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What we know today, Tuesday May 24


The South Australian Greens have called on the Malinauskas government to follow Queensland’s lead and make the flu vaccine free for everyone amid a surge in cases.

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Greens call for free flu jabs in SA

The SA Greens have called on the South Australian government to follow Queensland’s lead and make the flu vaccine free for everyone amid a surge in cases.

Greens upper house MP Robert Simms said SA should follow the Sunshine state’s lead after the Queensland Government yesterday announced its plan to help limit the spread of influenza over winter.

“It seems the flu season is back with a vengeance. Numbers are surging and it’s vital SA does everything we can to curb the spread,” Simms said.

“Given the huge health and economic implications of a spread of the flu, it makes sense to follow Queensland’s example.

“While many workplaces make the vaccine available and it is free for some vulnerable groups, we can’t risk South Australians falling through the cracks.”

The Australian Medical Association has also backed the call for free flu shots in SA.

SA Health said there had been 727 flu notifications between January 1 and May 14 this year, compared to 12 cases for the same period last year.

China welcomes new Australian government

The new Albanese government says it wants to work with all countries in the region after Beijing signalled a possible thawing in the frosty relationship between China and Australia.

China’s Premier Li Keqiang has reportedly sent a congratulatory message to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, saying Beijing is willing to push forward bilateral ties with Canberra.

“The sound and stable development of the Sino-Australian relationship conforms to the fundamental interests and common aspirations of the two peoples and is also conducive to peace, stability, development and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region,” the China Daily reported Li as saying.

Li said this year marked the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Sino-Australian diplomatic ties, noting the Labor Party made the right decision in the 1970s to establish a relationship with China.

Australia’s relationship with the regional powerhouse has soured in recent years, with Beijing refusing to take calls from the outgoing Morrison government and blocking imports of a variety of goods despite a free-trade agreement between the two countries.

China is still Australia’s biggest trading partner, especially through the shipments of iron ore.

Asked whether China was now out of the “deep freeze”, Treasurer Jim Chalmers told ABC radio on Tuesday, “We want to work with countries in our region to make sure it is stable and prosperous”.

That was the reason Mr Albanese and new Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong were in Tokyo to engage with Australia’s Quad colleagues the US, India and Japan.

“That’s why the developments on the trade front are so exciting because we want the region to grow strongly,” Chalmers said.

“We want all of our economies to benefit from that and we will engage with countries in the region on that basis.”

However, the apparent olive branch from China comes as US President Joe Biden warned Beijing not to interfere with Taiwan or the US would intervene militarily.

Acting Prime Minister Richard Marles said it was an important message that made clear America’s presence in the East Asia region.

Asked on the Nine Network whether Australia would send troops if the US took such action, Marles said: “I don’t think we should be going down the path of hypotheticals.”

SA to decide whether to lift mask mandate in schools

A decision on whether to keep or ditch a mask mandate in South Australian secondary schools is set to be made this morning.

Premier Peter Malinauskas says he hopes the restriction can be lifted.

The state’s Emergency Management Council, chaired by the Premier, will meet at 9am, with the school mask requirement one of the “key decisions” to be made.

“I would like to lift the mask mandate in high schools,” Malinauskas told reporters yesterday afternoon.

“I think it’s difficult for students to be learning in that environment, it’s not natural, so if we can lift it in a safe way, that would be a good thing, but we’re not going to make a decision ahead of time. Any decision we do make will be done in concert with the health advice.”

Masks are currently compulsory for high school students and recommended for those in years 3 to 6.

Malinauskas said one “real possibility” is that masks will become recommended rather than compulsory for high school students.

“Most people don’t want students having to wear masks if they don’t have to,” he said.

“Just because you lift the mask mandate, doesn’t mean you deny students or anyone in the community the option to continue to wear masks, what it’s about is giving people choice.”

Malinauskas said he expected to receive an update from Education Minister Blair Boyer – who yesterday tested positive for COVID – on works being undertaken in schools to improve ventilation.

A spokesperson for Boyer told InDaily in a statement that half of all schools identified needing ventilation remediation works had now had that work done.

“As one of many strategies used to manage risks associated with COVID-19 in schools and preschools, the department has issued work orders for ventilation remediation works at 653 schools and preschools,” the spokesperson said.

“Currently, 328 (50 per cent) of these sites have had natural ventilation completely remediated, which in practical terms means that around 3587 more rooms in our schools and preschools can now open their windows to bring in more fresh air.

“The contractors completing this work have advised that approximately 75 per cent of schools and preschools will have ventilation work completed by the end of May, with a target completion of the end of June.

“Unfortunately we’re playing catch-up in this area as this is work that should’ve been completed last year.

“Challenges in progressing this work include workforce availability, replacing (old) windows with new parts and undertaking this work at our more hard to reach sites.”

Latest Education Department statistics show that as of last Friday there were 3409 students and 652 staff absent from public schools infected with COVID.

The department said Henley High School, Playford International College, Port Augusta Secondary School and Yalata Anangu School had all had recent disruptions from COVID ranging from part school to whole school remote learning.

A series of primary school vaccination clinics is due to start operating on Friday to help improve lagging rates in 5 to 11-year-olds.

South Australia yesterday recorded 3127 new COVID-19 cases and an increase in hospitalisations.

Rachel Swift concedes Boothby

Photo: Facebook

Liberal candidate Dr Rachel Swift has conceded the seat of Boothby, wishing Labor’s Louise Miller-Frost “every success in her new role as the local member”.

In a statement issued last night, Swift said “whilst nearly 30 per cent of the vote remains to be counted, on a two-party preferred basis, it is most likely that Labor has secured a majority of the votes”.

“Ms Miller-Frost has been given a great responsibility by the people of Boothby, as has the new Labor Government, and I wish her and the new Government well in the execution of that responsibility,” she said.

“We are facing some of the most challenging times in the history of our country, so I encourage the community to unite around Ms Miller-Frost as she undertakes this new role.”

It’s the first time the seat has been held by Labor since 1949.

Swift said she looked forward to “returning with vigour to a role in serving the community which has shaped every aspect of my career”.

Her name has been linked to preselection in the upcoming by-election for the state seat of Bragg, being vacated by former deputy premier Vickie Chapman.

Swift said she also looked forward to spending more time with her dog, Toby.

Liberal state director quits

The backroom bloodletting has begun within SA Liberal ranks as state director Sascha Meldrum vacates her role – insisting she always intended to do so now.

Meldrum’s future in the position has been the subject of speculation since the party’s disastrous state election loss, and she told members yesterday “I put in my notice a few weeks ago to ensure a smooth transition to a new state director after the federal election”.

“It has always been my intention to hang up the boots this year after both elections,” she wrote.

“I have decided to resign as state director to take up new opportunities in the private sector.”

She said the Liberal Party was “a strong and proud grassroots party that reflects the commonsense approach and good values of so many Australians”, adding it was “great to be a part of some fantastic election wins, boundary redistribution wins and preselection contests”.

Her announcement came just hours after Barker MP Tony Pasin called for heads to roll, telling ABC Radio the party’s former Boothby stronghold, which fell to Labor on Saturday, was “a seat we could have won with a more effectual campaign”.

“I don’t think we are the strongest campaign unit in the country and we need to be,” he said.

“I think there are some senior people involved in the operation of elections in our state who need to perhaps consider their position going forward.”

– Tom Richardson

Albanese steps up to first Quad meeting

Anthony Albanese has touched town in Tokyo and will join high-level talks with the heads of the United States, Japan and India.

In his first international trip, the newly sworn-in Prime Minister will meet with Joe Biden, Fumio Kishida and Narendra Modi today as part of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue to discuss security issues in the Indo-Pacific.

The leaders are set to discuss security concerns in the region, including the signing of a security pact between China and the Solomon Islands, as well as climate change, infrastructure needs and collaboration on disaster relief.

It comes as the Chinese foreign minister is due to touch down in Honiara later in the week to officially sign the agreement.

Albanese heads to Tokyo for Indo-Pacific meeting

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The Quad is also set to unveil new maritime measures to curb illegal fishing in the Indo-Pacific, including using satellite technology to track illegal fishers, according to the Financial Times.

President Biden met with Prime Minister Kishida on Monday where he unveiled the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity, which includes a dozen initial partners making up 40 per cent of the world’s GDP.

Partners include Australia, New Zealand, Japan, India, Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Brunei.

Albanese said the Quad dialogue would send a signal to the world that there was a new government in Australia.

“It’s a government that represents a change in the way we deal with the world on issues like climate change, but also a continuity in the way we have respect for democracy and the way that we value our friendships and long-time alliances,” he told reporters in Canberra before he departed on Monday.

Albanese will also hold individual bilateral talks with the leaders throughout Tuesday.

Ukraine urges more pressure on Russia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has told global business leaders the world must increase sanctions against Russia to deter other countries from using “brute force” to achieve their aims.

Zelensky spoke via video link to the World Economic Forum in Davos as the Ukrainian military claimed to have held off a Russian assault on Sievierodonetsk, an eastern city that has become the main target of a Russian offensive after the surrender of the southern port city of Mariupol last week.

He also revealed Ukraine’s worst military losses from a single attack of the war on Monday, saying 87 people had been killed last week when Russian forces struck a barracks housing troops at a training base in the north.

Previously, Ukraine had said eight people died in the May 17 strike on the barracks in the town of Desna.

In the first of what could be many war crimes trials arising from Russia’s February 24 invasion, a court in Kyiv sentenced a young Russian tank commander to life in prison for killing an unarmed civilian.

Ukraine Prosecutor-General Iryna Venediktova said about 13,000 cases of Russian alleged war crimes were being investigated.

Russia has denied targeting civilians or involvement in war crimes while it carries out what it calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine.

With the conflict about to enter its fourth month, Zelensky urged countries to put more pressure on Russia and accused them of not exhausting sanctions.

“The sanctions should be maximum so that Russia – and every other potential aggressor who wants to wage a brutal war against its neighbour – clearly knows the immediate consequences of their actions,” he told the Davos meeting.

He demanded an oil embargo, the blockage of all Russian banks and the termination of all trade.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said on Monday that 20 countries had approved weapons shipments to Ukraine.

No evidence monkeypox has mutated: WHO

The World Health Organisation does not have evidence that the monkeypox virus has mutated, a senior executive at the United Nations agency says, noting the infectious disease that has been endemic in west and central Africa has tended not to change.

Rosamund Lewis, head of the smallpox secretariat which is part of the WHO emergencies program, told a briefing that mutations tended to be typically lower with this virus, although genome sequencing of cases will help inform understanding of the current outbreak.

More than 100 suspected and confirmed cases in a recent outbreak in Europe, North America and Australia have not been severe, according to Maria van Kerkhove, the WHO’s emerging diseases and zoonoses lead and technical lead on COVID-19.

“This is a containable situation,” particularly in Europe, she said.

“But we can’t take our eye off the ball with what’s happening in Africa, in countries where it’s endemic.”

The outbreaks are atypical, according to the WHO, occurring in countries where the virus does not regularly circulate.

On Monday, Denmark announced its first case, Portugal revised its total upwards to 37, Italy reported one further infection and the United Kingdom added 37 more cases.

Scientists are seeking to understand the origin of the cases and whether anything about the virus has changed.

The WHO is asking dermatology and primary healthcare clinics, as well as sexual health clinics, to be alert to potential cases.

Many – but not all – of the people who have been diagnosed in the current monkeypox outbreak have been gay and bisexual men.

– With AAP and Reuters

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