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What we know today, Thursday February 4

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Today’s breaking news from South Australia, the nation and abroad.

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Homes lost in WA bushfire revised up to 81

The number of homes destroyed by an out-of-control bushfire in Perth’s northeast has been revised up to more than 80 as firefighters get ready to battle flames fanned by strong winds for the fourth day.

The massive blaze with a 126-kilometre perimeter has raced northwest across the city’s coastal plain after destroying dozens of homes near the hills town of Wooroloo on Monday night.

Estimates of properties lost started at about 56 on Tuesday morning but by Wednesday that number had grown to 71, with concerns more had been destroyed.

Premier Mark McGowan confirmed those fears on Thursday, saying assessment teams had now identified 81 homes lost to the fire.

“The devastation caused by these bushfires is almost too much to comprehend,” he told reporters.

“We’re all thinking of those who’ve lost their homes. In some cases, their livelihoods. It’s devastating.”

McGowan said a second large air tanker had arrived in Perth from NSW to help fight the fire.

Fed Govt secures 10 million more Pfizer vaccines

Australia has secured 10 million more doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, bringing the country’s total number of Pfizer vaccines to 20 million.

The new purchase will provide enough to vaccinate five million people, as the Pfizer jab – approved by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration last month – has to be administered in two doses, three weeks apart.

The Federal Government now has contracts for a total of 150 million vaccines, which includes 53.8 million of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine and 51 million of the Novavax vaccine.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the new doses would assist the government’s rollout strategy.

“These additional vaccines have been secured consistent with our requirements under the [vaccine] strategy,” Morrison said.

“It is the big agenda item for us obviously because it provides the pathway to so many of the other things we wish to achieve this year.

“We are still on track to commence [vaccinations] later this month, that puts us in a very good position, particularly with our sovereign vaccine production capability.”

Chief Public Health Officer Professor Brendan Murphy said the Pfizer purchase provides “additional insurance” for the government’s vaccine strategy.

“We are now in the wonderful position of having three vaccines, rolling out this year, two of them early,” Professor Murphy said.

“That is a position we wouldn’t have dreamed of a year ago.”

Health Minister Greg Hunt announced a series of new provisions in the government’s vaccine rollout strategy, including funding for a multicultural advertising campaign and

Around $1.3 million in funding will be provided to multicultural peak bodies to “assist in information to culturally and linguistically diverse communities to support the vaccine rollout”.

“That will include advertising into 32 languages, a vaccine explainer in 29 languages [and] a campaign built on 63 languages on the Department of Health’s website,” Hunt said.

The Health Minister also announced that all visa holders, refugees, asylum seekers and those in detention facilities will have free access to a COVID-19 vaccine.

“We need to make sure that everybody who’s on Australian soil is safe, and everybody who’s on Australian soil has access to protection,” Hunt said.

“The government has determined that we will offer vaccines to all people living in Australia to achieve the maximum level of coverage.”

Adelaide Oval attendance cap lifted to 40,000

The Crows and Power are set to welcome up to 40,000 of their fans to Adelaide Oval this season, with SA Health ticking off a new 75 per cent capacity limit for the stadium.

The newly approved COVID management plan will allow 37,000 people to sit in the stands along with 3000 corporate patrons.

Previously, there was a 50 per cent capacity cap, limiting attendance to 25,000.

Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr Emily Kirkpatrick said plans to increase the Oval’s capacity have been considered since December – which included plans to lift the capacity for Big Bash League matches.

She said the health authorities now feel “confident” enough to lift the attendance cap.

“We’ve been in long conversations with Adelaide Oval around this and we’ve had several plans come back and forth to our COVID management committee,” Dr Kirkpatrick said.

“We feel very confident now in their mask usage and they understand the requirements for wearing masks when moving between seats and particularly in areas when entering and leaving the facility.

“That’s critical because we know they are points where people can get quite close together and we need to maintain that physical distancing.

“So we’re very happy with the plan that’s now being worked out with Adelaide Oval – we feel comfortable with that arrangement.”

The Crows will be the first club to enjoy the new stadium capacity when they host Geelong on March 20, while Port Adelaide will play Essendon at home a week later.

New testing requirements for Melbourne travellers to SA

South Australia will bring in new testing requirements for Victorian travellers, leaving the border open between the two states after hotel quarantine worker in Melbourne tested positive for COVID-19 yesterday.

The new direction will require those coming into Adelaide from the greater Melbourne area to undergo testing on day one, five and 12, with travellers to enter isolation after their first test.

The requirement applies to those who have been in greater Melbourne area since January 28.

Anyone who has been at the Grand Hyatt hotel, the site of the positive quarantine worker, will have to enter hotel quarantine in SA.

Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr Emily Kirkpatrick said around 7000 to 8000 people may have travelled from Greater Melbourne to SA since January 28.

“We’ve had excellent information come across last night from Victoria, and then again this morning,” Dr Kirkpatrick said.

“We feel very confident that they have moved very quickly to undertake contact tracing and testing, putting close contacts into quarantine, and of course, a very long list of [exposure] locations have been identified.

“We feel very comfortable with where they’re at currently.”

Premier Steven Marshall said the list of exposure sites is “likely to grow”, and asked incoming travellers to monitor the situation closely.

“We do need to be alert, we don’t need to be alarmed,” Marshall said.

“We certainly have been able to deal very effectively with these types of situations before, and I expect that it’s going to continue in the future.

“If you are coming from greater Melbourne, we are asking you to stay abreast of any developments in areas of concern.

“And if you do have any concern that you may have been to one of these areas then we’re asking you to get in touch with SA Health.”

SA Health will report no new COVID-19 cases today after four were recorded yesterday in an Adelaide medi-hotel.

The new testing requirements come after two family contacts of the infected Melbourne hotel quarantine worker tested negative to coronavirus.

Victorian health authorities also have spoken to 19 of 20 close contacts as testing sites in Melbourne’s south-east experienced lengthy queues on this morning.

“Early stages, but that is positive news,” Premier Daniel Andrews said of the two negative tests.

More testing sites are due to be set up later in the day.

Victorian Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng said “it’s not rocket science” that the man caught the virus from a positive case in hotel quarantine.

Andrews added there had been no obvious breach of hotel quarantine protocols, adding the infected worker is a “model employee”.

More than 10 million Brits vaccinated

Almost nine out of 10 people aged over 75 in England have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, with the rollout of initial jabs passing the 10 million mark in the UK.

All residents and staff in care homes in England and Wales had also been offered a jab, the Department of Health said on Wednesday.

The milestone means the NHS is close to hitting the government’s target of vaccinating everyone in the top four priority groups by the middle of February, which account for 88 per cent of COVID-19 deaths.

“Every jab makes us all a bit safer – I want to thank everyone for playing their part,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.

“Vaccines are the way out of this pandemic. The unprecedented national effort we have seen right across the United Kingdom means the majority of our most vulnerable people are now inoculated against this awful disease.

“The UK government has worked rapidly to secure and deliver doses to all of the UK, demonstrating the strength of our union and what we can achieve together.”

Government data up to February 2 shows of the 10,520,433 jabs given in the UK so far, 10,021,471 were first doses – a rise of 374,756 on the previous day’s figures.

The seven-day rolling average of first doses given in the UK is now 408,155.

Based on the latest figures, an average of 414,877 first doses of vaccine would be needed each day to meet the government’s target of 15 million first doses by February 15.

New centre for SA COVID-19 cases to open next week

South Australia will take charge of a new hotel in Adelaide next week as it moves to open a dedicated COVID-19 facility for people confirmed to have the virus.

SA will continue to operate other quarantine hotels for returning travellers but anyone who tests positive will be moved to the Tom’s Court building from February 15.

Health Minister Stephen Wade says the new facility marks a significant enhancement of the state’s quarantine system.

It also comes after last November’s coronavirus cluster in Adelaide was linked to a hotel security guard who picked up the virus and after similar incidents at quarantine hotels in other cities.

“More than 11,000 people have quarantined in one of our medi-hotels to date and we are committed to our quarantine system being as safe and stringent as possible,” Wade said.

“As we have said before, there is never zero risk of COVID-19 entering South Australia and it is crucial we put as many shields as possible between the virus and the community.”

Under the new arrangements, dedicated SA Health staff and police working at the new, 72-bed facility will not be deployed to other medi-hotels or high-risk environments, including hospitals, aged care homes or correctional centres.

The agreement with Tom’s Court is for six months initially, with SA Health being given access from Monday to allow time for staff to familiarise them with the site and for training before guests are admitted.

Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Emily Kirkpatrick said Tom’s Court was chosen following a comprehensive selection process, involving health officials and police.

“The facility includes four rooms with apartment-style facilities suitable to accommodate families and two purpose-built disability suites, with many of the rooms having balconies and opening windows providing fresh air to the rooms,” Dr Kirkpatrick said.

“Most importantly, its central location will allow for a rapid transfer to the Royal Adelaide Hospital should it be required.”

Some modifications to the heating ventilation and air-conditioning systems have been made to ensure the hotel meets SA Health requirements and more CCTV cameras are being installed.

Health support and mental health wellbeing checks for guests will also be increased while staff will have access to separate hotel accommodation to have the option of avoiding contact with family members.

Virus case cancels Australian Open warm-up matches

Today’s matches at Australian Open warm-up events at Melbourne Park have been cancelled after a hotel quarantine worker tested positive for COVID-19.

Up to 600 players and support staff connected to the season’s first grand slam will have to isolate until they have been tested after a worker at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Melbourne, who had worked his last shift last Friday, returned a positive result on Wednesday.

“We will work with everyone involved to facilitate testing as quickly as possible,” Tennis Australia, organisers of the February 8-21 event, said.

“There will be no matches at Melbourne Park on Thursday. An update on the schedule for Friday will be announced later today.”

“There’s a number of – about 500 or 600 people – that are either players and officials and others who are casual contacts,” Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said on Wednesday.

COVID positive hotel worker puts Victoria on edge

Melbourne is again in COVID-19 defence mode after a quarantine hotel worker tested positive for the virus and could be carrying a virulent overseas strain.

Victorians must wear face masks and limit household gatherings after the 26-year-old man tested positive to COVID-19, possibly contracted from an international tennis player.

The man from Noble Park in the city’s southeast visited numerous public places and shops before returning a positive test on Wednesday.

He had been employed as a “resident support worker” at Melbourne’s Grand Hyatt, where scores of international tennis players have been quarantining after arriving for the Australian Open. He worked his most recent shift last Friday.

It’s not yet known if the man is carrying a potent offshore strain of the virus.

“Through an abundance of caution, we’re assuming the worst. I think that’s always a smart thing to do,” Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters overnight.

A number of hotel quarantine security guards last year contracted COVID-19, sparking Victoria’s second wave of coronavirus which killed hundreds of people and led to months of lockdown.

Andrews called for calm and urged widespread community testing as he confirmed the latest positive case.

“This is one case. We are all well trained and well-schooled in what to do as a state,” he told reporters overnight.

Health authorities are awaiting further genomic test results to confirm the origin of the man’s virus. Those results are expected tomorrow.

Close contacts of the man are in isolation and undergoing testing.

In response, Andrews ordered that from Thursday, everyone in Victoria must wear face masks – including in public and private indoor settings – and household gatherings are limited to 15 people.

Plans to allow more workers back to offices have been paused and while the Australian Open is expected to go ahead as scheduled, some players may face re-testing and extended quarantine.

Earlier on Wednesday, health authorities confirmed the transmission of a coronavirus case between guests in separate hotel quarantine rooms.

Two separate groups of guests in opposite rooms at Melbourne’s Park Royal Hotel tested positive for the more infectious UK variant of the coronavirus.

Some 100 hotel quarantine staff members and 37 returned travellers who have completed their 14 days on the impacted floor are now self-isolating at home. None have yet tested positive.

Rain, wind on way for SA

Wet and windy weather is expected to start moving across the state from this morning with possible rainfall of up to 60mm predicted in some parts of South Australia in the next 48 hours.

A low-pressure system has formed south of the Great Australian Bight and is expected to gradually move north towards Kangaroo Island on Friday before weakening to the South East on Saturday.

BOM meteorologist Jenny Horvat said Adelaide was expecting 5-15mm of rain but falls of up to 25mm were “not out of the question”.

She said the heaviest falls were likely to be in the southern agricultural areas with 30-60mm possible about the Mount Lofty Ranges, southern coasts and parts of the South East.

“Rain may result in some water over roads and we may see some creek and river rises about the Adelaide Hills,” Horvat said.

“There is also the possibility of a severe thunderstorm warning on Thursday.”

Strong to gale force winds are forecast for Friday when Adelaide’s maximum temperature is expected to reach just 20C.

Horvat said Adelaide’s average rainfall for February was about 20mm.

She said temperatures and rainfall across the state in January had been generally average.

 

Tough new laws for deadly drivers

People charged with causing death by dangerous driving will lose their driver’s licence on the spot under new laws introduced to the South Australian parliament yesterday.

Motorists reasonably suspected by police of having committed the offence will also face an immediate ban.

Attorney-General Vickie Chapman said the move would better protect road users from the dangers posed by people who kill others by driving recklessly.

“These laws will ensure motorists charged with causing death by dangerous driving are prevented from getting behind the wheel,” she said.

Under the changes, the suspension would remain in place until the charges have been resolved.

If convicted, offenders then face a minimum 10-year ban from driving.

Chapman said courts would have the discretion to lift the licence suspension under limited circumstances.

“Someone accused of this offence would have the opportunity to appeal to the courts to have this disqualification or suspension lifted,” she said.

“But, given the seriousness of these offences, community safety remains paramount and a court will only be allowed to lift the suspension or disqualification in exceptional circumstances.”

Free public transport call to boost city business

Business SA is calling on the State Government to consider free public transport to and from the Adelaide CBD for one month to support struggling city traders.

The state’s peak business group says some city businesses remain materially impacted by COVID-19 amid drastic falls in commuter confidence.

According to Department of Infrastructure and Transport data, public transport usage across metropolitan Adelaide is down 30 per cent on pre-COVID levels while City bound transport patronage remains down more than 40 per cent.

The Roy Morgan Daily Movement analysis for Adelaide also shows visitation to the CBD is 22 per cent below pre-COVID levels.

Business SA CEO Martin Haese said these worrying trends along with the looming end of JobKeeper on March 28 gave reason for alarm among city traders.

“JobKeeper won’t last forever, the Government needs to be thinking about other ways it can support those industries and locations, such as the Adelaide CBD, that remain materially impacted by ongoing COVID-19 restrictions,” he said.

“Declines in office occupancy, less workers in the city, less foot traffic and fewer international students have been a recipe for disaster for city businesses.

“While financial aid is welcomed, all options must be on the table. While vehicle traffic to the city is up 3.3 per cent, confidence in public transport is down, and there is no denying it.

“Providing free public transport to and from the city all trains, trams and busses for one month along with potentially mandating face masks on public transport in the short term could be two, low-cost ways that the Government can help struggling city businesses who are understandably nervous about how they will cope post JobKeeper.”

COVID hitting private investment as outlook improves

Private business investment has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact could linger over both this year and the next, according to Deloitte Access Economics.

But the outlook is improving, Deloitte says in the latest quarterly Investment Monitor released today.

It notes coronavirus cases remain relatively small, the vaccine rollout is expected to start shortly and the Reserve Bank has promised to keep interest rates low for some years.

“The turnaround in business confidence, which is at its highest level in two-and-a-half years, has been particularly remarkable,” Deloitte partner Stephen Smith says.

“Clearly business increasingly thinks that COVID-19 is a bullet that Australia has largely dodged.”

In the meantime, infrastructure investment by governments will play a key role in stimulating the economy and creating jobs.

The latest round of government budgets has seen a quarter of a trillion dollars directed towards infrastructure from 2020/21 to 2023/24.

“The costs of infrastructure have fallen, with interest rates at record lows, while the benefits have risen, with higher spending to help partly offset the impact from winding back JobKeeper and JobSeeker,” Smith says.

The current pipeline of public infrastructure investment is dominated by transport projects, with those with an estimated cost of $1 billion or more accounting for 60 per cent of total investment.

These projects are mostly concentrated in NSW and Victoria.

But Smith warns there are challenges looming, with the list of builders willing to bid on major projects shrinking after a string of highly publicised losses among contractors.

“There are also concerns around shortages of everything from building materials to skilled builders. This all raises the risk of cost blowouts and delays,” Mr Smith said.

He believes careful planning, a less adversarial relationship between governments and contractors, and a focus on smaller projects will all help.

Deloitte research shows the value of investment projects rose by $11.6 billion, or 1.5 per cent, in the December quarter to a total $759.7 billion.

The value of definite projects – those under construction or committed – increased by $26.7 billion over the quarter to a total of $272.2 billion.

However, the value of planned projects – those under consideration or possible – decreased by $15.2 billion over the quarter to $487.5 billion, driven by projects progressing through planning stages and several being cancelled.

Playbook outlines tough Tokyo Olympic rules for athletes

Singing, chanting, hugs and handshakes will be banned at the Tokyo Olympics where athletes will be tested for coronavirus at least every four days.

Officials have been warned by Olympic organisers they risk being expelled from the Games if they break a myriad of rules designed to combat coronavirus.

Athletes will be banned from attending events to support their teammates.

And others attending have been told they can’t sing or chant but only clap, while a decision on whether spectators will be allowed at the Games has been delayed until around March.

Athletes and officials will be banned from visiting tourist areas including bars and restaurants and only permitted to travel on official Games transport to and from Games venues.

Otherwise, they will be consigned to their accommodation while being ordered to wear a mask at all times except when eating and sleeping.

Those rules, and many others, were detailed in a so-called playbook released by the International Olympic Committee and Tokyo Games organisers on Tuesday night.

The playbook details rules surrounding the Games, due to start on July 23, for international Olympic federation officials to follow.

Further guidelines specifically for athletes and media will be released within weeks.

The initial playbook states every athlete and official must be tested for coronavirus 72 hours prior to departing for Tokyo.

They must then produce evidence of a negative result when arriving at airports in Tokyo, when they will again be tested.

Athletes and officials then face further testing at least every four days while in Tokyo.

“Non-respect of the rules … may expose you to consequences that may have an impact on your participation … (and) your access to Games venues,” the playbook states.

The IOC said having a coronavirus vaccine would not be a pre-requisite to attend the Games, which were initially scheduled to start in July last year but postponed because of the global pandemic.

Tokyo recorded almost 40,000 coronavirus cases in January, more than double the December figure.

with AAP and Reuters

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