Coronavirus Government Global Briefing: June 26

By Chris Woods

June 26, 2020

Welcome to Coronavirus Government Global Briefing, Mandarin Premium’s biweekly update on top local and global COVID-19 policies.

What comes next for Victoria?

After nine consecutive days of double-digit case growth, Victoria yesterday launched a testing blitz across 10 priority suburbs — Keilor Downs, Broadmeadows, Maidstone, Albanvale, Sunshine West, Hallam, Brunswick West, Fawkner, Reservoir and Pakenham — complete with a fleet of mobile vans and new testing clinics opening in Casey Fields, Melbourne Showgrounds and Broadmeadows Central amongst other recent venues.

Over the next 10 days, residents of these suburbs will receive free testing – with or without symptoms — with an eye on containing community transmission rates.

Keilor Downs and Broadmeadows have been identified as the top two suburbs and will form the focus of the first three days of the blitz. For updates on clusters, see the government’s latest media release i.e. two more from the Keilor Downs family outbreak, one more from the Stamford Plaza Hotel, and news that cases linked to St Monica’s College in Epping have been traced to a social gathering rather than the school itself; consequently, the cluster will now be known as the Wollert outbreak

Additionally, Premier Dan Andrews yesterday announced that, in an Australian first and due to the efforts of the Doherty Institute, Victoria will enact additional testing from the collection of saliva samples from next week — “providing a faster, easier and more comfortable test.”

“We’re asking locals in these areas – particularly if you have symptoms – please come forward and get tested. See it as your civic duty. See it as your contribution to keeping your local area and our whole community safe,” Andrews said. “Our squad of more than 1,000 doorknockers will also continue their outreach, going door to door to ensure locals have the latest health advice.”

“Right now, pathologists in Victoria can process up to 18,000 tests a day. With the help of labs in New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania, Queensland and private providers that number will grow to at least 25,000 tests every single day,” he said. “These efforts will be supported by Australian Defence Force personnel who’ll provide planning and logistics support – including the transportation of pathology samples interstate if required.”

While early reports suggested Victoria had requested more than 1,000 ADF members, The Age reports that 850 have been turned back on Thursday after the request was renounced.

Have there been genuine policy blind spots?

Although much of the media/political blame game right now is mere conjecture — there’s no evidence, for example, that the 6 June Black Lives Matter protests directly or indirectly (i.e. psychologically) fostered the “second wave” — the AFR ($) did note on Wednesday that the company engaged to manage crisis communication with Victoria’s 1864 confirmed virus cases, Whispir, was only asked to communicate in languages other than English on Monday.

With at least 33 cases linked to isolation hotels, the ABC also reported earlier this week that the initial request for ADF personnel centred on maintaining quarantine facilities.

Elsewhere, reports that, two months after launch, COVIDSafe is yet to identify any unknown cases.

How South Africa’s mobile networks failed to respond to COVID-19

The World Economic Forum highlighted back in April how, with 3.7 billion people without internet internet, the global digital divide stood to exacerbate COVID-19, a pandemic that has required online services to fill health, work, education and social needs.

While the majority of those people are from poorer countries — one gigabit of data in sub-Saharan Africa costs nearly 40% of the average monthly wage, for example — plenty of Americans (6%) and Australians (13%) also lacked access to high-speed connections.

Image: Our World in Data.

And while bodies in South Africa took steps to address this divide — the government made its COVID-19 website free of charge, and local broadband provider Telkom did the same for both educational websites and sites providing coronavirus updates such as the National Institute for Communicable Diseases — a new policy briefing from Research ICT Africa has underscored the failure of dominant operators to otherwise respond to the pandemic.

Despite recent mandatory data price reductions due to a competition inquiry, ICT research finds most South Africans still cannot afford to go online due to data costs, lack of internet-enabled devices and digital literacy, and that the country still performs poorly amongst other African countries, ranking 33rd out of 46 countries in terms of data per gigabyte costs as at 2020Q1. Further:

“Since we do not expect altruism by mobile network operators, it is therefore important to understand that the reduction in mobile tariffs was not in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but a compliance to the Competition Commission Data Services Market Inquiry.”

The briefing presents data tariffs reduced by MTN and Vodacom in South Africa from R149 per one GB to R99 per GB with effect from 1 April 2020, with other highlights including:

  • The two companies reduced data prices in response to the Competition Commission’s threat of prosecution and not, as the impression may have been created, as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Due to lack of regulation and an inherently imperfect market, even after the reduction, prices remain anti-poor.
  • The price reduction also does not provide any relief to the nearly half of South Africans that remain offline. Any strategy to reduce prices has to be accompanied by one to bring the unconnected online.

Geopolitical wrap

  • If you’re after a proper tome of a report, the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, aka Eurofound, has drawn on around 500 policy initiatives in their COVID-19 EU PolicyWatch database to present ‘COVID-19: Policy responses across Europe’, an overview of both large-scale government measures and collective agreements that impact on large groups of workers, setting this in the context of the evolving labour market situation.
  • The IMF lowered its global growth forecast to a prediction of -4.9% for 2020, following an earlier forecast of -3% in April.
  • As global cases head to 10 million, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned on 24 June of a shortage of oxygen concentrators for those with severe COVID-19, estimating that, at the current rate of about 1 million new cases a week, the world needs about 620,000 cubic meters of oxygen a day (or about 88,000 large cylinders).
  • Finally, following America’s second-highest daily increase since March, the governors of north-east states New York, New Jersey and Connecticut announced quarantine rules for eight at-risk US states: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Utah.

JobMaker rolls out

Throughout the week, federal and state governments announced a number of joint “JobMaker” infrastructure and road safety initiatives, which thus far include:

  • $223 million for Western Australian projects including the Great Eastern and Bussell Highways, Exmouth Road and Toodyay Road, Thomas Road and road safety improvements across regional WA.
  • $415 million for Queensland projects including 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 including three of the territory’s busiest highways — the Stuart, Barkly and Victoria Highways — as well as safety upgrades along Litchfield Park Road.
  • $145 million in South Australia including Heysen Tunnel, Regional North-South Freight Route, and Adventure Way and Innamincka Airport access road.
  • $46 million for Tasmanian projects including Railton Main Road shoulder widening, Richmond Road shoulder widening and road surfacing upgrades.

For an international perspective on the infrastructure blitz, check out the New York Times’ coverage of the package earlier this week, which examines the gender split between stimulating construction work while cutting free child care.

State wrap

  • Yesterday, the Queensland government announced plans for a Clinical Stock Reserve, to be led by Queensland Health working with departments such as Treasury, the Departments of Premier and Cabinet, Housing and Public Works, Regional Development and Manufacturing, and others.
  • Following 39 days without an active case, the Tasmanian government on Wednesday announced plans to bring forward eased restrictions from midday today, Friday June 26, to allow crowds “of 500 (outdoor) and 250 (per undivided indoor space)” amongst other measures.
  • The South Australian government announced that, under the global #GoingGreenForParkies campaign celebrating open spaces and parks staff during the pandemic, buildings across Adelaide will be lit up in green until 30 June, including Adelaide Oval, Adelaide Convention Centre, Adelaide Entertainment Centre, Adelaide Town Hall and the Bicentennial Conservatory at Adelaide Botanic Garden.

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

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