PM backs China wet market ban as travellers lashed
Scott Morrison is calling for a global crackdown and ban on Chinese "wet markets", following speculation the coronavirus originated in one in Wuhan and made the jump to humans.
The Prime Minister's call comes as China reopens wild animal markets after a national two month long lockdown to eradicate the virus.
Mr Morrison told 2GB radio on Friday the markets were a real and significant problem.
"From a world health point of view, I think this is something the World Health Organisation should do something about," he said.
He signalled Australia would take a strong stance through the United Nations in pushing China to ban wet markets.
He also told 2GB travellers, who did not adhere to the federal government's "do not travel" advice in March, will face a lot of difficulty returning to Australia.
Mr Morrison said he was frustrated and bewildered by the 16,000 Australians who decided to travel overseas after the government's warning.
"Those who go overseas over this period, how they actually think they're going to get back now is going to be very difficult," he said.
"I don't think they'll find themselves high on the list."
Mr Morrison added exceptions among the travellers included those travelling for aid and scientific work.
CORONAVIRUS INFECTIONS HIT ONE MILLION
There are more one million declared cases of coronavirus worldwide, according to reports.
At least 1,000,036 infections have been recorded across 188 countries, including 51,718 deaths, according to a calculation based on official country data and World Health Organisation figures.
It comes as a pair of cruise ships carrying more than 200 guests and crew with flu-like symptoms, including Australian passengers, will be allowed to dock in Florida's Port of Everglades, ending a nightmarish voyage disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Meanwhile, Europe reeled from the pandemic and the United States reported record numbers of people out of work.
A total 234,462 infections and 5607 deaths were reported in the US, where COVID-19 is currently spreading the most rapidly.
In Italy, the hardest-hit country in terms of the number of deaths, there were 115,242 reported cases and 13,915 deaths.
Spain reported 110,238 cases and 10,003 deaths, and China - where the coronavirus first emerged late last year - reported 81,589 infections and 3,318 deaths.
The number of actual infections is believed to be higher since many countries are only testing severe cases or patients requiring hospitalisation.
The virus claimed thousands more lives in its relentless march across the globe, including nearly 1000 new deaths in Spain, despite measures putting more than half of the planet on some form of lockdown.
And it continued to wreak havoc on the global economy, with the US announcing a record 6.65 million workers filed for unemployment benefits last week - with close to 10 million out of work - and Spain reporting its biggest monthly increase in jobless claims ever.
World Health Organisation head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said there had been a "near exponential growth" in new cases.
The crisis has put enormous strain on national health care systems and on nurses, doctors and other medical staff working in the most difficult of circumstances.
"Every morning before I start work, I make the sign of the cross, and pray that everything will go all right," Ester Piccinini, a 27-year-old nurse at the Humanitas Gavazzeni hospital in Bergamo, northern Italy, told reporters.
"It's not really for myself, I'm not really worried about me, since I'm so protected. But I hope everything will be all right for my patients."
AUSSIE CRUISE SHIP PASSENGERS TO RETURN HOME
More than 130 Australian passengers on board the Zaandam and Rotterdam are disembarking as it docks in Florida and will return to Australia in the next 48 hours.
The guests have not left the ships since March 14 and have had to self-isolate in their rooms since March 22.
It was the result of four people dying on-board the Zaandam with many showing flu-like symptoms. Healthy passengers were then transferred from the Zaandam to Rotterdam.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis initially refused to allow the two ships to dock because he did not want sick passengers "dumped" in his state.
The Republican governor changed his mind on Thursday after US President Donald Trump said the passengers should be treated better.
"They're dying on the ship," Mr Trump said at Wednesday's White House press conference.
It comes as two of eight cruise ships leave Australian waters and five Royal Caribbean ships refuelling in Sydney before leaving on Sunday.
The Ruby Princess will remain off Sydney for the time being while crew are assessed by health authorities.
SHORTAGE OF GLOVES, PROTECTIVE GEAR
Ansell, the company that makes disposable gloves and other personal protective gear, says its ability to ramp up production of products in high demand during the COVID-19 outbreak is being hampered by a shortage of raw materials and export restrictions.
And even though it is producing more products it says they can't get to where they are needed because of export controls.
"Ansell has expanded production capacity of protective products critical to healthcare workers and other essential industries, and with the necessary support of local authorities we are striving to operate these facilities at their maximum potential," the company said in a statement.
"However, we have serious concerns that suppliers of raw materials and components are impacted, threatening continued output of our protective products crucial to managing the pandemic and keeping workers safe.
"We are also concerned that certain countries (even within the EU) have imposed controls on exports or shipments across borders."
It is urging governments to consider global needs when defining their essential industries and facilitate, not hinder the transportation of personal protective equipment while also supporting manufacturers in ensuring protection of the workers involved in the manufacture and distribution of the products.
UK CONSIDERS COVID-19 PASSPORTS FOR SURVIVORS
Britain is considering coronavirus passports for recoveries of the disease as the government "levelled" with people it had not done enough testing.
The idea, which has been floated in Germany, would allow people who have beaten the virus to get back to work and help boost the economy.
The UK has been struggling to do 10,000 tests a day while Germany has been testing 500,000 people per week.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who himself recovered from the illness and was back to work on Friday, said some of the 1.7 million tests the UK was set to buy had failure rates of 75 per cent.
He urged patience, saying no test was better than a bad test.
Mr Hancock said in the medium term the UK could test people to check their immunity levels once the testing kits accuracy was confirmed.
"We are looking at an immunity certificate - how people who have had the disease, have got the antibodies and therefore have immunity can … get back as much as possible to normal life," he said.
The consideration of the passport comes as the UK government pledges to do 100,000 tests a day by the end of April, millions of Britons clapped for medical workers on their doorsteps and a 108-year-old woman, Jilda Churchill, who survived two World Wars, becomes the oldest coronavirus victim.
PRINCE WILLIAM 'PROUD' OF MEDICAL WORKERS
Prince William, who earlier this week had offered to return as a rescue helicopter pilot to fight coronavirus, has shown his support and appreciation to medical workers.
He called doctors at the Queen's Hospital near Birmingham, telling them on behalf of himself and Kate: "We'd just like to say from the two of us how proud we are of all of you and how amazingly you are all doing under extreme circumstances.
"I know all of you see this as your job and that you get on with it, but this is a different level and you are doing an incredible job.
"The whole country is proud of you so thank you for everything you're doing and all the hours you are putting in."
The UK was nearing the peak of its death toll, but currently has almost 2000 intensive care beds available despite having more than 10,000 patients in hospitals.
The new Nightingale Hospital in East London, with 4000 beds, will also boost that availability ahead of an expected surge in cases.
PHILIPPINES POLICE TO SHOOT LOCKDOWN LAW BREAKERS
Police have been ordered to shoot to kill anyone breaking lockdown laws in the Philippines.
Hardline President Rodrigo Duterte, who have previously been accused of human rights violations, made the directive to frontline police.
"So once again I'm telling you the seriousness of the problem and that you must listen. My orders to the police and military … If there is trouble and there's an occasion that they fight back and your lives are in danger, shoot them dead," Mr Duterte said.
"Is that understood? Dead. Instead of causing trouble, I will bury you."
There had been reports of conflict in poorer areas of the capital Manila before Mr Duterte's comments.
At least 100 people have died from 2,600 cases in the Philippines.
SLOWDOWN IN SPAIN CASES BUT ANNOUNCES PHONE TRACKING
Europe has been at the centre of the crisis for weeks, with at least 34,000 now dead, but there have been signs the epidemic could be approaching its peak.
Spain said on Thursday it had suffered a record 950 deaths in 24 hours, bringing its total number of fatalities to 10,003.
The number of confirmed Spanish cases passed the 110,000 mark, the government said, although the rates of both new infections and deaths continued a downward trend.
"The data show the curve has stabilised" and the epidemic has entered a "slowdown" phase, Health Minister Salvador Illa said.
The country has announced it will track residents' mobile phones to check if people were following lockdown rules.
Phone companies have agreed to share data with the government to crack down on people who were flouting the rules.
"The goal is to analyse the effect which the (confinement) measures have had on people's movements, and see if people's movements across the land are increasing or decreasing," a government statement said.
There have already been 270,000 fines handed out to people in Spain for breaching lockdown.
Italy has also seen its infection rates slow and eyes will now be on Britain and France, which both reported their highest daily death tolls on Wednesday.
The virus has chiefly affected the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions, but recent cases have highlighted that it can kill people of all ages.
The dead have included a 16-year-old in France, a 12-year-old in Belgium and Ismail Mohamed Abdullah, 13, in Britain, whose family said the "gentle and kind" boy had no underlying health issues.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, himself in isolation after testing positive, announced plans for a massive increase in virus testing after it emerged that just 2,000 of hundreds of thousands of staff in the state-run National Health Service (NHS) had been tested.
In Russia, President Vladimir Putin extended a period of paid non-working days until the end of April as the number of confirmed cases jumped by more than a quarter on Thursday to 3,548, with 30 deaths.
Most of the Russian population is on lockdown, with Moscow in particular facing tough isolation rules.
Thailand became the latest country to impose strict measures with the introduction of a curfew from Friday, pushing the number of people in confinement to 3.9 billion, or half the world's population.
'HORRIFIC DAYS AHEAD'
The United States, which now accounts for almost a quarter of reported global infections, saw its death toll pass 5000 on Thursday (local time), according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
Among the latest known US fatalities was a six-week-old baby who was taken to a Connecticut hospital late last week.
"Testing confirmed last night that the newborn was COVID-19 positive," the state's Governor Ned Lamont tweeted. "This is absolutely heartbreaking."
US President Donald Trump, who was criticised for initially playing down the virus but has stepped up containment efforts, warned that the situation was going to get much worse.
"We're going to have a couple of weeks, starting pretty much now, but especially a few days from now, that are going to be horrific," he said.
"But even in the most challenging of times, Americans do not despair. We do not give in to fear."
100,000 BODY BAGS
Around 85 per cent of Americans are under confinement but there have been warnings of a staggering US death toll, even with mitigation efforts in force.
On Thursday the US disaster response agency FEMA asked the American military for 100,000 body bags.
The virus and the measures taken to contain it have raised fears of the worst global economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The US Labour Department said Thursday that the figure of 6.65 million workers who filed for unemployment benefits last week was double the number registered in the previous week, and the most ever recorded.
Economists are warning that US job losses could surge to the previously unimaginable range of 10 to 20 million in April.
Spain, the eurozone's fourth-largest economy, also registered a leap of 302,265 jobless claims last month after imposing a nationwide lockdown since March 14.
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire urged European nations on Thursday to "go further and act stronger" to help each other's economies recover from crisis.
"In this crisis … either Europe stays true to its political roots and it will thrive, or Europe gives in to panic and national selfishness and it will disappear," Le Maire said in a press conference broadcast via Twitter.
He reiterated France's call for a common fund to help EU countries kickstart an economic recovery and bolster healthcare capacities over five to 10 years.
Financial ratings agency Fitch on Thursday predicted that the US and eurozone economies would contract this quarter by up to 30 per cent on an annualised basis, as struggling businesses slash investment and widespread unemployment dampens consumer spending.
ANNUAL LEAVE CHANGES TO SAVE THOUSANDS OF JOBS
Meanwhile, millions of Australian workers will be allowed to take twice as much annual leave at half pay during the coronavirus crisis in once-in-a-generation industrial relations reforms.
Workers covered by 103 industry awards will also be given access to two weeks of unpaid pandemic leave if they are required to self-isolate.
The Fair Work Commission is moving to adjust the awards - covering industries including real estate, manufacturing, banking and cleaning - to protect workers and improve flexibility for businesses affected by the economic crash.
Major changes have already been made to the restaurant, hospitality and clerks awards, which cover two million workers, also allowing them to change duties and work from home.
Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter said the "absolutely critical" changes would save tens of thousands of jobs.
"These are incredibly important changes. They have been critical to ensuring and protecting the supply lines of the goods and services that Australians rely on."
"Those commonsense changes would allow the flexibility in a number of businesses, which flexibility could well make the difference between survival of the business and preservation of the jobs, or the failure of the business and the loss of the jobs."
Awards cover the pay, entitlements and workplace conditions of about 20 per cent of Australian workers.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison praised the efforts of Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus, who is typically a vocal critic of the government.
"I want to thank her for her engagement in what is a very difficult time," he said.
"There are no blue teams or red teams. There are no more unions or bosses. There are just Australians now. That is all that matters. An Australian national interest and all Australians working together and I thank all of those who are coming together in that spirit."
At this stage, the changes will not be applied to workers covered by another 18 awards - for the construction, mining and maritime sectors - as the commission found those areas "have not been as adversely impacted (to date)" by the pandemic.
It comes as parliament will return next Wednesday to legislate the government's $130 billion JobKeeper plan, providing fortnightly $1500 wage subsidies to six million Australians - almost half the country's workforce.
More than half a million businesses have already registered their interest in the unprecedented scheme, with the money to flow from the first week of May.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese vowed to support the legislation but indicated he wanted it to be expanded to more casual workers, who are currently only eligible if they have worked for the same employer for more than a year.
"Where there is the sort of gaps like on casuals, some visa holders, we will raise those issues as well. That's an important part of the process," he said.
It is understood Labor will also push for the creation of a Senate committee to provide oversight of the economic packages.
CHILD COVID-19 DEATH BECOMES WARNING IN INDONESIA
An 11-year-old girl who died of coronavirus has become a dire warning of the threat of coronavirus in Indonesia.
The girl, who already had dengue fever, died after problems with her breathing this week.
Doctors were only able to confirm her coronavirus diagnosis this week after death at a hospital in East Java on March 20.
"Her immune system was quite poor," an official at East Java's virus task force said.
"She was battling two illnesses at once so that's why her condition worsened."
It comes as Bali has been sending trucks through its streets spraying disinfectant on the tourist island, which is a key part of Indonesia's economy.
Indonesia has had 170 deaths from 1,790 reported cases, with a mortality rate of 9.4 per cent, edging towards Italy's mortality rate of 12.4 per cent.
However, the death toll was likely to be substantial in Indonesia if the virus takes hold.
LONDON CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL HIT WITH OUTBREAK
Coronavirus has ripped through a children's hospital in London, with 73 staff testing positive to the virus and 318 off sick.
The Great Ormond Street Hospital in central London has been swamped by the illness, but so far only a small number of patients have shown symptoms.
An internal hospital document has revealed the grim news for medical staff, as doctors across the UK complain they do not have enough personal protection equipment.
Anthony Costello, a former director at the World Health Organisation, shared a copy of the
document on Twitter.
"We now have eight positive cases of COVID-19 patients across the hospital," the document said.
"Through our staff testing we have had 73 confirmed COVID positive staff members out of 181 tested.
"318 staff members are currently off work."
The figures from the Great Ormond Street children's hospital come amid reports that children were less likely to show symptoms of the disease but still spread it among the community.
And the WHO was considering recommending all people, not just those with symptoms of coronavirus, wear a mask to slow transmission.
Spain recorded another horror day, with 950 deaths, taking its total above 10,000 despite a week's long lockdown of the country.
CHILDCARE RELIEF FOR PARENTS
Childcare will be free for all Australians in a major relief package expected to help one million families and keep the sector alive during the coronavirus crisis.
With childcare centres on the brink of collapse, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has intervened to keep the sector open and provide crucial care for families that need it.
From Sunday night, care will be free, with the existing rebate and subsidy system switched off during the pandemic.
Under the plan, the government will pay half of the sector's fee revenue up to existing hourly caps, based on their operations before parents started withdrawing their children as Australians were forced to work from home.
The childcare sector is also expected to receive more than $1 billion in wage subsidy payments through the government's $130 billion JobKeeper scheme.
"Relief is on its way for around a million Australian families and thousands of early learning educators and carers," Mr Morrison said.
"These services are vital for so many parents so they can provide for their family, and children need as much familiarity and continuity as we can help provide at this unsettling time. Priority will be given to working parents, vulnerable and disadvantaged children that need early education more than ever and parents with pre-existing enrolments."
The government has also heeded calls from childcare services to waive gap fees for families who keep their children at home.
The free childcare system will be in place for at least three months, with an extension to be considered after that.
The largest childcare provider, Goodstart Early Learning, said it might still have to shut its 665 centres if it can't get access to the new JobKeeper wage subsidy.
Goodstart annual turnover of slightly more than $1 billion - the level at which the threshold for access to the subsidy increases for a 30 per cent decline in business to 50 per cent.
It is the only operator in the sector in that position.
"We are seeking an urgent commitment from the Government thatGoodstart can access the Job Keeper payment at the 30 per cent benchmark for our people - only with that commitment can (we) keep our services open for 60,000 families," Goodstart said in a statement this afternoon.
Originally published as PM backs China wet market ban as travellers lashed