With that, I’ll leave you for the night. Thanks for reading. Stay well.
Separate to the aged care regulator, the Aged Care Royal Commission is also looking into the situation at Newmarch house.
Let’s review some of the major developments from today.
- The aged care regulator threatened to revoke the licence of the operator of stricken Newmarch House
- Victoria reported 17 new cases, with confirmation a concerning cluster at a meatworks has now spread to an aged care worker
- The government agency responsible for the Covidsafe app admitted it wasn’t working properly on iPhones
The attorney general, Christian Porter, has announced $63.3m boost to frontline legal services during the Covid-19 crisis.
The government said $20m would go to domestic violence services, while $29.8m would fund other Covid-19 issues such as tenancy disputes, insurance, credit- and debt-related problems, and work-related claims.
Morrison won’t weigh in on Donald Trump’s comments about the potential benefits of injecting disinfectant.
He says the president has explained what he meant – Trump says he was being sarcastic – and “I don’t propose to go over them”.
Morrison is asked whether world leaders have been asking him how Australia has done “it” – it being minimising the spread of and deaths from Covid-19.
The PM notes he spoke to Boris Johnson recently, who was “very much asking that exact question”.
He says he took Johnson through Australia’s measures on border control and tracking and tracing.
Morrison says he was speaking to the Queen too, who was also asking how Australia had performed so well: “She’s so pleased that down under we’re doing well.”
My colleague Paul Karp is also watching this interview with the PM.
Samantha Maiden chances her arm with the PM over the report that Tony Abbott is being courted to run in Eden-Monaro.
Scott Morrison won’t buy in. He wishes the outgoing Labor MP, Mike Kelly, well.
“There will be a preselection, there will be a candidate,” he says of the Liberal party process.
Does he imagine Abbott is interested in returning to parliament?
“I don’t believe he is,” Morrison says.
Scott Morrison is asked why schools be open when parents cannot hold a birthday party for their children.
The PM explains that the premiers sought to make the rules as simple as possible.
“On schools I admit there’s been some confusion there,” he says.
But he says the clear advice is that children are safe at school.
Of distance learning, he acknowledges: “It’s not the best for the kids’ education.”
Scott Morrison is doing a live Q&A with Samantha Maiden on news.com.au as we speak.
The prime minister is asked when the lockdown might start to be wound back.
He notes that some states, – WA and SA, for example – have already begun to loosen some restrictions.
Morrison expects some restrictions might be loosened after the national cabinet meeting on Friday but he doesn’t want to pre-empt any announcements from the states.
“Until there is a vaccine there isn’t the possibility of getting fully back to normal,” he adds.
But the aim is to get as close to normal as possible, and he says it “will take a couple of months to get back to that position”.
More deaths expected at Newmarch House, minister says
The aged care minister, Richard Colbeck, tells the ABC more people are expected to die at Newmarch House.
Patricia Karvelas asks him if the facility should be shut down.
“I don’t think that’s the case,” he says.
Colbeck says the Aged Care Quality and Safeguards Commission has intervened to ensure the situation at Newmarch improves.
“There’s no question that things have improved at the facility,” he says.
A McDonald’s request to waive overtime rates and set shifts for part-timers in the fast food industry has been knocked back by the Fair Work Commission.
The Australian Financial Review reported that the full bench of the commission had rejected the urgent bid from employers to alter the fast food award.
The application was rebuffed despite backing from the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the AFR said.
Instead, the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union, a new leftwing rival to Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association, opposed the changes to the award as an “outrageous attack” on workers’ rights.
The commission rejected the urgent application, saying it did not have evidence before it that McDonald’s revenue had been hit during the pandemic. But the proposal will be considered in more detail at a later date.
Channel Seven’s Mark Riley reports on the nightly news that national cabinet is set to allow gatherings of up to 10 people in the family home after its meeting on Friday.
Some good news from a little earlier today.
All is going well over at Nats HQ.
The aged care minister, Richard Colbeck, will be on ABC Radio National after 6pm. Given the news about Newmarch House, I’ll bring you some of his comments.
I guess that’s that then.
Domestic violence has surged 'dramatically' in Queensland, minister says
Queensland authorities have confirmed a surge in domestic and family violence during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The state’s minister for women, Di Farmer, said service providers had reported a dramatic increase in the brutality and severity of attacks on women and children, AAP reported.
Authorities held an online domestic violence summit to deal with the issue on Wednesday, amid reports magistrates have been inundated with cases of domestic and family violence in their courtrooms, and paramedics have been getting more calls for help.
The health minister, Steven Miles, said he was concerned by the reports from frontline workers. “I’ve been disturbed to hear from our emergency department staff that the reduction in sporting injuries and road trauma has been partially offset by trauma caused by domestic and family violence,” he said.
Farmer said: “If you are a victim of domestic and family violence, life is already incredibly challenging. With the advent of Covid-19, those challenges have increased dramatically.
“If you are a victim you are probably now at home 24 hours a day with a perpetrator who is watching your every move, so your ability to call for help, your ability to escape is severely limited.”
- In Australia, if you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.
Anglicare, the operator of Newmarch House, has responded to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.
Grant Millard, Anglicare Sydney’s chief executive, said in a statement:
We acknowledge the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission have, this afternoon, taken regulatory action, including appointing an independent adviser to provide additional support to Newmarch House.
Since the outbreak, we have had generous support of providers in the Aged Care sector, including Commonwealth and NSW Governments, and various agencies.
While the outbreak at Newmarch House has proved very challenging for all involved, the situation has substantially improved. We will continue to collaborate with key stakeholders as we work through the continuing challenges in the coming weeks.
Our primary concern remains the health, wellbeing and safety of our residents, their families, and our staff.
My colleague Matilda Boseley has filed a story on the Cedar Meats cluster.
A meat processing plant which now has almost 50 confirmed cases of Covid-19 was not told it could be dealing with an outbreak for three days after someone connected to the facility was diagnosed, according to a spokeswoman for the company.
Regulator threatens licence of Newmarch House operator
The aged-care regulator has threatened to revoke the operating licence of Newmarch House, the western Sydney aged-care facility suffering a fatal outbreak of Covid-19.
The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission issued a notice to Anglicare, Newmarch’s operator, that it must “demonstrate to the Commission that the serious risk to care recipients at the Service has been effectively addressed”.
It must also immediately appoint, at its own expense, and independent adviser “to ensure the safety and well-being of care recipients”, and it must provide regular reporting to the commission.
Anglicare has until 5pm on Thursday to agree to the regulator’s request in order to retain its operating license.
After a part-time carer worked six shifts with mild symptoms before being diagnosed with coronavirus on 11 April, more than 60 staff and residents are now Covid-19 positive, with the 16th resident death announced on Tuesday.
The Victorian education minister, James Merlino, is on ABC Radio Melbourne to discuss the state’s schools.
As you might remember, the federal government has been heavily critical of Victoria’s decision to keep students out of the classroom for the term.
Merlino says the health advice remains that if your children can learn from home, they should.
He says the state is now looking how schools might reopen, either in a staggered fashion or not.
But the health advice remains the same, he says.
Merlino says there will be at least a week’s notice before face-to-face teaching resumes.
The WA premier Mark McGowan has warned the state will not “compromise on our hard borders” to allow the AFL season to restart.
“We are not going to compromise on our hard borders just to meet the needs of football,” McGowan told reporters on Wednesday, according to AAP.
“The hub arrangement, in which teams were going to move to Western Australia and play football, was a great arrangement.
“I’d urge the AFL to continue to pursue that arrangement because it would have meant that the integrity of our borders (remains).
“Lots of people move away for work and live in difficult conditions.
“Football players in the current difficult economic times should be no exemption to that.”
West Coast and Fremantle are opposed to hubs and, like the other 16 clubs, they want to see a more traditional home-and-away model where teams fly in and out for matches.
But if WA’s border restrictions don’t ease, the Eagles and the Dockers could be forced into a Victorian-based hub instead.
Victoria’s industrial relations minister, Tim Pallas, has announced that the state will step in and pay $1,500 fortnightly payments to casuals in the public sector who were excluded from the commonwealth jobkeeper program.
Pallas cited the fact that casual staff including swimming pool lifeguards, ticketing staff at museums and park staff were set to miss out on wage subsidies.
Under the Victorian scheme, 3,000 workers will receive the $1,500 fortnightly until the end of September, provided they are happy to be redeployed to other public-sector roles where demand is high, such as healthcare.
Unlike jobkeeper, the workers will receive the payment regardless of age, citizenship and length of service.
This support will help people who have fallen through the cracks and redeploy them in the roles our community needs right now.
These workers are not eligible for the commonwealth’s jobkeeper payments so we’re stepping in and making sure they get the support they need to make it through to the other side of the crisis.
Dave Sharma is now asked to respond to reports that Tony Abbott is being asked to run for the Liberals in Eden-Monaro.
Sharma looks very amused.
“I hadn’t seen those reports,” he says. “I think Tony’s, you know, a former prime minister, he deserves all of our respect.”
“I think he has a contribution to make in public life. Whether elected office is the best way for him to do that or not, that’s really a matter for him.”
Would Sharma like to see him return to parliament?
“I’m neutral,” Sharma says. “It is up to Tony. I don’t favour any candidate.”
The Liberal MP Dave Sharma has drawn the short straw and is on the ABC defending the infighting between the Liberals and the Nationals, and within the Nationals themselves.
It’s been a confusing day. I have got a bit of whiplash trying to keep up with it as well. I think it’s unfortunate that some of these things have been said in public. But I think we have to move on.
I don’t believe this is an Covid-approved activity.
And first, here is the latest on the Draft Tony push, which appears to be disintegrating quite quickly.
Thanks to Elias for his great work today. I’ll be with you into the evening.
And with that, I’ll pass over to my colleague Luke Henriques-Gomes, who will take you through from here.
There is a very unconfirmed rumour circulating on Twitter that Teena McQueen, the vice-president of the Liberal party, is trying to gauge whether there is support for Tony Abbott to be the party’s candidate in the Eden-Monaro byelection.
Insolvency practitioners think Australian businesses shut down by the coronavirus crisis will last only months unless they are allowed to reopen or get more help from the government.
Companies in the hospitality, tourism and retail industries will last less than three months and many already have less than a month of life left, according to a survey of the profession by the industry body the Turnaround Management Association and the insolvency firm KordaMentha.
The survey also found that 80% of insolvency professionals also believe that education, real estate and manufacturing businesses can last less that six months.
They are also tipping a slow economic recovery, with 58% believing it will be U-shaped and just 10% thinking there will be a V-shaped snapback.
Staff member at aged care centre in Bacchus Marsh tests positive
A staff member at an aged-care facility in Bacchus Marsh in Victoria has been diagnosed with Covid-19.
According to a Department of Health and Human Services Victoria statement, the carer worked at Grant Lodge, which is part of Djerriwarrh Health Services.
It said the staff member had been asymptomatic but was tested on Saturday as part of Victoria’s expanded screening program. Updated Covid-19 statistics for the state show an increase of 17 people diagnosed with the virus since Tuesday.
Four of the new cases are linked to the Cedar Meats processing facility, which is now associated with 49 cases.
More on that earlier Mark McGowan presser, from a sporting angle: the WA premier has again pushed for quarantine hubs to be established if the AFL is to get its suspended season back under way.
With tough border controls still in place, and seemingly working just fine given the latest infection figures, McGowan sees no reason to bow to pressure and allow the season to resume on a fly-in, fly-out basis.
“We are not going to compromise on our hard borders just to meet the needs of football,” McGowan said. “The hub arrangement, in which teams were going to move to Western Australia and play football, was a great arrangement.
“I’d urge the AFL to continue to pursue that arrangement because it would have meant that the integrity of our borders [remains]. Lots of people move away for work and live in difficult conditions. Football players in the current difficult economic times should be no exemption to that.”
The federal sports minister, Richard Colbeck, indicated earlier this week that the quarantine idea – which has been largely unpopular with players – had nearly run its course and was unlikely to be used if infection rates continued to decline.
Harbourmaster says he offered to turn Ruby Princess around
The harbourmaster on duty when the Ruby Princess docked on 19 March has told a special inquiry he had been called by the Australian Border Force expressing concerns about the ship and he had offered to “turn it around”.
Cameron Butchart, the port services manager and duty harbourmaster from the NSW Port Authority, said he himself had “a concern for the occupational health and safety” of sending a pilot on to help the ship dock, owing to Covid-19 concerns.
On the night of 18 March and the day of 19 March, he told the special inquiry he had also been called by representatives of Home Affairs and Border Force.
“This particular person certainly had concerns with the situation,” he said of one call. “I believed that I was in a position where ... I used the phrase on the night ‘turn it around’ [which] was probably the simplest way to explain it to someone on shoreside.
“But we more than likely could have held the ship in a certain position. We could have dropped an anchor ... to allow us to gather some more facts.
The commissioner, Bret Walker SC, asked Butchart: “Had you ever experienced anything like that before?”
“Never,” Butchart said.
The duty harbourmaster said it was not within his duties to deny sending a pilot to help the ship dock on to health grounds.
But he rejected the idea that Home Affairs and the Border Force were “not decision makers” and said they “would have been working very closely with biosecurity in making this decision” to let the ship dock.
The inquiry has adjourned for today.
An aged care employee who tested positive to Covid-19 was a close contact of an employee at Cedar Meats, where a coronavirus cluster of nearly 50 cases has developed.
The chief executive of Doutta Galla aged care in Footscray reportedly wrote to families on Wednesday confirming that the staff member had tested positive.
The person had last worked at the facility on 26 April, Vanda Iaconese said in the letter reported by Nine News.
Jenny Mikakos, the Victorian health minister, told reporters that the Doutta Galla employee was a close contact of a worker at Cedar Meats, a meat processing facility in Brooklyn.
“This person I understand is a close contact of a worker at Cedar Meats,” Mikakos said. “Again, this is a private aged care facility. The testing of residents and staff is being undertaken. All residents ... are being well supported and observed.”
Mikakos defended state health authorities’ handling of the Cedar Meats outbreak, amid criticism from the opposition, which is calling for an inquiry.
Iaconese, of the aged care home, told families there were no signs of an outbreak at the facility. It has activated its emergency response procedures and notified authorities.
The government expects infections to rise as social restriction measures are eased, with the deputy chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, warning that lockdowns could be reintroduced if further waves of Covid-19 are recorded.
Kelly said the decision to keep the rules relaxed would that require authorities were satisfied with a combination of factors, including that the virus’s effective reproduction rate remained below one and there was a low growth rate of infections.
If local health districts became overwhelmed to a point where they couldn’t respond to an outbreak, lockdowns could be tightened.
Kelly has defended how authorities have handled an outbreak connected to Melbourne’s Cedar Meats Processing plant, after reports that it took weeks to identify it as a cluster.
Asked what authorities have learnt from this outbreak, Kelly said:
It is very similar to a criminal investigation. You don’t expect everything to come out in the first few minutes or hours or even days. Sometimes it can be quite complex.
I don’t believe and I don’t accept the premise that Victorian DHHS [Department of Health and Human Services] hid this in any way. They have been certainly very transparent and open about the issues that they are facing.
Paul Kelly also stresses that “it’s important that we have as many people as possible downloading” the Covidsafe contact tracing app.
He says the app has been downloaded 5.1m times since it launched 10 days ago.
Responding to concerns about the app’s compatibility with smartphones, he says “over 90%” of smartphone operating systems are compatible with it.
Kelly also says that scientific research of Covid-19 has now confirmed that “children in general are not as much of an issue in terms of this virus”:
It is absolutely clear now that it is less infectious in children. Children are less likely to spread the virus between each other, or even from children to adults.
They are less likely to be infected and they are less likely to have severe infection and very, very rarely does that end up in intensive care and the more severe end of the spectrum.
Deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly gives Covid-19 update
Australia’s Covid-19 statistics as of Wednesday afternoon are:
- 6,875 cases across the country, 62 patients are in hospital, 27 are in intensive care and 18 are on ventilators
- 97 deaths
- 688,000 tests have been conducted
- 26 new cases have been diagnosed in the last 24 hours, which Kelly notes is a higher daily increase than recent figures but says they are mostly from outbreaks in Victoria and NSW.
Government ministers including the prime minister have repeated the claim we need some 40% of the 16 million Australian smartphone users to download the Covidsafe app for it to be effective.
It remains unclear where this figure came from. The Department of Health’s acting secretary, Caroline Edwards, said she had never advised the health minister, Greg Hunt, of any download target, and no advice from the department had indicated what percentage of people need to download the app for national cabinet to consider easing restrictions at this Friday’s meeting.
One major issue is many of the most vulnerable groups, including the Indigenous population, people living with disabilities, people experiencing homelessness and older people are unlikely to have a phone that can run the app.
Although the government messaging has been that the app is like “sunscreen”, Edwards stressed that people should not be lulled into a false sense of security by having it, nor should they be worried if they don’t.
She said the app was just an add-on to the manual contact tracing methods, not designed to replace them. Manual contact tracing will need to continue to be strong as restrictions are eased.
Nine is reporting that an aged-care facility in Melbourne has gone into lockdown after an employee tested positive for Covid-19.
The report says the employee at the Doutta Galla aged care home in Footscray had last worked at the facility on 26 April.
“There is not an outbreak nor a Covid-19 cluster,” the facility’s chief executive, Vanda Iaconese, is reported as saying.
Carnival Australia manager ‘could not explain at all why’ Ruby Princess docked
A NSW Port Authority senior manager has told an inquiry that the manager of Carnival Australia “could not explain at all why the ship docked” when the Ruby Princess returned to Sydney on 19 March.
Robert Rybanic, the senior manager of cruise and terminal operations at NSW Port Authority, said Paul Mifsud, a manager of Carnival Australia, told him “it was basically business as usual”.
“He said that NSW Health had deemed the ship low risk,” Rybanic told a special inquiry into the ship. “He said it was not a Covid ship, that the booking of ambulances were not related to Covid.”
Earlier, a trainee paramedic, Simeon Pridmore, told the inquiry he had written that a sick passenger from the ship was “suspected [of] Covid” and he was taken “directly to a Covid-designated area” when he arrived at Royal Prince Alfred hospital.
The ship’s port agent, Dobrila Tokovic, also told the inquiry earlier today that the ambulances had not been called for respiratory issues, but because the patients had “other conditions” affecting their hearts and nerves.
A paramedic has told the Ruby Princess special inquiry that when he arrived to take two sick passengers off the ship on 19 March he was told by the ship’s doctor or nurse that other passengers had already left the ship and gone to hospital to get tested for Covid-19.
Mathew Symonds told the special inquiry into the ship that he had boarded the vessel and went to its medical centre at 2.48am to transport a sick patient to Royal Prince Alfred hospital. That patient later died of Covid-19.
In a written statement, he said either the doctor or nurse onboard had told him other passengers had disembarked the ship and had gone to RPA to be tested.
The commissioner, Bret Walker SC, asked Symonds if he could have been confused and been told that “swabs” rather than passengers “had been disembarked for testing”.
Symonds said that was “definitely not” the case.
The paramedic also said he had observed the sick passenger was receiving oxygen treatment onboard, using “nasal prongs”, also known as an “oxygen nasal cannula”. He also provided the patient with oxygen while transporting her.
Symonds said the woman had an oxygen saturation of 94%, which “with a comorbidity of emphysema” would “not strike me as odd”.
Barilaro comment sidelined him, Constance says
The NSW transport minister, Andrew Constance, has linked his decision to back away from the Liberal preselection contest for the Eden-Monaro byelection to an alleged “smear” by his deputy premier, John Barilaro.
In a press conference this afternoon, Constance said he had been “sidelined” by the front page of today’s Daily Telegraph, which featured an article alleging that Barilaro, who announced he would not contest Eden-Monaro for the Nationals earlier in the week, had labelled him a “cunt” in private conversations when considering a tilt at the federal seat.
This morning Constance announced that he had changed his mind and would not quit state politics to run for the federal seat – just a day after announcing the plan.
When I said politics is stuffed in this country, and some of the people in it need to have a long hard look, I meant it.
We’re now seeing that in such a great way on the front page of the Telegraph. I mean, stuff that. I mean, like, seriously. I hadn’t signed up to, you know, contest federally to be called that type of smear.
Constance said he had since had a “fruitful” conversation with Barilaro after seeing the newspaper article, but added:
I think people have had a gutful of this stuff. I’ve had a gutful of it.
He criticised people who sought to “play politics” over his decision to open up about his struggle with mental health after summer’s bushfires in his local seat of Bega on the NSW south coast.
We’re trying to destigmatise these things and we’ve got, you know, big strong people out there who think that it’s OK to run round and play politics with it.
When you see, you know, your name associated with that type of language on the front page of the paper, anyone thinking about entering politics … why would I sit here for the next five weeks defending that type of front page?
Government agency admits problems with Covidsafe on iPhones
The government agency behind Covidsafe has admitted to a parliamentary committee that there are issues with the iPhone version of the app.
Some 5.1 million people have downloaded and registered on the app on both iPhone and Android, but those on iPhone may not be recording accurate data about people they’ve been in contact with.
The Digital Transformation Agency chief, Randall Brugeaud, told the Senate committee that if the app is running and in the foreground with the screen unlocked, it is exchanging Bluetooch handshakes with others running the app in the area, but this connectivity lessens if the screen is locked and the app is in the background.
“What we can say is the quality of the Bluetooth connectivity for phones that have the app installed running in the foreground is very good. And it progressively deteriorates and the quality of the connection is not as good as you get to a point where the phone is locked in the app is running in the background.”
This admission comes despite repeated claims from the government that the iPhone app operates the same, whether in the foreground or the background.
Brugeaud said another factor would be if the iPhone was older, in which case the quality would also be poorer (the app doesn’t work on phones running below iOS 10).
Officials from both the Department of Health and the Attorney General’s Department also reiterated the rules about accessing the data, stating that police could not access it for any purpose.
While they could not give a “100%” guarantee that the data, held in Australia by Amazon, would not be accessed by US law enforcement they pointed out it will be a crime to move the data outside of Australia, and said they had legal advice from the Australian government solicitor that made them confident privacy would not be compromised.
They refused to waive privilege to detail the legal advice.
The Department of Health acting secretary, Caroline Edwards, also revealed that the department was seeking to determine whether Strathfield council had forced staff to download the app, in breach of the law. The matter may end up being referred to police.
That’s where I will leave you for today. Thanks, as always, for reading. I want to give a special shoutout to my neighbour, who has spent the last four hours banging a hammer into the wall next to my head for no discernible reason. Couldn’t have done it without you.
I’ll hand you over to my colleague Elias Visontay, who will take you through the rest of the afternoon.
The health department is investigating this Daily Telegraph report that employees at Strathfield council in Sydney have been ordered to download the Covidsafe app on to their work devices.
McGowan also says the state’s border will remain closed for the foreseeable future. He also says WA is better than NSW – an obvious lie.
Western Australia is a much better place than New South Wales so I can understand people in New South Wales wanting to come to Western Australia but, no, we will keep the border in place for a longer period of time to protect ourselves from potential infection spreading here from New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.
Western Australia's unemployment rate above 10%, McGowan says
Mark McGowan says he believes the unemployment rate in WA is between 10% and 11%. About 80,000 people have lost their jobs since the Covid-19 crisis began.
That is way too high and clearly we need to take steps to bring that down. It is catastrophic for many people. It is catastrophic for many businesses. It is very sad to see it. Clearly the jobkeeper payment and the increase in the jobseeker payment will expire at some point in time so we need to come up with ways of getting the economy back on its feet in a Covid-safe and health-safe way.
Before the Senate’s Covid-19 committee began today’s hearing, the chair, Katy Gallagher, made some comments about the Eden-Monaro contest and Andrew Constance’s decision to pull out.
She told reporters in Canberra:
I think it’s a contrast – we’ve got Kristy McBain, a local candidate, there working hard, part of her community, putting the community first and then we’ve got this unseemly battle that goes right to the top of the Morrison government and I think that says it all, really. The people of Eden-Monaro need leadership … someone who cares about the people of that electorate rather than someone’s political ambition.
Gallagher said McBain was “out in front by miles” in the race to demonstrate who the “next best representative” of the electorate is. She also addressed evidence by the home affairs department on Tuesday that it refused to guarantee it would respond to subpoenas from the Ruby Princess inquiry:
Certainly, you got the feeling the federal government was prepared to comply with the special commission of inquiry up to a point and they certainly gave themselves room to move in that space, and that would ultimately be a matter for the government and I think that is concerning. Apparently we’re all in this together until we’re not all in this together.
Western Australia goes one week with no new Covid-19 cases
Mark McGowan is speaking in Perth. The WA premier says the state has recorded no new cases of Covid-19 overnight. That’s its seventh day in a row without a new case.
The state still has 14 active cases, with seven people in hospital. Three remain in intensive care.
Another prominent Liberal party member has ruled himself out of contention for pre-selection in the Eden-Monaro byelection. Senator Jim Molan, who had been tipped to nominate, says he will not put his hand up.
He’s just issued a statement, insisting he was not “intimidated by the prospect of competing in a preselection or in a campaign” but that he is due to have surgery soon.
It is my belief that the most important contribution I can make to the Morrison government, and to serve the people of New South Wales who supported me so strongly, is to continue to engage on national security and sovereignty issues in the Senate.
The Covid-19 crisis has graphically demonstrated what those of us who have been advocating for a national security strategy in Australia have been speaking about for years: the absence of a strategy exposes us to unacceptable risk.
I thank colleagues and supporters who have suggested to me that I may be the right person to put myself forward to represent the people and communities of Eden-Monaro, to fight for their views in recovering from both bushfire and Covid-19, and to represent their interests in Canberra.
Because of media reports, I do wish to clarify that no one has tried to force me to not nominate, nor was I ever intimidated by the prospect of competing in a preselection or in a campaign. We now have a range of good Liberal candidates for Eden-Monaro who will be subject to the democratic process of preselection. This will be the first formal preselection conducted through a plebiscite under democratic reform rules in NSW, something which I and many others fought for over many years.
My decision was also strongly influenced by the fact that I must have surgery on a condition I have been putting off for the last year because of politics. I cannot put surgery off any longer and I will enter hospital tomorrow and expect a full recovery.
The Morrison government has led us brilliantly through Covid-19 crisis, and as a proud resident of Eden-Monaro, I shall join my fellow Liberals in campaigning fiercely for our endorsed candidate to join the prime minister’s team as he guides Australia back to a secure, safe and prosperous post-Covid-19 existence.
A paramedic who took a sick passenger off the Ruby Princess wrote that the patient was “suspected [of] Covid”, a special inquiry has heard.
Earlier today, the ship’s port agent, Dobrila Tokovic, said ambulances had not been called for respiratory issues but because the patients had “other conditions” affecting their hearts and nerves.
But she said the ship’s doctor had told her to let paramedics know the passengers had been swabbed for Covid-19 and they should wear protective equipment.
Simeon Pridmore, a trainee paramedic who transported one passenger, told the inquiry that his case description on the day had said: “On board testing showed negative for influenza and suspected Covid.”
He said his case description was “an amalgamation of both a doctor’s report – I received a verbal handover and a written handover – as well as info provided by the patient”.
Earlier, Tokovic told the inquiry that sick passengers were usually sent to St Vincent’s hospital, but that these two were had been to Royal Prince Alfred hospital.
Counsel assisting, Richard Beasley SC, asked if this was because Royal Prince Alfred was “allocated as a ‘Covid response hospital’” and Tokovic said she did not recall.
Pridmore later told the inquiry that he had been taken “directly to a Covid-designated area” when his ambulance arrived at Royal Prince Alfred.
The Walkley Foundation may as well hand over the award for headline of the year now, we’ve just flushed the competition (sorry).
Trust Sydney’s rental market to have already developed a vaccine for Covid-19.
Here’s something I missed from that earlier interview of Scott Morrison by Ray Hadley. The prime minister says NRL players who refuse to get a flu shot should be banned from competing.
Morrison is adamant that players should abide by a “no jab, no play” policy after the Gold Coast player Bryce Cartwright polarised the rugby league community by refusing to consent to the shot.
Cartwright rejected a request to be vaccinated as part of strict measures to restart the NRL competition on 28 May and must now explain his actions to the NRL chief medical officer, Paul Bloomfield.
“When I was social services minister I started the ‘no jab, no play’ rule into the childcare facilities,” Morrison told Hadley on Wednesday. “And I think the same rule applies there – no jab, no play.”
An NRL spokesperson told AAP that players who refused to receive the shot would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis amid consultation with club and NRL medical staff.
While reports claimed Cartwright faced a ban, the NRL spokesperson refused to speculate on possible penalties if a player could not justify refusing to take the shot.
The NRL is not aware of any other player rejecting the jab.
A Rugby League Players Association spokesman said on Wednesday a player who refused to be vaccinated had the option to sign a waiver in order for them to continue to train and be available for selection while their case was dealt with by the NRL.
The spokesman said the RLPA strongly recommended flu shots in biosecurity protocols but believed players who refused should be dealt with case by case, and that the vaccination was not mandatory.
The league community appears to be split down the middle by Cartwright’s stance as the majority of NRL teams returned to training on Wednesday.
The former Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks and New South Wales captain Paul Gallen backed the Titans star.
“I’m not against the flu shot, but I just think if they don’t want to have it, they don’t have to have it,” he told 2GB’s Wide World of Sports Radio. “If they don’t want to put it into their body, they don’t have to have it.”
No new Covid-19 cases recorded in the ACT
The ACT has again recorded no new cases of Covid-19 in the past 24 hours.
A total of 103 people have recovered from Covid-19 and have been released from self-isolation, according to the territory’s health department. The ACT has recorded three deaths from the virus.
The port agent for the Ruby Princess has told a special inquiry that Australian Border Force officers were “aware” that passengers were in isolation onboard with influenza-like illnesses.
Dobrila Tokovic, an employee of Carnival Australia, said she had met with three ABF officers and one from the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment at 6am on 19 March and “[The ABF] asked me about the people in isolation”.
“They were aware of them already,” she said. “He asked me about where they were, were they isolated. And was advised that they didn’t want to see them.”
“It is not unusual for ABF officers to not want to see passengers who may be unwell,” she added.
Canned soup has beaten out toilet paper as the top supermarket item purchased in the panic-buying spree that gripped Australia in March, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
The ABS released its full March retail sales report on Wednesday, showing a record 8.5% jump in the value of purchases. Ben James, the director of the ABS quarterly economy wide surveys, said there was “unprecedented demand in food retailing, household goods, and other retailing”.
“However the impact of social distancing regulations saw sales fall in cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services, and discretionary spending in clothing footwear and personal accessory retailing, and department stores, was also weak,” he said.
While food retail spending grew by 24.1%, some obvious areas were hit hard. Restaurants and takeaway food services went down by 22.9%, clothing, footwear and personal accessory retailing fell 22.6% and department stores by 8.9%.
But in the race to be the most panic-purchased item, canned and mix dry soup has beaten out all competitors, rising by 180% through March. Flour sales rose by more than 140%. Toilet and other paper products came in third, rising by almost 120%.
There were other big increases for canned fruit or vegetables (100%), pasta and noodles (110%) and long-life milk (80%).
Sky is reporting that the New South Wales deputy premier, John Barilaro, will still not run for Eden-Monaro after sending one of the all-time “texts from last night” to the federal Nationals leader, Michael McCormack.
Constance withdraws from Eden-Monaro, apologising for 'confusion'
Andrew Constance has released a statement confirming he will not contest Liberal party preselection for the seat of Eden-Monaro, saying he wants to “remain focused on the bushfire recovery”:
I need to remain focused on the bushfire recovery and be grateful for the opportunities I already have. The community’s needs at this difficult time must be the centre of the campaign.
I appreciate people will be confused by my actions over the past couple of days, and for that I am sorry.
I also have unfinished business as Transport and Roads Minister. I want to deliver crucial life-saving reforms in road safety and a safer, cleaner future in public transport.
I want to thank the Premier for her incredible support and will continue to lead the bushfire recovery in my community by working with her, Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons and the recovery coordinators Dick Adams and Andrew Colvin.
As Bega MP I will be supporting the Liberal campaign and ask the people of Eden Monaro to reflect on the benefits of having a member of the federal Liberal government.
After two days with no new cases of Covid-19, New Zealand has recorded two new cases on Wednesday.
A day after its prime minister Jacinda Ardern joined a meeting of Australia’s national cabinet meeting, the country has also recorded its 21st Covid-19 death. The woman was a resident of the Rosewood rest home in Christchurch.
Labor’s aged care spokeswoman, Julie Collins, has renewed her calls for the aged care royal commission to investigate the coronavirus outbreak at Newmarch House amid revelations about the management of surge staff at the western Sydney facility.
Collins was responding to a Guardian Australia report that the government-contracted private medical firm Aspen Medical sent responders who had boarded the Ruby Princess into a Sydney aged-care facility battling its own deadly outbreak just days later:
New reports today about the second wave of infections at Newmarch House underscore the need for a full investigation into what has gone wrong at the facility.
The residents of Newmarch House, their loved ones and staff deserve answers ... Sixteen residents have sadly passed away at the facility and more than 60 people have tested positive.
Australia’s aged care system was broken before the COVID-19 pandemic and this is only putting extra stress on the system.
Two Aspen Medical surge staff clinicians who conducted screening and testing of crew onboard the Ruby Princess up until its departure from Port Kembla on 23 April worked a shift at Newmarch on 25 April after testing negative for Covid-19.
The revelation came as Aspen complied with a request to stand down a member of its surge staff on Monday after Newmarch’s operator, Anglicare, accused the carer of “breaches of the PPE [Personal Protective Equipment] protocol”.
Two passengers who were taken by ambulance off the Ruby Princess would ordinarily have been taken to St Vincent’s hospital but were instead taken to Royal Prince Alfred, which was a designated “Covid response hospital”, a special inquiry has heard.
Dobrila Tokovic, the port agent for the Ruby Princess, booked ambulances for two sick passengers on 19 March – one of whom later died of Covid-19.
Tokovic has told the inquiry today that the ambulances were not called for respiratory issues but were called because the patients had “other conditions” affecting their hearts and nerves. But she said they were taken to a different hospital than usual.
Counsel assisting, Richard Beasley, said a transcript of her call showed she told paramedics: “We’ve been requested by New South Wales [sic] to take them to the Royal Prince Alfred.”
Tokovic told the inquiry today that “we always select St Vincent’s, as just a common, ‘Please send them to St Vincent’s.’”
Beasley asked: “RPA was allocated as a Covid response hospital, do you recall having any discussion with anyone about that fact? And that’s why the RPA was nominated?”
Tokovic said she did not recall.
The port agent also said that when paramedics had boarded the ship, the onboard doctor had discussed one patient’s “oxygen saturation”.
“She said that was what had changed throughout the night,” Tokovic said.
She added that when she had arrived at the dock, there was nobody from the NSW Port Authority, NSW Health or Australian Border Force present.
Tokovic said she had been the one tasked with taking the 13 Covid-19 swabs from the ship on 19 March, and she had given them to a driver who was a subcontractor hired by Carnival Australia to take them to the lab.
Yesterday a NSW Health senior epidemiologist said those test results had been delayed because the lab had not processed them as a priority.
The federal health minister, Greg Hunt, is speaking in Melbourne. He says there are still 66 people with Covid-19 in hospitals across Australia, including 27 in ICU and 18 on ventilators.
Hunt also says there has now been more than 5m downloads and registrations of the Covidsafe contact tracing app.
Andrew Constance to withdraw from Eden-Monaro byelection
My colleague Anne Davies has confirmed those reports that Andrew Constance will pull out of the Eden Monaro byelection – just 24 hours after announcing his intention to run.
The NSW treasurer, Dominic Perrottet, has told Sky News this morning that he wants restaurants and cafes in the state to begin reopening as Covid-19 restrictions ease.
“The main focus we have at the moment … we want the NSW economy to be opened up as much as possible but at the same time, we want to do that in a way that keeps people safe,” he told Sky.
“We obviously want to see restaurants and cafes move from takeaway to actually having people sit down, and obviously will be in a way that social distancing is in practice, but we have a range of areas we are working through.”
This, I have to stress, has not been confirmed. Sky, SBS and the Ten network are reporting that the New South Wales transport minister, Andrew Constance, will withdraw from the Eden Monaro byelection.
Very Mal Meninga if true.
A port agent for Carnival Australia, the operator of the Ruby Princess, has told a special inquiry that the ship “hurried” back to Sydney early because it had Covid-19 swabs that needed urgent testing.
She added that this meant Australian Border Force officers were “not going to be there”, and would not be present when it docked.
Dobrila Tokovic, who was the port agent for the Ruby Princess on 19 March, told the inquiry that the ship had been scheduled to dock at 6am but had come in at 3am.
“[The ABF] are present on the basis of the scheduled disembarkation time,” she said. “They would not have been on site until 6am.”
Tokovic said she had called an ABF manager to “notify them the vessel is coming in earlier” and said two passengers needed immediate ambulance transfers to hospital.
Counsel assisting the inquiry, Richard Beasley SC, asked the port agent if she understood this early arrival was because the ship was “hurrying back to Sydney because it had Covid swabs that needed urgent testing”.
She said this was her understanding.
The inquiry continues.
In that same interview, Scott Morrison said he thought the Ruby Princess inquiry commissioner, Bret Walker SC, was “a bit out of line” after his tough questioning reduced a senior epidemiologist to tears.
Walker is heading the New South Wales inquiry into the cruise ship fiasco. On Tuesday a senior epidemiologist, Kelly-Anne Ressler, broke down under questioning from Walker, saying members of the state’s public health unit “are working very hard”.
“We did what we could,” she said. “And if we could do it again, it would be very different. It was not our intent.”
Speaking to Ray Hadley this morning, Morrison said he thought Walker was “a bit out of line”.
“And I think to see her reduced to that under the aggressive line of questioning, you’ve got to get the balance right on this one and I hope Mr Walker would reflect on that,” he said.
“[Public servants] have been working day and night for months and months and months. They’re not perfect, they’re not going to get it right every single time.”
Good morning, blog readers, thanks as always for hanging out with me.
In the time of coronavirus, a lot of our petty grievances seem to have fallen away as we focus on the bigger issue facing us all. It’s in that spirit, it seems, that the Sydney radio shock jock Ray Hadley and the prime minister, Scott Morrison, are speaking again.
You might remember Hadley and Morrison’s bromance came to a spectacular end in 2017 when the then treasurer bumped his regular spot on radio 2GB for an interview with the ABC. Hadley banned Morrison from his show, accusing him of lying, being “boring” and treating him “like an idiot”.
Well, earlier this morning Morrison was back with Hadley, who offered his “sincere apologies” to the prime minister.
“A few years ago I had a blue with you and it was the subject of much publicity,” Hadley said.
“I want to apologise, because I think you’ve proven since your time, particularly this critical time, you’ll end up one of our great prime ministers. I think you have handled yourself with class, dignity and distinction and a level of energy I’ve rarely seen. So accept my sincere apologies.
“You’re a great prime minister and I appreciate your time today.”
Morrison accepted the apology. Love in the time of coronavirus, eh.
That’s where I’ll leave you this morning but my inimitable colleague Michael McGowan will guide you through the rest of the day.
In sports news, overnight the Albury council voted against the Melbourne Storm using its facilities.
The NRL team relocated up to the NSW border town after they were refused permission to train in Victoria.
A little more from Jim Chalmers:
Jobkeeper has the capacity to do a heap of good in our workforce and in our broader community as well ... but the confusion around it, the poor communication, the fumbled implementation, the exemptions from the jobkeeper payments, means so many more Australians will join the unemployment queue as a consequence of these decisions than is necessary.
So when unemployment spikes in the next little while, and it will, Australians need to know that that unemployment rate is higher than it needed to be because of the way the government has gone about this.
The federal shadow treasurer, Jim Chalmers, has criticised Josh Frydenberg’s management of the jobkeeper program.
Jobkeeper is a good idea, being badly implemented, badly communicated, and too many workers are left out and left behind ...
When the treasurer says that this program is coming in under budget, what he really means is that it is too hard for too many businesses and too many workers to access the scheme itself.
The federal minister for agriculture, David Littleproud, is speaking now.
He is advocating for an additional levy on all Australian dairy products, similar to those now imposed on milk, to support farmers.
We’ve lost over 500 dairy farmers in the last 12 months. There is considerable structural reform that needs to take place within the dairy market ...
Australians need to understand that dairy farmers don’t get that full 10 cents. They’re only getting a small portion of that ...
Some of it goes into butter and cheese and yoghurt and some of the branded milk doesn’t also have that levy. So we asked the supermarkets to work with processors to ensure there is a better mechanism to get more back to the dairy farm gate to help dairy farmers survive through the drought, the fire and now Covid-19.
The numbers so far
So here is what we know about the new Covid-19 cases across the country.
- Victoria – 17, including four connected to Cedar Meat
- NSW – nine, with five still under investigation
- Tasmania – two, including one health care worker
- Queensland – zero
Two new Covid-19 cases in Tasmania
Tasmania’s health minister, Sarah Courtney, said two more people had been diagnosed with Covid-19 overnight.
One patient was a direct contact of an existing case and the other a healthcare worker from Launceston general hospital.
Courtney said that person had not been at work for nearly a fortnight.
We had said before that it wasn’t going to be unexpected if we got further cases and, while it is always hopeful that we won’t, we need to be mindful that this disease does exist in Tasmania. Tasmanians need to be vigilant. And to that end, I’d like to remind Tasmanians how important it is to be aware of your symptoms.
Victoria’s treasurer, Tim Pallas, has confirmed that the state has recorded 17 additional Covid-19 cases overnight.
Of these, four are linked to the Cedar Meats outbreak, taking the total for that cluster to 49. Seven of today’s cases are overseas travellers in mandatory quarantine. Six remain under investigation. So we’ve had no new deaths reported overnight.
There are now eight people with coronavirus in hospital in Victoria, six in intensive care.
More than 10,000 tests were conducted in the state yesterday.
Inquiries into the Ruby Princess cruise ship continue today. Yesterday it was revealed that a senior doctor onboard told a NSW Health employee that “we just have to stop all cruise ships” from as early as 8 March.
My colleague Naaman Zhou is back on deck covering the inquiries today.
Catch up on what you missed here:
Victoria’s opposition leader has taken to Twitter with a fairly searing condemnation of the state’s handling of the Cedar Meats cluster.
Victoria reports 17 new cases of Covid-19
The ABC is reporting that there are 17 new cases in Victoria today.
Four of them have come from the Cedar Meats cluster. The rest are from people in hotel quarantine or are still under investigation.
More information to come on this one.
One of the biggest news stories in Victoria this week is, of course, the Cedar Meats processing plant. Forty-five people associated with the cluster have now tested positive and the abattoir has been shut down for deep cleaning.
The meat works management has previously said they first became aware of one of their workers being infected on 27 April, but the Australia newspaper is today reporting that the first case was diagnosed on 2 April.
It said the Victoria Department of Health and Human Services confirmed there was a positive case in early April but the worker did not attend the facility while infectious, and therefor the facility was not considered an exposure site.
Hopefully I can bring you a bit more information on this one once Victoria holds its daily press conference.
Catch up with the Melbourne meat works situation here:
The NSW chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, has spoken about the Aspen health workers’ presence on both the Ruby Princess and at the Newmarch House aged care home.
If every time a healthcare worker who cared for a patient with Covid was then was required to take 14 days we wouldn’t have healthcare workers to care for patients ...
In terms of the workers we have no indication that they were in any way the source of infection ...
At the moment the earliest introduction into the facility was the original aged care worker.
NSW reports nine new coronavirus cases
Glady Berejiklian is holding her daily press conference now.
The NSW premier says nine new cases of Covid-19 were identified in the state overnight.
If you are looking for an informative and moving podcast to start your day, may I suggest today’s episode of Guardian Australia’s Full Story.
Its host, Laura Murphy-Oates, talks with the Guardian Australia reporter Ben Doherty about the more than 1 million people in Australia who have been excluded from government assistance.
Frydenberg defended the government’s plan to remove the addition $550 jobseeker supplement in October, returning recipients to receiving about $40 a day.
I believe that Australia has a fair and decent welfare and safety net ... The reality is that we want to get as many people off the unemployment lines and into a job, and we can do that through reforms in the recovery stage, namely around infrastructure tax, industrial relations deregulation skills ...
Our spending through the coronavirus process has been consistent right along, it’s temporary, it’s targeted and proportionate, and it uses existing tax and transfer system.
Frydenberg is having a busy morning. He’s speaking with ABC radio now.
Unlike his fellow cabinet member Dan Tehan, Frydenberg has encouraged parents to listen to state premiers on whether to send their children to school.
I want my kids to go back to school as quickly as possible. They’re obviously home-schooling – I’ve got young children.
Like many other families that will take the medical advice and will follow what the Victorian government has outlined, because obviously it’s their decision when it comes to government schools and when it comes to non-government schools.
Josh Frydenberg said the government was keen to have large portions of the Australia economy back online by the start of July if the curve continues to flatten.
The fact is we saw just a few weeks ago the number of coronavirus cases here in Australia increase by more than 20% per day, that is now well below 1%. And as a result of flattening the curve, we should be able to ease those restrictions.
They’re the discussions the national cabinet had yesterday and they’ll have again on Friday. The lesson for history, the early 1990s, with a massive spike in unemployment, the quicker you can get people back to jobs the better off the economy and the better off those individuals.
The West Australian is reporting on its front page today that the federal treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, is now receiving round-the-clock protection from the federal police. This is allegedly due to threats he has received in relation to the economic fallout from the Covid-19 lockdowns.
Frydenberg was asked about this on ABC this morning.
They’re matters the federal police handle and I will leave any comments to them and the minister for home affairs. You know, they make their assessments and I behave accordingly ...
I’m getting about my daily job. Yesterday I made a speech to the National Press Club about the importance of getting people back to jobs and back to work and the $4bn price tag from the restrictions – that’s the loss of economic activity each week, as these restrictions stay in place – and the importance of having them lifted in accordance with the medical advice.
More developments from the Newmarch House aged care home.
Aspen Medical clinicians who tested cruise ship crew for coronavirus later worked in aged-care home where 16 people have died.
My colleague Elias Visontay has the full report:
Welcome to today’s coverage of the coronavirus pandemic in Australia.
We will bring you all the latest news and updates as the day goes on. You have me, Matilda Boseley, with you for the first part of the day.
Last night Scott Morrison announced on Instagram that the Queen had called to wish Australians well in dealing with coronavirus, bushfires and drought, AAP reports.
“Was very kind to receive Her Majesty’s call this evening to check in and see how we’re all getting on in Australia,” Morrison wrote on Instagram on Tuesday night.
“The Queen was very interested to hear about our progress in combating Covid-19 and was so pleased we have managed to prevent the terrible impacts.
“Our recovery from the bushfires was also a key area of interest for her as well as the ongoing drought.
“Her Majesty was also pleased to hear our horse races were still running in Australia and sent her very best wishes to all Australians.”
In other overnight developments:
- Mike Pence confirmed that the White House was considering winding down its coronavirus taskforce. The news comes as the US’s death toll surpassed 70,000, representing more than a quarter of all coronavirus deaths reported across the world.
- UK overtook Italy to become the country with the highest Covid-19 death toll in Europe, reaching 29,427. There are now calls for an inquiry into the country’s response.
- One of the UK’s top scientific coronavirus advisers, Neil Ferguson, has resigned after it was discovered he had broken strict lockdown rules.
- The confirmed global death toll passed 250,000, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers.
- The Five Eyes intelligence network, the World Health Organization and Dr Anthony Fauci, the leading US expert on infections diseases and a key member of Donald Trump’s coronavirus taskforce, have all said there is no current evidence to suggest that coronavirus leaked from a Chinese research laboratory.
OK, let’s get started.