Coronavirus Government Global Briefing: June 22

By Chris Woods

Monday June 22, 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.

Victoria resets restrictions, eyes local lockdowns

Following evidence from Victoria’s chief health officer of an increase in transmissions associated with social gatherings — particularly between extended families — Premier Dan Andrews has today reintroduced a number of state-wide restrictions, presented below with pre-existing or planned restrictions for context:

  • Maximum five visitors to a house — down from a total household limit of 20;
  • Public gatherings limited to 10 people — down from 20;
  • Businesses already open, including restaurants, pubs, auction houses, community halls, libraries, museums and places of worship, can continue to open with a maximum of 20 people per separate space, subject to the four square metre rule — down from a plan announced Sunday, 14 June to increase to 50;
  • Business set to reopen today, including gyms, cinemas, theatres and pub TABs, can open but with a maximum 20 people per space, rather than 50;
  • Community sport for kids and non-contact competition for adults can proceed as planned; and
  • Ski season and accommodation facilities with communal spaces can also re-open, but with increased screening and safeguards in place.

The Victorian government has also extended its State of Emergency until 11.59pm on 19 July 2020, renewed the “if you can work from home, you must work from home” rule until the end of July, and announced one-off payments of $1500 for those who “have a confirmed case or are a close contact and who can’t rely on sick leave”.

The state has seen five consecutive days with new cases in the double-digits — 19 yesterday, 25 Saturday, 13 Friday, 18 Thursday and 21 Wednesday — following a period of relative lows.

Of the 19 confirmed cases announced on Sunday, four have been linked to known outbreaks, four from returned travellers in hotel quarantine, three through routine testing and eight are currently under investigation.

On top of the new state restrictions, premier Dan Andrews has announced that the increase in transmission from social gatherings may require “putting whole suburbs back into lockdown,” a potential move The Age reports mayors have called to limit to specific hotspots rather than local government areas.

“The experts tell us that, largely, the numbers are being driven by families – families having big get-togethers and not following the advice around distancing and hygiene,” Andrews said. “In fact, around half of our cases since the end of April have come from transmission inside someone’s home.”

“You can see how this could happen. People feeling relaxed at home. Letting their guard down. Letting old habits creep back. But we are still in a pandemic – and people’s lives are still at risk.”

Current outbreak sources include the Stamford Plaza Hotel (total of 13 associated cases), a Keilor Downs family (11 across nine households) and a family in Coburg (14 across multiple households).

Yesterday, the ABC reported that the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee has  since advised against travel to and from six hotspot areas — Hume, Casey, Brimbank, Moreland, Cardinia and Darebin — until control of community transmission has been confirmed.

Additionally, The Age reports that at least two schools — St Monica’s College in Epping and Keilor Downs College — have closed following recent outbreaks amongst students and staff members, while two aged care homes have entered lockdown as a preventative measure.

Still, a number of venues will reopen today even with the 20 guest limit; for example, Melbourne’s Lord Mayor Sally Capp and Oscar winning filmmaker Adam Elliot will join director Kitty Green in reopening Carlton’s Cinema Nova.

Yes, we're still opening on Monday! In line with Victoria's changing guidelines, we're reducing each session to a…

Posted by Cinema Nova on Saturday, June 20, 2020

 

Finally, despite allegations from a number of state opposition politicians concerning Melbourne’s Black/Indigenous Lives Matter rally on Saturday, 6 June — and while two confirmed cases report attending the protest — Australia’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer last night reiterated that there is no evidence of transmission from the event itself.

Should Victoria mandate masks?

Over the past few months, we have seen plenty of evidence for masks as an effective — but not infallible — measure for preventing community transmission, including:

  • A recent study on a US aircraft carrier that found 55.8% of those who wore a mask got infected with COVID-19 compared to 80.8% who didn’t; this was slightly higher than those who practised social distancing, where the infection rate was split 54.7%-70%.
  • Two separate studies suggest that, if 80% of a population wears a mask in public, transmission could be halted entirely;
  • A recent meta-analysis of studies at The Lancet only suggests that masks are effective but more-so with social distancing and goggles.

But while masks have been mandated across countries with high infection rates, federal health guidance notes that “in Australia the routine use of face masks in the community is currently not recommended, while the rate of community transmission of COVID-19 is low.”

Following Victoria’s spike, The Age reports that state chief health officer Brett Sutton has focused on risks associated with family transmission — i.e. hugging or kissing friends and family — and, while “open to the idea” of mandating masks, believe they could create a false sense of security.

“It is a hard thing to remember. You have to catch yourself now when you see your friends and family who you have not seen for a long time,” Sutton said.

“These things are nonetheless important and, arguably, far more important than, say, wearing a face mask.”

Still, advocates such as former federal MP Kerryn Phelps and ABC physician and broadcaster Norman Swan have argued that encouraging masks could become an effective public transition step towards elimination, specifically in enclosed spaces, notably public transport and shopping centres.

New Zealand’s next steps for managed isolation and quarantine

The New Zealand government has announced new quarantine reforms after two active cases were granted compassionate exemptions to managed isolation.

According to the government’s Friday announcement, prime minister Jacinda Ardern has appointed air commodore Darryn Webb as head of managed isolation and quarantine, while housing minister Megan Woods has been given ministerial responsibility for the issue.

Air commodore Webb has already instigated a range of measures since assuming the role, including:

  • Doubling the number of New Zealand Defence Forces staff in managed isolation facilities from the current 36 to 72;
  • Initiating an urgent end-to-end audit of facility protocols and their application, supported by Senior Department of Corrections and NZ Police officials;
  • Air commodore Webb assuming personal oversight of exit testing, ensuring no one leaves a facility without a negative COVID-19 test;
  • Appointment of Defence Force leads in each facility, who will report directly to air commodore Webb. Clear expectations on accountability and responsibilities have been relayed to them;
  • Immediate suspension of private functions in managed isolation facilities; and
  • A 105 hotline for public notifications and concerns. This is an existing hotline operated by the All-of-Government COVID-19 team.

Geopolitics wrap

  • Donald Trump alleges to have tried slowing down testing rates in order to artificially suppress America’s figures, which currently sit at 2.2 million infected and over 120,000 deaths. In other US news:
    • According to The New York Times, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority — an arm of the Department of Health and Human Services — has quietly stopped funding treatments for severe cases of COVID-19, as the Trump administration instead hedges its bet on developing a vaccines.
    • The state of Kentucky, as The Independent reports, has cut their number of voting booths for state primary elections this week by 95%, fostering concerns over both a Georgia-style outbreak and voter suppression.
  • Following lockdowns in India that cut off access between rural and urban areas, JSTOR Daily has unpacked an internal migration crisis that’s led to migrant workers travelling miles by foot to return to home towns — in some cases dying from the journey; minimal financial or food support; and, as writer Sergio Infante puts it, the “worst domestic migration crisis on the Indian subcontinent since Partition in 1947”.
  • Swedish economist Lars Jonung has argued in a VOX paper that the country’s relatively-lax response to the virus has been determined, at least in part, by their constitution — which guarantees freedom of movement, unique independence for public agencies, and exceptional powers to local governments.
  • In a Refugee Day 2020 article at the World Economic Forum, Kakuma Refugee Settlement Project interns Adil Nyambasha outlines how education lessons from the pandemic should be used as a way of bridging the connectivity gap within refugee camps and ensure that, post-pandemic, more refugees can have access to quality education through online learning.
  • The Jerusalem Post reports that Israel is currently experiencing its own second wave, with a new report by the Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center noting that daily infection infection rates have risen from around 16 to 200 over the past month.

On the home front: ‘The Territory is the answer’, according to Tourism NT

Over the weekend, Tourism NT launched its latest tourism campaign, ‘The Territory is the answer’, which will run June to October 2020 and will target interstate travellers cut off from international tourism.

The campaign launch comes after the government announced that border quarantine measures will be lifted from 17 July, and last week launched a tourism voucher scheme as part of a separate intra-territory tourism campaign.

State wrap

  • The Queensland government announced that up to 10,000 spectators will be permitted across football stadiums from Saturday June 27.
  • As The Age reports, the Victorian government plans to implement a wage freeze for senior public servants — a move that will reportedly not affect politicians or frontline workers.
  • The Western Australian and federal governments announced a joint investment of an additional $223 million to deliver shovel-ready infrastructure projects and road safety upgrades.
  • The Tasmanian government will this week introduce the HomeBuilder Grants Bill 2020, which will provide for the implementation and administration of the state government’s $20,000 grant along with the federal government’s $25,000 grant scheme.

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

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