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.

Read more:
When The Today Show gave Pauline Hanson a megaphone, it diminished Australia’s social capital

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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You’ve got (less) mail: COVID-19 hands Australia Post a golden opportunity to end daily letter delivery

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”.

Read more:
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.

Melbourne is using pop-up police spy stations to find people breaking COVID rules – what does the law say?


Rick Sarre, University of South Australia

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?

  • what protections should be put in place?

Read more:
Police and governments may increasingly adopt surveillance technologies in response to coronavirus fears

Are the cameras legal?

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.

The Victorian Charter of Human Rights, however, contains a provision that states people have the right not to have their

privacy unlawfully or arbitrarily interfered with.

But a lawfully installed camera designed to deter offending would not, on its face, defy the terms of the charter.

International law, too, provides some privacy protections. In 1991, Australia signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states

no one should be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy.

However, Australian parliaments have introduced few laws to enshrine these protections. The legislation that has been enacted has largely been limited to curtailing the use of privately monitored listening and surveillance devices and preventing governments and big business from sharing citizens’ private information.

The Australian Law Reform Commission has issued clarion calls to extend these protections in recent years, but these efforts continue to gather dust.

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

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.

Police have been patrolling parks for weeks to ensure compliance with the Stage 4 lockdown regulations.

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.

However, there is much research now that casts doubt on this assumption.

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.

Read more:
Pandemic policing needs to be done with the public’s trust, not confusion

Even advocates for civil liberties appear ambivalent about the curtailment of some basic rights during the pandemic.

Liberty Victoria President Julian Burnside, who has been a fierce defender of privacy rights, surprised many by telling The Age,

It all sounds pretty sensible to me. … We are in a war against the coronavirus, and when you’re in a war with anything, restrictions on your otherwise normal liberties are justifiable.

Liberty Victoria quickly sought to distance itself from the comments.

What protections should be put in place?

There is no doubt parliaments are the most appropriate bodies to determine the extent to which individuals can be subjected to lawful public surveillance.

Indeed, former High Court judge Michael Kirby argues the legislative arm of government needs to step up to the task of scrutinising emergency powers with more vigour.

Otherwise it simply becomes a tame servant of the executive, which is a common weakness of parliamentary democracies of the Westminster system.

But parliaments will only respond if citizens demand this of them, and there are very few signs of that at the moment.

In the meantime, there are a number of legal tweaks that should be undertaken to ensure the government’s spying on the public domain is appropriately measured:

  1. we need to ensure the images and other data that are collected by surveillance units are stored appropriately and discarded quickly when no longer needed

  2. we need to be able to hold police and other surveillance operators to account for any excesses in the manner in which images are gathered and shared

  3. there needs to be a new legal remedy in the event there is a serious invasion of privacy by the inappropriate use or disclosure of images collected by surveillance devices.

True, we have the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner constantly reminding governments of the concerns associated with threats to privacy.

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.The Conversation

Rick Sarre, Emeritus Professor of Law and Criminal Justice, University of South Australia

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

4 perspectives on how Victoria should exit stage 4 lockdown

James Ross/AAP

Adrian Esterman, University of South Australia; Catherine Bennett, Deakin University; C Raina MacIntyre, UNSW, and Philip Russo, Monash University

Metropolitan Melbourne’s stage 4 lockdown is due to end on Sunday September 13.

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.

Read more:
We need to flatten the ‘other’ coronavirus curve, our looming mental health crisis

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.

Young man sits on couch, thinking.
A bubble approach could make a big difference for people living alone.

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.

Read more:
Which face mask should I wear?

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.

Man plays saxophone to outdoor audience.
Utilising outdoor spaces would be a good way to get performing arts up and running again.

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.

Read more:
What is the COVID ‘bubble’ concept, and could it work in Australia?

A focus on prevention for safe work and play

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.

People moving through a laneway in Melbourne with cafes on each side.
Many Victorians are keen to get back to restaurants and cafes.

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.

Read more:
Could ‘traffic-light’ alerts help Victoria exit lockdown safely?

The Conversation

Adrian Esterman, Professor of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, University of South Australia; Catherine Bennett, Chair in Epidemiology, Deakin University; C Raina MacIntyre, Professor of Global Biosecurity, NHMRC Principal Research Fellow, Head, Biosecurity Program, Kirby Institute, UNSW, and Philip Russo, Associate Professor, Director Cabrini Monash University Department of Nursing Research, Monash University

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

Open COVID ‘cold spots’ first: a way out of lockdown for Melbourne

John Stanley, University of Sydney and Janet Stanley, University of Melbourne

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.

Mental health experts are also very concerned about an impending mental health crisis. Others are warning about the growth in family violence. There are also growing concerns about the gap in education of young children and their mental health risks arising from isolation.

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.

Some parts are hit much harder than others

Our recent paper highlighted the wide disparities in numbers of active COVID cases per 1,000 population across Melbourne. Local government areas (LGAs) in the north and west have had much higher numbers, relative to population, than those in the south and east.

Read more:
Mapping COVID-19 spread in Melbourne shows link to job types and ability to stay home

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.

Chart showing rate of active COVID-19 cases per 1,000 people by local government area across Melbourne from August 14-28
Changes in rate of active COVID-19 cases across Melbourne by local government area.
Data: covidlive.com.au, ABS, Author provided

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

  • population growth rate from 2011 to 2016

  • persons per dwelling

  • unemployment rate

  • adult smokers

  • 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.

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Your local train station can predict health and death

Portrait of elderly couple at home
The correlation between areas with many people over the age of 80 and low rates of COVID-19 suggests those living at home took care to protect themselves.

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.

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

Staged reopening poses issues for equity

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.

Worker in high-viz jacket and hard hat smoking as he leans against a shipping container
The correlation between rates of smoking and active COVID-19 cases is a pointer to the impacts of socioeconomic disadvantage.

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.

Read more:
Why coronavirus will deepen the inequality of our suburbs

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.The Conversation

John Stanley, Adjunct Professor, Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies, University of Sydney Business School, University of Sydney and Janet Stanley, Associate Professor and Principal Research Fellow, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne

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

Finding the source of an outbreak is important. But the term ‘patient zero’ is a problem

Adrian Esterman, University of South Australia

Security guards at Melbourne’s quarantine hotels have been widely blamed for Victoria’s current outbreak of COVID-19.

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”.

A crowd of people walking on the street. Their heads are cut off.
The term ‘patient zero’ technically refers to the first person to contract a particular disease.

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.

Read more:
Playing the COVID-19 blame game may feel good, but it could come at a cost — the government’s credibility

Why finding patient zero is important

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.

An illustration of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus.
Identifying the first known case helps epidemiologists work out how the outbreak occurred — and how we could stop it from happening again.

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.

Read more:
Melbourne’s hotel quarantine bungle is disappointing but not surprising. It was overseen by a flawed security industry

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.

Read more:
Patient zero: why it’s such a toxic term

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.