Australia to ease coronavirus lockdown in three-phased process

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says states to decide on implementation but government hopes to remove all curbs by July.

Australia will ease social-distancing restrictions implemented to slow the spread of the coronavirus in a three-step process, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday, with the aim of removing all curbs by July.

Australia imposed strict social-distancing restrictions and closed its borders in March in decisions that are credited with drastically slowing the number of new infections of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.


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With fewer than 20 new cases being recorded each day, Morrison said Australian states and territories on Friday agreed to a road map to remove most of the curbs.

“You can stay under the doona forever. You’ll never face any danger,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra, using an Australian word for a duvet. “But we’ve got to get out from under the doona at some time.”

Morrison said it will be up to Australia‘s various states and territories to decide when to begin implement each stage. Each step is expected to be separated by a four-week transition.

Despite the staggered easing, Morrison warned the country should still expect further outbreaks.

Australia has had fewer than 7,000 confirmed cases of COVD-19 and fewer than 800 people are still sick with the disease. Almost 100 people have died.

‘Baby steps’

Under the first stage of the plan, restaurants and cafes currently limited to takeaway services will be allowed to reopen, but with a maximum of 10 customers at any one time.

“Step 1 is tentative, baby steps into normalisation,” Australia‘s Chief Medical Officer Dr Brendan Murphy told the briefing.

If no major outbreaks are recorded states and territories will move to stage two where gyms, cinemas and galleries will be allowed to re-open, albeit with only 20 customers at a time.

At this point, states that have closed their borders would start to allow some interstate travel, Morrison said.

When implemented, stage three will permit gatherings of up to 100 people, allow employees to return to their offices and see the re-opening of nightclubs.

All interstate travel will be allowed, along with some limited international travel, including flights between Australia and New Zealand.

International students would also potentially be allowed to return to Australia, but would face two weeks in quarantine.

Jobs lost 

While the lockdown measures have successfully prevented local hospitals from being swamped by coronavirus patients, they have taken a devastating toll on the economy.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg estimated the lockdown is costing the country 4 billion Australian dollars ($2.6 billion) a week.

Australia‘s central bank on Friday predicted the country is facing its biggest economic contraction on record, even with government and central bank support pledges totalling 320 billion Australian dollars ($203 billion) to cushion the economic blow.

Despite the government subsidising the wages of about six million Australians – a move that keeps them out of unemployment statistics – about 10 percent of the country’s labour force is also expected to be without a job this year.

Morrison, however, said once the three-stage process is implemented, his government expects about 850,000 people will return to work.

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Friendly dolphins ‘missing’ human interaction amid COVID-19 pandemic, bringing gifts from the sea

A pod of dolphins in Australia has been bringing their human friends gifts from the sea during the coronavirus pandemic.

Typically, patrons of Queensland‘s Barnacles Café & Dolphin Feeding wait in line to give treats to the humpback dolphins of Tin Can Bay, 7NEWS reports.

But given the spread of COVID-19 and the lockdown procedures in place, the café has seen no visitors for quite some time.

Photos shared to the café’s official Facebook page show two dolphins with “gifts” on their noses. Some of the deep-sea treasures include barnacles, old bottles and pieces of coral.

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“The pod has been bringing us regular gifts, showing us how much they’re missing the public interaction and attention,” the post reads. “They are definitely missing you all.”

Luckily, restrictions in the area have been easing, and patrons are allowed to visit once more.

“One male dolphin brings in objects on his rostrum, or beak, and then he carefully presents them to us,” Lyn McPherson, a volunteer at the café, told ABC News. “What we have to do is give him a fish in return.

“We haven’t trained him, but he has trained us to do this.”

Mystique, a 29-year-old dolphin, has been doing most of the gift-bearing, she said.

“We swear he has a collection waiting to bring us.”

While it’s heartwarming to believe the dolphins have truly been missing their two-legged pals, it’s unlikely that it’s the reason for the gift-giving, a University of Queensland doctorate student told 7NEWS.

“Nothing surprises me with dolphins and their behaviour anymore,” Barry McGovern said. “In all likelihood, they probably don’t miss humans per se. They probably miss a free meal and the routine.”

It’s not just humans missing their normal routines, after all.

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China's Australia investments fell amid 2018-19 tensions, data shows

SYDNEY, May 7 (Reuters) – New Chinese investment in Australia fell by almost 50% in the year to the end of June 2019 as Beijing tightened controls on money flowing overseas, an Australian report showed on Thursday.

The fall to A$13.1 billion ($8.4 billion) was due to “China’s internal domestic policy settings including increased scrutiny of outbound investment and stricter capital controls,” Foreign Investment Review Board chairman David Irvine said.

Irvine, a former Australian intelligence chief, said the trend of falling investment by China, which is Australia’s largest trading partner, could be seen globally.

However, in the 2018/19 year there were tensions over allegations of Chinese interference in domestic affairs and an effective ban on Huawei from Australia’s 5G network.

Australia had tightened rules to allow it to veto foreign investments in critical infrastructure on national interest grounds, and to limit foreign purchases of residential property.

Irvine said he visited Beijing in September to hold briefings on the rules for potential investors, while the Australian government has said its foreign investment regime is non-discriminatory.

The FIRB said in its annual report it would work closely with the Department of Industry to screen foreign investment in rare earths, a new category of critical minerals projects.

While the number of Chinese mainland investment approvals fell by 1,915 to 4,901, with the value down 45% to AU$13.1 billion from AU$23.7 billion to its lowest level since 2016, Hong Kong investors piled into property in Australia.

Approvals for real estate investments from Hong Kong hit A$9.3 billion in 2018-19, up from A$2.8 billion, the FIRB report, which was presented in parliament, showed.

The United States remained the largest source of approved investment in Australia, while China fell from second to fifth, ranking behind Canada, Singapore and Japan in 2018-2019.

U.S. investment approvals rose to A$58.2 billion from A$36.5 billion in the period, mainly due to Walt Disney Corporation’s acquisition of the Twentieth Century Fox businesses.

Overall, foreign investment applications increased by A$67.9 billion to A$231 billion, with only one application rejected.

Hong Kong’s CKI Group’s A$13 billion bid for gas pipeline company APA Group was rejected in November 2018 by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on national interest grounds.

The report said the European Union, Britain and New Zealand have strengthened foreign investment rules on national interest grounds in the past 18 months.

The Australian government said in March that the FIRB would assess all foreign investment proposals as a temporary measure during the coronavirus pandemic. ($1 = 1.5540 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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Australia loses 6% of jobs to coronavirus crisis: Official data

SYDNEY (REUTERS) – Australia may have lost three quarters of a million jobs between mid-March and early April when large chunks of the economy were shut down in the fight against the coronavirus, new data showed on Tuesday (April 21).

Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed jobs recorded by the Australian Taxation Office payrolls system fell 6 per cent between March 14 and April 4.

The ATO system covers about 99 per cent of substantial employers, those with 20 or more workers, and 71 per cent of smaller employers.

The ABS monthly employment report for estimated there were 13 million working in early March, suggesting around 780,000 jobs may have been lost by early April.

The largest drop was in the accommodation and food services industry where a quarter of jobs were lost, while arts and recreation shed almost 19 per cent of workers.

“The largest impact of net job losses, in percentage terms, was for people aged under 20, for whom jobs decreased by 9.9 per cent,” said Bjorn Jarvis, head of labour statistics at the ABS.

Total wages paid by businesses decreased by 6.7 per cent over the period.

This was the first release of the payrolls series, which uses data reported by businesses through the ATO to provide much more timely numbers than the monthly jobs report.

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