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Queensland to reopen to New South Wales from 1 November, new roadmap revealed
Queenslanders will be able to enjoy a drink standing up from 4pm today and celebrate the news that the state's border to New South Wales may open from November as part of a new restriction easing roadmap.
Announced this morning, the roadmap will see the state's border to all of NSW open from 1am on 1 November 2020, on the condition that no unlinked community transmission of COVID-19 is detected in NSW for 28 days prior.
"Our Chief Health Officer and public health team will analyse intrastate, interstate and international data before any decision to move to the next stage," said Queensland Deputy Premier Steven Miles.
"We have proved that our methods work to protect Queenslanders from COVID-19 and, if the health advice changes at any stage, we can act quickly to increase measures to keep Queenslanders safe and save lives.
"But right now, case numbers are low, we can contain potential outbreaks - our quarantine and contact tracing procedures work, and we have not had a COVID-19 fatality in almost six months."
'Stage 4' of QLD's new easing roadmap commenced on 1 October, adding local government areas in Northern NSW to the state's border zone.
However, from 4pm today, standing eating and drinking will be permitted at indoor and outdoor venues with a COVID Safe Plan.
NEW ROADMAP: Today we're releasing a new roadmap to easing restrictions for October, November and December pic.twitter.com/JkeHmXyDdu
"Queenslanders deserve the credit for this," said Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk (pictured).
"And from 4pm today, Queenslanders will be able to celebrate this achievement by getting a drink or a meal out without having to be seated.
"We have always said that we would continue to ease restrictions where we could in a staged and balanced way to keep Queenslanders safe and this plan does just that."
In addition to the potential border reopening, from 1am on 1 November public gatherings will be allowed to increase to 40 people, and up to 40 people will be allowed to dance at weddings with COVID Safe plans implemented.
Stage 6, anticipated from 1am on 1 December, will see public gatherings increase to 50 people, increased attendances at outdoor events and no restrictions on people dancing at weddings.
The Queensland border will remain closed to Victoria until community transmission is under control.
If community transmission of COVID-19 is detected in QLD the state says it will reintroduce restrictions, including reducing gathering limits back down to 10 people in homes and public spaces, while further restrictions on aged care, disability accommodation, hospitals and corrections facilities will come back.
"We've had to make hard decisions, but it is because of these decisions and the hard work of Queenslanders that we are in the position to continue easing restrictions," said Palaszczuk.
"It's because of our strong health response to the COVID-19 pandemic that we can get on with Queensland's economic recovery plan."
The news comes as QLD records two new cases of COVID-19 today, both in hotel quarantine.
Updated at 10.33am AEST on 2 October 2020.
Flight Centre to close 90 stores as pandemic impacts thrash travel industry
90 Flight Centre (ASX: FLT) stores will close as part of the company's plans to work within the decimated travel sector.
Flight Centre general manager Kelly Spencer said the closures will not impact the company's refund programs or customer holiday plans in the works.
"We are sad to see these doors close as we know some of our amazing travel experts made your travel dreams a reality in these stores," said Spencer.
"Please know that all of us at Flight Centre thank you and will continue to support you, and all Australians, with their travel needs for another 40 years because the minute those borders open, we know that you, our customers, will be raring to go!"
The company's remaining 332 stores will stay open, all of which are located within five kilometres of 97 per cent of the company's customers.
In late August the company announced the impacts of COVID-19 resulted in a $849 million statutory loss before tax, down significantly from a $343.5 million profit in FY19.
Prior to border restrictions being implemented the company had achieved a $150 million underlying profit for the eight months to February 29, 2020, plus record total transaction value.
To reduce group expenditure about 70 per cent of FLT's workforce was stood down or made redundant.
Senior executives and board members saw 50 per cent pay reductions in the fourth quarter of FY20, plus ongoing reductions through FY21.
"We were forced to make some very tough decisions as this crisis unfolded, but we were very fortunate to be able to draw on our strong balance sheet," said FLT managing director Graham Turner.
"COVID-19 and, specifically, government responses to it have created the most challenging trading environment that we have experienced in our almost 40 years in business.
"This extraordinary trading environment has already had a devastating impact on businesses and on people, particularly those in aviation, travel, tourism and hospitality sectors, with tens of thousands of jobs lost in Australia alone and many businesses struggling to survive."
Shares in Flight Centre are up 2.69 per cent to $14.14 per share at 3.59pm AEST.
Updated at 4.43pm AEST on 1 October 2020.
You can dance if you want to: SA to ease COVID-19 restrictions on Saturday
South Australia is set to ease COVID-19 restrictions further from midnight tomorrow on pubs, clubs, venues, and private functions like weddings.
The changes will allow the standing consumption of food and drink outdoors at licenced venues.
In addition, private functions with a maximum of 150 guests may have indoor/outdoor standing consumption of food/drink, and dancing will be allowed.
The easing of restrictions comes with the caveat that contract tracing records are kept for private events, and a COVID Marshal must be present at venues.
"This is going to be a big relief to many licensed premises who have not been able to have those functions on their premises," said South Australia Premier Steven Marshall.
"It's going to be a big relief to event organisers."
Updated at 3.18pm AEST on 1 October 2020.
Australia Post's call for 4000 additional staff as services stretched to the limit
Australia Post, stretched to the limit during the pandemic, has launched a major recruitment drive for 4000 additional staff ahead of an expected red-hot festive season.
The hiring spree, backed by record parcel volumes due to the ongoing impact of COVID-19, has been labelled by the postal service as the biggest call for staff in its 210-year history.
Most of the positions, or almost 2900, will be Christmas casuals for transport and delivery services nationally.
A further 300 will be offered fixed-term full-time and part-time positions in customer contact centres in Brisbane and regional Queensland as well as regional areas of South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria.
Australia Post also plans to hire an additional 900 people to fill roles across the post office network to bolster customer services.
In August, there were signs that the postal service was under pressure as it reported high demand and delayed parcel deliveries, especially in Victoria where online shopping was booming.
"A lot has been expected of our people this year and I'm so proud of the way our team has adapted and dealt with the challenges they've faced to keep delivering for Australia across our entire network," says Sue Davies, Australia Post's executive general manager of people and culture.
"In managing all the necessary COVID-safe requirements, including a reduced workforce in our Melbourne facilities during the recent Stage 4 restrictions, our people have gone over and above to provide critical services for businesses and their customers and delivered for over 8.1 million households who have shopped online between March and August alone.
"This is a record-breaking recruitment drive for what we expect to be a Christmas unlike any we've had before in Australia Post's history.
"In a year that has been incredibly challenging and impacted people in many ways, we are delighted to be inviting people to join us this Christmas as we deliver across the country."
The appetite for jobs at Australia Post has never been stronger. Last year the postal service received more than 23,000 applications for Christmas casual positions.
Earlier this year, it received more than 50,000 applications for 1000 casual roles advertised in the wake of increased business activity during the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown.
Updated at 12:47pm AEST on 1 October 2020.
Why Corporate Travel Management bought a loss-making business in the middle of a pandemic
It took a seven-year courtship for Corporate Travel Management (ASX: CTD) to seal the deal on its acquisition of US-based Travel & Transport (T&T), as shareholders dig deep into their pockets to bet on US market revival.
As noted in yesterday's announcement of the $275 million takeover deal, T&T has been losing money every month but Corporate Travel Management (CTM) CEO and founder Jamie Pherous is bullish on its long-term prospects.
"We've always thought that they were the best business that we know of in North America. We've been talking to them for many years and they've always said politely, "thank you, but no thank you"," Pherous tells Business News Australia.
The tone of conversations changed with the onset of COVID-19. Pherous clarifies T&T didn't need to be sold but it would have needed to look for debt.
"The businesses would have never sold otherwise," says Pherous.
"The reality is businesses like T&T would have always commanded 11-12x EBITDA in the good times. We've got a strong view that travel is going to come back, and we've got a strong view that we want to be overweight North America because that's the global feeder market for corporate travel."
The management teams of both companies discussed the pros and cons of linking up, and reached the consensus CTM's technology would benefit T&T's North American clientele while the Brisbane-based company would benefit from the expanded geography and market niche.
"We also agreed the timing right now was really good because it is quiet. You can get a lot of integration done very swiftly when connectivity's down, and that might be a very small window," says Pherous.
The CTM executive is also very optimistic about what T&T's hotel program Radius will bring to the business, in terms of the four and five-star hotel options it will provide to existing customers, as well as new revenue streams.
"What we also love about it is the other great agents that are part of that buying group. That means we have the opportunity to put some of our really great hotels in the Asia-Pacific into that program, and also push that program back through our booking tool in the content.
"From the point of view of a hotel program, it pushes us three years forward of where we were going to be, which is exactly where we want to be."
He says the combined companies on an FY19 basis would have total transaction value (TTV) approaching $11 billion, and an EBITDA with expected synergies at more than $216 million.
"We've got a real chance to do what we wanted to do, which is be a business over $10 billion making a quarter of a billion. This acquisition gives us the opportunity to achieve that goal," he says.
Incentivising US leaders for growth
Another critical element of the deal is the retention of key personnel at T&T by giving the company's executives $4.5 million in CTD shares, which forms part of the $275 million consideration.
"T&T was an employee-owned company so no one person had a very large shareholding. In fact, the largest shareholding of anyone out of the 200 is roughly $5 million, so what that means is no one's got what you'd call retirement money," says Pherous.
"What was very important in this deal is that we have the people we want to take stock in this business, which they have, because they see the same benefit as we do - when things come back and we execute, clearly the company is going to have a hell of a lot more value than it does today," he says.
"Secondly, we work really hard with Kevin [O'Malley, T&T CEO] who will become the CEO of North America for us on long-term incentives and other mechanisms at CTM that have been very successful for us.
CTM announced this morning it had successfully raised $262 million under the institutional offer, with a further $113 million expected to be raised in the retail offering starting on 6 October.
Pherous explains he is not personally participating in the capital raising only because he "can't afford to".
"I think I'm one of the lowest paid leaders in the ASX, which I think the shareholders like," says Pherous, who earned $436,010 in FY20, representing a drop of 32 per cent year-on-year.
"I get all of my revenue from CTD primarily out of dividends and stock appreciation.
"I've got over 21.5 million shares, so clearly for me this is such a good deal that I'm very confident the stock price will appreciate because of this deal, and for me that's a lot more material."
At the time of writing he isn't wrong. Despite the capital raising offering a 16 per cent discount on the last trade at $16.16 on 25 September, this morning the share price has surged 11.26 per cent to $17.98.
The company says it will use some of the $45 million to develop new DEP candidates with opportunities in oncology, radiopharmaceuticals, antibody drug conjugates and other therapeutic areas.
"The funds raised will allow Starpharma to expedite programs across our portfolio, including the novel SPL7013 COVID-19 nasal spray," says Starpharma CEO Dr Jackie Fairley (pictured).
"The oversubscribed placement saw a high level of demand from offshore funds including large global and US-based funds.
"We appreciate the strong support from our current shareholders and are delighted to welcome several leading new institutional investors to the register."
The $45 million placement was conducted at $1.50 per share, representing a 6.5 per cent discount to the last closing price on 28 September.
It will result in the issue of 30 million new shares bringing the company's total issued capital to 402.8 million shares.
Eligible shareholders will now have the opportunity to participate, at the same price, in a share purchase plan which is expected to raise approximately $5 million.
Updated at 10.50am AEST on 30 September 2020.
Global COVID-19 deaths pass one million
The world has today passed the harrowing milestone of more than one million deaths from COVID-19, as total cases of the virus now exceed 33.5 million.
This means almost one in every 200 people on the planet has been infected with the virus, and that's just the recorded cases that we know about.
Around one in five of all deaths have been recorded in the USA at 209,808, followed by high fatality numbers in Brazil (142,161), India (96,351) and Mexico (76,603).
There are currently more than 7.6 million active cases of the virus worldwide, and on this measurement the US accounts for around one in every three recorded active cases.
Meanwhile, India has almost one million active cases and has the highest rate of new daily deaths at 777.
France's recent resurgence of COVID-19 means it has the fifth-highest number of active cases at more than 415,000, followed by Russia, Argentina, Mexico, the Ukraine, Peru and Belgium.
In stark contrast, Australia only has 421 active cases and new daily case numbers today stand at 11, as well as seven new deaths.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison today described the one million deaths statistic as a "milestone that no one would have ever wanted to have seen passed".
"It is a reminder that we are living in the midst of a global pandemic. This is a pandemic that has been visited upon Australia from outside our shores, and is one that has impacted on us greatly," he said.
"In Australia, 882 lives have been lost to COVID-19, 670 of those in aged care.
"Australia sits amongst a handful of countries that have been able to limit the economic blow, as well as limiting the health blow to our country," he said, also congratulating the efforts of Victorians to start to bring the virus under control in the country's most heavily affected state.
Updated at 12:32pm AEST on 29 September 2020.
Government pledges $800m for Australia's digital transformation
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg wants new businesses in Australia to be "born digital", and his government has today announced almost $800 million worth of investments to help make that vision a reality.
Following major investments into cyber security and the national broadband network (NBN) roll-out, Frydenberg and Prime Minister Scott Morrison today announced wide-reaching plans to accelerate the uptake of 5G technology while fostering skills and capabilities for the digital age.
"Australia has arguably the most advanced real-time payments system in the world - that is the digital infrastructure through our New Payments Platform that enables people to get paid instantaneously," the PM said.
"For that to happen, we need our businesses to be online - we need them to be digital businesses, and in recent months we have seen through COVID a rapid acceleration, produced by necessity of businesses really engaging and upgrading their digital capabilities."
Treasurer Frydenberg highlighted nine out of every 10 Australian businesses have used technology to adapt in 2020.
"Indeed it has been said that we have made five years worth of gains in advancing the use of technology in this country, around the world, in just a matter of eight weeks," he said.
"Zoom meetings have eplaced air travel, telehealth consultations have replaced GP visits, and e-commerce which was already gaining pace has moved to the next level."
But today's announcement wasn't just about congratulating Australians on their adoption of digital technology, but rather the implementation of the JobMaker Digital Business Plan to create new opportunities and promote employment growth.
"The Plan supports Australia's economic recovery by removing out-dated regulatory barriers, boosting the capability of small businesses and backs the uptake of technology across the economy," Prime Minister Morrison said.
"Our Digital Infrastructure package is estimated to increase Australia's GDP by $6.4 billion a year by 2024 and around $1.5 billion of this additional economic activity is estimated to flow to regional Australia each year," added Treasurer Frydenberg.
Key elements of the Digital Business Plan include:
$256.6 million to develop a Digital Identity system to enable more secure and convenient engagement with government services, and in future, the private sector. Digital identity is already being used by over 1.6 million Australians and 1.16 million businesses to access over 70 government services.
A further $419.9 million to enable the full implementation of the Modernising Business Registers (MBR) program, allowing businesses to quickly view, update and maintain their business registry data in one location;
A further $28.5 million to support the rollout of the Consumer Data Right to the banking and energy sectors, which is in addition to the more than $120 million already committed;
$29.2 million to accelerate the rollout of 5G, including an initiative to invest in 5G commercial trials and testbeds in key industry sectors such as agriculture, mining, logistics and manufacturing.
$22.2 million to support small business operators take advantage of digital technologies through an expansion of the Australian Small Business Advisory Service Digital Solutions program, a Digital Readiness Assessment tool and a Digital Directors training package;
$11.4 million for a new regulatory technology commercialisation initiative to improve compliance and directly support our digital technology firms;
$9.6 million to support fintechs to export financial services and attract inward investment;
$6.9 million for two blockchain pilots directed at reducing business compliance costs;
$5.9 million to boost Australia's influence on international standards;
$3.6 million towards mandating the adoption of electronic invoicing by 1 July 2022 for all Commonwealth government agencies to encourage greater adoption amongst businesses supplying to government and within their supply chains, and to consult on options for mandatory adoption of e-invoicing by businesses;
$2.5 million to connect workers and small and medium sized businesses to digital skills training;
Consulting on making permanent the temporary reforms to allow companies to hold virtual meetings and execute documents electronically;
Reviewing the regulatory architecture applying to the payments system to ensure it remains fit for purpose and is capable of supporting continued innovation for the benefit both businesses and consumers; and
Reforming the regulation around stored-value facilities to support innovation and competition in line with the recommendations of the Council of Financial Regulators.
These initiatives are in addition to the Federal Government's $4.5 billion NBN investment plan to bring ultra-fast broadband to millions of families and businesses across the economy over the next two years.
They also complement our actions to build digital skills and to improve trust and security in the digital economy, including through the $1.67 billion investment in the 2020 Cyber Security Strategy and investments in online safety.
Updated at 12:05pm AEST on 29 September.
BOQ records $175m loan expense as COVID-19 alters outlook
Bank of Queensland (ASX: BOQ) may be seeing positive signs like a reduction in customers seeking pandemic-related relief packages, but updated economic forecasts have led the group to announce a $175 million loan impairment expense for FY20.
The Brisbane-based bank will also book a $11 million expense relating to an employee pay review.
BOQ has drawn upon RBA data as well as industry and sector impact assumptions to conclude there will be higher unemployment than its expectations in first half reporting, as well as downgraded property prices and a longer duration of the economic downturn.
The company has also increased the probability weightings to the downside and severe case scenarios from those in its previous modelling.
"The revised provision reflects the anticipated lifetime losses on the current portfolio relating to the impacts of COVID19 in line with AASB 9 Financial Instruments," says managing director and chief executive officer George Frazis.
The group reports 12 per cent of its housing customers are now on the banking relief package along with 16 per cent of SME customers. Of those who are on these packages, a quarter of them are continuing to make full or partial repayments.
"As we all know, this has been an unprecedented year and BOQ is committed to supporting our customers throughout this period," says Frazis.
"We are very pleased to see many of our customers returning to work and reopening their businesses and will continue to work closely with those that require further assistance."
Payment and entitlement review
After witnessing remuneration and superannuation issues elsewhere, BOQ made the call to start its own review of employees' pay and entitlements.
That initial internal review identified some irregularities in superannuation payments and then subsequently identified potential issues relating to people employed under an Enterprise Agreement (EA) and specific requirements under the 2010, 2014 and 2018 EAs.
BOQ has made a full and unreserved apology to people affected by these issues and will ensure people are remediated fully as a matter of priority as it completes a broader external wage analysis and review for EA employees.
The Fair Work Ombudsman and the Financial Services Union (FSU) have also been notified, with third parties appointed to assist with the analysis and remediation process.
Out of the expected $11 million expense, the bank has already made superannuation payments of $2.4 million to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) as part of the Superannuation Guarantee Amnesty, with the remaining provision of $8.6 million set aside.
"We will get this right and we will make sure our people, past and present receive every cent they are owed. This is an absolute priority," says Frazis.
Updated at 11:08am AEST on 29 September 2020.
Victoria accelerating recovery as daily cases fall below 10
As Victoria moved to Step Two on its recovery path overnight with expectations the next step could be announced as early as mid-October, health authorities have today announced the lowest case numbers since mid-June.
In a tweet this morning Victoria's Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) reported there were just five cases of COVID-19 yesterday, although three lives were lost to the virus.
Premier Daniel Andrews announced a couple of tweaks for Step Two yesterday including the resumption of private real estate inspections and allowing weddings for up to five people.
In addition, the lower case numbers prompted the government to allow on-site learning for apprentices or university students in their final year of study.
Under the new step, groups of up to five from across a maximum of two households can meet outdoors, outdoor pools will open, personal training can resume with a maximum of two people and their trainer, childcare centres can reopen, and kinder will be open from Term 4 as well.
"Recognising a number of important upcoming events for many of our religious communities, gatherings of up to five people can meet with their faith leader outdoors," Premier Andrews said.
"More of our medical, health and allied professionals will also be able to offer face to face services for non-urgent care.
"And of course, reaching the Second Step means we can begin to slowly ramp up elective surgery to 75 per cent of pre-pandemic levels."
One of the most encouraging signs in yesterday's announcement was that trigger points to move through the stages will now be solely based on meeting case number targets.
"That means the sooner we hit those targets the sooner we can consider our next steps," Premier Andrews said.
"Making sure we have enough time to evaluate the impact, movement between steps will be spaced at least three weeks apart.
"This, and based on the current projections, means we'll be in a position to consider our next Step by mid-October."
The Premier noted that seven weeks ago the state's average case numbers were peaking at more than 400 every single day, whereas yesterday the rolling case average was at 22.1.
"It's a remarkable thing and an achievement that belongs to every single Victorian. Because with grit and with guts and with heart we are beating this thing," he said.
"We are driving it down. We are winning."
However, the Premier explained people still needed to get tested if they felt sick, keep their distance when they're out, follow the rules and listen to the health advice.
"It also means continuing to wear a face covering. And with more people moving across our city, our public health team have advised the rules around wearing a mask need to be strengthened," he said.
"Victorians will now be required to wear a fitted face mask, covering the nose and mouth. Some of the concessions we made as we adjusted to this new normal - things like wearing a scarf or a bandana or a face shield - will no longer apply."
Updated at 10:37am AEST on 28 September 2020.
Industry welcomes $150m regional tourism package
The Federal Government has announced a new funding package to help regional tourism operators pivot to domestic travellers in the short-term, while putting them in the strongest position to receive international visitors when borders reopen.
The new $50 million Regional Tourism Recovery initiative is aimed at assisting businesses in regions heavily reliant on international tourism, while the $841.6 million Building Better Regions Fund (BBRF) will get a $200 million top-up.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said yesterday $100 million of the new BBRF funding would be dedicated to tourism-related infrastructure.
"We know every dollar spent on building local communities is a dollar well spent and that is at the heart of our economic plan for a more secure and resilient Australia," said McCormack, who is also Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development.
Federal Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham said tourism regions had been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and this would help them to bounce back firstly by attracting more Australians, and then overseas visitors when the country's international borders re-open.
"Tourism is such an important job creator and driver of many regional economies. We want to make sure that our tourism regions are in the best possible shape on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic," Minister Birmingham said.
"This targeted new fund will support internationally dependent tourism regions to adapt their offerings, experiences and marketing to appeal to domestic visitors in the short-term and be in the strongest possible position to welcome back international tourists down the track.
"Increasingly we are targeting sectors hardest hit, with this regional support sitting alongside our $50 million business events program to get meetings, conventions and conferences up and running again, which is so crucial to the visitor economies of our capital and larger cities."
Assistant Minister for Regional Tourism Jonno Duniam emphasised regional tourism was the lifeblood of so many Australian towns and regional communities.
"Tourism will never be the same again, but there is opportunity in this challenge and the greatest opportunity is in our regions," Assistant Minister Jonno Duniam said.
"Our $50 million package will help to realise this opportunity, it will assist in saving thousands of businesses and jobs in the first and worst hit regional tourism areas across the country."
BBRF Round 5 will be delivered like its previous four rounds, with Infrastructure Project and Community Investment streams. Grant Opportunity Guidelines will be made available shortly, consistent with the existing BBRF framework, to assist potential applicants.
The Australian Tourism Industry Council (ATIC) has welcomed the new regional tourism recovery initiatives to tackle the serious, lasting impact of the COVID-19 recession.
ATIC Executive Director Simon Westaway said major funding of impactful tourism infrastructure for Australia's regions kept and created new jobs via more visitor dispersal and spending.
He said the new $50m federal funding package for nine internationally reliant regions would also genuinely support and more likely better sustain and future-proof iconic tourism assets.
"From Tropical North Queensland, Victoria's Phillip Island and WA's South West with Margaret River, these regions all delivered to a once rising international market," Westaway said.
"Yet international visitors have rapidly evaporated under a closed national border due to the public health response to COVID-19, ensuring depressed conditions to many regional economies.
"Last year Australia generated record international tourist visitation and spending through strong support of our regions. Sadly in 2020 the direct opposite has transpired due to the pandemic."
Westaway explained the ATIC had repeatedly called for a "compelling and captivating" regional tourism product to be enabled to sustainably grow for the future.
"These new Federal programs can contribute to this," he said.
"ATIC will work proactively with federal officials to outline how we believe this new funding can be more effectively spread across the nine international tourism reliant regions of need.
"We welcome the immediate consultation process. ATIC will push for a fast delivery of negotiated program funding of successful initiatives and to enterprises due to the state of tourism regions."
Photo: Visit Phillip Island
Updated at 9:46am AEST on 28 September 2020.
Solomon Lew's Premier Retail threatens 350 store closures, plays hardball on rent
While online still only accounts for more than a quarter of Premier Investments' (ASX: PMV) sales, the segment's growth and high profit margins have emboldened the retailer's negotiating stance with landlords for physical stores.
Solomon Lew's group - the owner of such retailers as Smiggle, Portmans and Peter Alexander - has urged property owners to reduce rents in line with shopper behaviour that is increasingly shifting online, or else store closures will be "inevitable".
Premier Retail has booked an $8.7 million channel optimisation expense to potentially close up to 350 stores in Australia and New Zealand, and recorded one-off store asset impairments of $31.4 million in case suitable rental agreements cannot be reached.
Even including this impairments and expenses, the company's net profit after tax (NPAT) rose 29 per cent to $137.8 million in FY20.
Online sales rose 48.8 per cent to $220.4 million, but in the first six weeks of FY21 the rate was much higher at 92 per cent. In addition, Premier Retail notes the online business has a significantly higher EBIT margin than bricks-and-mortar stores.
The company also highlights "maximum flexibility" in reviewing each store's profitability as more than 70 per cent of stores in Australia and New Zealand are either in holdover or with leases expiring this year.
"Premier Retail's highly profitable online capability and the flexibility of our property portfolio, combined with the decisions we have taken in response to COVID-19, leave the Group best placed to maximise our position in the accelerating retail industry restructure," says executive director and Premier Retail CEO Mark McInnes.
"Our record result during this global health crisis is no accident but rather a function of our targeted strategic investments over the last decade, our high quality culture and the commitment of our global teams together with the strong support of our suppliers."
Premier is also a major shareholder in home appliances manufacturer Breville (ASX: BRG), which in contrast to another key holding - Myer (ASX: MYR) - has seen a steady rise in its share price over the past six months. PMV's stake in the group is now worth more than $1 billion.
Stationery store Smiggle has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, so in response the group will be closing up to 55 Smiggle stores out of 131 outlets in the UK in FY21, along with the four remaining Smiggle stores in Hong Kong by 31 October.
Premier plans to significantly invest in Smiggle's highly profitable global online presence, but in relation to physical store closures will impair assets in the UK, Ireland, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.
Updated at 12:23pm AEST on 25 September 2020.
ASIC files proceedings against Smiles Inclusive, director flies the coop
Australia's corporate watchdog has taken legal action against embattled dental group Smiles Inclusive (ASX: SIL) over its inability to produce an audited financial report for the December 2019 half, delivering on a threat made three months ago.
The announcement yesterday came after the shock departure of director Peter Evans yesterday, following in the footsteps of former CFO Emma Corcoran whose position is yet to be filled, and former CEO Tony McCormack.
The situation at the group has been so woeful that McCormack no longer includes Smiles Inclusive in his LinkedIn profile.
On the same social media platform current chairman David Usasz has also distanced himself from Smiles prior to his appointment to the role in March 2019, despite having been a founding director of the Gold Coast-based company since 2017.
After the loan was due the group announced it had requested an extension, but an update on the matter is still forthcoming.
To add insult to injury, the company was served yesterday with documents filed in the Magistrates Court of Queensland by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), seeking orders to supply the accounts within 28 days of receiving a court order to do so.
ASIC has confirmed it will withdraw the matter if Smiles is able to comply no later than a week before a 10 November court hearing.
"The Company confirms it is still working towards launching its capital raise, and expects to be in a position to lodge its 31 December 2019 accounts before the date of the hearing," Smiles said yesterday.
Last week shareholders received a notice of meeting for a vote that is due to take place on 23 October, in which a group of requisitioning shareholders led by dentists is calling for a board overhaul.
The group led by aggrieved former partners Dr John Camacho, Dr Philip Makepeace and Dr Arthur Walsh had sought to remove Evans, but the forms also include a vote to remove any director appointed after the notice of requisition.
This means that like Usasz, CEO Michelle Aquilina and director Peter Fuller, Evans' replacement - former Pacific Smiles Group founding executive Dr Genna Levitch - will have his role in question less than one month into the job.
The full notice of meeting was not published in Smiles' announcement to the ASX this week, and included questionable information about directors' time at the company.
On the penultimate page of that document, a joint statement from the current directors states that Usasz, Fuller and Evans were appointed in November 2019 following a period of multiple changes in the leadership team.
However, ASIC records state Usasz was appointed in August 2017, Evans was appointed in August 2018, and Fuller was appointed in June 2019.
Why or how the directors could get their own starting dates wrong is a mystery shareholders will no doubt be considering at the EGM vote next month.
Hospitality venues in Queensland will be able to have more patrons outdoors as of 1 October, while there will also be less bureaucracy for event organisers and more sports fans allowed into stadiums.
Deputy Premier Steven Miles said this morning the permitted density for outdoor spaces such as beer gardens, courtyards, al fresco dining and verandahs would go from the current 4 square metres to 2 square metres next month.
"We're also increasing the size of events that can go ahead with just a checklist, rather than a COVID Safe plan from 500 to 1,000 for outdoor events, as well as allowing our stadiums to operate at 75 per cent capacity - an increase from the current cap of 50 per cent capacity," Miles said.
"This is a further reward for Queensland as a further loosening of restrictions that will come into effect at 1am on 1 October. It's perfect timing I think to be able to get out, get about and enjoy Queensland."
Gathering restrictions have been lifted to 30 as of today in Brisbane and Ipswich, and the state will also be letting in travellers from the ACT so long as they arrive by plane and have filled out a border declaration pass.
Photo: Plough Inn
Updated at 9:49am AEST on 25 September 2020.
Government proposes changes to smooth the path for borrowers
The government has announced reforms to facilitate an increased flow of credit to households and businesses.
A key change will be that banks and other lenders will be able to rely on the information provided by borrowers, unless there are reasonable grounds for doubting it.
The current practice of "lender beware" will be replaced with a "borrower responsibility" principle, under which borrowers will be made more accountable for providing accurate information to inform lending decisions.
The new arrangements will be designed to ensure credit assessment is more attuned to the borrower's needs and the credit product.
At present lenders have to obtain and verify extensive information about the expenses of borrowers, regardless of the loan product involved. Under the new system the obligations on the lender will be proportionate to the risk. This will simplify the assessment and speed up the process.
The government says the reform should reduce the "excessive risk aversion" that had been restricting the flow of credit.
Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe said recently: "We can't have a world in which, if a borrower can't repay the loan, it's always the bank's fault. On a portfolio basis, we want banks to make some loans that actually go bad, because if a bank never makes a loan that goes bad it means it's not extending enough credit. The pendulum has probably swung a bit too far to blaming the bank if a loan goes bad."
The government says its cutting of red tape under the new regime will reduce the cost and time it takes consumers and businesses to access credit.
The changes are also aimed at strengthening consumer protection for those who need it. This will include protection from predatory behaviour by debt management firms.
The announcement of the new credit regime follows the government earlier this week outlining proposed changes to the insolvency provisions, to give distressed businesses their best chance of pulling through the recession.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said that as the country recovered from the pandemic, "it is more important than ever that there are no unnecessary barriers to the flow of credit to households and small businesses."
"With billions of dollars extended to borrowers each month, credit underpins the Australian dream of home ownership while allowing businesses to invest, grow and create jobs," he said.
"By simplifying the loan application process for borrowers it will reduce barriers to switching between credit providers, encouraging consumers to seek out a better deal."
The government says these will be the most significant changes to the credit regime in a decade.
The Rivers Restaurant in Thredbo closed after serial COVID-19 safety breaches
Repeated breaches of COVID-19 safety standards have forced New South Wales authorities to close The Rivers Restaurant in Thredbo for one week.
It is the second such venue in NSW to be shut down after authorities closed Unity Hall Hotel in Rozelle last month.
NSW Police and Liquor & Gaming NSW visited The Rivers Restaurant four times in July and September.
The authorities identified several breaches including:
Patron numbers exceeding the venue capacity per square metre,
A lack of spacing between seated patrons,
Mingling between tables and in queues, and
Alcohol being consumed while standing.
As such, the venue will be closed for seven days from 5am tomorrow.
Liquor & Gaming Director of Compliance Dimitri Argeres said messaging about COVID safety did not get through to the operators of The Rivers Restaurant.
"This venue has consistently failed to maintain COVID safety standards and has not complied with its own COVID safety plan," said Argeres.
"Police officers and Liquor & Gaming inspectors observed situations where the venue was repeatedly over capacity, groups were seated almost back to back, and queues of up to 30 people stood shoulder to shoulder. They also observed patrons drinking shots at the bar and consuming liquor while standing, including one of the business owners.
"First the venue was warned, then its manager and event promoter were fined $5,000 each. After finding yet more breaches on the fourth visit, it was clear that the ongoing operation of the premises presented a clear and significant risk to public health."
Argeres hopes other venue operators will take notice of this action.
"As we come into party season with major events such as the Spring Racing Carnival, Bathurst 1000 motor race, the footy finals, and schoolies celebrations, we're warning all hospitality providers and function operators to stick to the limits around venue capacity and group bookings," Argeres said.
"Distance and space are crucial: to avoid sharing close contacts groups must stay seated at a distance from other groups."
NSW has recorded one new case of COVID-19 today - a returning traveller in hotel quarantine.
NSW eases wedding restrictions, NYE fireworks may go ahead
Restrictions on weddings have been eased today by the NSW Government, meaning bridal parties of up to 20 people can be on the dance floor at the same time.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the permitted group would need to be the same 20 people for the entire event.
"This is really important because weddings, and unfortunately funerals and other gatherings, is where the virus is most contagious and spreads the most readily because people know each other," said Berejiklian.
"It is still a high risk environment and we ask both the patrons but also the function organisers to make sure that the bridal party, up to 20, is clearly identified and is not different multiples of 20."
The Premier has also expressed hope that the iconic New Year's Eve fireworks display at Sydney Harbour will go ahead, acknowledging it will be very different this year.
"Whilst the New South Wales Government is working our way through holding some type of fireworks event on New Year's Eve, can I stress it will not be like any other New Year's Eve we have had," said Berejiklian.
"I want to be clear that the New South Wales Government would never support or condone any activity which was not consistent with the health orders.
"It would be extremely limited in a COVID safe way that is within the health orders."
Updated at 11.40am AEST on 24 September 2020.
"Organise that house party": Brisbane, Ipswich gathering restrictions to ease on Friday
As Queensland goes 14 consecutive days without any confirmed community transmission of COVID-19, today the state government has decided to lift restrictions on gatherings.
As such, strict 10 person limits on gatherings inside a home or outdoors in Brisbane and Ipswich will be eased from 1am on Friday to allow for 30-person gatherings.
Queensland Deputy Premier Steven Miles has told Brisbane and Ipswich residents to invite some friends over this weekend.
"People can go ahead and organise that house party for Friday night," said Miles.
The easing of restrictions in the two areas will also mean that people can visit aged care facilities and hospitals again.
Atomo Diagnostics to launch rapid COVID-19 test in India
Within seven weeks of its fast COVID-19 tests gaining approval from Australian health authorities, Sydney-based Atomo Diagnostics (ASX: AT1) expects to take its technology to one of the countries worst-hit by the pandemic.
Atomo has entered into an agreement with PinkTech Design Private Limited, trading as DIVOC Laboratories, to launch its AtomoRapid COVID-19 antibody test in the Indian market.
AtomoRapid has been approved by Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and has the European Union's CE marking, but before it enters the Indian market it will still need to be approved by the country's authorities.
The company explains DIVOC expects to obtain product registration approval for professional use in the second quarter of FY21.
DIVOC sees potential for the product's distribution to government, corporate and lab-to-lab settings, as well as through an established home visit network for testing that is supported by medical professionals.
Under the deal, Atomo will initially provide 77,000 antibody test kits with one per container, and the agreement will terminate if DIVOC fails to order one million units over the following 12 months following receipt of regulatory approval in India.
In return, Atomo will receive a fixed transfer price per unit and will also receive a percentage of revenues received by DIVOC on final product sales above this transfer price.
Globally, India is currently experiencing the highest rate of daily infections, with the seven-day average currently exceeding 90,000 daily cases.
The South Asian nation has been the second-worst-hit in terms of total recorded cases at more than 5.6 million, of which almost one million are still active.
India's testing rate per capita is a fourth of the US and its death rate per capita is similar, amounting to more than 90,000 lives taken to date.
The right to the non-exclusive sale of the AtomoRapid COVID-19 rapid test in India is a further expansion of Atomo's agreement with NG Biotech, its French partner that manufactures the device's strip while the product itself is made by the Australian company.
The device uses Atomo's locally-developed 'Galileo integrated diagnostic test platform, which has been in use for HIV self-testing and is also TGA-approved for that purpose.
"We are delighted to be able to offer our antibody rapid test in another large international market," says Atomo Diagnostics co-founder and managing director John Kelly.
"Rapid testing forms a significant pillar of India's response to managing the COVID-19 pandemic with the numbers of daily rapid tests increasing significantly in recent months.
"Our Indian partner is a high-quality provider of diagnostic services, being one of the few laboratories in India that has been able to secure NABL [Indian National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories] accreditation.
"We are confident of their ability to rollout the AtomoRapid COVID-19 antibody testing across a number of high value channels in India in the coming months."
AT1 shares rose 7.14 per cent today to $0.375 each.
Workers will however need permits from their employers in regional Victoria, and the Premier emphasised the rule 'if you can work from home, you must' still applies.
"I can confirm that people can travel to regional Victoria for work more broadly and are not bound by the committed industries requirements in Melbourne," he said.
"When a person from metropolitan Melbourne is in regional Victoria, the metropolitan Melbourne restrictions apply to them.
"Even though they're not in in metropolitan Melbourne the rules follow them to their work in regional Victoria. For example they can't be going out to a restaurant for dinner."
He said the announcement mostly applies to Melburnians living close to the border with regional Victoria, although it won't be exclusive.
"This was not so much an issue while their place of work was not open, but now that it is open we think this is a reasonable balance," he said, noting that people still can't go to work even if they have the mildest of symptoms.
The clarification comes ahead of the second step to recovery slated for Melbourne this Sunday, including the establishment of social bubbles, the incorporation of more workplaces into the permitted industry list, and some new openings for education.
The trigger for this next step to go ahead is that Victoria stays within a band of 30-50 daily cases, and today the numbers are well below that at 15.
"This shows without any doubt that our strategies work when these numbers are coming down," Premier Andrews said.
"We are very pleased with these numbers and very grateful for all the hard work and sacrifice and the commitment that every single Victorian has shown.
"You can't achieve these outcomes, you can't get to that COVID-normal without an amazing effort by the vast majority of Victorians, and to each of them I say thank you."
Updated at 11:30am AEST on 23 September 2020.
SA border with NSW to reopen from midnight tomorrow
From midnight on Thursday residents of New South Wales will be able to enter South Australia without having to complete 14 days of self-isolation.
However, the border reopening is conditional on NSW not recording any cases of community transmission before midnight tomorrow.
SA Premier Steven Marshall said the decision will be a relief to those who have been dislocated from friends, family, and business opportunities because of the border restrictions.
"We know that this has been a massive burden on the business community and also on families and individuals, but we did this to keep South Australia safe," said Marshall.
Further, Marshall said the decision was made by the state's Transition Committee this morning after assessing the COVID-19 situation in NSW.
The easing of restrictions will allow Canberrans to fly into the state, not drive, as NSW more broadly is still considered a COVID-19 hotspot.
Today's announcement comes as Queensland records no new cases of COVID-19, meaning there are just 16 active cases of the coronavirus in the state.
Updated at 10.32am AEST on 22 September 2020.
Victorian live music scene given $13m life support
More than 100 live music venues in Victoria will receive cash grants to stay afloat during lockdowns and beyond, in a State Government scheme that is also designed to offset the costs of patron caps when COVID-19 restrictions are eased.
In addition, the state's $1.7 billion live music sector will be uplifted by cash grant schemes for industry professionals to create music, as well as planning controls that are more supportive of the scene.
Premier Daniel Andrews and Minister for Creative Industries Martin Foley announced yesterday that 106 live music venues across the state would share in grants totalling $9 million in the first allocations under the Victorian Live Music Venues program.
Venues include the Northcote Social Club, Queenscliff's Blues Train, Westernport Hotel in San Remo, Castlemaine's Theatre Royal, Loop in Melbourne's CBD, Grace Darling in Collingwood, Richmond's Corner Hotel, the Night Heron in Footscray, the Hotel Warrnambool and the Wool Exchange in Geelong.
The grants will support venues that have closed to help stop the spread of coronavirus to cover urgent overheads and put COVID-safe measures in place, while also helping them to reopen and host events when it is safe to do so.
The Victorian Government plans to announce a second round of cash allocations to other eligible venues in due course.
A state-first planning policy will also further protect Victoria's live music venues during the pandemic and beyond, with permanent planning controls whereby councils will have strengthened power to protect significant music precincts when redevelopments are proposed.
Under these new controls, councils will be able to identify these live music areas and consider the social, economic and cultural importance of live music venues as they make decisions on local planning permits.
Another measure announced yesterday is the $3 million Victorian Music Industry Recovery program, offering grants of $4,000 to $50,000.
The funds will be for artists, managers, promoters, bookers, road crew and other workers to keep creating music, undertake professional and business training and develop COVID safe ways of working.
Recognising that summer is usually a bumper period for the music industry, the program will focus on activities taking place from December onwards.
It includes dedicated streams for First Peoples and Deaf and Disabled applicants. Applications will open at noon on Monday, 21 September and close on 22 October 2020.
A further $1.2 million has been allocated to 10 music organisations and peak bodies to deliver professional and business development programs to a diverse range of Victorian music industry professionals.
Among the initiatives is Push Records, a new youth-led record label and training program by The Push; a wellbeing training and mentorship program for roadies and live music events professionals by CrewCare.
The scheme also includes a creative development program for First Peoples musicians and industry workers by Songlines Aboriginal Music Corporation.
"In ordinary times, Victorian music venues hosts tens of thousands of gigs each year reaching millions. We don't want to lose Victoria's music scene," Premier Andrews said.
"We'll continue to support our venues, our musicians, and the many workers who bring this $1.7 billion industry to life are able to reopen stronger than ever and welcome us back for a COVID Normal summer."
"Our music scene is much loved across the state and envied the world over. This support will protect our grassroots venues, save jobs and music businesses, and keep local music playing well beyond this pandemic," added Minister Foley.
Minister for Planning Richard Wynne said live music venues were the "heart and soul of Melbourne and towns across the state".
"Going forward, councils will have to consider these new planning controls as they make decisions on local planning permits," he said.
Today the government is also expected to launch the latest $200,000 round of the Pride Events and Festivals Fund.
Organisations are invited to apply for grants of up to $10,000 for events and projects for LGBTIQ communities which can be run online before 30 June 2021.
The Pride Events and Festivals Fund is now in its third year. For the first time, all events must be able to take place online and be held in line with current coronavirus restrictions at the time of the activity.
Updated at 11:14am AEST on 21 September 2020.
COVID-infected Sydney taxi driver worked for nine days, visited South Coast venues
Residents of seven Sydney suburbs who caught Silver Service taxis recently will need to check for COVID-19 symptoms after it was revealed yesterday that a taxi driver worked over nine days while infectious.
The individual, who is believed to have caught the virus at Liverpool Hospital, worked on September 7, 8, 9, 10, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 in Moorebank, Bankstown, Chipping Norton, Liverpool, Lidcombe, Warwick Farm and Milperra.
NSW Health reports the individual "pleasingly" had the COVIDSafe App, which is being used to help identify contacts.
The person also visited several venues in Western and South Western Sydney and the South Coast.
Anyone who attended the following venues for a least one hour during the following times is considered to be a close contact and must get tested and isolate for 14 days since they were there. They must stay isolated for the entire period, even if a negative test result is received, as 14 days is the maximum time it generally takes for COVID-19 to develop:
Mama Wok, MacArthur Square Campbelltown - 9 September 1:30pm-2:30pm
Anyone who attended these venues within the indicated timeframes for less than one hour is considered a casual contact, as are those who attended the following venues at the specified times:
Picnic Point Bowling Club 18 September, 3pm-6pm
Campbelltown Golf Club course Glen Alpine 16 September, 9.30am-2pm
Wray St Oyster Shed Batemans Bay 12 September,12 pm-1 pm
As of yesterday NSW Health was treating 78 COVID-19 cases, including two in intensive care, one of whom was being ventilated. 86 per cent of cases being treated by NSW Health are in non-acute, out-of-hospital care.
Buffet restaurant fined for lax COVID Safe practices
SafeWork NSW revealed yesterday that a Korean BBQ restaurant in Strathfield was fined $5,000 for having an open buffet where diners shared crockery, cutlery and food.
When SafeWork NSW inspectors visited Butchers Buffet on 11 September, they observed patrons accessing plates, condiments, serving utensils, bowls and trays of food as well as shared utensils on tables.
There was no safety marshal in place or stated limits on the maximum number of customers allowed on the premises. Chairs and tables were not adequately spaced, and CCTV footage showed patrons were not physically distancing when helping themselves at the buffet.
SafeWork NSW's director for work health and safety metro, Sarina Wise, said these sorts of breaches defied logic.
"Self-serve buffets and pandemics simply don't mix, creating a source of potentially contaminated items," Wise said.
"No self-serve buffet style food service areas are allowed including communal bar snacks and communal condiments.
"Sharing items on a buffet is clearly a direct line for COVID transmission."
In addition to the risks posed by buffets, hospitality businesses across the board are being warned against complacency, after inspectors from Liquor & Gaming NSW, SafeWork NSW and NSW Fair Trading last week issued 23 new fines for COVID breaches.
Inspectors from the three agencies reported a string of breaches relating to:
Gaming machine spacing
Spacing between tables and chairs
Not having a COVID-19 Safety Plan
Not being registered as COVID safe
We're calling on the public to hold businesses to account; if you visit a venue and find yourself back to back or shoulder to shoulder with other patrons, if you see poor hygiene or no sign in processes, report it via the COVID safety feedback portal on nsw.gov.au," Wise said.
The following businesses were fined last week:
Albion Hotel - Parramatta
Ashfield Bowling Club - Ashfield
Butchers Buffet - Strathfield
Cafe on Monash - Gladesville
Commercial Hotel - Kingsgrove
Collector Hotel - Parramatta
Crown Hotel - Parramatta
Erciyes Turkish Restaurant - Redfern
General Bourke - Parramatta
Glasgow Arms Hotel - Ultimo
Indian Leaf - Redfern
La Famiglia Ristorante & Pizzeria - Jindabyne
Lotus Barangaroo - Barangaroo
Maya Da Dhaba - Redfern
Mohr Fish - St Ives
Rosehill Hotel - Rosehill
Oscars Sports Hotel - Bankstown
Rosehill Hotel - Rosehill
Royal Hotel - Darlington
Ship Inn - Sydney
Southern Cross Hotel - St Peters
St Jude Café - Redfern
Thredbo Alpine Hotel
Zushi Restaurant - Barangaroo
Updated at 10:11am AEST on 21 September 2020.
Major gatherings on the cards as WA goes 160 days without community transmission
As we ease into warmer weather Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan wants to see major gatherings go ahead in his State, but in a COVID Safe way.
That is why, as of today, major events like festivals and community fairs will be permitted as long as they are approved by relevant health authorities and local governments.
COVID event plans and guidelines will be issued to organisers, tailored to support a base of more than 500 people.
The plans will identify public health measures to ensure the safety of patrons including physical distancing requirements of two square metres per person, hygiene and cleaning regimes, and staff management.
COVID event plans will not be required for events that form part of the usual business for places where there is an existing COVID-19 public building approval in place.
"There are so many fantastic events coming up or being proposed, and I'd like to see this go ahead in a COVID Safe way," said Premier McGowan.
"We want people to feel confident about going to their local community fair, or even a music festival, which up until now has not been able to occur.
"Under this new system, music festivals can now be assessed and could be approved pending assessment of plans by the Department of Health."
The announcement comes as WA has gone more than five months, or 160 days, without community transmission of COVID-19.
The state currently has three active cases of COVID-19, all of whom are in hotel quarantine.
Updated at 4.45pm AEST on 18 September 2020.
Queensland reopening to ACT travellers, still closed to NSW
Travellers from the Australian Capital Territory will be allowed to enter Queensland from next Friday 25 September, but the State will remain closed to New South Wales.
Canberrans will have to fly into the state, not drive, as NSW is still considered a COVID-19 hotspot.
According to Deputy Premier and Health Minister Steven Miles the decision was made following extensive conversations with the Chief Medical Officer in Canberra.
"That means people from the ACT will again be able to visit Queensland," said Miles, recognising the Territory has not had a new case of COVID-19 since July.
"We've been saying for some time now that for Queenslanders, Queensland is good to go. Well now, for Canberrans, Queensland is good to come.
"Now is the time we would urge them to start thinking about coming up to Queensland for a holiday. This is timed to coincide with the school holidays in the ACT, it's a great chance for people to come and visit friends and relatives or go to the reef, go to Cairns, go to one of our wonderful tourism hotspots."
The announcement comes two days after South Australia dropped its border restrictions with the ACT on the condition that travellers arrived by plane.
Queensland reported no new cases of COVID-19 today, and there are currently 25 active cases of the coronavirus in the state.
Updated at 1.07pm AEST on 18 September 2020.
NSW eases border restrictions for regional Victorians
Those living in communities on the New South Wales and Victorian border are now able to move more freely across state lines after restrictions were eased yesterday.
As such, border community residents are able to travel within the region for any reason with a current permit.
In addition, those residents that travel into NSW are not be obliged to comply with current stay-at-home orders imposed in Victoria while north of the Murray River.
NSW has also expanded its definition of the border region to now include Pleasant Hills, Lockhart, Benalla, Bright, and Mount Beauty.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard says restrictions are able to be eased because the threat of COVID-19 transmission in regional Victoria is reduced.
"We are able to ease restrictions on the border given the reduced risk of COVID-19 transmission in regional Victoria," said Hazzard.
"NSW and Victoria border communities have been extremely resilient during this one-in-100 year pandemic as we continue to fight the challenges of COVID-19."
The easing of restrictions on border communities comes as Victoria recorded just 28 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday, the state's lowest daily total in three months.
There were five new cases of the coronavirus in NSW yesterday, while QLD and WA recorded one new case each.
Updated at 10.05am AEST on 18 September 2020.
Telehealth breakthroughs for Emerald Clinics, MedAdvisor
With telehealth services experiencing tremendous growth due to the pandemic, two ASX-listed medical technology have announced new milestones today.
Perth-based Emerald Clinics' (ASX: EMD) Openly platform will be adopted by a COVID-19 recovery team at one of the USA's most prestigious research hospitals, while Melbourne-based MedAdvisor will launch its ePrescribing software function thanks to Australian Government approval.
Emerald Clinics has entered into a professional services agreement with the precision recovery team at New York's Mt Sinai Hospital, where it will provide remote monitoring and consulting services as part of the ongoing development and global delivery of Openly.
The platform provides digital health and wellness screening including the use of biometrics to check for vital signs via smart phone devices, with support from Emerald Clinics' clinical team. On 15 September, the group announced Openly had been registered as a Class 1 medical device with the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
Clients using Openly can adjust their configurations to receive alerts when certain survey responses or other health information is entered by a user.
Whilst the company does not anticipate the financial consideration for its alerts payment system at Mt Sinai Hospital to be material, Emerald's CEO Dr Michael Winlo says it will provide real-world experiences and the expertise of the precision recovery team to enhance the capabilities of the Openly platform.
"We're thrilled to be working with such an innovative and world-leading organisation to advance remote patient care," says Winlo.
The team is currently managing more than 1,600 COVID-positive, COVID-suspected and COVID-recovering individuals remotely.
"COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the way that we provide high quality medical care and thrust the use of technology in healthcare to the forefront," says the team's director, Assistant Professor David Putrino.
"Where possible, management of mild to moderate COVID cases should happen in the home, and we have been working to develop innovative technologies and clinician workflows that enable healthcare professionals to keep sick patients safe at home."
Australian first for MedAdvisor
Closer to home, Australian Digital Health Agency has approved ePrescribing for medical software group MedAdvisor, which will help connect GPs, pharmacists and patients as they navigate the roll out of eScripts across the country.
The Federal Government accelerated the roll-out of ePrescribing after the COVID-19 pandemic restricted patients' ability to access their prescribers or pharmacies, and the development is expected to facilitate remote medicines management and accurate dispensing in the healthcare market.
"MedAdvisor is delighted to be the first in the Australian market with a digital app solution that helps patients keep track of and organise all their eScripts," says MedAdvisor CEO and managing director Robert Read.
"The national rollout of ePrescribing provides patients with convenience, access and choice - something we've been long time advocates for."
Read says recent studies in countries that already use e-prescribing show that more than 80 per cent of patients prefer e-scripts to paper.
"By providing continued excellence in customer service, combined with hyper-convenient patient experiences, local pharmacists can strengthen their loyal customer base and better compete with online pharmacies," he says.
The MedAdvisor platform utilises tokens as a streamlined, private and secure way to handle eScripts. Much like an airline ticket, tokens can be tapped into MedAdvisor and then automatically organised into a digital script wallet that can be easily sent right to a pharmacy's dispensing workflow.
The roll-out is expected to start imminently in Victoria before going national later this month.
"With the rise of telehealth and digital consults during this COVID-19 pandemic and the changes to prescribing temporarily allowed by the Government, prescribers have needed to send digital images of scripts directly to pharmacies via fax or email, which adds significant administrative burden for both prescribers and pharmacies, and poses the risk of prescribers channelling patients to specific pharmacies," says Read.
"The introduction of ePrescriptions will solve these issues and put the control back in the patient's hands."
This Australian development is on the back of MedAdvisor recently going live with digital health programs in the USA in the fourth quarter of FY20, and launching an app in the UK through its key partnership with Day Lewis Pharmacy more recently.
MDR shares were up 4.76 per cent at $0.44 at the time of writing, while EMD shares were down 2.27 per cent at $0.086 each.
Updated at 11:44am AEST on 17 September 2020.
Dreamworld and WhiteWater World reopen in time for school holidays
After six months of closures, Ardent Leisure's (ASX: ALD) Gold Coast theme parks Dreamworld and WhiteWater World have reopened to the public this morning, in time for Queensland school holidays.
The two neighbouring parks were forced to close down back in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated health risks to patrons, but both are up and running as of 10am today.
Both parks will operate under an approved COVID Safe plan, meaning a number of popular attractions will remain closed, physical distancing will be enforced in-park, and hand washing facilities and sanitiser will be readily available.
In addition, WhiteWater World is now a seasonal water park, meaning it will only operate from early September until late January annually and across some peak weekends.
However, today's reopening comes months after competitor Village Roadshow (ASX: VRL) was able to open the gates to its Gold Coast-based theme parks Warner Bros. Movie World, Sea World, Wet'n'Wild and Paradise Country.
Total reported revenue for the Dreamworld operator decreased by $85 million to $398.3 million in the full year, also due to COVID-19 restrictions on trade.
Ardent Leisure also suffered from an impairment charge of $15.4 million on property, plant and equipment in its theme parks division, and a charge of $2 million relating to its Main Event family entertainment centre business.
Each of the three charges over breaches of the QLD Work Health and Safety Act (2011) attract a maximum penalty of $1.5 million, meaning the company could now be slugged with $4.5 million in fines.
Shares in Ardent Leisure are up 1.10 per cent to $0.46 per share at 10.36am AEST.
Updated at 11.08am AEST on 16 September 2020.
SA lifts border for ACT travellers, but NSW will have to wait
ACT residents are able to travel to South Australia as of midnight last night without spending 14 days in quarantine, although they aren't able to do so by car as the Festival State's authorities still don't consider NSW to be a safe zone.
Despite the positive developments for the ACT, SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said ongoing isolated cases of community transmission in NSW meant current restrictions on the state would be in place indefinitely.
"As of midnight tonight, people wishing to travel between the ACT and South Australia will be able to do so without having to quarantine when arriving in South Australia," Commissioner Stevens said yesterday.
"They will be required to fulfill in the pre-approval online as with all other safe community transmission zones, and people will be required to declare that they have not been outside of a safe community transmission zone for the 14-day period prior to traveling into South Australia.
"This is our way of assuring as best as possible that those people traveling between South Australia and other places have not exposed themselves unnecessarily to the risk of contracting COVID-19."
He explained visitors from the ACT are only able to arrive in SA by plane.
"It's simply not possible for us to be confident that a person driving between ACT and South Australia has not had contact with members of the New South Wales community," he said.
"We're hopeful that the situation with NSW will continue to improve. My advice from health is that they are doing an exceptional job with contact tracing, and they are confident that the situation will improve there to the point where we can lift that 14-day quarantine.
"It's an open-ended timeframe because NSW is continuing to identify isolated cases of community transmission. And the advice from the chief public health officer is that we want to see a better situation in terms of community transmission before we relax the restrictions on NSW.
Updated at 3:53pm AEST on 15 September 2020.
Great news as regional Victoria set to open up
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has heralded a "day of hope and optimism" today after regional Victoria met the requirements to enter the next stage in the roadmap to recovery from COVID-19.
Regional Victoria will enter a Third Step easing of restrictions from midnight tomorrow night, including no restrictions on leaving home, the reopening of all retail to include services such as beauty and tattooing, and the reopening of hospitality venues for mostly outdoor seated service only.
However, indoor service venues can be open with a cap of 10 seated patrons per space subject to a one per 4sqm density rule, with a maximum of two subspaces. This means larger venues will be able to have up to 20 people inside.
Meanwhile, there will be a cap of 50 people on outdoor hospitality venues.
Groups of up to 10 will be able to gather outdoors, household bubbles of up to five people will be allowed, and schools will return to on-site learning from Term 4 with safety measures.
The state government was able to take these steps as the average daily number of cases in the last fortnight has been below five, and there have been no new cases in that time with an unknown source.
"Regional Victoria will be opening up in just the next 24 hours or so," Premier Andrews said.
"It's a massive thing. It is such good news - I am so, so pleased and proud of every single regional Victorian who has stayed the course, followed the rules, got tested. They've done an amazing job.
"I know it hasn't been easy because there have been many communities where to the best of our knowledge there has not been the virus."
He said there was no greater evidence than today's news to the people of Melbourne that strategies to get numbers low are possible.
"It is essential. You have no chance of keeping numbers low once you open up if you don't first get them low via the restrictions and the rules we have in place," he said.
The Premier explained restrictions on visitors to businesses would remain, including limits on the number of people, physical distancing and the wearing of masks.
For real estate services outdoor options will be permitted with a limit of 10 people, all community sport will also return for children, and non-contact sport will be allowed for adults.
Gathering limits for weddings will increase to 10 people, funerals will be allowed to have 20 mourners, and religious gatherings will have a limit of 10 people plus one faith leader.
"Tourist accommodation will open for regional Victorians in regional Victoria for them to travel and holiday within regional Victoria," Premier Andrews said.
"Every single business across regional Victoria will be required to have a COVID-safe plan, and those plans will be enforced from 28 September.