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What we know today, Friday March 12

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Today’s breaking news from South Australia, the nation and abroad. Strong traces of COVID-19 detected in Adelaide wastewater this week have disappeared overnight and were most likely from travelling Victorians shedding the virus, according to SA Health.

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COVID wastewater traces in Adelaide disappear

Strong traces of COVID-19 detected in Adelaide wastewater this week have disappeared overnight and were most likely from travelling Victorians shedding the virus, according to SA Health.

Chief Public Health Officer Professor Nicola Spurrier revealed this morning that the latest round of wastewater testing detected no signs of COVID-19.

This is a significant decrease from the 22,000 genetic copies of the virus detected in the sub catchment on Monday night.

“We’ve seen it go up, and now we’ve seen it go right down,” Spurrier told ABC radio.

“Of course we will continue to keep monitoring it, but as you can appreciate, that’s the time when we’ve had that large number of visitors into our CBD.”

Repeated testing of the wastewater sub catchment which covers the northern CBD and surrounding suburbs raised alarm bells within SA Health this week, prompting a call for more people to come forward for testing.

The catchment covers some of Adelaide’s medi-hotels, but not Tom’s Court Hotel which houses positive COVID-19 cases.

Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr Emily Kirkpatrick on Wednesday said the wastewater results were “very concerning” given authorities were recording levels of the virus not seen since the Parafield cluster.

However, Premier Steven Marshall has eased concerns about the results, saying travelling Victorians with an old infection are the most likely source.

“We are continuing to monitor this situation very very carefully,” Marshall told reporters on Thursday.

“But at this stage … the advice that I received last night is it’s very very likely to be from the shedding of those people that have come in from Victoria that have already had the disease.”

A person can shed the coronavirus for up to three months after their initial infection.

“They’ve passed that infectious period but there are still small fragments of that disease that are now showing up in our wastewater,” Marshall said.

SA Health said in a statement on Thursday they had observed a decrease in COVID-19 traces in the latest round of wastewater testing, although officials have not ruled out undetected community transmission as the source of the results.

Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said the wastewater tests were a timely warning for the public.

“Clearly [the results are] a concern to us, but I think it’s also a really strong reminder to the community of South Australia that we are still in a pandemic,” Stevens told reporters on Thursday.

“So please if you have any symptoms go and get tested.”

SA Health did observe an increase in COVID testing on Wednesday, reporting nearly 4000 tests – up from a previous seven-day average of around 2500.

South Australia recorded three new COVID-19 cases in hotel quarantine yesterday, two of which are considered old infections.

Cormann’s bid for OECD job into extra time

Mathias Cormann’s bid to become next secretary-general of the OECD has gone into extra time with the contest too close to call just yet.

Australia’s previous finance minister and former European Union trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom from Sweden are the final two left in the race.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says Cormann has great support in his quest for the job.

“It’s in extra time, it is into golden point,” he told reporters in Sydney on Friday.

“It’s a very important role.

“The OECD brings together like-minded countries from all around the world.”

Cormann this week said he would pursue an ambitious and “global” approach to help countries become carbon-neutral by 2050.

But about 30 Australian and global charities and research institutions recently signed a letter urging the Paris-based organisation to drop Cormann from the race, saying he had a public record of “thwarting effective climate action”.

Malmstrom would be the OECD’s first female head if successful.

As EU commissioner, she called on European countries to be more ambitious on issues such as climate change and pushed for greater environmental safeguards in trade agreements.

The successful candidate chosen by the 37 member states will take over from current secretary-general Angel Gurria for a five-year term beginning on June 1.

The UK’s representative to the OECD, Christopher Sharrock, is chairing the committee responsible for selecting the new secretary-general.

The fifth round of confidential negotiations with each member country has just finished.

“The chair has been unable to identify which candidate has the most support,” a statement from Thursday says.

“Further steps will be taken in March, with the aim of concluding the process.”

Ambos ordered into mediation over dispute

The South Australian Employment Tribunal has ordered the SA Ambulance Employees Association into mediation with the government to resolve an ongoing industrial dispute over ambulance resourcing and rostering reform.

President of the tribunal Justice Steven Dolphin made the decision late Thursday, with talks between the government and the union set to take place at 11:30 am this morning.

It comes after the AEA decided to take industrial action on Wednesday, with paramedics not identifying ambulance patients for billing purposes if they experience prolonged wait times outside hospitals.

The union has indicated it may expand this action to cover all patients, which could cost the government hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue every day depending on the number of cases.

Treasurer Rob Lucas, who is also responsible for industrial relations, said an agreement in mediation would require “compromise from both sides” and the cessation of all industrial action from the union.

“We welcome this development and hope that, ultimately, it leads to sensible discussions, which is something the Government has long been calling for,” Lucas said.

“The Government has always been willing to negotiate fairly and sensibly with the union, in the interests of hardworking paramedics and all South Australians, as we strive to further improve our ambulance service.

“As we have indicated publicly, the Government remains willing to provide further additional resources to the ambulance service so long as the union agrees to sensible industrial reforms, including in relation to rosters (shorter shifts) and meal breaks, and the cessation of all industrial action.”

AEA industrial officer Rob Leaney said paramedics are being asked to make unnecessary sacrifices for better resourcing.

“What [the government] seem to want to do is to make members give up conditions in order to get sufficient staffing to make the community safe,” Leaney told ABC radio on Thursday.

“If you take that to its logical conclusion, we’ll do this and we’ll get a few staff and we’ll give up some conditions next time [because] we’ll need some more staff in three years time and we’ll do the same again.

So … ultimately, there are no conditions for ambulance officers and paramedics – it’s a ridiculous notion.”

Leaney also said there has been “no consultation at all” from the government on roster reform.

Police seek help over outback murder

A 21-year-old woman found dead in a shallow grave in South Australia’s mid-north may have been taken from her workplace by force, with police also gathering evidence to show she was stalked before being killed.

The body of Jasmeen Kaur was found buried at Moralana Creek, north of Hawker, on Monday after detectives were taken to the site by a man known to her.

That man, a 20-year-old from Kurralta Park, was subsequently charged with her murder.

He was remanded in custody after a brief appearance in the Port Augusta Magistrates Court on Tuesday where his identity was suppressed.

Kaur, a carer and nursing student, was last seen alive when she worked a shift at an Adelaide nursing home on Friday.

Detective Superintendent Des Bray said investigators were satisfied she had not died at her own hands but was the victim of a murder.

He said a post mortem examination had reinforced that view.

“We know exactly how she died, but we can’t say,” he told reporters on Thursday.

Bray said it was also possible the victim had been taken by force, with her car found in the car park at her work, and police were “gathering evidence” to show she was stalked.

“We believe it to be extremely unlikely that Jasmeen left willingly with anybody,” he said.

Police have called for anyone with dashcam footage taken along the main highway north of Adelaide on Friday night to come forward.

He said a vehicle the dead woman was believed to be travelling in was caught on safety cameras a number of times, but several hours between those incidents were unaccounted for.

Police were also trying to find her missing handbag, her black shoes and her work identification tag.

The man charged with Kaur’s murder was also charged with failing to notify police of a reportable death.

Court documents allege she was killed between Friday and Monday at Parachilna or other places.

The man was remanded in custody to appear in court again on December 15.

Bray said the man had denied being involved in any way in Kaur’s death.

Prince William says royal family is not racist

Prince William has defended the royal family from accusations of racism and says he is yet to speak with younger brother Harry after his bombshell interview alongside wife Meghan in which she said one unnamed member of the family asked how dark their son Archie’s skin might be.

Meghan, 39, made the allegation during an interview with Oprah Winfrey which aired on Sunday, plunging the monarchy into its biggest crisis since the 1997 death of Princess Diana, William and Harry’s mother.

On a visit to a school in east London, William said he had not talked to Harry since the interview was broadcast just over three days ago.

“I haven’t spoken to him yet but I will do,” William said.

Asked by a reporter if the royal family was racist, William said: “We’re very much not a racist family.”

In the two-hour show, which was watched by 12.4 million viewers in the UK and 17.1 million in the US, Meghan said the royals ignored her pleas for help when she felt suicidal, while Harry said his father, heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles, had let him down and that he had felt trapped.

Buckingham Palace on Tuesday issued a statement on behalf of Queen Elizabeth in which she said the family were saddened by how challenging the couple had found the last few years.

But it was the couple’s accusation that one of the royals had made a racist comment which has dominated coverage and has the potential to cause lasting damage to the 1000-year-old monarchy.

Meghan, whose mother is black and father is white, said while she was pregnant with Archie there were “concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born”.

Neither she nor Harry said who had made the remark although Winfrey later clarified that Harry had said it was not the Queen or her 99-year-old husband Philip.

“That conversation, I’m never going to share,” Harry said during the interview.

“But at the time, it was awkward. I was a bit shocked.”

In the statement from the Queen, the palace said issues of race were concerning and would be treated very seriously but pointedly stated “some recollections may vary”.

The Palace said it is a family matter that should be dealt with privately.

Three EU countries temporarily suspend AstraZeneca vaccinations

Health authorities in Denmark, Iceland and Norway say they have temporarily suspended the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine shots after reports of the formation of blood clots in some who have been vaccinated.

The move comes after Austria stopped using a batch of AstraZeneca shots while investigating a death from coagulation disorders and an illness from a pulmonary embolism.

Danish health authorities said the country’s decision to suspend the shots for two weeks came after a 60-year old woman in Denmark – who was given an AstraZeneca shot from the same batch that was used in Austria – formed a blood clot and died.

Danish authorities said they are responding “to reports of possible serious side effects, both from Denmark and other European countries”.

“It is currently not possible to conclude whether there is a link. We are acting early, it needs to be thoroughly investigated,” Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said on Twitter.

Elsewhere, Norwegian officials did not say how long their suspension of AstraZeneca shots would last.

“This is a cautionary decision,” Geir Bukholm, director of infection prevention and control at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI), told a news conference.

“We await information to see if there is a link between the vaccination and this case with a blood clot.”

Italy overnight said it would suspend use of an AstraZeneca batch that was different to the one used in Austria.

Some health experts said there was little evidence to suggest the AstraZeneca vaccine should not be administered and that the cases of blood clots corresponded with the rate of such cases in the general population.

“This is a super-cautious approach based on some isolated reports in Europe,” Stephen Evans, professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, told Reuters.

“The problem with spontaneous reports of suspected adverse reactions to a vaccine are the enormous difficulty of distinguishing a causal effect from a coincidence.”

AstraZeneca on Thursday said in a written statement the safety of its vaccine had been extensively studied in human trials and peer-reviewed data had confirmed the vaccine was generally well tolerated.

The European Union’s drug regulator, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), also said there was no evidence so far linking AstraZeneca to the two cases in Austria.

It said the number of blood clot events in people who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine is no higher than that seen in the general population, with 22 cases of such events being reported among the 3 million people who have received it as of March 9.

Four other countries – Estonia, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Latvia – have stopped inoculations from the batch while investigations continue.

The batch of 1 million doses went to 17 EU countries.

Japan yet to decide on Olympic spectators: officials

Japan has not made a decision over whether to allow spectators from abroad to attend the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, the organising committee President Seiko Hashimoto says.

On Thursday, Hashimoto denied media reports that the organising committee had decided to stage the Games without foreign spectators.

“We are still continuing discussions and have not yet reached a conclusion,” she said.

Hashimoto said she hopes to make the decision before the start of the Olympic Torch relay on March 25.

“We are continuing the necessary preparations as best as we can to hopefully make the announcement before then,” she said.

Although the number of coronavirus cases in Japan is relatively low compared to other countries such as the United States, some areas including Tokyo are still under a state of emergency, with the country currently experiencing a third wave of the pandemic.

Organisers have repeatedly spoken of their resolve to hold the Olympics this year at all costs, despite low public support.

A Yomiuri newspaper poll, conducted last week, showed that 77 per cent of respondents were against having spectators from abroad come to Japan to watch the Games, while 18 per cent were in favour.

Meanwhile, the International Olympic Committee and China have teamed up to offer vaccines to athletes and teams attending the 2021 Games.

The collaboration with Chinese Olympic officials was announced at an IOC video conference overnight.

The IOC will pay for extra vaccine doses to support Olympic and Paralympic participants.

“We are grateful for this offer, which is in the true Olympic spirit of solidarity,” IOC president Thomas Bach said.

Bach dismissed concerns that athletes might jump the line to get vaccinated, saying extra doses for the general public will be given to countries taking part in the programme.

“The IOC will pay for two doses more, which can be made available for the population in the respective country according to their needs,” Bach said.

Distribution will come through international agencies or existing vaccine agreements countries have with China.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison also delivered a short video message to the IOC meeting, assuring officials of Australia’s commitment to hosting the 2032 Games.

“Every level of government is working together to deliver Brisbane 2032,” Morrison said. 

“We will leave nothing to chance as we work with you during this period of dialogue.

“We want to be a trusted partner, a certain partner in uncertain times.”

-With AAP and Reuters

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