COVID-19 DIARY – WAS ANY OF IT NECESSARILY AVOIDABLE?

Police at the head of a long line of traffic on a highway

August 13

There continued to be mounting pressure for state border closures to end.

In Queensland Premier Anastacia Palaszczuk tweeted there were no new cases of COVID-19 in the state. In New South Wales there were 12 new cases and in Victoria there were 278 new cases and eight deaths.

“The danger is still on our doorstep,” Ms Palaszczuk posted. “As of this morning, New South Wales had 297 active cases after an additional 96 cases in the past week.

“Queensland isn’t taking any chances … our borders will remain closed for as long as the risk remains.”

Earlier in the week South Australia had made the decision to not have residents from border towns be able to enter the state.

South Australia’s Minister for Health and Wellbeing Stephen Wade defended the decision on ABC Breakfast.

“We have 500 cases in Victoria … We have 14 cases literally on the border,” he said.

“I see this as a bushfire that is producing spot fires in regional Victoria. We have a fire break in terms of border controls. We have no cases west of the border. Now is the time to act.”

“We are sympathetic to the disruption to people across Victoria and SA, in terms of these cross border restrictions. That is why we have left them as light as we could for as long as we could. Now that we have active cases right across the western border, we need to increase the restrictions. I find that (politically driven suggestion) offensive. These measures are fundamentally driven by our public health officers.”

Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner and Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan were not ruling out border closures in place well into 2021 if active cases could not be brought down in other states.

Despite having entry through their own national borders from overseas restricted, Federal Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham advised, “State border restrictions need to be proportionate to the health risk and shouldn’t remain in place for one more day than they need to. If a state or territory border were to remain closed to a jurisdiction that had successfully suppressed the spread of COVID-19, then that state or territory government will need to be accountable to their tourism industry and will ultimately need to provide additional support.

As he put it, “With our international borders expected to remain closed for the foreseeable future, our priority right now is getting Australians travelling to parts where we have successfully suppressed the spread of COVID-19.

Border closures didn’t ensure that the disease wouldn’t be brought in by residents returning who didn’t play by the rules. There are no guarantees but this thing spreads and fast. We learnt that the hard way in March and closed down our national and state borders as a result. When there is an outbreak we shut down localities with travel.

Lately the media has been feeding us stories of people who couldn’t get to hospitals or funerals. All tragic and maybe unnecessary but to be frank I smell a rat and I’m not buying. There’s too many lives at stake to worry about the almighty dollar and I suspect that is what this is really all about.

If the Chief Health Officer of Queensland Jeanette Young wanted to keep the borders shut she had my full support as she seemed to have our best interests at heart and if the state Premier was not wilting under intense political pressure to open the borders well then she could count on my vote in the upcoming state election too.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison posted a video message on Facebook acknowledging the high number of COVID deaths in aged care, about 68% of national COVID deaths.

I want to assure you that where there are shortcomings in these areas they will be acknowledged, and the lessons will be learnt, and we will seek to be as upfront, particularly with the families of those who are affected in these circumstances as much as possible,” Morrison said.

The Prime Minister also acknowledged that there would be further death.

We know that in the days and the weeks ahead there will be more difficult news as the impact of the COVID-19 spread, particularly in Victoria, will have further impacts. We need to continue to brace ourselves for that.

The fact that he had lost his own father earlier in 2020 seemed pertinent when he said, “Losing a loved one is never easy. We’re also terribly sorry these are the conditions you have to go through in terrible grief.

There had been leaks showing the offer of defence personnel to the Victorian government for hotel quarantine manpower made the subsequent fiasco more embarassing for the Victoria Premier but Daniel Andrews stood firm saying, “I don’t know the federal Defence Minister. I don’t deal with her. I deal with the Prime Minister. I’m glad that there’s other people who think that the best contribution they could make is to be playing politics. I haven’t got time for that and I’m not interested in it.

It was reported that for the month of July, a million Australians had been out of work. The unemployment rate was 7.5 per cent but was effectively as high as 9.9 per cent accounting for the Jobkeeper retention.

The good news was that figure was done by 1.3 per cent from June where was 11.2 per cent. CommSec chief economist economist Craig James said, “Jobs rose more than expected. But we know that there is a long way to go, especially incorporation of the effects of both stage four and stage three lockdown restrictions in Victoria. The quicker that the jobless rate peaks and starts falling, the less damage and scarring will be done to the longer-term health of the economy.” 

In New Zealand there were 13 active new COVID-19 cases bringing the number of total active cases to 36. Having been 100 days COVID free the government was considering how long and how far they would go with lockdown and if it had come through freight which it was indicated was a very low likelihood. When asked if the government was going hard enough with quarantining people the Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield advised “I don’t think we have been soft on this at all. We don’t round up people in New Zealand. We round up sheep; we don’t round up people.

August 14

Friday.

In Victoria there were 372 new cases and 14 deaths up from 287 cases and eight deaths the day before. The Victorian Chief Health Officer Professor Brett Sutton advised these large numbers may well be the peak of what was occurring in the state. The death of a young man in his 20s from that days’ account became the youngest death in Australia during the pandemic so far. 

In Queensland thousands of people were still travelling to the state. 2,600 people on 65 flights on Thursday. Five were refused entry and 142 were quarantined. 

4,575 cars were stopped at the border, 253 were turned around and 54 were ordered to self-isolate. 

As the Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll put it, “There’s an extraordinary amount of people still coming into Queensland.

In Victoria there were 372 new cases and 14 deaths up from 287 cases and eight deaths the day before. The Victorian Chief Health Officer Professor Brett Sutton advised these large numbers may well be the peak of what was occurring in the state. The death of a young man in his 20s from that days’ account became the youngest death in Australia during the pandemic so far. 

In Victoria there were 1,743 Australian Defence Force personnel deployed, more than any other state and territory combined. Their lack of previous utilisation in such large numbers had been a political football throughout the week.

During a parliamentary inquiry into the hotel quarantine outbreaks in Melbourne, Premier Daniel Andrews had made it a point that ADF troops were not on offer but this kicked off a back and forth all week. 

An outbreak at Rydges was part of the beginning of Victoria’s second wave. It was being investigated how the outbreak had occurred and whether the procurment and choice of particular private security firms had been poor and led to the outbreak happening. Private firms which can range in training and experience had been used in other states but ADF members had been used quite a bit a in NSW along with private security and no similar outbreak had occurred there. w

The mandatory hotel quarantine began Saturday, March 28. 100 personnel were put on standby for large states and 50 ADF personnel for small states. None were deployed to Victoria, such decisions were left to the individual states. Commissioner Crisp made this determination.

In April further communication with the ADF did not bring up using them for hotel quarantine as far as the state authorities were concerned as they already had a program in place. Albeit one that would prove disastrous. 

Defence Minister Senator Reynolds had a different story advising on the 12th of April that Victorian authorities were asked if they needed any assistance and reaffirmed they did not. A small distinction but perhaps an important one.

While Victoria did not use the ADF in this role it should be noted it was small numbers in other states. In March in New South Wales 30 ADF went to Sydney airport and another 40 to six hotels to support quarantine with police and security.

In Queensland it was a dozen ADF to Brisbane and Cairns airports and another dozen to a hotel in Cairns. 

Fifty went to Western Australia but in late July whistleblowers brought attention to quarantine breaches and the next day more ADF troops deployed to the West to assist contracted security guards. 

Rumours have swirled of Melbourne security guards and quarantine guests making the beast with the two backs but so far nothing has been substantiated. Confirmed and scary in itself is the subcontracting out to casual employees with Whatsapp and the providing of very little training at all. There has also been talk of errors that could have been avoided, carpooling, the sharing of a lighter, eating on breaks at the same place. 

On the 24th of June, Victoria a month after the case at Rydges, the ADF was requested by Victoria and the numbers were subsequently scaled back. 

On the 30th of June Victoria was out of the hotel quarantine business with flights diverted to other cities until at least October. With COVID-19 cases skyrocketing in Victoria more and more ADF troops have been brought to patrol streets with police and conduct doorknocks. 

The failure of the hotel quarantine has seen some circles regularly calling for Premier Andrews resignation but I’m not so sure. The whole second wave and resulting deaths in aged care could be linked back to a failure to better plan the hotel quarantine and the vendors. On the other hand was some of this the poor decision making through the fog of war. Andrews failed here but he has worked hard as the state went into higher lockdown under immense pressure from all many sides. 

Either way, in his own words, “Clearly there has been a failure in the operation of this program,” he said at the time.

On November 6, the Coate Inquiry is expected to be handed down with their findings on the matter.

-Lloyd Marken

COVID-19 DIARY – SHUT IT DOWN!

Hundreds defied warnings for social isolation at Bondi yesterday.

 

We entered the weekend of March 21-22 still with a lot of questions of how life was changing. International travel was curtailed and it was clear that trading was down and there would be huge economic consequences but how far the restrictions would increase and whether the number of cases increasing would slow down were all up in the air.

A friend of mine had a house party on Friday night. I had a very quiet weekend but our way of life was still mostly in tact even if some of shop shelves were bare and there was a growing concern for our health care workers.

We knew things were escalating but we did not know what the new normal was going to be. I was hoping the next week would define it.

 

March 21

I saw a couple of videos on youtube including an interview with the former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd who had steered us through the Global Financial Crisis. His comments about stronger actions being taken by Singapore or Germany led to me taking on board more information over the weekend.

 

 

The Northern Territory announced it would close its borders 4pm on March 24.

The NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner said “I’ve seen what’s happening overseas, I’ve seen what’s happening down south and I’m not going to let that happen here,” he said.

“The Territory comes first.”

 

March 22

Seeing how people react to a crisis reveals a lot about their personalities and the things they prioritise. Amongst my friends and peers I saw people who chart their own path in terms of choosing to take their kids out of school or put in place precautions.

One friend drove out of Sydney early on and is now growing a vegetable garden on Moreton Island with a raft of supplies.

Some of us had parties and went out to comedy festivals seizing the day.

Some have questioned all the information provided by the “mainstream media” and wondered if every action is justified.

I admire in some ways all of these people and all of these traits.

For me, I learnt that I do follow instructions from my leadership and institutions. I follow their lead even when I disagree possibly and I look to help others rather than take care of myself. I do ask questions to see if we are doing everything we should but I rarely rebel.

In that way I am like a soldier.

On Sunday I texted my leadership team I was ready to work from home and the next day I advised that I believed we should have as many people at home as soon as possible. Which was of course what we all had been working on for the past fortnight and more but I guess I was communicating a change in my wish to not be treated differently.

Yet I was in the office for most of that week.

 

On the same Sunday, South Australia and Western Australia announced they would close their borders that Tuesday.

On Sunday the National Cabinet was to meet having moved a head a meeting scheduled for Tuesday.

Before it the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced a comprehensive breakdown of new lockdown measures.

The Australian Capital Territory advised pupils will be told to stay home from Tuesday onwards and that teachers needed to prepare to transition from face to face teaching.

In Victoria Term 1 was scheduled to end that Friday and was moved up to Tuesday. In New South Wales they were scheduled until April 13. 

This was not in keeping with the views of the Prime Minister who had previously advised 4 days earlier, ““The health advice is that schools should remain open. That is the health advice. Interestingly, this is also what Singapore has done. Singapore has been one of the more successful countries. In Singapore, the schools are open.”

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

 

The National Cabinet met and afterwards on Sunday evening the Prime Minister announced a new range of measures.

Jobseeker payments, effectively our welfare payments were people out of work, looking for work and unable to work was to be almost doubled from $565.70 a fortnight with an additional $550. The decision came with a price tag of $14.1 billion dollars. There were also one off $750 payments that some would be eligible for. There was also to be a moratorium on tenant evictions.

The government was working to keep everybody with the means to feed and house themselves and support small businesses through the downturn as they worked to shut down major parts of the economy in order to save lives. They were very clear that this was the first of many such measures that were already costing 10% of the economy.

Interestingly the Prime Minister also mentioned “I’d be careful at comparing Australia’s data to other jurisdictions. Australia’s testing, for example, shows that we have the lowest, one of the lowest, if not the lowest test positivity in the world. We’re at 0.7 per cent compared to USA at 13, UK at 5, and Korea at 3.

There was a press conference before the National Cabinet met and one after they had met.

In the press conference earlier in the day his bull doggish manner was still on display, after pictures of crowds flocking to Bondi Beach the day before have travelled around the world.

 

“What happened at Bondi Beach yesterday was not OK and served as a message to federal and state leaders that too many Australians are not taking these issues seriously enough,” Mr Morrison said.

“The more Australians themselves assist us in this fight against the virus to protect lives and to protect livelihoods, the more and the better able we are to ensure that Australia comes out stronger on the other side.”

“So it’s a simple plea.” 

“We need you, we need you to do your bit when it comes to social distancing, to keeping that healthy distance, to respecting and following the rules that we’re setting down.”

Late on Sunday night the Prime Minister went before cameras to provide further answers, to provide information and to assure the Australian people that the National Cabinet were working together although clearly they had pushed back hard for what they deemed were the right decisions for their state.

In line with what the Premiers had already announced, the Prime Minister advised indoor entertainment, sporting and religious venues were to be shut from midday Monday. This included pubs, clubs and restaurants and cinemas.

I have not seen a movie at the cinemas since 07MAR2020 when I saw Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears.  It was the third 2020 release I saw after the The Gentlemen and Birds of Prey….well you can’t win them all.

I appreciate some of the kind words from people knowing that I am such a huge film buff and film critic. Yet I want you to know I have streaming, plenty of films I have not gotten around to seeing and… well there are other things to worry about right now.

I have a job, an ability to work from home, the weather is pleasant and everyone I care about is safe although financially many have been impacted.

My thoughts have not been about whether Wonder Woman 1984 is delayed but more what the hell can I do to help those who are experiencing hardship because like I said… I feel truly blessed.

In this briefing there was a small moment that gave birth to a bit of an internet craze of the ensuring days. From my perspective a storm in a teacup but a fun one nonetheless.

 

One thing that stood out to me then and still resonates with me now is when the Prime Minister voiced a real concern for the business sector in the evening briefing.

This was at a time when real fear was working through the populace who had secure jobs about the spread of the virus.  There were grave concerns that we had moved too slowly and it was certainly my thoughts in that moment.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported “The country’s rate of new confirmed coronavirus cases is now growing at 20-25 per cent a day, with some projections showing between 1 or 2 million Australians could be infected by the end of April. If those numbers were reached, tens of thousands of people would be dead based on the mortality rate recorded by China earlier this year.

The World Health Organisation reported on March 22 that Australia had 1,098 cases with a daily increase of 17. We had reached four figures the day before. The death toll was seven.

Yet the Conservative leader more than spared a thought for the very real pain that would occur to millions of Australians losing their jobs it spilled out of him genuinely.

“I am deeply regretful that those workers and those business owners who will be impacted by this decision will suffer the economic hardship that undoubtedly they will now have to face.

That is a very, very regretful decision, but a necessary one in the view of the premiers and chief ministers and myself to ensure that we can control the spread of this virus.

This should highlight to all Australians how serious this is and how hard we all have to work together to get this right”.

 

9/11 dust cloud may have caused widespread pregnancy issues ...

I remember the fear and uncertainty that came in the wake of September 11, 2001.

I remember the two speed economy that Australia became following the Global Financial Crisis.

I remember helping during the Queensland floods of 2011. Driving halfway across town against my mother’s pleas to be with my girlfriend Karen as the river rose and cut off roads.

I sat and watched my TV in the first weekend of this year as my country burned and pushed myself to help arrange a fundraiser barbeque at work. So chastened I was by my ability to not be more directly involved as I had been during the floods of 2011.

I now found myself old enough to remember more than a crisis or two.

Yet I’ve never seen anything like this.

None of us have.

The people who did are all dead.

 

Are we ready for a flu pandemic? - The Boston Globe

My grandfather was born in 1918, the same year there Spanish Flu Pandemic began and he has been gone for a long time. That pandemic which has many parallels to this one is out of living memory.

So interestingly enough people have been taking comfort and inspiration in the parrallels of the Great Depression and World War II.

Both were endured in harsher conditions and with a higher death toll and went on for a lot longer than a few weeks.

As new restrictions finally started to take effect and change the way we lived our lives the Prime Minister Scott Morrison found the words to galvanise us calling on those memories of times gone by in the press conference held earlier that day.

He opened with.

We’re a strong nation, we’re a strong people, and in the months ahead, we’re going to find out just how strong we are. We have the example and inspiration of generations that have dealt with challenges like this before. And we have the advantage of the lessons that they have passed on to us about how we can stick together to stick this through, to build a bridge to the recovery on the other side.

We cannot prevent all the many hardships, all the many sacrifices. That we will face in the months ahead. And while these hardships and these sacrifices may break our hearts on occasion, we must not let them break our spirit. And we must not let them break our resolve as Australians.”

He closing words were “So look, while Australians may be self-isolating in many cases and keeping their distance from each other. I want to assure all Australians of this, that together we will get through this. We will not want to see anyone go through this alone at the end of the day, through the support that we’re providing. But we need to support each other. We need to care for each other and together Australia we will get through this, and we will emerge stronger. Thank you.

-Lloyd Marken