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Majority of Australians would present at work with cold and flu symptoms
Approximately 70 per cent of Australians would go to work with cold or flu symptoms, despite extensive public health communication telling people to stay home if sick.
These findings, from an independent survey commissioned by cleaning services company Cleancorp, raise alarm bells for employers as many Australians head back to the office once COVID-19 restrictions ease in some states and territories.
More than half (54 per cent) of Aussies would present to work with a headache, and 38 per cent would head into the office with early signs of COVID-19 infection including symptoms like a stuffy/runny nose, sore throat, or fatigue.
Around 58 per cent of respondents say they would head into the office with these symptoms because they do not believe them to be serious enough to take time off work.
However, 42 per cent say it's because they have too much work to do to justify taking time off, and 29 per cent said they believe their employer would not regard the symptoms as serious enough.
"Now that we are facing the genuine threat of a virus 'double whammy' COVID-19 and the flu it is more important than ever not to go to work when feeling unwell," says co-founder and director of Cleancorp Lisa Macqueen.
"Our findings reveal that many employees come to work when sick because of feelings of guilt or a fear of being judged by their bosses.
"However, now that we're in a pandemic, going to work sick because you feel obliged to is no longer acceptable."
Under-30s would be more likely to present to work with cold or flu symptoms with the survey showing 47 per cent would do so with a sore or tingly throat, 46 per cent with a runny or stuffy nose, 40 per cent with a cough, 27 per with a stomach ache, and 18 per cent with nausea all higher proportions than the total respondent average.
Cleancorp says the survey results highlight an issue with casual and contract workers, who do not receive payment for sick or annual leave.
21 per cent of casual/contract worker survey respondents said they would present to work with cold or flu symptoms because they could not afford to not get paid. Cleancorp says this means around 546,000 casual workers in Australia would still present to work with symptoms.
"As a significant proportion of employees re-enter their workplaces either partially or fully organisations must do everything they can to minimise the risks of viruses spreading among their employees, customers, and visitors," says Macqueen.
"Employers need to understand that shared desks, meeting rooms, and breakout spaces may no longer be safe to use and occupy, and those old spray-and-wipe principles will also be inadequate for keeping surfaces virus-free."
"While it is encouraging to see that many of our clients are asking for heavy-duty anti-viral cleans, we need to see a strong shift towards a 'stay at home if you're unwell' mentality to contain the coronavirus successfully."
Updated at 10:10am AEST on 21 July 2020.
JobKeeper lifeline will remain open for business
Since JobKeeper was announced on March 30 it has provided a massive economic and psychological boost to the nation.
At a cost of $70 billion it is supporting 960,000 businesses and 3.5 million workers, or about 30 per cent of the pre-COVID private sector workforce. It is the single largest fiscal measure in Australia's history.
It was legislated for six months, and Treasury has now completed a review at the midway point of the program.
The review concludes JobKeeper is a ''proven delivery mechanism to deliver widespread support at scale", and that it has met its objectives to save businesses and jobs, maintain the formal connection between employer and employee, and provide necessary income support.
With the labour market remaining weak, Treasury suggests there is a ''strong case" for continuing the program with some modifications. This is what the government will do.
The report details how the COVID-19 crisis is expected to see employment levels decline by 5 per cent between the March and September quarters, which is a faster and higher rate than that experienced in the recessions of the 1980s and 1990s.
Between February and May, more than 2 million people went from employment to either being out of work or working fewerand in some cases zero hours. In this deteriorating economic environment, JobKeeper's flat fortnightly $1500 payment has been a lifeline for many.
In the words of one small construction business, ''JobKeeper ensured we stayed breathing", while a business in the food services sector says ''JobKeeper is the only reason we are open today".
Using a range of data, including singletouch payroll information collected by the Australian Taxation Office and highfrequency Australian Bureau of Statistics surveys conducted during COVID-19, Treasury found businesses receiving the payment had on average a decline in turnover in April of 37 per cent compared with the same month last year.
Job separations between employers and employees in these businesses had doubled as restrictions were implemented in the period prior to JobKeeper. Following the introduction of JobKeeper, payroll jobs started to stabilise after an 8.1 per cent fall over the four weeks to mid-April.
The sectors with the largest number of JobKeeper recipients were professional services, construction, and healthcare and social assistance. Women, who make up 44.9 per cent of private sector employees, comprised 47.1 per cent of JobKeeper recipients.
Sole traders represented 40 per cent of the organisations receiving the payment but only 12 per cent of individual recipients.
The program was demand driven and, while some eligible businesses chose not to apply, only one in 10 of these businesses cited complexity and insufficient cash flow as the reason for not doing so.
ABS data found 44 per cent of businesses surveyed said JobKeeper, consistent with its core objective, influenced their decision to keep on staff, even if hours were reduced.
The flat $1500 fortnightly payment was a conscious decision, as it enabled the money to be distributed quickly using existing systems. However, one of the consequences of the flat payment equivalent to the minimum wage was that some people were receiving more under JobKeeper than they did pre-COVID-19. The Treasury review finds that about a quarter of JobKeeper recipients saw their income increase by an average of about $550. This is the same amount as the additional coronavirus supplement paid to JobSeeker recipients.
While the income increase of $550 is significant, it's important to acknowledge that this is calculated on the basis of the income a person was receiving from their JobKeeper employer and does not take into account any income they may have lost through losing a second job.
The review found secondary jobs comprised 39 per cent of all jobs lost since March, and a number of those receiving JobKeeper, particularly part-timers or longterm casuals, may have had second jobs.
The government is introducing a second-tier payment as part of JobKeeper 2.0 to better reflect the pre-COVID-19 incomes of recipients.
In recommending that JobKeeper be continued, Treasury said it should remain a time-limited program, as it can create disincentives that become more acute as the economy opens up.
While JobKeeper does not inhibit an employer from making an employee redundant, it could restrict labour mobility and people switching jobs. As the payment does not move with the staff member, it can discourage employees from moving to another firm that is doing better.
Under the JobKeeper extension to March 2021, only businesses whose turnover remains below the threshold will be eligible for continued support. This will ensure it remains targeted to those who need it most.
While not all these businesses will necessarily make it to the other side, by tapering the payment and extending the JobKeeper program, we give them the best chance of remaining viable.
JobKeeper has been an enormously successful program. It has helped keep people in jobs and businesses in business. Given the scale and size of the economic shock hitting the Australian economy, the JobKeeper program will be continued, providing critical support for those who need it most.
Josh Frydenberg is the federal Treasurer.
NSW border restrictions to tighten with Victoria
The NSW Government will make it even harder for people travelling from Victoria to enter the state as of midnight, while Premier Gladys Berejiklian (pictured) urges the public to wear masks when social distancing isn't possible.
The state government has established a strict new border zone, tightened permit conditions and stronger enforcement powers.
With permits, NSW border residents will be restricted in their reasons for travelling into the Victorian side of the border zone, and if they venture further into the neighbouring state they will need to self-isolate for a fortnight upon their return.
Any other NSW resident who crosses the Murray River, or otherwise enters Victoria or has been there in the last 14 days, will be required to self-isolate for 14 days on their return to NSW.
"From midnight Tuesday 21 July, border zone residents with a permit will only be able to cross into the other side of the NSW-Victorian border zone to go to work or attend an education institution if they can't work or learn from home, or to obtain medical care, supplies or health services," NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said.
"On top of that, we're strengthening the rules so the fewer people granted permits to enter NSW must now carry a copy of their permit and produce it when directed by enforcement officers."
NSW reported 20 new COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, all linked to known cases: eight to the Thai Rock restaurant cluster, four to the newly emerging Batemans Bay Soldiers Club cluster, three to the Crossroads Hotel, four from overseas and one from Victoria.
"There's currently 96 people being treated by New South Wales Health and two are in intensive care - one is requiring a ventilator," NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said.
"I'd also like to highlight that one of those cases in intensive care is actually a person in their 30s...often we tend to say this disease affects the elderly, and it does on average, but there still will be young people that are impacted."
Victoria has also reported 275 new cases in the past 24 hours, following a rollercoaster weekend after the state's record daily numbers of 428 on Friday. There are now 2,913 active cases in Victoria, and there have been 39 deaths to date.
NSW Premier Berejiklian urged people to follow the health advice and avoid crowded places.
"We have an opportunity to isolate the cases that we have; to clamp down and to make sure we reduce the incidence of the virus spreading. We have that chance in New South Wales. Unfortunately other places don't have that opportunity," she said.
"As the advice has been provided in NSW, is if you cannot guarantee social distancing where you're going, if you cannot guarantee that people will around you respect that social distancing, you must consider wearing a mask."
For doctors and nurses on the frontline, sources close to Business News Australia have reported incidences of health departments in NSW not allowing staff to get their personal protective equipment (PPE) masks properly fitted - as is supposed to be the standard procedure - to protect against the virus.
Some who purchase their own PPE have also been told not to wear it at work, potentially putting health staff at further risk.
Updated at 12:00pm AEST on 20 July 2020.
National SME loan scheme extended for business recovery
A Federal Government SME loan scheme will be extended, giving Australian businesses access to more funding during the COVID-19 recovery phase.
Under the existing 'Coronavirus SME Guarantee Scheme' the Government has been partnering with 44 approved lenders to guarantee 50 per cent of new unsecured loans to SMEs.
The next phase of the scheme is intended to assist business to move out of hibernation and adapt to the new economic reality.
Key changes to the SME Guarantee Scheme include:
Extending the purpose of loans able to be provided beyond working capital, such that a wider range of investment can be funded;
Permitting secured lending (excluding commercial or residential property);
Increasing the maximum loan size to $1 million (from $250,000) per borrower;
Increasing the maximum loan term to five years (from three years); and
Allowing lenders the discretion to offer a repayment holiday period.
The initial phase of the Scheme remains available for new loans issued by eligible lenders until 30 September 2020. The second phase will start on 1 October 2020 and will be available until 30 June 2021.
"The extended terms of the Scheme will enable lenders to continue supporting Australian small businesses when they need it most," says the Federal Government.
"The expanded Scheme will shift from providing access to working capital to helping businesses stay afloat during the crisis to now also enabling them to access more affordable and longer term credit so that they can invest for their future."
Up to $70 billion in income support on its way
Over the weekend, Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg (pictured) promised to spend $70 billion to extend JobKeeper payments ahead of a review of the program to be delivered later this week.
In an interview with The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald Frydenberg said the new funding will ensure Government support will be forthcoming as infections of COVID-19 continue to impact the economy.
"There's a lot of uncertainty in the economic environment and the Victorian situation is a significant setback," Frydenberg told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.
"It's diminished confidence beyond the Victorian border and the recovery is a confidence game."
Speaking to Sky News on Sunday Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said further support will be delivered to employers that have been particularly impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.
It is expected that the government will adjust eligibility criteria for JobKeeper, with companies with up to $1 billion in turnover eligible if they suffered a 30 per cent fall in business, and companies with more than $1 billion eligible if they suffered a 50 per cent fall.
"As we get to the end of the six months, towards the end of September, it is going to be important to reassess which businesses still should be receiving this support," Senator Cormann said to Sky News.
The extension of these support programs for Australian businesses comes as Australia's unemployment rate hit its highest levels in more than two decades in June at 7.4 per cent.
Close to a quarter of a million people entered part-time employment in June, according to the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
The number of people employed in full-time jobs decreased by 38,100, but on the balance there was a rise of 210,800 in employment overall.
The underemployment rate decreased by 1.4 percentage points to 11.7 per cent, but remained 2.9 percentage points above March.
Updated at 9:40am AEST on 20 July 2020.
Masks to be mandatory in Melbourne, COVID-19 outbreak in Batemans Bay
The ongoing COVID-19 crisis in greater metropolitan Melbourne has forced Premier Daniel Andrews to impose the mandatory wearing of masks.
From 11.59pm on Wednesday 22 July, citizens of metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire must wear a face covering when leaving the home.
Those caught flouting the rule will be hit with a $200 fine.
The latest restriction comes as Victoria reported 363 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 yesterday and 217 on Saturday.
The 580 new cases over the weekend came off the back of Victoria's worst day of new COVID-19 cases on Friday 17 July when the state recorded 428 new cases.
Elsewhere in Australia there were 18 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New South Wales on Sunday and 15 on Saturday.
A club in Batemans Bay on NSW's South Coast has been linked to at least eight cases of COVID-19 leading to the closure of the Batemans Bay Soldiers Club.
All those who worked at or visited the Batemans Bay Soldiers Club on the 13, 15, 16 and 17 June have been directed to immediately get tested for COVID-19 and self-isolate.
The health direction for the Soldiers Club joins a number of other business in NSW that have been impacted by confirmed cases of COVID-19 including Plus Fitness in Campbelltown, Crossroads Hotel in Casula, Planet Fitness in Casula, Picton Hotel in Picton, and Thai Rock Restaurant in Wetherill Park.
Next Federal Parliament sitting cancelled
The next fortnightly sitting of Federal Parliament will not go ahead due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and community transmission in Victoria and regional New South Wales.
Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said the next sitting of Federal Parliament, initially planned to go ahead over the first two weeks of August, posed an unnecessary risk to parliamentarians.
"The entry of a high-risk group of individuals could jeopardise the health situation in the ACT and place residents at unnecessary risk of infection," said Kelly.
Parliament is now due to return on 24 August.
Updated at 10:18am AEST on 20 July 2020.
Local film association questions preferential treatment for foreign studios
The association has sounded a note of caution, urging a balance in support is needed for imported productions with assistance for the making of Australian stories told by Australian voices.
SPA, led by CEO Matthew Deaner (pictured), said the local sector had been hit hard by the coronavirus and the effects of certain government decisions.
"Significant gains in employment, investment and creative output could also be achieved through an extension of the tax incentive for domestic television content, the Producer Offset, which should be increased from 20 per cent to 40 per cent," the association said.
"This would also address the anomaly whereby international productions are able to access higher levels of support than local productions, which create local IP, employ local creatives and create great Australian cultural content."
But SPA claims the biggest threat facing the local industry is the effective suspension of the drama, documentary and children's content quota requirements that apply to commercial free-to-air television, and the drama requirements that apply to subscription television.
"Whilst the Government's announcement of support for international productions is forecast to deliver 8000 roles for Australians, if it's not made immediately clear to all market participants that the television quotas will apply in 2021, 10000-15000 full time equivalent jobs will be lost next year creating a massive problem for our sector," the association said.
"Whilst the decision not to enforce the quotas in 2020 was ostensibly to do with COVID-19 related interruptions to supply, as the Government's investment of $400 million demonstrates, our industry is innovative and adaptive and is already back at work.
"However, the lack of certainty regarding the application of the quotas in 2021 is heavily distorting the market, and throwing doubt over projects which were well developed and ready to be greenlit."
The association explained with the the finalisation of COVID Safe working guidelines and the announcement of a $50 million fund to get productions going again, there was no justification for further blanket suspensions and the "ongoing lack of clarity is affecting shovel-ready projects".
"We urgently need the Government to release the demand hand-brake imposed by the uncertainty regarding 2021 quotas," SPA said.
"Given the lead times for production, the market needs a signal regarding 2021 quotas immediately, to allow for delivery in 2021.
"A failure to make a decision in the coming weeks will effectively result in an inability to supply, despite the industry's readiness and capacity to deliver the content broadcasters need to meet their quota requirements."
Updated at 3:47pm AEST on 17 July 2020.
"No mingling": Group bookings limited to 10 at all NSW indoor hospitality venues
Earlier this week the NSW Government announced group bookings at pubs would be capped at 10 starting today, but those measures have now been extended to all indoor hospitality venues with one week of leeway to comply.
After eight new cases were reported in the state overnight, Premier Gladys Berejiklian noted 24,500 people were tested in the past 24 hours and commended the "Herculean" detective work to contain the Crossroads Hotel outbreak with some 5,000-6,000 people contacted and their contacts traced.
The Premier highlighted advice from health experts that indoor activities were the "greatest threat of spreading the disease", which is why the measures applied to pubs have been extended to clubs, restaurants, cafes, and other indoor hospitality venues.
"I'm announcing further tightening and restrictions. This is to give us every opportunity to keep New South Wales as open as possible," she said.
"But we say this in the context that we have to be flexible, we have to appreciate that once this disease gets into the community it moves very, very quickly, and in ways in which we can't always predict."
The measures will come into effect Friday next week, but the Premier hopes people will take on the advice from today.
"We're giving businesses the next few days to get themselves organised," she said.
"We absolutely need everybody seated when they're in a venue no mingling...when you have smaller groups there's less chance of people getting up and mingling."
For weddings and corporate events the maximum number of people is 150, but guests must remain seated. The cap on people allowed in private homes remains at 20, although Premier Berejiklian asked the public to try to limit the number to 10.
Meanwhile, the limit on funerals and places of worship is at 100, as the emotional nature of exchanges in these scenarios increases the probability of transmission.
The Premier's press conference was heavy on themes of personal responsibility, and she made a call to everyone to help get on top of any potential hotspots or community transmission that might be "bubbling away under the surface".
"All of us need to limit our activity, all of us need to think about what we are doing, all of us need to think about how we're keeping ourselves safe, our families safe and our loved ones safe," she said.
NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro said he would be doubling down on compliance on businesses.
"We don't want to lock down sectors, industries or businesses. We do not want to lock down the economy, but we do need to put in place those measures that allow us to operate safely," he said.
"There is a burden on businesses in this state to do the right thing to become compliant, COVID Safe, and to of course be following the protocols."
Minister for Customer Service Victor Dominello said the government wanted businesses to be part of the solution, and not the problem.
"Quite frankly, if businesses do not take public health concerns seriously, then seriously they should not be in business," he said.
"Today's announcement takes us another step forward in that journey. We are calling out on the good businesses to keep up the great work that they are doing, and overwhelmingly we have great businesses around the state doing the right thing.
"But there are always gonna be those businesses that think that they live beyond the law."
Today's announcement is aimed at stamping that up, with Dominello reiterating businesses "must comply with the law".
"I'm asking the businesses in today's announcement that you must do a couple of things immediately: download your safety plan, register that safety plan, and make sure that you comply with that safety plan including digital attendance records, including keeping the COVID Safe hygiene measures in place," he said.
"We want businesses to survive, and indeed thrive, and but it can only be done in a COVID Safe way."
Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant confirmed there were now 42 cases linked to the Crossroads Hotel cluster.
Dr Chant added there were five recent cases of people who reported spending time at the Stockland Mall at Wetherill Park while infectious, so she urged people who had visited that shopping centre over the last two weeks to be vigilant about symptoms.
The same is true of those who attended the Thai Rock Restaurant from July 10-14.
Updated at 12:01pm AEST on 17 July 2020.
Victoria reports worst day on record with 428 confirmed COVID-19 cases
Victoria has witnessed its worst day on record for confirmed COVID-19 cases, reporting 428 more infections overnight.
The figure is well above yesterday's previous highest daily tally of 317 new cases, and marks the state's 12th day in a row of triple-digit increases of COVID-19 infections.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews (pictured) also reported that three people have died from COVID-19 since yesterday's press conference, bringing the death tally since the pandemic began in Victoria to 32.
Of the 428 new cases, 57 relate to known outbreaks, one is in hotel quarantine, and 370 are under investigation.
112 people in Victoria are now in hospital because of COVID-19 complications, and 31 people are in intensive care.
The state conducted 24,409 tests yesterday, bringing the total number of tests completed in Victoria to 1,250,408.
"Certainly 428 new cases is both disappointing and concerning," says chief health officer Brett Sutton.
"We have not turned the corner here."
Andrews says because of small spikes of infection in regional Victoria there will be new testing clinics established in some regions.
"Additional test sites and expanded test sites are critically important," says Andrews.
"We're also setting up dedicated regional public health teams, local squads who can really bring that intensive intervention to even the smallest number of cases to really sit on those cases to make sure that they get the best public health response."
The ongoing COVID-19 crisis in Victoria has forced Melbourne into a state of lockdown for six weeks under Stage 3 'Stay at Home' restrictions, and Andrews says unless people follow the rules that period of time could be extended.
"These are sacrifices - I know that no one is enjoying being in a six week lockdown," says Andrews.
"Stay at Home orders are deeply frustrating, but at the same time, they are the only tool that we have. We don't want to extend this any longer than the six weeks, we don't want to have to put in any additional rules, and that's why we're so grateful to those who are doing the right thing.
"This is simple in many respects, they're small things for many people, but they do make a really big difference in the number of people who will be infected, the length of time that we will be locked down, and the likelihood or otherwise of having to add to these rules with further restrictions."
Updated at 11:49am AEST on 17 July 2020.
$400 million injection for Australia's screen industry to attract international studios
The film and television industry is set to receive a $400 million boost from the Federal Government as part of a plan to attract overseas productions to Australia.
Dubbed the 'Location Incentive', the $400 million injection is designed to complement the Federal Government's existing 'Location Offset', and provide an effective increase in the tax offset rate from 16.5 per cent to 30 per cent.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a press conference this afternoon the Hollywood production companies of Ron Howard and Jerry Bruckheimer had already reached out on the basis of the announcement.
"There is serious interest in basing films here in Australia," he said.
"We've already got Disney making films here, we've got the Marvel syndicate, we've got Paramount Studios - all these big studios know our potential and capability here in Australia and they've known it for many years.
"Earlier today I was able to meet with Baz Luhrmann over at the Village Roadshow studios where they're filming Elvis, and I was so encouraged by Baz's great passion for Australia which is well known, and great passion for the Australian film industry."
The PM emphasised Australia was known as a safe and productive place to make a film.
"This is an industry that can be drawn upon here in Australia to produce world-class productions, and whether it's Hollywood or Bollywood, wherever they're coming from, they know they can come here and create the films that will create great success," he said.
The funding will extend the screen incentives over seven years to ensure that international studios can commit to multiple productions over a number of years, guaranteeing local jobs both now and into the future.
The 'Location Incentive' is estimated to attract around $3 billion in foreign expenditure and should create 8,000 new employment opportunities for Australians each year.
"This investment is key to our JobMaker plan to create jobs, boost local business activity, and provide training and skills," Morrison said.
"Behind these projects are thousands of workers that build and light the stages, that feed, house and cater for the huge cast and crew and that bring the productions to life.
"This is backing thousands of Australians who make their living working in front of the camera and behind the scenes in the creative economy."
Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts Paul Fletcher said the expanded program meant Australia's film and television industry would be firing on all cylinders as COVID-19 restrictions ease.
"The Location Incentive is an economic multiplier. It will sustain the vitality of Australian screen production and support jobs and local businesses," Minister Fletcher said.
"Through this additional commitment, the Government is telling the world that Australia is a desirable destination for screen production with great locations, skilled crews, world-class talent, post-production expertise and state of the art facilities."
To date, the Government has announced funding of $123 million for 10 productions through the existing Location Incentive including Thor: Love and Thunder and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings in Sydney, Godzilla vs Kong on the Gold Coast, Shantaram and The Alchemyst in Melbourne. These 10 projects are estimated to generate spending of around $1 billion, support 8,500 local jobs over multiple years and engage more than 9,000 Australian businesses.
However, the additional $400 million boost for international filmmakers comes as the Federal Government is cutting $5 million in funding per year for ABC independent productions, equating to a roughly $35 million blow over the same seven year period.
The extra funding comes as the Queensland film industry is back on set, with two productions restarting including Baz Luhrmann's Elvis biopic and rom-com feature film This Little Love of Mine.
Queensland Premier Gladys Berejiklian noted in June that the film and television industry had been hit hard by COVID-19.
"While the global pandemic may have forced productions into hiatus, the Queensland Screen industry has still been active - doing what they do best, creating and developing until productions can recommence," Berejiklian said.
"Screen Queensland established a Queensland Screen Industry Task Force and announced a $3.3 million COVID-19 support package to support Queensland writers and producers and businesses.
"I look forward to announcing the start of more productions in our State soon, that are getting people back to work and our economy recovering."
The expansion of the Location Incentive comes on top of $250 million over the next 12 months to help restart the creative economy, including $50 million for a Temporary Interruption Fund that will support local film and television producers to secure finance and recommence filming for productions that have largely been halted due to the challenges in accessing insurance coverage for COVID-19.
Originally published at 11:31am, updated at 3:22pm AEST on 17 July 2020.
More than 210,000 Australians returned to work in June
Australia's unemployment rate reached its highest levels in more than two decades in June at 7.4 per cent, but a relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions meant more people were actually employed or looking for work.
Close to a quarter of a million people entered part-time employment in June, according to the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
The number of people employed in full-time jobs decreased by 38,100, but on the balance there was a rise of 210,800 in employment overall.
The underemployment rate decreased by 1.4 percentage points to 11.7 per cent, but remained 2.9 percentage points above March.
"The easing of COVID-19 restrictions in June saw an extra 280,000 people in the labour force, with more people in employment, and more actively looking and available for work," ABS head of labour statistics Bjorn Jarvis said.
"Overall, the percentage of people employed in Australia increased 1.0 percentage point to 59.2 per cent, up from a low of 58.2 per cent in May.
"In June, around 24 per cent of the fall in employment through to May had been regained."
The nation's hours worked increased by 4 per cent, which is still 6.8 per cent short of March levels.
Hours worked increased more for females (5.0 per cent) than males (3.3 per cent) over the month, although the differential compared to pre-coronavirus circumstances is greater for women by almost one percentage point.
Unemployment increased by 69,300 people to 992,300, and around 70 per cent of newly unemployed people in June were not in the labour force in May.
The underutilisation rate, which combines the unemployment and underemployment rates, fell 1.0 percentage point, to 19.1 per cent.
Updated at 10:02am AEST on 17 July 2020.
Rapid COVID-19 detection test sends AnteoTech shares soaring
Technologies developed in Brisbane and Melbourne may contribute to a new 15-minute test for COVID-19, harnessing nanocoating to speed up results for saliva and blood tests.
Brisbane-based AnteoTech (ASX: ADO) has successfully developed a proof-of-concept in-house for two types of tests - one for antigens with swab samples from the nose, throat or mouth, and the other with antibodies from blood samples.
The proof of concept was conducted with AnteoTech's proprietary AnteoBind activated Europium particle technology, with Melbourne-based diagnostics products company Axxin providing the reading device.
Combined with the Axxin reader the AnteoTech test is designed to deliver higher sensitivity than the gold particle-based antibody tests that are commonly used in point of care platforms today.
ADO shares rose 87 per cent to 4.1 cents each after the announcement of this development, which if taken further could prove an alternative to current swab testing that takes hours to deliver results.
Another ASX-listed company Cellmid (ASX: CDY) also has a 15-minute test, courtesy of its status as an exclusive distributor in Australia for the Wondfo SARS-CoV-2 antibody, developed by China's Guangzhou Wondfo Biotech Co.
The next phase of development for AnteoTech over the next six to nine months will aim to optimise tests, further improve the lower limit of detection, and verify and validate the design before clinical studies.
If those studies take place and prove successful, the company would need to gain regulatory approvals and prepare for outsourced scaled manufacturing.
"This is another important milestone for AnteoTech as we further leverage AnteoBind activated Europium and our Assay Development competency with the aim to deliver an end user product in the Lateral Flow Point of Care market," says AnteoTech CEO Derek Thomson (pictured).
"All the company including myself are immensely proud to have made the decision to develop this test as we believe our competency and product is unique and can make a substantial difference in the global fight against the COVID-19 virus."
In other COVID-19 news, Victoria has reported 317 new cases overnight, representing the highest number of daily cases in any Australian jurisdiction since the pandemic began. There were also two deaths in the state, while New South Wales reported 10 new cases of the virus.
Updated at 12:29pm AEST on 16 July 2020.
Helloworld plans $50m raise to ride out COVID-19 turbulence
Travel agency Helloworld (ASX: HLO) has today announced a $50 million equity raising to help cope with industry disruption, as bookings are expected to remain at 10-12 per cent of pre-coronavirus levels.
CEO Andrew Burnes and executive director Cinzia Burnes will throw $5 million into the bargain, with the raising aimed at providing balance sheet flexibility at a time when monthly cash burn is at around the $2 million mark.
The company's monthly operating costs stood at $22.9 million before the pandemic, but cost saving initiatives including the closure of offshore offices in Manila and Mumbai have helped reduce outlays to $4 million post-JobKeeper and the New Zealand wage subsidy.
The group continues to generate income of $2 million per month, mostly from transaction fees and commissions, and is seeing domestic total transaction volume (TTV) increase week by week as borders open up. Currently around 70 per cent of that TTV comes from Helloworld's corporate business.
But the company only had $31 million in cash as at the end of June, compared to $147.8 million for the same date in 2019. Lenders have extended maturity dates for short-term facilities out to April and September in 2022, but Helloworld could still use the extra liquidity.
That is why it is raising funds at $1.65 per share, representing a 16 per cent discount to the last trading price.
The equity raising comprises a 27.1 million institutional placement and a $22.9 million non-renounceable entitlement offer, in total representing almost a quarter of existing Helloworld shares on issue.
After the raising Helloworld is expected to have a pro forma liquidity position of $187.1 million.
The company added it was still owed $3.7 million by Virgin Australia (ASX: VAH), whose administrators Deloitte have indicated won't have enough recoveries to pay creditors in full.
"At this stage, it is unclear what recovery may be realised. Helloworld has not experienced material debtor defaults," Helloworld stated in a presentation.
"Debtor provisioning at 30 June 2020 is expected to increase from historical levels reflecting slower collections than achieved historically.
"Suppliers, particularly airlines and cruise companies, introduced unilateral changes to their refund policies including some businesses refusing to refund at all, imposing additional cancellation and refund charges, insisting on bookings being paid for in full when it was unlikely for the aircraft or cruise to depart before they would consider a refund (rather than just refunding the deposit) and significant delays (3 months) in receiving refunds."
NT won't "roll the dice" on visitors from Sydney, travellers to be quarantined
Visitors arriving in the Northern Territory from Sydney will need to enter quarantine at their own expense for two weeks, as the Territory Government responds to an emerging COVID-19 cluster in the NSW capital.
The tough decision has been made ahead of the NT's scheduled reopening to much of the country this Friday, for which Victorians are also exempt due to a surge in cases.
The announcement comes after NSW reported 13 new cases today, with the total number of cases linked to the Crossroads Hotel in Southwest Sydney now at 34.
NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner (pictured) said 30 local government areas (LGAs) in Greater Metropolitan Sydney were now considered hotspots by the Territory Government.
People arriving from Sydney will need to spend $2,500 on quarantine at the Howard Springs Quarantine Facility. Chief Minister Gunner has previously indicated those who lie could face up to three years in prison.
"You don't make a decision based solely on what today's numbers are. You look at today's numbers and you map out how bad it could get," he said.
"Another factor in our decision is that New South Wales is not currently considering a localised lockdown. While there are good reasons for that, we accept that, it does increase the risk for us and it's not a risk we are prepared to accept.
"To open the door to Sydney right now when we don't know the full extent of this cluster would be a roll of the dice, and I don't gamble with the lives of Territorians."
For NSW travellers from outside Sydney flying into NT from Sydney Airport, the airport will be considered a quarantined exemption as is the case in Melbourne, so long as those travellers have not spent time in any hotspot area.
Chief Minister Gunner emphasised the Sydney hotspot declarations would be reviewed in two weeks, after a full replication cycle of the virus has taken place.
"I don't anticipate this declaration being in place for as long as Victoria's, but I will not make any promises about a date," he said.
"I know that this is a big response to a smalller outbreak, but the outbreaks in Melbourne started small too.
"I'd rather be overly cautious now and accept in a few weeks that we were too cautious, than take a risk now and discover in a few weeks that we were reckless."
Victoria reported 238 new cases overnight, of which 209 were still under investigation. There are now 27 people in the state in intensive care units (ICUs), and there was one death overnight.
Australia currently has 2,096 active cases in total, of which the vast majority are in Victoria.
Updated at 12:36pm AEST on 15 July 2020.
New COVID-19 restrictions for NSW venues, SA to maintain border closure
Venues in NSW will have to comply with more stringent COVID-19 restrictions in the wake of the Crossroads Hotel outbreak, including capacity limits and the employment of a COVID-safe marshal.
It comes as the outbreak of COVID-19 from the Crossroads Hotel worsens, with 10 of today's 13 new confirmed cases in NSW connected to that outbreak.
In total, there are now 28 cases linked to the Crossroads Hotel outbreak, with 14 directly connected to the hotel itself, and the remainder being close contacts of those infected patrons.
That outbreak has also forced South Australia Premier Steven Marshall to delay the reopening of his state's border with NSW and the ACT.
The new rules will limit the amount of people in venues in NSW and include:
A cap of 300 people on all venues,
Group bookings will be capped at 10 people,
A full-time COVID-safe marshal must be employed to monitor social distancing at venues with a capacity of 250 people or more,
Smaller venues must employ a COVID-safe marshal during peak times,
And details of every single attendee must be recorded.
Venues must also download a COVID-safe plan and register that plan with the NSW Government from 12:01am on Friday in order to open.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian says the new measures are intended to clamp down on community transmission of COVID-19 which she says could have been "bubbling below the surface" undetected for a period of time.
"This is the time that we are more concerned because we are still tracing what level of transmission has occurred in the last few months, that may be bubbling below the surface that we're not aware of," says Berejiklian.
"But the reason why we are especially in high alert in New South Wales is also, of course, because of what's happened in Victoria, the proximity of our states, the fact that there was some challenges with quarantine potentially going back some months, means that we have that risk that there's been that level of community transmission in New South Wales for some time."
The State's health authorities have also asked any person who attended the Crossroads Hotel between 3 and 10 July to isolate for 14 days and get tested if any symptoms present.
The news comes as Victoria has today recorded 270 new cases of COVID-19; the third largest day of new cases since the pandemic began. These new cases mean Australia has officially clocked over 10,000 confirmed cases since 25 January when the first locally recorded case of COVID-19 landed in the country.
Globally there are now more than 13 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, with the USA reporting 65,488 new cases just yesterday.
SA to maintain border restrictions with NSW and ACT
South Australian Premier Steven Marshall has today announced that the state will not be lifting border restrictions with NSW and ACT because of the outbreak at the Crossroads Hotel.
Marshall had initially planned to reopen South Australia's border with NSW and the ACT on Monday 20 July, however that date has now been canned and will be reassessed on Friday.
"The 'super spreader' event, which has occurred at the Crossroads Hotel on the Hume Highway is really of great concern," says Marshall.
"There are now many hundreds, in fact probably in excess of 1,000 people that are now in isolation as part of that super spreader event.
"Obviously, there's a 14 day incubation period, and the transition committee have made a decision that we really need to see those results before we lift the borders with New South Wales and the ACT."
LIVE: Providing an update on border restrictions following today's Transition Committee meeting
QLD names two NSW locations COVID-19 'hotspots', proposes jail time for breaching health directions
Two areas in NSW have been named COVID-19 'hotspots' by Queensland Health this morning as the outbreak from the Crossroads Hotel begins to cause concern.
The town of Campbelltown and the Sydney suburb of Liverpool have been declared as COVID-19 hotspots, meaning from midday today any person returning to Queensland that has been to one of those locations must quarantine in a hotel for two weeks.
The Crossroads Hotel is located in Casula, just south from Liverpool and north from Campbelltown, a town on the fringe of greater Sydney.
Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeanette Young has also confirmed that there are 18 people in Queensland who have visited the Crossroads Hotel.
All 18 have been tested and are awaiting the results of the tests.
Yesterday, NSW confirmed that there are 21 confirmed cases of COVID-19 connected to the Crossroads Hotel.
Further, the Queensland Government has proposed stronger punishments for those breaching public health directions like self-isolating, hotel quarantine and other restrictions.
The new proposed maximum penalty will be $4,003 or up to six months imprisonment.
"I hope that will demonstrate to the public just how serious we are about enforcing these measures," says Queensland Minister for Health Dr Steven Miles.
This week, we will move an amendment to give on-the-spot fines of more than $4,000 or up to six months imprisonment to anyone breaching public health directions, including making false border declarations. #covid19aus
Queensland has recorded no new cases of COVID-19 today.
Updated at 10:20am AEST on 14 July 2020.
Victoria - are you up for elimination?
Victoria is the unlucky state in a very lucky country, where all other states and territories (with the possible exception of NSW) have achieved COVID-19 elimination. A great achievement.
It means those states and territories can go about life near normally, with an economy ticking along nicely. But Victoria is stuck in suppression land, dealing with the current outbreak and more outbreaks in the future if we don't eliminate the virus.
The new Melbourne lockdown is for six weeks. This is enough time to make good progress towards elimination.
Is going for gold and having a crack at eliminating the virus in Victoria worth it? I argue "yes". The advantages would be that Victoria could rejoin the rest of Australia, New Zealand and other virus-free countries in an open travel bubble.
If we don't eliminate, then Victoria will be the pariah state till a vaccine hopefully arrives. The rest of Australia will just keeping moving ahead without us.
Is elimination achievable? Yes. If at least six other Australian states and territories, along with New Zealand can do it, so can Victoria.
But what are the downsides of going for elimination? Probably more pain now, for long term gain.
Victoria's Premier Daniel Andrews should declare "elimination" as our goal. You may recall that Prime Minister Scott Morrison was indifferent about Australia's goal two months or so ago, saying as a country we were following a "suppression/elimination" strategy. That worked pretty well. But now we need to be clear about our goal.
This will change the dialogue and zeitgeist. For example, when we get down to ten cases per day, rather than clamouring for opening up, Victorians should be excitedly saying "we are getting close, let's keep going in lockdown and knock it on the head."
Is our current stay at home for six weeks enough? The honest answer is "I don't know", as so much about the spread of COVID-19 can come down to chance. However, I suspect there's a less than 50:50 chance of achieving elimination.
So, what else would we need to do to increase our chances of eliminating COVID-19? Essentially, embrace the lockdown and go really hard. Specifically, do these extra things.
First, tighten the definition of essential workers. Unlike during the last lockdown, there shouldn't be builders working on residential projects two houses up my street.
Second, don't reopen schools. I am apologetic in saying this I know how hard this is for parents. But while kids don't usually get too sick from COVID-19, they still transmit the virus from one family to the next. We need to stop this.
If as a society we decide that Years 11 and 12 still need to be in school, then how about all our boarding schools coming together so that Year 11 and 12 students can go into a boarding arrangement rather than risking transmitting the virus between families. Last time around the private hospitals agreed to give over their facilities to the public health sector, so this time the private school sectors needs to do the same.
Third, all Melbourne households should have masks delivered to them in the next ten days. We need to mobilise the national stockpile now. All Melburnians should then be required to wear masks in busy indoor environments like supermarkets, and on public transport. The evidence is in masks reduce the risk of transmitting the virus by 80 per cent or so, as shown in a Lancet paper last week.
While not a silver bullet on its own, combined with everything else it may be enough to get us over the line to eliminate the virus.
Fourth, all essential workers must wear masks. Your Uber eats delivery person, and the paramedic, are out there going from one locked down family to the next. An obvious potential vector to transfer the virus around. That risk needs to be minimised.
Fifth, the closing of shops should be more widespread. Department stores, hardware stores and the like. They need to close now. And stay closed at least until all staff, and all patrons, are wearing masks with mandatory hand sanitiser on the way in and the way out. And, of course, strong enforcement of physical distancing.
Sixth, let's convene an advisory group of experts who have pulled off an elimination strategy. For example, experts from NZ which had such an explicit goal of elimination and succeeded. I know them, I know their phone numbers Premier Andrews and Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton, just call me.
Seventh, the rest of Australia wins too if Victoria eliminates the virus. Victoria needs federal support in terms of staff, facilities, and yes extensions to programmes like Job-Keeper to help Victoria through the pain. Also, essential staff in supermarkets and security staff patrolling the streets need good training, reimbursement and recognition. They are our frontline.
The above sounds tough. And it is. But what are the alternatives? Do we want to live in a pariah state, segregated off from the rest of Australasia, experiencing outbreak after outbreak till a treatment or vaccine arrives, enduring social and economic hardship all along the way? Or do we want to have a go at something better?
There is no guarantee that such an elimination strategy will work, but it has a good chance.
Victorians love their sport and like to bet on it too. Imagine I told you that I guarantee you this horse has at least a 50:50 odds of winning, and that if you bet $10 on it I will pay you out $100 if it wins.
You would be a fool not to jump at these good odds of a handsome pay-off.
Estia Health confirms COVID-19 outbreak at Melbourne aged care facility
Aged care operator Estia Health (ASX: EHE) has confirmed 13 residents at its facility in Ardeer, Melbourne have tested positive for COVID-19.
The company says it is working closely with the Victorian Department of Health to manage and monitor the situation.
The outbreak makes up a fraction of the 177 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Victoria overnight.
The news comes as the company has announced a significant non-cash impairment of between $124 million and $148 million for FY20 due issues arising from the pandemic and historical acquisitions.
The company says the impairment charge is provisional in nature and will have no impact on the company's debt facilities, compliance with banking covenants or its ability to undertake capital management initiatives.
"As a result of ongoing uncertainty of future sector funding and financing, exacerbated by the issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, the company expects to report a non-cash impairment charge, primarily on goodwill arising from historical acquisitions," says Estia.
Under Estia's $330 million bank facility, net bank debt at 30 June 2020 was $99.4 million.
The news of the 13 confirmed cases in Estia's Ardeer facility came as a shock to the market; the company initially reported that there were no known cases of COVID-19 in any of its aged care facilities earlier this morning, but later in the day it updated the market with the announcement of the confirmed cases.
In its ASX announcement this morning Estia said testing and monitoring were key to the company's response to the COVID-19 pandemic currently sweeping through Melbourne.
"Strict protocols and testing remain in place at all homes and will do so for the foreseeable future, including testing of all new admissions," says Estia Health.
Part of the company's response included the reintroduction of visitor restrictions to its facilities on 29 June.
The 13 residents in Ardeer join two staff members at Estia Health who have who previously tested positive for COVID-19.
"Neither employee worked while showing symptoms of the illness," Estia Health said.
"All infection control precautions were put in place immediately upon notification and we are working with the Victorian Health Public Health Unit and the Commonwealth Department of Health to monitor this situation."
Shares in Estia Health are down 3.87 per cent to $1.44 per share at 13 July 2020.
Updated at 4:10pm AEST on 13 July 2020.
The Star Sydney confirms patron tested positive for COVID-19
A patron who visited The Star Sydney on Saturday 4 July has returned a positive test for COVID-19, but the casino will remain open.
The operator of the casino and resort The Star Entertainment Group (ASX: SGR) confirmed the positive test this afternoon, explaining that the person attended The Star Sydney on 4 July from around 7:30pm to 10:30pm.
"The Star is working closely with NSW Health to respond to this information, including the conduct of contact tracing (which includes staff members)," says SGR.
"Since its restricted opening on 1 June 2020, The Star Sydney continues to operate in accordance with its COVID-Safe Plan.
"The Plan incorporates spatial distancing measures, and hygiene and cleaning measures across the property including extensive intra-day cleaning and a daily comprehensive clean during a property shutdown between 6am and 10am."
The news comes as NSW recorded 14 new cases of COVID-19 overnight, bringing the total number of cases in NSW to 3,303.
Of today's new cases, four are returned travellers in hotel quarantine, two are NSW residents who acquired the infection in Victoria and are now in isolation.
Eight cases counted today include five who attended the Crossroads Hotel, and three are close contacts of cases who were at the hotel. They are all currently isolating. The new cases bring the total number of cases that can be traced to the Crossroads Hotel to 21.
One confirmed case of COVID-19 linked to the Crossroads Hotel also attended Planet Fitness Casula. The gym is closed for cleaning.
Another case linked to the outbreak attended Picton Hotel during their infectious period, attending on 4, 9, and 10 July in the gaming room. The hotel is closed for cleaning.
NSW Health is urging anyone who attended the Crossroads Hotel at Casula between Friday, 3 July and Friday, 10 July to immediately self-isolate until 14 days after they were last there, attend a clinic for testing even if they have no symptoms, watch for respiratory symptoms and get retested should any occur.
The Victoria Department of Health has also reported two Victorian cases separately attended several venues in NSW, including:
5 July lunch at Cook @ Kurnell
5 July dinner at Highfield, Caringbah
6 July dinner at the Merimbula RSL
7 July breakfast at the Waterfront Café Merimbula
4 and 5 July Murray Downs Golf Club.
While investigations are underway, NSW Health urges anyone who attended these venues at these times must watch for respiratory symptoms or fever, and if they occur, isolate and get tested for COVID-19 right away.
The majority of Australia's 192 new cases of COVID-19 are in Victoria, with the state recording 177 new cases today.
NSW situation places a question mark over SA border reopening
The ongoing situation of local transmission of COVID-19 in NSW has forced South Australian Premier Steven Marshall to rethink his state's border opening up to citizens from NSW and ACT.
Currently, SA is expected to open its borders to NSW and the ACT on 20 July, but this date may change if the COVID-19 situation in NSW worsens.
"At this stage we have to put a question mark around lifting the border on Monday the 20th with both NSW and ACT," says Marshall.
"We are going to be looking at their new infections tomorrow very carefully at our transition committee meeting and if it is not safe to lift our border restrictions then we won't be doing so.
"We just have to see if there is a significant escalation between now and 20 July. I think that that date will come under some further consideration."
Marshall's comments come alongside the state announcing that it will be asking returning travellers from overseas into South Australia to foot the bill for their hotel quarantine stay.
As of Saturday morning (18 July) returning travellers coming into SA will be hit with a $3,000 charge for the first individual, a partner with be a further $1,000, and children will cost $500 each.
"The reality is that people have had plenty of time to get back to Australia," says Marshall.
"There are some real stragglers at the moment and they will need to be paying for the costs that are incurred by the taxpayers.
"They won't be getting that free of charge going forward."
Updated at 1:55pm AEST on 13 July 2020.
Human trials for UQ's COVID-19 vaccine commence
The University of Queensland (UQ) has reached a milestone in the development of a "promising" COVID-19 vaccine with human trials to commence today.
Volunteers will receive the first vaccine dose today in Brisbane as part of a trial of UQ's vaccine run by early phase clinical trial specialist Nucleus Network.
UQ was tasked by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to develop a vaccine against the novel coronavirus, supported by an initial investment of up to US$4.5 million, and is collaborating with the Peter Doherty Institute to demonstrate and understand its immune response.
Queensland Innovation Minister Kate Jones says the state has now joined a small group of vaccine developers around the world who are moving out of the lab and into human trials.
"Queensland boasts one of the most promising vaccine candidates on the planet," says Jones.
"We asked Queenslanders to roll up their sleeves to save lives and they've answered the call in droves.
"We needed up to 120 volunteers for the first stage. More than 4000 people have put up their hands to volunteer."
One of the UQ COVID-19 vaccine research leaders Professor Paul Young says the first human trial was about evaluating the safety and immune response of the vaccine in a group of healthy volunteers.
"The green light to move into this human trial follows extensive pre-clinical testing that the team has been conducting since first selecting the lead vaccine candidate on 14 February," Professor Young said.
"This testing showed that the vaccine was effective in the lab in neutralising the virus and safe to give to humans."
Professor Young says once human testing was under way, researchers expect to have preliminary results after about three months.
"We'll hold a collective breath while we wait to see how the trial goes," he said.
"But if all goes well, we can move to the next stage in the vaccine's development a larger trial with a much bigger group of people from a range of ages to see if the vaccine works across the board."
The clinical batch of vaccine for use in the trial was a manufactured by a close partnership between UQ and CSIRO with technical assistance by Australian biotech company CSL, Brisbane based Thermo Fisher and Swedish company Cytiva.
The news comes as Australia records 192 new cases of COVID-19 overnight.
The majority of the cases are in Victoria, with 177 new cases including 151 under investigation.
There have also been 14 new cases in New South Wales, with four of those tracing back to the Crossroads Hotel outbreak.
Western Australia will delay its decision to enter phase 5 on its road to recovery, pushing back plans that would have removed the current 2sqm rule and 50 per cent capacity limits at major venues on 18 July.
WA Premier Mark McGowan told a press conference this new phase would now be set to start a fortnight later on 1 August, as a tentative date.
"Given the growing level of community spread over East and around the world, the risk of the virus returning with a vengeance is greater than ever before," he said.
"There is a real possibility that the virus could return to Western Australia. Believe me, I don't want to see that happen.
"I don't want to be reimposing restrictions. That's why we have put in place a series of new measures in recent days to reduce that risk as much as possible - by slowing the flow of arrivals, by making border controls even tougher, and imposing a mandatory testing regime, we're giving ourselves the best chance to prevent the virus from reemerging."
Additionally, further to indications made by Prime Minister Scott Morrison after today's National Cabinet meeting, Premier McGowan said all international arrivals would need to pay for their own 14 days of quarantine as of 17 July.
The Premier stood by the state government's stance to maintain its hard border, emphasising the policy had worked for the state just as the country's strong borders had helped keep Australia safer than other countries around the world.
"With the fastest asing of restrictions in the country, our lives have effectively got back to normal and our economy is recovering, however our success in Western Australia has created new challenges and new risks," he said.
"In recent days and weeks we have seen a gradual increase in people seeking to come to Western Australia from overseas and interstate.
"To highlight the increase in interstate arrivals, in a 10-day period in June we had 2,705 arrivals by air for a range of reasons; more recently in the last 10 days we have seen 4,995 people from interstate arrive in Perth by air. The majority of these arrivals are from Melbourne and Sydney."
When asked whether the Federal Government had responded to his calls not to back Clive Palmer's High Court case against Western Australia's hard borders, Premier McGowan said he coudl not comment on matters discussed in National Cabinet.
Tasmania delays border reopening
Premier of Tasmania Peter Gutwein has deferred the reopening of the state's border by at least a week until 31 July.
The state will review the decision on 24 July, but in the meantime its borders to the rest of the country will be closed.
"We will only open up when we are confident the safety of Tasmanians ... that they aren't put at risk," says Gutwein.
Updated at 1pm AWST on 10 July 2020.
Victorian Premier urges Melburnians to use masks as new cases surge towards 300
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has today called on residents in lockdown areas to wear masks if social distancing isn't possible, after a further 288 new cases of COVID-19 were reported today.
The State Government is currently in the process of getting two million reusable masks made for the public, and will also provide an additional one million single-use masks.
While Melburnians and Mitchell Shire residents have been requested to wear masks, their use is still not compulsory.
The Premier said the recommendation was made out of an abundance of caution and the fact it was a fairly easy step to take, especially in light of the rise in daily cases.
"Whether you're in an Uber or a taxi, or if you're on public transport or many other examples,even shopping for the basics when you need them...we're simply asking that if you can wear a mask where you can't distance, that's exactly what we would like you to do," he said.
Premier Andrews added even home masks would do for now, and the wearing of masks would be a feature of Victoria's response to the pandemic for the foreseeable future, potentially for many months.
"Now's the time to do that common sense thing," he said.
There are now 47 people in hospital in Victoria with the virus, of whom 12 are in intensive care. The vast majority of new cases are under investigation by health authorities, but 26 are connected to contained and known outbreaks.
"It was always going to get worse before it got better," Premier Andrews said, adding 37,588 tests were undertaken yesterday.
"We're doing more testing than has ever been done, and not by a small margin - a massive margin. I'm very grateful to everybody who has participated in that testing program, and I would urge all Victorians to follow the rules."
Chief Health Officer Drew Sutton noted the recommendation had also been made in light of a recent meta-analysis published in the medical journal Lancet demonstrating the benefits of wearing masks as one form of preventative measure.
"Really up until the last couple of weeks there was ambivalent evidence and they weren't really strong recommendations coming out in Australia in relation to them [masks]," he said.
"A big Lancet meta-analysis...is really showing that masks do make a significant difference potentially, even understanding that people don't always wear them perfectly, that they don't provide perfect protection."
But he clarified wearing a mask was no substitute for keeping a distance from people, and isolating when you're feeling unwell and getting tested.
"The numbers that we're seeing at the moment are of concern, but we do expect them to plateau in the next week," Sutton said.
"But it requires everyone to follow the stay-at home directions; those four reasons to leave home are really the only reason to leave home," he said, with those reasons being work or study; care or caregiving; daily exercise; or food and other essentials.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recently been considering whether the aerosol pathway - meaning tiny droplets that remain in the air from people's breathing - could be more serious in spreading COVID-19 than previously thought.
On 6 July, 239 scientists from around the world appealed to health authorities to recognise overwhelming research finding that an infected person exhales airborne virus droplets when breathing and talking that can travel further than the current 1.5-metre social distancing requirement.
Advocacy for this recognition has been led by QUT Professor Lidia Morawska, who is also director of the International Air Quality and Health Laboratory.
"Studies by the signatories and other scientists have demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that viruses are exhaled in microdroplets small enough to remain aloft in the air and pose a risk of exposure beyond one to two metres by an infected person," she said.
"At typical indoor air velocities, a 5-micron droplet will travel tens of metres, much greater than the scale of a typical room while settling from a height of 1.5m above the floor."
Potential solutions to this problem include sufficient and effective ventilation, supplementing ventilation with airborne infection controls, and avoiding overcrowding.
More to come....
Updated at 1:58pm AEST on 10 July 2020.
International arrivals into Australia to be slashed in half
From Monday, 4,000 fewer people will be reentering Australia each week as the Prime Minister caps international arrivals by half.
In addition, those returning may have to pay for their own stays in hotel quarantine to reduce the financial burden on Australian states and territories.
"Some states already have it, some states are moving towards it, and I will leave that to them to make the announcements at the appropriate time," says Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
The plan is to have national uniformity across pricings of hotel quarantine for returning residents and citizens.
A hotel quarantine program review will be undertaken by the former health secretary Jane Halton, which Morrison says will look into how hotel quarantine is being managed in each state and territory.
"This is an important step in providing reassurance and making sure that as we look into each of the states and territories and how they're managing their quarantine that is meeting the standards that the AHPPC had advised upon," says Morrison.
"And as our country opens up again, with the exception of Victoria, that we can ensure we've had even greater confidence in those quarantine arrangements."
Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly says the review will look into hotel quarantine programs around the country in more detail.
"Various states have done their own internal reviews, and just to be clear that the quarantine is with the states, but this is just a way of looking at that quarantine in a more detailed fashion," says Kelly.
"To be clear there have been a lot of people that have come into hotel quarantine, there have been very few breaches, but we've seen, as has been reported in Victoria, a single breach, even it it's low risk, can lead to catastrophic outcomes.
"So we absolutely need to know that this is working as best as it can."
Morrison says the review will look at number of areas including:
Into infection prevention control training for clinical hotel and security staff;
Compliance with infection prevention and control requirements of security staff;
Evidence of community cases attributed to international travellers in hotel quarantine including cases in hotel and security staff;
Rates of compliance with testing;
A legislative or contractual basis for mandatory testing;
Management of suspected or confirmed cases;
Provision and effectiveness of support services;
Medical, mental health, social services and financial support;
Management of vulnerable people;
Management of cultural diveristy;
Administrative arrangements; and
Changing capacity requirements to changes in border restrictions.
In a sign of things to come, the Prime Minsiter will be having a discussion this afternoon with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern about the proposed Trans-Tasman Safe Travel Zone, but there is no imminent starting date in the works just yet.
"There is still a lot more work to be done to get to a point of having a trans-Tasman safe travel zone," Morrison said.
"We discussed that today at National Cabinet about what states and territories could or would participate in that so there is a bit more work to do there, obviously the Victorian situation, although it is isolated from the rest of the country's seven states and territories, would be potentially in a position to be involved in that.
"We will hear further from the New Zealanders. It is an issue of interest in terms of how we can engage again with the rest of the world, but I think we will have to be very patient about that."
Professor Kelly was also asked about the current advice on wearing masks in Victoria. He says Melburnians should remain at home where possible, but if they do need to go into public it would be a good idea to wear a mask.
"The advice is for places where there is ongoing community transmission, so this for the moment is greater Melbourne and the Mitchell shire, is that the overarching advice is people should stay at home unless they need to go out," says Kelly.
"Assuming that people do need to go out, what has not changed is if people have symptoms and they need to go for a test, for example, which we would definitely encourage, they should wear a mask.
"Other people, where physical distancing cannot be guaranteed, they should also wear a mask in Melbourne and Mitchell shire."
Updated at 1:26pm AEST on 10 July 2020.
Victorian ski season freezes over as Mt Hotham and Falls Creek resorts suspend operations
COVID-19 restrictions in Victoria and border closures to the State have forced the operator of Mt Hotham and Falls Creek ski resorts to suspend operations, just over two weeks after the season commenced.
Vail Resorts, the company that operates ski-lifting operations at Falls Creek and Hotham Ski Resorts says it made the tough decision to close after assessing the new COVID-19 restrictions in Victoria.
Ski-lifting operations at Falls Creek and Mt Hotham will be suspended effective today until at least 19 August, consistent with current Victorian stay at home directions.
Vail Resorts says it will continue to assess the situation and will follow state health authority guidelines in evaluating if it is advisable of feasible to reopen.
"We did not make this decision lightly as we know our employees, guests and the communities where we operate have already endured so much hardship this year," says Vail Resorts senior vice president and COO Pete Brulisauer.
"However, we are focused first and foremost on health and safety, following local health guidelines and doing our part to support efforts across Victoria to address the recent rise in coronavirus cases.
"We recognise this is incredibly disappointing to our guests and pass holders, including those who have made reservations at Hotham and Falls Creek this season. We thank them for their patience and understanding as we continue to navigate this incredibly challenging time."
Perisher, also operated by Vail Resorts, is unaffected by this decision and will remain open in accordance with COVID-19 restrictions in NSW.
All reservations for lift tickets, ski and ride lessons and rental bookings will be cancelled and fully refunded. Guests will be contacted with information on processing refunds and have been asked by Vail Resorts to refrain from contacting the call centres at this time.
The news comes as Victoria has announced a $534 million support package, including a $40 million capped fund for regional tourism, in the wake of reimposed COVID-19 restrictions.
The package also includes $5,000 grants to businesses that have been forced to close due to COVID-19, and around 80,000 eligible businesses with payrolls of up to $10 million will be able to defer their payroll tax liabilities for the first half of FY21.
Updated at 1:06pm AEST on 10 July 2020.
Victoria releases $534m support package with cash grants, payroll tax deferral
The lockdown of greater Melbourne has today led the state government to announce $534 million worth of wide-reaching support measures, including $5,000 grants to businesses that are forced to close.
Around 80,000 eligible businesses with payrolls of up to $10 million will be able to defer their payroll tax liabilities for the first half of FY21, while targeted measures have been slated for hospitality operators and businesses in the CBD.
Treasurer Tim Pallas (pictured) says the package includes $30 million dedicated fund for the nighttime and hospitality sectors, drafted in conjunction with the Australian Hotels Association (AHA), a $20 million fund for the CBD, and $36 million towards a business advisory and wellbeing program including mental health and mentoring aid.
Marketing support will also be given to tourism operators when the time comes to promote more movement around the state, but in the meantime support measures previously slated for tourism will now be expanded to include operators hit by cancellations from residents in new lockdown areas.
The package includes a $40 million capped fund for regional tourism.
Minister for Jobs Martin Pakula said there were some large restaurants, pubs and hospitality venues that did not benefit from the initial tranche of support from the government, which was why an industry-specific package was put forward.
"In terms of CBD support, I had a conversation this morning with the Lord Mayor - the fact is that the CBD has been in some respects uniquely hit by that stay-at-home directives have particularly kept people away from the CBD," Minister Pakula said.
"The absence of foot traffic in the CBD has meant that many of the businesses in the city and Docklands and South Bank have been particularly affected by the restrictions that have been imposed on Victorians.
Today's package includes a $36 million business advisory and wellbeing program, of which $10 million will be worked on collaboratively between the Small Business Commission and the Victorian Chamber. The balance will go towards mental health support.
Treasurer Pallas said the unemployment rate was likely to peak at 11 per cent, up from the current 6.9 per cent, and gross state product (GSP) will likely fall by 14 per cent on previous forecast.
"That is a profound reduction and it will take some years before we see that level of economic activity come back," he said.
The Treasurer said it was important to do more than simply "provide platitudes of support" to the community, but rather offer real, tangible efforts which will be ongoing.
"I assure you this will not be the last that you hear of support from this government as we go through these difficult times," he said.
"We will of course, wait to see what comes out of the federal government's efforts on the 23rd of July when they indicate what will happen to the refinements to the JobKeeper program.
"That of course will inform us going forward as to what further additional support might be required."
Pallas took stock of the traumatic and very difficult time people are facing, and apologised on behalf of the state government.
"As a Treasurer, we don't normally take great joy in providing funds that essentially go directly to our capacity to manage efficient budgets, but what's more important, what's critically important, is that the wellbeing of Victorians and Victorian industry and business is first and foremost in our thinking in dealing with these difficult times."
Updated at 11:07am AEST on 10 July 2020.
Premier Investments closes Melbourne stores as city enters lockdown
With metropolitan Melbourne re-entering lockdown overnight for a minimum of six weeks Premier Investments (ASX: PMV) has made the decision to close down stores.
The closures will impact stores operated by Premier Investments like Just Jeans, Jay Jays, Portmans, Smiggle and more in 36 shopping centres and seven strip mall locations, but regional Victorian stores will not be impacted.
The company has stressed that it does not intend to pay rent in relation to any of the stores affected by the lockdown for its duration, mirroring the approach the company took during nationwide COVID-19 restrictions earlier this year.
In a statement Premier Investments says the decision was made to protect the health and safety of staff and customers.
"The Premier [Daniel Andrews] has made clear that the livelihoods of all Victorians relies on everyone doing the right thing," says Premier Investments.
"As loved as our brands are by our customers, they are clearly not an essential service.
"Therefore to ensure we adhere with the State Government's direction and protect the health and safety of our staff and customers, we have made the decision to close all of our Melbourne metropolitan stores in line with the Government's direction at 11.59pm tonight for the foreseeable future."
Melbourne-based customers can continue to shop online across all of Premier Investments brands.
All affected staff members eligible for JobKeeper will be stood down, and team members will be able to access their annual leave or long service leave entitlements.
Updated at 1:51pm AEST on 9 July 2020.
Australia welcomes Hong Kong businesses to relocate, opens doors for talent
The Australian Government aims to attract "exceptionally talented people" and businesses from Hong Kong to relocate to our shores, along with extended permanent residency pathways for current visa holders and future applicants.
An emphasis will be placed on bringing export-oriented businesses to Australia, including visa packages for critical staff to come to Australia.
Additionally, Prime Minister Scott Morrison will be speaking with National Cabinet tomorrow about how to prioritise the existing global talent program in Hong Kong.
Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, Alan Tudge, said the scheme targeted individuals who were "real job-multiplying people who create businesses, who are entrepreneurs, who have that tech talent that the world is looking for".
The PM told a press conference this afternoon that China's national security law represented a "fundamental change of circumstances", prompting the government to withdraw its extradition agreement with Hong Kong.
The PM said Australia's immigration program provided particular opportunities for Hong Kong citizens as well as around 10,000 Hong Kongers who were currently in Australia on student or temporary work visas.
"We've agreed to adjust the policy settings to ensure that for skilled and graduate visa holders, we'll be extending visas by five years from today with a pathway to permanent residency at the end of those five years," he said.
"That means if you're a current or future student, you will be able to stay for a total of five years once you've graduated with a pathway to permanent residency at the end of that period."
Temporary graduate or school visa holders will also have their visas extended by an additional five years from today.
"We will also provide a five year visa with a pathway to permanent residency for future Hong Kong applicants for temporary skilled visas, subject to meeting an updated skills list and appropriate labour market testing," the PM said. That list is however expected to significantly reduced.
Given the gravity of making migration decisions and the time the visa applications take, the Prime Minister does not expect a sudden surge in arrivals. He noted the decline in applications due to COVID-19 meant there were "ample" spots available under existing quotas.
There is also already a system in place that allows a three-year pathway to permanent residency if Hong Kong applicants study or work in regional areas.
Minister Tudge highlighted Hong Kong had "immense global talent and great businesses".
"We want to attract more of them to Australia, because that will generate more wealth and more jobs for Australians," he said.
"We already do very well in terms of attracting people from Hong Kong, but today, we're outlining some further opportunities for skilled people, for entrepreneurs, for significant investors, and for businesses to come to our country.
"Of course, there will need to be labour market testing as well from the sponsoring employer to prove that they are unable to find an Australian to do the job," Tudge said.
Tudge also elaborated further on the global talent temporary visa scheme, targeting "exceptionally talented people, particularly in the IT field" on a temporary basis if the employer is willing to pay above the high-income threshhold.
"These future temporary skilled visa holders will also have a pathway to permanent residency after five years," he said.
"In relation to what I call the 'super talent' of which there is many in Hong Kong, we started the global talent scheme visa not that long ago with the idea of providing a permanent residency visa for the absolute super global talent," he said.
"We certainly know that there is some of that talent in Hong Kong, and we will be continuing with our program there but we'll be prioritising applicants from Hong Kong for that scheme and providing some additional resources there as well."
Minister Tudge said new incentives would be created to bring export-oriented businesses to the country as well.
"We know that there are over 1000 international businesses who have their regional headquarters presently in Hong Kong, and we also kow that many have already signalled that they're looking to relocate elsewhere in the world," he said.
"This includes medium businesses, financial services businesses large consulting businesses, which have already signalled they're looking elsewhere, and we want them to look to Australia.
PM Morrison noted most of the changes would impact people who were already in Australia, although there were around 3,500 existing visa holders from Hong Kong who were currently outside of Australia and would be able to return under normal arrangements.
Minister Tudge mentioned there were normally 4,000 visa applications from Hong Kong citizens every year, of whom around 3,000 are students and 1,000 are in the temporary skilled categories.
Updated at 2:23pm AEST on 9 July 2020.
Cellmid pens agreement to ramp up COVID-19 research
An exclusive distribution agreement between Australian life science company Cellmid (ASX: CDY) and Immunodiagnostics Limited, Hong Kong (IMD) will beef up the company's response to the COVID-19 crisis.
The deal will see Cellmid acquire commercial quantities of two essential tests for Australia and New Zealand, including for laboratory based, quantitative Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assays (ELISA's) and a point of care test for COVID-19.
ELISA systems are essential in vaccine trials, used when monitoring the population after vaccine roll outs begin and, in tandem with point of care screening, in serological surveys.
The new agreement comes on the back of Cellmid having already secured two agreements to access point of care and laboratory COVID-19 testing devices. Cellmid shares skyrocketed in March on the back of the company announcing it had secured a supply agreement for a rapid diagnostic test for COVID-19.
However, this latest agreement provides Cellmid with access to the ELISA systems that can quantify the level and identify the type of antibodies against different COVID-19 antigens.
"The key advantage of the ELISA technology is that it can measure absolute levels of antibodies against different SARS-CoV-2 antigens," says Cellmid.
"In addition, ELISA's normally have lower level of detection limits compared to point of care devices increasing their accuracy."
The tests will be acquired from IMD, a spin off company from Hong Kong University, and is dedicated to the discovery, manufacture and distribution of in vitro diagnostics for chronic and infectious diseases.
Cellmid says IMD manufactures its tests in facilities in Taiwan and China, adhering to strict quality control and validation.
In addition to the ELISA's, Cellmid will acquire a high-quality point of care serology device that detects both Immunoglobulin M (IgM) and Immunoglobulin G (IgG) specific to COVID-19, differentiating it from the viral spike protein detecting kits already accessed by Cellmid.
Evaluation of the tests done by IMD and Hong Kong University, using a dataset comprising 273 confirmed COVID-19 patients and 542 per-COVID-19 control samples, showed an IgG sensitivity of 96.1 per cent and specificity of 96.1 per cent, and an IgM sensitivity of 91 per cent and a specificity of 87.4 per cent.
The company will likely seek Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approval for the point of care serology device, but because ELISA's are used for research only, and thus do not require TGA approval, Cellmid will initially seek regulatory approval and import permits for just a small selection of the ELISA devices.
Shares in Cellmid are up 10 per cent to $0.16 per share at 11:25am AEST.
Updated at 11:49am at 9 July 2020.
Loan deferrals extended by four months
The Australian Banking Association (ABA) has announced a new phase of support to avoid a "cliff" for customers in September, with those facing hardship due to COVID-19 able to apply for loan deferral extensions of up to four months.
The initiative is backed by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA), which will give regulatory relief by extending its temporary capital treatment for bank loans with repayment deferrals.
The ABA estimates there are more than 800,000 loans that have been deferred worth over $260 billion.
Customers who are able to restart paying their loans will be required to do so at the end of their six-month deferral period, but debtors with reduced income and ongoing financial difficulty will be able to restructure or vary their loans.
The deferral option will be available if none of those outcomes can be achieved.
"Those who are able to repay their loans will resume doing so, which is in the best interests of those customers and allows support to be directed to those who need it," says ABA CEO Anna Bligh.
"This next phase of bank support will avoid a 'cliff' for customers in September and give them the breathing space they need to work with their bank and get back on their feet financially.
"To meet demand, banks have deployed over 5,000 extra frontline staff who will proactively contact and work with customers to find the right solution, but please be patient with bank staff as we enter this next phase."
The ABA explains credit reports will not be impacted for customers who recommence repayments on their existing loan or enter into a new repayment arrangement, so long as those arrangements are met.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says the Federal Government welcomes the ABA's announcement to support customers.
"APRA has also provided relief to encourage the banks to restructure loans where possible as a way of helping these customers," he says.
"This restructuring could include extending the term of the loan or moving from principal and interest repayments to interest-only for a period of time.
"It is important that customers that can afford to make repayments continue to do so. Borrowers that are facing considerable financial difficulty as a result of this pandemic, should talk to their banks and work with them to find a more sustainable approach."
Response from the banks
At the time of writing, ANZ (ASX: ANZ), Commonwealth Bank (ASX: CBA), Westpac (ASX: WBC) and Bendigo and Adelaide Bank (ASX: BEN) have made announcements about how they would be implementing the new measures.
ANZ chief executive officer Shayne Elliott says the bank's primary focus through COVID-19 has been to do all it can to help customers manage the economic impact of the pandemic, and while this is now "clearly more difficult with the recent developments in Victoria" that support will continue.
"For customers who have not taken advantage of the six-month deferral that option is still open to them," Elliott says.
"I would strongly encourage anybody uncertain about what the future holds or those who have been hanging on up until this point to get in contact with the bank.
"We have already deferred more than 100,000 home and business loans and we are checking in with those customers to work with them to get them back on track."
He notes many customers are already back making their repayments as they weren't as impacted as initially thought.
"There are however many customers on deferrals that remain in a difficult situation and we will work through a range of measures including restructuring loans and in some circumstances extending deferral periods," he says.
CBA confirms many retail and business customers have resumed paying deferred loans back in full or in part, but the bank will target its support to those people who most need it.
"We are committed to continuing our industry leading support for customers and businesses to help them get back on their feet and inject vital financial stimulus into the Australian economy," says CBA chief executive officer Matt Comyn.
"To date, our coronavirus measures since March 2020 have provided about $15 billion in direct financial support to customers and stimulus for the economy.
"Supporting customers who continue to experience financial difficulty is a priority and we are tailoring our support to make sure each customer gets the advice and assistance that suits them."
So far CBA has provided loan repayment deferrals to almost 130,000 home loans and supported 100,000 business customers.
CBA has also more than doubled the size of its Financial Assistance Solutions team to about 1,500 frontline staff to have conversations with our retail customers experiencing hardship. The bank is also using its unique machine learning technology to identify individual customers in hardship and direct its support where it is most needed.
"This next phase of our support reinforces the strong collaboration and effective cooperation between federal and state governments, regulators and the banking industry which has allowed so much to be achieved in such a short time," says Comyn.
Westpac acting chief financial officer Gary Thursby highlights the pandemic will have a longer term impact on some customers and financial support will be required. The bank has helped more than 23,000 small business customers since the start of COVID-19.
"In discussion with the industry and regulators, we will be making changes to allow more time and breathing space for customers who aren't in a position to return to full payments again from October," says Thursby.
"This includes access to tailored support through our customer assistance program, where our specialist team will work with customers to review their financial circumstances.
"For customers who remain under stress but can still contribute towards their loan repayments, we will provide support where we can help work through options that may be available to adjust their loan," he says, adding there is an expectation a significant number of customers will be able to resume regular repayments come September.
Bendigo and Adelaide Bank has also emphasised its consumer, business and agribusiness customers who are experiencing reduced incomes or extended financial difficulty may be eligible for the four-month deferral extension.
"Ultimately, we want to support customers to make full, regular loan repayments and it's in their best interests to do so as soon as possible, so they can strengthen their financial wellbeing," says the bank's managing director Marnie Baker.
"We are currently undertaking a check-in process with consumer customers that have accessed a repayment arrangement due to COVID-19 to assess what further support they need and to better understand their current circumstances given the impact of the pandemic.
"We know that a tailored approach with each customer achieves more meaningful results for their specific circumstances."
Baker highlights it is a difficult time for many of Bendigo and Adelaide Bank's customers, but she hopes to minimise the impact that comes with unexpected events such as COVID-19.
"In the same way we have provided and continue to provide support to those affected by natural disasters, the Bank and its Community Bank partners will continue to support the recovery of customers and communities and adapt, where required, how we invest profits into communities to meet new and evolving local needs as a result of COVID-19," she says.
"We said at the start of this pandemic that we're here for our customers and their communities and this longstanding commitment continues."
Updated at 10:19am AEST on 8 July 2020.
Three things government can do to save Melbourne small businesses from lockdown death
The reimposition of stage 3 restrictions on metropolitan Melbourne is, as Victorian premier Daniel Andrews says, a matter of life or death. That's also true for small businesses.
A further six weeks of stay-at-home orders for the city's 5 million residents will kill off many small and medium sized businesses unless there are critical changes to federal and state government assistance policies.
Even with assistance many will not survive. But ensuring those that are viable are not lost is crucial to the recovery of both the Victorian and national economies.
Small businesses are the engine of economic growth. They are typically the first to innovate and respond to economic changes. The abnormal economic shock wrought by the necessary public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic means they have generally been hit hardest. Without policies and money to address their core needs, this second wave of restrictions will be a killer blow.
These fundamentals are absolute to the success of small business.
First, and most obviously, they need customers. Those providing essential local goods and services, such as groceries or health services, may cope. But those offering discretionary goods and services, such as hospitality, will suffer both from loss of foot traffic and suppressed consumer spending, as people save more in uncertain times.
Second, they need access to credit. This is much harder for small businesses to obtain than large businesses with assets. Small businesses are typically started by entrepreneurs who finance their endeavours with their own savings, through mortgaging their homes, or taking out personal loans.
They typically have extremely limited cash reserves to ride out tough times. Many juggle their bills from month to month to stay afloat.
Third, they rely on momentum. They grow by acquiring both customers and knowledge of their market. When repeat business stop, they lose that momentum. If they have to shed employees, they lose "business knowledge", which sets them back even further in their recovery.
All economic slowdowns typically reduce demand, but this health/economic crisis has calamitously damaged all three aspects.
The federal government's Job Keeper program and subsidies being provided through the Australian Taxation Ofice to boost business cash flow has enabled business to hold on to employees for now. But without customers or credit, even extending these measures beyond their scheduled September 30 end won't be enough.
It's my view it will take three to five years for consumer confidence and spending to return to pre-COVID levels. This assessment is based on past recessions where high unemployment prevailed compounded by the novel problem that health fears will suppress consumer confidence long after the coronavirus is contained and things return to "normal" (or at least a new normal).
The Melbourne outbreak of COVID-19 underlines there is no quick fix to the COVID-19 crisis. The only light at the end of tunnel is a possible a vaccine, which might take years, or never be found. The economy must therefore adjust. Not all businesses are viable. To continue indefinitely to pump public money into direct grants to prop them up is unsustainable.
To do so will lead to "perverse" consequences providing windfalls to businesses that would have failed anyway as many small business ventures do while providing inadequate support to those that are important and would have survived but for the crisis.
Therefore I offer three suggestions.
First, continue JobKeeper and the tax office's cashflow boost for as long as COVID-19 restrictions are in place. Businesses would need to apply for this on a month-by-month basis, and need to meet set criteria.
Second, the government should ensure easy access to low-interest loans for the next two to three years. Loans are more efficient than direct grants or subsidies. The fact the loans have to be repaid will encourage only those businesses with a good chance of being sustainable of seeking them.
Getting a loan is slow and hard for small businesses because banks scrutinise them due to the risk. Few small business have the skills to prepare the extensive documentation banks require. Banks will be motivated to lend faster and to more businesses if governments remove the risk by buying those loans.
To speed up the lending application process, there should also be subsidies to licensed financial advisers to prepare those applications.
Third, a system of subsidised vouchers for financial management advice from accountants and financial advisers (who are also mostly small businesses).
Financial services are critical for small businesses. In tough times it might be tempting to dispense with these services. But sound financial advice will be critical to business owners making the right decision including whether they should be borrowing money to sustain their businesses or making the hard decision to cut their losses and move on.
Melbourne to enter lockdown from midnight tomorrow
All residents of metropolitan local government areas (LGAs) in Melbourne and Mitchell Shire will face Stage 3 stay-at-home restrictions as of midnight tomorrow for six weeks, as authorities scramble to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks from spiralling out of control.
After recording 191 new cases today, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said new infections were recorded in postcodes currently covered by the orders, but contamination was also "leaking" into other parts of the capital.
There are now 772 active cases in the state, including 35 people in hospital of whom nine are in intensive care.
"These are unsustainably high numbers of new cases," he said, noting it was now impossible to have the contact tracing staff and resources to tackle the virus at current rates without taking significant steps.
"Let's not say this is simply an inconvenience; it's much more than that. This is a pandemic, and it will kill thousands of people if it gets completely away from us."
Once the restrictions are in force, residents in the affected area will only be able to leave their homes for four reasons: work or study; care (including elective surgery) or caregiving; daily exercise; food and other essentials.
Unfortunately, the new measures mean food and beverage venues that were cautiously opening up will have to go back to takeaway service only.
"Other businesses that had opened will have to close. I know and understand how significant that will be, I know and understand there'll be a big job for us to continue providing support," he said.
"Tim Pallas and Martin Pakula as the responsible ministers will have more to say quite soon about further business support, and I'll be having further conversations with the Prime Minister about some of the very special needs that Victorian businesses are going to need met over these coming weeks and months."
Premier Andrews said people would not be allowed to leave Melbourne for exercise, emphasising there were still very few COVID-19 cases in regional Victoria and his intention was to keep it that way.
"You can't be going on a four-hour bush walk hundreds of kilometres away from Melbourne, you can't be going fishing again outside the metropolitan area down into regional Victoria," the Premier said.
"Regional Victoria has very, very few cases and vast parts of regional Victoria have no cases. This is designed to keep it that way, and I hope very soon to be able to be before you again talking about further easing of restrictions in original Victoria."
He added Melburnians needed to stay in their principal place of residence, so holiday homes or second homes were off the cards.
"Don't for a moment think that you could flout these rules and travel into country Victoria - there'd be every chance that you would be stopped, you will be asked and if you don't have a lawful excuse then there are significant penalties that will apply."
Andrews said a sense of complacency had crept up on Victoria, but no matter how challenging this period will be people cannot let their frustrations get the better of them.
"We have to be clear with each other that this is not over, and pretending that it is because we all want it to be over is not the answer - it is indeed the problem, a very big part of the problem," he said.
"We do have a chance to change that in the decisions we make, in the way we conduct ourselves, in the way we reset.
"I think that each of us know someone who has not been following the rules as well as they should have. I think each of us know that we've got no choice but to take these very, very difficult steps."
Key restrictions for all of metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire:
Cannot leave primary residence except for four reasons: work or study; care (including elective surgery) or caregiving; daily exercise; food and other essentials.
Restaurants, cafés and bars will need to either close or return to takeaway-only operations.
Exercise not permitted outside of Melbourne for residents in stay-at-home areas.
Beauty therapy, tanning, waxing, nail salons, spas, tattoo parlours and massage parlours must not operate.
Auction houses are only permitted to conduct auctions remotely.
The closure of: Galleries, museums, national institutions and historic sites, zoos, wildlife parks, petting zoos, aquariums and animal farms, outdoor amusement parks and outdoor arcades, indoor cinemas and drive-in cinemas, concert venues, theatres and auditoriums.
Victoria's Chief Health Minister Brett Sutton said there was a unanimous view that these measures were required to avoid "absolutely catastrophic outcomes".
"I know that we will already see deaths from the cases that we have occurring every day. What I do not want to see is any more deaths than are already predicted," he said.
"We have to drive our daily numbers down. What's happened has been a very significant upturn in the last few days."
Sutton put his support behind the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee's (AHPPC) position that where community transmission isn't negligible, masks are a "reasonable thing to wear where we can't physically distance".
There are now 69 cases that can be linked to the high rise towers in North Melbourne and Flemington, up from 53. There have also been 12 new cases linked to the Al-Taqwa College outbreak, with the total now at 90.
Some 438 cases may indicate community transmission, and by the end of today it is likely more than one million tests will have been conducted.
The LGA of Hume has the highest number of active cases at 145, followed Wyndham (105), Melbourne (97), Brimbank (77), Moonee Valley (50), Moreland (38) and Whittlesea (36).