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What we know today, Wednesday September 16


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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SA ups hotel quarantine capacity to take on more returned Aussies

South Australia is looking to take more travellers returning from overseas after the latest move to ease the state’s COVID-19 border restrictions.

SA has advised the Commonwealth that it will increase its hotel quarantine capacity from 500 to 800 in coming weeks.

That will be split across three areas with 600 places for returning travellers, 100 for high-risk domestic arrivals and 100 to isolate locals impacted by any community outbreaks of the coronavirus.

In a statement, the government said taking 600 international arrivals each week would double the current capacity.

“South Australia is pleased to be able to assist with supporting more Australians to return home,” the statement said.

“We will continue to look at options to further increase our medi-hotel capacity.”

The change comes after SA also lifted its border restrictions with the ACT on Wednesday, providing a boost to Australia’s domestic aviation sector.

Travellers who fly into SA from Canberra will no longer be required to quarantine for 14 days.

However, the quarantine arrangements will continue for people from NSW amid continuing concern over community transmission of the virus in that state.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said SA’s decision was good news and a practical move to “decouple” the ACT from NSW.

“We’ve been working patiently and diplomatically behind the scenes to get this decision,” he said.

“On a national level, it’s a significant step towards the restarting of domestic aviation in Australia.”

Barr said he expected considerable demand for new flights from Canberra to Adelaide.

People who do make the trip will need to pre-register online and will be asked to sign a declaration that they have not travelled to either NSW or Victoria or any other high-risk place in the previous two weeks.

South Australia reported no new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, leaving the state’s total since the start of the pandemic at 466.

There are no active infections.

Second man charged with Adelaide bashing murder

A second man has been charged with murder over a bashing death in Adelaide last month.

Police say Victor Codea, 24, was lured to an area near Adelaide High School where he was attacked and left with critical injuries.

A friend came to his assistance and took him to the hospital where he underwent emergency surgery but died about a week later.

A 23-year-old man was recently charged with murder and is in custody.

Police say a 24-year-old man was arrested at an apartment on Wednesday and also charged with murder.

Detective Inspector Brett Featherby said more arrests were expected.

“Police know four males were present at the car park where Victor was violently assaulted by three of them,” he said.

Funding boost for Whyalla Steelworks

The federal and South Australian governments will provide almost $3 million to help boost metal processing at the Whyalla Steelworks.

A new processing facility will be built at a cost of $8 million and provide up to 150 ongoing jobs.

It will boost annual steel processing in Whyalla from about 2000 tonnes to as much as 12,000 tonnes and forms part of the overall modernisation of the operations.

The GFG Alliance plant will value add to the raw metal produced to allow local steel to better compete with imported fabricated steel.

Premier Steven Marshall said the new processing facility would help drive economic growth in South Australia.

“Whyalla has a long and proud history of manufacturing in South Australia and this $8 million state-of-the-art steel processing facility will further cement its place on the national and international market,” he said.

Council green light for McLaren Vale GM-free bid

Onkaparinga councillors have voted to keep genetically modified crops out of its district to protect millions of dollars worth of annual wine exports from its famed McLaren Vale wine region.

The state’s largest council will now apply to the Minister for Primary Industries David Basham for its entire area – including the famed McLaren Vale wine region – to be designated a non-GM crop area following last night’s landmark decision.

It will join Mt Barker and Barossa councils as the first to apply for the designation after the state government passed legislation in May lifting a 16-year-old ban on genetically modified crops in SA was passed by state parliament in May.

This sparked a process allowing councils until September 30 to apply to be GM-free if they consulted with their local community and could demonstrate an economic benefit.

Onkaparinga Mayor Erin Thompson said the decision at last night’s council meeting came after a rigorous process, paving the way to protecting organic and biodynamic vineyards from a potential annual loss of $20.8 million.

“We listened carefully to our industry and community, and believe the evidence clearly shows it’s in our city’s best interest to make this application,” she said.

McLaren Vale is known for its premium Shiraz and Grenache and is Australia’s fifth-largest wine region by value. However, it is the largest when it comes to the area of certified organic or biodynamic vineyards.

About 37 per cent of the region’s 7324ha of vines are certified, which compares to a national average of about 5 per cent.

The application will now be assessed by the GM Crop Advisory Committee before the State Government makes a final decision, which is expected mid-November in time for potential GM planning ahead of the 2021 canola season.

Kangaroo Island is currently the only SA region with permission to maintain its GM-free status.

Victoria records eight coronavirus deaths, 42 new cases

Victoria’s coronavirus respite has been brief, with eight deaths taking the state toll to 737 and the national figure to 824.

Tuesday was the first day Victoria had been fatality-free in its second wave since July 13.

But there was more good news, with Melbourne’s crucial 14-day average of new cases dropping below 50.

It is now 49.6, with regional Victoria also falling again to 3.5.

The 14-day rolling average is a key statistic in the state government’s roadmap out of coronavirus restrictions.

Victoria had 42 new cases on Wednesday, the same as Tuesday.

Regional Victoria’s restrictions will ease at midnight, but Melbourne will stay in its stage-four lockdown.

Rocket launch put back to Saturday after failed attempt

Organisers of a failed rocket launch in the far west of South Australia yesterday are aiming for another attempt on Saturday.

Yesterday’s much-anticipated launch from the Koonibba Test Range 40km north-west of Ceduna was aborted when the TED-01 DART rocket did not ignite.

Southern Launch chief executive officer Lloyd Damp said another launch attempt would take place as soon as the fault was identified and fixed. Good weather is also needed.

“We ignited the rocket motor, but the rocket itself, the propellant, didn’t ignite,” he told reporters at the site yesterday.

“This is one of the things we’ve been training for over the past few days.

“We will unpack the rocket and find out work out what went wrong and we might be back as early as tomorrow to try again.

“Space is hard.”

The 3.4m, two-stage rocket was to carry a miniature sensing device to an altitude of about 85km, before both would fall back to earth.

The rocket’s payload is less than 27cm long, but with its suite of antennas will conduct an important sensing mission to detect and identify specific radar signals.

Premier Steven Marshall travelled to Koonibba for the launch and said the company would learn from Tuesday’s problems.

He said regardless, it was an exciting development for the space sector in SA.

“This will be the first commercial space capable rocket launch in Australia,” he said.

“All of the previous launches have been government launches. So this is just a taste of what is to come.”

Southern Launch had planned two separate launches from the SA site, with a second scheduled for Saturday.

Damp said that was still the plan but much would depend on the analysis of what went wrong with the first attempt and the weather.

A low-pressure system is expected to develop in the state’s west from late this afternoon with a trough forecast to bring rain and thunderstorms across SA.

$16m to put on more SA Police

South Australia will spend up to $16 million to expand police recruitment amid concerns the extra demands of the coronavirus pandemic are likely to persist into next year.

SA Police will take on more than 100 extra staff over coming months, including 72 new cadet police officers and 54 protective security officers.

The program will cost up to $16 million.

“Our response to the pandemic has required the diversion of resources from normal policing duties and there is no way of knowing how long this pandemic will continue to affect us,” Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said.

“While it takes nine-and-a-half months to train police recruits, given the uncertainty of COVID-19, this is an important step to ensure we are ready for whatever may eventuate throughout 2021 and beyond.

“The pandemic has impacted upon our ability to provide normal policing services for the community and by recruiting additional staff we are better positioning ourselves to meet the increasing requirements on policing as we move forward.”

Police Minister Vincent Tarzia said the boost in officers would help guard the community as the state continued its fight against COVID-19.

“Our emergency service workers such as police and protective security officers are to be praised for putting themselves forward to support our community through these tough times,” he said.

Roadblocks to stop virus escaping from Melbourne

Photo: AAP/Lukas Coch

Authorities will ramp up roadblocks to stop COVID-19 spreading out of Melbourne as regional Victoria anxiously awaits scaled back COVID-19 lockdown rules.

The state’s regional restrictions will be eased from midnight tonight after active cases outside of Melbourne fell to just 43.

The next step means pubs, cafes and restaurants will be able to serve people outside with strict density quotas, while outdoor gathering limits will be upped to 10.

Regional Victorians will also be able to leave their homes without restriction and all shops can reopen.

But Melbourne’s lockdown rules remain unchanged and people cannot travel out of the city without specific reasons.

Premier Daniel Andrews has warned motorists travelling out of the city to expect longer wait times as police tighten checkpoints.

“I’m sorry to say it will mean that there will be significant queues, there will be travel issues,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

Andrews noted more cars would be stopped at roadblocks, with an exact percentage expected to be outlined on Wednesday ahead of regional Victoria’s third step coming into effect.

He said Melburnians should be inspired by the rolling back of restrictions, rather than disheartened.

“I’d encourage people not to see it that way and instead see this as proof positive,” he said.

It was a double dose of good news on Tuesday, as Victoria recorded its first day without a virus death in more than two months.

Andrews was measured about the milestone, noting that 118 people are still in hospital and 11 remain in intensive care.

It leaves Victoria’s toll at 729 and the national figure on 816.

Overall, the state recorded 43 new cases, dropping the 14-day average infection rate to 52.9 for metropolitan Melbourne and 3.6 for regional Victoria.

Melbourne will move to its next step of reopening on September 28 if the 14-day case average falls to between 30-50.

NSW records 10 new cases after testing surge

NSW has recorded 10 new cases of COVID-19 with four locally acquired, one linked to a known case or cluster and six returned travellers who are in hotel quarantine.

The 10 new cases were diagnosed in the 24 hours to 8pm on Tuesday night, from 19,566 tests, compared with 8835 in the previous 24 hours.

With the number of people being tested more than tripling from Monday people appear to have heeded Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant’s call to increase testing before school holidays begin on September 26 and people start travelling across the state.

NSW Health said one previously reported case had now been excluded after further investigations.

One of the new cases is a close contact of a previous case linked to the CBD cluster who had completed self-isolation prior to becoming symptomatic and had previously tested negative. Contact tracing is underway.

Three of the new cases are linked to a staff member from Concord Hospital Emergency Department.

Israel signs treaties with UAE, Bahrain

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have signed treaties with Israel to fully normalise their relationships, the first such major agreements between Arab countries and the Jewish state in a quarter-century.

US President Donald Trump presided over the ceremonial signing of the so-called Abraham Accords on Tuesday, marking the start of full diplomatic and economic ties between the Middle Eastern countries on the sunny South Lawn of the White House.

“We are here this afternoon to change the course of history. After decades of division and conflict, we mark the dawn of a new Middle East,” Trump said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the UAE and Bahraini foreign ministers, Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani, represented their countries at the ceremony.

Absent from the events were the Palestinians, who were critical of the event.

Two rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel during the event, causing no serious injuries.

In the only nod to the Palestinians, Israel has agreed not to annex parts of the West Bank as part of its deal with the UAE.

“Thank you for choosing peace and halting the annexation of Palestinian territories,” Emirati Foreign Minister al-Nahyan said at the ceremony, addressing Israel, making clear the red line for his country.

Netanyahu said the normalisation deals with the UAE and Bahrain “can end the Arab-Israeli conflict once and for all” in his speech to the crowd gathered at the White House despite the coronavirus pandemic.

US warns against travel to China

The United States has issued a sweeping new advisory warning against travel to mainland China and Hong Kong, citing the risk of “arbitrary detention” and “arbitrary enforcement of local laws”.

The advisory is likely to heighten tensions between the sides that have spiked since Beijing’s imposition on Hong Kong of a strict new national security law in June that has already been met with a series of punitive US actions.

The statement warned US citizens that China imposes “arbitrary detention and exit bans” to compel co-operation with investigations, pressure family members to return to China from abroad, influence civil disputes and “gain bargaining leverage over foreign governments”.

In Hong Kong, China “unilaterally and arbitrarily exercises police and security power”, the advisory said, adding that new legislation also covered offences committed by non-Hong Kong residents or organisations outside Hong Kong, possibly subjecting US citizens who have publicly criticised China to a “heightened risk of arrest, detention, expulsion or prosecution”.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters at a daily briefing the US should “fully respect the facts and should not engage in unwarranted political manipulation” when issuing such advisories.

“China has always protected the safety and legal rights of foreigners in China in accordance with law. China is one of the safest countries in the world,” Wang said. “Of course, foreigners in China also have an obligation to abide by Chinese laws.”

Other Western nations have also suspended extradition treaties with Hong Kong following the national security’s law’s passage.

Meanwhile, the World Trade Organisation says the United States has been violating free trade rules by slapping hefty tariffs on imports from China as part of its trade spat with the Asian manufacturing giant.

Officials in Beijing had filed a complaint at the Geneva-based body after the US imposed more than $US200 billion ($A273 billion) of duties on Chinese goods in 2018 as retaliation against alleged unfair government subsidies and theft of technological know-how by China.

The WTO dispute panel ruled that the measures discriminated against China and that the tariffs exceeded limits to which the US is bound.

It also concluded that the US failed to show how the Chinese imports that it targeted were linked to Chinese intellectual property theft.

The US government had claimed that there was no legal basis for a ruling, arguing that Chinese-US trade talks amounted to a decision to settle the matter outside the WTO system.

However, the WTO pointed out that the world’s two largest economies had not come to an agreement and that China had not intended the talks to replace the WTO process.

WTO said the US should stick to international free trade rules, and it encouraged officials in Washington DC and Beijing to negotiate a solution.

 – with AAP and Reuters

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