COVID19 – a view from across the globe – Australia

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COVID19 – a view from across the globe – Australia

As someone that found it very difficult, in the early days of lockdown, to read and watch the press surrounding the current pandemic, I realised I was not fully aware of what was going on in other parts of the world and how greater knowledge could answer some questions I had about what was happening in England.

While considering what the next few months had in store for those of us living in England and mainly thinking about what I would do come September if the children could not go back to school, I decided to reach out to friends and family around the world to find out what was happening for them and how they had been affected by COVID-19. I asked a serious of questions and thought I would share these with you.

The following features answers from my university friend, Ruth who lives in Perth, Western Australia. Surprisingly she’s not a journalist.

What date was the country put in lockdown?

On 1 February 2020, Australia banned the entry of foreign nationals from mainland China, and ordered its own returning citizens from China to self-quarantine for 14 days. Australia subsequently imposed travel bans on Iran (1 March), South Korea (5 March), and Italy (11 March). A general travel ban, with limited exceptions, on non-citizens and non-residents travelling to Australia and Australians travelling overseas was introduced on 20 March and is still currently in place.

On 15 March the Prime Minister announced that from midnight, all travellers arriving in or returning to Australia must self-isolate for 14 days, mirroring a similar requirement imposed by New Zealand. Failure to comply could result in a fine of A$11,000 to A$50,000 and a possible prison sentence, depending on the state. Cruise ships were also barred from docking in the country for 30 days.

Social distancing rules were imposed on 21 March and state governments started to close “non-essential” services. “Non-essential services” included social gathering venues such as pubs and clubs but unlike many other countries did not include most business operations such as construction, manufacturing and many retail categories.

On 22 March, the Prime Minster announced a closure of places of social gathering, including registered and licensed clubs, licensed premises in hotels and bars, entertainment venues, including but not restricted to cinemas, casinos and nightclubs and places of worship. Cafes and restaurants are to remain open, but limited to takeaway only.

On 29 March, the Cabinet agreed to stricter limits to apply from midnight on the 30th: a limit on both indoor and outdoor gatherings of two people except weddings (5) funerals (10) and people of the same household or family; strong guidance to all Australians is to stay home unless for necessary shopping, health care, exercise, and work and study that can’t be done remotely; public playgrounds, skate parks and outside gyms to be closed. It was left to individual states to enforce these guidelines.

What date was lockdown eased and what measures were different?

The decision to loosen some social distancing measures came earlier than expected, with state and federal leaders making announcements at the end of April.

It’s a bit of a challenge to describe, as each State is running things slightly differently –

Has lockdown been lifted altogether?

National Cabinet reconfirmed the commitment to the 3 step framework for a COVID-safe Australia to be completed in July 2020.

What was the highest peak of deaths in one day?

The first confirmed case in Australia was identified on 25 January 2020, in Victoria, when a man who had returned from Wuhan, China, tested positive.

The number of new cases initially grew sharply, then levelled out at about 350 per day around 22 March, and started falling at the beginning of April to under 20 cases per day by the end of the month. As of 14 June 2020, 3 pm, 7,320 cases and 102 deaths had been reported in Australia,

The highest daily death toll was recorded on April 7, when seven people died.

As of 14 June 2020, there are 380 active cases of COVID-19 in Australia.

Are the hospitals back to normal or are they only dealing with cases of corona?

Hospitals have broadly been operational as normal, there was a limited period of time when elective/low priority surgery was on hold temporarily, but surgeries have now resumed.

What is your government saying now which you think would be interesting for English readers to hear?

That they’re not in a rush to open the borders! There’s been limited speculation as to when the international border would open to Europe, the focus at the moment is a possible travel ‘hub’ with New Zealand.

The Federal Government has led the plans to tackle Coronavirus, however each State has been permitted to implement their own measures in their own timeframes. This has led to some political agendas and disagreements between the State leaders.

Western Australia implemented it’s own internal travel restrictions for a period of time. For example, if you lived in Perth you were not permitted to travel to Margaret River 170 miles away unless you had been granted exemption. There were Police checks at all internal borders and fines issued for breaches, this has now been lifted and we can travel within the state.

The Australian media is currently reporting new cases on an individual basis as we have so few, so we hear about it if an individual person has been diagnosed with Coronavirus. There has been close observation of the Black Lives Matter protests that are taking place, there are currently reported cases of COVID-19 of two protest attendees in Melbourne.

If you had a high/low death toll are you able to give your view on why you think that is?

Australians have broadly been very compliant with Government directives, particularly in the early days when there was so much general fear and uncertainty.

In Australia there are existing strong attitudes towards protecting borders generally, there have been some tough measures in place in recent times and this country has a comprehensive visa system with some tight controls. Therefore, closing the borders was welcomed as people could see what was happening in Asia and Europe so there was limited negative response to this closure. Even now there doesn’t seem to be much resistance to the international borders remaining closed. There are also local and national campaigns to encourage people to travel over here, which is much easier to do when you have a huge country the world’s best beaches!!

We started this coming into Autumn/Winter, so people were probably a lot happier to stay at home. People in WA particularly do not go out if the weather is bad and we have had a few large storms!

Geographically the population is very spread out (only 25 million people living in the worlds sixth largest country, and the world’s largest island!). Cities such as Melbourne and Sydney have the highest populations, but the density of living is not comparable to a European or Asian city.

What do you do for a job and how has it been affected by corona?

I  work at Optus Stadium, Perth, a multi-purpose venue that hosts crowds of up to 60,000 people for concerts, Australian Rules Football (AFL), cricket (domestic and international), rugby ((domestic and international) and soccer (domestic and international).

The last event we hosted was the Queen concert on 23 February 2020. The Australian Rules Football (AFL) season runs from March to September every year and consists of rounds played each week. The AFL season was initially curtailed to a maximum of 17 games, with clubs expected to take at least a 10% revenue hit from coronavirus related issues. However, on 22 March, just before the end of Round 1 of the 2020 season, AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan announced that the AFL season would be suspended until at least 31 May, citing the shutting of state borders as the primary cause for this decision.

The AFL season resumed on Thursday 11 June with scheduled games taking place until Sunday 5 July in South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. There are plans to include Optus Stadium as a venue for games beyond Sunday 5 July, the Western Australian border is currently closed but is expected to re-open in the coming weeks.

It has been an exceptionally challenging and unusual time for the events industry. We are currently undertaking extensive scenario planning to host AFL without spectators, with a partial crowd and a full capacity crowd. There are many stakeholders and decision makers involved, including the WA State Government, Federal Government, AFL and AFL clubs.

The Federal Government recently announced plans to allow stadiums with a capacity of 40,000 and less, to open with a 25% crowd. We are still waiting on plans for stadiums that are larger. There have been some events taking place in other states with a couple of thousand fans only who are sitting apart.

When did schools re-open and did the children go back as normal (here they only reopened to a few year groups on the 1st June and most children are only 2 days a week)? If not when will they go back?

Broadly the schools only closed for three weeks unless parents were key workers, then two more weeks closed for Easter Holidays. After the holidays pupils were encouraged to return, but not compulsory. Then after a further 4 weeks of optional return it was made compulsory to send children back to school, unless they had a medical condition that put them at high risk.

Each State did this slightly differently, and some private schools shut before the Government advised them to which caused some friction. But overall they weren’t closed for long.

When did shops and restaurants reopen? Are they operating differently?

Shops and restaurants began to open around the end of April in Step 1, there were initial limits on customers allowed in at any one time to shops. Restaurants could only seat limited numbers for limited periods of time, for example only 20 people for 90 minutes, and bookings had to be made in advance. Alcohol could only be consumed with a meal.

Restrictions on pubs and restaurants have since been lifted, so now they just need to maintain distances between tables, have a COVID-19 safety plan and record details of all attendees. Alcohol can be consumed without food, but you have to be seated and not hang around the bar.

Larger retail shops didn’t close at all, such as; supermarkets, DIY shops, garden centres, furniture shops, Kmart and stationery shops. Most retailers now have markings on floor for social distancing and have introduce plastic screens between staff and customers at tills. Plenty of hand sanitiser everywhere!

Do you know if the Courts functioned during lockdown and if not, are they back to normal now?

I don’t think the courts ever fully closed during lockdown, as the below news article reports they used virtual technology to keep cases moving;

With the exception of large events and travel, most things in Australia are nearly back to the new ‘normal’. The States are still arguing about their own borders, particularly with the impact on the tourism industry.

Ruth Perry