Explainer: why police will be crucial players in the battle against coronavirus

AAP/Dean Lewins

Terry Goldsworthy, Bond University and Robyn Lincoln, Bond University

As coronavirus continues to affect all aspects of life, law enforcement agencies are playing a more pivotal role in enforcing new health and social regulations while ensuring society continues to function in a civil manner.

So why is law enforcement important in our battle against COVID-19, and what role will it play?

Police help contain the virus

Several Australian police services have set up dedicated resources to assist in containing the virus. These include major incident rooms and operations and specific new taskforces.

Victoria has established a 500-strong contingent to compel the closure of all but essential services. As well as the shutdown measures, police and authorised officers will be enforcing mandatory self-isolation periods for anyone entering Victoria from overseas. Under Victoria’s state of emergency, breaking quarantine conditions carries fines of up to A$20,000 for individuals and nearly A$100,000 for businesses.

NSW police can impose on-the-spot fines to enforce social distancing.

In New South Wales, police have been required to limit large gatherings in public and restrict access to beaches, removing swimmers and surfers where necessary.

The state government this week granted police enhanced powers to enforce public health orders relating to COVID-19. This includes the power to arrest people breaching their quarantine. Police will be able to compel suspected COVID-19 cases to remain in isolation. The bill will:

allow a police officer to arrest a person who the officer reasonably suspects of contravening a public health order in relation to COVID-19 and returning the person to their usual place of residence or their place of detention.

NSW Police at Bondi Pavilion after state officials closed the beach.

In conducting similar checks, Victoria Police discovered seven people were not self-isolating as required during spot checks this week.

Such enforcement activity brings with it a unique set of problems. Reports this week indicated up to 200 Victorian police staff are already in quarantine. Concerns were raised about a lack of protective equipment for officers. The powerful Police Association wants a state of disaster declared to free up police to act with greater efficiency and additional powers.

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We need to consider granting bail to unsentenced prisoners to stop the spread of coronavirus

In Queensland, police recruits have been fast-tracked through the academy to provide extra personnel. In addition, Operation Sierra Linnet was launched, a multi-agency taskforce that will ensure compliance with restrictions for all pubs, registered and licensed clubs, gyms, indoor sporting venues, casinos and night clubs.

From midnight Wednesday this week Queensland police have been harnessing their random roadside breath-testing skills to curtail non-approved border crossings.

What impact might coronavirus have on crime?

While police are being asked to extend their range of duties into our everyday activities, in other areas they are pulling back from traditional roles. For example, Queensland police have stopped static random breath test sites because of coronavirus fears.

It is probable police will respond to essential call-outs only, as has happened in some other countries. Even then response times might be longer than before.

We should not be concerned that fewer uniformed police will have an impact on public safety – it is common for police to exercise largely peacekeeping functions. This was highlighted in the Kansas City Patrol Experiment in the 1970s, which found formal police patrols did not impact on crime rates or community fear of crime.

As a consequence of the virus, we have seen criminal elements attempt to take advantage of emerging markets. In the UK, police arrested men who had allegedly stolen toilet paper and hand wash. In Sydney, two men threatened staff with a knife while trying to steal toilet paper.

The strain on our social cohesion is showing, with fights erupting between shoppers as they try to obtain items now in short supply.

In response, the prime minister this week announced his government was creating a new offence to target people hoarding essential goods in an effort to prevent price gouging and exports of products needed to reduce the spread of coronavirus. He said:

These measures will help prevent individuals purchasing goods including face masks, hand sanitiser and vital medicines and either reselling them at significant mark-ups or exporting them overseas in bulk, which prevents these goods from reaching people who need them in Australia.

It isn’t only New York that has two-hour wait queues for firearms and ammunitionconsumers are stocking up on ammunition here as well.

What does the future hold?

Trying to predict crime transformations due to coronavirus is difficult. It is likely there will be surges in some crime categories and reductions in others due to conditions created by the crisis.

“Break and enter” offences in private dwellings will probably decline under a widespread lockdown that keeps people in their homes. Alcohol-fuelled violence in public spaces is certain to drop significantly with the closures of pubs, clubs, casinos and restaurants. However, domestic violence incidents are predicted to rise over time, with interpersonal tensions in restricted living arrangements.

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Given the uncertainty and the ever-changing situation facing us all, policing needs to be agile and flexible in its response to the needs of society and the demands of governments.

Our law enforcement agencies will perform a critical role in combating the virus and ensuring public safety.The Conversation

Terry Goldsworthy, Associate Professor in Criminology, Bond University and Robyn Lincoln, Assistant Professor, Criminology, Bond University

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

Kids shouldn’t have to repeat a year of school because of coronavirus. There are much better options


Julie Sonnemann, Grattan Institute

Australian schools and teachers are preparing to shift classes online – some independent schools already have. Remote learning is likely to be the norm in the second term and possibly longer.

Even if done well, there are still likely to be learning losses.

Rigorous US studies of online charter schools show students learn less than similar peers in traditional face-to-face schools.

This makes sense, because learning is a social activity. The evidence shows positive effects are stronger where technology is a supplement for teaching, rather than a significant replacement – the situation we face now.

Our disadvantaged students will be hardest hit. Children from poorer households do worse at online learning for a host of reasons; they have less internet access, fewer technological devices, poorer home learning environments and less help from their parents when they get stuck.

Students who are struggling academically are at risk too. Asking students to independently work through large parts of the curriculum online can create extra stresses as it requires them to regulate their own learning pace. Many struggle with this, especially students who are already behind.

Read more:
Schools are moving online, but not all children start out digitally equal

To be clear, this is not an argument against online learning. Digital learning offers much potential for schools and students. Several online programs, including digital games, simulations, and computer-aided tutoring show positive results when used to support to learning.

But the success of online initiatives relies on preparation and good implementation. A rapid-fire response to shift teaching online to large populations during a pandemic is unlikely to produce above-average results.

So what should the government do post-COVID-19 when school re-opens to help students bounce back?

Catch-up programs

Many students are likely to be behind, and some will be very far behind. If schools are closed for all of term two, and possibly term three, many students will have a lot to catch up on to move up a grade in 2021. What lies ahead is a difficult and unprecedented situation for our educators.

Governments and schools have several options. Getting struggling students to repeat a year shouldn’t be one of them, unless school closures go much longer than expected. Evidence shows repeating a year is one of the few educational interventions that harms a student academically. Those who repeat a year can become unmotivated, have less self-esteem, miss school and complete homework less often.

A better option is for educators to conduct intensive tuition for small groups, before or after the normal school day. These sessions could be targeted at the most disadvantaged and struggling students in groups of two to five students.

Evidence generally shows the smaller the tuition group, the bigger the effects. One-on-one tutoring has the largest effects in most cases, but given it is more expensive, small group tuition could be tried as a first step.

Read more:
Trying to homeschool because of coronavirus? Here are 5 tips to help your child learn

Another option is intensive face-to-face academic programs delivered over a few weeks. These could be similar to what Americans call “summer school” programs, but with a stronger academic focus and targeted at struggling students.

In Australia, these could be run in the week prior to schools re-opening, or over the term three or term four holidays. US evidence shows students who attend summer school programs can gain two months of extra learning progress compared to similar students who do not.

The impacts of summer programs are larger when academically focused and delivered intensively with small group tuition by experienced teachers.

Of course, teachers can also do more during regular face-to-face school lessons to help kids catch up, and the current crises may create extra focus on what teaching practices and programs work best. But given the likely size of the challenge, additional catch-up measures will still be needed.

The costs would flow back into economy

The costs of these sorts of catch-up programs are significant, but affordable. For example, we calculate providing small-group tuition for half of the students across Australia would cost about A$900 million. This is based on groups of three students receiving 30 minutes of tuition, five times a week, for two full terms, at a cost of $460 per student.

Conducting a three-week intensive summer school for say 800,000 disadvantaged students across Australia would cost about $800 million, assuming a cost of $1,000 per student based on US and UK experiences.

These are not big sums in the scheme of the economic stimulus and rescue package spending for COVID-19. If new catch-up programs cost, let’s say, between $2-4 billion, that is only 3-6% of the federal government’s stimulus measures announced to date.

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And the money for summer schools and small group tuition would flow to extra salaries for teachers, providing financial stimulus at a time when the economy really needs it.

No doubt schools and teachers will do their best to continue student learning while schools are closed. And through this process we will also learn a lot about how to do online learning for large populations, and improve along the way.

But despite best efforts, we should prepare for learning losses and plan for catch-up programs.The Conversation

Julie Sonnemann, Fellow, Grattan Institute

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

Federal government gets private hospital resources for COVID-19 fight in exchange for funding support

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Private hospitals will be on the frontline in the coronavirus battle, under an arrangement with the federal government that makes available the sector’s more than 30,000 beds and 105,000 workforce, including more than 57,000 nursing staff.

The government will offer agreements to Australia’s 657 private and not-for-profit hospitals “to ensure their viability, in return for maintenance and capacity” during the COVID-19 crisis.

The agreement makes available more resources to meet the virus crisis, preserves the private hospital workforce, and is designed to allow a speedy resumption of non-urgent elective surgery and other normal activity when the crisis has passed.

The states will complete “private hospital COVID-19 partnership agreements”, with the Commonwealth paying half the cost.

“In an unprecedented move, private hospitals, including both overnight and day hospitals, will integrate with state and territory health systems in the COVID-19 response,” the government said in a Tuesday statement.

These hospitals “will be required to make infrastructure, essential equipment (including ventilators), supplies (including personal protective equipment), workforce and additional resources fully available to the state and territory hospital system or the Australian government”.

Private hospitals will support the COVID-19 response through:

  • Hospital services for public patients – both positive and negative for COVID 19

  • Category 1 (urgent) elective surgery

  • Use of wards and theatres to expand ICU capacity

  • Accommodation for quarantine and isolation cases where necessary, and safety procedures and training are in place, including:

    • Cruise and flight COVID-19 passengers
    • Quarantine of vulnerable members of the community
    • Isolation of infected vulnerable COVID-19 patients.

The cost of the move is estimated at $1.3 billion.

Last week the government announced a ban on non-urgent elective surgery. While this freed up beds and staff, it would also strip the hospitals of core income and threaten the collapse of some hospitals without government action.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the agreement dramatically expanded the capacity of the Australian hospitals system to deal with COVID-19, at the same time as the curve of new cases showed early signs of being flattened.

The private hospitals “are available as an extension now of the public hospital system in Australia. So, whilst we’re not taking ownership, we have struck a partnership, where in return for the state agreements and the commonwealth guarantee, they will be fully integrated within the public hospital system”.

Hunt said the $1.3 billion estimated cost was not capped. “If more is required, more will be provided. If it turns out that it’s not that expensive, then those funds will be available for other activities. That takes our total additional investment to over $5.4 billion within the health sector.”

In a letter to private hospital providers, Hunt stressed: “A fundamental principle of this agreement is that it contributes towards to your ongoing viability, not profits or loan/debt repayments”.

Commonwealth deputy chief medical officer, Nick Coatsworth said intense efforts were being made to ramp up rapidly the number of ventilators.

He said there were some 2,200 ventilated intensive care beds in Australia. Currently just over 20 were being used for COVID-19 patients.

With immediate expansion, including repurposing and use of the private sector, this could be increased to 4,400.

“Our target capacity for ventilated intensive care beds in Australia currently stands at 7,500.

“We are working around the clock to procure ventilators,” he said. “Locally, we will have 500 intensive care ventilators fabricated by ResMed, backed up by 5,000 non-invasive ventilators, with full delivery expected by the end of April.”

The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association welcomed the “ground-breaking agreement” with private hospitals for ensuring both the best use of resources and the stability of the health system for the future.

The Australian tally of cases as of Tuesday afternoon was 4557, with 19 deaths; 244,000 tests had been completed.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.

JobKeeper payment: how will it work, who will miss out and how to get it?

@shotsoflouis/Upplash, CC BY-NC

Rebecca Cassells, Curtin University and Alan Duncan, Curtin University

The A$130 billion $1,500-per-fortnight JobKeeper payment will benefit six million Australians for six months, with payments expected from May 1.

Eligible businesses include not-for-profits and businesses with turnovers of less than $1 billion per year whose turnover is down 30%. Businesses with turnovers of more than $1 billion per year need to have lost 50% of turnover.

Eligible workers include full-time and part-time employees and sole traders as well as permanent visa holders and several other visa categories.

Workers don’t apply on their own behalf. They go to their employers, who will apply to the Tax Office.

Read more:
The key to the success of the $130 billion wage subsidy is retrospective paid work

But casual workers are eligible only if they have been with their employer for 12 months or more.

Our calculations suggest about 950,000 casual workers will be ineligible, because they have been with their most recent employer for less than 12 months, something common among casual workers.

Most are employed in the accommodation and food services, retail trade, and health care and social assistance industries. More than half are women.

Casual workers employed less than 12 months with current employer

Bankwest Curtin Econimcs Centre | Calculations from ABS Characteristics of Employment

Eligible employers will receive $1,500 per fortnight (before tax) for each eligible employee regardless of whether that employee is paid more or less than this and regardless of whether the employee is full or part-time.

Workers that are paid less than $1,500 per fortnight will receive the full $1,500 per fortnight regardless of their pay.

Most part-time workers will take home more under the $750 Job Keeper payment than they were receiving in wages from their employer.

The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Is it good policy?

At a projected cost of $130 billion over the next half year, it is an extraordinary commitment from the government, and a huge statement of intent to support businesses and workers.

It will help many businesses stay afloat and help many workers stay attached to their employers as we move through the crisis.

But the model adopted raises a number of questions:

1. Is it fair to full and part-time workers?

It will give a part-time worker on 15 hours per week about the same weekly wage as a full-time worker on a 35 hour week.

Employers might try to re-organise hours of work to make it fairer, but some workers might want fewer hours and others more. Regardless, many will end up with the same pay.

A capped wage subsidy model would deliver support more efficiently, but may be harder to administer and police. Every worker and every employer knows that they will get $1,500 per fortnight. Anything outside this amount will raise alarm bells.

2. How will it interact with other payments?

Many part time workers who are combining work with caring for others and/or studying also receive family payments and other means-tested government payments.

For many, the $1,500 per fortnight will cut their other payments while at the same time increasing the demands their employers for hours, where those employers are able to continue to operate.

3. What about multiple job holders?

There are currently more than one million workers in Australia who hold more than a single job. The rules state they are eligible for the JobKeeper payment in respect of only one of those jobs.

They will have to choose which job to keep their attachment to. The employers who miss out will miss out on the wage support.

4. Will it actually keep people in work?

A key aim of the JobKeeper payment is to keep people in jobs. It will certainly offer an incentive for workers to stay attached to their employer and in work, whatever form it takes.

But, some might judge their overall welfare to be better served if they receive a combination of the enhanced JobSeeker payment (formerly Newstart) and other benefits and might not seek JobKeeper.

5. Will it keep businesses afloat?

The benefit for eligible employers is that their wages will largely be covered. But this might not be enough to keep them operating if their other costs become too large. This will especially be the case for firms for which Labour is a small share of costs.

This is where other elements of the government’s support package will come into play to keep businesses afloat including those announced on March 12.

6. Will businesses change in order to become eligible?

Behavioural responses are inevitable. JobKeeper creates incentives for firms to force down turnover to get access to the payments

And it might induce firms to pay their workers the flat $1,500 per fortnight even if they can afford to pay and would ordinarily pay more – not the best outcome.

Read more:
Australia’s $130 billion JobKeeper payment: what the experts think

The Conversation

Rebecca Cassells, Associate Professor, Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre, Curtin University and Alan Duncan, Director, Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre, and Bankwest Research Chair in Economic Policy, Curtin University

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

What actually are ‘essential services’ and who decides?

Gary Mortimer, Queensland University of Technology

The Morrison government keeps using the word “essential” to describe employees, public gatherings, services and businesses that are still allowed and not restricted as it tries to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

But what is essential, and who gets to decide?

By its very definition, essential means “something necessary, indispensable, or unavoidable”.

Read more:
Australia’s $130 billion JobKeeper payment: what the experts think

When it comes to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, there are no recent precedents for governments. There is no pre-determined list in place on what is an essential service. Instead, “essential” appears a moving beast that is constantly evolving and that can be confusing.

Confused messages

On March 22 the Victorian premier Daniel Andrews called for “a shutdown of all non-essential activity” within 48 hours. Supermarkets, banks and pharmacies were some of the things he said were essential but he did not provide an exhaustive list of what was considered an essential service.

Naturally confusion reigned. For example, in the rural Victorian town of Ballan, some stores closed while others remained open.

We’ve now seen a number of retailers decide to voluntarily shutter stores for the safety of their workers and the public, considering their businesses “non-essential”.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said a meeting of the national cabinet had agreed to a raft of new restrictions, such as limiting “shopping for what you need, food and other essential supplies”.

But he also described his wife’s recent purchase of a number of jigsaw puzzles for the family as “absolutely essential”. While toy and hobby retailers may find comfort in this statement, in reality such businesses may not be considered “essential”.

Guns and pastries, essential?

There are differences too overseas in what people consider essential as part of any COVID-19 restrictions.

Is the United States, it’s recommended employees of gun stores and gun manufacturers should be seen as “essential” workers, according to a memo from the Department of Homeland Security.

While in Europe, “necessities” are said to include Belgian Fries, French Baguettes and Dutch Cannabis. In France, it’s also shops specialising in pastries, wine and cheese reportedly declared essential businesses.

In Ireland, reports say the government there has issued a detailed list of what it considers “essential workers”. As for essential retailers, they include pharmacies, fuel stations and pet stores, but not opticians, motor repair and bicycle repair outlets.

The essential essentials

Here in Australia there is broad agreement supermarkets, service stations, allied health (pharmacy, chiropractic, physiotherapy, psychology, dental) and banks are essential business and services.

Similarly freight, logistics and home delivery are also considered essential. Australia Post says posties and delivery drivers continue but some posts offices are temporarily closed.

Some bottle shops can stay open but many are now imposing restrictions on how much people can buy.

The government has moved to progressively add more business, services and activities to its “non-essential services” list.

This includes cafés, food courts, pubs, licensed clubs (sports clubs), bars, beauty and personal care services, entertainment venues, leisure and recreation (gyms, theme parks), galleries, museums and libraries.

Some of these entities do have exceptions. A café can remain open for take-away only. A hairdresser or barber can trade if they comply with the one person per four square-metre rule.

Others remain convoluted, such as outdoor and indoor markets (farmers markets), which are a decision for each state and territory.

In and out of work

In reality, no worker should ever be considered, or consider themselves, as “non-essential”.

But due to how the restrictions have been broadly applied, some workers in one industry may now find themselves out of a job, while others in that same industry remain fully employed.

Read more:
$1,500 a fortnight JobKeeper wage subsidy in massive $130 billion program

Take for example chefs. Due to bans on restaurants and licensed clubs, chefs there are being stood down, but chefs inside hotels can continue to cook and provide room service meals.

A barista in a café can still be gainfully employed, as long as they only make take-away coffee, but a barista inside a licensed sports club, is unfortunately stood down.

Further restrictions and essentials

While we have seen many businesses reduce their operations and several retailers voluntarily close their doors, many are standing by waiting for further announcements to potentially close all “non-essential” services.

What should the government consider before deciding what is and isn’t regarded as essential?

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Some decisions are easy: we need health workers, police, fire fighters and other emergency services workers, and we need those who maintain services to the public such as food supply, clean water, sewerage and so on.

But we also need those services required to keep these people functioning. The military describe this as tooth to tail ratio: the number of people required to keep any soldier on the battlefield (estimated up to three for every soldier).

In the civilian context this includes those responsible for the supply of consumables, personal protection equipment, transport, power, fuel, computer systems, and someone to look after their families while they do the heavy lifting.The Conversation

Gary Mortimer, Professor of Marketing and Consumer Behaviour, Queensland University of Technology

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

Australia’s $130 billion JobKeeper payment: what the experts think


Steven Hamilton, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University; Anthony Forsyth, RMIT University, and David Peetz, Griffith University

The A$130 billion payment will be benefit six million of Australia’s 13 million employees through their employers.

It will ensure each employee kept on in a business that has lost custom gets at least $1,500 per fortnight for six months. But the devil is in the detail.

We asked three experts to pick the package apart.

Steven Hamilton

Visiting Scholar, Tax and Transfer Policy Institute, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

This is a welcome move by the government that will keep many businesses afloat and connected to their employees, which are critical to a speedy recovery. It is commendable that the government reversed course so quickly given rapidly deteriorating economic conditions.

You can’t shut down the economy for months without providing massive support to businesses and workers. At A$130 billion, this package alone is worth 12% of the economy over the next six months. Along with the measures already announced, it takes our fiscal support to a similar scale as recently legislated in the United States.

Targeting only businesses experiencing a revenue loss limits profiteering. Those currently doing well won’t get unneeded support. It applies to all full-time, part-time, and long-term casual employees, as well as the self-employed, and it forces all participating firms to pay workers at least the $1,500 per fortnight subsidy.

Read more:
The key to the success of the $130 billion wage subsidy is retrospective paid work

It could have several unintended consequences. It might encourage firms to limit sales to push revenue down below the turnover threshold.

For example, for Qantas the subsidy would be almost $600 million, but to receive it, its revenue will need to fall to 50% below where it was this time last year. That might discourage it from reopening routes, which would slow the recovery.

The scheme will also make it harder for businesses desperately in need of staff (such as supermarkets) to hire new workers from currently struggling businesses.

To do so, they would need to entice workers to move from what might be suddenly better-paid jobs (everyone benefiting from the scheme must receive at least $1,500 per fortngiht) to less well paid ones.

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And the choice to subsidise the largest businesses in Australia is questionable.

The major banks are excluded, but every other large company with at least a 50% reduction in revenue is included. Specific, targeted measures for the worst-affected industries might have been a better approach.

David Peetz

Professor of Employment Relations, Centre for Work, Organisation and Wellbeing, Griffith University

Dangers often associated with wage subsidy schemes — like wasting money on jobs that would have been created anyway, or substituting one type of worker for another — aren’t much of a concern when a wage subsidy is introduced in an environment in which revenue and employment is diving.

Making the scheme temporary, and restricting it to firms facing a 30% drop in revenue (50% for big businesses) greatly reduces this danger.

That said, the scheme will mainly target workers at or near the minimum wage. That’s because the payment is set close to the minimum wage.

In effect, firms can rehire or keep on minimum-wage workers for free.

For workers on average full-time adult earnings, which are about twice the minimum wage, the subsidy is nowhere near as big. Many are still likely to lose their jobs, as we have already seen.

The Conversation, CC BY-ND

And the scheme introduces strange incentives. The same payment is received for a part-time worker as for a full-time worker on any wage. (The weekend leak that part-timers would be excluded seems to have been a furphy.)

Many part-timers’ wages will be less than the subsidy. But the employer still has to pay them the $750 per week. The payroll is simpler the fewer employees are on it, so the employer might give one part-timer the bulk of the hours and retrench the others.

Read more:
New OECD estimates suggest a 22% hit to Australia’s economy

Many part-timers are casuals, though, and they aren’t covered unless they are “long term” casuals (seemingly a contradiction in terms).

This means many casuals can expect to be sacked in favour of workers who can be put into “free” $750 per week jobs.

Meanwhile, the superannuation guarantee no longer applies to wages covered by the jobseeker payment, including wages the employer would have paid anyway. That’s something that could lead to all sorts of legal complexities in the future.

Anthony Forsyth

Professor of Workplace Law, RMIT University

My comments focus on the government’s claim that its JobKeeper payment is more generous and broader than the UK’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Australia’s scheme is definitely broader, with the aim of providing support to up to six million Australians over coming months.

Eligibility will depend on a business suffering at least 30% reduced turnover or 50% for businesses with more than $1 billion turnover.

It enables employees to receive income support payments where they have been stood down, or already made redundant where the business wants to rehire the employee with Jobkeeper payment support. In the UK, only “furloughed” employees (stood down) are eligible for payments.

Read more:
Coronavirus: how UK job retention plan borrows from collectivist Europe

But the UK scheme provides payments to those on “zero hours contracts” (akin to casuals). Where hours have varied, payments are based on last year’s average.

However in Australia, casuals can only claim Jobkeeper payment where they have been employed for at least 12 months. Many casual workers will be ineligible given the high turnover in hard-hit sectors such as accommodation, cafés and food services.

Casual teaching contracts in universities are often for less than a year.

As for generosity, Australia’s Jobkeeper payment of around A$3,000 per month is far lower than the UK’s, which is £2,500 per month, worth more than A$5,000.

Australia’s payment is 70% of the median wage. The government’s claim that employees in retail and hospitality will get the median wage in those industries simply reinforces their low-paid status to begin with.

The government specifically mentioned that New Zealanders working in Australia would be able to access the JobKeeper payment along with some other categories of visa holders.

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But the Victorian Trades Hall’s Migrant Workers Centre believes this will leave 1.1 million temporary migrant workers outside the scheme and needing assistance.

Another gap is the hundreds of thousands of workers in the gig economy.

We are relying more than ever on food delivery riders and drivers. Many are incorrectly categorised as self-employed contractors. JobKeeper will cover self-employed individuals but they must be able to show at least 30% decline in their turnover.

Most gig workers will not have the business systems set up to demonstrate this, as they are in reality employees who have had supposed “contractor” status imposed on them by the platforms they provide services for.The Conversation

Steven Hamilton, Visiting Scholar, Tax and Transfer Policy Institute, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University; Anthony Forsyth, Professor of Workplace Law, RMIT University, and David Peetz, Professor of Employment Relations, Centre for Work, Organisation and Wellbeing, Griffith University

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

The government’s coronavirus mobile app is a solid effort, but it could do even better


Omar Mubin, Western Sydney University; Belal Alsinglawi, Western Sydney University, and Mahmoud Elkhodr, CQUniversity Australia

The Australian government has launched an app offering up-to-date advice and information on the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Coronavirus Australia app, available on the Apple App Store and Google Play, was released alongside a new WhatsApp messaging feature.

As this pandemic unfolds, the public’s ability to quickly access reliable information will be of paramount importance. Let’s take a look at whether this latest digital initiative hits the nail on the head.

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What are the features?

The app provides eight distinct features for people seeking information on COVID-19:

  • Symptom checker directs users to a diagnostic tool from the Department of Health, that gives advice based on a user’s situation.

  • Register isolation is an optional feature that requests certain personal details from users in self-isolation, including access to their location, their name, phone number, age, gender, isolation start date and the number of residents in their household.

The Coronavirus Australia web app was launched at the weekend, and has been downloaded more than 10,000 times from the Google App Store.

  • The current status feature provides a visual (map) and text-based breakdown of the number of confirmed cases per state.

  • The advice section elaborates on several important topics related to COVID-19, including social distancing, travel, self-isolation, getting tested and accessing financial assistance.

  • The resources section offers information targeted at individuals and groups including employers, and industry bodies such as the airline industry, hotel industry, cruise industry and aged care organisations.

  • The news and media section displays relevant news articles and videos released by the government.

  • The contact section, accessible through the left-hand menu, directs users to helpline numbers.

  • Settings allows users to enable push-notifications and read the app’s privacy policy.

Missed opportunities

While the Coronavirus Australia app is certainly a great start, we’ve identified some features that could make it even more effective with future updates.

In terms of content, the app seems to miss an opportunity to provide positive reinforcement during a terrible crisis. For instance, as time progresses it could highlight improvements in the national effort to flatten the curve of the coronavirus.

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How to flatten the curve of coronavirus, a mathematician explains

The app’s tone is neutral, but it could have used more persuasive language and prompts, especially in regards to self-isolation and social distancing measures – which continue to be at the forefront of national discussions. And crucial points such as state-specifc restrictions are currently hidden in the advice section. Important information should be emphasised.

Also, certain language in the app’s text, such as the term “pneumonia”, may not be widely recognised. These terms could be defined using Tooltips. This widget displays text descriptions when users hold their cursor or finger over an object on the screen.

The current status section provides a static visual map that repeats information in the written text. While this map is informative, it cannot be interacted with or zoomed into for more area-specific data.

The Coronavirus Australia mobile app offers updated advice and information related to the pandemic, including a map showing cases by states and territories.

In terms of design, the app is mainly black and white. Using a range of colours and alerts could help categorise information, and draw the user’s attention to important aspects.

Another simple update would be to include the logos of all the state governments and departments that contributed to the app’s content. While the current federal government logo is enough to establish authenticity, research suggests having endorsements from additional bodies improves credibility.

The app doesn’t support languages other than English. This is significant as news reports suggest thousands of overseas visitors have been trapped in Australia as a result of COVID-19. These people will be as desperate for information as the rest of us.

More considerations

Rather than having all the necessary information available in the Coronavirus Australia app itself, many links redirect users to the government’s Department of Health website. For some, this may seem like the app is simply a landing page for the department’s website.

Also, while the logging of those who are isolating is an excellent feature, it relies on honest self-reporting. This can’t be guaranteed. If authorities wish to analyse or use the collected data to enforce social-isolation measures, then identification such as a drivers license or passport will be needed to prevent fake reporting.

Data collected from the register isolation section would be more useful to authorities if users’ specific addresses were included, and user identity was verified.

Misleading reports could also be avoided by prompting users to enter the specific address they are self-isolating at (including details such as hotel name and room number), rather than simply using GPS location data as the app currently does.

In terms of potential advances in the app’s features, one option would involve using a user’s location to detect if they are away from home for longer than a specific advised time. The app could then send subtle prompts to remind the user to return to self-isolation.

A summary of the government’s latest restrictions, sorted by states and territories, would also be helpful, as would a section debunking common myths associated with COVID-19.

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Despite the small margins for improvement, the Coronavirus Australia app indicates the government has made an effort to provide quick and helpful information at a highly uncertain time. As this pandemic evolves, further incremental updates would certainly enhance its user experience.The Conversation

Omar Mubin, Senior Lecturer in human-centred computing & human-computer interaction, Western Sydney University; Belal Alsinglawi, PhD Candidate in Data Science and ICT Lecturer, Western Sydney University, and Mahmoud Elkhodr, Lecturer in Information and Communication Technologies, CQUniversity Australia

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

How are the most serious COVID-19 cases treated, and does the coronavirus cause lasting damage?

Peter Wark, University of Newcastle

As the number of COVID-19 cases around the world continues to climb, hospitals are under increased pressure to provide emergency care for the most severely ill patients. What does this involve, and how does the coronavirus damage the respiratory system?

The virus first invades our bodies by attaching to a protein called ACE2 on cells in the mouth, nose and airways. For the first week of infection, symptoms are relatively mild, with sore throat, cough and fever. Some people, particularly children, may carry the virus with few if any symptoms at all.

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But this early stage also seems to be the time at which people are most infectious to others.

The Wuhan data

As the place where the pandemic originated, the Chinese city of Wuhan has yielded the biggest and most useful set of cases from which we can analyse the disease’s typical progression.

From days four to nine after infection, the symptoms worsen, with increasing breathlessness and cough. In those ill enough to be admitted to hospital, more than half require assistance with oxygen, usually in a standard hospital ward. Some patients suffer worsening breathing difficulties that necessitate admission to an intensive care unit (ICU), typically eight to fifteen days after the illness began.

What happens in ICU?

In ICU, various treatments can support these more serious breathing problems. This includes high-flow humidified oxygen, delivered via a nasal mask. The oxygen is warmed and its humidity artificially increased so as to avoid uncomfortable dryness. It is gently pumped into the lungs at a comfortable rate that still allows the patient to speak and eat.

If breathing worsens further, the patient is then intubated. This involves inserting a tube through the mouth and into the windpipe, through which oxygen is delivered via a ventilator. Intubated patients need to be sedated (kept asleep) until their lungs recover enough to work without assistance.

In the most severe cases, where the lungs fail and it is not possible to deliver enough oxygen by ventilator, patients are given extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, which effectively outsources the work normally done by the heart and lungs to an external machine. Blood is carried from the body, and carbon dioxide removed and oxygen added, before it returns to the patient’s circulation. This is the most advanced form of life support, but also carries the highest risks and the longest recovery times.

An analysis of adult COVID-19 patients treated at two Wuhan hospitals found that 50 of the 191 cases studied required ICU treatment.

Of these 50 ICU patients, 41 received high-flow humidified oxygen, 33 were intubated, and 3 received extracorporeal membrane oxygenation.

Only 8 of the 41 patients treated with high-flow oxygen survived, and just one of the intubated patients. Overall, 11 of the 50 ICU patients survived. But those who did recover seemed to do so reasonably rapidly: 75% were discharged within 25 days.

Data from outside China is more limited, but offers more grounds for optimism. A review of 18 hospitalised patients in Singapore found that six needed oxygen support with oxygen, but just two were admitted to ICU and only one was intubated, and this patient was able to go home a mere six days after coming off respiratory support.

From Washington state in the US, among 21 cases admitted to the ICU, 17 were admitted to ICU within 24 hours of hospital admission and 15 required intubation. Besides their respiratory distress, seven developed heart damage, four suffered kidney failure, and three liver damage. As of March 17, 11 of the patients had died, two had left the ICU, and eight still needed ventilation.

Does the disease cause long-term symptoms?

At this stage there is no data on the long-term effects of COVID-19. But we can look at the after-effects of other acute viral respiratory diseases such as influenza, SARS and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

In these diseases, collectively called acute respiratory distress syndromes (ARDS), the fragile small airways and air sacs become damaged by inflammation, can become blocked by fluid and blood, and are replaced by scar tissue as they heal. This can stiffen the lungs – at first from fluid and then from scar tissue – impairing their ability to transfer oxygen and making breathing more laboured. In SARS and MERS this damage appears to occur as the virus is being destroyed by the immune response.

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How long does it take to recover from ARDS? One survey of 396 German patients found that 50% were hospitalized for 48 days or longer during the year following their original recovery. A smaller review of 37 ICU survivors of pandemic influenza in 2009, found that roughly half still complained of severe breathlessness on exertion but, more promisingly, 83% had returned to work.

At this stage our best course of action is to focus on slowing the coronavirus’s spread and protecting the most vulnerable. The death rate from COVID-19 is worse in countries where health services have become overwhelmed. Our best bet is to maximise our resources by minimising the number of people who suffer severe symptoms.The Conversation

Peter Wark, Conjoint Professor, School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Newcastle

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

Modelling suggests going early and going hard will save lives and help the economy

Quentin Grafton, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University and Tom Kompas, Australian National University

In 1997, a bestselling book by Jared Diamond purported to explain how the West “won” world dominance based on the good luck of geography, and because western countries were the first to industrialise.

Fast forward to 2020, and to COVID-19. Geography still matters, but the West is no longer “winning”.

Despite initial mistakes, it seems China has been successful at containing the virus, and other countries such as South Korea and Singapore have, so far, been able to dramatically slow the rate of infection.

Western countries were slow to respond and are paying a very high price. As of March 30, Italy had 98,000 confirmed cases and 10,800 COVID-19 deaths.

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While cross-country comparisons on confirmed cases are problematic because of large differences in testing, the United States currently has more than 137,000 confirmed cases – the highest in the world, more than in China.

This number will get much larger very quickly if cases continue to double every few days.

The number of Americans who will die will soon be in the thousands, and possibly tens of thousands, if the US does not do much more at a national level to ensure physical distancing.

If the current growth rate continues, parts of its health system, especially intensive care units, will be overwhelmed.

Exponential growth

Currently, the rate of infection – without sufficient measures – tracks very closely exponential growth.

The Conversation, CC BY-ND

This allows us to accurately predict, with a basic disease spread model, the minimum, maximum, and most likely number of confirmed cases, at least for the next week or so (although it should be noted that an increased rate of testing will increase this number).

The data tells us that for countries in the earlier phase of the pandemic such as Australia the number of confirmed cases doubles every few days.

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In Australia it began by doubling roughly every four days, and is now doubling every seven days. (The number undoubtedly underestimates the rate of infection.)

Australia had about 2,000 confirmed cases on 24 March. Given rates of infection and changes in growth, our forecasts of infections made on March 27 for Sunday March 29 ranged from 3,950 to 4,460.

Robust short-term predictions

The actual reported number on Sunday March 29 was 3,984, near the low end of that range.

Our forecast for 6pm on Wednesday April 1 now ranges from 5,080 to 5,970 cases, with 5,220 most likely.

For Thursday April 2 the range is 5,510 to 6,835, with 5,715 most likely.

Until physical distancing has had an effect, exponential growth is as good as certain. This will make our forecasts robust.

The current measures might already be cutting infection growth rates, but it is too early to tell. Even stricter measures will be needed to cut the number infected.

With sufficient physical distancing, Australia could end up with an infection rate as low as 1%. By comparison, if it fails to control the infection by not implementing sufficient physical distancing, it could end up with a much worse rate of 20%.

The payoff from going hard and going early

What is the difference in the number of deaths between an infection rate of 1% versus 20%?

Overseas death rates suggest Australia could face an additional 48,000 premature deaths without distancing. This is equivalent to about 30% of annual deaths in Australia.

Although recent evidence suggests young people might be more vulnerable than previously thought, those premature deaths would be clustered in the old and those with other illnesses, and those also in remote Indigenous communities, should the virus get there.

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Economists use the value of an economic life for cost-benefit analysis of public projects. It is a measure of society’s willingness to pay to reduce the risk of an additional death.

Using the New South Wales Treasury’s value of a statistical life of $4.2 million, the economic loss of 48,000 premature deaths amounts to some $200 billion, or about 10% of Australia’s annual economic output.

This means it makes sense to act early and hard before the infection rate gets too high, cutting it as quickly as possible. The Spanish Influenza pandemic suggests aggressive physical distancing works.

The question Australians should ask of their leaders is this: is strict physical distancing a cost worth paying?

Costs and benefits from distancing

The main economic benefit from insufficient physical distancing would be that, at least initially, more Australians would stay employed, there would be more economic activity, more taxes would be paid, and government would need to spend less.

But not imposing a lockdown or equivalent measures would come at the cost of a higher infection rate, which would also mean more non-pandemic patients might die because of insufficient beds or medical equipment or staff to look after them.

A higher infection rate would also increase the death rate of pandemic patients as there would be fewer ventilators available to treat each one.

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And the economy would suffer even without sufficient physical distancing, although the worst would be delayed. Many people would still get sick and be unable to work until they were recovered.

A much higher infection rate would also isolate Australia from the rest of the world. Why would any country want Australians to visit if it had high rates of infection, and why would anyone from another country want to visit Australia?

The wage subsidy provides a way out

A high enough wage subsidy for all workers (including part-timers and casuals) who cannot work because of control measures, coupled with the already announced additional $550 a fortnight COVID-19 supplement to the Jobseeker Payment, could provide most Australians with enough income to survive and pay the bills during a lockdown.

Such an approach combines “sharing the burden” with “flattening the curve”, a two-fold economic and public health approach that would save lives while minimising economic disruption, especially for younger and casual workers who are the most disadvantaged by severe physical distancing.

It’s the smartest and safest strategy, and Australia appears to be adopting it.

Our model for the spread of the infection is an adapted [SEIR-M] model. It is still under development and needs further validation and also peer-review.

For now, we assume a homogeneously mixed population. We are also working on a spatially explicit model to account for more complex population contact.

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Our current results are roughly in line with changes in basic growth rates and their projections by state.

We will continue to provide forward projections that can then be compared with actual numbers.

All data is sourced from state and commonwealth websites.

A valuable discussion of this and more complicated infectious disease models is found on the University of Melbourne Pursuit website.

This piece is co-published with Policy Forum at the ANU Crawford School of Public Policy.The Conversation

Quentin Grafton, Director of the Centre for Water Economics, Environment and Policy, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University and Tom Kompas, Visiting Professor, Australian National University

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