coronavirus - AM981 Hunter Valley

'Do not hoard', PM tells grocery shoppers

Shoppers are seen at Coles in Earlwood, in Sydney, Wednesday, March 18, 2020. Coles will on Wednesday hold its first

Shoppers are seen at Coles in Earlwood, in Sydney, Wednesday, March 18, 2020. Coles will on Wednesday hold its first "community hour" for seniors and pension card holders from 7am at its stores nationwide, before opening to everyone else. (AAP Image/Danny Casey)

Stop hoarding.

That's the blunt message from the prime minister to Australians in the wake of mass panic buying sparked by the spread of the coronavirus.

"It is not sensible, it is not helpful and it has been one of the most disappointing things I have seen in Australian behaviour in response to this crisis," Scott Morrison told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.

"It's ridiculous, it's un-Australian, and it must stop."

Bad behaviour and people emptying supermarket shelves are distracting officials' attention and diverting important resources to keeping shopping centre supply lines open, he said.

The prime minister read from the advice of senior medical officials, which discourages the panic-buying of food and other supplies.

Australia's major supermarket chains also banded together to plead with customers to be considerate of each other and stop abusing staff.

The call made in newspaper advertisements across the country came after more footage emerged online of customers verbally attacking retail staff because they couldn't find the goods they wanted in-store.

Aldi, Coles, IGA and Woolworth said they were doing everything they could to get as much produce on the shelves as possible, often under difficult circumstances.

"So we ask you to please be considerate in the way you shop," the ad says.

"We understand your concerns, but if you buy only what you need and stick to the product limits it helps everyone, especially the elderly and people with disability.

"No one working or shopping in any of our stores should experience abusive or aggressive behaviour."

Mr Morrison also urged people not to abuse staff.

Coles on Wednesday held its first "community hour" for seniors and pension card holders from 7-8am at its stores nationwide, before opening to everyone else.

People with government-issued concession cards on Tuesday flocked to Woolworths, which implemented a similar measure, and IGA is considering whether to roll out the same.

Coles is trying to employ more than 5000 casual workers to help restock its supermarkets quicker under a fast-tracked induction process, and will hire more Coles Online delivery van drivers.

Panic-buying sparked by the spread of coronavirus in Australia has seen supermarkets stripped of toilet paper, pasta, rice and frozen food, as well as tinned and other dried goods.

The issue has caused stress and frustration amongst elderly shoppers, many of whom find it difficult to make frequent visits to supermarkets for essential goods. In many cases, particularly for toilet paper, the shelves are often bare.

Woolworths fresh food director Paul Harker said there was no shortage of goods in Australia but it was a logistics puzzle to get products to stores in line with the pace and demand.

© AAP 2020

'Keep it up' is the message from Hunter New England Health on social distancing and hand hygiene

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The Hunter New England Health (HNEH) District may have sounded like a broken record over the last three months, but the message to social distance and wash your hands as often as possible has contributed in a big way to our steady COVID-19 numbers.

There hasn’t been a new confirmed case of the virus in the district for more than four weeks with 279 remaining the total number since the pandemic began – the number has fluctuated as cases come under review.

In total 249 people have recovered after contracting the virus.

HNEH Public Health Physician Dr David Durrhiem said like many parts of NSW there have been some cases locally, but they’re from overseas travellers.

“Like many other parts of NSW we’ve had a few cases in people returning from overseas but they’ve seen out their quarantine in Sydney and we haven’t had a case locally for more than a month,” he said.

“We do know that now with the relaxation of measures people are streaming back to our beautiful regions, they love the Hunter Valley and they love Port Stephens and so we have to remain on the alert because people who travel may bring their Coronavirus with them.”

HNEH is urging everyone not to get complacent just because the numbers are looking good and restrictions are easing, no one wants to give COVID-19 a second chance.

“We need to keep going, the one thing that we can do clearly that works very well is closing our borders and the other thing that we’ve done extremely well in response to the virus is that people who’ve actually gotten ill we’ve got them rapidly tested and made sure that they actually isolated and that their close contacts are isolated,”

“That has really put the brakes on the spread of the virus so we need to make sure that anybody who gets respiratory illness or flu-like symptoms, they need to get themselves tested.”

The even better news about slowing the spread of the virus over the last month is that local hospitals have had the chance to prepare for any possible outbreaks in the future.

“We hope for the best and we had to prepare for the worst and that’s what the local hospitals have done,” said Dr Durrheim.

“The capacity of Intensive Care Units has been massively increased in case we need it, the systems have been tested, allowing us to switch off certain parts of the service to make sure that the other parts can surge if necessary,”

“Now we all hope we won’t need to do that but there’s still going to be a bit of time before we have a vaccine available to us and hopefully an effective and safe vaccine will be available before we see a surge in cases in Australia.”

“We know there are over 200 candidate vaccines already under development and there are at least 10 of those that are in human trials, either in early stage one or stage two trails and some of those are showing a bit of promise,”

“But the last thing we want to do is introduce a vaccine that we’re uncertain of,”

Dr Durrheim above all wants everyone to continue socially distancing from each other and washing our hands as regularly as we can because that really has contributed to slowing the spread.

“The standing back, keeping the 1.5 metres between ourselves and others means that droplets don’t have the opportunity to spread, washing our hands regularly, particularly when we’ve touched surfaces that others may have touched like doorknobs and so on is a really sensible thing to do and then making sure that if we do get symptoms to go and get ourselves tested,” he said.

There is still a testing clinic open at Muswellbrook Hospital, Monday to Friday 1:30pm to 3:30pm.

The Cessnock Hospital drive-thru testing clinic is also still available until June 13.

'This virus may never go away,' WHO says

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The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 could become endemic like HIV, the World Health Organisation says, warning against any attempt to predict how long it would keep circulating and calling for a "massive effort" to counter it.

"It is important to put this on the table: this virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities, and this virus may never go away," WHO emergencies expert Mike Ryan told an online briefing on Wednesday.

"I think it is important we are realistic and I don't think anyone can predict when this disease will disappear," he added. "I think there are no promises in this and there are no dates. This disease may settle into a long problem, or it may not be."

However, he said the world had some control over how it coped with the disease, although this would take a "massive effort" even if a vaccine was found - a prospect he described as a "massive moonshot".

More than 100 potential vaccines are being developed, including several in clinical trials, but experts have underscored the difficulties of finding vaccines that are effective against coronaviruses.

Ryan noted that vaccines exist for other illnesses, such as measles, that have not been eliminated.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus added: "The trajectory is in our hands, and it's everybody's business and we should all contribute to stop this pandemic."

Ryan said "very significant control" of the virus was required in order to lower the assessment of risk, which he said remained high at the "national, regional and global levels".

Governments around the world are struggling with the question of how to reopen their economies while still containing the virus, which has infected almost 4.3 million people, according to a Reuters tally, and led to more than 291,000 deaths.

 

The European Union pushed on Wednesday for a gradual reopening of borders within the bloc that have been shut by the pandemic, saying it was not too late to salvage some of the northern summer tourist season while still keeping people safe.

But public health experts say extreme caution is needed to avoid new outbreaks.

Ryan said opening land borders was less risky than easing air travel, which was a "different challenge".

"We need to get into the mindset that it is going to take some time to come out of this pandemic," WHO epidemiologist Maria van Kerkhove told the briefing.

© RAW 2020

'We are doing the right thing, we are slowing the spread of the virus,' says Hunter New England Health

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The message from Hunter New England Health (HNEH) is that we are doing the right thing and slowing the spread of COVID-19. 

An additional 11 cases have been confirmed today bringing the total for the district to 200. 

HNEH has said today that currently 11 COVID-19 patients are being cared for in our hospitals, six in ICU. Daily wellness checks continue to be undertaken with all other confirmed cases in the District.

The close contacts of the new cases are being contacted, and are being asked to self-isolate for 14 days from last contact. They will be contacted every day to check
that they are well and any contact who develops COVID-19 symptoms will be tested for the infection.

"What is rather encouraging is that this 24 hours period has seen fewer cases than what we've seen in the last couple of days added to our list, across Hunter New England we've seen that only 11 cases to date we don't have a specific origin for, they haven't come off a cruise ship or haven't been partners who've come off cruise ships or haven't returned from overseas," said HNEH Public Health Physician David Durrheim. 

"This is an exciting feature that says we are doing the right thing, we are slowing the spread of the virus, what we've got to do though is not become complacent, we've got to put in every effort now to distance ourselves and to follow the directions that have been given."

"Three is a crowd, only meet with one-on-one, don't gather in crowds at all."

NSW Health now has information on its website showing COVID-19 statistics broken down by Local Government Area. This information can be found at this link:
https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/diseases/Pages/covid-19-lga.aspx

$42.2 million refresh for the Singleton Military Base

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There's a $42.2 million refresh on the way for the Singleton Army Base.

The Federal Government says local contractors will benefit from the overhaul of facilities at the base which is due to start construction this week. 

The Government added that the injection of funds and work in the Hunter region would improve amenities for more than 1,000 defence and civilian personnel at the base.

Minister for Defence Industry Melissa Price said the project to build a new transport workshop and upgrade existing infrastructure would maximise local industry involvement in the Hunter Region.

“This refresh will ensure the Singleton Military Area is able to continue to support Defence capability into the future,” Minister Price said.

“Lead contractor, Watpac’s Local Industry Capability Plan will ensure there will be opportunities for local businesses in the Hunter Region to get involved in the project."

“It’s estimated the project will engage more than 650 workers over the two-year construction period, with a daily peak workforce of up to 100.”

Patron Senator for the Hunter and Senator for NSW Hollie Hughes attended a project briefing today.

“I’m excited that this funding will provide opportunities for local small and medium-sized businesses,” said Senator Hughes.

“It’s going to mean work for a host of local contractors including carpenters, landscapers, glaziers, tilers, concreters, structural steelworkers, joiners, roofers, electricians, plumbers, bricklayers and even, demolition experts."

“And, I’m sure the staff here will be pleased to see the improvement to their mess hall and other facilities.”

Senator Hughes said the Government supported Watpac’s plan to target 82 per cent of its subcontract packages to Hunter businesses.

“It’s just part of our Government’s commitment to maximise opportunities for local industry to participate in the delivery of Defence facilities and infrastructure projects,” Senator Hughes said.

Construction is expected to be completed by early 2022.

10 self-quarantine activities

10 Self Quarantine activites

With many businesses now advising staff to self-quarantine and work from home for the next few weeks to avoid the spread of covid-19, most of us will be spending majority of our time at home. We want to help keep work and life separate while still feeling comfortable. So schedule your work hours and read on for a list of suggested activities to help keep you sane and a little less isolated while in quarantine. (you can even do most of these, yes even #3, while face timing your friends and family).

1. Netflix Party

Netflix Party is a new way to watch Netflix with your friends online. Netflix Party synchronizes video playback and adds group chat to your favourite Netflix shows. You can link up with friends and host long distance movie nights and TV watch parties! There ain't no party like a Netflix watch party! 

2. Read

Reading increases creativity and imagination, lowers stress levels AND makes you smarter. Sign us up (to that library card)! You can find many great book recommendations and free downloads online. Catch up on classics and learn more through articles you’ve always wanted to read but didn’t have the time for. You could even start a book club with your friends and discuss (facetime) whether your team Jacob or Edward. Feeling inspired by all the new books you’ve read, why don’t you try writing your own?

3. Have a Bath

There’s nothing more enjoyable than submerging yourself in water, whether it’s for hygiene, leisure, health or because of a global pandemic. There’s some serious heath benefits, scientifically proven, to taking a bath such as reducing pain and inflammation, calming the nervous system, helping blood flow easier and relieving symptoms of cold and flu. Try out a new luscious bath bomb or epsom salt, lie back and relax.

4. Get Creative

Have you ever seen an artwork and thought “wow, I wish I could make that”. Whatever you want to draw or paint, you can learn the process through online courses or just give it a go and challenge yourself. Experiment with different mediums, charcoal, pencil, oil paints and more to find what you enjoy best. It can give you a real sense of achievement once you have them hanging on your wall. Watch the video below for some serious watercolour artwork inspo. 

 

5. Puzzles & Games

Dust off those boards games and have a friendly match. There’s nothing like getting to know your family better (or worse) than over a game of Monopoly. If you’re in self isolation and have no one to play connect 4 with, you can download plenty of games on your phone such as “Scrabble…with friends” or “chess…with friends” etc. Get out that Nintendo, PS4 or Xbox, we’ve all watched Witcher, have you thought of playing the game and living through Geralt?

6. Learn New Recipes

You probably have a repertoire of simple meals you make each week (cheese on toast) or maybe you’ve vowed to go meatless? You can look up recipes online and get some inspiration from Instagram. Plug in that slow cooker and add in all your veggies. How about perfecting that old family recipe, and the beauty of surprising a loved one with their favourite meal. Having pasta? try a different sauce or creating the pasta from scratch. Bon appétit!

7. Get Organised

Now is the perfect time to declutter and keep only what you need. Sort your clothing into piles, bag up all your unwanted clothing and have them ready to donate. Throw out old makeup that is past its prime, and wash all your brushes. Use your recycling and create a compost. Sell unwanted items on Facebook marketplace or gumtree. Wipe down all surfaces daily. Create a to do list and take control of your time and priorities.

8. Keep a Quarantine Diary

Putting your thoughts and feelings into words can change the way your brain deals with stressful information and makes room for other, more positive thoughts. By keeping a record your future self (and kids) will be interested in how you dealt with this intense time and disruption to daily life.

9. Show Pets Your Love

Go outside and soak up the sun by taking your pupper for a walk or hike, also a great way to get in your exercise as we assume you won’t be hitting up your gym. Teach your pets a new trick and show them off, you can even film it and start a youtube or Instagram so you can post images and write captions from your dog’s perspective “smooches for mama”.

10. Dance

Put on your favourite tune and get moving! Dancing is a fun way to increase your aerobic fitness, reduce stress and boost your mood! Finally you can learn the dance steps to “Ain’t no party like an S Club Party” (I know you’ve been thinking about that song since I mentioned it in the first point).

21 deaths, 410 new Victoria COVID cases

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Another 21 people have died and 410 Victorians have contracted coronavirus.

The record number of deaths, tweeted by the Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday, takes the state toll to 267 and the national toll to 352.

The ages and genders of those who have succumbed to the virus will be detailed later on Wednesday.

Victorian authorities had warned deaths would continue to rise given the number of people in hospital with the virus.

As of Tuesday, 650 people were in hospital and 43 of those in intensive care.

© AAP 2020

A Singleton GP says it's the whole community effort that has led to the slow in the spread of COVID-19

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Singleton GP Dr Bob Vickers said it's the whole community effort that has led to a slowing of COVID-19 not only here in the Upper Hunter but across the country. 

NSW Health's latest data on COVID-19 is an additional five cases diagnosed since 8pm 21 April, bringing the total to 2,976.

During that time, 5,645 people were tested, up from 4,291 the 24 hours before.

"People have done brilliantly, this isn't something where health care workers are solely responsible for these numbers, this is a whole of community effort," said Dr Bob Vickers.

"When we look at our numbers you can look at it in different ways, you can look at it in testing per capita, testing per 100,000, testing per million, testing per positive cases - everyone will look at those cases and say we're either doing enough or not enough depending on how you interpret the data,"

"I think the important thing is the case numbers we're seeing in the hospitals and our deaths that we're seeing from COVID-19 tend to match up in a time frame with the testing curve so for example if you're in a country where your testing curve has a peak and then a couple of days or a week later you're seeing a peak in the deaths you're probably not catching up with the testing, you're not picking up everyone. Whereas the peaks of our deaths tend to occur at the same time as the peak of our testing which means that we're probably testing enough to pick up the majority of cases which is good," said Dr Bob Vickers.

There are three screening clinics open in the Upper Hunter including a drive through clinic at Scone and Singleton Hospitals and a more traditional clinic at Muswellbrook Hospital. 

Dr Bob Vickers said if you think you may have symptoms call your GP, call the clinic and get a test.

"In NSW it's different to some other sates. In NSW if you have a telehealth consult with your GP and you have signs of a flu like illness or fever or cough or sore throat your GP can refer you to any one of the testing clinics and you can have a test done. The hospitals will be testing anyone who presents with flu like illness as well so anyone with symptoms at the moment in NSW is likely to be able to get a test done," he said. 

The latest statistics from the Hunter New England Health District has 278 total cases of confirmed COVID-19 cases. 

There have been 18,774 total tests for COVID-19 across the HNEH since the pandemic began.

There is one recorded case in the Upper Hunter Shire, another in the Liverpool Plains Shire area, one in Muswellbrook and two in Singleton.

Dr Bob Vickers added that due to the COVID-19 they've seen a decrease in the number of people going to doctors and hospital, and is urging people who need to go to continue going.

"What we have seen is a actually a decrease in presentations to the emergency department and a little bit in general practice as well and I think some of that is people frightened of attending the hospital because of fear of catching COVID-19. We need to reassure people that that's not the case, while we are doing telehealth where we can from a GP setting, if you need to see a doctor that's fine, you're going to be safe."

"What we don't want to see if peoples usual health conditions getting worse because of the fear of going to hospital," he said. 

Image credit: Singleton Argus

ADF called in to Tassie to fight COVID-19

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Tasmania has called in Australia's troops to fight against the COVID-19 outbreak in the state's northwest.

About 5000 people have been forced into quarantine, made up mainly of healthcare staff and their families, for two weeks amid the closure of two hospitals.

The North West Regional Hospital and North West Private Hospital in Burnie shut on Monday to be deep-cleaned by specialist teams.

The drastic move is the result of more than 60 cases in the state linked to the northwest outbreak, including 45 health workers and nine patients.

There was an increase of six cases on Monday, bringing the state total to 150.

In the battle against COVID-19, Australian Medical Assistance Teams, which are deployed in natural disasters, and Australian Defence Force medics will roll into town this week.

"This is the best way that we can get on top of this, that we can stop the spread of this insidious disease," Premier Peter Gutwein said.

Patients have been moved to Mersey Community Hospital.

Virus testing is also being increased in the outbreak region.

© AAP 2020

ADF to be deployed on NSW-Victoria border

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Australian Defence Force personnel will patrol the NSW-Victoria border after it closes at midnight to contain the COVID-19 outbreak in Melbourne.

The ADF is finalising plans to deploy between 350-500 personnel to support NSW Police Force border checkpoints, The Daily Telegraph reports.

"The first of these are expected to deploy to the border to achieve the NSW government directed border closure timings, pending finalising the agreement with NSW authorities," an ADF spokeswoman told the newspaper.

Defence Force personnel won't be directly involved with law enforcement but will support police operations.

"Defence is ready to provide support for a range of contingencies in both states and will continue to work to support states and territories when requested," the spokeswoman said.

The newspaper reports the ADF is also in talks with the Victorian government to deploy five more personnel to provide planning support for local coronavirus restrictions.

There are already ADF 200 personnel supporting public COVID-19 testing in the state.

Victoria on Monday had recorded an additional 127 new COVID-19 cases and two deaths.

NSW reported 10 cases, all in hotel quarantine, from 11,500 tests.

© AAP 2020

AFL to announce resumption date this month

Jaeger OMeara of the Hawks competes for the ball against Hugh McCluggage of the Lions  during the Round 1 AFL match between the Hawthorn Hawks and the Brisbane Lions at the MCG in Melbourne, Sunday, March 22, 2020. (AAP Image/Michael Dodge) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Jaeger OMeara of the Hawks competes for the ball against Hugh McCluggage of the Lions during the Round 1 AFL match between the Hawthorn Hawks and the Brisbane Lions at the MCG in Melbourne, Sunday, March 22, 2020. (AAP Image/Michael Dodge)

AFL chief Gillon McLachlan is adamant the league will be able to deliver definitive details around the competition's resumption date by the end of April.

Despite an ever-changing landscape amid the coronavirus pandemic, McLachlan on Thursday told reporters the AFL would soon set dates for players to return to training and the next round of matches to be played.

"The decision we make will have the support of the relevant government authorities and their medical officers," McLachlan said.

"We're better placed every day to make that decision, I think, as things become clearer and the more we're able to consult with key government and medical partners who have a greater level of data and insight into what's going on."

The AFL campaign is suspended until at least May 31 but McLachlan is confident the shortened 153-match home-and-away season, plus finals, will be completed this year.

He said the AFL wanted to settle on a return date that would allow it to push through the rest of the season uninterrupted from that point.

"When the exact start date is, I don't have an answer, other than we're committed to being out (and) informing our supporters and the public and others by the end of April," McLachlan said.

The AFL has conceded matches will resume without fans in the stands but has not yet settled on the proposed plan of returning to play in quarantine hubs.

McLachlan is wary of the challenges that players will face if they are asked to spend time away from their families in the hubs.

Some players, including AFL Players Association president Patrick Dangerfield, have expressed concerns about the hubs idea.

McLachlan said the AFL will not make a formal proposal to players until a concrete plan has been formulated.

"It's incumbent upon us to look at every option and that ranges from playing the way we have historically to various levels of quarantine," McLachlan said.

"We are working with the right people to get a considered view about the right way to take us forward.

"I understand the challenges that will be on so many people as we try to get this season away and we'll have to continue to work with all the stakeholders to get their buy-in.

"We understand the reservations of some in the absence of information."

AFL clubs' playing lists are likely to be trimmed for next season as part of football department cost-cutting measures across the competition, but McLachlan confirmed they will remain as they are for 2020.

McLachlan also said the AFL would open its books to the AFLPA when it comes to negotiating a reworked pay deal for future seasons.

"There will have to be a level of transparency about what industry revenue looks like to conclude that deal," he said.

© AAP 2020

Aged care workers to get pandemic leave -selected

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Casual aged care workers will be eligible for paid pandemic leave after a Fair Work Commission decision to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The variations will take effect from Wednesday and will remain in effect for three months, the commission said in a ruling released late on Monday.

Many of the recent deaths in Victoria's second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic have been linked to outbreaks at aged care facilities, which prompted the Fair Work Commission to act.

"There is a real risk that employees who do not have access to leave entitlements might not report COVID-19 symptoms which might require them to self-isolate, but rather seek to attend for work out of financial need," it said.

"This represents a significant risk to infection control measures.

"These matters weigh significantly in favour of the introduction of a paid pandemic leave entitlement."

There are now 84 cases linked to St Basil's Home for the Aged in Fawkner, 82 at Estia Health in Ardeer, 77 at Epping Gardens Aged Care, and 62 at Menarock Aged Care in Essendon.

Glendale Aged Care in Werribee has 53 cases linked to it, and 57 are associated with Kirkbrae Presbyterian Homes in Kilsyth.

Premier Daniel Andrews has said people who are going to work sick - including those who work at aged care facilities - are the "biggest driver" of the state's second wave.

But the union movement said many of those people could not afford not to work.

Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus said the decision does not go far enough.

"We welcome the decision but this still does not remove the trap door for casual workers with irregular hours," she said in a statement.

"What this decision shows is that there is a need for paid pandemic leave and while the economy is struggling it should be government funded for all workers so no-one is even considering having to go to work with mild symptoms just to pay the bills."

The Victorian government is now providing a $300 payment for workers who can't go to work after testing for COVID-19.

A further $1500 hardship payment is available if the test result is positive.

The Fair Work Commission says the pandemic leave will:

* apply to workers who are required by their employer or a government medical authority or on the advice of a medical practitioner to self-isolate because they display COVID-19 symptoms or have come into contact with a suspected case;

* is limited to up to two weeks' paid leave on each occasion of self-isolation;

* not be paid to workers who are able to work at home or remotely during self-isolation.

© AAP 2020

Aged care workers, residents catch virus

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Ten aged care residents and seven staff have tested positive to coronavirus across six different homes in NSW, Western Australia and South Australia.

Federal Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck revealed the tally in Senate question time on Monday.

"I can't give you a specific number of how many aged care workers have been tested or for that matter how many residents have been tested," he told parliament.

"Those that have needed a test have received a test."

He said people needed to limit their visits to aged care homes.

"It's a really tough message to tell people to limit visiting their loved ones in aged care facilities, but it's everybody's job to keep our senior Australians safe," the minister said.

Senator Colbeck said from May 1, anyone not vaccinated for influenza would be banned from entering aged care facilities.

"This is a very difficult time for people in aged care and their families," he said.

Three of Australia's seven coronavirus deaths have been residents of BaptistCare's Dorothy Henderson Lodge in Sydney.

© AAP 2020

Agricultural Show Societies thrown a funding lifeline

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Agricultural Show Societies have been thrown a funding lifeline. 

The Australian Government is spending $36 million to support agricultural show societies recover from the effects of COVID-19, ensuring they can continue after the pandemic.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said the COVID-19 pandemic has hurt agricultural shows, with most expected to be cancelled for 2020 in the interest of public health and social distancing measures.

“Agricultural shows are part of the fabric of regional Australia, showcasing everything positive about our communities and local industries,” the Deputy Prime Minister said.

“These shows are estimated to contribute $1 billion to the economy each year and attract 6 million patrons annually, supported by 50,000 volunteers."

“They create social bonds and improve mental health in parts of regional Australia where distance, drought, bushfires and now COVID-19 have caused significant hardship and distress.”

Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management David Littleproud said the Supporting Agricultural Shows program will provide a one-off reimbursement to agricultural show societies to deal with cash flow pressures caused by COVID-19 related cancellation of agricultural shows.

“This funding supports not only the big Royal Shows in each capital but right down to the small country show, because we acknowledge the role shows play in connecting agriculture and regional Australia to metropolitan Australians,” Minister Littleproud said.

“There is a real risk that if we don’t help that not only could Royal Shows cease to function the way they are now but also those small shows all of which are run by volunteers could fold."

“In addition, $100,000 will go towards supporting the Agricultural Shows Australia rural ambassador program, which will enable the vital community work the ambassadors perform in regional Australia to continue."

Member for New England, Barnaby Joyce, said eligible local shows in his electorate could receive a reimbursement of up to $70,000 under the Supporting Agricultural Shows program.

“This is fantastic news for our many hardworking show society volunteers who because of COVID-19 were unable to stage a show for their communities this year,” Barnaby Joyce said.

“Agricultural shows play an important civic role in many country towns so it’s integral we do as much as we can to keep them going during this time of need."

“The Government is reimbursing shows for costs incurred in 2020 and funds will be paid in 2021 and I encourage local show societies to check their eligibility and apply when the grants open.”

The $36 million Supporting Agricultural Shows program comprises three components:

  • $10 million in operational support for local show societies. Shows will be able to claim up to $10,000 if their attendance last year was less than 2,000, up to $15,000 if their attendance was between 2,000 and 4,999 and up to $70,000 if their attendance was over 5,000.
  • $26 million in operational support for Royal Agricultural Show societies which can additionally to claim for unrecoverable costs associated with preparing for the cancelled show.
  • $100,000 in operational support for Agricultural Shows Australia’s Rural ambassador program.

All agricultural shows that have cancelled their show in 2020 because of COVID-19 will be eligible and they will not have to compete for assistance.

Eligible reimbursement costs are expected to include: Bank fees, utilities, rates, insurance, fire alarms and equipment, cleaning supplies, telecommunications, IT system licencing costs, website costs, state/national show body affiliation fees and rent.

For more information on the Fund, visit https://www.regional.gov.au/regional/programs/covid-19-relief-and-recovery-fund.aspx.

Image credit: Grant Broadcasters/Jessica Rouse

Airbnb bans house parties worldwide

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Airbnb is banning house parties worldwide as it tries to clean up its reputation and comply with coronavirus-related limits on gatherings.

The US home sharing company will limit occupancy in its rental homes to 16 people.

It may offer exceptions for boutique hotels or other event venues.

Airbnb said it may pursue legal action against guests and hosts who violate the ban.

Last week, for the first time, Airbnb took legal action against a guest who held an unauthorised party in Sacramento County, California.

Airbnb has always prohibited unauthorised parties and the company said nearly 75 per cent of its listings explicitly ban parties.

Last November, Airbnb started manually reviewing US and Canadian reservations to weed out suspicious rentals, like a guest who booked a one-night stay close to their home.

It expanded that program to Australia last week.

In July, Airbnb banned US and Canadian guests under age 25 with fewer than three positive reviews from booking entire homes close to where they live.

It expanded that policy to the United Kingdom, Spain and France last week.

Airbnb said it also plans to expand a hotline for neighbours to report unauthorised parties.

Airbnb says about 2 per cent of the 7 million properties listed on its site can accommodate 16 or more people.

There are at least 53 in London, 277 in Beijing, 170 in New York and 116 in Los Angeles, according to the company's website.

© AP 2020

Airlines hunt places to park idle planes

epaselect epa08316231 Swiss International Air Lines aircrafts are parked on the tarmac at the airport in Zurich, Switzerland, 23 March 2020. Due to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic a large number of flights of the Swiss carrier have been cancelled and a part of their fleet grounding at Zurich airport.  EPA/ENNIO LEANZA

Swiss International Air Lines aircrafts are parked on the tarmac at the airport in Zurich. Due to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic a large number of flights of the Swiss carrier have been cancelled and a part of their fleet grounding at Zurich airport (EPA/ENNIO LEANZA)

As airlines idle thousands of aircraft for which there are no passengers, they are hitting an unprecedented problem: finding a place to park them.

Taxiways, maintenance hangars and even runways at major airports are being transformed into giant parking lots for more than 2500 airliners, the biggest of which takes up about as much room as an eight-storey building with a footprint three-quarters the size of an American football field.

The number of planes in storage has doubled to more than 5000 since the start of the year, according to Cirium data, with more expected to be parked in the coming weeks as carriers such as Qantas and Singapore Airlines proceed with further announced cuts to flight schedules.

In Frankfurt, Germany's biggest airport is a ghost town of silent airliners. Its northwest landing runway, including taxiways and bridges, has been converted to an aircraft parking lot for Lufthansa, Condor and other airlines.

Lufthansa brand Swiss has rented parking spots at a military airport close to Zurich.

Similar crowds of planes are parked at other major airports, including Hong Kong, Seoul, Berlin and Vienna as well as traditional desert parking lots in Victorville, California, and Marana, Arizona, according to data from flight tracking website FlightRadar24.

In Manila, some Philippines Airlines jets are parked in the Lufthansa Technik Philippines hangar, an airline official said.

Even some smaller airports have been converted to parking lots. Avalon Airport west of Melbourne expects to take 50 planes from Qantas and its low-cost offshoot, Jetstar, according to the airport's chief executive, Justin Giddings.

"It is sad for everyone, the whole industry," he told Reuters of the groundings, which have led Qantas to put 20,000 staff members on leave.

Qantas is sending 30 engineers to Avalon help maintain the planes so they can re-enter service in three to seven days when demand returns, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.

The carrier is also parking about 100 other aircraft at major airports around Australia and its five ageing 747s at a desert storage facility in Alice Springs, the source said.

Some airports, such as Melbourne and Brisbane, said they are providing free parking. Brisbane Airport said some international airlines had expressed interest in using its facilities, which can house up to 101 planes, but no deals had yet been reached.

Qantas and Virgin Australia will use some of the Brisbane spots.

Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd, one of the first and hardest hit by the coronavirus, has been using remote bays, taxiways and other operational areas at Hong Kong International Airport.

In the United States, United Airlines and American Airlines said they were parking planes at maintenance facilities for now, while Delta Air Lines Inc said it was still looking into the issue.

© RAW 2020

All eyes will be on regional pubs, clubs, restaurants and cafes for Operation to ensure COVID-safe trading

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All eyes will be on regional pubs, clubs, restaurants and cafes for a new operation to ensure COVID-safe trading.

The NSW Police Force have rolled out a high-visibility policing operation across regional NSW to ensure social distancing and the Public Health Order are being adhered to at licensed venues. 

Operation Pariac will run for the entire month of June and be conducted by general duties and specialist licensing police in the Northern, Southern and Western Regions, but will have an altered focus for June 2020.

The operation aims to ensure education and compliance around the Public Health Order conditions, relative to the easing of restrictions in licensed premises from this week.

Police will also be targeting alcohol-related crime, including assaults, anti-social behaviour and public order incidents.

Operation Pariac Commander, Assistant Commissioner Max Mitchell APM, said as restrictions continue to ease, venues and patrons need to be aware of their responsibilities to maintain a COVID-safe environment.

“From today, the movement of people across the state will start to increase dramatically, as thousands of people head to regional communities to inject much needed tourism dollars."

“Police will be conducting random checks and patrols of licensed venues throughout our regions, with the ability for resources to be shared amongst police districts where the demand is needed – particularly across the Queen’s Birthday long weekend (Saturday 6 June – Monday 8 June 2020)."

“Operation Pariac, as part of a Vikings operation, will see officers working closely with industry and business owners to ensure they are able to operate safe environments for their customers, while making the public feel confident about returning to a COVID-safe venue."

“Whether you’re heading to a winery in the Hunter Valley, a bar at Byron Bay, a pub on the bushfire-hit South Coast, or an RSL in drought-impacted areas out west – licensees and patrons alike need to be aware of their surroundings and the strict rules which now apply,” Assistant Commissioner Mitchell said.

Image credit: Grant Broadcasters

Alpacas could help fight the coronavirus

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Australian medical researchers have found an unlikely hero in a pair of alpacas they hope will help them develop a prevention and treatment for COVID-19.

The nameless duo have been immunised with safe, non-infectious virus fragments, to trigger their rare immune response.

The camelid species, as well as some sharks like the Wobbegong, produce an extra, miniscule type of antibody which enable them to fight the 'spiky' coronavirus in ways human antibodies can't.

Alpacas were the easy choice of the two, Associate Professor Wai-Hong Tham told AAP.

"We're interested in these nanobodies because they're really stable, can fit into things that other bigger antibodies can't, and they're very sticky to the protein target, which is a good thing to have in a treatment option," she told AAP.

The joint head of infectious disease at Melbourne's Walter Eliza Hall Institute, Ms Tham is leading the project which will attempt to recreate and manipulate the nanobodies in a lab.

First, researchers will need to identify which of the alpaca's millions of nanobodies - which are ten times smaller than regular antibodies - best inhibit the virus.

Then, they'll have to make them more closely resemble human antibodies, so our immune systems don't kill them off.

But Ms Tham says those objectives are achievable, and any treatment would be easily scalable too.

"The fact that there is already an approved nanobody drug for blood clotting shows that you really can deploy nanobodies well."

The team is currently designing the nanobodies to be used both as a prevention and treatment for the virus.

"In populations that may not mount a very good immune response to the vaccine for a variety of reasons, we could deploy the antibody-based therapies then, because there we're directly giving you the antibodies that work," Ms Tham said.

Immuno-compromised people and those in aged care are the best candidates for that use of nanobodies, but they could also be used in treatment of mild COVID cases.

The project is part of a larger search for suitable antibodies by Australian researchers, and would need to be among the top prospects for research to continue.

"If all goes well and they're potent and they're safe, then we'll be looking at clinical trials next year," Ms Tham said.

As for the alpacas, the team says their involvement is harmless, and they'll enjoy long and happy lives in their East Gippsland home.

© AAP 2020

Amazon hiring 100000 as orders surge

epa08299138 An employee works inside an Amazon pop up store in a shopping mall in Skokie, Illinois, USA, 16 March 2020. Many stores have reduced hours or closed completely in response to the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 which causes the Covid-19 disease.  EPA/TANNEN MAURY

An employee works inside an Amazon pop up store in a shopping mall in Skokie, Illinois, USA, 16 March 2020. Many stores have reduced hours or closed completely in response to the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 which causes the Covid-19 disease. (EPA/TANNEN MAURY)

Amazon says it needs to hire 100,000 people across the US to keep up with a crush of orders as the coronavirus spreads and keeps more people at home, shopping online.

The online retailer said it will also temporarily raise pay by $US2 an hour through the end of April for hourly employees, who work at its warehouses, delivery centres and Whole Foods grocery stores.

Hourly workers in the United Kingdom and other European countries will get a similar raise.

"We are seeing a significant increase in demand, which means our labour needs are unprecedented for this time of year," said Dave Clark, who oversees Amazon's warehouse and delivery network.

Amazon said this weekend that a surge of orders is putting its operations under pressure.

It warned shoppers that it could take longer than the usual two days to get packages.

It also said it was sold out of many household cleaning supplies and is working to get more in stock.

The Seattle-based company said the openings are for a mix of full-time and part-time jobs and include roles such as delivery drivers and warehouse workers, who pack and ship orders for shoppers.

© AP 2020

Andrews to be grilled at Vic virus inquiry

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Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews addresses the media during a press conference in Melbourne, Monday, May 11, 2020.  (AAP Image/Daniel Pockett)

Premier Daniel Andrews is set to be grilled over his government's handling of Victoria's second coronavirus wave at a parliamentary inquiry.

Mr Andrews will be the first witness called at the second sitting of the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee's COVID-19 Inquiry on Tuesday.

He last appeared at the hearing on May 12, when the state's total number of coronavirus cases was 1509 and just 18 people had died.

Some 228 Victorians have now died from the virus, many of them aged care residents.

There are now more than 7869 active cases in the state, of which 1756 are linked to aged care residents and staff.

Also appearing on Tuesday are Health Minister Jenny Mikakos, Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kym Peake.

Victoria recorded its deadliest day of the coronavirus pandemic on Monday with 19 deaths and 322 new cases.

The latest Victorian victims are a man in his 50s, a woman in her 60s, two men in their 70s, one man and six women in their 80s, and one man and seven women in their 90s.

Fourteen of the 19 deaths are linked to aged care outbreaks.

Monday's case numbers were the lowest since July 29, when the state recorded 295 new cases.

But the premier urged people not to become complacent about the numbers.

"It is really important that we all stay the course on this," Mr Andrews told reporters on Monday.

"(COVID-19) is a wicked enemy, it will do everything it can to wear you down and that is where it absolutely flourishes."

Metropolitan Melbourne has been under tough stage-four restrictions for a week - including an 8pm curfew - while regional Victoria is under stage-three measures.

The lockdowns are in place until September 13.

"It is still very early for us to be trying to measure the impacts of stage four, but we're certainly seeing perhaps some greater stability that is a result of the cumulative impact of stage three," Mr Andrews said.

"It's bought some stability in the numbers, but we've got to drive them down so that we can reopen."

A new outbreak emerged on Monday at the Altona North packaging and distribution facility for meal kit delivery company Marley Spoon.

So far, eight cases are linked to the warehouse.

© AAP 2020

Another returned traveller tests positive to COVID-19 in the Hunter New England Health District

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Another returned traveller has tested positive to COVID-19 in the Hunter New England Health District. 

NSW Health reported there had been 20 new positive cases of the virus in the 24 hours to 8pm last night including four cases in hotel quarantine after they'd returned to Australia from being overseas. 

The new case for the HNE Health District is a 34 year old man, who is a returned overseas traveller from the Middle East, and is now in hotel quarantine in Sydney.

There are now 283 confirmed cases for the district since the pandemic began.

“The Sydney outbreaks particularly the one that started at Crossroads which is subsequently spread is a real reason for concern and we would strongly advise anybody from the Hunter New England region to rather stay at home then visiting Sydney at this stage unless absolutely necessary," said Public Health Physician Dr David Durrheim.

"Lots of lessons can come out of the Sydney experience particularly the fact that this virus if you give it half a chance can spread very very rapidly and even from asymptomatic people in the presymptomatic stage before they develop symptoms."

"So, our only defenses are really standing back, making sure that we take real care about our hand washing and not taking colds or coughs into the community and spreading the virus,"

"Now the important thing is if you've been tested in the past, a single negative test doesn't mean that if you develop new symptoms that you’re COVID free. It's very important to again go and get yourself tested and the good news is that the new testing regime which includes a deep nasal swab rather than a nasopharyngeal swab swap is much more comfortable," he said.

"So we encourage anybody develops even mild symptoms, the scratchy throat and runny nose a mild fever, a cough, get yourself tested, make sure you don't have COVID-19 and let's make sure we keep up community safe against this virus," said Dr Durrheim. 

Ardern pleads for calm after COVID return

In this image from a video, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks at a news conference in Wellington, New Zealand Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020. Ardern said Tuesday that authorities have found four cases of the coronavirus in one Auckland household from an unknown source, the first reported cases of local transmission in the country in 102 days. (TVNZ via AP)

In this image from a video, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks at a news conference in Wellington, New Zealand Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020. (TVNZ via AP)

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has appealed for calm from Aucklanders heading back into lockdown after a clutch of new COVID-19 cases were identified.

Four south Auckland family members have tested positive to the deadly virus on Tuesday, prompting the return of emergency measures.

As of noon on Wednesday, Aucklanders will be required to stay home unless they are conducting essential work or essential personal movement - such as supermarket shopping, health care or exercise.

"One of the most important lessons we've learned from overseas is the need to go hard and go early and stamp out flare-ups to avoid the risk of wider outbreak," Ms Ardern said in a late-night press conference on Tuesday.

"As disruptive it is, a strong and rapid health response remains the best long term economic response.

"In line with our precautionary approach, we will be asking Aucklanders to take swift action with us."

The lockdown has been announced for 60 hours - from noon on Wednesday to midnight on Friday - to allow health officials to contact trace, isolate potential cases and conduct mass testing.

However, the short-term lockdown still prompted Kiwis to head out to shops; within the hour Radio NZ reported hundreds of people queuing outside supermarkets.

"There will be ample stock on the shelves, there is no reason to go out and make any purchases this evening," Ms Ardern said.

"I know that this information will be very difficult to receive," she said.

"We had all hoped not to find ourselves in this position again but we had also prepared for it.

"As a team we have also been here before. We know if we have a plan and stick to it we can work our way through very difficult and unknown situations."

While Aucklanders will be largely shut off from the rest of New Zealand, where social distancing and gathering caps will be enforced, all New Zealanders would have felt flummoxed by the news.

Psychologist Jacqui Maguire said Kiwis would be experiencing a range of emotions, including "anxiety, fear, anger and disappointment".

"Take that disappointment and use it as motivation to stick to the rules," she said.

"Turning away from or suppressing your emotional reactions will only intensify them.

"Hold compassion and kindness for yourself and others as you adjust, reach out and offer support to those around you.

"Take one day at a time, practise your wellbeing strategies and hold the hope that we will get through this together."

© AAP 2020

Ardern to deport non-quarantiners

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In this Friday, March 13, 2020, photo, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addresses a press conference in Christchurch, New Zealand. (AP Photo/Mark Baker) 

New Zealand will deport visitors who choose not to self-isolate on arrival and will clamp down on public gatherings in fresh efforts to fight the spread of COVID-19.

On Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern issued advice to end gatherings of more than 500 people to maintain public health standards.

As of 1am on Monday, any arrivals to New Zealand soil - except from Pacific nations - need to self-isolate for a fortnight.

Despite New Zealand's reputation as a hospitable destination for tourists, Ms Ardern issued a warning to anyone considering non-compliance, saying "Frankly, you are not welcome and you should leave before you are deported".

New Zealand recorded no new positive tests on Monday and has just eight confirmed cases and two probable cases.

Health officials expect that number to rise starkly despite the self-isolation measures in place.

On Tuesday, Finance Minister Grant Robertson will announce a stimulus package - expected to be of historic proportions - targeted towards businesses and maintaining jobs.

© AAP 2020

ARTC will continue rolling out maintenance work with a number of COVID-19 precautions to ensure the essential service continues to run

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The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) will continue rolling out maintenance works with additional precautions to ensure the essential service continues to run. 

The ARTC said they have significantly scaled-back its previously planned maintenance shutdown of the Hunter Valley rail network this week, with a focus on delivering works essential to ensuring the rail network’s safety and reliability for the community and freight supply that relies on the network’s operation.

A range of measures are being implemented to ensure the main works continue amid the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Limiting workers to be those employees and contractors based in the Hunter Valley rather than the typical ‘surge’ workforce that can come from intra and interstate. This scales back the workforce by more than 500 people
- Ensuring teams carry out their work in smaller groups and in separate locations across the network
- De-scaling the total scope of works to focus on essential reliability focused tasks only.
- ARTC will also continue ensure all our staff practice social distancing, minimise interactions with the broader community, conduct communications and briefings with 4m2 and regular health and hygiene check-ups.

Group Executive of the Hunter Valley Wayne Johnson said the Hunter Valley Rail network plays a vital role in the transport and supply chain supporting not only the local economy, but the state and Australian economies.

Around half of the trains on the rail network are passenger services, and ARTC also manages the safe transit of valuable export commodities like coal, grain and other products. The transport of regional freight and interstate goods trains are also served by the Hunter rail network.

“The freight and transport industry has been identified as an essential service by the State and Federal Government – this is a responsibility the Australian Rail Track Corporation takes very seriously, and we are working hard to ensure we balance the challenge of ensuring the safety and reliability of a critical transport network, alongside our obligations to meet and respond to the current public health challenge,” Wayne Johnson said.

”It is critical that we continue to meet the need of delivering goods, products and people – but we are acutely aware of balancing the demands of running an extensive rail network, with the health and welfare of our people and the communities in which we operate.”

“As Coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread and disrupt people’s daily lives, we have implemented a range of preventative measures to ensure the safety of our team and the community, while endeavouring to ensure reliable network operations can be sustained for critical freight movements in coming weeks.”

Wayne Johnson added that the measures are being assessed daily and the type of work being undertaken still requires a shutdown of the network to be carried out as safely as possible.

“The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is an incredibly challenging set of circumstances for us all and it’s clear that this period of uncertainty is going to remain for some time. “We thank our customers, the community, commuters, and motorists across the network for their understanding of the need to carry out this critical maintenance activity to assure the integrity of the network for coming weeks” he said.

“We remind residents to remain vigilant as there may be more vehicle movements in and out of work sites in areas around the work sites and the rail corridor.”

Alternative public transport will be provided for impacted passenger train customers, and details and schedules can be found at the Transport for NSW website.

Image credit: ARTC

Aussie experts 'unlocking' COVID-19 cure

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Australian scientists are using a massive X-ray machine to map the molecular structure of COVID-19 to help find a vaccine for the virus.

Experts at the Australian Synchrotron in Melbourne - which is about the size of a football field - capture atomic-scale 3D pictures of coronavirus.

The images are being shared with researchers across the world, who hope to use the information to develop drugs that bind to the virus and stop it growing.

"You need to know what the protein looks like so you can design a drug to attach to it," Australian Synchrotron director Andrew Peele said in a statement on Tuesday.

"It's like designing a key for a lock, you need to know the dimensions of the keyhole."

The synchrotron is the largest particle accelerator in the Southern Hemisphere and produces light a million times brighter than the sun to capture clear 3D images of atoms and molecules.

"Using our technology, within five minutes you can understand why a drug does or doesn't work in attaching to a COVID-19 protein," Professor Peele said.

Dozens of samples have arrived at the synchrotron from across the country and Asia.

Federal Industry, Science and Technology Minister Karen Andrews said the work would support research to find a solution to COVID-19.

© AAP 2020

Aussie ICU beds over capacity in a week

Chinas coronavirus death toll up to 563

There are calls to increase the number of intensive care unit beds at Australian hospitals, amid worries coronavirus cases could exceed capacity next week.

A new study published by the Medical Journal of Australia compared real data of the infection in Italy to forecast how many Australians will need an intensive care unit bed in the coming weeks.

"ICU capacity will be exceeded at around 22,000 COVID-19 cases sometime around April 5 if public health measures fail to curb the rate of growth," the study concludes.

Australia has around 2200 ICU beds currently, the MJA study says.

"Over the coming months it's going to take courage, brains and a concerted unified effort to manage the infection," Professor Nick Talley said.

"While the results reported may represent a worst-case scenario and may not come to pass, we must better prepare, now," he wrote.

Calls to urgently increase hospital capacity have been voiced repeatedly over the last week.

Swiss doctor Professor Paolo Ferrari criticised the government for stepping in too late to stop the spread of the virus and wanred about the need to increase ICU beds.

Under his advice, the Swiss region of Ticino grew its intensive care capacity ten days before it even had one positive case, turning different locations into coronavirus-dedicated hospitals.

Professor Talley said that in order to take action, "bureaucrats must step to the sidelines."

"We will also require our health system leadership to understand at a time like this the structure in every hospital should be a military-like command-and-control one," he said.

© AAP 2020

Aussie options to flee the US are closing

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Australians have been warned that time and flight options are running out if they want to flee the US as the coronavirus spreads across the globe.

Chelsey Martin, Australia's consulate-general in Los Angeles, issued a stark message on Thursday to the "tens of thousands" of Australians who live within her jurisdiction in America's southwest states.

Qantas and Virgin Australia are about to cut flights from the US to Australia while United Airlines will have a limited schedule.

"Whatever your circumstances, given the escalating COVID-19 crisis I wanted to reach out and encourage any Australians wishing to go home to do so as soon as possible," Ms Martin said in a video message posted on the LA consulate's Twitter page.

"After the end of this week, commercial flight options will be incredibly limited.

"Qantas' final scheduled flight is out of LAX (Los Angeles) on Friday, the 27th of March.

"Virgin's final scheduled flight out of LAX is on Sunday the 29th of March.

"United Airlines has advised us that they will continue with a limited flight schedule from San Francisco to Sydney in the weeks ahead, but the situation is changing rapidly and I would encourage anyone who is still deciding whether or not they would like to return to Australia, not to delay taking that decision.

"These are unprecedented and anxious times for many."

Ms Martin said the LA consulate would remain open "around the clock" to provide consular assistance.

Australians were also being urged to follow the consulate on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for information updates.

© AAP 2020

Aussies import Trump's virus 'cure' drug

Hydroxychloroquine Sulphate tablets with coronavirus written in background

Aussies import Trump's virus 'cure' drug (Bigstock)

Thousands of hydroxychloroquine tablets have been seized at Australian borders after it was touted by US President Donald Trump as a potential cure for coronavirus.

The Australian Border Force says there has been a surge in unauthorised imports of the prescription-only anti-malarial drug.

Dozens of consignments containing a total of more than 6000 tablets have been intercepted at international gateways since January.

All have been referred to the Therapeutic Goods Administration for assessment, the ABF says.

President Trump last month described hydroxychloroquine as a potential "game-changer" in the battle against COVID-19.

But the TGA has warned the drug poses serious risks to patients, including irreversible eye damage, severe depletion of blood sugar and cardiac toxicity which could lead to sudden heart attacks.

ABF acting commander Susan Drennan says the force is maintaining a strong presence during the pandemic.

"Anyone considering further unauthorised imports will be wasting their money," she said on Friday.

"Whether it's individuals wanting to self-prescribe, or criminals aiming to sell the drug on the black market, our officers have the technology, skills and innovative processes to detect and disrupt their illegal importations of pharmaceuticals such as this."

© AAP 2020

Aussies stashing cash during pandemic

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Australians weren't just stockpiling toilet paper during the COVID-19 crisis - they have also been hoarding crisp new banknotes.

While consumer spending has fallen after the panic-buying splurge in March, and many retailers are refusing cash payments for hygiene reasons, banknotes have been stashed away in homes and wallets more than ever.

The Reserve Bank of Australia has been meeting spikes in demand for banknotes from commercial banks and their customers, despite reporting last week that use of cash had reduced during the pandemic.

The demand for notes for the year to last Thursday rose by more than nine per cent, going against the trend of the past couple of years.

Up to six per cent of that increase - worth about $5 billion - has happened since the mid-March share market convulsions.

The RBA revealed in its April financial stability report that cash withdrawals from banks increased in the second half of March.

"This included a small number of customers making very large withdrawals - more than $100,000, and in some cases into the millions of dollars," it said, adding that the elevated demand had since abated.

But a banking system insider says there's been another spike in demand in the past two weeks, not quite as big as in March, coming from banks and their customers.

"We are seeing banks are getting extra cash in anticipation of COVID restrictions easing, and retailers, pubs and clubs wanting their floats back, while people aren't making as many deposits," he told AAP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Also when people are more uncertain about things they tend to hold more liquidity around them. No one's suggesting there's any concern with the banks - people just do that."

The use of cash has fallen steadily to 27 per cent of all payments late last year from 69 per cent in 2007, according to RBA statistics.

But the pandemic may not bring Australia closer to being a cashless society.

The Royal Australian Mint says coin production for general circulation has decreased slightly during the pandemic compared to the same period last year.

"We believe that Australians using contactless payments may increase post COVID-19 but this will not lead to a permanent shift to a cashless society, at least not in the near future," the mint said in a statement.

© AAP 2020

Australia pressing on with virus inquiry

Chinese paramilitary police wearing face masks to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus stand guard along a street near Tiananmen Square in Beijing, Wednesday, April 29, 2020. China, in a step toward returning to business as normal, announced Wednesday that its previously postponed national legislature session would be held in late May. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Chinese paramilitary police wearing face masks to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus stand guard along a street near Tiananmen Square in Beijing, Wednesday, April 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein) 

Australia is pushing ahead with calls for a review into the origins of coronavirus despite it straining diplomatic relations with China.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne has indicated the review is picking up steam.

"There is a very broad range of understanding that there is definitely a need for an independent and transparent review," she told ABC radio on Friday.

"We have been very gratified by the engagement we've had in recent days and in the last week, with the prime minister's calls and my own."

Chinese ambassador Cheng Jingye has floated a consumer boycott of Australian products in retaliation to the review.

But Senator Payne isn't perturbed.

"What we do need to do is to put that stake in the ground, to say we need to have an independent and transparent review," she said.

Conservative MPs have blasted mining magnate Twiggy Forrest for inviting a Chinese diplomat to a ministerial press conference unannounced.

Mr Forrest said his invitation to Victoria's Chinese consul-general Long Zhou to address the media was a gesture of appreciation and friendship.

Mr Long is reportedly a former top cyber official for Beijing, The Australian reports.

Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman said Chinese diplomats had been "downright despicable and menacing" since Australia started pressing the case for an investigation.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said the media conference had overshadowed the good work of the Forrests.

Former foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop says it's time for calm and quiet diplomacy.

"So that we can understand more about this virus, how it got into human populations and whether decisions could have been taken that would have prevented its spread," she told the ABC.

However, she said China had a responsibility to support an independent global investigation if it did not intend to carry out its own inquiry to help the rest of the world learn what happened.

Australian National University's Andrew Carr warned attempts by Australia to rebuke China could distract from calls for an inquiry into COVID-19's origins.

Dr Carr told AAP the current spat was minor in the scheme of things but Australia shouldn't let it slide.

A serious inquiry into coronavirus' orgins could help counter conspiracy theories and racist attacks.

But Australia was well positioned to manage how diplomats inside Australia are supposed to act, he said.

© AAP 2020

Australia will fund WHO but demand reform

epa08364179 The logo and building of the World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, 15 April 2020. US President Donald Trump announced that he has instructed his administration to halt funding to the WHO. The American president criticizes the World Health Organization for its mismanagement of the Coronavirus pandemic Covid-19.  EPA/MARTIAL TREZZINI

Australia will fund WHO but demand reform (EPA/MARTIAL TREZZINI)

Australia will continue funding the World Health Organisation despite arguing it has made "significant mistakes" during the coronavirus pandemic.

The federal government declared the pandemic two weeks before the WHO, and was criticised for closing its borders to Chinese travellers.

Australia has also admonished the WHO for endorsing China's decision to reopen wet markets, which were the likely cause of the COVID-19 and other diseases like SARS and swine flu.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Australia would leverage of its membership of the WHO to push for reform.

"It does important work in our region and we want to see that continue," he told ABC radio on Thursday.

"The practical solutions provided by the WHO locally are much more beneficial than some of the political decisions they have taken centrally."

A group of Australian professors who work at centres that collaborate with the WHO have criticised the United States for withdrawing funding from the United Nations body.

"To remove this funding suddenly and in the middle of a pandemic seems rather callous and introspective," the 19 professors wrote in a joint statement.

"We are unanimous in thinking that this defunding of WHO is a global health disaster (that) will result in thousands of additional and potentially preventable deaths from COVID-19."

© AAP 2020

Australia's virus inquiry gathers momentum

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Australia's virus inquiry gathers momentum (Pexels)

Australia has received international backing for an independent coronavirus inquiry as trade tensions with China come under heavy strain.

More than 60 countries including Russia, Indonesia, India, Japan, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and all 27 European Union member states have co-sponsored the motion.

The draft resolution calls for impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation of the international response to the pandemic.

It doesn't mention China, but Australia's push for the inquiry has angered Beijing, which has threatened a huge tariff on barley and blocked some beef imports.

Health Minister Greg Hunt will represent Australia at the virtual World Health Assembly meeting on Monday night.

A vote is expected in the early hours of Tuesday.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the inquiry was about investigating what the world could learn from the devastating pandemic.

"That's the responsible thing to do when 300,000 souls have lost their lives around the world," he told the ABC on Monday.

Mr Littleproud said his Chinese counterpart had indicated he would not discuss trade issues in the near future.

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham has not received a return call from his opposite number.

Australia isn't ruling out taking China to the World Trade Organisation over the 80 per cent tariff on barley.

Mr Littleproud said he would continue to make the case to China that exporters were not dumping product.

"We will prosecute that case on behalf of Australian exporters," he said.

"If those that we're prosecuting against don't understand it, we'll take it to an umpire for them to understand."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has described the push for an inquiry into the origins of coronavirus as completely unremarkable.

But China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi lashed out at foreign politicians for politicising the pandemic.

Beijing's man in Canberra raised the prospect of consumer boycotts of Australian products because of the push for an inquiry.

Since then, the barley threat has surfaced, while four major Australian abattoirs have been blocked from sending product to China.

© AAP 2020

Australia's virus tally pushes 2000

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Australia's coronavirus tally could hit 2000 cases by the end of the day as authorities develop new rules about who can get tested.

NSW and Victoria reported 205 new cases on Tuesday morning, taking the national tally to 1914. Australia's death toll stands at seven, all but one in NSW.

Other states are yet to add their new cases. They include Queensland which recorded 60 fresh positive results on Monday - it's highest daily increase so far.

The World Health Organisation warned overnight that the coronavirus pandemic is accelerating, with more than 300,000 cases now confirmed and thousand upon thousands of deaths.

It took 67 days from the first reported of the virus to hit 100,000 cases, 11 days for the second 100,000, and just four days for the third 100,000.

WHO says it's still possible to change the trajectory of the pandemic, urging countries to adopt rigorous testing and contact-tracing strategies.

Australia's Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly says testing criteria for coronavirus will change as a result of sweeping travel bans that have lessened the risk of imported disease.

Current rules require tests for people who fell ill within two weeks of returning from overseas, or had contact with such a person.

But Prof Kelly has indicated a rule change that's more focused on community transmission, telling the ABC the traveller component would be removed.

"There will be announcements about that over the coming days," he told the ABC's Q&A program on Monday night.

On Tuesday morning, NSW reported 149 new cases, taking its tally to 818. Victoria added another 56 people to its list of infections, taking the state tally to 411.

Queensland has recorded 319 cases since the outbreak began, but won't reveal how many new cases it's had in the past 24 hours until later on Tuesday.

In Western Australia, police and Australian Border Force officers will ensure passengers do not leave a cruise ship that has docked at Fremantle Port.

Premier Mark McGowan says no one will be allowed ashore while the vessel refuels before heading for Dubai, amid fears at least 250 peope are suffering an upper respiratory illness.

The operator of the ship, which left Italy in January, has denied reports of widespread illness, but Mr McGowan isn't taking any chances after dozens of people with coronavirus disembarked from a cruise ship in Sydney.

Political and health authorities are ramping up the message for people to stay home and implement social distancing, as states including WA and Queensland announce more cash to help workers and businesses survive.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian says the state is now at a critical stage, and people needed to self-isolate where necessary, stay home if they can, and social distance.

"This is a difficult time for us, but I am confident NSW will control as much as we can the spread of this virus, so long as everyone steps up and does what they need to do," she told reporters on Tuesday.

She warned that people would face harsh penalties if they were told to self-isolate but didn't.

NSW Police Minister David Elliott has called the decision to let passengers leave the Ruby Princess cruise ship in Sydney was a "monumental stuff up". At least 50 people from that vessel have the virus.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews made another appeal for people to grasp the gravity of the situation.

"Turn your TV on - have a look at Italy, have a look at Spain, have a look at France," Mr Andrews told Triple M Melbourne on Tuesday.

Some states have closed their borders while others are tussling over school closures amid fears the pandemic could affect Australia for months to come.

Border controls are now in place for South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania, with only freight and essential travel exempted. Queensland will close its borders on Wednesday.

Schools remain open in South Australia, Tasmania, Western Australia and Queensland.

NSW is also keeping schools open but Ms Berejiklian has told parents to keep their children home if possible.

Victoria and the ACT have moved to early holidays to give schools time to set up online and distance education arrangements, while private schools are making up their minds.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned Australians face six months of severe but necessary restrictions, with pubs, bars, nightclubs, cinemas and other indoor venues forced to close.

Supermarkets, petrol stations and pharmacies remain open.

He also warned of a dire year ahead for many, including thousands of Australians who have or are expected to lose their jobs.

Huge queues began forming early on Tuesday outside Centrelink offices as many people who lost their jobs on Monday apply for welfare payments.

The MyGov online portal also crashed on Monday after it was overwhelmed by jobless Australians.

Social Services Minister Anne Ruston says no one could have predicted the spike in demand, even though the government shut down entire sectors of the economy.

The government has since asked people trying to register with Centrelink to wait a few days.

"We are asking for patience and calm... What we saw yesterday was heartbreaking," Senator Ruston said.

© AAP 2020

Australian economy projected to fall 6.7pc

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Australia is expected to suffer its biggest economic blow since the Great Depression of the 1930s, with unemployment to remain high for at least two years beyond the coronavirus pandemic.

The International Monetary Fund expects the Australian economy to shrink by 6.7 per cent this year, more than double the global rate.

Unemployment is tipped to rise to an average of 7.6 per cent in 2020 and 8.9 per cent in 2021.

The fund expects the economy to grow by 6.1 per cent in 2021, leaving it smaller than it was at the end of 2019.

Australia's performance is expected to be among the bottom third of the world's top 20 economies, with countries such as the United States, Britain and South Korea all tipped to fare better.

The IMF predicts a partial rebound for the world economy in 2021, with an overall 5.8 per cent growth rate.

But the fund's forecasts are marked by "extreme uncertainty" and the outcomes could be far worse.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the government had taken decisive action to protect Australians and the economy from the effects of coronavirus.

The government has so far thrown $320 billion at the crisis, or 16.4 per cent of GDP.

He also noted the reserve bank had responded quickly to worsening risk sentiment by injecting $90 billion into the financial system to support small and medium businesses.

"Australia approaches this crisis from a position of economic strength," Mr Frydenberg said.

"The federal budget returned to balance for the first time in 11 years and Australia's debt to GDP is about a quarter of what it is in the United States or United Kingdom, and about one seventh of what it is in Japan."

Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers seized on the world economic outlook to reiterate calls for government-funded wage subsidies to be extended to more casual workers.

"Expectations of persistently high unemployment is a sobering reminder of the devastating economic impacts of this diabolical health crisis, and highlights the need to protect as many jobs as possible now," he said.

"When unemployment spikes in the next few months, remember hundreds of thousands of job losses could have been prevented if the treasurer picked up his pen and included more workers currently left out and left behind."

© AAP 2020

Australians banned from leaving country

Chinas coronavirus death toll up to 563

Australians will be banned from travelling overseas under a further crackdown on trips as the government tries to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says it is clear from the numbers of people still travelling that some are defying advice not to travel anywhere in the world.

Small exceptions will be made for aid workers and other vital government travel.

© AAP 2020

Australians face months of virus measures

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Wednesday, March 18, 2020. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch) NO ARCHIVING

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Wednesday, March 18, 2020. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch) 

Schools will stay open but non-essential indoor gatherings of more than 100 people are now banned as the government rolls out further restrictions to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Australians are also being told not to travel overseas, and strict restrictions will be placed on visitors to aged care homes.

The prime minister also bluntly told Australians to stop hoarding groceries and other supplies.

National coronavirus cases are approaching 460 and five people have died. Some 81,000 people have been tested, 99.5 per cent of whom returned a negative test.

Scott Morrison cautioned the changes to daily life will be a long-haul measure, with the government expecting the virus crisis will roll on for at least six months.

"What we are doing, you have to be able to keep doing that and sustain that," he told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.

"There is no two-week answer to what we're confronting...The idea that you can just turn everything off for two weeks and then turn it all back on again and it all goes away, that is not the evidence."

The medical assessment is that schools should stay open, and Mr Morrison and chief medical officer Brendan Murphy warned the consequences of closing schools would be severe.

That could include tens of thousands of jobs lost, Mr Morrison said.

But Professor Murphy said school life would also have to change, with no assemblies, regular hand washing, and strict bans on sick students and teachers.

"It will be hard for schools, but it would be much, much, much harder for society if the schools were closed," he said.

A ban on non-essential indoor gatherings of more than 100 people is effective immediately.

It does not affect public transport, airports, medical facilities, supermarkets and shopping centres, parliaments, courts or jails.

Office buildings, factories, construction or mining sites, schools, universities, child care facilities and hotels are also exempt.

But people should practice social distancing in all these areas, keeping a space of 1.5 metres between themselves and others.

"Every citizen now has to think about every interaction they have with another person during the day," Professor Murphy said.

"No more hand-shaking. No more hugging except in your family... No more scant attention to hand hygiene."

Strict rules around visitors at aged care facilities are also now in place, barring anyone who has recently travelled, sick people, children except in exceptional circumstances, and from May 1 anyone who hasn't had a flu vaccination.

Only one daily visit of at most two people per resident is allowed.

But Mr Morrison said the new restrictions did not mean Australians should be panicking and certainly not stripping supermarket shelves bare.

"Stop hoarding," he said.

"It is not sensible, it is not helpful and it has been one of the most disappointing things I have seen in Australian behaviour in response to this crisis."

The Department of Foreign Affairs has updated its travel advice for the second time in 24 hours, now telling all Australians not to travel overseas.

Anyone already overseas is being urged to return home as soon as possible.

The majority of new coronavirus cases in Australia are still among people who have brought it back from overseas or people in close contact with travellers.

All people arriving from overseas must self-quarantine for 14 days and cruise ships are barred from Australian ports for at least 30 days.

The federal government has flagged another round of economic stimulus measures on top of a $17.6 billion package announced last week.

This includes a $715 million assistance package for airlines like Qantas and Virgin Australia that will give the carriers relief from airport fees and other aviation industry charges.

The states and territories have developed their own economic packages to lessen the economic blow from the spread of COVID-19, which is set to crush major industries and hurt workers.

© AAP 2020

Australians told to get flu jab this month

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Australians are being urged to get the flu shot this month so they don't contract the disease and coronavirus at the same time.

More than 13.5 million doses of seasonal influenza vaccine have been secured for the national program.

"Vaccinating against the flu will reduce the risk of a very dangerous double-up of flu and coronavirus - both diseases affecting the respiratory system," Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Wednesday.

"Fewer cases and fewer severe cases of flu will result in less demand on our health care system."

Australia's flu season is expected to peak between June and September. Vaccinating against the disease in April will provide the greatest protection.

© AAP 2020

Australians told to keep up virus measures

Members of the public are seen walking past a sign reading '1.5 Metres Apart' at Scarborough Beach, Perth, Monday, April 6, 2020. Beaches in Perth remain open but people must still adhere to social distancing rules. (AAP Image/Richard Wainwright) NO ARCHIVING

Members of the public are seen walking past a sign reading '1.5 Metres Apart' at Scarborough Beach, Perth, Monday, April 6, 2020. Beaches in Perth remain open but people must still adhere to social distancing rules. (AAP Image/Richard Wainwright) 

Health authorities are urging Australians to maintain social distancing measures despite the rate of coronavirus cases falling.

Deputy chief medical officer Michael Kidd says Australians can't let their guard down because community transmissions are occurring.

"I know it's really challenging for many people with the self-isolation that's occurring, with the restriction of activities, but we are doing this to help each other, help ourselves and save lives by stopping the spread," he told Nine on Tuesday.

The government's coronavirus modelling will soon be released to show how the virus has spread and will potentially offer a glimpse at how long strict measures will be in place.

The prime minister and state and territory leaders are meeting on Tuesday where they will discuss the modelling as well as relief for commercial tenants.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese, who is yet to see the modelling, says Australians deserve to know what's driving decision making.

"I think it will build trust and will encourage support for the measures that have been put in," he told the ABC.

"We're all in this together."

A scaled back parliament will meet on Wednesday to pass the government's $130 billion wage subsidy plan, which will see eligible employees receive a $1500 fortnightly payment.

Health authorities say the slowdown in the rate of new cases each day shows the restrictions on daily life and social distancing measures have successfully flattened the curve.

But they are cautious about the rate spiking again.

Younger people in particular have been warned about being complacent, given that people aged in their 30s are among the worst-affected patients.

Scott Morrison has wished British Prime Minister Boris Johnson a speedy recovery after he was admitted to intensive care after contracting the disease.

"Thinking of you, your family and all our UK friends at this tough time," Mr Morrison said.

The nation's leaders and medical experts are now starting to look at how and when to start easing the tough restrictions in place to slow the disease's spread.

That will include a consideration of how prepared the health system is for an increase in cases and what effect lifting particular measures would have.

More than 5800 people have coronavirus in Australia and 41 people have died.

Governments are concerned that people will be tempted to breach restrictions on movements and social distancing rules over the coming Easter weekend.

Popular beaches in Sydney and Queensland closed on Monday as people continued to flock there.

© AAP 2020

Ban on pubs, cinemas to stop virus spread

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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Sunday, March 22, 2020. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Pubs, cinemas and churches will be forced to close across Australia from noon on Monday to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

The closure of more types of businesses could follow if Australians continue to fail to heed health warnings.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and state and territory leaders agreed on Sunday night to a staged process starting with a shutdown of "principal places of social gathering".

The initial types of venues to be closed include registered and licensed clubs, entertainment venues, cinemas, casinos, nightclubs, indoor sports venues, including gyms, and places of worship.

Restaurants and cafes will be restricted to takeaway only.

Mr Morrison said the decision was taken because Australians were not adequately sticking to rules around social distancing.

Virus cases are doubling every three days. The death toll remains at seven.

"We cannot have the confidence as a group of leaders that the social distancing guidelines and rules that we have put in place won't be followed to the level of compliance that we require to flatten the curve and slow the spread and save lives," Mr Morrison said.

One Nation leader and senator Pauline Hanson, who will not attend parliament this week, said the new rules were confusing and she was concerned beaches were being closed.

"I am confused by it all, I really am," she told Nine's Today show on Monday.

"I just feel it's probably a bit too far... A lot of the businesses that shut down, they won't open again. I hope it is worth it."

Meanwhile, parents are being reassured schools will reopen after the Easter holidays, based on current medical advice.

The Victorian and ACT school holidays have already been brought forward to Tuesday.

And in further action, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory are imposing two-week quarantine periods on people seeking to enter these states, with police checkpoints posted to monitor travellers.

The AFL announced matches would be suspended until at least May 31.

State and territory leaders and Mr Morrison have recommended against all non-essential domestic travel, following the unprecedented ban on international travel.

WA Premier Mark McGowan announced entry to his state would be restricted via road, rail, air and sea from 1.30pm local time on Tuesday.

There will be exemptions for health, emergency, defence and policing personnel, certain mining industry workers, flight crews, essential goods deliverers and on compassionate grounds.

Unless exempted, arrivals from interstate will be ordered to self-isolate for 14 days.

In a bid to ease Australia's expected dive into recession, the federal government announced a second round of stimulus measures worth $66 billion.

It will temporarily double the Jobseeker payment - known as Newstart until last Friday - and make it easier for casuals and sole traders to access it; give a second round of $750 cash payments to pensioners; and significantly expand the already announced cash flow injection into small businesses, which will now get at least $20,000 and up to $100,000 each.

State governments have also implemented stimulus measures and are looking at other ways to ease pressure on people, including how to give renters and commercial tenants a break.

Federal parliament will sit from Monday to debate and pass laws enabling the initial two stimulus packages, with more measures expected in coming weeks.

Labor will seek to amend some of the bills, but is committed to passing the laws.

© AAP 2020

Be mindful restrictions are still in place this Mother's Day weekend in the Upper Hunter

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The Hunter Valley Police District (HVPD) is reminding everyone that they will be out and about across the district making sure everyone is adhering to the Public Health Act and following the ministerial directions. 

HVPD Commander Superintendent Tracy Chapman said that there are no changes this weekend compared to last.

 "Realistically the only change there was around visiting others at their home which enables two adults and their dependent children to visit another persons home to provide care and support, socialisation," 

"I think what's very important is that people still practice social distancing, obviously if people are visiting friends, relatives that they haven't seen for a period of time there's that automatic inclination to give them a hug and give them a kiss that sort of thing and I guess from a health perspective people need to still practice social distancing even when they are visiting other people in their homes."

Superintendent Chapman said she and her police team have noticed an increase in people out on the roads.

"There's definitely been an increase in people leaving their homes and obviously after a period of time where people have really felt like they absolutely cannot leave home for an essential purpose we have a very slight restriction, I don't want to see people just assuming that we can go back to business as usual because obviously that's not the case."

With Mother's Day on Sunday, a day when normally families might gather together in groups or travel around, it simply can't happen this year.

"I'm sure the mums are happy with that and obviously if people are going to visit their parents and in particular their mum its very tempting for all of the siblings to come together into the household at the same time so just a reminder to people that there is that two person limit plus children,"

"Obviously so we're really urging people to comply to the restrictions and stagger their visits so that we don't have lots of different households in the one household at the same time."

"Just because a rule says you can doesn't mean you should,"

"So people really need to think about who they're visiting and whether they're vulnerable if that's due to age or some other illness, but really choose options that reduce the risk to them, so as I said just because you can doesn't mean you should," said Superintendent Chapman. 

All of the States and Territories will be looking at implementing a plan laid out by Prime Minister Scott Morrison today that is a three stage plan to bring life back to a functional normality. 

Big fine for those who do not self-isolate

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Premier of Queensland Annastacia Palaszczuk speaking to media ahead of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting at Bankwest Stadium in Sydney, Friday, March 13, 2020. (AAP Image/James Gourley)

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has warned of the heavy financial penalty that awaits any person who arrives from overseas and does not self-isolate.

From midnight all people coming to Australia will have to self-isolate for 14 days, while cruise ships will be banned from arriving at Australian ports for an initial 30 days.

Ms Palaszczuk said on Sunday that laws were in place to deal with those who fail to follow a direction to self-isolate.

"In relation to legislation around that... it's under our Public Health Emergency Act," she said.

"That bill was passed in early February and there are penalties for not complying with the notification and that is around $13,000," she said.

"We have random police checks to make sure people are compliant with that notice."

The warning came as Queensland had its biggest single-day jump in coronavirus cases, taking the number of people detected with the COVID-19 to 61.

There were 15 people confirmed on Sunday as having contracted the viris.

People were also being discouraged from kissing, hugging or even shaking hands.

"We are asking Queenslanders, when you are out and about no hand shaking... and no kissing or hugging in public. Let's all minimise the risk," the premier said.

Queensland's chief health officer warned that now may not be the time for children to visit their grandparents.

"I implore people if you have parents... or grandparents in that older age group think about how you can help them. Maybe it's not the time for your young kids to see their grandparents," she said.

Meanwhile Queensland senator Susan McDonald has announced several Senate committee hearings scheduled for Brisbane, Townsville and Cairns this week have been cancelled until further notice.

The hearings were scheduled for the Regional and Rural Affairs and Transport Committee from Monday through to Thursday.

© AAP 2020

Bon Jovi keyboardist has coronavirus

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Bon Jovi founding member and keyboardist David Bryan has revealed he has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Less than a week earlier, he was home in New Jersey when, on March 15, he started to feel sick.

"The first symptoms were flu-like, with a low level fever around 100 with body aches and headaches," Bryan told Variety.

Soon after, the body aches made it difficult to get out of bed. By Wednesday, March 18, it started to move to his lungs. It was then that the Tony Award-winning musician, who had been in New York City in the weeks prior working on launching the new musical "Diana," knew he needed medical help.

He immediately called his doctor, Mike Rothenberg of Brick, New Jersey, who had access to drive-by testing for the coronavirus, which involved a deep swab up his nose.

Two days later, Bryan was informed that he was positive and was immediately prescribed antibiotics -- Azithromycin and hydroxychloroquine (the "anti- malaria drug") -- which he started on Saturday.

Two days later, Bryan reports that the medicine is working and he is "getting stronger" while remaining in self-isolation with his wife, Alexis. She, too, has tested positive but is not displaying any of the same symptoms except for a "slight headache for a couple of days."

Says Bryan: "I'm thankful that she is not as sick as I am. We are both quarantined but it just shows that some people can have it with no symptoms, and some people can have it like me, and there's others who are really sick and need to go to the hospital."

Wanting to share his story and at the same time try to help by "squashing fear" was the reason the 58-year-old Bryan went public on Instagram, writing that the virus was "the flu, not the plague." He also is encouraging everyone to practice social distancing to avoid spreading it to others.

For now, the protocol he is following includes another week of quarantine and, with improved symptoms, he will take the test two times to assure a negative result. In the meantime, Bryan has been in bed watching movies and getting a lot of sleep as his body fights the virus. He also says everyone should do their part to slow the spread and stay home.

"Everybody has just got to stay away from each other to kill this virus," he says. "As much as it's not any fun, it's less fun to have it. If people do the right thing, we can all get over this. People have to take this seriously. You can get it. I got it."

Meanwhile, Bon Jovi frontman Jon Bon Jovi has been helping feed those in need via his JBJ Soul Kitchen Community Restaurant in Red Bank, New Jersey.

© RAW 2020

Border boss warns against complete closure

Chinas coronavirus death toll up to 563

The man responsible for Australia's borders has cautioned against a total shutdown of movement in and out of the country because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Australian Border Force commissioner Michael Outram said a vacuum seal around the nation would prevent essential items like stem cells from entering the country.

"We don't want to stop all flights to Australia. We don't want to seal ourselves off," he told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.

"Similarly with the ports, there's a lot of containers coming to Australia with goods that we need as a country."

But he insisted the ABF was ready for anything if the government decided to take more drastic action to contain the disease.

Passenger movements through Australian airports were down by around 5000 on Monday, while 23 flights were cancelled on Tuesday.

The 14 cruise ships which had left are returning to ports, with no reported sickness onboard any of them.

About 12 border force workers have been tested for coronavirus with no positive results so far.

Mr Outram said his staff not contracting the virus should reassure other frontline workers wearing personal protective equipment.

"If you follow procedures, you wear your PPE, it's a very, very low risk," he said.

Border force officers are preparing to welcome home Australians from overseas after the government advised people to return.

At airports, people will receive quarantine information at check-in and on the flight before signing a written declaration to self-isolate for 14 days after arriving.

Mr Outram said there had been little disagreement from people returning.

The commissioner has also told his officers to keep the pressure on drugs and other border crime.

"Whilst this is going on and all the focus of the media and the world is on COVID-19, we're not going to drop the ball," he said.

© AAP 2020

Border closures dominate national debate

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State borders closed to contain the spread of coronavirus are continuing to dominate the national debate.

Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce has described Queensland's hardline border measures as a sham after American actor Tom Hanks was allowed to enter the state.

Hanks returned to Australia earlier this month to finish shooting a film, quarantining at a Gold Coast hotel with 11 other family, cast members and production staff.

Their entry was approved by the federal home affairs department at the request of the Queensland government.

"It's in stark contrast to people who can't go to funerals, and that's what aggravates me so much," Mr Joyce told the Seven Network on Monday.

"We've got the AFL in there first class, we've got Tom Hanks in there, we've got his offsiders in there, but we can't get a person across to see their dad buried."

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Nick Coatsworth acknowledged state authorities were split over whether internal borders should be open.

"That is largely related to risk tolerance and whether one is prepared to allow any possibility of COVID-19 entering into one state," Dr Coatsworth told the ABC.

"We need to have these ongoing border discussions, they're obviously a live issue."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is expected to focus on adopting a definition of a coronavirus hotspot when he chairs a meeting of premiers and chief ministers later this week.

Labor is sharpening its gaze on sealed international borders, raising concerns 25,000 Australians stuck overseas might not make it home for Christmas.

The federal government says it is working with the states to boost hotel quarantine capacities to try and get everyone back into the country.

But Labor says the Commonwealth should take responsibility for quarantine arrangements, pointing out federal facilities have been used to accommodate people returning from China and Japan.

Opposition frontbencher Kristina Keneally said the Morrison government was attempting to handball its duties to the states.

"If the Commonwealth government is serious about stranded Australians home, they need to step up, show leadership and put a plan in place," Senator Keneally told ABC radio.

"It is the Commonwealth's responsibility to assist stranded Australians in the middle of a global, deadly pandemic, who are stuck overseas."

Victoria recorded 35 new cases of coronavirus and seven more deaths on Monday as stage four restrictions began to ease across Melbourne.

Playgrounds have reopened after six weeks of lockdowns and people will be allowed out of their homes for an extra hour each day.

Rules around visits to other people's homes are also being eased, particularly for those living alone.

Dr Coatsworth said Victoria's restrictions were clearly having the desired effect.

"That light of the end of the tunnel is growing bigger by the day," he said.

However, Dr Coatsworth said the number of mystery cases in Victoria was still too high, and he wanted to see them reduced to single digits.

© AAP 2020

Borders to shut, Qld coronavirus tally 397

People are seen at the Brisbane domestic airport terminal in Brisbane, Monday, March 23, 2020. The Queensland Government has announced that they will close the state's borders to stop the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, beginning at midnight on Wednesday and they will force anyone entering Queensland to quarantine themselves for 14 days after their arrival. (AAP Image/Darren England) NO ARCHIVING

People are seen at the Brisbane domestic airport terminal, the Queensland Government has announced that they will close the state's borders to stop the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, beginning at midnight on Wednesday and they will force anyone entering Queensland to quarantine themselves for 14 days after their arrival. (AAP Image/Darren England)

Queensland's coronavirus tally has reached 397 as the government promised more intensive care beds, tripling the crisis call centre and employing more health professionals.

Health Minister Steven Miles said the state had so far conducted more than 37,300 tests for coronavirus, of which 78 were positive overnight, and taken 43,000 calls relating to a COVID-19.

Overall, one-in-four coronavirus tests in Australia had been conducted in Queensland, he said.

"That is amongst, if not the, highest rate of testing anywhere in the world," he said.

Earlier, Treasurer Jackie Trad pledged $1.2 billion for the health sector, which Mr Miles said would be used to "ramp up" testing, lift the call centre capacity from 300 to 1600 seats and boost the number of doctors and nurses.

There would also be more fever clinics and hospital wards would be expanded.

"There are 27 public fever clinics open, and this funding will allow us to open more," he said.

The funding increase comes ahead of Queensland's border closing at midnight on Wednesday to people not travelling for work, medical appointments or carrying freight.

Border travel will be policed in an RBT-style with officers to determine who needs to cross as the state tries to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Officials are working with airlines to ensure passengers know what will happen when they arrive in Queensland before they board flights.

Travelling from Tweed to Coolangatta for work is allowed.

"People should stay in their own state," Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said on Tuesday.

"As far as possible, they should be staying in their suburbs and as much as possible staying at home."

Travelling to work, to the supermarket, the pharmacy and the petrol station is classed as essential.

Travel for all other purposes is highly discouraged.

A $4 billion package has also been announced to cover the state's additional health ($1.2bn) needs and relieve financial pressure on households and businesses.

Households will receive a $200 rebate on their electricity bill to take in the extra power and water usage while people are asked to stay home.

Some $300 million will be directed to reduce the cost of living for households and further funding for payroll tax relief for businesses.

© AAP 2020

Both businesses and residents in Singleton will get a helping hand through the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic

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Businesses and residents in Singleton are getting a helping hand from Singleton Council to get through the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Last week Council announced they were developing a $475,000 assistance package working with the Singleton Business Chamber to develop a $250,000 business support package, using money from the Community Economic Development Fund as well as bushfire grant funding to pool resources for the benefit of people across the local government area.

Mayor Sue Moore said the fund was designed to help deliver economic development and social development outcomes across the whole of the local government area.

The allocation of funds will require a formal resolution of Council at the Ordinary April meeting, in whatever format the meeting proceeds.

“The proposal to combine the bushfire grant money with an extra $125,000 from the fund adds up to $250,000 to get programs running on the ground right now, right here in our local government area to support our local businesses,” Mayor Sue Moore said.

“We also propose to allocate a further $125,000 to add to $100,000 from bushfire grant funds for a similar program targeting social issues arising from the current crisis, taking the total for both packages to $475,000."

“Council’s foresight in creating the fund, using Voluntary Planning Agreement money, has allowed us to be in a position to fund these programs."

“And although we never thought we’d need to spend some of the capital this early, we are in a position where we can and should take action to allocate some of the funding right now.”

Singleton Business Chamber president Sue Gilroy said with businesses already dealing with bushfire impacts, nobody could have foreseen the COVID-19 pandemic that was to come.

“These are unprecedented circumstances, and this is a great example of the proactive relationship between Council and the Chamber for the benefit of our local business community,” she said.

“We are fortunate to have these resources available to us to develop a package of measures to put in place now, in addition to the assistance coming from the Federal Government for small businesses and their staff.”

For residents, Council is proposing to lessen the load with a suite of measures to support the community around rates, fees and charges.

The measures include an extension for the fourth quarter rates installment from May 31 to August 31, and childcare cancellation fees have been waived.

Mayor Sue Moore said the urgency of the issue meant Council was working to provide solutions now, and more announcements would be made.

“Council is working quickly to review all fees and charges with the objective to find opportunities to provide further relief for our community,” she said.

“We will review water bills ahead of the next quarterly meter reading in May. If need be, we will provide payment extensions for this as well."

“We are also investigating a range of other options to help offset the impact on the community, such as procurement and service delivery changes and in-kind work, to help support the economy.”

Image credit: Singleton Council Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/SingletonCouncil/

Brazil passes 50,000 coronavirus deaths

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Brazil, the world's No.2 coronavirus hotspot after the United States, officially passed 50,000 coronavirus deaths in a blow for a country already grappling with more than one million cases, rising political instability and a crippled economy.

Brazil on Sunday has a total of 1,085,038 confirmed cases and 50,617 deaths, up from 49,976 on Saturday, the Health Ministry said.

Experts say the true numbers are a lot higher because of a lack of widespread testing. Latin America's largest country has typically recorded more than 1000 deaths a day, but usually registers fewer on the weekends.

Brazil confirmed its first case of the novel coronavirus on February 26 and passed one million cases on Friday.

Since first arriving in the country, the virus' rapid spread has eroded support for right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro and has raised fears of economic collapse after years of anaemic growth.

Bolsonaro, sometimes called the "Tropical Trump", has been widely criticised for his handling of the crisis. The country still has no permanent health minister after losing two since April, following clashes with the president.

Bolsonaro has shunned social distancing, calling it a job-killing measure more dangerous than the virus itself. He has also promoted two anti-malarial drugs as remedies, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, despite little evidence they work.

On Sunday, Bolsonaro said the military serves the will of the people and its mission is to defend democracy, adding fuel to a raging debate about the armed forces' role amid rumbling fears of political fragility.

His comments came on the same day his supporters and detractors gathered in cities across the country, in a stark symbol of the polarisation in Latin America's largest country.

© RAW 2020

Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston had COVID -selected

Brian Cranston in the press room during the 19th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Press Room at The Shrine Auditorium on January 27, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.(AAP Image/Graylock.com) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Brian Cranston in the press room during the 19th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Press Room at The Shrine Auditorium on January 27, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.(AAP Image/Graylock.com) 

Emmy-winning Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston has disclosed he has recovered from mild symptoms of COVID-19 and donated his plasma in the hopes his antibodies will help others with the disease.

Wearing a face mask, Cranston revealed the news in an Instagram video in which he documented the donation process at a blood and plasma centre run by the University of California at Los Angeles.

Cranston said he had experienced mild symptoms including a slight headache, tightness in the chest and loss of his sense of taste and smell.

"I was one of the lucky ones," Cranston wrote.

"I count my blessings and urge you to keep wearing the damn mask, keep washing your hands, and stay socially distant."

Cranston won multiple Emmy Awards for his role as a meth-making chemistry teacher on TV drama Breaking Bad from 2008 to 2013.

© RAW 2020

BREAKING NEWS: VIC and NSW to push for a lockdown

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PM Scott Morrison said the matter will be discussed in detail at tonight's National Cabinet meeting with State and Territory heads.

VIC will also be pushing for all of their schools to be shutdown from this coming Tuesday.

If all States and Territories can not agree agree, it is believed VIC will go it alone.

Non-essential businesses it is believed would include restaurants and pubs.

Brisbane children remain in virus lockdown

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Children at a Brisbane youth detention centre remain in lockdown as health authorities anxiously await coronavirus test results to determine if a staff member could be the state's first community transmission in a month.

The 77-year-old supervisor at Brisbane's Youth Detention Centre in Wacol had continued to work while infectious with COVID-19.

Health Minister Steven Miles said health authorities have tested 75 of the centre's 127 young residents who have been isolated in their rooms since Wednesday evening.

"We have health staff monitoring their physical and mental wellbeing," he told ABC radio on Friday.

The centre will not be taking new admissions and all face-to-face visits and court appearances have been cancelled.

Testing on the centre's 500 staff is also expected to be completed later on Friday.

Mr Miles said the infected worker, from Ipswich, was in a stable condition in hospital.

"I understand her symptoms were very mild," he said.

The latest case comes after a virus scare was linked to a false positive result in southeast Queensland last month.

But Mr Miles said the state's chief health officer was confident the case was genuine as the woman had recorded two results positive for coronavirus.

Queensland health are conducting contact tracing to discover if the latest case has any connection to an outbreak last month linked to two Logan women who dodged quarantine after visiting Melbourne.

"That's what we're trying to get to the bottom of, if there is any unknown, community transmissions here," Mr Miles said.

The case was the only one recorded in Queensland on Thursday, with eight active infections.

© AAP 2020

Britons show love for health carers

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People applaud outside St. Thomas's Hospital in support of British National Health Service workers who are treating coronavirus victims, part of a nationwide salute to the doctors, nurses and staff of the NHS in London, Thursday, March 26, 2020. The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has prompted a public display of appreciation for health service workers on the front line of the fight against the contagious virus. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali) 

People in coronavirus lock-down all over Britain have taken part in an emotional show of solidarity with health workers, during the nation's worst crisis since World War Two.

Clapping, banging pots and pans, and cheering and waving, vast numbers of people took part in the "Clap for our Carers" initiative, which mirrors similar events in other countries.

Italians, who have been the hardest hit by the virus and have been under strict lockdown for much longer, began the trend by singing and playing music from their balconies and applauding their doctors and nurses. The phenomenon soon spread to Spain and France, and has now reached as far as India.

With the UK in day three of its own lockdown, "Clap for our Carers" exploded on social media on Thursday, and was encouraged by celebrities, politicians and even the royal family.

Television pictures showed people clapping in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, breaking the quiet brought about by severe restrictions on public life and an edict from the government to stay indoors to stop the virus spreading.

Landmarks across the capital lit up in blue in tribute to the National Health Service.

The royal family tweeted three 'clapping hands' emoji and the message: "We are enormously thankful for the expertise and commitment of our scientists, medical practitioners and emergency and public services. We thank you all."

After Prime MInister Boris Johnson called for 250,000 volunteers to help the NHS cope with the coronavirus outbreak, more than double that number signed up within two days. By Thursday evening, the figure was over 670,000.

Britain has reported 578 deaths and more than 11,000 confirmed cases of the virus, with experts warning that the worst is yet to come and the government scrambling to buy equipment to keep its citizens alive.

As the health service becomes increasingly stretched by the number of cases, the government is opening a temporary hospital at an exhibition centre in east London and asking manufacturers to produce thousands of ventilators.

© RAW 2020

Bulga mine modification project on the list to be fast tracked by the NSW Government

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The Bulga mine modification project is set to be fast tracked by the NSW Government as a part of COVID-19 response efforts. 

The $95 million Bulga Open Cut and Underground projects Mod 3 Bulga Optimisation Project (Open Cut) & Mod 7 Bulga Underground could be fast tracked after making the cut to the list of projects to be determined by the NSW Government as a part of the Planning System Acceleration Program. 

The idea of the program is to redirect resources within the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment to accelerate the assessment and determination of projects that inject investment into the NSW economy and keep people in jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The government said the assessment process is being accelerated, not changed. The usual planning rules and policies will apply, and all projects will be assessed under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.

Bulga's project will see the existing open cut mine extended to extract an additional 63 million tonnes of coal and extend the life of the mine for another four years to 2039. 

The project would also see an additional 1000 jobs in the Singleton area. 

The third round of projects to possibly be considered are expected to be determined by July 17, 2020.

Image credit: https://www.bulgacoal.com.au/en/Pages/home.aspx

Call for Anzac Day driveway tribute

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Australians are being called to honour Anzac Day by standing at the end of their driveways for a minute's silence after public events were cancelled across the nation.

RSL Queensland says the display would send a powerful message of solidarity to Australia's defence community after Anzac Day services, events and parades were cancelled amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

People can safely commemorate a different kind of dawn service by standing on their driveway or balcony at 6am and uniting in the Anzac spirit, RSL Queensland State President Tony Ferris said on Wednesday.

"This is an idea that has gathered momentum on social media, and we agree it's a brilliant way to collectively honour the dedication, commitment and sacrifice of our service people," he said.

Mr Ferris said the qualities evoked by the Anzac spirit - ingenuity, humour, endurance, courage and mateship - are more important than ever in times of uncertainty.

"Regardless of the form this year's Anzac Day commemorations take, let's show that Australians will always remember those who have served and sacrificed for this nation," he said.

© AAP 2020

Canada-US border to close on Friday night

epa08305223 Trucks cross over the Ambassador Bridge to the US side of the US-Canadian border in Detroit, Michigan, USA, 18 March 2020. US and Canadian officials announced an agreement to temporarily close the US-Canadian border to non-essential travel in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 which causes the Covid-19 disease. Canada and the US share the largest non-militarized border in the world.  EPA/STEVE FECHT

Trucks cross over the Ambassador Bridge to the US side of the US-Canadian border in Detroit, Michigan, USA, 18 March 2020. (EPA/STEVE FECHT)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he expects the closure of the US-Canada border to take effect overnight on Friday and is working with domestic carriers to bring home citizens stranded overseas.

Canada, which closed its borders this week to most foreign nationals, agreed with the United States to close their shared border to "non-essential traffic" to curb transmission of the novel coronavirus.

Canada to date has 801 cases of the COVID-19 respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, and 10 deaths.

About 55,000 people had been tested across the country so far, chief medical officer Theresa Tam said.

"What continues to concern us is the day-by-day sharp increase in cases and the reports from provinces of new cases with no links to travel," Tam told reporters.

Globally, there over 236,000 infections and more than 9700 deaths.

Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, 49, went into self-isolation after showing "new, flu-like symptoms" and was awaiting test results.

Canada's indigenous communities, already facing poor healthcare options, are closing their own lands' borders to limit coronavirus exposure.

The Canadian government said this week it would provide $C27 billion ($A34.4 billion) in direct support to families and businesses affected by the virus.

It was also examining invoking the rarely used 1988 Emergencies Act, which would allow Ottawa to override provinces and restrict the movement of people and goods.

Trudeau said on Thursday he may utilise the military to help with procurement of supplies and urged Canadians to keep practising social distancing.

"These are difficult and extraordinary times in which Canadians are taking difficult and extraordinary measures," Trudeau told reporters outside his house, where he is in self-isolation after his wife tested positive for the coronavirus.

© RAW 2020

Cases rise in the Hunter New England Health District to 18

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Cases of Coronavirus (COVID-19) continue to rise in the Hunter New England Health (HNEH) District.

Today five additional people are now being provided care and support by Hunter New England Health and include:
- A female in her 50s and a male in his 60s are in home isolation after recently returning from Italy
- A female in her 20s is in home isolation after recently returning from a Pacific cruise
- A male in his 70s is in home isolation; he is a relative of a previously reported confirmed case of COVID-19
- A female in her late teens is in home isolation after recently returning from Canada.

The total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the HNEH is now 18. 

All of the confirmed cases continue to receive daily wellness check by health staff and HNEH says they are contacting close contacts of the new cases, who are being asked to self-isolate for 14 days from last contact. They will be contacted every day to check that they are well and any contact who develops COVID-19 symptoms will be tested for the infection.

In addition to the three COVID-19 clinics, Maitland Hospital, the John Hunter Hospital and the Calvary Mater Hospital, HNEH is opening a fourth at Belmont Hospital  - this is a drive-through clinic where people are screened via phone before presenting. Please call 4923 2211 between 8am-4pm, seven days a week for the clinic.

In response to community concern about the location of COVID-19 cases, Dr Tony Merritt, Public Health Physician said he "understands there are concerns out in the community about the location of people confirmed to have COVID-19".

"These are challenging and confronting times, and I understand people’s desire to know as much as they can to best protect themselves against this virus."

“You can rest assured that anyone diagnosed with COVID-19 and their close contacts are either being treated in hospital or are in self-isolation to ensure there is no ongoing risk of infection to others in the community."

“Locations where these people with COVID-19 live, work or have visited do not pose any ongoing risk to the public. And it’s important that we respect their privacy while they recover."

"Those in self-isolation are doing a great service for our community; it’s them that will make the biggest difference in slowing the spread of this virus."

“I want to assure the community that as we have done over the past weeks, and in line with national protocols, we will let the community know of any public locations where there has been a known risk of infection. This is so you can monitor symptoms and seek medical assistance if you become unwell."

“As the number of cases in our District continues to rise, I want to stress how important it is for everyone to do their bit. Wash your hands regularly, cover coughs and sneezes, maintain social distancing and stay home if you’re unwell,” said Dr Merritt.

Centrelink income test threshold boosted

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Australians applying for welfare can now get support if their partner earns about $79,000, the prime minister has announced.

Scott Morrison says the government has boosted the threshold from about $48,000, which would allow more Australians to receive support during the coronavirus pandemic.

The change means an applicant's rate of welfare won't be affected unless their partner earns more than $79,762 a year.

© AAP 2020

Children removed from NSW quarantine hotel

NSW has recorded 48 new COVID-19 cases as new infections continue to stabilise and the premier flags a potential relaxation of social distancing restrictions down the track.

The state has now confirmed 2734 cases, with 36 patients in intensive care and the death toll remaining at 21.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian says that while social distancing will be a part of people's lives until a coronavirus vaccine or cure is found, restrictions were being reviewed every month.

"Every month our health experts will give us advice as to whether there is an opportunity for us to relax any of the restrictions," Ms Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.

"I want to assure the community that if we did go down that path it would be based on health advice and we are going to assess that on a month-by-month basis."

Three children were on Tuesday taken to hospital from a Sydney hotel where a number of people have been placed in quarantine after returning to Australia.

AAP understands the children were transferred from the Hilton hotel in central Sydney on Tuesday for testing after displaying flu-like symptoms.

Pictures published online by the Daily Mail showed three children on stretchers wearing protective face masks being wheeled out of the hotel by paramedics.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly on Wednesday said he was aware of the children being taken to hospital but wouldn't comment further.

Professor Kelly told Nine's Today show that children could get affected by the virus and that's why they were taking social distancing rules so seriously.

It comes ahead of the release of the first group of 288 Australians quarantined at the nearby Swisshotel on Wednesday morning, under a police operation to ensure their departure is quick and seamless.

This group arrived in Australia on March 26 and have undertaken a mandatory 14-day self-isolation, to protect the community from the coronavirus.

All will get a letter confirming their period of isolation and undergo a final health check.

After Wednesday's operation, police will plan for further hotel departures with some 3000 Australian residents expected to come out of hotel isolation over the next week.

The Ruby Princess remains docked in Port Kembla, near Wollongong, where it's expected to remain for 10 days while 1040 crew members undergo medical assessments.

About 200 crew have symptoms of coronavirus.

The vessel is linked to hundreds of COVID-19 cases and more than a dozen deaths across Australia.

The NSW Police homicide squad is investigating why passengers were allowed to disembark from the ship in Sydney on March 19 despite concerns some might have contracted the illness.

© AAP 2020

China find virus in food packaging

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Two Chinese cities have found traces of the coronavirus in imported frozen food and on food packaging, raising fears that contaminated food shipments might cause new outbreaks.

A sample taken from the surface of frozen chicken wings imported into the southern city of Shenzhen from Brazil, as well as samples of outer packaging of frozen Ecuadorian shrimp sold in the northwestern city Xian, have tested positive for the virus, local authorities said on Thursday.

The discoveries came a day after traces of the coronavirus were found on the packaging of frozen shrimp from Ecuador in a city in eastern Anhui province. China has been stepping up screenings at ports amid the concerns over food imports.

Shenzhen's health authorities traced and tested everyone who might have come into contact with potentially contaminated food products, and all results were negative, the city's notice said.

The health commission of Shannxi province, where Xian city is located, said authorities are testing people and the surrounding environment connected to the contaminated shrimp products sold in a local market.

In addition to screening all meat and seafood containers coming into major ports in recent months, China has suspended some meat imports from various origins, including Brazil, since mid-June.

The World Health Organisation on Thursday played down the danger of coronavirus latching on to food packaging and urged people not to be afraid of the virus entering the food chain.

"People should not fear food, food packaging or delivery of food," WHO head of emergencies programme Mike Ryan told a briefing. "There is no evidence the food chain is participating in transmission of this virus."

The first cluster of COVID-19 cases was linked to the Huanan seafood market in the city of Wuhan. Initial studies suggested the virus originated in animal products on sale at the market.

Li Fengqin, who heads a microbiology lab at the China National Centre for Food Safety Risk Assessment told reporters in June the possibility of contaminated frozen food causing new infections could not be ruled out.

Viruses can survive up to two years at temperatures of minus 20 degrees Celsius, but scientists say there is no strong evidence so far the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can spread via frozen food.

Xinfadi market in China's capital city Beijing, a sprawling food market linked to cluster infections in June, when virus was found on the chopping board on which imported salmons were handled, will be reopened from the weekend.

© RAW 2020

China has no new local virus transmissions

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, passengers board a train at the Jingmen Railway Station in Jingmen, central China's Hubei Province, March 25, 2020. Trains carrying factory employees back to work after two months in locked-down cities rolled out of Hubei province, the center of China's virus outbreak, as the government on Wednesday began lifting the last of the controls that confined tens of millions of people to their homes. (Peng Qi/Xinhua via AP)

Mainland China has reported a second consecutive day of no new local coronavirus cases as the country's epicentre of the epidemic, Hubei province, opened its borders (Peng Qi/Xinhua via AP)

Mainland China has reported a second consecutive day of no new local coronavirus cases as the country's epicentre of the epidemic, Hubei province, opened its borders.

But imported cases have risen as Beijing ramps up controls to prevent a resurgence of infections.

A total of 67 new cases were reported as of end-Wednesday, up from 47 a day earlier, all of which were imported, China's National Health Commission said in a statement on Thursday.

The total number of cases now stands at 81,285.

The commission reported a total of 3287 deaths at the end of Wednesday, up six from the previous day.

All of the new patients on Wednesday were travellers who came to China from overseas, with the mainland reporting no locally transmitted infections.

Shanghai reported the most cases with 18 followed by Inner Mongolia region at 12 and Guangdong province at 11.

About 90 per cent of all the imported cases are Chinese passport holders, Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui told a press conference on Thursday, adding that 40 per cent of them are overseas Chinese students returning amid rising infections abroad.

"We understand some overseas students are eager to come home...But under the current circumstances, by staying put, they can avoid being cross-infected in the hurried journey home or getting stuck mid-journey when the countries they transit in tighten border controls," Luo said.

Fearing a new wave of infections from imported cases, authorities have ramped up quarantine and screening measures in other major cities including Beijing, where any travellers arriving from overseas must submit to centralised quarantine.

The number of new daily cases in China remain down sharply from the height of the outbreak in the country in February, allowing Beijing to push for restarting economic activity in the world's second biggest economy.

Hubei province, home to some 60 million people, reported no new cases on Wednesday and opened its borders. Public transport restarted and residents in the city of Xianning strolled the streets wearing masks.

The lockdown of Hubei's capital Wuhan, where the virus first appeared late last year, will be lifted on April 8, a milestone in China's war against the epidemic as Beijing shifts its focus towards stemming imported cases and rebooting the economy.

The fatality rate in Wuhan stood at about 5 per cent, said Qiu Haibo, a medical expert on a panel led by the central government, according to the official People's Daily on Thursday.

© RAW 2020

China sees rise in new coronavirus cases

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Mainland China has reported 39 new coronavirus cases as the number of asymptomatic cases also surged, as Beijing continues to struggle to extinguish the outbreak despite drastic containment efforts.

The National Health Commission said in a statement on Monday that 78 new asymptomatic cases had been identified as of the end of the day on Sunday, compared with 47 the day before.

Imported cases and asymptomatic patients, who have the virus and can give it to others but show no symptoms, have become China's chief concern in recent weeks after draconian containment measures succeeded in slashing the infection rate.

Of the new cases showing symptoms, 38 were people who had entered China from abroad, compared with 25 a day earlier.

One new locally transmitted infection was reported, in the southern province of Guangdong, down from five a day earlier in the same province.

The new locally-transmitted case, in the city of Shenzhen, was a person who had travelled from Hubei province, the original epicentre of the outbreak, Guangdong provincial authorities said.

Mainland China has now reported a total of 81,708 cases, with 3331 deaths.

Daily infections have fallen dramatically from the peak of the epidemic in February, when hundreds were reported daily, but new infections continue to appear daily.

The country has closed off its borders to foreigners as the virus spreads globally, though most imported cases involve Chinese nationals returning from overseas.

© RAW 2020

Chinese Australians abused amid COVID-19

Asian woman in Chinese costume covered her face with regret for being racism and hate surrounded by hands mocking her, scoffing in the outbreak situation of Coronavirus 2019 infection or Covid-19

Chinese Australians abused amid COVID-19 (Bigstock)

Chinese Australians are being assaulted, robbed, spat on, refused service and verbally abused by some Queenslanders amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

It comes after members of the community have made hundreds of meals for the state's health workers and donated personal protective equipment to its medical staff.

Even the donation of equipment attracted attacks.

Police have laid 22 charges for racially-motivated offences following 16 complaints to police.

Wilful damage, public nuisance, robberies, assaults, verbal abuse and graffiti with abusive language are among the offences that have been committed.

"These are racially motivated offences," Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll said.

Victims of racist attacks are not always coming forward to report what has happened to them, she said, adding they should do so.

Commissioner Carroll and Police Minister Mark Ryan have demanded an end to the offensive behaviour.

Some of those attacks have come from far-right political extremists, Multicultural Affairs Minister Stirling Hinchliffe said.

"There are some very extreme, extreme right-wing activists who are using this current situation to attack members of our community," he said.

"It is completely unacceptable."

Incidents of racism against Chinese Australians had worsened, Michael Ma, secretary-general of Queensland Chinese United Council said.

Mr Ma attributed some of that behaviour to the way COVID-19 has been presented by officials around the world.

"Naming a virus after a race or a nation is unhelpful and unwise because it gives rise to stigmatisation and also encourages people who have biases to exercise their prejudice," he said.

"Perhaps some of the comments made by some of our public personnel has not helped, not necessarily from this country, but from other countries."

He said the broader community was suffering because of the virus, but only a united approach would get people through it.

Racism against Chinese Australians caught the attention of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who this week said the behaviour was just wrong.

"It was the Chinese Australian community that actually protected Australia so early on in this virus outbreak around the world," he told SBS on Tuesday.

"Sure the virus started in Wuhan, in China, that's what happened, that's just a fact.

"But that doesn't mean that this was, it has any nationalistic, or or any other sort of characteristics to it.

"That's just where it started."

© AAP 2020

Closed services Upper Hunter region

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Muswellbrook Shire Council

The following facilities will be closed until further notice:
- Muswellbrook and Denman Libraries
- Muswellbrook Aquatic and Fitness Centre
- Denman Memorial Pool
- Muswellbrook Indoor Sports Centre
- Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre
- Denman Memorial Hall; and
- Stan Thiess Centre

The Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre will not reopen following its closure last week. The Denman Memorial Hall and Stan Thiess Centre will not be available for hire until further notice.

These closures are consistent with the Prime Minister’s announcement that all non-essential community spaces are to be closed from midday today.

Council is currently working on a range of strategies to deliver services remotely and to vulnerable people and those in self-isolation.

Upper Hunter Shire Council

Upper Hunter Shire Council is temporarily closing some sites as a precautionary measure in the interests of public health.  We are taking measures to reduce physical contact between people including Council staff. Many Council services will still be available online or over the phone.

TEMPORARY CLOSURES from Tuesday 24 March 2020:

  • Libraries – Aberdeen, Cassilis, Merriwa, Murrurundi and Scone. Visit www.uhrl.nsw.gov.au to access eBooks and more online any time.
  • Public swimming pools – Merriwa, Murrurundi and Scone
  • Visitor Information Centres (VICs) - Merriwa, Murrurundi and Scone
  • Youth Centres - Merriwa, Murrurundi and Scone. If you need to speak to a Youth Worker call 0439 090 891. Follow the centre’s FB Pages for updates.
  • Community halls
  • Most sporting venues for group activities. You can still take the dog for a walk or kick a ball around with your kids, just keep up the social distancing and hand washing.
  • Cash payments at Council facilities (payment by card or cheque only) including Waste Management Facilities and Administration Centres

CLOSED from Monday 30 March 2020:

  • Administration Centres in Merriwa, Murrurundi and Scone will close Monday 30 MarchStaff will still be available to assist you by phone or email.

The Administration Centres are currently open, however customers are asked to avoid coming in and call Council on 6540 1100, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit our website www.upperhunter.nsw.gov.au . Bill payments can be made over the phone or online.

If there are issues that cannot be resolved remotely, please call Council to make an appointment or other arrangements.

CURRENTLY OPEN with restrictions:

  • Public toilets on highways and one toilet in each town will remain open, allowing us to double the cleaning schedules. BYO toilet paper is advised, as stocks are stolen from facilities.
  • Scone Animal Shelter, with social distancing arrangements enforced. You can still adopt make an appointment to view and adopt animals from the shelter.
  • Gummun Place, with restrictions that residents and families have been informed of.
  • Childcare - Early Learning Centre and SOOSH. Parents are encouraged not to bring children to the services (and never if a child or parent is sick) if other arrangements can be made.

Council is continually assessing the situation and will advise of any change in services as soon as possible. This information is current as at 23 March 2020.  Get the most up to date Council information from our website at any time.

Hunter Local Land Services (HLLS)

HLLS released a statement today telling customers their service centres will be open by appointment only.

"The safety of our customers and employees is our top priority and we are committed to taking important steps in reducing the spread of COVID-19."

"From Tuesday 24 March customer service centres of Local Land Services will be open by appointment only and all contact should be done online or via telephone."

"Whilst our offices are closed to the public for face to face contact, Local Land Services will continue to provide essential on-ground services, such as biosecurity and emergency management where safe and practical."

"The best way you can contact Local Land Services during this period is by sending an enquiry online via www.lls.nsw.gov.au or by calling 1300 795 299. We are still here and working to keep you safe in these challenging times."

Coles, Woolies relax online restrictions

coles shop online

Supermarket giants Woolworths and Coles have given hope life may be returning to normal after broadening their home delivery service for online customers.

Coles this week reopened its home delivery, "click and collect", to all customers, after having previously limited orders for vulnerable and remote Australians because of the COVID-19 crisis.

Woolworths has followed suit and announced it will make "tens of thousands of extra weekly home delivery windows for online customers", according to Nine News.

© AAP 2020

Confirmed case of Coronavirus in the Hunter New England Health District

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There is a confirmed case of Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the Hunter New England Health (HNEH) District. 

HNEH are providing care to a man in his 70s who returned from Italy and then exhibited symptoms a day after returning home

HNEH has said in a statement that "health staff are undertaking daily wellness checks while he is in isolation at home and he is doing well."

"His close contacts have been contacted and asked to self-isolate. They are being contacted every day by the public health unit to check that they are well. Any contact who develops COVID-19 symptoms will be tested for the infection."

"NSW Health is contacting flight passengers on flight number QR908 which left Doha on 1 March."

"NSW Health is continuing to trace and respond to cases as they are diagnosed to slow any spread of COVID-19 in the community."

The latest figures from NSW Health show in NSW there have been 47 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and more than 7800 cases have been tested and excluded.

Coronavirus - here's the good news

The latest Coronavirus

Some good news on COVID-19 from around the World today:

- China has closed down its last coronavirus hospital. Not enough new cases to support them.

- Doctors in India have been successful in treating Coronavirus. Combination of drugs used: Lopinavir, Retonovir, Oseltamivir along with Chlorphenamine. They are going to suggest same medicine, globally.

- Researchers of the Erasmus Medical Center claim to have found an antibody against coronavirus.

- A 103-year-old Chinese grandmother has made a full recovery from COVID-19 after being treated for 6 days in Wuhan, China.

- Apple reopens all 42 china stores.

- Cleveland Clinic developed a COVID-19 test that gives results in hours, not days.

- Good news from South Korea, where the number of new cases is declining.

- Italy is hit hard, experts say, only because they have the oldest population in Europe.

- A German company is getting very close to a vaccine which can be mass produced and received large funding from the EU to accelerate.

- 3 Maryland coronavirus patients fully recovered; able to return to everyday life.

- A network of Canadian scientists are making excellent progress in Covid-19 research.

- A San Diego biotech company is developing a Covid-19 vaccine in collaboration with Duke University and National University of Singapore.

- Tulsa County's first positive COVID-19 case has recovered. This individual has had two negative tests, which is the indicator of recovery.

- All 7 patients who were getting treated for at Safdarjung hospital in New Delhi have recovered.

- Plasma from newly recovered patients from Covid -19 can treat others infected by Covid-19.


Source: https://www.goodthingsguy.com/opinion/coronavirus-15-good-news-stories-from-around-the-globe-show-things-do-get-better/

Coronavirus cases continue to drop in Qld

Coronavirus 2019-nCoV concept. Hand in medical glove holding test tube with inscription 2019-nCoV. Coronavirus test. Wuhan coronavirus outbreak, influenza pandemic virus infection.

Coronavirus cases continue to drop in Qld (Bigstock)

Queensland is celebrating another day of no new cases of COVID-19 being transmitted within the community.

The state added another six cases to its total on Tuesday, however these were all Queenslanders diagnosed and treated in other states who have since recovered.

Four of the six contracted the virus on the Coral Princess cruise ship.

The technical addition takes Queensland's total to 1051.

There are 19 active cases in the Sunshine State, with seven patients in hospital and three in intensive care.

The state has recorded 18 deaths.

Authorities are continuing to urge Queenslanders with any respiratory symptoms to get tested as the state's testing rate continues to drop and social distancing restrictions are eased.

Medical staff tested 1856 people in the 24 hours to 9am on Tuesday.

The state's Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young has previously urged Queenslanders to get their flu vaccination before employees begin to return to offices across the state.

However Dr Young said she wrote to the NRL on Monday to clear players who have refused a flu vaccination on medical grounds, but blocked those avoiding the jab for philosophical reasons.

The continuing low rate of coronavirus cases across the state will likely lead to further restrictions being eased.

Up to five people from the one household are now permitted to visit another home, while from Saturday, up to 10 people will be able to gather outside, at weddings, pools and for exercise.

Kindy, Prep, and students from Years 1, 11 and 12 have returned to the classroom this week, with other years expected to return to school from May 25.

On the Gold Coast, playgrounds, gym equipment and barbecues in Gold Coast parks will be reopened by Friday.

Skate parks, outdoor basketball courts will also be reopened and sports fields will be opened to groups of 10 people, as will park bookings.

"We are getting back to business, but in a staged and safe way," Mayor Tom Tate said.

He said there was still work to be done to ensure a staged opening of Aquatic Centres, Libraries and Indoor Sports centres could occur.

"We need to look closely at these services and the best way to reopen them - for example I can see us opening Aquatic Centres to elite athletes first," he said.

© AAP 2020

Coronavirus closes 12 Victorian McDonald's

SHENZHEN, CHINA - CIRCA FEBRUARY, 2019: Golden Arches sign at McDonald's restaurant in Shenzhen, China.

Coronavirus closes 12 Victorian McDonald's (Bigstock)

Twelve McDonald's outlets have been closed in Victoria due to a coronavirus-infected truck driver, while the state announces $2.7 billion to help revive the economy.

The fast-food outlets will be shut and deep-cleaned after the driver made deliveries while he was asymptomatic and unaware he had COVID-19.

The chain says no employee has tested positive in connection to the driver and customers are not at risk.

"Out of an abundance of caution, we have made the decision to close and conduct a deep clean of 12 restaurants in Victoria, following confirmation a truck driver for an external service provider has tested positive for COVID-19," McDonald's said in a statement.

"Potential close contacts and employees who have worked specific shifts during and after the truck driver's delivery have been instructed not to return to work for 14 days and advised to be tested."

The Department of Health confirmed the driver was an extended family member of a worker at Fawkner McDonald's, where a cluster of 10 cases emerged on May 9.

That site reopened on Wednesday after it had been closed for five days for deep cleaning.

The closure comes as Victoria tries to start reopening its economy and recorded six new cases, taking the tally to 1567 infections.

Premier Daniel Andrews on Monday announced $2.7 billion for building projects to help the jobs revival.

The money will be poured into road maintenance, train station and school upgrades and refurbishment to public housing.

"Hundreds and hundreds of projects delivering thousands and thousands of jobs - that's exactly what we need right at this time," Mr Andrews said.

Meanwhile, the Cedar Meats abattoir at the centre of a major coronavirus outbreak in Melbourne's west will begin reopening.

Authorities insist it will be some time before Cedar Meats resumes full operations after 99 coronavirus cases were linked to the meatworks.

The company will restart its cold storage facility on Monday with 15 to 20 staff cleared by the health department.

Domino's Pizza Enterprises confirmed late on Sunday it was notified on Friday a worker at its Fairfield store had tested positive to COVID-19.

The store was immediately shut and will remain closed for at least 14 days while a deep clean is undertaken and staff and their families were advised to self-isolate and get tested.

Victorians have been given the green light to eat and drink inside pubs, restaurants and cafes from June 1, starting with up to 20 people.

MCDONALD'S CLOSED IN MELBOURNE:

* Melton East

* Laverton North

* Yallambie

* Taylors Lakes

* Campbellfield

* Sunbury

* Hoppers Crossing

* Riverdale Village

* Sandown

* Calder Highway Northbound/Outbound

* Calder Highway Southbound/Inbound

* BP Rockbank Service Centre Outbound

© AAP 2020

Coronavirus could linger for days: medicos

Chinas coronavirus death toll up to 563

Coronavirus could potentially linger on surfaces for days, health experts say, adding more urgency to the need for better hygiene standards.

Medicos put their heads together at the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday to share tips and knowledge on the pandemic.

ACT Health's associate professor Vanessa Johnston said it was unknown how long coronavirus remained on surfaces, but it could be hours or days.

"It is important in terms of our own hygiene practices that we are cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that we will regularly touch," Professor Johnston said.

She said the average incubation period for the virus was five to six days, but could range from zero to 14.

Professor Johnston said of 300 cases that tested positive for coronavirus in Australia, 71 per cent were believed to have caught it overseas.

Australian National University's Dr Kamalini Lokuge said those who had the capacity to pull their children out of school, without leaving them with grandparents, should do so.

However it contradicted advice given by medical experts to the prime minister that schools should remain open.

Director of Epidemiology at Melbourne's Doherty Institute Professor Jodie McVernon said a flu vaccine would be even more important this year.

She said pregnant women were not at an increased risk of the virus.

Professor McVernon also defended the government's approach to school closures, saying Singapore had left schools open and had more success in containing the virus than Hong Kong, which shut classrooms.

On Tuesday, researchers at the Peter Doherty Institute announced the immune responses from one of Australia's first coronavirus patients had been mapped, which could lead to a vaccine.

Dr Paul Griffin, a researcher from Queensland's Mater Hospital, said it was a big step forward, but the vaccine development couldn't be rushed.

"We can't cut corners with vaccine development. At every step we have to make sure we're safe and effective," he said.

Dr Griffin said the use of anti-viral drugs to combat the coronavirus outbreak could help, but a vaccine was the answer.

The government has flagged any vaccine is at least one year away.

© AAP 2020

Coronavirus Fears Swamp Phone Lines - One In Two Virus Related

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Image Credit: CC0 

Coronavirus has caused an unprecedented surge in customers contacting companies with virus-related concerns, bogging down company phone lines for hours.

Contact centre expert Drew Le Grand from CDM Direct said impacted companies are reporting that more than 50 per cent of phone calls are related to the deadly virus.

“Impacted companies are telling us one in every two calls are now Coronavirus related,” Mr Le Grand said.

“Even the Dettol consumer hotline has seen volumes surge over 100 per cent as consumers seek advice on the products effectiveness against the virus.

“Customer wait times for Qantas have pushed out to two-and-a-half-hours. Customers are also reporting lines dropping out after enduring lengthy waits.

“CoverMore Travel insurance customers are being put on hold for upwards of two hours,” Mr Le Grand said.

The most impacted companies include travel agents, tourism operators, airlines, accommodation providers, cruise ships, travel insurance. Schools and higher education institutions have also been inundated with enquires relating to international enrolments.

According to Mr Le Grand retailers and e-commerce sites are also not immune from the virus and are being inundated with questions about out-of stock items and international shipping delays.

“Companies are struggling to cope with this unprecedented surge in customer contact. The problem is that every day sales enquiries and customer support questions are going into some very long queues which is really frustrating customers,” Mr Le Grand said.

“It is already a really tough operating environment for companies and now they have this really challenging business disruption to their non-core business.

“CDM Direct has been doing a lot of call re-routing for our customers into dedicated Coronavirus queues to free up front line staff contact centre staff for other calls.

“We’ve been inundated with short-term assignments from companies needing assistance until calls return to normal volumes,” Mr Le Grand added.

Coronavirus forces new etiquette rules

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Manners are a must as social distancing pushes Australians further apart, as experts turn their noses up at coronavirus panic buying.

Etiquette experts say being polite is crucial even as COVID-19 prompts health authorities to encourage a 1.5-metre space between people.

"We can social distance in a way that is not offensive, and respectful to others," Australian Finishing School chief executive officer Amanda King told AAP on Thursday.

"Communicating in a kind, respectful, polite manner."

Eye contact, a head nod and smiling could be greeting solutions.

"Due to this current crisis, rules governing interaction between people are more relevant than ever," the accredited etiquette expert said.

"We need to be leaders in society with manners and actions around being considerate and polite, for example the grocery store hours for disability and the elderly."

Panic buying has cleared supermarket shelves, leaving the vulnerable and elderly unable to buy food and other staples.

Monash University social philosopher Elizabeth Burns Coleman said the social norms of staying out of people's space had been widened.

"Politeness is always about being appropriate to a situation," Dr Burns Coleman told AAP on Thursday.

"Clear signal to others what you are doing. That allows people to interpret what is going on."

Health authorities want people to exercise "social distancing" measures, such as sitting in the back of a taxi as well as the 1.5m advice.

It comes alongside a limit on outdoor gatherings to less than 500 people and indoor gatherings to no more than 100.

Friends keen to meet in person may want to greet with air kissing while colleagues could head nod, Dr Burns Coleman suggested.

"It should be playful. This is a great time to experiment. Pick up what works," she said.

"We are going to evolve a whole new set of dynamics around social distancing. In some regards these... will be things we adapt in the longer term."

Face masks could become a new normal in a bid to protect others from a person sharing their illness, she suggested.

But don't forgot to exercise good hygiene.

For those not willing to meet in person, friends can have a night in with a Netflix Party, thanks to a Google Chrome extension.

It allows viewers to tune into the same show, and chat while it runs.

Swinburne University of Technology media studies lecturer Liam Burke said streaming shows first pushed people apart, but the tide had turned.

"What that crisis has done has forced us back into close proximity and... that need for social glue at a time of social distancing," Dr Burke said. But remember, always use your manners.

© AAP 2020

Coronavirus restriction changes by state

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WHICH STATES AND TERRITORIES ARE EASING CORONAVIRUS RESTRICTIONS?

NEW SOUTH WALES

* NSW will ease gathering restrictions from Friday, May 1.

* A maximum of two adults and their children will be permitted to visit others in their homes.

* Bondi and Bronte beaches have reopened for exercise only while Tamarama beach is only open for locals.

* Students will return to classrooms by mid-term following a staged return during the first fortnight.

* "We know that for many people, they've been cooped up in their homes for a number of weeks, and with the exception of exercising, medical needs or buying what they need or going to work, many people have been isolated in their homes," NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.

VICTORIA

* Coronavirus restrictions to be reassessed on May 11 when the state of emergency ends.

* "I don't know what transmission will look like this week or next week, but I think the state of emergency going to May 11 is a nice line-up with the national cabinet process for a real look at changing the restrictions," Victorian Chief Health Officer Professor Brett Sutton said.

QUEENSLAND

* Stay-at-home restrictions to ease from Saturday, May 2.

* Family picnics and weekend drives allowed, national parks will reopen and people can shop for clothing and shoes.

* Citizens must stay within 50km of their homes, and social distancing will still be enforced.

* People from the same household can go out together, while those who live alone can spend time with one other person.

* No change to schools until at least May 15 with students continuing to learn remotely where they can.

* "We recognise that Queenslanders have done a great job in trying to flatten that curve. So we also know it's having a big impact on people's mental health. We thought we could lift some stay-at-home restrictions," Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says.

WESTERN AUSTRALIA

* Coronavirus restrictions eased from Monday, 27 April.

* Two-person limit on non-work activities, including picnics, boating, hiking, camping. Group exercise eased from two to 10 people, provided they adhere to social distancing and good hygiene.

* Weddings and funerals can have up to 10 people present.

* In real estate, open houses and display villages permitted but records must be kept of everyone who enters a home.

* Students will return to the classroom from May 29.

* WA Premier Mark McGowan said it was a "cautious relaxation" of restrictions.

SOUTH AUSTRALIA

* South Australia health officials are looking at which restrictions can be lifted after a fifth consecutive day of no new coronavirus cases.

* "While you will see some states starting to adjust the restrictions, it's worth bearing in mind that South Australia didn't regulate to the same degree," SA Chief Public Health Officer Professor Nicola Spurrier said.

TASMANIA

* Tasmania won't follow the lead of other states in easing social restrictions.

* Restrictions closing non-essential retail in the northwest have been pushed back to at least May 3.

* Most Tasmanian students to begin term two on Tuesday remotely, but schools in the northwest area will open a week later.

* "Where some states might lift restrictions early, I don't believe we will be doing that. I don't intend to make knee-jerk reaction and take us to a position where the restrictions come off too quickly and then leaves us exposed," Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein said.

NORTHERN TERRITORY

* Parks and reserves will reopen this weekend.

* Cafes and gyms expected to reopen in June, but under strict rules.

* The territory's borders to be the last things to be lifted.

* "Based on our progress so far we expect there will be some businesses that can re-open or return to more regular operations within the next months," Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner said.

ACT

* The territory won't lift any restrictions soon.

* "This is not a race or a contest between jurisdictions. We are in a great position here in the ACT, largely thanks to the great community effort in complying with the rules around physical distancing. However, we have seen around the world what can happen when restrictions are imposed too late or taken away too early," ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said.

© AAP 2020

Coronavirus restrictions halt AFL season

Jaeger OMeara of the Hawks kicks the ball during the Round 1 AFL match between the Hawthorn Hawks and the Brisbane Lions at the MCG in Melbourne, Sunday, March 22, 2020. (AAP Image/Michael Dodge) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Jaeger OMeara of the Hawks kicks the ball during the Round 1 AFL match between the Hawthorn Hawks and the Brisbane Lions at the MCG in Melbourne, Sunday, March 22, 2020. (AAP Image/Michael Dodge) 

The 2020 AFL premiership season has been shut down in response to new coronavirus measures put in place by federal and state governments.

Round one was only given the green light 24 hours before the season opener, and league chief executive Gillon McLachlan announced on Sunday the competition would pause until May 31.

The AFLW season has been abandoned and no premier will be named after Prime Minister Scott Morrison called on Australians to cancel all non-essential travel within the country.

© AAP 2020

Coronavirus sees flu shots fly off shelves

Doctor giving patient vaccine, flu shot. Doctor making a vaccination in the shoulder of patient

Coronavirus sees flu shots fly off shelves (Bigstock)

Pharmacists say they have seen a huge surge in people getting flu shots, outpacing last season's demand.

Medicos are reminding Australians to get vaccinated for flu early this year to ease pressure on the health system, which is under pressure from the coronavirus pandemic.

Pharmaceutical Society of Australia president Chris Freeman says members are reporting huge demand.

He said people had learned from last year's horror flu season.

"(Pharmacist) flu clinics, which have just started in the last couple of weeks, have been fully booked out," Associate Professor Freeman told AAP.

Likewise GPs and medical centres were providing more shots.

"It certainly is increased compared to where we were last year," he said.

"I think the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened that awareness for everybody."

The best time for people to get their flu shot was between now and mid-April to give the vaccine time to take effect, he said.

Pharmacy Guild of Australia's Greg Turnbull said they had seen a heightened demand for flu shots as Australians started to get the message.

""There's already a lot of demand in the community," he told AAP.

"If you're going to try to resist or survive COVID-19, it's better that you are fit and not suffering from influenza at the same time."

Both Prof Freeman and Mr Turnbull stressed the importance of building Australia's flu herd immunity, where enough people are vaccinated against the disease to reduce it spreading.

They were both confident in supplies, with the government ordering extra vaccinations after last year's season.

Vaccine manufacturer Seqirus has previously told AAP it would be able to meet Australian demand, including the separate flu shot for over-65s.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners has urged Australians to get their flu shots earlier than usual, but reminded people to call their GP ahead of time.

© AAP 2020

Country singer dies of virus complications

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This Aug. 22, 2018 file photo shows Joe Diffie at the 12th annual ACM Honors in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Al Wagner/Invision/AP, File) 

Country singer Joe Diffie, who had a string of hits in the 1990s with chart-topping ballads and honky-tonk singles such as Home and Pick-up Man, has died aged 61 after testing positive for COVID-19.

Diffie on Friday announced he had contracted the coronavirus, becoming the first country star to go public with such a diagnosis.

Diffie's publicist Scott Adkins said the singer died Sunday in Nashville, Tennessee, due to complications from the virus.

Diffie, a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was a member of the Grand Ole Opry for more than 25 years.

His hits included Honky Tonk Attitude, Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox (If I Die), Bigger Than the Beatles and If the Devil Danced (In Empty Pockets).

His mid-90s albums Honky Tonk Attitude and Third Rock From the Sun went platinum.

Eighteen of Diffie's singles landed in the top 10 on the country charts, with five going No.1.

Diffie shared in a Grammy award for best country collaboration for the song Same Old Train with Merle Haggard, Marty Stuart and others.

His last solo album was 2010's The Bluegrass Album: Homecoming.

"Joe was a real true honky tonk hero to every country artist alive today," singer John Rich said in a statement.

"No one sang our music better than he did, and to see his life and artistry cut short is beyond tragic. He was loved, cherished and respected by all of country music and beyond."

Deanna Carter said she was "shell-shocked" by the news and had hoped to perform again with Diffie this year.

"He was a powerhouse that stopped people in their tracks, both on and off stage," she said.

Diffie is survived by his wife, Tara Terpening Diffie, and seven children from four marriages.

© AP 2020

COVID-19 advice heading into the weekend

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Heading into another weekend, NSW Health have some advice that will keep you, and all of your loved ones as safe as possible from COVID-19.

While most cases have been linked to known clusters, community transmission continues and NSW Health is calling on people across the state to redouble their efforts to stop the virus spreading. 

Key messages for the community are:

  • Avoid non-essential travel and gatherings. Of particular concern is transmission in venues such as hotels and restaurants, the gym and social gatherings.
  • Anyone feeling unwell – even with the mildest of symptoms such as a runny nose or scratchy throat – must seek testing and self-isolate until they get the result. Stay at home, and do not go to work or catch public transport until you are cleared of COVID-19
  • At all times stay 1.5 m from other people. Don’t go anywhere there is crowding.
  • Clean your hands regularly with soap and running water for 20 seconds or use alcohol base hand rub.
  • Cough and sneeze into your elbow.
  • Don’t host, or go to, a gathering of more than 10 people at home.
  • Don’t go to the gym unless the equipment is thoroughly cleaned before and after customer use by supervising staff or yourself, and there is good spacing between machines and customers.
  • Consider using a mask in situations where you are unable to social distance.

 A full list of COVID-19 testing clinics is available below, and people can visit their GP:https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/covid-19/Pages/clinics.aspx

COVID-19 cases rise in NSW, Health Minister urging everyone to follow health advice and have strict hygiene to beat the "evil virus"

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Confirmed Coronavirus cases in NSW have risen to 1,791. 

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard confirmed the number of cases at a press conference this morning which is an increase of 174 since the last update late on Friday afternoon. 

He also announced new measures for anyone coming into NSW. 

Now, it doesn't matter where you are coming into the State from, everyone must now go into quarantine at a hotel and if people don't they run the risk of an $11,000 fine and 6 months behind bars.

Brad Hazzard also stressed the importance of following the health advice including social distancing and excellent hygiene. 

"As Health Minister here in NSW, I cannot tell you how disappointed I am that there is a relatively small but very significant section of our community that think the world is as it was in 2019. It is not. The fact of the matter is our entire world has an enemy which is moving through it, an unseen enemy, that doesn't have borders and is impacting massively on communities around the world and it's starting to impact in a way that no citizen in NSW or Australia could've dreamed of just two-and-a-half months ago," he said. 

"So it is crucial that you listen to the health advice."

"The health advice is you must socially distance, you must. This virus can do its evil best but its not a high jumper, its not a long jumper, and as long as you're 1.5 metres away from somebody else you have a fairly good chance, a reasonable chance, of actually not getting transmission of the virus,"

"The Premier has made it very clear home is the right place to be, but if you are outside for whatever reason you just cannot afford to be the person who may actually get the virus from somebody else or give it to somebody else. Every single person in NSW should be behaving today as if they have COVID-19."

"Stay away from anybody, stay that 1.5 metres way, it's not that hard to ask, it's not an indefinite request, it may go on for months but its not indefinite and it will keep you and your loved ones safe," he said. 

"Good hygiene is still at the core of what you need to do, if you're out and about make sure you wash your hands before you go out, make sure you wash your hands as often as possible when you out, and when you think you've ashed your hand enough do it again, and again and again and again and make sure if you can access hand cleaner, alcohol hand clearer you use it and use it regularly."

"The advice from health experts is that this virus, this enemy can hide on hard surfaces for up to four days, and even that is not absolutely certain, it could be longer in certain environmental conditions. So if you are out and about, if you are going down a stairwell and holding a banister, if you happen to be in a park and touch some equipment make sure you don't put your hand up to your face, near your mouth or near your nose," said Brad Hazzard.

The Health Minister also addressed reports that items are being stolen from hospitals that are there to keep health workers and patients safe.

"I also want to raise the issue of just being decent Australians. We are a very decent and fair community, we are generally caring of each other, the concept of mateship drives everything that we do and everything that we think about,"

"I am mortified to hear that in some of our hospitals people are actually stealing hand cleaner, and other items that will keep our frontline staff safe. I have even heard of reports of hand cleaner containers being ripped off the wall in hospitals and I can't think of anything more appalling."

For more information: https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/diseases/Pages/covid-19-latest.aspx?fbclid=IwAR0KXrYiGazN9RVF0llyWQL2-JmmnF2xvTZ1KmRHYtA1m9AejIa9pZ-mZyc 

Covid-19 could kill 81000 in US: analysis

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The coronavirus pandemic could kill more than 81,000 people in the United States in the next four months and may not subside until June, according to a data analysis done by the University of Washington School of Medicine.

The number of hospitalised patients is expected to peak nationally by the second week of April, though the peak may come later in some states. Some people could continue to die of the virus as late as July, although deaths should be below epidemic levels of 10 per day by June at the latest, according to the analysis.

The analysis, using data from governments, hospitals and other sources, predicts that the number of US deaths could vary widely, ranging from as low as around 38,000 to as high as around 162,000.

The variance is due in part to disparate rates of the spread of the virus in different regions, which experts are still struggling to explain, said Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, who led the study.

The duration of the virus means there may be a need for social distancing measures for longer than initially expected, although the country may eventually be able relax restrictions if it can more effectively test and quarantine the sick, Murray said.

The analysis also highlights the strain that will be placed on hospitals. At the epidemic's peak, sick patients could exceed the number of available hospital beds by 64,000 and could require the use of around 20,000 ventilators. Ventilators are already running short in hard-hit places like New York City.

The virus is spreading more slowly in California, which could mean that peak cases there will come later in April and social distancing measures will need to be extended in the state for longer, Murray said.

Louisiana and Georgia are predicted to see high rates of contagion and could see a particularly high burden on their local healthcare systems, he added.

The analysis assumes close adherence to infection prevention measures imposed by federal, state and local governments.

"The trajectory of the pandemic will change - and dramatically for the worse - if people ease up on social distancing or relax with other precautions," Murray said in a statement.

The analysis comes as the US becomes the country that has has the most coronavirus cases in the world.

© RAW 2020

COVID-19 vaccine trial to start in Perth

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Linear Clinical Research in Perth has been selected to undertake human trials for a COVID-19 vaccine (AAP Image/Supplied by Linear Clinical Research) 

A Perth clinical research company wants healthy adults and elderly volunteers to participate in one of the world's first human coronavirus vaccine trials.

The protein-based COVID-19 S-Trimer potential vaccine aims to help the body produce antibodies to fight the virus.

Volunteers will participate in the trial in the next two months and if successful, a larger phase involving thousands of people globally will be conducted.

The trial will be run by Perth's Linear Clinical Research and was developed by China-based Clover Biopharmaceuticals.

Linear Clinical Research chief Jayden Rogers said the vaccine showed immense potential.

With more than 60 possible vaccines being developed globally, he said it was significant because it was one of the first to make it to human trials.

"This is one of the most prominent trials globally and involves some of the most renowned vaccines companies," Mr Rogers said.

The vaccine was promising because of Clover Biopharmaceuticals' technology platform, he said.

It has previously been used in a number of clinical studies and to develop vaccines for other RNA-based viruses like influenza, RSV and HIV.

"The fight against COVID-19 requires a global effort bringing together the best science and innovation," Mr Rogers said.

"We are fortunate to be one of the few countries in the world to still be offering functional clinical trial facilities because we do not have large volumes of COVID-19 cases as compared to other parts of the world."

© AAP 2020

CSIRO into first stages of testing for COVID-19 vaccine

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The CSIRO is into the first stages of testing for a COVID-19 vaccine. 

The testing is underway at the CSIRO’s high-containment biosecurity facility, the Australian Animal Health laboratory (AAHL) in Geelong and is expected to take three months.

In January, CEPI engaged CSIRO to start working on the virus SARS CoV-2, which causes the disease COVID-19. In consultation with the World Health Organisation, CEPI has identified vaccine candidates from The University of Oxford (UK) and Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc. (US) to undergo the first pre-clinical trials at CSIRO, with further candidates likely to follow.

CSIRO Chief Executive, Dr Larry Marshall said: “Beginning vaccine candidate testing at CSIRO is a critical milestone in the fight against COVID-19, made possible by collaboration both within Australia and across the globe.”

“CSIRO researchers are working around-the-clock to combat this disease which is affecting so many – whether it’s at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) or at our state-of-the-art biologics manufacturing facility – we will keep working until this viral enemy is defeated,” Dr Marshall said.

CSIRO is testing the COVID-19 vaccine candidates for efficacy, but also evaluating the best way to give the vaccine for better protection, including an intra-muscular injection and innovative approaches like a nasal spray.

Professor Trevor Drew OBE, is Director of AAHL and leading CSIRO’s COVID-19 virus and vaccine work.

“We have been studying SARS CoV-2 since January and getting ready to test the first vaccine candidates as soon as they are available," Professor Drew said.

"We are carefully balancing operating at speed with the critical need for safety in response to this global public health emergency.”

CSIRO has a long history of developing and testing vaccines since the opening of the AAHL in 1985. It is the only high biocontainment facility in the southern hemisphere working with highly dangerous and exotic pathogens, including diseases that transfer from animals to people.

Dr Marshall said: “Tackling disease and supporting better health outcomes takes a one-health approach."

“In 2016 CSIRO created the Health and Biosecurity research group who work with our scientists at AAHL to tackle our national and international health and biosecurity challenges together, so we can better protect the health of our people, environment, agriculture and industries and our way of life,"

“This, combined with our data science and manufacturing capability in our biological production facility, means we were well prepared to help Australia in One Health with disease identification, prevention and management, to deliver the real world solutions that our nation expects from science.”

For more information on CSIRO’s COVID-19 work, visit: www.csiro.au/COVID-19

Image credit and story: CSIRO

Data on drug raises hopes in virus fight

metal box with a test kit of the medicine Remdesivir against corona virus, Denmark, April 16, 2020

Data on antiviral drug remdesivir raises hopes in virus fight (Bigstock)

The United States' top infectious disease official says experimental antiviral drug remdesivir will become the standard of care for COVID-19 after early results from a key clinical trial showed it helped patients recover more quickly from the illness caused by the coronavirus.

Preliminary results from a US government trial showing that patients given remdesivir recovered 31 per cent faster than those given a placebo, were hailed by Dr Anthony Fauci as "highly significant".

"This is really quite important," Fauci told reporters at the White House, likening it to a moment in 1986 "when we were struggling for drugs for HIV and we had nothing".

"This will be the standard of care," he said.

The US Food and Drug Administration said it has been in discussions with manufacturer Gilead Sciences about making remdesivir available to patients as quickly as possible, but the agency declined to comment on any plans to grant the drug regulatory approval.

"I want them to go as quickly as they can," President Donald Trump said, when asked if he wanted the FDA to grant emergency use authorisation for remdesivir.

"We want everything to be safe, but we would like to see very quick approvals, especially with things that work."

Interest in remdesivir has been high as there are no approved treatments or preventive vaccines for COVID-19, and doctors are desperate for anything that might alter the course of the disease that attacks the lungs and can shut down other organs in severe cases.

Doctors on the front lines of the COVID-19 battle have been eager for results from the study because it is a large trial in which patients were randomised to treatment with the drug or a placebo without participants or doctors knowing which group they were in - the gold standard for clinical trials.

Gilead earlier this month said the company was prepared to donate to hospitals its existing supply of 1.5 million doses of remdesivir - enough for more than 140,000 patients depending on length of treatment. Regulatory approval of the drug would also clear the way for commercial sales.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, said partial results from its 1063-patient trial show that hospitalised COVID-19 patients given remdesivir recovered in 11 days, compared to 15 days for patients given a placebo.

The study showed a trend toward better survival for remdesivir - 8 per cent of patients given the drug died compared with 11.6 per cent in the placebo group - but the difference was not statistically significant so may not be due to Gilead's drug.

Despite the excitement, Dr Lawrence K. Altman, global fellow at The Wilson Center in Washington, was not ready to celebrate the preliminary findings.

The new data "offers a glimmer of hope" that remdesivir has an effect against COVID-19, but more scientific analysis is needed "comparing them to other studies of the drug that have shown mixed results", he said in a statement.

Also on Wednesday, results were published by the Lancet medical journal of a trial conducted in China that concluded remdesivir failed to improve patients' condition or reduce the pathogen's presence in the bloodstream.

Gilead said previously that those findings were inconclusive because the study was terminated early.

© DPA 2020

Disneyland shuts due to coronavirus

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Disney has temporarily closed theme parks in California because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The move to shutter its parks comes as the novel virus continues to rapidly spread across the country.

Over the past week it has officially become a pandemic, with cases increasing in the US, Asia and across Europe.

It's only the fourth time in history that Disneyland in Anaheim, California, has fully suspended operations. The other instances were the September 11 attacks, the morning after JFK's assassination and the Northridge earthquake.

It's unclear if Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, will remain open.

Disney said in a statement, "While there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 at Disneyland Resort, after carefully reviewing the guidelines of the Governor of California's executive order and in the best interest of our guests and employees, we are proceeding with the closure of Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure, beginning the morning of March 14 through the end of the month".

The Hotels of Disneyland Resort will remain open until Monday, March 16 to give guests the ability to make necessary travel arrangements and Downtown Disney will remain open.

"We will monitor the ongoing situation and follow the advice and guidance of federal and state officials and health agencies. Disney will continue to pay cast members during this time," the statement said.

The company added, "Disneyland Resort will work with guests who wish to change or cancel their visits, and will provide refunds to those who have hotel bookings during this closure period."

Closures seemed inevitable after Los Angeles Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday called for gatherings with more than 250 people to be cancelled or delayed in an effort to halt the transmission of the virus. Officials are also encouraging "social distancing" of two metres per person.

Disney closed its parks in Shanghai and Hong Kong in January, and has also temporarily closed its parks in Japan as well.

Disney reported that it could lose $US280 million in revenues due to closures in Shanghai and Hong Kong alone.

© RAW 2020

Don't let the COVID-19 precautions take a holiday this long weekend

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This long weekend will be a little freer than the last across the state and here in the Hunter New England Health (HNEH) District.

Local tourism is going ahead after COVID-19 restrictions eased earlier this week, but HNEH is warning residents COVID-19 won’t be taking a holiday.

Public Health Physician, Dr David Durrheim said that while it’s exciting we can finally travel and enjoy some adventure on the weekend, there is a possibility that the virus is still lurking.

“The reality is that there is no vaccine available for COVID-19 yet so we still have to embrace our new normal of standing back, washing our hands very regularly, covering coughs and sneezes, and getting tested if symptomatic,” he said.

While there have been no new cases of COVID-19 within Hunter New England for 4 weeks now, Dr Durrheim said that each relaxation of the restrictions needs to be tested to see its effect on the virus’ spread.

“We can’t be in too much of a rush to return to pre-COVID life,” he said. “We’re not there yet.”

“That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy our long weekend travels, but with the number of people expected to take advantage of the relaxed travel restrictions, especially those from outside of our Region, it could be more difficult to remember these good habits.”

“The last thing we want is to go backwards just when things are starting to look good.”

Dr Durrheim also urges anyone with any cold or flu-like symptoms to avoid travel, isolate at home and arrange testing as soon as possible.

Anyone experiencing fever or the recent onset of respiratory symptoms, even mild ones, including a cough, shortness of breath or a sore throat should contact their GP, or present to their local hospital or COVID-19 clinic for testing.

Clinics continue to operate at Calvary Mater Newcastle, John Hunter, Maitland, Belmont, Cessnock, Inverell, Glen Innes and Gunnedah.

Across the HNEH District, there has been 278 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and there hasn’t been a new onset of the virus for four weeks.

Easing Qld restrictions still days away

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Easing Qld restrictions still days away (Shutterstock)

Queenslanders will have to wait until Tuesday to find out when and how COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted after the transport minister stonewalled questions about borders reopening.

Mark Bailey reinforced Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk's message that any changes would be announced on Tuesday and that any decision would be rooted in "evidence" and on the back of medical advice.

"Border provisions have been key to us, achieving that outcome, an outcome that NSW and Victoria haven't been able to achieve," he said on Sunday.

"The premier has made it very clear that there will be an announcement on Tuesday.

"There's a whole lot of factors to be taken into account including Victoria."

Queensland recorded no new cases overnight and has had just one positive test - a returned traveller from overseas - in the past eight days.

Victoria, however, on Sunday declared 49 more positive tests overnight with more than 100 cases announced in the past three days.

LNP opposition leader Deb Frecklington said Ms Palaszczuk should stop referring to the Chief Health Officer Dr Jeanette Young as the reason for deciding to keep the borders closed.

She said the LNP remained resolute that borders should open on Wednesday to kick start the economy with businesses across the state that rely on tourism wilting because of intra-state only travel.

"It's up to her to make the decision, not the chief health officer," Ms Frecklington said.

"The borders should be open on first of July... the deputy chief medical officer has even said it is safe for the borders to be open."

The government's decision to not bring forward the announcement of easing of restrictions comes after Police Minister Mark Ryan announced extra quarantine compliance checks.

Backpackers and travellers in the Wide Bay region will be targeted - after a fruit picker tested positive on June 6 - as well as pubs and clubs across the state.

The next easing of restrictions will be triggered on July 10 which is also the last day of school holidays in Queensland.

Up to 100 people will be permitted to gather in restaurants, cafes, pubs and clubs although opening borders is not covered in the road map.

© AAP 2020

Elderly head to Woolies for shopping hour

Empty shelves of tissues are seen at Woolworths Town Hall in Sydney, Friday, March 13, 2020. AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi) NO ARCHIVING

Empty shelves of tissues are seen at Woolworths Town Hall in Sydney, Friday, March 13, 2020. AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi)

Seniors and pension card holders have made the most of a dedicated shopping hour set up at major supermarkets in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The initiative was started by the major supermarket groups to help seniors who have been disadvantaged by panic buying as a result of the coronavirus.

People with government-issued concession cards on Tuesday flocked to Woolworths supermarkets for the dedicated shopping hour which runs nationally from 7am to 8am on weekdays.

The stores open to everyone else after 8am.

"This temporary measure will give them, and those with a disability, the opportunity to shop before our stores officially open - helping them obtain the essential items they need most in a less-crowded environment," Managing Director Claire Peters said.

Panic buying in recent weeks sparked by the spread of COVID-19 in Australia has seen supermarkets stripped of toilet paper, pasta, rice, frozen food as well as tinned and other dried goods.

The issue has caused stress and frustration amongst elderly shoppers, many of whom find it difficult to make frequent visits to supermarkets for essential goods. In many cases, particularly for toilet paper, the shelves are often stripped bare.

Woolworths fresh food director Paul Harker said the initiative had proved very popular on Tuesday morning.

He insists there is no shortage of goods despite reports of widespread food shortages.

"There is no shortage of goods here in Australia," he told the Nine Network on Tuesday.

"It is a logistics exercise of moving the product to get it back into stores with the pace and demand we're seeing."

He said the exclusive shopping hour for seniors and pension card holders will be reviewed later this week to determine how it can best be managed.

The Coles shopping hour will start on Wednesday, when its stores also open at 7am for customers holding a government-issued Pensioner Concession Card, Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, Companion Card and Health Care Card.

Coles is also seeking more than 5000 casual workers to help restock its supermarkets faster under a fast-tracked induction process and will hire more Coles Online delivery van drivers.

It also plans to dedicate grocery deliveries to people who are isolated and vulnerable. This means deliveries for other customers will be temporarily suspended, as will the Click&Collect service.

"We believe all Australians deserve the right to access their share of grocery items, particularly the elderly and the vulnerable," Coles CEO Steven Cain said.

Meanwhile, the smaller national supermarket chain IGA is considering whether to roll out a similar pensioners-and-seniors-only shopping hour across its 1300 Australian stores.

The idea is being trialled at an IGA in Melbourne's Altona, with a shopping hour between 6am to 7am, which could be extended across its network if successful.

IGA Chief Executive Fred Harrison said on Monday a final decision would be made by Wednesday.

© AAP 2020

Elective surgeries slowly getting back on track in the Hunter New England Health District

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Hunter New England Health (HNEH) have said they are taking a "cautious approach" to get elective surgeries happening in local hospitals again. 

In line with the Federal Government’s decision to halt elective surgeries in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of our patients had their surgeries postponed.

HNEH will be increasing the availability of elective surgery in a safe and equitable way through the staged reintroduction of some category two and category three elective surgery procedures. These include endoscopic procedures, critical dental procedures, cancer screening programs, and procedures for children with urgent conditions or longer wait times.

HNEH said "elective surgery is being reintroduced gradually to balance the needs of our patients, and the safety of our staff and the greater community. A staged reintroduction will ensure that adequate equipment, supplies and treatment spaces remain available for all patients, including those requiring COVID-19 treatment if required."

If you are a patient awaiting surgery, you will be contacted directly when we are able to offer you a new date for surgery.

"Thank you for your patience while we work through this process."

"If you have any concerns about your condition, we encourage you to speak to your general practitioner or specialist to have your condition reassessed."

Image credit: Grant Broadcasters

Endangered pangolins could be virus hosts

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Pangolins should be considered as possible hosts of coronavirus, scientists have said.

Researchers in Hong Kong and China claim to have found viruses in the scaly mammals which are closely related to the one responsible for the Covid-19 outbreak.

The team analysed samples taken from more than 30 Malayan pangolins seized during anti-smuggling operations between August 2017 and January 2019.

They detected two groups of coronaviruses related to the new virus behind the human pandemic, called Sars-CoV-2, in some of the animals smuggled into China.

In a paper published in the journal Nature, they said the findings suggest handling pangolins "requires considerable caution" and that the sale of these animals in wet markets "should be strictly prohibited".

Pangolins, which are classified as threatened with extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature are said to be the most widely trafficked mammals in the world.

The animals, which are native to Asia, are used as both a food source and their scales are utilised in traditional Chinese medicine.

Bats are thought to be the original source of Sars-CoV-2, with another species being an intermediate host before zoonotic (animal to human) transmission.

Outside of bats, pangolins are the only mammals reported to date that have been found to be infected with a coronavirus related to Sars-Cov-2.

© PAA 2020

Everyone at gatherings exceeding 20 people will cop a $1000 fine anywhere in NSW

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Everyone at gatherings exceeding 20 people will cop a $1000 fine anywhere in NSW. 

With the warmer weather upon us and the longer days rights around the corner, amendments have been made to the Public Health Order which will see all attendees at a private gathering that exceeds the 20-person limit  issued with a $1000 Penalty Infringement Notice (PINs).

Previously, only the organiser of a gathering was liable to receive a fine if the number of people at the premises breached the Public Health Order, every person in attendance will now be held individually responsible for the breach.

NSW Police said the changes, which came into effect at midnight (Monday 14 September 2020), aim to ensure the safety of the community ahead of an expected increase in gatherings associated with Christmas and end-of-year festivities.

Operation Corona Virus Commander, Assistant Commissioner Tony Crandell, said that as with the previous restrictions, these amendments have been made with community safety in mind.

“Coming into the warmer months, and with end-of-year festivities around the corner, it’s only natural that people will have additional reasons to want to gather and get together,” Assistant Commissioner Crandell said.

“These amendments aim to ensure that an increase in expected gatherings doesn’t mean an increase in COVID-19 cases."

“The new changes come in addition to other restrictions which remain in place, including a limit on numbers at outdoor gatherings and licensed premises."

“NSW Police will continue to work with the community to ensure compliance to all restrictions under the Public Health Order."

“While the vast majority of people within NSW are doing their part, we will continue to target those who don’t,” Assistant Commissioner Crandell said.

Image credit: Grant Broadcasters

Fans barred from Aus GP: Vic premier

Spectators queue at the gate to gain entry ahead of the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix 2020 at the the Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne, Friday, March 13, 2020. (AAP Image/Scott Barbour) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Spectators queue at the gate to gain entry ahead of the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix 2020 at the the Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne, Friday, March 13, 2020. (AAP Image/Scott Barbour)

The Australian Formula One Grand Prix will be run without spectators due to the coronavirus, if it goes ahead at all this weekend, Victorian premier Daniel Andrews says.

"From a public health point of view, if the event is to be run - I will leave it to Grand Prix officials, the F1 organising body, to make an official announcement," Andrews told reporters in Sydney.

"On public health grounds, there will be no spectators at the Grand Prix this weekend - if a race actually happens at all.

"Now (organisers) are making the choice between no event or an event without fans."

Earlier, grand prix chairman Paul Little insisted the F1 season-opener in Melbourne would go ahead despite multiple reports the race will be cancelled due to the coronavirus.

The McLaren team has withdrawn from the event in Melbourne after a team member tested positive for coronavirus.

Despite widespread media reports overnight that the race won't proceed, Little told the Nine network on Friday the grand prix was going ahead.

Eight F1 team members had been tested for coronavirus with results released on Thursday revealing one, from McLaren, had tested positive to the potentially deadly virus.

McLaren subsequently withdrew from the event, due to start on Friday with practice sessions for Sunday's grand prix.

"The decision has been taken based on a duty of care not only to McLaren F1 employees and partners but also to the team's competitors, Formula 1 fans and wider F1 stakeholders," McLaren said in a statement.

"The team member was tested and self-isolated as soon as they started to show symptoms and will now be treated by local healthcare authorities.

"The team has prepared for this eventuality and has ongoing support in place for its employee who will now enter a period of quarantine."

Overnight, the BBC and Sky Television Association reported the race would be stopped after a crisis meeting between F1 hierarchy.

A number of team owners were reportedly unhappy to continue the event.

There has been no official confirmation from F1 or the sport's governing body, the FIA.

On Thursday, six-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton said he found it "shocking" that the race was being staged amid a global coronavirus pandemic.

"I am really very, very surprised that we are here," the Mercedes star said.

"For me it is shocking that we are all sitting in this (press conference) room.

"It seems like the rest of the world is reacting... Formula One continues to go on - it's definitely concerning for me."

© AAP 2020

Fate of Virgin Aust still up in the air

Taxiway Golf

The NSW government is in talks with Virgin Australia about giving the cash-strapped airline a possible financial lifeline, but only if it moves its national headquarters from Brisbane to Sydney.

Virgin is carrying about $5 billion in debt and its domestic and international business has been hit due to the impact of the coronavirus.

The carrier has been seeking federal help to keep it running but the Morrison government has rejected its request for $1.4 billion.

The Queensland government has announced it had offered $200 million to help rescue Virgin, so long as it maintains its Brisbane HQ.

Now NSW has stepped in, with Treasurer Dominic Perrottet telling Sky News on Sunday night it was considering offering support and pointing to the new aerotropolis being built at Badgerys Creek in western Sydney.

"Virgin should have their headquarters for both Virgin and Tiger in Sydney," Mr Perrottet said. Tiger Air is owned by Virgin Australia.

"I'm always open for businesses right across the country to relocate to New South Wales and create jobs here in our state, particularly when you look at the aerotroplis in western Sydney.

"It provides a significant opportunity for Virgin and other airlines to relocate to our state."

© AAP 2020

Ferrets will reveal if virus vaccines work

Generic image inside a lab at the CSIRO's high-containment facility in Geelong, Friday, January 31, 2020. CSIRO, Australia's national science agency, has commenced key research in the rapid global response to the novel coronavirus outbreak. (AAP Image/David Crosling) NO ARCHIVING

Australian scientists from the CSIRO have been trusted to determine if the two vaccine candidates are effective and safe enough to test on humans (AAP Image/David Crosling)

Ferrets at a high-security Victorian lab will determine if two potential coronavirus vaccines can proceed to human trials within months.

Australian scientists from the CSIRO have been trusted to determine if the two vaccine candidates are effective and safe enough to test on humans.

If all goes well with the ferrets, phase-one human trials could begin later this month or in early June.

But even then, a vaccine won't be widely available until the end of the year at the earliest.

"The end of the year would be an optimist's view. Early next year would be closer to the reality, all things working well," the CSIRO's director of health and biosecurity Rob Grenfell told reporters on Thursday.

The agency will spend the next few months working out if the candidates - developed by the University of Oxford and US company Inovio Pharmaceuticals - are effective and harmless.

The ferrets, deliberately infected at a high-containment biosecurity facility in Geelong, were vaccinated a few days ago.

They seem relatively well so far apart from having slight fevers.

"Eventually we will challenge the ferrets - we'll inoculate them with some of the virus and see how they compare to unvaccinated controls," said Professor Trevor Drew, the director of the CSIRO's Australian Animal Health Laboratory.

If the vaccines are effective, immunised animals should no longer shed the virus.

Scientists will also be looking for any sign the ferrets' health is worsening, with previous trials for the SARS virus showing vaccines can sometimes make a disease worse.

"When cells of the immune system see an infected cell, they tell it to kill itself. This can cause overt damage to the lung, if there are a lot of cells in the lung which are infected at that time," Prof Drew said.

"We need to be able to measure defence responses and make sure it does not cause overt damage."

The work the scientists are doing would usually take a couple of years. But the urgency of the pandemic means everything is being done safely, but at break-neck speed.

Several rounds of human trials will be required if the ferret trials are deemed successful.

The potential vaccines are among six to be tested around the world.

They were identified by Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, in consultation with the World Health Organisation, as the most promising solutions to a virus that has infected more than 900,000 people and killed at least 45,000 globally.

Australia's Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly has warned the virus will not be beaten without a vaccine, as the nation's number of diagnosed cases approaches 5000 with 23 deaths so far.

Asked how much hope people should have, Dr Grenfell said the world was seeing unprecedented cooperation among scientists and the public and private sectors.

"That, in itself, gives us a lot of hope."

Ferrets were chosen as the test animal because it has the right receptor cells in its lungs to allow infection, and has proven to be a suitable animal model in the past for research into SARS, influenza and even ebola.

© AAP 2020

First coronavirus death in Tasmania

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An elderly woman has become the first person to die from coronavirus in Tasmania, as the state introduces tough policing of social gathering restrictions.

The woman, aged in her 80s, died on Monday morning in the North West Regional Hospital in Burnie.

"I extend my heartfelt condolences to her family and friends. They're being provided the support and care they need at this time," Premier Peter Gutwein told reporters.

"All Tasmanians need to accept and understand that this is not a game. This is serious. Peoples' lives are at risk."

The woman had been unwell "for some days", Public Health Director Mark Veitch said.

There have now been 17 COVID-19 deaths nationally.

Mr Gutwein said anyone who disobeys the two-person-in-public rule, which comes into effect nationally from midnight on Monday, will be committing an offence and could be arrested and charged.

People have been ordered to stay home unless they are going to work or school, getting essential supplies or medical supplies, providing compassionate care or exercising.

Mr Gutwein urged people to take responsibility for their movements.

"This will be more deaths if this gets away from us. There will be more families burying loved ones," he warned.

The order will be in place for four weeks and then reviewed.

The maximum penalty for breaching restrictions is $16,800 or six months prison, with on-the-spot fines of up to $750-$1000 in the works.

Tasmania confirmed four new cases of coronavirus on Sunday night, bringing the state's total to 66.

Investigations are ongoing into two cases of potential community transmission at Devonport in the north.

Mr Veitch said 22 people linked to the two cases, neither of whom recently travelled overseas or on a cruise ship, are in quarantine.

Mr Gutwein urged people with holiday homes to stay in one residence and not move around the state.

Ten people have been issued on-the-spot fines for camping in banned areas.

© AAP 2020

First day of eased NSW virus restrictions

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Pubs and clubs will join cafes, restaurants and places of worship in welcoming back people inside their doors as NSW enjoys its first day under an easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

Outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people are permitted from Friday and up to five people, including children, can visit households.

Religious gatherings and places of worship can welcome up to 10 people while restaurants and cafes can have up to 10 patrons as long as they maintain social distancing.

Ten guests are allowed at weddings, up to 20 at indoor funerals and up to 30 at outdoor funerals.

Treasurer Dominic Perrottet confirmed this week pubs and clubs will join cafes and restaurants in being able to open for dining from Friday as part of the state government's push to boost the economy.

Bars and gaming facilities will remain closed but table service for alcohol with a meal will be allowed so long as businesses adhere to social distancing requirements and stick to a limit of 10 patrons.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Thursday she understood it would not be viable for many larger venues to open and on Friday reiterated social distancing remained crucial.

"Some may even have already started enjoying the new freedoms that come with easing restrictions today but that also comes with personal responsibility and I can't stress that enough," Ms Berejiklian told reporters.

"Easing restrictions have failed in so many places around the world and I don't want that to happen in NSW."

NSW recorded eight new cases of COVID-19 from 12200 tests in the 24 hours to 8pm on Thursday, taking the state's total to 3071. Seven people are in intensive care.

The state's death toll remains at 47 and the national toll 98.

After closing their doors to worshippers in March, Catholic churches in NSW will reopen on Friday for private prayer, confession and small-scale masses, a statement from the Sydney Catholic Archdiocese said on Thursday.

St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney's CBD opened at 6.30am with the first of four masses on Friday at 7am.

Outdoor equipment including gyms and playgrounds can be used with caution, with people encouraged to wipe down the equipment, and outdoor pools are open with restrictions.

Randwick City Council will reopen all of its beaches for recreation from Friday, including Clovelly, Coogee and Maroubra, as well as some ocean pools.

"Really, the way we move forward now is up to us," Ms Berejiklian said.

"(Social distancing) will be part of our lives until there is a vaccine or cure, we just have to accept that. But we can appreciate our time staying at home in the main has made us all appreciate what matters most."

© AAP 2020

France coronavirus death toll tops 1000

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France has become the fifth country to report more than 1000 deaths from coronavirus and the national lockdown imposed last week for an initial 15 days chould last at least six weeks.

Health Minister Olivier Veran told a briefing on Tuesday he could not determine at this stage when the lockdown would end. If the government were to follow the scientific council's advice, France would remain at a virtual standstill until April 28.

A statement by the council, which advises President Emmanuel Macron on the coronavirus crisis, also said the lockdown was the only really efficient strategy at the moment and "needs to be strictly implemented".

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Monday the widespread lockdown in France could last several more weeks and his government was tightening restrictions on daily life even further.

Veran also said France would heed World Health Organisation recommendations to increase coronavirus testing. Health agency chief Jerome Salomon said later France would soon be able to conduct 10,000 tests a day.

Salomon reported 240 new deaths from coronavirus on Tuesday for a total of 1100, an increase of 28 per cent that made France the fifth nation to cross the 1000-fatalities threshold after China, Italy, Iran and Spain.

This tally only accounts for people who died in public hospitals, whereas several retirement homes have been reporting deaths in the double digits.

Salomon said health authorities would soon be able to tabulate data coming from retirement homes, which will likely trigger a more dramatic increase in registered fatalities.

He said the total number of infections in France had risen to 22,300, a 12 per cent jump in 24 hours.

Salomon added that 2516 people were in a serious condition requiring life support, up by 21 per cent from Monday, and that 8000 hospital beds were now equipped with ventilators.

© RAW 2020

Free vaccine deal benefits all Australians

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Every Australian could receive a free coronavirus vaccination early next year, if a promising trial proves successful.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he is "hopeful but also naturally cautious" a drug being tested at Oxford University will be safe and effective.

He expects it could be rolled out early next year.

"If we can get it done earlier than that, we will," Mr Morrison told Seven's Sunrise program on Wednesday.

The Oxford trial is being run in conjunction with British drug company AstraZeneca.

"We are not putting everything in the AstraZeneca basket but it is one of the most advanced and the most likely, based on the expert advice we have," the prime minister said.

Mr Morrison believes two-thirds of Australians would need to be vaccinated for a national immunisation program to be effective.

But the prime minister wants about 95 per cent of people to take the jab.

He has not made a decision on whether the vaccine will be mandatory but says the response needs to be "extensive and comprehensive".

Mr Morrison is mindful of anti-vaxxers who may try to refuse the treatment.

"You have to do it for yourself, your family and for your fellow Australians," he said.

Under the deal, Australia would make and supply the vaccine and provide it free to all Australians.

The agreement is expected to not only be a shot in the arm for the health response but a booster jab of confidence for the recession-hit Australian economy.

Mr Morrison admitted there was no guarantee the vaccine would be successful, so the government was continuing talks with other parties as well as backing Australian researchers.

The letter of intent with AstraZeneca, and a needle and syringe contract with Becton Dickinson, are the first announcements under a national COVID-19 vaccine and treatment strategy.

The vaccine strategy is expected to be worth billions.

The Oxford University trials are under way in the UK, Brazil and South Africa and are due to soon start in the US, running into early 2021.

But Australian medical advisers are aware of 167 vaccine candidates in pre-clinical and clinical trials, including 29 undergoing clinical trials in humans.

An expert group led by Health Department secretary Professor Brendan Murphy is examining all options to ensure Australia doesn't pin all of its hopes on one vaccine.

Australia is also in talks with the Gavi-led COVAX Facility, which aims to pool global resources to accelerate the development and distribution of vaccines.

Biotechnology company CSL said while development of the University of Queensland's vaccine candidate remained its priority, it was also in discussions with AstraZeneca and the federal government on providing local manufacturing support for the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine.

© AAP 2020

Freight's back on the menu after virus hit

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Farmers and fishers who had their exports derailed by coronavirus will be able to start sending their goods overseas again.

Air freight will be used to export Australian produce and bring back urgently needed medical supplies.

"Getting our export sector back on its feet is crucial to reduce job losses through the crisis," Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said.

"It's a critical part of the ultimate economic recovery."

The operation will also help prop up Australia's struggling airlines, with the government spending $110 million to secure the flights.

Produce will be shipped to key Australian markets including China, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates.

Fishers will also see $10 million worth of levies waived for the rest of the year.

Former Australia Post executive Michael Byrne will head the export operations.

Assistant Fisheries Minister Jonno Duniam said the industry had taken a massive hit when China shut its borders.

"Unlocking key international markets will get thousands of fishers, divers, deckhands and processors back on the job," he said.

© AAP 2020

Glencore to temporarily shutdown sites and equipment at Hunter mines amid COVID-19 pandemic

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Mining giant Glencore will temporarily shutdown sites and equipment at their Hunter mines in September amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In a statement to Radio Hunter Valley, Glencore have said they will be introducing measures to manage their coal production. 

"The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the global market environment, including demand for Australian coal exports."

"This will include a combination of temporary site and equipment shutdowns at a number of operations."

"These measures will enable us to align our production levels with market demand, while providing the flexibility to ramp back up as economies recover from the effects of COVID-19."

"Our focus is on taking necessary steps to continue operations, manage the current market volatility and limit the impact on our workforce."

"Where temporary shutdowns are necessary, these are planned to coincide with the September school holidays. Workers will be required to take leave during this time."

"The changes are consistent with measures we have put in place in the past in response to challenging global market conditions."

Glencore has ten mines in the Hunter Valley and are looking to reduce their production by around 7 million tonnes to reduce the pressure on the stockpiles.

Glencore released their half yearly results late yesterday and they show a huge $3.7 billion half-year loss to June 30.

Revenue for the last six months fell to $99.8 billion-dollars down from $151 billion the same time last year.

Image credit: Grant Broadcasters/Jessica Rouse

Global coronavirus cases hit 20 million

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Global coronavirus cases have pushed past 20 million, with the United States, Brazil and India accounting for more than half of all known infections.

The disease has infected at least four times the average number of people struck down with severe influenza illnesses annually, according to the World Health Organisation.

The death toll from COVID-19, meanwhile, at more than 728,000 has outpaced the upper range of annual deaths from the flu.

The tally of infections, which is compiled by Reuters based on government reports, shows the disease is accelerating.

It took almost six months to reach 10 million cases after the first infection was reported in Wuhan, China, in early January. It took just 43 days to double.

Experts believe the official data likely undercounts both infections and deaths, particularly in countries with limited testing capacity.

The United States is responsible for around 5 million cases, Brazil 3 million and India 2 million. Russia and South Africa round out the top 10.

The pandemic is accelerating fastest in Latin America which accounts for almost 28 per cent of the world's cases and more than 30 per cent of deaths.

With the first wave of the virus yet to peak in some countries and a resurgence of cases in others, governments are still divided in their responses.

Some countries are reintroducing strict public health measures, while others continue to relax restrictions.

Health experts expect dilemmas about how to proceed with school, work and social life to last - and restrictions to fluctuate - until a vaccine is available.

The vaccine race has more than 150 candidates being developed and tested around the world with 25 in human clinical trials, according to the World Health Organisation.

In the United States, children began returning to their classrooms last week, even as controversy over school safety swirled.

Britain has added both Spain and Belgium to a list of countries from which returning travellers must quarantine at home for 14 days because of fresh upticks in some European locations.

In Asia, China continues to squash surges using strict, local lockdowns, bringing its daily numbers down into the low double digits on the mainland.

Australia has introduced a strict lockdown and night curfew in the city of Melbourne, aiming to stifle an outbreak there.

Neighbouring New Zealand, where life has largely returned to normal, on the weekend recorded 100 days with no new cases of local transmission.

© RAW 2020

Global coronavirus cases top one million

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Global coronavirus cases have topped one million as the pandemic explodes in the US and the death toll continues to climb in Italy and Spain, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

The virus has killed more than 51,000 globally with the largest number of deaths in Italy, followed by Spain and the US.

The first 100,000 cases were reported in around 55 days and the first 500,000 in 76 days. Cases doubled to one million within the past eight days.

Total cases reported by Thursday grew 10 per cent from a day earlier, the first time the rate has hit double digits since the virus took hold outside China.

There are 117 countries and territories that have reported above 100 cases, 50 with outbreaks of more than 1000 and seven that have reported 50,000 or more COVID-19 cases, mainly in Europe.

The global fatality rate is now above five per cent of all reported cases, with countries including the UK, the US and Spain reporting a spike in fatalities over recent days.

Around 22 per cent of total cases have been reported by the US, while Italy and Spain have each reported 11 per cent of global cases.

China, where the virus emerged in December, has reported eight per cent of total cases globally as the epicenter of the pandemic moved to Europe and the US.

Europe together accounts for more than half of cases and more than 70 per cent of deaths linked to the virus, as countries in southern Europe with higher older age demographics have been hit particularly hard.

© RAW 2020

Government steps up with free child care

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announces the government's $130b wage subsidy package at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Monday, March 30, 2020. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas) NO ARCHIVING

Prime Minister Scott Morrison (pictured) has announced free childcare for parents still using it during the coronavirus crisis (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Childcare will be free for parents still using it during the coronavirus crisis.

The government will also support the nation's 13,000 childcare centres to remain open in the wake of enrolment and attendance numbers plummeting.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said child care was an essential service to keep all parents who still had jobs in the current economy in that work.

© AAP 2020

Govt sets Ruby Princess probe in motion

NSW Police Rescue officers look on as the Ruby Princess, with crew only onboard, docks at Port Kembla, Wollongong, Friday, January 1, 2016. A criminal investigation will be launched into how cruise line operator Carnival Australia was allowed to disembark Ruby Princess passengers in Sydney, resulting in several deaths and COVID-19 outbreaks throughout the country. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins) NO ARCHIVING

NSW Police Rescue officers look on as the Ruby Princess, with crew only onboard, docks at Port Kembla, Wollongong, Friday, January 1, 2016. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins) 

The NSW government will establish a commission of inquiry into the disembarkation of the Ruby Princess cruise ship, which is linked to at least 18 coronavirus-related deaths across Australia.

The inquiry will report back within four months, with NSW police and coronial investigations running in parallel to the probe.

Barrister Bret Walker SC will serve as commissioner for the inquiry and will examine the ship's departure, arrival and disembarkation.

"It is important that answers are provided quickly for the people of NSW," Premier Gladys Berejiklian said in a statement on Wednesday.

"We will leave no stone unturned until we find out exactly what happened."

The Ruby Princess, which departed Sydney on March 8 for New Zealand and returned on March 19, is responsible for hundreds of COVID-19 cases nationwide including 369 in NSW and nearly a third of the 62 deaths across the country.

Some 2700 passengers were permitted to disembark in Sydney without adequate health checks, an action blamed by the Australian Border Force on NSW health authorities.

NSW Health, meanwhile, is ramping up COVID-19 testing in several parts of the state as more residents and staff members test positive for the virus at a Sydney aged care facility.

Anglicare was informed by NSW Health on Tuesday that five staff and four residents linked to the organisation's Newmarch House facility in Caddens had tested positive as of 4pm.

It comes after an employee is said to have worked for several days before testing positive for COVID-19.

Earlier on Tuesday, the number of confirmed cases in NSW on Tuesday had risen by just seven to 2870, with 32 patients in intensive care.

The state's death toll remained at 26.

Ms Berejiklian said she was glad to see the COVID-19 curve flatten but warned the virus could quickly reappear if social restrictions were not heeded.

Testing is this week being ramped up in several areas including Sydney's inner west, Penrith, Liverpool, Randwick, Waverley, Woollahra, Blacktown, Westmead, Manning and Lake Macquarie.

Those who test negative in the coming weeks will also be able to receive a text message on the same day their result comes in.

This would halve the time currently required to inform a patient of their results and reduce anxiety and self-isolation time, Customer Service Minister Victor Dominello said.

© AAP 2020