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What we know today, Wednesday September 22

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NSW has reported 1035 new cases of COVID-19 and five deaths, with more than 1200 people across the state hospitalised with the virus.

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NSW reports 1035 new cases, five deaths

NSW has reported 1035 new cases of COVID-19 and five deaths as double-dose vaccination coverage approaches 55 per cent.

Of the five deaths in the 24 hours to 8pm on Tuesday, two people were in their 50s, one was in their 60s, one was in their 70s and one was in their 80s.

It takes the toll for the current outbreak to 260.

There are 1232 COVID-19 patients in hospital in NSW, with 242 in intensive care units and 122 on ventilators.

“When we hit 70 per cent double dose, irrespective of when it is, (we’ll be) ready to roll out that vaccine passport,” Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.

Meanwhile, the NSW construction industry will return to full capacity from next week as the state’s vaccination coverage continues to grow, with hope community sport will soon follow.

From Monday, NSW will ease all capacity limits on construction sites while retaining the “four square metre” density rule.

The industry has been working at 50 per cent capacity, with vaccination requirements for workers from the 12 western and southwest Sydney local government areas of concern.

Health Minister Brad Hazzard also said cabinet was working on a plan to get community sport back.

Magnitude 5.8 earthquake strikes Victoria

Tremors from a magnitude 5.8 earthquake which hit Victoria this morning also shook parts of Adelaide and forced the evacuation of CBD buildings and a part of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

The earthquake struck at around 8.45 local time (9.15 AEST) and centred at Mansfield, a town on the foothills of Victoria’s alps about 800km from Adelaide.

Seismology Research Centre Chief Scientist Adam Pascale said that “a magnitude 5.8 makes this the largest onshore earthquake in Victoria in recorded history”.

Tremors from the aftershocks of the main quake were felt across Victoria, South Australia, the ACT and New South Wales, with a second quake that registered at magnitude 4 on the Richter scale hitting Mansfield about 15 minutes later.

The quakes caused structural damage to buildings across Victoria, but the State Emergency Service is yet to make an assessment of the damage.

SA Police are yet to report any local damage or injuries, but South Australians took to social media reporting they had felt tremors and posted videos of office towers in the CBD visibly shaking.

Read the full story here

Victoria records 628 new cases, three deaths

Victoria has recorded 628 new coronavirus cases and three more deaths, as the “violent thugs” who caused havoc in Melbourne’s CBD are given a final warning to stay out of the city.

It is the state’s highest daily tally in the current outbreak and since August 2020, and brings the total number of active cases to 6223.

The health department said more information would be provided on the three deaths, which bring the toll from the outbreak to 16, later on Wednesday.

It comes as Victoria Police have been given permission to use crowd control force against anyone trying to mimic the seven-hour “cat and mouse” game seen in Melbourne on Tuesday when up to 2000 protesters led police across the city and shut down the West Gate Bridge.

Premier Daniel Andrews, flanked by Police Minister Lisa Neville and Chief Commissioner Shane Patton, issued the warning on Wednesday morning.

“It was something very different to a protest. It was ugly,” Andrews told reporters.

“Victoria Police are not tolerating this, not yesterday and not today.”

Protests started last week when construction workers were told they could not have breaks in tea rooms because of the risk of spreading coronavirus.

Getting a COVID-19 vaccine was made mandatory for the industry, prompting another protest in front of the CFMEU office on Monday, which turned violent.

By Tuesday, a crowd of mostly men, clad in hi-visibility clothing, took to Melbourne’s streets against the state government, CFMEU and police.

Authorities say while there are construction workers in the crowds, there have been other groups including anti-lockdown activists attending dressed in hi-visibility clothing.

Patton has given permission to his officers to use force to keep rioters from creating unrest again.

“We will be agile in our response, we will be very swift in our response and conduct as we have seen yesterday and the previous day will not be tolerated,” he said.

Neville said the police “have my full support in deploying whatever tactics they need to ensure that these thugs, these violent thugs, are unable to cause further harm to our city and to our community.”

There were 500 Victoria Police used on Tuesday, arresting 62 people, some for assaulting police, but most for breaching public health orders.

CFMEU Victorian construction secretary John Setka is blaming “neo-Nazis and right-wing extremists” for hijacking the event. He urged construction workers to stay at home.

The state government has shut down the construction industry for two weeks in metropolitan Melbourne, City of Ballarat, City of Greater Geelong, Surf Coast Shire and Mitchell Shire.

It said there are 337 cases directly linked to 154 construction sites.

SA COVID fears ease ahead of restrictions lift

A South Australian teenager who tested positive to COVID-19 after travelling to New South Wales last week has been confirmed as a “false positive”, as the police commissioner defends a decision to push ahead with easing restrictions on dancing and stand-up drinking tomorrow.

Chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier on Tuesday revealed a South Australian had received a “weak positive” COVID-19 result last Friday when he travelled from South Australia to New South Wales and was tested.

But late on Tuesday, SA Health confirmed the result was a “false positive”.

“NSW Health has reviewed results regarding a teenager who travelled from South Australia to New South Wales last week and determined it is a false positive,” SA Health said in a statement.

Five close contacts of the teenager were placed into quarantine on Tuesday.

Spurrier at the time declined to name exposure sites associated with the teenager “because I suspect that this will indeed be called a false positive”.

There are seven active cases in the state, with six overseas acquired cases and one from interstate.

It comes after the state’s transition committee on Tuesday morning ruled that up to 50 people can dance at one time at private functions from one minute past midnight on Thursday morning.

No changes were made to the number of people allowed at private activities and functions – currently capped at 150 – but people will from Thursday be allowed to drink alcohol while standing outdoors at licensed venues, including in beer gardens.

Police commissioner and state emergency coordinator Grant Stevens rejected that he had overruled SA Health in pushing ahead with the restrictions lift, but said he had “balanced” the health advice with other considerations.

“The transition committee has a responsibility to take into account all of the prevailing circumstances and provide me advice that informs my decision,” Stevens told ABC Radio.

“So in this case, the health advice was taken on board and balanced against other factors that I thought were equally as important.

“I made a decision based on the level of risk I thought we’re exposing ourselves to.

“We’ve allowed this concession so that people could start to enjoy some of those events and activities that involve dancing without substantially increasing the risk.”

He later added, “I don’t want people to think that the advice of health is not regarded – invariably the health advice is accepted without question, unequivocally.”

Asked why private home gatherings still remain capped at 20, Stevens said: “the advice in relation to home gatherings still maintains that this is recognised as a high-risk activity.”

“It has been the source of COVID-19 seeding in South Australia and in other places around Australia, so home gatherings is still not something that the health experts were prepared to move on any significant degree at this point in time,” he said.

Parliament set for debate over ICAC powers

South Australian MPs are set to consider a bill to limit the powers of the state’s corruption watchdog after a parliamentary committee investigated the work of the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption.

The changes, proposed by SA Best Upper House MP Frank Pangallo, are due to be debated on Wednesday.

Pangallo says his bill streamlines the power and responsibilities of the ICAC to focus only on matters of serious and systemic corruption.

It proposes that misconduct and maladministration be investigated by the state ombudsman and establishes a separate Office of Public Integrity along with the Office of the Inspector that will have powers of oversight and report directly to parliament.

“Anti-corruption and integrity agencies have a critical role to play in our society because serious corruption and misconduct in our public sector must not be allowed to flourish unchecked,” Pangallo said.

“However, after eight years of substantial expenditure, secret investigations, underwhelming results, controversy and criticism, changes to the way ICAC functions are appropriate.”

A case against two former Renewal SA executives stemming from a 2018 ICAC investigation failed in June after prosecutors said they did not have enough evidence to proceed.

Georgina Vasilevski told the parlimentary enquiry she was “treated like a drug dealer” over her charge of falsely claiming $1032, while the agency’s former boss John Hanlon sought $250,000 to recover legal costs for defending his own failed prosecution just days before the Director of Public Prosecutions said it would again try him on a charge of abuse of public office.

Pangallo said his bill also provided mechanisms to protect people from reputational damage.

He said people under investigation, including those who were completely exonerated, had careers ruined and relationships destroyed while tens of millions of dollars had been wasted on investigations and criminal trials that should never have proceeded.

“Anti-corruption and integrity agencies have enormous powers bestowed upon them, and it is a societal expectation they use these powers responsibly and within the law,” Pangallo said.

“People in their sights should expect to receive the fairness of natural justice and due process, as accorded to others in our community.”

MPs to vote on spit hood ban

The family of a man who died during an altercation with prison guards in Adelaide has urged the South Australian parliament to pass legislation to ban the use of spit hoods.

The legislation is expected to be put to a vote on Wednesday, with relatives of Wayne “Fella” Morrison urging MPs to back the ban “so no other person or family has to experience this injustice and heartbreak”.

“Spit hoods continue to be lawful despite the risk to the safety and lives of people subjected to them,” Morrison’s family said in a statement.

“Despite human rights bodies and health research recommending against their use, and in favour of safer and readily available alternatives, such as personal protective equipment.”

Spit hoods are used in custody situations to prevent people being bitten or spit on.

But they have also been criticised for breaching human rights guidelines with opponents describing them as primitive, cruel and degrading.

Morrison died in 2016 after being restrained with handcuffs, ankle cuffs and a spit hood and put face down in a prison van at Yatala Prison in Adelaide’s north.

The inquest into his death previously heard he was in custody on assault charges and was being taken for a court appearance by video link when he became involved in a scuffle with officers.

The 29-year-old was lifted into the prison van but was blue and unresponsive when he was pulled out a few minutes later.

Despite resuscitation attempts, he did not regain consciousness and died in hospital several days later.

An inquest into his death is set to resume for final submissions next week.

Melbourne braces for third day of protests

Protesters on Tuesday along the West Gate Bridge rallying against mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations and a two-week shutdown of the construction industry in Victoria (AAP Image/James Ross).

Protesters are being warned to stay home as Melbourne braces for its third day of demonstrations over mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations and other restrictions for the construction industry.

Chaos has engulfed the city centre over the past two days as demonstrators, mostly men dressed in hi-vis workwear, took to the streets voicing their distrust in the vaccine and anger at the government.

The violent mob of hundreds of people brought the city and the West Gate Bridge to a standstill on Tuesday, and at one stage police fired rubber bullets and smoke rounds to keep them under control.

Victoria Police arrested 62 protesters, some for assaulting police, but most for breaching public health orders.

“I implore you to stay home,” Victoria Police chief commissioner Shane Patton said on Tuesday night.

“Our tactics tomorrow will be different.”

It is not clear if demonstrators are all union members, with CFMEU Victorian construction secretary John Setka blaming “neo-Nazis and right-wing extremists” for hijacking the event.

Premier Daniel Andrews and other unions have labelled the protest as selfish.

“There is no excuse for the terrible behaviour we have seen in our city over the last two days,” Andrews said.

“Acts of violence and disruption won’t result in one less case of Covid – in fact, it only helps the virus to spread.”

The Victorian Government has shut down the construction industry for two weeks in metropolitan Melbourne, City of Ballarat, City of Greater Geelong, Surf Coast Shire and Mitchell Shire.

Victoria on Tuesday reported 603 new COVID-19 cases – its highest daily tally in the current outbreak and since August 2020 – and one death.

The State Government said there are 337 cases directly linked to 154 construction sites.

Pfizer for Australian children on the cards

Australian children aged between five and 11 could receive Pfizer vaccines as early as this year after trials showed promising results overseas.

Health Minister Greg Hunt has invited Pfizer to apply to Australia’s medical regulator to have its vaccine approved for young children following clinical trials in the United States.

In a letter to Pfizer’s Australia and New Zealand managing director, Hunt said the company should submit an application to the Therapeutic Goods Administration at the same time as US regulators.

“I encourage and invite Pfizer to submit a parallel application to the TGA for Australian regulatory approval at the earliest possible time,” Hunt wrote.

“Should the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation also approve vaccination of this age cohort, vaccination would commence as a priority.”

It’s expected US approval for COVID vaccines for children could be finalised as early as October.

Chief nursing officer Alison McMillan said it was possible for younger children to be vaccinated this year if regulators gave the green light.

“The likelihood is we will see it through general practice, through a range of options,” she said.

COVID-19 vaccines have only been approved for those aged 12 years and over.

The latest Federal Government vaccination data shows 16 per cent of 12- to 15-year-olds had received their first dose, while less than one per cent are fully immunised.

Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid said he expected young children to be able to be vaccinated as part of school-based programs.

Khorshid said that would most likely start in early 2022, due to regulatory approval being needed by the TGA and ATAGI.

The first dose rate for the national population aged over 16 now sits at almost 73 per cent, while more than 47 per cent have received two shots.

In South Australia, 63.3 per cent of over-16s have had at least one jab and 44.7 per cent are fully vaccinated.

Swans young gun picks Crows over Power

Jordan Dawson after kicking a goal during Sydney’s Round 16 match with Carlton at Metricon Stadium, Gold Coast, Tuesday, September 8, 2020. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt).

Sydney Swans youngster Jordan Dawson has nominated the Adelaide Crows as his club of choice for the 2022 AFL season.

The 24-year-old winger/half-back, who was third in Sydney’s best and fairest this season, earlier this month declared his intention to come home to South Australia but was yet to pick his club.

Port Adelaide had declared their interest in the Swan but Adelaide announced late on Tuesday that Dawson had nominated the Crows as his preferred destination.

Adelaide will now have to negotiate a trade with the Swans when the AFL’s trade period opens on October 4.

The Crows hold picks 4, 23, 37, 59 and 63 in this year’s AFL draft.

The club also on Tuesday announced two-year contract extensions for young midfielders Sam Berry, Luke Pedlar and Brayden Cook.

-With AAP and Reuters

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