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What we know today, Friday January 15


Welcome to your serving of the day’s breaking news from South Australia, the nation and abroad. This afternoon, SA has lifted quarantine requirements on travellers from Brisbane.

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SA to lift quarantine requirements on travellers from Greater Brisbane

From Sunday, travellers arriving in South Australia from the Greater Brisbane area will no longer need to quarantine for 14 days, but they will still be required to get tested on the first, fifth and twelfth days following arrival.

Those currently in quarantine after arriving from the Greater Brisbane area will need to stay isolated until midnight Sunday.

After that time, they will be allowed to leave quarantine before their 14 days are up, but only if they have received a negative first day test.

They will still be required to have their day five and 12 tests.

Chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier said the decision to lift the quarantine requirement was made after Queensland reported no further cases of community transmission.

“On the basis of this, we looked at what a risk would be in South Australia and we’ve decided that 14 days from when the likely transmission occurred from the first case, which was on the 2nd of January – 14 days from then would make it Sunday the 17th,” she said.

However, Spurrier said anybody travelling into South Australia who visited coronavirus hotspots in Greater Brisbane, including Woolworths Calamvale North, Acacia Ridge Bunnings, and Sunnybanks Hills Newsagent, Coles and Cellar, will still be required to quarantine for 14 days. 

She said SA Health was contacting people who have returned from Greater Brisbane recently to make sure they had not visited those high-risk locations. 

There are two people in South Australia who visited the Hotel Grand Chancellor in Brisbane, which had been used to quarantine international arrivals and was marked as a hotspot for the first time on Wednesday after a staff member tested positive. 

Those two people are quarantining at home for an additional 14 days.

“We are hoping that will be the end of this cluster and of course as a nation we’ve been very concerned because it was, in fact, that genetic variant – the B117 – which we know to be more transmissible,” Spurrier said.

Meanwhile, South Australian authorities hope to lift a hard border closure currently in place with New South Wales on January 25.

“What we will be waiting for is 14 days from the last person testing positive going into isolation,” Spurrier said.

“That was indeed on Sunday night on the 10th and that means we will be counting 14 days from the 11th.

“All going well, if there’s no further cases, we would be looking to review those borders on the 25th of January.”

South Australia has recorded one new case of COVID-19 today.

SA Health said today’s case was a women in her 30s who recently returned from overseas. She has been in a medi-hotel since her arrival.

There have been a total of 591 cases notified in South Australia.

– Stephanie Richards

‘Fake ID’ might save Joe the pigeon

Joe the pigeon might be saved, with the flap over his fate apparently a case of mistaken identity.

Animal welfare group Pigeon Racing Victoria is confident that Joe calls Australia home and is not a racing pigeon that travelled 13,000km from the United States to Melbourne.

It is an issue that has reached the highest levels of government, with acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack warning Joe should “fly home or face the consequences”.

The imperilled pigeon appeared to be on death row, with federal quarantine officials threatening to kill the bird over fears it could spread disease.

But Pigeon Racing Victoria is trying to come to Joe’s rescue, saying his identification tag is fake.

He is apparently a Turkish Tumbler – a ‘show’ bird – rather than a racing pigeon who has travelled thousands of kilometres.

The American Racing Pigeon Union has also flown to Joe’s defence, posting on Facebook to say the identification band on Joe’s leg is counterfeit.

The bands can be bought on auction sites such as Ebay.

“This is not an American bird – he’s a bird with a fake ring on his leg,” Lars Scott from Pigeon Racing Victoria said.

“He’s not a biosecurity risk or anything like that. He’s just a lost bird.

“This is stuff we do a lot – we don’t want a bird put down for no reason.”

Earlier on Friday, Mr McCormack indicated there was little room for compassion on biosecurity laws.

“If Joe has come in a way that has not met our strict biosecurity measures, then bad luck Joe,” the acting prime minister said.

“Either fly home or face the consequences.”

New fruit fly outbreaks in Renmark and Adelaide

Two more fruit fly outbreaks have been declared in Renmark and the metropolitan suburb of Black Forest, with new suspension areas in place and 70 government staff on the ground working to contain the outbreak.

The new declarations follow the detection of Queensland fruit fly larvae in a resident’s backyard in Renmark West, and Mediterranean fruit fly larvae in a resident’s home grown fruit in Black Forest.

A 15 kilometre suspension area has been established around the Renmark outbreak zone, and a 7.5 kilometre area around the Black Forest zone.

The suspension zones prohibit the movement of fruit and vegetables in the area, and will be in place until April subject to no further outbreaks.

The new outbreak in Renmark West follows an earlier fruit fly outbreak in the region declared in December. There is also an ongoing outbreak in the nearby Riverland town of Monash.

Minister for Primary Industries David Basham said the government is “throwing everything we can” to contain the new and ongoing outbreaks.

“No stone is being left unturned to protect our $1.3 billion fruit fly vulnerable horticulture industry,” Basham said.

“These outbreaks are impacting the stone fruit and citrus industries right now, and we are working with growers to ensure they have treatment options available so fruit can still reach market where possible.

“Officers are already on the ground in the new outbreak area in Renmark West applying organic bait and removing fruit from affected properties.

“Residents and businesses within the outbreak areas will be receiving information from the Department of Primary Industries and Regions about the outbreak and associated quarantine restrictions, detailing what part they can play in preventing the spread of these pests.”

Basham recommended residents in the affected areas pick up and dispose fallen and over ripe fruit from their backyard, allow Primary Industries staff easy access to their gardens, and report any suspected fruit fly or maggots to the fruit fly hotline on 1300 666 010.

No new COVID cases in NSW as premier makes testing plea

NSW has recorded no new locally acquired COIVD-19 cases but the government is urging residents to be tested in greater numbers so it can ease public health restrictions.

Some 16,070 tests were conducted in the 24 hours to 8pm on Thursday with only two cases identified, both in hotel quarantine.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the testing rates were “not where we would like them to be”.

Just over 20,000 were tested on the previous day, but the government wants to see daily numbers over 25,000.

The government is considering lifting restrictions in greater Sydney as local case numbers have nosedived.

The government will not have confidence that there are no undetected chains of transmission spreading in the community unless testing numbers increase, Berejiklian said.

“We are very much in the next few days considering what restrictions we can ease but that will depend obviously on having low case numbers and also higher rates of testing,” she said.

The premier also dismissed calls from the Queensland government to quarantine returned international travellers at isolated regional locations, saying it “would raise a whole level of other complicated issues”.

“We need police, health staff, federal authorities [and the] ADF to all participate in the quarantine system, and all you’d be doing is imply moving those challenges somewhere else perhaps with greater difficulty,” she said.

“We know the virus spreads more readily in transporting people, when you have people travelling for long periods of time you’re more likely to spread the virus than whether the trips are shorter.

“And staff all have to go back to their loved ones.”

Nine straight COVID-free days in Victoria

Victoria has recorded no new local or interstate coronavirus cases for a ninth day in a row, as authorities hope to scale back border restrictions for Greater Sydney.

Two COVID-19 cases, however, have been recorded in hotel quarantine.

The Department of Health and Human Services also received notification of a very low positive result on Thursday.

“Multiple follow up tests have returned negative results and strongly suggest that the original result is either a false positive or persistent shedding from a historic infection,” the DHHS tweeted this morning.

The case is not linked to a known case or public exposure site.

Some 15,010 people were tested for COVID-19 in Victoria over the past 24 hours, with 28 active cases in the state.

It comes as Premier Daniel Andrews flagged changes to border restrictions with Greater Sydney.

While the state has reopened its border to regional NSW, thousands of Victorians have been stranded in Greater Sydney for more than two weeks as it is classified as a “red” zone.

Andrews said the government was looking to reduce the red zone to local government areas.

Greater Brisbane, which emerged from a three-day lockdown earlier this week, also remains a Victorian red zone.

Biden to launch $1.9 trillion stimulus

President-elect Joe Biden will unveil a stimulus proposal designed to jump-start the US economy during the coronavirus pandemic and help minority communities with about $US1.9 trillion in aid.

Biden campaigned last year on a promise to take the pandemic more seriously than President Donald Trump, and the package aims to put that pledge into action with an influx of resources for the coronavirus vaccine rollout and economic recovery.

The incoming administration will work with Congress on the quick stimulus package after Biden takes office on January 20, although the impeachment of Trump threatens to consume lawmakers in the initial weeks.

The stimulus package has a price tag of about $US1.9 trillion ($A2.4 trillion), the New York Times reported, and includes a commitment for $US1400 stimulus cheques, according to a source familiar with the proposal.

Biden is expected to commit to partner with private companies to increase the number of Americans getting vaccinated.

A significant portion of the additional financial resources will be dedicated to minority communities. “I think you will see a real emphasis on these underserved communities, where there is a lot of hard work to do,” another transition official said.

The US recorded 4470 coronavirus deaths on Wednesday, a new record since the pandemic started in January.

Tennis’s biggest names touch down in Adelaide

Some of the world’s biggest tennis stars including Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams have touched down in Adelaide to begin their quarantine ahead of an exhibition event at Memorial Drive on January 29.

Two special charter planes, which also included Simona Halep, Naomi Osaka and Dominic Thiem flew into Adelaide Airport about 8pm last night.

The players will quarantine in North Adelaide’s Majestic M Hotel before a one-day exhibition event at Memorial Drive on January 29.

The players will then head to Melbourne for the Australian Open, which begins on February 8.

A Day at the Drive will feature two sessions with reduced venue capacity in line with State Government requirements to ensure the safety of all patrons.

The two other players to participate in the 8-player event are yet to be announced.

Following the Australian Open, Memorial Drive will also host the Adelaide International WTA 500 event from 22 to 27 February 2021.

South Australian Premier Steven Marshall said these events are expected to attract an international audience and showcase the recently renovated Memorial Drive as a world-class tennis precinct.

The majority of other traditional lead-up events to this year’s Australian Open have been moved or scrapped altogether this year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

International tennis players and staff also began arriving in Melbourne yesterday.

The first of 15 charter flights carrying tennis players and officials for the tournament landed at Tullamarine’s Melbourne Jet Base about 6pm.

The Doha flight arrivals were greeted by airport staff and biosecurity officials wearing personal protective equipment including masks and face shields, before being whisked away to hotel quarantine.

More private jets from Doha, Abu Dhabi, Los Angeles, Singapore and Dubai will land in the Victorian capital over the next 24 hours.

American world No.50 Tennys Sandgren, who was allowed to board his LA flight despite testing positive for coronavirus this week, was expected to arrive just before 3am this morning.

The former Australian Open quarter-finalist was deemed to be no longer contagious and a case of viral shedding, having been struck down with COVID-19 in November.

All players and staff based in Victoria will be tested daily and must quarantine at one of three Australian Open-dedicated hotels for two weeks.

The players will be allowed to spend up to five hours a day outside their rooms during quarantine for training purposes and will be tested daily for the virus.

Warm-up events at Melbourne Park will begin on January 31.

Before the 1200-strong international contingent’s arrival, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews rejected criticism of the Australian Open going ahead.

He said the grand slam was cleared to proceed on public health advice and added it was a massive jobs creator.

“This event is very important to our city and our state,” he said.

“It is worth going to these unprecedented measures to be sure it goes ahead.”

Case free day is hailed as a win over clusters

Australia has recorded no new cases of local coronavirus transmission, sparking hopes concerning clusters in the country’s biggest cities could be conquered.

NSW, Victoria and Queensland on Thursday recorded zero locally acquired infections after weeks of worry about different outbreaks in the major capitals.

South Australia reported no new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, leaving the state with 11 active infections, all returned travellers in hotel quarantine.

Health Minister Greg Hunt compared Australia’s numbers with the 16,000 deaths and 750,000 cases recorded worldwide in a single day.

“It is a deep reminder of what we have achieved as a nation in saving lives and protecting lives,” he said.

There remains some concern about the 250 people who completed quarantine in the now shut-down Hotel Grand Chancellor in Brisbane where six people contracted the UK strain of the virus.

Four recent travellers to South Australia may have quarantined at the hotel, now shut down over a COVID-19 scare.

SA Health said yesterday that two people who were at the hotel and later travelled to South Australia were no longer in the state.

It said checks were still being made to confirm if two more people from the hotel had recently arrived in SA via Victoria.

Later yesterday afternoon, SA Health confirmed one person had arrived in South Australia via Victoria and was now in quarantine.

“Upon further investigation, one of the two people believed to have left the state remains in South Australia and is also currently in quarantine,” the department said.

The information comes after the Grand Chancellor in Brisbane was shut down when six people linked to the quarantine facility tested positive for the more contagious UK coronavirus strain.

A cleaner and her partner, who are among the six, were contagious while in the community and triggered a three-day lockdown in Brisbane last weekend.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has now proposed a national network of outback quarantine camps to protect Australians from the UK variant.

Palaszczuk says it’s clearly too risky to quarantine travellers in capital cities anymore.

Queensland is instead looking to order people to quarantine in vacant regional mining camps.

The national cabinet of federal and state leaders will meet next week and the Queensland proposal to use remote mining camps instead of hotels for quarantine is expected to be on the agenda.

But the plan appears dead in the water with NSW signalling it wanted to continue using hotels and WA dismissing the idea, with both states citing logistical hurdles.

Stars prepare for scaled-back Biden inauguration

US President-elect Joe Biden’s January 20 inauguration has been scaled back due to security concerns and the COVID-19 pandemic but will include performances by Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez.

The public will not be on hand to watch the swearing-in at the West Front of the Capitol building, now fortified by fencing, barriers and thousands of National Guard Troops.

The upcoming Washington ceremony has been overshadowed in recent days as the US Congress decides if it will impeach departing US President Donald Trump.

The Senate could meet as soon as next week for Trump’s impeachment trial, making him the first president both to be impeached a second time and to face trial by lawmakers after leaving office.

The House of Representatives on Wednesday voted to impeach Trump on charges of incitement after his supporters rampaged in the Capitol.

Under the US constitution, impeachment in the House triggers a trial in the Senate.

A two-thirds majority would be needed to convict and remove Trump, meaning at least 17 Republicans in the 100-member chamber would have to join the Democrats.

The swift impeachment, one week after the riot, is very unlikely to lead to Trump’s removal before Biden takes office on January 20.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said no trial could begin until the Senate was scheduled to be back in regular session on Tuesday.

But even if he has left the White House, the Senate could convict Trump and then vote to ban him from running for office again.

Biden, a Democrat, has urged Senate leaders to avoid a trial during his first days in the White House so that they can focus on the economy, getting the coronavirus vaccine distribution program on track and confirming crucial cabinet nominees.

“I hope that the Senate leadership will find a way to deal with their Constitutional responsibilities on impeachment while also working on the other urgent business of this nation,” Biden said in a statement on Wednesday.

The article of impeachment – equivalent to an indictment in a criminal trial – charged Trump with “incitement of insurrection” in his speech to a larger crowd of thousands of supporters shortly before the riot.

The mob disrupted Congress’s certification of Biden’s victory, sent lawmakers into hiding and left five people dead including a police officer.

Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez will perform at the inauguration, which will also feature remarks from a black firefighter from Georgia, a former Youth Poet Laureate, a Catholic priest and a pastor from Biden’s hometown of Wilmington, Delaware.

Lady Gaga will sing the national anthem and Lopez will give a musical performance.

“They represent one clear picture of the grand diversity of our great nation,” Biden’s team said in a statement on Thursday.

UK bans South American visitors to keep new strain out

The UK will ban arrivals from Brazil, other South American countries and Portugal due to concerns over a new coronavirus variant, transport minister Grant Shapps says.

Portugal was also added to the banned list because of close travel links with Brazil, he said.

Workers transporting essential goods from Portugal would be exempt.

Shapps said the new measures would not apply to UK and Irish citizens and third-country citizens with residence rights but passengers returning from those destinations must self-isolate for 10 days.

On Sunday, Japan said the variant had been found in four travellers from Brazil’s Amazonas state.

It shares some characteristics with variants in the UK and South Africa which are believed to be more transmissible than normal.

In December, Brazil suspended flights from the UK due to the emergence of the British variant of the coronavirus.

The UK on Wednesday reported 1564 new deaths within 28 days of a positive test from COVID-19, a record daily toll, with another 47,525 additional cases.

Harris thrust into crucial Brisbane Test

Australia is banking on Marcus Harris to help deliver victory in arguably its most important Test on home soil since Justin Langer became coach. The fourth and final Test against India begins in Brisbane at 10.30am today.

Langer’s side has crushed Sri Lanka, Pakistan and New Zealand in home series while rising up the Test rankings after the Cape Town cheating scandal in 2018.

India, who outclassed an Australian side that sorely missed suspended superstars Steve Smith and David Warner in 2018-19, have provided stubborn resistance this summer.

The four-Test series is level at 1-1 after the SCG draw on Monday.

An Australian victory in Brisbane would be rewarded with the Border-Gavaskar trophy, which they haven’t grasped since 2017, and top spot on the International Cricket Council rankings.

Will Pucovski’s shoulder injury has plunged Harris into the pressure-laden contest.

Harris, who was dumped after the 2019 Ashes, has waited 16 months for a Test recall.

The left-hander has watched selectors prefer Pucovski, David Warner, Joe Burns and Matthew Wade at the top of the order throughout the current series.

Harris has a golden chance to entrench himself in the XI with a big score in Brisbane.

Pucovski’s short-term future is more clouded, with medicos mapping out a recovery plan for his partial shoulder dislocation after Thursday’s failed fitness test.

The enforced omission of Pucovski, who debuted in Sydney after overcoming concussion and mental-health challenges in recent years, is the only change to Australia’s XI.

Murray virus confirmation puts Open appearance in doubt

Former world No.1 tennis player Andy Murray is in doubt for next month’s Australian Open after organisers confirmed that he had tested positive for coronavirus in the UK.

Murray, 33, was awarded a wildcard by organisers to play in the main draw of the year’s first Grand Slam in Melbourne but now will not be able to catch the official charter flights for the tournament after testing positive.

“Andy Murray has advised that he has tested positive for COVID-19 and is isolating at home in the UK,” Tennis Australia said in a statement.

“Unfortunately this means he will be unable to join the official AO charter flights arriving in Australia in the coming days to go through the quarantine period with the other players.”

British media reported Murray was in good health and still hoped to compete at Melbourne Park in the major, which has been pushed back three weeks and will start on February 8.

But even if Murray recovers soon it will be difficult for him to make it to Australia later as players and officials must arrive during a 36-hour window from Thursday and then serve a mandatory isolation of 14 days, as per health protocols.

Three-time Grand Slam champion Murray, currently ranked 123rd in the world, had pulled out of the season-opening Delray Beach Open in Florida earlier this month to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19.

He had hip resurfacing surgery in early 2019 but made his comeback to win the Antwerp title nine months later.

Murray missed most of the 2020 season due to complications with his hip and struggled for form on his return after the COVID-19 hiatus, suffering a second-round defeat in the US Open before falling in the opening round of the French Open at Roland Garros.

– with AAP and Reuters

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