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Third new QLD COVID-19 case as health alert issued for 11 venues, including South Bank bar

Third new QLD COVID-19 case as health alert issued for 11 venues, including South Bank bar

A COVID-19 cluster is now starting to emerge in South East Queensland from two 19-year-old women who travelled to Melbourne and ignored health directives to self-isolate upon their return.

A criminal investigation into how the women flouted quarantine is due to take place, but in the meantime authorities are scrambling to trace the virus' potential spread as the individuals were moving amongst the community for eight days despite feeling unwell.

Queensland Health has now reported a third positive COVID-19 case who is a known contact - a 22-year-old woman employed by YMCA Chatswood Hills Outside School Hours Care.

Authorities have identified 11 locations, including two venues in South Bank, where the women attended as part of their tracing efforts for new potential cases. 

Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young said contact tracing was underway, and appropriate action had been taken at all relevant locations.

"Contact tracing is underway on all new cases," Dr Young said.

"While we are still determining where the virus may have been acquired, we are working closely with these women to gather necessary information, including other places they may have visited whilst infectious.

"As always, we strongly recommend everyone with symptoms, particularly people who have travelled interstate recently, to immediately get tested. Vigilance is key to keeping community transmission out of Queensland."

She said anyone living Logan, South Brisbane or Springfield who is feeling unwell should stay at home and immediately get tested.

Any individuals who were present at the below locations at the relevant times are asked to immediately self-quarantine and contact 13 HEALTH:

  • Flight VA863 Melbourne-Sydney - 21 July
  • Flight VA977 Sydney-Brisbane - 21 July
  • Parklands Christian College, Park Ridge on 22-23 July - 9.30am-6pm
  • Madtongsan IV Restaurant, Sunnybank on 23 July - 7-9pm
  • Heeretea Bubble Tea Shop, Sunnybank on 23 July - 9.25pm
  • YMCA Chatswood Hills Outside School Hours Care, Springwood on 23-24 July 
  • Primary Medical and Dental Practice, Browns Plains on 24 July - 3.30-3.50pm
  • Thai Peak Restaurant, Springfield on 26 July - 6.30-9pm
  • Cowch Dessert Cocktail Bar, South Bank on 27 July
  • P'Nut Street Noodles, South Bank on 27 July
  • African Grocery Shop, Woodridge on 28 July
  • Primary Medical and Dental Practice, Browns Plains on 28 July - 12.25-12.30pm
  • Chatime Grand Plaza, Browns Plains - 28 July

Updated at 5:25pm AEST on 29 July 2020.

QLD to close border to all of Sydney, Logan cases spark community transmission fears


CelluAir develops virus-filtering mask material from renewable sources

CelluAir develops virus-filtering mask material from renewable sources

Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and Adelaide-based incubator Innovyz have formed a joint venture that will bring mask material made from agriculture waste to the market.

The JV startup CelluAir will commercialise the virus-filtering material which was developed by QUT process engineer Dr Thomas Rainey and his research team.

Proof of concept testing has found the material can filter nanoparticles smaller than 100 nanometres, the size of a virus, while retaining high breathability to reduce wearer fatigue.

The deal means CelluAir will begin an accelerated six-week scope of work to scale up the technology with the aim of taking it to market as soon as possible.

CelluAir has incubated advanced manufacturing startups including Titomic (ASX: TTT) from the CSIRO in 2017 and Amaero (ASX: 3DA) from Monash University in 2019.

"The new material is relatively cheap to produce and is biodegradable making it sustainable for single use," says Dr Rainey.

"Our tests showed the new material was more breathable than commercial face masks, including surgical masks.

"Breathability is the pressure or effort the wearer has to use to breathe through the mask. The higher the breathability the greater the comfort and reduction in fatigue."

Innovyz general manager Tom Kenyon says the company specialises in taking research from the laboratory and moving to market.

"We're super excited to be working with QUT which has a great reputation in research and are very focussed on commercial outcomes," he says.

"Many researchers want their research to have impact and the quickest way to have impact is to bring that research to market."

Updated at 4:49pm AEST on 29 July 2020.

QLD to close border to all of Sydney, Logan cases spark community transmission fears

QLD to close border to all of Sydney, Logan cases spark community transmission fears

Queensland has declared all of Greater Sydney a COVID-19 hotspot and will close its borders to the region from 1am on Saturday 1 August.

As such, people who have been to Sydney within the last 14 days will not be allowed to enter the Sunshine State.

Queensland residents will be allowed to return, but they will have to isolate in a hotel for 14 days at their own expense.

The move will see 31 new local government areas (LGAs) added to the list of three existing LGA hotspots previously delcared by the Queensland Government because of new outbreaks in the NSW capital.

"It is going to cause an inconvenience to families...but it is important," says Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

"We must protect Queenslanders, and your safety comes first. We are in extraordinary times at the moment and we have to do everything we can."


The announcement follows news that two new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Queensland have been out in the community for eight days whilst unwell, forcing Queensland Health to close some shopping malls, restaurants and a church.

The two cases, both 19-year-old women who live in the Logan and Acacia Ridge areas, returned from Melbourne on 21 July and did not isolate at home for the requisite 14 day period.

As such, Queensland Health is working to identify the numerous close contacts of the two women, will close a number of businesses and a church for deep cleaning for 48 hours, and will place aged care facilities in the Metro South region into lockdown.

A criminal investigation into how the women managed to travel to Victoria and return to Queensland without going into quarantine will also be undertaken.

One of the women is employed as a cleaner at the Parklands Christian College in Logan, which has since been closed for deep cleaning.

Meanwhile, Priority Health Medical Centre has relayed information from Orion Shopping Centre, where one of the women attended the Peak Thai restaurant recently.

"We have been advised [By QLD Health] that the person was a patron who visited Peak Thai on Sunday 26th July 2020, in the evening," the shopping centre reportedly told the medical centre.

Both women are currently being cared for at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane.

Premier Palaszczuk says she is "furious" about the conduct of the pair that will cause significant inconvenience to those in the local community.

"I am absolutely furious that this has happened, that these two people have gone to Victoria and come back and have given to authorities misleading information," says Palaszczuk.

"There will be a thorough police investigation here, and now we have to act as a community."

According to Queensland Deputy Premier and Minister for Health Steven Miles the pair travelled together to Melbourne and returned to Brisbane on 21 July on a flight via Sydney.

Close contacts on flights VA863 and VA977 are being contacted currently.

Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young says she is disappointed by the behaviour of the two women which has put lives at risk in Queensland.

"It is very disappointing that this has occurred" says Dr Young.

"As a result of that, a lot of people are going to be inconvenienced and I do apologise to those people for what is now going to have to occur.

"We know if we act really fast we can stop this spreading further and cause even more inconvenience to a lot of people."

Queensland Deputy Police Commissioner Steve Gollschewski says a criminal investigation will seek to uncover how the pair managed to cross into Queensland from Melbourne without having to go into quarantine.

"Our investigations are around the truth so we want to work out what actually happened here, in terms of what individuals may have done but also how the system has operated and see whether there are things we need to consider," says Gollschewski.

"What this highlights is why it is so important that everybody who engages with that does the right thing.

"There is so much community transmission [in Victoria], you're putting everyone at risk if you don't declare that and certainly, there are systems in place to help people get through that."

Dr Young has urged anyone who displays symptoms in the Logan, Acacia Ridge and Springfield Lakes regions to get tested immediately and self-isolate.

"There will be additional fever clinics put in place but please, see your own GP, go to one of the fever clinics that are there and get yourself tested as soon as possible," says Dr Young.

"If you are unwell, stay at home and isolate yourself. That is the way we can all work together to stop this further spreading."

Updated at 11:19am AEST on 29 July.

NSW gyms to require COVID Safe marshalls

NSW gyms to require COVID Safe marshalls

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has today announced new measures to ensure COVID Safe hygiene at gyms that will come into force from Saturday morning (Friday midnight).

"All gyms need to have a COVID marshall in place at all times," she told a press conference this morning.

"That includes gyms who currently might have a business model where they don't have any staff present," she said, noting a permanent person or staff member would need to fill this role."

As the state recorded another 19 new cases overnight, all from known sources, the Premier said this latest measure was in line with the health advice.

"We know those high risk activities are those indoor venues where people are in close proximity to others when speaking, or when they're in close physical activity such as a gym," she said.

She said businesses in general were downloading what they needed to do to be COVID Safe, but not enough were registering.

"We'd like to see those numbers increase, but I do want to thank those businesses that really stepped up and made that difference.

"I also want to thank patrons. If I walk into a venue and I'm not comfortable with how COVID Safe that venue is, I would leave, and I expect every patron to do the same."

The state has reported 19 new COVID-19 cases in the 24 hours to 8pm last night, bringing the state's total number of cases 3,529.

Of those cases three are linked to a funeral gathering in Bankstown, 10 are associated with the Thai Rock cluster in Wetherill Park, two are connected to the Thai Rock cluster in Potts Point, one is a staff member at The Apollo in Potts Point, one is connected to the Crossroads Hotel cluster, and two are travellers from overseas.

Updated at 11:47am AEST on 29 July 2020.


Queensland private school closed after employee tests positive for COVID-19

Queensland private school closed after employee tests positive for COVID-19

The Parklands Christian College in Logan south of Brisbane has been closed for deep cleaning after an employee tested positive for COVID-19.

The woman, who is under isolation, tested positive late yesterday after returning from interstate last week.

The private school will temporarily close until further notice to allow for cleaning and for contact tracing to get underway.

"We are working to determine where the virus may have been acquired, including working with the woman to gather necessary information about places she may have visited whilst infectious," says Queensland Health.

"As always, we strongly recommend everyone with symptoms to immediately get tested. Vigilance is key to keeping community transmission out of Queensland."

There have been 1,076 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Queensland since the beginning of the pandemic.

Updated at 9:28am AEST on 29 July.

Potts Point public health warning expanded, Rushcutters Bay yacht club closed for deep cleaning

Potts Point public health warning expanded, Rushcutters Bay yacht club closed for deep cleaning

Anyone who visited The Apollo restaurant in Potts Point on 22 July must immediately self-isolate and get tested for COVID-19 now that new cases have been connected to the restaurant.

The public health warning was previously limited to restaurant attendees from 23 to 25 July, but with three cases now in total the timeframe has been expanded to a day earlier. 

Two of those new cases visited The Apollo on 22 July and then the Cruising Yacht Club Australia (CYCA) in Rushcutters Bay on subsequent nights. The Yacht Club has been closed for deep cleaning.

The cases can be linked back to the Potts Point Thai Rock Restaurant according to NSW Health.

The third case is a staff member of The Apollo which sparked the initial closure of the restaurant.

Anyone who attended the CYCA on the following dates during these times is asked to monitor for symptoms and seek testing if they develop:

  • Thursday 23 July 6pm-7.30pm
  • Friday 24 July 3.30pm-5pm
  • Sunday 26 July 4pm-5.30pm

"With the growing number of cases in the area, NSW Health is again asking all people who live in or have visited the Potts Point area in the past two weeks to get tested if they have any symptoms of COVID-19 at all, even the mildest of symptoms such as a runny nose or scratchy throat," says NSW Health.

A new pop-up clinic was established yesterday in Surry Hills for testing and will be open seven days a week.

Another new clinic will open form midday today in Rushcutters Bay Park.

Updated at 9:15am AEST on 29 July 2020.

Elective surgeries suspended as Victoria tackles aged care outbreaks

Elective surgeries suspended as Victoria tackles aged care outbreaks

With 769 of Victoria's 7,775 active cases of COVID-19 in the aged care sector, the state government is suspending non-urgent elective surgeries and reshuffling the health care workforce.

Effective immediately, elective surgeries other than for Category 1 and the most urgent Category 2 patients will be suspended.

Further, hospital staff from Eastern Health and the Eye and Ear Hospital in Melbourne will be moved into a number of aged care settings where there are outbreaks.

State Premier Daniel Andrews says while the private sector aged care services are not the State Government's responsibility, the measures will be put in place to protect all Victorians.

"I cannot stand here and tell you that I have confidence that staff and management, across a number of private aged care facilities are able to provide the care that is appropriate to keep their residents safe," says Andrews.

"It's not about blame, it's not about demarcations and having disputes about who's in charge of what, it's just about getting on, and getting this done."

Under the new arrangements, where there is no confidence that care can be provided to a suitable standard by the private sector aged care providers the State Government will move residents out of those settings into hospitals both public and private.

There have already been around 2,000 residents moved from private sector aged care facilities into hospitals.

"This does not mean that every resident in an aged care facility that has an outbreak will be moved en masse to the public or, indeed, to a private hospital. It will always be based on clinical need," clarifies Andrews.

"Whilst this is not a sector that we have any involvement in, the residents are Victorians and we need to look after them."

The development comes as Victoria reports 384 new cases of COVID-19 today, bringing the state's total number of active cases to 7,775.

The State also reported six new deaths today, four of which are linked to private sector aged care.

Today's new figures come in conjunction with the state ticking over the 3,000 mark of cases under investigation, demonstrating that the State still has a while to go until it gets this latest outbreak under control.

Updated at 12:12pm AEST on 28 July 2020.

Australian COVID-19 cases under investigation surpass 3000

Australian COVID-19 cases under investigation surpass 3000

The exponential rise in COVID-19 cases under investigation shows no signs of abating with the latest data showing the figure reached an estimated 3,201 yesterday.

All but two of these came from Victoria, where these numbers are almost equal to the number of cases with known local sources.

Of yesterday's 532 new cases in the state, 154 were linked to outbreaks or complex cases and 378 were classed as under investigation.

NSW reports zero cases are under investigation, although 370 were locally acquired with no contact identified.

The ability to track the spread of the virus is critical to Australia's coronavirus response, but COVID-19's long incubation period in infected hosts and numerous other factors have led to a backlog of cases for Victoria's health officials to get under control.

Whether it be through financial incentives or attempts to dispel any stigma around a positive diagnosis, Premier Daniel Andrews has been pushing for more people to test for the virus and isolate according to the state health directives if they have symptoms. 

"No one will be criticised or judged for doing the right thing," Premier Andrews said yesterday.

There are currently 4,713 active cases of the virus in Australia, including 4,542 in Victoria, 158 in NSW, and single-digit numbers in all other states and territories.

To date Australia has recorded 161 deaths from COVID-19, compared to a global figure of close to 656,000.

Updated at 10am AEST on 28 July 2020.


JBS Brooklyn staff walk off the job over COVID-19 safety concerns

JBS Brooklyn staff walk off the job over COVID-19 safety concerns

Update: Since publication JBS Australia has announced that the facility has reopened after a site inspector from Work Safe Victoria declared the site to be safe and ordered everybody back to work.

The UWU says JBS has agreed to a 30 minute separation between shifts, provided workers with details on cleaning regimes, and agreed to give workers a safety briefing before they start.

Staff at JBS Australia's meat processing plant in Brooklyn, Melbourne have ceased work this morning citing concerns that the company has handled site safety poorly during a COVID-19 outbreak.

The industrial action comes fifteen days after the JBS site was ordered to close by the Department of Health and Human Services and the confirmation of 71 positive cases of COVID-19 connected to the meatworks plant.

According to the United Workers Union (UWU), the Brazilian-owned company has not responded to workers' concerns about the safety of the site during this period of time.

"JBS has consistently failed their workforce by not communicating with their workers and by not consulting with their representatives," says UWU Victorian branch secretary Susie Alison.

"These workers have been battling through this crisis with almost no support. They don't want to have gone through all that only to walk back onto the floor and catch the virus.

"Workers across this country are getting wise to the way these companies think, that profit is more important than people. They are ready to fight for their safety."

In a notice to the company, JBS cold storage workers told the company that "without safe systems of work and without adequate information, instruction and training" there would be a "serious and immediate threat to health or safety, namely a high threat and degree of risk to the COVID-19 contagion".

Just last week the UWU accused JBS Australia of asking COVID-19 positive staff to return to work and reported that safety equipment including electronic thermometers was faulty.

UWU says it has heard reports of a worker who had returned to the site yesterday but had yet to complete their 14 days in isolation. That worker allegedly remained on site for more than one hour before being sent home.

Workers have also reported that social distancing measures at the Brooklyn site were inadequate, with afternoon and day shift crossing paths in a confined space with no social distancing, and balaclavas were being shared between workers.

The UWU says workers raised concerns with management that were "not taken seriously".

Staff have also allegedly been forced to isolate over the last two weeks, with many asked to draw upon their annual leave entitlements whilst others left without any income at all.

The union has been calling on JBS to provide additional paid leave for the workforce that has helped them continue to operate throughout the pandemic.

JBS Australia says it has tested its entire Brooklyn workforce and conducted a deep-clean of the entire facility.

"JBS Australia has worked hand in glove with DHHS to make the Brooklyn facility as COVID Safe as it's possible to be," says a JBS Australia spokesperson.

"Right now, our focus is on safeguarding the jobs of the 1230 Victorians who rely on us for their livelihood, safeguarding the supply of meat to both our local and export markets, and most importantly, doing whatever it is in our power to do to safeguard the health and well-being of our workers and the wider community in which we operate."

"Just yesterday, the AMIEU, with whom we have an excellent working relationship, went on record saying that they were satisfied we had done everything possible to make our workplace COVID Safe."

Updated at 9:16am AEST on 28 July 2020.

Victoria to get homeless into homes with $150m package

Victoria to get homeless into homes with $150m package

The Victorian Government has established a $150 million package designed to get the state's homeless into homes as the outbreak of COVID-19 in Melbourne continues.

Much of the State's ability to get on top of the outbreak in Melbourne hinges on the city's residents remaining at home, but that is difficult if you don't have a home to stay at in the first place.

The funding will help more than 2,000 Victorians out of homelessness and into their own homes and follows the State's move at the beginning of the pandemic to move people into vacant hotels.

That hotel accommodation program will also be expanded under the 'From Homelessness to a Home' package until at least April next year.

"This pandemic has laid bare many inequalities you can't stay home if you don't have one and you can't wash your hands regularly if you don't have access to the bare basics of hot water and soap," says Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.

"This is our opportunity to help break the cycle of homelessness because now more than ever, home means stability, security and safety."

Under the program the State Government will arrange to lease 1,100 properties from the private rental market, providing a permanent home for people once they leave emergency accommodation.

In addition, the first of Victoria's promised 1,000 new social housing units are coming online now and will be used to support people to transition out of homelessness.

In addition to housing, Victoria will give those enrolled into the program access to mental health, drug & alcohol and family violence support for those that need it.

The funding will be allocated to homelessness agencies in both metropolitan and regional areas in order for tailored and responsive services to be delivered based on the needs of individuals.

Updated at 10:29am AEST on 28 July 2020.

Health warnings issued for Potts Point, Mount Pritchard

Health warnings issued for Potts Point, Mount Pritchard

NSW Health has issued a public health warning for the Sydney suburbs of Potts Point and Mount Pritchard following the detection of two new COVID-19 cases.

Last night the department reported a new case of COVID-19 was linked to a staff member of The Apollo restaurant at Potts Point, showing a spread in the area after a worker at Thai Rock Potts Point tested positive.

The venue has been closed for cleaning, and anyone who attended the Greek restaurant from Thursday 23 to Saturday 25 July has been asked to quarantine for the equivalent of 14 days since their visit.

Furthermore, anyone who lives in or has visited the Potts Point area in the past two weeks has been urged to get tested if they have any symptoms of the virus. 

The second case in the warning relates to two venues in the South West suburb of Mount Pritchard attended by an individual with the virus - the RSL Mounties and nearby Pritchard's Hotel.

The timeframe for potential virus exposure at Mounties is similar to The Apollo, with people who attended also asked to isolate for 14 days and go for a test if they show any symptoms.

For Pritchard's Hotel there is a narrower timeframe under the lens of between 7pm and 7.45pm on 23 July, but NSW Health has not asked people who visited at that time to self-isolate but to get tested if they feel sick.

"Anyone feeling unwell even with the mildest of symptoms such as a runny nose or scratchy throat is urged to self-isolate and seek testing. Do not go to work or catch public transport until you are cleared of COVID-19," NSW Health said.

"If you are directed to self-isolate, you must remain in isolation for the full 14 days even if your initial test is negative. If you do develop COVID-19 symptoms, you should be retested, even if you have had a negative result previously."

There are a wide range of testing clinics in the area, and private testing is also available via GPs:

  • St Vincent's clinic at the East Sydney Community Centre, 34-40 Burton Street Darlinghurst
  • The Sydney Hospital Emergency Department
  • A 'Pop-Up' COVID-19 testing clinic, The Albion Centre 150 Albion Street Surry Hills
  • Kirketon Road Centre Mobile COVID-19 testing clinic, Walla Mulla Park, Woolloomooloo
  • Prince of Wales Hospital, 14B Avoca Street Randwick
  • Bondi Beach drive-through car park clinic

Updated at 9:08am AEST on 28 July 2020.



NT's hard border for Sydneysiders extended four weeks

NT's hard border for Sydneysiders extended four weeks

The Northern Territory Government has decided to keep existing restrictions on travellers from Greater Sydney for a further four weeks, while the timeline for restrictions on Victorians remains indefinite.

In mid-July when Chief Minister Michael Gunner (pictured) said he wouldn't "roll the dice" on visitors from Sydney, he explained measures would be reviewed before the replication cycle ended in two weeks.

Now that date is around the corner, and a review has shown community transmission in the NSW presents a threat to the NT for the "foreseeable future".

"The outbreaks of concern are confined to Sydney, and they appear well managed but still growing," Gunner said.

"Based on this assessment and to provide certainty for all Territorians, we're extending our hotspot declaration to all of Greater Sydney for at least another four weeks - that is two more replication cycles on the virus.

"That means our borders will stay close to all of Greater Sydney - anyone who lives there, anyone who's been there - until at least Friday, the 28th of August. That is the earliest possible date before any change, but make no promises about that date."

For anyone who does come to the NT from Sydney, they will need to spend two weeks in hotel quarantine at their own expense of $2,500.

"For other local government areas in New South Wales that are currently declared hotspots, we will continue to monitor them regularly. They will stay as hotspots for the time being," he said.

"When we kept our borders closed in Victoria I said it was indefinite, and nothing has changed there. Frankly there is no end in sight right now in terms of when our border arrangements with Victoria will change. I would say it is months away at least.

"The situation there is grim, confronting and tragic. I know we are all thinking of friends and family in Melbourne right now. They are doing what needs to be done to be on top of this, not just to protect themselves but ultimately protect all of us."

The Chief Minister added an additional $20 million would be invested to recruit 130 extra police and support staff along with the purchase of 20 new police vehicles, in order to help man the borders and support communities. 

"The new recruits will include frontline constables, Aboriginal liaison officers, Aboriginal community police officers and support staff. Recruitment and training will begin straight away," Gunner said.

"The first crews will be on the job by October. The roll-out of the extra officers will continue through to November next year.

"The new recruits will help relieve the current rostering pressures, giving the cops on the borders a bit of a break. And it also means we'll be well prepared to cover any changes in support from the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Defence Force down the track."

Updated at 3:49pm AEST on 27 July 2020.

400 Victorian health workers now have COVID-19 as state reports record case numbers

400 Victorian health workers now have COVID-19 as state reports record case numbers

"The lockdown will not end until people stop going to work with symptoms," Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said.

Victoria crossed the 500-mark for new daily COVID-19 cases today while 16 people in the state have passed away due to the virus in the past 48 hours. 

There have been six deaths from the virus in the past 24 hours, following the deadliest day yet for the state yesterday.

Premier Daniel Andrews reported 532 new cases this morning, taking the total number of active cases in Victoria to 4,542 of which around 400 are health workers.

There are now 245 people with COVID-19 in Victorian hospitals, including 44 in intensive care. 

Almost 700 active cases are currently connected in some way to aged care, and after detailing the numbers from various facilities the state's chief health officer Brett Sutton said it was difficult to read them out without considering the residents "will be people's parents, grandparents, great grandparents and they are at significant risk of dying".

"That's an an inescapable fact. In these settings where there are outbreaks in aged care, the mortality is extremely high," Sutton said.

Premier Andrews emphasised the biggest driver of COVID-19 transmission and numbers going up was people going to work when they had symptoms.

"If you are sick, even mildly, you just can't go to work. The only thing you can do is get tested - the only thing you can do is then wait at home," he said.

"If you are [COVID-19] positive then you'll need to be at home for that 14-day period."

Andrews has received feedback that some people are very reticent to discuss symptoms or a positive diagnosis with family members, but he said people shouldn't see a positive test as a reflection on themselves 

"This does not discriminate. No one will be criticised or judged for doing the right thing. That's exactly what we want to see happen," he said.

Victorian residents who are in financial distress and are concerned about taking time of work to get tested can call 1800 675 398 to receive an emergency Worker Support Payment.

"We have support in place. A $300 payment and then a further $1,500 payment if you are positive and need to isolate for that two-week period," he said.

Meanwhile, in New South Wales there were 17 new cases in the past 24 hours, of which eight were from hotel quarantine, eight were from known sources and one is under investigation.

There has been one more case linked to the Thai Rock restaurant in Potts Point, a sister venue of the Thai Rock in Wetherill Park where there have been three new cases.

101 people are now being treated for COVID-19 by NSW Health, including five people in intensive care and one person on a ventilator. 

A common theme in the NSW and VIC press conferences was business compliance with COVID-Safe practices, given workplaces are also a key driver of transmission.

"We've had nearly 150 additional inspections - in-person, on-site inspections - in a whole range of different higher-risk settings over the last week," Victorian Premier Andrews said.

"In the main those WorkSafe inspectors have have have found employers to be doing the right thing, employees to be doing the right thing; people taking this very, very seriously," he said.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said it was really important for people to stay vigilant, but there has been a "marked improvement" in businesses being COVID-Safe.

"But we still have more to do. The rules came in on Friday and there has been a marked improvement, but our compliance officers and the police will be ever vigilant to clamp down any businesses that aren't COVID-Safe, but also on patrons who are doing the wrong thing," she said.

"At the end of the day it's up to all of us to keep getting tested if we have the mildest symptoms."

Updated at 11:55am AEST on 27 July 2020.




WA launches $5.5 billion economic recovery plan

WA launches $5.5 billion economic recovery plan

Investments into shovel-ready projects, renewable energy technologies, and support for the tourism industry are on the cards as part of a $5.5 billion economic recovery plan in Western Australia.

Announced yesterday, the major investment is the next step in WA's COVID-19 roadmap intended to help the state bounce back from the pandemic's economic and social impacts.

As part of the plan WA will invest more than $60 million into shovel-ready maintenance upgrades to vital State Government facilities.

These include improvements to disability access at train stations, refurbishments of WA police stations, and upgrades to Volunteer and Career Fire and Rescue Service stations.

The work is expected to get underway within weeks, which will create an immediate boost in work for tradespeople like electricians, painters, plumbers, builders and carpenters.

Small businesses are set to receive $942.8 million in support that will go toward licence fee waivers, payroll and land tax assistance, and commercial rental support.

A further $66.3 million will go toward renewable energy projects intended to create jobs in the space and improve WA's renewable energy footprint.

The state's tourism industry will also be supported with a $14.4 million package, with roads, buildings and camps in state parks to be upgraded and airlines to be supported to create more affordable flights to regional destinations like Albany, Broome, Carnarvon, Esperance, Kununurra, and Monkey Mia.

The total package includes $2.77 billion in relief and stimulus already approved during the COVID-19 package.

"While COVID-19 is not over, as a result of our success here in WA, we have been able to commence our recovery and that started with the WA roadmap of easing restrictions," says WA Premier Mark McGowan.

"The WA Recovery Plan will help drive the economic and social recovery across the State, to ensure we can recover, stronger than ever.

"This comprehensive plan is unlike anything we've ever seen before in WA. It will deliver a pipeline of short and long-term jobs for Western Australians, supporting and strengthening our existing industries, as well as laying the foundation for jobs of the future."

Updated at 10:19am AEST on 27 July 2020.

COVID-19 comes to Potts Point as worker at second Thai Rock restaurant tests positive

COVID-19 comes to Potts Point as worker at second Thai Rock restaurant tests positive

NSW Health has asked anyone who attended the Thai Rock restaurant at Potts Point between 15 and 25 July to self-isolate and get tested after a worker tested positive to COVID-19.

The new advice follows an investigation into a case announced by NSW Health last week who had reported attending Thai Rock Potts Point on 17 July.

The venue is a sister venue to the restaurant of the same name in Western Sydney that has sparked a significant cluster of COVID-19 infections, with six new cases yesterday connected to that outbreak and 67 in total.

Thai Rock Potts Point has been closed for cleaning and investigation into the source of the infection and contact tracing is underway. In a statement released yesterday NSW Health said investigations to date have not identified links between cases at the two sites.

In addition, a couple who were reported with COVID-19 yesterday attended two restaurants while infectious: An Restaurant Bankstown on 23 July, from 9-11am, and Tan Viet Noodle House (AKA Crispy Chicken Noodle House) Cabramatta on the 22 July, from 1-2pm.

Anyone who attended either of these restaurants at these times should monitor for symptoms and immediately isolate and seek testing if they appear.

Fourteen new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in NSW yesterday, bringing the total number of cases in NSW to 3,479.

Australia suffers through deadly weekend

Yesterday was Australia's deadliest day in the pandemic to date, with Victoria reporting 10 new deaths and 459 new cases of COVID-19.

Of the new cases, 82 are linked to outbreaks or complex cases and 377 are under investigation.

228 people are in hospital, including 42 patients in intensive care.

These figures added to Saturday 25 July's new numbers of 357 and five new deaths.

"I will say is these things change rapidly, but these numbers are far too high," said Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.

"There are 10 families that are going to be burying someone in the next few days.

"Wear a mask. It's not too much to ask."

There are currently 4,233 COVID-19 cases active in Victoria, and 3,680 people have recovered from the virus.

Globally the situation is still dire, with more than 16 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus reported since the beginning of the pandemic.

The United States is still the country in the worst position, reporting more than 67,000 cases just yesterday and close to 1,000 deaths.

In total there have been more than 4 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the USA.

Updated at 9:30am AEST on 27 July 2020.

SA to close border with VIC to returning residents, new gathering restrictions incoming

SA to close border with VIC to returning residents, new gathering restrictions incoming

From midnight on Tuesday all travellers from Victoria including South Australian residents will not be allowed to cross the border into SA, strengthening an already hard border.

Previously, residents returning to the state from Victoria were permitted to cross the border, but because of the ongoing crisis in Melbourne Premier Steven Marshall says the new measure is necessary to protect South Australians.

Further, Marshall has reimposed some restrictions on gatherings including capping home gatherings at 50 people, as well as weddings and funerals at 100 attendees. Both of these measures will also come into place from midnight on Tuesday.

It comes as 95 per cent of all cases in South Australia in the last two weeks had originated from Victoria, including the three new cases the state reported this week.

"We've got to do everything we can now to protect ourselves against seeding from Victoria coming across that border," says Marshall.

"There are currently in excess of 100 outbreaks in Victoria. This is of great concern to us, most importantly of concern is that the vast majority of the cases which have been identified in recent weeks are still under investigation.

"We do remain very concerned about what is happening in Victoria. We have a hard border arrangement with Victoria; we do not plan to lift this anytime soon."

There will still be some exemptions for travellers coming across the border into SA including for essential workers, but applications for exemptions will need to be approved by SAPOL.

SA's Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier today confirmed that her department has received more than 100 applications for COVID management plans in recent weeks.

COVID management plans are currently mandatory for certain businesses classified as 'high risk' to operate.

Of those 100 the department has determined 60 are to do with 'high risk' activities. As such, the department will hold off on approving the applications "for a couple of weeks" while the state observes the situation in Melbourne.

However, in good news for local footy fans, Suprrier announced today that the department has signed off on seven COVID management plans from the SANFL, meaning spectators can go out and watch the footy once again.

"Now you might say 'How can that be?' when the Premier has just announced that in fact we are reducing caps on these family gatherings," says Spurrier.

"The SANFL, obviously with football, is outside so that is lower risk.

"But at least we have some good news for footy fans and our local footy fans that there are going to be larger numbers allowed from this weekend for the SANFL."

Updated at 3:28pm AEST on 24 July 2020.

JBS Australia accused of asking COVID-19 positive staff to return to work

JBS Australia accused of asking COVID-19 positive staff to return to work

Meat processor JBS Australia has been accused of allegedly asking staff that tested positive for COVID-19 to return to work at a site in Brooklyn, Melbourne, along with other breaches of virus restrictions.

According to the United Workers Union (UWU), the company allegedly placed profits over safety and has put workers' lives at risk during the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak in Victoria.

A spokesperson from the UWU, Susie Allison, says the organisation has "serious concerns" about the company's handling of safety during the pandemic.

The union alleges that JBS asked COVID-19 positive workers to return to the Brooklyn abattoir and tested workers on site without proper safety precautions in place.

"We have had reports of overcrowding in the locker rooms with little regard for social distancing. We have been told about the use of faulty electronic thermometers," says Allison.

"Workers were tested onsite at JBS in Brooklyn. The Union supports worksite testing as a quick and efficient way of ensuring workers have access to testing.

"However, we're concerned about JBS's oversight of this process and management's commitment to safety. We have heard worrying stories of people who have tested positive being asked by the company to return to the site."

The union has also criticised the company for not supporting affected workers with paid pandemic leave, leaving staff in a dire financial situation.

"Workers at JBS have continued to work at a back-breaking pace to keep up with panic buying, even during the worst of the pandemic, and in return, the company needs to ensure all workers are paid during the site closure, which has been brought about through no fault of their own.

"JBS must share profits with workers by paying all workers pandemic leave for the duration of the shutdown."

JBS has been contacted to confirm the UWU's allegations but Business News Australia has not received a statement from the meat processor at the time of writing.

The allegations come as Victoria has reported 300 new cases of COVID-19 today, including six new deaths connected to aged care facilities.

51 of the new cases are connected to known and contained outbreaks and 249 are still under investigation.

The UWU's allegations also follow the New South Wales government announcing it has fined three businesses in the State for breaching COVID-19 restrictions.

NSW says it has completed 1,131 pub inspections and has issued three fines to businesses non-compliant with the rules including the Star Sydney, the Golden Sheaf Hotel and the Auburn Hotel.

There have been seven new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in NSW today.

Updated at 12:08pm AEST on 24 July 2020.

Ruby Princess passengers launch class action over alleged COVID-19 mishandling

Ruby Princess passengers launch class action over alleged COVID-19 mishandling

Law firm Shine Justice (ASX: SHJ) has filed a class action against the operators of the Ruby Princess cruise ship, Carnival Plc and Princess Cruise Lines, over the alleged mishandling of the COVID-19 outbreak on board.

The law firm is seeking compensation through the Federal Court of Australia on behalf of passengers, their families and the estates of those who died.

Shine class actions practice leader Vicky Antzoulatos says it is alleged the defendants broke consumer laws by breaching consumer guarantees and by engaging in misleading and deceptive conduct.

Further, Shine alleges the operators of the Ruby Princess were negligent and failed in their duty of care to provide passengers with a safe cruise.

"We say the owner and operator knew of the risks that passengers may contract coronavirus before the ship left and they failed to take steps to ensure their passengers were safe and protected," says Antzoulatos.

"People on board the ship trusted Carnival to do the right thing but they were not told about the risk of coronavirus and some paid the ultimate price for it.

"More than 20 people have died, many remain gravely ill, while others struggle daily with the grief of having lost a loved one or having to care for a very sick relative."

All 2,700 passengers who travelled on the Ruby Princess, departing from Circular Quay on 8 March and disembarking on 19 March, 2020, are eligible to join the class action, as are relatives who have suffered a psychiatric injury as a result of the events that occurred.

The executors and administrators of deceased passengers' estates are also eligible to participate in the class action.

More than 600 people linked to the cruise ship outbreak were infected with COVID-19, with the situation sparking a Special Commission of Inquiry into the Ruby Princess in mid-April.

Updated at 9:22am AEST on 24 July 2020.

Retail Food Group dairy facility closed after workers test positive for COVID-19

Retail Food Group dairy facility closed after workers test positive for COVID-19

A dairy processing plant in Tullamarine, Melbourne that supports Retail Food Group's (ASX: RFG) operations has been shut down after three workers tested positive for COVID-19.

The Dairy Country facility's entire staff will now be sent to get tested and the premises will only reopen once deep-cleaning has been completed.

"The health and safety of our staff and customers is our priority," says RFG executive chairman Peter George.

"Dairy Country's Tullamarine facility will reopen once it has been deep-cleaned and pending the availability of staff.

"Dairy Country's Campbellfield facility has not been impacted by these events, and continues to operate as normal, subject to the various measures implemented to date in response to the Coronavirus pandemic."

RFG does not expect the closure of the Tullamarine facility to have a material financial or operational impact on the broader company.

Yesterday Ingham's (ASX: ING) was forced to close one of its poultry processing plants in Melbourne after five workers returned positive tests for COVID-19.

Ingham's says it is working with its customers to minimise supply chain disruptions and to ensure that its products will remain available to Australian consumers.

The closures come as Victoria has reported 403 new cases of COVID-19 and five more deaths today.

It brings the total number of active cases in the state to 3,630 and the number of deaths since the beginning of the pandemic to 49.

Of the 403 cases, 69 can be traced to known or contained outbreaks with the rest currently under investigation. In total, there are approximately 2,579 cases still under investigation in Victoria.

The Victorian government also announced today that they will give out an extra $300 to anybody who has taken a test for COVID-19 and is required to isolate at home but does not have access to sick leave.

The new measure is in response to data analysis released yesterday by the Victorian government showing that 53 per cent of people waiting on COVID-19 test results are not following isolation orders.

Cases currently linked to key outbreaks in Victoria are as follows:

  • 182 cases have been linked to Al-Taqwa College
  • 73 cases have been linked to St Basil's Homes for the Aged in Fawkner
  • 67 cases have been linked to Estia Health in Ardeer
  • 55 cases have been linked to Menarock Life Aged care in Essendon
  • 34 cases have been linked to Estia Health in Heidelberg
  • 33 cases have been linked to Arcare Aged Care in Craigieburn
  • 21 cases have been linked to Baptcare Wyndham Lodge in Werribee
  • 20 cases have been linked to Embracia Aged Care Moonee Valley in Avondale Heights
  • 72 cases have been linked to Somerville Retail Services in Tottenham
  • 58 cases have been linked to JBS in Brooklyn
  • 29 cases have been linked to Australian Lamb Company in Colac
  • 21 cases have been linked to Clever Kids Childcare in Ashburton
  • 10 cases have been linked to Bertocchi Smallgoods in Thomastown

In New South Wales 19 new cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed overnight, bringing the total number of cases in NSW to 3,444 since the pandemic began.

Of the 19 cases, three are associated with the Crossroads Hotel cluster, nine associated with the Thai Rock cluster, three under investigation, one is a Western Sydney resident who returned from Victoria, and three are travellers in hotel quarantine.

Victorian economy takes a beating from COVID-19 pandemic

New modelling from the Victorian government demonstrates that the State's economy has been significantly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, after Victoria invested more than $9 billion in fighting the pandemic on the health and financial fronts.

In a statement from the Victorian Treasury the State's Gross State Product (GSP) is forecast to fall by 5.25 per cent this calendar year.

Further, Treasurer Tim Pallas expects GST revenue to be around $8.5 billion lower over the 2019/20 and 2020/21 financial years compared with pre-pandemic forecasts.

Reduced revenue also means the Victorian budget will now likely return an operating deficit of $7.5 billion in 2019/20.

More than 23,000 businesses have had liquor licences and application fees refunded, totalling $22.61 million.

The Victorian unemployment rate climbed to 7.5 per cent in June, and is expected to peak at 9 per cent in the September quarter.

"The global coronavirus recession is one of the biggest economic challenges our state and country has ever faced and we are not immune from its impacts," says Treasurer Pallas.

"We're doing everything we can to support the tens of thousands of businesses, workers and families doing it tough.

"Victoria's economy is robust and will make it through to the other side, but we all need to follow the rules and slow the spread the sooner we can get on top of this virus, the sooner we can repair the economic damage it's caused."

Updated at 11:38am AEST on 23 July 2020.

Ingham's Victorian processing plant closed after employees test positive for COVID-19

Ingham's Victorian processing plant closed after employees test positive for COVID-19

An Ingham's (ASX: ING) processing plant in Melbourne has been shut down after five employees returned positive tests for COVID-19.

The site, which engages in 'further processing' (turning poultry into products like nuggets, burgers, etc.), has been temporarily closed and all other employees have been requested to self-isolate at home.

Ingham's says it is working with its customers to minimise supply chain disruptions and to ensure that its products will remain available to Australian consumers.

The temporary closure of the Thomastown plant is not expected to materially impact the business results of the company considering the further processing facility is one of five in Australia.

"It is imperative that we continue to do everything possible to ensure the health and safety of our people, communities and to assist in controlling the spread of the Coronavirus," says Ingham's CEO and managing director Jim Leighton.

"Ingham's has worked diligently throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to maintain the highest standards of health and safety for our people, whilst maintaining flexibility to ensure we service our customers through this period of uncertainty.

"The closure of Thomastown is a proactive step taken on our part, and we are well prepared to manage through this disruption."

Today, Premier of Victoria Daniel Andrews, announced the state had recorded 484 new cases of COVID-19 the highest daily tally on record since the pandemic began.

The Premier also urged Victorians to self-isolate if symptoms present, and to stay at home after being tested for COVID-19.

Updated at 3:58pm AEST on 22 July 2020.

9 in 10 with symptoms don't self-isolate: Victoria reports 484 new cases

9 in 10 with symptoms don't self-isolate: Victoria reports 484 new cases

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews says cases will continue to go "up and up" if behaviours don't change as the state records a record-breaking 484 new cases of COVID-19 today.

Data analysis has revealed more than one in two people waiting for test results are ignoring isolation orders and going to places like work and the shops.

Additionally, the majority of people displaying symptoms are not self isolating before going out to get a test.

"Nobody should wait for a test at the supermarket, or at their place of work, or anywhere else other than their home," says Andrews.

The Premier has revealed that of the 3,810 cases confirmed since 7 July, nearly 9 in 10, or 3,400 people, did not isolate between when they first felt sick and got tested.

"There's no reason for you to be going to work when you're sick. That's unacceptable," says Andrews,

"If your bank balance is driving you to make bad decisions, we'll make sure that $1,500 is there," he says referring those in financial distress to call 1800 675 398 to receive an emergency Worker Support Payment.

According to the Premier 53 per cent of people waiting on COVID-19 test results are not following isolation orders, which is definitely contributing to the rising numbers.

"It's not about blame, it's not about criticism, it's about confronting the problem, and if you're not prepared to confront that problem then you've got very little chance of fixing it," says Andrews.

"The only thing you can and must do when you feel sick is to go and get tested. Nothing else is acceptable."

Andrews' plea follows the publication of research commissioned by cleaning services company Cleancorp earlier this week, showing that approximately 70 per cent of Australians would still go to work with cold or flu symptoms.

"There is a large proportion of these people who are making those choices because in their judgement, they'll look at their bank balance, they'll look at the fact that if they don't work the shift they won't get paid for the shift, they don't have sick leave," says Andrews.

"This is a commentary on insecure work. It is a commentary on this as a feature of the Victorian economy and our national economy.

"That debate though can wait. We can have that debate, it's a very important debate to have, but we can have that debate another time."

According to Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton the effective reproduction rate has come down from 1.5 to something more like 1.2, but he is still expecting daily case numbers to rise to somewhere between 500 and 600.

"Other models show that it might be even lower. My suspicion is it's still above 1, and we can't necessarily expect numbers to go down. I think that will be an even greater challenge in days ahead. That means that we're going to look at 500, 600 cases per day," says Sutton.

"We're all a bit immune to the numbers. If we had a number close to 500 in March or April, we would have been sitting in our bedrooms and not leaving the house. But some of the challenges in this phase as well relate to the complex environments where cases are occurring that issue of insecure work."

Sutton says getting tested early on and isolating as soon as symptoms arise is key to slowing the spread of the virus.

"You're actually most infectious in the first couple of days of your illness, so the very beginning of that runny nose or sore throat or cough or low-grade fever is when you're most infectious," says Sutton.

"Getting tested early on and isolating right at the beginning is a really key action, and I think they're things that are not being done so well through this wave."

Of the 484 new cases, 97 are connected to known and contained outbreaks, and 387 are under investigation.

There were two more deaths overnight, bringing the total death tally since the pandemic began to 44.

Of the 3,408 total active cases, 3,305 are based in metropolitan Melbourne or Mitchell Shire and 103 are in regional Victoria including eight new regional confirmed cases today.

It comes as New South Wales records 16 new cases of COVID-19 today, and Queensland confirms one new case of the coronavirus.

Globally there are now more than 15 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, and more than 600,000 deaths.

Updated at 12:53pm AEST on 22 July 2020.

16 new COVID-19 cases in NSW, Thai Rock cluster grows to 37

16 new COVID-19 cases in NSW, Thai Rock cluster grows to 37

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian says businesses should act like they expect the next customer who walks through their doors could have the virus.

The COVID-19 cluster linked to the Thai Rock restaurant in Sydney continues to grow with New South Wales reporting 16 new cases of the coronavirus today.

Of the new cases, 11 can be traced back to Thai Rock, three to the Crossroads Hotel, one to a previously known case, and finally a returning traveller in hotel quarantine.

There are now 91 cases of COVID-19 being treated by NSW Health, with two patients in intensive care.

The Thai Rock restaurant cluster has now reached 37, while there are now 54 connected to the Crossroads Hotel.

There were no new cases reported today connected to the Batemans Bay outbreak, with the total confirmed from the Soldiers Club stable at eight.

Yesterday Hunter New England Health (HNEH) confirmed a man in Port Stephens had tested positive to COVID-19. 

The source of the man's infection was a visitor from Sydney, with HNEH asking any symptomatic visitors to a pub called the Windsor Castle Hotel and the Salamander Shopping Centre to isolate and seek testing.

When asked about the new restrictions imposed on venues in NSW, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the state government has given businesses ample time to prepare.

"Against my better judgment we gave businesses a whole week to gear up for this, and it's not very onerous," Berejiklian said.

"All of us have had to make adjustments in our life, this allows us to continue hiring staff, to continue operating, which is what we want. But at the same time, we need everybody to respect that the health advice is, to keep to the COVID-safe plans, and we know in theory what works.

"That balance can only be met if everybody does the right thing, including individuals and including businesses. And my expectation is that if you don't do the right thing from Friday you'll be found out, you'll be fined, and if you breach again you will be shut down."

Berejiklian has also urged all New South Wales citizens and businesses to not be complacent with the virus still active in the state.

"The best way we can we can live with this pandemic is for people not to cut corners, not to turn a blind eye, not to pretend they're immune, but really to expect that the next customer that walks into their premises could have the virus," Berejiklian said.

NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant has asked for those in areas where there is community transmission to be on high alert and get tested if symptomatic.

"We're asking the community to work with us; this is a critical point. We're concerned that we've had potentially introductions into multiple settings - that's pleasing to see with the detected cases in Batemans Bay and I was actually pleased that we picked up that case in the Hunter area," Chant said.

"And it was interesting that for a few hours we didn't actually know...we went 'Oh my God, there's been another case!' and that person was linked back to the Thai Rock cluster.

"I just think this highlights how rapidly the virus can move. And so what we're suggesting over this next period of time is can everyone reflect on their travel arrangements, their non-essential travel? Can we just leave it - non-essential travel - for the next two weeks?"

Elsewhere there is speculation Victoria will record another 484 new cases today, while Queensland has reported one new case - a returning ADF officer who is in quarantine. This means there are now just three active cases in the Sunshine State, with 7,800 tests undertaken in the past 24 hours. 

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk emphasised she was concerned that NSW was on heightened alert over COVID-19.

"That means I'm on heightened alert," she said.

"There is nothing more important to me than the safety of Queenslanders and the wellbeing of Queenslanders...I am monitoring the situation every day constantly."

Updated at 11:12am AEST on 22 July 2020.

AMA calls for national consistency on mask wearing and stronger state borders

AMA calls for national consistency on mask wearing and stronger state borders

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has called on the National Cabinet to meet, discuss and adopt a nationwide position on mask wearing and the strengthening of state borders to slow the spread of COVID-19.

In a statement AMA President Dr Tony Bartone says the adoption of mask wearing in areas of community transmission is essential, but the National Cabinet should adopt a consistent national approach to the use of masks.

It comes as the wearing of face coverings will be made mandatory in metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire from 11:59pm tonight, with those caught flouting the rules to be hit with a $200 fine.

The AMA has asked the Prime Minister and the National Cabinet to commit to a unified national approach to mask wearing and a number of other proposals including:

  • Releasing community transmission modelling to inform the community about virus spread patterns;
  • Developing a national network of contact tracing to allow targeting of resources to areas of high need during community transmission outbreaks;
  • And zero health worker deaths.

"Masks add another layer of protection to the other significant measures of physical distancing, hand hygiene, and cough etiquette," says Dr Bartone.

"The Victorian and NSW Governments are to be commended for encouraging mask use, but a consistent National Cabinet-backed approach is now needed should outbreaks occur elsewhere.

"Every Australian in current areas of community transmission must make mask use part of their daily routines."

Dr Bartone says there is already strong evidence that international and domestic border closures have been successful in curbing the spread of COVID-19, but strengthening of state borders is still required.

"Border closure works. If existing border closures were relaxed, it would create a risk of the virus returning.

"We may need to accept that continued border closures will be needed for months ahead. The international border must remain closed, and State and Territory borders also need to be managed.

"There are also very practical issues to resolve for border communities. The Albury-Wodonga and Coolangatta-Tweed Heads communities should not be disadvantaged."

Further, Dr Bartone says he is concerned that Australians are complacent and are not following public health directions with regard to social distancing.

"Physical distancing is not always being followed in many areas," Dr Bartone said.

"The uptake of mask use will need community education and nationwide product supply, and misinformation must be challenged and corrected.

"It is time for the National Cabinet to reassert its leadership with strong and decisive policies and messaging on mask use, border management, mobilising national contact tracing resources, and commitment to zero health worker deaths," Dr Bartone said.

Updated at 10:13am AEST on 22 July 2020.

JobKeeper 2.0 details revealed, extended by six months

JobKeeper 2.0 details revealed, extended by six months

The Federal Government has today affirmed it will maintain current JobKeeper arrangements until the end of September, before introducing JobKeeper 2.0 with staged reductions until 31 March 2021.

The new two-tiered payment support scheme is expected to lift the total cost of the initiative by $16 billion.

From October, businesses that continue to meet the revenue reduction requirements will be entitled to $1,200 per fortnight for employees who were working 20 hours or more weekly prior to the outbreak, followed by a reduction to $1,000 starting in 2021.

For employees who worked less than 20 hours per week in the pre-COVID environment, their supports will drop to $750 per fortnight as of October and $650 from the start of next year.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison (pictured) told a press conference this morning more than $30 billion had been provided through the JobKeeper program to around 960,000 businesses and 3.5 million employees. The total cost of the adjusted program has been tabled at $86 billion. 

"It has been effective in stemming the loss of business closures and job losses," he said.

"It has saved businesses and it has saved livelihoods. That is the feedback I've been getting direct as I've spoken Australians - employees, employers - all around the country. It has been the game changer for them.

"Their businesses would not be here, their jobs would not be here were it not for the intervention and the way it was undertaken so quickly and so effectively."

While JobKeeper has drawn some criticism for giving many casual workers higher incomes than before the pandemic, the PM emphasised a conscious decision was made to have a flat rate payment to avoid "crushing" Centrelink while recognising many people worked two or three jobs.

"The report [Treasury's JobKeeper review] points out some 39 per cent loss of income from other jobs, and JobKeeper was designed to only be provided through one employer, so you couldn't go and get it from all your other employers if you had multiple jobs," the PM said.

"This also had important aggregate demand impact of ensuring that we were channeling those payments at a flat rate right across the labour force.

"A key part of the design was to ensure that we leveraged private payrolls to ensure that we did not crush the Centrelink system."

To help buffer the blow from the phased reduction of JobKeeper, the government will increase income-free area that is available to those on JobSeeker unemployment benefits to $300. 

"Where you may have been getting $550 before, you can earn $300 and and then there's the $250 supplement that will come through the COVID- supplement and that will run out till the end of this year," he said, later clarifying a review will be undertaken and there will likely be a need to continue those supplements next year.

"We will be reintroducing mutual obligation in two phases - from the 4th of August we will be requiring people to connect again to employment services and to undertake four job searches a month, and the penalties regime will kick in if people refuse a job that has been provided and offered through that process.

For the second phase of mutual obligation requirements at the end of September there will be a higher rate of job search, and the assets test will be reintroduced for eligibility.

These measures come at a time when the headline unemployment rate has reached 7.4 per cent, but the effective unemployment rate stands at 11.3 per cent. 

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said around 30 per cent of the pre-COVID private sector workforce was on JobKeeper, and Treasury's review found it had met its three primary objectives: to save jobs and businesses; to maintain a formal connection between employers and employees; and to provide income support.

"It cited ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) data that 44 per cent of businesses on JobKeeper said that JobKeeper influenced their decision to keep their staff on," he said.

The Treasurer added revenue reduction tests would remain the same although reapplied at 30 per cent for most businesses, 50 per cent for businesses with turnover of $1 billion or more, and 15 per cent for charities.

"Treasury expects that the number of JobKeeper recipients will reduce substantially, with around 1.4 million people remaining eligible in the December quarter 2020, and one million in the March quarter 2021.

"We know that the economic pain caused by COVID will end, and that many businesses now struggling will be viable once again. This is why we're extending the payment to buy time to get businesses and their employees to the other side."

This sentiment was shared by the Prime Minister, who said the government looked forward to a time when businesses would not need JobKeeper.

"When JobKeeper is not necessary that'll be a good day for Australia, because that will mean our economy is getting back to a much higher level of performance, and businesses are able to support their employees," the PM said.

"Australia is a country that just doesn't look to survive these things. We don't go through challenges with our heads looking down, overwhelmed by the circumstances - that is not who we are.

"Who we are is an innovative, adaptive people, supporting each other, reaching out to each other, drawing us all through not for survival but to be on the other side in a position where we can emerge strong."

Updated at 11:56am AEST on 21 July 2020.

Majority of Australians would present at work with cold and flu symptoms

Majority of Australians would present at work with cold and flu symptoms

Approximately 70 per cent of Australians would go to work with cold or flu symptoms, despite extensive public health communication telling people to stay home if sick.

These findings, from an independent survey commissioned by cleaning services company Cleancorp, raise alarm bells for employers as many Australians head back to the office once COVID-19 restrictions ease in some states and territories.

More than half (54 per cent) of Aussies would present to work with a headache, and 38 per cent would head into the office with early signs of COVID-19 infection including symptoms like a stuffy/runny nose, sore throat, or fatigue.

Around 58 per cent of respondents say they would head into the office with these symptoms because they do not believe them to be serious enough to take time off work.

However, 42 per cent say it's because they have too much work to do to justify taking time off, and 29 per cent said they believe their employer would not regard the symptoms as serious enough.

"Now that we are facing the genuine threat of a virus 'double whammy' COVID-19 and the flu it is more important than ever not to go to work when feeling unwell," says co-founder and director of Cleancorp Lisa Macqueen.

"Our findings reveal that many employees come to work when sick because of feelings of guilt or a fear of being judged by their bosses.

"However, now that we're in a pandemic, going to work sick because you feel obliged to is no longer acceptable."

Under-30s would be more likely to present to work with cold or flu symptoms with the survey showing 47 per cent would do so with a sore or tingly throat, 46 per cent with a runny or stuffy nose, 40 per cent with a cough, 27 per with a stomach ache, and 18 per cent with nausea all higher proportions than the total respondent average.

Cleancorp says the survey results highlight an issue with casual and contract workers, who do not receive payment for sick or annual leave.

21 per cent of casual/contract worker survey respondents said they would present to work with cold or flu symptoms because they could not afford to not get paid. Cleancorp says this means around 546,000 casual workers in Australia would still present to work with symptoms.

"As a significant proportion of employees re-enter their workplaces either partially or fully organisations must do everything they can to minimise the risks of viruses spreading among their employees, customers, and visitors," says Macqueen.

"Employers need to understand that shared desks, meeting rooms, and breakout spaces may no longer be safe to use and occupy, and those old spray-and-wipe principles will also be inadequate for keeping surfaces virus-free."

"While it is encouraging to see that many of our clients are asking for heavy-duty anti-viral cleans, we need to see a strong shift towards a 'stay at home if you're unwell' mentality to contain the coronavirus successfully."

Updated at 10:10am AEST on 21 July 2020.

JobKeeper lifeline will remain open for business

JobKeeper lifeline will remain open for business

Since JobKeeper was announced on March 30 it has provided a massive economic and psychological boost to the nation.

At a cost of $70 billion it is supporting 960,000 businesses and 3.5 million workers, or about 30 per cent of the pre-COVID private sector workforce. It is the single largest fiscal measure in Australia's history.

It was legislated for six months, and Treasury has now completed a review at the midway point of the program.

The review concludes JobKeeper is a ''proven delivery mechanism to deliver widespread support at scale", and that it has met its objectives to save businesses and jobs, maintain the formal connection between employer and employee, and provide necessary income support.

With the labour market remaining weak, Treasury suggests there is a ''strong case" for continuing the program with some modifications. This is what the government will do.

The report details how the COVID-19 crisis is expected to see employment levels decline by 5 per cent between the March and September quarters, which is a faster and higher rate than that experienced in the recessions of the 1980s and 1990s.

Between February and May, more than 2 million people went from employment to either being out of work or working fewerand in some cases zero hours. In this deteriorating economic environment, JobKeeper's flat fortnightly $1500 payment has been a lifeline for many.

In the words of one small construction business, ''JobKeeper ensured we stayed breathing", while a business in the food services sector says ''JobKeeper is the only reason we are open today".

Using a range of data, including singletouch payroll information collected by the Australian Taxation Office and highfrequency Australian Bureau of Statistics surveys conducted during COVID-19, Treasury found businesses receiving the payment had on average a decline in turnover in April of 37 per cent compared with the same month last year.

Job separations between employers and employees in these businesses had doubled as restrictions were implemented in the period prior to JobKeeper. Following the introduction of JobKeeper, payroll jobs started to stabilise after an 8.1 per cent fall over the four weeks to mid-April.

The sectors with the largest number of JobKeeper recipients were professional services, construction, and healthcare and social assistance. Women, who make up 44.9 per cent of private sector employees, comprised 47.1 per cent of JobKeeper recipients.

Sole traders represented 40 per cent of the organisations receiving the payment but only 12 per cent of individual recipients.

The program was demand driven and, while some eligible businesses chose not to apply, only one in 10 of these businesses cited complexity and insufficient cash flow as the reason for not doing so.

ABS data found 44 per cent of businesses surveyed said JobKeeper, consistent with its core objective, influenced their decision to keep on staff, even if hours were reduced.

The flat $1500 fortnightly payment was a conscious decision, as it enabled the money to be distributed quickly using existing systems. However, one of the consequences of the flat payment equivalent to the minimum wage was that some people were receiving more under JobKeeper than they did pre-COVID-19. The Treasury review finds that about a quarter of JobKeeper recipients saw their income increase by an average of about $550. This is the same amount as the additional coronavirus supplement paid to JobSeeker recipients.

While the income increase of $550 is significant, it's important to acknowledge that this is calculated on the basis of the income a person was receiving from their JobKeeper employer and does not take into account any income they may have lost through losing a second job.

The review found secondary jobs comprised 39 per cent of all jobs lost since March, and a number of those receiving JobKeeper, particularly part-timers or longterm casuals, may have had second jobs.

The government is introducing a second-tier payment as part of JobKeeper 2.0 to better reflect the pre-COVID-19 incomes of recipients.

In recommending that JobKeeper be continued, Treasury said it should remain a time-limited program, as it can create disincentives that become more acute as the economy opens up.

While JobKeeper does not inhibit an employer from making an employee redundant, it could restrict labour mobility and people switching jobs. As the payment does not move with the staff member, it can discourage employees from moving to another firm that is doing better.

Under the JobKeeper extension to March 2021, only businesses whose turnover remains below the threshold will be eligible for continued support. This will ensure it remains targeted to those who need it most.

While not all these businesses will necessarily make it to the other side, by tapering the payment and extending the JobKeeper program, we give them the best chance of remaining viable.

JobKeeper has been an enormously successful program. It has helped keep people in jobs and businesses in business. Given the scale and size of the economic shock hitting the Australian economy, the JobKeeper program will be continued, providing critical support for those who need it most.

Josh Frydenberg is the federal Treasurer.

NSW border restrictions to tighten with Victoria

NSW border restrictions to tighten with Victoria

The NSW Government will make it even harder for people travelling from Victoria to enter the state as of midnight, while Premier Gladys Berejiklian (pictured) urges the public to wear masks when social distancing isn't possible.

The state government has established a strict new border zone, tightened permit conditions and stronger enforcement powers.

With permits, NSW border residents will be restricted in their reasons for travelling into the Victorian side of the border zone, and if they venture further into the neighbouring state they will need to self-isolate for a fortnight upon their return.

Any other NSW resident who crosses the Murray River, or otherwise enters Victoria or has been there in the last 14 days, will be required to self-isolate for 14 days on their return to NSW.

"From midnight Tuesday 21 July, border zone residents with a permit will only be able to cross into the other side of the NSW-Victorian border zone to go to work or attend an education institution if they can't work or learn from home, or to obtain medical care, supplies or health services," NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said.

"On top of that, we're strengthening the rules so the fewer people granted permits to enter NSW must now carry a copy of their permit and produce it when directed by enforcement officers."

NSW reported 20 new COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, all linked to known cases: eight to the Thai Rock restaurant cluster, four to the newly emerging Batemans Bay Soldiers Club cluster, three to the Crossroads Hotel, four from overseas and one from Victoria.

"There's currently 96 people being treated by New South Wales Health and two are in intensive care - one is requiring a ventilator," NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said.

"I'd also like to highlight that one of those cases in intensive care is actually a person in their 30s...often we tend to say this disease affects the elderly, and it does on average, but there still will be young people that are impacted."

Victoria has also reported 275 new cases in the past 24 hours, following a rollercoaster weekend after the state's record daily numbers of 428 on Friday. There are now 2,913 active cases in Victoria, and there have been 39 deaths to date.

NSW Premier Berejiklian urged people to follow the health advice and avoid crowded places. 

"We have an opportunity to isolate the cases that we have; to clamp down and to make sure we reduce the incidence of the virus spreading. We have that chance in New South Wales. Unfortunately other places don't have that opportunity," she said.

"As the advice has been provided in NSW, is if you cannot guarantee social distancing where you're going, if you cannot guarantee that people will around you respect that social distancing, you must consider wearing a mask."

For doctors and nurses on the frontline, sources close to Business News Australia have reported incidences of health departments in NSW not allowing staff to get their personal protective equipment (PPE) masks properly fitted - as is supposed to be the standard procedure - to protect against the virus.

Some who purchase their own PPE have also been told not to wear it at work, potentially putting health staff at further risk. 

Updated at 12:00pm AEST on 20 July 2020.

National SME loan scheme extended for business recovery

National SME loan scheme extended for business recovery

A Federal Government SME loan scheme will be extended, giving Australian businesses access to more funding during the COVID-19 recovery phase.

Under the existing 'Coronavirus SME Guarantee Scheme' the Government has been partnering with 44 approved lenders to guarantee 50 per cent of new unsecured loans to SMEs.

The next phase of the scheme is intended to assist business to move out of hibernation and adapt to the new economic reality.

Key changes to the SME Guarantee Scheme include:

  • Extending the purpose of loans able to be provided beyond working capital, such that a wider range of investment can be funded;
  • Permitting secured lending (excluding commercial or residential property);
  • Increasing the maximum loan size to $1 million (from $250,000) per borrower;
  • Increasing the maximum loan term to five years (from three years); and
  • Allowing lenders the discretion to offer a repayment holiday period.

The initial phase of the Scheme remains available for new loans issued by eligible lenders until 30 September 2020. The second phase will start on 1 October 2020 and will be available until 30 June 2021.

"The extended terms of the Scheme will enable lenders to continue supporting Australian small businesses when they need it most," says the Federal Government.

"The expanded Scheme will shift from providing access to working capital to helping businesses stay afloat during the crisis to now also enabling them to access more affordable and longer term credit so that they can invest for their future."

Up to $70 billion in income support on its way

Over the weekend, Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg (pictured) promised to spend $70 billion to extend JobKeeper payments ahead of a review of the program to be delivered later this week.

In an interview with The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald Frydenberg said the new funding will ensure Government support will be forthcoming as infections of COVID-19 continue to impact the economy.

"There's a lot of uncertainty in the economic environment and the Victorian situation is a significant setback," Frydenberg told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

"It's diminished confidence beyond the Victorian border and the recovery is a confidence game."

Speaking to Sky News on Sunday Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said further support will be delivered to employers that have been particularly impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

It is expected that the government will adjust eligibility criteria for JobKeeper, with companies with up to $1 billion in turnover eligible if they suffered a 30 per cent fall in business, and companies with more than $1 billion eligible if they suffered a 50 per cent fall.

"As we get to the end of the six months, towards the end of September, it is going to be important to reassess which businesses still should be receiving this support," Senator Cormann said to Sky News.

The extension of these support programs for Australian businesses comes as Australia's unemployment rate hit its highest levels in more than two decades in June at 7.4 per cent.

Close to a quarter of a million people entered part-time employment in June, according to the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

The number of people employed in full-time jobs decreased by 38,100, but on the balance there was a rise of 210,800 in employment overall.

The underemployment rate decreased by 1.4 percentage points to 11.7 per cent, but remained 2.9 percentage points above March.

Updated at 9:40am AEST on 20 July 2020.

Masks to be mandatory in Melbourne, COVID-19 outbreak in Batemans Bay

Masks to be mandatory in Melbourne, COVID-19 outbreak in Batemans Bay

The ongoing COVID-19 crisis in greater metropolitan Melbourne has forced Premier Daniel Andrews to impose the mandatory wearing of masks.

From 11.59pm on Wednesday 22 July, citizens of metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire must wear a face covering when leaving the home.

Those caught flouting the rule will be hit with a $200 fine.

The latest restriction comes as Victoria reported 363 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 yesterday and 217 on Saturday.

The 580 new cases over the weekend came off the back of Victoria's worst day of new COVID-19 cases on Friday 17 July when the state recorded 428 new cases.

Elsewhere in Australia there were 18 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New South Wales on Sunday and 15 on Saturday.

A club in Batemans Bay on NSW's South Coast has been linked to at least eight cases of COVID-19 leading to the closure of the Batemans Bay Soldiers Club.

All those who worked at or visited the Batemans Bay Soldiers Club on the 13, 15, 16 and 17 June have been directed to immediately get tested for COVID-19 and self-isolate.

The health direction for the Soldiers Club joins a number of other business in NSW that have been impacted by confirmed cases of COVID-19 including Plus Fitness in Campbelltown, Crossroads Hotel in Casula, Planet Fitness in Casula, Picton Hotel in Picton, and Thai Rock Restaurant in Wetherill Park.

Next Federal Parliament sitting cancelled

The next fortnightly sitting of Federal Parliament will not go ahead due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and community transmission in Victoria and regional New South Wales.

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said the next sitting of Federal Parliament, initially planned to go ahead over the first two weeks of August, posed an unnecessary risk to parliamentarians.

"The entry of a high-risk group of individuals could jeopardise the health situation in the ACT and place residents at unnecessary risk of infection," said Kelly.

Parliament is now due to return on 24 August.

Updated at 10:18am AEST on 20 July 2020.

Local film association questions preferential treatment for foreign studios

Local film association questions preferential treatment for foreign studios

Screen Producers Australia (SPA) has today welcomed the Federal Government's $400 million injection to attract film production from overseas, but has called for clarity on local content quota removals which could force more than 10,000 people out of work.

The association has sounded a note of caution, urging a balance in support is needed for imported productions with assistance for the making of Australian stories told by Australian voices. 

SPA, led by CEO Matthew Deaner (pictured), said the local sector had been hit hard by the coronavirus and the effects of certain government decisions.

"Significant gains in employment, investment and creative output could also be achieved through an extension of the tax incentive for domestic television content, the Producer Offset, which should be increased from 20 per cent to 40 per cent," the association said.

"This would also address the anomaly whereby international productions are able to access higher levels of support than local productions, which create local IP, employ local creatives and create great Australian cultural content."

But SPA claims the biggest threat facing the local industry is the effective suspension of the drama, documentary and children's content quota requirements that apply to commercial free-to-air television, and the drama requirements that apply to subscription television.

"Whilst the Government's announcement of support for international productions is forecast to deliver 8000 roles for Australians, if it's not made immediately clear to all market participants that the television quotas will apply in 2021, 10000-15000 full time equivalent jobs will be lost next year creating a massive problem for our sector," the association said.

"Whilst the decision not to enforce the quotas in 2020 was ostensibly to do with COVID-19 related interruptions to supply, as the Government's investment of $400 million demonstrates, our industry is innovative and adaptive and is already back at work.

"However, the lack of certainty regarding the application of the quotas in 2021 is heavily distorting the market, and throwing doubt over projects which were well developed and ready to be greenlit."

The association explained with the the finalisation of COVID Safe working guidelines and the announcement of a $50 million fund to get productions going again, there was no justification for further blanket suspensions and the "ongoing lack of clarity is affecting shovel-ready projects".

"We urgently need the Government to release the demand hand-brake imposed by the uncertainty regarding 2021 quotas," SPA said.

"Given the lead times for production, the market needs a signal regarding 2021 quotas immediately, to allow for delivery in 2021.

"A failure to make a decision in the coming weeks will effectively result in an inability to supply, despite the industry's readiness and capacity to deliver the content broadcasters need to meet their quota requirements."

Updated at 3:47pm AEST on 17 July 2020.





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