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Covid-19 News Updates
A COVID-19 vaccine being developed by the University of Queensland (UQ) and pharmaceutical giant CSL (ASX: CSL) is tracking "ahead of schedule", with Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt claiming it should be ready for deployment in mid-2021.
Speaking today at UQ, Minister Hunt said the vaccine was proving to be safe and producing a positive antibody response.
"That means it's doing its job," Hunt said.
The Minister said CSL had completed manufacturing of the vaccine for Phase 3 clinical trials, which are already in a position to commence once regulatory approval is granted.
"That may come as a positive surprise to many people here in Australia and around the world, but what it shows is that we are ahead of schedule," Hunt said.
"As a consequence, CSL will now move for regulatory approval to commit to phase three clinical trials before the end of this year, and that's an extraordinary development.
"It means that this vaccine will potentially be available, subject to the results of those trials, for delivery to Australians early in the third quarter of 2021."
Hunt also said the vaccine had so far demonstrated it was particularly good at producing a positive antibody response in the elderly.
"That's an especially important outcome, given the global vulnerability to elderly around the world from COVID-19," he said.
The Federal Government recently signed an agreement with CSL to acquire 51 million doses of the vaccine.
In addition, agreements have been reached with other developers of vaccine candidates like AstraZeneca, Novavax and Pfizer to ensure those wanting to be vaccinated in Australia will be by the end of 2021.
"The vaccines are on track to do what they are intended to do, and that's to save lives," Hunt said.
"We've invested $5 million in the research as a Commonwealth Government.
"It's an Australian vaccine, but for the world."
Updated at 12.19pm AEDT on 13 November 2020.
The improving COVID-19 situation in Victoria and New South Wales has encouraged health authorities in the ACT to ease restrictions on venues in the territory from 9am tomorrow.
As such the gathering cap will be increased to a maximum occupancy of 500 patrons (up from 200), and those in outdoor spaces will be allowed to eat and drink while standing rather than having to be seated.
All other current restrictions and venue capacity rules will remain the same.
"The decision to further ease restrictions has been driven by the improving situation in Victoria, the situation in NSW remaining relatively stable and the strong position we are in here in the ACT, with Canberra businesses, venues and facilities having established COVID Safety Plans in place," says the ACT government.
"The change to allow eating and drinking while standing in outdoor spaces reflects the considerable evidence that outdoor spaces present a lower risk of transmission of COVID-19 compared to indoor spaces."
Health authorities have encouraged venues to register to use the free Check In CBR app.
The app allows for venue operators to record visitor details digitally, making contract tracing easier for public health workers and taking the burden off venues to keep those records themselves.
The move comes as Victoria has gone 13 days without any new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 today.
Updated at 4.23pm AEDT on 12 November 2020.
Victoria's strict COVID-19 restrictions have bitten a big chunk out of franchise operator Retail Food Group's (ASX: RFG) first quarter results.
The Gold Coast-based group, which counts Donut King, Crust Gourmet Pizzas and Gloria Jeans among its stable, saw same store sales for the first quarter dip by 2.5 per cent on the prior corresponding period.
However, this was exacerbated by results from the Victorian market where that figure was about 18 per cent.
When the Victorian figures are removed, the group reported modest growth of 0.2 per cent.
Gloria Jean's, which a reported a sales decline of 41 per cent, and Di Bella coffee were hit by Victorian residents making their cuppas at home.
RFG executive chairman Peter George said the company was anticipating increased competition within the independent wholesale coffee market.
"These factors also lend themselves to potential market consolidation and rationalisation of existing industry players which may present future opportunities for RFG's coffee busines," George said.
Across the group's domestic franchise network, total sales to 1 November were about $162 million - 14.5 per cent down on the prior corresponding period.
The announcement comes one day after funds manager Washington H Soul Pattinson (ASX: SOL) grabbed a $10 million slice of the franchisor.
Crust and Brumby's Bakery kept the dough rolling in for the company, with RFG executive chairman Peter George saying the two have been standout performers.
"Brumby's has enjoyed year-to-date same store sales growth of 10.8 per cent, underpinned by strong average transaction growth of 9.2 per cent, and Crust has sustained 7.4 per cent SSS growth," he said.
The impact of lockdowns was apparent, particularly in Victoria, where 18 per cent of the Group's domestic outlet population is based.
43 per cent of the difference between total sales in in the first quarter compared to the previous period was attributable to reduced performance in Victoria.
George said brands in shopping centres were particularly impacted, as seen in results for Donut King where Victoria accounted for 47 per cent of the sales decline.
The group first revealed the toll the pandemic lockdowns were having in June, pointing out customer counts in shopping centres had declined by about 50 per cent at one stage.
George said temporary outlet closures attributable to COVID-19 peaked at 36 stores during early September.
"While seven of these outlets remain temporarily closed, the remainder have reopened for trade," he said.
"We anticipate additional positive momentum as Victoria's COVID-19 measures are further eased, marketing activity returns to more normal levels, and the group continues to execute on its broader turnaround plan."
George said the group had also fielded new franchisee interest, with the group involved in advanced discussions for 15 potential new sites or territories across the Donut King, Crust and Gloria Jean's brands.
RFG shares were trading at 8.5 cents this morning as the company continues to slowly rebuild its reputation with franchisors.
In June corporate watchdog ASIC announced it would not be taking any enforcement action in relation to two concluded investigations of the franchise operator.
In September RFG announced it would shed its Victorian cheese business Dairy Country, which was devoured by New Zealand-based dairy giant Fonterra (NZX: FCG) for $19.23 million.
Updated at 11.48am AEDT on 12 November 2020.
More than 18,500 residents in Western Sydney have been urged to get tested for COVID-19 by NSW Health after virus fragments were discovered in sewage at local pumping stations.
The COVID-19 virus fragments were detected by New South Wales' ongoing sewage surveillance program and found at pumping stations serving North Kellyville, Rouse Hill, Box Hill, The Ponds, Kellyville Ridge, Parklea, Quakers Hill and Acacia Gardens.
"While detection of the virus in sewage samples could reflect the presence of older cases of COVID-19 diagnosed in these areas, NSW Health is concerned there could be other active cases in the local community in people who have not been tested and who might incorrectly assume their symptoms are simply a cold," NSW Health said.
"People who live and/or work in these areas must be aware of any symptoms of illness, and immediately isolate and get tested should even the mildest of symptoms appear that might appear to be just be a cold. Symptoms such as a runny nose or scratchy throat, cough, tiredness, fever or other symptoms could be COVID-19."
To facilitate COVID-19 testing in the area a new drive-through pop-up clinic has been established in The Fiddler car park on the corner of Windsor and Commercial Roads in Rouse Hill.
NSW recorded no new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 yesterday from 20,586 tests.
However, four new cases were reported in overseas travellers in hotel quarantine, bringing the total number of cases in NSW to 4,289 since the start of the pandemic.
It comes as Victoria has gone 13 days without any new locally acquired cases of COVID-19.
Updated at 9.34am AEDT on 12 November 2020.
Melbourne-based med-tech company Mesoblast (ASX: MSB) has rebounded on the share market this morning after announcing the trial of its COVID-19 treatment will continue.
It comes a day after the company watched its share price tumble on the news US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer had successfully developed a COVID-19 vaccine candidate.
Securityholder concerns that Mesoblast's treatment for COVID-19 would be made irrelevant if a vaccine is produced seem to have been shrugged off today, with shares in MSB up more than 4 per cent this morning.
MSB's bounce back follows an update from the Australian regenerative medicine company about remestemcel-L, a drug being developed for patients with moderate to severe acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a common complication in the most severe COVID-19 infections.
Mesoblast has received a recommendation to continue its randomised controlled Phase 3 trial of remestemcel-L from the independent Data Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB), following completion of the trial's second interim analysis.
"We are very pleased with the recommendation by the DSMB, as we seek to confirm whether remestemcel-L improves survival in ventilated COVID-19 patients with moderate to severe ARDS," Mesoblast chief medical officer Dr Fred Grossman said.
ARDS is the principal cause of death for COVID-19 patients, and with new infections of the coronavirus surging globally Dr Grossman said remestemcel-L would be a vital drug even if the Pfizer and other vaccines are distributed.
"Patients who have co-morbidities or are older are likely to continue to be at high risk of ARDS and death, even if COVID-19 vaccines become available.
"This is why having a potential treatment that reduces mortality in these patients is so important."
Yesterday, 490,690 new cases of COVID-19 were reported across the globe, with 127,231 new cases diagnosed in the US alone.
In addition, 6,705 people died due to COVID-19 complications yesterday.
Of the 14.1 million active cases of the coronavirus globally, 94,806 are considered "serious or critical", further underscoring the urgent need for an ARDS treatment.
"Despite improved treatment and earlier intervention in hospitalised COVID-19 patients overall, the mortality rate in COVID-19 ARDS patients who are over 60 years old remains more than 60 per cent," Mesoblast said.
Mesoblast was just one of many Australian companies slammed by the market's reaction to Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine news yesterday.
Retailers like Kogan (ASX: KGN) and Temple & Webster (ASX: TPW) tumbled, while buy-now pay-later success stories Zip Co (ASX: Z1P) and Afterpay (ASX: APT) also dropped.
Meanwhile, travel stocks like Helloworld Travel (ASX: HLO), Flight Centre (ASX: FLT), and Webjet (ASX: WEB) soared as the market realised international travel may be back on the cards sooner than previously thought.
Based on current projections Pfizer expects to produce globally up to 50 million vaccine doses in 2020 and up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021.
Shares in Mesoblast are up 4.47 per cent to $3.27 per share at 12.19pm AEDT.
Updated at 12.54pm AEDT on 11 November 2020.
New tourism investment is literally shooting up on the Gold Coast of Australia, with the apex of a new roller coaster at Sea World now punctuating the famous skyline and work commencing on Dreamworld's biggest and most expensive rollercoaster ever.
The peak of Sea World's new $20 million Leviathan roller coaster has risen as a pandemic-era thrill for Queensland, emerging from what looks like a giant pile of pick-up-sticks at the theme park's Main Beach site on the Gold Coast.
Leviathan will be the first new wooden roller coaster built in Australia for almost 40 years and will be the first wooden roller coaster in the world with backward-facing seats.
The 32m-high Leviathan is the centrepiece of Sea World's New Atlantis precinct, which will also feature the Trident that will lift and spin riders 52m in the air.
Village Roadshow Theme Parks CEO Clark Kirby said the $50 million precinct would be completed in time for the 2021 Australian winter school holidays.
He said the works would be a game changer for the industry and help lure visitors back to the Gold Coast's famous amusement parks following the massive impact of the coronavirus and lockdowns on Gold Coast tourism.
Destination Gold Coast boss Paul Donovan said the pandemic had cost the city $3.5 billion in tourism expenditure, down 60 per cent on 2019 figures.
The Gold Coast's 4600 tourism businesses and operators had struggled to survive, with a 49 per cent drop in visitor numbers, which represented about seven million fewer tourists, he said.
Kirby said plans were also underway for major new attractions at Wet'n'Wild and Movie World.
"For the long-term recovery, we have a continued focus on investment and growth with a number of larger attractions planned," he said.
The Village Roadshow works come as Ardent Leisure also began this week on Dreamworld's new $32 million roller coaster.
Billed as key to the park's turnaround strategy after major setbacks including the Thunder River Rapids Ride tragedy, the coronavirus shutdown meant freight boxes containing elements of the roller coaster had been left unpacked and languishing in the parking lot since June.
Dreamworld chief executive John Osborne said work was now "full steam ahead" on the new world-class attraction.
Scheduled to open in time for the 2021 Christmas holidays, the ride will be 1.2 km long and will hit speeds of up to 105 km an hour.
Based on the Blue Fire Launch coaster in Germany, it will feature the first triple launch system in the Southern Hemisphere and the world's first separate spinning gondola attached to the rear of the roller-coaster train.
Article republished from News Leads.
Business News Australia
News that pharmaceutical giant Pfizer may have successfully developed a COVID-19 vaccine has lifted travel stocks but e-commerce companies and safe haven metal prices have tumbled.
Last week the Australian Government secured 10 million doses of Pfizer's vaccine candidate developed in conjunction with BioNTech, and that same product has now been shown to have more than 90 per cent efficacy at seven days after the second dose.
This still leaves some room for potential exposure, and the German multinational has flagged it may not be able to develop non-frozen formulations. But its potential efficacy with no serious safety concerns led markets to gamble on a return to normality.
Investors dumped stocks in online retailers who had been buoyed by a population in isolation, and pulled funds from commodities such as gold and silver.
Kogan (ASX: KGN) fell almost 12 per cent and online furniture retailer Temple & Webster (ASX: TPW) shares dropped by a whopping 20 per cent, although both are still up substantially over the start of 2020.
Newly listed MyDeal.com.au (ASX: MYD) saw its shares fall by around 5.5 per cent, and online art group Redbubble (ASX: RBL) found itself out of the critics' favour with 17.9 per cent decline.
Buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) players that have facilitated retail resilience through these tough times also suffered today, with Zip Co (ASX: Z1P) shares down 7 per cent and Afterpay (ASX: APT) stocks dropping 8 per cent.
IDP Education Group (ASX: IEL), one of the ASX's biggest success stories of recent years whose revenue mostly comes from in-person English language testing, has seen its shares increase by 14.5 per cent today.
At the same time travel stocks, which had been hammered during the pandemic, were the darlings of the market again led by Helloworld Travel (ASX: HLO), which flew up by 21 per cent.
Flight Centre (ASX: FLT) rose by almost 12 per cent), Webjet (ASX: WEB) jumped 15 per cent, Corporate Travel Management (ASX: CTD) surged almost 17 per cent and investors flocked to Sydney Airport (ASX: SYD) with close to a 14 per cent lift. Similar movements were seen with NZX-listed travel stocks.
Investors have also bet that a pandemic-weary public will want some retail therapy after an arduous 2020, propping up the share prices of shopping centre owner Vicinity Centres (ASX: VCX) by around 15 per cent and Westfield owners Scentre Group (ASX: SCG) by close to 13 per cent.
Casino owner-operator The Star Entertainment Group (ASX: SGR) saw its shares rise by close to 8 per cent, while cinema powerhouse Event Hospitality and Entertainment (ASX: EVT) rose by 17 per cent.
Overnight there were significant drops for some of the largest work from home (WFH) beneficiaries internationally, including Amazon (-5 per cent), Zoom (-17 per cent), Shopify (-14 per cent), Alibaba (-4 per cent), Netflix (-9 per cent) and Ocado (-15 per cent).
And similarly to Australia, bricks-and-mortar department store majors saw upticks, including Nordstrom (+26 per cent), Macy's (+17 per cent) and T.J. Maxx owner TJX Companies (+13 per cent).
Theme park and entertainment giant Disney saw its shares rise by almost 12 per cent overnight. Other groups exposed to tourism saw significant price rises too, such as Marriott (+14 per cent), Accor (+22 per cent) and Hilton (+12 per cent).
Pfizer has enrolled 43,538 participants to date in its Phase 3 clinical trial of the BNT162b2 vaccine candidate, with enrolments ongoing until a final analysis when a total of 164 confirmed COVID-19 cases have been accrued.
The pharmaceutical company reports 38,955 participants had received their second dose of the vaccine as of 8 November, with data for potential emergency use authorisation expected to be available by the third week of November.
Participants will also be monitored for long-term protection and safety for an additional two years after their second dose.
Based on current projections, Pfizer expects to produce globally up to 50 million vaccine doses in 2020 and up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021.Never miss a news update, subscribe here. Follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter.
Business News Australia
Australian fashion brand Alice McCall has appointed voluntary administrators today, with the COVID-19 pandemic blamed for the company's collapse.
Founded by Alice McCall 17 years ago, the eponymous brand today appointed Ian Purchas and Jason Porter of SVP Partners as voluntary administrators, tasked with bringing the company out of the dumps.
According to Purchas the voluntary administration process will result in the closure of some of the retailer's physical stores, and lead to the redundancy of some employees.
"These steps have not been taken lightly, but have been necessary to give the company the best chance of survival whilst retaining a large number of its team and providing a return to its creditors," Purchas said.
"Like most of the Australian retail sector, in particular fashion, the company's revenues had been severely impacted by COVID-19.
"With the support of the company's team and creditors, it will emerge from the administration a more resilient business which will continue to provide quality fashion garments."
SVP Partners will honour gift certificates up to $100 and store credits under 90 days from returns.
Founder McCall said it is a sad day for the business she founded, attributing the unsustainability of bricks and mortar retail during the COVID-19 pandemic to the company's downfall.
"Due to the unprecedented effects that COVID-19 has had on our economy, as well as some unsustainable bricks and mortar rental obligations, I have had to make a necessary decision to edit down my business, with the objective of building a more sustainable business model for the future," McCall said.
"There is nothing that fuels me more than a customer sharing their experience of a meaningful memory that they have lived whilst wearing an "Alice" garment. This truly is what motivates me to do what I do.
"I have still got plenty of drive in me to continue to create, and continue to connect with the Alice McCall customer. I intend to only get better, armed with the experience of 17 years of business under my belt, and the desire to keep on creating."
Updated at 2.55 pm AEDT on 9 November 2020.
The 'Ring of Steel' separating Melbourne from regional Victoria is no more and further COVID-19 restrictions have eased overnight as the state goes 10 days without any new cases of the virus.
As such, restrictions on households, pubs, gyms and other indoor spaces have eased, giving Melburnians even more freedoms as they get used to the 'new normal'.
Premier Daniel Andrews said the state "can be whole again" because of significant sacrifice.
At 11:59pm last night the boundary between Melbourne and regional Victoria came down.
The 25-kilometre limit on travel for those living in Melbourne is no longer in place, and rules that applied to regional Victorians now apply to everyone in the state.
For Melburnians that means restrictions on home visits are now relaxed somewhat.
While households can only have a maximum of two people visiting per day, those two people no longer need to come from the same household and they'll be able to come at different times.
"It's really important that people stick within these rules," Andrews said.
"The data is very clear on this: so many of our recent outbreaks were connected to home visits.
"Home is where we relax, where we feel comfortable which is precisely why it's so dangerous."
Restaurants, pubs and cafes are now able to host up to 40 customers indoors and 70 outdoors, and gyms can reopen with up to 20 patrons.
Indoor sport for those under 18 can recommence, and indoor religious ceremonies can host up to 20, with 50 allowed outside.
Those same numbers now apply to funerals, but there will be no changes to weddings just yet.
Community spaces including libraries, RSLs and neighbourhood houses can have up to 20 indoors.
Accommodation services can also reopen, and entertainment venues are able to reopen with 20 people per space.
"Frankly, Victorians have earned a break," Andrews said.
"That means movie theatres, galleries, museums and music halls will now be able to open."
In terms of aged care and hospitals, a single household can visit loved ones in those facilities once per day for two hours at a time.
"Individual hospitals and facilities though may continue to have their own policies reflecting the needs of their patients and whatever the virus might be doing in our community," Andrews said.
Victoria's State of Disaster will not be renewed, but the State of Emergency declaration will be extended until 6 December to allow the Chief Health Officer's directions to remain in force.
The next step of Victoria's easing roadmap will come into force on 22 November.
That will see private gatherings increase to 10 people, and hospitality venues will be allowed to have up to 100 indoors and 200 outside.
The Premier has also flagged capacity increases for other indoor venues like cinemas, gyms, and galleries at that time.
"We have worked so hard. We have given up so much. And together, we've come so far," Andrews said.
"We've got to protect it.
"So, let's stay safe, stay open and keep going."
Updated 9.46am AEDT on 9 November 2020.
The Australian Government has today doubled the number of COVID-19 vaccine options at its disposal if trials prove successful, securing 50 million potential doses from Novavax and Pfizer/BioNTech.
The latest breakthrough adds to existing commitments to purchase the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, as well as a local candidate from the University of Queensland in conjunction with CSL (ASX: CSL) subsidiary Sequirus.
Taking the Federal Government's COVID-19 vaccine investment to more than $3.2 billion, these deals involve 40 million doses of the Novavax nanoparticle vaccine and 10 million doses of Pfizer/BioNTech's mRNA-based vaccine.
This lifts the total number of vaccines Australia could potentially access to 134 million doses.
Like the Oxford trial, Novavax's vaccine candidate is currently in the advanced Phase 3 stage involving tens of thousands of participants in the US and UK, with expectations to have interim data as early as the first quarter of 2021.
Meanwhile, in September German authorities approved a Phase 2/3 trial for Pfizer/BioNTech's vaccine candidate with 30,000 participants.
The Australian Government believes both the new vaccines will be available in Australia from early to mid-2021, provided they are given the green light by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
"By securing multiple COVID-19 vaccines we are giving Australians the best shot at early access to a vaccine, should trials prove successful," says Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
"We aren't putting all our eggs in one basket and we will continue to pursue further vaccines should our medical experts recommend them.
"There are no guarantees that these vaccines will prove successful, however our strategy puts Australia at the front of the queue, if our medical experts give the vaccines the green light."
Similarly to the UQ-CSL candidate, the Novavax vaccine is protein-based contains an adjuvant that stimulates a stronger immune response. The vaccine has been developed using recombinant nanoparticle technology and triggered "robust antibody responses" in earlier trials.
The candidate from Pfizer/BioNTech, whose rolling submission to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) started in early October, uses BioNTech's messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) technology. Preliminary results show it triggers not only the creation of neutralising antibodies but also T cells that target the virus that causes COVID-19.
In a release, Pfizer highlighted a combination of an antibody and T cell (cellular) response is believed to be important in eliciting protection against viral infection and disease.
A study from the UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium, Public Health England and Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust recently found cellular immunity against SARS-CoV-2 is likely to be present within most adults six months after their primary infection.
In contrast to these three candidates, the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine that is arguably at the forefront in the race for approval utilises a weakened version of a common cold virus found in chimpanzees that has been genetically altered not to grow in humans, with a protein found on the surface of SARS-CoV-2 that relates to the infection pathway added into the mix.
Diversity is the key to success in an uncertain field like vaccine development. Health Minister Greg Hunt highlights Australia's deals with two protein vaccines, one mRNA and one viral vector-type vaccine, all help strengthen the country's position to access safe and effective vaccines as soon as they are available.
"The goal and the expectation is that Australians who sought vaccination will be vaccinated within 2021," says Minister Hunt.
"There are no surprises, health and aged care workers and the elderly and vulnerable will be the first to gain access to a vaccine that's deemed safe and effective."
The Australian Government is consulting with the states and territories, key medical experts and industry peak bodies on the framework for the initial roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccination program in early 2021.
Key vaccination sites will initially include GPs, GP respiratory clinics, state and territory vaccination sites and workplaces such as aged care facilities.
Internationally, Australia has also joined the COVAX facility, which will provide access to a large portfolio of COVID-19 candidates and manufactures around the world for up to 50 per cent of the Australian population.
The Australian Government has also committed to support access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines for the Pacific and Southeast Asia, as part of a shared recovery for our region from the pandemic, as well as $80 million to the international COVAX Facility for the benefit of high-risk populations in developing countries.
Updated at 11:14am AEDT on 5 November 2020.
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