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What we know today, Tuesday February 22

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A major police hunt is underway in the state’s Mid North for the body of Robert Atkins, who is believed to have been murdered over his links to the drug trade in Adelaide’s southern suburbs.

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Three more COVID-related deaths in SA

A man in his 40s is among three new COVID-related deaths in South Australia, with 1378 new infections reported today.

SA Health says three men – aged in their 40s, 60s and 80s – have died after testing positive.

There are 205 people with COVID in hospital, including 12 in intensive care, with three on ventilators.

There are now 13,161 active cases.

Since the pandemic began, 169 South Australians with COVID have died.

SA Police searching for body in Mid North

A major police hunt is underway in the state’s Mid-North for the body of Robert Atkins, who is believed to have been murdered over his links to the drug trade in Adelaide’s southern suburbs.

In a statement this morning, SA Police confirmed “Task Force Southern” was investigating the alleged murder of the 29-year-old.

A search is currently underway between Orroroo and Peterborough, with an update to be provided later this afternoon by Detective Superintendent Des Bray.

SA Police believe Atkins was murdered in 2020 in connection to his involvement in the drug scene in Adelaide’s southern suburbs.

He was reported missing in January last year.

Police believe the Atkins was held and tortured for up to a week before being forced to commit crimes for his captors.

It’s believed he was then murdered near Port Pirie with his body left near Orroroo, although it has still not been found.

Late last year police established a special task force to look into his suspected murder along with the deaths of Trevor King and Jeff Mundy.

King, 41, was found dead at suburban West Lakes in January 2020 with police now believing his death was staged to look like a suicide.

Police say in the months before his death, he was the victim of unlawful detention and serious assaults, resulting from a drug debt.

The debt was initially $1000 but increased to $10,000 and then $50,000 when he failed to pay.

Mundy, 36, was last seen in December 2020. His body has not been found, with police suspecting it was disposed of somewhere on SA’s Fleurieu Peninsula.

Up to 15 people are believed to have been involved in the suspected murders and detectives are also checking another 200 overdose deaths since 2019 to determine if any more are suspicious.

Russia sends ‘peacekeepers’ into Ukraine separatist regions

Russian President Vladimir Putin has recognised two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent and ordered the Russian army to launch a peacekeeping operation in the area, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying Australia would impose economic sanctions if there was any further military action.

Putin on Monday told Russia’s defence ministry to deploy troops into the two breakaway regions to “keep the peace” in a decree issued shortly after he announced recognition for Russia-backed separatists there, drawing US and European vows of new sanctions.

It was not immediately clear the size of the force that Putin was dispatching, when they would cross the border into Ukraine and exactly what their mission would be.

In a lengthy televised address on Monday, Putin – looking visibly angry – described Ukraine as an integral part of Russia’s history and said eastern Ukraine was ancient Russian lands and that he was confident the Russian people would support his decision. .

Russian state television showed Putin, joined by Russia-backed separatist leaders, signing a decree recognising the independence of the two Ukrainian breakaway regions along with agreements on cooperation and friendship.

Defying Western warnings against such a move, Putin had announced his decision in phone calls to the leaders of Germany and France earlier, both of whom voiced disappointment, the Kremlin said.

Read the full story here.

Morrison refutes China laser allegations

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has refuted accusations from China that an Australian military aircraft, which was lasered by a Chinese warship, was flying too close to the vessel at the time.

China’s foreign ministry said Australia’s allegations about the incident were “groundless”, with the country’s Global Times newspaper also saying Australia was “throwing mud” about the issue.

The prime minister said China needed to explain their actions about the lasering of the aircraft, saying the Chinese vessel was in Australia’s exclusive economic zone at the time.

“They need to explain that, not just to Australia, but this needs to be explained to the entire region, as to what they would be doing, undertaking such a reckless act,” Morrison told reporters in Tasmania on Tuesday.

“There is no explanation that Australia has to give here, our surveillance planes have every right to be in our exclusive economic zone.”

While China’s foreign ministry said the lasering was a defensive measure due to the closeness of the Australian aircraft, Morrison said the surveillance plane was exactly where it needed to be.

“They were doing their job, as they do every day, and we make no apology for where our surveillance aircraft are looking after and protecting Australians,” he said.

“Do I have an expectation that an explanation will be given? Frankly, not a strong one, based on the form, but what I do know is that’s what occurred and I will call it out.”

Defence Minister Peter Dutton said he would write to his Chinese counterpart about the incident.

However, he previously indicated a response would be unlikely, given the frosty relationship between the two countries.

Hunt welcomes easing of quarantine rules

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has welcomed a move by the New South Wales and Victorian governments to roll back isolation requirements for close contacts of COVID-19 patients.

Health officials from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee in NSW and Victoria are now considering scrapping a requirement for household contacts of COVID-positive people to isolate for seven days.

The guidelines, already in place for frontline workers, allow people exposed to COVID-19 to keep working if they have no symptoms and can wear protective equipment.

“Obviously over summer, and particularly in relation to nursing, the decision was made to allow household contacts who are asymptomatic in critical sectors to continue to work if they follow testing requirements and (wear personal protective equipment),” Hunt said.

“The next step is to consider expanding that definition through the AHPPC … and it has worked well with our nurses.

“People have been very responsible. If they’ve had symptoms, they’ve not come to work.”

It comes as NSW reported 8752 new COVID-19 cases and 14 deaths, as cases in the state remain under 10,000 for the sixth consecutive day.

Case numbers jumped by 3836 from the previous day and the number of people in hospital increased by five to 1293, with 71 of those people in ICU.

Five of those who died were in their 60s and 70s, five were in their 80s and four were in their 90s.

Three of those who died were not vaccinated, seven people had received two doses and four people had received their booster doses.

In the state’s vaccine rollout, 51.7 per cent of people over the age of 16 in NSW have now had a booster.

In children, 86.3 per cent of 12-15 year olds have had one dose of a vaccine, 79 per cent of 12-15 year olds have had two doses and 46.7 per cent of five-11 year olds have had one dose.

Clive Palmer cancels Press Club speech

Photo: AAP/Michael Chambers

Businessman and political aspirant Clive Palmer has cancelled an address to the National Press Club due to illness.

Mr Palmer was due to deliver a nationally televised address on Tuesday.

A spokesman said Mr Palmer was suffering “flu-like symptoms” and had received medical advice not to travel.

“It is hoped Mr Palmer’s address will be rescheduled for another time prior to the federal election,” the spokesman told AAP.

Mr Palmer is the United Australia Party candidate for the Senate in Queensland, with his party seeking seats in the upper and lower house at the upcoming federal election.

Last election he spent more than $80 million on advertising, which is expected to be replicated in the lead up to the 2022 poll.

Marshall promises more international flights to Adelaide

Premier Steven Marshall has announced a $18 million plan to lure more direct international flights to Adelaide in a bid to boost tourism and trade if his government is re-elected.

The Liberals’ proposed direct flights attraction fund would target international airlines to open direct flights from Adelaide to “strategic international destinations” such as the United States, Japan, New Zealand, Vietnam and Singapore.

Marshall has also pledged to open three new trade offices in Germany, India and South East Asia if his government is re-elected at the March 19 state election.

Airlines including Singapore, Qatar and Qantas have resumed international flights out of Adelaide following COVID-19-prompted border closures.

But Emirates announced in 2020 that it would stop flights from Adelaide to Dubai indefinitely.

Marshall said the attraction fund and new trade offices would increase export opportunities for South Australian producers and manufacturers, while also providing a much-needed tourism hit following the pandemic.

“We are recognised as a clean, green state that produces high quality products that can’t be found anywhere else,” he said.

“Our wine, our seafood and our agriculture are viewed as outstanding on the international stage.

“We want to expand on that – we want to have more South Australian products in more overseas markets.”

According to the Marshall Government, the three new offices would cost around $5.5 million over the forward estimates.

A new trade office in Paris is also scheduled to open later this year,

It follows the establishment of South Australian trade offices in Shanghai, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur and the USA, in addition to the Agent General’s office in London which has supported South Australian trade since 1859.

Labor yesterday continued its focus on health spending with a promise of an extra 50 beds at the yet-to-be-built new Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

Low income earners in SA spending big on rentals

Photo: InDaily

The price of new rentals in South Australia has risen by more than seven per cent over the past year, a new report reveals, renewing calls for increased investment in social housing.

The South Australian Council of Social Service’s latest cost of living update, released today, also shows the number of social housing dwellings has decreased from 9.9 per cent of the housing market in 2000, to 6.7 per cent last year.

The report used data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and State Government to track changes to the cost of living, particularly for vulnerable and disadvantaged South Australians.

It found between December 2020 and December 2021, the price of new rentals in South Australia increased by 7.2 per cent.

“Our report shows that an age pensioner in a two-bedroom unit could easily be paying over 50 per cent of their income on rent, while a single parent on the minimum wage would see around 35 per cent of their income go on rent at the bottom end of the market,” SACOSS CEO Ross Womersley said.

“While much of the public debate around housing affordability centres on homeowners and house prices, it is often renters that have the biggest affordability challenges – particularly those on the lowest incomes.”

SACOSS has called on all political parties to commit to a “significant investment” in public housing in South Australia ahead of the March 19 state election.

“Many of the levers of rental affordability lie with the federal government, but the biggest thing the state government could do would be to invest in social housing,” Womersley said.

“This would provide much-needed housing for those who otherwise struggle in the private market, but it would also provide an economic stimulus and increase the supply of rental properties – which could benefit all renters through less competition for properties and lower prices.”

Long road ahead for tourism recovery

Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

International tourists have been welcomed back to South Australia after almost two years but experts warn the tourism industry will feel the effects of the border closure for years to come.

Premier Steven Marshall welcomed the arrival of the first international flight to Adelaide yesterday with the lifting of Australia’s border restrictions.

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

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

Tourism and Transport Forum CEO Margy Osmond said the reopening date is just the first step to recovering the battered industry.

She said tourists from Australia’s two biggest markets – China and New Zealand – still weren’t travelling and it wasn’t certain when they would restart.

“We are seeing a bit of a surge by the booking platforms and by the major travel agents and travel services but most of the bookings are for the second half of the year,” she told the ABC on Monday.

Osmond urged federal and state governments to invest in airport capacity and tourism campaigns, saying Australia wasn’t the only country trying to attract international travellers.

“We are probably now in the most competitive world tourism market we have ever seen, everybody wants to get those tourists back and we’re just going to have to work very, very hard to make it happen,” she said.

She said she also wanted the cruise industry to be allowed to resume and hopes it will be on the agenda for the next national cabinet meeting on March 11.

“I think it’s quite crazy that we are open but we aren’t open to cruises … We might have some word over the next 10 days to two weeks on a date this year for cruises to start,” she said.

Meanwhile head of tourism at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry John Hart said international travel was not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024.

He said governments must provide targeted financial support for businesses to help them stay afloat until their operations can fully resume.

South Australia reported 1217 new COVID-19 cases on Monday.

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

Adelaide declared fruit fly free

The State Government says a two-year battle against fruit fly in metropolitan Adelaide is now over, with residents finally allowed to freely move fruit from their properties.

In a statement this morning, Primary Industries Minister David Basham declared the government had successfully eradicated 12 Mediterranean and Queensland fruit fly outbreaks following what he described as “by far the largest successful fruit fly eradication campaign ever delivered in Australia”.

The outbreaks impacted large swathes of Adelaide, including the Hills, and forced restrictions on the movement of fruit.

Since 2019, around 350 staff were employed at the peak of the response to eradicate the pest, visiting nearly 200,000 properties and releasing nearly 700 million sterile flies.

“The two-year battle has seen dedicated orange overall-wearing fruit fly officers going door-to-door right across metropolitan Adelaide undertaking baiting and checking fruit,” Basham said.

“By working together as a community, we have protected our local $1.3 billion fresh fruit industry vulnerable to fruit fly and the thousands of jobs the sector supports.

“This means Adelaide residents can once again move fruit and vegetables from their property which will be a huge relief to many and I thank everyone for following the rules and doing the right thing.”

But Basham said there were still Queensland fruit fly outbreaks affecting the Riverland and asked those living in the region to carefully check the map on the government’s fruit fly website.

UK to scrap remaining virus curbs

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he will end all coronavirus restrictions in England including mandatory self-isolation for people with COVID-19 and free testing.

Johnson’s “living with COVID” plan has sparked alarm that it is premature and will leave the country vulnerable to new viral variants but the government says it has provided more testing than most other countries and must now curb the cost.

As Hong Kong builds isolation units and Europe retains distancing and vaccine rules, Johnson is moving to repeal any pandemic requirements that impinge on personal freedoms, saying it is time the public took responsibility.

He will lean even more on the roll-out of booster vaccines, with the government offering extra booster doses to the most vulnerable, as well as other pharmaceutical interventions such as antiviral treatments.

“Restrictions pose a heavy toll on our economy, our society, our mental well-being and on the life chances of our children, and we do not need to pay that cost any longer,” Johnson told parliament.

“So let us learn to live with this virus and continue protecting ourselves and others without restricting our freedoms.”

Johnson said that the legal requirement to self-isolate for people who test positive for COVID-19 would be removed on February 24 while free universal testing would end on April 1.

But he said that some surveillance of the coronavirus would remain in place, allowing for a rapid response to new variants, which could be quickly scaled up.

The plan to ditch remaining legal restrictions is a priority for many of Johnson’s Conservative Party MPs whose discontent over his scandal-ridden leadership has threatened his grip on power.

The devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have set their own COVID-19 restrictions but the amount of money they have to spend on testing will flow from decisions made by the United Kingdom government.

Leaders in Scotland and Wales had criticised Johnson’s plans to reduce the availability of testing ahead of the announcement while leader of the opposition Keir Starmer also said that the plan was ill-conceived.

“We can’t turn off Britain’s radar before the war is won. ‘Ignorance is bliss’ is not a responsible approach to a deadly virus,” Labour Party leader Starmer said.

-With AAP and Reuters

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