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What we know today, Wednesday August 18

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The New South Wales Premier has warned the worst is yet to come after the state shattered its daily case record with another 633 COVID infections, while cases continue to rise in locked-down Victoria and the ACT.

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NSW records 633 cases, three deaths

NSW has recorded 633 new locally acquired cases and three deaths in another record-breaking day of COVID-19 transmission.

The isolation status of 447 cases in the 24 hours to 8pm on Tuesday remains under investigation.

The previous NSW daily high was 478 cases reported on Monday.

“What the data is telling us in the last few days is that we haven’t seen the worst of it,” Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Wednesday.

“According to the data we have every person who has the virus spreading it to at least more than one person.”

There are no new cases in Broken Hill after a case was reported there yesterday, prompting concern from South Australian authorities about the potential spread of COVID across the border.

There are 116 cases in western NSW.

Young people living in Sydney’s worst COVID-hit areas can now book to get a Pfizer jab during a two-week vaccination blitz designed to drive down transmission in those hotspots.

Those aged 16 to 39 living in the 12 local government areas of concern will be given priority access to the Pfizer vaccine at NSW Health clinics from Thursday.

Ten government vaccination clinics have ramped up their capacity to deliver the additional 530,000 doses provided by the federal government to the priority group over the next two-and-a-half weeks.

The entire state is locked down with tight restrictions but authorities are concerned that 70 per cent of transmission is occurring in homes.

Deputy Premier John Barilaro says the government is also bolstering vaccination efforts in western NSW amid concerns about vulnerable Indigenous communities, with cases expected to spike.

He admitted that mistakes had been made with the Sydney lockdown that began eight weeks ago.

“Well, look, I think if you can rewrite history we could have gone harder,” he told the Nine Network.

Vic records 24 new cases, sex worker tests positive

Victoria has recorded 24 new COVID-19 cases as it’s revealed a sex worker in Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs has tested positive for the virus.

Four of the new cases are under investigation to determine the source of their infection, while six were in the community during their infectious period.

There are 12 people battling the virus in hospital, including two in intensive care, though they are not on ventilators.

Health Minister Martin Foley says the COVID-positive sex worker, who lives in St Kilda, is now quarantining and authorities are working with the individual to ensure their privacy.

“I stress there is no evidence of transmission having occurred because of this person’s sex work occupation but out of caution we are asking that if you have employed a sex worker in the St Kilda area, you need to come forward and get tested,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

He said several of the sex worker’s close contacts had been tested and returned negative results.

Authorities have been urging anyone with COVID-19 symptoms in the Bayside, Glen Eira and Port Phillip areas to come forward for testing, due to a high number of cases that cannot be linked to known outbreaks.

There are more than 50 exposure sites stretching from South Melbourne to Brighton.

Melbourne is 13 days into its sixth lockdown, which was extended on Monday until September 2.

ACT records 22 new COVID cases

The ACT has recorded 22 new COVID cases, taking Canberra’s outbreak to 67.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said 63 of the total cases have been linked.

There are 12,500 people in quarantine – roughly three per cent of the ACT’s population.

ACT Senator Katy Gallagher’s 14-year-old daughter, Evie, is among Canberra’s latest COVID-19 cases.

“She’s a 14-year-old girl, she’s feeling very scared and alone and it’s hard,” the Labor frontbencher told Sky News.

The chair of a committee looking at Australia’s COVID-19 response feels angry that Australian young people have been let down.

“The way the vaccine’s been out, the shambles … I look at Evie lying in her bed trying to fight this virus and I just can’t stop the feeling that we’ve let her down,” she said.

“My son’s in the next room and I’m desperately hoping he’s not going to catch it.”

NZ cases grow to seven, outbreak linked to NSW

Auckland’s COVID-19 outbreak has grown to seven cases and has been linked to New South Wales, as New Zealand enters day one of its first nationwide lockdown since May last year.

The level four shutdown – with NZ’s harshest level of restrictions – was announced yesterday and will last at least three days.

Auckland and the Coromandel, where ‘Case A’ travelled while infectious, will spend at least seven days in lockdown.

Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said generic modelling suggested the cluster could grow to around “50 and 120 cases”.

Six of the seven cases are young people who socialised heavily around Auckland during their likely infectious period – including trips to a nightclub, church and the casino.

Primer Minister Jacinda Ardern said authorities were expecting more cases, “particularly of the age group and demographic”.

She also said genomic sequencing confirmed the strain as the Delta variant, and a link to the NSW outbreak.

“That means level four was the right decision,” Ardern said.

“Our case has originated in Australia. Our job now is to work through how and when it got here.

“There is more work to be done to help piece together this puzzle … a lot of leads to chase down.”

No new COVID cases in the NT

The Northern Territory has reported no new COVID-19 cases after an infected US man travelled from Sydney to the Top End.

The defence contractor spent three days in Darwin and drove 300km south to Katherine on Sunday for work before a test revealed he was infected.

Contact tracers identified about 100 close and 450 casual contacts amid a three-day lockdown in Greater Darwin and Katherine.

Chief Minister Michael Gunner said he would hold a press conference later on Wednesday to update the public.

There have been no cases linked to the man in his 30s who flew via Canberra to Darwin on Thursday.

He arrived at Darwin Airport on a Qantas flight just before midnight on Thursday and travelled to the Hilton Hotel by taxi.

He returned a positive result on Sunday after mandatory testing at Royal Darwin Hospital.

The man had earlier returned a negative test on August 10 during his stay in the Sydney quarantine hotel.

More than a dozen public exposure sites have been identified, including Smith Street Mall in Darwin and the Woolworths in Katherine.

Man escaped medi-hotel through fire exit: inquiry

A man has been arrested after exiting an Adelaide medi-hotel while in quarantine, with an inquiry finding he escaped through a fire exit undetected and was allowed into the community by police who discovered him in a basement car park.

Police last week reported that an overseas arrival quarantining at the Grand Chancellor medi-hotel on Hindley Street walked out and spent eight hours in the community from 10pm Thursday night before returning at 6am Friday.

The 33-year-old man from New South Wales has since been arrested and is scheduled to appear before the Adelaide Magistrates Court today.

Police this morning detailed the findings of an inquiry into the incident.

Police said the man – who has returned three negative COVID tests and is fully vaccinated – attended the Duke of York Hotel on Currie Street and a McDonalds after escaping from his medi-hotel room via a nearby fire exit.

The fire exit was not alarmed and although the man appeared on CCTV footage, he was not detected by personnel monitoring CCTV footage at the time.

The inquiry also established that police later found the man in the basement car park of the Grand Chancellor, but allowed him to leave after he “provided false information to police regarding his presence in the car park”.

“This led police to believe he was a patron from a nearby hotel and had inadvertently found his way to the carpark area and not a person required to quarantine in the Grand Chancellor,” SAPOL said the inquiry found.

Police Commissioner and state emergency coordinator Grant Stevens said he was satisfied the processes in Adelaide’s medi-hotels remain “robust”.

“This isolated incident happened partly due to the close the proximity of the man’s room to the fire exit and his lies to police,” Stevens said in a statement.

“While there will be changes made to systems and processes and I am confident that overall South Australia’s medi-hotel quarantine arrangements remain appropriate.”

He acknowledged that police “should have made more detailed inquiries” of the man to determine his identity, and said the “operational” issues identified by the investigation have been dealt with by the managers involved.

“This should prevent any further incidents such as this occurring.”

Qantas mandates jabs for frontline staff

Qantas will require its frontline employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 within three months.

Qantas and Jetstar pilots, cabin crew and airport workers will have until November 15 to be fully jabbed.

The deadline for other employees to be fully jabbed is March 31, 2022.

Qantas boss Alan Joyce on Wednesday said having a fully vaccinated workforce would help stop the spread of the virus.

“One crew member can fly into multiple cities and come into contact with thousands of people in a single day,” he said.

“Making sure they are vaccinated given the potential of this virus to spread is so important and I think it’s the kind of safety leadership people would expect from us.”

New City of Adelaide CEO

The Adelaide City Council has appointed former deputy CEO Clare Mockler as its new chief executive.

Mockler, who has been serving as acting Council CEO since January, joined the City of Adelaide in 2002. Originally from the UK, she has a background in law and a masters in public policy management.

Her appointment comes after former Council CEO Mark Goldstone announced his resignation in April due to illness.

Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor said the decision to appoint Mockler to the role permanently was “unanimous” from the Council’s selection panel.

“There is no doubt that Clare Mockler is the right person to lead the City of Adelaide as we recover from the pandemic and deliver on our strategic vision for the city and North Adelaide,” Verschoor said in a statement.

“She has demonstrated strong financial acumen and strategic thinking, with our budget forecast back into the black and is spearheading important changes to the organisation.”

The lord mayor – who is facing an election challenge from Councillor Phil Martin next year – said Mockler’s appointment marked only the second time in the Adelaide City Council’s history that women had held the position of both lord mayor and CEO.

Mockler said her key priorities would be delivering on the Council’s 2020-24 Strategic Plan, activating the city and realising the City of Adelaide’s commitment to be the “lowest cost capital city with the least red tape”.

“Right now capital cities across Australia are facing incredible challenges,” Mockler said.

“I am committed to providing strong and decisive leadership for the City and North Adelaide, to boost recovery and enhance our global reputation as a great place to live, work, study, visit and invest.”

Her appointment comes after a report made public last week into the Council’s culture found it was “dysfunctional, frustrating and aggressive”.

SA call to support Afghan community

South Australia’s leaders are calling on the public to show support for the Afghan community after the premier met with community leaders on Tuesday to determine what support the State Government can provide during the crisis.

The Taliban seized Afghanistan’s capital Kabul on Monday with scores of Afghans seen running alongside a military plane at the city’s airport, desperate to flee country amid fears of what the Taliban regime could mean for human rights.

Premier Steven Marshall said the situation in Afghanistan is “deeply distressing” ahead of a meeting with local Afghan community leaders to discuss what assistance the State Government could provide.

“The Government of South Australia stands shoulder to shoulder with all those affected by the Afghan conflict, especially the South Australian Afghani community and our veterans,” Marshall said in a Facebook post.

“I encourage all South Australians to reach out and support those in our community who have been impacted by this news.”

Opposition leader Peter Malinauskas said he would use the power of the premier’s office to push the Federal Government to give the more than 4200 Afghans in Australia on temporary protection visas a path to full citizenship.

“A very significant portion of these 4200 human beings have been stuck on TPVs for over five years, having to live under the threat of deportation back to Afghanistan at any moment,” he said.

“I call on the Federal Govt to show some compassion and let these 4200 individuals know that they really can call Australia home.”

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke on Tuesday said no Afghan visa holder in Australia would be sent home while the situation remained dire.

Since April, 430 Afghan nationals who have worked with Australia have been allowed into the country, with a total of 1800 granted visas.

There are currently more than 130 Australians working for the United Nations, non-government organisations and elsewhere still in Afghanistan.

The national security committee of the federal cabinet will meet again today to work on operational plans for an evacuation, which involve 250 troops and three RAAF aircraft.

No flights are expected until the situation at Kabul airport settles.

Britain has announced plans to resettle 5000 fleeing Afghans during the first year of a new resettlement program, with priority for women, girls and religious minorities.

Taliban promises amnesty and women’s rights after shock takeover

The Taliban have held their first official news conference in Kabul since the shock seizure of the city, declaring they want peaceful relations with other countries and will respect the rights of women within the framework of Islamic law.

“We don’t want any internal or external enemies,” Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said.

He said the insurgents seek no revenge and “everyone is forgiven”.

Mujahid said women would be allowed to work and study and “will be very active in society but within the framework of Islam”.

The Taliban would not seek retribution against former soldiers and members of the Western-backed government, he said, saying the movement was granting an amnesty for former Afghan government soldiers as well as contractors and translators who worked for international forces.

“Nobody is going to harm you, nobody is going to knock on your doors,” Mujahid said.

Approximately 640 Afghan citizens being evacuated on an United States Air Force C-17 Globemaster III airplane from Hamid Karzai International Airport 15 August 2021 in Kabul, Afghanistan (Photo credit: EPA/Air Mobility Command)

He said private media could continue to be free and independent in Afghanistan, adding the Taliban was committed to the media within its cultural framework.

Mujahid’s conciliatory tone contrasted sharply with comments by Afghan First Vice President Amrullah Saleh, who declared himself the “legitimate caretaker president” and vowed that he would not bow to Kabul’s new rulers.

The Taliban news conference came as the United States and Western allies evacuated diplomats and civilians the day after scenes of chaos at Kabul airport as Afghans desperate to flee the Taliban thronged to the terminal.

As they rush to evacuate diplomats and civilians from Afghanistan, foreign powers are assessing how to respond to changed situation on the ground.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the Taliban should allow all those who wanted to leave the country to depart, adding that NATO’s aim was to help build a viable state in Afghanistan.

There has been widespread criticism of the US withdrawal amid the chaotic scenes at Kabul airport. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said “the images of despair at Kabul airport shame the political West”.

-With AAP and Reuters

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