Welcome to Coronavirus Government Global Briefing, Mandarin Premium’s morning update on everything in local and global government responses to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Amid global pandemic, WHO issues support for Black Lives Matter movement
With global protests against the 25 May police killing of George Floyd alive and well, the World Health Organisation has briefly issued support for the movement, with WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus telling media on Tuesday, 8 June that the body “fully supports equality and the global movement against racism” while encouraging all protesters to do so as safely as possible:
“As much as possible, keep at least 1 metre from others, clean your hands, cover your cough and wear a mask if you attend a protest. We remind all people to stay home if you are sick and contact a health care provider.
“We also encourage countries to strengthen the fundamental public health measures that remain the basis of the response: find, isolate, test and care for every case, and trace and quarantine every contact.”
Michael J. Ryan, Chief Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, has since clarified that people who have attended mass gathering do not necessarily meet the definition of a “contact” — i.e. someone who has been in prolonged close contact with a confirmed carrier of COVID-19 — and that quarantine and mass testing advice should come from local local public health officials depending on the scientific data around transmission rates.
Will Australia see post-protest spikes?
The WHO’s advice correlates with harm-minimisation approaches encouraged by organisers of Australia’s rallies — who varied by state, but in Melbourne included the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance and Victorian Aboriginal Health Service. These approaches included:
- working to provide enough free masks and hand sanitiser to cover tens of thousands attending;
- asking people not to attend if they were sick, immunocompromised, or living/working with immunocompromised people;
- asking protesters to self-isolate for the next 14 days; and
- asking any protesters that subsequently develop even slight symptoms to be tested.
There are still concerns of new infections, with The Australian ($) reporting yesterday that the national cabinet subsequently ditched plans to accelerate recovery measures by at least a week — adding (perhaps unfairly) that the protests potentially cost “the economy more than $1 billion” and prevented “tens of thousands of people getting back to work”.
Australia may have to wait weeks to see what, if any, infections arise from the protests. Even their link to increases in America remains obscured by high transmission rates, the still-uncertain efficacy of masks at preventing transmission — recent meta-analysis of studies at The Lancet only suggests that masks are effective but more-so with social distancing and goggles — and the easing of restrictions.
However, physician and journalist Dr Norman Swan provided a few reasons for hope in Australia, at least, in the latest episode of Coronacast with health reporter Tegan Taylor.
While Swan acknowledged the obvious infection risk of mass gatherings — he cites evidence from a carnival in Germany where “the rate of infection increased by 2.5 times in people who had attended that carnival relative to the rest of the population” — he also argues that states with relatively-low community transmission rates, along with preventative measures taken by protesters, suggests they are unlikely to see a spike in the next couple of weeks:
“When you look at the footage, and I wasn’t there, but if you look at the footage a lot of people were wearing masks. When you also look at the footage there was a bit of social distancing. I’m not sure how really well that was adhered to. And it’s outdoors, and there is less chance of it being picked up.
“…whether you would have thousands of people around the nation self isolating…I mean, I think if you were in a small state where they have not really had much transmission for quite some days, I think the risk is low, particularly if you are wearing masks. I think mask wearing is something that really needs to be considered at an official level here to reduce the risk, not just in protests but in public transport and other areas.
How Brexit influenced the UK’s failed response
In a new essay at The London School of Economics and Political Science, Associate Professor of Comparative Politics Dr Jonathan Hopkin argues that Britain’s categorical failure to prevent and mitigate their pandemic is, in part, a symptom of “Brexit thinking, and indeed the immediate material consequences of that decision”.
Specifically, the Brexit mentality can be traced to the government’s eagerness to go it alone on internal scientific advice on the otherwise-debunked “herd immunity” theory, reject participation in an EU initiative for procuring medical equipment, and impose lockdown far later than comparable countries:
“It was blindingly obvious from early March that the pandemic was overwhelming a healthcare system that ranked among the best in the world, in one of Europe’s richest regions: Lombardy. Britain, with one of the lowest numbers of intensive care beds in Europe, was hardly better placed than Italy to cope with the outbreak. Yet Boris Johnson insisted that ‘what is happening in other countries doesn’t necessarily mirror what is happening in the UK’. The fact that nobody in government seemed to be talking with experts in other countries, is symptomatic of the insular thinking that underpins the Brexit project.”
As Hopkin argues, Britain’s divergence with the EU and continuing “Brexit mentality” continues to play out in terms of human costs — the country, by the end of May, had more deaths from COVID-19 than any country in Europe “despite the virus taking hold in Britain significantly later than in Italy or Spain, the first countries to suffer a sustained outbreak” — and politically, with UK-EU cooperation largely stalled on healthcare, migration and trade even before Brexit is officially completed.
- For a different perspective on this issue, check out a recent survey by LSE’s Department of Methodology on how lockdown skepticism — if not, apparently, the actual act of breaking lockdown — has become entwined with the Leave/Remain divide.
How COVID-19 will shape Africa’s economic future
Over at the World Economic Forum, Deloitte Africa’s Managing Director of Emerging Markets & Africa Martyn Davies cites three emerging “mega-trends” that will determine how well Africa can recover from the pandemic:
- De-globalisation: Macro trends in world trade — which the World Trade Organisation recently warned could collapse by as much as a third this year — will further marginalise African economies, particularly as the implementation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area has been postponed to next year.
- Debt and fiscal sustainability: Effectively, the burden of debt will grow as over 100 developing countries apply to the International Monetary Fund to meet rising deficits.
- Digitalisation: The move by companies to adopt remote working risks excluding economies that are ill-prepared for rapid tech-driven change, and further delaying their recovery; Rwanda, Davies notes, is an exception and is seeking to set itself up as a tech-enabled services economy.
For more on how the pandemic continues to impact the world economy, listen to the latest episode of the Lowy Institute’s COVIDcast, featuring Professor of History at Columbia University Adam Tooze.
State wrap: NT launches Creative Industries COVID-19 Recovery Group
- Launching the territory’s first ever, four-year Creative Industries Strategy, the Northern Territory government yesterday pledged to establish a Creative Industries COVID-19 Recovery Working Group to “provide expert and strategic advice to inform the sector’s recovery in the short term and the implementation of other strategy recommendations over the coming years”.
- The South Australian government has pledged $600,000 from their $650 million response package will extend the new domestic violence disclosure scheme by 12 months and maintain a phone app that links at-risk women to police and domestic violence services.
- The Tasmanian government announced that the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery will reopen from Tuesday, 23 June, and the state’s Mental Health Reform Program has recommenced after staff were redeployed to clinical roles during the pandemic.