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What we know today, Thursday December 24

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

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One new COVID-19 case in SA, another under investigation

South Australia has recorded one new case of COVID-19, while another “possible” case is under investigation after the state conducted more than 5000 tests yesterday.

The possible case, a male traveller from New South Wales in his 20s, arrived in SA by road on Monday, December 21, after boarding a flight from Darwin to Sydney and then spending time in rural Victoria and Maitland on the Yorke Peninsula.

The flight in question, QF841 from Darwin to Sydney on December 18, has seen all passengers and crew go into isolation after a QANTAS crew member tested positive for COVID-19 and NSW health authorities deemed everyone onboard a close contact as a “precautionary step”.

Today’s new possible case tested negative on arrival in Sydney, and then returned a positive result in South Australia after being tested on December 22.

However, Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier today said the case is “much more likely an old infection”, given the results of a serology test which indicate viral shedding rather than a new infection.

“This really does need verification but … I did want to let South Australia know that it’s my understanding that this is likely to be an old infection and therefore, nobody in South Australia is at any risk,” Spurrier said.

“But I will need to have that verification.”

The traveller is currently in a medi-hotel along with his close contacts.

Earlier today, NSW Chief Public Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant hinted that NSW Health were liaising with authorities in SA about a potentially linked case on the Darwin to Sydney flight.

“We are investigating another possible case with our colleagues in another jurisdiction that may be linked,” Chant said.

“The information is very preliminary, but as a very precautionary step we are calling everyone on that plane close contacts.”

Spurrier said she would be meeting with Chant in the coming days, and SA Health will be “constantly” monitoring the situation.

“[It] is an absolute reminder no matter where you are in South Australia, there is always a risk of COVID-19,” she said.

The other case recorded today, a man in his 70s, acquired the virus overseas and tested positive in a medi-hotel.

The new cases bring the state’s total COVID-19 tally to 568, and the number of confirmed active cases to four.

Controversy still surrounds how authorities bungled the implementation of the NSW border closure, with 18 travellers filing claims for compensation with SA Health’s exemptions committee.

Health Minister Stephen Wade was unable to confirm yesterday whether affected families would be able to receive compensation payments before the new year.

“There’s a whole range of variables, and so each submission … needs to show the link between the misinformation and the impact,” Wade said.

“Depending on what the nature of that cost is, the evidence would follow.”

Wade also said he received a “very encouraging briefing” on the possibility of a dedicated quarantine facility for COVID-19 positive international travellers, and would be able to make an announcement on the matter in the “not too distant future”.

Aussies to go unchanged in Boxing Day Test

Australia will take an unchanged line-up into the Boxing Day Test as they seek to go 2-0 up against India.

With David Warner (groin) still unavailable, Justin Langer declared he would be a brave coach to tinker with the side for the MCG blockbuster after Australia secured a resounding eight-wicket victory in Adelaide.

Joe Burns, who entered the series under-fire, will again partner Matthew Wade at the top of the order after the Queenslander’s unbeaten 51 in the second innings last Saturday.

“I would be a pretty courageous man to change the XI for this Test match after the last one,” Langer said.

“Unless something happens over the next few days, and they can happen in the world we live in, we’ll go in with the same XI.”

But when star opener Warner is available, likely to be for the third Test starting on January 7, someone in the top six will have to make way.

Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne are locks, leaving Wade, Burns, Travis Head and emerging allrounder Cameron Green vulnerable.

“You are literally under the pump every time you play for Australia,” Langer said.

“Every player is, that’s how it should be. It’s so healthy for Australian cricket.

“It’s tough when you’re in the top-six batters because you’ve always got people knocking hard on your door to take your spot, so you’ve got to be on your toes all the time.

“These things have a funny way of working themselves out and the guys who are making runs, they’ll keep getting selected.”

A crowd of up to 30,000 will be in on Boxing Day – the first time spectators have been allowed into the MCG since the Australian women’s team won the Twenty20 World Cup final in March.

While the atmosphere will be different to a normal Melbourne Test, where up to 90,000 people fill the stadium, Langer is just happy to be at the MCG at all.

“30,000 is better than none. It wasn’t that long ago, probably a few months ago, we wondered whether we would have a Boxing Day Test in Melbourne,” he said.

“Every time I come here, I pinch myself. It’s just an amazing stadium.

“There’s so much hype about it and the boys love playing here.”

Two new COVID-19 cases in Queensland

A man who visited Sydney’s northern beaches has tested positive for coronavirus amid concerns COVID-19 is active in Queensland.

Health Minister Yvette D’Ath says the 40-year-old tested negative after returning from the hotspot last Friday, before becoming unwell and testing positive late on Wednesday night.

The man had self-isolated since he returned to Queensland and had had no contact with the community.

“This is the gold standard of what we expect of anyone who has travelled from the northern beaches and has been told to go into quarantine in Queensland, so we thank that person for that,” D’Ath said.

A 20-year-old female crew member on a super yacht off Cairns has also tested positive for the virus and been taken to the city’s hospital.

The vessel came from the Maldives and another six crew members are now being tested.

However, police are investigating after the crew allegedly failed to co-operate with contact tracers.

D’Ath says Queensland has now gone 100 days without community transmission but she is concerned there may be more positive cases in Queensland.

She said it’s crucial for anyone who has been to Greater Sydney to self-isolate and get tested if they have symptoms, even if that’s on Christmas Day.

“We cannot afford to get complacent because with the positive sewage (test) that we have, and the fact that we have this positive case from the northern beaches,” D’Ath told reporters.

“We believe that we have positive cases in Queensland.

“We hope every one of those positive cases are in quarantine and isolating as directed.”

Nine new COVID-19 cases in NSW

NSW has recorded nine new cases of COVID-19, with seven linked to the cluster on Sydney’s northern beaches, and authorities are now concerned about possible transmission in Sydney’s CBD.

The seven cases takes the total number in the cluster to 104.

A record 60,184 people came forward for testing in the 24 hours to 8pm on Wednesday, with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian saying she nearly fell off her chair – “literally” – when she heard the staggering number.

“That many people and a 24-hour period is outstanding,” Ms Berejiklian said on Thursday.

About 41,000 people were tested on the previous day.

The sources of the two other infections reported are still under investigation, as is the original source of the Avalon cluster.

Berejiklian said health authorities are concerned about the possible emergence of a Sydney CBD cluster.

Three cases are now associated with Paragon Hotel Sports Bar at Circular Quay, including a positive case identified on Thursday who will appear in Friday’s numbers.

People who were at the bar on December 16 at lunchtime for more than an hour are considered to be close contacts. Others who were there need to be tested as well.

Another new case is a person who works at an office in the vicinity of Hunter and Bligh Streets in Sydney’s CBD, near the Paragon Hotel Sports Bar.

People near the busy CBD spots of Australia Square, the MLC Centre and Chifley Square should have a very low threshold for testing, NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant told reporters.

“We are not out of the woods yet,” she said.

Berejiklian warned NSW residents to be “on guard” over Christmas because of the cluster. She encouraged people to get tested as soon as they feel the slightest symptom, even if it is Christmas Day or Boxing Day.

Federal Government inks vaccine transport contracts

The federal government has taken another step towards vaccinating Australians against COVID-19 with the signing of delivery contracts.

The Pfizer and AstraZenanca vaccines, due to roll out from March next year, are being produced in Australia by CSL and Novavax.

Health Minister Greg Hunt on Thursday announced distribution contracts have been signed with DHL and Linfox to truck the vials across Australia, including those living in very remote areas.

The government has also tapped Accenture to gather the data to track vaccine doses and PwC to work with the health department to help monitor the program.

Hunt noted the vaccines require special handling and must be stored from between 2C and 8C to as low as -70C, which is required for the Pfizer vaccine.

Purpose-built dry ice containers will be used to move the Pfizer vaccine.

“It’s one of the largest logistical exercises in Australian history, but our team is working right through the Christmas and New Year period,” Hunt told Nine’s Today show.

The government has secured more than 117 million does to cover Australia’s 26 million population. Up to two doses per person will be required.

“Our advice remains that Australia remains on track for first vaccinations in March, and completion of whole of population in 2021,” Mr Hunt said in a statement.’

Hunt also stressed that Australia was ahead of schedule on its vaccine rollout.

“In the last 24 hours I have spoken with the head of Pfizer Australia, with AstraZeneca senior officials, the head of CSL globally, (and) my confidence is even greater that we’ll be able to deliver the vaccines early in 2021,” he added.

The government plans to start with vaccinating older Australians, health workers and frontline workers in hotel quarantine systems of various states.

Bullying rife within UniSA and Flinders: ICAC report

Bullying and harassment are commonplace at the University of South Australia and Flinders University, according to two integrity surveys conducted by ICAC.

The two reports – which informed ICAC’s overall University Integrity Survey released earlier this month – compiled responses from 1173 UniSA and 695 Flinders staff members respectively.

Flinders and UniSA disseminated the reports in emails to staff this week.

Nearly a third of respondents from Flinders and more than 25 per cent from UniSA said they had encountered bullying and harassment at their university.

“I can’t even list the amount of examples of corruption, bullying, nepotism and unethical practices that occur at Flinders University,” one respondent said.

The report also raises concerns with internal reporting protocols, with almost 40 per cent from Flinders and 28.9 per cent from UniSA agreeing their organisation “places reputation over addressing the problem”.

One respondent from UniSA said: “the threat of termination due to contravening organisation reputation is a cultural issue for reporting.”

“The culture of supporting management practices/decisions/policies (explicit or implied) carries likelihood of negative consequences from raising concerns of inappropriate conduct with line managers.”

The survey also raises significant concerns about grading standards and pressure to enrol unqualified international students for economic purposes, with “inappropriate practice, pressure or influence in regards to student assessment” the fourth most common form of corruption/misconduct cited by respondents at both universities.

In one incident, a UniSA staff member claims they saw an incident “where all grades were inflated in a course because there was a high failure rate … around 60-70 per cent of marks were inflated to a pass level”.

“In practice the university failed to ensure the teaching was adequate which it was not – they resolved it through inflating grades.”

At Flinders, one respondent claimed “staff [are] put under pressure to maintain enrolment by inflating grades” and “staff who don’t maintain enrolments are under threat of dismissal”.

Another employee said “Flinders continues to contravene measures of quality imposed by the professional association and will not do anything to limit the number of international students as they are a major source of revenue.”

More than 675,000 international students were enrolled in Australian universities this year, with education-related travel services Australia’s fourth largest export sector in 2019.

Responding to the initial ICAC report, UniSA Vice Chancellor Professor David Lloyd said the university will “openly interrogate the effectiveness of existing processes to assure integrity in our operations”, and “is committed to supporting staff who bring forward any matter of concern”.

Flinders University Vice Chancellor Professor Colin Stirling said integrity is a “core value” at the institution, and “any suspected lapse would always be taken very seriously”.

Adelaide University interim Vice Chancellor Professor Mike Brooks disseminated his institution’s report to staff last week, saying it made for “uncomfortable and challenging reading”, but he was “firmly committed to improving the integrity and accountability” of the 140-year institution.

Call to can Sydney NYE as Christmas saved

Christmas may have been partially salvaged for Sydney’s coronavirus-hit northern beaches, but experts are calling on authorities to consider canning the city’s New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid has welcomed NSW’s four-tier system for Christmas gatherings which begins today, describing it as a “cautious approach”.

From Christmas Eve to Boxing Day, Sydneysiders will be allowed to host limited visitors after just eight new locally-acquired cases were reported in the 24 hours to 8pm on Tuesday.

The NSW changes mean that people in every state and territory – who aren’t in quarantine or isolation – can gather with friends or family over the festive break.

But Dr Khorshid’s praise doesn’t extend to New Year’s Eve festivities, which he has strongly urged Premier Gladys Berejiklian to ponder.

“The NSW government should consider cancelling the New Year’s Eve fireworks display to discourage crowds and avoid any confusion in its public messaging,” he said.

“We all need to be extra vigilant during this holiday period to the stop the spread of COVID-19, especially as at this time of year when people travel, attend events, and spend time in close proximity with family and friends.”

Khorshid said NSW needed to be prepared to tighten general restrictions further if the Avalon cluster continued to spread outside the northern beaches.

Leading epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaws said the three-day rule “tweak” didn’t make sense.

“It’s a bit emotive,” Professor McLaws told Sky News.

“I understand completely how important Christmas is to Australians … but from a purely outbreak management perspective, the virus doesn’t know that this is Christmas and you’re giving it three days to potentially spread.”

Her comments came as it emerged a Qantas crew member who tested positive for coronavirus flew from Darwin to Sydney without quarantining, just one day after arriving back in the country on a flight from Paris.

The man arrived in the NT on Thursday and then caught a domestic flight to Sydney on Friday before self-isolating at home in NSW.

He developed COVID-19 symptoms on Monday and tested positive before he was moved into hotel quarantine.

NT Health Minister Natasha Fyles said Qantas was working with the federal and NSW health departments to find out how the crew member contracted the virus, with contact tracing underway.

Fruit fly outbreak declared in Renmark

The SA Department of Primary Industries and Regions has declared a fruit fly outbreak in Renmark’s west in a blow to the region’s fruit producers.

A suspension zone 15 kilometres in diameter has been established, with the movement of fruit and vegetables within the zone prohibited.

The move follows the discovery of larvae in some of the region’s backyard fruit trees.

Restrictions apply in a number of towns across the Riverland, including Berri, Calperum Station, Chaffey, Cooltong, Crescent, Gurra Gurra, Lyrup, Monash, Mundic Creek, Murtho, Old Calperum, Paringa, Pike River, Renmark, Wonuarra and Yamba.

The quarantine zone is expected to last until March 15, 2021, subject to no further outbreaks.

Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development David Basham said the department will provide green waste management for those affected in the quarantine area.

“We are leaving no stone unturned to protect our $1.3 billion fruit fly vulnerable horticulture industry,” Basham said.

“All available resources are being targeted into Renmark and the existing metropolitan Adelaide outbreaks to ensure the eradication of fruit flies from all areas.”

Almost 100 million sterile fruit flies were released across Adelaide’s suburbs in October for control purposes.

There were eight fruit fly outbreaks in metropolitan Adelaide at the time.

Basham said the Renmark outbreak does not impact the “fruit fly free” status of the rest of the state.

“The Department of Primary Industries and Regions staff are in the Riverland now applying organic bait and removing fruit and vegetables from properties in the affected area,” he said.

“Information is being distributed now to locals about the outbreak, and how people can help. We are working closely with the horticulture growers in the Riverland, particularly about the movement restrictions now imposed.”

Basham also said anyone with questions about the outbreak should call the 24-hour fruit fly hotline on 1300 666 010.

Canada joins US, approves Moderna vaccine

Canada has become the second country after the US to approve Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine, paving the way for health authorities to step up an inoculation campaign against a worsening second wave.

Earlier this month, Ottawa gave the green light to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which authorities have begun administering to priority groups including health workers and the elderly.

So far Canada has received a small fraction of the 76 million doses it needs.

“After a thorough, independent review of the evidence, it has been determined that the Moderna vaccine meets the department’s stringent safety, efficacy and quality requirements,” the federal health ministry said in a statement.

The United States approved the Moderna vaccine last Friday.

It needs to be stored and shipped frozen, but does not require the ultra-cold temperatures of the shot Pfizer developed in partnership with German firm BioNTech.

“(This means) it can be distributed to isolated and remote communities,” the health ministry said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on December 15 that Canada had signed a deal to receive up to 168,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine before the end of December once regulators had given their final approval.

A second COVID-19 wave is sweeping Canada and medical officials in some parts of the country say the healthcare system is under dangerous strain.

Canada has so far recorded 521,509 infections and 14,425 deaths.

One potential threat is a new more-infectious variant of the virus detected in Britain.

Canada imposed a 72-hour ban on flights from the UK on Monday and is set to announce later on Wednesday whether that measure will be extended.

Adelaide scrape home over Brisbane in BBL

Another umpiring howler has overshadowed Adelaide’s two-run victory over winless Brisbane in the Big Bash League.

The Heat slumped to their third loss from three games this summer despite a tremendous effort by stand-in captain Jimmy Peirson who scored 69 off 36 deliveries but could not get the hosts to their target of 151.

Instead, the Strikers held on to defend their 6-150 total with the Heat finishing on 9-148 in reply.

Peirson was thrust into the captaincy role after Chris Lynn missed the game following a hamstring injury in the warm-up.

The talking point from the night however was the latest umpiring shocker in the tournament, with Heat batsman Tom Cooper given out lbw despite clearly edging the ball.

Umpire Tony Wilds dismissed a bewildered Cooper after the batsman had attempted a switch hit off the bowling of Danny Briggs, with replays on the Gabba big screen showing the obvious error and leaving Heat fans incredulous.

The decision is sure to prompt more calls for a review system to be introduced in the tournament after several obvious errors this summer.

Peirson joined the chorus, feeling the decision had been hugely influential given how close the Heat got to their target.

“It is a hard job. It really is. I couldn’t be an umpire, that’s for sure,” Peirson said.

“But there have been a couple in the last two games we’ve seen that have been pretty obvious, I thought, and at big moments.

“If Coops bats through there it’s a different story.”

Briggs, who was the pick of the Strikers’ attack with 3-20, also felt the time had come to introduce a review system.

“It’s probably something that’s got to be on the way,” the Englishman said.

“It takes pressure off umpires really, they can afford to get one wrong and that’s only natural that they do get one wrong.

“Things happen quickly in 2020, so yeah maybe the time has come.”

The controversy could not hide the Heat’s woes though as they slumped to 8-68 in reply to the Strikers’ 6-150.

Peirson’s quickfire knock nearly delivered an unlikely victory but, needing 13 off the final over, the Heat batsman three times turned down a run and was unable to score a six off the last ball to take the match into a super-over.

The Strikers also suffered an injury blow with Afghan leg-spinner Rashid Khan (2-30) limping off late with an apparent hamstring problem.

Adelaide will be hoping to have Australian wicketkeeper Alex Carey and quick Harry Conway back in their team for Monday’s clash with Perth at the Adelaide Oval.

Carey and Conway failed to beat border closures due to NSW’s COVID outbreak and had to miss Wednesday’s match.

– with AAP and Reuters

Thanks for supporting Express this year. We’ll be back on January 11. In the meantime, keep up with the news in the regular lunch-time edition of InDaily.

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