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What we know today, Tuesday November 17


Welcome to your serving of the day’s breaking news from South Australia, the nation and abroad.

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Five new COVID-19 cases in SA, 14 possible additional cases

South Australia is bracing for a surge in the number of positive COVID-19 cases, after recording five new coronavirus cases today – at least four of which are linked to the Parafield cluster in Adelaide’s north – with a further 14 suspected of being infected.

Premier Steven Marshall said this afternoon that there are now potentially up to 21 cases linked to the Parafield cluster, which started when a worker at Peppers medi-hotel on Waymouth Street became infected and transmitted the disease to their extended family.

Of the four new cases announced today that are linked to the cluster, one works at AnglicareSA’s residential aged care home at Brompton and the other three cases are relatives of one of the medi-hotel security guards who tested positive yesterday.

SA’s chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier said she had only received information about the fifth case minutes before briefing the media and health authorities were conducting interviews to determine whether that case was also linked to the cluster.

SA Health said the fifth case is believed to be locally-acquired.

The five new cases range from teenagers to people aged in their 50s and either have no COVID-19 symptoms or are mildly symptomatic, meaning they are in the early stages of the disease.

They are all currently in hotel quarantine.

Read the full story here.

New theatre restrictions leave shows and events in limbo

The latest COVID-19 restrictions have created fresh chaos for SA performing arts companies and events, forcing the cancellation or postponement of shows and a delay in the Adelaide Festival’s planned 2021 program launch.

Under the latest State Government changes to directions announced yesterday, entertainment venues such as cinemas and theatres can have a capacity of just one person per 4sqm, while all activities with an approved COVID Management Plan scheduled for the next two weeks have been cancelled.

The change has prompted the Adelaide Festival to delay this Thursday’s planned launch of its 2021 program.

“We continue to take the advice of SA Health and are working towards rescheduling the launches,” festival executive director Elaine Chia said in a statement. “We are so disappointed that we can’t reveal our program this week and can’t wait to share it with you as soon as we can.”

State Opera SA has cancelled the remaining two performances of its current show, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, which were to take place tomorrow and Friday and had almost sold out.

Read more here.

Returned travellers quarantined at Peppers Hotel required to restart quarantine

Returned travellers and others in quarantine at Peppers hotel in Adelaide have been told they will be moved and required to start their 14-day isolation period again.

The Peppers Hotel is considered the source of a current cluster of COVID-19 cases centred on one extended family living in the city’s north.

It’s believed a cleaner at the hotel picked up the virus from a surface and passed it on to other family members.

The new quarantine requirement means some travellers would have to undergo a total of 28 days of hotel quarantine.

“We understand the frustration of the guests and we thank them for their assistance as we take every required step to prioritise the health and safety of all South Australians,” SA Health said in a statement.

“We phoned guests before providing written information to them about the move and additional information will be provided once more details are confirmed.”

SA Health said the hotel would be thoroughly deep cleaned to allow it to continue as a quarantine site in the future.

Roma Mitchell Secondary School closes after positive COVID-19 test

Roma Mitchell Secondary School in Adelaide’s northern suburbs has closed down after a student tested positive for COVID-19.

The northern suburbs public high school, which has over 1200 students, will close for a minimum of 24 hours to undergo deep cleaning.

The Department of Education said SA Health is currently carrying out contact tracing and will soon contact anyone who needs to self-isolate.

Also this morning, Catholic Education South Australia advised that a third Catholic school had been closed due to the current outbreak.

Mt Carmel College at Rosewater closed today for deep cleaning following SA Health advice that a student is a close contact of a confirmed case.

Two other schools closed yesterday – Thomas More College at Salisbury Downs, and Holy Family Catholic Primary School and the co-located Alive Catholic Early Learning Centre.


Federal government offers support for virus-hit South Australians

Enhanced support and expanded access to Australia’s social security system is in place to support South Australians during the current surge in coronavirus cases, the federal government says.

With thousands of businesses and people hit with renewed restrictions, prompted by an emerging cluster of COVID-19 infections, Families and Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said income support and pandemic leave payments were available to South Australians in need.

“We have temporarily put arrangements in place so that our social security safety net is not just for people who have lost their jobs, it is able to provide a cushion for people who have had or fear their hours or income will be reduced,” Ruston said.

“I would encourage anyone who is concerned about changes to their employment or has had their income reduced to test their eligibility for JobSeeker payments or related payments.”

To be eligible for a part-JobSeeker payment, a person’s income has to be below the income cut-out of $1257 a fortnight.

Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud said the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment was available for people living in SA who could not earn an income because of a requirement to self-isolate, quarantine or care for someone with COVID-19.

Eligible recipients will receive $1500 for each 14-day period.

“By making this payment available to South Australians during the COVID-19 pandemic, the government will ease financial burdens for those workers affected by the virus,” Littleproud said.

Government Services Minister Stuart Robert said that South Australians who needed to access income support were encouraged to call or visit Services Australia online rather than visit service centres.

“Services Australia is taking every possible step to help South Australians as they grapple with the pandemic,” he said.

“If you think there may be a change to your employment over the coming weeks, I’d encourage you to go to online to check eligibility and start the application process.”

Trump asked about bombing Iran

President Donald Trump asked for options on attacking Iran’s main nuclear site last week but ultimately decided against taking the dramatic step, a US official says.

Trump made the request during a meeting on Thursday with his top national security aides, including Vice President Mike Pence, his new acting defence secretary Christopher Miller and General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the official said on Monday.

The official confirmed the account of the meeting in The New York Times, which reported that the advisers persuaded Trump not to go ahead with a strike because of the risk of a broader conflict.

“He asked for options. They gave him the scenarios and he ultimately decided not to go forward,” the official said.

Marshall expresses confidence as Adelaide stares down second wave

A confident Steven Marshall said today he is “far less stressed this morning” given the high level of COVID-19 testing in SA, although he has cautioned there is “still a long way to go” to contain the state’s new virus cluster.

Marshall told Sunrise this morning that SA had recorded just one new case of COVID-19 overnight, giving health authorities reason for optimism.

“I’ve got to say we’re far less stressed this morning than we were yesterday morning,” Marshall said.

“We did thousands of thousands of tests yesterday and for that we’re very grateful to the people of South Australia for getting out and doing that testing.

“There’s still a long way to go, there’s thousands of tests to process and interpret, but [it’s] a lot better situation today than what we woke up to yesterday.”

Marshall went on to defend SA’s hotel quarantine program, which has come under renewed scrutiny given its role in the latest COVID-19 cluster.

The premier said the state’s quarantine protocols passed a national audit “with flying colours” and presented “no red flags whatsoever”.

He then pointed to COVID-19’s contagiousness as the reason for the new cluster.

“What we’re really learning about this disease is just how contagious it is because there was no breach of protocol here in South Australia,” Marshall said.

“This was a back of house person working in the hotel that we believe acquired it from coming into a surface contact, so they never ever came into contact with anyone in a room.

“We believe the system in Australia has worked very well with [medi-hotel workers giving] a daily declaration of no symptoms, but the problem in this instance here in Adelaide is that the three people that became infected, none of them had any symptoms whatsoever.”

Medi-hotel workers now have to complete a mandatory COVID-19 test every seven days.

Labor seeking probe into submarine costs

The federal opposition has asked the auditor-general to investigate cost blowouts with the program to build Australia’s new fleet of submarines.

The program was originally costed at $50 billion and the federal government is expected to argue it remains the same, in 2016 dollars.

But defence officials told a Senate estimates hearing last month that the latest update put the cost at about $80 billion over the life of the project.

In a speech to the Submarines Institute of Australia, Labor defence spokesman Richard Marles said hiding massive costs is unacceptable and the government should be upfront and honest about spending public money.

“This is precisely the kind of behaviour that destroys public trust and eats away at the public’s confidence in those elected to represent them,” Marles said.

“I have now written to the auditor‑general to request an investigation into the failure by the government to disclose these vast cost increases.

“I have also asked the auditor-general to examine whether there are other instances of cost increases that have not been publicly disclosed.”

Labor’s concern came as the Naval Group revealed that more than 120 companies in Australia had applied to be high-level partners in the development and construction of the 12 submarines in Adelaide.

SA Health issues new advice for Aquadome visitors

SA Health has issued new advice for people who visited the Elizabeth Aquadome, requiring anyone who attended the public swimming pool from 11:00 am to 1:30 pm on Saturday November 14 to isolate for 14 days and get tested immediately if they notice symptoms.

SA Health said it is contacting everyone who attended the Aquadome at this time who may have been in close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case.

SA Pathology boss apologises for long queues at testing sites

SA Pathology Clinical Service Director Dr Tom Dodd has apologised this morning for the long queues at COVID-19 testing sites across SA, which have seen people get turned away after waiting more than five hours in line.

The apology comes after coronavirus testing numbers surged to record levels in Adelaide as thousands of people come forward to be swabbed to head off a possible second wave of infections.

Today, queues are even longer, with people lining up at drive-through centres from 4 am this morning.

Some centres stayed open late last night and SA Pathology boss Tom Dodd said that would continue.

“Clearly, we need to have all those sites operating for longer hours going forward from today,” Dr Dodd told ABC radio.

“I apologise to anyone who queued for a long time and wasn’t able to get a test. We don’t want to have that happening.

“We need to ensure we stay open to swab all the people who present.”

Australia’s deputy chief medical officer Michael Kidd said the next 24 to 48 hours would be critical, and praised South Australians for their willingness to present for testing.

“Health authorities in South Australia are doing a terrific job, identifying people who may have been in contact with someone who’s been diagnosed with COVID-19, arranging to get people tested, arranging for people to go into isolation while they’re waiting for their results,” he told the ABC this morning.

“And a big thank you to everybody in Adelaide who were queuing up to get tested yesterday, and I’m sure there will be queues today for people waiting to get tested for COVID-19.”

Cash, drugs seized in $1million border bust

Two men form the state’s Mid North are facing laundering and drug trafficking charges after police found $1 million in cash in a car as it crossed the South Australian border from NSW.

Police stopped a Holden ute, driven by one of the men, 51, just before midnight on Saturday at the Oodla Wirra checkpoint.

During a search of the vehicle, officers discovered the cash – mostly comprising $50 notes – as well as illicit substances GHB and methamphetamine.

The man was arrested, sparking a police investigation.

Three properties were raided on Sunday, including one in the Mid North and two in the Barossa area.

Hydroponic cannabis set-ups were allegedly uncovered at the Mid North address and first Barossa property.

Equipment to grow cannabis hydroponically was seized at the second Barossa property where the other man, 47, was arrested and later charged.

The men have been refused bail and are expected to appear at magistrates courts in Port Pirie and Elizabeth today.

“SAPOL continue to police highways and roads used to travel to and from South Australia,” a spokesman said in a statement.

“This significant seizure of cash should serve as a warning to organised crime groups that transport illegal commodities across our border.”

Police chief backs medi-hotel system as restrictions return

South Australia’s police chief Grant Stevens says he has full confidence in the state’s quarantine hotels despite a worrying cluster of COVID-19 cases linked to one facility in Adelaide.

As of Monday night, the Parafield cluster had grown to 17 and more cases are expected.

An infected returned traveller is thought to have passed the virus onto a staff member of the hotel who has then infected family members.

Officials said SA’s hotel quarantine arrangements had recently won praise after a national audit but no such facilities could be completely secure.

“I couldn’t be more confident that we are providing a secure arrangement as possible in relation to how we manage our medi-hotels,” Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said.

“But, as has been pointed out, this is highly infectious, easily caught and even the very best medical officials can catch this while they’re doing their very best to avoid it.

“Given the circumstances, and our obligation to repatriate Australians, this is the reality that we’re now dealing with.”

As of Friday, SA had 17 of the 77 active coronavirus cases in Australia, but all were returned travellers.

That number has now grown to at least 34, including two security guards and another staff member at the quarantine hotel. There are 167 close contacts of confirmed cases being contacted daily for symptom checks.

From today, all gyms, recreation centres and play cafes will close for two weeks with community sports fixtures and training cancelled.

Funerals and family gatherings will be capped at 50 people, and all church gatherings at 100 people.

Pubs, clubs and restaurants will be limited to 100 people along with all other public gatherings.

All venues or functions must abide by a rule of one person to each four square metres.

Masks will be mandatory for workers in personal care businesses and for workers in aged care if physical distancing is not possible.

Aged care workers will be limited to just one site but schools will remain open.

The government has also asked all people to work from home if they can and to reconsider unnecessary travel of any kind.

Second COVID-19 vaccine ’94.5 per cent effective’

US pharmaceutical firm Moderna says early analysis suggests its COVID-19 vaccine is 94.5 per cent effective based on interim data from a late-stage trial.

Together with Pfizer Inc’s vaccine, which is also more than 90 per cent effective, and pending more safety data and regulatory review, the United States could have two vaccines authorised for emergency use in December with as many as 60 million doses of vaccine available this year.

Next year, the US government could have access to more than 1 billion doses just from the two vaccine makers, more than needed for the country’s 330 million residents.

The vaccines, both developed with new technology known as messenger RNA (mRNA), represent powerful tools to fight a pandemic that has infected 54 million people worldwide and killed 1.3 million.

The news also comes at a time when COVID-19 cases are soaring, hitting new records in the United States and pushing some European countries back into lockdowns.

“We are going to have a vaccine that can stop COVID-19,” Moderna president Stephen Hoge said in a telephone interview.

Moderna’s interim analysis was based on 95 infections among trial participants who received either a placebo or the vaccine.

Of those, only five infections occurred in those who received the vaccine, which is administered in two shots 28 days apart.

“This news from Moderna is tremendously exciting and considerably boosts optimism that we will have a choice of good vaccines in the next few months,” said Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London.

Moderna expects to have enough safety data required for US authorisation in the next week or so and the company expects to file for emergency use authorisation (EUA) in the coming weeks.

A key advantage of Moderna’s vaccine is that it does not need ultra-cold storage like Pfizer’s, making it easier to distribute.

Moderna expects it to be stable at normal fridge temperatures of 2C to 8C for 30 days and it can be stored for up to six months at -20C.

The data from Moderna’s trial involving 30,000 volunteers also showed the vaccine prevented cases of severe COVID-19, a question that still remains with the Pfizer vaccine.

Of the 95 cases in Moderna’s trial, 11 were severe and all 11 occurred among volunteers who got the placebo.

Most side effects were mild to moderate.

A significant proportion of volunteers, however, experienced more severe aches and pains after taking the second dose, including about 10 per cent who had fatigue severe enough to interfere with daily activities while another 9 per cent had severe body aches.

Moderna, part of the US government’s Operation Warp Speed program, expects to produce about 20 million doses for the United States this year, millions of which the company has already made and is ready to ship if it gets FDA authorisation.

Trump adviser pledges ‘professional transition’

US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien says he will ensure a professional transition to the team led by Democrat Joe Biden if Biden is deemed the winner of the 2020 presidential election and “obviously things look like that now”.

The Republican Trump has insisted the November 3 election was “rigged” and that he will be declared the winner after a series of legal challenges in several US states.

Speaking to the Global Security Forum, O’Brien said that while he hoped Trump would turn out to have won a second four-year term, he would work with a new administration headed by Biden and his vice presidential running mate Kamala Harris.

“If there is a new administration, look, they deserve some time to come in and implement their policies,” O’Brien said.

“If the Biden-Harris ticket is determined to be the winner – obviously things look that way now – we’ll have a very professional transition from the National Security Council, there’s no question about it.”

Trump’s campaign has so far failed to produce evidence that could overturn Biden’s 306-232 victory over Trump in the state-by-state Electoral College vote.

States face a December 8 “safe harbour” deadline to certify their elections and choose electors who will officially select the new president on December 14.

No time for virus complacency: WHO

The World Health Organisation says there is no time for complacency in confronting the global coronavirus pandemic despite positive news about possible vaccines.

“Right now we are extremely concerned by the surge in COVID-19 cases we’re seeing in some countries,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a tweet on Monday.

“Particularly in Europe and the Americas, health workers and health systems are being pushed to the breaking point.”

More than 54.67 million people have been reported infected by the coronavirus globally and 1,321,403​ have died, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.

Infections have been reported in more than 210 countries and territories since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019.

The US has topped 11 million infections and is expected to pass 250,000 deaths in the coming days.

WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan also said on Monday that the news that US pharmaceutical firm Moderna appears to have developed a highly effective vaccine is “quite encouraging” but more data is needed.

Trial participants need to be monitored for two more months for possible side effects, she told a press conference in Geneva.

“There are many questions still remaining” about the Moderna product and about Pfizer’s rival vaccine candidate that has also shown to be very effective in trials, Swaminathan said.

More needs to be known about how long these vaccines protect against the coronavirus, to what extent they prevent severe cases of COVID-19 disease and what impact they have on elderly people, she said.

– with AAP and Reuters
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