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What we know today, Tuesday February 8

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Four more South Australians with COVID have died, including a man in his 30s, as the state recorded 1296 new daily infections.

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Four more COVID deaths, including man in 30s

Four more South Australians with COVID have died, including a man in his 30s, as the state recorded 1296 new daily infections.

In a statement, SA Health said a woman in her 60s, a woman in her 70s, a man in his 30s, and a man in his 80s, who tested positive for COVID-19, had passed away.

There are currently 14,159 active cases in South Australia, with 204 people in hospital, including 15 people in intensive care and two patients on a ventilator.

“Of those hospitalised, 116 people are fully vaccinated, 35 people are either unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, and 53 have an unknown vaccination status,” SA Health said.

Today’s case numbers are slightly up on yesterday’s 1147 reported infections.

“Yesterday, 8,362 people received a PCR test in South Australia, which is a 13.6 per cent increase on the previous 24 hours,” SA Health said.

“Of the test results returned yesterday, 923 PCR tests were positive, while 373 positive Rapid Antigen Test results were reported.”

In total, 137 South Australians with COVID have died since the pandemic began.

More Defence members for aged care if crisis escalates

More Defence personnel could be deployed to COVID-19 stricken aged care facilities in South Australia and interstate if the crisis in the sector escalates, Defence Minister Peter Dutton says.

Up to 1700 defence troops will be sent into facilities in SA, Victoria and New South Wales and Queensland this week to help the care homes deal with virus-related staff shortages.

The sector has been hit with large numbers of infections linked to the Omicron variant, while staff have been dealing with shortages and a lack of protective equipment and rapid antigen tests.

“We will do more if required – the prime minister’s been very clear about us making sure that people are treated with dignity,” Dutton said on Tuesday.

“If we need more we will do more, but we’ve sent planners to stabilise the situation.”

Dutton defended the decision to wait to send in defence medical personnel, indicating planning was already in place in the sector.

There have been more than 500 deaths linked to COVID-19 in aged care since the start of the year.

“In aged care each year, there are about 1000 people a week who die – that number hasn’t increased over the course of COVID,” he said.

“They’re dying with COVID not from COVID in many instances.”

Leading Age Services Australia chief executive Sean Rooney said the sector was thankful for the ADF personnel.

“The big issue we’ve got is that these issues around staff numbers and staffing levels are not new,” he said.

“We thank the government for the ADF personnel right now, but we need to get back to fixing the fundamentals, ensuring that we have enough staff who are adequately skilled and qualified and appropriately paid.”

It comes as the federal government paves the way for international tourists to return to Australia from February 21, after nearly two years of closed borders.

Travellers will need to be double vaccinated to enter the country.

MPs to stage parliament sit-in as political drama escalates

A majority of state MPs are expected to converge on parliament tomorrow and stage a sit-in protest in the House of Assembly, as a political stoush escalates over the Marshall Government’s refusal to recall parliament to pass legislation allowing COVID cases and close contacts to vote in next month’s election.

A letter sent to Premier Steven Marshall by Speaker Dan Cregan reveals that all Labor and crossbench MPs – including four former Liberals, of which the Speaker is one – will on Wednesday morning “assemble in the chamber at 10.30am… so as to be available to consider any Bill as may have passed the Legislative Council” related to the electoral act.

That will follow the introduction today of a Bill – to be introduced to the Upper House by Labor MLC Kyam Maher – allowing anyone directed into isolation under the Emergency powers “the right to vote by telephone”.

The Bill, which is expected to pass this afternoon, would then require assent from the Lower House to come into force before the election.

But Marshall has resisted calls to recall the House, which is not scheduled to sit again until after polling day.

It follows Electoral Commissioner Mick Sherry raising the alarm with MPs last week about the prospect of thousands of South Australians being unable to vote in the state poll.

In the letter addressed to the Premier and sent to all House members last night, Cregan wrote: “Parliament must sit again.”

“Many South Australians are deeply concerned that they will be unable to vote because on polling day they may be subject to a direction under the Emergency Management Act,” he wrote.

“To emphasise the point: the use of emergency powers may disenfranchise many South Australians.

“In my view this is a matter requiring parliament’s urgent attention.”

He added that “importantly, it is not a matter that the Executive should attempt to resolve using Emergency powers, as the only apposite forum to vary voting rights is parliament”.

But the Government said today that technical – rather than legislative – constraints were the issue.

“The COVID-Ready Committee has considered the issue and the legislation is not the barrier as the State Coordinator already has the powers required,” a spokesman said in a statement.

“The constraint is it would not be feasible to have the proper IT systems in place for the March election.

“The State Government is working on real solutions to the issue.”

Cregan told ABC Radio Adelaide this morning: “I’m not sure I accept that.”

“The electoral commissioner has been indicating for a very long time… we really need this issue resolved [and] this is a matter that could be resolved very, very speedily,” he said.

Upper House MLCs have been told they will be required to take SA Health-supplied Rapid Antigen Tests before attending parliament today and on Thursday, with kits distributed to all offices.

Adding to the parliamentary drama, Legislative Council president John Dawkins has told InDaily he has been declared a close contact of a COVID case and is unable to attend this week’s Legislative Council sittings, with a deputy president now required to be elected by members.

-Tom Richardson

Construction giant to build $400m Central Market Arcade development

Construction company Multiplex has been appointed as the builder for Adelaide’s $400 million redevelopment of the Central Market Arcade.

Building work is expected to begin in June and will feature new retail spaces, a seven-level commercial office tower, 210 apartments and a 38-storey hotel.

Image: ICD Property

Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor declared the appointment a major milestone for “one of Adelaide’s most important projects”.

“We are very proud to be working alongside project  partner ICD Property, as well as the Central Market, the Adelaide Central Market Authority – and now Multiplex – to bring this project to life,” she said.

“Market Square will generate a welcome boost for the economy and celebrate the best of South Australia creating a new cultural precinct for us to work, play, and visit.”

Image: ICD Property

Multiplex was established in Australia in 1962 and is owned by US-based Brookfield Asset Management.

Last year Multiplex was appointed to construct a $300 million commercial office development at 83 Pirie Street in Adelaide’s CBD. It also recently completed a major upgrade at Burnside Village Shopping Centre.

Multiplex Regional Managing Director Graham Cottam said the construction company had the proven experience with developments of this scale across the globe.

“We pride ourselves on delivering international best-practice, collaboration and maintaining a shared focus with clients and the communities they serve,” he said.

A notice to vacate was provided to Central Market Arcade traders in late 2021 ahead of the 2022 target construction date.

But some traders in late January told InDaily they were battling to survive the pandemic hit to retailing and Adelaide’s Omicron surge and feared they would not survive until June, let alone be able to afford to relocate.

Market Square residential sales kicked-off in late 2021 and have reached more than 80 per cent sold.

It has been designed by architecture firm Woods Bagot.

Adelaide Central Market Authority (ACMA) chair Theo Maras said it was ACMA’s top priority to support traders and customers to continue with business as usual during construction.

“We are taking all the necessary steps and precautions to ensure disruption to trading is minimised and we will continue to work closely with Traders during construction, to ensure their business needs are met and we continue to service the community during this exciting time of growth,” he said.

-Andrew Spence

Fourth COVID jab on the cards

A fourth COVID-19 jab is likely to be required to better protect Australians from the disease going forward, Premier Steven Marshall says.

Marshall told reporters yesterday he would raise the issue at national cabinet later in the week, following concerns about dwindling protection from the current vaccination regime of two doses plus a booster.

“We do know that there is waning immunity every week that you go past having your vaccination,” he said.

“We don’t know what this is like with regards to Omicron. We do know that some companies including Pfizer are developing a specific Omicron vaccine which should be available towards the end of this month.”

Marshall said while no decision had been made, “I think it’s reasonable to think that there will be a requirement for a further booster at some point down the track but we really need to see how we progress with this disease”.

‘All systems go’ for full return to classrooms, despite teachers and students testing positive

Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

All students will return to school next week as planned, with fewer children and teachers than forecast contracting COVID in the first week back, the State Government says.

Premier Steven Marshall said it was “all systems go” for a full return to classrooms next Monday, February 14, as scheduled, despite about 100 students testing positive last week and a similar number of teachers also becoming infected.

Asked yesterday whether there were any circumstances that would warrant a change to that plan, Marshall said: “No, we discussed that this morning at the CRC (COVID Ready Committee) and it’s all systems go for a full return to schooling as of the 14th, so next Monday. I know that many students would be very keen to get back into classrooms…”

“All systems go for next Monday, that was confirmed at the CRC this morning,” he said.

Marshall said the State Government’s “staggered” return to classrooms “got the balance right”.

Students in preschool, reception, year 1, year 7, year 8 and year 12 were allowed back into classrooms from last Wednesday for the start of the new school year.

Those in other year levels were directed into home learning until February 14.

“You never really know until a few weeks down the track whether or not the settings that you had in place were correct,” Marshall said.

“But certainly after the first week of school returned, the numbers of COVID-positive students and teachers were probably well below the forecast but we still need some further time to see exactly what that’s likely to be.

“We’ve got a large number of schools. We try to get that reporting in as quickly as possible.

“I don’t have some specific numbers for you today but I do know that towards the end of last week we had fewer than 100 students in our schools who had tested positive and slightly more than 100 teachers at the same time who were not at school because they were COVID-positive.”

Overseas tourists to return on February 21

International tourists will be allowed to come back to Australia from February 21.

After the almost two-year ban on foreign travellers, fully vaccinated tourists will be able to arrive in a matter of days.

The decision comes following a meeting of cabinet’s national security committee yesterday.

While the international borders have been opened since late 2021, entry has only been allowed for citizens, permanent residents and their families, with it later expanded to international students, backpackers and migrant workers.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the move would be a welcome boost to the tourism sector.

“I know the tourism industry will be looking forward to that,” he told reporters in Canberra.

“The condition is you must be double vaccinated to come to Australia. That’s the rule. Everyone is expected to abide by it.”

State-based caps on quarantine will continue, with the number still being determined by state and territory governments.

While health officials are debating whether to change the domestic definition of fully vaccinated to include having had a booster shot, Morrison said two doses would be enough for international travellers to arrive.

The Prime Minister said the definition would not be changed for tourists to enter the country.

Defence force to help aged care sector

Members of the Australian Defence Force will be deployed to assist the aged care sector as it deals with a spike in COVID-19 cases.

It comes as aged care nurses and workers prepare to rally outside SA Sentator Simon Birmingham’s electorate office in Hilton this morning to protest the Government’s handling of the crisis.

Following a meeting of federal cabinet’s national security committee yesterday, as many as 1700 ADF personnel will be used to help the sector.

The decision will ensure teams can be deployed to deal with acute situations within a 24-hour notice period.

It will start with four teams of 10 and that can increase to up to 10 different ADF teams.

The teams will include a registered nurse, medical technicians and other personnel to support general duties.

The deployment will start with about 50 ADF members being deployed to each state, with the ability to scale it up to 200.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the measures would not mean there would be a surrogate workforce for the aged care sector.

“They have provided quite targeted support into the aged care sector in extreme situations, some of the most difficult situations,” he told reporters in Canberra.

“A majority of those are clinical support because that’s the resource available … it’s a targeted bespoke effort.”

Defence Minister Peter Dutton said there would also be 15 military planners who would be deployed to the federal health department to help coordination efforts.

But opposition spokeswoman Clare O’Neil said the Government did not have a sustainable solution to address the aged care crisis.

Govt interference in uni research grants an ‘existential threat’

The head of a top Australian university says political interference in the awarding of research grants is an “existential threat” to the sector.

In his state of the university address, Australian National University Vice-Chancellor and Nobel Prize winner Professor Brian Schmidt referenced acting federal Education Minister Stuart Robert’s decision to veto several projects recommended for grant funding by the independent Australian Research Council.

The decision was announced on Christmas Eve and has been criticised by academics. The vetoed projects were all in the humanities and included research on climate and China.

Schmidt says both major political parties have been guilty of political interference in the grants process and can “corrupt knowledge”.

“My strong view – a view held by many university leaders, whether they say it out loud or not – is Australia needs an apolitical system to allocate research funding and a review of the Australian Research Council,” he said.

“(The ARC) is so foundational to our future and the nation’s future and it’s clearly not working.”

ANU Chancellor and former Liberal frontbencher Julie Bishop backed Schmidt’s calls for an apolitical grant process.

“I publicly and openly endorse the vice-chancellor’s comments about an apolitical process in the field of research and the ARC in particular,” she said in her address to the university.

“We must be academically engaged but we must also be intellectually self-sufficient in generating ideas in and for a distinctly Australian context.”

On Monday, the Greens announced an attempt to establish a Senate inquiry into the approval process for research grants, with senator Mehreen Faruqi saing researchers and universities are “fed-up” with ministerial veto powers.

“By hearing from university communities, academics, researchers and unions, the Senate will be forced to confront the real-world, damaging impact the veto has,” she said.

“Political interference has no place in research funding.”

-With AAP and Reuters

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