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What we know today, Thursday November 19


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

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Cluster cases revised down

Health authorities have revised the number of COVID-19 cases linked to the Parafield cluster down from 23 to 22, after a “weak positive” was later cleared.

As of Thursday afternoon the total number of cases in SA since the pandemic began was 550 – down from 551.

An SA Health spokeswoman said a “weak positive” case with a “clear link” to the cluster had been throughly investigated and determined as a false positive.

It’s understood the case is a close contact of one of two security guards who became infected while working at the Peppers medi-hotel – but without links to the Woodville Pizza Bar, the hotspot that has prompted this week’s ‘circuit-breaking’ lockdown.

No new cases were reported in SA today, as the state began its six-day shutdown in a bid to prevent the cluster spreading.

Parafield Airport testing site reopens after closing due to wind

SA Health says its Parafield Airport testing site has reopened after temporarily closing due to wind.

Earlier today the Magill testing site closed for the same reason, with no update yet on when that site will reopen.

Woolworths announces extended trading hours due to lockdown

Woolworths is extending trading hours across its South Australian supermarkets to make it easier for people to practice social distancing while shopping during the lockdown.

For two weeks from this Saturday, November 21, to Sunday December 6, the supermarket giant’s trading hours will be:

Woolworths Supermarkets South Australia general manager Karl Weber said: “We’re expanding our opening hours over the next two weekends to help support physical distancing on our busiest days of trade.

“We’re grateful to the South Australian Treasurer for delivering this flexibility, so we can better meet the needs of the community through this period.”

Weber said after an initial period of panic buying, “pleasingly, we’ve seen demand moderate today and we hope to see that trend continue”.

“Our team members and supplier partners will continue working around the clock to restock our stores, so we ask customers to shop as they usually would and only buy what they need,” he said.

“We also encourage South Australians to be mindful of vulnerable members of the community who might need extra help at this time.”

For those who can’t visit a store, Woolworths has brought in additional delivery trucks from interstate to ramp up online orders.

Trading hours after December 6 will be assessed closer to the time.

Woolworths yesterday announced a wide range of product limits in response to panic buying.

Revised schoolies program cancelled

“Home schoolies”, the government’s revised school leavers program that was due to go ahead this weekend, has been cancelled.

Under previous restrictions, students were permitted to gather in groups of up to 150 people at private accommodation.

Police Commissioner Grant Stevens indicated as late as Monday this week the event would still go ahead, however, a Facebook post from SAPOL today confirmed the gatherings would not be exempt from the lockdown.

“The State Government acknowledges that graduating Year 12 students have worked hard this year and that a celebration is well deserved,” the post read. 

“While we understand you may be disappointed, this Stay at Home Direction is critical in dealing with the spread of COVID-19.”

The original schoolies festival in Victor Harbor was cancelled in September.

Victoria to learn from SA hotel quarantine outbreak

Victoria will soon restart its hotel quarantine program with new measures in place designed to prevent COVID-19 from escaping quarantine centres like it has in Adelaide.

The new measures include requiring hotel quarantine workers to only work for the Victorian government, which comes after revelations an infected medi-hotel security guard in Adelaide worked a second job at a Woodville pizza bar.

The bar is now considered a COVID-19 hotspot, with SA Health asking anyone who went there from November 6 to November 16 to immediately get tested and quarantine for 14 days.

Victorian Premier Dan Andrews said that while no hotel quarantine program could completely eliminate the risk of COVID-19 transmission, the new employment measures and advanced contact tracing would help health authorities “wrap a response around quickly” if there was any transmission.

“We will make announcements quite soon about a reset of this program,” Andrews said.

“Everybody who works in this program will either work for the Victorian government or be exclusively contracted for this purpose and this purpose only.

“We will advance contact trace every single person who works in this program to work out who they live with, what those people do for a living…we don’t want a situation where someone is sharing a house with an aged-care worker.”

The move comes after South Australian Police Commissioner Grant Stevens vigorously defended SA’s hotel quarantine program and the state’s current protocols regarding medi-hotel workers.

“These people have lives that they have to manage,” Stevens said.

“People have an entitlement and get on with their life when they’re not at work. So please, balance your expectations in relation to what we’re asking these people to do.”

He added that reviews of the hotel quarantine program are ongoing, with no decision being reached yet on banning medi-hotel employees from working a second job.

“Profound betrayal”: War crimes report refers Australian soldiers to police over Afghan murders, SAS unit disbanded

A damning report into alleged war crimes by elite Australian soldiers with a “self-centred warrior culture” serving in Afghanistan will see 36 instances of unlawful killings and murder referred to Australian Federal Police for criminal investigation, with the Chief of Army today ordering the disbanding of an entire SAS squadron.

General Angus Campbell has on Thursday released a long-awaited report into alleged Australian war crimes in Afghanistan, finding evidence of 23 incidents where 39 Afghan nationals were unlawfully killed.

Australian soldiers stand accused of murdering dozens of people in Afghanistan and treating prisoners with cruelty.

The damning findings are outlined in a major report into alleged Australian war crimes in Afghanistan made public on Thursday.

The inquiry uncovered scores of instances of unlawful killings and inhumane treatment of detainees.

Read the full story here

SA unemployment rate steady

South Australia’s unemployment rate was steady at 7 per cent in October, with the state’s jobless performance in line with the national average.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics revised South Australia’s September figures from 7.1 per cent to 6.9, meaning today’s figure represents a slight rise in the jobless rate.

Nationally, the jobless rate rose to seven per cent in October, despite the number of people in employment jumping by an unexpected 178,800 in the month.

The worst-performing states were Tasmania (8.2), Queensland (7.7) and Victoria (7.4). South Australia came in next, with Western Australia (6.6), NSW (6.5), the Northern Territory (5.7) and the ACT (3.9) all outperforming the national figure of 7 per cent.

South Australia’s participation rate – which measures the proportion of people either in work or looking for a job – increased by 0.5 percentage points to 63.1.

Economists had expected the national unemployment rate to spike to 7.1 per cent compared to 6.9 per cent in September, while predicting a 30,000 fall in employment.

Full-time employment increased by 97,000, while part-time employment rose by 81,800.

Magill testing site closed due to wind

SA Health is advising that its Magill COVID-19 testing site has temporarily shut due to wind conditions.

Victoria closes border to SA for 48 hours

The Victorian government has imposed a hard border on South Australia for 48 hours while it works to establish a permit system for essential workers.

The new border closure will come into effect from 11:59 pm tonight and last until the end of Saturday.

During this time, only freight drivers and those dealing with medical emergencies will be allowed to legally pass between Victoria and South Australia.

After this initial 48 hours, the permit system will allow agricultural workers and those accessing essential services to cross the border.

Key updates from latest COVID-19 presser

Here are the new things we learned from today’s COVID-19 update:

SA records no new COVID-19 cases

South Australia has recorded no new COVID-19 cases overnight, after health officials conducted more than 20,000 COVID-19 tests over the last 48 hours.

There are currently 35 active cases in the state, with 23 linked to the Parafield cluster. More than 3200 close contacts and contacts of close contacts are in quarantine.

Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier said the surprising figure was “the best bit of good news I’m going to give you all today”.

The state’s total number of COVID-19 cases is 551.

Adelaide Central Market now closed amid confusion over designation of essential services

The Adelaide Central Market is now closed after advising customers yesterday it was an essential service that would be open from Tuesday to Sunday.

A Facebook post from the market’s page said new guidelines provided overnight by SAPOL mean the market will have to shut.

The ABC is reporting the overnight change has cost vendors at the market a significant amount of produce.

SA Health provides advice on movement for bushfire-affected residents

There is a severe fire danger rating in place today for the Mid North, Mount Lofty Ranges, Yorke Peninsula, Murraylands, Upper South East and Lower South East.

SA Health has provided the following advice for residents in potential emergency areas.

Ban on walking your dog and moving around for exercise will be first restrictions reviewed

SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens says restrictions on walking dogs and leaving the house for exercise will be the first to come under review as South Australia’s lockdown progresses.

The restrictions on outdoor movement, which the commissioner said are “purely based on the advice from our health experts”, came into effect this morning.

Stevens said SAPOL had “tested and challenged” the advice from health officials, but police would be working to ensure public compliance with the new directions.

“The advice we’ve been given is the first phase of this harsh lockdown is to eliminate all discretionary movement within the community,” Stevens told ABC radio this morning.

“And I know this affects everybody, most people want to get out and go for a walk or take their dogs for a walk, and it’ll be one of the first things that is reviewed as well.

“We’ve even been speaking about that this morning in terms of how we manage this first six day period.”

He also said people are permitted to bring their dogs along if they are walking alone to the shops to buy essentials.

“If you are going to the shop legitimately to buy goods or supplies, then whether you take a dog or not is irrelevant,” he said.

Stevens added that police have additional patrols out to enforce compliance with the new directions.

Shopping hours backlash

The state’s peak body for independent retailers has slammed the lack of consultation on the government’s decision to allow supermarkets to trade around the clock during and beyond the six-day hard lockdown, which begins today.

The government announced the new trading rules late yesterday following scenes of panic buying and long queues at shops across Adelaide after it announced the hard lockdown.

The new rules allow 24-hour weekday trade and 9am to 9pm trade on Sundays – under a 14-day exemption to help support physical distancing measures. Supermarkets will also be able to open an extra 4 hours until 9pm on Saturday November 21 and 28.

The exemption coincides with a hard six-day lockdown from today in South Australia, which requires people to stay at home. It also includes other essential stores such as pharmacies. Hardware stores are also allowed to open following a late inclusion about 2am this morning.

Only one person per household per day is allowed to leave the house to purchase food or essential supplies and are urged to wear a mask when doing so.

People can also leave the house to attend medical services or purchase supplies for vulnerable members of the community, such as older South Australians.

SA Police issued new directions for the lockdown early this morning.

Thousands of people rushed to supermarkets, shopping centres and bottle shops yesterday from 1pm, immediately after Premier Steven Marshall announced the lockdown.

But SA Independent Retailers CEO Colin Shearing said retailers needed additional time re-stock, fully sanitise stores and rest staff.

“The lack of consultation by this government, not even a simple phone call,  is so disrespectful and a blatant disregard to the owners and their staff of our South Australian independent supermarkets businesses, who have been absolutely slammed over the past 24 hours with unnecessary and unprecedented panic buying,” he said.

“This makes no sense at all, it’s not needed and has nothing to do with social distancing, unless they (the Government) are saying that the majority of South Australians cannot be trusted to shop in normal trading hours ”

“Landing this on supermarkets without notice puts staff rostering and management systems under extreme pressure and makes it impossible for the entire supply chain to operate efficiently”

Only two new positive cases were reported yesterday in the so-called Parafield cluster, which now sits at 22 cases, all of whom originated at a medi-hotel in Adelaide.

Treasurer Rob Lucas said the decision is supported by health advice from public health experts within SA Health, who say that the additional hours will help facilitate physical distancing to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“Today we have seen huge queues outside supermarkets right across the city and suburbs,” he said yesterday afternoon.

“And in these challenging times, we want to make it as easy and safe as possible for South Australians to get the groceries they need, while giving supermarkets the flexibility they need to cater for increased consumer demand while supporting staff.”

Meanwhile, Meals on Wheels SA will continue delivering hot and frozen meals to those in need right across the community during the six-day lockdown.

“We are well prepared for this situation and want to reassure the community that no-one will go hungry during this time,” Chief Executive Officer Sharyn Broer said.

“Our kitchen and delivery teams are adhering to the high food and safety standards we already have in place across the State.

“All our volunteers are also being provided with face masks and hand sanitiser to ensure we continue to provide nutritious meals and wellbeing checks in the safest possible way.

Meals on Wheels is SA’s largest community-based volunteer organisation and is responsible for 80 branches, 7000 volunteers and 60 staff delivering 4000 daily meals.

Answers demanded over ICAC listening device ‘error’

Answers are being demanded of South Australia’s anti-corruption watchdog after it was revealed it made an “error” and bugged a government meeting room with a listening device – a move described by one MP as an “unprecedented and potentially scandalous revelation”.

SA-BEST MLC and Crime and Public Integrity Policy Committee presiding member Frank Pangallo said it raised serious questions about ICAC’s conduct in carrying out investigations, and he would ask the former Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Bruce Lander and current ICAC Anne Vanstone to appear before the committee, along with ICAC independent reviewer John Sulan.

Pangallo said that in his annual review of ICAC’s activities tabled in Parliament last week, Sulan said five matters had been brought to his attention, one of which related to an error in the installation of a listening device in a government meeting room”.

Sulan said as soon as the error was discovered, appropriate action was taken to remove the device and no information obtained was used by ICAC for any purpose” and the Supreme Court was advised as soon as the error was known, Pangallo said.

“For the Independent Reviewer to casually dismiss this apparent breach as an ‘error’ without a detailed explanation is unacceptable even if it is related to a current investigation,” he said

“It raises many serious questions relating to the legality of the listening device, where it was placed and what it was used for.”

Pangallo said ICAC had “enormous powers to carry out its investigations and it would be extremely disappointing if these powers have been abused”.

“It is my belief the agency has abused its authority in a number of cases that have been brought to my attention and that have been prosecuted,” he said.

“That is why I am pushing for a Parliamentary Select Committee to investigate the way ICAC conducts its investigations, as well as exploring the reputational damage that has been caused to innocent targets of its inquiries – particularly the bungled Operation Bandicoot involving eight police officers from Sturt Mantle.

“There are court judgements extremely critical of ICAC revealing how its investigators have crossed the line.

A statement issued late yesterday afternoon by Vanstone said ICAC applied to the Supreme Court in June 2019 and was granted a warrant to install a number of surveillance devices in a government department building for the purpose of obtaining evidence in a corruption investigation.

It said although ICAC did not have its own surveillance team or device technicians, surveillance devices were installed for it by either South Australia Police or an interstate anti-corruption agency.

“The warrant was issued under the Surveillance Devices Act 2016. It was valid for the entire government building for 55 days. A condition of the warrant was that the devices would only record when the person of interest was in the room.

“Those devices were installed in a meeting room. Relevant conversations were captured in accordance with the warrant. When it became known that a subsequent meeting would be held in a different meeting room, the ICAC wished to shift those devices to that meeting room.

“The agency managing the device installation installed devices in the new meeting room. However, due to time pressure the officers did not remove the devices from the first meeting room. They disabled them instead. That meant that more devices than were permitted by the warrant were installed, albeit some were not operating.”

The statement went on to say that a comprehensive brief of the incident was provided to Sulan.

“Mr Sulan said in his Annual Report that, “No inappropriate use of surveillance devices occurred during the reporting period,” it said.

“Charges have since been laid arising from this investigation and the matter is now before the courts.”

Hotel quarantine risks under scrutiny after Adelaide outbreak

The nation’s top medical experts will look at the risks associated with hotel quarantine after Adelaide’s cluster spread from the isolation regime.

Melbourne’s deadly outbreak also spread after the virus escaped from the hotel quarantine system.

All hotel quarantine workers around Australia will now be tested weekly.

Adelaide’s cluster has grown to 23 cases, prompting a strict six-day lockdown across the entire state.

Issues have been raised with hotel quarantine employees working multiple jobs, with senior cabinet minister Simon Birmingham saying the expert medical committee would consider such risks.

One of the infected quarantine hotel staff members in Adelaide worked a second job at Woodville Pizza Bar where he passed on the virus to a co-worker and a customer.

“I think there is a question there to be assessed and to work out the scale of risk and how that is handled,” Birmingham told the ABC on Wednesday.

“We can’t always eliminate every risk, but we ought to have a look at them, assess them, act on the health advice where it is clear.”

However, SA Premier Steven Marshall told ABC Radio this morning he did not accept that South Australia’s medi-hotel system had failed, when asked about the medi-hotel security guard who had also worked at the pizza bar.

He indicated the rules about medi-hotel staff was being examined.

“Yes, I think there’s a thorough review into all of these things.”

Acting Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said the hotel quarantine system was Australia’s major risk of COVID-19 being reintroduced.

Professor Kelly is confident South Australia will get on top of the latest infections.

Scott Morrison has backed the state’s decision to impose the lockdown, underlining the need for it to be temporary.

The prime minister, who flew home from Japan on Wednesday to go into quarantine in Canberra, spoke on the phone to Marshall.

“The establishment of a pre-emptive and temporary six-day lockdown to keep South Australians safe and stay ahead of the outbreak draws on lessons from earlier outbreak experiences,” he said.

“We will continue to support South Australia and the SA government in every way we can.”

Marshall has asked for an additional 45 Australian Defence Force troops to join the 100 already on the ground.

Pfizer boosts US vaccine claims

Pfizer Inc says final results from the late-stage trial of its COVID-19 vaccine show it is 95 per cent effective and has the required two-months of safety data to apply for emergency US authorisation within days.

The drugmaker said efficacy of the vaccine developed with German partner BioNTech SE was consistent across age and ethnicity demographics, and there were no major side effects, a sign that the immunisation could be employed broadly around the world.

Efficacy in adults over 65 years, who are at particular risk from the virus, was over 94 per cent.

The final analysis comes just one week after initial results from the trial showed the vaccine was more than 90 per cent effective. Moderna Inc on Monday released preliminary data for its vaccine, showing similar effectiveness.

The better-than-expected data from the two vaccines, both developed with new technology known as messenger RNA, have raised hopes for an end to a resurgent pandemic that has killed more than 1.3 million people globally and wreaked havoc upon economies and daily life.

However, while some groups such as healthcare workers will be prioritised in the United States for vaccinations this year, it will be months before large-scale rollouts begin.

Pfizer said on Wednesday there had been 170 cases of the disease in its trial of more 43,000 volunteers, of which 162 were observed in the placebo arm and 8 were in the vaccine group.

Ten people developed severe COVID-19, one of whom received the vaccine.

It also said the vaccine was well-tolerated and that side effects were mostly mild to moderate and cleared up quickly.

The only severe adverse event that affected more than 2 per cent of those vaccinated was fatigue, which affected 3.7 per cent of recipients after the second dose. Older adults tended to report fewer and milder solicited adverse events following vaccination.

The results come as the virus runs rampant in the United States, Europe and elsewhere, placing an enormous strain on healthcare systems with record numbers of new cases and hospitalisations.

The approach of winter in the northern hemisphere in tandem with the holiday season is expected to worsen case numbers as people spend more time indoors and get together for family gatherings.

“With hundreds of thousands of people around the globe infected every day, we urgently need to get a safe and effective vaccine to the world,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement.

Pfizer and BioNTech also said they plan to submit the data to other regulatory agencies around the world as well as the United States. They also plan to submit data from the study to a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

Pfizer reiterated it expects to make as many as 50 million vaccine doses this year, enough to protect 25 million people, and then produce up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021.

Of the dozens of drugmakers and research groups racing to develop vaccines against COVID-19, the next data release will likely be from AstraZeneca Plc with the University of Oxford in November or December. Johnson & Johnson says it is on track to deliver data this year.

US to develop Texan ‘home of cricket’

Cricket authorities in the United States have unveiled plans to develop a dedicated, world-class stadium for the sport, creating its own answer to MCG or Lord’s deep in the heart of Texas.

The AirHogs Stadium in Grand Prairie, a city between Dallas and Fort Worth, will be transformed into an 8,000-capacity  venue capable of hosting international fixtures and being the home of US cricket.

The project is being led by Major League Cricket – a new franchise-based T20 tournament due to launch in 2022 that could feature high-profile players – in collaboration with national governing body USA Cricket.

It will be the first dedicated cricket venue in the USA. Formerly home to a minor league baseball team, it will play host to the new Texas franchise in MLC and become the home or the national men’s and women’s sides.

– with AAP and Reuters
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