What we know today, Monday February 8

Today’s breaking news from South Australia, the nation and abroad. SA records one new coronavirus case as health authorities take charge of a new hotel for COVID-positive patients.

Feb 08, 2021, updated Feb 08, 2021
The Tom's Court quarantine facility for COVID positive patients (Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily)

The Tom's Court quarantine facility for COVID positive patients (Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily)

One new COVID case in SA as health authorities move into new quarantine facility

SA Health has recorded one new case of COVID-19 today, as health officials take charge of the state’s new dedicated facility for positive COVID-19 cases in its latest bid to boost the security of quarantine arrangements.

The new case is a man in his 20s who recently returned from overseas and tested positive in a medi-hotel.

Serology testing is underway to determine whether it is an old infection.

It comes as staff are deployed to Tom’s Hotel on King William Street to familiarise themselves with the venue and undertake training ahead of the complex taking its first guests from February 15.

COVID-19 positive patients in SA currently quarantine on two dedicated floors at the Pullman Hotel in Hindmarsh Square, although any active cases located here when the new facility opens next week will not be transferred due to the increased risk of transmission.

There are currently three active COVID-19 cases in SA.

Tom’s Court has had ventilation systems upgraded to make it as safe as possible and has upgraded CCTV coverage.

The 72-bed site includes four apartment-style rooms to accommodate families and two purpose-built disability suites.

The government has entered a six-month agreement with the hotel, after the new facility was promised during the November COVID-19 outbreak in Adelaide which was sparked by a guard in a quarantine hotel picking up the virus.

The Pullman Hotel will be decommissioned as a site for COVID-positive patients once Tom’s Court Hotel is up and running, with it only to serve as a standard hotel quarantine facility.

It is part of an eight-point plan put together by the state government late last year to reduce the chances of another COVID-19 outbreak from hotel quarantine.

“Everything was done to find the most suitable site for this arrangement, and I’m absolutely confident that we’ve got the very very best,” Premier Steven Marshall told reporters today.

“We want to make sure that our hotel quarantine situation is as safe as possible, we learnt a lot from the Parafield cluster.”

The government also today began daily PCR testing of SA’s hotel quarantine workers, a standard adopted by national cabinet on January 8.

“Now we’re going through to all of the people that will come into contact from the arrival at the airport all the way through to the time they’re dispatched from the hotel quarantine,” Marshall said.

Shadow Health Minister Chris Picton criticised the government for not implementing the measure earlier.

“It is welcome that the testing is belatedly getting started today – however, there is no reason why this shouldn’t have been in place for the past month,” Picton said

“We all want the safeguards around the medi-hotels to work, because another breach could be devastating to our community, health and economy.”

SA deal secures shipbuilding workforce

South Australia has signed a new deal with the Commonwealth to ensure the supply of defence jobs to deliver on naval shipbuilding projects.

More than 4000 workers will be needed over the next four years for the construction and sustainment of the future Hunter class frigates and Attack class submarines to be built in Adelaide.

Thousands more jobs will also be created in the supply chain and supporting industries.

The new deal entrenches greater cooperation between the SA government and the federal government’s Naval Shipbuilding College to provide the skilled labour required.

Premier Steven Marshall said the agreement demonstrated the government’s commitment to creating thousands of defence jobs in South Australia.

“South Australia will be home to over $90 billion in continuous naval shipbuilding projects, with a projected lifespan of more than 50 years, resulting in thousands of skilled and professional jobs,” he said.

“Meeting demands of this scale are only achievable through steadfast collaborative effort and dedicated programs, and that’s what our partnership with NSC represents.

The agreement with NSC will target workforce development and business support strategies to boost the local shipbuilding and sustainment sectors.

Defence SA Chief Executive Richard Price said the state’s pre-eminence in naval shipbuilding had motivated several multinational companies to come to South Australia.

That meant the maritime industry needed to work closely with the education and training sector, as well as with government, to create a sustainable and skilled workforce.

“By 2030, South Australia’s workforce will be in full swing building the most complex naval shipbuilding projects our country has ever seen,” Price said.

“This workforce must be highly-skilled, agile and ready to work directly in key shipbuilding projects and across the supply chain.”

Health minister downplays vaccine concerns

Health Minister Greg Hunt has downplayed concerns about the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine.

South Africa has suspended its rollout of the vaccine after data showed it gave minimal protection against mild to moderate illness caused by the country’s new strain of the virus.

However, Hunt still has confidence in the jab based on the latest UK data.

“I spoke with the UK health secretary in recent days – that’s their health minister equivalent – they’re having very strong results,” he told 2GB radio on Monday.

“In terms of particular variants, particular countries, the world is learning about those with all vaccines.”

AstraZeneca is working with developers at Oxford University to try to adapt the vaccine to the South African strain, but the process could take several months.

The South African health minister is hopeful the vaccine rollout will only be paused temporarily while authorities seek more information.

Australia is expected to approve the AstraZeneca vaccine within weeks and has more than 50 million doses on order, with the vast majority to be produced locally.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said Labor would always take the advice of Australia’s medicine regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

“You don’t want politicians second-guessing science and medical expertise,” he told reporters in Cairns.

Healthcare workers tasked with administering coronavirus vaccines will soon receive mandatory training.

With supplies at a premium, vaccine providers will be trained to minimise wastage from multi-dose vials.

The Pfizer vaccine has six doses per vial and the AstraZeneca option has 10.

All doses must be administered within hours of the vials being opened.

The vaccine workforce will receive training in using multi-dose vials, as well as handling and storing vaccines.

The Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored below minus 60 degrees Celsius.

The federal government has partnered with the Australian College of Nursing to deliver the free training program.

Nobody will be allowed to administer vaccines unless they have completed the online course.

Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid says the training is critical.

The World Health Organisation has estimated a wastage rate for vaccination doses of between 20 and 30 per cent in some places.

“That’s already an unacceptably high number,” Dr Khorshid told the ABC.

“It’s really important that everything is done to minimise the wastage of these valuable vaccines.”

The first vaccinations are expected to be rolled out within weeks.

Second Victorian quarantine worker tests positive for COVID

A second hotel quarantine worker in Victoria has tested positive for COVID-19, with contact tracers working overnight to identify exposure sites as the state gears up to host the first day of the Australian Open.

The positive case worked at the Holiday Inn hotel at Melbourne Airport as late as Sunday, after recording a negative test at the end of her shift on Thursday, February 4.

The authorised quarantine officer developed symptoms while on the job Sunday morning, and later tested positive for the virus.

“The individual is being interviewed and a full public health response is underway,” the Victorian Department of Health tweeted overnight.

“We are contacting Holiday Inn Airport workers and others who are considered primary close contacts.

“They are required to immediately isolate, get tested and remain isolated for 14 days.”

The Department of Health has already issued alerts for three locations the worker visited in the city’s north west over the weekend.

Friday, February 5:

  • Marciano’s Cakes, Maidstone: 9:45 am to 10:25 am
  • Dan Murphy’s, Sunshine: 5:50 pm to 6:30 pm

Saturday, February 6:

  • Off Ya Tree Watergardens, Taylors Lakes: 1:17 pm to 1:52 pm
  • Dan Murphy’s, Sunshine: 6:50 pm to 7:30 pm

The Department of Health says anyone who attended these locations at these times must immediately isolate, get tested and remain isolated for 14 days.

The department also said testing capacity will be ramped up near exposure sites today.

Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville, who is responsible for the quarantine program, said the woman’s role consisted of issuing detention notices to international arrivals as they enter the hotel or are moved to another facility.

She did not work on the floor of the hotel.

“At this stage, when we had a look through just this person’s engagement with people as they enter the hotel, as they exit the hotel, as they get moved to health hotels, it appears that there’s no breach,” Neville said.

She said authorities are awaiting the results of genomic testing to see how the woman contracted the virus.

“We are also checking rosters and checking her movement through the hotel, whether there was any engagement with anyone who was positive,” Neville said.

The overnight case follows last week’s positive test recorded from a 26-year-old male quarantine worker at the Melbourne Grand Hyatt, one of three hotels designated for Australian Open players and personnel.

So far, all of the man’s close contacts have tested negative, although the positive test forced more than 1200 people into isolation and prompted Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews to lower the cap on household gatherings and reinstitute a mask mandate for indoor public areas in Melbourne.

It also meant a warm up event for the Australian Open had to be scrapped, with 520 tennis players and personnel required to test and isolate for the virus.

The Australian Open is due to kick off today with crowds restricted to 50 per cent capacity.

Andrews has previously indicated he is confident the event will go ahead, despite there being “no guarantees” in the current climate.

NSW pick up virus case from traveller who left quarantine

NSW Health has recorded one new case of COVID-19 from an overseas traveller after they left hotel quarantine, with health authorities listing a series of exposure sites in Wollongong and urging the public to come forward for testing.

The returning traveller – deemed a “low level infection” by NSW Health – recorded a positive test two days after they left hotel quarantine.

Before they were notified of their positive result, the traveller visited at least 11 venues in Wollongong and the surrounding areas, as well as a café in south eastern Sydney.

NSW Health said the case’s household contacts have so far tested negative.

“Investigations to date suggest the infection was likely acquired overseas and there is no indication at this stage that there was transmission in the hotel quarantine setting,” NSW Health said in a statement.

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“Close contacts of the case not associated with venues have been identified and are already in isolation.”

NSW Health recorded the case as part of a new precautionary testing regime for overseas travellers.

The new regime includes symptom checking and day-16 COVID tests for those released from hotel quarantine.

Other jurisdictions, including South Australia and Victoria, are considering introducing the day-16 test as an additional precaution.

“We’ll look at that very carefully,” Premier Steven Marshall told reporters yesterday.

“If we need to do that in South Australia, that’s what we’ll do.”

Chess the Musical is coming to Adelaide

Worldwide stage hit Chess the Musical is coming to Adelaide’s Her Majesty’s Theatre this May, with an all-star cast ready to play the game.

Political intrigue, a complex love story and a rocking soundtrack play out over an intense game during the semi-staged concert-style production, which features the music of ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, and book and lyrics by Tim Rice.

The cast for Chess the Musical includes musical theatre favourite Rob Mills (Wicked), Natalie Bassingthwaighte (Chicago), Paulini (The Bodyguard) and New York Metropolitan Opera singer Alexander Lewis.

Read the full story here.

Nine people killed, dozens feared dead in Indian flood

Indian rescuers are struggling to reach trapped victims after part of a glacier in the Himalayas broke off and released a torrent of water and debris that slammed into two hydroelectric plants.

At least nine people were killed and 140 are missing in a disaster experts say appears to point to global warming.

Video from India’s northern Uttarakhand state shows the muddy, concrete-grey floodwaters tumbling through a valley and surging into a dam, breaking it into pieces with little resistance before roaring downstream.

The flood turned the countryside into what looked like an ash-coloured moonscape.

More than 2000 members of the military, paramilitary groups and police took part in Sunday’s search-and-rescue operation, including soldiers expert in mountaineering, working into the night under halogen lights.

The flood was caused when a portion of Nanda Devi glacier snapped off early morning, releasing water trapped behind it, authorities said.

It rushed down the mountain and into other bodies of water, forcing the evacuation of many villages along the banks of the Alaknanda and Dhauliganga rivers.

A hydroelectric plant on the Alaknanda was destroyed and a plant under construction on the Dhauliganga was damaged, said Indo Tibetan Border Police spokesman Vivek Pandey.

Flowing out of the Himalayan mountains, the two rivers meet before merging with the Ganges River.

Pandey said at least 42 workers were trapped in two tunnels at the Dhauliganga project.

Twelve were rescued from one of the tunnels, while at least 30 others remained stranded inside the other, he said.

“The rescuers used ropes and shovels to reach the mouth of the tunnel. They dug through the debris and entered … They are yet to come in touch with the stranded people,” Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat said.

An additional 140 workers at the two plants were missing, Pandey said.

Police official Surjeet Singh said at least nine bodies were recovered.

Rawat said authorities were able to save other hydropower units downstream because of timely action taken to release water by opening gates.

The floodwaters also damaged houses, said Ravi Bejaria, a government spokesman, though he had no details on the number and whether any residents were injured, missing or dead.

“It all started sometime around 10 in the morning. We heard a bang, which shook our village,” Dinesh Negi, a resident of Raini village, said.

He said they watched from high above one of the rivers as the water turned muddy and surged in a torrent.

“We knew something wrong had happened,” Negi said.

“We could see the fury of the river.”

Scientists have long known global warming is contributing to the melting and the breakup of the world’s glaciers.

Anjal Prakash, research director and adjunct professor at the Indian School of Business who has contributed to UN-sponsored research on global warming, said while data on the cause of the disaster was not yet available, “this looks very much like a climate change event as the glaciers are melting due to global warming”.

New Ebola case detected in DR Congo

A new case of the Ebola virus has been detected in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo near the city of Butembo and the infected person has died, the health ministry says.

A woman was found with symptoms of the deadly virus in the town of Biena on February 1 and died in hospital in Butembo on February 3.

She was married to a man who had contracted the virus in a previous outbreak.

“The provincial response team is already hard at work. It will be supported by the national response team which will visit Butembo shortly,” the statement said.

The announcement potentially marks the start of Congo’s 12th Ebola outbreak, more than double any other country, since the virus was discovered near the Ebola River in 1976.

It comes nearly three months after Congo announced the end to its 11th outbreak, which infected 130 people and killed 55.

That outbreak in the country’s west overlapped with an earlier one in the east that killed more than 2200 people, the second-most in the disease’s history.

The emergence of more cases could complicate efforts to eradicate COVID-19, which has infected 23,600 people and killed 681 in Democratic Republic of Congo.

A vaccination campaign is expected to start in the first half of this year.

Congo’s equatorial forests are a natural reservoir for the Ebola virus, which causes severe vomiting and diarrhoea and is spread through contact with body fluids.

US set for Superbowl Sunday

The Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are set to face off in Superbowl LV this morning at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, Florida, with the pandemic diminishing the usual big game festivities as health authorities fear super spreader events could occur across the country.

The highly anticipated matchup will be attended by a crowd of 22,000 mask-wearing fans, well short of the Florida stadium’s full capacity of more than 65,000.

The game will kick off at 10 am Adelaide time, with Australian NFL fans set to enjoy the game in larger crowds than their American counterparts, as US health authorities discourage gatherings with other households.

Chief Medical Advisor to the President, Anthony Fauci, warned that Superbowl parties are the “perfect set up to have a mini super spreader event in your own house” and said those attending are “really putting yourself and your family in danger”.

“Enjoy the Super Bowl, but don’t do it with a large crowd of people in your house in a place when it’s cold and you don’t have good ventilation,” Fauci told MSNBC.

“It’s a perfect setup to have a mini super spreader event in your own house. Don’t do that for now – there will be other Super Bowls.”

More than 100 million Americans will watch today’s game.

This season’s Superbowl pits Chiefs quarterback and last year’s MVP Patrick Mahomes against all-time great Tom Brady in an epic cross-generational match up.

A win for Brady, 43, would give him an astonishing seventh Superbowl ring and make him just the second starting quarterback in NFL history to win a championship with two teams.

Mahomes is searching for his second title after leading the Chiefs last season to their first championship since Superbowl IV in 1970.

The reigning champions go into the game as favourites, after narrowly edging out the Bucs in their week 12 matchup 24-27.

The Chiefs boast the league’s top tight end Travis Kelce, who had the second-most receiving yards of any player, and speedy wideout Tyreek Hill, who gouged the Bucs for 13 catches, 269 yards and three touchdowns when they last met.

US President Joe Biden will address the nation in a taped video address before the game to push his message on tackling COVID-19.

with AAP and Reuters

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