Can we use the RAAF to bring home stranded Aussies overseas?



Richard Wainwright/AAP

Peter Layton, Griffith University

Amid mounting concern about Australians stranded overseas during COVID-19, Labor leader Anthony Albanese has offered a solution.

This week, he suggested using the Royal Australia Air Force (RAAF) VIP aircraft to bring people home. Albanese says these could bring the estimated 25,000 Australians stuck overseas, “100 at a time”.




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While the federal government has downplayed this suggestion, the pressure to do more to bring home Australians stuck overseas continues.

So, is it feasible to use the RAAF? What challenges might this pose?

What are the VIP aircraft?

The VIP fleet is operated by the air force to fly the governor-general, politicians and military leaders on official business when commercial flights are not suitable.

Albanese has honed in on the VIP fleet for obvious reasons: it’s currently sitting idle, the aircrews involved need to maintain their flying proficiency and Australians have always held a jaundiced view of the aircraft being simply another “pollie perk”.

However, while all five aircraft are long range, only the two B737 Boeing Business Jets could conceivably carry the 100 people mentioned — and that’s after reconfiguring their normal VIP fit-out that accommodates 30 passengers. The other three aircraft, the brand new Dassault Falcon 7X executive jets, have room for only 14 passengers.

The five aircraft are good for the VIP role, but they are not large capacity international airliners. They are inherently a rather inefficient way to move large numbers of people.

What else could the RAAF use?

The RAAF does have seven large airliners in service. These are the aptly named KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport, a modified Airbus A330 airliner used for air-to-air refuelling of fighter aircraft and strategic airlift.

KC-30 Tanker flying over a mountain range.
The RAAF have larger aircraft than the VIP fleet.
Supplied/United States Air Force

In the latter role, each aircraft can carry 270 passengers. For the past several years, the aircraft have been busy in the Middle East. But the last deployed KC-30A is just returning.

Allowing for some aircraft being under maintenance and others busy with ongoing training, the RAAF could potentially allocate two to three KC-30A aircraft to the “bringing Aussies home” task.

It’s possible but not straightforward

This would not be as simple as it sounds. The KC-30As are military aircraft, so decisions would need to be made whether to fly them into civil or military airfields overseas.

In the latter case, embarking passengers may be difficult. Moreover, being military aircraft (not scheduled civil air services), formal diplomatic approval would need to granted by the other countries involved.

There are further technical issues of guarding RAAF aircraft if they need to remain overnight at a foreign airfield, refuelling the aircraft on arrival, embarkation procedures and keeping the crews COVID–free.

There are also more mundane matters. like having aircraft stairs available and monitoring pilot duty hours — exhausted pilots are a flight safety hazard.

What about Qantas?

While this is technically feasible, there are also efficiency concerns.

Australians are scattered across the globe. They may need to find their way to major departure airport hubs — as diverting a large aircraft to pick up only a few passengers from a country may not be sensible. In addition, smaller countries may be unsure about letting a large, obviously military aircraft use their airfields.

It is in these smaller countries that Albanese’s idea of using the two B737 Business Jets might be more appropriate.




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But if the RAAF has airliners, so too do the civil airlines. Qantas has many aircraft and crews available at the moment who, like the RAAF’s VIP crews, need to maintain their flying experience.

It’s true Australian taxpayers have already paid for the RAAF aircraft and crews, so the additional costs of picking up stranded Australians would be low. On the other hand, the airlines and their associated unions are in difficult circumstances. Should the RAAF do what Qantas could?

On Thursday, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce told Radio National the airline was in talks with the federal government to subsidise flights home.

Qantas plane waiting on a runway.
Perhaps Qantas flights should be used instead of the RAAF.
Joel Carrett/AAP

Finally, there’s the issue of quarantine. Only 4,000 Australians have been allowed back each week due to government imposed quarantine hotel restrictions. After a federal government push to the states, this is set to be increased to 6,000.

Large airliners, whether operated by the RAAF or commercial airlines, can bring many people home, but the cap on arrivals is a notable constraint.

This means the biggest benefit of such an approach might be not so much bringing more people home, but making the flights affordable and available. Today, with strict passenger limits, the airlines are charging high fees. This is a significant impediment to people returning, even with the Australian government offering loans to assist.

We could use the RAAF if we wanted to

So, while Albanese’s idea may be critiqued on its finer points, it is broadly doable. It’s perhaps a good if small example of politics in action.

At its core, when it comes to bringing home Australians in distress, it becomes a simple political question.

How should the government spend Australia’s taxpayer dollars?




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The Conversation


Peter Layton, Visiting Fellow Griffith Asia Institute, Griffith University

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

Federal government pre-empts national cabinet to raise the cap for returning Australians


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The federal government, under pressure to expand and accelerate the return of stranded Australians, has pre-empted national cabinet by announcing the “cap” on these arrivals will be expanded from about 4,000 up to 6,000 a week.

After the announcement Western Australia immediately hit out, saying the national cabinet process was being flouted.

More than 25,000 people are presently registered as having expressed a wish to return, and there have been numerous hardship cases in the media and in representations to MPs offices.

The government says the new weekly caps will be: NSW 2,950 (present cap is 2,450), Queensland 1,000 (500), South Australia 600 (500), and Western 1,025 (525). Victoria, struggling out of its second wave, will not have any arrivals.

This adds up to only 5,575 but the government hopes the other jurisdictions will take some people, although there are not commercial airline services into the ACT, the Northern Territory or Tasmania.

The government wants the higher numbers operating by late this month.

The caps were imposed at the request of states, which were concerned at pressure on their quarantine facilities, in particular when Victoria, where there was a quarantine breakdown triggering the second wave crisis, stopped taking any returnees.

People wanting to come home are not just facing the problem of the cap but the difficulty of securing flights, and at reasonable prices.

Unveiling the higher cap Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, who has responsibility for aviation, said he had written to premiers and territory leaders to tell them the caps for international flights based on quarantine levels.

“Not every Australian will be able to come home by Christmas, I accept that. But we want to get as many of those who need to come home, want to come home, paid for a ticket to come home, to be able to do so”, McCormack said.

The federal government says it has constitutional power over quarantine, and so does not need the states’ approval. But it will take the new quotas to Friday’s national cabinet.

Under the existing deal the states make the quarantine arrangements and carry the cost – although they are now charging returnees.

The opposition has called for the government to use RAAF planes to return some people. But the government says there are thousands of unused commercial seats, and the VIP fleet has only very small capacity. It also rejects calls for the use of federal facilities for some of the returnees, saying they are not available or suitable.

Attorney-General Christian Porter, asked on Perth radio whether WA had agreed, said he did not know but “we very much hope they will”.

WA premier Mark McGowan said he had not known about the announcement beforehand and described it as “very directly outside the spirit of the national cabinet”.

“I don’t really like the fact that this has been sprung via a press conference without a discussion with the people actually required to implement it,” McGowan said.

He warned of the risks of putting pressure on hotel quarantine and said using Commonwealth facilities should be looked at.

The federal government says it would consider ADF assistance with more quarantine, noting ADF personnel have been helping WA with hotel quarantine for weeks.

WA Health Minister Roger Cook said it was extraordinary the matter was being dealt with through a letter from McCormack and said Scott Morrison should call “his dogs off” and work with the premiers.

NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian said that after a request from the prime minister “I consulted my relevant ministers and the police commissioner, who is in charge of quarantine, and everybody said they could take on that extra load”. Her agreement was on the basis other states agreed.

Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk also indicated her government was willing to take more people.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.

There’s a ban on leaving Australia under COVID-19. Who can get an exemption to go overseas? And how?



Darren England/AAP

Anthea Vogl, University of Technology Sydney

Australians are all too aware of the restrictions on interstate travel and on who can currently enter Australia.

But people may not realise there is also a ban on overseas travel for all Australian citizens and residents, subject to a limited number of exemptions.

Since March, about one in three requests to leave the country have been granted. This comes amid reports of Australians facing huge hurdles to see sick and dying relatives overseas.

So, what’s going on? Who can actually leave Australia at the moment?

What is the ban?

The ban on leaving Australia was put in place by Health Minister Greg Hunt on March 25, as an “emergency requirement” under the Biosecurity Act. It is the first time Australia has had such a ban, and it was made on the advice of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee.

The determination says plainly:

An Australian citizen or permanent resident … must not leave Australian territory as a passenger on an outgoing aircraft or vessel.

The accompanying statement explains,

[This] is in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to represent a severe and immediate threat to human health in Australia and across the globe.

Is this legal?

The government legally made the determination under the Biosecurity Act, which gives the health minister power to put in place “any requirement” they believe is necessary to prevent or control the entry or spread of the virus into Australia.

International law recognises the right to leave any country, including your own, but there is no equivalent constitutional protection in Australia.

Man pushing a baggage trolly past an empty airport carousel.
There is a legal ban on Australians leaving Australia.
Darren England/AAP

In other words, Australians don’t have a constitutional right to leave Australia.

Strict exit bans for citizens are generally associated with authoritarian states, like North Korea and the former USSR. But the Health Department has said the ban is needed because of the burden returning residents place on quarantine arrangements, the health system and testing regimes.

The government has also argued it is “impossible” to only ban travel to specific places, due to the fast-moving nature of the pandemic in different countries.

Who can leave Australia at the moment?

Anyone who is isn’t a citizen or resident is allowed to leave Australia.

Some Australians are also still free to leave. This includes those who are “ordinarily resident in a country other than Australia”, airline and maritime crew, outbound freight workers, and essential workers at offshore facilities.




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All other citizens and residents must have an exemption if they want to leave. They need to apply online (which is free) and then bring the approved exemption to the airport.

To be granted an exemption, you must have a “compelling reason” for needing to leave Australian territory, and your travel must fall into one of the following categories:

  • compassionate or humanitarian grounds
  • part of the response to the COVID-19 outbreak
  • essential for the conduct of critical industries and business
  • to receive urgent medical treatment unavailable in Australia
  • urgent and unavoidable personal business
  • in the national interest.

Most applications to leave are not successful

Despite these exemptions, it is still difficult to get permission to leave. Only about one in three requests are being granted.

According to Border Force, between March and mid-August it received more than 104,000 requests to leave Australia. About 34,300 exemptions have been granted.

Exemption applications are assessed by Border Force and applicants are advised to apply at least two weeks but not more than three months before departure.

Border Force adds:

If you are travelling due to death or critical illness of a close family member, you can apply inside this timeframe and we will prioritise your application.

However, timeframes haven’t been guaranteed and people have reported significant delays even in emergency situations. If a request is refused, an applicant can reapply.

Failing to comply with the ban is a criminal offence, punishable by up to five years’ prison, a $63,000 fine, or both.

Are Victorians especially banned?

There is nothing to exclude Victorians, currently under Stage 3 and 4 restrictions, from applying to leave Australia.

The Victorian government directs residents to federal government advice regarding overseas trips.

However, Victorians would also need to comply with or seek exemptions from state-based restrictions (including for travel to the airport, for example) where an exemption was granted.

What are the problems with the ban?

Usually when governments pass legislation, they provide definitions of key terms. However, no definitions for any exemptions are included in the travel ban determination, which was made by Hunt and not reviewed by parliament.

What exemptions like “urgent and unavoidable personal business” cover is unclear, to say the least (luxury yacht, anyone?).

Grounded Qantas planes against Sydney skyline.
The ban on overseas travel was introduced in March as the coronavirus crisis took hold in Australia.
Biance De Marchi/AAP

There have been repeated stories of Australians having enormous difficulties getting permission to see family and loved ones overseas. Although recent reports suggest the process is becoming easier.

One woman reported difficulty meeting the “compassionate grounds” exemption because her dying step-parent was not in hospital, due to a choice to spend his last days at home. Another received three different responses to the same request.




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Applicants must provide sufficient documentation, but it is also unclear what documents are required. People whose documents are not in English must have them officially translated as part of an application. Those in distressed or bereaved states must nonetheless gather complex documentary evidence, which may include death certificates, or proof of an event or relationship.

Due to this lack of clarity, some people are seeking the advice of migration agents to help them leave Australia.

This adds to the ever-growing costs of mobility during the pandemic, while creating the extraordinary circumstance where legal advice is needed to help residents and citizens depart their own country.

When will the ban end?

Australia’s complete travel ban has not been adopted in similar countries. In New Zealand, Canada and Britain, overseas travel is strongly advised against but not banned.

Other countries to have completely prohibited travel include Kazakhstan, Lithuania and Uzbekistan.




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Australia’s ban will automatically cease when the “biosecurity emergency period” is declared over, unless revoked beforehand.

But while the the current period runs until September 17, it is likely to be extended. In June, Hunt warned borders will remained closed for a “very significant” amount of time.

Although he also described Australia as an “island sanctuary”, it’s unlikely the many people held on either side of its borders feel the same way.The Conversation

Anthea Vogl, Senior lecturer, University of Technology Sydney

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

Australians don’t have a ‘right’ to travel. Does COVID mean our days of carefree overseas trips are over?



http://www.shutterstock.com

Susan Harris Rimmer, Griffith University

Australia is a nation of enthusiastic travellers, it is one of our defining national characteristics.

At any given time, around a million of us are living and working overseas. In 2019, a record 11.3 million Australian residents went on short-term trips, double the figure of ten years earlier.

But COVID-19 has radically changed our capacity to go and be overseas. Will we ever travel so easily and readily again?

You don’t have the ‘rights’ you probably thought you had

Travel may be of huge importance to Australians, but it is not a right or entitlement.

When you leave Australia, you also take on an element of risk. The federal government has long-warned their help in a crisis will have “limits”. The consular services charter says,

You don’t have a legal right to consular assistance and you shouldn’t assume assistance will be provided.

Australians don’t even have the absolute right to a passport, although in practice, it is rarely denied.

International law provides for the right to freedom of movement – both in and out of Australia. As the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights says,

Everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his own. [This] shall not be subject to any restrictions except those which are provided by law, are necessary to protect national security, public order … public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others … No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.

Australia ratified the covenant in 1980, but there is no Commonwealth legislation enshrining the right of freedom of movement.

Even if there was, this doesn’t mean it would override legitimate public health concerns.

Coming home is no longer simple

In March, when the pandemic took off, the Morrison government advised Australians overseas to return home.

But coming back is no longer a simple question of booking a ticket and getting on a flight. For one thing, the global airline industry has collapsed, making available flights scarce.




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As part of Australia’s COVID response, caps have also now been placed on international arrivals. In July, the number of Australian citizens and residents allowed into the country was then reduced by a third, from about 7,000 to about 4,000 a week, to ease the pressure on the hotel quarantine system. This system will be in place until at least October.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison explained he knew this made it more difficult for people to come home, but the policy was not “surprising or unreasonable”. Rather,

[it will] ensure that we could put our focus on the resources needed to do testing and tracing.

Nightmare logistics

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, more than 371,000 Australians overseas have returned since March.

But more than 18,000 are still stuck overseas, saying they want to come home. Last week, a Senate inquiry heard about 3,000 of this group were “vulnerable” for medical and financial reasons.

There are a growing number of media reports detailing the stories of those stranded overseas. Many are desperate to return for financial and personal reasons.

Man in mask at airport, looking at ticket.
More than 18,000 Australians are still overseas and want to come home.
http://www.shutterstock.com

People have spoken about the complex logistics involved in returning – including lack of available flights, lack of affordable flights – with reports of tickets costing as much as A$20,000 – strict border controls to exit the country they are in, and the cost of quarantining when they get home.

Internal border closures in Australia have added a further level of complexity.

On Friday, The Sydney Morning Herald reported the Morrison government was drawing up new plans to evacuate Australians stuck overseas.

It is worth noting that despite people’s understandable frustrations, the Australian government has limited options to help here – and the options they do have are not simple. They can potentially charter flights or cruise ships, but this is not straightforward because it requires agreements from host countries, available planes and ships, and can be hugely expensive.

Leaving Australia is no longer simple, either

Less visible, but very concerning from a rights perspective, is the Australians who are stuck in Australia. A state generally should allow citizens to leave their own country.

There are wide-ranging bans on people leaving Australia during the coronavirus pandemic, with a limited range of exemptions.

There are obviously compelling reasons why people will still want to travel, given Australia’s strong international connections, especially when close relatives are ill or dying overseas.

But again, we don’t actually have a “right” under domestic law to leave Australia – with the federal government able to control our movements under the Biosecurity Determination 2020.




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Between March 25 and August 16, Australian Border Force received 104,785 travel exemption requests. Of these, 34,379 were granted a discretionary exemption. Some perhaps more discretionary than others – entrepreneur Jost Stollmann was granted an exemption to travel overseas to pick up his new luxury yacht.

The way we think about travel needs to change

Significant Australia’s diplomatic resources have been going into supporting Australians overseas during COVID-19. In July, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade reported 80% of its staff took part in the response effort.

Secretary Frances Adamson has also noted her department’s approach to COVID-19 had to go “well beyond what’s written in our consular charter”.

Young woman taking a selfie against Russian skyline.
Pre-COVID, there were more than one million Australians living and working overseas.
http://www.shutterstock.com

Given the range of pressing foreign policy issues at the moment, a serious question is how much of the Department of Foreign Affairs’ time and attention should be spent on consular services? What is being lost in other diplomatic efforts trying to get Australians home?

Australians need to grapple with the idea that the government doesn’t have to “get them back” if they travel overseas (even if it wants to). And under Australian law, we don’t have a “right” to leave the country.




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We don’t know how long these COVID changes will last – particularly if efforts to create a vaccine are not successful. So, the way we think of travel and our risk calculations may unfortunately need to change. This might result in the biggest shift in our travel mindset since the 1950s, when international travel opened up to ordinary Australians.

With rising awareness of climate impacts of travel, this may not be a wholly negative development. But a deeper conversation is still required about the right to freedom of movement for Australian citizens.The Conversation

Susan Harris Rimmer, Professor and Director of the Policy Innovation Hub, Griffith Business School, Griffith University

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

Cars rule as coronavirus shakes up travel trends in our cities



Taras Vyshnya/Shutterstock

Neil G Sipe, The University of Queensland

As with other parts of the global economy, COVID-19 has led to rapid changes in transport trends. The chart below shows overall trends for driving, walking and public transport for Australia as of July 17.

Australia-wide mobility trends for the six months from January to July 2020.
Apple Mobility Trends

Unfortunately, the current lockdown of metropolitan Melbourne, which is at odds with trends in Australia’s other biggest cities, is skewing the national average. These data, provided by Apple Mobility Trends, are available for many cities, regions and countries around the world.

Updated daily, the data provide a measure of trends in transport use since early January 2020. The chart below summarises the changes since then in driving, walking and public transport for Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.


Data: Apple Mobility Trends

With the exception of Melbourne, driving has recovered and is now noticeably above pre-pandemic levels.




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Public transport use is still well below baseline levels. It is recovering – again except for Melbourne – but slowly. The exception is Adelaide where public transport is only slightly below the baseline.

Walking is doing better than public transport. Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth are slightly above the baseline, while Sydney is slightly below it. Melbourne is still down by about a half.

How badly did lockdowns affect travel?

The chart below shows the largest declines in driving, walking and public transport were recorded in the period April 4-11. Most of the lowest values coincided with Easter holidays. However, regardless of the holiday, this was the period when levels of transport use were lowest.

The declines are fairly consistent across the cities. For driving, the declines were around 70%. For walking, the declines ranged from 65% to 80%. Public transport recorded declines of 80-89%.


Data: Apple Mobility Trends

The recovery in driving is due, in part, to it being seen as having a lower risk of COVID-19 infection. People see public transport as the least safe because of the difficulties of social distancing on potentially crowded commutes.

A study in early March by an MIT economist amplified these fears by associating public transport in New York City with higher rates of COVID-19 infection. Unfortunately, the research had some significant flaws. Health experts have since indicated there is little evidence public transport has been the source of any COIVD-19 infections.




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Neverthess, public transport agencies are in serious financial trouble. In the US, experts are warning that, without large federal subsidies, public transport services are facing drastic cuts, which will impact where people live and work. Such shifts pose a threat to the economic viability of cities.

What is known about other transport modes? While comprehensive datasets are not available, evidence is emerging of the impacts on ride, bike and scooter sharing.

Ride sharing

As with all other transport modes, the pandemic has had big impacts on ride sharing. However some ride-sharing companies, like Uber, have diversified in recent years into areas such as food and freight delivery. These have provided much-needed revenue during the ride-sharing downturn.

Market analysts are predicting ride sharing will recover and continue to grow. This is due to need for personal mobility combined with increasing urbanisation and falling car ownership.




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Bike sharing

Globally, transport officials are predicting a long-term surge in bicycle use. Cycling appears to be booming at the expense of public transport.

Beijing’s three largest bike share schemes reported a 150% increase in use in May. In New York City, volumes grew by 67%. Bike sales in the US almost doubled in March.

In response, many cities are providing more cycling infrastructure, with cities like Berlin and Bogota leading the way with “pop-up” bike lanes. New Zealand has become the first country to fund so-called “tactical urbanism”.




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Melbourne has announced 12km of pop-up bike lanes and is fast-tracking an extra 40km of bike lanes over the next two years. Sydney has added 10km of pop-up cycleways. Use of some Brisbane bikeways has nearly doubled, leading to criticism of delays in providing pop-up lanes.

London intends to rapidly expand both cycling and walking infrastructure in anticipation of a ten-fold increase in bicycle use and a five-fold increase in pedestrians. This complements a £250 million (A$448 million) UK government program to reallocate more space for cyclists.

Paris plans to add 50km of pop-up and permanent bikeways in coming months. It’s also offering a €500 (A$818) subsidy to buy an electric bike and €50 to repair an existing bike.

Milan will add 35km of bikeways as part of its Strade Aperte Plan. The Italian government is providing a 70% subsidy capped at €500 for people to buy a new bicycle.

We will have to wait to see whether all this interest translates into longer-term mode change.

E-scooters

E-scooter use has declined, as has the value of e-scooter companies. Lime, one of the larger companies, was valued at US$2.4 billion (A$3.4 billion) last year but is down to US$510 million. Nevertheless, investor interest continues. Uber, Alphabet, GV and Bain and others put $US170 into Lime in May.

In Europe, ride-sharing company Bolt plans to expand its e-scooter and e-bike services to 45 cities in Europe and Africa this year. Another positive sign for this mode is that the UK, where e-scooters have not been street legal, has begun trials of rental e-scooters.




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It is still too early to predict the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on transport. What the data show is that driving has recovered and is even exceeding pre-pandemic levels. Current trends suggest active mobility – cycling, scooters and walking – may gain mode share. Whether public transport can recover is questionable, unless a vaccine becomes available.The Conversation

Neil G Sipe, Honorary Professor of Planning, The University of Queensland

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

Scott Morrison set to slow the arrival home of Australians amid coronavirus fears


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison will take a proposal to Friday’s national cabinet to slow arrivals of Australians returning from overseas.

Morrison’s proposal followed this week’s request from Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan for a cap on international flights landing in Perth to relieve pressure on resources, and the earlier diversion of flights from landing in Melbourne because of the new outbreak.

There is already a cap applying to NSW, and the WA government has said the federal government has responded favourably to its representation. Queensland also wants limits.

The prime minister told a news conference his proposal would be to contain the flow rather than pause it. He said the numbers coming in were very low “but at this time, we don’t want to put any more pressure on the system than is absolutely necessary”.

New Zealand has moved to slow the flow of returnees.

Morrison also said the federal government would support state governments charging travellers returning from abroad for their quarantine.

It was up to the states but “if they wish to do that, then the Commonwealth would have no objection to that”.

“I think that would be a completely understandable proposition for people who have been away for some time.”

There had been “many opportunities for people to return. If they’re choosing to do so now, they have obviously delayed that decision for a period,” he told a news conference.

Queensland is already charging – $2,800 for one adult, $3,710 for two adults, and $4,620 for two adults and two children, with some provision for waivers. The Northern Territory also charges.

As Victoria announced 134 new cases, Morrison’s message to Melburnians facing the six-week lockdown was: “It’s tough. And it will test you and it will strain, but you have done it once before and you will be able to do it again because you have proven that”.

“We’re all Melburnians now when it comes to the challenges we face. We’re all Victorians now because we’re all Australians.”

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the cost to the economy of the Victorian re-imposed lockdown would now be factored into the government’s July 23 economic statement. It would affect forecasts for growth and unemployment. “Victoria is a big part of the national economy” and “the cost to Victoria is up to a billion dollars a week and that will fall heavily on businesses”.

“This is a major challenge to the economic recovery. This is going to have an impact well beyond the Victorian border. It’s already starting to play out in consumer confidence numbers that have been down in the last two weeks, ” Frydenberg said.

“We have been there with JobKeeper and the cash flow boost, which together have provided more than $10 billion into the Victorian economy,” he said.

“We’re ready to do what is required to support Victoria, and Daniel Andrews himself has said whenever he’s asked the Prime Minister for support the answer has been an unequivocal yes.”

Frydenberg confirmed there will be another phase of income support for the period beyond September when JobKeeper is due to finish. The future support would be temporary and targeted, he said. The higher JobSeeker payment is also scheduled to snap back at the end of September, although it is not expected to return to the old rate.

Frydenberg also indicated the government was considering bringing forward the next round of the legislated tax cuts. “We are looking at that issue, and the timing of those tax cuts, because we do want to boost aggregate demand, boost consumption, put more money in people’s pockets, and that is one way to do it”.

NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian told people in communities along the NSW-Victorian border not to move outside their “bubble”; nor should people go into these areas. She warned “the probability of contagion in NSW given what’s happening in Victoria is extremely high”.

The ACT has three new cases, the first in more than a month. Two arrived from a Melbourne hot spot and the third is a household contact.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.

COVID-19 provides a rare chance for Australia to set itself apart from other regional powers. It can create a Pacific ‘bubble’



Shutterstock

Peter Draper, University of Adelaide and Jim Redden, University of Adelaide

For a short time Australia has an unrivalled opportunity to set itself apart from donors to the Pacific including China, Japan and the European Union.

As Victoria’s current COVID-19 spike shows, it will take Australia some time to open its borders to the world and allow residents to travel wherever they like.

But there’s no reason why it shouldn’t open its borders to some parts of the world sooner than others, especially those in which it has a special interest and in which the spread of coronavirus is slowing.

Australia and New Zealand have been talking about setting up a trans-Tasman “travel bubble” for some time.

It would allow quarantine-free travel between two geographically-isolated island nations that face little risk of outside infection.

Fiji has already expressed interest in joining, extending the bubble.




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


Throughout the South Pacific, youth unemployment averages over 23%. Tourism accounts for as much as half of gross domestic product and up to one in four jobs.

A bubble that extended beyond tourism to trade, education, and guest workers could help the Pacific (and holidaying Australians) in a way that the generous loans available from powers such as China could not.

Much of the architecture for a trade and tourism bubble is already in place.

The trade and investment agreement known as the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) Plus concluded in Brisbane on 20 April 2017.

Good for Australia, good for the region

The agreement encompasses Australia, New Zealand and nine Pacific island countries: the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. It has been ratified by five of the members and will come into force when it is ratified by eight.

For the Pacific Islands, a “bubble” would provide a major boost to economic development and recovery from the crisis.

It could help relieve the social pressures that come from growing youth populations and attendant unemployment and minimise the danger of future political crises and associated need for Australian interventions and financial support.

The long-term importance of continued access to quality education, vocational and tertiary, for Pacific Islander youth is essential. Hard-pressed Australian Universities and vocational education suppliers would benefit too.

For Australia (and New Zealand) it could provide relief from isolation via travel to attractive destinations. Perhaps more importantly, it could help fill gaps in Australia’s skill set by supplying tradespeople and agricultural workers to meet genuine shortages.

It would also help maintain Australia’s business and investment interests in the Pacific. PACER Plus implementation would reinforce these gains. It will facilitate more investment and trade opportunities, in goods and services.




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Unfortunately, Fiji and Papua New Guinea have not yet signed PACER Plus, for various reasons.

It is unfortunate because trade and investment flows are their best long-term route to advancement. There are strong economic complementarities between Australia and Pacific nations, especially for Papua New Guinea.

A bubble, implemented when the health situation allows, would be supported by many Pacific islands nations and most likely their regional coordinating body, the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat.

Together with PACER Plus implementation, it would benefit Australia and benefit the region in a way that aid and infrastructure support from big powers can not.




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Sun, sand and uncertainty: the promise and peril of a Pacific tourism bubble


The Conversation


Peter Draper, Executive Director: Institute for International Trade, University of Adelaide and Jim Redden, Senior Lecturer & Visiting Fellow, Institute for International Trade, University of Adelaide

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

Sun, sand and uncertainty: the promise and peril of a Pacific tourism bubble



http://www.shutterstock.com

Regina Scheyvens, Massey University and Apisalome Movono, Massey University

Pacific nations have largely avoided the worst health effects of COVID-19, but its economic impact has been devastating. With the tourism tap turned off, unemployment has soared while GDP has plummeted.

In recent weeks, Fiji Airways laid off 775 employees and souvenir business Jack’s of Fiji laid off 500. In Vanuatu 70% of tourism workers have lost their jobs. Cook Islands is estimated to have experienced a 60% drop in GDP in the past three months.

In response, many are calling for the Pacific to be included in the proposed trans-Tasman travel corridor. Such calls have come from tourism operators, politicians and at least one health expert.

Quarantine concerns aside, there is economic logic to this. Australians and New Zealanders make up more than 50% of travellers to the region. Some countries are massively dependent: two-thirds of visitors to Fiji and three-quarters of visitors to Cook Islands are Aussies and Kiwis.




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Cook Islands has budgeted NZ$140 million for economic recovery, but this will increase the tiny nation’s debt. Prime Minister Henry Puna has argued for a limited tourism bubble as soon as New Zealand relaxes its COVID-19 restrictions to alert level 1. Cook Islands News editor Jonathan Milne estimates 75-80% of the population is “desperate to get the tourists back”.

A Pacific bubble would undoubtedly help economic recovery. But this merely highlights how vulnerable these island economies have become. Tourism accounts for between 10% and 70% of GDP and up to one in four jobs across the South Pacific.

The pressure to reopen borders is understandable. But we argue that a tourism bubble cannot be looked at in isolation. It should be part of a broader strategy to diversify economies and enhance linkages (e.g. between agriculture and tourism, to put more local food on restaurant menus), especially in those countries that are most perilously dependent on tourism.

Over-dependence on tourism is a trap

Pacific nations such as Vanuatu and Fiji have recovered quickly from past crises such as the GFC, cyclones and coups because of the continuity of tourism. COVID-19 has turned that upside down.

People are coping in the short term by reviving subsistence farming, fishing and bartering for goods and services. Many are still suffering, however, due to limited state welfare systems.

In Fiji’s case, the government has taken the drastic step of allowing laid-off or temporarily unemployed workers to withdraw from their superannuation savings in the National Provident Fund. Retirement funds have also been used to lend FJ$53.6 million to the struggling national carrier, Fiji Airways.




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Fiji has taken on more debt to cope. Its debt-to-GDP ratio, which ideally should sit below 40% for developing economies, has risen from 48.9% before the pandemic to 60.9%. It’s likely to increase further.

High debt, lack of economic diversity and dependence on tourism put the Fijian economy in a very vulnerable position. Recovery will take a long time, probably requiring assistance from the country’s main trading partners. In the meantime, Fiji is pinning hopes on joining a New Zealand-Australia travel bubble.

Rarotonga International Airport: three-quarters of visitors are Aussies and Kiwis.
http://www.shutterstock.com

Out of crisis comes opportunity

Supporting Pacific states to recover is an opportunity for New Zealand and Australia to put their respective Pacific Reset and Step-Up policies into practice. If building more reciprocal, equitable relationships with Pacific states is the goal, now is the time to ensure economic recovery also strengthens their socio-economic, environmental and political infrastructures.

Economic well-being within the Pacific region is already closely linked to New Zealand and Australia through seasonal workers in horticulture and viticulture, remittance payments, trade and travel. But for many years there has been a major trade imbalance in favour of New Zealand and Australia. Shifting that balance beyond the recovery phase will involve facilitating long-term resilience and sustainable development in the region.

A good place to start would be the recent United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific report on recovering from COVID-19. Its recommendations include such measures as implementing social protection programs, integrating climate action into plans to revive economies, and encouraging more socially and environmentally responsible businesses.

This is about more than altruism – enlightened self-interest should also drive the New Zealand and Australian agenda. Any longer-term economic downturn in the South Pacific, due in part to over-reliance on tourism, could lead to instability in the region. There is a clear link between serious economic crises and social unrest.




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How might coronavirus change Australia’s ‘Pacific Step-up’?


At a broader level, the pandemic is already entrenching Chinese regional influence: loans from China make up 62% of Tonga’s total foreign borrowing; for Vanuatu the figure is 43%; for Samoa 39%.

China is taking the initiative through what some call “COVID-19 diplomacy”. This involves funding pandemic stimulus packages and offering aid and investment throughout the Pacific, including drafting a free trade agreement with Fiji.

That is not to say Chinese investment in Pacific economies won’t do good. Rather, it is an argument for thinking beyond the immediate benefits of a travel bubble. By realigning their development priorities, Australia and New Zealand can help the Pacific build a better, more sustainable future.The Conversation

Regina Scheyvens, Professor of Development Studies, Massey University and Apisalome Movono, Senior Lecturer in Development Studies, Massey University

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

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


Nigel McMillan, Griffith University

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

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

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



You’re probably safe from reinfection – for a bit

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

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




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

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

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




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

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

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

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




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Passports might be most useful for frontline workers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two classes of people

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Ipek Kurtböke, University of the Sunshine Coast

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

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

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




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Common sense precautions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food and the kitchen

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

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

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

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

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

Mind your luggage

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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