We’re seeing more casual COVID transmission. But is that because of the variant or better case tracking?


Catherine Bennett, Deakin UniversityVictoria’s lockdown is to be extended for another week to get on top of the growing number of community cases, which now stands at 60.

But questions remain about what’s behind some of these cases.
Victoria’s COVID-19 testing commander Jeroen Weimar said yesterday in about four or five cases, the virus was transmitted after only “fleeting contact”.

Today, we heard from Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton about one case suspected to have been infected when visiting a site some two hours after an infectious person had left. The source case had been there for some time, and it was described as a poorly ventilated space.

Nonetheless, this is consistent with the aerosol transmission we have become increasingly concerned about, and perhaps this is the first documentation of this outside hotel quarantine.

Today we also heard that health authorities have reported about 10% of cases are linked with more casual exposures, including at “tier two” sites (Victoria describes exposure sites according to risk, with a tier one site being the most risky).

So is it the virus, or more focused efforts in tracking cases, that’s led us to finding such casual exposures?




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Is it the virus?

Despite today’s news, people are not more likely now to get infected by brushing past someone on the street.

In the vast majority of cases, people have become infected by very close contacts, or at certain “tier one” exposure sites when there at the same time as a known case.

There is evidence the variant associated with India is more infectious. This particular lineage of the Indian variant B.1.617.1, however, may not be as infectious as other lineages.

It reinforces how important it is that outbreaks are contained as early as possible where this increased risk of spread is still manageable.

On average, with variants of concern like the one currently circulating in Victoria, a case might infect 15% of household contacts instead of 10% seen in 2020. When new case numbers are high later in an outbreak, this difference in transmission translates to much bigger jumps in case numbers.

The way the virus spreads in clusters has also not changed, with some cases not passing the virus on, while a small number pass it on to many.

If this strain of the virus were vastly more transmissible than the original strain, we’d expect to see many cases. This strain has been in our community for a month now, undetected and running free for more than two weeks. There would be many more than 60 cases if this were true.




Read more:
What’s the ‘Indian’ variant responsible for Victoria’s outbreak and how effective are vaccines against it?


We’re also better at tracking cases

The main thing that’s changed since Victoria’s second wave last year is that we have forensic analysis of every case and we’re better at finding casual links between cases.

We’re now publishing lists of venues with exposure times and more people are coming forward for testing than at the peak of Victoria’s second wave. We also have check-in data for many venues.

This results in more reliable measures of both the total spread and routes of virus transmission, than in the second wave, or any community outbreak of this size.

Transmission associated with more casual exposures would have been much more likely to be missed before. Even if these cases were picked up, they might have been counted among the “mystery cases” that comprised 18% of all cases in 2020. We didn’t know where these cases were infected as there were no apparent links between them and known cases.

We are doing much better this time with only three transmission events that not yet fully understood.

How about this ‘fleeting contact’?

The four or five cases Weimar mentioned yesterday relate to a range of indoor exposure sites including a display home, a Telstra shop, local grocery stores, and a shopping strip.

This is where people may have been in direct contact with a case, but where no definitive exposure event is documented, there is no check-in and people don’t know each other.

So from what we know so far, there’s been a crossover between when most cases were present and where their contacts became infected. And 90% of these are in the settings we know are high transmission risk — households and workplaces in particular, where there is extended and repeated indoor contact.




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The more casual contacts described yesterday, in a display home or at the Telstra shop, there might have been some overlap with a case in a small enclosed area for sufficient time to receive an infecting dose.

A further example Sutton provided today was an infection that started with someone sitting in the same outdoor area as a case at a hotel bistro. We know there is less risk in outdoor settings generally, but on a still autumn day, we now know this is all it takes.

Now, as we have transmission in the beer garden, all those nearby will be recategorised as primary close contacts and asked to quarantine for a full 14 days, even if they have returned a negative test. Better to be safe than sorry.

That’s why it’s so important to check in with a QR code. You don’t always know the name of the person who’s standing (or sitting) next to you. It is also why check-ins will now be required at more retail and public venues across the state. Being able to identify contacts in these settings will remove some of the fear associate with this more casual spread.

So what are we to make of this?

This latest news reinforces the importance of QR codes and checking in. You never know who you’re standing next to in a long queue while shopping.
Extending our QR codes into further settings whether retail, grocery stores or display homes, which we now know are a risk, is a good move.

The message remains the same, get tested if you have symptoms or when directed to by public health officials, and isolate when necessary. In particular, keep an eye on those exposure sites, even if you only dropped in to grab a coffee.

But we shouldn’t be overly concerned about COVID-19 spread by “fleeting contact”. The precautions we all know (hygiene, distancing and masks) still work and are our best forms of protection.The Conversation

Catherine Bennett, Chair in Epidemiology, Deakin University

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

Daniel Andrews plans pilot for casual workers’ sick pay but Morrison government critical



Lukas Coch/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Victorian government plans a pilot scheme for up to five days sick and carer’s pay, at the national minimum wage, for casuals or insecure workers in priority industries.

Even though the initiative is at a very early stage, with $5 million in Tuesday’s state budget for consultation on the pilot’s design, the federal government immediately attacked the move.

Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter said it “raises a number of major issues”.

Once underway, the pilot would run two years in selected sectors with high casualisation. It could include cleaners, hospitality staff, security guards, supermarket workers and aged care workers.

“The pilot will roll out in two phases over two years with the occupations eligible for each phase to be finalised after a consultation process that will include workers, industry and unions,” a statement from Premier Daniel Andrews’ office said.

Casual and insecure workers in eligible sectors would be invited to pre-register for the scheme.

While the pilot would be government-funded, any future full scheme would involve a levy on business.

Andrews said: “When people have nothing to fall back on, they make a choice between the safety of their workmates and feeding their family.

“This isn’t going to solve the problem of insecure work overnight but someone has to put their hand up and say we’re going to take this out of the too hard basket and do something about it.”

But Porter said a fully-running scheme would put “a massive tax on Victorian businesses”, which would be paying both the extra loading casuals receive and the levy.

“After Victorian businesses have been through their hardest year in the last century, why on earth would you be starting a policy that promises to finish with another big tax on business at precisely the time they can least afford any more economic hits?”

Porter said it would be better to strengthen the ability of workers to choose to move from casual to permanent full or part-time employment if they wished.

He said this was what had been discussed in the recent federally-run industrial relations working group process involving government and employee and employer representatives.

“It must surely be a better approach to let people have greater choice between casual and permanent employment than forcing businesses to pay a tax so that someone can be both a casual employee and get more wages as compensation for not getting sick leave – but then also tax the business to pay for getting sick leave as well.”

Porter claimed the Victorian approach would be “a business and employment-killing” one.

In the pandemic the federal government has made available a special payment for workers who test COVID-positive or are forced to isolate and don’t have access to paid leave. The Victorian government has provided a payment for those waiting for the result of a COVID test.

The Morrison government will introduce an omnibus industrial relations reform bill before the end of the parliamentary ar, following its consultation process.

A central objective will be to streamline enterprise bargaining. Scott Morrison told the Business Council of Australia last week: “Agreement making is becoming bogged down in detailed, overly prescriptive procedural requirements that make the process just too difficult to undertake”.

He said various issues needed addressing. “The test for approval of agreements should focus on substance rather than technicalities. Agreements should be assessed on actual foreseeable circumstances, not far fetched hypotheticals.” Assessments by the Fair Work Commission should happen within set time frames where there was agreement from the parties.

Morrison said key protections such as the better off overall test would continue but “our goal is to ensure it will be applied in a practical and sensible way so that the approval process does not discourage bargaining, which is what is happening now”.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.

Coronavirus puts casual workers at risk of homelessness unless they get more support



LightField Studios/Shutterstock

Simone Casey, RMIT University and Liss Ralston, Swinburne University of Technology

Our analysis shows an economic downturn as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic will dramatically increase rental stress for people with insecure or casual work. If the downturn persists this will place people in precarious jobs at higher risk of homelessness.

The scenario we explored is the effect of loss of casual work on people on very low incomes. We identify this at-risk group as those aged between 19 and 30 years, living independently with disposable incomes of A$600 a week from casual work or a combination of casual work and benefits.




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They typically work in cafes, restaurants, catering, events, fast food and retail. These are the jobs most immediately impacted by an economic slowdown. It is estimated one in four Australian workers is casual, although not all are on low incomes.

The infographic below illustrates the extreme rental stress a slowdown will cause the low-income casual workers. We have calculated average rent across the broader Melbourne and Sydney metropolitan areas. The infographic shows the impact on rental stress of losing up to A$300 per week of disposable income. The percentages represent the amount of income taken up by rent, with red indicating the most extreme rental stress.


Source: REIA median rental data (December, 2019), A Guide to Australian Government Payments, authors’ calculations

For example, the top row shows a casual worker in Sydney sharing a two-bedroom flat earning A$604 a week had A$344 disposable income after rent. The final row shows an individual in Sydney with A$326 weekly income after losing work income. Their rent then takes up 80% of their income, leaving them with A$66 a week to live on after rent.

The potential impact of the downturn on the disposable income of people with very low incomes means they will be in extreme rental stress unless they have savings.

So do they have savings?

The federal government has suggested casual workers have savings to tide them over. Our analysis of Australian Bureau of Statistics data suggests 38.9% of those earning A$600 or less per week have less than A$600 in savings to get them through. Over a quarter of this group are already in debt.

Another 26.6% of low-income casual workers have a month or less for things to get back to normal.

Average savings of people earning A$600 a week.
Source: Income and Housing, Australia, 2017-18 (Australian Bureau of Statistics), Authors’ calculations

These savings will be used up rapidly when average rent in a share house is A$133-220 per week in Melbourne and A$165-260 in Sydney. These rents include outer metropolitan areas, so rental stress in the inner cities will be worse, as our previous analysis showed.




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The downturn will affect a large number of people already on benefits because their income is partly from benefits and partly from earnings. According to data from the Department of Social Services, 41% of Youth Allowance recipients, 28% of NewStart recipients and 36% of Parenting Payment single recipients are working and therefore receive part-rate allowances.

Will the first economic stimulus package help?

For people already receiving benefits the one-off A$750 stimulus payment will help to tide them over for 3-4 weeks’ rent. But to date casual workers have not been included in that stimulus payment (unless they receive Family Tax Benefit).

People who lose their casual work will be able to get the new JobSeeker payment from March 20. It’s the same as the NewStart rate – A$326 per week (including average rent assistance) – so it is clear they will be in immediate rental stress.




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It’s worth noting this rental crisis is compounded because NewStart has not kept pace with rental increases over the last 25 years. NewStart has been increased by CPI only. The chart below shows how wide the gap between Melbourne rent price increases and CPI has become.

Median increase in Melbourne rents and CPI, June 1999 – December 2019.
Source: Rental Report, Department of Health & Human Services (Dec 2019), Consumer Price Index (ABS), Authors’ calculations

So what needs to be done?

The loss of income for casual workers will result in extreme rental stress for people who were already on low incomes. This issue demands urgent attention to prevent a homelessness epidemic. Agencies like the Council for Homeless Persons are already calling for an immediate moratorium on evictions.

Landlords have a responsibility here as well since they benefit from continuity of rentals and the contribution of government policy to their wealth and assets. For example, low-income rents are paid out of a combination of regular earnings, benefit payments and rent assistance. These will now be supplemented because people on low incomes are likely to use the stimulus package to keep up.

The challenge for the government is to provide support to people on very low incomes that will see them through the entire COVID-19 crisis. One solution would be to immediately increase the JobSeeker payment to help people on low incomes ride out the downturn in casual work. Another solution would be to provide replacement income for casual workers affected by the downturn.The Conversation

Simone Casey, Research Associate, Future Social Service Institute, RMIT University and Liss Ralston, Urban Statistician, Centre for Urban Transitions, Swinburne University of Technology

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

Explainer: what is systemic racism and institutional racism?


Mary Frances O’Dowd, CQUniversity Australia

At the 2020 BAFTA awards, Joaquin Phoenix called out systemic racism in the film industry in his acceptance speech for leading actor.

He said:

I think that we send a very clear message to people of colour that you’re not welcome here. I think that’s the message that we’re sending to people that have contributed so much to our medium and our industry and in ways that we benefit from. […]

I think it’s more than just having sets that are multicultural. We have to do really the hard work to truly understand systemic racism.

“Systemic racism”, or “institutional racism”, refers to how ideas of white superiority are captured in everyday thinking at a systems level: taking in the big picture of how society operates, rather than looking at one-on-one interactions.

These systems can include laws and regulations, but also unquestioned social systems. Systemic racism can stem from education, hiring practices or access.




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In the case of Phoenix at the BAFTAs, he isn’t calling out the racist actions of individuals, but rather the way white is considered the default at every level of the film industry.

Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton first wrote about the concept in their 1967 book Black Power: The Politics of Liberation.

They wrote:

When a black family moves into a home in a white neighborhood and is stoned, burned or routed out, they are victims of an overt act of individual racism which most people will condemn. But it is institutional racism that keeps black people locked in dilapidated slum tenements, subject to the daily prey of exploitative slumlords, merchants, loan sharks and discriminatory real estate agents. The society either pretends it does not know of this latter situation, or is in fact incapable of doing anything meaningful about it.

Invisible systems

Systemic racism assumes white superiority individually, ideologically and institutionally. The assumption of superiority can pervade thinking consciously and unconsciously.

One most obvious example is apartheid, but even with anti-discrimination laws, systemic racism continues.

Individuals may not see themselves as racist, but they can still benefit from systems that privilege white faces and voices.

Anti-racism activist Peggy McIntosh popularised the understanding of the systemic nature of racism with her famous “invisible knapsack” quiz looking at white privilege.

The quiz asks you to count how many statements you agree with, for items such as:

  • I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented
  • I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race
  • I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.

The statements highlight taken-for-granted privileges, and enable people to understand how people of colour may experience society differently.

Cultures of discrimination

Under systemic racism, systems of education, government and the media celebrate and reward some cultures over others.

In employment, names can influence employment opportunities. A Harvard study found job candidates were more likely to get an interview when they “whitened” their name.

Only 10% of black candidates got interview offers when their race could be implied by their resume, but 25% got offers when their resumes were whitened. And 21% of Asian candidates got interview offers with whitened resumes, up from 11.5%.

Systemic racism shows itself in who is disproportionately impacted by our justice system. In Australia, Indigenous people make up 2% of the Australian population, but 28% of the adult prison population.




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A study into how systemic racism impacts this over-representation in Victoria named factors such as over-policing in Aboriginal communities, the financial hardship of bail, and increased rates of drug and alcohol use.

Australia’s literature, theatres and art galleries are all disproportionately white, with less than 10% of artistic directors from culturally diverse backgrounds.




Read more:
Australia’s art institutions don’t reflect our diversity: it’s time to change that


A way forward

Systemic racism damages lives, restricting access and capacity for contribution.

It damages the ethical society we aspire to create.

When white people scoop all the awards, it reinforces a message that other cultures are just not quite good enough.

Public advocacy is critical. Speaking up is essential.

Racism is more than an individual issue. When systemic injustices remain unspoken or accepted, an unethical white privilege is fostered. When individuals and groups point out systemic injustices and inequities, the dominant culture is made accountable.

Find out if your children’s school curriculum engages with Indigenous and multicultural perspectives. Question if your university course on Australian literature omits Aboriginal authors. Watch films and read books by artists who don’t look like you.

As Phoenix put it in his speech:

I’m part of the problem. […] I think it is the obligation of the people that have created and perpetuate and benefit from a system of oppression to be the ones that dismantle it. That’s on us.

Understanding systemic racism is important. To identify these systemic privileges enables us to embrace the point of view of people whose cultures are silenced or minimised.

When we question systemic racism, worth is shared and ideas grow.The Conversation

Mary Frances O’Dowd, Senior Lecturer, Indigenous Studies, CQUniversity Australia

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

The costs of a casual job are now outweighing any pay benefits


Joshua Healy, University of Melbourne and Daniel Nicholson, University of Melbourne

Low wages growth has been a spectre hanging around the Australian economy for some time. In our series What We Earn we unpick the causes for this and why some workers might be feeling it more than others.


Workers aren’t being compensated as much as they should be for precarious work in casual positions.

One in four Australian employees today is a casual worker. Among younger workers (15-24 year olds) the numbers are higher still: more than half of them are casuals.

These jobs come without some of the benefits of permanent employment, such as paid annual holiday leave and sick leave. In exchange for giving up these entitlements, casual workers are supposed to receive a higher hourly rate of pay – known as a casual “loading”.

But the costs of casual work are now outweighing the benefits in wages.

Costs and benefits of casual work

Casual jobs offer flexibility, but also come with costs. For workers, apart from missing out on paid leave, there are other compromises: less predictable working hours and earnings, and the prospect of dismissal without notice. Uncertainty about their future employment can hinder casual workers in other ways, such as making family arrangements, getting a mortgage, and juggling education with work.

Not surprisingly, casual workers have lower expectations about keeping their current job. For example the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) found 19% expect to leave their job within 12 months, compared to 7% of other workers. Casuals are also much less likely to get work-related training, which limits their opportunities for skills development.

The employers of casual workers also face higher costs. High staff turnover adds to recruitment costs. But perhaps the main cost is the “loading” that casual workers are supposed to be paid on top of their ordinary hourly wage.

Australia’s system of minimum wage awards specifies a casual loading of 25%. So, a casual worker paid under an award should get 25% more for each hour than another worker doing the same job on a permanent basis. In enterprise agreements, the casual loading varies by sector, but tends to be between 15 and 25%.

The practice of paying a casual loading developed for two reasons. One was to provide some compensation for workers missing out on paid leave. The other, quite different, motivation was to make casual employment more expensive and discourage excessive use of it. However this disincentive has not prevented the casual sector of the workforce from growing substantially.

Casual jobs aren’t much better paid

One approach in determining whether casual workers are paid more is simply to compare the hourly wages of casual and “non-casual” (permanent and fixed-term) employees in the same occupations. This can be done using data from the 2016 ABS Survey of Employee Earnings and Hours.

We compared median hourly wages for adult non-managerial employees, based on their ordinary earnings and hours of work (i.e. excluding overtime payments). If the median wage for casuals is higher than for non-casuals, there is a casual premium. If the median casual wage is lower, there is a penalty.

The 10 occupations below accounted for over half of all adult casual workers in 2016. In most of these occupations, there is a modest casual wage premium – in the order of 4-5%.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/9OfmG/2/

The size of the typical casual wage premium is much smaller, in most cases, than the loadings written into awards and agreements. Only one occupation (school teachers) has a premium (22%) in line with what might be expected.

Three of the 10 largest casual occupations actually penalise this sort of work. And overall for these 10 occupations there is a casual wage penalty of 5%. This method of analysis suggests that few casual workers enjoy substantially higher wages as a trade-off for paid leave.

Taking a closer look involves controlling for a wider range of differences between casual and non-casual workers. One major Australian study in 2005 compared wages after taking account of many factors other than occupation, including age, education, job location, and employer size.

All else equal, it found that part-time, casual workers do receive an hourly wage premium over full-time, permanent workers. The premium is worth around 10%, on average, for men and between 4 and 7% for women.

These results imply that most casual workers (who are in part-time positions) can expect to receive higher hourly wages than comparable employees in full-time, permanent positions. However, the value of the benefit is again found to be less than would be expected, given the larger casual loadings mentioned in awards and agreements.

It seems that while there is some short-term financial benefit to being a casual worker, this advantage is worth less in practice than on paper.

A recent study, using 14 years of data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey (HILDA), finds no evidence of any long-term pay benefit for casual workers.

The study’s authors estimate that, among men, there is an average casual wage penalty of 10% – the opposite of what we should see if casual loadings fully offset the foregone leave and insecurity of casual jobs. Among female casual workers, there is also a wage penalty, but this is smaller, at around 4%.

This study also finds that the size of the negative casual wage effect tends to reduce over time for individual workers, bringing them closer to equality with permanent workers. But very few casual workers out-earn permanent workers in the long-term.

Inferior jobs, but fewer alternatives

The evidence on hourly wage differences leads us to conclude that casual workers are not being adequately compensated for the lack of paid leave, or for other forms of insecurity they face. This makes casual jobs a less appealing option for workers.

This does not mean that all casual workers dislike their jobs – indeed, many are satisfied. But a clear-eyed look at what these jobs pay suggests their benefits are skewed in favour of employers.

Despite this, the choice for many workers – especially young jobseekers – is increasingly between a casual job or no job at all. Half of employed 15-24 year olds are in casual jobs.

The ConversationIn a labour market characterised by high underemployment and intensifying job competition, young people with little or no work experience are understandably willing to make some sacrifices to get a start in the workforce. The option of “holding out” for a permanent job looks increasingly risky as these opportunities dwindle.

Joshua Healy, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Workplace Leadership, University of Melbourne and Daniel Nicholson, Research Assistant, Industrial Relations, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

PAKISTAN: LAHORE – Sri Lankan Cricket Team Attack: Inside Help???


With the world still coming to terms with the cowardly attack by terrorists on the Sri Lankan cricket team and match officials during the second test in Lahore, questions are being raised concerning the disappearance of security during the attack and the ease with which the terrorists got away.

Many have long suspected connections between various elements within Pakistan’s military and security personnel, with terrorists operating within and without the country, even while Pakistan officially participates in the world alliance against terror. Events in Lahore during the second test have now fuelled these suspicions.

Match officials who were also attacked during the terrorist attack have raised serious questions about alleged security lapses before and during the attack, as well as questions concerning different travel arrangements on the day of the attack to those on the previous days of the test match – was there prior knowledge of an attack and were the Pakistan players shielded from the attack as a result?

Certainly there are some serious questions being raised and more than a few eyebrows are being raised concerning much of what occurred prior to the attack, during the attack and even after the attack, given the apparent ease of the terrorists escape and the casual nature of it.