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What we know today, Friday January 29


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

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Djokovic pulls out of SA match – then plays

After bizarre scenes in Adelaide today, World No.1 Novak Djokovic has taken to the court at Memorial Drive – despite having earlier withdrawn from the exhibition event citing blisters on his right hand.

Djokovic was released from quarantine earlier Friday ahead of a scheduled exhibition match against Jannik Sinner at Memorial Drive, but withdrew from the event just 30 minutes before being due to take to the court.

However, he compounded the confusion by later taking to the court for the second set.

Djokovic’s camp said the Serbian star withdrew because of severe blisters on his right hand.

He and others among tennis’ elite including Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal quarantined in Adelaide ahead of the Australian Open in Melbourne starting February 8.

The Marshall Government created Friday’s exhibition event also featuring, among others, Ash Barty, Simona Halep and Venus Williams.

Djokovic appeared at a brief media call about two-and-a-half hours before his scheduled match.

The 17-time grand slam winner, on release from hotel confines, went to a nearby park.

“A walk in the park, just putting bare feet on the ground,” Djokovic said at the media call.

“Just doing something that I didn’t have a chance to do. So just having space, that is what we all kind of missed.”

At the park, Djokovic said he was “thrilled to be out” of quarantine.

“It feels just a little bit strange, to be honest,” he said.

Djokovic dodged a question about Australia’s Nick Kyrgios, who on social media branded the Serb a “tool” after he earlier this month requested Tennis Australia reduce restrictions on players quarantining in Melbourne.

Djokovic said his letter to Australian Open boss Craig Tiley was miscontrued.

“The letter that I sent to Craig that was leaked was a private letter with suggestions … it was portrayed as demands and that is not true,” Djokovic said.

“I just suggested a few things for the guys stuck in Melbourne like equipment.

“But it was misconstrued… and I understand that there is a lot of anger and suffering happening at the moment for people inside and outside of Australia because of what everyone is experiencing.

“So many people are losing their jobs and all you can do is have compassion and send them my support.”

New blow for Australians stranded overseas

Australians stranded in Europe are facing yet another hurdle to return home after Emirates suspended outbound flights from the United Kingdom.

Thousands of Australian citizens could be affected by the decision, which came in response to the British government closing its border to the United Arab Emirates.

The key transit hub of Dubai is now off limits until further notice.

Etihad could soon follow suit, ruling Abu Dhabi out of bounds too.

Labor senator Penny Wong warned the fresh flight ban could affect many of the nearly 40,000 Australians stranded overseas.

“We have a prime minister who told people he would get them home by Christmas last year. He did not do so,” she told the ABC on Friday.

“He should step up and take responsibility instead of doing what he so often does, which is when the going gets tough, he goes missing.”

States open borders

Victoria is easing its travel restrictions with NSW, in a move that should free up stretched police resources on Victoria’s borders.

So-called “red zones” in NSW will be eliminated from 6pm AEDT on Friday, with the area of Cumberland to change to the only designated orange zone.

All other parts of NSW will be designated green, the lightest level of restrictions, which only requires travellers to watch for symptoms and get tested if they become symptomatic.

Premier Daniel Andrews said people travelling from the Cumberland area should still get tested.

“We’re extremely happy to see the last red zone in NSW be downgraded,” he said.

People who travel from an orange zone have to self-isolate on arrival in Victoria and get tested within 72 hours of arrival, remaining in isolation until they get a negative result.

Meanwhile, Tasmania will lift coronavirus border restrictions for travellers from 10 Greater Sydney local government areas on Sunday.

Visitors who have been in the regions will no longer be forced to quarantine from 12.01am AEDT.

It means the island state will be open to all of Australia.

Tasmanian Public Health Director Mark Veitch said the decision was made based on the absence of NSW community cases in the past fortnight.

“(This is) along with extensive contact tracing and testing undertaken by NSW health authorities,” he said in a statement on Friday.

Anyone quarantining in Tasmania because they had been in the 10 regions will be allowed to leave isolation on Sunday.

Queensland has agreed to allow entry to all Greater Sydney residents from Monday, while the ACT will fully open to all NSW residents from 3pm on Friday.

South Australia announced yesterday that it would reopen its borders to travellers from Greater Sydney from Sunday.

The state’s transition committee ruled that residents from the Greater Sydney, Central Coast and Wollongong region will no longer have to undergo 14 days of mandatory quarantine in SA, with incoming travellers now just having to submit for a COVID test on day one, five and 12 of their stay. They will have to isolate until they receive a negative result from their day one test, with the transition committee discussing how to “prioritise” turnaround for travellers arriving at Adelaide Airport.

SA recorded no new cases of COVID-19 today. There are no active cases of the virus in Australia.

Tennis quarantine decision pays for SA, says Marshall

The decision to allow some of the world’s top tennis stars to quarantine and play in Adelaide has paid a “huge dividend” for South Australia, Premier Steven Marshall says.

The players, including Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka have spent the past 14 days in hotel isolation in SA, but have been allowed out to train.

They were released from those restrictions on Friday, in time to compete in a one-day exhibition tournament at Memorial Drive ahead of the Australian Open.

Marshall said while the players were delighted to get out of quarantine, they appreciated the work done by SA Health and local police to make the experience as easy as possible.

“I think we’ve left a very, very good impression in their minds,” he said.

“This has paid a huge dividend with these players now becoming unofficial ambassadors for our state with social media going out around the world.”

Marshall said South Australia also remained on track to lift its border restrictions for people from Greater Sydney from Sunday.

Crows CEO to step aside in season launch bombshell

Andrew Fagan is stepping aside as Adelaide Crows CEO after more than six years in the top job, saying his replacement “must be in it for the long haul” to lead the club through a post COVID-19 Australian sporting landscape.

New Crows Chairman John Olsen announced Fagan’s decision at the club’s season launch last night, saying the “timing is now right” for the CEO to move on given the club’s “new strategic plan”.

The club says it intends to hire a new CEO “as soon as possible”, with Fagan to serve on an interim basis until the vacancy is filled.

The announcement comes with the Crows AFLW side due to start their season tomorrow and less than 50 days before the start of the mens season.

Fagan said he first discussed moving on from the club “more than a year ago” with former Chairman Rob Chapman, and is looking forward to spending more time with his family given the “demanding” and “intense” nature of the football industry.

“In recent times we have made a number of key decisions, relating to both football personnel and other areas of strategic focus, with a view to best preparing the Club for a post-pandemic Australian sporting landscape,” Fagan said.

“The CEO who leads the Club through this process must be in it for the long haul and I am not that person, and I firmly believe this position should not be a long-term role for any individual.

“It is demanding and intense and the football industry moves at a fast pace, and I relish the thought of spending some time with my family before embarking on a fresh challenge.

“My time at the Crows has provided me with so many highlights and learnings and importantly, I will leave with some lifelong friendships.”

Fagan joined Crows near the end of 2014 following the resignation of former CEO Steven Trigg, whose 13-year tenure was the longest in the club’s history.

Plotting a new course after the Kurt Tippett salary cap scandal, Fagan guided the club through the unexpected death of head coach Phil Walsh in 2015, oversaw the formation of the club’s two-time premiership-winning AFLW side, and witnessed the men’s team play in their first Grand Final in nearly 20 years.

“His leadership was crucial as the Club regrouped following the unexpected passing of former Senior Coach Phil Walsh in 2015, and he built a financial platform that has allowed the Club to navigate its way through the global pandemic while retaining its independence,” the club said in a statement.

However, Fagan has come under criticism for Adelaide’s on-field and off-field performance post-2017, surviving an external review in 2019 that saw Head of Football Brett Burton and Assistant Coach Scott Camporeale leave the club amid ongoing revelations about the controversial 2018 Collective Minds pre-season camp.

His tenure as CEO has also seen a public rift emerge between Crows legend Andrew McLeod and the club’s leadership, with the dual Norm Smith medallist lamenting a “change in focus at the club” from “community” to “corporate” values. One former high-ranking club official who reflected last year on Fagan’s tenure said “he has made the club commercially stronger but culturally weaker”.

He leaves as the club continues its search for a new home closer to the city, with a new training centre at Thebarton Oval or the Wayville Showgrounds potentially on the cards after the club shelved plans last year to build a new headquarters at the North Adelaide Aquatics Centre.

Crows Chairman Olsen thanked Fagan for his “contribution to the growth and stewardship of the Club” during some “very challenging periods”.

“Given the much talked about changes that have taken place, including the commencement of a rebuild of the playing list and development of a new strategic plan following the global pandemic among others, the timing is now right,” Olsen said.

“We now need a CEO who will steer the Club through this next phase.”

Stock platforms ban trading after Redditors cost hedge funds billions

Users of Robinhood, a popular US platform for trading stocks, are in an uproar after the company banned the buying of shares in GameStop and other beaten-down companies that registered sky-high price moves on speculative bets.

Other stocks hit by the sudden ban include movie theatre chain AMC, Blackberry and Nokia.

All the stocks are benefiting from a pile-in, driven in large part by social media users on Reddit and other forums who are buying up shares and pushing up prices, in what started as a move against hedge funds who were betting against these companies.

The short-sellers at the funds have taken hits worth billions of dollars this week but the retail investors are also at risk of losing money if and when the share prices of these companies come back to earth – which is likely to happen sooner or later.

Robinhood is not alone in banning the trades, with Interactive Brokers, Charles Schwab and TD Ameritrade also moving to limit purchases of GameStop stock.

There is growing concern that the frothiness around the once-unloved stocks – GameStop was trading below $US20 a share last month and is now at $US418 while AMC moved from $US2 to $US20 a share at one point – is a sign of a wider stock market bubble.

The frenzy surrounding shares of GameStop, AMC and others has drawn in an influx of investors with little or no experience trading stocks. That poses a challenge for brokerages that cater to small investors, said Andy Nybo, managing director at Burton-Taylor International Consulting.

“The brokers were forced to take action because they would be in the firing line if an unsophisticated investor loses money,” Nybo said.

At least one lawsuit was filed Thursday in US District Court in New York claiming Robinhood manipulated the market by restricting investors’ access to trading GameStop.

Investors upset over the trading portals’ restrictions are getting some sympathy from some members of US Congress.

Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who is set to become chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, announced he will hold a hearing on the GameStop situation.

Democratic House-rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called Robinhood’s actions “unacceptable”, noting that as a member of the House Financial Services Committee, she’d support a hearing, if necessary, to explore why the online brokerage is blocking small investors from buying stocks while hedge funds “are freely able to trade the stock as they see fit”.

Crews work to contain ‘consistent’ flare ups after Cherry Gardens fire

The CFS dropped 41,000 litres of water onto the “very active” Cherry Gardens fireground yesterday, as crews continue work to contain “consistent” flare ups in the aftermath of the uncontrolled blaze which raged through the Adelaide Hills earlier this week.

The week-long fight to manage hotspots and extinguish smouldering trees within the area comes after the Cherry Gardens fire was contained on Monday after it destroyed two properties, 19 outbuildings, two vehicles and razed more than 2700 hectares of scrub and grassland.

Two grass fires were reported yesterday at Mount Bold Road, Dorset Vale, and Hicks Hill Road, Cherry Gardens – both of which were contained by fire crews.

The CFS said 120 firefighters worked yesterday to dampen more than 60 hotspots which were identified within the fireground.

“It is important for the community to understand that whilst we are in the later stages of the firefight, we still have a very active fireground,” the CFS said in a statement.

“[There is] a continual risk of flare ups and a significant amount of essential and support services working to return the area to a safe state.

“For this reason, we continue to ask people not to enter these fire affected areas for their safety and the safety of those working in the area.”

Fire crews are expected to maintain a significant presence in the area until at least Monday.

Incident controller Scott Turner said firefighting efforts are being helped by favourable weather, with milder temperatures across the Adelaide Hills over the next few days.

“We’re 95 per cent confident we’ve addressed everything on the fire’s perimeter,” he said.

“We’re blacking out to a minimum of 30 metres, in most areas we’re going up to 100 metres into that fire ground, blacking out, removing all the hotspots and stopping flare-ups.”

Meanwhile, Independent MP Sam Duluk will table amendments in parliament next week to increase the maximum penalty for bushfire arson to life in prison.

Currently, the maximum sentence for someone convicted of bushfire arson is 20 years imprisonment.

It follows SA Police charging a Hallett Cove man on Monday with bushfire cause after he was caught leaving the scene of a fire in Clarendon.

“We need to bring the penalties for intentionally causing a bushfire in line with general arson, which already carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment,” Duluk said.

“The physical and emotional cost associated with bushfires are an immense burden for both the local communities and the State Government.

“We need the law to reflect this and ensure firebugs who put life and property at risk are responsible for the full consequences of their actions.”

No bail in ‘vicious’ Adelaide murder case

A 24-year-old man has been remanded in custody after being charged with the murder of Nathan Russell, who was found dead in his Adelaide unit on Australia Day.

The man appeared in Adelaide Magistrates Court on Thursday where his identity was suppressed while police investigations continue.

He made no application for bail and will return to court in April.

Police said previously they believed Russell had been targeted in the “vicious” attack.

It was thought the 46-year-old was killed some time in the previous 24 hours before his body was found, but detectives declined to reveal the nature of his injuries for operational reasons.

Detective Inspector Brett Featherby said a number of lines of inquiry were being pursued and detectives were keeping an open mind.

“Investigators believe that people have knowledge of what has occurred to Nathan and knowledge of the circumstances leading up to his death,” Inspector Featherby said.

“We’re seeking anyone with information to come forward and do the right thing by his family.”

Inquiries on Thursday also included the search of three properties in the city and in Adelaide’s southern suburbs.

NZ travel bubble shut, state borders reopen

Australia has extended its pause on the New Zealand travel bubble for another three days, as leaders and business operators hail the reopening of state borders.

The discovery of two COVID-19 cases across the Tasman has led to the extension of Australian hotel quarantine for NZ arrivals until at least 2pm on Sunday, while authorities seek further information on the cases.

Kiwi health authorities believe three local cases were transmitted at one hotel quarantine facility, the Pullman Hotel in Auckland.

Twelve people who were at the hotel travelled to Sydney, with some travelling on to other states. They have since been followed up by state health authorities.

The New Zealand government remains hopeful of the bubble being extended to allow Australians and Kiwis to move freely across the Tasman in both directions without quarantine by the end of March.

EU vaccine shortages continue before Australia rollout

A shortage of COVID-19 vaccines has forced Paris and two other regions that together account for a third of the French population to postpone giving out first doses, while Pfizer is preparing for a second-round of negotiations with the Australian government despite concerns over EU export controls.

Europe faces a vaccine shortfall because pharmaceutical firm Pfizer has temporarily slowed supplies in order to make manufacturing changes, while AstraZeneca said it would cut supplies of its shot allocated to the EU in the first quarter due to production issues at a Belgian factory.

Portugal said its vaccine roll-out would be slower than planned and Germany said shortages would persist into April.

The public health agency for Paris and the surrounding region, an area with a population of 12.1 million people, told hospitals that from February 2, all first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine would be suspended, according to a source.

The agency cited “extremely tight vaccine supplies and the need to guarantee the second injection for people already vaccinated,” as the reason for the suspension

The French health ministry said on Wednesday that as of January 26, a total of 1.13 million first doses and 6153 second doses had been administered.

The vaccine roll-out in France, as in its European neighbours, lags far behind other countries.

Because EU members decided to procure their COVID-19 vaccination doses collectively, the supply issues hitting France are affecting other countries in the bloc.

The EU supply issues come as Pfizer prepares to enter new negotiations with the Australian government about providing more doses of the world-leading coronavirus vaccine.

The federal government has a deal for enough doses to vaccinate five million people with the vaccine, which received provisional approval earlier in the week.

Pfizer Australia’s market access director Louise Graham told a Senate inquiry the company anticipated new negotiations about a further allocation could start in coming weeks.

“The allocation to Australia is 10 million doses. We expect to be in future discussions about the ability to increase that,” she told the hearing on Thursday.

Pfizer Australia medical director Krishan Thiru said the company was on track to deliver vaccines in time for the first jabs to be administered in late February, and denied reports the European Union had slapped export controls on vaccines to be exported outside of the economic bloc.

“Our understanding is it’s not an export control, it’s a notification process on where doses are going outside of Europe,” Dr Thiru said.

“It’s obviously critical that governments do not impose export restrictions that could potentially disrupt supply.”

AstraZeneca is due to deliver 1.2 million doses from Europe before CSL pumps out a further 50 million in Melbourne throughout the year.

AstraZeneca Australia market access director Alice Morgan said the imports were on track to arrive in late February or early March despite concerns in Europe.

“I would acknowledge it is a fluid situation and there are factors which could be out of our control,” she told the hearing.

Russian court rejects Navalny appeal

A Russian court has ordered Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny to be kept in jail and rejected his appeal against his detention.

Navalny, a prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin, was remanded in custody for 30 days on January 18 after flying back to Russia for the first time since being poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent in August.

A court at the time ordered him detained for alleged parole violations, which he denied.

With various legal cases pending against him, Navalny, 44, could face years in jail.

The EU has called on Russia to release him and tens of thousands of Russians who protested against his jailing on Saturday.

Addressing the presiding judge by video link from jail before the ruling, Navalny demanded to be released and railed against what he said were absurd allegations he said had been trumped up by Russia’s authorities to sideline him for political reasons.

“We’ll never allow … these people to seize and steal our country,” Navalny said.

“Yes, brute force is on your side now. You can … put me in handcuffs, (but) that will not continue forever.”

His lawyers said Navalny would appeal against the ruling to keep him in custody.

After the ruling was handed down, Navalny said to the judge: “Everything was clear to me before the start of the court hearing, thank you.”

Navalny’s allies have called for new protests this weekend to demand his release.

The authorities have said any demonstrations will be illegal and broken up.

Marinoff’s three game ban overturned

Star Adelaide midfielder Ebony Marinoff is free to play in round one after having the longest suspension in AFLW history overturned during a marathon tribunal hearing.

Marinoff returned to the AFL Appeals Board last night to challenge her three-match ban for forceful front-on contact, with the hearing lasting three-and-a-half hours yesterday following its adjournment last week.

The two-time premiership player was initially suspended for a collision which left Greater Western Sydney’s Irish recruit Brid Stack with a fractured neck during a practice match.

If the appeal was unsuccessful, dual All-Australian Marinoff would have missed a third of the nine-game AFLW season – equivalent to eight games in the men’s competition.

But Marinoff’s legal team was able to clear her of the charge after presenting new evidence for almost two hours.

Ironically, the last-minute video evidence which prompted the tribunal’s adjournment last week, which showed Stack colliding with an advertising board,  did not form part of Marinoff’s defence before the appeals board yesterday.

Instead, Marinoff’s defence counsel Sam Abbott QC presented the jury with 1.87 seconds of the incident analysed frame by frame to argue that Marinoff’s contact was not “forceful” as she did not “run through” Stack and there was “no realistic alternative way to play the ball”.

Melbourne All Australian midfielder Daisy Pearce also provided an “unrequested” character reference for Marinoff according to Abbott.

The appeals board eventually found Marinoff not guilty of the charge after deliberating for more than 40 minutes.

Crows Head of Women’s Football Phil Harper said “common sense prevailed” and the club is “really pleased” for Marinoff.

“It was the long way round to get to this decision but, in the end, common sense prevailed,” Harper said.

“A person who’d shown a great amount of duty of care for the opposition player in this incident has rightly been found not guilty.

“While we agree with this outcome, Ebony and the Club feel for Brid Stack in this situation and wish her all the best.”

The decision means Marinoff will be available for the Crows on Saturday when they face the West Coast Eagles in their season opener.

Strikers prepare to kick off BBL finals

The Adelaide Strikers will face the Brisbane Heat in a cut-throat elimination final at the Gabba tonight, kicking off a five game finals series to decide the winner of BBL|10.

Tonight’s match is the start of a potentially long road to BBL glory, with the Strikers having to go four games without loss to lift their second-ever title.

A win against the Heat will see them face the Sydney Thunder on Sunday in another elimination tie.

The Heat go in as slight favourites after two straight wins against the Renegades and Scorchers where they posted imposing totals of 5/173 and 7/181 respectively. The BBL’s third highest run scorer Chris Lynn (420 runs, average 42) along with Australian international Marnus Labuschagne (46 and 49 runs in his last two games) will hold the key for the Queensland side.

The Strikers are coming off a nine-wicket loss to the Thunder on Monday, scoring just 114 runs which was easily run down by the Sydney-siders with 11 balls to spare in a rain-affected match. The loss almost cost the Strikers a final spot, forcing them to rely on losses from the Melbourne Stars and Hobart Hurricanes later in the week to sneak in for fifth place.

Despite the poor run of form, the Heat remain the only team the Strikers have defeated twice this season.

At their last meeting, the Strikers recorded a dominant 82-run victory after posting their highest score of the season (197) thanks to a 60-ball century from Captain Alex Carey.

In their earlier December match-up, the Strikers managed to defend a more modest total of 150, with the Heat falling two runs short despite a late charge from wicketkeeper Jimmy Peirson (69 off 36 balls).

The two sides boast three BBL Team of the Tournament players, with international import Rashid Khan (16 wickets from 10 matches) and fast bowler Wes Agar (21 wickets from 14 matches) representing the Strikers, while quick Mark Steketee (22 wickets from 13 matches) was selected from the Heat.

Despite the absence of Khan on international duties, Agar believes the Strikers have what it takes to go far in the finals if they can put together “the perfect game”.

“We know what we’ve got to do,” Agar said.

“We’re going in with our plans and we know we have the team that can do it.

“We haven’t put the perfect game together yet: our bowling has fired or our batting has fired and we haven’t really done two at the one-time except for probably one game.

“I think that’s the key, we need to fire at both ends, and if we do that we’ll go a long way in the finals I think.”

Agar also said his side did not mind being tagged as underdogs.

“That’s fine with us,” he said.

“We know that as long as you’re in the finals, anyone can win it and we look at every game as a new game and know what we’ve got to do.”

– With AAP and Reuters

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