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What we know today, Friday February 5

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

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SA to review WA border, Sydney traveller rules

The South Australian transition committee will today review the state’s hard border with Perth and isolation requirements for incoming travellers from Sydney, as Western Australia looks set to end its five-day lockdown after recording four days of no local COVID-19 transmission.

Incoming travellers from Perth currently have to undergo 14-days of mandatory quarantine in SA, while those in WA from outside of the Perth area must submit for testing on day one, five and 12 of their stay and isolate until they receive their first negative test result.

The border restrictions have been in place since 10:15 pm Sunday night, following WA Premier Mark McGowan’s announcement of a five-day lockdown for the Metropolitan Perth and Peel region after a hotel quarantine worker contracted the more infectious UK COVID-19 variant at the Sheraton Four Points Hotel in Perth.

WA’s lockdown will end at 6 pm this evening subject to no further cases, although McGowan said some restrictions – including mandatory mask-wearing in public areas – will remain in place after the lockdown.

SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said the transition committee would make a decision on revising restrictions with WA “based on the most recent up to date information” provided by WA authorities, with SA Health awaiting information about the infected quarantine worker’s close contacts.

Meanwhile, testing requirements for travellers from greater Sydney – which have been in place since SA opened its border to the region on Sunday – will also be under review, with the committee to consider whether Sydney travellers still have to isolate after their day one COVID-19 test.

NSW has gone 18 consecutive days without a local COVID-19 case, although NSW Health is still treating 50 active cases.

Stevens flagged earlier in the week that the border testing regime for incoming Sydney travellers would be removed, subject to no further cases, on Saturday, February 13 – which would mark 28 days of no community transmission in NSW.

The review of SA’s border restrictions with Sydney and Perth comes after the directions committee met yesterday to impose day one, five and 12 testing requirements on incoming travellers from the greater Melbourne area.

The decision came after a 26-year-old Melbourne man returned a positive test on Wednesday after working at the Grand Hyatt hotel as part of the Australian Open quarantine program.

Victorian health authorities are still awaiting genomics testing to determine whether the man has contracted the UK strain of the virus.

Victorian Premier Dan Andrews said it is a “positive sign” that none of the worker’s close contacts have tested positive so far, and he is confident the new case will not prevent the Australian Open, due to start next Monday, from going ahead.

SA Health will also today open a new COVID-19 testing facility in Bordertown near Victoria, as health officials continue to urge people with symptoms to come forward for testing.

SA recorded no new COVID-19 cases yesterday from a total of 3414 tests.

National cabinet meeting amid pressure for quarantine reforms

National cabinet will again consider reforms to Australia’s quarantine system for international travellers, after a week in which both Victoria and Western Australia recorded COVID-19 cases from hotel quarantine workers.

Federal, state and territory leaders will also today receive an economic briefing from Treasury Secretary Steven Kennedy and a medical update, as well as the latest details on the vaccine strategy, seasonal workers and international arrivals.

The most vocal calls to move Australia’s quarantine sites to regional Australia come from the Queensland government, with the state’s deputy premier Steven Miles telling reporters that recent instances of transmission in hotel quarantine in Victoria, WA and Queensland show the need for “greater infection control”.

“It just underlines how important it is that the conversation the premier has been having with the prime minister about the federal government taking a greater role in quarantine for returning for repatriated Australians from overseas,” Miles said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says it is unrealistic to think there could be anything to replace the hotel quarantine system to allow people to safely enter from overseas, but told reporters his government was open to “good proposals” to supplement the hotel system.

“It remains the case that the most effective way to deliver at the scale that Australia needs … [is] hotel quarantine,” he said.

“That remains the advice I have from my experts and the alternative is not that clear to me.”

To date, just over 211,000 people have returned from overseas during the pandemic, with most going through the hotel system, but many using the Howard Springs facility near Darwin funded by the federal government to the tune of $243 million.

Morrison said that with the option of a facility in the Queensland regional city of Gladstone off the table, the government was considering a facility at Toowoomba’s Wellcamp Airport for “supplementary capacity”.

He said he would be writing to Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk regarding the proposal, which is understood to offer 1000 rooms for travellers and 300 for staff.

Labor home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally said the government had the results of a quarantine review to work with, outlining a new “risk management approach”.

“Scott Morrison’s risk management approach is to simply manage his own political risks and to put that risk onto the state premiers,” she said.

Solutions included a federally run quarantine facility for surge capacity, more rigorous testing before people get on a plane and when they land, and voluntary home quarantine with monitoring devices.

WA Premier Mark McGowan has called for the Christmas Island detention centre to be used, as it was at the start of the pandemic, but the federal government twice rejected him.

Victorian Premier Dan Andrews said he is “open-minded” about calls for regional quarantine, but noted concerns around staffing facilities outside of urban areas.

“That might give you some greater capacity and might be useful, not just for this pandemic but events that could occur in the future,” Andrews said.

“On the issue of risk though, any facility will have to be staffed – staff have lives, they have a family. You can put it 50km from where we are standing now or 500km, but there will be people there too, and the virus spreads.”

Police investigating Cherry Gardens fire as CFS warns against complacency

SA Police are investigating a series of fires that were part of the Cherry Gardens blaze that raged through the Adelaide Hills last month, and are calling on the public for information about a “small white car” seen in the area around the time the fires started.

The Cherry Gardens bushfire – first detected around 4 pm on Sunday, January 24 – destroyed two properties, 19 outbuildings and razed more than 2700 hectares of scrub and grassland before it was contained the following afternoon.

Southern District detectives are now investigating the cause of fires on Hicks Hill Road, Cherry Gardens; Matthews Road, Dorset Vale; Mt Bold Road, Bradbury; and Cut Hill Road, Kangarilla.

Police say they are now seeking information from the public about “any persons or vehicles” in the area at the time, with a “small white car” of particular interest to detectives.

It follows SA Police last month arresting and charging a 60-year-old Hallett Cove man with causing a bushfire after police spotted his vehicle “speeding away” from a fire on Piggott Range Road at Clarendon on the evening of January 24.

The man also allegedly returned a blood alcohol reading of 0.145 after being stopped by police.

The new Cherry Gardens investigation comes as the CFS warns against bushfire complacency, with hotter and drier conditions expected for February and March.

CFS Deputy Chief Officer Andrew Stark said fires could be starting in SA as late as April, given the longer bushfire seasons observed in recent years.

“February and March are often drier and hotter than previous summer months,” Stark said.

“We know the seasons are getting longer and it would not be unusual for fires to start as late as April in the current climate.

“Now is not the time to be complacent.”

Biden outlines changes to US foreign policy

US President Joe Biden is today announcing a new special envoy for Yemen and an end to US support for the Saudi-led coalition’s offensive operations in that country’s civil war in a major foreign policy speech today.

The moves show that Biden plans to intensify the US role in diplomatic efforts to close out the gruelling conflict between the Saudi-backed government and the Iranian-align Houthi movement that has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The civil war in Yemen has claimed tens of thousands of lives, including large numbers of civilians, and left 80 per cent of the country’s 24 million people in need, according to the United Nations.

The Saudi-led coalition intervened in March 2015 on the side of the government and enjoyed the backing of the Trump administration, with the war increasingly seen as a proxy conflict between the United States and Iran.

“[The president] is going to announce an end to American support for offensive operations in Yemen,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told a White House briefing.

“That is a promise he made in the campaign that he will be following through on.”

Sullivan also said that Biden would name a new special envoy for Yemen, but he did not disclose the person’s name.

Biden will announce the changes in a speech at the US State Department today, where he is expected to outline his vision for US foreign policy during his four-year term.

He will also announce a freeze on the withdrawal of 12,000 US troops from Germany – a plan put in place by the previous administration.

Biden’s US foreign policy pivot comes a day after the president had his first call with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, with the two leaders discussing climate change, the coronavirus response, China and the military coup in Myanmar.

The prime minister invited the president to visit Australia for the 70th anniversary of the ANZUS treaty later in the year, while Biden is expected to invite Morrison to join a climate summit on April 22 where the US is likely to beef up its emissions targets.

Morrison described the tone of his conversation with the president as warm and engaging.

“[Biden] sees the Australia-US relationship as providing the anchor for peace and security in our region,” Morrison said.

“We share that view. In terms of our relations between Australia and the United States, there’s nothing to fix there, only things to build on.”

Britain explores mixed COVID vaccine shots to combat variant

British researchers will mix doses of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines shots in a world-first trial aimed at finding new ways to swiftly reduce coronavirus infections as new mutated variants emerge.

The trial will examine the responses to an initial dose of Pfizer vaccine followed by a booster of AstraZeneca’s, as well as vice versa, with intervals of four and 12 weeks.

The trial will be the first of its kind to combine a mRNA shot – the one developed by Pfizer and BioNtech – and an adenovirus viral vector vaccine of the type developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca.

AstraZeneca’s shot is separately being trialled in combination with another viral vector vaccine, Russia’s Sputnik V.

The British researchers behind the trial said data on vaccinating people with the two different types of vaccine could help understanding of whether shots can be rolled out with greater flexibility, and might even increase immunity.

Matthew Snape, an Oxford vaccinologist who is leading the trial, said mixing different shots had proven effective in Ebola vaccine schedules, and though the new trial mixed vaccine technologies, it could also work.

“Ultimately, it all comes down to the same target – cells making the spike protein – just using different platforms,” he told reporters.

“For that reason, we do anticipate that we’ll generate a good immune response with these combinations.”

Public Health England’s head of immunisation Mary Ramsay said there was a lot of precedent for such work, as vaccines against Hepatitis A and B were interchangeable from two different manufacturers, and similar work has been undertaken for human papillomavirus (HPV).

The trials come after the Australian Government yesterday confirmed the purchase of 10 million more doses of the Pfizer vaccine, doubling the country’s future stockpile of the Pfizer vaccine.

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.

The rollout of vaccines in Australia is on track to start later this month according to the government.

Trump rejects call to testify in impeachment trial

US President Donald Trump has rejected a call from US House Democrats to testify under oath in his Senate impeachment trial, with the former president’s legal team labelling the request a “public relations stunt”.

The request, delivered in the form of a letter, indicates the intent of impeachment managers to present an aggressive case against the former president even though he has left the White House.

The Senate impeachment trial starts on February 9, with Trump charged of inciting a mob of supporters that stormed the Capitol on January 6.

In the letter, Democratic Representative Jamie Raskin, the lead impeachment manager, asked that Trump provide testimony “either before or during the Senate impeachment trial,” and under cross examination, about his conduct on January 6, as early as Monday and not later than next Thursday, February 11.

Raskin said that Trump questioned critical facts in the case “notwithstanding the clear and overwhelming evidence of your constitutional offence”. The democratic representative earlier in the week labelled the president’s legal arguments “absurd”.

The letter does not threaten subpoenas against him if he does not appear before the trial.

However, Raskin wrote that the managers will use his refusal to testify against him in the trial – a similar argument put forth by House Democrats in last year’s impeachment trial when some Trump officials ignored subpoenas.

Scorchers and Sixers to play for BBL glory

Big Bash League powerhouses Perth Scorchers will meet the Sydney Sixers in Saturday night’s SCG final after Liam Livingstone lit up a lopsided semi-final against the Brisbane Heat at Manuka Oval last night.

The Scorchers and Sixers have dominated the BBL since clashing in its inaugural final, grabbing a combined five of nine possible titles.

This weekend will mark the fourth season-deciding final between the rivals.

The Scorchers, having suffered a humbling nine-wicket loss to the Sixers in their qualifying final, crushed Brisbane Heat by 49 runs in last night’s rain-affected contest.

Livingstone whacked 77 off 39 deliveries, helping rocket Perth to 1-189 from 18.1 overs in Canberra.

Showers halted play and prompted a premature end to the innings, setting Brisbane a revised target of 200 from 18 overs.

It was an imposing equation, even before captain Chris Lynn departed in the fourth over.

It looked near-impossible come the eighth over, when the Heat crashed to 4-57 following Marnus Labuschagne’s dismissal to veteran legspinner Fawad Ahmed.

The required run-rate exploded as the Scorchers turned the screws, restricting Brisbane to 9-150.

Jason Behrendorff, who snared 2-19 and was on a hat-trick after removing Lynn and Joe Denly, set the tone for Perth’s star-studded attack.

Livingstone’s match-winning knock was followed by an unbeaten 75-run partnership between Mitch Marsh (49 not out) and Cameron Bancroft (58 not out).

Jason Roy’s ankle injury, suffered during a soccer warm-up game, meant former Test opener Bancroft was recalled for his first BBL game since January 19.

Roy, a prized international recruit and a key part of England’s dominant white-ball team, faces a short turnaround to be ready for the final, with Scorchers Coach Adam Voges unsure whether the opener will be available.

The reigning champion Sixers will go into the final as slim favourites at home after a week’s rest since their last match.

A win for the Sydney side would draw them level with Perth in terms of all-time BBL titles won (three).

Perth won their last BBL title in the 2016-17 season, easily defeating the Sixers by nine wickets in the final after knocking off their total of 141 with 25 balls to spare.

– With AAP and Reuters

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