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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



WA will cap international arrivals

WA will cap international arrivals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gold Coast tourism bookings return to 2019 levels

Gold Coast tourism bookings return to 2019 levels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo, Andrew Owens via Wikimedia Creative Commons

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

COVID case forced Woolworths delivery centre to close

COVID case forced Woolworths delivery centre to close

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Victorian case spike over the weekend, more postcodes in lockdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The full list of Melbourne postcodes in lockdown:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lovisa reopens stores but exits Spanish market

Lovisa reopens stores but exits Spanish market

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



NT reports new COVID-19 case from Melbourne lockdown area

NT reports new COVID-19 case from Melbourne lockdown area

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Support announced for tourism operators affected by Melbourne lockdowns

Support announced for tourism operators affected by Melbourne lockdowns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Take it seriously," says Hazzard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Restrictions ease today in NSW

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

The restrictions eased today includes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Land tax relief for Queensland businesses extended for four months

Land tax relief for Queensland businesses extended for four months

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Queensland sticks to 10 July border opening date, Victoria barred

Queensland sticks to 10 July border opening date, Victoria barred

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SA will not relax Victorian border on 20 July

SA will not relax Victorian border on 20 July

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seafolly appoints voluntary administrators

Seafolly appoints voluntary administrators

One of Australia's most iconic swimwear and women's beachwear brands is all at sea after 45 years in business, and will be sold off as part of an administration process announced yesterday.

A "crippling impact" from the COVID-19 pandemic led Seafolly to make the tough decision, appointing Scott Langdon and Rahul Goyal of KordaMentha Restructuring as voluntary administrators.

The appointment also includes entities relating to Sunfolly's bikini and swimwear business Sunburn.

The future of Seafolly, its 56 stores and more than 120 employees is now uncertain, although Langdon is optimistic there will be strong demand for a buyer.

"Given the quality of the brand and its reputation, there will inevitably be a high level of interest in purchasing the business," says Langdon.

Interested parties can contact KordaMentha's Sydney office, while Langdon explains it will be business as usual for customers.

"All Seafolly gift cards and the popular Beach Club Rewards points will continue to be redeemable at all Seafolly stores," he says.

"We encourage all loyal Seafolly customers to come to the retail stores and redeem their Beach Club Rewards, plus earn more points."

Seafolly was founded in 1975 by Holocaust child survivor Peter Halas, and currently has a retail network of 44 stores throughout Australia and 12 stores overseas.

Updated at 9:56am AEST on 30 June 2020.

Victoria confirms 75 new COVID-19 cases

Victoria confirms 75 new COVID-19 cases

The Victorian Minister for Health Jenny Mikakos has confirmed 75 new cases of COVID-19 today, bringing the state's total to 2,099.

In Victoria, this is the highest new daily case rate since 31 March when 96 new cases were reported.

The highest peak in Victoria to date was on 28 March when there were 111 confirmed new COVID-19 cases.

Of the cases confirmed today, 71 are new with the other four reclassified after being indeterminate.

One of the new cases is a person quarantining in a hotel, 14 are from local outbreaks and 37 have come from routine testing. The other 23 cases are still being investigated.

There have been no new deaths, but there are 288 active cases in Victoria. Nine of these cases are in hospital with one in intensive care.

15,000 tests have been completed since yesterday as part of the state's testing blitz which has seen 53,000 tests completed since commencement.

The new cases are "overwhelmingly" concentrated in Melbourne's 'hot spot' areas according to Mikakos, particularly in the inner northern and western suburbs of the Victorian capital.

The news comes as Victoria has officially hit its "second peak" in COVID-19 cases over the weekend, according to Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton.

New measures for overseas travellers were imposed on Sunday: the state has made testing mandatory for those quarantining in hotels after returning from overseas. For those that do not comply with the order an extra 10 days will be added to the two-week quarantine period.

Testing is also ongoing in 10 Victorian hotspots: Keilor Downs, Broadmeadows, Maidstone, Albanvale, Sunshine West, Hallam, Brunswick West, Fawkner, Reservoir and Pakenham.

Despite the large increase in COVID-19 cases today the Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton has not announced a lockdown for Victoria or COVID-19 hotspots yet.

"We know what will turn this around, and it's people stepping forward for testing, but also isolating when they've got symptoms," says Sutton.

"I think there's still an opportunity for that to turn around. But if it isn't, absolutely public health directions, changing the law, is something that we have to consider because we have to do whatever is required to turn this around.

"It would be a harder step, but it's got to be proportionate. We know what the consequences are of a lockdown in terms of fatigue and people's behaviours, we don't want to drive people out of suburban areas into new unaffected areas. So there's a balancing act in terms of making the call on lockdown."

10 million COVID-19 cases confirmed worldwide

It also comes after globally confirmed COVID-19 cases surpassed the 10 million mark on Sunday, with the global death toll inching past 500,000 too.

2.5 million of those 10 million cases are in the United States, with Brazil (~1.3 million), Russia (~600,000), India (~500,000) and the United Kingdom (~300,000) rounding out the top five global hot spots for COVID-19.

The rate of new COVID-19 cases in Victoria is comparable to Austria and the Netherlands, where those two countries reported 74 and 73 cases respectively. However, both the European countries have significantly higher total COVID-19 numbers than Australia, with 17,654 in Austria and 50,147 in the Netherlands.

In Australia there have been seven new confirmed cases of COVID-19 today in New South Wales, whilst in Queensland there have been no reported cases of the coronavirus.

In South Australia restrictions ease further today as the state moves to Stage 3, with pub gaming areas, spas and saunas able to reopen.

Physical distancing requirements in SA venues will halve today and seated food court dining will reopen too.

Updated at 11:37am AEST on 29 June 2020.

Tasmania to open borders from 24 July

Tasmania to open borders from 24 July

If everything goes to plan, Tasmania will open up its borders to the rest of the country on 24 July.

This plan to further ease COVID-19 restrictions in the state will be reassessed regularly over the next four weeks, with a formal review into the situation in Victoria to be conducted in a fortnight from now.

Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein says the state will not reopen its borders if medical advice says it is not safe to do so.

"If the public health advice, at that time or in the immediate lead up to that date, is that it is not safe to open and remove our restrictions then, very simply, we will not open up our borders," says Premier Gutwein.

"Over the next four weeks we'll put in place a plan to support a safe relaxation of our border restrictions and we'll include the reviewing of the circumstances of other states and territories on a weekly basis and we will have a full review of Victoria's situation in two weeks."

The Premier says the situation in Victoria as it is today would mean Tasmania would remain closed to its northern neighbour.

"I want to be absolutely clear, as the circumstances stand today, if we were opening up tomorrow we would not be opening up our borders with Victoria tomorrow," says Gutwein.

The opening up of Tasmania's borders on 24 July will include heightened measures at the State's borders, including at airports and seaports.

Border safety will be supported by an app, currently under development, that incoming travellers to Tasmania will have to download and use. This app will be complemented by a manual record system too for those unable to download the app.

The app will replace Tasmania's current arrivals form and will include the use of a QR scanner.

Updated at 4:17pm AEST on 26 June 2020.

Retail Food Group sees customers return, but permanent closures inevitable

Retail Food Group sees customers return, but permanent closures inevitable

Retail Food Group (ASX: RFG), the owner of Gloria Jean's Coffees, Brumby's Bakeries, Donut King, Michel's Patisserie and others, has observed an increase of customers returning to its outlets as COVID-19 restrictions ease across most of the country. 

However, the pandemic has sped up the permanent closure of a number of its outlets in Australia as 17 stores remain temporarily closed.

Of those 17 stores RFG executive chairman Peter George says approximately seven will be permanent closures.

"These were forecast to close in the near future, and COVID-19 has simply expedited that outcome," says George.

"Customer count has continued to improve, with recent trading data reflecting a weighted average decline amongst all brands of 13.76 per cent versus the previous corresponding period, albeit this remained well below pre-pandemic levels.

"The Company is also closely monitoring the situation in Victoria given a recent spike in COVID-19 infections and speculation regarding the potential re-introduction of restrictions within that State."

The company has also provided FY20 underlying EBITDA guidance of approximately $35 million today and anticipates net debt at 30 June 2020 will be around $25 million.

Rental relief for franchisees has been obtained in respect of approximately 415 outlets, according to George.

"This is a positive outcome for both franchisees and RFG which provides both cash-flow support and added certainty," says George.

"Negotiations with landlords regarding relief arrangements are ongoing and are anticipated to persist for the duration of the pandemic and a reasonable recovery period thereafter."

Internationally around 138 international outlets remain closed, 30 of which are now permanently shut. Around 150 international outlets are operating with limited dine-in options and a further 230 on a takeaway only basis.

"RFG expects trading conditions to remain challenging in the foreseeable term and therefore anticipates a continuation of those measures implemented by the Group in response to the pandemic to support franchisees," says George.

"That said, there are a number of positive developments within the Group's business that provide optimism for the future."

Shares in RFG are up 0.01 per cent to $0.07 per share at 10:32am AEST.

Updated at 11:10am AEST on 26 June 2020.

Stylerunner, The Athlete's Foot drive profit lift at Accent Group

Stylerunner, The Athlete's Foot drive profit lift at Accent Group

A shift to online has put a spring in the step of footwear retail company Accent Group (ASX: AX1), pushing up digital sales in the June quarter by 150 per cent.

The group, which owns the Australia-New Zealand distribution rights to footwear brands like The Athlete's Foot, Stylerunner, Skechers, Vans and Dr. Martens, is now forecasting a 10 per cent lift in EBITDA to almost $120 million for FY20.

However, FY20 final operating profit below the EBITDA line is expected to include a non-cash impairment of assets of $3-4 million on several store and other assets where revenue has been impacted by the current environment.

The outbreak of COVID-19 and associated restrictions forced Accent to close down 470 stores in March, but demanad for active footwear and apparel as well as Skechers' range for health professionals contributed to a quadrupling of online sales.

All of Accent's stores in Australia had opened by 11 May, and the same was true in New Zealand by 22 May, but there has now been a "seismic and most likely enduring" shift to digital. 

While customers had physical store options at their disposal the company still achieved a new daily record of $2 million in digital sales during the Click Frenzy event from 19-22 May.

Digital sales in May reached $29 million, while this month they are currently accounting for around 23 per cent of revenue.

"The strong trading performance over the last two months driven by digital has been well ahead of expectations," says Accent Group CEO Daniel Agostinelli.

"It is clear that there has been a seismic and most likely enduring shift in consumer behaviour. With 18 websites and our leading digital capability, Accent Group is capitalising on this trend.

"Through this period Accent has attracted many new customers online who have never shopped with us before. We will continue to drive digital growth as the number one priority in our company."

In general, sales in New Zealand, Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland and regional areas have bounced back more strongly than the metro centres in Melbourne and Sydney.

Accent Group reports the customer trend towards activewear and performance running continues to remain very strong in Stylerunner and The Athlete's Foot, with a broad-based recovery in spend across all banners and product categoriesthrough May and June.

The company's sales in May and June (to week 51) have been strong with like-for-like sales up 7 per cent, and at the start of this month the group stood up all its 1,500 permanent employees to full employment and full pay, which enabled a further acceleration of sales results in June.

Successful negotiations have also been concluded with landlords and Accent has continued to pay rent.

"We are committed to maintaining our position as the largest multi-channel footwear retailer in our market," says Agostinelli.

"The mix of Accent's superior digital capability and the magic of our stores gives us a key competitive advantage, but it is important that we reach agreement with our landlords for sustainable and fair rental deals.

"With landlords where this cannot be achieved, we will close stores. We are delighted to report that to date we have been able to reach agreement with the vast majority of our major and independent landlords."

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Qantas to raise $1.9 billion for COVID-19 recovery, 6,000 staff made redundant

Qantas to raise $1.9 billion for COVID-19 recovery, 6,000 staff made redundant

Airline Qantas (ASX: QAN) will raise $1.9 billion in equity to accelerate recovery as it taxis onto its COVID-19 recovery plan.

Qantas' three-year recovery plan includes making 6,000 staff redundant, grounding 100 aircraft for at least a year, and immediately retiring Qantas' six remaining 747s.

Of the $1.9 billion, approximately $1.4 billion will come from a fully underwritten institutional placement and up to $500 million from a non-underwritten share purchase plan.

The issue price for new shares under the placement will be $3.65, representing a 12.9 per cent discount to the last traded price on 24 June.

Approximately 372.7 million new fully paid ordinary shares will be issued under the placement, representing a 25 per cent increase to total shares on issue.

Following the placement the company's available liquidity is expected to be $4.6 billion, including a $1 billion undrawn facility.

As at 31 May 2020 pro forma net debt is expected to be $4.7 billion with no major debt maturities until June 2021.

Most of the funds will be used for working capital requirements, but at the same time 6,000 roles will be made redundant.

Of the group's 29,000 people, around 8,000 are expected to have returned to work by the end of July this year. 

The company anticipates this will increase to around 15,000 at the end of the calendar year and will reach 21,000 active employees by June 2022.

In the meantime, 15,000 staff will continue to be stood down, particularly those associated with Qantas' international operations.

"Adapting to this new reality means some very painful decisions," says Qantas CEO Alan Joyce (pictured).

"The job losses we're announcing today are confronting. So is the fact thousands more of our people on stand down will face a long interruption to their airline careers until this work returns."

But there is a positive sign of recovery on the horizon: Joyce says the airline expects to return to 40 per cent of Qantas' pre-crisis domestic flying during July.

"But we'll be living with COVID for some time and recent events show we can't take a low infection rate for granted," says Joyce.

"That means all airlines - including Qantas - must take action now. We have to position ourselves for seveal years where revenues will be much lower. And that means becoming a smaller airline in the short term."

$15 billion cost savings

Ultimately, the company expects costs to be reduced by $15 billion during the coming three-year period of expected lower activity, followed by $1 billion in ongoing cost savings per annum from FY23.

Joyce says the airline entered this crisis in a better position than most airlines with "some of the best prospects for recovery, especially in the domestic market, but it will take years before international flying returns to what it was."

"It's clear that international travel is likely to be stalled for a long time. IATA - the peak body for airlines - says it will take more than three years for global travel to return to 2019 levels.

"Despite the hard choices we're making today, we're fundamentally optimistic about the future. Almost two-thirds of our pre-crisis earnings came from the domestic market, which is likely to recover fastest particularly as the state borders prepare to open," says Joyce.

In comparison to its main Australian-based rival Virgin Australia (ASX: VAH) Qantas has fared well. The news of the $1.9 billion equity raising comes in conjunction with Virgin finalising the sale of the airline following its collapse into administration.

Bain Capital and Richard Branson-linked advisory firm Cyrus Capital Partners have been shortlisted to acquire the ailing VAH, with a final decision to be made on Tuesday 30 June.

Qantas has also been hit with an asset impairment charge of between $1.25 billion and $1.4 billion in FY20 as a result of its 12 Airbus A380 aircraft being grounded.

These Airbus assets will remain idle for the foreseeable future, representing a significant percentage of their remaining life.

As a result, the carrying value of the A380 fleet, spare engines and spare parts will be written down to their fair value, resulting in the impairment charge.

The airline has also provided a FY20 financial performance update today, during which the airline saw a significant reduction in the second half of the financial year.

After reporting a strong underlying profit before tax of $771 million in the first half, Qantas now expects to report a full year result between breakeven and a small underlying profit before tax as the financial year comes to a close.

The group's loyalty business will make the largest positive contribution to this result, with only a 5 per cent to 10 per cent reduction in earnings compared to FY19.

"The program continues to see strong levels of engagement, with a range of initiatives planned over the next six months to maintain and improve its value to members and partners," says Qantas.

Because of COVID-19 disruption Qantas deferred its interim dividend on 19 March. 

The airline says the uncertainty has now "crystallised" into a significant detrimental impact on the company's earnings and cash position. 

Accordingly the Qantas board has decided to revoke the interim dividend, avoiding the outflow of $201 million of cash.

Updated at 9:03am on 25 June 2020.

Mirvac retail property value drops $349m

Mirvac retail property value drops $349m

The impacts of social distancing requirements due to COVID-19 have taken their toll on real estate group Mirvac (ASX: MGR), slashing the value of its retail property portfolio by $349 million.

The preliminary unaudited devaluation represents a 9.9 per cent drop for the group's second-largest property asset class. 

In contrast Mirvac's office and industrial property valuations lifted slightly in the half, with the former notching a large jump in the six months to December.

For the full-year the office portfolio looks to be up 3.4 per cent, or $231 million, while industrial asset values have risen by 3.6 per cent or $33 million.

Overall the reduction is tracking at around 2.8 per cent less than the December 31 book value of $11.6 billion.

"COVID-19 has transformed the world in the space of a few short months. No sector has been untouched by the health and economic crises that have developed," says Mirvac CEO and managing director Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz.

"These are unprecedented times and Mirvac is taking necessary measures to address these challenges including appropriate capital management.

"Mirvac's purpose and unique asset creation capability positions the group to capture opportunities and generate value throughout the recovery process and beyond."

Updated at 12:51pm AEST on 24 June 2020.

Village Roadshow to reopen theme parks, cinemas

Village Roadshow to reopen theme parks, cinemas

Village Roadshow (ASX: VRL) will start opening some Queensland theme parks on Friday, while its cinema circuit in Tasmania is already open with Victorian regional cinemas to follow suit later this week.

The company's theme parks Warner Bros. Movie World, Sea World, Wet'n'Wild and Paradise Country have all had their COVID Safe plans approved by the Queensland Government and are able to reopen at 50 per cent capacity.

"Sea World and Paradise Country will reopen on Friday 26 June, Australian Outback Spectacular on Friday 3 July and Warner Bros. Movie World and Wet'n'Wild on Wednesday 15 July," the group said today, adding Topgolf Gold Coast reopened on Friday, 12 June.

It has now been just over three months since Village Roadshow announced the closure of its theme parks in respond to COVID-19, and earlier this month the Queensland Government pledged millions of dollars in funding to support the company along with Ardent Leisure (ASX: ALG) and Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary.

Village Roadshow has also announced it aims to reopen its metropolitan Melbourne cinemas by late July if coronavirus restrictions allow it.

"VRL's cinema circuit in other States, including those operated by VRL's partner Event, are expected to reopen in early July," the company said.

"VRL's businesses will operate under applicable operating restrictions and social distancing policies, ensuring the safety of patrons, employees and the community."

Updated at 11:43am AEST on 24 June 2020.

Crown Perth to reopen on Saturday

Crown Perth to reopen on Saturday

The easing of COVID-19 restrictions in Western Australia will allow Crown Perth to recommence operations from Saturday 27 June.

With effect from this weekend Crown will restart its casino and gaming floor food and beverage outlets under temporary restrictions agreed with the WA Government.

The restrictions include:

  • Capacity limits at each venue based on the 2sqm rule;
  • Physical distancing between patrons at electronic gaming machines and electronic table games;
  • Restricting the number of players at table games;
  • Enhanced hygiene protocols.

"Crown's priority is to the health and safety of our employees, customers and the community," says Crown Resorts (ASX: CWN) CEO Ken Barton.

"The physical distancing and hygiene measures have been developed in consultation with the Government, Commissioner of Police and Chief Health Officer to allow reopening in a safe manner.

"We look forward to welcoming back many of our employees and customers to Crown Perth."

The reopening of Crown Perth comes in conjunction with Western Australia entering Phase 4 of its COVID-19 restriction easing roadmap that will do away with seated service requirements and will deploy the 2sqm rule govern capacity numbers in venues.

Phase 4 will start from Saturday, 27 June (11:59pm, 26 June), allowing major sport and entertainment venues to operate at 50 per cent capacity, casino gaming floors to reopen and gyms to operate unstaffed but with regular cleaning.

WA reported two new cases of COVID-19 overnight, bringing the State's total to 607.

Both cases are related to overseas travel and are in hotel quarantine.

There are currently four active cases in WA following one additional recovery overnight.

Updated at 4:17pm AEST on 23 June 2020.

SA to adopt 2sqm rule, mulls VIC traveller pre-approvals

SA to adopt 2sqm rule, mulls VIC traveller pre-approvals

South Australia will implement the two square metre rule per person for indoor gatherings, restaurants, bars and cafes when it moves to Stage 3 on Monday 29 June.

The approach sees COVID-19 restrictions being wound back even further, after the SA Government previously announced the application of the 4sqm rule would be applied across the board from next week.

SA Premier Steven Marshall says the new rule can be implemented thanks to the hard work done by South Australians in suppressing COVID-19.

"South Australia continues to have an excellent, excellent record in terms of reduced infections," says Marshall.

"We're the envy of the entire country and quite frankly I think we are the envy of the entire world, and this is what has given the Transition Committee confidence today to further ease restrictions in Stage 3."

"Large events" like outdoor concerts and the reopening of nightclubs are also on the cards for Stage 3, with the specificities of how these events and venues can operate to be announced in the coming days.

"Some higher risk activities which have never even been contemplated before, larger events and nightclubs, will be considered, but only after a comprehensive COVID management plan has been put in place and approved by SA Health and the Transition Committee," says Marshall.

SA's borders have gradually begun to open up to travellers from WA, NT, QLD and TAS, but the spike in COVID-19 cases in Victoria has raised red flags for Premier Marshall.

As such, the State is planning on implementing a pre-approval process for travellers from Victoria, whereby Victorians must obtain essential travel approval if they wish to enter SA.

SA will open its borders to Victoria on 20 July as previously announced, but Marshall says he is looking "very closely" at Victoria.

"Having said that, I do emphasise that we're not going to lift the borders if we're going to go backwards as a State," says Marshall.

"We've got three, nearly four weeks until that date, we are looking at what's happening in Victoria extraordinarily carefully, but we as a nation have got on top of outbreaks and clusters before and I'm sure that's exactly what will happen in Victoria."

SANFL games this weekend will also be permitted to host spectators. The maximum capacity for both days will be 5,000 people per game on Saturday and Sunday.

Updated at 12:32pm AEST on 23 June 2020.

NSW Premier tells tourism providers to bar travellers from Melbourne

NSW Premier tells tourism providers to bar travellers from Melbourne

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian (pictured) may not be closing down the border with Victoria as the neighbouring state's COVID-19 cases spike, but today she has taken a firm stance against Melburnians coming to visit.

The ABC reports the Premier called on all accommodation owners and tourism operators "not to interact with citizens from Melbourne at this stage", albeit with the caveat they can choose to accept any traveller as they wish.

Premier Berejiklian also reportedly urged people not to undertake business travel to and from the Victorian capital.

Her stance contrasts with South Australian Premier Steven Marshall's approach to the latest Victorian case uptick, involving a pre-approval process in the works for admitting Victorians into his state. 

Berejiklian's rally cry could potentially disincentivise Melburnians to travel to NSW. However, it could just as easily prompt people to travel under the radar, lie about their residence or stay in households, making traceability more challenging if they turn out to be COVID-19 positive. 

Victoria has reported 17 new cases today with "significant community transmission" including 11 cases currently under investigation.

Updated at 12:12pm AEST on 23 June 2020.





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