- Thousands of Aussies to regain jobs as economy reawakens
- Trump backs 15-minute virus test despite false negatives
- 113-year-old survives coronavirus
- Call for tax, industry reform boot
Australians are being warned to take their new-found freedoms carefully to prevent a second wave of the pandemic as states and territories ease restrictions in the first stage of reawakening the economy.
Australians will today be able to sit in pubs, cafes and restaurants for the first time in weeks after isolation and social distancing measures kept the lid on infections and COVID-19 deaths.
However, Australian Medical Association president Tony Bartone said people need to remain vigilant as the virus was still present in the community and could flare up as hot spots or small outbreaks.
“If we do the wrong things, we risk undoing all the gains that we’ve made,” he said.
“So, the message is, yes, appreciate all the efforts, appreciate the opportunity to release some of those measures, but let’s not have a party, let’s not go to town.”
Mr Bartone said people maintaining social distancing, coughing etiquette, regular handwashing and staying away from others, if they are not well, was still on the cards for Australians.
“Those messages are really the backbone as we progressively lift those restrictions,” he said.
THOUSANDS OF AUSSIES TO REGAIN JOBS AS ECONOMY REAWAKENS
Nearly 100,000 Australians working in the food services and accommodation industry are set to regain employment in the next few weeks as restrictions ease and states reopen their economies.
Treasury analysis obtained by The Weekend Australian estimates 98,200 jobs will be restored in food services and accommodation during the first phase of national cabinet’s three-step coronavirus recovery plan.
Treasury also predicts 337,900 waiters, bar staff, chefs, sales assistants and other Australians employed across the industry – more than a third of its workforce – will be back in work by July.
The Weekend Australian reported afurther 25,100 transport, postal and warehousing industry workers, 15,000 construction workers and 19,700 people in the professional, scientific and technical services sector – including accountants, solicitors, vets and graphic designers – are expected to be working again by next month.
Pubs, restaurants and cafes reopening for 10 to 20 diners at a time this weekend in NSW, Queensland, the ACT and the Northern Territory is just a start.
It comes one week after the Morrison Government announced the three-step process.
The Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed there could be opportunities for domestic tourism operators worth about $20bn while international borders are closed and Australians holiday at home.
The Treasury estimates come after the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported on Thursday that about 600,000 jobs were lost and hours worked fell 9.2 per cent in April as social distancing was introduced across the nation to flatten the coronavirus curve.
There are now about 1.6 million Australians on JobSeeker payments and about six million are being covered by JobKeeper.
It also comes as Australia reported its highest number of new coronavirus cases in almost a month – two in Queensland, eight in New South Wales and 20 in Victoria
TRUMP BACKS 15-MINUTE VIRUS TEST DESPITE FALSE NEGATIVES
US President Donald Trump has expressed no concerns about a rapid coronavirus test the White House has been relying on to ensure his safety, despite new data suggesting the it may return an inordinate share of false negatives.
Mr Trump overnight expressed his confidence in the test from Abbott Laboratories after a preliminary study by New York University researchers reported problems with it.
Mr Trump and his deputies have been using the 15-minute test for weeks now, stating it is a “game changer”, to try to keep the White House complex safe.
The Food and Drug Administration announced late Thursday it was investigating preliminary data suggesting the Abbott test can miss a large number of COVID-19 cases, falsely clearing infected patients.
“Abbott is a great test; it’s a very quick test,” Mr Trump said at a Rose Garden event to highlight his administration’s efforts to develop a vaccine for the virus.
“And it can always be very rapidly double checked.”
The rapid swab is used daily at the White House to test Mr Trump, key members of his staff as well as any visitor to the White House complex who comes in close proximity to the president or Vice President Mike Pence.
The tests were also used to justify most White House staffers’ decisions not to wear masks until they were ordered to do so earlier this week.
Mr Trump says the US government was also was working with other countries to quickly develop a vaccine to prevent infection by the coronavirus while also preparing for its distribution once one is ready.
At an event in the White House Rose Garden, Mr Trump expressed hope a vaccine would be in place before the end of the year, and said his administration would mobilise its forces to get a vaccine distributed.
Trump said the government would invest in all the top coronavirus vaccine candidates, and said a list had been narrowed to 14 promising potential vaccines with a plan to narrow further.
Experts have warned that it would likely take 12 to 18 months or more to get a vaccine ready for the public.
113-YEAR-OLD WOMAN SURVIVES CORONAVIRUS
A 113-year-old Spanish woman says she “feels good” after having survived the coronavirus infection.
Maria Branyas, known as the “Super Catalan Grandmother”, avoided developing severe COVID-19 symptoms and had her latest test come back negative.
Ms Branyas was born in San Francisco on March 4, 1907, after her family emigrated to Mexico and then the US.
She is now based in Spain’s northeastern Catalonia region where she lives in the town of Olot.
A 113-year-old woman in Spain has successfully beaten the coronavirus infection to become the oldest human in the world to have survived the pandemic. Maria Branyas had previously survived both the World Wars, Spanish Civil War and Spanish flu.
We will all beat this virus!💪🏻 pic.twitter.com/HCRBGk8fLw
— E B I T U™ (@EbituPromise) May 12, 2020
“As far as my health, I feel good, with the little issues everyone has as we get older, but I feel fine,” Ms Branyas told EFE this week from her nursing home where several residents have fallen ill and died from the new virus.
Local media say at least 17 residents of her nursing home are suspected to have died after developing symptoms associated with COVID-19.
“The oldest person living in Spain, has now become the oldest reported survivor of the coronavirus.
Maria Branyas, a mother-of-three, survived COVID-19 whilst in the Santa Maria del Tura care home where she lives in the city of Olot, eastern Spain.” 🙏https://t.co/ATNMNzNUDp pic.twitter.com/z59py1IdK5
— The Female Lead (@the_female_lead) May 14, 2020
Despite her poor hearing and sight, Branyas said she was aware of the pandemic that has claimed over 27,000 lives in Spain.
“It is a tragedy,” she said.
“Since only a few people seem to know where it came from, how it got here and why.”
CALLS FOR RAX, INDUSTRY REFORM REBOOT
A former Treasury secretary has called for tax and industrial reforms to reboot the economy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Australian reports John Fraser has applauded the Morrison government’s handling of the crisis, including its call for an inquiry into its origins.
As the debate about what governments can do to resuscitate growth heightens, Mr Fraser recommended making it “easier for business to hire and fire”, and backed former treasurer Peter Costello’s call to expedite legislated tax cuts.
Mr Fraser was Treasury secretary for 3½ years during the Abbott and Turnbull governments.
“It is clearly the case that businesses will be more willing to hire people if they can get rid of them if it doesn’t work out,” he said.
“And I’m delighted that the Prime Minister has flagged he doesn’t want to go down the path of increased spending, rather focusing on reducing taxes.”
Mr Fraser’s comments came in a week when the Fair Work Commission canvassed whether a rise in the minimum wage should be deferred for businesses devastated by COVID-19 and forced on the JobKeeper program.
DOGS, CATS INFECTED WITH VIRUS IN NETHERLANDS
Authorities have confirmed a dog and three cats in the Netherlands have been infected with the new coronavirus, the first confirmed cases involving house pets in the country.
The dog was believed to have been infected by its owner, Agriculture Minister Carola Schouten said.
“It’s important that owners of house pets follow this advice: patients with COVID-19 should as a precaution avoid contact with their animals,” Schouten said in a letter to parliament.
“Sick animals belonging to people with COVID-19 should be kept inside as much as possible.”
Last month a number of minks on a farm in the south of the Netherlands were found to have been infected with the coronavirus.
Schouten said 11 cats which lived near the farm were tested and three found to have developed antibodies to the virus, showing they had had it. None tested positive for a live infection.
The dog was described as an 8-year-old American bulldog whose owner had COVID-19. The dog was put down on April 30 due to severe breathing problems, and a blood sample showed that it had developed antibodies to the virus.
In February a dog in Hong Kong whose owner had the coronavirus tested “weakly positive” for the virus.
DESPERATE US EYES $3 TRILLION VIRUS RELIEF BILL
United States Democrats pushed Congress’ biggest coronavirus relief bill yet toward expected House passage on Friday local time, a $3 trillion ($A4.7 trillion) behemoth they said a beleaguered country badly needs but that Republicans called a bloated election-year wish list.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said the legislation is Democrats’ opening offer in what is expected to blossom into negotiations with the White House and congressional leaders of both parties.
In a scene that’s become uncomfortably familiar since the virus took hold, the sparsely populated House chamber was dotted with members and aides wearing protective masks, though some Republicans were not.
Ms Pelosi edged away from anyone who stepped near her.
The bill would flush almost $1 trillion to state and local governments and provide more money for virus testing and to pay frontline emergency workers. It would renew $1,200 ($A1872) cash payments for individuals and extend the added $600 ($A936) weekly unemployment benefits being paid during the pandemic.
Ms Pelosi has loaded the bill with a slew of Democratic priorities, including funding to cover rent payments and utility bills, “hazard pay” for essential workers, and grants to thousands of municipal governments grappling with sagging revenues and provisions helping voters cast ballots by mail and increasing food aid to low-income people.
Few Republicans were expected to vote for the bill.
The legislation comes as the country continues to struggle with the health and economic crisis caused by the highly contagious virus, which has claimed more than 85,000 lives in the US and caused at least 36 million people to lose their jobs.
NEW YORK LOCKDOWN EXTENDED
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced that the state’s stay-at-home order, which had been set to expire Friday, is being extended until June 13.
“Both travel-related cases and community contact transmission of COVID-19 have been documented in New York State and are expected to continue,” the governor’s executive order says in continuing the “New York State on PAUSE” policy, which was put in place in March.
“All enforcement mechanisms by state or local governments shall continue to be in full force and effect until June 13, 2020, unless later extended or amended by a future Executive Order,” he added in the order signed on Thursday.
With metrics trending in the right direction, Cuomo announced this week that Central New York had become the fifth of the state’s 10 economic regions to qualify for the first phase of reopening once the statewide Pause order was set to expire at midnight Friday.
Four other regions – the North Country, the Southern Tier, the Mohawk Valley and the Finger Lakes – had already qualified by meeting all seven state criteria on hospital admissions, available beds, testing and tracing.
PRESTIGIOUS MEDICAL JOURNAL BLASTS TRUMP
One of the world’s oldest and most respected medical journals has published an editorial in which it largely blames the Trump administration for the devastating effects of the pandemic across the US, and calls on the public to vote in a new leader in the upcoming election.
The paper cites the hobbled Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), saying “funding to the CDC for a long time has been subject to conservative politics that have increasingly eroded the agency’s ability to mount effective, evidence-based public health responses.”
“The Administration is obsessed with magic bullets – vaccines, new medicines, or a hope that the virus will simply disappear. But only a steadfast reliance on basic public health principles, like test, trace, and isolate, will see the emergency brought to an end, and this requires an effective national public health agency. The CDC needs a director who can provide leadership without the threat of being silenced and who has the technical capacity to lead today’s complicated effort,” the editorial says.
“A strong CDC is needed to respond to public health threats, both domestic and international, and to help prevent the next inevitable pandemic,” the editorial continues.
“Americans must put a president in the White House come January, 2021, who will understand that public health should not be guided by partisan politics.”
EUROPE REOPENS BORDERS AS VIRUS SLOWS
Germany and several other European countries where the coronavirus spread has slowed were moving ahead Friday with relaxing border restrictions.
Slovenia, which has been gradually easing strict lockdown measures, declared that the spread of the virus is now under control and that European Union residents could now enter from Austria, Italy and Hungary.
Germany, meantime, was preparing to open its border entirely with Luxembourg at midnight, and increase the number of crossings open from France, Switzerland and Austria.
In northern Europe, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania removed travel restrictions between the Baltic nations, which Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas called “another step toward normal life.”
Austria and Switzerland were also moving ahead with easing some border restrictions
Italy is set to allow free travel across the country from June 3, according to a draft decree seen by Reuters.
The draft decree, which could still be modified before it is approved, also said all travel within separate Italian regions would be allowed from May 18.
And Bali could reopen to tourists in October, thanks to its success in controlling the coronavirus outbreak, the government says.
As of Friday, Bali had reported 343 coronavirus cases and four deaths, a much lower fatality rate compared with 16,496 cases and 1076 deaths in Indonesia.
If the infection curve continued to improve, the tourism ministry is looking to revitalise destinations and do promotional work for some parts of the country, including Bali, between June and October, Ni Wayan Giri Adnyani, secretary of the ministry, said on Friday.
Partial reopening of those areas, which also include the city of Yogyakarta and Riau islands province, may begin in October, she said.
VIRUS PUSHES GERMANY INTO RECESSION
The coronavirus pandemic has tipped Germany into a recession, official data showed Friday, with Europe’s top economy suffering its steepest quarterly contraction in more than a decade as lockdown measures began to bite.
The German economy shrank by 2.2 per cent in the first quarter of 2020, federal statistics agency Destatis said, calling the quarter-on-quarter decline “the worst since the global financial crisis” in 2009.
The agency also revised its gross domestic product (GDP) figure for the final quarter of 2019 from zero growth to a contraction of 0.1 per cent. That means Germany has now experienced two consecutive quarters of decline, meeting the technical definition of a recession.
The worst is yet to come however, with economists warning that the full impact from the coronavirus restrictions will be felt more in the second quarter.
Economy Minister Peter Altmaier last month warned that Germany was headed for “the worst recession” in its post-war history as the pandemic brought huge swathes of the economy to a standstill.
TOKYO OLYMPICS MAY NOT BE ‘CONVENTIONAL’
Almost two months after the Tokyo Olympics were postponed, organising committee CEO Toshiro Muto said Friday he still could not give an estimate of how much the one-year delay will cost.
Figures in the Japanese media have ranged between $A3.1 billion and $9.3 billion, with most mounting expenses likely to be covered by government entities.
Although he was vague about the costs and who will pay, Muto was very clear about one thing in the online news conference.
“The actual games we will have one year from now may not be the same conventional Olympic and Paralympic Games that we have come to know,” he said, speaking in Japanese and translated through in interpreter.
Muto floated ideas about cuts everywhere, though the only specific target he mentioned was the torch relay.
“We are looking into every possible area,” he said. “It’s time for all of us to review what are the essential things for the games. What are the must-have items? … I think we might come up with a new Olympic and Paralympic Games, something that is unique to Tokyo.”
Tokyo’s future still has more questions than answers.
How will 11,000 Olympic athletes and 4400 Paralympians be housed in the Athletes Village? Will the tight quarters be safe? How will they travel to Tokyo? How will they train and qualify? And what about thousands more staff and games officials?
Will there be fans, or will it be a television-only show? What about millions of tickets already sold? Will there be refunds? Will a vaccine be available? Will young, healthy athletes be a priority for a vaccine?
Muto spoke a day after the Switzerland-based International Olympic Committee acknowledged it would have added costs of $A1.2 billion because of the postponement.
The IOC said $A233 million would be made available for loans to national Olympic committees and sports federations, some of which have few sources of revenue outside the games.
But the IOC gave no details of where the other $A1 billion would go.
Muto said he didn’t know, either. Or at least he wasn’t saying. “As to the breakdown of how this money will be used, the IOC has said it’s too early to tell,” Muto said.
“So we at the organising committee have no idea of all the details about how this money will be spent.” Soaring Olympic costs are sure to be a touchy subject as Japan, like most countries, battles a deep recession brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
Japanese organisers and government bodies are obligated by a Host City Contract signed in 2013 to pick up most of the Olympic costs.
When they were awarded the games seven years ago, Tokyo officials said the Olympics would cost just over $A10.9 billion.
Tokyo now says it is spending $A19.6 billion to organise the games, but a government audit report last year said it was twice that much. All but $A8.7 billion is public money.
Muto said organisers are still trying to guarantee that 43 venues will be available next year, hoping to keep the same event schedule when the Olympics open on July 23, 2021.
“It’s going to take a bit of time,” Muto said, “and that cannot be helped.”
TASMANIAN MAN LATEST TO TEST POSITIVE
It comes as a man in his 70s from northern Tasmania became Australia’s latest coronavirus case – and the first new case in Tasmania in a week.
The latest virus case comes as North West Regional Hospital and its private counterpart in Burnie reopened on Friday, following an outbreak in the region in April.
Tasmanians are set to enjoy an easing of coronavirus restrictions from Monday, with restaurants and cafes allowed to have up to 10 people seated. Other gatherings of up to 10 people are also permitted, including for real estate purposes, small religious gatherings and weddings.
The state’s strict border controls remain, but Tasmanians wishing to return can quarantine at home.
NSW diners welcomed a taste of normality as they returned to their favourite restaurants and bars on Friday, but Premier Gladys Berejiklian warned COVID-19 case numbers will inevitably rise in the state in the coming weeks as restrictions are eased.
Outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people are permitted from Friday and up to five people, including children, can visit another NSW household. Religious gatherings and places of worship can welcome up to 10 people, while restaurants, cafes, pubs and clubs can have up to 10 patrons so long as they maintain social distancing.
“I won’t be standing here in the next few weeks talking about eight, nine or 10 (cases) – I don’t know what I’ll be saying, but it certainly won’t be a handful,” the premier told reporters.
“That’s OK, so long as we ensure the vulnerable are protected, so long as we ensure people can get the healthcare they need.”
The Northern Territory became the first jurisdiction to ease lockdown laws since the deadly global pandemic, with the reopening on Friday of affected businesses such as restaurants, cafes, pubs, gyms and more and places of worship. Indoor activities have a two-hour time limit until further easing on June 5.
It came as Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned parents keeping free child care beyond the coronavirus pandemic is not sustainable.
The measure is due to end on June 28, but the government could extend it for a further three months if needed.
Early Childhood Australia has suggested the government should guarantee two days a week of free care to all children under school age on a permanent basis. Asked about that plan, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government’s intention had always been to return to the mixed subsidy and parental payment arrangements that were in place before the pandemic.
“Suspending the normal payment arrangements and subsidy arrangements … that is not a sustainable model for how the childcare sector should work, and nor was it intended to be,” he told reporters.
No final decision has been made whether to extend the emergency arrangements until September.
$48M MENTAL HEALTH BOOST, MOVES TO TACKLE JOBLESS RATE CURVE
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says state and federal governments need to flatten a new curve, with Australians “hurting” as the jobless rate climbs.
Mr Morrison said the nation was making good progress in flattening the COVID-19 curve with transmission rates having dropped significantly, but added he was determined to get people back into jobs.
“Australians are hurting right here and right now, as we were reminded so terribly yesterday, with almost 600,000 people having lost jobs,” Mr Morrison said on Friday following a National Cabinet meeting.
“It was an opportunity, an important one, to be briefed fully on yesterday’s unemployment figures and how it was impacting across the country. It was also an opportunity for premiers and chief ministers and I to reaffirm our commitment to see how we can work together and how we will work together, to get those Australians back into jobs.”
“That is the curve we are now working on together.”
State and federal leaders also agreed to a national mental health and wellbeing pandemic response plan, backed by extra money,
The $48.1 million boost agreed to by the national cabinet will support the implementation of the National Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Response Plan designed by Christine Morgan, the Prime Minister’s suicide prevention adviser.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said it the additional investment would cover three main areas.
“First is about support for research and data into what’s happening in real time,” Mr Hunt said.
“Secondly, there’s $29.5 million for investment in outreach to vulnerable communities. In particular, the elderly, people from non-English-speaking backgrounds, indigenous Australians, and those who have pre-existing mental health conditions.
“And then finally there’s $11.3 million which is going to communication and outreach. $10.4 million of that will be part of a national campaign to say to Australians, ‘It’s OK not to be OK’.”
Extra telehealth capability rolled out in recent times had already seen Australians returning to their mental health providers in pre-pandemic numbers, the Prime Minister said.
Ms Morgan explained Australians were experiencing the pandemic differently because of their circumstances and experiences.
“There are particular vulnerable groups and we need to meet the needs of those particular vulnerable groups,” she said.
“This plan reflects that.”
She said “risky behaviour” including alcohol abuse, gambling and domestic violence were key area of concerns.
While Ms Morgan said it was good to see suicide rates across the country had not increased during the pandemic, it was vital support was increasing and everyone remained vigilant.
“It hasn’t gotten worse,” she said.
“It doesn’t mean it couldn’t get worse.”
Mr Morrison also said it was important banks made loans available quickly to businesses as they look at reopening and rebuilding.
About $220 billion in loan deferrals have already been approved since the start of the pandemic.
Around two thirds of that was in home loan deferrals and the rest was shared across small and medium sized enterprises.
Domestic tourism presented a large opportunity for the domestic economy as “borders fall” across the country.
“That’s up for grabs for Australian domestic tourism operators,” Mr Morrison said.
“That will be targeted.”
Tourism minister Simon Birmingham has been engaged to work on strategy with Tourism Australia to encourage domestic tourism.