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Covid-19 News Updates


Victorian businesses to receive a further $2.3 billion in lead-up to reopening

Victorian businesses to receive a further $2.3 billion in lead-up to reopening

Victorian businesses are set to receive $2.27 billion worth of grants in a new package funded by the Commonwealth and State governments, adding to $6.6 billion  committed since July to help cover wages, rent, utilities and other costs during lockdown.

The news follows yesterday's announcement from Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg about how COVID-19 disaster payments will be wound back once states and territories hit vaccination targets.

The state has also crossed the 1,000-mark for new daily cases of COVID-19, as the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) this morning reported 1,438 new cases for yesterday; well in excess of the numbers in New South Wales where the current Delta wave began.

But the state is pressing on with its Roadmap to Deliver the National Plan, with the latest funding aimed at supporting around 160,000 businesses through the next six weeks until Victoria is expected to reach 80 per cent vaccination - a milestone due to be reached on 5 November, after a 70 per cent target is likely hit by 26 October.

Around 24,000 eligible businesses will receive automatic Business Costs Assistance Program grants ranging from $1,000 to $8,400 per week, rising according to payroll, until the end of October.

Businesses that remain closed or severely restricted over the first two weeks of November will also receive automatic payments for that period.

More than 9,000 eligible cafes, restaurants, hotels and bars across Victoria will receive automatic Licensed Hospitality Venue Fund payments of between $5,000 and $20,000 per week until the end of October.

Licensed Hospitality Venue Fund payments will continue for the first half of November, set at reduced rates to reflect lower restrictions in place at that stage under Victoria’s Roadmap.

The package will also enable a further 30,000 businesses to receive a one-off $20,000 payment through the Small Business COVID Hardship Fund, taking the number of recipients to 65,000.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said today's package is on top of the Federal Government's more than $45 billion in direct economic support to Victorian households and businesses since the start of the pandemic.

"The Morrison Government understands the significant impact lockdowns and border closures have had on small and medium businesses across Victoria which is why safely opening up in line with the plan agreed at National Cabinet is so important," Frydenberg said.

"We can’t eliminate the virus, we need to learn to live with it in a COVID-safe way. Our economy has bounced back strongly before once restrictions are eased and is well positioned to do so again when lockdowns lift."

The Victorian Government has to date provided more than $10 billion in direct financial support for businesses over the course of the pandemic – before today’s new $1.1 billion commitment to the joint package.

Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas said the funding will ensure businesses have the best chance of sustaining the final weeks of lockdown and recovering strongly.

“Victorian businesses have endured so much over the past 20 months and they’ve been amazingly resilient as we’ve faced challenge after challenge," Pallas said.

"We are opening up and our Roadmap shows us how we get there – this jointly funded package will underpin businesses across the state, help them to keep their workers on and plan for a really positive future.”

“We know that the bills don’t stop just because revenue does and we are proud to stand with the businesses that form the backbone of our economy.”

Victorian Minister for Industry Support and Recovery Martin Pakula said the funding for business was an important part of a comprehensive plan for re-opening.

“Vaccination is our way out of the pandemic and as more and more Victorians roll up their sleeves, those key double-dose targets are in sight,” Pakula said.

“Once we open up, it’s vital for everyone that we can stay open. That’s businesses owners, their workers and suppliers and their customers," he said.

“The Vaccinated Economy trials starting in little over 10 days will be another important step for businesses as we move steadily and safely to greater freedoms.”

According to Covid19data.com.au, 53.4 per cent of the Australian population aged 16 years and over has received a COVID-19 vaccine, with the percentage slightly lower at 50.4 per cent for the population aged 12 years and over.

These percentages however are distorted by a much higher vaccination rate in Australia's most populous state of NSW, where 62.9 per cent of people aged 16 or older have had two doses. This compares to 63.2 per cent in the Australian Capital Territory, 57.8 per cent in Tasmania, 51.9 per cent in the Northern Territory, 49.1 per cent in Victoria, 49 per cent in South Australia, 45.9 per cent in Western Australia, and 46.2 per cent in Queensland

Updated at 9:42am AEST on 30 September 2021.

This update is brought to you by Employment Hero.

Click here to go to Employment Hero’s COVID-19 Resource Hub for essential resources to help employers, managers and HR specialists navigate the ongoing pandemic. 


 

COVID disaster payments to be wound back once vaccination targets are hit

COVID disaster payments to be wound back once vaccination targets are hit

The Federal Government's stop-gap to deal with the end of JobKeeper now has its own horizon, with COVID-19 disaster payments to be transitioned out once a state or territory achieves vaccination targets for its population aged 16 years and older.

More than $9 billion of these payments have been made to around two million Australians since they were announced in June, with eligible recipients currently receiving $750 if they have lost over 20 hours of work.

People who have lost between eight and 20 hours of work per week are receiving $450, and those on income support payments who lost more than eight hours are getting $200 million.

But today Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has revealed how the payments will be wound up as the country moves into Phase B of the National Plan agreed to at National Cabinet.

"Once a state or territory reaches 70 per cent full vaccination, the automatic renewal of the temporary payment will end and individuals will have to reapply each week that a Commonwealth Hotspot remains in place to confirm their eligibility," the Treasurer said.

"In line with the movement into Phase C of the National Plan, where a Commonwealth Hotspot remains in place and a state or territory reaches 80 per cent full vaccination of its population (16 years and older), the temporary payment will step down over a period of two weeks before ending.

"In the first week after a state or territory has reached 80 per cent vaccination there will be a flat payment of $450 for those who have lost more than eight hours of work, while those on income support will receive $100."

In the second week after this milestone has been reached, the payment will be bought into line with JobSeeker at $320 for the week for those who have lost more than eight hours of work, while the payment will end for those on income support.

"For those who haven’t already returned to the workforce following the end of the temporary payment as the economy opens up, the social security system will support eligible individuals back into work," Frydenberg said.

"The Government will also leave in place the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment until 30 June 2022.

"Since the start of the pandemic the Morrison Government has provided $291 billion in direct economic support to households and businesses."

Updated at 5:46pm AEST on 29 September 2021.

This update is brought to you by Employment Hero.

Click here to go to Employment Hero’s COVID-19 Resource Hub for essential resources to help employers, managers and HR specialists navigate the ongoing pandemic. 


 

 

 

Delta outbreak “halted” Australian airline recovery, ACCC reports

Delta outbreak “halted” Australian airline recovery, ACCC reports

For the first time in recorded history flights in and out of Sydney Airport (ASX: SYD) were not in the monthly top 10 busiest Australian routes in July as the COVID-19 Delta outbreak brought the domestic airline industry to a standstill.

According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) latest Airline Competition in Australia report, passenger numbers in July 2021 plunged to 23 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

For comparison, the domestic travel sector had somewhat recovered in April 2021 and was operating at a peak of 68 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

The ACCC’s report also expects passenger numbers for August and September 2021 to be even lower than those recorded in July.

“The Delta outbreak has hit the domestic airline industry hard, and it has unfortunately halted the airlines’ recovery just as they were starting to approach pre-pandemic levels of flying,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said.

Qantas (ASX: QAN), Jetstar, Virgin and Rex combined were forced to cancel one in three flights in July 2021, which is the highest cancellation rate since April 2020.

Weekly passenger numbers in Victoria fell 91 per cent from mid-May to early June, and in NSW they dropped 97 per cent between mid-June and the end of July.

The ACCC notes that routes in and out of Sydney Airport were not in the top 10 busiest routes in July 2021, despite it normally being Australia’s busiest airport.

Instead, intra-state Queensland routes were the busiest, with Brisbane to Cairns, Townsville and Mackay among the most popular.

“With many state borders closed, those that could fly were doing so closer to home,” Sims said.

“July was the first time that Sydney hasn’t been among the 10 busiest routes in the country, which is a sign of the state of the industry.”

The report also details how the ACCC has heard concerns from some airlines that airports are looking to increase charges in order to recover lost profits from the pandemic - actions that would be inconsistent with the Australian Government’s Aeronautical Pricing Principles.

“We would be very concerned if the major Australian airports sought to use their monopoly position to charge airlines excessive prices in order to recover any lost profits from the pandemic,” Sims said.

“This could limit an already vulnerable sector’s ability to recover, and impact on both consumers and the economy.”

Updated at 11.37am AEST on 29 September 2021.

This update is brought to you by Employment Hero.

Click here to go to Employment Hero’s COVID-19 Resource Hub for essential resources to help employers, managers and HR specialists navigate the ongoing pandemic. 


 

NSW sees record-breaking retail lows in August

NSW sees record-breaking retail lows in August

In a predictable response to the ongoing east coast lockdowns, retail figures released yesterday by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) have shown another marked fall in retail sales around the country, with record-breaking lows recorded in some states in August. 

Most dire is the fall of 3.5 per cent in NSW to the state's lowest monthly levels since April 2020 when the pandemic first hit. 

The statistics mark the third consecutive monthly fall in turnover this year for the state, following a drop of 2.7 per cent in July and 1.8 per cent in June. 

August saw a decrease in spending across almost every major industry nationally, including clothing, footwear and personal accessory retailing (down 15.7 per cent), cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services (down 7.0 per cent), department stores (down 10.2 per cent), and household goods retailing (down 2.3 per cent). 

“Retail turnover continues to be negatively impacted by lockdown restrictions, with each of the eastern mainland states experiencing falls in line with their respective level of restrictions,” ABS director of quarterly economy wide surveys Ben James said.

"In direct contrast, states with no lockdowns performed well with Western Australia and South Australia enjoying strong rises as physical stores were open for trade.” 

Turnover in South Australia rose by 6.6 per cent, bouncing back strongly from a short lockdown in late July. 

The most obvious disparity is between Victoria’s 2020 and 2021 records, with sales in Victoria up 14.6 per cent on August 2020 levels when the state was weathering its second wave. 

Online shopping – which showed a rise of 0.8 per cent - has received attention most notably for the burdens the ongoing trend has imposed on the national shipping system. Delivery companies like Australia Post have experienced “major backlogs” across the country as they struggle to meet with a sharp increase in demand, and manage freight workers being forced into quarantine. 

Though generally retail figures have taken a hit, certain players have been more insulated than others.  

Perhaps representing a mass reconfiguration of lifestyle during the lockdown seasons, leisurewear and sleepwear recorded significant profits when compared to adjacent industries. 
Premier Investments (ASX: PMV) – the parent company of Peter Alexander - recently saw its sales rise by 18.7 per cent to reach $1.4 billion

Similarly, JB Hi-Fi saw a boom in consumer activity as Australians rushed to keep themselves entertained at home, noting a significant growth of online sales of 93 per cent to $780 million during FY21. 

Australian Retailers Association CEO Paul Zahra expressed hope the sector would recover toward the busier Christmas spending period, “when most discretionary retailers make up to two-thirds of their profits for the year.” 

However, uncertainty hangs over whether that crucial period can deliver on expected gains. 

“Unfortunately, there’s little consistency across the three reopening plans, which means there are different trigger points for when businesses can get back up and running again,” Zahra said.

“We continue to call for an earlier reopening of retail in Victoria and the ACT when 70 per cent of their populations are fully vaccinated, like what has been announced in NSW. 

“It’s crucial that businesses are given every opportunity to reopen and trade at their full potential in line with COVID safety requirements.” 

Updated at 10.02am AEST on 29 September 2021.

This update is brought to you by Employment Hero.

Click here to go to Employment Hero’s COVID-19 Resource Hub for essential resources to help employers, managers and HR specialists navigate the ongoing pandemic. 


 

Australia Post to pause e-commerce parcel collections in Melbourne for five days

Australia Post to pause e-commerce parcel collections in Melbourne for five days

Australia Post will pause parcel pickups, collections and lodgements from e-commerce retailers across Greater Melbourne for five days from Friday as the deliveries company manages a major backlog.

Announced overnight, the service disruption will start at 12.01am on Friday 1 October and end on 12.01am Wednesday 6 October and will not affect collections from e-commerce retailers in regional Victoria and all other states and territories.

All letters, Express Post, StarTrack Premium, StarTrack Courier, and Startrack Express deliveries remain unchanged across the network, as does processing for all international inbound and outbound.

“The safety of our people is our highest priority. This temporary measure will allow us to responsibly clear record parcel volumes while our Greater Melbourne Metro operations are impacted by major COVID-19 disruptions. Our team will continue processing parcels across the weekend in affected areas,” says Australia Post.

“We apologise for the inconvenience.”

The disruption comes nearly a month after Australia Post paused e-commerce parcel collections in New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory for three days from 4 September.

That pause was done to manage pressure on the Australia Post network caused by around 500 staff members in self-isolation due to the COVID-19 outbreak across the east coast.

Updated at 9.16am AEST on 29 September 2021.

This update is brought to you by Employment Hero.

Click here to go to Employment Hero’s COVID-19 Resource Hub for essential resources to help employers, managers and HR specialists navigate the ongoing pandemic. 


 

Byron and Tweed to exit lockdown tonight

Byron and Tweed to exit lockdown tonight

The New South Wales north coast regions of Byron and Tweed will exit lockdown at midnight tonight following no further detection of COVID-19 in the local government areas (LGAs).

However, the LGA of Kempsey, which went into lockdown at the same time as Byron and Tweed, is expected to remain under stay-at-home orders for another week due to ongoing concern about COVID-19 in the region.

The LGAs of Port Macquarie and Muswellbrook are also expected to go into lockdown today, but further announcements to confirm the orders will come later this afternoon.

“These decisions are not made lightly - there’s more work to do and the public health team will be doing that work this afternoon,” NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said.

“But I’m just putting the communities on notice that there may be a further announcement today in regard to all three of those areas or any one of those three areas, we just need to make some final decisions on that.”

Hazzard thanked the local communities of Byron and Tweed for their cooperation with the stay-at-home orders.

“Thankfully we’ve had no further cases of concern,” he said.

“The public health time has advised that they can come out of lockdown.”

The announcements come after NSW today reported 863 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 and seven more deaths.

There are currently 1,155 cases of COVID-19 in hospital, and 213 in the intensive care unit.

Updated at 11.24am AEST on 28 September 2021.

This update is brought to you by Employment Hero.

Click here to go to Employment Hero’s COVID-19 Resource Hub for essential resources to help employers, managers and HR specialists navigate the ongoing pandemic. 


 

Mask rules change and jabs soon mandatory for truck drivers after QLD reports four new cases

Mask rules change and jabs soon mandatory for truck drivers after QLD reports four new cases

With Queensland today reporting four new locally acquired cases of COVID-19, the state will reintroduce recently eased rules for mask-wearing in Brisbane and Moreton Bay, alongside mandating vaccines for truck drivers.

At a press conference this morning, QLD Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk confirmed the state’s four new COVID-19 cases - some of which had been in the community while infectious.

One of the cases is a man who works at an aviation training facility and lives in Eatons Hill in the Moreton Bay region. He was infectious in the community for three days and his wife has also contracted COVID-19.

The third case is a truck driver who was living in shared accommodation but was infectious in the community for around one week, and the fourth is a person who completed two weeks of hotel quarantine but tested positive to COVID-19 after leaving.

Palaszczuk said the QLD chief health officer Dr Jeanette Young was most concerned about the truck driver given the amount of time he spent in the community while infectious.

In response to the new cases, Premier Palaszczuk has walked back recent changes to mask-wearing in Brisbane and Moreton Bay - meaning it is again mandatory to wear a mask when inside a venue.

Further, truck drivers entering Queensland using the freight pass must have had one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by 15 October, and a second dose received or an appointment to get one booked by 15 November.

New contact tracing locations have been added today by Queensland Health including:

  • Mother Duck Childcare & Kindergarten, Eatons Hill on Thursday 23 September from 7.25-8am
  • McDonalds Albany Creek Drive Thru on Friday 24 September from 5.05-5.10am
  • Seatss 'R' Us, Rocklea on Friday 24 September from 11.15-11.45am
  • Freedom Furniture Aspley, Friday 24 September from 4.40-5pm

Updated at 10.03am AEST on 28 September 2021.

This update is brought to you by Employment Hero.

Click here to go to Employment Hero’s COVID-19 Resource Hub for essential resources to help employers, managers and HR specialists navigate the ongoing pandemic. 


 

ACT to exit lockdown on 15 October once territory hits vaccine milestone

ACT to exit lockdown on 15 October once territory hits vaccine milestone

A new roadmap unveiled today by the Australian Capital Territory forecasts Canberrans will see lockdown lifted on 15 October when an 80 per cent full vaccination target is due to be met.

In the meantime, lockdown restrictions will continue with some minor alterations from 1 October, allowing up to five people to gather outdoors and two people to visit another household at any one time.

This will be a precursor to the lockdown lifting just over two weeks later,  marking the second stage of a four-part easing of restrictions in the territory.

At that point most venues will reopen with capacity limits, gathering limits at home and outdoors will increase, and school will resume for year 11 and 12 students.

Restrictions will then ease again on 29 October, and all public health measures will align with the National Plan in late-November/early-December 2021.

While the territory is optimistic these targets will be hit, health officials will continue to monitor vaccination rates, health system capacity, case numbers and current trends, and testing rates and turnaround times before easing restrictions.

Click here to view the ACT’s full COVID-19 roadmap.

Updated at 2.24pm AEST on 27 September 2021.

This update is brought to you by Employment Hero.

Click here to go to Employment Hero’s COVID-19 Resource Hub for essential resources to help employers, managers and HR specialists navigate the ongoing pandemic. 


 

Travel stocks fly on news international travel may resume by end of year

Travel stocks fly on news international travel may resume by end of year

Gladys Berejiklian’s announcement today that international travel may resume before the end of the year, subject to Prime Minister Scott Morrison giving it the green light, has given travel stocks a shot in the arm this morning.

Shares in Qantas (ASX: QAN), Flight Centre (ASX: FLT), Webjet (ASX: WEB) and Camplify (ASX: CHL) are all trading at record highs for 2021 at the time of writing, flying high on the promise of greater freedoms come 1 December for New South Wales.

Of particular note is caravan-sharing platform Camplify, founded by two-time winner of the Australian Young Entrepreneur Award in the Hospitality and Tourism category Justin Hales, which at a current share price of $3.20 means investors who bought in on the company’s debut in June have more than doubled their money.

As of 11.45am, shares in Qantas are up 3.90 per cent, Flight Centre is up 8.08, Webjet up by 5.21 per cent, and Camplify by 8.78 per cent.

Today’s ASX movements reflect renewed confidence in US travel stocks too - last week the Dow Jones U.S. Travel & Tourism Stock Market Index (DWCTTR) rose by 11.5 per cent in just five days.

While Australian travel stocks still have a while to go until they return to pre-pandemic levels, for Qantas the rejuvenation is a far cry from its April 2020 bottom of around $3 per share.

The airline today announced changes to its flying schedule in response to the reopening plans, bringing forward the reopening date between Victoria and NSW from 1 December to 5 November, increasing regional flying within NSW from 25 October to around 40 per cent of pre-COVID levels, and delaying the restart of domestic flying between Western Australia and Victoria/NSW by two months to 1 February.

Qantas will continue to operate five return flights a week between Perth and both Sydney and Melbourne to maintain minimum connections for those with permits to travel.

Internationally, flights are still on track to gradually restart from 18 December 2021 onwards when Australia is expected to have reached National Cabinet’s ‘Phase C’ vaccination threshold of 80 per cent. 

"It’s great to see plans firming up for some domestic borders opening given the success of the national vaccine rollout," Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said.

“We’re now planning to ramp up flying between Melbourne and Sydney, which is usually the second busiest air route in the world, almost a month earlier than expected.  There are also a lot of regional destinations that will open up for the first time since June, which is great news for tourism as well as family and friends who can’t wait to see each other again.

“Get ready to see some emotional reunions at airports from late-October onwards."

Shareholders have every right to be excited today after NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced residents may be able to consider travelling overseas as soon as the 80 per cent fully vaccinated target is hit - which could come as early as the end of October.

"We believe by 1 December we will be at that COVID normal state where, hopefully, we will be booking our international travel once the PM gives that green light, we will be able to go overseas as well,” Berejiklian said.

Updated at 12.22pm AEST on 27 September 2021.

This update is brought to you by Employment Hero.

Click here to go to Employment Hero’s COVID-19 Resource Hub for essential resources to help employers, managers and HR specialists navigate the ongoing pandemic. 


 

NSW details next steps towards 1 December Freedom Day

NSW details next steps towards 1 December Freedom Day

More freedoms for residents of New South Wales are on the way in the coming months as part of the state’s three-stage reopening plan, the final two parts of which have been unveiled today by the government.

The state has previously announced what life will look like for the population once 70 per cent of people are vaccinated, but details about freedoms once 80 per cent of the population has been fully inoculated have been under wraps until today.

The first stage will kick into gear on 11 October when the 70 per cent double dose vaccination target is anticipated to be reached - currently, 60.1 per cent of people have received two jabs of a vaccine.

Two weeks later, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian expects the state to hit the 80 per cent double dose vaccination target, meaning even more freedoms are just around one month away.

Berejiklian says once that target is hit, people will be allowed to travel freely throughout NSW, stand up for a drink at the pub, resume community sport and even consider international travel.

Restrictions will also be removed for fully vaccinated people attending weddings, funerals and hairdressers and unvaccinated people will be allowed to attend places of worship.

From there, Berejiklian said the third stage of the reopening will occur on 1 December 2021 - essentially the State’s ‘Freedom Day’.

By then, 90 per cent of the population will be fully vaccinated, giving health authorities the confidence to ease capacity rules to one person per four square metres, and allowing unvaccinated people to participate in daily life like those vaccinated had been enjoying a month prior.

Further, masks will also no longer be required and nightclubs will reopen.

“Thank you so much for your patience,” Berejiklian said.

“It is just this week and next week that we have to hang in there for, we’re nearly there, and let’s not give up at the last minute.

"We believe by 1 December we will be at that COVID normal state where, hopefully, we will be booking our international travel once the PM gives that green light, we will be able to go overseas as well.”

The news comes as NSW today reported 787 locally acquired cases of COVID-19 and 12 deaths.

Business NSW welcomes three-phase roadmap

New South Wales' peak business organisation Business NSW says today's confirmation of the three phases of reopening is a positive step, providing much-needed certainty to businesses.

“It’s been an uncertain time for many businesses with lots of confusion about which businesses will be able to open and under what rules,” said Business NSW Chief Executive Daniel Hunter.

“The release of the Public Health Orders in coming days will reconfirm that the onus will be on individuals to do the right thing and abide by the rules.

“Business owners can’t be expected to also act as security guards, so long as they have a COVIDSafe plan and appropriate registration in place at their entry, they can get on with the business of being in business."

Updated at 11.33am AEST on 27 September 2021.

This update is brought to you by Employment Hero.

Click here to go to Employment Hero’s COVID-19 Resource Hub for essential resources to help employers, managers and HR specialists navigate the ongoing pandemic. 


 

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