Widespread mask usage could be key to stop virus transmission

Supermarket shelves in countries affected by the COVID-19 virus may again be emptied of basic necessities, such as pasta and toilet paper, as supply shortages around the world grow and 820 million go hungry. Picture: AFP

Research led by Britain’s Cambridge and Greenwich Universities scientists say lockdowns along will not stop a resurgence of COVID-19 but combining it with widespread mask use could be “an acceptable way of managing the pandemic and reopening economic activity”.

Richard Stutt, co-leading the study at Cambridge, said their “analyses support the immediate and universal adoption of face masks by the public”.

His comments come as researchers worldwide race to develop an effective vaccine against COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus.

The study’s findings were published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A scientific journal.

At the onset of the pandemic, scientific evidence on the effectiveness of face masks in slowing transmission of respiratory diseases was limited.

However, the World Health Organisation now recommends everyone wear fabric face masks in public to try to reduce disease spread.


Four federal MPs are being tested for COVID-19 after attending Black Lives Matter protests at the weekend.

Queensland MPs Graham Perrett and Anika Wells, and Northern Territory MP Warren Snowdon and Senator Malarndirri McCarthy will not attend parliament until their test results come back.

They are being tested out of an “abundance of caution”, according to Labor leader Anthony Albanese.

But Victorian Greens Senator Janet Rice has confirmed she will sit in federal parliament on Wednesday despite also attending a protest on the weekend.

Ms Rice said she was taking the advice of Deputy Chief Medical Officer Nick Coatsworth, who on Monday said there was no need for people who attended the marches to self-isolate unless they were showing symptoms.

“Here in parliament, I am taking every measure,” she said.

“I am not being in a committee room, sitting there for four hours.

“I am taking every measure I can to physically distance and to be practising good hygiene.”

Senator Rice took a swing at what she implied was a double standard between people protesting and people socialising.

“I am sure there are plenty of my colleagues that have been out there eating in restaurants over the last week,” she said.

But Queensland senator Susan McDonald, who had coronavirus, said it was selfish for the politicians to come to Canberra after they defied health warnings to attend the mass gatherings.

She said they should be self-isolating for a fortnight.

“As one of the very few parliamentarians who has had coronavirus, the agony was the wait to find out if I hadn’t infected elderly and at-risk family and friends,” Senator McDonald said.

“These parliamentarians make the mistake of thinking that this is about them, when it is about the people that they put a risk.”

“The real test of conscience and a moral decision is what actions would you take if you thought you did have coronavirus.”

“Defying social distancing protocols and then travelling to sit in enclosed spaces with others for lengthy periods is not the example Australians expect of their elected representatives.”


Meanwhile, Barnaby Joyce has taken aim at Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests claiming the rallies could cause deaths in indigenous communities.

The Nationals MP also questioned why the protests were allowed to be held at the weekend when church gatherings of 50 people were banned.

“How can you have a Black Lives Matter protest about the Aboriginal community, knowing the most vulnerable people for coronavirus are remote Aboriginal communities? What happens if one person gets the coronavirus,” Mr Joyce said, according to The Australian.

“Don’t those black lives matter as much of the other ones? The consequence of those protests could be the deaths of people in remote Aboriginal communities.

“A lot of people are making a statement to create further dissent without properly thinking through the consequences of what they’re doing and one of the most vulnerable groups are the people they were apparently protesting (for).”

Mr Joyce said the protests were difficult to justify, especially when local churches in his electorate were not allowed 50 people in their outdoor services.

“An outdoor service where people are 1.5m apart, surely that’s safer than a rally with 12,000 people?” Mr Joyce said.


National Cabinet is expected to delay a more rapid scaling back of social restrictions as it waits to see whether Black Lives Matter rallies triggered coronavirus outbreaks.

The delay is set to cost to economy more than $1 billion and prevent tens of thousands of people from returning to work, The Australianreports.

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee last month flagged two weeks of low COVID-19 infection rates could allow later stages of restriction easing measures to be brought forward, which the nation has achieved.

But the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) believed it would take up to 14 days to assess the impact of the protests on new coronavirus cases, meaning Cabinet was unlikely to update the three-stage COVID-19 road map when it meets on Friday, according to The Australian.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the AHPPC, which is holding rolling meetings this week, would provide advice to the national cabinet ahead of Friday’s meeting.

“What we want to do is to get Australians back to what we call a better normal,” Mr Hunt said.

“Recognising that we’ve had extraordinary success, we still need to be vigilant, but with each day we’re making progress on the health front and with each day that means we can make progress on the economic front.”


Mr Hunt said there was the potential to “increase actions and decrease the restriction” if “continued progress” was made.

“I am hopeful that over the course of this week we’ll continue to see progress and, each week that goes by with reduced numbers and a greater flattening of the curve, there’s increased potential across a range of different activities,” he said.

The stage two and three restrictions which remain in place could cost the economy up to $6.3 billion a month, according to Treasury.

Lifting stage two restrictions was expected to get 275,000 Australians back into work, and an additional 323,000 jobs would be restored after stage three restrictions were removed, according to The Australian.


A top World Health Organisation expert has tried to clear up “misunderstandings” about comments she made which were widely understood to suggest people without COVID-19 symptoms rarely transmit the coronavirus.

Maria Van Kerkhove, the U.N. health agency’s technical lead on the virus pandemic, insisted Tuesday she was referring only to a few studies, not a complete picture, in the comments she made Monday.

Van Kerkhove’s remarks on Monday raised confusion and questions among outside experts and health officials who have recommended, and in some places required, people wear masks to try to prevent the virus from spreading.

The “clarification” she provided during a WHO social-media chat showed many questions remain about whether infected people who do not show symptoms of illness – such as fever, dry cough or difficulty breathing – can transmit the virus to others.


Van Kerkhove said: “What I was referring to yesterday were very few studies, some two or three studies that have been published, that actually try to follow asymptomatic cases.”

“That’s a very small subset of studies,” she continued.

“I used the phrase ‘very rare,’ and I think that that’s (a) misunderstanding to state that asymptomatic transmission globally is very rare. What I was referring to was a subset of studies.”


Lifeline is taking about one call every 30 seconds from Australians suffering loneliness and anxiety on the back of the coronavirus crisis.

Almost 90,000 calls were received during each month of March, April and May – a record for the 57-year-old mental health support organisation.

“We were overwhelmed with loneliness. And anxiety,” Lifeline chair John Brogden told ABC television on Wednesday.

The imposition of social distancing and self isolation measures had a major impact on mental health, as did fears of job losses.

“While that was the right physical message to get out, it was a pretty devastating mental health message for a lot of people,” Mr Brogen said.

COVID-19 World Numbers

Lifeline said it was now receiving calls at a rate of about one every 30 seconds.

“We usually take 2,500 calls a day,” Mr Brogden said.

Calls to Lifeline had already been picking up after a devastating summer of bushfires on Australia’s eastern coast, pushing the tally to about 2,900 a day.

But as the COVID-19 crisis began to take hold in autumn, calls went through the roof – as high as 3,200 a day.

“These numbers are unprecedented for us at Lifeline,” Mr Brogden said.

Lifeline has now been given $2 million in extra funding by NRMA Insurance and RACV.

The money will be used to help pay for telehealth counselling sessions, counsellor training and toolkits and resources.

Lifeline 13 11 14 Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636


The U.N. secretary-general is calling for immediate action to avoid a “global food emergency”, saying more than 820 million people are hungry, about 144 million children under the age of five have stunted growth, and the COVID-19 pandemic is making things worse.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said there was more than enough food to feed the world’s 7.8 billion people but “our food systems are failing.”

He launched a policy briefing on the impact of COVID-19 on food security and nutrition on Tuesday, saying about 49 million more people may fall into extreme poverty because of the pandemic.

The U.N. chief warned: “The number of people who are acutely food or nutrition insecure will rapidly expand.”

Mr Guterres said food and nutrition services must be designated as essential, and food workers must be protected.

He said countries must ensure access “to safe, nutritious foods, particularly for young children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, older people and other at-risk groups.”


China’s Ministry of Education has warned its students against studying in Australia due to racism, in a major blow to the nation’s schools and already struggling universities.

Chinese education departments said students should be “cautious” in going to Australia because of racism, The Australian reports.


“The spread of the new global COVID-19 outbreak has not been effectively controlled, and there are risks in international travel and open campuses,” China’s Ministry of Education said in a statement.

“During the epidemic, there were multiple discriminatory incidents against Asians in Australia.”

Chinese students are the number one source of foreign students in Australia and are worth $12bn to the nation’s education sector per year.


Australian universities are lobbying China to lift its travel boycott, as a Beijing media outlet warns the move is the “tip of the iceberg” in a worsening relationship.

The International Education Association, and the Group of Eight – representing Australia’s top universities – are set to lobby the Chinese embassy in Canberra after a warning at the weekend which warned Chinese people to avoid Australia because of racists attacks, The Australian reports.

Australian universities already expect a $12 billion loss due to current restrictions on entries from China under conditions, and it is likely the loss would increase if foreign students did not return once the COVID-19 pandemic lifts.

International Education Association chief executive Phil Honeywood told The Australian 35 per cent of all foreign students who come to Australia are Chinese and their parents would be swayed by Beijing’s advice.

“Through word-of-mouth, Chinese families are well aware Australia is a safe study destination. (But) they are not likely to want to rock the boat with Chinese authorities by ignoring such travel advice,” he told The Australian.

“Given that China is our largest market and counts for 35 per cent of our full fee-paying international students, the industry will be lobbying to ensure that this travel advice will be lifted as soon as possible.”

NED-1766-UK-leads COVID-19-Global-Death-Rate

The Global Times, widely considered a media mouthpiece of the Chinese Community Party, wrote on Monday Australia’s positions on Hong Kong, foreign investment and a global investigation into the origins of coronavirus also played a role in the travel advice.

“It is Australia’s unfriendly attitude, not the travel alert, that may really scare away Chinese tourists and students,” it wrote.

“If Australia wants to retain the gain from its economic ties with China, it must make a real change to its current stance on China, or it will completely lose the benefits of Chinese consumers. The tourism loss may be just a tip of iceberg in its loss of Chinese interest.”


New coronavirus cases have had their biggest daily increase ever as the pandemic worsens globally and has yet to peak in Central America, the World Health Organisation says, urging countries to press on with efforts to contains the virus.

“More than six months into the pandemic, this is not the time for any country to take its foot off the pedal,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told an online briefing on Monday.

More than 136,000 new cases were reported worldwide on Sunday, the most in a single day so far, he said.

Nearly 75 per cent of them were reported from 10 countries, mostly in the Americas and South Asia.

In response to a question on China, WHO’s top emergencies expert, Dr. Mike Ryan, said retrospective studies of how the outbreak has been addressed could wait, adding: “We need to focus now on what we are doing today to prevent second peaks.”

Ryan also said infections in central American countries including Guatemala were still on the rise, and they were “complex” epidemics.

“I think this is a time of great concern,” he said, calling for strong government leadership and international support for the region.

Brazil is now one of the hot spots of the pandemic, with the second-highest number of confirmed cases, behind only the United States, and a death toll that last week surpassed Italy’s.

After removing cumulative numbers for coronavirus deaths in Brazil from a national website, the health ministry sowed further confusion and controversy by releasing two contradictory sets of figures for the latest tally of infection cases and fatalities.

Ryan said Brazil’s data had been “extremely detailed” so far but stressed it was important for Brazilians to understand where the virus was and how to manage risk, and that the WHO hoped communication would be “consistent and transparent”.

Maria van Kerkhove, a WHO epidemiologist, said a “comprehensive approach” was essential in South America.

More than seven million people have been reported infected with the coronavirus globally and over 400,000 have died.

“This is far from over,” van Kerkhove said.

At least half of Singapore’s newly discovered coronavirus cases show no symptoms, the co-head of the government’s virus task-force told Reuters on Monday, reinforcing the city-state’s decision to ease lockdown restrictions very gradually.

Van Kerkhove said many countries doing contact tracing had identified asymptomatic cases but were not finding that they caused further spread of the virus, adding: “It is very rare.”

Ryan, asked about technical co-operation with the US after President Donald Trump’s announcement 10 days ago that it was terminating its relationship with the WHO, said the WHO relies heavily on experts from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.

“We will continue to do that until we are otherwise instructed or informed,” he added.


The Federal Government’s $150,000 instant asset write-off scheme will be extended until the end of the year.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the extension would cost $300 million and was expected to help about 3.5 million businesses.

“(They) will be able to go and buy equipment or machinery, other materials for their business – up to $150,000 – and write it off straight away,” he told Sky News.

“They can buy a pizza oven, they can buy a coffee machine, they can buy a new truck, a new tractor – they can buy new materials for their business.”

Mr Frydenberg hoped it would encourage businesses to grow and invest as they prepare to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic.

“For a number of businesses it is very tough, but businesses aren’t just looking at today, they’re looking at tomorrow,” he said.

The instant asset write-off, which took effect in March, applies to businesses with annual turnovers of up to $500 million, up from $50 million.

Businesses can benefit from the instant asset write-off multiple times.


The World Health Organisation says it still believes the spread of the coronavirus from people without symptoms is “rare”, despite warnings from numerous experts worldwide saying such transmission is more frequent and likely explains why the pandemic has been so hard to contain.

Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, said at a press briefing on Monday many countries were reporting cases of spread from people who are asymptomatic, or those with no clinical symptoms.

But when questioned in more detail about these cases, Van Kerkhove said many of them turned out to have mild disease, or unusual symptoms.

Although health officials in countries including Britain, the US and elsewhere have warned COVID-19 is spreading from people without symptoms, WHO has maintained this type of spread was not a driver of the pandemic and probably accounts for about six per cent of spread, at most.

Numerous studies have suggested the virus is spreading from people without symptoms but many of those are either anecdotal reports or based on modelling.

Van Kerkhove said based on data from countries, when people with no symptoms of COVID-19 are tracked over a long period to see if they spread the disease, there were very few cases of spread.

“We are constantly looking at this data and we’re trying to get more information from countries to truly answer this question,” she said.

“It still appears to be rare that asymptomatic individuals actually transmit onward.”


Scarred by the deadliest coronavirus outbreak in the nation, New York City gradually began reopening Monday in a turning point in the three-month-long crisis and an important test of the city’s discipline.

With the virus in check – at least for now – stores previously deemed non-essential were cleared to reopen for delivery and kerbside pick-up, though customers cannot yet browse inside.

Construction, manufacturing and wholesalers also received the go-ahead to resume work.

“So far, so good,” construction management company owner Frank Sciame said as job sites started humming again, with new precautions such as health screening questionnaires and lower limits on the number of workers allowed in construction hoists.

“Let’s hope it continues.”

Mid-town Manhattan cautiously reawakened, with some luxury stores still boarded up after a few nights of smash-and-grab thefts amid last week’s protests over George Floyd’s death.

But other shops began pulling plywood off their windows and restocking.

“This is the place where it was going to be the hardest to make a comeback, and yet New York City is so strong and resilient, we are making that comeback,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

But he warned the city against letting its guard down and jeopardising its hard-won progress against the virus: “Let’s hold onto it. Let’s build on it.”

Unrest over racism and police brutality could compound the challenges facing the nation’s biggest city as it tries to move past three bleak months.

Officials who had focused for months on public health and economic woes are now also facing urgent pressure for police reform.

New York became the epicentre of the US coronavirus outbreak, with more than 21,000 people dying citywide of confirmed or probable COVID-19.

It is roughly one in five of the 110,000 coronavirus deaths across the US.

At its peak, the scourge killed more than 500 people a day in New York City in early to mid-April. The number has dropped into the single digits.

The number of people testing positive for the virus was down to 200 to 300 per day at the start of last week, compared with more than 6000 a day in early April.

The risk is the reopening of the economy will lead to a resurgence of the virus.

“All eyes will be on New York this next couple of months,” urban policy expert Jonathan Bowles, executive director of the Center for an Urban Future, said.

“The city now has to prove that it really knows what it’s doing, that it can still be a dense city like New York and yet figure this out.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo took a subway ride to mark the moment and sent a message it was safe: “If they’re using the sanitiser, they’re using the masks, it will be OK.”

Edwin Arce said he thought the city can regroup.

A chef at a Manhattan restaurant, he was heartened to see more customers than expected when it reopened for takeout and delivery.

“As a city, we are ready to be back, start going out, living life – with the new reality, though,” of masks and 6-foot (2-meter) separation, Mr Arce, 31, said.

Sam Solomon wondered how normal it will be.

“I don’t know if it’s ever going to be like it was,” Solomon, 22, who has a health-related job, said.

After months of relative isolation, “it’s going to be an adjustment being around so many people,” the native New Yorker, who never thought she would have to get used to crowds, said.

New York City, population of 8.3 million, has already reawakened somewhat as warm weather draws people outdoors, more restaurants offered takeaway service, and thousands of people march in protest over George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Subway ridership is ticking back up after plunging from 5.4 million rides per weekday in February to under 450,000 in April, the city’s transit agency says.

Subway schedules are returning to normal, though there are signs showing riders how far apart to stand on platforms, and the 1am-5am shutdowns that began in May will continue so trains can be cleaned.

Many activities, such as indoor dining and gym workouts, are not yet allowed; Broadway theatres and other big venues remain shuttered, and New Yorkers are still required to wear face masks when close to others in public.

Experts say reviving the economy will hinge on people’s willingness to shop, eat out and more.

But as the city tries to recover economically, will the virus strike back?

“It’s going to be a big test,” Dr Bruce Polsky, a city resident who is chairman of medicine at NYU Winthrop Hospital, said.

Months of social distancing, mask-wearing, handwashing, shock and fear have made New Yorkers better prepared to keep the coronavirus under control, health experts say.

But there are also fears that the protests over Floyd’s May 25 death will result in a second wave of infections.


More shocking evidence of China’s secrecy over the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak continues to emerge with data suggesting Wuhan was hit by the virus as long ago as the last northern summer.

That is months earlier than China has owned up to.

A surge in road traffic outside Wuhan hospitals at the end of last summer – coupled with an increase in internet searches for coronavirus-like symptoms – suggests COVID-19 could have hit China before autumn.

It is far earlier than has ever been speculated before.

A new study from Harvard Medical School led by Dr John Brownstein analysed commercial satellite imagery.

His team “observed a dramatic increase in hospital traffic outside five major Wuhan hospitals beginning late summer and early fall 2019” – or in Australian terms, around September-October 2019.

He said the traffic surge “coincided” with a rise in internet searches for symptoms that are “closely associated” with coronavirus, ABC News reported.

Officials in China did not formally notify the embattled World Health Organisation until December 31 a respiratory pathogen was spreading through Wuhan, a move the government has been heavily criticised for.

At the time Wuhan officials said a “cluster” of pneumonia cases had been recorded in the city.

But US intelligence reported the problem was sweeping through Wuhan to the Pentagon back in November, sources told ABC.

It now appears China knew of the emerging crisis for as long as three months before telling the rest of the world.


Just 61 cases of coronavirus have been recorded in Australia over the past week, with the majority of positive tests belonging to returned travellers in hotel quarantine.

While numbers were encouraging, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Nick Coatsworth said Australians needed to remain vigilant.

“We are still in the pandemic, it is still a danger to us and it is still a danger to our most vulnerable people,” Dr Coatsworth said.

“The important measures of keeping our distance where we can, washing our hands, of excellent cough etiquette, all those great behaviours that we have learned, they must continue.”

Five cases have been discovered over the past 24 hours.

Only two of the fewer than 460 active cases across the country require ventilation in intensive care.


Australia’s peak medical body, the AHPPC, met on Monday to discuss the pandemic and the potential fallout from the mass protests over the weekend.

Dr Coatsworth said the events posed a “substantial risk” to the progress Australia had made so far.

While he did not suggest two weeks of quarantine for attendees, he said it would be important for anyone showing symptoms to get tested.

“That will be the most important thing going forward,” Dr Coatsworth said.

“Anybody with symptoms who attended those protests get tested so the public health officials can be aware of an issue that happens.”

The impact of the protests on the spread of COVID-19 would remain unclear for about two weeks.

While it was not an exact science, Dr Coatsworth said protesters could have spread virus droplets further by yelling.

“The virus forms droplets,” Dr Coatsworth said.

“The louder you exhale those droplets, whether you’re coughing, whether you’re shouting, screaming, or even singing, they can be projected further than otherwise talking.”

The AHPPC is working on plans for getting Australians back into stadiums to watch live sports.

Dr Coatsworth flagged spectators could be back in the stands within months.

“The return to stadium sport and spectators is something the AHPPC is considering, it is something that we have been discussing,” Dr Coatsworth said.

“There may well be a way to do that in a safe measured way in the coming months, so I guess in principle there is a rather big difference between a single protest and a return to spectator sport in Australia.


Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said New Zealand will move to alert Level 1, the lowest rating on its four-tier virus response system, after it recorded no active COVID-19 cases following the country’s final patient was given the all clear and released from isolation.

Under the change from midnight Monday, international border restrictions will remain in place but the final domestic curbs – such as limits on public gatherings and mandatory social distancing – will be removed.

“At level 1, we expect the continuation of recovery,” the Prime Minister told reporters.

“We will almost certainly see cases here again. That is not a sign we have failed.”

Events including funerals, hospitality and public transport will resume without any restrictions.

This freedom on restrictions will depend heavily on our border measures, she said.

“We have eliminated transmission of the virus for now,” she said.

The milestone was “really good news” and an achievement the whole of New Zealand could take heart from, health department director-general Ashley Bloomfield said.

“Having no active cases for the first time since February 28 is certainly a significant mark in our journey but, as we’ve previously said, ongoing vigilance against COVID-19 will continue to be essential,” he said in a statement.


China has launched another attack on Australia warning it could lose Chinese consumers altogether.

State-owned newspaper Global Times yesterday reported the loss of Chinese tourists would be “just the tip of the iceberg”.

The article followed China warning its citizens against travelling to Australia after figures showed there had been almost 400 attacks on Australians of Asian heritage since April.

A notice issued by China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism said there had “been an increase in words and deeds of racial discrimination and acts of violence against Chinese and Asians in Australia.”

“The ministry advises Chinese tourists to raise their safety awareness and avoid travelling to Australia,” it said.

“It is Australia’s unfriendly attitude, not the travel alert, that may really scare away Chinese tourists and students.

“If Australia wants to retain the gain from its economic ties with China, it must make a real change to its current stance on China, or it will completely lose the benefits of Chinese consumers.

“The tourism loss may be just a tip of iceberg in its loss of Chinese interest.”

Michael McCormack, the deputy prime minister, said the warning to tourists was based on “false” information.

“There hasn’t been a wave of outbreaks of violence against Chinese people. I don’t know why this has been stated,” he said.

“All I can say is the statement is not true.”

Meanwhile, Trade Minister Simon Birmingham is still waiting to speak to his Chinese counterpart about a beef and barley dispute, more than four weeks after requesting a meeting.

“Unfortunately our requests for a discussion have so far been met negatively,” Senator Birmingham told ABC radio today.

“That’s disappointing, as I’ve emphasised time and time again.”


Trade Minister Simon Birmingham has rejected China’s assertion Australians have attacked Chinese people during the coronavirus pandemic.

China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism has advised its citizens to avoid travelling to Australia, citing racial discrimination and violence against Chinese people in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There has been an alarming increase recently in acts of racial discrimination and violence against Chinese and Asians in Australia due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the ministry said in a statement on Friday (June 5) evening.

It did not give any specific examples of such discrimination or violence.

“We reject China’s assertions in this statement, which have no basis in fact,” Senator Birmingham told AAP in a statement on Saturday.

“Our rejection of these claims, which have been falsely made by Chinese officials previously, is well known to them.”

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said it was rather a moot point as there was no travel between China and Australia at present because of the coronavirus pandemic.

He also believed the allegations were made on “false information”.

“There hasn’t been a wave of outbreaks of violence against Chinese people,” he said in Queanbeyan, NSW.

This is the latest is a series of frictions between the two countries.

The Chinese statement came less than 24 hours after the Australian government tightened is foreign investment rules.

However, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg pointed out China makes up only a little over five per cent of the $4 trillion foreign investment in Australia.

China last month slapped a tariff on imports of Australian barley, as well as blocking beef imports from four Australian suppliers because of labelling issues, coinciding with Australia calling for an investigation into the origin of the COVID-19 virus in China.

Senator Birmingham said it was unfortunate Australia had to close its borders with China to protect the country from COVID-19 as it spread from Wuhan.

“This decision was criticised by the Chinese government at the time, but it proved to be a critical decision in keeping Australians safe from the devastation faced by much of the rest of the world,” he said.

“Australia is enjoying world leading success in suppressing the spread of COVID-19 and, when the health advice allows, we look forward to again welcoming visitors from all backgrounds to our safe and hospitable nation.”

However, Labor’s Jason Clare believed there had been a spike in racist abuse during the pandemic and hoped Foreign Minister Marise Payne was talking to China.

“I hope that she’s on the phone talking to the Chinese government about this as well as all of the other issues that seem to be a problem at the moment,” Mr Clare told ABC television on Saturday.

Liberal backbencher Jason Falinski said clearly, Australia was going through a more strained time with China than it has before.

“I think diplomacy is best done quietly and not done publicly and with a foghorn,” he told ABC television.

“I think that there have been unfortunate incidents where people have been blaming members of the Chinese community for the pandemic in Australia, so that’s something that we need to resolve.”


This comes as Australia’s chief health officers met to discuss the next step in easing coronavirus restrictions, which could see gatherings of up to 100 people, most employees returning to their workplace and interstate travel.

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee had met to discuss “stage three and beyond”, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly confirmed.

Professor Kelly said the committee would take into account the large Black Lives Matter rallies that occurred across Australia on the weekend when assessing the national cabinet’s three-step plan for states and territories to wind back restrictions.

“At the moment, it won’t change how we are viewing those processes, but in particular states it may do, depending what happens in relation to (any) cases that crop up,” he told reporters.

The deputy chief medical officer also implored Australians to download the COVIDSafe app.

“The majority of people who have mobile phones have not downloaded the app so far – I certainly would encourage people to reconsider that,” Prof Kelly said.

There have been 7260 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia and 102 deaths.

More than 1.6 million tests have been conducted across the country.


More than half of Australians (55 per cent) experienced relationship difficulties during the COVID-19 lockdown, new data shows.

Relationships Australia’s May survey also found 42 per cent of people experienced a negative change in their relationship with their partner.

Those who reported feeling very lonely were more likely to experience negative relationship

changes throughout COVID-19.

This was especially true for people’s typically ‘close’ relationships (such as those with one’s partner, children and friends); whereas people’s relationships with their neighbours, extended family and colleagues were less likely to be affected.

A total of 739 people responded to the survey, which explored changes to relationships

during COVID-19 restrictions. The majority were women (74 per cent).

News Corp last month reported the coronavirus is the “straw that broke the camel’s back” with more Australian couples seeking legal advice.

Most shockingly, many of the new cases involved some kind of family violence.

With the lockdown taking a toll on couples’ finances, divorce lawyers have been offering help at a discounted rate.


Australian health authorities were waiting to see if Saturday’s Black Lives Matter protests across the nation undermined the containment of COVID-19 in Australia.

Just a handful of new cases were reported at the weekend, but it will be nearly a fortnight before it is known if there are any spikes in cases as a result of the rallies where social distancing was almost impossible.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said while he understood why people joined the protests, health authorities now had to be extra alert.

“We don’t know if anyone in those mass gatherings were infected or infectious, and so it is a wait-and-see approach,” Professor Kelly told reporters in Canberra on Sunday.

“I was encouraged to see the face masks yesterday … those people were doing the right thing.”

Victorian Deputy Chief Health Officer Annaliese van Diemen agreed the Black Lives Matter protest in Melbourne increased the risk for cases.

“In terms of potential outbreaks related to the protest, it really will be at least a week and probably closer to two weeks before we have an idea of whether there’s been any transmissions or outbreaks related to that,” Dr van Diemen said.

Twenty thousand people also marched in Sydney and crowds rallied in Brisbane, Adelaide and some regional cities and towns despite public health warnings.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt hoped the rallies which clearly broke COVID-19 social distancing rules would not lead to a new wave of infections.

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“If there is someone who is infectious in the midst of a crowd like that, that can have a catastrophic impact,” Mr Hunt told ABC radio.

The ACT recorded its first case of COVID-19 in over a month, a male aged in his 40s, who recently returned from overseas.

But ACT Chief Health Officer Kerryn Coleman is confident there has been no risk to the broader ACT community.

“The case is, however, a good reminder of the ongoing pandemic and the need for our community to continue to observe physical distancing and hygiene measures, and for people to stay home if they are unwell,” Dr Coleman said in a statement.

There were also four new cases of coronavirus in Victoria – one is a household contact linked to an outbreak last month at a McDonald’s restaurant in Fawkner and the three others are returned travellers in hotel quarantine.

But Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland all returned blank sheets, as did NSW for a second day in a row at the time of publication.

But Queensland is undertaking contact tracing after a Melbourne man who arrived to pick strawberries in Bundaberg was confirmed on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Morrison government is extending some of the measures in its $1.2 billion support package for the aviation sector to ensure the industry is sustained during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have kept the aviation sector going by funding minimum networks to get essential personnel and critical supplies to where they may be needed,” Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said in a statement.


US health experts fear the massive protests being held following the death of George Floyd could lead to a huge spike in COVID-19 infections.

Observers say only about 40 per cent of protesters appear to be wearing masks and people are walking arm in arm – far from the recommended two metres distancing.

“There’s no doubt there will be a bump in cases,” Dr Marty Makary, from John Hopkins University, said.

“The science is the science. From a public health standpoint, we know what drives this infection – proximity and a lack of taking mitigating steps like wearing masks.

“We know it’s things like mass gatherings and travel.

“When people think about protesting they should also remember that it is often gathering people through travel, potentially from high-risk areas.”


The White House’s infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci said China did the world a “disservice” by not allowing scientists to speak openly about the coronavirus in the early days of the pandemic.

“I think the Chinese authorities that did not allow the scientists to speak out as openly and transparently as they could really did a disservice,” Dr Fauci said.

He said if Chinese scientists had been able to sound the alarm earlier about person-to-person transmission of the virus, the number of cases worldwide could have been reduced.

His comments came as the global death tally passed 400,000.

“Because at the beginning of the outbreak, they were claiming that this was just animal-to-human transmission,” he said.

“And there really wasn’t a human-to-human transmission at all. And they held that line for a few weeks. And then it became very clear when the scientists were able to talk about it, that, in fact, there was human-to-human transmission.

“Yes, it’s another example of the unfortunate situation of lack of transparency early on.”

Australia, the US and the EU have led criticism of China for not warning the world about the severity of the virus after the first cases were reported in Wuhan in late December and then not being transparent about the number of infected in the country.

A report last week said China held back on providing the World Health Organisation with full data on patients and cases, and did not release a genetic map of the virus until more than a week after three other labs had decoded it.

The report by the Associated Press said the genetic data delay slowed the development of a vaccine and the lack of concise information about the number of cases made it difficult to determine how quickly COVID-19 was spreading around the world.

Meanwhile, Dr Fauci said the global Black Lives Matter protests were “the perfect set-up” to see another wave of the disease break out all over the world.

“I get very concerned, as do my colleagues in public health, when they see these kinds of crowds,” he said.

“There certainly is a risk. I can say that with confidence. It’s a difficult situation. We have the right to peacefully demonstrate and the demonstrators are exercising that right.

“It’s a delicate balance because the reasons for demonstrating are valid and yet the demonstration itself puts oneself at an additional risk.”


Senior Chinese officials have defended their government’s actions and said China provided information in a timely and transparent manner.

National Health Commission Chairman Ma Xiaowei said on Sunday a recent news media report, which the Chinese government did not initially share the genome sequence for the virus, “seriously goes against the facts.”

An Associated Press investigation found government labs sat on releasing the genetic map of the virus for more than a week in January, delaying its identification in a third country and the sharing of information needed to develop tests, drugs and a vaccine.

Ma did not address the specific findings in the AP report but said there were many unknowns in the early stage of the outbreak and that it took time to gather evidence and figure out the characteristics of the new virus.

“The Chinese government did not delay or cover up anything,” he said.

“Instead, we have immediately reported virus data and relevant information about the epidemic to the international community and made an important contribution to the prevention and control of the epidemic around the world.”

He ticked off a series of government actions from a detailed timeline in the government report, which ran to 66 pages in the English version.

The report lauded China’s success in reducing the daily increase in new cases to single digits within about two months and the “decisive victory … in the battle to defend Hubei Province and its capital city of Wuhan” in about three months.

Wuhan, where the first cases of the new virus were detected late last year, was the hardest hit part of China in the outbreak.

The city and soon after much of Hubei province were locked down for more than two months to stop the spread of the virus to the rest of the country.


The Brazilian government has been accused of censorship after it stopped releasing its total numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths and wiped an official site clean of swathes of data.

Health ministry insiders told local media the move was ordered by President Jair Bolsonaro – and was met with widespread outrage in Brazil, one of the world’s worst-hit COVID-19 hot spots, with more deaths than Italy and more cases than Russia and the UK.

“The authoritarian, insensitive, inhuman and unethical attempt to make those killed by COVID-19 invisible will not succeed. We and Brazilian society will not forget them, nor the tragedy that befalls the nation,” Alberto Beltrame, president of Brazil’s national council of state health secretaries, said in a statement.

Brazil currently has the world’s second-highest number of cases, at 672,846 (the US has two million), according to the John Hopkins university site, and has overtaken Italy, with 35,930 deaths.


A coronavirus vaccine which would be taken through an inhaler could be ready in the next few weeks.

As trials of a vaccine continue at Oxford University, drug company Astra Zeneca has said it was standing by to produce the vaccine in mass volumes as soon as final approval was given.

The company plans to produce two billion doses thanks to funding from Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates.

The Oxford University team are reportedly “80 per cent confident” the COVID-19 vaccine works in younger people and say the vaccine could be given using a device like an asthma inhaler next month.

Professor Adrian Hill said clinical trials would end when the vaccine had clearly been found to protect people.

“We are guessing that might be around about August time – it might be before if cases do not decline as quickly as we expect, or be later if we run out of cases,” he said.

AstraZeneca has already agreed to supply 100 million doses of the potential vaccine to the UK.

It also signed a massive $A1.5 billion deal for a coronavirus vaccine with the US government.

The order from US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority comes after demands for from Donald Trump for a coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year, as part of program dubbed “Operation Warp Speed”.

Currently, there is no vaccine or treatment available for COVID-19 but doctors across the globe are testing current antiviral drugs to see if they can beat coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation is now advising everyone to wear face masks in public when they can’t practice social distancing – an about-face from its earlier guidance on stopping the spread of the coronavirus.

WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said new evidence showed face masks worn by healthy people could be “a barrier for potentially infectious droplets”.

WHO had always advised sick people and their caretakers should wear medical face masks.

The new guidance advises healthy people to wear non-medical face masks.

WHO officials for months have stood firm a healthy person would get a false sense of security from wearing a mask and would use up supplies needed by medical professionals.

New York already has a mandate for everyone to wear a face mask if they cannot stay at least two metres apart.

New studies, however, show people can be highly infectious in the few days before they show symptoms or can catch the virus and never show symptoms.

– with AP, AFP, Reuters