Coronavirus Government Global Briefing: April 28

By Chris Woods

April 28, 2020

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

On gendered COVID-19 campaigns

At the start of April, a coalition of 85 gender equity and women’s organisations across Victoria called on the state and federal governments to recognise the gendered impacts of COVID-19, and commit to the following 10 recommendations:

  1. Fund Gender & Disaster Workers across the State of Victoria.
  2. Protect obstetric, gynaecological, sexual and reproductive health services from COVID-19.
  3. Boost family violence prevention and responses activities to cope with an increased demand.
  4. Ensure all COVID-19 Updates & communications and data gathering applies a gender lens.
  5. Provide a wage subsidy to all workers in hard hit industries, including casual women workers.
  6. Provide recognition and support to carers & educators at home.
  7. Provide essential service workers with urgent personal protective equipment (PPE) and recognition of the risky work they are performing.
  8. All essential workers should also have childcare funded by the commonwealth for the duration of the pandemic.
  9. Commence gender-based planning for post-pandemic reboot of the Victorian economy. Create a pandemic stand down taskforce to prioritise investment in services & infrastructure required to ensure Victoria gets back on its feet swiftly. Ensure decision-making is gender-equal.
  10. Get gender equality investment back on track. Ensure that all rebuild efforts and investment apply a gender lens so that women and men benefit equally from the long journey towards recovery.

Since then, Australia has seen governments across all state, territory and federal levels commit to range of gendered initiatives — from funding for family violence prevention to free childcare — but there are both plenty of emerging gaps.

For example, Crikey unpacked last week how women overwhelmingly dominate the healthcare, aged-care and education sectors, but — in part because JobKeeper does not cover casual workers employed under 12 months, most of whom are young women — new ABS data has more women losing their jobs throughout the pandemic. As The Guardian reported yesterday, the Family Court’s decision to create a dedicated list to deal with parenting and safety issues is only due, sadly, to the increase in urgent applications for hearings.

Gender Equity Victoria has also launched a COVID-19 eBulletin, the latest of which, ‘Gender, Disaster and Resilience’, examines some of the recent research on different health outcomes between genders — for example, why female hormones can create stronger immune systems, as well as gendered lifestyle choices — and research into the following subjects:

Finally, Americans are experiencing much more overt gendered attacks throughout their pandemic: Donald Trump has quietly removed transgender patients as a health care-protected class, while conservative governors are facing lawsuits from advocacy bodies after suspending abortion services amidst the health crisis.

Vaccine and treatment wrap

  • According to Science, researchers at private Beijing company Sinovac Biotech have published the first evidence of a potential vaccine protecting an animal, the monkey rhesus macaques.
    • The vaccine — an “old formulation” consisting of a chemically inactivated version of the virus — produced no obvious side effects; human trials began on 16 April, and while other experts raised concerns (for example the study’s size of just eight monkeys, or the fact that animals do not demonstrate as severe symptoms as humans), the “old school method” of using inactivated virus forms has raised hopes it could be produced in lower–middle-income countries.
  • Nature reports that, with Donald Trump and other media reports hyping the potential benefits of chloroquine, researchers across the world have found volunteers are turning away from clinical trials for other therapies.
  • Over the weekend, The New Daily both profiled an Australian doctor who has volunteered for an Oxford trial and, in the fourth episode of ‘The COVID Conversation‘ podcast, immunologist Professor Peter Doherty spoke on the likelihood of having to control the virus with daily drugs in a similar way to HIV.
  • The BBC has examined the six Indian firms developing vaccines, within a broader context of US-India research partnerships.
  • In a CNN interview, Bill Gates believes that manufacturing for any of the seven drugs he is funding could take between one-to-two years to begin.

New Zealand moves to Level 3 amidst “elimination” strategy

New Zealand will today officially move from Level 4 to Level 3 restrictions, first announced 20 April, as the country records a week of new daily cases in the single digits and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern grabs international headlines for declaring the virus “currently” eliminated.

As New Zealand outlet Stuff reports, Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield has explained that the low number “does give us confidence that we’ve achieved our goal of elimination, which — that never meant zero but it does mean we know where our cases are coming from.”

Having hit the tail of its pandemic, New Zealand is loosening lockdown measures and preparing for post-COVID life. Source: NZ Ministry of Health.

While New Zealanders will still be asked to work and study from home if they are able, changes include:

  • Minor extensions to bubbles
  • Reopening of some businesses with the two-metre rule
  • Early childhood centres and schools reaming available up to Year 10 only, with attendance purely voluntary
  • Travel restrictions being loosened from local to regional
  • Funerals and weddings being allowed to take place but limited to 10 people, with no food or receptions allowed

Public venues such as libraries, museums, and gyms will remain closed.

Ardern went on to explain that a decision on whether or not to move to Level 3 would be made by Cabinet on May 11 and, while isolated cases could pick up again, the country is now prepared to return to “that zero-tolerance approach, to have a very aggressive management of those cases and keep those numbers low and fading out again.”

The prime minister also flagged that, with international travel suspended indefinitely, Australia and New Zealand could create a “trans-Tasman bubble” with 14 day self-isolation measures for travellers.

A quick scan of the governments’ weekend announcements at Beehive reveals a $107.6 million plan to support homeless residents “throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond”, an extension of leave support for workers, and guidance on Level 3 rules for seniors, which allows people over 70 and other higher-risk groups to:

  • extend their ‘bubble’ carefully, for example by letting close family or a caregiver into their home
  • go to a local beach or park for fresh air and exercise
  • shop for essential services such as at the chemist or supermarket
  • take children to school if they are caregivers, and
  • volunteer or go to work if they cannot do this from home and it is safe.

For an international perspective, see Time’s examination of New Zealand’s elimination goal, and why the country’s unique geography — along with the intensive border control and quarantine measures — make the goal largely impossible to replicate for most other countries.

On the home front: NT prepares for eradication, $93m for zoos and a nation-wide Newspoll bounce

Following a three-week stretch with no new cases reported, and with just five active cases left, the Northern Territory government has announced that territory-controlled parks will reopen from noon on Friday 1 May.

While hygiene advice remains in place and police and park rangers will continue to monitor the 1.5 metre rule, The NT News ($) reports that Chief Minister Michael Gunner is preparing for a 28-day countdown to “eradicating” the virus.

Understandably, given the lack of precedent, Gunner says the stress of determining what rules to loosen/which to maintain eclipses the original decision to go into lockdown:

“We can only do this once and I want to get it right the first time,” Gunner said.

According to the media release, the plan for transitioning to post-COVID life includes:

  1. Controlling the borders
  2. Rapid response: a “test, trace and trap” plan to contain any future outbreak, minimising the risk to the community.
  3. The new normal: Territorians enjoying their lives while also adhering to social distancing, cleaning and hygiene protocols.

Elsewhere, The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the federal government will today launch a $95 million zoo package, while the latest Newspoll ($) suggests all state premiers are experiencing overwhelming approval for their handling of the pandemic.

Of the five, West Australian Premier Mark McGown enjoys the highest rating amongst participants at 94%.

In other state updates:

  • NSW has announce both a $30 million boost to energy bill support, through the Energy Accounts Payment Assistance Scheme, and a freeze on licence fees for small community businesses that use school sites like canteens, uniforms shops, out of school hours care services and dance schools up to the end of Term 2.
    • According to The Sydney Morning Herald, the Land and Housing Corporation has submitted a cabinet briefing paper outlining the employment and development benefits of a $500 million property spending spree focusing on unsold apartments and fast-tracking construction.
  • The Victorian government has announced a two-week “testing blitz”, with a target of 100,000 including anyone with mild symptoms, ahead of the state of emergency’s expiration on 11 May.
  • Ahead of Term 2 starting for TAFE today in Western Australia, the state government has outlined a “blended” delivery of learning online and interactive technologies — with “face-to-face delivery where necessary and where adequate social-distancing measures can be implemented” — and the beginning of a fast-tracked program for infectious disease training in disability and aged care sectors
  • The South Australian government has announced that an additional 1 million pieces of personal protective equipment have begun arriving ahead of the recommencement of essential elective surgery this week.
    • The ABC reports that, like Queensland last week, South Australia’s online learning system LearnLink crashed on its first day of Term 2, yesterday.
  • Tasmania’s Minister for Disability Services and Community Development Jeremy Rockliff has called for residents to volunteer through EVCREW (emergency volunteers crew) to assist with delivering a range of essential services throughout the crisis, such as community transport, meal delivery, social connection, and shopping.

Feel good photo of the day…

Finally, a primary school in Hangzhou, China has found a novel mechanism for social distancing: horizontal plumes.

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

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