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What we know today, Tuesday May 4


Prime Minister Scott Morrison has dismissed as “absurd” claims he has blood on his hands for banning Australian citizens from returning home from India as two IPL teammates of Australian cricket vice-captain Pat Cummins test positive to COVID-19.

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PM dismisses ‘absurd’ claims after Indian cricket bubble bursts

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has dismissed as “absurd” claims from cricket personality Michael Slater that he has blood on his hands for banning Australian citizens from returning home from India.

Former Australia batsman Slater’s comments came as the Indian Premier League’s biosecurity bubble was breached by multiple COVID-19 cases, including two teammates of Pat Cummins.

Test vice-captain Cummins and his Kolkata Knight Riders teammate and fellow Australian Ben Cutting were slated to face Royal Challengers Bangalore in Ahmedabad on Monday night.

But the game was postponed after Kolkata’s Varun Chakravarthy and Sandeep Warrier tested positive for coronavirus.

Cummins, Cutting and compatriot David Hussey, a member of Kolkata’s support staff, are isolating in India.

If the IPL was suspended, Cummins and others among a group of almost 40 Australian players, coaches and officials will be stuck in India because the Morrison government has banned incoming travellers from India until at least May 15.

Slater, who had been commentating in India and is attempting to return to Australia, launched a tirade against the prime minister on Monday night.

“If our government cared for the safety of Aussies they would allow us to get home. It’s a disgrace!!,” Slater wrote on Twitter.

“Blood on your hands PM. How dare you treat us like this.”

But Morrison hit back at the former cricketer on Tuesday when asked on the Nine Network’s Today Show if he had blood on his hands.

“No, that is obviously absurd,” Morrison said.

“We have a temporary pause in place because we have seen a rapid escalation in the infection rate of people who have travelled out of India that is putting enormous pressure on our system and we need to ensure we can bring people safely home from India.

“It’s a pause to May 15.”

Australian cricketers Adam Zampa and Kane Richardson last week fled the IPL, returning home via Qatar.

Any Australian attempting that journey now risks jail time and fines but the prime minister said such sanctions were “extremely remote”.

Some Australian players remain hopeful commercial flights will resume by the end of the month while others are considering contingency plans that involving a two-week stopover in another nation.

Cummins last week donated $50,000 to help India combat its COVID-19 crisis.

The fast bowler initially pledged the money to India’s PM Cares Fund but overnight on social media on Monday said he diverted his donation to UNICEF Australia’s India COVID-19 Crisis Appeal.

Cummins is playing a central role in logistical discussions between stressed Australian cricketers, Cricket Australia (CA) and the players’ union, the Australian Cricketers’ Association.

A potential charter flight, which would need to be approved by the federal government, has formed part of those talks.

However CA chief executive Nick Hockley said on Monday “there’s no suggestion at the moment of any charter flight”.

Complicating matters is Australia’s limited-overs tour of the West Indies in June, with Cummins and other stars facing a tight turnaround if their homecoming is delayed.

India passes 20 million coronavirus cases

India’s official count of coronavirus cases surpassed 20 million today, nearly doubling in the past three months, while deaths officially have passed 220,000.

Staggering as those numbers are, the true figures are believed to be far higher, the undercount an apparent reflection of the troubles in the health care system.

The country has witnessed scenes of people dying outside overwhelmed hospitals and funeral pyres lighting up the night sky.

Infections have surged in India since February in a disastrous turn blamed on more contagious variants of the virus as well as government decisions to allow massive crowds to gather for Hindu religious festivals and political rallies before state elections.

Infections in India are rising faster than anywhere else in the world, a solemn reminder the pandemic is far from ending.

India’s top health official, Rajesh Bhushan, refused to speculate last month as to why authorities weren’t better prepared.

But the cost is clear: People are dying because of shortages of bottled oxygen and hospital beds or because they couldn’t get a COVID-19 test.

India’s official average of newly confirmed cases per day has soared from more than 65,000 on April 1 to about 370,000, and deaths per day have officially gone from more than 300 to more than 3000.

On Tuesday, the health ministry reported 357,229 new cases in the past 24 hours and 3449 deaths.

The death and infection figures are considered unreliable because testing is patchy and reporting incomplete. For example, government guidelines ask Indian states to include suspected COVID-19 cases when recording deaths from the outbreak, but many do not do so.

The US, with one-fourth the population of India, has recorded more than two-and-a-half times as many deaths, at around 580,000.

Masks to stay on as cautious WA records no new cases

Hundreds of casual contacts of a COVID-19-positive Perth quarantine security guard are yet to return tests as the city maintains a cautious footing after a virus breach.

Western Australia reported zero new cases of coronavirus in the community or hotel quarantine in the past 24 hours, Premier Mark McGowan said on Tuesday.

The guard, aged in his 20s, who is believed to have contracted COVID from a US traveller while working at Perth’s Pan Pacific Hotel, was in the community for three days until Friday and authorities have found hundreds of contacts.

“We’ve identified 79 close contacts, 49 have come back negative. The other results are pending,” McGowan said of the “Pan Pacific cluster”.

“We have 429 casual contacts, 134 negatives, but that number will grow today as we do get further results through.”

The state has 26 active COVID cases in quarantine hotels and hospitals.

They include two food delivery drivers who caught the virus from the guard, who was their housemate.

McGowan defended his government’s ongoing caution since Perth and the neighbouring Peel region had a three-day lockdown following a breach in April.

Face masks and other restrictions on public gatherings continue to be necessary at least until Saturday.

Bill Gates and wife Melinda to divorce

Billionaire Bill Gates and his wife Melinda have announced they are divorcing.

The Microsoft co-founder and his wife, who launched the world’s largest charitable foundation, said they would continue to work together at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

In identical tweets on Monday, they said they had made the decision to end their marriage of 27 years.

“We have raised three incredible children and built a foundation that works all over the world to enable all people to lead healthy, productive lives,” they said in a statement.

“We ask for space and privacy for our family as we begin to navigate this new life.”

In her 2019 memoir, The Moment Of Lift, Melinda Gates wrote about her childhood, life and private struggles as the wife of a public icon and stay-at-home mother with three kids.

She won Gates’ heart after meeting at a work dinner, sharing a mutual love of puzzles and beating him at a maths game.

The couple’s sprawling Seattle-based foundation is easily the most influential private foundation in the world, with an endowment worth nearly $US50 billion ($A64 billion). It has focused on global health and development and US education issues since incorporating in 2000.

The couple were married in 1994 in Hawaii. They met after she began working at Microsoft as a product manager in 1987.

Last year, Bill Gates, formerly the world’s richest person, said he was stepping down from Microsoft’s board to focus on philanthropy.

Gates was Microsoft’s CEO until 2000 and since then has gradually scaled back his involvement in the company he started with Paul Allen in 1975.

He transitioned out of a day-to-day role in Microsoft in 2008 and served as chairman of the board until 2014.

Morrison waits on Darwin port advice

The government will not jump to conclusions as Defence reviews a Chinese’s company’s 99-lease of the Port of Darwin, Prime Minister Scott Morrison insists.

With relations between Canberra and Beijing in the doldrums, the government has announced it will reassess the national security implications of state-owned Landbridge’s lease.

The prime minister said he would not pre-empt any fresh advice on the port.

“I’m not jumping to the next step,” he told the Seven Network on Tuesday.

“This is a matter for our security and defence agencies to advise if there’s been any change in the security status of those port arrangements.”

Morrison said the Port of Darwin was a name for a specific part of the area rather than the entire port.

“It is one section. It’s not where our military and defence facilities are, that’s in another area,” he said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne rebuked China for striking deals with developing nations that potentially saddle those countries with debt under its Belt and Road initiative.

“We do not try to buy influence to advantage our individual countries,” she wrote in an opinion piece in The Australian.

“Rather, we know that a stable, secure neighbourhood of sovereign states, in which we have networks of familiarity and trust, are good, safe places for our people to live and thrive.”

Senator Payne said Australia’s focus was on solving practical problems to create regional and global stability.

“Not because by doing so we expect to achieve targeted influence in individual countries that we pick off as notches on our belts.”

Tensions remain high between Australia and China with the troubled relationship sparking trade strikes from Beijing.

More homeless services at risk after funding cuts

Mental health service Neami National says it will be forced to close its Adelaide service following a funding cut under the state government’s homelessness reforms.

Neami National says funding has been cut to its specialised service that has built relationships with thousands of rough sleepers, many with complex mental health issues.

“Neami National’s Street to Home service will close permanently while consortium partners Hutt Street Centre, St Vincent’s Men’s Shelter and Catherine House will lose significant funding for essential services,” Neami National State Manager, Kim Holmes said.

“Our key concern is for the thousands of rough sleepers, many with complex mental health issues, that are at risk with the abrupt end to this specialised service.

“In Adelaide, we are currently seeing approximately 50 new rough sleepers every month and Street to Home have 100 people currently transitioning to or settling into their homes.”

Holmes said the cuts would lead to the loss of 36 jobs when the service closed after four years of operation.

“Transitioning to a new provider is incredibly difficult for vulnerable people and the government and new service providers will have to do all they can to support them through this process. We will of course work our hardest to support them too.

Details of the state government’s homelessness reform were announced on Friday, with Human Services Minister Michelle Lensink revealing the state’s homelessness services will soon be run by five “alliances” of organisations awarded government contracts through a competitive tender process.

Among the groups to miss out under the new alliance system are the Hutt Street Centre, Catherine House, and the St Vincent de Paul Society – all of which will lose $1.2 million in funding under the reforms.

Other groups to miss out on funding under the new arrangement include Uniting Communities and the Aboriginal Family Support Services.

The five new homelessness alliances cover the Adelaide South, Adelaide North, Country South and Country North areas, with a separate alliance dedicated to domestic and family violence.

Lensink, who emphasised that the overall pool of State Government funding for homeless services has increased from $67.9 million to $71.5 million in the last year, said the organisations that missed out on funding should discuss what services they can continue to provide with the new alliances.

SA-NSW interconnector nears final approval

High-voltage transmission network owner ElectraNet has given its commitment to proceed with the proposed SA-NSW interconnector to the Australian Energy Regulator, clearing the path for the regulator’s final approval stage.

ElectraNet is responsible for the South Australian section of the project, subject to the AER awarding incremental regulated revenue commensurate with the capital and operating costs of the project.

TransGrid has also lodged its final costings for its NSW section of the project.

ElectraNet says it is continuing to work proactively with the AER to progress the project through its last regulatory approval, with a final determination anticipated in the coming weeks. Following the AER’s determination, ElectraNet would then enter its Final Investment Decision phase for the $2.4 billion project.

When it released its preliminary position in December 2020 on the contingent project application for Project EnergyConnect, the AER indicated that the Board resolution from ElectraNet as part of its application should fully reflect the contingent project trigger event.

“The Board’s resolution fully satisfies the final contingent project trigger event requested by the AER to enable it to make a formal determination under the National Electricity Rules ElectraNet Chief Executive Steve Masters, said.

“This is an important project for the national electricity grid and is a priority project for ElectraNet, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) and many other stakeholders.

“We look forward to concluding the regulatory approval process to support the timely delivery of the project in the interests of electricity customers across the National Energy Market (NEM).”

Independent analysis shows Project EnergyConnect is expected to deliver net annual savings of around $100 for a typical household in South Australia and up to around $60 for a typical household in New South Wales.

The final regulatory step is to confirm the efficient costs for the Project, and the AER now has 40 business days to make a final determination.

SA Minister for Energy and Mining Dan van Holst Pellekaan welcomed the commitment by both businesses to the Interconnector.

“This means that with a final investment decision, construction will commence promptly to deliver the project as soon as possible to benefit consumers,” van Holst Pellekaan said.

“The SA-NSW Interconnector will boost energy security, reduce electricity prices further by an estimated $100 and unlock huge renewable energy projects in South Australia. It’s a critical project to deliver the Marshall Government’s intention of net-100% renewables by 2030.”

Telstra fined record $1.5 million

Telstra has paid a $1.5 million penalty after the communications watchdog found it failed to provide consumers with the opportunity to keep their existing local phone number when changing telcos.

The infringement notice, related to what is known as “local number porting”, is the biggest ever issued by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

Telstra suspended most of its local number porting operations from late March 2020 after the COVID-19 outbreak impacted its offshore operations.

As a result, more than 42,000 services could not be moved from Telstra to other telcos – or vice versa.

ACMA found Telstra unilaterally cancelled transfer requests that were scheduled to occur and stopped accepting new requests.

This was done without prior warning to other telcos who were left not being able to help new and existing customers to transfer their service while keeping their phone number.

Telstra resumed porting in July and did not clear the backlog of requests until October.

ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin said home and business users had been impacted by Telstra’s action.

“We appreciate Telstra had difficulties due to COVID-19 and we took this into account in our enforcement actions, including the size of the financial penalty,” she said.

“However, it is clear Telstra did not have sufficient plans in place to continue to comply for a length of time with an important consumer safeguard that promotes competition in the telco market.”

The previous record fine of just over $1 million was against Woolworths for a breach of spam laws.

Global fall in COVID cases after spike

The worldwide weekly coronavirus infection rate has fallen for the first time since mid-February, with India and Brazil accounting for half of infections, the World Health Organisation says.

A total of 5.69 million cases have been reported globally over the past seven days compared to 5.73 million in the previous week, reversing a one-and-a-half-month upward trend.

“More cases of COVID-19 have been reported globally in the past two weeks than during the first six months of the pandemic,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a media conference.

“India and Brazil account for more than half of last week’s cases,” he added.

However, coronavirus-related deaths increased from 88,000 to 93,000 last week, nearing January’s record of about 100,000 weekly fatalities.

This brings the figures for total cases and deaths to more than 152 million and nearly 3.2 million respectively since the start of the pandemic.

The WHO is continuing to provide medical supplies and mobile hospitals to India, where new daily records are being registered and the weekly case count exceeds 400,000.

Man United targets rogue fans

Manchester United will ban any fans found to have been involved in criminal or violent behaviour during protests which forced the postponement of their Premier League match at home to Liverpool on Sunday.

A number of supporters forced their way into Old Trafford prior to the scheduled kick-off as a demonstration against club owners the Glazer family escalated into incidents of damage and violence.

Two police officers were injured, with one requiring emergency hospital treatment, while bottles and barriers were thrown outside the ground, according to Greater Manchester Police.

United is working with police to identify fans involved but, according to their sanctions policy, damaging property or disorderly behaviour warrants a one to six-game ban.

Their policy adds that abusive or aggressive behaviour towards staff, police or anyone else in a working capacity or any other criminal activity can lead to indefinite suspensions.

The club, like the police, is focusing its efforts on those who committed offences.

“The club has no desire to see peaceful protesters punished, but will work with the police to identify those involved in criminal activity, and will also issue its own sanctions to any season ticket holder or member identified, per the published sanctions policy,” it said in a statement.

United have rejected claims staff opened gates to allow protesters inside Old Trafford and say entry was gained by illegal means.

“After breaking through barriers and security on the forecourt, some protesters climbed the gates at the end of the Munich tunnel, then forced access to a side door in the stand, before opening an external door that let others through to the concourse area and the pitch.

“A second breach occurred when a protester smashed the door of a disability access lift, enabling a group to enter the stand.

The Manchester United Supporters Trust has written an open letter to Joel Glazer demanding the owners engage in supporter consultation to avoid a repeat of the scenes at Old Trafford and has put forward a four-point plan to advance this.

“None of us want this to continue. We all have better things to do. So we need to find a way forward,” said the letter from MUST, who have given a Friday deadline for a response

United insist they remain “committed to dialogue and engagement with our fans through the Fans Forum and other appropriate channels”.

The postponement has given Premier League planners a headache as United are scheduled to play every midweek until the end of the season.

The Football Association, which is also investigating incidents at Old Trafford, took a dim view of fans’ behaviour.

“We understand their frustrations. However, we cannot condone the violent and criminal behaviour that took place before the scheduled Manchester United v Liverpool match, which the FA is now investigating,” said a statement.

– with AAP and Reuters

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