BSF finds another tunnel along border with Pakistan in J&K’s Samba

J&K’s Director General of Police said it is a 150m long underground tunnel which was unearthed following probes into the Nagrota encounter

SRINAGAR: The Border Security Force (BSF) on Sunday claimed detecting yet another ‘suspected tunnel’ along the 198-km stretch of International Border (IB) with Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir’s Samba district. The tunnel may have been used for pushing in militants by Pakistan, it said.

J&K’s Director General of Police, Dilbag Singh, said it is a 150-metre long underground tunnel which was unearthed following investigations into the recent encounter near a toll plaza in Nagrota area along Jammu-Srinagat highway in which four militants were gunned down by the security forces.


Mr. Singh after inspecting the tunnel scene along with BSF Inspector General, Jammu frontier, N S Jamwal, and Inspector General of Police, Jammu range, Mukesh Singh said, “The J&K police shared some vital inputs found from the encounter site with the BSF which after hectic efforts, managed to find the tunnel.”.

The BSF claimed it found cement bags with Pakistani factory markings on these deep inside the tunnel.

BSF officials said that a patrolling party of the paramilitary force found a small tunnel in Regal area of Samba on the IB. “The tunnel is located close to the IB and is suspected to have been used for infiltration,” they said, adding that senior officers have rushed to the spot and investigation into the matter is going on.


 The BSF is tasked to guard the 198-km stretch of the India-Pakistan border in Jammu region. Being part of  the 2,912 km India-Pakistan border from Gujarat to J&K, it starts at Paharpur in Kathua district and ends at Chicken’s Neck corridor in Akhnoor sector where the LoC begins. The LoC ends at NJ9842 (the northernmost demarcated point of the ceasefire line) down the Siachen Glacier over which both India and Pakistan claim sovereignty.

In India, this 198-km stretch is called the international border by New Delhi but Islamabad calls it a ‘working boundary’. Pakistan claims it passes through the “disputed” region of J&K.

The BSF has in the past also claimed discovering underground tunnels along the IB.


Meanwhile, a security alert was on Sunday sounded along the Line of Control in J&K’s Poonch after a flying object was spotted in the district’s Mendhar sector.  Official sources said that the object was probably a drone which was reportedly shot by the Army.

SDPO Mendhar Z.A. Jafri told local news agency GNS that Army and police’s counterinsurgency Special Operations Group (SOG) were conducting searches in the area.


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‘The light at the end of the tunnel’: Moderna says its coronavirus vaccine is 94.5 per cent effective

Moderna’s experimental vaccine is 94.5 per cent effective in preventing COVID-19 based on interim data from a late-stage trial, the company said on Monday, becoming the second US drugmaker to report results that far exceed expectations.

Together with Pfizer’s vaccine, which is also more than 90 per cent effective, and pending more safety data and regulatory review, the United States could have two vaccines authorized for emergency use in December with as many as 60 million doses of vaccine available this year.

The vaccines, both developed with new technology known as messenger RNA (mRNA), represent powerful tools to fight a pandemic that has infected 54 million people worldwide and killed 1.3 million.

Unlike Pfizer’s vaccine, Moderna’s shot can be stored at normal fridge temperatures, which should make it easier to distribute, a critical factor as COVID-19 cases are soaring, hitting new records in the United States and pushing some European countries back into lockdowns.

“We are going to have a vaccine that can stop COVID-19,” Moderna President Stephen Hoge said in a telephone interview.

Moderna’s interim analysis was based on 95 infections among trial participants who received the vaccine or a placebo. Only five infections occurred in volunteers who received the vaccine mRNA-1273, which is administered in two shots 28 days apart.

The World Health Organization chief hailed the “encouraging” news about COVID-19 vaccines but expressed concern about surging cases in many countries and insisted that complacency was not an option.

“We continue to receive encouraging news about COVID-19 vaccines and remain cautiously optimistic about the potential for new tools to start to arrive in the coming months,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual press briefing.

But he added: “This is no time for complacency.”

“The vaccine is really the light at the end of the tunnel,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious diseases expert said. He urged Americans not to let their guard down and to continue washing hands and being vigilant about social distancing.

Even with fast authorisation, the vaccines will not come in time for most people celebrating the US Thanksgiving and end-of-year holidays, when families and friends come together – just the types of gatherings public health officials warn against.

Moderna expects to have enough safety data required for US authorisation in the next week or so and expects to file for emergency use authorisation (EUA) in the coming weeks.

The company’s shares, which have more than quadrupled this year, jumped 8 per cent, while European and US stocks rose. The benchmark S&P 500 rose 1 per cent, while the pan-European STOXX 600 climbed 1.3 per cent.

Shares in Pfizer and its partner BioNTech, whose vaccine must be transported at far colder temperatures, fell 4.3per cent and 16.4per cent respectively, while Britain’s AstraZeneca, which has yet to release any results from its late-stage vaccine trials, was down 1per cent.

Severe cases

Moderna’s data provide further validation of the promising but previously unproven mRNA platform, which turns the human body into a vaccine factory by coaxing cells to make virus proteins that the immune system sees as a threat and attacks.

Moderna expects the vaccine to be stable at normal fridge temperatures of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius for 30 days and it can be stored for up to 6 months at -20C.

Pfizer’s vaccine must be shipped and stored at -70C, the sort of temperature typical of an Antarctic winter. It can be stored for up to five days at standard refrigerator temperatures, or for up to 15 days in a thermal shipping box.

The data from Moderna’s trial involving 30,000 volunteers also showed the vaccine prevented cases of severe COVID-19, a question that still remains with the Pfizer vaccine. Of the 95 cases in Moderna’s trial, 11 were severe and all 11 occurred among volunteers who got the placebo.

Moderna, part of the US government’s Operation Warp Speed program, expects to produce about 20 million doses for the United States this year, millions of which the company has already made and is ready to ship if it gets FDA authorisation.

“Assuming we get an emergency use authorisation, we’ll be ready to ship through Warp Speed almost in hours,” Mr Hoge said. “So it could start being distributed instantly.”

The 95 cases of COVID-19 included several key groups who are at increased risk for severe disease, including 15 cases in adults aged 65 and older and 20 in participants from racially diverse groups.

“We will need much more data and a full report or publication to see if the benefit is consistent across all groups, notably the elderly, but this is definitely encouraging progress, said Stephen Evans, professor of pharmacoepidemiology, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

The trials were designed to measure whether the vaccines stop people from getting sick rather than whether they prevent transmission, which remains to be tested.

“It is likely that vaccines that prevent symptomatic disease will reduce the duration and level of infectiousness, and thus reduce transmission, but we don’t yet know if this effect will be large enough to make any meaningful difference to the spread of the virus within communities,” said Eleanor Riley, professor of immunology and infectious disease at the University of Edinburgh.


Rolling review

Most side effects were mild to moderate. A significant proportion of volunteers, however, experienced more severe aches and pains after taking the second dose, including about 10 per cent who had fatigue severe enough to interfere with daily activities while another 9 per cent had severe body aches. Most of these complaints were generally short-lived, Moderna said.

“These effects are what we would expect with a vaccine that is working and inducing a good immune response,” said Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London.

The US government, faced with the world’s highest known number of COVID-19 cases, could have access next year to more than 1 billion doses from Moderna and Pfizer, more than needed for the country’s 330 million residents.

The Trump Administration has mainly relied on the development of vaccines and treatments as its response to the pandemic. Moderna has received nearly $1 billion in research and development funding from the US government and has a $1.5 billion deal for 100 million doses. The government has an option for another 400 million doses.

The company hopes to produce between 500 million and 1 billion doses in 2021, split between its US and international manufacturing sites, depending in part on demand.

Europe’s health regulator said on Monday it had launched a real-time “rolling review” of Moderna’s vaccine, as it has done for vaccines from Pfizer and AstraZeneca. Brussels also said it was in talks with Moderna about securing doses.

Other countries such as China and Russia have already begun vaccinations. Russia licensed its Sputnik-V COVID-19 vaccine for domestic use in August before it started large-scale trials. It said on 11 November that its vaccine was 92 per cent effective based on 20 infections in its large trial.


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UK approves £1.7 billion Stonehenge road tunnel project

FILE PHOTO: A security officer patrols around the perimeter Stonehenge stone circle, near Amesbury, Britain June 20, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

November 13, 2020

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain has given the green light to a 1.7 billion pounds tunnel under Stonehenge aimed at hiding a nearby main road that has long blighted the mysterious prehistoric circle of stones in southern England.

Stonehenge, one of the world’s most famous prehistoric monuments, includes a 5,000-year-old ditch and a Neolithic stone circle with early Bronze Age burial mounds nearby. It is a World Heritage Site.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps on Thursday granted development consent for the 1.7 billion pound project which includes a new dual carriageway with a two-mile tunnel beside Stonehenge.

“The Secretary of State agrees the benefits of the development would include enabling visitors to Stonehenge to see the stone circle without the visual and aural distraction of road traffic,” Shapps said in a letter approving the project.

England’s highways agency said the road beside Stonehenge is a congestion hotspot with traffic flow double what it was designed for, and that the tunnel amounts to the biggest investment in English roads for a generation.

Highways England said the project will remove the sound of traffic from the site and thus restore a measure of tranquility to Stonehenge.

But some archaeologists and local residents oppose the project.

They say the tunnel is too short and will damage the archaeological surroundings of Stonehenge. They have called for a deep-bored tunnel at least 4.5 km (3 miles) long.

The Stonehenge Alliance, which opposes the project, said it deeply regretted Shapps’ decision and would discuss its options. There is now a six-week period in which the decisions may be challenged in the High Court, Highways England said.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Kate Holton and Stephen Addison)

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Tunnel plan near Stonehenge gets UK government consent – Long Island Business News

The British government went against the recommendations of planning officials Thursday, approving controversial plans for a road tunnel to be built near the prehistoric monument of Stonehenge in southern England.
The project, which is aimed at trying to ease traffic along a stretch of road widely prone to gridlock, has been touted for decades but has faced vociferous opposition from local residents as well as archaeologists.
The A303 highway, which is a popular route for motorists traveling to and from the southwest of England, is often severely congested around the single-lane section of road near Stonehenge. As part of widespread improvements, a two-mile tunnel will be built that will effectively remove the sight and sound of traffic passing the site, and cut journey times.
The decision by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps goes against the recommendation of the Planning Inspectorate, which warned of “permanent” and “irreversible” harm arising from the project, unseen in the site’s history.
However, according to the Department for Transport, Shapps was said to be “satisfied that on balance the need case for the development together with the other benefits identified outweigh any harm.”
Proponents of the upgrade, which Highways England has estimated will cost 1.7 billion pounds ($2.2 billion), say it will dramatically ease congestion and eventually help the local environment. The agency expects the fieldwork to start in late spring next year, with the main five-year construction phase expected to start by 2023.
“This transformational scheme will return the Stonehenge landscape towards its original setting and will improve journey times for everyone who travels to and from the southwest,” the agency’s chief executive, Jim O’Sullivan said.
Opponents of the scheme, who have a six-week window to appeal to Britain’s High Court, have for years voiced worries about the potential damage to the environment, wildlife and potential archaeological finds underground.
The Stonehenge Alliance, which has campaigned against the tunnel, said it “deeply regrets” a decision that will be greeted with “shock” around the world.
The group added that the plan will breach the U.K.’s international treaty obligations “not to damage” the World Heritage Site.
Historian, author and broadcaster Tom Holland, who is president of the Stonehenge Alliance, said the group will oppose the “shameful” decision as vigorously as possible.
“The decision to inject a great gash of tarmac and concrete into Britain’s most precious prehistoric landscape is one that ranks simultaneously as spendthrift and sacrilegious,” he said.
Hopes that the project wouldn’t win approval were raised in June when it emerged that a team of archaeologists had discovered a ring of at least 20 large shafts within the site, a short distance from the standing stones.
In a statement, the National Trust, which looks after 2,100 acres around Stonehenge, said it had a “long-standing ambition” to resolve issues relating to the A303 and that it will “now take some time to study the conclusions of the examining authority in full before responding further.”
Stonehenge, which is one of the world’s most famous prehistoric monuments, was built on the flat lands of Salisbury Plain in stages, starting 5,000 years ago, with the unique stone circle erected in the late Neolithic period about 2,500 B.C.
The site’s meaning has been a subject of vigorous debate through the centuries, some seemingly more outlandish than others.
English Heritage, a charity that manages hundreds of historic sites, notes several explanations over the centuries from Stonehenge being a coronation place for Danish kings, a Druid temple, a cult center for healing or even an astronomical computer for predicting eclipses and solar events.
Nowadays, the charity said the interpretation “most generally accepted is that of a prehistoric temple aligned with the movements of the sun.”
Whatever it was designed to be, Stonehenge has long captured the imagination of the British public and remains one of the country’s biggest tourist draws. That’s particularly true at the time of the summer and winter solstices. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, there will be no winter solstice at Stonehenge this year but the sunrise on the morning of Dec. 21 will be live-streamed.

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UK Government approves controversial $3 billion tunnel under Stonehenge site

The British Government has given the green light to a controversial $3 billion road tunnel that will be built under the site of Stonehenge to relieve nearby road congestion.

The project, which is expected to take between four and five years to complete, has angered archaeologists and environmentalists, who say it could impact undiscovered artefacts or burial grounds on the World Heritage site.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps made the announcement on Thursday, saying the benefits of the huge project would include enabling visitors to the Neolithic site to “see the stone circle without the visual and aural distraction of road traffic”.

The plan will see the busy single-lane A303 highway, which runs alongside the ancient stone circle, turned into a dual-carriageway and plunged underground for 3.3 kilometres to stop passing motorists from rubbernecking to see the site and causing traffic delays as a result.

A visualisation from Highways England that shows how the western approach into the A303 tunnel will look.(Supplied: Highways England)

Sarah Richardson, the Planning Inspectorate’s chief executive, acknowledged that there had been a great deal of public interest in the project.

“A major priority for us over the course of the examination was to ensure that communities who might be affected by this proposal had the opportunity to put forward their views,” she said in as statement

“As always, the Examining Authority gave careful consideration to these before reaching its conclusion.”

Decision will send ‘shock messages around the world’

The famous standing stones of Stonehenge.
The famous standing stones have stood on the site in Wiltshire for over 4,000 years.(ABC News: Lincoln Rothall)

The stone circles of Stonehenge are just one part of a 25-square kilometre World Heritage area, which is dotted with the remains of ancient settlements, unexplored burial grounds and even the remains of an often overlooked Woodhenge — a 4,000-year-old wooden burial circle.

The Stonehenge Alliance, one of the groups opposing the road development, said it deeply regretted the decision that “will send shock messages around the world”.

The group claims the tunnel will breach the UK’s international treaty obligation over the World Heritage site and its legal commitment to address climate change.

A tourist walks past Stonehenge.
The Stonehenge site sees close to 800,000 visitors every year.(ABC News: Lincoln Rothall)

“We shall study carefully the detail of the transport secretary’s decision letter and the formal report and recommendations of the examiners of the road scheme, before meeting with colleagues to discuss any next steps,” a statement released by the group said.

‘It belongs to everyone on the whole planet’

Brian Edwards is a research fellow at the University of West England and also a part of a coalition of local residents and landowners trying to stop the tunnel.

“You can actually see the stones from the road, which is a magnificent thing for people to be able to enjoy and engage with prehistory from travelling through in a car,” he told the ABC in April 2019.

A van passes by the 4000-year-old Stonehenge monument on a nearby road.
The tunnel project is expected to take between four and five years to complete.(ABC News: Lincoln Rothall)

He fears the support for the tunnel from English Heritage, the current custodian of Stonehenge, is less about easing traffic and more about controlling access to the site.

“What they’re doing is they’re supplanting what is basically open access.”

“Stonehenge doesn’t belong to English Heritage, it doesn’t belong to the government here, it belongs to everybody on the whole planet, and everybody recognises Stonehenge and its importance.”

Last June archaeologists discovered a wide circle of deep pits surrounding an ancient settlement north-east of the standing rocks, which were estimated to date back to the same period, some 4,500 years ago.

Highways England said the pits were “well outside the scheme boundary”.

There is now a six-week period in which the decisions may be challenged in the High Court, Highways England said.


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Three-kilometre tunnel to be built under Stonehenge to hide traffic

London: Britain has given the green light to a $3 billion tunnel under Stonehenge aimed at hiding a nearby main road that has long blighted the mysterious prehistoric circle of stones in southern England.

Stonehenge, one of the world’s most famous prehistoric monuments, includes a 5000-year-old ditch and a Neolithic stone circle with early Bronze Age burial mounds nearby. It is a World Heritage Site.

Traffic builds up on the main road near Stonehenge, which can be seen in the background.Credit:PA

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps on Thursday granted development consent for the £1.7 billion ($3 billion) project, which includes a new dual carriageway with a 3.2-kilometre tunnel beside Stonehenge.

“The Secretary of State agrees the benefits of the development would include enabling visitors to Stonehenge to see the stone circle without the visual and aural distraction of road traffic,” Shapps said in a letter approving the project.

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Residents, schools and businesses still in dark on “generational” tunnel plan

Residents affected by construction of the state’s biggest infrastructure project will remain in the dark about the future of their properties until at least the middle of next year, with the Marshall Government still several months away from delivering a detailed business plan for the $8.9 billion South Road project.

The two-tunnel ‘Hybrid+’ option for the long-awaited completion of the north-south corridor, the centrepiece of yesterday’s state budget, was spruiked as a solution that would save significant heritage items – including Thebarton Theatre and Queen of Angels Church – and hundreds of homes along the 10km route from the River Torrens to Darlington.

Premier Steven Marshall and Transport Minister Corey Wingard were today out spruiking the next stage of the “generational” plan – ground investigation works, ahead of a “reference design” that would inform a business plan to be reviewed by Infrastructure Australia and Infrastructure SA later next year.

But while the Government says up to 400 houses will need to be compulsorily acquired – far fewer than the 900-odd required under the rejected ‘open motorway’ option – affected residents won’t know until at least mid-next year whether their property will be among them.

“Community consultation is a huge part of this project,” Wingard said.

“We’ll be out there engaging with the community – we’re going to take them on that journey.”

But he conceded it would be some time before specific plans could be shared.

“We now move to the reference design,” he said.

“We started with the concept design, which gives us the bigger picture that the Treasurer outlined yesterday, then we do the drilling works, which were doing between now and the middle of next year to complete that reference design so we have that finer detail, so we can move on to that final design…

“That reference design will be part of formulating the final business case and that will go back to Infrastructure SA and Infrastructure Australia.”

While he said the decision to utilise tunnels would “save some 480 properties, which we think is really good for the community”, he noted the reference design “will drill down more specifically on the properties we’ll need to acquire and that won’t be till the middle of next year”.

He also refused to rule out any of the schools along the route – which include government-run Richmond and Black Forest primary schools and Warriappendi indigenous school – falling victim to the upgrade.

“Again, that’s back to the reference design, that’s where all that will be finalised,” he said.

“We’ve had to do these initial works, and what we’re saying here is we’re doing the planning to actually determine what’s needed and how that reference design will take shape, and that will be by the middle of next year…

“There are a number of schools along the journey – what we’re saying is we’re engaging with those schools and talking to them [but] until we have that reference design, that’s when we’ll know what it’s going to looks like [and] what properties we’ll need to acquire.”

Asked how the Government could then rule out demolishing a raft of contentious potential acquisitions including Thebarton Theatre, he said: “That’s because we’re doing tunnels.”

“That means where there’s a tunnel, it’s going under the Thebarton Theatre [so] we know for sure and certain that’s staying – we’ve made that commitment.”

There is one “heritage item” still under a cloud, a historic bunker adjacent Thebarton Oval.

“We’re engaging with that group… we are having a look at what that will mean and how significantly that will be affected,” Wingard said.

Local business owner James Franzon from the South Road Inner West Action Group said stakeholders had been told at a meeting with the minister last night it would be at least six months before they had clarity.

“There’ll be a reference plan but even then that wasn’t going to be 100 per cent definitive,” he said.

“It’s great that they’ve announced and committed to tunnels [but] there’s still unrest until we have that certainty of what’s going to be acquired and who’s going to be affected by that.”

He said already “you can see businesses starting to shift and more properties coming up for lease and sale” along the strip.

One of those is auto restoration business Rare Spares, which recently shifted from South Rd to Sir Donald Bradman Drive.

Owner Kahn Smith said the ongoing uncertainty around the roadworks was “definitely” a key factor in the move, along with a lack of carparking.

“We were right on South Rd – you step out the front door and you’re a metre from South Rd [so] the uncertainty of what roadworks were going to happen was an issue,” he said.

“There’s still a lot of unknowns.”

Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas said while Labor was “providing absolute support for this project” and are “not going to be sniping from the sidelines”, it is nonetheless “a concern that major construction isn’t due to begin till 2023”.

“You’d hope that decision would be associated with a bit of detail so we can start to quell any community anxiety,” he said.

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“Retail therapy”: SA’s COVID medicine as Lucas plans to tunnel out of crisis

Two tunnels along a 10-kilometre stretch of South Road will see the state’s biggest transport infrastructure headache solved within a decade, at a cost of at least $8.9 billion – the centrepiece of the Marshall Government’s plan to spend the state out of a COVID-induced crisis.

That plan will also see almost $90 million spent on major upgrades of Hindmarsh Stadium and Memorial Drive Tennis Centre, with a range of new fees and charges including a slug to electric vehicle users and a significant increase to the Victims of Crime Levy.

Treasurer Rob Lucas’s budget forecasts “significant deficits over the next three years”, from a state record $2.59 billion in the current financial year, falling to $1.42 billion and $435 million in the next two years before a projected $406 million surplus in 2023-24.

But that recovery is predicated on an uncertain assumption: that there is a population-wide COVID vaccine readily available by the end of next year.

“If that doesn’t occur or we have a significant second wave, then all of the federal estimates will be impacted and so will ours,” he said.

“So we live or die by the assumptions that are made – they can only be made on the best assumption we can [make] at this particular point in time.”

Lucas’s third budget since the Liberals won power in 2018, and seventh overall, is unlike any he has delivered – and moreover unlike any handed down in the state’s history.

“I’ve been in parliament and observed and participated in close to 40 budgets over the years, but this budget is like no other,” the Treasurer declared today in a media briefing.

“It’s nothing like the State Bank and the implications and ramifications afterwards, it’s nothing like the Global Financial Crisis – everything that I’ve seen in my public life or lifetime doesn’t compare to the circumstances that we have now in the context and preparation of this particular budget.”

For Lucas, long a disciple of budget rigour, the task of framing an economic statement under the “extraordinary position” posited by the Governor of the Reserve Bank that “governments should not be concerned at this particular time [with] debt and deficit” meant a budget that deliberately broke with his most fundamental political instincts.

It is what it is, that’s the reality… if we are going to respond to a global pandemic and its economic implications, that is what we are going to have to do

“We’re in the extraordinary situation where the Treasurers’ conferences, the governor of the Reserve Bank Dr Philip Lowe [and] the Treasury secretary Steven Kennedy are both privately and publicly urging governments… to do whatever they can to save as many jobs, save as many businesses and protect as many people as they can in the short-term,” he said.

“Essentially they are saying ‘the heavy-lifting now has to be done by governments in terms of fiscal policy’, that is, governments have to spend, and spend more, in the nation’s interests…

“It is what it is, that’s the reality.

“If we are going to respond to a global pandemic and its economic implications, that is what we are going to have to do and that is what this budget is seeking to do.”

The economic plan is, as he puts it, “a jolt” for an economy on life support – “a two-year stimulus … to jumpstart it whilst at the same time putting in place the basis for long-term, sustainable jobs growth in our state”.

The centrepiece is the long-awaited solution to the north-south corridor, a hybrid option that will utilise tunnels and underpasses to help create a seamless 78km motorway from Gawler to Old Noarlunga “without a single traffic light”.

A State Government-supplied artist’s impression of planned South Road tunnels running under Thebarton Theatre.

The plan, which the Government says will save up to 24 minutes of travel time from the River Torrens to Darlington and create 4000 jobs during construction, will be rolled out in two stages, the first along around 6km, two-thirds of which will incorporate a tunnel, between Anzac Highway and Darlington. Stage Two will see an at-surface motorway and a second tunnel connect the section from the River Torrens to Anzac Highway.

Touting its plan as a “Hybrid+” solution, the Government says it will significantly avoid the loss of heritage assets, including Thebarton Theatre, the Queen of Angels Church, Hindmarsh Cemetery and the Hoffman Brick Kiln.

Almost 400 homes will be compulsory acquired to make way for the project, but Lucas insisted the alternative under an “open motorway” option would have seen closer to 900 razed.

The working budget for the 10-year plan is $8.9 billion, of which just $1.96b is budgeted over the forward estimates – and less than $182 million spent before the next election in 2022.

Lucas said the final cost estimate “will not be determined until late next year”, with a final business case due in June before being considered by Infrastructure Australia and Infrastructure SA.

“But this decision is the decision the Government will proceed with,” he said.

“This is the major infrastructure project this state is going to address in terms of financial need and economic benefits.”

While Canberra is yet to commit significant funds to paper, Lucas said: “I’m 100 per cent confident we’ll be able to work with the Commonwealth Government in bringing forward funding which is beyond the forward estimates”.

“Even if there’s a change of government at federal level and that doesn’t occur, we will continue with the project – we’re 100 per cent confident we can manage the cash flow issues of this,” he said.

He said the leaked document distributed by Labor last month purporting to show an all-tunnel solution was one that had been “considered and rejected… because it was $12 billion”.

With the Government exploring lower-cost solutions, Lucas also unveiled an alternative to the fleeting thought bubble of a new covered city stadium – a notion quickly shelved after the COVID pandemic hit.

Instead, the Government has announced a $204 million “Sports Fund” to underpin its State Sport and Recreation Infrastructure Plan.

That includes $44 million for Stage Two of the Memorial Drive Tennis Centre redevelopment and $45 million for a widely anticipated redevelopment of Hindmarsh Stadium ahead of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Supplied image of the Hindmarsh upgrade.

Lucas said Memorial Drive will get an extra 1500 seat capacity across four new grandstands, with areas for training as well as functions and events, while Hindmarsh gets new lighting, shade covering the eastern grandstand, pitch replacement and improved disability access, “because it’s frankly appalling at the moment”.

Plans for Memorial Drive.

The other major piece of planned infrastructure, the new Women’s and Children’s Hospital, is still awaiting a business plan in the new year.

However, health spending nonetheless dominates the budget, unsurprisingly given its framing in the midst of a global pandemic.

Lucas said health spending blew out by $410 million last financial year, while this year’s figure is now “$676 million more than we budgeted in last year’s budget”.

“The notion from some is that this Government needs to increase health resources [but] the Government has done, dusted significant extra expenditure in health,” the Treasurer said.

“We are ready should there ever be a second wave of COVID-19.”

Schools will also benefit from the Government’s previously-flagged $4 billion stimulus spend, with $37 million allocated to provide grants of between $20,000 and $100,000 to government schools for priority maintenance works – that must be spent within the next calendar year.

Similar grants of $30,000 for every government preschool to undertake maintenance “will provide significant work for tradies and local businesses”, Lucas said.

“That will be spent on local tilers, local carpenters and the like – that’s money that doesn’t have to go through a central procurement process… it will be given to the school, the governing council – they know what their priorities are.”

Lucas said there had already been around 300 applications by 9am this morning for the Government’s second round of small business grants – announced just yesterday.

He’s also caved on waiving payroll tax for struggling businesses – a measure he ruled out when the Victorian Government introduced it earlier this year.

The budget contains $223 million in payroll tax relief, including a 15-month waiver for businesses and business groups with annual Australian grouped wages below $4 million, and a six-month waiver from January 2021 for businesses with annual Australian grouped wages above $4 million who are receiving JobKeeper.

But for all the largesse, in a budget framed against a crisis, there are inevitable nasties.

After making hay on Friday with the announcement of a budget splash on new charging stations for electric vehicles and a commitment to reshape the government fleet, today came the stinger: a road user charge for electric cars.

The charge, which needs to be legislated, is expected to commence from next July 1, with Lucas insisting it was merely replicating the fuel excise paid by other road users.

“It makes sense that if one road user charge – the fuel excise – is going to disappear, this will be replaced by a road user charge,” he said.

“Someone has to pay for the road maintenance and upgrades and it should be the people using the roads… we’ve decided to bite the bullet [but] I’m pretty confident that over the next 12 months, at least one or two other jurisdictions will announce a similar road user charge…

“Sometimes someone’s got to have the courage to put their toe in the water first… we think it’s possible, even in the middle of a pandemic, to plan sensible long term reforms.”

He said the measure would initially generate a million dollars a year.

The Victims of Crime Levy will be increased by a mammoth 50 per cent, with Lucas arguing it has remained steady for almost a decade.

However, several previous budget savings measures have been simultaneously walked back: gone is a plan for a “user pays” scheme for event organisers requiring police attendance at events, with Lucas declaring “policing at these events will remain free of charge to event organisers”.

After spending much of 2019 fighting a coalition of business groups and property owners to implement his changes to land tax aggregation, Lucas today announced relief for people stung by the changes by up to $100,000, with their increase to be waived by up to 100 per cent in the current financial year, at a cost of $13 million.

Seemingly gone too is Lucas’s long-held ambition to rein in the size of the public sector. More public servants are employed than last year, with the sector’s FTEs projected to increase by 113 between this year and mid-2024 – but the Treasurer insists that’s “mainly due to increases in health and education”.

Labor was quick to point out that the budget forecast of zero per cent jobs growth in the current financial year – behind the national projection of 2.75 per cent growth – meant it would deliver “no new jobs” in the short term, along with no major works on the Government’s two biggest infrastructure priorities, South Road and the WCH.

“With more than 165,000 South Australians looking for work, we desperately needed a budget which would create jobs now,” Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas said.

“How is it we have had such a great health response, but we are lagging behind Australia on jobs growth?”

Now I know the joys of retail therapy… it makes you feel good when you’re spending other people’s money

While Lucas will retire at the next election, he insists the most peculiar budget of his career leaves a legacy for future Treasurers to hand down the kind of budget he no doubt hoped to bow out with.

Instead, over the past 10 months alone he has borrowed $6.65 billion at an average rate of 1.3 per cent, while since last year’s budget GST revenue has been revised down by $3.8 billion to 2022-23.

That, he said, was “largely due to the impacts of COVID-19 restrictions on national consumption spending and a reduction in SA’s share of the national GST pool”.

“It’s a new reality – those of us who experienced the old reality and the new have just had to adapt to this,” the career fiscal conservative mused, not too overawed by the magnitude of SA’s recovery task to make light of his predicament.

“Now I know the joys of retail therapy people talk about – it makes you feel good when you’re spending other people’s money.”

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Trudeau says promising new Pfizer vaccine could be ‘light at the end of the tunnel’

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today that Pfizer’s promising COVID-19 vaccine trial is an “encouraging” development — and could be the first step toward restoring Canada’s social and economic life.

If all goes well, he said, the Pfizer vaccine should be available to Canadians sometime over the first three months of 2021.

“We see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Trudeau told a COVID-19 briefing with reporters today. “We are hopeful we are getting there because our scientists are working incredibly hard.”

U.S.-based pharmaceutical giant Pfizer said today an early analysis of its novel coronarvirus vaccine trial suggested the drug was more than 90 per cent effective in preventing the disease among trial participants who had no evidence of prior coronavirus infection.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, called the trial results “extraordinary” and said Pfizer’s success bodes well for a similar vaccine being developed by U.S. firm Moderna.

“Today is a great day for science and humanity,” said Dr. Albert Bourla, chairman and CEO of Pfizer.

Canada already has placed orders with Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech for 20 million doses of the two-dose vaccine so that it can be deployed here as soon as the company gets the necessary regulatory approvals from Health Canada.

Pfizer has been submitting trial data to the regulator on a rolling basis since October 9. The rolling review allows drug makers to bypass the lengthy timelines they normally face when launching a new product. The vaccine will be approved for use once Health Canada is sure of its safety, efficacy and quality. 

Trudeau said that while Pfizer’s results are promising, Canadians must continue to adhere to public health guidelines to keep caseloads manageable.

“It’s really important we double down on our efforts,” he said. “We need to make sure we are controlling the spread of COVID-19 in the coming months so that when vaccines get here, we will be able to act quickly to protect all Canadians.”

Pfizer said it would continue to monitor for trial-related concerns in the weeks ahead and it expects to have its final safety data by the third week of November.

The drug maker said it is now readying an application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use authorization to deploy the vaccine for use on some people in the U.S. by year’s end.

Based on current projections, Pfizer has said it expects to produce more than 50 million doses in 2020 and up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021.

WATCH: Vaccine news could be ‘major win,’ infectious disease expert says

Pfizer says early data indicates its COVID-19 vaccine may be 90% effective, but cautions that its study is still going.  If the results hold, infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch says that would be a significant development in the fight against the coronavirus.   1:22

“We’ve secured already millions of doses of that vaccine candidate and when it is safe to distribute we will certainly be beginning distribution in Canada to high priority groups,” Trudeau said.

This particular vaccine must be stored at -75 C — which could make the logistics of distribution “more complex,” Trudeau said. Other vaccines are in the development pipeline that do not require such stringent storage requirements, he added.

The Pfizer vaccine is just one candidate that Canada is pursuing. In October, the government signed a contract to procure 76 million doses from the Quebec City-biotech company Medicago.

Medicago is developing the vaccine in partnership with the British drug company GlaxoSmithKline. The two companies have said its pre-clinical results show the vaccine demonstrated a “high level of neutralizing antibodies following a single dose.”

All told, the federal government has secured 358 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from seven different companies — an insurance policy if some of the vaccines in development prove to be ineffective in clinical trials.

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