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WA delays Phase 5 easing of restrictions

WA delays Phase 5 easing of restrictions

Western Australia will delay its decision to enter phase 5 on its road to recovery, pushing back plans that would have removed the current 2sqm rule and 50 per cent capacity limits at major venues on 18 July.

WA Premier Mark McGowan told a press conference this new phase would now be set to start a fortnight later on 1 August, as a tentative date.

The decision was made in light of the worsening situation in Victoria, as well as hotel quarantine capacity constraints that will be alleviated somewhat by the National Cabinet decision today to cut weekly international flight arrivals in half starting Monday.

"Given the growing level of community spread over East and around the world, the risk of the virus returning with a vengeance is greater than ever before," he said.

"There is a real possibility that the virus could return to Western Australia. Believe me, I don't want to see that happen.

"I don't want to be reimposing restrictions. That's why we have put in place a series of new measures in recent days to reduce that risk as much as possible - by slowing the flow of arrivals, by making border controls even tougher, and imposing a mandatory testing regime, we're giving ourselves the best chance to prevent the virus from reemerging."

Additionally, further to indications made by Prime Minister Scott Morrison after today's National Cabinet meeting, Premier McGowan said all international arrivals would need to pay for their own 14 days of quarantine as of 17 July.

The Premier stood by the state government's stance to maintain its hard border, emphasising the policy had worked for the state just as the country's strong borders had helped keep Australia safer than other countries around the world. 

"With the fastest asing of restrictions in the country, our lives have effectively got back to normal and our economy is recovering, however our success in Western Australia has created new challenges and new risks," he said.

"In recent days and weeks we have seen a gradual increase in people seeking to come to Western Australia from overseas and interstate.

"To highlight the increase in interstate arrivals, in a 10-day period in June we had 2,705 arrivals by air for a range of reasons; more recently in the last 10 days we have seen 4,995 people from interstate arrive in Perth by air. The majority of these arrivals are from Melbourne and Sydney."

When asked whether the Federal Government had responded to his calls not to back Clive Palmer's High Court case against Western Australia's hard borders, Premier McGowan said he coudl not comment on matters discussed in National Cabinet. 

Tasmania delays border reopening 

Premier of Tasmania Peter Gutwein has deferred the reopening of the state's border by at least a week until 31 July.

The state will review the decision on 24 July, but in the meantime its borders to the rest of the country will be closed.

"We will only open up when we are confident the safety of Tasmanians ... that they aren't put at risk," says Gutwein.

Updated at 1pm AWST on 10 July 2020.


Victorian Premier urges Melburnians to use masks as new cases surge towards 300

Victorian Premier urges Melburnians to use masks as new cases surge towards 300

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has today called on residents in lockdown areas to wear masks if social distancing isn't possible, after a further 288 new cases of COVID-19 were reported today.

The State Government is currently in the process of getting two million reusable masks made for the public, and will also provide an additional one million single-use masks.

While Melburnians and Mitchell Shire residents have been requested to wear masks, their use is still not compulsory.

The Premier said the recommendation was made out of an abundance of caution and the fact it was a fairly easy step to take, especially in light of the rise in daily cases.

"Whether you're in an Uber or a taxi, or if you're on public transport or many other examples,even shopping for the basics when you need them...we're simply asking that if you can wear a mask where you can't distance, that's exactly what we would like you to do," he said.

Premier Andrews added even home masks would do for now, and the wearing of masks would be a feature of Victoria's response to the pandemic for the foreseeable future, potentially for many months.

"Now's the time to do that common sense thing," he said.

There are now 47 people in hospital in Victoria with the virus, of whom 12 are in intensive care. The vast majority of new cases are under investigation by health authorities, but 26 are connected to contained and known outbreaks.

"It was always going to get worse before it got better," Premier Andrews said, adding 37,588 tests were undertaken yesterday.

"We're doing more testing than has ever been done, and not by a small margin - a massive margin. I'm very grateful to everybody who has participated in that testing program, and I would urge all Victorians to follow the rules."

Chief Health Officer Drew Sutton noted the recommendation had also been made in light of a recent meta-analysis published in the medical journal Lancet demonstrating the benefits of wearing masks as one form of preventative measure.

"Really up until the last couple of weeks there was ambivalent evidence and they weren't really strong recommendations coming out in Australia in relation to them [masks]," he said.

"A big Lancet meta-analysis...is really showing that masks do make a significant difference potentially, even understanding that people don't always wear them perfectly, that they don't provide perfect protection."

But he clarified wearing a mask was no substitute for keeping a distance from people, and isolating when you're feeling unwell and getting tested.

"The numbers that we're seeing at the moment are of concern, but we do expect them to plateau in the next week," Sutton said.

"But it requires everyone to follow the stay-at home directions; those four reasons to leave home are really the only reason to leave home," he said, with those reasons being work or study; care or caregiving; daily exercise; or food and other essentials.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recently been considering whether the aerosol pathway - meaning tiny droplets that remain in the air from people's breathing - could be more serious in spreading COVID-19 than previously thought.

On 6 July, 239 scientists from around the world appealed to health authorities to recognise overwhelming research finding that an infected person exhales airborne virus droplets when breathing and talking that can travel further than the current 1.5-metre social distancing requirement.

Advocacy for this recognition has been led by QUT Professor Lidia Morawska, who is also director of the International Air Quality and Health Laboratory.

"Studies by the signatories and other scientists have demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that viruses are exhaled in microdroplets small enough to remain aloft in the air and pose a risk of exposure beyond one to two metres by an infected person," she said. 

"At typical indoor air velocities, a 5-micron droplet will travel tens of metres, much greater than the scale of a typical room while settling from a height of 1.5m above the floor."

Potential solutions to this problem include sufficient and effective ventilation, supplementing ventilation with airborne infection controls, and avoiding overcrowding. 

More to come....

Updated at 1:58pm AEST on 10 July 2020.


International arrivals into Australia to be slashed in half

International arrivals into Australia to be slashed in half

From Monday, 4,000 fewer people will be reentering Australia each week as the Prime Minister caps international arrivals by half.

In addition, those returning may have to pay for their own stays in hotel quarantine to reduce the financial burden on Australian states and territories.

"Some states already have it, some states are moving towards it, and I will leave that to them to make the announcements at the appropriate time," says Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

The plan is to have national uniformity across pricings of hotel quarantine for returning residents and citizens.

A hotel quarantine program review will be undertaken by the former health secretary Jane Halton, which Morrison says will look into how hotel quarantine is being managed in each state and territory.

"This is an important step in providing reassurance and making sure that as we look into each of the states and territories and how they're managing their quarantine that is meeting the standards that the AHPPC had advised upon," says Morrison.

"And as our country opens up again, with the exception of Victoria, that we can ensure we've had even greater confidence in those quarantine arrangements."

Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly says the review will look into hotel quarantine programs around the country in more detail.

"Various states have done their own internal reviews, and just to be clear that the quarantine is with the states, but this is just a way of looking at that quarantine in a more detailed fashion," says Kelly.

"To be clear there have been a lot of people that have come into hotel quarantine, there have been very few breaches, but we've seen, as has been reported in Victoria, a single breach, even it it's low risk, can lead to catastrophic outcomes.

"So we absolutely need to know that this is working as best as it can."

Morrison says the review will look at number of areas including:

  • Into infection prevention control training for clinical hotel and security staff;
  • Compliance with infection prevention and control requirements of security staff;
  • Evidence of community cases attributed to international travellers in hotel quarantine including cases in hotel and security staff;
  • Rates of compliance with testing;
  • A legislative or contractual basis for mandatory testing;
  • Management of suspected or confirmed cases;
  • Provision and effectiveness of support services;
  • Medical, mental health, social services and financial support;
  • Management of vulnerable people;
  • Management of cultural diveristy;
  • Logistic arrangements;
  • Administrative arrangements; and
  • Changing capacity requirements to changes in border restrictions.

In a sign of things to come, the Prime Minsiter will be having a discussion this afternoon with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern about the proposed Trans-Tasman Safe Travel Zone, but there is no imminent starting date in the works just yet.

"There is still a lot more work to be done to get to a point of having a trans-Tasman safe travel zone," Morrison said.
 
"We discussed that today at National Cabinet about what states and territories could or would participate in that so there is a bit more work to do there, obviously the Victorian situation, although it is isolated from the rest of the country's seven states and territories, would be potentially in a position to be involved in that.
 
"We will hear further from the New Zealanders. It is an issue of interest in terms of how we can engage again with the rest of the world, but I think we will have to be very patient about that."

Professor Kelly was also asked about the current advice on wearing masks in Victoria. He says Melburnians should remain at home where possible, but if they do need to go into public it would be a good idea to wear a mask.

"The advice is for places where there is ongoing community transmission, so this for the moment is greater Melbourne and the Mitchell shire, is that the overarching advice is people should stay at home unless they need to go out," says Kelly.  

"Assuming that people do need to go out, what has not changed is if people have symptoms and they need to go for a test, for example, which we would definitely encourage, they should wear a mask.
 
"Other people, where physical distancing cannot be guaranteed, they should also wear a mask in Melbourne and Mitchell shire."

Updated at 1:26pm AEST on 10 July 2020.


Victorian ski season freezes over as Mt Hotham and Falls Creek resorts suspend operations

Victorian ski season freezes over as Mt Hotham and Falls Creek resorts suspend operations

COVID-19 restrictions in Victoria and border closures to the State have forced the operator of Mt Hotham and Falls Creek ski resorts to suspend operations, just over two weeks after the season commenced.

Vail Resorts, the company that operates ski-lifting operations at Falls Creek and Hotham Ski Resorts says it made the tough decision to close after assessing the new COVID-19 restrictions in Victoria.

Ski-lifting operations at Falls Creek and Mt Hotham will be suspended effective today until at least 19 August, consistent with current Victorian stay at home directions.

Vail Resorts says it will continue to assess the situation and will follow state health authority guidelines in evaluating if it is advisable of feasible to reopen.

"We did not make this decision lightly as we know our employees, guests and the communities where we operate have already endured so much hardship this year," says Vail Resorts senior vice president and COO Pete Brulisauer.

"However, we are focused first and foremost on health and safety, following local health guidelines and doing our part to support efforts across Victoria to address the recent rise in coronavirus cases.

"We recognise this is incredibly disappointing to our guests and pass holders, including those who have made reservations at Hotham and Falls Creek this season. We thank them for their patience and understanding as we continue to navigate this incredibly challenging time."

Perisher, also operated by Vail Resorts, is unaffected by this decision and will remain open in accordance with COVID-19 restrictions in NSW.

All reservations for lift tickets, ski and ride lessons and rental bookings will be cancelled and fully refunded. Guests will be contacted with information on processing refunds and have been asked by Vail Resorts to refrain from contacting the call centres at this time.

The news comes as Victoria has announced a $534 million support package, including a $40 million capped fund for regional tourism, in the wake of reimposed COVID-19 restrictions.

The package also includes $5,000 grants to businesses that have been forced to close due to COVID-19, and around 80,000 eligible businesses with payrolls of up to $10 million will be able to defer their payroll tax liabilities for the first half of FY21.

Updated at 1:06pm AEST on 10 July 2020.


Victoria releases $534m support package with cash grants, payroll tax deferral

Victoria releases $534m support package with cash grants, payroll tax deferral

The lockdown of greater Melbourne has today led the state government to announce $534 million worth of wide-reaching support measures, including $5,000 grants to businesses that are forced to close.

Around 80,000 eligible businesses with payrolls of up to $10 million will be able to defer their payroll tax liabilities for the first half of FY21, while targeted measures have been slated for hospitality operators and businesses in the CBD.

Treasurer Tim Pallas (pictured) says the package includes $30 million dedicated fund for the nighttime and hospitality sectors, drafted in conjunction with the Australian Hotels Association (AHA), a $20 million fund for the CBD, and $36 million towards a business advisory and wellbeing program including mental health and mentoring aid.

Marketing support will also be given to tourism operators when the time comes to promote more movement around the state, but in the meantime support measures previously slated for tourism will now be expanded to include operators hit by cancellations from residents in new lockdown areas.

The package includes a $40 million capped fund for regional tourism. 

Minister for Jobs Martin Pakula said there were some large restaurants, pubs and hospitality venues that did not benefit from the initial tranche of support from the government, which was why an industry-specific package was put forward.

"In terms of CBD support, I had a conversation this morning with the Lord Mayor - the fact is that the CBD has been in some respects uniquely hit by that stay-at-home directives have particularly kept people away from the CBD," Minister Pakula said.

"The absence of foot traffic in the CBD has meant that many of the businesses in the city and Docklands and South Bank have been particularly affected by the restrictions that have been imposed on Victorians.

Today's package includes a $36 million business advisory and wellbeing program, of which $10 million will be worked on collaboratively between the Small Business Commission and the Victorian Chamber. The balance will go towards mental health support.

Treasurer Pallas said the unemployment rate was likely to peak at 11 per cent, up from the current 6.9 per cent, and gross state product (GSP) will likely fall by 14 per cent on previous forecast.

"That is a profound reduction and it will take some years before we see that level of economic activity come back," he said.

The Treasurer said it was important to do more than simply "provide platitudes of support" to the community, but rather offer real, tangible efforts which will be ongoing. 

"I assure you this will not be the last that you hear of support from this government as we go through these difficult times," he said.

"We will of course, wait to see what comes out of the federal government's efforts on the 23rd of July when they indicate what will happen to the refinements to the JobKeeper program.

"That of course will inform us going forward as to what further additional support might be required."

Pallas took stock of the traumatic and very difficult time people are facing, and apologised on behalf of the state government.

"As a Treasurer, we don't normally take great joy in providing funds that essentially go directly to our capacity to manage efficient budgets, but what's more important, what's critically important, is that the wellbeing of Victorians and Victorian industry and business is first and foremost in our thinking in dealing with these difficult times."

Updated at 11:07am AEST on 10 July 2020.


Premier Investments closes Melbourne stores as city enters lockdown

Premier Investments closes Melbourne stores as city enters lockdown

With metropolitan Melbourne re-entering lockdown overnight for a minimum of six weeks Premier Investments (ASX: PMV) has made the decision to close down stores.

The closures will impact stores operated by Premier Investments like Just Jeans, Jay Jays, Portmans, Smiggle and more in 36 shopping centres and seven strip mall locations, but regional Victorian stores will not be impacted.

The company has stressed that it does not intend to pay rent in relation to any of the stores affected by the lockdown for its duration, mirroring the approach the company took during nationwide COVID-19 restrictions earlier this year.

In a statement Premier Investments says the decision was made to protect the health and safety of staff and customers.

"The Premier [Daniel Andrews] has made clear that the livelihoods of all Victorians relies on everyone doing the right thing," says Premier Investments.

"As loved as our brands are by our customers, they are clearly not an essential service.

"Therefore to ensure we adhere with the State Government's direction and protect the health and safety of our staff and customers, we have made the decision to close all of our Melbourne metropolitan stores in line with the Government's direction at 11.59pm tonight for the foreseeable future."

Melbourne-based customers can continue to shop online across all of Premier Investments brands.

All affected staff members eligible for JobKeeper will be stood down, and team members will be able to access their annual leave or long service leave entitlements.

Updated at 1:51pm AEST on 9 July 2020.


Australia welcomes Hong Kong businesses to relocate, opens doors for talent

Australia welcomes Hong Kong businesses to relocate, opens doors for talent

The Australian Government aims to attract "exceptionally talented people" and businesses from Hong Kong to relocate to our shores, along with extended permanent residency pathways for current visa holders and future applicants.

An emphasis will be placed on bringing export-oriented businesses to Australia, including visa packages for critical staff to come to Australia.

Additionally, Prime Minister Scott Morrison will be speaking with National Cabinet tomorrow about how to prioritise the existing global talent program in Hong Kong. 

Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, Alan Tudge, said the scheme targeted individuals who were "real job-multiplying people who create businesses, who are entrepreneurs, who have that tech talent that the world is looking for".

The PM told a press conference this afternoon that China's national security law represented a "fundamental change of circumstances", prompting the government to withdraw its extradition agreement with Hong Kong. 

The PM said Australia's immigration program provided particular opportunities for Hong Kong citizens as well as around 10,000 Hong Kongers who were currently in Australia on student or temporary work visas.

"We've agreed to adjust the policy settings to ensure that for skilled and graduate visa holders, we'll be extending visas by five years from today with a pathway to permanent residency at the end of those five years," he said.

"That means if you're a current or future student, you will be able to stay for a total of five years once you've graduated with a pathway to permanent residency at the end of that period."

Temporary graduate or school visa holders will also have their visas extended by an additional five years from today.

"We will also provide a five year visa with a pathway to permanent residency for future Hong Kong applicants for temporary skilled visas, subject to meeting an updated skills list and appropriate labour market testing," the PM said. That list is however expected to significantly reduced. 

Given the gravity of making migration decisions and the time the visa applications take, the Prime Minister does not expect a sudden surge in arrivals. He noted the decline in applications due to COVID-19 meant there were "ample" spots available under existing quotas.

There is also already a system in place that allows a three-year pathway to permanent residency if Hong Kong applicants study or work in regional areas.

Minister Tudge highlighted Hong Kong had "immense global talent and great businesses".

"We want to attract more of them to Australia, because that will generate more wealth and more jobs for Australians," he said.

"We already do very well in terms of attracting people from Hong Kong, but today, we're outlining some further opportunities for skilled people, for entrepreneurs, for significant investors, and for businesses to come to our country.

"Of course, there will need to be labour market testing as well from the sponsoring employer to prove that they are unable to find an Australian to do the job," Tudge said.

Tudge also elaborated further on the global talent temporary visa scheme, targeting "exceptionally talented people, particularly in the IT field" on a temporary basis if the employer is willing to pay above the high-income threshhold.

"These future temporary skilled visa holders will also have a pathway to permanent residency after five years," he said.

"In relation to what I call the 'super talent' of which there is many in Hong Kong, we started the global talent scheme visa not that long ago with the idea of providing a permanent residency visa for the absolute super global talent," he said.

"We certainly know that there is some of that talent in Hong Kong, and we will be continuing with our program there but we'll be prioritising applicants from Hong Kong for that scheme and providing some additional resources there as well."

Minister Tudge said new incentives would be created to bring export-oriented businesses to the country as well.

"We know that there are over 1000 international businesses who have their regional headquarters presently in Hong Kong, and we also kow that many have already signalled that they're looking to relocate elsewhere in the world," he said.

"This includes medium businesses, financial services businesses large consulting businesses, which have already signalled they're looking elsewhere, and we want them to look to Australia.

PM Morrison noted most of the changes would impact people who were already in Australia, although there were around 3,500 existing visa holders from Hong Kong who were currently outside of Australia and would be able to return under normal arrangements.

Minister Tudge mentioned there were normally 4,000 visa applications from Hong Kong citizens every year, of whom around 3,000 are students and 1,000 are in the temporary skilled categories.

Updated at 2:23pm AEST on 9 July 2020.


Cellmid pens agreement to ramp up COVID-19 research

Cellmid pens agreement to ramp up COVID-19 research

An exclusive distribution agreement between Australian life science company Cellmid (ASX: CDY) and Immunodiagnostics Limited, Hong Kong (IMD) will beef up the company's response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The deal will see Cellmid acquire commercial quantities of two essential tests for Australia and New Zealand, including for laboratory based, quantitative Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assays (ELISA's) and a point of care test for COVID-19.

ELISA systems are essential in vaccine trials, used when monitoring the population after vaccine roll outs begin and, in tandem with point of care screening, in serological surveys.

The new agreement comes on the back of Cellmid having already secured two agreements to access point of care and laboratory COVID-19 testing devices. Cellmid shares skyrocketed in March on the back of the company announcing it had secured a supply agreement for a rapid diagnostic test for COVID-19.

However, this latest agreement provides Cellmid with access to the ELISA systems that can quantify the level and identify the type of antibodies against different COVID-19 antigens.

"The key advantage of the ELISA technology is that it can measure absolute levels of antibodies against different SARS-CoV-2 antigens," says Cellmid.

"In addition, ELISA's normally have lower level of detection limits compared to point of care devices increasing their accuracy."

The tests will be acquired from IMD, a spin off company from Hong Kong University, and is dedicated to the discovery, manufacture and distribution of in vitro diagnostics for chronic and infectious diseases.

Cellmid says IMD manufactures its tests in facilities in Taiwan and China, adhering to strict quality control and validation.

In addition to the ELISA's, Cellmid will acquire a high-quality point of care serology device that detects both Immunoglobulin M (IgM) and Immunoglobulin G (IgG) specific to COVID-19, differentiating it from the viral spike protein detecting kits already accessed by Cellmid.

Evaluation of the tests done by IMD and Hong Kong University, using a dataset comprising 273 confirmed COVID-19 patients and 542 per-COVID-19 control samples, showed an IgG sensitivity of 96.1 per cent and specificity of 96.1 per cent, and an IgM sensitivity of 91 per cent and a specificity of 87.4 per cent.

The company will likely seek Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approval for the point of care serology device, but because ELISA's are used for research only, and thus do not require TGA approval, Cellmid will initially seek regulatory approval and import permits for just a small selection of the ELISA devices.

Shares in Cellmid are up 10 per cent to $0.16 per share at 11:25am AEST.

Updated at 11:49am at 9 July 2020.


Loan deferrals extended by four months

Loan deferrals extended by four months

The Australian Banking Association (ABA) has announced a new phase of support to avoid a "cliff" for customers in September, with those facing hardship due to COVID-19 able to apply for loan deferral extensions of up to four months.

The initiative is backed by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA), which will give regulatory relief by extending its temporary capital treatment for bank loans with repayment deferrals.

The ABA estimates there are more than 800,000 loans that have been deferred worth over $260 billion.

Customers who are able to restart paying their loans will be required to do so at the end of their six-month deferral period, but debtors with reduced income and ongoing financial difficulty will be able to restructure or vary their loans. 

The deferral option will be available if none of those outcomes can be achieved.

"Those who are able to repay their loans will resume doing so, which is in the best interests of those customers and allows support to be directed to those who need it," says ABA CEO Anna Bligh.

"This next phase of bank support will avoid a 'cliff' for customers in September and give them the breathing space they need to work with their bank and get back on their feet financially.

"To meet demand, banks have deployed over 5,000 extra frontline staff who will proactively contact and work with customers to find the right solution, but please be patient with bank staff as we enter this next phase."

The ABA explains credit reports will not be impacted for customers who recommence repayments on their existing loan or enter into a new repayment arrangement, so long as those arrangements are met.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says the Federal Government welcomes the ABA's announcement to support customers.

"APRA has also provided relief to encourage the banks to restructure loans where possible as a way of helping these customers," he says.

"This restructuring could include extending the term of the loan or moving from principal and interest repayments to interest-only for a period of time.

"It is important that customers that can afford to make repayments continue to do so. Borrowers that are facing considerable financial difficulty as a result of this pandemic, should talk to their banks and work with them to find a more sustainable approach."

Response from the banks

At the time of writing, ANZ (ASX: ANZ), Commonwealth Bank (ASX: CBA), Westpac (ASX: WBC) and Bendigo and Adelaide Bank (ASX: BEN) have made announcements about how they would be implementing the new measures.

ANZ chief executive officer Shayne Elliott says the bank's primary focus through COVID-19 has been to do all it can to help customers manage the economic impact of the pandemic, and while this is now "clearly more difficult with the recent developments in Victoria" that support will continue.

"For customers who have not taken advantage of the six-month deferral that option is still open to them," Elliott says.

"I would strongly encourage anybody uncertain about what the future holds or those who have been hanging on up until this point to get in contact with the bank.

"We have already deferred more than 100,000 home and business loans and we are checking in with those customers to work with them to get them back on track."

He notes many customers are already back making their repayments as they weren't as impacted as initially thought.

"There are however many customers on deferrals that remain in a difficult situation and we will work through a range of measures including restructuring loans and in some circumstances extending deferral periods," he says.

CBA confirms many retail and business customers have resumed paying deferred loans back in full or in part, but the bank will target its support to those people who most need it.

"We are committed to continuing our industry leading support for customers and businesses to help them get back on their feet and inject vital financial stimulus into the Australian economy," says CBA chief executive officer Matt Comyn.

"To date, our coronavirus measures since March 2020 have provided about $15 billion in direct financial support to customers and stimulus for the economy.

"Supporting customers who continue to experience financial difficulty is a priority and we are tailoring our support to make sure each customer gets the advice and assistance that suits them."

So far CBA has provided loan repayment deferrals to almost 130,000 home loans and supported 100,000 business customers.

CBA has also more than doubled the size of its Financial Assistance Solutions team to about 1,500 frontline staff to have conversations with our retail customers experiencing hardship. The bank is also using its unique machine learning technology to identify individual customers in hardship and direct its support where it is most needed.

"This next phase of our support reinforces the strong collaboration and effective cooperation between federal and state governments, regulators and the banking industry which has allowed so much to be achieved in such a short time," says Comyn.

Westpac acting chief financial officer Gary Thursby highlights the pandemic will have a longer term impact on some customers and financial support will be required. The bank has helped more than 23,000 small business customers since the start of COVID-19.

"In discussion with the industry and regulators, we will be making changes to allow more time and breathing space for customers who aren't in a position to return to full payments again from October," says Thursby.

"This includes access to tailored support through our customer assistance program, where our specialist team will work with customers to review their financial circumstances.

"For customers who remain under stress but can still contribute towards their loan repayments, we will provide support where we can help work through options that may be available to adjust their loan," he says, adding there is an expectation a significant number of customers will be able to resume regular repayments come September.

Bendigo and Adelaide Bank has also emphasised its consumer, business and agribusiness customers who are experiencing reduced incomes or extended financial difficulty may be eligible for the four-month deferral extension.

"Ultimately, we want to support customers to make full, regular loan repayments and it's in their best interests to do so as soon as possible, so they can strengthen their financial wellbeing," says the bank's managing director Marnie Baker.

"We are currently undertaking a check-in process with consumer customers that have accessed a repayment arrangement due to COVID-19 to assess what further support they need and to better understand their current circumstances given the impact of the pandemic.

"We know that a tailored approach with each customer achieves more meaningful results for their specific circumstances."

Baker highlights it is a difficult time for many of Bendigo and Adelaide Bank's customers, but she hopes to minimise the impact that comes with unexpected events such as COVID-19.

"In the same way we have provided and continue to provide support to those affected by natural disasters, the Bank and its Community Bank partners will continue to support the recovery of customers and communities and adapt, where required, how we invest profits into communities to meet new and evolving local needs as a result of COVID-19," she says.

"We said at the start of this pandemic that we're here for our customers and their communities and this longstanding commitment continues."

Updated at 10:19am AEST on 8 July 2020.


Three things government can do to save Melbourne small businesses from lockdown death

Three things government can do to save Melbourne small businesses from lockdown death

The reimposition of stage 3 restrictions on metropolitan Melbourne is, as Victorian premier Daniel Andrews says, a matter of life or death. That's also true for small businesses.

A further six weeks of stay-at-home orders for the city's 5 million residents will kill off many small and medium sized businesses unless there are critical changes to federal and state government assistance policies.

Even with assistance many will not survive. But ensuring those that are viable are not lost is crucial to the recovery of both the Victorian and national economies.

Small businesses are the engine of economic growth. They are typically the first to innovate and respond to economic changes. The abnormal economic shock wrought by the necessary public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic means they have generally been hit hardest. Without policies and money to address their core needs, this second wave of restrictions will be a killer blow.

Three fundamentals

These fundamentals are absolute to the success of small business.

First, and most obviously, they need customers. Those providing essential local goods and services, such as groceries or health services, may cope. But those offering discretionary goods and services, such as hospitality, will suffer both from loss of foot traffic and suppressed consumer spending, as people save more in uncertain times.

Second, they need access to credit. This is much harder for small businesses to obtain than large businesses with assets. Small businesses are typically started by entrepreneurs who finance their endeavours with their own savings, through mortgaging their homes, or taking out personal loans.

They typically have extremely limited cash reserves to ride out tough times. Many juggle their bills from month to month to stay afloat.

Third, they rely on momentum. They grow by acquiring both customers and knowledge of their market. When repeat business stop, they lose that momentum. If they have to shed employees, they lose "business knowledge", which sets them back even further in their recovery.

Calamitous damage

All economic slowdowns typically reduce demand, but this health/economic crisis has calamitously damaged all three aspects.

The federal government's Job Keeper program and subsidies being provided through the Australian Taxation Ofice to boost business cash flow has enabled business to hold on to employees for now. But without customers or credit, even extending these measures beyond their scheduled September 30 end won't be enough.

It's my view it will take three to five years for consumer confidence and spending to return to pre-COVID levels. This assessment is based on past recessions where high unemployment prevailed compounded by the novel problem that health fears will suppress consumer confidence long after the coronavirus is contained and things return to "normal" (or at least a new normal).

The Melbourne outbreak of COVID-19 underlines there is no quick fix to the COVID-19 crisis. The only light at the end of tunnel is a possible a vaccine, which might take years, or never be found. The economy must therefore adjust. Not all businesses are viable. To continue indefinitely to pump public money into direct grants to prop them up is unsustainable.

To do so will lead to "perverse" consequences providing windfalls to businesses that would have failed anyway as many small business ventures do while providing inadequate support to those that are important and would have survived but for the crisis.

Three suggestions

Therefore I offer three suggestions.

First, continue JobKeeper and the tax office's cashflow boost for as long as COVID-19 restrictions are in place. Businesses would need to apply for this on a month-by-month basis, and need to meet set criteria.

Second, the government should ensure easy access to low-interest loans for the next two to three years. Loans are more efficient than direct grants or subsidies. The fact the loans have to be repaid will encourage only those businesses with a good chance of being sustainable of seeking them.

Getting a loan is slow and hard for small businesses because banks scrutinise them due to the risk. Few small business have the skills to prepare the extensive documentation banks require. Banks will be motivated to lend faster and to more businesses if governments remove the risk by buying those loans.

To speed up the lending application process, there should also be subsidies to licensed financial advisers to prepare those applications.

Third, a system of subsidised vouchers for financial management advice from accountants and financial advisers (who are also mostly small businesses).

Financial services are critical for small businesses. In tough times it might be tempting to dispense with these services. But sound financial advice will be critical to business owners making the right decision  including whether they should be borrowing money to sustain their businesses or making the hard decision to cut their losses and move on.The Conversation

John Vaz, Senior Lecturer, Department of Banking and Finance, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Melbourne to enter lockdown from midnight tomorrow

Melbourne to enter lockdown from midnight tomorrow

All residents of metropolitan local government areas (LGAs) in Melbourne and Mitchell Shire will face Stage 3 stay-at-home restrictions as of midnight tomorrow for six weeks, as authorities scramble to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks from spiralling out of control.

After recording 191 new cases today, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said new infections were recorded in postcodes currently covered by the orders, but contamination was also "leaking" into other parts of the capital.

There are now 772 active cases in the state, including 35 people in hospital of whom nine are in intensive care.

"These are unsustainably high numbers of new cases," he said, noting it was now impossible to have the contact tracing staff and resources to tackle the virus at current rates without taking significant steps.

"Let's not say this is simply an inconvenience; it's much more than that. This is a pandemic, and it will kill thousands of people if it gets completely away from us."

Once the restrictions are in force, residents in the affected area will only be able to leave their homes for four reasons: work or study; care (including elective surgery) or caregiving; daily exercise; food and other essentials.

Unfortunately, the new measures mean food and beverage venues that were cautiously opening up will have to go back to takeaway service only.

"Other businesses that had opened will have to close. I know and understand how significant that will be, I know and understand there'll be a big job for us to continue providing support," he said.

"Tim Pallas and Martin Pakula as the responsible ministers will have more to say quite soon about further business support, and I'll be having further conversations with the Prime Minister about some of the very special needs that Victorian businesses are going to need met over these coming weeks and months."

Premier Andrews said people would not be allowed to leave Melbourne for exercise, emphasising there were still very few COVID-19 cases in regional Victoria and his intention was to keep it that way.

"You can't be going on a four-hour bush walk hundreds of kilometres away from Melbourne, you can't be going fishing again outside the metropolitan area down into regional Victoria," the Premier said.

"Regional Victoria has very, very few cases and vast parts of regional Victoria have no cases. This is designed to keep it that way, and I hope very soon to be able to be before you again talking about further easing of restrictions in original Victoria."

He added Melburnians needed to stay in their principal place of residence, so holiday homes or second homes were off the cards. 

"Don't for a moment think that you could flout these rules and travel into country Victoria - there'd be every chance that you would be stopped, you will be asked and if you don't have a lawful excuse then there are significant penalties that will apply."

Andrews said a sense of complacency had crept up on Victoria, but no matter how challenging this period will be people cannot let their frustrations get the better of them. 

"We have to be clear with each other that this is not over, and pretending that it is because we all want it to be over is not the answer - it is indeed the problem, a very big part of the problem," he said.

"We do have a chance to change that in the decisions we make, in the way we conduct ourselves, in the way we reset.

"I think that each of us know someone who has not been following the rules as well as they should have. I think each of us know that we've got no choice but to take these very, very difficult steps."


Key restrictions for all of metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire:

  • Cannot leave primary residence except for four reasons: work or study; care (including elective surgery) or caregiving; daily exercise; food and other essentials.
  • Restaurants, cafés and bars will need to either close or return to takeaway-only operations.
  • Exercise not permitted outside of Melbourne for residents in stay-at-home areas.
  • Beauty therapy, tanning, waxing, nail salons, spas, tattoo parlours and massage parlours must not operate.
  • Auction houses are only permitted to conduct auctions remotely.
  • The closure of: Galleries, museums, national institutions and historic sites, zoos, wildlife parks, petting zoos, aquariums and animal farms, outdoor amusement parks and outdoor arcades, indoor cinemas and drive-in cinemas, concert venues, theatres and auditoriums.

List of restricted LGAs:

Banyule, Bayside, Boroondara, Brimbank, Cardinia, Casey, Darebin, Frankston, Glen Eira, Greater Dandenong, Hobsons Bay, Hume, Kingston, Knox, Manningham, Maribyrnong, Maroondah, Melbourne, Melton, Monash, Moonee Valley, Mitchell Shire, Moreland, Mornington Peninsula, Nillumbik, Port Phillip, Stonnington, Whitehorse, Whittlesea, Wyndham, Yarra, Yarra Ranges.


Victoria's Chief Health Minister Brett Sutton said there was a unanimous view that these measures were required to avoid "absolutely catastrophic outcomes".

"I know that we will already see deaths from the cases that we have occurring every day. What I do not want to see is any more deaths than are already predicted," he said.

"We have to drive our daily numbers down. What's happened has been a very significant upturn in the last few days."

Sutton put his support behind the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee's (AHPPC) position that where community transmission isn't negligible, masks are a "reasonable thing to wear where we can't physically distance".

There are now 69 cases that can be linked to the high rise towers in North Melbourne and Flemington, up from 53. There have also been 12 new cases linked to the Al-Taqwa College outbreak, with the total now at 90.

Some 438 cases may indicate community transmission, and by the end of today it is likely more than one million tests will have been conducted.

The LGA of Hume has the highest number of active cases at 145, followed Wyndham (105), Melbourne (97), Brimbank (77), Moonee Valley (50), Moreland (38) and Whittlesea (36).

Updated at 3:39pm AEST on 7 July 2020.

 


SA takes a tougher stance on VIC border, shuts down nightclubs

SA takes a tougher stance on VIC border, shuts down nightclubs

It has now been a week since South Australian Premier Steven Marshall announced the state's border with Victoria would not be relaxed on 20 July due to concerns over high levels of community transmission of COVID-19 in Melbourne.

But today the state government is taking an even stricter approach.

As of midnight tomorrow night the SA border will close to anyone coming in from Victoria, except returning residents who must go into quarantine and essential travel permitholders who will need to wear personal protective equipment (PPE).

Speaking at a press conference this afternoon, SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said the decision was made based on health advice received today which determined the outbreak in Melbourne was a significant risk.

"Most jurisdictions are now reconsidering their attitude in terms of Victorians travelling from Victoria into other jurisdictions. We're no different," he said.

"We are concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on the South Australian community, given that we have provided as much latitude as possible within our own community and relaxed restrictions so that businesses can get back to trading and people can start to enjoy life as close to normal as possible."

Commissioner Stevens also announced nightclubs would be shut down following a "total disregard for social distancing" in Adelaide. Now venues need to prepare COVID Safe plans in order to reopen.

"We were quite concerned about some of the activities we saw in the CBD over the course of the weekend," he said.

"In some respects there was a total disregard for social distancing, and given the nature of this virus and the ease with which it spreads in that type of context, the decision to restrict nightclub activity until they have a management plan I think is a very sound one."

He said footage from crowd behaviour in nightclubs showed "no efforts" to socially distance and "no control or management" of significant crowds converging outside venues.

"There were some venues who did certainly exhibit best endeavours to comply, but the reality is the nature of the cohort that are attending these venues are making it very difficult for these venues to operate without some strict management plan in place," he added.

As for SA's border restrictions to travellers from New South Wales and the ACT, Stevens says the Transition Committee is still looking at the 20 July date for reopening to those states.

"New South Wales and ACT will still be able to travel to South Australia and undertake a 14-day quarantine period, given the level of risk associated with the community of New South Wales and ACT, and we'll be continuing to monitor the potential for any seeding of the COVID-19 virus in New South Wales or ACT as a result of the current activities in Victoria," says Stevens.

"Our goal is to relax the border restrictions for the New South Wales and ACT communities on July 20, and we'll continue to monitor that as we move forward."

Updated at 3:12pm AEST on 7 July 2020.

 

 


WA will cap international arrivals

WA will cap international arrivals

The Federal Government has reacted "favourably" to Western Australia's request to limit international flights into Perth Airport, as the state seeks to slow down the flow of arrivals and the potential burden on quarantine hotels.

WA chief health officer Roger Cook (pictured) told a press conference late morning AWST the Federal Government has agreed to cap the number of international arrivals into Perth at 525 a week, or about 75 per day.

"To give you an idea of what that means for WA and our hotel quarantine operation, today we have two international flights arriving into Perth from Singapore and Doha with a total of 245 people on board, and that is just the one day," Cook said.

"We're currently working with the Federal Government and the airlines to finalise the implementation of this new arrangements."

In yesterday's announcement, the WA Government also announced return travellers would have to foot the bill for their own 14-day hotel quarantine, and Premier Mark McGowan urged the Commonwealth Government to withdraw support for Clive Palmer's legal challenge to hard borders.

The state reported zero COVID-19 cases overnight, with its total remaining at 621. There are currently 12 active cases in WA, 10 of whom are Western Australians and two who are from interstate.

"They are all in the hotel quarantine and they represent a very low public health risk," Cook said.

"Yesterday we had 1,326 people in hotel quarantine."

Updated at 1:52pm AEST on 7 July 2020.


Gold Coast tourism bookings return to 2019 levels

Gold Coast tourism bookings return to 2019 levels

The Gold Coast tourism industry is showing signs of recovery following the slump of COVID19 restrictions, with Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk claiming bookings are back on track.

"My information is that Gold Coast bookings are basically the same as this time last year, which is great news for our small businesses - everyone who's involved in tourism and hospitality here on the Gold Coast," the Premier told a press conference in Burleigh Heads.

The update comes just days out from June 10 when Queensland will reopen to visitors from all states and territories except Victoria, as the "Queensland, You're Good to Go" tourism campaign enters stage two to market in the southern states.

"From today we'll be out in the market and encouraging all Australians except Victorians to come up to Queensland during the school holidays," said Minister for Tourism Industry Development, Kate Jones.

"Our target with this campaign is to get to $1 billion worth of value for Queensland businesses and the tourism industry in our state."

Around 93 per cent of Queenslanders over the age of 18 have been reached by the campaign so far.

"We know this is tough time for the tourism industry, but our "Good to Go" campaign has seen a record number of Queenslanders hitting the road and visiting wonderful places across our state," Jones said.

Following a request yesterday to the Federal Government yesterday from Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan to set a flight quota for international arrivals in Perth, Premier Palaszczuk has expressed her view that the number of international flights coming in ought to be slowed down.

"The international borders are the domain of the Federal Government - that is their decision about how many flights they allow in, but I think we need to be very cautious, and I think a slowing down of those flights would be a good thing at this stage," she said.

"Of course we're prepared to help out. We've taken a large number of international flights - they've gone directly into quarantine and we've had police at those quarantine hotels, and we've had no problems from quarantine hotels."

The Premier emphasised the continued importance of State and Federal Governments working together with a spirit of cooperation, and "backed" New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian in the decision to close her border to Victorians due to high levels of community transmission.

"We need to do everything we can to help Victoria," she added.

"It is a national issue. It's not just a state-based issue. It's a national issue because it impacts on all of us."

Updated at 11:20am AEST on 7 July 2020.


4000 people sign up for WA COVID-19 vaccine trial, doses begin

4000 people sign up for WA COVID-19 vaccine trial, doses begin

The trial is one of just 15 worldwide that have gone beyond the pre-clinical stage.

More than 4,000 people have registered for a Phase 1 COVID-19 vaccine trial in Perth, where Linear Clinical Research has already dosed 10 participants with expectations a further 140 will take part in the coming months.

The clinical trial involves the COVID-19 S-Trimer vaccine developed by Chinese company Clover Biopharmaceutical, along with collaboration from the UK's GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), US-based Dynavax and China's Xiamen Innovax.

Funding for the trial is coming from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), which is involved in trials including with the CSIRO, the University of Queensland (UQ) and CSL (ASX: CSL).

Linear chief executive officer Jayden Rogers said the start of the human trial is an important milestone in the global effort to find a vaccine for COVID-19, and a major coup for Western Australia.

"It usually takes years to get to this stage, but vaccine experts have been working hard around the world to fast-track this promising vaccine candidate," says Rogers.

"We were overwhelmed by the support we received from the WA public to trial this vaccine.

"The participants are doing really well and we are collecting valuable data which will inform this study and many more around the world."

He says this is one of the most prominent trials globally, and now that WA is in the unique position of having successfully suppressed COVID-19, focus can turn to prevention.

"I applaud the thousands of people who registered to take part in this trial - it further demonstrates how members of our community are willing to play their part in helping fight COVID-19," he says.

One of the trial participants is Perth doctor Chris Rynn, who volunteered because he wanted to help in the quest to find a successful vaccine.

"I understand the implications COVID-19 has for the medical profession, so I felt this is an important way I can help in speeding up the process of finding a vaccine," says Dr Ryan.

"I encouraged my friends to also register for the COVID-19 vaccine trial.

"I have participated in clinical trials at Linear before and am proud to contribute towards medical research."

The COVID-19 vaccine trial is randomised and double-blind, with some participants receiving the vaccine candidate and others receiving a placebo. Participants receive two injections in the arm 21 days apart and are monitored for an hour in the ward and then from their homes.

Preliminary safety and immunogenicity results are expected starting from August. If successful, it is expected the "COVID-19 S-Trimer" vaccine will be given to thousands of people around the world (as part of the global phase 2b/3 study) by the end of this year.

Rogers says Clover was one of the first companies to develop a protein-based vaccine based on the coronavirus Spike (S) protein that the virus needs to enter host cells.

Clover's Timer-Tag technology platform - which has been safely used in vaccine development for developing influenza, RSV and HIV vaccines - mimics the Spike protein with the aim of producing an immune response specific to the coronavirus

"We remain focused on developing a safe, effective and accessible COVID-19 vaccine at a scale that can potentially impact the course of the pandemic globally," says Clover Biopharmaceuticals chief executive officer Joshua Liang, who co-invented the S-Trimer vaccine.

According to the Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society there are currently 38 COVID-19 vaccine trials underway worldwide. The Perth trial is one of six that are Phase 1, while a further nine are more advanced than that.

Updated at 9:42am AEST on 7 July 2020.


WA Premier calls for flight cap, urges PM to withdraw support of Clive Palmer's High Court challenge

WA Premier calls for flight cap, urges PM to withdraw support of Clive Palmer's High Court challenge

Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan has formally requested a cap on international arrivals into Perth Airport of one flight every three days, after the state reported three new cases of COVID-19 from return travellers overnight.

McGowan said the flow of arrivals needed to be slowed down so quarantine could be managed to the highest possible standard.

"In addition, Cabinet today approved the drafting of urgent legislation that will force any returning traveller - Western Australian or not - to pay for their 14 days of hotel quarantine," he said.

"This legislation will be drafted as quickly as possible. Parliament isn't due to return until mid-August though, so once the bill is ready and approved we will recall Parliament if necessary for a special sitting to get this legislation through quickly."

The WA Premier also highlighted the success of his state's hard border policy, which has meant there has not been a community-based infection since 11 April, or 86 days ago.

But he noted that border was under threat from a High Court challenge led by Clive Palmer, which is being supported by the Federal Government.

"The announcement today between New South Wales and Victoria to close their borders is one that I support, but the idea our hard border is being challenged in the High Court is now clearly flawed and completely unnecessary," he said.

"The High Court challenge consumes the resources of many of our top public servants from our Solicitor General, our Chief Health Officer and our Police Commissioner.

McGowan said it did not make sense for the Federal Government to support a border closure between Victoria and New South Wales, but on the other hand challenge Western Australia's hard border. 

"In light of the new New South Wales-Victoria border closure today, I've asked the Prime Minister to formally withdraw their support from Clive Palmer's High Court challenge," he said.

"Quite frankly, the legal challenge and especially the Commonwealth's involvement in it has now become completely ridiculous. This nonsense has to stop.

"Western Australia's island within an island strategy has been an integral part of our success. As a result, WA is the most economically free and active state in Australia due to our relaxed restrictions, but we cannot get complacent."

Photo, Andrew Owens via Wikimedia Creative Commons

Updated at 3:16pm AEST on 6 July 2020.


COVID case forced Woolworths delivery centre to close

COVID case forced Woolworths delivery centre to close

A Woolworths (ASX: WOW) customer fulfilment centre (CFC) that services online orders in Melbourne was shut down over the weekend after a team member tested positive for COVID-19.

Woolworths first became aware of the team member's positive test on Saturday. That team member last worked at the West Footscray CFC on 1 July.

The centre was closed over the weekend for deep cleaning and has since reopened.

As a result of the closure online orders made on Sunday were cancelled, representing around 20 per cent of Woolworth's orders that service Melbourne.

"We're continuing to make contact with our CFC team members and will provide our full support to those required to self-isolate at home in line with the advice from the Health Department," says a Woolworths spokesperson.

"As a food retailer, we have very high standards of cleaning and hygiene across all our sites.

"As a result of the additional clean on Sunday night we cancelled online delivery orders out of the West Footscray CFC this morning. We would like to apologise to our customers for the inconvenience."

All other members of the West Footscray team who worked in close proximity to the team member have been asked to self-isolate as per Department of Health guidelines and will also undergo COVID testing.

The news comes as Victoria reported 127 new cases of COVID-19 overnight.

Updated at 12:54pm AEST on 6 July 2020.


NSW to close borders to VIC as COVID-19 crisis worsens

NSW to close borders to VIC as COVID-19 crisis worsens

New South Wales will close its border to Victoria from 11:59pm tomorrow following talks between VIC Premier Daniel Andrews, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

The measure comes as Victoria has reported 127 new cases of COVID-19 today, taking the number of active cases in the state to 645.

34 of the new COVID-19 cases are connected to known outbreaks, 40 are from routine testing, and 54 are under investigation by the public health team.

There are now 31 COVID-19 patients in hospital in the state including five in intensive care. A man in his 90s has also died of the virus in the past 24 hours. 

Premier Andrews says the border will be closed on the NSW side so as to not drain resources needed in Victoria to contain the outbreak of COVID-19.

"This is one of those precautionary measures, it's one of those things that I think will help us to contain the spread of the virus," says Andrews, describing the decision as "the right call".

"All three of us agree that this was the right step to take right now."

Premier Andrews has apologised for any inconvenience these new border measures may cause to those planning on travelling from VIC to NSW this week.

"I apologise for any inconvenience that will cause people who have got unavoidable travel to New South Wales. There will be a permit system," says Andrews.

"There will be a facility for people who live on those border communities to be able to travel to and from for the purposes of work, purposes of the sort of essential health services that they might need."

NSW Premier Berejiklian elaborated on the closure shortly after her counterpart's press conference in Victoria, explaining the decision to close the border was made due to the unprecedented rate of community transmission in Melbourne. 

"I do want to stress what is occurring in Victoria has not yet occurred anywhere else in Australia. It's a new part of the pandemic. And as such, it requires a new type of response," she said.

"I certainly don't want Victorians to feel that they're being singled out in any which way. This could very well be New South Wales at some stage in the future. This is very much a team effort."

She said authorities had a "mammoth task" of handling around 55 border crossings with Victoria, and that it would likely take 48 to 72 hours before the permitting system is worked out for essential workers to move between the two states.

"For some people who normally travel across the borders, their daily lives will be restrained until we get the permit system in place, and we hope that'll happen in the next two days," she said

"Anybody who feels that want to apply for a permit can do so at Service New South Wales. It will be very easy...if you live in Albury-Wodonga it's one community, and you might have the need [to cross the border] for a business reason or work reason or a health reason.

"We've never defined an essential worker in New South Wales for a reason, because you can never determine someone's exceptional circumstances."

NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said there were now 69 cases of COVID-19 being treated by NSW Health, and one person in intensive care who does not need a ventilator.

"Based on the fact we have seen increasing cases extending outside the hotspot areas, and recognising that there is often a lag between when cases are recognised and diagnosed, I felt we needed to get ahead of the potential to spread, to safeguard the seeding of New South Wales," Chant said.

"My key message to all members of the community is regardless of where you've been, please keep presenting for testing. Please present with even the mildest symptoms for testing."

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, whose state will open its borders this Friday to all states and territories except Victoria, welcomed the decision from NSW.

"Last week we made the decision to maintain the border closure with Victoria. I welcome today's decision to close the border between NSW and Victoria," she said.

"We will continue to provide support to Victoria as they continue to deal with their COVID-19 response."

South Australia Premier Steven Marshall announced last week that he would not be reopening the SA border to Victoria on 20 July as originally planned because of the worsening situation in Melbourne.

Speaking to the press today, Marshall said the State's Transition Committee will be meeting tomorrow to discuss the border with New South Wales.

Borders to travellers from Western Australia, the Northern Territory, Tasmania and Queensland into South Australia are already open, meaning visitors from those jurisdictions do not have to complete a two week period of self-isolation.

Victorian case spike over the weekend, more postcodes in lockdown

The move comes after Victoria placed nine tower blocks in Flemington and North Melbourne into a "hard" lockdwon for at least five days over the weekend.

The Premier says there are now 53 cases of COVID-19 associated with the outbreak in the housing commission towers that house around 3,000 people.

Depending on the results of ongoing testing the hard lockdown could last for up to 14 days.

Food and other essential goods are being delivered to residents of the towers, and the buildings are being guarded by Victorian police.

Residents are receiving $1,500 hardship payments and are not required to pay rent for a fornight.

Last week, Victoria placed Melbourne 10 postcodes into lockdown for a four-week period in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the Victorian capital.

The decision was made after health officials completed comprehensive genomic sequencing revealed much of the recent spike in COVID-19 cases could be traced back to breaches of protocol in hotel quarantine.

That list has since expanded and now includes 3031 (Flemington and Kensington) and 2051 (North Melbourne).

The full list of Melbourne postcodes in lockdown:

  • 3012 - Brooklyn, Kingsville, Maidstone, Tottenham and West Footscray;
  • 3021 - Albanvale, Kealba, Kings Park and St Albans;
  • 3031 - Flemington and Kensington
  • 3032 - Ascot Vale, Highpoint City, Maribyrnong and Travancore;
  • 3038 - Keilor Downs, Keilor Lodge, Taylors Lakes, Watergardens;
  • 3042 - Airport West, Keilor Park and Niddrie;
  • 3046 - Glenroy, Hadfield, Oak Park;
  • 3047 - Broadmeadows, Dallas, Jacana;
  • 3051 - North Melbourne
  • 3055 - Brunswick South, Brunswick West, Moonee Vale and Moreland West;
  • 3060 - Fawkner; and
  • 3064 - Craigieburn, Donnybrook, Kalkallo, Mickleham and Roxburgh Park.

Globally, the COVID-19 pandemic is showing no signs of slowing down. There are now 11,555,414 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, and 536,720 people have died.

In terms of new cases COVID-19 yesterday there were 175,499, and close to 4.5 million active cases internationally.

Yesterday, the USA reported 44,530 new cases of COVID-19, while Brazil and India reported 26,209 and 23,932 new cases respectively. 

In Australia there have been 8,583 cases of COVID-19 in total, with 662 active cases as of today, and 105 deaths.

Updated at 10:44am AEST on 6 July 2020.


Exporters to receive $240m in extra funding as freight support extended

Exporters to receive $240m in extra funding as freight support extended

Australia's exporters have been thrown a line thanks to the Federal Government's decision to extend a freight support program until the end of the year, with an additional $240 million in funding.

A spokesperson for the office of Minister for Trade Simon Birmingham has confirmed this takes total funding for the International Freight Assistance Mechanism (IFAM) to $350 million.

The program was launched focusing on farmers and fisheries in particular, who have been hard hit by a spike in freight costs with fewer international flights in operation.

Minister Birmingham says this temporary program had already helped secure carriage of more than 36,000 tonnes of exports to 50 key international destinations, while also supporting the import of critical medical supplies.

"With international travel restrictions expected to remain in place for the foreseeable future, our exporters and key importers will continue to face significant barriers," he says.

"This is about restoring global supply chains. These freight flights have been critical to getting produce out the door during these tough times and helping to keep our exporters in business and connected to their hard-won established global customers.

"A key feature of IFAM has been the logistical and administrative support for international freight movements by aggregating cargo loads, negotiating with airlines and dealing with partner governments to facilitate clearances and improve transparency of freight costs during the pandemic."

Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud describes the extension as a major win for Australian farmers.

"We're backing our farmers by making sure they can continue to get more of their high-quality product into overseas markets," he says.

"Keeping our farmers connected with their established international customers will help them keep their operations going so they can keep producing a top quality export product and enhance their reputation as a reliable partner."

Assistant Minister for Forestry and Fisheries Jonno Duniam says IFAM has been critical to getting the seafood industry back on its feet.

"Under this program we've already helped get over $500 million worth of Australian seafood from almost every state and territory out of the water and on to planes," says Duniam.

"This funding extension locks in ongoing support for the thousands of fishers, divers, deckhands and processors that underpin our world-renowned premium-quality seafood industry."

Updated at 12:09pm AEST on 3 July 2020.


Lovisa reopens stores but exits Spanish market

Lovisa reopens stores but exits Spanish market

Jewellery retailer Lovisa (ASX: LOV) has now reopened the vast majority of stores worldwide following closures sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic, but strained relationships with landlords has led to an exit from Spain.

There are now 434 Lovisa stores worldwide including franchises that are trading, compared to 449 in March before shutdowns began.

"We are now pleased to announce that our business has re-opened beginning in mid-April with the Australian stores, and progressively across all company-owned markets with the UK the last to re-open in late June," the company said in an announcement after ASX trading closed yesterday.

Lovisa explained the disruption to normal trading conditions throughout the fourth quarter led to a significant reduction in sales revenue for the full year, which ended up down almost 5 per cent at $237 million.

"Comparable store sales for the period since stores have re-opened, based on the actual days each store traded, were down 32.5 per cent on last year," the company said.

"Performance has been strongest in Australia and New Zealand as the markets that have been trading longest post re-opening and with the least restrictions in place.

"Our online business was able to deliver 256 per cent growth on prior year during Q4, with trading websites now operational across most markets that Lovisa is represented in."

Even before COVID-19 Lovisa's roll-out of stores in Spain was put on hold as performance was below expectations, but now its nine shut stores in the country will remain out of action as discontinued.

"Whilst we saw some improvement in performance prior to the COVID-19 shut-down, Lovisa was disappointed in the lack of support from our landlords in Spain," the company said.

"Hence, due to this lack of support the board has regretfully made the decision not to re-open these stores and to exit the Spanish market.

Lovisa said this meant an impairment charge of around two million euros (AUD$3.3 million) was expected for FY20.

LOV shares were up 2.45 per cent at $6.26 each in early trading this morning. 

Updated at 10:36am AEST on 3 July 2020.


Webjet rattles the tin again, this time for $163 million

Webjet rattles the tin again, this time for $163 million

After raising close to $350 million in April, travel company Webjet (ASX: WEB) has today announced a 100 million euro (AUD$163 million) convertible note issue to pay off debt and build a war chest for potential acquisitions.

The announcement follows a UN report yesterday estimating COVID-19 would likely cut global tourism income from AUD$1.7 trillion in the event of a four-month standstill, or up to AUD$4.8 trillion if lockdowns run for 12 months.

When Webjet announced a capital raising in April it reported the proceeds would give it a pro forma liquidity of $470 million with respect to the end of February, but that figure fell significantly to $307 million by the end of May.

Now the company reports its cash position as at the end of May was $215 million, while its net working capital position was just $8 million.

Despite laying off around 400 people and finding ways to reduce expenditures predominantly in its WebBeds business, Webjet still had operating costs of around $15 million per month for the past quarter and had to cop a $39 million write-down of debtors.

Amidst this cash burn that is an obvious consequence of an inert travel industry, Webjet managing director John Guscic (pictured) insisted in an investor call that the company was well placed regardless of this new raising.

"We didn't have to do this we were under no compulsion to do this. This wasn't a knee jerk reaction to something that was unforeseeable in the environment that we found ourselves in March," Guscic said when asked about preparedness for a 'bear' market scenario.

"The total liquidity is over $300 million as of today. That comfortably sees us operating without duress in a zero or low-revenue environment well into 2021," Guscic said.

"If you were then to use this additional hundred million euros exclusively for the preservation of the business and assuming the worst case scenario of no revenue, then that just extends our runway well into 2022."

Almost a third of the convertible notes raised - or $50 million - will be used to pay down existing term debt, with the remainder held for potential acquisitions and ongoing capital management.

"The rationale is that the existing $300 million remains untouched, and that's exclusively to the preserve of the business and to ensure the longevity of Webjet through whatever happens over this next 18 months or so," he said.

"The incremental capital through the convert combo is it fulfills in excess of that but gives us the additional ability to make M&A acquisitions that we find attractive, and there have been some extraordinary opportunities that have come past our window over the course of the last two months."

Goldman Sachs International is acting as sole global coordinator and joint bookrunner for the offering, together with HSBC as the other joint bookrunner.

The notes will be able to be converted from anytime between 1 July 2021 and 60 days prior to the final maturity date in seven years' time.

Updated at 11:37am AEST on 2 July 2020.

 

 


NT reports new COVID-19 case from Melbourne lockdown area

NT reports new COVID-19 case from Melbourne lockdown area

A new case of COVID-19 has emerged in Darwin today, originating from a returning traveller who spent time in a Melbourne hotspot.

According to NT Minister for Health Natasha Fyles (pictured) the 30-year-old man arrived in Darwin on Monday and tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday.

The man is a return traveller from overseas who completed the mandatory two-week period of quarantine in a Melbourne hotel.

After the quarantine period, and while waiting for his flight to Darwin, the man spent "a couple of days" with family in one of the hotspot locations in Melbourne.

On return to Darwin the man, who is believed to live alone, went immediately back to his house, after which he began to experience mild symptoms of the coronavirus.

"This individual has followed all the precautions and we wish them all the best. They're now in the care of Royal Darwin Hospital in isolation," says Fyles.

"I want to reassure the community there has been minimal contact with the broader community."

Fyles says while 6 April was the last time the territory reported a locally acquired case of COVID-19, today's news serves as a reminder that the pandemic is not over.

"After a significant period of time where we have not had any locally diagnosed cases this is obviously important to Territorians, but we have measures in place to protect our community, and these measures have been followed," says Fyles.

"We still mustn't become complacent around coronavirus. There is no cure. There is no vaccine.

"This is not a case of community transmission; it is a return traveller who has come out of one of those hotspots in Melbourne and returned to Darwin."

The news comes as Victoria reports 77 new cases of COVID-19 overnight, bringing the total number of active cases in the state to 415.

20 COVID-19 patients in Victoria are hospitalised, with four in ICU.

Around 300,000 Melburnians in metropolitan hotspots went into lockdown as of midnight last night until 29 July after cases of COVID-19 spiked in Victoria.

These measures were taken following comprehensive genomic sequencing received by Premier Daniel Andrews showing much of the recent spike in COVID-19 cases could be traced back to breaches of protocol in hotel quarantine.

Yesterday, New South Wales announced travellers that manage to leave the lockdown areas in Melbourne and make their way north across the border could face jail time of an $11,000 fine.

Updated at 10:42am AEST on 2 July 2020.


Support announced for tourism operators affected by Melbourne lockdowns

Support announced for tourism operators affected by Melbourne lockdowns

Victorian regional accommodation operators affected by lockdowns in metropolitan Melbourne will be eligible for Government support if losses can be shown.

A $5 million fund has been made available to regional businesses including motels, caravan parks and short-term rentals like Airbnb properties that can demonstrate losses due to the new restrictions implemented to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Melbourne.

Payments of up to $225 per cancelled booked night will be paid, on the condition that full refunds are provided to Melburnians stuck in lockdown and no cancellation fees are levied.

"We know that the last thing that regional accommodation houses and caravan parks needed was more obstacles after six months of struggle due to bushfires and coronavirus," says Victorian Minister for Industry Support and Recovery Martin Pakula.

"Lockdowns bring no joy to anyone, but we're standing with businesses in the regions and the suburbs as we navigate a path to the other side of this crisis."

More than 300,000 Melburnians living in 10 postcodes are subject to strict stay at home orders until 11.59pm on 29 July, meaning many will be forced to cancel holidays they had previously booked at locations across the state.

Accommodation businesses in 48 regional local government areas as well as the Yarra Ranges and the Mornington Peninsula shires will be covered for eligible bookings that were received from "hot zone" postcodes 3038, 3064, 3047, 3060, 3012, 3032, 3055, 3042, 3021, 3046 by 3pm on 30 June for the period 1 July to 29 July.

The $5 million support package for regional accommodation businesses follows confirmation of one-off $5,000 payments that will be made available for eligible businesses in the 10 postcode areas subject to the return of Stage 3 restrictions.

"These payments will help these important employers, and it means that there's no reason that refunds should not be paid to families who will now have to stay at home over the holidays," says Victorian Minister for Regional Development Jaclyn Symes.

Updated at 9:24am AEST on 2 July 2020.


Star Entertainment Group continues to reopen as COVID-19 restrictions ease

Star Entertainment Group continues to reopen as COVID-19 restrictions ease

From today, Star Entertainment Group's (ASX: SGR) venues in New South Wales and Queensland will reopen further as more COVID-19 restrictions are eased.

The company has announced that the next stage of reopening of The Star Sydney will commence today, with the venue allowed to host up to 5,000 patrons at any one time within the casino area, determined by the 4sqm rule as required by the NSW Government.

All electronic gaming machines and table gaming positions may be operational but with social distancing measures implemented.

The company says based on past visitation patterns, spatial distancing measures and capacity limits are expected to constrain visitation and revenue during peak periods like Friday and Saturday nights.

In Queensland, the main gaming floor and private gaming rooms at The Star Gold Coast and Treasury Brisbane will reopen at midday on 3 July 2020.

The maximum numbers of patrons within the casino gaming areas at The Star Gold Coast will be around 2,600, and around 2,300 at Treasury Brisbane.

"The Star expects that its Queensland properties will need to observe spatial distancing requirements for its gaming positions, and to be open to loyalty club members, their guests and the general public," says The Star Entertainment Group.

SGR has also provided a June 2020 trading update for The Star Sydney, demonstrating how trading performance has improved over the month as permitted visitation increased.

Since 19 June 2020 the company says average daily slot and table gaming volumes have been comparable with 1H20 private gaming room levels.

"Over this short period of time, the performance of The Star Sydney in June 2020 was consistent with management expectations and was significantly below normal levels given the operating restrictions," says The Star Entertainment Group.

Updated at 2:04pm AEST on 1 July 2020.


Travellers from Victorian COVID-19 hotspots could face jail time if visiting NSW

Travellers from Victorian COVID-19 hotspots could face jail time if visiting NSW

People who leave Melbourne's COVID-19 hotspots and travel to NSW will be exposed to the possibility of six months jail or an $11,000 fine.

NSW Minister for Health Brad Hazzard says these new measures are "not something we want to do" but are necessary to protect the health and safety of NSW residents.

"The message quite clearly from the New South Wales Government is do not leave the hotspot," says Hazzard.

NSW residents who leave the State to visit a Victorian hotspot will be required to complete a 14-day period of isolation. If this order is breached, NSW residents could also face an $11,000 fine or a six month jail term.

"Take it seriously," says Hazzard.

"This is about keeping you safe, your family safe, your community safe, not just in the hotspots in Victoria but more broadly here in New South Wales.

"We are not going to accept having Victorians who failed to comply with their own laws and then try to slip across our border. If you are found here in New South Wales you face very heavy penalties."

The announcement comes as NSW recorded 14 new cases of COVID-19 overnight, all from returned travellers currently in hotel quarantine.

Victoria has recorded 73 new cases of COVID-19 today after the state's testing blitz surpassed 100,000 tests. Hotspot suburbs in Melbourne are preparing to enter into lockdown from midnight tonight following Premier Daniel Andrews' announcement yesterday afternoon.

In terms of new daily cases in Victoria linked to business locations, two are part of the Stamford Plaza outbreak, one is linked to the outbreak at the Coles Chilled Distribution Centre in Laverton which takes that total outbreak to six, three are linked to cases associated with Hugo Boss in Collins Street, one is a staff member at SBS Radio.

"Every day presents its own challenges and no one can predict what tomorrow's numbers will be, but it is pleasing that there is some sense of stability to these numbers," Premier Andrews noted in a press conference today. 

Globally, COVID-19 confirmed case numbers continue to climb with 174,246 new cases confirmed for 30 June today.

Of the new cases, 46,042 were in the USA, 37,997 in Brazil, and 18,256 in India. There have now been 2,727,853 cases of  COVID-19 confirmed in the USA since the pandemic began.

Restrictions ease today in NSW

Today, 1 July, NSW will also ease restrictions further, allowing more people to gather and stadiums to begin accepting fanatics to sporting or cultural events.

The restrictions eased today includes:

  • Pubs, cafes, restaurants, and function spaces have no more capacity limit imposed, but must stick to the 4sqm rule;
  • Weddings can have any number of people but with the 4sqm rule applied;
  • 10,000 fans can go into a stadium;
  • Public transport services capacities have increased;
  • Cinemas, theatres, music halls and concert halls can open;
  • Religious services can resume with the 4sqm rule applied;
  • Libraries, museums and galleries can reopen.

The NSW Government still has no plans to reopen nightclubs or resume music festivals.

Updated at 11:27am AEST on 1 July 2020.


Lendlease to book at least $230m loss as COVID-19 devaluations bite

Lendlease to book at least $230m loss as COVID-19 devaluations bite

Property project developer Lendlease (ASX: LLC) has joined the likes of Stockland (ASX: SGP) and Mirvac (ASX: MGR) with portfolio devaluations due to COVID-19, and its bottom line will suffer as a result.

The company was already expecting to record restructuring costs due to the exit of its engineering services division, which Lendlease has today indicated will be in the upper range of estimates at $550 million.

In an unaudited results update released today the group forecast a loss of $230-340 million after tax.

This partly driven by an estimated $130-160 million after tax hit to investment valuations, or just over 1 per cent of Lendlease's $4 billion portfolio.

LLC shares dropped 5 per cent on the news to $11.75 each this morning, which was likely also influenced by the indication a final divident likely would not be paid.

But Lendlease's drop in asset values is relatively minor compared to Stockland - a comparably sized company in terms of market capitalisation - which took a six per cent cut to commercial property book values, or approximately $624 million.

Meanwhile Mirvac's property portfolio has been reduced by $349 million due to COVID-19 impacts, representing a 9.9 per cent fall.

Despite an expected loss in statutory terms, Lendlease anticipates a core profit after tax of $50-150 million, amidst plans to push ahead with billions of dollars' worth of projects in Sydney, Milan, San Francisco and elsewhere.

"The Development segment has experienced delay in the conversion of a number of opportunities across urbanisation projects due to the impact of COVID-19, including at Melbourne Quarter, Barangaroo and International Quarter London," the company said.

"The segment has also been impacted by delays in apartment settlements along with elevated cancellations across the Communities business.

"Performance of the Construction segment was impacted by COVID-19 in all regions. The impact was greater in our international regions, particularly in cities where mandated shutdowns were implemented. This has included lower productivity, projects being put on hold and delays in the commencement or securing of new projects."

Lendlease expects to complete the sale of its Acciona business in FY21, and the company retains the Melbourne Metro Tunnel Project, NorthConnex and Kingsford Smith Drive projects.

"As previously advised, the Cross Yarra Partnership consortium for the Melbourne Metro Tunnel Project is continuing to work with the Victorian Government on a confidential basis to resolve issues in relation to the scope and costs on the project," the group says.

"The NSW Government has indicated that NorthConnex will be operational in the coming months and the Kingsford Smith Drive project in Brisbane is scheduled to complete by the end of CY20.

"The Group will enter FY21 in a strong financial position with gearing at 30 June 2020 expected to be below 10 per cent and total liquidity above $5 billion, representing cash on hand and undrawn facilities."

The company recently raised $950 million in an institutional placement, followed by a further $260 million share purchase plan (SPP).

Updated at 10:31am AEST on 1 July 2020.


Land tax relief for Queensland businesses extended for four months

Land tax relief for Queensland businesses extended for four months

The application deadline for the Queensland Government's land tax rebate has been extended for a further four months to assist local businesses.

Queensland Treasurer Cameron Dick says the decision was made following consultation with the Property Council of Australia.

"As restrictions ease further in the week ahead, we know more businesses can look forward to increasing their trade, but for many small businesses the road ahead remains very challenging," says Dick.

"In order to enable landlords to better support their tenants, keeping businesses trading and supporting Queensland jobs, we will extend the rebate application deadline to 31 October 2020.

"This will give landowners more time to finalise relief agreements with their tenants and apply for the rebate."

Since the Queensland Government first announced relief measures to support landowners and tenants through the COVID-19 pandemic, more than $91 million in land tax relief has been approved, benefitting around 7,000 taxpayers.

Updated at 9:07am AEST on 1 July 2020.


Victoria to impose lockdowns in hotspots, Melbourne flights to be cancelled

Victoria to impose lockdowns in hotspots, Melbourne flights to be cancelled

The Victorian Government will enforce lockdowns in 10 postcodes after midnight tomorrow night, with urgent $5,000 grants for businesses in these areas that are forced to close as a result.

These drastic measures were taken following comprehensive genomic sequencing received by Premier Daniel Andrews this morning showing much of the recent spike in COVID-19 cases could be traced back to breaches of protocol in hotel quarantine.

In response to this revelation the Premier will have a former judge conduct an inquiry into hotel quarantine, and he has also informed the Prime Minister and asked for all flights to be diverted away from Melbourne for two weeks as a precautionary measure. 

There is yet to be an official response from the Commonwealth, but Andrews told a press conference he was "pretty sure the answer will be yes where there'll be no further flights arriving".

"Today's flights will have been the last ones for a period of two weeks," he said. 

Andrews said 10 suburbs would revert to Stage 3 restrictions with people only allowed to leave their homes for four reasons: work or school; care or caregiving; daily exercise; food and other essentials.

Residents of the following suburbs will need to comply with these restrictions for a four-week period until 29 July:

  • 3012 - Brooklyn, Kingsville, Maidstone, Tottenham and West Footscray;
  • 3021 - Albanvale, Kealba, Kings Park and St Albans;
  • 3032 - Ascot Vale, Highpoint City, Maribyrnong and Travancore;
  • 3038 - Keilor Downs, Keilor Lodge, Taylors Lakes, Watergardens;
  • 3042 - Airport West, Keilor Park and Niddrie;
  • 3046 - Glenroy, Hadfield, Oak Park;
  • 3047 - Broadmeadows, Dallas, Jacana;
  • 3055 - Brunswick South, Brunswick West, Moonee Vale and Moreland West;
  • 3060 - Fawkner; and
  • 3064 - Craigieburn, Donnybrook, Kalkallo, Mickleham and Roxburgh Park.

Residents of these postcodes who are already on holiday elsewhere will be able to complete their holidays, but if they have not gone on their holidays between now and tomorrow midnight they will not be permitted to leave. 

As this will inevitably lead to the cancellation of bookings, Victoria's Minister for Tourism and Industry Support Martin Pakula is expected to announce support measures tomorrow.

The Premier noted people would be well aware of the restrictions implied by going back to stay-at-home order settings, with takeaway-only options for cafés and restaurants while gyms will be closed.

"We know that that's going to be painful," he said.

"We know that that's going to be a really significant challenge, so I can announce today...for each and every business that has to close because of these new rules in those 10 postcodes, there will be an urgent grant of $5,000," he said, clarifying this was an initial response and more would be done if needed.

"That adds to the $10,000 that the vast majority of these businesses have already accessed under our business support program."

The Premier said Victorian Police would be actively enforcing the suburban lockdowns and will be stopping random vehicles in an organised and coordinated way, similar to "booze bus" checks.

"These are extraordinary steps. These are not things that we've had to do in the past but such is the nature of this virus," he said.

"It is so wildly infectious that if we don't take these steps now, we will finish up in a situation of rather than locking down 10 postcodes, we will be locking down every postcode. I don't want to get to that point."

The Premier also spoke about how genomic sequencing is giving experts and decision-makers a finer level of detail about chains of transmission; linkages that are not always apparent through contact tracing by talking to people.

He said the linkages provided by the science of genomic sequencing can show how an individual has contracted the virus and links between different cases.

"This morning I received the most comprehensive genomics briefing that I have received throughout the pandemic," he said.

"What that briefing provided and put to me very clearly is that at least a significant number - and potentially more - outbreaks in the north of the city are attributable via genomic sequencing to staff members in hotel quarantine breaching well known and well understood infection control protocols.

"That is unacceptable to me. I'm sure that will be unacceptable certainly to all of those who will be impacted by the restrictions that we have had to reimpose."

A former judge will be conducting an inquiry into those control breaches and any other issues in relation to hotel quarantine.

"I hasten to add, this sequencing relates to outbreaks and chains of transmission from some time ago - there is a time lag in getting this DNA work, this sequencing done," he said.

"More recent outbreaks that can in any way be attributable to hotel quarantine, I think are a separate issue. The point I want to make is the clear issues that this raises are from some weeks ago, in fact, perhaps even longer than that."

Out of an "abundance of caution" the Premier called on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to divert all flights away from Melbourne for the next two weeks.

"I'll have conversations with other state leaders to explain that and thank them in advance of the extra load that they will carry," he said.

"I would also make the point that just as we are having to focus exclusively on tracking and tracing these the spikes in numbers, and the enforcement of the stay-at-home Stage 3 in effect restrictions we've imposed on those 10 postcodes, we need to have all of our focus on that."

Updated at 3:52pm AEST on 30 June 2020.


Queensland sticks to 10 July border opening date, Victoria barred

Queensland sticks to 10 July border opening date, Victoria barred

Queensland will be open for visitors from all states and territories except Victoria as of 10 July, while this Friday small businesses will be allowed more patrons under a 2sqm rule.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk (pictured) has today delivered on her promised date to open up to the rest of the country, but high levels of community transmission in Victoria mean an exception had to be made for the state.

As of noon on 3 July, anyone travelling to Queensland from Victoria - including Queenslanders - will be prevented from entry unless they are willing to spend two weeks in hotel quarantine at their own expense. 

People arriving from other states or territories will also have to declare that they haven't been to Victoria in the past 14 days, and anyone who falsifies their document could face fines of up to $4,000.

"Queensland has very large concerns about the state of Victoria. There have been 250 cases in the past seven days - yesterday 75 and today 64. There is community transmission," Palaszczuk said.

"We just can't risk removing border restrictions for people coming from areas of Victoria right now."

"There's also one proviso here and I hope Queensland families will understand this - if the Chief Health Officer reviews any state or territory at any time and there is [sic] outbreaks of community transmission like Victoria, we may have to take further actions."

Premier Palaszczuk and Deputy Premier Steven Miles also outlined the easings of various restrictions will take place on 3 July, bringing aspects of Stage 3 forward by a week:

  • Limits on private gatherings will increase from a maximum of 20 to 100 people. This means up to 100 guests will be allowed at weddings, funerals, house parties and fitness classes;
  • The reopening of contact community sport, with no limits on spectators outside although social distancing must be observed with 1.5 metres between household groups;
  • Small businesses under 200sqm size - such as cafes, pubs, restaurants, surf clubs and RSLs - will have a one person per 2 square metres, up to a maximum of 50 people. Drinks can be ordered at the bar;
  • For venues of a larger size, 20-person limits will be lifted and replaced with a one person per 4 square-metre rule;
  • A 50 per cent capacity or one person per 4 square-metre rule at concert venues and theatres;
  • A 50 per cent capacity or 25,000 limit - whichever is the lesser - at stadiums;
  • A reopening of casinos;
  • A reopening of food courts; and
  • Family households will be able to sit together in places of worship, with 1.5 metres between family groups.

Approved COVID Safe plans will be needed for contact indoor and outdoor community sport, as well as events of more than 10,000 people. 

The Premier emphasised today's decision was not taken lightly, with careful consideration from the Chief Health Officer and from government.

"We believe we have the balance right. We will do everything to preserve Queensland's good record at preventing the spread of COVID-19 in our state - we are in a very good position at the moment but we know at any time anything could change.

"We have good systems in place and we must do everything we can to help Victoria during this time," she said, noting Queensland's chief health officer has travelled to Victoria to assist."

Deputy Premier Miles said there have only been nine new COVID-19 cases in Queensland since the state entered Stage 2 restrictions on 1 July, of which seven were from overseas and two were acquired interstate.

"That's in stark contrast of course to what we have seen recently in Victoria. Today they surpassed twice the number of total cases as we have had here in Queensland since the outbreak commenced," Miles said.

"They have had more locally acquired cases than Queensland has had in total; they've had more than six times the number of cases where the source of the infection could not be identified than we have had.

"They have more than 288 active cases right now compared to just two in Queensland and seven in New South Wales."

Miles emphasised Victoria was managing multiple outbreaks on multiple fronts, but there was "no interstate rivalry here".

"We're all in this together and we all need to work together. It's in all of our interests for us to suppress this virus across the country, including right now in Victoria," he said.

"We've now offered and sent our Deputy Chief Health Officer to Victoria to assist them. We are undertaking testing every single day of Victorian-taken samples. We have called today for expressions of interest for 14 nurses that we will deploy to Victoria to assist them.

"This virus does not respect state borders, and so we must enforce them. These new stricter rules will ensure that we contain the virus in Victoria our message to Queenslanders is please do not go there. Our message to Victorians is please do not come here until these outbreaks under control."

Updated at 2:16pm AEST on 30 June 2020.


SA will not relax Victorian border on 20 July

SA will not relax Victorian border on 20 July

South Australia's border with Victoria will not be reopened on 20 July as planned due to the worsening situation with COVID-19 in Melbourne. 

The state will also reassess the date on which it will open its border to the Australian Capital Territory and New South Wales, indicating today that it may actually be sooner than 20 July.

"At this point we cannot relax [the border with Victoria] on the 20th of July," says SA Premier Steven Marshall (pictured).

"We're gathering information on a daily basis, we're very hopeful that Victoria will be able to bring their outbreak under control, but at this stage we cannot possibly lift that border on the 20th July as we were hoping to do.

"It could be that we bring the ACT and New South Wales before the 20th, or it could be on the 20th, or it could also be delayed. It's unlikely to be delayed, they have done extraordinarily well."

South Australia will provide a firmer update with regard to NSW and the ACT later this week.

Borders to travellers from Western Australia, the Northern Territory, Tasmania and Queensland into South Australia are already open, meaning visitors from those jurisdictions do not have to complete a two week period of self-isolation.

Travellers from NSW, ACT and VIC are currently required to self-isolate for 14 days on entrance into South Australia.

South Australia reported just three new cases of COVID-19 yesterday. All three were travellers from overseas that are currently in hotel quarantine.

Updated at 10:54am AEST on 30 June 2020.


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