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What we know today, Thursday April 8

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

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SA Health issues warning for deadly bat virus

SA Health has issued a warning asking people to avoid any contact with bats, after two recent detections of the deadly Australian Bat Lyssavirus.

The Department for Health and Wellbeing’s Communicable Disease Control Branch Director Dr Louise Flood said it was the third ABL detection in SA since 2012.

“ABL is a rabies-like disease that can be transmitted to humans if they are bitten or scratched by an infected bat and if treatment is delayed until after the onset of symptoms, the condition is invariably fatal,” Flood said.

“While only one per cent of bats usually carry ABL, these two recent exposures are concerning and is an important reminder that bats should only ever be handled by appropriately trained and vaccinated animal handlers.

“While the development of ABL from bat bites or scratches can be prevented through prompt wound management and post exposure prophylaxis, it is important to avoid contact in the first place.”

SA Health advises anyone who has been bitten, scratched or come into contact with bat saliva to clean the contact area with soap and water for a minimum of five minutes, apply antiseptic and call a doctor or emergency department if necessary.

There have been eight bat-human exposures this year in South Australia that have required precautionary treatment according to SA Health.

The Department of Primary Industries and Regions said the ABL also poses a threat to animals.

“If you notice bats around your home, ensure your animal is physically separated from them by either relocating the pet either indoors or elsewhere until the bat is gone,” PIRSA Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Mary Carr said.

“If you suspect your animal has been either bitten or scratched by a bat please contact your local vet or the Emergency Animal Disease hotline on 1800 675 888.”

Round 8 showdown set for Saturday night

The Crows and Power will face off in a primetime Saturday night clash at the Adelaide Oval on May 8, the AFL has announced.

Showdown 49, set for a 7:10pm start, is a Port home game, and will follow a Grand Final rematch on Friday night between Geelong and Richmond.

The Crows’ round 7 home match against GWS has also been locked in for Saturday, May 1 at 1:40pm, while Port Adelaide will face Brisbane at the Gabba on the same day at 6:55pm.

All match-ups have been locked in for the season, but the AFL is operating on a rolling fixture to deal with COVID-19 complications and to ensure big games are slotted in the best timeslots.

“A flexible fixturing approach has provided us with an opportunity to optimise our scheduling of primetime slots in each round,” AFL broadcasting manager Travis Auld said.

“The clubs featured in the next block have been strongly influenced by their form in the early part of the season.”

The AFL will release the schedule for rounds nine and 10 in two weeks time.

Both Adelaide clubs are 2-1 heading into round four, with Port facing off against last year’s premiers Richmond at the Adelaide Oval on Friday, while the Crows are due to face unfancied North Melbourne on Sunday afternoon.

New NZ COVID case

New Zealand health authorities have unearthed a new case of COVID-19 in the community, though officials are hopeful of possible containment of the virus.

On Thursday, Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield announced an Auckland quarantine hotel security guard had tested positive to the virus.

The 24-year-old, who has yet to be vaccinated, was tested after feeling a sore throat.

As the man worked through Easter, lives alone, and has not visited any locations outside their home and work, it is possible they have not passed on the virus to anyone else.

The only other person he has come into contact with outside of their workplace was a fully vaccinated person they carpooled with.

New Zealand has prioritised border workers in its vaccine rollout, but officials are yet to identify why he has not received even his first dose.

Dr Bloomfield said the answer was likely to be logistical issues.

“I don’t believe he has fallen through the cracks,” he said.

“We’re still finding out what the exposures might be of co-workers and of others in the community. Once we know that our approach will be precautionary.”

The man’s limited movements means the Ministry of Health has not named any locations of interest that would require other Kiwis to self-isolate.

It comes just days after New Zeland Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a trans-Tasman travel bubble would be opening on April 19.

MPs, judges to face sexual harassment laws

Politicians and judges will be subject to the same sexual harassment laws as the wider population under major workplace reforms.

The Morrison government has released its long-awaited response to the Respect at Work report, accepting all 55 recommendations either wholly or in principle.

Sexual harassment will be a valid reason for dismissal and included in the definition of serious misconduct in workplace laws.

The scope for complaints will be extended to two years, from six months, to give victims more time to come forward.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the changes were about changing the culture of Australian workplaces to keep people safe.

“Sexual harassment is unacceptable,” he told reporters in Canberra this morning.

“It’s not only immoral and despicable and even criminal, but particularly in the context of the Respect at Work report, it denies Australians, especially women, not just their personal security but their economic security.”

The government has also agreed with the principle that employers should be forced to take more proactive action on harassment to ease the burden on victims.

Morrison said money to support the recommendations would be included in next month’s federal budget.

The government is aiming for a package of legislation to be introduced to parliament this year.

Attorney-General Michaelia Cash said including MPs and judges in sexual harassment laws would expose them to existing complaints processes.

“We’ll be subject to the same law as anybody else, which means you’ll be subject to the same consequences,” she said.

Almost 40 per cent of women and more than a quarter of men experience sexual harassment at work in the past five years, according to the latest data.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins handed her report to the government in January last year.

The coalition has been under enormous pressure to address women’s safety after recent rape and sexual harassment allegations rocked federal politics.

It sparked a wave of major protests across the country and prompted questions about why the government’s response to the report took so long.

“There is no doubt that the events of recent months has re-enforced the significance and highlighted it once again,” Morrison said.

Nine recommendations were acted on in October’s budget.

The government is also convening a women’s safety summit in late July to guide the next violence prevention plan.

Possible link between AstraZeneca jab and blood clots: EU regulator

Europe’s drug regulator has found a possible link between AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine and rare blood clotting issues in adults who had received the shot, but has reaffirmed the vaccine’s importance in protecting people against COVID-19.

UK medical regulators have also overnight advised against the roll-out of the AstraZeneca vaccine to people aged under 30, although an official said this was “really out of the utmost caution rather than because we have any serious safety concerns”.

More than a dozen countries have at one time suspended use of the vaccine, which has been given to tens of millions across Europe and is the mainstay of Australia’s vaccination program with 50 million doses set to be manufactured at Melbourne’s CSL manufacturing facility.

Most countries have resumed its use, while some – including France, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Belgium – have set a minimum age.

Australia is considering the UK and EU’s advice on the matter, with the federal government asking its immunisation advisory group and the national medicine regulator to review the findings.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) received reports of 169 cases of the rare brain blood clot by early April after 34 million doses had been administered in the European Economic Area, according to Sabine Straus, chair of the EMA’s safety committee.

In its statement, the EMA said it was reminding health professionals and recipients to remain aware of “the possibility of very rare cases of blood clots combined with low levels of blood platelets occurring within two weeks of vaccination”.

“So far, most of the cases reported have occurred in women under 60 years of age within 2 weeks of vaccination,” it added, without issuing new guidelines.

“One plausible explanation for the combination of blood clots and low blood platelets is an immune response, leading to a condition similar to one seen sometimes in patients treated with heparin,” the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said.

The findings come as a major hurdle in the global fight against the pandemic and a shift in the stance of the regulator, which had last week backed the vaccine and said there was no increased risk of blood clots in general from the shot.

The EMA’s safety committee, which was assessing the vaccine, has requested for more studies and changes to the current ones to get more information.

Meanwhile, one million Australians will have received their coronavirus vaccines within days and the federal government expects the national figure to double soon afterwards.

More than 920,000 people in Australia have now been given coronavirus jabs.

The number is still a very long way behind the government’s initial targets of four million, but signs of improvement are starting to show.

Health Minister Greg Hunt expects to reach the one million mark “very soon” as people return to general practices after the Easter break and larger vaccination clinics scale up their operations.

“What we’ll see is that continued acceleration and all these milestones will be progressively reached,” Hunt told reporters.

SA Health administered 1382 jabs on Tuesday, surpassing 30,000 total vaccines given since the state-level rollout began in February.

Shadow health spokesperson Chris Picton said South Australia’s vaccination rate was the second-lowest in the country and the State Government “risk(s) losing public confidence” in the rollout.

“We should be leading the nation, instead we are falling behind the rest of the country,” Picton said this morning.

“While nationally there’s lots of debate about there not being enough supply, here in SA we have heaps of supply, we just aren’t getting it to those who need it.”

Major recycling depot fire in northern suburbs

A fire at a recycling depot in Wingfield has caused road closures and smoke to drift across the area as firefighters continue to battle the blaze.

Emergency services were called to Johansson Road in Wingfield around 3:30am this morning following the first reports of the fire.

Police say the Metropolitan Fire Service and Country Fire Service are deploying “significant resources” to contain the blaze which is still out of control, with around 100 firefighters on the scene.

Police are advising residents around the area to remain indoors and close all doors and windows until the smoke has passed.

Johansson Road is closed from the intersection of Cormack and Schumacher Road, with police advising it will remain closed for most of the day.

Whyalla Steelworks could receive govt assistance

The Whyalla Steelworks could receive government assistance with legal action against owner Sanjeev Gupta threatening thousands of jobs across Australia as the British steel tycoon works to refinance his loan arrangements.

Citibank, acting on behalf of Credit Suisse, filed a court action against Gupta on Tuesday in an attempt to wind up two of his operations – OneSteel Manufacturing and Tahmoor Coal.

If successful, the move could trigger the appointment of liquidators to the Whyalla steelworks and its associated mines, which employ more than 1200 South Australians.

Credit Suisse is trying to recoup some of the money it is owed by breaking up Gupta’s Australian assets, after the British steel tycoon’s major lender Greensill Capital filed for insolvency in March.

But Gupta’s UK-based company, GFG Alliance, has vowed to vigorously defend the court action, saying it does not conduct any financing with Credit Suisse.

A GFG Alliance spokesperson also told InDaily on Wednesday that its Australian Mining and Primary Steel (MPS) business – which includes OneSteel Manufacturing Pty Ltd and Tahmoor Coal – has received multiple offers of finance from large investment funds and is in advanced due diligence.

“The termsheets as currently proposed would provide enough cash to repay the creditors of MPS,” the spokesman said in a statement.

“GFG Alliance expects the confirmatory due diligence to be complete within weeks before a final offer is accepted.”

News Corp reports that Premier Steven Marshall and Prime Minister Scott Morrison have discussed providing bridging finance to keep the steelworks afloat should creditors take control of GFG.

Marshall said on Wednesday there had been no requests for financial assistance from the company.

“It hasn’t been asked for and I don’t think it will be required,” he said on Wednesday.

“We’re not ruling anything out but I make the point – I think the Australian operations are the least of the problems for the GFG group.”

Marshall said he didn’t want to see parts of the business sold off and expressed hope Gupta could secure refinancing.

Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said saving the steelworks was in the national interest.

“The knock-on effects if Whyalla Steelworks were to not be able to continue to produce would be devastating for our national economy,” he said.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young called on the prime minister to purchase equity in or buy out the steelworks and OneSteel if necessary.

The steelworks were bailed out by the big four banks in 2016 when former operator Arrium entered voluntary administration but have since turned things around.

The case is set for a directions hearing in the NSW Supreme Court on May 6.

Illuminate Adelaide unveils plans to light up city

A multi-media light experience across nearly 2km of the Adelaide Botanic Garden, a multi-sensory van Gogh exhibition, world-premiere VR works, and a free City Lights trail featuring large-scale installations and projections will be among highlights of the 17-day inaugural Illuminate Adelaide winter festival.

In announcing the program highlights for the July 16 to August 1 festival today, co-founders and creative directors Rachael Azzopardi and Lee Cumberlidge said Illuminate Adelaide will feature more than 150 installations, performances and events, including 41 world premieres.

It will also incorporate a new iteration of the Adelaide Festival of Ideas.

Plans for Illuminate Adelaide were officially announced in September last year, with the festival heralded at the time as a celebration of “the union between future technology and creative industries”.

Although the festival won’t begin until July 16, it includes the multi-sensory touring exhibition Van Gogh Alive – The Experience, which will open on June 23 in a large pavilion to be built on the old Le Cornu site in North Adelaide.

Another major drawcard of Illuminate Adelaide will be Light Cycles, a site-specific work in the Adelaide Botanic Garden created by Canada’s Moment Factory. A one-way trail incorporating light projections, lasers, sound and immersive technology, it will be in the garden across the 17 days of the festival.

Read the full story, with more program highlights, here.

Two women to face court over car robbery

Two women will face the Port Adelaide Magistrates Court today charged over an alleged car theft after being spotted by police on Wednesday.

Police say they were called to a shop theft at the West Lakes Shopping Centre around 10:30 am on Wednesday where two suspects – a 26 year old woman from Ingle Farm and a 29 year old woman from Kilburn – were seen driving away in a black BMW sedan.

A registration check on the car revealed it to be stolen from a Pooraka home on Monday night.

The car travelled north through Semaphore through to Port Adelaide before being spotted by a police helicopter.

Police then set up road spikes on Commercial Road and Grand Junction Road which spiked the BMW’s tyres before it was abandoned by the two women in Pennington.

The car rolled into a parked car and caused minor damaged. The two women were located by police shortly after.

The alleged driver has been charged with drive motor vehicle without consent, unauthorised person drive motor vehicle and dangerous driving.

The alleged passenger has been charged with drive motor vehicle without consent and two counts of theft

Both are scheduled to appear before the Port Adelaide Magistrates Court today.

Virus origins probe ‘tainted by politics’

A joint China-World Health Organisation study into COVID-19 has provided no credible answers about how the pandemic began and more rigorous investigations are required – with or without China’s involvement, a group of international scientists and researchers say.

The joint study released last week said the likeliest transmission route for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, involved bats and other wildlife in China and southeast Asia.

It all but ruled out the possibility it had leaked from a laboratory.

In an open letter, 24 scientists and researchers from Europe, the United States, Australia and Japan said the study was tainted by politics.

“Their starting point was, let’s have as much compromise as is required to get some minimal cooperation from China,” said Jamie Metzl, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank, who drafted the letter.

The letter said the study’s conclusions were based on unpublished Chinese research, while critical records and biological samples “remain inaccessible”.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanon Ghebreyesus said last week China had withheld data.

Liang Wannian, China’s senior COVID-19 expert, denied this and appeared to rule out any further joint investigations in China, saying the focus should shift to other countries.

Metzl said the world might have to “revert to Plan B” and conduct an investigation “in the most systematic way possible” without China’s involvement.

China has rejected allegations that SARS-CoV-2 leaked from a research laboratory in Wuhan, the city where COVID-19 was first identified.

The joint China-WHO study said the lab leak was “extremely unlikely,” saying there was “no record” that any laboratory had kept SARS-CoV-2-related viruses.

Tedros said more research was required to “reach more robust conclusions”.

Metzl said China should disclose information that would allow the lab hypothesis to be disproved.

“China has databases of what viruses were being held… there are lab notes of the work that was being done,” he said.

“There are all kinds of scientists who are actually doing the work and we don’t have access to any of those resources, or any of those people.”

AFLW grand final given standalone timeslot

The AFLW grand final has been given its own timeslot and will be held at either Adelaide Oval, the Gabba or the MCG as a stand-alone game, as the Crows prepare to host the Demons in their preliminary final matchup this Saturday.

The highest-ranked team on the AFLW ladder to qualify for the grand final will host the stand-alone game at 1:30pm ACST on Saturday, April 17, it was announced on Wednesday.

To give the AFLW decider clear air, the league has pushed back that day’s AFL game between the Western Bulldogs and Gold Coast from 1.15pm ACST to 4.05pm – and AFLW boss Nicole Livingstone said there’d been no issues from either AFL club.

“This is the biggest game of the AFLW season, and it deserves clean air and it deserves a stand-alone spot,” Livingstone told reporters.

Capacity at the Gabba would be 100 per cent while the MCG and Adelaide Oval could both be at 75 per cent.

The last time Adelaide Oval hosted an AFLW Grand Final, more than 53,000 people turned up to see the Crows thrash Carlton 63-18 and claim the club’s second AFLW premiership.

“We’ve done everything that we can in terms of clear air, not competing against the AFL season, during the AFLW grand final,” Livingstone said.

“We just hope people turn out and we believe it and we think they will.”

Adelaide will play fourth-placed Melbourne in their preliminary final on Saturday while second-placed Brisbane will host third-placed Collingwood.

A debut MCG AFLW grand final is only possible if Collingwood and Melbourne both spring upsets.

If the game is played at the MCG, the round five AFL match between Carlton and Port Adelaide that night will be pushed back from 6.55pm to 7.10pm ACST.

Livingstone said the AFLW’s lack of a set grand final venue and time was a good point of difference from the men’s game.

This year there has been more crossover than ever between the men’s regular season and the women’s finals series – with Livingstone conceding the AFLW “compete against ourselves once the AFL comes into the picture.”

The league will review the competition at season’s end and Livingstone said it could consider bringing the AFLW season forward to avoid any clash with the men’s season.

“There could be a consideration of moving it,” Livingstone said.

“Right now we have the sweet spot of having all of the competitions aligned for women’s football with state leagues sitting underneath the AFLW, our NAB League is there, even our under 19 and under 17 championships are sitting there.

“So we’ll have a look at it but I think right now, our focus is 100 per cent on finishing this finals series.”

-With AAP and Reuters

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