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What we know today, Monday August 23


NSW has reported another 818 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 and three deaths, with another two infections reported in Broken Hill near the SA border.

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NSW records 818 cases, three deaths

NSW has reported 818 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 and three deaths, with another two infections reported in the border town of Broken Hill.

Of the new locally acquired cases, 120 are linked to a known case or cluster – 94 are household contacts and 26 are close contacts – and the source of infection for 698 cases is under investigation.

There have been 74 COVID-related deaths since June 16 when the outbreak began.

The three new deaths include a man in his 80s from southwest Sydney who died at Liverpool Hospital, a man in his 80s from Newcastle who died at John Hunter Hospital, and a woman in her 80s from southwest Sydney who died at Campbelltown Hospital.

Just 47 cases were in isolation throughout their infectious period while 57 were in isolation for part or all of their infectious period.

The isolation status of 714 cases remains under investigation.

Western and far west NSW continue to be particular areas of concern, with Dubbo recording another 14 cases. 

People also tested positive in Parkes, Mudgee and Orange, while Broken Hill recorded another two infections – bringing the total number of cases in the town to three.

A case recorded in Broken Hill last week – who had been infectious in the community for three days – put South Australian authorities on high alert amid fears a case could have already crossed the border.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian says 738,000 people got vaccinated in NSW last week – a record for the state.

“An outstanding result. I want to thank everybody for coming forward. We are up to 5.9 million jabs in NSW,” she said.

“I set a target of six million by the end of the month. We will be at least one week ahead of schedule.”

Over the weekend there was a dramatic spike in COVID-19 cases with more than 800 new infections recorded on both days.

Authorities are concerned that more than 200 children aged nine and under – who cannot yet be vaccinated – were among those diagnosed on the weekend.

ACT records 16 new COVID cases

Canberra has recorded another 16 COVID-19 cases, taking the ACT’s outbreak to 137.

Of Monday’s new cases, 13 were linked and three people were in the community while infectious.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr flagged the ACT was opening registration for Pfizer vaccines for people aged between 16 and 29.

Infections linked to the ACT’s disability sector have grown to 15, with 10 support workers infected, alongside four clients and a tradie.

An infection was on Sunday confirmed at the Australian National University.

New Zealand records 35 new cases

New Zealand’s COVID-19 outbreak grew by 35 cases on Monday, taking the overall outbreak to 107.

Of the new cases, 33 are from Auckland and two are in Wellington.

The growth is not unexpected, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern warning Kiwis on the weekend daily case numbers would grow before they subsided.

However, the additional cases are continuing to strain the health system.

As of Monday, more than 300 “locations of interest” have been identified, looping in more than 13,230 contacts.

“Of these contacts, 6,773 have been contacted by public health staff and are self-isolating, and 42 per cent have had a test,” a health ministry statement read.

“Work is underway to contact the remaining 6,457 contacts.”

Health officials have been able to link 72 cases to the same source, with investigations into the remaining 35 ongoing.

Labor announces pre-election Service SA expansion

The Labor Party says it will open Service SA centres on Saturdays, expand the number of services offered and “overhaul” the agency’s website if they win government at the next election.

In a pre-election policy pitch, Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas said an elected Labor Government would open the Marion, Seaford Meadows, Prospect, Modbury and Elizabeth Service SA centres on Saturdays from 9am to 5pm.

There are 21 Service SA centres across South Australia.

Under the Labor plan, the new services offered through the agency would include:

The Opposition also said they would give Service SA’s website a “much-needed overhaul” to make it a “government-wide one-stop shop online platform”.

Opening five Service SA centres on the weekend will cost the State Government $4 million but the expanded services and website reboot will be cost-neutral, according to Labor.

Malinauskas said the new website and extended services would make it easier for South Australians to interact with the State Government.

“Service SA is an essential service and under Labor it will be easier to access and use than ever before,” he said.

“South Australians should be able to interact with their government simply and easily; in person, on the phone or through a digital platform.

“Not everybody can easily get to a Service SA centre on weekdays, and when they do go, the queue is often out the door.

“Opening up on Saturdays will give people greater flexibility, as well as spreading demand across six days, instead of five – easing queues.”

Our goal is to live with virus: PM

Scott Morrison has declared lockdowns will be unsustainable once widespread vaccination coverage is achieved, in another warning shot to state premiers.

The prime minister continues to pressure state governments hinting at backing away from an agreement to end lockdowns and reopen Australia.

National cabinet has set vaccine coverage thresholds of 70 and 80 per cent to reduce the chances of lockdowns and move towards more normal settings.

Morrison said the focus would shift to hospitalisation numbers rather than daily cases when immunisation targets are hit.

“That is our goal – to live with this virus, not to live in fear of it,” he told reporters in Canberra on Monday.

Consensus has frayed with Western Australia not budging from its zero-case goal and Queensland warning it may not reopen its NSW border even at the higher threshold.

Updated Doherty Institute modelling will be presented to a national cabinet meeting of the country’s leaders on Friday.

Morrison said heavy restrictions, which are affecting more than half of Australia’s population across Victoria, NSW and the ACT, could not go on forever.

“It is always darkest before the dawn and I think these lockdowns are demonstration of that,” he said.

“But the dawn is not far away. We should not delay it, we should prepare for it. We should not fear it, we should embrace it and we should move forward together.”

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly believes eliminating all cases is not achievable in the long-term.

Kelly said even New Zealand, which is pursuing an elimination goal, was coping with an outbreak in Auckland.

“The whole of national cabinet, including the West Australian premier, did sign up to the plan only a couple of weeks ago,” he said.

Craig Kelly to lead Palmer’s UAP

Liberal turned independent MP Craig Kelly will lead Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party into the federal election.

Kelly quit the Liberals in February after he refused to stop pushing unproven COVID-19 treatments that contradicted health advice.

The MP for Hughes said the Liberal party had abandoned its traditional values.

“With endless authoritarian lockdowns, the emergence of a police state, censorship, and our state borders shut contrary to the vision of our federation, I no longer recognise the country I grew up in,” he said in a statement.

“I fear for our nation’s future if we continue on the current path.”

He said UAP would fight to end lockdowns triggered by COVID-19 outbreaks, including taking it to the High Court.

“We will be putting freedom over fear, liberty over lockdowns and choice over compulsion,” he said.

The party intends to run candidates in all electorates and contest Senate seats.

Vic records 71 new cases, 49 linked

Victoria has recorded 71 new locally-acquired coronavirus cases.

The health department on Monday confirmed 49 cases were linked to known outbreaks, while the remaining 22 infections remain under investigation.

The number of people infectious in the community was not provided by the department.

It brings the total number of active cases in the state to 494, including at least 27 people in hospital and 12 in intensive care.

Tough new SA border entry rules in place

South Australians who did not cross the border from locked-down Victoria before 6pm last night now have to apply to SA Health for an exemption to enter the state, under changes to emergency rules prompted by a regional Victorian outbreak and resulting statewide lockdown.

Police Commissioner and state coordinator Grant Stevens on Saturday announced the Sunday deadline as part of changes to Emergency Management Cross Border Travel Directions.

Stevens said he wanted to give a day’s warning to travellers of the tightened rules and avoid a rush to the SA-Victoria border and resulting queues.

Level 6 restrictions now apply, meaning that after the 6pm Sunday deadline expired, South Australian residents and people who are genuinely relocating, as well as Victorians seeking to enter SA, can no longer do so. They will have to apply to SA Health for an exemption.

However, people fleeing domestic violence are now subject to level 5 requirements, meaning they can enter South Australia but will have to undergo quarantine at a place determined by an authorised officer, undergo COVID-19 testing on day one, five and 13 and wear a mask at anytime they come into contact with the public.

Entry arrangements for essential travellers remains unchanged at this time, as does the 70km SA-Victoria cross-border bubble. Travel into SA via Melbourne airport is also allowed, as long as the person transiting doesn’t spend long there or leave to go outside into the Victorian community.

All travellers returning to South Australia must have an approved Cross Border Traveller form.

Police said all approved returning SA residents will also be given a quarantine sign, which must be displayed on the premises in which they are quarantining.

They will be given a personal direction by an authorised officer requiring them to ensure the sign is displayed.

Police also will conduct regular compliance checks on those under quarantine, with fines and prosecution for breaches.

Stevens made the order soon after Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced he was locking down the entire state due to concerns COVID-19 infections were spreading to regions, with another 21 cases reported from three families in Shepparton, with children at school.

The lockdown will apply until September 2 at the earliest.

Victoria on Sunday recorded another 65 cases of locally acquired COVID-19, including the Shepparton cluster, with concerns that a violent anti-lockdown protest in Melbourne could also spread the virus further.

More than 4000 mostly maskless protesters attended yesterday’s event with police pepper-spraying some people and making 200 arrests.

Anti-lockdown protesters also gathered in Sydney on Saturday, despite NSW yesterday declaring a record 825 new cases. Yesterday, NSW posted a new record 830 cases.

Stevens said the situation of rising “uncontrolled” cases in Victoria, given the transmissibility of the Delta variant, posed “a challenge” for authorities to get on top of.

Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley denies authorities have lost control of the state’s latest infection wave but admits there’s “great concern” about the scale of community transmission.

Foley conceded the cluster in at Shepparton would almost certainly grow beyond the 21 cases there and by late Sunday afternoon, local officials confirmed at least two additional cases would be reported on Monday.

The outbreak had already been traced to a case 125 kilometres away in the town of Mansfield, at the foot of the Victorian Alps and it was also strongly suspected the cluster had caused an outbreak at Royal Melbourne Hospital that’s so far infected seven people – a mix of patients, staff and one visitor.

Stevens said that Victoria’s statwide lockdown “compels us to take some stronger action to make sure we protect the South Australian community”.

He said the cross-border bubble was working well at the moment, but if there were cases appearing near the SA border “then I think we would have to reconsider our decision”.

Resurgent Lib Right wins again

The resurgent Right faction of the SA Liberal Party has claimed another victory, with conservative-backed candidate Heidi Girolamo endorsed as the state’s newest parliamentarian.

The accountant, lately a Client Manager for Deloitte Risk Advisory, will be sworn in tomorrow to the Legislative Council to fill the casual vacancy created by veteran Liberal David Ridgway’s departure to become SA’s Agent-General in London.

SA’s newest Legislative Councillor Heidi Girolamo with Premier Steven Marshall. Photo: Twitter

In a state council ballot on Friday night, Girolamo beat two prominent moderate-aligned candidates, Sue Lawrie and Kathleen Bourne, staffers for Marshall Government ministers Vincent Tarzia and Stephen Wade respectively.

Lawrie, who earlier last week had lost the presidency of the influential Liberal Women’s Council to leading Right-winger Nicolle Flint, was eliminated in the first round of voting by just four votes, before Girolamo beat Bourne 108 votes to 92.

The result is a further blow to the moderate faction ahead of next month’s party AGM, at which the Right is expected to make a concerted charge to seize control of the ruling state executive, after bolstering its numbers in a recent recruiting drive targeting Pentecostal Christian communities.

In a statement, Girolamo said she was “truly honoured to have been chosen to represent the people of South Australia and… looking forward to working with families, small businesses and community groups on the issues important to them”.

“I am keen to draw on my financial experience to add value to the Upper House team in the legislative process,” she said.

-Tom Richardson

Nearly 100,000 SA vaccine doses last week

South Australians were jabbed with 98,712 doses of COVID-19 vaccine last week, breaking the previous week’s record of just over 87,500 doses.

The state goverment said that last Wednesday was also the record for the most doses in a day, with over 17,000 vaccines delivered.

Health Minister said the record figures coincide with the move to expand eligibility of the state rollout to all people aged over 16 years.

“South Australians have stepped up to every challenge throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and it is fantastic to see record numbers of people rolling up their sleeves to get vaccinated,” he said.

“The vaccination program is our doorway out of the pandemic, and getting the vaccine into the arms of South Australians is the best way that we can keep our state’s population safe and our economy strong.

“Last week we expanded eligibility of the vaccine to everyone aged 16 years and over, and younger South Australians proved they want to step up and be vaccinated, with more than 150,000 bookings recorded last Monday alone – more than five times our previous record for bookings in a single day.”

Minister ‘bullying’ claim sparks legal action

Sports Minister Corey Wingard has taken legal action against a SA sporting administrator over claims she was bullied.

InDaily reported in July that a private investigator has been brought in to deal with a complaint against Wingard and a member of his staff, after the head of the state’s peak grassroots sporting group claimed she felt “bullied and intimidated” after a meeting with the pair.

Sport SA CEO Leah Cassidy wrote to Premier Steven Marshall after meeting with Wingard, claiming to have felt “instances of bullying and intimidation that I have recently experienced at the hands of your Minister for Recreation, Sport and Racing, Hon. Corey Wingard”.

Marshall then referred the complaint to Commissioner for Public Sector Employment Erma Ranieri for investigation, saying Ranieri was “very experienced in these matters, so we’ll wait for her to come back with recommendations”.

However, Ranieri will not be conducting the investigation, telling InDaily on July 30 that an external investigator had been appointed to investigate the matter.

The Advertiser today reported that Adelaide barrister Greg Griffin last week served a notice on Cassidy, seeking on behalf of Wingard a public apology, legal costs and $5000 compensation which he planned to donate to a children’s charity.

Griffin told The Advertiser that the action was being taken by Wingard “as a private citizen at no expense to the taxpayer’’.

Cassidy told The Advertiser she had received the legal notice.

“I can’t comment, that is my legal advice,’’ she is reported as saying. “All I can say is that I was shocked to receive this. I have done everything I have been asked to in this investigation.’’

Morrison hopes for pandemic ‘gear change’

Scott Morrison is banking on a “gear change” in the COVID-19 response not only to help the country exit the pandemic but also to lift the coalition’s stocks as he considers when to call an election.

Federal parliament will sit for a fortnight from Monday with about a third of all members and senators present and the Delta strain of the virus spreading across the national capital.

It is expected the Senate chamber will be more than half-empty while fewer than 50 MPs will sit in the House of Representatives, under tight health rules including masks and temperature testing at entrances.

The prime minister marks three years in the top job on Tuesday, beating Malcolm Turnbull, Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott and sitting just a few days short of Julia Gillard.

With steadily rising vaccination rates, Morrison is confident the national plan, informed by Doherty Institute and Treasury modelling, is the right path out of the pandemic.

“You can’t live with lockdowns forever and at some point you need to make that gear change, and that is done at 70 per cent (vaccination rate) because that’s where we are advised from the medical science that you can make that gear change,” he said.

Labor will seek to keep the pressure on the government over the slower-than-expected vaccine rollout and confusion over whether low case numbers will also guide the “gear change”.

“If the prime minister (says) … rising cases need not impact our plan to reopen, then he needs to release that advice,” Albanese said.

Taliban try to control Kabul airport as evacuations continue

The Taliban have fired in the air and used batons to force people desperate to flee Afghanistan to form orderly queues outside Kabul airport, a day after seven people were killed in a crush at the gates.

On Sunday, there were no major injuries as gunmen beat back the crowds and long lines of people formed, the witnesses said, and Washington said it was now able to get large numbers of Americans into the airport.

Britain’s defence ministry said seven Afghans were killed in the crush around the airport on Saturday as thousands tried to get a flight out, a week after the Islamist militants took control of the country.

“Conditions on the ground remain extremely challenging but we are doing everything we can to manage the situation as safely and securely as possible,” the ministry said.

A NATO official said at least 20 people have died in the past seven days in and around the airport. Some were shot and others died in stampedes, witnesses have said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called a meeting of leaders of the Group of Seven wealthy nations on Tuesday to “ensure safe evacuations, prevent a humanitarian crisis and support the Afghan people”.

Panicked Afghans have tried to board flights out, fearing reprisals and a return to a harsh version of Islamic law the Sunni Muslim group exercised while in power two decades ago.

Leaders of the Taliban, who have sought to show a more moderate face since capturing Kabul last Sunday, have begun talks on forming a government.

The United States and other foreign countries including Britain have brought in several thousand troops to help evacuate foreign citizens and vulnerable Afghans, but have been careful to avoid clashes with the Taliban.

A Taliban official said “we are seeking complete clarity on foreign forces’ exit plan.”

“Managing chaos outside Kabul airport is a complex task,” the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters.

On Sunday, a Pentagon spokesman said the US would deploy 18 commercial aircraft to transport people who have been flown out of Afghanistan.

Australia ran four flights into Kabul on Saturday, evacuating more than 300 people. The Netherlands said it would increase its military presence in Afghanistan to help evacuation efforts.

President Vladimir Putin rejected the idea of sending evacuees to countries near Russia, saying he did not want “militants showing up here under cover of refugees”.

The Taliban’s seizure of power came as US-led forces were withdrawing after a 20-year war that President Joe Biden sought to conclude.

On Saturday, former President Donald Trump called it “the greatest foreign policy humiliation in US history, even though his administration negotiated the withdrawal deal last year.

Forces holding out against the Taliban in northern Afghanistan said this weekend they have taken three districts close to the Panjshir valley where remnants of government forces and other militia groups have gathered.

Ahmad Massoud, son of one of the heros of Afghanistan’s anti-Soviet resistance in the 1980s, said he would not surrender areas under his control to the Taliban, al-Arabiya TV reported on Sunday.

Massoud called on the formation of a comprehensive government to rule the country with the participation of the Taliban, warning that war will be “unavoidable” if the insurgents refuse dialogue, the TV channel said.

Taliban leaders are set to meet former governors and bureaucrats in more than 20 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces over the next few days to ensure their safety and seek cooperation, the Taliban official said.

 – with AAP and Reuters

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