7 ways to better design quarantine, based on what we know about human behaviour



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Holly Seale, UNSW

When we hear of people who have allegedly escaped from mandatory quarantine — whether that’s from hotels in Perth, Toowoomba, Sydney or Auckland — it’s easy to ask: “What were they thinking? Why didn’t they just follow the rules?”.

But our recent review shows people are less likely to follow public health advice if they misunderstand, or have negative attitudes towards it.

The challenge is that while COVID-19 has been with us since the beginning of the year, we still may not necessarily know someone in our close networks who has been in quarantine. We may be relying on a deluge of misinformation about it from the media, or social media.

So how can we use our knowledge of human behaviour to better support people complying with quarantine?

Which factors affect what we think about quarantine?

We reviewed the range of factors that influence people’s engagement or compliance with COVID-19 public health advice, such as quarantine. These included:

  • perceptions around the rationale and effectiveness of quarantine

  • perceived consequences of complying (or not)

  • perceptions about the level of community and personal risk from COVID-19

  • having enough basic supplies (for instance, food, water, clothes).

Gender, age, marital status, professional status and education level also played a role in whether people complied, but clearly, these cannot be modified.




Read more:
Another day, another hotel quarantine fail. So what can Australia learn from other countries?


The facts are important, but so are emotions

Our review found one of the major factors affecting people’s likelihood to comply with quarantine is their knowledge about COVID-19, how the virus is transmitted, symptoms of infection, and quarantine protocols.

Not understanding what quarantine means and its purpose may lead to people inventing their own rules, based on what they think is an acceptable degree of contact or risk.

Perhaps not too surprising, if we believe quarantine is beneficial, then we are more likely to follow the rules. However, providing people with merely factual information may not be the answer. We need to engage with people’s emotions too.

Emotions can influence our perception of risk, sometimes more so than factual information. For example, we often hear about the negative experiences of quarantine or self-isolation, but often not the positive frame, for instance the number of people who have successfully complied. This helps normalise quarantine, and make people more likely to copy the expected behaviour.

Stick men drawn in white chalk on a blackboard with the odd one out in green chalk balancing on his head
If we think it’s normal to stick to the rules and doing so is in the collective good, then we’re less likely to muck up.
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Social norms play an important role. If people believe there is a collective commitment to protect the community from further spread of infection, they are more likely to respect the public health measure. An individual’s participation can be conditional on whether they think others are also contributing.

However, social norms can also have the opposite effect. If people think others are breaking the quarantine rules, they may follow suit.

Concerns about stigma or discrimination can also impact a person’s willingness to comply with quarantine. Stigma can make people more likely to hide symptoms or illness, keep them from seeking health care immediately, and prevent people from adopting healthy behaviours.

Lastly, people may push back against the regulations as a way of retaining a feeling of control. They may push back because they are stressed or anxious, which in turn affects how they think about the issue or how they make decisions.

So how do we use this?

To support acceptance of and community compliance with quarantine, we need to take these behavioural issues into account. We need to:

1. prepare people for what they might experience: boredom, loss of freedom or routine, irritability and/or anxiety. Priming people may help them think about ways to reduce these issues

2. encourage people to make plans as we know this helps people cope. Encouraging people to stick to similar (pre-quarantine) routines may help people avoid getting anxious or stressed. These plans need to be time-specific and intentional, not aspirational. For instance, we could encourage people to structure time for exercise and for virtual socialising. Others have suggested doing shared activities, such as watching a movie on Netflix at the same time

3. provide access to social, pyschological and medical support whether that’s via reliable internet access or access to helplines

4. provide adequate basic supplies such as food, water and clothes, and a safe and clean place to quarantine

5. encourage our leaders to clearly articulate, and others to reinforce, that complying with quarantine is in our group interest and it’s expected people will pull their weight. And if they don’t, this won’t be acceptable

6. provide media coverage that reflects the fact most people comply. Examples of people who run away from quarantine clearly represent quarantine failures, but they are outliers. Perhaps its time to look at the proportion of people who have complied with hotel quarantine as we need to establish the collective norm is to comply

7. provide people with adequate sick leave and other structural supports, such as the ability to work remotely, alongside any solutions supporting behaviour change.The Conversation

Holly Seale, Senior Lecturer, UNSW

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

Another day, another hotel quarantine fail. So what can Australia learn from other countries?



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Maximilian de Courten, Victoria University; Bo Klepac Pogrmilovic, Victoria University; Deborah Zion, Victoria University, and Jaimie-Lee Maple, Victoria University

This week, we heard how conditions at a Sydney quarantine hotel were so bad almost 400 returned travellers had to be moved to another one.

Before that, we heard from Victoria’s inquiry into hotel quarantine. We learned the bulk of cases during the state’s second wave could be tracked down to a family of four returned travellers staying at a single quarantine hotel.

But Australia isn’t the only country to have quarantine issues. Some countries don’t use hotel quarantine at all. And others have turned to technology to keep track of returned travellers.

So what can we learn from other countries’ successes and failures?

A short trip around the world

Cyprus

The Mediterranean island of Cyprus also uses hotel quarantine for international arrivals. But rather than “hotel quarantine hell”, hotels in Cyprus are said to have a “holiday vibe”, despite not being able to leave your room.

Travellers praised Cyprus for its luxury and positive hotel quarantine experience. Some have even said they would return for a (real) holiday.

Hotel quarantine, Cyprus style.

Cyprus recorded a peak in daily cases of only 58, in early April, and now has an average of new cases a day in the teens.

Canada

Returned travellers must give Canadian authorities a plan for how they intend to spend their mandatory 14-day quarantine. This doesn’t have to be in a hotel; it can be at home. You have to monitor your own symptoms, and police will check up on you.

However, violations can result in large fines of up to C$750,000 (A$788,000) or six months in jail.

Taiwan

Taiwan introduced 14-day hotel quarantine for returned travellers who didn’t have a single room with a separate bathroom or who lived with vulnerable people.

Since late June, business travellers from low-risk countries can visit Taiwan and spend only five days in quarantine. But they need to take a COVID-19 test before leaving quarantine.

Taiwan has 18 active COVID-19 cases.

Singapore

After flattening the curve, Singapore decided to relax its 14-day hotel quarantine to seven days self-quarantine for travellers arriving from specific countries.

But all travellers over the age of 12 not staying in a quarantine facility have to wear an electronic tracking wristband. Authorities are alerted if people go outside or tamper with the device.

Hong Kong and South Korea have also introduced wristbands to track people’s movements upon arrival and to check people comply with quarantine regulations.

Poland

Travellers arriving in Poland have to install a home quarantine phone app developed by the Polish government.

For 14 days, the app uses facial recognition and geolocation algorithms to monitor people. It also prompts people to take selfies at random times during the day.

Individuals have 20 minutes to respond to these prompts, otherwise they risk police knocking on their door.

UK

A major “quarantine failure” was the UK’s experience at the start of the pandemic, when 10,000 travellers spread the virus across the country.

Members of parliament accused the responsible ministers of making errors, such as having no border checks, no specific quarantine arrangements, and lifting self-isolation regulations.

This eventually led to the UK dealing with a total of 328,846 cases and 41,465 COVID-19-related deaths.

The UK has since tightened its quarantine arrangements.

These ideas are worth adopting in Australia…

More than 70,000 returned travellers have been quarantined in Australian hotels since it became mandatory in late March. We don’t know exactly how many of these people have gone on to test positive. But about one in five of Australia’s cases were acquired overseas.




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Is aggressive hotel isolation worth the cost to fight COVID-19? The answer depends on family size


As the headlines show, we can clearly do better in how we manage our quarantine system.

Adopting a “Cyprus-style” model of luxury hotel quarantine is simply beyond reach in Australia given the sheer number of people requiring quarantine facilities. However, improving the quality of facilities, ensuring a safe environment, and supervising staff is vital. This includes training both staff and travellers on infection control measures.

People in quarantine also need access to health care as well as to financial, social and psychosocial support, to ensure their safety and mental health.

…but we need to be careful about electronic tags

We would be particularly concerned about the human rights implications of returned travellers having to wear electronic monitoring devices.

Although we might be familiar with electronic monitoring devices in the criminal justice system, when used in the context of infection they could stigmatise people for simply being at higher risk of disease.




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They go against the presumption that all persons will be law-abiding and perform their civic duty, with no evidence to the contrary.

There are also potential privacy concerns. There is no guarantee data collected through electronic monitoring — especially when using smartphone apps — will not be used for purposes other than monitoring pandemics.

No system is perfect

Even if we implement a world best quarantine system for returned travellers, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can still slip in.

That’s because people can still be infectious before feeling sick, before being diagnosed, or before being directed to quarantine. This becomes more likely the more people are kept under quarantine.The Conversation

Maximilian de Courten, Health Policy Lead and Professor in Global Public Health at the Mitchell Institute, Victoria University; Bo Klepac Pogrmilovic, Research Fellow in Health Policy at the Mitchell Institute for Education and Health Policy, Victoria University; Deborah Zion, Associate Professor and Chair, Victoria University Human Research Ethics Committee, Victoria University, and Jaimie-Lee Maple, Research Assistant and Policy Analyst, Mitchell Institute, Victoria University

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

Queensland’s coronavirus controversy: past pandemics show us public shaming could harm public health



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Clare Southerton, UNSW

When the news surfaced that three young women had travelled from Melbourne to Brisbane via Sydney, failed to quarantine and two in the group subsequently tested positive to COVID-19, there was severe backlash.

The two women were named and shamed in the media, while Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said she was “angry” they had put the community’s health at risk.

Social media feeds brimmed with community outrage, as further details about the women’s movements came to light.

Ultimately, Queensland Police laid charges against the women, alleging they provided false and misleading documents at the border. The two women will face court on September 28.




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Naming and shaming two young women show the only ‘enemies of the state’ are the media


While there’s no question these women did the wrong thing, evidence from past health crises shows us shaming and stigma don’t necessarily encourage compliance with public health advice. Public shaming could instead further marginalise already vulnerable groups.

We’ve seen a lot of public shaming during COVID-19

Whether in response to videos of people refusing to wear masks, or so-called “superspreaders”, there’s been no shortage of public shaming during the pandemic.

But it’s important to consider the role privilege plays when individuals become the subject of our collective outrage and condemnation.

We might compare the treatment of the Queensland women with a similar controversy in March, when a Melbourne couple contracted COVID-19 while on a skiing holiday in Aspen, Colorado. They tested positive back in Australia but reportedly flouted the directive to self-isolate.

The Melbourne couple were wealthy white Australians, and their case has been dealt with quite differently to the young Queensland women who are African Australian.

While both cases elicited public backlash, most publications didn’t name the Melbourne couple, citing “legal reasons”. Conversely, the young women from Queensland were identified by name, and photographs were taken from their Facebook accounts.

The online anger directed at the women became increasingly racial in nature. They were identifiable as non-white and had attended an African grocery shop while potentially infectious.

Within hours of these details being published, members of the African community in Brisbane reported intense racist harassment on social media.

The public backlash against the Melbourne couple was muted by their relative anonymity. They were protected from the level of doxxing — having one’s identity and personal information shared widely online — the young women have experienced.




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Past health crises show us shaming doesn’t work

The wealth of existing research on pandemics and epidemics shows people who contract a virus and then go on to spread it are often subject to public shaming and stigma.

Research also shows that poor, non-white and other disadvantaged groups often experience this stigma much more severely than privileged groups.

Importantly, there’s compelling evidence public shaming is an ineffective tool to encourage compliance with public health orders and restrictions.

Extensive research into the stigma experienced by people living with HIV/AIDS has found this stigmatisation reduces the likelihood a person with the disease will seek a test, diagnosis or health care.

Similarly, studies on the Ebola epidemic found stigma associated with the virus led people in affected communities to delay seeking treatment.




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Public shaming also contributed to significant psychological distress for people exposed to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

Public shaming of those who spread COVID-19 may feel cathartic in a time of collective anxiety, but the consequences can be serious. Ultimately, members of our community may become reticent or afraid to be tested — especially already marginalised groups.

Man scrolling on smartphone next to window.
Social media has been a platform for public shaming during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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A pandemic in the digital age

Traditional news media has a powerful role in public shaming, as seen in the case of the young Queensland women. The media creates long-lasting records and sets the tone for public debate.

While public shaming has a long history, COVID-19 has intensified social media-fuelled scrutiny and public shaming, exacerbating the effects of virus-related stigma.

We may assume seeing this kind of backlash might pull us all into line and deter us from behaving in the same way. But experience of shame and stigma in previous pandemics shows it’s an ineffective way to encourage compliance with public health orders.

Instead, public shaming is more likely to reinforce and inflame existing social inequalities.




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When a virus goes viral: pros and cons to the coronavirus spread on social media


The Conversation


Clare Southerton, Postdoctoral Fellow, UNSW

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

‘Living people’: who are the sovereign citizens, or SovCits, and why do they believe they have immunity from the law?



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Kaz Ross, University of Tasmania

You might have seen articles or comments on social media lately alluding to “sovereign citizens”, or “SovCits” for short, with some reports suggesting COVID-19 government restrictions have driven a surge of interest in this movement.

So, who are these self-styled sovereign citizens, and what do they believe?

Sovereign citizens are concerned with the legal framework of society. They believe all people are born free with rights — but that these natural rights are being constrained by corporations (and they see governments as artificial corporations). They believe citizens are in an oppressive contract with the government.

SovCits reportedly believe that by declaring themselves “living people” or “natural people”, they can break this oppressive contract and avoid restrictions such as certain rates, taxes, and fines — or particular government rules on mandatory mask-wearing.

The SovCit movement arose in America decades ago, with roots in the American patriot movement, some religious communities, and tax protest groups. It has also been known as the “free-man” movement.




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Re-interpreting the law

SovCits see themselves as sovereign and not bound by the laws of the country in which they physically live. Accepting a law or regulations means they have waived their rights as a sovereign and have accepted a contract with the government, according to SovCit belief.

The SovCit movement doesn’t have a single leader, central doctrine or centralised collection of documents. It is based on their reinterpretation of the law and there are many legal document templates on the internet for SovCit use to, for example, avoid paying fines or rates they see as unfair.

SovCits tend not to follow conventional legal argument. Some have engaged in repeated court action and even been declared vexatious litigants by the courts.

The SovCit movement has many local variations but there are some key commonalities across the Australian SovCit movement.

Key beliefs and phrases

A central belief, according to news reports, is that the Australian government, the police, and other government agencies are corporations. Believers feel they must be on guard to avoid entering into a contract with the corporation. They often do this by stating, “I do not consent” and trying to get the police officer or official to recognise them as a “living” or “natural” being and therefore as a sovereign.

SovCits are often careful to avoid showing ID such as driver’s licences or giving their name and address. Saying “I understand” also risks being seen to agree to the contract so SovCits will repeat the phrase “I comprehend” to show they are refusing the contract.

Many reject their country’s constitution as false and reportedly refer to the Magna Carta of 1215 as the only true legal document constraining arbitrary power.

SovCits often come to the attention of authorities due to driving offences. It is a core belief of the movement that “sovereigns” have the right to travel freely without the need for a drivers licence, vehicle registration, or insurance.

Until COVID-19, the main threat seems to have been in committing road offences. More recently, actions protesting measures aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19 have been linked to the sovereign citizen movement.The Conversation

Kaz Ross, Lecturer in Humanities (Asian Studies), University of Tasmania

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

Vital Signs: Victoria’s privatised quarantine arrangements were destined to fail



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Richard Holden, UNSW

Most people agree there are services government should pay for. Primary and secondary education, a dignified level of health care, emergency services and the military come to mind.

What is less clear is what services government should directly provide, and what it can safely contract out.

Past experiments in privatisation include the running of prisons and detention centres, and hiring private military contractors to guard embassies.

We have just witnessed a real-time experiment with the Victoria government’s hotel quarantine debacle.




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This week an inquiry headed by former Family Court of Australia judge Jennifer Coates began into failures in Victoria’s hotel quarantine system, believed to be responsible for Melbourne’s second-wave viral outbreaks.

But what can economics tells us about why this happened?

Thanks to the literature on “incomplete contracts” that led to a Nobel Prize for Harvard University economist Oliver Hart, quite a bit.

Using private contractors for hotel quarantine was destined to fail. It all boils down to a trade-off between costs and quality.

Using private providers is a good option when keeping costs low is more important than high quality. This was not such a case.

Incomplete contracts

Hart’s classic 1997 paper on “The Proper Scope of Government” (co-authored with Andrei Shleifer and Robert Vishny) mostly considers privatisation in theoretical terms, with some discussion of prisons, garbage collection, schools, health care, policing and a few other things.

The animating idea behind the “incomplete contracts” approach is that there are some contingencies that contracts, no matter how detailed, can’t cover.

This could be because parties can’t conceive of all future contingencies. Or perhaps they understand what’s at issue but it is hard to codify that in a way a non-specialist court could understand.

For instance, a famous legal case concerned the definition of a chicken, with the judge writing:

The issue is, what is chicken? Plaintiff says ‘chicken’ means a young chicken, suitable for broiling and frying. Defendant says ‘chicken’ means any bird of that genus that meets contract specifications on weight and quality …

Philippe Aghion and I expanded on incomplete contracts and prisons as well as many other applications in the Journal of Economic Perspectives in 2011.

To keep things simple, imagine there are two things someone running a prison can put effort into: reducing costs or improving quality.

Improvements in quality could involve increasing rehabilitation rates, reducing violent incidents and or minimising escape risks. Lower costs lead to lower quality. For example, employing fewer guards might result in more escape attempts or prisoner-on-prisoner violence.




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Cost versus quality

When the government owns the prison and employs a warden to run it, it doesn’t have to rely just on an written contract to get what it wants in terms of investment in quality. It can tell the warden what to do, and replace them if they don’t produce the goods.

If it’s serious about quality, though, the government will likely have to provide more resources. Quality costs.

When a prison is privatised, the government’s control over how the operator acts is limited to its contract.

In a perfect contract, the government could stipulate how much the private contractor is allowed to reduce costs and how much it must improve quality.

But these things are difficult to write into contracts. Wherever there are gaps, any contractor providing a fixed-price service will look to cut costs instead of improving quality.

So that’s the trade-off. When low cost is very important, private contracting is best. But when quality is more important, government ownership is optimal.

The Victorian quarantine

What’s more important in hotel quarantine during a pandemic: cost or quality?

The Hart-Shelifer-Vishny rationale tells us the Melbourne hotels should not have been policed by private security contractors, because the highest possible standards were paramount.

Moreover, even if one could write a complete contract, it doesn’t really matter. There’s no real recourse in this case for a breach of contract. The cost is billions of dollars in damage to the economy already. What good is a contract with a bankrupt contractor?




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Of course, police (and other public servants) aren’t always perfect either. But at least there is more training, a code of conduct, a sense of duty and a whole apparatus for disciplining misbehaviour.

The Coate inquiry may uncover valuable details about where and how the quarantine system failed, but economics can already point us to why it was destined to fail.

When high quality matters more than low cost, governments shouldn’t outsource unless absolutely necessary.

The choice for hotel quarantine should have been clear.The Conversation

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW

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

Scott Morrison set to slow the arrival home of Australians amid coronavirus fears


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison will take a proposal to Friday’s national cabinet to slow arrivals of Australians returning from overseas.

Morrison’s proposal followed this week’s request from Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan for a cap on international flights landing in Perth to relieve pressure on resources, and the earlier diversion of flights from landing in Melbourne because of the new outbreak.

There is already a cap applying to NSW, and the WA government has said the federal government has responded favourably to its representation. Queensland also wants limits.

The prime minister told a news conference his proposal would be to contain the flow rather than pause it. He said the numbers coming in were very low “but at this time, we don’t want to put any more pressure on the system than is absolutely necessary”.

New Zealand has moved to slow the flow of returnees.

Morrison also said the federal government would support state governments charging travellers returning from abroad for their quarantine.

It was up to the states but “if they wish to do that, then the Commonwealth would have no objection to that”.

“I think that would be a completely understandable proposition for people who have been away for some time.”

There had been “many opportunities for people to return. If they’re choosing to do so now, they have obviously delayed that decision for a period,” he told a news conference.

Queensland is already charging – $2,800 for one adult, $3,710 for two adults, and $4,620 for two adults and two children, with some provision for waivers. The Northern Territory also charges.

As Victoria announced 134 new cases, Morrison’s message to Melburnians facing the six-week lockdown was: “It’s tough. And it will test you and it will strain, but you have done it once before and you will be able to do it again because you have proven that”.

“We’re all Melburnians now when it comes to the challenges we face. We’re all Victorians now because we’re all Australians.”

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the cost to the economy of the Victorian re-imposed lockdown would now be factored into the government’s July 23 economic statement. It would affect forecasts for growth and unemployment. “Victoria is a big part of the national economy” and “the cost to Victoria is up to a billion dollars a week and that will fall heavily on businesses”.

“This is a major challenge to the economic recovery. This is going to have an impact well beyond the Victorian border. It’s already starting to play out in consumer confidence numbers that have been down in the last two weeks, ” Frydenberg said.

“We have been there with JobKeeper and the cash flow boost, which together have provided more than $10 billion into the Victorian economy,” he said.

“We’re ready to do what is required to support Victoria, and Daniel Andrews himself has said whenever he’s asked the Prime Minister for support the answer has been an unequivocal yes.”

Frydenberg confirmed there will be another phase of income support for the period beyond September when JobKeeper is due to finish. The future support would be temporary and targeted, he said. The higher JobSeeker payment is also scheduled to snap back at the end of September, although it is not expected to return to the old rate.

Frydenberg also indicated the government was considering bringing forward the next round of the legislated tax cuts. “We are looking at that issue, and the timing of those tax cuts, because we do want to boost aggregate demand, boost consumption, put more money in people’s pockets, and that is one way to do it”.

NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian told people in communities along the NSW-Victorian border not to move outside their “bubble”; nor should people go into these areas. She warned “the probability of contagion in NSW given what’s happening in Victoria is extremely high”.

The ACT has three new cases, the first in more than a month. Two arrived from a Melbourne hot spot and the third is a household contact.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

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



Scott Barbour/AAP

Sarah Kaine, University of Technology Sydney and Emmanuel Josserand, University of Technology Sydney

In late March, the Victorian government put private security firms in charge of hotel quarantine in Melbourne. This happened without a formal tender process.

It was a decision made at the height of concern about the spread of COVID-19 in Australia. But it is one that has come back to bite Victoria as it stares down a second wave, amid reports of serious infection control breaches in the hotel quarantine system.

The Andrews government has since announced a judicial inquiry into management of the program.




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This situation is both distressing and disappointing. But it should come as no surprise to anyone with a passing interest in labour standards in the private security industry or an understanding of governance issues in supply chains.

To put it plainly, the Victorian government used an industry with a long history of non-compliance with minimum standards for a critical public safety job.

An industry where labour issues are rife

According to the Australian Security Industry Association, in March 2020, there were more than 11,000 security businesses in Australia with more than 147,000 individual security licence holders.

It is not difficult to enter the industry. It does not take much capital to start a business and the workforce is relatively low-skilled. As a result, a large number of security businesses compete for security contracts and there is strong competition on labour costs.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has also identified

a lack of awareness and education regarding employer obligations and employee entitlements.

This creates an industry where labour issues are rife. The Ombudsman and media regularly highlight issues in the sector, including underpayment of wages, health and safety problems and sub-contracting.

The problem with sub-contracting

Sub-contracting is a problem on two levels. Firstly, it often appears in the form known as “sham contracting”. This sees an employer try to hide an employment relationship as an independent contract, to avoid liability for employee entitlements.

Secondly, subcontracting by larger companies to smaller companies dilutes control and responsibility and increases the pressure on costs, especially wages.

There are about 150,000 individual security licence holders in Australia.
James Ross/ AAP

It has been reported that at least one of the security companies involved in Victoria’s hotel quarantine system subcontracted work to a smaller security company.

There are also concerns the industry makes extensive use of “zombie” agreements, which are agreements made under WorkChoices-era regulations that were not subject to the “better off overall test”. This means workers potentially receive lower wages and less generous conditions than they would under the current industry award.

Pay disputes and ACCC investigations

The three firms contracted by the Victorian government were MSS Security, Wilson Security and Unified Security.

MSS, one of the largest security providers in Australia, has recently made headlines over a pay dispute with security guards in Bendigo. Five guards were back-paid $52,000 after a years-long dispute.

Wilson, another large security firm, was the subject of a 2018 Australian Competition and Consumer Commission investigation. This saw them pay back more than $700,000 to clients after charging for security patrols it did not carry out.




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The Victorian government is also in the middle of a review into the state’s private security industry, with the specific aims of raising industry standards, improving safety of employees and the community, and ensuring workers are paid properly and fairly. It is due to report by December 2020.

The aims are admirable, but the disconnect between the review and the government’s reliance on security contractors for hotel quarantine raises questions about due diligence within government procurement processes.

According to media reports, the companies were engaged without a formal tender process and selected with just 24 hours notice.

The third company used for the hotel program – Unified – was not even part of a pre-approved panel of service providers that allowed certain firms to be contracted at short notice.

Returning overseas travellers have been quarantined in hotels to try and stop the spread of COVID-19.
James Ross/AAP

This was a decision made in context of fast-moving pandemic. But it was not the only option.

For its hotel quarantine system, NSW has used police and Australian Defence Force personnel as well as security contractors. Victoria is also now seeking parole and prison officers to help with its hotel quarantine.

The real issue here is procurement

The Victorian government is taking the blame at the moment, but the problem here is much broader and touches all Australian jurisdictions.

The fact that Victoria has relied on private security firms for a hyper-sensitive public health job is testament to an entrenched culture of outsourcing government services all around Australia. In the federal sphere alone, in 2018-19, there were 78,150 contracts published on AusTender with a combined value of $64.5 billion.

There can be serious consequences if outsourced security goes wrong.
Scott Barbour/ AAP

But as governments are among the biggest procurers of goods and services in Australia, they also have a ready-made lever to influence the behaviour of contracted companies.

All levels of government need to monitor the companies who work for them and use their influence to ensure subcontractors adopt best practices in terms of workforce management and labour standards.

Policy is only as good as its implementation. And it doesn’t help that those in charge of procurement within government are not necessarily on the same page as those in charge of industrial relations or industry policy.

Many non-government organisations have similar issues, where corporate social responsibility is at odds with procurement needs.




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While the issue seems tricky in highly competitive industries, it can be solved.

A good example here is the Cleaning Accountability Framework set up in 2014. This is an independent, industry-led body that brings together property owners, companies and employee groups to solve labour issues in the cleaning sector.

The hotel quarantine program bungle is the wake-up call we need for a similar body for the security industry.The Conversation

Sarah Kaine, Associate Professor UTS Centre for Business and Social Innovation, University of Technology Sydney and Emmanuel Josserand, Professor of management, Director of the Centre for Business and Social Innovation, University of Technology Sydney

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

Hotel quarantine for returning Aussies and ‘hibernation’ assistance for businesses


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

All Australians arriving from overseas will be quarantined in hotels or other facilities under strict supervision for a fortnight, under the latest crackdown in the battle against the coronavirus.

Announcing the measure after Friday’s meeting of the national cabinet of federal and state leaders, Scott Morrison said people would be quarantined where they arrived, even if this was not their ultimate destination.

The current requirement has been for arrivals to self-isolate for two weeks.

The states will administer the quarantine and pay for it but the Australian Defence Force and Australian Border Force will assist, as the attempt to deal with imported cases tightens.

The ADF will bolster police efforts in visiting the homes of people who are in isolation and will report to local police on whether the person is at home.

But the ADF personnel will not have legal power to take action against people breaching conditions – that rests with state and territory police.

The ADF will be there “to put boots on the ground, to support [state authorities] in their enforcement efforts,” Morrison said.




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The government has made the move – starting from Saturday night – to strongly-supervised quarantine because incoming travellers present the highest risk.

Figures before the national cabinet showed about 85% of cases in Australia were overseas-acquired or locally acquired contacts of a confirmed case.

Numbers of people arriving in Australia are drastically down. For example on Thursday there were 7,120 arrivals at airports around the country. This compared with 48,725 a year ago.

Morrison also flagged a third economic assistance package – to be announced as early as Sunday or Monday – which would aim to have companies “hibernate” so they could recommence operations after the crisis has passed.

This “means on the other side, the employees come back, the opportunities come back, the economy comes back,” Morrison said.

“This will underpin our strategy as we go to the third tranche of our economic plan,” he said.

“That will include support by states and territories on managing the very difficult issue of commercial tenancies and also dealing ultimately with residential tenancies as
well.”

States are now moving to tougher restrictions at different paces. NSW, where the situation is most serious, is closest to a more extensive form of shutdown, with Victoria not too far behind it.

Victorian premier Daniel Andrews repeated that Victoria would at some point move from the present stage two to “stage three”.

There is not public clarity at either federal or state level precisely how the next stage would operate.

Morrison rejected the language of lockdown. “I would actually caution.
the media against using the word “lockdown”.

“I think it does create unnecessary anxiety. Because that is not an arrangement that is actually being considered in the way that term might suggest,” he said.

“We are battling this thing on two fronts and they are both important. We’re battling this virus with all the measures that we’re putting in place and we’re battling the economic crisis that has been caused as a result of the coronavirus.

“Both will take lives. Both will take livelihoods. And it’s incredibly important that we continue to focus on battling both of these enemies to Australia’s way of life.

“No decision that we’re taking on the health front that has these terrible economic impacts is being taken lightly. Every day someone is in a job, for just another day, is worth fighting for”, he said.

He said some businesses would have to close their doors and the government did not want them so saddled with debt, rent and other liabilities that they would not be able to reopen.

Morrison enthused about how Australians had responded to the tougher measures announced this week. “On behalf of all the premiers and chief ministers and myself, the members of the national cabinet, we simply want to say to you, Australia – thank you. Keep doing it. You’re saving lives and you’re saving livelihoods”.




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On schools, the states have now bypassed Morrison, who wanted children to keep attending them.

A statement from the national cabinet said: “We are now in a transition phase until the end of term as schools prepare for a new mode of operation following the school holidays.

“While the medical advice remains that it is safe for children to go to school, to assist with the transition underway in our schools to the new mode of operation we ask that only children of workers for whom no suitable care arrangements are available at home to support their learning, physically attend school.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Explainer: what are the Australian government’s powers to quarantine people in a coronavirus outbreak?



AAP/Mick Tsikas

Amy Maguire, University of Newcastle and Bin Li, University of Newcastle

The Australian government has announced its intention to use powers under the Biosecurity Act, if needed, in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Attorney-General Christian Porter has described these powers as “strange and foreign to many Australians”, but potentially necessary in the face of a pandemic.




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The 2015 Biosecurity Act aims to manage biosecurity threats to human, animal and plant health. In the context of coronavirus (COVID-19), a biosecurity risk under this legislation would be defined as:

  • the likelihood of a disease spreading in Australian territory
  • the potential for that disease to cause harm to human health and/or economic consequences.

What powers could the government exercise?

The Biosecurity Act is a mammoth piece of legislation, comprising 11 chapters and 645 sections. It is framed in terms that deliver extensive powers to relevant officers. The attorney-general is correct in saying these powers will seem very foreign to many members of the Australian community.

The director of human biosecurity, in consultation with chief health officers in the states and territories, may determine that a disease is a “listed human disease”. COVID-19 has been listed as such a disease, as it is communicable and may cause significant harm to human health.

People with listed diseases may be subject to “human biosecurity control orders”. Control orders can require people, among other things, to:

  • provide their contact information and health details (including body samples for diagnosis)
  • restrict their behaviour
  • undergo risk-minimisation interventions (including decontamination) and/or medical treatment
  • accept isolation from the community for specified periods.

If a person does not consent to a control order, the director may require them to comply. In some cases, if they refuse, a person may be detained by police.

A person who fails to comply with a control order or escapes from detention could be charged with a criminal offence. Under the act, these offences carry penalties ranging up to imprisonment for five years.

The director may also designate “human health response zones”. This may result in restrictions on entering or leaving a particular area. Failure to comply may incur a fine.

Chapter 8 of the Biosecurity Act sets out circumstances in which the governor-general may declare a “human biosecurity emergency”. Sweeping powers are then available to the health minister.

During a human biosecurity emergency period, the Health Minister may determine any requirement that he or she is satisfied is necessary:

a) to prevent or control…

(ii) the emergence, establishment or spread of the declaration listed human disease in Australian territory or a part of Australian territory…

This power includes, but is not limited to, imposing requirements on:

  • entering or leaving specified places
  • restricting or preventing the movement of people in or between places
  • evacuating places.

Criminal and civil penalties can also apply to people who refuse to comply with requirements under such emergency powers.

In practice, the health minister or delegated officials could require the closure of premises such as shopping centres or sporting facilities. The potential restrictions could have a far-reaching impact on people’s daily lives.

Coercive powers and the community

Such powers, including civil and even criminal penalties, are not uncommon globally. Other countries have similar laws for the purpose of containing the spread of communicable diseases. For example, in Singapore the police can enforce quarantine-related measures.

In China, where the COVID-19 outbreak originated, some infected people are facing police investigation for failing to avoid contact with other people. Indeed, some have been charged with the crime of endangering public security. Penalties for conviction could be very severe, ranging up to life imprisonment or even the death penalty.

To avoid the abuse of such powers, the Chinese Supreme Court has recently warned against the strict application of endangering public security charges in relation to pandemic control measures.

Concerns will certainly be raised in Australia about the exercise of special and emergency powers. The attorney-general is clearly aware of this. He has said the more extreme powers would be used only as a “last resort”. Yet he has also confirmed that biosecurity powers are very likely to be used on a large scale.

The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment is the frontline agency administering the Biosecurity Act. Its website aims to engage Australian citizens with their responsibilities to protect Australia’s biosecurity.

The Biosecurity Act sets out extensive provisions with the apparent aim of ensuring special powers only be exercised where warranted and for the shortest possible time. It also provides for judicial review of certain decisions under the act. Lay people may find it quite challenging, though, to interpret their rights under the act when faced with the imposition of a coercive measure.




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Many Australians may be tolerant of special governmental powers if they see such intervention as essential to protect everyone’s health. The community is undoubtedly being inundated with information about the COVID-19 outbreak from government and media sources.

On the other hand, some people may be tempted to resist coercive powers that interfere with their personal liberty. The president of the Law Council, Pauline Wright, notes that the powers under the Biosecurity Act can be exercised against a person even where the relevant officer does not know or reasonably suspect the person is infected with coronavirus.

It will be crucial for government officers to be cautious in their use of special powers. They must seek to balance legitimate efforts to protect public health with individuals’ rights to liberty and due process.The Conversation

Amy Maguire, Associate Professor, University of Newcastle and Bin Li, Lecturer, University of Newcastle

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

Coronavirus quarantine could spark an online learning boom


Carlo Perrotta, Monash University

The spread of the coronavirus disease known as COVID-19 is a public health emergency with economic and social ramifications in China and across the world. While the impacts on business are well documented, education is also facing the largest disruption in recent memory.

Institutions around the world are responding to travel bans and quarantines with a shift to online learning. The crisis may trigger an online boom for education – or at least make us more ready to cope with the next emergency.

Education disrupted

As many as 180 million Chinese students – primary, secondary and tertiary – are homebound or unable to travel. In China, the spring semester was originally scheduled to begin on February 17 but has now been postponed indefinitely. In response, Chinese institutions are attempting to switch to online education on a massive scale.

Effects of the epidemic are also being felt closer to home. Australian higher education is increasingly dependent on a steady flow of Chinese students, but the Australian government has restricted travel from China until at least 29 February. At the time of writing, thousands of students are still in limbo.




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As a result, Australian higher education institutions are trying to boost their online capacity to deliver courses to stranded concerned students. Some universities – and some parts of universities – are better prepared than others. While all universities use online learning management systems and videoconferencing technology to some degree, there are no mandatory standards for online education.

This makes for a huge variety among institutions and even between individual courses in how digitised they are. To make this worse, not all staff are familiar with (or feel positive about) distance or blended learning.

Will ed-tech ever take off?

Educational technology has historically struggled with large-scale adoption and much has been written about the cycles of boom and bust of the ed-tech industry. It may even be legitimate to ask whether adoption is a goal any longer for many in the industry.

Nowadays, a critical observer could be forgiven for thinking that the most successful ed-tech companies only pay lip service to mass adoption. Instead, their energies are firmly directed at the more remunerative game of (overinflated) start-up funding and selling.

Yet visions of mass adoption are still what drives the volatile dynamics of ed-tech financing. Investors ultimately hope that an innovation will, at some point in the near future, be used by large numbers of students and teachers.

Is the coronavirus a ‘black swan’ for online learning?

In 2014 Michael Trucano, a World Bank specialist on education and technology policy, described the importance of “tipping points” to push educational technology into the mainstream. Trucano suggested that epidemics (he talked about the 2003 SARS epidemic, but the argument applies to COVID-19) could be “black swans”. The term is borrowed from the American thinker Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who uses it to describe unanticipated events with profound consequences.

During the SARS outbreak, according to Trucano, China was forced into boosting alternative forms of distance education. This led to pockets of deeper, more transformational uses of online tools, at least temporarily. The long-term effects are still unclear.




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The current landscape of global digital education suggests COVID-19 may result in more robust capabilities in regions with enough resources, connectivity and infrastructure. However, it is also likely to expose chronic deficiencies in less prepared communities, exacerbating pre-existing divides.

Investors appear to see this as a moment that could transform all kinds of online activity across the region. The stocks of Hong Kong-listed companies linked to online games, digital medical services, remote working and distance education have soared in recent days.

Online drawback

Adding to the complexity, students do not always welcome digital education, and research shows they are less likely to drop out when taught using “traditional” face-to-face methods.

Indeed, studies on the effectiveness of “virtual schools” have yielded mixed results. A recent study focusing on the US recommended virtual schools be restricted until the reasons for their poor performance are better understood.

Students may also oppose online learning because they perceive it as a sneaky attempt at forcing education down their throats. This may be what happened recently when DingTalk, a large Chinese messaging app, launched e-classes for schools affected by the coronavirus emergency. Unhappy students saw their forced vacation threatened and gave the app a bad rating on online stores in an attempt to drive it out of search results.

Perhaps this last story shouldn’t be taken too seriously, but it does highlight the importance of emotional responses in attempts to scale up an educational technology.

A permanent solution or a crisis response tool?

The importance of distance education in an increasingly uncertain world of global epidemics and other dramatic disruptions (such as wars and climate-related crises) is without doubt. So-called “developing countries” (including large rural regions in the booming Indian and Chinese economies) can benefit greatly from it, as it can help overcome emergencies and address chronic teacher shortages.

Once the current crisis passes, however, will things go “back to normal”? Or will we see a sustained increase in the mainstream adoption of online learning?

The answer is not at all obvious. Take Australia, for example. Even if we assume the COVID-19 emergency will lead to some permanent change in how more digitally-prepared Australian universities relate to Chinese students, it’s unclear what the change will look like.

Will we see more online courses and a growing market for Western-style distance education in Asia? Is this what the Chinese students (even the tech-savvy ones) really want? Is this what the Chinese economy needs?

Alternatively, perhaps, the crisis might lead to a more robust response system. Universities might develop the ability to move online quickly when they need to and go back to normal once things “blow over”, in a world where global emergencies look increasingly like the norm.The Conversation

Carlo Perrotta, Senior lecturer, Monash University

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