13 Baa-Baas charged over COVID breaches

Thirteen Barbarians players must appear before a disciplinary hearing for a breach of coronavirus protocols that forced the cancellation of last Sunday’s non-cap international against England.

And in a fresh development, it has emerged that some of those who broke COVID-19 regulations by going out in central London last week, provided false statements during the Rugby Football Union’s investigation.

All 13 have been charged with conduct prejudicial to the interests of the union or the game but will remain unnamed until after proceedings have finished with the independent hearings to be staggered over the coming weeks.

Chris Robshaw, his former England teammate Richard Wigglesworth and Scotland wing Sean Maitland are among those whose misconduct has cost the RFU in the region of Stg1 million ($A1.8 million) in lost broadcast and sponsor revenue.

Among the charges are individual breaches of the protocols, such as leaving the hotel without permission or without informing organisers of their whereabouts, and providing false statements during an investigation.

The available sanctions for a disrepute charge are wide-ranging and include fines and suspensions.

“The RFU recognises the pressure public scrutiny is placing on the players and therefore it will publish players’ names, full judgements and sanctions after the hearings have concluded,” a statement read.

On Saturday footage emerged of Robshaw, Sean Maitland, Jackson Wray, Joel Kpoku, Fergus McFadden and Manu Vunipola – among others – drinking at the Running Horse pub in Mayfair.

The video that was circulated on social media was from one of the two nights out, the first of which only came to light last Friday and resulted in the automatic cancellation of the annual Barbarians fixtures.

The Metropolitan Police have declined to investigate the gathering despite there appearing to be a number of coronavirus rules being broken.

Five players including Robshaw and Wigglesworth have since issued apologies, while England’s World Cup-winning coach Sir Clive Woodward described the players’ conduct as “ridiculously stupid”.

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Europe’s Covid Lockdowns Return – WSJ

Global stock markets sold off Wednesday, as they have all week, on news of new government-ordered lockdowns in Europe amid rising Covid infections. As before, the shutdowns are a blunderbuss response that won’t eliminate the virus, but they will do considerable economic and public-health damage.

Germany, which was supposed to be Europe’s anti-Covid model, ordered a one-month shutdown of restaurants, bars, fitness studies and theaters. Hotels won’t be able to host tourists, and public gatherings can’t be larger than 10 people…

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ATO warns businesses not to use loopholes to exploit $30bn Covid tax concessions | Tax

The Australian Tax Office has warned companies not to use loopholes to exploit more than $30bn of business tax concessions including instant expensing and loss carryback provisions.

In a speech on Thursday the ATO’s second commissioner for client engagement, Jeremy Hirschhorn, scolded companies for using jobkeeper wage subsidies to pay dividends and urged them not to use “artificial mechanisms” to exploit the measures contained in the 2020 budget.

Hirschhorn told a Chief Financial Officer Live event businesses should use concessions to invest rather than buy assets “not actually used in your business”, raising the alarm about practices like purchasing a company car in fact used as a personal vehicle.

Hirschhorn said that companies should “follow the tax law, but also follow the spirit of the law” to avoid bad “optics” such as stating Covid-19 “has not substantially impacted the operations of your business while at the same time collecting hundreds of millions of dollars in stimulus”.

Hirschhorn noted the 2020 budget contained two new stimulus measures allowing companies to immediately write off the full value of any assets they purchase and to claw back tax already paid against losses to June 2022.

“These measures should be embraced, but for the purpose for which they were introduced,” he said.

“Invest in new plant, upgrade your facilities, claim a tax offset and reinvest the money in your business and jobs!”

Hirschhorn warned companies to “think twice before entering into artificial mechanisms to take advantage of these measures”.

He cited examples such as “structured transactions where the plant and equipment is not actually used in your business, intellectual property migration with no change in real activity [and] asset swaps with related parties”.

The ATO has previously played down concerns that earlier versions of the instant asset write-off could be rorted, despite conceding in Senate estimates in 2015 that ping pong tables for a company’s employees would qualify.

Hirschhorn also warned CFOs not to “artificially shift profits (and losses) around your group to access the loss carry back”.

“Similarly, accessing the loss carry back to support executive bonuses, increased dividends or to repatriate cash to offshore related parties is likely to be viewed poorly by the community.”

Labor has raised the alarm about companies which claimed jobkeeper wage subsidies but later paid large dividends and executive bonuses. The head of the Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott, has agreed companies claiming jobkeeper should not be paying bonuses.

Hirschhorn said the community expects that “large corporates, in particular but not limited to those who accessed [stimulus] schemes, will pay their share and improve their approach to tax”.

Although there was “nothing explicit in the rules” preventing payment of dividends and bonuses, Hirschhorn said there had been “quick backlash for those companies seen to be exploiting the spirit” of stimulus measures.

Hirschhorn said 92.5% of companies comply with their tax obligations while filing returns, rising to 96.3% after ATO compliance activity.

Despite the “globally high level of compliance” there is “lingering concern in the Australian community that large companies are still getting away with tax avoidance”, he said. “Much of this community concern is currently focused on large, mainly tech multinationals.”

Hirschhorn concluded by arguing businesses have “been entrusted by the government with leading the economic recovery with a range of stimulus measures”.

“With this comes increased expectations around corporate behaviour including tax. There is an opportunity to rise to these expectations and increase the community’s trust in large organisations.”

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US election 2020: COVID killed Rhonda’s father – but she is still ‘100% Donald Trump’ | US News

Politics and the pandemic have converged in America and Wisconsin is the eye of the storm.

The state is now one of the world’s coronavirus hotspots. Around one in every four people being tested here is COVID-19 positive.

That didn’t stop Donald Trump holding a packed rally here on Tuesday. His vice president then held another rally on Wednesday.

Donald Trump attends a rally in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin was once considered a reliably Democratic state in America’s rust belt. A narrow win by Donald Trump in 2016 helped push him over the line and to the White House.

His campaign continues to blitz the state despite it now being the country’s epicentre for COVID-19 – and views couldn’t be more polarised.

“We are all 100% Donald Trump,” Rhonda Parker tells me. “Most of our friends and family, all but one family we know, we all vote for Donald Trump.”

Rhonda lost her father to COVID-19 in April. When she speaks of his quick deterioration and the trauma of being unable to say goodbye she gets emotional – you can see the sense of loss is still raw.

More from Us Election 2020

Ronnie Parker, from Hortonville in Wisconsin, died from COVID-19 in April.
Ronnie Parker, from Hortonville in Wisconsin, died from COVID-19 in April.

Other family members have also had the virus and six weeks ago Rhonda tested positive too – her sense of taste still hasn’t returned.

Even given what Rhonda’s family has been through she would have gone to the president’s Wisconsin rally had it been closer to her hometown of Appleton. Donald Trump has her unflinching support.

“I would go. I would go. We’re all a firm believer of Donald Trump,” says Rhonda. “My husband and I were just talking about it the other day. It’s kind of like the survival of the fittest. If you’re going to get it you’re going to get it… I mean sure he could have done better but nobody’s perfect. I’m not perfect. He’s not perfect. But Joe Biden’s not the answer.”

Working in manufacturing, Rhonda feels her life has benefited under a Trump presidency. The positives for her outweigh any question marks over his handling of coronavirus. “Before this pandemic came up my stocks were skyrocketing, our company was doing great. We didn’t know what to bid first, we had a lot of work.”

You don’t need to go far to find the polar opposite view.

Frontline healthcare workers are now bearing the strain of the state’s outbreak. Close to 90% of Wisconsin’s intensive care beds are full and a field hospital in Milwaukee has started taking in patients. The Holy Family Memorial Hospital in Manitowoc invited us to see their ICU which is at capacity.

“In September it skyrocketed,” says Chief Nursing Officer Tom Veeser. “I find it maddening. Some people say it’s going to go away on 4 November.

“As you see as you came through our hospital, these are not people who are political consequences. They are real sick people with real viruses and people not wearing masks are leading to more infections. We are still impacted everyday.”

Donald Trump ignored pleas from local doctors to cancel Tuesday’s rally in Wisconsin. Joe Biden still has a clear lead in the polls here and the president is sticking to a relentless rally schedule with just days to go until the election.

COVID outbreaks are already being traced to previous Trump rallies and as the virus escalates in the country, the stock market is tumbling.

While Wisconsin is breaking records for coronavirus, it’s also seeing records for voter turnout. A state rule means anyone who has voted early and dies of COVID-19 before the election will have their vote discounted.

Wisconsin – already at the forefront of the election battlegrounds – is now America’s COVID frontline too.

Sky News US election coverage

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Covid rules: Confusion as social clubs serve alcohol in tier 3 areas

Pubs and bars

in tier three must close unless they serve substantial meals.

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Steve Mnuchin $1.8 Trillion Covid Relief Package Falters

Steve Mnuchin $1.8 Trillion Covid Relief Package Falters

Senate Republicans have joined with House Democrats in opposition to the Covid Relief Package.

Seratary Mnuchin Official Picture

On Friday Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin released the Trump administration’s new $1.8 trillion package of relief funding for those hurting from the Covid-19 recession. But Democrats balked at the offer saying that they wanted at least $400 million more.

Drew Hammill, the deputy chief of staff to the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, tweeted the following in response. “The Speaker & Secretary Mnuchin spoke at 3:00 pm today for 40 minutes. Their conversation focused on determining whether there is any prospect of an imminent agreement on a comprehensive bill. The Secretary made clear the President’s interest in reaching such an agreement.

“The Speaker pointed out that, unfortunately, the White House Communications Director contradicted that assertion during their call. The Speaker trusts that the Secretary speaks for the President.

In a letter to Democratic colleagues Saturday the Speaker herself described the offer as, “one step forward, two steps back,” and that it was, “insufficient in meeting families’ needs.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi took the opportunity to slam the President accusing Donald Trump of wanting to have total control over how any money is distributed.

“When the President talks about wanting a bigger relief package, his proposal appears to mean that he wants more money at his discretion to grant or withhold, rather than agreeing on language prescribing how we honor our workers, crush the virus and put money in the pockets of workers,” she said.

And now Republicans have joined Democrats in rejecting the package, albeit for the opposite reasons. Republicans who control the U.S. Senate think that it spends too much money.

So it is possible that no formal deal will be reached before the elections in November.

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Earth’s Biggest Telescopes Reopen After Months of COVID Closures

After more than six months of COVID-related closures, observational astronomy is largely getting back to work.

Many of the world’s biggest telescopes have reopened their domes in recent weeks, returning their gazes to the heavens for the first time since the pandemic forced a global shutdown of observational astronomy in March. Other major telescopes expect to reopen soon. 

This wave of reopenings was buoyed by declining COVID-19 cases in Chile, especially in the Atacama Desert, a region home to many world-class observatories. U.S. officials who manage telescopes in Hawaii and Arizona say they’re also beginning to resume operations, largely thanks to significant changes in their workflows. 

If major observatories continue to come back online — and remain open — it will end an unprecedented dark era in astronomy. After all, even during World War II, America’s observatories kept a close eye on the skies. 

Astronomy in Quarantine 

Earlier this year, an Astronomy magazine analysis showed that over 100 of Earth’s largest telescopes temporarily shuttered their doors closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And by late March, observational astronomy had almost completely shutdown. 

The closures reveal a little-realized truth about modern astronomy. Even in 2020, most observatories are not fully automated. 

Telescopes have grown dramatically larger and more complex in recent decades. They’ve also been pushed to more remote locations, farther and farther from civilization’s expanding light pollution. Basic tasks like swapping the instruments and cleaning the mirrors on these behemoths can require a small village of engineers, technicians, observers, medics, cooks, groundskeepers, and more.

In Chile, where many of the world’s biggest observatories are now located, the telescopes are so far away from cities that employees can’t just commute to the mountain each night. They have to live on campus part-time. Even the astronomers using the instruments typically travel to the observatories during their awarded observing nights. 

This reality forced observatories to shut down in the early days of the pandemic. There was no way to abide by social distancing rules and effectively run the telescopes. In interviews back in March, observatory directors said they expected telescopes to be offline for at least three to six months. And that’s largely how the pandemic played out for them.

A number of observatories did manage to change their workflows enough to feel safe reopening during the summer. And in recent weeks, many of the remaining observatories have likewise reopened. 

The only telescopes little impacted were the small, survey telescopes that run robotically, or with minimal support. These scan the skies for transient objects — the field’s term for unexpected and brief astronomical objects and events. 

For example, the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona never stopped searching for asteroids. And astronomers kept the Las Cumbres Observatory network of robotic telescopes hunting for both supernovae and space rocks. Hopefully, that was enough to avoid any major gaps in the observational record. 

What Was Missed 

Luckily for the field, those survey telescopes didn’t pick up any once-in-a-lifetime objects that would leave astronomers agonizing over what might have been.

“I’m sure we’ve missed a few things,” says John S. Mulchaey, director of the Carnegie Observatories, which runs some of the world’s largest and most historically important telescopes. “But for most of astronomy, you don’t miss that much. For those of us studying galaxies in the distant universe, they’re gonna be there next year. They’re gonna look the same.” 

Mulchaey says he did ponder how tragic it would have been if Betelgeuse went supernova. Early in the year, astronomers were mystified by the behavior of the dying red supergiant star in the constellation Orion. 

“That doesn’t seem likely, but we haven’t had a visible supernova in our galaxy in 400 years or something,” he says.

Early on, astronomers were also worried about their ability to detect potentially dangerous near-Earth asteroids. And new asteroid detections did decline initially, according to Kelly Fast, NASA’s program manager for Near-Earth Object Observations. However, as smaller observatories found ways to reopen, those detections eventually started going back up. 

“Most stuff that would have been done this year can be done next year,” Mulchaey says. “It means it takes an extra year to get to the answer, but that’s not that bad in the scheme of things.”

Telescopes Restart 

In Chile, the past month has seen telescopes restart at observatories across the country, including Las Campanas, Paranal, Cerro Pachon, and Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory. Other major instruments like the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment, the Gemini South telescope, and Southern Astrophysical Research Telescope have also resumed their operations. Below is a brief summary of the statuses of other notable observatories.

  • Construction has restarted at the Vera C. Rubin Observatory, formerly known as the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, a massive, next-generation instrument that will image the entire visible sky every night. 

  • The Atacama Large Millimeter Array in Chile, or ALMA, has begun working toward reopening. Before the shutdown, astronomers used ALMA’s 66 radio telescopes to help discover phosphine gas in the atmosphere in Venus, which could be evidence of alien life. The finding is controversial though, and researchers could be eager for a second look. However, the array is so complex that it could be months before ALMA is fully back online. 

  • Meanwhile, Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona, has started working to get its telescopes observing again. A major new project there called the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument saw first light last fall and researchers are eager to get it operational again. Other major telescopes in the United States opened in May and June. The relatively low number of COVID-19 cases in Hawaii also helped instruments like the Gemini North telescope get back to work.

  • In Antarctica, Earth’s only coronavirus-free continent, upgrades to the South Pole Telescope (SPT) have been postponed as fewer people are deploying to the continent. But SPT’s observing schedule has continued uninterrupted. “There has been a very strict protocol, limiting deployments to only essential personnel and with very strict quarantine rules,” says the University of Chicago’s John Kovac.

  • La Silla Observatory in Chile, home to a number of European Southern Observatory instruments, still hasn’t restarted science operations. 

Although not an observational observatory, LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, was forced to shut down its observing run a month early due to COVID-19. LIGO was planned to be offline for upgrades until 2022, but the pandemic is causing delays that could extend the process even longer. Processing the data from the last observing run is also taking longer than expected. 

“There are delays due to supply chain issues, changes in how vendors work, and teams learning to work in a COVID-safe way,” says LIGO spokesperson Patrick Brady. They likely won’t know until next year whether the pandemic has postponed LIGO’s ability to tune back into gravitational waves again.

Not the Same

Even as major observatories continue to come back online, many won’t be operating at 100 percent for the foreseeable future.

Large telescopes often have their instruments changed multiple times a night as they start new observing runs. But observatory directors say that changing instruments just won’t be possible in many cases now, as they’ve had to learn to work with dramatically reduced staff. Sometimes, they even have to find ways for one person to do tasks that would usually take an entire team.

Astronomers no longer physically travel to the telescopes from during their observing nights, either. And public tours have also been canceled, robbing observatories of vital revenue and access to potential donors. 

Maintenance has also been delayed. Large telescope mirrors often stretch more than a dozen feet across and sit exposed to the outdoors all night long, gathering dust. That means observatories have to regularly clean and recoat their mirrors, or else they’ll gradually lose their light-gathering abilities.

“One aspect that has suffered at the [Hobby-Eberly Telescope] and other large telescopes is that our mirror cleaning and segment re-aluminization are way behind schedule,” says Steven Janowiecki, an astronomer at the McDonald Observatory who serves as the observatory’s science operations manager. “Those processes require people to be in close proximity and have been significantly reduced since March. That will have long term impacts on our light-collecting ability — perhaps 5 to 15 percent — but we’ll still be observing.”

So, although the observational abilities of major telescopes around the world might remain slightly dimmed in the short term, astronomers and engineers are working hard to get Earth’s observatories fully back in the game.

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Coping With the Covid Winter

Perhaps you’ve heard winter is coming. Or as Joe Biden warned last week about a third virus wave, “We’re about to go into a dark winter, a dark winter.” He’s playing up the worst case as the election nears, so some context is in order.

Virus cases are increasing, but this is inevitable as cooler weather arrives and Americans go indoors. Cases have also been climbing across Europe, in some countries more than in the U.S. But the good news is that America is better prepared to handle another virus surge, and progress toward…

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Dodgers win World Series as star has COVID

There was no champagne and a mask on nearly every face as the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrated their first World Series in 32 years in a manner no one could have imagined prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

They started the party at the neutral Globe Life Field – the new $1.2 billion home of the Texas Rangers – without Justin Turner, too, after LA’s red-headed star received a positive COVID-19 test in the middle of their clinching Game 6 victory.

Turner was removed from Los Angeles’ 3-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays before the eighth inning when results showed he had registered Major League Baseball’s first positive test in 59 days.

He wasn’t initially on the field as the Dodgers enjoyed the spoils of a title earned during a most unusual season but he returned later, hugging longtime teammate Clayton Kershaw and sitting front-and-centre for a team photo next to manager Dave Roberts with masks nowhere in sight.

“Thanks to everyone reaching out!,” Turner said on Twitter.

“I feel great, no symptoms at all. Just experienced every emotion you can possibly imagine.”

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred confirmed Turner’s positive test moments after presenting the World Series trophy on Tuesday – a jarring reminder of all that’s been different in the truncated 2020 campaign as the perennially favoured Dodgers finally ended their frustrating wait for a seventh championship.

“I had a crazy feeling that came to fruition,” Roberts said.

“It’s just a special group of players, organisation, all that we’ve kind of overcome.”

Shortstop Corey Seager managed a rare October double, named MVP of the World Series after also earning the honour for the National League Championship Series.

“It was absolutely phenomenal. This team was incredible,” Seager, who batted .400 with two homers, five RBIs and six walks against the Rays, said.

For Kershaw, one of the most accomplished pitchers in baseball history, it was a maiden championship after 13 seasons.

“This year has been crazy, but no matter what, we’ll look back on this and we’re World Series champs,” Kershaw said.

“To get to say that and get to be part of that, it’s so special no matter what.

“The only thing that may have made it better would be to be at Dodger Stadium.”

Success didnt come cheap for the Dodgers, who spent $3.69 billion ($A5.17b) on player payroll since 1988, which is one of the highest figures in the MLB over that span.

For the Rays, a decision by manager Kevin Cash to stick by their philosophy of not allowing starters to face hitters for a third time in a game proved costly.

Left-hander Blake Snell was pulled despite them leading 1-0 and the pitcher being dominant over 5 1/3 innings.

“I guess I regret it because it didn’t work out,” Cash said, after the Dodgers scored twice in the sixth innings and once more in the eighth.

“Personally, I thought Blake had done his job and then some.”

Randy Arozarena, the powerful Tampa Bay rookie, extended his post-season record with his 10th homer coming in the opening innings.

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