14 August, 2020

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Covid-19 Menace Gripping The World? An Australian Perspective

By Siri Gamage

Dr. Siri Gamage

In recent weeks and months, we have been watching with alarm what is unfolding first in Wuhan, China and then in countries including South Korea, Iran, Italy, France and Spain by way of the fast spreading Covid-19 virus. At the time of writing Italy seems to be undergoing the worst scenario while the situation in the US and some European countries is evolving into serious health crises. Countries such as Australia and Sri Lanka have been making preparations to face the impending situation with all gears activated to protect lives. No vaccination is available at present and it is speculated that one will not be available for another 12-18 months. This article is intended to highlight some aspects of the evolving situation from an Australian perspective.

Australians enjoyed their summer holidays in December and January while some parts of the country facing an unprecedented drought and bushfire season with many deaths, destroyed houses, displacements and more. Governments-Federal and State- focused on this crisis throughout the period until some rain started to fall in affected areas in late February. As officials, firefighters, and affected people were starting to express a sigh of relief, the news that came from China about the corona virus started to occupy the news media. Initially the Chinese were blamed for the emergence of this virus due to certain food habits. The lockdown in Wuhan and other measures were seen with dismay.  

Australian Government response started with a ban of Chinese nationals to the country. This included about 120,000 tertiary students studying in Australia. If any of them travelled to another country and self-isolated for 14 days they were allowed to enter the country. Later the government allowed about 700 school children from China to enter the country in a controlled manner. With Iran becoming the second trouble spot, the government belatedly imposed a ban on Iranians followed by South Koreans. It was slow to impose a ban on Italians though and this was criticised by some commentators as if a double standard. Government brought home some Australians stranded in a cruise ship that was quarantined in a Japanese port. Likewise, it sent a couple of Qantas flights to Wuhan to bring Australians stranded there due to the travel restrictions. They were kept in isolation in the Christmas Island and another facility in Darwin for mandatory 14-day period. 

The share market has fallen significantly and the value of shares held by owners-small and large – has disappeared. This will affect the retirees very badly. Job losses are becoming more apparent. For example, Qantas set aside its workforce of 20,000 people until the end of May. Many companies, government and semi-government offices are allowing their employees to work from home. Government support for those losing jobs is promised. It is expected that the numbers at welfare centres(Centerlink) can climb in coming weeks and months.

A state of general anxiety is engulfing the community. Suspecting that a situation of lock down can emerge for various localities, people started to stock food and other essentials from super markets. This was most visible in the case of toilet paper. It then spread to other items such as rice, pasta, flour and so on.  Supermarkets have now imposed restrictions on the number of such items that an individual can buy. Coles has introduced a dedicated hour in the morning for senior citizens and those with disabilities. Pharmacies are also experiencing more than usual numbers with customers wanting to stock their medicine and other supplies. Many offices have introduced measures to sanitise offices and the way customers are handled. Notices can be seen at many places such as pharmacies or chemists informing the public not to enter if they have symptoms like cough and flue, travelled overseas or have been in contact with an affected person. Authorities suspect that the worst is yet to come and this situation will continue at least for another 6 months. Recessionary economic condition can continue for even longer period. People are encouraged to look after each other and put aside selfish attitudes when shopping for essentials

By now, a countrywide closure of entry points to all nationals except Australians is in place. Qantas has grounded its international fleet while reducing the domestic fleet by 80%. People are being encouraged to adopt ‘social distancing’ (some say physical distancing), and self-isolate if there are symptoms of the corona virus. Pubs and restaurants have been asked to maintain a four-square meter space for each patron. Public events over 500 people are banned. Yesterday, famous bondi beach was closed to more than 500 following this directive. Government is advising Australians not to travel overseas. 

With people being advised to avoid public gatherings and alter the usual lifestyle in the face of developing situation, many businesses are affected. The overall economy is severely affected and the prediction is that the country and for that matter the world will enter a period of recession. Interest rate has been reduced to .25% and the Reserve bank announced $17 billion package to support small businesses via smaller banks. Government itself announced a package of measures worth over $15 billion about a week ago and another is to be announced today -Sunday($60+billion). Health sector is being provided additional support by the State governments to buy essentials to combat the spreading virus and its harmful effects. In some States, more and more hospital beds are being prepared by turning unused buildings to be health facilities. The number of affected cases has reached 1000 by now and it is an escalation from the number announced previous day.  Authorities are very concerned about this escalation as it adds to the rising curve of infections. The aim of medical and government officials seems to be to control the spread by advocating self-isolation measures, curtailment of travel, etc. In other words, to flatten the curve of new infections.

Many are wondering when the schools will be closed? Government is insisting that this is counterproductive. Two reasons come to light. Firstly about 30% of the parents are employed in the health sector.  If they have to mind children after school closure, it will impact on the functioning of health services. Secondly grandparents can be affected by the children bringing the Corona virus home (even if schools are running, this is a present danger?).  Already some schools in cities such as Sydney and Melbourne have been temporarily closed after finding affected cases of students.

While the scientists are busy to find a vaccine, and to understand the nature and behaviour of this mysterious virus around the world, governments are struggling to impose society-wide constraints on human behaviour in order to curtail the spread of virus.  In Australia, up to the time of writing, government is allowing Australian citizens and residents to enter the country and voluntarily self-isolate in their place of residence with no follow up monitoring. My view is that this policy is failing. It is necessary to impose compulsory quarantining in designated centres with monitoring if the spread is to slow down.

This virus and its effects on human health and well-being have turned the way we used to live upside down and introduced a state of anxiety among the population. Those not familiar with the life and its challenges during the great depression and other calamities in the past are learning afresh new norms and ways of meeting unfamiliar hardships. Some writers are even providing critical perspectives about the work and lifestyle patterns promoted by globalisation and the free market economy (for example, see Wendy Smith, SMH March 20,2020). Situation in Italy has turned for the worse and our thoughts are to be with those affected there with the loss of human life. Even Singapore which was hailed as a success story in containing the spread of Corona virus is reporting more cases. South East Asia, in particular Indonesia and Myanmar (due to lack of facilities including rest kits), seem to be struggling to address the unfolding situation.

Australia is discovering that many of the items required to control the spread of this deadly virus including face masks, ventilators are produced overseas. Ordering and bringing them quickly is no easy task as there is a world-wide demand.  Motivated by the greed for profits and more profits, manufacturing was moved to countries with cheap labour and competitive costs. Now the authorities and planners are realising the foolishness of this move. Some facilities producing different equipment and products have even been called upon to convert their machinery to produce essential items to combat the impending health crisis. I hope human beings all over will learn a costly lesson this time to be more generous to oneself and others at all times! Governments will take heed to calls for more sustainable economic and social policies that in fact serve the population-not those seeking profits and larger profits only.  A new approach to how we do things is absolutely necessary in Australia and elsewhere. When everything built by globalisation mantra starts to crumble like a house of cards, it is the governments and communities that have to come to the rescue of failing companies and other entities.

In this context, we all need to aim for the silver lining rather than be bogged down by the dark clouds. Avoid large crowds, self-isolate if needed, don’t buy more than what you need  and keep well!

Readings

Smith, W. 2020. There is a Silver lining to this Crisis, Sydney Morning Herald. Sydney. March 20. https://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/life-and-relationships/there-is-a-sliver-of-a-silver-lining-to-this-crisis-20200320-p54c7v.html

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Latest comments

  • 0
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    Covid-19 Menace Gripping, In the age of information ignorant in health care and human caring segregating people is dangerous overtakes all money spent on arms and development, security funds targeting countries to consolidate power, Global Surveillance emerging infectious diseases, intelligence Technology is should be placed any other terrorist activities is detectible but virus for submicroscopic infectious agents invisible under the microscope more public health, risk factors, virus canont be fenced.

  • 0
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    Measures taken by Australian Government not different to other countries seriously affected by C 19, except of course no nationwide school closure yet! So far Russia and South America seem to be relatively spared. Any ideas or explanation!

    • 0
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      Russia: Could be the result of testing or lack of ot?

      S.America: With the rise of infected people in the US, one can imagine the situation to change here. South Americans have lot of contacts with North America.

    • 0
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      Russian and South American people hardly sneeze and also they do not take deep breaths because they are struggling to breathe Hey hey hey hey!!!!

  • 4
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    Australia has been as racist as the US in this matter.

  • 0
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    Upto now, every one was blaming China. The reason must be most orientals China, Indonesia, South korea and other smaller countries eat lot of animals. They eat even dogs and wild animals grown up in cages. But, no one yet did not explain how Italy, Spain and Iran got this many numbers and what are the factors to all these three or four countries.
    Europe, Britain, and the USA looked were ignoring it saying it is a CHINESE VIRUS. But, it looks things are changing.
    Modi said, this is the worst that the world faced after the second world war.
    Latin America is poor. But, Brazil’s foreign minister or an official got it. But. Bolsanaro of Brazil escaped it,. I heard, some countries were quick to expel or bar tourists or travellers coming to their countries while others just allowed things to proceed as their revenue, I think, would be affected.
    Australia making the maximum number to be 500 need to be watched.

    • 0
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      Australian number has risen to 0ver 1700 now.Three ships were allowed to dock and passengers to disembark without checking on March 17-20. These ships had infected people and close to 40 passengers have been identified by now.

  • 0
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    Just like other european countries, Australia also looks doe snot ,like to implement the social or physical distancing of people aggressively.
    A new WHO PRESS release says, more than the locking down societies, what is important is STRICT public Health measures. they do not say the names, they appreciate even what ASIAN COUNTRIES, INCLUDING SRI LANKA, has done. the most important thing si to isolate the people who hare already infected.
    Read below.
    public health measures are needed to avoid a resurgence of the virus later on. “What we really need to focus on is finding those who are sick, those who have the virus, and isolate them, find their contacts and isolate them,”

    • 0
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      Yap, yap Softy, WHO would be having nothing but to praise Lankawe for its action on Coronavirus. You remember UN praised Lankawe war criminals for annihilating Terrorist?

      You all the Sinhala Buddhist Modayas are worth to eat moon rice fed by the Sinhala Intellectuals, the stage spices on the earth. Otherwise would a country, as third in the row, make a foreign stateless, war criminal as president? Is the IMF also praising about your tumbling rupee?
      Just go to Lankawe (the true hell) man!

  • 0
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    “Australia is discovering that many of the items required to control the spread of this deadly virus including face masks, ventilators are produced overseas. Ordering and bringing them quickly is no easy task as there is a world-wide demand. Motivated by the greed for profits and more profits, manufacturing was moved to countries with cheap labour and competitive costs. Now the authorities and planners are realising the foolishness of this move. Some facilities producing different equipment and products have even been called upon to convert their machinery to produce essential items to combat the impending health crisis. I hope human beings all over will learn a costly lesson this time to be more generous to oneself and others at all times! Governments will take heed to calls for more sustainable economic and social policies that in fact serve the population-not those seeking profits and larger profits only. “
    Does this mean that Australia is now blessed with Lankawe Sinhala Intellectuals by its Globalization of cheap labor import?
    Comedy Thamai!

    What is this PhD economics is all about? Does the Australia wants to mass produce mask and leave behind the American, German, British medicine for diseases? May I know the name of a popular Medicine Lankawe Sinhala Buddhist Intellectual invented in Australia?

    What is sustained means? Controlling by Rapist Army’s jackboot? That is only sustaining game so far in the 70 years of the Sinhala Buddhist Intellectuals ruling have produced! Or is this guy is reminded of sustained USSR’s falling? Can Australia send out all Chinese students, Australia’s main income earner, permanently, and close its boards? Can Australia keep all its iron ore inside?
    If you buy one thing you pay for it. Only blessed ones who just by, but not pay for is the Rapist Army deployed in North-East. Others need to make maximum money out of export to keep their buying to go on. Rapist’ Army’s just buying, but no selling or paying is the one keeping Rupeyal going through the sky.

    • 0
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      Mallaiyuran…. Investment lost, still sulking and pining …………
      Get a life and move on…………. An opportunists of free education.

    • 0
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      Sorry buddy your English language confuses anyone who reads your comments. Can you please be more specific or please do write in Tamil or Sinhala or even better Hindi the future language of Sri Lanka

  • 0
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    Australia is a multicultural society made of over many different nationalities. The majority come from the UK, NZ.India, China, Italy and Vietnam. As a result many travel around the world freely on holidays especially more than 2 million Chinese students who study here in Australian Universities. As a result it was not very easy to control the Corona 19 virus pandemic spreading in this country. Though Australia had the Covid -19 under control until last week there was a spike especially in Queensland due to the return of the Chinese students who arrived to beat the deadline to study for the new semester. Australia currently has about 1600 suspected cases of Covid-19 out of which only 7 have died and while many have survived. Australia is a very affluent country and is one of the leading Medical Researcn Centres in the world and has already started to invent a drug to combat the Corona virus. Though the whole of Australia is currently in lockdown and many have lost their jobs the Government has started a stimulus package to help everyone to tide over the next six months or so until the virus is brought under control. An estimated 20,000 Qantas staff lost their jobs a few days ago while 150 Qantas planes were grounded and 90 per cent of international flights and 60 per.cent domestic flights cancelled. However the Australian Government has started a stimulus package pledging 169 billion and many tax incentives etc. to help small business . the unemployed and cheques of 1500 dollars to help every Australian for the next fortnight.. Normally Australia comes to the aid of countries like Sri Lanka but unfortunately this time the ball has ended in their own court and need to find a solution quickly to combat this deadly virus.

  • 0
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    The situation is fast moving. From y’day, non essential services, i.e.pubs, restaurants, etc. have been asked to operate as take away places only. In some states, schools have been closed. States like Qld, Tasmania, WA have closed their borders. To compensate, govt has announced a further package of assistance.

    In the ABC Q&A program last night, this topic was discussed and many weaknesses in the current approach discussed. e.g. insufficient testing and quarantine

    https://iview.abc.net.au/show/qanda

  • 3
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    Covid-19 Menace Gripping The World? An Australian Perspective

    *** Why dwell on the Australian Perspective. What about the Sri Lankan pespective a CRIMINAL President donating 5 million which Sri Lanka can ill afford to Corona Victims when he has ingnored the thousnads of Tamils he killed . Gotha if you are listening Charity begins at home. Your 5 million is an insult to the Corona Victims and who wants your 5 million Blood Money.

    • 1
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      Bloody fact. Gotta do not try to impress the world you are borrowing from Peter to pay Pay Paul. You have no principles your own people are struggling so why the fuck do you want to donate to others. Are trying to suck up to someone who will protect you that is not going to happen you will be dealt severely, mercilessly by YOUR OWN PEOPLE so watch out the Corono Virus is your down fall and your brothers may not have a place to hide. The day of reckoning is around the corner

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