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What we know today, Wednesday December 16


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

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Christmas shoppers urged to embrace expanded QR system

Premier Steven Marshall has urged the retail sector to embrace the QR code check-in system to ensure South Australia keeps coronavirus cases under control.

The system was expanded this week to include all retail outlets and has caused some concern as an unnecessary impost in the busy Christmas trading period.

But Marshall said this morning the system was vital to ensure proper contact tracing and every retailer had a responsibility to use the check-in system.

“We take this very seriously. Anybody who has interaction with the public needs to have that QR code displayed.

“There’s also a responsibility on the shoppers. They need to scan in so that we know where they are.

“It’s really important that we do have good information that helps out contact tracers.”

Under the check-in system, information is only accessible by SA Health staff and is destroyed after 28 days.

It was introduced following November’s Parafield cluster of coronavirus cases, which stands at 33 and is now considered under control.

Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier said it was possible that people could be refused entry to shops and other venues if they refused to use the codes or provide their contact details manually.

“As the police commissioner said, we always have a grace period,” she said.

“It’s a light touch. They’re here to help, they’re here to keep us safe but they want people to be doing the right thing.”

Spurrier said consideration could also be given in the new year to expanding the check-in system to other higher-risk areas including public transport.

No new COVID-19 infections in SA as community transmission case emerges in NSW

South Australia has recorded no new COVID-19 infections today as NSW reports its first community transmitted coronavirus case in 12 days.

According to the SA Health statement, there were 2781 tests carried out yesterday and there is only one contact of the Parafield cluster still in quarantine. There are no active cases in the state.

SA recorded its first new case since November 29 on Monday when a returned overseas traveller – a man in his 40s – tested positive to his day one test while in hotel quarantine. He is not linked to the Parafield cluster, which forced the state into a brief lockdown last month and stands at 33.

However, in yesterday’s update, SA Health said Monday’s new infection was no longer classed as an active case.

Meanwhile, a Sydney Airport transport driver has become the first case of community transmitted COVID-19 in Australia in almost two weeks.

The case was diagnosed in a 45-year-old man who drove vans ferrying international aircrew to and from Sydney Airport.

NSW health minister Brad Hazzard announced the “unfortunate situation” this morning, revealing a 45-year-old transport drive had tested positive.

“Obviously, we may be an island but we are not totally isolated from the pandemic that is raging across the world,” he said.

Further genomic testing will be carried out, but initial results indicate the virus came from crew on an international plane that flew into NSW.

Birmingham to take China to WTO over barley tariffs

Australia will take China to the global trade umpire over massive tariffs on barley, further escalating the bitter row between the two nations.

Australian farmers were effectively blocked from exporting barley to China in June when import taxes of 80.5 per cent were imposed.

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham today announced Australia would take the dispute to the World Trade Organisation.

“This is the logical and appropriate next step for Australia to take,” he told reporters in Canberra this morning.

China claims the tariffs are a result of an anti-dumping investigation, a claim rubbished by the Australian government and growers.

Beijing has launched trade strikes against a range of Australian products including coal, wine, beef, lobster and timber with diplomatic relations in the doldrums.

China has raised a slew of concerns about Australia’s foreign interference and investment laws and push for an independent inquiry into the origins of coronavirus.

Meanwhile, Beijing has accused Canberra of playing the victim in the increasingly bitter trade dispute while justifying a Chinese ban on Australian coal.

There has been no formal notification of the ban, but a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry did not deny it was in place.

He said everything China did was legal and in the interests of its consumers and companies.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the ban would be a lose-lose for both countries and a clear breach of World Trade Organisation rules.

He also emphasised it would force China to buy dirtier coal from other countries, putting its climate change ambitions at risk.

Australian rapid COVID-19 test approved for use in US

A rapid over-the-counter COVID-19 test developed by Australian firm Ellume has been given emergency approval in the United States.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the Brisbane-based company’s 20-minute COVID-19 Home Test late on Tuesday night as the US battles the virus, which has infected 16.5 million people and killed more than 300,000 people there.

The US agency approved a prescription coronavirus test last month, but an over-the-counter product will make it easier to ramp up testing.

“By authorising a test for over-the-counter use, the FDA allows it to be sold in places like drug stores, where a patient can buy it, swab their nose, run the test and find out their results in as little as 20 minutes,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said in a statement.

“As we continue to authorise additional tests for home use, we are helping expand Americans’ access to testing, reducing the burden on laboratories and test supplies, and giving Americans more testing options from the comfort and safety of their own homes.”

The Ellume COVID-19 Home Test uses a special nasal swab connected with a smartphone app, which sends the results back to users via Bluetooth in as little as 15-20 minutes.

To use the app users must enter a postcode and their date of birth, which can be shared with health authorities to monitor outbreaks and conduct contact tracing.

The FDA says Ellume’s test correctly identified 96 per cent of positive samples and 100 per cent of negative samples in patients with symptoms.

In asymptomatic patients, the test identified 91 per cent of positive samples and 96 per cent of negative samples.

“This test, like other antigen tests, is less sensitive and less specific than typical molecular tests run in a lab,” the FDA’s Jeff Shuren said.

“However, the fact that it can be used completely at home and return results quickly means that it can play an important role in response to the pandemic.”

Ellume expanded its manufacturing facility in Brisbane after being awarded a US National Institutes of Health’s Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics grant worth $30 million in October.

The company said it will ship more than 100,000 tests to the US next month and plans to manufacture 20 million tests in the first half of 2021.

British PM invites Australia to G7 summit

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has invited Australia to the G7 Summit next year as the United Kingdom seeks to build stronger alliances in the Indo-Pacific.

In the face of growing Chinese power and influence, Johnson has also invited India and South Korea as guest nations to the high-powered international summit.

Downing Street said the three invitations delivered on the British leader’s ambition to work with a group of like-minded democracies to advance shared interests and tackle common challenges.

Johnson has also announced a trip to India early next year, his first major bilateral visit since taking office, and the first since the UK departure from the European Union.

His office said the Indian visit underscored Johnson’s commitment to step up the UK’s engagement with the Indo-Pacific region.

“As a key player in the Indo-Pacific region, India is an increasingly indispensable partner for the United Kingdom as we work to boost jobs and growth, confront shared threats to our security and protect our planet,”  Johnson said.

Potential quarantine hotels fear “reputational damage”

A number of prospective Adelaide hotel quarantine locations approached by the Marshall Government have refused to “engage”, fearing reputational damage.

The Government has pledged to establish a standalone facility to quarantine COVID-positive arrivals to South Australia away from other medi-hotels but is yet to decide upon a suitable location.

Instead, it is using two floors of the existing Pullman facility, away from other visitors.

Health Minister Stephen Wade yesterday told reporters the Government was continuing to explore “both private sites and government sites”.

“Even today we’re inspecting possible sites,” he said, suggesting the eventual facility would remain in a central Adelaide location.

“We’re committed to making sure our sites are accessible to our health facilities [and] accessible to our workforce,” he said.

“You can’t have a safe medi-hotel facility in a remote community [and] there are criteria in terms of travelling time – all of those are being assessed against the sites.”

However, he said he did “not recall” what the specific criterion was.

But asked whether the experience of existing medi-hotels – in particular the Peppers on Waymouth St, which was the starting point for the recent Parafield cluster – was likely to deter other facilities from opting into such a scheme, Wade said: “Let’s put it this way – we’ve had long-term partners, and they’re still with us and we greatly appreciate that… but it would be fair to say that there were some potential sites that hadn’t been willing to engage.”

“That’s their choice and we’re very grateful for those that are willing to engage,” he said, adding that it was “a general comment [relating to] right through the pandemic”.

“It’s true to say not every accommodation provider wants to be a partner – we’re very grateful to those that are,” he said.

On Monday SA recorded its first new case since November 29 when a returned overseas traveller – a man in his 40s – tested positive to his day one test while in hotel quarantine.

The case was set to test the state’s revamped hotel quarantine system but yesterday SA Health said the new infection was no longer classed as an active, bringing the number of current infections back to zero.

Australian Hotels Association SA boss Ian Horne said that “ultimately each premises has to make their own decision balancing their need to generate revenue and sustain themselves, versus potential – and it is only potential – reputational damage”.

 – Tom Richardson

Household waste, car sales on rise as virus empties cities

Coronavirus has piled pressure on roads, waste and internet while people increasingly moved to the country as the pandemic shifted the dial on infrastructure needs.

Infrastructure Australia has today released a national study into the impacts of the pandemic on essential services.

The report notes traffic levels rebounded quickly after lockdowns and second-hand car sales rose as more people opted to drive rather than take public transport.

While lockdown sent public transport use in most cities to between 10 and 30 per cent of usual levels, the figure rebounded to a “new norm” of 60 to 70 per cent.

Infrastructure Australia estimates about four million employees have been working from home since March with about one-third keen to remain remote.

This is placing a greater strain on the broadband network and driving up energy, water and waste consumption in homes.

Online shopping and demand for streaming and other digital services also increased the demand for internet.

The pandemic drove 100 per cent growth in monthly online retail trade, five times the annual growth recorded in 2019, sending parcel deliveries up at a similar rate.

Coronavirus also reversed a long-term downward trend of household waste, which is up 20 per cent as more people work from home.

Paper, plastic and single-use waste has risen amid high levels of food delivery and online shopping, putting more pressure on the system.

The report labels six key areas as priorities to be addressed in the 2021 Australian Infrastructure Plan.

It calls for mitigation of growing car dependency, improved waste management and examination of repurposing real estate in CBDs.

Investment uncertainty, real-time data and ensuring critical infrastructure is supported financially are also recommended areas.

The report found some regional communities saw a boom in tourism and population growth, with people moving away from metropolitan areas.

That has resulted in a 200 per cent increase in net migration from capital cities to regional areas.

The study also found 4600 new intensive care beds were delivered, while public transport hygiene and broadband capacity were rapidly adjusted

Aged care funding boost to keep more Australians out of nursing homes

The Federal Government will inject $1 billion into Australia’s aged care system as it switches its focus from pandemic response to transforming the sector.

Most of the money – $850 million – will go towards creating a further 10,000 home care packages to allow older Australians to continue living at home with support.

The funding package will be outlined in the Morrison government’s mid-year budget review that is expected to be released on Thursday.

Aged care has been a sore point for the federal government this year, with criticism of its handling of its pandemic response to stop the virus entering residential facilities and infecting Australia’s vulnerable.

The majority of Australia’s 908 coronavirus deaths have been in aged care facilities, mainly in Victoria.

Cases are now dwindling across the country as restrictions ease and state borders open.

Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck said the virus was the “greatest challenge the sector has ever faced”.

“But the Australian government is moving beyond responding to the pandemic”, he said, to drive the transformation of aged care.

The funding packages includes $8.2 million to extend Victoria’s aged care response centre until the end of June next year to ensure its prepared as the pandemic continues.

More than $15.7 million is earmarked for allied health groups for residents living in facilities battling COVID-19 outbreaks.

The new money will also go to boosting the sector’s coronavirus response, improving mental health care support and Medicare-subsidised psychological services.

This year’s federal budget also included a $1.6 billion boost to create more than 23,000 home care packages.

Federal Labor has long called for the government to have more home care packages for older Australians wanting to live at home.

Biden inauguration to be “largely virtual”

President-elect Joe Biden and vice president-elect Kamala Harris will be sworn into office on January 20 on the steps of the US Capitol but the inaugural festivities will be largely virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the planning committee says.

Both the ceremony and traditional parade that follows will have limited attendance and be re-imagined, the committee planning the event said in a statement.

The committee is urging members of the public to refrain from travelling to Washington DC for the inauguration, which in the past has drawn hundreds of thousands.

Biden spent much of the 2020 presidential election following COVID-19 safety protocols, holding relatively few-in person events and campaigning virtually from his home base in Delaware.

“Our goal is to create an inauguration that keeps people safe, honours the grand traditions of the presidency and showcases the Biden-Harris administration’s renewed American vision for an inclusive, equitable, and unified citizenry,” Tony Allen, the CEO of the inaugural committee, said.

In that way, the inaugural is likely to be similar to this year’s Democratic convention which featured virtual programs with participants across the US.

Biden was yesterday officially confirmed as the next US president after the Electoral College met to certify the November 3 election result.

Europe prepares for vaccine rollout

Eight European countries say they will co-ordinate the start of their COVID-19 vaccination campaigns as the pace of inoculations accelerates in the US and Russia.

The statement released by Italy and also signed by the health ministers of Germany, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland said the countries will promote “the co-ordination of the launch of the vaccination campaigns” and will rapidly share information on how it is proceeding.

Separately, European Union regulators moved up a meeting to assess the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to December 21, more than a week earlier than planned, under pressure from Germany and other members of the bloc.

Russian authorities said on Tuesday that vaccination against COVID-19 with the Russian-developed Sputnik V vaccine had started in all regions of the country.

President Vladimir Putin ordered the government to start “large-scale” vaccination in Russia two weeks ago, even though the Sputnik V vaccine is still undergoing advanced studies needed to ensure its safety and effectiveness.

In the United States, hundreds more hospitals around the country began dispensing Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 shots to their workers on Tuesday in a rapid expansion of the vaccination drive.

A day after the rollout of Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus shots, the Food and Drug Administration said its preliminary analysis confirmed the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine developed by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health.

A panel of outside experts is expected to vote to recommend the formula on Thursday, with the FDA’s green light coming soon thereafter.

The Moderna vaccine uses the same technology as Pfizer-BioNTech’s and showed similarly strong protection against COVID-19 but is easier to handle because it does not need to be kept in the deep freeze at minus 70C.

More than 73 million people have been reported to be infected by the coronavirus globally and 1,629,792​ have died, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.

Siddle blows Hurricanes away to deliver first Strikers Big Bash win

Adelaide Strikers veteran Peter Siddle took a career-best five wickets while Jake Weatherald and Alex Carey piled on the runs to deliver their side a comfortable BBL win over Hobart Hurricanes last night.

Siddle, 36, claimed 5-16 from 3.3 overs on a seam-friendly deck in Launceston on Tuesday night to help roll the Hurricanes for 146.

Strikers’ opener Jake Weatherald then guided the chase with an unbeaten 68 from 48 as Adelaide registered a five-wicket win, their first of the summer.

Adelaide was wobbling at 2-9 but Weatherald knocked off a big chunk of the runs alongside the steady hand of skipper Alex Carey (55).

Siddle earlier took the new ball and had Hurricanes’ linchpin D’Arcy Short caught behind for just two before returning late to run through the lower order.

After being sent in, Hobart fell to 3-20 before Ben McDermott (46) and South African import Colin Ingram (46) launched a mini-recovery.

Hobart was all out in the final over when Siddle clean bowled Riley Meredith.

The win was Adelaide’s first for this BBL campaign, reversing the result following an opening match loss to Hobart on Sunday.

It was the Hurricanes’ first loss of the tournament after winning their first two matches.

The Strikers’ next match is against Sydney Sixers on Sunday in Hobart.

Harry and Meghan to host Spotify podcast series

Prince Harry and his wife Meghan will produce and host podcasts for Spotify’s streaming service, the Swedish company says, starting with a holiday special that will be released this month.

Under a multi-year agreement, the couple’s newly formed Archewell Audio will produce programming that “uplifts and entertains audiences around the world” and features “diverse perspectives and voices,” Spotify said in a statement.

The podcasts will be available free through Spotify, the company that leads the streaming music market.

Spotify also offers more than 1.5 million podcast titles such as The Michelle Obama Podcast and Mama Knows Best by influencer Addison Rae and reaches more than 320 million active users per month.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Harry and Meghan’s first podcast instalment will be a holiday special featuring “stories of hope and compassion” to celebrate the new year, the statement said.

Their first complete series is expected next year.

“What we love about podcasting is that it reminds all of us to take a moment and to really listen, to connect to one another without distraction,” the couple said in a joint statement.

“With the challenges of 2020, there has never been a more important time to do so, because when we hear each other, and hear each other’s stories, we are reminded of how interconnected we all are,” the pair added.

The deal is the latest move by Harry and Meghan, known officially as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, to make a living outside of the royal family.

The couple moved to the US with their infant son Archie this year after stepping back from royal duties in January.

In September, they signed an exclusive multi-year production deal for TV programming with Netflix Inc.

– with AAP and Reuters
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