On the road to COVID normal: the easing of regional Victoria’s restrictions signals hope for Melbourne too



Shutterstock

Adrian Esterman, University of South Australia

From 11.59pm tomorrow (September 16), regional Victoria will take the third step out of COVID-19 restrictions, Premier Daniel Andrews announced today.

According to the roadmap revealed last weekend, the move to step 3 in regional Victoria could happen when the daily average number of cases for the previous 14 days was less than five, and there were zero community cases without a known source for 14 days.

Regional Victoria actually reached the 14-day moving average target on September 10, with 4.5, and by today the average had dropped to 3.6. They were just waiting to hit the mystery cases target.



Among the restrictions to be eased under step 3, up to ten people will be allowed to gather outdoors, and hospitality venues will be able to open again for sit-down service. Beauty salons and hairdressers will also reopen, and people who live in regional Victoria will be able to travel to other regional areas in the state.

Heading in the right direction

This easing of restrictions is undoubtedly good news for regional Victoria. But it’s also reason for people in Melbourne to be optimistic.

Certainly, regional Victoria and metropolitan Melbourne are quite different in terms of the epidemiology of their respective second waves. But the targets set out in the roadmap do appear to be achievable.

The 14-day moving average of daily case numbers for Melbourne is currently at 52.9, and needs to drop below 50 to reach the target for step 2.

Based on my modelling of the 14-day moving average, Melbourne could reach this target as early as Thursday.

This model takes the 14-day moving average for the last 30 days, and it assumes the continuing downward trend is exponentially decreasing. That is, it plots a slow downward curve that approaches zero.

The target to move to step 3 is a 14-day moving average of fewer than five cases per day statewide. A similar modelling strategy shows this is likely to occur on about October 22.



Save the date (or don’t)

Notably, there was no date set for the move to step 3 in regional Victoria, which is very different to the roadmap set out for metropolitan Melbourne.

In Melbourne, the second step is not due to occur until September 28, and the third step not until October 26 – and only then if case numbers have dropped below designated thresholds.

The key question for the Victorian government is whether to stick to this time frame, or allow for an earlier move to the second and third steps if Melbourne achieves the moving average targets ahead of time.




Read more:
Victoria’s path out of COVID-19 lockdown – quick reference guides


In a recent article on The Conversation, I called for a more nuanced approach to lifting restrictions. In other words, the government shouldn’t be too rigid with the roadmap.

The people of Victoria have been asked to make enormous sacrifices to get the outbreak under control, and it’s working. I believe the Victorian government should be willing to reward Melburnians by moving to the third step when they reach the relevant case threshold, regardless of the date.

What now?

It’s essential that over the next few weeks, Melbourne residents continue to stick to the restrictions, to help hit the targets as soon as possible.

The numbers of COVID-19 tests has dropped off in the past few days, averaging about 14,000 tests a day. With the lower number of cases and fewer people with respiratory symptoms now winter is over, this is not really surprising. But it’s vital high rates of testing continue, with a focus on hotspot areas, such as the Casey local government area.




Read more:
‘Slow and steady’ exit from lockdown as Victorian government sets sights on ‘COVID-normal’ Christmas


As for regional Victoria, people there must also stick to the remaining restrictions. This will give them the best chance of moving towards step 4 and beyond.

The Conversation

Adrian Esterman, Professor of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, University of South Australia

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?


Shutterstock

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.
ERIK ANDERSON/AP

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.

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



Shutterstock

Mary-Louise McLaws, UNSW

The concept of a COVID-19 “germ bubble” refers to close contacts with whom we don’t practise mask use or keep physical distancing. In strict lockdown, this generally means just the members of your own household. But several countries, such as New Zealand and the United Kingdom, have experimented with bubbles larger than a single household.

Victorian Premier Dan Andrews will unveil a roadmap out of restrictions on Sunday. Many will be keen to see if a bubble strategy is part of this, after Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton confirmed the concept is under “active consideration”.

Extended bubbles mean your household can nominate other people or households with whom you could have close contact. These would need to be exclusive, so the infection risk is contained, and your nominated households would be required to live in the same town or city.

It’s a way of balancing the risk of exposure to COVID-19 with our need for social interaction, allowing vulnerable and isolated people to have social connections to help cope with the stress of a pandemic.

While the idea undoubtedly comes with risks, it’s crucial for governments to implement restrictions with compassion. A pandemic is a marathon, not a sprint, and if people feel that policies are crafted with compassion they may be more likely to adhere to restrictions in the long run.

Bubbles across the Tasman

In the current lockdown in Victoria, the germ bubble is restricted to people in our immediate household. Only those in an “intimate relationship” are allowed to visit each other.

This increases loneliness and has a large impact on mental health. And, understandably, it has left many single people and people from differing family structures frustrated.

The bubble idea tries to overcome this by allowing people to have close contact with a very defined and exclusive group. It’s a relatively new concept, and was not used in the management of the SARS epidemic in 2003.

New Zealand was the first country to implement an extended bubble during COVID-19, allowing people to have close contact with family members outside their household, under its “alert level 3” restrictions. Its bubble extension was a compassionate solution to the mental health effects of strict lockdowns.

New Zealand’s approach was not just compassionate, but realistic about the modern social structure.




Read more:
The loneliness of social isolation can affect your brain and raise dementia risk in older adults


Socially, our important connections are complex and culturally diverse. Our understanding of who is family includes blended families, step-family members, partners, lovers and close friends — all of whom may not share our dwelling.

Nominating members into a compassionate germ bubble may benefit the community in the long run as we move in and out of lockdown.

A bubble approach was also used in the UK when easing restrictions in June, allowing single-person households to form a bubble with one multi-person household.

What about the risks?

Despite the social benefits, there are indeed risks with a virus as infectious as SARS-CoV-2. The advantages of a compassionate approach to mental well-being must be weighed against any infection transmission disadvantages.

If a bubble system was to be implemented anywhere in Australia, a formalised process for joining a germ bubble would be needed. The maximum number of people allowed in any single bubble would also have to be limited.

The bubble would need to be exclusive. If you were “bubbling” with one household, you could not just decide to change to a different one whenever you please. If you did need to alter your bubble, there would have to be a 14-day gap between one set of people leaving and another group joining, to reduce the risk of transmission between bubbles.




Read more:
COVIDSafe tracking app reviewed: the government delivers on data security, but other issues remain


A bubble tracker app could facilitate the nomination process. The app would need to include consent to join by both, or all, parties. A bubble system would also need to consider what to do with different areas of varying degrees of transmission.

For example, if one member of a multi-household bubble lives in an area of very high community transmission, this brings a greater risk to the whole bubble, even if other members of the bubble are in areas of low transmission. It means the virus could enter areas of low transmission via these bubbles. People can also pose a greater degree of risk to their bubble if they work in a risky zone or occupation.

In epidemiology, our aim is to reduce risk as much as possible, but in a long pandemic we have to leave room for compassion (without increasing the risk for the wider community).

Compassionate policies breed compliance

Isolation causes stress and may reduce cooperation. But a compassionate germ bubble may foster resilience by reducing a sense of isolation for people living alone and friends, extended family and partners distressed by the separation.

Developing a compassionate bubble for our future lockdown plans may also help us endure a lengthy pandemic that features multiple lockdowns and ringfencing of hotspots when required. Compassion may improve the community’s willingness to adhere to restrictions rather than merely being forced to comply.

Authorities who respond scientifically may be viewed by their community as competent and reliable. But there cannot be a ration on compassion. A safe and compassionate plan will ensure there is little incentive for some to game the system by joining multiple germ bubbles. A compassionate approach, coupled with the appropriate checks and balances, could lead people to view authorities as trustworthy and capable of leading us safely out of COVID-19.




Read more:
As ‘lockdown fatigue’ sets in, the toll on mental health will require an urgent response


The Conversation


Mary-Louise McLaws, Professor of Epidemiology Healthcare Infection and Infectious Diseases Control, UNSW

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

Scott Morrison is dreaming of an open Australia for Christmas


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison wants a commitment from national cabinet for Australia to return to as much normality as possible for Christmas, provided the medical advice supports it.

As the Prime Minister continues his push to prise open the borders of what he sees as recalcitrant states, he is mixing strong pressure – as on Friday when he demanded an explanation from Queensland over a NSW health case – with a more light-touch appeal for co-operation.

Morrison told Tuesday’s Coalition party room a definition of a COVID “hotspot” would go before Friday’s meeting of the national cabinet.

But he conceded whether states agreed with it would be “a matter for them”.

At the last meeting of the national cabinet its health advisers in the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee were asked to come up with a definition.

Morrison wants states with few or no cases to have open borders; hotspot outbreaks would be isolated locally. The federal government has had run-ins particularly with Queensland and Western Australia over their tight borders.

After saying in the party room “we are dealers in hope”, Morrison told parliament “by Christmas … we should aim for Australians to be able to go to work, to be able to be with their family at Christmas, and to return to visit their friends, and to look forward to a positive 2021.

“We cannot resign Australia to being a dislocated nation under COVID-19.

“That is what our plan is – to work together with the states and territories, to reactivate the plan that we first set out in May, and made great progress towards.

“There are borders that are in place now. And that is understandable. But what we have to work to do is to let Australians know that, by Christmas … they will be able to come together as families and look to a 2021 … that doesn’t look like the difficulties that they’ve gone through in 2020.

That is what [the government is] committed to doing. And we are committed to doing it with everyone in this country, every government in this country, who will come together behind that ambition.”

He said he had had discussions on Monday night with the premiers of Victoria and NSW, Daniel Andrews and Gladys Berejiklian, who were committed to seeing the NSW-Victorian border reopened as soon as it was safe to do so. “I welcome that cooperation from the New South Wales and Victorian governments.”

Morrison’s tone about Victoria was in sharp contrast to the Sunday-Monday attacks on Andrews by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg. The federal government has wound back its anti-Andrews rhetoric now the premier has promised to produce on Sunday a roadmap for the state’s reopening.

Morrison said Victoria had “turned the corner”.

The Victorian numbers continue to improve with the latest tally 70 new cases.

The federal government believes NSW and Victoria will probably be the most likely to agree to the hotspot scheme at national cabinet.

Andrews told reporters borders were “a central feature” of the Monday night conversation.

“The greatest contribution we can make to get borders open across the country is to continue to drive these [Victorian] numbers down as low as we can,” Andrews said. But it was important not to open up too much too soon, lest by Christmas “instead of a long-term, stable and safe COVID normal”, there would be another lockdown. “We have to avoid that.”

Berejiklian on Tuesday announced a travel bubble to ease inconvenience on the NSW-Victorian border – a single border region will be reinstated extending 50 kilometres on either side.

Meanwhile the extension until the end of March of JobKeeper – which will be scaled down – went through parliament.

Ahead of Wednesday’s national accounts showing the economy falling into a deep trough, Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe said on Tuesday the economic picture was not as bad as earlier expected.

“The economy is going through a very difficult period and is experiencing the biggest contraction since the 1930s. As difficult as this is, the downturn is not as severe as earlier expected and a recovery is now under way in most of Australia,” Lowe said.

“This recovery is, however, likely to be both uneven and bumpy, with the coronavirus outbreak in Victoria having a major effect on the Victorian economy.”

Labor continued its parliamentary attack on the government over aged care. But an attempt to bring on a censure motion against the Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck in the Senate failed.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.

Coronavirus restrictions in your state



Shutterstock

Liam Petterson, The Conversation; Sunanda Creagh, The Conversation, and Wes Mountain, The Conversation

While COVID-19 restrictions were initially announced by the federal government and implemented across Australia in March, since then the states and territories have devised their own strategies to manage the virus. This approach acknowledges different areas will be affected in different ways and at varying times.

But as a result, it can be hard to keep track of the mass of information around changing restrictions, particularly with different rules scattered around lengthy government website pages.

So we’ve compiled some of the key restrictions in each state and territory.


These restrictions are correct at the time of publication and are subject to change.The Conversation

Liam Petterson, Assistant Editor, Health + Medicine, The Conversation; Sunanda Creagh, Head of Digital Storytelling, The Conversation, and Wes Mountain, Multimedia Editor, The Conversation

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

What Victoria’s abattoir rules mean for the supply and price of meat


Flavio Romero Macau, Edith Cowan University and Ferry Jie

With Victoria’s declaration of a state of disaster and imposition of Stage 4 restrictions, many Melburnians have returned to panic buying. Supermarket shelves across the city have been stripped of canned goods, fresh vegetables and meat.

The meat buying, at least, makes some sense.

After aged care homes, meat-processing facilities have been a major contributor to Victoria’s COVID-19 outbreak. Hundreds of coronavirus cases have been linked to about a dozen sites, with the biggest outbreaks at those in Melbourne’s outer western and northern surburbs.

There were expectations following the state government’s lockdown announcement on Sunday that these facilities might be closed completely, along with the other business restrictions announced on Monday.




Read more:
Melbourne non-essential retailers closed, as Morrison unveils pandemic leave


That didn’t happen. But the state’s 70-plus meat-processing facilities will be required to reduce their production capacity by one-third.

They must also implement, in the words of premier Daniel Andrews, “some of the most stringent safety protocols that have been ever put in place in any industrial setting”, including workers dressing “as if they were a health worker – gloves and gowns, masks and shields.”

This is going to affect the supply of meat to Victorian supermarkets, and prices. But thankfully not for long.

Why meat processors?

Processing meat is the opposite of an assembly line. It’s a disassembly line, the equivalent of auto workers pulling apart cars – removing the wheels, doors, seats, engine and so on – to sell the parts. Now imagine each car is slightly different, and must be taken apart in a slightly different way, at fast pace.

Automating such work is difficult. It is complex and intensive manual labour. Lots of people work close together, in a hard environment, for long hours, in cold and dry spaces. These factors make it easy for COVID-19 to spread.

The Victorian government’s directive that meat-processing facilities reduce output by one-third is to ensure workplace changes such as gaps between shifts, more physical distancing, and more attention to measures such as wearing personal protective equipment and not sharing cutting equipment.

So production will go at a slower pace. Output will be lower, and the per-unit cost of packaging meat products for consumers will be higher.

Slaughterhouse workers processing meat.
Slaughterhouse meat workers.
Shutterstock

Synchronising the system

Quality and price are key purchasing decisions for most meat shoppers, and the meat industry has been geared to providing fresh produce at lowest cost.

Getting your favourite beef, lamb, chicken and pork cuts to your local supermarket or neighbourhood butcher is a complex game. Meat processing and distribution centres work out how much to produce, where to deliver and when to do it with great precision, planning up to 90 days ahead. They must synchronise supplies from farmers with demand from retailers.

Think of the system’s smooth operation as being like keeping a roomful of clocks synchronised.

If one clock fails, no problem. You can fix it. But what if a handful more clocks fail before you can fix it, and then dozens more fail? In a short time there will be so many faulty clocks that coordination is compromised. Eventually you won’t even know what the right time is.

Reducing capacity in one or two abattoirs for a few days could be worked around with minimal effects to consumers. But there’s no quick fix to reducing capacity in all of them for six weeks.

Supplies for some meat products will almost certainly be lower, and prices could increase. This is most likely to occur for the most common and popular meat cuts, like T-bone steaks or chicken drumsticks. If your preference is offal or giblets, though, you may not have a problem.




Read more:
Disagreeability, neuroticism and stress: what drives panic buying during the COVID-19 pandemic


What is the good news?

Yes, there is good news.

First, thanks to refrigerated transport, meat processors in other states can help meet lower production in Victoria. The industry has some flexibility to move from north to south, from west to east.

Second, supermarkets have been quick to bring restrictions back to prevent the panic buying and hoarding that make shortages even worse. Coles and Woolworths have already imposed two-pack limits on meat packages (and other products).

Third, to hoard meat you need freezer capacity, and it’s quite possible those disposed to stockpiling still have frozen meat from the first COVID-19 wave.




Read more:
Don’t panic (again): here’s why Melbourne’s supermarket shortages will quickly pass


Fourth, supermarkets and hundreds of smaller operators such as butchers will be affected in different ways at different times. Finding what you want may simply require looking in more than one shop.

Fourth, there are options. Not just between different fresh products such as beef, chicken, pork, lamb and fish, but between preserved, frozen and canned alternatives.

So it might be just a bit harder to have your preferred choice of meat for dinner in the coming days. But the situation won’t be as dire as some fear.The Conversation

Flavio Romero Macau, Senior Lecturer in Supply Chain Management and Global Logistics, Edith Cowan University and Ferry Jie, Asssociate Professor in Supply Chain and Logistics Management, Deputy Director, Centre for Innovative Practice, Edith Cowan University

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

Takeaway coffee allowed, but no wandering through Bunnings: here’s why Melbourne’s new business restrictions will reduce cases


Philip Russo, Monash University and Brett Mitchell, University of Newcastle

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has announced sweeping changes to businesses across metropolitan Melbourne, including closure of retail stores and restrictions on some industries, including construction. The new constraints come into force from midnight on Wednesday night.

They come after metropolitan Melbourne moved to stage 4 restrictions on Sunday, with a nightly curfew and stricter limits on residents’ movement.




Read more:
State of disaster called as Melbourne moves to nightly curfew and stage 4 restrictions


Andrews said maintaining stage 3 restrictions would mean new daily cases plateau at 400-500 indefinitely, so the aim of these new stronger restrictions is to drive daily numbers down. Given the apparently widespread transmission of the virus at workplaces, the hope is that restrictions on business will help improve the situation.

We also expect to see the effects of mandatory mask-wearing alongside other measures, to become evident in the case numbers over the coming week, and further reduced numbers from the latest round of lockdown restrictions to become apparent in two weeks’s time. But this will only happen if we stick to the rules.

What are the new restrictions?

Monday’s restrictions relate to businesses, and will be in place for at least six weeks. The Victorian government has grouped businesses into three categories:

  1. those that can continue full operations on-site, while maintaining COVID-safe practices. This group includes supermarkets, grocers, butchers, bottle shops, post offices, pharmacies, fuel stations and facilities involved in the frontline pandemic response

  2. others that have to operate under new restrictions. This group includes meat processing and construction sites, which will have to observe new limits on staffing levels

  3. some that will cease all on-site activity and move to home or drive-through delivery where possible. This includes non-essential retailers and restaurants.

Andrews assured Melburnians that the continued operation of supermarkets and grocers means there is “no need to be buying months’ worth of groceries”. Melburnians can also take heart in the fact takeaway coffee is still allowed.

Construction and meatworks can continue but will look very different. Major government infrastructure projects, such as level crossing removals, will continue but with around 50% fewer on-site personnel. Large commercial buildings above three storeys need to reduce to the “practical minumum”, operating at no more than 25% staff capacity. Residential building sites can have no more than five people working on-site at any time.

Abbatoir workers will be required to wear full personal protective equipment, including masks, face shields, gloves and gowns. They will also have their temperatures checked and will be regularly tested for COVID-19. Meat processing facilities will reduce to two-thirds operating capacity. The rules to abattoirs apply statewide, not just in metropolitan Melbourne – a move Andrews said was essential to prevent the industry’s problems with COVID-19 spreading to regional areas.

The retail sector will have to close storefronts. However, these businesses can continue to provide “click-and-collect”, takeaway or delivery services where possible, all of which minimise interactions between people.

Hairdressers, education, elective surgery, brothels and strip clubs, legal services, advertising, and food courts will all be required to cease on-site operations.

Andrews has flagged a “permit system” under which certain workers can be granted permission to travel more than 5km from their homes, and to breach curfew. More details will be provided on this later in the week.

Why are the new measures important?

The most common method of spread is through close contact, and a lot of transmission of the coronavirus has been occurring in workplaces. This is because, ultimately, workplaces bring people together. Even masks won’t stop the spread if people come very close together.

The new restrictions will reduce the movement of people, reducing the frequency of contact and the contact time between them. They will reduce the risk of transmission in key industries that have had clusters in the past, such as the Cedar Meats outbreak.

Melbourne needs to see hundreds of thousands fewer interaction between people every day to bring case numbers down from their current levels.

But the central messages remain

The new measures are welcome, in epidemiological terms at least, and are likely to reduce the spread of the virus. And despite the new strictures, the underlying message remains the same: staying at home, and limiting your interactions with other people as much as possible, is crucial to slowing transmission.

Even when we need to leave the house for one of the accepted reasons, physical distancing still remains the most effective preventative intervention.

These new restrictions will not work unless we follow them.




Read more:
723 new COVID-19 cases in Victoria could reflect more testing – but behaviour probably has something to do with it too


When will we see change?

Every morning, Melburnians wake up and look at the new daily numbers — often with despair. Over the past few weeks, since the start of stage 3 restrictions, new cases have plateaued at around 400-500 every day, but are not decreasing.

As Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton pointed out today, stage 3 restrictions have prevented cases spiralling out of control, but have not reduced numbers as much as we would like.

The latest restrictions will apply for six weeks, but there will be a daily review of the data by health authorities. The restrictions could be modified or extended if there are any hiccups along the way.

We expect to see the effects from the latest round of lockdown restrictions to become apparent in roughly two weeks’ time.




Read more:
Which mask works best? We filmed people coughing and sneezing to find out


This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.The Conversation

Philip Russo, Associate Professor, Director Cabrini Monash University Department of Nursing Research, Monash University and Brett Mitchell, Professor of Nursing, University of Newcastle

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

Coronavirus spike: why getting people to follow restrictions is harder the second time around


Kristina Murphy, Griffith University; Harley Williamson, Griffith University; Jennifer Boddy, Griffith University, and Patrick O’Leary, Griffith University

With residents in ten Melbourne postcodes banned from non-essential travel until at least July 29, the need for continued vigilance is clear.

Across Victoria, the ongoing spike in coronavirus cases means a range of restrictions are still in place, yet for people outside the worst-affected areas these restrictions may seem more like guidelines than rules.

There may be many different interpretations of the reinstated restrictions. Also, having been granted some freedoms after the initial lockdown period, people will be reluctant to go back.

Together, this makes compliance even more difficult to enforce. During the
initial stages of lockdown in April, we carried out a survey to find out what factors motivated public attitudes towards compliance. Our findings will be particularly pertinent in the coming weeks.

Should I stay or should I go?

You could be forgiven for feeling like the messaging around coronavirus restrictions has been mixed.

Even during early lockdown, when there was less confusion about what constituted non-compliance, people were either misunderstanding or flouting the rules. Police issued thousands of infringement notices around the country.

To what extent can we now “trust” Australians to comply with the latest advice from health authorities? Will complacency creep in? Early evidence in Victoria suggests this is a fragile situation.

A rule-breaking trend

Even before mass protests for the Black Lives Matter movement, there was a great deal of commentary regarding the public’s compliance during the early stages of the pandemic.

In response, our team at the Griffith Criminology Institute carried out a nationwide survey) of 1,595 Australians.

The survey began five weeks after mandatory social distancing restrictions were introduced. It asked participants to report their level of compliance with social distancing restrictions during the past week. It found a substantial proportion of participants were not adhering to mandatory social distancing rules. Specifically:

  • 50.3% of respondents said they socialised in person with friends and/or relatives they didn’t live with in the past week
  • 45.5% said they left the house “without a really good reason”
  • 39.6% said they travelled for leisure
  • 5.95% said they went shopping for essential or non-essential items with COVID-19 symptoms, and
  • 57.2% said they went shopping for non-essential items when healthy.

The rate of non-compliance with restrictions increased as time passed.

Who is culpable?

The research also examined factors that predicted who was most likely to comply with restrictions.

The two primary predictors were feelings of “duty to obey the government” and “personal morality”. Simply, people were most compliant if they felt a stronger duty to obey government instructions, and if they thought it was morally wrong to flout the rules. These findings suggest social norms, rather than fear of COVID-19, motivated compliance the most.

The findings also revealed age and gender both had a bearing, with older participants and women being more likely to comply.

Those who perceived a greater health risk from COVID-19 were also more willing to follow the rules, as well as those who felt there was a higher risk of being caught and fined for breaking them. However, these factors were nowhere near as important as feelings of duty to obey or personal morality.




Read more:
Why coronavirus lockdown rules will not be obeyed by everyone


What does this mean for the future?

Compared with the rest of the world, Australia has had early success in controlling the COVID-19 outbreak. A major reason for this has been people’s willingness to observe restrictions.

But ensuring continued compliance with measures that limit personal liberties is a tenuous game. Australia has so far had few instances of community transmission, and this knowledge may make people complacent.

During the H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic of 2009, UK researchers found a majority of people surveyed were negligent about social distancing measures. Only 26% reported feeling anxious about contracting the disease, and 72% said they had not adopted the recommended hygiene measures such as hand washing.

Moreover, only 5% said they avoided large crowds or public transport during the pandemic. And those not adhering to social distancing requirements also tended to think the outbreak had been purposely exaggerated by authorities.

Is enforcement the answer?

Simply, no. It’s hard to enforce compliance with personal hygiene habits, and it’s almost impossible to detect people who leave their house when unwell.

Our survey indicated fear of punishment played little role in motivating Australians to observe social distancing rules during lockdown. Personal morality and feeling obligated to abide by recommendations were more important deciders.

Therefore, as uncertainty spreads among Victorians, authorities should focus on educating citizens and reminding them of COVID-19’s potential dangers. Given the highly infectious nature of the virus, even minor transgressions could have disastrous consequences. It’s too soon to “relax”.

Importantly, the best strategy would be to persuade citizens it’s their moral responsibility to follow the rules, as this will help protect the most vulnerable among us.

To an extent we’re already seeing this, as businesses encourage patrons to use hand sanitiser before entering stores, set limits on the number of people allowed inside and remind patrons to maintain their distance.

A helpful tactic may be to remind the public to regularly ask friends and family to maintain their personal hygiene, and restrict their movements when possible. It’s important to reiterate we are “all in this together”. It may also help if businesses are more motivated to work closely with authorities.

That said, effectively marketing “moral responsibility” will likely prove a public relations challenge, involving a fine balance between citizens’ freedom with state mechanisms for compliance. Only time will tell whether we can pull this off and keep COVID-19 transmission under control.




Read more:
Can we really rely on people to isolate when they’re told to? Experts explain


The Conversation


Kristina Murphy, Professor and ARC Future Fellow, Griffith Criminology Institute, Griffith University; Harley Williamson, PhD candidate, Griffith University; Jennifer Boddy, Associate Professor and Deputy Head of School (Learning and Teaching), Griffith University, and Patrick O’Leary, Professor and Director of Violence Research and Prevention Program, Griffith Criminology Institute and School of Human Services and Social Work, Griffith University

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

As coronavirus restrictions ease, here’s how you can navigate public transport as safely as possible


Hassan Vally, La Trobe University

As coronavirus restrictions continue to ease, one of the key challenges we face is how to deal with people moving around a lot more.

In particular, as more of us start to head back to school and the office in the coming weeks and months, more of us will be getting on buses, trains and trams.

So what is public transport going to look like as we relax restrictions, and how can we navigate this safely?




Read more:
To limit coronavirus risks on public transport, here’s what we can learn from efforts overseas


Workplaces can help

Victorian premier Daniel Andrews has emphasised working from home will be one of the last measures the state will ease.

But even when restrictions are relaxed, do we all need to go into the office as much as we used to?

Working from home has become the “new normal” for many of us, and we’ve learnt a lot about how to do this successfully. Employers have adjusted too, with some indicating they will encourage increased remote working moving forward.

So one of the obvious things we can do to reduce the numbers of people using public transport is to continue to work from home where possible.




Read more:
If more of us work from home after coronavirus we’ll need to rethink city planning


Another option is for workplaces to implement flexible start times. If we can reduce the numbers of people using public transport during peak times, this will make a significant difference in reducing crowding.

Public transport providers and governments

State governments have introduced additional cleaning practices on public transport networks. These will continue, and may even be increased, as more people return to public transport.

Although increased cleaning is important, physical distancing remains the key to safely moving large numbers of people again. Governments will need to consider some changes to ensure people can keep a safe distance from others on their commute.

Many people touch the same surfaces on public transport.
Shutterstock

As we’ve seen with the easing of restrictions, different states will take different approaches.

For example, New South Wales has imposed limits on how many people can board a bus or train. A maximum of 32 people are allowed in a train carriage (normally one carriage holds 123 passengers), while buses are limited to 12 passengers (capacity is normally 63).

Further, markings on the seats and floors of buses and trains indicate where people can sit and stand.

Marshals are also being stationed around the public transport network to ensure commuters are following the rules.

In a similar move, the South Australian government revealed they will remove seats from Adelaide trains.




Read more:
Coronavirus recovery: public transport is key to avoid repeating old and unsustainable mistakes


In contrast, Queensland is not imposing any passenger limits, instead asking commuters to use their common sense. The government says there is plenty of room on public transport in Queensland at present, and the risk of virus transmission is low given the small number of active cases.

Similarly, Victoria has not imposed passenger limits. But the government has indicated commuters will be able to access information about which public transport services are the least crowded to assist travel planning.

Some states have flagged extra services may be needed to avoid overcrowding, though the extent to which this will be possible is dependent on resources.

In addition to extra services, NSW has indicated it will boost car parking and enhance access for cyclists and pedestrians.

What can you do?

The main responsibility around keeping virus transmission suppressed as we relax restrictions rests with us as individuals to behave sensibly and responsibly.

The same principles apply when we use public transport as when we navigate all public spaces.

Maintaining physical distance from others and washing our hands regularly are possibly even more important when we’re using public transport, given we potentially come into contact with a lot of people in an enclosed space.

We know SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is more likely to spread indoors than outdoors. We also know prolonged contact with someone infected with the virus increases the risk of transmission, as compared to a passing encounter.

So public transport commutes have the potential to pose a significant risk of virus transmission, especially if you’re sitting next to an infected person on a long journey.

Masks are a hot topic.
Shutterstock

Taking hand sanitiser when you use public transport is a good idea so you can clean your hands while travelling. You may be touching contaminated surfaces, for example the bars and handles for balance.

In addition, washing your hands thoroughly with soap as soon as you arrive at your destination should become a part of your routine.

Importantly, if you’re sick you should not be leaving the house, let alone taking public transport or going to work.

What about masks?

Wearing a mask on public transport is an issue of personal preference.

But if you choose to wear a mask, it’s important to understand a couple of things.

First, masks need to be put on and taken off correctly so you don’t inadvertently infect yourself in the process.

And while masks potentially offer some additional protection to you and others, it’s still critical to follow physical distancing and other hygiene measures.




Read more:
Who’s most affected on public transport in the time of coronavirus?


The Conversation


Hassan Vally, Associate Professor, La Trobe University

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

Immunity passports could help end lockdown, but risk class divides and intentional infections


Nigel McMillan, Griffith University

If you’ve already recovered from the coronavirus, can you go back to the workplace carefree?

This is the question governments including in the UK, Chile, Germany and Italy are trying to answer by considering immunity passports. These would be physical or digital documents given to people who’ve recovered from COVID-19 and are immune from the disease for a period of time. This would enable them to return to the workplace or even travel.

But there are serious concerns that immunity passports could create two classes of citizen and provide a perverse incentive to contract the virus deliberately.



You’re probably safe from reinfection – for a bit

When we are exposed to a virus, our bodies rapidly respond by giving us fevers, runny noses, and coughing. This initial immune response works by raising our body temperature and activating many cellular changes that make it harder for the virus to replicate. These are signs our immune system is activating to fight off infection. These defences are not specific to the virus but merely serve to hold it at bay until a more powerful and specific immune response can be mounted, which usually takes 7-10 days.

We then start to build a targeted immune response by making antibodies (among other things) that are specific for the virus infecting us. This immunity peaks at about day 10 and will continue to work for the rest of our lives with some viruses, but sadly not coronaviruses.




Read more:
Can you get the COVID-19 coronavirus twice?


Immunity to most normal coronaviruses, including those that cause some common colds, only lasts around 12 months. This is because the immune system’s response to coronaviruses wanes over time, and because these viruses slowly mutate, which is a normal part of the viral “life-cycle”. We don’t know yet how long immunity will last for COVID-19, but we might reasonably expect it to be similar, given what we know about our immune responses to coronaviruses.

Immunity passports will only work if people really are immune to reinfection. Earlier reports from South Korea and China suggested some people tested positive again after having recovered. This prompted the World Health Organisation (WHO) to declare in late April there was no evidence immunity passports would be reliable.

But more recent data suggests these tests were picking up dead lung cells which contained dead virus. Since then, experiments have also suggested animals that have recovered from SARS-CoV-2 infection could not be reinfected (although this study has not yet been peer-reviewed).




Read more:
Researchers use ‘pre-prints’ to share coronavirus results quickly. But that can backfire


We also know SARS patients from 2002 had antibodies that lasted an average of two years. People who had been infected with the MERS coronavirus seemed to retain antibodies for at least 12 months.

The WHO has since updated its advice to recognise that recovering from COVID-19 will likely provide some level of protection from reinfection.

Therefore, people who have recovered from COVID-19 are likely to be immune for a period. This means they could potentially be carrying SARS-CoV-2 but won’t develop the disease of COVID-19, and are therefore less likely to pass it on. But we don’t know for sure how long this immunity might last.

Of course, to issue immunity passports we must be able to reliably detect immunity. There are many tests that claim to detect SARS-CoV-2 antibodies but are not yet reliable enough. To assess the presence of antibodies, we must use more reliable tests done in pathology laboratories, called ELISA tests, rather than on-the-spot tests.




Read more:
Why can’t we use antibody tests for diagnosing COVID-19 yet?


Passports might be most useful for frontline workers

We know there are a number of professions which are highly exposed to the virus. These include frontline medical workers like nurses, doctors and dentists, as well as transport workers like bus drivers and pilots. We also know there are particular situations where the virus is easily spread – large crowds of people in close contact such as in aeroplanes, buses, bars and clubs, as well as in hospitals.

Immunity passports could be used to allow people with immunity to help out on the front lines (with their consent). I have personally been contacted by people who have recovered from COVID-19 and want to volunteer to help in highly exposed roles. For example, they could take up administrative roles in ICU wards in hospitals to take pressure off nurses and doctors.

Further, hospitals might choose to roster staff with immune passports to treat COVID-19 patients, because the risk of them contracting and spreading the virus is significantly lower compared to those who haven’t had the virus.

In these instances, immunity passports might be useful for individual hospitals to allocate staff based on immunity.

Similarly, bus and taxi drivers with immunity passports could cover for colleagues who might be older or have medical conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

And of course your passport isn’t forever – it would need to be reviewed over time with another blood test to see if you are still immune.

Two classes of people

But using immunity passports in broader society, and managed by the government, would risk discrimination by creating two classes of citizens. Holding one might become a privilege if it enabled people to go about their lives in a relatively normal way. For example, if it was compulsory for certain jobs or for being able to travel overseas.

But the second class, who don’t have immunity passports, would still be subject to health restrictions and lockdowns while waiting to gain immunity via a vaccine.

Similar to a “chicken pox party”, immunity passports would then create a perverse pull factor and encourage people to deliberately become infected. This incentive might be particularly strong for those who are desperate for work. This would obviously be extremely dangerous as we know the virus has a significant mortality rate and people of all ages have died from COVID-19.

Immunity passports could be effective when used in a targeted way such as in specific hospitals or businesses facing higher exposure to COVID-19. But using them across broader society carries a great risk of discrimination.


This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.The Conversation

Nigel McMillan, Program Director, Infectious Diseases and Immunology, Menzies Health Institute, Griffith University

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