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10 things you need to know this morning in Australia

James Hennessy

Good morning all. Shockingly, much of today's news is about the coronavirus.

1. St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney is searching for patients who may have been exposed to the coronavirus, after a 70-year-old man tested positive for COVID-19. The man had not travelled recently, and the source of his infection is as yet unknown. "St Vincent’s Hospital is in the process of contacting patients who may have come in contact with him,” NSW Health said in a statement released on Sunday night. The number of cases Australia-wide is now pushing 90.

2. Australians with flu-like symptoms are being encouraged to get tested for coronavirus. Health Minister Greg Hunt said Sunday the government would rather people over-test than under-test. "So, if anybody has been exposed, then the position is very clear: that if they believe they've been in contact, if they believe they've been exposed, to self-isolate," he went to say. Hunt also warned against further panic buying, saying “this is the time to be our best selves and to let our better angels prevail”.

3. Australian shares are set to open lower today, following overseas markets. Global markets continue to slide as more coronavirus cases are confirmed outside of China. ASX futures are down 93 points or 1.5 per cent to 6113. We can likely expect more hurt, too. "We now expect global GDP growth to slow to 2.0 per cent this year – its weakest since the global financial crisis and down from 2.6 per cent in 2019 – before picking up to 3 per cent in 2021," read a note from Oxford Economics.

4. Australian retailers faced their worst two-month period since 2010, after spending fell 0.3% in January following a 0.7% decline in December. While the spectre of panic buying may offset some decline, as coronavirus fears take hold, economists expect uncertainty to see the sector battered even more in the short-term. “It’s possible that panic buying boosted food, pharmaceutical and toiletry sales, but we estimate that they account for just 14% of consumption,” Capital Economics ANZ economist Marcel Thieliant said in a note issued to Business Insider Australia.

5. The situation in Italy, one of the most coronavirus-affected countries in the world outside of China, continues to get worse. The death toll amid the outbreak shot up by 133 in one day, marking 366 deaths in the country. The increased death toll came alongside a spike in infections from 5,883 to 7,375. Italy now has the second-most infections in the world, surpassing South Korea. An unprecedented response has been announced: the lockdown of the country’s Lombardy region, making up to 16 million people and 14 of the country’s provinces subject to travel restrictions under new quarantine rules.

6. On the other hand, China – by its official numbers, at least – appears to be containing the virus. Officials reported only 99 new cases on Saturday, significantly down from around 2,000 a day just weeks ago. But there's a few things to consider here. Firstly, China's "blunt force" containment and quarantine measures will be significantly more difficult to execute elsewhere. And we don't know quite yet whether these numbers reflect actual containment, or just a temporary suppression.

7. A hotel being used as a coronavirus quarantine centre collapsed Saturday night in southeastern China. 80 people were inside the building when it came down. Nine escaped, but 71 people were trapped. As of now, 10 have been confirmed dead.

8. We're seeing more and more examples of corporates around the world cancelling travel and telling employees to work from home wherever possible. In a memo sent to employees, Apple CEO Tim Cook urged the company’s global office employees to work remotely this week amid the spread of the novel coronavirus. The company has also instituted new efforts to limit “human density” at its retail locations.

9. As the cases in the US continue to increase, it's uncertain what impact it will have on the November election. The economic shock from coronavirus will hit the US just as Americans are deciding who to vote for, and the question is just how hard it is going to hit. Given Trump's messaging has been on the strength of the economy, a serious shock would no doubt do damage to his prospects. Perhaps it's little wonder his fixation has been on keeping the announced infections low – even if it means fudging the numbers a little.

10. The Queensland government is bringing in new legislation to make wage theft a crime. Under the proposed amendments to the Queensland Criminal Code, employers caught committing wage theft could face 10 years in prison for stealing or 14 years for fraud. “Wage theft is taking around $1.2 billion out of workers’ wages each year and more than $1 billion from workers’ superannuation,” said Queensland's industrial relations minister, Grace Grace. “Enough is enough.”

BONUS ITEM
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