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.

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


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

New ways of ‘being together apart’ can work for us and the planet long after coronavirus crisis passes



Oxfam/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

Andrew Glover, RMIT University and Tania Lewis, RMIT University

Most major corporate, academic and other networking events have been cancelled because of the risks of spreading the coronavirus while travelling or at the events themselves. This flurry of cancellations has even spawned a literally titled website: https://www.isitcanceledyet.com/. But the changes in behaviour now being forced upon us might benefit the planet in the long term as we find and get used to other ways of holding meetings.

The COVID-19 pandemic is driving the development of these alternatives to physical travel and meetings much more strongly than climate change had to date. With many countries closing their borders, limiting domestic travel and imposing restrictions on large gatherings, few conferences are likely to proceed in the coming months of 2020.




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Old conference model is unsustainable

Traditional face-to-face conferences tend to be rather unsustainable affairs. Participants often fly from around the world to attend – usually accompanied by some carbon-intensive conference tourism along the way. For people who take just one long-haul flight per year, air travel is likely to be the single largest contributor to their carbon footprint.

If you make a long-haul flight to attend a meeting once a year that’s enough to greatly increase your carbon footprint.
Rommel Canlas/Shutterstock

The dramatic decline in conferences and other meetings is likely to contribute to a significant drop in carbon emissions from air travel in 2020.

Conferences and meetings have come to be regarded as important parts of professional life. They allow us to connect with people and ideas in our field, and can be opportunities to advance new knowledge.

But with so many of us effectively “grounded”, what are the alternatives to attending traditional conferences and meetings?

Digital conferencing on the rise

The use of digital conferencing platforms has skyrocketed in the past few weeks as more and more people work from home and travel is restricted.

Leading US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden even held a “virtual town hall” meeting recently as part of his campaign, although many users reported technical glitches and low-quality video plagued the experience.

Conferences are even taking place in virtual reality settings. These dedicated online conferencing environments are designed to mimic the venues conferences are often held in. These online events have large auditoriums, smaller “breakout rooms” and even socialising spaces to meet other participants through the use of digital avatars.

However, online conferencing need not be held in immersive 3D environments to be successful.

Exploring alternative formats

Most traditional conferences tend to be quite similar in format. They’re usually in a fixed location and run for two to five days. Presenters speak in front of live audiences on a fixed schedule.

Some digital conferences try to mimic this format, but others are trying to use the technology to open up the possibility for new types of event formats.

The “nearly carbon-neutral” conference model was initially developed to reduce the emissions associated with flying to conferences. Presentations are broadcast online over about two weeks. Participants can interact with presentations via accompanying text channels. The lectures and text messages are preserved online, creating an accessible archive.

Some events are being broadcast on the website Twitch. It’s a popular streaming platform where online gamers broadcast to – and interact with – surprisingly large audiences. This shows how conference organisers planning online events may need to look to communities who have been connecting and interacting “at a distance” long before any travel bans came into force.

The gaming community has led the way in developing mass meetings online.
Facebook

Do we even need video?

It’s common for conferences and other events to have Twitter “backchannels” where participants post short messages about their experiences of attending the event to a dedicated hashtag. People who are unable to attend can view these messages to get a sense of “being there”.

The “Twitter conference” has taken this a step further. The digital event just involves participants posting on a dedicated hashtag at a set point in time.

Events like this show conferences can be stripped down to what they are ultimately about: connecting with people and ideas that we’re interested in.

One size won’t fit all

It’s unlikely any one event format will suit every purpose. Organisers will need to be creative in how they schedule and plan events. They’ll have to consider what they want to accomplish and what types of participation they want to have.

Digital conferencing may even give less mobile groups – people with disabilities or caring responsibilities or who are averse to flying – an opportunity to attend events they might have been unable to take part in before.

Ultimately, the restrictions on air travel and social gatherings will force us to adapt to new ways of “being together apart”, both professionally and personally. We may not be able to share a conference space with our peers and collaborators, but we can still connect with them. We might even learn more about what type of travel is really necessary, with the invaluable benefit of reducing the pace of climate change.The Conversation

Andrew Glover, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, RMIT University and Tania Lewis, Co-Director of the Digital Ethnography Research Centre and Professor of Media and Communication, RMIT 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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Rethinking tourism so the locals actually benefit from hosting visitors


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.

Coronavirus Update


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.

NZ’s decision to close its borders will hurt tourism but it’s the right thing to do



Shutterstock

Siouxsie Wiles

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has done exactly what is needed to limit the spread of COVID-19 in New Zealand and the Pacific. Two new cases were confirmed today, just hours before new border restrictions come into force.

From midnight today, nobody (including residents) will be able to enter New Zealand without first going into 14 days of self-isolation. People arriving from Pacific Islands are the only exception to this new rule.

The new cases bring the total in New Zealand to eight. They have all been people who arrived from overseas – Iran, Italy, Denmark, the United States and Australia – or family members with whom they had extensive close contact. We should expect to see more cases in the days and weeks ahead.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the latest cases reinforce the new border restrictions.

Reducing the flow of people [with COVID-19] coming into New Zealand and ensuring that those who do arrive are required to immediately self-isolate are essential frontline tools in our response and in preventing wider outbreaks in New Zealand.

I expect it is going to take months or even years, rather than weeks, before the pandemic is contained because some other countries aren’t responding quickly enough. New Zealand’s new measures will hit tourism, but they are necessary to keep COVID-19 under control.




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The next line of defence

I use a fire analogy to describe how the COVID-10 pandemic is spreading around the world. Countries with community transmission of the virus – this list is growing by the day – are each a blazing fire. Anyone leaving these countries is a potential ember that can seed a fire somewhere else.

So far, New Zealand has done a good job of catching any burning embers and stamping them out. This is the role of contact tracing and self-isolation. But the median incubation period for the virus is around five to six days, with most people developing symptoms within 11 days, and we should expect more cases.

Ardern has seen the growing number of fires overseas. She has listened to experts telling her there will soon be too many embers to catch and she made the call to deploy the next line of defence: fire breaks.

This is the right move and follows that of Samoa which put travel restrictions in place very soon after the virus emerged. Our Pacific neighbours do not have the same resources New Zealand has to carry out contact tracing or treat the very ill.

It is only a few months since Samoa experienced an extensive and deadly outbreak of measles, which likely started when someone incubating the measles virus travelled to Samoa from New Zealand.




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Minimising spread New Zealand’s best chance

Many people are surprised by the strength of the measures. Apart from the entry restrictions through airports, cruise ships are also banned from coming to New Zealand until at least the end of June. As Ardern herself said the restrictions are among the most stringent in the world.

COVID-19 is a serious illness. From the outbreak in China we know about one in five people will need to be hospitalised. About one in 20 people will end up in intensive care, and one in a hundred will need a ventilator to help them breathe.

The reality is almost everybody in New Zealand is susceptible to catching the virus. While many of us will only experience a mild to moderate version of COVID-19, if the virus were to sweep New Zealand as it is other countries, we would not have enough hospital and intensive care beds or ventilators to care for those who need them.

Depending on a person’s age and whether they have any underlying health issues, we could see as few as four deaths in every thousand infected people under the age of 50, but as many as seven in every 50 people if they are over 80. People with diabetes and and high blood pressure are also more likely to experience a severe infection.

China built new hospitals in a matter of days and weeks to be able to care for the ill. In New Zealand, we are about to head into winter, the busiest season of the year for hospitals.

If COVID-19 took hold here, our medical staff could soon find themselves in the awful position of having to decide who gets a bed or a ventilator, as they are now considering in Italy.

New Zealand’s best chance to get through this unprecedented global crisis is to minimise the chances of the virus establishing here. Given we will remain susceptible to the virus, we may need to wait for the pandemic to burn out or until a vaccine is developed before life returns to normal.The Conversation

Siouxsie Wiles, Associate Professor in Microbiology and Infectious Diseases

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

Is cruising still safe? Will I be insured? What you need to know about travelling during the coronavirus crisis



DANIEL DAL ZENNARO/EPA

David Beirman, University of Technology Sydney

The coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19) has now reached more than 80,000 recorded cases, largely concentrated in China, with a death toll over 2,700 and rising.

There are few signs the epidemic is abating. In fact, new cases have emerged in a host of European countries in recent days, while significant outbreaks have continued to grow in number in South Korea, Italy and Iran.

For the global tourism industry, the impact of the outbreak is likely to be severe. Many countries, including Australia and the US, are continuing their bans or severe restrictions on arrivals from China, which is having massive repercussions.

China accounts for one in 10 of the world’s international tourists, or about 150 million people per year. And Chinese tourists spent US$277 billion in outbound tourism in 2018, the highest in the world and nearly double the amount spent by American tourists at number two.




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Many governments, including Australia and the US, have also had “do not travel” warnings in effect for China for weeks – the highest warning level possible.

Australia is also now advising travellers to take a high degree of caution when visiting other countries with outbreaks, including South Korea, Japan, Thailand and Hong Kong, and is advising people to reconsider travel to Iran. The warnings are updated frequently, so it’s best to check the Smart Traveller website before making plans.

The last significant disruption to global tourism on this scale occurred after the September 11 terror attacks, when a widespread fear of flying led to a major four-to-five-month decline in global aviation travel.

But despite the fears over coronavirus, travel is still generally safe at the moment provided you get the right advice and take sensible precautions.

A passenger gets her temperature taken after disembarking the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
FRANCK ROBICHON/EPA

Is cruising still safe, and if so, where?

The recent quarantining of the Diamond Princess (Japan), the World Dream (Hong Kong) and the Westerdam (Cambodia) has raised concerns about the safety of cruising during the epidemic.

While the crisis is unprecedented in scale for the cruise sector, ship operators have extensive experience in dealing with the challenge of containing disease outbreaks. In fact, along with aviation, the cruising industry has the strictest health and safety controls of any tourism industry sector.




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The International Maritime Organisation has had a convention in place since 1914 known as SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea), and updated versions now include a range of protocols for the cleaning of cabins and public areas of a ship and food hygiene.

It is standard practice in cruising to isolate passengers when a passenger is identified with an on-board illness. The difficulty with COVID-19 is that it may take up to 14 days and in some cases even longer for symptoms to develop after exposure.

According to my contacts in Cruise Lines International Association, the industry’s global association representing over 90% of cruise ship operators, members are now developing a common approach to respond to the outbreak.

This involves informing passengers and training travel agencies about the measures that companies are taking to minimise risk and exposure to the virus. One measure being examined, for instance, is enhanced passenger reporting of medical vulnerabilities at the time of booking. This a top priority for CLIA.




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But the good news is that apart from the three quarantined ships in Asia, no evidence of COVID-19 has been found on cruise liners thus far.

The global cruise industry also has a relatively small exposure to China, which should counter some concerns about the safety of cruising. According to CLIA, all of Asia accounted for just 10% of the world’s cruise deployments and about 15% of the world’s 30 million passengers in 2019.

About half of the world’s cruising passengers are from North America (mainly the US). Nearly a third of global cruising takes place in the Caribbean and 28% in the Mediterranean and the rest of Europe. (However, the new coronavirus outbreak in Italy is becoming a more serious concern for cruise operators there.)

Will you be covered for cancellations?

Many travellers are also concerned about the travel insurance implications of the COVID-19 outbreak.

According to CHOICE, the Australian consumer advocacy agency, less than half the travel insurers cover cancellation as a result of a pandemic or epidemic.

However, travellers who booked their trips prior to the announcement of the epidemic (what is called a “known event”) should be able to obtain cancellation coverage.

Allianz, for instance, says the virus became a known event on January 22 for travel to China. Cover More Travel Insurance, which issues over 80% of travel insurance policies in Australia, is using the date of January 23 for its policies.

However, travellers who booked and paid after the “known event” announcement may find themselves out of luck.

A man in Casalpusterlengo, one the Italian towns under lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Andrea Fasani/EPA

Insurers also have different exclusions when it comes to epidemics. For instance, most (but not all) insurers will deny any coverage to travellers who visit a country their national government advises citizens not to visit, such as China at the moment for Australians.

However, some policies (especially those for corporate and government travellers) will offer coverage at a premium price for any loss not related to COVID-19 or standard travel insurance exclusions, such as injuries incurred while intoxicated.

Bottom line, travellers should research their travel insurance cover very carefully or seek professional advice to understand the full implications of the virus on their plans.The Conversation

David Beirman, Senior Lecturer, Tourism, University of Technology Sydney

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