Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews flagged on Wednesday that metropolitan Melbourne’s restrictions could be eased further than initially planned on Monday September 28.
Andrews wouldn’t confirm which restrictions will be eased, but from an outbreak-management perspective, we should be cautious about easing anything too quickly.
It would be a huge shame to see Victorians’ pain and sacrifices undone, and I hope the restrictions will be eased early based on epidemiological advice, rather than mounting political pressure.
The 14-day case average of 29.4 is based on the new cases announced each day, though sometimes cases are reclassified later on. According to my corrected data, the new case average is 30. Either way, it’s a vast improvement compared with the peak in early August when the 14-day average reached over 460.
Nevertheless, the current figure is still in the “red zone” of more than 100 cumulative cases in the past fortnight, where cases can spiral out of control if restrictions are eased too suddenly.
Ideally, the most significant easing of restrictions would only happen when the 14-day average hits the “green zone” of fewer than five cases, which is currently planned for October 26.
It’s risky to relax too soon, because there are still many “mystery cases” for which the source of infection is unknown. Victoria’s Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng confirmed these mystery cases are currently spread across 18 local government areas. He said:
Most of those are still in the areas where we are concerned […] Each local government area has a relatively small number of cases and I guess it does reflect that there has been community transmission out there.
These areas include Casey in Melbourne’s southeast, and Brimbank and Hume in the city’s northwest.
I would be very cautious about easing restrictions ahead of schedule when there are still mystery cases. There is likely still some community transmission that is yet to be detected by contact tracers.
Cheng added, however, that if the number of mystery cases continues to decline, this would give confidence there has been minimal further community transmission.
The early easing of restrictions could be justified if the new cases are within known risk groups and we are confident that the risk has been contained.
From an outbreak-management perspective this is the right approach. The curfew has several aims, one of which is to restrict the movement of younger people. Younger people have been disproportionately COVID-positive during Victoria’s second wave. Younger adults tend to be more socially connected, have more daily contacts with one another, and often work at several workplaces. All these factors increase the chances of acquiring and transmitting COVID-19.
There’s an ongoing risk to Victoria’s case numbers from residential aged care. If the virus continues to circulate in aged care, it poses a risk to residents and staff, and might also escape to the wider community via infected staff.
Aged-care homes must provide adequate personal protective equipment. There have been concerns among staff that surgical masks are not enough to prevent contracting COVID-19. The World Health Organisation does recommend a surgical mask and face shield, but this requires a minimum safe airflow change in rooms to prevent exhaled infectious particles from hanging in the air and causing airborne spread.
Scientists believe most transmission occurs through droplets, but poorly ventilated environments might explain the increased risk of airborne spread in confined spaces.
Most residential aged-care facilities will not be able to meet the safe level of room airflow of 40-80 litres per second per resident.
Therefore, in situations where airflow is not adequate, surgical masks should be replaced with respirator masks, such as N95 or P2 masks, to prevent staff acquiring the virus at work.
It’s likely that transmission in aged care homes will continue if this issue isn’t addressed. The issue of poor airflow could also apply to other workplaces like abattoirs, factories and shared office spaces. Going forward, they too should consider the risk of airborne spread.
This week’s Newspoll, conducted September 16-19 from a sample of 2,068, gave the Coalition a 51-49 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since the previous Newspoll, three weeks ago.
Primary votes were 43% Coalition (up two), 34% Labor (down two), 12% Greens (up one) and 3% One Nation (steady) – all figures from The Poll Bludger.
65% were satisfied with Scott Morrison’s performance (up one), and 31% were dissatisfied (down one), for a net approval of +34. Anthony Albanese’s ratings fell into negative territory: his net approval was -1, down three points. Morrison led Albanese as better PM by 59-27 (58-29 last time).
The last Newspoll had the Coalition’s lead dropping from 52-48 to a 50-50 tie, while Morrison’s net approval was down seven points. This Newspoll implies movements in the previous Newspoll may have been exaggerated.
It is also possible the federal Coalition is benefiting from restrictions to fight coronavirus becoming less popular in Victoria. A Morgan Victorian state poll (see below) gave Labor a narrow lead, but that lead was well down on the November 2018 election result. In other state polls, there was a clear surge to the incumbent government.
A Victorian SMS Morgan poll, conducted September 15-17 from a sample of 1,150, gave Labor a 51.5-48.5 lead over the Coalition, a six-point gain for the Coalition since the November 2018 state election. Primary votes were 38.5% Coalition, 37% Labor and 12% Greens. Morgan’s SMS polls have been unreliable in the past.
A South Australian YouGov poll, conducted September 10-16 from a sample of 810, gave the Liberals a 53-47 lead over Labor, a six-point gain for the Liberals since March, likely due to the state’s handling of coronavirus. Primary votes were 46% Liberals (up seven), 35% Labor (down three) and 10% Greens (down one).
Liberal Premier Steven Marshall had a massive surge in net approval, to +52 from -4 in March. Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas had a +22 net approval.
A Tasmanian EMRS poll, conducted August 18-24 from a sample of 1,000, gave the Liberals 54% (up 11 since the last publicly released EMRS poll in March), Labor 24% (down ten) and the Greens 12% (steady). Liberal Premier Peter Gutwein led Opposition Leader Rebecca White by 70-23 as better premier (41-39 to White in March).
This section is an updated version of an article I had published for The Poll Bludger last Thursday.
Six weeks before the November 3 election, FiveThirtyEight’s national aggregate gives Joe Biden a 6.8% lead over Donald Trump (50.3% to 43.5%). This is an improvement for Trump from three weeks ago, when he trailed by 8.2%. In the key states, Biden leads by 7.6% in Michigan, 6.6% in Wisconsin, 4.6% in Pennsylvania, 4.5% in Arizona and 2.0% in Florida.
In my article three weeks ago, the difference in Trump’s favour between the Electoral College tipping-point state and the national vote had widened to three points, but this difference has fallen back to about two points, with Arizona and Pennsylvania currently two points more favourable to Trump than national polls.
If Biden wins all the states carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016, plus Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona, he gets exactly 269 Electoral Votes, one short of the 270 required for a majority. Maine and Nebraska award one EV to the winner of each of their Congressional Districts, and two to the statewide winner. All other states award their EVs winner-takes-all.
Under this scenario, Biden would need one of either Nebraska’s or Maine’s second CDs for the 270 EVs required to win the Electoral College. Nebraska’s second is a more likely win for Biden as it is an urban district.
The US economy has rebounded strongly from the coronavirus nadir in April. Owing to this, the FiveThirtyEight forecast expects some narrowing as the election approaches. Every day that passes without evidence of narrowing in the tipping-point states is bad news for Trump. Biden’s chances of winning in the forecast have increased from a low of 67% on August 31 to 77% now.
While Trump has improved slightly in national polls, some state polls have been very good for Biden. Recently, Biden has had leads of 16 points in Minnesota, 21 points in Maine, 10 in Wisconsin and 10 in Arizona.
Trump’s ratings with all polls in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate are currently 43.2% approve, 52.7% disapprove (net -9.5%). With polls of likely or registered voters, his ratings are 44.0% approve, 52.8% disapprove (net -8.8%). In the last three weeks, Trump has gained about two points on net approval, continuing a recovery from July lows.
The RealClearPolitics Senate map has 47 expected Republican seats, 46 Democratic seats and seven toss-ups. If toss-ups are assigned to the current leader, Democrats lead by 51-49, unchanged from three weeks ago.
The US has just passed the grim milestone of over 200,000 deaths attributable to coronavirus. However, daily new cases have dropped into the 30,000 to 50,000 range from a peak of over 70,000 in July. Less media attention on the coronavirus crisis assists Trump.
The headline jobs gained or lost are from the establishment survey, while the household survey is used for the unemployment rate. In August, the household survey numbers were much better than the establishment survey, with almost 3.8 million jobs added.
It is probably fortunate for Biden that the September jobs report, to be released in early October, will be the last voters see before the election. The October report will be released November 6, three days after the election.
I believe Trump should focus on the surging economy in the lead-up to the election, and ignore other issues like the Kenosha violence and culture war issues. Particularly given the Supreme Court vacancy, Biden should focus on Trump and Republicans’ plans to gut Obamacare.
On Friday, left-wing US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. While Democrats control the House of Representatives, only the Senate gets a vote on judicial appointments, and Republicans control that chamber by 53-47.
Even if Democrats were to win control of both the Senate and presidency at the November 3 election, the Senate transition is not until January 3, with the presidential transition on January 20.
There is plenty of time for Trump to nominate a right-wing replacement for Ginsburg, and for the Senate to approve that choice. That will give conservative appointees a 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court.
Yet businesses and shareholders are far from representative of those most at risk.
The best evidence we’ve got suggests the hardest hit are Victoria’s already disadvantaged.
Those arguing for extended lockdowns make the point that they are not as costly as they might seem (to anyone) because their effects need to be compared not with business as usual, but with business in which a pandemic encourages people to stay at home and reduce spending.
Victoria’s job losses accelerated well ahead of the renewed Stage 3 and then Stage 4 lockdowns which began on July 8 and August 2.
But these are overall measurements. Lockdowns hurt some much more than others.
A study of 29 European Union nations found that people with high levels of education were twice as likely as people with low education to be able to work through lockdowns.
A British study found employees in the bottom 10% of earnings were seven times as likely as those in the top 10% to work in a sector that had been shut down.
An Australian study found low income workers were three times as likely as high earners to face a high risk of losing their jobs.
This isn’t obvious from mobility data, which seems to show the opposite.
Google statistics on the movement of people with Android phones show that residents of Melbourne’s most disadvantaged suburbs have restricted their travel the least.
The most likely reason that economically and socially disadvantaged Melbourne residents are still moving is that they are in jobs that don’t allow them to work from home.
A World Bank study finds the same thing on a larger scale. The extensive voluntary reductions in activity that proceeded lockdowns were present in only rich nations, not in developing ones.
This means, in the words of a Harvard University study, that in countries where many people live at or close to subsistence, it isn’t possible to save people from the pandemic without condemning them to deprivation.
The story is as old as the plague itself.
During the Black Death of 1348 to 1349, King Edward fled London with his relics and staff for the safety of his country estates. The poor had nowhere to flee. Even though the odds of surviving the year in London were less than 50%, the odds of surviving without work weren’t much different.
During Great Plague of London in 1655, so many people of means deserted the city that it was dubbed “the poore’s plague”.
Throughout history and across countries, disadvantaged groups necessarily have fewer choices and hence carry a greater share of the burden of quarantine-type measures.
We should expect business to represent the interests of its shareholders – and business claims should be viewed through that lens, but there are other victims of lockdowns, less able to provide ready quotes.
However well intentioned the lockdowns are, the already-disadvantaged are likely to be hurting the most.
From 11.59pm tomorrow (September 16), regional Victoria will take the third step out of COVID-19 restrictions, Premier Daniel Andrews announced today.
According to the roadmap revealed last weekend, the move to step 3 in regional Victoria could happen when the daily average number of cases for the previous 14 days was less than five, and there were zero community cases without a known source for 14 days.
Regional Victoria actually reached the 14-day moving average target on September 10, with 4.5, and by today the average had dropped to 3.6. They were just waiting to hit the mystery cases target.
Among the restrictions to be eased under step 3, up to ten people will be allowed to gather outdoors, and hospitality venues will be able to open again for sit-down service. Beauty salons and hairdressers will also reopen, and people who live in regional Victoria will be able to travel to other regional areas in the state.
This easing of restrictions is undoubtedly good news for regional Victoria. But it’s also reason for people in Melbourne to be optimistic.
Certainly, regional Victoria and metropolitan Melbourne are quite different in terms of the epidemiology of their respective second waves. But the targets set out in the roadmap do appear to be achievable.
The 14-day moving average of daily case numbers for Melbourne is currently at 52.9, and needs to drop below 50 to reach the target for step 2.
Based on my modelling of the 14-day moving average, Melbourne could reach this target as early as Thursday.
This model takes the 14-day moving average for the last 30 days, and it assumes the continuing downward trend is exponentially decreasing. That is, it plots a slow downward curve that approaches zero.
The target to move to step 3 is a 14-day moving average of fewer than five cases per day statewide. A similar modelling strategy shows this is likely to occur on about October 22.
Notably, there was no date set for the move to step 3 in regional Victoria, which is very different to the roadmap set out for metropolitan Melbourne.
In Melbourne, the second step is not due to occur until September 28, and the third step not until October 26 – and only then if case numbers have dropped below designated thresholds.
The key question for the Victorian government is whether to stick to this time frame, or allow for an earlier move to the second and third steps if Melbourne achieves the moving average targets ahead of time.
In a recent article on The Conversation, I called for a more nuanced approach to lifting restrictions. In other words, the government shouldn’t be too rigid with the roadmap.
The people of Victoria have been asked to make enormous sacrifices to get the outbreak under control, and it’s working. I believe the Victorian government should be willing to reward Melburnians by moving to the third step when they reach the relevant case threshold, regardless of the date.
It’s essential that over the next few weeks, Melbourne residents continue to stick to the restrictions, to help hit the targets as soon as possible.
The numbers of COVID-19 tests has dropped off in the past few days, averaging about 14,000 tests a day. With the lower number of cases and fewer people with respiratory symptoms now winter is over, this is not really surprising. But it’s vital high rates of testing continue, with a focus on hotspot areas, such as the Casey local government area.
As for regional Victoria, people there must also stick to the remaining restrictions. This will give them the best chance of moving towards step 4 and beyond.