In early July, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced government school students in prep to Year 10 — in Metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire —would learn from home for term three. Students in Years 11 and 12, as well as those in Year 10 attending VCE or VCAL classes, and students with special needs, would learn face to face.
The exemption for students doing VCE subjects to go class was made to ensure the least amount of disruption to the final years of schooling.
From today, however, after the announcement of harsher, Stage 4 restrictions for metropolitan Melbourne and Stage 3 restrictions for the rest of Victoria, students in Years 11 and 12 will learn remotely with every other student in the state.
So, will remote learning at the end of schooling mean Victorian students will fall behind the rest of the country?
Year 12 marks the end of school and the shift to work and further education for most students.
The Year 12 journey is sprinkled with milestones and rites of passage: the school formal, leadership opportunities, gaining independence with a new driver’s license and for many, turning 18 and being regarded as an adult.
In classrooms, learning is highly regulated by the teacher. Whereas in vocational education and training, and university, learning is rapidly moving to a more online, independent, mode. Even before the pandemic, post-school education required students to be more self-directed learners than they were at school.
This year’s Year 12 students won’t experience many common milestones and rites of passage. But many will have gained significant experiences of learning online, and independently — beyond what they ordinarily would have — which will set them up for similar learning beyond school.
The chance to develop online learning capabilities while being supported by their school teachers will give Year 12s learning remotely a real advantage.
We conducted a survey of students who experienced remote schooling during March and April this year at an independent school in Queensland. Overall 1,032 students completed the survey, across prep to Year 12.
Just over 41% of students, overall, said they found learning at home stressful. But this was generally not the case for students in Year 12. Year 12 students were keen for the flexibility to learn at their own pace, and being free to determine the order of study each week, rather than follow a timetable set by the school.
Year 12 students said they preferred to concentrate on one subject a day and to work intensely.
Generally Year 12 students said they disliked live video sessions and found them disruptive to their study flow. While 75% of Grade 7 students valued form class or home room live sessions, only 16% of Grade 12 students did. They preferred to spend their time focusing on given subject materials.
Studies have suggested online learning is likely to be less effective than classroom education over the longer-term. But there is also evidence to suggest the impact may be negligible in the short term.
Other studies suggest there is no significant difference in learning outcomes between students in distance education (when students live too far from the school to attend in person) and face-to-face learning.
But there are significant variations in outcomes within each approach. This means a student’s ability to learn online, the design of the online learning environment and even the amount of time needed for students to get familiar with learning online can affect their outcomes.
Students have been conditioned for over 12 years to learn in classrooms from a teacher. This can make it difficult for them to become familiar with new ways of learning.
A major issue associated with online learning is a student’s ability to regulate themselves. This means being able to stay on task especially when a problem arises. Being unfamiliar with new ways of accessing and interpreting online environments and subject content, as well as working with peers online in communication spaces, presents new challenges for students.
However, the problem may again have to do with age. In our survey, mentioned above, 75% Year 12 students believed they were able to work through a problem productively online. This was higher than the other high-school year levels.
There are many advantages to learning online. Students can work at their own pace, revise and review teacher made videos for examples, and engage with extensive notes and study guides to help with assessment and exams.
Students can also access their teachers in more varied ways and at different times of day. In other words, moving online for Year 12 students can provide a world of resources and access to teachers they have not experienced before.
To make the most of their Year 12 experience, students should keep these simple tips in mind:
organise your learning week. Set up your own timetable of tasks to complete. Include breaks and time to relax
be an active learner. Make notes while listening to teacher made videos and written materials
contact a friend if you have a problem, and work through the issue together
use the communication tools available to tell your teachers and friends what you are thinking about
participate in live sessions and forums as much as you can.
Correction: this article previously had an incorrect statement about ATAR calculation. This has now been removed.
Commercial properties include office buildings, shopping centres, hotels and warehouses.
They account for 8% of the assets of Australian super funds.
If their values drop (and they are falling) it will affect all of us, especially those about to retire or already retired.
Until COVID-19, commercial properties were widely regarded as safe investments. They offered both reliable income streams and capital gains as population growth increased the value of scarce real estate.
With the return on government bonds falling below 1% they ought to be becoming more attractive, but offices are empty, their future uncertain, high end shopping centres are receiving less traffic, and hotels have entire floors unused.
In July the number of mobile phones active in Sydney’s central business district was down 52% on January and February. In Melbourne’s CBD, before the stage 4 lockdown, mobile phone traffic was down 65%.
For super funds with 8% of their assets in commercial property, a decline of 25% in values knocks 2% off their assets — A$54 billion across the industry as a whole.
In the only other big downturn since the advent of Australia’s superannuation system, the global financial crisis, commercial property offered the funds stability while shares were volatile.
Not so this time. The value of the commercial property is diving along with the stock market with just as uncertain a future.
With cases of COVID-19 on the rise, many Australians are asking: what happens if I test positive? With no known cure and no vaccine, what are my treatment options?
Finding trusted answers amid the widespread coverage of questionable claims and dubious data on unproven treatments is not easy. The good news is there are clear guidelines and growing evidence on treatments that can have a dramatic effect on COVID-19.
Here’s a snapshot of how this knowledge and guidance is likely to apply to you, if you have mild, moderate or severe COVID-19.
If you test positive, you must self-isolate at home. Your local public health service will contact you with advice and information about how long you’ll need to do so.
If you are like most people with COVID-19, you won’t need to go to a clinic or hospital, and can safely self-manage the illness at home. Even so, it’s important to connect with an appropriate health-care service (either by contacting a dedicated COVID-19 service or by calling your GP) for an initial assessment and continuing contact throughout your illness.
Initially, you may experience flu-like symptoms such as cough, sore throat, fever, aches, pains and headache. You might temporarily lose your sense of smell and taste; less common symptoms include nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. Whatever your symptoms, you’ll need plenty of rest, fluids and paracetamol for aches, pains or fever.
Take particular note of how you’re feeling from day five onwards, as this is the time some people begin to deteriorate significantly. Around 20% of people fall into this category, with older people and those with pre-existing health conditions more likely to require hospitalisation. Watch out for intense fatigue, difficulty breathing or an overall deterioration in how you’re feeling.
If your symptoms worsen, you’ll need to contact your care provider, or if your symptoms are very serious (such as difficulty breathing), call 000 and ask for an ambulance, and don’t forget to tell them you have COVID-19.
If you are taken to hospital, doctors will measure your oxygen levels and perform a chest X-ray and blood tests to determine whether you have pneumonia (infection in the lungs, which is a sign of moderate or severe COVID-19). If pneumonia, low oxygen levels or other signs of severe infection are detected, you’ll need to stay in hospital and will probably be given oxygen.
If this is the case, you’ll also be given a strong anti-inflammatory medicine called dexamethasone. This is a widely used, low-cost drug that was recently found to reduce the risk of dying from COVID-19 (by 15% for people on oxygen and by about a third for people on a ventilator). However, for people who are not on oxygen, dexamethasone may increase the risk of death — probably because inflammation is not such a big factor at that stage of disease — and the side-effects of dexamethasone would outweigh any potential benefit to those patients.
For moderate or severe cases, doctors may also consider a newer antiviral medicine called remdesivir. Originally developed to treat Ebola, this drug has recently been shown to reduce the time to recover from more severe forms of COVID-19 — but not to reduce the risk of dying from the disease.
If you become even more unwell, these treatments will continue but you may need more support for breathing, such as high-flow oxygen or a ventilator, and will likely be cared for in an intensive care unit.
Your recovery depends on many factors, including your previous health and fitness, and how sick you became with COVID-19. The recovery phase is not yet fully understood, but we do know some people suffer prolonged symptoms, including fatigue, breathlessness, and joint and chest pains.
As scientists continue to grapple with the complexities of understanding and treating this virus, we will have more questions than answers for some time yet.
Fortunately, Australia moved quickly at the start of the crisis to establish a National COVID-19 Clinical Evidence Taskforce. A collaboration of 29 peak national health organisations, the taskforce works around the clock to rapidly identify, evaluate and summarise global COVID-19 research findings. Each week, guideline panels with more than 200 experts use this evidence to review and update national “living guidelines” to inform consistent, high-quality patient care around the country.
This pace of updating rigorous, trustworthy guidelines weekly is a world first. Whatever the global headlines or social media outrage of the day, Australian health workers will continue to have a single, accessible source of consistent, evidence-based guidance in a time of great uncertainty.
Sweden has become something of a cautionary tale for what happens when you attempt to tackle coronavirus without lockdowns.
In The Conversation last week The Grattan Institute’s Stephen Duckett and Will Mackey said its freer approach caused almost as much economic damage as a lockdown would have, and many more deaths.
Sweden’s death rate is indeed high compared to others at this stage.
At the time of writing worldometer suggests Sweden is one of the worst nations in the world in terms of deaths per million population, being beaten among the populous nations only by Belgium, Britain, Spain, Italy, and Peru.
At 568 deaths per million it has done worse than the United States (480) and much worse than nations such as Denmark (106), Australia (9) South Korea (6) and New Zealand (4).
And on one reading its economic performance doesn’t seem much better than Denmark’s.
Denmark imposed strict restrictions from early March, closing the border to all foreign nationals, limiting social gatherings to ten, shutting schools, universities and non-essential work, and encouraging the entire population to stay home and minimise social contact.
Neighbouring Sweden allowed bars and restaurants to remain open with capacity constraints and table service. Preschools and primary schools were kept open but senior schools closed, and its borders remained open to people from Europe. At the same time it banned visitors from aged care facilities and encouraged old people and those with pre-existing health conditions to avoid social contact.
The University of Copenhagen study cited by those who argue Sweden got it wrong finds that in Sweden aggregate spending dropped 25% whereas in neighbouring Denmark it dropped 29%.
The authors conclude
even when there are no major restrictions on economic activity, as in Sweden, a pandemic induces a sizeable contraction of spending; the additional drop in spending caused by a shutdown, as in Denmark, is relatively small
The University of Copenhagen study was close to a snapshot, presenting data for the four weeks between March 11 to April 5.
Denmark’s death count has also declined, but less smoothly.
Death counts in Australia and many other countries that imposed hard lockdowns are turning up as they get hit with second waves and second lockdowns.
Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s chief epidemiologist, says in many ways the voluntary measures put in place in Sweden were just as effective as the complete lockdowns in other countries, and might be more sustainable.
On its performance to date, Sweden has the world’s eighth highest death rate.
But if present trends continue, the ranking will fall. It is possible that by the time a proper accounting is done it won’t even make the top 20.
We will know soon how Sweden did economically in the second quarter of the year. Bank forecasts have its economy down only 7% to 8% in that quarter compared to 12% for the European Union as a whole.
A full accounting of how Sweden’s approach has fared compared to other country’s will take time, and will involve trading off health, economic, educational and other outcomes.
Confidence in its Public Health Agency remains high at 65%, suggesting Swedes are not unhappy with the tradeoffs made. And they are prepared to follow directions, perhaps more than Australians and residents of the United States and the much-touted Germany.
Sweden’s Civil Contingencies Agency says 87% of the population is complying with the social distancing restrictions that are in place, up from 82% a month ago.
Americans were alarmed last week when their president suggested on Twitter that the November 3 presidential election should be delayed because mail-in ballots would be fraudulent.
The president has no authority to change the date of an election. The US Constitution gives that power to Congress alone, and Republicans in Congress, including Senate leader Mitch McConnell, quickly dismissed any possibility of delay.
[…] an incendiary and absurd idea unworthy of being spoken — or even thought — by a president of the United States.
But the real danger here isn’t the possibility that Trump would delay the election, which his own allies won’t allow. It is his campaign to delegitimise the election in advance.
Trump has long made baseless complaints about voter fraud to cast doubt on election results. Throughout 2016 as he trailed Hillary Clinton in the polls, he repeatedly said the election would be “rigged”. Even after he won in the electoral college, he insisted he also would have won the popular vote but for ““millions of people who voted illegally”.
Unlike his ideas about delaying the election, Trump’s claims about widespread voter fraud have significant traction on the right. For years conservative activists have used vastly exaggerated claims about voter fraud to justify measures that suppress minority turnout.
With his standing in the polls again precarious, mail-in ballots have become the latest targets of Trump’s obsession with “fraudulent” voting, despite the fact he and 15 other members of his White House staff have recently voted by mail.
Two-thirds of voters support increased availability of mail voting to ensure safety during the pandemic. Both Republican and Democratic states have moved to expand access to mail voting. Trump has responded with completely unsupported assertions that foreign governments could forge mail ballots en masse.
A genuine problem is that a greatly increased volume of mail ballots could overwhelm the postal service. This already happened in the primaries. In some states large numbers of votes had to be discarded because they arrived after the election.
There are currently endemic delays in the United States Postal Service resulting from cost-cutting measures introduced last month by new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump fundraiser. These measures are supposed to deal with a longstanding “financial crisis” in the USPS.
This crisis is itself a political creation. It has its origin in punitive legislation from 2006 forcing the USPS to fully fund its pensions 75 years in advance. No other business in America faces this requirement.
The day after Trump’s “delay the election?” tweet he had another tweet that got less blowback but was nearly as ominous.
While some states like Colorado developed fast and efficient systems for processing mail ballots, in other states, including Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, outdated technology and legislation hamper the count.
Usually, the expansion of mail voting does not affect either party’s share of the turnout or vote. But Trump’s campaign against mail voting may create serious partisan imbalances in modes of voting as Republicans refuse mail ballots on principle. If mail voting leans Democratic while in-person voting leans Republican, election night results in some states could change significantly as mail ballots are counted for days afterwards.
But other commentators, noting his long record of unfulfilled threats, say Trump is unlikely to try to “steal” the election by refusing to leave office (as Joe Biden suggested he might). While Trump’s Republican allies have generally stuck with him throughout his numerous assaults on democratic norms, their reactions to his “delay” tweet show there are limits to what they will tolerate when it comes to attacks on the peaceful transition of power.
If Trump loses narrowly, the problem may not be removing him from office. It may be a further deepening of political polarisation in the United States. There have been partisan attacks on the legitimacy of the last four presidents. Trump could become a new “lost cause” figure whose supporters never accept his defeat and whose “betrayal” accelerates right-wing radicalism in the Republican Party.
Biden has a good chance of winning the election, but his chances of restoring “normality” are a lot worse.
With Victoria’s declaration of a state of disaster and imposition of Stage 4 restrictions, many Melburnians have returned to panic buying. Supermarket shelves across the city have been stripped of canned goods, fresh vegetables and meat.
The meat buying, at least, makes some sense.
After aged care homes, meat-processing facilities have been a major contributor to Victoria’s COVID-19 outbreak. Hundreds of coronavirus cases have been linked to about a dozen sites, with the biggest outbreaks at those in Melbourne’s outer western and northern surburbs.
There were expectations following the state government’s lockdown announcement on Sunday that these facilities might be closed completely, along with the other business restrictions announced on Monday.
That didn’t happen. But the state’s 70-plus meat-processing facilities will be required to reduce their production capacity by one-third.
They must also implement, in the words of premier Daniel Andrews, “some of the most stringent safety protocols that have been ever put in place in any industrial setting”, including workers dressing “as if they were a health worker – gloves and gowns, masks and shields.”
This is going to affect the supply of meat to Victorian supermarkets, and prices. But thankfully not for long.
Processing meat is the opposite of an assembly line. It’s a disassembly line, the equivalent of auto workers pulling apart cars – removing the wheels, doors, seats, engine and so on – to sell the parts. Now imagine each car is slightly different, and must be taken apart in a slightly different way, at fast pace.
Automating such work is difficult. It is complex and intensive manual labour. Lots of people work close together, in a hard environment, for long hours, in cold and dry spaces. These factors make it easy for COVID-19 to spread.
The Victorian government’s directive that meat-processing facilities reduce output by one-third is to ensure workplace changes such as gaps between shifts, more physical distancing, and more attention to measures such as wearing personal protective equipment and not sharing cutting equipment.
So production will go at a slower pace. Output will be lower, and the per-unit cost of packaging meat products for consumers will be higher.
Quality and price are key purchasing decisions for most meat shoppers, and the meat industry has been geared to providing fresh produce at lowest cost.
Getting your favourite beef, lamb, chicken and pork cuts to your local supermarket or neighbourhood butcher is a complex game. Meat processing and distribution centres work out how much to produce, where to deliver and when to do it with great precision, planning up to 90 days ahead. They must synchronise supplies from farmers with demand from retailers.
Think of the system’s smooth operation as being like keeping a roomful of clocks synchronised.
If one clock fails, no problem. You can fix it. But what if a handful more clocks fail before you can fix it, and then dozens more fail? In a short time there will be so many faulty clocks that coordination is compromised. Eventually you won’t even know what the right time is.
Reducing capacity in one or two abattoirs for a few days could be worked around with minimal effects to consumers. But there’s no quick fix to reducing capacity in all of them for six weeks.
Supplies for some meat products will almost certainly be lower, and prices could increase. This is most likely to occur for the most common and popular meat cuts, like T-bone steaks or chicken drumsticks. If your preference is offal or giblets, though, you may not have a problem.
Yes, there is good news.
First, thanks to refrigerated transport, meat processors in other states can help meet lower production in Victoria. The industry has some flexibility to move from north to south, from west to east.
Second, supermarkets have been quick to bring restrictions back to prevent the panic buying and hoarding that make shortages even worse. Coles and Woolworths have already imposed two-pack limits on meat packages (and other products).
Third, to hoard meat you need freezer capacity, and it’s quite possible those disposed to stockpiling still have frozen meat from the first COVID-19 wave.
Fourth, supermarkets and hundreds of smaller operators such as butchers will be affected in different ways at different times. Finding what you want may simply require looking in more than one shop.
Fourth, there are options. Not just between different fresh products such as beef, chicken, pork, lamb and fish, but between preserved, frozen and canned alternatives.
So it might be just a bit harder to have your preferred choice of meat for dinner in the coming days. But the situation won’t be as dire as some fear.
Flavio Romero Macau, Senior Lecturer in Supply Chain Management and Global Logistics, Edith Cowan University and Ferry Jie, Asssociate Professor in Supply Chain and Logistics Management, Deputy Director, Centre for Innovative Practice, Edith Cowan University
As Victorians face yet another long period of enforced lockdown, serious concerns are being raised about people’s capacity to comply with the new orders and the mental health impacts of such prolonged social isolation.
The risks of being dispirited, chronically stressed and socially disconnected are real and substantial. While the behavioural consequences of “lockdown fatigue” are becoming more obvious, the questions to be answered from a mental health perspective are:
who is most likely to be harmed by a longer, more stringent lockdown?
what are the public policy responses that are most likely to deliver real benefits?
On the first issue, Sydney University’s Brain and Mind Centre has produced both place-based models and a provisional national simulation model to estimate the possible size of the impact of the pandemic on mental health and suicide rates, as well as identifying those who are most likely to be affected.
Prior to the recent spike in cases in Victoria, our most conservative estimates were a 14% increase in overall suicide rates due to COVID-19 restrictions and the subsequent social dislocation and economic fall-out nationally.
We also estimated at least a 25% increase in suicide rates in rural and regional areas with pre-existing high levels of unemployment and educational disadvantage.
The real drivers of these substantive health risks are job losses, social disconnection and, for young people, the availability of support for ongoing education and training.
Given the return to lockdown in Melbourne, we now expect to see much greater levels of uncertainty about job prospects — particularly in those industries like hospitality, tourism and the arts that were already devastated — as well as a more prolonged period of social disconnection.
For both of these factors, both the duration of the lockdown and the degree of uncertainty it generates really do matter.
Given the necessity to “act fast and go hard” to contain the spread of the virus, the harder question to answer is the second one: what can our political and social leaders do to minimise the impact on people’s mental health and well-being?
Top of the list is job certainty. Conceptually, JobKeeper is critical because it ties people to real workplaces, social contacts and their social identity.
However, in its initial application it missed many casual workers, women and young people. Each of these groups were massively affected by COVID-19 restrictions and are now facing even tougher long-term employment prospects.
Our model suggests JobKeeper, in its current or appropriately modified form, now needs to be in place until at least 2022. And our place-based approach suggests policy-makers need to think about how it can best function in Melbourne and surrounding districts.
From a social connection perspective, all governments need to get their public messaging on track. An over-emphasis on top-down, law-and-order directives has limited and short-term utility for achieving the required behaviour changes. Often, it has the reverse effect to that intended.
What is really required are public health messages that engage people to be community-minded and active in their local settings to support and care for each other in really testing times.
The diverse faces and voices of genuine and trusted community leaders, elders, celebrities, sporting identities and young people — not simply politicians — are critical. These have much greater impact on two key outcomes: promoting best public behaviour and providing the necessary person-to-person support we all require.
Importantly, from a public mental health and health services perspective, any substantive actions rely heavily on close cooperation between the federal and Victorian governments. We cannot risk a retreat to the finger-pointing we saw during the Ruby Princess and quarantine hotel failures, and are now starting to see in the COVID-19 aged care crisis.
As indicated by the recent Victorian royal commission and the Productivity Commission report on mental health, both levels of government are responsible for the current deficiencies in our public mental health systems.
From a public messaging perspective, people experiencing mental distress are being encouraged to use mental health hotlines or seek help from their family doctor or other mental health practitioners.
While these may seem to be straightforward and sensible messages, we have shown that simply increasing awareness without expanding the actual capacity of an already thinly stretched (if not broken) care system can have more negative outcomes.
What is really required are two clear actions. One is public messaging about supporting each other, and those who are distressed, within our families, workplaces, communities and churches throughout this period. The other is rapid action to fix key elements of the mental health system.
As demonstrated by Health Minister Greg Hunt’s actions in the early phases of the pandemic, it is possible to mobilise simultaneously both our private and public health services to respond to a national emergency.
That is now urgently required for mental health. We need to use our private health capacity to help public hospital emergency departments, and other acute care services, meet the increasing need for mental health services.
For instance, we could immediately make use of private hospital beds and clinics for those who have attempted suicide or are in need of urgent care, but who do not require admission to a public psychiatry unit.
While this need will soon likely become acutely obvious in Melbourne, we have already seen evidence in national surveys, and other state systems, of the escalating demand for these types of mental health services.
This has been most obvious for young people, who often do not easily connect with general practice doctors and typically present for care in a crisis situation.
Amid the chronic uncertainty that is now emblematic of the COVID-19 pandemic — often confusing government responses and the long-term economic and social impacts of the crisis — it is now time we respond to this looming mental health crisis cohesively, collectively and intelligently.
If this article has raised issues for you, or if you’re concerned about someone you know, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.