Coronavirus Government Global Briefing: May 21

By Chris Woods

Thursday May 21, 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.

What next for Australian cinemas?

Australia has seen a blitz of innovative arts projects through the lockdown, ranging from digital museums and literary events to government-run programs like Victoria Together or Territory Sounds Countdown to Drive-In Entertainment’s “drive-in concerts,” which will launch today with Casey Donavan in Sydney before expanding across eight sites in Victoria and NSW.

Cinemas, however, have been more or less stuck in limbo. Studios, while largely pausing new releases, can and have relaunched some items for home streaming — Universal Studio’s Trolls World Tour will go down in history for creating a studio ban from Regal Entertainment and AMC Theatres, if perhaps not much else. There’s not really anything owners of large, cramped indoor venues with 100+ capacities and circulated air could do to pivot amidst the pandemic.

Canberra’s changed

Stay on top for only $5 a week


As The New Daily reports, drive-in cinemas are extremely well primed for new social-distancing rules — beyond, potentially, toilet breaks and ticketing — with Queensland’s Yatala 3 Drive-In Theatre reopening to a surge of interest earlier this month when state restrictions eased.


Similarly, The Greater Dandenong Leader ($) reports that Melbourne venue owners are preparing for a similar boom if they are allowed to reopen in early June. But there are only three venues in Melbourne, a far cry from the dozen or so multi-screen venues across the city.

For the sector as a whole, a new Screen Hub article, ‘The future of cinemagoing in a post-COVID world’, reports that, subject to state restrictions, the National Association of Cinema Operators forecasts Australian cinemas may be able to reopen under stage 2 restrictions by mid-July.

Relaunching cinemas will require a number of safety unknowns — i.e. “whether the restrictions apply per auditorium or to the entire venue, and, if the latter, whether a cinema’s bar will be considered a separate venue” — as well as the potential for missing gaps as distributors consider new release schedules.

However, Screen Hub notes that owners are learning from countries where cinemas are starting to emerge from lockdown with physical-distancing rules, limited film releases and/or staff layoffs i.e. New Zealand and Japan.

Additionally, for CEO and general manager of Melbourne’s Screen Hub, Kristian Connelly, the extra “lead time” has created space to prepare for new restrictions, however they may turn out.

“We consulted with our architect prior to closing, and now we have that data available to us to ensure we can follow any guidelines as they develop closer to reopening. It goes without saying that our first priority is the safety and wellbeing of our patrons and our staff,” Connelly says.

Further, while Nova is renowned as something of an indie icon — the first weekend back will include showings of The Room and a costume singalong to Cats —  Connelly is confident the sector will survive whatever dalliances studios have with re-launching major releases for home streaming:

“If cinema really was in trouble, as so many people have tried to declare it is in the past, I think that we would have seen its wholesale abandonment during these extraordinary and unprecedented international circumstances. But with a very few exceptions, the majority of titles are being held over for theatrical release, which is really, really heartening.”

Whatever happens, I can’t imagine it’ll be weirder than those Texas cinemas reopening with airport-style security booths.

Further Reading: For a first-person account of what it’s been like to work as a filmmaker and producer throughout the pandemic, check out Cinema Australia’s ‘COVID-19 impact on Australian international film trade: Filmmaker Anupam Sharma discusses recovery, priorities and new opportunities‘.

Geopolitics wrap

  • According to investing publication Barron’s, the US Federal Reserve has purchases corporate bond funs from a broad range of U.S. companies, but forced state and local governments to clear longer, arguably higher hurdles to access central-bank financing.
  • In a largely damning editorial, The Lancet argues that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — a one-time global leader in the field — has been hollowed out by conservative politics and “silver bullet” demands by the Trump administration to become an “ineffective and nominal adviser in the response to contain the spread of the virus.”
  • The Interpreter has explored how Papua New Guinea, while relatively lucky with only a handful of cases and no fatalities, will grapple with new economic and cultural stresses on the resource sector, subsistence agriculture, and foreign investment.
  • As Newsroom reports, New Zealand’s government has launched a bare-bones “digital diary” app that — distinct from another, more advanced contact tracing app that is still being worked on — will only store location data on a user’s phone; it also does not appear to replace a business’ requirement to maintain a register of all patrons’ names, phone numbers and email addresses.
  • Singapore has sentenced a man to death via Zoom call “for the safety of all involved in the proceedings” (The Guardian).
  • InThe Coronavirus Class War‘ at New York Magazine’s The Intelligencer, Sarah Jones unpacks polling, protests and disingenuous class rhetoric concerning America’s lockdown. Specifically, Jones demonstrate why the majority of those calling to end state lockdowns are not members of the working class but, rather, beneficiaries of the working class.
  • Finally, NY Daily News reports that progressive watchdog the Center for Media and Democracy has obtained a leak recording of Republican political operatives planning to seeking out conservative doctors to serve as mouthpieces for President Trump’s push to reopen the economy even as COVID-19 rages.

How a pandemic messes with AI

In a report for MIT Technology Review, senior editor for AI Will Douglas Heaven unpacks how radical societal and behavioural changes throughout the pandemic have, for lack of a better word, messed with machine-learning models trained on normal behaviours.

For context, Heaven explains that the top 10 search Amazon search terms for the week of April 12-18 were toilet paper, face mask, hand sanitiser, paper towels, Lysol spray, Clorox wipes, mask, Lysol, masks for germ protection, and N95 mask. Mainstays such as ‘phone cases,’ ‘phone chargers,’ and ‘Lego’ were knocked off the top 10 purchase list, and “Face Mask, Pack of 50” became a new Amazon #1 Best Seller.

As consultancy group Nozzle found in the graph below, it took less than a week at the end of February for the top 10 search terms across Italy, Spain, France, Canada, the US, the UK and Germany to fill up with COVID-related products.

And while machine-learning models are designed to respond to changes in human behaviour, they tend not to be “trained on” input data so massively different to the norm.

Just some of the knock-on consequences include:

  • A spike in sales for a company that supplies sauces and condiments to Indian retailers broke their automated inventory management system after reorder forecasts no longer matched with what was actually selling.
  • Gloomier news results skewing AI for a firm that assesses the sentiment of news articles and provides daily investment recommendations based on the results.
  • An influx of content-hungry subscribers at a large streaming firm have similarly made their recommendation algorithms less accurate.

Heaven also reports how these challenges have required human intervention; for example, a company that uses AI to detect credit card fraud has had to adjust for a surge in people buying garden equipment and power tools. Similarly, to prevent strain on its own warehouses, Amazon has flipped search results to promote products from companies with their own delivery services.

State wrap

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

About the author
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

The essential resource for effective
public sector professionals