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What we know today, Friday September 17

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Two people in their 20s are among 12 COVID deaths reported in NSW today, as the state records another 1284 cases.

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NSW records 1284 cases, 12 deaths

Two people in their 20s are among 12 COVID deaths reported in NSW today, as the state records another 1284 cases.

It comes as the regional council areas of Lismore and Albury were sent back into seven days of lockdown on Thursday evening after three COVID-19 cases were uncovered across the two towns.

Of the 12 deaths in the 24 hours to 8pm on Thursday, two people were in their 20s, three people in their 50s, one person in their 60s, two people in their 70s, three people in their 80s and one person in their 90s.

It takes the toll for the current NSW outbreak to 222.

There are 1245 COVID-19 patients in NSW in hospital, with 228 in intensive care units and 112 on ventilators.

With NSW set to hit the 50 per cent double-dose vaccination milestone, Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Friday said NSW would hold a pilot program for seven days of home quarantine for 175 fully vaccinated international arrivals.

This program would be extended at 80 per cent double-dose coverage.

“That’s Aussies returning home through Sydney Airport but also our citizens having the opportunity to go overseas when previously they weren’t able to,” Berejiklian said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison expects the program, run by the state and federal governments, to let more Australians come home and boost the supply of workers from overseas.

It will also be used for air crew with Qantas, which is mandating vaccines for its employees.

The month-long trial to start in coming weeks will be used to inform future home quarantine programs for the rest of the country.

“NSW has carried the lion’s share of quarantining returning Australians and will be leading the way with this trial that could set the standard for the next phases of the way we live with COVID-19,” Morrison said on Friday.

Compliance will be tracked by an app, already in place for an existing South Australian home quarantine program, with geolocation and facial recognition technology.

SA home quarantine trial to host 250 a week

South Australia will further expand its app-based home quarantine system to cater for up to 250 returned travellers each week from October.

The system has so far been trialled on a number of arrivals from interstate and 90 fully vaccinated Australian Defence Force personnel who returned this week from lower-risk countries.

The State Government says 30 people have so far successfully completed their 14-day quarantine period and have been released from isolation.

Health Minister Stephen Wade said the results so far indicated the system could safely manage home quarantine for selected people.

“We want to help South Australians to return home as quickly as possible, and implementing home quarantine using the app will help manage this safely,” he said.

“The home quarantine app will ensure we can protect the health and wellbeing of the individuals quarantining in their own homes as well as keeping the South Australian community safe from the spread of COVID-19.”

The system electronically monitors those in isolation, employing facial recognition and location technology along with in-person checks.

All participants so far were pre-selected and had to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and have a suitable self-contained home with no shared corridors, lifts or other facilities.

Participants needed to provide a negative test result 72 hours before their flight departs for Australia, another on arrival and then further tests on days three, five, seven, nine and 13.

They will be subject to random location check-ins using live facial verification three times a day, while police will conduct at least one random physical compliance check each night.

Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Emily Kirkpatrick said SA’s home quarantine system could help the nation to safely repatriate more Australians travelling home from overseas.

“The ongoing international trial is showing early signs of success and will allow us to revie w the viability of adding home quarantine as another option for Australians returning from overseas,” Kirkpatrick said.

“The app not only allows us to monitor compliance, it also provides one-stop-shop support for the traveller whilst in quarantine, including information on their quarantine exit date, testing regime, managing wellbeing and up-to-date public health information.”

Following assessment of the current trial, SA Health will review which other select groups of international arrivals could safely use the system.

NZ extends trans-Tasman bubble pause

New Zealand has extended its suspension of quarantine-free travel from Australia, raising doubts on the future of the trans-Tasman bubble.

On Friday, Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson announced New Zealand would enforce qurantine requirements on travellers from Australia for another eight weeks.

The trans-Tasman bubble was halted by New Zealand in July and was due to come back online this week.

It will now be reviewed in mid-November.

New Zealand recorded another 11 COVID-19 cases today, with the number of infections associated with the country’s outbreak passing 1000.

Vic records 510 new cases, one death

Victoria has recorded 510 new locally-acquired COVID-19 cases and one death, as more than 100,000 of the state’s health workers issue a joint plea for the health system to be prioritised over opening up.

The health department on Friday confirmed 124 cases were linked to known outbreaks, with the source of 386 infections under investigation.

The new infections bring the total number of active cases to 4697.

The death brings the toll from the current outbreak to nine.

In the 24 hours to Friday morning, 55,476 tests were processed and a record 43,993 Victorians received a vaccine dose at state-run hubs.

About 120,000 doctors, nurses, paramedics, and allied health workers issued a joint call through their unions, asking the state government to prioritise the health system and its workforce over easing restrictions.

Ahead of a roadmap out of COVID-19 restrictions being released on Sunday, the group called for “accurate modelling” on expected ambulance demand, hospitalisations, intensive care patients and deaths.

“Modelling must also detail the impact on access to health services for non-COVID-related patients such as heart attacks, stroke and surgery,” the unions said in a joint statement.

“Premier Andrews must continue to not succumb to the pressures of those advocating to ease restrictions – whatever the cost.”

The health workers say they are already burnt out and “fearful” of rising cases as the number of COVID-19 patients in hospital continues to increase, with 182 hospital cases, up from 37 just three weeks ago.

‘This is not over’: French Government ‘furious’ over scrapped subs deal

France has strongly criticised Australia’s decision to ditch a French contract in favour of buying US submarine technology, labelling the decision a “slap in the face” and asking the Australian Government to explain how they intend to scrap the $90 billion deal.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday hailed the introduction of the new trilateral security pact – to be known as ‘AUKUS’ – which was declared in a landmark joint address with President Joe Biden and Prime Minster Boris Johnson.

The deal will see a new fleet of South Australian-built nuclear-powered submarines as its centrepiece.

Morrison also confirmed yesterday that the Osborne shipyards had secured the lucrative Collins Class full cycle docking maintenance program and $5.1 billion in upgrades to the Hobart Class destroyer combat management system.

But the new submarine deal has cost France a contract worth $A90 billion it signed in 2016 to provide Australia with 12 conventional diesel-electric submarines.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Defence Minister Florence Parly described the move as being against the spirit of the cooperation between France and Australia, which they said was built on political trust.

“I am furious, this is not something you do among allies,” Le Drian told France Info radio on Thursday.

“It’s a slap in the face.”

He compared the “unilateral, brutal and unpredictable decision” to the behaviour of former US president Donald Trump.

“We have built a relationship of trust with Australia, that trust has been betrayed,” Le Drian said.

He said the Federal Government would now have to explain how it intended to get out of the contract.

“This is not over. We have contracts – the Australians need to tell us how they’re getting out of it.”

It comes after French Government-backed Naval Group, which employs 350 workers in SA, expressed “major disappointment” with the decision on Thursday.

“The analysis of the consequences of this sovereign Australian decision will be conducted with the Commonwealth of Australia in the coming days,” the company said in a statement.

British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told BBC Breakfast on Thursday that he understood French frustration at losing out on the deal.

“I understand France’s disappointment. They had a contract with the Australians for diesel-electrics from 2016 and the Australians have taken this decision that they want to make a change,” Wallace said.

“We didn’t go fishing for that, but as a close ally, when the Australians approached us, of course we would consider it.”

Eyre Peninsula rocket catches fire on third launch attempt

A test rocket set to lift-off from an Eyre Peninsula conservation zone has caught fire on the pad, the third time in a week it has failed to launch.

After two previous unsuccessful attempts, Taiwanese company TiSPACE tried on Thursday to launch its 10-metre, two stage sub-orbital Hapith I rocket from the Whalers Way site.

Previous efforts on Friday last week and on Wednesday were aborted, the first because of bad weather and the second due to a systems fault.

Southern Launch, which operates the Whalers Way facility located around 25km southwest of Port Lincoln, said the launch was attempted again just after 4pm on Thursday, but an internal fault during ignition caused it to catch fire.

The company said the fire was contained to the launch pad and extinguished by Country Fire Service crews on the scene, with no injuries resulting from the blaze.

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

The third launch failure comes after environmentalists last week called on Southern Launch to consider a different site for a permanent launch facility, citing “major concerns” on the potential impact to threatened bird species.

The company is still awaiting approval to build two permanent launchpads at the Whalers Way site to host regular satellite launches into orbit around the Earth’s poles.

Southern Launch had planned to use Thursday’s test launch to gather noise and vibration data to determine the impact of rocket launches on native wildlife.

Cold front to dampen SA weekend

Rain, wind gusts and isolated thunderstorms are set to hit South Australia this weekend with a cold front poised to disrupt Adelaide’s warm spring weather.

Adelaide’s forecast maximum will drop to 16 degrees on Saturday, down from 24 on Thursday.

BoM meteorologist Hillary Wilson said the changes will stem from a cold front which will hit the state’s west first.

“There is a change in the weather on its way, that will move through western districts initially … and then across the Eyre Peninsula overnight and into Friday morning,” Wilson said.

“That change is due in the Adelaide area around midday [Friday], so it will still be fairly mild ahead of that change but then cooler conditions to follow.”

Wilson said “strong and gusty” northerly winds will hit the state’s central and eastern districts, with the potential for raised dust in the northeast pastoral districts and the Riverland.

“Also with the change, some isolated shower and thunderstorm activity is expected generally over our eastern districts,” she said.

“For Adelaide itself, a couple of showers are possible but not looking at any thunderstorm activity for the metropolitan area at this stage.”

Wilson said the change would prompt cooler conditions across South Australia this weekend.

“Saturday will be a much cooler day throughout the state in the wake of this change,” she said.

“We’re looking at temperatures back down to the mid to high teens through southern parts of South Australia on Saturday.”

Another cold front approaching from the south will hit the state on Sunday, according to Wilson, with the South East to bear the brunt of the cold weather.

“At this stage hail is possible about the south east districts on Monday in the wake of that cold front, and the maximum temperature will be notably cooler as well,” she said.

“Down in Mount Gambier they’re expecting a maximum temperature of just 13 degrees on Monday, and other locations that might see small hail include Robe, Naracoorte and perhaps even as far north as Keith.”

Vic electric vehicle tax faces high court challenge

Victoria’s new tax on electric vehicles is set for a High Court challenge with two Melbourne drivers arguing the levy is unconstitutional, as the case prompts renewed calls to scrap South Australia’s EV tax proposal.

The Victorian Government introduced a levy of up to 2.5 cents per kilometre for electric vehicle users in July this year.

But Chris Vanderstock and Kathleen Davis believe the tax is unconstitutional, with their lawyer Jack McLean filing paperwork with the High Court on Thursday arguing the State of Victoria doesn’t have the power to impose such a levy.

Section 90 of the Constitution gives the Commonwealth the exclusive power to impose duties and excises and, as a tax on the consumption of goods, McLean says that’s what the electric vehicle levy is.

“I think people will be used to having income tax taken by the federal government, GST and the fuel tax taken by the federal government,” he said.

“There’s a reason for that – the federal government has the power to do so that the state governments do not have that power.”

Davis has been driving an electric vehicle since 2012 and says the tax is a backward step in affordability.

“It punishes electric vehicle drivers and discourages the urgent need to decarbonise,” she said.

Vanderstock believes the state government should switch its focus to getting “dirty cars” off the road instead.

McLean said the tax was “burdensome” and forced drivers to pay the government a fee for every kilometre they drive in their own car.

Victoria is the first state to impose the user-pays style levy on electric vehicle drivers and based on average mileage works out to be about $330 per year.

McLean said that was about $5000 over the life of an electric vehicle, and was an additional cost people would be considering when choosing to buy.

A timeline for the case is expected to be set within the coming weeks and months, but a hearing is unlikely until early next year.

The High Court challenge has prompted renewed calls to scrap the South Australian Government proposal to introduce an identical EV tax in 2027.

Australia Institute SA Director Noah Shultz-Byard said there was now a “serious legal cloud” hanging over South Australia’s EV tax.

“It would be foolish for the State Government or the Parliament to legislate this backwards tax while an identical policy in Victoria is being challenged in the High Court,” he said.

“The Parliament should delay its consideration of this tax until these legal questions have been answered.”

Reopening plan, vaccine rollout on national cabinet agenda

The national plan to transition out of COVID-19 restrictions and the vaccine rollout are set to dominate discussions when national cabinet meets on Friday, as Australia approaches 70 per cent first jab coverage.

Today’s national cabinet will be the first meeting of the prime minister and state and territory leaders in a fortnight.

Epidemiology, vaccine take-up levels, the ongoing coronavirus situation in NSW and the national COVID plan will be among the main items discussed at the meeting.

Leaders will also hear of updates on virus modelling from the Doherty Institute, as fractures emerge in the national plan between state and territory leaders over what level of vaccine coverage will trigger border reopenings.

Friday’s meetings will coincide with 70 per cent of Australians over 16s having received their first dose of the vaccine.

At the moment, 69.8 per cent of eligible people have received their first dose, with just under 45 per cent of over 16s fully vaccinated, according to the latest data from the Federal Government.

“That 70 per cent double dose and 80 per cent double dose mark is within plain sight. Keep going Australia,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday.

In South Australia, 61 per cent of the population over-16 has had at least one dose, while 42.4 per cent are fully jabbed.

There were more than 305,000 doses distributed across the country on Wednesday, according to the latest figures.

Victoria will also become the latest jurisdiction to hit 70 per cent of its residents getting their first dose, with the state expected to reach the important milestone on Friday.

The state will also see some lockdown restrictions lifted from midday on Friday, coming off the back of the 70 per cent figure.

In NSW, the regional centres of Lismore and Albury went back into lockdown on Thursday night, just days after restrictions lifted, after cases were detected there.

Some 1351 new locally-acquired cases were recorded in NSW on Thursday, as well as 12 deaths, taking the toll for the current outbreak to 210.

Qld passes voluntary assisted dying laws

Queensland has become the fifth jurisdiction in Australia to legalise voluntary assisted dying, with terminally-ill Queenslanders able to end their lives at a time of their choosing from early next year.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill was on Thursday afternoon passed by 61 of the state’s 93 MPs in a rare conscience vote in Queensland’s single legislative chamber.

It was met by applause in the public gallery after a marathon debate that took much of the parliamentary week.

It comes after South Australia’s parliament passed voluntary assisted dying legislation in June this year, following VAD legalisation in Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania.

The Queensland laws allow people suffering a disease, illness or medical condition that is advanced, progressive and terminal to access voluntary-assisted dying.

Their condition must be expected to cause death within a year, they must have decision-making capacity, and proceed without coercion.

Conscientious objection by faith-based organisations, and the 12-month time frame for end of life as a requirement for access, caused much debate during the bill’s final stages.

The laws allow the scheme to be accessed in healthcare facilities through outside doctors, regardless of whether the organisations that run them object.

The scheme will be operating from January 2023.

Deputy Premier Steven Miles says the law won’t make terminally ill Queenslanders’ deaths any less tragic, but it will ease their pain and suffering.

“It has been a very considered debate and, as many members on both sides of the house have said, it’s been a very difficult debate,” he told parliament on Thursday.

Thirty MPs voted against the bill, with some objectors concerned a funding shortfall in palliative care could put pressure on patients to end their lives.

Parliament did not pass any of Deputy Opposition Leader David Janetzki’s 54 proposed amendments, which he said would improve safeguards for conscientious objectors and reporting processes.

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SA Special Olympics set for opening ceremony

The South Australian Special Olympics youth carnival in Mount Barker on Thursday, September 9 (Photo: Richard Strever).

Close to 300 athletes across the state are preparing for the start of the Special Olympics South Australia 2021 State Games, with the carnival of sport set to kick off this afternoon at its opening ceremony in Mile End.

The four-week event, which supports people with intellectual disabilities participate in sport, will see athletes competing in swimming, football, basketball, tennis and athletics at Westminster School in Marion over the weekend and then at Marion Bowland and Enfield Harriers Athletics Club in October.

The State Games precede the National Games to be held in Launceston next year, and the World Games scheduled for Berlin in 2023.

This afternoon’s opening ceremony, scheduled for 4:30pm, will see South Australia Police members and Special Olympics athletes carry the “flame of hope” into the Netball SA stadium in Mile End for the lighting of the cauldron.

The ceremony will also feature a parade of athletes and an exhibition netball game.

Police commissioner Grant Stevens said SAPOL is honoured to kick off this year’s Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) from Adelaide to Launceston.

“The LETR, which started in the United States 40 years ago, reinforces the warm and heartfelt relationship we have with Special Olympics athletes,” Stevens said.

“We support inclusion in sport here and around the world, and through the LETR we can raise funds, engage with the community and show that everyone can have a go and be active.”

Athletes across the states, including the Yorke and Eyre Peninsula, Riverland and South East, have been involved in year-round preparation for the event, according to Special Olympics South Australia state coordinator Matt Pearson.

“We know that fewer than one per cent of South Australians living with intellectual disability play sport, so we’re trying to raise awareness and encourage more people to take part in sporting activities, in an inclusive, friendly and supportive environment,” Pearson said.

“Playing a sport with friends, encouraging others and challenging themselves is one thing, but one of the best parts of being involved is seeing the absolute joy on the faces of the athletes taking part, regardless of the result.”

-With AAP and Reuters

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