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Local News - Victoria

Tears of joy in the rush to reopen, but not everyone is happy


Frank Ciccone, owner of Hair By Ciccone in Macleod in Melbourne’s north-east, has more than 35 customers booked for Monday and is sifting through 300 phone messages.

He expects to be heavily booked until December 31, but is not fazed.

“It’s amazing. The pressure is off us,” he said.

However, Marnie Browne, owner of Fem Skin Therapy beauty salon in Lower Plenty, was “very upset” that beauticians must wait until November 2 to reopen.

She feels beauty salons are discriminated against despite strict social distancing and sanitising practices. From November 2 they can offer manicures, pedicures, body waxing, eyebrow waxing and tinting, but cannot do lip or chin waxing, facials or skin treatments, due to having to wear masks.

With the distance Melburnians can travel increasing from five kilometres to 25 kilometres, Harry and Letitia Tseng of Reservoir can now visit Harry’s father Frederick, 65, who lives in Box Hill, and his mother Monica, 66, who does not speak much English, in South Yarra.

Harry and Letitia Tseng and their children will soon see Harry's father Frederick in person, rather than via video calls.

Harry and Letitia Tseng and their children will soon see Harry’s father Frederick in person, rather than via video calls.Credit:Chris Hopkins

And the Tsengs’ two children, Lok, five, and Edith, two, can once again watch MasterChef with their “Mama” Monica, who cooks for them.

Letitia said Edith had started showing signs of being wary of other people, adding: “I’d hate for her to be that way with her grandparents.”

Tennis-mad Fitzroy North children Florian and Aurelie Kostov, aged 13 and 10, have spent months having to whack balls against a wall. They are thrilled that from Monday they can play on a court, with tennis courts, golf courses and skateboard parks reopening.

“I’m very excited,” said Florian, who is also happy he can now see friends who live more than five kilometres away.

Aurelie Kostov and brother Florian will be hitting the courts at Princes Hill tennis club.

Aurelie Kostov and brother Florian will be hitting the courts at Princes Hill tennis club.Credit:Wayne Taylor

Kew plastering business owner Brad Harrison is disappointed the state government did not lift restrictions on the number of workers – six – allowed on small-scale construction sites.

And he said the restrictions still ruled out clients who want non-essential work indoors.

“I’ve still got people who’ve texted me saying, ‘Can you come and replace the ceiling from 10 weeks ago,’ and I’ve said, ‘Look, we can’t come into your home.’ “

Single mother Ashlee Kelly, owner of Listen To Your Body fitness studio in Brunswick, was pleased at the increase in the maximum class size from two clients to 10 from November 2.

But she says not being able to open indoors is “not sustainable” due to weather fluctuations, equipment being damaged and working in the dark being unsafe for female trainers.

“The other morning we turned up in the park and there’d been a stabbing overnight,” she said.

She said people were getting sick of outdoor classes, as with online sessions.

“We need to open indoors, not just for ourselves and business but for the mental health of our members.”

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Yarra River Arbory dining precinct craves a date to reopen


“I think it’s unlikely this weekend there will be a big shift,” he said.

However, management of the two Arbory precinct venues – the Arbory Bar and Eatery and the Arbory Afloat pontoon – are resolutely optimistic.

The venues usually have a combined capacity of 1500 people and table service is entirely outdoors.

Marketing director Georgie Larkins said while they would not be “packed to the rafters” as they were at this time last year, hopes are high that COVID-19 restrictions will soon ease enough to allow at least 280 diners at one time at Afloat, and 90 at the Bar and Eatery.

“I’m really optimistic that we will be open by the end of October,” Ms Larkins said. “I think Melburnians are craving to get out and reactivate the social scene of Melbourne.”

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New menus have been prepared and the annual reconstruction of Arbory Afloat pontoon has begun, this time to create an “Australian beach house” theme. The precinct’s staff, who have been on JobKeeper, can be recalled.

The venues have not yet ordered food, nor are they taking bookings, but Ms Larkins said there had been more than 1500 inquiries by email alone.

“I guess we will have to be patient,” she said, “but we are excited and optimistic to be working towards reopening, whenever that will be.”

Councils are offering generous programs to help restaurants thrive while being COVID-safe when they reopen.

City of Melbourne CEO Justin Hanney said the council was helping businesses to expand outdoor dining onto footpaths, car parks, streets and laneways through free outdoor dining permits and grants.

Grants of up to $10,000 to help businesses adapt to outdoor dining and meet COVID-safe requirements can be applied for by October 23.

City of Yarra has had 109 applications from businesses seeking concessions such as extending dining into car park spaces, parks, non-arterial roads and lanes.

City of Port Phillip is working with more than 170 businesses to create more footpath trading, and on street closures and conversion of parking bays.

Daniel Clerici, owner of vegan restaurant Sister of Soul in Acland Street, St Kilda, has increased his outdoor seating from 10 seats to 50, as well as 95 diners inside.

He is hoping to reopen by the end of October or start of November.

“Everything’s in a little bit of a limbo, but we’re still remaining positive that there is light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

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Queensland to reopen border to NSW on November 1


Queensland has announced it will re-open its border to travellers from NSW — but the deal comes with a strict condition.

As part of the state’s easing of restrictions announced this morning, Queensland’s borders will open to all of NSW from November 1, with visitors and returning travellers not needing to complete mandatory quarantine.

They will still need to have a valid border declaration pass to enter the state.

However, the plan will only go ahead if NSW achieves 28 consecutive days of no locally acquired cases of COVID-19 without a known source.

NSW could record cases of community transmission during that time, but they must not be from a mystery source.

RELATED: Follow the latest coronavirus updates

RELATED: Confused about where you can travel in Australia? This is everything you need to know

Today, NSW marked its seventh straight day of zero community transmission, with four new cases all confirmed as returned travellers in hotel quarantine.

Currently, Queensland’s notoriously strict border rules only allows travellers from the northern NSW areas of Tweed Shire, Ballina, Byron, Lismore, Richmond Valley and Glen Innes and a handful of border postcodes.

Queenslanders are able to visit these regions and residents can apply for a border pass to travel into Queensland.

All other approved NSW travellers to Queensland have to complete 14 days of self-funded hotel quarantine.

If NSW avoids mystery cases of community transmission over the next month and the border reopens on November 1, it will be the first time all travellers from NSW will be able to enter the Sunshine State quarantine-free since were briefly allowed access in July.

After months of locking down the state during the pandemic, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk welcomed back interstate travellers on July 12 but by August had black-listed all of NSW and the ACT following a spike in local cases.

The proposed lifting of the hard border with NSW on November 1 will happen one day after Queenslanders head to the polls in the state election.

Queensland’s border with Victoria will remain closed as the southern state continues to get its deadly second wave under control.

Ms Palaszczuk’s tough stance on borders has been a hallmark of the state’s fight against COVID-19.

While the premier’s approach has been attributed to getting on top of community transmission in the state, it was also expected to have cost millions of dollars in lost domestic tourism revenue, which was expected to hit holiday regions such as Far North Queensland particularly hard.

NSW visitors into Queensland spent around $23.6 million in 2019 while Victorian travellers splash out of $16.9 million.

“(This border closure) is likely to inflict collateral damage on Queensland’s tourism industry which is desperately trying to get back off its knees,” tourism lecturer Dr David Beirman from the University of Technology, Sydney previously told news.com.au.



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Queensland to reopen borders to ACT


Queensland will reopen to the ACT from next Friday, in a move the Deputy Premier has said would provide a welcome boost for the sunshine state’s tourism industry.

It comes as Queensland records no new cases. It’s now been eight days since there was a COVID-19 case out in the community.

Steven Miles said more than 5000 people had been tested in the previous 24 hours, and there were only 25 active cases in the state. The southeast cluster is currently contained to 54 cases.

Mr Miles this morning urged Canberrans to think about coming up to Queensland for a holiday when the borders reopen at 1am next Friday, September 25.

“We’ve been saying for some time now that for Queenslanders, Queensland is good to go. Well now for Canberrans, Queensland is good to come,” Mr Miles said.

“Now is the time we would urge them to start thinking about coming up for a holiday.

“This is timed to coincide with the school holidays in the ACT, for them to come up and visit friends and family, or to visit one of our great tourism spots.

“This is recognition of the fact they have had some time now without any new active cases.”

This could pave the way for Prime Minister Scott Morrison to take part in the Queensland state election campaign, and possibly attend the AFL Grand Final.

It comes just one day after Mr Morrison said he didn’t expect to be treated differently when it came to entering Queensland.

Chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young said she felt confident enough work had been done between the Queensland and ACT governments to ensure no New South Wales residents were able to enter the state.

Last month, Queensland police charged a 22-year-old Weipa man after he tried to enter Queensland by travelling from Sydney to the ACT, and then flying into Cairns, while the NSW capital was a declared COVID-19 hotspot.

Police alleged the man deliberately drove from Sydney to the ACT on August 2 to fly to Cairns because he was “frustrated with the restrictions and wanted to go to work.”

Canberrans wanting to enter Queensland from next Friday will have to prove they have not visited a hotspot in the two weeks prior.

“They’ll have to declare they haven’t been to a hotspot (including New South Wales) in the previous 14 days,” Dr Young said.

“They’ll have to fly, if they drive they’ll have driven through a hotspot (NSW) and won’t be able to enter.

“I’m convinced we’ve sorted out any problems because of the work done between Queensland and the ACT.”

It comes amid revelations Queensland Health knew for three days that Nathan Turner, initially dubbed the state’s youngest COVID-19 victim, never actually had the virus.

Blackwater, in regional Queensland, went into panic mode after the 30-year-old died on May 26. Authorities initially said Mr Turner had tested positive for COVID-19, resulting in widespread testing and forcing his family into isolation before the reading was found to be false.

Leaked emails have revealed senior officials, including chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young received the negative results on May 29 but did not make a public statement until June 1.

The LNP is calling for Mr Miles to step down over the incident.

Shadow Health Minister Ros Bates said the “decision to dupe 5000 Blackwater residents” and Miles’ “failure to come clean” was evidence the Health Minister couldn’t be trusted.

“The people of Blackwater and Nathan Turner’s family were lied to and put through three days of hell,” Ms Bates said.

“Labor have been caught red-handed playing politics with people’s lives.

“Instead of apologising, the Minister doubled-down on his deception … Labor’s Health Minister is not fit to serve the people of this state.

“He should quit and, if he doesn’t, Annastacia Palaszczuk should show some leadership and sack him.”

Dr Young said the best thing to have done in that situation was to treat it as a positive case while the coroner carried out more tests on Mr Turner’s body.

“I struggled with understanding where he might have gotten the infection, so I immediately asked for a second test,” she said.

“But we couldn’t rely on that seconde result as it was contaminated with blood.

“We were stuck with a positive result and a result I couldn’t rely on… so we took the cautious view to treat it as positive.

“We know that one case can lead to a significant outbreak, the best thing was to manage it as a positive case.”

When Mr Miles was asked about it, he said although more people got tested than needed to, the alternative “was an outbreak in a small town.”

It comes as low-level viral fragments of the virus have been detected in sewage at the Pulgul wastewater treatment plant in Hervey Bay.

It follows a similar finding in Airlie Beach earlier this month.

Dr Young said while the most likely cause of the viral fragments was virus shedding from a case that was no longer infectious, there was a possibility it could be linked to an unidentified positive case in the community.

“We know you can shed virus for a long, long time,” Dr Young said.

“It’s really important that across the state that people continue to come forward to get tested.”

Sampling has been taking place at several sewage testing locations across Queensland since mid-July.

Dr Young said there was minimal risk to people as the viral fragments themselves are not infectious and did not confirm that there were existing cases within the community.



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Playgrounds to re-open as restrictions ease


Ms Corbett, who has a history of pneumonia and so has been advised by a doctor that the family is “high risk” health-wise, is concerned about transmission of COVID-19 but said the risk needed to be balanced with children’s needs.

When her children return from play, they will have a bath and their clothes go in the laundry, and she sprays sanitiser on their hands regularly, even when they’re out walking or cycling.

She says playgrounds teach more autonomous play and during school holidays, without zoom classes to take, they would provide structure to the day.

Ms Corbett deliberately hasn’t made a big deal of playgrounds re-opening on Monday.

“We now live in a world where rules change every few minutes so until it’s a done deal I don’t tend to tell them anything.”

Apart from playgrounds, other changes to COVID-19 restrictions that will start from 11.59pm on Sunday include a one-hour reduction to metropolitan Melbourne’s daily curfew, which now starts at 9pm instead of 8pm.

Melbourne residents must still stay within five kilometres of home, except for permitted reasons such as work or education if these cannot be done at home.

Two people can still meet outside for exercise but that has been extended to recreation, and for a maximum of two hours instead of one. Libraries can resume click and collect services.

Singles or single parents can visit a nominated ‘bubble buddy’ provided the buddy is alone when the visit takes place.

Childcare and schools will continue in remote and flexible learning mode, with on-site supervision at schools for children of permitted workers.

Shopping for essentials is permitted for one person per household, once a day.

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Restaurants and cafes will remain open for takeaway and delivery only and not sit-down service.

Metropolitan Melbourne may move to further easing of restrictions under the second step after September 28, provided we reach an average daily case rate of 30 to 50 cases over a 14-day period, with public health advice regarding transmission source.

Under changes to restrictions for regional Victoria, starting from 11.59pm on Sunday, there can now be public gatherings outdoors of up to five people from a maximum of two households. Infants aged under 12 months old are not counted.

People who live alone or single parents with children under 18 can have one nominated person visit their home. Childcare in regional areas will be open to all children and in term four, schools will be re-opened in stages, with safety measures.

Retail outlets in regional Victoria, including hairdressers, will open, with some restrictions on numbers. However restaurants and cafes are still open only for takeaway and delivery.

Premier Daniel Andrews said restrictions in regional Victoria could be eased further as soon as this week if case number targets for reaching the next step are met.

Changes to restrictions from 11.59pm Sunday

METROPOLITAN MELBOURNE:

Curfew now 9pm to 5am. Exercise increased to two hours per day, over a maximum of two sessions. Time can also for outdoor social interaction with one other person or the members of your household. Single ‘social bubbles’, allowing those living alone or single parents to have one other person in their home. Playgrounds and outdoor fitness equipment reopen. Libraries open for contactless click and collect.

REGIONAL MELBOURNE:

Up to five people from maximum of two households can meet outdoors. Single “social bubbles”. Outdoor playgrounds and outdoor pools reopen.

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Victoria could move to reopen as new cases largely restricted to health workers, experts say


Some experts disagree, however, with the Grattan Institute’s health policy expert Stephen Duckett saying the government should pursue a target of zero daily infections, which could not be achieved without another eight weeks of hard lockdown.

Of Victoria’s 2060 active cases on Friday, 993 were related to aged care and 297 were among healthcare workers – between them about 63 per cent of the total. In response, the state government announced that, from late on Friday it had started asymptomatic testing in the COVID-19 wards of hospitals. All staff would be tested weekly for six weeks even if they displayed no symptoms, a spokeswoman said.

Catherine Bennett, chair of epidemiology at Deakin University.

Catherine Bennett, chair of epidemiology at Deakin University. Credit:Jason South

Friday’s 81 new cases included eight with an unknown source, while the death tally rose by 59, of which 53 were previously unreported deaths in aged care.

Premier Daniel Andrews will on Sunday announce a road map for loosening restrictions in Victoria from as early as September 13. A draft version suggested stage four restrictions could continue for two more weeks until September 27, although Mr Andrews on Thursday dismissed that draft as outdated and of “no status’.

Illustration: Matt Golding

Illustration: Matt GoldingCredit:

On Friday, he again refused to rule out the possibility of stage four continuing beyond September 13 and said Victoria had come too far to hastily wind back restrictions now.

“The only thing that works here is to see this thing off properly, defeat it and then lock in a COVID normal not for a few weeks but for many, many months,” he said.

Professor Bennett and Professor McCaw both estimated Victoria would still be recording up to 50 or 60 cases per day as the original stage four period expired on September 13 – a number Chief Health Officer Professor Brett Sutton described on Friday as the “stubborn tail of the epidemic curve”, and has said was too high to loosen restrictions. But with two-thirds of the state’s active cases in healthcare and aged care, Professor Bennett said Victorians should probably not be left in hard lockdown beyond next Sunday.

“There may be an argument to keep stage four going for a week or two, but I don’t think blanket stage four restrictions will drive down the cases we’re seeing,” she said.

Professor McCaw, one of Australia’s top epidemiologists, said the strict stage four lockdown had achieved its goal of limiting community transmission. Now, however, there was “very little circulation within the general community”.

He said he had been in favour of a move to stage four last month, which included an 8pm curfew and five-kilometre limit on movement, because Victorians were not adhering to stage three restrictions as they did in the first wave in March and April.

On the possibility of reopening, he said: “There is no obvious answer to this question. You have to be very careful because loosening those restrictions could still pose a risk when outbreaks occur … but it is a very reasonable question to ask: is it appropriate to lock down five million people when the virus is circulating in a definable pattern [in healthcare and aged care], where those stage four restrictions aren’t the key way of changing those infections?”

Doherty Institute epidemiologist Professor James McCaw, whose department prepares government modelling.

Doherty Institute epidemiologist Professor James McCaw, whose department prepares government modelling.

Professor Blakely said a “nitty gritty” approach to infection control was needed in healthcare settings.

“A really big thing here is mask-fitting for health workers. Aerosols are a major way COVID-19 spreads, where it can sneak around the side of masks,” he said. “The system design is also important, so ensuring workers aren’t coming into unnecessary contact with each other. It seems we’ve fixed that up in places like distribution centres, where visitors like truck drivers arrive at certain times and leave quickly. We need to refine that kind of approach in hospital settings.”

A Grattan Institute report released this week argues that Victoria’s daily infection rate could drop to zero if the city sticks out another eight weeks of lockdown, calling on state and federal governments to set a target of zero daily infections.

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Dr Duckett, a health economist, said this would be achievable only if authorities were able to get on top of the virus in hospitals, aged care, abattoirs and public housing. Without improving infection control measures in these environments, he said the numbers will never drop below 20.

Up to 80 per cent of healthcare workers who have contracted COVID-19 picked it up at work and at the end of August the Victorian government said it would begin trialling the fit-testing of masks, introduce “PPE spotters” at hospitals and study hot spots of transmission.

Professor Bennett said ongoing health worker infections showed that “we’ve got to be missing something in the way people are interacting in those settings”.

Daily case numbers fluctuated this week: tallies of 70 on Monday and 73 on Tuesday were followed by 90 on Wednesday, 113 on Thursday and 81 on Friday.

With Anna Prytz

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Green light to reopen soon under Daniel Andrews’ strict new rules


“Modelling scenarios [are] being run through various supercomputers. There is an enormous amount of work going on, and we will be in a position to be able to share that road map, what it will look like, its various components and phases, with the community on Sunday,” he said.

Details of the plan for businesses were released on Monday night following criticism from federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who said Victorians were entitled to details of the state government’s plans and that its pandemic response was the “biggest public policy failure by a state government in living memory”.

A federal government source told The Age and Sydney Morning Herald that Prime Minister Scott Morrison had also urged Mr Andrews to talk to businesses about the path out of lockdown.

Under the state government’s new industrial plans, Victorians will be encouraged to work from home where possible, car pooling will be banned and face coverings will be required in high-risk workplaces.

Businesses will have to ensure employees wear masks while working and tea rooms and meetings will have to be located outside.

Workplace “bubbles” will require that employees do not overlap during shift changes and common touch points will need to be regularly cleaned.

Industry will be subject to four traffic-light levels of restrictions: closed, heavily restricted, restricted or open with a COVIDSafe plan.

Mr Andrews also offered a glimmer of hope to hospitality businesses, saying warmer weather would provide options that were previously unavailable, such as outdoor service and eating options for pubs, restaurants, cafes and bars.

“We’ll be having very detailed discussions with that industry,” he said.

Tony Roussos, who owns The Quarter cafe in Melbourne’s Degraves Street dining hub, said businesses were desperate to see the government’s plans for lifting restrictions.

Tony Roussos, owner of The Quarter cafe in Degraves Street, Melbourne, is among the traders eagerly awaiting news on plans to reopen.

Tony Roussos, owner of The Quarter cafe in Degraves Street, Melbourne, is among the traders eagerly awaiting news on plans to reopen.Credit:Paul Jeffers

He said businesses were uncertain whether customers would feel comfortable reverting to pre-pandemic habits such as sitting in crowded restaurants, but any indication of a way forward would help them prepare.

“I welcome any plan that’s going to give us some degree of certainty so we can start planning for our future,” he said.

Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra, speaking to ABC Radio, said any plans for easing restrictions needed to be backed up by the government’s health response.

“What are the fail-safe mechanisms that are going to be put in place?” he asked. “We know there are going to be outbreaks, sadly, so how do we deal with that without having to shut down all of industry and, in fact, all of the state?

“We need confidence in the contact tracing system because if that is working then the caseload should be limited by the fact that we’re onto it and onto it quickly.”

Another 41 deaths were announced on Monday, but only eight of them occurred within the previous 24 hours, with another 33 cases added to the tally since late July following changes in reporting obligations for aged care services in August.

Three men aged in their 70s, four women in their 70s and one woman aged over 100 were among those newly added to the death toll, now at 565 Victorians.

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Meanwhile, the Andrews government has backed down on its proposal to extend state of emergency powers for a further 12 months, and made concessions during its negotiations with crossbench MPs on Monday.

The government is seeking to extend the orders by six months and has agreed to table in Parliament the Chief Health Officer’s advice on state of emergency extensions every four weeks.

The number of active coronavirus cases has fallen from almost 7500 to 2620 in the space of two weeks.

The new road map is set to include information on whether Victorians will be allowed visitors in their homes, including people who live on their own. But large groups of people gathering in homes was a “massive contributor” to the second surge, Mr Andrews said.

“If we do this too quick, if we do this chasing something that might be popular for a few weeks, if we forget that it’s a pandemic and think that it’s a popularity contest, then Christmas won’t look normal at all. It will be a very, very different Christmas Day.

“I want to find a COVID normal based on the best medical advice where there will be some rules but where we can lock that in for months.”

Epidemiologist Professor Mary-Louise McLaws has been advocating a traffic-light pandemic response system in Australia, and said under her proposed system fewer than 10 cases a day over two weeks could still be enough to prompt a red alert in Melbourne.

A handful of cases could warrant short lockdowns of smaller regional communities, in a conservative model aimed at preventing the disease spreading beyond the capacity of contact tracers, Professor McLaws said.

“Green” restrictions would be introduced after a metropolitan city recorded up to 59 coronavirus cases in two weeks, triggering measures such as mandatory mask wearing on public transport and only small numbers of people being allowed to each home.

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“Amber” restrictions would kick in if there were between 60 and 99 cases over two weeks, prompting further limits on socialising.

“Red” restrictions would be triggered as cases hit 100 or more over the same period, similar to the stage four rules currently in place in Melbourne.

Under Professor McLaws’ traffic-light plan, these tough rules would have started on June 18 at the latest, weeks before stage three restrictions were reintroduced across Melbourne and Mitchell Shire on July 7, and she said they may have prevented the worst of the second surge.

“[Melbourne] was already in amber and flicking to red in May and June,” she said. “But you don’t wait until it gets to 100 until you act. The best time to act is when you’re in the amber zone so you never had to go to a hard lockdown.”

On Monday Mr Frydenberg was highly critical of the Andrews government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and lack of transparency on plans to emerge from lockdown.

The federal Treasurer accused the Premier of overseeing the “biggest public policy failure by a state government in living memory”, in one of his strongest remarks yet against the Victorian Labor government.

“Victorians want to hear a definitive plan from Daniel Andrews about the lifting of stage four restrictions,” Mr Frydenberg said in Canberra just before 9am.

“What has transpired in Victoria is like a slow-motion car crash, and you saw the over-reach from the Premier just a few days ago asking for a 12-month extension of emergency powers.

“So whether it’s the litany of failures on hotel quarantine, whether it’s the testing and tracing which is not up to the standard of other states, whether it’s the rejection of the Defence Force personnel that were on offer from the Commonwealth, there have been mistakes in Victoria.”

The Premier said he did not have time to argue with Mr Frydenberg and insisted he was focused on battling the pandemic.

“None of us have the luxury to be playing politics with these things, I’m just not going to do that,” he said in response to the Treasurer’s comments. “Our nation and our state requires all leaders of all political persuasions to work together … I’m just not interested in having an argument or a fight with anything or anybody other than this wicked coronavirus.”

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Business leaders seek clearer picture on plan to reopen economy


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Announcing 114 new coronavirus cases and 11 additional deaths on Sunday, he said the number of new daily cases was still too high to safely open the economy or “to put forward a definitive plan” for doing so.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton has previously indicated that more detail on the easing of restrictions could be released about September 6.

On Sunday Mr Andrews flagged some announcements this week.

The government will meet Victorian businesses and business groups in the next few days to identify what the road map out of stage four could look like.

“Now there will be a plan, it will come soon, but it will be one we will be confident of, not something that potentially gets us a few weeks of people being happier but then ultimately has to be revised because it didn’t mean much when you first announced it,” Mr Andrews said.

“We all want this second wave to be defeated, but it needs to be defeated properly so that it’s not some smouldering fire that then takes off again, potentially burns more intensely than it ever has.”

Tim Piper, the Victorian head of the Australian Industry Group, said his team would raise issues including the need to strike a balance between protecting people’s health and livelihoods, recognising that businesses can operate safely, and not imposing a blanket ban on geographical locations or industries.

He would also “seek surety around the contact tracing team” and whether the government was confident it could keep up with demand when restrictions eased.

“We need to make sure there is a balance and recognition for the impact this is having on people’s lives, not just from a physical health perspective but mental health,” Mr Piper said.

“People are coming to the end of their tether by being in these restrictions and it’s not just a few, it’s many people. So we have to understand what these restrictions are doing to people’s lives, livelihoods and to our economy.”

He said the government must recognise the level of risk across different sectors, saying the manufacturing and construction industries, for example, had been low-risk.

Mr Andrews said Victorians could have confidence in the contact tracing team, which had been bolstered in recent months.

“I think we face a prospect of a very different set of circumstances [compared to the end of the first wave], but at the same time we will need to be incredibly vigilant and that’s why the team is working incredibly hard,” Mr Andrews said.

“They have made a whole range of improvements – very few that deliver hours, but many of which deliver minutes. That is the frustrating nature of this, it is a real grind to find the small wins, to find the small savings in time.

“We are across many of the high-risk workforces better than we’ve ever been … the contact tracing team is bigger than it has ever been and it will remain larger than the task.”

Meanwhile, a claim filed in the Victorian Supreme Court last Friday says the government and its ministers were negligent and breached their duty of care through mismanagement of hotel quarantine.

Genome sequencing has shown infections among workers employed in hotel quarantine were responsible for almost all the cases in Victoria’s second surge of COVID-19 cases, which led to many businesses being forced to close under stage four restrictions.

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5 Districts NY, an American-style eatery in Melbourne’s north-west, will be the lead plaintiff representing a group of businesses that claim to have lost revenue after stage three and four restrictions were imposed.

But several legal experts have suggested the litigation is unlikely to succeed because it would be difficult to prove a definite link between the hotel quarantine system failures and the impact on businesses.

The government is still negotiating with crossbench MPs to extend state of emergency powers ahead of Parliament sitting this week. Mr Andrews confirmed on Sunday that the state of disaster, announced on August 2 for one month, would also most likely need to be extended.

Opposition health spokeswoman Georgie Crozier said the Coalition was calling for an independent audit of the Department of Health and Human Services’ public health team over its failures in contact tracing.

“We need to understand the resources, the IT systems, the programs and the processes, so that we’ve got the confidence, that we understand that when we come out of this lockdown that we will have everything in place,” she said.

With David Estcourt

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Business

When offices re-open, expect resurgence of dreaded hot-desking


Most office workers now dream of weeks in which they can choose to come into an office as and when they please. A recent study from strategy firms Iometrics and Global Workplace Analytics found that two days a week was the most popular choice when staff were surveyed on how often they would like to work from home.

Almost a quarter — 23 per cent — said they would like to come into an office three out of five days, compared to 16 per cent who chose five days, and 7 per cent who said they would prefer to never come in.

However, there is a catch. For HubSpot employees who come into work two days or fewer, they will not find themselves at their regular desk. Instead, they will be allocated a “hotel desk” — one that, on other days of the week, is occupied by other “flexers”. Those who come in three days or more will have a permanent desk.

When the pandemic struck, a silver lining was that more acute concerns about hygiene and personal space would halt the rise of hot-desking, a long-lamented space-saving technique in which workers are left to find and set up a desk instead of having a fixed station.

But instead, as employers grapple with the prospect of a scattered workforce, the idea is regaining traction. Just don’t call it hot-desking.

Robin Powered, a US start-up whose clients include Twitter and Shopify, develops software that lets staff reserve desks and meeting rooms. During the pandemic, it has added “distance planning” to ensure that workers could not book desks too close to other employees, and contact-tracing technology.

Freespace, a British company that operates control software for hot-desking, uses sensors on desks to direct cleaners to desks that have been vacated before they scan a QR code to confirm they have been disinfected.

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Meanwhile, Chargifi, a London-headquartered wireless charging start-up, uses smartphone-charging pads and light rings to tell employees whether a desk is free. If a desk is available, the pad will glow green, turning to amber when somebody places their phone on it. In a socially distanced office, this can flip the lights on either side to red to warn staff not to use them.

Part of the reason companies are likely to embrace hot-desking is simply because they can. The rise of working from home has forced staff to get to grips with software such as virtual desktops, video-calling and chat apps. Desk phones and business cards have started to seem like anachronisms.

With many employees still likely to be working from home even after the pandemic, teams are less likely to all be in one physical location. Those who are in the office may even be encouraged to sit apart so that those at home do not feel left out of conversations.

All this might generate a groundswell of resistance. More than two-thirds of workers would like to see less hot-desking as they return to the office, according to recent research from the design and architecture firm Gensler. Significantly, those who had worked with hot-desking before coronavirus were more likely to be sceptical of it than those who had not, suggesting opinion could decline further the more people experience it.

However, a majority of workers say they would give up a fixed desk if they were allowed to work from home some of the time, according to Iometrics’ survey.

Employers may well embrace that option. Property is often a company’s second-highest cost after salaries, and the economic consequences of the virus are set to be felt long after it is safe to go back into the office. Few executives are likely to view banks of empty desks without wondering if costs can be cut. The death of hot-desking may have been exaggerated — just don’t call it that.

The Telegraph, London

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Australian News

Fresh calls for borders to reopen


The Prime Minister is pleading with all states and territories to open their borders to avoid further “enormous stress and strain” on regional and cross border communities.

Attending the Daily Telegraph Bush Summit in Cooma, NSW, Scott Morrison said the closed borders were limiting access to essential health care, kept Australians from working and restricted farmers access to their property and markets.

He gave examples of many Australians suffering as a result.

“Today, we learnt of the unthinkable and heartbreaking case where a young lady had to take, I think, her daughter to Sydney and sadly passed away. This is heartbreaking stuff and I can understand people’s frustration and anger,” Mr Morrison said.

“I know state borders are putting enormous stress and strain on Australians.

“We need to get these principles established to ease the impact of these restrictions. we’ve got to put aside the disagreements we’ve had about this and get arrangements that can be workable and also protect people’s health.”

The Prime Minister said there was some progress made in the national cabinet and thanked the NSW and SA Premiers for engaging with the federal government to resolve some of the issues related to the closures,

“Much more needs to be done to ensure these border movements are made easier and ultimately to ensure they’re open again,” he said.

“While the scale of the Victorian outbreak meant the borders between NSW and Vic were regrettably necessary — and they are and remain — this does not diminish the principle that border restrictions, especially where there are no or very low cases in regional areas, cannot and should not be sustained.

“Australia was not built to have internal borders. The point of federation was not to have them.”

More to come



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