Data from 45 countries show containing COVID vs saving the economy is a false dichotomy



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Michael Smithson, Australian National University

There is no doubt the COVID-19 crisis has incurred widespread economic costs. There is understandable concern that stronger measures against the virus, from social distancing to full lockdowns, worsen its impact on economies.

As a result, there has been a tendency to consider the problem as a trade-off between health and economic costs.

This view, for example, has largely defined the approach of the US federal government. “I think we’ve learned that if you shut down the economy, you’re going to create more damage,” said US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin in June, as the Trump administration resisted calls to decisively combat the nation’s second COVID wave.

But the notion of a trade-off is not supported by data from countries around the world. If anything, the opposite may be true.

Data from 45 nations

Let’s examine available data for 45 nations from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, using COVID-19 data and economic indicators.

The COVID-19 statistics we’ll focus on are deaths per million of population. No single indicator is perfect, and these rates don’t always reflect contextual factors that apply to specific countries, but this indicator allows us to draw a reasonably accurate global picture.

The economic indicators we’ll examine are among those most widely used for overall evaluations of national economic performance. Gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is an index of national wealth. Exports and imports measure a country’s international economic activity. Private consumption expenditure is an indicator of how an economy is travelling.

Effects on GDP per capita

Our first chart plots nations’ deaths per million from COVID-19 against the percentage change in per capita GDP during the second quarter of 2020.

The size of each data point shows the scale of deaths per million as of June 30, using a logarithmic, or “log”, scale – a way to display a very wide range of values in compact graphical form.


Log(deaths per million) by percentage change in Q2 2020 GDP per capita.


If suppressing the virus, thereby leading to fewer deaths per million, resulted in worse national economic downturns, then the “slope” in figure 1 would be positive. But the opposite is true, with the overall correlation being -0.412.

The two outliers are China, in the upper-left corner, with a positive change in GDP per capita, and India at the bottom. China imposed successful hard lockdowns and containment procedures that meant economic effects were limited. India imposed an early hard lockdown but its measures since have been far less effective. Removing both from our data leaves a correlation of -0.464.

Exports and imports

Our second chart shows the relationship between deaths per million and percentage change in exports.

If there was a clear trade-off between containing the virus and enabling international trade, we would see a positive relationship between the changes in exports and death-rates. Instead, there appears to be no relationship.


Log(deaths per million) by percentage change in Q2 2020 exports.


Our third chart shows the relationship between deaths per million and percentage change in imports. As with exports, a trade-off would show in a positive relationship. But there is no evidence of such a relationship here either.


Log(deaths per million) by percentage change in Q2 2020 imports.


Consumer spending

Our fourth chart shows the relationship between deaths per million and percentage change in private consumption expenditure. This complements the picture we get from imports and exports, by tracking consumer spending as an indicator of internal economic activity.


Log(deaths per million) by percentage change in Q2 2020 private consumption.


Again, no positive relationship. Instead, the overall negative relationship suggests those countries that succeeded (at least temporarily) in suppressing the virus were better off economically than those countries adopting a more laissez-faire approach.

National wealth

As a postscript to this brief investigation, let’s take a quick look at whether greater national wealth seems to have helped countries deal with the virus.

Our fifth and final chart plots cases per million (not deaths per million) against national GDP per capita.


Log(GDP per capita) by log(cases per million).


If wealthier countries were doing better at suppressing transmission, the relationship should be negative. Instead, the clusters by region suggest it’s a combination of culture and politics driving the effectiveness of nations’ responses (or lack thereof).

In fact, if we examine the largest cluster, of European countries (the green dots), the relationship between GDP per capita and case rates is positive (0.379) – the opposite of what we would expect.




Read more:
Vital Signs: the cost of lockdowns is nowhere near as big as we have been told


It’s not a zero-sum game

The standard economic indicators reviewed here show, overall, countries that have contained the virus also tend to have had less severe economic impacts than those that haven’t.

No one should be misled into believing there is zero-sum choice between saving lives and saving the economy. That is a false dichotomy.

If there is anything to be learned regarding how to deal with future pandemics, it is that rapidly containing the pandemic may well lessen its economic impact.The Conversation

Michael Smithson, Professor, Australian National University

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

We asked over 2,000 Australian parents how they fared in lockdown. Here’s what they said



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Subhadra Evans, Deakin University; Antonina Mikocka-Walus, Deakin University, and Elizabeth Westrupp, Deakin University

Parents have faced unprecedented stress during the pandemic as they care for children while juggling paid work from home.

However, very little research so far has focused on family well-being during the pandemic.

So we asked more than 2,000 parents to tell us in their own words about the pandemic’s impact on their families. We did this in April 2020, during Australia’s first lockdown. Our published study is the largest of its kind in Australia, and one of very few internationally looking into families’ experiences of the pandemic.

Families’ responses followed six key themes.

1. Boredom, depression and mental health

Parents reported a spectrum of emotions. They said they and their children were stressed, trapped and bored. New and existing mental health conditions also challenged the equilibrium in a number of families. One mother of two children said:

My mental health has taken a really bad hit and I’m struggling to support my children.

2. Families missed things that keep them healthy

Families missed sport, extracurricular activities, visits with family and friends, playgrounds, places of worship, trips to connect with the natural world, and other family supports. A mother of three children said:

We used to see family, friends, go to church and do kids’ activities like playgroup a lot […] Cutting all of that out to stay home has been hard. We miss being able to see our family and friends, to do activities outside of home that are more than a walk around the block. We’re all tense and exhausted.

3. Changing family relationships

Family relationships changed, which we called the “push-pull of intimacy”.

Strained relationships were common, including increased conflict and arguments between parents, parents and children, and between siblings.

The demands of caring for children was a source of discord, requiring more from already exhausted parents or creating tension in the family as a result of bickering and fighting as a result of being “cooped up”. One mother of two said:

We have too much time together. We are often irritable with each other. My child wants more social interaction from me that I can’t give.

For many, there was a sense that goodwill between family members was “wearing thin”. But in some families, closer bonds emerged. A father of three said:

It’s been great. Lots of quality time together.

Father holding birthday cake in front of computer screen with children for a Zoom birthday party
Families faced many new challenges during lockdown.
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4. The unprecedented demands of parenthood

The loss of important structures in the community, particularly schools, reveals the extent to which such institutions play a pivotal role in raising healthy families and children, with parents alone unable to provide the proverbial village that children need. A mother of three said:

COVID-19 had turned me into a stay-at-home mum, primary teacher, speech therapist, occupational therapist, strict budgeter, with no social outlet or relief. And I’m doing this alone with my health-care worker husband being overworked.

5. The unequal burden

For people with physical or mental health conditions, lockdown restrictions were especially hard to endure. A father of one child told us about his family’s experience of being confined to a small space:

My wife is on the spectrum which makes being in a confined space with others quite difficult for her — and those around her. Confined space gives her little room for calming, so her anger events have increased.

Families living in small apartments with limited outdoor space were also highly challenged, using words such as “suffocating” and “going insane”. Families facing economic worries were also a group in need. A single mother of two children said:

Shopping alone is now a huge stress as I don’t want to expose my babies […T]he price rise in food has caused us now to only be able to buy enough food for a week so we are having less in each meal to ensure the children eat three meals a day. Most days I now miss meals so they can eat.

6. Holding on to positivity

Parents told us the pandemic provided an opportunity to cultivate “appreciation”, “tolerance and understanding” as well as “learning to cope and develop patience”.

Some parents said they were grateful for what they had and were relatively fortunate compared with others.

Parents were also grateful for access to the internet, a safe space to call home, enough food to eat, time to spend together, good health, financial stability and “having enough”. One mother of two children said:

I was quite panicked to begin with, but the kids love being with us all the time and are building relationships with each other.




Read more:
It’s OK to be OK: how to stop feeling ‘survivor guilt’ during COVID-19


Why these findings matter

Our large, diverse sample of Australian parents captured a range of experiences. Although more than 80% of our participants were mothers, we also heard fathers’ experiences.

Some of these experiences are likely to be similar to those of families around the world. However, the Australian experience may also be unique. Coming out of a tragic season of bushfires, many families may have already had stretched emotional and financial resources to handle another crisis.

The unique experiences of Victorian families, who endured a second period of longer and harsher lockdown, are worthy of follow-up research, as their resilience was likely pushed to the limit.

COVID-19 is not over, and we need to continue to ask parents and individuals how they are doing. Studies like ours, together with those comparing family experiences around the world, will also help researchers, policymakers, and service providers understand how to preserve community and family supports if we have future lockdowns or pandemics.


If this article has raised issues for you, or if you’re concerned about someone
you know, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
The Conversation

Subhadra Evans, Senior lecturer, Psychology, Deakin University; Antonina Mikocka-Walus, Associate Professor in Health Psychology, Deakin University, and Elizabeth Westrupp, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Deakin University

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

South Australia’s 6-day lockdown shows we need to take hotel quarantine more seriously


Catherine Bennett, Deakin University

South Australian Premier Steven Marshall today announced a six-day “circuit breaker” lockdown to try and snuff out the state’s COVID outbreak.

From midnight Wednesday, residents will be asked to stay in their homes. Hospitality venues will shut, as will schools and universities. Construction will grind to a halt and exercise won’t be allowed outside the home.

The only permitted reasons to leave home are to shop for food or medicine, or for essential health care. Elective surgery will be paused, except for urgent operations.

There are now 22 cases linked to the cluster that emerged from hotel quarantine, and a further seven suspected cases.

Why lockdown?

While this may seem like an overly cautious approach to a cluster that isn’t yet as big as we’ve seen in other places, I think it’s a wise move.

This is how lockdowns should be used. Indeed, the World Health Organisation advocates lockdowns as a way to buy precious time while other essential public health measures are mobilised, such as contact tracing and widespread testing. The focus here is on preventing a rise in cases, unlike the lockdown in Melbourne where the cases had already taken off widely in the community and it was about turning the wave around.

We’ve seen the virus in this particular cluster spread very rapidly. In just two weeks it has spread through five generations — that is, to five “rings” beyond the initial case.

We’ve also seen cases passed on through quite casual contact, via a pizza shop in the suburb of Woodville.

The state’s chief health officer, Nicola Spurrier, said:

This particular strain has […] a very, very short incubation period. That means when somebody gets exposed, it is taking 24 hours or even less for that person to become infectious to others, and the other characteristic of the cases we have seen so far is they have had minimal symptoms and sometimes no symptoms but have been able to pass it on to others.

This short incubation period and rapid spread is why the government has opted for a six-day lockdown, giving the space to put out the spot fire while protecting the wider community, and especially high-risk settings and vulnerable populations where cases numbers can escalate rapidly with serious consequences.

Also, as Spurrier said, the cases so far have had no, or very mild, symptoms. So this six-day window allows the testing of close and casual contacts to be completed so the cases that are out there become visible to the health department.

The decision to restrict exercise altogether is strict, but warranted in my view. The rationale is similar to putting a wide range of people into isolation, as they don’t yet know where the edge is of the current cases, or the full extent of exposure. The rationale for the extension of restrictions beyond Adelaide and surrounds to the whole state is less clear at this stage.

If it protects the population from an escalation of cases, then six days without outdoor exercise will ultimately be better for physical and mental health than longer strict rules, even with some exercise allowed.

Significant restrictions will remain after the six days, but not full lockdown, according to the state’s Police Commissioner Grant Stevens.




Read more:
South Australia’s COVID outbreak: what we know so far, and what needs to happen next


The good news

The good news is there have been no mystery cases so far. All positive cases have been linked back to hotel quarantine at the Peppers Waymouth Hotel (known as a “medi-hotel” locally).

Testing rates have been very high. Some 5,300 tests were done on Monday, and more than 6,000 on Tuesday. This number of tests is comparable to three or four times that number in a larger city like Melbourne. Local residents have been very patient in queuing up to get tested, sometimes for several hours.

South Australia’s contact tracing team hasn’t really been severely tested during the pandemic. But the team has received extensive training and is reportedly robust, having been given the tick of approval from Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s recent review into Australia’s contact tracing, published last Friday.




Read more:
Exponential growth in COVID cases would overwhelm any state’s contact tracing. Australia needs an automated system


More than 4,000 people have been quarantined already, including not just contacts, but contacts of contacts, and even beyond that to ensure “casual contacts” are also followed up and tested. This is a sign of a rapid and strong public health response.

What needs to change?

Before this cluster, testing was not mandatory for hotel quarantine staff — although this has now changed to compulsory weekly testing.

This is a positive step, but in my view we should ideally start testing hotel quarantine staff daily.

Getting a nasal swab every day is quite intrusive, so I think we could use saliva tests instead. Yes, they don’t have quite the same level of sensitivity as the “gold standard” PCR tests based on nose and throat swabs, but they’re more tolerable for frequent testing.

Saliva samples can also be efficiently managed if pooled together, and if there’s evidence of a positive test in the broad sample, individual samples can then be checked. Testing early and often is the best approach.

We also need to get serious about resourcing our hotel workers. Spurrier confirmed some workers had worked at multiple sites. This obviously increases the risk of the virus spreading through the community — we saw this with some aged-care staff working across multiple venues in Victoria.

We need to prevent workers from needing to work across multiple sites, by paying them more. Even if they’re not working full-time, they need to be paid as such to ensure they don’t need to take on extra work and increase the risk of spreading the virus to other workplaces. This goes for all staff — security staff as well as cleaners. Cleaners have a very important job and are particularly vulnerable.

I’d like to see national guidelines crafted for hotel quarantine. Today there is national agreement on weekly testing, but I think this should be a minimum. Infection control protocols and monitoring, and pay rates with accompanying sole employment rules also need to be considered. It’s an issue that isn’t going to go away, and it’s an important gap that needs to be filled.




Read more:
How’s your life under lockdown? Tweets tell the tale of how neighbourhoods compare


The Conversation


Catherine Bennett, Chair in Epidemiology, Deakin University

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

Dear Australia, your sympathy helps, but you can’t quite understand Melbourne’s lockdown experience


Kate Brady, University of Melbourne

The joy Melburnians feel about coming out of lockdown is palpable, but another thread is also emerging: if you don’t live in Melbourne and haven’t experienced what we’ve experienced, you can’t actually understand what we’ve been through.

COVID has affected all Australians, but these last few months have been different for us.

Research on collective trauma and community recovery after disaster and upheaval tells us this is common in groups that have faced terrible or challenging experiences together.

If you’re in Melbourne, there are many ways to help yourself and those near you as we emerge from this gruelling period. If you’re outside Melbourne, you can and should support your Melbourne mates — but there are a few things to avoid.

Was Melbourne lockdown really a case of collective trauma?

Collective trauma events are not just disasters; they also have community-wide effects, and challenge people’s understanding of the way the world works.

Collective trauma events are typically thought of as tragedies such as the Lindt Cafe siege in 2014, the Christchurch Mosque shootings in 2019 or the events at Dream World in 2016. But I’d argue the strain of the last months in Melbourne has been experienced as a type of collective trauma event.

This view is informed by my research into disaster recovery, my work as a senior practitioner at Australian Red Cross, workplace seminars I have conducted during the pandemic, and my own experience living in Melbourne through this.

Collective trauma can have direct and indirect impacts. In the pandemic, direct impacts might be bereavement, the effect on your health, employment, education and access to services. Indirect impacts can be much harder to get your head around. They include changes to your worldview, your relationships, and how you see yourself.

For example in pre-pandemic times you may have been in a very equal relationship where domestic duties were evenly shared — but in lockdown, maybe one partner shouldered a bigger burden of childcare and housework, or was under more pressure at work. These stressors can throw the relationship out of whack and have a long term impact.

People who lived alone during lockdown may have watched their relationships change and might wonder if things can go back to how they were.




Read more:
Collective trauma is real, and could hamper Australian communities’ bushfire recovery


In the first wave, there was a sense of “if we just batten down the hatches and get on with it, we will get through this.”

In the second wave, people in Victoria were confronted with a realisation that much in life is outside our control and recovery may not be linear. Instead of thinking “we just need to get through this part and then we’ll get back to how things were”, there was an unsettling day-to-day challenge of thinking, “What if this keeps happening? What if we can’t stop it? What if this changes the way I thought the world worked?”

So you had this disconnect where people outside Victoria kept saying “You’ll get through this! Once you’re on the other side things will be normal!” but, for many of us, those well-meaning cheers of encouragement didn’t line up with our actual experience.

Of course, people in other parts of the country who have been shaken in similar ways, and the restrictions Melburnians have experienced recently are faced by some people all the time. But in Melbourne, the relentlessness has been difficult to escape.

Getting support from others who lived it

We know from research that if a community has been through a challenging experience together — whether that’s bushfire, flood or some local horrific event — getting support from others who experienced it is crucial.

In my work with the Red Cross, we try to encourage people to connect with others after disasters. Just coming together to talk about what happened gives people the opportunity to feel a sense of hope, to normalise their experience and to be able to talk in a “shorthand” with others who will understand, because they went through it too. It’s a relief.

But all the things we’d normally suggest in the early stages of disaster are systemically dismantled by COVID. People have tried to stay connected online but it’s not the same. It’s tiring. It’s been harder to draw on normal points of support, which is crucial to recovery.

If you’re in Melbourne, recognise that we’ve all been through something huge and exhausting. Everyone is going to be in a different place. Try and be as patient and kind as you can with yourself and the people around you.

Dos and don’ts for people outside Melbourne

The research on collective trauma tells us if you haven’t been through the event, you’ll never quite understand. That doesn’t mean people outside Melbourne haven’t had their own experience, or can’t help.

Think about any upsetting personal experience you’ve had, such as miscarriage, divorce or the death of a parent. When someone who hasn’t experienced that specific trauma says “I know how you feel”, you might have felt misunderstood and even resentful or rageful.

You might think, “Not only do I need to explain myself and my feelings to this person — which in itself is exhausting and upsetting — I also have to find the energy to explain why what they said was wrong, even though I know they meant well”.

So over the next few weeks and months, don’t say “I know exactly how you feel” to your Melbourne friends and family. Unless you actually have been through the same thing in another setting, you don’t know how they feel. This experience was very specific.

Instead, ask “What has this been like for you?” and listen to what the person is saying. Say, “That sounds difficult. Tell me why, because I haven’t been in that situation”.

All of metropolitan Melbourne was placed under nightly curfew for nearly two months.
Erik Anderson/AAP

Staying open and empathetic

Research in this field talks a lot about the five mass trauma intervention principles, which are about promoting:

1) a sense of safety

2) a sense of calm

3) a sense of self-efficacy and community efficacy (belief in one’s community or one’s own ability to do something well)

4) connectedness

5) hope.

The lovely thing about these principles is they can be applied in many situations, whether that’s holding a press conference, consoling a friend or socialising with colleagues.

Good leaders promote these five things in times of crisis.

When we talk to each other as friends, try to keep those five principles in mind. Be open and empathetic in your listening.

Don’t be scared to talk to each other about how you’re feeling, and don’t be scared to ask your Melbourne friends about what happened.

But recognise that if you haven’t been through it, a good place to start could be “I can’t imagine what that was like. How can I help?”The Conversation

Kate Brady, Research Fellow – Community Resilience, University of Melbourne

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

WHO is right: lockdowns should be short and sharp. Here are 4 other essential COVID-19 strategies


Hassan Vally, La Trobe University

Last week the World Health Organisation’s special envoy on COVID-19, David Nabarro, said:

We in the World Health Organisation do not advocate lockdowns as the primary measure for the control of the virus.

This has created confusion and frustration, as many people have interpreted this as running counter to WHO’s previous advice on dealing with the pandemic. Haven’t most of us spent some or most of the past few months living in a world of lockdowns and severe restrictions, based on advice from the WHO?

Dig a little deeper, however, and these comments are not as contrary as they might seem. They merely make explicit the idea that lockdowns are just one of many different weapons we can deploy against the coronavirus.

Lockdowns are a good tactic in situations where transmission is spiralling out of control and there is a threat of the health system being overwhelmed. As Nabarro says, they can “buy you time to reorganise, regroup, rebalance your resources”.

But they should not be used as the main strategy against COVID-19 more broadly. And the decision to impose a lockdown should be considered carefully, with the benefits weighed against the often very significant consequences.

Lockdowns also have a disproportionate impact on the most disadvantaged people in society. This cost is greater still in poorer countries, where not going to work can mean literally having no food to eat.




Read more:
Is lockdown worth the pain? No, it’s a sledgehammer and we have better options


So if lockdowns are best used as a short, sharp measure to stop the coronavirus running rampant, what other strategies should we be focusing on to control the spread of COVID-19 more generally? Here are four key tactics.

1. Testing, contact tracing and isolation

The key pillars in the public health response to this pandemic have always been testing, contract tracing, and isolating cases. This has been the clear message from the WHO from the beginning, and every jurisdiction that has enjoyed success in controlling the virus has excelled in these three interlinked tasks.

No one disputes the importance of being able to identify cases and make sure they don’t spread the virus. When we identify cases, we also need to work out where and by whom they were infected, so we can quarantine anyone who may also have been exposed. The goal here is to interrupt transmission of the virus by keeping the infected away from others.

Time is of the essence. People should be tested as soon as they develop symptoms, and should isolate immediately until they know they are in the clear. For positive cases, contact tracing should be done as quickly as possible. All of this helps limit the virus’s spread.




Read more:
Where did Victoria go so wrong with contact tracing and have they fixed it?


2. Responding to clusters

Responding to disease clusters in an effective, timely manner is also vitally important. We’ve all seen how certain environments, such as aged-care homes, can become breeding grounds for infections, and how hard it is to control these clusters once they gain momentum.

Bringing clusters under control requires decisive action, and countries that have been successful in combating the virus have used a range of strategies to do it. Vietnam, which has been lauded for its coronavirus response despite its large population and lack of resources, has worked hard to “box in the virus” when clusters were identified. This involved identifying and testing people up to three degrees of separation from a known case.




Read more:
Europe’s second wave is worse than the first. What went so wrong, and what can it learn from countries like Vietnam?


3. Educating the public

Another crucial element of a successful coronavirus response is giving the public clear advice on how to protect themselves. Public buy-in is vital, because ultimately it is the behaviour of individuals that has the biggest influence on the virus’s spread.

Everyone in the community should understand the importance of social distancing and good hygiene. This includes non-English speakers and other minority groups. Delivering this message to all members of the community requires money and effort from health authorities and community leaders.

4. Masks

After some confusion at the beginning of the pandemic, it is now almost universally accepted that public mask-wearing is a cheap and effective way to slow disease transmission, particularly in situations where social distancing is difficult.

As a result, masks — although unduly politicised in some quarters — have been rapidly accepted in many societies that weren’t previously used to wearing them.




Read more:
Victorians, and anyone else at risk, should now be wearing face masks. Here’s how to make one


The Conversation


Hassan Vally, Associate Professor, La Trobe University

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

Melbourne is almost out of lockdown. It’s time to trust Melburnians to make their own COVID-safe decisions


Catherine Bennett, Deakin University

After days of speculation, today’s announcement by Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews was pretty much as we expected: a significant lifting of restrictions, albeit only a half-step out of lockdown.

From 11.59pm tonight, Melburnians will be able to travel up to 25km from home, with no time limits on exercise or recreation, bringing the chance to play a round of golf or visit the hairdresser.

Even more encouragingly, we may only have to wait a week until the lockdown is lifted, the “four reasons” to leave home are removed, and retailers and other businesses can once again open their doors.

Andrews said the planned move to step three of the COVID-19 roadmap could be brought forward a week from its provisional date of November 1 if case numbers — now tracking at 7.5 new cases a day for metropolitan Melbourne and just 0.5 in the regions — remain favourable.

“Victorians have stayed the course, and we just have a little longer to go,” he said.

I agree Victorians can rightly be proud, because this lockdown was a very big ask. In fact, I see no reason why we can’t remove blanket rules such as the 25km radius and Melbourne’s “ring of steel” immediately.

Buying time

The blanket restrictions in Melbourne, which have been in place since early July, have bought time to rebuild our public health response, with stronger measures for testing, contact tracing and isolating outbreaks. The idea is to “bring the restrictions to the virus”, meaning we can now contain it wherever it might appear.

As a result, restricting the general public’s movements with the help of blanket rules makes less sense, because many Melburnians now have a minuscule risk.




Read more:
A 14-day rolling average of 5 new daily cases is the wrong trigger for easing Melbourne lockdown. Let’s look at ‘under investigation’ cases instead


I don’t understand why we need to impose a 25km limit. It’s such a big radius but will still exclude people who live at opposite ends of the city from seeing each other. Perhaps the fear is too many people will congregate in popular or scenic places. But surely that can be managed by scrutinising those particular places.

In contrast, when Singapore was coming off its second wave, it lifted restrictions when COVID-19 cases were at 60 per million people, per day. Melbourne’s current average is just over 1 case per million people, per day. If Andrews were to promote Victoria’s strategy to the rest of the world, I’ve no doubt they would agree it’s been a success, but they would probably also wonder why it is taking so long.

We had an extended blanket lockdown that was enough to quash the virus multiple times over in households. But we weren’t able to contain it in aged care, certain workplaces, and complex households.

With cases now so low, the idea that all public movement equals viral spread is not true. There’s a lot more to this virus than this sort of reductionist approach. We know probably 70% of people don’t even pass it on, and that many cases are the end of a chain of infection. If we do get a cluster, we will likely pick it up. This gives me confidence Melbourne will be able to open up fully next weekend.

The wholesale rebuilding of our contact-tracing means we are now very much on the front foot. Health authorities should continue urgently interrogating and isolating new cases, particularly mystery ones.

But for the wider public, it is now important to instil a sense that the government trusts people to be sensible for themselves. The more rules we have, the harder it is for people to have a sense of agency.

The rules should now be focused on areas where there is greatest risk. Unnecessary blanket rules might get in the way of people buying in. For instance, the ring of steel shouldn’t be necessary, given the testing and tracing measures we now have in place. What’s more, I think it will be a long time before people go back to their old patterns of movement, given that people have become acclimatised to staying at home.

This also means it’s easier to consider lifting border restrictions. While we’ve been busy fighting off the second wave we’ve built the health response to a point where we can live with the virus. So things like borders become less crucial.




Read more:
WHO is right: lockdowns should be short and sharp. Here are 4 other essential COVID-19 strategies


If authorities aren’t busy policing things that don’t make much of a difference, such as the 25km rule, it will free up resources and also mean people have one less rule, and one less fine, hanging over them.

I would also urge authorities to allow people to wear masks only in situations where it makes a real difference, as opposed to everywhere. It’s easier to trust the public to do that when they’re not being told to wear them all the time.

Over more than three months, Victorians have grown used to being told what to do in intense detail. Now it’s time for people to get back some control, and I’m hopeful we can do that in a way that’s safe.The Conversation

Catherine Bennett, Chair in Epidemiology, Deakin University

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

How’s your life under lockdown? Tweets tell the tale of how neighbourhoods compare


Alexa Gower, Monash University; Carl Grodach, Monash University; Dickson Lukose, Monash University; Geoff Webb, Monash University, and Liton Kamruzzaman, Monash University

Melbourne has endured one of the strictest COVID-19 lockdowns in the world. Public health announcements indicate restrictions are set to continue despite experts warning that Victoria is unlikely to get the daily average number of new cases down to just five in the near future.

Our research shows some people lack access to the essential services and amenities that support healthy and liveable places during the lockdown. We tracked 80,000 location-based tweets from January 2020 to September 2020 to understand how people are responding to Melbourne’s lockdowns.

Social media such as Twitter can provide a window into how people are emotionally managing during the lockdown and how well their neighbourhood meets their needs in this challenging time. This is particularly important as policy conversations turn to the importance of 20-minute neighbourhoods and living locally in the post-COVID city.




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Research has shown the inequality of neighbourhood access to services and amenities can have serious physical and mental health impacts. These differences raise issues of equity and whether responses are proportionate to the threat. It also means some neighbourhoods are ill-equipped to support the anticipated increase in people working from home during and after the pandemic.




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Life under lockdown isn’t the same for all

On August 2, the Victorian government established strict restrictions on movement including a 5km travel bubble and curfew in Melbourne. In a cross-discipline collaboration between Monash’s Art, Design & Architecture and Data Futures Institute, our analysis of Twitter data focused on neighbourhood amenity and opportunity at this point. Our findings reveal the differences in resident well-being across different suburbs during lockdown.

Entrance to Luna Park in St Kilda
Residents of the suburb of St Kilda have been more likely to keep smiling under lockdown than the city as a whole.
Alexa Gower, Author provided

With the introduction of the first lockdown, the number of tweets posted about people’s local neighbourhoods increased by 158% compared to January and February 2020. This highlights how the lockdown turned people’s attention towards their residential area. It also indicates neighbourhood amenities became more significant for people who are no longer commuting to work in Melbourne’s CBD or other places.

People living in areas with poor access to amenities expressed higher levels of negative sentiment about their neighbourhood during the lockdown periods. Sentiment in these areas dropped three times in the year. There was a 13% drop in sentiment in March when the first lockdown came in and another 15.5% fall with the June lockdown 2.0. Sentiment continued to fall by 30% in August.

In contrast, tweets about amenity-rich areas revealed a 4% rise in positive sentiment. These residents detailed how their neighbourhood amenity helped their well-being during this time.

Chart showing trends in positive sentiments in tweets from high- and low-amenity areas
We see contrasting trends in sentiment in tweets from high-amenity and low-amenity neighbourhoods under lockdown.
Author provided



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Missing aspects of going to work

We also see that not everyone is as supportive of remote working arrangements as some studies claim. Before the lockdown, tweets about places in Melbourne often highlighted satisfaction with working environments. These tweets spoke of walking between meetings, and places to gather and eat out:

Beautiful day in the city – just perfect for walking between meetings and lunch at the cafe. (Outer Melbourne, March 6).

Under lockdown, the number of tweets with negative sentiment about residential neighbourhoods throughout Melbourne increased by 124%. People posted negative opinions about what was missing from their local area and expressed longing for the amenities found in their workplace. People also missed their daily commute and the opportunity to walk between places outside their neighbourhood:

Although I’m loving working from home, one thing that I really miss is my walk to the office from the station. (Outer Melbourne, July 9).

Moreover, tweets highlighted that some people don’t have enough space to work from home

When I am working at home I’m currently sharing space with the indoor clothes hangers. (Outer Melbourne, April 16).

These tweets remind us of the challenges some people face when working from home and indicate how commuting enables access to amenities that their neighbourhoods lack.

Some areas make work from home a joy

In comparison, tweets that expressed positive neighbourhood sentiment during the lockdown referred specifically to the benefits of parks and public facilities. In high-amenity areas, people expressed gratitude for these places.

Social isolating done right … I’m so #grateful to have these sort of parks right on my doorstep so I can exercise both me and the dogs 🙂🐕 (Inner Melbourne, March 29)

Being able to experience the natural environment improved their mood.

I went outside for a walk and took a moment to stand in a spot where the onshore bay breeze could freely hit me in the face while I listened to Sign ☮️ the Times. I needed that so badly. #starfishandcoffee’ (Inner Melbourne, April 16)




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Some were happy to spend more time locally even when lockdown measures had eased.

The joys of working from home and walking to support our local coffee shop. Then you are pleasantly surprised by Teddy and his marmalade skills. Just sweet! (Outer Melbourne, May 27)

Increased positive sentiment about local amenity continued longer into the year than negative tweets, highlighting the broad benefits local amenities provide to communities.

Chart showing sentiment trends for Sandringham, St Kilda and Greater Melbourne.
How people fare under lockdown has a lot to do with where they live.
Author provided

Work to be done on neighbourhood amenity

Comparing Melbourne’s Twitter data across different places provides insight into the impacts of neighbourhood amenity on resident well-being during lockdown. It also shows the uneven access to important neighbourhood facilities in different places and the consequences for remote working.

The lockdown experience highlights that if Melbourne is serious about achieving a city of 20-minute neighbourhoods, there is immediate work to do to improve access to everyday amenities and support remote working.




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The Conversation


Alexa Gower, Postdoctoral researcher, Monash University; Carl Grodach, Professor and Director of Urban Planning & Design, Monash University; Dickson Lukose, Professor and Senior Data Scientist, Data Futures Institute, Monash University; Geoff Webb, Professor and Research Director, Data Futures Institute, Monash University, and Liton Kamruzzaman, Associate Professor of Urban Planning, Monash University

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

Can a High Court challenge of Melbourne’s lockdown succeed? Here’s what the Constitution says



James Ross/AAP

Luke Beck, Monash University

Just days after Victorian Premier Dan Andrews signalled the state won’t be ready for a major loosening of COVID-19 restrictions next week as planned, a legal challenge is expected to be filed in the High Court to force the government to act more quickly.

The Age reports prominent Melbourne hotelier Julian Gerner is launching the challenge against Melbourne’s strict lockdown and has hired leading barristers Bret Walker SC and Michael Wyles QC to represent him.

Gerner argues the restrictions on people’s movements beyond five kilometres from their homes, as well as the need to have a permit to travel to work, are a disproportionate response to the coronavirus threat and violate the implied freedom of movement in the Constitution to undertake personal, family, recreational and commercial endeavours.

This is a bold argument. The High Court has never accepted the Constitution protects freedom of movement within states.

How does this case differ from Clive Palmer’s case?

Clive Palmer is currently challenging Western Australia’s tough border closure, arguing it contravenes section 92 of the Constitution, which says

trade, commerce and intercourse among the states … shall be absolutely free.

Palmer is challenging restrictions on movement across state boundaries on the basis of an express provision of the Constitution.

By contrast, Gerner is challenging restrictions on movement within a single state on the basis of an implication he says can be found in the Constitution, rather than on any express provision.

Palmer’s case is due to be heard in the High Court in early November.
Dave Hunt/AAP



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How can freedoms be “implied” into the Constitution?

The Constitution expressly protects only a few freedoms in Australia, such as trial by jury for federal indictable offences and a narrow guarantee of freedom of religion.

Laws are considered invalid if they contradict the express terms of the Constitution such as these. But laws can also be ruled invalid if they impede the functioning of systems set up by the Constitution. This is how “implied” freedoms arise.




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The most prominent example is the implied freedom of political communication. There is nothing in the Constitution saying expressly that Australians have freedom of political communication.

But the Constitution does expressly say parliamentarians must be “chosen by the people”.

This guarantee is vital because it provides for an implied freedom of expression on matters relating to politics and government. If this freedom didn’t exist, then the people would not be able to freely choose their parliamentarians.

Using this logic, the High Court has ruled restrictions on the freedom of political communication are invalid because they impede the functioning of the political system set up by the Constitution.

For example, the High Court has struck down NSW laws that banned unions from making political donations to the state Labor Party because it limited the ability of the party to run political advertising.

What has the High Court said about freedom of movement?

Freedom of movement for the purposes of freedom of political communication — for example, to take part in a protest — would be protected by the Constitution, as part of the implied freedom of political communication.

However, Gerner seems to be arguing the Constitution protects freedom of movement more generally.

Individual justices have agreed with this idea in the past. In the 1970s and ‘80s, High Court Justice Lionel Murphy said in a number of cases he believed the Constitution guarantees freedom of movement generally.




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For example, Murphy said in a 1986 case that freedom of movement “in and between every part” of Australia is fundamental to a democratic society and necessary for the operation of the federal government and state constitutions. Murphy also said that freedom of movement is

a necessary corollary of the concept of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Justice Mary Gaudron said something similar in a 1992 case:

The notion of a free society governed in accordance with the principles of representative parliamentary democracy may entail freedom of movement.

However, a majority of the High Court has never accepted there is an implied freedom of movement in the Constitution.

Police have cracked down on anti-lockdown protests in recent weeks.
Erik Anderson/AAP

What happens next?

Two hurdles need to be overcome for Gerner’s challenge to succeed.

First, he would need to persuade the High Court the Constitution really does protect freedom of movement generally. This won’t be easy.

Second, he needs to persuade the High Court the Melbourne lockdown is a disproportionate limitation on freedom of movement. This may require a separate hearing in a lower court to hear expert public health evidence about what is necessary to protect public health.

This kind of separate hearing happened in Palmer’s WA border closure case. This will take some time.

There is also the possibility the Victorian government will relax the lockdown just before any High Court hearing starts.

This is what happened after a legal challenge was filed with the Victorian Supreme Court arguing Melbourne’s curfew was imposed without following the correct legal procedure.

The government abolished the curfew the day before the case was due to start. Its lawyers showed up to court arguing the case should not go ahead because the issue was now merely hypothetical.

While it is not beyond the realm of possibility, Gerner faces formidable obstacles to succeed with his challenge. I wouldn’t be holding my breath the High Court declares the existence of an implied freedom of movement anytime soon.The Conversation

Luke Beck, Associate Professor of Constitutional Law, Monash University

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

Will COVID lockdowns hurt your child’s social development? 3 different theories suggest they’ll probably be OK



Shutterstock

Laurien Beane, Australian Catholic University and Anthony Shearer, Australian Catholic University

Social distancing during COVID-19 has seen a radical upheaval to the way we work and socialise.

But what are the implications for young children? Many children have been uprooted from their places of education and care, and may struggle to understand why their routine has been disrupted.

If you’re a parent, particularly in Victoria, you may be wondering whether this period — a significant amount of time relative to the life of a young child — might affect your child’s social development.

The good news is, with less of the day-to-day rush, many young children have probably benefited from extra socialisation at home with their families.

Looking through a theoretical lens

We can explore the ways COVID-19 might affect children’s social development by considering three theories in psychology.

1. Supporting the individual child (attachment theory)

It’s important for young children to develop strong and secure “attachments” with parents and caregivers. These emotional and physical bonds support children’s social development.

Psychologists have shown very young children who develop strong and secure attachments become more independent, have more successful social relationships, perform better at school, and experience less anxiety compared with children who didn’t have strong and secure attachments.

Where the extra time children have spent with parents and caregivers during COVID-19 has been in a supportive environment, this may help the development of these attachments.




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2. Supporting the child in the family (family systems theory)

Beyond parents and caregivers, it’s important for children to develop secure attachments within the whole family.

For young children, research shows these connections with family members can lead to improved social development, while fostering the child’s ability to develop their own identity as part of a family unit.

Young children might have spent more time with siblings and other family members during lockdown, possibly developing deeper connections with them.

3. Supporting the child in the community (sociocultural theory)

Sociocultural theory considers social interaction to underpin the ways children learn, allowing them to make meaning from the world around them.

While learning can and does take place between children and adults, there’s lots of research showing all children benefit from socialising with peers of the same age.

Evidence also indicates children learn to respond to social situations in social environments. This could be in early learning settings, on the playground, or with their families.

Two young children jumping on a trampoline.
Young children may have developed stronger connections with siblings and other family members during lockdown.
Shutterstock

COVID-19 has curtailed many interactions children would regularly have in early learning and social contexts. But at the same time, it’s created opportunities for other meaningful interactions such as at home with family.

Day-to-day life with family, or socially distanced interactions within the community, still provide great opportunities for social development.

We can’t know for sure what toll this pandemic will take on children’s social development.

But it’s important to remember children are always learning wherever they may be, and whoever they may be with. So try to focus on the benefits you’ve gained spending time with your child at home.




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It won’t be the same for everyone

COVID-19 has brought tough times for many Australian families. We know added financial pressures can adversely affect family life, and may be compounded during lockdown by a lack of external support.

The Australian Early Development Census consistently identifies lower socioeconomic status as one of the risk factors for poorer “social competence” — a child’s ability to get along with and relate to others.

This doesn’t mean all children in families experiencing socioeconomic hardship during COVID-19 will necessarily face challenges in their social development. It’s more complex that that. However, some might.

Other risk factors for social competence may have also been heightened during the pandemic. These include family conflict, anxiety or illness (of the child or the parent), and trauma, such as exposure to stressful events, grief, or loss.

Children who already live in vulnerable situations may have become even more vulnerable during this time.

A mother tries to work on her laptop while her young child is bothering her.
More time with family won’t always be a positive.
Shutterstock

Getting back to ‘normal’

Alongside risk factors, a range of protective factors may reduce the impacts of adversity on a child.

We should think about providing young children with extra support, helping them regulate their emotions, fostering warm relationships, promoting resilience and encouraging problem solving, and facilitating social contact within the COVID-19 social distancing norms, such as video chats.




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As children begin the transition back to early childhood education and care, some “clinginess” is natural.

Having a distressed child at drop-off time can be confronting. But trust in their capacity to regulate their emotions when you leave, and their ability to rediscover relationships with their educators, carers and friends. They should soon readjust.

To support smooth transitions back into early childhood education and care, talk positively with your child about the people they’re going to see, such as teachers and their friends, and encourage them to ask any questions they may have.

If you’re worried about how the lockdown has affected your child, you can always speak to your child’s educator, the centre director, or your GP about connecting with services designed to support you and your child.The Conversation

Laurien Beane, Course Coordinator, Queensland Undergraduate Early Childhood, Australian Catholic University and Anthony Shearer, Academic, Australian Catholic University

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

Why would Australia Post go out of its way to deliver Pauline Hanson’s stubby holders?


Lukas Coch/AAP

Carl Rhodes, University of Technology Sydney

Back in July, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson appeared in her then-regular spot on Channel Nine’s Today program.

During a discussion about the hard lockdown of Melbourne’s public housing towers Hanson said:

A lot of these people are from non-English speaking backgrounds, probably English as their second language, who haven’t adhered to the rules of social distancing

Hanson added “a lot of them are drug addicts,” and “alcoholics” before noting if people were from “war torn countries” they “know what it’s like to be in tough conditions”.

The comments – and the way Channel Nine presented them – caused a storm of controversy. And Hanson lost her regular spot on the program.

But the episode didn’t stop there. Hanson then sent a gift to each of the residents of one of the towers in North Melbourne.




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What is even more perplexing, the head of Australia Post reportedly intervened to make sure Hanson’s mail was delivered to their intended recipients.

Hanson’s ‘gift’

For $A7 you can buy your very own branded stubby holder from the One Nation website.

Featuring Hanson’s image against a sunset orange background it is emblazoned with the words: “I’ve got the guts to say what you’re thinking”.

These were the stubby holders sent to the tower’s residents, which came with a note saying “no hard feelings”.

It’s difficult to imagine what kind of reasoning was behind this “gift”.

To their credit, the people managing deliveries to the tower discovered what was in the parcels, each addressed only “to the householder”. Fearing, quite reasonably, the deliveries would inflame an “emotional tinder box”, the deliveries were withheld.

Australia Post gets involved

If one’s political suspicion was roused by the stubby holder stunt, things became even more unbelievable when Australia Post chief executive Christina Holgate, was implicated in trying to make sure the parcels were delivered.

On hearing the people managing the locked down tower had intercepted the deliveries, Holgate’s legal counsel reportedly sent a threatening email to Melbourne City Council.

The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, who saw the email, reported it gave Melbourne City Council five hours to deliver the parcels, or said police might be notified.

Australia Post under pressure

Holgate has come under additional scrutiny of late. Australia Post has been breaking delivery records during the pandemic. But has also faced concerns about delays and service cuts.




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Holgate is the highest paid public servant in the country, earning more than $2.5 million in pay and bonuses in the 2018-2019 financial year.

Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate at a Senate inquiry
Australia Post head Christine Holgate is the highest paid public servant in Australia.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

OK, CEOs earn a lot. But at a time when Australia Post is asking staff to work extra hours and use their own cars to deliver a backlog of parcels, its executives have still been eyeing up huge bonuses.

Following a heated debate, they will not have bonuses for 2020. But there is still a pool of more than $825,000 in payments coming from 2019.

Corporate politics

It is difficult to understand why Australia Post got involved in the stubby holder saga. Why would it want to stand up for a political stunt aimed at people in a hard lockdown?

Several media outlets have been quick to point out that at the time, One Nation senators were considering whether to support overturning a temporary relaxation of postal delivery rules.

Postie on a motorbike
Parcel deliveries have skyrocketed during COVID.
Australia Post

Back in April, Australia Post’s regulatory requirements were adjusted due to COVID-19, allowing them to focus on parcel rather than letter delivery. The changes, backed by Australia Post, are due to end in June 2021.

This was a political hot potato, with the two major parties taking opposite sides and Labor pushing to “disallow” the changes in the Senate, amid union concerns about job losses.

More than a storm in a stubby holder

In a statement, Australia Post said Holgate did not personally intervene in the stubby holder deliveries.

“Australia Post confirms that Ms Holgate did not speak to Senator Hanson or One Nation on this matter, nor did she threaten Melbourne City Council.”

Australia Post’s response has been to justify their actions purely on their legal obligation to prevent interference with the mail. No politics at play here, they claim, they were just doing their job.

As for Hanson, she was unconcerned, describing the whole thing as a “storm in a stubby cooler”.




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Melbourne tower lockdowns unfairly target already vulnerable public housing residents


But nobody said anything about the well-being of residents of the towers, who were the target of this terrible exercise in populist publicity.

Those residents, many of them vulnerable, were treated as collateral damage in this episode.

It doesn’t take a lot of guts to say Australia should expect much more from its politicians, its business leaders and major service providers.The Conversation

Carl Rhodes, Professor of Organization Studies, University of Technology Sydney

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