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WA sets generous reopening roadmap with restaurants and fitness classes fast-tracked

WA sets generous reopening roadmap with restaurants and fitness classes fast-tracked

Western Australia will enter the next phase of easing COVID-19 restrictions later than South Australia and Queensland, but the scope of many reopenings will be much more liberal for the "hard border" state.

Premier Mark McGowan and Health Minister Roger Cook today announced the next phase of relaxing restrictions would start on 18 May, including opening up hospitality venues, indoor or outdoor fitness classes, and non-work gatherings, all with a maximum limit of 20 people.

This compares to a 10-person limit when South Australia and Queensland enter their next stages of easing on 10 May and 16 May respectively.

Meanwhile, the Northern Territory has been at the forefront of recovery and will also lift more restrictions on 15 May, including on food courts which are slated for much later in the piece within the national guidelines.

The WA Government has announced the state is already in the first part of a four-phase plan after the cautious relaxing of some restrictions on 27 April to allow families and friends to stay connected.

Phase 2 will focus on encouraging Western Australians to return to work, unless they are unwell or vulnerable, so the WA economy can further rebuild in a safe and measured way.

A later date than some other parts of the country was chosen to give businesses and families time to prepare, and includes the following:

  • Indoor and outdoor non-work gatherings lifted to 20 people;
  • People are encouraged to return to work, unless they are unwell or vulnerable;
  • Cafés and restaurants can reopen with meal service (including within pubs, bars, clubs, hotels and casino), limited to 20 patrons and the four square metre rule applied;
  • Weddings and funerals, limited to up to 20 attendees (30 for outdoor);
  • Places of worship, community facilities and libraries to re-open, limited to 20 patrons;
  • Community sports (non-contact) limited to 20 people;
  • Outdoor or indoor fitness classes (minimal shared equipment) limited to 20 participants; and
  • Public swimming pools can open under strict rules (one indoor pool and one outdoor pool), limited to 20 patrons per pool.

If businesses or premises want to reopen they will be required to complete an official COVID Safety Plan, which the government plans to release soon in consultation with industry.

"Western Australia is ready to take the next step in our COVID-19 recovery," says McGowan.

"The WA roadmap is our plan to start getting Western Australians back to work within a 'COVID safe economy.

"We have been able to get to this point thanks to the efforts of all Western Australians, who have gone above and beyond to do the right thing to help stop the spread of COVID-19."

He says the state's hard borders and its isolation have been an advantage, and urged people to "keep it that way".

"This phased approach allows us to carefully monitor COVID-19 in WA, and ease restrictions in a way that supports our economy, with the smallest risk to the community's health," he says.

"It might not meet everyone's expectation, but we are doing what we can to carefully get businesses up and going that have been devastated by the impacts of COVID-19.

"The resumption of dine-in services at cafés and restaurants is an important step forward in our State's recovery. These are some of the hardest hit local businesses, and I feel deeply for those who have been forced to close and staff who have lost their job."

Phase 2 will also open up more regional travel, with the number of borders within the state set to drop from 13 to only four, allowing:

  • Travel between the South-West, Great Southern, Wheatbelt, Perth and Peel regions;
  • Travel between the Mid-West, Gascoyne and Pilbara regions (excluding Biosecurity zone);
  • Travel within the Goldfields-Esperance region (excluding the Biosecurity zone); and
  • Travel permitted within the Kimberley local government areas (the Commonwealth's Biosecurity zone remains in place).

"We understand they have been inconvenient and challenging, and by removing most of the boundaries, I expect many Western Australians will now be able to reconnect with loved ones, and some tourism operations can resume," says McGowan.

"Let me be clear - we will continue to take a cautious approach to the easing of restrictions, based on the best of health advice. This approach has served us well so far, and has seen WA lead the nation in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We will closely monitor the situation over the coming week and if needed, due to a COVID-19 outbreak, we will reassess the commencement of Phase 2."

Phase 3 is set to be finalised in the coming weeks, based on the advice from the Chief Health Officer and will take into account the infection rates across WA. It is expected Phase 3 will be implemented around four weeks from the commencement of Phase 2.

Phase 3 will focus on continuing to build stronger links within the community and include further resumption of commercial and recreational activities, including:

  • Further increases in the number of people allowed at indoor and outdoor non-work gatherings, including patrons at cafés and restaurants, weddings and funerals;
  • Possible further relaxation of regional travel restrictions;
  • Restrictions further relaxed for gyms, health clubs and indoor sport centres;
  • Contact community sport (indoor and outdoor) permitted, with gathering limits;
  • Beauty therapy and personal care services permitted;
  • Auction houses and real estate auctions (not just online as it is currently); and
  • Public playgrounds, outdoor gym equipment, skate parks, zoos, cinemas, galleries, museums and concert venues permitted to open, with gathering limits.

The Government announced Phase 4 would be assessed and finalised in due course, with WA's hard border set to be the final restriction lifted.

"Our roadmap has been developed specifically to help get some businesses going, while maintaining strict health guidelines to ensure Western Australians are kept safe," says Cook.

"It takes into account the Western Australian community's world-leading response to COVID-19, that has seen WA maintain consistently low numbers of new COVID-19 cases and success in reducing the spread of the virus.

"It allows for health experts to review the impact of the changes, before we move to the next phase of restrictions being lifted.

"Implementing these phases relies on each and every Western Australian to continue to practice good social distancing and good personal hygiene."

Updated at 6:11pm AEST on 10 May 2020.

NSW to start rolling back restrictions on 15 May

NSW to start rolling back restrictions on 15 May

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has announced an easing restrictions that is broadly in line with the policies of South Australia and Queensland, allowing restaurants and cafés to reopen with up to 10 patrons at a time.

Unlike in these two states however, NSW's next stage does not explicitly include pubs.

Following the National Cabinet's three-part reopening plan that serves as a roadmap for states and territories depending on their different circumstances, NSW will start winding back restrictions from Friday, 15 May.

"The changes will allow NSW to fire up the economy, while allowing more personal freedoms," says Berejiklian.

"Our community has demonstrated that by working together we can achieve positive results.

"We will continue to closely monitor COVID-19 rates, especially community transmissions, to guide us towards easing further restrictions."

In addition to measures already announced, including the Premier's call for retailers to reopen with caution, the following will be allowed in NSW as of Friday:

  • Outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people;
  • Cafes and restaurants can seat 10 patrons at any one time;
  • Up to 5 visitors to a household at any one time;
  • Weddings up to 10 guests;
  • Indoor funerals up to 20 mourners, outdoor funerals up to 30;
  • Religious gatherings/places of worship up to 10 worshippers;
  • Use of outdoor equipment with caution; and
  • Outdoor pools open with restrictions.

It is too soon to allow for regional holidays and ease further restrictions but NSW will continue to work with business and communities during the path forward.

NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant says it is safe for NSW to ease further restrictions as the community as the community is vigilant with social distancing and hygiene.

"The chief health officers of the Commonwealth and States supported by experts have prepared advice on the way forward," says Chant.

"As we take this next step we need to continue to work together -  governments, community, business and NGOs - with high rates of testing, social distancing and adherence to other public health measures like handwashing and staying at home if you show even slight symptoms."

Health Minister Brad Hazzard warns the COVID-19 fight is far from over.

"Without a vaccine we need to be vigilant, especially when restrictions lift," he says.

"There will inevitably be more cases, so social distancing will become even more crucial."

Berejiklian thanks the community as the State embarks on this important step that will allow more businesses to open up and more people to stay in work.

"NSW can only do this following the hard work and sacrifice of our communities," she says.

"NSW can only do this following the hard work and sacrifice of our communities."

Photo courtesy of 'Shot at Byron', via Wikimedia Commons.

Queensland to start relaxing restrictions on 16 May

Queensland to start relaxing restrictions on 16 May

Queenslanders will only have to wait until Saturday week before they can dine in at restaurants or have a beer at the pub, although only 10 people will be allowed in any venue at a time unless you're in an outback area where the limit is 20.

Following the Prime Minister's announcement of a three-part plan that aims for the vast majority of restrictions to be eased by the end of July, albeit with strict hygiene and tracing protocols, Queensland has released its "Roadmap to Easing Restrictions".

Starting Saturday week, or technically next Friday at 11:59pm, Queensland's Stage 1 will come into force allowing for a range of relaxations including the opening of beauty therapy and nail salons with bookings, retail shopping, personal training, outdoor gyms, open homes and auctions, libraries and more.

Most Queenslanders will only be allowed to travel up to 150km within their region for recreational daytrips, while residents in outback Queensland will be able to travel up to 500km from home.

"We know how important our industries are to our state - our tourism industry's over $12 billion, the retail industry's over $15 billion, and of course our hospitality - café, restaurant, accommodation is also a multi-billion dollar industry," says Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

"There's a gradual return to some form of normality in our post-COVID world.

"It's going to look a bit different but we're going to back each other, and we're going to get through this."

Click here to see the full plan.

The Premier hopes to get more tourism going in time for the school holidays, with the goal of implementing Stage 2 on 12 June; a stage that also contemplates reopening gyms, health clubs and yoga studios, as well as expanding the number of people allowed in hospitality venues to 20.

"You will be able to travel in your region up to 250km to go to local destinations for a drive holiday, and then in July we are absolutely hoping - fingers crossed if our numbers remain low and everything is going well we will be able to open up travel for right across Queensland," she says. 

By mid-June the aim is also to have indoor cinemas, outdoor amusement parks, concert venues, arenas and stadiums reopened.

If all goes to plan, by 10 July it is possible that gatherings of up to 100 people will be allowed.

Photo courtesy of Visit Bundaberg.

Updated at 3pm AEST on 8 May 2020.


Outdoor dining, regional travel, and auctions allowed in SA from Monday

Outdoor dining, regional travel, and auctions allowed in SA from Monday

South Australia will embark on its own roadmap for easing COVID-19 restrictions from Monday, allowing residents to return to a sense of normality in the State.

Restrictions will be lifted in three tranches in-line with the National Cabinet's guidelines announced today.

Premier Steven Marshall (pictured) says SA will return to a COVID-safe economy by July.

The roadmap takes into account South Australia's low case numbers to date and the State's already relaxed restrictions compared to other Australian states.

As of today 10 people are able to gather indoor and outdoor, retail is not restricted, social gatherings are allowed, and outdoor playgrounds are still open.

But from 11 May restrictions will be lifted including:

  • Regional travel
  • Uni and TAFE face-to-face tutorials
  • Outdoor dining for restaurants and cafes
  • Community, youth and RSL halls opened
  • Auctions and inspections
  • Local government libraries
  • Sport training (outdoor only)
  • Funerals
  • Worship, weddings and ceremonies
  • Pools (limits apply)
  • Campgrounds and caravan parks

Step 2 comes into play on 8 June, meaning 20 people max can gather indoor and outdoor and further restrictions will be lifted including:

  • Cinemas and theatres
  • Seated dining
  • Galleries and museums
  • Beauty, nails, tattoo, massage (non-therapeutic)
  • Driving instruction lessons
  • Gyms and indoor fitness
  • Funerals (50 max)
  • Sports transition to competition without spectators, including indoor sports

The State says it is considering further restrictions to be lifted including:

  • Larger gatherings
  • Licensed pubs and bars
  • Nightclubs
  • Shisha/hookah bars
  • International students returning
  • Casino and gaming venues
  • Stadiums and larger entertainment venues
  • Food courts
  • Spas and saunas
  • State border restrictions
  • Travel into protected communities

South Australia broke a two-week streak of no confirmed cases of COVID-19 yesterday with one new case, bringing the State's total to 439.

Updated at 2:57pm AEST on 8 May 2020.

National Cabinet sets July end date for three-part full opening plan

National Cabinet sets July end date for three-part full opening plan

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison says we will "walk before we run" as part of a three-part plan to fully reopen the economy in July.

Speaking this afternoon, the PM said the National Cabinet had agreed to the plan and a national framework to achieve a COVID-safe economy and society.

Under the first step small cafés and restaurants can be reopened along with some recreational sport facilities, while people will have travel freedom within their state or territory.

The plan acts as a guideline for State and Territory Governments who will ultimately make their own decisions about when to start each step of the reopening scheme.

Eventually, Step 3 contemplates the reopening of Trans-Tasman and Pacific Island travel, along with the consideration of letting international students back into the country and reopening nightclubs. 

"We know we need to be careful to preserve our gains, but we also know that if we wish to reclaim the ground that we have lost we cannot be too timid," Morrison said.

"There will be risks, there will be challenges, there will be outbreaks, there will be more cases, there will be setbacks. Not everything will go to plan, there will be inconsistencies.

"States will and must move at their own pace, and will cut and paste out of this plan to suit their local circumstances."

He said that according to Treasury, the reopening plan would see some 850,000 jobs restored in the months ahead with the following three stages:

Step 1: COVID safe reopening commences with physical distancing & hygiene

  • Greater connection with friends and family allowing gatherings of up to 10 people, including up to five guests in your own home;
  • Working from home if it suits the employee and employer;
  • Children allowed back in classrooms and playgrounds;
  • Golf courses, parks, swimming pools, libraries and community centres reopened; 
  • Retail, small cafés and restaurants reopened;
  • Home sales and auctions allowed
  • Boot camps reopened
  • Intrastate recreational travel allowed; and
  • Easier restrictions for funerals of up to 30 attendees outdoors and 10 at weddings.

Step 2: Most businesses reopen with physical distancing & hygiene

  • Larger gatherings allowed for up to 20 people;
  • Cinemas, theatres and amusement parks reopened;
  • Beauty parlours reopened; 
  • Gyms reopened;
  • Some caravan parks and campgrounds reopened
  • More retail openings on sector-based COVID-safe plans; 
  • Organised community sport; and
  • Some interstate travel.

Step 3: All Australians return to work with physical distancing & hygiene

  • Allowing gatherings of up to 100 people;
  • Food courts reopened;
  • Saunas and bathhouses reopened;
  • Nightclubs reopened;
  • All interstate travel allowed; and
  • Cross-Tasman, Pacific Island and international student travel to be considered. 

The PM said Step 3 would become clearer as we work through Steps 1 and 2, but "by then most workers will be back in the workplace". 

"It is our aspiration, it is agreed amongst Premiers and Chief Ministers and myself, that in July we will have moved through these three steps across the country," he said.

"Premiers and Chief Ministers have asked me to stress that there should be no expectation of Step 1 starting on Day 1, unless they are indeed already there. Moving on these steps will take some preparation.

"We're open to everything pretty much to get the economy back and firing as much as possible."

He said moving from one step to the next would need to be in keeping with the following three criteria:

  1. That further easing would not present an undue risk;
  2. That widespread testing is adequately identifying community transmission;
  3. Public health actions are able to trace cases and track local outbreaks.

"Testing, tracing, tracking, as they were saying in the Northern Territory recently," Morrison said.

"Downloading the COVIDSafe app, which is now over 5.3 million, is the best way you can help us do this job to keep you and your families safe."

The PM added a review into JobKeeper would be taking place next month.

"That was a temporary lifeline put in place to help Australians through the worst of this crisis," he said.

There are currently 737 active cases of COVID-19 in Australia, including 19 new cases in the last 24 hours from Victoria (14), NSW (4), WA (1).

Nationwide there have been 41 recoveries reported today, while there have been no new deaths, meaning the death toll remains at 97.

Updated at 1:01pm AEST on 8 May 2020.

Victoria to consider easing restrictions on Monday

Victoria to consider easing restrictions on Monday

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews says he will consider easing COVID-19 restrictions in the state on Monday as per a three-part roadmap announced today by the Prime Minister.

Andrews says he will be cautious and has likened the National Cabinet-approved roadmap as a "menu" from which he will pick and choose from for restrictions to relax.

"Now, whilst I welcome the overall pathway, I also welcome the commentary from the Prime Minister and the decision of National Cabinet that what is done and when, that is the timeline, the staggered nature of easing off the rules we've put in place, is fundamentally a matter for individual states and territories," Andrews said.

"On Monday, and indeed throughout next week, I will have a series of announcements to make about changes to the rules. Those rules that will not be all the rules going, and it won't necessarily be that the moment I announce something a change happens right then.

"If you think about the top line in that framework document that the Prime Minister has put out today, and the National Cabinet agreed to, that's a kind of menu, if you like. And we will choose elements of that and the respective timing for the rollout of each of those elements that best suit Victoria, that best suit the unique circumstances that we face."

The announcement comes as Victoria has announced 13 new cases of COVID-19 today.

Eight of those new cases trace back to the cluster of COVID-19 cases at the Cedar Meats Australia processing facility, while the other five are believed to be cases of community transmission.

The state's total now stands at 1,467 cases.

Updated at 2:07pm AEST on 8 May 2020.

Events industry calls for conferences to be exempt from gathering restrictions

Events industry calls for conferences to be exempt from gathering restrictions

The Exhibition and Event Association of Australasia (EEAA) has called upon Federal and state governments to exempt business conferences and events from mass gathering restrictions.

The industry body has also asked for clarification on an anticipated restart date for domestic events in the Australian market to get things back on schedule.

The EEAA says business conferences and events can operate under a controlled set of 'bio-safe' principles and therefore should not be subject to the same restrictions as other mass gatherings and large scale public events like professional sporting events and music festivals.

"The business events industry run highly organised events where we can trace every one of our visitors, delegates, speakers and exhibitors as well as monitor, track and put in place a range of measures that can ensure these events comply with Government measures on hygiene and physical distancing," says EEAA chief executive Claudia Sagripanti.

"The business events industry, which includes exhibitions, conferences and business meetings contributes $35 billion to the national economy, with another $17.2 billion in value add and employs over 229,000 people across a range of sectors and trades.

"The re-opening of this important sector will support the Government's objective to implement work safe guidelines to get Australian's back to work. It is of vital importance to ensure that Governments understand the role business events plays in restarting the economy."

The EEAA, in collaboration with the Business Events Council of Australia and the Venue Management Association is developing safety and hygiene principles for the business events community.

To get events and conferences back up and running the EEAA has requested governments provide a clear timetable on when business events can restart as considerable lead-time is required to plan and implement events of scale.

"The sector needs support now with a clear timetable on when we can run events August/September and the last quarter of 2020 is vital to recovery, but the industry needs a confirmed date to commence planning," Sagripanti said.

"An August restart allows government and the health authorities further time to ensure the state's COVID numbers continue to decrease and stabilise and to enable an agreed Bio-Safe environment for our controlled and organised events where the business community comes to do business."

The EEAA's plea to state and federal governments comes as the Queensland Tourism Industry Council (QTIC) today announced it would be cancelling the 2020 Queensland Tourism Awards for the first time in the event's history.

"Like so many other aspects of our industry, 'normal' no longer applies this year and the awards program was not viable under the current circumstances," says QTIC chief executive Daniel Gschwind.

"This is a huge disappointment to us and to many operators, but the reality is that the industry has an overwhelming challenge on their hands to get through this crisis.  It is the sole focus for everyone. We will be back with the program next year, bigger and better and remain fully committed to supporting excellence in business."

Updated at 11:46am AEST on 8 May 2020.

An extra 100,000 loans deferred by Australian banks this week

An extra 100,000 loans deferred by Australian banks this week

Australian banks have deferred an extra 100,000 loans over the last week, bringing the total value of loans deferred to $200 billion.

According to new figures released by the Australia Banking Association (ABA) half of the new deferrals were home loans.

To date, Australian Banks have deferred 643,000 loans for customers, including 392,000 home loans.

"These new figures, released today, shows banks working overtime to ensure assistance is given where needed to customers who are affected by this crisis," says ABA CEO Anna Bligh.

"The surge in demand for assistance from banks shows that the economic impacts continue to be felt, and by no means is the nation through this crisis."

These deferments are coming at a serious cost to Australian banks.

Commonwealth Bank's (ASX: CBA) loan deferral arrangements are expected to cost the giant around $10 billion.

"These are unprecedented times, and we will continue to take decisive actions to support households and the small business community," CBA chief executive officer Matt Comyn said in March.

"We stand shoulder to shoulder with the Government, the Reserve Bank, our regulators and the banking industry to support the economy at this time."

ANZ (ASX: ANZ) says its deferral program has been provided on $7.5 billion of lending to Australian customers, with assistance given to approximately 15 per cent of commercial lending customers.

Further, it has pre-approved more than $4 billion in lending to 35,000 small business customers with existing transactional accounts and provided temporary overdraft increases for approximately 5,500 commercial accounts.

Updated at 10:58am AEST on 8 May 2020.


Active cases fall to single digits as WA readies relaxation roadmap

Active cases fall to single digits as WA readies relaxation roadmap

More recoveries from COVID-19 in Western Australia means the state has just nine active cases of the virus, bringing the total down to single digits for the first time since the pandemic took hold.

WA Premier Mark McGowan (pictured) told a press conference this morning a 29 year-old who recently returned from overseas has tested positive, but the number of active cases was reduced by three new recoveries.

"Obviously, it's disappointing that our sreak of zero cases has come to an end, however we always knew we would get more cases as people returned from overseas or interstate," he said.

It was a similar story yesterday for South Australia, whose two-week run of no new daily cases was also cut short by a returned traveller testing positive.

McGowan said the good news was that the systems were in place to ensure the spread of the virus was limited, and there have now been 534 recoveries in the state.

"As a result we now have just nine active cases here in Western Australia - the first time we've hit single digits," he said.

"Only four people are in hospital in total, with one in ICU. The number of people in our hospitals with the virus continues to fall."

McGowan said after today's National Cabinet meeting, a State Disaster Council meeting will be held including the Police Commissioner and the Chief Health Officer to plan out Western Australia's roadmap forward.

"I want to provide the people of Western Australia with a way forward with a plan to get Western Australia moving in a safe and sensible way. I expect our roadmap to be finalised and ready for release on Sunday," he said.

"Clearly Western Australia has the opportunity to be more economically progressive perhaps than other states. The eastern seabord I expect will be more conservative as they have been along this road, but frankly they've had a much bigger problem than we have.

"Our hard borders allow us to do more than the eastern states can, so that initiative has meant that we can potentially loosen restrictions to a greater degree than the eastern states, but that's a decision the State Disaster Council will make later on today."

Updated at 10:01am AEST on 8 May 2020.

NZ gears up for major easing of restrictions

NZ gears up for major easing of restrictions

After setting a global example with its strategy of "going hard and going early" to win the battle against COVID-19, New Zealand will soon make a big call on whether to ease a wide range of restrictions.

NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has today outlined what an Alert Level 2 situation might look like, including a restart for businesses, gatherings indoors or outdoors for up to 100 people, the recommencement of amateur and professional sport, and domestic travel freedom.

If the NZ Cabinet decides to go ahead with the alert downgrade on Monday, hospitality venues (except nightclubs and dance venues) may also be able to reopen with a "three S's" policy - seated, separated, single-server.

The move comes now that New Zealand's total active case numbers are at 136, or slightly more than Victoria and Queensland combined; both states with larger populations than NZ. 

"In a nutshell, Level 2 is a safer normal designed to get as many people back to work as possible and the economy back up and running in a safe way, made possible only by our collective actions at Levels 4 and 3 to beat the virus and break the chain of transmission," the PM said today.

After hunkering down through a full lockdown experience at Level 4, New Zealanders are currently living with Level 3 - Restrict measures.

"On Monday, May 11, we will make a decision on whether to move, taking into consideration the best data and advice we can, recognising the impact of restrictions, and ensuring we don't put at risk all of the gains we have made," Ardern said, noting the view of the Director-General of Health would also need to be taken into account.

"There is a much higher level of individual responsibly required at Level 2 to prevent the spread of the virus.

"We will continue to act with caution and not move before it is safe to do, so entry into Level 2 could be phased, with higher risk activity occurring when there is stronger evidence it is safe to do so.

While the amount of people who can gather indoors would increase to 100, the maximum level for outdoor gatherings would actually go down from 500 to 100.

"For managed events like weddings, music events, religious services, funerals, these can be held at Level 2 when we get there, but with all the same public health guidance as with the 100-person limit," she said.

"You no longer need to stick to your bubble. You can begin seeing family and friends, but we do want you to hang onto the same principles that we are using generally in hospitality; issues around the space and hygiene and contact tracing.

"If we have large scale events held in people's home, all of that becomes harder. That is why at Level 2 we are saying that you can have friends and family over to your home but keep the numbers small."

At Level 2 playgrounds, gyms, pools, public courts, museums and markets are also permitted to reopen.

The Level 2 scenario has been summarised by the NZ Government as follows:

  • Businesses can restart for staff and customers
  • Bubbles can cease
  • Domestic travel recommences
  • Schools and early learning centres can open
  • Gatherings both indoors and outdoors are limited to 100 people
  • Public places reopen
  • Sport and recreation comes back on-stream, including professional sports competitions
  • Home gatherings must be kept small
  • Hospitality must follow the three S's seated, separated, single-server

Updated at 3:56pm AEST on 7 May 2020.

CBA approves $555 million in SME loans

CBA approves $555 million in SME loans

More than 6,500 business customers hit by COVID-19 shutdowns have made the most of a government-backed SME loan scheme through the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (ASX: CBA).

The bank has so far approved more than $555 million in new loans - which are 50 per cent guaranteed by the Federal Government - for small and medium businesses.

The bank says its customers were able to apply for the loans from Monday, 23 March.

"We want to help as many of our customers as we can through this challenging time we know for many, these loans could be the make or break of a business," says CBA group executive business banking, Mike Vacy-Lyle.

"Getting funds quickly to our customers means they have the cash flow they need to pay for critical expenses like wages, supplier payments and other overheads.

"We are doing all we can to help. The sheer demand we are seeing means our teams are working around the clock to help as many customers as possible and our priority right now is to get funds into accounts as quickly as we can."

Shortly before the SME Guarantee Loan Scheme was announced on 22 March, CBA pledged $10 billion towards six-month loan deferral arrangements including an auto-enrolment feature for businesses.

Updated at 12:10pm AEST on 7 May 2020.


Pop-up hospital may be answer to future pandemic needs

Pop-up hospital may be answer to future pandemic needs

A South Australian company has launched a portable isolation hospital for widespread medical emergency hotspots to treat patients with respiratory illnesses in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Based in Adelaide, South Australia, Humanihut's 'Florey' isolation hospital has received expressions of interest from government clients in the United States, Europe, Middle East and Australia to better prepare for future epidemics or health crises.

The deployable medical facility was adapted in partnership with French-based business Utilis International from Humanihut designs for disaster accommodation.

Humanihut Co-Founder and Managing Director Neale Sutton said the new Florey model was created for the COVID-19 outbreak in New York and serves as an efficient market-ready alternative to tents, which are the current industry standard for field hospitals.

"In the initial stages, the [coronavirus] epidemic had governments around the globe looking for very quick solutions to assist the pressure that was being placed on their medical facilities," Sutton said.

"We're now focusing our product into the longer term, it's about what comes next after COVID-19 and after all of the equipment has been used on this outbreak; is there enough to be used for the next outbreak?"

Sutton said the Florey costs A$200,000 per bed in comparison to approximately $1.5 million per bed for a hospital.

"The Humanihut Florey system is a far more robust and rapidly deployable system than just about anything else that's around," he said.

"We're talking to a number of prospective clients around the world about what they're going to do next and the part we can play in their operations going forward looking over their horizon to 2021 and beyond."

An artist's render of the Humanihut Florey Isolation Hospital.

Sutton said he was in talks with a local government in the US for the purchase of a Florey unit within the next 12 months.

In its basic configuration, the Florey isolation hospital comprises of 16 flatpack huts each measuring 6m x 2.3m  (19f x 7.5f) that are set up as single-bed patient rooms attached with ensuites, which stand between two 40ft containers housing a nurse's station, staffroom, kitchen, bathroom and laundry.

A fully enclosed weatherproof internal corridor made from a soft polymer canvas is then placed in the centre of the facility to connect the containers and patient rooms.

The huts are steel skinned and have insulated walls, enabling them to maintain a suitable temperature for patients and doctors.

The Florey isolation hospital includes utilities for water, power and wastewater treatment, Wi-Fi connectivity, and medical grade equipment supplied by G3 Systems through Humanihut's partnership with Utilis.

Sutton said two South Australian companies provided the important airflow controls. The negative pressure air filtration system to prevent cross-contamination throughout the site is from Airepure Australia and the air conditioning is by globally renowned Seeley International.

"Isolation wards require negative pressure systems, combined with specialist HEPA filters, to ensure the containment of airborne contaminants within a room, whilst reducing the risk of transfer of airborne particles to medical staff." Sutton said.



An animation of the Humanihut design.

The Florey is deliverable by land, air or sea inside the two 40ft containers and can be established within 24 hours. The facility is also scalable for increased capacity to meet required demand.

Sutton said the rapidly deployable nature of the product was crucial for assisting medical workers at the beginning of a health crisis.

"[Clients] need things set up quickly, they don't want them to be permanent, but they want to be able to call on them time and time again and once the field infrastructure system has done its job it can be packed up and reused again over the life of the product," Sutton said.

More than half of the manufacturing process for the huts is done in South Australia, including work from South Australian companies Enviroclad and Kadego. Sutton plans to shift the remainder of the operations to the state later this year.

Humanihut have sold other variations of their field infrastructure systems to the South Australian State Emergency Service as well as to clients in Saudi Arabia and France.

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AusCann CEO resigns after 12 months on the job

AusCann CEO resigns after 12 months on the job

The head of one of Australia's leading medicinal cannabis companies AusCann Group Holdings (ASX: AC8) has announced his resignation today, citing personal reasons for the exit.

Ido Kanyon joined the Perth-based company a year ago after previously working with Teva Pharmaceuticals in the United States, and has helped AusCann achieve several milestones since then including the kick-off of clinical evaluations just last week.

But as is the case for most medicinal cannabis companies at the moment, these efforts are not necessarily reflected in the AC8 share price which is down almost 55 per cent on when Kanyon took the reins.

Kanyon will still remain with the company for six months to assist in the leadership transition, with non-executive director Dr Marcel Bonn-Miller to share responsibilities in the interim.

"On behalf of our Board, our staff and our shareholders, I would like to thank Ido for his leadership in refocussing the company's strategy to becoming a leading research and development company in the medical cannabis industry, bringing our first product to market and commencing our first clinical evaluation programme," says chairman Max Johnston.

"Ido has strengthened and streamlined the operating model positioning the Company well for future commercial success."

Australia's top 20 cannabis companies

Johnston highlights Bonn-Miller is an internationally renowned cannabinoid expert, and he will assume executive responsibilities alongside Ido to provide continuity during the transition.

"At the same time, we have started the search for a new outstanding candidate and leader that can spearhead our existing products growth and continued development of a robust pipeline of future products," he says.

Kanyon has expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to lead a talented team at AusCann.

"We have achieved a lot in a short space of time, given the focused growth strategy put in place," he says.

"I am proud of the results we have been able to deliver to shareholders, healthcare professionals and patients, bringing an innovative product to market and continuing to generate clinical evidence for the benefit of patients."

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Consumers expand online horizons and turn to Aussie brands

Consumers expand online horizons and turn to Aussie brands

A recent survey from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) has found one in five Australians purchased at least one new category online over the past month, while the appetite for domestic brands is on the rise.

BCG's 'Australian Consumer Sentiment Snapshot: Confidence, Nostalgia and Shifting Trust' shows the average number of new categories purchased by Gen Z and Millennials was nearly four, compared with nearly two new categories purchased by the Baby Boomer and Silver segment combined.

The top 12 categories purchased online for the first time include education, preventative health care, takeaway food and medical procedures, and this is the case across all age groups.

Gen Z and Millennials increasingly turned to e-commerce for insurance, home renovation products, personal care products and pet care products, while many Baby Boomers and Silvers bought shoes and footwear, women's clothing, plants and gardening supplies, and fresh fruit and vegetables online for the very first time.

"The BCG report has revealed seismic shifts in how Australians are spending their time and money, and importantly, who they trust in the COVID-19 environment," says BCG managing director & partner Monica Wegner.

"That's why in these rapidly changing times, creating and maintaining consumer trust should be a key focus for organisations to ensure they maintain their relationship with customers into the future."

The findings are consistent with reports of e-commerce upticks for a wide range of Australian retailers, including homeware specialist Adairs (ASX: ADH), online furniture retailer Temple & Webster (ASX: TPW), e-commerce giant Kogan (ASX: KGN), Booktopia, footwear purveyor Accent Group (ASX: AX1) and department store Myer (ASX: MYR), as well as supermarket majors Woolworths Group (ASX: WOW) and Coles Group (ASX: COL).

The BCG report also reveals 84 per cent of Australian consumers believe that there will be an economic recession post-COVID-19, however only 40 per cent feel financially insecure at this stage.

"In this time, 47 per cent of surveyed consumers are abandoning luxury products, and 64 per cent say that basic and simple products that do the job are all they need, placing greater emphasis on purchases that promote self-reliance and provide comfort and assurance," says Wegner.

Organisations that invest well in digital services will be pleased to know that consumers are likely to continue using those online platforms when COVID-19 is over.

One third of Australian consumers surveyed for the BCG report said they will increase spend on digital purchases post COVID-19; 34 per cent for Gen Z and Millennials and 31 per cent for Baby Boomers and Silvers.

Consumers said they will increase online spending on travel, preventative healthcare, insurance, appliances, education and home essentials.

"Companies that can leverage technologies by meeting changing consumer demands online complemented by human interaction where it is needed most have the opportunity to earn consumer loyalty well after their concerns subside," says Wegner.

The report also demonstrates an increased desire and appetite to buy Australian brands, with 37 per cent of consumers saying they would purchase Australian brands - a 56 per cent increase from 2016.

This is despite the premium price perception of domestic goods, with the trade-up for Australian brands largely seen in fresh food, personal care, packaged food and first aid/medicines.

The BCG report found consumer trust in health service providers, supermarket chains and Australian State and Federal Governments had increased significantly over the last month.

Net trust in health service providers has risen 25 per cent, national supermarket chains 18 per cent, the Federal Government 18 percent, State and Territory Governments 17 per cent, telecom providers three per cent and banks net neutral.

For supermarkets, this is in part owed to a strong investment in services that ensure the basic needs of Australians are met, such as measures to ensure older Australians can access supermarkets and a strong suite of online and offline services to get groceries to peoples' doors.

"The BCG report shows consumers are carefully watching how Australian institutions are responding to the crisis and the initiatives they're providing, to determine how much they trust them," says Wegner.

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Victorian restrictions to stay in place as Cedar Meats cluster grows

Victorian restrictions to stay in place as Cedar Meats cluster grows

Restrictions on gathering in Victoria are unlikely to ease before Mother's Day as a cluster of confirmed COVID-19 cases from a meat processing facility continues to grow.

The state confirmed 14 new cases of COVID-19 this morning, with 13 of the 14 tracing back to a growing cluster at Cedar Meats Australia.

The new cases from Cedar Meats brings the facility's total to 62 cases, representing the majority of active cases in the State and close to one in ten active cases across the country.

According to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews (pictured) the State has 105 active cases of COVID-19. Eight of these cases are hospitalised and six are in intensive care.

The latest figures come as the state continues its expansive testing regime that has so far seen 106,000 people tested in the last week and a half, with 18,200 of those tests conducted just yesterday.

Despite the State's good work in testing more and more people Premier Andrews says it is still too early to look at easing restrictions on the rest of the population.

"The last thing we want to do is ease off any of those restrictions without a sense of confidence that we are truly on top of this," says Andrews.

"This is a very infectious disease, it spreads rapidly, and it can get away from you very, very quickly, and that's why we've taken such a cautious approach.

"The last thing I think business wants is the notion that they reopen quickly only then to have to close again. That would make a very difficult situation almost unbearable as businesses burnt that cash that they had perhaps put away for them to restart only then to have to then close again."

Updated at 12:16pm AEST on 7 May 2020.

Queensland businesses exempt from payroll tax on JobKeeper payments

Queensland businesses exempt from payroll tax on JobKeeper payments

Businesses in Queensland will not have to pay payroll tax on Federal Government JobKeeper Payments as part of the State Government's latest fiscal relief initiative.

The fast-tracked arrangements will ensure payroll tax assessments do not include JobKeeper payments and will provide Queensland businesses with effective relief of $360 million over the next six months.

"We know businesses and workers have been doing it tough through the necessary restrictions we have put in place to come down hard on the spread of coronavirus," says Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszszuk (pictured).

"Life will be tough for many businesses for months to come, so we will ensure they don't have to foot the bill for payroll tax on the Federal Government's JobKeeper payments which are now starting to flow."

Queensland Deputy Premier and Treasurer Jackie Trad says this latest measure will assist businesses to keep employees on and allow them to survive during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Measures to relive payroll tax have been at the heart of the Palaszczuk Government's response, including tax holidays, tax deferrals, and payroll tax refunds that have put more than $345 million back into the accounts of Queensland businesses," says Trad.

"Exempting JobKeeper from payroll tax assessments at this time helps protect Queensland businesses and Queensland jobs.

"Now it's up to the Federal Government to help Queensland workers by exempting JobKeeper payments from income tax assessment."

The JobKeeper payment scheme commenced on 30 March and is available for eligible businesses to cover the costs of their employees' wages through payments of $1,500 per fortnight to eligible employees.

Queensland Treasury's Office of State Revenue will be adjusting its payroll tax information to ensure there is a smooth transition when the next payroll tax returns are due to be lodged next week.

Nationally States have been implementing a range of payroll tax waiver and deferment initiatives to assist businesses through the COVID-19 crisis.

In Victoria the State Government will pick up the bill for payroll taxes, saving businesses around $225 million, as part of the State's $1.7 billion stimulus package.

Businesses in New South Wales with payrolls over $10 million will have payroll tax deferred for six months, while businesses with payrolls under $10 million will receive an additional three-month deferment of payroll tax on top of the three-month waiver previously announced.

Down in South Australia the State Government will be delivering $60 million of payroll tax relief to businesses, including a six-month waiver for all businesses with annual payroll of up to $4 million from April to September.

SA employers with grouped annual wages above $4 million will be able to defer payroll tax payments for six months on demonstration of significant impacts on cash flow from COVID-19.

In Western Australia any business affected by COVID-19 will be able to defer payroll tax payments until July 21, 2020.

QLD to ease gathering restrictions further on Mother's Day

Up to five people from the same household will be able to visit another household from this Sunday in Queensland as the state continues to ease COVID-19 restrictions.

Premier Palaszczuk said the easing of restrictions was made possible because QLD residents had managed to keep the rate of new cases down.

The five visiting people must be from the same household and can visit another household of any size, thus allowing more than 10 people to be inside a house at any one time.

Queenslanders will still be restricted to not being able to travel more than 50km from their household.

This latest easing of restrictions comes as Queensland reports only two new cases of COVID-19 overnight.

Both of these new cases are on the Gold Coast, with one originating from a cruise ship and the other still being investigated.

There are only 50 active cases of COVID-19 in Queensland now, with eight in hospital and three in intensive care.

The two new cases brings Queensland's total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases to 1,045.

NSW keeps restrictions in place

Meanwhile in New South Wales gathering restrictions will remain in place for Mother's Day as the state continues its testing blitz.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian says social distancing measures will stay as they are even if the National Cabinet announces changes to national guidelines on Friday.

"As we proceed through May and through June there will be an easing of restrictions and that is something all of us can look forward to, and so I suspect that by the end of June life will feel much more normal," Berejiklian said.

"I can say that whilst National Cabinet is considering easing some restrictions I doubt very much that New South Wales will be in a position to implement anything before Mother's Day."

This means the same restrictions will stay in place in NSW, those being two adults and their children from the same household can visit another household.

Today Berejiklian announced that over the last 24 hours 10,900 tests were conducted which is a record for NSW.

Three new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed overnight, all from known sources, bringing the state's total to 3,044.

Updated at 9:32am AEST on 7 May 2020.


From Rockmans to Katies, Mosaic Brands puts store reopenings on the table

From Rockmans to Katies, Mosaic Brands puts store reopenings on the table

After trial openings over the past week and an 80 per cent jump in online sales, a group that owns some of the biggest names in Australian fashion retail will start progressively reopening stores on Monday, 11 May.

As the owner of Rockmans, Noni B, Millers, Rivers, Katies, Autograph, W.Lane, Crossroads and Beme, Mosaic Brands (ASX: MOZ) shut almost 1,400 stores in March as a response to social distancing recommendations

Despite recording a positive EBITDA of $32 million in the first half, Mosaic is forecasting an overall EBITDA loss for FY20, as reopenings and an anticipated gradual recovery in customer demand will be unlikely to offset the impacts of the coronavirus-induced decline in foot traffic and store closures.

"However, management anticipates the pandemic's impact on its performance to be short-term and expects a return to profit in FY2021," Mosaic said.

"The Board will not declare an interim dividend for the half year to 29 December 2019 following its earlier deferral, which was pending clarification of the impact of COVID-19.

"The Company is very supportive of the Government's JobKeeper program, which has allowed it to retain its store and support office team members, and recognises the support of ANZ in facilitating Mosaic's access to the program and assisting it to navigate through this period."

The company notes valuable insights into changing customer shopping habits have been gained from the trial openings, although it did not state which fashion stores specifically had ben trialled.

Mosaic is providing these insights to landlords in a bid to renegotiate rental terms in keeping with the Government's mandatory code of conduct for commercial leasing arrangements.

The group emphasises stores will only be reopened where satisfactory commercial terms are agreed with the landlord.

"Mosaic is committed to working with its landlords to resume normal trading as soon as it is viable to do so and to provide a safe and improved shopping experience for customers," the company said.

An 80 per cent year-on-year jump for online sales for the past six weeks has been attributed to the strength of Mosaic's nine brands and increased investment in its digital strategy.

"This performance reflects substantial work during this challenging time to accelerate the company's strategy to expand the range of products offered and grow customer acquisition," Mosaic Brands said.

"Twenty categories and over 100,000 SKUs, reflecting each brand's unique customer proposition, have been added during this period to the company's websites."

Updated at 9:37am AEST on 7 May 2020.

Myer to reopen some stores in QLD, NSW in time for Mother's Day

Myer to reopen some stores in QLD, NSW in time for Mother's Day

Department store Myer (ASX: MYR) has announced seven stores in Queensland and New South Wales will reopen in time for Mother's Day this Sunday.

In line with an easing of stay-at-home measures in Queensland, stores in Chermside, Carindale, North Lakes, Townsville and Toowoomba will be reopened as a trial from tomorrow.

This will be followed up by two Sydney store openings in Bankstown and Liverpool on Saturday.

"Myer has made the further decision today to open two New South Wales stores, and we look forward to welcoming local customers back to these stores, with great brands, at great value, in a safe shopping environment," a Myer spokesperson said yesterday.

"In line with the easing of restrictions in Queensland, we look forward to trialling the opening of five Queensland stores, providing our customers with great brands at great value, in a safe shopping environment," the spokesperson said earlier in the week.

"Our priority continues to be the health and wellbeing of our customers and team members and to assist and support governments in limiting the spread of COVID-19."

The reopenings represent close to 12 per cent of Myer's 60-strong store network. 

The move follows an announcement on 22 April that Myer would aim to reopen stores as soon as possible, and that a surge in online sales had prompted the group to reinstate 2,000 staff.

As part of the reopening of physical stores, Myer has highlighted the following enhanced safety and cleaning measures to be implemented across stores:

  • Increased frequency of cleaning services across trial stores;
  • Protective items such as hand sanitiser stations, face masks and gloves available to team members;
  • Hand sanitiser available for our customers;
  • Sneeze guards at registers to be progressively rolled out across the stores;
  • Social distancing measures of 1.5 metres between customers and team members, with clear signage across the stores;
  • Contactless payments; and
  • Informing our team members on social distancing and hygiene measures.

In addition, some services will remain suspended to reduce close contact, including:

  • Beauty appointments;
  • Intimate apparel fittings
  • Suit fittings;
  • Shoe fittings; and
  • Change rooms.

Updated at 9:03am AEST on 7 May 2020.

WA records a week of no new COVID-19 cases

WA records a week of no new COVID-19 cases

Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan (pictured) has warned the state is "not out of the woods yet" after recording a week of no new recorded COVID-19 infections.

"I'm pleased to say we've had zero new cases of COVID-19 overnight. That's now seven full days of cases which is amazing and incredible and terrific for our state, especially when we hear the news of the case numbers from New South Wales and Victoria," the Premier said.

Following 428 recoveries, WA now has just 14 active cases of which seven are in hospital.

NSW recorded nine new cases overnight while VIC reported 17, four of which were from the Cedar Meats processing facility cluster whose total cases now stand at 49.

South Australia is the only othe state or territory that has not seen any new cases in the past week; in fact SA has not had any new cases since 22 April.

Last week the ACT reported its number of active cases fell to zero for the first time since the pandemic began, but its run was cut short on Monday with one reported case from a return traveller. 

"This individual was symptomatic while overseas and then spent 14-days in self-quarantine after returning home. They were not tested during their self-quarantine period because their symptoms had resolved prior to their return to Australia," ACT Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Vanessa Johnston said at the time.

The Northern Territory's long run of no new cases since 6 April was interrupted on Saturday, 2 May with two new positive tests. 

WA partners with resources companies to test FIFO workers

The WA State Government also announced today it is partnering with major resources companies and the state's leading researchers to roll out COVID-19 testing among fly-in fly-out (FIFO) mining and resources workers who do not have symptoms.

The testing among FIFO workers is the second pillar of the DETECT program, a joint initiative of the Department of Health and the WA research community.

Led by Curtin University and the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research, the DETECT FIFO project will engage with mining companies who are supporting the screening of workers for COVID-19.

It is expected that nearly 30,000 tests will be conducted during the life of the project.

The DETECT FIFO project will be funded by industry and has been endorsed by the Chamber of Minerals and Energy.

While there is no evidence of community spread of COVID-19, it is hoped the DETECT program will further assist in developing an even stronger evidence base on which to make policy decisions and ease restrictions.

"With our State COVID-19 numbers continuing to be very encouraging, we are pleased to announce that testing of asymptomatic groups in the community is expanding," says McGowan.

"Last week we announced our DETECT research program would commence with the testing of students and staff at 80 public schools, and now this study is being expanded to FIFO workers from some of our major mining companies.

"The research being undertaken through Curtin University has been carefully considered by the Chief Health Officer and it is hoped that the findings will benefit others in the mining and broader community."

Updated at 3:57pm AEST on 6 May 2020.


30 tonnes of South Australian produce en route to Asia

30 tonnes of South Australian produce en route to Asia

Producers in South Australia once again have a direct connection to Asian markets after the Federal Government re-established a pivotal trade route.

More than 30 tonnes of SA produce, seafood, and meat are currently being transported to Asia under a new agreement with Singapore Airlines.

The trade flight, established through the Federal Government's International Freight Assistance Mechanism, will enable a mix of chilled seafood, tuna, lamb, chicken meat and eggs distributed across markets including Hong Kong, Thailand and China.

Federal Trade Minister Simon Birmingham says the agreement is great news for struggling exporters and producers in South Australia.

"We're backing South Australia's farmers and fishers through this agreement that will restore this critical freight route and give exporters a direct line back into key export markets across Asia," Birmingham said.

"Our exporters fight so hard to win contracts in export markets and we want to make sure they can continue to get their products to their customers on time.

"The more South Australian produce, meat, and seafood we can onto these flights and headed overseas, the more local jobs we can secure and the more export dollars we can bring back into South Australia."

The International Freight Assistance Mechanism is part of the Morrison Government's $1 billion Relief and Recovery Fund designed to assist communities and industry sectors that have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Premier of South Australia Steven Marshall says the new route will provide a significant boost for local exporters and those employed in the sector.

"Today marks a real turning point for South Australia's exporters who have been struggling with the impacts of coronavirus," says Marshall.

"It's fantastic that our local producers now have a clear pathway to supply their fresh premium produce to markets around the world.

"This is a great result for local jobs, and I'd like to extend my gratitude to the Morrison Government and Singapore Airlines for supporting South Australian businesses."

Related story: WA resumes air freight to Singapore

Updated at 3:10pm AEST on 6 May 2020.

CSL to use COVID-19 survivor blood donations in new treatment

CSL to use COVID-19 survivor blood donations in new treatment

Australian biotech giant CSL (ASX: CSL) has commenced development of an anti-SARS-CoV-2 plasma product that will use the antibodies of recovered COVID-19 patients to treat future cases of the coronavirus.

The product will be developed at CSL's manufacturing facility in Broadmeadows, Victoria, and has a working name of COVID-19 Immunoglobulin.

CSL's potential treatment will be developed using donations of plasma made in Australia by people who have recovered from COVID-19, chosen because of the high levels of antibodies (proteins that fight COVID-19) that exist in their plasma.

These antibodies will be pooled, purified and concentrated to make COVID-19 Immunoglobulin.

CSL estimates up to 800 plasma donations will be required to produce sufficient COVID-19 Immunoglobulin to treat 50 to 100 seriously ill people under the clinical trial.

Chief executive of the Australian Red Cross Shelly Park has encouraged those who have recovered from COVID-19 to volunteer their plasma for the project.

"Developing this new treatment requires plasma donations from people who have fully recovered from COVID-19, and whose plasma contains high levels of antibodies that can fight the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19," says Park.

"We are very proud to be part of this initiative which may ultimately help treat patients suffering from this terrible disease. I would encourage anyone who has recovered from a confirmed case of COVID-19 who thinks they may be eligible to donate to contact us."

CLS says its research into the potential treatment will be completed in two phases.

First, a small batch of COVID-19 Immunoglobulin will be produced and used to develop tests to detect the presence of the antibodies that fight the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.

The second phase will see CSL, Australia's largest ASX-listed company, produce a larger batch of the product to be used in clinical trials in Australian hospitals.

Once the clinical trial is complete CSL will seek to register COVID-19 Immunoglobulin with the Therapeutic Goods Association to ensure ongoing supply in Australia.

The need for a treatment like COVID-19 Immunoglobulin is becoming more important than ever as Australia begins to consider relaxing some of the more restrictive gathering rules and prepares for the economy to reopen.

When that happens the Government hopes to be ready for a wave of community transmission of COVID-19, meaning a treatment for the virus will be a necessary tool to fight back an expected spike in cases.

While a vaccine is our best bet for the majority of the population to avoid the numerous complications that can arise from contracting COVID-19, a proven treatment will go a long way in giving governments globally confidence to relax restrictions.

This coronavirus has proven in recent days how easily it can get out of control; the 49 confirmed cases from the Cedar Meats facility in Victoria are just the latest emblem for how contagious this virus can be.

It also comes as Australia's effective rate of reproduction rate (ERR) goes back above one to 1.04.

Australia's Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy has previously outlined how, in order to relax restrictions, the country must conistently keep the ERR below one, meaning every person with COVID-19 infects no more than one other person.

Globally a treatment for COVID-19 will be welcome, especially in countries that are struggling to contain the coronavirus. 

Overnight the UK surpassed Italy's death toll, with 29,427 deaths compared to Italy's 29,315. 

The United States also continues to struggle with COVID-19, with 1.2 million confirmed cases and 71,670 deaths (up 2,748 from yesterday).

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Uptick in store reopenings at Vicinity Centres

Uptick in store reopenings at Vicinity Centres

One of the country's leading shopping centre owner-operators has seen more than 500 stores reopen nationwide over the past week as visitor numbers improve.

Vicinity Centres (ASX: VCX) CEO Grant Kelley says the retail environment remains unstable and management expects challenging conditions to persist for at least the next 12 months.

"However, we have been buoyed by Australia's resilience and the speed with which the pandemic has been contained," he says.

"Our teams are highly focused on ongoing recovery, and providing customers and retailers with the opportunity to return and reconnect to our centres in a safe manner.

"Over the past week, we have seen early signs of a recovery in centre visitation, as restrictions have begun to ease. Retailers who closed their stores voluntarily in prior months are beginning to reopen for trade, with 530 stores reopening in the past seven days."

A Vicinity spokesperson says this means 50 per cent of the 7,000 stores within its direct portfolio of centres are open, or 65 per cent of the portfolio gross lettable area (GLA).

The news comes as several major retailers have announced reopening plans, including Myer (ASX: MYR), footwear brand retailer Accent Group (ASX: AX1) and Adairs (ASX: ADH).

To cope with the challenging situation Vicinity has reduced working hours for 70 per cent of its employees effective 21 April to 30 June, has cut directors' fees and executive committee salaries for the same period, and has either reduced or deferred variable and non-critical operating expenses.

"Vicinity entered this crisis in good shape. However, given the impact of government-mandated restrictions, and a heightened level of voluntary store closures, cost reductions across our business have become necessary," says Kelley.

"We have deferred all non-critical capital expenditure, including the proposed redevelopment of Chatswood Chase in Sydney, NSW."

He notes Vicinity is working with retailers to support them during this challenging period, with a particular focus on smaller retailers.

"Vicinity welcomed and supports the Federal Government's SME Commercial Code of Conduct and Leasing Principles During COVID-19 (the Code) and will continue to work with state governments as the Code takes legislative effect," he says.

"Our team adopted the principles of the Code immediately, in order to complement the measures already underway to support our retailers based on their individual circumstances."

He says good faith negotiations are taking place with retailers whose businesses have experienced a downturn as a result of COVID-19, and temporary arrangements will be accelerated to assist.

"Inevitably, our income at this time is being impacted negatively, however we agree with the Federal Government's sentiment that landlords and tenants have a shared responsibility to tackle the challenges brought about by these unprecedented times," says Kelley.

"We are working hard to balance the needs and responsibilities of all of our stakeholders, including our team members, our securityholders, our customers and the thousands of retailers in our centres, particularly our SME retailers.

"Our goal is to ensure the viability of our industry through to the other side of the pandemic. This relies upon both the continued sustainability of retailers, combined with the critical infrastructure of shopping centres, which collectively employ a significant number of Australians, and provide a broad range of essential and discretionary goods and services for our communities."

In a press conference this morning, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian emphasised she didn't want to see a situation where the economy opens only to shut again.

"We've seen in other countries around the world what they've done which hasn't worked, is have very severe restrictions, then have very open freedom and then they've had to go back to restrictions again - I don't want to see that happen in New South Wales," she said, noting the experiences of Singapore, Italy, Spain and parts of the United States.

"It's easier to shut things down. It's much harder to reopen and have normality because we need to make sure everything we do is COVID-safe, and I'm confident so long as every business follows the basic requirements of a COVID-safe environment, that retail will reopen.

"I just want to make sure all the hard work we've done doesn't evaporate because we took one hasty decision, just one hasty decision, which then allows all this hard work to go backwards."

Updated at 10:11am AEST on 6 May 2020.

PM places Trans-Tasman travel on level footing with long-haul interstate routes

PM places Trans-Tasman travel on level footing with long-haul interstate routes

Trans-Tasman travel "is something that will sit alongside when we're seeing Australians travel from Melbourne to Cairns," according to Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

This statement identifies both Morrison's and New Zealand PM's Jacinda Ardern's eagerness to reconnect our two economies.

Plus, it could mean that Australians looking to head overseas may be able to do so as soon as widespread interstate movement is reinstated.

Speaking this afternoon in Canberra following a meeting of the National Cabinet Morrison said travel between Australia and New Zealand is a particularly important element for both countries' economic rebound.

While travel between the two nations is "still some time away" Morrison says reopening borders is a part of the ride back to normality.

"Both Australia and New Zealand will start connecting with the rest of the world again and the most obvious place for that to start is between Australia and New Zealand," Morrison said.

Morrison stressed that reinstating these flights paths will be a huge relief to the tourism and airline industries, considering the two way travel between the two countries totals to around 1.4 million people a year both ways.

"Almost as many Kiwis come here as Australians go there, and particularly for states like Queensland there is a much greater share of that," Morrison said.

"As we're building up our economies again, and particularly for the Trans-Tasman travel and what that means for the airlines as well, that will be important to support jobs in those sectors so we're working cooperatively together.

"New Zealand has stronger biosecurity and border arrangements as do we, so it's the obvious place to start."

As for interstate travel the PM says we could be leaving our home state by July for a holiday.

"Hopefully by the end of term school holidays if they're able to go and have a holiday on the Gold Coast or in South Australia or wherever it happens to be out of one's home state well then let's hope that that's possible," Morrison said.

"That will be great for those places in terms of the tourism impact.

"That is all part of getting back to that COVID-safe economy, but what is really important is people need to still hold to those principles that are around the COVID-safe environment."

Updated 4:19pm AEST on 5 May 2020.


National Cabinet devises toolkit for reopening as 'compounding effect' bites

National Cabinet devises toolkit for reopening as 'compounding effect' bites

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has today highlighted the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on jobs in some sectors, as the National Cabinet rapidly prepares a COVID-19 toolkit that could guide safe business reopenings.

The PM pointed to the fact that out of the 11 per cent drop in economic activity, the hospitality sector (accommodation and food services) only accounted for 1.7 per cent.

But of the one million jobs lost since the crisis began, 441,000 have been in hospitality, which goes to show GDP cannot alone demonstrate the wide-reaching impacts of the current downturn.

"That's [hospitality] the sector most affected by all of this. When you look at retail services you're at just 1 per cent - that's the retail and wholesale trade - but 146,000 jobs," he said.

Other sectors that have borne the brunt on the job loss front include construction at close to 120,000 jobs lost, and arts and recreation services with 108,000 newly unemployed.

The Prime Minister added it's not just the first-round effects that we need to consider, but the compound effects on other industries.

"We have in the agricultural sector at the moment welcome news in some places - the drought's starting to break and rain's getting to areas it hasn't been, but when restaurants and cafés are closed, they're not buying from those producers like they were before," he said.

"There is the compounding of the effect, so keeping those types of places closed, and there are obviously good reasons for having them is the food producer, it is the supply chain that actually goes into those sectors that we need to take that into account.

"We are not seeking to delay any time at all in terms of trying to get things moving again, but we must be able to move them forward safely."

While reopening decisions will ultimately made by states and territories, the National Cabinet has been at full tilt on the COVID-19 planning toolkit so that businesses are ready when the time comes for restrictions to be relaxed.

"I look forward to outlining a framework later this week once we have our next meeting," the PM said.

Attorney-General and Minister for Industrial Relations Christian Porter noted the COVIDSafe app - expected to surpass five million downloads today - is an important part of this health and safety approach, but businesses will also need the right protocols in place.

"As we went into the constraining phase in April with COVID-19, there were almost a million visits to the Safe Work Australia website, which was massively an increase on the number of visits that you usually get," Porter said.

"What was clear is that as the constraints were necessarily placed as a health response on the Australian economy, businesses had a great hunger for information in what was a very dynamic and fluid environment so that they could actually be doing the right thing."

In response to this need, parts of the Safe Work Australia website have been rebuilt so that employers and employees in very specific industries can ascertain what's needed at a granular level.

"What we've done is create 1300 different web pages which will apply to 23 different industry sectors," Porter said.

"Using the content filter and tailored drop down menus, they can navigate fairly simply to get precise answers to the questions that will apply to their particular business, whether they are a manufacturer, an abattoir or a café, whether they want to know how cleaning should work, what are the standards that are appropriate, what products should be used, so down to a very granular level of detail.

"That is something that we think will be a very important tool for all businesses large and small in Australia as they reanimate."

National COVID-19 Commission chair Neville Power said meetings have taken place with hundreds of individual businesses and over 100 peak bodies, associations and unions about getting businesses COVID-safe. 

He highlighted four key elements of what the toolkit aims to achieve:

  1. Reconfiguring worksites to make them safe;
  2. How to respond if there is an incident in workplace, for example how people communicate, how tracking and tracing is conducted and how people are supported;
  3. How a work site can be returned to being as safe as possible; and
  4. The communication process with employees to make sure everyone understands what's required, what's going to happen, and how their families will be supported.

"Some businesses are doing quite well and ready and continuing to operate with reconfiguring workplaces, some businesses are in the preparation stage, and some need a little more help to get there and that's where we're working at the moment," Power said.

"It'd be fair to say that the level of ingenuity and innovation that we've seen has been fantastic. Businesses are looking at this as just another business problem, and saying, how do we get as many people back to work as we possibly can, while having those protections in place to reduce the transmission of the virus.

"A key part of that has been the IR task force which has been set up with the attorney general's office and being led by Greg Combet.

"I think we're all looking forward to Having a more relaxed set of restrictions, but we need to make sure that we're continuing to do the right thing."

Updated at 4:36pm AEST on 5 May 2020.

Berejiklian encourages NSW retailers to reopen with precaution

Berejiklian encourages NSW retailers to reopen with precaution

Premier Gladys Berejiklian has encouraged retailers in New South Wales to "have a go" at reopening within COVID-19 gathering and health guidelines where possible.

The tentative green light to retailers comes as the state has noticed increased activity in NSW with the population begining to feel comfortable to get out and about yet again.

While Berejiklian says it is okay for retailers to begin reopening her blessing comes with the caveat that social distancing and good hygiene practices are observed.

"I say to any business, if there's a restriction in place and you feel you can operate around that please have a go," Berejiklian said.

"We do want to see more business activity but we also want it to be safe and I'm confident that retail activity will increase substantially during the month of May."

"But I also want to make clear that I don't want to go through the process of, if we can avoid it, opening and shutting things down because that doesn't give anybody certainty and if you're a business operator once you reopen you want to stay open."

The Premier's statement comes as New South Wales has reported three new confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the state's total to 3,035.

Updated at 11:04am AEST on 5 May 2020.

Victorian businesses to receive $491m in tax relief

Victorian businesses to receive $491m in tax relief

The Victorian Government is adding to its $1.7 billion stimulus package with a further $491 million tax relief program, including exemptions from payroll tax and the WorkCover levy on JobKeeper payments to employees who aren't working.

State Treasurer Tim Pallas announced this morning that his government would pick up the bill for foregone premiums under WorkCover, to the tune of around $200, while businesses would be saved around $225 million in payroll tax.

The remaining $66 million of today's announced funding will come through freezing a host of fees and fines for businesses and households.

"That'll include things like driver's licenses and vehicle registration fees," Pallas said.

"We're also going to freeze the Fire Services Property Levy at the revenue levels of 1920."

The Treasurer noted the freeze would take effect from July, so a progressive improvement should start to be seen.

"I've said to you previously, I think that this recovery will more look like a tick than a 'V'. It's been quite dramatic - we've seen our hospitality sector seeing revenue fall to the tune of about 60 per cent, we've seen retail expenditure drop by about 17 per cent, and we expect that the recovery will be a longer-run thing than the movement to the bottom of the economic cycle," he said.

"So there will be value for the community as economic recovery picks up, and that's why we've taken the view that a freeze would probably be the fairest way of managing this."

He added around 80,000 Victorian businesses have so far applied for the JobKeeper program.

There have been 17 new cases of COVID-19 in Victoria since yesterday, 11 of which are linked to the Cedar Meats processing facility cluster. This takes the state total to 1,423, while the number of people in hospital has gone down by one to 11.

Yesterday the state's Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced Cedar Meats had agreed to close its facility for 14 days as a precaution while all staff have been tested or are in the process of being tested.

At the time of that announcement there had been 19 new cases from the cluster over the previous 24 hours, taking the total to 34.

Victoria has also now done almost 152,000 tests.

"There have been 804 overseas acquired cases, 421 locally transmitted cases with known contacts, and 143 locally acquired cases with unknown contact; 42 of these are under investigation," Pallas said.

Victoria's death toll from the virus remains at 18.

Updated at 10:12am AEST on 5 May 2020.

Qantas claims it could endure current conditions until December 2021

Qantas claims it could endure current conditions until December 2021

Australia's leading airline Qantas (ASX: QAN) has extended flight cancellations and offered three more Boeing 787-9 aircraft as collateral to build up enough funding for 19 months of turbulence.

With dramatically reduced capacity and the costs of employee stand downs, the company expects to reach a net cash burn rate of $40 million per week by the end of next month.

But the company now has an extra $550 million in funding available, in addition to the $1.05 billion raised in March against seven of the same aircraft.

With short-term liquidity of $3.5 billion and $2.7 billion in unencumbered aircraft assets which could be used to raise more funds, the company claims it has enough liquidity to respond to a range of recovery scenarios, including one where the current trading conditions persist until at least December 2021.

Due to the situation with COVID-19, domestic and Trans-Tasman flight cancellations have been extended by a month to the end of June while international flight cancellations will be extended through to the end of July. 

The difference between the two comes from expectations some domestic travel may start to return before the end of July, although Qantas admits initial demand levels are hard to predict.

Domestic passenger flights are currently running at five per cent of pre-crisis levels, and rates are one per cent of the normal for international flights. The reduction is not as pronounced in charters for the resources sector, which are at 75 per cent of pre-coronavirus levels.

Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce says the airline's ability to withstand this crisis and its aftermath is only possible because it is tapping into a balance sheet that has taken years to build.

"Our cash balance shows that we're in a very strong position, which under the circumstances we absolutely have to be. We don't know how long domestic and international travel restrictions will last or what demand will look like as they're gradually lifted," he says.

"Australia has done an amazing job of flattening the curve and we're optimistic that domestic travel will start returning earlier than first thought, but we clearly won't be back to pre-coronavirus levels anytime soon.

"With the possible exception of New Zealand, international travel demand could take years to return to what it was."

As demand recovery is expected to be gradual and it is still unknown how long it will take to get back to normal, a review will be needed for Qantas' fleet, network and capital expenditure.

"But our commitment to serve communities across Australia will not change," he says.

"The Government's support of the aviation industry by underwriting some essential flying, and the support to the broader economy through JobKeeper, have been greatly appreciated. Public health initiatives like the COVIDSafe app are one of the ways we'll be able to start travelling sooner, so we strongly encourage all Australians to download it.

"The Qantas Group has literally thousands of suppliers and we've put the smaller ones at the front of the queue. We're grateful to many of our major suppliers, including almost all the capital city airports, who have given us a lot of flexibility."

Updated at 9:32am AEST on 5 May 2020.

Slater & Gordon takes aim at airlines over disadvantageous travel voucher schemes

Slater & Gordon takes aim at airlines over disadvantageous travel voucher schemes

A class action is on the table for customers who have been strong-armed into accepting travel vouchers instead of refunds for travel plans disrupted by COVID-19.

According to class action law firm Slater & Gordon there are thousands of Australians that have been short-changed by major airlines, travel agents and tour companies that implemented a voucher scheme.

According to Slater & Gordon group leader Andrew Paull affected customers may be able to participate in a class action against travel companies that put in place travel voucher schemes that the law firm believes are anti-consumer.

Paull says the firm has spoken with holidaymakers who have been left thousands of dollars out of pocket and holding vouchers that they may never be able to use.

Other respondents said that they did manage get back a portion of their fares, only to be hit with hefty cancellation fees.

"We understand that everyone is doing it tough at present, including the major airlines and travel companies, but that doesn't give them an excuse to take advantage of their customers," says Paull.

"Nor is it acceptable for Qantas shareholders to treat the money it owes to ordinary Australians like its own.

"We believe cash refunds should be returned to customers, who almost certainly need that money right now, rather than in bank accounts gathering interest for airline shareholders. We call on businesses like Qantas and Jetstar to do the right thing and honour their obligations to their customers. If they won't do so, then it's only reasonable for those customers to look at recovering their money through a class action."

Slater & Gordon's proposed class action will allege that issuing travel vouchers instead of cash refunds might be a breach of the airlines' conditions.

Further, Slater & Gordon says airlines have been relying on blanked 'no refund' clauses despite having been warned by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) that the clauses will not always be binding.

The firm also says airlines may have misled customers by convincing customers to exchange tickets for travel vouchers.

"The airlines have presented this as an act of generosity, however many customers will have had greater rights if they had held on their ticket, than if they exchanged it for a restricted travel voucher," says Slater & Gordon.

The proposal from Slater & Gordon comes after travel agent group Flight Centre announced it would be refunding customers that were slogged with expensive cancellation fees.

The travel operator will refund thousands of customers who, from 13 March, were charged $300 per person to get a refund for a cancelled international flight or $50 for a domestic flight.

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Flight Centre sales drop by 95 per cent in April

Flight Centre sales drop by 95 per cent in April

Sales at travel agency group Flight Centre (ASX: FLT) dropped to just five to 10 per cent of normal levels during April due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

The small amount of sales the company is processing are coming from China according to managing director Graham Turner.

"There has been some ongoing activity in most countries and we are seeing a slight uptick in bookings in countries like China as travel and trading restrictions ease," says Turner.

"The timeframe for this recovery remains unclear, but we anticipate an increase in activity in countries like Australia as soon as interstate borders reopen, which we expect will happen in the coming months.

"Given that domestic travel represents roughly half of the leisure tickets that we normally issue in Australia and the overwhelming majority of our corporate volume, we are well placed to play a positive role in the recovery and are keen to work closely with local tourism bodies, airlines and other suppliers in the coming months."

The announcement comes as the group announces its cost reduction plan will be cheaper than expected.

Flight Centre says it is making significant progress in reducing its global cost base towards a $65 million per month target by the end of July 2020 and it now expects the plan can be executed with less than the $210 million in one-off costs that it originally anticipated.

The company anticipates a net positive cash impact from developments since April 6 which include the likely sale of its Melbourne head office property and government support initiatives in Australia and other countries.

Over the weekend Flight Centre announced it had changed its refund and cancellation policy for travel cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The travel operator will refund thousands of customers who, from 13 March, were charged $300 per person to get a refund for a cancelled international flight or $50 for a domestic flight.

This policy will also apply to cancellations fees charged by Aunt Betty, Travel Associates, Student Universe, Universal Traveller and Jetescape Travel (trading as Byojet Travel), which are part of the Flight Centre group.

Chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Rod Sims has welcomed Flight Centre's change of heart.

"This is a very welcome move made by Flight Centre for thousands of customers impacted by COVID-19 travel cancellations," Sims said.

"We are continuing to discuss issues in relation to refunds and cancellations with the travel sector, and encourage travel providers to treat consumers fairly in these exceptional circumstances."

"While we know some consumers are very concerned about getting a refund or credit for their cancelled travel plans, we do ask people to be mindful of the significant impact that this pandemic has had on the travel industry."

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Three things to consider before accessing your super

Three things to consider before accessing your super

There have so far been more than 950,000 applications from people who want to access their superannuation due to COVID-19 pandemic hardship.

Australians can access up to $10,000 of their superannuation this financial year under the Federal Government's coronavirus assistance scheme.

But there are drawbacks. Associate Professor Paul Lajbcygier from Monash Business School's Department of Banking and Finance says people should consider three key things:

1. Are you experiencing financial hardship?

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) will only allow early access for those struggling to pay rent, meet mortgage repayments or buy food. You cannot withdraw the funds to set up your own self-managed super fund, buy a house or other investments.

"The government has put together a stimulus package that covers around six million workers with a fortnightly payment of $1,500. If people are experiencing hardship it is better to consider applying for this first before thinking of touching your superannuation," Associate Professor Lajbcygier says.

2. If you're close to retirement, it's harder to build it back

Australians on average retire with $200,000. According to the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, a 40-year-old male who loses his job now will have roughly $100,000 in superannuation.

"Withdrawing $20,000 represents a loss of 20 per cent. And if you add to that the downturn in equity markets of around 20 per cent at the moment, this man would need to make back 40 per cent of his superannuation," Associate Professor Lajbcygier says.

The situation is worse for women as they tend to retire with less superannuation as a result of early gender pay gaps, and for people nearing retirement.

"The problem arises if you are going to cash in and convert your equities into cash. Crystallising your losses now would be a big mistake."

3. Beware of scammers attempting to grab your cash

The ATO has warned about scammers trying to gain personal identifying information to steal funds, or charging for services that are free like gaining early access to your superannuation.

Their advice? Contact the ATO directly to confirm if any interaction is genuine.

If you receive a phone call, text message or email offering to help you release your super early, do not:

  • provide your personal information
  • click on any links.

Another element to consider is the insurance cover of your super fund. If your account is fully withdrawn or has a balance below $6,000, the insurance may not be available.

"Withdrawing your superannuation may affect your income protection insurance and your Life-Total Permanent Disability insurance cover," Associate Professor Lajbcygier says.

Paul Lajbcygier holds a joint appointment as Associate Professor in the Department of Banking and Finance and the Department of Econometrics and Business Statistics. His work focuses on computational finance, investments, asset pricing and market microstructure. 

This article was published in partnership with Monash Business School

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