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Coronavirus: What we know today, June 18

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Follow this post for rolling updates on the impact of the coronavirus in South Australia, the nation and the world.

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Refresh this page for updates – scroll down for links to official health information.

No new cases in SA today

SA Health reported no new cases of COVID-19 today.

The news comes one day after the department revealed that a man arriving at Adelaide Airport tested positive for COVID-19, despite being released from quarantine after a positive coronavirus test in Melbourne.

It had been three weeks since SA recorded its last new case on May 26.

Pandemic impact smashes State Budget

Treasurer Rob Lucas says the State Government’s $1 billion economic stimulus commitment to protect SA jobs and industry during the pandemic  crisis – on top of increased health spending to prepare for forecast COVID-19 patients and reduced GST revenue – have seriously impacted the 2019-20 budget bottom line.

The forecast $91 million surplus for 2019-20 as set out in the pre-pandemic Mid-Year Budget Review has now been revised, to become a forecast net operating balance deficit of $1.9 billion for 2019-20.

Total non-financial public sector net debt at June 30 is estimated to be around $18.1 billion, up $1.6 billion from the $16.5 billion estimated at the time of the Mid-Year Budget Review.

Lucas said at the time of the 2019-20 Budget, estimated GST revenue grants were around $6.8 billion in 2019-20 and $6.9 billion in 2020-21.

Treasury’s best estimates now suggest that the state’s GST revenues will be in the order of $850 million lower in 2019-20 and around $1.1 billion lower in 2020-21.

“Estimates of GST revenue in 2020-21 will obviously be impacted by the easing of restrictions and the pace of economic recovery,” Lucas said.

State taxes have also been impacted, with estimates showing payroll tax could be $90 million lower in 2019-20 and $100 million lower in 2020-21, while other tax revenue including stamp duty and gambling taxes could be $230 million lower in 2019-20 and down $360 million in 2020-21, compared with estimates at budget time.

Lucas said early estimates are that the net operating balance deficit in 2020-21 will be of a similar size to 2019-20, with non-financial public sector debt to be around $30 billion by the end of the forward estimates.

“Despite this, the Government remains steadfast in our commitment to our record $12.9 billion job-creating infrastructure program.” he said.

“Obviously, it could have helped the budget, including the increase in debt, by cutting infrastructure spending – but that is not the response that is needed.

“Jobs are needed now, and our record infrastructure program will help provide that as our state manages a transition to an exciting future which will be influenced significantly by the massive new opportunities in the defence, space and IT industry sectors.”

Lucas said budget deficits and increasing debt were the inevitable consequence of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They are the inevitable consequences of spending what was needed to prepare our health system to fight the virus, and also spending whatever was needed to save as many local jobs, businesses and community organisations as possible,” he said.

“In the grip of a global pandemic, we are doing what is needed to save lives and livelihoods, knowing we weren’t going to get a second chance to get this right.

“This wasn’t just a health crisis, this was the greatest economic challenge of our time and we are rising to that challenge, acting swiftly and decisively.”

The 2020-21 State Budget will be handed down on November 10.

School restrictions eased

The State Government says restrictions on a range of school activities will be lifted from June 29.

They include school assemblies, class photos, intrastate camps and excursions, sport competitions, sports days and carnivals, including inter-school competitions and inter-school choirs, bands and other performing arts activities.

School formals, socials and discos, playgroups and occasional care and larger face-to-face professional learning activities will also be allowed.

Parents, volunteers, departmental support and other service providers will also be able to enter school and preschool grounds again, providing health advice is followed.

There will also be no cap on the number of people in one room, but adults must follow the  one person per 4-square metre requirement.

With all South Australian borders set to open on 20 July, the Education Department will consult with SA Health regarding interstate school camps and provide further advice to schools.

“It is great news for South Australian families that we are able to lift the restrictions on these school activities, and it is because of the great work of our public health officials that this has been able to happen,” said Education Minister John Gardner.

“Staff, students and families alike will welcome the return of many of these activities from Term 3, which will provide a sense of school returning to normal.

“The lifting of these restrictions will also provide a critical lifeline for many businesses who have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, such as those who are welcoming the return of intrastate school camps and excursions.

Qantas axes overseas flights until October

Qantas has cancelled international flights until late October except for services to New Zealand.

The decision comes after federal Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham said Australia’s border for overseas travel would likely reopen next year.

Qantas signalled flights could resume if travel between Australia and other countries opened up.

“With Australia’s borders set to remain closed for some time, we have cancelled most international flights until late October,” a Qantas spokesperson said today.

“We still have some flights scheduled across the Tasman in the coming months, with the expected travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand.

“Should travel between Australia and other countries open up and demand returns, we can add more flights back into our schedule.”

On Wednesday Birmingham encouraged Australians to holiday domestically, with international travel forbidden for the foreseeable future due to the coronavirus threat.

He said the government might eventually look at short-term overseas travel to countries other than New Zealand that have similar success in suppressing coronavirus.

“I do, sadly, think that in terms of open tourist-related travel in or out of Australia, that remains quite some distance off, just because of the practicalities of the volumes that are involved and the need for us to first and foremost keep putting health first,” he told the National Press Club.

Asked whether that was more likely to resume next year, he said ” I think that is more likely the case”.

New cases could stop restrictions lift in Victoria

An increase in community transmission of coronavirus could delay a further easing of restrictions in Victoria, the state’s health chief has warned.

The state saw its largest single-day increase in COVID-19 cases in over a month, with 21 new infections recorded on Wednesday.

Fifteen of the new cases are returned overseas travellers from places such as Bangladesh, India and Pakistan where COVID-19 cases have recently soared.

The number of cases of community transmission, meanwhile, has risen by six.

“A day like today can make me nervous, it’s an indication that there’s still community transmission going on,” Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton told reporters on Wednesday.

“We need to watch it very closely and that’s why we always need to caveat what our next steps are with ‘it depends on how things are going.'”

One of the community transmission cases recorded in Victoria on Wednesday was a staff worker from Stamford Plaza Hotel, which houses returned travellers.

Another test returned positive from a resident at aged care centre Rosstown Community in Carnegie, prompting its lockdown.

The 53-bed facility run by Glen Eira council will have to undergo deep cleaning and contact tracing.

This same process was followed at Sunbury Animal Hospital, where a staff worker tested positive.

Meanwhile, a childcare centre in Melbourne was shut down after a worker also tested positive.

A health department spokesman on Wednesday confirmed a staff member from Inspira Early Learning Centre in Gladstone Park had been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Victoria now has 70 active cases among its total infection tally of 1762.

There were 23 new cases recorded across Australia on Wednesday, taking the national infection tally to 7370.

Steroid for virus treatement likely to get Aust go-ahead

An anti-inflammation drug that has been successfully used to treat severe COVID-19 infections in the UK is likely to be used by doctors in Australia.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt was briefed on the findings by Oxford University scientists by the nation’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy on Tuesday night.

“It’s not going to prevent you getting it, it’s not going to cure it, but the early but high-quality evidence out of UK is that people who are very, very sick, it gives them a much better chance of survival,” he told Sydney radio 2GB on Thursday.

The UK reported this week trials showed dexamethasone – a drug used to reduce inflammation in other diseases such as arthritis – reduced death rates among the most severely ill coronavirus patients by around 35 per cent.

The widely available drug, worth about $10 over the pharmacy counter in Australia, could be used to treat the three coronavirus patients in Australia in intensive care. Two are on ventilators.

“We’re very concerned for them,” Hunt said.

“We know we now have an option for the doctors in intensive care to consider. There are no barriers to them using it.”

Meanwhile, Australia’s Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer Alison McMillan has reinforced the need to contain coronavirus through social distancing and good hygiene.

“We must remember that even if a treatment has been found … that does not in any way detract from the need for us to continue to prevent the spread across Australia,” she said on Wednesday.

There were 23 new cases recorded across Australia on Wednesday, taking the national infection tally to 7370.

Almost all were in Victoria, which had its largest daily spike in a month with 21 new cases including several from community clusters.

McMillan said it was to be expected there would be small outbreaks and Victoria had done well to contain them quickly.

“We need people if they’ve got symptoms to quickly get tested and therefore we can then get in contact … and we can contain those outbreaks to small numbers,” she said.

China reacts to new virus outbreak

China has raised its emergency warning to its second-highest level and cancelled more than 60 per cent of the flights to Beijing amid a new coronavirus outbreak in the capital.

It was a sharp pullback for the country that declared victory over COVID-19 in March and a message to the rest of the world about how tenacious the virus really is.

New infections spiked in India, Iran and the US as authorities struggled to balance restarting economic activity without accelerating the pandemic.

Officials of European countries, which embarked on a wide-scale reopening this week, looked on with trepidation as the Americas struggled to contain the first wave of the pandemic and Asian countries like China and South Korea reported new outbreaks.

Chinese officials described the situation in Beijing as “extremely grave”.

“This has truly rung an alarm bell for us,” Party Secretary Cai Qi told a meeting of Beijing’s Communist Party Standing Committee.

After a push that began on June 14, the city expects to have tested 700,000 people by the end of the day, said Zhang Qiang, a Beijing party official.

About half of them were workers from the city’s food markets, nearby residents and close contacts.

The party’s Global Times said 1255 flights to and from the capital’s two major airports were scrapped by Wednesday morning, about two-thirds of those scheduled.

Since the virus was detected in China late last year and spread worldwide, there have been more than 8.1 million confirmed cases and at least 443,000 deaths, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.

Experts say the true toll is much higher, due to the many who died without being tested and other factors.

The US has the most infections and deaths in the world, with a toll that neared 117,000 on Wednesday, surpassing the number of citizens who died in World War I.

Arizona reported a daily high of nearly 2400 new infections for a total of more than 39,000, while in Texas, Governor Greg Abbott insisted the state’s health care system could handle the fast-rising number of new cases and hospitalisations.

Tuesday marked the eighth time in nine days that Texas set a new high for COVID-19 hospitalisations at 2518.

Abbott noted that Texans may have become lax in wearing masks or practising social distancing and urged people to stay home as much as possible.

Canada and the US extended to July 21 a deal to keep their border closed to non-essential travel, with many Canadians fearing cases arriving from the US.

In South Korea, authorities reported 43 new cases amid increased public activity.

Authorities said 25 of them came from around Seoul, where hundreds of infections have been linked to nightclubs, church gatherings, e-commerce workers and door-to-door salespeople.

Twelve of the new cases came from international arrivals.

Not long after declaring itself virus-free, New Zealand detected a re-emergence of the virus.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern assigned a top military leader to oversee the border quarantines after what she described as an “unacceptable failure” by health officials.

Two New Zealand citizens who had returned from London to see a dying relative were allowed to leave quarantine before being tested.

After the women tested positive, New Zealand began tracing their potential contacts to ensure the virus is contained.

Their cases raised the spectre that international air travel could ignite a new surge of the virus just as countries seek to boost devastated tourism industries.

China also limited other travel around the capital, keying in on hot spots.

Beijing had essentially eradicated local transmissions until recent days, with 137 new cases since last week.

On Wednesday, the city of 20 million raised its threat level from 3 to 2, cancelling classes, suspending re-openings and strengthening requirements for social distancing.

India, with the fourth-highest caseload after the US, Brazil and Russia, added more than 2000 deaths to its tally after Delhi and Maharashtra states included 1672 previously unreported fatalities.

Its death toll of 11,903 is now eighth-highest in the world.

India has reported 10,000 new infections and more than 300 deaths each day for the last two weeks.

OFFICIAL SOURCES OF ADVICE AND INFORMATION

Local updates and resources

State Government central information

SA Health

Mental health support line (8am to 8pm): 1800 632 753.

National advice and information

Australian Government Coronavirus information hotline: 1800 020 080

Government information via WhatsApp: click here

Travel

Australian Government travel advice: smartraveller.gov.au

Check your symptoms

Free, government-funded, health advice: healthdirect.gov.au

– Reporting by InDaily staff, AAP and Reuters

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