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What we know today, Wednesday November 25


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

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Shock new COVID case emerges

Health authorities have launched an urgent investigation after a new COVID-19 case emerged this evening – with a Woodville High School student testing positive.

SA Health tonight issued an alert advising anyone who attended the school on Monday November 23 to immediately isolate with all members of their household until further notice.

Contact tracing and genomic testing is underway to confirm if the new case is linked to the Parafield cluster, which earlier today stood at 29 cases.

SA Health said Woodville High School would be closed on Thursday “to undergo deep cleaning and to allow SA Health to conduct detailed contact tracing and risk assessment”.

The school is in the same area as the Woodville Pizza Bar, where at least two workers also connected to city medi-hotels have returned positive tests.

One of them, a Spanish man in SA on a graduate visa, was initially blamed by authorities for sparking last week’s three-day lockdown after he “lied” to authorities, according to Premier Steven Marshall.

An SA Health spokesperson said it was unclear at this stage whether the schoolgirl had any connection to the pizza bar.

Increased jobseeker rate does not discourage work: experts

A leading labour market economist has shot down suggestions the elevated dole rate is discouraging people from job hunting.

The Senate community affairs committee is looking at a government bill to extend the JobSeeker temporary coronavirus supplement – at a lower rate – until the end of March.

The support payment for the jobless was increased by $550 a fortnight at the start of the pandemic, but it has shrunk to $250.

University of Melbourne Professor Jeff Borland said the flow of people from unemployment to work and the job vacancy rate had not showed any signs people were avoiding work to stay on welfare.

“I don’t see any evidence that the COVID-19 supplement has been a substantial or really any type of major disincentive for people to move into work from unemployment,” he told the committee today.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has pointed to anecdotal evidence from business as a reason to cut the payment.

Professor Borland said there had always been some employers reporting difficulty recruiting, which was the nature of the labour market.

“To think the COVID-19 supplement was having a major disincentive effect, you would want to be looking at Australia-wide systematic evidence that showed up in the aggregate data,” he said.

“That’s what I’ve been looking at and I don’t see effects there.”

Professor Peter Whiteford, a social policy expert from the Australian National University, said compared with developed economies, Australia’s unemployment payments were much lower than working incomes.

“There’s a very large gap between what people receive on payments and what they would receive in paid work,” Whiteford said.

“There’s no reason to think this is necessary in order to incentivise people to actively look for work.”

Both leading academics subscribe to the wide-ranging consensus that unemployment payments should not return to the pre-pandemic rate of $40 a day.

West End Brewery workers begin strike for improved redundancy packages

Workers at the West End Brewery have today walked off the job indefinitely in a bid to secure improved redundancy packages from West End’s parent company Lion.

The United Workers Union, which represents workers at the West End Brewery and more than 150,000 workers nationwide, said the workers are striking for a redundancy package “that recognises they are being made jobless in the middle of an economic recession”.

The UWU also claim that 15 long-term casual staff at the brewery could be made unemployed with no redundancy package to fall back on.

UWU SA Coordinator of Food and Beverages Mark Whenan said West End’s parent company are trying to “smear” workers at the brewery.

“Rather than pay workers what they deserve, Lion and Kirin are attempting to smear workers, some of whom are potentially getting nothing after more than 20 years of loyal service,” Whenan said.

“South Australians won’t stand for this sort of disregard for the workers who have made the beer they love for the last three decades.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if South Australians decided to stop drinking beers associated with a company who has a history of casualising, and then abandoning, workers in this great state.”

A spokesperson for the West End Brewery said last week they were continuing to “negotiate with the unions and our team at West End in good faith”.

“We are working with each and every team member to support them through this change and will make up to $1 million available for re-skilling those who wish to access training, in addition to redundancy payments,” the spokesperson said.

“We do not foresee any stock issues arising as a result of this action, and we remain absolutely committed to ensuring continuity of supply for our customers.”

Lion Co manufactures a range of Australian beers, including XXXX, Tooheys, Furphy and Hahn.

PM challenges states to open up, stay open

Scott Morrison has challenged the states and territories to keep borders and businesses open if coronavirus outbreaks flare up.

The prime minister said he was thrilled Queensland was preparing to welcome back visitors from Victoria and NSW on December 1.

He urged the state government, and others around the country, to have faith in their health systems.

“With Christmas coming up, that’s especially important,” Morrison told 2GB radio.

“It’s important now that we open safely in Queensland and we remain safely open. I think business needs that assurance.

“We had that hiccup in South Australia last week, a bit of a false alarm, and it’s important for businesses that there is that certainty.”

All states except Western Australia are committed to reopening their borders by Christmas.

WA Premier Mark McGowan remains defiant and unapologetic for his hard border stance shutting the state off from large parts of the country.

Meanwhile, Victoria has recorded a second straight day of no coronavirus infections, deaths or active cases.

NSW has gone 17 days without a locally acquired case.

Study reveals respiratory effects of last summer’s bushfires

Visits to emergency departments for respiratory conditions increased by up to 86 per cent in some NSW regions during last summer’s bushfires, according to a new study by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

The report compiled data from NSW emergency departments, GP visits, air quality monitoring, Medicare-subsidised respiratory testing, and national pharmaceutical sales to find smoke related health problems cost an estimated $1.95 billion this year.

The report also noted significant increases in purchases of inhalers and asthma medication, as well as visits to registered and clinical psychologists.

Professor Brian Oliver at the University of Technology Sydney said the report brought together important information in a way the public can understand.

“In many ways, the information in this report will not surprise anyone, and for people working in this area is likely to be confirmation of previous analyses and reports,” Oliver said.

“One surprising feature highlighted by in the report was the increased sales of inhalers which are used to manage shortness of breath.

“The report did not examine who was buying these inhalers: was this people with pre-existing lung diseases buying life-saving medications, or was this people panic buying as we have seen with COVID-19?”

“Prescriptions for the same medication also increased during the same period, so at least some proportion was related to medical need.”

No new COVID-19 cases in SA as premier outlines new hotel quarantine measures

South Australia has recorded no new COVID-19 cases overnight as Premier Steven Marshall outlines a raft of new measures to strengthen the state’s medi-hotel system.

The new measures include transferring all positive COVID-19 cases from medi-hotels to a dedicated health facility, employing SA Police and SA protective security officers to handle security exclusively at this health facility, and asking national cabinet to implement testing for returning travellers before they fly back to Australia.

The premier said health authorities were considering the old Wakefield hospital as one of the dedicated health facilities.

All new measures will be discussed with the AHPPC before they are implemented.

The premier also announced that police had completed their review of 400 hours of CCTV footage at the Peppers Hotel, finding “no deliberate breach of protocol and no evidence of people being in the wrong place at the wrong time”.

PM dodges blame for robodebt policy he conceived

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has denied personal responsibility for the robodebt disaster, which has resulted in a $1.2 billion class action settlement.

Morrison was social services minister when the unlawful scheme was conceived and touted the billions of dollars it was supposed to rake in during his time as treasurer.

He continued the welfare debt recovery program as prime minister and pinned a promised return to surplus on its projected windfall.

The government finally pulled the plug on the policy late last year in the face of a Federal Court challenge and settled a class action earlier this month, before the case went to trial.

The robodebt scheme removed human checks from the system and completely automated the process.

Thousands of debt notices demanding repayments were based on false information.

But Morrison argues the use of income averaging brought the robodebt scheme undone, not the full automation of the process.

“It’s actually not about the computer, it’s about the assumption made that a debt is raised by averaging people’s incomes,” he told Sydney radio 2GB this morning.

“Income averaging was found not to be a valid means of raising a debt, that’s what it’s about. This is just the Labor Party trying to throw some mud.”

Robodebt victims are set to receive $112 million in compensation, be repaid $720 million and have $400 million in unlawful debts wiped.

Labor is pushing for a royal commission into the illegal program.

“We’ve got on with fixing it, that’s what we’ve got on with doing, Labor wants to just keep kicking it along for their own political reasons,” the prime minister said.

Medi-hotel testing begins as virus cluster grows

New rules making it mandatory for workers at in Adelaide’s quarantine hotels to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing has come into force after a dangerous cluster of cases linked to a cleaner who passed the virus onto her family.

Among the latest cases, authorities revealed late yesterday that two returned travellers at the Peppers Hotel who were initially thought to have been infected while abroad actually caught the virus while in quarantine.

The new directions came into force from midnight requiring police, SA Health officials, defence force personnel and all employees and contractors working in the quarantine hotels to be tested weekly.

The rule includes all cleaning and security staff.

Any person working at a medi-hotel who develops COVID-19 symptoms must notify SA Health and further direction will be given in relation to self-isolation requirements.

People who deliver goods to the hotels through designated green zones, are present for less than 30 minutes and have no contact with people undertaking quarantine are exempt.

The new regulations follow confirmation last week that the so-called Parafield cluster in Adelaide’s north originated from the Peppers Hotel in Adelaide when a cleaner became infected.

The cluster has reached 29 cases so far but authorities are confident they have brought it under control.

However, two more cases were added on Tuesday in unusual circumstances prompting an investigation into how the virus was transmitted.

The cases were found in a husband and wife who recently returned to Australia and were thought to have contracted COVID-19 while overseas.

Their infections were revealed on Sunday and Tuesday.

But Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier said further genetic testing revealed the pair became infected while in isolation in the Peppers Hotel.

Their cases have prompted SA Health to review CCTV footage and conduct other inquiries to determine how they came in contact with the virus, amid growing concerns for the security of the hotel quarantine system.

As a precaution, all staff at the hotel will also be tested again.

“We think that this is just being abundantly cautious. We don’t expect to have any more positives,” Spurrier said.

“But what we do need to be absolutely sure about is that we’re not missing any further infection in that hotel system.”

Earlier on Tuesday, authorities expressed continued optimism that SA remained on track to next week ease the restrictions the outbreak sparked.

Crash sparks road rage arrest

A man assaulted two people and bashed their car with a metal pole in a road rage incident sparked by a crash in Adelaide’s southern suburbs yesterday, police allege.

Police were called to Woodcroft just before 2pm yesterday after reports of a rear-end collision between a 4WD and a van on Pimpala Road, near the intersection of Panalatinga Road.

Following the crash, the driver of the van allegedly got out of his vehicle and assaulted the 4WD’s passenger, a 63-year-old man, and driver, a 67-year-old woman.

He then allegedly damaged their car by hitting it with a metal pole before driving away in his van.

The driver and passenger of the 4WD were not seriously injured and witnesses provided the registration of the van and a description of the driver to police.

Police attended a Woodcroft home and arrested the van driver, a 24-year-old man, at about 4pm.

He has been charged with driving without due care, two counts of aggravated assault, carry offensive weapon and property damage. He was bailed to appear at the Christies Beach Magistrates Court on  December 4.

Meanwhile, police are investigating the circumstances surrounding a serious crash at Port Noarlunga South just before 5pm yesterday.

Emergency services were called to Commercial Road after reports of a collision between a motorbike and a 4WD.

The motorbike rider, a 22-year-old Seaford man, was taken to the Flinders Medical Centre where he remains in a critical but stable condition. The driver of the car, a 45-year-old Port Noarlunga woman was not injured.

Commercial Road was closed, but has since been reopened.

Vaccine on track for early 2021 Australian rollout

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is confident Australians will start receiving a coronavirus vaccine early next year after more encouraging late-stage trials.

The AstraZeneca-University of Oxford candidate has reported up to 90 per cent effectiveness, fuelling hopes an end to the pandemic could be possible.

Australia has a contract for 33.8 million doses of that vaccine, which will be manufactured in Melbourne.

Morrison said it was clear the world was on track to start immunising people for coronavirus in 2021.

“It’s our hope that we’ll begin to roll out a vaccine early next year once it’s been through very strict safety testing and quality controls we have in Australia,” he said in a social media video.

Pfizer and Moderna’s candidates reported a 95 per cent effectiveness rate, with Australia contracted for 10 million doses of the former.

Morrison said the University of Queensland vaccine was also showing strong signs, describing the performance of vaccines as being beyond the government’s best hopes.

“It means we’ll hopefully have a range of effective vaccines that can be used by different people. And they’re all looking very promising,” he said.

Health workers and elderly people would be the first to receive the free vaccine, with the wider population set for the jab before the end of 2021.

Australia is also edging closer to having open state borders at Christmas, with Queensland committing to drop travel restrictions as infection rates remain low.

Victoria now has no active coronavirus cases and on Tuesday extended its streak to 25 days without a new infection after crushing a deadly outbreak.

NSW has gone 17 days without a locally acquired case.

Andy Thomas to be honoured at SA space forum today

More than 1000 space leaders from around the world are expected to log in to attend Tenth Australian Space Forum held virtually in Adelaide today.

The forum will also include the unveiling of South Australia’s Space Sector Strategy.

Australia aims to triple the size of its space industry to $12 billion a year by 2030. It is believed the SA plan sets annual growth targets of 5.8 per cent over the next decade, which will result in annual revenue of $250 million by 2030.

To coincide with the event, the University of Adelaide has announced it will rename its space centre The Andy Thomas Centre for Space Resources.

Dr Andy Thomas is the first Australian to fly in space as a professional NASA astronaut and is the centre’s patron.

The centre connects the University of Adelaide’s specialist capabilities in artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, mining engineering, and advanced materials and manufacturing to global efforts in off-world exploration and habitation.

Today’s space forum will be presented completely online through the Australian Space Forum app, which is available on mobile devices and desktop computers.

Biden victories certified in key swing states

The US states of Pennsylvania and Nevada have certified their vote count in favour of president-elect Joe Biden, dealing the latest blow to President Donald Trump’s claims that he actually won the election.

Pennsylvania, with 20 electoral college votes, is one of the largest swing states that cemented Biden’s victory over Trump.

Nevada has six electoral college votes.

The certifications come a day after Trump gave the nod to a key federal agency to begin working with the incoming Biden administration, even as Trump continues to say that he has not conceded the election.

“Today the Pennsylvania Department of State certified the results of the November 3 election in Pennsylvania for president and vice president of the United States,” Governor Tom Wolf said in a tweet.

“As required by federal law, I’ve signed the Certificate of Ascertainment for the slate of electors for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.”

Nevada’s Supreme Court certified the state’s results and election certificates will now be sent to the Nevada governor’s office.

Biden was declared the winner of the presidential election by all the major US broadcasters.

However, each state must officially certify their vote tallies before deadlines in early December.

If the results are not contested, the US Congress will then certify the results on January 6, before Biden is sworn in as president on January 20.

Key swing states including Michigan and Georgia have also certified Biden’s victory in their states.

Russia confronts US ship in Sea of Japan incident

Russia says one of its warships has caught and chased off a US destroyer operating illegally in its territorial waters in the Sea of Japan but the US navy has denied wrongdoing.

The Admiral Vinogradov, a Russian destroyer, verbally warned USS John S McCain, a US navy guided-missile destroyer, and threatened to ram it in order to force it to leave the area, prompting it to return to neutral waters, officials in Moscow said.

Russia said its Pacific Fleet warship had been tracking the US destroyer in the Peter the Great Gulf, and that the US vessel had violated Russia’s territorial waters at 0317 GMT by going two kilometres beyond the sea border.

But the US navy said its warship had been in international waters throughout as it carried out a “freedom of navigation” operation to assert its rights and challenge what it said were Russia’s excessive maritime claims.

“The United States will never bow in intimidation or be coerced into accepting illegitimate maritime claims, such as those made by the Russian Federation,” said Lieutenant Joe Keiley, 7th Fleet spokesman.

“The Russian Federation’s statement about this mission is false,” he said.

“USS John S McCain was not ‘expelled’ from any nation’s territory.”

The US destroyer made no further attempts to enter Russian waters after leaving the area, Russian officials said.

The Admiral Vinogradov was continuing to observe its movements and another vessel, a corvette, was dispatched to the area, they said.

Such incidents at sea are rare, but they underscore the poor diplomatic and military relations between Russia and the US whose ties are languishing at a post-Cold War low.

The last remaining major arms control pact between the two countries is due to expire in February despite months of talks to find a replacement.

– with AAP and Reuters
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