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Townsville Supercars double-header sparks renewed coronavirus social distancing advice


Supercars has announced that this month’s highly anticipated Townsville 400 will be followed by a second event the following weekend.

Within three weeks Townsville will host the motor races, a major boxing event featuring Jeff Horn and Tim Tszyu and an NRL game.

In announcing the Supercars double header, a State Government spokesperson revealed that up to 8,500 spectators would be permitted at each race day on the weekends of August 29–30 and September 5–6.

The numbers are like recent crowds at games hosted by the North Queensland Cowboys, with the club playing the Canberra Raiders in front of 7,586 people in Round 12.

Social distancing ‘impossible’

Townsville GP Michael Clements has raised concerns about the risk of coronavirus at the upcoming Supercars event.

“As a doctor, I’m nervous about more than 8,000 people and social distancing,” he told ABC radio presenter Michael Clarke.

Crowds of people in supporter gear sit on a hill overlooking the Townsville 400 racetrack.
Up to 8,500 spectators will be allowed to attend each race in Townsville.(ABC North Queensland: Nathalie Fernbach)

Dr Clements said he hoped strict procedures would lower the COVID-19 risk.

“If people are coming from within Queensland where we’ve got no community transmission right now, or if they’ve come from interstate and they follow the quarantine rules, then that is a level of reassurance,” he said.

“As long as we keep to the rules of quarantine for people coming interstate — and people do their best and get tested if they’re sick then I’ll be a bit more relaxed.”

‘Right to feel nervous’ ahead of events

Member for Townsville Scott Stewart reassured listeners on ABC North Queensland that the Supercars event would be properly managed.

“I think everyone has the right to feel a little bit nervous when we’re talking about large crowds coming together,” Mr Stewart said.

“The NRL and the AFL have put together a very comprehensive plan to manage their COVID situation, and that was approved by the Chief Health Officer, and the Supercars have done the same thing.

Mr Stewart warned that spectators would need to be mindful of social distancing following a lack of compliance in the city.

“We did become complacent, but we need to make sure every single day we’re doing those things that we need to do to keep each other safe.”

In a statement, Townsville Mayor Jenny Hill said she had no COVID-19 related concerns regarding the Supercars event.

“Supercars continue to act on the advice of the Chief Medical Officer and Queensland Health to ensure the event is as safe as possible,” she said.

“If council had any doubts about the safety of the event, we would not support it.”

A smiling man on a race track in front of two race cars.
Townsville Supercars event manager Sam Pearce interaction says between teams and crowds would be off-limits.(ABC North Queensland: Chloe Chomicki)

Annual event to look different

Townsville event manager Sam Pearce explained that strict plans were in place to minimise the risk of COVID-19.

“Our teams have been away from home for a very long time already,” he said.

“They’ve been isolating in South East Queensland, and they’re on their way up to Darwin.

“We’ve been working very hard with the Townsville Public Health Unit on what’s required.

“We’ve set up different zones, keeping everyone in their own zones, and not allowing that interaction that has usually happened between the teams and the punters.”

Mr Pearce said the Reid Park paddock would be closed this year.

“At the moment, there is no requirement for people to be seated, we expect people to be seated for most of the time anyway.”



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Sunshine Coast Stadium to reduce crowds amid concerns over lack of social distancing at NRL game


Crowd numbers could be further reduced at the Melbourne Storm’s next home game on the Sunshine Coast amid concerns over a disregard for coronavirus social distancing rules.

Images of thousands of fans crowded on the eastern hill at yesterday’s game sparked criticism online, prompting Melbourne Storm officials to request a review of crowd management practices and capacity at the venue.

Just under 5,500 people attended the Storm, Newcastle Knights clash yesterday afternoon at Sunshine Coast Stadium.

Sunshine Coast Council said the stadium made significant changes ahead of the match including increased security, volunteers, police and staff.

Manager for Sport and Community Venues Grantley Switzer said the group will meet with Queensland Health this morning to address the issue.

“It does appear that we do have an issue over on that eastern hill which we will look to address in the next 24 hours,” Mr Switzer said.

“Unfortunately what you see on TV is that camera angle looking right at that eastern hill. If you looked at the south and north end there was some good social distancing.

“We’ve already taken some measures to reduce the numbers but I think the only solution is to have less people on that hill.”

Mr Switzer said people were understandably concerned.

“I think what we’ve seen is a heightened awareness around social distancing with what has occurred in Victoria and few cases of community transmission within Queensland,” he said.

Lots of people sitting together in a crowd at a football stadium
NRL crowd numbers could be further reduced after concerns were raised about this game.(Supplied)

Sunshine Coast Council announced overnight that crowd numbers have been lowered and no further tickets will be put on sale for the Melbourne Storm, Canterbury Bulldogs match on August 8.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk thanked the NRL for taking swift action.

“We don’t want to see large crowds gathering and not social distancing. The majority were seated, not moving around, but having said that I want to commend the NRL for taking that very swift action and letting my office know that they will be reducing the numbers by 1,000,” she said.

The venue’s COVID Safe Plan allows 6,000 fans at the venue, which makes up 50 per cent of its capacity.

That figure has since been revised down to 5,000 as a “precautionary measure”.

“The COVID safe plan does talk about how we have people into zones and how people should social distance,” Mr Switzer said.

“We have got certain zones in terms of the hill, but there is an onus there that people who come in in their family groups, they can sit together and we do encourage people to maintain that 1.5 metres of social distancing.”

Council said any future home games would need to be negotiated with the NRL and Queensland Health.

The Melbourne Storm would not comment further on the matter but confirmed in a statement it had asked the stadium to review its capacity.



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Watsons Bay Hotel fined for social distancing breach


Sydney’s iconic Watsons Bay Hotel has copped a hefty fine after it was caught not following social distancing rules properly.

The eastern suburbs pub was hit with a $5000 infringement after authorities conducted a spot check and noticed it had failed to create a safe environment for customers on Friday night.

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Patrons were standing and drinking and gaming machines were not spaced out, according to Liquor and Gaming NSW.

Undercover officers attended the hotel on July 31 and observed that all gaming machines were operational — meaning there was no way there could be 1.5m between gaming machines.

This was contrary to the venue’s COVID Safety Plan, which stated “every second machine has been disabled in the gaming room”.

Patrons were also sighted seated less than 1.5m apart.

Acting Director of Compliance for Liquor and Gaming NSW Dimitri Argeres said 15 venues had been fined in the past three weeks.

“While most venues are making serious efforts to comply with all the conditions, it’s disappointing that some are simply not getting the message,” Mr Argeres said.

“Flouting these measures is not only bad for the health and safety of patrons; it’s also bad for business.”

It’s not the only place struggling to adhere to social distancing; yesterday images emerged of packed trains and platforms at Town Hall station.

One image showed a carriage of passengers crammed together on a service to Bondi Junction — an area near Potts Point, a COVID-19 hotspot.



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State’s social distancing ‘best in Australia’ when second surge hit


“Putting aside the actual outbreak, Victoria is a place where the virus is less able to spread than NSW, Sydney, South Australia, Western Australia,” said Professor McCaw.

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“What it says is an unlucky, random event has led to dramatic consequences in Victoria of an enormous outbreak. It has probably restarted from one or two or a very small number of infections.”

In a second stroke of bad luck, those first infections hit “disadvantaged … high-density, vulnerable populations”, which allowed it to spread faster than it otherwise would, Professor McCaw said.

The state government has already admitted “a number of” cases in late May and early June are linked to a hotel quarantine breach. An official inquiry into hotel quarantine opens on Monday.

“A judicial inquiry has been established at arm’s length from government to examine issues relating to hotel quarantine – our focus remains on containing this virus,” a government spokeswoman said.

The report by Professor McCaw’s team, focusing on the period between early June and July 1, uses data from Apple, Facebook and Google and population surveys to estimate how much people are moving around and seeing other people.

It then estimates the state’s effective reproduction number (R) – the average number of people each infected person would pass the virus to if the virus was circulating. The report is handed each week to state and federal chief health officers.

On July 1, as Victoria’s outbreak was gathering pace, the state’s estimated effective reproduction number was just 0.92 – the best in the nation.

The average Victorian was seeing only 5.9 people outside the house per day. In NSW, that number was 8.1; in the Northern Territory it had climbed to 11.5.

Deakin University’s chair in epidemiology Professor Catherine Bennett said: “Victoria was the best in the country at the peak of the first wave. We’re still the best in the country on July 1. It’s important that Victorians are acknowledged for that. It’s a win, but it’s not enough.

“The potential for spread is greater in NSW than Victoria. If this scenario had happened in NSW rather than Victoria, we might be in a worse position than where we are now.”

Professor McCaw said internal government data shows the state’s effective reproduction number has been steadily trending downwards since the start of the second surge and now hovers about 1.3.

Efforts to bring it below one – when the epidemic would start to shrink – had not yet been successful, explaining why Premier Daniel Andrews on Sunday made mask wearing compulsory.

“The epidemic is still growing. But it is growing more slowly, and that’s a good thing,” said Professor McCaw.

“Right now, we really are on that knife-edge. If R stays at 1.3, there will be a significant escalation of numbers per day in the coming weeks.”

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Professor Brett Sutton said on Sunday the state’s R-rate had gone from about 2.5 a month ago to “close to one”.

Health authorities are working to keep the number below one, but Professor Sutton said he was not relaxing.

“We haven’t calculated in the last couple of days, but it was pretty much sitting on ones,” he said.

“I won’t sit back and relax even if the rate is calculated below one. We need to watch the numbers to see what is actually happening.”

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The bottom just fell out of social distancing in Victoria


What else are we to infer when we see a large-scale gathering conducted with impunity, albeit gestures towards social distancing that did little in such a congested area? On the other hand, we see rather small-scale activities, you might say easier targets, banned with the big stick of fines. Too
many people at Rye Pier. Really?

Visitors to Rye Pier before the coronavirus crisis.

Visitors to Rye Pier before the coronavirus crisis. Credit:Chris Hopkins

We will only know the true extent of the consequences of the protest over the next couple of weeks, but the damage has already been done. And that damage is to public confidence in the health and economic response.

Let’s remember that the powers of the Health Minister and Chief Health Officer under the Public
Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 to impose far-reaching restrictions on the way we live, are
enormous.

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Not only are those powers profound, but there is little anyone can do to test whether the justification for those powers exists other than to, say, initiate action in the Supreme Court of Victoria. Don’t be surprised if that scenario materialises sometime soon.

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In recent weeks and months, I have been generally supportive of the government’s health response with some misgivings. But the events of recent days left me concerned that some people were getting a leave pass and being excused from service in a common cause we have all been asked to make sacrifices to uphold.

I should say at this point that whether you agree with the protests or not is beside the point. We need to do much more to address Indigenous disadvantage and most Australians want to see more done to close the gap, reduce Indigenous incarceration rates and generally make massive improvements in life outcomes for Indigenous Australians.

But this can’t be the basis for enforcement of the state of emergency.

The government should have done at least two things last week. First, it should have tried to defend, as far as it could, the basis for the state of emergency and restrictions made under it by the Chief Health Officer and his deputies by going to the Supreme Court and seeking an injunction. True, it may not have stopped the protest itself, but it would have signalled a commitment to the justification for restrictions that all of us have been required to bear at an inestimable cost.

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The second thing it should have done was make it clear through Victoria Police that as many people
who could practicably be fined for breaching social distancing requirements would be. Again, it is
obvious that Victoria Police would not be able to fine everybody in attendance at the protest.
But the message it sent out last week that only the organisers effectively would be fined creates
enormous problems.

This does not just relate to public confidence in the way Victoria Police is exercising its discretion. It may go to whether other people, exercising their freedoms in their own way, such as by re-opening businesses, can assert that fining them is discriminatory. A broad policy that it will not fine certain forms of activities, such as mass protests, may expose it not just to criticism, but potentially legal action that it is applying its discretionary policy in a discriminatory way.

It is not inconceivable that a person could argue that Victoria Police’s policy potentially breaches its obligations under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006. Even if its policy on fines is not discriminatory, it certainly is unfair.

Remember, it’s not about whether you agree with the protests. We all have the prerogative of exercising our basic freedoms in different ways. Someone’s right to exercise that freedom in pursuit of recreational interests or work is not inferior to the right of someone else who wishes to exercise that right to protest. Both are subject to the law and should not be treated differently under social distancing. But last weekend, they were.

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As a community, we have generally submitted to momentous encumbrances on our basic rights and freedoms. We have accepted these impositions in the cause of a common effort to overcome a deadly pandemic. It’s important that the government and it senior health officers show we are all bound in the same way.

John Pesutto is a senior fellow at the School of Government at Melbourne University, and was Victoria’s shadow attorney-general from 2014 to 2018.

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Black Lives Matter demonstrators in Melbourne warned to abide by coronavirus social distancing rules


“It would indeed be a tragedy if people of good faith and intent coming together to give voice to protest were to give way to the elderly and most vulnerable in our community to be exposed to coronavirus,” he said on Wednesday morning.

Rally organisers Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance are encouraging attendees to stay at least 1.5 metres away from each other, and to bring face masks and hand sanitiser.

With a big crowd expected, Tarneen Onus-Williams from WAR conceded it would be difficult for people to maintain social distancing.

“When you’re in that moment and you’re on the streets, all us Blackfullas are thinking about is our families and our community that are dying because of the police,” she said.

“This is one of the ways we can get our voices heard, so I think people might not social distance. But that’s what we’re encouraging people to do.”

Those who are unwell, or exhibiting flu-like symptoms, are being told to stay home. Ms Onus-Williams encouraged those who wanted to attend but couldn’t to donate to grassroots organisations.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews warned violence would not be tolerated at the Melbourne rally.

“If it’s not peaceful then it is not a protest, it is something very different,” Mr Andrews said.

“The only form of legitimate protest is a peaceful protest and Victoria Police will not tolerate violence they will not tolerate some of the disorder what we’ve seen overseas.”

Police had made a decision not to issue protesters with fines for breaching social distancing, as they did not believe it was feasible to fine thousands of people at a rally, he said.

Assistant Commissioner Cornelius also said violence would not be tolerated, but said those breaking social distancing rules could be held in breach of the chief health officer’s directions.

“We do respect the right that everyone has to protest peacefully and lawfully, but we must ask people to pay particular regards to CHO directions,” he said.

“Counter protest movements may be planned (for Saturday) … We are very much alive to this possibility, and it is being factored into our planning.”

He said there would be “careful consideration” of the disposition of officers on the day, but would not give details of police tactics planned for the protest.

On Tuesday night, more than 1000 people marched from Sydney’s Hyde Park to the NSW Parliament and the US embassy in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

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Victorian Attorney-General Jill Hennessy said on Wednesday she hoped legislation to abolish the offence of public drunkenness would be introduced by the end of the year, according to Nine News.

The initial announcement to decriminalise public drunkenness was made in August last year, following the death of 55-year-old Yorta Yorta woman Tanya Day in police custody in Castlemaine.

Ms Day was asleep on a train from Bendigo to Melbourne when she was arrested under the law on December 5, 2017. That night, she fell and hit her head in the cells of the Castlemaine police station and died in hospital from a brain haemorrhage less than three weeks later.

Victoria and Queensland are the only states that still have a specific offence of public drunkenness, a charge that a royal commission found disproportionately affected Aboriginal people.

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State authorities close parks over distancing fears


Shopping centres, supermarkets, public transport and other public infrastructure that may attract dense crowds remain open provided visitors adhere to social distancing and have a lawful reason for making the trip.

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Parks Victoria did not explain why these particular attractions were singled out but reminded potential visitors to use good judgement and consider heading to alternative destinations if parks are busy.

“Remember to stay safe by maintaining good hygiene, keep your distance from others and if you feel unwell stay home,” their statement said.

The 1000 steps was previously open but restricted to a singular direction to maintain physical distancing.

Buchan Caves Reserve, William Ricketts Sanctuary, Lower Glenelg National Park, Point Nepean National Park, Serendip Sanctuary, St Kilda Pier, State Coal Mine, the Twelve Apostles and Werribee Park all remain closed.

Victoria Police have begun to close roads that lead to some of the parks that were previously open.

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Trinity College students sent home for breaching social distancing rules


Twenty-four University of Melbourne students have been ordered to leave campus for breaching social distancing rules.

The students, residents of Trinity College, were told to pack their bags after an unauthorised gathering on Monday, which broke government and college-mandated physical distancing rules.

Students at a University of Melbourne residential college have been ordered off campus for breaking distancing rules.

Students at a University of Melbourne residential college have been ordered off campus for breaking distancing rules. Credit:Joe Armao

In a statement, Trinity College warden Professor Ken Hinchcliff said that students knew the rules, and that adhering to them was a condition of living on campus.

“I am disappointed that some of our students did not observe the rules that are currently in place,” Professor Hinchcliff said.



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Victoria leads nation in COVID-19 social distancing rule fines


However, Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton said the higher numbers were probably due to the fact Victoria had taken a more hardline approach to enforcement than other states.

The closest state to Victoria in terms of penalty numbers is Queensland, where 2069 fines have been handed out, followed by NSW with 1290. Penalty levels in other states are also lower: individuals have been fined $1334 in Queensland and $1000 in NSW for breaching restrictions.

South Australia has issued 271 infringement notices and the Northern Territory 60, while there have been 107 in Western Australia and none in the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania.

Victoria Police has the largest dedicated coronavirus taskforce in the country, with 500 officers enforcing pandemic regulations.

“It is arguable … that the restrictions in Victoria are some of the more stringent and more constraining than other states,” Mr Patton told a Law Week panel last week.

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“We have given out thousands and thousands of warnings as well, but it is a significant number of infringements.

“Having said that, there are a range of checks and balances in place.”

About 337 of Victoria’s fines have been withdrawn and there have been more than 400 requests for reviews. Just over 2 per cent of the $1652 fines have been paid.

Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner Kristen Hilton said the police response had improved since the heavy-handed enforcement seen when fines began to be issued at the end of March.

Police came under fire for fining a learner driver and a couple who posted old travel pictures on social media.

“It did make people lose a bit of confidence in the way in which fines were being issued … to their credit [Victoria Police] have revised the way they were applying scrutiny to the issue of those fines,” Ms Hilton said.

She called for more information to be released, including a breakdown of where fines had been issued, to show whether vulnerable communities were over-represented.

An analysis of NSW figures by the Saturday Paper reported fines were clustered in Sydney’s western suburbs, where there is a significant migrant population, and in regional areas with limited correlation to infection rates.

“You need more safeguards than you might usually have to make sure there is no inadvertent overexercise of those powers and also to make sure you are still maintaining community trust and confidence,” Ms Hilton said.

“The enforcement system has been necessary in making sure people understand the gravity of the situation, but you don’t want to criminalise a health pandemic either.”

The Police Accountability Project’s Anthony Kelly said there were concerns Victorian officers had been overzealous, particularly against lower-socioeconomic communities.

“Other police forces deliberately took a more educative and informative approach, so it deserves scrutiny to see which approach is more impactful to meet our public health objectives,” he said.

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Police Association of Victoria boss Wayne Gatt said the fact there was sufficient control of the pandemic showed the approach was right.

“If you put police on the beat and ask them to focus on an issue, they will do their job,” Mr Gatt said. “My members have taken their responsibility seriously and with a sense of duty that is commendable, at significant risk of safety to themselves.”

Police Minister Lisa Neville said the minority of Victorians who do not follow the pandemic directions pose a risk to the broader public.

“Police have responded accordingly,” Ms Neville said. “I fully support the work Victoria Police has done during this pandemic – it has undoubtedly saved Victorian lives and I thank them for that.”

Victoria Police, which has the most officers of any force, has conducted 54,692 spot checks during the pandemic.

The police assistance line has received almost 70,000 calls from the public, with more than 25,000 of those about illegal gatherings and isolation breaches.

NSW Police – which does not have a dedicated taskforce – did not keep spot-check data, according to a spokeswoman.

However, it received 18,000 pandemic-related calls through Crime Stoppers.

Queensland, the first state to close its borders, has a COVID-19 taskforce. Since March 27 more than 200,000 cars have been stopped at the border and almost 5500 people on quarantine orders have been checked.

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Coronavirus update: Europeans and Americans soak up the sun as authorities struggle to enforce social distancing


Europeans and Americans soaked up the sun where they could, taking advantage of the first holiday weekend since coronavirus restrictions were eased, while European governments grappled with how and when to safely let in foreign travellers to salvage the vital summer tourist season.

This story will be regularly updated throughout Monday.

Monday’s key moments:

Europeans flock to the beach, succumbing to the allure of summer

A uniformed officer walks through a crowd of people enjoying the beach
Beaches in Spain are reopening with strict enforcement of social distancing. Umbrellas on the beach must be 4 metres apart.(AP: Emilio Morenatti)

Europeans have soaked up plenty of sun where they could over the weekend, as governments have grappled with how and when to safely let in foreign travellers to salvage the vital summer tourist season.

Across Europe, a mishmash of travel restrictions appears to be on the horizon, often depending on where travellers live and what passports they carry.

Germany, France and other European countries aim to open their borders for European travel in mid-June but it isn’t clear when intercontinental travel will resume.

Spain, one of the worst-hit countries in the pandemic and also one of the world’s top destinations for international travellers, says it won’t reopen for foreign tourists until July.

In Germany, domestic tourists will be allowed to return Monday to Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania in the northeast — home to the country’s Baltic Sea coast — and to hotels in Berlin, the popular capital.

The La Grande-Motte resort beach in France has come up with a way to control its usual weekend crowds — by introducing a booking system.

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Beachgoers must pre-book their 8-metre-square patch of sand online, which has been roped off to keep them a safe distance from others. Reservations are free but required, and there is already a two-day waiting list.

In Paris, where all city parks remain closed, locals soaked up the sun along the embankments of the Seine River and lounged on ledges outside the Tuileries Gardens.

In some spots, people sat safely spaced apart. Elsewhere, groups of maskless teens crowded together, shrugging off social distancing rules.

Americans celebrate Memorial Day weekend

People cluster under marquees on the beach.
Beachgoers in Texas were urged to practice social distancing.(AP: Eric Gay)

Americans excited about what for many was their first big break from coronavirus shutdowns flocked to beaches and outdoor areas over the weekend.

While the Memorial Day holiday that honours the US military dead is on Monday, the weekend leading up to it marks the unofficial start of summer, with Americans traditionally travelling to beaches, gathering at backyard barbecues and unfurling picnic blankets in parks.

Among those soaking in the sun and enjoying a bit of travel on Saturday was President Donald Trump, who was seen golfing at his Trump National Golf Club in northern Virginia, his first golf outing since the White House declared a national emergency over the coronavirus outbreak in March.

Surprise openings of some outdoor sites thrilled Americans cooped up at home by pandemic lockdown rules.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota welcomed visitors again, earlier than expected.

The US death toll from COVID-19 continues to rise and is expected to surpass 100,000 in the coming days, the highest number of any country.

Eighth Premier League player tests positive

Since players returned to limited group training earlier this week, eight positive tests for the virus have been confirmed at England’s top football clubs.

Six individuals, including Watford defender Adrian Mariappa and Burnley assistant manager Ian Woan, were positive in the first round of testing on May 17-18.

A Bournemouth player was one of two people working for Premier League clubs who tested positive for COVID-19 following a second batch of testing

No matches have been played in the Premier League since March, but the UK Government has given the go-ahead for elite sport to resume from June 1.

The Premier League’s Project Restart envisages a return to competitive action in June, although no date has been fixed.

Similarly, the Spanish La Liga competition has been given the green light by Spanish authorities to return to action from June 8.

All organised soccer in Spain was provisionally suspended on March 12, although clubs in the top two divisions have since returned to group training.

La Liga has yet to officially confirm a date on which it will resume, although its president Javier Tebas had said previously he hoped the season could do so from June 12.

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