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What we know today, Wednesday May 12


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

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Victorian COVID-19 case linked to Playford medi-hotel

SA Health has confirmed a positive case of COVID-19 detected in Victoria yesterday is linked to another positive case at Tom’s Court medi-hotel in Adelaide. 

Both infectious men were quarantining in neighbouring rooms on level three of Adelaide’s Playford medi-hotel earlier this month.

Chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier said that investigations into the precise cause of transmission are ongoing.

“In an abundance of caution, those people who were on level three of the hotel during the period of concern who have subsequently been discharged will be required to quarantine for a further 14 days,” she said.

“This includes ten South Australians who will be able to quarantine at home, if the home setting is suitable.”

Spurrier said that SA Health had confirmed that the “vast majority” of staff at the Playford medi-hotel who were working at the time had their required daily testing.

She said SA Health was still trying to follow-up five staff.

“At this stage, there have been no new cases linked to this case,” she said.

Spurrier told reporters yesterday that the Melbourne man, who arrived in Adelaide from overseas, was quarantining at the Playford medi-hotel on North Terrace and stayed in a room next to another overseas arrival who tested positive for COVID-19 during his stay.

That man was later transferred to Tom’s Court medi-hotel, which is a dedicated facility set up for positive cases.

The Melbourne man, who did not test positive for COVID-19 during his quarantine stay, took a flight to Melbourne on May 4.

Authorities believe the man was not infectious while he was on the flight.

Before his infection was detected on Tuesday, he visited several public sites throughout Melbourne, prompting Victorian health authorities to issue an alert ordering anyone who visited the sites at designated times to quarantine and get tested.

SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens told reporters this afternoon that he had signed a direction banning anyone who visited the sites from travelling into South Australia.

Hundreds maybe exposed to COVID on train after AFL game

Hundreds of AFL fans could have been exposed to COVID-19 after catching the train home from the Richmond-Geelong game on Friday night.

The Craigieburn to Southern Cross service between 5.28pm and 6.07pm on Friday has been listed as a tier two exposure site, along with the Flinders St to Craigieburn service between 10.20pm and 11.05pm.

Victoria’s Health Minister Martin Foley said a large number of people may have been exposed.

“It’s in the many hundreds, particularly the later train back, because it was after the AFL game,” he told the media on Wednesday.

Authorities are working with the AFL and metro trains to contact passengers, and have urged anyone who was on the train to isolate and get tested.

Craigieburn and Southern Cross stations have also been listed as tier three exposure sites.

The state has not recorded any further positive results after a Melbourne man tested positive on Tuesday, with more than 21,000 tests conducted in the past 24 hours.

It means Victoria has gone 75 days without a local case.

Foley also warned that people will soon face tough penalties if they don’t use QR check in codes at venues, after some patrons at a new exposure site failed to use the system.

The new positive case dined out at the CBD restaurant Curry Vault on Friday, but many people who were there at the same time failed to use the QR system.

Authorities are chasing down patrons and staff at the restaurant, using takeaway records and financial transactions.

Of the 18 patrons that have been tested, three have so far tested negative, and another 14 patrons have since been contacted.

The Health Minister Martin Foley has described the incident as a “wake-up call”.

“A number of patrons did use the QR code, but clearly not all of them,” he told the media on Wednesday.

“So far we have just had the one positive case, but the next day or two will be critical,” Mr Foley said.

There are a further 17 primary close contacts of the positive case, linked to shops in Altona North.

Victorians could return to tighter COVID-19 restrictions if evidence emerges that the man infected others in the community.

The department is awaiting the results of genomic testing to confirm how the man was infected.

The man, in his 30s, flew into Adelaide from India via the Maldives and Singapore on April 19 before Australia’s flight ban on returnees from India began.

After completing quarantine in South Australia at the Playford Hotel, he returned to his home in suburban Melbourne’s Wollert early last week and developed symptoms on Saturday before testing positive on Tuesday.

SA authorities are examining whether the man contracted the virus before his arrival and had an unusually long incubation period, or caught it from a person in a neighbouring hotel room.

More ocean areas protected off Australia

A huge area of ocean around two remote Australian territories will be protected as part of the federal budget, leaving conservationists grinning.

The Morrison government’s 2021/22 budget locks in a $100 million package for protecting the oceans.

It includes nearly $40 million for new marine park partnerships.

The new marine parks will be off Christmas Island and the Cocos Keeling Islands and will cover up to 740,000 square kilometres of the Indian Ocean.

That’s twice the size of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Australian Marine Conservation Society chief Darren Kindleysides said the islands were recognised as natural wonders.

“Oceans across the globe are in deep trouble from pollution, overfishing, habitat loss and the very real and immediate impacts of climate change,” he said.

“Establishing marine parks to provide a safe haven for our marine life is critical in helping stop our oceans reaching a tipping point.”

The new parks increase the percentage of protected Australian waters from 37 per cent to 45 per cent.

The protected areas are in the Indian Ocean where endangered southern bluefin tuna and other marine species breed.

The government’s goal is for a balance between natural habitat conservation, sustainable water use, eco-tourism promotion, research and regional economy stimulation.

Pew Charitable Trusts director Michelle Grady said the islands were globally significant, pointing to world-renowned naturalist David Attenborough naming Christmas Island as one of the 10 natural wonders of the world.

Christmas Island is famous for its annual red crab migration when tens of millions of crustaceans leave their forest homes and migrate to the shore to mate and spawn.

“Its thriving rainforests, deserted beaches and fringing reef provide a haven for unique and rare seabirds, land crabs and marine life,” Grady said.

“The Cocos Keeling Islands are Australia’s unspoiled tropical island paradise. Their azure waters are home to an incredible array of diverse marine life including tropical fish, corals, turtles, manta rays and dolphins.”

The government predicts Australia’s ocean industries to contribute $100 billion to the economy each year by 2025, supporting close to 400,000 jobs.

Pipeline outage causes US petrol ‘crunch’

Petrol stations from Florida to Virginia have begun running dry and prices at the pump rose, as the shutdown of the biggest US fuel pipeline by hackers extended into a fifth day and sparked panic buying by motorists.

The Biden administration projects that the Colonial Pipeline, source of nearly half the fuel supply on the US east coast, will restart in a few days and is urging drivers not to top up their tanks.

“We are asking people not to hoard,” US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told reporters at the White House.

“Things will be back to normal soon.”

Colonial was shut on Friday after hackers launched a ransomware attack – effectively locking up its computer systems and demanding payment to release them.

The company said it was making progress and hopes to restart a substantial portion of operations by week’s end. The company said it had taken delivery of an additional two million barrels from refineries for deployment upon restart.

The outage, which has underscored the vulnerability of vital US infrastructure to cyberattacks, has already started to hurt.

In metropolitan Atlanta, 30 per cent of petrol stations were without petrol, tracking firm GasBuddy said. In Raleigh, North Carolina, 31 per cent of petrol stations had no fuel on Tuesday.

Unleaded gas prices, meanwhile, hit an average $US2.99 ($A3.81) a gallon, its highest price since November 2014, the American Automobile Association said.

Colonial said it made recent deliveries to parts of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Maryland and New Jersey.

Granholm said there was not a shortage but a supply “crunch” in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and southern Virginia, regions that typically rely on Colonial for fuel.

The FBI has accused a shadowy criminal gang called DarkSide of the ransomware attack. DarkSide is believed to be based in Russia or Eastern Europe and avoids targeting computers that use languages from former Soviet republics, cyber experts say.

Russia’s embassy in the United States rejected speculation that Moscow was behind the attack.

Concern over budget’s SA infrastructure spend

Just four per cent of the federal government’s pledged $3.2 billion infrastructure spend on South Australia is allocated for the next financial year, with only around two-thirds of the promised funds appropriated until 2024-25.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg handed down the 2021/22 federal budget on Tuesday night, aimed at creating more than a quarter of a million jobs over the next two years while addressing critical shortfalls in government services including aged care, disability and mental health.

Budget papers reveal an improved deficit of $106.6 billion which is predicted to fall to $57 billion in 2023/24, while net debt is predicted to hit almost $1.2 trillion in 2024/25.

Among the key measures for South Australia is a $3.2 billion investment in road upgrades, flagged in a budget leak on Monday.

This includes $2.6 billion for the North-South Corridor from Darlington to Anzac Highway, $161.6 million for the Truro freight bypass, $148 million for stage two of the Augusta Highway Duplication and $64 million for the Strzelecki Track Upgrade.

Other smaller measures include a $60 million investment to support the long-delayed Gawler Rail Line Electrification, $48 million for an upgrade of the Heysen Tunnels, and $32 million for a Kangaroo Island road safety and bushfire resilience package.

But the budget papers show just $130.8 million (4.09 per cent) of this $3.2 billion spend is allocated for the next financial year.

Over the federal government’s forward estimates, which extend until 2024-25, only around two thirds ($2.06 billion) are allocated until the 2024-25 financial year – potentially two federal elections away.

Shadow South Australia Treasurer Stephen Mullighan said the $1.1 billion “missing” from the budget papers was concerning given South Australia’s unemployment rate.

“Once again, federal budget promises for infrastructure funding haven’t been delivered and last night’s budget means less activity and less jobs on major infrastructure projects in SA than what we were promised,” Mullighan said this morning.

“We were promised $3.2 billion for job-creating infrastructure projects over the next four years, but we’ve [been] short changed by over $1bn – and even worse, only $130m is coming to our state next year.

“We have the worst unemployment rate in the country and we’re the only state in the nation to have lost jobs since COVID – we need this money now to get these projects underway and get South Australians back to work.”

The federal government’s forward estimates show spending on South Australian infrastructure rising from $130.8 million in 2021-22 to $341.6 million in 2022-23.

This is followed by an $823.6 million investment in 2023-24 and $807 million in 2024-25.

Despite the concerns about a lack of early spending, State Treasurer Rob Lucas highlighted that South Australia was receiving 22 per cent of additional infrastructure spending.

“This is a significant jobs budget that will help secure the nation’s ongoing economic recovery and further support South Australians get back into the workforce, grow their skills and, in many cases, break into the property market,” Lucas said this morning.

“We also acknowledge the significant $3.4 billion infrastructure commitment on transport projects for SA … which together with other existing spending commitments will support thousands of local jobs.

“In fact, South Australia is receiving 22 per cent of additional federal infrastructure spending in this Budget, much to the dismay of some of the other states.”

Frydenberg highlighted the North-South Corridor upgrade in his budget speech on Tuesday night as the first of $15 billion in additional nationwide infrastructure investments from the federal government.

“Our economic plan capitalises on the opportunities that will exist on the other side of this crisis,” Frydenberg told parliament.

“Building the infrastructure our economy needs for the future with our 10‑year, $110 billion investment pipeline.”

Click here for more budget spending details

Unexpected GST boost for SA

South Australia received a nearly $1 billion increase in GST revenue from the federal government over the last financial year, but the state treasurer is cautioning that the revenue is still below pre-COVID forecasts.

Goods and Services Tax revenue paid from the federal government to South Australia jumped $926 million in the 2020-21 financial year compared to estimates made at last year’s state budget.

It is also forecast to increase $668 million in the 2021-22 financial year.

The budget papers attributed the upward revisions to “underlying strength in activity statements in the current year and upgrades to the outlook for consumption”.

“Over the latter half of the forward estimates period, improvement in the outlook for the labour market is expected to drive higher prices and wages growth supporting tax receipts,” the budget papers forecast.

The total GST paid out to South Australia in 2020-21 was more than $6.5 billion, representing a 9.4 per cent share of the national pool.

While the GST increase will give hope for more spending at June’s state budget, Lucas cautioned that the revenue improvement is still lower than pre-COVID estimates.

“While our improved GST position is clearly welcome, compared with GST estimates in our 2019-20 Mid-Year Budget review prior to the impact of COVID-19, GST revenue is still forecast to be $375 million lower in 2020-21 and $364 million lower in 2021-22,” he said.

Among other measures handed down for South Australia in last night’s budget are $26.9 million investment over four years to improve the state’s family court system.

This will “improve access to legal assistance for family law matters” in SA and “increase judicial and court resources in the South Australian family law registry” according to the budget papers.

A $6 million investment to upgrade the Netball South Australia Stadium in Mile End was also announced in the budget papers, supporting $12 million in state government funding for the project announced in November last year.

Australia to be vaccinated by year’s end: Frydenberg

The federal government is banking on all willing Australians being fully vaccinated for COVID-19 by the end of the year, the budget reveals, despite the sluggish start of the rollout forcing a revision of earlier target dates.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has declined to set a target completion date for the vaccine rollout after AstraZeneca-linked blood clots forced a reset.

But the 2021/22 budget assumes the program will be finished before 2022.

“The vaccine is likely to be rolled out by the end of this year to all those Australians who want that vaccine,” Frydenberg told reporters.

“There is the assumption they will get two doses by that time.”

That will require the weekly pace of the rollout to triple, with just 2.7 million doses administered so far.

This includes 202,578 doses given in South Australia, of which more than 111,000 have been administered by GPs and primary care centres while more than 72,000 have been administered by SA Health.

Frydenberg noted the end-of-year prediction was based on “those who seek to have the vaccine” rather than the entire Australian population.

Treasury also expects international travel to “remain low” through to mid-2022 after which a gradual recovery in international tourism is assumed to occur.

The cautious travel approach comes as the government revealed it would spend an extra $1.9 billion over the coming year to boost its COVID-19 vaccine supply to 170 million doses and speed up the rollout.

The budget papers also confirmed a plan to investigate domestic manufacturing of mRNA vaccines, such as the Pfizer and BioNtech jabs, although an exact funding figure was not divulged due to “commercial in confidence sensitivities”.

The Northern Territory’s Howard Springs facility, which is housing Australians returning from overseas, is slated to cost $487 million over two years as it expands to 2000 places.

Funding increase to support AAP

Independent newswire the Australian Associated Press has received $15 million in funding from the federal government.

AAP provides a range of news services and content to hundreds of outlets across Australia, reporting on developments across the country in areas where other news outlets do not have the resources to send reporters.

The funding represents a boost from the $5 million lifeline the federal government provided to the service in September last year.

The newswire, which has operated for more than 85 years, looked set to close permanently in March last year after NewsCorp and Nine pulled the plug on its ownership of the service.

The organisation was later saved by a philanthropic investment consortium.

AAP CEO Emma Cowdroy welcomed the new investment and said there would be a “significant void” in Australia’s news offering without her organisation’s service.

“In the context of AAP’s exclusion from the Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code, this grant will help underpin the AAP newswire on its path to sustainability,” Cowdroy said.

“The AAP newswire is an essential part of our democratic infrastructure.

“Supporting the national newswire means supporting the industry as a whole.”

AAP Chair Jonty Low also welcomed the investment and said the government was supporting a “key pillar” of media diversity.

Vic case could prompt COVID restrictions

Victorian health officials haven’t ruled out beefing up COVID-19 restrictions if there is evidence a Melbourne man, who may have caught the virus in an Adelaide medi-hotel, infected others in the community.

The man, aged in his 30s, flew into Adelaide from India via the Maldives and Singapore on April 19 before Australia’s flight ban began.

After completing quarantine at the Playford Hotel, he returned to his home in suburban Melbourne early last week and developed symptoms on Saturday before testing positive on Tuesday.

SA Health is examining whether the man contracted the virus before arrival and had an unusually-long incubation period, or caught it from a person with the virus in a neighbouring hotel room.

Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier confirmed on Tuesday officials were urgently testing others on the same floor of the medi-hotel.

“We’ve gone and put all the checks and balances in place [to] make sure this little outbreak is contained,” she told reporters.

“There certainly have been other guests in the time period – that’s of concern to us and the team is contacting them at the moment to make sure they get re-tested.”

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton suspects the man picked it up in the hotel, not India or on his international flights.

All three of the man’s household contacts have returned negative test results, with Sutton describing it as an “early encouraging sign”.

Contact tracers have identified four “tier one” exposure sites linked to the man, including an Altona North office where he worked and an Indian restaurant and bar in central Melbourne.

Anyone who visited the sites at specific times must get tested and isolate for 14 days from exposure.

Two Friday night train services to and from Craigieburn and Southern Cross are among five “tier two” exposure sites.

The domestic flight between Adelaide and Melbourne airports are not among them as the man isn’t believed to have been infectious at the time.

But Victoria’s COVID-19 response commander Jeroen Weimar said the health department was contacting passengers through the flight manifest, asking them to take a precautionary test.

He added that evidence of community spread within Melbourne would prompt officials to consider “the next set of appropriate measures”.

“I’m not going to sit here and speculate on what that might be,” he told ABC Melbourne radio.

“If we are finding positive cases in the workplace or exposure sites that would obviously be a significant cause for concern.”

South Australia’s genomic sequencing report could shed light on the source of the man’s infection but is expected to take 48 hours to complete.

Port ruckman rubbed out for four games

Port Adelaide ruckman Scott Lycett has been suspended for four matches by the AFL Tribunal for a sling tackle that concussed Adelaide’s Ned McHenry.

Lycett was sent straight to the tribunal on a rough conduct charge for his tackle on McHenry in Saturday night’s match.

The Power ruckman didn’t contest the grading of his sling tackle as careless with severe impact and high contact.

The AFL’s advocate Jeff Gleeson urged the tribunal on Tuesday night to pay attention to Lycett “turning the body to increase the force” of his tackle.

“What Lycett achieves in this tackle is that he wraps McHenry up, he then squares himself, he pivots, he rotates and he slams McHenry’s head into the ground,” Gleeson told the hearing.

“I’m not saying he intended to slam his head into the ground, the only question when it comes to severity of impact is what was the effect.

“And there is no other way to put it but that this dangerous tackle had the effect of not knocking the head into the ground … but slamming it into the ground.

“The impact is extremely forceful and the injury was considerable … the player is immediately limp.

“The potential was for even worse injury.”

Gleeson called for a four-match ban at the hour-long hearing.

“In Lycett’s favour, he hasn’t come along here tonight and tried to minimise before you the nature and severity of his offence,” he said.

“It’s to his credit that he has accepted every single component of the charge … (but) a guilty plea does not get you a reduction of matches.’

The tribunal panel of ex-players Stewart Loewe, David Neitz and Wayne Henwood met for about 20 minutes before delivering their verdict to tribunal chair Ross Howie.

“They have considered particularly the degree of impact of the victim player, his vulnerability, the rotation of his (Lycett’s) body that was involved and the manner in which his (McHenry’s) head hit the ground,” Howie said.

“And (they) considered what is important to the potential to have caused further injury.”

McHenry has been sidelined for at the least the mandatory 12-day concussion period.

The ban means Lycett will miss Saturday night’s clash against the Western Bulldogs along with games against Collingwood, Fremantle and Geelong.

Port say they are considering whether to challenge the ban.

-With AAP and Reuters

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