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What we know today, Thursday December 3


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

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Missing man found dead in SA lake

The body of a man missing for almost a week in Lake Alexandrina, south of Adelaide, has been found.

Police held grave fears for the 31-year-old, who went missing on Friday.

He had ventured onto the lake in an inflatable canoe with a 19-year-old man who was found alive and floating in the water the same afternoon.

Search efforts over the weekend and on Monday failed to find the missing man with bad weather forcing authorities to suspend operations on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The search resumed on Thursday morning with the man’s body found among reeds at Mulgundawa, about 25 kilometres east of Milang.

Police said there were no suspicious circumstances and a report would be prepared for the coroner.

International travel recovery not expected till mid-2021: Joyce

Qantas boss Alan Joyce expects the number of people flying overseas will not improve until mid-next year, when a significant part of the world’s population has been vaccinated for the coronavirus.

Joyce today said he expected distribution of a vaccine would determine how soon customers returned to international travel.

The United Kingdom has become the first to approve Pfizer’s vaccine, which will be distributed from next week. England’s health service says most jabs will be given between January and April.

The US could approve two vaccines before Christmas.

“We’ll need a vaccine for international travel to restart properly,” Joyce said.

He expected the Australian government would require vaccination for anyone wishing to visit Australia, other than New Zealanders, or face two weeks quarantine.

“We think a vaccine is going to be a requirement here. That means a vaccine is going to have to be available,” he said.

He said the aviation industry was talking with governments about which vaccines would be considered acceptable.

The airline is setting a course to “recovery mode” after a traumatic year during which it slashed thousands of jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Qantas will begin repairing its balance sheet in the second half of fiscal 2021, as domestic borders reopen, costs continue to fall and freight and passenger traffic increases.

If all goes as planned, and there are no more material border closures, the airline believes it could be close to breaking even on an underlying earnings basis after last year’s loss.

“We’ve seen a vast improvement in trading conditions over the past month as many more people are finally able to travel domestically again,” Joyce said.

“There’s been a rush of bookings as each border restriction lifted, showing that there’s plenty of latent travel demand across both leisure and business sectors.

“We are also seeing people booking several months in advance, which reflects more confidence than we’ve seen for a long time.”

Qantas expects its domestic capacity will be back up to almost 70 per cent of pre-COVID levels in December and close to 80 per cent by the end of March.

“But overall, the group is still a long way off anything approaching normal,” Joyce cautioned, adding that until a vaccine is available, the risk of more coronavirus outbreaks remains.

“We also have a lot of repair work to do on our balance sheet from the extra debt we’ve taken on to get through the past nine months.”

No new COVID-19 cases in SA

South Australia has recorded no new COVID-19 cases today, marking the state’s fifth straight zero case day.

Over 4500 tests were conducted yesterday, with the number of contacts and contacts of close contacts in quarantine dropping from 1000 to 272 overnight.

There are still nine active cases in the state, all of which are linked to the Parafield cluster.

It comes as SA Health declared the COVID-19 outbreak at Anglicare’s aged care centre in Brompton was officially over.

Seven rounds of COVID-19 testing were completed at the site.

Four employees tested positive for the virus in early November, prompting Anglicare to close its Brompton site to all visitors and institute mandatory testing for all residents and staff every 72 hours.

SA Health’s declaration allows Anglicare to now ease these restrictions.

“It is a great relief to receive confirmation that our Brompton home has been given the all-clear to slowly ease restrictions,” AnglicareSA CEO Peter Sandeman said.

“While four of our employees unfortunately tested positive to COVID-19, we are relieved that the measures we had in place to protect residents from the virus have worked.

“Our planning and preparation throughout the year, and learnings from other organisations hit by the virus, was put to the test over the past few weeks. We knew all year that it was important to stay vigilant, even when it seemed that South Australia was safe from the threat.”

SA abortion reform passes first parliamentary hurdle

A bill to reform South Australia’s abortion laws, and treat the procedure as a health issue rather than a criminal one, has passed parliament’s upper house.

The bill was passed early on Thursday and will now go to the lower house where it will also be subject to a conscience vote.

The SA Abortion Action Coalition said the majority of South Australians wanted to see abortion treated as a health procedure, with recent polling showing nearly 80 per cent support for decriminalisation.

“This bill will remove barriers to access to healthcare, particularly for those in rural and regional areas, through enabling early medication abortion, telemedicine services and eventually care provided by registered health practitioners, such as registered nurses and midwives,” coalition convenor Brigid Coombe said.

“This bill will reduce the stigma associated with abortion, consistent with the community’s respect for women’s autonomy in their reproductive health decisions and care.”

When the legislation went before parliament, Attorney-General Vickie Chapman said it applied a new, highly regulated, medical model to govern the termination of pregnancies.

“Our proposal removes abortion entirely from the criminal law, a move that would bring us in line with all other Australian states and territories,” Chapman said.

“This is based on the understanding that it is a medical procedure which should be treated like any other health issue.”

Under the proposed laws, an abortion can be performed by one medical practitioner up to 22 weeks and six days gestation.

After that period, a medical practitioner can only perform an abortion if they consult with another practitioner and if both are of the view that the procedure is medically appropriate.

Backing the proposals, the Australian Medical Association said the legislative change would not result in an increase in the number of abortions.

“This is a women’s health issue and for too long I’ve seen women who are really damaged, hurt and going through traumatic decisions,” AMA state president Chris Moy said.

“To have the burden of criminalisation is inappropriate and must end.”

However, a number of doctors oppose the new measures, with a group recently writing a joint letter urging MPs to vote them down.

Premier Steven Marshall previously indicated his support, telling reporters it was time for reform.

“The current bill goes right back to 1969 and really lags behind best practice across the country,” the premier said.

But he said he would also wait to see the form of the bill presented to the assembly before making a final decision.

Parliament called to probe COVID response

State parliament will today be asked to establish an inquiry into the Marshall Government’s COVID-19 response, after police yesterday declared they didn’t have enough evidence to charge the man authorities had blamed for sparking the statewide lockdown.

Assistant Commissioner Peter Harvey – who led Taskforce Protect, set up to investigate a 36-year-old medi-hotel worker’s alleged “lie” about his work arrangements at a Woodville Pizza Bar – told reporters there was “insufficient evidence” to charge the Spanish national because SA Health had “exercised their obligation to claim privilege” and refused to provide key information.

The man’s lawyer, Scott Jelbert, says he’s now considering what legal action he might be able to take himself against authorities.

It follows a tense week, with chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier apologising to another man for wrongly accusing him of breaching quarantine while infectious with COVID-19, and mixed messages on the wearing of surgical masks for people attending healthcare facilities.

State crossbencher Frances Bedford will today move a motion to establish a parliamentary Select Committee “to inquire into and report upon the State Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the management, implementation, policies, procedures, representation, consultation and operations of all agencies of the Government engaged in that response”.

It would have particular regard to the Government’s management of COVID-19 outbreaks and clusters, including the recent Parafield cluster, as well as restrictions, border controls and the effectiveness, consistency and clarity of public communications.

The role and performance of the COVID-19 Transition Committee, the impact of restrictions on businesses, regions and the broader economy, and the operation and establishment of city medi-hotels would also be probed.

With Labor likely to back the push, the move could heap pressure on Liberal discontents such as MacKillop MP Nick McBride – who last week strongly criticised the lockdown and its handling – to cross the floor and vote for the inquiry.

Bedford told InDaily the move was “not an attack on the Government or anyone involved with the COVID response”.

“It’s a genuine attempt to draw upon all the knowledge of everyone in the parliament and help the process,” she said.

“At the moment it’s all just left to the executive and no-one says a word – and if you do you’re some kind of traitor.”

 – Tom Richardson

SA looks to extend infection-free run

South Australia is looking to extend its run of infection-free days as it considers lifting more COVID-19 restrictions later this month.

Health officials reported no new infections today, for the fifth day in a row, raising hopes a worrying cluster of cases has been brought under control.

Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier says every day with zero new cases is great but the state is not out of the woods just yet.

Given the 14-day incubation cycle for the virus, she said it was still possible some people who had come in contact with the disease were yet to be located.

“Until we’ve gone the two full incubation cycles, the pressure is still on but also the requirement for people to get tested,” Professor Spurrier said.

“That really is the only way that we will know we’ve overcome this.”

SA lifted some virus measures on Tuesday and also dropped all border restrictions with Victoria.

The state is now targeting December 14 when – if all is well – it should return to the level of freedom enjoyed before the Parafield cluster emerged.

The cluster currently stands at 33 cases, but only nine of those are considered active infections.

About 270 close contacts remain in quarantine.

Escaped prisoner arrested at Eden Hills

Wanted escapee Jason Burdon has been arrested at Eden Hills after leading police on a pursuit over almost 36 hours.

The 33-year-old escaped from the kitchen area of the Adelaide Remand Centre about 10am on Tuesday morning, using a rope made of clothes to lower himself down from an upstairs awning.

Police allege he stole a car later on Tuesday from West Lakes Shore. They said police saw the black Toyota RAV4 driving north on Marion Road at Sturt bearing altered number plates about 8pm last night.

It will be alleged that the vehicle had been used in a petrol theft at North Brighton just before 6pm, and the description of the driver was similar to that of the wanted man.

The car was seen to head east on Sturt Road.

Extra resources including STAR Group officers and the police helicopter were called to the area, and the car was followed to an Eden Hills property.

It will be further alleged that the RAV4 driven by Burdon rammed a police car while trying to escape from the property. No officers were injured.

Burdon was arrested at the scene, and was taken to hospital for treatment of minor injuries.

He will face numerous charges including escaping lawful custody and multiple traffic offences.

UK wins race to approve COVID-19 vaccine

Boris Johnson. Photo: AP /Matt Rourke

Britain has become the first western country to approve a COVID-19 vaccine, jumping ahead of the United States and Europe after its regulator cleared a shot developed by Pfizer for emergency use in record time.

The vaccine will be rolled out from early next week in a major coup for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government, which has faced criticism over its handling of the coronavirus crisis with Britain enduring the worst official COVID-19 death toll in Europe.

A vaccine is seen as the best chance for the world to get back to some semblance of normality amid a pandemic which has killed nearly 1.5 million people and upended the global economy.

Britain touted the approval as a global win and a ray of good hope amid the gloom as big powers race to approve an array of vaccines and inoculate their citizens.

“I’m obviously absolutely thrilled with the news, very proud that the UK is the first place in the world to have a clinically authorised vaccine,” British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.

China has already given emergency approval for three experimental vaccines and has inoculated around 1 million people since July.

Russia has been vaccinating frontline workers after approving its Sputnik V shot in August before it had completed late-stage testing on safety and efficacy.

Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech have said their vaccine is 95 per cent effective in preventing illness, much higher than expected.

The US drugmaker said Britain’s emergency use authorisation marks a historic moment in the fight against COVID-19.

Just hours after the British announcement, President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian authorities to begin mass voluntary vaccinations next week.

Russia will have produced 2 million doses of its own vaccine within the next few days, Putin said.

The Australian government has welcomed the approval of the vaccine by Britain but says the decision will not fast-track its approval in Australia.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said Pfizer continued to work with Australian regulators towards the vaccine’s approval for use in Australia, which is not expected until the end of January.

“I have again spoken to the Australian CEO of Pfizer, they remain on track for vaccine delivery once it is approved for use in Australia by the independent regulator,” he said in a statement on Wednesday night.

Pfizer is providing data on its vaccine’s safety and effectiveness to the Therapeutic Goods Administration as part of the approval process.

“Our advice remains that the timeline for a decision on approval is expected by the end of January 2021, and our planning is for first vaccine delivery in March 2021,” Mr Hunt said.

The vaccine by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech is one of the four COVID-19 vaccines purchased by the federal government.

Tassie opens border to SA visitors

Tasmania is open to all states and territories for the first time in nine months after dropping border restrictions with South Australia.

Arrivals from SA no longer have to quarantine, as of 12.01am on Thursday.

The only exception is people who have visited two “high-risk” locations – the Intensive English Language Institute at Adelaide’s Flinders University and Woodville High School – in November.

People who’ve been to the venues need travel permission from Tasmania’s deputy state controller.

It is the first time Tasmania has been open to all states and territories since the island shut its borders in March.

Tasmania reopened to SA in October but was forced to close again in mid-November due to a COVID-19 outbreak in Adelaide.

All incoming travellers need to register and must be health screened and temperature checked before entering.

Tasmania’s last coronavirus case was more than 110 days ago.

Morrison’s China post blocked on WeChat

The Chinese social media platform WeChat has blocked a message by Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison amid a dispute between officials in Beijing and Canberra over the doctored tweeted image of an Australian soldier.

China rebuffed Morrison’s calls for an apology after its foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian posted the picture of an Australian soldier holding a bloodied knife to the throat of an Afghan child on Monday.

Morrison took to WeChat on Tuesday to criticise the “false image” while offering praise to Australia’s Chinese community.

In his message, Morrison defended Australia’s handling of a war crimes investigation into the actions of special forces in Afghanistan and said Australia would deal with “thorny issues” in a transparent manner.

But that message appeared to be blocked by Wednesday evening, with a note appearing from the “Weixin Official Accounts Platform Operation Center” saying the content was unable to be viewed because it violated regulations, including distorting historical events and confusing the public.

Tencent, the parent company of WeChat, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Australian special forces allegedly killed 39 unarmed prisoners and civilians in Afghanistan, with senior commandos reportedly forcing junior soldiers to kill defenceless captives in order to “blood” them for combat, a four-year investigation concluded.

Australia said last week that 19 current and former soldiers would be referred for potential criminal prosecution.

China’s embassy has said the “rage and roar” from Australian politicians and media over the soldier image was an overreaction.

Australia was seeking to “deflect public attention from the horrible atrocities by certain Australian soldiers,” it said.

Other countries including the US, New Zealand and France – and the self-ruled island of Taiwan which China claims as its own – have expressed concern at the Chinese foreign ministry’s use of the manipulated image on an official Twitter account.

France’s foreign affairs spokesman said on Tuesday the tweeted image was “especially shocking” and the comments by Zhao “insulting for all countries whose armed forces are currently engaged in Afghanistan”.

China’s embassy in Paris hit back on Wednesday, saying the soldier image was a caricature by a painter, adding that France has previously loudly defended the right to caricature.

WeChat has 690,000 active daily users in Australia and in September told an Australian government inquiry it would prevent foreign interference in Australian public debate through its platform.

Morrison’s message had been read by 57,000 WeChat users by Wednesday.

Zhao’s tweet, pinned to the top of his Twitter account, had been “liked” by 60,000 followers after Twitter labelled it as sensitive content but declined an Australian government request to remove the image.

Twitter is blocked in China but has been used by Chinese diplomats.

Biden in no hurry to lift China tariffs

US president-elect Joe Biden will not move to immediately lift tariffs on China when he takes office next month, vowing that he would be “investing in America first”.

In an interview with the New York Times, Biden said his priority was building up the US economy through industrialisation policies.

“I’m not going to enter any new trade agreement with anybody until we have made major investments here at home,” Biden said.

With regards to China, which has been locked in a trade war with US during President Donald Trump’s term, Biden said he was looking for “leverage” in talks but would need to wait until the domestic economy was stronger in key areas.

“I’m not going to make any immediate moves and the same applies to the tariffs,” he said.

“I’m not going to prejudice my options.”

Biden continues to press for a new stimulus bill to help the US get through the pandemic and stage a recovery once vaccines are widely available.

Meanwhile, the US government has called China’s use of the digitally manipulated image of an Australian soldier holding a bloodied knife to the throat of an Afghan child a “new low” in disinformation.

“The CCP’s latest attack on Australia is another example of its unchecked use of disinformation and coercive diplomacy. Its hypocrisy is obvious to all,” the US State Department said on Wednesday, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.

Jake Sullivan, tapped as national security adviser in the incoming administration of US president-elect Joe Biden, tweeted support for Australia without reference to China.

“America will stand shoulder to shoulder with our ally Australia and rally fellow democracies to advance our shared security, prosperity, and values,” he wrote.

US State Department deputy spokesman Cale Brown said the fabricated image of the soldier was “a new low, even for the Chinese Communist Party”.

“As the CCP spreads disinformation, it covers up its horrendous human rights abuses, including the detention of more than a million Muslims in Xinjiang,” Brown wrote in a tweet.

– with AAP and Reuters
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