COVID-19 DIARY – ROLL OUT ROLL UP – PART III

Timeline: How the US reached 500,000 COVID-19 deaths | Coronavirus pandemic  News | Al Jazeera

February 23

Tuesday.

Jobkeeper was set to end shortly and Jobseeker that had seen a double of payments for those on benefits at the beginning of the pandemic was going back to the original amount but would see an increase of $25 per week. Recipient obligations were due to increase too. The number of people getting support has decreased and this was seen as a way to hopefully manage this latest transition with minimal harm to the economy. Also with less people on the dole it would be easier to play hard ball with them now.

Same old song.

The increase came at a cost of $9billion dollars to the government. That gave someone on the dole $4 extra a day.

On the second day of the Pfizer vaccine roll-out in Australia with 1,200 jabs adminitered the hope was to have 30,000 completed by end of the week.

When interviewed on Channel 9 Australia, Infection Disease physician Professor Sanjaya Senanayake noted, ” The reality is if we want to get 75% of the population vaccinated by end of October we’ll need to do a lot more than that. Probably about a 150,000 people per day but I think it is very reasonable to start slowly and ramp up and iron out any wrinkles.

He also suspected around mid year the Novavax vaccine may become available too. The interview highlighted that the vaccine rollout was highly ambitious in comparison to what had been achieved so far overseas.

In the United States of America over half a million American lives had been lost to COVID.

The loss of life figure equivalent to the loss of life experienced during September 11, 2001 being repeated every day over a six month period.

The U.S. had reached more than 400,000 lives lost barely more than a month earlier.

President Joe Biden remembered the fallen.

February 24

In New South Wales there were further easing of restrictions including having 30 people on the dance floor come Friday rather than just the bridal party.

Fifrty visitors can vistir your home, larger numebrs in churches, cinemas and gyms.

Standing up and have a beer in the pub come March 17 too which was St Patrick’s Day.

More than 3,000 people had been vaccinated in the past 48 hours in the state.

Closer to home in the first week of administering vaccinations to the elderly two aged care residents in Carseldine, Brisbane recieved four times the prescribed dose by a doctor who had not yet completed his online COVID vaccination training.

The Doctor working for Healthcare Australia took too many doses out of the six dose Pfizer vial.

Fortunately the Healthcare Australia nurse working with him identified his mistake.

Despite this he administered a second dose before she raised the alarm again and this time he ceased.

The doctor was stood down by Healthcare Australia and referred to the industry regulator.

Those who received the dose were an 88 year old woman and a 94 year old woman who were rushed to hospital for close observation.

Such a bungle so early on in the vaccine roll out in the country was not the best for growing confidence in the general public to get vaccinated.

Media was already reporting that the vaccine was not being delivered to aged care homes as scheduled which already suggested targets would not be reached.

Having contracted the job out to Healthcare Australia and Aspen Medical the Federal Government was looking to structure their re-election campaign on successfully delivering the vaccine throughout the country but media attention was shifting to a horrifying alleged rape scandal in Parliament House and further allegations were to follow.

The future of the Morrison government rests of getting the vaccine rollout right,” said Channel 9 political editor Chris Uhlmann.

February 25

Jobkeeper was due to end, at the height of the pandemic it kept 3.6 million Australian employed now that number was down to 960,000.

As we neared the 12 month mark of COVID taking off in Australia the roll back of the increased JobSeeker payments (with a $4 a day increase from pre-Covid rates) and the cessation of Jobkeeper was to slow government spending and reflect ongoing economic activity.

There was no doubt anxiety being felt by those affected particarly businesses and employees that had been kept going by these initiatives.

There were different ideas being put forward for specialised industry support.

Following the bungle in Carseldine, the CEO Of Healthcare Australia stood down. Scheduled vaccinations across Sydney were cancelled. The aged care residents who received the overdose of the vaccine were continuing to cover in the Prince Charles Hospital. Thank goodness for the quick and brave actions of the Healthcare Australia nurse who stopped further overdoses being administered.

When interviewed, Prime Minister Scott Morrison offerred, “This is an enormous vaccination that we are doing across the country as we said. It is unprecedented in scale and scope and the people working on this are the best in the world.

In other news as Qantas looked to return to international travel in October they posted a 1.1 billion dollar loss in the first half of the current financial year.

In Ghana the first delivery of COVID vaccines from the UN backed COVAX initiative arrived in the African nation. 600,000 free doses of the AztraZeneca jab arrived free of charge for use.

On the 25th of February, 2021 the World Health Organisation reported there had been in Ghana 81,245 confirmed cases. There had been 584 deaths reported in the West African nation of 30 million.

In the United States the Johnson and Johnson vaccine got closer to being approved for emergency use by the Food and Drugs Administration.

As a side note I was at the Prince Charles Hospital for a medical appointment. I had been to the hospital during COVID we went past a sign about signing in.

My wife started signing in like we often did when going to venues, she seemed faster. I wasn’t even sure if we were in the right building.

I came to a desk and was asked by a nurse if I had signed in and advised that my wife was doing it but I was told I had to do it.

In the confusion another nurse came by and started asking me questions.

I asked the first nurse if I could sign in and was told no so advised I would go back to the sign and use the app.

When I came back the second nurse was asking why Karen was wearing a mask. Because we were in a hospital we explained as a precaution for the safety of our health care workers.

The nurse explained it wasn’t a requirement of health guidelines at the moment as if it had raised her suspicions.

I explained we were just trying to be helpful. Later we walked past very elderly volunteers offering assistance in the hospital corridors.

The kind of people I was thinking about when I wore a mask when health guidelines said I did not have to.

In a few days no hospital staff would think twice of a visitor wearing a mask. Besides staff were wearing masks.

February 27

While the federal government had its setbacks with the aged care roll out of the vaccine, the New South Wales government planned to go bush starting March 15 with major hubs set up in Coffs Harbour, Dubbo, Newcastle, Wagga Wagga and Woollongong to administer the vaccine across 99 satelittle sites to health and border workers before GPS would administer to the local populace.

The state government had administered 10,000 jabs during the week.

As New South Wales reached another milestone, having administered 5 million tests for COVID since the pandemic hit the state.

In the United States of America there was good news after a long deadly winter that had claimed too many lives while a President formented anarchy rather than spared one thought on how to save lives.

Having reached half a million deaths earlier in the week,  there was now hope to be found in lower case numbers, hospitalisations and daily deaths reported.

A third vaccine loomed on the horizon for use from Johnson and Johnson who promised they could deliver 17 million doses by the end of March and 100 million by the end of March.

The drug was one shot and did not require refrigeration and carried a 72% efficiacy rate.

Pfizer and Moderna between the two of them were promising 220 million doses by the end of March. Enough to have 110 million American vaccinated.

The two companies were also working on vaccines to prove effective against variants.

It was noted on Planet America that countries with 14% of the world’s population accounted for 53% of of orders from the Top 8 vaccines including all of Moderna’s production for 2021 and 96% of Pfizers.

Programs like COVAX and the advice of Boris Johnson at the G7 summit only rang more true in light of this.

We’re only going to get through this if we do it together.

Despite the lower efficiacy rate, the J&J vaccine also had milder side effects, is cheaper and has a billion dollar doses to come in 2021. Johnson and Johnson was shaping up to be the vaccine that would be delivered throught the third world.

-Lloyd Marken

COVID-19 DIARY – THE RECESSION WE HAD TO HAVE

September 02

Wednesday.

If the definition of an economic recession was two consecutive quarters of downturn than Australia was officially in a recession. It’s first since 1991 which Paul Keating famously referred to as “The recession we had to have.” In that year the March quarter went backwards 1.3 per cent and in the June quarter 0.1 per cent. In 2020 there had been a decline of 0.3 per cent in the March Quarter and the in the June quarter……. 7 per cent. Three times more than the previous record record quarterly fall of 2 per cent in 1974.

A trade surplus and increased government spending had helped as much as it could but a massive plunge in private spending had hit the economy hard. A 12.1 per cent drop in household expenditure and a 17/6 per cent fall in services spending. Many businesses had been shut down for three months or operated within limitations, the accommodation and food sector took a hit of 39 per cent in the second quarter.

The biggest drop in private spending came from a massive 12.1 per cent plunge in household expenditure, led by a 17.6 per cent fall in services spending, as many of these businesses were shut for part of the three-month period and restricted for the rest of it.

Accommodation and food was by far the hardest hit sector, with output down a whopping 39 per cent in the three months to June 30.

Cafes and restaurants that were shut down often have staff that are not elligible for jobseeker or jobkeeper.

There was a 2.5 per cent drop in wages.

A former Virgin airline pilot Matt Purton had gotten work in a friend’s cafe and saw an income drop of 81 per cent advising, “a lot of things we never used to worry about are going to be luxury items we just can’t afford“.

Asia-Pacific economist Callam Pickering advised, “This economy is being held together with duct tape by JobKeeper and JobSeeker.

Treasurer Josh Frydenburg said, “We’ve done everything possible to cushion the blow for the Australian community from COVID-19.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported with government payments boosting incomes, less activities and gatherings to spend money and increased uncertainty from the pandemic and the recession were driving people to save at significant rates. Twenty Australian dollars from every $100 earned, a significant increase up from $6 from every $100 at the start of the year.

Given the Jobseeker and Jobkeeper payments were to be scaled back Westpac Bank’s Senior Economist Andrew Hanlan thought this gave people, “a considerable buffer to draw upon in coming quarters.”

Oh really, well thank you Mr Hanlan, thank you very much.

Compared to other countries Australia’s downturn of 7.3 per cent was nothing compared to Spain and the United Kingdom who were both north of 20 per cent. The United States of America was under 10 per cent.

Deloitte Access Economics senior economist Sheraan Underwood drew upon the very clear link  between successfully combating the virus and helping your economy to recover.

The underlying equation is simple. The greater the success against the virus, the greater the success in protecting economies against the pandemic.

There were 406 Victorians in hospital, 18 in Intensive Care Units due to COVID-19.

-Lloyd Marken

COVID-19 DIARY – COVID PAYMENTS SET TO REDUCE AS CASES CONTINUE TO RISE

Almost 600 COVID-19 cases at Victoria aged care homes - HealthTimes

 

July 20

Monday and another week began in earnest. I was very busy and stressed about my secondment but was enjoying the work.

In the news there was some talk about a proposal that Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaczszuk put forward for the border processing to move south into northern NSW to alleviate wait times and to help those who lived in the border communities such as Coolangatta. She claimed she had suggested this back in March.

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian had a straight forward response.

I’m happy to consider all options except I do not believe at any stage we should move the border. If anything, the border should be moved north. There is zero infection in northern NSW at this stage,” she said.

So that was that.

There were a couple of a cluster of cases in New South Wales.

 

In Victoria there were 275 confirmed cases overnight and it was announced that masks were going to become mandatory come Thursday. Students across the state were going back to learning from home.

 

 

Federally there were announcements made about changes to welfare.

There are 3.5 million people on Jobkeeper which is a $1,500 payment for workers who are employed but who are not getting any hours from their employer due to the economic shutdown.

After September, Jobkeeper which worked out to $1,500 a fortnight would go down to $1,200 and then on the 4th of January, 2021 $1,000 a fortnight. It would also switch to a two tier system.

Then there are 1.3 million on Jobseeker which was the old Newstart allowance for people looking for work. When COVID and a sharp rise in unemployment occurred there was $550 supplement added to the Jobseeker allowance. That would be reduced to $250 per fortnight in October and continue until March 2021.

The government was hoping that as time went on more and more would be at work as these payments decreased. The debt was increasing and there was certainly reform needed around Jobkeeper.

Yet for those who would struggle to survive with less money this gave them some certainty about what was coming and increased uncertainty about how they would get by.

 

 

July 21

A woman out and about garnered a little bit of media interest when she was found walking outside of her local area. But she had a very simple explanation.

KAREN FROM BRIGHTON ‘CALLS IN’:

Don’t miss a moment of Kennedy Molloy and subscribe to the Catch Up podcast on the Triple M app! Download it on iTunes or Google Play.

 

July 22

In Queensland on Wednesday, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk did not rule out further border restrictions even as she called on people to visit the state if they were not coming from one of the declared hotspots.

I am absolutely determined to keep Queenslanders safe,” she said.

If we have to declare further hotspots we will declare further hotspots and if there is an outbreak of community transmission in NSW like we have seen in Victoria we will not hesitate to take quick and swift action.

Facing an election in October, businesses particularly tourism ones were hurting and she wanted to show her support including scrapping of fees for those who run whale watching tours. This would equate to about $6,000 for each operator.

In Victoria there was a growing need to be considered.

40 aged care homes in the state had at least one positive COVID-19 case and over 200 cases were linked to aged care facilities.

Anybody familiar with what had happened at Newmarch House in New South Wales knew this was of particular concern.

The lessons from Newmarch were clear to some.

Professor Marylouise McLaws, an infection control expert at the University of New South Wales and an adviser to the World Health Organisation noted in an article published by The Guardian that infection control was very difficult in aged care homes.

“Unless you have dedicated bathrooms – and not every aged care facility does – and unless you have highly trained staff in infection control, which you don’t have in aged care, then it is very difficult to ensure that any shared area is kept clean all the time,” she said.

This bore out with the fact that residents at Newmarch were isolated in their rooms and COVID free for weeks before becoming ill with it.

Newmarch sent 16% of infected patients to hospital and 19 residents died. 

Also in New South Wales the Dorothy Henderson Lodge sent 80% of patients to hospital and six of their residents died.

Professor McLaws and Professor Joseph Ibrahim (Head of the Health, Law and Ageing Research Unit at the Department of Forensic Medicine at Monash University believed generally speaking patients should be moved to hospitals to avoid infecting residents. Aged care staff just are not trained in infection control the same ways. McLaws pointed out they don’t have pressured rooms, Hepa filters and designated areas to store PPE. Ibrahim also said their capacity for waste is not the same.

How much would their advice be heeded.

How many people were at risk if they were not listened to.

In Victoria there were 484 new cases, the largest in a single day since the pandemic began.

 

July 23

In Victoria 403 cases were reported overnight with five deaths taking the state’s death toll to 49.

There were 201 Victorians in hospital with COVID and 40 in Intensive Care Unit including four children. Victoria Health Minister Jenny Mikakos advised 20% of Victoria’s COVID patients were under 50.

A man in his 50s was also one of the ones who had passed away.

Premier Daniel Andrews as a result said, “One of the terrible tragedies today is a man in his 50s — this is not just something that affects people that are frail-aged. That would be reason enough to do what we’re doing, but it would be wrong to assume that young people are somehow immune to this.

Premier Andrews advised there 3,630 active cases in Victoria.

Premier Andrews also advised that 9/10 people who were confirmed cases were continuing to move around the community after developing symptoms. Over half of people who got tested did not immediately self-isolate after waiting to get their results.

He also announced a $300 payment that could be claimed by casuals or those with insecure work who needed to self-isolate.

Minister Mikakos said the data showed a quarter of infections from the start of July are young people in their 20s and people over 60 only represented 6%.

Premier Andrews said “If you want this to be over, if you want to get to the other side of it and find that COVID normal — and be able to go and have a beer, or go and have a meal with a friend and be able to move around the community much more freely than you can now — you’ve got to follow the rules.

On the 23rd of July the World Health Organisation reported globally there had been 15,019,293 confirmed cases with a daily increase of 248,393.

There had been 614,311 deaths with a daily increase of 7,035.

In Australia there had been 12,896 confirmed cases with a daily increase of 468. There had been 128 deaths with a daily increase of two.

In Canada there had been 111,697 confirmed cases with a daily increase of 573. There had been 8,862 with a daily increase of four.

In United Kingdom there had been 297,663 confirmed cases with a daily increase of 751. There had been 41,047 deaths with a daily increase of 17.

Having reached over one million cases on July 17, in India on the 23rd of July there had been 1,238,635 confirmed cases with a daily increase of 45,720. There had been 29,861 Indians die with a daily increase of 1,129.

In the United States of America there had been 3,868,453 confirmed cases with a daily increase of 62,929. There had been 141,479 deaths with a daily increase of 1,042.

-Lloyd Marken

 

 

COVID-19 DIARY – THE ECONOMIC ROAD AHEAD

View from The Hill: Can Scott Morrison achieve industrial ...

May 26

Tuesday.

The Prime Minister did an address at the National Press Club in Canberra talking about the tough road ahead economically with a plan to stick with the National Cabinet meetings over the previous COAG meetings.

Reform to vocational education was on his mind and bringing unions to the table for industrial reform.

The Prime Minister outlined the road to recovery would be a long one taking between three to five years. The unprecedented actions of Jobkeeper and Jobseeker set in place for a financial quarter would not continue indefinitely with the PM warning “At some point you’ve got to get your economy out of ICU.”

The ABC article also editorialised “The blunt comments are expected to further dash hopes that the Government will bow to pressure and extend the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme to more workers who missed out on the $1,500 fortnightly payments.

He also announced a new JobMaker scheme.

There was no push to have Australia turn more inward, while the Prime Minister defined us as a sovereign trading economy he sought to create an educated workforce that would mean competitive and modern manufacturing, agricultural industries while still trade of natural resources would play a big role.

Firstly, we will remain in Australia an outward-looking, open and sovereign trading economy.

We will not retreat into the downward spiral of protectionism. To the contrary, we will continue to be part of global supply chains that can deliver the prosperity we rely on to create jobs, support incomes and build businesses.

Our economic sovereignty will be achieved by ensuring our industries are highly competitive, resilient and able to succeed in a global market. Not by protectionism.

While a trading nation, we will never trade away our values or our future for short-term gain.

These remarks were not without context, Australia did call for an independent enquiry into the source of COVID-19 in Wuhan and in the weeks since China has placed tariffs and seen a reduction in importing Australian barley and wheat.

As China has grown into the a economic powerhouse it has started flexing abroad in trade and in military excursions. No different than other superpowers before it but surely any calls that could help in combating this global pandemic should not lead to bullying tactics.

As the ABC reported the country faced a record deficit, debt exceeding 30% of Gross Domestic Product, unemployment hovering around 10 per cent and a fall in foreign investment by up to 40 per cent.

 

The national leader relayed all the work that had been done to build up medical stockpiles, hospital capacity and testing numbers and contract tracing abilities.

The virus was not going anywhere and on our comparative good fortune the PM stressed, “We should not downplay this, this achievement and pretend like the risk never existed, or that our preparations or our precautions were unwarranted. Let me assure you, Australia, the risk was great and uncertain and it still is.

The fact our worst case scenarios have not been realised is cause for great relief, not apathy.

In his speech the Prime Minister outlined more than 5 million Australians were directly benefiting from his government’s welfare measures.

At a now anticipated direct cost of more than $150 billion in just six months, all borrowed, all of it, against future tax revenue. These supports can only be temporary.

It was William Green, the leader of the American Federation of Labour who said during the Great Depression in 1934: “we cannot indefinitely support one sixth of our population on money borrowed against future taxes”.

That was a Labour leader in the Great Depression.

Now here was a mainstream conservative leader steering through a once in a century health crisis, a budding trade war and a looming recession who had outspent all previous Prime Ministers.

The expense the welfare packages running long term came with a hefty price tag. Long term it was just not feasible even for the biggest bleeding hearts amongst us.

Which drove home the gravity of the situation, if Jobkeeper and Jobseeker continued for only the next quarter and the economy didn’t re-open to a certain extent by then…

Then what?

On the 2nd of June, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told us what we already knew, Australia was in a recession.

On the 26th of May however the Prime Minister was focussed on the positives. Citing that with a hopeful completion of the 3 Step Plan by mid-July for re-opening the economy across the country there would hopefully be 850,000 jobs ultimately restored.

He did acknowledge the idea of flicking a switch and turning the economy back on was simply not plausible.

Success in this current phase will certainly not be easy. It cannot be assumed as we go through this process. It will not be business as usual. Opening up will be harder than closing down.

We will all have to have to retrain, to live and work in a way that creates a sustainable COVIDSafe economy and society as you are indeed doing here today.

All of us are in uncharted territory. There will be inconsistencies, there will be frustrations. There will be trial, there will be error.

During this time we can also sadly expect unemployment and underemployment to rise before it falls. Debt and deficits to rise sharply, as costs rise and revenues fall.

This will test our confidence and our resolve.

That is why the reopening of our economy must be followed by a concerted effort to create momentum and to rebuild confidence.

If there was hope to be found in the speech it was when he said “We should be encouraged that we have restored jobs and rebalanced our Budget before. So Australia, we have done this before and we can do it again, together.

 

One could get cynical about these things, there is after all a political purpose behind them. A number of highly paid staff curating and writing the brief and deciding what goes in and what doesn’t make it.
I would remind you that in these words the Prime Minister is talking about real people and in these few individuals he is seeking to talk about all of us and not just Australians but all people.
About people who have lost a lot and the grace and courage they display in these moments that came from within them and lies within each and every one of us.
We will need this courage and grace and so we need these words to be said by our leaders now more than ever and we need to believe in them.

Almost 100,000 Australians have written to me in the past couple of months.

So many have suffered and they continue to hurt, right here and right now – lost jobs, reduced hours, seeing their family businesses shut, having to close those doors, or retirement incomes shrink. Loved ones kept apart.

It has been a time of great uncertainty as Australians have had to come to terms with the sudden and profound changes happening to their lives.

Greg is a chef with six kids in Sydney, he wrote to me about his business suffering from the restrictions, saying that everything he has worked for is at risk.

Sue from Jimbooma, told me that other than a first home owners grant, she had never received a cent from the government. JobKeeper has saved her business, she said, and she just wanted to say thank you.

Anthony, not the one you’re thinking of, but quite genuinely Anthony from Western Australia, he sent me his wedding photo. His wife of 50 years had just passed away. He said his wife “was the most caring person you could ever meet” and he was absolutely heartbroken that he couldn’t give her the send-off she deserved. Of all the things, of all the decisions we have taken, that was undoubtedly the hardest.

And I received an email from three children in Western Australia that completely floored me, their father is terminally ill. They told me they understood their Dad’s funeral would have to be small. They wanted me to know they were ok with that – because it will help keep the hospitals available for other patients with cancers and diseases.

That’s incredible, our people are amazing.

And there was Rebhecca, a young woman, who is also terminally ill and sent me a handwritten letter, just wanting to let me know she was praying for me every day.

And I am praying for you every day too.

-Lloyd Marken