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What we know today, Thursday December 2

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Victoria recorded another 1419 COVID-19 cases and 10 deaths overnight, but Premier Dan Andrews said the numbers are “less relevant than they’ve ever been” because the number of hospitalisations was falling.

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Victoria recorded another 1419 COVID-19 cases and 10 deaths overnight, but Premier Dan Andrews said the numbers are “less relevant than they’ve ever been” because the number of hospitalisations was falling.

Today’s infections are 240 more than recorded yesterday, but COVID-19 hospitalisations continue to fall and dropped by 11 patients, with 288, including 41 in intensive care and 20 requiring ventilation.

Premier Daniel Andrews said the continuing fall in hospitalisations was more relevant than the spike in case numbers.

“Those numbers are less relevant today than they’ve ever been,” he told reporters in Melbourne.

“Of course there is a conversion of total cases to total hospital admissions, but the trend – we’re seeing less and less people in hospital – is really important.”

Andrews said reports of retail staff being abused while scanning vaccination certificates, including a Dymocks employee who was thrown down an escalator, were “cowardly and shameful”.

“No one should be treated that way, we send our best wishes to that member of staff,” he said.

“They’re just doing their job. I expect police to throw the book at anyone behaving that way.”

Victoria is now managing 12,728 active infections.

Earlier, Health Minister Martin Foley confirmed there were still no known cases of the new Omicron variant in Victoria.

“It might well be ticking along out there at the moment but there’s been no case reported so far,” he said.

Interim SA administrator after Governor tests negative but in isolation

SA Governor Frances Adamson is in isolation as a close contact to a positive COVID-19 case and a replacement will be appointed to conduct vice-regal duties until further notice, while state parliament was today shut down.

Adamson was advised by SA Health last night that she was a close contact and took a test at midnight which returned a negative result, a statement from Government House said this morning.

“As a close contact, she will nonetheless isolate within Government House for as long as advised by SA Health,” the statement said.

“The Lieutenant-Governor, Professor Brenda Wilson AM, will be appointed as Administrator of the state for the period of Her Excellency’s isolation.”

Former Premier tests positive, SA Health tracks his contacts

Former Premier Jay Weatherill is among a spate of new SA COVID cases that has prompted prominent South Australians to get tested for coronavirus, shut down Parliament today and sent many others into quarantine as SA Health conducts an urgent audit of his movements.

According to the Vice-Regal diary, South Australian Governor Frances Adamson met with Weatherill on Sunday afternoon and has since had a packed schedule.

Weatherill yesterday tested positive for COVID-19 after attending a school reunion event held on Saturday at Theatre Bugs in Norwood – from where he is believed to have contracted the disease.

The event, understood to have been a Henley High School 40th anniversary class reunion, prompted an alert from SA Health yesterday afternoon to confirm that “two men in their 50s who are South Australian residents” had tested positive after attending “the same event in South Australia, with interstate travellers also attending the same event”.

“While the cases are currently under investigation, we believe the virus was passed on from an interstate traveller at the event,” SA Health said in a statement.

That is not believed to be Weatherill, who only tested positive yesterday and flew in to SA from his home in Perth, where there are no community cases.

He has told InDaily he returned a negative test before arriving in SA.

However, his active schedule in the days since threatens to turn into a major tracing operation for health authorities.

Jay Weatherill in the FIVEaa studio this week with presenters David Penberthy and Will Goodings

Theatre Bugs was last night identified as a close contact exposure location, along with Business SA headquarters in Unley after an induction night on Tuesday was deemed an event of concern.

On Monday night, the CEO of Thrive By Five – an early education think tank funded by Andrew Forrest’s Minderoo Foundation – was a guest speaker at another event alongside epidemiologist Sally Brinkman, Darlington Children’s Centre director David Coulter, prominent child psychiatrist Jon Jureidini and labour movement boss Sonia Romeo.

It’s understood at least one office which had staff attend the event will be closed temporarily today.

That same day Weatherill was snapped by a Liberal staffer at an outside table at Parlamento restaurant, opposite Parliament House, meeting with Labor Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas and former Attorney-General and Deputy Premier John Rau – both of whom were last night urgently getting tested before isolating.

Malinauskas has since received a negative result.

SA Health was last night reporting “longer than usual waiting times” at its Victoria Park drive-through testing station.

Rau told InDaily he was “so far so good” but that he was “getting tested just to be safe”. He has since tested negative.

“This is just the beginning of the trouble that ‘opening up’ will cause,” he said.

“Look at Europe now to see what the future may look like – it’s not pretty.”

Weatherill told InDaily he was now in 14 days quarantine before a further two weeks when he returns to WA.

He said he was feeling “a bit ordinary” but was “just apologetic for all the inconvenience I’ve caused”.

7 News last night reported that an Adelaide mother who attended the function at Theatre Bugs had also returned a positive result after being tested yesterday.

The Education Department also last night tweeted that Ocean View College will be closed today after a member of the school community tested COVID-positive, with contacts to be notified.

Weatherill had also done the media rounds, including an in-studio appearance with FIVEaa hosts David Penberthy and Will Goodings. As a result, FIVEaa staff are in isolation, including breakfast presenters David Penberthy and Will Goodings who broadcast from their homes this morning.

He also had a Tuesday meeting with fledgling Advertiser editor Gemma Jones, reporter Paul Starick and senior executive Mel Mansell, all of whom are now considered close contacts and are isolating, the paper reported.

The outbreak comes eight days after SA eased border restrictions to all states and territories, although international travel quarantine requirements have since been ramped up again in response to the surging Omicron strain.

Tom Richardson

Exposure sites linked to positive SA cases

SA Health has released a list of exposure sites connected to the locally acquired cases.

SA Health on Wednesday evening identified two close contact sites. One relates to patrons at Theatre Bugs at Norwood on Saturday November 27 at 2pm to Sunday November 28 at 2am.

The second relates to attendees of an induction night on Level 1 at a Business SA event at Unley on Tuesday November 30, from 5:30pm to 8pm.

SA Health also identified a casual contact exposure location in Glenelg at Cardone’s Seafood & Grill on Friday November 26,  from 7pm to 9:30pm.

Low risk casual contact locations were also identified at Hey Darling Expresso in Adelaide, on Friday November 26 from 11am to 11:45am, Norwood Theatre Bugs on Monday November 29 from 9am to 6pm and Tuesday the November 30 from 9am to 6pm.

Another low-risk casual contact location is in Glenelg at Fourth Wine Bar on Friday November 26 from 6:30pm to 7pm and 9:30pm to 11:45pm.

Ocean View College at Taperoo has closed today after someone connected with the school tested positive, but it isn’t on the list of exposure sites.

At time of publication, SA Health had not today updated its list of exposure sites.

The two men who tested positive yesterday are the first locally acquired cases of COVID-19 since the state’s borders reopened last week.

Under current arrangements, SA is open to vaccinated travellers from all states and territories, with some requirements for testing and quarantine.

International arrivals are required to quarantine for 14 days, regardless of where they come from.

Local restrictions, such as mandatory mask-wearing on public transport and in most venues, also remain.

The state’s transition committee met on Tuesday but left all travel and local restrictions unchanged despite concerns over the new Omicron variant of the virus.

Premier Steven Marshall said previously there was an “inevitability” about cases in South Australia under the new border rules.

“But what we want to do is to get to those cases as early as possible,” he said.

“So that we’re minimising the number of people who need to have testing or potentially go into isolation.”

No Christmas Day penalties for SA workers

Thousands of South Australian workers won’t get penalty rates on Christmas Day this year after parliament could not reach an agreement on legislation.

The impasse yesterday has sparked recriminations with Treasurer Rob Lucas accusing the Opposition of killing off a compromise, while unions and Labor blame the State Government.

Former Liberal, now independent MP, Troy Bell had put forward a compromise amendment to make Christmas Day – which falls on a Saturday – a public holiday, but only if the Christmas Eve half-day public holiday was removed.

“Ultimately, Mr Malinauskas and Labor have nobody to blame but themselves for refusing to support a reasonable compromise by Independent MP Troy Bell which was supported by the Government,” Lucas said.

“The Government, through South Australian taxpayers, will be already paying higher penalty rates on Christmas Day for many essential public sector workers, including nurses, doctors, police and correctional services officers.

“The last thing small businesses need, particularly those in tourism and hospitality, after more than 18 months of COVID, is to be hit with having to pay 250 per cent penalty rates for four-and-a-half days in a row over Christmas was untenable.”

However, Unions SA said the lack of penalty rates for many workers this year was the fault of the State Government for quashing the original Greens bill that would have put SA in line with every other state and territory where December 25 this year is a public holiday.

SA Unions Secretary Dale Beasley said “Steven Marshall has stolen Christmas from South Australian workers and their families”.

“Despite significant internal fractures, it’s clear the Liberal party can still unite around cutting workers’ pay.”

WHO expects more Omicron info within days

The World Health Organisation expects to have more information on the transmissibility of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus within days, its technical lead on COVID-19 Maria van Kerkhove says, as the US records its first case.

That was faster than the “weeks” the WHO had predicted last week that it would take to assess the data available on the variant after designating it a “variant of concern,” its highest rating.

She said one possible scenario was that the new variant, which was first reported in southern Africa, may be more transmissible than the dominant Delta variant.

She said it was not yet known if Omicron makes people more ill.

A senior Botswana health official said on Tuesday that 16 out of the total 19 cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant detected in the country were asymptomatic.

Pamela Smith-Lawrence, Acting Director of Health in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, told Reuters that the majority of the 19 people who were found to be infected with the new Omicron variant have already tested negative.

While 16 people were asymptomatic, the remaining three had “very, very mild” symptoms.

Botswana on Friday said the country was investigating certain mutations of the coronavirus that were found in four foreign citizens who were in the country on a diplomatic mission.

Since then Botswana has reported another 15 cases of the new variant, taking the total number to 19.

While it is still not established where Omicron first emerged, on November 25 South Africa, followed by Botswana a day later, announced they had detected a new variant whose mutations were different from the dominant Delta variant.

This prompted immediate air travel curbs on southern African countries from several European and Asian countries, a decision which has been criticised by both South Africa and Botswana.

The four foreigners, aged between 30 and 65 who had come to Botswana on November 7, were tested positive on November 11 and on further investigation their samples showed new mutations on November 22, Smith-Lawrence said, adding the government uploaded the data on the international database the next day.

“Unfortunately… finger now points to Botswana to say it originated in Botswana, or it is a Botswana variant, which I think is quite unfair and unnecessary at this time,” she said, adding that 14 out of the 19 people so far detected with the variant were foreigners.

She declined to name the nationalities of the people or from where they had flown.

She said within the next two to three weeks the government would be in a position to give more clarity on whether Omicron is more virulent than its predecessors or not.

The WHO says at least 23 countries, including much of western Europe but not the US, have registered Omicron cases.

Nigeria and Saudi Arabia reported Omicron infections on Wednesday, marking the first known cases in west Africa and the Middle East.

Showing an increasingly complicated web of contagion, Japan reported an Omicron case in a man who had come from Peru via Qatar.

Overnight, the United States identified its first case of the new Omicron coronavirus variant in California, the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention says.

The US health agency said the person was a traveller who returned from South Africa and was fully vaccinated.

Porter and Hunt to leave politics as parliament wraps up

Federal parliament wraps up for the year today with the exit of two high-profile Liberals and government ranks continuing to fracture.

Former attorney-general Christian Porter announced he would step away from politics at the next election, following a scandal-plagued year.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Greg Hunt is expected to announce on Thursday he is calling time on his 20-year political career.

While Thursday is the last sitting day for the year, it could also be the last time parliament meets before the next election.

The federal election is due to be held by May 2022, but there is some speculation Prime Minister Scott Morrison could call the poll just after the summer break.

The final sitting day for 2021 will likely see further debate in the lower house on the prime minister’s religious discrimination bill.

That’s despite some government MPs raising issues with the bill due to concern that LGBT students could be expelled due to their sexuality.

The Coalition has managed to appease moderate backbenchers by removing such a provision in the sex discrimination act.

However, numbers for the bill to pass the lower house could be tight with some Liberals still considering crossing the floor.

The laws had been referred to a committee for review, which is expected to report back by February.

Labor has indicated it would withhold its position on the bill until it was reviewed by the committee.

However, should it come to a vote in the lower house, the opposition would not oppose the legislation.

Two coalition MPs, George Christensen and Llew O’Brien, split with their government colleagues to vote with maverick independent Craig Kelly on Wednesday in support of his motion against COVID mandates.

The government also caved in to Labor and Greens demands in a bill to provide support to the screen industry.

– With AAP and Reuters

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