Coronavirus Government Global Briefing: June 17

By Chris Woods

Wednesday June 17, 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.

After abandoning lockdowns, India faces projections of 800,000 by July

According to Bloomberg, India faces projections of 800,000 cases by July after easing lockdown measures that, after being brought into effect in March, was not able to fully “flatten the curve” but did create massive economic costs.

In the face of colossal economic consequences — restrictions forced roughly 122 million people into unemployment in April and, according to the World Bank, could push at least 12 million into extreme poverty — India announced a phased lifting of national restrictions at the end of May, allowing malls, restaurants and places of worship to reopen from low-activity areas in June 8 and expand throughout June.

Source: FT analysis of data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the Covid Tracking Project

It’s impossible to fully appreciate the exponential challenges COVID-19 has meant for a country 1.3 billion, of course; even the democratic-socialist region of Kerala, which The New Statesman reported in May successfully and uniquely managed their outbreak through both quick responses and long-term public investments, has seen numbers spike this month.

Now, as total cases hit 343,000, with the government effectively cannot hope for focusing on mitigating casualties and some regions starved of healthcare equipment, a team of data scientists at the University of Michigan project India could see its total caseload jump beyond 800,000 by July.

Professor of biostatistics at the University of Michigan Bhramar Mukherjee has even had to remove longer-term projections from their website because they were causing people to panic.

“You cannot see the peak, it’s been pushed further in time,” said Mukherjee.

“I wish I could be more positive but I think it’s going to be really hard over the next couple of months.”

How New Zealand broke its 24-day hot streak

New Zealand has suspended compassionate exemptions from managed isolation after the diagnosis of two recent arrivals from the UK ended a 24 day period of no new domestic cases.

While Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stressed in a live Facebook announcement the country was always going to record new cases as people continue to return from overseas, she declared that “expectations have not been met” after the two women tested positive after leaving a managed isolation facility without essential health checks.

What went wrong

As Stuff reports, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield yesterday confirmed that the women — who, he stressed, did nothing wrong themselves — were declared positive on Tuesday, after being tested in Wellington on Monday, and leaving their facility in a private car from Auckland on Saturday, 13 June.

The pair arrived in the country on Sunday 7 June from the UK, via Doha and Brisbane, and requested a compassionate exemption on the Friday in order to travel to Wellington and comfort a relative after a parent had died; the process was expedited, on the grounds they would abide by an agreed plan that meant:

  • not stopping to use public facilities
  • not making contact with anyone else on the trip
  • a supply of face masks
  • getting tested at a drive-through Wellington assessment

Bloomfield further explained that, while people are usually tested before leaving a facility, the specific circumstances and officials’ confidence over the plan meant they were not; he was also unsure if the women were even taken through a checklist of symptoms, although one per her mild symptoms down to a pre-existing condition.

“My understanding is the person who had the symptoms was asked ‘are you Ok?’,” Bloomfield said. “And it may well have been that [asking symptoms] may have elicited specific symptoms that may have led to suspicion.”

Since arriving in Wellington, their only contact has been with one family member. Other potential contacts include people on the same Air New Zealand flight from Brisbane and guests and staff in the managed isolation facility; officials are reviewing footage from their arrival and transit to gauge for other contacts, and are certain all contacts can be traced.

What happens now

While Bloomfield initially announced any future exemptions would require negative tests — recent, still-to-be approved changes in New Zealand meant those in managed isolation were set to only being tested on days 3 and 12, although their exemption and the fact they came through the transition period meant the women were not tested on their third day (or at all) — Health Minister Dr David Clark later suspended the exemption system entirely:

“Compassionate exemptions should be rare and rigorous and it appears that this case did not include the checks that we expected to be happening,” Clark said. “That’s not acceptable.”

“The Director-General will be reviewing the processes around these latest two cases, noting that he has already made it a requirement that all individuals must return a negative COVID test before leaving managed isolation facilities from now on.

“I have asked the Director General to consider if there are any other measures we can put in place to strengthen our health protections at the border.

Compassionate exemptions will only be reinstated once the government “has confidence in the system”.

On the home front: Queensland details stage two of its Economic Recovery Strategy

Yesterday, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the second phase of the state’s Economic Recovery Strategy, which — after phase one in May focused on infrastructure, industry support and future growth initiatives — includes “further measures for small business, for tradies, for farmers, for first home buyers, for seniors, for cabbies, for the tourism industry, and for artists and musicians.”

Funds are outlined below, with links to further information where available.

Agriculture ($12.5m)

  • $5.5m digital transformation in agribusiness – to develop integrated supply chains that improves traceability, biosecurity and food safety.
  • $5m reinvigorated agricultural trade relationships – to support e-commerce and virtual trade facilitation in key markets and assist coordination of demand for additional regular air freight services.
  • $2m agribusiness diversification assistance – to build capability and explore potential diversification opportunities in agricultural businesses, including for tourism.

Construction ($267m)

  • $100m housing construction aka ‘Works For Tradies’ — to boost housing supply, drive economic activity and support construction across Queensland.
  • $50m SEQ community stimulus program — further local government funding to support minor works and projects that create local jobs in the most impacted areas.
  • $106m support for home building — to stimulate the building market for new homes valued at less than $750,000 through:
    • first home owners grant — re-affirm commitment to the $15,000 first home owner grants program for any Queensland first home buyers purchasing a new home.
    • regional home building boost — to provide a $5,000 grant for buyers of a new home (as principal place of residence) in a regional location (in addition to the $15,000 for first home owners).
  • $10m seniors and accessibility assistance — to continue providing services for seniors and people with disabilities to conduct critical home maintenance.
  • $1.175m regional training infrastructure — to upgrade existing TAFE training campuses.

Tourism

Resources

  • $10m new economy minerals initiative — to upscale the Collaborative Exploration Initiative and support exploration activity for new economy minerals for emerging technologies and products to meet domestic and international demand.
  • $650,000 Regional Mining Equipment, Technology and Services (METS) Accelerator Program and Queensland METS Accelerator Program — to accelerate METS small to medium sized businesses by enhancing business capabilities.
  • $23m renewable energy training facility — providing $17m to support industry to build a state of the art facility in Brisbane that provides world class training for solar and renewable energy.
  • Valeria coal mine — declare the $1.5b Valeria Project a coordinated project.

Arts and Culture ($22.5m)

  • $11.3m to offset revenue losses in the music and performing arts venues and organisations.
  • $4.2m to provide a pipeline of performing arts and live music to support the cultural and tourism recovery.
  • $2.9m partnerships with local councils, venues, artists, festivals and organisations to continue employment and provide unique experiences.
  • $4.15m to support temporary outdoor infrastructure, capital grant funding and to fund a virtual venue for performances and the development of an online Indigenous arts and crafts sales platform.

Small Business ($100m)

  • Up to $100m in small business grants — further funding to help sustain small businesses so they can respond quickly post COVID-19 with half of the funding allocated to small businesses in regional Queensland.

Industry initiatives

  • $100,000 Qld NZ export program — to establish Trade and Investment pathways and opportunities for new and existing exporters between Queensland and New Zealand.
  • $23.16m taxi support package — to provide one off and up front payments to operators, licence holders and booking entities.

Public transport blitz

Yesterday, the ACT government announced the territory will from Saturday, 18 July roll out a suspended public transport upgrade — 692 extra bus services each weekday, or a 17.5% increase — after an ACT government survey on public transport use during COVID-19 found 54% of people expect to return to their usual public transport use gradually over coming months.

Relatedly, NSW announced that public transport peak capacity will double from 1 July, and Victoria has hired more than 300 tram sanitisers through the ‘Working for Victoria’ initiative to boost cleaning services.

Victoria announces Aboriginal COVID-19 Response Fund

Victoria’s Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Gabrielle Williams yesterday announced an extra $23 million to support Aboriginal Australians throughout the pandemic, to include:

  • $10 million to establish the Aboriginal COVID-19 Response Fund, to give local organisations the funding they need to develop responses — i.e. emergency relief, outreach and brokerage, social and emotional wellbeing initiatives — at a local level over the coming year.
  • $13 million over two years to meet an increase in Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation service demand, to provide support for Elders, homelessness services and stable housing, education support and resourcing for ACCHOs to provide specialist health supports.

Elsewhere, the state government also unveiled the first tranche of beneficiaries from the their Sustaining Creative Workers initiative.

State wrap: Border wars never end

  • As the ABC reports, the Western Australian government is holding firm on a hard border closure after the South Australian government announced that, from midnight last night, the state would allow travellers from WA, Tasmania and the NT to travel without the 14 day quarantine.
  • The South Australian government announced that all suburban Adelaide shops and supermarkets will be allowed to continue trading under extended hours for at least another month.
  • Libraries Tasmania will reopen doors for browsing, borrowing and public computer access from tomorrow, Thursday 18 June, under eased state restrictions.

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

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