Australian News

Qld premier set to come under fire at National Cabinet over ‘double standard’ at borders

The Queensland border bubble has been extended to allow boarding school students to return home, as the state records no new cases.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on Friday added Moree to the list of postcodes Queensland border residents can freely travel to, saying she wanted students to be allowed to return home for school holidays.

It also comes after the mayor of Moree slammed Ms Palaszczuk as “cruel and heartless” after Mungindi’s single supermarket was destroyed.

As a result, if residents wanted to travel to their closest supermarket in Moree, they would have to quarantine for 14 days, prohibiting them from accessing medical care in Queensland.

“We hope this will be great news for families to ensure their boarding school students can be home for school holidays,” she said.

The state’s chief health officer, Dr Jeannette Young, said she had no concerns about potential spread from Moree.

“I am very confident Moree is a safe place to add into our border zone,” she said.

“For a number of reasons we have made this decision … but the most important reason of all is that it’s safe for us to do that.

“This could change, but at this point in time NSW has control of their outbreak, but the risk is the virus can travel to other parts.”

It comes as a specialist unit becomes operational today, designed to assist northern NSW families navigate border measures to access urgent and emergency medical care.

“We want to make sure if people in northern NSW need specialist appointments, we have a dedicated unit that will be there for them,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

“We have a team of 80 people working on exemptions … we are working in the best interest of families.”

Dr Young said in the past week, 900 residents northern NSW residents had been treated in Queensland hospitals.

“We are continuing to provide essential and emergency healthcare to people who live in northern NSW, we have always done that and that has not changed,” she said.

It comes as Ms Palaszczuk is set to come under fire at today’s National Cabinet over border measures that allowed 400 AFL contingents to lap up luxury while medical and compassionate exemptions are denied.

Dr Young’s strict border measures, enforced by Ms Palaszczuk, are set to be targeted at today’s National Cabinet meeting, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison expected to announce a new hotspot traffic light system that would guide states on who to allow in.

Mr Morrison has previously called for more compassion and consistency over border measures, and has told states borders need to be open by Christmas so “families can be reunited”.

Ms Palaszczuk has repeatedly reaffirmed she had ultimate say in what happened at the borders, and that her main priority was “keeping Queenslanders safe”.

A visibly teary premier on Friday said she refused to be intimidated, and that her ultimate responsibility was keeping Queenslanders safe.

“I get up every day and I rely on the best health advice to look after this state,” she said.

“I think it’s a bit disingenuous for this heightened criticism coming from a whole lot of levels when my fundamental concern is to look after Queenslanders.

“There is a high risk when there is an outbreak of it going into aged care homes… I do not want to see what happened in NSW and Victoria to happen here.”

Dr Young said the trigger for Queensland to re-open its borders with NSW would not be pulled until the state had had no community transmission of COVID-19 for 28 days.

“The one standard my team work to is to keep Queenslanders safe,” she said.

Yesterday the state recorded two new cases, including one who worked at an aged care home, an hour southwest of Brisbane, for two days.

Dr Young said the risk to residents was very low because the staff member did not have contact with residents at Karinya Place at Laidley.

The two new cases are known to each other and have been linked to the Brisbane Youth Detention Centre/Queensland Correction Services Academy cluster, which has grown to 30 people.

This week, Ms Palaszczuk said she felt “very comfortable” with the containment of the current cluster.

A new COVID-19 pop-up fever clinic has been set up at the popular tourist location Airlie Beach, after viral fragments of COVID-19 were found in sewage.

Dr Young said there was no cause for alarm, but told anyone with any symptoms to go and get tested.

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Local News - Victoria

National cabinet documents might not be available to state hotel inquiry

Sources familiar with the establishment of the Victorian inquiry believe it may need to access records of discussions that took place at the May 27 national cabinet meeting in order to get a full understanding of state responsibilities for quarantine and what role the Australian Defence Force was to play.

That meeting of national cabinet was where hotel quarantine arrangements were put in place.

A fierce political row erupted this week between Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds over the issue of ADF assistance for the quarantine program across several Melbourne hotels.

Infection control breaches at two Melbourne quarantine hotels have been blamed for the second wave of COVID-19 spreading into the Victorian community in late March through hotel staff and contract security guards.

Cabinet confidentiality provisions at both state and Federal levels protect records of discussions between ministers or documents prepared for cabinet submission from disclosure through Freedom of Information or other forms of inquiry.

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet recently invoked those provisions in response to an FOI request from South Australian Senator Rex Patrick for minutes and other information from national cabinet meetings.

Asked about national cabinet confidentiality on Friday, Mr Andrews said: “The absolutely frank answer is, I don’t know what rules would be applied. A national cabinet … is essentially as I understand it … a subcommittee of the federal cabinet in terms of its legal status.

Daniel Andrews on Thursday.

Daniel Andrews on Thursday.Credit:Darrian Traynor

“I need to get some legal advice on that … but those documents are not owned by us … they’re part of a national process. That’ll be something that the chair of national cabinet [Mr Morrison] might have a view on.”

Monash University constitutional law expert Luke Beck said the Commonwealth’s contention that secrecy provisions could be applied to a committee consisting of the Prime Minister and state and territory leaders was “very uncertain”.

Associate Professor Beck said state and territory leaders were accountable to their own parliaments, and he predicted that an attempt to assert cabinet confidentiality over their meetings would likely lead to legal challenges that could go all the way to the High Court.

“Cabinets exist by tradition and convention. The status of this national cabinet is a really interesting and tricky legal question,” he said.

Senator Patrick has foreshadowed a legal challenge to the government’s position on national cabinet and access to information, arguing it does not meet the definition of a properly constituted cabinet.

While he stressed he supported the normal conventions around the confidentiality of policy deliberations by ministers and documents specifically created to inform cabinet, it was a stretch to apply it to national cabinet.

“The PM is trying to expand the umbrella under which secrecy applies. My firm view is that the national cabinet is not a cabinet for the purposes of the FOI Act,” Senator Patrick said.

A spokesman for the Victorian hotel quarantine inquiry said the board of inquiry had the power to provide written notices to demand the production of documents or attendance notice to give evidence as a witness. Any individual or agency planning on not complying with a request must provide a “reasonable excuse” that the public interest in keeping information secret outweighs the public benefit from its disclosure.


Victorian government departments that have been asked to cooperate with the inquiry have engaged independent legal advice from Melbourne’s top tier firms.

If an individual or department claims public interest immunity over documents sought by the inquiry, Judge Coate has the ability to ask the Supreme Court of Victoria to intervene and rule on the admissibility of the material.

Asked if he intended to assert cabinet confidentiality over any Victorian documents, Mr Andrews said he expected Ms Coate to be given all documents she believed necessary.

“She should have the fullest picture of what’s got going on so that she can give us the answers that we all need,” he said

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Scott Morrison announces major COVID-19 restriction changes after national cabinet meeting, Australia death toll at 102

Professor Amin Soebandrio, the director of Jakarta’s Eijkman Institute of Microbiology, warned on Thursday the country’s caseload could double from about 35,000 to 65,000 infections in the next two weeks as testing rates ramped up.

The professor also suggested a rise from 2,000 to 3,000 new cases per day. The number of cases has now reached 36,406, the second-highest in south-east Asia, and the death toll rose by 48 on Friday to 2,048, the highest in the region.

The latest results reported 15,333 specimens tested from 7,476 people, an improvement on the laggard test results of the first few months of the coronavirus outbreak but well behind other countries in the region.

Indonesia is a nation of nearly 270 million people and has conducted just 1,696 tests per 1 million people, which ranks it 163rd out of 215 nations listed on the website.
Health official Achmad Yurianto defended the low testing rates per million people during his daily briefing.

“Indonesia consists of islands with waters between them that act as barriers. Therefore threats in places would be different and can’t be compared with countries with bigger land proportions. In numbers overall our percentage testing per million people is low. But if we look at places like Jakarta than the percentage shows we are doing higher testing,” he said.

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Borders battle focus of National Cabinet meeting; Sydney school closed over Covid-19; Protests loom over weekend

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has warned a resurgence in coronavirus could cost $80 billion over two years.

His calculation came as global share markets erupted into a sea of selling on fears of a pandemic resurgence, killing off recent optimism for a quick economic recovery.

The Morrison government is worried last week’s anti-racism rallies, and more marches scheduled for this weekend, will spread the virus.

“If we had a second wave of infections it would cost our economy about $80 billion over the next two years,” he told Sky News.

“We are in the middle of a health emergency, this is not over and people who choose to attend those rallies are putting the lives and jobs of their fellow Australians at risk.”

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Coronavirus Australia update: borders, airlines and outdoor gatherings on the agenda as national cabinet meets – politics live – The Guardian

  1. Coronavirus Australia update: borders, airlines and outdoor gatherings on the agenda as national cabinet meets – politics live  The Guardian
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  3. Scott Morrison claims ‘no slavery in Australia,’ sparking backlash
  4. Was there slavery in Australia? Yes. It shouldn’t even be up for debate  The Guardian
  5. Scott Morrison apologises for ‘any hurt or harm’ caused by robodebt scheme  ABC News
  6. View Full coverage on Google News

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Key moments from Scott Morrison’s coronavirus press conference after National Cabinet meeting

It’s been two weeks since National Cabinet last met to discuss how Australia has been navigating the coronavirus pandemic.

A lot has happened in that time. Restrictions have eased, recoveries have increased, clusters have emerged and, sadly, more Australians have died from COVID-19.

So, there was no doubt going to be plenty of discussion and decisions made.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy provided an update on what is next in Australia’s recovery process.

Missed the press conference? Here’s a breakdown of the key points.

‘COAG is no more’

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) has been meeting since 1992.

Today, the Prime Minister announced it would be scrapped and replaced by the National Cabinet.

Mr Morrison said the new format would promote more regular and simplified communication between state and territory leaders.

“We want to streamline those endless meetings so we can bring it back to one focus: creating jobs out of the back of this crisis,” Mr Morrison said.

“We think that will ensure Australians get better government, more focused government, at a state and federal level.”

The PM said the new National Cabinet system will have a “job-making agenda” with a series of subcommittees focusing on certain areas.

“The National Cabinet will continue to work with a laser-like mission focus on creating jobs as we come out of the COVID crisis and we work into the years into the future,” he said.

Scott reaches to shake Gladys' hand
The National Cabinet will meet face-to-face twice a year.(AAP: David Gray)

“Important task forces will continue that previously worked to COAG in important national agenda issues.

“The final details of which ministerial groups are set in this area, as I said, the consolidation that takes place in the other areas, that will come in time. But we’ve agreed on the new structure.”

The National Cabinet will continue to meet fortnightly during the coronavirus response period and will meet monthly after that. But it will not necessarily be face-to-face, with the PM citing the success of tele-meetings so far.

“When these groups get together, there’s a lot of theatre, a lot of people in the room,” he said.

“That can, I think, restrict the genuine reform discussions that you have to have.

“Having the groups operate like a fair-dinkum cabinet has been really important.”

The National Cabinet is expected to meet in person twice a year.


Millions committed to hospitals

The National Cabinet also committed more funding to hospitals and healthcare workers.

Mr Morrison said it agreed to a multi-billion-dollar five-year national health reform agreement.

The Commonwealth will invest an estimated $131.4 billion for a “demand-driven public hospital funding model” aimed at improving health outcomes for Australians and ensuring the sustainability of health systems.

“All states and territories have now signed on to that agreement as of today,” Mr Morrison said.

“There is also, as part of our agreement, a funding guarantee to all states and territories to ensure no jurisdiction is left worse off as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and guarantees the Commonwealth’s funding contribution for public hospitals over the next five years.”

Restrictions have been tough but essential

While the pandemic has hurt many people and businesses economically, Mr Morrison said the government had been justified in imposing tough restrictions.

He said that the National Cabinet’s three-step plan to balance the health and economic impacts of the pandemic was working.

“The risk remains great, and always has been,” he said.

“Australia’s success can lead some to think that perhaps the risk was never there in the first place, but that is not true.

“We only need to look at countries as sophisticated as ours, as developed as ours, with health systems as strong as ours, who have death rates 100 times of what has occurred in Australia.

“So, we would be foolish to think that we were immune or that we are immune.”

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison stands in front of a projector screen that says Roadmap to a COVIDSafe Australia
Scott Morrison said National Cabinet’s plan remains to balance the health and economic impacts of COVID-19.(ABC News/Matt Roberts)

With fewer than 500 active cases in Australia at the moment and only two people are on ventilators, and Mr Morrison said there was no expectation to get down to zero cases before things started reopening.

“Eradication? Elimination? These are not the goals that we have,” he said.

“If it’s achieved as a by-product, then well and good.

“But the fact that a case or a group of cases may present is not something that should restrict moving ahead and getting progress on implementing the three-step plan, and bringing Australia’s economy back to a COVID-safe environment in which jobs can be restored and livelihoods can be restored.”

State border closures aren’t up to the Federal Government

Queensland, South Australia, the Northern Territory, Tasmania and Western Australia all have various border restrictions in place for non-essential travellers.

The Prime Minister said National Cabinet had a “very candid discussion” about border closures at today’s meeting.

He said National Cabinet never made the decision to implement state border closures, but interstate travel was not expected to be on the cards until July anyway.

“We don’t agree on everything. No-one does. It would be a bit weird if they did in a democracy,” Mr Morrison said.

“We have to bear in mind that in the vast majority of cases, the states and territories have worked very well with the Commonwealth on these issues and I remain optimistic common sense will prevail on the timetable National Cabinet has set out.”


Still unsure on face masks?

Professor Murphy said broadly, the advice had not changed and people do not have to wear a mask.

But there was no reason you cannot wear one, particularly if you need to travel on public transport.

“The [Australian Health Protection Principal Committee] has recognised in a public transport situation people may choose to wear masks when up close to other people,” he said.

“We recognise that is not an unreasonable thing to do.

“We are not recommending [masks] in the community because of low transmission but we warn that’s not a complete protection.”

Professor Murphy said as restrictions ease, it was crucial that Australians were still careful.

“If I can make one plea to everybody as we get back to normal life, just remember the simple principles, please keep practising the social distancing,” he said.

“Please get tested if you are unwell and stay home and practice the hygiene and distancing measures we talked about.”

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Scott Morrison says National Cabinet here to stay, will replace COAG meetings in wake of coronavirus

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) will be scrapped and replaced with National Cabinet meetings with a specific focus on creating jobs, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced.

“COAG is no more,” Scott Morrison said.

“It will be replaced by a completely new system.”

Mr Morrison said the success of National Cabinet, which was formed in response to the coronavirus pandemic, proved remote tele-meetings could be productive.

The Prime Minister said the new structure would mean state and territory leaders would be able to communicate more regularly and “with less paperwork”.

“It’s a much more flexible way of working … it gets rid of so much of the formalities and staging that is around these events,” Mr Morrison said.

“We want to streamline those endless meetings so we can bring it back to one focus: creating jobs out of the back of this crisis.

“We think that will ensure Australians get better government, more focused government, at a state and federal level.”

COAG was established in 1992 as a forum for state and territory leaders to work with the Federal Government.

It was criticised for being too bureaucratic, something Mr Morrison said he did not think would happen with National Cabinet.

While COAG usually meets twice a year, National Cabinet will meet monthly once the pandemic is over, but will continue to meet fortnightly until then.

Mr Morrison said the meetings during the COVID-19 crisis had given leaders the opportunity to work together in a way that had not been possible before.

“I mean, on the night before, every treasurers and leaders meeting I have been to, there is a get-together and that is the best conversation you ever have because you’re genuinely talking about the issues you need to and that’s how National Cabinet has operated,” he said.

“We’ve been able to find that candour and collegiality in that new format.”

Another important feature of the new structure is that it will operate under the same rules as Federal Cabinet, which will mean greater levels of “security of documents, process and procedure”.

“Having the groups operate like a fair-dinkum cabinet has been really important,” the Prime Minister said.

“It enables [leaders] to have these discussions without sort of lifting the veil.”

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Coronavirus live news Australia: PM Scott Morrison to provide Covid-19 update after first national cabinet meeting in two weeks | Australia news

With the great lockdown gradually easing, a lot of people are finding the transition back to “normal” life, whatever that looks like now, difficult.

Just remember – you are not alone in that. It’s a little overwhelming going from an environment you completely control, back into one with so many variables. Particularly if your brain chemistry already leaves you prone to experiencing increased anxiety.

But what you are feeling is valid. And completely normal.

AAP has had a look at some of those feelings:

Mental health professionals are now looking to the post-isolation stage, which could cause as much anxiety for many, just as going into lockdown did.

The Autism Awareness Australia chief executive officer, Nicole Rogerson, said while autism is different for everyone, there have been additional challenges to come with it during isolation.

For school-aged children, the lockdown and subsequent school closures were very challenging for children who either didn’t understand the change or who struggled with the indefinite nature of the timing of the lockdown.

Some children might have liked the reduced demands of school and social situations but many also found great anxiety with the change of routine.

Rogerson said for adults with autism, the social isolation was welcomed by some.

The shared anxiety of Covid uncertainties has been difficult for many. The return to work, with the ongoing threat of an invisible virus, is very stressful for individuals with autism.

The chief executive of national mental health charity SANE, Jack Heath, said as Australia went into lockdown their online forums spiked, with participant numbers doubling from 3,000 to 6,000 per week in March.

Heath said many of the problems were around existing mental health issues being amplified and it was important to meet these long-term needs after isolation.

As restrictions ease, Heath said it was understandable for people to be feeling anxious given how uncertain times are.

Heath’s advice is to reach out for help and take stock of any positives to have come from isolation.

Do a list – two, three, four or five things that were positive and take that with you moving forward.

The lead clinical advisor at Beyond Blue, Dr Grant Blashki, also expects many may find coming out of isolation overwhelming.

When Beyond Blue launched it’s coronavirus specific support service on 9 April, it received 6,300 emails and more than 180,000 visits to the website, Blashki said.

The kinds of issues presented were around isolation, pressure-cooker households with lots of kids, unemployment and stress about infection – things that will not simply go away as lockdown ends.

Blashki said as people begin to re-enter society, for anyone feeling anxious it is important to be gentle with yourself and set some ground rules when it comes to communication with others.

Re-engage in small steps, catch up with people who aren’t too full-on and in smaller groups – go out for a coffee, not to a party if it’s too much.

Autism Awareness Australia: 1300 900 681

SANE: 1800 187 263

Beyond Blue coronavirus hotline: 1800 512 348

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Coronavirus update: National Cabinet won’t be meeting this week, South America the newest hot spot for COVID-19 pandemic

For the first time since the pandemic started, National Cabinet is having this week off — but Prime Minister Scott Morrison says their next meeting will provide an opportunity to discuss lifting restrictions further.

This story will be regularly updated throughout Friday.

Friday’s key moments:

G7 summit likely to go ahead, Trump says

G7 leaders meet around a round table. Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump are at the centre of the image.
The in-person event will now take place “primarily at the White House”, Mr Trump said.(AP: Andrew Harnik)

US President Donald Trump says a “full” Group of Seven (G7) summit bringing together the leaders of the world’s major economies “looks like it will be on”.

But he says the in-person event — which had been scrapped in March because of the coronavirus — will now take place “primarily at the White House”, with “a piece of it” perhaps taking place at the nearby Camp David presidential retreat.

Mr Trump made the comments while departing the White House for a trip to Michigan on Thursday (local time).

The District of Columbia remains under stay-at-home orders and US travel restrictions remain in place on many Group of Seven nations.

But Mr Trump has said that holding the event would be a “great sign to all” that things are getting back to normal.

He said a formal announcement would likely come early next week.

Members of the G7 economic organisation are: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.

National Cabinet won’t be sitting today

Scott Morrison in a suit and grey tie mid sentence standing next to the chief medical officer at a press conference.
Scott Morrison flagged the next meeting would be a chance to “go around the grounds”.(ABC News: Ian Cutmore)

For the first time since the pandemic started, National Cabinet is having this week off.

The group will meet again next Friday, which will also mark three weeks since Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a “roadmap” around how restrictions would be eased over the months ahead.

The states and territories have been easing things at their own pace, but Mr Morrison flagged the next meeting would be a chance to “go around the grounds” to see how jurisdictions are doing and talk about their plans to lift restrictions further.

It’s not just National Cabinet scaling down their meetings either.

Daily updates from the Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy or his deputies have now been changed to every two or three days instead.

‘Operation Warp Speed’: US bids $1.83b for vaccine doses

Syringe containing vaccine in the hands of a doctor in blue gloves.
AstraZeneca has said it was in talks with governments and partners around the world to increase production.(Getty Images: ~User7565abab_575)

The United States has secured almost a third of the first 1 billion doses planned for British drug maker AstraZeneca’s experimental coronavirus vaccine by pledging up to $US1.2 billion ($1.83 billion).

After President Donald Trump demanded a vaccine, the US Department of Health and Human Services agreed to provide the money towards vaccine development and secure 300 million doses for the US.

“This contract with AstraZeneca is a major milestone in Operation Warp Speed’s work toward a safe, effective, widely available vaccine by 2021,” US Health Secretary Alex Azar said.

The vaccine, previously known as ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 and now as AZD1222, was developed by the University of Oxford and licensed to AstraZeneca. Immunity to the new coronavirus is uncertain and so the use of vaccines unclear.

The US deal allows a late-stage — Phase III — clinical trial of the vaccine with 30,000 people in the United States.

Cambridge-based AstraZeneca said it had secured manufacturing capacity for 1 billion doses, with first deliveries due to begin in September.

Now the most valuable company on Britain’s blue-chip FTSE 100 Index, it has agreed to deliver 100 million doses to people in Britain, with 30 million as soon as September.

Cases rapidly rising in Brazil

You view an aerial image of Rio de Janeiro at night with the Christ the Redeemer statue lit up with coronavirus messages.
Brazil has registered almost 19,000 deaths since the outbreak hit the country.(AP: Leo Correa)

South America has overtaken the United States and Europe in the past week to report the largest portion of new daily coronavirus cases globally, representing a new phase in the virus’ spread.

In recent days, Brazil became the country with the third-largest number of infections, trailing behind the US and Russia, but as its outbreak worsens, the nation is expected to soon have the second-highest number of cases in the world.

According to Johns Hopkins University, Brazil has registered almost 19,000 deaths since the outbreak hit the country.

More than 291,000 positive cases are confirmed, and the Health Ministry is monitoring another 156,000.

In the last two days, almost 2,000 have died of COVID-19.

Experts believe that because of the lack of tests, the number of confirmed cases and victims is much higher than the figure reported by the authorities.

In Peru, the number of confirmed cases surpassed 104,000, as the outbreak puts pressure on the demand for medicines, whose prices have soared in recent days.

Ecuador’s largest city allowed some businesses to reopen following a fall in daily deaths from the coronavirus, that had the city remain in quarantine for weeks.

In Bolivia, authorities fired the health minister and opened an investigation of potential corruption over allegations that officials bought ventilators at inflated prices.

Britain vows to provide free antibody tests

A person in bioprotective gear including mask, stands at a passenger side window holding a swab test.
The antibody tests — also known as a serology test — show who has been infected by coronavirus.(AAP: Mariuz)

Britain will buy 10 million coronavirus antibody tests from Roche and Abbott and will roll them out to health workers from next week, health minister Matt Hancock said.

“We have signed contracts to supply in the coming months over 10 million tests,” Mr Hancock said.

“From next week, we will begin rolling these out in a phased way; at first, to health and care staff, patients and residents.”

Mass antibody testing is being considered by many countries as a way to speed up the reopening of economies devastated by lockdowns and to introduce more tailored social-distancing measures.

The antibody tests — also known as a serology test — show who has been infected, although it is not yet clear whether the presence of antibodies to the new coronavirus confers permanent immunity.

The UK has also announced that domestic abuse victims will soon be able to seek help by giving a code word to shop staff under a new scheme.

With help lines reporting a surge in calls, the scheme aims to offer an escape route for victims during shopping trips for food and medicine, which may be one of their few chances to leave their homes.

However, it is unclear when the scheme will start.

Global trial of hydroxychloroquine begins

An arrangement of hydroxychloroquine tablets.
The study involved more than 40,000 healthcare workers across Europe, Africa, Asia and South America.(AP: John Locher)

Healthcare workers in Britain and Thailand have started taking part in a trial to determine whether two anti-malarial drugs can prevent COVID-19, including one that US President Donald Trump says he has been taking.

The study, involving more than 40,000 healthcare workers across Europe, Africa, Asia and South America, seeks to determine whether chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine could play a role in the fight against the novel coronavirus.

Demand for hydroxychloroquine surged after Mr Trump touted it in early April. He said this week he was now taking it as a preventive medicine against the virus despite medical warnings about its use.

The lead investigators in Thailand and Britain said their COPCOV trial, in the works for several months, would cut through the heated and unhelpful debate.

“We still do not know whether anything is beneficial in COVID-19,” the University of Oxford’s Professor Nicholas White, the study’s co-principal investigator, told Reuters.

“The only way we can find out if things are beneficial overall is to do large, well-conducted clinical trials.”

The COPCOV team said laboratory evidence showed the anti-malarial drugs might be effective in preventing or treating COVID-19 but there was no conclusive proof.

Economists fear US unemployment rates may become permanent

People who lost their jobs wait in line wearing face masks.
The US is facing the worst layoffs since the Great Depression.(Reuters: Nick Oxford)

More than 2.4 million people have filed for unemployment benefits in the United States in the past week, bringing a total of over 38 million Americans who have lost their jobs since the pandemic began.

These are the worst layoffs the country has seen since the Great Depression, with economists fearing many job losses thought to be temporary, may become permanent.

While signs of renewed activity are surfacing across the US as states gradually reopen economies and some businesses call a portion of their laid-off staffers back to work, the US job market remains as bleak as it’s been in decades.

“There is little evidence that the reopening of the economy has, as yet, led to any sudden snap back in employment,” Paul Ashworth, an economist at Capital Economics, said.

Nearly half of Americans said that either their incomes have declined or they live with another adult who has lost pay through a job loss or reduced hours, the Census Bureau showed in a new survey data.

More than one-fifth of Americans said they had little or no confidence in their ability to pay the next month’s rent or mortgage on time, the survey found.

Pacific island nations should reset their economies: UN agency

Two women toast with their fears in a tropical paradise under palm trees
Pacific islands have suffered an economic shock as tourists vanish.(Reuters: Jason Reed)

Pacific island nations that rely on tourism should reset their economies and invest in sustainable industries to better weather the impact of disease and disaster, according to a senior United Nations official.

Kanni Wignaraja, head of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) for the Asia-Pacific, urged small Pacific economies that were hit hard by global travel bans to do things differently when they re-open for business.

“Use some of these returning migrant workers to actually set up new lines of business and small and medium scale enterprises,” Ms Wignaraja told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Otherwise, instead of a wave of tourists coming, you’re getting a wave of unemployed workers returning home.”

The Pacific islands have had relatively few COVID-19 infections, but have suffered intense economic and social shocks as overseas businesses sent migrant workers home and tourists vanished, Ms Wignaraja said.

She urged island authorities not to see returning migrants as a burden, but instead include them in public works programmes and any stimulus spending.

Many migrant workers had already returned to the Pacific islands, where unemployment — particularly among women and young people — was high before the pandemic, according to the UN.

On top of vanishing tourist income came the devastation wreaked by Cyclone Harold — a Category 5 storm that hit the region last month, cutting power and destroying holiday resorts.

“There is a triple helix, with COVID, natural disasters and high levels of inequality,” Ms Wignaraja said.

“Tackling any one of these without looking at the three together, would be a real mistake.”

Michael Cohen released from prison due to COVID-19

Michael Cohen wearing a blue tie speaking into a microphone.
President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, will serve the rest of his sentence at home.(AP: Alex Brandon)

Michael Cohen, US President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, was released from a federal prison due to concerns that he could be exposed to coronavirus while incarcerated, according to a source familiar with the case.

Cohen, 53, had completed just over one year of a three-year sentence for his role in paying hush money to two women — pornographic film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal — who said they had sexual relationships with Mr Trump, as well as financial crimes and lying to Congress.

He is expected to serve the rest of his sentence in home confinement.

Cohen, who had been imprisoned in a facility in New York state, had been eligible for release from prison in November 2021.

Cohen was the second Trump associate released early from prison due to coronavirus concerns after his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was released last week.

Mr Trump has called Cohen a “rat.” Cohen has called Trump a “racist,” a “con man” and “a cheat.”

Argentina chartering rabbis from Israel to certify meat

An Argentinian gaucho on a horse, with cattle surrounding him.
Argentina is the world’s fifth largest beef exporter.(Photo: Needpix/Voilia)

Argentina, which has enforced one of the world’s toughest travel bans against the coronavirus, plans to help charter a private flight to bring in rabbis from Israel to certify meat at the country’s packing plants for the global kosher market.
The trip is key to Argentina being able to maintain beef exports to key buyer Israel, which has become increasingly important with exports stalled to the European Union and sharply down to major-buyer China.

“The only alternative has been to be able to try to arrange a charter in combination with Israeli clients, and supervised, authorised and coordinated by the governments,” the head of Argentina’s ABC meat export consortium said.

Argentina is the world’s fifth largest beef exporter and Israel is the number three buyer of its famed cuts, snapping up over $US100 million ($152 million) each year, he said.

The rabbis normally make the trip twice a year and stay for a few months, and they ensure the cattle are slaughtered and the meat processed in accordance with Jewish law.

Oxfam closing operations in 18 countries

Jonah Hauosi with Oxfam staff
The organisation currently operates in 66 countries.(Supplied: Oxfam)

International NGO Oxfam, one of the world’s leading aid agencies, is to severely curtail its work because of the financial strain caused by the coronavirus pandemic, including the closure of operations in 18 countries at the potential cost of more than 2,000 jobs.

The organisation, which currently operates in 66 countries and whose global work is coordinated via 20 affiliate offices around the world, said in a statement that it has had to accelerate changes as a result of the pandemic.

Countries it will be exiting include Afghanistan, Egypt, Rwanda, Sudan and Tanzania.

It said the changes will affect around 1,450 out of nearly 5,000 program staff, and 700 out of nearly 1,900 partner organisations.

Following the changes, it will retain a physical presence in 48 countries, six of which it will explore as new independent affiliate members, including Indonesia and Kenya.


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