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What we know today, Tuesday September 14

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Victoria has recorded 445 new COVID-19 cases and two deaths – including a man in his 20s who died at home – while the ACT’s lockdown has been extended for another four weeks.

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Vic records 445 new cases, two deaths

Victoria has recorded 445 new cases and two deaths, including a man in his 20s from Melbourne’s north who is the youngest death in the state’s current COVID-19 outbreak.

The state’s death toll from the current outbreak climbed to six on Tuesday after the young man from Hume and a Brimbank woman in her 80s died with the virus.

Department of Health deputy secretary Kate Matson told reporters in Melbourne the young man died at home on Monday and “post-mortem analysis” revealed he had died from COVID-19.

The last time the state recorded a death in someone that young was during last year’s second wave, when another man in his 20s died.

Victoria recorded 445 new locally acquired COVID-19 cases in the latest reporting period, with 129 linked to known outbreaks.

Almost three quarters, or 74 per cent, of the new cases are from Melbourne’s northern suburbs, including 175 from Hume, 64 from Moreland and 36 from Whittlesea.

The new infections bring the total number of active cases in the state to 3799.

In the 24 hours to Tuesday morning, 42,694 tests were processed and 36,615 Victorians received a vaccine dose at state-run hubs.

ACT lockdown extended four weeks

Canberra’s lockdown has been extended for another four weeks as the ACT records 22 new COVID-19 infections.

Of Tuesday’s cases, 14 were linked with just two in quarantine the whole time while infectious.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr confirmed the lockdown would be extended for another month until October 15.

It had previously been scheduled to run until midnight on Friday.

Eyre Peninsula rocket launch rescheduled for Wednesday

Taiwanese company TiSPACE has rescheduled a test flight of its Hapith l rocket from South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula.

The 10-metre, two-stage, suborbital rocket is now set to blast off from the Whalers Way Orbital Launch Complex between 6am and 6pm on Wednesday.

The launch was previously scheduled for Friday last week but was aborted because of strong winds, Whalers Way operator Southern Launch said.

At the time, Southern Launch chief executive Lloyd Damp said the delay was a disappointment, but the launch window was still open until September 23.

“Space is hard and that’s why we’re taking an incremental approach to developing an Australian space launch capability,” he said.

“We had planned and trained for this potential outcome, facing an external factor like weather which would result in our teams needing to postpone the launch.”

TiSPACE will use the launch to test its hybrid propulsion systems, and as a prelude to commercial launches of satellites in the future.

NSW records 1127 new cases, two deaths

NSW has reported 1127 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 and two deaths, including a man in his 50s and a woman in her 80s.

The two deaths – both in western Sydney – take the toll for the current NSW outbreak to 186, and 242 for the entirety of the pandemic.

There are 1253 COVID-19 patients in NSW in hospital, with 231 in intensive care and 104 on ventilators.

“Cases continue to be primarily at highest rates in western and southwestern Sydney, although throughout Greater Sydney and regions we are seeing cases,” NSW Health’s Jeremy McAnulty told reporters.

Residents in NSW have been told to brace for a peak in COVID-19 case numbers this week, while the regional town of Yass is back in lockdown.

There are also five new cases – four in Wilcannia and one in Broken Hill – in the state’s far west, bringing the total there to 167.

Vaccine rates to determine easing of SA restrictions

Dancing in public venues is likely to remain banned until South Australia has reached a “much higher” vaccination rate, chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier has said ahead of a state transition committee meeting.

Spurrier told reporters yesterday afternoon that she was feeling “very confident that we’ve got a very good level of baseline restrictions” in South Australia, with a ban on dancing at licensed venues, particularly at weddings, likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future.

Under current restrictions, no more than 150 people can attend weddings and only the bridal party is allowed to dance.

After holding meetings with wedding industry representatives, Spurrier said she wanted to “keep the brakes” on lifting restrictions, describing weddings as potential “super-spreading events”.

But she said she was “only one part” of the transition committee and further discussion would be had at a meeting scheduled for later today.

“There are certain behaviours that we consider high-risk behaviours in terms of infectious diseases and transmission, particularly with aerosol transmission and people will know that those are dancing, singing and also standing up and mingling whilst you’re drinking particularly alcohol because it brings you into contact with more people,” she said.

“These are the things that we have put aside to be thinking about when our community has a much higher vaccination rate.”

Latest Federal Government data, released yesterday, shows 40.6 per cent of South Australians are fully-vaccinated, while 59.4 per cent have had at least one dose.

The State Government hopes that number will rapidly grow after it yesterday opened up Pfizer vaccination bookings to everyone aged over 12 in state-run clinics.

COVID payments to stop at end of year: Birmingham

Federal Finance Minister and South Australian Senator Simon Birmingham says he expects the need for federal COVID-19 support payments to be wound back by the end of the year once virus-affected states ease their restrictions.

“As we hope to reach at the end of the year the states, particularly NSW and Victoria, coming out of lockdown, then the need for that type of support diminishes,” he told Sky News.

“We need to ensure we continue to deliver an economic plan for growth to get back on a more stable footing.”

It comes as Victoria is set to outline the path out of lockdown next week, following virus modelling from the Burnet Institute.

ACT’s Chief Minister Andrew Barr will outline today the territory’s gradual reopening plan, with Canberra now in its fifth week of lockdown.

However, Yass Valley Council in southern New South Wales has this morning re-entered lockdown after a new COVID case was detected in the area, just days after the local government area relaxed its restrictions.

Over two million people across Australia have received a federal government COVID-19 disaster payment since the start of the pandemic, totalling $7.18 billion.

During South Australia’s July lockdown, 86,000 people received at least one COVID disaster payment, totalling $48.2 million.

The South Australian Government and the Commonwealth yesterday announced two new jointly-funded grant programs: the COVID-19 Tourism and Hospitality Support Grant and the COVID-19 Business Hardship Grant.

But Business SA policy and advocacy director Andrew McKenna said the group would “continue to advocate for more, because more is going to be needed until the state borders reopen”.

“In absence of more substantial financial support, Business SA foreshadows that job losses and business failures may soon become apparent,” he said.

“These industries need both support and certainty and want to see more precise forward projections on estimated timelines for when we will reach vaccine milestones and State border reopenings.”

Vic school probed over COVID outbreak

The Fitzroy Community School in Melbourne is the source of a COVID outbreak. Photo: Daniel Pockett/AAP

A Melbourne school at the centre of a COVID-19 outbreak will be questioned amid claims it was operating at full capacity despite tough lockdown restrictions.

Authorities are investigating the outbreak at Fitzroy Community School in Fitzroy North.

Victoria’s Department of Health last night said 29 students and staff had contracted the virus, while there were 82 close contacts associated with the outbreak.

There are about 60 students enrolled at the school, which describes itself as an “independent, alternative primary school”.

Only children of permitted workers and those who are vulnerable are currently allowed to attend school in Melbourne, but the school had been inviting all parents to send their children to class.

The school has been closed for deep cleaning, and it is believed the school will not reopen until all staff complete their 14-day quarantine.

Victoria recorded 473 new COVID-19 cases on Monday – the highest daily tally of the state’s latest outbreak – bringing the total number of active infections to 3507.

All but 38 of the new infections reside in Melbourne’s northern and western suburbs, which are subject to a three-week vaccination blitz.

A prisoner at the Melbourne Remand Centre has also tested positive.

Afghanistan captain hits back at Paine

Afghanistan captain Asghar Afghan has criticised Australian counterpart Tim Paine for questioning the Asian team’s right to participate in major events such as the Twenty20 World Cup.

Paine said the chances of Australia playing a test against Afghanistan in November were “not looking good” with the Taliban unwilling to let women play cricket and he questioned why the game’s governing body (ICC) had remained quiet on the issue.

“The Afghanistan Team has the right to play not only in this World Cup but in all ICC organised tournaments/events in accordance with the rules and regulations of ICC,” Afghan wrote on Twitter.

“For a less privileged cricketing nation as Afghanistan with zero infrastructure and support, reaching where we are right now and playing shoulder to shoulder with top 10 countries require sheer determination, passion and talent.

“(You are) mistreating Afghan cricket and all the gains we have obtained with hardship in the past decade. Sports should be separated from politics.”

The T20 World Cup begins next month and Afghanistan are taking part in it.

“I imagine it will be impossible if teams are pulling out against playing against them and governments are not letting them travel to our shores,” Paine said.

“Then how a team like that can be allowed to play in an ICC sanctioned event is going to be very, very hard to see.”

Australia’s cricket board said last week it would scrap the planned test match against Afghanistan if it was able to substantiate reports that the country’s Taliban rulers do not allow women to play cricket.

Leader linked to Bali bombings arrested

Militant cleric Abu Rusdan, center, is escorted by security officers after his trial hearing at a district court in Jakarta. Photo: Tatan Syuflana/AP

Indonesia’s elite counter-terrorism squad has arrested a convicted militant and suspected leader of an al-Qaeda-linked group that has been blamed for a string of past bombings in the country.

Abu Rusdan was seized late on Friday in Bekasi near the capital of Jakarta, along with three other suspected members of Jemaah Islamiyah, a police spokesman said.

“He is currently known to be active among the unlawful Jemaah Islamiyah network’s leadership,” the spokesperson said.

Indonesian authorities consider Rusdan to be a key figure in the Jemaah Islamiyah, which the US has designated a terrorist group.

The shadowy Southeast Asian network is widely blamed for attacks in the Philippines and Indonesia, including the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.

Police are still searching for other suspected members, followed tips that the group was recruiting and training new members in Indonesia.

Indonesia’s police counter-terrorism unit, known as Densus 88, has swept up 53 alleged members of the Jemaah in the past weeks, across 11 different provinces.

Morrison to travel to US to meet with President

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his counterparts from India and Japan will meet with US President Joe Biden this month to discuss enhancing Indo-Pacific relations.

It will be the first in-person summit of leaders of the “Quad” countries, which have been seeking to enhance cooperation to push back against China’s growing assertiveness.

The summit will be held at the White House on September 24, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.

Morrison will also attend the United National General Assembly in New York, alongside fellow prime ministers Narendra Modi of India and Yoshihide Suga of Japan.

A virtual meeting of the Quad leaders was held in March and they pledged to work closely on COVID-19 vaccines and climate and to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific in the face of challenges from Beijing.

“Hosting the leaders of the Quad demonstrates the Biden-Harris Administration’s priority of engaging in the Indo-Pacific, including through new multilateral configurations to meet the challenges of the 21st century,” Psaki said.

Biden’s Indo-Pacific coordinator, Kurt Campbell, said in July the long-planned in-person meeting should bring “decisive” commitments on vaccine diplomacy and infrastructure.

Biden, who is pushing big infrastructure spending at home, said in March he had suggested to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that democratic countries should have an infrastructure plan to rival China’s massive Belt and Road Initiative, which involves projects from East Asia to Europe.

Psaki said the Quad Leaders would “be focused on deepening our ties and advancing practical cooperation on areas such as combating COVID-19, addressing the climate crisis, partnering on emerging technologies and cyberspace, and promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

A senior US official said infrastructure would be among a range of topics discussed at the in-person summit.

-with AAP and Reuters

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