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What we know today, Wednesday August 26

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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 live updates through the day.

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Victoria records 24 virus deaths, 149 new cases

Victoria has announced a near-record 24 coronavirus deaths as Prime Minister Scott Morrison to double down on his criticism of the state’s handling of the crisis.

The fatalities, 21 of which are related to aged care, take the state toll to 462 and national figure to 549.

Australia’s worst daily figure of 25 was recorded on August 17.

Victoria registered 149 new cases of the virus for Wednesday –  the third straight day the number has been well below 200.

The figures come as Premier Daniel Andrews is forced to strike a deal with crossbenchers to extend Victoria’s state of emergency.

The pandemic sparked a state of emergency on March 16, which is due to expire on September 13 after a maximum of six extensions.

However. Andrews wants to change legislation so it can be prolonged a further 12 months.

Morrison has slammed problems with Victorian hotel quarantine, contact tracing and virus testing under Andrews.

He rejected suggestions the unprecedented attack would fracture the national cabinet.

“I wasn’t seeking to direct any blame anywhere. I was just basically calling out what was the simple facts,” he told reporters in Canberra this morning.

“We can’t ignore the fact of what’s happened in Victoria and I don’t believe the Victorian premier is ignoring it either. That’s why we’re working together to deal with the consequences of what has occurred in Victoria.”

Morrison has also raised concerns with Andrews about his push to extend emergency powers for another 12 months.

“I think people are concerned the lockdowns will extend for another 12 months,” the prime minister said.

“Of course, I don’t think that’s what the premier was suggesting at all but in these times we’ve got to be very careful about the announcements that are made and I welcome the fact that he was clarifying that yesterday.”

Andrews said an extended state of emergency would allow Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton to issue “common-sense” directions to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

These include rules on face masks, mass gatherings and quarantine as well as density limits for businesses and workplaces.

He stressed the proposed extension did not mean stage four restrictions – also due to end on September 13 – will be in place for another year.

NSW flags border changes following SA move

Travel restrictions for residents on the NSW-Victoria border could soon be eased in the wake of a South Australian decision to reintroduce a 40km buffer zone for people living either side of its border with Victoria from Friday.

The buffer zone was dropped last week amid increasing concerns about Victorians infecting border communities with coronavirus, closing SA off to everyone except essential travellers coming from Victoria.

But Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier said yesterday’s change was the result of a fall in the number of virus cases in regional areas close to SA and the provision of detailed information about those cases, including their source and the high level of testing.

The NSW government is considering extending its border travel zone to give more freedom to border communities following the SA decision.

Deputy Premier John Barilaro said the government would look to extend the border zone from 2.5 to 50km over the next 10 days.

He said this would give more freedom to those on both sides of the border to work and function as a community.

“Further changes we are working towards include allowing the agriculture workforce to travel across the border, initially within a 100km radius, and creating quarantine areas closer to the border,” Barilaro tweeted on Tuesday.

SA Premier Steven Marshall has also flagged dropping border restrictions for people from NSW and the ACT and said officials were looking carefully at the need for people to quarantine for two weeks if they entered SA from those jurisdictions.

He said while there would be no immediate announcement, the border measures could be lifted in September.

Other SA restrictions changes announced yesterday include a lifting of the home gathering cap from 10 to 50 people, which will come into force from Friday.

People travelling into South Australia from Western Australia, the Northern Territory, Tasmania and Queensland will also be allowed to make a transit stop at Canberra or Sydney Airports without having to self-isolate for 14 days.

NSW recorded six new COVID-19 cases today. South Australia has only recorded one new case – a nurse returning from a stint working in Victoria – in the past week.

First Australian NewSpace rocket to launch in SA next month

Two South Australian companies are joining forces to launch what they say is Australia’s first space capable rocket in the state’s far west next month.

Southern Launch will host the September 15 launch at its Koonibba Test Range (KTR) 40km northwest of Ceduna on land leased from the Koonibba Community Aboriginal Corporation. A second launch is expected to take place on September 19.

Launched northwards, the rocket will carry a small payload into the thermosphere where it will be released from the rocket to fall back to earth under a parachute where DEWC Systems, escorted by a local Aboriginal Cultural Monitor, will recover and examine it.

The rocket itself will be unlike any rocket ever launched in Australia. Designed and built in the Netherlands by T-Minus Engineering, the DART rocket will weigh only 34kg, have one rocket engine, yet will have two rocket stages.

The rocket will burn out of fuel six seconds after lift-off and be travelling at Mach 5, or approximately 1.5 kilometres per second.

The front “Dart” section, emblazoned with artwork developed by the Koonibba Community, will detach from the rocket and continue into the thermosphere while the larger rocket motor will fall back to earth.

The miniature payload, built by SA electronic warfare company DEWC Systems, will be a prototype electronic warfare unit capable of detecting radar signals. Future versions of the payload will go into orbiting satellites.

Read the full story here

Brave teens honoured for lake rescue

Two Adelaide teenagers have been honoured in the latest Australian Bravery Awards list after rescuing an elderly woman from a lake in Coromandel Valley.

Cody Batchelor and Joshua Woodley were mountain biking near the lake behind Coromandel Primary in July last year when they heard cries for help.

They discovered an elderly woman and rushed to help her.

The elderly woman had been walking four dogs when one of the dogs leapt into the cold water and began swimming after ducks.

The dog became entangled on submerged tree branches on the other side of the lake and was floundering. The woman entered the water and made her way to the dog. Before also becoming entangled in the tree branches and struggling to keep afloat.

On hearing the woman’s desperate calls, Woodley, 16, jumped into the water and swam to the woman. He managed to get the woman and the dog to the side of the lake where Batchelor, 17, helped them out of the water. By this stage the elderly woman was suffering hypothermia and was having difficulty breathing. Both boys then pushed and pulled the woman up the steep muddy embankment to safety before rescuing the dog.

The boys received Commendation for Brave Conduct honours as part of the awards, which are announced today.

Construction figures defy dire predictions

Australian construction work defied expectations and posted only a modest fall in the June quarter, supported by a strong engineering sector.

Construction work completed in the June quarter declined by 0.7 per cent, seasonally adjusted, to $50.1 billion, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said on Wednesday.

That left construction 2.2 per cent down compared to a year earlier.

Economists had expected a much weaker outcome as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Building construction fell 3.9 per cent, with residential construction down 5.5 per cent and non-residential 1.5 per cent lower.

However, engineering rose 3.8 per cent.

The data will feed into next week’s national accounts, which will confirm the Australian economy is in recession for the first time nearly 30 years.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has warned that Australia faces a “substantial and heartbreaking” economic contraction because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Economists put the overall decline in the June quarter at somewhere between six and seven per cent, following on from the 0.3 per cent contraction in the first three months of the year.

Two consecutive negative quarters constitutes a technical recession.

Sydney hotel evacuated after quarantine standards failure

NSW Police have worked through the night to relocate 366 people quarantined in a Sydney hotel to “more suitable” accommodation after it was found not to be complying with COVID-19 health and safety standards.

An audit of The Travelodge Hotel in Surry Hills in the city’s east yesterday uncovered the deficiencies, with police making the decision to relocate the returned travellers to more suitable accommodation.

The relocation operation commenced on Tuesday afternoon and was expected to take about 12 hours.

Hotels in the quarantine program must have robust infection control measures with personal protective equipment to be properly used by staff including security guards and police.

Police said hotels that do not meet the expectations of the COVID-19 quarantine program are “rotated out” of the roster.

It comes as NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian backed the state’s hotel quarantine system despite a coronavirus-positive security guard being fined twice for failing to isolate while waiting for his test results.

Berejiklian said the process was monitored by police daily and audited regularly, but noted no system was foolproof.

She said action would be taken if any systemic issues were identified, but the advice she has received is that the system should remain and is sound.

Meanwhile, the NSW Education Department announced last night that three Sydney schools would be closed on today due to possible cases of COVID-19.

US authorities brace for third night of unrest after shooting

Authorities in the United States are preparing for a third night of unrest after arsonists torched much of Kenosha Wisconsin’s black business district following the shooting of a black man in the back by police.

Smoke billowed over central Kenosha after police in riot gear clashed with protesters as they defied a dusk-to-dawn curfew on Monday night and Tuesday morning, near where police gunned down Jacob Blake, 29, on Sunday.

Blake remained in intensive care following surgery and would require more operations, civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, who represents the Blake family, told ABC News on Tuesday.

Blake’s father told the Chicago Sun-Times his son was paralysed from the waist down.

Blake, who had been attempting to break up a fight between two women, was struck by four of the seven shots, all fired by one officer, in front of his sons aged 3, 5 and 8, Crump said.

Video captured by a neighbour shows Blake walking toward the driver’s side door of his SUV, away from two officers who were pointing guns at his back.

After he opens the door, seven shots ring out, with one of the officers tugging at his shirt.

It remains unknown what the officers may have seen inside Blake’s car.

Kenosha County Board of Supervisors member Zach Rodriguez said the board would hold an emergency meeting on Tuesday on seeking federal help, such as US Marshals Service officers, to quell the unrest after 300 rioters looted businesses and set fire to buildings overnight.

“Essentially, our city was burned to the ground, building by building,” Rodriguez told Reuters.

“Enough is enough.”

Pressure on Russia to launch Navalny poisoning probe

Germany, France and the United States are increasing pressure on Russia to investigate the suspected poisoning of prominent dissident Alexei Navalny, who is being treated in a coma in a Berlin hospital.

It follows reports from the hospital treating Navalny that their tests had indicated he was poisoned.

“Because of the importance that Navalny has for the Russian opposition, it is essential that everything is done to clear up what has happened and bring those responsible to account,” Germany’s top diplomat Heiko Maas said.

Russia should conduct the investigation “in full transparency,” Maas said, suggesting that if Russia fails to do so, there will be a further deterioration of its ties with Germany and the European Union.

France expressed its “deep concern at this criminal act, carried out against a major actor in Russia’s political life”.

The French Foreign Ministry demanded that Russia conduct a “rapid and transparent” investigation and bring those responsible to trial.

“If the reports prove accurate, the United States supports the EU’s call for a comprehensive investigation and stands ready to assist in that effort,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday.

“Mr Navalny’s family and the Russian people deserve to see a full and transparent investigation carried out, and for those involved to be held accountable,” he said.

The Russian government has said there is no hard evidence that Navalny was poisoned and the Kremlin has adamantly denied allegations of foul play.

“These allegations cannot be true and are what I would describe as empty noise. We are not going to take them seriously,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in comments carried by state news agency TASS.

Peskov said it was premature to allege that Navalny had been poisoned because a specific toxic substance that could have caused the dissident’s condition had not been detected.

Berlin’s Charite hospital, which has been treating Navalny since he was moved from a Siberian hospital on Saturday, said that tests indicate he was poisoned with a cholinesterase inhibitor, which prevents the normal breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.

Navalny, 44, has been one of the fiercest domestic opponents of Russian President Vladimir Putin during the past decade, having organised several series of protests against the long-time Russian leader, whom he accuses of perpetuating widespread corruption.

He became ill on a flight from the Siberian city of Tomsk en route to his home city, Moscow, on Thursday.

Russia has not opened a criminal investigation into the incident.

Melania Trump to address Republicans

US first lady Melania Trump is set for a starring role on the second night of the Republican National Convention.

Her message in the coming hours will be uplifting and positive, according to the first lady’s spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham.

“It reflects on her time as first lady and some of her favourite moments. There’s a couple of moments in there that I think will be really key,” Grisham told reporters at the White House.

“And then it’s really, really forward-looking and to not only what she wants to do in the next four years, but why she thinks the president is best for our country.”

The first lady is set to deliver the evening’s marquee address from the Rose Garden at the White House, stoking criticism of President Donald Trump for using federal property for his campaign.

US Secretary of State Mike and two of Trump’s children are also in the line-up to address the convention this morning.

The president himself is due to appear at each night of the convention, which will culminate in his acceptance speech on Thursday.

After being officially renominated for president on Monday, Trump made an unscheduled in-person appearance at the convention kick-off in North Carolina yesterday.

 – with AAP and Reuters

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