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Covid-19 News Updates


President Donald Trump tests positive for COVID-19

President Donald Trump tests positive for COVID-19

President of the United States Donald Trump and his wife, First Lady of the United States, Melania Trump have both tested positive for COVID-19 today.

The President confirmed on Twitter this afternoon that he had been infected with the coronavirus, just two hours after the pair were put into quarantine after coming into contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19.

That confirmed case was Hope Hicks, a close aide to the President.

Trump says he will now begin his quarantine and recovery process immediately alongside wife Melania.

 

Trump is now one of 7.5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States. The country has also recorded more than 200,000 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

Meanwhile in Australia we have recorded just 27,111 confirmed infections of COVID-19, including 13 new cases today.

Today Australia announced it is going to open its border to New Zealand from 16 October. Read more here.

Australia to welcome Kiwis when travel bubble opens on 16 October

Australia to welcome Kiwis when travel bubble opens on 16 October

Australia has had a hard border with New Zealand for many months now to slow the spread of COVID-19, but from 16 October tourists from across the Tasman will be able to visit NSW and NT.

As announced this afternoon by Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, a Trans-Tasman travel bubble has been established, meaning New Zealanders will not have to spend two weeks in mandatory quarantine on arrival in Australia.

The arrangement will implement the Federal Government's definition of a 'hotspot', meaning only those who have not been in an area which has recorded more than three cases across three days can arrive freely.

However, the bubble is only one-way at this point in time, meaning Australians will not be allowed to visit New Zealand.

From 12.01am on 16 October New Zealanders will be allowed to visit states that have subscribed to the Federal Government's definition of a COVID-19 hotspot.

As such, the only jurisdictions that will enjoy the benefits of this limited travel bubble are New South Wales and the Northern Territory.


RELATED: Queensland to reopen to New South Wales from 1 November, new roadmap revealed


South Australia is expected to be the next state to subscribe to the Commonwealth's definition of a hotspot. Once implemented, New Zealanders will also be allowed to travel to SA.

"South Australia stands ready to participate as well, I've spoken to Stephen Marshall in the last half an hour and they will probably be the next cab off the rank," said Deputy PM McCormack.

"The Commonwealth definition has been developed by the Acting Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly and is robust and proportionate.

"Establishing quarantine free travel to Australia from New Zealand will free up space for around an additional 325 passengers a week to enter quarantine in Sydney."

With regard as to when Australians may be able to travel freely into New Zealand McCormack says that decision is NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's to make.

"It is very much in Prime Minister Ardern's court at the moment," said McCormack.

"We will make sure that there's two way travel."

Updated at 1.56pm AEST on 2 October 2020.

Queensland to reopen to New South Wales from 1 November, new roadmap revealed

Queensland to reopen to New South Wales from 1 November, new roadmap revealed

Queenslanders will be able to enjoy a drink standing up from 4pm today and celebrate the news that the state's border to New South Wales may open from November as part of a new restriction easing roadmap.

Announced this morning, the roadmap will see the state's border to all of NSW open from 1am on 1 November 2020, on the condition that no unlinked community transmission of COVID-19 is detected in NSW for 28 days prior.

"Our Chief Health Officer and public health team will analyse intrastate, interstate and international data before any decision to move to the next stage," said Queensland Deputy Premier Steven Miles.

"We have proved that our methods work to protect Queenslanders from COVID-19 and, if the health advice changes at any stage, we can act quickly to increase measures to keep Queenslanders safe and save lives.

"But right now, case numbers are low, we can contain potential outbreaks - our quarantine and contact tracing procedures work, and we have not had a COVID-19 fatality in almost six months."

'Stage 4' of QLD's new easing roadmap commenced on 1 October, adding local government areas in Northern NSW to the state's border zone.

However, from 4pm today, standing eating and drinking will be permitted at indoor and outdoor venues with a COVID Safe Plan.

 

"Queenslanders deserve the credit for this," said Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk (pictured).

"And from 4pm today, Queenslanders will be able to celebrate this achievement by getting a drink or a meal out without having to be seated.

"We have always said that we would continue to ease restrictions where we could in a staged and balanced way to keep Queenslanders safe and this plan does just that."

In addition to the potential border reopening, from 1am on 1 November public gatherings will be allowed to increase to 40 people, and up to 40 people will be allowed to dance at weddings with COVID Safe plans implemented.

Stage 6, anticipated from 1am on 1 December, will see public gatherings increase to 50 people, increased attendances at outdoor events and no restrictions on people dancing at weddings.

The Queensland border will remain closed to Victoria until community transmission is under control.

If community transmission of COVID-19 is detected in QLD the state says it will reintroduce restrictions, including reducing gathering limits back down to 10 people in homes and public spaces, while further restrictions on aged care, disability accommodation, hospitals and corrections facilities will come back.

"We've had to make hard decisions, but it is because of these decisions and the hard work of Queenslanders that we are in the position to continue easing restrictions," said Palaszczuk.

"It's because of our strong health response to the COVID-19 pandemic that we can get on with Queensland's economic recovery plan."

The news comes as QLD records two new cases of COVID-19 today, both in hotel quarantine.

Updated at 10.33am AEST on 2 October 2020.

Flight Centre to close 90 stores as pandemic impacts thrash travel industry

Flight Centre to close 90 stores as pandemic impacts thrash travel industry

90 Flight Centre (ASX: FLT) stores will close as part of the company's plans to work within the decimated travel sector.

Flight Centre general manager Kelly Spencer said the closures will not impact the company's refund programs or customer holiday plans in the works.

"We are sad to see these doors close as we know some of our amazing travel experts made your travel dreams a reality in these stores," said Spencer.

"Please know that all of us at Flight Centre thank you and will continue to support you, and all Australians, with their travel needs for another 40 years because the minute those borders open, we know that you, our customers, will be raring to go!"

The company's remaining 332 stores will stay open, all of which are located within five kilometres of 97 per cent of the company's customers.

In late August the company announced the impacts of COVID-19 resulted in a $849 million statutory loss before tax, down significantly from a $343.5 million profit in FY19.

Prior to border restrictions being implemented the company had achieved a $150 million underlying profit for the eight months to February 29, 2020, plus record total transaction value.

To reduce group expenditure about 70 per cent of FLT's workforce was stood down or made redundant.

Senior executives and board members saw 50 per cent pay reductions in the fourth quarter of FY20, plus ongoing reductions through FY21.

"We were forced to make some very tough decisions as this crisis unfolded, but we were very fortunate to be able to draw on our strong balance sheet," said FLT managing director Graham Turner.

"COVID-19 and, specifically, government responses to it have created the most challenging trading environment that we have experienced in our almost 40 years in business.

"This extraordinary trading environment has already had a devastating impact on businesses and on people, particularly those in aviation, travel, tourism and hospitality sectors, with tens of thousands of jobs lost in Australia alone and many businesses struggling to survive."

Shares in Flight Centre are up 2.69 per cent to $14.14 per share at 3.59pm AEST.

Updated at 4.43pm AEST on 1 October 2020.

You can dance if you want to: SA to ease COVID-19 restrictions on Saturday

You can dance if you want to: SA to ease COVID-19 restrictions on Saturday

South Australia is set to ease COVID-19 restrictions further from midnight tomorrow on pubs, clubs, venues, and private functions like weddings.

The changes will allow the standing consumption of food and drink outdoors at licenced venues. 

In addition, private functions with a maximum of 150 guests may have indoor/outdoor standing consumption of food/drink, and dancing will be allowed.

The easing of restrictions comes with the caveat that contract tracing records are kept for private events, and a COVID Marshal must be present at venues.

"This is going to be a big relief to many licensed premises who have not been able to have those functions on their premises," said South Australia Premier Steven Marshall.

"It's going to be a big relief to event organisers."

Updated at 3.18pm AEST on 1 October 2020.

Australia Post's call for 4000 additional staff as services stretched to the limit

Australia Post's call for 4000 additional staff as services stretched to the limit

Australia Post, stretched to the limit during the pandemic, has launched a major recruitment drive for 4000 additional staff ahead of an expected red-hot festive season.

The hiring spree, backed by record parcel volumes due to the ongoing impact of COVID-19, has been labelled by the postal service as the biggest call for staff in its 210-year history.

Most of the positions, or almost 2900, will be Christmas casuals for transport and delivery services nationally.

A further 300 will be offered fixed-term full-time and part-time positions in customer contact centres in Brisbane and regional Queensland as well as regional areas of South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria.

Australia Post also plans to hire an additional 900 people to fill roles across the post office network to bolster customer services.

In August, there were signs that the postal service was under pressure as it reported high demand and delayed parcel deliveries, especially in Victoria where online shopping was booming.

"A lot has been expected of our people this year and I'm so proud of the way our team has adapted and dealt with the challenges they've faced to keep delivering for Australia across our entire network," says Sue Davies, Australia Post's executive general manager of people and culture.

"In managing all the necessary COVID-safe requirements, including a reduced workforce in our Melbourne facilities during the recent Stage 4 restrictions, our people have gone over and above to provide critical services for businesses and their customers and delivered for over 8.1 million households who have shopped online between March and August alone.

"This is a record-breaking recruitment drive for what we expect to be a Christmas unlike any we've had before in Australia Post's history.

"In a year that has been incredibly challenging and impacted people in many ways, we are delighted to be inviting people to join us this Christmas as we deliver across the country."

The appetite for jobs at Australia Post has never been stronger. Last year the postal service received more than 23,000 applications for Christmas casual positions.

Earlier this year, it received more than 50,000 applications for 1000 casual roles advertised in the wake of increased business activity during the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown.

Updated at 12:47pm AEST on 1 October 2020.

Why Corporate Travel Management bought a loss-making business in the middle of a pandemic

Why Corporate Travel Management bought a loss-making business in the middle of a pandemic

It took a seven-year courtship for Corporate Travel Management (ASX: CTD) to seal the deal on its acquisition of US-based Travel & Transport (T&T), as shareholders dig deep into their pockets to bet on US market revival.

As noted in yesterday's announcement of the $275 million takeover deal, T&T has been losing money every month but Corporate Travel Management (CTM) CEO and founder Jamie Pherous is bullish on its long-term prospects.

"We've always thought that they were the best business that we know of in North America. We've been talking to them for many years and they've always said politely, "thank you, but no thank you"," Pherous tells Business News Australia.

The tone of conversations changed with the onset of COVID-19. Pherous clarifies T&T didn't need to be sold but it would have needed to look for debt.

"The businesses would have never sold otherwise," says Pherous.

"The reality is businesses like T&T would have always commanded 11-12x EBITDA in the good times. We've got a strong view that travel is going to come back, and we've got a strong view that we want to be overweight North America because that's the global feeder market for corporate travel."

The management teams of both companies discussed the pros and cons of linking up, and reached the consensus CTM's technology would benefit T&T's North American clientele while the Brisbane-based company would benefit from the expanded geography and market niche.

"We also agreed the timing right now was really good because it is quiet. You can get a lot of integration done very swiftly when connectivity's down, and that might be a very small window," says Pherous.

The CTM executive is also very optimistic about what T&T's hotel program Radius will bring to the business, in terms of the four and five-star hotel options it will provide to existing customers, as well as new revenue streams.

"What we also love about it is the other great agents that are part of that buying group. That means we have the opportunity to put some of our really great hotels in the Asia-Pacific into that program, and also push that program back through our booking tool in the content.

"From the point of view of a hotel program, it pushes us three years forward of where we were going to be, which is exactly where we want to be."

He says the combined companies on an FY19 basis would have total transaction value (TTV) approaching $11 billion, and an EBITDA with expected synergies at more than $216 million.

"We've got a real chance to do what we wanted to do, which is be a business over $10 billion making a quarter of a billion. This acquisition gives us the opportunity to achieve that goal," he says.

Incentivising US leaders for growth 

Another critical element of the deal is the retention of key personnel at T&T by giving the company's executives $4.5 million in CTD shares, which forms part of the $275 million consideration.

"T&T was an employee-owned company so no one person had a very large shareholding. In fact, the largest shareholding of anyone out of the 200 is roughly $5 million, so what that means is no one's got what you'd call retirement money," says Pherous.

"What was very important in this deal is that we have the people we want to take stock in this business, which they have, because they see the same benefit as we do - when things come back and we execute, clearly the company is going to have a hell of a lot more value than it does today," he says.

"Secondly, we work really hard with Kevin [O'Malley, T&T CEO] who will become the CEO of North America for us on long-term incentives and other mechanisms at CTM that have been very successful for us.

CTM announced this morning it had successfully raised $262 million under the institutional offer, with a further $113 million expected to be raised in the retail offering starting on 6 October.

Pherous explains he is not personally participating in the capital raising only because he "can't afford to".

"I think I'm one of the lowest paid leaders in the ASX, which I think the shareholders like," says Pherous, who earned $436,010 in FY20, representing a drop of 32 per cent year-on-year.

"I get all of my revenue from CTD primarily out of dividends and stock appreciation.

"I've got over 21.5 million shares, so clearly for me this is such a good deal that I'm very confident the stock price will appreciate because of this deal, and for me that's a lot more material."

At the time of writing he isn't wrong. Despite the capital raising offering a 16 per cent discount on the last trade at $16.16 on 25 September, this morning the share price has surged 11.26 per cent to $17.98.

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Business News Australia

Starpharma raises $45 million to launch COVID-19 nasal spray

Starpharma raises $45 million to launch COVID-19 nasal spray

Listed pharmaceutical company Starphrama (ASX: SPL) has today completed a $45 million oversubscribed institutional placement to fast-track the launch of its COVID-19 nasal spray.

The spray, called SPL7013, has been shown to inactivate more than 99.9 per cent of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The funds will be directed to the rapid development, commercialisation activities and launch of the spray, as well as enabling Starpharma to explore an eye drop application for SPL7013.

Starpharma will also use the funds to expedite the pipeline development of its drug delivery platform called DEP.

In early-September the company announced it had created a DEP version of COVID-19 treatment remdesivir that is highly water-soluble, allowing for less frequent dosing and use in non-hospital settings.

The company says it will use some of the $45 million to develop new DEP candidates with opportunities in oncology, radiopharmaceuticals, antibody drug conjugates and other therapeutic areas.

"The funds raised will allow Starpharma to expedite programs across our portfolio, including the novel SPL7013 COVID-19 nasal spray," says Starpharma CEO Dr Jackie Fairley (pictured).

"The oversubscribed placement saw a high level of demand from offshore funds including large global and US-based funds.

"We appreciate the strong support from our current shareholders and are delighted to welcome several leading new institutional investors to the register."

The $45 million placement was conducted at $1.50 per share, representing a 6.5 per cent discount to the last closing price on 28 September.

It will result in the issue of 30 million new shares bringing the company's total issued capital to 402.8 million shares.

Eligible shareholders will now have the opportunity to participate, at the same price, in a share purchase plan which is expected to raise approximately $5 million.

Updated at 10.50am AEST on 30 September 2020.

Global COVID-19 deaths pass one million

Global COVID-19 deaths pass one million

The world has today passed the harrowing milestone of more than one million deaths from COVID-19, as total cases of the virus now exceed 33.5 million.

This means almost one in every 200 people on the planet has been infected with the virus, and that's just the recorded cases that we know about.

Around one in five of all deaths have been recorded in the USA at 209,808, followed by high fatality numbers in Brazil (142,161), India (96,351) and Mexico (76,603).

There are currently more than 7.6 million active cases of the virus worldwide, and on this measurement the US accounts for around one in every three recorded active cases.

Meanwhile, India has almost one million active cases and has the highest rate of new daily deaths at 777.

France's recent resurgence of COVID-19 means it has the fifth-highest number of active cases at more than 415,000, followed by Russia, Argentina, Mexico, the Ukraine, Peru and Belgium.

In stark contrast, Australia only has 421 active cases and new daily case numbers today stand at 11, as well as seven new deaths.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison today described the one million deaths statistic as a "milestone that no one would have ever wanted to have seen passed".

"It is a reminder that we are living in the midst of a global pandemic. This is a pandemic that has been visited upon Australia from outside our shores, and is one that has impacted on us greatly," he said.

"In Australia, 882 lives have been lost to COVID-19, 670 of those in aged care. 

"Australia sits amongst a handful of countries that have been able to limit the economic blow, as well as limiting the health blow to our country," he said, also congratulating the efforts of Victorians to start to bring the virus under control in the country's most heavily affected state.

Updated at 12:32pm AEST on 29 September 2020.

 

 

 

Government pledges $800m for Australia's digital transformation

Government pledges $800m for Australia's digital transformation

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg wants new businesses in Australia to be "born digital", and his government has today announced almost $800 million worth of investments to help make that vision a reality.

Following major investments into cyber security and the national broadband network (NBN) roll-out, Frydenberg and Prime Minister Scott Morrison today announced wide-reaching plans to accelerate the uptake of 5G technology while fostering skills and capabilities for the digital age.

"Australia has arguably the most advanced real-time payments system in the world - that is the digital infrastructure through our New Payments Platform that enables people to get paid instantaneously," the PM said.

"For that to happen, we need our businesses to be online - we need them to be digital businesses, and in recent months we have seen through COVID a rapid acceleration, produced by necessity of businesses really engaging and upgrading their digital capabilities."

Treasurer Frydenberg highlighted nine out of every 10 Australian businesses have used technology to adapt in 2020.

"Indeed it has been said that we have made five years worth of gains in advancing the use of technology in this country, around the world, in just a matter of eight weeks," he said.

"Zoom meetings have eplaced air travel, telehealth consultations have replaced GP visits, and e-commerce which was already gaining pace has moved to the next level."

But today's announcement wasn't just about congratulating Australians on their adoption of digital technology, but rather the implementation of the JobMaker Digital Business Plan to create new opportunities and promote employment growth.

"The Plan supports Australia's economic recovery by removing out-dated regulatory barriers, boosting the capability of small businesses and backs the uptake of technology across the economy," Prime Minister Morrison said.

"Our Digital Infrastructure package is estimated to increase Australia's GDP by $6.4 billion a year by 2024 and around $1.5 billion of this additional economic activity is estimated to flow to regional Australia each year," added Treasurer Frydenberg.

Key elements of the Digital Business Plan include:

  • $256.6 million to develop a Digital Identity system to enable more secure and convenient engagement with government services, and in future, the private sector. Digital identity is already being used by over 1.6 million Australians and 1.16 million businesses to access over 70 government services.
  • A further $419.9 million to enable the full implementation of the Modernising Business Registers (MBR) program, allowing businesses to quickly view, update and maintain their business registry data in one location;
  • A further $28.5 million to support the rollout of the Consumer Data Right to the banking and energy sectors, which is in addition to the more than $120 million already committed;
  • $29.2 million to accelerate the rollout of 5G, including an initiative to invest in 5G commercial trials and testbeds in key industry sectors such as agriculture, mining, logistics and manufacturing.
  • $22.2 million to support small business operators take advantage of digital technologies through an expansion of the Australian Small Business Advisory Service Digital Solutions program, a Digital Readiness Assessment tool and a Digital Directors training package;
  • $11.4 million for a new regulatory technology commercialisation initiative to improve compliance and directly support our digital technology firms;
  • $9.6 million to support fintechs to export financial services and attract inward investment;
  • $6.9 million for two blockchain pilots directed at reducing business compliance costs;
  • $5.9 million to boost Australia's influence on international standards;
  • $3.6 million towards mandating the adoption of electronic invoicing by 1 July 2022 for all Commonwealth government agencies to encourage greater adoption amongst businesses supplying to government and within their supply chains, and to consult on options for mandatory adoption of e-invoicing by businesses;
  • $2.5 million to connect workers and small and medium sized businesses to digital skills training;
  • Consulting on making permanent the temporary reforms to allow companies to hold virtual meetings and execute documents electronically;
  • Reviewing the regulatory architecture applying to the payments system to ensure it remains fit for purpose and is capable of supporting continued innovation for the benefit both businesses and consumers; and
  • Reforming the regulation around stored-value facilities to support innovation and competition in line with the recommendations of the Council of Financial Regulators.     

These initiatives are in addition to the Federal Government's $4.5 billion NBN investment plan to bring ultra-fast broadband to millions of families and businesses across the economy over the next two years.

They also complement our actions to build digital skills and to improve trust and security in the digital economy, including through the $1.67 billion investment in the 2020 Cyber Security Strategy and investments in online safety.

Updated at 12:05pm AEST on 29 September. 

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