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PM: Aussies should welcome JobKeeper error


  • COVIDSafe app downloads hit six million
  • Australian death toll rises to 102
  • Coronavirus cases top 5 million; second wave ‘inevitable’
  • Scientists predict end date for virus

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the nation should welcome the savings made apparent by the $60 billion JobKeeper reporting error, which will ultimately save them money.

“There are many things you don’t know in the middle of a crisis and when you’re designing programs and schemes the size of JobKeeper, there were many unknowns and Treasury did the best they could to estimate what the cost would be,” Mr Morrison told reporters on Sunday.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media during a visit to Robyn Rowe Chocolates with the Liberal candidate for the seat of Eden-Monaro Fiona Kotvojs in Murrumbateman near Canberra. Picture: AAP
media_cameraPrime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media during a visit to Robyn Rowe Chocolates with the Liberal candidate for the seat of Eden-Monaro Fiona Kotvojs in Murrumbateman near Canberra. Picture: AAP

While admitting the government’s fault, he said JobKeeper was designed to work alongside JobSeeker and other support programs, which together would support more than five million Australians.

Mr Morrison said the error meant Australians would not have to borrow as much money.

“Sure the estimate was overstated and the process with the taxation office to keep us updated on that had a flaw in it, we acknowledge that, I acknowledge that,” Mr Morrison said.

Liberal candidate for the seat of Eden-Monaro Fiona Kotvojs with Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: AAP
media_cameraLiberal candidate for the seat of Eden-Monaro Fiona Kotvojs with Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: AAP

“This is not money that is sitting in the bank somewhere, this $60 billion, this is money that would have otherwise had to be borrowed against the taxes that future generations would pay and so the result of this is that the program will cost not what it was estimated to cost and that means for the taxpayer, their debt levels will be lower, their interest bill will be lower and the government will be able to ensure it will continue to provide the many other essential services without the burden of that greater debt.”

COVIDSAFE APP DOWNLOADS PASS SIX MILLION

Six million Australians have downloaded the COVIDSafe app less than a month after being launched to help health authorities across the nation trace coronavirus infections.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the app is playing a significant role in Australia’s response to the pandemic and several countries have expressed interest in learning from its positive impacts.

Registered nurse Sharan Coulter conducts a nasal swab test on Shi Yang Liu in the clinical assessment room at St George Hospital. Picture: Getty Images
media_cameraRegistered nurse Sharan Coulter conducts a nasal swab test on Shi Yang Liu in the clinical assessment room at St George Hospital. Picture: Getty Images

“Australia continues to be a world leader in testing, tracing, and containing the coronavirus and I would encourage all Australians to contribute to that effort and download the COVIDSafe app today,” Mr Hunt said in a statement on Sunday.

Only state and territory health officials have access to contact information from the app which is triggered when people come in close contact with someone who has the virus – that is 1.5 metres or less for a duration of 15 minutes or more.

Government Services Minister Stuart Robert said the take up of the COVIDSafe app was downloaded faster than any other Australian government app and has consistently remained in the top three apps in Australian app stores. “Millions of Australians are doing their bit as part of our health response,” he said.

JOBKEEPER ERROR ‘VERY GOOD NEWS’: MINISTER

The federal government insists the $60 billion “reporting error” in its Jobkeeper scheme is “very good news”, but is showing little sign of wanting to use the unspent money to extend or broaden the program.

The government admitted on Friday its JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme to assist business and workers through the COVID-19 pandemic will now be $70 billion rather than $130 billion and will now only cover 3.5 million people rather than 6.5 million that had been forecast.

“It means that businesses are in better shape than we might have anticipated when those original forecasts were put in place. It does mean that we’re in a better position as we work our way towards recovery,” government minister Angus Taylor told Sky News on Sunday.

Minister for Energy Angus Taylor. Picture: AAP
media_cameraMinister for Energy Angus Taylor. Picture: AAP

China, the origin of the coronavirus pandemic, has reported no new cases in the past 24 hours – the first time it has registered zero cases since the outbreak began and infections were recorded, in January.

On local time Saturday China also reported no new deaths, suggesting that the country has emerged from the epidemic that originated in the central city of Wuhan.

China has confirmed 84,000 cases of COVID-19 but has slipped well behind the United States and ranks 13th as the country with the most cases, with the US being number 1 with 1.6 million cases.

Women wearing face masks dance in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province. China has no new cases of the virus for the first time since the outbreak of the epidemic. Picture: AFP
media_cameraWomen wearing face masks dance in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province. China has no new cases of the virus for the first time since the outbreak of the epidemic. Picture: AFP

It comes as experts from the UK predicted that some days in June will see no coronavirus deaths in the country, according to The Sun.

Professor Carl Heneghan from the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at Oxford University said: “I think by the end of June we’ll be looking at the data and finding it difficult to find people with this illness, if the current trends continue in the deaths.

His finding echo those of scientists in Singapore who predict that the US could be free of the coronavirus by late September – and the whole world could expect to put the pandemic behind it in December.

SINGAPORE SCIENTISTS PREDICT GLOBAL VIRUS END DATE

According to the New York Post, a mathematical model created by the Singapore University of Technology and Design is allowing the scientists to predict the future of the virus using data from already confirmed cases and deaths around the world.

Based on “a predictive-monitoring” technique, the model inputs global data which is converted to a bar chart. A curve over the top of the chart displays the trajectory of the disease. At the end of April, predictions showed that the US would be virus-free by Sept. 20 and the UK could see the end of the coronavirus by Aug. 27.

Scientists at the university cautioned that their dates were not exact and that the predictions should not lead to hasty ends of lockdowns around the world.

“Over-optimism based on some predicted end dates is dangerous because it may loosen our disciplines and controls and cause the turnaround of the virus,” they said.

ALBANESE CASTS DOUBT OVER MORRISON’S ECONOMIC ABILITY

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese says the Morrison government’s massive multi-billion JobKeeper mistake raises questions over how it will manage the economic recovery coming out of the coronavirus pandemic.

Albanese raised the issue as Australia recorded its 102nd COVID-19 death after a man in his 60s died in a Victorian hospital.

The government admitted to a $60 billion reporting error to its much-heralded JobKeeper program on Friday.

Rather than costing the budget $130 billion, the wage subsidy program to assist business and workers through the crisis has been slashed to $70 billion, and is now forecast to assist 3.5 million employees instead of 6.5 million.

“If they can’t manage a program like JobKeeper to the tune of a mistake of $60 billion, and three million people … then there has got to be a great question mark over how they’ll manage the economic recovery,” Mr Albanese told reporters in Sydney on Saturday.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese says the JobKeeper bungle raises serious questions. Picture: AAP
media_cameraOpposition Leader Anthony Albanese says the JobKeeper bungle raises serious questions. Picture: AAP

“This is a government that’s good at boasting that the budget is ‘Back in Black’, that they’ve got this all under control, but when it comes to the detail they’re simply not capable of delivering.”

Labor has been calling for the JobKeeper payment to be broadened to casuals and other work groups that missed out, but the government has repeatedly rejected the idea, even with the program now much smaller.

The “reporting error” announced by Treasury and the Australian Taxation Office came as 15 new COVID-19 cases were recorded across the country on Friday, according to the Department of Health.

The national death toll stands at 102, with Victoria’s death toll rising to 19. NSW has suffered the most with 48 deaths.

Australia has now officially recorded 7,095 cases, of which 6,479 have recovered. Almost 1.2 millions tests have been conducted.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s plans are under the microscope. Picture: Getty
media_cameraPrime Minister Scott Morrison’s plans are under the microscope. Picture: Getty

A nurse who continued to show up to work at an aged-care home with symptoms for COVID-19 at the North Rockhampton Nursing Centre has been referred to Queensland’s anti-corruption body.

She was suspended while an investigation is underway and is now in home isolation.

Chief nursing and midwifery officer Alison McMillan says it’s important for Australians not to drop the ball as restrictions ease.

In NSW up to 50 people are able to dine in restaurants, pubs and cafes from June 1 – well above the limits in other states and territories.

In South Australia, all cafes and restaurants can serve up to 10 patrons indoors and as well as 10 outdoors.

Victoria announced its Year 11 and 12 students will begin exams in early November and have their results by the end of the year, as schools prepare to reopen next week.

In Tasmania Years 11 and 12 plus kindergarten to Year 6 are set to return to classrooms from Monday.

PLASMA BREAKTHROUGH IN VIRUS FIGHT

Patients with severe COVID-19 who were given plasma from people who’d recovered were more likely to stabilise or need less oxygen support than other similar hospital patients, according to the results of a small US study.

The study showed a trend toward better survival rates, but the number of patients was small and the results cannot be interpreted as applying to patients on mechanical ventilators, researchers at New York’s Mt. Sinai Medical Centre said.

People who survive an infectious disease like COVID-19 are left with blood containing antibodies, or proteins made by the body’s immune system to fight off a virus.

A medical worker with plasma of blood sample. Picture: Getty
media_cameraA medical worker with plasma of blood sample. Picture: Getty

The blood component that carries the antibodies can be collected and given to newly infected patients – it is known as “convalescent plasma”.

Mt. Sinai analysed outcomes for 39 hospitalised patients with severe COVID-19 who received convalescent plasma transfusions compared to outcomes for patients with carefully matched medical status.

After two weeks, the disease worsened in 18 per cent of the plasma patients and 24 per cent of the control patients.

As of May 1, nearly 13 per cent of plasma recipients had died, compared with more than 24 per cent of the control patients, with 72 per cent and 67 per cent, respectively, being discharged alive.”

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Alan Yorkston is part of a Lifeblood convalescent plasma collection program in Australia. Picture: Kevin Farmer
media_cameraAlan Yorkston is part of a Lifeblood convalescent plasma collection program in Australia. Picture: Kevin Farmer

“This is a retrospective case-controlled study. It does not have the rigour of a randomised, controlled trial so that still needs to be done,” Dr. Nicole Bouvier, an infectious disease specialist at Mt. Sinai and the study’s lead author, told Reuters.

“This does show promise that convalescent plasma is effective.”

Hospitals around the world have been using plasma donated by recovered COVID-19 patients, but there has been little information on how effective the treatment is.

The plasma of recovered Australian COVID-19 patients is in high demand by doctors and researchers here too.

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NYC RESTRICTIONS EASE ON HOLIDAY WEEKEND

New Yorkers experiencing cabin fever after two months of coronavirus quarantine were offered an unexpected reprieve when Governor Andrew Cuomo eased the state’s ban on gatherings in time for the Memorial Day weekend, which traditionally signals the beginning of summer.

The governor signed an order late Friday allowing people to assemble in groups of as many as 10 as long as they stay at least 6 feet from other people and wear masks when they can’t maintain that distance.

The surprise order came hours after the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit challenging earlier rules allowing gatherings only for religious services and Memorial Day commemorations.

The NYCLU argued the Constitution requires the same right be extended to people gathering for other reasons. Mr Cuomo’s move could clear the way for New Yorkers to picnic together in parks and backyards – if they don’t get too close to their friends.

They can also head to New York City beaches this weekend, but they shouldn’t expect to get in the water, and they’d better be wearing a mask.

LAS VEGAS TO ROLL DICE AGAINST VIRUS

Free parking, but no valet service. Bartenders, blackjack dealers and waiters wearing masks. Hand sanitiser everywhere. Yes, dice will roll, cards will be dealt and slot machines will beckon. But poker rooms? Closed.

Tourists returning to Las Vegas will see changes since gambling stopped in mid-March for the first time ever to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

The stakes could not be higher, said Robert Lang, executive director of the Brookings Mountain West think tank at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

“Las Vegas can never be known as the place where people go and get sick,” he said.

Democratic Governor Steve Sisolak has not set a restart date, but could at any time.

Resort owners have submitted health and safety rules to state regulators in anticipation of the end to the shutdown.

Chairs have been removed at some electronic slot machines to maintain social distancing between players at a closed Caesars Palace hotel and casino, Las Vegas. Picture: AP Photo
media_cameraChairs have been removed at some electronic slot machines to maintain social distancing between players at a closed Caesars Palace hotel and casino, Las Vegas. Picture: AP Photo

A workshop with operators and the state Gaming Control Board is set for Tuesday.

“We all know what we’ve gone through for the last 10 weeks. No one’s having fun,” said Bill Hornbuckle, acting chief executive and president of casino giant MGM Resorts International. “The simple idea that I could get out, come to a resort, lay at a pool, enjoy a nice dinner, sit at a blackjack table. There’s something to be said for all of that.” Many properties have aimed for a June 1 restart in the gambling mecca that closed almost overnight in the middle of a hot streak – three consecutive $1 billion ($A1.53bn) months in statewide casino winnings. The city had been drawing more than 40 million annual visitors.

Once given the green light, the marquees and the managers will welcome people back to this 24/7 town built for crowds, excitement and excess.

But not every resort will be open. Nightclubs, dayclubs and large venues will remain closed. Cirque du Soleil shows will stay dark, at least for now.

Signs everywhere will remind guests of new rules: Wash your hands; keep distance from others; limit your elevator ride to your sanitised room to just four people.

Dice will be disinfected between shooters, chips cleaned periodically and card decks changed frequently.

At some resorts, guests will be encouraged to use mobile phones for touchless check in, as room keys, and to read restaurant menus.

Wynn Resorts properties and The Venetian, owned by Las Vegas Sands, plan to use thermal imaging cameras at every entrance to intercept people with fevers.

Bill Hornbuckle, acting CEO and president of MGM Resorts International, poses behind acrylic barriers used as a coronavirus safety precaution. Picture: AP
media_cameraBill Hornbuckle, acting CEO and president of MGM Resorts International, poses behind acrylic barriers used as a coronavirus safety precaution. Picture: AP

New state Gaming Control Board regulations require surfaces to be disinfected according to federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and “increased attention” to high-touch hotel items like television remote controls and light switches.

Guests will get free masks at large resorts, but won’t be forced to use them. For blackjack dealers, bellhops, reservation clerks, security guards, housekeepers and waiters, masks are mandatory.

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Plastic partitions will separate dealers from players and players from each other at the Bellagio, three at each table.

MGM Resorts plans to open just two of its ten Strip properties at first: Bellagio and New York-New York.

Mr Hornbuckle promised Bellagio’s iconic dancing fountains will restart as soon as the governor sets a date.

Caesars Entertainment plans to open Caesars Palace and the Flamingo Las Vegas at first, followed later by Harrah’s Las Vegas and the casino floor at the LINQ hotel-casino.

US STATES THAT REOPENED HAVE SEEN ‘NO CATASTROPHE’

Three large Southern US states that moved aggressively to reopen amid the coronavirus crisis have seen new cases and deaths largely hold steady since then — despite several controversies over some of their data.

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US Vice President Mike Pence eats lunch with Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and his wife Marty Kemp at the Star Cafe. Mr Pence said Georgia was "leading the way" and the country was making progress against the coronavirus. Picture: The Washington Examiner via AP
media_cameraUS Vice President Mike Pence eats lunch with Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and his wife Marty Kemp at the Star Cafe. Mr Pence said Georgia was “leading the way” and the country was making progress against the coronavirus. Picture: The Washington Examiner via AP

According to the New York Post, in Georgia, where Gov. Brian Kemp bucked the White House and local officials to lift a stay-at-home order on April 24, the state reported 862 cases on Thursday, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

That was less than the 946 new cases counted on Wednesday, but helped spur a slight rise in a seven-day rolling average that’s been basically trending downward since the start of Georgia’s reopening.

Deaths, meanwhile, rose by 78, marking the most since the same number was reached on April 27 and bringing the total toll to 1775.

Georgia set its single-day record for coronavirus deaths — 94 — before the lockdown, on April 20.

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US Vice President Mike Pence travelled to Georgia, where he had lunch with Governor Brian Kemp at a cafe and praised the state – one of the first to allow businesses to start up again despite the coronavirus outbreak.

Mr Kemp allowed salons, restaurants, gyms and other businesses in Georgia to reopen with restrictions in April.

Florida — which was among the last states to impose a coronavirus lockdown, on April 2 — hit a record 1413 new cases on April 16, followed by a record 83 deaths on April 28.

Since the state began reopening on May 4, its seven-day average of new cases is essentially flat, according to a chart published by the New York Times.

Governor Ron DeSantis blamed Thursday’s spike in new cases — the highest since April 17 — on “another big dump” of more than 50,000 new test results.

Florida's famed South Beach may remain closed on Memorial Day, which traditionally signals the beginning of summer. Picture: AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File
media_cameraFlorida’s famed South Beach may remain closed on Memorial Day, which traditionally signals the beginning of summer. Picture: AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File

It comes as US President Donald Trump called for the reopening of houses of worship, declaring them “essential” services.

Mr Trump wants state governors to allow churches and temples to reopen this weekend.

“If they don’t do it, I will override the governors,” Mr Trump says.

“In America, we need more prayer not less.”

Mr Trump says the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention also was issuing guidance for communities of faith to hold safe gatherings.

The US president’s comment came one day after he prodded the agency to issue guidelines, so congregations can restart gatherings for worshippers.

The CDC previously sent the Trump administration documents outlining steps for religious facilities to reopen, but the White House shelved them at the time out of concerns about the propriety of government making specific dictates to places of worships.

A man wears a plastic bag on his face as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus in Johannesburg, South Africa. Picture: AP Photo/Themba Hadebe
media_cameraA man wears a plastic bag on his face as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus in Johannesburg, South Africa. Picture: AP Photo/Themba Hadebe

CORONAVIRUS ACCELERATES ACROSS THE GLOBE

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated across Latin America, Russia and the Indian subcontinent even as curves flattened and reopening was underway in much of Europe, Asia and the United States.

Many governments say they have to shift their focus to saving jobs that are vanishing as quickly as the virus can spread.

In the US and China, the world’s two largest economies, unemployment is soaring.

The Federal Reserve chairman has estimated that up to one American in four could be jobless, while in China analysts estimate around a third of the urban workforce is unemployed.

But the virus is roaring through countries ill-equipped to handle the pandemic, which many scientists fear will seed the embers of a second global wave.

India saw its biggest single-day spike since the pandemic began, and Pakistan and Russia recorded their highest death tolls.

Indians wearing masks as a precaution against the coronavirus line up outside a government ration shop in Kochi, Kerala state, India. Picture: AP
media_cameraIndians wearing masks as a precaution against the coronavirus line up outside a government ration shop in Kochi, Kerala state, India. Picture: AP

Most new Indian cases are in Bihar, where thousands returned home from jobs in the cities.

Latin America’s two most populous nations – Mexico and Brazil – have reported record counts of new cases and deaths almost daily this week, fuelling criticism of their presidents, who have slow-walked shutdowns in attempts to limit economic damage.

Cases were rising and intensive-care units were also swamped in Peru, Chile and Ecuador – countries lauded for imposing early and aggressive business shutdowns and quarantines.

Brazil reported more than 20,000 deaths and 300,000 confirmed cases on Thursday night – the third worst-hit country in the world in terms of infection by official counts.

Experts consider both numbers undercounts due to widespread lack of testing.

Africa’s coronavirus cases surpassed 100,000, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday, as the continent with many fragile health systems has not yet seen the high numbers of other parts of the world.

Africa's coronavirus cases have surpassed 100,000, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said as the continent with fragile health systems has not yet seen the high numbers of other parts of the world. Picture: AP Photo
media_cameraAfrica’s coronavirus cases have surpassed 100,000, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said as the continent with fragile health systems has not yet seen the high numbers of other parts of the world. Picture: AP Photo

The African continent has seen roughly the same number of new cases in the past week as the week before, Africa CDC director John Nkengasong said, adding that “we hope that trend continues” instead of a rapid exponential increase.

Shortages of testing and medical equipment remain a problem.

GLOBAL VIRUS CASES TOP FIVE MILLION

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases around the world reached 5.245 million on Saturday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The global death toll is approaching 350,000.

Even as outbreaks in China — where the novel coronavirus first emerged in Wuhan — and other countries appear to have abated, the pandemic has picked up speed across other parts of the world.

On Wednesday, the World Health Organisation said the number of newly reported cases hit a daily record this week with more than 100,000 new cases over the last 24 hours, according to CNBC.

The number of newly reported coronavirus cases hit a daily record this week. Picture: Getty Images
media_cameraThe number of newly reported coronavirus cases hit a daily record this week. Picture: Getty Images

Almost two-thirds of the cases were reported in just four countries, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a news conference in Geneva.

“We still have a long way to go in this pandemic,” he said.

WHO officials have warned against easing coronavirus restrictions and reopening economies too fast, saying it could lead to a “vicious cycle” of economic and health disasters as cases resurge and strict lockdowns become necessary again.

In the US, several states are beginning to reopen businesses even as models suggest it will lead to an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths.

WHO officials have warned against easing coronavirus restrictions and reopening economies too fast. Personal grooming shops reopened in Cuba. Picture: AP Photo
media_cameraWHO officials have warned against easing coronavirus restrictions and reopening economies too fast. Personal grooming shops reopened in Cuba. Picture: AP Photo

Meanwhile, Latin America has overtaken the US and Europe to report the largest portion of new daily cases, according to Reuters.

Latin America accounted for about a third of cases reported last week, while the US and Europe each accounted for just over 20 per cent.

WUHAN BANS WILD ANIMAL MEAT

Wuhan has finally banned the sale of bats and other wild animal meat amid fears coronavirus originated in one of the city’s bizarre food markets.

The Chinese city’s municipal government announced a comprehensive ban on eating all wild animals and the hunting and trading of wildlife.

It released a list of strict new rules which will come into immediate effect and will last for at least the next five years.

According to the official statement, there will be a ban on the sale and eating of terrestrial wild animals that are both in the wild or bred for the dinner table for dishes like bat soup.

Wuhan also announced a complete ban on the hunting of wild animals stating the whole city is now “a wildlife sanctuary.”

A vendor wearing a face mask works in her stall in a market in Wuhan, in China. Picture: AFP
media_cameraA vendor wearing a face mask works in her stall in a market in Wuhan, in China. Picture: AFP

There will also be prohibitions on breeding aquatic wild animals – like frogs — for eating and bans on wildlife trading in markets and online.

“This notice shall come into force on the date of promulgation and shall be valid for five years,” the statement read.

News of the ban was welcomed by Boris Johnson’s fiancee Carrie Symonds who tweeted: “Let’s hope this remains the case.”

Wuhan is now the fourth Chinese city to outlaw the dangerous practice of selling wild animals for food.

The World Health Organisation has previously pointed the finger at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in the city for the killer outbreak.

It claimed many of the first virus victims were stall owners, employees or regular shoppers.

The WHO said tests on samples indicated it was the source of the outbreak or had “played a role in the initial amplification”.

The Huanan market had a wild animal section where live and slaughtered species were sold for food including snakes, frogs, beavers, porcupines and even baby crocodiles.

Close interactions with wild animals have caused numerous disease outbreaks in humans including ebola, SARS and HIV.

People wearing face masks visit a market in Wuhan, in China. Picture: AFP
media_cameraPeople wearing face masks visit a market in Wuhan, in China. Picture: AFP

Viruses can spread more easily if animals in markets are sick or kept in dirty, cramped conditions, such as in stacked cages.

When animals are under duress, viral pathogens can intermingle, swap bits of their genetic code and possibly mutate in ways that make them more transmissible between species.

In the case of respiratory diseases like COVID-19 the virus can jump to food handlers or shoppers through exposure to an animal’s bodily fluids.

Early studies showed the new strain of coronavirus did originate in bats, but scientists have been trying to find which animal then transferred it onto humans.

Different studies have so far linked pangolins, stray dogs and snakes to the cause of the deadly outbreak which has so far claimed more than 300,000 lives.

The search for the source of the virus has become more complex since US-China relations have soured following US President Donald Trump’s claim it originated in a lab.

Vendors wearing face masks work at their stall in a market in Wuhan, in China. Picture: AFP
media_cameraVendors wearing face masks work at their stall in a market in Wuhan, in China. Picture: AFP

Mr Trump has repeatedly told the media he has “evidence” the virus came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

But China has responded to these allegations with its own conspiracy theory asserting that American soldiers may have been responsible for the outbreak.

News of the ban comes as it is revealed more than 500,000 people in Wuhan may have been infected by COVID-19.

The shock figure comes after an antibody sampling showed a positive rate of “five to six per cent” in the city.

Described as a ‘10-day battle’, the mass testing initiative started on 14th May, with the central municipal government ordering all 13 of its districts to come up with their own way to test every resident within its borders.

Millions have been queuing inside gated communities, where parks and public squares are being used as assembly points and makeshift swabbing stations.

Each COVID-19 test takes about three minutes, while the procedure is free to the public, officials said.

UK CURBS VITAL MEDICAL IMPORTS FROM CHINA

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has instructed civil servants to make plans to end UK’s reliance on China for vital medical supplies and other strategic imports in light of the coronavirus outbreak, The Times newspaper reports.

The plans, which have been code named ‘Project Defend’, include identifying Britain’s main economic vulnerabilities to potentially hostile foreign governments as part of a broader new approach to national security, the newspaper said.

It added that the efforts are being led by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.

Two working groups have been set up as part of the project, according to the report, with one source telling The Times that the aim was to diversify supply lines to no longer depend on individual countries for non-food essentials.

Mr Johnson told politicians he would take steps to protect Britain’s technological base, with the government review also expected to include personal protective equipment and drugs, the report added.

The development comes as Beijing has been tackling mounting international criticism over its handling of the coronavirus outbreak, which began in China before spreading to the rest of the world.

‘17 PER CENT OF LONDONERS INFECTED’

About one in six people in London and one in 20 elsewhere in England have already contracted the coronavirus, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock says, citing a recent study.

Data gathered from an antibody surveillance study led by the Office for National Statistics suggests 17 per cent of people in London and about 5.0 per cent in England have tested positive for antibodies to the coronavirus, Hancock said on Thursday.

Mr Hancock made the announcement as the government worked out a deal with pharmaceutical firms for delivery of 10 million antibody tests with certificates being considered for people who test positive for coronavirus antibodies.

The residents of a street in Walthamstow join in on a communal concert following the "Clap for Key workers" in London, United Kingdom. Picture: Getty Images
media_cameraThe residents of a street in Walthamstow join in on a communal concert following the “Clap for Key workers” in London, United Kingdom. Picture: Getty Images

Mr Hancock also announced a trial of a rapid 20-minute test to tell people if they currently have COVID-19.

There has been criticism that people have been waiting days or weeks for test results.

England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, told the briefing the total number of deaths from all causes was now down to the rate in an average winter.

“So, we are essentially having a winter in health terms, in terms of mortality, but in late spring and early summer.”

He also said care home deaths have peaked.

ITALY RECORDS FIRST DIP IN DEATHS

Italy has recorded 119 new deaths from the COVID-19 epidemic against 130 the day before, the Civil Protection Agency says, while the daily tally of new cases rose marginally to 669 from 652 on the prior day.

The total death toll since the outbreak came to light on February 21 now stands at 32,735, the agency said on Saturday local time, the third highest in the world after those of the United States and Britain.

The Civil Protection Agency said the total number of confirmed cases in Italy since the start of its outbreak now amounts to 229,327, the sixth highest global tally behind those of the United States, Russia, Spain, Britain and Brazil.

People registered as currently carrying the illness dipped to 57,752 on Saturday from 59,322 the day before.

There were 572 people in intensive care on Saturday, down from 595 on Friday, maintaining a long-running decline.

SECOND WAVE IN EUROPE ‘INEVITABLE’

Spain will open borders to foreign holidaymakers from July, their Prime Minister has announced.

Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez has told the country’s tourism industry to prepare for a summer season of tourists.

But a second wave of coronavirus is inevitable in Europe because so few people are immune to the bug, a top expert has warned.

The EU’s disease control chief said a second bout of the virus was inevitable, as people are starting to ignore lockdown rules.

Dr Andrea Ammon, director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control urged EU leaders to prepare for resurgence in coronavirus cases, as she warned that a lack of immunity could mean the second wave is worse than the first.

The disease expert said that only between two per cent and 14 per cent of the populations of European countries had been infected with coronavirus.

Young women clink bottles of beer as they share an aperitif drink by the Colosseum monument in Rome. Picture: AFP
media_cameraYoung women clink bottles of beer as they share an aperitif drink by the Colosseum monument in Rome. Picture: AFP

People are believed to be immune to coronavirus once they have caught it once.

Dr Ammon said the low infection rate would leave around 90 per cent of people still vulnerable to catching the disease in a second wave.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock today announced that 17 per cent of people in London had been infected by the disease, and only five per cent nationwide.

In an interview with The Guardian, Dr Ammon said it was a matter of “when and how big” the second wave would be.

She said: “Looking at the characteristics of the virus, looking at what now emerges from the different countries in terms of population immunity- which isn’t all that exiting, between two per cent and 14 per cent, that leaves still 85 per cent to 90 per cent of the population susceptible – the virus is around us, circulating much more than January and February.”

She continued: “I don’t want to draw a doomsday picture but I think we have to be realistic. That it’s not the time now to completely relax.”

As of today, there have been 159,172 COVID-19 deaths confirmed in the EU and the UK.

Italy has the highest death toll in the EU at 32,330, followed by France with 28,132 and Spain with 27,888.

Dr Ammon also said that the lockdown measures imposed by European leaders were starting to unravel.

A boy bangs a drum as the residents of Walthamstow join in on the "Clap for Key workers" in London, United Kingdom. Picture: Getty Images
media_cameraA boy bangs a drum as the residents of Walthamstow join in on the “Clap for Key workers” in London, United Kingdom. Picture: Getty Images

She said: “I think it’s beginning to strain. What we see is that, on the one hand, the economic part for small and medium-sized businesses but also the experience of people not being able to exercise all the freedoms that we normally have: to go where we like, to be with whom we want to be.

“And this is quite fundamental change to our normal way of life.

“And especially now when it is clear [infections] are going down, people think it is over.

“Which it isn’t, which it definitely isn’t.”

It comes as Matt Hancock confirmed tonight that the Government has sealed a huge deal for pharmaceutical giant Roche to supply 10 million antibody tests to see if people have been infected by the virus.

The Government said it will start by rolling out the tests across the health service in from next week.

But Mr Hancock stressed that the Government was “not yet in a position to say that those who test positive are immune” to getting the virus again.

HERD IMMUNITY FAILS IN SWEDEN

Sweden’s public health authority has confirmed that only 7.3 per cent of people in Stockholm had developed coronavirus antibodies by late April. The figures are roughly similar to other countries and fall well short of the 70-90 per cent needed to create herd immunity in a population.

Sweden enforced only very light restrictions on its citizens, a decision that most of the public seemed to accept, though 2000 experts signed a petition in April for the government to adopt stricter policies.

Sweden, a country of about 10 million people, has maintained more of an open society as it grappled with the coronavirus pandemic. Picture: Getty Images
media_cameraSweden, a country of about 10 million people, has maintained more of an open society as it grappled with the coronavirus pandemic. Picture: Getty Images

The lax approach seems to have had a devastating effect — Sweden’s death toll on a per capita basis is now among the highest in the world and was the highest of any country in the seven days that ended last Wednesday.

Sweden has now had 32,172 cases and 3871 deaths, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.

TRUMP: THERE WILL BE NO SECOND LOCKDOWN

US President Donald Trump says if a second wave of the coronavirus was to hit the nation he would not attempt to shut it down again.

“We are going to put out the fires, we’re not going to close the country, we’re going to put out the fire,” Mr Trump said on Thursday, referring to a second wave.

“Whether it’s an ember or it’s a flame we’re going to put it out,” he added during a tour of a Ford car plant in the midwestern state of Michigan.

The statement comes as all 50 US states have eased lockdown restrictions to some extent, with Republican-led states largely pushing for quicker reopenings and Democratic-led ones taking a more cautious approach.

US President Donald Trump walks across the South Lawn.
media_cameraUS President Donald Trump walks across the South Lawn.

Public health officials have warned that easing lockdown measures too quickly could lead to a second wave of the virus.

Concerns are rising among public health officials that there will not be the political or public will to reinstate lockdown measures if needed.

Despite Mr Trump’s statements, the economic shutdowns that shuttered most of the country were implemented by state and local authorities, who would be responsible for reapplying lockdown orders.

TRUMP CLAIMS TO HAVE WORN MASK

Mr Trump said on Thursday he’d finally overcome his aversion to wearing masks against the coronavirus — but didn’t want be photographed.

Touring a Ford auto factory in Michigan, where workers have converted to building respirators and other medical equipment for fighting COVID-19, Mr Trump held up a mask and claimed to have covered his face earlier.

“I had one on before. I wore one in this back area but I didn’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it,” he told reporters and photographers covering his visit.

Nearly everyone at the Ford factory was wearing a face covering, in line with company policy and government recommendations on curtailing the highly contagious virus.

Mr Trump, pushing to get Americans to put the pandemic behind them and reopen the faltering economy, has never worn a mask in public.

US President Donald Trump speaks at Ford's Rawsonville Components Plant that has been converted to making personal protection and medical equipment. Picture: AP
media_cameraUS President Donald Trump speaks at Ford’s Rawsonville Components Plant that has been converted to making personal protection and medical equipment. Picture: AP

Scepticism about the need for masks is rife among right-wing Americans who support Mr Trump.

MYER TO REOPEN ALL STORES THIS WEEK

Major department store Myer will reopen the rest of its stores across Australia, as retailers get back to business amid COVID-19.

The bulk of the retailer’s 60 stores will all be open on Wednesday after almost two months without customers inside the shops.

All Victorian Myer stores, including at Chadstone and Bourke St, will be among those to reopen.

Some shoppers will get instore sooner with trial stores including in NSW’s Blacktown, Eastgardens and Charlestown opening on Friday.

Several Myer stores in NSW, Queensland, WA and South Australia have already opened in line with governments’ COVID-19 measures.

Over in WA, the Karrinyup store will open a little later next Saturday as refurbishment works are under way.

The bulk of the retailer’s 60 stores will all be open on Wednesday. Picture: Jason Edwards
media_cameraThe bulk of the retailer’s 60 stores will all be open on Wednesday. Picture: Jason Edwards

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The retail giant has ramped up safety and cleaning measures in its stores, and suspended some close contact services like shoe fittings.

While Myer was shut, supermarkets were inundated as Australians headed out for essential shopping.

Coles, Woolworths and Bunnings are among the retailers which reduced shopping hours during the pandemic.

Kmart has been among the retailers to stay open with strict social distancing measures in place.

Workers across the country in various sectors have been sacked as businesses shut to kerb the spread of COVID-19.

The Australian Retailers Association chief executive Paul Zahra previously said retail activity was key to economic recovery.

“Public health and safety is the priority and that will ensure a sustainable recovery rather than a false start,” Mr Zahra said.

“Each state is on a slightly different recovery path and those decisions will be based on local data and expert advice.”

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s secret plan. Picture: Getty
media_cameraAustralian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s secret plan. Picture: Getty

The announcement comes as a leaked draft of the National COVID-19 Commission manufacturing report has detailed the key industries Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been advised to target “immediately” to unlock billions of dollars to save Australia from economic ruin.

The interim taskforce report – obtained by Sky News Political Editor Andrew Clennell – reveals the gas and manufacturing industries will be the coalition’s major focus.

“We need to be decisive and begin immediately to create an Australian gas market that delivers globally competitive results,” the report said.

The report also calls for the creation of a “competitive domestic gas market”, including removing barriers to supply, building the bridge of supply in the near term, lowering the cost of pipelines, completing then network of pipelines to markets.

Focusing on the energy industry is predicted to create up to 170,000 well paid direct jobs and up to 800,000 indirect jobs which the report predicts could generate between $10-20 billion in direct GDP.

Morrison government 'couldn't even run a bath': Albanese

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese has delivered a stinging attack aimed at Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Prime Minister Scott Morrison, saying the government is one which “couldn’t run a bath, let alone be good economic managers”. On Friday a significant reporting error had led Treasury to dramatically revise its projections for the Morrison government’s JobKeeper program. The scheme, which sees the government pay $1,500 fortnightly in affected workers’ wages, was originally expected to cover around 6.5 million employees at a cost of $130 billion. But late Thursday, the Treasury and Australian Tax Office were forced to admit to the Morrison government those projections were wrong. As a result, Treasury’s revised estimate of the cost of the JobKeeper program is now just $70 billion which is $60 billion less than forecast. Treasury now expects the number of employees likely to be covered under JobKeeper program to be around 3.5 million, around 3 million less than forecast. Mr Albanese said, “this is a mistake you could have seen from space” and said Australian working people “have been sunk” by the government’s failure on the issue. “The fact is, if you can’t get this right, how can you get the economic recovery right”. Image: News Corp Australia

It would also help “support the reskilling of many of those affected by current pandemic” and diversify the economy.

By 2030, up to 412,000 new jobs could be created by boosting gas alone.

The report also mentions the need for a new Manufacturing Board to be set up under the Industry Minister to develop a 10-year policy plan on manufacturing for annual review.

Industry Minister Karen Andrews’s office told Sky News the new taskforce could “stimulate the sector” and grow domestic manufacturing.

“The National Covid co-ordination Commission established a manufacturing taskforce to develop ideas that could stimulate the sector,” she said.

“Any suggestions made by this Taskforce are to the NCCC for consideration and not from the government. Any final suggestions from the Taskforce may feed into the work being done across a range of portfolios, led by the Industry Minister, to grow Australian manufacturing.”

WA Premier Mark McGowan likened NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian to a bully for calling on states to scrap travel restrictions.

“It’s odd. NSW is saying don’t catch public transport in Sydney yet they’re saying why can’t NSW people fly to WA? The message is totally inconsistent,” Mr McGowan said.

“We’re not going to give in to that sort of bullying by the NSW premier or anyone else.”



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