coronavirus - 7AD

'Borderline' test in the state's south

Latest Corona

Health authorities are investigating one potential coronavirus case in the state's South, the first "borderline" test to be returned in Tasmania.

"This is the first time in Tasmania and we're currently probing the case further," Deputy Director of Public Health Scott McKeown said.

"We are taking a precautionary approach, which includes isolation and contact tracking to manage any public health risk."

More than two-thirds of Tasmania's 214 cases have come in the North West, where a hospital outbreak has forced a tight lockdown and widespread testing.

On Monday 744 people were tested statewide, with 619 of those in the North West.

10 of Tasmania's 11 virus deaths have been in the North West.

'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

'Key' week for curbing SA virus cluster

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South Australia remains on track to ease coronavirus restrictions before Christmas but health officials say this week is crucial in combating a cluster of COVID-19 infections.

One more case was added to the so-called Parafield cluster on Monday, taking the total to 27.

But the woman was already in quarantine after being identified as a close contact and likely to catch the virus.

Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier says she's quietly confident the current situation is under control, but this week will be key.

"If we have had more community transmission we will be starting to see it this week," she said.

Prof Spurrier said it was normal to wait for 28 days, or two incubation cycles, before declaring an outbreak "all over red rover".

But the Parafield cluster had been identified very early and officials were quickly aware of the chains of transmission.

The easing of concerns has also left SA on course to open its borders to Victorians from December and positive about the chances of returning to a lower level of local restrictions.

Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said he was hopeful Christmas "will be celebrated as we would hope to celebrate it".

"I've given a pretty clear indication that we're aiming at the first of December to go back to a level where most community activities and family gatherings could occur," he said.

© AAP 2020

Photo: South Australian Chief Public Health Officer Dr Nicola Spurrier. (AAP Image/David Mariuz)

'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

"An extraordinarily difficult time"

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Premier Peter Gutwein is warning people not to flout social distancing regulations by holding backyard parties as the state's pubs, clubs and casinos prepare to close at noon on Monday. 

Places of worship, gym and indoor sporting centres will also close, while restaurants will be limited to takeaway only.

Nursing home visitors will be limited to two at a time for up to two hours, with children under 16 banned, unless it's an end-of-life situation.

The typically combative Premier blasted the disastrous example set by those in Great Britain. 

"We are not going to go through the farcical situation that we saw in Britain, where "last drinks" brought hundreds of people together for one last night, which must have - there is no doubt in my mind - further spread the virus in that country," said Mr Gutwein. 

The Premier says schools and childcare centres will remain open for the time being. 

"Tomorrow night at National Cabinet we will be looking again at the issue of private gatherings," he said. 

"This cannot be a migration from the pub to the backyard; this is important, this will save lives."  

"Do not come": Spirit crackdown

Spirit Tasmania

The State Government is cracking down on Spirit of Tasmania arrivals, now banning non-essential passengers altogether. 

Some people have been seen ignoring self-isolation requirements minutes after leaving the vessel in Devonport.

"As from today, if you are travelling to Tasmania and it is non-essential travel, do not come," said Premier Peter Gutwein in announcing the rules, which exempt Tasmanian visitors coming home.  

"Do not get on the TT-Line. What we will do is turn you around and ask you to go back." 

A Tasmania Police compliance team is being tasked with enforcing self-isolation and non-essential gathering rules.

In other developments, Tasmanian Government Minister Jane Howlett is going into self-isolation.

She'll be absent from Parliament this week after her chief of staff had close contact with a confirmed coronavirus case in Queensland.

Mr Gutwein says it proves no one is exempt.

"While I believe the vast majority of Tasmanians are doing the right thing when asked to self-isolate, there are examples being brought forward where people are going against the rules," Mr Gutwein told the daily coronavirus briefing in Hobart. 

"I want to say again: stop deliberately putting people's lives at risk."

The state's infection count stands at 28 after news of another half-dozen cases emerged on Monday evening. 

The cases are evenly split between northern and southern Tasmania, and five of them stemmed from the Ruby Princess liner which docked in Sydney last week. 

Three people have recovered completely. 

 

"Technical errors" blamed for missing test referrals

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A number of doctor requests for coronavirus testing may have been lost by the Tasmanian Department of Health.

Anyone who was referred by their GP for a test on Thursday or Friday and hasn't been contacted, should continue to self-isolate and call the Public Health Hotline on 1800 671 738.

State Health Commander Katherine Morgan-Wicks says a technical error affected the GP referral system meaning some test bookings were not properly processed and made for some patients within the normal timeframes.

"The Department has also notified GPs and requested that they re-process any referrals that may have been affected," a statement said.

"GP referrals to Tasmanian Department of Health testing clinics are the only GP referrals that have been affected. All other referrals have been processed as normal. The Department sincerely apologises to any patients who have been affected by this issue, which has now been resolved."

"Technical errors" blamed for missing test referrals

coronavirus 2

A number of doctor requests for coronavirus testing may have been lost by the Tasmanian Department of Health.

Anyone who was referred by their GP for a test on Thursday or Friday and hasn't been contacted, should continue to self-isolate and call the Public Health Hotline on 1800 671 738.

State Health Commander Katherine Morgan-Wicks says a technical error affected the GP referral system meaning some test bookings were not properly processed and made for some patients within the normal timeframes.

"The Department has also notified GPs and requested that they re-process any referrals that may have been affected," a statement said.

"GP referrals to Tasmanian Department of Health testing clinics are the only GP referrals that have been affected. All other referrals have been processed as normal. The Department sincerely apologises to any patients who have been affected by this issue, which has now been resolved."

"Technical errors" blamed for missing test referrals

coronavirus 2

A number of doctor requests for coronavirus testing may have been lost by the Tasmanian Department of Health.

Anyone who was referred by their GP for a test on Thursday or Friday and hasn't been contacted, should continue to self-isolate and call the Public Health Hotline on 1800 671 738.

State Health Commander Katherine Morgan-Wicks says a technical error affected the GP referral system meaning some test bookings were not properly processed and made for some patients within the normal timeframes.

"The Department has also notified GPs and requested that they re-process any referrals that may have been affected," a statement said.

"GP referrals to Tasmanian Department of Health testing clinics are the only GP referrals that have been affected. All other referrals have been processed as normal. The Department sincerely apologises to any patients who have been affected by this issue, which has now been resolved."

"Toughest quarantine measures in the country"

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Premier of Tasmania Peter Gutwein speaking to media ahead of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in Sydney, Friday, March 13, 2020. (AAP Image/James Gourley)

Any non-essential arrival in Tasmania - including those returning home - will be placed into quarantine at a government-operated facility, as of midnight Sunday. 

Premier Peter Gutwein announced the strict new measures on Saturday, reaffirming the need to secure "Fortress Tasmania" from the spread of COVID-19.

There will be one facility in the south, one in the north and one in the north-west, operated by Communities Tasmania and overseen by police and ADF personnel. 

It comes as the state recorded a further 12 cases of coronavirus overnight, including a healthcare worker from the Mersey Community Hospital. 

The majority of the latest cases are relations of cruise ship passangers or people returning from overseas, ranging in age groups from 20s to 80s.

As of noon on Saturday, Tasmania had 59 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced all Australians returning from overseas would be placed into hotel quarantine at their point of entry for two weeks, without getting on a connecting flight. 

The new measures mean Tasmanians returning from overseas would have to do 2 separate two-week periods of quarantine at government-operated facilities. 

Also as of last night at 6pm, there's a ban on gatherings of 10 or more people on public or private land with Mr Gutwein fearing the sunny weather this weekend will entice Tasmanians to congregate.  

"We will throw the book at you" - warning to COVID liars

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Premier Peter Gutwein provides a media update on Tasmania's COVID-19 situation (AAP Image/Rob Blakers)

The Premier is vowing to go after anyone not being honest with health authorities when trying to enter Tasmania, following two teenagers in Queensland breaching quarantine and refusing to come clean. 

Peter Gutwein says those flouting the rules face fines up to $16,800 or six months jail.

He's also announced additional hotspots in Queensland from where visitors will be turned around and sent home, adding to Victoria and parts of NSW.

A returned traveller from Victoria who tested positive for coronavirus 9 days ago while in hotel quarantine has been cleared, meaning there's now ZERO active cases in the Apple Isle once again.

It comes as the state government prepares to relax our border restrictions with South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory from August 7, although WA isn't reciprocating the offer.

In addition, South Australia has deemed any travellers who go via Tullamarine Airport in Melbourne will have to quarantine for 14 days, meaning the 3 direct flights per week between Hobart and Adelaide will have to be utilised.

Meanwhile, The Hospitality Association and others pressing for a total lifting of gathering rules in Tasmania because of months of being clear of community transfer of the virus won't get their way.

Director of Public Health Mark Veitch is making it clear, they'll be sticking around for quite a while.

"Those measures are going to be in place for many months. I don't foresee a major changes in those measures. Whether or not we ever opened our borders we would still need to have those in place because borders aren't an absolutely steadfast guarantee that we won't have a case introduced," he said.

Peter Gutwein pointed out if the two infected Brisbane women had come to Tasmania, without internal COVID-safe measures we would have widespread community transmission. 

Nearly 700 tests have been carried out in the past 24 hours. 

From today, visitors have to pay for their own hotel quarantine. 

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).

10th Tasmanian virus death

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A tenth person has died from coronavirus in Tasmania.

The 90-year-old man from the North West who was receiving care at the Mersey Community Hospital passed away yesterday.

Premier Peter Gutwein has sent his sympathies to the deceased's loved ones.

"Sadly this is the 10th life lost to coronavirus, and the 9th life lost in the North West of the State as a result of the outbreak. To the North West community, which I know to be a tight knit community, my thoughts are with you all."

"We will continue to undertake the measures needed to keep Tasmanians safe. Please, look out for one another. Stay home and save lives," he said in a statement.

Two men in their 20s, also from the North West, have tested positive to COVID-19, bringing to the state tally to 207, with 117 recovered. 

Both are close contacts of a previously confirmed case.

The region's retail restrictions have been extened until next Sunday May 3rd, while school holidays have been prolonged for 4 days. 

Anyone across the state with even mild symptoms is being told to get tested.

As of Friday night, there were 13 inpatients at Tasmanian hospitals due to coronavirus including one ICU patient.

Nearly 8000 tests have been completed. 

11th case confirmed, prison visits banned

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The state government has announced a temporary ban on personal visits to prisoners, in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus.

It comes after Tasmania's 11th case of the disease was confirmed, a woman whom arrived from the UK on Wednesday, now in isolation at home in the south of the state.

Another Tasmanian - a woman in her 50s - has the condition and is being treated in Sydney after disembarking from the Ruby Princess cruise ship on Thursday.

There were 54 other Tasmanian passengers on board the vessel who have all had been contacted and informed of they must self-quarantine once they reach their destination.

Premier Peter Gutwein said he doesn't take the decision to ban jail visits lightly.

"The TPS will increase telephone access for prisoners where possible and appropriate, and put extra resources into alternative communication measures, such as video calls, to ensure that prisoners can continue to connect with their families and friends."  

The Premier also delivered a frank message to Tasmanians generally.

"If you don't need to go out, don't. Don't put the health and safety of other people at risk. Be cautious, be responsible and importantly, abide by the rules because the penalties will apply and they will be substantial."

Failure to self-isolate once ordered can attract a fine of up to $16,500 or six months prison.


 Image: Pixabay 

11th virus death in Tasmania

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Tasmania has recorded its 11th death from coronavirus

The man in his 90s passed away overnight at the Mersey Community Hospital, only hours after a 90-year-old male died from the condition at the same facility.

"On behalf of the Tasmanian Government I extend my deepest sympathies to his family and friends at this very difficult time," Premier Peter Gutwein said. 

"This is the 10th life lost in the North West of the state and my thoughts are with the entire community in the region who I know are hurting right now. We must continue to do all we can to reduce the spread of coronavirus and follow the rules put in place to keep one another safe."

A staff member from the hospital was Tasmania's only COVID-19 case confirmed last night.

Director of Public Health Dr Mark Veitch is confident the man in his 40s had very few close contacts.

"This healthcare worker took themself off work as soon as they had symptoms - which is exactly what we expect healthcare workers to do - substantially reducing the risk to fellow staff and patients."

The Mersey Community Hospital is said to be undertaking processes to ensure there's no outbreak similar to that of Burnie's hospitals - which are still undergoing a deep clean. 

Hundreds of North West health workers are finishing up their two week quarantine period and beginning to return to shifts, pending a negative test result.  

Tasmanian has now had 208 confirmed infections, with 123 recoveries.

12th person dies of COVID-19 in Tasmania

Corona Update

An 86-year-old woman has become the 12th person to die from coronavirus in Tasmania.

She was being cared for at the Mersey Community Hospital.

This is the 12th life lost to coronavirus in Tasmania, with 11 of those related to the North West outbreak. It takes the national toll to 91.

Premier Peter Gutwein extended his deepest sympathies to her family, friends and loved ones.

“We must continue to do all we can to reduce the spread of coronavirus and to keep Tasmanians safe and secure,” he said.

13 Tas deaths as national count eases

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Indications continue that Australia is bringing the pandemic under control, with the ACT the first jurisdiction to record no active cases - among five mainland jurisdictions with no new infections in the past day. 

South Australia will reportedly become the first state to loosen pandemic restrictions, from May 21.

There have been no new cases of covid-19 in South Australia for more than one week, the result boosted by the highest rate of testing per capita across the nation

That state's Premier Steve Marshall has told The Australian they'll be able to slowly ease restrictions and not suffer the setbacks seen in other countries.

945 people still have the illness nationwide, including 64 in Tasmania, after the number of active cases dropped by 41.

NSW remains the nation's hotspot with 692 active cases, Queensland the second highest with 84. 

Another two Tasmanian cases, a man and a woman in their 50s and 70s, were confirmed in the north and northwest overnight.

Two 86-year-old women have become the state's 12th and 13th coronavirus fatalities after passing away at the Mersey Community Hospital. 

The deaths came within 24 hours of each other. 

"It is a stark reminder of the serious nature of this virus and our need to maintain strong measures to mitigate its spread," said Premier Peter Gutwein while conveying his sympathies to their friends and families.  

205

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More Covid-19 infections on Tasmania's northwest coast are casting doubt on whether the region's hardline restrictions will be lifted on Sunday.

The four latest infections include a possible instance of community transmission, two workers at Burnie's public and private hospitals and a close contact of a confirmed case, taking the state's total to 205.

Three women and one man are aged in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s. 

Premier Peter Gutwein says Public Health is monitoring the situation. 

"We will continue to review on a day-by-day basis whether or not the restrictions are lifted on Sunday," he said. 

"My hope is they will be able to, because that will mean that the snapshot we've got and the number of positive tests and cases we're seeing has flattened." 

The State's Director of Public Health says there are some positive indications. 

"There have been no further cases from any of the three North West nursing homes where residents and staff were tested late last week," said Dr Mark Veitch. 

"A concerted effort is being made to identify any further cases of coronavirus in the North West. Anyone who lives in the North West who currently, or in the last few days has had respiratory symptoms like a cough, sore throat, runny nose, or fever should arrange testing through the Public Health Hotline on 1800 671 738 or their GP."

 

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

3rd Burnie hospital worker with coronavirus

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The medical and surgical wards at Burnie's North West Regional Hospital are closed to new admissions, after a third worker at the facility tested positive to coronavirus.

A full investigation was already underway to aggressively trace and track the movements of the first two diagnosed medical ward staff members.

The other COVID-19 case confirmed late yesterday was a child from Northern Tasmania, taking the state's toal to 82. 

Around 18 close contact hospital staff have been put into self isolation, but authorities say they'll be more.

"We're exploring options both within and outside the North-West Regional Hospital. We do have a co-located private hospital and we'll be in communication to determine if there's any excess capacity we can utilise there. We recognise that there is in-patient capacity at the Mersey Community Hospital and we may well be able to transfer appropriately selected patients there. And also the configuration of some of the wards at the hospital may change," Chief Medical Officer Professor Tony Lawler said. 

26 Tasmanians have now recovered from the virus.

3016 tests have been carried out, that number boosted in recent days as authorities attempt to unearth evidence of community transmission in the north-west. 

Meanwhile, Legislative Council elections for the seats of Rosevears and Huon are off for the time being.

Attorney-General Elise Archer says they're aiming to hold the Upper House polls before August 25th, if possible.  

Premier Peter Gutwein has also announced Tasmanian boats will only be allowed to launch from the same municipality in which they're kept.

There's fears thousands of people will descend upon "vulnerable coastal communities" this Easter.


Image: Vos Construction

6th case confirmed, cruise ships locked out

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All cruise ships will be suspended from visiting Tasmanian ports until June 30th in an unprecedented move by the state government.

There are now six confirmed cases of coronavirus in Tasmania, after a female in her 60s tested positive late yesterday, a travel companion of a previous case in Hobart.

Spirit of Tasmania vessels are excluded from the new ban, while domestic flights are continuing as normal.

A single vessel will be allowed to refuel in Hobart on Sunday, but none of the 43 passengers will disembark.

Premier Peter Gutwein says he's not looking at closing the state's borders altogether, but believes this latest announcement is the right move.

"This is not a decision I make lightly, and one which has been done in careful consultation with senior members of our State Emergency Management Committee, Tasports and the tourism industry," he said on Sunday.

5 vessels were due to dock in Hobart, 5 in Burnie and 2 in Port Arthur during the period until June 30. 

Meanwhile Tasmania's sixth case of coronavirus is not being considered an example of community transmission.

The woman in her 60s is currently in isolation at the Royal Hobart Hospital, a tourist and travel companion of a previous confirmed case who had been overseas.

"While it is likely it had occurred within Tasmania, it has not occurred within the broader community because this person had already been identified as a close contact of a confirmed case," Health Minister Sarah Courtney said.

The 5 other cases are all in a stable condition.  

A Tasmanian Response Package from the state government is due to be unveiled this week. 

8th coronavirus death in Tasmania

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A 74-year-old man at the Mersey Community Hospital has become Tasmania's eighth death from coronavirus, and second in 24 hours.

He'd been transferred from the North West Regional Hospital which closed amid the outbreak, but has since reopened its Emergency Department.

Premier Peter Gutwein has sent his sympathies to the family.

"That's eight deaths in less than 3 weeks. I cannot express just how serious this is. This is not the time to become complacent," he said. 

As of 6pm on Friday night, there had been 184 cases across Tasmania, 68 of which had recovered. 

About 500 coronavirus test results from staff and patients at three aged care facilities in the North West where an infected worked completed shifts are due back this afternoon.

Deputy Director of Public Health Scott McKeown says a specialist team has been established, should there be widespread infection at the nursing homes.

"This team is being led by a senior public health medical specialist who's also an epidemiologist, another public health doctor, 3 public health nurses, 2  epidemiologists and the support of the extensive team of contact tracers who work within Public Health Services," he said.

Also from today's media briefing, the Health Minister fired back at long standing accusations of not having adequate personal protective equipment for frontline staff.

Sarah Courtney says from today, a weekly outline of current stocks will be released to health workers.

"We have placed orders worth an additional 26 million dollars over and above our normal supply levels to prepare us for this pandemic. Those orders have already been placed. This is a key priority of ours," she said. 

A dinner party causes illness to spread: CMO

Corona Update

An illegal dinner party attended by medical workers in Tasmania, is likely to have exacerbated the Covid-19 crisis in the state's North West.

The revelation has been made by Australia's Chief Medical Officer during a briefing to New Zealand politicians.

Professor Brendan Murphy was giving a special committee an update on the situation in Australia.

During the video conference he told MPs, the problems in Tasmania could have been avoided:

"You have to be prepared to deal with further cases. We thought we were doing really well in the last week, and we had a cluster of 49 cases in hospital in Tasmania just over the weekend - most of them went to an illegal dinner party of medical workers," he said.

Premier Peter Gutwein has flagged a police investigation, but still believes it's a rumour. 

"Our contact tracing has not identified a dinner party of health workers, however, I accept that this is a serious allegation and it's something that needs to be followed up," he told Tuesday's coronavirus press briefing. 

"So we will retrace our steps, but importantly I have asked Tasmania Police to investigate this matter, and that will be started today." 

Active cases holding steady

Doctor Medicine Health

Around a third of Tasmania's overall coronavirus cases remain active, with 135 recoveries, according to the latest figures.

Another four cases confirmed on Tuesday night, comprising three northwest coast healthcare workers and a northern Tasmanian infection, have taken the state's infection tally to 218 with 72 active.

Deputy Director of Public Health Scott McKeown says they're also looking into a borderline test result in the state's south.

"This person is not a confirmed case, but we are certainly taking a precautionary approach. The person has been in isolation during their illness," he said. 

"We're applying a rigourous contact tracing process and quarantine until we can be clearer." 

Meantime, Federal Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck says he's keeping a close eye on developments at a virus-hit NSW nursing home which has seen another four residents die from Covid-19 in 24 hours.

A total of 11 people have now died at the Anglicare-run Newmark House in Western Sydney, taking the nation's deathtoll to 88.

The Senator has described the developments as "absolutely tragic" and says a panel of medical experts will chart a path forward for the facility. 

Relatives of residents have claimed they've been kept in the dark by the home's management. 

ADF called in to Tassie to fight COVID-19

World health coronavirus outbreak and international public infectious disease and global deadly virus health risk and flu spread or coronaviruses influenza as a pandemic medical conceptin with 3D illustration elements.

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

ADF 20'Container

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

ADF to restart hospitals

Burnie

Australian Defence Force Medics and an Australian Medical Assistance Team are due in Tasmania's northwest this week to help get the region's hospitals back up and running.

The Northwest Regional and Northwest Private were closed for deep cleaning yesterday, with around 1200 staff going into quarantine after a rash of coronavirus infections in the area.

"With their families, we will have somewhere between 4-5000 people in the northwest that will be quarantined in the next 14 days; that is unprecedented," said Premier Peter Gutwein. 

The state's total case count rose to 150 overnight with another six in the northwest, including three health care workers.

23 patients were transferred to the Mersey Community Hospital at Latrobe. 

Health Minister Sarah Courtney wants the NWRH emergency department reopened before the end of the week.

"We're prioritising the emergency department first; that will be thoroughly cleaned and then re-staffed with the ADF to ensure those services are covered," she said. 

"We will then make sure that the rest of the sites - particularly prioritising the maternity services at the North West Private Hospital - will be the next area of prioritisation." 

The closure of non-essential businesses will also hit the region hard. 

"My sense is that in northwest Tasmania, as in other parts of the state and other parts of the country, the recovery period - whenever it is allowed to start - is going to be fairly slow," prominent Tasmanian economist Saul Eslake told the Seven network. 

 

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 shutdown welcomed

Aged care

Premier Peter Gutwein's decision to ban visitors from all aged care homes has been welcomed by the state's peak body for older Tasmanians.

All facilities, as well as hospitals, are now locked down for at least the next two weeks, with exceptions made for end of life care, in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Tasmania's Council on the Ageing CEO Sue Leitch says acting early will save lives.

“We support this fully because we need to protect our most vulnerable in our community. We can’t risk elderly people getting this illness because it is deadly.”

She says facilities need to ensure loved ones can contact their relatives hassle-free during this time.

“The thing is some people have mixed views on this because they want to be able to still see their loved ones. What facilities need to do is to ensure people can still interact with their loved ones inside a residential home. There are so many ways to do that these days,” she said.

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 shows plead for help

agricultural show

Agricultural festivals across Australia are facing some tough times, as coronavirus restrictions continue.

The Royal Agricultural Society of Tasmania is asking the Federal Government for financial help to keep its 24 events here afloat.

CEO Scott Gadd says despite the virtual world proving successful for AgFest this year, the same can't be said for farming shows.

"I know shows are looking at what they can do in a virtual sense. I know particularly the 'Royals' - Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide are all looking at that now. But the financial reality is there's not a proven business model that's going to generate enough economic activity through those models to sustain the societies," he said.

"Other businesses depend on shows that then work their way around the circuits thoughout the country. So when you start to lose one or two or ten or twenty it's a major disrutoption to all those businesses and it could create a bit of a domino effect where shows in the main become unviable down the track."

The proposed recovery package by Agricultural Shows Australia’s comprises three components; up to $30 million for capital city royal shows, up to $12.175m for state affiliated agricultural societies and $500,000 in operational support for ASA over two years.


 Image: Pixabay

Airbnb bans house parties worldwide

airbnb pxfuel

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

Alleged quarantine dodger fronts court

tas police

A young Ulverstone man will front an after-hours court session today, accused of dodging home quarantine having come in from Victoria

Police say Alex Bezemer arrived in Devonport on July 3rd, but wasn't at his nominated place of residence when when officers did a random check three days later.

The 22-year-old was located yesterday without incident and has been held overnight, charged with failing to comply with a public health direction and driving while suspended.

“Although difficult, the directions requiring quarantine are a necessary precaution to help prevent and limit the spread of COVID-19,’ Sergeant James Scicluna said.

“Whilst compliance rates remain high, even one person can place an entire community at risk and will not be tolerated."

Any non-compliance of COVID-19 restrictions can be reported on 1800 671 738 or online at the Tasmania Health Hotline.

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

Alternate winter celebration

There are plans to mount some replacement events to substitute for Dark Mofo which has been cancelled this year because of the coronavirus.

The wildly popular winter festival provides a tourism surge for Tasmania's otherwise sleepy winter, but it's financial exposure for a last minute cancellation was deemed too great.  

Hobart Lord Mayor Anna Reynolds is hoping council and state government funding for Dark Mofo can resurrect some sort of winter solstice celebration.

"We don't have the resources to organise something exactly the same as Dark Mofo, but the state government and the City of Hobart will be talking over the next couple of weeks to see if we can redirect the sponsorship that was going to Dark Mofo into some other activities in that same winter period."

The Lord Mayor admits the task ahead is a big one.

"Really challenging given the time frame and the coronavirus is always going to be a big issue, but we're certainly thinking about if there's anything we can do to try and provide some activity in those darkest winter weeks."

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

An Easter like no other

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A Tasmanian pastor is seeing a silver lining on the mass gathering ban that will see churches around the globe sit empty over the Easter weekend for the first time in living memory.

In recent weeks Shaun White from C3 South Hobart has been preaching to his congregation - one of the largest in Southern Tasmania - from his home via online streaming, or with a small worship team from the foyer of the church's Anglesea Street function centre.  

He says it'll be a time for individuals and families to contemplate the bigger picture.

"It's a message of hope; I mean when Jesus died on the cross of course there was pain there for Him, but actually there was a message of hope for us...He rose again. There is a new day, there is something to go for," he said. 

"I'm really encouraging people this Easter that people are home, there's a different focus this year, people aren't out and about.

It's a time when we need to be thinking of each other, and we can engage through phone, we can engage through screens." 

Meantime Hobart Baptist Church has unveiled two new murals at its heritage-listed tabernacle by artist-in-residence Michael Henderson to mark one of the high points of the Christian year. 

“It is sad that no one can view them this Easter weekend, but we want to be part of caring for our community, through faith and general health, and right now that means helping people to stay at home," said Senior Pastor Stephen Baxter.

"We plan to leave them up until the restrictions are lifted, and look forward to viewing them in our church auditorium.”

Image: supplied

Andrews outlines Vic home visit rules

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Home visits in Melbourne will be restricted to one per day as the city emerges from its lockdown.

The day after announcing a widespread easing of the city's restrictions, Premier Daniel Andrews confirmed on Tuesday how its residents can visit each other in their households from midnight.

He also said that masks will remain mandatory outdoors for the rest of the year and probably into 2021, throughout the state.

Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said he was "very confident" an outbreak in Melbourne's northern suburbs, which delayed the Monday announcement by 24 hours, was now under control.

Confirmation of the home visit rule comes after Victoria reported its second-straight day of no coronavirus deaths and no new cases.

This is the first time two straight days of no new cases or deaths has been recorded since March 5-6.

The announcement on home visits was delayed by a day so health authorities could work out the rules, which the premier acknowledged would have "some complexities".

But the base rule is two adults and any dependents from one home can only visit another household once per day.

The rule also applies to the home being visited, meaning anyone there cannot visit another residence on the same day.

The home rules will remain beyond November 8, when the 25km travel limit and Melbourne's "ring of steel" containing the city from regional Victoria is set to end.

"Ultimately what we tried to do here is just have one - one household - and a second household connecting once a day and then they don't connect inside (the home) with anybody else," the premier said.

"I know it's not a nice thing to say or a nice thing for anyone to acknowledge but the place where you feel safest, your home, is actually the most dangerous environment for the spread of this virus."

Mr Andrews said masks had to be worn outdoors for the time being throughout Victoria, particularly given the "ring of steel" would soon end.

While he said masks are frustrating, they have a significant benefit in helping combat the virus.

"This is one of those trade-offs - if we're going to have that ring of steel gone on the 8th, and we're going to have people travelling into regional Victoria and vice versa, and that's critical for tourism and lots of reasons," he said.

"Masks need to be with us across the whole state .. at least until the end of the year and into next year."

He also said there would be an update on November 8 about when more people can return to their workplaces.

Mr Andrews added there would be more talks with the NSW, SA and Tasmanian governments later this week about the reopening of borders.

The virus death toll was last updated on October 19, with the state toll remaining at 817 and the national figure on 905.

Melbourne's 14-day case average is down to 2.8 and there were six mystery cases from October 11-24.

The corresponding figures for regional Victoria are 0.2 and none.

From midnight Tuesday, all retail outlets will reopen along with cafes, restaurants and pubs, with some restrictions on numbers.

© AAP 2020

Photo: Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews (AAP Image/James Ross)

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 coronavirus arrest

Another coronavirus related arrest has been made in Launceston, this time a 23 year old woman for allegedly not having a reasonable excuse to be away from her home.

It started when police called out to a vehicle break-in near the Launceston General Hospital at around 8.45pm Wednesday night.

The woman was also charged with possessing a dangerous article or instrument with the intent of committing a crime.

Under the Emergency Management Act crimes around coronavirus carry fines of up to $16,800 or 3 months jail.

Another Tasmanian with coronavirus

FB Coronavirus Update

Public Health Services has been advised of 4 cases of coronavirus infection among passengers and crew who disembarked from the Ruby Princess cruise ship yesterday in Sydney after a cruise to New Zealand.
 
One of these cases is a Tasmanian woman who remains in Sydney and is being managed by New South Wales Health.
 
Public Health Services have been advised there were 54 Tasmanians on board this vessel.
 
New South Wales Health is currently contacting all passengers. Passengers will be will reminded of their requirement, as returned overseas travellers, to remain in self-quarantine for 14 days after they reach their home destination.
 
Public Health Services will also contact the Tasmanian passengers.
 
Passengers still in Sydney who have symptoms should not board domestic flights and should follow the advice provided to them by New South Wales Health.
 
Another passenger who was on board the ship has been admitted to hospital in Tasmania with respiratory symptoms and will be tested for coronavirus infection.
 
All travellers returning to Tasmania from overseas travel are required to complete a Tasmania Arrivals Card and self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. Whilst in self-quarantine they must monitor for symptoms of coronavirus infection and call their GP or the Public Health Hotline on 1800 671 738 if they get symptoms.

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

Art prize cancels 2020 event

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Australia’s richest art prize has announced it will cancel its 2020 event.

The Tasmanian-based Hadley’s Art Prize, now in its fourth year, was scheduled to announce its $100,000 dollar winner at the opening of its Finalists’ Exhibition at Hadley’s Hotel in July this year, but due to the Coronavirus pandemic it's now been cancelled.

Prize Curator Dr Amy Jackett said it was a difficult decision to make, but given the latest government recommendations, it is necessary.

"It is with great regret that I advise we have made the difficult decision to cancel the 2020 Hadley’s Art Prize due to the Coronavirus outbreak. For everyone at Hadley’s Orient Hotel this is an incredibly upsetting decision but given the most recent government recommendations and the high level of uncertainty around future safety protocols, transport of works, domestic travel, and public gatherings, we see this action as necessary," she said.

"The Hadley’s Art Prize has fast become a valued part of the Australian art scene and while we have contemplated ways we might push on this year, there is no way to suitably mitigate the risks. Public safety must always take priority."

"As a relatively new prize, our brand is so delicate and we are confident, along with many others in this dreadful position, that the best outcome is to ensure everyone’s safety this year and make sure 2021 is the best Hadley’s Art Prize so far."

All entries, which were due to close on 6 April, will be fully refunded.

AstraZeneca vaccine trial volunteer dies

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Brazilian health authority Anvisa says a volunteer in a clinical trial of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University has died but adds that the trial will continue.

Oxford confirmed the plan to keep testing, saying in a statement that after careful assessment "there have been no concerns about safety of the clinical trial".

Brazilian newspaper O Globo reported that the volunteer had been given a placebo and not the trial vaccine, citing unnamed sources.

Anvisa provided no further details, citing medical confidentiality of those involved in trials.

AstraZeneca declined immediate comment.

The Federal University of Sao Paulo, which is helping coordinate phase 3 clinical trials in Brazil, separately said the volunteer was Brazilian without revealing where the person lived.

AstraZeneca shares fell 1.7 per cent.

The federal government has plans to purchase the UK vaccine and produce it at its biomedical research center FioCruz in Rio de Janeiro while a competing vaccine from China's Sinovac Biotech Ltd is being tested by Sao Paulo state's research centre Butantan Institute.

Brazil has the second deadliest outbreak of coronavirus, with more than 154,000 killed by COVID-19, following the United States.

It has the third largest number of cases, with more than 5.2 million infected, after the United States and India.

© RAW 2020

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

Aust firm developing 15-minute virus test

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 A 15-minute COVID-19 which could be quicker than a pregnancy test is being developed by researchers in Queensland.

Biotechnology firm Xing Technologies is working on the test, called XavTrap, after being allocated $1.5 million in Queensland government funding for its research.

Researcher Dr Yadveer Grewal explained how the test works.

A cheap and simple baker's yeast is coated with hook-like particles to trap the virus just like velcro.

That yeast is then combined with strip technology used in pregnancy tests to rapidly determine whether a person has the virus.

"That way someone could have a nasal swab taken, apply it to a strip and within five to 15 minutes, depending on how infectious they are, get a result then and there," he told Nine's Today program.

Currently, there's a risk high-quality nasal swab lab tests can produce double negatives.

But Dr Yadveer said his test, called XavTrap, could still be effective even though it was less sensitive.

The United States Food and Drug Administration, which is also backing the project with $US1 million, believes the sensitivity and price of tests can be lowered if people using them get tested more frequently, he added.

Dr Yadveer used the example of doctors and nurses using Xing's test every time they started a hospital shift and getting a fast result.

"Testing yourself every couple of days is about equivalent to having a once-off high-quality specific test from a lab," he said.

Another difference between XavTrap and other tests is that it discriminates between live and dead viruses, so it's less likely to result in false-positives.

Xing Technologies is hoping to have its new COVID-19 test on the market by the end of 2020 and also eventually hopes to use XavTrap to test for other infectious viruses like dengue fever, and even cancer

"Ideally then, we are able to manufacture immediately by the end of the year and distribute it," Dr Yadveer said.

"Because of our technology is easily programmable we have other lead candidates we are exploring, and they can come online early next year."

© 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 signs global virus vaccine deal

White bottle with Coronavirus Vaccine text on blue background

Australia has signed onto a global coronavirus agreement in the hope of gaining early access to dozens of potential vaccines.

The deal guarantees Australia access to enough vaccine doses for up to 50 per cent of the population.

Australia has committed an initial $123 million to be part of the purchasing pool.

"It means that we'll have access to any of potentially dozens and dozens of different vaccines that are being developed," federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Wednesday.

"Australia has contributed, along with over 80 other countries, to have that right."

The deal is in addition to agreements Australia has already struck with vaccine developers at Oxford University and the University of Queensland.

"It's about making sure that we have additional protection, additional access, additional support," Mr Hunt said.

"It's also a facility which means that the developing nations, whether it's in Africa or Asia or Latin America, will be guaranteed access.

"And that protects Australia by protecting the world, as well as doing the right humanitarian thing."

The COVAX facility was established by the World Health Organisation and other international agencies.

It aims to ensure equitable access to safe and effective coronavirus vaccines.

This is Australia's second commitment to the facility after donating $80 million in August to provide doses to developing countries.

As well as allocations for individual countries, 10 per cent of manufactured doses will be retained to respond to sporadic outbreaks across the globe.

© 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

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

Boaties warned, FIFOs reassured

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Premier Peter Gutwein's warning arrivals by yacht won't be spared the impact of Australia's toughest border control measures.

As of midnight Friday, all non-essential arrivals, whether by sea or air, will have to undergo two weeks of self-isolation.

There's some leeway for fly-in-fly-out workers, who will be allowed to leave isolation early to return to jobs interstate or overseas.

Mr Gutwein says they'll issue a notice to mariners.

"We would encourage people to ensure that if they're coming to Tasmania and they've, you know, sailed down the East Coast, and they're arriving, that they would notify us in terms of their arrival and take the necessary precautions," he stated at Friday morning's coronavirus briefing. 

"They would need to self-isolate." 

There have been no more positive coronavirus tests in Tasmania in the last 24 hours, leaving the state's total at 10 so far with three recoveries.

Australia's infection total has ballooned by 113 to 709, with six elderly people succumbing to the illness.

There are also reports an Australian is in hospital in Ethiopia after catching the virus. 

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

Book thrown at alleged quarantine dodger

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A Launceston man is likely to be in serious hot water after police re-arrested him for allegedly breaching his coronavirus bail.

The 50-year-old, who'd recently returned from interstate, had previously been arrested and bailed on Sunday, reportedly leaving his quarantine accommodation on a number of occasions.

Police now say he's been detained for yet more offending.

He's set to face the Launceston Magistrates Court today.

Failing to comply with a direction from the Director of Public Health can carry a fine of up to $16,000 and/or 3 months prison. 

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

Border reopening to SA after Adelaide scare

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Tasmania's border will reopen to South Australia at 12:01am Thursday.

It'll be classified as a low-risk jurisdiction, meaning arrivals won't have to quarantine - unless they've been in a specific hotspot identified by South Australian Health as connected to the recent coronavirus cluster in Adelaide.

Director of Public Health Mark Veitch is set to provide more detail on those places.

South Australia recorded no new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday.

11 of the 33 infections linked to the Parafield cluster are still active - while about 1,100 people are in quarantine.

Premier Peter Gutwein believes the border wall coming down is a sign our economy is springing back to life.

"This is a significant milestone and will mean for the first time in 9 months Madam Speakier, Tasmania's border will be relaxed with all states and territories as well as New Zealanders," he told parliament.

Tasmania reopened to Victoria last Friday.

Border to open to NSW on Nov 6

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Tasmania's border will open to New South Wales on Friday, November 6.

Pending no major coronavirus outbreaks there, arrivals from NSW won't have to quarantine from that date. 

It'll join WA, South Australia, Queensland, the NT, ACT and New Zealand in being classified as a "low-risk" jurisdiction. 

The first travellers from those safe zones began flowing in on Monday, but not before questioning and health screenings by Biosecurity Tasmania staff. 

Premier Peter Gutwein says reopening to Victoria remains "on track" for December 1, as it emerges from marathon lockdown with two consecutive days of no new infections. 


 Image: Pixabay

Borders sealed until at least July 31

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A decision to open Tasmania to interstate travellers on July 24 has been deferred at least another week.

Those arriving from other jurisdictions will still need to quarantine for 14 days, Premier Peter Gutwein told a press conferenece this afternoon. 

"It's important as we step through this carefully, cautiously and responsibilty, that we use these next couple of weeks to gain a full understanding of what the outbreak in Victoria means for the rest of the country," the Premier said. 

The advice was given by Director of Public Health Dr Mark Veitch, who's been closely monitoring the dramatic coronavirus spike in Melbourne - where 288 cases were recorded statewide on Friday.

A new announcement on our borders is expected be made on the 24th.

Tourism Industry Council CEO Luke Martin says he understands the decision, but is hoping the green light can be given in August.

"Tasmanians are doing what they can to get out and explore the State, and this is appreciated deeply by tourism and hospitality operators in all corners of the State," he said.

"But the reality is our local market is finite, and our economic future as a State hangs on interstate visitor activity resuming as soon as it is safe to do so."

Borders sealed until December

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Tasmania's hard border restrictions will remain in place until at least December 1st.

The Premier made the announcement during a Ministerial Statement to parliament today, arguing it will allow the coronavirus situation to ease in other parts of Australia. 

"It will also give us time to build the community’s trust in our border measures to protect Tasmania from areas in the rest of the country that pose a high risk, while allowing travel to and from areas that pose a very low risk. Today’s announcement enables our businesses to prepare for border relaxations in time for our traditionally busier summer period and provides the certainty that our tourism and hospitality industry in particular has been asking for," Peter Gutwein said.

Measures to prop up Tasmania's embattled tourism and hospitality industries have been announced alongside the extended border lockdown.

The state government's introducing a $7.5 million ‘Make yourself at home travel voucher’ system for September to November inclusive.

It's a provision of up to $100 dollars towards the cost of commercial accommodation and $50 for tourism experiences and attractions.

$1.5 million is being made available for schools to conduct excursions to some of the state's tourism, parks and heritage sites.

"The school excursion voucher scheme will provide students with the opportunity to access hands on, authentic learning experiences outside the classroom and come at no cost to students, parents or carers. Importantly, the initiative will also support Tasmanian tourism, parks and heritage sites at a time when they need it most as we recover from the impacts of COVID-19," Education Minister Jeremy Rockcliff said.

There's also money for the farming sector to deal with the loss of casual workers from overseas and interstate.

"This package will include a local agricultural jobs campaign to encourage Tasmanians to consider new career options and participate with this EOI process," Agriculture Minister Guy Barnett said.

"Other aspects of the package includes support for industry resilience, promotion and targeted development of skills and training, an industry sponsored boost to regional transport, extending the Farmpoint one-stop point of contact for primary producers and assistance to ensure agricultural employers are workforce ready."

Borders shut to stamp out SA virus spread

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Extra support is at hand and state border closures are re-emerging as South Australia enters a critical phase of containing its coronavirus outbreak.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison remains positive Australia will be open by Christmas, as Queensland, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Tasmania announced broad travel restrictions on Adelaide arrivals.

South Australia's cluster is at 17, with 15 of those in the same family.

The number doesn't include three children who have tested negative but are being treated as cases because they have symptoms and their parents tested positive.

Victoria - marking 17 days without new infections or deaths - and NSW have increased screening for Adelaide arrivals, while WA has re-introduced its hard border for the state.

Anyone who has recently been in SA will be blocked from entering WA unless they can secure an exemption.

More Australian Defence Force troops are on the way to help SA while international flights to Adelaide are paused for the rest of the week to ease the burden on hotel quarantine facilities.

WA and Commonwealth contact tracers are helping the SA teams in a bid to stop the cluster from growing.

SA Premier Steven Marshall says time is of the essence.

"We cannot wait to see how bad this gets. The next 24 hours will be critical," he said on Monday.

The state has re-introduced a range of restrictions, including gyms, recreation centres and play cafes closed for two weeks.

Mr Morrison hopes state border closures will be temporary.

"As soon as South Australia is able to get on top of this I would expect that states would keep on the path that we have set towards Christmas," he told reporters in Melbourne.

Acting Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly convened an emergency meeting of the nation's key health advice panel on Monday to discuss the SA situation.

He believes authorities will be able to get on top of the cluster.

SA's Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier urged people to maintain hand hygiene, cover coughs and sneezes with their elbow, and to stay 1.5 metres from others.

"I know that's been difficult to do and an element of complacency has, you know, inevitably, occurred here in South Australia but everybody needs to heed those three messages."

© 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

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

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

Britain considering lockdown

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The British government is planning to enforce a total social lockdown across a majority of northern Britain and potentially London, to combat a second wave of COVID-19, according to The Times newspaper.

Under the new measures being considered, all pubs, restaurants and bars would be ordered to shut for two weeks initially, the report said on Sunday.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week said any new national lockdown would threaten jobs, livelihoods and human contact.

The report added that households would also be banned indefinitely from meeting each other in any indoor location where they were not already under the order.

Britain had last week imposed new measures that required people to work from home where possible and had ordered restaurants and bars to close early to tackle a fast-spreading second wave of COVID-19, with new restrictions lasting probably six months.

Schools and shops be allowed to remain open, along with factories and offices at which staff could not work from home, the Times added, citing a senior government source.

© RAW 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.

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Bubble burst: Tasmania's borders to stay shut

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Tasmania's hard border restrictions are to remain in place until at least August 31st.

Premier Peter Gutwein has announced the proposed travel bubble with South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory from this Friday will not go ahead as planned.

"It simply isn't the time to be opening our borders. Now is the time to ensure that we ultilise our best asset and that is our moat," he said in media briefing on Monday.

"The timing coincides with the end of our state of emergency, but obviously we will be reviewing that on a weekly basis."

It comes in the wake of a state of disaster being declared in Victoria where hundreds of new coronavirus cases are being recorded each day, forcing Premier Daniel Andrews to enact the strictest lockdown measures in the country.

South Australia has reintroduced some restrictions after recording 2 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, while NSW recorded 13. 

All non-essential arrivals here will still have to serve 14 days quarantine, either at a government hotel at their own expense or at their own addresss if they're a Tasmanian resident.

Victorians and others arriving from virus hotspots in NSW and Queensland are being turned back at the border.

Premier Gutwein also confirmed there will be no AFL played in Tasmania in August.  

Burnie staff infection count doubles

Doctors

There's more work for the Covid-19 outbreak management team at Northwest Regional Hospital, after the number of infected staff at the Burnie facility doubled on Tuesday to 12.

Health authorities are following up close contacts of the affected workers to ensure they're isolated.

Tasmania's coronavirus count rose to 98 yesterday with another nine confirmed cases - eight of them are related to the hospital, plus a returned overseas traveller in the state's south who'd already self-quarantined at home.

Most of the new cases are aged in their 20s, 30s and 40s.

It follows the state's third fatality, a man in his 80s passing away at NWRH - like the other Tasmanian deaths, he was a passenger on the disastrous Ruby Princess cruise, which has now been linked to 15 deaths around the country. 

"It is a stark reminder that this virus sadly does take lives and we must continue to do all we can to protect Tasmanians," said Premier Peter Gutwein, who on Tuesday banned most visitors from Tasmanian hospitals and nursing homes. 

"I would again like to thank the hard working staff at the NWRH under what are some of the most difficult circumstances they'll ever have to face."

A drive-through coronavirus testing clinic is being set up at Hobart's Princes Wharf One precinct.

The state government is also setting up pop-up clinics at the Elphin Sports Centre in Launceston and the East Devonport recreation centre.

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.

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Caution urged as restrictions ease

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Small household gatherings of up to five people are back on the agenda for Tasmanians as stage one pandemic restrictions ease.

Groups of 10 are now allowed at indoor and outdoor events along with playgrounds, sports training, libraries and council facilities.

Tasmanian churches will have to record details of attendees for contact tracing purposes as part of today's rollback of pandemic restrictions.

10 people will be allowed at services. 

Up to 30 people are allowed at funerals outdoors or 20 indoors.

Deputy Director of Public Health, Dr Scott McKeown says it's not time to let our guard down.

"We currently have 18 active cases, 53 close contacts in quarantine, and many hundreds of people a day develop mild cold or flu-like symptoms who do need to be tested," he said. 

"Any of them could have the coronavirus." 

Authorities will be keeping a sharp eye out for any indication of a "second wave" of the virus in Tasmania. 

Premier Peter Gutwein says if there's another outbreak, they'll have to re-impose restrictions, and he's concerned that would send some businesses to the wall.

"They will be relying on Tasmanians to do the right thing and continue to follow the rules," he said. 

"This means observing the restrictions on people numbers in a place, observing the social distancing rules and maintaining a 1.5-metre space from people." 

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

Childcare's perfect storm

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Childcare operators are facing a triple-whammy of challenges in coming weeks, with concerns the return of fees today will force some families to pull children out. 

After more than six weeks of the Federal Government covering all fees, families are again liable for care, although they'll be eligible for subsidies under the previous complex federal system. 

The Tasmanian President of Early Childhood Australia, Ros Cornish, says they're also losing the childcare-specific Jobkeeper payments next week.

"Many families would be impacted by the pandemic in terms of loss of hours or loss of jobs, worst case scenario," said Ms Cornish, who is also the CEO of major not-for-profit operator Lady Gowrie Tasmania. 

"And then come September when Jobkeeper ceases for the broader community, the impact that will have on us as a childcare sector will be interesting." 

Tasmania's Opposition is also concerned at the impact. 

"Without access to affordable care, it will also hurt the economy because of the barriers to workforce participation," said Elwick Legislative Councillor Josh Wilie. 

"With JobKeeper payments for childcare workers also to be wound back, the industry may struggle to remain viable."

Ms Cornish says the impact on regional childcare in Tasmania has been especially severe. 

"We have some services on the East Coast, and that's totally reliant on tourism and hospitality, and without the borders open - and we support the borders being closed, please don't get me wrong - but until we have tourists back, the utilisation in those centres is very low." 

 

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.

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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.

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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

CMO backs away from dinner party claims

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Australia's Chief Medical Officer admits he may have jumped the gun when referring to a coronavirus cluster in Tasmania.

Professor Brendan Murphy was recorded speaking to a New Zealand Parliamentary Committee that an illegal gathering of medical workers may have been responsible for spreading the virus in the state's North West, but has since issued a statement saying the dinner party had not been traced as a possible source.

“I am now informed that the contact tracing has not confirmed that such a dinner party occurred,” he said.

Two hospitals in the states North-West have been forced to shut, and about 5-thousand people are in isolation.

Premier Peter Gutwein said police will investigate the matter but the state's contact tracing had not identified a dinner party of health workers.

"To be frank, Brendan was commenting on a rumour," Mr Gutwein said.

"However, I accept that this is a serious allegation and it's something that needs to be followed up. So we will retrace our steps."

Coastal coronavirus count continues

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The number of confirmed global coronavirus infections has reached another milestone, with more than 2 million cases recorded worldwide.

Australia's infection count is now approaching 6500. 

Tasmania's infection count rose by another four overnight to 169, with all those cases coming from the northwest coast.

"Two are women and two are men. One is in their 40s, two are in their 50s and one is in their 80s," said the state's Director of Public Health, Dr Mark Veitch. 

Authorities haven't revealed whether they're tied to Burnie's two hospitals which have been closed for deep cleaning this week.

Meantime, Australian recoveries from Covid-19 have outstripped infections in recent days.

Yesterday about 90 patients recovered from the virus nationally, while only 34 new cases were reported. 

While it's a promising sign, the true rate of community transmission remains unknown.

 

 

Coles, Woolies relax online restrictions

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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

Compliance checks hit 10,000

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About 10,000 checks have carried out so far on individuals required to quarantine and businesses during the past four weeks.

So far there are been 3,270 compliance done in the South, 2,330 in the North and 4,640 in the North West.

Tasmania Police says 144 people have been charged or summonsed to appear in court for failing to comply with the rules.

The SES, TFS and ADF personnel have assisted police with the checks, with the rescue helicopter used when required, particularly in the North West.

Police are also following up reports of business non-compliance and ensuring major retailers are open to trade customers only.

Under the Public Health and Emergency Management Acts, there are penalties of up to $16,800 or 6 month imprisonment for failing to comply with a lawful requirement or direction of an authorised officer.

Compliance checks ramp up

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Authorities are enforcing compliance in the North West with more than 2,400 checks carried out so far on businesses and individuals required to quarantine.

Police are continuing to use significant resources to ensure compliance of the restrictions, including numerous patrols, with covert and marked vehicles and the Rescue Helicopter.

The TFS, SES and ADF personnel are also assisting officers undertaking compliance checks over the next two weeks in the state’s north west.

Police say if you’re required to self-isolate, expect a phone call and a visit to check your identification.

Authorities would like to remind the community there are fines of up to $16,800 or 6 months jail for failing to comply with the rules.

Corona clampdown: stay home

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Tougher social coronavirus controls are now in force in Tasmania, with the only legitimate reasons for leaving home including work, exercise, supply runs, and compassionate care.

Police will have the power to arrest those found outside without a valid reason, meaning the Easter shack holiday is among a host of activities off limits.

Groups of more than two are forbidden in public except for families.

Premier Peter Gutwein is encouraging those who can to work from home, including in the state's public service.  

"Obviously our frontline services need to be maintained, so our agency heads will work with their workforces to ensure that we can continue to deliver the essential services that we need," he said. 

Labor leader Rebecca White is welcoming the measures, but says some sectors need clarity.

"I'm hearing a lot from hairdressers in particular, so I think the message needs to be very clear from the government that nobody has to remain open unless they want to, or they're an essential service," said Ms White. 

"Nobody should be feeling that they're being put in an unsafe position, or that they're putting their staff in an unsafe position." 

A much tougher regime is already in place for those who've gone into compulsory isolation for suspected or actual coronavirus.

Assistant Police Commissioner Jonathan Higgins says they're continuing spot checks.

"The non-compliance thus far has been very minor in nature; it's been confusion about what it actually means, whether they can go outside and get the paper from the front lawn or exercise," he said. 

"The answer is, no, you can't." 

Image: Rae Earl

Corona-tour chased up

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Tasmanian health authorities are working with a bus tour operator following news an infected pair of tourists travelled around the state for a week and a half last month.

One of the pair, who've been diagnosed after going home interstate, didn't know they were infectious as far back as the 12th of March.

They stayed in Hobart's Travelodge between the 12th and the 19th and the Launceston Leisure Inn from the 19th to the 23rd.

"Anyone who was at these locations on these days and who developed or develops respiratory symptoms in the 14 days after they were there should contact the Public Health Hotline on 1800 761 738," said Director of Public Health Dr Mark Veitch. 

"Public Health Services is working with the tour operator to obtain more specific details about transport taken by the persons while in Tasmania and will provide this additional information as soon as it is available."

As part of the PHS investigation into their movements, it has been determined that they visited the following locations:

Hobart Travelodge (12-19 March)
Gray Line tour bus from Hobart to Port Arthur (morning of 13 March)
Port Arthur Historic Site and visitor centre (13 March)
Carnarvon Bay ‘Navigators’ boat tour (afternoon of 13 March)
Female Factory Site, South Hobart (morning of 14 March)
Cascade Gardens, South Hobart (morning of 14 March)
MONA ferry from Hobart (1.15pm, 14 March)
MONA (1.30 to 4pm, 14 March)
Peppermint Bay Cruise and Restaurant (15 March)
Freycinet Marine Farm (16 March)
Kate’s Berry Farm (16 March)
Pennicott Cruises on Bruny Island (17 March)
Female Factory, South Hobart (18 March)
Grape Food and Wine Bar, Salamanca (18 March)
Launceston Leisure Inn (19-23 March)
Bridestowe Lavender Farm (20 March)
Pyengana Cheese Factory (20 March)
Lease 65, St Helens (20 March)
Batman Bridge River Cruise, run by Tamar River Cruises (21 March)
Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre and Waldheim Chalet (22 March)
Ashgrove Tasmanian Farm (22 March)