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What we know today, Tuesday February 16

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

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AstraZeneca vaccine approved in Australia

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for use in Australia.

The regulator has approved the jab for people aged 18 and over but says the decision to immunise those aged over 65 should be made on a case-by-case basis.

It says there are no safety concerns for people aged over 65 but there is not enough data to determine the efficacy for people in that age group.

“Australians can be confident that the TGA’s review process of this vaccine was rigorous and of the highest standard,” the TGA said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The decision to provisionally approve the vaccine was also informed by expert advice.”

Initial supplies of the AstraZeneca vaccine will be imported into Australia from overseas before doses are manufactured locally.

The provisional approval is valid for two years and means the vaccine can now be legally supplied in Australia.

The first jabs of the Pfizer vaccine will be administered from Monday after a shipment of 142,000 doses landed in Australia.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia was one of the few countries which could produce its own coronavirus vaccine.

“It means that Australia now has two safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines available,” he told reporters in Canberra.

Most opinion polls show about four in five Australians are willing to be vaccinated but there remains lingering trepidation about the vaccines among pockets of people.

Morrison called for all Australians to listen to official medical advice.

“We have the best medical experts in the world. They are the ones who are making decisions about what is safe to take and whether it will be effective,” he said.

“The same experts that you’ve trusted with your own children are the same people that you can trust when it comes to this vaccine.”

Government appeal rejected in Biloela case

A Tamil family who call the Queensland town of Biloela home have had another win in their battle to return to their community.

Priya and Nades Murugappan and their Australian-born daughters Kopika and Tharunicaa, aged five and three, have been in detention on Christmas Island since August 2019 after an urgent injunction put a hold on their deportation.

On Tuesday morning the full bench of the Federal Court rejected an appeal by the federal government over an earlier ruling made by Justice Mark Mochinsky, which found Tharunicaa was denied procedural fairness in making a protection visa application that would have allowed her to remain in Australia.

Justice Mochinsky’s ruling included an order that the federal government cover more than $200,000 in legal costs, after he determined then Immigration Minister David Coleman had lifted a bar to consider a visa application.

Justice Richard White handed down the full bench’s ruling on the appeal on Tuesday morning, dismissing the federal government’s case.

He also rejected a cross-appeal by the family to a second ground which was rejected by Justice Mochinsky.

Each of the hearings has prompted a gathering of the family’s supporters outside court, singing the children’s favourite songs.

Victoria’s lockdown meant that wasn’t allowed on Tuesday.

There is no automatic right of appeal to the High Court from the full bench of the Federal Court.

That means if either party wishes to appeal the case further they must first seek special leave from the High Court.

Border rules ease for travellers to SA via Melbourne Airport

Border restrictions for people travelling to South Australia via Melbourne Airport have eased slightly overnight, providing the travellers have come from a low community transmission zone.

People who transition from a low community transmission zone, through the Melbourne Airport, having been in that zone for 14 days and having been in the airport for two hours or less may enter South Australia without quarantining or testing.

People travelling via an airport are still required to wear a mask while on the flight and in the airport.

Victorian residents are still under lockdown and are banned from leaving the state unless they have an exemption.

SA Police published the changes late last night, which come into effect from today and also include the removal of the requirement for essential travellers classified as cross border community members to submit to COVID-19 testing when travelling between SA and Victoria.

Victoria enters day four of its lockdown today after one new community transmission was announced yesterday – a woman who attended a family function with a COVID-infected hotel quarantine worker on February 6.

Melbourne Airport and particularly its Terminal 4 was declared an exposure site late last week after it was discovered a case worked at Brunetti cafe there while infectious on February 9 between 4.45am and 1.15pm.

About 29 flights arrived and departed through the terminal during the eight-hour window.

Authorities are yet to rule out an extension to the five-day shutdown, with Melbourne’s Holiday Inn hotel outbreak growing to 17 cases.

Liberal staffer to pursue rape complaint

A formal Liberal Party staffer plans to pursue a police investigation into allegations of rape against a colleague.

Brittany Higgins alleges she was sexually assaulted by a male colleague in the office of then-Defence Industry Minister Linda Reynolds after a night out in 2019.

Higgins decided not to pursue a police complaint at the time because she felt pressure that doing so would affect her employment.

She has since resigned from her job in government and plans to reinstate the police complaint.

“I think that resigning is the only thing I can personally do to say that I don’t think anyone else should go through what I went through,” Higgins told Network Ten.

She also plans to initiate a formal complaint with the Department of Finance, which handles work-related ministerial staff complaints.

Senator Reynolds has told parliament she never forced Higgins to choose between her job and making a police complaint.

The minister also expressed regret for setting up a formal meeting about the incident in the same room the alleged rape occurred.

“My only priority throughout this matter was the welfare of my then-staff member and ensuring that she received the support that she needed,” the now-Defence Minister said.

“That included ensuring that she was clear about the support available to her and her right to make a formal complaint to the Australian Federal Police should she choose to do so.

“I was at pains to ensure that my staff member felt empowered to determine how she wanted to handle the matter, and that remains the case.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison was asked about his government’s response to the alleged rape during Question Time.

“My government takes all such matters and all matters of workplace safety very, very seriously,” he said.

“Reports today are deeply distressing. This matter is under consideration by police.”

Morrison said at all times, guidance was sought from Higgins about how she wishes to proceed with the allegations.

“This important, best practice principle of empowering Ms Higgins is something the government always sought to follow in relation to this matter,” he said.

“The government has aimed to provide Ms Higgins with her agency, to provide support to make decisions in her interests and to respect her privacy.

“This offer of support and assistance continues. It is important that Ms Higgins’ views are listened to and respected.”

An ACT Police spokesperson said it is not uncommon for an investigation to halt, not proceed to prosecution, or to be recommenced at a later time at the request of a victim.

“If the complainant wishes to proceed, ACT Policing will assess the case and make a decision about whether there is sufficient evidence,” they said.

Sprinkler damage forces Melbourne quarantine hotel evacuation

A “hot hotel” in central Melbourne where COVID-19 infected guests are housed is being evacuated as water damage from a sprinkler system is repaired.

On the fourth day of Victoria’s snap lockdown, 31 residents of the Holiday Inn on Flinders Street will be moved on Tuesday after an incident three days ago.

A sprinkler system was activated on the hotel’s fourth floor on Saturday, resulting in water damage to half of the eight levels.

The residents and staff will be transferred to the Pullman Albert Park Hotel, which COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria planned to bring online as an additional site after recently housing Australian Open participants.

“(It) was assessed by ventilation experts and determined as the most suitable hotel within CQV’s current hotel stock to accommodate symptomatic and positive residents,” a spokeswoman said.

“Strict infection prevention and control measures will be followed during the transfer to ensure the health and safety of residents, staff and the community.”

The evacuation comes as authorities are yet to rule out an extension to the five-day shutdown due to end on Wednesday after Melbourne’s Holiday Inn hotel outbreak grew to 17 cases on Monday.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton is waiting to see more data and concedes further cases stemming from the Melbourne Airport quarantine hotel cluster are reasonably likely to arise in the coming days.

But he indicated they won’t necessarily sink Victoria’s chances if they are linked to the more than 3000 Victorians who are contacts of confirmed cases and are now isolating.

Vaccine on track for Monday rollout

The countdown has begun for the start of Australia’s coronavirus vaccine rollout, more than a year after the first case was detected in the country.

Health Minister Greg Hunt has confirmed the rollout will begin next Monday, February 22, after the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived in Australia yesterday.

The shipment included more than 142,000 doses of the vaccine, with 50,000 set to go to the states and territories for hotel quarantine workers, frontline health workers, and residential and disability care.

Hunt said the doses would be divided among the states depending on their population.

Australia has secured more than 150 million doses of various vaccines.

That includes almost 54 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, with the vast majority to be manufactured in Melbourne, and more than 51 million from Novavax.

The medical regulator is expected to soon announce approval for the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Australia is also part of the international COVAX facility, which provides access to a range of vaccines in order to immunise up to half of the population.

Johnson plots path out of UK lockdown

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has laid out a cautious timetable for easing coronavirus restrictions in the UK over the coming months, pledging to try and avoid the U-turns that have plagued the country’s strategy so far.

The planned exit from lockdown should be “cautious but irreversible,” Johnson told reporters in London.

The UK government is hoping the current lockdown will be the country’s last, though Johnson said he could not offer a “cast-iron guarantee” that would be the case.

Fearing the rapid spread of dangerous coronavirus variants, however, the plan foresees gradual relaxations of rules at greater intervals.

Johnson only sets the rules for England – in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the regional governments are responsible for regulating restrictions.

According to media reports, the first pupils in England are to be allowed to return to in-person schooling on March 8.

The relaxations are expected to affect outdoor activities first, then retail, followed by restaurants and bars.

However, this also depends on scientific evaluations of the extent to which the vaccination progress is already having an impact on the infection situation.

More than 15 million residents of the UK have already received a first vaccine dose, including more than 90 per cent of people older than 70.

By the end of April, the aim is to give all people over 50 a first dose of the vaccine.

The number of new coronavirus cases has been falling dramatically for several weeks but remains at a high level.

In the past seven days, the country counted just under 150 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants.

Johnson made his comments as rules came into force requiring travellers entering from 33 high-risk countries with coronavirus variants to undergo a mandatory 10-day hotel quarantine at their own expense.

Lone Aussie Barty set for big Open finish

World No.1 Ash Barty has become the first local hope in 37 years to reach three consecutive Australian Open quarter-finals after thumping American Shelby Rogers in straight sets.

Barty made a fast start and kept her cool after a mini second-set fightback from Rogers to secure the 6-3 6-4 win in 71 minutes on Monday night.

The 2019 French Open champion will meet Czech world No.27 Karolína Muchova on Wednesday for a spot in the semi-finals. She is the only Australian remain in the Open singles competition.

Muchova beat Elise Mertens 7-6 (7-5) 7-5 to move into the final eight.

Barty had an 11-month layoff during the COVID-19 pandemic, but she has embarked on a sizzling 8-0 run since returning to the court.

The 24-year-old won the Yarra Valley Classic earlier this month, and she has now booked a third straight quarter-final appearance at the Australian Open.

The last local hope to have such a hot run at the Australian Open was Wendy Turnbull, who reached five quarter-finals in a row from 1980-84.

Barty, who reached the Australian Open semi-finals last year, still has unfinished business.

“We’re not done yet,” she said.

“It’s exciting to be in another quarter-final of another grand slam, particularly here in Australia. To have the start that we’ve had so far is really encouraging, but certainly not satisfied with where we’re at at the moment.”

Sixers given basketball lesson by dominant Brisbane

The Adelaide 36ers fell victim to a dominant Brisbane Bullets, losing 93-74 last night in front of their home fans at the Entertainment Centre.

Led by former NBA player Vic Law, Brisbane outscored Adelaide in every quarter to win easily.

Law, who scored 27 points at 68 per cent after he was held to nine points in Saturday’s 15-point loss to the Sixers in Brisbane, silencing the crowd with some individual brilliance.

Former 36er Nathan Sobey (19 points) and import Orlando Johnson (15) provided support for the dominant Law, while for the Sixers, twin towers Daniel Johnson (20) and Isaac Humphries (15) again gave Brisbane some headaches but the duo had no support.

“Extremely disappointed in the loss,” Adelaide coach Conner Henry said.

“They played faster and harder than we did and we didn’t execute.

“You’ve got to bring that intensity and I don’t think we did that collectively.”

Adelaide is still third on the NBL ladder with five wins from its nine matches.

However, it has so far played more games than any other side in the eight-team competition.

The 36ers will next play away to Sydney on Sunday.

with AAP and Reuters

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