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What we know today, Thursday August 12

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Canberra will enter a seven-day lockdown from tonight after the ACT recorded its first local case in more than a year, while NSW has reported another 345 cases and two deaths.

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ACT enters lockdown after first virus case in a year

The Australian Capital Territory will enter a seven-day lockdown following confirmation of a COVID-19 case infectious in the community.

Canberrans will only be able to leave home for essential reasons from 5pm on Thursday, Chief Minister Andrew Barr has confirmed.

The lockdown follows a case being out and about while infectious. The source of the infection remains unknown.

COVID-19 has also been detected in wastewater.

Masks will be mandatory, general retail will shut and hospitality venues will only be able to operate takeaway services.

“We have said throughout the outbreak in Greater Sydney that we would act quickly and decisively,” Barr said in a statement.

“We have seen that a short and immediate lockdown limits the potential spread of the virus, and is the best path to avoiding longer and more damaging lockdowns.”

People can still leave home for essential work, healthcare including to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, an hour of exercise a day and to buy essential supplies.

Both houses of federal parliament were already set to rise on Thursday evening.

There is another fortnight of sittings scheduled for August 23 to September 2.

Many politicians are appearing remotely because of lockdowns and border closures down the east coast and Parliament House is shut to the public.

Canberra’s lockdown follows the spread of cases into western and northwest NSW.

Stay-at-home orders were on Wednesday announced for the Dubbo, Bogan, Bourke, Brewarrina, Coonamble, Gilgandra, Narromine, Walgett and Warren local government areas.

The ACT had remained largely untouched by the virus since its last locally acquired case in July last year.

NSW records 345 new cases, two deaths

NSW has reported 345 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19, with at least 91 of those people in the community for all or part of their infectious period.

Two Sydney men in their 90s have also died, including one resident of Wyoming Aged Care in Summer Hill. One of the men had received two vaccination doses and the other one dose.

Greater Sydney and surrounding regions are in lockdown until at least August as health authorities battle to contain an outbreak of the virulent Delta strain.

Northwest NSW, Dubbo, Armidale, Tamworth, Byron Bay and the Hunter region are also currently under snap lockdowns.

Of the 345 new local cases in the 24 hours to 8pm on Wednesday, 34 were in the community for part of their infectious period and 57 were in the community for all of their infectious period.

Some 138 new cases remain under investigation.

There are 62 COVID-19 patients in NSW in intensive care, with 29 ventilated.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Thursday said the local government areas of Bayside, Strathfield and Burwood would from Thursday face harsher restrictions akin to those in west and southwest Sydney.

There are now 12 council areas under the harsher restrictions.

Berejiklian has also flagged tougher compliance measures in NSW as the virus seeps into the regions.

She said NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller was working with health officials on a range of measures to let the government know “what he needs to clamp down on compliance”.

A NSW crisis cabinet meeting on Wednesday night reportedly adopted tough new measures to close loopholes that saw people travelling out of Sydney, allowing the virus to enter the regions.

Vic records 21 new cases

Victoria has recorded 21 new locally acquired coronavirus cases, including four mystery infections.

The health department on Thursday confirmed 17 of the new cases are linked to known outbreaks, while 15 were in quarantine during their infectious periods.

Some 45,408 tests were processed in the 24 hours to Thursday morning, while 25,418 Victorians were vaccinated at state-run hubs.

It comes after Melbourne’s lockdown was extended by a week, in part due to the discovery of five cases of unknown origin, also known as mystery cases, on Wednesday.

There are more than 13,800 close contacts isolating, while the number of exposure sites has surged to almost 350.

SA to open Pfizer bookings to under 40s

All South Australians between the age of 16 and 40 will be eligible to book a Pfizer vaccination at any state-run clinic from Monday, the State Government has announced.

Premier Steven Marshall said SA Health on Monday would open up 127,000 additional slots in its booking system for September and October, ahead of an increase in Pfizer supplies from the Federal Government next month.

SA Health currently runs vaccination hubs in Wayville, Elizabeth, Noarlunga and the Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

“Thanks to the increase in supply and massive interest from our community, we can expect to see a significant increase in the number of vaccinations delivered over the coming weeks and months,” Marshall said.

The move comes after a specialist Pfizer clinic for disability and aged care workers in Highgate Park opened in “error” to anyone under 40, prompting a surge in bookings from young people eager to receive the vaccine.

Under 40s in South Australia’s regional areas have been eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine since May.

All under 60s will also be eligible to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine at any state-run clinic from Monday.

SA Health has also approved fast tracking second doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine at its state-run clinics, with patients able to book in for a second appointment eight weeks after their first dose, rather than 12 weeks.

The State Government says a video is being produced to help people make an informed choice about the AstraZeneca vaccine, which ATAGI has not recommended for use in under 60s due to very rare but serious blood clotting side effects.

The opening comes as South Australia nears one million COVID-19 vaccines administered since the rollout began on February 22.

As of Wednesday, more than 643,000 people have received a COVID-19 vaccine in South Australia, representing 44.6 per cent of the eligible population according to the latest vaccination data from the Federal Government.

Just under 45 per cent of South Australian over 70 years old are fully vaccinated, although 79 per cent of this cohort has received at least one dose.

AOC fury over ‘cruel’ athlete quarantine decision

The Australian Olympics Committee has lashed out at a “cruel” decision by the State Government to require South Australian Olympians to undergo “double quarantine”, arguing the decision defies medical advice and poses a risk to the mental health of the athletes.

The South Australian Government has rejected AOC appeals to grant a quarantine exemption for the returning Olympians who have already undergone 14 days hotel quarantine in Sydney.

A group of 16 Olympians from SA are currently quarantining in Sydney after returning to Australia from the Tokyo Olympics.

A further 40 SA Olympians will return home at later dates.

The AOC said no other state in Australia has done this. Australian Institute of Sport chief medical officer David Hughes said the decision is “profoundly flawed”.

“To have individuals quarantined for such a lengthy period of time is in my opinion unreasonable and cannot be scientifically justified,” Hughes said in a statement.

“It poses a significant risk to the physical and mental wellbeing of the individuals concerned.”

AOC CEO Matt Carroll said he has sought exemptions on behalf of the athletes, and said national cabinet took a position that double quarantine was “unacceptable”.

“While other countries are celebrating the return of their athletes, we are subjecting ours to the most cruel and uncaring treatment,” Carroll said in a statement.

“Not only are our Olympians fully vaccinated but they have also been living in a highly-controlled bubble in Tokyo, taking the upmost precautions – tested daily, over many weeks.

“We have received no explanation as to why our application on behalf of these athletes has been rejected.”

Australia former deputy chief medical officer Dr Nick Coatsworth said the decision was “inexplicable”.

“This decision by SA is a slap in the face to them and the athletes who competed in these games,” Coatsworth tweeted.

Premier Steven Marshall defended the decision this morning but said it was a “heartbreaking situation” for the athletes involved.

“We’ve got to make our decisions that are going to be in our state’s best interests, I don’t want to reflect on what other states are doing,” he told ABC Radio this morning.

“We made a change to our rules in South Australia following the Modbury cluster … we can’t have one set of rules for one group of people and a completely different set from for others.”

The premier said chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier had “agonised” over the decision.

“What we’re saying is there’s no sterile corridor from the New South Wales quarantine hotels to Adelaide,” Marshall said.

“[The athletes] have got to travel into the airport, get on a plane with other people who have been out and about in that community for an extended period of time – all of those people need to go into 14 days of quarantine, and so we put the rule in place.

“I regret it, I wish it didn’t have to happen, but the situation in New South Wales is very dangerous.”

SA charity sets net zero target by 2035

One of South Australia’s largest not-for-profit organisations has set a goal to achieve net zero emissions by 2035 – 15 years ahead of the statewide target.

Uniting Communities says since 2010, it has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by over 30 per cent, resulting in savings upwards of $1.5 million.

The South Australian Government has set a target to reduce emissions by at least 50 per cent by 2030 and to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

“We are proud to be pushing the boundaries when it comes to reducing carbon emissions and our actions have demonstrated what can be achieved locally to address global challenges,” Uniting Communities chief executive Simon Schrapel said.

It follows the release of the IPCC’s recent international report which forecasted earlier than expected changes in global warming.

The State Government is now reassessing its climate modelling to take into account the report’s findings.

Chair of the Premier’s Climate Change Council Martin Haese said South Australia had achieved a 33 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions between 2005 and 2018-19.

“South Australia is well on the way to achieving its ambition of 100% net renewable energy generation by 2030,” he said.

Stephanie Richards

Pandemic worsens Australian health inequality: report

Poorer people and those on welfare benefits have worse health outcomes than other Australians and the COVID-19 pandemic is only exacerbating inequality, according to a new report.

The Australian Council of Social Service and University of New South Wales have released data showing how poverty affects people’s health.

The report shows people under the age of 65 who rely mainly on government payments are more than twice as likely to report mental health issues than those who don’t.

Without urgent government action, UNSW health equality centre director Evelyne de Leeuw warns COVID-19 will only make problems worse.

“People on lower incomes (are) already being left behind in the vaccine roll out, even though many live in insecure, over-crowded housing or work in roles that cannot be carried out from home,” she said on Thursday.

ACOSS wants stronger and more coherent health policies as well as an overhaul of data collection so researchers do not need to rely on fragmented figures.

“As the wealthiest country in the world, it is inexcusable that we have not tackled preventable health inequalities,” ACOSS chief executive Cassandra Goldie said.

“Far too many people have poorer health outcomes by reason of preventable economic and social disadvantage.”

US renews bid to extradite Assange from UK

A London judge has widened the scope of a US appeal against a block on the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from the UK and will hear the renewed bid in late October.

A judge ruled in January that Assange should not be extradited to the United States to face criminal charges including breaking a spying law, saying his mental health problems meant he would be at risk of taking his own life.

Assange faces 18 criminal charges in the United States of breaking an espionage law and conspiring to hack government computers.

WikiLeaks published a US military video in 2010 showing a 2007 attack by Apache helicopters in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters news staff.

It then released thousands of secret classified files and diplomatic cables.

The legal saga began soon afterwards when Sweden sought Assange’s extradition from the UK over allegations of sex crimes.

When he lost that case in 2012, he fled to the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he spent seven years.

When he was finally dragged out in April 2019, he was jailed for breaching British bail conditions although the Swedish case against him had been dropped.

The US had already been given permission to appeal the January ruling on three grounds but on Wednesday asked that the scope of it be expanded to include a reassessment of the expert evidence used to evaluate Assange’s risk of suicide.

Judge Timothy Holroyde said that it was unusual for an appellate court to reconsider evidence from an expert witness when it has been accepted by a lower court.

But he said it was arguable that the appeal court might make a different assessment, given that a key expert had omitted to disclose what he knew about Assange’s relationship with his partner Stella Moris.

“It is in my view arguable that the… DJ (district judge) erred,” he said.

Lawyers for both sides agreed that the full appeal hearing should be scheduled for October 27 and 28.

-With AAP and Reuters

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