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Victorian A-League clubs land in Sydney for 14-day quarantine after receiving coronavirus exemptions from NSW Government


The A-League’s Victorian travel fiasco has come to an end, with players and staff from three clubs arriving in New South Wales from Melbourne on Saturday morning.

The approximately 120 players and staff from Melbourne Victory, Western United and Melbourne City will now head into a 14-day quarantine period before they are allowed to complete their remaining 2019-20 fixtures.

The three teams assembled at AAMI Park on Saturday before boarding a charter flight to Sydney as the border into NSW was shut down due to Victoria’s coronavirus outbreak.

The interstate trip comes after two aborted attempts to leave the state earlier this week, which drew heavy criticism from the players’ union and led to A-League boss Greg O’Rourke apologising and acknowledging his job may be under scrutiny.

After the botched attempts to depart coronavirus-hit Melbourne on Monday and Tuesday, the FFA received travel exemptions from the NSW Government late on Thursday.

The all-clear to fly out on Saturday was given after Western United’s most recent COVID-19 swabs were cleared on Friday, ensuring all those travelling had met the health protocols to head to NSW.

Victory chief executive Trent Jacobs said in a statement on Friday the failed attempts to exit the state on Monday and Tuesday had been tough for those involved.

Five Melbourne Victory A-League players gather outside AAMI Park before flying to Sydney.
Players and staff from all three teams had to return negative COVID-19 swabs before flying out of Melbourne.(AAP: David Crosling)

“The events of Monday and Tuesday night have been incredibly frustrating, and compromised our players and staff,” Jacobs said.

“I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank our players, coaches, staff and all their families for the exceptional way in which they’ve handled the challenges and unknowns of this extremely stressful week.

“While our club was disappointed with what transpired, we have remained focused on working together with FFA and the Victorian clubs to find a solution.”

During their quarantine period, the players will be allowed to train but cannot play any matches.

Thursday’s match between Victory and Western United will have to be rearranged due to the quarantine period now being in effect.

That will mean Friday’s match between leaders Sydney FC and Wellington Phoenix at Jubilee Stadium will be the first fixture played since the league was suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

At least two other early games face rescheduling — Western United’s clash with City on July 20 and Western Sydney’s game against Victory on July 22.

United sit sixth with six games remaining and face a jam-packed schedule, while 10th-placed Victory have five matches to go. Second-placed City have just three regular-season games left.

With a competition window that can be extended until August 30, O’Rourke said he was confident the remaining 27 regular-season fixtures and finals can still be accommodated despite the quarantine period.



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Essendon names Conor McKenna to make AFL return after coronavirus scare



Essendon’s Conor McKenna will play his first AFL match since his coronavirus scare when the Bombers take on North Melbourne on the Gold Coast on Saturday night.

Essendon’s round-three clash with Melbourne was postponed when McKenna tested positive for COVID-19 last month, with he and teammate James Stewart ordered into quarantine.

The defender was released from isolation early after returning a negative result but did not play in last week’s win over Collingwood as the club took a conservative approach.

“We know Conor is an important part of our best team and he’s now ticked all of the boxes in terms of his preparation,” coach John Worsfold said.

“We feel like we’ve certainly reduced the risk of losing him through injury.

McKenna was added to the Bombers’ round-six side with Zach Merrett, who returns from suspension, while Jake Stringer (ankle) and Mason Redman (omitted) will not feature against the Kangaroos.

The Kangaroos lost Ben Cunnington to a back injury during last week’s loss to the Western Bulldogs, Marley Williams and Tristan Xerri are dropped so Bailey Scott, Paul Ahern and Tom Campbell come into the squad.

Collingwood star Jordan De Goey drops out of the side for Friday night’s encounter with Hawthorn at Giants Stadium after he was charged with indecent assault over an incident that allegedly occurred in 2015.

The Magpies also lost Josh Daicos to injury and dropped Tyler Bown, with Atu Bosenavulagi and Will Kelly to debut and Isaac Quaynor to play his first senior match this year.

The Hawks will also play two debutants, Josh Morris and Will Day, with Harry Morrison and Jonathon Patton recalled and star veteran Shaun Burgoyne rested.

Fremantle skipper Nat Fyfe returns for Saturday afternoon’s match against St Kilda in Carrara, along with Blake Acres, Brennan Cox and Travis Colyer.

The Dockers lost Jesse Hogan, Reece Conca and Griffin Logue to injury, while the Saints replaced hamstrung star Dan Hannebery with Zak Jones after he recovered from his own hamstring injury.

AAP/ABC



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Novak Djokovic claims criticism over Adria Tour coronavirus positives is a ‘witch-hunt’


Novak Djokovic claims he is being subjected to a “witch-hunt” following the disastrous end to his Adria Tour in Belgrade, Serbia, last month.

The world number one — who remains uncertain about playing at this year’s US Open — tested positive for COVID-19 during the event, along with fellow players Viktor Troicki, Grigor Dimitrov and Borna Coric, leading to it being called off.

Critics, including Australian star Nick Kyrgios, claimed the Serb was irresponsible to stage the event amid the pandemic, but Djokovic has slammed the criticism.

“I can only see criticism lately and much of it is malicious,” he told Serbia’s daily Sportski Zurnal.

“It’s obviously more than just criticism, it’s like an agenda and a witch-hunt. Someone has to take the fall, a big name,” he said.

“We complied with all the laws and regulations. But we’ve learned our lessons and some things could have probably been done in a different way.

“My intention was pure, I was wholeheartedly committed to organising a humanitarian event to help players and tennis federations in the [Balkan] region.”

Novak Djokovic can be seen among a large number of young volunteers, waving on court
Novak Djokovic said he would “probably” do things differently if he had his time again.(AP: Darko Vojinovic)

Kyrgios was scathing with his criticism, describing the decision to go ahead with the tournament as “boneheaded” in a Twitter post.

After calling out Djokovic, Kyrgios became embroiled in a social media spat with Boris Becker after branding German world number seven Alexander Zverev “selfish” after he was filmed dancing in a room full of people just days after the Adria Tour event.

Zverev tested negative for coronavirus after the Adria Tour, but said in a statement he would still self-isolate for 14 days as a precaution.

Becker then called Kyrgios a “rat” for airing his thoughts on Twitter, to which Kyrgios responded by referring to the German great as a “doughnut”.

The 33-year-old Djokovic returned to training on Tuesday, but said he wasn’t sure if he would play in the final major on the calendar, or if the US Open would even go ahead.

“I still haven’t decided whether I will play in the US Open, the upsurge in registered COVID-19 cases in the United States and New York in particular are not playing into the event’s hands,” he said.

According to Johns Hopkins University data, 32,251 people have died of coronavirus in New York state.

Queens, where the Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre is situated, has 65,347 confirmed coronavirus cases, the fourth most of any county district in the US.

The US Open is scheduled to take place between September 1-14.

AP/ABC



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Jetstar flight Melbourne to Sydney disembarks without screening passengers for coronavirus


NSW Health has blasted airline staff for breaching protocols that saw passengers disembark a flight from Melbourne to Sydney without undergoing proper health screening for coronavirus symptoms.

It comes as more details are revealed as to how the passengers walked away so freely.

The situation left 48 passengers uncleared in Sydney and while most have been contacted and made arrangements for screening, three passengers — along with one who has refused to be screened — have been referred to NSW Police.

Eighty nine of the 137 passengers on flight JQ520 were caught, screened and cleared before leaving Sydney airport after officials “acted quickly” and intercepted them before they made it into the city.

Health authorities were quick to call out for the remaining passengers after it was discovered the Jetstar flight on Tuesday night allowed them to enter Australia’s most populous city without any of the appropriate health checks.

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A Jetstar spokesman told NCA NewsWire that crew assisted health officials, who were reportedly not present at the time the plane landed, by locating passengers in the terminal.

The airline also provided the aircraft manifest to the department to assist them in contacting passengers who were not found in the terminal.

Nine’s Chris O’Keefe said the flight arrived at the same time as another aircraft from Melbourne and officials “were busy” health screening the first plane when the passengers from JQ520 disembarked.

A statement from NSW Health to news.com.au confirmed all passengers on flight JQ520 were screened “in advance of leaving Victoria”.

Passengers are required to be screened additionally on entry to NSW by NSW Health, supported by NSW Police.

This process usually begins after health officials arrive at the gate and signal to plane crew they are ready to receive disembarking passengers.

Under new protocol at Sydney Airport, planes will not be able to pull up to the gate before NSW Health officials are ready.

“Airline staff, contrary to agreed protocols, allowed passengers to leave the gate area before the health staff had concluded screening a prior flight,” NSW Health told news.com.au.

“As a result of this breach, flights will now not be allowed to land in NSW until NSW Health teams are in place to screen them.”

A Jetstar spokesperson said: “Together with Sydney Airport, we have refined our disembarkation procedures to prevent this situation occurring again.”

The screening process usually includes a temperature check and passengers are asked questions surrounding any symptoms linked to the coronavirus.

Any passengers that have travelled to any hot spot areas in the past two weeks are also flagged and their documents and address is checked.

If any one expresses symptoms they are tested and moved into self isolation

The NSW Government introduced new laws on Tuesday night prohibiting anyone from Greater Melbourne travelling into the state.

NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant said the government was “in the process” of chasing up the passengers.

“If anyone is found to have travelled in breach of any orders we’ll refer them to police and take the appropriate action, depending on whether anyone is symptomatic, to ensure the community is protected,” she said.





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Albury faces lockdown to stop coronavirus


The NSW Government is considering enforcing lockdown in border communities, which would isolate them from the rest of the state.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said health officials were monitoring transmission rates “every few hours” and would lock down the border communities at very short notice if need be.

No decision has been made yet, but Ms Berejiklian said she did not want residents to be surprised if the restrictions came into effect “over the next few days”.

The new lockdown line could either stretch the Victorian border to the northern edge of Albury, and/or place the town in its own bubble. Extra police checkpoints would be set up north of Albury.

Ms Berejiklian said she was “extremely worried” about the level of transmission in Victoria, and said allowing residents living on the NSW-VIC border to continue moving around the state freely made it “highly probable” there would be a spike in cases around Sydney.

Residents of the border communities have been encouraged to stay put, and not travel elsewhere in NSW, while those living outside the communities are encouraged to stay out.

More than 50,000 exemptions to the border closure between New South Wales and Victoria were granted to residents in border communities overnight – but Ms Berejiklian said the government would look at tightening the exemption criteria if these residents appeared to pose any risk to greater NSW.

“The probability we need to be tougher on border restrictions is extremely high,” the Premier said.

The State Government is also urging any resident currently in Victoria to come home immediately, or be forced to complete a mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine at their own expense.

Ms Berejklian said she would be announcing further changes to NSW’s lockdown restrictions around gatherings on Thursday morning.

There have been eight new cases, seven which were returned travellers in quarantine and an eighth a woman in her 30s from south western Sydney.

In Victoria, there were 134 new cases, sending the state’s total infections to 2942.

Premier Daniel Andrews has reinstated stage three restrictions for metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire, which will return to lockdown for the next six weeks, starting from 11.59pm on Tuesday.

More to come



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England v West Indies Test series acts as a possible blueprint for coronavirus cricket


Test cricket is set to resume for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began, with England and the West Indies tonight playing the first of three Tests at Southampton’s Rose Bowl.

The series will be seen as something of a benchmark for cricket bodies around the world as a way to get the sport underway again in a viable manner as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage around the world.

However, to get the Tests played at all, a number of compromises have had to be made, meaning the game might look a little different.

Additionally, the players have had to be sequestered away in isolation to ensure they are COVID-19 free.

What rules have been changed?

Faf du Plessis licks his fingers to shine a cricket ball during a Test match.
Players often take the ball, lick their fingers and apply that spit to the ball as it gets tossed from player to player.(AAP: Dave Hunt)

Facing pressure from an English public keen to hit the village green, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson infamously described a cricket ball as “a natural vector of disease” in justifying not allowing social cricket to return.

While those measures have now been walked back somewhat, the International Cricket Council is acutely aware of the dangers of having 11 or more people regularly handling one item.

So the governing body has banned spit-polishing the ball, which as any drill sergeant will tell you is a favourite method for getting leather to shine.

“If a player does apply saliva to the ball, the umpires will manage the situation with some leniency during an initial period of adjustment for the players, but subsequent instances will result in the team receiving a warning,” the ICC said.

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“A team can be issued up to two warnings per innings but repeated use of saliva on the ball will result in a five-run penalty to the batting side. Whenever saliva is applied to the ball, the umpires will be instructed to clean the ball before play recommences.”

It could lessen the impact of the vaunted England pace attack, which relies heavily on swing (both conventional and reverse), particularly in home conditions.

Teams will also be allowed a “COVID-19 replacement”, which will operate similarly to the recently introduced concussion replacement that delivered us Marnus Labuschagne’s breakout Ashes performance.

If any player starts displaying symptoms, teams will apply and the match referee will approve the nearest like-for-like replacement.

How else has coronavirus changed the way the game looks?

While the ban on spit-polishing makes sense, the coronavirus shutdown and ongoing issues will affect things in smaller ways that may not seem so obvious.

Normally, for a series between England and the West Indies, umpires would be flown in from other Test nations to ensure neutrality, but that’s not exactly possible at the moment.

Umpire Chris Gaffaney shrugs
New Zealand’s Chris Gaffaney is the sort of umpire who would normally be in the running to officiate an England-West Indies series.(Reuters: Peter Cziborra/Action Images)

Due to travel restrictions, the pool of umpires is effectively limited to those in the UK at the time of the series.

That could mean some of the officials are less experienced than usual and, as a result, teams have been given a third review per innings, in anticipation of more incorrect or questionable decisions.

And lastly, with cricket boards around the globe taking a financial hit due to coronavirus, the ICC has relaxed its rules on advertising on Test kits.

For at least the next 12 months, teams will be allowed to charge sponsors for a 32-square-inch piece of advertising real estate on the front of their shirts to recoup some of their losses.

Considering the outcry evoked by the advent of numbers on Test whites last year, it will be interesting to see how it is received and if that 12-month timeframe is really the end.

England bowlers (left to right) James Anderson, Jofra Archer and Stuart Broad pose for photos in their Test whites.
Teams are allowed to display a sizable advertising logo on the front of their shirts.(Twitter: ICC)

So how are they doing it?

As has been the case with the Premier League football, the Test matches will be taking place behind closed doors.

However, for obvious reasons, a five-day Test match creates vastly different challenges from a 90-minute football game.

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As such, the ECB have created two bio-secure venues where the games will be able to take place, the Rose Bowl and Old Trafford.

The first Test, at Southampton’s Rose Bowl, was chosen due to its out-of-town setting, the availability of a practice pitch in the same complex, an adjoining golf course for some socially distant recreation and, crucially, an adjoining hotel.

The second and third Tests will be played at Old Trafford, which also has a hotel on site.

“The way we have structured the ‘bubble’ is that it can operate under the most extreme circumstances,” Elworthy said.

“All of our planning has been based on the worst-case scenario, from an infection and a rate-spike point of view. So external factors should not affect that because, if you are secure within the venue, and you don’t break the confines of that venue, then your game should be able to go ahead with no problems at all.”

A view of a cricket ground with white seats and red-rimmed buildings with black-clothed cricket players playing a game
The West Indies will play England twice at Old Trafford in Manchester.(Agency Pool via AP: Gareth Copley)

Players in isolation

Thirty England players have been locked away from the general public in a COVID-free hub at the Rose Bowl for almost three weeks, where they played an internal, three-day practice match.

The West Indies arrived in England in early June, and have since been cloistered at Old Trafford for a three-week quarantine period before travelling down to Southampton earlier this week to begin final preparations for the first Test.

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Venues have been divided into designated zones to separate the two teams, match officials, ground staff and the media. Any movement between the zones is strictly limited.

Writing for the BBC, England bowler Mark Wood said the hotel quarantine felt “a bit like a sci-fi movie”.

He detailed how before entering the bio-secure venue players were scanned and had their bags sprayed with disinfectant.

No room keys have been issued, with players using an app on their mobile phones to open hotel room doors.

Players also sit at separate tables to eat their meals, and follow arrows stuck to the floor to create a one-way system.

The accreditation contains a chip that tracks a player’s movements too, so if anyone does test positive, their close contacts can be easily identified.

So what does this mean for cricket going forward?

Administrators around the world will be keeping a keen eye on events in England to see whether the ECB can pull this off and keep players, staff and the media coronavirus free.

Australia batsman Travis Head drives in front of India wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant.
India is set to tour Australia for four Tests this summer.(AP: James Elsby)

The ECB are clearly confident this will work, releasing an updated summer schedule yesterday.

Pakistan is already in the country ahead of a three-Test series at the Rose Bowl (twice) and Old Trafford in August, followed by three T20 internationals, all at Old Trafford.

Ireland have also been locked in for three T20 internationals at the Rose Bowl in late July-early August.

The ECB said a limited-overs tour from Australia was still on the cards for later in September, but currently “remain postponed, with discussions ongoing”.

Will Australia operate in similar bio-secure zones?

Photo of Adelaide Oval day-night Test
Adelaide Oval was set to host one Test against India. Could it host all four?(AP Photo: Rick Rycroft)

Australia is currently set to host the West Indies and India for separate three-match T20 series in October, before the Test summer begins in Perth against Afghanistan on November 21.

According to the schedule, India will then return to play four Tests through December and early January.

Whether the teams would be able to travel around the country as normal though, is an unknown.

An artist's impression of a hotel planned for Adelaide Oval
The Adelaide Oval will soon be home to a 138-room hotel, which could come in handy.(Supplied)

Earlier in the year, the BCCI appeared open to playing the entire series at one venue, with Adelaide Oval the proposed ground, in part due to the 138-room hotel that is expected to be completed on September 25.

However, at present, even with the increased number of cases in Victoria, the COVID-19 situation in Australia is very different to the UK, which has had more than 280,000 cases and 44,000 deaths from the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University figures.

And as the AFL and NRL have shown over the last couple of months, playing matches under certain conditions is very possible in Australia.



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Tablet interactive: Coronavirus outbreak


The coronavirus pandemic is proving to be one of the toughest challenges of our generation. Visit our special coronavirus homepage to find important news updates, a link to our coronavirus newsletter, clear, useful information and tips for your wellbeing through this emergency.

Tap below to follow our daily live blog.



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Victorian coronavirus measures leave A-League clubs stranded in Melbourne for another day


Victoria’s three A-League teams remain stranded in Melbourne after plans to fly players and staff to Canberra fell through for the second time in as many days on Tuesday night.

Melbourne Victory, Melbourne City and Western United players and staff met at AAMI Park on Tuesday evening and took buses to the airport for a charter flight to Canberra.

The three clubs then planned to travel on to NSW from Canberra when possible.

But while on buses waiting to enter the airport hangar — which Western United’s Alessandro Diamanti said took an hour and a half — they received advice they would have to quarantine for 14 days in Canberra and would not be able to train in that time.

The clubs made a collective decision not to travel on Tuesday night and will instead stay in Melbourne for the immediate future while they await the New South Wales Government’s call on exemptions for the border closure.

United are scheduled to play Victory on July 16, then City four days later.

Football Federation Australia (FFA) had sought an exemption from the NSW Government for players and staff to travel interstate after the clubs failed to leave Victoria before the midnight Monday deadline for Melbourne residents, due to fog at Canberra Airport.

They had originally planned to fly out on a charter plane on Tuesday morning — before the full Victoria-NSW border closure at midnight.

Composite of Alessandro Diamanti in selfie view with "round 2" super imposed in front of him and a group shot with text above.
Western United’s Alessandro Diamanti and Besart Berisha posted on Instagram about the difficulties.(Instagram: @alino_diamanti_ and @besartberisha08)

But the league appeared to have been caught on the hop by the decision to close the border to Melbourne residents a day earlier due to coronavirus hotspots in the city.

Victory, City and United scrambled on Monday night, getting players and staff to the airport in a bid to fly to Canberra.

The players and staff boarded the plane, only for the flight to be cancelled due to poor visibility at Canberra Airport, leaving them stranded on the tarmac.

Getting out of Victoria on Tuesday ‘just not possible’: A-League

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The 10 AFL teams, the NRL and Super Rugby had made earlier moves to get their teams out of Victoria amid the state’s coronavirus spike.

“We did absolutely everything we could to get the players and staff out of Victoria by midnight tonight [Tuesday], but in such a rapidly evolving situation, unfortunately it was just not possible,” A-League boss Greg O’Rourke said.

“We are in discussions the NSW Government, and we will continue to seek the exemptions necessary for the teams to travel.

“I’d like to sincerely thank the players, their families and staff from the three clubs for their understanding and commitment this past 24 hours.

“The disappointment of getting prepared to travel out of Victoria to prepare for the restart not once but twice has been most frustrating for them and we can assure them, the clubs’ members and fans that we are all committed to overcoming this evolving challenge and to play football again.”

On Tuesday, NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro indicated the Government would work with the FFA to help the Victorian clubs cross the border into their NSW hub.

“You’ve heard me on the NRL and the importance of sport and I think we’ve got to work with the FFA, so I’ll be reaching out to the FFA today and then see what they need,” Barilaro said.

“Of course, if we’ve got an opportunity to do so, let’s bring them across the border, let’s park them in the regions or here in the city and make sure they’re part of the A-League that kicks off shortly.

“We’ll work through it. I think there is a real opportunity to do it. The exemptions exist and we’ll work with health officials as we’ve done previously with all the other codes.”

Western United chief executive Chris Pehlivanis was optimistic of securing an exemption.

“The discussions have already started,” Pehlivanis said on Tuesday afternoon.

“Now in terms of timing, we’re not sure — it could be quick, it could be a couple of days — but we’re planning to be there [in NSW], subject to government.”

AAP/ABC



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Whatever it takes for Victoria to stop the coronavirus, let’s just do it


The Bureau of Meteorology said it would not rain yesterday. It did. The footy tipsters said there was no way Essendon could beat Collingwood. The Bombers won. Believe it or not even the bookies sometimes get it wrong, as do stockbrokers. My mechanic – who is a genius – replaced the wrong part and my old car still stalled at the lights and needed to be fixed twice.

It is an imperfect world. Not everything goes the way it should. Even experts get it wrong. The Chief Health Officer Professor Brett Sutton has been at the forefront of criticism since the first days of the pandemic. His measures were too severe, said his critics. The business community were furious – his advice “ignored the commercial reality” was their complaint. For weeks he resisted their urging to relax the restrictions, and despite his “scaredy cat” approach, Victoria now has what suspiciously looks like a second wave, albeit not yet of Brazilian or Floridian proportions.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announces fresh restrictions to reduce the spread of COVID-19 on Tuesday.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announces fresh restrictions to reduce the spread of COVID-19 on Tuesday.Credit:Getty Images

Applying the blowtorch to him and his colleagues in the middle of this emergency is not just unhelpful but plain dangerous. He and the team must get on with their job and be provided with every support possible. Just as in the middle of a bushfire emergency, we put out the flames first, ask questions later.

The blame game will happen, and the judicial inquiry under Judge Jennifer Coate is the best forum to interrogate what has gone wrong. She will have the power to search for smoking guns within the bureaucracy, seeking internal memos of advice that were ignored or overlooked, and evidence of contract supervision that was lax, fraudulent or even non-existent. Her work has already started. The document survey and search within the public service and in private providers will deliver a mountain of evidence that will need to be carefully sifted. Anyone from any private security firms been seen buying shredders in large quantities lately? Witnesses will need to be proofed, independent analysis sought. Her $3 million budget may need to be increased even before any public hearings begin.



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