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Rex expands flight offering on nine regional routes

Rex expands flight offering on nine regional routes

Regional flight operator Rex (ASX: REX) is responding to Qantas' (ASX: QAN) increased flight offering with daily weekday flights on six routes, as well as more services on another three.

The announcement on Friday relates to flights where Qantas is in competition with Rex and is doubling its number of flights.

"From 6 July 2020, Rex will be providing daily weekday return services to these competitive routes and will also provide twice-daily return services on certain days in order to facilitate day-return travel," Rex said.

Rex will offer daily return flights every weekday for Sydney to Albury, Wagga Wagga and Orange; Melbourne to Mildura; and Adelaide to Whyalla and Port Lincoln.

The airline will offer return flights four days a week from Sydney to Dubbo, three days Sydney to Ballina, and two days Adelaide to Kangaroo Island.

Rex was rescued from COVID-19 uncertainty at the end of March when the Federal Government announced a $198 million Regional Air Network Support (RANS) program.

"Given that Rex and QantasLink together operate approximately 80 per cent of all eligible regional services, both carriers will, over the six-month period, be expected to receive proportionately 80 per cent of the grant amount," Rex reported in a clarification note on 4 June.

The company has also explained the Qantas and Virgin were excluded from the $100 million Regional Airlines Funding Assistance (RAFA) program, so it is a possibility that Rex will receive the majority of that amount given its network accounts for more than 60 per cent of all regional services excluding the two large players.

Rex however does not expect to see much of the $715 million Australian Airline Financial Relief Package (AAFR).

"A large portion of these funds will be directed to Airservices Australia. Of the remaining funds that will go to the airlines over 90 per cent will go to the Qantas and Virgin Australia Groups," the airline said.

"It is clear for all to see that Qantas and Virgin Australia will receive the lion's share of the $1.2 billion grants available, exceeding what Rex will receive by many fold.

"The Federal Government has justifiably placed regional aviation as a national priority and has provided appropriate assistance to ensure that regional communities will retain their vital air services after the COVID-19 crisis is over."

In May the company confirmed it had been approached by several parties interested in providing around $200 million worth of equity required to start domestic operations in Australia.

The company has also reached various funding arrangements with state governments as well to reactivate 88 return service flights since late April.

Updated at 10:25am AEST on 8 June 2020.

WA to spend $444m on housing stimulus package

WA to spend $444m on housing stimulus package

The Western Australian Government has announced a housing stimulus package worth almost two-thirds of the national HomeBuilder program, with a strong focus on social housing and grants for homebuyers.

The state government expects its $444 million package announced yesterday to support around 4,300 jobs in the building and construction sectors, comprising the following benefits:

  • $117 million for $20,000 Building Bonus grants provided to homebuyers who sign up before December 31, 2020 to build new houses or purchase a new property in a single tier development (such as a townhouse) prior to construction finishing, creating 2,600 jobs;
  • $8.2 million to expand the 75 per cent off-the-plan transfer duty rebate, capped at $25,000, until December 31, 2020 to include purchases in multi-tiered developments already under construction;
  • $97 million to construct social housing dwellings and purchase off-the-plan units for supported housing programs;
  • $142 million to refurbish 1,500 existing social housing dwellings; and
  • $80 million for targeted maintenance programs for 3,800 regional social housing properties - including remote Aboriginal communities' stock and subsidised housing for regional government workers.

The plan is scheduled for immediate rollout, and will run into 2020-21, providing tradespeople and building material suppliers with additional certainty about an ongoing pipeline of work.

Premier Mark McGowan says the new major housing package will provide a much-needed boost to WA's economy.

"It will provide a pipeline of work for WA building companies and local tradies, like bricklayers, plumbers, carpenters and painters, as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic," he said.

"The social housing component will also go a long way to helping those in need, get into a quality home.

"WA's residential building industry makes a significant contribution to our economy and community, so it's important we help protect, support and create new jobs in this space."

State Treasurer Ben Wyatt says the package takes the government's total COVID-19 stimulus and relief commitments to date up to $2.3 billion.

"The package will recharge our housing industry by bringing forward a pipeline of work, providing a boost to our economy and supporting jobs," he says.

"An estimated 66,000 workers are directly employed in the residential construction sector and many thousands more rely on the industry for their livelihoods," adds Housing Minister Peter Tinley.

"The various elements of the social housing package are designed to provide opportunities for work - especially in regional areas - and help propel WA's economic recovery."

"It will also result in more liveable, modern homes for tenants and improve the overall lifespan of our social housing stock - a publicly-owned asset with an estimated worth of about $14 billion."

In a column for The Conversation last week in anticipation of the Federal Government's $680 million HomeBuilder program, Brendan Coates of the Grattan Institute argued social housing stimulus would help address several problems at once; it not only provides a safety net and helps tackle homelessness, but it also pumps money into the construction sector quickly without the injection simply being passed on through higher property prices. 

Updated at 9:20am AEST on 8 June 2020.


Blueprint for Trans-Tasman travel bubble submitted to Prime Ministers

Blueprint for Trans-Tasman travel bubble submitted to Prime Ministers

The Trans-Tasman Safe Border Group has submitted a blueprint for the resumption of 'safe' Trans-Tasman travel to both the New Zealand and Australian Prime Ministers.

The proposal, developed by a group of 40 experts, government entities and industry bodies, recommends the establishment of a 'Safe Travel Zone' to be introduced in line with strong baseline health conditions in each country for the management of COVID-19.

The recommendations include several layers of protections across the traveller journey, allowing for the sustainable re-start of 'scheduled passenger services' without the need for a 14-day passenger quarantine.

Scott Tasker, co-chair of the Trans-Tasman Safe Border Group and Auckland Airport's General Manager Aeronautical Commercial, says the proposal is aligned with official guidance released yesterday from the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

"This has been a significant piece of work involving experts from all parts of the system," says Tasker.

"We've worked solidly together over the past three weeks to develop a detailed and comprehensive framework to enable the safe and sustainable re-start of scheduled passenger services between Australia and New Zealand, and we're delighted to have submitted our proposal to government.

"We believe our recommendations will effectively manage the risks but importantly they will also provide confidence to Australian and New Zealand travellers to visit each other's countries to reconnect with family and friends, re-establish vital business links, and provide a lifeline of visitors to our respective tourism industries."

The Australian and New Zealand Governments will now review the proposal.

The Trans-Tasman Safe Border Group says re-establishing this travel link is vitally important considering the two countries are two of the most integrated economies in the world.

"Each country is vital to the success of each other's small and medium-sized businesses, and contributes strongly to each other's tourism sectors, with estimated $3 billion in international visitor spend each way every year," says the Trans-Tasman Safe Border Group.

"Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, New Zealand was the most popular outbound travel destination for Australians with 1.5 million visitors arriving from across the Tasman in 2019, accounting for 40 per cent of all foreign visitors to New Zealand.

"Likewise, Australia was the most popular outbound travel destination for Kiwis. New Zealand is Australia's second largest source market for visitors (behind China), with 1.4 million visitors in 2019, accounting for 15 per cent of total visitors to Australia."

Updated at 12:58pm AEST on 5 June 2020.

CSL aims to produce "100 million doses" of COVID-19 vaccine in late 2021 if trials prove successful

CSL aims to produce "100 million doses" of COVID-19 vaccine in late 2021 if trials prove successful

Australian biotech giant CSL (ASX: CSL) has entered into a "significant" agreement that formalises the work it has been doing with COVID-19 vaccine developers since January.

A new partnering agreement with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the University of Queensland (UQ) aims to accelerate the development, manufacture and distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine candidate.

Funding will come from CEPI and CSL to develop and manufacture a vaccine candidate pioneered by UQ researchers, harnessing the university's proprietary "molecular clamp" technology that allows for a more effective immune response by locking unstable surface proteins.

Phase 1 clinical trials are expected in July with late stage clinical trials expected to follow. 

If these trials are successful, the groups indicate a vaccine could be available for distribution by 2021 and large-scale production will take place at CSL's biotech manufacturing facilities in Melbourne.

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CSL believes the production technology can be scaled up to produce 100 million doses towards the end of 2021, while it would also sub-contract other global manufacturers to improve availability and geographical distribution.

"We are pleased to be able to provide our scientific expertise and platform technologies to make a strong contribution to this critical joint effort with CEPI, the University of Queensland and others," says CSL chief scientific officer, Professor Andrew Cuthbertson (pictured).

"The devastating toll COVID-19 has inflicted on the world is being countered by an extraordinary effort from scientists who have crossed borders and boundaries to collaborate, pool together their resources and make progress at a rate not seen before.

"CSL will contribute to UQ's promising vaccine with our proprietary adjuvant, MF59, made by Seqirus, along with expertise in process science and scale-up from our Australian facilities, managing advanced clinical trials and the large-scale manufacture of the recombinant vaccine."

CEPI CEO Richard Hatchett says investing in large-scale manufacturing capacity now will reduce the time needed to deliver millions of doses of the UQ vaccine to those who need them the most, should the candidate prove safe and effective.

CEPI chair Jane Halton emphasises the importance of collaboration, with the partnership set to benefit  enormously from CSL's experience and capabilities in vaccine development and large-scale manufacturing.

"If this vaccine is successful, the partnership model we have established will enable CEPI to provide a significant number of doses to the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility for those who need them most, while allowing CSL to fulfil its own long-standing biosecurity commitment."

UQ Vice Chancellor Professor Peter Høj says the university is "absolutely delighted" at the speed with which this critical juncture has been reached, off the back of positive results from UQ's early pre-clinical studies.

"This accelerated timeframe, hitting the key milestones in the development of the UQ vaccine, would not have been possible without CEPI, our partners and additional funding assistance from the Queensland State Government ($10m), the Federal Government ($ 5m) and philanthropic partners," he said.

"Having CSL, an Australian-based global biotech leader, take our vaccine forward is a fantastic result for the dedicated research team who have worked tirelessly since January on this project, which will benefit Australians and the world."

Investors appear to have expected more from CSL - perhaps a shorter timeframe for vaccine development - as its share price is down 3.58 per cent this afternoon at $283.70.

Updated at 12:59pm AEST on 5 June 2020.

COVID-19 restrictions to ease from today for the long weekend

COVID-19 restrictions to ease from today for the long weekend

Around the country COVID-19 restrictions will be eased from today, with many of these moves to be welcomed by Australians just in time for the long weekend.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk - whose state along with WA won't have a public holiday on Monday - has today celebrated the news that venues will be permitted to open to more than 20 seated patrons from midday today.

The restrictions will see venues be able to accommodate groups of up to 20 seated people per dining area on the condition a COVID-safe plan has been approved.

"We are expecting a bumper weekend," said Palaszczuk.

But Queensland is not the only state reopening businesses today, with the Northern Territory, Tasmania, and Western Australia all easing COVID-19 restrictions.

Northern Territory

The NT is moving into Stage 3 of restrictions being eased from midday today.

From today Territorians will be able to:

  • Frequent bars without consuming food;
  • Attend nightclubs, cinemas, theatres, concert or music halls and other approved entertainment venues;
  • Participate in licenced gaming activities;
  • Enjoy amusement venues, community centres and play centres; and
  • All previously restricted services at places that provide beauty therapy, cosmetic services, tattooing or body art can be accessed again from 5 June.

Sports including football, netball, basketball and soccer will also be able to resume and be officiated, with supporters and up to 500 people in any arena, stadium or community sport competition


Stage 2 easing of restrictions are being brought forward today from 3pm in Tasmania.

Pubs, restaurants and cafes will be able to provide table service for up to 40 patrons, with delivery and takeaway services able to continue.

Western Australia

In WA Phase 3 COVID-19 restrictions will be eased from Saturday midnight

As part of Phase 3, Western Australia will be the first State in the nation to implement a two square metre per person capacity rule for venues, replacing the previous four square metre rule, which is the current national advice.

Other restrictions will be eased, allowing:

  • non-work indoor and outdoor gatherings of up to 100 people at any one time, per single undivided space, up to 300 people in total per venue (100/300 rule);
  • food businesses and licensed premises may operate with seated service;
  • alcohol may be served without a meal at licensed premises (patrons must be seated);
  • food courts can reopen with a seated service;
  • beauty therapy and personal care services to reopen;
  • saunas, bath houses, float centres, massage and wellness centres to reopen (100/300 rule);
  • galleries, museums, theatres, auditoriums, cinemas and concert venues can reopen (during any performance, the patrons must be seated. (100/300 rule));
  • Rottnest Island to reopen to the WA general public;
  • Perth Zoo to open with no patron limit for the whole venue (the 100/300 rule applies to indoor spaces and cafés/restaurants);
  • wildlife and amusement parks can reopen (100/300 rule);
  • arcades (including pool/snooker, ten pin bowling, Timezone), skate rinks and indoor play centres to reopen (100/300 rule);
  • auction houses and real estate auctions can reopen;
  • TAB and other gaming venues (other than the Casino which is being considered separately) are permitted to reopen;
  • full contact sport and training is now permitted;
  • playgrounds, skate parks and outdoor gym equipment are permitted to be used;
  • parents/guardians will be able to enter school grounds to drop off or pick up their children;
  • gyms, health clubs and indoor sports centres will be able to offer the normal range of activities, including the use of all gym equipment (gyms must be staffed at all times and undertake regular cleaning).

Travel will now be permitted throughout Western Australia, including into the Kimberley region, pending the Commonwealth's approval to remove the Biosecurity Area on June 5. Access into remote Aboriginal communities will remain prohibited.

Updated at 12:26PM AEST on 5 June 2020.

Qantas and Jetstar will triple flight capacity to meet "pent up demand"

Qantas and Jetstar will triple flight capacity to meet "pent up demand"

Qantas (ASX: QAN) and its subsidiary Jetstar will soon run 300 more return flights per week in response to the easing of travel restrictions in many parts of the country.

The uptick over the rest of June applies to domestic travel only, with capacity set to increase from five per cent of pre-coronavirus levels to 15 per cent by the end of the month.

Additional flights will likely operate during July depending on travel demand and the further relaxation of state borders. By the end of next month the group expects it could be at 40 per cent of pre-crisis capacity. 

The move follows an announcement the Queensland Government would be supporting Alliance Airlines - partly owned by Qantas - to run four weekly return flights from Brisbane to the Whitsundays

Details of the additional flights include:

  • More services on capital city routes particularly Melbourne-Sydney and a number of routes to-and-from Canberra;
  • Increased intra-state flights for Western Australia, Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia. Broome, Cairns and Rockhampton to see a significant boost in weekly flights;
  • Flights will resume on eight routes not currently being operated; and
  • Qantas to commence flights from Sydney to Byron Bay (Ballina), after the route launch was postponed due to the Coronavirus.

Click here for the full list of the increased network.

Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce (pictured) says there has been a lot of pent-up demand for air travel, and the company is already seeing a big increase in customers booking and planning flights in the weeks and months ahead.

"We can quickly ramp up flying in time for the July school holidays if border restrictions have eased more by then," he says.

"Normally, we plan our capacity months in advance, but in the current climate we need to be flexible to respond to changing restrictions and demand levels.

"The one million people who work in tourism around Australia have been really hurting over the past few months. These additional flights are an important first step to help get more people out into communities that rely on tourism and bring a much-needed boost to local businesses."

The executive also explains parts of the company's Fly Well program, which includes optional masks and travellers will still be able to sit side-by-side as before.

"Customers will notice a number of differences when they fly, such as masks and sanitising wipes, and we'll be sending out information before their flight so they know exactly what to expect and have some extra peace of mind," he says.

"Importantly, the Australian Government's medical experts have said the risk of contracting Coronavirus on an aircraft is low."

However, close contact is considered one of the key ways the virus is spread. 

Close contact is generally defined as either 15 minutes of face-to-face contact with an infected person, or sharing a closed space that is not well-ventilated with an infected person for a total of more than two hours.

When Qantas released its Fly Well program, the group's medical director Ian Hosegood gave his explanation as to why the risk of catching coronavirus on an aircraft is extremely low.

"That's due to a combination of factors, including the cabin air filtration system, the fact people don't sit face-to-face and the high backs of aircraft seats acting as a physical barrier," Dr Hosegood says.

"As far as the virus goes, an aircraft cabin is a very different environment to other forms of public transport.

"Social distancing on an aircraft isn't practical the way it is on the ground, and given the low transmission risk on board, we don't believe it's necessary in order to be safe. The extra measures we're putting place will reduce the risk even further."

Updated at 11:48am AEST on 4 June 2020. 


PharmAust lab tests show positive signs for suppressing COVID-19

PharmAust lab tests show positive signs for suppressing COVID-19

Perth-based company PharmAust (ASX: PAA) has announced positive preliminary results in experiments aimed at inhibiting the virus that causes COVID-19.

Traditionally focused on repurposing existing drugs for cancer therapy, PharmAust is exploring the potential of monepantel (MPL), a drug traditionally used against gastrointestinal deadworms in sheep.

Experiments with MPL and monepantel sulfone (MPLS) have been undertaken by Melbourne's Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research on PharmAust's behalf, testing the active ingredients' effects on cells infected with SARS-CoV-2 in tissue culture.

Today PharmAust came out of a trading halt after announcing these tests demonstrated both infectivity and replication of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles can be suppressed by between 50-95 per cent in cell cultures.

Virologists at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute demonstrated that in preliminary experiments both MPL and MPLS reduce the capacity of SARS-CoV-2 to replicate as well as the capacity of SARS-CoV-2 to mature into infectious virus particles.

Of note, relatively low concentrations of monepantel blocked the infectious capacity of SARS-CoV-2 in tissue culture.

Based on the above findings, PharmAust has moved to broaden and extend its intellectual property in the area of anti-viral activity through the filing of a patent application specifically covering MPL in the treatment of COVID-19.

"PharmAust is excited by this early data set and is looking forward to continuing the project with the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute," says PharmAust's chief scientific officer Dr Richard Mollard.

"Continuation will involve repetition of these experiments for validation and comparisons with other mTOR inhibitors and treatments currently in the clinic."

Walter and Eliza Hall Institute researcher Professor Marc Pellegrini says these early signs demonstrating that monepantel can block SARS-CoV-2 infectivity in vitro are encouraging.

Updated at 11:19am AEST on 4 June 2020.

$680 million HomeBuilder program a "lifeline" for construction industry

$680 million HomeBuilder program a "lifeline" for construction industry

The Federal Government has today announced a $680 million 'HomeBuilder' program to support the residential construction sector.

Until the end of 2020 the program will provide owner-occupiers with a grant of $25,000 to build a new home or substantially renovate an existing one, but there's a catch: renovators must be spending at least $150,000 to be eligible.

Construction must be contracted to commence within three months of the contract date, and applicants will be subject to a range of eligibility criteria, including income caps of $125,000 for singles and $200,000 for couples based on their latest assessable income.

A national dwelling price cap of $750,000 will apply for new home builds, and a renovation price range of $150,000 up to $750,000 will apply to renovating an existing home with a current value of no more than $1.5 million.

The program is expected to provide around 27,000 grants.

The Morrison Government expects the program will support 140,000 jobs directly and another one million related jobs in the residential construction sector.

The program has been welcomed by industry associations like Master Builders Australia (MBA) and the Housing Industry Association (HIA) and follows some dire warnings from the sector that half a million jobs were at risk without Government intervention.

In May HIA forecasted that new home building was about to fall in half from 200,000 new homes constructed by the Association in FY19 to just 112,000 in FY21.

But with the announcement of the HomeBuilder program, HIA says the package could generate over $15 billion in national economic activity.

"Most importantly this incentive will support hundreds of thousands of jobs across Australia," says HIA managing director Graham Wolfe.

"The housing industry directly engages more than one million people builders, trade contractors, designers, professional service providers and others. It provides jobs for many thousands more in the manufacturing and retail sectors, which supply the materials, products, white goods and furnishings that go into our homes.

"This incentive will help to address the projected decline in housing activity over the next 12 months."

MBA CEO Denita Wawn has also welcomed the program, describing it as a "lifeline" for an industry teetering on the edge of disaster.

"HomeBuilder will be a lifeline for an industry facing a valley of death in the coming months. It will mean more new homes, more small businesses and jobs are protected and provide a stronger bridge to economic recovery for our country," says Wawn.

"Based on the Government's estimated 27,000 grants, we think the scheme will be used for $10 billion in building activity, supporting the viability of 368,000 small builders and tradies the businesses which employ 800,000 people in communities around Australia.

"Supporting the home building industry is essential to strengthening the economy and helping Australia recover from the impacts of the pandemic. Residential building activity gives back more than double to the communities that sustain it with every $1 invested in home building activity providing $3 to the wider economy."

The announcement comes just a day after Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg declared Australia's economy to be in recession.

His announcement was made in conjunction with the release of the National Accounts for the March Quarter which showed a GDP contraction of 0.3 per cent, making it virtually certain that a recession will be confirmed in June considering most of the impact to the economy was felt during April and May.

"It was in this quarter the March quarter that consumer and business confidence fell to its lowest level on record. That the ASX 200 lost a third of its value and, on the 16th of March, saw its biggest daily fall of 9.7 per cent on record," said Treasurer Frydenberg yesterday.

"When combined with the ongoing drought, which saw farm GDP fall by 2.4 per cent in the quarter, and the devastating impact of the fires that were raging across many states, one looks back on the March quarter, and there wasn't much good news.

"Seen in this context, the fact that the Australian economy only contracted by 0.3 per cent shows the Australian economy's remarkable resilience."

Updated at 9:47am AEST on 4 June 2020.

COVID-19 restrictions, US unrest hit Ecofibre hemp sales

COVID-19 restrictions, US unrest hit Ecofibre hemp sales

Three weeks after securing a breakthrough deal with US pharmacy chain CVS, hemp nutraceuticals company Ecofibre (ASX: EOF) has withdrawn guidance due to the unpredictable impact of civil unrest on sales.

Ecofibre's Ananda Hemp range of topical creams and salves weren't going to be offered at CVS until December, but the group claims reordering from other distributors, purchasing groups and pharmacies has become inconsistent.

This is due to a challenging retail environment stemming from prolonged restrictions, and more recently the civil unrest that has erupted in the US since the death of George Floyd in police custody. 

"In the US, the early stages of re-opening the economy began in the last two weeks," says Ecofibre CEO Eric Wang.

"However, this re-opening is being impacted by a series of very unfortunate and sad incidents that have led to civil unrest across most major US cities.

"As a result of these events, Ecofibre's major markets will be impacted for an unknown period of time."

Ecofibre emphasises its strong confidence in the US hemp-derived CBD (Cannabidiol) market, and looks forward to a return to a level of normality in due course.

"The Company continues to work towards achieving our expected accounting profit, but due to the high degree of uncertainty on business re-openings that impact US sales, it is appropriate to withdraw second half guidance at this time."

The group's pivot to personal protective equipment (PPE) is showing results for Ecofibre's Hemp Black line of hemp textiles, with sales of more than 67,000 washable masks whose yarn is infused with CBD and copper to provide anti-microbial and anti-odor properties.

Produced by Ecofibre's manufacturing partner TexInnovate, revenues reached $1.2 million in May with a 50 per cent gross margin.

The manufacturing schedule will produce the same amount for the month of June before increasing capacity in July. A second line of PPE, Hemp Black Fusion/Flex Gaiter (neck gaiter), is expected to be launched this month.

The group's Ananda Food segment continues to see steady via Woolworths and its Macro branded hemp seed and protein powder.

Updated at 9:45am AEST on 4 June 2020.

Live export ban exemption refused for livestock vessel Al Kuwait

Live export ban exemption refused for livestock vessel Al Kuwait

The Australian Department of Agriculture has refused to grant an exception for Rural Export and Trading (WA) to export live sheep to the Middle East.

The livestock vessel Al Kuwait, currently docked in Fremantle, has been unable to depart Australia before 1 June as planned after 19 crew members tested positive for COVID-19.

As a result, the ship missed the deadline for exporting livestock out of Australia to the Middle East.

Under current legislation the Federal Government bans all live export out of Australia into the Middle East during the region's summer because of the harm that animals suffer under in the hot conditions.

The exporter applied for an exemption from the 1 June deadline, but the Federal Department of Agriculture has refused to grant the company one. This means the $12 million shipment will remain in Australia.

"Following consideration of all relevant matters under the legislation, including animal welfare and trade implications, the department has taken the decision not to grant an exemption to the exporter," says the Department of Agriculture.

"The livestock that was to be exported in this consignment remain at registered premises and the department is satisfied there are no welfare concerns."

Animals Australia director of strategy Lyn White says the Government's decision is a major win for the 56,000 sheep that will not be subjected to the "blistering heat of the Middle East summer".

"A decision to allow this shipment would not only have subjected animals to extreme and extended suffering, it would also have required an exemption to new laws that prohibit dangerous summer shipments," says White.

"Over the last week, we worked every angle and played every strategic card we could to present the strongest possible case to prevent these sheep from being exported. From legal avenues, close consultation and advice to the Department of Agriculture, and media coverage. But perhaps most critical of all was the analysis we instigated from an expert climatologist that warned, if the ship set sail, it would be sending animals directly into the 'danger zone' for heat stress.

"The live export industry has been sent a very strong message: they are no longer above the law. They can no longer expect to 'call the shots'."

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Business News Australia

Alliance Airlines to run four weekly flights to the Whitsundays

Alliance Airlines to run four weekly flights to the Whitsundays

The Whitsundays tourism industry received a boost today after the Queensland Government announced it would support Alliance Airlines to run flights from Brisbane to Proserpine.

In a deal secured in partnership with the Whitsunday Regional Council, Alliance Aviation Services (ASX: AQZ) subsidiary will fly the route four times per week with an option to ramp up to daily flights if demand permits.

Alliance Aviation is 19.8 per cent owned by Qantas (ASX: QAN).

"Tourism supports one in three jobs in the Whitsundays. We know how crucial this industry is to the livelihoods of people in this region," says QLD Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

"We've been able to open Queensland to Queenslanders because Queenslanders did so well at dealing with the global coronavirus pandemic."

Tourism Minister Kate Jones says flights will return to the Whitsundays on 22 June for the first time since 28 March, and are expected to generate more than $9.2 million in income for the region with 5,300 tourists expected over the next 12 months.

The Minister also expects the flights will create more than 85 local jobs.

"We know that more tourists means more cash for local businesses," says Jones.

"This will pump millions of dollars into the local economy and support local jobs."

Alliance Airlines CEO Lee Schofield says the company is delighted to be partnering with Whitsunday Coast Airport to make these new flights a reality.

"We understand there are many essential services that are currently unable to access the Whitsundays and Alliance are proud to be able to be the first airline to recommence scheduled services to Whitsunday Coast Airport," says Schofield.

"With current travel restrictions easing we look forward to working with WCA to welcome many visitors to the Whitsunday region on our flights.

"Alliance Airlines are proud to be playing this important role in reawakening tourism in this beautiful part of Queensland."

Whitsunday Regional Council Mayor Andrew Willcox says he is committed to working with the government to support tourism businesses that are doing it tough.

"To attract a new airline partner as we start our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is a real boost for the tourism and business sectors in the Whitsundays," he says.

"With the Premier lifting restrictions on travel within Queensland it is important that our airport resume services.

"Over the last decade the tourism stakeholders in the Whitsundays have had to be a resilient mob but with a focus on domestic tourism for the next 12-18 months there is light at the end of the tunnel."

He says the airport was approaching 500,000 passengers annually prior to the pandemic, so it is vital this key gateway to the Whitsundays is up and running as quickly as possible.

Whitsunday Coast Airport chief operating officer aviation and tourism, Craig Turner, says it is important to be proactive with so many regions fighting for flights now restrictions are easing.

"These flights present the opportunity for WCA to develop a partnership with Alliance Airlines through this challenging period and beyond," he says.

"Alliance Airlines launch fares will start at $99 one-way including taxes. All fares are inclusive of 20kg free checked baggage.

"In addition to the "now", WCA and Council are committed to a long-term relationship with Alliance to boost future passenger numbers to the Whitsundays."

On Monday the Premier called on Queenslanders to travel somewhere in the state they have never been before.

"We want to strengthen Queensland's traditional industries like tourism," she said today.

"We want to see more Queenslanders having a holiday in the Whitsundays. That's what today's announcement is all about."

Alliance also has services linking Brisbane with Bundaberg, Gladstone, Cloncurry and Port Macquarie.

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Cyrus and Bain make final cut for Virgin Australia shortlist

Cyrus and Bain make final cut for Virgin Australia shortlist

Administrators handling the sale of paralysed airline Virgin Australia (ASX: VAH) have narrowed the shortlist down to two bidders, selecting Bain Capital and Richard Branson-linked investment advisory Cyrus Capital Partners for the process.

The decision means BGH Capital and Indigo Partners have been left on the tarmac.

Cyrus was one of the original backers of Virgin America, while the Sydney Morning Herald reports Bain has drawn concerns from the Transport Workers Union - which holds key votes in the administration process - given its track record with mass firings of workers at Toys R Us in 2017.

Last month Bain Capital completed a majority in Japanese airplane manufacturer Showa Aircraft Industry for around ¥90 billion (AUD$1.23 billion). The Australian previously reported the Boston-based group may link up with Branson if it made the final cut. 

Over the weekend and the past two days, Deloitte administrators John Greig, Sal Algeri, Richard Hughes and Vaughan Strawbridge assessed five non-binding indicative proposals received on Friday. The fifth party was Canadian asset management group Brookfield. 

Strawbridge says the next stage in this sale process begins today.

"Over the weekend through to today, we assessed the proposals received from shortlisted bidders and discussed their proposals with them to ensure a thorough and comprehensive assessment has been undertaken," he says.

"Both Bain Capital and Cyrus Capital Partners are well-funded, have deep aviation experience, and they see real value in the business and its future.

"We would like to thank all interested parties for the strong interest they have displayed in the business and their commitment to the process over recent weeks."

He says administrators will now spend the coming weeks facilitating in-depth bidder engagement with the stakeholders of the business, working closely with both preferred bidders in the lead-up to binding final offers being received.

"The strong interest coming from all parties has generated the competitive tension we have sought that is important in a process such as this, and we are in a strong place when it comes to delivering the best possible commercial outcome for all creditors, and to see a strong and sustainable Virgin Australia emerge from this process. It is still the intention to have a binding agreement in place by 30 June, which remains unchanged," he says.

"There will also be speculation that entities associated with the parties that have not moved into this next phase, as well as others, could become involved in some capacity with the remaining parties. That will, of course, be a matter for them."

Updated at 4:41pm AEST on 2 June 2020.

Federal Government to inject an extra $66 million into COVID-19 research

Federal Government to inject an extra $66 million into COVID-19 research

Australian universities and medical research institutions will receive $66 million from the Federal Government for COVID-19 research.

The funds will be used by research teams that are looking into finding a vaccines and treatments for COVID-19, as well as being used to better prepare Australia for future pandemics.

The funding forms part of the Federal Government's Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF), extending the $30 million already pledged for the 'Coronavirus Research Response'.

It also comes on top of a previously announced $220 million upgrade of CSIRO's high containment biosecurity research facility in Geelong, the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness.

"There is currently no vaccine or proven and effective treatments for COVID-19," says the Federal Government.

"Our Government is absolutely committed to protecting the community and this will help ensure Australians are protected from COVID-19 at the earliest possible time."

There are four target areas of research:

  1. Investing in a vaccine for COVID-19
  2. Investing in antiviral therapies for COVID-19
  3. Clinical trials of potential treatments for COVID-19
  4. Improving the health system's response to COVID-19 and future pandemics

1. Investing in a vaccine for COVID-19

The University of Queensland (UQ) will receive a further $2 million for their "molecular clamp" technology, which speeds up the process of vaccine development. This brings the total Australian Government investment in this to $5 million.

The Government has also announced a further $13.6 million grant to support COVID-19 vaccine development projects that appear promising.

Through an open competitive grant opportunity, an independent panel of experts will assess expressions of interest and invite formal applications from the most promising projects.

The grant opportunity will be open between 15 June 2020 and 15 March 2021, with expressions of interest assessed from 15 July 2020, 15 November 2020 and 15 March 2021.

2. Investing in antiviral therapies for COVID-19

The Government is providing $7.3 million to nine research teams to support the development of promising antiviral therapies for COVID-19.

"There are currently no known antiviral therapies for COVID-19," says the Federal Government.

"Having effective antiviral therapies will be a game changer for COVID-19, providing us with confidence that the disease can be managed."

The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute will receive $1 million for the VirDUB research project, that aims to develop medicines that stop COVID-19 from hijacking human cells and disabling their anti-viral defences.

By targeting a viral system that is found in a range of coronaviruses, VirDUB may lead to new medicines that could be instantly available to tackle potential future coronavirus disease outbreaks.

In addition, $2 million is being provided to an innovative project using stem cell-derived tissues to rapidly test drugs already approved for use in humans for activity against COVID-19.

Two laboratories, the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity and the Queensland Institute of Medical Research Berghofer, will commence early stages of this research. Other laboratories will be able to join in coming months.

3. Clinical trials of potential treatments for COVID-19

The Government is providing $6.8 million to support seven clinical trials investigating treatments for the severe respiratory symptoms of COVID-19.

The clinical trials supported by this funding will investigate treatments for critically ill patients, health care workers and vulnerable cancer patients.

4. Improving the health system's response to COVID-19 and future pandemics

The University of New South Wales will receive $3.3 million from the Government for genomics research into the behaviour, spread and evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

"The use of genomics will be critical to our response, as these tools give very robust insights into exposure and clusters, especially in low prevalence settings," says the Federal Government.

"Genomics essentially bar codes every virus so we know who is infected with the same virus as people in a cluster will have an identical bar code.

"This is critical to supporting public health responses to outbreaks as restrictions on gatherings are lifted."

The full breakdown of the funding program is as below:

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Victoria's startup sector to drive post-pandemic economic growth

Victoria's startup sector to drive post-pandemic economic growth

A new report from Deloitte Access Economics has found the Victorian startup sector has the potential to play a major role in the state's post-COVID-19 economic return.

The report, commissioned by Victoria's startup agency LaunchVic, found the State's early-stage startup sector was worth $4.6 billion in 2019, representing almost 19,000 jobs.

Deloitte Access Economics' modelling of the economic impact of increased startup density shows that the industry has the potential to create, on average, an additional 15,000 jobs each year to the broader Victorian economy over the next 20 years.

According to LaunchVic CEO Kate Cornick these findings demonstrate the value Victoria's startup sector has to the State's post-COVID-19 economy

"Our latest research shows the Victorian startup ecosystem has great potential for job creation over the coming years, and we see innovation the startup ecosystem as a key pillar of economic stimulus post-COVID-19," says Cornick.

"The report shows that startups are creating thousands of high skilled jobs year on year. As the startup sector grows, it will only become more valuable to our economy from a revenue and jobs perspective."

"Some of the world's largest tech companies such as Airbnb, Slack, Instagram & LinkedIn were all once startups tiny companies conceived around the time of the last global financial crisis. In approximately ten years, they have created hundreds of thousands of jobs and trillions of dollars of value - this is evidence that startups have a huge role to play in our economic recovery and wealth and job creation."

Deloitte Access Economics found that while startups challenge existing business models, they ultimately create more high skilled jobs through their growth and business lifecycle.

Further, the impact of startups on job creation is a net increase over time as job creation spills over to existing businesses due to innovation and increased competitiveness.

Cornick says the report shows that with the right care and attention to grow the ecosystem, startups could become a very important part of Victoria's future economy.

"The risk is that we become a purchaser of global technologies developed overseas rather than a creator and lose the high-skilled jobs that come with this," says Cornick.

Read the full report here.

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Mesoblast emboldened by lung disease treatment results

Mesoblast emboldened by lung disease treatment results

Melbourne-based regenerative medicine company Mesoblast (ASX: MSB) has released positive results for the treatment of chronic lung disease, reinforcing management's hopes around a separate trial with severe COVID-19 patients

A Phase 2 trial in the US involved intravenous doses of stem cell product remestemcel-L, randomised with placebos, in 60 patients suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Significant health improvements were seen for patients with elevated levels of the inflammatory biomarker C-reactive protein (CRP) - a factor that tends to indicate a higher chance of hospitalisation or death.

High CRP rates are also seen in acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), the most common life-threatening complication from COVID-19.

The peer reviewed results were released in a virtual presentation to the 2020 International Society for Cell & Gene Therapy (ISCT) annual meeting held May 28-29, 2020.

Key findings were:

  • The greater the degree of inflammation, as measured by elevated CRP levels, the greater the signal of efficacy of remestemcel-L treatment in improving moderate to severe lung disease;
  • Significant improvements were observed in each of the pre-specified endpoints tested, forced expiratory volume, forced vital capacity, and the distance walked in the six-minute walk test (all p <0.01), with maximal effects on all parameters seen at four months;
  • In patients with the highest level of CRP (>4mg/L), those who received remestemcel-L were able to walk 55 meters further than placebo-treated patients in the six-minute walk test at four months (p=0.004). The six-minute walk test is a major independent predictor of mortality in COPD; and
  • The dose administered was well tolerated with no infusion-related toxicity and no identified safety concerns.

Mesoblast chief medical officer Dr Fred Grossman says the correlation between the highest CRP levels and the greatest degree of response to remestemcel-L suggest the product's immunomodulatory effects may be triggered by inflammation.

"Since recurrent hospitalisation rates and mortality in COPD are associated with both high levels of CRP and progressive decline in the sixminute walk test, these results suggest that remestemcel-L could provide longer-term benefits for COPD patients with high levels of inflammation," says Grossman.

"They also provide a compelling rationale for the evaluation of remestemcel-L in the current United States Phase 3 randomized controlled trial of 300 patients with moderate to severe COVID-19 ARDS."

Updated at 11:38am AEST on 1 June 2020.

QLD, SA, NSW and VIC ease COVID-19 restrictions further today

QLD, SA, NSW and VIC ease COVID-19 restrictions further today

Queensland has brought forward the easing of COVID-19 restrictions to today as citizens in NSW, VIC and SA also wake up to some more freedoms.

Over the weekend, the Queensland Government announced it would be bringing forward some of its easing plans by two weeks.

From midday today Queenslanders will be able to undertake unlimited travel, including overnight stays throughout the entire state.

Pubs, restaurants and cafes will also be permitted to increase the total number of patrons from 10 to 20, and from Friday this week those venues will be able to have up to 20 people per room as long as they are seated for meals or drinks.

The same gathering restrictions for venues will also apply to gyms, health clubs, parks, museums, art galleries, places of worship and public facilities like libraries.

For community sporting events where clubs have more than one field there will be a limit of 20 spectators per field.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says the state's response to the pandemic has allowed travel restrictions to be lifted ahead of the next school holidays.

"The only reason we are able to move forward with our planned Stage Two ahead of the original June 12 date is because Queenslanders have listened to the advice, acted on that advice and done an outstanding job of helping to smash the Covid-19 curve," Premier Palaszczuk said.

"From the Gold Coast to Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast to Gympie to Maryborough to Bundaberg, from Longreach to Mt Isa, to Rockhampton, Mackay, Townsville and Cairns, Queenslanders will now be able to rediscover their state, travelling for as many nights as they like.

"This will go a long way toward giving our critical tourism industry a welcome boost after adhering to the necessary restrictions we were forced to impose and I encourage Queenslanders to take advantage of the easing of rules around intrastate travel."

As previously announced by the NSW, VIC and SA state governments some COVID-19 restrictions will also be eased from today in those states.

New South Wales

NSW will allow 50 people in pubs, clubs and cafes from today, while beauty salons can reopen with up to 10 clients at a time.

Up to 20 people can now allowed to attend weddings, and up to 50 can attend funerals and places of worship.

Regional travel is also now allowed, with camping grounds and caravan parks reopening today.


Indoor and outdoor gatherings in Victoria can now include up to 20 people. This rule will apply to cafes, restaurants, beauty salons, tattoo parlours, museums, public libraries and outdoor gyms.

Up to 20 people will be able to attend a wedding and up to 50 people can attend an outdoor funeral.

Victorians can also now stay in holiday homes and stay in accommodation like caravan parks and camping grounds which are now allowed to operate.

Yesterday the Victorian State Government announced it had extended the State of Emergency for another three weeks to continue to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Under a State of Emergency, officers authorised by the Chief Health Officer can act to eliminate or reduce a serious risk to public health by detaining people, restricting movement, preventing entry to premises, or providing any other direction an officer considers reasonable to protect public health.

Police have strong powers to enforce directions and can issue on the spot fines, including up to $1,652 for individuals and up to $9,913 for businesses. People who don't comply could also be taken to court and receive a fine of up to $20,000. Companies face fines of up to $100,000.

South Australia

In SA COVID-19 restrictions will ease quite dramatically today, with up to 80 people allowed in hospitality venues like pubs, cafes and restaurants.

The 80 person rule is subject to the requirement that only 20 people per room in the venue can be seated at any one time. For example, if a pub had two indoor rooms and outdoor seating it could theoretically have up to 60 people in attendance at any one time.

In SA up to 50 people are now allowed to attend funerals, and up to 20 people in cinemas, theatres, museums, beauty salons, gyms, and indoor fitness centres.

Updated at 9:41am AEST on 1 June 2020.

Vicinity Centres to raise $1.4 billion as asset values downgraded

Vicinity Centres to raise $1.4 billion as asset values downgraded

With shares up 78 per cent on nine-year lows after the COVID-19 pandemic struck, shopping centre owner-operator Vicinity Centres (ASX: VCX) plans to raise up to $1.4 billion to strengthen its balance sheet.

The move follows a 11-13 per cent reduction in Vicinity's asset values, representing a drop of around $1.8-2.1 billion.

The Melbourne-based company will undertake a fully underwritten placement to raise $1.2 billion at $1.48 per share, representing an 8.1 per cent discount to the last closing price.

This placement makes up more than a fifth of the current shares on issue, and will be followed by a share purchase plan (SPP) to raise a further $200 million.

"We are taking decisive action today to strengthen our balance sheet and provide Vicinity with flexibility to respond to the uncertainty caused by COVID-19 and the evolving retail landscape," says CEO and managing director Grant Kelley.

"This Equity Raising also provides support for the continuation of Vicinity's investment-grade credit ratings."

In the group's half-year report released in February it tabled $53 million in cash and cash equivalents, and drawn debt of $4.4 billion.

Vicinity saw around half the stores in its premises reopen by May 6, and the group claims this has now risen to 80 per cent up from a low of 42 per cent in April. 

However, the stabilisation of rental income remains uncertain.  For the three-month period to the end of May, 49 per cent of billings have been received while negotiations continue with a large number of tenants concerning short-term variations to leases.

The company expects rent receipts to improve as stores continue to reopen foot traffic increases and lease negotiations are completed. Foot traffic is now 74 per cent of what it was this time last year, up from a low of 50 per cent in April 2020.

As a response to the uncertainty created by COVID-19, Vicinity has undertaken a number of measures to enhance liquidity and reduce operating costs:

  • Establishing $300 million of new debt facilities and extending $650 million of existing facilities;
  • Deferring non-critical capital expenditure;
  • Reducing hours for 70 per cent of team members effective 21 April to 30 June 2020;
  • Reducing Directors' fees and Executive Committee salaries effective 1 April to 30 June 2020;
  • Cancelling the FY20 Short Term Incentive program; and
  • Reducing or deferring variable and non-critical operating expenses.

"This equity raising, combined with a range of cost and capital reductions implemented to date, significantly strengthens Vicinity's financial position. It provides capacity to invest in our assets to ensure they continue to deliver on consumer, retailer and community expectations," says Kelley.

VCX shares dropped to $0.905 in March, representing their lowest level since listing on the ASX in 2011, but they have been steadily rebounding since the end of that month.

Updated at 9:47am AEST on 1 June 2020.

WA will be back in business as Phase 3 kicks off in a week

WA will be back in business as Phase 3 kicks off in a week

Western Australia will soon become the first state in the country to reduce the 4sqm rule at venues down to 2sqm, with a wide-reaching Phase 3 relaxation of restrictions to be rolled out at 11.59pm on Friday, 5 June.

The new measures will allow for up to 100 people to gather at a time in one place, while food courts, gyms, beauty salons, wellness centres, galleries and gaming venues and more will be allowed to reopen.

The move comes a day after WA Treasurer Ben Wyatt revealed predictions the state's economy would likely contract by 3.1 per cent in FY21, sending the economy into recession.

Today's announcement also follows a National Cabinet meeting where it was agreed the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) would be scrapped in favour of a permanent National Cabinet set-up with job creation as its top priority. 

Western Australia currently has 25 active cases, of which almost half stem from a cluster linked to a Al Kuwait livestock carrier under quarantine in Fremantle Port. 

The decision to move to Stage 3 was based on the success in limiting community transmission during Phase 2, and on the advice of the Chief Health Officer and State Emergency Coordinator.

Western Australians must continue to practice physical distancing and good personal hygiene at all times.

Phase 3 will come into effect from Saturday, 6 June (11.59pm Friday, 5 June). It includes:

  • non-work indoor and outdoor gatherings of up to 100 people at any one time, per single undivided space, up to 300 people in total per venue (100/300 rule);
  • food businesses and licensed premises may operate with seated service;
  • alcohol may be served without a meal at licensed premises (patrons must be seated);
  • food courts can reopen with a seated service;
  • beauty therapy and personal care services to reopen;
  • saunas, bath houses, float centres, massage and wellness centres to reopen (100/300 rule);
  • galleries, museums, theatres, auditoriums, cinemas and concert venues can reopen (during any performance, the patrons must be seated. (100/300 rule));
  • Rottnest Island to reopen to the WA general public;
  • Perth Zoo to open with no patron limit for the whole venue (the 100/300 rule applies to indoor spaces and cafés/restaurants);
  • wildlife and amusement parks can reopen (100/300 rule);
  • arcades (including pool/snooker, ten pin bowling, Timezone), skate rinks and indoor play centres to reopen (100/300 rule);
  • auction houses and real estate auctions can reopen;
  • TAB and other gaming venues (other than the Casino which is being considered separately) are permitted to reopen;
  • full contact sport and training is now permitted;
  • playgrounds, skate parks and outdoor gym equipment are permitted to be used;
  • parents/guardians will be able to enter school grounds to drop off or pick up their children;
  • gyms, health clubs and indoor sports centres will be able to offer the normal range of activities, including the use of all gym equipment (gyms must be staffed at all times and undertake regular cleaning).

Large community sporting facilities or wildlife parks that can accommodate more than 300 patrons, while allowing for two square metres per patron, may be able to apply for an exemption to the 300 patron limit through for a decision by the Chief Health Officer.

Travel will now be permitted throughout Western Australia, including into the Kimberley region, pending the Commonwealth's approval to remove the Biosecurity Area on 5 June. Access into remote Aboriginal communities will remain prohibited.

WA businesses are reminded that they must submit a COVID Safety Plan, prior to reopening, to ensure they mitigate the risk of COVID-19, in line with health advice. Premises that opened during Phase 2 should update their COVID Safety Plans accordingly.

Phase 4 will be finalised in the coming weeks, based on the advice from the Chief Health Officer and will take into account the impact of Phase 3 in the WA community.

As per the advice from the Chief Health Officer, Western Australia's hard border with the rest of Australia will remain in place.

"This is another significant step in our roadmap to recovery and sees Western Australia continue to lead the way on easing restrictions,"  says Premier Mark McGowan.

"We've been able to commence Phase 3 earlier than initially planned, due to consistently low numbers of COVID-19 and based on health advice, as has always been the case.

"Western Australia's performance has been world-leading. Each and every Western Australian can feel proud that their hard work and willingness to do the right thing during what has been an incredibly difficult time, has got us to this point."

The Premier says he knows how frustrating the restrictions can be and he wishes he could remove them all at once, but the government needs to follow the health advice.

"It's worked so far," he says.

"Phase 3 is a big step forward for our State. It allows more people to get out and enjoy a meal or a drink with friends and family, supporting local businesses.

"Reducing the four square metre rule down to the two square metre rule is possible thanks to WA's success in minimising the spread of COVID-19, and our hard border with the Eastern States.

"It will also allow Western Australians to enjoy more social and recreational activities and continue to get back to a more normal way of life."

South Australia was originally due to ease a wide range of its restrictions on 5 June as well, but its move to Step 2 has now been brought forward to Monday, June 1.

Pubs, restaurants, cinemas, places of worship, beauty salons and other sites will now be permitted to have 20 people per room, up to a maximum of 80, on their premises, as long as they comply with appropriate safeguards.

"We've been able to ease restrictions earlier due to low case numbers, high testing rates and the continued cooperation of the South Australian public," says SA Premier Steven Marshall.

"This will help fast-track our economic road to recovery and reactivate thousands of local jobs throughout the state.

"Businesses and organisations are required to complete COVID-Safe plans before reopening, ensuring we reboot our economy as safely as possible."

Updated at 4:25pm AEST on 29 May 2020.

Victorian ski slopes to open from 24 June

Victorian ski slopes to open from 24 June

Just yesterday snow bunnies in NSW rejoiced at the news that slopes would reopen from 22 June, but now Victorian slope operators are joining in on the action.

Hotham and Falls Creek will be open from 24 June for skiing and snowboarding following approval from the Victorian Government.

Accommodation operator Vali Resorts says its resorts will be open with COVIDsafe principles enforced including social distancing measures and enhanced cleaning protocols.

Skiers and snowboarders will only be able to access the resorts with a pre-purchased pass or lift tickets; on-the-day lift tickets will not be available.

"We are grateful for the opportunity to open our resorts for the 2020 snow season, especially given the difficult year endured by our mountain communities, and we take seriously the responsibility we have to keep our employees, guests and communities safe in this new environment," says Pete Brulisauer, senior vice president and chief operating officer for Vail Resorts, Perisher and Australia.

"Delaying our traditional opening from the June Long Weekend to 24 June is intentional to ensure our entire team has the time to fully understand and embrace our new COVID-19 Safe Operating Plan so that we can deliver a safe experience for our guests.

"We thank our guests in advance for their patience, understanding and cooperation as we all adapt to the new social distancing measures required to allow us to enjoy skiing and snowboarding this season."

Yesterday the NSW Government announced that its alpine region will be open for business next month, with work underway to ensure COVIDsafe measures are in place at Thredbo, Charlotte Pass and Perisher.

Thredbo says it will be operational from 22 June, while Charlotte Pass Snow Resort says it will have commenced company operated accommodation from Thursday 25 June with an expected commencement of Mountain operations from 26 June.

Perisher will be operational from 24 June.

Updated at 12:24pm AEST on 29 May 2020.

Fashion brands Review, Yarra Trail and more in limbo as PAS Group enters administration

Fashion brands Review, Yarra Trail and more in limbo as PAS Group enters administration

A listed retailer that owns such brands as Review, Yarra Trail, JETS Swimwear Australia, Marco Polo and Black Pepper has entered voluntary administration, just three weeks after announcing the progressive reopening of stores.

The directors of PAS Group (ASX: PGR), whose Designworks division also supplies private labeled products and licensed brands including Everlast, Mooks, Dunlop and Lonsdale, have appointed PwC partners Stephen Longley, David McEvoy and Martin Ford as voluntary administrators.

Leading into the pandemic The PAS Group had performed relatively. EBITDA rose 78 per cent to $10.1 million in the first half of FY20, although after tax it ran at a net loss of $1.2 million.

That result was largely to do with the closure of 42 bricks-and-mortar stores in the prior period, including the exit from 14 David Jones concessions followed by a an exclusive partnership agreement with Myer for PAS' Review brand.

But on 27 April the company announced it was pursuing restructuring options and had appointed a team of advisors to assist. On the same day it was revealed Designworks managing director Brendan Santamaria had resigned, and would be replaced by group CEO Eric Morris who has since taken on both roles.

On 8 May the company announced it had the intention of reopening its Australian stores by the end of the month, some of which would be on a reduced hours basis. Throughout the pandemic the company has still fulfilled online orders from a limited number of physical stores.

In its announcement today, the company emphasised it was in good financial shape but the view had been taken that voluntary administration would be the best course of action.

"While the Board is of the view that the company is solvent, given the issues as a result of unfavourable financial market conditions, the COVID-19 crisis and the challenges of restructuring in that environment, it felt that Administration was the best way to affect change while protecting all stakeholders," the company said.

"The Administrators will undertake a preliminary review and assessment of the Group's operations that have been impacted by difficult trading conditions, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

"PAS Group enters voluntary administration with the strong desire to restructure the Group and allow it to continue operating strongly and sustainably into the future."

The group says stores will continue to trade as normal, in line with current local restrictions across Australia and New Zealand, and all store credits and vouchers will be honoured.

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NSW ski fields to reopen from 22 June

NSW ski fields to reopen from 22 June

Skiers and snowboarders will be permitted to hit the slopes in NSW from 22 June as the State Government eases COVID-19 restrictions further.

The NSW Government today announced that its alpine region will be open for business next month, with work underway to ensure COVIDsafe measures are in place at Thredbo, Charlotte Pass and Perisher.

"One of the highlights of the winter tourism season is a trip to our alpine regions, however, while many people are eager to return to the slopes, it is important that visitors can enjoy themselves safely and responsibly," says NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro.

"The NSW Government, through NSW Health and NSW Police, is working closely with ski field operators, associated businesses, suppliers and industry associations to ensure COVIDsafe measures are in place when the season commences.

"These measures will mean that fewer people will be able to visit and stay at resorts this season, so it is essential that people book and confirm their travel arrangements and accommodation before they travel."

While the slopes and resorts will be open Barilaro says social distancing must be observed, and there will be limits to the number of people on ski areas and in accommodation.

"We are welcoming every visitor to regional NSW with open arms and I will be celebrating by shouting a few beers, but it is more important than ever that we continue to be responsible and maintain good physical distancing while we are enjoying ourselves," says Barilaro.

"No matter where you are visiting, make sure you book, check that places you'd like to visit will be open, confirm your arrangements before you travel and, most importantly, if you do feel unwell, postpone your trip."

The NSW Tourism Industry Council has welcomed the development after fears from businesses in the alpine region that they would lose an entire snow season to COVID-19 restrictions.

"Any small step is welcome news for all of the industry participants, and we thank the NSW Government for this proactive step," says Simon Spellicy, Chair of the NSW Tourism Industry Council.

"We understand it will be a ski season like no other, missing the traditional Queens Birthday Weekend start, as well as a number of safety measures put in place.

"Operators now have the best part of three weeks to work with Government authorities to ensure their practices are compliant and meet the necessary requirements."

Thredbo says it will be operational from 22 June, while Charlotte Pass Snow Resort says it will have commenced company operated accommodation from Thursday 25 June with an expected commencement of Mountain operations from 26 June.

"Charlotte Pass Snow Resort is committed to ensuring that the health and safety of our guests, staff and the community is a top priority," says Charlotte Pass Snow Resort.

"With this in mind and as part of our CovidSafe plans, Charlotte Pass Snow Resort will be rolling out a series of wellbeing measures to help give our guests peace-of-mind for their 2020 snow holiday. These measures will be announced in the coming days and provided to all guests before visiting."

Updated at 2:11pm AEST on 28 May 2020.

Carlton & United Breweries to deliver 2,000 barrels of free beer to Australian pubs and clubs

Carlton & United Breweries to deliver 2,000 barrels of free beer to Australian pubs and clubs

To support Australian pubs and clubs Carlton & United Breweries (CUB) is rolling out 2,000 barrels of free beer.

The brewer has also doubled its fundraising target from $1 million to $2 million in cash through its 'For The Love of your Local' campaign to help the ailing hospitality industry.

The cash injection will go to Aussie venues that are in need of funds to survive, plus more than 100,000 litres (equating to 200,000 pints) of donated CUB beer to pour for their patrons when they reopen.

CUB CEO Peter Filipovic says despite restrictions easing, many pubs and clubs still face enormous challenges.

"The ongoing restrictions will continue to significantly limit trade and, for some venues, re-opening will have to wait until restrictions are further lifted," Filipovic said.

"Australian pubs and clubs have already been shut for two months and the fact is many of these beloved venues won't make it through this crisis without extra help. So, we're calling on Australians to help save their local and get free beer in the process.

"We've had 2,000 pubs and clubs join already and, if you're a venue that needs help, I'd urge you to sign-up too."

People can support their local by visiting and nominating their favourite venue, then buying a pint of CUB beer using their credit card or PayPal account, with the cash going to the venue directly.

When the voucher is redeemed CUB matches the purchase with a free pint, meaning patrons can get 2-for-1 pints once their local reopens.

A fleet of customised Carlton Draught and VB trucks is also hitting the road this week to help quench the financial thirst of some Victorian and Sydney pubs, selling takeaway tap beer in glass bottles known as "Growlers" from pub carparks.

The lockdown has devastated Australia's $20 billion plus pub and club industry, which is made up of more than 10,000 venues and employs many of the nation's 1 million hospitality workers.

Victorian hotelier Annie Hateley, operator of Drums Hotel, said the coronavirus restrictions had reduced their operations to the off-premise bottle shop and take-away menu.

"With the bar and bistro being closed for nine weeks, our food and beverage revenue is down by about 90 per cent. The support of Government and key suppliers such as CUB has been really important to our financial viability," Hateley said.

"It's been tough for the entire pub industry and it's still a long road ahead for many operators. So, CUB raising $2 million for our industry is a real lifeline for many venues.

"Pubs are the heart of many Australian communities. Patrons are supporting them through For Love of Your Local which speaks volumes for the appreciation patrons have for their local hotel."

Updated at 10:07am AEST on 28 May 2020.

JobMaker: PM flags industrial relations review, skills overhaul

JobMaker: PM flags industrial relations review, skills overhaul

A review into Australia's approach to industrial relations (IR) and vocational training is central to Prime Minister Scott Morrison's plan to rebuild Australia's economy in the wake of COVID-19.

Addressing the National Press Club this afternoon, the PM announced the Government's new 'JobMaker' plan under which business will support the revitalisation of Australia's economy.

A review into the country's IR laws will be conducted by the Minister for Industrial Relations Christian Porter, bringing together employee representatives and government to charter a "practical reform agenda".

Five working groups chaired by Porter will develop the government's JobMaker plan, specifically targeting the following areas:

  • Award simplification;
  • Enterprise agreement making;
  • Casuals and fixed term employees;
  • Compliance and enforcement; and
  • Greenfields agreements for new enterprises.

Membership for each of the five working groups will include employer representatives, union representatives, and individuals chosen based on their demonstrated experience and expertise.

Morrison says the current IR framework in Australia needs to be overhauled to tackle the challenges faced by the economy caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Our industrial relations system has settled into a complacency of unions seeking marginal benefits and employers closing down the system," Morrison said.

"It is a system that has to date retreated to tribalism, conflict, and ideological posturing.

"This will need to change or more Australians will unnecessarily lose their jobs and more Australians will be kept out of jobs."

These processes will be time bound and run through to September.

The simplification of skills training for Australians is also a key tenant of the PM's plan to create jobs.

As it stands today, the PM describes the nation's training programs as "clunky" and "inconsistent" across states.

To resolve the issues the PM sees with training and skills nationally the Government has three areas of focus: faster development of programs, consistent pricing and funding of training programs, and the quality of the programs.

A series of 'skills organisational pilots' have already been established and tested by the Federal Government to address the problems identified by the PM.

These three pilot programs were for human services, digital technologies and mining. The PM says the fast-tracked human services pilot program has been leveraged during the COVID-19 recovery phase already to support an increased demand for these skills.

"It is no wonder that when faced with this complexity many potential students default to the University system, even if their career could be best enhanced through vocational education," the PM said.

"I want those trade and skills jobs to be aspired to, not looked down upon or seen as a second best option, it is a first best option."

The Government will also establish a National Skills Commission which will deliver detailed market analysis of the skills shortages in Australia and publish real time data on the labour market to flag emerging skills shortages.

The PM hopes this Commission will help students with developing careers while studying or choosing where to study and will enable those looking to upskill to best determine where the jobs actually are.

Updated 1:43pm AEST on 26 May 2020.


Coca-Cola Amatil loses fizz on beverage industry plunge

Coca-Cola Amatil loses fizz on beverage industry plunge

The Covid-19 cocktail has been a hard one to swallow for the beverages industry, given that most of the world's watering holes remain out of business.

Venues are suffering, and new data from Alcohol Beverages Australia has also revealed a steep decline in alcohol consumption that would normally take place at home gatherings.

It's little wonder Coca-Cola Amatil (ASX: CCL) has been stirred into the struggle.

In its April trading update, Coca-Cola reveals Covid-19 lockdown measures in April have taken a toll on the peak Easter ANZAC Day and Ramadan trading periods.

Although it outperformed the sector in terms of share growth, the company experienced a ~33 per cent nosedive in the total volume of beverages sold.

Group managing director Alison Watkins says Coca-Cola has experienced an "unprecedented disruption" to its business during the pandemic, but is optimistic in its recovery.

"At the time of our last Covid-19 update we noted significant volatility across channels and markets as the impacts of the pandemic started to take effect," she says.

"This has continued With many customers remaining closed or operating at significantly reduced capacity."

"Despite these challenges, our business has demonstrated resilience As the lockdown restrictions begin to ease and local economies begin a protracted recovery, we are seeing signs of modest improvement in trading conditions."

In its Australian market, Coca-Cola saw a 30 per cent decline in volume of sales across its 'non-alcoholic ready to drink' category versus April 2019.

Coca-Cola customers who buy 'on the go' declined 55 per cent on the prior corresponding period, while grocery shopping fell 10 per cent and the convenience and petroleum segment took a 20 per cent hit.

As lockdown restrictions ease in the coming months, the company expects its financial performance will improve at a similar rate.

Watkins says that the company's FY2020 performance hinges on its fourth quarter.

"Whilst it is encouraging to see lockdown restrictions gradually being eased and some green shoots of improvement in trading conditions emerge, the reality is that economic recovery will take time and uncertainty remains," she says.

"We have a clear path forward to weather the current conditions, noting that the fourth quarter of trading conditions will be imperative to our FY2020 financial performance."

The big dry: "Worst month on record" for alcohol sales

The big dry: "Worst month on record" for alcohol sales

Despite polls showing more Australians turned to the drink at home to alleviate coronavirus-related stress, data from the industry has uncorked a a dramatic decline in volume due to the closure of pubs, clubs and bars.

A report released over the weekend from Alcohol Beverages Australia (ABA) demonstrates Zoom parties failed to make up for the decline in alcohol consumption that would normally take place at household gatherings.

"Despite some initial pantry filling in March, April has been the worst month on record for sales of beer, wine and spirits, consistent with ABS data showing consumption has fallen during the COVID-19 crisis," says ABA chief executive officer Andrew Wilsmore.

"The biggest category, beer saw a 44 per cent drop in April and cider saw the biggest decline at 61 per cent due to the loss of social occasions."

The ABA claims the decline in alcohol sales reflects the sad reality that almost half a million jobs have been lost in hospitality and around $8.5 billion in business revenue has dried up.

"Wine producers are also reporting volume losses of up to 70 per cent among small and medium sized enterprises who rely on restaurants as their main route to market," says Wilsmore.

"Major wine brands suffered a small decline in April before falling 16 per cent in the first two weeks of May."

The sudden closure of distillery doors and regional tourism in late March led to revenue declines of up to 80 per cent for local distillers.

Wilsmore says spirit volumes were down 21 per cent in April while ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages dropped 37 per cent, representing both a tale of woe and resilience.

"We knew that the total loss of trade from pubs, bars, clubs, and restaurants was never going to be made up for by a brief, small surge in panic buying during the week people were concerned bottleshops would also close," he says.

National polling in april conducted by YouGov Galaxy, commissioned by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), showed 20 per cent of Australians purchased more alcohol and 70 per cent of them were drinking more alcohol than normal.

One third of respondents to the poll were drinking alcohol on a daily basis.

But Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data illustrates the vast majority of people - more than than 85 per cent - are drinking responsibly during the pandemic, with their behaviours either unchanged or drinking less.

"The ABS data shows that 30 per cent of Australians are largely abstaining or not consuming alcohol; 47 per cent are drinking the same; and 10 per cent are drinking less. Only 14 per cent of Australians reported that their drinking had increased.," says Wilsmore.

"DrinkWise sought to dig deeper, commissioning independent research into Australian adults' experiences of purchasing alcohol and drinking at home, through a nationally representative sample of 1000 consumers.

"Of those who chose to drink, the research found that drinkers were maintaining average consumption of three standard drinks. Over the course of the week, this amounted to just over eight standard drinks in total - well within the official government guidelines."

He adds for Australians who reported their consumption of alcohol at home had increased, the vast majority continued to drink at moderate levels.

The industry representative explains his sector has been "the most severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic".

"The loss of jobs and revenue in this sector has been crippling," he says.

"At the peak of isolation measures, 441,400 jobs had been lost in hotels, pubs, clubs, restaurants, cafes, takeaway, coffee shops, accommodation hotels and casinos. This represents a loss of a third of their total workforce.

"The hospitality sector has seen an $8.5 billion fall in revenue, which represents 10 per cent of their annual sales.

"The drinks industry was not immune to these employment effects, given its heavy reliance on hospitality and tourism, experiencing a 15.55% workforce decline that severely impacted the livelihoods of many Australians."

Updated at 12:20pm AEST on 25 May 2020.

Viva Leisure warms up ahead of gym reopenings

Viva Leisure warms up ahead of gym reopenings

Viva Leisure (ASX: VVA) has drawn down almost half its cash reserves during the COVID-19 lockdown, but at least some of that money has been put to use revamping its gyms for future business.

In a release today the company said $5 million had been spent on pre-closure creditors, as well as the acceleration of refurbishments, completion of sites under development and business improvements.

After listing on the ASX in mid-2019, the Canberra-based group has expanded from 33 to 83 locations through  expansion of its brands including Club Lime, Groundup, Gymmy Pt, Hiit Republic, Cycle Life and FitnFast, the latter acquired in mid-February.

In its release today the company highlighted the following upgrades:

  • Five of the 10 Queensland locations will re-open fully refurbished and with upgraded
  • Four locations currently under development/fit-out, two of which will be completed before
    re-opening, with the remaining two being Nunawading, Melbourne (to be completed in July 2020), and
    Pyrmont, Sydney (to be completed in late August 2020 at this stage); and
  • Two new locations have completed during the shutdown and are ready to open (Gungahlin
    Club Lime in ACT and Wagga Wagga Hiit Republic in NSW).

Viva Leisure now holds $6 million cash in the bank, excluding the May 2020 JobKeeper reimbursement which is expected to be approximately $950,000, as well as an undrawn overdraft facility of $6 million.

The company's Australian National University aquatic facilities already opened on Saturday, and the hydrotherapy facilities at the Canberra International Sports & Aquatic Centre were expected to open today.

Scheduled easings of restrictions on gyms in the ACT (30 May), QLD (12 June) and VIC (21 June) mean 70 per cent of Viva Leisure's locations have confirmed opening dates, while the group expects a NSW will be imminent. However, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has today said the state government is not in a position to make an announcement on a return to business for gyms just yet.

Fitness, wellness and beauty facilities take stock as Covid-19 restrictions come into play

It is expected that Stage 2 will continue to have restrictions in place, likely to be 20 members within the gym, or different parts of each gym at one time, the final details are not yet known.

The company notes while any restriction on members is not ideal, it has implemented systems including bookings and automated people counters which restrict entry into the facility to assist with this short-term restriction. Members will be able to determine how busy each location is before attending outside of booked times.

Stage 3 of easing restrictions contemplates allowing 100 people in a gym at the same time, which would mean Viva can operate most facilities at full capacity.

"As we commence the tenth week of the mandatory shutdown of our clubs, our team has been working overtime to ensure we are ready to open our doors as soon as permitted to do so," says Viva Leisure's CEO and managing director Harry Konstantinou.

"It is promising to know that over 70 per cent of our locations could be open within the next three to four weeks, albeit with some initial restrictions.

"The feedback from members we have received during this shutdown is encouraging, with a large percentage of members keen to get back into it."

Konstantinou says data from reopened overseas clubs is encouraging, with the majority seeing higher than expected attendance and new member signups.

"While the mandatory shutdown is not something any business wants, it has allowed our team to reset, recharge and be ready to go.

"As expected, significant opportunities are now in front of us, and with our strong balance sheet, we will capitalise on them."

Viva has also successfully renegotiated deferrals or reduced rental payments for 25 locations, resulting in a saving of $444,000 per month on cashflow for up to six months.

The group is still negotiating on 58 locations, however it has not paid rent on them and various landlords are waiting for gyms to reopen so that any arrangement can be agreed.

VVR shares are up 4.74 per cent so far this morning trading at $2.43 each.

Updated at 11:27am AEST on 25 May 2020.

Accounting errors led to $60 billion overvaluation of JobKeeper

Accounting errors led to $60 billion overvaluation of JobKeeper

The Treasury and Australian Tax Office (ATO) have drastically reduced their projected number of JobKeeper recipients by three million after it was revealed figures were inflated by mistakes on around 1,000 enrolment forms.

While these forms only represent 0.1 per cent of 910,055 submissions from businesses, they had a significant impact on the initial estimate that the program would cover around 6.5 million people. 

Now that figure has been reduced to 3.5 million, just slightly above the 2.9 million employees working for 759,654 businesses with $8.7 billion in approved payments to date. 

"The most common error was that instead of reporting the number of employees they expected to be eligible, they reported the amount of assistance they expected to receive," the two agencies said in a joint statement today.

"For example, over 500 businesses with '1' eligible employee reported a figure of '1,500' (which is the amount of JobKeeper payment they would expect to receive for each fortnight for that employee)."

The miscalculated projections had previously indicated around one in four Australians would be on JobKeeper, but that figure is now more like one in eight. 

The Treasury has revised the estimated cost of the JobKeeper program program to $70 billion, whereas it would have been worth around $130 billion before.

Neither the ATO nor the Treasury gave any indication the unexpected $60 billion saving would translate to a longer period for JobKeeper, however hypothetically it would equate to an approximate 22-week extension for 3.5 million people.

"This reporting error has come to light as the ATO and Treasury have been analysing the amounts being paid out under the scheme, reconciling these with the estimates provided by enrolled businesses of the likely number of eligible employees," the agencies said.

"It was not picked up by the ATO earlier as their primary focus in the first fortnight of JobKeeper payments was on ensuring that JobKeeper payments were paid promptly to those eligible for them, and not paid to those who were ineligible.

"These initial estimates from businesses of employees covered are not linked to payments, and so were not as carefully analysed."

The Treasury and ATO emphasise the reporting error has no consequences for JobKeeper payments that have already been made to eligible businesses.

The reason the impact is inconsequential for individual businesses is that payments are based on declarations made in relation to each and every employee.

"This declaration does not involve estimates and requires an employer to provide the tax file number for each eligible employee.

"By contrast, the only use of the information collected in respect of the reporting error was to provide an early estimate of the number of expected employees likely to access the JobKeeper program."

The agencies estimate around 150,000 enrolled businesses are yet to complete their employee declaration, which is required before payments can be made.

"Employers can still apply up to 31 May for payments made in April. Moreover the program will remain open to businesses that meet the eligibility criteria at any time over the 6 months it is in operation.

"JobKeeper is a demand driven program which was designed to support eligible employees in businesses that have experienced a significant fall in their turnover."

The agencies explain the original estimate was developed at a time when COVID-19 cases were growing significantly in Australia and restrictions were being tightened across Australia and much of the world.

"The difference between Treasury's estimates at the time and the number of employees now accessing the JobKeeper program partly reflects the level and impact of health restrictions not having been as severe as expected and their imposition not having been maintained for as long as expected at the time," the ATO and Treasury said.

"This has been reflected in some improvement to the outlook for the economy since the original estimate was developed as a consequence of these and other factors.

"The variation in estimates also reflects the inherent uncertainty associated with estimating the take-up of a demand driven program in the current circumstances."

What the reporting error doesn't change is the state of the labour market or the Treasury's projections for it. One in three Australians has either lost their job or had their working hours reduced since the pandemic began, 489,800 people have left the labour force, and unemployment rose by one percentage point to 6.2 per cent from March to April.

"It remains the case that in the absence of the JobKeeper program, Treasury expects the unemployment rate would have been around 5 percentage points higher," the agencies said.

"Treasury continues to expect the unemployment rate to reach around 10%, although as indicated by last week's Labour Force survey, the measured level of the unemployment is highly uncertain given the impact of social distancing restrictions on the participation rate."

The ATO has reminded employers they must declare their eligible employees monthly on an ongoing basis in order to receive JobKeeper payments, with May declarations having to be made by the 14 June.

The Treasurer also highlighted today that ratings agency Fitch has reaffirmed Australia's AAA credit rating, representing an expression of confidence in the Morrison Government's handling of the coronavirus crisis, as well as its demonstrated record of economic management and "commitment to fiscal prudence".

"Today's report confirms Australia as one of only 10 countries with a AAA credit rating from all three major ratings agencies," Treasurer Frydenberg said.

"In its report, Fitch notes that Australia's "effective macroeconomic policy framework, has supported a long record of stable economic growth prior to the current exogenous shock" and that "substantial fiscal and monetary policy stimulus" has been put in place "which should soften the shock and support the economic recovery"," he said.

"Fitch's action today, in reaffirming our AAA rating, is a reminder of the importance of maintaining our commitment to medium term fiscal sustainability."

Updated at 3:25pm AEST on 22 May 2020.

Up to 50 patrons allowed in NSW pubs, restaurants and cafes from 1 June

Up to 50 patrons allowed in NSW pubs, restaurants and cafes from 1 June

From 1 June up to 50 patrons will be allowed in New South Wales pubs, restaurants, clubs and cafes.

Strict regulations will be enforced on hospitality businesses, and those that are non-compliant will face the possibility of being closed down once again.

The four square metre per person rule will still apply, and customers at venues must be seated to be served.

Shared food, drinks and cutlery will be off the table for the time being in order to maintain strict hygiene standards.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian says the announcement is a major step for the state.

"New South Wales will be taking an important, critical and big step from the first of June," Berejiklian said.

"But the regulations and rules we will be putting in place will be very strict to make sure safety is paramount.

"And we have a no regrets policy, firstly in keeping the community safe, making sure everything we do is to protect lives and save lives, but also in relation to making sure people aren't long term unemployed, and that we can bounce back from the devastating economic shock."

These lifted restrictions on pubs, cafes and restaurants will come into force on the same day that the state is easing restrictions on intrastate travel.

Deputy Premier John Barilaro says the eased restrictions will be welcomed not only by businesses in Sydney, but also by regional areas where hospitality companies are gearing up for the long weekend and an influx of intrastate travellers.

"Today's announcement will allow regional businesses and economies to embrace, with the opening up of travel, the opportunity for businesses right into the June long weekend to fill their registers," Barilaro said.

"We know this industry is so important, right across the state. More than a quarter of a million people are employed in the hospitality sector, and we know, with the losses that we've seen in employment, this is a sector that could quickly put jobs back into the economy, and that is why the New South Wales Government ... are taking a mighty big step to make sure that our venues can open to embrace the visitors to come to regional and rural New South Wales."

Related: Three more months under current conditions the limit for nearly half of restaurants

NSW is the first state to go to 50 patrons in a venue, and follows announcements from Victoria and South Australia where the patron limit is slowly rising.

South Australia today will allow up to 20 patrons in a venue - 10 seated inside and 10 seated outside - and restaurants and cafes will be allowed to serve alcohol. Pubs in the state will be permitted to reopen on 5 June, but guidelines regarding numbers of patrons are yet to be announced.

Victoria announced on 17 May that from 1 June pubs, cafes and restaurants will be permitted to reopen with a 20-customer limit. 

The announcement comes as NSW reports three new cases of COVID-19 today, bringing the state's total to 3,084.

Victoria has reported 12 new cases today, and Queensland zero new cases, bringing the national total to 7,095.

In total, 6,481 people have recovered from the coronavirus, with eight new recoveries today.

There are currently 509 active cases of COVID-19 in Australia.

Updated at 1:15pm AEST on 22 May 2020.

Three more months under current conditions the limit for nearly half of restaurants

Three more months under current conditions the limit for nearly half of restaurants

New research released today by hospitality service provider Silver Chef and research group InKind reveals just 52 per cent of restaurant owners believe they can survive the next three months.

If current COVID-19 restrictions stay in place confidence for survival will deteriorate as time progresses.

Just 67 per cent of surveyed owners think their businesses can see out another month under the current COVID-19 conditions.

Faith fades as time goes on, with 60 per cent saying they can survive another two months from today, and only 52 per cent for another three months.

These concerning figures are complemented by the finding that the majority of restaurant owners (75 per cent) believe that it will be longer than six months before business returns to pre-COVID-19 levels.

According to Silver Chef's research Australian restaurants and other hospitality businesses chose to fight on during the worst of restrictions.

Just three in 10 businesses completely closed during COVID-19, with 63 per cent still operating as either pickup and/or delivery.

Hot food (56 per cent) and beverages (43 per cent) are the key products being offered via takeaway and delivery, but close to a third chose to provide produce/deli items and cook it yourself meals as an option.

More than a third of hospitality businesses have been operating with less than 10 per cent of their usual teams, with 70 per cent of businesses have accessing JobKeeper to remain in operation.

There is hope on the horizon though as Australian states begin to allow restaurants and other hospitality businesses to reopen under customer number limitations.

These limitations are likely to be eased as the COVID-19 situation gets better.

Interestingly, both the South Australian and Victorian Premiers have noted recently that allowing hospitality businesses to reopen with just ten patrons is unrealistic from a financial point of view for most restaurants, bars and cafes.

This change in the landscape has been reflected by Silver Chef's research, with 71 per cent of businesses believing that innovation will be critical moving forward, with the hospitality industry as a whole needing to become more creative to entice customers to spend.

40 per cent of surveyed owners actually believe that their business will become more resilient in the future because of how COVID-19 has forced them to implement diversified revenue streams (e-commerce and takeaway being two key new streams) that were put in place during lockdowns.

Updated at 12:08pm AEST on 22 May 2020.

NT hits milestone with zero active cases of COVID-19

NT hits milestone with zero active cases of COVID-19

The Northern Territory has today announced there are zero active cases of COVID-19 within its jurisdiction.

While this is certainly a milestone for Territorians to celebrate, Health Minister Natasha Fyles has stressed complacency is not an option.

Speaking at a press conference this morning, Fyles said it had been six and a half weeks since the Territory's last diagnosed case of COVID-19.

"We are a safe bubble and we need to keep it that way," says Fyles.

"We have a very vulnerable community, a very vulnerable population particularly with our Aboriginal Territorians and so I urge all Territorians to not become complacent off the back of this."

Fyles' update comes just under two weeks before the NT plans on easing intra-territory travel, which will allow residents to move around the Territory.

Despite pressure from other state governments Fyles says that travel into the NT from other Australian states is not something on the table just yet.

"We must remain vigilant," says Fyles.

"During that time, we know that coronavirus spreads so quickly and because symptoms are so mild people don't realise that they have coronavirus and they could be spreading it in our community.

"As time goes on we will see those measures around interstate travel and international travel ease, but it will be based on clinical advice around this virus."

The news comes as the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases globally have surpassed 5 million. 

In Australia there are 7,081 total confirmed cases of the coronavirus, including six new cases confirmed today.

A total of 6,473 people have recovered from COVID-19 in Australia, and there are 504 total active cases.

Photo via jeremydxg on Flickr.

Updated at 10:04am AEST on 21 May 2020.





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