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What we know today, Thursday February 11

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Leading today’s breaking news from South Australia, the nation and abroad: one person is dead after a truck ran into another truck stopped in a long queue just outside Bordertown overnight, soon after SA’s move to bar access to arrivals from greater Melbourne prompted a dash to cross the border before midnight. 

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One dead in crash at SA-Vic border after state closes to Melbourne

One person is dead and the state’s main border checkpoint is closed after a serious crash involving three trucks 5 km east of the SA-Victorian border this morning, just hours after SA officially barred entry to residents from greater Melbourne.

SAPOL said they were made aware of a crash around 2am this morning near the Bordertown checkpoint, and are advising that travel into either state is no longer possible from this location.

SA motorists heading to Victoria are being diverted south onto Meatworks Road toward Naracoorte, with access to via the Wimmera Highway – around 80 km south of the Bordertown checkpoint.

SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said the trucks were in a line heading into South Australia when one truck crashed into the rear of another.

“One truck has gone into the rear of another vehicle and forced it into another truck, and those trucks were already in a line waiting to enter South Australia,” Stevens told ABC Radio Adelaide.

“This is clearly a tragic set of circumstances where a person has lost their life, but the reality is we’ve been doing these checkpoints for months and months.

“There are always going to be obstructions on our roads.”

Police were processing a backlog of travellers who arrived at the checkpoint before the border closed at midnight. This backlog has since been cleared.

Managing Director of Freestone Transport Paul Freestone said the first truck that crashed was carrying chemicals.

“One of the … freights came along and didn’t realise they were all stopped,” Freestone told 3AW in Melbourne.

“Through the quick work of all the other people there, one of the drivers … he was jammed into the windscreen up against the back of another trailer – they got him out.”

Freestone also criticised the decision by authorities not to let the trucks through at the border.

“We all run a COVID plan, we’ve been through this before – there’s absolutely no reason for these trucks to be stopped,” he said.

The Dukes Highway is closed in both directions, and SA Health has shut down its COVID-19 testing facility in Bordertown for the rest of the day.

The chaos came after SA Police confirmed overnight it would close the border to residents of greater Melbourne, a decision flagged yesterday afternoon due to an ongoing COVID outbreak at a Victorian quarantine hotel which has now grown to ten cases.

Stevens advised the public at around 9 pm last night that the hard border closure would come into force, after telling reporters in the afternoon that the decision was pending further information from Victorian authorities.

The closure, effective from 12:01 am this morning, bans all greater Melbourne residents from entering the state, while returning SA residents, essential travellers and relocating residents will have to undergo 14-days of mandatory isolation at home.

The direction applies to all who have been in the greater Melbourne area on or after February 4, but does not affect travel from regional Victoria or within cross-border communities.

Stevens told reporters yesterday that authorities would assess whether the situation in Melbourne more border checkpoints to be set up in the coming days.

“We already have police officers on our checkpoints with the Victorian border,” Stevens said.

“We’ll be reassessing that, subject to what activities we see in Victoria in relation to potentially increasing the number of places we have checkpoints.”

There were eight scheduled commercial flights from Melbourne to Adelaide today, with travellers to SA from other states permitted to transit through Melbourne Airport provided they spent time in a low community transmission zone beforehand.

Two of these scheduled flights have been cancelled according to Adelaide Airport.

The COVID outbreak at Melbourne’s Holiday Inn quarantine hotel grew to eight cases yesterday, following the positive tests of a third worker and second guest released from quarantine.

This is in addition to a family of three at the hotel who all contracted the virus overseas.

Victorian health authorities suspect the cases are linked to the use of a nebuliser, a device that vaporises medication or liquid into a fine mist.

The nebuliser was used by one of the family members who has an underlying health condition and was taken to intensive care on Tuesday.

Victorian Chief Public Health Officer Brett Sutton said it was possible everyone on that floor of the hotel had been exposed to the virus.

“The risk with an aerosolised virus is very substantial and so I think we should expect more cases,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

The Holiday Inn outbreak, which has forced 220 hotel workers into 14-day isolation, prompted Victorian authorities yesterday to shut down the embattled facility and move 48 of its guests to the Pullman Hotel in Melbourne.

There have been nine cases of COVID-19 transmission across three Victorian quarantine hotels within a week, with three confirmed to have contracted the more infectious UK strain.

SA Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier said she was “very concerned” about the Victorian situation due to the presence of the UK variant.

“There are quite a number of exposure sites, so on the basis of that, we have put restrictions in for the Greater Melbourne area for people coming back into South Australia,” Spurrier said. 

SA Health recorded one new case of COVID-19 today: a man in his 30s who recently returned from overseas and tested positive in a medi-hotel.

EU approves Pfizer vaccine exports to Australia

The European Union has formally approved the export of vaccines to 23 countries including Australia.

The confirmation comes after the EU ambassador to Canberra insisted export restrictions would not affect Australia’s first order of the Pfizer vaccine.

Trade Minister Dan Tehan says the jabs will start being administered within weeks.

“It is great news and they’ll arrive towards the end of February and we are absolutely on track to roll our vaccine program out,” he told Nine this morning.

“I met with the European Union ambassador last week and he assured me that the vaccines would be arriving as they said they would be.

“It’s fantastic to get this extra further news that that’s the case and that the vaccine rollout will take place as scheduled.”

Australia is relying on 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which are being produced within Europe.

There were fears the order could be jeopardised after the EU placed export controls on vaccines produced in its territory, worried about its own supplies.

But ambassador Michael Pulch this week promised Europe would not delay or block the Australian order.

There is still no confirmed date for when the shipment will leave Europe or when it will arrive in Australia.

Springsteen faces drunken driving charge

Bruce Springsteen is facing a drunken-driving charge in New Jersey, prompting Jeep to put on pause the Super Bowl television commercial that features him.

Springsteen was arrested November 14 in a part of the Gateway National Recreation Area on the New Jersey coast, a spokesperson for the National Park Service confirmed on Wednesday.

Springsteen received citations for driving while under the influence, reckless driving and consuming alcohol in a closed area. The spokesperson said Springsteen was co-operative.

A message was left seeking comment with Springsteen’s publicist.

The news of the arrest came on the heels of two high-profile appearances by Springsteen. On January 20, Springsteen performed as part of President Joe Biden’s inauguration, singing Land of Hope and Dreams in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

While during Sunday’s Super Bowl, he appeared in a Jeep ad filmed in Kansas that urged people to find common ground.

Jeep released a statement saying it “would be inappropriate for us to comment on the details of a matter we have only read about and we cannot substantiate”.

But the company said “it’s also right that we pause our Big Game commercial until the actual facts can be established”.

The arrest was first reported by TMZ.com.

CFS issues total fire bans as SA heats up

The Bureau of Meteorology has issued a fire weather warning for South Australia and the CFS has declared total fire bans in six districts with parts of the state set to endure temperatures of up to 43 degrees today.

The BoM anticipates the hot weather to be accompanied by winds of up to 50 km/h crossing the Eyre Peninsula, prompting the CFS to declare a severe fire danger rating for the region’s eastern and lower districts.

Total fire bans are also in place for the Yorke Peninsula, Lower South East, Mid North and Mount Lofty Ranges, the latter the site of the Cherry Gardens bushfire which destroyed two properties, 19 outbuildings and burned more than 2700 hectares of scrub and grassland.

The CFS recommends that residents within the severe fire danger rating areas today activate their bushfire survival plan.

Adelaide has a forecast max of 38, with the CFS issuing a “very high” fire danger rating for the metropolitan district.

Police Senior Constable Matt Brown said police would be patrolling areas across the state to monitor for suspicious behaviour.

“Police patrols as part of Operation Nomad will target bushfire prone areas throughout the state today,” Brown told ABC Radio.

“The recent bushfires across the state are a sad reminder of the dangers of bushfires on very hot days, and we urge members of the public to remain vigilant.”

The CFS also issued a warning this morning for heavy winds and thunderstorms in the state’s North West Pastoral district.

Tsunami alert for Australian island cancelled despite earthquake fears

The Joint Australian Tsunami Warning centre has cancelled a tsunami alert for Lord Howe Island, after it was on alert this morning following a 7.7 magnitude earthquake that struck southeast of the Loyalty Islands in the Pacific.

The JATW said the main tsunami waves have passed, and while there may be unusual waves in the coming hours, they are not expected to be dangerous.

New Zealand authorities also say the threat has passed, after urging residents along its northern coast to avoid beaches and shore areas.

The New Zealand National Emergency Management Agency said people should get out of the water, off beaches and away from harbours, rivers and estuaries in areas from Ahipara to Bay of Islands, Great Barrier Island and from Matata to Tolaga Bay.

“We expect New Zealand coastal areas to experience strong and unusual currents and unpredictable surges at the shore,” the agency said in a statement.

Geoscience Australia said the 7.7 magnitude quake’s epicentre was about 400km east of Tadine, New Caledonia, and was at a depth of 54km.

The quake, recorded at 11:50 pm (ACDT) yesterday, followed at least three other tremors in the region with magnitudes ranging from 6.0 to 6.2 in a span of just over an hour.

The US Tsunami Warning System said a tsunami watch was in effect for American Samoa and that there was potential for tsunamis in other regions including Vanuatu, Fiji and New Zealand.

WHO backs AstraZeneca jab despite variant concerns

The World Health Organisation recommends using the AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19 despite recent reports that raised questions about its effectiveness.

The UN health agency issued its guidance on Wednesday, days after the publication of a study showing that the vaccine offers less protection against the so-called South African variant of the novel coronavirus.

The WHO noted that the results of the study only showed limited effectiveness against mild forms of COVID-19 but that there was no evidence that the vaccine does not protect against severe disease.

Following the advice of an international panel of 26 vaccine experts, the WHO recommended the use of AstraZeneca shots “even if variants are present in a country”.

In Australia, infectious diseases paediatrician Robert Booy said the South African study was based on 2000 people and was, in effect, irrelevant for Australia.

“We need better studies in larger numbers over longer periods of time,” he said on Wednesday.

“Then we’ll have a better understanding whether this vaccine is a problem for the South African variant or not.”

The WHO’s top immunisation specialist, Kate O’Brien, stressed that people who have received any of the available COVID-19 vaccines must keep following pandemic precautions, including physical distance and masks.

While the shots prevent people from falling ill with COVID-19, she said there is a risk that they can still transmit the virus to others.

The WHO said in its recommendation that there is an “urgent need” for global monitoring of new virus variants, which would allow scientists to draw conclusions on vaccines.

Although there are indications that variants detected in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil are more infectious than earlier ones, global COVID-19 case numbers have been falling for the past four weeks, according to the latest WHO update.

The WHO’s determination comes after a leading infectious disease expert in Australia said it could take up to six years for the world to reach global vaccination coverage on current trends.

Infectious diseases physician Dr Sanjaya Senanayake told the National Press Club yesterday that jabs must be shared with developing countries to ensure “more sinister” strains don’t emerge.

“At the current rate of vaccination it is estimated we won’t reach global coverage of 75 per cent with vaccines for about six years,” Senanayake said.

“Not one or two years, but six.

“If we continue this global vaccine rollout while in other parts of the world infection continues unchecked, then we will see more sinister strains emerge which might have further impacts on vaccine efficacy.”

Senanayake, who is also an associate professor at the Australian National University’s medical school, said people might end up receiving an annual coronavirus vaccine.

COVID-19 could become a “persistent presence” like the four other coronaviruses that have been around for decades and cause the common cold, which would “[lead] to intermittent incursions causing some hospitalisations and deaths every year, but largely leaving untouched our vaccinated population”.

Treasury to front committee amid anxiety over JobKeeper suspension

Businesses and workers have registered increasing anxiety over the looming end of wage subsidies, as Treasury prepares to face questions about JobKeeper’s expiry.

The Senate’s coronavirus response inquiry will today hear from Treasury secretary Steven Kennedy and senior departmental officials.

Labor senator and committee chair Katy Gallagher said the JobKeeper cliff was rapidly approaching with two million Australians unemployed or not working enough hours.

“Naturally these people are very concerned about what is around the corner for them and whether they will be left behind in the COVID recovery,” she told AAP.

“JobKeeper has been a lifeline for so many during this crisis and Scott Morrison wants to rip it away without telling those who are still struggling how they will be supported when these payments stop.”

The government argues there are a range of other business support programs in place and has not ruled out targeted packages for sectors like tourism beyond March.

But Senator Gallagher said the committee would scrutinise that claim.

“We want answers about what support will exist for these people after the March JobKeeper cliff and what impact the prime minister’s decision to axe JobKeeper will have on the economy,” she said.

The January Sensis Business Index, which surveyed 1000 small business owners and managers, found increasing concerns about the scheme ending.

Some 39 per cent said the loss of JobKeeper would have a major impact on business, up from 29 per cent in November.

A further 51 per cent of business owners said it would have a moderate impact, with just 10 per cent saying it will make no difference.

An Australian Services Union survey of more than 500 aviation workers found 72 per cent said they wouldn’t be able to support their families if JobKeeper was withdrawn.

Westpac chief economist Bill Evans said with JobKeeper finishing at the end of March, household savings would be crucial.

“It is vital that households which have built up a very large financial buffer through the pandemic are prepared to now use that buffer to partially offset the impact on the economy of the withdrawal of support programs,” he said.

The Reserve Bank recently estimated household savings of $200 billion were amassed during the pandemic.

Unemployment benefits will also be in the spotlight with the government yet to make a decision on whether to permanently lift the dole from $40 a day when the coronavirus supplement ends in March.

Trump facing second criminal probe amid impeachment trial

Prosecutors in Georgia’s biggest county have opened a criminal investigation into former US president Donald Trump’s attempts to influence the state’s 2020 election results, ordering government officials to preserve documents in the second known criminal probe facing Trump.

It comes as Democrats today began formally making their case that Trump should be convicted for inciting the US Capitol siege, a day after the US Senate concluded his impeachment trial could proceed though he’s left office.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis sent letters to state officials, including Republicans Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Governor Brian Kemp notifying them of the investigation and seeking to preserve “all records potentially related to the administration” of the state’s November 3 election.

“This investigation includes, but is not limited to, potential violations of Georgia law prohibiting the solicitation of election fraud, the making of false statements to state and local government bodies, conspiracy, racketeering, violation of oath of office and any involvement in violence or threats related to the election’s administration,” Willis said in the letters.

The letters asked state officials to preserve records, including “those that may be evidence of attempts to influence the actions of persons who were administering that election”.

The investigation by Willis, a Democrat, is the most serious probe facing Trump in Georgia after he was recorded in a January 2 phone call pressuring Raffensperger to overturn the state’s election results based on unfounded voter fraud claims.

Although the letters do not specifically name Trump, a spokesman for Willis said the investigation would include the former Republican president’s January 2 call in which he urged Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to overturn his Georgia loss.

The transcript quotes Trump telling Raffensperger: “I just want to find 11,780 votes,” which is the number Trump needed to win.

In addition to the January phone call, Trump made another call in December to Georgia’s chief elections investigator, Raffensperger’s office has said.

In a statement, Jason Miller, a senior Trump adviser, accused Democrats of attempting “to score political points by continuing their witch hunt against president Trump,” adding “everybody sees through it”.

Kyrgios through to AO third round after five set thriller

Freewheeling Nick Kyrgios saved two match points to defeat Ugo Humbert in a heart-stopping Australian Open five-setter.

The 25-year-old Canberran looked set for a second-round departure when Humbert served for the match at 5-4 in the fourth set.

But he dug deep with the help of a roaring crowd to win the epic encounter 5-7 6-4 3-6 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 on Wednesday night.

Kyrgios peeled off three winners to level the fourth set and won the ensuing tiebreak and decider to set up a third-round encounter with last year’s Australian Open finalist Dominic Thiem.

“I don’t know how I did that, honestly, it’s one of the craziest matches I’ve ever played,” Kyrgios told the Nine Network after the match.

“I live to fight another day and hopefully I can continue to play tennis in front of you guys.”

Elsewhere in the tournament, Australian Ajla Tomljanovic fell heartbreakingly short of a shock upset victory against world number two Simona Halep, going down in three sets 4-6 6-4 7-5.

Bernard Tomic was handily defeated by Candian Denis Shapovalov 6-1 6-3 6-2, while world number one Novak Djokovic had a second-round scare against world number 64 Frances Tiafoe, needing four sets and two tiebreakers to beat the American 6-3 6-7 (3-7) 7-6 (7-2) 6-3.

– With AAP and Reuters

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