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What we know today, Monday May 17


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

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Kia cars recalled over fire fears

More than 57,000 Kia owners in Australia have been warned not to park their cars in an enclosed area such as a garage amid fears they could catch fire even when switched off.

Product Safety Australia has issued a recall for two Kia models over problems with the Hydraulic Electronic Control Units.

The affected cars are the Kia QL Sportage model built between 2016 and 2021 and the Kia CK Stinger model built between 2017 and 2019.

The recall notice said the HECU, which controls the anti-lock braking, stability and traction control systems, could remain live.

It said if moisture entered the unit, an electrical short circuit could occur.

“If an electrical short circuit occurs, this could result in an engine compartment fire when the key is switched off and the vehicle is parked,” Product Safety Australia said.

“A vehicle fire could increase the risk of injury or death to vehicle occupants or bystanders and damage to property.”

Kia Australia is contacting all known owners of the cars, who are urged to arrange for a free inspection and repair at their nearest dealer.

Until the vehicles have been repaired, the company recommends they not be parked near any flammable structures or in an enclosed area.

Three-in-four support Australia’s closed international borders: poll

Three in four people believe Australia’s international borders should remain closed until at least the middle of next year.

But there is a growing push from within government ranks to open the borders sooner than planned in the federal budget.

A poll published in The Australian on Monday has found 73 per cent of voters think borders should stay closed until at least mid 2022.

Only one in five people believe the borders should open as soon as all Australians who want to be are vaccinated.

But a group of Liberal MPs including Jason Falinkski want the country to reopen as soon as possible.

They also want vaccinated Australians to be given a greater opportunity to travel overseas.

Falinkski said it was understandable people had adopted a “fortress mentality” during the coronavirus pandemic.

“But it doesn’t need to be that way,” he told Seven.

“We spent a lot of money keeping families safe, we don’t want to keep them apart.”

Falinski wants people who are vaccinated to be able to reunite with friends and family overseas.

He suggested vaccinated people could quarantine at home rather than in a hotel upon their return to Australia.

“Instead of playing to people’s worst fears we should be playing to people’s best hopes,” he said.

Former deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth said Australians must be prepared for coronavirus to spread in the community when the international borders reopen.

“We need to have that conversation with the community now,” he said.

Coatsworth said reaching zero cases of coronavirus in Australia was “perhaps unattainable”.

He suggested vaccination rates of 90 per cent may be needed to control coronavirus within the community.

UK to reopen as virus variant prompts concern

Travellers in England are packing their bags, bartenders polishing their glasses and performers warming up as Britain prepares for a major step out of COVID-19 lockdown – but with clouds of worry on the horizon.

Excitement on Sunday at the reopening of travel and hospitality vied with anxiety that a more contagious virus variant first found in India is spreading fast and could delay further plans to reopen.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged Britons to “take this next step with a heavy dose of caution”.

“We are keeping the spread of the variant first identified in India under close observation and taking swift action where infection rates are rising,” he said.

“I urge everyone to be cautious and take responsibility when enjoying new freedoms today in order to keep the virus at bay.”

Cases of the variant have more than doubled in a week in the UK, defying a sharp nationwide downward trend in infections and deaths won by hard-earned months of restrictions and a rapid vaccination campaign.

A surge testing and stepped-up vaccination effort was being conducted in the northern England areas hardest hit by that variant.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the variant, formally known as B.1.617.2, is more transmissible than the UK’s main strain and “it is likely it will become the dominant variant”.

On Monday, people in England will be able to eat a restaurant meal indoors, drink inside a pub, go to a museum, hug friends and visit one another’s homes for the first time in months.

A ban on overseas holidays is also being lifted, with travel now possible to a short list of countries with low infection rates. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are following similar but slightly different reopening paths.

But hospitality and entertainment venues say they won’t be able to make money until they can open at full capacity. That’s due to happen June 21, the date set by the government for lifting its remaining restrictions, including social distancing and mask-wearing rules.

Johnson has said if the new variant causes a big surge in cases, it could scupper that plan.

Union stands by Whyalla steelworkers amid finance probe

The union representing about 2000 workers at Sanjeev Gupta’s embattled Whyalla steelworks and Tahmoor coal operations says finance deals to save the sites are continuing to move forward despite an investigation by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office, including links to failed financier company Greensill Capital.

The office is looking into suspected fraudulent trading and money laundering at companies in the GFG Alliance, which sparked fresh concerns for the future of the Whyalla steelworks on the weekend.

However, Australian Workers Union national secretary Daniel Walton said the union would continue to work with all stakeholders to ensure its members could continue producing quality Australian steel.

“Our understanding is the deals concerning the Whyalla steelworks and Tahmoor coal operations are continuing to move forward, which comes as little surprise because the fundamentals of these operations are strong,” he said in a statement yesterday afternoon.

“I know from talking to our counterparts overseas that the Australian operations are, thankfully for us, in a very different position to operations elsewhere.

“Obviously, the uncertainty of this situation is stressful for our members and their communities, but I think all can take heart from the strong underlying performance and positive prospects of both businesses.

“The simple fact is Australia needs these operations to continue because they are critical to our sovereign capability.”

The SFO probe will include the links to Greensill, which entered administration earlier this year.

“The SFO is investigating suspected fraud, fraudulent trading and money laundering in relation to the financing and conduct of the business of companies within the Gupta Family Group Alliance (GFG), including its financing arrangements with Greensill Capital UK Ltd,” the investigators said in a statement.

Gupta’s companies were among the main clients of Greensill Capital before it collapsed earlier this year.

A court case that aims to wind up operations at the Whyalla Steelworks in a bid to recover some of Greensill’s losses has been adjourned until July, despite an eleventh-hour announcement by GFG on May 5 that a refinancing deal for its Australian operations had been agreed.

The SA Government says it is monitoring the situation closely.

GFG Alliance’s Australian refinancing partner White Oak Global Advisors said its efforts to refinance Liberty Primary Metals debt is subject to financial due diligence and acceptable governance.

Learner driver bashed in road-rage incident

A learner driver was allegedly bashed in the head with a weapon and hospitalised after being pulled over in a road-rage incident in Adelaide’s northern suburbs late yesterday afternoon.

Two men have been arrested following the road rage incident in Bolivar.

Police said two men and a woman had been assaulted by two men who were travelling in a white Toyota Hiace van.

The two male suspects allegedly tailgated the victims’ Ford sedan from near the Curtis Road intersection of the Northern Expressway at Munno Para West and followed the learner driver and his two passengers in a southerly direction along the Expressway and then the North-South Motorway.

The two vehicles stopped near the Bolivar exit of the Motorway and the two suspects assaulted the trio, before fleeing the scene, police said.

The learner driver, a 19-year-old Peterborough man was taken to hospital for treatment of head injuries, after he was hit over the head with an unknown weapon. His injuries are not considered to be life-threatening.

The other man and woman were not seriously injured and were treated at the scene by paramedics.

Further investigations led police to a Mitchell Park house, where they arrested a 23-year-old man and a 49-year-old man.

Both men have been charged with affray and three counts of aggravated assault. They were bailed to appear at the Elizabeth Magistrates Court on June 29.

Police are asking anyone who may have witnessed the dangerous driving or assault to come forward. Anyone who may have captured the incident on dashcam footage is also urged to contact police.

GP jabs for over-50s begin

Australians over the age of 50 can get their COVID-19 vaccination from a GP from today, extending the vaccination process to the age group that had only been previously available at special vaccination hubs.

The nation’s vaccination program topped three million on Friday and Prime Minister Scott Morrison believes it is now going from strength to strength, noting even on Saturday a record 30,000 people got the jab.

“If you are over 50, you can go to your GP who are providing these vaccines,” Morrison told reporters in Queensland on Sunday.

“So I think we will continue to see that build.”

He said about 85 per cent of residents in aged care facilities have now been vaccinated, but he urged more people over 70 to get the jab.

“That is a very high priority for us because if there were to be an outbreak in Australia, they are the Australians most at risk and that is where our focus is the most at the moment.”

SA’s deputy chief public health officer Dr Emily Kirkpatrick said GP clinics across the state will start to receive their share of the additional doses within the next two weeks following a recent expression of interest process.

“GPs have been at the forefront of the rollout for their patients and we are pleased to be able to partner with GPs to provide additional doses and increase access for South Australians to the COVID-19 vaccine,” she said.

“In addition to the expanding GP network and availability, SA Health is also pivoting as the rollout progresses which will see some hospital-based clinics transitioning so that clinics in the community can scale up to provide better access and increased capacity.

“South Australians who are eligible for the vaccine now have more access, with the Pfizer vaccine available for those in phases 1a and 1b of the program, and the AstraZeneca vaccine available for anyone aged 50 years and over through the ever-expanding GP and state-run vaccination clinic network.”

Massive ice shipment stopped at border

Almost $100 million worth of the illicit drug ice has been found hidden in electric barbecue grills and water heaters imported from Thailand.

Australian Border Force found it in a consignment that came by sea cargo at Port Botany from Thailand on May 4, NSW police said in a statement early this morning.

They said it was discovered in 62 large cardboard boxes labelled food items and electric barbecue grills.

The consignment allegedly contained 316kg of methylamphetamine, with an estimated potential street value of $94.5 million.

Police are hoping that anyone with any information about the drugs will contact them.

Gaza airstrike kills 42

An Israeli airstrike in Gaza has killed 42 Palestinians, including 10 children, as militants fired rockets at Israel with no end in sight to seven days of fighting.

The Israeli military said the 42 civilian casualties on Sunday were unintentional. It said its jets attacked a tunnel system used by militants, which collapsed, bringing homes down.

Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, called it “pre-meditated killing”.

As the UN Security Council convened to discuss the worst Israeli-Palestinian violence in years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel’s campaign in Gaza was continuing at “full force”.

Netanyahu also defended an Israeli air strike on Saturday that destroyed a 12-storey building where the Associated Press and the Al Jazeera TV network had offices. He said the structure also housed a militant group’s intelligence office and was thus a legitimate target.

“We are acting now, (and) for as long as necessary, to restore calm and quiet to you, Israel’s citizens. It will take time,” Netanyahu said in a televised address after meeting with his security cabinet.

The death toll in Gaza has jumped to 192, including 58 children, its health ministry said, amid an intensive Israeli air and artillery barrage since the fighting erupted last Monday.

Ten people have been killed in Israel, including two children, Israeli authorities say.

In New York, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council that hostilities in Israel and Gaza were “utterly appalling” and called for an immediate end to fighting.

He said the United Nations was “actively engaging all sides toward an immediate ceasefire” and urged them “to allow mediation efforts to intensify and succeed.”

The United States told the Security Council it has made clear to Israel, the Palestinians and others that it is ready to offer support “should the parties seek a ceasefire”.

Aussie Miller wins Le Mans MotoGP

Australian MotoGP rider Jack Miller has overcome a host of dramas, including a penalty for speeding, to win the French Grand Prix at Le Mans after a wild ride in the wind and rain.

The Ducati rider was left quaffing champagne from his boot on the podium at the historic venue, the time-honoured “shoey” celebration being well-deserved after another exceptional win at the French Grand Prix on Sunday.

“I don’t believe it still – but here we are again!” beamed Miller, who waited five long years to gain just his second GP win in Spain a fortnight ago but has now picked up two in a row.

“It was a hectic race … it’s amazing, I didn’t expect this,” he beamed.

“Back-to-back wins. I’ve doubled my career total of victories in two weeks, so it’s pretty nice!”

Yet the Queenslander had to do it the hard way, needing courage, nerve – not to mention some decent mental arithmetic – before earning the win in treacherous conditions which saw six-times champion Marc Marquez fall twice and reigning champ Joan Mir also fail to finish.

Miller himself was hit with a double long-lap time penalty for going too fast into the pits for a bike change as the rain began to pour.

“When I saw the penalty, I didn’t want to believe it,” he laughed.

“It’s the old French speeding fines – I’m used to getting a few of them but, normally, they come in the mail!”

But neither the penalty, nor the moment he locked up and his Ducati took a detour into the trackside gravel, losing him a couple of places, could prevent the Townsville speedster becoming the first Australian to win successive MotoGP races since Casey Stoner in 2012.

 – with AAP and Reuters

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