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Coronavirus updates LIVE: Victorian government modelling shows state unemployment to soar, COVID-19 cases surpass 2.5 million worldwide

Australia is successfully flattening the curve, recording four new cases of coronavirus, marking the first time the numbers have run in the single digits since March 8.

The Prime Minister’s Office said in the 24 hours to 4pm Wednesday afternoon, four new cases have been recorded – two in NSW and one each in South Australia and Tasmania. Despite this, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly said social distancing measures would remain in place until that downward trend continued.

“There may be more [cases] later, but we certainly appear to be flattening that curve very successfully at the moment,” he said.

There have now been 6649 COVID-19 cases recorded across Australia, of which 1336 are in Victoria.

[Read more from Laura Chung, Sarah Keoghan and Michaela Whitbourn here]

We have been including a map of where coronavirus cases have been recorded in Victoria each day for a while now, but today’s map is a bit different.

Instead of showing the total number of cases since the beginning of the outbreak, it shows the change over the past two weeks. This way, it’s easier to see which areas where recent cases have been recorded.

For example, Stonnington remains the area with the most cases recorded with 87, but there have not any new cases confirmed there for a fortnight now.

On the other hand, the City of Melbourne has recorded the biggest increase in new cases over the past fortnight with 12.

Keep in mind that the map shows where the people who tested positive for coronavirus typically live, not necessarily where they were infected or where they are currently residing.

In a press conference earlier this afternoon, Health Minister Jenny Mikakos stated that patients in the public system would be prioritised over those in the private system for elective surgery when it recommences next week.

There’s been some back and forth on that point in the last few hours and our State Reporter Sumeyya Llabney now reports that the minister was incorrect:

Public and private patients anxiously waiting for elective surgeries in Victoria will be treated equally for the next six months and placed on the same waiting list that prioritises urgent procedures.

National cabinet on Tuesday agreed to allow Category 2 and Category 3 surgeries to resume from Monday until May 11 – when the decision will be reviewed – as a result of Australia’s success in suppressing the spread of COVID-19.

Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said there had been no coronavirus deaths overnight or new cases of the virus since the premier reported two cases on Wednesday morning.

At a 40-minute press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Health Minister Jenny Mikakos repeated multiple times public patients would be prioritised over private patients as a consequence of the Andrews government’s decision to merge the private health system with the public in order to better deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

“Public patients have gotten priority in terms of access to private hospital beds,” Ms Mikakos said.

“Now I think that’s a pretty good outcome for Victorian taxpayers, where Victorian taxpayers’ money is being used to keep the private hospital system viable into the future.”

But at 5.30pm, Ms Mikakos’ spokeswoman clarified those comments were incorrect, and patients with the greatest need would be given priority – regardless of whether or not they have private insurance.

[Read the latest story here]

While appearing on a Melbourne radio station this evening, state opposition leader Michael O’Brien has claimed the Andrews government is being ‘dishonest’ about unemployment figures.

Mr O’Brien said that the figure of 270,000 lost jobs stated today by the Treasurer were ‘worst case scenario’ numbers.

The snaking queue outside the Centrelink office in Dandenong on Wednesday afternoon.

The snaking queue outside the Centrelink office in Dandenong on Wednesday afternoon.Credit:Paul Sakkal

“What you’ve seen today is the Treasurer and Premier is talk up big numbers,” he said to ABC Radio Melbourne host Raf Epstein.

Mr O’Brien called on the government to be ‘transparent’ and release the ‘best case’, ‘worst case’ and ‘likely’ unemployment figures from treasury modelling.

‘Instead what the government wants to do is set the bar so low… that then it wants to come back later on and say ‘didn’t we do such a good job?’”

“The numbers they’ve put out there are not honest because they’re only a worst case scenario.”

When asked, Mr O’Brien said he did not similarly take issue with federal government actions if they were also based on ‘worst case’ scenario figures, because “they’re [the federal government] putting their money where their mouth is”.

Energy minister Angus Taylor has begun planning an Australian strategic petroleum supply to take advantage of cheap fuel.

Fuel prices are low partly because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The fuel would initially be stored internationally but once the plan was developed fully and storage was available, Mr Taylor said, the fuel would be stored in Australia. The United States hold their strategic petrol supply underground, for example.

“This is a historic opportunity, we are seeing oil prices even going negative yesterday,” Mr Taylor told 3AW.

“We have allocated an initial $94 million [in funding to explore setting up the storage] … you can be confident despite disruptions that happen from time to time there will be enough fuel available [as a result].

“Holding them in America for the short term is a very viable option.

“This is the time to build a strategic petroleum reserve.

Mr Taylor said Australia currently holds between 50 and 80 days of petrol in the supply chain, but wants that level to be lifted to always above 90.

Former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett has blasted the state government after it announced it would borrow $24.5 billion for emergency coronavirus funding.

Victoria’s debt was already set to exceed $54 billion by 2022-23 before last week’s announcement by Treasurer Tim Pallas, which Mr Kennett said was evidence the state’s spending was already dire before coronavirus.

Former Victorian Liberal Premier Jeff Kennett.

Former Victorian Liberal Premier Jeff Kennett.Credit:AAP

Mr Kennett said he was also uncomfortable with the federal government going into significant debt because of coronavirus, but said that was less worrying given the federal government has the
Reserve Bank behind it, as well as revenue from industries like mining.

“I’m furious. We will overcome the coronavirus but your children and your grandchildren will never overcome the Labor virus that has now been put in place,” Mr Kennett told 3AW.

“I am not opposed to a bit of debt … this has nothing to do with the coronavirus, they lost control of the budget three years ago.

“I have supported Daniel [Andrews, Victorian Premier] in everything he has done in terms of the coronavirus [up until now] … but I cannot accept that they can come out and say to you, to me ‘oh we’re going to borrow $24.5 billion to fight the coronavirus as though the coronavirus is the excuse for their own inefficiencies.”

Some extraordinary retail figures being reported this afternoon by our Economics Correspondent, Shane Wright.

Hoarders of toilet paper and canned goods have delivered the biggest one-month surge in retail sales on record, but it won’t be enough to stop the economy from contracting.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics released partial data on Wednesday showing retail sales had soared by 8.2 per cent in March.

Supermarkets and grocery stores drove the lift along with alcohol and other specialised foods. Food sales were up 23.5 per cent or more than $2.7 billion.

Toilet and tissue paper sales more than doubled, as did flour, rice and pasta. There was a 50 per cent jump in canned foods, cleaning goods and medicinal products.

[Read the full story here]

An Associated Press crew have gained access to the emergency room of Saint Joseph’s Medical Center in New York, where staff are in the battle of the their lives.

It’s an eye-opening account of the daily scenes in a hospital in the worst hit part of the United States.

Content warning: some distressing images in this video.

Department store Myer will not reopen its stores by next Monday as originally planned, deciding instead to heed government advice and postpone the move by two-and-a-half weeks to May 11.

Myer has delayed its store re-openings until May 11.

Myer has delayed its store re-openings until May 11.Credit:Eamon Gallagher

The retailer told investors on Wednesday afternoon that while it wanted to open its 60 stores as soon as possible, it believed it was unfeasible to do so until social distancing and stay-at-home measures were eased.

State and federal governments have indicated these measures will continue until at least May 11, prompting Myer to defer its reopenings until then. Stores were originally set to open on April 27, having been shut since March 29, when10,000 staff members were stood down.

Myer was largely expected to postpone its store reopenings following fellow retailer Premier Investment’s decision on Tuesday to do the same. Premier had initially intended to reopen its 900 stores today.

[Read the full story here]

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