JobKeeper package approved as Wuhan residents flee lockdown
The Federal Government's $130 billion JobKeeper package has passed parliament.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison's mammoth wage subsidy package to keep millions of Australians in a job during the coronavirus pandemic was approved late on Wednesday after a special one-day sitting attended by a reduced number of MPs.
Up to six million Australians will now receive a $1,500 per fortnight wage subsidy.
Payments will be made to employers for up to six months, backdated to March 30.
The Opposition backed the legislation after it failed to expand the package to include more casual workers.
Earlier, Health Minister Greg Hunt announced 11 million masks would be sent to healthcare workers on the front lines of the pandemic.
SANDERS QUITS PRESIDENTIAL RACE TO FOCUS ON COVID-19 BATTLE
Left-leaning Bernie Sanders, one-time Democratic frontrunner to win the party's presidential nomination, quit the race yesterday.
He said he could no longer see a "path towards victory".
While he understood his supporters would have liked him to fight on to the bitter end, he said it would be inappropriate to do so when he and the nation needed to focus on battling the coronavirus threat.
Mr Biden was a "very decent man", Mr Sanders said, and he would support him.
Mr Sanders said "an honest assessment of the prospects of victory" over the past few weeks showed there was no way he could win the nomination.
He said he understood some of his supporters "would like us to fight for the last ballot cast at the Democratic convention" but that due to "the crisis gripping the nation", he needed to offer unity.
"I cannot in good conscience continue to mount a campaign that cannot win and which would interfere with the important work required of all of us in this difficult battle," he said.
"I wish I could give you better news, but the path towards victory is virtually impossible."
FLIGHT ARRIVES IN AUSTRALIA FROM 'CORONAVIRUS CAPITAL'
A cargo flight from the world's coronavirus capital of Wuhan landed in Sydney on Wednesday night carrying 90 tonnes of medical supplies, just a day after the Chinese city reopened its borders for outbound travel.
The Boeing 747 freighter jet, operated by China's Suparna Airlines, arrived shortly after 9pm, under a veil of secrecy, The Australian reported.
There was no record of flight (Y8) 7447 in Sydney's arrivals schedule, and flight radar tracking company flightradar24 recorded the destination as "not available".
The Australian Border Force confirmed it was "aware of the cargo flight arriving into Sydney from Wuhan". On Wednesday, a government spokeswoman said the plane was carrying 90 tonnes of medical supplies, including personal protective equipment and respirators.
CITIZENS OF WUHAN FLEE CITY AFTER LOCKDOWN ENDS
Thousands of people wearing masks - some in full protective gear - scrambled to leave Wuhan as the city lifted its more than two-month-long lockdown amid the coronavirus crisis.
Within hours of the lockdown ending, about 65,000 people had left the city by train and plane alone.
About 1000 vehicles went through a busy highway toll booth at Wuhan's border between midnight - when authorities first lifted the barricades - and 7am.
Crowds - many wearing masks and raincoats - thronged Wuhan's Hankou railway station at numbers unseen since January 23 when authorities announced they were sealing off the city, with only a few hours' notice.
Sixty people were on board the first train leaving the city Wednesday, bound for Jingzhou.
Long lines formed at the Wuhan Tianhe International Airport, where a group of nurses from the city's Tongji hospital held a farewell ceremony for a team of 130 nurses from the northeastern province of Jilin who came to help during the crisis, according to the New York Post.
The group sang revolutionary songs like, Without the Communist Party There Would be no New China.
Photos show the nurses embracing each other, some in tears.
"We're really grateful," said Lai Wei, a 31-year-old Tongji nurse. "They showed us we were not alone in the fight against coronavirus."
Things aren't entirely back to normal - Wuhan's schools are still closed, temperatures are checked when people enter buildings and masks are strongly encouraged.
City leaders say they want to reintroduce social and commercial life while avoiding a second wave of the deadly bug.
CONCERNS OVER MALARIA DRUG
Research that suggested malaria drug hydroxychloroquine could treat COVID-19 is under question with the society that publishes the medical journal behind the study issuing a statement of concern.
In a statement the International Society of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy said the research did not meet the society's "expected standard".
There could be better explanations for the patients in the study recovering, the society said in a statement and it questioned the criteria used to choose the patients included in the study.
Major criticisms of the study have emerged in recent days after Donald Trump sparked a worldwide run on the drug by tweeting it could be a possible treatment for coronavirus.
The drug is set to be included in a trial in 60 hospitals around Australia in coming weeks and there are 23 other trials looking at whether it works including a major trial sponsored by the World Health Organisation.
Australians were warned they may be risking their lives if they take hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 and there was no evidence it even works.
NPS Medicinewise, a government funded body that encourages the safe use of medicines, said despite news reports from around the world touting the treatment as a wonder drug, it was still in the testing phase.
The medicine "should only be used by people with COVID-19 in a clinical trial setting or for severely ill patients in hospital," said Nerida Packham - pharmacist and Medicines Line manager at NPS MedicineWise.
If used incorrectly, hydroxychloroquine can be toxic to the heart (leading to a heart attack or heart failure), to the eyes (leading to irreversible damage), and to blood sugar levels (leading to severely low blood sugar), she warned.
Australian researchers surveying possible treatments for COVID-19 for the Medical Journal of Australia also warned against its use except in a clinical trial.
There have been reports of doctors using the drug to prevent infection even though there "is no clinical evidence of efficacy", the authors said.
The same study told doctors that corticosteroid drugs should not be used in routine treatment of COVID-19 because they did not work.
The study said a drug called Tocilizumab which reduces the activation of the immune system and inflammation was being trialled to prevent a catastrophic over reaction of the immune system called a cytokine storm but it has severe side effects.
Further research was needed on whether giving COVID-19 patients the blood plasma from people who had recovered from the virus, the authors said.
Studies were still underway into whether experimental antiviral drug remedsivir worked, the authors said.
SPAIN'S DEATH TOLL RISES AGAIN
The Spanish coronavirus death toll has risen by another 757 fatalities over the past 24 hours and 6180 new infections have been confirmed, health authorities have said.
Both figures were slightly higher than Tuesday's, when the first increase in five days was explained by a backlog of test results and fatalities that had gone unreported over the weekend.
But doubts about the statistics are being heard louder as fresh data starts to emerge.
Authorities have already acknowledged that a scarcity of testing kits and a bottleneck in the number of tests that laboratories can conduct on a daily basis are giving an underestimated contagion tally, which rose to 146,000 on Wednesday.
Health Minister Salvador Illa said that his department can only account for those who die and were tested. There have been few instances of post-mortem testing.
WUHAN LOCKDOWN ENDS
After 76 days in lockdown, the Chinese city at the heart of the global pandemic reopened on Wednesday and tens of thousands immediately hopped on trains and planes to leave.
In the city of 11 million where the pandemic began, residents waved flags and the city staged a light show with skyscrapers and bridges radiating images of health workers aiding patients.
Restrictions in the city where most of China's more than 82,000 virus cases and over 3,300 deaths were reported have been gradually eased in recent weeks as new cases declined.
"I haven't been outside for more than 70 days," said an emotional Tong Zhengkun. "Being indoors for so long drove me crazy."
In Washington, President Donald Trump threatened to freeze US funding to the World Health Organisation, saying the international group had "missed the call" on the pandemic.
He suggested the UN agency had gone along with Beijing's efforts months ago to minimise the severity of the outbreak.
WHO has praised China for its transparency on the virus despite wide scepticism among experts about the country's actual number of infections and deaths.
Originally published as JobKeeper package approved as Wuhan residents flee lockdown