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What we know today, Sunday August 16

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Welcome to your serving of the day’s breaking news from South Australia, the nation and abroad. Follow this post for breaking news through the day.

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International students to return to SA

About 300 international university students will return to Adelaide in September to help revive the nation’s education sector.

Federal Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said the pilot program would be used to test the management of the wider return of students to help an industry that underpinned thousands of jobs.

“All of the quarantine requirements, all of the testing requirements, all of those factors have been built in with this having been approved by state and federal authorities to make sure everyone can have confidence that this is not going to pose any risk,” he said.

Premier Steven Marshall said SA was looking forward to welcoming back students from overseas.

“South Australia’s handling of COVID-19 has put us in the ideal position to be a first-mover in bringing back international students,” he said.

The flight from Singapore for South-East Asian students is expected to arrive in Adelaide in early September.

The final-year students are expected to follow a strict hotel quarantine regime, the same as that in place for repatriated Australians, to be paid for by the universities.

SA Health reported one new case of COVID-19 today in South Australia on Sunday. There have now been a total of 461 cases reported in SA.

The case is a male in his 30s who returned to South Australia on a repatriation flight and has been quarantining in a medi-hotel since his arrival.

More than 320,500 tests have been undertaken.

Victoria records 16 deaths

More public sector health workers have been deployed across Victorian nursing homes as COVID-19 deaths and the crisis within the state’s aged care sector continues.

Victoria reported another 16 deaths from the virus and 279 infections on Sunday, as the state government extended the state of emergency until September 13.

Eleven were linked to nursing homes and there were now 2075 active infections in aged care.

Premier Daniel Andrews said while he could not guarantee there would no more outbreaks across other sites, the situation had improved.

Among new sites of concern, hospital nurses and personal care workers have been sent to both the Doutta Galla facility at Yarraville and the Japara Gooonawarra Aged Care Home in Sunbury.

Almost 60 cases have been reported at the Yarraville facility with management confirming 23 residents still being cared for at the home are infected.

Chief executive Vanda Laconese said seven residents had died and another 22 have been transferred to other medical facilities.

Federal Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck said the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre was treating Yarraville as a top priority with AUSMAT specialist teams and a clinical first nurse responder sent in..

“The workforce is being supplemented to help stabilise the situation, but we are aware there may still be some deficiencies and that is being actively managed,” he said.

There were also 72 cases at the Japara Gooonawarra Aged Care Home in Sunbury, including 43 among residents.

New South Wales recorded five new cases to 8pm Saturday – the lowest for the state since July 12.

The state also recorded one death.

NSW Police fined a party bus operator $5000 after he allegedly breached coronavirus health orders.

The 25-year-old drove the bus carrying 43 passengers from Penrith to the Sydney CBD when he was pulled over by police shortly after 11.15pm on Saturday.

He was questioned and then charged over the number of passengers on board, including several who appeared to be underage and intoxicated.

SA reopens freight route to Middle East

Tonnes of South Australian meat, seafood and other produce will be exported to the Middle East with the resumption of flights from Adelaide to Doha.

The twice-weekly flights by Qatar Airways will provide access for local producers to key markets in both the Middle East and Europe.

Federal Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said the flights would also open another pathway home for Australians returning from overseas.

“South Australian exporters continue to face export barriers as a result of the COVID-19 crisis and the re-commencement of these flights will reduce some of the pressures our local exporting businesses have been feeling,” he said on Sunday.

“This opens up another door for South Australian farmers and fishers to get their high-quality produce onto planes and into markets across the Middle East and Europe.”

Exporters using the service will be eligible to apply for grant assistance under the federal government’s $350 million International Freight Assistance Mechanism (IFAM).

Concerns over Chinese consulate in Adelaide

Politicians from across the political divide are calling for the closure or reduction in size of a Chinese consulate in Adelaide, as concerns mount over alleged foreign interference in the shipbuilding sector.

In response to a freedom of information (FOI) application lodged by South Australian independent senator Rex Patrick, the Defence Department has warned foreign agents pose an “extreme” threat to the shipbuilding sector, reports the ABC.

The Department cited the threat as reason for blocking the public release of briefing notes to the Morrison Government about maritime projects, many of which are in South Australia.

“These adversaries are highly active in pursuing access to information relating to Australia’s current and future maritime capabilities in order to advance their own interest and undermine Australian capabilities,” the Department said.

Defence did not identify which country it believes is targeting the sector, but unnamed national security figures told the ABC they suspect it is the Chinese Government.

Patrick singled out the establishment in 2016 of a new Consulate-General office in the Adelaide suburb of Findon as a point of concern.

“It hasn’t escaped me that the consulate was stood up in the same year that a significant naval shipbuilding program was announced by the Coalition Government,” Senator Patrick said.

Members of the major parties echoed Patrick’s concerns.

“It’s clear that the numbers in the Adelaide consulate are overweight — they should be reduced, preferably by negotiation,” South Australian Labor MP Nick Champion said.

Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells said “it comes as no surprise that Beijing has overcompensated the ‘diplomatic’ requirement to serve in Adelaide.”

SA trials multicultural testing site

South Australia has launched a trial of its first pop-up COVID-19 testing site in a culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) community.

On Saturday Chief Public Health Officer Professor Nicola Spurrier said the move came after a meeting early last month with dozens of leaders from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

“In response, we determined it would be worthwhile to establish pop-up COVID-19 testing sites within CALD communities at critical times, where people who are unwell can be tested and also receive clear, informative and easy to understand health information,” she said.

The pop-up site is open from 11am to 3pm at Edinburgh North.

Simple infographics have been developed with input from community leaders to provide clear advice on how to get tested and isolate at home.

Spurrier said the pop-up testing site has been established after working closely with the Afghan community in recent weeks in relation to the Thebarton cluster.

“A key factor that enabled us to manage it was reaching out to the community leaders to ensure as much information as possible was available, in a timely manner,” Spurrier said.

“Leaders of the Afghan community in South Australia have worked tirelessly to ensure health messages are shared as widely as possible and to support individuals who were required to undertake quarantine.

It comes as more than 1400 people linked to the Thebarton cluster walked free on Saturday after completing 14 days of isolation at the Ibis Hotel on Grenfell St.

Calls for federal Ruby Princess inquiry

The Ruby Princess. Photo: AAP/Dean Lewins.

The federal opposition is pushing for higher scrutiny of the Ruby Princess cruise ship debacle which led to more than 660 COVID-19 infections and 28 deaths.

A NSW special commission of inquiry on Friday revealed “inexcusable”, “inexplicable” and “unjustifiable” errors by authorities which allowed 2700 passengers to disembark at Sydney’s Circular Quay on March 19.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese says a range of federal government failings have been exposed.

“And indeed the commissioner has as well given damning comments about the failure of the federal government to participate in this inquiry,” he said on Saturday.

“What that means is that there are questions which are left unanswered, that will have to be pursued through other means.”

The Greens are also calling for a federal inquiry.

The report largely laid the blame at the feet of NSW Health, but noted that on March 10 the Communicable Diseases Network of Australia amended its guidelines such that everyone aboard the ship with newly-defined suspect cases should be tested.

But those making decisions did not have the updated definition of a “suspect case” when undertaking a risk assessment on March 18.

“This was a serious and material error,” the commission found.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison insists the NSW inquiry’s report exonerates his government of any role in the blunder.

“We were being straight with people about what happened and the inquiry has borne that out,” he told 2GB on Saturday.

Houseboat used to dodge restrictions

Four men have been caught trying to dodge Queensland’s border restrictions by sailing a houseboat from NSW to their home in Cairns.

The men were intercepted aboard the 14-metre catamaran in Gold Coast waters on Friday after leaving Coffs Harbour on Wednesday.

They were allegedly trying to make the more than 2000km journey to return to their homes.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said it proved those who tried to flout border restrictions by any means would be caught.

“They have all been fined for making a false declaration and are now enjoying hotel quarantine at their own expense,” she told reporters on Saturday.

US Post Office issues election warning

The US Postal Service has warned states it cannot guarantee all ballots cast by mail for the country’s November election will arrive in time to be counted, even if mailed by state deadlines.

Voters and lawmakers in several states are also complaining that some mail collection boxes are being removed.

Even as President Donald Trump rails against wide-scale voting by mail, the post office is bracing for an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The warning letters sent to states raise the possibility that many Americans eligible for mail-in ballots this autumn will not have them counted.

But that is not the intent, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said in his own letter to Democratic congressional leaders.

The post office is merely “asking elected officials and voters to realistically consider how the mail works, and be mindful of our delivery standards, in order to provide voters ample time to cast ballots through the mail,” wrote DeJoy, a prominent Trump political donor who was recently appointed.

The back-and-forth comes amid a vigorous campaign by Trump to sow doubts about mail-in voting as he faces a difficult fight for re-election against Democrat Joe Biden.

Trump admitted earlier in the week he has been working to oppose an additional $25bn in funding for the US Postal Service in order to make it more difficult to deliver mail-in ballots.

Members of Congress from both parties have voiced concerns that kerbside mail boxes, which is how many will cast their ballots, have abruptly been removed in some states.

– with AAP and Reuters 

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