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What we know today, Wednesday November 3

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Victoria has recorded 941 new COVID-19 cases and another eight deaths as daily case numbers continue to trend downwards. There are 657 people in hospital including 117 in intensive care and 69 on a ventilator.

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Vic records 941 new cases

Victoria has recorded 941 new COVID-19 cases and another eight deaths as daily case numbers continue to trend downwards.

It is the second consecutive day that daily numbers have dropped below 1000, after the state recorded 989 coronavirus cases on Tuesday.

The health department confirmed on Wednesday there are now 18,361 active infections.

There are 657 people in hospital including 117 in intensive care, with 69 of those on a ventilator.

Another 63,278 tests were processed on Tuesday and 9,440 vaccines administered at state-run hubs.

Almost 93 per cent of Victorians aged over 16 have received one vaccine dose and 82 per cent are double-jabbed.

Crows hold out hope for unvaccinated Varnhagen

Adelaide are hoping unvaccinated premiership defender Deni Varnhagen will receive the COVID-19 jab before the start of the AFLW season.

Varnhagen, who works as registered nurse in intensive care units, is refusing to be vaccinated.

The 29-year-old joined other nurses in Adelaide on Tuesday in protesting about mandatory vaccination for healthcare workers, which came into effect in South Australia this week.

Varnhagen reporters at the rally she did not want to be “at threat” of losing her nursing job because of what she labelled as a “medical experiment”.

Crows coach Matthew Clarke is not urging Varnhagen to be vaccinated but is hopeful her circumstances will change in the next two weeks.

If Varnhagen has not received a vaccination before November 19 she will be unable to train at the club.

She could be giving up her nursing and AFLW career due to her anti-vaccination stance.

“I hold out hope that something will change before November 19th,” Clarke told SEN SA on Wednesday.

“She’s continued to engage in the education from the medical team, from the AFL’s medical team and we see that as the opportunity, but ultimately it’s an individual choice.

“She’s been training and doing all the work and been training really well.

“It’s obviously been a challenging period for her, and for all organisations having to confront this new situation.

“But ultimately, one of the great things about footy clubs is you can come together, you can hold all sorts of different positions and try to focus on performance.”

If Varnhagen refuses to comply with the AFL’s vaccination policy, the Crows will be able to replace her on their list before the sixth season of the competition begins on January 6.

Clarke confirmed every other AFLW player at the Crows will soon have received both vaccine doses.

“The club’s (view) is pretty clear,” he said.

“We’re really promoting vaccination and we think it’s really important for the community and our industry.

“My perspective is that all of the medical advice and the health experts inform me that this is a safe and a really effective mechanism to diminish the impact (of COVID-19).”

US CDC approves COVID-19 vax for kids 5-11

The director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has backed broad use of Pfizer’s and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine in children ages 5 to 11, clearing the way for shots to go into young arms.

The announcement on Tuesday came hours after the advisers to the US CDC unanimously supported the move, saying the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks. Much of their discussion stemmed from rare cases of heart inflammation that have been linked to the vaccine, particularly in young men.

The US Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorisation of the vaccine in 5- to 11-year-olds on Friday.

The FDA authorised a 10-microgram dose of Pfizer’s vaccine in young children. The original shot given to those age 12 and older is 30 micrograms.

“We know millions of parents are eager to get their children vaccinated and with this decision, we now have recommended that about 28 million children receive a COVID-19 vaccine,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in the statement.

At the outset of the meeting, Walensky said that pediatric hospitalisations had surged during the recent wave driven by the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

The risk from COVID-19 “is too high and too devastating to our children and far higher than for many other diseases for which we vaccinate children,” she said.

Walensky said school closures have had detrimental social and mental health impacts on children.

“Pediatric vaccination has the power to help us change all of that,” she said.

‘Our family is whole again’: Missing girl found, man arrested

The family of four-year-old Cleo Smith, who went missing from their tent in remote Western Australia more than two weeks ago, has hailed her safe return after police found the child locked in a house only minutes from her family home.

The 18-day search for Cleo Smith came to an end overnight after police forced their way into a house in Carnarvon, a north-west coastal town about 70km from the family campsite.

A 36-year-old man from Carnarvon is in custody and is being questioned. The house was reportedly only seven minutes from the child’s family home. Police say the man has no connection to Cleo’s family and was not at the house when she was found.

WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said a trail of forensic evidence led them to the house early this morning.

“We followed every particular lead we had,” he said.

Read the full story here

Chapman owns land next to forest project she vetoed, parliament told

Deputy Premier Vickie Chapman owns land on Kangaroo Island directly across the road from forest that would have been felled and removed under a $40 million port proposal that she vetoed, a parliamentary inquiry has heard.

Yesterday marked the first day of hearings for a committee established to investigate whether Chapman, the state’s Planning Minister and Attorney-General, had a conflict of interest, misled parliament or breached the ministerial code in relation to her decision to reject Kangaroo Island Plantation Timber’s port proposal despite departmental advice that it could have proceeded.

KIPT’s former managing director Keith Lamb, who left the company last month, gave evidence that the company expected the port proposal to proceed under Chapman’s predecessor, Stephan Knoll – before he left the ministry in mid-2020 amid a parliamentary entitlements furore.

Shortly before that point, Lamb said, “the minister was anxious to know where we were up to [and] made statements to the effect of—and I don’t want to misquote him, so I will keep it general — ‘This project is an important piece of infrastructure for the island, we think it’s an important asset to the community… we would like to see it proceed’”.

He said the company went “as far as suggesting, at the government’s pleasure, that if it was to make an announcement… that the announcement should be made on a Sunday so that we wouldn’t have to go into a trading halt”.

He said that was regardless of what the decision might be, but “I was fairly confident it would be a yes”.

“I went as far as instructing my office to book a room in celebration and we drew up the invite list for the celebration,” he said.

“So we were that far advanced, we had press releases ready to go.”

After Knoll left, however, for several months “I had no formal advice on the position of the department or the position of the minister”.

Chapman eventually ruled against the port in August this year.

During the hearing, the committee’s counsel assisting, Dr Rachael Gray, showed Lamb a map of the island and asked him to identify the proposed haulage route leading to the planned port, noting its proximity to property owned by KI mayor Michael Pengilly, a former Liberal MP and longtime confidant of Chapman’s.

“And did you understand that that route would go past Mayor Pengilly’s house?” she asked.

To which Lamb replied: “Yes… they all converge and go on to North Coast Road and go past the mayor’s house; that’s correct.”

Former KIPT managing director Keith Lamb giving evidence yesterday. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

“And that haulage route, did KIPT conduct any analysis of where that haulage route was relative to land owned by minister Chapman?” Gray continued.

“No, I don’t recall that analysis by me – it might have been done by my executives in the planning process, but I didn’t take into account, in my mind, minister Chapman’s landholdings.”

Gray then brandished the map, pointing to a pale green-coloured section and asking if it indicated an area that forestry trucks would be operating to remove trees, which Lamb confirmed.

“Are you aware that that pale green area is adjacent across the road from land owned by Minister Chapman?” Gray asked.

“I did not know that until you showed me this map just now,” Lamb responded.

Read the full story here

-Tom Richardson

Lagging  northern suburbs vax rate gathers pace

Adelaide’s northern suburbs are edging closer to an 80 per cent first dose vaccination mark – although parts of the region are still around 15 points behind the statewide average.

The latest federal government figures, correct as of Sunday, show that 51.3 per cent of residents over the age of 16 in the Playford region have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The local government area, which has an over-15s population of more than 70,000, is 15 percentage points behind the statewide double-dose average of 66.6 per cent recorded on the same day.

Nearby, Salisbury, South Australia’s second-most populous LGA, reached 58.9 per cent double vaccinated on Sunday.

But the area’s first dose rate is picking up pace, with 76.4 per cent of over-16s in Salisbury having received at least one jab, not far behind the statewide average of 81.8 per cent.

Playford on Sunday also passed the 70 per cent first dose mark, with 70.5 per cent in the area now single jabbed.

The State Government on Tuesday opened a new seven-day walk-in vaccination clinic at the Munno Para Shopping Centre in a bid to boost jab rates in the Playford area.

SA Health also this week announced they would be extending Thursday opening hours at the Playford Civic Centre vaccination hub until 7pm.

The next slowest region in South Australia’s vaccination race is the Adelaide Plains where 52 per cent are fully vaccinated and 69.2 per cent first dosed, although the district council area has a much smaller over-15s population of around 7500 people.

On the flipside, Burnside reached 82.7 per cent double-dosed on Sunday, with the eastern suburbs LGA becoming the first in South Australia to pass the 80 per cent fully vaccinated mark.

Close behind are Mitcham (79.2 per cent), Holdfast Bay (78.4 per cent), Walkerville (78.4 per cent) and the Adelaide Hills (78.1 per cent).

In another first, Mount Gambier on Sunday eclipsed 95 per cent first dose vaccination, with nearly 73 per cent of over-16s in the South East town fully vaccinated.

Mount Gambier is one of seven LGAs in South Australia to have now passed 90 per cent single dose vaccination.

-Thomas Kelsall

French ambassador savages PM over ‘stab in the back’

France’s ambassador has labelled the dumping of the $90 billion submarine deal a “stab in the back”, accusing Prime Minister Scott Morrison of being intentionally deceitful.

Ambassador Jean-Pierre Thebault slammed the government’s handling of the submarine deal, bringing into question Australia’s word on the international stage.

“What can any partner of Australia now think is the value of Australia’s signature and commitment?” he said in a National Press Club address on Wednesday.

Thebault said the decision was made unilaterally by Australia and the French were not consulted despite “countless opportunities”.

“Without having shared (information) frankly and openly, or having looked for alternatives with France, is just out of this world.

“Why was it impossible earlier to state the naked truth?”

Thebault was recalled to Paris in September after Morrison revealed Australia would work with the US and UK on a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines under the AUKUS partnership.

The dumped deal torpedoed five years of collaboration between Australia and France on a project to deliver 12 diesel-powered boats to replace the ageing Collins class fleet.

Morrison spoke with President Emmanuel Macron following the fallout and the two briefly caught up at the G20 summit in Rome on the weekend.

Macron – in a media doorstop with Australian journalists – accused the prime minister of misleading him over the deal with the US and UK.

Morrison has denied misleading the French government and insists concerns about the submarine project had been raised for some time.

Communications between the two leaders were also leaked to the media, with the French president reportedly telling Morrison, “I don’t like losing”.

Overnight on Tuesday, former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Turnbull again took aim at Morrison over the France furore.

“Oh, he’s lied to me on many occasions,” he told journalists on the sidelines of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow.

“I mean, this is shocking, shocking conduct for Scott Morrison and he can bluster as much as he likes, but he’s not fooling anyone.

“I tell you what Scott Morrison has done, he has sacrificed Australian honour, Australian security and Australian sovereignty.”

Former Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd said the way to repair the relationship with France would be to allow the country to re-tender for the submarines, based on a nuclear-powered model.

As well, the UK and US should be invited to put in tenders to maximise taxpayer value for money.

Australia digests deforestation, land clearing pledge

Conservation and farming groups are digesting the impact of a pledge by Australia to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by the end of the decade.

Australia is one of the 105 countries that has signed the declaration at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

Underpinning the deal is an investment of $25 billion in public and private funds to protect and restore forests.

“We will have a chance to end humanity’s long history as nature’s conqueror, and instead become its custodian,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said of the pact.

A joint statement at COP26 was backed by leaders of countries – including Brazil, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo – which collectively account for 85 per cent of the world’s forests.

Mark Howden from the ANU specialises in climate change, land use and agriculture and said the pledge “is a good aspirational goal” for Australia.

He tsaid that while the pledge seems to be mostly directed towards developing countries it would still have implications for Australia.

Because the states and territories are responsible for land clearing management there is a question as to how the Commonwealth could implement the pledge, Prof Howden said.

“Queensland and NSW will be the ones where in particular there appears to be restlessness about land clearing restrictions,” he noted.

Facebook to delete facial recognition system

Facebook says it is shutting down its facial recognition system, which automatically identifies users in photos and videos, citing growing societal concerns about the use of such technology.

“Regulators are still in the process of providing a clear set of rules governing its use,” Jerome Pesenti, vice president of artificial intelligence at Facebook, wrote in a blog post.

“Amid this ongoing uncertainty, we believe that limiting the use of facial recognition to a narrow set of use cases is appropriate.”

Photo: Pavlo Gonchar / SOPA Images/Sipa USA

The removal of face recognition by the world’s largest social media platform comes as the tech industry has faced a reckoning over the past few years over the ethics of using the technology.

Critics say facial recognition technology – which is popular among retailers, hospitals and other businesses for security purposes – could compromise privacy, target marginalised groups and normalise intrusive surveillance.

The news also comes as Facebook has been under intense scrutiny from regulators and lawmakers over user safety and a wide range of abuses on its platforms.

The company, which last week renamed itself Meta Platforms Inc, said more than one-third of Facebook’s daily active users have opted into the face recognition setting on the social media site and the change will now delete the “facial recognition templates” of more than one billion people.

The removal will roll out globally and is expected to be complete by December, a Facebook spokesperson said.

Islamic State attacks Kabul hospital

At least 25 people have been killed and more than 50 wounded when gunmen attacked Afghanistan’s biggest military hospital after two heavy explosions at the site in central Kabul, officials say.

The explosions hit the entrance of the 400-bed Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan hospital and were followed with an assault by a group of Islamic State gunmen, all of whom were killed within 15 minutes, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.

He said Taliban special forces dropped by helicopter had prevented the attackers from entering the hospital itself, with all killed at the entrance or in the courtyard.

The blasts add to a growing list of attacks and killings since the Taliban completed their victory over the foreign-backed government in August, undermining their claim to have restored security to Afghanistan after decades of war.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but the operation was typical of the complex attacks mounted by IS.

It follows a string of bombings by the group which has emerged as the biggest threat to Taliban control of Afghanistan.

A Taliban security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said at least 25 people had been killed and more than 50 wounded in the assault but there was no officially confirmed casualty toll.

-With AAP and Reuters

 

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