What is even more perplexing, the head of Australia Post reportedly intervened to make sure Hanson’s mail was delivered to their intended recipients.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
CCTV cameras mounted on vans have recently been seen in public parks around Melbourne, ostensibly to nab anyone breaking lockdown rules. They are part of a joint initiative between several Melbourne councils, Victoria Police and the Commonwealth government.
Coming on the back of Victorian police arresting and charging a number of people for inciting others to break bans on public gatherings by protesting in the streets, there is likely to be widespread resentment to the presence of these mobile surveillance units.
Many people are already claiming the Victorian government has once again over-stepped the mark in its aggressive approach to suppressing COVID-19.
These mobile units are not new, though. They were introduced in 2018 to help combat crime. They are not cheap, either. The cost to purchase and operate four of the units has been estimated at $3.6 million.
But what are the laws around public surveillance of people going about their daily business or recreational activities outdoors?
Let me tackle this question by posing four related questions:
are the cameras legal?
are such surveillance tools effective?
are these measures acceptable in a vibrant democracy?
It needs to be stated at the outset the Constitution does not include any specific rights related to privacy. And the High Court suggested two decades ago that privacy was unlikely to be protected under common law.
So, it should not be surprising that mobile CCTV cameras driven to and stationed in public places are perfectly legal.
Moreover, so-called “unmanned airborne vehicles” (UAVs), more commonly known as drones, are regularly deployed by police for surveillance purposes, too.
Both of these surveillance tools are backed by regulatory force at all three levels of government.
Are these surveillance tools effective?
Proponents of these mobile surveillance units argue the perceived risks to privacy and heavy investment are worth it, given the social disorder they prevent and the help they provide police in solving crimes.
In one study in 2009, for instance, CCTV cameras were only found to reduce crime by 16% overall (and by only 7% in city and town centres and public housing communities).
The efficacy of these surveillance units in a health emergency has yet to be proven. The cameras would seem to be most useful in providing police with information regarding who is using the parks, and perhaps providing something of a deterrent to those who might consider breaching lockdown restrictions, but not much more.
Are these measures acceptable?
Yes and no. On the one hand, there is no doubt people want the coronavirus restrictions to end. And if these units deter people from breaking lockdown rules, and this, in turn, helps bring the new case numbers down more quickly, people may accept the intrusion in their lives.
On the other hand, some are understandably alarmed at the increasing use of surveillance tools by authorities — dubbed “uberveillance” by sociologists.
But without civic push-back, little will change. Parliamentarians are unlikely to limit the powers of the executive to allow mobile surveillance units to be parked in public places unless it becomes politically unpopular. One can but wonder when this tipping point may be reached.
While there’s been much speculation around what will come next, we’ll have a clearer picture this Sunday, when Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announces the state’s “roadmap” for easing COVID-19 restrictions.
Ahead of this announcement, we asked four experts what they see as the most important aspects of Victoria’s path out of stage 4.
Trade-offs and transparency
Adrian Esterman, Professor of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, University of South Australia
I believe we need a much more nuanced approach than simply, say, going back to stage 3 restrictions.
The stage 4 restrictions are taking a heavy toll on people’s mental health. Every restriction must be carefully examined as a trade-off between improved quality of life and increased probability of transmission.
There are some no-brainers. Anecdotally, many people are already breaking the one-hour limit on daily exercise. Increasing it to two hours per day would be a great relief and should have little effect on transmission, provided people stick to social distancing.
Similarly, it’s not clear what evidence underpins the rule that bans people from travelling more than 5km from home (with some exceptions). Surely it could be increased to, say, 10km with little impact on case numbers.
UNSW epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaws has suggested a bubble approach, which allows spending time with nominated people outside one’s own household. This would go a long way to reducing loneliness for those living on their own.
The 8pm-5am curfew has been contentious, with some experts arguing more attention should be placed on workplace safety rather than policing people’s movements. Given the high number of cases arising from nursing homes and health-care settings, there’s some merit in this argument.
Some restrictions, such as mandatory face masks, probably need to stay for a while longer.
Whatever actions the Victorian government takes at the end of lockdown, I would like it to publish the reasoning and evidence behind the restrictions that remain. This would go a long way towards building public trust.
Being prepared for any sign of resurgence
C Raina MacIntyre, Professor of Global Biosecurity, UNSW
The best path out of stage 4 would be, once daily cases are in the low double digits, to use a step-wise, careful easing of restrictions, maintain the mask mandate, and to promote mask use as a tool that enables freedom rather than removes it. The biggest problem is asymptomatic infection, which means we cannot always identify who is infected and infectious.
We also need to keep up social distancing, make testing easy by continuing to provide drive-through sites widely, control the size and structure of gatherings, and continue hotel quarantine programs (heeding lessons from previous mistakes).
Importantly, we should have a low and clearly defined threshold for increasing the use of these measures, including lockdowns, at the first sign of a resurgence. A few weeks’ delay or procrastination can see the epidemic grow as it did in Melbourne within weeks, from low double digits to high triple digits.
We will continue to live with COVID-19 until we have an effective vaccine. Until then it will be a balancing act between applying and releasing the brakes to enable as much activity as possible, while keeping the disease under control.
As we approach the end of the year and the festive season, we want to make sure the disease incidence is as low as possible, or we could face a large resurgence after New Year.
Plans for safe Christmas and New Year activities should be starting now. This includes seriously considering the safety of religious services, given the risky combination of large gatherings with singing. If going ahead, religious services should be smaller in size, socially distanced, outdoors if possible, or with open windows combined with fans.
Opening up the performing arts
Philip Russo, Associate Professor, Monash University
The first steps of the roadmap need to include a reopening of performing arts venues in Victoria. In regional centres, these venues are often the cultural lifeblood of the town, and a return to live entertainment will offer some minor relief to small businesses, and importantly, provide entertainment, joy and hope to the community.
Some simple strategies can minimise any risk of COVID-19 transmission in these settings.
First, make use of any outdoor venues and provide controlled audience sections (where individual groups are separated from one another). Indoors, restrict attendance to 25% of house capacity, and over time that can increase.
Second, for outdoor or indoor venues, minimise the number of performers on stage, ensure performers step no further than mid-stage, and keep the first four or so rows empty. Cast and crew would need to continue to physically distance, and they might also undergo regular testing.
The audience would need to wear masks, as well as provide their contact details in case of the need to follow up.
Minimise mingling of the audience. No hanging out in the foyer before or after the show, and no interval. Get in, get out. And no loitering near the stage door to meet your idol.
Other strategies could include temperature checking on arrival, and using one door in and one door out. If successful, audience and performer numbers could gradually increase.
If all this was in place, it’s quite likely it would be safer to go the to the theatre than to your local supermarket.
Catherine Bennett, Chair in Epidemiology, Deakin University
The way ahead needs to be focused as much on prevention as it is on response. We need early warning systems and reliable contact tracing for outbreak identification and control, but we also need more emphasis on how we prevent transmission in the first instance.
Prevention is in our hands. Wearing masks, particularly when we can’t physically distance and in indoor public settings, will reduce transmission, minimise the likelihood restrictions will need to be reintroduced, and pave the way for a time when we might not have to wear masks all the time outdoors.
Our essential workplaces are now operating under COVID-safe plans, and other businesses and industries will need COVID-safe plans to reopen.
We now have the advantage of warmer weather ahead. If cafes and pubs can set up more outdoor seating alongside spaced seating indoors, and if everyone practises good hygiene and distancing, we can work and play safely.
The idea of a “traffic light” alert system is a hot topic right now. This approach designates areas at different levels of transmission, with corresponding travel or other restrictions to be implemented depending on whether the area is green, amber or red.
But blanket restrictions on movement, social networking and business operation are not a precise way to disrupt local transmission chains. We must aim to be as targeted as possible in our interventions to minimise collateral damage as we contain outbreaks.
Up to now the focus has been on managing “hot spots” in the COVID lockdowns of Melbourne and Victoria. We have identified four key factors that might help explain why we see high rates of COVID-19 cases in some parts of the city. Our analysis also suggests a phased easing of lockdown could start with reopening “cold spots” with few or no cases of COVID-19.
And reopening the state as soon as reasonably possible is of concern from many perspectives. The federal government and business groups have led calls to ease lockdowns.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has expressed frustration at closures of schools and state and territory borders. He has asked the national cabinet to agree on a definition of hot spots used to justify closures. This article raises a related idea with a focus on Melbourne: rather than waiting for hot spots to fade out, cold spots could possibly be reopened earlier.
The chart below shows an encouraging picture. As active case numbers fell between August 14 and 28, the north-west/south-east disparity narrowed. Numbers fell a little faster in the north and west.
However, the 16 lowest case rates (as of August 28) remained in the south and east. The nine highest were in the north and west.
A continued fall in case numbers across Melbourne will eventually justify reopening across the city. But the current disparity between north-west and south-east suggests reopening at different times in different places is a live option. Cold spots – groups of LGAs with the lowest case rates – could open sooner.
What factors might explain the divide?
Seeking to gain insights that might explain the differences between areas, we identified 30 variables for which census, population health, unemployment or other public data are readily available. A number of these variables were significantly correlated with active case numbers.
We found positive correlations (active case numbers increased along with these factors) for:
population growth rate from 2011 to 2016
persons per dwelling
fair or poor health.
We found negative correlations (active numbers fell) for:
English-only is spoken at home
population aged 80 or over
socioeconomic status, as shown by the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ SEIFA Index.
Four variables explained 63.9% of the variance in active case numbers by LGA as at August 14. Factors such as the unemployment rate, SEIFA Index and fair/poor health dropped out, as these were significantly correlated with other retained variables.
The four retained variables were:
resident population – a larger LGA population is associated with more active case numbers
percentage speaking English-only at home – a lower proportion is associated with more active cases, emphasising the importance of language-appropriate COVID messaging
percentage of the population aged 80 and over – a larger proportion is associated with fewer active cases, suggesting good risk awareness in this vulnerable age group (although the impacts in many aged care homes have been shocking)
percentage of smokers – a higher rate is associated with larger active case numbers, perhaps suggesting respiratory vulnerability and/or lower risk awareness of this group.
As active case numbers have come down, the predicted impact of each of these four variables has also reduced. In combination, however, they still explain a similar proportion of the variance in active case numbers by LGA as in the peak period.
Interestingly, the effect of English-only spoken at home on the variance in active case numbers declined substantially between August 14 and 28. This trend suggests some success in language-appropriate messaging over that time.
Of the four included variables, the effect of the proportion of adult smokers has shown the smallest relative improvement as active case numbers have fallen. At LGA level, adult smoking is highly correlated with unemployment rate (+), reported fair/poor health (+), productivity (-) and the SEIFA Index (-).
These linkages suggest the burden of spatial disadvantage is having a lingering impact on active case numbers. As a result, a staged re-opening would pose equity concerns.
The growing economic costs and adverse impacts of lockdown on many already disadvantaged people underline the importance of opening up areas in Melbourne and Victoria as soon as possible. The costs are both personal and societal. A failure to halt the decline in well-being will have continuing serious consequences, adding to inequality in Australia.
Early reopening of parts of Melbourne with the lowest active case numbers, which are concentrated in the south and east, is a policy option. However, action must then be taken to avoid reinforcing entrenched disadvantage in the north and west.
Early commitments by all levels of government to implementing the wide-ranging plans in the recently released North and West Melbourne City Deal Plan 2020-2040 would help. Good starting points for reducing disadvantage include upgrading mixed-use activity centres across the city’s north and west and immediately improving medium-capacity transit services in the Suburban Rail Loop corridor.
Reports have suggested they mixed inappropriately with people under quarantine, and did not properly follow instructions around infection control.
But late yesterday we heard the first positive case was in fact a night manager at Rydges on Swanston, one of the hotels at the centre of the quarantine bungle. We don’t know how this person became infected, but there’s no suggestion it was a result of any improper behaviour.
This night manager has now become known as “patient zero” in Victoria’s second wave of coronavirus infections. But what does this term actually mean?
The beginning of the chain of infections
The first case in a chain of infections is popularly called “patient zero”. However, “patient zero” is not a very precise term.
In epidemiological language, we call the first case in an outbreak to come to the attention of investigators the “index case”. The actual individual who introduced the disease at the start of the outbreak is called the “primary case”.
According to these definitions, because the night manager was the first person recorded as being infected at the hotel (apart from the guests, who of course were already under quarantine), he or she would be the index case. However, the night manager was also the person who started the chain of infections, so he or she was also the primary case.
The one thing the night manager is not, however, is “patient zero”. That expression should really be reserved for the first human ever to be infected with SARS-CoV-2 (the coronavirus that causes COVID-19).
Origins of patient zero
The expression “patient zero” originated from the HIV epidemic in the United States.
Reports emerged in early 1982 of sexual links between several gay men with AIDS in Los Angeles, and investigators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) interviewed these men for the names of their sexual contacts.
The CDC gave each of the cases pseudonyms, and the person they eventually identified as the first to have the disease had a moniker beginning with the letter “O”.
This was later mistakenly interpreted as a zero, and so we got the expression “patient zero” for the first known case of a disease.
It’s important for epidemiologists to find the first known case because it helps work out how the outbreak occurred, and gives us an idea of how to prevent further outbreaks in the future.
For example, scientists believe the COVID-19 pandemic started in the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. If this proves to be correct (an international investigation is underway to determine this), authorities may choose to close wet markets, or at least better regulate them to prevent future outbreaks.
Beyond “patient zero” in the sense of the first ever case of a disease, it’s also important to find the first case in each particular outbreak.
In the case of the Rydges hotel night manager, this person would clearly have been infected by one of the hotel’s quarantined guests. Authorities now need to determine exactly how, where and when this person became infected, so they can tighten procedures to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
New Zealand is in a similar situation with its current COVID-19 outbreak. Until health authorities can work out who the primary case is, it will be very difficult to determine where the infection came from, and what actions they must take to ensure it’s not repeated.
Potentially, the primary case in this outbreak could have picked it up from a contaminated surface, a breakdown in quarantine regulations, or simply an asymptomatic person moving around in the community.
A political blame game
Unfortunately, finding out how Victoria’s second-wave outbreak started seems to have become a political blame game rather than a serious attempt to prevent it happening again.
The current finger-pointing is not only counterproductive — it could easily see the night manager designated as patient zero unfairly stigmatised, when that person is most likely blameless.
Richard McKay, a Cambridge academic who has written extensively on the concept of patient zero, captured the issue perfectly in an earlier Conversation article:
Writing of a patient zero is a damaging red herring that distracts from constructive efforts to contain the epidemic. Let’s wash our hands of this toxic phrase.