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Businesses ban travel, share market takes latest hit as coronavirus bites


Adelaide-based oil and gas giant Santos has banned employees from international travel, SA universities have deferred graduation ceremonies and the Australian sharemarket suffered its latest major fall in opening trade this morning over coronavirus fears.

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South Australia’s largest company has banned overseas work travel for its staff and restricted domestic travel to “business-critical activities only” in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.

A Santos spokesperson told InDaily that the company was also introducing “heightened personal hygiene awareness and practices at all of our work locations” and has established a dedicated working group, meeting daily to develop and implement additional measures as the pandemic progresses.

“Santos is following the advice of health authorities with the number one priority being to prevent the rapid spread of COVID-19, which in these early stages of a new virus, could overwhelm the health system if we relax efforts to contain it,” the spokesperson said.

“We are focused on the safety and wellbeing of our people and their families, and safety and production-critical activities that ensure the security of energy supplies to our customers in Australia and Asia.”

Santos was among the major listed companies to feel the impact of the coronavirus, with its shares falling fell 9.28 per cent to $4.16 by 12:25 pm Adelaide time.

Premier Steven Marshall yesterday declared a public health emergency in South Australia, giving authorities new powers to enforce outbreak containment measures.

The Government also announced this morning it had doubled the Planning and Development Fund available this year to $50 million, when matched with the local government contribution on a 50:50 basis.

The current grant round has been extended until April 9 to give councils more time to submit shovel ready projects for funding.

Marshall said the government was acting swiftly and decisively by immediately implementing a $350 million stimulus package aimed at safeguarding the economy and protecting jobs.

South Australia’s largest retail employer, the convenience chain OTR, is due to unveil its response to the crisis today.

Flinders University and the University of South Australia are postponing or cancelling graduation ceremonies and events, and preparing for the possibility of escalating restrictions, including on class attendance.

Flinders has offered some of its students from China a full refund on deferred studies and allowed extra time to pay fees.

“The majority of Flinders University’s international students have been able to commence their studies with us, however around 300 Flinders students have been unable to travel from China at this time,” a university spokesperson said.

“We will do everything we can to minimise the impact of the pandemic on our research and teaching activities and are putting measures in place to ensure that our students will not be disadvantaged.

“This includes ramping up our capacity for online lectures.

“Flinders University is being guided by the advice of state and federal health authorities in relation to matters of health.”

In an update posted online yesterday afternoon, UniSA Vice Chancellor David Lloyd said all graduation ceremonies would be postponed, public events will be deferred and all domestic and interstate travel on university business has been cancelled until further notice.

“While the university has no lecture classes approaching the 500 person prescribed limit for gatherings, we do recognise that measures of social distancing should be appropriately implemented across a large community such as ours,” Lloyd wrote.

“There is no current requirement for the university to halt physical teaching at this time.

“(However) as part of our ongoing planning, in the coming days, we will also be issuing advice to program directors, course coordinators and teaching staff on how best to make use of lecture recording, online content, virtual classrooms and tutorials to progressively reduce face to face teaching levels over the coming weeks, in a managed way.”

In a statement to InDaily on Friday, the University of Adelaide said enrolments and classes “have been proceeding as normal”.

“We have been closely monitoring the COVID-19 situation, and our response has been shaped by the latest advice from Australian health and foreign affairs authorities,” the statement says.

“All students currently impacted by the travel restrictions have an individual study plan, and flexible approaches have enabled studies to begin remotely.

“Once the travel restrictions are lifted and students are able to arrive in Adelaide, intensive face-to-face learning will resume.”

Meanwhile, Qantas Airways will make fresh cuts to its flying schedule beyond those announced last week after Australia and New Zealand imposed tighter travel restrictions at the weekend due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Australian and New Zealand international travellers would be required to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival, in developments Qantas said would have a major impact on domestic and international demand.

“We’ve moved immediately to offer a booking waiver to our customers and we’re working through the implications for our schedule now given the expected impact on demand, with a view to announcing more detail as soon as possible,” a Qantas spokesman said this morning.

Share market’s latest falls

Australia’s share market was down more than 6 per cent today amid a chaotic stream of coronavirus news including rate cuts, travel bans, profit warnings, flight reductions and cash injections.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 was down 351.3 points, or 6.34 per cent, to 5188 at around 12:20pm Adelaide time despite rate cuts to ease coronavirus financial pain by the Fed Reserve and other central banks.

The broader All Ordinaries index sank 349.4 points, or 6.25 per cent, to 5241.3, as big financial stocks led the entire market down.

Oil stocks have been falling amid a double whammy of sliding demand and an oil price war.

The Reserve Bank of Australia will give the banking system extra liquidity through its market operations as part of a package to ensure businesspeople and householders have access to credit.

But National Australia Bank was down 6.95 per cent at $17.13, the Commonwealth Bank fell 4.82 per cent to $63.16, ANZ plunged 6.22 per cent to $17.63 and Westpac fell 6.13 per cent to $17.01.

Economists and analysts say what investors most want to see is a peak in the number of cases of the deadly coronavirus, which continue to rise outside China.

China has reported few new cases as Prime Minister Scott Morrison followed New Zealand’s lead and ordered everyone arriving from overseas to self-isolate for 14 days.

The move has sparked profit warnings and flight cancellations and prompted companies to order their staff to work from home.

Supermarket giants were among the few glimmers of green, with Coles shares up 19 cents at $16.24 while rival Woolworths gained 87 cents to $37.92.

Cochlear’s shares dropped 18.50 per cent to $176.30 after suspending its earnings guidance due to the coronavirus.

Infrastructure group Downer EDI lost 10 per cent to $3.75 after the possible sale of its mining business to Perenti was suspended due to the market volatility caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

– with AAP

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