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What we know today, Sunday April 25


Today’s breaking news from South Australia, the nation and abroad.

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Attendees defy Anzac COVID-19 limits

A temporary fence did little to deter those gathering at Victoria’s Shrine of Remembrance for the traditional Anzac Day dawn service.

On a brisk Melbourne morning, several hundred people lined the fence surrounding the Shrine to mark the 106th anniversary of the landings at Gallipoli.

RSL Victoria chief executive Jamie Twidale conceded there was a small cohort of servicemen and women past and present left displeased with the “contentious” crowd limit.

“A few veterans out there are a bit disappointed,” the current Army Reserve member told AAP.

“But our focus has always been on the safety of the community and veterans, and putting on the most memorable Anzac Day that we can.”

Anzac Day commemoration crowd limits across the country jarred for many against the backdrop of bumper attendance allowances for traditional AFL and NRL clashes at the MCG and SCG.

Indigenous veterans honoured at service

Indigenous Australians have gathered in the grounds of the Australian War Memorial for the first time for an Anzac Day service.

While past events have been held at a Ngunnawal country site on the side of nearby Mount Ainslie, about 100 people brought the service to the For our Country sculptural pavilion.

Set behind a ceremonial fire pit within a circle of stones, the wall of two-way mirrored glass – which reflects the viewer and the Australian War Memorial – honours Indigenous Australians and New Zealanders who have served since 1901.

The service heard it was a time to “remember those from our own mob” who had paid the ultimate sacrifice.

The event was held after the Canberra dawn service, but before the national ceremony, and was hosted by members of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Veterans and Services Association.

War memorial director Matt Anderson said it was important to acknowledge the proud Indigenous tradition of the Australian Defence Force.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have served in every Australian defence commitment since Federation.

Over 1000 are believed to have fought in World War I.

WA wrong on air base quarantine: Dutton

Defence Minister Peter Dutton has hit back at Mark McGowan after the West Australian premier lambasted the federal government for failing to provide better alternatives to hotel quarantine.

Metropolitan Perth and the neighbouring Peel region are currently in a three-day lockdown after COVID-19 cases linked to the Perth Mercure Hotel.

Mr McGowan said CBD hotels were not fit for purpose and that defence facilities such as Curtin Air Base in Derby or immigration detention facilities on Christmas Island would be better.

But Mr Dutton disagrees.

“I’d love to tell you that air bases or the Christmas Island facility is fit for purpose but it is not,” he told ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday.

“Mark McGowan has made a mistake with the Mercure Hotel. Nobody is being critical of him for that. He doesn’t need to be defensive. He doesn’t want to be the next Dan Andrews where they had significant problems,” he added, referring to Victoria’s long lockdown last year.

He said the Commonwealth will work with Mr McGowan to move away from the Mercure Hotel.

“There are seven or eight, nine hotels that are working perfectly fine in WA at the moment as he pointed out in his own words,” Mr Dutton said.

Genomic testing confirmed the virus had spread in the corridors of the Mercure from a couple who had returned from India.

A pregnant mother and her four-year-old daughter who were staying across the corridor tested positive and remain in quarantine at the hotel.

Their positive tests prompted WA health authorities on April 21 to track down a man who had stayed adjacent to the Indian couple but had since flown to Melbourne.

He was then tested and went into Melbourne hotel quarantine, returning a positive test result on Friday.

His five-day visit in Perth after exiting quarantine has led to two community cases there – a female friend he stayed with and a man who dined near the pair at a restaurant.

Anzac dawn service returns to North Terrace

Anzac Day has been marked at dawn services in Adelaide and across the country for the first time since 2019, with strict restrictions in place for the service at the National War Memorial on North Terrace.

Last year Anzac Day was marked by televised services only and no marches for the first time in more than a century as the COVID-19 pandemic kept people indoors.

At North Terrace this morning 2500 members of the public were issued tickets to enter a fenced off section around the memorial for the service.

Other restrictions include QR code check-ins and a requirement to stand 1.5 metres apart.

Attendees at the event who laid wreaths included Premier Steven Marshall, Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas, and Governor Hieu Van Le.

South Australian chair of the RSL’s Anzac Day committee, Ian Smith, told the ceremony many former soldiers would be commemorating the event at home due to the pandemic, singling out those in locked-down areas of WA.

“If you know any veteran who is in WA, I’m sure they’d appreciate a call from former comrades, friends and family,” he said.

Services and marches were back today with limited crowds in most parts of the country outside WA.

Like last year, many Australians paid tribute at home by standing at the end of their driveways at dawn.

At the dawn service at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, Prime Minister Scott Morrison acknowledged the day came as Australia prepared to withdraw its last troops from Afghanistan.

“It has been our longest war,” he said. “The world is safer from the threat of terrorism than when the Twin Towers were felled almost 20 years ago, but we remain vigilant. However, this has come at a great cost.”

The comments come as a wave of killings sweep Afghanistan as foreign forces begin to leave the country.

Australia lost 41 Australian Defence Force members in Afghanistan out of the more than 39,000 who served.

Most Anzac Day services overseas were cancelled, including Australian and New Zealand-led services in Turkey and Australian services in France.

A small group nevertheless gathered on Turkey’s Gallipoli Peninsula to remember soldiers who died during World War I.

Veterans owed royal commission: Albanese

The families of veterans who have died by suicide are owed a royal commission, Labor leader Anthony Albanese says.

Addressing the Anzac Day service at Loyalty Square in Balmain on Sunday, Mr Albanese said for many war does not end when they leave the battlefield.

“It comes as some relief that, after a long campaign by relatives who’ve lost love ones, there will finally be a royal commission into veteran suicide,” he said.

“This year alone, we have already lost 18 to suicide – and it is only April.

“To them, and all those who have gone before, and those who are at any risk now, we owe them this much at the very least.”

Independent senator and veteran Jacqui Lambie held a vigil in Melbourne on Anzac Day eve to remember what she described as “the 700+ veterans who were left behind, forgotten and broken”.

“There’s a lot of work to be done on the royal commission but it’s the first step to healing our community who has given so much for their country, and received very little in return.”

Soldier On chief executive Ivan Slavich said it was important to remember those who continued to suffer as a consquence of their war service.

He said 5500 people discharged from the military each year.

“It’s really important that Australians on this most sacred and important day commemorate and support our veterans and families with employment, moral support, social connection, education and, of course, mental health support,”  he told the ABC. Lifeline 13 11 14

SA authorities track returned travellers from Perth

South Australian authorities are trying to track down more than 5000 travellers who arrived from WA, where a second case of community transmission of COVID-19 has been recorded.

SA banned arrivals after 12.01am on Saturday arriving from Perth and the south coast Peel region, where a three-day lockdown is in place.

SA Health is calling for anyone who has travelled to South Australia from Perth or Peel region since 17 April to get tested as soon as possible and isolate until they receive a negative result. Tests are also required for day 5 and day 13.

WA recorded a second locally-acquired case linked to the Perth Mercure Hotel outbreak on Saturday afternoon – a man in his 40s who dined at the same restaurant as two confirmed cases.

The two cases were a 54-year-old Victorian man who appears to have contracted the virus from a fellow returned traveller while in hotel quarantine at the Mercure, and his female friend from Kardinya, whom he was visiting.

The Kitchen Inn, in Kardinya, as well as five other eateries in East Victoria Park, Morley and Northbridge, are deemed high-risk sites and anyone who dined there during exposure times must quarantine for two weeks.

Another 20 exposure sites are not considered as risky but those who attended them must self-isolate until they receive a negative test result.

The Victorian man’s infection was not identified until about a week after he left hotel quarantine and travelled to Melbourne.

Genomic testing has confirmed the virus initially spread in the corridors of the Mercure Hotel from a couple who had returned from India.

Documents released by the government this week identified the Mercure as one of three hotels considered “high risk” for ventilation issues.

WA’s chief health officer received the report on April 8 and wrote to the premier last Friday advising that the Mercure should stop being used.

The Mercure will soon no longer accommodate returned travellers and the government will review the continued use of the other high-risk hotels.

A worker refills medical oxygen cylinders at a charging station on the outskirts of Prayagraj, India. Image: AP/Rajesh Kumar Singh.

India virus patients dying amid low oxygen

Indian authorities are scrambling to supply medical oxygen to Indian hospitals where COVID-19 patients are suffocating amid low supplies and soaring cases.

It comes as India set a new global daily record of coronavirus infections for the third straight day.

The 346,786 infections over the past day brought India’s total cases past 16 million, behind only the United States.

The Health Ministry reported another 2,624 deaths in the past 24 hours, pushing India’s COVID-19 fatalities to 189,544.

Hospitals in the capital, New Delhi, and some of the worst-hit states like Maharashtra reported being critically short of beds and oxygen.

Families were waiting for days to cremate their loved ones at overburdened crematoriums, with many turning to makeshift facilities for last rites.

“Every hospital is running out (of oxygen). We are running out,” Dr Sudhanshu Bankata, executive director of Batra Hospital, a leading hospital in the capital, told New Delhi Television channel.

At least 20 COVID-19 patients at the critical care unit of New Delhi’s Jaipur Golden Hospital died overnight as “oxygen pressure was low,” the Indian Express newspaper reported.

“Our supply was delayed by seven-eight hours on Friday night and the stock we received last night is only 40 per cent of the required supply,” the newspaper quoted the hospital’s medical superintendent Dr D.K. Baluja as saying.

The government has ramped up its efforts to get medical oxygen to hospitals using special Oxygen Express trains, air force planes and trucks to transport tankers.

The Supreme Court told Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government last week that it wanted a national plan for the supply of oxygen and essential drugs for the treatment of coronavirus patients.

As the oxygen scarcity deepened, local officials in several states disrupted movement of tankers and diverted supplies to their areas.

On Friday, the Press Trust of India news agency reported that a tanker-truck carrying oxygen supplies in Delhi’s neighbouring state of Haryana went missing.

Days before, the news agency reported, a minister in Haryana blamed Delhi authorities for looting an oxygen tanker when it was crossing their territory.

Indonesian navy declares lost sub sunk

Indonesia’s navy has declared its missing submarine has sunk and cracked open after finding items from the vessel over the past two days, seemingly ending hope of finding any of the 53 crew members alive.

Military chief Hadi Tjahjanto said the presence of an oil slick as well as debris near the location of the submarine’s last dive on Wednesday near Bali were clear proof the KRI Nanggala 402 had sunk.

“If it’s an explosion, it will be in pieces,” Navy Chief Yudo Margono told a press conference in Bali.

“The cracks happened gradually in some parts when it went down from 300 meters to 400 meters to 500 meters.

“If there was an explosion, it would be heard by the sonar.”

The navy previously said it believes the submarine sank to a depth of 600-700m, much deeper than its collapse depth of 200m, at which point water pressure would be greater than the hull could withstand.

Margono said searchers had found parts of a torpedo straightener, a grease bottle believed to be used to oil the periscope, debris from prayer rugs and a broken piece from a coolant pipe that was refitted on the submarine in South Korea in 2012.

The cause of the disappearance was still uncertain. The navy had previously said an electrical failure could have left the submarine unable to execute emergency procedures to resurface.

An American reconnaissance plane, a P-8 Poseidon, landed early Saturday and had been set to join the search, along with 20 Indonesian ships, a sonar-equipped Australian warship and four Indonesian aircraft.

Biden declares Armenian killings genocide

US President Joe Biden says the 1915 massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire constituted genocide, a historic declaration that infuriated Turkey.

The move breaks away from decades of carefully calibrated language from the White House and will likely be celebrated by the Armenian diaspora in the United States.

But it comes at a time when Ankara and Washington have deep policy disagreements over a host of issues and is set to further strain frayed ties between the two NATO allies.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey “entirely rejects” the US decision which he said was based “solely on populism”.

Biden’s message was met with “great enthusiasm” by the people of Armenia and Armenians worldwide, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan wrote in a letter to the US president.

In his statement, Biden said the American people honour “all those Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today”.

“Over the decades Armenian immigrants have enriched the United States in countless ways, but they have never forgotten the tragic history,” Biden said.

“We honour their story. We see that pain. We affirm the history. We do this not to cast blame but to ensure that what happened is never repeated.”

In comments that sought to soften the blow, a senior administration official told reporters that Washington encouraged Armenia and Turkey to pursue reconciliation and continues to view Ankara as a critical NATO ally.

For decades, measures recognising the Armenian genocide stalled in the US Congress and US presidents have refrained from calling it that, stymied by concerns about relations with Turkey and intense lobbying by Ankara.

Turkey accepts that many Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War One, but contests the figures and denies the killings were systematically orchestrated and constitute a genocide.

China eyes asteroid defence system

China will hold discussions on building a defence system against near-Earth asteroids, a senior space agency official says, as the country steps up its longer term space ambitions.

Zhang Kejian, head of the China National Space Administration, did not provide further detail in his opening remarks at a ceremony for China’s space day in the eastern city of Nanjing on Saturday.

China has made space exploration a top priority in recent years, aiming to establish a programme operating thousands of space flights a year and carrying tens of thousands of tonnes of cargo and passengers by 2045.

The European Space Agency last year signed a deal worth 129 million euros ($A202 million) to build a spacecraft for a joint project with NASA examining how to deflect an asteroid heading for Earth.

China is pushing forward a mission where one space probe will land on a near-Earth asteroid to collect samples, fly back toward Earth to release a capsule containing the samples, and then orbit another comet, the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing Ye Peijian, an academic at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

‘Big Bird Bandits’ busted by SA police

The ‘Big Bird Bandits’ who allegedly stole a Sesame Street costume from a circus in Adelaide have been tracked down and charged.

South Australia police said two men, aged 26 and 22 from Norwood and Murray Bridge, were arrested on Friday night and later charged with theft and being unlawfully on premises.

They have been granted bail and are next due to appear at Adelaide Magistrates Court in late June.

The bright yellow Big Bird costume – valued at $160,000 – disappeared earlier this week but was returned undamaged early on Wednesday morning.

The alleged thieves left behind a note, apologising for the trouble they had caused.

“We were just having a rough time and were trying to cheer ourselves up,” it read.

“We had a great time with Mr Bird. He’s a great guy and no harm came to our friend. Sorry to be such a big birden (sic).

“Sincerely, the Big Bird Bandits.”

– With AAP and Reuters

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