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What we know today, Thursday May 27

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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has told Kiwis in Victoria to activate their back-up plans with thousands of nationals in Australia temporarily stranded by the state’s lockdown.

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Bubble test for NZ amid Victoria lockdown

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has told Kiwis in Victoria to activate their back-up plans with thousands of nationals in Australia temporarily stranded by the state’s lockdown.

Thousands of NZ residents are currently in Victoria, making use of the trans-Tasman bubble.

However, their route home was been blocked when the NZ government paused their quarantine-free travel arrangement in response to new community cases.

On Tuesday, Ms Ardern’s government announced a 72-hour suspension on arrivals from Victoria.

On the basis of the growing cases, Kiwi officials will extend that pause when they review the suspension later on Thursday.

In announcing the trans-Tasman bubble, Ardern was clear that the border would open on a “flyer beware” approach, meaning travellers would need to make contingencies if such a lockdown emerged.

Speaking from Nelson on Thursday, Ardern confirmed that approach.

“To any Kiwis who are in Melbourne, I know that they would have planned ahead had contingency just in case a scenario like this occurs,” she said, as reported by Stuff.

“Follow the guidance from local health authorities.”

NZ health authorities have contacted about 10,000 people who have recently arrived in the country from Victoria, advising them to be alert for COVID-19 symptoms.

Two people have volunteered they were in a location of interest; both have tested negative test.

The NZ government will give formal advice to Kiwis affected by the lockdown later on Thursday.

Olympic swimmers moved out of Melbourne

A group of Australia’s potential Olympic swimmers have been moved from Melbourne to prevent the city’s coronavirus outbreak jeopardising selection trials for the looming Tokyo Games.

Some 27 swimmers and coaches including reigning Olympic 400 metre freestyle champion Mack Horton have left Melbourne for the Gold Coast.

The swimmers, from both the Olympics and Paralympics, could remain in Queensland until the Games selection trials in Adelaide starting on June 12.

A Swimming Australia spokeswoman said the athletes were relocated on Wednesday as greater Melbourne prepares to enter a seven-day lockdown from midnight Thursday amid a worsening COVID-19 outbreak.

An Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) spokesman said any decision on relocating athletes from Melbourne was being left to authorities from respective sports.

The Tokyo Olympics will be held from July 23 to August 8 with Australia’s athletes in the process of receiving coronavirus vaccinations.

Australia’s Olympic softball squad will be among the first overseas athletes to arrive in Tokyo.

The softballers are departing Australia on Monday for a training camp in Japan and will remain there until the Games.

The 23-woman squad will land in Tokyo on June 1 for a six-week camp in Ota, about 80 kilometres north-west of the capital.

The squad will be trimmed to a 15-strong team for the Olympics with Australia’s opening game scheduled against the host nation on July 21, two days before the opening ceremony.

The squad will depart from Sydney with no member originating from Melbourne, the AOC spokesman said.

German-made subs not out of the question: Payne

Senior cabinet minister Marise Payne is not ruling out buying German-made submarines to fill a capability gap while Australia waits for a French-designed fleet.

Senator Payne was defence minister when the coalition decided to team up with France on a $90 billion program to build Australia’s next fleet of submarines, which are due to enter service in the 2030s.

But the navy is reportedly examining whether German boats could fill a gap in the interim, as tensions grow with the French company.

Senator Payne, now foreign minister, said it was not for her to rule the German option in or out.

“The Attack Class program is well under way and our partners in France are devoting a very great deal of effort to deliver that project,” she told ABC radio.

“Our challenge is to build, and our commitment is to build, a regionally superior submarine capability and that is what we are undertaking.”

Senator Payne also said the Department of Defence remained strongly committed to building the submarines in Adelaide.

Victoria to enter seven-day lockdown

Victoria will begin a seven-day lockdown from midnight as it races to contain a COVID-19 outbreak in the northern suburbs that has grown to 26 cases.

One of those infected people is in intensive care and Acting Premier James Merlino said they are “not in a good way”.

Merlino confirmed the state will enter the “circuit breaker” lockdown at midnight on Thursday.

“Unless something changes, this will be increasingly uncontrollable,” he said.

He added the spread of the outbreak was causing great concern, with more than 10,000 primary and secondary contacts.

People will only be able to leave home to shop for food and essential items, provide or receive care, exercise, work or study if they are unable to from home, and get vaccinated.

The 5km travel limit will also be reimposed for exercise and shopping, as will compulsory use of masks indoors and outdoors.

All non-essential retail will close but stores including supermarkets, bottle shops and pharmacies will remain open.

Cafes and restaurants will only be able to offer takeaway.

Childcare and kinder will stay open, but schools will close.

Professional sports events such as the weekend’s AFL games in Melbourne will continue, but without crowds.

Merlino also announced the state’s vaccine program will expand, with people over 40 now eligible for the Pfizer jab.

In his media conference, Mr Merlino highlighted the slow rollout of the Commonwealth vaccine program and continued problems with hotel quarantine.

“We are not through this pandemic until we have had the successful rollout of the federal government’s vaccine programs and we have safe alternatives to hotel quarantine,” he said.

He also noted the current outbreak originated from South Australian hotel quarantine.

“It’s not a criticism, it’s just a fact,” Merlino said.

SA euthanasia laws move to final vote

A final vote on South Australia’s Voluntary Assisted Dying legislation is less than two weeks away after the bill passed its second reading vote in the Lower House on Wednesday night.

The bill, which passed the Upper House earlier this month, was ushered through the House of Assembly on its second reading 33-5.

A third and final vote on the legislation is scheduled for June 9 where lawmakers will debate amendments to the bill.

A change in the make-up of the Lower House means the legislation looks poised to become law.

Liberal MPs Vincent Tarzia and Adrian Pederick, Labor MPs Tom Koutsantonis and Michael Brown and Independent MP Sam Duluk were the only votes against in the second reading of the bill.

Labor MLC Kyam Maher introduced the legislation to the Upper House in December last year, with the bill representing the 17th attempt in 25 years to legalise euthanasia in South Australia.

The bill is modelled on laws passed in Victoria and includes 68 safeguards and a provision that someone applying to end their life early due to terminal illness must have been a resident in SA for at least 12 months.

The second reading vote followed rallies on the step of Parliament House by both proponents and opponents of the bill attended by hundreds of people.

Feds fall short on River Murray water recovery: report

A plan to return 450 gigalitres of environmental flows to the River Murray will fall short and is on track to return just 13 per cent of the required water by the 2024 deadline, a study has found.

Water recovered through both on-farm and off-farm measures has returned just 2.1 gigalitres so far at a cost of $68.1 million, the study by The Australia Institute and Conservation SA says, equating to just 0.46 per cent of the 450 gigalitres promised.

The report, titled 1200 Bridges Too Far, also found that money allocated for the scheme may now be used to upgrade over 1200 bridges and increase water storage capacity in New South Wales irrigation districts.

But it says 31 of the 34 projects proposed would have little or no prospect of genuine water recovery.

“Using money that was intended to increase the amount of environmental water in the Murray to build unrelated infrastructure upstream would be a bridge too far,” report author Kate McBride and The Australia Institute fellow Anne Kantor said.

“Transparency, accountability and the efficient use of resources must be at the heart of decision making within the Murray Darling Basin, but the lack of clarity surrounding this program is concerning.”

The Australia Institute and Conservation SA have recommended a full audit and reconsideration of the program before any projects are approved.

Conservation SA Chief Executive Craig Wilkins said the commitment to deliver an additional 450 gigalitres of water downstream was a deciding factor in South Australia agreeing to the basin plan.

He said water ministers in the basin states must commit to buying back water if the recovery target is not met by the 2024 deadline.

Eight dead in US railyard shooting

At least eight people have been killed when a transit employee opened fire on his co-workers at a light rail yard in San Jose, California, authorities say.

The gunman, who was an employee of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), was also dead, Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Deputy Russell Davis said at a news conference on Wednesday.

He did not say how the gunman died or whether police officers fired their weapons at the scene.

The name and age of the suspect were also not disclosed.

The first emergency calls reporting the shooting at the VTA light rail yard near the city’s main airport came through shortly after 6.30am local time.

A bomb squad was searching the yard after at least one explosive device was found, Davis said.

San Jose, a city with about 1 million residents, lies at the heart of Silicon Valley, a global centre of technological innovation and home of some of the biggest tech companies in the US.

Biden asks for more scrutiny of COVID’s origins

US President Joe Biden says his country’s intelligence community is divided on the origins of COVID-19, including whether it came from contact with an infected animal or a laboratory accident, and has asked his agencies to “redouble” their efforts to find out.

Biden said in a statement that he has called for further investigation into the pandemic’s origins.

He said that US intelligence are looking into two different scenarios and that they have low confidence in their current conclusions and are divided on which is most likely.

“I have now asked the Intelligence Community to redouble their efforts to collect and analyse information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion, and to report back to me in 90 days,” Biden said.

“As part of that report, I have asked for areas of further inquiry that may be required, including specific questions for China.”

US agencies have been pursuing COVID-19’s origins since the government first recognized the virus as a serious health risk in early 2020.

Biden’s unusual public disclosure about private and inconclusive US intelligence assessments revealed a debate raging within his administration over where the novel coronavirus originated.

It also lent credence to a theory that the virus may have emerged from a Chinese research laboratory instead of in nature.

In a report issued in March and written jointly with Chinese scientists, a World Health Organisation led team that spent four weeks in and around Wuhan in January and February said the virus had probably been transmitted from bats to humans through another animal, and that “introduction through a laboratory incident was considered to be an extremely unlikely pathway”.

Washington’s frustration has mounted in recent weeks over what it sees as insufficient cooperation from China into the international investigation.

Super blood moon lights up Australian sky

A rare super blood moon can be seen in the sky above Canberra, Wednesday, May 26, 2021 (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Australians have enjoyed front row seats to a rare and spectacular phenomenon after a super blood moon lit up the sky on Wednesday night.

A super blood moon is when a total lunar eclipse (or blood moon) happens at the same time as the ‘super’ moon – which appears brighter and bigger.

Australian National University astrophysicist Brad Tucker says the shadow creates an amazing orange-red glow that looks a bit like sunrise or sunset, with the phenomenon happening every five years or so.

“It doesn’t happen that often to get this combination … so it’s definitely a special sight,” Tucker told AAP.

While it will be visible from parts of America, Tucker said Australians have the privilege of one of the best and most convenient viewing times.

The rarest bit of this moon is that it happened in the early evening and not some in the middle of the night, he said.

“You don’t need special equipment … you just need your eyes, because you can see the beautiful colours and details of the moon.”

Stargazers were able to catch the sight on the east coast from 7:44pm with the total eclipse – when it’s fully red – occurring between 9:11 and 9:25pm.

In South Australia, the total eclipse occurred between 8:41 and 8:55pm, while in Western Australia the moon appeared fully red from 7:11 to 7:25pm.

Most of Australia was treated to clear weather to view the spectacle, with early cloud on the east coast clearing in time.

-With AAP and Reuters

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