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What we know today, Thursday December 16


Victoria has reported another 1622 COVID-19 cases and nine deaths overnight, while NSW recorded another 1742 cases amid predictions of 25,000 infections a day next month.

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Cases continue rising in Victoria, NSW

Victoria has reported another 1622 COVID-19 cases and nine deaths overnight, while NSW recorded another 1742 cases amid predictions the tally could soar to 25,000 infections a day next month.

Victoria’s daily case figure is the highest since October 29 and the state is now managing 12,252 active infections.

There are 384 patients in hospital, 87 of whom are actively infected with the virus in intensive care and 49 on ventilators.

The seven-day hospitalisation average is also on the rise, growing to 346.

The NSW case was a jump of 382 from the previous day’s tally and NSW Health believes the Omicron variant is behind the surge of infections, with Newcastle and Sydney recording the most cases.

That new cases were diagnosed from 143,938 tests in the 24 hours until 8pm on Wednesday

There are 192 people with COVID in hospital, 26 of them in ICU.

The double-dose vaccination rate of those 16 and older is 93.3 per cent, while 94.8 per cent of people have had their first jab.

Some 81.4 per cent of children aged 12-15 have had one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 77.8 per cent are fully jabbed.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet is urging people to shift the focus from infections to the number of people in hospital.

While hospitalisations generally lag infection spikes, Perrottet has “complete confidence” the hospital system will cope.

UK records pandemic-high 78,000 daily infections

England’s chief medical officer has warned people not to mix with others unless they have to in the run-up to Christmas after the United Kingdom recorded its most daily coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic.

With a new highly transmissible Omicron variant of the virus surging across the UK, a further 78,610 COVID-19 infections were reported on Wednesday, about 10,000 more than the previous high reported in January.

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said that the UK is being hit by “two epidemics on top of each other” as he urged the public to scale back their Christmas plans.

“People should be prioritising those things – and only those things – that really matter to them,” he said. “Don’t mix with people you don’t have to.”

Whitty warned that the number of daily cases would continue to break records in the next few weeks and a big rise in hospitalisations is “a nailed-on prospect”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed with a “general instinct to be more cautious” but ruled out further government restrictions for now.

“We’re not cancelling events, we’re not closing hospitality, we’re not cancelling people’s parties or their ability to mix,” he said.

More than 11 million people have tested positive for the disease since the start of the pandemic in the UK, which has a total population of about 67 million.

While the number of daily cases is at a record, deaths are running at a much lower level than earlier in the pandemic.

The government hopes that a rapid booster rollout will help keep levels of severe disease low even as cases rise.

COVID alert for SA aged care homes

SA Health says 22 aged care homes in South Australia were visited by a pair of COVID-positive vaccinated health workers over the last week, although exposures “were not widespread across the facilities”.

It comes after health authorities reported 25 new cases in SA on Wednesday, including five locally acquired cases and six cases that are under investigation to determine their source.

The two vaccinated healthcare workers who were delivering services across 22 aged care facilities were among 12 new cases reported on Tuesday.

“Testing and regular monitoring continues at the Residential Aged Care facilities across metropolitan Adelaide associated with positive COVID-19 cases reported on 14 December 2021,” SA Health said in a statement on Wednesday.

“While residents at 22 facilities have been impacted, the exposures were not widespread across the facilities and additional infection control and testing measures have been implemented based on the risk at each site.

“All test results so far have been negative.”

SA Health has not named the aged care sites affected by the COVID scare, with a spokesperson telling InDaily on Wednesday that releasing the information was “not part of the public health response”.

House of St Hilarion at Seaton and St Pauls Lutheran Homes at Hahndorf were among the residential homes placed into lockdown on Tuesday night after the infectious health care workers visited residents at those aged care facilities.

UnitingSA said its aged care facilities at West Lakes, Seaton and Grange were also visited by COVID-positive medical practitioners.

Society of Saint Hilarion CEO Dr Carol Davey said SA Health informed them about the positive case late Tuesday.

“Saint Hilarion immediately implemented their detailed COVID Pandemic Plan and communicated with Residents and families about these strategies,” Davey said.

“Testing of Residents and staff occurred on the 14th December 2021 and we are currently awaiting results.”

Davey said the COVID-positive worker completed House of St Hilarion’s “strict entry requirements” and was asymptomatic when they entered.

There are currently 92 active cases in South Australia and 1163 close contacts in quarantine.

Two patients are in the Royal Adelaide Hospital after contracting the virus, down from three earlier in the week.

As of Tuesday, 84.9 per cent of South Australia’s population over the age of 12 is fully vaccinated, while 91.4 per cent has had at least one dose.

New exposure sites in Mount Barker, Adelaide

A school construction site in Mount Barker and the Art Gallery in Adelaide are among a string of new exposure sites listed by SA Health overnight.

In an update issued late on Wednesday, SA Health said the Mount Barker Primary School Redevelopment Site (construction site only) has been identified as a close contact exposure location from Tuesday to Thursday last week.

Anyone fully vaccinated who was at the site on those days from 7am to 3pm is required to quarantine for seven days from time of exposure, while unvaccinated contacts are asked to quarantine for 14 days.

The same health advice applies to the Derrimut 24:7 Gym, which is listed as a close contact exposure site for Monday, December 6 from 5:25pm to 8:30pm and Tuesday, December 7 from 4:45pm to 8:30pm.

Meanwhile, the Art Gallery of SA has been identified as a casual contact exposure location for Tuesday, December 7, from 11:30am to 1pm.

Any patrons present at the designated time are asked to quarantine until they receive a negative test.

The 756 bus route between Willunga and McLaren Vale has also been listed as a casual contact site, along with a party hire company in Lonsdale.

A full list of more than 100 exposure sites and times can be found here.

Industrial fire at Edwardstown

Fire crews remain at a blaze that engulfed an industrial building on South Road at Edwardstown overnight, with residents in surrounding suburbs warned to stay indoors until smoke from the fire has passed.

The Metropolitan Fire Service said it was alerted to the fire at 1:37am this morning, with 15 fire trucks and 60 firefighters attending the scene.

Police said this morning that the roads around the site are still open but the fire is “causing smoke to drift across Edwardstown and surrounding suburbs”.

“Residents are advised to remain indoors and close all doors and windows until the smoke has passed,” SA Police said in a statement.

A cause of the fire has not been established.

Alleged blackmail threats ‘part of democracy’: ex-Labor MP to stand trial

Former Labor MP Annabel Digance has pleaded not guilty and will stand trial for allegedly blackmailing Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas, with her arraignment in the district court scheduled eight days before the March state election – in which she had hoped to lead the ALP’s Upper House ticket.

In unusual scenes in the Magistrates Court on Wednesday, Digance and her husband Greg both pleaded not guilty to charges of blackmailing their former party leader after their push to have their case thrown out of court was rebuffed.

Lawyer Robert Cameron, representing the former state MP for Elder, repeatedly sparred with magistrate Simon Smart, who eventually lost patience with both the accused when they initially declined to enter a plea after their no case to answer submission was rejected.

Cameron had argued that “in our respectful submission no reasonable mind could reach a conclusion of guilt beyond reasonable doubt”, claiming a legal amendment under the former Labor Government made it clear that seeking political advantage could not constitute blackmail.

“We say with the greatest of respect that Mrs Digance, and by extension Mr Digance, have no case to answer,” he said.

The case hinges in large part on two conversations held between Greg Digance and Malinauskas in February 2020, which the Labor leader covertly recorded.

Cameron noted “the discussion between Mr Digance and Mr Malinauskas did not involve any threat of violence”, arguing: “If they contained threats, they were more in the course of negotiations to secure a political advantage for Mrs Digance.”

These were, he added, “namely a favourable preselection for Mrs Digance, as either the number one ticket holder for a job in the Upper House” or a “relatively safe” lower house preselection.

Cameron noted that, as InDaily first revealed in 2017, Digance had “sought to move to the seat of Badcoe” after a boundary redistribution had made her Elder electorate a notional Liberal seat, “but in short found she was unable to do so, so she stood again for Elder in 2018”.

Having lost the seat in that year’s election, Cameron said that at the time of the alleged threats, Digance “was an aspiring politician who hoped she may be able to resuscitate her career in public life”.

He and Smart then quibbled over the nature of the discussion between Greg Digance and Malinauskas.

“She was not asking for a job, she was asking to be nominated, or preselected, for a political position,” Cameron said.

“A safe seat,” Smart noted.

“Relatively,” Cameron replied.

“Number one on the ticket, I think you said,” Smart said, to which Cameron responded: “It’s up to the public to decide who represents them at any particular time.”

He insisted there was “nothing improper or unlawful” about the conversations.

However, Smart proffered that “Mr Digance was at pains to ensure he wasn’t taped… which might draw an inference that he knew that what was to be said was preferably not recorded… and that what was about to occur was wrong”.

“Whether or not that inference is accepted by the jury is a matter for them,” he added.

He queried Cameron’s suggestion that the conversation was a means to finding “mutual agreement”, saying: “It seemed to be couched in terms of demands.”

“Demands are part of the process of negotiation,” Cameron replied, adding: “Negotiation always starts with a demand.”

To which Smart observed: “I don’t think there was anything on my reading of it that Mr Malinauskas wanted – it was one way.”

But Cameron insisted it was “part of the political process of negotiation where someone comes to someone else and says we’d like to have ‘x’”.

Read the full story here

-Tom Richardson

Jobs figures to show post-lockdown recovery

Economists are predicting a marked turnaround in Australia’s jobs market as a result of the most recent COVID-19 lockdowns coming to an end.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics will release its labour force report for November on Thursday.

Economists’ forecasts point to a large 200,000 employment increase in November, although expectations range for gains of between 150,000 and 280,000.

However, this would still be well short of the 378,000 employment positions the ABS estimates were lost during the September quarter when the lockdowns were at their height.

The unemployment rate is predicted to fall to five per cent after the unexpected spike to 5.2 per cent in October, but again forecasts range from a fall to 4.7 per cent to a further rise to 5.5 per cent.

South Australia’s unemployment rate grew to 5.3 per cent in October, although posted better figures than Victoria (5.6 per cent), NSW (5.4 per cent) and the ACT (6.6 per cent).

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg will also today hand down his mid-year budget review, which is expected to show Treasury’s unemployment forecasts cut.

“While we have avoided the scarring of the labour market that was characteristic of the 1980s and 1990s recessions, there are still many more new jobs to create,” Frydenberg said.

“We have the economic plan to do this with the Treasury estimating around a million new jobs to be created over the next four years.”

Forecasts in the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook are expected to see the unemployment rate cut to 4.5 per cent by the June quarter of next year compared to the estimate of five per cent in the May budget.

By the June quarter 2023, it is estimated to be 4.25 per cent rather than the 4.75 per cent predicted seven months ago.

-With AAP and Reuters

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