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What we know today, Tuesday April 13

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

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Eight new SA COVID-19 cases

South Australia has recorded eight new cases of COVID-19, all of which are in a medi-hotel, and include a child, five women aged between 20 and 50 years, a man in his 20s and another in this 30s.

SA Health said all eight people acquired their infections overseas and had been isolating in medi-hotels since their arrival.

It takes the state’s total number of cases to 674, of which 657 have recovered.

A man, aged in his 40s, remains in a critical condition at the Royal Adelaide Hospital ICU.

It follows data released by the Commonwealth Government that showed SA Health had the lowest COVID-19 vaccine utilisation rate in the nation and was 19 percentage points behind the national average.

Of the 79,990 jabs distributed to South Australia from the federal government, only 57 per cent have been used as of Sunday, April 11.

It puts SA 17 percentage points below the next lowest states, Victoria and Queensland, which are utilising their doses at 74 per cent.

The national average is 76 per cent, with the smaller jurisdictions of Tasmania and the ACT leading the way with 100 per cent utilisation, followed by WA (82 per cent) and NSW (77 per cent).

SA Health’s 57 per cent utilisation is also factoring in a 10 per cent wastage rate, which the Federal Health Department says is “in line with international standards”.

Shadow health spokesperson Chris Picton said the problem needs to be fixed urgently.

“We are now officially bottom of the ladder on the federal scorecard,” Picton said this morning.

“Weeks of promises of ‘ramping up’ and all we have is every state doing better.

“The worst-in-the-country performance needs to be urgently fixed to get back on track.”

The newly released figures, which the federal government will now publish daily, also show the Commonwealth have administered 39,657 jabs at primary care centres across SA.

This is alongside 12,449 doses administered at SA aged care facilities, bringing SA’s total vaccination number to 89,762 as of Sunday.

The total number of COVID vaccines administered in Australia now sits at 1,178,382, but only 12,227 doses have arrived on Australian shores in the past 24 hours.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison took to Facebook last night to reassure Australians the government’s COVID-19 vaccination program is safe and rolling out in a timeframe comparable to other countries.

The government abandoned any target time to complete the vaccination program after medical authorities recommended people under 50 get the Pfizer vaccine instead of AstraZeneca because of rare blood clotting concerns.

Morrison said targets were not possible as COVID “writes its own rules”.

“You don’t get to set the agenda,” he said.

“You have to be able to respond quickly to when things change and we’ve had to deal with a lot of changes.

“Rather than set targets that can get knocked about by every to and fro of international supply chains and other disruptions that can occur, we are just getting on with it.”

The government says 40 million doses of the imported Pfizer vaccine should be available by the end of the year, on top of local supply of the AstraZeneca version.

Dust warnings for Adelaide

The Bureau of Meteorology and SA Police have issued road weather alerts as extreme winds whip up dust across the state, significantly reducing visibility across Adelaide and the Adelaide Hills.

SAPOL said emergency services were attending the scene of a crash as a result of a dust storm in Balaklava.

It advised people to “avoid the area if possible” with “practically zero” visibility on Balaklava Road.

Dust is visible from Grenfell Street in Adelaide. Image: InDaily.

Meanwhile SA Health said people with chest conditions, such as asthma and heart conditions, should remain indoors and keep their window and doors shut as a result of strong winds raising the dust over Adelaide.

The Department for Health and Wellbeing’s Scientific Services branch director David Simon said people with asthma should have an asthma action plan, which included carrying their reliever medication at all times.

“We know that exposure to high levels of dust can aggravate conditions such as asthma, emphysema, bronchitis and other respiratory diseases,” he said.

“We also know that high levels of dust can be associated with an increased risk of cardiac events such as heart attacks. We advise people with health concerns to avoid exposure to dust, stay indoors, and keep their doors and windows closed. We are also advising that people avoid exercise in high areas of dust.”

SA fires burn on high alert day

The South Australian Country Fire Service (CFS) said a watch and act fire threat for Haines residents on Kangaroo Island had been reduced since it was issued this morning. But the CFS reminded people in the area to “take care” as smoke would reduced visibility on the roads.

It did not say if the grass fire continued to burn southeast of American River, amid continually changing conditions.

A bushfire watch and act warning had been in place for Haines, with the fire burning in a southerly direction towards Three Chain Road and Milkys Road.

A severe weather warning is in place for the island, as well as the Eyre, Yorke and Fleurieu peninsulas for potentially damaging winds gusting up to 90km/h.

Also on Tuesday, CFS crews were battling other fires at Lenswood, in the Adelaide Hills, and at Lewiston, north of the city.

It comes as severe fire danger conditions were declared across nine SA districts, largely because of the strong winds.

Areas most at risk of fires included the west coast, the Yorke and Eyre peninsulas, Kangaroo Island, the Adelaide Hills and the southeast, where total fire bans are in place.

Temperatures were forecast to climb into the mid-30s in some regional centres while Adelaide was tipped to have a top of 26C ahead of the milder change.

By mid-morning the strongest winds were reported on the Eyre Peninsula with 80km/h at Wudinna and 78km/h at Port Lincoln.

The Bureau of Meteorology said the remnants of tropical cyclone Seroja were being captured by a cold front moving across the state from the west.

“The Adelaide plains are likely to avoid the worst of the winds,” BoM meteorologist Bonnie Haselgrove said on Monday.

“Certainly the windiest conditions are likely to be in the Hills, and in particular around the eastern slopes of the Mount Lofty Ranges.”

There were also widespread reports of raised dust after several weeks of mainly dry conditions and the State Emergency Service said it had responded to 15 calls for assistance, mainly related to fallen trees.

The lack of rainfall has also left Adelaide’s reservoir supplies at just 48 per cent with the Kangaroo Creek and Little Para catchments the driest at just 23 and 29 per cent.

SA may get some showers over the next few days, but forecasts are for no more than a few millimetres, well short of any significant break in the season.

Harvey Weinstein indicted in California on sexual assault charges

Former American film producer Harvey Weinstein has been indicted in California on sexual assault charges, one of his lawyers said on Monday, as Weinstein appeared in a New York court proceeding over whether to extradite him.

The 69-year-old appeared from the Wende Correctional Facility near Buffalo by video before Erie County Court Judge Kenneth Case.

He has been appealing his conviction from February 2020 and 23-year prison sentence for sexually assaulting former production assistant Mimi Haleyi and raping former aspiring actress Jessica Mann.

California’s criminal case against Weinstein covers alleged attacks on five women from 2004 to 2013 in the Los Angeles area.

It includes four counts of forcible rape, four counts of forcible oral copulation, two counts of sexual battery by restraint and one count of sexual penetration by use of force.

Weinstein has denied having non-consensual sex with anyone.

Norman Effman, a public defender representing Weinstein, asked that his client be arraigned on the indictment virtually in New York rather than extradited so he could get necessary medical treatment, including scheduled eye and dental surgery.

Effman said Weinstein, a diabetic, was “almost technically blind at this point” and also suffered from cardiac and back problems.

“We’re not trying to avoid what is going to happen in California,” Effman said.

“We believe there is not only a defence to these charges but a very good defence to these charges,” which would result in an acquittal.

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Another hearing is scheduled for April 30.

One dead, officer wounded in US school shooting

One person has been killed and a police officer has been wounded as an armed suspect was confronted at a Tennessee high school.

The shooting, which unfolded on Monday afternoon at Austin-East Magnet School on the east side of Knoxville, was the latest episode of gun violence in the United States since mid-March.

Knoxville police said the injured officer was expected to survive.

“He is conscious and in good spirts,” Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon told CBS News.

“He’s going to be OK. I thanked him for putting his life on the line to protect sutdents and staff at the school. He said he’d rather be hurt than anybody else.”

Investigators did not immediately identify the suspect or slain victim except to say they were both male. It was not immediately clear if either attended Austin-East Magnet School.

“Based on the preliminary investigation, Knoxville Police Department officers responded to Austin-East Magnet High School on the report of a male subject who was possibly armed in the school,” police said on Facebook.

“Upon approach of the subject, shots were fired. A KPD officer was struck at least one time and transported to the (University of Tennessee) Medical Center with injuries that are not expected to be life-threatening.

“One male was pronounced deceased at the scene, while another was detained for further investigation.”

It comes after a number of other US shootings since mid-March.

Last week, a man opened fire at the cabinet-making plant in Texas where he worked last week, killing one person and wounding six others before he was arrested.

Eight people were slain at Atlanta-area spas, 10 people at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado, and four people, including a 9-year-old boy at a real estate office in Orange, California.

The violence prompted US President Joe Biden last week to act on gun control, announcing six executive orders designed to crack down on gun ownership loopholes and provide more resources to intervention groups.

Crown taps SA businessman for board role

South Australian businessman and Australian Submarine Corporation Chair Bruce Carter has been appointed to Crown Resorts’ board as a non-executive director.

Carter – who was previously deputy chair of Crown’s rivals SkyCity, overseeing their $330 million Adelaide casino redevelopment – joins the board as Crown mulls a takeover bid from US investment fund Blackstone Group.

He has previously held advisory positions with the State Government, including chairman of the SA Economic Development Board from 2008 to 2010.

He resigned from the position amid concerns about conflicts of interests relating to the Adelaide Casino redevelopment.

Crown’s Executive Chairman, Helen Coonan, said Carter was the ideal candidate to help Crown undergo reforms and “board renewal”.

“Bruce brings to the Crown Board the ideal blend of commercial, governance and gaming sector expertise and is respected across Australia for his contribution to corporate and government roles,” Coonan said in a statement to the ASX.

“Attracting someone of Bruce’s calibre to the Board is an endorsement of our strategy, ambition and commitment to reform.”

Carter’s appointment comes after a litany of board resignations at Crown this year following a bombshell NSW report into the company’s operations found it was not suitable to hold the licence for a Sydney casino because it had facilitated money laundering through bank accounts held by subsidiaries.

Western Australia and Victoria have also set up a Royal Commissions to examine the suitability of Crown to hold casino licences.

Carter said he was looking forward to contributing to Crown’s improvement.

“Helen has marked out an ambitious timetable to complete tough and wide ranging reforms as the Board moves to embed the highest standards of governance,” Carter said.

“I am excited to be a part of it and look forward to contributing as the Board drives the important changes required to make Crown a better organisation.”

Fed Govt rules out Johnson & Johnson jab

The federal government has decided against buying the Johnson and Johnson coronavirus vaccine to boost the nation’s immunisation stocks.

The government was in talks with the pharmaceutical giant, which had asked for initial approval for its vaccine from Australia’s medicine regulator.

But Health Minister Greg Hunt has ruled out proceeding with the purchase at this stage because it is too similar to the AstraZeneca drug.

“The Janssen vaccine is an adenovirus vaccine, the same type of vaccine as the AstraZeneca vaccine,” he said through a spokesperson.

“The government does not intend to purchase any further adenovirus vaccines at this time.”

Johnson and Johnson also required a no-fault compensation scheme before it would sell vaccines to Australia, which the government was not committed to introducing.

Labor health spokesman Mark Butler said it was not good enough for the minister to announce his decision through a spokesperson.

Butler wants to know the reasons behind the decision and greater accountability from the whole government on the vaccine rollout.

“This is the problem Australians and Australian businesses are having right now – the communication channels from the government have shut down,” he told the ABC on Tuesday.

“We’ve got a prime minister that’s retreated to Facebook and a minister who’s making announcements through a spokesperson without clear background information.”

Labor has spent months calling on the government to secure more vaccine deals, arguing most countries have five or six different options.

Consumer and business surveys to reveal impact of vaccine delays

The Morrison Government’s decision to ditch its COVID-19 vaccine timetable – coming so shortly after the demise of the JobKeeper wage subsidy – could prove a double whammy, with surveys for both consumer and business confidence to be released this week.

The ANZ-Roy Morgan consumer confidence index last week suffered its biggest drop since the start of the pandemic in the wash-up of the lockdown in Greater Brisbane and the end of JobKeeper.

The weekly survey, conducted at the weekend for release today, will provide key pointers for future household spending, business investment and hiring intentions, and capture last week’s decision by the nation’s health authorities to recommend the AstraZeneca vaccine not be given to people under 50.

This decision followed cases abroad of blood-clotting among younger people after having the vaccine. Only one such case has so far been recorded in Australia.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced late on Sunday the government would no longer set targets for the remainder of the vaccine rollout, a timetable that was already in tatters.

The influential monthly National Australia Bank business survey is also released today, while the monthly Westpac-Melbourne Institute consumer sentiment survey is issued on Wednesday.

“The vaccine hold-up is no doubt an economic setback. It remains to be seen how material a setback,” St George economist Matthew Bunny said.

“Delays in the rollout increase the risk of disruptive snap lockdowns and state border closures. It will also postpone the return of international tourists and students.”

The Australian Bureau of Statistics will also release its weekly payrolls jobs report today, a prelude to the key monthly labour force figures for March on Thursday.

Both sets of figures will provide clues to the state of the jobs market before the JobKeeper program finished.

Economists expect Thursday’s figures could see a further fall in the unemployment rate to 5.7 per cent after the surprising fall to 5.8 per cent in February, based on a spread of reports showing strong demand for workers.

The results of the last BankSA State Monitor survey, taken in February 2021, found consumer and business confidence in South Australia are at their highest levels in more than a decade.

However, business confidence in SA’s vaccine rollout has slipped, with a survey of Business SA members – taken before Australia scrapped its vaccination timeline – finding only 28 per cent of members were satisfied with the pace of the rollout.

Pandemic ‘long way from over’: WHO

Confusion and complacency in addressing COVID-19 means the pandemic is a long way from over but it can be brought under control in months with proven public health measures, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says.

So far 780 million vaccines have been administered globally but measures including wearing masks and maintaining physical distancing must be applied to reverse the trajectory.

“We too want to see societies and economies reopening, and travel and trade resuming,” Tedros told a news briefing.

“But right now, intensive care units in many countries are overflowing and people are dying – and it’s totally avoidable.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic is a long way from over. But we have many reasons for optimism. The decline in cases and deaths during the first two months of the year shows that this virus and its variants can be stopped,” he added.

Transmission was being driven by “confusion, complacency and inconsistency in public health measures”.

India has overtaken Brazil to become the country with the second-highest number of infections worldwide after the US as it battles a massive second wave, having given about 105 million vaccine doses among a population of 1.4 billion.

“We are at a critical point in the pandemic now, the trajectory of this pandemic is growing for the 7th week in a row,” said the WHO team leader on COVID-19, Maria van Kerkhove.

Last week, she said, 4.4 million new infections were reported, up from about 500,000 cases at this time a year ago.

Noting that there had been a 9 per cent rise in cases in the past week, the seventh consecutive week of increases, and a 5 per cent rise in deaths, she added: “If you look at the epi (epidemic) curve and the trajectory of the pandemic right now, it is growing exponentially”.

Tedros said that in some countries, despite continuing transmission, restaurants and nightclubs were full and markets were open and crowded with few people taking precautions.

“Some people appear to be taking the approach that if they’re relatively young, it doesn’t matter if they get COVID-19,” he said.

William, Harry pay tribute to ‘master of the barbecue’ Philip

Princes William and Harry have paid tribute to their grandfather Prince Philip, remembering his wit, sense of duty and barbecue skills.

The brothers issued separate statements amid a family rift that led to Harry’s decision to step away from royal duties last year and some have speculated that their grandfather’s funeral may offer an opportunity for them to talk over their differences.

William, who is second in line to the throne, honoured Philip’s lifetime of service to the Queen and the United Kingdom as he remembered his grandfather’s “mischievous sense of humour”.

“My grandfather was an extraordinary man and part of an extraordinary generation,” said the 38-year-old William.

“Catherine and I will continue to do what he would have wanted and will support the Queen in the years ahead. I will miss my Grandpa but I know he would want us to get on with the job.”

Harry, who stepped away from royal duties last year and now lives in the US, has arrived in the UK to attend Philip’s funeral service, which will take place on Saturday at Windsor Castle, west of London.

His wife, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, is pregnant and was advised by her doctor not to make the long journey.

Harry’s statement described Philip as a man who was “authentically himself”.

“He will be remembered as the longest reigning consort to the Monarch, a decorated serviceman, a Prince and a Duke,” the 36-year-old Harry said.

“But to me, like many of you who have lost a loved one or grandparent over the pain of this past year, he was my grandpa: master of the barbecue, legend of banter and cheeky right ’til the end.”

William and his wife also released a picture of Philip sitting in a carriage with his great-grandson Prince George, their oldest child.

Philip’s royal ceremonial funeral at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle will be a slimmed-down service due the COVID-19 pandemic and will be closed to the public.

Philip, who was also known as the Duke of Edinburgh, took part in planning the funeral, which has a focus on family.

Crows lose captain for AFLW Grand Final

The Adelaide Crows will be without captain Chelsea Randall for their AFLW Grand Final against Brisbane on Saturday, after the defender was ruled out from selection due to the league’s concussion protocols.

Randall suffered a heavy knock and was taken from the field after colliding with Melbourne’s Eliza McNamara in the first quarter of Adelaide’s preliminary final victory over the Demons.

The three-time All-Australian played no further part in the game and was diagnosed with a concussion, and under the league’s protocols can’t be selected for a period of 12 days.

Adelaide Crows Head of Women’s Football Phil Harper said Randall would be “a very good chance” to play if the newly introduced concussion protocol was not in place

“If there was a loophole we could get through we’d try and do it, but also we understand that these protocols are put in place by medical experts,” Harper told reporters on Monday.

“It’s for the long term health and safety of the players, and so whilst I think the protocols suck at the moment, they don’t really because medical experts have put them in place for the health and wellbeing [of the players].

“I want to be with Chelsea when she’s 60 and we can look back and reminiscence on some premierships she won with the Adelaide Crows.”

Harper said Randall had passed a concussion test on Monday.

“I don’t think it’s a bad concussion, but it’s a concussion,” he said.

Despite the injury blow, the Crows remain favourite to beat the Lions at the Adelaide Oval on Saturday and take home their third premiership in five years.

The fixture is a rematch of the inaugural AFLW Grand Final, which saw the Crows come out on top 35-29 at Metricon Stadium.

Melbourne based singer-songwriter G Flip has been announced as the pre-game entertainment for Saturday’s match.

The State Government has also announced free public transport to and from the match, although the Gawler and Outer Harbour/Grange lines will be fully closed due to the Gawler rail electrification project.

-With AAP and Reuters

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