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Covid-19 News Updates

WA Premier delays next easing phase as COVID-positive ship crews pose increasing threat

WA Premier delays next easing phase as COVID-positive ship crews pose increasing threat

Western Australia was due to enter Phase 5 of its recovery roadmap this Saturday with practically all restrictions removed except its hard border, but heightened threats from overseas arrivals have thrown a spanner in the works.

As the state now goes six months without community spread, health authorities are on alert over the recent entry of New Zealand travellers from other parts of the country, as well as 24 COVID-positive cases for ship workers on a vessel docked at Fremantle.

Premier Mark McGowan highlighted Western Australia was currently one of the most open and free societies on the planet, but its relaxations of internal controls also made it more vulnerable if the hard border were to be breached. 

"Western Australia remains more susceptible to a major outbreak given nearly all physical distancing and gathering restrictions have been removed," he said.

Because of these concerns, the state's Chief Health Officer has recommended a further two months be considered for Phase 4 modified measures.

With new modifications to the phase from 11:59pm on 23 October, selected venues with predominantly seated events will be exempt from the two square metre rule.

"They will be permitted to reach up to 60 per cent of their usual maximum capacity for seated and ticketed performances," McGowan said.

"These venues include theatres, concert halls, auditoriums, amphitheatres, cinemas, comedy lounges and performing arts centres.

"These venues have been deemed low risk by the Chief Health Officer as they are seated," he said, adding these new measures would allow these venues and industries the opportunity to function, particularly in the culture and arts sector.

Today's announcements were made against a backdrop of unease in the Western Australian Government over recent developments.

Premier McGowan urged the Federal Government to "slow down" with border bubbles, and noted 23 New Zealand travellers were now in quarantine in the state.

"They will be tested in accordance with our hotel quarantine testing regime for international arrivals," he said.

"Exempt travellers from New Zealand via Sydney or Darwin will be sent to a hotel quarantine though at their own expense.

"A rushed approach to border control is not in Australia's interests. It is not in Western Australia's interest - we need to get back to National Cabinet and find a working solution."

He also revealed test results had just come through from crew members of the Al Messilah ship in Fremantle.

"We have a further 24 positive COVID-19 crew members on the ship currently at Fremantle Port. This is in addition to the one positive case reported over the weekend," he said.

"Obviously these test results are only at one point in time, so it is possible we could get further positive results in the coming days given there are 52 crew on board."

Premier McGowan said it was becoming clear ships arriving with COVID-19 on board are one of the weakest links and biggest risk to WA's way of life.

"This is why we demand the Commonwealth Government step up and work with other jurisdictions on this issue - we need a coordinated international approach to this, and we need our Federal Government to take international action," he said.

"Foreign Affairs is the Commonwealth's responsibility, and the arrival of unwell maritime crew is now fast becoming the most difficult issue for our authorities to manage safely without putting our community at risk."

Photo: Bahnfrend, via Wikimedia Commons

Updated at 2:16pm AWST on 19 October.




NSW eases restrictions, lifts restaurant booking limit to 30

NSW eases restrictions, lifts restaurant booking limit to 30

After reporting zero cases of community transmission in the 24 hours to 8pm yesterday, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has eased restrictions further for hospitality venues while the wedding industry will also receive a boost in time for summer.

"All hospitality venues, rather than having bookings of 10, you will be able to have bookings of 30," the Premier said.

"If it's indoors the four square metre rule applies and you can have 30 to a group booking, and if it's outdoors the two square metre applies and you can have 30 to one group booking."

Premier Berejiklian also urged people to eat out for Christmas, citing the health advice that COVID Safe venues would be safer than gathering indoors in a confined space.

"We want everybody to think about their plans and to plan ahead for that," she said.

The limits on outdoor gathering numbers will be raised from 20 to 30, while from 1 December there will be 300 people allowed at weddings so long as guests are sitting down

The announcement followed just four daily cases of COVID-19 reported in NSW, all of which occurred in hotel quarantine.

The Premier has however expressed concern that testing rates were low over the weekend.

Updated at 12:12pm AEDT on 19 October 2020.



Virgin sacrifice: boardroom bloodletting signals a classic private-equity hijacking

Virgin sacrifice: boardroom bloodletting signals a classic private-equity hijacking

US private equity firm Bain Capital won't formally assume control of Virgin Australia until November. But its coup last week against chief executive Paul Scurrah, dumping him for Jayne Hrdlicka, a former Bain employee with a reputation for toughness, signals the start of a classic private equity smash-and-grab operation.

When Virgin's administrators and creditors formally accepted Bain's bid for the stricken airline, they did so in part due to undertakings job losses would be minimised. Administrator Vaughan Strawbridge optimistically said in September the deal would provide "certainty for employees and customers" as well as "maintaining a competitive Australian aviation industry for the benefit of consumers".

Now, just weeks later, Scurrah's exit indicates Bain's intentions. He was reportedly reluctant to undertake the cost-cutting Bain wants as part of a plan to position Virgin Australia between Qantas and its budget carrier Jetstar.

Hand-picked appointment

Hrdlicka spent about 15 years working for Bain in both the US and Australia. She joined Qantas as a senior executive in 2010, where she reportedly gained a reputation for being tough on unions. She was appointed group chief executive of Jetstar in 2012 (a position she held until 2017).

Replacing the existing boss with a hand-picked replacement is standard practice in private equity deals. It is one of the most important strategic decisions (and typically the first) a private equity owner makes.

As such, the choice says a great deal about what an owner hopes to achieve, and how it plans to achieve it.

In contrast to the chief executive of a public company (the shares of which are traded on a stock exchange) who must act on behalf of a multitude of shareholders, the head of a private-equity company answers solely to the private equity owners.

This relationship, therefore, is an intensely personal one, with private-equity partners being very "hands-on" owners.

Urgency trumps empathy

What are the qualities private-equity owners look for in a chief executive?

According to researchers who interviewed 32 managing partners of private-equity firms to find out what they valued, a handful of key qualities are particularly sought after.

They want candidates with a track record in overcoming setbacks, who are team builders, and who won't shy away from telling their bosses (the private equity firm) how things are. Previous experience is less important. So too is empathy. As one interviewee told them:

I'm not down on empathy, but there are times when empathy needs to take a back seat to urgency. Some highly empathetic leaders are not able to make the tough personnel decisions that need to be made - which compromises performance.

In this vein, Bain's jettisoning of Scurrah for Hrdlicka is highly suggestive of the management approach Bain would like to see.

Among other things, it is likely to involve a more combative approach to employee relations with a view to aggressively, and quickly, driving down Virgin's cost base.

Scurrah's dumping has already reportedly led to the Transport Workers Union (representing the biggest proportion of Virgin Australia employees) suspending negotiations with management. Unions had reportedly been assured months ago Hrdlicka would not be made chief executive.

Private equity's poor track record

Yesterday, Virgin's administrator Vaughan Strawbridge again (somewhat optimistically) "reaffirmed" that "Virgin Australia will not be repositioned as a low-cost airline":

Virgin Australia will be a 'hybrid' airline, delivering high value to its customers by delivering a distinctive Virgin experience at competitive prices.

But Bain's dumping of Scurrah for Hrdlicka fits the classic narrative of how private-equity players squeeze money for themselves out of takeover targets before bailing out before those companies nose-dive.

As I wrote after Virgin Australia's August announcement that it would axe its budget brand Tigerair and sack about 3,000 of its 9,000 staff:

Private-equity owners have a poor track record in creating strong, sustainable companies with long-term prospects. At their worst they can act a bit like used-car salesmen who know how to spruce up and turn a profit on a vehicle with underlying mechanical problems.

If the typical private-equity experience is anything to go by, Bain, having acquired Virgin with mostly borrowed money, will seek to maximise cash flow by operating only high-margin, high-volume routes (consistent with servicing "premium corporate" and "budget-focused" travellers). It will abandon other low-margin, mostly regional routes to the vagaries of the Qantas monopoly.

Read more: Cutbacks may keep Virgin Australia alive for now, but its long-term prospects are bleak

Bain will also likely seek to reduce staffing costs through renegotiating pilot and cabin-crew employment contracts, using the threat of further redundancies as leverage. On the most popular trunk routes, where it will provide a parallel service to Qantas, customers will face cosy duopoly prices.

The upshot of all this: to allow Bain and its co-investors to pay themselves handsome dividends upfront, thereby facilitating an exit at the earliest opportunity at a tidy profit. This would be a classic debt-fuelled private-equity play.

In public-interest terms, however, it will be a costly missed opportunity to build a robust long-term domestic competitor to Qantas.

Read more: 'Home away from home': reflecting on past airline collapses in Australia

Inevitably, once the private equiteers have left the building, a once-proud airline will be left labouring under a mountain of debt, marking time until it capitulates at the onset of the next economic crisis; the unfortunate plaything of financial, not aeronautical, engineers.The Conversation

Mark Melatos, Associate Professor of Economics, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Victoria set to open on 1 November, or even earlier if trends continue

Victoria set to open on 1 November, or even earlier if trends continue

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has today accelerated the state's plans for reopening towards a COVID normal, with retail, hospitality and other sectors to be back in operation from midnight, 1 November.

If recent trends continue, the Premier flagged he could potentially be announcing an even earlier date next Sunday.

"There is some optimism or confidence that if things continue this week as they have the last five days, we may be able to bring that forward," Premier Andrews said.

Today's announcement came after just two cases were reported in the past 24 hours and just one case the day before that, with a rolling daily average of 7.5 cases in metropolitan Melbourne to 17 October.

Changes from tomorrow

Because of these encouraging results in Melbourne, the Premier announced a series of relaxations of restrictions in the city from 11:59pm tonight including: no time limit on leaving the home for exercise or socialising; an expansion of the allowed travel distance from the home from 5km to 25km; and outdoor gatherings increasing to 10 people from two households.

Other openings as of tomorrow - subject to COVID-safe conditions - will include tennis courts, skate parks, golf, hairdressers, outdoor pools with up to 30 swimmers and indoor pools for one-on-one hydrotherapy sessions.

There will be a full return of allied health services, and real estate auctions will also be allowed with a maximum of 10 people and commercial real estate inspections can occur too.

Other activities that will be permitted tomorrow include automated car washing and pool cleaning, mobile or home business pet grooming, outdoor photography.

Further easing in November

But the biggest changes will be seend on the first day of next month when retail will open back up, and hospitality venues will be allowed a maximum of 20 people inside and 50 people outside.

"Outdoor seated entertainment can host a maximum of 50 people or 25 per cent of the venue's fixed seating capacity," he added.

Beauty and personal services will return, contact sport for under 18-year-olds and non-contact for adults will recommence, a maximum of 20 people will be allowed for outdoor religious gatherings, and a maximum of 10 people will be allowed at weddings and a limit of 20 mourners at funerals.

Relaxations for regional Victoria

As is expected to be the case in Melbourne in two weeks' time, as of tomorrow in regional Victoria "the bubble is gone", with two adults and any dependents at a time allowed to visit the home.

"Hospitality venues can increase their capacity to 70 people outside and 40 people inside - four groups of 10 instead of two groups of 10," Premier Andrews said.

"Outdoor religious gatherings will increase to 20 people, indoor pools are open for 18 and under, a maximum of 20 swimmers, and one-on-one hydrotherapy with health professionals will also be allowed."

In the intervening weekend of 24 November, residents of metropolitan Melbourne who have properties in regional Victoria will be allowed to travel to those properties to undertake flood or fire preparedness measures.

"There will be a process in consultation with your local council from Wednesday next week to go and do those important works. It will be upon the issuance by your council of a fire prevention notice that legally requires you to go and do that work," he said.

The Premier congratulated Victorians for the amazing job they have done in recent weeks and months.

"What it means is that as so many cities across the world head into what is going to be a deadly winter, we in Melbourne and across Victoria are well placed to have a COVID-safe summer and a COVID-normal 2021," Premier Andrews said.

"Yes these lockdowns have come with significant hurt and pain and damage, but the strategy is working and will continue to work.

"It's not so long ago that we had 725 cases and there was simply no way we could have a debate - a perfectly legitimate debate about how to open, when to open, how to do that. That was just not an option available to us."

Updated at 11:43am AEDT on 18 October 2020.

Repayments underway for half of Australia's deferred loans

Repayments underway for half of Australia's deferred loans

The Australian Banking Association (ABA) revealed positive signs of economic recovery today, with payments resuming for almost half the nation's deferred loans.

The number of paused loans in Australia peaked in June with around 500,000 mortgages and more than 200,000 small business loans.

Data revealed by the association shows that as of last week repayments had resumed on 224,000 mortgages and 82,000 small and medium business loans.

This means that two in five business loans that were deferred are getting back on track, while the improvement is slightly better for mortgages at 45 per cent.

To provie some breathing pace during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Australian banks provided a loan repayment deferral to around one in 11 Australian mortgage holders and one in 8 small business owners.

ABA chief executive Anna Bligh highlights the latest numbers as a good sign for the economy. 

"It shows that more Australians are getting back on their feet and resuming their loan repayments," she says.

"These loan deferrals have helped hundreds of thousands of Australian families and small businesses survive the pandemic."

In just the past month, as customers came to the end of their six-month deferral, more than 130,000 mortgages and 50,000 SME loans had their repayments resumed.

According to the data from Australia's seven largest banks, the total number of deferred loans has dropped to 439,000.

"Right now, it's really important that people contact their bank to figure out the path ahead. The earlier you speak to your bank, the more options they have to help you find a way through," says Bligh.

"Banks will work with customers to figure out a tailor-made solution. That might include restructuring a loan, or in some cases, granting an additional four-month deferral.

"If you are in financial difficulty, please call your bank, they can help you find a way through. Don't tough it out on your own."

RBA Governor: Recovery from a very uneven recession

As a symbolic reflection of the changes afoot in the economy, Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe gave a speech this morning not on a Zoom call, but rather a room of people at Citi's 12th Annual Australia and New Zealand Investment Conference.

"It is especially good to be able to join you in person, rather than over the internet," he told attendees.

"This is the first time since February that I have been able to speak to a room of people. I hope this is another sign that the worst is behind us and that a recovery is under way."

Governor Lowe said we could look forward to the recovery continuing, but its shape and nature remains highly uncertain.

"Much depends upon how as a society we can live with the virus and the success of the scientists in terms of a vaccine, anti-viral treatments and rapid testing," he said.

"There has been positive news on these fronts recently and we hope for more positive news, but success is not yet assured.

"So the single most important influence on the recovery is how successful we are in containing the virus."

He described a certain unevenness in the recession that was especially evident in the labour market.

"The picture is pretty clear. The job losses have been largest for young people, with around 500,000 people under 35 losing their jobs in the early stages of the pandemic, and around 300,000 still out of work in August," he said.

"The hospitality industry -  in which many young people and women work - has been worst affected, with almost 300,000 job losses between February and May.

"There has been an encouraging recovery of late, and for this to be sustained our economy will need to open up further. In contrast, a number of other areas including the finance industry, the public sector and mining have been much less affected."

People working in lower-paid occupations have been the hardest hit on average, while employment has actually increased for occupations with the highest hourly earnings.

"The difference in experience is striking," Governor Lowe said.

"The uneven effect of the pandemic is also evident in small businesses being harder hit, on average, than large businesses," he added.

"As at mid September, the number of people on the payrolls of firms with at least 200 employees was down just 1 per cent on the level of mid March."

He said in contrast, payrolls are down seven per cent on average for firms with between 20 and 200 employees, with a similar decline for firms with fewer than 20 employees.

That unnevenness of experience can also be suneen geographically, with Western Australia seeing the strongest recovery, so much so that the RBA's business liaison is hearing reports of some labour shortages.

"Consistent with the labour market data, retail spending, consumer confidence and house building have also picked up by more in Western Australia than elsewhere," he said.

"At the other end of the distribution is Victoria, where the second wave has meant that the earlier recovery in jobs has been reversed, with the number of jobs there still down by 8 per cent from that in March.

"Retail spending in Victoria in August was also 11 per cent lower than at the start of the year - in contrast, spending in the rest of the country was up by 13 per cent."

He said one factor that will shape the recovery is how willing people and businesses are to draw on their accumulated financial buffers to spend and invest over the months ahead.

"One of the many unique features of this recession is that it has been associated with a big increase in household saving," Governor Lowe said.

"Normally in a recession, income falls and many people draw on their savings to get through the hard times. But in the June quarter, when fears about the pandemic were at their peak, the household saving rate surged to 20 per cent, the highest in almost 50 years."

He said this high savings rate came down to caution and Australians having fewer opportunities to spend as many services were not on offer, in addition to a large boost to incomes from various government support programs.

"Many households have used this extra income and their increased savings to put their balance sheets on a firmer footing," the Governor said.

"Some of the money withdrawn from superannuation funds under the early release scheme - which is now equivalent to about an additional 10 per cent of quarterly household disposable income - has also been used to pay down debt and strengthen cash buffers."

He said for many people with mortgages, much of the extra savings and some of the superannuation withdrawals have been used to increase their balances in their offset accounts, with offset balances up 10 per cent since March.

"Other people have simply paid down principal directly. Combined, all forms of mortgage payments including the additional balances in offset accounts reached a record high over recent months, despite repayments being deferred on around eight per cent of housing loans," he said.

"In aggregate, household income is likely to decline in the December quarter as the unemployment rate increases and government support becomes more targeted.

"In normal times, a decline in income would be expected to affect consumption, but these are not normal times. It is entirely possible that as restrictions ease, people will choose to draw on their accumulated buffers to sustain and increase their spending."

Whether it's for households or businesses, the recovery hinges on confidence, and the ongoing pandemic response will have an important role to play in that.

"If people are nervous about the health situation or their job prospects, they are likely to sit on their savings. On the other hand, if they are confident that the virus can be contained and that they will have a job, they will be more willing to spend," Governor Lowe said.

"This means that there are large payoffs to be had from ensuring public confidence in the capacity of the health system to respond.

"From this perspective alone, there are likely to be large returns from public investments in first-class testing, contact tracing and quarantine arrangements. These are essential, not only to open up our economy successfully but to also build the confidence that is required for people to spend and invest."

Australia's debt "entirely manageable and affordable"

The issue of national debt is a divisive topic in Australia, and opinions vary as to how much borrowing is appropriate to fuel the country's Keynesian response to the recession; that is, stimulating demand through government policy such as economic stimulus and cutting taxes.

Whilst the RBA's role is to handle the monetary supply side of the economic equation and keep inflation under control, Governor Lowe said the fiscal support from government necessarily involves increased borrowing.

"For a country that became used to low budget deficits and low levels of public debt, this is quite a change," he said.

"But it is a change that is entirely manageable and affordable and it is the right thing to do in the national interest.

"Debt across all levels of government in Australia, relative to the size of our economy, is much lower than in many other countries and it is likely to remain so."

He reiterated the national balance sheet was in a strong position and able to provide the support that is now required.

"Government can borrow at the lowest rates ever and the demand from investors for government bonds remains very strong," he said.

"The states and territories can also borrow at record low rates and have an important role to play in the national fiscal response."

Updated at 3:12pm AEDT on 15 October 2020.

Virgin CEO Paul Scurrah to resign once Bain takes control, Hrdlicka to step in

Virgin CEO Paul Scurrah to resign once Bain takes control, Hrdlicka to step in

Virgin Australia (ASX: VAH) CEO Paul Scurrah (pictured) will soon step away from the restructured airline after just over 18 months in the role, six of which have undoubtedly been the most turbulent in the company's history.

Scurrah will step down from his roles as CEO and managing director following the handover to US investment company Bain Capital due at the end of this month, with his departure expected in early November.

He is expected to be replaced by Jayne Hrdlicka, who previously headed up A2M (ASX: A2M) as well as CEO stints at Jetstar and Qantas' loyalty and digital ventures division.

Scurrah says Hrdlicka - who is also currently president and chair of Tennis Australia - is very focused on seeing the business succeed, and he wishes the company well under her leadership.

The Brisbane-based airline has undergone drastic changes due to the pandemic, including around 3,000 job cuts and a withdrawal from its budget brand Tigerair.

Vaughan Strawbridge from Deloitte Restructuring Services says Scurrah has done an "outstanding job" in supporting the team through the process of administration and entering Deeds of Company Arrangements (DOCAs) with Bain.

"His exceptional leadership enabled us to stabilise the business and achieve a sale in a timely and orderly manner," says Strawbridge.

"It is a testament to his leadership that we have been able to complete this sale and the business is well positioned to play its vital role in the rebuilding of the Australian aviation industry and economy more broadly.

"I know there has been speculation about the shape of the airline into the future, and I have reaffirmed with Bain Capital that Virgin Australia will not be repositioned as a low-cost carrier."

Strawbridge says Virgin Australia will be a 'hybrid' airline, offering great value to customers by delivering a distinctive Virgin experience at competitive prices.

"This will appeal to the full spectrum of travellers, from premium corporate through to more budget-focused customers," he says.

"Paul has provided the leadership to enable Virgin Australia to emerge from voluntary administration as a well-capitalised, best in class carrier. His personal commitment and determination to lead Virgin Australia through such a turbulent period is a credit to him," adds Bain Capital managing director Mike Murphy.

Photo: Jayne Hrdlicka in 2012 when she was CEO of Jetstar Group, announcing the the operational launch of Jetstar Japan at Narita Airport.

Scurrah says he is proud of the work done to transition the business and remove complexity.

"Whilst it has been the most challenging time in aviation history, I have continued to be so proud of the way my team and our entire organisation has fought to save this airline and to keep competition alive and well in Australia," he says.

"We have succeeded in not just ensuring the future of the company, but also reset the business to ensure it is well placed to deliver for Bain Capital for many years to come.

"Having seen the company through COVID-19, voluntary administration, the sale to Bain Capital and the redesign of the business, I will be stepping down as CEO and Managing Director at financial close of the DOCAs. I have made this decision after some long discussions with my family. The time feels right, and I know the business will be in good hands."

The outgoing executive also describes his time at the airline as being a privilege, and thanks all team members who have continued to support and work tirelessly to get the company through to this stage.

"It is the people that make this airline the great place it is and I wish them all the best. I was extremely humbled by the warmth with which I was embraced on day one and for the unwavering support afforded to me throughout this ongoing major industry crisis," he says.

"I also want to thank Vaughan Strawbridge and his team at Deloitte as well as our legal and financial advisers for the major achievement and tireless efforts to ensure that Virgin Australia has a future. I won't forget the support they provided me and the team.

"I have also appreciated working with Bain Capital in recent months and recognise the significant contribution they have made to Virgin Australia's long-term future. They have demonstrated a deep understanding of aviation and our culture."

Updated at 12:57pm AEDT on 15 October 2020.

Premier warns NSW "on the verge" of COVID-19 spike, new public health alerts issued

Premier warns NSW "on the verge" of COVID-19 spike, new public health alerts issued

Premier Gladys Berejiklian has warned the state is coming close to a new spike of COVID-19 cases after New South Wales reported 11 new locally transmitted cases today.

According to the Premier the state is heading toward a Crossroads Hotel-style outbreak of COVID-19. 

"Our state is on the verge of being where it was when we had the first seeding event from Victoria," said Berejiklian.

Of the 14 new cases in NSW 11 are locally transmitted infections while three are in overseas travellers in hotel quarantine.

Nine of the new cases reported today are linked to the Lakemba GP cluster, which now has 12 cases in total.

Two of the new cases reported today are linked to the private clinic cluster, which now has 10 cases in total. One case attended the clinic, and the other is a staff member at the clinic.

One of the new cases of COVID-19 reported today attended the Narellan Town Centre on Camden Valley Way on 7 October from 11.30am to 1pm. Anyone who attended this venue at this time is considered a casual contact and must monitor for symptoms and get tested immediately if they develop.

The news comes just days before NSW is poised to ease COVID-19 restrictions on Friday - measures that would double the permitted number of people that can dine outside.

Public health alerts in South West Sydney issued for Ikea, Bunnings and Aldi

An Ikea in Tempe, a Bunnings in Gregory Hills, and a Woolworths in Oran Park are among several businesses that have been issued public health alerts by NSW Health yesterday.

The alerts come after health authorities confirmed cases of COVID-19 attended venues in South West Sydney.

Anyone who attended the following venues is considered a casual contact and must monitor for symptoms and get tested immediately if they develop:

  • Woolworths Oran Park, 351 Oran Park Dr, Oran Park on the following dates:
    • Wednesday 30 September from 5:30pm to 6:30pm
    • Thursday 8 October from 5:15pm to 6pm
    • Friday 9 October 6pm to 6:30pm
  • Prasadi Nepali Emerald Hills, 2 Hurricane Drive, Raby on Friday 2 October from 3:30pm to 4pm
  • Emerald Hills McDonalds 101 Raby Rd, Leppington on Friday 2 October from 5pm to 5:15pm
  • Aldi Emerald Hills, Shop 2/03, 5 Emerald Hills Blvd, Leppington, on Friday 2 October from 5:30pm to 6:15pm
  • Fantastic Furniture Campbelltown, 4 Blaxland Rd, Campbelltown, on Friday 9 October from 3:30pm to 5:20pm
  • Bunnings Gregory Hills, 2 Rodeo Rd, Gregory Hills, on Tuesday 6 October from 7pm to 8:00pm
  • IKEA Tempe, 634-726 Princes Hwy, Tempe, on Wednesday 7 October from 1:30pm 5:30pm

Updated at 1.40pm AEDT on 14 October 2020.

Outdoor dining restrictions in NSW to ease from Friday

Outdoor dining restrictions in NSW to ease from Friday

From this Friday restrictions on restaurants and venues in New South Wales will be eased, doubling the number of people permitted to dine outside.

Additionally, musical performances for up to 500 people at outdoor venues will be allowed as long as the audience is seated and compliant with the one person per four square meter rule.

Outdoor dining restrictions will be relaxed to allow one person per two square meters, as long as venues have a QR code system set up to track the identities of patrons.

Indoor dining restrictions of one person per four square meters will remain in place.

The eased restrictions on outdoor dining comes after the NSW Government announecd an al fresco dining pilot to commence on 16 October.

Under the 12-month pilot there will be no need to get a planning approval when cafes, bars, restaurants and hotels apply for an outdoor dining licence.

An amendment to the Liquor Regulation will also allow expanded liquor licence boundaries to be approved in three days, compared to a process that used to take up to 51 days.

According to NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet the eased restrictions will be a boon for hospitality businesses in the state.

"We know, particularly in our state, during this pandemic some of the hardest hit industries have been arts and recreation and hospitality we've seen a reduction in employment between March and September in hospitality of around 14 per cent," said Perrottet.

"As we head into Summer we're going to take New South Wales from being inside to outside."

The announcement comes as NSW reports seven new cases of locally transmitted COVID-19 in the 24 hours to 8pm last night.

Six cases of COVID-19 in overseas travellers in hotel quarantine were also diagnosed, bringing the total number of cases in NSW to 4,106 since the beginning of the pandemic.

Two new locally acquired cases, publicly announced on Monday 12 October, are doctors who worked at the A2Z Medical Clinic and are linked to a previously reported case of unknown source. At this point, these cases have no known links to other clusters.

Another five new locally acquired cases today are members of the same household in South Western Sydney. They have now been identified as part of the ongoing investigation into four previously reported unlinked cases, including a nurse from St Vincent's Hospital.

NSW Health also says one of the new cases is a disability support worker who has worked at three small group homes in South Western Sydney.

Another one of the new cases attended the Great Beginnings Oran Park childcare centre on 1, 2, 8, and 9 October while infectious. The centre is closed today. Contact tracing and investigations are underway.

Updated at 1.24pm AEDT on 13 October.

Public health alerts issued in Sydney after two doctors test positive for COVID-19

Public health alerts issued in Sydney after two doctors test positive for COVID-19

NSW Health has issued several public health alerts overnight after two doctors that worked at a medical clinic in Lakemba tested positive for COVID-19.

Both cases worked at the A2Z Medical Clinic in Lakemba, forcing all staff at the clinic into isolation and sparking a contract tracing flurry for NSW Health.

NSW Health is in the process of contacting everyone considered to be a close contact of the two cases, both of which are connected to a previously reported case who attended Lakemba Radiology.

According to health authorities, anyone who attended A2Z Medical Clinic at the following times should self-isolate for 14 days and get tested if symptoms occur.

  • Thursday, 1 October, 2.30-3.30pm
  • Friday, 9 October, 3-4.30pm
  • Saturday, 10 October, all day

Some people will be managed as close contacts and NSW Health will contact everyone directly to provide tailored advice depending on their exposure.

The patient that is a confirmed COVID-19 case also attended Isra Medical Practice in Lakemba, and anyone who attended the venue on Monday, 5 October between 7.15pm to 7.40pm is considered a casual contact.

NSW Health has also advised that previously reported cases attended the Ingleburn Hotel on Sunday, 4 October from 3-6pm:

  • Ingleburn Hotel Bar Room: anyone who spent an hour or more in the Bar Room between these times is considered a close contact and must immediately isolate and be tested. Anyone who spent less than an hour there is considered a casual contact.
  • Ingleburn Hotel Bistro and Gaming Room: anyone who attended either of these areas in the hotel is considered a casual contact.

Authorities also say those who used the following train services at the specified times are also considered a casual contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case:

  • Thursday, 1 October, from Wiley Park Station to Lakemba Station, between 12.02 and 12.14pm
  • Thursday, 1 October, from Lakemba Station to Wiley Park Station, between 3.14pm and 3.27pm
  • Tuesday, 6 October, from Wiley Park Station to Lakemba Station, between 12.10pm and 12.30pm
  • Tuesday, 6 October, from Lakemba Station to Wiley Park Station, between 1:42pm and 1:58pm

Earlier yesterday evening NSW Health announced anyone who attended the Ali Dine Inn and Take Away Lakemba on Friday 9 October, from 7.30pm to 8.30pm is considered a close contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case and must isolate for 14 days.

NSW reported six new cases of COVID-19 yesterday, including one new locally acquired case.

Updated at 9.34am AEDT on 13 October 2020.

Check customers are not from Melbourne or face an almost $10,000 fine

Check customers are not from Melbourne or face an almost $10,000 fine

Regional Victorian businesses that fail to check customers are not from metropolitan Melbourne could face fines of up to $9,913 under laws that came into force overnight.

The onus will now be placed on businesses to check customers' drivers' licenses or Keypass IDs, although they won't be fined if they do the right thing and are misled by someone intent on breaking the rules.

Previously these businesses, which unlike those in Melbourne are allowed to be open, have only had to check the addresses of customers when taking bookings.

Melburnians who are found in regional Victoria without a valid reason face fines of up to $4,957.

"We know regional businesses are doing everything they can to keep their community safe and now we're giving them the confidence to check that their customers are not breaking Chief Health Officer directions," Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said.

The State Government is also upping the ante on testing, and will require new tests from close contacts of COVID-19 patients who are in their 11th day of quarantine.

The Department of Health and Human Services will be in touch with these contacts, and those who refuse to take a coronavirus test will have to go into quarantine for a total of 24 days from their last exposure to the virus.

People working in targeted industries who undertake surveillance testing are not required to isolate, unless they are feeling unwell or have been directed to quarantine or isolate by the Department.

"Testing close contacts on day 11 of quarantine is one of a number of important measures we're taking to limit the spread of coronavirus in Victoria and reduce the risk of further outbreaks," Premier Andrews said.

"We know this has been a challenging time for Victorians but we're so close to beating this thing. Extra testing and Victorians continuing to follow the rules will get us to the other side," added Minister for Health Martin Foley.

Updated at 10:30am AEST on 12 October.