We probably can’t eliminate COVID in Australia forever. As we vaccinate, we should move to a more sustainable strategy


Joel Carrett/AAP

Maximilian de Courten, Victoria University and Rosemary V Calder, Victoria UniversityNearly half of Australia’s population was in lockdown last week, as parts of New South Wales, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland enacted strict coronavirus restrictions.

But this angst-driven reaction of locking down with low community transmission of COVID is not a viable long-term strategy. This is because the coronavirus is increasingly likely to become endemic, meaning it will settle into the human population.

Vaccination markedly reduces your chance of getting severely ill and dying from COVID. Vaccination also reduces transmission to some extent. As vaccination rates start to climb, we need to start moving to a calmer, more planned and balanced strategy to help us all learn to live with the virus.

That needs a simultaneous focus on achieving high vaccination rates as fast as possible, while continuing with a consistent strategy of test, trace and isolate. Instead of daily announcements of new cases at press conferences, we should start reporting on vaccination rates and on severe outcomes like hospitalisations and deaths.

Last month Singapore announced its long-term strategy to prepare the country for life with COVID as a recurring, controllable disease. And last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a similar four-phase plan for Australia.

COVID is likely to become a regular part of life

There’s a theory that viruses often become more transmissible over time. SARS-CoV-2 might be heading that way.

One of the newer variants of the virus, Delta, is estimated to be significantly more transmissible than the Alpha variant, which is more infectious than the original strain of the virus discovered in Wuhan.

Though it’s not guaranteed, the coronavirus might also become less harmful to the population over time, as more people build up immunity.

Research in Nature found the majority of the 119 scientists it surveyed believed the coronavirus would become endemic, meaning it settles into the population, becoming a part of our environment like the flu.

We can’t continue an elimination strategy forever

When the pandemic was first taking hold, Australian health authorities aimed to “flatten the curve” by reducing new cases to a manageable level. In July 2020, the federal government’s own Deputy Chief Medical Officer declared eliminating COVID-19 a “false hope”.

But then Australia (and New Zealand) achieved success in not only suppressing the virus but reducing community spread to zero using lockdowns, social distancing measures and severe restrictions on incoming travellers. Elimination then became the new goal for many chief health officers around Australia, and many public health experts declared it the optimal strategy.

However, the high costs of the repeated elimination attempts over time are evident in the economy, in people’s livelihoods and businesses, and people’s broader health and well-being.

While we continue to debate whether the huge costs of lockdown are worth it, the costs of not having lockdowns in an unvaccinated population would be far higher. However, it’s likely the benefits of lockdowns will greatly diminish once we have rising vaccination rates and treatments for COVID continue to become more successful.

Elimination also requires really tight control of our borders. Very limited numbers of travellers (mostly returning Australians) are allowed through our quarantine system. This creation of “fortress Australia” ignores thousands of Australian citizens stranded overseas and prohibits overseas travel for almost all residents.

Despite this, our system continues to leak the virus into the community and to spark snap lockdowns. Australia currently experiences about one to two outbreaks per month from hotel quarantine.

Australia needs a more mature COVID approach for the long-term

Three Singaporean ministers, writing in The Straits Times, sum it up perfectly:

The bad news is that COVID-19 may never go away. The good news is that it is possible to live normally with it in our midst.

Moving away from an elimination approach to a long-term management strategy requires us to rapidly vaccinate most, if not all, of the population, as vaccination significantly reduces severe outcomes from COVID.

We need vaccine development to keep pace with the emergence of variants of the virus, as these seem to reduce the efficacy of vaccines to some extent. This will require booster vaccinations and continued research and development of new vaccines.

Developing effective treatments for COVID is also crucial. As we find effective treatments, these will make COVID a “milder” disease, lowering the risk of hospitals and intensive care units becoming overwhelmed.

Although we don’t yet have a gold-standard treatment, methods to treat the disease are rapidly improving. Steroid treatment dexamethasone is one example, which cuts the risk of death by one third for patients on ventilators. Antibody therapy is another.

The federal government’s four-phase plan doesn’t mention treatment at all. But we should accelerate support for ongoing research into COVID treatments.




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We need to learn to live with yet another viral disease among us

Given COVID is likely to become endemic, the national cabinet decision to commit to a four-phase plan is a welcome recognition that Australia needs to begin treating COVID-19 “like the flu” in a long term approach.




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This transition of Australia’s approach should be based less on anxiety-inducing reports of daily new cases and where they might have strolled near you.

Instead it should focus more on how many people are partially and fully vaccinated, as well as how many people become very ill from the coronavirus and other health outcome measures.

This will give a consistent set of messages aimed at encouraging much stronger vaccination take-up. This looks to be included in “phase 3” of the federal government’s transition timeline and therefore we estimate this isn’t likely to occur until well into next year.

We’d argue this phase should begin much earlier, in tandem with the move from phase 1 to 2 and paired with sustainable public health measures to reduce exposure to infection. Public health measures should focus on community awareness, knowledge and engagement and on restoring community calm, economic livelihoods, health and well-being.

Masks, rapid and routine COVID testing, and tracing and isolation of contacts will be important when cluster infections occur.

What’s more, there should be particular engagement and protective measures for highly vulnerable people, such as the elderly, those who are disadvantaged, minority groups and people living with mental ill-health and with a disability.

We need to learn to live with yet another viral disease among us. Our health system should move rapidly to reduce fear, improve vaccination rates, improve treatments and reduce complications as it does with other diseases we cannot eliminate or fully protect against.The Conversation

Maximilian de Courten, Professor in Global Public Health and Director of the Mitchell Institute, Victoria University and Rosemary V Calder, Professor, Health Policy, Victoria University

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

The end of global travel as we know it: an opportunity for sustainable tourism



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Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, University of South Australia

Saturday, March 14 2020, is “The Day the World Stopped Travelling”, in the words of Rifat Ali, head of travel analytics company Skift.

That’s a little dramatic, perhaps, but every day since has brought us closer to it being reality.

The COVID-19 crisis has the global travel industry – “the most consequential industry in the world”, says Ali – in uncharted territory. Nations are shutting their borders. Airlines face bankruptcy. Ports are refusing entry to cruise ships, threatening the very basis of the cruise business model.

Associated hospitality, arts and cultural industries are threatened. Major events are being cancelled. Tourist seasons in many tourist destinations are collapsing. Vulnerable workers on casual, seasonal or gig contracts are suffering. It seems an epic disaster.

But is it?

Considering human activities need to change if we are to avoid the worst effects of human-induced climate change, the coronavirus crisis might offer us an unexpected opportunity.

Ali, like many others, wants recovery, “even if it takes a while to get back up and return to pre-coronavirus traveller numbers”.

But rather than try to return to business as usual as soon as possible, COVID-19 challenges us to think about the type of consumption that underpins the unsustainable ways of the travel and tourism industries.

Tourism dependency

Air travel features prominently in discussions about reducing carbon emissions. Even if commercial aviation accounts “only” for about 2.4% of all emissions from fossil-fuel use, flying is still how many of us in the industrialised world blow out our carbon footprints.




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But sustainability concerns in the travel and tourism sectors extend far beyond carbon emissions.

In many places tourism has grown beyond its sustainable bounds, to the detriment of local communities.

The overtourism of places like Venice, Barcelona and Reykjavik is one result. Cruise ships disgorge thousands of people for half-day visits that overwhelm the destination but leave little economic benefit.

Graffiti in Barcelona: ‘Tourists go home. Refugees welcome.’
Dunk/flickr, CC BY-SA

Cheap airline fares encourage weekend breaks in Europe that have inundated old cities such as Prague and Dubrovnik. The need for growth becomes self-perpetuating as tourism dependency locks communities into the system.

In a 2010 paper I argued the problem was tourism underpinned by what sociologist Leslie Sklair called the “culture-ideology of consumerism” – by which consumption patterns that were once the preserve of the rich became endemic.




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Tourism is embedded in that culture-ideology as an essential pillar to achieve endless economic growth. For instance, the Australian government prioritises tourism as a “supergrowth industry”, accounting for almost 10% of “exports” in 2017-18.

Out of crisis comes creativity

Many are desperate to ensure business continues as usual. “If people will not travel,” said Ariel Cohen of California-based business travel agency TripActions, “the economy will grind to a halt.”

COVID-19 is a radical wake-up call to this way of thinking. Even if Cohen is right, that economic reality now needs to change to accommodate the more pressing public health reality.

It is a big economic hit, but crisis invites creativity. Grounded business travellers are realising virtual business meetings work satisfactorily. Conferences are reorganising for virtual sessions. Arts and cultural events and institutions are turning to live streaming to connect with audiences.

In Italian cities under lockdown, residents have come out on their balconies to create music as a community.

Local cafes and food co-ops, including my local, are reaching out with support for the community’s marginalised and elderly to ensure they are not forgotten.

These responses challenge the atomised individualism that has gone hand in hand with the consumerism of travel and tourism. This public health crisis reminds us our well-being depends not on being consumers but on being part of a community.




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Staying closer to home could be a catalyst awakening us to the value of eating locally, travelling less and just slowing down and connecting to our community.

After this crisis passes, we might find the old business as usual less compelling. We might learn that not travelling long distances didn’t stop us travelling; it just enlivened us to the richness of local travel.The Conversation

Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, Senior Lecturer in Tourism Management, University of South Australia

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

Space can solve our looming resource crisis – but the space industry itself must be sustainable


Richard Matthews, University of Adelaide

Australia’s space industry is set to grow into a multibillion-dollar sector that could provide tens of thousands of jobs and help replenish the dwindling stocks of precious resources on Earth. But to make sure they don’t flame out prematurely, space companies need to learn some key lessons about sustainability.

Sustainability is often defined as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Often this definition is linked to the economic need for growth. In our context, we link it to the social and material needs of our communities.

We cannot grow without limit. In 1972, the influential report The Limits to Growth argued that if society’s growth continued at projected rates, humans would experience a “sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity” by 2070. Recent research from the University of Melbourne’s sustainability institute updated and reinforced these conclusions.

Our insatiable hunger for resources increases as we continue to strive to improve our way of life. But how does our resource use relate to the space industry?




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There are two ways we could try to avert this forecast collapse: we could change our behaviour from consumption to conservation, or we could find new sources to replenish our stocks of non-renewable resources. Space presents an opportunity to do the latter.

Asteroids provide an almost limitless opportunity to mine rare earth metals such as gold, cobalt, nickle and platinum, as well as the resources required for the future exploration of our solar system, such as water ice. Water ice is crucial to our further exploration efforts as it can be refined into liquid water, oxygen, and rocket fuel.

But for future space missions to top up our dwindling resources on Earth, our space industries themselves must be sustainable. That means building a sustainable culture in these industries as they grow.

How do we measure sustainability?

Triple bottom-line accounting is one of the most common ways to assess the sustainability of a company, based on three crucial areas of impact: social, environmental, and financial. A combined framework can be used to measure performance in these areas.

In 2006, UTS sustainable business researcher Suzanne Benn and her colleagues introduced a method for assessing the corporate sustainability of an organisation in the social and environmental areas. This work was extended in 2014 by her colleague Bruce Perrott to include the financial dimension.

This model allows the assessment of an organisation based on one of six levels of sustainability. The six stages, in order, are: rejection, non-responsiveness, compliance, efficiency, strategic proactivity, and the sustaining corporation.

Sustainability benchmarking the space industry

In my research, which I presented this week at the Australian Space Research Conference in Adelaide, I used these models to assess the sustainability of the American space company SpaceX.

Using freely available information about SpaceX, I benchmarked the company as compliant (level 3 of 6) within the sustainability framework.

While SpaceX has been innovative in designing ways to travel into space, this innovation has not been for environmental reasons. Instead, the company is focused on bringing down the cost of launches.

SpaceX also relies heavily on government contracts. Its profitability has been questioned by several analysts with the capital being raised through the use of loans and the sale of future tickets in the burgeoning space tourism industry. Such a transaction might be seen as an exercise in revenue generation, but accountants would classify such a sale as a liability.

The growing use of forward sales is a growing concern for the industry, with other tourism companies such as Virgin Galactic failing to secure growth. It has been reported that Virgin Galactic will run out of customers by 2023 due to the high costs associated with space travel.




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SpaceX’s culture also rates poorly for sustainability. As at many startups, employees at SpaceX are known to work more than 80 hours a week without taking their mandatory breaks. This problem was the subject of a lawsuit settled in 2017. Such behaviour contravenes Goal 8 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which seeks to achieve “decent work for all”.

What’s next?

Australia is in a unique position. As the newest player in the global space industry, the investment opportunity is big. The federal government predicts that by 2030, the space sector could be a A$12 billion industry employing 20,000 people.

Presentations at the Australian Space Research Conference by the Australian Space Agency made one thing clear: regulation is coming. We can use this to gain a competitive edge.




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By embedding sustainability principles into emerging space startups, we can avoid the economic cost of having to correct bad behaviours later.

We will gain the first-mover advantage on implementing these principles, which will in turn increase investor confidence and improve company valuations.

To ensure that the space sector can last long enough to provide real benefits for Australia and the world, its defining principle must be sustainability.The Conversation

Richard Matthews, Research Associate | Councillor, University of Adelaide

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

Australia has the wealth to ensure a sustainable future, but too many people are being left behind



File 20180912 181260 1pm4fjd.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Many Australians are feeling less secure about the future, despite rising income levels since 2000.
Dan Peled/AAP

Sue Richardson, University of Adelaide

The purpose of our social, economic and political systems is to enable all Australians to lead good lives. Australia is doing well on some fronts. It ranks third out of 188 countries on the UN Human Development Index, which takes into account life expectancy, education and national income per capita. We also rank 19th on national income per capita.

This suggests Australia is rather good at converting national income into social well-being. But a key question is whether we are using our income in a way that will continue to enable all Australians to lead materially, socially and environmentally enriching lives. That is, are we acting in a way that is both fair and sustainable?

A report released by the National Sustainable Development Council, in collaboration with the Monash Sustainable Development Institute, provides robust data on many of the specific indicators related to environmental, social and economic well-being. These indicators give us a clear idea how well we are doing in the important goal of “leaving no one behind” and providing the same opportunities for future generations.

Inequality remains high despite economic growth

A remarkable feature of Australia’s economy is that, with some fluctuations, real income per capita rose by over 40% from 2000 to 2012, but has not increased at all since. This has left many people feeling stressed and disgruntled about living costs.

There is a sense that a high income is not enough to lead a good life – a continuously rising income is needed. Coupled with the high inequality in society and a worsening environmental footprint, it all points to threats to the sustainability of our current standard of living.




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The large rise in income in recent years was accompanied by a decrease in the rates of poverty and material disadvantage, especially before 2013. The increase in the value of the age pension made a material contribution to this. In contrast, the falling relative value of Newstart has had the opposite effect.

Overall, inequality remains high by Australian and international standards. The government continues to play a very important role in offsetting at least some of this inequality. However, this is sustainable only if people remain willing to pay the necessary taxes and support transfer payments to help those with lower incomes.

Australia is also doing well in the health of the population. Life expectancy is among the highest in the world, reflecting comparatively low rates of illness and injury. Good health is supported by a well-resourced, universal healthcare system, substantial gains in reducing deaths from road accidents, and world-leading tobacco control policies.




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However, our good health and well-being is challenged by high rates of obesity and alcohol consumption. Further, the proportion of the population experiencing high to very high levels of psychological distress has not fallen. Between 15% and 20% of young and middle-aged women now report having high to very high levels of distress.

And we do leave people behind. Indigenous people have much poorer health and lower life expectancy than the general population – a stain on our society.

Early childhood education is lagging behind, too

Australia is performing well in some areas of education: we have high rates of post-secondary school education, our students consistently perform well in collaborative problem solving, and Australian adults rate well above the OECD average in technological problem solving.

But, again, we’re performing poorly on sustainability. Student performance in literacy, maths and science on the international PISA tests has fallen and the percentage of children aged five who are developing normally in overall learning, health and psycho-social well-being has remained stagnant.

Australia is also a laggard among OECD countries in its public support of early childhood learning and development. The only improvement has been in language skills for children aged five.




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In other societal issues, the Monash report showed that Australians are increasingly fearful of violent crime, despite low crime rates. Tougher laws have been introduced in response to this fear of crime, and imprisonment rates have risen significantly in recent years. This fear undermines social trust, which is very hard to recover and is a threat to the sustainability of our social cohesion.

Australia is also lagging on gender equality. Women continue to face far greater economic insecurity than men. This is particularly evident at retirement, when women’s superannuation balances are 42% below that of men’s, reflecting their substantially lower lifetime earnings.

Most disturbingly, the proportion of women and girls subjected to physical, sexual and psychological violence remains unacceptably high. Domestic and family violence remains the leading preventable contributor to death and illness for women aged 18–44.

Australia has done remarkably well on some of its UN Sustainability Development Goals. But there is definitely room for improvement, particularly in the way we are degrading our natural world and key areas of health, education and social inequality. We need to address these threats to sustainability if we’re going to ensure our people enjoy good lives now – and in the future.


This article is part of a series looking at Australia’s progress toward meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals, based on a report published by the Monash University Sustainable Development Institute.The Conversation

Sue Richardson, Adjunct professor, University of Adelaide

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