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What we know today, Thursday January 21


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

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Private gatherings cap lifted, NSW restrictions remain

South Australia will keep its COVID-19 border restrictions with NSW in place but has moved to ease some local measures in time for Australia Day.

The cap on private gatherings will rise from 50 to 200 but larger groups will need to have a COVID-safe plan, appoint a COVID marshall, keep a guest list and use a QR code.

A density requirement of only one person to every two square metres will also remain.

The restrictions with NSW, which prevent people from Greater Sydney, the Central Coast and Wollongong entering the state, will continue.

Premier Steven Marshall says this is in response to the six cases identified there last weekend.

But he says all being well, those measures will be lifted from January 31.

Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier said the changes on home gatherings would allow for some larger events, such as weddings, on private property.

“We still want to have some safety around that, so that’s the reason for the QR readers,” she said.

“We’d also like a COVID marshall to be there.”

It comes after SA recorded two new COVID-19 cases today, both returned overseas travellers quarantining in a medi-hotel, bringing the state’s total number of cases to 596.

The two cases are a man in his 40s and a woman in her 20s and are both considered old infections.

There are currently five active cases in the state.

Read more here

JobKeeper still on track to end in March: PM

Businesses have been told to prepare for life after wage subsidies with Scott Morrison adamant JobKeeper is still due to end in March.

The prime minister hasn’t completely shut the door to changing course, but seems increasingly unlikely to extend the program in its current form.

“Australians would agree that taxpayers’ money can’t be used endlessly to run the Australian economy,” he told reporters in central Queensland on Thursday.

“That is not a sustainable way forward. That just piles up debt. We’ve got a lot of it now that was necessary to do.

“But my approach on these things is (spend) every dollar you need to, but not a dollar you don’t have to.”

Morrison said businesses should make decisions based on the JobKeeper end date of March 28.

“At this stage, the settings are as I’ve set them out and people should work on the basis of those settings unless they’re reviewed,” he said.

There are concerns sectors still under enormous pressure from coronavirus restrictions like tourism could drive unemployment higher without wage subsidies.

But the prime minister argues the same dire predictions were made when JobKeeper and the unemployment benefit were reduced in September and December.

“The assumption that is being made is there are not other things being done in the economy to drive the growth that supports businesses,” he said.

The government is talking up other programs, including hiring credits for young people and home construction grants, as evidence economic support will continue in other forms.

SA unemployment rises in December

South Australia’s unemployment rate rose in December but the figure remains below the national average, according to official data released today.

The state’s unemployment rate was the lowest in the nation in November, at 6.2 per cent (seasonally adjusted), but rose to 6.4 per cent in the final month of 2020.

This put the state’s jobless rate below the national figure – 6.6 per cent – and on par with NSW.

Of the states, only Western Australia (6.2 per cent) recorded a lower rate than SA and NSW. Queensland had the highest unemployment rate (7.5 per cent). Victoria’s unemployment rate fell by 0.6 percentage points to 6.5 per cent.

However, the Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows South Australia continued to have the highest underemployment rate in the country – 10.4 per cent compared to the national average of 8.5 per cent.

Read the full story here

Biden vows to end “uncivil war” in the US

New US President Joe Biden has been sworn in, vowing to end the “uncivil war” in a deeply divided country reeling from a battered economy and a raging coronavirus pandemic.

“Today we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate but of a cause: the cause of democracy… At this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed,” Biden said in his inaugural address.

Biden, 78, became the oldest US president in history at a scaled-back ceremony in Washington DC that was largely stripped of its usual pomp and circumstance, due both to the coronavirus and security concerns following the January 6 assault on the Capitol by supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump.

Biden takes office at a time of deep unease, with the country facing what his advisers have described as four compounding crises: the pandemic, the economic downtown, climate change and racial inequality.

He has promised immediate action, including a raft of executive orders on his first day in office.

After a bitter campaign marked by Trump’s allegations of election fraud, Biden struck a conciliatory tone, asking those who did not vote for him to give him a chance to be their president as well.

“To overcome these challenges to restore the soul and secure the future of America requires so much more than words. It requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy: unity,” he said.

“We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this – if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts.”

The ceremony unfolded in front of a heavily fortified US Capitol, where a mob of Trump supporters stormed the building two weeks ago, enraged by his claims that the election was stolen with millions of fraudulent votes.

The violence prompted the Democratic-controlled US House of Representatives to impeach Trump last week for an unprecedented second time.

Thousands of National Guard troops were called into the city after the siege, which left five people dead and briefly forced lawmakers into hiding.

Instead of a throng of supporters, the National Mall on Wednesday was covered by nearly 200,000 flags and 56 pillars of light meant to represent people from US states and territories.

There were no crowds, and President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were safely sworn in during the ceremony.

“Here we stand, just days after a riotous mob thought they could use violence to silence the will of the people, to stop the work on our democracy, to drive us from this sacred ground,” Biden said.

“It did not happen; it will never happen. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.”

Biden was elected in 1972 at age 29 to the US Senate from the state of Delaware and remained there for 36 years before serving from 2009 to 2017 as vice president under Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, the first black US president.

Eased SA restrictions flagged ahead of Australia Day

An increase in caps at private gatherings ahead of Australia Day celebrations will be on the agenda when South Australia’s COVID-19 transition committee meets today.

Those caps are currently set at 50 people in homes and 200 people in other venues.

They don’t apply to venues with specific COVID-19 plans to cater for large crowds, such as sporting fixtures.

“My team is currently working with the people in SA Health to see what options we may be able to implement leading into the weekend,” Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said.

“We are talking about the caps. I wouldn’t expect substantial change but we are talking about what changes we might make.”

However, no changes are expected to SA’s current border restrictions for NSW, with people coming from Greater Sydney, the Central Coast and Wollongong not allowed into the state unless they are a returning local resident, have an exemption or are an essential worker.

SA authorities want to wait for 14 days without community transmission before easing the border rules, which would suggest a timeframe towards the end of January, assuming there were no more cases.

South Australia reported just one new virus case on Wednesday, in a returned overseas traveller, and has just six active infections, all in hotel quarantine.

Meanwhile, South Australians have been urged not to skip checking in at businesses and other venues with QR codes.

Stevens said that while South Australia was doing exceptionally well, the virus had not gone away.

He said while police had received considerable feedback suggesting people were “streaming” into venues without checking in, the issue was not as simple as it seemed.

But he said scanning the code was not actually a condition of entry.

The only requirement is for people to check in at some stage while in a shop or other venue. It can be done at any time they are there.

“But there is a need to really reinforce that requirement and we need to reinforce with businesses that they are obligated to make sure people check in,” he said yesterday.

Stevens also moved to reassure the public on Wednesday that QR codes were not here to stay with no plans to keep the system in place once the pandemic was over.

He said that threshold would come when the state’s public health officials no longer believed COVID-19 was a threat to the broader community and particularly the vulnerable.

Hot weather triggers severe bushfire conditions

Severe bushfire conditions have been declared across six South Australian districts today with hot to very hot conditions forecast across the state.

The warnings apply to the west coast, eastern Eyre Peninsula, Mid North, Mount Lofty Ranges, Yorke Peninsula and lower South East.

The Country Fire Service says total fire bans will be in place for those regions on Thursday.

Adelaide is forecast to have a top temperature of 35C with the mercury to climb into the low 40s in some regional centres.

“Where total fire bans have been declared, very hazardous fire weather conditions are predicted,” the CFS said.

“The CFS recommends that you implement your bushfire survival plan.”

The extreme conditions will spread further south over the weekend with Adelaide expecting 39C on Saturday and 41C on Sunday.

The Bureau of Meteorology says a milder change will move across the state late on Sunday.

Trump leaves Washington but vows to return

Donald Trump has hinted at a comeback as he said farewell to Washington, while breaking tradition to avoid the inauguration ceremony of new US President Joe Biden.

Trump on Wednesday became the first president to snub his successor’s inauguration since 1869, but he wished the new administration good luck and success.

“It is my greatest honour and privilege to have been your president,” Trump said at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland after leaving the White House for the last time.

“I wish the new administration great luck and great success.

“I think they’ll have great success – they have the foundation to do something really spectacular.”

Trump told his cheering, chanting supporters that he’ll be watching and listening from a distance.

“So just a goodbye. We love you,” he said.

“We will be back in some form.”

Members of Trump’s family gathered for the send-off on the military base along with the president’s loyalists before jetting off to Florida.

Speaking without notes, Trump said his presidency was an “incredible four years”.

He told the crowd that he and his wife Melania Trump loved them and praised his family for its hard work, saying they could have chosen to have an easier life.

Trump did not name President Biden during his brief speech.

India celebrates vice president Harris’s inauguration

Residents of an Indian village have set off firecrackers and prayed at a Hindu temple as they watched Kamala Harris, who has strong roots there, take her oath of office and become the US vice president.

Thousands in the village of Thulasendrapuram, about 350km from the southern coastal city of Chennai, watched the inauguration live as reporters broadcast the villager’s celebrations to millions of Indians.

Harris made history this morning as the first black, South Asian and female US vice president and what made her special for the village is her Indian heritage.

The villagers chanted “Long live Kamala Harris” while holding portraits of her and they set off fireworks the moment she took the oath.

Harris’ grandfather was born in the village more than 100 years ago. Many decades later, he moved to Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu state.

Her late mother was also born in India, before moving to the US to study at the University of California. She married a Jamaican man, and they named their daughter Kamala, a Sanskrit word for “lotus flower.”

Meanwhile, outgoing US Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen have attended the inauguration of new President Joe Biden after skipping both a farewell ceremony for Donald Trump and the usual protocol of welcoming his successor to his home at the Naval Observatory.

Pence, whom some of Trump’s supporters during the deadly January 6 assault on the US Capitol had threatened to hang for refusing to try to overturn Biden’s Electoral College win in Congress, applauded Harris, as she arrived at the US Capitol.

Pence, the Republican former Indiana governor, and his wife on Wednesday will fly home to Columbus, Indiana, where they will be greeted by a group of supporters and friends, according to a source familiar with the plans.

The couple plans to move back to Indiana later this year.

Greens move to ban SA duck hunting

The SA Greens will introduce a bill to outlaw duck hunting when Parliament returns in February, with the state’s duck hunting season due to begin on March 20.

Duck hunting is currently banned in Western Australia, New South Wales, Queensland and the ACT, while a debate about the sport is ongoing in Victoria after a survey found only one in five duck shooters could correctly identify protected bird species.

SA’s duck season will take place in a reduced capacity this year, with hunters not permitted to take more than four ducks a day, and three more birds – the Australasian (Blue-winged) Shoveler, Pink-eared Duck and Hardhead – added to the no-hunt list.

Greens MLC and animal welfare spokesperson Tammy Franks said the sport is “nothing but recreational cruelty” and pointed to a recent ReachTel survey indicating nearly three quarters of South Australians would support a ban on the sport.

“It’s hard to believe that the Marshall Liberal Government continues to allow this so-called sport to go ahead, when Steven Marshall himself called for an inquiry into duck hunting citing animal welfare concerns back in 2011,” Franks said.

“With three quarters of South Australians willing to back Premier Marshall supporting a ban, it’s now inexplicable we still see his government declare a ‘Duck Season’ in this century.”

Environment Minister David Speirs said he was not interested in banning duck hunting, but had enforced tighter restrictions on hunters due to a decline in the wild duck population.

“I’ve announced a very restricted duck hunting season here in South Australia, only a limit of four ducks per bag,” Speirs told ABC radio on Wednesday.

“On one side the conservation sector are saying we shouldn’t have duck hunting season at all, on the other side the hunting sector are saying I’ve been far too strict and they want to shoot more ducks – you’ll never win as the Environment Minister when it comes to the duck hunting season.

“I’ll continue to rely on the science that tells me the populations of ducks and rely on that to make a decision.”

Speirs also said he has moved to prohibit quail hunting this season, as “the science just isn’t there to tell me how many quails are out and about.”

Stars dazzle in inauguration performances

A supremely confident Lady Gaga has belted out the national anthem at US President Joe Biden’s inauguration, bringing her typical passion and flamboyance.

The Grammy winner wore a billowing red sculpted skirt and a large golden dove symbolising peace as she sang into a golden microphone, delivering a powerful rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner.

Gaga was followed at this morning’s ceremony by Jennifer Lopez, dressed all in white, with a moving medley of This Land Is Your Land and America The Beautiful.

J Lo even broke into spoken Spanish towards the end of her performance and sung a line from her own iconic song Let’s Get Loud.

Country star Garth Brooks, doffing his black cowboy hat, sang a gospel-tinged, soulful a capella rendition of Amazing Grace, his eyes closed for much of the song.

Leaving the podium, he donned his cowboy hat again, shook hands and hugged former president Barack Obama.

The three stars were among a slew of glittery celebrities descending on Washington – virtually or in person – to welcome the new administration of Biden and Kamala Harris, a duo popular in Hollywood.

But Brooks was careful to call his decision to perform on Wednesday non-political, and in the spirit of unity.

Other performers will be part of Celebrating America, a 90-minute evening broadcast hosted by Tom Hanks, taking the place of the usual official inaugural balls.

Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda will contribute a classical recitation, joining musicians such as Bruce Springsteen, John Legend, Katy Perry, Foo Fighters, Justin Timberlake and Bon Jovi.

The inaugural committee has made sure to blend this high-powered list with ordinary Americans and inspiring stories.

Segments will include tributes to a UPS driver, a teacher and Sandra Lindsay, the first in New York to receive the COVID-19 vaccine outside a clinical trial.

Aussie cricketers axed by IPL teams

Steve Smith, Aaron Finch and Glenn Maxwell, three of Australia’s most celebrated exports to the Indian Premier League, have all been let go by their IPL franchises.

The trio were among the biggest names to be dropped when the franchises submitted their final list of retained and released players on Wednesday, although they could all be snapped up in the IPL auction next month.

Perhaps the most surprising name to be ditched was that of Smith, as the former Australian captain has enjoyed a long, fruitful relationship with the Rajasthan Royals and led them in last year’s tournament in the Middle East.

Smith, though, suffered a largely lean time with the bat in 2020, scoring 311 runs including three half-centuries, and his captaincy came under the spotlight as they finished last in the eight-team table.

Instead, the Royals have replaced him as skipper, promoting Indian wicketkeeper-batsman Sanju Samson to the role.

Royal Challengers Bangalore have decided to offload Australia’s T20 captain Finch, along with two other big overseas signings, South Africa’s Chris Morris and England’s Moeen Ali.

Two other Australians, Kane Richardson and Adam Zampa, though, have been retained by RCB.

Glenn Maxwell was another who suffered a poor season, scoring only 108 runs and taking three wickets in 13 games, and he’s paid the price by being dropped by Kings XI Punjab.

However, it is hard to imagine Maxwell won’t have plenty of suitors at the auction, especially after rediscovering his mojo in the BBL.

Billy Stanlake has been released by Sunrisers Hyderabad although David Warner retains his place as captain and key contributor.

Mumbai Indians won the title but it has not stopped them releasing their overseas fast-bowling contingent, including the Australian duo of Nathan Coulter-Nile and James Pattinson.

Delhi Capitals have released Aussie wicketkeeper Alex Carey while Royal Challengers Bangalore announced that Delhi’s Daniel Sams would be joining their squad after a successful trade.

Australia Test vice-captain Pat Cummins has been retained as a key man for the Kolkata Knight Riders.

– with AAP and Reuters
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