What we know today, Wednesday February 10

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

Feb 10, 2021, updated Feb 10, 2021
Nicola Spurrier has defended SA Health's decision not to report a positive COVID test linked to incoming travellers for the tennis exhibition in Adelaide last month (Photo: Kelly Barnes/AAP)

Nicola Spurrier has defended SA Health's decision not to report a positive COVID test linked to incoming travellers for the tennis exhibition in Adelaide last month (Photo: Kelly Barnes/AAP)

Two new COVID cases in SA

SA Health has reported two new COVID-19 cases in SA, both recently returned travellers who tested positive in a medi-hotel.

There are now four active cases in the state, with 605 cases recorded in SA since the pandemic began.

The figures come from 6136 tests, bringing the total number of tests conducted by SA Pathology to 1,00,496.

Victorian quarantine hotel shut down

Returned travellers are being evacuated from the Holiday Inn at Melbourne Airport, as a COVID-19 outbreak at the quarantine hotel grows to three cases.

Victorian health authorities yesterday reported positive tests from a food and beverage worker and a returned traveller who was two-days released from quarantine.

The food and beverage worker was among 136 close contacts of an authorised officer at the hotel who tested positive for the virus on Sunday.

COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria confirmed the hotel was closing this morning.

“As a highly precautionary measure, the Holiday Inn Melbourne Airport is being closed until further notice for terminal cleaning, and with detailed contact tracing and investigations underway,” a spokeswoman said.

The total number of staff isolating due to the outbreak is now 220, with more than 950 hotel quarantine workers stood down across Victoria due to local transmission at the Grand Hyatt hotel and Park Royal quarantine hotels.

Forty-eight guests of the hotel considered primary close contacts will be transferred to the Pullman Melbourne to quarantine for an “extended number of days”.

“We understand this will be difficult news to receive and will do everything we can to ensure the health and wellbeing of these residents are supported during their new quarantine period,” the spokeswoman said.

“The transfer of the residents will be sequenced and coordinated, and there will be careful management of infection prevention and control measures.”

The Victorian Department of Health has listed eight exposure sites the food and beverage worker at the Holiday Inn attended, five of which are at the Sunbury shopping mall in Melbourne’s north west.

No exposure sites for the returned traveller who left quarantine have been identified, as she only left home to get tested.

However, all staff and returned travellers who were on the same hotel floor as her will have to go back into isolation for 14 days.

Victorian authorities are working on a theory that a family of three returned travellers, known to have COVID-19, is the source of the growing outbreak.

The family of three and the worker who tested positive on Sunday both contracted the same variant of the virus.

One member of the family is in intensive care for coronavirus related symptoms.

Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton indicated the two new cases appeared to have picked up the virus from the family despite having no close contact.

“Obviously food is delivered to the door, the door is knocked on, there is no close contact for delivery of food but we need to go through the interview process again to work out exactly what has happened,” Sutton told reporters yesterday.

“Cases can happen anywhere, at any time, and they can happen without a breach of protocol or any particular errors being made.”

Sutton said the two new cases have likely contracted “variants of concern”, with genomics testing to reveal later this week what strain the worker and released guest have contracted.

He also said health officials need to continue to investigate every intervention possible to better protect hotel quarantine workers and guests.

The new cases come after South Australia’s transition committee decided yesterday not to impose new border restrictions on those entering into the state from Greater Melbourne.

Currently, travellers from Greater Melbourne into SA have to submit to COVID testing on day one, five and 12 of their stay.

Senate votes to hear impeachment trial

US senators in Donald Trump’s historic second impeachment trial have agreed to consider the case, rejecting an attempt by the former president’s defence team and some Republican allies to halt the trial because he is no longer in office.

The vote was 56-44 on Tuesday on the question of whether the Senate has jurisdiction and could proceed.

Trump faces a charge of incitement of insurrection for his role in the January 6 Capitol riot.

The result indicates that Trump has enough support to be acquitted in the trial, with a two-thirds majority required to convict.

Positive COVID test linked to Adelaide tennis tournament unreported

SA Health is defending its decision not to report a positive COVID-19 test linked with the tennis entourage arriving for the Day at The Drive exhibition in Adelaide last month, describing the case as an old infection.

It comes after French tennis player Benoit Paire – who vented his frustration with the greater amount of time players quarantining in Adelaide were allowed to train compared to those in Melbourne – claimed on Monday that a positive case was on a flight to Adelaide.

“What happened is shameful,” Paire told French media.

“There was also a positive case on the flight to Adelaide but there, they had time to take blood samples. We were told to quarantine.

“Either we do the same things and the same rules for everyone. I do not understand why it’s not fair for everyone.”

The positive test was recorded by a support staff member of one of the tennis players, according to Nine News. 

SA Health includes weak positive tests that need further investigation in its daily COVID update and amends the state’s COVID tally afterwards if the positive result is deemed an old infection.

Shadow Health Minister Chris Picton questioned why the case went unreported.

“It is shocking that Steven Marshall kept this case secret during his many press conferences about the tennis match,” Picton said.

“While Mr Marshall triumphed in speaking next to famous tennis stars, he owed it to our state to tell us about this case.

“The community has been told about other old infections detected – whereas when the tennis was involved it was covered up.”

In a statement, Chief Public Health Officer Professor Nicola Spurrier said the case was not reported to avoid “double counting” of cases already recorded overseas.

“All infectious cases of COVID-19 are added to the South Australian count and reported publicly,” Spurrier said.

“To avoid double counting of cases worldwide, if any case has clearly been diagnosed overseas, has recovered and is not infectious, and previously been counted towards the international tally, there is no requirement to report this publicly.”

Health Minister Stephen Wade this morning dismissed Labor’s concerns, calling them a “political opportunist attack” on the chief public health officer.

“This is a disappointing, political opportunist attack by Labor on Nicola Spurrier,” Wade tweeted.

“Old, inactive cases which have already been counted overseas are not added in our tally.

“I call on @PMalinauskasMP to unite behind the South Australian public health team rather than undermine it.”

SA Health recorded no new COVID-19 cases yesterday, with two active cases remaining in the state.

SA also recorded its one-millionth coronavirus test yesterday, with SA Pathology Clinical Services Director Dr Tom Dodd saying the state’s testing rates remain among the highest in the world.

WHO points to animals in COVID-19 origins investigation

The head of a World Health Organisation-led team probing the origins of COVID-19 says bats remain a potential source and that transmission of the virus via frozen food is a possibility that warrants further investigation but he has rejected a lab leak as unlikely.

Peter Ben Embarek, who led the team of independent experts in its nearly month-long visit to the Chinese city of Wuhan, said the team’s work had uncovered new information but had not dramatically changed their picture of the outbreak.

“The possible path from whatever original animal species all the way through to the Huanan market could have taken a very long and convoluted path involving also movements across borders,” Embarek told a nearly three-hour media briefing.

Embarek said work to identify the coronavirus’ origins points to a natural reservoir in bats but it is unlikely that they were in Wuhan.

Investigators were also looking for Chinese blood samples that could indicate that the virus was circulating earlier than first thought.

“In trying to understand the picture of December 2019 we embarked on a very detailed and profound search for other cases that may have been missed, cases earlier on in 2019,” he said.

“And the conclusion was we did not find evidence of large outbreaks that could be related to cases of COVID-19 prior to December 2019 in Wuhan or elsewhere.”

The possibility the virus leaked from a lab was extremely unlikely and did not require further study, Embarek said.

Liang Wannian, head of China’s expert panel on the outbreak, said there was evidence of coronavirus infections that could have preceded the first detected case by “several weeks”.

“This suggests that we cannot rule out that it was circulating in other regions and the circulation was unreported,” he told the briefing.

Embarek said the team had identified market vendors selling frozen animal products including farmed wild animals.

“So there is the potential to continue to follow this lead and further look at the supply chain and animals that were supplied to the market,” he said.

Crown faces fight to keep casino licence

Crown Resorts will attempt to convince the NSW gaming regulator it can reform despite a former judge concluding it is not fit to run a casino, while also facing calls for more scrutiny in Victoria.

Crown facilitated money laundering through subsidiaries’ bank accounts then failed to act when it was drawn to their attention in public media reporting, the report found.

Commissioner Patricia Bergin, a former judge of the NSW Supreme Court, told the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority that alone rendered Crown unfit to hold the licence for its $2.2 billion casino in Sydney’s Barangaroo.

It also put its staff in China in danger of being detained and dealt with junket operators it was told were involved in organised crime, Bergin concluded.

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The ILGA will now consider the report, which it received on February 1 and which was published on Tuesday.

Chair of the authority Philip Crawford will front media about the Bergin inquiry this morning.

Bergin left it to IGLA to decide whether it should cancel, suspend or impose conditions on the licence.

But she suggested sweeping cultural change was needed, as well as specific measures like the removal of certain board directors, a thorough audit of Crown accounts for money laundering, and measures to stop the sharing of confidential information with James Packer.

Crown has vowed to work with ILGA in relation to the report’s findings and recommendations.

Crown also runs casinos in Victoria and Western Australia, and there are now calls for those jurisdictions to respond to the damning findings.

Independent federal MP Andrew Wilkie says Bergin’s findings mean Crown is unfit to operate any casino in Australia.

He is calling upon the Victorian and WA premiers to suspend Crown’s casino licences and establish their own commissions of inquiry.

The Victorian Greens want Premier Daniel Andrews to take Crown’s licence away for good ahead of a review later this year.

“Victoria shouldn’t need another review to tell us what we’ve known all along. Crown should be stripped of its Victorian licence immediately,” Victorian Greens Leader Samantha Ratman said.

Unclear if world needs new COVID shots: vaccine head

It is not yet clear whether or not the world needs a new set of vaccines to fight different variants of the coronavirus but scientists are working on new ones so there is no reason for alarm, the head of the Oxford Vaccine Group says.

“There are definitely new questions about variants that we’re going to be addressing, and one of those is: do we need new vaccines?,” Andrew Pollard, Chief Investigator on the Oxford vaccine trial, told BBC radio on Tuesday.

“I think the jury is out on that at the moment, but all developers are preparing new vaccines so if we do need them, we’ll have them available to be able to protect people.”

Pollard’s team developed the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

South Africa paused a planned rollout of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccinations after data showed it gave minimal protection against mild infection from one variant, stoking fears of a much longer cat-and-mouse battle with the pathogen.

Researchers from the University of Witwatersrand and the University of Oxford said in a prior-to-peer analysis that the AstraZeneca vaccine provided minimal protection against mild or moderate infection from the South African variant among young people.

“I think there’s clearly a risk of confidence in the way that people may perceive you. But as I say I don’t think that there is any reason for alarm today,” Pollard said.

“The really important question is about severe disease and we didn’t study that in South Africa, because that wasn’t the point of that study, we were specifically asking questions about young adults.”

The so called South African variant, known by scientists as 20I/501Y.V2 or B.1.351, is the dominant one in South Africa and is circulating in 41 countries around the world including the United States.

The variant made it to Australia in December last year and came to South Australia last Tuesday, February 2, from a traveller who tested positive in an Adelaide medi-hotel.

Other major variants include the so-called UK variant, or 20I/501Y.V1, and the Brazilian variant known as P.1.

An analysis of infections by the South African variant showed there was only a 22 per cent lower risk of developing mild-to-moderate COVID-19 if vaccinated with the AstraZeneca shot versus those given a placebo.

If vaccines do not work as effectively as hoped against new and emerging variants, then the world could be facing a much longer – and more expensive – battle against the virus than previously thought.

Pollard said the South African government was correct to look at how they deploy the AstraZeneca vaccine because their original plan was to deploy it in young adults – particularly healthcare workers – who were not expected to get severe disease.

“It needs a relook at how best to deploy the vaccine,” Pollard said.

First 10-star energy home built in Adelaide

Construction has finished on the first 10-star energy rated home in South Australia, with the innovative development in the eastern suburbs featuring an array of features designed to cut down on household energy consumption.

The Woodforde house does not have artificial heating or cooling, and was built with construction methods and materials to allow the resident to control the temperature of fresh air supply.

The design by Suho Studio also incorporated considerations such as climate, orientation, thermal mass, window volume and ventilation into its construction plans, to ensure the building would fit the Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme’s criteria for a 10-star house.

Heating and cooling makes up around 40 per cent of household energy consumption.

Environment Minister David Speirs said the local project formed part of the government’s Climate Change Action plan, and said the new development is “very exciting” given its rarity.

“Around Australia more than 75 per cent of homes that get assessed under the Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme only achieve six or less stars, so to have a 10 star-rated home in South Australia is very exciting,” Speirs said.

“Demand for low emissions and climate smart products is growing, and South Australia is well equipped to use our abundance of sun, wind and other natural resources to take full advantage of this growing demand.”

Suho Studio Manager Ruth Nordstrom said the project model has potential to be rolled out to other settings – especially in health care.

“The building monitors and adapts through windows, ventilation, CO2, humidity etc to the changing climatic conditions,” Nordstrom said.

“This has resulted in a home ‘as-built’ to international standards of airtightness and indoor health, something we believe the South Australian trade economy is well equipped to provide the skills or services for.

“What is most exciting is the interest growing on the other aspects demonstrated in the home such as human health, indoor air quality, alleviating respiratory conditions and behavioural benefits which directly relate to aged care, education, hospitals and the like.”

Djokovic, Williams headline AO day three after Barty cruises through

World No.1 Novak Djokovic and 23-time grand slam winner Serena Williams will be among the headline acts on day three of the Australian Open, after Australian world number one Ash Barty recorded a crushing victory against unseeded Danka Kovinić yesterday.

The Queenslander made light work of the Montenegrin, winning the first 16 points of the match to ease through to the second round 6-0 6-0.

Barty will face fellow Daria Gavrilova in the next round after the world No. 387 defeated world No.64 Sorribes Tormo 6-1 7-5 in a clinical display last night.

Djokovic cruised past Jeremy Chardy 6-3 6-1 6-2 on Monday and will start as hot favourite against the talented 23-year-old American Frances Tiafoe, the world No.64, on Rod Laver Arena in Wednesday’s stand-out match.

Djokovic, who is seeking an 18th grand slam and ninth Australian Open crown, has started the tournament in the sort of ominous form that could see him close the gap on Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, who both have 20 titles.

Serena Williams defeated Laura Siegemund 6-1 6-1 in her opening-round match, and will take on world No.99 Nina Stojanovic on Wednesday.

Her older sister Venus Williams faces off against Italian Sara Errani, while Naomi Osaka takes on Caroline Garcia.

There will be plenty of Australians in action, with Ajla Tomljanović facing the toughest task in her battle against world No.2 Simona Halep.

Alex Bolt takes on world No.21 Grigor Dimitrov, James Duckworth is up against Canadian world No.19 Felix Auger-Aliassime, Nick Kyrgios is drawn against rising star Ugo Humbert.

Bernard Tomic will start as underdog in his battle against world No.12 Denis Shapovalov.

– With AAP and Reuters

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