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What we know today, Wednesday January 13


Today’s breaking news from South Australia, the nation and abroad. The Queensland government is shutting down a quarantine hotel after six people staying on the same floor contracted the UK strain of coronavirus, while SA is relieving its border restrictions to regional NSW.

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SA to ease border restrictions to regional NSW

South Australia will open its borders to people travelling from regional New South Wales from midnight tonight, but arrivals from Greater Brisbane will still need to quarantine for now.

Premier Steven Marshall today announced that SA borders would be opened for people arriving from NSW outside of its “high transmission zones” of Greater Sydney,  Wollongong, the Central Coast and the Blue Mountains.

People travelling from NSW outside those areas will still be required to be tested on the first, fifth and twelfth days after their arrival in SA, but will not need to isolate unless they are displaying symptoms.

However, there is “no change with regard to Queensland”, where the Palaszczuk Government is shutting a quarantine hotel after six people staying there contracted the UK strain of coronavirus.

All six cases in the COVID-19 cluster stayed on the seventh floor of Brisbane’s Grand Chancellor Hotel while in quarantine. The 129 people staying at the hotel are now being moved to another hotel and tested before restarting their 14-day quarantine.

Marshall said SA remained “hopeful we’ll be able to lift that restriction in coming days… but we don’t want to go one or two days too early and then have a catastrophe on our hands”.

“There are still some worrying concerns there… but we’re hopeful it can be done in the coming days,” he said.

SA today recorded two new COVID-19 cases, both men in their 30s recently returned from overseas and staying in medi-hotels.

SA’s coronavirus total now stands at 590, with 12 active cases, after more than 5000 tests were conducted yesterday.

-Tom Richardson

Queensland quarantine hotel shut as cluster grows

The Queensland government is shutting a quarantine hotel after six people staying there contracted the deadly UK strain of coronavirus.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says all six cases in the COVID-19 cluster stayed on the seventh floor of Brisbane’s Grand Chancellor Hotel while in quarantine. They are all in isolation.

All 129 people staying at the hotel are being moved to another hotel and tested before restarting their 14-day quarantine.

“Have a look what’s happening in the UK, what’s happening in Ireland, I mean, this, if it if it gets out of control it can have devastating consequences,” the premier told reporters.

“Right now we do know that this strain is coming into Australia from overseas arrivals, they’re not just coming into Queensland, it’s coming to other states as well, so I think everybody needs to be on a higher alert.”

Palaszczuk said 226 people who have worked at the hotel since December 30 will be isolated and tested.

Another 250 guests who have left the hotel since December 30 will be contacted and isolated while they’re tested.

The premier said the state government will pay the bill for the existing 129 guests, who must now restart the entire quarantine period in a new hotel.

“It’s going to be very tough on these particular guests that they now have to do an additional 14 days, however, it is necessary,” she said.

Palaszczuk called for a review of Australia’s quarantine system and its ability to keep out the UK strain of the virus.

She said the handling of arrivals and the suitability of quarantine hotels must be reassessed.

“What we are dealing with here is something that we’ve never had to deal with before,” the premier said.

“When we were dealing with the COVID, we knew what we were dealing with over a period of time, but now this is a new highly infectious strain. We do not want to see this getting out into the community.”

Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said it was crucial to ensure everyone at the hotel quarantined for the next 14-days because there had been two separate cases of transmission there.

“If we find out what’s happened on that floor seven and that’s a reason for how it’s moved, transmitted, then that might change, but at this point in time it’s 14 days because I don’t know how that transmission has occurred,” she said.

The infected cleaner’s later movements in Brisbane triggered a three-day lockdown of the entire city and outlying areas over the weekend.

Dr Young said 310 of the woman’s close contacts had been tested and only one, her partner, had COVID-19.

Another 96 close contacts are being tested or awaiting their results.

Authorities are looking for anyone else who may have come into contact with the cleaner or her partner at a number of venues.

Those venues include Woolworths at Calamvale North, Coles Sunnybank Hills Shoppingtown and a Sunnybank Hills newsagent between January 3-5.

People who were at Bunnings Warehouse Acacia on January 5 or Sunnybank Cellars on January 6 at also being sought.

Anyone who was at Capriccio’s Italian Pizza Restaurant in Maleny on January 6 or Purple Palette Cellars or Woolworths Maleny on January 7 are also urged to get tested.

The total number of active cases in Queensland is 26.

Australian GP reliant on relaxed virus conditions

Australia’s staging of a Formula One Grand Prix in November is reliant on state and federal government quarantine conditions relating to the coronavirus pandemic being relaxed in time for the rescheduled race.

Strict travel restrictions currently make Australia one of the most difficult countries for F1 teams to enter and was a significant factor in the decision this week to delay the usual season opener at Melbourne’s Albert Park until late in 2021.

Australian Grand Prix Corporation chief Andrew Westacott said it “wasn’t possible” logistically for about 1200-1600 drivers and staff to serve the required two-week quarantine period in Melbourne.

The Australian GP is now slated to be held from November 18-21, after a race in Brazil on November 7.

Victoria’s Minister for Tourism, Sport and Major Events Martin Pakula admitted he had genuine fears Australia would lose its spot on the F1 calendar if a date was not found for this year’s race.

But Pakula welcomed the new November timeslot, declaring it had bought the government valuable time to assess the pandemic’s progression in coming months and work out coronavirus protocols in conjunction with Formula One.

However, the tight GP schedule could still pose problems if strict quarantine measures remain in place.

“I suspect in many respects things will look quite different in November to how they look in January,” Pakula said today.

“The (COVID-19) vaccine rollout has started in Europe and America, it will start in Australia in February, and we expect that to gather pace right throughout 2021.

“We expect the epidemiological conditions to be different (by November) and there’s a whole lot of things that we’ve now got time to negotiate with Formula One in terms of pre-arrival testing, vaccinations, bubbles and all sorts of things.”

Pakula is hopeful the Australian GP will return to its regular autumn slot in 2022, with the March date slotting neatly into Victoria’s major events calendar between the Australian Open tennis and AFL season.

Victoria records week without local COVID case

Victoria has gone one week without recording a local or interstate acquired case of coronavirus, as the state government defends its decision to remain closed to Greater Sydney.

There were, however, three new COVID-19 cases detected in hotel quarantine on Wednesday, bringing the total number of active cases in the state to 35.

About 17,908 test results were received in the past 24 hours.

It comes as the state government refuses to say when Victorians stranded in Greater Sydney will be able to return home.

Victoria’s new “traffic light” system, introduced on Monday, allows people in the “orange” zone of regional NSW to enter the state, so long as they apply for a permit and get tested within 72 hours of their return.

But both Greater Sydney and Greater Brisbane remain “red” zones.

The state’s Minister for Ageing, Carers and Disability Luke Donnellan said about 75,000 permits have been issued since the system was launched.

He said the state’s border restrictions were based on public health advice and take into consideration the number of active cases as well as mystery cases in a state.

“What may appear to be brutal and uncaring and the like is very much done with the interests of the Victorian public at heart to ensure we don’t have another situation where we have to lockdown,” Donnellan said.

“The idea of just saying let everything rip and then we’ll just deal with the consequences again, I don’t think the Victorian public wants (that).”

He said there was “no way known” the government would change its approach to managing the virus because people were “getting grumpy”.

‘Potentially deadly’: Riverland mosquito warning

SA Health has sent out an alert warning South Australian to avoid exposure to mosquitos after detecting the “potentially deadly” Murray Valley Encephalitis virus and Kunjin virus in a surveillance flock of chickens near Meningie.

One of the five surveillance chickens tested positive, and it is the first time a sentinel chicken has tested positive to MVEv and KUNv since 2011.

The Department for Health and Wellbeing’s Activing Executive Director of Health Protection and Licensing Services Dr Fay Jenkins said there was no vaccine for the virus, with vigilance against mosquito bites the only way to prevent transmission.

“We know there has been an increase in the number of mosquitoes present along the Murray River this season, however, the detection of MVEv and Kunjin virus is an even stronger reminder for all South Australians to be vigilant in their fight against mosquito bites across the State,” Dr Jenkins said.

“Many people infected with MVEv are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms such as fever, headache and nausea.

“Although only a few people who become infected with MVEv will develop more serious symptoms which may include confusion, headaches, neck stiffness, tremors, drowsiness and seizures, for those who do, it can be very serious and is fatal in about 20 per cent of cases.

“For those who survive, about 40 per cent of people will suffer permanent neurological damage.

“There is no vaccine and no cure for mosquito borne diseases transmitted in South Australia, and the only way of preventing disease is to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.”

Jenkins urged South Australian to “fight the bite” by using mosquito repellent and wearing long, loose-fitting, light coloured clothing.

Demand for workers making strong recovery

The still lofty unemployment rate looks set for further improvement with job vacancies growing at a solid pace as the economy recovers from last year’s recession.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics said job vacancies in the November quarter jumped 23.4 per cent to be 12 per cent higher than a year earlier and surpassing the pre-COVID levels seen in February.

ABS head of labour statistics Bjorn Jarvis said the 48,000 rise in the November quarter follows the sharp 77,000 increase reported three months earlier as COVID restrictions continued to be relaxed across Australia.

“This reflected the pace of recovery in labour demand in the second half of the year and labour shortages in some industries,” Jarvis said.

Confirming this continued upswing in demand for workers, the National Skills Commission’s preliminary reading of its monthly vacancy report showed job ads on the internet rose by a further 1.4 per cent in December.

This represented the eighth consecutive monthly increase with ads now standing 11.1 per cent higher than a year earlier.

The unemployment rate was 6.8 per cent in November after hitting a 22-year high of 7.5 per cent in June.

In last month’s mid-year budget review, Treasury forecast the jobless rate falling further to 6.25 per cent in the next financial year and to 5.75 per cent in 2022/23.

SA border restrictions with Queensland may be eased today

South Australia could lift its quarantine requirement for visitors from Greater Brisbane as early as today, but it will be a longer wait for the state’s hard border with New South Wales to be relaxed.

SA’s transition committee met yesterday afternoon and decided there would be no immediate changes to restrictions, but chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier said there might be an update today, following a national meeting of her state and federal counterparts late this morning.

SA authorities last week imposed a 14-day quarantine requirement for visitors from Greater Brisbane, after a cleaner in a quarantine hotel there was diagnosed with the highly contagious UK variant of COVID-19.

Queensland officials imposed a three-day lockdown for Greater Brisbane on Friday, which was lifted on Monday night, despite the cleaner’s partner also returning a positive test to the new strain.

QLD authorities said the man had been in quarantine since January 7 and additional contact tracing and testing was underway.

Spurrer yesterday told reporters authorities were “very concerned about this particular variant” of COVID and were taking a cautious approach.

Emerging from the transition committee meeting, she said there would be “no changes to border arrangements and restrictions at this stage”.

But she said she was “very keen to have that border arrangement (with QLD) lifted” and expected to get more information today “to make us feel fully confident when we change our border arrangements”.

That information includes test results of contacts of the QLD cases, who have been put into quarantine.

Regarding SA’s hard border with NSW, Spurrier said she still wanted to see 14 days of no new cases of community transmission before lifting that restriction.

The Northern Territory and ACT removed their travel restrictions with Queensland on Monday.

SA recorded no new cases yesterday.

There are 15 active cases, all returned travellers in medi-hotels.

Spurrier said there had been four cases of the highly contagious UK variant in SA – two had been cleared and released from medi-hotels and two were still in quarantine.

SA still has a range of other local restrictions, including a cap of 50 people for gatherings at homes, and one person per two square metres in restaurants.

Authorities have previously said they will review these in the new year as they watch virus developments here and interstate.

– Jemma Chapman

House reconvenes to impeach Trump

US lawmakers are reconvening at the Capitol for the first time since the deadly pro-Trump riot to approve a resolution calling on Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to declare the president unable to serve.

Impeachment ahead, the US House will first try to convince the vice president and cabinet to act even more quickly to remove President Donald Trump from office, arguing he is a threat to democracy in the remaining days of his presidency.

Pence is not expected to take any such action.

The House would next move swiftly to impeach Trump.

Trump told reporters at the White House the prospect of impeachment is causing “tremendous anger” in the country but he said he wants “no violence”.

The president spoke as he left for Texas to survey the border wall with Mexico.

His remarks were his first to reporters since the Capitol attack.

On impeachment, Trump said it’s “a really terrible thing that they’re doing”.

But he said, “We want no violence. Never violence”.

Trump told reporters his speech before Wednesday’s assault – in which he urged supporters to walk to the Capitol and “cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women” – had been analysed by others, who he said believed it was “totally appropriate”.

“If you read my speech… what I said was totally appropriate,” he told reporters at Joint Base Andrews when asked about any personal responsibility he had regarding the January 6 attack.

“They’ve analysed my speech and my words and my final paragraph, my final sentence and everybody… thought it was totally appropriate,” he said before heading to Alamo, Texas to visit on the border wall with Mexico.

Trump’s remarks on Tuesday were his first in public since the attack although he released a video on Thursday in which he condemned the violence.

He did not answer a shouted question before leaving the White House about whether he was responsible for the violence at the Capitol, which led to the deaths of six people.

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy told Republicans on Monday that Trump had acknowledged during a phone call that he bears “some responsibility” for the siege.

“I asked him personally today if he holds responsibility for what happened, if he feels bad about what happened. He told me he does have some responsibility for what happened,” McCarthy told Republicans during a two and a half-hour conversation, according to a source who took part in the call.

Trump faces a single charge – “incitement of insurrection” – in the impeachment resolution that the House will begin debating on Wednesday, a week before Democrat Joe Biden is set to be inaugurated on January 20.

As security tightened, Biden said on Monday he was “not afraid” of taking the oath of office outside at the Capitol.

As for the rioters, Biden said, “It is critically important that there’ll be a real serious focus on holding those folks who engaged in sedition and threatening the lives, defacing public property, caused great damage – that they be held accountable.”

Thousands of farm animals destroyed in South East fire

More than 6000 sheep and cattle have been destroyed in the Blackford bushfire in the State’s South East, which was brought under control yesterday after burning more than 14,174 hectares of grass and scrub.

The fire started on Monday and was brought under control yesterday as more than 250 firefighters, farm units and water-bombing aircraft battled to contain the blaze.

About 20 fire trucks and 100 firefighters were still on the fireground last night monitoring hot spots.

Police launched an investigation into the cause of the fire but it was found to be non-suspicious.

The fire has impacted the communities of Avenue Range, Blackford and Lucindale with several structures confirmed lost or substantially damaged.

Damage assessment teams are currently checking structures in the fire-affected areas.

PIRSA’s State Commander for Agricultural and Animal Services Mehdi Doroudi said contact was already being made with the about 70 properties identified from within the fire area who had stock registered with the department.

“Currently we have two crews already active on the ground with another two being activated tomorrow to assist producers assess burnt livestock,” he said yesterday.

“At this stage we are still verifying reports of livestock and other relevant agricultural losses, given this is still an active fire ground with the fire only contained this afternoon it will take some time for us to obtain a full picture of the agricultural impacts from the fire.

“As a result, the confirmed livestock losses to date are 6174 sheep and 11 cattle, however we know this number will increase in coming days as assessments continue.”

A 24-hour hotline number – 1800 255 556 – has been activated for primary producers and animal owners seeking urgent assistance and information.

“We also have officers available to assist with assessment of injured and burnt livestock,” Doroudi said.

Australian man accused of running world’s largest darknet marketplace

German investigators have detained an Australian man they say is the operator of DarkMarket, the largest illegal online marketplace in the world.

DarkMarket was shut down on Monday and its servers, located in Ukraine and Moldova, were taken off the internet, prosecutors said.

The alleged operator, a 34-year-old Australian man, was detained near the German-Danish border and remanded in custody.

“Until its closure, DarkMarket was probably the largest marketplace worldwide on the darknet, with almost 500,000 users and more than 2400 sellers,” prosecutors in the city of Koblenz said.

More than 320,000 transactions were conducted via the website including the sale of drugs, counterfeit money, stolen or falsified credit cards, anonymous SIM cards and malware.

The transactions were reportedly worth a total of 4,650 bitcoin and 12,800 monero – two cryptocurrencies – for an equivalent of more than 140 million euros ($A221 million).

The investigation was led by local German investigators with the participation of foreign authorities, including the FBI and Europol.

Unknown COVID cases baffle NSW contact tracers

Four weeks on from discovering the northern beaches outbreak, NSW Health is still trying to link 14 recent coronavirus cases to known clusters.

Five locally-acquired coronavirus cases were reported on Tuesday from just under 15,000 tests.

The origins of two new cases – one on the northern beaches and one in Blacktown – are so far unknown.

All up, 12 cases found since December 16 are still being investigated by NSW contact tracers, including three detected before Christmas.

A further two cases – from the Canterbury-Bankstown and Lane Cove council areas – have been fully investigated without any link found.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said it was unlikely any restrictions in Greater Sydney would be eased this week.

“We’re still seeing community transmission,” she said on Tuesday.

“Even though in most instances, (they are) household contacts or people already in isolation, but we have had a couple of examples where they’re still unlinked, and that’s always a concern.”

Testing numbers reported on Tuesday were again below that of the day before, concerning officials.

Daily testing figures fell as low as 6173 just before the northern beaches outbreak was discovered.

“We need 25,000-plus tests a day and we particularly need to see testing in places such as the Northern Beaches, such as western Sydney where we’ve seen cases recently,” NSW Health’s Jeremy McAnulty said on Tuesday.

NSW has more than 200 active coronavirus cases, including one person who is in hospital in intensive care.

Meanwhile, the ACT and Northern Territory have lifted travel restrictions for the Central Coast, Wollongong and some parts of Greater Sydney.

Indoor concerts to headline local Australia Day celebrations

Up to 5000 people will be allowed into the Adelaide Entertainment Centre when Australian rock band Birds of Tokyo headline two Australia Day concerts on January 26 in what organisers say will be the largest indoor live music event in the state since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The two separate two-and-a-half-hour free concerts at the Entertainment Centre will be held from 12.30pm and 6.30pm, as part of the COVID safe Australia Day event.

The concerts will also include a Welcome to Country ceremony, civic ceremonies, a multicultural parade and a 15-piece modern orchestra.

ADCSA Chief Executive Officer Jan Chorley said this year’s Australia Day theme is encouraging South Australians to “Reflect, Respect and Celebrate. The Story of Us.”

“We have witnessed throughout 2020 Australians demonstrating their resilience as individuals, communities and as a nation,” Chorley said.

“We invite South Australians to reflect on this great land and its people as we embrace the spirit of Australia Day 2021.”

Australia Day celebrations will kick off in Adelaide from 8am at Botanic Park with a Smoking Ceremony performed by Kaurna elders.

A flag-raising ceremony and 21-gun salute will be held at the Torrens Parade Ground for the official “Salute to Australia” from noon.

Cheesy name gives Coon eaters something to Cheer about

Australian cheese brand Coon has a new name – Cheer – following a review of “current attitudes and perspectives”.

The decision by owner Saputo Dairy follows a review sparked by community objections to the original name, which is also a racial slur.

“Our decision to change the name of Australia’s much-loved cheese reinforces this commitment to build a culture of acceptance, inclusion and respect where everyone feels a sense of belonging,” the global head of Saputo Lino A Supato said in a statement.

The new name, Cheer, was chosen because it signals happiness.

“Cheer Cheese enriches everyday moments, with our signature taste that brightens your morning, noon or night,” Saputo Dairy Australia commercial director Cam Bruce said in a statement on Wednesday.

Cheer cheese will be on the supermarket shelves nationwide from July 2021.

Coon cheese has been sold in Australia since the 1930s and was originally named after the American who developed the maturation process, Edward William Coon.

– with AAP and Reuters
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