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What we know today, Thursday January 28


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

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CFS crews working ‘tirelessly’ to secure Cherry Gardens fireground

CFS crews are working “tirelessly” within the Cherry Gardens fireground to secure the area five days after a blaze destroyed two properties, 19 outbuildings, two vehicles and razed more than 2700 hectares of scrub and grassland.

More than 100 firefighters have returned to the Cherry Gardens fire ground today to douse hot spots and assess vegetation from the intense blaze that broke out on Sunday.

About 46,000 litres of water was dropped in 46 aerial bucketing runs on hot spots yesterday, focusing on the fire’s north eastern edge near Mylor and south western edge near Scott Creek.

With temperatures reaching 31 degrees today, the CFS says crews are working to identify hotspots, with smoke expected to pop up from tree roots burning underground, and tree candling – where a tree is burning internally but the outside remains intact – raising concerns of stumps and trees reigniting. 

A grass fire has been reported this afternoon at Mount Bold Road, Dorset Vale, within the 42-kilometre Cherry Gardens fireground perimeter.

The CFS says 28 arborist crews are conducting assessment operations, with tree felling operations underway where dangerous trees are identified.   

Helicopter monitoring and bucketing operations are also underway.

Police charge man for Sturt Street murder

A 24-year-old man is expected to appear in the Adelaide Magistrates Court today after SA Police charged him with the murder of Nathan Russell.

Police arrested the man early this morning on South Terrace, after declaring the death a major crime yesterday.

Russell’s body was discovered inside his Sturt Street unit on Tuesday, January 26.

The police investigation is continuing with detectives searching three premises in the southern suburbs today.

Qld reopens to NSW, calls for JobKeeper extension

Queensland’s premier is calling for JobKeeper to be extended for tourism operators as the state prepares to reopen its last domestic border to Greater Sydney.

Annastacia Palaszczuk has announced that Sydneysiders will no longer face mandatory coronavirus quarantine on arrival and road border checkpoints will be dismantled from February 1, after NSW recorded 11 straight days with no local virus cases.

Queensland shut the border to 35 local government areas in Sydney, Wollongong and the Blue Mountains amid the COVID-19 outbreak in December, causing chaos for travellers before Christmas.

“NSW residents are now all welcome back into Queensland at 1am on the first of February – this is wonderful news,” Palaszczuk told reporters.

South Australia is also set to open up to the same NSW local government areas at 12:01 am on Sunday, January 31.

With school holidays already over in most states, the Queensland premier is concerned tourism businesses will suffer when JobKeeper ends in March, and is calling for federal payments to be extended for industries such as tourism, which is dependent on international visitors.

“Perhaps Scott Morrison and the federal government could look at those industries that are doing it tough, and maybe JobKeeper, it does need to be extended for those industries,” she said.

“We know other industries have bounced back after COVID and some industries are doing a lot better than others, but we do know that the tourism industry is hurting, especially those regions which relied heavily on international travellers.”

Ms Palaszczuk said 10,000 businesses in the state’s far north alone were on JobKeeper and they needed help as long as the international border remained shut.

New judge on the SA Supreme Court

District Court Judge Sophie David has been appointed to the South Australian Supreme Court.

In nearly 25 years serving as a lawyer, David has worked with the Legal Services Commission, as a prosecutor with the Director of Public Prosecutions, as Counsel Assisting the Coroner and as prosecuting Counsel in Commonwealth matters.

Attorney-General Vickie Chapman said David’s legal CV is “exemplary”.

“Prior to her appointment as a Judge of the District Court in 2015, Judge David acted as Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses into Child Sexual Abuse – which included involvement in numerous public hearings and the drafting of Commission reports,” Chapman said.

“Sophie David has forged a remarkable career within the justice sector, I have every confidence she will make an excellent addition to the Supreme Court.”

Death spike prediction marks tough month ahead for US

The Biden administration has launched its new level-with-America health briefings with a projection that as many as 90,000 more in the US will die from the coronavirus in the next four weeks – a sobering warning as the government strains to improve delivery and injection of vaccines.

The tone of the hour-long briefing on Wednesday was in line with President Joe Biden’s promise to be straight with the nation about the state of the outbreak that has already claimed more than 425,000 US lives.

It marked a sharp contrast to what had become the Trump show in the past administration, when public health officials were repeatedly undermined by a president who shared his unproven ideas without hesitation.

The deaths projection wasn’t much different from what Biden himself has said, but nonetheless served as a stark reminder of the brutal road ahead.

“I know this is not news we all want to hear, but this is something we must say so we are all aware,” said Dr Rochelle Walensky, the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“If we are united in action we can turn things around.”

The new briefings, set for three times a week, are part of Biden’s attempt to rebuild trust and mobilise Americans to follow health guidance on the coronavirus and to break down public resistance to the vaccine.

NZ travel decision to go down to wire

A 72-hour pause on Australia’s one-way travel bubble with New Zealand is due to end at 2pm this afternoon but a decision on whether to extend it could come down to the wire as authorities seek more information from their New Zealand counterparts.

Australia is seeking more information from New Zealand health authorities before restarting quarantine-free travel after two fresh coronavirus infections.

Two people who completed hotel isolation in New Zealand have returned positive results despite earlier twice testing negative and completing their 14-day quarantine.

Australia’s Acting Chief Health Officer Michael Kidd said more information about the new cases was needed before a decision on travel arrangements would be made.

“The situation is evolving rapidly,” he told reporters in Canberra yesterday.

“We will be following up the details of both of these cases with the New Zealand authorities once further details, including the results of additional testing, are known.”

The travel bubble was frozen after a New Zealand woman tested positive for the highly contagious South African strain of coronavirus.

She completed quarantine before circulating in the community but there has been no detected local transmission so far.

Australia has now notched 10 consecutive days without a locally acquired case.

Meanwhile, a new advertising campaign is being rolled out to encourage Australians to get coronavirus vaccines.

The $24 million campaign will run across traditional and social media and provide information about the safety, efficacy and availability of vaccines.

It details how vaccines will be rolled out to priority groups including the elderly, disabled Australians and frontline workers.

Dosage requirements are also explained.

Professor Kidd said coronavirus restrictions would remain in place until significant numbers of the population had been vaccinated.

The vaccine rollout is expected to start in late February.

Vaccine companies to face Senate grilling

Coronavirus vaccine giants Pfizer and AstraZeneca are set to face a grilling from politicians hunting answers about Australia’s immunisation effort in Canberra today.

The Senate’s coronavirus response committee will hear from two of the companies the federal government has struck a deal with for a combined 63.8 million vaccine doses.

There are concerns the rollout could be delayed with the European Union locked in a dispute with the pharmaceutical companies over supplies.

But the federal government insists the first Pfizer jabs will start late next month, with the company not flagging complications for the 10 million doses it is contracted to deliver to Australia this year.

In Europe, Pfizer is delaying deliveries, while AstraZeneca’s initial shipments have been smaller than first promised.

The EU is planning to slap export controls on vaccines produced within its borders, including Belgium where Australia’s Pfizer order is being made.

Pfizer Australia’s medical director Krishan Thiru and market access boss Louise Graham will front the inquiry.

AstraZeneca Australia’s senior medical director Carla Swemmer and market access director Alice Morgan are also due to appear.

Therapeutic Goods Administration boss John Skerrit will give evidence about vaccine approval after Pfizer received the green light on Monday.

AstraZeneca is expected to become the second vaccine to be granted provisional approval.

Health Department secretary Brendan Murphy and the chair of the government’s vaccines advisory committee Allen Cheng will also answer questions.

Leaders from the Australian Medical Association, Pharmacy Guild and Royal Australasian College of Physicians are also listed to appear at the Senate hearing.

UK crackdown targets international travellers

The UK will extend its lockdown until at least March 8 and has announced new measures to reduce travel in and out of the country, including an Australian-style hotel quarantine system to reduce the risk of new variants entering the country.

Travellers arriving in the UK from high-risk COVID-19 countries will have to quarantine for 10 days in government-provided accommodation while those wishing to leave will need to explain why in a process checked before departure, interior minister Priti Patel said on Wednesday.

Further details on the “managed isolation process” – where people quarantine in hotels – will be provided next week she said, adding that there would also be more police checks on arrivals from elsewhere.

“It is clear that there are still too many people coming in and out of our country each day,” she told parliament.

“People should be staying at home, unless they have a valid reason to leave. Going on holiday is not a valid reason.”

The list of travel exemptions will also be urgently reviewed, she said, to crack down on movements and ensure only those people with exceptional reasons go abroad.

More restrictions will mean further pain for airlines and the travel industry at a time when many companies are struggling after eleven months of the pandemic.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson indicated on Wednesday that the coronavirus lockdown in England will remain in place until at least March 8 as he ruled out any imminent return to school for most students.

He said the UK remains in a “perilous situation” with more than 37,000 patients hospitalised with COVID-19, nearly double the number during the country’s previous peak in April.

While dashing hopes of a return to classrooms after a mid-February school break, Johnson cautioned that the March 8 target is an aspiration dependent on progress on the vaccination front and ongoing reductions in the prevalence of the virus in the community.

He said a “roadmap” for the “gradual and phased” easing of the lockdown will be unveiled in the week commencing February 22.

“The first sign of normality beginning to return should be pupils going back to their classrooms,” he said.

Olympic bosses back Tokyo Games

The International Olympic Committee says it is fully committed to the successful organisation of the Tokyo summer Olympics this year despite the COVID-19 pandemic, quashing rumours it will cancel the Games.

Though much of Japan is under a state of emergency because of a third wave of COVID-19 infections, IOC President Thomas Bach said after the IOC’s first executive board of the year on Wednesday that all stakeholders were committed to press ahead with the rescheduled Games.

They are due to open on July 23 after being postponed for a year because of the coronavirus.

Bach said any speculation about the Tokyo Olympics, which were the first to be postponed outside world wars, including talk of postponement or cancellation, was not helpful.

Asked at a virtual news conference after the IOC’s first executive board of the year at what stage it would consider cancelling the Olympics, Bach said he would not “fuel speculation”.

“Our task is to organise Olympic Games and not to cancel Olympic Games. This is why we are working day and night to organise safe Olympic Games,” he said.

“We are not speculating whether the Games will take place. We are working on how the Games will take place.”

Meanwhile, several countries, including Israel and Denmark, say they will vaccinate their athletes and staff against COVID-19 ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, amid the global debate over whether athletes should be given priority in the rollout.

Global coronavirus cases surpassed 100 million on Wednesday as countries around the world struggle with new virus variants and vaccine shortfalls.

Israel, which leads the world on per capita vaccinations, said it had already inoculated half its Olympic athletes.

Some countries are hesitant to prioritise athletes over those more in need of the vaccine.

Germany’s NOC said their delegation would “wait in line” and not interfere with the country’s national vaccination plan which prioritises medical and social urgency.

A British Olympic Association representative told Reuters they have not spoken to their athletes about vaccinations and their priority remains “vulnerable, elderly and front line workers”.

The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) has yet to issue an official policy but its medical chief Jon Finnoff said US athletes will not be jumping any queues to get a shot.

World Athletics President Sebastian Coe has said that he was against the concept of compulsory vaccinations and did not like the idea of athletes taking priority ahead of vulnerable people or frontline workers.

Pandemic postpones Cannes Film Festival

The 2021 edition of the Cannes Film Festival will be postponed until July because of the coronavirus pandemic, organisers say.

Last year’s event was cancelled and replaced by a low-key event in October showcasing short films but without the A-list movie stars, directors and producers.

The French festival will take place from July 6-17, the organisers said in a statement, two months later than planned.

Hollywood stars normally flock to the Mediterranean town’s “Croisette” promenade for the two-week extravaganza, the world’s biggest cinema showcase and a major market for the industry.

The palm-fringed town has been a subdued version of its normally glamorous self since the coronavirus outbreak.

Many of its swankiest hotels are closed, as are its restaurants and bars.

Adelaide 36ers beat Breakers again

The Adelaide 36ers proved too much for the New Zealand Breakers for the second time in five days with an 88-78 NBL win at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre last night.

The Sixers’ youngest stars Isaac Humphries (21 points, four blocks) and Josh Giddey (13 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists) were dominant from start to finish in the win that takes Adelaide to a 3-2 win-loss record.

“I think mentally the group was really focused,” Adelaide coach Conner Henry said.

“This is the first game that we’ve executed on both ends the way we felt like we could.”

Adelaide began strongly to set up an early 13-1 lead that was whittled down to 39-33 at half-time.

The Breakers edged within one point midway through the third before the Humphries-Giddey combination seized the momentum back for the 36ers who led 65-55 when import guard Donald Sloan banged a long basket on the three-quarter-time buzzer.

Adelaide’s advantage blew out to 13 points early in the fourth before going on to win by 10.

The fourth-placed 36ers will next host Sydney Kings on Saturday night and again a week later.

– with AAP and Reuters
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