COVID-19 DIARY – BORDER WARS – PART II

Queensland border restrictions in Darling Downs - Darling Downs

There was another great Four Corners episode this week from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that covered what had happened on the last cruises of the Diamond Princess in February in the North Pacific and the Ruby Princess in March in the Trans-Tasman Sea.

What was pretty concerning wasn’t just the disembarkation of passengers in Sydney on the 19th of March.

What was more concerning that the cruise had ever been allowed to leave Sydney given how COVID-19 had spread through her sister ship in Asia in February. Or the lack of precautions that were made during the cruise when an outbreak was clearly occurring.

For many of us the initial news reports coming out of that part of the world were perceived as something happening over there like previous diseases SARS and MERS.

As the situation escalated at some point the actions of Carnival Corporation become troubling. And people died.

It’s quite a heartbreaking tale.

 

May 27

In Blackwater a town of less than 5,000 in Central Queensland the late miner aged 30 returned a positive postmortem test for COVID-19. In the days ahead with the set-up of fever clinics and contract tracing in the town a second test came back negative.

Nathan Turner had underlying medical conditions that had meant he had been unable to work in recent months due to illness. At age 30 he came the youngest fatality in Australia of COVID-19. The second test was good news for the town in terms of COVID fears but his death remained a tragic loss of one so young.

 

 

There were 484 active cases in Australia on the 25th of May.

On the 17th of March there had been 410 cases which was on the eve of the Ruby Princess docking and ceasing international air travel.

Allowing that changes were in place that weren’t then and awareness from the general populace was different there was a growing push to re-open the economy.

However Epidemiologist Professor Mary-Louise McLaws from the University of NSW advised the same day “Given that there is that, we should be waiting for 14 days … to get to zero and then add those two incubation periods before we start hopping on aeroplanes or coaches or cars to states and territories that have been exemplary in getting their numbers to zero“.

Two days later Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke on the Channel Nine Today show, “The National Cabinet has never agreed that there should be borders closed in Australia,” Mr Morrison said. That was never the medical expert advice that came at any time. Premiers and their governments in states, whether it is South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania, Queensland, have all made their own decisions and so they have got to justify those decisions.

The Federal and State governments have worked hard through their differences at all times during the crisis at unprecedented levels. NSW and Victoria pushed hard to shut down schools and now there were disagreements about the borders.

In the early days of the crisis as the state borders shut it was considered that it may be until September before they were opened again. Now the momentum was shifting.

There is no doubt that those sort of borders do harm the economy, they do harm jobs and it is important that we get those removed as soon as possible. I want to stress, the national medical advice that came from the expert panel that has driven all the other decisions never recommended closing borders.” said the PM.

Queensland Premier Anastacia Palaszczuk noted “These are really hard decisions everyone, I have sleepless nights, I understand people are hurting, I understand people have lost their jobs. I want to get people back into work as quickly as possible. But if I don’t do it safely it could cripple our industry for years to come.

Other states were holding firm too. The Tasmania Premier Peter Gutwein advised “I won’t comment on the way the Queensland premier deals with her borders nor how the NSW premier deals with hers. It’s quite obvious the federal government has a view but my job is to protect the best interests of Tasmanians.

The Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan said “The interstate border will stay. It’s a small inconvenience … it won’t be forever. Our hard borders with the east and our isolation have worked to our advantage and we must keep it that way for now.

This was on the 28th of May, history was about to push the trajectory of these plans in another direction.

-Lloyd Marken

COVID-19 DIARY – THE PHONEY WEEK – PART III

Coronavirus: Anguish as Europe learns to cope with new way of ...

 

19 March

Wednesday night in Bergamo, Italy the unmistakable grunts of truck engines and the hiss of brakes can be heard as the army ferries dead bodies out of full to bursting mortuaries to remote cremation sites.

On the 19th of March Italy overtook China as the country with the most deaths based on the numbers reported by the World Health Organisation.

China had 81,300 cases total that day with a daily increase of 126. Their death toll 3,252 with a daily increase of 11.

In Italy there were 41,035 cases with a daily increase of 5,322. The death toll was 3,407 with a daily increase of 429.

3,252….

429…

11….

One.

I once stood in front of a plaque in St Paul’s Cathedral that listed all the names of British servicemen killed in the Falklands War. 255 names. Seeing the names all together suddenly made that number much higher than I had previously thought of it.

 

Falklands Memorial, St. Paul's Cathedral, London | "IN HONOU… | Flickr

The Falklands lasted 10 weeks and was noted by scholars for the advent of technology and the speed of conflict itself. Comparatively the 255 was less than the 649 Argentinians who died in the same way,  less than the 521 Australians killed in Vietnam, or the 1,078 British killed in the three year Korean War, or the 27,073 Australians killed serving in World War II or the 1,114,914 British that died in World War I, or the lowest estimates of the Spanish Flu pandemic that wiped out anywhere between 17,000,000 to 100,000,000.

1….

1,000…

1,000,000.

They can just become numbers but the thousands already dead from this pandemic are a story and a lot of those stories ended painfully with someone struggling to breathe, a nurse nearby doing her job the best she can and no loved ones able to say goodbye.

Here in my own bubble a lot of people died in China and I scarely thought about them. It might be something to remember as we continue to discuss the numbers coming out of China and their accuracy. Whatever the numbers, a lot of people died and the least we can do is try and do the best we can to stay alive so their lives can have even more meaning.

On the 19th of March the island state of Tasmania announced it would close it’s border from midnight the next day becoming the first state to do so.

Also on thursday, Australia announced that as of 9pm that Friday, all foreign travellers would be banned from entering the country. New Zealand had announced they would close its borders midnight Thursday. Residents of the two countries, would still be able to travel between both.

Those on student and work visas in Australia currently out of the country would not be able to return.

The Prime Minister advised the previous bans had already seen a reduction in the normal level of travel by one third.

The same day Qantas announced about 2/3 of their 30,000 staff would be stood down temporarily.

The decision stranded many Australians abroad who worked to get home.

As the Prime Minister worked to ensure less people came into the country with the virus. The 113,000 tonne cruise ship the Ruby Princess disembarked 2,700 passengers in Sydney the same day.

NSW coronavirus: Email bombshell reveals Ruby Princess bungle ...

The Ruby Princess had departed Sydney on the 8th of March for a cruise around New Zealand. The cruise was prematurely ended on the 15th of March and returned from Napier to Sydney. 

On the 20th of March we were informed 13 people had been tested for coronavirus and three had come back positive. In the weeks ahead the Ruby Princess disembarkation would have significant impact on the number of people getting sick in New South Wales. All passengers were asked to go into self isolation.

Of the 2,700 disembarked passengers at least 662 Australian passengers tested positive with 341 of them in New South Wales. This did not include about 900 passengers who left Australia without being tested.  The death toll of people who were on the Ruby Princess has risen to at least 21.

6 crew members were medically evacuated on the 2nd of April. 

542 of the 1,000 crew were taken off the ship and repatriated to their home countries between 21-23APR2020. The Ruby Princess left Port Kembla on the 23rd of April, 190 members of the crew had tested positive at that point.

The Ruby Princess story is echoed in many other cruise ships around the world.

-Lloyd Marken