Tag: Australian Government


What are stage 4 restrictions and will we see them soon?


Australia

Government officials have warned Australians not to get complacent about coronavirus just because it’s Easter.

Amidst concerns that people may not be able to resist bending the rules to catch up with family and friends, leaders have said measures could be further tightened if infections spike or too many people flout the rules.

In Victoria, Premier Daniel Andrews has suggested this may see the state move into “stage 4” restrictions.

So what does ‘stage 4’ actually mean?

Well, the Federal Government hasn’t publicly issued a breakdown of what happens in each stage of restrictions.

It does have an emergency response plan for the coronavirus that broadly outlines which bodies are responsible for issuing public health measures and what needs to happen before Australia moves to “targeted action” and “standdown” stages.

But there are no specifics that set out who has to self-isolate, for how long, what people are allowed outside for, or how long quarantine should last.

This would be difficult for the Federal Government to do because, according to the emergency plan, state governments are at liberty to enforce rules at different times depending on how COVID-19 is spreading in their state.

But talking about “stages” is the language many Australian government officials (both state and federal) have been using to describe what’s happening as restrictions are scaled up in response to the virus.

It’s also the way some international governments are talking about their response to the pandemic, and is a handy way to compare what’s happening in Australia to how things work overseas.

Coronavirus update: Follow the latest news in our daily wrap.

So where are we at now?

As of Easter Saturday, April 11, the rules in place at a federal level are:

  • No indoor or outdoor gatherings of more than two people unless you’re all part of the same household
  • People should not leave their house except for essential reasons: to shop for food or other essentials, attend work or education (if you can’t do this from home), exercise, or for medical care or compassionate needs
  • Some state borders are closed except for people with exemptions for essential travel
  • There can be a maximum of one visitor (not a member of your household) to your home — but some states are taking a less strict approach to this rule
  • People must maintain a 1.5-metre distance from each other if they are in contact with members outside their household (ie. going to the shops, the workplace, out for exercise)
  • Many non-essential venues are now closed to the public. Restaurants and cafes are only allowed to offer take away or home delivery, while pubs, gyms, cinemas, casinos and places of worship are closed. Some non-essential retailers are still allowed to be open as long as they comply with social distancing measures
  • All travellers arriving in Australia must go into 14 days of self-isolation at a designated quarantine facility

These rules were updated at a national level on March 30, the third time the Prime Minister introduced new measures to deal with the spread of coronavirus. That’s why many are calling this “stage three”.

Since Australia introduced the latest round of restrictions, which in some states include fines for people leaving their house for non-essential reasons, the rate of new COVID-19 infections has declined.

But the Victorian Premier, among others, warned on Tuesday that these early successes were not a reason to get complacent.

“If people go about their business, and have a normal Easter, then all of our hard-won gains will just be frittered away,” he said.

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Mr Andrews would not rule out pushing for a new stage of measures for Victoria, if the rate of infection begins to rise again.

Elsewhere, Premier Peter Gutwein has already put the north-west of Tasmania into an “effective lockdown”, to deal with a rash of cases linked to three hospitals in the region.

And their Commonwealth counterparts have similarly warned that federal restrictions will be stepped up if people don’t take things seriously.

So what would new restrictions, or “stage 4”, look like?

Let’s look at New Zealand’s stage 4

In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern outlined a four-stage system, including the measures to be taken at each stage and what circumstances would trigger an escalation.

New Zealand went into stage four of these restrictions two weeks ago.

External Link:

@NZcivildefence: The Prime Minister has announced New Zealand Covid-19 Alert Levels. Here is a table that explains what they mean. This information will be available on the http://covid19.govt.nz website shortly.

Stage 4 is activated when it is determined likely that COVID-19 is not contained. Measures include instructing people to stay at home, closing educational facilities and all non-essential businesses, rationing supplies and requisitioning facilities, limiting travel, and a major reprioritisation of healthcare services.

Announcing the move to stage 4, Ms Ardern warned:

“If in doubt, don’t go out. These measures will be in place for four weeks at this point.”



Photo:

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern holds up a card showing the series of stages on the country’s alert system. (AP: Nick Perry)

There is no universal playbook for governments during the pandemic. An Australian stage 4 could look very different to the policies New Zealand has introduced.

But the country’s response offers the clearest example of what new restrictions could look like.

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New Zealand has described stage 4 as an attempt to “eliminate” the virus in the community after the outbreak was deemed unlikely to be contained and widespread community transmission was detected.

On March 25, New Zealanders received a text message telling them they would have to stay wherever they spent that night for the duration of stage 4 measures and to only have physical contact with those they were living with.

Schools have been completely shut down, even for children of essential workers, whereas those in all states and territories in Australia remain open to at least these families.

All non-essential places of business have also been closed, including non-essential retailers.

New Zealand is over halfway through its stage 4 lockdown, although the Government has warned the period could be extended.

Your questions on coronavirus answered:

What stage 4 could mean for vulnerable people

The UK declared a lockdown on March 24, with Britons only allowed to leave their homes once a day for exercise, to shop for essential items like food, for any medical needs or to help a vulnerable person.

However, over 70s and vulnerable people have been asked to remain indoors for a full 12 weeks while the country grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic.



Photo:

In the UK, there have been instructions for vulnerable people to not leave their houses for at least 12 weeks. (Reuters: Andrew Couldridge)

Vulnerable Britons, including those going through cancer treatment or who live with medical conditions that can supress the immune system, have been told they shouldn’t even leave the house to get groceries or to exercise.

Australia could introduce similar measures to protect people who are more likely to die from COVID-19.

The groups already identified by the Australian Government as being at risk during the pandemic include:

  • People aged over 70 and people over 65 who have pre-existing medical conditions
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • People with diagnosed chronic medical conditions (such as high blood pressure, heart and lung conditions, kidney disease and diabetes)
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who have higher rates of chronic illness

These people have already been strongly advised not to leave the home “unless absolutely necessary” but a stage 4 lockdown could see firmer measures taken to protect the most vulnerable Australians.

What the experts are saying about coronavirus:

So how likely is it Australia will go to stage 4?

Without a crystal ball, it’s hard to say.

But Australia’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said on Good Friday that we could be “on the cusp” of slowing the infections to the point that the epidemic “dies out” here.

This projection is based on a magic number called the reproductive rate (also called “R0” or “R nought”), which refers to how many people are infected by one person with COVID-19.

The WHO initially estimated the R0 for COVID-19 to be between 1.4 and 2.5, but it varies from place to place depending on public health measures.

Professor Kelly said as measures like social distancing, self-isolation and quarantine come into play, we start to look at the effective R rate, based on Australia’s cases.

“Ideally, where you want to be is below one, so less than one other person being infected after a person themselves had the infection,” he said.

“And once you get to that point, the virus dies out, or the epidemic dies out. And so at the moment we’re probably on the cusp of that in Australia.”

Professor Kelly said that number has been quite high at different points during the outbreak, and has been as low as between one and two.

He also says we’re in a much better place than we were a few weeks ago in terms of the daily numbers of new cases, referred to as the growth factor.

How fast is coronavirus growing around the world?


Infographic:
Growth in known cases in key countries, on a logarithmic scale

This chart uses a logarithmic scale to highlight coronavirus growth rates. Read our explainer to understand what that means — and what we can learn from countries that have slowed the spread.

Those sound like good signs. So will restrictions be relaxed?

These are good signs, but even once those numbers go all the way down, we still don’t know if people can develop an immunity or whether a vaccine will be developed. That’s important to work out before we start easing restrictions.

“In terms of the virus dying out, as it were, in certain parts of Australia, that would be a great achievement,” Professor Kelly said.

“It does bring with it a challenge. It would mean most of us would not have been exposed yet, and so we would remain susceptible to the virus if it was to be reintroduced to that area.”

According to the emergency response plan, the Australian Government will “coordinate the stand down of enhanced measures” and work with state and territory governments to “determine when to cease or reduce measures”.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has indicated that some of these measures are likely to be in place for six months (from the end of March), at least in some form, and Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Thursday this was still the expectation.

Though he did say if things improve, the Government would look to take some safe early steps to ease the restrictions.

The key message here: stay home

The moral of the story is we don’t really know if Australia will reach another stage of restrictions that force us all to stay inside, but our health chiefs and government officials are all saying the same thing.

Even though we are flattening the curve, Australians have been urged to take heed of the current advice in order to keep the number of new infections each day trending downwards.

Otherwise, governments may be pushed to ramp up their enforcement.

What you need to know about coronavirus:


Video: Wuhan lockdown ends, but some restrictions remain

(7.30)

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Expats wanting to leave Cambodia hit ‘brick wall’ in bid for government help


Cambodia

A group of 85 Australian expats in Cambodia fear time is fast running out to leave before a state of emergency is declared in the country, saying their pleas for help from the Australian Government have gone unheeded.

Key points:

  • Nearly 100 Australian expats have been unable to leave Cambodia on commercial flights
  • They are concerned the local healthcare system will be unable to cope with the pandemic
  • The Smart Traveller website warns it may not be possible to help every Australian get home from many parts of the world

Commercial flights from Cambodia bought at exorbitant rates are repeatedly being cancelled — one large family reported losing $10,000 on a cancelled flight before being quoted $63,000 for another.

Flights back to Australia are directed via other countries, but many of them are closing their borders in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Everyone’s quite happy to pay a reasonable price, or a touch above, for the Australian Government to take the initiative and get people out,” said Peter Brady, a former editor of South Australia’s Stock Journal newspaper.

“But the Australian Government is sitting on its hands.”



Photo:

Peter and Sue Brady say a lot of their fellow expats are scared. (Supplied: Peter Brady)

Mr Brady and his wife, Sue, moved five years ago to Siem Reap, where Ms Brady worked as a teacher and Mr Brady volunteered with a not-for-profit group building a new school.

He said the Aussies Attempting To Leave Cambodia (COVID-19) Facebook group was in contact with the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh but had become increasingly frustrated by the lack of commitment from the Australian Government.

“The Americans, the French, the Germans and Swedes, they’re all getting their people out, and the Brits did a charter flight,” Mr Brady said.

“We’re not all tourists. These are testing times and a lot of expats are getting scared.”

Embassy ‘working with airlines’

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said the embassy was providing regular updates to the local Australian community, including through social media.

“The embassy is working with airlines and government authorities to help secure commercial flight options for Australians in Cambodia and other nearby countries to return to Australia.”

External Link:

Tweet from Australian Ambassador to Cambodia

The Government is prepared to consider supporting Australian airlines on a case-by-case basis to operate non-scheduled commercial services to less central locations to bring citizens home.

However, it has said it would only be done where feasible, where all other commercial options were exhausted and if local authorities permitted it.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has pledged to donate seven months of his salary to the National Committee for Combating COVID-19, and there are rumours he will declare a state of emergency in the country as soon as Friday.

This would close provincial borders, making it harder for expats to travel to international airports.

Facing a ‘brick wall’

Jamie Christopherson runs a volunteer tourism company and an education charity from Cambodia, where he also owns and manages a retreat outside Kampot.

He said he helped establish the Facebook page to find out how many people were trying to leave the country.



Photo:

Ting Moung (scarecrows) to ward off evil spirits have been erected across Siem Reap in response to COVID-19. (Supplied: Peter Brady)

Within days, 85 Australians had verified they wanted to leave but had not been able to.

“The major concern that exists here is that the healthcare system is not able to cope with this situation,” Mr Christopherson said.

“We have a family of nine in our group — five of which have pre-existing conditions that are dangerous — and a number in their 70s, whose families have contacted me to express their concern.

“We have heard from our embassy, who I believe are doing all they can, but there is a brick wall between them and the Federal Government to actually action anything.”

Coronavirus questions answered
Breaking down the latest news and research to understand how the world is living through an epidemic, this is the ABC’s Coronacast podcast.

Opposition Foreign Affairs spokesperson Senator Penny Wong said the health and security situation was deteriorating in many overseas locations and delays were “putting Australians at risk”.

“Other countries have recognised this is the situation faced by their citizens, which is why other countries have acted with urgency to get their citizens to safety,” she said.

“Australia has two airlines with capacity to help, and we should be enlisting them in the national effort to keep Australians safe at home and overseas.

“I again urge the Australian Government to follow the lead of other countries in providing direct support to help bring stranded Australians home, including through subsidised and assisted departures.”

Stay up-to-date on the coronavirus outbreak

Cambodia slow to act

Reports from several South-East Asian newspapers have suggested Cambodian leaders were slow to take the threat of COVID-19 seriously.

Mr Hun refused to restrict transport to and from neighbouring China after Wuhan was locked down by authorities in mid-January; even by that stage, thousands of people had reportedly fled the stricken city for Cambodia.

The Prime Minister visited Beijing in a mark of solidarity at the height of the outbreak in early February, and later allowed the stricken Westerdam cruise ship into the port of Sihanoukville after it was turned away by a growing list of countries.

Tests revealed no COVID-19 infections among the ship’s crew or passengers.

Your questions on coronavirus answered:



Photo:

Hun Sen initially seemed relaxed about the threat of coronavirus. (Supplied: The Phnom Penh Post)

At the end of March, Cambodian authorities announced it had recorded 107 cases of COVID-19, but with limited testing there were fears the actual total was higher.

On its Smart Traveller website, the Australian Government said the scale and complexity of the crisis was greater than anything it had faced before, and it “won’t be possible to help everyone get home from many parts of the world”.

“You may have to wait it out in that country until the border closures are lifted or departure arrangements are made,” it stated.

“Our focus will be on those places where Australians are most vulnerable.”


Video: David Speers and the panellists discuss the Government's response to the coronavirus pandemic

(ABC News)

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Life on board the Ruby Princess: 1,000 staff adrift and in fear of the virus


Sydney 2000

The parties are over, the passengers are gone and in their place an eerie silence has fallen over abandoned restaurants and bars.

But, more than 1,000 staff remain onboard the Ruby Princess with limited medical support after the ship became a major source of coronavirus infection and was banished to the horizon off NSW’s coast.

Earlier this week, six crew members were whisked from the ship and in to Sydney hospitals for treatment of a “respiratory illness”.

The medical evacuations, which happened in the middle of the night, only served to stoke fears among those left onboard that the virus was still spreading.

Hundreds of cases and five deaths are linked to the Ruby Princess, which docked in Sydney on March 19.

Coronavirus update: Follow the latest news in our daily wrap



Photo:

Crew members were evacuated this week to receive “better care” according to NSW Health. (ABC News)

A crew member who spoke to the ABC on the condition of anonymity said staff that remained on the boat had done nothing wrong, and were desperate to get home.

The employee, who was isolating after potential exposure to the virus, said many of their colleagues felt trapped and terrified.

“It’s all a nice political chess game, but I strongly believe now is not the time for this,” they said.

“I am concerned, as we are in a closed environment.

“The medical evacuations [this week] did spark some fears and concerns.”

Stay up-to-date on the coronavirus outbreak



Photo:

A cordoned off area on the Ruby Princess. (Supplied)

The ship was at the centre of a political blame-game earlier this month when the 2,700 passengers disembarked at Circular Quay despite several people onboard being tested for coronavirus.

Cruise ships have now been banned from docking in Australia but many, including the Ruby Princess, are drifting off the coast.

Carnival Cruises, which owns the Ruby Princess, said the ship had to remain close to Australian health services in case more staff on board contracted the virus.

But the Department of Home Affairs has refused to budge, ordering all cruise liners to leave Australian waters before June 15 or face up to five years in jail or a $63,000 fine.



Photo:

Passengers disembark from the Ruby Princess at Circular Quay. (AAP: Dean Lewins )

The cruise giant said it was talking to Australian authorities about allowing most staff to leave the ship.

The staff member told the ABC that the crew felt helpless knowing the Australian Government wanted to send them out into open waters with no access to emergency healthcare.

“It’s a mental challenge thinking about the future and what it holds for us [while] reading everywhere that Australia wants us out,” they said.

“Going back to the US [where the company’s headquarters are] is doable on a technical aspect but what if a crew member suddenly needs heavy medical care and we’re in the middle of nowhere?”

Your questions on coronavirus answered:



Photo:

The Ruby Princess remains off the NSW coast. (AAP: Joel Carrett)

The ship has a small medical team onboard which is working around the clock, but has only limited resources.

“They have to face unusual situations that might require outside help,” the employee said.

There are approximately 1,000 crew members trapped on the ship — 800 are in strict quarantine in their rooms while 200 remain on duty to provide services to those in isolation.

The working crew are following social distancing protocols and restricted to their rooms outside of work hours.



Photo:

A note on a cabin door of the Ruby Princess. (Supplied)

The ship’s performers are live-streaming entertainment, others are conducting online yoga classes and many are leaving messages of appreciation on their doors for the working staff.

But beneath the distractions are unshakable feelings of confusion and fear.

Coronavirus questions answered
Breaking down the latest news and research to understand how the world is living through an epidemic, this is the ABC’s Coronacast podcast.

“There is not much information being shared about whether the virus is still spreading or plans to get us back home, which is definitely a source of stress for a lot of us,” the crew member said.

Although the ship is being sanitised extensively, the employee said the ship needed external specialists to assist with infection control measures.

Carnival Cruises has urged the Australian Government to take a “humanitarian” approach and care for foreign nationals the same way they would expect other nations to care for Australian seafarers.

“Being able to send home those crew members who are not required for the safe operation of the ship is the right thing to do both from a humanitarian point of view and Australia’s international standing as a maritime nation that looks after foreign nationals in its care,” president Sture Myrmell said.

Earlier this week however NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller had a stern message to all cruise ship operators.

“They don’t pay taxes in Australia, they don’t park their boats in Australia … time to go home,” he said.

What the experts are saying about coronavirus:


Video: Coronavirus under the microscope

(ABC News)

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Over $200b in stimulus will increase net debt by a third. Where’s the money coming from?


Australia

The Morrison Government’s $130 billion wage subsidy package is massive.

For the next six months, the Federal Government will be paying the equivalent of half of the country’s total wage bill to prevent over a million workers losing their jobs.

Australia has never seen anything like it — and it will be very costly.

In the mid-year budget update, Australia’s net debt was forecast to peak at $392.3 billion in 2019-20, or 19.5 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), before declining.

But the emergency wage package will see Australia’s net debt increase by a third, swelling to roughly $507 billion by the end of June, to hit 26 per cent of GDP.

And that won’t be all — there’s more debt on the way next financial year.

Coronavirus update: Follow the latest news in our daily wrap

How will the Government pay for it?

Essentially, the Government will pay for the stimulus package by creating the money and racking it up as debt.

Officially, it will raise the money via the Australian Office of Financial Management (AOFM), which borrows money on behalf of the Government by selling Australian Government bonds.

Why stocks have further to fall If ever you needed convincing that financial markets have become completely divorced from reality, just look at Wall Street’s wild swings, writes Ian Verrender.

Institutional investors (foreign and local banks) will buy the bonds, which promise to pay regular interest payments and repayment of the principal at a set future date.

The bonds will be traded with other investors, such as superannuation and pension funds, insurers, hedge funds, and private banks and central banks, which like to hold interest-bearing financial assets in their portfolios.

The ultimate buyer of the Government bonds could be the Reserve Bank, because at the moment, the RBA is stepping into the market regularly to purchase as many Australian Government bonds as necessary to keep the interest rate, the “yield”, on three-year Government bonds around 0.25 per cent.

“The Government will have to increase its debt by about 40 per cent, but issuing debt is not a problem, they could issue five times that and it still won’t be a problem,” ex-Treasury official Steven Hamilton told the ABC.

“Usually the AOFM holds a bond auction every week, where it sells around $1 billion worth of bonds — but the value of its bond issuances will skyrocket over the next few months to pay for these stimulus packages.”

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The AOFM says there is strong demand for three-year, five-year and 10-year bonds at the moment.

Investors no longer want to carry the risk of purchasing 15-year and 20-year bonds when the global economy is so fractured.

How much are the Government’s emergency stimulus measures worth?

The Federal Government is spending far more than the $130 billion wage subsidy package announced on Monday.

RBA makes extraordinary intervention The Reserve Bank is trying to stop the financial system melting down and telling us to brace for impact amid fallout from coronavirus, writes Gareth Hutchens.

In fact, it has announced $213.7 billion worth of stimulus across three packages:

First package of $17.6 billion (announced March 12)

Second package of $66.1 billion (announced March 22)

Third package of $130 billion (announced March 30)

It has also asked the Australian Office of Financial Management to extend $15 billion in special loans to smaller banks and non-bank lenders so those lenders can continue to finance small businesses during the crisis.

The Reserve Bank has also opened an emergency $90 billion funding facility to encourage banks to extend credit to small and medium-sized businesses.

Combined, the Government’s stimulus packages and the Reserve Bank’s emergency lending measures are worth $318.7 billion, which is roughly equivalent to 16 per cent of GDP.

How does it compare to the Rudd government’s stimulus packages?

Australia has never seen a stimulus package of this size.

It dwarfs the size of the Rudd Labor government’s stimulus packages across 2008-2010, during the global financial crisis, which were worth $67 billion.

The Rudd government began in November 2007. At the time, Australia’s net debt was -$22.1 billion, meaning it held $22.1 billion more than it owed.

In the final months of the Rudd government in July 2013, Australia’s net debt position had risen to $159.6 billion, due in large part to its stimulus spending during the GFC.

It left Australia with a debt-to-GDP ratio of 10.4 per cent.

Sharp rise in unemployment could trigger house price crash
The spread of coronavirus across Australia could see unemployment reach about 10 per cent and house prices drop 20 per cent, says one economist.

The Morrison Government, by comparison, has announced stimulus packages worth $213 billion so far.

When the Coalition Government replaced the Rudd government at the 2013 election, net debt was $174.5 billion, having risen by $15 billion in the three months leading up to the election.

In December last year, Australia’s net debt position was estimated to be peaking at $392.3 billion this financial year, before slowly reducing in size.

That’s an increase of $217.8 billion since 2013.

But the net debt position is now likely to jump to $507 billion this financial year.

It could see Australia’s net-to-GDP ratio it 26 per cent — well above the Rudd government’s 10.4 per cent.

Your questions on coronavirus answered:

What do economists think?

Cherelle Murphy, a senior economist at ANZ, says the Government’s $130 billion wage subsidy package will “undoubtedly” prevent the unemployment rate rising as much as it would have otherwise.

Coronavirus questions answered
Breaking down the latest news and research to understand how the world is living through an epidemic, this is the ABC’s Coronacast podcast.

She had been assuming that, with a widespread shutdown of economic activity of about six weeks, followed by a progressive lifting of restrictions, more than 1.1 million workers would have lost their jobs in coming months, swelling the number of unemployed to 1.8 million.

That meant the unemployment rate was going to jump from 5.1 per cent to 13 per cent in the June quarter, before dropping back to 8 per cent by the end of the year when the economy starts to recover.

But she says the Government now appears to be planning for a longer, harsher shutdown, because it thinks 6 million Australians will be accessing the fortnightly JobKeeper payments over the next six months.

That complicates her unemployment forecasts, but she thinks the payments will prevent a huge number of people from becoming unemployed.

“We think the size and reach of the JobKeeper payments should reduce the peak in unemployment — the economic version of ‘flattening the curve’,” she said.

What the experts are saying about coronavirus:


Video: Under the microscope

(ABC News)

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Morrison says tens of thousands of jobs could be lost if schools shut


Australia

Prime Minister Scott Morrison insists schools will remain open — for now — as governments across the country face increasing heat from parents opposed to the decision.

The ABC understands absenteeism — particularly in affluent areas — is as high as 30 per cent as parents struggle to understand why schools should stay open when social distancing is being encouraged elsewhere.

Mr Morrison said he was following the advice of the Government’s health experts and young people were a low-risk group.

Closing schools would put pressure on health workers to stay at home to look after children, and hurt the economy more broadly, he said.

“The disruption that would occur from closures [of schools] around this country would be severe.

“Let’s keep our heads as parents.

“What do I mean by severe? Tens of thousands of jobs could be lost, if not more,” he said.

“The impact on the availability of health workers — a 30 per cent impact on the availability of health workers.”

Coronavirus update: Follow all the latest news in our daily wrap

Singapore, China held up as examples

Mr Morrison cited Singapore as a country which had successfully controlled the virus while keeping schools open.

A report from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention examined the impact of school closures overseas and found short-term school closures did not affect the spread of the virus.

“Available modelling data indicate that early, short to medium closures do not impact the epi curve of COVID-19 or available health care measures,” the report said.

“In other countries, those places who closed school (e.g. Hong Kong) have not had more success in reducing spread than those that did not (e.g. Singapore).”

The report said longer closures of eight to 20 weeks may have some impact on community spread, but other measures such as handwashing and home isolation had a greater effect.

The same report also mentioned the danger of closing schools, saying it could lead to young people having greater contact with at-risk groups.

Australia’s chief health officer, Brendan Murphy, said there had also been very few cases of coronavirus diagnosed in children in the Chinese province first affected by the outbreak.

“Only 2.4 per cent of the cases reported in Hubei province were in people under 19,” he said.

“Children have very, very few instances of clinical disease and, if they do, of even more severe disease.”

External Link:

Minh Le Cong tweets: About schools staying open ..if that is going to continue then at least institute thermal screening of all students beginning and end of day . All febrile are home isolated for 14days . Even Singapore are doing that , if we keep citing them as reason why schools can stay open !

Closing schools ‘takes doctors off frontline’

Australia’s largest not-for-profit healthcare provider, which runs 80 public and private hospitals, says if schools are closed, they must convert to a childcare service for the children of health care workers.

Catholic Health Australia (CHA) estimates 80 per cent of its staff are women with school-age children.

“Catholic hospitals are willing and able to fight the virus, but our ability to do so will be jeopardised if a large number of nurses and clinical staff are taken off the frontline,” said CHA chief executive Pat Garcia.

“One option might be to, where appropriate, provide resources to ensure the children of health workers can remain supervised by staff at school during school hours — and potentially beyond.”

Norway and Belgium are two countries that have closed their schools to most students, but insisted they remain open as a childcare service for health workers.

External Link:

David Caldicott tweets about Norway keeping schools partially open so essential workers can work.

Some parents should keep kids home: expert

Kamalini Lokuge, from the Australian National University’s Research School of Public Health, said people who could take their children out of school should do so, but only if they did not have to leave them with grandparents.

She said this would protect the children of people such as health workers, who needed to send them to school so they could work.

“Our essential workers, our doctors, our nurses, those who supply our food, our electricity — they need to be able to send their kids to school,” Dr Lokuge told a panel discussion hosted by the National Press Club.

“And if we reduce the number of kids in school, we reduce what we call the force of infection in schools — so kids are going to have less contact with other kids, and therefore, there’s less risk of those kids who do need to be in school passing infection on to their family.”

What the experts are saying about coronavirus:

Infectious disease expert Robert Booy, from the University of Sydney, said children were probably contracting coronavirus but it was going unnoticed.

“My suspicion is that they’re actually catching it, but they’re dealing with it so well, they’re having such a mild reaction, that it looks as though they’ve got only a mild cold or no symptoms at all,” Dr Booy said in a video published by the university today.

“Younger children with poor hygiene are most at risk of spreading the virus, but with older children, if they’re washing their hands for 20 seconds with soap, the risk is lessened.

“Certainly they could pass it to someone in their family but I don’t see them as super spreaders.”


Video: What did Singapore and Hong Kong do to control coronavirus?

(7.30)

What about teachers?

Teachers who fall into higher-risk categories are having to make tough decisions about isolating from their families.

Others have criticised a lack of hygiene products on school grounds, which makes department guidance on social distancing difficult to carry out.

“Schools have been told to implement a range of social distancing measures, which include keeping a distance of 1.5 metres between persons and minimising physical contact where possible,” NSW Teachers Federation president Angelo Gavrielatos said.

“However, the design of many of our schools and the size of our classrooms make this impossible.

“The overcrowding of some schools also makes this impossible beyond the classroom.

“This is further amplified on wet days when children and their teachers have to remain indoors.”

External Link:

Michael Tam tweets: Yes, don't quote Singapore as an example unless you understand the contexts! Singapore also doesn't have exponential growth in confirmed COVID-19 cases, something that we do have in Australia.

School holidays could be extended

The federal and state governments have been discussing starting the Easter holidays a week early.

The ABC understands plans were well advanced but have been delayed after last night’s national cabinet meeting.

A sharp rise in infections could see it back on the table.

Governments believe it is a sensible compromise that will avoid a more drastic shutdown.

The Government has made clear that if schools closed now it would likely be for six months.

In practice, that could mean many students needing to repeat their entire year of schooling.

External Link:

Peter Collignon tweets: My interpretation of this modelling is that closing schools will be the least effective intervention to prevent deaths from coronavirus compared to other options. But will have major social and economic costs and interfere with best delivery of many essential services eg health

Aside from a relatively small number of independent schools, the Catholic, independent and public school sectors had all been in support of keeping schools open.

That changed yesterday when Catholic Schools Sydney — which represents 150 schools —broke ranks and called for school closures.

Since then, others in the sector had done the same.

The ABC understands the Catholic education sector had, behind closed doors, been pushing strongly for its schools to be shut.

That had put extra pressure on government, and has been viewed as unhelpful by other school sectors following government advice.

This afternoon, National Catholic Education Commission executive director Jacinta Collins said Catholic schools would adhere to the Australian Government’s advice to remain operational.

“While there is significant concern and debate regarding school closures in Australia to minimise the spread of COVID-19, it is our view that the government and public health authorities are in the best position to determine whether schools should remain open and we will adhere to this advice.”

Coronavirus questions answered
Breaking down the latest news and research to understand how the world is living through an epidemic, this is the ABC’s Coronacast.

The Prime Minister stressed all the states were unified.

“The health advice here, supported by all the premiers, all the chief ministers and my Government is that schools should remain open,” he said.

Professor Murphy said the virus affected children quite differently to influenza and other respiratory diseases, which could be quite severe in children.

He said, however, that it was not known whether children could spread the illness without showing symptoms, so schools needed to be made as safe as possible.

Sick children and teachers should not attend, large assemblies and other gatherings should be limited, and good hand hygiene should be enforced, he said.

Your questions on coronavirus answered:


Video: Question of whether to close schools divides medical experts

(ABC News)

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


‘We are Nokia and the iPhone is coming’: Gunsberg likens coal-fired power to outdated tech on Q+A


Australia

On a night dedicated to finding solutions to climate change, Q+A eschewed politicians in favour of sustainability entrepreneurs, renewable energy experts and a business lobby group representative.

But it was a television host of a popular dating show who best captured the audience’s attention, raising a series of relatable analogies for Australia’s climate change position.

Osher Gunsberg, host of the Bachelor and Bachelorette programs, compared the push by some Government MPs for new coal-fired power stations to an electronics store selling outdated telephone technology.

“If they were selling us mobile phones, they’d be saying the Nokia 3210 is the only phone we’ll ever need,” he said.

“I’m telling you that we are — as a country exporting coal — we are Nokia with a 3210, thinking people will only ever want to play Snake forever. And the iPhone is coming.”

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As for Australia’s attempts to use carryover credits to meet its emission reduction targets, Mr Gunsberg compared it to doing housework in a past relationship.

“Trying to say the Kyoto credits work is like … saying to my current wife, ‘I did heaps of dishes in my first marriage, so I don’t need to do the dishes in this one’,” he said.

Too scared to have children

One audience member revealed climate change anxiety meant she was “too scared” to have children.

The audience member, Alice Trumble, said her studies in environmental and climate science had shaped her opinion on becoming a mother.



Photo:

Q&A audience member Alice Trumble revealed her experiences with climate anxiety, saying she did not want to bring children into the world. (ABC News)

“I came to the conclusion that it was unsafe, unethical probably and just a bad choice for me to make to bring children into the world,” she said.

“I would really like a family but I’m way too scared to do it.”

Mr Gunsberg said having a five-month-old son gave him hope, while small decisions, like driving an electric car and having an electric bike, gave him a sense of agency.

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Every time there is an extreme weather event it seems to trigger a whirlwind of climate change discussion. But how do scientists decide if climate change is involved?

“As someone who has suffered incredible climate anxiety, I had episodes of psychosis that manifested as paranoid delusions,” he said.

“I was on two different kinds of antipsychotics and was seeing things, it was horrible. I can say to you, you’re not alone and when you know what you know, it’s a completely ordinary normal reaction to have when you look at what is coming.

“Having Wolf in my life, with a baby in your life that is hope. That is absolute hope. What can we build for this child?”

He said the world needed parents who thought about climate action to bring children into the world and urged her to “please” reconsider.

External Link:

@QandA: Does the panel see a role for Australia’s brown coal reserves in the future? #QandA

The television host also said giving politicians space to change their positions towards climate change solutions might help develop a plan.

“You’re allowed to say, ‘I’ve got it wrong. Let’s do this instead’,” he said.

“Let’s just allow our politicians some room to move. If we go, ‘Aha, you said something else eight years ago’, they’re so tied into this idea of catching each other out, they’ve painted themselves into a corner.

“Even though it’s very clear, we stand on the cusp of economic abundance in this situation, they’re so terrified to move.”

Australia has ‘good story’ to tell

Jennifer Westacott, chief executive of the Business Council of Australia, said she thought climate anxiety was real but argued there was a collective responsibility to create a plan that gave people hope to want to have children.

“The point that people have been making is that in Australia particularly, we’ve got the technology, the skills to actually be a global superpower in exporting renewables, in exporting hydrogen and exporting lithium,” she said.

“This should be a good story for Australia if we get things right.

“And I think we’ve got an obligation or a responsibility to actually take control of this issue and paint a positive story for people.”

Ms Westacott said the Australian Government making a plan and sticking to it — such as agreeing to net-zero emissions by 2050 — might give young people faith.

External Link:

@QandA: How will the BCA support businesses in the resources and energy sectors to transition to a strong renewable energy market?

Martijn Wilder, chair of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, said he had similar discussions about bringing children into the world with his teenage children.

He said the debate was very different in other parts of the world and there were many exciting innovations in technology.

“One of the real issues is in Australia, in the US, climate is a toxic issue,” he said.

“In the rest of the world we don’t have this debate. The rest of the world is moving very fast. A completely different story and narrative.”

‘Pretty much everyone wants’ a solution

The episode also heard from people employed in the energy sector in the La Trobe Valley and farmers wanting to use new, environmentally friendly practices.

Chef and farmer Matthew Evans said there was a broad spectrum of people wanting a solution.

“The farmers want it. The people want it. The businesses want it. Pretty much everyone wants it. It’s just the tiny [minority] of federal politicians who seem to be in the way,” Mr Evans said.

Watch the full episode of Q+A on iview or enjoy the replay by watching it again on Facebook.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Australians are still stuck in Wuhan with another evacuation flight possible


China

Australians still trapped in the city of Wuhan have said they feel left behind and frustrated with the Government’s lack of communication about further evacuation plans.

Key points

  • Australian authorities are working towards another evacuation flight from Wuhan
  • Australian citizens remaining in the city say embassy officials have not kept them updated on evacuation plans
  • Brian, a 30-year-old Australian citizen still in Wuhan, has called for transparency in the selection criteria for evacuation

Two flights have now evacuated the Chinese city of Australians, while the city remains locked down to contain the spread of novel coronavirus.

Most of those already evacuated are now waiting out a 14-day quarantine period on Christmas Island.

Brian, a 30-year-old Australian data analyst who lives in Melbourne, was in Wuhan visiting family when the city first went into lockdown.

He claimed he registered interest in being evacuated several times but received no notification from Australian authorities about whether he met the relevant criteria.

Instead, he said he found out about the two recent evacuation flights from friends, family and the media.

“It’s been disappointing that family and friends found out about the evacuation first as opposed to myself,” he told the ABC’s PM program.



Photo:

Brian, who lives in Melbourne, said he learned about the flight taking Australians to New Zealand from friends and family.

According to Brian, when he contacted the Australian embassy after hearing about Australians being placed on a second flight heading to New Zealand, he was told only the people who were selected were being told about the flight.

“Just a really simple communication would go a long way,” he said.

“Instead of being kept in the dark over the whole evacuation.”

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Another Australian in Wuhan, Drew, said he had only been contacted by the Australian Government once asking to confirm if he was interested in leaving on an evacuation flight.

“After I replied to the email, I never got any follow up, so I decided to call them,” he said.

“I called three times and every time they told me nothing was confirmed and I’ll know when to leave.”

When pressed about the Air New Zealand flight, Drew was told by authorities nothing had been planned.

“After I told them I have a friend that’s leaving tomorrow morning [the spokesperson] just told me that there’s no flight planned yet after this one but they will try their best.”

Another evacuation flight possible

Earlier today, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said diplomatic officials were “working closely” with their Chinese counterparts to develop options for the departure of the Australians who remain in Wuhan and the greater Hubei province.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said isolated and vulnerable Australians are a priority and that the Government is working towards another “assisted departure”, hopefully later this week.

The ABC understands remaining Australians seeking to leave Hubei province have been asked to register interest for another possible flight.

Brian admitted he was not among the most vulnerable Australians in Wuhan, with no dependents and the ability to stay with family in Wuhan.

But he called for transparency in the selection criteria for evacuation.

“What they’ve been telling everyone else is that there are no flights, which is not entirely correct,” he said.

“Obviously there have been a couple of flights with a third one planned.”

“I’m not really sure what the rationale is behind selection criteria because there have been people who have been evacuated who would not be classified as vulnerable.”

More on the coronavirus outbreak:

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Coronavirus evacuation form not authorised by DFAT


China

Chinese-Australians in Wuhan have been advised that an online evacuation “notification” form circulating on social media has not been authorised or issued by the Australian Government.

Key points:

  • An online form asking Australians trapped in Wuhan for their personal information was not authorised by the Australian government.
  • Chinese-Australians in Wuhan are not able to leave because the city is in lockdown
  • Australia’s Foreign Minister says it is unclear how many Australians are in the city

A link to the registration form has been widely shared on WeChat, titled Chinese Australian in Wuhan, with the accompanying text:

“Please share this as much as you can, let Chinese-Australian citizens and permanent residents fill out this form as soon as possible. Although the epidemic situation is now under control, the situation remains grim. All the information collected is only used for notification purposes of the epidemic situation and the evacuation for overseas Chinese Australians. The information will be destroyed immediately after the epidemic situation is over and will not be retained.”

China’s coronavirus lockdown
Chinese cities covering more than 20 million people have been placed into lockdown.

In a statement to the ABC, a DFAT spokesperson confirmed the form was not an official document.

They advised Australians to monitor the Smart Traveller website for updates, or call the department’s consular emergency line on 1300 555 135 (+61 2 6261 3305 from overseas).

Moko Yong — an Australian citizen currently stranded in Wuchang, a district of Wuhan — told the ABC he had authored the form.

“The original intention of setting up this form was to contact people quickly and count the number of Chinese Australians when evacuating,” Mr Yong said.

“When I heard that Australia had the intention to evacuate overseas Chinese, I was very excited, but I didn’t know how to register, which organisation to find, and how to solve some specific problems.”

He said the form was only to “prepare” the evacuation of Australians in the city, and said the information would be “destroyed immediately” after an evacuation.

Mr Yong said the data would be “destroyed immediately after the evacuation and the epidemic situation is over without any backup, storage and transfer”.

When asked about criticism that his form risked people’s privacy, he claimed it did not “obtain any information related to privacy” as did not require the input of an ID number, birthday, or Australian address.

Should Australians be worried? Australia has a number of measures to help stop the spread of coronavirus — but with warnings the disease has a week-long incubation period, carriers could already be in the country.

He told the ABC he intended to pass the information onto the Australian consulate in Sichuan province.

“All the work done is voluntary and I won’t benefit from it.”

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) warned that in general people should be cautious about providing personal information online as it could be a precursor to hacking and identity theft.

However the ABC is not suggesting the purpose of this online evacuation form was to trick people into giving up personal information or perpetrate identity theft or hacking.

Number of Australians in Wuhan remains unclear



Photo:

Writing on the registration form translates to: Chinese-Australian in Wuhan. (WeChat)

China has reported 25 more deaths in the coronavirus outbreak as the toll rises to at least 106. The total number of confirmed cases has climbed to more than 4,200 worldwide.

The ABC has confirmed more than 100 Australian children are currently trapped in the area, including Melbourne father Yi Xu and his six-month-old daughter.

Children stuck in Wuhan
The ABC has confirmed that over 100 Australian children are currently trapped in Wuhan, the epicentre of the deadly coronavirus outbreak.

Many like him are desperate to go back home, he told the ABC.

“I don’t know how many people have filled in that form, but it’s understandable because parents are anxious and eager to evacuate their children with the help of DFAT,” he said.

“Everybody is trying their best to find ways to make that happen.”

‘Never been this scared’ Wuhan residents trapped in the locked-down city say they are too scared to leave their homes, comparing the experience to living in a horror movie.

Speaking to Melbourne radio station 3AW yesterday, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the number of Australians in Wuhan was still unclear.

“We don’t have a definitive number on the number of Australians in Wuhan or in Hubei province, because it will include a significant number of dual nationals, some of who may not have travelled on Australian passports,” she said.

“If we are able to support Australians to travel, if they wish to leave, then we would like to do that.”

Chinese authorities have implemented harsh new lockdown policies in the Wuhan area, including a ban on using private vehicles from the weekend.

China’s Beijing Public Transport Group said it would suspend the majority of bus services into neighbouring Hebei province starting on Tuesday (local time) to contain the spread of coronavirus, according to a statement on its official Weibo account.

Editor’s Note — January 30, 2020: An early version of this story incorrectly referred to the evacuation form as an “online scam”. It has been amended to reflect Mr Yong’s explanation that his motives were only to assist Australian authorities identify Australians in Wuhan.



Photo:

There have been reports of misinformation circulating online about the coronavirus response. (ABC News: Brant Cumming)

More on the coronavirus outbreak:

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news