News Coronavirus Countries urged to ‘open up’ as WHO appoints Helen Clark to lead virus review
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Countries urged to ‘open up’ as WHO appoints Helen Clark to lead virus review

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Countries have been urged to “open up” to scrutiny as the World Health Organisation launches an internal investigation into the handling of the coronavirus.

Former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark will head the probe, which will consider how the pandemic happened and what the WHO did to prevent it.

Making the announcement, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus lamented division amid the crisis that was enabling the virus to spread.

Wiping away tears, he warned the greatest threat was not the virus but “rather, it is the lack of leadership and solidarity at the global and national levels”.

“For years, many of us warned that a catastrophic respiratory pandemic was inevitable,” Dr Ghebreyesus said.

“It was not a question of if, but when. But still, despite all the warnings, the world was not ready. Our systems were not ready. Our communities were not ready. Our supply chains collapsed.

“It is time for a very honest reflection. All of us must look in the mirror – the World Health Organisation, every member state, all involved in the response. Everyone.”

The investigation comes as WHO acknowledged that COVID-19 might be spread in the air under certain conditions – after more than 200 scientists urged the agency to do so.

WHO has long dismissed the possibility that the coronavirus disperses in microscopic particles in the air except for certain risky medical procedures, such as when patients are first put on breathing machines.

In a change to its previous thinking, WHO noted on Thursday that studies evaluating COVID-19 outbreaks in restaurants, choir practices and fitness classes suggested the virus might have been spread in the air.

Airborne spread “particularly in specific indoor locations, such as crowded and inadequately ventilated spaces over a prolonged period of time with infected persons cannot be ruled out,” the organisation said.

Still, officials also pointed out that other modes of transmission – like contaminated surfaces or close contacts between people in such indoor environments – might also have explained the disease’s spread.

The review comes as many countries struggle with resurgences as global deaths surpassed 540,000, with more than 12 million infections.

Ms Clark led New Zealand from 1999-2008 and will co-chair the so-called Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response (IPPR) with former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

They will analyse where the coronavirus originated and how to prevent the future outbreak of pandemics, as well as how individual members responded to the virus.

An interim report will be presented in November, with a final version due in May 2021.

Australia and the European Union spear-headed a push for an independent investigation into the origins and spread of COVID-19, angering China.

The WHO has come under criticism, particularly from the US, which has accused the United Nations agency of being China’s puppet and given notice it will quit in a year.

Qld’s borders open

More than 250,000 people have applied for border passes to Queensland as the state braces for hordes of travellers when the gates open on Friday.

From midday, everyone except Victorians will be allowed back into the Sunshine State for the first time in more than three months.

However, there are warnings that queues could be up to 20 kilometres long as drivers jostle to cross the land border at Coolangatta to make the most of the weekend.

NSW school holiday-makers are expected to make up a large portion of tourists while Victorians are not welcome unless they have spent 14 days out of their state before arriving.

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Queensland’s borders are opening, but not to Victorians. Photo: AAP

If Victorians decide to try their luck, they won’t simply be able to talk their way into Queensland with police set to demand “solid” proof they left their home state at least a fortnight ago.

Those at the border can expect to be grilled and asked for proof that they have been on the road for 14 days, says Gold Coast District Chief Superintendent Mark Wheeler.

“We are aware there are already people across the border waiting for our borders to open and we’re anticipating some, or many of them will be Victorians,” he said.

Hotel quarantine review

Leaders will discuss a review of hotel quarantine arrangements as Australia grapples with stopping the coronavirus spread beyond Melbourne.

Dealing with the spike in cases in Victoria is top of the agenda for Friday’s national cabinet meeting.

States have ramped up testing and strict border controls in a bid to halt infections.

Hotel quarantine will be reviewed. Photo: AAP

Victoria recorded 165 of Australia’s 182 new cases of the disease on Thursday, with the source of 135 under investigation.

Four new cases linked to the Melbourne outbreaks have been detected in Canberra in two days, ending the ACT’s month-long clean bill of health.

Leaders will also consider a proposal from Prime Minister Scott Morrison to cap international arrivals to ease the pressure on quarantine arrangements.

Flights to Melbourne have stopped for the time being.

Construction, engineers get the biggest handout

Construction businesses account for the largest share of businesses getting JobKeeper payments, with professional services such as engineers and architects close behind.

Combined, those two industries make up three in 10 businesses covered by the wage subsidy and almost a quarter of workers.

Treasury data shows 140,138 construction companies with 348,077 workers were eligible for JobKeeper in early June.

There were 130,052 professional, technical and scientific services businesses with 396,424 employees – the largest number of any sector – receiving the wage subsidy.

Both sectors have lost about one in 20 jobs since March.

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Construction businesses account for the largest share of jobseeker payments. Photo: AAP

But with Thursday’s loan approvals figures showing a record drop in housing finance in May, there are fears housing construction will fall off a cliff once JobKeeper ends, and more jobs will be lost.

The arts and hospitality sectors, which have been the hardest hit by coronavirus shutdowns, made up just over 10 per cent of all businesses covered by the scheme.

About one in eight workers getting the wage subsidies work in these areas.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows the hospitality sector has shed nearly three in 10 jobs since the crisis began in March, and the arts sector almost a quarter.

Labor and others have criticised the JobKeeper scheme allowing many casual workers in these industries to fall through the gaps.

-with AAP