Coronavirus Government Global Briefing: July 1

By Chris Woods

Wednesday July 1, 2020

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

How Victoria will put ten postcodes back into Stage 3

Following analysis of testing results over the past two weeks, including over the past 5 days’ Suburban Testing Blitz, Victorian Premier Dan Andrew yesterday announced plans to put ten Melbourne postcodes into Stage 3 ‘Stay at Home’ restrictions for four weeks starting from midnight tonight.

Residents and visitors will be subject to the four, now-standard reasons for leaving their house: shopping for food and supplies; care and caregiving; exercise (outdoor only, with one other person or members of a household); and study or work that cannot be done from home.

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These restricted postcodes and their corresponding suburbs/Licensed Post Office include:

  • 3012: Brooklyn, Kingsville, Maidstone, Tottenham, West Footscray
  • 3021: Albanvale, Kealba, Kings Park, St Albans
  • 3032: Ascot Vale, Highpoint City, Maribyrnong, Travancore
  • 3038: Keilor Downs, Keilor Lodge, Taylors Lakes, Watergardens
  • 3042: Airport West, Keilor Park, Niddrie
  • 3046: Glenroy, Hadfield, Oak Park
  • 3047: Broadmeadows, Dallas , Jacana
  • 3055: Brunswick South, Brunswick West, Moonee Vale, Moreland West
  • 3060: Fawkner
  • 3064: Craigieburn, Donnybrook, Mickelham, Roxburgh Park, Kalkallo

As the Department of Health and Human Services’ hotspot Q&A notes, residents in affected households may not visit, or receive visits from, friends and family members except for caregiving/compassionate reasons or receiving services — however partners may visit each other as long as they otherwise abide by the stay at home rules.

Residents will otherwise be banned from travelling outside their postcodes for holidays, but anyone already on holiday will not be forced to return.

Activity, facility and venue restrictions for affected postcodes include:

  • Restaurants and cafes can open to serve takeaway and home delivery only;
  • Pubs, bars, clubs, nightclubs will be closed. They can offer take away food and alcohol;
  • Beauty and personal care services will be closed, apart from hairdressers and barbers;
  • Libraries and community venues will be closed, except for essential public support services such as food banks;
  • Religious ceremonies and private worship can only occur online;
  • Restrictions on the number of people who can attend weddings and funerals;
  • Indoor sports centres, including gyms, training facilities and pools, will be closed;
  • Community sport training and competition cannot occur within a restricted postcode. People in impacted areas cannot participate in community sport elsewhere;
  • Galleries, museums, historic sites, zoos, outdoor amusement parks and arcades, play centres, indoor and drive-in cinemas, concert venues, theatres, auditoriums, arenas, stadiums, casinos and gaming will be closed;
  • Outdoor sport facilities will be closed. Personal training outdoors can occur but with a limit of two participants plus the instructor; and
  • Holiday accommodation and camping will be closed except for those who reside there for emergency accommodation or work purposes.

One-off, $5,000 Local Lockdowns Business Support grants will be provided to affected businesses, who can apply if they meet the following guidelines:

  • Are operating in a postcode that his affected by the return to Stage 3 restrictions (not necessarily their registered address); and
  • Are registered for JobKeeper and attest that their trading has been impacted by the return to Stage 3 restricitons; and
  • Are an employing business; and
  • Are currently registered to pay GST; and
  • Have a payroll of less than $3 million per annum; and
  • Hold an Australian Business Number (ABN) and have held that ABN at 16 March 2020 (date of the State of Emergency declaration); and
  • Have been engaged in carrying out the operation of the business in Victoria on 16 March 2020.

Businesses can register their interest now at Business Victoria, while applications and further guidelines will be announced shortly.

Creating a hotspot-specific lockdown

While obviously more complicated than a state-wide approach, Andrews, in his press conference, noted that the postcode-specific approach will mirror the north west Tasmania shutdown in April, and, at a glance, is similar to how 11 neighbourhoods across Beijing have been shut down in the wake of their outbreak this month.

In his official press release, Andrews noted that, following the state’s surge in confirmed cases, public health teams used a three-step criteria process for determining which areas required additional containment:

  1. Identify priority Local Government Area with more than 2x to state case rate
  2. Review all postcodes within this LGA
  3. Identify priority suburbs with more than five cases AND rate greater than 20 per 100,000

This process found that the ten postcodes could be split into:

  • >50 rate: 3038, 3064, 3047, 3060
  • >30 rate: 3012, 3032, 3055, 3042
  • >20 rate: 3021, 3046

In terms of enforcement, the ABC explains police will again start issuing on-the-spot fines and take a “booze bus” approach to regulating traffic in and out of each suburb. Considering the size of the affected areas, Andrews was open about it being logistically impossible to create a wall-to-wall police presence, and called for community cooperation.

Victoria currently has 286 confirmed active cases. Source: DHHS.

The major operational challenges

More worryingly, while the testing blitz saw roughly 93,000 residents tested across just five days, the premier’s updated announcement notes that more than a thousand people, when asked, refused to be tested. He noted that — considering “forced testing almost certainly involves more contact than the system we have now” — there is little the government can do other than encourage people to come forward,

Potentially, the rollout of new saliva-only testing may alleviate some concerns but, as researchers told The Sydney Morning Herald earlier this week, their accuracy can be as low as 87 percent reportedly due to lower virus levels in saliva compared to nasal secretions found in throat and nasal swabs.

Further, the Premier announced a judicial inquiry into Victoria’s management of hotel quarantine, after a number of cases through late May and early June were linked to breaches. He has also requested that international flights be diverted from Melbourne for the next fortnight in order to reduce pressure on hotels.

“Clearly there has been a failure in the operation of this program,” Andrews said. “I have today ordered the establishment of an inquiry, led by a former judge, into the operation of the hotel quarantine program.

“A significant number, and potentially more, of the outbreaks in the north of the city are attributable via genomic sequencing to staff members in hotel quarantine breaching well-known and well understood infection control protocols. That is unacceptable to me. I’m sure that will be unacceptable certainly to all of those who will be impacted by the restrictions that we have had to reimpose, announced today, coming into force at 11.59pm tomorrow night.”

For updates on specific clusters, see the state’s latest coronavirus update.

Finally, in a good reminder that smears and falsehoods perpetuated by both media and politicians have real consequences, 42% of participants of a new Essential poll falsely believe that “many of the new cases of COVID-19 in Victoria have been from people who attended the Black Lives Matter protest”

While a handful of infected people attended the rally, there is still no evidence anyone was infected at either the Melbourne or national events.

Are super-spreaders anything special?

In a report at The New York Times, science writer Carl Zimmer examines some of the current challenges in understanding the “super-spreader” phenomenon, or how, as a London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine study found in April, roughly 10 percent of infected people are responsible for 80 percent of new infections.

Researchers speaking to Zimmer say the phenomenon, supported by subsequent studies including a recent study in Georgia that found just 2% of people were responsible for 20% of transmission, is more likely down to circumstances than potential biological differences. That is, the possibility that, with difference in virus reproduction rates, some people could become “virus chimneys, blasting out clouds of pathogens with each breath”.

Now, those circumstantial indicators are actually just well-established lessons about COVID-19 risk factors: employment and lifestyle characteristics, infection timeline, environmental risks such as cruise ships, nursing homes, Singapore’s experience with migrant dorms.

But Zimmer stresses that understanding the potential for anyone to become a super-spreader, knowing how they foster lagged-outbreaks, and implementing relevant mitigating policies into post-COVID societies, will become essential for creating long-term, cost-efficient adaptation plans:

“Since most transmission happens only in a small number of similar situations, it may be possible to come up with smart strategies to stop them from happening. It may be possible to avoid crippling, across-the-board lockdowns by targeting the superspreading events.”

Incidentally, in just one of those latest potential risk analyses a JPMorgan economist has suggested that restaurant spending could be a predictor for coronavirus cases. In short, states that saw an increase in supermarket spending, i.e. New York and New Jersey, predicted a slower spread of the virus compared to states allowing restaurants to remain open including Texas and Arizona.

Although correlation does not immediately equal causation, the findings suggest that increased supermarket spending can be taken as an indicator that people are staying home and, therefore, socially distancing more.

State wrap: Queensland to open borders to all save Victorians

The Queensland government has announced plans to reopen their hard border from 10 July to every state and territory but Victorians — who, from noon on Friday, July 3, must complete 14 days of hotel quarantine at their own expense.

As the updated roadmap below demonstrates, the state will also ease internal measures on Friday to allow for gatherings of up to 100 and more businesses to reopen, including nightclubs (but not, apparently, dancing).

Source: Queensland government.

Similarly, as ABC reports, South Australia will scrap its planned 20 July border reopening with Victoria, and, while NSW will not close its border to Victoria at this stage, Premier Gladys Berejilkilian urged residents not to “welcome” anyone from Melbourne:

“I’m very concerned about what’s happening in Victoria,” Berejilkilian said.

“Do not allow anyone from a hotspot in Melbourne or from greater Melbourne to come into your home — you have the right to say no.”

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

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