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What we know today, Friday February 4

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Victoria and NSW recorded another 67 COVID-related deaths and 21,000 cases overnight.

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Another 67 COVID-related deaths in Victoria, NSW

Victoria has recorded another 36 COVID-related deaths and 11,000 cases overnight, with NSW posting 31 more deaths and 10,698 new cases.

NSW hospitalisations fell to 2494 on Friday while ICU admissions remained at 160.

Case numbers and hospitalisations are plateauing and more health staff are back on the job, but tracking the spread of the virus in the community is still a challenge.

Healthcare settings still have a “Red” status, the highest of the three in the state’s COVID-19 risk monitoring dashboard, updated weekly.

But “available metrics continue to point towards a stabilisation of the outbreak”.

There remains “some uncertainty around levels of case ascertainment”.

As of Monday, 3034 health staff were in isolation after potential exposure to the virus, down from 4523 the previous week.

Fewer people were admitted to hospitals with the virus but those who eventually found themselves in intensive care units were staying there longer, with those patients spending an average of over a week in ICU.

There were close to 33,000 fewer positive cases recorded in the week up to Monday compared to the previous week.

Victoria recorded another 36 COVID-related deaths and 11,240 new cases, as more than 1000 students and staff remain home after testing positive.

Of Victoria’s new cases, 3889 are positive PCR tests and 7351 positive rapid antigen tests.

The total number of active cases in the state is 65,968, down 680 from Thursday.

Hospitalisations with COVID-19 have fallen by 45 to 707 patients, the lowest figure since January 7.

There are 79 people in intensive care, three fewer than the previous day, with 29 of those on a ventilator.

Nine apologises, retracts Crows pre-season camp coverage

The Nine Network, The Age and journalists Sam McClure and Caroline Wilson have issued retractions and apologised to Collective Mind – organisers of the Adelaide Crows’ 2018 pre-season training camp – for their coverage of the event.

The group has also agreed to pay all of Collective Mind’s legal costs and have acknowledged the “camp was run in good faith and with players’ interests front of mind”.

Nine is now retracting 13 publications about the camp, including two video interviews and McClure and Wilson’s feature stories published in July 2020.

Collective Mind flagged last September that they would be seeking “appropriate legal redress” from Nine after a SafeWork SA investigation cleared them of any breach of work health and safety laws regarding the 2018 pre-season camp that had been linked to a player exodus from the Crows and their subsequent spiral from finals contention.

Nine’s reports detailed several allegations of the goings-on during the Gold Coast camp.

Following “lengthy legal discussions”, Nine have agreed to run an apology on page 3 of the Sunday Age, The Age’s website and Nine’s Wide World of Sports.

“In July 2020, Nine published and broadcast a number of pieces reporting on the Adelaide Crows camp in 2018,” the apology reads.

“The publications made a number of statements about Amon Woulfe, Derek Leddie and Collective Mind.  Nine acknowledges that Workplace SA (sic) made no findings of wrongdoing against Collective Mind.

“Nine acknowledges that the camp was run in good faith and with the players’ interests front of mind.  If the publications were taken to suggest otherwise, Nine withdraws that suggestion.

“Nine apologises and expresses regret if the publications caused hurt and offence to Mr Woulfe, Mr Leddie and Collective Mind. Nine has withdrawn these publications.”

In a joint statement, Woulfe and Leddie said the public apologies “finally set the record straight”.

“This outcome is also a vindication for all those involved, both at the Club and our partner organisations, who can now finally move on and put this unsavoury chapter behind them,” they said.

“Large media organisations and journalists don’t apologise easily, so this is clearly a significant victory for our personal reputations, our brand and our business.”

SA Health chief defends keeping COVID modelling under wraps

Detailed COVID modelling guiding the Marshall Government’s Omicron response will not be released publicly because “most people can’t understand it”, the chief of SA Health has told a parliamentary committee – inviting members of the public to lodge Freedom of Information requests for the data “if they’re suspicious enough”.

The modelling, conducted by University of Adelaide researchers, predicted the Omicron wave to peak in late January, and was used as the basis for the Government’s “hybrid” return to school model and easing of elective surgery restrictions and work from home advice.

But while the modelling has been spelled out by Premier Steven Marshall in broad terms, the specific data has not been released – unlike the same researchers’ previous modelling of the impact of opening state borders to the Delta variant.

In a parliamentary committee examining the state’s COVID response, Health boss Dr Chris McGowan yesterday was asked when the public would “be given access to the full updated modelling from the University of Adelaide”.

“I think it is the intention of the Government to make, in general terms, the modelling available,” he replied.

He noted that chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier had released a video “describing the modelling”, adding that it was “not necessarily that accessible to people who aren’t really familiar with these modelling instruments”.

“But there’s a lot of it and it can be pretty technical so it’s not my intention to release the entirety of all the models … on a regular basis,” he said.

Chris McGowan appearing before a parliamentary committee earlier this year. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

“It is our intention to provide, from time to time, particularly the modelling that underpins significant decisions… that modelling would be made public so the community can see the basis on which decisions are based in a totally open and transparent way [but] I don’t think it would be a productive use of anyone’s time to release the full gamut of modelling that we get.”

Committee members were unconvinced, but McGowan insisted releasing the data would not be beneficial “just because there’s a lot of it” and “most people can’t understand it”.

“It usually requires a bit of explanation [and] can be taken out of context,” he said, but conceded: “The community have a right to see the modelling on which key decisions are made.”

Read the full story here

-Tom Richardson

COVID impact on SA schools revealed

Around 300 school staff were absent on the first day of “hybrid” schooling after either contracting COVID or being forced into isolation as a close contact.

Education department boss Rick Persse told the COVID parliamentary committee yesterday that when schools returned on Wednesday, a large number of educators and carers were already impacted by COVID.

“Absolutely – we’re a large employer,” he said, revealing around 150 teachers “and about the same number of SSOs [school services officers] were absent for COVID related reasons”.

Persse told ABC Radio this morning that 199 teachers were now in isolation along with. further 173 support staff.

Currently, preschoolers, receptions and years 1, 7, 8 and 12 are attending school for face-to-face learning.

The rest of the cohort – roughly 170,000 students – are due to return to campus on February 14.

State Govt to fund 51 more ambos

The State Government has announced it will invest $30 million to hire an additional 51 full time paramedics, after receiving advice from the ambulance service that the agency needed a boost in resources.

Amid ongoing concerns from the ambulance union over “unprecedented” demand on paramedics during South Australia’s Omicron wave, the Marshall Government this morning said it hoped to see an additional 51 paramedics on the road “within 12 months”.

“Today’s investment is based on the advice of SAAS regarding what is needed to support the demand for our ambulance service going forward,” Premier Steven Marshall said.

“It comes in addition to the 74 FTE ambulance officers announced in the current State Budget, as well as a doubling of the paramedic intake last year and in 2022.”

It comes after a Productivity Commission review revealed ambulance response times across SA in 2020-21 increased by 10 minutes to an average of 32.8 minutes.

Health Minister Stephen Wade flagged that the Marshall Government would be “making further announcement on ambulance services during the campaign”.

SA dentists face rapid test shortage

Dentists at government-run clinics across Adelaide are not being supplied with rapid antigen tests, prompting their union to consider launching industrial action.

Health Services Union SA branch secretary Billy Elrick told parliament’s COVID-19 Response committee yesterday afternoon that it was “ludicrous” that staff working at SA Dental clinics were not supplied with rapid antigen tests.

He said he had written to SA Health on multiple occasions asking it to rectify the issue and had given it a deadline of midday yesterday to respond.

“(I) couldn’t think of a job that has more face-to-face contact than going to your dentist, (but) they are not being provided with RATs outside of the SA Dental Hospital,” he told the committee.

“It just seems a bit ludicrous to me that teachers… or a corrections officer has greater access to a rapid antigen test from the government than our members who are dentists have access to.”

The Health Services Union was last month involved in a similar dispute with the Women’s and Children’s Hospital Network over concerns staff at the hospital were not being provided with rapid antigen tests.

Union officials told the hospital that they would consider escalating the matter to the Employment Tribunal under a work, health and safety clause within the enterprise agreement.

The hospital later agreed to reverse its decision and supply tests to frontline staff.

Elrick said he had sent “almost identical correspondence” to SA Dental, which operates out of the Central Adelaide Local Health Network.

“I’m still yet to receive a response – I believe I gave them a deadline of midday today,” he said.

“It was not the first correspondence that I had sent to them regarding this matter, but it absolutely was more formal and the initiation of a more formalised process.”

Chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier told the committee that she was not aware of the matter, but rapid antigen tests were “only one part of the infectious disease response to prevent transmission”.

“It (testing) is useful, but it is only one thing that you do,” she said.

“I’d be much more interested in the fact that SA Dental are using really high levels of appropriate PPE (personal protective equipment) and that all their staff are trained in the use of PPE.

“That to me, in a dental setting, would be more useful.”

US special forces kill Islamic State leader

A damaged house is seen after an alleged counterterrorism operation by US Special forces in the early morning in Atma village in the northern countryside of Idlib, Syria (Image: EPA/YAHYA NEMAH)

US special forces have killed the leader of the jihadist group Islamic State in a raid in northwest Syria, President Joe Biden says.

Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Quraishi had led IS since the death in 2019 of its founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was also killed when he detonated explosives during a raid by US commandos.

“Thanks to the bravery of our troops, this horrible terrorist leader is no more,” Biden said in remarks at the White House, adding that US forces took every possible precaution to minimise civilian casualties.

As US troops approached the target, Quraishi blew himself up, also killing members of his own family including women and children, according to Biden and US officials.

Neither Biden nor US officials briefing reporters provided a death toll but Syrian rescue workers said at least 13 people were killed, including four women and six children.

Biden and US officials described Quraishi as the “driving force” behind the 2014 genocide of minority Yazidis in northern Iraq and said he oversaw a network of IS branches from Africa to Afghanistan.

“Last night’s operation took a major terrorist leader off the battlefield and has sent a strong message to terrorists around the world: we will come after you and find you,” Biden said.

‘Murder’ witness to appear at Roberts-Smith trial

A soldier who served with Ben Roberts-Smith is expected to detail before a court what he saw when the Australian war hero allegedly ordered the murder of a man under arrest.

Roberts-Smith, who denies any wrongdoing during his six tours of Afghanistan, is suing three newspapers in the Federal Court over reports of alleged war crimes.

The newspapers, who have pleaded a truth defence, are on Friday to call their second Australian-based witness: an SAS soldier codenamed Person 14.

According to the newspapers’ defence, Person 14, Roberts-Smith, an interpreter and members of the Afghan Partner Force were on a mission in Khaz Oruzgan in October 2012 when an Afghan man was arrested.

Whilst Roberts-Smith questioned the man the newspapers alleged was exhibiting no threatening or violent signs, Person 14 found a nearby cache of warheads, the claim states.

Roberts-Smith then allegedly told the interpreter to relay an execution message to the Afghan soldiers.

The trial has also heard allegations that another Afghan prisoner was killed at a Taliban compound dubbed Whiskey 108.

The newspapers have suggested Person 14 told Roberts-Smith in 2018 he wanted to tell the truth about what occurred at Whiskey 108, including the alleged machine-gunning of an Afghan with a prosthetic leg.

“What he told you made you panic,” the newspapers’ barrister Nicholas Owens put to Roberts-Smith last year.

“No … I was surprised,” the VC recipient replied, later adding he was “in shock” and believed that “the whole thing was a stitch-up”.

The newspapers are expected to call about two dozen witnesses.

Langer faces career-defining day as coach

Cricket Australia’s board is set to mull Justin Langer’s future as coach today (AAP Image/Darren England)

Justin Langer made a playing career as one of Australian cricket’s all-time fighters, but his battle to stay on as coach will be out of his hands today ahead of a Cricket Australia board meeting which could decide his fate.

Cricket Australia directors will hook up for a pre-scheduled board meeting today before high-performance manager Ben Oliver presents to them the direction of the team.

Uncertainty over Langer’s position has hung over both him and the team since senior players met with CEO Nick Hockley over the coach’s intense nature last August.

Those off-field matters will be taken into account in Friday’s meeting, not just the Ashes and T20 World Cup wins.

By the end of the meeting, there is every chance Langer’s fate could be decided.

He could have a contract renewal to his liking before his current one expires at the end of June, or he could be told the board will look in another direction.

Langer, backed by several big-name former teammates, has never made any secret about his desire to coach on.

“I’ve never thought differently to be honest,” he said before the Boxing Day Test.

“I’ve been consistent with what I’ve said for the last four years. I love my job.”

Players meanwhile have been less direct, avoiding most speculation on the matter with Pat Cummins adamant on Thursday their public commentary would not help.

Both Cummins and white-ball captain Aaron Finch have, however, spoken to Hockley and Oliver about Langer’s future and the direction of the team.

That in itself has prompted questions over player power, a point strongly rejected by players’ union boss Todd Greenberg.

“I’ve heard that and I don’t subscribe to it at all,” Greenberg said on Thursday, while still maintaining deserved respect.

“The players should have a strong voice and should be consulted.

“We want a seat at the table … but ultimately we’re part of a bigger system. We understand that.

“The players don’t make decisions on a coach’s contract … but we have the ability to provide our opinion and feedback.”

Meanwhile, England head coach Chris Silverwood has left his position overnight following his country’s dismal Ashes campaign.

The England and Wales Cricket Board announced the decision on Thursday night, just 24 hours after Ashley Giles also stepped down from his role as managing director of England men’s cricket.

-With AAP and Reuters

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