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What we know today, Tuesday October 27


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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Vic reports zero cases again ahead of restriction easing

Victoria has had its second-straight day of no coronavirus deaths and no new cases as Melbourne pubs, restaurants and retail shops prepare to trade again from tomorrow.

The day after announcing a widespread easing of the city’s restrictions, Premier Daniel Andrews confirmed this morning how its residents can visit each other in their households from midnight.

Home visits in Melbourne will be restricted to one per day as the city emerges from its lockdown.

Andrews also said masks would remain mandatory outdoors for the rest of the year and probably into 2021, throughout the state.

Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said he was “very confident” an outbreak in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, which delayed the Monday announcement by 24 hours, was now under control.

It comes as Melbourne readies to get back in business, prompted by yesterday’s first clean slate of cases and deaths in Victoria since June 9.

The “proud” premier’s voice croaked with emotion as he announced the dramatic lockdown changes, headlined by the reopening of Melbourne retail and hospitality venues.

More changes are slated from midnight on November 8, including the end of the so-called “ring of steel” separating the capital from regional Victoria, as well as the 25km travel limit.

Andrews has been under intense pressure to ease restrictions while also awaiting the final report from an inquiry into the botched hotel quarantine program, widely believed to have sparked Victoria’s devastating second wave, which peaked in early August with 725 single-day infections.

But Monday marked a significant shift in Victoria’s coronavirus campaign.

Melbourne retail and hospitality businesses can begin trading again from midnight on Tuesday, with a “dark” reopening effective immediately so staff can prepare.

There will be a maximum of 20 people seated indoors for hospitality venues – 10 per space – and 50 outdoors.

Beauty, personal services and tattoo parlours will also reopen, and there are widespread changes from outdoor fitness to religious gatherings.

Virus vaccine may not be suitable for elderly

Elderly Australians may not be able to get a coronavirus vaccine if the medicine has not been trialled on such an age group.

Department of Health secretary Dr Brendan Murphy said older Australians were considered the most vulnerable and they would be the priority for receiving a vaccine.

“However, most of the vaccines have not been trialled in the over-65s and it’s quite likely that the first registrations of some vaccines will exclude them being used in over-65s,” he told a Senate estimates hearing this morning.

“So we then have to think about a second-level priority.”

Other people high on the priority list are health and aged care workers, as well as Indigenous Australians.

Murphy said children would get the vaccine if it’s effective at preventing coronavirus transmission.

“We don’t immunise children generally to protect them, it’s to develop that herd immunity,” he said.

An expert committee is developing a range of vaccine strategies taking into account the potential limitations of various drugs.

A vaccine may not prevent transmission but instead prevent severe cases of the disease.

“This is a logistic challenge of the likes we’ve never seen before, so we are going to need a range of strategies,” Murphy told senators.

“We haven’t landed all of those plans yet because they’re all very complex.”

Hospitals and GPs would set up vaccine clinics, while some coronavirus testing centres might be repurposed so they can also administer jabs.

“We’re planning to train up a whole army of additional nurses to be nurse immunisers,” Murphy said.

Special teams would also be set up to vaccinate aged care staff and residents, if it’s deemed safe for older Australians.

If not, aged care staff only may be immunised until a vaccine that’s safe for the elderly is available.

Authorities told the hearing on Monday it’s likely Australians would need two coronavirus jabs, reiterating it is not known if an effective medicine will be found.

New water discovery on Moon

Scientists have found water on the moon’s surface for the first time. Image courtesy NASA.

NASA has for the first time confirmed the presence of water on the sunlit surface of the Moon.

The discovery indicates that water may be distributed across the lunar surface, and not limited to cold, shadowed places.

NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) detected water molecules in Clavius Crater, one of the largest craters visible from Earth, located in the Moon’s southern hemisphere.

Previous observations of the Moon’s surface detected some form of hydrogen but were unable to distinguish between water and its close chemical relative, hydroxyl (OH).

Data from this location reveal water in concentrations of 100 to 412 parts per million – roughly equivalent to a 350ml bottle of water – trapped in a cubic meter of soil spread across the lunar surface. The results are published in the latest issue of Nature Astronomy.

“We had indications that H2O – the familiar water we know – might be present on the sunlit side of the Moon,” said Paul Hertz, director of the Astrophysics Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

“Now we know it is there. This discovery challenges our understanding of the lunar surface and raises intriguing questions about resources relevant for deep space exploration.”

As a comparison, the Sahara desert has 100 times the amount of water than what SOFIA detected in the lunar soil. Despite the small amounts, the discovery raises new questions about how water is created and how it persists on the harsh, airless lunar surface.

Whether the water SOFIA found is easily accessible for use as a resource remains to be determined.

Under NASA’s Artemis program, the agency is eager to learn all it can about the presence of water on the Moon in advance of sending the first woman and next man to the lunar surface in 2024 and establishing a sustainable human presence there by the end of the decade.

Qatari searches spark Labor call for action

Labor is demanding concrete action in response to “disturbing and offensive” physical examinations of Australian women in Qatar.

Women on board a flight bound for Sydney, including 13 Australians, were forced to undergo invasive internal examinations earlier this month after a premature baby was found in an airport bathroom in Doha.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne has demanded the Qatari ambassador conduct an urgent investigation and hand it over by the end of this week.

Qatar is set to host the football world cup in 2022.

Labor foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said the government must ensure Australians who travel to the event are safe.

The South Australian senator said the Qatari government must apologise to the women who were medically examined, be transparent about the incident and ensure it did not happen again.

She said all options including compensation must be delivered and urged the government to show strength.

“They need to go beyond words and actually ensure that there is action taken,” Wong told the Nine Network on Tuesday.

“Not just an apology – which I would anticipate would be something that would be helpful to the women concerned – but measures taken both to ensure people know who was responsible and that Australians are safe.”

Wong does not support calls to boycott Qatar Airways.

Consumer confidence on up as economy rebuilds

Australians are growing in confidence as the economy starts to recover from the coronavirus pandemic fallout, a signal household spending may pick up as long as employment grows.

The ANZ-Roy Morgan consumer confidence index grew by a further 1.6 per cent to 99.7 points in the past week, the highest level since March.

The index has now risen for eight straight weeks and stands just below the neutral level of 100 which separates pessimists and optimists.

ANZ head of Australian economics David Plank said falling COVID-19 base numbers and hopes of a further easing in restrictions have helped to keep confidence on an upward trend.

He said sub-indices suggest people remain cautious about the current economic outlook.

“This may constrain spending in the near-term,” Plank said this morning.

“Confidence in future economic and financial conditions is much more positive, however, holding out the prospect of a recovery in spending if the labour market holds up.”

Treasury secretary Steven Kennedy appeared before a hearing on Monday, telling senators the recovery from the biggest economic contraction on record is underway.

He believes the Morrison government’s budget response to the pandemic should have a greater impact on the economy in a low interest rate environment.

No new COVID cases in SA

South Australia recorded no new cases of COVID-19 today.

It comes after three infections were confirmed yesterday – increasing the number of people in quarantine in medi-hotels – as the state takes on its share of travellers returning from overseas. But SA Health insists there is no public health risk.

There are now 11 active cases in the state.

A man in his 30s, a woman in her 30s and a man in his 40s, all of whom have recently returned from overseas and remain in hotel quarantine, make up the latest cases.

Four new cases were confirmed the day before in returned travellers. The latest infections take the number of new cases in the state to 28 this month, the highest since the pandemic peaked in SA in April.

International arrivals into South Australia have risen sharply in the past two months, leading to the expansion of Adelaide’s hotel quarantine program and an increase in quarantined coronavirus infections recorded in the state.

ABS figures released this month show South Australia had 1260 arrivals in September, up 12.4 per cent on August and more than triple the 290 and 380 who arrived in June and July.

This has coincided with the expansion last month of the state’s medi-hotel capacity, with another hotel coming on board to increase the capacity from 500-800 people a week.

Of that, 600 beds are reserved for international arrivals – up from 240 previously, 100 for domestic arrivals from high-risk areas and a further 100 reserved for local community outbreaks.

Blitz nabs more than 2000 speeding drivers

A police blitz on speeding on the Northern Connector between Dry Creek and Waterloo Corner netted more than 2000 speeding drivers including one clocked at 209km/h.

The 50-day operation from late August to early October resulted in two cars being impounded and a dozen detected at 45km/h or more over the 110km/h limit.

Officer in Charge Traffic Services Branch Superintendent Bob Gray said the total 2134 drivers caught in the blitz was “unacceptable” and reflected “abhorrent behaviour” that ensured police would continue to be out in force on the Northern Connector.

“Families are suffering, communities are grieving and these irresponsible drivers have no regard for the trauma their behavior can cause,” he said.

“We want these drivers to know that we will be watching and if you choose to drive like this, you will be caught and there will be consequences.”

Coronavirus deaths on rise in US

Deaths per day from the coronavirus in the US are on the rise again, just as health experts had feared, and cases are climbing in practically every state.

This is despite assurances from President Donald Trump over the weekend that “We’re rounding the turn, we’re doing great” as the November 3 election looms.

Average deaths per day across the country are up 10 per cent over the past two weeks, from 721 to nearly 794 as of Sunday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Confirmed infections per day are rising in 47 states, and deaths are up in 34.

Health experts had warned that it was only a matter of time before deaths turned upward, given the record-breaking surge in cases engulfing the country. Deaths are a lagging indicator – that is, it generally takes a few weeks for people to sicken and die from the coronavirus.

The virus is blamed for more than 8.6 million confirmed infections and more than 225,000 deaths in the US, the highest such totals anywhere in the world.

Deaths are still well below the US peak of over 2200 per day in late April. But experts are warning of a grim autumn and winter, with a widely cited model from the University of Washington projecting about 386,000 dead by February 1. A vaccine is unlikely to become widely available until mid-2021.

The seven-day rolling average for daily new cases hit a record high on Sunday of 68,767, according to Johns Hopkins, eclipsing the previous mark of 67,293, set in mid-July.

The US recorded more than 80,000 new cases on both Friday and Saturday – the highest marks ever – though testing has expanded dramatically over the course of the outbreak, making direct comparisons problematic.

The true number of infections is thought to be far higher because many Americans have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick.

On Sunday, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said “we’re not going to control the pandemic” and that the focus should be on containment and treatment.

Trump, who spent several days in the hospital after contracting the virus, said repeatedly over the weekend that the country is “rounding the turn.”

His remarks came amid another outbreak in the White House inner circle. Several close aides to Vice President Mike Pence tested positive, including his chief of staff.

Europe, which had aggressively tackled the virus with shutdowns, mask mandates and other steps in the spring, is also seeing an alarming resurgence.

Pennsylvania push as Trump rallies gain pace

Picture: Andrew Harnik/AP

With eight days until the US election, President Donald Trump is wooing voters in Pennsylvania, a state he won in 2016 and is crucial to his chances of fending off Democratic challenger Joe Biden and winning a second term.

“We win Pennsylvania, we win the whole thing,” the Republican president told cheering supporters in Allentown, predicting victory in a state where opinion polls indicate he is trailing Biden.

More than 60 million people already have cast ballots ahead of the November 3 election in a record-breaking pace that could lead to the highest US voter turnout by percentage in more than a century.

Surging coronavirus cases in many parts of the country and a COVID-19 outbreak within Vice President Mike Pence’s staff have kept the focus of the race on the pandemic.

Pence, due to campaign in Minnesota on Monday after an appearance in North Carolina on Sunday, tested negative for the coronavirus on Monday, his office said, after multiple senior aides tested positive over the weekend.

Despite Biden’s solid lead in US opinion polls, the contest appears tighter in the most critical battleground states that could decide the outcome.

A state where voters can swing toward either major party, Pennsylvania has been heavily courted with frequent visits by both candidates.

Trump was due to speak later in the day in Lititz and Martinsburg.

He also planned multiple stops in Michigan and Wisconsin this week as well as visits to Arizona, Nebraska and Nevada.

Biden, born in Pennsylvania, has made a victory in the state a critical part of his own strategy.

Trump told reporters he expects to win Pennsylvania by a larger margin than the narrow one he achieved in defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Addressing supporters, Trump touched on what he called “an existential” issue for Pennsylvania, Biden’s comment during last week’s presidential debate that if elected he would “transition” the US away from oil and natural gas.

“He wants to go with windmills that are made in Germany and China,” Trump said, adding “Biden’s plan is an economic death sentence for Pennsylvania’s energy sector”.

Biden was expected to remain in his home state of Delaware on Monday.

He is scheduled to travel to Georgia on Tuesday, with stops in Atlanta and Warm Springs, and Florida on Thursday, with stops in Broward County and Tampa.

Biden will be aided in Florida with an appearance in Orlando on Tuesday by former president Barack Obama.

UK pharmacies to roll out 12-minute COVID-19 tests

A chain of chemists in the United Kingdom is set to introduce a fast coronavirus test in the coming weeks that it says can process results in 12 minutes.

The Boots chain said on Monday that the test will be rolled out “over the next few weeks” and will mean customers can get results on the same day.

The private testing service is intended for people without symptoms who want to know whether they are infected before, for example, travelling to see relatives.

The £120 ($A219) test would not, however, be sufficient to prove to airlines that a person is not infectious as airlines require a document from a registered laboratory.

Boots has already started rolling out an in-store testing service that takes 48 hours.

“We hope that by offering this testing option in local community stores, Boots can help ease pressure on the NHS and the government by providing additional access to testing and crucial reassurances for people across the UK,” Boots boss Seb James said.

Experts have consistently criticised the UK government for not having enough coronavirus tests for the population of 67 million.

Britain has suffered the most COVID-19-related deaths of any country in Europe, at about 45,000.

The worst-hit areas of the country are the north of England, as well as parts of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

– with AAP and Reuters

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