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Vic Premier Daniel Andrews says drop in virus cases ‘promising’, warns of more deaths


The Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has cautiously welcomed a “promising” drop in the number of coronavirus cases, but it comes as authorities say the virus-stricken state could still see many more deaths in the week ahead.

Deputy chief medical officer Professor Michael Kidd has also noted the fall in case numbers but with an added warning to Australians to prepare for a grim future.

Victoria recorded 322 new coronavirus cases in the 24 hours to Monday and 19 people died from the virus – the state’s worst daily death toll since the pandemic began. Fourteen of the deaths were linked to aged care facilities.

Sunday was the state‘s second worst day for deaths with 17 more fatalities and 394 new cases.

Australia’s coronavirus death toll has surged from 200 to more than 300 in just nine days.

RELATED: Australia’s shocking climbing death toll

RELATED: Letter exposes outbreak bungle in Melbourne

Victoria recorded its highest number of daily cases on August 5, when 725 people tested positive to coronavirus. It also recorded the previous highest daily death toll with 15 fatalities.

Since then however, case numbers began to hover around the 500 mark, with Australia’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Nick Coatsworth claiming on Sunday: “It appears that we’re on the plateau”.

With metropolitan Melbourne under stage four restrictions and the lockdown set to last another five weeks, Premier Daniel Andrews said cases are stabilising, but that the state has a long way to go.

“It is only one day’s data, and we’ve got to dive them down so we can reopen,” he said on Monday.

RELATED: Vic faces extreme new COVID-19 workplace shutdowns

While calling the drop in cases in Victoria “promising”, Prof Kidd said deaths usually follow around seven to 10 days after someone is first diagnosed with the virus.

“We are seeing the first promising signs of a reduction in daily numbers of cases, but it is too early to be certain,” Prof Kidd said, claiming officials will be “following the numbers very closely” over the coming week.

“We are now at the end of the first week of these stage four restrictions in Victoria.

“And so what we hope we will see over the coming week is the number of new infections each day will continue to decline hopefully.

“There is a 7- 10 day lag between the daily reports in numbers of cases and people dying, some people sadly die very early in the course of COVID-19, but for many people it is a week or more after they have been infected that we see people who are gravely unwell.”

He said despite the good news so far Australia’s death toll was certain to rise.

“While it’s heartening to see the declining number of cases being reported each day from Victoria – and we have seen that over the past five days – while we still have hundreds of cases being reported each day, we will continue to have people admitted to hospital and people becoming gravely unwell. And sadly some of those people will die.

It came as new ads were aired across Victoria in a bid to get residents to comply with the stage four lockdown.

The ads tell the confronting stories of people who caught the virus, including middle-aged woman June who thought she would die.



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Nick Kyrgios says he won’t play at the US Open over COVID-19 fears, warns players not to be selfish


Australia’s Nick Kyrgios has ruled out playing in this year’s US Open, saying he is making his decision for “my Aussies”, and for the people who have lost their lives in the COVID-19 pandemic.

He becomes the second high-profile Australian tennis player to announce he will be staying away from the New York-based tournament, following this week’s statement by women’s world number one Ash Barty.

The tournament is scheduled to start on August 31 — it will be held at its usual home in Flushing Meadows, Queens but will be played without fans to limit the risk of spreading of the virus.

Kyrgios posted a video on Sunday, where he read from a statement.

“I will not be playing this year at the US Open,” he said.

“It hurts me at my core not to be out there, competing in one of the sport’s greatest arenas, Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“It’s my decision.”

A tennis player stands with his head down and his fist in front of his face after losing a point.
Nick Kyrgios says he is sitting out the US Open for Australians, and for the Americans who have died from COVID-19.(AP: Adam Hunger)

Uncertainty remains around the tournament that is usually the last major of the year.

The tennis world has been largely shut down for months in response to the pandemic, and players have expressed concerns over safety.

While tournaments are just about to restart, there have been a number of exhibition events held — the most notorious being the ADRIA Cup, a tournament organised by world number one Novak Djokovic, held in a number of countries, but which featured poor social distancing.

Djokovic, Grigor Dimitrov and Borna Coric later tested positive. Kyrgios described the decision to go ahead with the exhibition as “boneheaded”, saying people had to stick to the protocols.

Kyrgios has also been drawn into online exchanges with Coric and former world number one Boris Becker over their approach to the virus.

“Dear tennis, let’s take a breath here and remember what’s important, which is health and safety as a community,” he said in the video.

The Canberra native said he had no problem with the USTA putting on the US Open, and that if players wanted to go, that was up to them.

“So long as everyone acts appropriately, and acts safely,” he said.

“No-one wants people to keep their jobs more than me. I’m speaking for the guy who works in the restaurant, the cleaners, the locker room attendants.

“These are the people that need their jobs back the most and fair play to them.”

Kyrgios called on players to act in each other’s best interests and work together.

“That’s just so selfish. Think of all the other people for once.



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Chief Health Officer warns this is ‘not like the first wave’


With the number of active cases in Victoria fast approaching 4000, Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton has warned this is “not like the first wave”.

“It tells us this is a really challenging epidemic curve to overcome. The challenge was always there. We knew that it was not like the first wave,” Prof Sutton told reporters.

“The numbers have remained stubbornly high, haven’t gone up significantly, haven’t gone down significantly in the last week,” he said.

“The challenges are in all of the outbreaks I have listed. I know people have talked about stage four and a broader lockdown, but the very places where we are seeing outbreaks, the very places where we are seeing transmission … these are the areas we need to focus on, and we shouldn’t pretend that a really broad shutdown of industry will address where we are seeing the transmission.

“We need to really focus on how to prevent transmission occurring in aged care.”

RELATED: Follow for the latest coronavirus updates

Prof Sutton revealed the extent of the coronavirus outbreak in Victoria’s aged care sector today, confirming that of Victoria’s current COVID-19 cases, the following are linked to aged care facilities:

  • 74 linked to St Basil’s aged care home in Fawkner
  • 71 linked to Estia Health in Ardeer
  • 60 cases linked to Menarock Life aged care in Essendon
  • 40 cases linked to Estia Health in Heidelberg
  • 49 cases linked to Glendale aged care in Werribee
  • 23 linked to Baptcare Wyndham Lodge in Werribee
  • 22 cases linked to Regis Aged Care in Brighton

RELATED: What Stage 4 restrictions could look like in Victoria

Premier Daniel Andrews agreed with Prof Sutton, reiterating, “This is not like the first wave. It is also not like other second waves in other parts of the world. You know, every 10 minutes, the United States gets our daily cases. Every 10 minutes.

“So I am not saying that that means that we don’t have to work even harder and do even better here in Victoria, we absolutely do. But this second wave is more stubborn. And back to that point, it is all the little things. They will make a really big difference. But masks will make a big difference, we believe, as well. We will be out of this as soon as we possibly can.”

The Victorian Premier confirmed there are 357 new cases in Victoria today. Of those, more than 300 are still under investigation.

There have been five more deaths, including a woman in her 50s, a woman in her 60s, a woman in her 70s, a woman in her 80s and a man in his 80s have died.

The Premier told reporters: “We send our condolences and our best wishes to each of those families, this will be a very difficult and challenging time for them. They are in our thoughts and prayers.”

There are 229 Victorians in hospital and 42 of those are receiving intensive care, the Premier said.



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Josh Frydenberg warns Australian debt is ‘eye-watering’


Australians should prepare to see “eye-watering numbers” on debt and deficit when Treasurer Josh Frydenberg reveals the worst budget black hole since World War II.

Mr Frydenberg will on Thursday provide an economic update, including unemployment rate forecasts.

“You will see eye watering numbers around debt and deficit,” Mr Frydenberg told Today.

“Numbers that Australians have never, ever seen before.

“That’s the harsh reality of this pandemic. The coronavirus has required the government to spend unprecedented amounts of money to support people in need.”

RELATED: JobKeeper and JobSeeker 2.0 explained

The Federal Government had previously announced $260 billion, or 13.3 per cent of GDP, in support measures.

However, this week’s announcement to extend its JobKeeper program until March 2021 and coronavirus supplement until December comes with an additional $20 billion blow.

“Every dollar we spend is a borrowed dollar, and that’s why it will take some time to pay back the debt,” Mr Frydenberg said.

Revenue also took a “big hit”, worsening the budget bottom line, because business profits were slashed and unemployment soared due to coronavirus lockdowns.

Australia’s jobless rate was 7.4 per cent in June. However the effective unemployment rate, which includes people on zero hours and those who have left the workforce, stands at 11. 3 per cent.



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Blackrock warns US-China tensions primed to get worse


“Issues between US and China are structural and persistent and as such will continue regardless of who wins in November.”

Chief investment officer at Platinum Asset Management, Andrew Clifford, agrees the relationship between China and the West has changed permanently, but believes the world is so globally intertwined that economic interests would continue to trump political disputes. Platinum has about $4.5 billion, or 17 per cent of assets, invested in Chinese-listed stocks.

“The US is wanting to redefine that relationship with China, and I think that will be on-going whoever is in power,” Mr Clifford said. Meanwhile, he warned that markets and economies were on different trajectories, and a recovery could take up to five years.

Platinum Asset Management's Andrew Clifford. Re-starting economic activity is a political decision, he says.

Platinum Asset Management’s Andrew Clifford. Re-starting economic activity is a political decision, he says. Credit:Bloomberg

“Economies do get better from here, even with secondary shutdowns. But, even with a vaccine out tomorrow, we are not going to be back at levels of activity that we were at the start of the year.”

The pandemic has also forced a revolution in central bank policy, according to Mr Powell, who cited the US Federal Reserve’s move in March to step in and keep financial markets from freezing as a sign of policymakers willing to do what it tto contain the economic damage.

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As the global economy tackles the turbulence, Blackrock is tipping European equities and corporate debt to deliver the best returns in coming months

“We upgrade European equities to overweight as the most attractive exposure to a cyclical uptick,” Blackrock Investment Institute’s latest mid-year report states.

“We cut US equities to neutral after a stretch of outperformance as we see risks of fading fiscal stimulus and election uncertainty.”

Investment-grade corporate debt is seen as a good option because central banks would support low rates and yields would make up for the risk of collapse.

Singapore-based Mr Powell says the virus remains ‘’extremely serious’’ but must be balanced with re-starting economic activity. It remains a political balancing act between the spread of COVID-19 and avoiding economic depression.

“If the [virus] data changes then politicians will have to course-correct in real time, so that balancing act is genuinely very hard,’’ he said.

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Bureau of Meteorology warns of wild weather for east coast of Australia


Potentially severe storms are on track to hit the east coast of Australia, bringing damaging winds and rain over the next week.

The Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting a low-pressures system to develop over the next couple of days, which is anticipated to hit the New South Wales south coast and the Victorian East Gippsland.

Rain and battering winds are predicted across Sydney for the next three days, with more than 20mm of rain expected on Monday.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Sydney is expected to be battered by southerly wind gusts of up to 40km/h, set to bring large coastal waves and swells.

The onslaught of wild weather will plunge the harbour city to temperatures as low as nine degrees celsius in the coming week.

BOM meteorologist Dr Adam Morgan said there was still an array of possible forecast scenarios, but the worst of the weather would be felt on Monday and Tuesday.

“These are weather systems that can impact communities through flash flooding, damage to trees and property and coastal erosion,” he said.

“Beach conditions will be dangerous right along the coast.”

Dr Morgan also noted the NSW south coast is likely to experience the brunt of the storm cell.

According to BOM, the NSW town of Eden is expected to dumped with up to 80mm of rain, with the possibility of a thunderstorm in the area.

Victoria’s East Gippsland area is expected to miss the full force of the storm, scheduled only to receive an estimated 10mm to 30mm of rain on both Monday and Tuesday.

“With south coast and Eastern Gippsland landscapes still recovering after the summer bushfires, next week’s weather could see some serious impacts,” Dr Morgan said.

Rain is expected to hit Melbourne on Sunday and Monday, with the Victorian capital expected to hit a top temperature of 13 degrees tomorrow.

Sydney will hit a maximum of 19 degrees on Sunday, while patchy showers and maximum of 24 degrees is expected for Brisbane.

Adelaide is tipped to experience a shower or two on Sunday, with a maximum temperature of 14 degrees celsius.

Perth will have a sunny Sunday with an top of 21 degrees, while Hobart is forecast for showers and a maximum of 12 degrees.

Showers and a maximum of 13 degrees are predicted for Canberra and Darwin will be mostly sunny with a top temperature of 33 degrees.



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Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt warns Victoria could face further restrictions


Health Minister Greg Hunt is not ruling out further restrictions being imposed in Victoria as the army prepares to lock down the border with NSW at midnight.

Speaking on the Today show, Mr Hunt said rings to curb the spread of coronavirus were being extended to the borders because of the worrying levels of community transmission in Melbourne’s north and western suburbs.

Asked if a total lockdown of Victoria was possible, Mr Hunt replied: “I don’t think that anybody can rule out that if the disease continues to spread, there could be further restrictions.

“I think it is very important to be open and honest about that.”

RELATED: How quickly the pandemic can change

He said the outbreak in Victoria was “very serious”.

“To have the unprecedented closure of the border, not done in a hundred years, that is a sign that we have seven states and territories with effectively zero community transmission, one state, in particular, the north and the west of Melbourne, with a very serious outbreak,” Mr Hunt said.

RELATED

Huge surge in new COVID-19 cases across Melbourne

On Friday, Premier Daniel Andrews issued a fresh warning to Victorians being complacent about coronavirus, threatening to lock down the entire state.

“You don’t have to live in a hot spot postcode to follow the rules, and if people don’t follow the rules then you will be living in a hotspot postcode because I will have no choice but to shut down more and more parts of our city and potentially our state,” Premier Andrews said.

Underlying cases of community transmission in Victoria, coupled with people ignoring social distancing as restrictions began to ease and hotel quarantine breaches, are behind the outbreak.

Victoria on Monday recorded its worse day with 127 new confirmed cases in 24 hours.

Victorians will be physically blocked from entering NSW as the state’s second wave of COVID-19 mounts.

A balloon in cases from community transmission while other states and territories remained at zero has prompted the closure of the Victorian-NSW border from midnight.

Border communities will be eligible for special travel exemptions.



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Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt warns Victoria could face further restrictions


Health Minister Greg Hunt is not ruling out further restrictions being imposed in Victoria as the army prepares to lock down the border with NSW.

Speaking on breakfast television, Mr Hunt said rings to curb the spread of coronavirus were being extended to the borders because of the worrying levels of community transmission in Melbourne’s north and western suburbs.

RELATED: How quickly the pandemic can change

“I don’t think that anybody can rule out that if the disease continues to spread, there could be further restrictions,” he told the Today show.

“I think it is very important to be open and honest about that.”

Underlying cases of community transmission in Victoria, coupled with people ignoring social distancing as restrictions began to ease and hotel quarantine breaches is behind the outbreak.

Victoria on Monday recorded its worse day with 127 new confirmed cases in 24 hours.

A balloon in cases from community transmission while other states and territories remained at zero has prompted the closure of the Victorian-NSW border from midnight.

Border communities will be eligible for special travel exemptions.



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AustralianSuper exec warns ‘climate laggards’ will wither on ASX vine


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“The market is already heavily penalising old economy, climate laggard businesses in the way they price them,” Mr Delaney said. “As the world shifts to a more digital online model, the composition of the Australian equity market will change.”

The comments come as AustralianSuper reported its fourth lowest annual return in the now $180 billion fund’s 33-year history.

The balanced fund, in which most of its 2.2 million members are invested, returned 0.52 per cent for the year, with losses in Australian equities (-5.07 per cent) and property (-6.18 per cent) returns offset by growth in international shares (10.64 per cent).

“I’m not a huge fan of Australian equities but I wouldn’t want to be getting too bearish at this point in the cycle,” Mr Delaney said.

AustralianSuper’s balanced fund is 35.8 per cent allocated to international shares, while 19.7 per cent is invested in the local bourse. Half of the international shares are invested in US markets, which are dominated by technology stocks and Mr Delaney predicted the digitisation of bricks and mortar services would only continue to drive growth in this sector.

“Doctor appointments – they’re still done the same way as when I was a child. You go into the doctor, read the dirty magazines, wait for your turn and you’re there for ages. Why can’t you do tele-doctoring?

“All these old-fashion businesses which are hopeless will get revolutionised by digitalisation.”

AustralianSuper owns an extensive property portfolio, with assets both in Australia and offshore. Eleven out of the fund’s top 20 property assets are retail outfits, including Melbourne’s Eastland Shopping Centre and Brisbane’s Myer Centre.

Mr Delaney said the property sector had been hit by falling rental yields but also the growing preference for online shopping. “That’s a structural change that’s likely to continue,” he said, adding the fund would prioritise property in the logistics industries rather than retail.

“Even my 89-year-old mother in law likes to get things delivered to her front door,” he said. “You wonder about retail, clearly you wonder about retail.”

JANA chief executive Jim Lamborn. The company oversees a collective $600b in assets, including some of the country's largest superannuation funds.

JANA chief executive Jim Lamborn. The company oversees a collective $600b in assets, including some of the country’s largest superannuation funds. Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

The chief executive of asset consulting firm JANA, Jim Lamborn, said previous returns had been pumped up by over-priced company valuations and the coronavirus pandemic had now kick-started a “lower for longer” returns environment.

“Super funds are used to printing hugely strong returns,” he said. “Average funds are delivering CPI plus 5, 6, 7, 8 [per cent]. It’s been a great period for investors.”

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The next decade would be “far more challenging”, Mr Lamborn said, as companies are revalued and black swan events, from deepening recessions to climate change events, become more regular.

“The investment journey our clients are on is becoming more and more precarious. One hundred year events seem to be happening every 10 years. There is risk everywhere, danger everywhere,” Mr Lamborn, whose firm oversees a collective $600 billion in assets, said.

Mr Delaney said he was “far more optimistic” and predicted returns would stabilise within the next two to three years as governments keep interest rates low and pump stimulus into ailing economies.

“When you look out over the COVID haze, you see things much more clearly,” Mr Delaney said. “You see economies recovering, unemployment rates coming down and things looking far more optimistic.”

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A growing number of Coalition backbenchers have pushed for dumping the legislated rise in the superannuation guarantee to 12 per cent by 2025, arguing it would slow wages and employment growth, but Mr Delaney said this was the wrong approach and argued limiting compulsory contributions would be “disastrous” for members.

“What should we do to support employment in the current context in the economy? That’s a question for fiscal and monetary policy, not for super policy. I think they’re trying to solve the problem with the wrong instrument.

“If people don’t get to 12 per cent, they’ll end up with inadequate retirement savings.”

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Judo Bank’s Joseph Healy warns on ‘zombie firms’


He made the warning as business-focused Judo revealed new analysis it has produced on a predicted increase in “economic debt” accrued in the pandemic – including new loans, deferred interest payments and deferred rent and other payments. Mr Healy said this extra debt was equal to about $25 billion, which was an 8 per cent increase on the $350 billion stock of outstanding small and medium enterprises [SME] credit across the economy.

Against a backdrop of weak profitability and already low business investment, Mr Healy argued the debt splurge would have serious implications for the economy, which he said justified government policy action.

I think the big problem is going to be, for the businesses that get to the other side, by the time they get there they will be so cash-starved.

Neil Slonim, SME advocate of the BankDoctor

“Businesses won’t be able to hire, they won’t be able to invest in expanding, they’ll simply be operating to service this unproductive debt,” he said. “So I think the economic implications are quite significant.”

To address the issue, Mr Healy argued for a program in which the government and private sector worked together to temporarily convert some of the debt into equity for businesses with a viable future. Under this idea, the business could later buy back the equity stake upon meeting financial targets, or they could replace it with debt when they were in better financial health.

Mr Healy said he had discussed the issue with members of the federal Treasury, the Reserve Bank and financial regulators.

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Brett Craig, the portfolio manager of an SME-focused debt fund at Aura Group, said there was a risk of “zombie” firms emerging after the pandemic, but it was up to the lenders to cautiously assess their borrowers.

“There is a risk there, but I think it really comes down to lenders assessing who they are providing capital to,” he said.

Mr Craig said the SME lenders that he worked with had been tightening their risk appetite even before the pandemic struck, including in the challenged retail sector.

In March, the government pledged to provide up to $20 billion in loan guarantees for banks lending to pandemic-hit firms, while the Reserve Bank has provided banks with $90 billion in credit at an interest rate of just 0.25 per cent, in an attempt to boost business lending. Figures so far show both schemes have not been heavily used.

Neil Slonim, an SME advocate of the BankDoctor, which advises small businesses on securing finance, said he thought the bigger question was the extent to which small and medium firms had been able, or were willing, to take on extra debt during the crisis.

“I think the big problem is going to be, for the businesses that get to the other side, by the time they get there they will be so cash-starved that when and if demand picks up, they won’t have the working capital to fund that demand,” Mr Slonim said.

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