Coronavirus Government Global Briefing: March 16

By Chris Woods

Monday March 16, 2020

Welcome to Global Intelligence Briefing, Mandarin Premium’s morning update on everything in local and global government responses to the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Australian researchers call for a disability response package

Leading health and disability researchers at the University of Melbourne, University of New South Wales, and University of Sydney have called on the federal government to enact a targeted response for the disability sector akin to their aged care package.

Noting a horrific report of a Chinese teenager with cerebral palsy dying of starvation after his brother and father were quarantined, the group has issued 20 recommendations directed at a) people with a disability; and b) the service sector’s “precariously employed and inadequately trained care workforce”.

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On upscaling the heath care sector’s capacity to care for people with a disability, the group calls on the government to:

  • ensure that all new clinics are fully accessible — and that accessibility is communicated to people with a disability and their carers;
  • provide resources such as video conferencing and telephone consultations for specialist services;
  • ensure sufficient support for people with the most complex disability needs, particularly if quarantined;
  • make all relevant information accessible (i.e. Easy English, Auslan, large print) and disseminated through services, advocacy bodies, and the NDIA; and
  • create a new dedicated hotline.

There are 15 other recommendations aimed at increasing the workforce’s capacity, including but not limited to:

  • rapid up-skilling of disability care workforce in infection control;
  • drawing on students of allied health — including occupational therapy, physiotherapy, and social work;
  • allowing the disability service sector — like the health and aged care sectors — to have priority access at no cost to personal protective equipment, including masks, hand sanitisers etc;
  • triage disability services so that, as workers become infected or exposed, critical services are staffed and kept open;
  • providing financial compensation for casual and self-employed disability workforce — an increasing component of the sector — who need to self-isolate, as well as family members who need to take time off work to care for people with disability;
  • developing a coordinated plan, implemented through the National Quality and Safeguards Commission (NQSC), to address the potential for increased violence, abuse and neglect against people with disability because of social isolation and routine disruption;
  • liaising with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander advocacy groups and communities to ensure their needs are met;

The NDIA has since launched a dedicated webpage announcing the development of an Agency Pandemic Plan, in line with the government’s Emergency Response Plan. The page, which is currently available in both Easy Read and audio options, flags that NDIS participants, families and carers can request alternatives to face-to-face meetings; the NQSC  has also launched provider alerts for registered NDIS providers.

Check out Mandarin Premium later this week for a more complete breakdown of this story.

Gaming for good

Gaming hardware manufacturer Nvidia has put a mass callout for PC users to donate unused computing power for new projects aimed at researching coronavirus molecular makeups.

As Gamesradar explains, the announcement comes after 20-year-old computing project for research disease ‘Folding@home’ — which borrows power from unused gaming-grade hardware to “chew through” mass computing tasks — launched, amongst other research tasks, “projects simulating potentially druggable protein targets from SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) and the related SARS-CoV virus (for which more structural data is available)”.

Italy, UK and USA announce mortgage relief

The Basis Point has published a detailed comparison of mortgage, rent, and tax relief between Italy, the UK, and the US.

In short, Italy’s government announced last week they would work with banks to suspend mortgage payments, UK banks have adopted similar measures, and America’s housing regulators — at the time, devoid of much federal government policy — set to provide mortgage and tax relief, with local regulators to provide rental relief.

At the local side of things — and top of the federal government’s economic package — the comparison comes after member banks of the Australian Banking Association announced relief initiatives last week, which reports include deferral of loan payments, fee and charge waivers, interest-free periods, and debt consolidation.

Congress passes emergency relief package, while White House teams with Google

The US House of Representatives has passed an emergency relief package that, while uncosted because of time constraints at the Congressional Budget Office, will cover free coronavirus testing but only two weeks’ paid sick leave — and up to three months of paid family and medical leave — for employees of government or businesses with fewer than 500 employees.

As The New York Times reports, the bill only applies to those who are or have family members who are sick, not those staying home as a preventative precaution, and includes other exemptions — i.e. granting the Labor Department the power to waive requirements for companies with fewer than 50 employees over viability concerns — meaning it only applies to roughly 20% of workers. The package, which has cross-party support, including from Donald Trump, now heads to the Senate for passing early this week.

Elsewhere, and as the country jumps past the 2000 cases mark, the White House has had to clarify an earlier statement from Trump that Google, as part of a joint partnership with the government, would “quickly” have a national website up to help the public with coronavirus screening.

HuffPost reports that Vice-President Mike Pence has specified Google would launch a pilot project Monday for risk assessment, after Trump’s national address saw Verily — a subsidiary of parent company Alphabet — clarify on Twitter that it only had a site in “early stages of development” ahead of testing across the San Francisco Bay Area, “with the hope of expanding more broadly over time.”

Research wrap

Studies into the virus are flying thick and fast, so see below for some recent highlights:

  • Science has interviewed an infectious disease specialist on their promising, if very early trial of antiviral drug Remdesivir on a coronavirus patient at the University of California Davis Medical Center;
  • The Washington Post has spoken to health experts on the massive disparity in infections and fatalities between children and old people, and why it’s so different to virus such as seasonal influenza that remain dangerous to both aged groups;
  • another Science article examines existing research on the effectiveness of disinfectants against the virus; in short, they can deactivate coronaviruses on indoor surfaces, but there’s less evidence they can do much outdoors where exposure to surfaces is likely to be limited;
  • researchers at The Conversation have explored the social and psychological impacts of a coronavirus lockdown, and what Australians can do to cope with ‘cabin fever’ while social distancing; and
  • in an interesting, if not entirely applicable data simulation, the Washington Post reveals how a fictional, non-fatal virus operating under four different scenarios — free for all, attempted quarantine, moderate distancing and social distancing (below) — can lead to wildly different trajectories for recovered, healthy and sick people.

UK raises the white flag?

Across the pond, the UK has diverged from WHO advice and international precedent with a radically-defeatist policy incorporating three core strategies: much more staggered social distancing measures; wartime-like quarantines for sick and elderly populations; and developing “herd immunity” to the virus through the general population.

As analyses by The Guardian and Sydney Morning Herald explain, the theory is based on modelling from senior health officials that between 60-70 percent of the population would need to become infected to achieve herd immunity — it should be stressed, however, that  “herd immunity” generally relates to the desired outcome of a national immunisation programs, not infectious diseases; it has not been demonstrated that people who have recovered from strains of the virus cannot be infected again; and that the plan would require an almost impossible distancing between vulnerable and not-vulnerable populations.

While the Johnson government has maintained a slow and steady approach by not cancelling schools and universities, or banning non-essential travel, they did flip on mass gatherings Friday after aged care homes, sporting bodies, and even the Queen acted unilaterally.

Nice policy of the day goes to…

An IGA in Altona, Melbourne has announced special early opening hours for senior and disability card holders, an initiative aimed at reducing stress over essential items that — at least on the face of it — could additionally help limit exposure to infected members of the public.


For health department updates: Federal, NSW, Victoria, QueenslandACTSouth AustraliaTasmaniaNorthern Territory and Western Australia.

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