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 the home front: Things start to wind down…
When Mandarin Premium started this briefing on March 3rd, Australia had recorded less than 40 national cases, the World Health Organisation was about a week off from declaring a global pandemic, and the rate of global, disparate, and often conflicting COVID-19 policies was absolutely ceaseless.
Almost four months later, the world is in a decidedly scarier position — WHO reported a record 183,020 daily cases on Sunday, due in part to both wider testing and ongoing outbreaks in Brazil, the US and India — but there’s also far less breaking, unique COVID-19 policy news. There’s less immediate benefit, for example, in the WHO’s latest announcement: a Mr Bean PSA.
With Australia’s borders shut for the foreseeable future and — even with some worrying clusters emerging in Victoria — all states and territories on their roads to recovery, we intend to start winding down this briefing to instead focus on select government developments. And, over at Premium’s regular coverage, work to unpack emerging challenges and solutions under this new normal — spoiler alert, but keep an eye out this week for a “Second Wave” special.
In short, the briefing will move to two or three a week until July, until possibly turning into something different altogether. With all that in mind, thank you very much for reading, it’s been a ride, and here’s the latest in Australian COVID-19 policy news.
Western Australian announces Phase 4
With just three active cases — two of whom emerged over the past week — the Western Australian government yesterday announced the state will enter Phase 4 of its roadmap this Saturday, 27 June. This phase means:
- All existing gathering limits and the 100/300 rule removed;
- Gathering limits now only determined by WA’s reduced 2sqm rule, to include staff only at venues that hold more than 500 patrons;
- Removal of seated service and patron register at food businesses and licensed premises;
- Alcohol can be served as part of unseated service arrangements;
- All events permitted except for large scale, multi-stage music festivals;
- Unseated performances permitted at venues such as concert halls, live music venues, bars, pubs and nightclubs;
- Gyms operating unstaffed, but regular cleaning must be maintained;
- The casino gaming floor reopening under agreed temporary restrictions; and
- WA’s major sport and entertainment venues will see a 50% capacity rule, i.e. the temporary capacity of Optus Stadium will be 30,633 for sport events (35,000 for concerts), HBF Park can hold 10,150 (16,500 for concerts) and RAC Arena can hold 7,150 (8,250 for concerts).
Depending on local infection rates, Phase 5 may be introduced on Saturday, July 18 (effective from 11.59pm Friday, July 17) and will result in the removal of the 2sqm rule. It is also expected to see the removal of all gathering restrictions, other COVID-related rules introduced by the state government and the 50% capacity limit for major venues.
In line with expert health advice, Phase 4 of eased restrictions in Western Australia will commence this Saturday 27 June. pic.twitter.com/dU0MsKq3Wu
— Mark McGowan (@MarkMcGowanMP) June 22, 2020
Phase 6 was going to include the removal of WA’s hard border with the rest of the country and travel restrictions currently in place for remote Aboriginal communities, however a tentative date for the former has been put on hold due to the rapidly evolving situation in Victoria.
When an indicative date is set in the future, it will be contingent on locally acquired infection rates in the eastern states; effectively, the WA hard border will only be removed when the WA chief health officer is confident the spread of infection is controlled across the country.
ACT’s digital training program goes global
A contact tracing digital training program developed by ACT Health and ANU has been shared with international public health departments in the USA, Germany, the European Union and Mediterranean.
Developed in early March, Australia’s Field Epidemiology Program has upskilled more than 100 Master of Public Health, medical and nursing students and created surge capacity for contact tracing teams in the ACT.
The training includes scenario-based exercises with feedback, data collection templates for case investigations and contact management, scripts and FAQs for conducting contact tracing interviews, and in-depth information on how to achieve contact tracing goals.
“This collaboration between the Research School of Population Health at ANU and ACT Health has demonstrated that training university students as contact tracers has been a very effective model to strengthen surge capacity during a pandemic response,” Tambri Housen, Senior Research Fellow and Curriculum Convenor at ANU’s National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health said. “We were one of the first in the world to take this approach and other health departments across the globe have taken great interest in this model.”
“The students were recruited from ANU and UC and have proven they are able to work under pressure, demonstrating independence and innovation. Australia’s field epidemiology training program is now collaborating with the Public Health Agency of Canada’s field epidemiology training program to produce e-learning modules for contact tracing.”
The Training Programs in Epidemiology and Public Health Interventions Network (TEPHINET) has provisionally provided a grant to Australia’s Field Epidemiology Program at ANU to translate these training materials into an e-learning program for wider dissemination.
These materials have since been shared with international partners, including the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network, World Health Organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
QLD and NT welcome federal infrastructure pledges
Finally, a day after Western Australia announced joint federal-state “JobMaker” shovel-ready infrastructure and road projects with the federal government, the Queensland and Northern Territory governments have announced similar federal-state schemes, including:
- $415 million for Queensland projects, with premier Annastacia Palaszczuk identifying the Burke and Gregory Developmental roads as well as smaller works right across the regional network to improve safety, accessibility and flood immunity.
- $53 million for NT projects, with Northern Territory chief minister Michael Gunner identifying “critical safety works along three of the territory’s busiest highways – the Stuart, Barkly and Victoria Highways – including sealing shoulders and improving or installing guardrails, truck stops and audio-tactile line markings to reduce crashes” as well as widening and sealing shoulders at critical points along Litchfield Park Road.