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Tasmania tells tourists to go home as coronavirus toll lifts

National

Tasmania has ordered all visitors to leave the island state by midnight Sunday, as Australia’s coronavirus death toll rose to 11 with more than 2500 confirmed cases.

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The latest Covid-19 fatalities are two Victorian men in their 70s. Hundreds of people have been hospitalised with the virus across country, while 170,000 have been tested.

Tasmania’s premier today told tourists staying in hotels, hostels, bed and breakfasts, campsites and boarding houses they have until midnight on Sunday to leave.

“I’m sorry to say that, but go home,” Premier Peter Gutwein said.

“Unfortunately there will be some dislocation for people but I make no apologies for working hard to keep Tasmanians safe.”

Gutwein also asked non-essential visitors to stay away, with Tasmania having a mandatory 14-day quarantine period for any non-essential arrivals.

Meanwhile, the federal government is now tinkering with restrictions it announced on Tuesday in a bid to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Haircuts can now be longer than 30 minutes and 10-person funeral limits can be eased in cases of hardship.

The government has also broadened testing criteria, meaning more Australians can now be screened.

Anyone with a fever or acute respiratory infection who works in health care or aged care can now be tested for the virus.

So too can people living in areas with an elevated risk of community transmission, or where there are two or more plausibly linked cases.

This takes in aged and residential care, rural and remote Aboriginal communities, detention centres, boarding schools, and military bases that have live-in accommodation.

Australian stranded on cruise ships

More than 3000 Australians are marooned on more than 30 cruise ships in waters off South America, Europe, the United States and further afield.

“We want to make sure that those Australians are able to return. We are working directly with them,” Foreign Minister Marise Payne told the Nine Network on Thursday.

Thousands of Australians trying to return home are finding it difficult, with countries like Nepal and South Africa shutting down flights altogether.

There are additional pressures in countries like Peru where public gatherings, free movement and business operations have been heavily constrained.

Energy firms promise to keep lights on, help struggling customers

Australians unable to pay their energy bills because of coronavirus won’t have their power cut, as the sector promises to help those struggling.

Customers struggling to stay afloat will be encouraged onto hardship payment programs and won’t have to pay late fees, while debt collection and bankruptcy proceedings will be put on hold.

“Impacted customers receiving hardship assistance will not be disconnected if they are unable to afford their energy bills,” the Australian Energy Council said on Thursday.

The council comprises 23 major energy companies which provide power to more than 10 million homes and businesses.

It urges customers worried about paying their bills to get in touch with providers, with options available such as payment extensions, bill management plans and help getting grants.

The energy giants also pledged to help small business during the crisis.

“As we enter winter and consumption increases, these challenges will only escalate,” the council said.

“A collaborative response from all parties will ensure retailers continue to be able to assist their customers both now and into the future.”

The council represents 23 major energy companies who provide power to more than 10 million homes and businesses.

Virgin Australia to sack staff, Flight Centre stands down 3800

Virgin Australia said it expects to sack 1000 of the 8000 staff it stood down on Wednesday, asking them to take a mixture of holiday, long service leave and leave without pay.

“Of the 8000 that we asked to stand down yesterday, there is probably going to be more than a 1000 of those (who) we do make redundant,” Virgin Australia managing director Paul Scurrah said.

“This is the worst airline crisis the world has ever seen.”

Flight Centre today announced more than 3800 of its Australian travel agency staff would be temporarily stood down.

The company is slashing about 6000 support and sales role across the globe, either temporarily or permanently, and hopes to retain up to up to 70 per cent of its 20,000 global workforce

“These never-before-seen restrictions, which have forced airlines to ground their fleets and heavily reduce their flight schedules, have virtually halted travel demand and led to the stoppage of the vast proportion of work that Flight Centre’s people previously carried out,” the company told the ASX.

Travel firm Helloworld also said it will stand down another 1300 workers across its global network, and sack 275.

Qantas said last week it was standing down 20,000 of its 30,000 workers.

Westpac forecasts there will be over 814,000 job losses leading to an 11 per cent unemployment rate by June as a result of coronavirus disruptions.

Retailer refuses to pay shopping centre rent during crisis

The owner of stores including Smiggle, Peter Alexander, Portmans and Just Jeans says he won’t pay rent to landlords during a virus-prompted stores shutdown.

Billionaire retailer Solomon Lew’s Premier Investments on Thursday announced all its retail outlets will close and all Australian employees will be stood down without pay.

Premier said 9,000 people globally will be stood down after it took similar measures in New Zealand, the UK and Ireland.

Additionally, Premier intends not to pay any rent globally for the duration of the shutdown.

It cited “extraordinary circumstances”, and the fact that 70 per cent of its Australia and New Zealand stores are already in holdover or have leases expiring in 2020.

Lew has long railed against the the level of rent charged by landlords and just last week threatened to close more stores if they refused to play ball during the COVID-19 outbreak.

– with AAP

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