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What we know today, Friday December 3

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A school student with no link to overseas travellers has become the ninth confirmed case of the Omicron variant in NSW, raising concerns the new strain is circulating in the community.

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Possible Omicron community transmission in NSW

A school student with no link to overseas travellers has become the ninth confirmed case of the Omicron variant in NSW, stoking fears the new strain is circulating in the community.

Another two students from Regents Park Christian School in western Sydney possibly have the variant too, with urgent testing results due back on Friday.

“This is of concern to the extent that this is the first case that we know of that appears not to have had any travel history,” Health Minister Brad Hazzard said.

The student also has no links to overseas travellers, according to NSW Health.

“It would appear that the case could well be an on-NSW-soil transmission,” Hazzard said.

Senior students from the school have already been dismissed for the year, but contact tracing and further investigations are underway.

“The time of the year is convenient,” Hazzard said.

“The ones who need to are obviously being tested, (those) who are in the cohorts with the relevant students.”

The student’s case takes the number of confirmed Omicron cases in NSW to nine.

The tally includes a child whose diagnosis sparked a number of new public health alerts in the Chatswood area in Sydney’s north, which are listed on the NSW Health website.

Urgent genomic testing is underway to confirm whether the child’s fully vaccinated parents have the new variant too.

The family, which had not been in southern Africa, is in special health accommodation.

NSW Health is concerned the family caught the virus while flying into Sydney on Qatar Airways flight QR908 from Doha on November 23, and is contacting other travellers on that flight.

NSW reported 337 cases of the coronavirus in the 24 hours to 8pm on Thursday – the highest tally in six weeks – but no new virus deaths.

Premier Dominic Perrottet urged the public not to focus on case numbers.

“We would have expected those numbers to be much higher in circumstances where we opened up our state,” he said.

There are currently 140 COVID-19 cases admitted to hospital across NSW, with 25 people in intensive care, 10 of whom require ventilation.

The state’s vaccination rate remained at 94.6 per cent first-dose coverage and 92.6 per cent double-dose.

Labor announces 43 per cent 2030 climate target

Federal Labor is set to take to the election an emissions reduction target of 43 per cent this decade.

The policy to be announced on Friday is weaker than the 45 per cent cut the opposition took to the 2019 poll.

Labor’s caucus met in Canberra on Friday morning to finalise the target.

The party hopes it will help satisfy community support for greater climate action while leaving room to defend against coalition attacks.

But the Greens accused Labor of giving up on climate change with a target that wasn’t consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5C.

“These targets take us past the point of no return. The Liberals are taking us over the cliff at 200 km/h while Labor’s promising to do it at 180 km/h,” Greens leader Adam Bandt said.

The coalition government has refused to lift its 2030 target of a 26 to 28 per cent reduction on 2005 levels.

Instead, it is relying on projections it will beat the target, and achieve a cut of between 30 and 35 per cent.

Vic records 1188 cases, 11 deaths

Victoria has recorded 1188 COVID-19 cases and another 11 deaths, as Victorian GPs are facing increasingly abusive behaviour from people seeking vaccine exemptions.

The health department confirmed on Friday the state is now managing 12,913 active COVID-19 cases.

There are 289 patients in the state’s hospitals, 43 of whom are in intensive care and 22 requiring ventilation.

The seven-day hospitalisation average has fallen by two to 291.

Virus testers processed 63,214 results on Thursday, while 3772 people were vaccinated in state-run hubs.

More than 91 per cent of Victorians over 12 are fully vaccinated.

The latest figures follow a warning from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners about increasingly abusive behaviour towards Victorian GPs, nurses and receptionists.

RACGP Victoria chair Anita Munoz said she was aware of “disturbing incidents of abusive and threatening behaviour” from people ineligible for an exemption.

The professional body said anti-vaxxer groups had been encouraging people to seek exemptions on grounds that are not listed as exempt by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation’s expanded guidance.

“I am very concerned about the level of abuse that general practice teams in Victoria are seeing from people seeking vaccine exemptions when they are not eligible,” Munoz said.

“It is a small minority, and most people are doing the right thing. However, we do need to deal with this issue urgently, we can’t simply ignore it.

“Abusive and threatening behaviour is never okay. We must ensure the safety and wellbeing of our GPs, receptionists, practice nurses and everyone else on the frontline.”

WA shuts out SA after COVID case spike

Western Australia has banned entry to travellers from South Australia overnight, with authorities expecting a COVID-19 cluster in Adelaide’s eastern suburbs to grow.

South Australia recorded 18 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, with 16 cases linked to a high school reunion in Norwood and two connected to interstate travellers.

Thursday’s cases included eight men aged between their 30s and 60s and 10 women in their fifties.

Former South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill was among those to attend the Henley High School 40th anniversary class reunion at Theatre Bugs, Norwood on Saturday and later test positive. 

It is the state’s highest number of new infections for more than a year, with 210 close contacts currently in quarantine.

SA Health has recorded 31 cases since the borders reopened on November 23, with 27 cases currently active.

WA’s hard border with SA came into effect at 12.01am, with travel from SA not permitted unless the person is an approved traveller.

The exemption list is limited to certain officials, while approved travellers must have proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test, be fully vaccinated, able to self-quarantine for 14 days and get tested within two days of arrival.

Any West Australian who recently travelled to SA is able to return under compassionate grounds, but must apply through the G2G pass system.

Premier Mark McGowan said the situation in South Australia was concerning and the hard border needed to be reinstated while Western Australia got its vaccination rates up.

“I’m aware this will be disruptive to many and present challenges to some however we must do everything we can to protect the health of Western Australians,” he said in a statement.

Queensland and Tasmania are the only states not subject to travel restrictions in WA, which has largely kept visitors out for more than 18 months.

New exposure sites in Adelaide’s west

A pub, restaurant and medical centre are among four new exposure sites listed in Adelaide’s west overnight.

In an update issued late on Thursday, SA Health said the waiting room in the Trinity Medical Centre in Port Adelaide has been deemed a “close contact exposure” location.

Anyone fully vaccinated who was there on Tuesday, November 30 is asked to immediately get tested and quarantine for seven days, while unvaccinated contacts are required to quarantine for 14 days.

The Halfway Hotel in Beverley has been deemed a “casual contact exposure” location for Tuesday, November 30 from 7pm to 8:30pm.

The listing requires anyone at the pub at the designated time to quarantine until they receive a negative result.

The same order applies to the Thai Orchid Restaurant in Henley Beach, where a positive case also attended on the Tuesday from 5:45pm to 8pm.

The Western Hospital Courtside Café in Henley Beach has also been deemed a “low risk casual contact” location, with anyone there on Monday, November 29 from 10:30am to 11:00am or Tuesday, November 30, asked to monitor for symptoms.

The latest sites add to a growing list of exposure locations identified by SA Health this week.

On Thursday, health authorities listed the Stir Restaurant in Largs North as a casual contact exposure, while the Mount Barker General Hospital and BIG4 West Beach Parks at West Beach were deemed low risk casual contact locations.

SA Health on Wednesday listed exposure sites at Norwood, Glenelg, Unley and the city connected to the locally acquired cases.

SA Lower House adjourned until May

South Australia’s Lower House has been adjourned until after the election, following a late-night vote from MPs on Thursday.

The change means the House of Assembly, where government is formed, will not sit until May 3 – two months after the March state election.

However, the Legislative Council has agreed to resume sittings on February 8.

It comes after the morning sessions of the House of Assembly and the Legislative Council were both adjourned on Thursday due to the state’s COVID-19 cluster.

Members of parliament were also advised to avoid in-person meetings.

Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas accused the government of leaving parliament at a “critical” stage for the state.

“The State Government has let COVID into South Australia and people rightly expect their Parliament will continue its work during this time.

“Yet Steven Marshall and the Liberals have decided now is the time to shut down Parliament for five months.”

The power to determine the Lower House’s sitting schedule was handed to Independent Speaker Dan Cregan in October, however, that power was wrestled back by the government in November.

A State Government spokesperson said the Labor party “want to play politics during a pandemic”.

“The parliament has sat for more days this year than for the year in the lead-up to the last election when Pete Malinauskas was the Labor Health Minister,” the spokesperson said.

“Pete Malinauskas and Labor need to stop trying to undermine the Marshall Liberal Government’s world-leading COVID response.”

Publishing titan Louise Adler to take over the reins at Writers’ Week

Louise Adler will take over as Adelaide Writers’ Week Director in 2023. 

Prominent Australian publishing figure Louise Adler has been appointed as the next director of Adelaide Writers’ Week, taking over from outgoing director Jo Dyer to helm the 2023-25 events.

Adelaide Festival chair Judy Potter described Adler – publisher-at-large for Hachette Australia and Vice Chancellor’s Professorial Fellow at Monash University – as “a titan of the Australian publishing industry”.

“Her experience, networks and energy across a decades-long career in publishing and literature is unsurpassed,” Potter said, in announcing the appointment today.

“She is impeccably qualified and a true leader in her field who has changed community attitudes, influenced public debate, challenged minds and given voice to critical contemporary issues.”

Current Adelaide Writers’ Week director Jo Dyer announced mid-year that she would be leaving her role after the 2022 event, her fourth at the helm.

Read the full story on InReview.

-Suzie Keen

Green light for Hills taxi and rideshare expansion

Taxi, rideshare and chauffeur drivers can now operate freely in the Adelaide Hills and Mount Barker, following a long-called for change in passenger transport regulations.

The State Government on Thursday expanded the metropolitan boundary for point-to-point passenger transport services in the Greater Adelaide region.

The changes, flagged by the government in July, mean taxi and rideshare drivers in the metropolitan region can pick up passengers in the Hills without requiring an additional licence.

Cabbies and rideshare drivers operating in Greater Adelaide were previously only allowed to drop off passengers in the Hills and Mount Barker regions, a point of contention for Hills residents frustrated with a lack of transport options.

Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Corey Wingard said the State Government expected the change to improve transport availability in the region.

“We’ve listened to calls from Adelaide Hills and Mount Barker locals for more rideshare and taxi options, with these changes paving the way for operators to expand their services,” he said.

“Local commuters will benefit from increased competition and greater convenience with more options available to get them where they need to go.

“The expanded boundary comes into operation in time for a bumper Christmas and holiday season, offering more options for wine lovers and tourists to easily and safely explore our wonderful Adelaide Hills regions.”

The Cat Empire headline second 2022 WOMADelaide announcement

The Cat Empire will headline WOMAD in 2022 (Photo: Helen Page)

Perennial favourites The Cat Empire will perform their final-ever South Australian show with their current line-up at next year’s WOMADelaide, with other acts announced today for the 2022 festival including hip-hop outfit AB Original and a number of international musicians.

Festival organisers have revealed a further 40 artists for the 30th anniversary event in Botanic Park from March 11-14 after announcing the first 30 acts last month.

They also include four-time ARIA-Award-winning composer and oud virtuoso Joseph Tawadros. Cairo-born Tawadros will perform his Concerto for Oud & Orchestra and other works with the 52-piece Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, with his brother James Tawadros on Arabic percussion.

Among international acts joining the 2022 line-up are New Zealand five-piece L.A.B, who play a mix of reggae, electronic, blues, funk and rock; Brazilian jazz musicians Azymuth & Marcos Valle; Mississippi blues artist Cedric Burnside; Guatemala-born, US-based folk singer Gaby Moreno; and Scottish trad-electronic band Elephant Sessions.

See the complete list of artists announced today in the full story on InReview.

-Suzie Keen

Young SA drivers copping road rage at ‘alarming’ rate

More than a quarter of learner and P-plater drivers in South Australia have been a victim of road rage, according to new figures from the RAA, prompting a call for calm ahead of the summer holidays.

The results come from a survey of around 2800 high school students conducted in October by the state’s peak automotive body, with 26 per cent of respondents reporting they had been the target of a road rage incident.

Further, just over 80 per cent of young drivers said they had already witnessed an instance of road rage.

Of those, 45 per cent said their parents instigated the aggression.

The RAA said the “alarming” figures were particularly concerning as they come ahead of the summer holidays when more young drivers hit the road.

RAA senior manager community education Ben Haythorpe said it was “very disappointing” to see how many parents had instigated the aggression.

“It’s also of great concern that so many novice drivers have already been victims of road rage, while others are fearful they will be targeted when they get their licence,” he said.

“Female students (63 per cent) are significantly more worried than male students (36 per cent) of being a target of road rage, the survey also showed.’

“Experienced motorists need to cut learner drivers some slack, show them patience and don’t express any frustrations.”

Just over half of the cohort surveyed expressed fear that they would be victims of road rage.

The definition of road rage in the survey ranged from gestures to verbal altercations and physical violence.

Germany announces lockdown for the unvaccinated, eyes mandatory jabs

Germany has announced it will bar the unvaccinated from all but essential businesses such as grocery stores and pharmacies while it drafts legislation to make vaccination mandatory by early next year.

It comes as Europe’s biggest economy seeks to break a dramatic surge in daily COVID-19 infections exacerbated by the discovery of the Omicron strain.

Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel and her successor Olaf Scholz agreed with leaders of Germany’s 16 states to bar the unvaccinated from access to all but the most essential businesses such as grocery stores, pharmacies and bakeries.

They also agreed to pass legislation in the parliament to make vaccination mandatory.

Eager to avoid lockdowns that could derail a fragile recovery, Germany has kept businesses open to the almost 69 per cent of the population that is fully vaccinated and those with proof of having recovered from COVID-19.

“The situation is very serious,” Merkel said during a news conference with Scholz, who is expected to be elected as chancellor in the German lower house next week.

“The number of infections has stabilised but on a far too high a level.”

On Thursday Germany recorded more than 73,000 new infections and 388 deaths.

Merkel said an ethics committee will be asked to draft legislation to make vaccination mandatory and the Bundestag would debate and vote on the disputed measure in February at the latest.

Authorities fear the fourth wave of COVID-19 risks overwhelming intensive care units.

Virologists blame the renewed outbreak on resistance to vaccination by a significant section of society and have criticised politicians for acting too late to rein in contagion.

Germany’s vaccination rate of just under 70 per cent is around the EU average but lower than countries like Portugal and Ireland.

-With AAP and Reuters

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