Cars rule as coronavirus shakes up travel trends in our cities



Taras Vyshnya/Shutterstock

Neil G Sipe, The University of Queensland

As with other parts of the global economy, COVID-19 has led to rapid changes in transport trends. The chart below shows overall trends for driving, walking and public transport for Australia as of July 17.

Australia-wide mobility trends for the six months from January to July 2020.
Apple Mobility Trends

Unfortunately, the current lockdown of metropolitan Melbourne, which is at odds with trends in Australia’s other biggest cities, is skewing the national average. These data, provided by Apple Mobility Trends, are available for many cities, regions and countries around the world.

Updated daily, the data provide a measure of trends in transport use since early January 2020. The chart below summarises the changes since then in driving, walking and public transport for Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.


Data: Apple Mobility Trends

With the exception of Melbourne, driving has recovered and is now noticeably above pre-pandemic levels.




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Public transport use is still well below baseline levels. It is recovering – again except for Melbourne – but slowly. The exception is Adelaide where public transport is only slightly below the baseline.

Walking is doing better than public transport. Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth are slightly above the baseline, while Sydney is slightly below it. Melbourne is still down by about a half.

How badly did lockdowns affect travel?

The chart below shows the largest declines in driving, walking and public transport were recorded in the period April 4-11. Most of the lowest values coincided with Easter holidays. However, regardless of the holiday, this was the period when levels of transport use were lowest.

The declines are fairly consistent across the cities. For driving, the declines were around 70%. For walking, the declines ranged from 65% to 80%. Public transport recorded declines of 80-89%.


Data: Apple Mobility Trends

The recovery in driving is due, in part, to it being seen as having a lower risk of COVID-19 infection. People see public transport as the least safe because of the difficulties of social distancing on potentially crowded commutes.

A study in early March by an MIT economist amplified these fears by associating public transport in New York City with higher rates of COVID-19 infection. Unfortunately, the research had some significant flaws. Health experts have since indicated there is little evidence public transport has been the source of any COIVD-19 infections.




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Neverthess, public transport agencies are in serious financial trouble. In the US, experts are warning that, without large federal subsidies, public transport services are facing drastic cuts, which will impact where people live and work. Such shifts pose a threat to the economic viability of cities.

What is known about other transport modes? While comprehensive datasets are not available, evidence is emerging of the impacts on ride, bike and scooter sharing.

Ride sharing

As with all other transport modes, the pandemic has had big impacts on ride sharing. However some ride-sharing companies, like Uber, have diversified in recent years into areas such as food and freight delivery. These have provided much-needed revenue during the ride-sharing downturn.

Market analysts are predicting ride sharing will recover and continue to grow. This is due to need for personal mobility combined with increasing urbanisation and falling car ownership.




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Bike sharing

Globally, transport officials are predicting a long-term surge in bicycle use. Cycling appears to be booming at the expense of public transport.

Beijing’s three largest bike share schemes reported a 150% increase in use in May. In New York City, volumes grew by 67%. Bike sales in the US almost doubled in March.

In response, many cities are providing more cycling infrastructure, with cities like Berlin and Bogota leading the way with “pop-up” bike lanes. New Zealand has become the first country to fund so-called “tactical urbanism”.




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Melbourne has announced 12km of pop-up bike lanes and is fast-tracking an extra 40km of bike lanes over the next two years. Sydney has added 10km of pop-up cycleways. Use of some Brisbane bikeways has nearly doubled, leading to criticism of delays in providing pop-up lanes.

London intends to rapidly expand both cycling and walking infrastructure in anticipation of a ten-fold increase in bicycle use and a five-fold increase in pedestrians. This complements a £250 million (A$448 million) UK government program to reallocate more space for cyclists.

Paris plans to add 50km of pop-up and permanent bikeways in coming months. It’s also offering a €500 (A$818) subsidy to buy an electric bike and €50 to repair an existing bike.

Milan will add 35km of bikeways as part of its Strade Aperte Plan. The Italian government is providing a 70% subsidy capped at €500 for people to buy a new bicycle.

We will have to wait to see whether all this interest translates into longer-term mode change.

E-scooters

E-scooter use has declined, as has the value of e-scooter companies. Lime, one of the larger companies, was valued at US$2.4 billion (A$3.4 billion) last year but is down to US$510 million. Nevertheless, investor interest continues. Uber, Alphabet, GV and Bain and others put $US170 into Lime in May.

In Europe, ride-sharing company Bolt plans to expand its e-scooter and e-bike services to 45 cities in Europe and Africa this year. Another positive sign for this mode is that the UK, where e-scooters have not been street legal, has begun trials of rental e-scooters.




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It is still too early to predict the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on transport. What the data show is that driving has recovered and is even exceeding pre-pandemic levels. Current trends suggest active mobility – cycling, scooters and walking – may gain mode share. Whether public transport can recover is questionable, unless a vaccine becomes available.The Conversation

Neil G Sipe, Honorary Professor of Planning, The University of Queensland

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

Don’t abandon plans for high-speed rail in Australia – just look at all the benefits



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Marcus Luigi Spiller, University of Melbourne

The Grattan Institute’s call to “abandon” plans for any high-speed rail network in Australia fails to look at the wider benefits such a project can bring by way of more productive economies and more sustainable towns and cities.

The study authors argue the development of any bullet train network linking Brisbane to Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra is “unsuitable for Australia”.




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But what their argument neglects is that a project like high-speed rail has a unique capacity to reshape cities and population settlement patterns in positive ways.

A question of cost

The institute’s study says the idea of high-speed rail is an unwanted distraction in policy-making for the nation’s transport future. Its case relies on a review of the high-speed rail experience in Europe, Japan and China.

All of these nations, it says, have vastly different distributions of towns and major cities to that in Australia, which has extremely long distances between a few large cities.

The study also critiques a 2013 Commonwealth analysis that found a A$130 billion high-speed rail project linking Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne would generate a benefit-cost ratio of 2.3 to 1.
So every A$1 invested in a high-speed rail network would generate A$2.30 in benefits such as travel time savings, avoided vehicle operating costs and reduced road congestion.

But the Grattan study authors say that figure is based on a “cherry-picked” discount rate of 4%. This is economics jargon for the minimum return that the community would expect from the investment of its collective resources in any project.

The Grattan study also says the 2013 cost-benefit analysis did not allow for cost over-runs. Nor did it consider the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the enormous quantities of concrete and steel needed to build the infrastructure.




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So why are some people, including the federal Labor Party, still so enamoured with the idea of high-speed rail when others would have it binned?

Some projects reshape cities

Not all transport infrastructure projects are equal when it comes to cost-benefit analysis. Some investments have a transformative effect on population settlement patterns – they shape cities and regions.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Melbourne Underground Rail Loop are classic examples of city-shaping projects. Each altered travel times between different parts of the metropolis, which then shifted the location preferences of households and businesses. This led to a substantially different city structure compared to what might otherwise have developed.

Other projects, the vast majority of government transport outlays, merely follow or service the pattern of settlement established by the city-shaping investments. These “follower” projects include the local arterial roads and tramways that circulate people and goods within cities.

The Commonwealth’s official guidelines for major project evaluation recognise this distinction.

New ways of living, learning, working and playing become possible with city-shaping projects. By comparison, the procession of follower projects simply perpetuates settlement patterns and economic structures.

This is the claim and appeal of high-speed rail. Advocates argue such an investment would divert a significant proportion of urban growth from the far-flung suburbs of metropolitan areas to new regional locations. That’s because these regions will then have similar travel times into core city labour markets.

In these regional locations, households would enjoy greater housing choice and affordability, more walkability and better access to open space. They could even have better access to a range of community facilities than their metro suburban counterparts.




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Advocates also argue businesses in the big cities and intervening regional areas will be able to connect with each other at lower cost and source the skills they need more efficiently. This would boost productivity.

Consider all the benefits

The 2013 analysis took into account issues such as congestion, emissions (from travel) and transport accidents. But it did not attempt to quantify and monetise the effects of high-speed rail shaping cities and regions.

Arguably, the most important set of benefits from this investment were left out of the economic evaluation, simply because they are difficult to measure.

Modelling how the supply chains of businesses might change under the influence of city-shaping projects, or how the housing preferences of people might shift, is undoubtedly challenging. But being difficult to measure makes these impacts no less real.

Despite this limitation on the scope of benefits, the 2013 study said the high-speed rail project would return a benefit-cost ratio of 1.1 at a 7% discount rate, which the Grattan study says is the usual test applied to transport projects.




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Grattan says the project barely scrapes in at this higher discount rate and implies many other projects would offer ratios greater than 1:1 and should be preferred. These would typically be smaller, follower projects that address local congestion problems.

But a project achieving a 1.1 benefit-cost ratio means Australia would still be better off undertaking the project compared to a business-as-usual case.

If the transformative effects of high-speed rail include more compact and walkable cities with less car dependency and greater productivity, then such a network has good reason to keep its grip on the Australian imagination.The Conversation

Marcus Luigi Spiller, Associate Professor of Urban Planning (honorary), University of Melbourne

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

COVID-19 provides a rare chance for Australia to set itself apart from other regional powers. It can create a Pacific ‘bubble’



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Peter Draper, University of Adelaide and Jim Redden, University of Adelaide

For a short time Australia has an unrivalled opportunity to set itself apart from donors to the Pacific including China, Japan and the European Union.

As Victoria’s current COVID-19 spike shows, it will take Australia some time to open its borders to the world and allow residents to travel wherever they like.

But there’s no reason why it shouldn’t open its borders to some parts of the world sooner than others, especially those in which it has a special interest and in which the spread of coronavirus is slowing.

Australia and New Zealand have been talking about setting up a trans-Tasman “travel bubble” for some time.

It would allow quarantine-free travel between two geographically-isolated island nations that face little risk of outside infection.

Fiji has already expressed interest in joining, extending the bubble.




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Throughout the South Pacific, youth unemployment averages over 23%. Tourism accounts for as much as half of gross domestic product and up to one in four jobs.

A bubble that extended beyond tourism to trade, education, and guest workers could help the Pacific (and holidaying Australians) in a way that the generous loans available from powers such as China could not.

Much of the architecture for a trade and tourism bubble is already in place.

The trade and investment agreement known as the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) Plus concluded in Brisbane on 20 April 2017.

Good for Australia, good for the region

The agreement encompasses Australia, New Zealand and nine Pacific island countries: the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. It has been ratified by five of the members and will come into force when it is ratified by eight.

For the Pacific Islands, a “bubble” would provide a major boost to economic development and recovery from the crisis.

It could help relieve the social pressures that come from growing youth populations and attendant unemployment and minimise the danger of future political crises and associated need for Australian interventions and financial support.

The long-term importance of continued access to quality education, vocational and tertiary, for Pacific Islander youth is essential. Hard-pressed Australian Universities and vocational education suppliers would benefit too.

For Australia (and New Zealand) it could provide relief from isolation via travel to attractive destinations. Perhaps more importantly, it could help fill gaps in Australia’s skill set by supplying tradespeople and agricultural workers to meet genuine shortages.

It would also help maintain Australia’s business and investment interests in the Pacific. PACER Plus implementation would reinforce these gains. It will facilitate more investment and trade opportunities, in goods and services.




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Unfortunately, Fiji and Papua New Guinea have not yet signed PACER Plus, for various reasons.

It is unfortunate because trade and investment flows are their best long-term route to advancement. There are strong economic complementarities between Australia and Pacific nations, especially for Papua New Guinea.

A bubble, implemented when the health situation allows, would be supported by many Pacific islands nations and most likely their regional coordinating body, the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat.

Together with PACER Plus implementation, it would benefit Australia and benefit the region in a way that aid and infrastructure support from big powers can not.




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Sun, sand and uncertainty: the promise and peril of a Pacific tourism bubble


The Conversation


Peter Draper, Executive Director: Institute for International Trade, University of Adelaide and Jim Redden, Senior Lecturer & Visiting Fellow, Institute for International Trade, University of Adelaide

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

Sun, sand and uncertainty: the promise and peril of a Pacific tourism bubble



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Regina Scheyvens, Massey University and Apisalome Movono, Massey University

Pacific nations have largely avoided the worst health effects of COVID-19, but its economic impact has been devastating. With the tourism tap turned off, unemployment has soared while GDP has plummeted.

In recent weeks, Fiji Airways laid off 775 employees and souvenir business Jack’s of Fiji laid off 500. In Vanuatu 70% of tourism workers have lost their jobs. Cook Islands is estimated to have experienced a 60% drop in GDP in the past three months.

In response, many are calling for the Pacific to be included in the proposed trans-Tasman travel corridor. Such calls have come from tourism operators, politicians and at least one health expert.

Quarantine concerns aside, there is economic logic to this. Australians and New Zealanders make up more than 50% of travellers to the region. Some countries are massively dependent: two-thirds of visitors to Fiji and three-quarters of visitors to Cook Islands are Aussies and Kiwis.




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Cook Islands has budgeted NZ$140 million for economic recovery, but this will increase the tiny nation’s debt. Prime Minister Henry Puna has argued for a limited tourism bubble as soon as New Zealand relaxes its COVID-19 restrictions to alert level 1. Cook Islands News editor Jonathan Milne estimates 75-80% of the population is “desperate to get the tourists back”.

A Pacific bubble would undoubtedly help economic recovery. But this merely highlights how vulnerable these island economies have become. Tourism accounts for between 10% and 70% of GDP and up to one in four jobs across the South Pacific.

The pressure to reopen borders is understandable. But we argue that a tourism bubble cannot be looked at in isolation. It should be part of a broader strategy to diversify economies and enhance linkages (e.g. between agriculture and tourism, to put more local food on restaurant menus), especially in those countries that are most perilously dependent on tourism.

Over-dependence on tourism is a trap

Pacific nations such as Vanuatu and Fiji have recovered quickly from past crises such as the GFC, cyclones and coups because of the continuity of tourism. COVID-19 has turned that upside down.

People are coping in the short term by reviving subsistence farming, fishing and bartering for goods and services. Many are still suffering, however, due to limited state welfare systems.

In Fiji’s case, the government has taken the drastic step of allowing laid-off or temporarily unemployed workers to withdraw from their superannuation savings in the National Provident Fund. Retirement funds have also been used to lend FJ$53.6 million to the struggling national carrier, Fiji Airways.




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Fiji has taken on more debt to cope. Its debt-to-GDP ratio, which ideally should sit below 40% for developing economies, has risen from 48.9% before the pandemic to 60.9%. It’s likely to increase further.

High debt, lack of economic diversity and dependence on tourism put the Fijian economy in a very vulnerable position. Recovery will take a long time, probably requiring assistance from the country’s main trading partners. In the meantime, Fiji is pinning hopes on joining a New Zealand-Australia travel bubble.

Rarotonga International Airport: three-quarters of visitors are Aussies and Kiwis.
http://www.shutterstock.com

Out of crisis comes opportunity

Supporting Pacific states to recover is an opportunity for New Zealand and Australia to put their respective Pacific Reset and Step-Up policies into practice. If building more reciprocal, equitable relationships with Pacific states is the goal, now is the time to ensure economic recovery also strengthens their socio-economic, environmental and political infrastructures.

Economic well-being within the Pacific region is already closely linked to New Zealand and Australia through seasonal workers in horticulture and viticulture, remittance payments, trade and travel. But for many years there has been a major trade imbalance in favour of New Zealand and Australia. Shifting that balance beyond the recovery phase will involve facilitating long-term resilience and sustainable development in the region.

A good place to start would be the recent United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific report on recovering from COVID-19. Its recommendations include such measures as implementing social protection programs, integrating climate action into plans to revive economies, and encouraging more socially and environmentally responsible businesses.

This is about more than altruism – enlightened self-interest should also drive the New Zealand and Australian agenda. Any longer-term economic downturn in the South Pacific, due in part to over-reliance on tourism, could lead to instability in the region. There is a clear link between serious economic crises and social unrest.




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At a broader level, the pandemic is already entrenching Chinese regional influence: loans from China make up 62% of Tonga’s total foreign borrowing; for Vanuatu the figure is 43%; for Samoa 39%.

China is taking the initiative through what some call “COVID-19 diplomacy”. This involves funding pandemic stimulus packages and offering aid and investment throughout the Pacific, including drafting a free trade agreement with Fiji.

That is not to say Chinese investment in Pacific economies won’t do good. Rather, it is an argument for thinking beyond the immediate benefits of a travel bubble. By realigning their development priorities, Australia and New Zealand can help the Pacific build a better, more sustainable future.The Conversation

Regina Scheyvens, Professor of Development Studies, Massey University and Apisalome Movono, Senior Lecturer in Development Studies, Massey University

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

Immunity passports could help end lockdown, but risk class divides and intentional infections


Nigel McMillan, Griffith University

If you’ve already recovered from the coronavirus, can you go back to the workplace carefree?

This is the question governments including in the UK, Chile, Germany and Italy are trying to answer by considering immunity passports. These would be physical or digital documents given to people who’ve recovered from COVID-19 and are immune from the disease for a period of time. This would enable them to return to the workplace or even travel.

But there are serious concerns that immunity passports could create two classes of citizen and provide a perverse incentive to contract the virus deliberately.



You’re probably safe from reinfection – for a bit

When we are exposed to a virus, our bodies rapidly respond by giving us fevers, runny noses, and coughing. This initial immune response works by raising our body temperature and activating many cellular changes that make it harder for the virus to replicate. These are signs our immune system is activating to fight off infection. These defences are not specific to the virus but merely serve to hold it at bay until a more powerful and specific immune response can be mounted, which usually takes 7-10 days.

We then start to build a targeted immune response by making antibodies (among other things) that are specific for the virus infecting us. This immunity peaks at about day 10 and will continue to work for the rest of our lives with some viruses, but sadly not coronaviruses.




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Immunity to most normal coronaviruses, including those that cause some common colds, only lasts around 12 months. This is because the immune system’s response to coronaviruses wanes over time, and because these viruses slowly mutate, which is a normal part of the viral “life-cycle”. We don’t know yet how long immunity will last for COVID-19, but we might reasonably expect it to be similar, given what we know about our immune responses to coronaviruses.

Immunity passports will only work if people really are immune to reinfection. Earlier reports from South Korea and China suggested some people tested positive again after having recovered. This prompted the World Health Organisation (WHO) to declare in late April there was no evidence immunity passports would be reliable.

But more recent data suggests these tests were picking up dead lung cells which contained dead virus. Since then, experiments have also suggested animals that have recovered from SARS-CoV-2 infection could not be reinfected (although this study has not yet been peer-reviewed).




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We also know SARS patients from 2002 had antibodies that lasted an average of two years. People who had been infected with the MERS coronavirus seemed to retain antibodies for at least 12 months.

The WHO has since updated its advice to recognise that recovering from COVID-19 will likely provide some level of protection from reinfection.

Therefore, people who have recovered from COVID-19 are likely to be immune for a period. This means they could potentially be carrying SARS-CoV-2 but won’t develop the disease of COVID-19, and are therefore less likely to pass it on. But we don’t know for sure how long this immunity might last.

Of course, to issue immunity passports we must be able to reliably detect immunity. There are many tests that claim to detect SARS-CoV-2 antibodies but are not yet reliable enough. To assess the presence of antibodies, we must use more reliable tests done in pathology laboratories, called ELISA tests, rather than on-the-spot tests.




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Passports might be most useful for frontline workers

We know there are a number of professions which are highly exposed to the virus. These include frontline medical workers like nurses, doctors and dentists, as well as transport workers like bus drivers and pilots. We also know there are particular situations where the virus is easily spread – large crowds of people in close contact such as in aeroplanes, buses, bars and clubs, as well as in hospitals.

Immunity passports could be used to allow people with immunity to help out on the front lines (with their consent). I have personally been contacted by people who have recovered from COVID-19 and want to volunteer to help in highly exposed roles. For example, they could take up administrative roles in ICU wards in hospitals to take pressure off nurses and doctors.

Further, hospitals might choose to roster staff with immune passports to treat COVID-19 patients, because the risk of them contracting and spreading the virus is significantly lower compared to those who haven’t had the virus.

In these instances, immunity passports might be useful for individual hospitals to allocate staff based on immunity.

Similarly, bus and taxi drivers with immunity passports could cover for colleagues who might be older or have medical conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

And of course your passport isn’t forever – it would need to be reviewed over time with another blood test to see if you are still immune.

Two classes of people

But using immunity passports in broader society, and managed by the government, would risk discrimination by creating two classes of citizens. Holding one might become a privilege if it enabled people to go about their lives in a relatively normal way. For example, if it was compulsory for certain jobs or for being able to travel overseas.

But the second class, who don’t have immunity passports, would still be subject to health restrictions and lockdowns while waiting to gain immunity via a vaccine.

Similar to a “chicken pox party”, immunity passports would then create a perverse pull factor and encourage people to deliberately become infected. This incentive might be particularly strong for those who are desperate for work. This would obviously be extremely dangerous as we know the virus has a significant mortality rate and people of all ages have died from COVID-19.

Immunity passports could be effective when used in a targeted way such as in specific hospitals or businesses facing higher exposure to COVID-19. But using them across broader society carries a great risk of discrimination.


This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.The Conversation

Nigel McMillan, Program Director, Infectious Diseases and Immunology, Menzies Health Institute, Griffith University

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

Plane cabins are havens for germs. Here’s how they can clean up their act


Ipek Kurtböke, University of the Sunshine Coast

Qantas has unveiled a range of precautions to guard passengers against COVID-19. The safety measures expected to be rolled out on June 12 include contactless check-in, hand sanitiser at departure gates, and optional masks and sanitising wipes on board.

Controversially, however, there will be no physical distancing on board, because Qantas claims it is too expensive to run half-empty flights.

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing airlines to look closely at their hygiene practices. But aircraft cabins were havens for germs long before the coronavirus came along. The good news is there are some simple ways on-board hygiene can be improved.




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Common sense precautions

As an environmental microbiologist I have observed, in general, a gradual loss of quality in hygiene globally.

Airports and aircrafts have crammed ever larger numbers of passengers into ever smaller economy-class seats.

Although social distancing can’t do much in a confined cabin space – as the virus is reported to be able to travel eight meters — wearing face masks (viral ones in particular) and practising hand hygiene remain crucial.

Since microorganisms are invisible, it is hard to combat such a powerful enemy. During flights, I have observed a vast array of unwitting mistakes made by flight crew and passengers.

Some crew staff would go to the bathroom to push overflowing paper towels down into the bins, exit without washing their hands and continue to serve food and drinks.

We have the technology for manufacturers to install waste bins where paper towels can be shredded, disinfected and disposed of via suction, as is used in the toilets. Moreover, all aircraft waste bins should operate with pedals to prevent hand contamination.

Also, pilots should not share bathrooms with passengers, as is often the case. Imagine the consequences if pilots became infected and severely ill during a long flight, to the point of not being able to fly. Who would land the plane?

For instance, the highly transmissible norovirus, which causes vomiting and diarrhoea, can manifest within 12 hours of exposure. So for everyone’s safety, pilots should have their own bathroom.

Food and the kitchen

Aircraft kitchen areas should be as far as possible from toilets.

Male and female toilets should be separated because, due to the way men and women use the bathroom, male bathrooms are more likely to have droplets of urine splash outside the toilet bowl. Child toilets and change rooms should be separate as well.

Food trolleys should be covered with a sterile plastic sheet during service as they come close to seated passengers who could be infected.

And to allow traffic flow in the corridor, trolleys should not be placed near toilets. At times I have seen bread rolls in a basket with a nice white napkin, with the napkin touching the toilet door.

Also, blankets should not be used if the bags have been opened, and pillows should have their own sterile bags.

Mind your luggage

In March, luggage handlers were infected with COVID-19 at Adelaide Airport.

As a passenger, you should avoid placing your hand luggage on the seats while reaching into overhead lockers. There’s a chance your luggage was placed on a contaminated surface before you entered the plane, such as on a public bathroom floor.

Be wary of using the seat pocket in front of you. Previous passengers may have placed dirty (or infected) tissues there. So keep this in mind when using one to hold items such as your passport, or glasses, which come close to your eyes (through which SARS-CoV-2 can enter the body).

Also, safety cards in seat pockets should be disposable and should be replaced after each flight.




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In facing the COVID-19 crisis, it’s important to remember that unless an antiviral drug or a vaccine is found, this virus could come back every year.

On many occasions, microbiologists have warned of the need for more microbiology literacy among the public. Yet, too often their calls are dismissed as paranoia, or being overly cautious.

But now’s the time to listen, and to start taking precaution. For all we know, there may be even more dangerous superbugs breeding around us – ones we’ve simply yet to encounter.The Conversation

Ipek Kurtböke, Senior Lecturer, Environmental Microbiology, University of the Sunshine Coast

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

Beyond travel, a trans-Tasman bubble is an opportunity for Australia and NZ to reduce dependence on China



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Hongzhi Gao, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington and Monica Ren, Macquarie University

When it comes to our economic over-reliance on China, New Zealand consumers need look no further than their most popular big box chain, The Warehouse. The familiar “big red shed” sourced about 60% of its home brand stock from China in 2017 – and a further NZ$62 million in products directly through offices in China, India and Bangladesh in 2019.

In Australia, many major chain stores as well as online retail giant kogan.com are in a similar position. Reliant on China for much of what they sell, including exclusive home-brand items, they are part of what has been described as the world’s most China-reliant economy.

The COVID-19 crisis has thrown Australian and New Zealand businesses’ dependence on China into stark relief. With countries reportedly competing with and undercutting each other to secure desperately needed medical supplies from China, many are now waking up to their economic exposure to a single manufacturing giant.

Understandably, discussions about creating a “trans-Tasman bubble” between Australia and New Zealand have focused on kick-starting economic activity in the short term, particularly through tourism. But both countries also need to take a longer-term view of boosting economic activity – including through increased manufacturing and trade integration.




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The statistics support this. In 2018, 20% of global trade in the manufacturing of “intermediate” products (which need further processing before sale) came from China. Chinese manufacturing (including goods made from components made in China) also accounted for:

  • 35% of household goods
  • 46% of hi-tech goods
  • 54% of textiles and apparel
  • 38% of machinery, rubber and plastic
  • 20% of pharmaceuticals and medical goods
  • 42% of chemical products.

Australia and New Zealand are no exception, with China the number one trading partner of both. Australia earned 32.6% of its export income from China in 2019, mostly from natural resource products such as iron ores, coal and natural gas, as well as education and tourism.

Inside a Bunnings store in Australia: many of the shelves would be empty without goods sourced from China.
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From New Zealand, 23% of exports (worth NZ$20 billion) went to China in 2019, and much of the country’s manufacturing has moved to China over the past 20 years. The China factor in New Zealand supply chains is also crucial, with a fifth of exports containing Chinese components.

Supply shortages from China

The world is now paying a price for this dependence on China. Since the COVID-19 outbreak in early 2020 there has been volatility in the supply of products ranging from cars and Apple phones to food ingredients and hand sanitiser packaging.

More worryingly, availability of popular over-the-counter painkiller paracetamol was restricted due to Chinese factory closures. This is part of a bigger picture that shows Australia now importing over 90% of medicines and New Zealand importing close to NZ$1.59 billion in pharmaceutical products in 2019. Overall, both countries are extremely vulnerable to major supply chain disruptions of medical products.

For all these reasons, a cooperative trans-Tasman manufacturing strategy should be on the table right now and in any future bilateral trade policy conversations.

The big red shed: New Zealand’s Warehouse chain sources 60% of its products from China.
http://www.shutterstock.com



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Opportunities for Australia and NZ

Rather than each country focusing on product specialisation or setting industrial priorities in isolation, the two economies need to discuss how best to pool resources, add value and enhance the competitive advantage of strategic industries in the region as a whole.

Currently, trans-Tasman trade primarily involves natural resources and foodstuffs flowing from New Zealand to Australia, with motor vehicles, machinery and mechanical equipment flowing the other way. Manufacturing is skewed towards Australia, but closer regional integration would mean increased flows of capital, components and finished products between the countries. We have seen this already in the primary and service sectors but not much in the manufacturing sector, especially from New Zealand to Australia.

Medical technologies and telecommunications equipment manufacturing (both critical during the pandemic) stand out as potential new areas of economic integration. In that sense, it was heartening to see major medical tech companies such as Res-Med Australia and Fisher & Paykel Healthcare in New Zealand rapidly scale up their production capacities to build respiratory devices, ventilators, and other personal protective equipment products.




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These brands enjoy a global technology edge, smart niche positioning and reputations for innovation. We need more of these inside a trans-Tasman trade and manufacturing bubble.

China still vital but balance is crucial

Key to successful regional integration will be the pooling of research and development (R&D) resources, mutual direct investment, subsidising R&D and manufacturing in emerging markets with profits from another (such as China), and value-adding specialisation in the supply chain. For example, Tait Communication in New Zealand recently invested in a new facility based in one of Australia’s largest science, technology and research centres.

Together, we can make a bigger pie.

None of this means cutting ties with China, which will remain the main importer of primary produce and food products from Australasia for the foreseeable future. And Chinese exports will still be vital. Fisher & Paykel Healthcare sells its products in about 120 countries, for example, but some of its key raw materials suppliers are Chinese.

Getting this dynamic balancing right will be key to Australia and New Zealand prospering in the inevitably uncertain – even divided – post-pandemic global business environment. And you never know, maybe one day we’ll see a “made in Australia and New Zealand” label in the aisles of The Warehouse and Bunnings.The Conversation

Hongzhi Gao, Associate professor, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington and Monica Ren, Lecturer/ Assistant Professor, Macquarie University

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

Why a trans-Tasman travel bubble makes a lot of sense for Australia and New Zealand



BIANCA DE MARCHI/AAP

Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, University of South Australia and James Higham, University of Otago

We are hearing increasing talk about a trans-Tasman “travel bubble”, which could see Australia and New Zealand open their borders to each other.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was a special guest at Australia’s national cabinet meeting on Tuesday, which discussed the possibility of setting up a travel safe zone.

Both Ardern and Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison have cautioned a travel bubble will not happen immediately. After the meeting, Morrison said a safe zone is “still some time away”. But he also stressed, “it is important to flag it, because it is part of the road back”.




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What would a travel bubble mean in practice for Australia and New Zealand?

As tourism researchers in both countries, we see a travel bubble as a great opportunity to kick-start the post-COVID economic recovery, while also focusing on more sustainable tourism.

Why the trans-Tasman bubble makes sense

A travel bubble would see quarantine-free travel allowed between Australia and New Zealand.

The two neighbours have a unique opportunity to do this. Not only are they geographically isolated, both have so far had success containing – perhaps even eliminating – COVID-19 cases within their borders.

It is not yet known when international flows of tourists will be possible again. But it is understood that global tourism as we once knew it will not be possible until a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available.

Historically, limited travel circuits have been associated with former and current Communist states. Nevertheless, for Australia and New Zealand in 2020, the idea of a travel safe zone makes a lot of sense.

In 2018, New Zealand was Australia’s second largest inbound market for visitor arrivals and fourth largest market for visitor nights and total visitor spend. Australia is New Zealand’s largest visitor market, generating 1.5 million visitors a year as of 2017.

Australians make up more than half of international arrivals to New Zealand each year.
Lukas Coch/AAP

The beauty of our shared travel markets is our visitors are generally repeat visitors who head to diverse regions. Because more than 70% of Australians book self-drive holidays, for example, their spending spreads more widely than some other visitors.

Australians seek skiing and adventure in Queenstown, wine in the Martinborough or Waiheke Island regions. They also support Australian sports teams competing in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin. In reverse, lots of Kiwis head to the Gold Coast but also visit the Hunter Valley for wine or Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane for sports events.

Starting to rebuild these markets while the rest of the world remains in lockdown would represent a huge boost to both economies.

What is needed to make a bubble work?

After the national cabinet meeting, Ardern stressed “there is still a lot of work to be done” before the travel safe zone idea can progress.

The key to a successful trans-Tasman travel arrangement will be sound planning and implementation.

Rigorous public health measures to facilitate safe travel will be essential, including being prepared for all travel to be halted again if the situation changes.




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Broad stakeholder involvement and coordination will be necessary, including between tourism commissions, airlines and airports, industry associations and a range of government agencies, to ensure any reopening is managed well.

Local councils and businesses must also be involved to ensure that the tourism restart is planned, coordinated and controlled.

A chance for greener travel

A trans-Tasman travel bubble could also lead to a change in both countries’ tourism strategies.

Like other countries, Australia and New Zealand have historically prioritised international tourists, particularly “high value travellers”, who spend more and stay longer.

A COVID-era focus on domestic and trans-Tasman travel will likely result in lower yield but could also lead to a more sustainable tourism future. Trans-Tasman travel is the least carbon emitting of our international markets, because it does not rely on long-haul flights.

A focus on domestic and trans-Tasman travel also provides a chance to create a greener tourism industry.
Lukas Coch/ AAP

Trans-Tasman visitors also tend to have a lower carbon footprint at their destinations. In 2018, more than half of all Australian visitors to New Zealand (57%) were repeat visitors. Repeat visitors tend to spend more of their time at regional destinations, and less time incurring the carbon costs of transporting themselves around the country.

New Zealand has already begun to rethink its tourism economy to establish greater sustainability. A trans-Tasman bubble presents an opportunity to foster tourism with a lighter footprint.

Could the bubble be expanded?

There is a call for an extension of this travel bubble to the Pacific neighbourhood, where there are also low infection numbers.

Such a move would not only provide economic support to the Pacific community, it would also represent another step in the long process of restoring normality in different regions of the world.




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Ardern has kept the door open on this aspect, but noted “at the moment, we are focused on Australia”. She has also cautioned about not introducing COVID-19 to parts of the Pacific untouched by coronavirus.

Even if it remains just Australia and New Zealand, any travel bubble will obviously elevate the risk of COVID-19 reinfection. So, public health priorities must trump the desire to kick-start economies, to make sure we don’t squander our success against coronavirus so far.

But if the governments and tourism industries can find the right balance between public health and economic needs, then Australia and New Zealand stand to benefit from a head start on the long road to economic recovery.The Conversation

Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, Senior Lecturer in Tourism Management, University of South Australia and James Higham, Professor of Tourism, University of Otago

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

This could be the end of the line for cruise ships


Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, University of South Australia

Stranded cruise ships have become a symbol of the COVID-19 pandemic. Passengers and crew are desperate to get off but the ports to which they’ve headed don’t want them.

It is no exaggeration to suggest this crisis could spell the end of the line for an industry already on the nose for its social, health and environmental problems.

Indeed the same business model at the root of those problems is the cause of its current crisis, in which ship operators have been accused of gross or even criminal negligence.

That model has to do with flags of convenience.

Flags of convenience mean ships operate in waters far from their “home” ports. Most are registered in Caribbean tax havens. Operating outside clear jurisdictions, wages are low and working conditions poor.

That so many ships have become floating coronavirus incubators also indicates poor health and safety protocols. An emergency plan for an infectious outbreak on a ship seems an obvious thing to have. Yet reports suggest improvised responses.

Now, with ports and entire nations ordering cruise ships away, flags of convenience have become an existential threat to crew, and the industry.

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Ships ordered away

The industry’s reputational crisis is demonstrated no better than in Australia, where 24 of the nation’s 61 confirmed COVID-19 deaths so far have come from cruise ships.

All 20 cruise ships still in Australian waters were ordered to leave last week, with Australian Border Force commissioner Michael Outram citing concerns the number of cases among crew would be “a big strain on the Australian health system”.




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Just one ship, the Ruby Princess. is linked to 18 deaths (and about 700 infections – roughly 10% of Australia’s total cases).

Deaths have also come from the Artenia, Voyager of the Seas, Celebrity Solistice and Ovation of the Seas.

The Ruby Princess was allowed to dock in Sydney on March 19. About 2,700 passengers disembarked without being tested, because New South Wales authorities believed there was low risk.

Police are now investigating possible criminal charges against the operator, Princess Cruises, for misleading authorities about the situation. (The ship has since been allowed to dock at Port Kembla, south of Sydney, with a fifth of more than 1,000 crew quarantined aboard showing virus-like symptoms).

There are also calls for a criminal negligence investigation of the operator of the Artania, in a weeks-long stand-off in Western Australian waters.

Most of the ship’s passengers were allowed to disembark and get charter flights home to Europe. But more than 400 people, mostly crew, remain on board, and the state government fears the number of coronavirus cases would overwhelm local hospitals.

“We’d like you to leave, we don’t want you in our port,” said West Australian premier Mark McGowan.

But where are they, and tens of thousands of crew workers on hundreds of other cruise ships around the world, to go?


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Caribbean tax shelters

Consider the Artenia. The ship is owned by British cruise line P&O, chartered to a German company, operates out of Frankfurt and is registered in the Bahamas.

The Ruby Princess operates out of Australia but is registered in Bermuda. Its owner, Princess Cruises, is headquartered in California but also incorporated in Bermuda.

Most cruise ships are registered in a country different to ownership or operation. More than two-thirds (by tonnage) fly the flags of just three nations – the Bahamas, Panama and Bermuda.



Flags of convenience make the cruise ship industry one of the world’s least regulated, with owners and operators able to skirt more stringent workplace, health, safety and environmental rules.

For crew, particularly those in “lower level” service jobs, pay and conditions are poor. Many accept such conditions to earn money for their families. Hidden from view, even passengers can be oblivious to their conditions.

Incorporations of convenience

Both P&O and Princess Cruises are subsidiaries of the world’s biggest cruise company, Carnival Corporation, whose combined fleet of about 300 ships carries almost half the world’s cruising passengers



Carnival Corporation is headquartered in Miami, as are the second and third biggest cruise corporations, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian. But Carnival is incorporated in Panama, Norwegian in Bermuda, and Royal Caribbean in Liberia.

Now these “incorporations of convenience” threaten their survival. Their revenue has been cut to zero. The US government is offering no assistance because they’re foreign companies and their employees are spread across the world. Other governments are unlikely to do more.

Industry analysts say the big cruise operators have enough reserves to last six months. After that, if they don’t secure funding, they face going out of business.

Sailing into the sunset

If that happens, many will not mourn the loss.

Long before this crisis, the cruise ship industry was on the nose for its social and environment problems.

It has contributed to overtourism in places like Barcelona, Reykjavik, Dubrovnik and Venice. Its environmental record is appalling. Just last year Carnival paid $US20 million (A$28 million) to settle a US court case over it allowing its ships to dump rubbish in the ocean – something for which it has a previous criminal conviction.




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Now the industry’s carefully honed image of cruise ships offering the right balance between fun and security looks sunk.

Whatever remains after this crisis will need a complete overhaul.The Conversation

Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, Senior Lecturer in Tourism Management, University of South Australia

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