Should we re-open pubs next week? The benefits seem to exceed the costs



Kuranda pub, Far North Queensland.
Shutterstock

Jonathan Karnon, Flinders University and Ben W. Mol, Monash University

Nothing our leaders can do now will return the economy to where it was before COVID-19. For one thing, international travel is likely to remain closed for a long time.

But there are things they can do, and on Friday the prime minister outlined a roadmap.

Of interest to us is whether it makes sense to reopen bars and restaurants.


Commonwealth government, Friday May 8, 2020

The Australian Government committed A$320 billion over six months to support businesses and workers whose incomes has been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

That amounts to $12 billion per week.

Reported job losses suggest around 29% is being paid out to support the accommodation and food services industry.




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That’s about $3.4 billion per week. Bars and restaurants are likely to account for half of it, $1.7 billion per week.

That can be thought of as one of the costs of keeping bars and restaurants closed.

What about the benefits? What costs do we avoid by keeping bars and restaurants closed?

It helps to illustrate our thinking as a decision tree.


The Conversation/Figures author provided, CC BY-ND

The upper branches of the tree represent the decision about whether or not to lift restrictions.

If restrictions are lifted, there may, or may not, be a new outbreak that requires the reintroduction of restrictions.

While we don’t know the likelihood of a new outbreak, we can test different assumptions.




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Given the very low number of new cases of COVID-19, the assumption we have tested is that there would be a one in ten chance of a new outbreak requiring the reintroduction of restrictions.

We also assume that if there was a new outbreak, there would be a 95% chance it could be controlled by re-imposing restrictions on bars and restaurants and only a 5% chance it could not.

It’s a matter of probabilities

If the outbreak was controlled by reimposing restrictions (the 95% probability) we assume an extra 40 COVID-19 deaths and an extra four weeks of restrictions at a financial cost to the government of $6.8 billion.

If the outbreak was more severe and a broader set of restrictions are required (the 5% case) we assume an additional 200 deaths and extra cost to the government of $17 billion.

(We also assume that 25% of the government spending to support the hospitality industry would remain because a decision to reopen bars and restaurants would not result in the industry returning to it’s pre-COVID-19 state – many people would remain cautious about the risks of contracting COVID-19 or have become conditioned to less frequent socialising.)

When we weigh these costs by their probabilities we get expected costs to the government from reopening of $1.1 billion, compared to costs from keeping bars and restaurants closed for another week of $1.7 billion.

Is the $600 million per week value for money?

It suggests the government would be $600 million per week better off it it reopens bars and restaurants.

We would expect a number of extra COVID-19 deaths. Multiplying the probabilities of the extra deaths under each scenario by the likelihood of each scenario suggests there would be an extra 4.8 deaths if bars and restaurants are reopened this week.

Because the average age of people dying due to COVID-19 is around 80 years, and each might have around ten more years to live, the number of life years per week that would be lost as a result of the $600 million per week the government saved would be 48.




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It suggests each life year saved as a result of keeping bars and restaurants closed costs around $12.5 million.

Decisions on whether government should fund health interventions are commonly based on an assessment of whether the health gains justify the additional costs.

As a ballpark figure, new measures are funded if they are shown to gain an additional life year at a cost of around $50,000.

This suggests that by keeping bars and restaurants closed the government is paying 250 times more than it would usually pay to gain a life year.

It is funding that doesn’t pass the usual test

A separate guideline used by Australian governments to assess regulations and infrastructure projects puts the value of a statistical life year at $200,389 in today’s dollars.

This suggests that by keeping bars and restaurants closed the government is paying 60 times more than it would usually pay to save a life.

It’s why we think governments should reopen them, next week.

Like all such analyses, ours depends on the assumptions used.

We have put a spreadsheet of our decision tree online to allow readers to experiment with different ones.




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Our analysis leaves much out. It includes neither the negative impact of COVID-19 on people’s quality of life, nor the negative impact of shutting bars and restaurants on people’s health and quality of life.

It gives us an indication of how many life years the government is saving for the $600 million per week it is costing it to keep bars and restaurants closed.

It suggests the government could save many more life years by spending the money in a different way.The Conversation

Jonathan Karnon, Professor of Health Economics, Flinders University and Ben W. Mol, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Let’s “SnapBack” to better society with more secure jobs: Anthony Albanese


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Anthony Albanese says Australia must use the pandemic experience to move to a more resilient society, creating more permanent jobs and revitalising high value manufacturing.

In his fifth “vision statement”, delivered against the background of the government foreshadowing an extensive post-crisis reform agenda, Albanese is giving a broad outline of Labor’s priorities for change.

The Monday speech, issued ahead of delivery, comes a day before parliament resumes for a three-day sitting expected to be more combative than the previous two one-day sittings. It also precedes Josh Frydenberg’s economic update on Tuesday – the day the treasurer was, pre-pandemic, due to deliver the budget, now delayed until October.




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Referring to the government’s “SnapBack” terminology, Albanese says: “Let’s not SnapBack to insecure work, to jobseekers stuck in poverty, to scientists being ignored.”

“It’s no time for a ‘SnapBack’ to the Liberal agenda of cutting services, suppressing wages and undermining job security.

“This pandemic has shown that Labor’s values of fairness and security and our belief in the power of government to shape change to the advantage of working people are the right ones.

“A constrained fiscal position does mean difficult choices. But a reform agenda that doesn’t work for all Australians isn’t one we should pursue”.

Albanese says Labor has been constructive during the crisis, not allowing “the perfect to be the enemy of the good”; he contrasts its approach with the Coalition’s negativity against the Labor government during the global financial crisis.

While Australians have been getting through the crisis together, it has been tougher for some than others, including those who have lost jobs and businesses, he says.

“Sharing the sacrifice to get through the crisis together has to mean working to secure a recovery in which no one is left behind.

“We have to be clear in recognising that those with the least, have suffered the most through this crisis – something that must change.

“It’s critical that we are still saying , ‘we’re all in this together’, after the lockdown has come to an end,” Albanese says.

“We must move forward to having not just survived the pandemic, but having learned from it.

“To secure a more resilient society, given just how quickly things can change, through no fault of anyone.

“To better recognise the contributions of unsung heroes, like our cleaners, supermarket workers and delivery workers. To honour our health and aged care workers.

“To recognise that young people have done more than their share.

“Young people deserve better than an economy and society that consigns them to a lifetime of low wages, job insecurity, and unaffordable housing.

“We must ensure that what emerges is a society that no longer seems stacked against them, or denies them the opportunity and economic security of older generations”.

Albanese says this is a once-in-a-political lifetime event that “creates once-in-a-century opportunity to renew and revitalise the federation” and “a once-in-a-generation chance to shape our economy so it works for people and deepens the meaning of a fair go”.

“We must build more permanent jobs, an industrial relations system that promotes co-operation, productivity improvements and shared benefits,” he says.

“We must revitalise high value Australian manufacturing using our clean energy resources.”

He also urges nation building infrastructure including high speed rail and the local construction of trains; a decentralisation strategy including restoring public service jobs in agencies such as Centrelink that deliver services to regional areas; a conservation program to boost regional employment; and governments working with the private sector and superannuation funds to deliver investment in social and affordable housing.

“A housing construction package should include funding to make it easier for essential workers to find affordable rental accommodation closer to work.”

Albanese says that “too much of the risk in our economy has been shifted onto those with the least capacity to manage in tougher times.

“The broadest burden has been put on the narrowest shoulders.

“Our economy has become riskier, and we need to think through what that means for us all.

“We need to realise that a good society can’t thrive when the balance between risk and security falls out of step.”

Albanese says there needs to be an emphasis on growth, “because only inclusive economic growth can raise our living standards.

“We need to put more emphasis on secure employment – especially for the next generation of younger workers who nowadays have little idea of the meaning of reliable income or holiday pay”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cities will endure, but urban design must adapt to coronavirus risks and fears



Public spaces must now meet our need to be ‘together but apart’.
Silvia Tavares, Author provided

Silvia Tavares, University of the Sunshine Coast and Nicholas Stevens, University of the Sunshine Coast

The long-term impacts of coronavirus on our cities are difficult to predict, but one thing is certain: cities won’t die. Diseases have been hugely influential in shaping our cities, history shows. Cities represent continuity regardless of crises – they endure, adapt and grow.




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Once we can have our old lives back we will likely return to familiar routines and our memories of lockdown and isolation will start to fade. While our lack of memory is arguably a resiliency resource, urban designers and planners have a long-term role in ensuring urban life is healthy. To fight infectious diseases, cities need well-ventilated urban spaces with good access to sunlight.

The design of these spaces, and public open spaces in particular, promotes different levels of sociability. Some spaces congregate community and are highly social. Others may act as urban retreats where people seek peace with their coffee and book.

How urban spaces perform during disease outbreaks now also demands our close attention.

What is urbanity and why does it matter?

Urban spaces are where communities come together. Urban planners and designers strive to generate a sense of belonging that makes people choose certain areas of a city or even a city itself. Urbanity refers to the public life that happens as a result of the exchanges and communication each space enables.

The combination of diversity and density achieve urbanity – it’s a product of diverse social opportunities in close proximity. This is why densifying cities has been a goal for achieving healthy, social and prosperous cities.

However, the risks of COVID-19 transmission have strengthened anti-density discourses. It is worth remembering, then, that ways of fighting disease, such as sanitation, were only possible because of the financial savings and infrastructure efficiencies enabled by denser cities. Density done right is safe. And it permits the human interactions and connections we need – and which we are now missing.

Once COVID-19 is less of a threat we will crave the normality of going back to our old lifestyles as much as possible. The role of urban planners and designers is then to create a background for public life to happen in social and healthy ways.

Learning from other disasters

Following the 2011 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, where the CBD lost some 800 buildings, the community took a very different view of urban spaces. Crowded areas and tall buildings were a source of fear. The common attitude was to avoid density – what if another earthquake hit?




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Urban designers and decision-makers learned that buildings and public spaces had to respond differently. Safe pop-up areas started to emerge. This new normal made some old quiet cafés and public open spaces resilient, while other pop-ups become popular retreat areas. These urban retreat areas were away from streets and tall buildings, and so offered a way of “being there” and being safe.

A park-like retreat space on South Colombo Street, Christchurch.
Silvia Tavares, Author provided

Both the Christchurch earthquake and coronavirus have made people cautious about their safety in the city – because of their proximity to surrounding buildings and to other users of the space, respectively. Christchurch teaches us a lesson about “being together but apart”: cities are not made only of social spaces, and not all residents want the same thing.

People need choice in their use of urban spaces to feel secure and be safe. While larger social spaces are vibrant, support public transport and local economies, urban retreat spaces apply the idea of prospect and refuge: they meet our psychological needs to observe and be part of the public space (prospect) while feeling safe and removed from the scene (refuge).

Post-quake Christchurch showed how the social character and dynamics of urban spaces influenced the people these spaces attracted and how they behaved there.




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Designing spaces with microclimates in mind

Another factor to consider is the influence of urban microclimates on the use and prosperity of public spaces.

The main activity of large urban social spaces is based upon the presence of people, social interaction and cultural exchange. The use and dynamics of these spaces are more predictable and consistent than for urban retreat spaces. Being close to transport or commercial uses often means weather conditions have less impact on social activity and interaction.

Shops along the street add to the local urbanity of Cashel Mall, Christchurch.
Silvia Tavares, Author provided

When looking for peaceful experiences and personal space, however, people tend to choose urban retreat spaces. Here they have less tolerance of adverse conditions. The place itself is the attraction, so the microclimate and personal comfort are more significant factors in its use.

Understanding, harnessing and managing microclimate, sunlight and ventilation is a clear and known approach to fighting disease and to establishing safe and resilient urban spaces. Offering people choice in the ways they interact with their urban environments, while long considered important, is now essential.




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Broad engagement is essential to get it right

Redesigning our urban spaces to reassure users of their safety and provide community choice is not a straightforward process. Designs for the different forms and locations of urban retreat spaces must acknowledge community diversity and optimise microclimate.

While right now we might just want to hold on to all the good things we had pre-coronavirus, the nuances generated by the work of urban planners and designers are likely to make our lives safer. However, our responses cannot simply be reactive interventions such as warning signs, fencing, wider pathways and the like. Such approaches ultimately have implications for equity and quality of life.

We have long had a reactive, piecemeal approach to urban design and development. The current disaster presents an opportunity to establish safe, resilient and healthy urban spaces. It requires meaningful engagement across communities, designers and decision-makers now, before collective amnesia about COVID-19 sets in and we go back to business as usual.The Conversation

Silvia Tavares, Lecturer and Researcher, Urban Design and Town Planning, University of the Sunshine Coast and Nicholas Stevens, Senior Lecturer and Researcher, Land Use Planning & Urban Design, University of the Sunshine Coast

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

We can’t let coronavirus kill our cities. Here’s how we can save urban life



Twitter/@br19800

Jonathan Daly, RMIT University; Kim Dovey, University of Melbourne, and Quentin Stevens, RMIT University

The COVID-19 pandemic restrictions have reminded us of the vital role public space plays in supporting our physical and mental well-being. We need to move, to feel sunlight and fresh air, and to see, talk and even sing to other people.

Lockdowns and “social distancing” have limited our participation in public life and public space. As a result, cities around the world are reporting declines in health and well-being. We are seeing increases in depression, domestic violence, relationship breakdowns and divorces.




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What about the well-being of our cities? Avoiding walking and public transport in favour of cars could kill cities.

The trajectory of the pandemic suggests physical distancing could remain in place for some time. The subtle “step and slide” that people ordinarily use to negotiate their way through crowded urban spaces has given way to the very blunt act of “stop and cross”, as people try to avoid one another on footpaths that are too narrow.

We need to act swiftly to retrofit our public spaces so they are both safe and support social activity. Our goal must be to avoid a long-term legacy where people fear cities and other people. This is where approaches known as temporary and tactical urbanism come in as a way to quickly reconfigure public spaces to create places that are both safe and social.

As COVID-19’s impacts on public life become more evident, so has the abundance of street space left vacant by the substantial drop in vehicle traffic. Recognising this opportunity, cities around the world have begun repurposing street spaces for people.

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Brunswick Street, Melbourne, as it is now and with proposed added space for walking and riding bikes (click on and drag the slider to compare images). Original image: David Hannah. Photoshopped image: Gianfranco Valverde/City of Melbourne. Author provided.

A global public space revolution?

Leading urban theorists, such as Jane Jacobs and Richard Sennett, have long argued that social interaction is the lifeblood of cities. The COVID-19 pandemic can be seen as an attack on urbanity itself.




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But social/physical distancing should not preclude social interaction. Major cities around the world are responding by reclaiming street spaces for people to safely walk and cycle. They are acting quickly, because the need to increase public space for people is more urgent than ever.

How can this be done? After all, urban design proposals usually take months or years to realise. Tactical urbanism approaches overcome this by drawing on a palette of low-cost, widely available and flexible materials, objects and structures to quickly create new forms of public space.

In London, Berlin, Bogota, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Vancouver, Mexico City and Milan, paint and traffic cones are being used to create bike lanes. In Dublin, parking spaces and loading bays are being reclaimed in the city centre to provide more space for pedestrians. At a national level, New Zealand has created a tactical urbanism fund for emergency bike lanes and footpath widening.

So what’s happening in Australia? Not much at present. Yet we face the same problems, prompting calls for urgent action to reclaim public space for walking and cycling.




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Despite this, there has been little examination of locally specific design and implementation approaches that can rapidly deliver the urban spaces people need right now.

Making it happen

Temporary and tactical urbanism isn’t new to Australia. We’ve been doing it since the 1980s when Melbourne’s Swanston Street was transformed into a green oasis overnight. This helped to reimagine the city centre as a place designed for people, which shaped its long-term social and economic regeneration.

The Greening of Swanston Street in 1985.
Victorian Ministry of Planning



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This, and other more recent projects, have proven temporary and tactical urbanism adds value beyond physical activity and social interaction. Successful schemes can increase the vitality of streets and neighbourhoods, engage local communities and enhance a local sense of place.

Social enterprises and community groups are well placed to deliver such projects, because of their enthusiasm, agility and local networks. Governments also have a crucial role in enabling other actors and maximising public benefits. Every weekday between midday and 2pm, the City of Melbourne temporarily closes Little Collins Street between Swanston and Elizabeth streets with a removable bollard, giving over the street to pedestrians – it’s that easy!

Little Collins Street already becomes a place for pedestrians at lunchtime.
City of Melbourne. Author provided., Author provided

Our cities’ urban spaces are full of such potential for greater flexibility, experimentation and innovation. For example, on-street parking can easily be converted into spaces for socialising and outdoor dining. A vacant space can become an outdoor cinema.

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Elizabeth Street, Melbourne, as it is now and with added space for walking and riding bikes. Original image: Google Street View. Photoshopped image: Audrey Lopez. Author provided.

Temporary or permanent?

The COVID-19 pandemic and its associated restrictions have created an epic social experiment on a global scale. We argue that urbanity itself is at stake. What will cities be without the social interactions that enable us to exchange ideas, opinions, values and knowledge?

Can we afford to go back to the cities designed for cars that we have spent decades reshaping for people? If we don’t act now, the social life of cities that sustains our economy, creativity and culture is at risk.

We need to counter the social impacts of COVID-19 by experimenting at the micro scale of public space. Temporary and tactical urbanism offers simple, low-cost and agile solutions. We should act quickly to make streets safe and sociable during this crisis. The long-term health of people and cities depends on it.The Conversation

Jonathan Daly, Researcher, School of Architecture and Urban Design, RMIT University; Kim Dovey, Professor of Architecture and Urban Design, University of Melbourne, and Quentin Stevens, Associate Professor, School of Architecture and Urban Design, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Playing with the ‘new normal’ of life under coronavirus




Larissa Hjorth, RMIT University and Sybille Lammes, Leiden University

The COVID-19 pandemic has recalibrated everything: work, life and play. As work, schooling, socialising and play have moved into the digital and the confines of our homes, cities have become spaces for reimagining — especially as new sites for formal and informal play.

Playgrounds — once filled with children, parents, grandparents and animals — now look like crime scenes, with police tape and all. They have become forbidden territories, temporal lieux de memoirs of how we used to play. And as play goes into the home and digital, we are reminded of the importance of non-digital play in how we socialise and innovate.




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As cities get reconfigured under pandemic restrictions, it is an important time to reflect not only on changing practices of work but also of play. What can be adapted and translated into the digital, and what can’t?

Play — as a form of creativity, sociality and innovation — is a crucial skill for future workforces. Play provides possibilities for reimagining the city. It draws out new and different connections between people, things, buildings and places. And playgrounds, rather than being spaces that set boundaries for play and non-play, remind us of the importance of play in the social fabric of healthy cities.

Play and the city

Cities have long been sites for play. Play scholars, urban theorists, designers and creative practitioners, to name a few, have discussed the important role of urban play and urban playgrounds. They show that play in cities has a complex and uneven history.

Movements such as the 1960s Situationist International and the New Games Movement in the early 1970s sought to turn the whole city into a playground for politics, environmentalism and sociality. These movements subverted traditional ideas of playgrounds as designated and separate areas.

Interestingly, we are now living in times that playgrounds have to become internalised in the home, if we have one. And while, for some, videogames have become a substitute for alternative sociality in a time of physical distancing, it does not replace the sensorial experience and learnings of non-digital play.

Playgrounds have long had an important role in representing cultural and social mores, reflecting the relational, political and psychological dimensions of the city. They expose how a society views childhood, control, leisure and space.

For example, in Denmark after the second world war, “junkyard” playgrounds were revolutionary sites for reclaiming urban spaces. Likewise, 1960s Situationist International’s practices such as dérive (drifting) transformed cities like Paris into multisensory playgrounds.




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Such interventionist ways of producing urban playgrounds resonate with urban practices today — such as parkour, which subverts “normal” ways of navigating the city.

Over past decades, artists and designers have explored the city’s “playability”, thus expanding our territories of play and heightening their unevenness. Famous collectives such as Blast Theory transform the city into a theatre of life in which videogames are played through physical streets. Initiatives such as Playable Cities in Bristol, Tokyo and Melbourne (to name a few) demonstrate how urban play can choreograph innovative ways of being in the city that emphasise the social, relational and sensory experiences of urban environments.




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Playing with domestic cartographies

Now our mobility has been limited to domestic postage-stamp size, play is even more salient. As artist Kera Hill’s map poignantly shows, how can we playfully reimagine our habitat?

Artist Kera Hill’s ‘Commuting in Corona Times’.
Kera Hill. Author provided.

What do our creative maps of our “sanity walks” (escaping Zoomlandia for walking on phone “feetings”) say about how cities might be reimagined by foot? How might a city be reimagined playfully via smell or as a playful space for listening and quiet? Or into a playground that celebrates multiculturalism?

Who (still) has the means to move playfully and turn fear and boredom into play? How can play transform mobility practices to celebrate walking rather than cars?




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COVID-19 highlights the unevenness of city geography further, but also shows how we can reimagine play when pushed to the extreme and can (re)connect in hopeful ways. There are lessons to be learnt here. As we go back to the “new normal”, let play help engender our reimagining of cities as future sites for care and social innovation.The Conversation

Larissa Hjorth, Professor of Mobile Media and Games. Director of the Design & Creative Practice Platform., RMIT University and Sybille Lammes, Professor of New Media and Digital Culture and Academic Director, Centre for the Arts in Society (LUCAS), Leiden University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coronavirus reminds us how liveable neighbourhoods matter for our well-being



Chanan Greenblatt/Unsplash

Melanie Davern, RMIT University; Billie Giles-Corti, RMIT University; Hannah Badland, RMIT University, and Lucy Gunn, RMIT University

We are witnessing changes in the ways we use our cities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The liveability of our local neighbourhoods has never been more important.

Right now, we are working together to flatten the curve by staying home to control the spread of COVID-19 and reduce demand on health services. This means spending a lot more time at home and in our local neighbourhoods. We are all finding out about the strengths and weaknesses in the liveability of our neighbourhoods.

This experience can teach us some lessons about how to live and plan our communities in the future. A liveable neighbourhood promotes good health and social cohesion, both now and after this pandemic passes.




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Heavy use of local open space

Anybody who has left their home in the past few weeks will have noticed more people are using local streets and public open spaces. Parks and other public spaces are more popular than ever. Some are becoming too crowded for comfort.

Accessible public space is a key ingredient of healthy and liveable places. Public green spaces provide multiple benefits for mental and physical health, urban cooling, biodiversity, air pollution and stormwater runoff as identified in a previous review for the Heart Foundation.

Access to local public open spaces has become even more important as the current need to stay home adds to the impacts of increased density in the form of smaller houses, lot sizes and apartment living. Yet not everyone has access to local parks.




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We looked at neighbourhood access to public open space using our liveability indicators included in the Australian Urban Observatory. Not all neighbourhoods have access to public open space within 400 metres. We see this in neighbourhoods just north of the beach in North Bondi, Sydney, as the liveability map below shows.

Residents of neighbourhoods north of Bondi Beach in Sydney lack good access to nearby public open space.
Australian Urban Observatory, Author provided

We found a similar pattern in neighbourhoods of St Kilda East in Melbourne. It’s a pattern repeated in many neighbourhoods across cities in Australia.

Private green spaces and backyards are also being appreciated more than ever. Many people are rushing to plant fruits and vegetables at home.

The private green spaces and biodiversity found in backyards are important influences on subjective well-being. Connecting with nature in the garden is a great way to support mental health.




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Dogs are also enjoying more time with their owners in local green spaces and pet ownership is increasing. Office video conferences often feature furry friends at home. Let’s hope the increase in pet adoptions helps people cope with social distancing but also provides the animals with good long-term homes.

Fewer cars, more cycling and walking

Reduced car traffic is making local streets safer and more usable for residents.
Tony Bowler/Shutterstock

One of the noticeable differences in our cities right now is the reduced car traffic in typically busy neighbourhoods where more people (including children) are out on bicycles and walking. Walkable environments with paths and cycleways are providing supportive and safe spaces for both recreational physical activity and for getting to places such as local shops and supermarkets and offices without unnecessary exposure to other people.

The benefits are greatest for people living in high-amenity walkable areas with access to such places within 800 metres. Having services and facilities close by has been shown to support walking for transport to shops and services, promote health and reduce non-communicable diseases such as heart attacks and strokes.

However, our new lives during this pandemic also highlight inequities in local access to health, community and social services. Research shows access to these services is poorer in the low-density outer suburbs that are common across Australian cities.




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Better air quality

Reduced car traffic and industrial emissions are undoubtedly improving air quality in our cities. In 2018, the World Health Organisation declared air quality was the “new smoking” as it increases respiratory problems and cardiovascular disease. The transport sector also contributes about 25% of global carbon dioxide emissions .

Homes, schools and care facilities located within 300 metres of major roads are more exposed to air pollution and risk of disease. Those risks are likely to have decreased during the COVID-19 crisis.

At the moment, many of us are living and shopping locally and enjoying the co-benefits of the “slow walkable city”: less traffic, more active modes of transport, better air quality and less noise.




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Valuing social cohesion

Loneliness is a serious public health problem. It causes premature deaths on a scale similar to that of smoking or obesity.

Pre-pandemic lifestyles involved time-poor people travelling widely to destinations for employment, education, recreation, socialising and extracurricular activities. The suburbs were places of much social isolation.

With these activities now reined in, are we are seeing a rise in neighbourhood social connections due to people staying at home? Anecdotally, yes. It’s emerging through new or reinvigorated conversations with neighbours, support and sharing of goods (toilet paper anyone?), and coordinated neighbourhood support systems, such as WhatsApp groups and neighbourhood happy hours. Across the world, we can see this sense of neighbourhood belonging in the form of bear hunts and rainbow chalk drawings.

It is well documented that feeling part of the community is good for your mental health. Local support networks become even more important and valued during crises such as COVID-19.

These are just some of the more obvious reflections about the liveability of our neighbourhoods as we stay home to help contain the spread of COVID-19. No doubt there will be many more lessons to come that we need to remember and act on after the pandemic passes.The Conversation

Melanie Davern, Senior Research Fellow, Director Australian Urban Observatory, Co-Director Healthy Liveable Cities Group, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University; Billie Giles-Corti, Director, Urban Futures Enabling Capability Platform and Director, Healthy Liveable Cities Group, RMIT University; Hannah Badland, Principal Research Fellow, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University, and Lucy Gunn, Research Fellow, Healthy Liveable Cities Group, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Personalities that thrive in isolation and what we can all learn from time alone



Anthony Tran/Unsplash, CC BY-SA

Luke Smillie, University of Melbourne and Nick Haslam, University of Melbourne

The coronavirus pandemic has caused tens of thousands of deaths around the world and pushed major economies into a tailspin. Beyond those impacts, almost all of us will face psychological challenges – trying to maintain a responsible social distancing regimen without sliding into psychological isolation and loneliness.

At least we’re all in the same boat, and misery loves company, right?

Actually, we’re not all in the same boat. Generalisations about how the COVID-19 lockdown will affect us overlook the fact people have different personalities. We’re all going to respond in different ways to our changing situation.

Extraverts and introverts

Take Bob, for example. After two days working from home Bob couldn’t wait to try a social drinking session over Zoom. But drinking a beer in front of his laptop just wasn’t the same. He’s wondering how he’ll cope in the coming weeks and months, cooped up inside and away from his friends.

He wonders this on a call to his sister, Jan: “I might not get coronavirus but I’m going to get cabin fever!”

Jan doesn’t understand Bob’s agitation or why he’s so worried about staying at home. If Jan is feeling bad about anything, it is the guilt of realising she might actually be enjoying the apocalypse – quiet evenings to herself, far from the madding crowd. Bliss!

Jan and Bob are archetypes of people we all know well. Bob represents the classic extravert. He’s talkative, gregarious and highly social. Jan is an introvert. She enjoys solitude and finds rowdy Bob a bit too much.

Different people, different responses

Differences in extraversion-introversion emerge in early life and are relatively stable over the lifespan. They influence which environments we seek out and how we respond to those environments.

In a recent study, extraverts and introverts were asked to spend a week engaging in higher levels of extravert-typical behaviour (being talkative, sociable, etc). Extraverts reaped several benefits including enhanced mood and feelings of authenticity. Conversely, introverts experienced no benefits, and reported feeling tired and irritable.

The social distancing rules to which we’re all trying to adhere are like a mirror image of this intervention. Now it’s the extraverts who are acting out of character, and who will likely experience decreased well-being in the coming weeks and months. Introverts, on the other hand, have been training for this moment their whole lives.

Why might introverts find isolation easier to deal with than extraverts? Most obviously, they tend to be less motivated to seek out social engagement. Introverts also tend to feel less need to experience pleasure and excitement. This may make them less prone to the boredom that will afflict many of us as social distancing drags on.

Looking deeper

Other aspects of our personalities may also shape our coping during isolation. Consider the remaining four traits in the Big Five personality model:

People high in conscientiousness, who are more organised, less distractable and also more adaptable, will find it easier to set up and stick to a structured daily schedule, as many experts recommend.

People high in agreeableness, who tend to be polite, compassionate and cooperative, will be better equipped to negotiate life in the pockets of family members or housemates.

People high in openness to experience, who tend to be curious and imaginative, will likely become absorbed in books, music and creative solutions to the humdrum of lockdown.

In contrast, people high in neuroticism, who are more susceptible to stress and negative emotions than their more stable peers, will be most at risk for anxiety and depression during these challenging times.

Of course, these are all generalisations. Introverts are not immune to loneliness, and those with more vulnerable personalities can thrive with the right resources and social support.

Life in a capsule

For some, living under lockdown might feel like working on a space station or Antarctic research facility. What lessons can we draw from personality research in these extreme environments?

That research shows people who are emotionally stable, self-reliant and autonomous, goal-oriented, friendly, patient and open tend to cope better in conditions of extreme isolation. In particular, it has been observed that “‘sociable [read agreeable] introverts’ – who enjoy, but do not need, social interaction – seem optimally suited for capsule living”.

To manage as best we can in our earthbound and non-polar “capsules”, we might aspire to some of the qualities noted above: to be calm and organised, determined but patient, self-reliant but connected.

For some people, lockdown may provide time for creative pursuits.
Jonathan Borba/Unsplash

Lonelineness versus time alone

The coronavirus pandemic has arrived on the heels of what some describe as a “loneliness epidemic”, but these headlines may be overblown. Again, part of what is missing in such descriptions is the fact that clouds for some are silver linings for others.

A counterpoint to the so-called loneliness epidemic is the study of “aloneliness”, the negative emotions many experience as a result of insufficient time spent alone. As Anthony Storr wrote in Solitude: A return to the self, “solitude can be as therapeutic as emotional support”, and the capacity to be alone is as much a form of emotional maturity as the capacity to form close attachments.

Of course, some people in lockdown are facing formidable challenges that have nothing to do with their personality. Many have lost their jobs and face economic hardship. Some are completely isolated whereas others share their homes with loved ones. Even so, our response to these challenges reflects not only our predicament, but also ourselves.The Conversation

Luke Smillie, Associate Professor, University of Melbourne and Nick Haslam, Professor of Psychology, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

New ways of ‘being together apart’ can work for us and the planet long after coronavirus crisis passes



Oxfam/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

Andrew Glover, RMIT University and Tania Lewis, RMIT University

Most major corporate, academic and other networking events have been cancelled because of the risks of spreading the coronavirus while travelling or at the events themselves. This flurry of cancellations has even spawned a literally titled website: https://www.isitcanceledyet.com/. But the changes in behaviour now being forced upon us might benefit the planet in the long term as we find and get used to other ways of holding meetings.

The COVID-19 pandemic is driving the development of these alternatives to physical travel and meetings much more strongly than climate change had to date. With many countries closing their borders, limiting domestic travel and imposing restrictions on large gatherings, few conferences are likely to proceed in the coming months of 2020.




Read more:
How changes brought on by coronavirus could help tackle climate change


Old conference model is unsustainable

Traditional face-to-face conferences tend to be rather unsustainable affairs. Participants often fly from around the world to attend – usually accompanied by some carbon-intensive conference tourism along the way. For people who take just one long-haul flight per year, air travel is likely to be the single largest contributor to their carbon footprint.

If you make a long-haul flight to attend a meeting once a year that’s enough to greatly increase your carbon footprint.
Rommel Canlas/Shutterstock

The dramatic decline in conferences and other meetings is likely to contribute to a significant drop in carbon emissions from air travel in 2020.

Conferences and meetings have come to be regarded as important parts of professional life. They allow us to connect with people and ideas in our field, and can be opportunities to advance new knowledge.

But with so many of us effectively “grounded”, what are the alternatives to attending traditional conferences and meetings?

Digital conferencing on the rise

The use of digital conferencing platforms has skyrocketed in the past few weeks as more and more people work from home and travel is restricted.

Leading US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden even held a “virtual town hall” meeting recently as part of his campaign, although many users reported technical glitches and low-quality video plagued the experience.

Conferences are even taking place in virtual reality settings. These dedicated online conferencing environments are designed to mimic the venues conferences are often held in. These online events have large auditoriums, smaller “breakout rooms” and even socialising spaces to meet other participants through the use of digital avatars.

However, online conferencing need not be held in immersive 3D environments to be successful.

Exploring alternative formats

Most traditional conferences tend to be quite similar in format. They’re usually in a fixed location and run for two to five days. Presenters speak in front of live audiences on a fixed schedule.

Some digital conferences try to mimic this format, but others are trying to use the technology to open up the possibility for new types of event formats.

The “nearly carbon-neutral” conference model was initially developed to reduce the emissions associated with flying to conferences. Presentations are broadcast online over about two weeks. Participants can interact with presentations via accompanying text channels. The lectures and text messages are preserved online, creating an accessible archive.

Some events are being broadcast on the website Twitch. It’s a popular streaming platform where online gamers broadcast to – and interact with – surprisingly large audiences. This shows how conference organisers planning online events may need to look to communities who have been connecting and interacting “at a distance” long before any travel bans came into force.

The gaming community has led the way in developing mass meetings online.
Facebook

Do we even need video?

It’s common for conferences and other events to have Twitter “backchannels” where participants post short messages about their experiences of attending the event to a dedicated hashtag. People who are unable to attend can view these messages to get a sense of “being there”.

The “Twitter conference” has taken this a step further. The digital event just involves participants posting on a dedicated hashtag at a set point in time.

Events like this show conferences can be stripped down to what they are ultimately about: connecting with people and ideas that we’re interested in.

One size won’t fit all

It’s unlikely any one event format will suit every purpose. Organisers will need to be creative in how they schedule and plan events. They’ll have to consider what they want to accomplish and what types of participation they want to have.

Digital conferencing may even give less mobile groups – people with disabilities or caring responsibilities or who are averse to flying – an opportunity to attend events they might have been unable to take part in before.

Ultimately, the restrictions on air travel and social gatherings will force us to adapt to new ways of “being together apart”, both professionally and personally. We may not be able to share a conference space with our peers and collaborators, but we can still connect with them. We might even learn more about what type of travel is really necessary, with the invaluable benefit of reducing the pace of climate change.The Conversation

Andrew Glover, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, RMIT University and Tania Lewis, Co-Director of the Digital Ethnography Research Centre and Professor of Media and Communication, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Small funerals, online memorials and grieving from afar: the coronavirus is changing how we care for the dead


Tamara Kohn, University of Melbourne and Hannah Gould, University of Melbourne

The coronavirus is not only affecting the way we live, it’s also dramatically affecting the way we die.

In Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that funerals would be limited to a maximum of ten people to limit the spread of COVID-19. However, the states may have some leeway in permitting an extra one or two.

Funeral directors say they are concerned about the availability of crucial health supplies such as masks, hand sanitiser and body bags.

In Italy, people with COVID-19 reportedly “face death alone”, with palliative care services stretched to the limit, morgues inundated, funeral services suspended, and many dead unburied and uncremated.

In Iran, satellite photography shows trenches being excavated for mass burials.




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As Australia’s coronavirus response moves into a critical period, these examples remind us that how we care for the dead must be part of our pandemic plan.

It is extremely difficult to estimate the total number of people who will die in Australia from COVID-19. Predictions range from 3,000 to 400,000.

Our morgues, crematoria, cemeteries and funeral homes will certainly be stretched to capacity.

Family and loved ones may be facing a very different funeral to the one they envisaged.

And while funeral directors and others in the deathcare industry are changing the way they care for the dead, there are clearly challenges ahead.

Can I kiss my loved one goodbye?

Traditions that include kissing, hugging, and dressing the dead have often been abandoned or significantly modified during pandemics.

For instance, during the Ebola outbreak of 2013-16, governments were forced to separate the dying and dead from their communities, enforce new non-contact methods of burial, and in so doing, transform how people mourned.

In Australia, the latest federal guidelines (updated March 25) advise families not to kiss the deceased. However, they can touch the body if they wash their hands immediately afterwards or use alcohol-based hand sanitiser. In most cases, family members do not need to use gloves.

How are funerals changing?

Travel bans and mandatory self-isolation periods can delay some funerals.
And funerals that pull people from distant places into intimate proximity, often including vulnerable people, present a clear health risk.

For instance, in Spain, more than 60 cases of COVID-19 were traced back to one funeral service.

While Australia has limited the size of funerals, other countries have temporarily banned people from attending them altogether.




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Deb Ganderton, chief executive of Melbourne’s Greater Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust, told us:

Everyone has the right to expect a funeral and burial service that respects their individual beliefs. For the families, friends and loved ones of the deceased, an end of life service can also be an important part of the grieving process and help them cope with their loss.

So we need to be creative to find ways to both protect that right and protect public health.

More funerals and memorials going online

In many countries, including the US, UK and Australia, as funeral services are being scaled back or suspended to limit spread of the coronavirus, online services are flourishing.

Our DeathTech Research Team has been following this move to streamed funeral and memorial services. We’ve also been following interest in using hired robots, which people control from afar, to allow people to attend a funeral who can’t be there in person. We predict more innovative use of technology in coming months.

We may also see more people using digital technology such as social media sites for sharing personal memories of the dead and expressing emotions, particularly if they can’t attend funerals in person.

What’s happening behind the scenes?

The coronavirus is also challenging the deathcare industry – which includes funeral homes, cemeteries, morgues and crematoria – for a number of reasons.

International guidelines for funeral directors say that after death, the human body does not generally create a serious health hazard for COVID-19. NSW guidelines say funeral directors and people working in mortuaries are unlikely to contract COVID-19 from deceased people infected with the virus.

However, both sets of guidelines do set out detailed infection control procedures.

Adrian Barrett, senior vice-president of the Australian Funeral Directors Association, told us:

There’s a lot of inconsistency in advice about death and funerals between different states and federal government […] Recommendations around coronavirus can be in conflict. We’d rather have and follow conservative guidelines, to make sure we are doing as much as possible.

Then, there’s the issue of staffing. Although many other sectors can find ways to isolate or temporarily close, cemetery, funeral, and crematoria workers provide an essential service and cannot work from home.

We rarely think about the welfare of those who handle the dead. These workers are too often stereotyped as profiteering in the face of grief, or stigmatised by the taboos surrounding their work. But there is a deep sense of service and care that pervades this professional community.




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For this community, safe working conditions means ensuring the supply of personal protective equipment. However, Adrian of the Australian Funeral Directors Association told us funeral homes across Australia are struggling to source items such as masks and have run into problems with suppliers profiteering by raising prices.

Finally, we need to advertise broadly a public duty of care for those in the deathcare sector. These are the people who safely dispose of bodies and care for people dealing with the loss of loved ones.

Coronavirus has, in such a short time, radically transformed how we live our daily lives as well as urgently reminded us about the fragility of life.The Conversation

Tamara Kohn, Professor of Anthropology, University of Melbourne and Hannah Gould, ARC Research Fellow, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

In the age of coronavirus, only tiny weddings are allowed and the extended family BBQ is out


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Only five people will be able to attend a wedding – the couple, the celebrant and two witnesses – and funerals will be limited to 10 in the latest round of life-changing restrictions to be imposed on Australians to fight the coronavirus’s spread.

Real estate auctions and “open house” inspections will be stopped, and Australians will now be prohibited from leaving the country – with some carve outs such as compasssionate grounds – rather than just strongly advised not to do so.

Scott Morrison, announcing the new crackdowns, also told people to stay home, except when it was absolutely necessary to go out. But they shouldn’t have the extended family around the dinner table or over to a barbecue.




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However parents are still being told it is safe for children to go to school, and on Wednesday Morrison will meet teachers’ union representatives to discuss arrangements to protect staff, especially older teachers more vulnerable to the virus. Schools would need to reopen on the other side of the holidays, he said.

Addressing a news conference after Tuesday night’s federal-state national cabinet, Morrison said the widened list of bans would include food courts in shopping centres, except for takeaways. Outdoor and indoor markets – excluding food markets essential to ensure the food supply across the country – will be dealt with by each state and territory.

A range of personal services, including beauty therapy, tanning, waxing, nail salons and tattoo parlors, will be shut down, as well as spas and massage parlours. This does not extend to physiotherapists and similar allied health services.

Hairdressers and barbers have escaped closure, but with a social distancing limit to the number of people on their premises, and the stipulation a patron can only be there for 30 minutes.

The banned list also includes amusement parks and arcades, play centres (both indoor and outdoor), community and recreation centres, libraries, health clubs, fitness centres, yoga, barre and spin facilities, saunas, and wellness centres. Social sporting events and swimming pools are on the list, as are galleries, libraries and youth centres.

Boot camps may be held outside with no more than 10 people.

Morrison said people should “stay at home unless it is absolutely necessary you go out.

“Going out for the basics, going out for exercise, perhaps with your partner or family members, provided it’s a small group – that’s fine.” As was going out to work, where it was not possible to work from home – but not “participating more broadly in the community”.

Visits to your house “should be kept to a minimum and with very small numbers of guests.

“So that means barbecues of lots of friends, or even family, extended family, coming together to celebrate one-year-old birthday parties and all these sorts of things, we can’t do those things now.

“These will be significant sacrifices, I know.

“Gathering together in that way. even around the large family table in the family home when all the siblings get together and bring the kids, these are not things we can do now. All of these things present risks”.

He said states and territories were considering whether they would make it an offence to organise house parties.




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“Outdoors, do not congregate together in groups.

“If you’re gathering together in a group, say, 10 people, together outside in a group, that’s not OK. We’ve got to move people on.”

Morrison said that “hopefully” a full shutdown of the retail sector would not be necessary,

“I do note in a lot of the commentary … there seems to be a great wish to go to that point. Well, be careful what you wish for on something like that. … Because that would need to be sustained for a very long time. And that could have a very significant and even more onerous impact on life in Australia.

“We should seek to try to avoid that where it is possible. But if it is necessary for health reasons, ultimately, those decisions will be taken at the time”.

Asked why an outside boot camp of ten people was allowed, Morrison said “that is a business, that is someone’s livelihood and you’re saying that I should turn their livelihood off. I’m not going to do that lightly. And if it is not believed to be necessary based on the medical expert advice.

“I am not going to be cavalier about people’s jobs and their businesses. Where possible the national cabinet together is going to try and keep Australia functioning in a way that continues to support jobs and activity in our economy which is not going to compromise the health advice that we’re receiving.

“And so no, I don’t think we should rush to that sort of [shutdown] scenario. I think you could rush to failure in that sort of scenario.

“You could rush to causing great and unnecessary harm because understand this, this country is not dealing with one crisis, we’re dealing with two crises. We are dealing with a health crisis that has caused an economic crisis.

“I am very concerned about the economic crisis that could also take a great toll on people’s lives, not just their livelihoods. The stresses that that will put on families. The things that can happen when families are under stress.

“I am as concerned about those outcomes as I am about the health outcomes of managing the outbreak of the coronavirus and it is a delicate task for the national cabinet to balance those two.

“Lives are at risk in both cases. And so the national cabinet won’t just rush on the sense of an opinion of inevitability. We will calmly consider the medical advice that is put to us and weigh those things up and make sensible decisions as leaders. I will not be cavalier about it and neither will other premiers and chief ministers.”

He apologised for the systems failure that prevented people accessing Centrelink, prompting huge queues with many people who had lost jobs visibly upset.

“We are deeply sorry”, he said. “We have gone from 6,000 [online traffic] to 50,000 to 150,000,” all in the matter of a day.

He appealed to people “even in these most difficult of circumstances, to be patient. Everyone is doing their best. What we are dealing with is unprecedented. No system is built to deal with the circumstance and events we are now facing as a nation.”.




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The Chief Medical Officer, Brendan Murphy, said the steep growth in the number of cases – the tally is now passed 2000 – was “very concerning”.

Nine reported advice from a group of experts from the Group of Eight universities commissioned by the federal government.

The panel recommended “Australia without delay implements national stronger social distancing measures, more extensive banning of mass gatherings, school closure or class dismissal”.

The group, in advice presented on March 22, also urged “much-enhanced” testing without delay.

It said: “Countries with significant COVID-19 infections have eventually been forced into strong public health measures in a reactive manner. It became unavoidable from a public health perspective.

“The only difference is at what point these measures are implemented, whether proactive or reactive, and how large the resulting epidemic will be.”

“Proactive measures will result in a smaller epidemic and less stress on the health system. Reactive measures (such as in Italy) may result in a greater burden of morbidity and mortality and delay in reaching the point of recovery.‘

The “dominant” position in the group was for “a comprehensive, simultaneous ban across Australia”, but the other view among its participants was for a “more proportionate response”.

With the government going down the latter path, Morrison and Murphy were noticeably uncomfortable when questioned about the advice.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott, who as health minister in 2004 drove preparations for a possible bird flu pandemic, called for a total shutdown.

“We need to have a very, very complete shutdown now to do everything we humanly can to prevent the spread of the disease,” he told 2GB.

“You can only put the economy into a coma for so long, it can’t be indefinite,” he said.

“But the more complete it is now the more likely it is to be short-lived.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.