Coronavirus update: Virgin Australia goes into voluntary administration, China rejects calls for independent investigation, National Cabinet to discuss elective-surgery restrictions

Coronavirus update: Virgin Australia goes into voluntary administration, China rejects calls for independent investigation, National Cabinet to discuss elective-surgery restrictions


April 21, 2020 10:59:52

Virgin Australia has gone into voluntary administration, China has dismissed Australia’s questioning of how Beijing handled the coronavirus pandemic, and restrictions on elective surgery and IVF are set to be eased.

This story is being updated regularly throughout Tuesday. You can also stay informed with the latest episode of the Coronacast podcast.

Tuesday’s top stories

Virgin Australia goes into voluntary administration

Virgin Australia has gone into voluntary administration, with up to 16,000 jobs hanging in the balance.

In a statement to the ASX, the company said the move would help “recapitalise the business” and help ensure it “emerges in a stronger financial position” after the pandemic.

Australia’s troubled second airline, which saw its cash flow collapse because of tough coronavirus travel restrictions, appointed accounting firm Deloitte to act as administrator after the Federal Government rejected calls to bail it out.

The airline is saddled with around $5 billion debt. It has already stood down 80 per cent of its direct workforce and announced 1,000 redundancies in the past few weeks.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told ABC News Breakfast that the Federal Government remained “committed” to Australia having two airlines, but said it was “not in the business of owning an airline”.

“Voluntary administration offers the opportunity to restructure and refocus business and underperforming parts of the business. It offers the opportunity for recapitalisation. It offers the opportunity for private sector interest to come forward and buy the business,” he said.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the Federal Government should intervene, saying it was the decision to protect Australians’ health that had put Virgin Australia in this situation.

“The Government says that they want a market-based solution … There is no market here today,” he said.

Meanwhile, billionaire Richard Branson is also seeking a loan from the UK Government to keep his struggling Virgin Atlantic airline aloft.

Elective surgery, IVF restrictions set to be eased

Restrictions on elective surgery and IVF treatment are expected to be eased when National Cabinet meets today.

Non-urgent procedures were cancelled last month to help the health system prepare for the expected influx of patients because of the coronavirus pandemic.

State and federal leaders will today chart a plan to resume some elective operations, prioritising procedures at a low risk of spreading coronavirus but of high benefit to the patient.

The president of the Australian Medical Association, Tony Bartone, told ABC News Breakfast that the restrictions were brought in for good reason, but that thousands of people were left waiting for surgery.

“When you look at the pain that they might be enduring and when you’re looking at the complications of their underlying conditions worsening, that’s a significant amount of morbidity that people are being asked to endure,” he said.

Single-digit case rises continue across the states

For the second day in a row, New South Wales has confirmed just six new cases of COVID-19.

Queensland, which recorded no new cases yesterday, this morning also confirmed six new cases.

“It brings our total for the week to 25, and you’ll recall that there was a period there where we were consistently seeing twice that number a day,” Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles said.

However, there are concerns Cairns could be a new cluster site. Five cases of COVID-19 were linked to a lab within the Cairns Hospital precinct.

Victoria confirmed seven new cases, after recording only one additional case yesterday.

In Tasmania, five more cases were confirmed, all of them relating to the outbreak in the north-west of the state.

China rejects Payne’s calls for independent investigation

China has dismissed Australia’s questioning of how Beijing handled the coronavirus pandemic as groundless, saying it had been open and transparent, despite growing scepticism about the accuracy of its official death toll.

On Sunday, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne called for an international investigation into the origins and spread of the virus, joining a chorus of concern over how China tackled the virus that emerged in its central city of Wuhan late last year.

Since then the virus has caused over 2.4 million infections and more than 165,000 deaths worldwide, paralysing life and business in major cities.

“Australian Foreign Minister Payne’s remarks are not based on facts. China is seriously concerned about and firmly opposed to this,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.

“Any doubt about China’s transparency is not only inconsistent with the facts, but also disrespectful of the tremendous efforts and sacrifices of the Chinese people.”

Senator Payne’s comments came amid rising criticism of China in recent weeks from the United States, including President Donald Trump, who said on Saturday that China should face consequences if it was “knowingly responsible” for the pandemic.

Mr Geng urged Australia to “treat this issue in an objective, scientific and scrupulous manner”.

“We hope that Australia will do more things to deepen China-Australia relations, enhance mutual trust and help epidemic prevention and control in both countries, rather than dancing to the tune of a certain country to hype up the situation,” he said.

On Monday, China’s National Health Commission reported 12 new infections, taking the mainland’s tally to 82,747, while the death toll stood unchanged at 4,632.

US oil price falls below zero for first time

US oil has traded at negative prices for the first time in history, with demand for energy collapsing amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The benchmark price for US crude plummeted to negative $US35.20 a barrel as traders sought to avoid owning crude with nowhere to store it.

The price was nearly $US60 at the start of the year, before business-shutdown orders swept the world and stopped the operation of factories, offices and cars.

Demand for oil has collapsed so much that facilities for storing crude are nearly full.

“There’s no place to put it, so you’ve got to flush it basically,” said Bob Yawger, director of futures at Mizuho Securities.

More than 20,000 have died in French hospitals and nursing homes

France has become the fourth country to confirm 20,000 deaths from COVID-19.

Of the 20,265 people who have died in the country, 12,513 died in hospitals and 7,752 in nursing homes. The country has not been counting people who die with the virus at home.

The head of the national health agency, Jerome Salomon, said the epidemic in France had reached a high “plateau” that was trending slowly downward.

Three other countries have recorded more than 20,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data: the United States (41,575), Italy (24,114) and Spain (20,862).

NSW students to return to school from May 11

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian has announced that students will begin returning to school from May 11.

The return will be gradual, with students initially going to school for just one day a week, before that becomes two days.

“We hope by the end of term two we’ll be in a position to have students going back to school in a full-time capacity by term three,” Ms Berejiklian said.

She said there would be extra cleaning and that schools would be able to conduct temperature checks if required.

Gyms to reopen and dine-in services to return in Georgia

Georgia’s Governor Brian Kemp has announced plans to restart the US state’s economy before the end of the week.

The timetable would allow gyms, hair salons, bowling alleys and tattoo parlours to reopen as long as owners followed strict social-distancing and hygiene requirements.

By Monday, movie theatres could resume selling tickets, and restaurants limited to takeaway orders could return to limited dine-in services. Bars, nightclubs and live performance venues would remain closed.

“I think this is the right approach at the right time,” Mr Kemp said.

Georgia’s death toll from COVID-19 rose above 700 as new numbers were reported Monday (local time). Infections have been confirmed in nearly 19,000 people.

Mr Kemp’s announcement followed calls from President Donald Trump and demonstrators to lift restrictions.

The Governor in neighbouring Tennessee has also plans to let businesses in most of his state to begin reopening as soon as next week.

The US is now the country hit hardest by the pandemic, with more than 780,000 confirmed COVID-19 infections and more than 41,000 deaths.

WHO says the worst is yet to come

The head of the World Health Organisation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has warned the coronavirus pandemic could worsen, while also rejecting any suggestions that his organisation has hidden any information from any of its member states.

“There is no secret in WHO because keeping things confidential or secret is dangerous. It’s a health issue,” he said.

Dr Tedros didn’t specify why he believed the outbreak could get worse, but he and others have previously pointed to the likely future spread of the illness through Africa, where health systems are far less developed.

“Trust us. The worst is yet ahead of us,” he said.

WHO plans to ship 180 million surgical masks to countries in April and May, and has placed orders for 30 million diagnostic tests over the next four months.

New York could remain in lockdown for months

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says it could take weeks if not months for the United States’ most populous city to re-open due to a lack of widespread testing, even as officials elsewhere began rolling back restrictions on daily life.

Mr de Blasio said New York needed to be conducting hundreds of thousands of tests a day and to see hospitalisations decline further before reopening the economy.

“We could get there but we can’t do it without widespread testing and so far the Federal Government still can’t get their handle on that,” Mr de Blasio said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, adding that ending social distancing too soon could rekindle the virus.

“The Federal Government, especially, needs to get the memo that this thing ain’t over and if you pretend it’s over it is only going to boomerang back and make it worse.”

Mr de Blasio’s warning on testing echoed comments by several governors over the weekend disputing President Donald Trump’s claims that the US has enough tests for COVID-19.

The United States has by far the world’s largest number of confirmed coronavirus cases, with more than 760,000 infections and over 40,700 deaths, nearly half of them in the state of New York.

British Government pays wages for more than a million workers

The British Government says more than a million workers in the country are on temporary leave due to coronavirus.

UK Finance Minister Rishi Sunak said there had been a flood of applications for a government scheme that will pay 80 per cent of employers’ wage bills until the end of June for staff suspended during the lockdown.

The British Government’s budget watchdog said last week the scheme could cost 42 billion pounds ($82 billion) in just three months.

That was based on the watchdog’s projection that Britain’s economy will shrink by 35 per cent during the three months to June.

‘Corona island’ mayor resigns in Estonia

The mayor of an island in Estonia that’s become a coronavirus hotspot has resigned for allowing a volleyball match that sparked a spread of infection.

Madis Kallas says the wrong decision was made to host matches in early March against a team from Milan — the northern Italian city where COVID-19 gained a major foothold.

Half of the residents on the island of Saaremaa are thought to be infected.

No-one is allowed to leave or enter the island, which locals have dubbed “corona island”.

‘We need life again’: Germans flock to shops

Germans returned to the shops on Monday, craving retail therapy after a month of lockdown, but Chancellor Angela Merkel is concerned that could increase coronavirus infections again just as the number of new cases had started to slow.

Shops up to 800 square metres, as well as car and bicycle dealers and bookstores, are allowed to reopen this week under an agreement with the leaders of Germany’s 16 states. Schools are set to begin reopening in two weeks.

Europe’s largest economy has relied more on domestic demand in recent years as the strength of its traditional export engine has faded, and the move echoes a slow easing in neighbouring countries, equally desperate to revive business and society.

“We need life again. This whole time it was like a ghost town,” said Michaela Frieser, not wearing a face mask, in Frankfurt’s main shopping district.

“The sun’s out, we saved enough money and now we need to go out and spend it!”

The federal and state governments have strongly recommended that Germans wear face masks when shopping and on public transport, and some states have even made that compulsory.

Idris Elba: ‘The world should take a week of quarantine every year’

Even though they only had mild symptoms, Idris Elba says he and his wife had their lives “turned around” after contracting coronavirus, calling the experience “definitely scary, unsettling and nervous”.

“You know, everyone’s sort of feeling the way we have been feeling, but it has definitely been sort of just a complete upheaval,” he said.

But the British actor feels that there are life lessons to be learned, and the pandemic serves as a reminder that “the world doesn’t tick on your time”.

“I think that the world should take a week of quarantine every year just to remember this time. Remember each other. I really do,” he said.

The British actor and his model wife, Sabrina Dhowre Elba, were speaking as they began a push with the United Nations to lessen the impact of COVID-19 on farmers and food producers in rural areas, launching a $US40 million ($62 million) fund.


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April 21, 2020 03:15:28

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