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Boris Johnson Brexit vote
(Image: AAP/Dan Himbrechts)

UK DEATH COUNT RISES

Britain has overtaken Italy as the country with the second-highest COVID-19 death toll. It has now recorded more than 32,000 deaths, to Italy’s (likely conservative) 29,000. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson — who banked on the unproven “herd immunity” strategy in March — has indicated some lockdown measures will ease over the next week.

The US has the highest death toll in the world, at more than 70,000. According to the The New York Times, in the past 24 hours New York state has reported more than 1600 previously undisclosed deaths at nursing homes and adult care facilities.

VACCINE WATCH: While still early days, the ABC reports that US drug company Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech SE have started trials on an experimental vaccine. See also: recent tests on antibody-laden plasma from survivors, and antiviral drug remdesivir.

TRUMP DEFLECTS AGAIN

US President Donald Trump, likely keen to deflect blame over those heartbreaking figures, has again hit out at China for failing to stop COVID-19 spreading from Wuhan. While Trump graciously acknowledged “they didn’t do it on purpose”, Reuters reports he has announced vague plans to release a report on the origins of the virus.

According to The Daily Telegraph ($), the Morrison government and its security­ agencies are growing increasingly concerned over Trump’s public obsession with the “Wuhan laboratory” theory.

WHAT ABOUT THAT FAILED COUP? Elsewhere, the ABC reports that Trump has denied any involvement by the US government in a failed armed incursion against Venezuela. President Nicolas Maduro alleged that the group of 13 were “terrorists”, led by two American “mercenaries”, coordinated by Washington.

AN UNLAWFUL COVIDSAFE PUSH

The Daily Telegraph ($) reports that staff at Sydney’s Strathfield Council have been forced to put COVIDSafe on to their work smartphones. This constitutes a breach of Health Minister Greg Hunt’s determination under the Biosecurity Act against forcing someone to download the app.

THE PRESSURE IS ON: After The Canberra Times yesterday published Scott Morrison’s front-page plea to download the app, news.com.au has published an op-ed comparing anyone worried about the privacy/functionality/efficacy of the app with anti-vaxxers.

COVID CLUSTERS

According to The Australian ($), the Melbourne abattoir at the heart of one of Victoria’s largest outbreaks was given a three-week “headstart” after state health officials determined the first infected employee “had not been at work while infectious” and the business was therefore “not considered an exposure site”. There have now been 45 cases traced to the facility.

As The Guardian reports, the news comes after the Ruby Princess inquiry heard that a senior doctor on board the cruise had told a NSW Health employee that “we just have to stop all cruise ships” from as early as March 8.

Finally, the ABC reports that the Anglicare Newmarch House aged care facility in Sydney has recorded its 16th death, as three more staff test positive.

STATE WRAP

  • Queensland’s government will today host a virtual summit with key bodies on the impact of COVID-19 on domestic violence services. The state government also announced that irrigation prices will be frozen to help farmers through the crisis, and a $1 billion Pacific Motorway upgrade has been fast-tracked
  • The Northern Territory has launched safety plan checklists, which cover physical distancing and hygiene rules for organisations, ahead of the May 15 reopening for “two hours or less” businesses
  • Victoria will provide a further $491 million in tax relief for businesses participating in the JobKeeper scheme — specifically by exempting payroll tax and the WorkCover premium on payments to their employees if their staff are currently stood down
  • NSW has announced a partnership with state universities and manufacturers to locally produce ventilators
  • South Australia’s government will match the federal government’s support for eight council-run childcare centres at a cost of around $700,000
  • Tasmania has established a PPE supply register to assist businesses needing personal protective equipment in order to continue operating.

THEY REALLY SAID THAT?

[In a text to Michael McCormack]: To feel threatened by me clearly shows you have failed your team and failed as a leader.”

John Barilaro

Because neither snow nor rain nor heat nor a global pandemic can stop the Nats fighting amongst themselves, the NSW Deputy Premier has accused the Deputy Prime Minister of hampering his Eden-Monaro bid.

CRIKEY RECAP

Download if you will but the COVIDSafe app is not a condom — or even sunscreen

“There are very likely a substantial number of Australians, particularly older, less technologically literate people, who have downloaded the government’s surveillance app in the belief that it will actually protect them against COVID-19 infection — that the app itself will somehow deliver prophylactic benefit.”


‘Immoral’: how big retailers are using COVID-19 to squeeze suppliers

“Two months ago, one of the country’s biggest retailers, Spotlight Group, was snapping up collapsed department store chain Harris Scarfe for a cool $50 million.

“Now it’s saying it can’t afford to pay suppliers.”


Taking out the trash: what our leaders are sneaking through while we focus on COVID-19

“While most Australians have been watching a movie called Contagion 2, our leaders have been pushing through changes to federal and state laws and regulations which in normal times might have caused them some political trouble.”

READ ALL ABOUT IT

One billion people will live in insufferable heat within 50 years – study

NSW government considers Sydney Opera House takeover of Carriageworks

Treasurer rules out JobSeeker increase after virus claims 1 million jobs

Unemployed students falling off ‘benefit cliff’

Coalition has ‘no excuse’ not to extend JobSeeker to visa holders, ACTU says

Police could be sued over Laidley photo leak, lawyer warns

Prison advocates call on government to take more action to prevent COVID-19 outbreak in jails

Brisbane City Council scraps planned $50,000 PPE donation to China

Chief Public Health Officer fears SA could face second wave of coronavirus cases from interstate ($)

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has 24/7 Australian Federal Police detail due to threats over the economic impact of COVID-19 ($)

THE COMMENTARIAT

Crisis has exposed our neglect of R&D investment ($) — Kim Carr (The Australian): “This pandemic has made it impossible to conceal dangerous weaknesses in the Australian economy that the Morrison government previously preferred to ignore. The greatest of these are the decline in manufacturing, the attrition of our science and research resources, and the loss of jobs, skills and economic complexity resulting from both.”

Scrap the Powerhouse plan and use the $1.5 billion to save CarriageworksClover Moore (The Sydney Morning Herald): “What is it about Australians that leads us to chronically undervalue our arts and culture? It has not always been so, but in recent decades, we have seen diminishing funding, dwindling federal and state support, a slackening of interest among our decision makers, and a sense almost of apathy about one of the most vital sectors of our society and economy.”

Why a trans-Tasman travel bubble makes a lot of sense for Australia and New ZealandFreya Higgins-Desbiolles and James Higham (The Conversation): “Historically, limited travel circuits have been associated with former and current Communist states. Nevertheless, for Australia and New Zealand in 2020, the idea of a travel safe zone makes a lot of sense.”

WHAT’S ON TODAY

Canberra

  • The Senate inquiry into COVID-19 will hear from the Attorney-General’s Department, Digital Transformation Agency, and Department of Health.

Australia

  • The Smart Energy Council will host digital event “Stimulus Summit: A Renewables-Led Economic Recovery”, to feature speeches from premiers, ministers, CEOs and energy experts.

HOLD THE FRONT PAGE

The Latest Headlines

Peter Fray

This crisis will cut hard and deep but one day it will be over.

What will be left? What do you want to be left?

I know what I want to see: I want to see a thriving, independent and robust Australian-owned news media. I want to see governments, authorities and those with power held to account. I want to see the media held to account too.

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Peter Fray
Editor-In-Chief of Crikey

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