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What we know today, Wednesday November 11


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 authorities investigating ‘new’ mystery COVID case

SA health authorities are investigating after a returned traveller was diagnosed with COVID-19 – despite having already tested positive to the virus in August.

Close and casual contacts – including a television news crew – are now quarantining after a woman in her 20s who had been working as an aged care nurse in Victoria returned to Adelaide this week, and yielded a positive test yesterday.

Chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier said it was a “slightly difficult situation” as it is unclear whether the result is a sign of the old infection “shedding” or a new infection, but she is adamant there is no concern for broader public health.

“I do need to stress we’re still doing testing [but] at this point in time we’re saying we have a new case,” she said today.

The woman, a former SA resident given an exemption to return, arrived on Jetstar flight JQ776 on Monday and went into hotel quarantine.

However InDaily has confirmed that two Channel Nine staff who were interviewing returned travellers and conducted an interview with the woman on her arrival have been declared casual contacts and are now in home quarantine.

Another two “close contacts” who sat near her on the plane are also isolating.

The Nine network has been told there are no concerns for its broader Adelaide newsroom, given the interviewee wore a mask and the reporter and camera operator practiced appropriate social distancing during the interview.

News director Jeremy Pudney said in a statement: “We have been informed that two members of the Nine News team, a reporter and camera operator, are in quarantine after briefly interviewing, by chance, a person who has since tested positive for COVID-19.”

“At the time, our team members were conducting interviews for a story on travel restrictions, in a public area and at a safe distance.

“We have been assured by SA Health there is no broader risk to other Nine employees and we are supporting our team members until they’re given the all-clear to leave quarantine.”

The nurse, who was not part of SA health recent contingent who travelled to Victoria to assist their authorities and was working in a private institution, is asymptomatic.

“What we’re trying to do is sort out whether this is an old infection or a new infection,” Spurrier said.

“This could represent ‘shedding’ and we’ve seen that in the past [but] we’re calling this an infectious case…

“This person was wearing a mask on an airplane and that’s something I’ve recommended to all South Australians on domestic flights… they came through the airport and come into a hotel setting and it was during that time they had contact with a number of people.”

There are currently 17 active cases in SA, with the state’s Transition Committee to consider relaxing Victorian border restrictions at a meeting on Friday.

Technical glitch cancels statewide Year 12 exam

A technical fault has forced the cancellation of an end of year exam for more than 2720 SA Year 12 Psychology students this morning.

The 2720 students in 164 exam centres were unable to sit today’s SACE Psychology electronic exam and will now receive a “derived result” for the exam based on their performance in assessments during the year and a predicted exam result by their teacher.

The examination is worth 30 per cent of the overall subject result.

“We are investigating what has happened and are working with our system vendor to investigate the issue,” Chief Executive of the SACE Board Professor Martin Westwell said.

“We are disappointed for the schools and students who have put so much effort in planning for today’s exam.”

Westwell said the derived result process was better than using teachers’ predicted mark alone and analysis had shown that 97 per cent of students would receive a final subject grade that either matched or was within one grade increment of their actual grade.

“While we acknowledge this action doesn’t make up for the stress of today, and the opportunity for students to demonstrate their learning in the exam, this process provides the fairest outcome for students,” he said.

“We will continue to transition to electronic exams because it opens doors to new questions and ways for students to demonstrate their learning using technology they will use outside of the classroom.”

Fires, floods as spectacular storms lash state

The spectacular lightning display as last night’s storm approached Glenelg. Picture Elias Arcondoulis/Twitter

More than 300,000 lightning strikes have been recorded in SA in the past 24 hours as a low-pressure trough moved across the state.

Emergency services finished mopping up the damage this morning after spectacular storms overnight uprooted trees, caused flash flooding and sparked fires across the state.

In an update released at 12.15pm, the Bureau of Meteorology said more than 100,000 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes were recorded with cloud-to-cloud lightning taking the total to more than 300,000.

BOM said the highest wind gust recorded was 120km/h at Edithburgh on Yorke Peninsula at 9.17pm while 18mm of rain recorded at Bordertown was the state’s heaviest fall.

The SES attended 83 call outs for help before midnight as a large hail storm was reported in the Moonta, Wallaroo area of Yorke Peninsula and trees were downed across Adelaide. A further 58 incidents have been attended to this morning.

An intense storm cell crossed the coast between Glenelg and Hallett Cove about 11.15pm, bringing severe lightning and localised flooding.

A second stormfront passed through Adelaide about 5.30am.

SA Power Networks said more than 32,000 properties were without electricity on Tuesday night with about 60 outages to the north of Adelaide and on Yorke and Eyre peninsulas the result of storm damage.

The threat from multiple scrub fires sparked by lightning strikes on Yorke Peninsula eased overnight after earlier prompting watch and act warnings for a number of communities.

The Country Fire Service issued the warnings on Tuesday night for the towns of Minlaton, Edithburgh, Cabowie, Yorketown, Stansbury, Wool Bay and Port Moorowie.

The mercury peaked at 38.5C in Adelaide yesterday, making it the city’s hottest day since January this year.

Other regional centres reported higher temperatures with Oodnadatta, in the state’s north, reaching 43.6C.

Cooler conditions are forecast for today with the city to have a top of 26C.

Electric car tax sparks strong resistance

The decision in yesterday’s State Budget to introduce a road user charge for electric cars has come under fire from the peak national body for electric vehicles and conservationists.

Electric Vehicle Council CEO Behyad Jafari said while the council would need to “wait and see what the detail of the program looks like”, the initiative appeared to go against the advice the council had previously provided the government to incentivise electric cars.

“Now we’re going to have to look at mitigating how much damage they’re about to do to a zero-emissions transport target as a result of a tax that is far too soon,” he said.

“This is a government that is saying ‘Less than one per cent … of market share is electric vehicles, but we’re going to start taxing them now’ because, of course, there’s never been a treasurer who hasn’t looked at a tax and hasn’t salivated for it.”

The charge, which needs to be legislated, is expected to start from July 1, with Treasurer Rob Lucas insisting it is a replica of the fuel excise paid by other road users.

The levy is expected to initially generate $1 million a year in revenue.

Lucas said he was confident up to two other states would follow SA’s lead in the next 12 months.

However, Jafari said while other states, including New South Wales, had raised the charge for consultation it had been met with “widespread condemnation and has gone nowhere since”.

He said the initiative would push South Australia further behind in its electric vehicle policies and initiatives.

The levy follows the announcement last week of an $18.3 million Electric Vehicle Plan over four years, to provide funding for charging infrastructure across the state.

Conservation SA also slammed the electric vehicle tax, labelling it “highly controversial”.

“The announcement of a new road user charge for electric vehicles is bad public policy and completely at odds with other countries who are removing taxes and charges to encourage uptake,” chief executive Craig Wilkins said.

“Last week, the Marshall Government was praised for investing in new electric vehicle charging infrastructure and fleet.  This is going in exactly the opposite direction.

“We need to urgently fast-track the uptake of electric vehicles, not slow it down.”

Wilkins also said it was “deeply disappointing that in a budget with the ‘biggest public infrastructure program in our state’s history’ there is hardly any mention of public transport”.

“At least $8.9 billion will be spent on a single road. The completion of the North-South Motorway will be a massive, hyper expensive black hole which will not deliver the expected savings in congestion.

“Instead it will encourage more car travel and suck up every available bit of money and attention from our state’s transport department for the next decade.”

But the North-South Corridor project has been “cautiously welcomed” by inner western suburbs communities.

The 10.5km project through the southwestern suburbs will include two tunnels and is expected to be finished by 2030.

In a statement, the South Road Inner West Action Group said businesses, communities, schools, churches in the area can begin to plan for the future.

“The announcement is a good start, however, there are many questions unanswered in the budget,” the group said.

“Tunnels are by far the best option – a very safe, fast, modern solution to traffic movement in built-up areas.”

Driver takes out three stobie poles in blackout crash

The badly damaged Mitsubishi Magna following the Glengowrie crash. Picture: SAPOL

A man has destroyed his car after hitting three stobie poles late last night at Glengowrie as a severe storm approached the area.

Emergency crews were called to a single-vehicle collision on Oaklands Road at Glengowrie about 11pm after a Mitsubishi Magna sedan collided with three stobie poles.

The crash caused the vehicle to break into two main pieces and the fuel tank also separated from the vehicle.  As a result, power lines fell and a major power outage occurred in the local area.

It came just minutes before a severe thunderstorm hit the area about 11.15pm

The driver was the sole occupant of the vehicle. The 21-year-old man from Darlington was taken by ambulance to the Flinders Medical Centre with non-life-threatening injuries.

An investigation into the crash is underway which may result in the driver being charged with numerous serious driving offences.

SA Power Network is currently on scene and expects the power to be back on in the area about 8.15am this morning.

Budget spending attracts welfare warning

The South Australian government has spent up big in the state budget but the welfare sector says those most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic could have been better targeted.

The government has allocated $4 billion to help protect businesses and jobs in the wake of the coronavirus.

It will also pour money into road and other infrastructure, health, education and sporting facilities.

But the South Australian Council of Social Service says this may not help those most impacted by COVID-19 job losses – women, the young, migrants, refugees and older workers.

“Despite these useful infrastructure investments, there is no clear employment strategy that focuses on the groups most impacted by the COVID-19 crisis,” council chief executive Ross Womersley said.

“We are worried that the government has overlooked these people, including ways to reconnect them to the workforce during our economic recovery.”

The big spending and the loss of GST revenue in the budget will push the deficit for 2020/21 to $2.6 billion.

Total state debt will also balloon in the coming years to peak at $33 billion by 2023/24.

Treasurer Rob Lucas said the high spending budget came amid the Reserve Bank’s call to save as many jobs and businesses as possible and not be concerned about debt and deficits.

“If we are going to respond to a global pandemic and its economic implications, that is what we’re going to have to do,” the treasurer said.

But the state opposition said the government’s own forecast was for zero employment growth this financial year, something it blamed on delays on key projects.

“This budget exposes the fact Steven Marshall has wasted this term of parliament with delays and indecisiveness on major infrastructure projects and it means South Australia has missed out on jobs,” treasury spokesman Stephen Mullighan said.

Surprisingly, the government has charted a path to return the budget to surplus within the forward estimates, with Lucas warning that higher levels of government spending were not sustainable over the longer term.

Although he admitted all its projections, like those at a national level, were based on the rollout of a population-wide COVID-19 vaccine by the end of 2021.

Its forecasts suggest deficits of $1.42 billion in 2021/22 and $435 million in 2022/23 before returning to a $406 million surplus the following year.

Biden speaks with world leaders as Trump prepares public face

US President-elect Joe Biden. Picture: AP/Andrew Harnik.

US president-elect Joe Biden has spoken to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel while President Donald Trump is expected to make his first public appearance since Saturday.

Johnson’s warm relationship with Trump have made many Democrats wary but he was nonetheless among the first European leaders to congratulate Biden in a phone call.

Johnson’s office said the two men “discussed the close and longstanding relationship” between the two countries and promised to strengthen those bonds in areas including trade and security.

In the 25-minute call, they also promised to work on “shared priorities, from tackling climate change, to promoting democracy and building back better from the coronavirus pandemic,” Downing Street said.

“Build back better” is a slogan that Biden and the British government have in common.

Johnson invited Biden to attend the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow next November and said he looked forward to seeing him at a G7 summit that the UK is due to host in 2021.

The French president’s office released a video of Macron in his office, offering congratulations to Biden and vice president-elect Kamala Harris during a call on Tuesday afternoon.

The White House said Trump will visit Arlington National Cemetery on Wednesday in what would be the president’s first public appearance since major US media networks called the presidential contest for his rival Biden on Saturday.

Trump and first lady Melania Trump will visit the cemetery to mark Veterans Day, White House spokesman Judd Deere told Reuters.

Vaccine confidence hits new high

Health Minister Greg Hunt has made his most confident declaration a coronavirus vaccine will be found after one candidate claimed a major breakthrough.

Pfizer has reported a 90 per cent effectiveness rate in late-stage clinical trials, sparking hopes there may be a path out of the nightmare pandemic.

Hunt said discussions with the pharmaceutical giant’s Australian boss had boosted his hopes for a vaccine.

“The information internationally is very positive. There is more work to be done and we need more data to be certain,” he told parliament.

“I am more hopeful and more confident than ever.”

The breakthrough also had a positive impact on stocks and commodities with markets yesterday pushing higher after the euphoria of a coronavirus vaccine had sent global equity indexes soaring to an all-time high.

Australia has a deal for 10 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine and three other agreements with candidates also in development.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he didn’t want to overstate the advance, but welcomed Pfizer’s news.

“These results are very promising and I am optimistic and hopeful about next year, about the rollout of those vaccine programs,” he said.

Australia is among a handful of countries that are performing well on managing the virus.

Deadly fresh waves are sweeping the United States and Europe, with the disease killing more than 1.2 million people and infecting 50 million.

Victoria’s streak without new infections extended to 11 days as NSW notched a third day without community spread.

That made Tuesday the first time since late February Australia recorded three days without the virus spreading locally.

Australia included on WHO virus probe team

Australia has been included on a World Health Organisation team leading a probe into the origin of the coronavirus pandemic.

The United States, which has accused China of having hidden the extent of its coronavirus outbreak, has called for a “transparent and inclusive” WHO-led international investigation into the origin of the pandemic, criticising its current terms.

The US government has accused the World Health Organisation of being “China-centric” and of being its puppet, which WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has denied.

Tedros revealed the team’s composition on Tuesday, telling the WHO annual ministerial meeting: “These are very respected individuals in their areas.”

Team members came from Russia, Australia, Sudan, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, Japan, Vietnam, the United Kingdom and the United States, he said.

The virus, known as SARS-CoV-2, is believed to have emerged in the Chinese central city of Wuhan late last year, possibly from bats at a market with live animals.

Chinese scientists are carrying out research into its origins and how it jumped the species barrier.

The WHO-led international team formed in September is to develop plans for longer-term studies building on China’s findings, according to its published terms of reference.

Remembrance Day with a difference

Australians will pause once again to acknowledge the end of World War I as part of a Remembrance Day with a difference this morning in a year when a historical event brought the globe to a standstill.

After COVID-19 spoiled Anzac Day commemorations, Remembrance Day ceremonies will also be different to mark the 102nd anniversary of guns falling silent on the Western Front.

But the message remains the same, with Australians asked to stand quietly on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month for a minute of silent reflection.

Almost 62,000 Australians died in service from 1914 to 1918 in WWI and the conflict called the war to end all wars proved anything but.

Originally known as Armistice Day, November 11 has expanded over the years to solemnly remember all the fallen men and women who have lost their lives in wars, conflicts and peacekeeping efforts.

In Canberra, the Australian War Memorial’s ceremony will be televised nationally and retain traditional elements such as the minute’s silence, laying of wreaths by invited dignitaries and sounding of the Last Post.

– with AAP and Reuters
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