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What we know today, Tuesday April 6

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

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Calls for stadium-style vaccination hubs

Federal Labor has thrown its support behind establishing stadium-style coronavirus vaccination hubs to speed up the national rollout.

The federal government has played down the need for mass vaccination sites, insisting its growing network of general practice clinics has the program under control.

But opposition health spokesman Mark Butler said the strategy was not working and it was time for new ideas.

“I don’t understand why the Commonwealth is so resistant to an idea that has been rolled out in pretty much every country I have looked at around the world,” he told ABC radio on Tuesday.

“These large vaccination centres of the type that state governments would be able to operate fairly straightforwardly are the way in which other countries are racing ahead of Australia in their vaccine rollout.”

Butler also wants pharmacists brought into the rollout sooner after chemists warned they had been delayed by a month and would not start administering coronavirus jabs until June.

He said it was unfair to force general practices to go it alone.

“I don’t think the numbers lie. And the numbers show how far behind we are. The strategy put together by the Commonwealth is not working,” Butler said.

“There’s just not enough hands at the wheel and the Commonwealth has got to recognise that.”

Australia is on track to record one million vaccinations by the close of business on Monday, but the milestone is a long way short of the four million inoculations the federal government promised by the end of March.

Health policy expert Bill Bowtell said the slow vaccine rollout was creating serious problems.

The adjunct professor said Australia had inoculated just 2.34 in every 100 people.

“We’re somewhere about 90th on the world league tables – sandwiched between Bolivia and Albania,” he told Melbourne radio 3AW.

“However you want to spin it, we are not doing very well.”

Professor Bowtell said there were serious problems with both vaccine supplies and distribution.

“We are not moving fast enough with mass vaccination centres and so on to supplement the distribution through the general practice networks and the doctors surgeries,” he said.

“We are falling way behind.”

Professor Bowtell said the virus was mutating faster than Australia was vaccinating its population.

“Most of the other countries in the world … have got this through their head that they need to mobilise urgently to get ahead of the variants of the virus that are spreading in the world,” he said.

“It’s a very serious situation.”

The United Kingdom has transformed churches and warehouses into vaccination hubs and the United States has used sporting stadiums.

Job ads at highest level since 2008

Businesses still seem keen to take on workers, despite the uncertainty caused by the end of the JobKeeper wage subsidies, with job advertisements rising a further 7.4 per cent in March, building on an upwardly revised 8.8 per cent increase the previous month.

Job ads are now at their highest level since November 2008 and point to further sharp declines in the unemployment rate.

Treasury estimates up to 150,000 people will lose their job as a result of JobKeeper winding up.

“We think net employment losses will be smaller, as growing labour demand elsewhere should mean many workers find a new job relatively quickly,” ANZ senior economist Catherine Birch said today.

Birch expects a temporary rise in the jobless rate over the next few months, before it resumes a rapid downward trajectory in the second half of the year.

Economists will be seeking the thoughts of the Reserve Bank on the jobs market following its monthly board meeting, as well as its views on the country’s heated housing market.

Otherwise, economists expect central bank governor Philip Lowe to stay on message at the monthly gathering – that is, interest rates are likely to remain at record lows until 2024.

The central bank will continue to pursue lower unemployment, higher wage growth and more normal inflation pressures through a mixture of a cash rate at just 0.1 per cent and a hefty bond-buying program.

House prices have grown at their fastest pace in 32 years, while home lending and building approvals are at, or close to, record highs.

North Korea to miss Tokyo Olympics

North Korea’s sports ministry says the country will not participate in the Tokyo Olympics this year to protect its athletes amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision was made at a meeting of North Korea’s Olympic committee on March 25 including its sports minister Kim Il Guk, the Sports in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a government-run website, said.

“The committee decided not to join the 32nd Olympics Games to protect athletes from the global health crisis caused by the coronavirus,” it said.

It is the first Summer Olympics that North Korea has skipped since it boycotted the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Meanwhile, Games organisers are expected to cancel a water polo test event scheduled for this weekend, public broadcaster NHK reported, as the pandemic continues to disrupt preparations less than four months before the July 23 start date.

The water polo test event will be cancelled because overseas officials are unable to travel to Japan amid strict COVID-19 counter measures.

A spokeswoman for the Tokyo 2020 organising committee declined to comment.

A cancellation would be another blow for organisers just days after they restarted test events, which had been on hold due to the pandemic, for the first time in more than a year.

Japan is struggling with a nascent fourth wave in the pandemic driven by variants of the coronavirus, and the resurgence is affecting other test events as well as the torch relay.

Organisers were initially planning 18 test events in April and May, starting with wheelchair rugby April 3-4.

But the International Swimming Federation (FINA) intends to cancel its Olympic qualifiers in Tokyo for diving scheduled for April 18-23, senior Tokyo 2020 official Yasuo Mori said on Sunday, meaning two of the first three test events would not be held if the water polo event is scrapped.

Adding to organisers’ headaches, the city of Osaka has formally requested that their leg of the torch relay be cancelled as the western Japanese metropolis grapples with a spike in coronavirus infections.

Turnbull dumped from NSW climate board

Malcolm Turnbull has been dumped as chair of the NSW Net-Zero Emissions and Clean Economy Board.

The former Liberal prime minister who was named for the role just last week has ruffled coalition feathers by supporting a moratorium on new coal mines in NSW.

State Environment Minister Matt Kean said the purpose of the board was to create jobs in low carbon industries while reducing emissions in ways that grow the economy.

“It is important that the focus is on achieving these outcomes, based on facts, technology, science, and economics,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The focus should not be on personality,” he said.

Turnbull had “contributed much to our country … however, no person’s role on the board should distract from achieving results for the NSW people or from the government’s work in delivering jobs and opportunities for the people of NSW”.

“For this reason, I have decided not to proceed with his appointment as chair.”

The NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer will act in the role until a new chair is named.

The announcement comes hours after The Daily Telegraph published a letter Mr Turnbull wrote to the NSW government objecting to the expansion of a coal mine in the Upper Hunter near his family’s 2700 acre property.

Deputy Premier and Nationals Leader John Barilaro was the first person to declare Mr Turnbull had been axed.

“We are not proceeding with the appointment of Malcolm Turnbull as chair,” he told Sydney radio 2GB ahead of Kean’s statement.

“You need someone who brings people together and not divides and unfortunately Malcolm has done the opposite.

“Great result for common sense.

“He pulled my pants down within 48 of his appointment on an area that I take seriously,” he said of Mr Turnbull’s recent comments on coal mines.

“I’m the deputy premier … and I chose to be the mining minister because I thought for the last 10 years we have not done enough to support the industry which has been the backbone of our economy and the nation.”

Last week, Defence Minister Peter Dutton weighed in on the appointment of Turnbull.

“All I can say is that Malcolm was very consistent as prime minister, and that is that he supported coal mining, and he said that on the public record on a number of occasions.”

Coalition loses electoral ground, faces collapse in SA: Newspoll

The federal coalition has lost significant ground in Western Australia and Queensland and faces collapse in South Australia, but has improved slightly in Victoria and remains relatively stable in NSW, a Newspoll analysis shows.

The analysis of three months worth of data and published in The Australian also shows the coalition has lost male rather than ­female voters, despite the Liberal Party recently being under pressure over treatment of women in politics.

On a two-party-preferred basis, the Scott Morrison-led coalition trails Labor 49-51 per cent on average over the past four Newspolls.

In WA the federal Labor vote surged from 32 per cent in the December analysis to 42 per cent in the latest quarterly analysis, while the ­coalition dropped from 43 per cent to 40 per cent.

This produced a 12-percentage-point turnaround in the two-party-preferred vote from 53-47 in the coalition’s favour in December to favour Labor 53-47 now, with the coalition on track to be defeated in three WA seats.

The WA result indicates the state Liberal Party’s disastrous election result in March had an impact on support for the Morrison government.

In Queensland, Labor’s averaged primary vote rose from 29 per cent in the December analysis to 35 per cent in the latest survey, while the coalition dropped from 45 per cent to 42 per cent.

On a two-party-preferred basis, that puts the Liberal National Party ahead 53-47, down from 57-43 in December and on track to lose four Queensland seats.

The only improvement for the coalition in the two-party-preferred vote was in Victoria where Labor’s lead of 55-45 in the ­December analysis fell to 53-47.

The worst state for the coalition is South Australia where its primary support fell six points to 38 per cent and federal Labor’s vote rose five points to 41 per cent, putting Labor at 55-45 on a two-party-preferred split.

In NSW, the coalition dropped two points to a primary vote of 42 per cent with Labor flat at 36 per cent, producing a deadlocked 50-50 two-party-preferred vote.

Morrison’s lead as preferred prime minister rose a point to 58 per cent while Opposition Leader Anthony  Albanese remained on 28 per cent.

The Newspoll analysis also shows the coalition has lost ground with male voters over the past three months.

GPs to drive vaccine pace pick up

The federal government and health authorities have assured Australians the COVID-19 vaccine rollout will pick up pace as more general practice clinics this week join the program.

By the end of this week the number of clinics involved will double from 1500 to 3000, while Melbourne-based CSL is now pumping out the AstraZeneca vaccine for domestic use to assist supply after the European Union earlier blocked some shipments.

“The daily and weekly numbers will continue to rise,” acting Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd told reporters on Monday.

Almost 842,000 doses have been administered since the program started more than a month ago. Of these, SA Health has administered just 28,933.

The figures fall well short of the four million vaccinations originally promised by the Morrison government by the end of March.

Nationals deputy leader David Littleproud said Australia had been “badly let down” by the EU.

“The arithmetic is simple on this. We are three million short because of the EU, who cut us short,” he said.

Labor sees the situation differently, ascribing it to the “chaos and dysfunction” of the government.

Meanwhile, the Australian Technical Advisory Group is planning to meet on Wednesday this week to further discuss the case of a 44-year-old Melbourne man who developed blood clots after receiving the AstraZeneca jab.

It has been in contact with medicine and healthcare agencies analysing similar cases in Europe and the UK.

Professor Kidd said it was important to note from the overseas experience that one to two cases of thrombosis have been recorded in one million people who receive the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“By contrast, we know that the risk of death from COVID-19 remains at 1 to 2 deaths per 100 people infected,” Prof Kidd said.

In South Australia, a man infected with the South African strain of the virus remains in a critical condition in the Royal Adelaide Hospital.

There were 10 new cases of COVID-19 recorded in the 24 hours to Monday morning among returned overseas travellers already in quarantine, including two unrelated men in their 40s in Adelaide.

But there were no new cases of community transmission anywhere across the country.

April 19 tipped for NZ travel bubble start

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is set to reveal the start date for quarantine-free travel for Australians to Aotearoa in a 1.30pm announcement today.

Ardern’s cabinet will meet to sign off a plan to create the trans-Tasman bubble on Tuesday morning, before a 4pm local time (1.30pm SA time) announcement.

The prime minister has remained tight-lipped on possible start dates, but Air NZ may have given the game away.

The national carrier is selling a vastly increased number of quarantine-free flights across the Tasman from April 19.

The Australian newspaper also reports industry chief John Hart saying “the 19th was pretty much definite”.

In Wellington on Tuesday morning, Ardern said “they do not know cabinet’s decisions. We have not told them the date we will be opening”.

Ardern said she was pleased to finally be able to announce a date, after a tortured 11-month journey from when it was first agreed in principle last May.

“The public, tourism operators, families and friends will have that certainty,” she said.

“I’m a Kiwi like everyone else … I have family and friends in distressing situations because we have had this border in place.

“We are now able to take this next step and it is a world first.”

Australian and New Zealand borders have been shut to almost all non-citizens since March last year, with both countries requiring arrivals to spend a fortnight in quarantine before entering the community.

Success in fighting the virus has prompted calls for the two allies to re-open borders to each other.

Australian states began scrapping their restrictions last October, but to date New Zealand is yet to do so.

Kiwis have been fearful of a return of the deadly virus to their country, but University of Auckland professor Shaun Hendy said the re-opening was worth the risk.

“It’s not greatly increasing the risk to New Zealand… and it will be good for many people with family in Australia,” he told Radio NZ.

“We are going to have to make these small incremental risks.

“We do want to get something like normal life back over the next year.”

Families separated by the Tasman Sea have been among the loudest voices calling for a resumption of normal travel.

Tourism-related industries and businesses are also desperate for travel to resume.

“We’re all looking forward to hearing what the New Zealand government has to announce,” Auckland Airport executive Scott Tasker told AAP.

Tasker was one of 40 representatives – including airports, airlines and government officials – in the Trans-Tasman Safe Border Group which last June put together a logistical plan for the aviation system to re-open.

While Australia picked up the report and put it into action, New Zealand left it on the shelf.

“Australia determined it was safe to consider opening inbound travel to New Zealand last October,” Tasker said.

“It’s pleasing to see that the New Zealand government now obviously do see that conditions are conducive to some serious thinking about the possibility of opening.”

In any re-opening scenario, borders would be closed temporarily in the case of new outbreaks.

Probe into fatal Hills crash

Police are investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of an Adelaide Hills man in a crash at Brukunga last night.

Emergency services were called to Pyrites Road, just north of the township of Brukunga, about 5.30pm yesterday after a Ford ute crashed into a tree.

The driver, a 28-year-old local man, was airlifted to the Royal Adelaide Hospital with life threatening injuries.

The passenger, a 39-year-old Nairne man, died at the scene.

Pyrites Road was closed for several hours while Major Crash officers were at the scene.

Anyone who saw the vehicle prior to the crash, or who has any information that may assist the investigation is asked to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or report on line at www.crimestopperssa.com.au

The man’s death is the 35th life lost on SA Roads this year, compared to 31 at the same time last year.

PM rallies around sick senator

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has led messages of support after Liberal Senator Jim Molan revealed his diagnosis with an aggressive form of cancer, becoming the latest in a string of Liberal politicians to take leave from Canberra.

The 70-year-old announced on Monday he would take time away from the Senate to confirm his prognosis before commencing treatment.

In a statement, the NSW Senator admitted the diagnosis last week came as a shock but said he had many reasons to remain positive.

“I am receiving the best possible care from my clinicians, and have the love, support and prayers of my family,” Senator Molan said.

A former major general in the Australian army, the senator said he had never been afraid to fight battles that need fighting.

“This is no exception,” he said.

Senator Molan joins fellow government members Christian Porter, Linda Reynolds and Andrew Laming on different forms of leave ahead of federal parliament next sitting in mid-May.

Both sides of the political aisle wished him well in his treatment and recovery, with the prime minister paying tribute to Senator Molan’s work.

“We’ve worked together for over a decade now and you’ve always put your service above all else,” Morrison wrote.

“Even now, in sharing this news of your illness, your thoughts still turn to how you can continue to serve.”

Labor senators Penny Wong, Kristina Keneally and Katy Gallagher also reached out to show support along with Eden-Monaro MP Kristy McBain.

Molan’s Senate term is not due to expire until mid-2022.

George Floyd murder trial enters second week

The Minneapolis police chief has testified that now-fired officer Derek Chauvin violated departmental policy in pinning his knee on George Floyd’s neck and keeping him down after Floyd had stopped resisting and was in distress.

Continuing to kneel on Floyd’s neck once he was handcuffed behind his back and lying on his stomach was “in no way, shape or form” part of department policy or training, “and it is certainly not part of our ethics or our values,” Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said on Monday, day six of Chauvin’s murder trial.

Arradondo, the city’s first black chief, fired Chauvin and three other officers the day after Floyd’s death last May and in June called it “murder”.

While police have long been accused of closing ranks to protect fellow members of the force who have been accused of wrongdoing, some of the most experienced members of the Minneapolis department have taken the stand to openly condemn Chauvin’s treatment of Floyd.

As jurors watched in rapt attention and scribbled notes, Arradondo testified not only that Chauvin, a 19-year veteran of the force, should have let Floyd up sooner but that the pressure on Floyd’s neck did not appear to be light to moderate, as called for under the department’s neck-restraint policy; that Chauvin failed in his duty to render first aid before the ambulance arrived; and that he violated policy requiring officers to de-escalate tense situations if they can to avoid or minimise the use of force.

“That action is not de-escalation,” the police chief said.

Arradondo’s testimony came after the emergency room doctor who pronounced Floyd dead testified that he theorised at the time that Floyd’s heart most likely stopped because of a lack of oxygen.

Bradford Langenfeld, who was a senior resident on duty that night at Hennepin County Medical Center and tried to resuscitate Floyd, took the stand as prosecutors sought to establish that it was Chauvin’s knee on the black man’s neck that killed him.

Langenfeld said Floyd’s heart had stopped by the time he arrived at the hospital.

Under questioning by prosecutor Jerry Blackwell, Langenfeld said that based on the information he had, it was “more likely than the other possibilities” that Floyd’s cardiac arrest – the stopping of his heart – was caused by asphyxia, or insufficient oxygen.

Chauvin, 45, is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death.

The white officer is accused of pressing his knee into the 46-year-old man’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds, outside a corner market, where Floyd had been accused of trying to pass a counterfeit $US20 banknote for a pack of cigarettes.

The defence argues that Chauvin did what he was trained to do and that Floyd’s use of illegal drugs and his underlying health conditions caused his death.

Nelson, Chauvin’s lawyer, asked Langenfeld whether some drugs can cause hypoxia, or insufficient oxygen.

The doctor acknowledged that fentanyl and methamphetamine, both of which were found in Floyd’s body, can do so.

Myanmar unrest sparks regional talks

Protesters in Myanmar have clapped together in a show of dissent against the military junta as a regional bloc prepares for talks on the crisis that has killed nearly 600 people.

Clapping began in various parts of the main city Yangon at 5pm on Monday in response to a call by protest organisers, residents said.

The gesture would honour “Ethnic Armed Organisations and Gen Z defence youths from Myanmar including Yangon who are fighting in the revolution… on behalf of us,” Ei Thinzar Maung, a protest leader, wrote on Facebook.

Despite the killing of at least 564 people by the security forces since the February 1 coup, protesters have come out across the country every day to voice opposition to the overthrow of the elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi and the return of military rule.

Brunei, chair of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), threw its support on Monday behind a leaders’ meeting to discuss Myanmar.

After talks between Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Brunei said both countries would make preparations for a meeting to be held at the ASEAN Secretariat in the Indonesian capital Jakarta.

No date was given.

The divergent views of ASEAN members on how to respond to the Myanmar army’s crackdown on civilians and the group’s policy of non-interference has limited its ability to act.

Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore have all expressed alarm over the killings of demonstrators and support an urgent high-level meeting on Myanmar.

Besides Brunei, the other ASEAN members are Myanmar itself, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.

The junta said on Monday that comments last week by UN Special Envoy Christine Schraner Burgener about an impending “bloodbath” in Myanmar were inaccurate and misleading.

“Ms Burgener’s remarks contravene the basic principles of sovereignty, and the fact that the United Nations is meant to work towards peace and stability of the world’s nations,” it said in a notice in the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper.

Schraner Burgener told the UN Security Council on March 31 it must consider “potentially significant action” to reverse the course of events as “a bloodbath is imminent”.

The junta said the remarks were “a far cry from reality and could delay and destabilise the efforts by the State Administration Council to establish a genuine and disciplined multiparty democracy”.

A total of 2667 people have been detained under the junta, the Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) activist group said on Monday.

The junta at the weekend announced arrest warrants for about 60 celebrities, social media influencers, models and musicians on charges of incitement.

 – with AAP and Reuters

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