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What we know today, Wednesday October 6

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South Australia is working on “pathways” to allow travellers from Victoria and NSW to come into the state heading into Christmas, but conditions will apply, Premier Steven Marshall says.

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SA looks at pathways for NSW, Vic visitors

South Australia is working on “pathways” to allow travellers from Victoria and NSW to come into the state heading into Christmas, but conditions will apply, Premier Steven Marshall says.

He says SA will be in a position to release its plans in the coming weeks, but it’s likely changes to border arrangements will allow for restricted travel heading into the festive season.

At present, hard closures remain with both states, allowing only essential travellers and people with exemptions to cross the border.

Travellers are likely to be required to be double vaccinated and return negative tests and will face being quarantined, along with any close contacts, if they come down with COVID-19

“I think people can have some confidence that as we get closer to Christmas that there will be pathways for people to come back,” Mr Marshall told reporters on Wednesday.

At the same time the premier reiterated earlier comments that SA was not planning any sort of “miraculous freedom day” when all local restrictions and border rules are scrapped.

He said density rules and attendance caps, along with other measures, will remain in place for the foreseeable future and rules around testing and quarantining will stay.

He has also revealed a decision, for the time being, for SA to stick with a 14-day home quarantine for Australians returning from overseas, despite some jurisdictions planning to cut that to seven days.

“We need to be prudent. We’ve got a lot to lose,” Mr Marshall said.

“But the model shows us that at 80 per cent double vaccinated, we’re going to very seriously reduce the transmission potential.”

The premier’s comments came as SA Health authorities continued to delve into the case of a woman from Mt Gambier who tested positive for the virus this week after spending time in Victoria.

The case has prompted tough new restrictions for Mt Gambier and two other council areas in SA’s southeast.

They include stricter density rules, a limit of two visitors to any home, and bans on private functions and organised sporting activities.

The rules will stay in place for at least seven days.

After testing positive, the woman, in her 40s, was transferred to hotel quarantine in Adelaide along with her four children.

On Wednesday, police reported a targeted arson attack on a car at a home in Mt Gambier, believed to be where the woman lived.

Mr Marshall condemned the attack.

“This is a very disturbing story. Of course, we condemn this action,” he said.

“This a very nasty development down in Mt Gambier.”

NSW repords 594 cases, 10 deaths

NSW has reported 594 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 and 10 more deaths, after NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet flagged a rethink of the state’s roadmap out of lockdown.

Across the state, 88.6 per cent of people aged 16 and over have received their first vaccine, and 67.7 per cent are fully vaccinated as of 1159 AEST on Monday.

NSW Chief Deputy Health Officer Marianne Gale thanked people in NSW for getting vaccinated.

“Thank you everybody for your ongoing terrific efforts in coming forward to get vaccinated, it’s really pleasing to see such high coverage of vaccination across the state,” she said on Wednesday.

There were seven men and three women among the ten deaths reported in the 24 hours to 8pm on Tuesday.

There have now been 395 COVID-19 deaths in the state in the latest outbreak.

There were more than 90,000 COVID-19 tests reported.

The daily case number is the lowest since August and it’s the fifth day in row infections have been below 700.

Vic reports 1420 new cases, 11 deaths

Victoria has reported 1420 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 and 11 deaths as the CFMEU prepares to expel members who participated in violent protests outside its Melbourne office.

The health department on Wednesday confirmed the latest cases and deaths, the most fatalities of the current outbreak, which brings the toll to 68.

It follows Victoria’s national daily case record of 1763 on Tuesday, and is the seventh straight day the state has reported four-figure infections.

There are now 14,410 active cases in the state.

More than 71,000 Victorians were tested for the virus in the 24 hours to Wednesday morning, while 36,542 vaccinations were administered at state-run sites.

The latest figures come as cases linked to a “superspreader” event outside Melbourne’s CFMEU office grow.

Seven infections are now linked to the CFMEU headquarters protest on September 20 when demonstrators threw bottles at union officials and smashed the office’s door down in protest at mandatory vaccinations and other construction industry restrictions.

Victorian CFMEU boss John Setka said dozens of families and children had been affected, and officials were reviewing footage to identify members.

“They’ll be fronting the executive of the union and they’ll have to answer for their actions,” he told Nine’s Today on Wednesday.

“In some of the cases, in some of the footage that I’ve seen, they’ll probably be expelled from the union.

“We’re not going to tolerate behaviour like that. Not against union members’ property … and then on top of that starting a superspreader, I mean it’s just absolutely unforgivable.”

ACT records 28 new cases, one death

A woman in her 70s has died from COVID in the ACT, bringing the territory’s death toll from the current outbreak to six.

The woman was receiving end-of-life care at an aged-care facility in Canberra’s north.

Health authorities have also revealed a baby at Canberra’s Centenary Hospital has also tested positive for COVID, as the territory recorded 28 new cases in the most recent reporting period.

Of the new cases, 19 are linked to known cases or outbreaks, while nine are still under investigation by health authorities.

There were 11 cases that were in quarantine the whole time, with five being infectious in the community.

The number of COVID patients in Canberra hospitals now stands at 16, seven of those being in intensive care and four being on a ventilator.

Vaccine boss mulls booster shots

Australians with compromised immune systems could start receiving COVID-19 booster shots this year before third jabs are rolled out more widely in 2022.

Health authorities are closely monitoring overseas programs with the United States, United Kingdom, Israel and France among countries offering boosters.

Vaccine rollout co-ordinator John Frewen said science was not yet settled on third jabs but the health department was working on a strategy.

“It’s possible we may see a third dose for those people who have compromised immune systems in some way, maybe later this year,” he told the Seven Network on Wednesday.

“But otherwise I think that the plan for the boosters will either be later this year or more likely into next year when it will all become a bit like the flu shot.”

A major US study published on Monday found Pfizer was 90 per cent effective at preventing COVID-19 hospitalisations for at least six months even against the rampant Delta variant.

But protection from infection dropped from 88 per cent within one month after receiving two vaccine doses to 47 per cent after six months.

Booster programs in rich countries have come under fire with many poorer nations still trying to vaccinate their populations.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation will in coming weeks provide updated advice about a small cohort of people that may need a third dose to complete their primary course.

“ATAGI anticipates that additional booster doses for other populations may be required in the future,” the expert panel said last month.

Federal and state governments are planning to start a booster program in late 2021 subject to ATAGI advice and regulator approval.

Pressure to release COVID surge hospital modelling

The Morrison Government is under increasing pressure to release modelling about how Australia’s hospitals will cope with a COVID-19 case surge once the country opens up, as the South Australian ambulance union raises the alarm about pressure on the state’s hospital system this week.

National cabinet last week received an update on health system capacity when restrictions ease at 70 and 80 per cent over-16 vaccination coverage. Australia is currently at 57.4 per cent double-dose coverage.

Department of Health secretary Brendan Murphy, who has been working with deputy chief medical officer Sonya Bennett on the modelling, believes it should be made public.

“I would favour a transparent approach but that is up to national cabinet,” he told reporters in Canberra.

Murphy said the modelling showed states and territories were equipped to handle rising demand when Australia reopens.

“We are confident they will cope but the best way to make sure no health system is overwhelmed is for everyone to get vaccinated,” he said.

Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid is less confident given the experience of NSW and Victoria during their ongoing third COVID-19 wave.

“What about the heart attacks and strokes? What about people who still need elective surgery to keep living their lives with a reasonable quality of life?” he told the ABC.

“That’s what falls by the wayside when hospitals get overrun.”

Khorshid said pre-pandemic ambulance ramping and people increasingly presenting to hospitals with more complex conditions showed the system was in crisis.

It comes as the South Australian Ambulance Service declared another Opstat White event on Tuesday night, according to the Ambulance Employees Association.

The declaration means “operational capacity, capability and/or resources are insufficient to maintain effective service delivery for high acuity cases”.

Another video posted by the union on Monday showed ambulances ramped outside the Royal Adelaide Hospital at around 11pm.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said there was nothing stopping individual states and territories from releasing information about the readiness of their systems for an influx of COVID cases.

South Australia’s chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier last week said SA Health’s modelling, based on the trajectory of delta outbreaks in NSW and Victoria, showed South Australia could be dealing with up to 4000 active COVID-19 cases a day after opening to the eastern states.

Emergency doctors in South Australia have also previously warned that the state is not prepared to deal with a surge in hospitalisations once the borders reopen.

South Australian Health Minister Stephen Wade pointed to the State Government’s recruitment drive for more than 370 nurses and announcement of 60 additional inpatient beds as evidence the government is preparing for the incoming surge.

“The Marshall Liberal Government is investing strongly in the health system to make sure we’re ready,” Wade told ABC Radio this morning.

Mt Gambier quarantine numbers grow

Nearly 40 people have been directed into quarantine in South Australia after being linked with a COVID-19 case in Mount Gambier, with 17 primary contacts transferred into an Adelaide medi-hotel.

It comes after a mother of four from Mount Gambier tested positive for the virus over the weekend, prompting authorities to introduce a range of tough new restrictions in the South East.

The woman in her 40s travelled to Casterton in Victoria, which was within the state’s 70km cross border travel bubble, and returned home to Mount Gambier on October 1.

In an update provided this morning, an SA Health spokesperson said 37 contacts have been identified in relation to the case in Mount Gambier, up from 12 on Tuesday.

The spokesperson said 17 are primary contacts and 20 are secondary “household” contacts.

“The primary contacts have been transferred to an Adelaide medi-hotel,” the spokesperson said.

SA Health on Tuesday afternoon listed one new public exposure site in Mount Gambier.

The South Eastern Hotel Sip’n’Save on 235 Commercial Street was attended by the positive case on Friday, October 1.

Anyone who was at the venue from 5.30pm to 6:05pm on that day is asked to monitor for symptoms.

An additional 40 close contacts have been identified and directed into quarantine associated with a COVID-positive truck driver from Victoria reported on Monday, SA Health says.

The partially-vaccinated male truck driver in his 30s tested positive in SA on Monday but has since returned to Victoria.

Chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier said on Tuesday that the truck driver was “quite infectious” during his time in South Australia, with two exposure sites in Ceduna and Port Augusta associated with his movements. 

Call for investigation into Facebook after whistleblower testimony

Former Facebook employee Frances Haugen testifies before a Senate Subcommittee during a hearing about Facebook on October 05, 2021. Photo: Lenin Nolly/Sipa USA

US lawmakers have accused Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg of pushing for higher profits while being cavalier about user safety and are demanding that regulators investigate a whistleblower’s accusations that the social media company harms children and stokes divisions.

Coming a day after Facebook and its units including Instagram suffered an outage, whistleblower Frances Haugen testified in a congressional hearing that “for more than five hours Facebook wasn’t used to deepen divides, destabilise democracies and make young girls and women feel bad about their bodies”.

In an opening statement to a Senate Commerce subcommittee, chair Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, said Facebook knew that its products were addictive, like cigarettes.

“Tech now faces that big tobacco jawdropping moment of truth,” he said.

He called for Zuckerberg to testify before the committee and for the Securities and Exchange Commission and Federal Trade Commission to investigate the company.

“Our children are the ones who are victims. Teens today looking in the mirror feel doubt and insecurity. Mark Zuckerberg ought to be looking at himself in the mirror,” Blumenthal said, adding that Zuckerberg instead was going sailing.

Haugen, a former product manager on Facebook’s civic misinformation team who has turned whistleblower, said Facebook has sought to keep its operations confidential.

“Today, no regulator has a menu of solutions for how to fix Facebook, because Facebook didn’t want them to know enough about what’s causing the problems. Otherwise, there wouldn’t have been need for a whistleblower,” she said.

The top Republican on the subcommittee, Marsha Blackburn, said that Facebook turned a blind eye to children below age 13 on its sites.

“It is clear that Facebook prioritises profit over the well-being of children and all users,” she said.

Facebook spokesman Kevin McAlister said in an email ahead of the hearing that the company sees protecting its community as more important than maximising profits and said it was not accurate that leaked internal research demonstrated that Instagram was “toxic” for teenage girls.

Haugen revealed she was the one who provided documents used in a Wall Street Journal investigation and a Senate hearing on Instagram’s harm to teenage girls.

The Journal’s stories indicated the company contributed to increased polarisation online when it made changes to its content algorithm, failed to take steps to reduce vaccine hesitancy and was aware that Instagram harmed the mental health of teenage girls.

Haugen also said Facebook had done too little to prevent its site from being used by people planning violence.

Fed Govt opens KI timber rescue scheme

The Federal Government is today opening applications to its timber transport assistance program which it says will see up to 60,000 tonnes of timber rescued from Kangaroo Island.

There is an estimated 300,000 tonnes of structural timber on Kangaroo Island that is suitable for structural timber – enough to build up to 10,000 new houses.

But the status of the timber has remained under a cloud for more than a year due to damage from the 2019-20 summer bushfires and the rejection of a port on Kangaroo Island to ship the timber onto the mainland.

The Construction Softwood Transport Assistance Program, jointly funded by the state and federal government, opens for applications today, with funding made available for the transport of bushfire-affected softwood logs to sawmills across the country.

The scheme offer $30 per tonne assistance for transport from KI to the South Australian mainland and a further 10 cents per tonne per kilometre travelled by road from first to sawmill – commencing after the 200km travelled.

South Australian Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development David Basham said around 2000 homes could be constructed in South Australia with the timber shipped off the island under the new deal.

Federal Assistant Minister for Forestry and Fisheries Jonno Duniam said around 10,000 homes could be constructed across the country from this deal.

“I am pleased we have been able to reach an agreement with the South Australian Government to start getting fire-damaged timber off of Kangaroo Island and into the market where it’s needed most,” Duniam said.

“Without this assistance, salvageable logs might be burned or left to rot, putting jobs at risk and possibly releasing carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

“This funding will deliver a new supply of logs to support jobs in both our timber and construction industries and help boost economic growth across the country.”

Concept designs released for new Mt Barker town centre

Concept designs for the new Mt Barker town square (Image: supplied)

The first designs for Mount Barker’s new town square have been released, with the council endorsing a community feedback process on the designs.

The proposed town centre, located in a long-term vacant space between Hutchinson Street, Morphett Street, Stephen Street and Druids Avenue, has been designed by Burke Urban Investments, who were engaged by the council in November 2020 as the preferred developer for the site.

The concept designs include market sheds, an integrated library, civic centre, co-working hubs, offices, residential accommodation and a hotel.

Mount Barker District Council estimates the staged development will create 400 jobs and have endorsed a month-long community feedback process on the designs.

Burke Urban Investments managing director Kym Burke said the concept designs have already been shaped by community feedback.

“The concept for the Town Square and its wider connection to Morphett Street, Stephens Street and Gawler Street is the crucial public centrepiece of an evolving master plan which will be informed by the feedback received from community, government, and commercial interests,” Burke said.

“The ultimate objective is to create an exciting, vibrant, comfortable, and attractive public space interfacing with a market shed and adjacent retail opportunities with a food and beverage and produce focus.

“Activation and connection day and night for all age groups, and a space which responds to the distinct seasons of the year are features presented by Burke Urban Investments and strongly supported by Council.”

The four-week community engagement period for the proposal will start in November, with drop-in sessions, online surveys and community open days among the ways to provide feedback.

Perrottet to review NSW lockdown roadmap

New NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has flagged he will review “issues” with the roadmap out of lockdown, days before the state is expected to reach its 70 per cent vaccination milestone.

In his first press conference after being elected NSW Liberal party leader and premier, Perrottet said he would meet with the Health Minister Brad Hazzard to discuss the roadmap.

“There are a number of issues that need to be looked at, and obviously, health is our number one priority right now and I will sit down with the minister and the whole team this afternoon,” Perrottet said on Tuesday.

When asked whether he would give people in NSW an early mark and ease restrictions before they are scheduled to, the premier said lockdown would still end on October 11.

Across the state, 88.6 per cent of people aged 16 and over had received their first vaccine, and 67.7 per cent were fully vaccinated as of midnight on Monday.

NSW recorded 608 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and another seven deaths.

The daily case numbers are the lowest since August and it is the fourth day in a row with fewer than 700 cases.

But NSW Health’s Dr Jeremy McAnulty said there had also been “slight decline” in testing numbers.

“We really encourage people to come forward for testing as we get closer to more people getting vaccinated in the community,” McAnulty said in an update on Tuesday.

“It is really important we all maintain our vigilance for symptoms and come forward for testing so we don’t miss cases.”

There were 85,642 COVID-19 tests reported to 8pm on Monday.

Six men and one woman with COVID-19 have died, bringing the toll for the current outbreak to 385 deaths.

Five of the people who died were not vaccinated while two had received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

There are 978 people in hospital with COVID-19 in NSW, with 190 in intensive care, and 94 on ventilators.

Australia ends offshore processing agreement with PNG

The Federal Government is ending offshore processing in Papua New Guinea for asylum seekers detained after trying to reach Australia by boat.

The arrangement was set up in 2013 under the then-Labor government and authorised regional processing in PNG.

Under a timeline announced on Wednesday, processing in PNG will permanently end on December 31.

As of July this year, there were 124 asylum seekers in PNG.

From January, PNG will have responsibility for those who remain, the Australian and PNG governments said in a joint statement.

This means any asylum seekers still in PNG will be offered a pathway to permanent migration, including citizenship.

PNG will also provide support to those temporarily in the country awaiting transfer to a third country.

Prior to the December deadline, Australia will offer asylum seekers in PNG “voluntary transfer” to its offshore processing centre on the Pacific island of Nauru.

“This government’s strong border protection policies – including a commitment to regional processing – have not changed,” Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said.

“Anyone who attempts to enter Australia illegally by boat will be returned, or sent to Nauru.”

Andrews said PNG and Nauru had been longstanding partners in the fight against people smuggling.

“I thank them for their close cooperation and support,” she said.

The federal government in September signed a new agreement with Nauru, which began offshore processing in 2012, to continue that arrangement.

There are about 107 detainees in Nauru.

Between 2008 and 2013, more than 50,000 people arrived in Australia on more than 820 boats and at least 1,200 died at sea, the government said.

-With AAP and Reuters

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