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Coronavirus: What we know today, June 16

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Follow this post for rolling updates on the impact of the coronavirus in South Australia, the nation and the world.

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Refresh this page for updates – scroll down for links to official health information.

Some interstate borders open early

South Australia will move early on lifting some COVID-19 border restrictions allowing people to travel from Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Tasmania from midnight on Tuesday.

Premier Steven Marshall says the change means people from those states will no longer be required to stay in quarantine for 14 days when they arrive in SA.

He says people who recently arrived from those states and are currently in isolation, are also free to move into the wider community.

All interstate border restrictions are due to be lifted on July 20.

South Australia on Tuesday recorded 21 days straight of no new COVID-19 cases, according to SA Health.

More than 127,000 tests have now been undertaken across the state.

Singapore repatriation flight

SA Police say a flight will be arrive at Adelaide Airport this morning bringing a “very small number” of Australian citizens home.

Police say there will be no vision or interview opportunities at the airport.

It comes weeks after two flights of Australian citizens arrived from India, with up to 800 people spending 14 days quarantined in two city hotels before being allowed to go home.

Jobs will go when JobKeeper ends: Govt

The government has conceded some workers now getting wage subsidies will be pushed into unemployment when the JobKeeper scheme ends.

And Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter says it would be wrong to think everything could shift back to a pre-pandemic state at the end of September.

“Some of the jobs that are being supported through that wage subsidy are not going to be sustainable in the long run,” he told the Council for Economic Development of Australia’s online State of the Nation conference on Tuesday.

“There will be a shift between JobKeeper and JobSeeker at some point and to some degree.”

His remarks come a day after Prime Minister Scott Morrison said there would be jobs and businesses lost once the government supports were removed.

There are now 1.6 million people on the JobSeeker unemployment benefits – about double the number before the crisis – and another three million Australians receiving JobKeeper payments through their employer.

Morrison told the forum on Monday that keeping wage subsidies and other support measures in place for too long would damage the super-charged growth Australia needs to escape the crisis.

The JobKeeper scheme is legislated until September but is being reviewed, with the outcome to be announced on July 23.

SA zoos to reopen

The Adelaide Zoo will reopen next week after State Government moved to increase the number of people allowed into large venues under COVID-19 restrictions.

The city zoo will open on June 22 followed by the Monarto Safari Park on June 29.

The government’s changes on patron numbers take effect from June 19, which effectively allow venues to cater for up to 300 people, so long as they are divided among four groups of no more than 75.

Zoos SA chief executive Elaine Bensted said it had been almost 90 days since the facilities had closed because of the pandemic.

“Naturally, we will have a number of measures in place to ensure everyone’s safety including the necessity to pre-purchase tickets online so that we can keep within the SA Government’s guidelines and monitor the number of visitors on any given day,” she said.

“In addition to helping us manage capacity, this will allow us to easily trace and contact people in the event of a COVID-19 related incident.”

Bensted said social distancing measures would apply throughout the zoo’s outdoor and indoor areas.

All indoor areas would also comply with the four square metre per person requirements.

National restrictions easing despite new cases

State health authorities are confident about continuing to ease restrictions despite 72 new cases of COVID-19 being recorded over the past week.

Victoria recorded 12 cases on Monday, while NSW had three and the remaining states and territories did not record any.

Only 17 people remain in hospital out of 382 active cases nationwide.

Victoria’s caseload included a second Black Lives Matter protester and a family cluster.

The female protester wore protective equipment and had mild symptoms, making it unlikely she transmitted the virus.

Despite new cases being identified, Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton remained confident of the easing of restrictions scheduled for next week.

Cafes, restaurants and pubs in that state will be able to increase their capacity from 20 to 50 patrons from 11.59pm on Sunday.

Patrons will be able to order a drink without buying a meal, but they will need to be served at a table, rather than the bar.

Non-contact sport will return for all age groups from next Monday, as will skiing, with the season to start from that date.

Of the three new cases in NSW, two were returned travellers in hotel quarantine and one was an Illawarra man in his 20s for whom the source of infection is unknown.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian reiterated her concerns about a potential second wave of infections and an increase in community transmission cases as restrictions are eased.

“Whilst we are doing really well, incredibly well, it won’t last if people relax and if people don’t stick to the rules.”

In NSW, the 50-person limit on indoor venues will be scrapped from July 1.

Pubs and restaurants are among venues which will instead be guided by the ‘one person per four square metres’ rule, with the same change also applying to funeral attendees and venues.

Outdoor cultural and sporting venues with seating of up to 40,000 will be allowed to hold 25 per cent of their capacity from July 1.

PM wants 30-day environment approvals

Environmental approvals for major projects should take 30 days to complete, Prime Minister Scott Morrison believes.

Approvals under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act took 90 days on average at the end of last year, and take 40 days now.

Morrison has set a 30-day target in the hope it’s achieved by the end of the year.

“According to departmental estimates, delays associated with these approvals alone cost industry over $300 million just in 2019 and that’s not good enough,” he told an economic forum in Canberra on Monday.

Environmental assessments occur before it’s decided if approval is given.

The assessment time currently takes three and a half years on average, which the government wants to reduce to 21 months.

EPBC Act approvals are currently in addition to any state or local council processes.

But Morrison wants to streamline the approvals into one, which will be discussed by national cabinet.

Environment Minister Sussan Ley says fast-tracked approvals won’t impinge on environmental safeguards.

Fifteen major projects will be fast-tracked for approvals in a bid to help with the recovery from coronavirus.

The EPBC Act is currently under review, with an interim report expected this month.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young says easing environmental protections will hurt the environment, with the current laws resulting in the loss of one million hectares of critical koala habitat.

“Rio Tinto was able to blast away 46,000 years of indigenous heritage. Water catchments for Sydney have been polluted by dirty coal mines,” she said.

“Using COVID-19 as an excuse to scrap environmental protections is an act of bastardry. Most Australians want better protection for the environment, not less.”

Queensland border closure challenge returns to High Court

Two challenges against the Queensland government’s constitutional right to keep the state’s borders closed amid the coronavirus crisis are set to return to the High Court.

Billionaire businessman Clive Palmer and a group of businesses and individuals named Travel Essence launched separate legal proceedings after the borders were closed in March.

They are intent on forcing Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk to reverse her government’s decision to isolate the state, saying they want to limit the economic damage caused by keeping the borders shut.

The challenges are unlikely to be heard before the borders reopen, however.

On Friday, Chief Justice Susan Kiefel told lawyers for the parties it was unlikely the cases would be heard before the end of June after learning the opposing sides were having difficulty agreeing on the terms of the battle.

It comes as Palaszczuk on Monday said the government would revisit the decision to close the borders at the end of June.

Stage three of the state’s coronavirus recovery roadmap has always planned for interstate travel to be permitted from July 10, conditional on Queensland chief health officer Jeannette Young’s advice.

Currently, school students, workers and freight drivers can enter the state without an issue, but Queensland is closed to anyone else.

Palmer is also challenging the Western Australian government’s right to close its border.

All three cases will return to the Brisbane courtroom for a directions hearing on Tuesday.

UK vaccine trials to begin

Scientists at Imperial College London will start the first clinical trials of a potential COVID-19 vaccine this week with more than STG45 million ($A82.14 million) in backing from the UK government and philanthropic donors.

The trials are the first human tests of a new technology which the researchers say could transform vaccine development by enabling rapid responses to emerging diseases such as the COVID-19 infection caused by the new coronavirus.

Robin Shattock, a professor at Imperial’s department of infectious disease who is leading this work, said that rather than using a part of the virus, as many vaccines do, this potential vaccine uses synthetic strands of the virus’ genetic material – RNA – which are packaged inside tiny fat droplets.

When injected, it instructs muscle cells to produce virus proteins to protect against future infection. In animal tests, the vaccine was shown to be safe and showed “encouraging signs of an effective immune response”, Shattock’s team said in a statement.

Around 300 healthy volunteers will receive two doses of the vaccine in the initial human trials to test whether it is safe in people and whether it produces an effective immune response against COVID-19.

If it shows promise, larger trials with around 6000 people would be planned for later this year.

More than 100 potential COVID-19 vaccines are in development around the world, including several already in human trials from AstraZeneca, Pfizer, BioNtech, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Moderna, Sanofi and CanSino Biologics.

The Imperial trials come after the team won STG41 million in funding from the UK government plus STG5 million in philanthropic donations.

Business secretary Alok Sharma, said Imperial’s was “one of the world’s front-runners” and had Britain’s full backing.

OFFICIAL SOURCES OF ADVICE AND INFORMATION

Local updates and resources

State Government central information

SA Health

Mental health support line (8am to 8pm): 1800 632 753.

National advice and information

Australian Government Coronavirus information hotline: 1800 020 080

Government information via WhatsApp: click here

Travel

Australian Government travel advice: smartraveller.gov.au

Check your symptoms

Free, government-funded, health advice: healthdirect.gov.au

– Reporting by InDaily staff, AAP and Reuters

 

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