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What we know today, Tuesday April 27

News

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

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SA pauses international flights into the state

South Australian Premier Steven Marshall has confirmed all international flights into the state have been paused for at least three days.

Marshall wrote to Prime Minister Scott Morrison late last week asking for the pause following the “very worrying” situation in India.

The premier said India’s second wave had been “devastating”, with more than 300,000 new coronavirus infections reported daily.

“We haven’t had any flights into South Australia on Sunday, Monday and today and we’ll look at that situation before we take any new flights in the future,” Marshall told reporters on Tuesday.

South Australia recorded one new COVID-19 case, following 14 new cases on Monday.

All 15 acquired their infection overseas and have been in the central Adelaide-based Tom’s Court medi-hotel, which has 91 room available, along with their close contacts.

“We don’t want to see it going above that sort of 30-mark,” Marshall said on Monday.

“That would trigger us to continuing to have discussions with the Commonwealth.”

Meanwhile, SA’s COVID vaccine rollout has come in for renewed criticism as the State Government prepares to open its first mass vaccination clinic at the Royal Adelaide Showgrounds on Friday.

SA Health and the federal government have administered a total of 144,539 vaccines as of Sunday, although the state opposition has seized on Commonwealth figures showing the state has still only utilised 58 per cent of its vaccine doses.

“South Australians will be shocked to learn there’s a stockpile of more than 50,000 unused vaccines sitting in a fridge,” shadow health spokesperson Chris Picton said this morning.

“While other states are complaining about a lack of supply, here in SA, the government is failing to distribute the vaccine we have.”

Marshall said he was confident in the current pace of the rollout as GPs expand their capacity to administer the vaccine.

“Our focus is doing it very safely, we’ve got a large number of health staff that we have to get up to speed in terms of administering those vaccines,” he said.

“I think the vaccine program is going very well in South Australia, the run rate is increasing but it’s going to go even higher come late this week when we open our first mass vaccination clinic down at the Wayville Showgrounds.”

Flights from India suspended

All direct passenger flights into Australia from India are being suspended until May 15 as the nation deals with an escalating coronavirus catastrophe.

The move announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday will impact two passenger services into Sydney and two repatriation flights into Darwin, involving about 500 people.

“This has been a very significant outbreak in India,” he told reporters in Sydney.

He said the decision would be reviewed before May 15, but passengers on future flights will need to show a negative result on two different types of COVID-19 tests before they get on board.

Further flights will focus on getting vulnerable Australians back home.

Indirect flights via such ports as Dubai, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur have also been paused.

India has recorded 323,144 new cases in the past 24 hours.

Hospitals are overwhelmed and there is a critical shortage of medical oxygen and ventilators across the country.

Australia will send India an urgent shipment of medical supplies and personal protective equipment.

COVID vaccine hesitancy at new high

The number of Australians who say they will never get vaccinated against COVID-19 has risen to its highest level since the pandemic began.

An Essential poll has been tracking attitudes towards the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines since August last year.

The latest survey of 1090 people found 16 per cent would never get vaccinated, up four percentage points from last month.

Females aged between 18 and 34 were most likely to say they would not get the jab.

Support is still strongest to get the vaccination, with an equal split between groups who would get one right away and those who would wait.

Health officials have rejigged Australia’s sluggish vaccine rollout, which is proceeding slower than planned after the AstraZeneca jab was linked to rare but deadly blood clots.

This is a vaccine being made locally and was originally the mainstay of Australia’s national rollout.

But it’s no longer the recommended option for people under the age of 50, due to the clotting risk, with the Pfizer jab the preferred vaccine for this cohort.

However, the polling shows one per cent of people in the 50 to 69 age bracket would be willing to get the AstraZeneca but not the Pfizer jab.

Less than half (40 per cent) would be willing to get either.

Global drums of war beating: security tsar

Australia’s home affairs secretary has declared the global “drums of war” are beating and Australia must prepare for regional conflict.

Mike Pezzullo said Australia must strive for peace, but not at the cost of its liberty.

“In a world of perpetual tension and dread, the drums of war beat – sometimes faintly and distantly, and at other times more loudly and ever closer,” he told staff in an Anzac Day message.

“Today, as free nations again hear the beating drums and watch worryingly the militarisation of issues that we had, until recent years, thought unlikely to be ­catalysts for war.

“Let us continue to search unceasingly for the chance for peace while bracing again, yet again, for the curse of war.”

His comments come as Australia’s relationship with China grows increasingly fractious, with Defence Minister Peter Dutton expressing concerns about Beijing’s stance on Taiwan.

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews confirmed she read the “very strong” speech in advance.

“The overarching message from government is that we need to be alert but not alarmed,” she told Nine on Tuesday.

“We’re obviously very conscious as a government of what is happening in the Pacific region, in particular, and we will always put Australia first, second and third.”

Nationals senator Matt Canavan said there was no doubt the drums of war were beating.

“It’s not clear exactly what that might mean for us but that may be a risk that a wider conflict does occur, and we should absolutely be prepared for that,” he told Sky News.

“I welcome Mike Pezzullo speaking frankly from his obviously well-informed position because I do think the Australian people need a wake-up call.

“We must be ready for the worst outcome.”

But Labor frontbencher Bill Shorten said Pezzullo’s language was inflammatory.

“By all means, we need to stand up for our trade, stand up for human rights, but language like ‘drums of war’, I think that is pretty hyper-excited language,” he told Nine.

“I am not sure our senior public servants should be using that language because I am not sure what that actually helps, except cause more anxiety.”

Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan told the secretary to “tone it down”.

“What good does that do, saying things like that? It’s totally unnecessary,” McGowan told reporters.

Pezzullo is widely tipped to become the next secretary of the Department of Defence.

Labor leader queries PM’s religious speech

Scott Morrison’s faith has again been cast into the national spotlight after the prime minister delivered a speech to a national Christian conference.

Morrison spoke of doing God’s work and revealed he sometimes used the Evangelical practice of “laying on of hands” while embracing people who had suffered from trauma or natural disaster.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese said faith was a personal matter and he respected people’s spiritual beliefs.

“But it’s also important that we have separation here of church and state,” he told ABC radio.

Morrison said he did not consider the bible to be a policy handbook, but also spoke of his pastor telling him: “Use what God has put in your hands, do what God has put in your heart.”

Albanese said he had no intention of commenting on the prime minister’s personal faith.

“The idea that God is on any politician’s side is no more respectful than the idea that when someone’s sporting team wins it’s because of divine intervention,” he said.

The prime minister is up front about his faith and his speech was about his personal beliefs rather than policy.

But the address has raised fresh questions about the intersection between his religion and politics, particularly given his vote on same-sex marriage and pursuit of religious discrimination laws.

WA emerges from three-day lockdown

State and federal tensions over hotel quarantine remain unresolved as West Australians this morning emerge from a snap coronavirus lockdown.

Perth and the Peel region completed the three-day lockdown overnight after a second straight day of no new community cases.

Interim restrictions remain in place until 12.01am on Saturday, including the mandatory wearing of face masks and limits on gatherings.

Two locally acquired infections were found from more than 29,000 tests after the virus leaked out of the Mercure quarantine hotel.

WA’s health department was aware of ventilation issues at the Mercure but had believed the risk could be mitigated.

The outbreak has renewed hotel quarantine concerns and prompted calls for the federal government to invest in purpose-built facilities.

WA Premier Mark McGowan has urged the Commonwealth to open air bases and Christmas Island to accommodate returned travellers.

He accused the federal government of wanting the states to “do all the work” in managing returned travellers.

“If they are not prepared to do it, we will just have to drop the number of returning people into Australia,” he said.

“And that will be sad for many families but we can’t go through these sorts of events.”

The premier apologised for the lockdown but said he would not hesitate to implement such a response again.

WA’s cap on international arrivals will be halved to 512 a week for the next month and McGowan has not ruled out extending the reduction.

Federal leaders insist facilities such as air bases are not suitable for quarantine.

The prime minister’s office released figures showing 140,355 people had entered hotel quarantine in the past six months.

Thirteen breakouts were recorded across the nation, fewer than 0.01 per cent of quarantine travellers.

The guest at the Mercure whose infection led to the outbreak had secured an exemption to travel to India last December to attend his own wedding.

He and his bride tested positive in hotel quarantine upon returning to Australia earlier this month.

Genomic testing has confirmed the virus spread from the couple to several other guests in nearby rooms, including a Melbourne man who did not test positive until after he had completed quarantine and spent five days in the community.

He went on to infect two other people in the community.

Authorities have identified 354 close contacts of confirmed cases and 222 have so far returned negative test results.

Australia Post board to face Senate grilling

The entire board of Australia Post will be hauled before a parliamentary committee today, with senators set to grill directors over ties to the Liberal Party.

The Senate inquiry is probing former chief executive Christine Holgate’s controversial departure following a luxury watches scandal.

Holgate says she was unlawfully stood down after it emerged she gifted four Cartier watches worth $20,000 to executives who clinched a lucrative deal.

Tony Nutt, who was the Liberal Party’s former federal and Victorian director and worked in senior roles for John Howard, is set to come under scrutiny on Tuesday for his conversations with Holgate after the furore.

During her explosive evidence at the last hearing, Holgate said Nutt made it clear Scott Morrison wanted her to stand down.

“I was told, ‘Christine, you need to understand it was the prime minister’,” she told parliament two weeks ago.

“Clearly he has a very close relationship with the prime minister, but he often was the person who would be more balanced with all political parties than the other politically appointed people.”

Chair Lucio Di Bartolomeo will make his second appearance in the past two weeks.

Former Abbott government minister and Liberal senator Michael Ronaldson and former Queensland LNP president Bruce McIver are also listed to appear.

Fellow director Deidre Willmott was former WA Liberal Premier Richard Court’s chief of staff.

At the most recent hearing, Holgate claimed Jan West was the only independent board member.

Four unions representing Australia Post workers have also been called before the committee.

LPO Group, which represents post office licensees across the country, is set to give evidence supportive of Holgate’s tenure in charge.

In a submission to the inquiry, LPO Group said Holgate’s exit was orchestrated by the board.

“It is damning they did not stand and support her to continue to lead this organisation into our highly desired future.”

Federal MP Bob Katter and bureaucrats from the finance and communications departments will also face the senators.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison angrily condemned Holgate in parliament over the scandal declaring she could “go” if she didn’t stand aside during an investigation.

He refused to apologise to Holgate but says he regrets any distress the “willing” nature of his rebuke during Question Time may have caused.

UK PM denies ‘bodies pile high’ comment

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is denying a newspaper report that he had said he would rather bodies piled “high in their thousands” than order a third UK coronavirus lockdown.

Johnson is facing a stream of allegations in newspapers – all of them denied – about everything from his muddled initial handling of the COVID-19 crisis to questions over who financed the redecoration of his official apartment.

The Daily Mail newspaper cited unidentified sources as saying that in October, shortly after agreeing to a second lockdown, Johnson told a meeting in Downing Street: “No more f***ing lockdowns – let the bodies pile high in their thousands.”

Asked whether he had made the remark, Johnson told broadcasters: “No, but again, I think the important thing, I think, that people want us to get on and do as a government is to make sure that the lockdowns work, and they have.”

Though Johnson has over the years repeatedly weathered gaffes, crises over Brexit and disclosures about his adultery, he is now grappling with an array of accusations which opponents say show he is unfit for office.

He or his supporters have denied all of them.

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer, who has cast Johnson’s government as “sleazy”, said he was astonished to read the Daily Mail’s report.

“If he did say those things, he’s got to explain it,” Starmer said.

Johnson did impose a third lockdown in January although critics say it could have been avoided had he yielded to pressure from senior ministers to make the second lockdown more stringent.

The UK has the world’s fifth-largest official COVID-19 death toll, with 127,681 deaths, after the United States, Brazil, Mexico and India, according to Johns Hopkins University of Medicine.

Downing Street last week named Johnson’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings as the source of leaks against the prime minister.

But Cummings denied he was the source and cast Johnson as incompetent and lacking in integrity.

US to export 60 million AstraZeneca doses

The US plans to export up to 60 million doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID vaccine to other countries, the government says.

About 10 million doses could be exported “in the coming weeks” after a review by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), with another 50 million doses still in different stages of production, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

It was not initially clear which countries would receive the vaccines or whether they would be sold, loaned or donated.

In March, the US announced plans to loan 4 million doses of AstraZeneca’s jab to Mexico and Canada.

The AZ vaccine has not yet been approved in the US, where so far the inoculation campaign is using jabs made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

The government has secured sufficient doses to vaccinate the whole population of 330 million without needing the AstraZeneca jab.

US President Joe Biden has promised to have enough vaccines available for all of country’s adults by the end of May.

The US secured 600 million doses of the vaccines made by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, which require two doses in order to be fully vaccinated against the disease.

In addition, the country also has 100 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s jab, which only requires one dose.

So far 140 million people in the US – 37 per cent of the adult population – have received at least one dose, with 95 million fully vaccinated according to the US Centers for Disease Control.

Road safety plea as SA children return to school

The RAA is pleading with motorists to exercise caution this morning as tens of thousands of children across South Australia return to school for term 2.

The state’s peak automotive body says figures show 90 people under the age of 18 have lost their lives on South Australian roads in the past 10 years.

RAA Senior Manager of Safety and Infrastructure Charlies Mountain urged motorists to be aware in school zones where 25km/h speed limits will be in place at pick up and drop off time.

“Pedestrians – especially young children – are among the most vulnerable road users and RAA urges motorists to exercise vigilance and caution around schools,’’ Mountain said.

“Those people driving younger students to school should also be aware of the laws around having their precious cargo properly restrained, including the use of booster seats and whether to place them in rear or front seats.

“Some of the older students may be on a learner’s permit and driving to school for the first time, so mature motorists should exercise caution and patience around them.’’

Mountain also said motorists should allow for extra time in their commute this morning, with traffic set to increase during the back to school rush.

“Be aware that pedestrian crossings with traffic signals on major roads near schools will be in more frequent use from today,” he said.

“And remember parked vehicles can make it more difficult for drivers to see younger children trying to cross the road, and be careful not to double park or park in driveways when dropping off or picking up the kids.’’

Meanwhile, enrolments for year 7 at South Australian public secondary schools open today, which will see around 30,000 students apply for a high school position next year according to state Education Minister John Gardner.

The application stage forms part of a statewide transition process to move year 7 from primary to high school.

The Education Department will be sending out emails to all public school families with a unique link and registration of interest form where they can nominate the school they wish to attend in 2022.

Students attending a non-government school can also access a registration form on the department’s website.

Adelaide defend Lynch medical sub

Adelaide coach Matthew Nicks has gone into bat for Tom Lynch and defended the decision to use the veteran forward as a medical substitute in the Crows’ three-point loss to Hawthorn on Sunday.

Defender Will Hamill was assisted from the field by trainers late in the third quarter of Sunday’s game with an ankle injury but substitute Lynch wasn’t immediately ready to go.

Lynch instead headed down to Adelaide’s rooms, requiring treatment on an ongoing toe issue before entering the game in the fourth quarter – a situation queried by AFL great Jason Dunstall on the Fox Footy broadcast.

Nicks insisted Adelaide had always intended to give the substitute time to prepare to enter the game but acknowledged the “aesthetics” of Lynch scrambling to put on his socks and boots were far from ideal.

“We acknowledge off the bat that it wasn’t the best look,” Nicks told reporters on Monday.

“For supporters and people watching on the TV to have a player it looked like rushing around the change rooms getting organised, we can see how that came across.

“The intention that we went into the game with and the plan was executed exactly as we’d planned it.

“At this point, without looking into it in too much more detail, would we go the same way this week and have our medical sub not rush, compose themselves, get ready, make sure that they’re ready to go?

“Yeah, we’d go the same way. We’d give that player 15-odd minutes.”

The Adelaide coach confirmed Lynch had needed painkillers to play but insisted the 30-year-old was “match-fit” and could have played the whole game if required.

Nicks labelled criticism of Lynch “unwarranted” but said the Crows would assess their approach to the medical substitute.

“It’s tough for any player, let alone an experienced player, to take the criticism that he’s received over the last 24 hours,” Nicks said.

“It’s unwarranted because he’s carrying out his role, he’s the ultimate professional.

“For those who know Tom, he’s all about team, he was ready to go. It was my instruction to Tom: ‘no rush’.

“I jumped on the phone with three minutes to go in the third quarter and said ‘no rush, we’ll get you on in the first rotation, you’ll be ready to go’, so he carried out our plan.

“Now we’ll look at our plan from here but I’d like to think maybe that some people, with a bit better understanding of where it’s at, may go a bit easier on Tom.”

-With AAP and Reuters

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