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.




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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).




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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.




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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.

Plane cabins are havens for germs. Here’s how they can clean up their act


Ipek Kurtböke, University of the Sunshine Coast

Qantas has unveiled a range of precautions to guard passengers against COVID-19. The safety measures expected to be rolled out on June 12 include contactless check-in, hand sanitiser at departure gates, and optional masks and sanitising wipes on board.

Controversially, however, there will be no physical distancing on board, because Qantas claims it is too expensive to run half-empty flights.

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing airlines to look closely at their hygiene practices. But aircraft cabins were havens for germs long before the coronavirus came along. The good news is there are some simple ways on-board hygiene can be improved.




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Common sense precautions

As an environmental microbiologist I have observed, in general, a gradual loss of quality in hygiene globally.

Airports and aircrafts have crammed ever larger numbers of passengers into ever smaller economy-class seats.

Although social distancing can’t do much in a confined cabin space – as the virus is reported to be able to travel eight meters — wearing face masks (viral ones in particular) and practising hand hygiene remain crucial.

Since microorganisms are invisible, it is hard to combat such a powerful enemy. During flights, I have observed a vast array of unwitting mistakes made by flight crew and passengers.

Some crew staff would go to the bathroom to push overflowing paper towels down into the bins, exit without washing their hands and continue to serve food and drinks.

We have the technology for manufacturers to install waste bins where paper towels can be shredded, disinfected and disposed of via suction, as is used in the toilets. Moreover, all aircraft waste bins should operate with pedals to prevent hand contamination.

Also, pilots should not share bathrooms with passengers, as is often the case. Imagine the consequences if pilots became infected and severely ill during a long flight, to the point of not being able to fly. Who would land the plane?

For instance, the highly transmissible norovirus, which causes vomiting and diarrhoea, can manifest within 12 hours of exposure. So for everyone’s safety, pilots should have their own bathroom.

Food and the kitchen

Aircraft kitchen areas should be as far as possible from toilets.

Male and female toilets should be separated because, due to the way men and women use the bathroom, male bathrooms are more likely to have droplets of urine splash outside the toilet bowl. Child toilets and change rooms should be separate as well.

Food trolleys should be covered with a sterile plastic sheet during service as they come close to seated passengers who could be infected.

And to allow traffic flow in the corridor, trolleys should not be placed near toilets. At times I have seen bread rolls in a basket with a nice white napkin, with the napkin touching the toilet door.

Also, blankets should not be used if the bags have been opened, and pillows should have their own sterile bags.

Mind your luggage

In March, luggage handlers were infected with COVID-19 at Adelaide Airport.

As a passenger, you should avoid placing your hand luggage on the seats while reaching into overhead lockers. There’s a chance your luggage was placed on a contaminated surface before you entered the plane, such as on a public bathroom floor.

Be wary of using the seat pocket in front of you. Previous passengers may have placed dirty (or infected) tissues there. So keep this in mind when using one to hold items such as your passport, or glasses, which come close to your eyes (through which SARS-CoV-2 can enter the body).

Also, safety cards in seat pockets should be disposable and should be replaced after each flight.




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In facing the COVID-19 crisis, it’s important to remember that unless an antiviral drug or a vaccine is found, this virus could come back every year.

On many occasions, microbiologists have warned of the need for more microbiology literacy among the public. Yet, too often their calls are dismissed as paranoia, or being overly cautious.

But now’s the time to listen, and to start taking precaution. For all we know, there may be even more dangerous superbugs breeding around us – ones we’ve simply yet to encounter.The Conversation

Ipek Kurtböke, Senior Lecturer, Environmental Microbiology, University of the Sunshine Coast

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

Beyond travel, a trans-Tasman bubble is an opportunity for Australia and NZ to reduce dependence on China



http://www.shutterstock.com

Hongzhi Gao, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington and Monica Ren, Macquarie University

When it comes to our economic over-reliance on China, New Zealand consumers need look no further than their most popular big box chain, The Warehouse. The familiar “big red shed” sourced about 60% of its home brand stock from China in 2017 – and a further NZ$62 million in products directly through offices in China, India and Bangladesh in 2019.

In Australia, many major chain stores as well as online retail giant kogan.com are in a similar position. Reliant on China for much of what they sell, including exclusive home-brand items, they are part of what has been described as the world’s most China-reliant economy.

The COVID-19 crisis has thrown Australian and New Zealand businesses’ dependence on China into stark relief. With countries reportedly competing with and undercutting each other to secure desperately needed medical supplies from China, many are now waking up to their economic exposure to a single manufacturing giant.

Understandably, discussions about creating a “trans-Tasman bubble” between Australia and New Zealand have focused on kick-starting economic activity in the short term, particularly through tourism. But both countries also need to take a longer-term view of boosting economic activity – including through increased manufacturing and trade integration.




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The statistics support this. In 2018, 20% of global trade in the manufacturing of “intermediate” products (which need further processing before sale) came from China. Chinese manufacturing (including goods made from components made in China) also accounted for:

  • 35% of household goods
  • 46% of hi-tech goods
  • 54% of textiles and apparel
  • 38% of machinery, rubber and plastic
  • 20% of pharmaceuticals and medical goods
  • 42% of chemical products.

Australia and New Zealand are no exception, with China the number one trading partner of both. Australia earned 32.6% of its export income from China in 2019, mostly from natural resource products such as iron ores, coal and natural gas, as well as education and tourism.

Inside a Bunnings store in Australia: many of the shelves would be empty without goods sourced from China.
http://www.shutterstock.com

From New Zealand, 23% of exports (worth NZ$20 billion) went to China in 2019, and much of the country’s manufacturing has moved to China over the past 20 years. The China factor in New Zealand supply chains is also crucial, with a fifth of exports containing Chinese components.

Supply shortages from China

The world is now paying a price for this dependence on China. Since the COVID-19 outbreak in early 2020 there has been volatility in the supply of products ranging from cars and Apple phones to food ingredients and hand sanitiser packaging.

More worryingly, availability of popular over-the-counter painkiller paracetamol was restricted due to Chinese factory closures. This is part of a bigger picture that shows Australia now importing over 90% of medicines and New Zealand importing close to NZ$1.59 billion in pharmaceutical products in 2019. Overall, both countries are extremely vulnerable to major supply chain disruptions of medical products.

For all these reasons, a cooperative trans-Tasman manufacturing strategy should be on the table right now and in any future bilateral trade policy conversations.

The big red shed: New Zealand’s Warehouse chain sources 60% of its products from China.
http://www.shutterstock.com



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Opportunities for Australia and NZ

Rather than each country focusing on product specialisation or setting industrial priorities in isolation, the two economies need to discuss how best to pool resources, add value and enhance the competitive advantage of strategic industries in the region as a whole.

Currently, trans-Tasman trade primarily involves natural resources and foodstuffs flowing from New Zealand to Australia, with motor vehicles, machinery and mechanical equipment flowing the other way. Manufacturing is skewed towards Australia, but closer regional integration would mean increased flows of capital, components and finished products between the countries. We have seen this already in the primary and service sectors but not much in the manufacturing sector, especially from New Zealand to Australia.

Medical technologies and telecommunications equipment manufacturing (both critical during the pandemic) stand out as potential new areas of economic integration. In that sense, it was heartening to see major medical tech companies such as Res-Med Australia and Fisher & Paykel Healthcare in New Zealand rapidly scale up their production capacities to build respiratory devices, ventilators, and other personal protective equipment products.




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These brands enjoy a global technology edge, smart niche positioning and reputations for innovation. We need more of these inside a trans-Tasman trade and manufacturing bubble.

China still vital but balance is crucial

Key to successful regional integration will be the pooling of research and development (R&D) resources, mutual direct investment, subsidising R&D and manufacturing in emerging markets with profits from another (such as China), and value-adding specialisation in the supply chain. For example, Tait Communication in New Zealand recently invested in a new facility based in one of Australia’s largest science, technology and research centres.

Together, we can make a bigger pie.

None of this means cutting ties with China, which will remain the main importer of primary produce and food products from Australasia for the foreseeable future. And Chinese exports will still be vital. Fisher & Paykel Healthcare sells its products in about 120 countries, for example, but some of its key raw materials suppliers are Chinese.

Getting this dynamic balancing right will be key to Australia and New Zealand prospering in the inevitably uncertain – even divided – post-pandemic global business environment. And you never know, maybe one day we’ll see a “made in Australia and New Zealand” label in the aisles of The Warehouse and Bunnings.The Conversation

Hongzhi Gao, Associate professor, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington and Monica Ren, Lecturer/ Assistant Professor, Macquarie University

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

Why a trans-Tasman travel bubble makes a lot of sense for Australia and New Zealand



BIANCA DE MARCHI/AAP

Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, University of South Australia and James Higham, University of Otago

We are hearing increasing talk about a trans-Tasman “travel bubble”, which could see Australia and New Zealand open their borders to each other.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was a special guest at Australia’s national cabinet meeting on Tuesday, which discussed the possibility of setting up a travel safe zone.

Both Ardern and Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison have cautioned a travel bubble will not happen immediately. After the meeting, Morrison said a safe zone is “still some time away”. But he also stressed, “it is important to flag it, because it is part of the road back”.




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What would a travel bubble mean in practice for Australia and New Zealand?

As tourism researchers in both countries, we see a travel bubble as a great opportunity to kick-start the post-COVID economic recovery, while also focusing on more sustainable tourism.

Why the trans-Tasman bubble makes sense

A travel bubble would see quarantine-free travel allowed between Australia and New Zealand.

The two neighbours have a unique opportunity to do this. Not only are they geographically isolated, both have so far had success containing – perhaps even eliminating – COVID-19 cases within their borders.

It is not yet known when international flows of tourists will be possible again. But it is understood that global tourism as we once knew it will not be possible until a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available.

Historically, limited travel circuits have been associated with former and current Communist states. Nevertheless, for Australia and New Zealand in 2020, the idea of a travel safe zone makes a lot of sense.

In 2018, New Zealand was Australia’s second largest inbound market for visitor arrivals and fourth largest market for visitor nights and total visitor spend. Australia is New Zealand’s largest visitor market, generating 1.5 million visitors a year as of 2017.

Australians make up more than half of international arrivals to New Zealand each year.
Lukas Coch/AAP

The beauty of our shared travel markets is our visitors are generally repeat visitors who head to diverse regions. Because more than 70% of Australians book self-drive holidays, for example, their spending spreads more widely than some other visitors.

Australians seek skiing and adventure in Queenstown, wine in the Martinborough or Waiheke Island regions. They also support Australian sports teams competing in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin. In reverse, lots of Kiwis head to the Gold Coast but also visit the Hunter Valley for wine or Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane for sports events.

Starting to rebuild these markets while the rest of the world remains in lockdown would represent a huge boost to both economies.

What is needed to make a bubble work?

After the national cabinet meeting, Ardern stressed “there is still a lot of work to be done” before the travel safe zone idea can progress.

The key to a successful trans-Tasman travel arrangement will be sound planning and implementation.

Rigorous public health measures to facilitate safe travel will be essential, including being prepared for all travel to be halted again if the situation changes.




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Broad stakeholder involvement and coordination will be necessary, including between tourism commissions, airlines and airports, industry associations and a range of government agencies, to ensure any reopening is managed well.

Local councils and businesses must also be involved to ensure that the tourism restart is planned, coordinated and controlled.

A chance for greener travel

A trans-Tasman travel bubble could also lead to a change in both countries’ tourism strategies.

Like other countries, Australia and New Zealand have historically prioritised international tourists, particularly “high value travellers”, who spend more and stay longer.

A COVID-era focus on domestic and trans-Tasman travel will likely result in lower yield but could also lead to a more sustainable tourism future. Trans-Tasman travel is the least carbon emitting of our international markets, because it does not rely on long-haul flights.

A focus on domestic and trans-Tasman travel also provides a chance to create a greener tourism industry.
Lukas Coch/ AAP

Trans-Tasman visitors also tend to have a lower carbon footprint at their destinations. In 2018, more than half of all Australian visitors to New Zealand (57%) were repeat visitors. Repeat visitors tend to spend more of their time at regional destinations, and less time incurring the carbon costs of transporting themselves around the country.

New Zealand has already begun to rethink its tourism economy to establish greater sustainability. A trans-Tasman bubble presents an opportunity to foster tourism with a lighter footprint.

Could the bubble be expanded?

There is a call for an extension of this travel bubble to the Pacific neighbourhood, where there are also low infection numbers.

Such a move would not only provide economic support to the Pacific community, it would also represent another step in the long process of restoring normality in different regions of the world.




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Ardern has kept the door open on this aspect, but noted “at the moment, we are focused on Australia”. She has also cautioned about not introducing COVID-19 to parts of the Pacific untouched by coronavirus.

Even if it remains just Australia and New Zealand, any travel bubble will obviously elevate the risk of COVID-19 reinfection. So, public health priorities must trump the desire to kick-start economies, to make sure we don’t squander our success against coronavirus so far.

But if the governments and tourism industries can find the right balance between public health and economic needs, then Australia and New Zealand stand to benefit from a head start on the long road to economic recovery.The Conversation

Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, Senior Lecturer in Tourism Management, University of South Australia and James Higham, Professor of Tourism, University of Otago

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

This could be the end of the line for cruise ships


Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, University of South Australia

Stranded cruise ships have become a symbol of the COVID-19 pandemic. Passengers and crew are desperate to get off but the ports to which they’ve headed don’t want them.

It is no exaggeration to suggest this crisis could spell the end of the line for an industry already on the nose for its social, health and environmental problems.

Indeed the same business model at the root of those problems is the cause of its current crisis, in which ship operators have been accused of gross or even criminal negligence.

That model has to do with flags of convenience.

Flags of convenience mean ships operate in waters far from their “home” ports. Most are registered in Caribbean tax havens. Operating outside clear jurisdictions, wages are low and working conditions poor.

That so many ships have become floating coronavirus incubators also indicates poor health and safety protocols. An emergency plan for an infectious outbreak on a ship seems an obvious thing to have. Yet reports suggest improvised responses.

Now, with ports and entire nations ordering cruise ships away, flags of convenience have become an existential threat to crew, and the industry.

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Ships ordered away

The industry’s reputational crisis is demonstrated no better than in Australia, where 24 of the nation’s 61 confirmed COVID-19 deaths so far have come from cruise ships.

All 20 cruise ships still in Australian waters were ordered to leave last week, with Australian Border Force commissioner Michael Outram citing concerns the number of cases among crew would be “a big strain on the Australian health system”.




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Just one ship, the Ruby Princess. is linked to 18 deaths (and about 700 infections – roughly 10% of Australia’s total cases).

Deaths have also come from the Artenia, Voyager of the Seas, Celebrity Solistice and Ovation of the Seas.

The Ruby Princess was allowed to dock in Sydney on March 19. About 2,700 passengers disembarked without being tested, because New South Wales authorities believed there was low risk.

Police are now investigating possible criminal charges against the operator, Princess Cruises, for misleading authorities about the situation. (The ship has since been allowed to dock at Port Kembla, south of Sydney, with a fifth of more than 1,000 crew quarantined aboard showing virus-like symptoms).

There are also calls for a criminal negligence investigation of the operator of the Artania, in a weeks-long stand-off in Western Australian waters.

Most of the ship’s passengers were allowed to disembark and get charter flights home to Europe. But more than 400 people, mostly crew, remain on board, and the state government fears the number of coronavirus cases would overwhelm local hospitals.

“We’d like you to leave, we don’t want you in our port,” said West Australian premier Mark McGowan.

But where are they, and tens of thousands of crew workers on hundreds of other cruise ships around the world, to go?


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Caribbean tax shelters

Consider the Artenia. The ship is owned by British cruise line P&O, chartered to a German company, operates out of Frankfurt and is registered in the Bahamas.

The Ruby Princess operates out of Australia but is registered in Bermuda. Its owner, Princess Cruises, is headquartered in California but also incorporated in Bermuda.

Most cruise ships are registered in a country different to ownership or operation. More than two-thirds (by tonnage) fly the flags of just three nations – the Bahamas, Panama and Bermuda.



Flags of convenience make the cruise ship industry one of the world’s least regulated, with owners and operators able to skirt more stringent workplace, health, safety and environmental rules.

For crew, particularly those in “lower level” service jobs, pay and conditions are poor. Many accept such conditions to earn money for their families. Hidden from view, even passengers can be oblivious to their conditions.

Incorporations of convenience

Both P&O and Princess Cruises are subsidiaries of the world’s biggest cruise company, Carnival Corporation, whose combined fleet of about 300 ships carries almost half the world’s cruising passengers



Carnival Corporation is headquartered in Miami, as are the second and third biggest cruise corporations, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian. But Carnival is incorporated in Panama, Norwegian in Bermuda, and Royal Caribbean in Liberia.

Now these “incorporations of convenience” threaten their survival. Their revenue has been cut to zero. The US government is offering no assistance because they’re foreign companies and their employees are spread across the world. Other governments are unlikely to do more.

Industry analysts say the big cruise operators have enough reserves to last six months. After that, if they don’t secure funding, they face going out of business.

Sailing into the sunset

If that happens, many will not mourn the loss.

Long before this crisis, the cruise ship industry was on the nose for its social and environment problems.

It has contributed to overtourism in places like Barcelona, Reykjavik, Dubrovnik and Venice. Its environmental record is appalling. Just last year Carnival paid $US20 million (A$28 million) to settle a US court case over it allowing its ships to dump rubbish in the ocean – something for which it has a previous criminal conviction.




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Now the industry’s carefully honed image of cruise ships offering the right balance between fun and security looks sunk.

Whatever remains after this crisis will need a complete overhaul.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.

As coronavirus hits holiday lettings, a shift to longer rentals could help many of us


Myfan Jordan, La Trobe University

Hidden within the coronavirus-devastated tourism market is a related impact: the loss of customers could be financially devastating for small investors who dominate short-term letting platforms such as Airbnb. After a decade of high returns, they may now wonder whether a return to the secure, if slightly less lucrative, long-term residential tenancy market is a safer bet. If investors shift from short-term letting to long-term rentals in search of greater security, this would benefit the growing numbers of Australians in rental housing.

With the coronavirus pandemic there are signs this is already happening. In Dublin, for example, a 64% rise in long-term rental properties has been reported this month. It’s thought landlords are withdrawing from short-term listing sites and offering properties on the rental market.

Until now, rising property prices have forced more Australians into long-term renting even as short-term letting has eaten into the supply of properties. Young adults once dominated the rental market. It’s fast becoming a more permanent solution for families and even for older Australians. One in three households now rent their homes.

So, with almost 350,000 Australian properties having been listed on Airbnb, the impact on local communities can be significant. The increase in short-term lettings has been linked to increasing homelessness.




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Why landlords will look for security

Beyond the immediate impact of coronavirus on tourism in Australia, it’s possible the increased risks in the holiday lettings market may provide the impetus to align the interests of landlords and tenants around longer-term tenure.

Despite Prime Minister Scott Morrison urging vacationers not to ask for refunds from struggling operators, the tourism downturn has introduced a new level of risk for hosts. Airbnb has enacted a policy of full refunds for cancellations, which is reported to be “completely obliterating smaller hosts”.

Other platforms are advising hosts to manage COVID-19 risk themselves. This leaves many investor-landlords navigating a complex, public health crisis largely on their own.

With some of our most popular destinations facing an existential crisis, the impacts on small business, working families and low-income Australians may be both obscured but far-reaching, as the Airbnb example shows. Big players in the tourism industry can lobby federal government for support. Individual agents in the share economy are largely unprotected.

To date, the home-share concept has been a winner for property investors. Holiday letting has largely moved on from the original Airbnb model of sharing one’s primary residence. Letting through digital platforms with access to a global market of tourists has brought high-rent, low-risk dividends for people with investment properties.

The coronavirus pandemic, however, is revealing cracks in the foundations of the holiday-letting model.




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What has happened to renters?

Research suggests the digital disruption of the holiday accommodation sector has had significant impacts on local renters. There is little doubt tourist demand through online letting platforms has reduced the supply and increased prices of long-term rental housing in Australia, particularly in parts of our capital cities.

Likewise in Europe, where one in four rental properties in some tourist destinations is now a holiday property. This has led some governments to introduce strict regulation. It includes licensing, fines and limits on the number of days a property can be let each year.

Australia has been slower to respond, despite observations that Airbnb is “impacting the rental market and … bringing the cost of housing up”. Even in Tasmania, which has the strongest market regulation, one in every 27 Hobart homes remains listed for short-term lease. Similarly, in Sydney and Melbourne, growth in the sector has driven up rental housing costs.




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In New South Wales, fines for unregistered holiday lets have increased by 500%. But councils struggle to enforce laws that landlords are either unaware of or actively avoid complying with.

Home ownership has become a privilege in Australia, one driving disadvantage among those who are locked out. For a single age pensioner, for example less than 1% of rental housing is affordable. And long-term rental housing stock is often of poor quality.

Time for a rethink

Australia’s rental housing system undeniably needs a rethink. The sector presents a growing problem for state and territory governments, in terms of both the supply of affordable rental properties and finding the right balance between landlord and tenant rights.




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Government measures to increase the availability of rental housing through tax incentives, such as negative gearing, are unfortunately not restricted to landlords who offer longer-term tenure. To date there has been little financial incentive to eschew the higher returns of the Airbnb model for the relative stability of residential tenancies.

In times of crisis, Australians pull together. During the summer bushfires, we saw Airbnb hosts offer emergency housing to displaced families. They recognised the critical importance of a safe and secure home – a sanctuary. We need to recognise this critical function of home beyond times of crisis, to ensure every Australian has a home for good.




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Per Capita’s Centre for Applied Policy in Positive Ageing is launching its Home for Good project in collaboration with The Australian Centre for Social Innovation today. You can read their policy brief on Australia’s private rental housing market here.The Conversation

Myfan Jordan, Associate, Health Ageing Research Group (HARG), La Trobe University

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

Once the pandemic is over, we will return to a very different airline industry


Volodymyr Bilotkach, Singapore Institute of Technology

The airline industry will wear the scars of the coronavirus pandemic for a very long time.

On Thursday, Qantas announced it was grounding its entire international fleet. American Airlines suspended three quarters of its long haul international flights on Monday.

Significant demand shocks aren’t new to the airline industry. In this century alone it has weathered the storms caused by the 2001 September 11 attacks and the 2002-04 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome pandemic.

But we have never before seen a shock of this magnitude affecting the entire world for what looks as if it will be a very long time.




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So, will the airline industry be able to handle this predicament? What role will and should the governments play? And, when all this is over, what will have changed for good?

Many airlines can’t survive as they are

Right now the name of the game, not only for the airlines but for most businesses, is liquidity – having money regularly coming in through the door.

An otherwise-solvent enterprise incapable of securing sufficient liquidity to cover its current costs can be forced into bankruptcy, and extreme uncertainty doesn’t help.

Although the airline industry had a good decade overall, finishing each of the last ten years in the black, its profit margins remain low, and profitability differences between regions and carriers are rather high.

Most airlines only have enough cash reserves to cover a few months of their fixed costs (costs that have to be paid regardless of whether their planes are flying).

Three options

The dynamics of the disease spread suggest that the extreme disruption we are seeing will stay with us for many months.

Governments will have to make hard decisions.

Broadly, they’ve three options

  • let the struggling private airlines fall

  • offer them liquidity to help weather the storm

  • nationalise them, as the Italian government already has with Alitalia

I expect governments to use (and misuse) all three, with a significant number of small airlines (and potentially several mid-sized airlines) going out of business in the process.

The main argument that will be used for not allowing airlines to fail will be that connectivity will be an important driver of the post-crisis recovery.

This wider economic benefit will be emphasised by the governments that choose to bail out or nationalise their carriers.

Big airlines might get help, even if they’re weak

I expect larger carriers to receive priority treatment by governments based on the fact that they provide more connectivity, sometimes without regard to their long term viability.

This means that once the pandemic is over, travellers will likely find a more concentrated airline market, with fewer carriers in operation. A greater proportion of them will be government owned.

To start with, flight frequency will be lower and planes might be emptier, depending on the fleet mix the surviving airlines will use.




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Whether prices will be higher or lower will depend on the interplay of demand and supply.

Fewer airlines and fewer flights would tend to drive airfares up, while lower demand and lower fuel prices after what is shaping up to be a global recession would drive airfares down.

Smaller airlines might miss out on government support.
DAN PELED/AAP

The net outcome is anyone’s guess. I also expect an acceleration of product unbundling (food, drinks, baggage allowances and so on being sold separately), especially if recovery is slow and surviving airlines will be under pressure to cut costs.

Last but not least, I should mention that it’s not only the airlines. Airports, aircraft manufacturers, and air navigation service providers will also find themselves under financial stress as demand evaporates.

The COVID-19 pandemic will stress-test the entire civil aviation industry, and when it is over – at least in the first months and maybe for years, the travelling public will return to an industry that has changed.The Conversation

Volodymyr Bilotkach, Associate Professor, Singapore Institute of Technology

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



Shutterstock

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.

View from The Hill: Scott Morrison announces mandatory self-isolation for all overseas arrivals and gives up shaking hands


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy was still shaking hands on Sunday morning. But when that afternoon Scott Morrison announced the latest coronavirus measures, including compulsory self-isolation for overseas arrivals, the Prime Minister said he and other cabinet members wouldn’t be shaking hands anymore.

Only on Friday Morrison had been thrusting his hand at a notably wary Gladys Berejiklian.

Confusing signals.

On the other hand, this isn’t just a fast-moving situation, but one in which even experts have differing takes (the advice from the federal-state medical officers panel may be unanimous but it’s understood there are disputes in their deliberations), and politicians struggle with responses, even as they follow the medical recommendations. For example, the NSW government has appeared more forward-leaning than the feds.

While members of the public understandably seek certainty, on some fronts there will be no absolutes, just scales of assessment, probability, and risk.

That’s not to say the federal government should not have been clearer at times, and its mass media advertising campaign, which started at the weekend, was inexplicably slow to materialise.

The Australian tally of cases approached 300 and the death toll rose to five at the weekend. Only history will show definitely whether Murphy and the government are right in their claims Australia is keeping “ahead of the curve”, or the critics vindicated in arguing it is behind it.

Morrison in particular has wanted to put the most optimistic gloss on things, not least because he hoped to minimise economic disruption. Despite the constant flow of news conferences over recent weeks, the government avoided dwelling on how bad things could get.




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By Sunday Morrison’s tone had changed. He had a graph to illustrate the need to flatten the curve of infection to enable the health system (notably the intensive care facilities) to cope. “Slowing the spread, you free up the beds,” he said.


Federal Department of Health

Stark and unfolding realities were starting to prevail – though not entirely – over the prime ministerial desire to keep the lines upbeat.

And compulsion and the law were replacing choice and advice, in the measures Morrison outlined following Sunday’s meetings of cabinet’s national security committee and the new “national cabinet” of federal and state leaders (and after Morrison spoke at the weekend with Britain’s Boris Johnson and New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern).

Like New Zealand, Australia will now insist all arrivals self-isolate for a fortnight. The only exceptions will be Pacific Islanders who are transiting to their home countries. Morrison said this measure would be effective in “flattening the curve”.

As foreign travellers dry up, most incoming traffic will be Australians returning home.

Foreign cruise ships are to be stopped from arriving for 30 days in what will be a rolling ban.

The cessation of non-essential gatherings of 500 or more has moved from advice on Friday to a formal prohibition, which will be backed by state law. Morrison flagged the threshold could soon be lowered.

On the enforcement side he said: “the states and territories wisely are not going to create event police or social distancing police … But the legislation impact would mean that if a person did fail to observe the 14 day self-isolation or if an event was organised, that would be contrary, once those provisions are put in place, to state law”.

Berejiklian was quick to say NSW already had the powers to enforce self-isolation, emphasising what was involved “is a matter of life and death”. This recalled her strong language of a few days ago when she said the situation was “not business as usual”.

Work is underway on restrictions on visits to nursing homes and arrangements for indigenous communities as well as further restrictions on enclosed gatherings, which is likely to cut the 500 number. The “national cabinet” will review the position on Tuesday night.




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As for federal cabinet, it will be “social distancing” with “no more handshakes”, more meetings by video conferences, and less travelling. Morrison has already cancelled some engagements.

So far schools generally are not being closed (though some individual schools are shutting down). It’s said closing schools could promote community transmission, with children out and about. Many would be left with grandparents who would be in the most vulnerable age group. Also, if parents had to stay at home to care for their kids, this could deplete the health work force.

But the question of schools remains in the frame.

Arrangements for next week’s parliament are still being worked on, and the presiding officers have had talks with Murphy. The sitting is likely to be kept as short as needed to get through the legislation necessary for last week’s $17.6 billion stimulus package.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese in his Sunday night national address promised “a spirit of bipartisanship. We will be constructive. We will support the government to protect the health of Australians, but also to protect their jobs and our economy.”

The package was all about trying to head off a recession by keeping growth positive in the June quarter. As things are going, that looks like it could require a miracle as well as the package. Many small businesses will collapse, despite the help the government is offering.

Almost certainly, a lot more stimulus will be needed, with the question only the amount.

But a measure of how deep the crisis is becoming is that at the moment, the national conversation is mostly about health, not economics.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.