Dine in or walk away? How to tell if a venue is COVID safe in NSW



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Lisa Bricknell, CQUniversity Australia

New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian has called for more businesses to register as COVID Safe, as the state recorded 19 new cases of coronavirus in the 24 hours to 8pm Tuesday night. Berejiklian said:

If I walk into a venue and I’m not comfortable with how COVID safe that venue is, I’d leave. I expect patrons to do the same.

Good advice — and timely, too. As NSW Health’s Jeremy McAnulty said on Wednesday, NSW is “at a knife’s edge, a critical point”.

Here’s what to look for when you walk into a bar, cafe or restaurant to know if it’s COVID safe — and how to know when to walk out the door.




Read more:
How to stay safe in restaurants and cafes


What to look for

Familiarise yourself with the rules business must follow to register as a COVID Safe business in NSW. The rules are here.

Screenshot of the steps to become a COVID Safe business.
Steps to become a COVID Safe business, according to NSW Health.
NSW Health

Check to see the venue’s COVID Safe certificate is clearly displayed and that they are taking every patron’s contact details. If a patron is dining in, the venue must be recording their contact details or checking they are registered with the COVIDSafe app.

If they’re not recording people’s details in some way, leave. If a COVID-19 positive case visits that venue, contact tracers are unable to do their job unless all patrons’ details are recorded.

Check if tables are appropriately spaced and that cutlery, napkins, glasses, plates, bowls or straws aren’t left lying on tables — even if they are disposable. Nothing should be on the table for people to pick up (or in a tub for patrons to collect themselves). Cutlery and other utensils should be brought out by staff when your order is ready. The idea is to reduce the risk of a COVID-19 positive person handling your utensils.

Your table should be 1.5m away from other tables but I’d even be trying to keep 1.5m from friends at my own table. Personally, I’d also want to see my friends wearing masks (it’s different if you’re dining with people with whom you live). Even if you or your friend had a COVID-19 test yesterday and it came back negative, that doesn’t mean you’re negative today. You could have been infected in the past 12 hours.




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Watch what happens when a patron leaves. Are staff appropriately sanitising tables and chairs with spray and, ideally, disposable paper towel? They should be.

Look around to see if the venue provides hand sanitiser for patrons — and keep an eye on the staff to make sure they are using it too.

Staff, ideally, should be wearing masks, in my view. I know that’s not yet compulsory in many places, but masks provide a barrier if a staff member is unknowingly positive. It’s hard to make patrons wear masks, because they have to eat, but I’d be looking for the staff to be wearing them (all staff, not just a couple).

Check if the venue is enforcing contactless transactions to reduce the handling of money, cards and pin pads. I know the evidence about the role of surfaces in spreading this coronavirus is still emerging but we should stick to universal precautions — if something can be avoided, it should be.

Staff should be limiting the number of patrons at the venue, and the number of patrons allowed in the venue at any one time should be clearly displayed. If people are lining up outside, make sure they are being spaced out too.

In general, aim for an open-air setting if you can, such as a beer garden or an open-air cafe. The more fresh air flow you have around you, the more transmission risk is reduced. Any sort of indoor socialising, where air flow is limited, is inherently risky at the moment in NSW.

People sitting in a restaurant with coronavirus restrictions
Eating out? Check to see if staff are sanitising surfaces, wearing masks, using contactless payment, and spacing out customers.
Shutterstock

When to leave

Breaches of any of the above would be enough to make me want to leave. But here are some more triggers that would make me think, “I’m getting out of here.”

If you see staff or patrons with symptoms — they have a cough, or cold, or seem unwell — leave.

If they are not wiping surfaces or tables, or allowing patrons to come in and seat themselves, leave. Patrons should be shown to tables that have been sanitised.

If the place is starting to fill up and you sense physical distancing is not being observed — leave.

A critical point

NSW is at an especially critical point. I’d be very, very careful right now. If I was in a Sydney hotspot, I wouldn’t be going out to dinner at all.

NSW is doing a good job of putting out spot fires but any one of those spot fires can flare up if people aren’t taking precautions.

If you thinking of going out, and you are wondering if it is risky, then you are better off not doing it. If you feel you have to go, then mitigate your risk by moving the event outside or making sure everyone is distancing and wearing masks.

COVID-19 is a really serious disease that affects young and old. You can get sick or even die, even if you are young and healthy — and the evidence on long term effects is worrying. And of course, healthy people can pass it on to someone who is in a high risk category. It’s so important that everyone continues to observe the appropriate protocols — today. This week. This weekend.

Until COVID-19 either burns out globally or we get a vaccine — and neither of those are right on the horizon and may not happen at all — then this may become the new normal, sadly. Infection control measures remain our best chance of keeping the pandemic in check.The Conversation

Lisa Bricknell, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Health, CQUniversity Australia

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

Vital Signs: We’re testing 50,000 Australians a day for COVID-19. Should it be 6.5 million?


Richard Holden, UNSW

As Victoria grapples with a second-wave outbreak of COVID-19, the importance of large-scale testing has again been highlighted.

Without its “testing blitz” aiming at 10,000 tests a day, the extent of the outbreak would have been invisible for much longer.




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Australia-wide, we’ve so far achieved a seven-day rolling average of a little more than 50,000 tests a day.



Since the beginning of the pandemic, proponents of mass testing having been arguing the need to test dramatically larger numbers.

One is US economist Paul Romer, who shared the 2018 Nobel Prize for economics for his work on the importance of knowledge and ideas in the economy. In late March he modelled a “frequent testing policy” in which:

7% of the population is randomly selected for testing each day. Over the 500 days illustrated in the plots and the animation, this means that the average person is tested about 30 times in 500 days – roughly once very two weeks.

This rate of testing would mean testing close to 2 million Australians a day. But even that is probably not enough.

The mathematics of mass testing

To appreciate why an even large number of tests is needed, imagine purely random testing is being used. That is, testing not focused on “hot spots” as has been the case in Melbourne.

Testing, tracing and isolating will only be effective if, on average, the process identifies cases before those people transmit the virus. Epidemiologists call the number of infections caused by a single case the “reproduction” (R) number. If it’s less than 1, the pandemic will die out. If it’s more than 1, the virus spreads.

When uncontrolled, COVID-19 spreads roughly once every six days. This corresponds to a reproduction number of 2.5 over the 15 days a person with COVID-19 is generally infectious.

Moreover, as Romer notes, current tests are far from perfect. He assumes a 20% false negative rate (tests results saying someone doesn’t have COVID-19 when they do) and a 1% false positive rate (results saying someone has it when they don’t).

The mathematics says to control the disease we need to test the entire population roughly every four days.

In a paper published by Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, Divya Siddarth and Glen Weyl] calculate the 20% who are false negatives will, on average, pass the virus to 2.5 people. The other 80% of cases are caught on average halfway through the testing cycle.

To put it in basic maths terms, if we test people every “x” days, we catch those infections on average after half that time (x/2 days). To keep the effective reproduction rate at, say, 0.75 we need “x” to be 3.75. That means testing everyone roughly once every four days.

And that would mean testing more than 6.5 million Australians a day. Yikes!

Asymptomatic cases

Given the scale needed to make random testing a success, it is perhaps not surprising authorities have opted for targeted testing – focusing on transmission hot spots.

But Siddarth and Weyl explain the fatal flaw with any testing strategy reacting only to symptomatic cases:

By the time symptomatic patients show up, they will already have infected .833 people. Furthermore, 20% of those infected will be asymptomatic throughout the time they have the disease, and 20% of those tested will yield false negatives. This means that a policy of only testing those who present with symptoms and only quarantining those who test positive will lead an average infected individual to infect others at a rate of 1.4.

Being above 1, this means the virus still grows exponentially.




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Testing with contact tracing

A better solution is to test based on rigorous contact tracing of known infections. This is why governments pinned such great hopes on the technology of tracing apps such as Australia’s COVIDSafe.

Siddarth and Weyl consider a kind of best-case scenario that traces everyone an infectious person has come into contact with, and everyone those people have come into contact with as well. They calculate this could lead to tracking down 75% of cases. Other transmission would be pursued through prompt testing of everyone with symptoms.

In the US this would require about 2 million tests a day. In Australia it would need about 150,000 tests a day – three times as many tests as are being done now.

Group testing

An intriguing solution is “group testing”. This idea has been around since the 1940s and involves pooling patient specimens for testing. If the pooled test is negative, the whole group is cleared. If the test is positive, more focused testing is done to identify individual cases.




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The question, then, is what is the optimal group-testing strategy? For instance, what is the best group size to choose? Should some people be placed in multiple groups? Should there be multiple stages of group testing?

In a US National Bureau of Economic Research working paper published this month, four scholars from the University of California Berkeley show how machine learning can help to determine the optimal strategy.

For example, optimal group test size depends on the prevalence of the virus in the population. By estimating individual risk profiles – a person’s age, pre-existing health problems, where they live, if they work in a job that exposes them to risks, and so on – it is possible to target tests more efficiently than if treating everyone as equally at risk.

The goal is to improve predictive accuracy by incorporating as many observable characteristics that may influence risk as possible. This is a classic problem for “supervised machine learning”. Using machine learning could make group testing perhaps four to five times more efficient, the Berkeley researchers suggest.

Done this way, we might be able to achieve an effective strategy by testing as few as 30,000 to 40,000 Australians a day.

But the approach will need to be very different from now.

Our pre-vaccine future

Until an effective vaccine is found and widely deployed, testing is crucial to control COVID-19.

As the Berkeley authors emphasise, modern analytic techniques can make “high-frequency, intelligent group testing a powerful new tool in the fight against COVID-19, and potentially other infectious diseases”.

We need all the tools we can find.The Conversation

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW

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

COVID-19 death toll estimated to reach 3,900 by next Friday, according to AI modelling


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

The coronavirus disease COVID-19 has so far caused about 3,380 deaths, infected about 98,300 people, and is significantly impacting the economy in many countries.

We used predictive analytics, a branch of artificial intelligence (AI), to forecast how many confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths can be expected in the near future.

Our method predicts that by March 13, the virus death toll will have climbed to 3,913, and confirmed cases will reach 116,250 worldwide, based on data available up to March 5.

To develop contingency plans and hopefully head off the worst effects of the coronavirus, governments need to be able to anticipate the future course of the outbreak.

This is where predictive analytics could prove invaluable. This method involves finding trends in past data, and using these insights to forecast future events. There’s currently too few Australian cases to generate such a forecast for the country.

Number crunching

As of when this article was published, our model had predicted COVID-19 infections to an accuracy of 96%, and deaths to an accuracy of 99%. To maintain this accuracy, we have to regularly update our data as the global rate of COVID-19’s spread increases or decreases.




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Based on data available up to March 5, our model predicts that by March 31 the number of deaths worldwide will surpass 4,500 and confirmed cases will reach 150,000. However, since these projections surpass our short-term window of accuracy, they shouldn’t be considered as reliable as the figures above.

At the moment, our model is best suited for short-term forecasting. To make accurate long-term forecasts, we’ll need more historical data and a better understanding of the variables impacting COVID-19’s spread.

The more historical data we acquire, the more accurate and far-reaching our forecasts can be.

How we made our predictions

To create our simulations, we extracted coronavirus data dating back to January 22, from an online repository provided by the Johns Hopkins University Centre for Systems Science and Engineering.

This time-stamped data detailed the number and locations of confirmed cases of COVID-19, including people who recovered, and those who died.

Choosing an appropriate modelling technique was integral to the reliability of our results. We used time series forecasting, a method that predicts future values based on previously observed values. This type of forecasting has proven suitable to predict future outbreaks of a disease.

We ran our simulations via Prophet (a type of time series forecasting model), and input the data using the programming language Python.

Further insight vs compromised privacy

Combining predictions generated through AI with big data, and location-based services such as GPS tracking, can provide targeted insight on the movements of people diagnosed with COVID-19.




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This information would help governments implement effective contingency plans, and prevent the virus’s spread.

We saw this happen in China, where telecommunication providers used location tracking to alert the Chinese government of the movements of people in quarantine. However, such methods raise obvious privacy issues.

Honing in on smaller areas

In our analysis, we only considered worldwide data. If localised data becomes available, we could identify which countries, cities and even suburbs are more vulnerable to COVID-19 than others.

We already know different regions are likely to experience different growth rates of COVID-19. This is because the virus’ spread is influenced by many factors, including speed of diagnoses, government response, population density, quality of public healthcare and local climate.

As the COVID-19 outbreak expands, the world’s collective response will render our model susceptible to variation. But until the virus is controlled and more is learned about it, we believe forewarned is forearmed.




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Correction: previously this article said the author’s model could predict COVID-19 infections to an accuracy of 96%, and deaths to an accuracy of 99%, up to one week into the future. This was incorrect and has been amended.The Conversation

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

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

First locally-transmitted COVID-19 cases in Australia, as Attorney-General warns drastic legal powers could be used



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Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The coronavirus has moved to a new stage in Australia, with the first two cases of local transmission of the disease.

The NSW government announced a 53-year-old Sydney health worker – who had not recently travelled abroad – had been diagnosed. The other case is the 41-year-old sister of an Iranian man who had arrived in Australia on Saturday. The woman had not travelled to Iran.

Other cases in Australia – now more than 30 – have been people who have come from abroad. These include the third new case announced in NSW on Monday, a man in his 30s, who had recently travelled from Iran.

There has been one death in Australia, a 78-year-old man who had been evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

Health authorities have anticipated the spread of the virus locally, with plans being ramped up to deal with that.

Efforts were being made on Monday to track down passengers who sat near travellers from Iran who have been diagnosed with the virus. There is now a ban on the entry of foreigners coming from Iran.

News of the local transmission comes amid the expectation the Reserve Bank will cut interest rates on Tuesday as the virus scare hits the economy, and panic buying of items such as toilet paper.

Hand sanitisers have been a runaway sales item. The share price of Zoono, a company that makes them, has jumped 70% in under a week.

On Friday the futures market rated the probably of a Tuesday rate cut at just 18%. On Monday it was rating the probability at 100%, with some economists even speculating about the possibility of the cut being double the usual 0.25%.

The Australian share market fell by 0.77%, after a 10% fall in what was the worst week since the global financial financial crisis.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said it was time for people to “give each other a pat on the back” rather than shaking hands. He also suggested a degree of caution when kissing.

In parliament, the government took a series of questions on the virus and its fallout. Attorney-General Christian Porter said it was important for Australians to understand the use of certain powers may become necessary in the months ahead.

Notably among these were changes made in 2015 to the Biosecurity Act, which replaced the Quarantine Act.

COVID-19 had been listed as a human disease for the purposes of this act in January.

“That has a number of very important consequences for Australia and Australians in what will no doubt be challenging months going ahead,” Porter said.

“There are two broad ranges of powers that people may well experience for the first time.

“There is the ability of the government to impose – always based on medical advice, but nevertheless impose – a human biosecurity control order on person or persons who have been exposed to the disease.

“It could require any Australian to give information about people that they’ve contacted or had contact with so that we can trace transmission pathways. It will also mean that Australians could be directed to remain at a particular place or indeed undergo decontamination.”

“Secondly, a very important power that may be experienced for the first time—and that we will be monitoring very carefully—is the declaration of a human health response zone, ” he said.

This was done with the Diamond Princess.

“But it’s very important to understand, going forward, that that is a power that can be used for either localised disease outbreaks in Australia or indeed to restrict individuals from attending places where a large number of people may otherwise choose to gather, such as shopping centres, schools or work.

“These are challenging times going forward, and these will be some of the first times that these important powers may be used,” Porter said.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.

Government triggers emergency plan for COVID-19 pandemic, and considers economic assistance


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The federal government has activated its emergency response plan to deal with a spread of the coronavirus locally, in anticipation of it becoming a “pandemic”.

It is also considering limited assistance for those hardest hit by the economic fallout.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a news conference late Thursday Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Treasury was working on possible measures to give some relief.

Morrison stressed any measures would be “targeted, modest and scalable” – that is, able to be built on if necessary.

“This is a health crisis, not a financial crisis, but it is a health crisis with very significant economic implications,” he said.

“We’re aware, particularly in the export industry, in the marine sector, there are particular issues there especially in North Queensland, but these problems are presenting in many other places,” he said.

The tourism and education sectors are being heavily affected as the crisis worsens. But the government has stressed universities have good liquidity to deal with the situation.

The travel ban on arrivals from China has been extended for at least another week. There will be no carve out for the tens of thousands of university students unable to reach Australia.

Treasury has not yet finalised an estimate of the economic impact of COVID-19.

Cabinet’s national security committee met for three hours on Thursday to discuss the latest information on the virus and what should be done now.

“What has occurred, in particular, in the last 24 hours or so as the data has come in is that the rate of transmission of the virus outside of China is fundamentally changing the way we need to now look at how this issue is being managed here in Australia,” Morrison said.

Stressing Australia had been ahead of the World Health Organisation in its previous response, he said “based on the expert medical advice we’ve received, there is every indication that the world will soon enter a pandemic phase of the coronavirus”.

“So while the WHO is yet to declare … it’s moved towards a pandemic phase, we believe that the risk of a global pandemic is very much upon us and as a result, as a government, we need to take the steps necessary to prepare for such a pandemic.”

The actions were “being taken in an abundance of caution,” Morrison said.

Health ministers will meet on Friday to discuss the emergency planning, to respond to a future situation where there is sustained transmission in Australia – in contrast to the present containment to a handful of cases. As the virus spreads internationally, the chances increase of a major spread in Australia.

The emergency plan covers special wards in hospitals, and ensuring key health workers have access to adequate protective equipment from the medical stockpile.

It includes provision for aged care facilities to be put into lock down if necessary.

There would also be contingency alternative staffing for key facilities if staff got the disease.

On another front, Border Force would if necessary extend screening to passengers arriving from multiple countries.

Morrison said consideration was being given to how school children would be protected.

The Prime Minister emphasised there was no cause to consider cancelling events or for people not to be out and about.

“You can still go to the football, you can still go to the cricket, you can still go and play with your friends down the street, you can go off to the concert, and you can go out for a Chinese meal.

“But to stay ahead of it, we need to now elevate our response to this next phase,” he said.

“There are some challenging months ahead and the government will continue to work closely based on the best possible medical advice to keep Australians safe.”

So far, Australia had had 15 cases who had come from Wuhan and all 15 had now been cleared, he said. Eight other cases had come from the Diamond Princess. There had been no community transmission in Australia.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.