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10 things you need to know this morning in Australia

James Hennessy

Good morning all.

1. The government has extended its coronavirus travel ban to South Korea. This is in addition to the bans on travel from China and Iran, both of which have been extended to March 15. Travellers from Italy, which has also been hit hard by the virus, will be subject to enhanced screening procedures. Scott Morrison says South Korea was targeted for the ban over Italy because there are "five times" as many travellers from South Korea.

2. The coronavirus is set to push Australia towards the edge of recession, but modelling from Treasury holds onto hope we can avoid the worst. But it's not going to be pretty either way. “The negative economic impacts will primarily be as a result of lower household consumption and tourism in combination with other effects on the agriculture and forestry sectors,” Treasury Secretary Steven Kennedy told a senate committee on Thursday. Reporting from the SMH this morning says the government is preparing itself to abandon its long-promised surplus in an effort to dodge the recession.

3. A high school in Sydney is closed today after a student tested positive for the coronavirus. The 16-year-old student of Epping Boys High School, who has mild to moderate symptoms, is believed to have caught the virus from someone authorities are already aware of – an example of a community transmission.

4. Xinja has stopped customers opening new savings accounts, in a bid to preserve its high interest rate after the latest RBA cut. The neobank said it made the decision as it faces pressure from the reduced cash rate and deposit inflows in excess of $350 million. “Right now, in what are turbulent times, we want to stand by the rate we have offered,” said founder Eric Wilson. It'll be interesting to see how the neobanks, which market themselves on higher savings rates than the major banks, handle what looks to be a persistent state of rock-bottom RBA rates.

5. Speaking of rates: what else does the RBA have in its pocket to stimulate growth in these troubled times? The interest rate can only go so low, and we're probably past the point where cuts are actually having a notable effect. The bank's governor, Philip Lowe, has not so subtly flagged on multiple occasions that government stimulus will be required to actually get things moving. But once the rate hits 0.25%, as economists expect it will, the RBA could pull the trigger on quantitative easing, the controversial process by which a central bank increases the money supply, artificially inflating asset prices in an effort to stimulate the economy.

6. The $15 billion merger of TPG and Vodafone is set to go ahead, after the ACCC announced it would not appeal a Federal Court ruling in favour of it. ACCC chair Rod Sims said the competition regulator did not have grounds for an appeal, but admitted he was “disappointed” with the outcome. “Despite this outcome, we will continue to oppose mergers that we believe will substantially lessen competition, because it’s our job to protect competition to the benefit of Australian consumers,” Sims said.

7. A World Health Organisation official who was on the ground in China says the country's unprecedentedly drastic response saved hundreds of thousands from being infected. Dr Bruce Aylward, a senior WHO official, praised the extreme measures taken by China to fight the coronavirus during an interview in The New York Times.“They’re mobilised, like in a war, and it’s fear of the virus that was driving them,” he said. “They really saw themselves as on the front lines of protecting the rest of China. And the world.”

8. Luckily, the world's smartest man is on the coronavirus case. Donald Trump has unilaterally decided the 3.4% mortality rate trumpeted by the World Health Organisation is actually incorrect, and that it is in fact far lower. “Well, I think the 3.4% is really a false number,” Trump told the Fox News host Sean Hannity on Wednesday night local time. “Now, this is just my hunch, but based on a lot of conversations with a lot of people who do this, because a lot of people will have this and it’s very mild. They will get better very rapidly. They don’t even see a doctor.”

9. Twitter and Amazon are among 31 of the largest global companies who have restricted travel or asked their employees to work remotely as a precaution against the novel coronavirus. As of today, there are over 95,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, the majority of which are in China. Read the full list of global companies here.

10. Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren has dropped out of the 2020 US presidential race, following a weak showing on the Super Tuesday primaries. With the progressive senator out of the race, the contest has narrowed to Biden and Sanders, pitting the insurgent, populist left against the establishment-backed centre of the party.

As possibly alarming as the panic buying setting in across Australia is, there's some levity there too. News Corp tabloid The NT News printed a few extra blank pages in yesterday's paper, for those worried about supply shortages.