View from The Hill: Morrison government accepts Victorian closure but won’t budge on High Court border challenges


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison has repeatedly and vociferously championed keeping state borders open.

But on Monday, Morrison was forced to change course, agreeing, in a hook up with premiers Daniel Andrews and Gladys Berejiklian that the Victorian-NSW border should be closed.

In a somewhat Jesuitical distinction, Morrison said they had agreed “now is the time for Victoria to isolate itself from the rest of the country. What’s different here [is] this isn’t other states closing their borders to Victoria”.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd said later “the Commonwealth accepts the need for this action in response to containing spread of the virus”.

But, Kidd said, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee – the federal-state health advisory body so often invoked by Morrison – “was not involved in that decision”.

“The AHPCC does not provide advice on border closures,” Kidd added.

Borders have always been a strictly state matter.




Read more:
Here’s how the Victoria-NSW border closure will work – and how residents might be affected


Even during the high stage of the pandemic, NSW and Victoria kept their border open, unlike Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania.

Monday’s decision to close the border from Tuesday night underlines that we are staring at a dangerous new phase in the evolution of the COVID crisis.

The latest Victorian tally of 127 new cases was a record for the state. Kidd said: “The situation in Melbourne has come as a jolt, not just for the people of Melbourne but people right across Australia who may have thought that this was all behind us. It is not.

“The outbreak in Victoria is a national issue. We are all at risk from a resurgence of COVID-19.”

If the Victorian situation can’t be brought under control quickly – and conditions in Melbourne are complicated, even chaotic – the country could face a new bleak outlook on the health front, with a substantial risk of the virus ticking up elsewhere, regardless of other states keeping out Victorians, and an even deeper than anticipated recession.

Borders have been a source of division among governments from early on.

In particular Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk – now reopening her state’s borders from this Friday though excluding Victorians – found herself under attack from the federal government and also from NSW.




Read more:
Victoria is undeniably in a second wave of COVID-19. It’s time to plan for another statewide lockdown


As well, both Queensland and WA face challenges from Clive Palmer in the High Court over the constitutionality of their border closures. There’s also another case being brought by Queensland tourism operators.

The High Court has sent the three cases to the federal court to look at certain aspects. The WA matter will be before that court on July 13 and 14.

The constitution provides for free trade and intercourse between the states. The key issue is “proportionality” – whether keeping a border closed is reasonable on health grounds at a particular point of time.

The Morrison government, consistent with the Prime Minister’s argument from the get go, is intervening in the cases to argue the borders should have been opened.

WA premier Mark McGowan on Monday was quick to use the Victorian development to call on Morrison to pull out, saying that in light of the Victoria-NSW closure “I’ve asked the Prime Minister to formally withdraw [federal government] support from Clive Palmer’s High Court challenge.

“It does not make sense for the federal government to be supporting a border closure between NSW and Victoria but on the other hand challenging Western Australia’s border in the High Court.

“Quite frankly, the legal challenge, and especially the Commonwealth involvement in it, has now become completely ridiculous.”

But the federal government is refusing to take a step back.




Read more:
Nine Melbourne tower blocks put into ‘hard lockdown’ – what does it mean, and will it work?


Attorney-General Christian Porter noted the challenges were not being brought by the Commonwealth, and said it was the right of any citizen to take legal action if they believed “their basic rights of freedom of interstate movement are being disproportionately taken from them”.

“The Commonwealth has intervened to put evidence and views on the situation … the Court would normally expect the Commonwealth to be involved, given the importance of the issues raised.”

Porter said the Commonwealth’s intervention was to provide its view on whether, constitutionally, border closures were permitted in certain circumstances and not others.

“Clearly the courts will be required to consider whether, in determining these specific cases, border restrictions were proportionate to the health crisis at specific points in time as Australia dealt with the immediate and longer-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Court would expect to hear from the Commonwealth on those types of significant constitutional questions.”

Whatever the legal logic, to be endorsing the Victorian closure but arguing against other states’ abundant caution may be a complicated proposition to defend in the court of public opinion.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.

Victoria is undeniably in a second wave of COVID-19. It’s time to plan for another statewide lockdown


Adrian Esterman, University of South Australia

Victoria recorded its largest daily increase of 127 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, 16 more than the previous peak of 111 cases on March 28.

As I recently wrote, there’s no formal definition of what constitutes a second wave, but a reasonable one might be the return of an outbreak where the numbers of new daily cases reach a peak as high or higher than the original one.

By that definition, a second wave has arrived in Victoria. So why isn’t the state back in lockdown?

What can be done to bring the outbreak under control?

The current strategy of mass testing and information campaigns in hotspot areas, and quarantining whole tower blocks, may not be working. Regardless, cases are now appearing outside the hotspot areas, among people who were most likely infected before the latest measures were put in place.

The Victorian government must now seriously consider going back into statewide Stage 3 lockdown restrictions. Under these rules, there are only four reasons to leave your home: shopping for food and supplies, care and caregiving, exercise, and study and work if it can’t be done from home. And exemptions to quarantine rules should not be granted.

Testing should no longer be a choice. People in 14-day quarantine should be tested on day 11, and if they refuse, made to go into another 14 days of quarantine. Breaking quarantine should be a serious offence.

Far better communication is needed to explain why these measures are essential, and health authorities should ensure their messaging also reaches those who do not speak English as a first language.




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Multilingual Australia is missing out on vital COVID-19 information. No wonder local councils and businesses are stepping in


People should be encouraged to wear face masks whenever outside. There is increasing evidence they are effective in areas of high transmission.

Much more must be done to educate the public about panic buying. If necessary, Australian Defence Force personnel could be used to deliver food and essential supplies to those at high risk, and assist with logistics.

The newly announced closure of the New South Wales and Victoria border is welcome, and probably overdue. It comes after a returned traveller who quarantined in Melbourne tested positive to the virus after working at a Woolworths in Sydney.

Some people living in border communities will be granted an exemption from this closure, including those whose nearest health provider or place of work is just across the border. Hopefully they will be closely monitored and regularly tested.

Finally, all other states and territories should rally to assist Victoria. It is in everyone’s interest to defeat this outbreak.

Where to from here?

At this stage, the situation is unclear. Daily cases could still rapidly increase, or we could have reached the peak and we might start seeing cases subside. However, the number of new cases each day isn’t necessarily the critical factor. More important is the daily number of new community-acquired infections. Because we have no idea where these people got infected, it makes controlling the situation very difficult.

Other cases are not a major threat as it’s possible to contain them with quarantine and contact tracing. If necessary, additional staff experienced at contact tracing can easily be brought in from other states.

The first epidemic wave was controlled by imposing severe restrictions. Unfortunately, history might have to repeat itself.


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

Adrian Esterman, Professor of Biostatistics, University of South Australia

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

Can I cross the NSW-Victoria border? There are exemptions, but you’ll need a very good reason


Jon Iredell, University of Sydney

The NSW-Victorian border will be closed as of midnight Tuesday this week, the NSW and Victorian premiers have announced, in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The announcement comes amid a resurgence of COVID-19 cases in Victoria, which has returned several postcodes to Stage 3 Stay-At-Home restrictions and instituted a “hard lockdown” in at least nine Melbourne tower blocks.

In a press conference on Monday morning, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said people seeking an exemption to the temporary border closure will be able to apply through the Service NSW portal.

It’s good exemptions are available – but it’s crucial these options are not abused. The exemption option is there for people who really need it but please don’t treat it as a challenge.

We all have a shared responsibility to do all we can to limit the spread of COVID-19. That means staying home if unwell, practising physical distancing where warranted, washing hands diligently and getting tested if you have any COVID-19 symptoms.


The Conversation, CC BY-ND

What we know about exemptions to the border closure

In her press conference, Berejiklian said

Tomorrow midnight is when all Victorians will be prevented from coming across the border unless they have a permit […] The next 72 hours will be difficult, for some people who normally travel across the border for their daily lives will be restrained until we get the permit system in place and we hope that will happen in the next two days.

When asked about people who already had flights or train trips booked, Berejiklian said

There will always be exemptions due to hardship cases, people can apply for permits or exemptions. And so, for those reasons, we anticipate there will still be some flights and trains services available. There will also be NSW residents returning home […] we will be relying on them to self-isolate.

In the same press conference, NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said:

it will be difficult, not impossible, but difficult to make that crossing. There will be delays whilst we work through who are essential workers.

Victorians in NSW would be allowed to return to Victoria, the ABC reports. A NSW government press release said “NSW residents returning from a Melbourne hotspot are already required to go into 14 days of self-isolation. This requirement will be extended to anyone returning from Victoria. This will be backed by heavy penalties and fines.”

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said:

There will be a facility for people who live on those border communities to be able to travel to and from for the purposes of work, the purposes of the essential health services they might need… [but holidays would] not be an acceptable reason.

Infectious diseases clinicians and researchers in my field realise this will be frustrating for many people, especially as it comes during school holidays. But the risk of cross border transmission is very real.

Please don’t treat the border closure as a challenge, or seek exemption unless you have a very good reason to do so. Many of us will miss out on much-anticipated family catch-ups and events; it is sad but necessary, unfortunately. Any cross-border movement increases risk and we all have a responsibility to do what we can to minimise it. It’s not even a law enforcement issue; it’s about doing what’s right.

Everyone feels frustrated but moving across the border right now really does magnify risk and we risk losing control.

It’s possible to have trivial or even no symptoms but still be capable of spreading COVID-19.

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Don’t dismiss it as ‘just a cough’

Australians have a culture of soldiering on when sick and dismissing symptoms as “just a cough” or “just a runny nose”. We really need to change that mindset and make sure we get tested if we have any symptoms at all, and physically distance from others.

The key messages are to wash hands and if you’re at all unwell, cover your cough and face, stay home, self-isolate and get tested.

Testing in Australia is phenomenally available. We are so lucky to have such great testing facilities so easily accessible and we should avail ourselves of them.

The risk is if we don’t observe the border closures sensibly, minimise spread and test appropriately we will do excessive damage to the economy or lose control of the outbreak – or both.




Read more:
Nine Melbourne tower blocks put into ‘hard lockdown’ – what does it mean, and will it work?


The Conversation


Jon Iredell, Professor, Medicine and Microbiology (conjoint), University of Sydney

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

Here’s how the Victoria-NSW border closure will work – and how residents might be affected



Wikimedia Commons

Andrew Burridge, Macquarie University

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has announced the border between his state and NSW will close after 11:59pm on Tuesday to prevent the coronavirus outbreak in Melbourne from spreading further.

It will be the first border shutdown between the two states since 1919, when the Spanish flu epidemic prompted the NSW government to close its borders with Victoria, Queensland and South Australia to slow the spread of the virus.

What will this new shutdown mean for residents on both sides of the border and what are the potential longer-term consequences of the closure, as well as those between other states?

How will residents be affected?

There are more than 50 land crossings between NSW and Victoria, peppered between the coast and South Australia. Last year, NSW welcomed more than 4.7 million overnight visitors from Victoria.

There are also a number of interconnected communities along the length of the border, most notably Albury-Wodonga along the Murray River. There are some 89,000 people living in those towns, according to the 2016 census. Other large border towns include Echuca, Swan Hill and Mildura.




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Since the outbreak of COVID-19, many states have announced similar border “closures”. It should be noted, however, that borders rarely, if ever, close completely. They are designed to act as filters, allowing officials to decide who, or what, crosses.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced the border closure after talks with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Daniel Pockett/AAP

In other states with closed borders, residents in border communities have been given permits or exemptions to cross for specific reasons, such as specialist work or to care for sick relatives.

Permits for the NSW-Victoria border will likely be made available for residents of border communities like Albury-Wodonga and for those who believe they must cross for “exceptional circumstances.”

The permit system will also likely allow people to cross the border for health care. The Albury and Wodonga health system is unique in that it straddles the state line, providing service to 250,000 people in the region. The state of Victoria runs the Albury Hospital, even though it is located in NSW.

Trade is also unlikely to be highly affected. The NSW-Queensland border has been closed since March, but freight trucks have generally been allowed to continue to cross unfettered, though perhaps more slowly than usual.

Constitutionality of border closures

Even though there have been few disruptions, this has not stopped challenges to the High Court over whether such closures are constitutional.

Section 92 of Australia’s constitution says

trade, commerce, and intercourse among the states, whether by means of internal carriage or ocean navigation, shall be absolutely free.

There are some exceptions to this freedom, though, particularly when it is necessary to protect the people of a state from the risk of injury from inbound goods, animals and people.

COVID-19 has generally been accepted as a reason for imposing border closures.

This has happened in Australia before. In January 1919, during the Spanish flu outbreak, a case of influenza arrived in NSW from Victoria.

NSW unilaterally closed the border between the states, followed by other closures (notably between NSW and Queensland). Some people tried to circumvent the border restrictions by taking to the sea.

The NSW-Queensland border was closed in March, causing traffic back-ups and headaches for residents who live there.
Jason O’Brien/AAP

Have there been border disputes before?

Victoria officially became an independent colony on July 1, 1851, with the border defined under the Australian Constitutions Act as

a straight line drawn from Cape How (sic) to the nearest source of the River Murray and thence the course of that river to the eastern boundary of the province of South Australia.

A boundary survey was conducted in the 1870s by Alexander Black and Alexander Allan to demarcate the straight line portion of border through the often mountainous terrain between the two colonies.

Disputes over the boundary have persisted since then, with reports noting that fishermen blew up the original cairn at Cape Howe to avoid license fees.

These disputes eventually found their way to the High Court in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly in regards to the boundary along the Murray River. The entirety of the river was found to sit within NSW in the 1980 ruling of a case involving bizarre circumstances – the jurisdiction of a murder that took place on the shoreline.

In 1984, the straight-line border between the states was resurveyed by the Department of Surveying, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, and renamed the Black-Allan line in honour of the first surveyors. The border was not officially recognised in name until 1998 by the Geographic Place Names Act.




Read more:
Nine Melbourne tower blocks put into ‘hard lockdown’ – what does it mean, and will it work?


What do border closures mean long-term?

One point of concern in the states’ response to the pandemic is the way it has changed the way we talk and think about borders. We have begun to separate ourselves from our neighbours.

And while the political rhetoric that goes back and forth between states has been mostly trivial in nature (think of Andrews’ comment about who would want to travel to SA), there is a risk of longer-term damage to relations between states.

Perhaps more importantly, some cross-border residents have been subjected to abuse for legitimately crossing state lines, often identified by their license plates.

Health experts have also disagreed over the need for border closures, with some saying there is a lack of evidence for their effectiveness in curbing disease transmission. However, even these messages have been mixed, and some have been politicised.

How NSW and Victoria proceed in managing their highly crossed and integrated border will throw up previously unforeseen challenges that Black and Allan were unlikely to have considered while navigating the alpine terrain between the colonies 150 years ago.

The boundary marker monument on the NSW-Victoria border in Genoa, an area affected by this summer’s bushfires, reminds us of the need for cross-state cooperation on issues that are not confined neatly within borders.




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Lockdowns, second waves and burn outs. Spanish flu’s clues about how coronavirus might play out in Australia


The Conversation


Andrew Burridge, Lecturer in Human Geography, Macquarie University

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

Melbourne tower lockdowns unfairly target already vulnerable public housing residents



James Ross/AAP

David Kelly, RMIT University; Kate Shaw, University of Melbourne, and Libby Porter, RMIT University

This week, the Victorian government unilaterally placed the residents of nine public housing towers in inner Melbourne under “hard lockdown” due to the “explosive potential” of increasing COVID-19 cases.

The lockdown requires all residents of these estates to remain inside their homes for at least five days, placing around 3,000 residents under special punitive measures that apply to no one else in Victoria. Residents are “reeling”.

The lockdown is being enforced by a significant police presence on the estates, with officers on every floor, no warning and immediate effect. Other outbreak areas have been given more than 24 hours’ notice for similar numbers of coronavirus cases.

Outbreaks in more affluent areas, such as the Mornington Peninsula, have not been met with the same harsh restrictions.

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Emma King, the Victorian Council of Social Service CEO, described the lockdown of the estates as looking “like a crime scene”. A pandemic response should not be a crime scene. It is a collective, public health issue from which no one is immune.

The government’s justification for this action is that residents of public housing are vulnerable and living in high density with many shared spaces. The latter is true of any large apartment building in Melbourne.

Quarantine from Toorak to Broadmeadows should look the same if we are following public health guidelines. If living conditions in public housing are riskier than elsewhere then we need to ask why.

If it is true that communities in housing stress are more susceptible to pandemics, we need to ask how and why this should be true in such a privileged country as Australia.




Read more:
Overcrowding and affordability stress: Melbourne’s COVID-19 hotspots are also housing crisis hotspots


Public housing has been suffering for decades

What is unfolding in Melbourne this week is the product of a punitive public housing system whose residents have been neglected for decades. The status of “vulnerable” that governments so blithely apply to public housing tenants does not come from nowhere.

Vulnerability is not an objective condition, but the result of a system geared toward inequality and enabled by policy choices. Public housing in Victoria is the product of decades of neglect, disinvestment and stigmatisation by governments and media.

The amount of public housing in Victoria has been declining in real terms for at least two decades, with fewer dwellings in 2019 (64,428) than in 2009 (65,064). Victoria has the lowest proportion of public housing of all the Australian states.

At the same time, the number of people experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity in Victoria has increased to 100,000, according to waiting lists. Repeated inquiries and reports point to inadequate investment, poor maintenance and lack of strategy. Overcrowding is a function of a broken system.

These conditions directly feed a narrative of decline that is used to stigmatise, detain, constrain and displace public housing residents.

It is no coincidence the estates under lockdown are also earmarked for “socially-mixed” redevelopment and privatisation, which will break up the existing communities and provide even fewer places for those on lowest incomes.

There are alternatives to a hard lockdown

The public housing lockdowns are a police-led intervention in an already over-policed community. There is now welcome evidence of social services engagement, but this comes as a secondary consideration.

The residents of the affected towers do not need more policing. They have community-based and grassroots organisations such as RISE that have been actively engaged as members of the community. The spike in cases demands a health care response, not a police response.




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Nine Melbourne tower blocks put into ‘hard lockdown’ – what does it mean, and will it work?


The Victorian government did not have to look far for existing models, such as the Aboriginal-led COVID-19 response across Australia, which demonstrates the effectiveness of community-led initiatives.

The most effective models for delivering public housing at a scale that can address need are also well-known to policy-makers and academics. Yet this government continues to pursue policies that reduce the amount of public housing available.

What Victoria needs is more and better quality public housing and supportive community-building practices that grant everyone the same dignities. Let’s trust those living in public housing.

If the right information, in the right language, with trusting relationships with government and other authorities were enabled, this public health crisis could be worked through in a just and equitable way. As it seems to be in all other sections of Victorian society.




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Victoria is on the precipice of an uncontrolled coronavirus outbreak. Will the new measures work?


The Conversation


David Kelly, Research Fellow, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University; Kate Shaw, Future Fellow, University of Melbourne, and Libby Porter, Professor of Urban Planning, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University

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

Global report gives Australia an A for coronavirus response but a D on climate


John Thwaites, Monash University

The global Sustainable Development Report 2020, released this week in New York, ranks Australia third among OECD countries for the effectiveness of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, beaten by only South Korea and Latvia.

Yet Australia trundled in at 37th in the world on its overall progress in achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which cover a range of economic, social and environmental challenges – many of which will be crucial considerations as we recover from the pandemic. Australia’s worst results are in climate action and the environment, where we rate well below most other OECD countries.




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South Korea tops the list of effective COVID-19 responses, whereas New Zealand (which declared the coronavirus eliminated on June 8, albeit with a few sporadic cases since) is ranked ninth. Meanwhile, the United States, United Kingdom and several other Western European countries rank at the bottom of the list.

Nations’ COVID-19 responses, ranked by the UN.
United Nations, Author provided

South Korea, Latvia and Australia did well because they not only kept infection and death rates low, but did so with less economic and social disruption than other nations. Rather than having to resort to severe lockdowns, they did this by testing and tracing, encouraging community behaviour change, and quarantining people arriving from overseas.

Using smartphone data from Google, the report shows that during the severe lockdown in Spain and Italy between March and May this year, mobility within the community – including visits to shops and work – declined by 62% and 60%, respectively. This shows how much these countries were struggling to keep the virus at bay. In contrast, mobility declined by less than 25% in Australia and by only 10% in South Korea.

Australia outperformed the OECD average on COVID-19 reponse.
Author provided

Why has Australia performed well?

There are several reasons why Australia’s COVID-19 response has been strong, although major challenges remain. National and state governments have followed expert scientific advice from early in the pandemic.

The creation of the National Cabinet fostered relatively harmonious decision-making between the Commonwealth and the states. Australia has a strong public health system and the Australian public has a history of successfully embracing behaviour change. We have shown admirable adaptability and innovation, for example in the radical expansion of telehealth.

We should learn from these successes. The Sustainable Development Goals provide a useful framework for planning to “build back better”.




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The Sustainable Development Goals, agreed by all countries in 2015, encompass a set of 17 goals and 169 targets to be met by 2030. Among the central aims are economic prosperity, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability. They are arguably even more important than before in considering how best to shape our post-pandemic world.

As the report points out, the fallout from COVID-19 is likely to have a highly negative impact on achievement of many of the goals: increased poverty due to job losses (goal 1), disease, death and mental health risks (goal 3), disproportionate economic impacts on women and domestic violence (goal 5), loss of jobs and business closures (goal 8), growing inequality (goal 10), and reduction in use of public transport (goal 11). The impact on the environmental goals is still unclear: the short-term reduction in global greenhouse emissions is accompanied by pressure to reduce environmental safeguards in the name of economic recovery.

How do we ‘build back better’?

The SDGs already give us a roadmap, so really we just need to keep our sights set firmly on the targets agreed for 2030. Before COVID-19, the world was making progress towards achieving the goals. The percentage of people living in extreme poverty fell from 10% in 2015 to 8.6% in 2018. Access to basic transport infrastructure and broadband have been growing rapidly in most parts of the world.

Australia’s story is less positive, however. On a composite index of performance on 115 indicators covering all 17 goals, the report puts Australia 37th in the world, but well behind most of the countries to which we like to compare ourselves. Sweden, Denmark and Finland top the overall rankings, followed by France and Germany. New Zealand is 16th.

It is not surprising, in light of our performance during the pandemic, that Australia’s strongest performance is on goal 3: good health. The report rates Australia as on track to achieve all health targets.




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Australia also performs strongly on education (goal 4), and moderately well on goals relating to water, economic growth, infrastructure and sustainable cities. However, we perform extremely poorly in energy (goal 7), climate change (goal 13) and responsible consumption and production (goal 12), where our reliance on fossil fuels and wasteful business practices puts us near the bottom of the field.

On clean energy (goal 7), the share of renewable energy in total primary energy supply (including electricity, transport and industry) is only 6.9%. In Germany it is 14.1%, and in Denmark an impressive 33.4%.

Australia rates poorly on goal 12, responsible consumption and production, with 23.6kg of electronic waste per person and high sulfur dioxide and nitrogen emissions.

Australia’s performance on goal 13, climate action, is a clear fail. Our annual energy-related carbon dioxide emissions are 14.8 tonnes per person – much higher than the 5.5 tonnes for the average Brit, and 4.3 tonnes for the typical Swede.




Read more:
Climate action is the key to Australia achieving the Sustainable Development Goals


And whereas in the Nordic countries the indicators for goal 15 — biodiversity and life on land — are generally improving, the Red List measuring species survival is getting worse in Australia.

There are many countries that consider themselves world leaders but now wish they had taken earlier and stronger action against COVID-19. Australia listened to the experts, took prompt action, and can hopefully look back on the pandemic with few regrets.

But on current form, there will be plenty to regret about our reluctance to follow scientific advice on climate change and environmental degradation, and our refusal to show anything like the necessary urgency.


The original version of this article reported that New Zealand was ranked sixth for its coronavirus response. It was in fact ranked ninth. This has been corrected.The Conversation

John Thwaites, Chair, Monash Sustainable Development Institute & ClimateWorks Australia, Monash University

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

Nine Melbourne tower blocks put into ‘hard lockdown’ – what does it mean, and will it work?


Philip Russo, Monash University

The Victorian government’s decision to “close and contain” nine public housing towers in Flemington and North Melbourne represents a significant escalation in the fight against COVID-19. Under the stringent new rules, some 3,000 residents will be placed under “hard lockdown” and banned from leaving their homes for at least five days.

This move, announced by Premier Daniel Andrews on Saturday, also sees the Flemington and North Melbourne postcodes added to the ten already placed on stage 3 lockdown earlier in the week.

The latest response follows the identification of 108 new cases in Victoria on Saturday – the second-highest daily count in Victoria since the pandemic began. Of these new cases, 23 were from 12 households in these housing estates.




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There are many questions relating to this decision. But first we must acknowledge, as Housing Minister Richard Wynne already has, that “people living in these public housing towers are some of the most vulnerable people in our community”.

While it is vital for the wider Victorian public that the tower block residents follow the rules, they will also need support during the lockdown. Already there are reports the strong police presence is triggering fear, as well as concern about further employment loss and financial stress.

It is vital close health and welfare supervision is provided, and all standard requirements for normal daily living delivered to their door. The government has waived residents’ rent for the next two weeks, and promised hardship payments of A$1,500 to residents forced to miss work and A$750 to those without employment.

The “close and contain” strategy is fundamental in outbreak control. Restricting residents’ movement aims to prevent further spread of the virus by sealing off known hotspot sites for the duration of the coronavirus’s incubation period.

The strategy is similar to that used in aged care facilities with reasonable success, and Andrews has refused to rule out further hard lockdowns in other sites with significant COVID-19 clusters.




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Victoria locks down 36 Melbourne suburbs to try to control COVID-19 spike


Will the hard lockdown be successful in containing the virus? We know the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, is spread via close contact with droplets from an infected person, or by touching contaminated surfaces. Physical distancing, good hygiene, avoiding large gatherings, and isolation are the best defences.

Housing estates are characterised by their close confines and shared community spaces. Furthermore, Victorian Public Tenants Association executive officer Mark Feenane has acknowledged that “overcrowded living conditions” would assist the spread of the virus. Sadly, conditions in these tower blocks are ripe for spreading COVID-19.

Its not hard to do the maths. In an uncontrolled outbreak with a reported reproductive rate (the number of new cases spawned by each known case) of around 2, and cases doubling every four days, it is easy to see how 23 cases in 12 homes could rapidly escalate to hundreds or thousands if no action is taken. So the action to “close and contain” and test all residents is a sensible and necessary move.

The next move will depend on the test results and the number of further cases during the five-day hard lockdown. Unfortunately it is hard to say with confidence how many new cases may be identified.

So what happens next? Today (Sunday) there were 74 newly discovered cases in Victoria. Of these, four are residents of the towers. Across the state there are 543 active cases, and thousands of close contacts of those cases are in isolation while they await the results.

As Andrews has warned, further postcode lockdowns may be inevitable. What is uncertain is how many postcode lockdowns would have to occur before the decision is made to reinstate stage 3 restrictions across the entire state.




Read more:
Lockdown returns: how far can coronavirus measures go before they infringe on human rights?


For those Victorians not in lockdown, the message has never been clearer. Stay at home if you are unwell, get tested if you have symptoms, maintain physical distancing, and practise good hand hygiene.

The nine tower blocks are currently the focal point, but all Victorians have a role to play.The Conversation

Philip Russo, Associate Professor, Director Cabrini Monash University Department of Nursing Research, Monash University

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

The US has bought most of the world’s remdesivir. Here’s what it means for the rest of us



Dimitri Karastelev/Unsplash, CC BY

Barbara Mintzes, University of Sydney and Ellen ‘t Hoen, University of Groningen

To beat the coronavirus pandemic, countries need to collaborate. We need the best possible science to develop vaccines and drugs, and to test, track and contain the virus. If we’ve learned anything from the rapid global spread of this virus, it’s that we’re all in this together.

It was therefore shocking to hear, on June 29, that the US government has bought more than 500,000 treatment courses of the antiviral drug remdesivir, representing manufacturer Gilead’s entire production capacity for the next three months and effectively excluding other countries from accessing this drug.




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The purchase raises concerns, not only about access to remdesivir in other countries, but more broadly about how to prevent profiteering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gilead announced its global price for remdesivir on June 29 as US$390 per vial. The Guardian has reported the cost to the US government will be US$3,200 for a six-day treatment. In contrast, production costs for remdesivir are estimated at 93 US cents for one day’s treatment, or less than US$6 for an entire course.

The profit motive

It was hardly a secret that Gilead was seeking to profit from its product. Earlier this year, it applied for seven years of “orphan drug exclusivity” for remdesivir – a status that extends a drug’s period of patent protection, and is meant to act as a regulatory incentive to develop drugs for rare diseases. If only COVID-19 were rare!

The US Food and Drug Administration granted the exclusivity 12 days after the World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 a pandemic. The move was met with strong criticism and Gilead has since rescinded the orphan drug status.

US consumer group Public Citizen estimates taxpayers in the US, Europe and Asia have contributed US$70.5 million in development costs for remdesivir. The list of US government grants is impressive and begs the question of whether remdesivir should be in the public domain. Instead, Gilead maintains a monopoly on sales, holding patents in many countries, the latest of which lasts until 2036.

Remdesivir’s revenue this year could be US$2.3 billion, which would make the drug a blockbuster.

We might criticise Gilead, but this is how commercial drug companies function – in non-pandemic times, at least. But it does call into question pharma’s lofty promises of ensuring “equitable global access” to COVID-19 treatments.




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Is remdesivir worthwhile anyway?

If remdesivir doesn’t work, the US purchase would be a waste of money. The first report of benefit was a small follow-up study of 53 patients with no comparison group. This was followed by a more rigorous randomised controlled trial from China, published in the Lancet, in which remdesivir did not outperform placebo. However, fewer patients were recruited than anticipated.

A third, mainly publicly funded trial by the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases found patients given remdesivir recovered four days earlier, on average, than those not treated with the drug. But it also found no statistically significant difference in death rate between the two groups.

That study was also stopped early, which can lead to exaggerated estimates of treatment benefits. A British Medical Journal editorial highlighted the study’s financial links to Gilead as another source of bias.




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More trials are ongoing, but until more evidence becomes available we really don’t know whether remdesivir significantly helps COVID-19 patients. If it does, it would be needed not only in the US but globally. Now Gilead’s supply is confined to the US, what can other countries do?

As a stopgap measure, Gilead has donated a stockpile of remdesivir to Australia, but it’s unclear whether this is a one-time-only act of generosity, or indeed why Gilead would donate its products to a wealthy country like Australia.

Bypass Gilead’s patents?

Gilead has voluntary licence agreements with manufacturers in Egypt, India and Pakistan to supply remdesivir to 127 lower-income countries. Under these agreements, Gilead allows generic manufacturers to produce remdesivir with specified conditions, such as limits on where it can be sold. A company in Bangladesh, where Gilead holds no patents, also produces generic remdesivir.

Where Gilead holds patents, countries could nevertheless gain access to generic remdesivir by issuing a compulsory licence. This is a recognised measure under both international trade law and the patent laws of many countries, including Australia. A compulsory licence grants the right to produce and sell a patented drug without the permission of the patent holder, both domestically and to other countries that have also issued a compulsory licence.

Boost international solidarity

The remdesivir saga highlights the need for greater international solidarity and a more public health-oriented approach to the development of new treatments. On June 1, 2020, the World Health Organisation addressed this by launching the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP), which offers a way to share knowledge and intellectual property in response to COVID-19.

Countries and charities spending billions of dollars on developing new vaccines and drugs should require that technologies developed with public funds are shared with C-TAP.

Unfortunately, Australia has not yet pledged its support to C-TAP. Perhaps the recent experience with remdesivir will help the government realise that an open and collaborative approach is a much-needed alternative to one country hoarding the world’s supply of an overpriced and largely unproven drug.The Conversation

Barbara Mintzes, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Sydney and Ellen ‘t Hoen, Global Health Law Fellow, University Medical Centre Groningen, University of Groningen

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