Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Government urges travellers return

The federal government has called on Australian travellers who wish to return home to do so now, as it unveils $715 million in assistance for airlines hit by COVID-19 travel bans. The Department of Foreign Affairs upgraded international travel advice, telling Australians to reconsider their need for travel as countries close borders, making it difficult to provide consular assistance. “If you’re already overseas and wish to return to Australia, we recommend you do so as soon as possible by commercial means,” it said in a statement. The government unveiled new relief measures for Qantas, Virgin and regional airlines, made up of refunds and waivers of fuel excise, Airservices charges, and regional security fares. Qantas has cut its international capacity by 90 per cent and domestic services by 60 per cent, but will honour the bookings with a flight credit voucher.

About 15,000 welfare recipients placed on the controversial cashless debit card will be prevented from withdrawing $750 stimulus payments as cash. Cassandra Goldie, chief executive of the Australian Council of Social Service, told Guardian Australia it was “beyond belief” the restrictions would apply in a time of crisis. The news comes as the federal government prepares to unveil tighter rules on indoor crowds today and plans a second round of stimulus ($) for later this week, including help for the tourism and hospitality sectors. Countries around the world are unveiling huge assistance packages, including the United Kingdom’s £330 billion ($670 billion) in business loans. Meanwhile, nearly 100,000 testing kits are due to arrive in Australia, with the government seeking to ramp up domestic production of alternatives and other depleted stocks of medical equipment.

In other news: Figures from the Australian Dental Association show people on public dental waiting lists generally have worse outcomes than those who can afford private care, with some waiting more than two years for treatment. The ABC reports that roughly 33 per cent of Australians eligible for public dentistry avoid food because of problems with their teeth, compared to about 20 per cent of other Australians. A quarter of people with access to public dental care do not have the minimum amount of teeth needed for their mouths to function efficiently.

The Law Council of Australia president, Pauline Wright, has called for a federal parliamentary inquiry into the family law system to be abandoned, claiming the hearings are “being used for political purposes” to undermine domestic violence claims. She has written to Liberal MP Kevin Andrews, the chair of the inquiry, to complain about the live broadcast of hearings by One Nation last week, with comments posted describing witnesses and MPs as “bitch”, “man-hater” and “dirty snake”. 


“The final deadline is the end of June. In all, it will be 600 people out of work, 180 of them well-trained and highly skilled journalists. But the impact of Australian Associated Press’s closure – especially on regional publications that depend on the service for syndicated photographs and stories – is difficult to overstate. Some observers say it will be worse than anything journalism in this country has faced so far.”


“This was the week the virus tipped over, morphing from the biggest story in the world to the only story in the world. Harvey Weinstein was handed a 23-year jail sentence; Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrested several members of his family in a dramatic power grab. Peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban stalled at the first hurdle. None of it registered. There was only the virus. And the fear and the panic, which have begun to take on a life of their own.”


“Muslims living in Australia were haunted by Christchurch – and Quebec, and Utøya – long before these names became shorthand for the crimes committed there. We have braced ourselves for the moment when someone would put into action the threats we are sent on a regular basis. Because running alongside the mass killings, quietly, there has been a slow-motion massacre of Muslims living in the West in the years since September 11, 2001, as one hate crime steadily piled upon another.”


“State governments want to recruit retired doctors and nurses into the coronavirus-fighting workforce. The West Australian government has gone so far as to launch job ads ... It's a move welcomed by Australian Medical Association president Dr Tony Bartone, who says these older retired doctors shouldn't be working on the coronavirus front lines. ‘They're in a vulnerable group ... they'll be able to perform telehealth on patients of the clinic,’ Dr Bartone told AAP on Tuesday.”


“More than 100 Australian doctors and dentists are trapped on board a cruise ship that is currently stuck off the coast of Chile after the country banned cruise ships from docking in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Roald Amundsen, owned by cruise company Hurtigruten, is one of several stranded off the Chilean port of Punta Arenas, and has a capacity of less than 500 passengers.”


“Lake Superior is the world’s largest freshwater lake, and its largest island is Isle Royale, whose largest lake is called Siskiwit, whose largest island is called Ryan. According to Wikipedia, at least, Ryan Island is home to a seasonal pond called Moose Flats that, when flooded, contains its own island—Moose Boulder. This makes it ‘the largest island in the largest lake on the largest island in the largest lake on the largest island in the largest lake in the world.’”

Max Opray
is Schwartz Media’s morning editor and a freelance writer.