Welcome to Coronavirus Government Global Briefing, Mandarin Premium’s coverage of local and global COVID-19 policy news.
What Victoria can do to ward off a third wave
With Victoria’s second wave apparently contained and the state finally on its Third Step towards COVID Normal, the state government is preparing for the possibility of a third wave. For example, The Age reported on Tuesday that the head of the government’s contact tracing system believes the overhauled program would be able to cope with at least 2000 cases a day if needed.
Below are some of the major issues the state and federal governments will face in preventing a third wave, as well as examples of recent news items, criticisms and reports that provide insight into how they can be managed.
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- News: As The Age reported last week, a row between Victoria’s health and justice departments over responsibility for the revamped hotel quarantine scheme threatens to repeat the first scheme’s bureaucratic failings. DHHS is also reportedly considering reducing the size of the new scheme and using electronic monitoring devices for some returned travellers.
- Criticisms: Victoria’s hotel quarantine inquiry has revealed a number of institutional failures — i.e,. inter-departmental communication issues, use of private security as frontline guards, deference to Victoria Police — while Royce Kurmelovs has explored at The Saturday Paper how some of those systemic issues have roots in changes implemented under Jeff Kennett’s 1992–1999 government, which were then left untouched by subsequent governments — meaning: new public-management overhauls that preferenced managers with generalists rather than subject matter expertise; contracting out to private companies; and reducing the power of unions.
- Reports: ‘Governing During Crises Policy Brief No. 7 Reassessing Contracting-Out: Lessons from the Victorian Hotel Quarantine Inquiry‘ (Kristen Rundle, University of Melbourne); the hotel quarantine inquiry is due to report November 7 barring a possible extension request.
- News: The Guardian reported on Tuesday, October 27 that Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck does not consider himself personally responsible for 700 COVID-19 deaths and hopes to keep his ministry in a forthcoming reshuffle.
- Criticisms: As covered in The Briefing in August, researchers have explored five core issues pertaining to both NSW and Victoria’s outbreaks in aged care:
- “Decanting” and moving infected/non-infected residents between federal-run aged care operators and state-run hospitals
- Confusion over responsibilities between federal, state, private, not-for-profit and community organisations
- Sudden loss of staff due to quarantine and isolation, and subsequent takeover transitions
- PPE, healthcare and training requirements
- Systemic workplace issues that threatened to exacerbate COVID-19 outbreaks i.e. staffing ratios, over-casualisation, outsourcing, lack of healthcare training, etc
- Reports: The aged care royal commission has released a special COVID-19 report calling for a national plan and advisory body along with increased funding for visitor support, personal protective equipment, and allied health and infection control expertise; the Morrison government has accepted all recommendations and is due to report to parliament by no later than December 1 2020 on the implementation of these recommendations.
Contact tracing and healthcare protocols
- News: According to the Herald Sun ($), Victoria’s opposition has received approval for a parliamentary inquiry into the state’s contact tracing system. The news follows improvements to the contact tracing system — such as new training programs, a shift from paper to digital and expanded criteria for close contacts — as well as healthcare systems, i.e. expanded testing criteria for health care staff at COVID-19 wards.
- Criticisms: Melbourne’s latest clusters highlight existing issues around healthcare — i.e., inadequate staff testing, ventilation systems and personal protective equipment at Box Hill Hospital — as well communication (the family at the centre of the East Preston Islamic College cluster claiming DHHS had cleared them). In another healthcare example, the Sydney Morning Herald reported earlier this month that medical bodies have warned the exclusion of airborne spread from the federal department’s public advice potentially risks the lives of medical workers and conflicts with counterparts in the UK and, now, the US.
- Reports: ‘Inquiry into the Victorian Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic: Interim report‘ (July 2020).
- News: On October 17, The Saturday Paper revealed the locations of multiple cases among Box Hill hospital staff and Spotless contract cleaners that were not being imminently disclosed by the state government.
- Criticisms: Back in August, a group of Australia’s leading infectious disease experts spoke to The Age as part of a campaign for the Victorian government to list data beyond case postcodes and numbers, such as: whether a person was symptomatic; what symptoms they presented with; whether they were close contacts of a positive case; and a breakdown of turnaround times for test results.
- Report: A VoxEU analysis of recent studies examining the effect of civic trust during Europe’s first wave recently found a higher rate of compliance with stay-at-home orders in regions with a higher level of long-term trust in governments.
Public policy wrap
- The World Economic Forum’s ‘Future of Jobs Report 2020′ found that more than 80% of employers expect to grow the use of remote work services, while about half of all employers are also preparing to automate some work. Reflecting on the report in relation to the pandemic’s acceleration of the workplace transitions, managing director Saadia Zahidi offers four tips for protecting workers throughout this transition: 1)supply safety nets while growing investment in future tech; 2) invest in mid-career job transitions and reskilling, upskilling and training programs (see: the Reskilling Revolution platform); 3) redefine business priorities to address the rising global threats of climate change and social inequality; and 4) ensure all efforts take into account employee wellbeing (i.e., build community initiatives concurrent to the growth of remote work).
- Writing at LSE British Politics and Policy, law lecturer at Middlesex University London Joelle Grogan reflects on the UK parliament’s six-month review of the Coronavirus Act 2020 — which extends powers to quarantine, restrict or close premises, and prohibit any gatherings to ministers in each of the UK’s constitutive governments — and critiques the lack of parliamentary clarity, oversight, transparency and coordination — in relation to parliamentary oversight and recent developments, such as England’s new “three-tier system” for restrictions.
- Kauser Razvi, the senior director of innovation and performance management at a nonprofit agency working with students and families in Cleveland, has explored a public sector view of technology, inclusion, and participation throughout America’s pandemic for the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Razvi explores challenges with services, access and inclusion (i.e., lack of local contact information and shared data between agencies); engagement (less then 25% of elderly people are using tele-medicine, while mobile banking has had a huge increase in access and usage during the pandemic); and participation (with approximately 50% of the students attending school remotely, how do services gauge meaningful participation and use that data for future outreach).
- In ‘Lockdowns and voting behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic‘, ETH Zurich researchers examine the electoral impact of the lockdown in France and find that lockdown regulations “appear to have significantly affected electoral outcomes, with higher vote shares for the incumbent and higher voter turnout in localities under harder restrictions.”
On the home front: governments continue post-COVID crackdown on red tape
Finally, Australian governments have this month continued their post-COVID “red tape” cutting initiatives, with recent examples including:
- The Victorian government announcing yesterday that an overseas driver’s licence can be used as proof of age for entry into licensed venues.
- The NT government launching a MVR for Business portal that will allow groups ranging from trucking companies to local governments to process their own transactions without having to attend an MVR office or police outstation.
- The NSW government launching a Liquor Licence Manager portal last week that includes:
- a customer dashboard showing a comprehensive list of all liquor licences customers hold
- real-time view of all associated licences, including conditions and legal obligations
- access to a personalised list of all available modifications per licence
- ability to conduct online bulk payments on hundreds of liquor licences in a single transaction
- a reduction in wait time of up to six weeks for low risk transactions
- digitising paper applications
- South Australia’s Minister for Human Services Michelle Lensink announcing a number of efficiencies to ConcessionsSA financial relief systems, which will be rolled out throughout the rest of this year and are expected to cut the average processing time for each application from up to three months to less than one week.
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