Via Financial Times

Qantas comes under fire for exposing workers to virus

Jamie Smyth reports from Sydney

Australian health and safety authorities have sharply criticised Qantas for potentially exposing workers to the coronavirus following an investigation that exposed how the airline had not mandated the use of protective gear when cleaning planes.

A report by Safe Work New South Wales found the airline exposed cleaners to potential illness due to an inadequate system of work for cleaning planes, which may have transported people with an infectious disease. It has directed Qantas to develop a safe system of work to cover the risk of disease, including from the coronavirus.

The report, which has been seen by the FT, says investigators observed workers “required to handle wet and used tissues, used face masks, soiled nappies and the workers advised they occasionally have to clean vomit and blood off surfaces. PPE [personal protective gear] was not mandated for the majority of these tasks”.

“I observed fleet presentation crew wiping over multiple tray tables with the same wet cloth with no disinfectant and cleaning unknown liquids on floors and surfaces,” said the investigator, who compiled the report on February 26.

The cleanliness of planes has become a global concern due to the spread of the virus. On Wednesday US airline executives said they were taking extra measures to intensify sanitation on aircraft at a meeting with president Trump.

Qantas flew two flights carrying Australian residents back from Wuhan in China last month at the request of the government. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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US forces in S Korea say two more people hit by virus

Edward White reports from Seoul

Two more people linked to the US military in South Korea have tested positive for coronavirus, the US Forces Korea said on Thursday, taking the total number of USFK-related personnel confirmed with the virus to six.

The two military dependents are stationed at Daegu, the country’s fourth largest city, which has the majority of the more than 5,000 cases confirmed in South Korea.

“USFK remains at risk level ‘high’ for USFK peninsula-wide and is implementing all appropriate control measures to help control the spread of Covid-19 and as a prudent measure to protect the force,” the US military said in a statement.

The US military last week moved to tighten access and boost health monitoring across its South Korean bases. Joint drills with South Korea were also cancelled as part of precautionary measures to protect the 28,500 US troops who are stationed in the country to defend against a potential attack from North Korea.

The South Korean military has also been hit by the virus with 28 soldiers infected and almost 10,000 personnel under quarantine.

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Hong Kong authorities confirmed last night that a dog which they had previously placed in quarantine has been infected with the coronavirus. A previous test of the dog, which is the pet of a virus patient, led to the local government recommending that all “mammalian pet animals including dogs and cats” of infected patients should be quarantined.

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Dublin has detected four new coronavirus cases, bringing the number of confirmed infections in the Irish republic to six. The development late on Wednesday came after the Northern Ireland authorities said they were dealing with two new Covid-19 cases, bringing the total there to three.

Italy will prohibit fans from attending sporting events for the next month. Its government announced that football matches and other sporting events must take place in empty stadiums until at least April 3.

Health officials reported the first coronavirus-related death in California. The elderly adult, who had underlying health conditions, was the second confirmed case in the state’s Placer county.

The latest James Bond film, “No Time to Die”, has been delayed, becoming one of the first major Hollywood projects to postpone their launch on the back of the virus’ spread.

Australia signals it may resort to QE after economic hit from virus

Jamie Smyth reports from Sydney

Australia’s central bank forecasts the coronavirus will knock at least half a percentage point off gross domestic product in the first quarter and signalled it may have to launch a quantitative easing programme to boost the economy.

Guy Debelle, deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, told parliament the bank had capacity for only one more interest rate cut, which would reduce official rates to a new record low of 0.25 per cent.

“Beyond that, we will have to consider quantitative easing,” said Mr Debelle, who spoke to MPs late on Wednesday following the RBA’s rate cut on Tuesday, which reduced official interest rates to a record low of 0.5 per cent.

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He said he did not think the RBA would consider negative interest rates.
Economists are forecasting the economy will contract in the first quarter, raising concerns that Australia could experience its first recession in 29 years if the coronavirus outbreak is not brought under control speedily.

Meanwhile, Australian authorities confirmed on Thursday that a 95-year-old nursing home resident who died on Tuesday had tested positive for the virus, making her the country’s second Covid-19 fatality.