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What we know today, Friday December 4


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

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Density restrictions on hospitality to lift immediately as SA records sixth straight zero case day

South Australia has recorded a sixth straight day with no new COVID-19 cases, prompting a swift easing of restrictions on hospitality.

Density restrictions of one person per four square metres have been increased, effectively immediately, to allow one person per two square metres.

However, these restrictions are only lifted for hospitality, with other areas, such as fitness, to remain at one person per four square metres.

Seated consumption will remain compulsory for indoor drinking until at least December 14, when

The decision is against the advice of Chief Public Health Officer Professor Nicola Spurrier, who said her “recommendation from a health perspective was to continue the four-square metre density requirement.

But Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said the decision to relax density requirements took into account economic and social factors alongside the health advice,

“Looking at the economic and social factors in relation to the restrictions that are currently in place, the advice from the Transition Committee as a whole was that the best course of action would be to move to a distancing requirement of one person for two square meters for hospitality,” Stevens said.

“There is what I would describe as a healthy tension, where we need to take into account all of the advice and all of the circumstances.

“There are some commentators out there that suggest that we need better representation on the transition committee to ensure that small businesses and other people affected by our decisions are properly accommodated.

“I can assure you, with the presence of the treasurer and the chief executive for trade and investment being on the committee that those arguments are well placed very single meeting.”

Stevens also said the strong take up of QR codes across the state gave the Transition Committee confidence it could manage the risk around its decision to lift hospitality restrictions.

Currently, there are only 272 South Australians in quarantine, in comparison to more than 5000 at the peak of the Parafield cluster.

COVID-19 testing rates are also down, with only 3548 tests conducted yesterday – a point of concern for what Professor Spurrier.

“This is not really high enough,” Spurrier said.

I’d like to see it a little higher…because it’s really critical for us at the moment that we’re having everybody doing the testing.”

Spurrier also said SA Health is particularly concerned about testing rates in Hove, Somerton Park, Glenelg and Henley Beach.

UK sets itself new “ambitious” target for emissions reductions

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to announce a new target that he says will reduce the United Kingdom’s greenhouse gas emissions “faster than any major economy”.

The target aims to cut the UK’s emissions by at least 68 per cent from 1990 levels by 2030 and to set the country on the path to net zero by 2050.

The goal is more ambitious than the one the European Union, which the UK left earlier this year, is expected to set next week.

The UK’s is co-hosting the Climate Ambition Summit with the United Nations and France on December 12, which coincides with the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement, a global pact aimed at averting catastrophic climate change.

“Today, we are taking the lead with an ambitious new target to reduce our emissions by 2030, faster than any major economy,” Johnson said.

“But this is a global effort, which is why the UK is urging world leaders as part of next week’s Climate Ambition Summit to bring forward their own ambitious plans to cut emissions and set net zero targets,” he added.

Missing Kangaroo Island men found on North Pages Island

Two men missing in waters off Kangaroo Island have been found on nearby North Pages Island.

The men left Cape Jervis, south of Adelaide, on Thursday afternoon heading to Cape Willoughby on the island’s east coast to go fishing.

They were expected to return about four hours later but were not seen until police found them on North Pages Island around 8:30 am this morning.

Mobile phone ban for SA primary schools in 2021

The SA Education Department will introduce a ban on mobile phones for students at public schools next year, with a draft policy released today for feedback from educators.

Under the new policy, primary school students will be restricted from using their phones while on school grounds, although they will be allowed to bring their devices to school so parents can contact them after hours.

The policy will not apply to secondary school students.

Education Minister John Gardner said the new policy is an important step in improving student learning.

“This draft policy, developed in close consultation with school principals, principal associations and senior school leaders, sets out a sensible approach to managing the use of mobile phones during school hours,” Gardner said.

“We believe that during school hours it is sensible for primary students to store their personal devices safely so they can focus on learning,” Gardner said.

“At secondary level, we understand that there needs to be more flexibility for sites to develop their own policies that reflect the needs of the school community.” 

Shadow Education Minister Blair Boyer welcomed the move, and was quick to point out that Labor proposed a similar policy in 2019.

“It is pleasing that, more than a year and a half after Labor announced this policy the Marshall Liberal Government has decided to jump on board,” Boyer said.

“Technology is part of the future for all young people, that is why it is important to teach them how to manage the negative sides of technology as well as take advantage of the benefits.

“Learning to put the phone away is an important lesson for young people.”

UK water treatment site blast kills four

Four people have died following an explosion at a wastewater treatment plant near the southwest England city of Bristol, police say.

Chief Inspector Mark Runacres of Avon and Somerset Police said that a fifth person was injured during the explosion at Avonmouth but that his condition was not thought to be life-threatening.

He said the incident was not terror-related but would not speculate on the cause of the blast, which police have declared a major incident.

Three of the dead were workers at Wessex Water, which operates the plant, while the fourth was a contractor.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said “our hearts go out” to the victims of the Avonmouth tragedy and their families.

“Deeply saddened to learn that four people have lost their lives in the water works explosion in Avonmouth,” he said on Twitter.

Historic address closes out SA Parliament for 2020

South Australian Parliament sat for the last time yesterday, as the state took its first step in establishing an Indigenous voice to parliament.

Dr Roger Thomas, the Department of Premier and Cabinet’s Commissioner for Aboriginal Engagement, presented his first biannual report to the premier in an historic address to the chamber.

The report proposes reforms aimed at improving the engagement between the state government and the South Australian Aboriginal community.

During the address, an emotional Dr Thomas said South Australia “can be proud of today’s historic event” and outlined measures to be implemented next year.

“The community is clear about the way forward: it is through leadership by Aboriginal people for Aboriginal people, and through a genuine and representative voice for Aboriginal people in the government,” Thomas said.

“Following statewide consultations with the Aboriginal community, I have developed and proposed a new model of engagement: an Aboriginal representative body.

“As proposed in its initial phase, it will comprise elected and appointed members directly accountable to the Aboriginal community.

“We have not had this in South Australia before.”

The proposed reforms would impact the Aboriginal Advisory Council, which is currently comprised of eight Aboriginal people appointed to two-year terms by Premier Steven Marshall.

The new recommendations come after the premier earlier in the year flagged he was “extraordinarily serious” about implementing “major reforms” to the way the state government receives advice from the Aboriginal community.

However, the commissioner also said he was disappointed his proposed reforms had been delayed by COIVD-19, and raised concerns about the future funding for the new advisory body.

“I’m also disappointed that implementation of the Aboriginal engagement reform model did not receive funding in the recent state budget,” he said.

“While I welcome assurances that some funding will be provided to Aboriginal affairs and reconciliation until June 30, 2021, I do not believe it is appropriate that the establishment of a genuinely representative Aboriginal voice to parliament be funded from an already reduced budget for Aboriginal affairs and reconciliation.

“Despite the revised funding allocation, my office will continue its work to establish an Aboriginal representative body in the late latter half of 2021.”

Record loans for new homes boosts SA building industry

The number of loans for new home construction in SA has hit its highest level since records began in 2002, according to ABS figures released yesterday.

The building industry is crediting the Federal Government’s HomeBuilder grant scheme for the spike, which resulted in 530 new loans being approved in SA in October.

The SA figure was 10 per cent up on September and 59.2 per cent higher than October 2019.

Nationally, commitments for the construction of new dwellings rose 10.9 per cent to 5749 and was the largest contributor to the rise in October’s owner occupier housing loan commitments.

The value of construction loan commitments has risen by 65.6 per cent since July, which coincides with the June 2020 implementation of the Government’s HomeBuilder grant in response to COVID-19.

The ABS said feedback from lenders was that there had been a large increase in first home buyers applying for these construction loans over the past few months.

Master Builders Association SA Director Will Frogley said employment in the industry in SA had increased by 668 workers in the past fortnight.

He said residential building continued to be a standout performer in South Australia’s economy.

“The extraordinary popularity of the HomeBuilder scheme is driving our economic and social recovery from COVID,” he said.

“Considering everything that has happened this year it is quite remarkable there are more South Australians directly employed in building and construction than there were in March.

“The industry is absolutely flat out in the lead up to Christmas and that will continue through next year.”

Questions loom over vaccine distribution as industries line up for priority jab

The Federal Government says Australia is on track to start COVID-19 vaccinations by March 2021, although uncertainty remains over how many vaccines will be distributed and who will have priority.

The questions come after the UK Government gave emergency authorisation on Wednesday for the distribution of the Pfizer vaccine, with vaccinations potentially starting from next week.

Although Australian law does not allow for such an authorisation, Health Minister Greg Hunt outlined a vaccination timeline, which he said was “ahead of schedule”.

“We are on track for decisions on the early vaccines by the end of January, we are on track for first vaccinations – beginning with our health workers and our aged care residents subject to approvals – in March,” Hunt said.

But Shadow Health Minister Chris Bowen criticised the government’s timeline, calling for a smaller gap between regulatory approval and distribution.

“Once it is approved by the TGA [Therapeutic Goods Administration], we won’t have access to the vaccine until late March, and I think we could do better than that,” Bowen told the ABC yesterday.

“I would certainly call on the government to do better than that once it is approved by the TGA.”

Bowen also said the government’s current arrangement with Pfizer – which will see 10 million doses of the vaccine delivered if given approval – will only allow five million Australians to be vaccinated given it requires two doses.

Meanwhile, the Australian Airports Association – which represents more than 340 airports and aerodromes across Australia – is urging the federal government to list airport workers as a priority group for vaccination.

AAA CEO James Goodwin said a forecasted increase in international travel next year makes the matter even more urgent.

“We acknowledge health, emergency services workers and the vulnerable should be at the front of the queue but aviation workers must not be forgotten in the rollout of Australia’s vaccination program,” Goodwin said.

“While all Australian airports have strict COVID-19 protocols in place to help prevent the spread, many workers will still need to have direct contact with passengers.

“Airports are critical infrastructure and have been keeping international terminals open to help the government bring Australians home from overseas, highlighting the need for aviation workers to be prioritised for the vaccine.”

Goodwin also expressed his concern about how a COVID-19 vaccine will be regulated across international borders for travel purposes.

“The government must make it clear whether a vaccine will be mandatory for those wanting to travel overseas and how it will be proven and recognised,” he said.

“Compulsory COVID-19 immunisation and a vaccine passport will likely be the key to Australia opening its borders and allowing passengers in without having to quarantine.”

The Australian Government has contractual arrangements with four vaccine manufacturers for a total of 134.8 million vaccine units.

US records grim new milestones as former presidents line up for vaccine

The United States has recorded more than 3100 COVID-19 deaths in a single day, obliterating the record set last spring, while the number of Americans in hospital with the virus has eclipsed 100,000 for the first time and new cases have begun topping 200,000 a day, according to figures released overnight.

The three benchmarks altogether showed a country slipping deeper into crisis, with perhaps the worst yet to come, in part because of the delayed effects from Thanksgiving, when millions of Americans disregarded warnings to stay home and celebrate only with members of their household.

Across the US, the surge has swamped hospitals and left nurses and other health care workers shorthanded and burned out.

“The reality is December and January and February are going to be rough times. I actually believe they are going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation,” Dr Robert Redfield, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday.

Health authorities had warned that the numbers could fluctuate strongly before and after Thanksgiving, as they often do around holidays and weekends. Because of reporting delays, the figures often drop, then rise sharply a few days later as state and local health agencies catch up with the backlog.

Meanwhile, former US Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton said they were willing to be vaccinated against the novel coronavirus on television in order to ease any public skepticism over the safety of new vaccines.

“I may end up taking it on TV or having it filmed, just so that people know that I trust this science,” Obama said in an interview with Sirius XM radio that aired on Wednesday.

Bush, a Republican and Obama’s predecessor, is willing to get a vaccine on camera once the US Food and Drug Administration grants emergency approval, according to Freddy Ford, Bush’s chief of staff.

Clinton will “definitely take a vaccine as soon as available to him, based on the priorities determined by public health officials”, his spokesman Angel Urena wrote in an email. “And he will do it in a public setting if it will help urge all Americans to do the same.”

An FDA panel of outside advisers is due to meet on December 10 to discuss whether to recommend emergency use authorisation of the Pfizer Vaccine.

Infections soar in Europe and Asia as world approaches 65 million COVID-19 cases

More than 64.43 million people have been reported to be infected by the coronavirus globally and 1,496,238​ have died, as Indonesia and Russia record new case records and Japan grapples with a fresh outbreak.

Indonesia set another daily record for coronavirus cases on Thursday with 8369 new infections, prompting the government of the world’s fourth most populous country to shorten year-end holidays.

The increase brings Indonesia’s confirmed total to 557,877 cases, the most in Southeast Asia and second in Asia only to India’s 9.5 million confirmed cases.

The health ministry reported a total of 17,355 deaths from the coronavirus.

The country’s previous record was set on Sunday with 6267 new cases.

President Joko Widodo instructed his ministers to cut the 2020 year-end holiday short to curb COVID-19 transmission.

The holidays will be reduced by three days, officials said.

Russia reported another single-day record of new coronavirus cases – 28,145 – amid a surge in recent months, according to a federal monitoring service that provides daily statistics.

The spike on Thursday was an increase of 2800 cases from the previous day.

Russia has recorded the world’s fourth largest caseload with a total of more than 2.3 million cases.

More than 41,600 people have died of the disease in the country, according to the official toll, which does not include deaths believed to have been caused by other factors.

Meanwhile, the Japanese prefecture of Osaka has issued a COVID-19 alert, urging residents to stay home as much as possible until mid-December as it faces a surge in cases that have put health systems on the verge of collapse.

Osaka reported 386 new cases on Thursday for a prefectural total of 21,404, including 341 deaths.

With hospital beds running out, some patients have had to be sent to neighbouring prefectures for treatment.

Japan has had 153,000 confirmed cases overall since the start of the outbreak and more than 2200 deaths, according to the health ministry.

The situation appears to be easing in India, which has reported less than 40,000 new daily coronavirus cases for a fourth straight day.

With 35,551 new infections reported, India’s total confirmed cases crossed 9.5 million on Thursday.

The health ministry also reported 526 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking India’s total confirmed fatalities to 138,648.

Australia faces selection headaches in preparation for first T20

The lure of returning to the top of the Twenty20 world rankings is on offer for Australia if they can beat India in their three-match series starting tonight in Canberra.

The team went top of the T20I charts in May, dethroning Pakistan after a 27-month stint at the top.

It marked Australia’s first stint at No.1 since the ICC T20 rankings were introduced in 2011.

However, their 2-1 series loss to England earlier this year opened the door for England who went to the top on Tuesday after whitewashing South Africa 3-0.

A win tonight will put Australia back on top, while a series victory will ensure they stay ahead of England in the longer term.

But selectors are faced with a number of headaches, with David Warner injured, Pat Cummins resting and doubts remaining over the fitness of all-rounder Marcus Stoinis and bowler Mitchell Starc.

Matthew Wade or Darcy Short look set to replace Warner at the top of the order, while selectors will weigh up whether to give 21-year-old Cameron Green a second international appearance after his 21-run cameo in Wednesday’s ODI.

The third and final T20I in Sydney next Tuesday could see a full capacity crowd at the SCG, after NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced stadiums could return to 100 per cent capacity from next week.

– with AAP and Reuters
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