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What we know today, Thursday March 18

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

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New federal health clinics to support state-level vaccine rollout

Health Minister Greg Hunt has confirmed 100 Commonwealth clinics will administer coronavirus vaccines to ease pressure on local doctors.

Hunt said the clinics would take “all comers” and distribute more than 1000 jabs each week.

More than 1000 general practices will join Australia’s vaccination program from next week despite doctors’ concerns they’re short on doses.

This will increase to 4000 clinics by the end of April as part of the rollout’s next phase.

Hunt conceded smaller general practices would need to focus on their own patients first before expanding to others.

“But the Commonwealth vaccination clinics that are coming online today will take all patients,” he told ABC radio today.

“And with over 100 around the country, that’s a very important addition. And they’ll have, on average, close to a thousand vaccines a week and so that expands the capacity very significantly.”

Australia’s medicines regulator says there are no specific problems around either of the two COVID-19 vaccines, as GPs gear up for the next phase of the rollout.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration says it has received 19 reports of anaphylaxis – a form of allergic reaction – nationally, 14 of which followed the Pfizer vaccine and five followed the AstraZeneca vaccine.

As of March 15, the TGA had not received any reports of blood clots following the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which at least 17 countries are currently investigating while suspending or delaying the vaccine’s use.

“We certainly don’t believe there is any specific problem around either AstraZeneca or Pfizer COVID vaccines,” the TGA’s Professor John Skerritt said.

So far 204,000 Australians have been vaccinated, including 45,000 in aged care.

The next phase is set to begin on March 22, targeting people aged over 70, emergency workers and a range of other vulnerable groups.

SA Health has vaccinated 9831 people as of Wednesday, after reporting a total of 1325 vaccines administered the day before.

Suspect arrested in NSW over Woodville house blaze

A man wanted for questioning over a house fire in Adelaide in which three people were seriously injured has been arrested in NSW.

The 32-year-old was stopped while driving by NSW Police on Wednesday night and detained on a South Australian warrant for attempted murder.

He was taken to a Sydney hospital where he remains under police guard.

SA police are currently liaising with NSW authorities to secure his extradition in coming days.

A 31-year-old man who was burnt in the fire remains in a critical condition in the Royal Adelaide Hospital.

Two women, aged 27 and 28, are also being treated in hospital for less serious injuries.

The Woodville West blaze was quickly brought under control on Wednesday morning with two fire trucks and eight firefighters containing damage to the lounge room.

Crime scene investigators and detectives believed the fire was deliberately lit and wanted to speak with a man over the incident.

All the parties were known to each other and the blaze was not considered a random attack, police said.

Crows forward inks contract extension

Adelaide forward Shane McAdam has signed a two-year contract extension with the Crows, adding to a recent string of signings for the Club.

The 25-year-old played 13 games and kicked 12 goals for the Crows last season after playing his first career game in round four.

He joined the Crows in 2018 as a mature-age draft pick from WA.

Adelaide List Management and Strategy General Manager Justin Reid said the Crows were delighted to secure McAdam’s services until 2023.

“We’re rapt to have Shane commit to the Adelaide Football Club for another two years,” Reid said in a statement.

“We have always known he is a special talent and last year we got to see that at AFL level in 13 games and we are excited about what is still to come.

“It’s great to have him buying into what we are building at the Club as the latest player to extend his contract before the season starts.”

McAdam joins Brodie Smith, Rory Laird, Reilly O’Brien, Harry Schoenberg, Josh Worrell and Andrew McPherson in the list of Crows players to have signed contract extensions with the Club this year.

It also comes after Adelaide on Wednesday officially cut ties with McAdam’s former teammate Tyson Stengle, who was involved in three off-field incidents last year.

SA parliament sexism row over ‘B team’ comment

Liberal MP Tim Whetstone is defending himself from accusations of sexism after saying in parliament the opposition has “got the B team out” as a female MP rose to ask a question.

Whetstone made the comment on Wednesday afternoon as the government faced a series of questions from Labor MP Katrine Hildyard and Deputy Opposition Leader Susan Close over the funding of safety services for women.

The member for Chaffey withdrew the comment amid uproar from the opposition benches, but said his remarks were directed at the Labor Party as a whole.

Hildyard said the comments were “disgraceful” and called on Premier Steven Marshall to condemn the MP.

“In the same week thousands of people marched across Australia, advocating action against gendered violence and an end to sexist and misogynistic attitudes towards women, a Marshall Liberal Government MP dismissed female MPs as ‘the B Team’,” Hildyard said.

“[The remarks] are not however surprising given the cuts this government has made to programs that support women and given their appalling lack of women in their parliamentary ranks.”

Whetstone took to Twitter late Wednesday to dismiss the accusation and intimate possible legal action.

“I completely and utterly reject Labor’s assertion that this was a comment about gender,” Whetstone posted on Twitter.

“I referred to the entire Labor Party – men and women – as the B Team and stated as such in the Parliament.

“I will now speak with my lawyers.”

Senate to report on Holden’s exit from Australia

A Senate committee is set to hand down its findings on the impact of Holden’s departure from Australia and also on the broader relationship between car manufacturers and their dealers.

The federal education and employment references committee has been examining the impacts of Holden’s loss on its employees, dealers and car owners following the decision by US parent company General Motors to retire the brand at the end of last year, following the end of car manufacturing at Holden’s Elizabeth plant in 2017.

The committee’s terms of reference were expanded to include wider questions over how dealers are treated across the sector, prompting submissions outlining the “profound power imbalance” that exists between the producers and the people who sell their vehicles.

During the hearings, Australian Automobile Dealer Association CEO James Voortman told the inquiry the problem was highlighted by GM’s decision to close down the Holden brand.

Despite most dealers eventually agreeing on terms, a number were upset at the level of compensation offered by GM.

“The franchising code of conduct and its weak dispute resolution mechanisms were no match for the Detroit-based Fortune 500 company,” Voortman said at the time.

“Unfortunately, this issue goes beyond the actions of one brand.

“The relationship between manufacturers and dealers is characterised by a profound imbalance in power.”

The Senate report is expected to address those issues in its report due today , but its findings were pre-empted by the federal government last week when it announced major changes to franchising regulations in the auto sector.

Under the changes, car manufacturers face fines of up to $10 million for unilaterally changing contracts with dealers, providing insufficient compensation or reneging on warranties.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison compared his motoring plan to a news media bargaining code recently imposed on Facebook and Google.

“We expect big multinational companies to deal with Australian companies fairly and to do the right thing,” he said.

“They’re not allowed to come and ride roughshod and justify it on the changes to their business models for decisions taken in other parts of the world.”

Majority of Australians support EV subsidies: poll

A majority of Australians support government subsidies for buying electric vehicles, new polling shows, despite moves from several state governments to introduce taxes on the green automobiles.

A “nationally representative survey” of 2001 people conducted by US market research firm Dynata on behalf of the left-leaning Australia Institute shows 62 per cent of respondents agree the government should introduce EV subsidies, while more than half support a ban on new fossil fuel cars being sold from 2035.

The federal government has previously rejected an EV subsidy scheme, arguing it does not result in a good enough investment for the amount of emissions it would reduce.

The think-tank is dismayed the Victorian government is moving ahead with plans to tax electric vehicles in order to make up lost funds from petrol excise.

“The majority of Australians actually want incentives to drive the uptake of zero emissions vehicles higher,” the Australia Institute’s Richie Merzian says.

The South Australian government is also looking to introduce an EV tax, although state Treasurer Rob Lucas has conceded he currently does not have the numbers to pass the measure into law.

The new polling comes ahead of a parliamentary friends of climate action event at Parliament House.

The event will focus on how to support a clean energy transition in transport.

Electric Vehicle Council Australia chair Tim Washington and Norway’s ambassador to Australia Paul Gulleik Larsen will speak at the event on Thursday.

Norway is the world leader on electric vehicles.

More than half of new car sales in Norway are electric vehicles, with its government aiming for 100 per cent zero emission vehicle sales by 2025.

Former deputy chief in the Royal Australian Air Force John Blackburn will also speak at the event, focusing on national security implications of relying on oil from overseas.

Instead of subsidies the government wants to help businesses switch commercial fleets to electrics and hybrids, given 40 per cent of light vehicles were bought by businesses last year.

The government believes helping firms switch to electric and hybrid vehicles will result in them being sold second-hand, reducing the cost for individuals and increasing uptake.

Electric vehicles are estimated to make up just 0.2 per cent of Australia’s total vehicle fleet.

The government predicts 26 per cent of new car sales will be electric by 2030.

The transport sector makes up 18 per cent of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions, and is expected to rise through to 2030.

US mass shooting suspect ‘had sex addiction’

The suspect in the fatal shooting of eight people at day spas in and around Atlanta in the US indicated he had issues with sexual addiction and the shootings may have not been motivated by racial hatred, according to law enforcement officials.

Officials said that the 21-year-old suspect, Robert Aaron Long, appeared to have frequented the spas where Tuesday’s violence occurred or similar ones, and that he was heading to Florida when he was apprehended, perhaps to carry out further shootings.

Six of the eight victims were women of Asian descent.

“The suspect did take responsibility for the shooting,” Captain Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department told reporters.

“It’s a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate,” Baker added, referring to what he said were the suspect’s sexual addiction issues.

While preliminary investigations appeared to suggest the suspect was not motivated by racial hatred, officials said it was still too early to know with certainty and the probe was still ongoing.

The killings were the latest in a string of mass shootings in the United States, with others occurring at schools, movie theatres, medical clinics and other public places in recent years.

A 9mm firearm was found in Long’s car, police said.

The bloodshed began about 5pm on Tuesday when four people were killed and another was wounded at Young’s Asian Massage in Cherokee County, about 64km north of Atlanta, Baker said.

Two women of Asian descent were among the dead there, along with a white woman and a white man, Baker said, adding that the surviving victim was a Hispanic man.

Later that day, police officers responded to a call of a “robbery in progress” shortly before 6pm arrived at the Gold Spa beauty salon and found three women shot dead, Police Chief Rodney Bryant told reporters.

While investigating the initial report, the officers were called to a separate aromatherapy spa across the street where another woman was found dead from a gunshot wound, Bryant said.

All four women killed in Atlanta were of Asian descent.

Skin cell breakthrough to fast track early pregnancy research

An Australian-led team of scientists has reprogrammed skin cells to create a human embryo model in a discovery billed to fast-track research on early miscarriages and IVF.

The team, led by researchers at Melbourne’s Monash University, reprogrammed skin cells into a 3D cellular structure similar to human blastocysts.

The structure, known as iBlastoids, can be used to model the biology of early human embryos in lab settings.

Previously, studies of early human development and infertility were restricted by having to source scarcely available blastocysts obtained from IVF procedures.

“iBlastoids will allow scientists to study the very early steps in human development and some of the causes of infertility, congenital diseases and the impact of toxins and viruses on early embryos,” Monash University Professor Jose Polo said.

It would accelerate the understanding and the development of new therapies, he said.

The new research, published in UK scientific journal Nature on Wednesday, details how scientists used “nuclear reprogramming” to generate iBlastoids.

The technique involves placing human skin cells on a “3D jelly” scaffold, reorganising them into blastocyst-like structures.

iBlastoids are not completely identical to a blastocyst and have limited ability to develop beyond the first few days.

Polo said they will provide a model system to study the early stages of pregnancy, with some women unaware of conception before the embryo fails to implant or progress.

In addition, Professor Ross Coppel, deputy dean of Monash University’s medical research facility, said the discovery will allow the development of improved IVF methods, embryo gene therapy protocols and screening methods for new drugs.

“With further research and the right resources, this discovery could open up entirely new industries for Australia and internationally,” Coppel said.

AFL season set for first bounce

The 2021 AFL season kicks off tonight with reigning premiers Richmond facing Carlton at the MCG in front of 50,000 fans, marking a landmark moment for the league in its quest to rebound from last year’s pandemic struggles.

Richmond club legends will help show off the spoils of the Tigers’ 2019 and 2020 Grand Final triumphs in front of the largest crowd to attend an AFL game in Victoria since 2019.

Tonight’s game will be the club’s first step towards reaching heights not even the most die-hard Tigers fan could have imagined only five years ago.

Two teams have claimed three-straight premierships this century – the Brisbane Lions (2001-03) and Hawthorn (2013-15) – but a fourth title in five years is something that has not been done since Melbourne won five from six between 1955 and 1960.

Even the Hawks’ powerhouse teams of the 1980s and early 1990s spread their five premierships out over nine seasons.

Despite Richmond’s shot at history, captain Trent Cotchin has insisted the Tigers are not motivated by great teams from other eras.

Time will tell how much energy the unique experience of winning a premiership in the Queensland hub last season took out of Damien Hardwick’s group.

Meanwhile, Adelaide are gearing up to face last year’s grand finalists Geelong in front of 40,000 fans at the Adelaide Oval on Saturday, while Port Adelaide are looking to record a straightforward win over last year’s cellar dwellers North Melbourne at Docklands on Sunday.

How Adelaide Oval manages the new crowd size will be closely scrutinised, with fans to be segmented into 120-people “pods” and asked to wear masks while they are moving around the stadium.

Premier Steven Marshall on Wednesday said the state’s transition committee will continue to review the density cap as the season progresses.

-With AAP and Reuters

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