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What we know today, Monday February 21

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South Australia has reported another 1217 COVID-19 cases as the number of active infections continues to fall and international tourists begin coming into the state.

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SA records 1217 new COVID cases as international tourists return

South Australia has reported another 1217 COVID-19 cases as the number of active infections continues to fall and international tourists begin coming into the state.

SA Health says 12,946 people currently have the virus with 190 in hospital including 13 people in intensive care, three of whom require ventilators.

Premier Steven Marshall welcomed the return of international travellers on Monday with the lifting of Australia’s border restrictions.

He said the border closure had been punishing on families, businesses and the visitor economy.

The premier said six planes were due to arrive, carrying a combination of returning South Australians, international students and tourists.

“It is going to take some time for international tourism to recover, but it starts today,” he said.

International tourists began arriving in Australia this morning for the first time in two years, sparking scenes of celebration across the country as family and friends reunited.

The first international flight into Adelaide today was Singapore Airlines Flight 279 from Singapore, touching down about 9am.

Interstate, travellers were greeted at Sydney airport by jubilant well-wishers waving Tim-Tams, jars of Vegemite and stuffed koalas as international border restrictions lifted today after almost two years.

Federal Tourism Minister Dan Tehan was on hand to welcome the first arrivals on a Qantas flight from Los Angeles which landed at 6.20am as Australia’s borders reopened to vaccinated travellers.

“What wonderful, wonderful news for our tourism industry and the 660,000 people employed in it,” Tehan told the Nine Network.

“There is excitement everywhere, people are loving it, absolutely loving it.

“The first passenger (to enter the arrivals hall) had a huge smile on their face even though they have been on a plane for … 20-odd hours.”

Similar scenes followed in Melbourne and Brisbane.

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said all travellers would be checked before arrival to avoid another Novak Djokovic visa debacle.

Andrews said while the border reopening has been marked with optimism, Border Force agents would be working hard to ensure all travellers comply with the current requirements, including needing to be double-vaccinated.

Vaccination statuses will be checked by the airlines before taking off and the new digital passenger declaration will make it easier for officials to access appropriate documents, the home affairs minister said.

Qantas on Monday is bringing in people from eight overseas destinations including Vancouver, Singapore, London, and Delhi.

Across Australia, there is are about 50 international flights expected to touch down today.

Train strike strands thousands in NSW

A train strike in Sydney has left thousands of commuters stranded in the morning peak hour as daily COVID-19 cases in New South Wales reached 4916.

The shutdown of Sydney’s train network on Monday, ordered by state government transport authorities just after midnight, blindsided rail commuters who were left in limbo across Sydney, Newcastle, the Central Coast, Blue Mountains and Illawarra.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said the shutdown was prompted by the Rail, Tram and Bus Union failing to appear at industrial talks on Sunday, and was part of a “coordinated, concerted attack” on the government by the union and Labor.

“This is the Labor Party in bed with the union movement to cause mass disruption … the Labor-backed unions have been working on these strikes for many many months,” Mr Perrottet told reporters.

He was angry that trains were out of action on a day when Australia’s borders were opening to international arrivals after a two-year hiatus, when children were trying to get to school and university students were returning to campus.

The RTBU blamed the transport chaos on the government, saying rail workers turned up for work but that the Perrottet administration used a “high-stakes tactic” to cancel services then “blamed it on industrial action”.

“Let’s correct the record: rail services can continue to operate. Premier Dominic Perrottet shut them down,” the union said on Twitter.

Meanwhile, Queensland has reported 4114 new COVID-19 cases, Victoria 5611, ACT 458 and Tasmania 569.

Across the five states and territories, there were also 17 virus deaths reported.

South Australia’s case numbers for today are not expected to be announced until this afternoon.

Labor kicks off campaign with hospital beds pledge

The Labor Party has kicked off its state election campaign pledging to open 300 more hospital beds and recruit 100 more doctors. The Opposition’s strong election focus on ambulance ramping is set to continue today with further plans to be outlined in health.

Labor’s $331 million health pledge, which includes $182 million in funding for 98 new mental health beds, was unveiled at the party’s campaign launch at Adelaide Oval on Sunday after Governor Frances Adamson issued the writs to the electoral commission the day before – firing the starting gun on the March 19 poll.

The pledge would see Labor open 72 new mental health beds in metro hospitals – 24 each at the Queen Elizabeth, Modbury and Noarlunga hospitals – along with six new beds at Mount Gambier Hospital and 20 mental health community hospital in the home beds.

Meanwhile, the 100 additional doctors in the public health system will be “on the books within four years”, according to Opposition leader Peter Malinauskas.

It comes after InDaily revealed in October that vulnerable mental health patients are waiting an average of more than 20 hours in the Royal Adelaide Hospital emergency department for a bed.

Adjunct Professor John Mendoza, who last year spectacularly quit his post as executive director of mental health and prison health services at the Central Adelaide Local Health Network – in protest of a lack of progress on mental health reform – welcomed Labor’s announcement, along with the Australasian College of Emergency Medicine.

Malinauskas said he would outline further plans on health today.

“It is now clear Labor is the only party going to this election with a plan to fix the ramping crisis,” he said in a statement this morning.

“Today I will continue to outline Labor’s plan to fix the ramping crisis and deliver an historic investment in our health system.”

Meanwhile, Premier Steven Marshall spent much of Sunday at a series of volunteer events in marginal seats – including Adelaide, Elder, King, Wright and Badcoe – to spruik the State Government’s reactivation of the Repat Health Precinct and upgraded emergency department at the Flinders Medical Centre.

SA Best unveil Upper House ticket

SA Best’s Legislative Council ticket, Dr Keyvan Abak (L) and Ian Markos (R), standing alongside sitting MLCs Frank Pangallo and Connie Bonaros (centre)

SA Best has chosen former Master Builders Association CEO Ian Markos to lead its Legislative Council ticket for the state election, as it looks to increase its share of the crossbench for 2022.

Markos, who stepped down as chief executive of Master Builders’ SA chapter in 2020 after five years as CEO, will be joined by psychotherapist Dr Keyvan Abak at the top of SA-Best’s ticket.

The minor party, which currently holds two of the Upper House’s six crossbench seats, said it is hoping to expand its parliamentary team to at least three at the coming election.

“In Ian and Keyvan, we have chosen two highly credentialled and outstanding candidates with vast personal and business experience who are both committed and passionate about the future of our state,” sitting SA-Best MLC Frank Pangalllo said.

“Crossbench MPs will play a major role in how the next state government is formed and how the next Parliament operates.

“Should we be successful in winning at least one extra seat in the Upper House, SA-BEST will become an even more influential political force and powerful voice for all South Australians.”

Markos is also a former SafeWork SA director and UK Health and Safety Executive. He was replaced by Will Frogley as Master Builders SA CEO in January 2021.

Abak, meanwhile, is an Iranian-born asylum seeker who arrived in Australia in 2000 and has gone on to become a mental health and addiction psychotherapist who runs his own private practice in Adelaide.

Greens call for ‘cycling revolution’ at 2022 election

The South Australian Greens are calling for an additional $20 million to be poured into the State Bicycle Fund and the establishment of a Walking and Cycling Commissioner ahead of the state election.

Among the other policy commitments from the Greens ahead of the March 19 poll is a state-wide cycling education program for schools, reduced speed limits in residential areas to promote safety and the addition of cycling lanes to new major arterial roads.

The $20 million investment in the State Bicycle Fund would contribute towards develop a “low stress local street network”, while the funds could also be used to provide incentives to local Councils to create pop up bikeways.

The Greens say their “cycling revolution plan” would be funded by their proposed tax on developers which would raise $1.7 billion over four years.

Greens transport spokesperson Robert Simms MLC said it was “embarrassing that South Australia spends less than any other state in the country on cycling infrastructure”.

“The Labor and Liberal parties should join the Greens in making this a real priority in the next parliament. We’re calling on them to match our commitments,” he said.

“At this time of climate crisis, active transport must be a priority for Government. If we’re serious about reducing carbon emissions we need to get serious about cycling. It’s time for the government to put some money on the table.”

The concept of a Walking and Cycling Commissioner – a role independent of government and tasked with promoting active forms of transport – was first floated by Simms in May last year.

The Commissioner would conduct research, develop strategies and provide advice to government ministers and authorities on topics related to cycling and walking.

Simms, a former Adelaide City Councillor and federal senator, is the Greens’ lead candidate for the Upper House this year, with public servant and former Greens adviser Yesha Joshi preselected last year as the number two candidate.

The minor party currently holds two seats in the Legislative Council and, along with SA-Best, is vying for the balance of power at the next election.

Queen tests positive for COVID, has ‘mild’ symptoms

Queen Elizabeth II tested positive for COVID-19, has mild symptoms and will continue with duties. (Steve Parsons, Pool via AP, File)

Queen Elizabeth has tested positive for COVID-19 and is experiencing mild, cold-like symptoms, Buckingham Palace says, adding that the 95-year-old monarch plans to carry on working.

The palace said the queen would continue with “light” duties at Windsor Castle over the coming week.

“She will continue to receive medical attention and will follow all the appropriate guidelines,” the palace said in a statement on Sunday.

People in the UK who test positive for COVID-19 are required to self-isolate for at least five days, although the British government says it plans to lift that requirement for England this week.

The queen has received three doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Both her eldest son Prince Charles, 73, and her 74-year-old daughter-in-law Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall have also recently contracted COVID-19. Charles has since returned to work.

There are also thought to be several recent virus cases among staff at Windsor Castle, where the queen is staying.

Senior British politicians sent get-well messages.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted: “I’m sure I speak for everyone in wishing Her Majesty The Queen a swift recovery from COVID and a rapid return to vibrant good health.”

Australia opens international border to tourists

International tourists are scheduled to arrive in Australia this morning almost two years after the country closed its borders to combat the spread of what was then a new and confounding virus.

The first planeloads of vaccinated travellers will come into Sydney Airport from the US, Japan and Canada early on Monday, in welcome news to hospitality and tourism operators.

The reopening marks a significant milestone for Australia’s COVID-19 recovery plans, with past arrivals largely restricted to citizens, permanent residents and, more recently, international students.

“We are going from COVID cautious to COVID confident when it comes to travel,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison declared on Sunday.

Australian authorities have defended the prolonged border restrictions, which have been among the world’s strictest, for helping stem the spread of the virus, leading to low death rates by global standards.

Tourism Australia is spending $40 million on a campaign to entice international tourists Down Under. In early 2020, the government agency suspended a Kylie Minogue-led advertising campaign amid the devastation of the bushfires and the initial stages of the pandemic.

Peter Shelley, managing director of the Australian Tourism Export Council, says it will take time to rebuild the sector.

“We were the first industry to fully close and will be the last industry to fully reopen and most of our businesses don’t expect to see any significant income from the inbound market until well into next year,” he said.

“While businesses will be relieved, they also know the challenge lays ahead in rebuilding from the ground up.”

Around 9.5 million international visitors came to Australia in 2019 before border closures brought the travel industry to a standstill, Tourism Australia data shows.

New COVID exposure site in Whyalla

SA Health has identified a new “high-risk location” in Whyalla and has asked anyone who develops COVID-19 symptoms to come forward for testing.

In an update issued on Sunday night, SA Health said they have identified the Westland Hotel Motel in Whyalla Norrie as a location associated with positive COVID-19 cases.

Anyone who was present at the motel from 6pm to 10pm on Sunday, February 13 is asked to closely monitor for symptoms and get tested as soon as they develop.

There are currently 153 active cases in Whyalla, according to SA Health’s COVID dashboard, with 604 confirmed positive cases in the region since the start of the pandemic.

Aussies drop their first cricket match of the summer

Sri Lanka’s Kusal Mendis and Chamika Karunaratne celebrate their win over Australia last night (AP Photo/Asanka Brendon Ratnayake)

Sri Lanka pulled off an exciting consolation victory in the fifth and final match of their Twenty20 series against Australia at the MCG last night, handing the home side their first and only loss of the summer.

Heading into Sunday’s match down 4-0, Sri Lanka were lifted to a thrilling five-wicket win thanks to a sublime unbeaten 69 from star batter Kusal Mendis.

Despite some hiccups, including two diabolical run-outs, Sri Lanka sneaked past Australia’s total of 6-154 with just one ball to spare.

It was opener Mendis’ third-best T20I score and he received solid support from captain Dasun Shanaka (35) in an 83-run partnership.

Shanaka made the result a certainty when he hooked quick Kane Richardson for a giant six with three balls to go, levelling the scores.

He was bowled the next ball but Chamika Karunaratne was able to bring up the winning run after hitting Daniel Sams, who replaced an injured Richardson, away to square leg.

It means the Australian men’s team fell just short of completing an undefeated international summer, with this loss going alongside the drawn Ashes Test at the SCG as the only blemishes.

The tourists enjoyed the bulk of the support from the crowd, with the Sri Lankan community in Melbourne turning out in droves to create an electric atmosphere within a crowd of just 17,566.

Matthew Wade top-scored for Australia, smashing an unbeaten 43 from 27 balls to boost the home side after a sluggish start.

After winning the toss and electing to bat, Aaron Finch’s men struggled to get going as the tourists held the upper hand for most of the innings.

Finch’s move back to the top of the order after two games at No.3 did nothing to shake him out of his form slump, making just eight.

His opening partner, Ben McDermott, also struggled again, surviving a dropped catch and another near-miss before departing for three off 13 deliveries.

Australia scored just 2-22 from the first powerplay and was crawling at 3-58 after 10 overs.

Josh Inglis and player of the series Glenn Maxwell (29) looked the pair most likely, after putting on a match-winning stand in Friday night’s six-wicket victory.

But Inglis (23) had to go after snicko revealed a noise when the ball went past his glove before crashing into his helmet.

Despite the disappointing end to his innings, Inglis has enjoyed a brilliant debut international series to finish with 155 runs at an average of 38.75.

-With AAP and Reuters

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