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What we know today, Friday April 30

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Today’s breaking news from South Australia, the nation and abroad. A man who was accidentally ushered from a quarantine red zone into a green zone at Brisbane Airport has tested positive for COVID-19, prompting exposure fears for nearly 400 travellers to New Zealand.

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COVID breach at Brisbane Airport

A man who was accidentally ushered from a quarantine red zone into a green zone at Brisbane Airport has tested positive for COVID-19, prompting exposure fears for nearly 400 travellers to New Zealand.

The man and his companion were inadvertently directed into the green zone while transiting through Brisbane after arriving on a flight from Papua New Guinea at around 9.45am on Thursday.

The pair were in the same area as another 390 passengers due to depart for New Zealand for just over two hours before the mistake was realised.

They were both tested, with the companion testing negative on Thursday night.

Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said the man’s test was positive and the international terminal was a “venue of concern”.

“Anyone who was in the terminal between 9.45am and midday on Thursday, 29 April, 2021, should monitor their symptoms and get tested immediately if they feel unwell,” she said in a statement on Friday.

Young said serology testing was under way to see if the positive case was active or historical.

The infected man was in the same area as passengers due to fly on Air New Zealand NZ202 from Brisbane to Christchurch, Air New Zealand NZ146 from Brisbane to Auckland, and Qantas QF135 from Brisbane to Christchurch.

Young said the risk to Queensland was low as the man was in a departure area, but airport staff who came into contact with him had been placed in quarantine.

The NZ health ministry has also been notified about the man’s positive test.

“We are in contact with Queensland Health officials today following this reported breach and will be able to provide updated information as soon as we can,” the ministry said on Thursday.

Brisbane Airport Corporation said the breach was due to “human error”.

The pair had visited two retail outlets and used the bathrooms in the green zone.

BAC said those areas had been cleaned thoroughly and all green zone staff were wearing personal protective equipment at the time.

Three green flights departed during those two hours, but airport officials said only “a handful” of passengers were in the vicinity of the couple.

“BAC is conducting a thorough investigation and unreservedly apologises for this human error,” the operator said on Friday.

Young said BAC had taken prompt action once the mistake was identified and the man had been wearing a mask while he was in the green zone.

She said the incident highlighted the importance of wearing masks at airports.

“Both international and domestic airports are higher-risk environments,” Young said.

“We need people to wear masks in terminals at all times. We have kept that direction in place and we need people to comply.”

SA fire season draws to a close

South Australia’s fire season draws to a close tonight, with the Country Fire Service reporting a quieter summer for bushfires compared to previous years.

The CFS say they have responded to 1212 bushfires, 156 building fires and 80 hazmat incidents since November 1 last year.

The most notable bushfire of the 2020-2021 season was the Cherry Gardens blaze in January, which tore through more than 2700 hectares of scrub and grassland in the Adelaide hills, destroying two properties, 19 outbuildings and two vehicles.

CFS Chief Officer Mark Jones said the service’s volunteers would continue to work hard during the winter season, with a shift in focus to road incidents and building fires.

“Many believe that our volunteers can now rest as summer is over, but nothing could be further from the truth,” Jones said.

“During the cooler months our firefighters respond to an increasing number of building fires and vehicle accidents.

“The toll of deaths and injuries on our roads is far too high and I urge all South Australian to drive with caution.”

Jones also said the weather over the weekend could still be hazardous for fire activity.

“Saturday is going to be a particularly warm and windy day. People should wait for conditions to ease before considering any burning or risky activities,” Jones said.

“After Saturday, we will be entering cooler days, but some parts of the state will remain extremely dry until we see widespread and heavy rain.

“If the landscape remains dry in your area, please be very careful lighting winter burn-offs, keep them small, and monitor them closely.”

Dozens killed in Israel stampede

Dozens of people have been killed in a stampede at a religious bonfire festival in Israel, in what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described as a “heavy disaster”.

Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews had thronged on Friday to the Galilee tomb of 2nd-century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai for annual Lag B’Omer commemorations that include all-night prayer, mystical songs and dance.

The ecstatic crowds packed the Mount Meron slope in defiance of COVID-19 warnings by health officials. Witnesses said people were asphyxiated or trampled in a passageway, some going unnoticed until the PA system sounded an appeal to disperse.

The Magen David Adom ambulance service said 103 people had been injured, including dozens fatally. Channel 12 put the number of dead at 40. These included children, witnesses said.

“We thought maybe there was a (bomb) alert over a suspicious package. No one imagined that this could happen here. Rejoicing became mourning, a great light became a deep darkness,” a pilgrim who gave his name as Yitzhak told Channel 12 TV.

“Rabbi Shimon used to say that he could absolve the world. If he didn’t manage to cancel this edict on the very day of his exaltation, then we need to do real soul-searching.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a “heavy disaster”, adding on Twitter: “We are all praying for the wellbeing of the casualties.”

The Lag B’Omer event at Mount Meron was thought to be one of the largest gatherings of people – certainly in Israel and perhaps farther afield – since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic more than a year ago.

As rescue workers tried to extricate the casualties, police shut down the site and ordered revellers out. The Transportation Ministry halted roadworks in the area to enable ambulances and pilgrims’ buses to move unhindered. Military helicopters ferried some casualties to hospitals.

SA’s first booking-only COVID vaccination hub opens

The Wayville hub opened for vaccinations at noon, with 150 frontline health care workers and emergency services personnel expected to get vaccinated by the end of the day.

The SA Health-run site will initially be a dedicated Pfizer facility and target frontline healthcare workers who are under 50 years old and in phase 1b of the vaccine rollout.

From May 10, it will also administer the AstraZeneca vaccine to people aged over 50.

Chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier told ABC Radio Adelaide this morning that currently, only 12 people can get vaccinated at the hub at one time.

She said the hub would later expand to allow up to 40 people to get vaccinated at once.

“We are very keen to have thousands of people getting vaccinated and that’s the whole point of having a mass vaccination clinic,” she said.

Read the full story here

NT braces for influx of international arrivals

The Northern Territory coronavirus quarantine centre has taken on an extra 160 health staff before an expected surge in the number of Australians returning from overseas.

Howard Springs expects to cater for up to 2000 arrivals between May and June, with a peak of 1200 in May, under the territory’s agreement with the federal government.

The new staff this week completed their training ahead of joining the expanded quarantine operation based near Darwin Airport.

Another 150 workers will be inducted in May, NT Health Minister Natasha Fyles said in a statement this morning.

“We are working with AUSMAT to ensure Howard Springs remains the gold standard when it comes to repatriating returned Australians,” she said.

A total of 400 staff are being recruited to expand capacity at Howard Springs from 850 to 2000 returning travellers per fortnight.

NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner this week said his government was ready to welcome more travellers from India.

“We have the capacity to look after returning Australians and keep coronavirus where it should be, trapped in that quarantine centre,” he said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday toured Howard Springs to discuss the expansion of the facility.

The centre hasn’t had a COVID-19 case breach since it began regularly taking in repatriated Australians in October.

So far it’s catered to more than 6500 returnees.

Australia moves to close India travel loophole

Australia has slammed shut a loophole that allowed travellers from India to dodge a flight ban through transiting in Qatar.

India’s spiralling coronavirus catastrophe prompted Australia to pause all flights from the Asian nation until May 15.

Despite the ban, people who had been in India were allowed to fly to Australia after transiting through Qatar’s capital Doha.

Australian cricketers Adam Zampa and Kane Richardson were among those who dodged the restriction after leaving the Indian Premier League.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the loophole was closed shortly after their flight took off from Doha on Wednesday.

“Those transit passengers, the airlines advise us, are no longer coming through from Doha,” he told Sydney radio 2GB radio on Friday.

“The advice we had wasn’t fully correct so when we got the additional information we took that action.”

Mr Morrison flagged further safeguards on stopping people using third countries to evade the Indian travel ban would be applied after Friday’s national cabinet meeting.

On Tuesday the prime minister said indirect flights through Doha, Dubai, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur would be banned in a bid to keep people who had been in India out.

He now says the advice the government received before announcing the restrictions was wrong.

Fatal crash brings SE freeway traffic chaos

A motorcyclist has died after a crash involving two cars on the South Eastern Freeway last night, with closures between Stirling and Bridgewater bringing peak hour traffic chaos for commuters leaving the city.

Police say the crash happened when a Toyota four-wheel-drive travelling outbound crashed into a Subaru station wagon and a Kawasaki motorcycle, both travelling inbound to the city.

The crash happened near the Freeway’s intersection with Old Mount Barker Road, between Stirling and Bridgewater.

“Debris from the crash was spread across both carriageways,” SA Police said in a statement last night.

The motorcyclist, a 53-year-old man from Highbury, died at the scene.

Both motorists suffered minor injuries and were taken to the Royal Adelaide Hospital for treatment.

The motorcyclist’s death brings South Australia’s road toll this year to 39, compared to 37 at this point last year.

Police closed the freeway in both directions at around 5:30pm on Thursday as major crash investigators and emergency services attended the scene and worked to clear the road.

The freeway was closed at Stirling for all outbound traffic and at Bridgewater for all city-bound cars, with traffic diverted along Mt Barker Rd through Bridgewater, Aldgate and Stirling well into the night.

All lanes on the freeway were reopened in the early hours of this morning according to SA Police.

Traffic, which came to a standstill during peak hour, was still banked up at the Stirling bypass after 7:00pm according to witnesses.

Police advised motorists to avoid the area if they could.

It’s the second time in as many weeks that peak hour traffic on the freeway has been severely disrupted, after a semi-trailer broke down last Monday evening on the up-track near the Mt Osmond exit, below the Heysen Tunnels.

That incident prompted delays of up to three hours for some commuters, with cars banked up on Portrush Road all the way beyond its intersection with Greenhill Road.

National cabinet to consider new flight restrictions

Australia’s leaders will today consider classifying more coronavirus-stricken countries as high risk after the federal government suspended all flights from India until at least next month.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will chair Friday’s national cabinet meeting of state premiers and territory chief ministers.

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly and foreign affairs officials have been putting together a list of high-risk countries for consideration.

India set another world record on Thursday with more than 379,000 new cases and 3645 deaths.

Flights from there have been paused until at least May 15, leaving nearly 9000 Australians who want to escape the disease disaster stranded.

While the nation is so far the only country deemed high risk, Morrison has flagged a British-style model of slapping travel bans on “red list” countries with significant outbreaks.

Under the UK system, only citizens can return from the designated nations with others blocked from travelling.

National cabinet will also receive a regular update on Australia’s case load as infections in quarantine rise from Indian arrivals before the flight pause.

South Australia was granted a three-day “reprieve” on international travel this week, following the arrival of a Malaysia Airlines flight from Chennai, via Kuala Lumpur, in Adelaide on Saturday.

A total of 14 new COVID-19 cases were recorded in SA’s medi-hotels 48 hours after the flight landed.

Three international flights have arrived in Adelaide since the arrivals pause ended on Wednesday.

This includes two flights from Singapore on Wednesday and one Qatar Airways flight from Doha which landed around 8:30pm last night.

SA Health advised they were anticipating around 76 passengers to be on each flight.

Despite the federal government’s suspension on Indian travel, the ABC revealed yesterday that transit from India to Australia via Qatar is still possible.

Cricketers Adam Zampa and Kane Richardson, who both chose to return to Australia rather than play in the Indian Premier League, arrived in Melbourne Thursday afternoon on a commercial flight from Doha.

This is despite the prime minister advising on Tuesday that flights from India into the transit hubs of Doha, Dubai, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur had been “paused” by the respective governments of each country.

Brittany Higgins to meet with PM

Driving change to the toxic workplace culture faced by political advisers will be on the agenda when former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins meets with Scott Morrison today.

A decision by Higgins to go public about her alleged rape in a ministerial office at Parliament House in 2019 sparked national rallies about the mistreatment of women.

She will meet with the prime minister and Labor’s Anthony Albanese in Sydney as the leaders seek to cooperate on reforms.

Higgins says the system failed her and she wants “a new framework for political staff that ensures genuine cultural change and restores the trust of staff”.

Ministerial and parliamentary staff are owed a “significant review” into their working conditions and how they can be improved, she said in a statement earlier this year.

She is concerned political advisers have very few protections, resources and confidential reporting mechanisms to address workplace issues, as they are not public servants and work in an extremely high-pressure environment.

Key to any change is reform of the Members of Parliament Staff (MOPS) Act, which Higgins says does not offer adequate workplace protections and conditions for staffers.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins has been tasked with reviewing parliamentary workplaces, including the operation of the MOPS Act.

After taking evidence and submissions, she is expected to provide an interim report in July and final recommendations in November.

This comes after a damning Equal Opportunity Commission review into the workplace culture South Australian Parliament, released in March, found that 27 per cent of the MPs and staffers who responded to the survey have experienced sexual harassment at least once at work.

A similar EOC review of SA’s legal profession found 42 per cent of the 600 legal practitioners who responded to the survey reported experiencing sexual harassment in their workplace.

India’s COVID catastrophe worsens

India’s total COVID-19 cases have passed 18 million after another world record daily infection and death tally, as the government rejects reports of problems with its vaccine campaign.

India reported 379,257 new COVID-19 cases and 3,645 new deaths on Thursday, according to health ministry data. It is the deadliest day so far for any country hit by the pandemic.

Delhi is reporting one death from COVID-19 every four minutes and ambulances have been taking the bodies of COVID-19 victims to makeshift crematorium facilities in parks and parking lots, where bodies were burned on rows and rows of funeral pyres.

The World Health Organisation said in its weekly epidemiological update that India accounted for 38 per cent of the 5.7 million cases reported worldwide last week.

India’s best hope to curb its second deadly wave of COVID-19 was to vaccinate its vast population, said experts, and on Wednesday it opened registrations for everyone above the age of 18 to be given jabs from Saturday.

But the country, which is one of the world’s biggest producers of vaccines, does not have the stocks for the estimated 600 million people becoming eligible.

Many people who tried to sign up complained on social media that they could not get a slot or simply could not get online to register as the website repeatedly crashed.

“Statistics indicate that far from crashing or performing slowly, the system is performing without any glitches,” the government said in a statement late on Wednesday.

The government said more than 8 million people had registered for the vaccinations, but it was not immediately clear how many had got slots.

About 9 per cent of India’s population have received one dose since the vaccination campaign began in January with health workers and then the elderly.

The slow rollout has prompted an increasingly urgent response from allies overseas sending health supplies.

Two planes from Russia, carrying 20 oxygen concentrators, 75 ventilators, 150 bedside monitors, and medicines totalling 22 metric tonnes, arrived in the capital Delhi on Thursday.

The US is sending supplies worth more than $100 million to India, including 1,000 oxygen cylinders, 15 million N95 masks and 1 million rapid diagnostic tests, the White House said in a statement on Wednesday.

The US has also redirected its own order of AstraZeneca manufacturing supplies to India, which will allow it to make over 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine, according to the White House.

Biden declares US ‘is rising anew’ in historic first address

US President Joe Biden has declared that “America is rising anew” as he called for an expansion of federal programs to drive the economy past the pandemic and broadly extend the social safety net on a scale not seen in decades.

Biden’s first nationally televised address to Congress on Wednesday raised the stakes for his ability to sell his plans to voters of both parties, even if Republican lawmakers prove resistant.

The president is following his speech by pushing his plans in person, beginning in Georgia and then on to Pennsylvania and Virginia in the days ahead.

In the address, Biden pointed optimistically to the nation’s emergence from the coronavirus scourge as a moment for America to prove that its democracy can still work and maintain primacy in the world.

The president marked his first 100 days in office by proposing a $1.8 trillion investment in children, families and education to help rebuild an economy devastated by the virus and compete with rising global competitors.

“I can report to the nation: America is on the move again,” he said.

“Turning peril into possibility. Crisis into opportunity. Setback into strength.”

For the first time, a female vice president, Kamala Harris, was seated behind the chief executive. And she was next to another woman, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The first ovation came as Biden greeted “Madam Vice President.” He added, “No president has ever said those words from this podium, and it’s about time.”

Biden confronted an issue rarely faced by an American president, namely that in order to compete with autocracies like China, the nation needs “to prove that democracy still works” after his predecessor’s baseless claims of election fraud and ensuing attack on the US Capitol.

“Can our democracy overcome the lies, anger, hate and fears that have pulled us apart?” he asked.

“America’s adversaries – the autocrats of the world – are betting it can’t.

“They believe we are too full of anger and division and rage. They look at the images of the mob that assaulted this Capitol as proof that the sun is setting on American democracy.

“They are wrong. And we have to prove them wrong.”

Biden repeatedly hammered home that his plans would put Americans back to work, restoring the millions of jobs lost to the virus. He laid out an extensive proposal for universal preschool, two years of free community college, $225 billion for child care and monthly payments of at least $250 to parents.

Biden’s speech also provided an update on combating the COVID-19 crisis, showcasing hundreds of millions of vaccinations and relief cheques delivered to help offset the devastation wrought by a virus that has killed more than 573,000 people in the US.

He also championed his $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan which will be financed by higher taxes on corporations.

-With AAP and Reuters

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