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What we know today, Tuesday December 22


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

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Record tests uncover 8 NSW virus cases

NSW has recorded eight new local COVID-19 cases, offering hope some restrictions may be lifted across greater Sydney in time for Christmas.

The eight cases in the 24 hours to 8pm on Monday came from a record of almost 44,500 tests, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said this morning.

Seven of the eight cases were linked to the northern beaches cluster, and another was uncovered in a nurse transporting patients in hotel quarantine.

A decision will be made on gatherings for Christmas day when the NSW government cabinet meets on Wednesday.

“We’ll be looking to make a decision tomorrow based on what we know and understand during the day … on what the future of the situation on the northern beaches [for] greater Sydney will be,” Berejiklian told reporters.

Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said testing rates had lifted across all of greater Sydney with a massive surge on the northern beaches.

The so-called Avalon cluster now totals 90 infections.

New alerts were today issued for Sydney venues visited by people infected with COVID-19, mostly on the northern beaches.

These add to the alerts posted on Monday night for cinemas, restaurants, hotels, cafes and gyms at Mona Vale, Newport, Narrabeen and Warriewood, as well as the Avalon Beach RSL Club – all on the northern beaches.

There were also alerts for Cortex Gym at Alexandria, the London Hotel at Paddington and the Paragon Hotel in Sydney’s CBD.

NSW had recorded 15 new locally-acquired cases on Monday, which was half of the 30 locally-acquired cases recorded on Sunday.

Deputy Premier John Barilaro earlier on Tuesday rejected widespread calls to mandate mask-wearing in public, saying it wasn’t “the be-all and end-all”.

“More people are wearing face masks in public spaces than I have seen … there is no need to make it mandatory,” he told Nine’s Today show.

Every state and territory has now blocked Greater Sydney residents from entering and some have also blocked people living on the Central Coast and in the Illawarra-Shoalhaven regions.

Meanwhile, NSW has from Tuesday begun forcing international aircrew personnel into police-supervised hotel quarantine arrangements.

‘No clarity’ from Crows on Stengle’s fate

Trouble-prone Adelaide Crows forward Tyson Stengle seems set to spend Christmas in AFL limbo, with the club’s administration on leave until the new year as his playing future continues to hang in the balance.

In an email to members today, CEO Andrew Fagan addressed the ongoing uncertainty, which has dragged on since last week when the club received a photo purporting to show Stengle sitting next to an unidentified substance on a plate.

The controversy follows two earlier indiscretions in recent months, with Stengle suspended for four matches after being caught, along with then-teammate Brad Crouch, with an illicit substance. He was also separately fined for drink driving while driving an unregistered vehicle without a licence.

“As you would most probably be aware, we have stood down Tyson Stengle due to an off-field matter and while he is unable to attend the club or participate in training, we are continuing to provide him with the appropriate welfare checks and support,” Fagam said today.

“I acknowledge there is a great deal of interest, not just among our fan base but from the media and broader football community, but unfortunately we are not currently in a position to provide the level of clarity some of you may desire.

“We are working through what is a clearly defined and structured process and will provide an update as soon as possible.”

The Crows are understood to have been dealing with the AFL and the Players Association on the issue.

Stengle was recently handed a two-year contract extension.

Victorian returns from NSW with COVID-19

Victoria has reported a positive case of coronavirus in a returned traveller who visited a hotspot in NSW.

A person who returned to Victoria after visiting the epicentre of Sydney’s coronavirus outbreak has tested positive for the illness.

Their infection was acquired within the northern beaches area, Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services confirmed today.

“Close contacts are currently understood to be limited, with contact tracing underway and further investigations ongoing,” it said.

“At this stage, there are no exposure sites but if this changes we will provide further updates.”

Further details of the infected person have not been released.

Under current regulations, any Victorian who returns from Greater Sydney, including the northern beaches area, or the NSW Central Coast must get tested and quarantine for 14 days.

Victoria has shut its border to people travelling from Greater Sydney and the NSW Central Coast.

Local government area bubbles have been established on either side of the Victorian-NSW boundary to allow those in border communities to cross upon presentation of their driver’s licence.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews on Monday said the border to NSW would remain closed for as long as Victorian chief health officer Brett Sutton believes is “proportionate and appropriate”.

Anyone arriving at Melbourne Airport from Sydney who had just completed 14 days of hotel quarantine in NSW would not be required to repeat the process in Victoria, so long as they travel directly from the hotel to the airport while wearing a mask.

It comes as Victoria today reported its 53rd day without a locally-acquired coronavirus case.

There are now 11 active cases in Victoria, including two returned overseas travellers and the NSW case, after 15,521 coronavirus tests were conducted in the past 24 hours.

Travellers still being contacted after border bungle

Efforts are continuing to contact hundreds of people who travelled from New South Wales to South Australia and were wrongly told to quarantine for 14 days.

New restrictions in response to Sydney’s coronavirus cluster came into force yesterday, including a requirement to isolate for two weeks and have three tests for the virus.

But about 550 people who arrived on Sunday before the midnight deadline were incorrectly told they also had to quarantine.

By 4pm yesterday, SA Police had contacted 180 of those people, with 160 directed to leave quarantine.

By mid-morning today, authorities had reached 375 people – with 350 allowed to enter the community.

A further 25 were directed to continue quarantining as they had recently been to Sydney’s northern beaches – a banned hotspot for SA.

Police and health authorities have apologised for the bungle, which led another 100 people to turn around at the border and return to NSW.

They are also being spoken to, with 30 of those hopefuls now permitted to re-enter SA.

Health Minister Stephen Wade said the government would consider compensation for people inconvenienced or out of pocket by the confusion on a “case-by-case basis”.

But Wade said SA Health and the police continued to have his full confidence in dealing with the health crisis.

“In a pandemic, things won’t always be neat, things won’t always be tidy,” he said.

“I would much rather them act swiftly and act decisively to protect South Australians rather than wait until they’ve got all the forms finished.”

The border chaos came as Sydney’s cluster grew to 85 yesterday.

Under SA’s new rules anyone who has been in Sydney’s northern beaches area will not be allowed to enter the state.

The Greater Sydney region, along with the Central Coast and the Wollongong areas have been declared high community transition zones.

People arriving in SA from those areas now need to quarantine in a suitable location for 14 days and get tested on day one, day five and day 12.

Christmas hope in Sydney amid record testing

Sydneysiders are growing hopeful COVID-19 restrictions may relax in time for Christmas after yesterday’s number of newly-reported cases fell despite record testing numbers.

NSW recorded 15 new locally-acquired cases on Monday amid a record of more than 38,500 tests in the 24 hours to 8pm on Sunday.

The state recorded 30 new cases in the previous 24-hour period.

The new cases were all connected to the northern beaches, taking the size of the cluster to at least 83.

However, causing concern is the creeping spread of the venues visited by confirmed cases, including a hospital on Sydney’s upper north shore.

NSW Health issued the alerts late on Monday for cinemas, restaurants, hotels, cafes and gyms at Mona Vale, Newport, Narrabeen and Warriewood, as well as the Avalon Beach RSL Club – all on the northern beaches.

There were also alerts for Cortex Gym at Alexandria, the London Hotel at Paddington and the Paragon Hotel in Sydney’s CBD.

The daily case reduction has sparked hope Christmas won’t be cancelled for the greater Sydney region, but Premier Gladys Berejiklian said it was too soon to tell.

“(But) one day’s result doesn’t tell us a trend,” she told reporters yesterday.

No decisions would be made on coronavirus-related gathering restrictions for Christmas Day until Wednesday December 23.

“I would love to be able to tell everybody today what Christmas might look like in NSW or the northern beaches, but we’re not in a position to do that yet.”

AFL’s Sydney Stack faces Christmas behind bars

Richmond rookie Sydney Stack is set to spend Christmas alone behind bars as a result of his alleged breach of Western Australia’s strict quarantine laws.

Stack, who was arrested on Saturday night and refused bail, is in isolation at Hakea Prison.

His case briefly returned to the Perth Magistrates Court on Monday and was heard in his absence, with his lawyer saying she had been unable to speak to the 20-year-old and therefore could not progress the matter any further.

His case was adjourned to January 6 for a further mention by videolink.

The court earlier heard that prisoners at Hakea who are alleged to have breached quarantine are required to serve a fresh 14 days isolation upon entering the remand facility.

Player manager Paul Peos said Stack, who is mourning the recent death of his grandfather, was “very distressed and very upset” during a brief phone conversation.

“I’m very worried about his short-term welfare,” Peos told reporters outside court.

“It’s been very difficult to have communications. I’ve been very disappointed. But we’ll continue to try and engage with him as best we can.”

Stack was charged with failing to comply with a direction after allegedly being found out on the town in Northbridge during his compulsory self-isolation period, having entered WA from Victoria on a flight that stopped over in South Australia.

WA’s border with SA remains closed after a recent coronavirus scare.

Stack was granted approval to enter WA on compassionate grounds on December 10 for his grandfather’s funeral.

He was issued with a direction to self-quarantine for a period of 14 days at a nominated address in Northam, about 97km from Perth.

But he was allegedly found by police at 1.10am on Saturday in the party district of Northbridge.

It was also alleged he had been staying at a residence in Belmont and not at his nominated quarantine address.

The alleged breach caps off a torrid year for Stack, who was overlooked in the 2018 national draft because of concerns about off-field issues but has since played 26 AFL games for Richmond.

He was handed a 10-match AFL ban and banished from Queensland in September for an incident outside of a Gold Coast strip club.

Stack and Tigers teammate Callum Coleman-Jones broke the AFL’s return-to-play protocols during that night out, which ended up with them being involved in a fight at about 3.30am. Richmond were subsequently fined $100,000.

Peos said he was in constant communication with Richmond, adding that Stack understood the consequences of his actions and accepted his career was on the line.

“The football’s a little bit further ahead,” he said.

“We’ve got to deal with the current matters from now up until January 6.”

A spokesperson for WA’s Department of Justice said prisoners at Hakea did not have their quarantine periods reset unless they returned a positive COVID-19 test or were subject to an emergency order imposed by WA Police.

“Prisoners subject to quarantine are isolated in their cells, where they can receive meals, medical and other services, provided with the appropriate protections in place,” he said.

“They cannot receive social visits but can make telephone calls and are allowed out of their cells to exercise on their own for up to two hours a day.

“Quarantined prisoners can make video-link court appearances, done in accordance with COVID-19 protocols.”

UK hit by travel bans amid ‘new strain’ fears

Fears around a new strain of the COVID-19 virus has left Britain in limbo as countries across Europe and beyond close their doors to arrivals from the UK.

Trucks have been backed up for miles and people left stranded at airports as countries around the world close their doors to the UK over fears around a new strain of COVID-19 in England.

A growing number of nations have halted air travel from Britain, while France banned British trucks for 48 hours from Sunday evening while the more infectious variant is assessed.

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the strain is “out of control” around London and southeast England, where a new Tier 4 level of lockdown was introduced on Saturday.

There were rising hopes that France would soon allow traffic to flow again, if truck drivers took coronavirus tests on arrival.

While the French ban does not prevent trucks from heading for Britain, the move stoked worries about shortages at a time of year when Britain produces very little of its own food and relies heavily on produce delivered from Europe by truck.

In a sign of the government’s concern, Prime Minister Boris Johnson called a meeting of the government’s emergency committee.

Around 10,000 trucks pass through Britain’s port of Dover every day, accounting for about 20 per cent of the country’s trade in goods.

British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said France’s ban was “slightly surprising” but insisted the UK public will “for the most part” not notice any shortages.

Supermarket chain Sainsbury’s warned that some products, such as lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli and citrus fruits, could soon be in short supply if the crisis not resolved in the coming days.

France’s Minister of Transport Jean-Baptiste Djebbari indicated that a solution was coming.

In a tweet, he said that “in the coming hours, at a European level, we will put a solid health protocol in place so that the flow from the United Kingdom can resume”.

Canada, India, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Poland were among the countries that halted flights from Britain.

In the US, New York governor Andrew Cuomo said he wanted a ban on flights from Britain to New York City.

Eurotunnel, the rail operator that carries passengers and freight between Britain mainland Europe, has suspended service out of the UK.

The moves come in the wake of Johnson’s announcement on Saturday that he was placing London and the southeast of England in a newly created tier of restrictions after scientific advisers warned that they had detected a new strain of the virus that may be more contagious.

Johnson said early indications are that the variant is 70 per cent more transmissible and is driving the rapid spread of infections in the capital and surrounding areas.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said that while preliminary analysis suggests the new variant is “significantly more transmissible” there is no indication that infections are more severe.

The Stockholm-based agency said a few cases of the variant have been reported by Iceland, Denmark and the Netherlands. It also cited news reports of cases in Belgium and Italy.

Japanese medics declare national emergency

Japan’s government has been urged to increase support for the nation’s frontline workers as medical groups declare a state of emergency over the COVID pandemic.

Doctors, nurses and seven other medical groups in Japan have declared a state of medical emergency, urging the government to support the nation’s health system creaking under the strain of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The spread of the coronavirus infection shows no signs of stopping,” a joint statement said.

“Left unchecked, people in Japan will not be able to receive regular medical care, let alone care for COVID-19.”

The nine groups, which also include national associations of dentists and pharmacists, called on the government to provide greater assistance to frontline medical workers.

The public were reminded to exercise infection prevention measures thoroughly.

While nowhere near the severity seen in the United States and parts of Europe, coronavirus infections in Japan have risen sharply to record highs this month, raising fears that medical facilities may be overwhelmed when they are typically understaffed in the holiday season.

Japan has reported more than 201,000 infections and 2,965 fatalities, according to public broadcaster NHK.

English Football League postpones Cup final until April

English soccer’s League Cup final has been put back by two months and will be held on April 25, in the hope that a later date will allow fans to attend, the Football League (EFL) has announced.

The final of the competition, known by its sponsored name as the Carabao Cup, was due to be held on February 28 at London’s Wembley Stadium.

“It is the objective of the League to stage the final with as many supporters in attendance as possible and the decision has therefore been taken to move the final to … later in the year,” the EFL said in a statement.

“The number of fans permitted will be dependent on government guidance in place at the time and it is hoped that moving the date to later in the year will give clubs and their fans the best opportunity to attend in person.”

The quarter-finals of the competition get under way on Tuesday with Brentford hosting Newcastle United and holders Manchester City at Arsenal.

– with AAP and Reuters
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