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What we know today, Monday March 15


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

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No border changes, but text messages for travellers to SA

Recent travellers to South Australia from NSW and Queensland will be messaged to check on any exposure to new COVID-19 cases in those states, but no other restrictions are being put in place at this stage.

Text messages will be sent out asking people to complete a short survey to check if they have been to any places of risk, after a doctor at a Brisbane hospital tested positive, while in NSW a worker at a quarantine hotel became infected.

Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier says while there are new infections, they were picked up quickly.

“We have very good information about where the people have been,” she said.

“They have really good contact tracing and all of the information has been shared with us.

“I’m quite happy with the situation at the moment.”

Spurrier will be meeting with her health counterparts interstate in the coming days to discuss the Queensland and NSW situations.

Police Commissioner Grant Stevens also said he does not anticipate any changes to border arrangements when the state’s transition committee meets tomorrow.

Stevens, along with Spurrier, Premier Steven Marshall and Health Minister Steven Wade all received their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

Marshall said SA delivered about 8000 doses in the first three weeks, short of its initial target of 12,000.

But the premier said he made no apologies for taking a steady approach.

“We said from day one we want to get this right, not rushed,” he said.

“We’ve got a responsibility to all the people in South Australia, we’re very fortunate in this state that we don’t have people in imminent danger from the coronavirus.

Marshall said the government was very happy with the spread of the vaccine across the state, with clinics set up in a number of regional and remote areas including Coober Pedy and Murray Bridge.

“We need to look at it from a combination of volume but also that spread across the state,” he said.

“We have got a lot more personnel trained in this area and we have been able to develop systems.

“We’ll see that run rate increase significantly in the coming weeks.”

South Australia recorded three new COVID-19 cases today – all from returned travellers quarantining in a medi-hotel.

Testing reveals Brisbane virus cluster

A second COVID-19 cluster has emerged at a Brisbane quarantine hotel where an outbreak earlier this year led to entire city being locked down.

Genomic sequencing of two guests staying in separate rooms on level one of the Hotel Grand Chancellor and a doctor, who later treated one of them in the Princess Alexandra Hospital, has linked all three cases.

Deputy Chief Health Officer Sonya Bennett says laboratory analysis shows the first guest passed the virus on to the second guest and the doctor between March 5-9.

“Late last night the whole genomic sequencing confirmed that that is likely the case,” she told reporters.

“So the whole genomic sequencing is what we call a match between the three cases.”

Bennett said it’s uncertain how transmission occurred between separate rooms at the hotel, which was previously shut down due to an outbreak in January.

The earlier outbreak triggered a snap three-day lockdown of Greater Brisbane as well.

At that time four guests and a cleaner – and later her partner at home – became infected, but there were no CCTV cameras on the floor where the spread occurred.

“We know we’ve seen this before, we know that some people are highly infectious, and that is likely the case in this instance, and can transmit the virus through very little exposure,” Bennett said.

She said the Grand Chancellor wasn’t necessarily a problem with cases emerging in hotel quarantine in other states as well.

Bennett said transmissions are events “that happen” and need to be managed and investigated why they do because “we we really already have such robust procedures in place.”

Authorities are tracking down 206 guests who finished quarantine at the hotel and left since March 5.

Queensland Health has also been testing 272 possible contacts of the doctor and 160 staff at the PA Hospital, but 86 have come back negative.

Christian Porter sues ABC for defamation

Attorney-General Christian Porter has launched defamation action against the ABC and journalist Louise Milligan.

Porter is suing the public broadcaster for publishing “false accusations” against him in an online story that claimed he was the subject of historical rape allegations.

The legal action is also aimed at a report aired in November that alleged he was a misogynist and sexist.

His lawyers have accused the ABC of running a “trial by media” and Milligan of acting with malice, damaging Mr Porter’s reputation.

“If the ABC and Ms Milligan wish to argue the truth of the allegations, they can do so in these proceedings,” lawyer Rebekah Giles said in a statement this morning.

“Under the Defamation Act it is open for the ABC and Ms Milligan to plead truth in their defence to this action and prove the allegations to the lower civil standard.”

More than 80,000 people have signed a petition calling for Mr Porter to be suspended as attorney-general over the rape allegations he has denied.

The prime minister remains under sustained pressure as he continues to insist police have dealt with the historical allegations and no further action is required.

Porter has taken indefinite mental health leave but Scott Morrison is adamant he will be welcomed back into cabinet.

Premier Andrews out of hospital

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is out of hospital and starting a “significant” period of rehabilitation.

Andrews is recovering from a broken vertebrae and several cracked ribs after a fall a week ago.

The Alfred Hospital said in a statement that he is making good progress, but again warns that he faces a lengthy time in rehabilitation.

James Merlino is acting premier in his absence.

“Mr Andrews has responded well without surgery so far, and the work to improve his strength and mobility must now begin,” The Alfred’s director of trauma services Professor Mark Fitzgerald said.

“As the rehabilitation journey gets underway, we will watch closely for any signs of worsening spinal stability or alignment, as well as the development of other complications.”

The Alfred said Andrews would do his rehabilitation through its Better@Home service.

Thousands expected to rally for women’s justice

A rally at Victoria Square from noon today is expected to attract thousands of people as part of a nationwide network of protests calling to end sexual harassment and gendered violence in workplaces.

The inaugural Adelaide March 4 Justice event will coincide with 35 other events across Australia, including every capital city and many regional centres with 100,000 expected to attend across the country.

March 4 Justice is a national grassroots movement bringing together survivors of sexual harassment, gendered violence and allies, and is part of a nationwide call for widespread change in Australian workplaces and in our political and criminal justice systems.

Speakers at the Adelaide event will include, human rights lawyer Claire O’Connor,  director of the Working Women’s Centre Abbey Kendall and proud Aboriginal woman Rosemary Wanganeen.

The Adelaide March 4 Justice event supports a National March in Canberra where a petition will be delivered calling on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to act on gendered violence against women, including female Members of Parliament and staff.

Organisers of the Canberra rally have rejected an offer from Morrison to meet behind closed doors in Parliament House.

The prime minister’s office had invited up to four march delegates to meet with him and Minister for Women Payne on Monday afternoon after the rally.

But organisers wanted Morrison to attend the rally in person.

Organisers took the night to consider the meeting before rejecting it early this morning.

“We have already come to the front door, now it’s up to the government to cross the threshold and come to us,” Women’s March 4 Justice founder Janine Hendry tweeted.

“We will not be meeting behind closed doors.”

The government is under a cloud after an alleged sexual assault of a former Liberal staffer, and a historic rape case allegedly involving Attorney-General Christian Porter, who strenuously denies it.

AstraZeneca on hold in Europe as Australia looks to ramp up production

Authorities in Ireland and a region of Italy have become the latest in Europe to halt the use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine as the Australian government looks to boost local production of the vaccine

Italy’s Piedmont region announced on Sunday it was suspending AstraZeneca vaccinations out of “extreme caution” until they find out if the vaccination is linked to a teacher’s death.

On a national level, Italy’s government is sticking with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The announcement came as officials in Ireland also said they were temporarily suspending AstraZeneca vaccinations based on four new reports of “blood clotting events” in Norway.

Bulgaria, Denmark and Iceland had earlier joined Norway in suspending the vaccine’s use while research is conducted into possible health problems.

The halt is expected to further delay Europe’s sluggish vaccine rollout, while critics say it may reduce the public’s trust in the AstraZeneca vaccine.

In Australia, boosting local production of AstraZeneca vaccine may be the key to salvaging the federal government’s target of fully dosing all Australians against COVID-19 by October.

Reporting to parliament, Health secretary Brendan Murphy raised doubts about the deadline last week.

However, he now says if more AstraZeneca doses can be made available, the end of October might still be achievable.

The first AstraZeneca batch being produced in Australia is expected to be available the week after next but moves are afoot for biotech company CSL to increase output.

It’s estimated Australia is currently 3.1 million shots short of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the initial phases of the rollout.

“If we get extra AstraZeneca production from CSL, I imagine all Australians will potentially have received it by the end of October,” Murphy told reporters in Sydney on Sunday.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Health Minister Greg Hunt and Murphy would be providing regular updates on the vaccine rollout from Monday week.

The government has meanwhile announced it will provide a further $1.1 billion to extend the national COVID-19 health response until the end of the year.

The prime minister along with Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly received his second Pfizer jab yesterday.

SA Premier Steven Marshall, Health Minister Stephen Wade, chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier and police chief Grant Stevens will all receive their second Pfizer jabs at the Royal Adelaide Hospital this morning.

Queensland scrambles to prevent outbreak

Health authorities in Queensland are investigating whether a COVID-19 infected traveller in hotel quarantine has links to an infected Brisbane hospital doctor.

The traveller was staying at the Hotel Grand Chancellor on the same floor at the same time as another infected traveller who’s now at the Princess Alexandra Hospital.

That patient had contact with a doctor who later became infected with coronavirus, forcing the hospital into lockdown.

“Case one is the person brought into the hospital on the 9th of March, case two was the doctor who got it off the person who came in on the 9th,” Health Minister Yvette D’Ath told reporters.

“Case three is a person in hotel quarantine on the same floor as case one.

D’Ath said officials were assessing CCTV footage to try to identify “why this transmission might have occurred”.

The hotel has been locked down and guests and staff have been prevented from leaving.

No new guests will be checked into the site until the health officials have completed their investigation.

Meanwhile, 238 people linked to the infected doctor have been traced, with virus test results due back in the coming days, Deputy Chief Health Officer Sonya Bennett said.

Three close contacts of the female doctor have all tested negative.

She had contact with two patients infected with the highly contagious UK strain of the virus in the early hours of Wednesday and tested positive on Friday.

Sydney probe into vaccinated quarantine worker case

NSW health authorities are scrambling to confirm the source of a new COVID-19 infection in a vaccinated Sydney hotel quarantine worker.

The 47-year-old man worked at both the Sofitel Wentworth and Mantra at Haymarket hotels in inner Sydney and had already received his first Pfizer jab.

The source of the security guard’s infection remains unclear, with all four of his family contacts testing negative so far.

NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said a “working hypothesis” was the man picked up the virus from an infected traveller while working at the Sofitel overnight on March 6.

“The genomics is being done urgently and we are expecting that … very late into the evening or early tomorrow morning,” she told reporters on Sunday.

A number of venues across the city have been listed as potential exposure sites and 130 close contacts have been asked to self-isolate after working an overnight shift with the man at the Mantra Hotel on Friday.

The Sydney man was also working a separate office job, with the state opposition renewing calls for security guards to be employed full-time to ensure they are not working across multiple sites.

“Securing our quarantine hotels shouldn’t be a part-time job,” NSW Labor’s shadow health minister Ryan Park said in a statement on Monday.

“Hotel quarantine is meant to be a bubble. It’s not going to be effective if guards are forced to take other roles in other parts of Sydney to make ends meet.”

Chant warned that the Pfizer jab would not provide protection against COVID-19 for at least 12 days after a person is injected.

Having received first vaccine shot on March 2, the guard’s second dose was due to be administered in about a week, further enhancing his virus protection.

His positive test result was recorded after 8pm on Saturday and will be included in Monday’s tally, ending the state’s 56-day streak without a locally acquired COVID-19 case.

All Australian state borders open after a year of closures

Australians are free to travel across all interstate borders without undergoing quarantine for the first time since the coronavirus arrived. But flare-ups and in Queensland and NSW could see border restrictions return soon.

Domestic borders are now fully open after Western Australia eased restrictions with Victoria overnight.

It is the first time WA has had no quarantine requirements for any state or territory since border restrictions were introduced last April.

All states are now classified as “very low risk” under WA’s controlled border system.

But a re-elected Premier Mark McGowan has warned he won’t hesitate to bring back a hard border if needed to keep the virus out of WA.

The premier was speaking after leading Labor to a landslide election victory on the weekend, which highlighted the popularity of his tough response to the pandemic.

McGowan said WA authorities were keeping a close eye on new hotel quarantine-linked cases in Queensland and NSW.

WA Health has identified three Brisbane venues attended on Thursday by a doctor who caught the virus from a hospital patient.

Anyone who has arrived into WA from Queensland in recent days has been contacted and advised to self-quarantine if they attended those venues.

The state’s health department on Sunday issued advice for any recent arrivals from NSW, who had visited two Sydney locations on Saturday, to get tested for COVID-19 immediately and quarantine until March 27.

MP on mend after parkrun heart attack

State Labor MP Tony Piccolo is expecting to return home from hospital today after suffering a heart attack during a park run on Saturday.

The Light MP was hospitalised on Saturday after what he described on Facebook as a “pretty poor result at Gawler parkrun”.

“Might sound like a lame excuse but sadly I had a heart attack during the run,” Piccolo posted yesterday.

“Rushed to hospital. Procedure went well and I’m feeling good. Going home tomorrow.

“Thanks to the wonderful doctors and nurses at Gawler Health Service and Lyell McEwin Hospital.”

Piccolo, 61, attended Gawler Hospital and was rushed to Lyell McEwin Hospital by ambulance after completing the 5km run in 28 minutes and 36 seconds – his “worst result in over 12 months”.

“I did finish the run but I should have stopped during the event,” he wrote on Facebook.

“Fortunately my general good health means I will have a speedy recovery.”

 – with AAP and Reuters

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