federal government has a duty of care to refugees, which cannot be met in immigration detention due to the crowded conditions there.

This test case illustrates the urgency of the need to release people from detention.

The forgotten people

The social distancing measures adopted across Australia appear to be halting the spread of the coronavirus in the general community. But the Australian government continues to fail to provide proper protections for many groups who are most at risk. They include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote communities, people in prisons and youth detention centres, and those who are forced to remain in sites of immigration detention.

This leaves them, and the rest of us, at serious risk of infection.




Read more:
We need to consider granting bail to unsentenced prisoners to stop the spread of coronavirus


The British Home Office has begun releasing people from immigration detention to stem a potential escalation of their public health crisis. Some 400 people have been released to date.

In the US, rates of infection in immigration and prison sites have dramatically increased in recent weeks. One prison in Ohio reported 73% of inmates have tested positive to coronavirus.

To stall the spread of infection, several US courts have ordered the release from immigration prisons of people who are at particular risk of COVID-19 infection. One judge found US immigration officials had:

likely exhibited callous indifference to the safety and well-being of the [detained immigrants at risk]. The evidence suggests system-wide inaction that goes beyond a mere ‘difference of medical opinion or negligence’.

The Australian government can no longer ignore calls throughout Australia to take similar action to protect people in detention and the broader community. In February this year, the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s report on monitoring places of detention had already flagged the need for stronger protections for people who have been deprived of their liberty.

The situation in Singapore shows what can happen when measures are not taken to protect everyone. The pandemic escalated there through its rapid spread in migrant worker dormitories. They had been overlooked in Singapore’s “gold standard” response to COVID-19.

Public health experts around the world, including the World Health Organisation, have established that confined sites like detention centres provide ideal conditions for infections to spread rapidly.

The impossibility of social distancing in detention

About 1,400 people are in immigration detention in Australia. This includes Alternative Places of Detention (APODs), where many refugees have been detained for prolonged periods, including in confined hotel settings.

People held in the crowded detention centres and APODs in Australia have highlighted the impossibility of social distancing. They are using daily protests and social media to call for their urgent release into safe accommodation.

There is also widespread concern in the Australian community about the lack of protection being provided to people in immigration detention. Over 1,000 academics, doctors and health professionals signed an open letter, initiated by Academics for Refugees, Doctors for Refugees and Librarians for Refugees, calling for the release of people from onshore and offshore immigration detention.

What are the risks?

Transmission of COVID-19 occurs mainly through respiratory droplets, as well as through contact with skin and other surfaces. It is highly contagious and spreads quickly in closed spaces.

Reports received from inside immigration detention sites indicate staff have adopted limited or no protective measures. Those detained have limited or no access to hand sanitiser.

There are serious risks due to overcrowding and people are often transferred from one immigration detention centre to another. These factors magnify the risks and are in conflict with government guidelines to control the virus.

These concerns also apply to APODs such as hotels. Here refugees are detained in small, confined spaces with limited or no ventilation. These conditions are even more likely to promote the spread of viruses and disease.

COVID-19 infection is a particular threat for those whose health is already compromised or who have underlying medical conditions, as they are at higher risk of developing serious complications. This includes people detained in Australia who have compromised immune systems as a result of inadequate access to medical care over a number of years.

There are also concerns for the health of those held in offshore detention. Refugees and asylum seekers currently in Nauru and Papua New Guinea are particularly vulnerable because of their living arrangements, the limits on their ability to take proactive preventive measures to protect their own health, their status as non-citizens, and their limited access to medical care.

Recent reports indicate a spike in infections in Papua New Guinea. Should an outbreak occur that is beyond the capacity of the country to respond, the impact for refugees living there would be disastrous.




Read more:
Explainer: how will the emergency release of NSW prisoners due to coronavirus work?


As most detainees have varying contact with people outside detention, the risk extends to the broader community. Failure to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19 among detainees will not only expose these groups to unacceptable risk, it will inevitably have a detrimental impact on the community at large.

What action is urgently required from the government?

Immediate government action is required to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19 among people forced to remain in immigration detention.

These measures must include:

  • immediately using alternatives to detention to provide those who are in immigration detention with appropriate accommodation in the community

  • ensuring those who remain in detention are informed in a language they understand about the risks of COVID-19, the availability of testing and measures they can take to prevent the spread of infection

  • enforcing best-practice sanitation measures and social distancing in immigration detention to maintain the health and safety of detainees and staff

  • applying enhanced testing procedures in places of immigration detention and ensuring all staff are appropriately screened – similar procedures should apply for Nauru and PNG

  • ensuring all people on bridging visas have access to appropriate medical care that matches Australian community standards

  • ensuring asylum seekers and refugees with a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 in Nauru and PNG are assessed and treated in accordance with Australian standards. If necessary, they should be transported to Australia for medical care.

They need the government’s protection as much as the rest of us.


We thank Mary Anne Kenny, Madeline Gleeson and Angeline Ferdinand for their advice.The Conversation

Claire Loughnan, Lecturer, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne; Anthea Vogl, Senior lecturer, University of Technology Sydney; Caroline Fleay, Associate Professor, Curtin University; Philomena Murray, Professor, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne, and Sara Dehm, Lecturer, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Is protesting during the pandemic an ‘essential’ right that should be protected?



Steven Saphore/AAP

Maria O’Sullivan, Monash University

Protests are increasingly breaking out around the world as people begin to chafe against lockdown restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In the US, President Donald Trump is fuelling the spread of protest movements nationwide with tweets to “liberate” certain states. This month, car convoy protests were also held here in Australia, as well as in Poland and Brazil.

Hundreds of Brazilians have protested in major cities against the country’s lockdown measures.
Cris Faga/SIPA USA

In Germany, some 300 protesters gathered in a main square in Berlin to protest COVID-19 restrictions, leading to many arrests.




Read more:
Coronavirus versus democracy: 5 countries where emergency powers risk abuse


Protest is one of the most important ways we can express disagreement with government action. However, the ability of people to protest in an emergency situation such as the current pandemic is very unclear.

Can we protest outside if we are in cars, maintaining social distancing, for instance? Is protest considered an “essential” activity?

Protests have broken out in the US from Washington state to North Carolina. Some cities have begun fining people.
Alex Milan Tracy/Sipa USA

What’s at stake when protests are disallowed?

On April 10, activists staged a car convoy protest in Melbourne to highlight the plight of refugees in detention who face a heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 due to overcrowded conditions.

Despite the fact everyone was social distancing in cars, police arrested one man and fined 26 others a total of $43,000 because they were not in public for an allowable reason (for instance, work, exercise, shopping for essentials or caregiving).

The ability to voice dissent is vital for a functioning democracy. It is therefore arguable that people should be able to protest against what they see as government overreach in social restrictions or the enforcement of these rules by police.




Read more:
Pandemic policing needs to be done with the public’s trust, not confusion


This is especially true if one considers the role of protesters in giving voice to those who are marginalised or unable to demonstrate publicly themselves, such as asylum seekers in detention.

These protests are different in that they are not about the restrictions themselves or disagreement with policymakers; rather, they are in response to a legitimate health concern and questions of violations of human rights (the right to health and liberty).

Asylum seekers protesting their continued detention during the pandemic in Brisbane.
Dan Peled/AAP

Is limiting protest against our constitution?

In many democratic countries, COVID-19 restrictions must be balanced with protections enshrined in human rights charters.

Although Australia does not have a human rights charter at the federal level and there is no guaranteed “right to protest”, we do have a concept called the “implied freedom of political communication”.

This implied freedom stems from provisions in our constitution about representative government, and has been quite influential in protecting certain forms of protest. For instance, in 2017, former Australian Greens leader Bob Brown successfully challenged Tasmania’s anti-protest law in the High Court, arguing it targeted the freedom of political expression and was therefore unconstitutional.




Read more:
Bob Brown wins his case, but High Court leaves the door open to laws targeting protesters


To determine if this implied freedom is being curtailed, there are several key points to examine.

  • Does the law impinge on political discussion?

  • Does it serve a legitimate purpose?

  • And is it disproportionate in its impact?

As part of the proportionality question, we can examine whether there is an alternative practical or legislative means of achieving the purpose of the law – in this case, reducing the spread of a virus – that has a less burdensome effect on the implied freedom of political communication.

If we apply these tests to the coronavirus restrictions, it is quite clear they do limit our political expression, but also serve a legitimate purpose (by ensuring the safety and well-being of the community).




Read more:
Why an Australian charter of rights is a matter of national urgency


However, I would argue the requirements imposed by the law are not proportionate. Specifically, I do believe there is way to protect public health while simultaneously allowing a form of protest.

Instead of a wholesale ban on protesting, for instance, the restrictions could be changed to allow protest as a permitted reason to leave home if protesters observe social distancing rules. This could include limiting cars to members from the same household or to a maximum of two people in states where gatherings are severely restricted.

Israelis protesting against government corruption while maintaining social distancing.
Abir Sultan/EPA

Aren’t there other ways to protest?

Online or virtual protests are a possibility. Climate change activist Greta Thunberg has recommended people avoid mass gatherings during the pandemic and instead engage in online campaigns and digital strikes.

However, one of the hallmarks of effective protest is its public, visual impact. And often media coverage of protests is a means of garnering greater public support. This is why taking over city streets or occupying buildings has been a key strategy of protest groups such as Extinction Rebellion.

In this light, online protests are not a substitute for traditional street protests, as they will not necessarily have the same potential to drive change – which is often the whole reason for protesting in the first place.

So, as the pandemic continues, we are likely to see more people protesting on the streets – not fewer. And it is the responsibility of governments to avoid responding with increasingly heavy-handed tactics, such as widespread arrests and fines, as this could inflame public anger even more and further call into question the legality of the restrictions.

During this time, we also need to reflect on the way our legal system operates in Australia to ensure the COVID-19 restrictions do not disproportionately affect the most marginalised in our community. And, ultimately, we need to ask ourselves whether our fundamental human rights protections could be strengthened by a federal charter of human rights.The Conversation

Maria O’Sullivan, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, and Deputy Director, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What is herd immunity and how many people need to be vaccinated to protect a community?



The vaccine coverage needed for herd immunity varies from disease to disease.
Ryoji Iwata/Unsplash

Hassan Vally, La Trobe University

The term herd immunity comes from the observation of how a herd of buffalo forms a circle, with the strong on the outside protecting the weaker and more vulnerable on the inside.

This is similar to how herd immunity works in preventing the spread of infectious diseases. Those who are strong enough to get vaccinated directly protect themselves from infection. They also indirectly shield vulnerable people who cannot be vaccinated.

There are various reasons a person may not be able to be successfully vaccinated. People undergoing cancer treatment, and whose immune systems are compromised, for instance, are impaired in their ability to develop protective immunity from all vaccines. Often, people who can’t be vaccinated are susceptible to the most serious consequences from being infected.

Another vulnerable group are babies. Infants under six months of age are susceptible to serious complications from influenza. Yet they can’t be given the flu vaccine as their immune systems are not strong enough.




Read more:
Kids are more vulnerable to the flu – here’s what to look out for this winter


How does herd immunity work?

For a contagious disease to spread, an infectious agent needs to find susceptible (non-immune) people to infect. If it can’t, the chain of infection is interrupted and the amount of disease in the population reduces.

Another way of thinking about it is that the disease needs susceptible victims to survive in the population. Without these, it effectively starves and dies out.

If most of the population is immunised, the disease dies out.
NIAID, CC BY

What level of coverage provides herd immunity?

How many people need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity varies from disease to disease.

Measles can be transmitted through coughing and sneezing and the virus causing measles can survive outside the body for up to two hours. So it’s possible to catch measles just by being in the same room as someone who is ill if you touch a surface they’ve coughed or sneezed on.

In contrast, Ebola can only be spread by direct contact with infected secretions (blood, faeces or vomit) and therefore requires close contact with an ill person. This makes it much less spreadable.




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Fast-spreading killers: how Ebola compares with other diseases


We can determine how contagious a disease is by tracking its spread throughout a population. In doing so, we can attribute each disease a reproductive number denoted by the symbol Ro. The bigger the Ro the more easily the disease is spread throughout the population.

If everyone who has a disease on average infects two people, the Ro for that disease is 2. This means the disease, relatively speaking, is not particularly contagious. However, if everyone who has a disease infects ten people on average, it would have an Ro of 10, which means it’s a much more contagious disease.

We can use the Ro for a disease to calculate the herd immunity threshold, which is the minimum percentage of people in the population that would need to be vaccinated to ensure a disease does not persist in the population. The more contagious a disease, the higher the threshold.

Measles is one of the most infectious diseases to affect humans with an Ro of 12-18. To achieve herd immunity to measles in a population we need 92-95% of the population to be vaccinated.

Current data indicates full vaccine coverage for five year olds in Australia is sitting at around the 95% level. However, vaccination rates in some communities have fallen below ideal levels, making them susceptible to measles outbreaks.

The overwhelming success of measles vaccinations means many people have no memory of what this disease looks like, and this has resulted in its effects being underestimated. Measles can cause blindness and acute encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), which can result in permanent brain damage.




Read more:
Why parents should fear measles, not the vaccine


Herd immunity, or community immunity, as it’s sometimes called, is a powerful public health tool. By ensuring those who can be vaccinated do get vaccinated we can achieve herd immunity and prevent the illness and suffering that comes from the spread of infectious diseases.The Conversation

Hassan Vally, Associate Professor, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Labor leads 53-47% in Newspoll as Shorten struggles with medical transfer bill


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government goes into the resumption of parliament this week
trailing Labor 47-53% on the two-party vote in Newspoll, unchanged
from a fortnight ago.

The poll comes as Labor’s stand on the legislation to facilitate
medical evacuations hangs in the balance, with Bill Shorten having
indicated he would like to find a compromise and speculation about a Labor retreat from its earlier support.

Shorten receives a briefing on the implications of the bill from the secretary of the Home Affairs Department, Mike Pezzullo on Monday. Shadow cabinet and caucus will discuss Labor’s position.

The opposition has been under concerted attack from the government
over its backing for the legislation, which passed the Senate last
year with ALP support.

Shorten is worried about Labor being wedged, because border protection is always a politically vulnerable area for the ALP.

Scott Morrison says the government will not shift from outright
opposition to the bill, which is based on a proposal originally coming from independent Kerryn Phelps but subsequently refined.

Newspoll, published in The Australian, has Labor’s primary vote up a point to 39%; the Coalition’s vote remains on 37%. The Greens are on 9%; One Nation is polling 5%, down a point.

Morrison has increased his lead over Shorten as better prime minister by 2 points to 44-35%.

Morrison’s satisfaction rating is up 3 points to 43%; his
dissatisfaction rating has fallen 2 points to 45%. Shorten has a net approval rating of minus 15, a worsening by 2 points.

The tactical battle over the medical transfer amendments will dominate the run up to Tuesday’s first day of the sitting. On another front, the opposition is trying to muster the numbers for extra sitting days to consider measures from the banking royal commission.

In comments on the medical transfer bill Opposition spokesman Shayne Neumann said on Sunday: “Labor has always had two clear objectives – making sure sick people can get medical care, and making sure the minister has final discretion over medical transfers.”

The bill provides that where there a dispute between the two doctors recommending a transfer and the minister, the final say on medical grounds would be in the hands of a medical panel.

The minister could override medical decisions only on security grounds (“security” is as defined in the ASIO act).

Passage of the legislation, which would require support from Labor and all but one of the crossbench, would be a big rebuff for the
Coalition.

But the government has managed to turn the heat onto Labor, claiming the legislation would undermine Australia’s border protection.

The briefing Shorten will receive will put more pressure on the
opposition, because Home Affairs will presumably reinforce the
argument it advanced in advice to the government.

The government has now declassified this advice – which last week it provided more informally to The Australian.

The advice, which has some sections blacked out, says: “The
effect of the Bill will undermine the Australian Government’s regional processing arrangements.

“Conduct which would come within the security exception to transfer
based on the minister’s reasonable belief that the transfer would be prejudicial to security, does not include all criminal conduct”.

“Ultimately, the amendments provide that the approximate 1000
transferees currently located in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Nauru
could have access to a transfer to Australia within weeks of any Royal Assent,” the advice says.

“It is not expected that the Minister’s ability to refuse transfer on security grounds will significantly reduce the number of potential transfers”.

Neumann said on Sunday: “Labor has great respect for our national
security agencies and we’ve always worked cooperatively with them.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Shorten pledges $500 million for UNHCR in border protection policy


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Bill Shorten has promised Labor will commit $500 million over five years to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in a policy designed simultaneously to reassure voters and satisfy the party on the politically sensitive issue of border protection.

This was among proposed new measures on asylum seeker policy the opposition leader announced to the ALP national conference on Monday morning, preempting a debate later in the day, to ensure internal party differences were minimised.

He said the $500 million would directly improve orderly regional processing and resettlement in the region and countries closer to where refugees originally came from. The funding would “speed up legitimate settlement pathways – it will deny people smugglers a product to sell”.

Portraying Labor as tough on borders, but humanitarian on refugees, Shorten said that if he became prime minister, he would take immediate advice from the chief of the Australian Defence Force, the Home Affairs Department, ASIO and other agencies about Australia’s state of preparedness to disrupt people smuggling operations before people departed.

Labor would triple the number of Australian Federal Police working overseas to stop people smugglers and prevent people even contemplating getting on boats.

An ALP government would expand the existing community sponsored refugee program from the current number of 1,000 to 5,000.

“This means state and local governments, community organisations, businesses and unions and faith-based institutions will be able to sponsor humanitarian entrants into Australia and support the economic and social integration of refugees into communities,” Shorten said.

He said the expansion would be in addition to Australia’s existing humanitarian intake, so a Labor government would take more refugees overall as part of its migration mix.

Shorten reaffirmed Labor’s commitment to turnbacks and offshore processing, saying “it is not a crime to want to come to this country. But it is a crime to exploit vulnerable people to put them in dangerous and unsafe vessels and have them drown at sea”.

“We cannot, we must not, and we will not permit the reopening of their
trade in human desperation and the drownings and the irreplaceable loss of life that it brings.”

This required pursuing regional resettlement, turning back boats when it was safe to do so and maintaining offshore processing.

“But also … we understand that keeping our borders secure, and keeping people smugglers out of business should and never has meant leaving women and children to languish for years and years in indefinite detention in sub-standard facilities and unacceptable conditions”

“It has never meant allowing peoples’ mental and physical health to deteriorate whilst under direct or indirect Australian care. It has never meant fighting every step of the way against medical advice which says that more needs to be done to treat people”

“I believe that Australia can meet our international humanitarian and legal responsibilities without compromising our national security for a commitment to strong border protection,” Shorten said.

A Labor government would take up New Zealand’s offer to resettle refugees from Manus and Nauru by immediately negotiating an agreement on similar terms to the current deal with the United States.

In a counter attack against the Coalition, which is running hard on the ALP being soft on borders, Shorten accused the government of “telling lies about Labor” and thereby “doing the dirty work of the people smugglers.

“The Liberals are acting as spruikers for the criminal syndicates. Every time they get up and say that there will be a change in terms of border security, they are signalling criminal syndicates to try their hand again.

“They should be ashamed, they know what they do and they still do it.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Guns in Church: Gun Situation in USA is Getting More Than Ridiculous


The link below is to an article concerning a pastor in Georgia, USA, who sought the right to bear arms in church. Not sure what he was hoping to achieve my taking guns to church other than it being just a stunt. He claims it would be for protection – must be very vigorous debates over membership issues there. Crazy!

For more visit:
http://global.christianpost.com/news/ga-pastor-loses-fight-to-carry-guns-at-church-78845/

Nepal Church Bomber Faked Repentance


Imprisoned chief of Hindu militant group used Christianity to cover up extortion, terror.

KATHMANDU, Nepal, April 4 (CDN) — The chief of a militant Hindu extremist group sought to disguise his extortion and terror activities from behind bars by claiming he had repented of bombing a church in Nepal and showing interest in Christianity, according to investigators.

The revelation emerged when Nepal’s premier investigation agency foiled a plot to explode a series of bombs devised by Ram Prasad Mainali, former chief of the Hindu militant outfit Nepal Defence Army (NDA), in the capital city of Kathmandu. Police on March 4 arrested six cohorts of Mainali carrying powerful “socket bombs” – home-made, hand grenade-type weapons made from plumbing joints – and high-explosive powder, to be used as part of a plan to extort money from industrialists, The Himalayan Times reported.

In an interview last year, Mainali had told Compass that his interaction with Christians inside jail in Kathmandu’s Nakkhu area had led him to repent of his deeds and read the Bible (see “Bomber in Nepal Repents, Admits India Link,” Jan. 4, 2010). Mainali was arrested on Sept. 5, 2009 for exploding a bomb in a Catholic parish in Kathmandu, Our Lady of the Assumption, which killed a teenager and a newly married woman and injured more than a dozen others on May 23 of that year.

Prior to the Compass interview, Mainali had sent a handwritten letter from the prison to a monthly Christian newsmagazine in Nepal, Hamro Ashish (Our Blessing), saying he regretted having attacked Christians.

A local Christian worker who had known Mainali said the church bomber used Christianity to evade police surveillance.

“I was disheartened when I recently learned that Mainali had threatened some pastors with violent attacks, demanding protection money from them,” he told Compass on condition of anonymity.

The source said Mainali threatened him and pastors he knew by phone. He suspected that a fellow prisoner, Jeevan Rai Majhi, previously considered a convert to Christianity, had given the pastors’ phone numbers to Mainali. Majhi, formerly a notorious criminal, had allegedly accepted Christ inside the prison, and jail authorities made him the prison leader. He also led a Bible study group in the prison.

“Some prisoners who attend the Bible study in the Nakkhu Jail told me that Mainali shared the extortion money with Majhi, which aroused jealousy among other prisoners, who reported it to the jail authorities,” the source said.

Around 150 prisoners attend the Nakkhu Gospel Church inside the prison premises, though Majhi is no longer leading it. Both Mainali and Majhi were recently transferred, Mainali to the Dilli-Bazaar Jail and Majhi to the Mid-Nepal Central Jail.

Deputy Inspector General of Police and Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) Director Rajendra Singh Bhandari told The Kathmandu Post that the arrest of Mainali’s men was a “tremendous achievement” that averted “mass casualties” in the capital.

“It seems that Mainali had filled the arrestees’ minds with dreams of earning quick bucks through terror,” the daily quoted another investigation official as saying.

The Christian source said he still hoped for genuine repentance in Mainali and Majhi.

“Mainali and Majhi must have at least some knowledge of the Bible,” he said. “So I am still hopeful that they would reflect on who God is and truly repent of their ways as they spend their time in prison cells incommunicado [prohibited from speaking with any outsider].”

According to The Kathmandu Post, the CIB had been observing Mainali following complaints that he had demanded large sums of money from businessmen and others.

“He had been making phone calls and sending demand letters to them,” the daily reported on March 4.

Compass requested an interview with Mainali at the Dilli-Bazaar Jail, which officials refused.

“We have orders not to allow Mainali to meet anyone,” said one official.

Mainali had earlier told Compass that he formed the NDA with the support of Hindu nationalists in India in 2007 to re-establish the Hindu monarchy, which fell after a decade-long armed struggle by former Maoist guerrillas peaked in 2006, when all political parties joined protests against King Gyanendra.

The NDA is also believed to be responsible for bombing mosques and killing Muslims and Christians, including the Rev. John Prakash Moyalan, a Catholic priest who was principal of the Don Bosco educational institution in eastern Nepal, in June 2008. While Christians in Nepal faced persecution at the hands of the Hindu monarchy until 2006, non-state actors have been attacking them since the country began transitioning to a secular democracy.

“Several incidents of religiously incited violence directed at minority religions and their property have been recorded since the signing of the peace accord [between the interim government and the Maoists in 2006],” a local Non-Governmental Organization, Informal Sector Service Sector (INSEC), noted last year.

“Although moves have been made to promote religious tolerance and a climate of peace and cooperation, this area must continuously be monitored,” stated an INSEC report, “Commitment versus Reality,” which mentioned attacks on Christians by Mainali’s outfit.

Of the roughly 30 million people in Nepal, only .5 percent are Christian, and more than 80 percent are Hindu, according to the 2001 census. The actual number of Christians, however, is believed to be much higher.

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org

One Dead as Islamist Mobs in Ethiopia Destroy Church Buildings


Total structures razed at 59; at least 4,000 Christians displaced.

NAIROBI, Kenya, March 7 (CDN) — At least one Christian was killed and others injured when thousands of Islamic extremists set fire to 59 churches and at least 28 homes in western Ethiopia in the past five days, Christian leaders said.

More than 4,000 Christians in and around Asendabo, Jimma Zone have been displaced as a result of attacks that began on Wednesday (March 2) after Muslims accused a Christian of desecrating the Quran by tearing up a copy, sources said.

“The atrocity is still going on, and more people are suffering,” said a source in Addis Ababa who is in close contact with area church leaders.

The Christian killed, believed to have been a member of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, has not yet been identified.

“One Orthodox believer, whose daughter is a member of Mekane Yesus Church, has been killed,” an Ethiopian church leader told Compass. “Ministers were injured, and many more believers have been displaced.”

A pastor based in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa noted that evangelical church leaders have reported the attacks to authorities and asked officials for help, but no action had been taken at press time.

“The church requested more police protection,” he said. “The authorities sent security forces, but they were overwhelmed by the attackers.”

After the destruction began at Asendabo, it spread to Chiltie, Gilgel Gibe, Gibe, Nada, Dimtu, Uragay, Busa and Koticha, as Muslim mobs in the thousands rampaged throughout the area, sources said.

“Police at the site are not taking any action – they just watch what is happening,” said another source. “It is difficult to estimate the attack in terms of deaths, since we have no access to any location.”

Those displaced are in shelters in Ako, Jimma, Dimtu and Derbo, he said.

“We are very concerned that the attack that began on March 2 in Asendabo, which is the rural part of Jimma, is now heading to Jimma town,” he said.

The extremists also destroyed an Ethiopian Kale Hiwot Church (EKHC) Bible school building and two church office buildings, the source said. Of the churches burned, he said, 38 belonged to the EKHC; 12 were Mekane Yesus buildings; six were Seventh-day Adventist structures; two were Muluwongel church buildings, and another belonged to a “Jesus Only” congregation.

“Women and children are the most affected in this sudden attack,” he said. “It is needless to mention the believers’ houses and properties burned down. The overall estimated cost, may be worth over 60 million birr [US$3.55 million].”

Anti-Christian attacks in western Ethiopia in 2006 killed at least 24 people.

“Attacks on the church have been a common occurrence in predominantly Muslim areas of Ethiopia like Jimma and Jijiga,” the source said, adding that Christians are often subject to harassment and intimidation.

Asendabo, in Oromia Region, is about 300 kilometers (186 miles) from Addis Ababa.

The attacks erupted as heavy fighting was taking place at the borders of Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. Ethiopian troops were trying to repel Islamic extremist al-Shabaab troops from Bulahawo, Somalia, near Mandera, Kenya, with several casualties and hundreds displaced.

Ethiopia’s constitution, laws and policies generally respect freedom of religion, but occasionally some local authorities infringe on this right, according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2010 International Religious Freedom Report.

According to the 2007 census, 44 percent of Ethiopia’s population affiliate with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, 19 percent are evangelical and Pentecostal and 34 percent are Sunni Muslim.

Report from Compass Direct News

Indonesian Churches Wary of Islamist Offer of ‘Protection’


Following attacks, Islamic Defenders Front’s Christmas gesture rings hollow.

DUBLIN, December 21 (CDN) — In the wake of several attacks on worship services by Indonesia’s notorious Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), several Jakarta area church leaders rejected the FPI’s offer to help protect them over Christmas.

FPI leader Rizieq Shihab made the offer last week, saying he was working in cooperation with the Indonesian Communion of Churches and the Indonesian Bishops Conference. But several churches publicly rejected the offer, with online forums comparing FPI church protection to “foxes protecting a chicken coop.”

Jakarta’s police chief on Friday (Dec. 18) promised protection for every “registered” church in the area, The Jakarta Globe reported. Many Indonesian churches are unregistered, however, since they fail to meet the strict conditions of a Joint Ministerial Decree (SKB) governing places of worship.

The Indonesian public has harshly criticized FPI members for their role in multiple church attacks over the past year and faulted police and politicians for failing to intervene.

The most recent attack occurred last Sunday (Dec. 19), when more than 100 Islamists gathered outside the sealed home of the Rev. Badia Hutagalung of Huria Kristan Batak Protestan (HKBP) church in Rancaekek to disrupt worship services, sources said.

Another attack on Sept. 12 led to the arrest and detention of 13 FPI members, including Murhali Barda, leader of the FPI’s Bekasi branch. During the attack, assailants stabbed and critically wounded church elder Hasian Sihombing and beat the Rev. Luspida Simanjuntak over the head with a wooden beam. (See, “Indonesian Church Leaders Wounded in Attack,” Sept. 15.)

 

‘Christians Should Not Provoke Us’

After making the offer of FPI assistance at the Jakarta police headquarters on Dec. 14, Shihab told The Jakarta Post that “Islam is not allowed to disrupt other religions worship,” but he added the warning that “Christians should not provoke us.”

His offer came just two days after some 300 Islamists from FPI, the Indonesian Ulama Forum and the Islamic Reformist Movement, together with civil service police officers, raided and forcibly closed seven churches in Rancaekek. (See "Islamists Raid House Churches in West Java," Dec. 17.)

Sub-district head Meman Nurjaman on Nov. 16 had sent out a decree ordering 11 churches in Rancaekek to close, citing protests from the local community. Nurjaman later admitted that he had acted under pressure from Muslim hardliners living outside the housing estate, according to a Compass source, who added that Nurjaman had no legal authority to issue the decree.  

During the Dec. 12 raid, Islamists forcibly removed at least 100 worshipers from a residential building used by the HKBP Bethania church and several other churches, and they urged the local government to seal the building immediately because it was not a registered place of worship.

Hutagalung said the congregation only worshipped there because they could not meet the terms of the SKB, which requires proof of at least 90 church members, signatures of approval from at least 60 local residents, and approval from village officials and a local interfaith forum.

The mob also attacked six other house churches in Rancaekek on Dec. 12, forcing five of the seven to close.

A day after the raids, Adj. Sr. Comr. Hendro Pandowo, the Bandung police chief, said Christians in Bandung should refrain from putting themselves in harm’s way.

“If they pray in churches, I will protect them if anybody disturbs them,” he told the The Jakarta Globe. “If they pray in places they are not allowed to, they are breaking rules, so why would I protect them?”

Readers posting comments to the Globe article online said it was almost impossible for congregations to obtain a building permit under existing regulations, leaving them no option but to worship in private homes or empty building sites.

One reader, identified only by the log-in name of Aki-Amani, wrote, “Thank you Chief Hendro for your promise of protection – if we follow your dictates. However, don’t be surprised if we are found anywhere, everywhere … praying as we go about our daily activities at home and in the market place, whether you approve and will protect us or not.”

 

Christmas Security

Jakarta police on Friday (Dec. 18) met with leaders representing 1,600 churches in greater Jakarta to discuss security measures for the Christmas season.

Jakarta Police Chief Insp. Gen. Sutarman, identified only by a single name, said at least 9,000 security personnel would be deployed in and around churches in greater Jakarta as part of a total 87,000 security personnel stationed at houses of worship throughout Indonesia over the Christmas and New Year season, the Globe reported.

Police began providing Christmas security for churches after a series of 38 coordinated church bombings on Dec. 24, 2000, left at least 18 people dead and dozens injured across the nation. The bombings were organized by Jemaah Islamiyah, a local Islamic terrorist group.

“The Jakarta police guarantee that celebrations will be conducted peacefully across all churches registered with us in the city,” Sutarman reportedly said.

What that implies for unregistered churches remains to be seen.

Spokesmen from two unregistered churches told the Globe they would meet this Christmas despite explicit threats from the FPI to ransack “controversial” Christmas celebrations.

The congregation of HKBP Filadelfia in Bekasi will meet in a tent on the street next to their sealed church, despite the risk of further aggression or physical harm from the FPI, sources said.

Members of Gereja Kristen Indonesia Yasmin in Bogor, however, reportedly said they will break open the seals on their partially-constructed church, closed in September due to pressure from the FPI and other hard-line groups despite having a legal permit.

“We want to celebrate religious freedom in our church,” spokesman Bona Sigalingging told reporters, adding that police would not be asked to provide security.

Report from Compass Direct News