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What we know today, Monday January 25


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

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Properties destroyed in Cherry Gardens blaze, as accused firebug fronts court

Fire crews have contained the Adelaide Hills blaze that last night burned through several properties and destroyed two homes.

The CFS issued an update on Monday evening confirming that many strike teams had now been stood down after more than 400 firefighters worked through the day to contain the Cherry Gardens fire, which razed more than 2700 hectares of scrub and grasslands.

Heavy rains helped quench the blaze but also made parts of the fireground unsafe, reducing firefighting activities.

Skeleton crews will remain overnight to monitor the fireground and respond to any flare-up or incidents.

The fire destroyed two homes and 17 sheds and outbuildings – but authorities say the toll could have been much worse and they managed to save 60 other houses.

It comes as a man charged with starting another nearby bushfire yesterday appeared in court as authorities investigate any links to the major Cherry Gardens blaze.

Authorities had earlier downgraded their warning for the Cherry Gardens fire to an ‘advice’ alert for residents near Longwood, Mylor, Bradbury, Biggs Flat, Scott Creek, Cherry Gardens, Mount Bold and Chapel Hill.

There had been an emergency warning in place in the morning but the CFS this afternoon said rain had helped reduce the risk and there was now no threat to life or property.

Many roads in the area have also been reopened.

The CFS had earlier said it was difficult to say when the fire would be controlled, with State Duty Commander Yvette Dowling saying it could continue to burn in dense vegetation for up to a week.

“The rain won’t put the fire out but will assist the crew on the ground,” she said.

“We’re hoping it won’t make fire tracks slippery and make it dangerous for our crews.”

She said yesterday’s sweltering conditions were a “recipe for disaster”, with high fuel loads and “erratic fire behaviour”.

About 400 firefighters today battled the Cherry Gardens fire, which has so far burnt more than 2700 hectares.

Around 250 residents attended a community meeting this morning, after a man was arrested overnight, charged with a raft of offences including causing a bushfire. The man was allegedly caught speeding away from the scene of another blaze at Clarendon.

Police charged a 60-year-old Hallett Cove man with causing a bushfire, driving unlicensed, engaging in a police pursuit, drink driving and altering number plates, after they say they caught him leaving the scene of a fire at Clarendon last night.

He appeared in court this afternoon and his identity was suppressed, as police continue to speak to witnesses and investigate whether there are links with other fires in the area.

Police are now reportedly analysing the man’s phone and smart watch for clues about his movements in the area yesterday.

He did not apply for bail and was remanded in custody.

The Clarendon fire was extinguished by members of the public with minimal damage caused to scrubland.

SA Health and the CFS have both warned about the effects of smoke today.

Deputy chief public health officer Emily Kirkpatrick said people should take extra precautions today to safeguard their health.

“We are urging people to stay indoors where possible, avoid physical exercise outdoors and reduce their exposure to smoky air,” Kirkpatrick said.

“People should keep windows and doors shut, and ventilate the house once the smoke clears.

“If possible, avoid running evaporative air conditioners which draw in external air. Switch your car air conditioning to recirculate.

“Smoke particles can aggravate existing health problems such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema, asthma and heart conditions.

“Other vulnerable groups include people 65 years and older, young children and infants, pregnant women and people with diabetes.”

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Australia suspends travel bubble with New Zealand

Australia has put a stop to the New Zealand travel bubble for 72 hours after a South African variant of COVID-19 was detected in a woman after 14 days of isolation.

Since October, New Zealanders have been able to travel to Australia quarantine-free if they have been in NZ for 14 days or more and not been in a designated hotspot.

On Sunday, NZ health authorities revealed a 56-year-old Northland woman had tested positive for the virus after completing her 14-day isolation after arrival in New Zealand.

The woman returned two negative tests while in her compulsory hotel stay, and was released on January 13 before travelling around the region with her husband.

Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters in Canberra on Monday all passengers from New Zealand with a flight scheduled in the next 72 hours should reconsider their need for travel.

“They will, as a consequence, have to go into hotel quarantine, or such other arrangements as individual states may implement, for up to 14 days, but for a minimum of 72 hours and to have a test,” Hunt said.

“Anyone who has arrived in Australia on a flight from New Zealand on or since January 14 is asked to isolate and arrange to be tested and to remain in isolation until they have a negative test.”

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd said the South African variant was “more transmissible and presents a heightened level of risk”.

It is understood there are two “green zone” flights due to come to Australia on Monday.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has spoken with his NZ counterpart Jacinda Ardern about the change and border authorities are seeking to communicate with passengers.

Hunt said Australia had no criticism of the person concerned or New Zealand’s handling of the case.

“We understand they behaved in a model way,” he said.

“They used QR codes, they checked in. That is precisely because they left a digital footprint in many places that there’s a period of concern.

“We have been very happy working with New Zealand, we’ve kept that green zone open.

“There have been challenges. They are one of the world’s best contact tracing systems. They are doing outstandingly well.”

No new COVID-19 cases in SA

SA Health reported there were no new cases of COVID-19 in South Australia today.

The state has only one active case of the virus.

Victoria recorded six coronavirus cases in hotel quarantine today as the state’s stretch of no local infections reached 19 days.

There are now 31 active cases in the state, with 11,806 tests in the previous 24 hours.

COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria reported that none of the new quarantine infections were connected to the Australian Open.

The number of active cases among nearly 1000 quarantining Australian Open personnel remains at nine.

Monday also marks the one-year anniversary of Australia’s first coronavirus case, a man in his 50s in Victoria.

Pfizer jab approved for Australia

The Pfizer coronavirus vaccine has been provisionally approved for use in Australia with the first jabs set for late next month.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has ticked off on the vaccine after it met strict standards around safety, quality and efficacy.

Two doses at least 21 days apart will be required with a priority group expected to receive the vaccine as soon as it arrives in Australia.

The Morrison government is confident that is on track for later February but has conceded there is a possibility a delay in shipping or production could push it to early March.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the approval was an important step in the fight against coronavirus.

“Australians should take confidence in the thorough and careful approach taken by our world-class safety regulator,” Morrison said.

“Our priority has always been to keep Australians safe and protect lives and livelihoods. Today’s approval is another big step forward for our community, particularly in the protection of our most vulnerable people.”

Man arrested over Clarendon fire as CFS battles Hills blaze

SA Police have arrested and charged a 60-year-old Hallett Cove man with a string of offences, including causing a bushfire, after spotting his vehicle “speeding away” from a fire on Piggott Range Road at Clarendon on Sunday evening.

Police stopped the car and arrested the man, who then allegedly returned a blood-alcohol reading of 0.145.

Detectives are investigating whether this fire is linked with others in the hills area, where more than 250 CFS firefighters have battled overnight to contain fires in the Adelaide Hills.

The man is expected to appear in court on Monday. He was refused bail to appear in Christies Beach Court.

The fire was put out by members of the public and caused minimal damage, police said.


Tributes pour in for ‘proud unionist’ George Weatherill

Tributes have poured in for former Labor politician George Weatherill who died yesterday at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, aged 84.

Weatherill, father of former South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill, served in the SA Legislative Council from 1986 to 2000.

Before entering politics, he was an official with the Australian Government Workers Association, and a longtime worker on the wharfs of Port Adelaide and with the Engineering and Water Supply Department.

He was originally born in Hartlepool in England’s industrial north in 1936, before making the journey to Australia in 1960.

His son Jay described him as a “staunch supporter of the state’s workers”, “a proud unionist” and a “passionate fan of Port Adelaide Football Club”.

“[I am] so grateful to have had the opportunity to tell him how much I loved him and what a great Dad he was,” Weatherill said yesterday.

“George will be sadly missed by his family, his many friends and the western suburbs community.

“The family would like to express its gratitude to the doctors, nurses, cleaners and attendants of the Royal Adelaide Hospital for their first class care and kindness.”

SA Labor leader Peter Malinauskas said he learned of the news with “great sadness”, and described Weatherill as serving the parliament with “humility and dedication”.

“Working South Australians could hardly have had a better friend, ally and advocate in the halls of the SA Parliament than George Weatherill,” Malinauskas said.

“George came from the trade union ranks, and his work in the parliament was a continuation of his significant contributions to the union movement.

“On behalf of the South Australian Labor Party, I would like to express to his wife, Joy, and children, Jay, Dana, Lea, family and friends our deepest condolences on the passing of George. He will be missed.”

Federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese also tweeted his condolences, describing Weatherill as a “great Labor true believer and a very proud father”.

Australian Govt finalising vaccine rollout on grim anniversary

Health officials are finalising details of Australia’s coronavirus vaccine rollout, with jabs expected to be available from the end of next month.

Department of Health boss Brendan Murphy says the rollout will take a long time as it has to be done safely and carefully.

Professor Murphy believes Australians will begin receiving a vaccine from late February.

“We aim to have the population vaccinated by October – for those that want to – and then we’ll have to see just what the vaccines do in terms of transmission,” he said.

“It will be a slow return to normality over the course of this year but we shouldn’t be expecting too much too quickly.”

Murphy is expected to make an announcement about vaccines on this morning with Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Today marks one year since the first coronavirus case was diagnosed in Australia, which has since had more than 28,700 cases and 909 deaths.

In stark contrast, there have been 25 million cases in the US alone and in excess of 400,000 deaths.

As Australia builds up a decent run of days without locally acquired COVID-19 infections, New Zealand has shown the deadly disease can catch you out at any time.

Having gone a whole summer without community transmission, NZ authorities reported a “probable” new case on Sunday, its first since last November.

In Victoria, authorities have asked people to remain sensible and mark Australia Day in a COVID-safe way.

The warning came as no new cases linked to Australian Open tennis quarantine were reported on Sunday while one was reclassified, meaning there are now nine positive cases rather than 10.

Italy to take legal action over COVID vaccine delays

Italy will take legal action against Pfizer Inc and AstraZeneca over delays in deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines to secure agreed supplies rather than seek damages, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said on Sunday.

On Saturday Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the delays in vaccine supplies were “unacceptable” and amounted to a serious breach of contractual obligations, adding that Italy would use all available legal tools.

Italy will have to rethink its whole vaccination programme if supply problems persist, a senior health official warned.

Asked why he thought the pharmaceutical companies had been forced to announce reductions, Di Maio said he believed they had simply bitten off more than they could chew.

“We are activating all channels so the EU Commission does all it can to make these gentlemen respect their contracts,” he said.

Pfizer last week said it was temporarily slowing supplies to Europe to make manufacturing changes that would boost output.

On Friday, a senior official told Reuters AstraZeneca had also informed the European Union it would cut deliveries of its COVID-19 vaccine to the bloc by 60% because of production problems.

The cut in supplies announced by the two companies will put back vaccination of the over-80s in Italy by about four weeks and the rest of the population by about 6-8 weeks, Deputy Health Minister Pierpaolo Sileri said on Sunday.

“This kind of delay affects the whole of Europe and a good part of the world but I am confident the delay can be made up for further down the road,” he said on Italian TV.

England a ‘long way’ from lifting lockdown

England is still a “long, long, long way” from being able to lift coronavirus restrictions, the UK’s health spokesman says, despite millions of people having already been vaccinated.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock says there’s evidence that restrictions were having an impact and that the vaccination programme was making “brilliant progress”.

Three quarters of all those over 80 in the UK have now been vaccinated, with a similar number of those in care homes.

But Hancock says case numbers were “incredibly high” and the health system remains under intense pressure.

“There is early evidence that the lockdown is starting to bring cases down but we are a long, long, long way from being low enough because the case rate was incredibly high,” he told Sky News on Sunday.

The latest Government figures for the rollout of the vaccine programme across the UK showed another record day with 491,970 people receiving their first dose, taking the total to more than 6.3 million.

The death toll of the coronavirus in the UK is now at 97,939.

The Health Secretary said he had a “high degree of confidence” that lockdown restrictions would eventually be lifted in time for the summer.

“I hope we have a great British summer. The number of cases are starting to come down but there’s a long time between now and then,” he told Times Radio.

Crisis leaders favourite for Australian of the Year award

The leaders who steered the nation through a health and bushfire crisis are the favourites to become 2021’s Australian of the Year.

State and territory finalists for the Australian of the Year are in Canberra ahead of Monday’s reveal, when they will find out who will be awarded the top honour.

While ACT Australian of the Year Professor Brendan Murphy and NSW Australian of the Year Shane Fitzsimmons are the favourites to win, they are vying for the gong against passionate campaigners and doctors.

Murphy was chief health officer at the start of the coronavirus crisis and was pivotal in ensuring governments put health advice at the front and centre of the nation’s response.

Being named Australian of the Year would mean recognition of the work done by health professionals and the public service throughout the pandemic, he said.

“I’m just a representative of a huge effort,” Murphy said.

“Everyone has pulled together and as a nation we’ve shown just how powerful we can be.”

Like many Australians in NSW and the ACT, Professor Murphy bore witness to former Rural Fire Service boss Shane Fitzsimmons’ leadership throughout last summer’s deadly bushfires.

Fitzsimmons now heads Resilience NSW, and says becoming Australian of the Year would be an opportunity to promote the importance of volunteers, mental health and community.

Ten firefighters died during the devastating fires, including seven in NSW.

Heartbreaking images of Fitzsimmons awarding bravery and service awards to toddlers instead of their fathers were shared around the world.

“We owe it to all of them to make sure that as they grow up they know the only reason their dad is no longer with them is because they were heroes, out there making a difference in their community,” Fitzsimmons said.

South Australia’s candidate for the top gong is Tanya Hosch, the AFL’s general manager for inclusion and social policy.

Hosch, 50, is the first Indigenous person and second woman appointed to the AFL executive, and is one of the pre-eminent Indigenous leaders pursuing constitutional recognition of Australia’s First Nations people.

As someone who is calling for the date of Australia Day to be changed, she said she had to contemplate whether to accept her nomination for the prestigious award.

“When I got notice that I had been nominated for this award, I really needed to think about whether I would accept this nomination,” she told the ABC.

“The reason that I did is I like to be in the room having the conversation, and this is going to give me the opportunity … to do that.”

She also plans to raise awareness and campaign to raise Australia’s age of criminal responsibility from 10 years old.

Strikers one win away from BBL finals

The Adelaide Strikers are one win away from a BBL finals berth after recording a six-run victory over the Sydney Thunder yesterday.

The two sides will meet again tonight for a place in the top four, with the winner guaranteed a finals place while the loser will have to rely on other results.

Yesterday’s match at the Adelaide Oval was the Strikers’ third win from their last five games, but the hosts got off to a sluggish start.

Thunder quick Adam Milne bowled a record 20 dot balls and claimed 1-6 from four overs to play a lead role in restricting the Strikers to 6-159.

In reply, the Thunder were cruising at 1-71 after nine overs, with Usman Khawaja and Callum Ferguson seemingly in control of the chase just two days after their team whacked a BBL record 5-232 against Sydney Sixers at the same ground.

But the Thunder lost four wickets in the next three overs as Khawaja (36) and Ferguson (22) failed to cash in on their positive starts.

Strikers bowlers Peter Siddle (2-22, four overs) and Michael Neser (2-17, three overs) impressed and Jake Weatherald took a one-handed screamer at backward point to remove Thunder X-factor Alex Ross (18).

Late hitting from Ben Cutting (24 not out) and injured tailender Daniel McAndrew (17 not out) gave the Thunder a sniff but they ultimately fell short, posting 7-153 from their 20 overs.

McAndrew had earlier copped a nasty blow to his non-bowling hand while attempting a lightning return catch off Salt and left the field briefly for treatment.

Milne conceded just two runs from two overs during the Strikers’ opening power play and combined with Brendan Doggett (2-21) to restrict the Strikers to 1-7 in their two-over power surge.

Strikers batsmen Alex Carey (29), Jake Weatherald, Phil Salt and Travis Head (31 each) all made starts without going on to big scores, but it didn’t matter in the end.

“The surge probably cost us a little bit of our (batting) momentum and the bash boost changed it for them,” Siddle said.

“They were chasing it, we got a couple of wickets and built a little bit of pressure and got back in front.

“It was a bit of a rollercoaster throughout that match but it was nice to get over the line.

“It’s all in our hands again (on Monday) to get the job done and once finals comes anything can happen.”

Elsewhere in the BBL, a 145-run opening partnership from Matthew Wade and Darcy Short helped the Hurricanes to a seven-run win over the Sydney Sixers.

– with AAP and Reuters

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