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What we know today, Monday March 22


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

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Thousands evacuated from NSW floods

Thousands of people have been evacuated across NSW as swollen rivers flood towns, but the worst is potentially yet to come, the government says.

There are 40 flood warnings and 20 evacuation orders in place running from the Mid-North Coast down to the Illawarra, including western Sydney, with more expected to be declared later today.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian plans to observe the flooding from the air on Monday.

She said it was a miracle no lives had been lost.

“We’re not through the worst of it potentially and that’s why we need to brace ourselves,” Berejiklian told reporters.

“We have no illusions about how difficult the next few weeks and months will be.”

Major flooding is still expected along the Macleay River at Kempsey and Smithtown on Monday.

People in Kempsey’s CBD were told by the State Emergency Service to evacuate by midnight with the town levees due to be topped.

Evacuation orders are also in place for low lying areas of Macksville, Port Macquarie, the lower Macleay, Wauchope and Rawdon Island, Taree and Wingham.

In Sydney, parts of Penrith and other areas along the Nepean were ordered to evacuate on Sunday.

A number of towns across the state have been isolated for days, some without fresh water or power.

Roads have been cut off, hundreds of homes are inundated and 200 schools shut.

Heavy rain will remain a serious risk for the Mid-North Coast on Monday and Tuesday, where communities are facing the worst flooding conditions since 1929.

Communities along the Hawkesbury River are also bracing for the worst flooding in the area since 1961, with the river predicted to reach a peak of up to 15 metres on Monday night.

The Northern Rivers, Hunter and Central Tablelands districts also need to be on high alert, the Bureau of Meteorology warned.

People are being asked to move possessions up high, take pets, essential items, warm clothes, medicines, insurance documents and valuables with them and stay with family or friends, or head to evacuation centres.

The SES is warning the deluge will continue and more evacuations are likely.

NSW floods inevitable: expert

The flooding of NSW homes and businesses in the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley is not the result of an act of God but poor government policy, a climate change expert says.

Much of NSW has been lashed by torrential rain since last week, with 20 evacuation orders in place from the mid-north coast to the Illawarra and western Sydney.

Those issued for the recently developed Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley, northwest of Sydney, could have been avoided, Australian National University Professor Jamie Pittock says.

“The Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley is very dangerous, very flood-prone and that’s because there are some geographical chokepoints that cause large floods to back up over some of the inhabited areas,” he told ABC TV on Monday.

“There is around 70,000 residents on the flood plain that are in harm’s way and the NSW government has plans to move another 130,000 people into this area by 2050.”

A government plan to raise the Warragamba Dam wall to offset the flood risk is “silly”, he said, and will only delay the inevitable.

WaterNSW plans to raise the wall 17 metres to allow additional floodwater to be captured and temporarily held back, pending federal approval.

“It only encourages more development in harm’s way,” Pittock said.

“The best approach, the sort of approach that is being taken in countries around the world, is to prevent development on the flood plain, to leave the flood plains as places that can flood safely.”

“Use that land for agriculture and recreation and nature conservation but don’t put more houses there.”

A reported war of words between NSW government ministers over whether or not more water from the dam should have been released before the rain is missing the point, he said.

“Letting a little bit of water out of the dam beforehand was an obvious step to take and it would have made some difference.”

“(But) no matter what happens at Warragamba Dam there is a big flood risk from places like South Creek and the Grose River.”

With climate change driving extreme weather events that make major flooding more common, a plan phased over several decades to relocate those living on the flood plain is needed, Pittock said.

US investment fund targets Crown takeover

Gaming giant Crown Resorts is being targeted for a takeover after a US investment fund made an unsolicited offer.

The non-binding offer received on Sunday proposes an offer price of $11.85 cash per share, equating to about $8 billion.

Crown shares closed at $9.86 on Friday, valuing the group at $6.7 billion.

The offer represents a premium of 19 per cent to Crown’s weighted average share price in the weeks since it released its first-half results.

“The Crown board has not yet formed a view on the merits of the proposal,” it said in a statement.

Blackstone’s indicative offer carries a number of conditions, including that it be recommended unanimously by the Crown board.

It also wants regulatory confirmation a future Blackstone-owned Crown is deemed a suitable person to hold the target’s Sydney casino gaming licence.

Blackstone already holds 9.99 per cent of Crown, which it bought from Melco Resorts & Entertainment in April last year for $8.15 per share.

PM won’t oppose vote on veteran suicide Royal Commision

Scott Morrison has confirmed the coalition will not oppose a motion calling for a royal commission into veteran suicides but remains committed to an alternative model.

The prime minister said the non-binding motion would be waved through the House of Representatives, avoiding an embarrassing loss.

“We won’t be opposing that motion at all,” he told 2GB radio on Monday.

“We’ve always thought you need something better than and more than a royal commission – what we need is a permanent arrangement – and that’s what we’ve put into the parliament.”

The government has introduced legislation to establish a permanent agency with the powers of a royal commission to address veteran suicides.

“I’m sure that these two things can come together and we can come to some agreement over the course of this week,” Mr Morrison said.

“I want to do what’s right for veterans.

“Royal commissions are fine but they’re only temporary, they’re not a silver bullet. You need permanent arrangements and support to address the root causes of these issues and that’s what we’re committed to doing.”

Coalition senators voted with Labor, the Greens and independents to establish a royal commission last week.

The motion notes Australian Defence Force personnel have a suicide rate of less than half of the wider community’s while serving but nearly twice the general population rate once they leave.

It calls on the Morrison government to establish a royal commission into the rate of suicide among current and former ADF personnel.

The coalition would probably lose the vote if it contested the motion.

Australian-made vaccines approved, rollout enters phase 1b

Australian-made vials of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine are set to be released this week after the national medicine regulator approved domestic production, while general practices across the country will begin vaccinations today as part of phase 1b of the national rollout.

Late on Sunday, the Therapeutic Goods Administration gave its blessing for pharmaceutical giant CSL to manufacture the AstraZeneca vaccine at its two Melbourne sites in Broadmeadows and Parkville.

The approval does not extend to use, however, with the regulator still needing to review batch documents and test to ensure they meet manufacturing standards.

But it said that was “imminent”, paving the way for domestically produced batches of the AstraZeneca vaccine to be shipped out “in the next few days”.

“Today’s approval is a critical and very exciting milestone in Australia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the TGA said on Sunday.

CSL has been charged with manufacturing 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca jab as part of an agreement struck with the federal government.

“These will form the mainstay of Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination program over the coming months, and complement imported vaccine supplies,” the TGA said.

The announcement coincides with the next stage of Australia’s vaccine rollout, which is facing further disruptions as heavy rain and flooding blocks roads in NSW.

The phase 1b rollout – for people aged more than 70, Indigenous Australians over 55, those with a medical condition or disability, and workers deemed high risk – starts this morning.

This week, more than 1000 GPs in cities and country towns across Australia – including 84 in South Australia – will start administrating the AstraZeneca vaccine, with the aim to inoculate six million people.

“Obviously we won’t be able to vaccinate all six million people (on Monday), or over the coming week, so please be patient,” Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd told reporters on Sunday.

“At the moment, some general practices will only receive 50 doses a week and they will be prioritising their most elderly and most unwell patients.”

Adelaide’s phase 1b rollout across 70 metropolitan GPs will be managed by Adelaide Primary Health Networks.

Adelaide PHN CEO Deb Lee called for patience as clinics come to grips with the next stage of the vaccination program.

“This is a milestone day for clinics in South Australia as they begin the process of administering the phase 1b vaccine,” Lee said.

“It’s really important that people understand whether they are eligible and, if so, that they don’t have to attend their regular GP to receive the vaccine.

“I would also urge people to be patient. We are working closely with SA Health analysing population data and focus areas to ensure that our most vulnerable community members are vaccinated first.”

In the meantime, the rollout of phase 1a is expected to continue for another six to eight weeks until all people in that group have received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

Australia’s deputy chief medical officer also reminded people to have their annual flu shot, which will become available this month.

But importantly he said it is recommended there is a 14-day gap between having the COVID vaccine and the influenza vaccine.

There were just four COVID-19 overseas acquired cases recorded in Australia on Sunday, two in NSW and two in Queensland.

There are still 14 active cases of COVID-19 in SA – all in hotel quarantine.

SA Health said the state had administered 14,365 vaccine doses as of Saturday.

Pedestrian in critical condition after crash in southern suburbs

A pedestrian is in a critical condition after a serious crash involving three cars in Sheidow Park on Sunday night.

Emergency services were called to the scene around 6:45pm after a Mazda travelling north on Berrima Road hit a Kia that had been travelling South.

Police say the Mazda, which was travelling on the wrong side of the road, then crashed into a pedestrian and a parked vehicle.

The pedestrian, a 29-year-old woman from Morphett Vale, was transported to the Flinders Medical Centre where she remains in a critical condition this morning. A passenger in the Kia was also taken to hospital with minor injuries.

The driver, a 25-year-old man from Sheidow Park, was also transported to the FMC and treated for minor injuries. He was arrested around 11:30pm last night and charged with two counts of causing harm by dangerous driving and driving while disqualified.

He has been refused bail and will appear in the Adelaide Magistrates Court today.

Major crash officers are investigating the crash, and Berrima Road has been reopened after being closed to all traffic overnight.

It comes after three people died on South Australian roads over the weekend.

A 39-year-old Davoren Park man died in hospital on Sunday after sustaining life-threatening injuries when his motorcycle crashed into a fence in Sandy Creek on Saturday.

Earlier on Saturday morning, two young men were killed and another was seriously injured after their car crashed on Angaston road in the Barossa Valley.

Emergency services were called to the scene around 2:30am after a Ford utility travelling east had crashed into a tree.

Both the driver, a 23-year-old man, and his passenger, a 20-year-old man, died at the scene, while another 20-year-old man riding in the back of the utility was transported by helicopter to the Royal Adelaide Hospital with serious injuries.

Police said major crash investigators are considering dangerous road use, excess speed, use of drugs and alcohol and not using seat belts in their investigation of the Barossa Valley crash.

The weekend fatalities bring the state’s road toll to 29, compared to 27 at the same point last year.

“This is the state’s worst start to road deaths in more than a decade,” Superintendent Shane Addison, who is in charge of the Barossa Local Service Area, told reporters on Saturday.

“Police are continually frustrated that a message in relation to safety on our roads is not getting through.

“Three families have now had their lives irreversibly damaged by what’s happened.”

Two Australians detained by Myanmar junta

Two Australian business consultants have been detained in Myanmar while trying to leave the country which is gripped by a military coup, a news agency reports.

Business consultants Matthew O’Kane and Christa Avery are believed to be under house arrest after trying to leave the country on a relief flight on Friday, AFP reports.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has confirmed it is providing assistance to two Australians in Myanmar.

The couple reportedly run a small consultancy business in Myanmar’s largest city of Yangon.

A third Australian, Sean Turnell, an economic advisor to deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi, was detained last month.

Fierce protects continue in Myanmar in opposition to military rule despite the death toll at the hands of security forces rising to more than 200.

The violence since the February 1 coup comes after a decade of tentative steps towards democracy in Myanmar.

Western countries have condemned the bloodshed and Australia has suspended military cooperation with Myanmar and redirected aid to non-government organisations in response.

UK sets new daily vaccination record

Well over half the UK’s adult population have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine after a daily record of more than 844,000 doses were administered.

More than 27.6 million people in Britain have now received one jab while 2.2 million people have had both doses of a vaccine, official data showed on Sunday.

“This mammoth team effort shows the best of Britain,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock tweeted, hailing the second daily record number of doses administered in as many days.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged everyone to accept a vaccine when invited to receive one.

The daily release of COVID-19 data in the UK showed that 33 new deaths were recorded on Sunday, the lowest figure since October and down from peaks of above 1000 deaths per day in January and February.

The seven-day total number of deaths was 640, down by 37 per cent compared with the previous seven-day period.

Britain has suffered more than 126,000 coronavirus deaths since the start of the pandemic, the highest official death toll in Europe and the fifth-highest in the word.

The UK’s vaccine rollout is the fastest in any major economy, although the government has warned that it will slow down next month due to a supply crunch.

Despite the slowdown, progress is still in line with official targets, meaning that unless anything changes the government’s four-step plan to ease lockdown is expected to go ahead as announced.

But authorities have had to deal with growing unrest with the restrictions as anti-lockdown protesters took to the streets in London in large numbers on Saturday.

Crows secure AFLW finals berth

Adelaide will enter the AFLW finals as a legitimate premiership threat after the Crows sealed a top-six berth with an emphatic 56-point win over the Western Bulldogs on Sunday.

Ebony Marinoff led the way with 24 possessions for the Crows, who confirmed a spot in the finals with a 12.6 (78) to 3.4 (22) win at Norwood Oval.

Adelaide had winners across every line with Anne Hatchard, Rhiannon Metcalfe and Stevie-Lee Thompson important at the contest, while Chloe Scheer booted three goals.

A top-two finish is still a possibility following the win that came on the heels of a 28-point loss to Melbourne.

“It was an excellent response… as a group they were pretty disappointed,” Adelaide coach Matthew Clarke said.

“Obviously last week’s game wasn’t our best but… to come out and remedy some of the issues that we had was really pleasing.

“It’s the most even AFLW season we’ve had and to know that we’re going to be part of that finals series – which will potentially be the best we’ve ever had – is a great place to start.

“We’ve still got a bit of work to do, but to be part of it is really pleasing.”

Brooke Lochland and Ellie Blackburn worked hard for the Bulldogs, but Adelaide’s intensity and pressure on the ball carrier troubled the visitors from the outset.

After booting just two goals against the Demons, the Crows flew out of the blocks with three majors in the first quarter.

Bonnie Toogood brought the margin back to 13 points at quarter-time with her first, but the Bulldogs were besieged in the second term.

Adelaide’s pressure forced turnover after turnover, Scheer and Caitlin Gould each adding their second goals inside the last minute to send the home side into the main break with a 33-point lead.

Danielle Ponter provided one of the highlights of the day when she climbed high to take a stunning mark early in the final term.

She didn’t convert after the big grab, but the clinical Crows finished the job and boosted their percentage with a four-goals-to-one quarter.

The Crows face second-placed Collingwood next week, where a win by a significant enough margin could secure an unlikely spot in the top two and an all-important first-round bye.

-With AAP and Reuters

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