We studied how to reduce airborne COVID spread in hospitals. Here’s what we learnt


Shutterstock

Kirsty Buising, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity; Caroline Marshall, The University of Melbourne; Forbes McGain, The University of Melbourne; Jason Monty, The University of Melbourne; Louis Irving, The University of Melbourne; Marion Kainer, Vanderbilt University, and Robyn Schofield, The University of MelbourneMelbourne’s second wave of COVID-19 last year, which led to a lockdown lasting more than 100 days, provided us with many lessons about controlling transmission. Some of these are pertinent as New South Wales endures its ongoing lockdown.

One feature of Melbourne’s second wave was a disproportionate impact on health-care workers, patients in hospital, and residents in aged-care homes. In response to this, a team of Melbourne-based infectious clinicians, engineers and aerosol scientists came together to learn from each other about how to mitigate the risk of airborne COVID-19 transmission in health care.

We are some members of that team. As we hear about COVID spreading in Sydney hospitals during the current outbreak, we want to share what we learnt about how to potentially minimise airborne COVID-19 spread in the hope it’s helpful to our colleagues.

Importantly, much has improved over the course of the pandemic. Most health-care staff and some of our patients (even if not as many as we would like) are vaccinated against COVID-19, reducing the likelihood of severe illness and death. Appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) is generally available, including fit-tested N95 masks, and practices such as physical distancing and use of tele-health have been widely adopted.

But aerosol transmission of COVID-19 remains a very real and ongoing problem.




Read more:
Australia must get serious about airborne infection transmission. Here’s what we need to do


We’ve read recent expert commentaries about dealing with COVID-19 that mention paying attention to indoor ventilation. But rarely do these specify what exactly can and should be done in our existing hospital buildings.

The heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems in hospitals, like most public indoor spaces, are built for comfort and energy efficiency, not for infection control (aside from purpose-built isolation areas).

Clearly, we cannot rebuild all our hospital ventilation systems to cope with the current outbreak.

However, there are tangible things that can be done now and in future.

Our recommendations

We recommend hospitals prioritise the use of negative pressure rooms for COVID-19 infected patients where available. Negative pressure rooms are built specifically for patients with highly infectious diseases. We already use them when caring for hospitalised people with tuberculosis, measles and chickenpox.

These rooms usually have an “anteroom” with a door either side before the patient room. The air pressure is lower in the anteroom than the corridor, and then lower again in the patient room compared to the anteroom. This means potentially contaminated air doesn’t escape outside the patient room when the door is opened.

Images showing air flows in positive and negative pressure rooms
Negative pressure rooms ensure potentially contaminated air doesn’t escape into the corridor.
Shutterstock

However, these rooms are usually in short supply even in larger hospitals, and may not exist in smaller or rural hospitals.

If negative pressure rooms aren’t available, then where possible, COVID-19 patients should be managed in single rooms with doors that close.

Preferably, these should be rooms with a high number of “air exchanges per hour”. This is a measure of the refreshing of air in the room. Six air exchanges per hour has been suggested at a minimum for hospital rooms, but preferably more.

Hospitals need to be aware the air in normal rooms can travel outside into corridors. Some rooms may be positively pressured without being labelled as such, so we recommend having them tested.

Two small air cleaners can clear 99% of infectious aerosols

If patients with COVID-19 are being managed outside negative pressure rooms, then we recommend hospitals consider using portable air cleaners with HEPA filters.

We published a world-first study in June into airflow and the movement of aerosols in a COVID-19 ward, giving us a real insight into how the virus might be transmitted.

We found portable air cleaners are highly effective in increasing the clearance of particles from the air in clinical spaces and reducing their spread to other areas.

Two small domestic air cleaners in a single patient room of a hospital ward could clear 99% of potentially infectious aerosols within 5.5 minutes.

These air cleaners are relatively cheap and commercially available. We believe they could help reduce the risk of health-care workers and other patients acquiring COVID-19 in health care.

We are currently using them at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and Western Health.




Read more:
Poor ventilation may be adding to nursing homes’ COVID-19 risks


Innovations such as personal ventilation hoods can also be extremely useful. Western Health’s intensive care unit, which managed large numbers of patients in Melbourne in 2020, used these hoods to filter air close to COVID-19 positive patients and help protect staff.

It’s also important hospitals perform ventilation assessments of wards to be aware of the pathways of airflow through spaces to help inform where to position patients and staff.

We found minimising the number of infected patients in a given physical space was important as we think this helped to reduce the density of aerosols. When patient numbers are high, hospitals should try to avoid caring for more than one COVID-19 positive patient in a room, if possible, which may mean closing beds.

Clearly, if new COVID-19 case numbers climb, this becomes difficult, and enlisting the help of additional hospitals with suitable facilities to “share the load” will be necessary.

New hospitals must focus on ventilation

We need to focus on practical strategies we can implement right now to retro-fit health-care settings to improve safety for staff and patients.

But we must also plan for the future.

In designing new hospitals, it’s critical to:

  • keep ventilation front of mind
  • build enough negative pressure rooms and single patient rooms
  • add air cleaning and air monitoring to the building operations toolbox.

We will achieve this by designing facilities together with staff.

Vaccinations will help control this current pandemic. But we’ve learnt so much about managing this virus in such a short time. Let’s apply what we’ve learnt about aerosol transmission to make practical changes to improve safety now and into the future.


The authors would like to thank Ashley Stevens, hospital engineer at Royal Melbourne Hospital, for contributing to this article and the research.The Conversation

Kirsty Buising, Professor, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity; Caroline Marshall, Associate Professor, Infectious Diseases, The University of Melbourne; Forbes McGain, Associate Professor, The University of Melbourne; Jason Monty, Professor and Head of Department, Fluid Mechanics Group, Mechanical Engineering, The University of Melbourne; Louis Irving, Associate Professor of Physiology, The University of Melbourne; Marion Kainer, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Health Policy, Vanderbilt University, and Robyn Schofield, Associate Professor and Associate Dean (Environment and Sustainability), The University of Melbourne

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

Australia must get serious about airborne infection transmission. Here’s what we need to do


Shutterstock

Lidia Morawska, Queensland University of TechnologyAustralia is now in the grip of its second winter marred by the pandemic, with crippling lockdowns in multiple cities.

Earlier this month, the federal government announced a four-stage plan to bring the country back to something resembling normality. Acknowledging it will be impossible to eradicate COVID-19 completely, the plan focuses on a variety of steps — most notably vaccination — to enable the country to live with the virus.

However, if we want this plan to work, there’s one crucial control measure yet to be considered: protection against airborne transmission of the infection in public indoor spaces.

We need to modernise our indoor environments to protect Australians from respiratory infections, and more broadly, from all indoor air hazards. This includes indoor exposure to pollution originating from outdoors, such as bushfire smoke.

The evidence is in

The body of scientific evidence pointing to airborne transmission as the key route by which SARS-CoV-2 spreads is now overwhelming.

Put simply, over the past 18 months, we have come to understand most people become infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 by inhaling it from shared air. The risk is predominantly indoors.

Consequently, every public building should have control measures in place to provide adequate ventilation.

But this information hasn’t been communicated to Australians — many of whom remain focused on hand washing and cleaning surfaces. These are good practices, but because SARS-CoV-2 spreads predominantly through the air, they likely provide only a marginal contribution to infection control.

A waiter wipes down a table in a cafe.
Surfaces don’t appear to be a major source of SARS-CoV-2 transmission.
Shutterstock

While the World Health Organization has recently released a roadmap to improve indoor ventilation in the context of COVID-19, many Australian public spaces are significantly under-ventilated.

We don’t know exactly what proportion of infections would be prevented by improving ventilation in public places, but the evidence indicates this could drastically reduce the risk.




Read more:
Australia has a new four-phase plan for a return to normality. Here’s what we know so far


So how do we do it?

Appropriate building engineering controls include sufficient and effective ventilation, possibly enhanced by particle filtration and air disinfection systems. It’s also important to avoid recirculating air, as well as overcrowding.

We have the technology to make these changes, and these are things that can often be implemented at low cost. But for this to happen, Australia must first recognise the significant contribution these measures make to infection control. I propose the following solutions.

1. Establish a national regulatory group for clean indoor air

This is an issue that will require co-operation across various areas of government. The establishment of a national regulatory group — led by the federal government working with the states and territories through the national cabinet — would provide a platform for the relevant ministries to cooperate on this matter.

The key goal should be the explicit inclusion of protection against indoor air hazards (including airborne infection control) in the statements of purpose and definitions of all relevant Australian building design and engineering standards, regulations, and codes.




Read more:
The pressure is on for Australia to accept the coronavirus really can spread in the air we breathe


2. Provide financial support

It will be important to establish a national fund enabling the rollout of indoor environment modernisation measures addressing both immediate emergencies, such as COVID-19, as well as a long-term transition process.

Over a period of years, all new buildings would ideally be designed to ensure good indoor air quality, while existing buildings would be retrofitted with the same objective.

3. Create a communication campaign

The Australian government should set up a communication campaign to educate people on the risks of shared air, and on how to improve ventilation.

Steps people can take themselves to improve ventilation include opening windows, and raising the issue with those responsible for the space if they feel ventilation is inadequate.

A woman sits next to an open window.
Opening windows is one way to improve ventilation.
Shutterstock

Yes, it might sound daunting. But it’s possible

At first, it may appear to be a huge task to ensure clean indoor air to the entire country. Is it possible?

Perhaps the same questions were asked by Britons when in the 19th Century, Sir Edwin Chadwick was tasked by the British government with investigating clean water supply and centralised sewage systems.

His recommendations in 1842 changed the approach to sanitation in Britain, and ultimately the world, creating enormous public health benefits and corresponding economic dividends through health-care savings.

We cannot imagine now what it would be like to live without clean water flowing from our taps.

What we need is a similar “revolution” in Australia regarding clean indoor air — one that future generations will rightly regard as a baseline standard for the built environment.

Australia already has sophisticated building infrastructure and public health regulatory frameworks to support the required advances. These will require modernisation, but it’s far from a case of building from nothing.




Read more:
How does bushfire smoke affect our health? 6 things you need to know


Numerous expert Australian colleagues and myself would be pleased to offer our assistance to make this dream an Australian reality.

Importantly, in this crucial period while we wait for high levels of vaccination, addressing ventilation could be the difference between recurring lockdowns or enjoying a COVID-free life.The Conversation

Lidia Morawska, Professor, Science and Engineering Faculty; Director, International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health (WHO CC for Air Quality and Health); Director – Australia, Australia – China Centre for Air Quality Science and Management (ACC-AQSM), Queensland University of Technology

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

We’re seeing more casual COVID transmission. But is that because of the variant or better case tracking?


Catherine Bennett, Deakin UniversityVictoria’s lockdown is to be extended for another week to get on top of the growing number of community cases, which now stands at 60.

But questions remain about what’s behind some of these cases.
Victoria’s COVID-19 testing commander Jeroen Weimar said yesterday in about four or five cases, the virus was transmitted after only “fleeting contact”.

Today, we heard from Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton about one case suspected to have been infected when visiting a site some two hours after an infectious person had left. The source case had been there for some time, and it was described as a poorly ventilated space.

Nonetheless, this is consistent with the aerosol transmission we have become increasingly concerned about, and perhaps this is the first documentation of this outside hotel quarantine.

Today we also heard that health authorities have reported about 10% of cases are linked with more casual exposures, including at “tier two” sites (Victoria describes exposure sites according to risk, with a tier one site being the most risky).

So is it the virus, or more focused efforts in tracking cases, that’s led us to finding such casual exposures?




Read more:
What can you expect if you get a call from a COVID contact tracer?


Is it the virus?

Despite today’s news, people are not more likely now to get infected by brushing past someone on the street.

In the vast majority of cases, people have become infected by very close contacts, or at certain “tier one” exposure sites when there at the same time as a known case.

There is evidence the variant associated with India is more infectious. This particular lineage of the Indian variant B.1.617.1, however, may not be as infectious as other lineages.

It reinforces how important it is that outbreaks are contained as early as possible where this increased risk of spread is still manageable.

On average, with variants of concern like the one currently circulating in Victoria, a case might infect 15% of household contacts instead of 10% seen in 2020. When new case numbers are high later in an outbreak, this difference in transmission translates to much bigger jumps in case numbers.

The way the virus spreads in clusters has also not changed, with some cases not passing the virus on, while a small number pass it on to many.

If this strain of the virus were vastly more transmissible than the original strain, we’d expect to see many cases. This strain has been in our community for a month now, undetected and running free for more than two weeks. There would be many more than 60 cases if this were true.




Read more:
What’s the ‘Indian’ variant responsible for Victoria’s outbreak and how effective are vaccines against it?


We’re also better at tracking cases

The main thing that’s changed since Victoria’s second wave last year is that we have forensic analysis of every case and we’re better at finding casual links between cases.

We’re now publishing lists of venues with exposure times and more people are coming forward for testing than at the peak of Victoria’s second wave. We also have check-in data for many venues.

This results in more reliable measures of both the total spread and routes of virus transmission, than in the second wave, or any community outbreak of this size.

Transmission associated with more casual exposures would have been much more likely to be missed before. Even if these cases were picked up, they might have been counted among the “mystery cases” that comprised 18% of all cases in 2020. We didn’t know where these cases were infected as there were no apparent links between them and known cases.

We are doing much better this time with only three transmission events that not yet fully understood.

How about this ‘fleeting contact’?

The four or five cases Weimar mentioned yesterday relate to a range of indoor exposure sites including a display home, a Telstra shop, local grocery stores, and a shopping strip.

This is where people may have been in direct contact with a case, but where no definitive exposure event is documented, there is no check-in and people don’t know each other.

So from what we know so far, there’s been a crossover between when most cases were present and where their contacts became infected. And 90% of these are in the settings we know are high transmission risk — households and workplaces in particular, where there is extended and repeated indoor contact.




Read more:
Australia has all but abandoned the COVIDSafe app in favour of QR codes (so make sure you check in)


The more casual contacts described yesterday, in a display home or at the Telstra shop, there might have been some overlap with a case in a small enclosed area for sufficient time to receive an infecting dose.

A further example Sutton provided today was an infection that started with someone sitting in the same outdoor area as a case at a hotel bistro. We know there is less risk in outdoor settings generally, but on a still autumn day, we now know this is all it takes.

Now, as we have transmission in the beer garden, all those nearby will be recategorised as primary close contacts and asked to quarantine for a full 14 days, even if they have returned a negative test. Better to be safe than sorry.

That’s why it’s so important to check in with a QR code. You don’t always know the name of the person who’s standing (or sitting) next to you. It is also why check-ins will now be required at more retail and public venues across the state. Being able to identify contacts in these settings will remove some of the fear associate with this more casual spread.

So what are we to make of this?

This latest news reinforces the importance of QR codes and checking in. You never know who you’re standing next to in a long queue while shopping.
Extending our QR codes into further settings whether retail, grocery stores or display homes, which we now know are a risk, is a good move.

The message remains the same, get tested if you have symptoms or when directed to by public health officials, and isolate when necessary. In particular, keep an eye on those exposure sites, even if you only dropped in to grab a coffee.

But we shouldn’t be overly concerned about COVID-19 spread by “fleeting contact”. The precautions we all know (hygiene, distancing and masks) still work and are our best forms of protection.The Conversation

Catherine Bennett, Chair in Epidemiology, Deakin University

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

The pressure is on for Australia to accept the coronavirus really can spread in the air we breathe


from www.shutterstock.com

C Raina MacIntyre, UNSWMore than a year into the pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) and US Centers for Disease Control finally changed their guidance to acknowledge SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can be transmitted through the air we breathe.

In Australia, we’ve just had the latest leak from hotel quarantine, this time in South Australia. Investigations are under way to find out whether a man may have caught the virus from someone in the hotel room next to his, before travelling to Victoria, and whether airborne transmission played a role.

These examples are further fuelling calls for Australia to officially recognise the role of airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2. Such recognition would have widespread implications for how health-care workers are protected, how hotel quarantine is managed, not to mention public health advice more broadly.

Indeed, we’re waiting to hear whether official Australian guidelines will acknowledge the latest evidence on airborne transmission, and amend its advice about how best to protect front-line workers.

The evidence has changed and so must our advice

At the beginning of the pandemic, in the absence of any scientific studies, the WHO said the virus was spread by “large droplets” and promoted handwashing. Authorities around the world even discouraged us from wearing masks.

A false narrative dominated public discussion for over a year. This resulted in hygiene theatre — scrubbing of hands and surfaces for little gain — while the pandemic wreaked mass destruction on the world.

But handwashing did not mitigate the most catastrophic pandemic of our lifetime. And the airborne deniers have continually shifted the goalposts of the burden of proof of airborne spread as the evidence has accrued.




Read more:
Catching COVID from surfaces is very unlikely. So perhaps we can ease up on the disinfecting


What does the evidence say?

SARS-CoV-2 is a respiratory virus that multiplies in the respiratory tract. So it is spread by the respiratory route — via breathing, speaking, singing, coughing or sneezing.

Two other coronaviruses — the ones that cause MERS (Middle Eastern respiratory sydrome) and SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) — are also spread this way. Both are accepted as being airborne.

In fact, experimental studies show SARS-CoV-2 is as airborne as these other coronaviruses, if not more so, and can be found in the air 16 hours after being aerosolised.

Several hospital studies have also found viable virus in the air on a COVID-19 ward.

Established criteria for whether a pathogen is airborne scores SARS-CoV-2 highly for airborne spread, in the same range as tuberculosis, which is universally accepted as airborne.

A group of experts has also recently outlined the top ten reasons why SARS-CoV-2 is airborne.

So why has airborne denialism persisted for so long?

The role of airborne transmission has been denied for so long partly because expert groups that advise government have not included engineers, aerosol scientists, occupational hygienists and multidisciplinary environmental health experts.

Partly it is because the role of airborne transmission for other respiratory viruses has been denied for decades, accompanied by a long history of denial of adequate respiratory protection for health workers. For example, during the SARS outbreak in Canada in 2003, denial of protection against airborne spread for health workers in Toronto resulted in a fatal outbreak.

Even influenza is airborne, but this has been denied by infection control committees.




Read more:
Here’s the proof we need. Many more health workers than we ever thought are catching COVID-19 on the job


What’s the difference between aerosols and droplets?

The distinction between aerosols and droplets is largely artificial and driven by infection control dogma, not science.

This dogma says large droplets (defined by WHO as larger than 5 micrometres across) settle to the ground and are emitted within 2 metres of an infected person. Meanwhile, fine particles under 5 micrometres across can become airborne and exist further away.

There is in fact no scientific basis for this belief. Most studies that looked at how far large droplets travelled found the horizontal distance is greater than 2 metres. And the size threshold that dictates whether droplets fall or float is actually 100 micrometres, not 5 micrometres. In other words, larger droplets travel further than what we’ve been led to believe.

Leading aerosol scientists explain the historical basis of these false beliefs, which go back nearly a century.

And in further evidence the droplet theory is false, we showed that even for infections believed to be spread by droplets, a N95 respirator protects better than a surgical mask. In fact airborne precautions are needed for most respiratory infections.

Why does this difference matter?

Accepting how SARS-CoV-2 spreads means we can better prevent transmission and protect people, using the right types of masks and better ventilation.

Breathing and speaking generate aerosols. So an infected person in a closed indoor space without good ventilation will generate an accumulation of aerosols over time, just like cigarette smoke accumulates.

A church outbreak in Australia saw spread indoors up to 15 metres from the sick person, without any close contact.

Masks work, both by preventing sick people from emitting infected aerosols, and by preventing well people from getting infected. A study in Hong Kong found most transmission occurred when masks weren’t worn inside, such as at home and in restaurants.




Read more:
This video shows just how easily COVID-19 could spread when people sing together


Coughing generates more aerosols

The old dogma of droplet infection includes a belief that only “aerosol generating procedures” — such as inserting a tube into someone’s throat and windpipe to help them breathe — pose a risk of airborne transmission. But research shows a coughing patient generates more aerosols than one of these procedures.

Yet we do not provide health workers treating coughing COVID-19 patients with N95 respirators under current guidelines.

At the Royal Melbourne Hospital, where many health worker infections occurred in 2020, understanding airflow in the COVID ward helped explain how health workers got infected.

Think about it. Airborne deniers tell us infection occurs after a ballistic strike by a single large droplet hitting the eye, nose or mouth. The statistical probability of this is much lower than simply breathing in accumulated, contaminated air.

The ballistic strike theory has driven an industry in plastic barriers and face shields, which offer no protection against airborne spread. In Switzerland, only hospitality workers using just a face shield got infected and those wearing masks were protected.




Read more:
Many of our buildings are poorly ventilated, and that adds to COVID risks


In hotel quarantine, denial of airborne transmission stops us from fixing repeated breaches, which are likely due to airborne transmission.

We need to select quarantine venues based on adequacy of ventilation, test ventilation and mitigate areas of poor ventilation. Opening a window, drawing in fresh air or using air purifiers dramatically reduce virus in the air.




Read more:
As international travellers return to Melbourne, will it be third time lucky for Victoria’s controversial hotel quarantine system?


We need to provide N95 respirators to health, aged-care and quarantine workers who are at risk of high-dose exposure, and not place them in poorly ventilated areas.

It’s time to accept the evidence and tighten protection accordingly, to keep Australia safe from SARS-CoV-2 and more dangerous variants of concern, some of which are vaccine resistant.The Conversation

C Raina MacIntyre, Professor of Global Biosecurity, NHMRC Principal Research Fellow, Head, Biosecurity Program, Kirby Institute, UNSW

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

Mounting evidence suggests COVID vaccines do reduce transmission. How does this work?


Jennifer Juno, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity and Adam Wheatley, The University of MelbourneSince COVID-19 vaccines began rolling out across the world, many scientists have been hesitant to say they can reduce transmission of the virus.

Their primary purpose is to prevent you from getting really sick with the virus, and it quickly became clear the vaccines are highly efficient at doing this. Efficacy against symptoms of the disease in clinical trials has ranged from 50% (Sinovac) to 95% (Pfizer/BioNTech), and similar effectiveness has been reported in the real world.

However, even the best vaccines we have are not perfect, which means some vaccinated people still end up catching the virus. We call these cases “breakthrough” infections. Indeed, between April 10 and May 1, six people in hotel quarantine in New South Wales tested positive for COVID-19, despite being fully vaccinated.

But how likely are vaccinated people to actually pass the virus on, if they do get infected? Evidence is increasing that, not only do COVID-19 vaccines either stop you getting sick or substantially reduce the severity of your symptoms, they’re also likely to substantially reduce the chance of transmitting the virus to others.

But how does this work, and what does it mean for the pandemic?

Vaccinated people are much less likely to pass on the virus

Early evidence from testing in animals, where researchers can directly study transmission, suggested immunisation with COVID-19 vaccines could prevent animals passing on the virus.

But animals are not people, and the scientific community has been waiting for more conclusive studies in humans.

In April, Public Health England reported the results of a large study of COVID-19 transmission involving more than 365,000 households with a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated members.

It found immunisation with either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine reduced the chance of onward virus transmission by 40-60%. This means that if someone became infected after being vaccinated, they were only around half as likely to pass their infection on to others compared to infected people who weren’t vaccinated.

One study from Israel, which leads the world in coronavirus vaccinations, gives some clues about what’s behind this reduced transmission. Researchers identified nearly 5,000 cases of breakthrough infection in previously vaccinated people, and determined how much virus was present in their nose swabs. Compared to unvaccinated people, the amount of virus detected was significantly lower in those who got vaccinated.

More virus in the nose has been linked to greater infectiousness and increased risks of onward transmission.

These studies show vaccination is likely to substantially reduce virus transmission by reducing the pool of people who become infected, and reducing virus levels in the nose in people with breakthrough infections.

Why does this matter?

If COVID-19 vaccines reduce the chances of transmitting the virus, then each person who is vaccinated protects not only themselves, but also people around them. Breaking chains of transmission within the community and limiting onward spread is critical to help protect people who may respond poorly to immunisation or may not be able to get vaccinated themselves, such as children, some older people, and some people who are immunocompromised.

This also greatly increases the opportunity to achieve some degree of population (or “herd”) immunity, and a faster easing of social restrictions.




Read more:
We may never achieve long-term global herd immunity for COVID. But if we’re all vaccinated, we’ll be safe from the worst


But what about the limits of vaccines?

Reducing the risk of transmitting the coronavirus relies on developing strong immunity against the virus. But immunity, even from the vaccines, fades over time. Scientists are actively monitoring people who’ve had COVID-19 vaccines to understand how long vaccine immunity is likely to last, and if and when booster shots will be required.




Read more:
Why do we need booster shots, and could we mix and match different COVID vaccines?


Variants of the coronavirus are also concerning. These are strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that carry changes which make them harder to control by immunisation. Such variants present two major challenges: they can evade vaccine immunity and, in some cases, are also more transmissible.

Although variants have spread widely throughout the world, there are several pieces of good news on this front. Countries with advanced vaccine rollouts are maintaining good control over the virus. For example, Israel began its mass vaccination campaign during their third wave, and quickly saw a decline in new cases.

What’s more, companies like Moderna are developing updated vaccines to specifically target these variants, with positive early results.

Vaccines don’t mean we should stop preventative behaviours

Right now, the global pandemic is complex. Many countries are quickly rolling out available vaccines, and there are a wide variety of lockdowns and social measures in place.

Yet, the number of new infections each day across the world is at an all-time high and concerning variants are circulating.

As people are vaccinated, there’s a temptation to stop or reduce some important social behaviours such as mask wearing or physical distancing. But, importantly, less transmission is not no transmission.

While vaccinated individuals most likely have a smaller chance of passing on the virus, it’s still important to keep up responsible behaviours into the immediate future to protect those who have not, will not, or cannot be immunised.The Conversation

Jennifer Juno, Senior research fellow, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity and Adam Wheatley, Senior Research Fellow, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, The University of Melbourne

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

What’s the best way to boost the economy? Invest in high-voltage transmission lines



Bohbeh/Shutterstock

Peter Martin, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

When, in the midst of the pandemic, the Economic Society of Australia invited 150 of Australia’s keenest young thinkers to come up with “brief, specific and actionable” proposals to improve the economy, amid scores of ideas about improving job matching, changing the tax system, providing non-repayable loans to businesses and accelerating telehealth, two proposals stood out.

They were actually the same proposal, arrived at independently by two groups of “hackers” in the society’s annual (this time virtual) “hackathon”.

I was one of the judges.

The mentors who helped test and guide the proposals were some of the leading names in economics, among them Jeff Borland, John Quiggin, Gigi Foster, Deborah Cobb-Clark, Peter Abelson and John Hewson.

The proposal is to fast track the 15 or more projects already identified by the Australian Energy Market Operator as essential to meet the electricity grid’s transmission needs over the next 20 years.

Starting them immediately, when business investment is weak and there’s a need for jobs and governments can borrow at rates close to zero, will bring forward all of the benefits of being able to bring ultra-cheap power from the places it will be made to the places it will be needed as expensive fossil-fuel generators bow out or are out competed.




Read more:
Explainer: what is the electricity transmission system, and why does it need fixing?


Judges Alison Booth, Jeremy Thorpe and I noted that policy hacks were the most useful where neither the market nor the government was getting the job done.

The proposal would help ensure renewables can connect to the grid, something “neither the market nor the government is managing to do quickly”.

A few weeks later Labor leader Anthony Albanese used his budget reply speech to propose the same thing – a Rewiring the Nation Corporation to turn the projects identified in the Energy Market Operator’s integrated system plan into reality.

Here is what is proposed in the winners’ own words:

Accelerating priority transmission projects

Nick Vernon, Agrata Verma, Bella Hancock

Investment in new renewable generators in Australia sank 40% in 2019. A major factor holding them back is grid access. The best locations for wind and sun often have poor access to the cables that transport electricity to consumers.

Our near-term recommendation is to guarantee Project EnergyConnect, a 900-kilometre cable between NSW and South Australia due to begin construction next year. The network operators got approval in January, but there is now uncertainty over whether they will get the funding.




Read more:
‘A dose of reality’: Morrison government’s new $1.9 billion techno-fix for climate change is a small step


We propose that the two state governments agree to cover the shortfall between approved revenues and realised costs (up to a pre-determined limit) to ensure construction starts on time in 2021.

Medium-term, we recommend the Australian Energy Regulator conduct the regulatory investment test and revenue adjustment processes for all priority projects in parallel to condense approval timelines and that the Commonwealth and state governments underwrite priority projects’ early works.

This would allow service providers to commission new transmission lines sooner after regulatory approval.


AEMO Integrated System Plan

The case for fast tracking transmission

Patrick Sweeney, Sam Edge, Elke Taylor, Jacob Keillor, Timothy Fong

Currently valued at A$20 billion, the Australian transmission network was designed for a centralised 20th century power mix and suffers from aging infrastructure.

The $6 billion upgrade we propose would have as its centrepiece 15 projects the Energy Market Operator has already identified as essential.

Fast-tracking these projects has the potential to generate 100,000 jobs, to bring about strong private investment in low-carbon power production, and to place downward pressure on wholesale power prices, producing $11 billion in benefits.

A national taskforce consisting of the department of energy and the market operator would oversee a project of a similar size to the Snowy Mountains scheme, which itself created more than 100,000 jobs during its lifecycle.




Read more:
The verdict is in: renewables reduce energy prices (yes, even in South Australia)


The government would procure the funds by issuing bonds, with recent rates indicating the yield payable will be less than the rate of inflation.

Firms that tendered for the work would be evaluated on their capacity to upscale production to meet milestones and on their plans to generate long-term, sustainable employment.The Conversation

Peter Martin, Visiting Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

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

Behind Victoria’s decision to open primary schools to all students: report shows COVID transmission is rare



Shutterstock

Fiona Russell, University of Melbourne; Edward Kim Mulholland, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute; Kathleen Ryan, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute; Kathryn Snow, University of Melbourne; Margie Danchin, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, and Sharon Goldfeld, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

At the weekend, Victorian Premier Dan Andrews announced all the state’s primary school kids would return to school for Term 4. This is an update from the previously planned staggered return to primary school, which would begin only with students in the early years — prep (first year) to Year 2.

The change was informed by our analysis of Victorian health and education department data on all cases and contacts linked to outbreaks at schools and early childhood education and care services (childcare and preschool).

We included data between January 25 (the date of the first known case in Victoria) and August 31.

Our analysis found children younger than 13 seem to transmit the virus less than teenagers and adults. In instances where the first case in a school was a child under 13, a subsequent outbreak (two or more cases) was uncommon. This finding played a key role in helping make the decision for primary school children to return to school.

Here is what else we found.

1. Outbreaks in childcare and schools are driven by community transmission

Infections linked to childcare, preschools and schools peaked when community transmission was highest in July, and declined in August. In addition, they were most common in the geographical areas where community transmission was also high.

This suggests infections in childcare, preschools and schools are driven primarily by transmission in the broader community. Controlling community transmission is key to preventing school outbreaks.

2. School infections are much lower than in the community

There were 1,635 infections linked with childcare, preschools and schools out of a total of 19,109 cases in Victoria (between January 25 and August 31).

Of 1 million students enrolled in all Victorian schools, 337 may have acquired the virus through outbreaks at school.




Read more:
Coronavirus disrupted my kid’s first year of school. Will that set them back?


Of 139 staff and 373 students who may have acquired infection through outbreaks at childcare, preschools or schools, eight (four staff and four students) were admitted to hospital, and all recovered.

The infections in childcare, preschools and schools were very rarely linked to infections in the elderly, who are the most vulnerable to COVID-19.

3. Most infections in schools and childcare centres were well contained

Of all the outbreaks in Victorian childcare centres, preschools and schools, 66% involved only a single infection in a staff member or student and did not progress to an outbreak. And 91% involved fewer than ten cases.

Testing, tracing and isolation within 48 hours of a notification is the most important strategy to prevent an outbreak.

The majority of infections in childcare, preschools and schools were well contained with existing controls and rapid closure (within two days), contact tracing and cleaning.




Read more:
Are the kids alright? Social isolation can take a toll, but play can help


4. Households are the main source of infection, not schools

The investigations of cases identified in schools suggest child-to-child transmission in schools is uncommon, and not the primary cause of infection in children. Household transmission has been consistently found to be the most common source of infection for children.

Closing schools should be a last resort

Based on our findings and a review of the international literature, we recommend prioritising childcare centres, preschools and schools to reopen and stay open to guarantee equitable learning environments — and to lessen the effects of school closures.

Children do transmit the virus and outbreaks can occur. But based on the international literature, this mostly happens when there are high rates of community transmission and a lack of adherence to mitigation measures (such as social distancing) at the school or childcare centre.

Childcare centres, preschools and schools play a critical role not only in providing education, but also offering additional support for vulnerable students.

With childcare centres and schools being closed, along with the additional economic and psychological stress on families, family conflict and violence has increased. This has led to many children and young people feeling unsafe and left behind in their education and suffering mental-health conditions.

Closing all schools as part of large-scale restrictions should be a last resort. This is especially the case for childcare centres, preschools and primary schools, as children in these age groups are less likely to transmit the virus, and be associated with an outbreak.

Now that community transmission in Victoria is so low, it’s time for all kids to go back to school.




Read more:
From WW2 to Ebola: what we know about the long-term effects of school closures


The authors would like to thank their advisory committee from the Department of Education and Training and the Department of Health and Human Services. They would also like to thank outbreak epidemiologists at the DHHS and medical students Alastair Weng, Angela Zhu, Anthea Tsatsaronis, Benjamin Watson, Julian Loo Yong Kee, Natalie Commins, Nicholas Wu, Renee Cocks, Timothy O’Hare, and research assistant Kanwal Saleem, and Belle Overmars.The Conversation

Fiona Russell, Principal research fellow, University of Melbourne; Edward Kim Mulholland, Professor, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute; Kathleen Ryan, Research Fellow, Asia-Pacific Health, Infection and Immunity Theme, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute; Kathryn Snow, Epidemiologist, University of Melbourne; Margie Danchin, Associate Professor, University of Melbourne, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, and Sharon Goldfeld, Director, Center for Community Child Health Royal Children’s Hospital; Professor, Department of Paediatrics, University of Melbourne; Theme Director Population Health, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

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

This video shows just how easily COVID-19 could spread when people sing together



Shutterstock

C Raina MacIntyre, UNSW; Abrar Ahmad Chughtai, UNSW; Charitha de Silva, UNSW; Con Doolan, UNSW; Prateek Bahl, UNSW, and Shovon Bhattacharjee, UNSW

Production of the reality TV show The Masked Singer was shut down last month after several crew members were infected with COVID-19.

It’s one of several examples of COVID-19 transmission associated with singing around the world since March, prompting some jurisdictions to ban group singing altogether.

In New South Wales, for example, choral singing is banned and there are no-singing rules at weddings and nightclubs.

Now our new study, which included filming droplets and aerosols emitted when someone sings, shows how singing might be an infection risk. This is especially if many people sing together, in a poorly ventilated room.

What we did and what we found

We took high-speed video of a person singing a major scale, as do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do (seen below, without audio). We then tracked the emissions of droplets and aerosols.

We found certain notes, such as “do” and “fa”, generated more aerosols than others. We also found the direction of emissions changed with different consonants.

Infection control guidelines assume respiratory droplets settle rapidly within one to two metres of the person emitting them.

However, most droplets we observed appeared not to settle rapidly, and tended to follow the ambient airflow.

Therefore, without adequate ventilation, these droplets may persist in aerosol clouds.

These observations may partially explain the higher infection rates of COVID-19 during group singing, even when people singing appear well.

Our findings are based on one person singing and individuals may generate aerosols differently. However, our findings apply to singing in any groups, such as churches, schools and social gatherings, all of which are vulnerable to outbreaks of COVID-19.




Read more:
NSW hits pause on school choirs, but we can’t stop the music forever


What is it with choirs?

We’ve known since March of the potential for group singing to transmit SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. In this well-documented US example, 87% of 61 people who attended one 2.5 hour choir practice became infected, with two deaths. One singer had mild symptoms during rehearsal.

Now our research adds to the growing body of research looking at the transmission risk of singing and the role aerosols might play.

We know social distancing is effective in reducing the risk of spread during normal social interactions. However, singing in a group and in closed, poorly ventilated environments may generate more aerosols than speaking.

When we sing, we vocalise louder and often hold notes for longer. This, together with many singers close together in confined spaces for an hour or more, create conditions that may increase the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

When researchers analysed results from the US choir example, they estimated the infection risk could have been halved with a shorter choir practice.




Read more:
Is the airborne route a major source of coronavirus transmission?


We tend to think of only coughs or sneezes as the primary source of generating aerosols. But even breathing generates aerosols, albeit at lower concentrations.

In fact, we breathe and speak much more than we cough or sneeze. So the cumulative aerosol exposure for a group of people singing and talking, without coughing or sneezing, in a closed environment may be higher than from a single cough.

How can we sing together, safely?

We’ve seen online choirs as a safe alternative to traditional ones.

Singing from your couch is one safe way to continue singing in a group.

Other options for safer group singing now and in the future include:

  • singing outside or in a well-ventilated room with large open windows as this is likely to dissipate aerosols and further reduce the risk

  • physical distancing of at least two metres while singing

  • short performances to minimise exposure

  • humming rather than singing during rehearsals, because we show consonants (such as “do”) generate the most aerosols

  • singing softly (and using amplifiers) as this is likely to emit fewer aerosols

  • using rapid test kits, if available, which would allow singers to be screened before performing

  • assessing risk factors for individual singers based on age, chronic diseases and other risk factors for COVID-19. It is more important people at high risk of complications from COVID-19 avoid group singing while there is community transmission.

Some people recommend wearing face shields while group singing. But these allow you to breathe in aerosols through the gap underneath, which may be even more likely with the powerful inhalations during singing.

No one measure alone will be enough to mitigate the risk. We need multiple measures used together — physical distancing, shorter performances, open windows, outdoor venues, softer singing and risk-based screening — to allow safer group singing.The Conversation

C Raina MacIntyre, Professor of Global Biosecurity, NHMRC Principal Research Fellow, Head, Biosecurity Program, Kirby Institute, UNSW; Abrar Ahmad Chughtai, Epidemiologist, UNSW; Charitha de Silva, Lecturer, UNSW; Con Doolan, Professor, School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, UNSW; Prateek Bahl, PhD Candidate, School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, UNSW, and Shovon Bhattacharjee, PhD Candidate, The Kirby Institute, UNSW

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

Children might play a bigger role in COVID transmission than first thought. Schools must prepare



Shutterstock

Zoë Hyde, University of Western Australia

Over the weekend, the World Health Organisation made an announcement you might have missed.

It recommended children aged 12 years and older should wear masks, and that masks should be considered for those aged 6-11 years. The German Society for Virology went further, recommending masks be worn by all children attending school.

This seems at odds with what we assumed about kids and COVID-19 at the start of the pandemic. Indeed, one positive in this pandemic so far has been that children who contract the virus typically experience mild illness. Most children don’t require hospitalisation and very few die from the disease. However, some children can develop a severe inflammatory syndrome similar to Kawasaki disease, although this is thankfully rare.

This generally mild picture has contributed to cases in children being overlooked. But emerging evidence suggests children might play a bigger role in transmission than originally thought. They may be equally as infectious as adults based on the amount of viral genetic material found in swabs, and we have seen large school clusters emerge in Australia and around the world.

How likely are children to be infected?

Working out how susceptible children are has been difficult. Pre-emptive school closures occurred in many countries, removing opportunities for the virus to circulate in younger age groups. Children have also missed out on testing because they typically have mild symptoms. In Australia, testing criteria were initially very restrictive. People had to have a fever or a cough to be tested, which children don’t always have. This hindered our ability to detect cases in children, and created a perception children weren’t commonly infected.

One way to address this issue is through antibody testing, which can detect evidence of past infection. A study of over 60,000 people in Spain found 3.4% of children and teenagers had antibodies to the virus, compared with 4.4% to 6.0% of adults. But Spain’s schools were also closed, which likely reduced children’s exposure.

Another method is to look at what happens to people living in the same household as a known case. The results of these studies are mixed. Some have suggested a lower risk for children, while others have suggested children and adults are at equal risk.

Children might have some protection compared to adults, because they have less of the enzyme which the virus uses to enter the body. So, given the same short exposure, a child might be less likely to be infected than an adult. But prolonged contact probably makes any such advantage moot.

The way in which children and adults interact in the household might explain the differences seen in some studies. This is supported by a new study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children and partners of a known case were more likely to be infected than other people living in the same house. This suggests the amount of close, prolonged contact may ultimately be the deciding factor.

How often do children transmit the virus?

Several studies show children and adults have similar amounts of viral RNA in their nose and throat. This suggests children and adults are equally infectious, although it’s possible children transmit the virus slightly less often than adults in practice. Because children are physically smaller and generally have more mild symptoms, they might release less of the virus.

In Italy, researchers looked at what happened to people who’d been in contact with infected children, and found the contacts of children were more likely to be infected than the contacts of adults with the virus.

Teenagers are of course closer to adults, and it’s possible younger children might be less likely to transmit the virus than older children. However, reports of outbreaks in childcare centres and primary schools suggest there’s still some risk.

What have we seen in schools?

Large clusters have been reported in schools around the world, most notably in Israel. There, an outbreak in a high school affected at least 153 students, 25 staff members, and 87 others. Interestingly, that particular outbreak coincided with an extreme heatwave where students were granted an exemption from having to wear face masks, and air conditioning was used continuously.

At first glance, the Australian experience seems to suggest a small role for children in transmission. A study of COVID-19 in educational settings in New South Wales in the first half of the year found limited evidence of transmission, although a large outbreak was noted to have occurred in a childcare centre.

This might seem reassuring, but it’s important to remember the majority of cases in Australia were acquired overseas at the time of the study, and there was limited community transmission. Also, schools switched to distance learning during the study, after which school attendance dropped to 5%. This suggests school safety is dependent on the level of community transmission.

Additionally, we shouldn’t be reassured by examples where children have not transmitted the virus to others. Approximately 80% of secondary COVID-19 cases are generated by only 10% of people. There are also many examples where adults haven’t transmitted the virus.

As community transmission has grown in Victoria, so has the significance of school clusters. The Al-Taqwa College outbreak remains one of Australia’s largest clusters. Importantly, the outbreak there has been linked to other clusters in Melbourne, including a major outbreak in the city’s public housing towers.

Close schools when community transmission is high

This evidence means we need to take a precautionary approach. When community transmission is low, face-to-face teaching is probably low-risk. But schools should switch to distance learning during periods of sustained community transmission. If we fail to address the risk of school outbreaks, they can spread into the wider community.

While most children won’t become severely ill if they contract the virus, the same cannot be said for their adult family members or their teachers. In the US, 40% of teachers have risk factors for severe COVID-19, as do 28.6 million adults living with school-aged children.

Children walk to school with masks
In the US, 40% of teachers have risk factors for severe COVID-19, as do 28.6 million adults living with school-aged children.
Shutterstock

Recent recommendations on mask-wearing by older and younger children mirror risk-reduction guidelines for schools developed by the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. These guidelines stress the importance of face masks, improving ventilation, and the regular disinfection of shared surfaces.

The changing landscape

As the virus has spread more widely, the demographic profile of cases has changed. The virus is no longer confined to adult travellers and their contacts, and children are now commonly infected. In Germany, the proportion of children in the number of new infections is now consistent with their share of the total population.

While children are thankfully much less likely to experience severe illness than adults, we must consider who children have contact with and how they can contribute to community transmission. Unless we do, we won’t succeed in controlling the pandemic.The Conversation

Zoë Hyde, Senior Research Officer, University of Western Australia

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

Workplace transmissions: a predictable result of the class divide in worker rights


Kantha Dayaram, Curtin University; John Burgess, RMIT University, and Scott Fitzgerald, Curtin University

How to stop sick people going to work?

That’s a question the Victorian government has been grappling with since it became clear about 80% of new COVID-19 infections in the state’s second-wave outbreak were from workplace transmissions.




Read more:
‘Far too many’ Victorians are going to work while sick. Far too many have no choice


After official visits to 3,000 people meant to be self-isolating found more than 800 not at home, the government instituted the largest on-the-spot fine in the state’s history – A$4,957 for defying a stay-at-home order (and up to $20,000 for going to work knowing you have COVID-19).

Along with the big sticks, there have been carrots. The Victorian government, the Fair Work Commission and the federal government have all weighed in to provide financial support to workers who lack paid sick leave.

But these measures have been a belated band aid to a problem that should have been entirely predictable. It’s the consequence of a deepening class divide in work in which hundreds of thousands of essential workers in high-risk industries are poorly paid and lack job security, guaranteed hours or sick-leave entitlements.

Aged care workers

Aged-care homes (linked to more than 2,000) cases and meat-processing facilities (linked to about 870 cases) show the predicament of “flexible employment” for workers.

In the aged care sector, about 90% of carers are female, 32% born overseas, 78% permanent part-time and 10% casual or contract, according to the 2016 National Aged Care Workforce Census and Survey. Seven in ten are employed as personal care attendants. Of those, almost 60% work 16–34 hours a week, with a median wage of A$689. About 30% want to work more hours, and 9% work more than one job.

An underemployed workforce is advantageous to employers. As the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre’s 2018 report on developing sustainable careers for aged care workers noted:

Underemployment offers organisations a buffer of additional hours that can be accessed when there are staff shortages. The regularity and predictability of hours is a challenge for workers, though, in terms of their lack of employment and income stability.

It might now be noted it also makes it problematic for them to turn down shifts, to stay home if they feel unwell, or to seek out a coronavirus test lest a positive result forces them to self-quarantine.

Meat processing workers

In red-meat-processing facilities, about 20% of the processing workforce is casual, according to a 2015 report by the Australian Meat Processor Corporation. These workers “can be terminated on any given day part-way through a shift”.

The rest of the workforce is barely more secure, with 80% employed as “daily hires”. This means their jobs technically terminate at the end of a shift. They can be sacked with just one day’s notice.

Media reports have highlighted the predicament for workers without paid sick leave. At the Golden Farms Turosi poultry processing site in Geelong, for example, media reported that workers told to self-isolate after a COVID-19 outbreak in July were then directed to return to work early to clean the premises.

The United Workers Union said the company expected its workers “to dip into their own entitlements or, for casuals, be left with nothing at all” during the stand-down. Glenn Myhre, a Golden Farms worker for 34 years, put it like this:

This is leaving a lot of people very insecure. Casuals and people with no entitlements are going to be left in a really tight spot.




Read more:
When it comes to sick leave, we’re not much better prepared for coronavirus than the US


Fair Work Commission decisions

It should not be surprising that those with insecure incomes and jobs would risk going to work when they do feel unwell.

Yet official appreciation of this has been slow.

In April the Fair Work Commission, Australia’s industrial relations arbiter, approved changes to more than 100 awards to provide two weeks’ pandemic leave for all employees, including casual workers. But the leave was unpaid.

On July 8 it deferred a union application for paid pandemic leave to health workers (to be paid by employers).

The commission accepted expert evidence that “at a high level of generality, workers in the health and social care sectors are at a higher risk of infection by COVID-19 (and other infectious diseases)”.

It also acknowledged the “very real risk” that employees with no paid leave entitlements “may not report any COVID-19-like symptoms or contact with someone suspected of having COVID-19 out of concern that they will suffer significant financial detriment”.

However, the commission ruled, “the elevated potential risk to health and care workers of actual or suspected exposure to infection has not manifested itself in actuality”.

Three weeks later, on July 27, as the disaster in Victoria’s aged care facilities unfolded, the commission granted paid pandemic leave to casual aged care workers.

Covering all workers

Ensuring paid pandemic leave for all workers has taken longer.

In June the Victorian government introduced a one-off A$1,500 “hardship payment” for workers left with no income if ordered to self-quarantine. It did not, however, cover lost income from self-isolating while awaiting the result of a COVID-19 test.

On August 3, the day after Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews declared a state of disaster and a stage 4 lockdown for Melbourne, the federal government announced a $1,500 “disaster payment” for all Victorians without paid leave entitlements who are ordered to self-isolate.

Then, after a joint call from the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Business Council of Australia for a national paid pandemic leave, the federal government agreed to extend the disaster payment to all states and territories.

A festering class divide

The failure to anticipate this problem is one of the greatest flaws in Australia’s response to the pandemic.

The belated payments are a tacit acknowledgement of a systemic problem. It is one that needs more than a temporary band-aid.

For a society that prides itself on egalitarianism, the mounting evidence that vulnerable workers have borne the brunt of health and financial impacts calls for broad reform of an industrial relations system that has allowed a class divide in working conditions to fester.




Read more:
What defines casual work? Federal Court ruling highlights a fundamental flaw in Australian labour law


To paraphrase the sociologist C. Wright Mills, the pandemic should motivate us to finally acknowledge as a public issue what has perhaps been too easily dismissed as the private troubles of individual workers.The Conversation

Kantha Dayaram, Associate Professor, School of Management, Curtin University; John Burgess, Professor of Human Resource Management, RMIT University, and Scott Fitzgerald, Senior Lecturer, School of Management, Curtin University

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