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Local News - Victoria

Heavy-handed Crown security blamed for collapse of ‘unlosable’ case


Defence lawyers for Mr Hou and Ms Cui will now seek to have more than $250,000 – seized under asset confiscation laws – returned to the pair because of the bungling by Crown’s security staff.

The court found that during questioning by Crown staff on May 1, 2017, Mr Hou was threatened with a long prison sentence if he refused to confess, while Ms Cui was warned that her parents and her partner’s parents would face serious consequences back in China.

The case against former Crown croupier Michael Hou has collapsed.

The case against former Crown croupier Michael Hou has collapsed.Credit:Joe Armao

Crown’s investigators, all former members of Victoria Police, were also found to have claimed they could influence the outcome of a police investigation if Mr Hou and Ms Cui agreed to co-operate with police.

Mr Hou was told by Crown surveillance member Manuel Lyberis: “We are just trying to help you mate. It’s like a get-out-of-jail card and you might only get one opportunity.”

Crown’s investigations manager, Jason McHutchison, warned Mr Hou he would “cop the full extent of the law” if he refused to answer questions honestly.

After telling Mr Hou he had been a detective with Victoria Police for 12 years, Mr McHutchison said he would ask the police to “treat him alright”.

Crown security staff have been blamed for the collapse of the case.

Crown security staff have been blamed for the collapse of the case.Credit:Joe Armao

“That’s why we have dealings with the police. That’s my job, to deal with police … if we tell them … to treat someone good, they’ll treat them good,” Mr McHutchison said, according to the judgment.

The general manager of security and surveillance at Crown casino, Craig Walsh, also a former police officer, was present during some of the interviews. He told Mr Hou he wanted to be able to tell police that he had co-operated, and advised him to consider his family.

Crown’s internal investigators arrested Mr Hou and Ms Cui on the night of May 1, 2017, when they were taken to a holding room inside Crown’s flagship casino in Southbank. One of the rooms was marked “Victoria Police Interview Room”, according to court documents.

The court noted the pair were never cautioned or informed of their right to silence or legal representation by Crown’s surveillance team.

Yixuan Cui outside court in 2018.

Yixuan Cui outside court in 2018.Credit:Joe Armao

Ms Cui gave evidence that she was warned by Crown staff that she was in “big trouble” and that her parents in China would be notified. Her partner’s parents worked for the Chinese government and would also face serious repercussions, she told the court.

The interview with Ms Cui was supposed to have been recorded by a digital device in the possession of Crown investigator Wayne Eales.

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However, about one hour of the interview – including the entire period when the alleged threats were made by Crown officers – was never recorded, the court heard.

Mr Eales told the County Court he may have accidentally switched off the digital voice recorder, but could not recall switching it back on.

When Mr Hou and Ms Cui were finally handed over to detectives from Melbourne West station, they made full admissions, including how the scam worked and how the proceeds of the enterprise were divided.

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Brett Sutton tells hotel inquiry he did not know security guards had a key role


“My team and I did not have oversight in relation to infection prevention and control personnel and processes in place at each hotel,” he said.

Professor Sutton’s deputy, Annaliese van Diemen, said in her evidence that “everybody has responsibility in some way, shape or form”, prompting a query from Arthur Moses, QC, the counsel for security guard company Unified: “Are you trying to blame others?”

Former deputy chief health officer Annaliese van Diemen.

Former deputy chief health officer Annaliese van Diemen.Credit:The Age

Dr van Diemen had earlier warned that the hotel quarantine program was being run as a “logistics or compliance exercise” rather than a health program, meaning she “lost the opportunity” to know if infection control measures, including the use of protective gear, were adhered to in the hotels.

Private security guards, many working as casual subcontractors at the Rydges on Swanston hotel in Carlton and the CBD’s Stamford Plaza, spread the virus from returned travellers into the wider community. Professor Sutton told the inquiry that, “with the benefit of hindsight”, the use of such an insecure workforce was unfortunate.

“I can see that using a highly casualised workforce, generally from a lower socio-economic background, where that means that poor leave provisions, limit how one can care for and financially support one’s family if unwell,” he said.

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Many of the staff guarding the hotels combined multiple jobs “across different industries to maintain an adequate income, creating transmission risk”, Professor Sutton said. Guards also often came from relatively larger families and larger networks of friends, “which creates additional transmission risks should they become unwell”.

The evidence came as Premier Daniel Andrews, who set up the $3 million inquiry, once again declined to comment on accusations that he lied to Parliament by saying in August that soldiers working in hotel quarantine in other states had not been offered to Victoria. Mr Andrews will appear before the inquiry next week.

Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos was also quizzed in State Parliament on Wednesday about whether she was aware of the offer by Canberra to deploy the army in quarantine hotels.

“I was not aware of any offers of Australian Defence Force support when hotel quarantine was established,” she said. “I’ve not been involved in approving the structures or the operational plan of this program.”

Professor Sutton told the inquiry that there had been instances where security staff in hotels did not appear to trust the information provided to them about infection control. “In particular about how to wear PPE gear, and the use of hand sanitiser, in particular … concerns about using an alcohol-based sanitiser”.

This hand sanitiser concern was also included in notes from the manager of Your Nursing Agency, the company employed to supply nursing staff to quarantine hotels. In mid-June, the company’s manager noted that security guards had informed the agency “they were concerned about using hand sanitiser because it is against their religion”.

The same notes said the registered nurse working at one hotel “raised a complaint of a lack of infection control awareness and [the] sense that security were disinterested in use of PPE”.

The nurse reported “security staff had masks under their noses, were not removing gloves and even going to the bathroom with gloves on”. The nurse told the nursing agency that “something needs to be done with security to keep everyone safe”.

The inquiry heard that an email sent by Deputy Public Health Commander Dr Finn Romanes, a former deputy chief health officer, warned on April 9 of “a lack of a unified plan for this program”. This warning, made just two weeks after the hotel program began, said there was “considerable risk” that unless issues were addressed there would be a risk to the health and safety of detainees.

Dr Romanes requested an urgent governance review of the program and said it needed a clear leader and direct line of accountability. Professor Sutton said he backed Dr Romanes’ email. “Dr Romanes was acting on behalf of me,” he said.

It also emerged at the inquiry that the deputy state controller Chris Eagle – who was coordinating information between the agencies involved in hotel quarantine – was warned the day after the hotels program began that there needed to be a proper police presence.

The Department of Jobs Precincts and Region’s executive director of Priority Projects, Claire Febey, warned Mr Eagle after a highly agitated guest quarantining at the Crown Metropole left his room and went to the ground floor foyer for a cigarette that better security was needed.

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“We strongly recommend that private security is not adequate given they have no powers to exercise. Can you please escalate our request for a permanent police presence at each hotel,” she wrote.

Chief Commissioner Shane Patton and his predecessor, Graham Ashton, will appear before the inquiry on Thursday.

Dr van Diemen said that, before the hotels program began in March, health officials considered quarantining returned travellers at home using electronic surveillance to keep them secure.

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Hotel security guards made wider COVID-19 outbreaks more likely, inquiry hears


The inquiry was shown text messages from the Victorian president of the Australian Medical Association expressing frustration at the state Health Department after he raised concerns about the quarantine program with officials in mid-April.

“Why are they so secretive?” Professor Julian Rait asked a colleague in a message.

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The head of the department’s investigation into the Rydges on Swanston outbreak, Dr Simon Crouch, told the inquiry he thought early on that the hotel environment could have been causing transmission.

The Rydges cluster has been identified as the source of 90 per cent of Victoria’s coronavirus second surge, which grew from just eight initial infections mostly among security guards at the hotel to cause more than 500 deaths and drive Melbourne into a stage four lockdown.

Counsel assisting the inquiry Ben Ihle put it to Dr Crouch that conditions at Rydges on Swanston made a wider outbreak not only likely but inevitable.

“Given what we know now about the practices that were in place at the time that those initial transmission events occurred, as stated in this report, there was a high risk of transmission of coronavirus from returned travellers to people working in that setting,” Dr Crouch replied.

Mr Ihle repeatedly put it to Dr Crouch and to his Health Department colleague Sarah McGuinness that an opportunity may have been lost to control the outbreak by isolating workers from Rydges earlier. Dr McGuinness agreed the decision “may have had an impact”.

Dr Sarah McGuinness before the inquiry on Tuesday.

Dr Sarah McGuinness before the inquiry on Tuesday.

Another Health Department expert, senior medical adviser Dr Clare Looker, told the inquiry in a witness statement that the demographic profile of the private security workforce made it more difficult to control the outbreak.

She said the security guard cohort often worked in multiple jobs and many of the guards that tested positive to COVID-19 lived in large, crowded households.

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“The workforce was also largely casual and so many had and were required to have more than one job to sustain themselves and/or their families,” Dr Looker wrote.

“They were also a young, fit and socially active cohort and tended not to seek testing even if symptomatic until it was required on day 11 of their quarantine period.”

By that time, there was transmission within their household, according to the senior health official.

There were also language issues and at times a distrust of government services.

“It was challenging to obtain accurate information,” Dr Looker said.

The inquiry heard a positive case who was linked to the Rydges on Swanston outbreak lied to contact tracers, and did not tell investigators they had a housemate.

Another infected person told contact tracers he lived alone, but he was in fact sharing a room with someone else.

The inquiry hearings continue on Thursday.

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Local News - Victoria

Government owes hotel quarantine security firms more than $10 million


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The company has been providing guards for the program in NSW, where police have the lead enforcement role, while the Defence Force oversees the arrival and exit of detainees.

“[NSW Police] play that lead authorised officer role, and it seems to work far more effectively,” Unified’s national operations manager Nigel Coppick said.

Victoria Police, which the inquiry heard preferred private security as the “first line of security”, will be questioned in hearings on Friday.

Instead of fulfilling its objective of preventing transmission from expats and travellers returning from overseas, COVID-19 spread from hotel quarantine in May to a hotel worker and security guards and into the community.

A spokeswoman for Wilson Security said the company was awaiting the payment of a “significant amount” by the government. However, she said its employees and subcontractors had been paid by the company.

MSS, which provided security at five hotels, including the Stamford Plaza, where there was an outbreak among guards in June, has confirmed it was awaiting a substantial sum.

Unified Security's Nigel Coppick before the hotel quarantine inquiry on Thursday.

Unified Security’s Nigel Coppick before the hotel quarantine inquiry on Thursday.

The government’s main contractor, Unified Security, placed 1754 guards, hired largely through subcontractors, across 13 quarantine hotels at a cost of at least $30 million.

Asked in the inquiry on Thursday if the government ever asked if the company risked overextending itself in outsourcing so much of its work, Mr Coppick replied: “We were comfortable with our abilities and we delivered.”

Unified declined to answer questions about whether it had been paid in full. But sources aware of the negotiations between the government and the companies said some money had been withheld from Unified.

A government spokesman declined to answer questions, saying the board of inquiry had been established to examine issues related to the hotel quarantine program.

Subcontractors also told the inquiry this week they provided work at minimal profit margins.

“It really was about survival,” Black Tie Security’s director Rob Paciocco said.

“I wouldn’t dream of operating at 3 per cent ever, but you know, as I said, this wasn’t about making money, it was about trying to keep some people employed.”

Sterling Services Group (SSG), contracted by Unified Security to fill more than 4000 shifts at 13 hotels, including the Rydges on Swanston, told the inquiry it had not received any remuneration.

SSG was accused of overbilling Unified, calling in guards to work a 12-hour shift, but sending them home early and still charging the head contractor.

SSG director Sam Aggarwal said this didn’t happen. SSG and several security companies told the inquiry that the number of returned travellers arriving were often difficult to predict, so, when there’d be excess guards, they’d send them home but still pay them for four hours’ work.

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Adelaide Oval misses out on grand final as report questions hotel loan security


Adelaide Oval has been dealt a double blow, missing out on hosting rights for the AFL grand final on the same day as a report found the venue’s management may not be able to fulfil its loan obligations for a hotel at the site.

The AFL announced earlier this afternoon that the grand final would be held at the Gabba in Brisbane on October 24, despite bids from other states including South Australia.

The announcement came hours after the release of an SA Auditor-General’s report, which found the Adelaide Oval Stadium Management Authority (SMA) had lost significant income due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The report found the SMA may not be able to fulfil its loan obligations for the almost-complete Adelaide Oval hotel.

“The ongoing impact of COVID-19 on [the SMA’s] operating position is currently unknown due to the highly uncertain economic environment and may present a risk to it being able to fulfil its loan obligation,” the report stated.

A $42 million taxpayer-funded loan was provided to the authority to build a 138-room hotel at the oval.

Auditor-General Andrew Richardson has now recommended the State Government perform regular financial checks on its loan and whether the management authority is able to repay it.

The authority has twice asked the Government to reduce the interest rate on the loan and the Government has refused both requests.

But it has agreed to defer payments until the end of this month.

An artist's impression of a hotel planned for Adelaide Oval
An artist’s impression of the Adelaide Oval hotel.(Supplied)

The SMA said it was “recalibrating and refining” its plans to meet its loan obligations.

“Like any borrower, we have a duty of care to seek the best possible terms for our business, particularly in an environment where interest rates have fallen since our initial loan agreement,” a spokeswoman for the authority said.

“We have therefore gone back to our lender seeking a review of terms and we appreciate the Treasurer’s consideration of our requests.

“We are delighted the hotel will open as planned on September 25 and we have had strong pre-bookings and growing national and international awareness about our unique offering.

The Auditor-General found the current interest rate of 4.5 per cent that the authority is paying was already lower than an equivalent commercial rate of 5 to 5.5 per cent.

Queensland congratulated on bid

Premier Steven Marshall congratulated Queensland on being chosen to host the AFL grand final.

“We put in a strong bid, a passionate bid — we’re a football state — but unfortunately we were pipped at the post by Queensland,” he said.

“They put in a huge effort this year to keep the AFL season alive, they’ve been rewarded for that.”

He said Adelaide Oval stood ready if, for some reason, the Gabba was unable to host the event.

He was hopeful Adelaide could still host up to two preliminary finals, especially given Port Adelaide — currently on top of the AFL ladder — could end up playing in one.



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Victoria Police wanted security guards in quarantine hotels, inquiry told


The Executive Director of Priority Projects for the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions told the inquiry on Thursday morning that just hours before the first planes carrying returned travellers were due to touch down at Tullamarine, the bureaucrats running the quarantine program were still not clear on the legal basis of detaining travellers in the hotels.

The $3 million inquiry, led by retired judge Jennifer Coate, was set up by the state government after hotels used for quarantine – Rydges on Swanston and the Stamford Plaza – were identified by genomic testing as the source of Victoria’s second wave of COVID-19 which has cost hundreds of lives and forced Melbourne into tough stage four restrictions.

Ms Febey said the Department of Health and Human Services had firmly taken control of the program by Sunday, March 29, leaving DJPR as a ‘support agency’ with responsibility for hiring security and cleaners.

But with the benefit of hindsight, Ms Febey told the inquiry, it may have been better if DHHS was in charge of the contracting arrangements.

She said there was still uncertainty in mid-April – when she stopped working on the quarantine program – about which of the two departments were responsible for directing the private security guards working in the hotels.

She was initially told she would be in charge of setting up the program on March 27, however, as the day went on she understood there was going to be a meeting with multiple agencies involved.

Ms Febey said it was in that meeting that she first became aware of what view Victoria Police held about what their role would be.

Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp and Victoria Police Commander Mick Grainger were both in the meeting, she said.

“Was that the point, as you describe in your statement … it was Victoria Police’s preference that private security be the first line of security?” counsel assisting the inquiry Rachel Ellyard asked.

“That’s right,” Ms Febey replied.



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Rydges hotel security guard continued to deliver food after catching COVID-19


“I noticed some of the other guards were sniffing but I thought that was because it was a cold night,” the guard said in his statement tendered to the inquiry on Monday.

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He said he was never told to inform anyone at the hotel if he had symptoms, nor was he sure about COVID-19 symptoms. He was never given training in COVID-19 or infection control before he began working there.

The guard told the inquiry he began to feel worse during his night shift and felt like he had a fever.

“I did not tell anyone at the Rydges hotel that I felt unwell – I thought it was just a common cold and nothing to worry about,” he said in his statement.

As he drove home after his shift, he noticed a sign beside the freeway that said: “If you have symptoms, get tested.”

He slept, and he still didn’t feel well when he woke that afternoon, so he went to his local hospital to get a test.

He said hospital staff told him to stay home until he got his results. He wasn’t rostered on at Rydges, so, feeling a little better, he said he did three or four food deliveries.

When his positive test came back, he was contacted by the Department of Health and Human Services and told to isolate with his housemates at home.

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But by his last three days of isolation, he told the inquiry, he had no symptoms so he continued to deliver food.

The guard told the inquiry he was bored.

After that, he felt a shortness of breath again and returned another positive test.

He told the inquiry he was contacted by the department again and told that, because it had been 14 days since his first positive test, he was allowed to go out.

That week, he worked in his regular job as a security guard at a warehouse.

“As far as I know, nobody at the warehouse contracted COVID-19,” he said in his statement.

He told the inquiry he had read on the news that while there could be coronavirus particles in his body, he was not infectious.

Unified Security ran security at the hotel, but the guard was subcontracted through SSG Security to work there in May.

During his first few days at Rydges, he was told there was a shortage of masks and gloves and the guards should use the same mask and gloves for the whole shift.

The guard told the inquiry another worker told him that when he went on meal breaks, just to put his protective gear in his pocket, but to do so out of sight of security cameras.

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Live: Hotel quarantine inquiry | Security, returned travellers to give evidence


A couple in hotel quarantine at Melbourne’s Pan Pacific Hotel were forced to call “three times a day” for more food, until they realised on day 10 of their stay only one of them was listed as staying in the room.

Kaan Ofli and his partner returned to Melbourne on April 9 and the couple were shuttled to their hotel and placed in the one room.

For 10 days, they received only one meal between them for breakfast lunch and dinner, and would have to call reception and then the Department of Health to beg for more.

“It was one meal we were receiving, one piece of fruit,” he said.

“We weren’t getting bottles of water or anything like that, we were told to drink from the basin.”

Mr Ofli said he and his partner would take turns calling to ask for more, and said they were “embarrassed” to ask.

“We found it humiliating to have to call and plead for the basics,” he said.

“It was really disheartening.”

Each morning, the couple received a call from one of the nurses working in the hotel to check if they had been experiencing symptoms of coronavirus.

The couple took turns answering, so nurses had spoken to both Mr Ofli and his partner.

“On the 10th day it was the same call asking for symptoms, and it was my partner who answered the call,” he told the inquiry.

“She said ‘no we don’t have any symptoms’, and the nurse said ‘what do you mean by we?’.”

“(My partner) was like ‘well there’s two of us in here’, and the nurse said ‘I’ve only got you in the system’.

Mr Ofli told the inquiry everyone was asked to fill out a dietary form upon arriving at the hotel. He had requested halal food for religious reasons, and his partner had indicated she was allergic to peanuts and dairy.

Upon realising he had not been registered to his room, Mr Ofli said he also realised the meat he had eaten while in quarantine was not halal.

In his submission to the inquiry, he said the couple had initially thought there was a food shortage at the hotel, so it was “a shock” to realise he had not been eating what he thought he was eating.

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Raptors’ president says security guard shoved him at NBA Finals ‘because I am black’


Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri has accused a sheriff’s deputy of targeting him because of his race in a confrontation where he was shoved twice at courtside at last year’s NBA Finals.

Footage released this week showed Mr Ujiri was attempting to join in his team’s celebrations after the Raptors clinched the NBA title against Golden State Warriors in Oakland in June 2019.

Alameda County sheriff’s deputy Alan Strickland, who was acting as a security guard at the game, aggressively pushed Mr Ujiri, who then responded with a push of his own.

On Tuesday Mr Ujiri filed a countersuit against Mr Strickland, who had filed suit against Mr Ujiri and the Raptors in February.

Mr Strickland claimed he sustained injuries to his head, chin, jaw and teeth due to Ujiri’s shove.

“The video sadly demonstrates how horribly I was treated by a law enforcement officer last year in the midst of my team, the Toronto Raptors, winning its first world championship,” Mr Ujiri said in a statement.

“It was an exhilarating moment of achievement for our organisation, for our players, for our city, for our country, and for me personally, given my long-tenured professional journey in the NBA.

“And, there’s only one indisputable reason why that is the case — because I am black.

A man in a suit punches the air in triumph as he wears a championship ring on his right hand.
Masai Ujiri (right) says the attention around him being shoved at the NBA Finals is due to his race and position.(AP/Canadian Press: Frank Gunn, file photo)

“What saddens me most about this ordeal is that the only reason why I am getting the justice I deserve in this moment is because of my success,” he added.

“Because I’m the president of a NBA team, I had access to resources that ensured I could demand and fight for my justice.

“And that’s why it’s important for all of us to keep demanding justice. Justice for George (Floyd). Justice for Breonna (Taylor). Justice for Elijah (McClain). Justice for far too many black lives that mattered.”

In the video, Mr Strickland stops Mr Ujiri as he approaches the court and pushes him in the chest while Mr Ujiri reaches into his jacket for his credentials.

Onlookers try to calm Mr Strickland down, but he is seen pushing Mr Ujiri a second time.

Mr Strickland is heard telling Mr Ujiri to “back the (expletive) up” in between the two shoves. Mr Ujiri then pushes Mr Strickland back and tries to identify himself.

Mr Strickland later filed a workers’ compensation claim in which he said Mr Ujiri “hit him in the face and chest with both fists.”

The footage released this week does not back up that claim.

Ujiri gets support from Raptors, other teams

In the team statement, the Raptors backed Mr Ujiri.

“We are mindful this remains before the courts, but we have always maintained that the claims made against Masai are baseless and entirely without merit,” a Raptors spokesperson said.

“The events of that evening cast a pall over what should have been a night of celebration, and the year since.

“While Masai has the full backing of Raptors and [the club’s owners] MLSE as he fights this injustice, we are aware that not all people have similar support and resources.

Ujiri has also received support from other NBA teams.

The Miami Heat tweeted from its official account: “We’re with you, Masai. And they still wonder why we put #BlackLivesMatter on our courts.”

Since the resumption of the NBA season from a base near Orlando, Florida, games have featured the words Black Lives Matter stencilled on the court alongside the league’s logo.

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First security guard to give evidence as hotel quarantine inquiry continues; Australia death toll at 463


The infection rate has been soaring in the past few days, but the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 has been relatively stable and the numbers of new deaths per day have also been stable in the low double digits. Twelve new deaths were reported on Thursday.

French President Emmanuel Macron discussed the escalating coronavirus crisis with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday as Europe struggles with a resurgence of the disease that threatens its recovery.

Britain recorded 1182 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, the second-highest daily total since June 21.

Meanwhile, Italy reported 845 new infections, marking the highest daily increase since May, when the government eased its rigid lockdown measures.

Last time the country recorded a higher figure was May 16, with 875 cases, two days before restaurants, bars and shops were allowed to reopen after a 10-week lockdown.

Despite the rise in infections, daily death tallies remain low and are often in single figures. Thursday saw six fatalities compared to seven on Wednesday, health ministry data showed.



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