Showing posts with label COVID-19. Show all posts
Showing posts with label COVID-19. Show all posts

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Is it time to call an immediate halt to people returning from overseas unless they are quarantined outside metropolitan areas?


Earlier on in the year, when Adelaide and South Australia were enjoying a period of months without any COVID-19 infections, I was totally supportive of the idea of Australians overseas being allowed to come home. International flights came in regularly bringing people back home. I was shocked right from the start just how many of these flights seemed to have COVID positive passengers on board – it was an indication of how ubiquitous the virus was elsewhere in the world.

Then came the Melbourne outbreak. Then came the Adelaide outbreak. And now the Sydney outbreak. On each of these occasions the respective cities have been put into virtual lockdown – Melbourne for several months – and this means cancelled events, no travel, closed businesses and bankrupt companies. The economic impact of these sudden shutdowns is massive. And each time  they occur you are reminded that in today’s world nothing is certain. You can make plans but you can have no faith that they will come to fruition. Today I learned of a friend whose grandchildren had just arrived from Sydney to spend a few days with their grandma in Adelaide. She has been told that she and her 2 grandchildren now need to quarantine for 14 days at home because of the new and evolving cluster in Sydney’s northern beaches. Not a tragedy; just further evidence that you can’t rely on anything happening as you planned.

As someone who has travelled a lot, lived several years outside of Australia, and who has many friends overseas, some of whom want to come back right now, and who has often in the past had close family living overseas I find this hard to admit. But I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want any more expats returning to Australian unless they are quarantined outside of the major cities. Darwin has already done this. All the major COVID outbreaks in Australia have been linked to hotels where returning travellers are held in quarantine. As Shaun notes in the comments below, somehow the virus escapes. Catrina says that Singapore is also accepting returning residents via hotel quarantine and in Singapore housing these quarantine hotels outside a major population centre is not possible. Still, there have been no cases of the virus escaping into the community in Singapore. Bravo Singapore.

Singapore’s system may simply be better run, but the fact is that I, and I believe many other Australians, no longer have faith in the various state governments to do this properly. And as Gerry notes, there has been zero leadership from the federal government on this score. In a sense it’s a no brainer. Why on earth would you willingly house people with a highly infectious and potentially lethal virus in the middle of the most densely populated parts of the country? We found the resources to put refugees in facilities outside the of the metropolitan areas so the facilities for housing large numbers of incoming travellers do exist.

As Fred and Catriona illustrate there are many expats hurting – they’re enduring indefinite separation from friends and loved ones, and in Fred’s case in Canada, it’s actually getting scary as the virus runs rampant through America. As much as I would like to see these good friends be able to return to Australia, I believe there is a bigger issue at play here – the gradual erosion of the mental health of the entire Australian nation. This COVID storm is subtle and relentless and I know I am feeling more stressed than I ever have before . I am always aware of this persistent underlying low-level anxiety that never leaves you. Mental health practitioners have been predicting this for some time, and I think this is probably why I’ve changed my mind about the expat situation. Had Australia shut its doors in the same way as Western Australian shut its doors to the rest of the country, we would now be COVID free.

It’s not just economics. The mental health of 25 million people is at stake. It’s time to call an immediate halt to people returning from overseas until we have a system in place that allows for quarantine facilities and resources to be sited outside the major cities. No one is saying expatriate Australians can’t come home. It is their right. But housing quarantined people in the major cities will eventually just result in more of the same – sporadic outbreaks, bouts of lockdown, and ongoing uncertainty about everything.


Below is the commentary in response to the question I posed on Facebook: is anyone else in Australia feeling like it's time to call an immediate halt to people returning from overseas unless they are quarantined outside metropolitan areas? 

Shaun: Absolutely. Christmas Island for me

Catriona: Oh, that hurts! If I did need to get home for an emergency, I would have near zero chance of doing so. Firstly, the daily quota makes it impossible with tens of thousands of Australians stranded and still unable to get home. Secondly, the cost of a return ticket (for a 5 hour flight) and quarantine could cost anywhere between 14K and 20K for the two of us. That's all dependent on being able to get a flight and not have it cancelled multiple times. We have accepted that we're unlikely to get back any time soon and I pray that we are never in an awful situation where we can't be with loved ones when we need to the most. If there is a problem of imported cases spreading into the community, which I think is what you are referring to, then it is because the processes in handling this are uncoordinated and inadequate. Fix the real problem... and the problem is not the Australians trying to get home! Making them quarantine outside of the metro area won't solve a thing!

Michael: well it might if all service personnel (security etc) were isolated as well....I'd love you to be able come back but 'experts' are saying that the only reason we have the virus here is due to expats. And how long can businesses survive the sudden stopping and starting? Not to mention the persistent underlying anxiety of it all...

Catriona: actually, the only reason you have the virus is because of lack of safety protocols and complacency. Singapore too has returning citizens and pass holders. All are quarantined for 14 days in the city... there is no area outside of the urban area. All must have a test to come into the country. Some return a positive result during their quarantine but because safety protocols are strictly followed, there is no community spread as a result. Returning people are not a risk to the community as long as the procedures are followed. As I said... fix the real problem.

Michael: Perhaps Singapore would like to come down here and show us how it's done!

Catriona: I agree... perhaps the leaders of Australia need to start looking outside of their own country for examples of best practice!

Fredy (in Canada) Looks like I’m stuck here then!

Michael: No Fred - come. Just a couple weeks in a detention centre and you'll be fine. Govt kept telling us how good these facilities were when we put refugees in these places so gotta be good enough for returning expats. I hear Baxter is quite charming at this time of year. (Just a bit north of Port Augusta.)

Fredy: I'll take it!

Mary: Yet another medical expert commented that a number of returning Australians have non COVID medical issues that may or may not require treatment while in quarantine. This would be very difficult from remote locations like Christmas Island. Two years ago a family member was on Christmas Island for work purposes. What was a ten day stay became 5 weeks because of weather conditions flights cancelled. Maybe the Darwin setup is better? Regional locations near a good hospital? Although I doubt that would work in our region - even slightly complex emergency cases are air lifted to Melbourne hospitals.

Michael: Thanks Mary. Highlights just how complex this whole issue is.

Barbara: They should do the PCR test before they come.

Julie: No one will fly anywhere unless there is a flight crew. From what I know, the recent outbreak in Sydney could be because a few of them failed to self isolate. Now they will be locked down in a couple of hotels near the airport. In any case, they could not be put outside metro areas.

Taking a long time to get the return of Australian citizens right even in the face of dreadful consequences.

Irena: Yes they can - and we have Federal Government facilities in each State/Territory that can be used for this. When will Scumo finally accept this is his government’s responsibility by law. Why are Labor not holding him to this?

Fredy: They can send me to the Simpson Desert for a couple weeks or more...swag billy tea and the stars above!
Wouldn’t cost me $4000 to quarantine for starters!
One must understand that for many of us who are OS! Specially in Europe or North America! It’s getting F***ing scary over here!! Never mind that I live 300km from the southern border with the US!
I am suffering on certain days, of mental and emotional stress due to the fact of how complicated it get back to Australia and my family and friends.
If an expat returns with a negative Covid test...they should be able to quarantine with a family/friend member at their point of destination. What is the point of quarantine in a hotel with hundreds of other people? It’s a Covid cluster waiting to happen!
Enough said...if I had a spare 20k...I’d be on my way.

Shaun: I agree Freddy. The hotel quarantine system isn’t full proof and the virus keeps escaping. It’s time for a rethink. Expats do need to come home if they desire but need a couple of weeks quarantine away from highly populated areas. The continued on again off again (ie the economy, travel etc) scenarios we have been experiencing here really raises people’s anxiety. I acknowledge that it would be tougher for expats. I’d handle the Simpson desert if I just wanted to get home! I won’t even start on international flight crews....
Roll on the vaccine.

Sheila: Yes. Christmas Island

Gerry: Yep. Agree. But that would require leadership which at the Federal level is almost completely absent.





Saturday, September 12, 2020

The Victorian Lockdown and the Politicisation of the Corona Virus

Dear Friend,

I’ve been thinking a lot about the conversation we had about the Corona virus when we last spoke.

You mentioned a letter that Melbourne doctors had written to Daniel Andrews. As soon as I got back to my car I looked it up on my phone. And there it was at the top of the list of search results – from The Australian. The Australian is Murdoch’s flagship and I stopped reading it many years ago because I don’t believe a word they say. In the Australian context one of their primary goals is to bring down Labor governments everywhere, and they don’t let facts get in the way.

The next one on the list with mention of the doctor’s letter was Quadrant – a known right wing, conservative outlet. Interesting I thought. The only other reference to it was in The Chronicle – another Murdoch paper based in Queensland.

Then I searched the three media outlets that I regularly use to get my news – starting with The Melbourne Age.  Independent. Always has been The Age’s mantra for decades – and no mention of the letter.

So I checked the ABC – nothing. Then I checked the Guardian. Nothing. I eventually found the letter via Twitter at

I thought the letter itself was quite reasonable, and I’m not going to quibble with doctors who are working in this field.

But what worried me was the fact that The Age, The ABC, and the Guardian all had no mention of it. (And still don’t today a week later.)

Why not?? Do they think it’s fake news? Not worth mentioning? They don’t want to rock the boat, and present an alternative view? If that’s the case that would make them just as guilty of bias as the Murdoch press.

Whatever the reason it really worries me. In Australia now we are being fed news that is incredibly biased towards one side or another. If I read only the Age, the ABC and the Guardian I don’t even hear about this letter to Daniel Andrews. If I read the Murdoch press and watch commercial news or Skye news I am bombarded with it as part of their usual anti-Labor propaganda. And this is an example of how the whole COVID-19 issue has been politicised. Indeed just about every issue in Australia gets politicised in this same way. Unless you are making a conscious effort to consume news from a range of media outlets you risk being subject to propaganda and I think Australia is in real trouble here.

And of course filling in the gaps is the uninformed and opinionated morass of social media to further muddy the waters ….

Something else you said at our last meeting seemed to suggest that you didn’t think the reports of mass graves of people dying from COVID-19 or mobile freezers in NY being used to help out collecting the mounting number of dead bodies were true.  This quite stunned me. 

For the record, media outlets from all sides of politics provide lots of references to what happened in NYC:

NY Bodies

And similarly there are countless stories on mass graves for COVID victims from all sides of the political spectrum. I started searching stories about Brazil, but then found reference to similar situations in Bolivia, Iran and even the UK.





I mentioned an article from NZ that I found useful. It helped me realise that as a lay person my opinion on all of this is not worth much. It is just that – an opinion. And an unqualified one at that! The article, from a Professor of Epidemiology, is here if you’re interested.

The original letter from the 13 Victorian doctors has now garnered in excess of 500 signatures supporting their position. But I do wonder what the other 30,000 plus Victorian doctors think …

For all our sakes let’s hope that Victoria is soon through this nightmare.

Saturday, July 04, 2020

COVID-19 Continues

I wrote below about my concern that the Black Lives Matter marches may precipitate another round of COVID-19 infections. I am really happy to say my fears were misplaced. There have been a couple of cases around the country where people have caught the virus after the marches. But they did not get or spread the virus at the marches. Photographs and aerial footage of the events show that most people were really disciplined in keeping the appropriate social distance and wearing masks. So kudos to all involved.
In most of the country the Corona virus has become a low level background irritation. In Victoria there has been a resurgence of the virus and many suburbs, and apartment towers, have been put under total lockdown – similar to the kinds of conditions people in places like Rome and Madrid had to endure.
This all seems to have come about for a number of reasons, but principally due to poor training of security staff supervising those in hotel quarantine, and poor messaging about the pandemic in languages other than English. And a few cases of unbelievably stupid and selfish behaviour by a few individuals who mixed in their communities when they knew they were COVID positive.
I think we should try the very simple and effective tack taken by the Vietnamese government:  lots of slogans and posters to the tune of
·         If you love your country you will stay home
·         If you care for your community you will stay home
Get the message through that this is not about you and your rights as an individual, but about the collective – something that Asian cultures would grasp more readily than more self-centred Western cultures.
So this menace is far from over. Acoustic Tull have at least started practising again. We have a gig on July 26th. After July 20th I would be allowed to travel interstate again (ie fly) but I’m unlikely to do that before September. So for a while yet it’s stay local, live for the minute, and don’t look too far ahead

Monday, June 08, 2020

All Lives Matter

The Black Lives Matter movement has spread with a vengeance to Australia. Given the appalling record of treatment of Aboriginal people by policing authorities here over several decades this is hardly surprising. Australians were quick to show their solidarity with black Americans and capitalise on the worldwide outcry over the murder of George Floyd and large Black Lives Matter (BLM) rallies were organised for every Australian capital. Admirable and understandable, but the timing is tragically wrong. Still dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic the Prime Minister and chief medical officer urged people not to take part. Large public gatherings of this kind are notorious for allowing viruses to spread, but people turned out in their thousands.
 In another time with no pandemic hovering over us I’d have been there too. But this was a time when something bigger is at stake. It’s not about me. It’s not about people of colour. It’s about the entire community. History provides examples of how such large public gatherings enabled pandemic viruses to launch a second wave (Spanish Flu 1918).
To their credit BLM organisers urged everyone to wear masks and practice social distancing. In QLD police actually handed out masks to those who needed them. And from all reports crowds in all states did for the most part practice social distancing. But it’s the 10% who didn’t who are the problem. They may have infected those around them and tracing those they have been in contact with could be a nightmare – even with the COVID-19 Tracing App.
The night before the demonstrations arch government conservative Matthias Cormann went on TV to say that he thought BLM protesters were being selfish. Normally when this man speaks I cringe and revile at his manner and opinions. On this occasion I found myself quietly, embarrassingly, thinking, ‘I agree with him’. BLM protesters put the legitimate concerns of a section of the community above the needs of the whole community. In 10-14 days’ time we’ll find out if we are to be punished for that selfishness. It may be the virus is so scarce in Australia that these mass demonstrations won’t make any difference to the number of cases. If so, that would be miraculous.    
In the meantime BLM organisers and the AMA are asking all who took part to self-isolate for 14 days. I wonder how many will. Right now I’m angry about it. I feel the BLM marches have jeopardised the health of the entire community and acted to ensure that the economic recovery required for all those who’ve lost their jobs will be put back several weeks – if not months. And more people could die unnecessarily. But I really hope I’m wrong. Check back with me 2 weeks from now ……

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Living in the Time of COVID 19

COVID 19 they’re calling it – 19 for the year it first raised its ugly head. But this virus has all but destroyed 2020 – the first half of it at least. Or has it?

As the world practices self-isolation and social distancing there are stories of people in Wuhan, we’re it all began, saying that they enjoy being at home with friends and family and would prefer not to go back to the normal routine of work and busyness. They say the skies over China haven’t been this blue for years. An online colleague posted photographs of an unusually smog free Haifa - Israel's main port. A friend in Berlin is enjoying a comparatively pressure free life with no work commitments and is riding his bike through forests and doing yoga and feeling physically and spiritually more whole.
Me? I was watching something on the UK on television and was immediately conscious of the fact that I couldn't just go there if I wanted to. All my adult life I've had this strange definition of freedom. I think sometime in my early 20s I realised that all you needed was about $3000 in the bank and you could get to anywhere on the planet at a moment’s notice.  I have consequently always had that 3G in the bank! Now obviously I haven't spent my whole life travelling, but knowing that I could get to any point on the planet anytime was an integral aspect of how I felt about being alive. Now for the first time in my adult life that freedom has been taken away. As some wise person noted, many of us are for the first time feeling the kind of oppression that many endure every day of their life. Can’t leave town? Go interstate? First World problems. Situation normal for millions…..
I’ve decided to adopt the Alcoholics Anonymous mantra of ‘one day at a time’ for as long as this period of societal shutdown lasts. I do miss getting out of town, jumping on planes, seeing grandchildren and playing live music together, but there’s no point dwelling on what cannot be. It is indeed a time to reflect, write, clean the bookshelves, and live a slower life. Make it a daily quest to recognise something beautiful – easily done if you live near nature.  
On the macro level it's already a cliché that this pandemic will change the world forever, and it is highly likely that some things will change forever, and that will be fascinating to track as we re-emerge back into something like normal life. Will we shake hands less? Will less people fly? Will there be fewer airlines? Will the forced switch to online education realise some unexpected advantages that will be preserved in a post-Corona world? Will many more people work remotely? Will the standard work meeting go online forever? Will we as a species simply spend less time together socially out of fear of further infection?

Right now I feel fine. Like a good little frog adjusting to the gradual increase in temperature I have found a new daily routine that occasionally has me smiling as I realise that I’m quite enjoying myself. But I’m fortunate to live in a house with a garden; I have a car and can drive to any number of beautiful places and go for my 'government sanctioned daily walk'; for many years I have sought out interesting places for photo walks  where there are few people - social distancing in public has been part of my daily life for a long time. Walking on spacious beaches, expansive parks, riverside tracks and even empty industrial vistas are all within easy reach.
Myponga, Moonta, and Mumbai can all wait – they’ll all still be there when this is all over. I just hope I will be as well.  


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