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



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Rebecca Bentley, University of Melbourne and Erika Martino, University of Melbourne

Melbourne is once again grappling with increasing COVID-19 rates. Ten suburbs in Melbourne have been designated COVID-19 outbreak hotspots: Broadmeadows, Keilor Downs, Maidstone, Albanvale, Sunshine West, Hallam, Brunswick West, Fawkner, Reservoir and Pakenham.

The outbreaks have sparked discussions about lockdowns and travel restrictions for people living in these parts of Melbourne and generated intensive suburb-specific testing.

The outbreaks have been attributed to family gatherings in homes and people failing to self-isolate, even after positive test results. This has occurred alongside possible breaches of infection control protocols in hotels accommodating people in quarantine – with security guards from major hotels having contracted the virus.




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Socio-spatial clues

While chance and circumstances converge to create outbreaks there are also some obvious factors related to where and how people live that impact their capacity to isolate.

As we potentially face a two year-long wait for vaccines (16 are in clinical evaluation internationally (with one being developed in Australia), we need to acknowledge the spatial concentration of these sites of vulnerability is not random. There are socio-spatial clues as to why we have had outbreaks in these locations.

Four measures: overcrowding, homelessness, housing affordability stress and financial hardship often occur in the same areas.
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First, the hotspots have some of the highest rates of housing precarity and financial hardship across Melbourne. People in overcrowded or unaffordable or insecure housing may have less control over their immediate environment and less capacity to isolate themselves than other community members.




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The recent Melbourne outbreaks have occurred largely in areas with:

  • high housing affordability stress: where those in the lowest 40% of income spend more than 30% of their household income on housing,

  • overcrowding: measured in terms of the number of people in a household, their age and gender in relation to the number of bedrooms in a dwelling, and/or

  • homelessness: where a person does not have suitable accommodation alternatives and their current living arrangement is in a dwelling that is inadequate, has no tenure, or if their initial tenure is short and not extendable or does not allow them to have control of, and access to space for social relations.

While housing security seems like an obvious problem to fix, it remains a long-standing, difficult issue for governments to tackle. Going into the COVID-19 pandemic, Australia exhibited high rates of homelessness and spiralling housing costs.

Many people in Melbourne and Sydney live in overcrowded or inadequate forms of housing as a result of what has become known as our “housing affordability crisis”. Alongside this, the numbers of people who require emergency accommodation far outstrip our cities’ capacity to house them on a medium- to long-term basis.

Second, people without savings may be compelled to go to work despite feeling unwell. They need to meet their weekly housing costs and don’t have savings enough to go two weeks (or longer) without income. This can occur even if people have negotiated reduced rent with their landlords.

Where housing and COVID-19 collide

When one considers these housing and financial factors from the perspective of COVID-19 suppression, their geographical clustering should not be disregarded. The areas in Melbourne with high rates of household overcrowding, homelessness, housing affordability stress and (related to this) financial hardship (often measured using people’s self-reported capacity to access funds in an emergency) map closely to areas where there are now high numbers of COVID-19 cases.




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Using publicly available data, we created a simple index describing capacity isolate based on the above four characteristics. We created maps of Greater Melbourne to examine the relationship between current COVID-19 cases and these housing and financial vulnerability factors. Our index shows Hallam, Sunshine West, Albanvale, Broadmeadows, Falkner, Reservoir and Maidstone are all in the top two quintiles.

Housing Vulnerability Index for Greater Melbourne.
NATSEM – Social and Economic Indicators – Synthetic Estimates SA2 2016; ABS – Data by Region – Family & Community (SA2) 2011-2016; and UNSW CFRC – Overcrowded Households Australia (SA2) 2016. Data were accessed on 26 June 2020 from AURIN Portal (https://portal.aurin.org.au/), Author provided

Over the last decade, Melbourne has seen itself become more spatially segregated. And household overcrowding and precarity are geographically clustered.

Acknowledging correlation is not causation, these findings suggest solving some of Melbourne’s housing problems might reduce the spread of COVID-19 now and in future outbreaks as we await a vaccine.

Taking this further, when assessing where in cities we are likely to see a spike in cases in the future, we should take housing-related vulnerabilities into account alongside other factors.

While steps have been taken by the Victorian government to address some of the issues we have flagged, such as the one-off payment of up to A$2,000 for eligible renters who are unable to afford rent, and the A$1,500 payment to people who test positive and have no leave cover, more could be done in the medium to long term to reduce the risk of overcrowding, housing related financial stress and precarious forms of housing (that lead to homelessness) across the city.




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The past months of COVID-19 restrictions have highlighted how critical housing and financial security are to our health and well-being at both an individual and population level. The Victorian Council of Social Service has noted disasters can be “profoundly discriminatory” in where they occur, and in their impacts.

Successful COVID-19 suppression requires safe and equitable cities and addressing housing vulnerability is one of the many challenges we must take up.The Conversation

Rebecca Bentley, Professor of Social Epidemiology, Centre for Health Equity, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne and Erika Martino, Research Fellow, University of Melbourne

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

Victoria’s coronavirus hotspots: not quite a second wave, but still cause for concern



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Adrian Esterman, University of South Australia

On Sunday, Victoria recorded 19 new COVID-19 cases for the preceding day. Only New South Wales (5) and Western Australia (1) also had new cases.

Reports indicate in the 24 hours since, Victoria can count another 16 infections.

This continues a spike that has now spanned several days. Victoria accounted for 83% of new cases across the country over the past week (up to June 21).

Of the 116 new cases recorded in Victoria over this period, 29 (25%) were returned overseas travellers whose infections were detected while in quarantine. The remaining 87 cases were primarily acquired in the community.




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As a result of the increase in community-acquired infections, the Victorian government at the weekend announced a tightening of restrictions — including reducing the number of visitors allowed in homes to five.

While the easing of some restrictions planned for today, such as the reopening of gyms, have gone ahead, others, like increasing the number of people allowed to dine in restaurants, are on hold.

What’s behind this spike?

Cases among returned overseas travellers are expected, and with quarantines in place, they’re not a major threat. However, there’s still a 1% chance someone could be infectious beyond the mandated 14 days of quarantine.

But it’s the community-acquired cases that are of greatest concern to public health officials. They indicate there are sources of infection in the community that health authorities don’t know about, making it difficult to control the epidemic.

According to the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, most of these community-acquired infections have occurred during family gatherings. They suggest some people have not followed the advice to limit the number of people invited to a home, nor physical distancing or appropriate hygiene within this setting.

Even if this is correct, why aren’t we seeing a similar problem in other states? Could Victorians have more or larger family gatherings, or be less likely to maintain social distancing and hygiene than residents of other states? We don’t have answers to these questions, and probably never will.




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Is this the start of a second wave in Victoria?

If we regard this level of cases as a wave, Victoria now appears to be on its fourth wave. The second and third occurred in early May and early June, respectively.

The current wave is about at the same level as the one in early May, but could well grow rapidly. It’s causing significant concern because the epidemic appears to be dying out in all other jurisdictions.

It’s unclear why Victoria is getting these repeated waves, unlike the other states, which, apart from a few minor blips, have only had one major peak.

Victoria’s situation is a threat to other states and territories

The Northern Territory, ACT, South Australia and Tasmania have just about eliminated COVID-19.

The remaining states are on the same path, although New South Wales is still recording a few community-acquired cases.

Any state that allows travel to and from Victoria, particularly without quarantine, runs the risk of restarting the epidemic.

Queensland chief health officer Jeannette Young has declared all 31 local government areas (LGAs) in Greater Melbourne, as well as five bordering LGAs, to be COVID-19 hotspots.

This means anyone who has spent time in one of these hotspots within the last 14 days must self-quarantine for 14 days upon entering Queensland (unless the travel to Queensland is for a limited number of essential purposes).




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What can Victoria do?

Victoria is already doing the right things to try and flatten this new outbreak. The reimposing of restrictions on family gatherings should work, provided people stick to them.

Victoria currently has the highest rate of testing of all states and territories, with roughly 10% of the population tested so far. Testing, especially in hotspot communities, is one of the best ways to locate and control community-acquired infections.

Six Melbourne local government areas have been identified as coronavirus hotspots. These are Hume, Casey, Brimbank, Moreland, Cardinia and Darebin.

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) has advised against travel to and from these areas until community transmission is under control.

Even if the Victorian government elects to impose stay-at-home restrictions in these areas, it will be impossible to seal them off completely from the rest of the state.

But it’s clear the Victorian health department needs to focus testing in these areas, and conduct an information campaign explaining to residents why adhering to restrictions is so important.

How worried should we be?

Is it likely to get worse? Potentially, yes. If it does, the Victorian government will need to rapidly expand its contact tracing and testing. South Australia is already sending contact tracers to help.

There’s still a good chance the Victorian government can gain control of the situation before it gets out of hand — but it will have to move fast.

Other states and territories should insist all visitors from Victoria undertake mandatory quarantine.

Finally, we must all realise further outbreaks could occur anywhere in Australia, and it’s up to all of us to continue to follow social distancing rules.




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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.

Where will the global political hotspots be in 2018? (Spoiler alert: it’s not all about Donald Trump)



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With so many global flashpoints, and so little diplomacy, 2018 could be a turbulent year.
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Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Writing for Foreign Policy, Robert Malley, the newly appointed head of the International Crisis Group, makes a good point when discussing global challenges in 2018:

It is not all about Donald Trump.

To be sure, an erratic American presidency contributes to unsteadiness around the globe. American global leadership is now contested as never before since the Allies triumphed in the second world war.

Even in the depths of a Cold War marked by various crises – including the Berlin Blockade, an ill-starred military adventure in Vietnam, and the Cuban Missile Crisis – American leadership would still assert itself.

Let’s not forget American post-second-world-war diplomacy spawned international institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the United Nations and NATO. In Australia’s case, it also gave birth to the ANZUS Treaty, initialled in 1951.

… although it is a little bit about Donald Trump.
Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

There was hardly any component of post-war global architecture that did not involve Washington in a leading role.

ANZUS, and with it the American alliance, remains the cornerstone of Australia’s security arrangements – notwithstanding a frequent misinterpretation of the treaty as a security guarantee as opposed to an agreement to consult in the event of either party’s security being threatened.

In essence, America is godfather of post-war multilateralism. An American-led consensus on how best to manage its global responsibilities is now in danger of unravelling, buffeted by domestic “America First” disagreements at home and a contested security environment abroad.

Australia’s place in the world

From an Australian perspective, it is all about a shifting power balance in the Indo-Pacific.

This might be described as the pre-eminent challenge in the year(s) ahead, as Australia navigates between the idiosyncracies of a Trump White House and its successors. Then there is the relentless Chinese push to spread its power and influence.

Above all in the foreign policy sphere, Australian policymakers are faced with the task of expanding Canberra’s foreign and security policy room for manoeuvre between its security guarantor and principal trading partner, without endangering the alliance relationship itself.

China, led by Xi Jinping, will continue to push to spread its power and influence.
Reuters

This will require a sophistication that has not always been apparent among policymakers. Their instinct has been to cling to the alliance like a life raft and, on occasions, discreditably, use it as a wedge issue against political opponents.

China’s rise is encouraging a more realistic view of Australia’s geopolitical circumstances, and none too soon.

The following extracts from Australia’s Foreign Policy White Paper, released in November, provide a flavour of that greater realism:

Navigating the decade ahead will be hard because as China’s power grows our region is changing in ways without precedent in Australia’s modern history.

And:

Powerful drivers are converging in a way that is reshaping the international order and challenging Australia’s interests. The United States has been the dominant power in our region throughout Australia’s post-second-world-war history. Today, China is challenging America’s position.

And:

The government recognises there is great debate and uncertainty in the United States about the costs and benefits of its leadership of the international system.

And:

In the decades ahead we expect further contestation [between the US and China] over ideas and influence, directly affecting Australia. It is imperative that Australia prepare for the long term.

All of this exposes Australia’s biggest challenge in the next several decades. Simply put, this is to build its own self-reliance, including smart investments in defence capabilities, along with nurturing security relationships in its own region.

Most desirable in all of this would be to involve – not exclude – China in building a regional security architecture. This could possibly be along the lines of the Helsinki Accords, which helped stabilise Europe during a long stand-off with the former Soviet Union.

Australian officials might want to expand a quadrilateral Indo-Pacific security partnership – involving the US, Japan, Australia and India – envisaged as a hedge against China to others, including China itself.

Creative regional diplomacy of the sort that brought about the establishment of the Australia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) forum would seem to be required.

Closer to home

This is the big global challenge for Australia in 2018 and beyond. Now to what might be described as “localised” challenges.

We’ll restrict that number to five, including:

  • North Korea’s nuclear ambitions;

  • the Middle East more generally, and potential conflict with Iran in particular;

  • the Rohingya crisis and pressures that is exerting on Myanmar and surrounding countries. Alongside this is the “identity politics” across Asia, in which minorities (like the Rohingya) are threatened;

  • Afghanistan, in which Australian forces are still involved in a training capacity; and

  • threats of cyber-terrorism: what Ian Bremmer and Cliff Kupchan of the Eurasia Group describe as a “global tech cold war”.

At the top of the regional challenges is North Korea, led by Kim Jong-un.
Reuters/KCNA

Top of this list is North Korea, where the risk of overreach and accident with terrible consequences is real. As Malley puts it in his Foreign Policy paper:

Without a viable diplomatic offramp, Washington risks cornering itself into military action. Even a precisely targeted attack would likely provoke a North Korean response.

From Australia’s perspective, and given that the bulk of its trade goes to the countries of North Asia (China, Japan and South Korea), conflict on the Korean Peninsula would be crippling.

Second on my list, as it is on Malley’s, involves the risks of open conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, egged on by the US and Israel. Such disruption could not be contained. It would spread, risking oil shipments from the region and wider conflict between Sunni and Shia.

As Malley puts it:

With so many flashpoints, and so little diplomacy, the risk of an escalatory cycle is great.

From an Australian perspective, an escalation would be alarming, given the deployment of our forces in a training capacity in Iraq.

Third is Afghanistan, where the tempo of US-led strikes against the Taliban is set to increase, along with pressure on Pakistan to desist in its covert support for the insurgency.

Malley recommends:

US allies in Afghanistan should push for a greater diplomatic political component to the US strategy. As it stands, that strategy sets the stage for more violence while closing avenues for de-escalation.

With troops in the field in a training capacity, the Australian government should be pushing for a regional settlement, involving Afghanistan’s neighbours and the insurgents.

Rohingya refugees continue to flee from Myanmar to neighbouring Bangladesh.
Reuters/Tyrone Siu

Fourth on my list is the issue of identity policy in southern Asia, including the displacement of the Rohingya to neighbouring Bangladesh.

As Bremmer and Kupchan put it:

Identity politics in southern Asia comes in several forms: Islamism, anti-China and anti-other minority sentiment, and intensifying nationalism in India.

From Australia’s perspective, displacement and persecution of minorities in its neighbourhood is a particularly worrying development, along with Islamic State-inspired eruptions in countries like the Philippines.

Finally, looms the issue of cyber conflict.

The biggest fight over economic power centres on the development of new information technologies. Competition for dominance in the areas of artificial intelligence and super-computing between the US and China has serious implications for Australia’s national security.

The cyber issue, which potentially includes the weaponisation of AI, is becoming the new contested space.

And that’s not all …

Now, to a less concerning issue, for the moment: the global economy.

In its latest overview, the World Bank expects global growth to edge up to 3.1% “after a much stronger-than-expected 2017, as the recovery in investment, manufacturing and trade continues, and as commodity-exporting developing economies benefit from firming commodity prices”.

As one of the world’s biggest commodity exporters, this is good news for Australia. The World Bank says:

2018 is on track to be the first year since the financial crisis that the global economy will be operating at or near full capacity.

However, it also warns of a slowdown in potential growth as stimulatory fiscal and monetary policies run their course.

The ConversationWelcome to 2018.

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

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