Singapore: Australia has plummeted from international standard bearer to a laggard with its approach to the pandemic but the nation’s beleaguered tourism industry is being told the good times will eventually return.
Speaking today in Singapore, the first stop of his tour of Vietnam, Japan, South Korea and the United States, Trade and Tourism Minister Dan Tehan has predicted international tourists will be back in as great a number as before when borders reopen. That is despite other parts of the world gaining an advantage with faster vaccination rollouts allowing travel to resume.
Mr Tehan is in south-east Asia as the Delta coronavirus variant threatens to overwhelm health systems across the region. With Sydney in its third week of lockdown, Australia has attracted renewed attention from abroad for the closed-border tactics to combating the virus that have resulted in more than 30,000 of its own citizens being unable to return home.
The UK’s Financial Times on the weekend published an editorial on the “fatal flaws in Australia’s hermit nation strategy”, namely the country’s failure to match the pace of other developed countries in procuring vaccines.
Amid the wreckage to Australia’s reputation, Europe, the UK and the United States have got a head start on opening up again thanks to far more effective vaccination rollouts.
Mr Tehan, however, argues Australia’s tourism industry is still well positioned for an ultimate bounce back.
“I think the one thing that we can be really, really confident about as Australians is that the beauty of our product has not changed throughout the coronavirus pandemic,” he said.
With the proportion of people working from home during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic growing from 5 per cent to 40 per cent, there’s a renewed focus on the impacts and benefits of staying in the home office.
The chairman of Australia’s Productivity Commission says higher rates of working from home have beneficial impacts on workers and are unlikely to harm the economy.
With workers saving more than an hour each day by removing the commute, businesses are benefiting from staff working an additional 13 minutes on average each day, while workers have more time for care-giving and personal activities.
While councils and governments are urging staff to return to the office when restrictions have eased to a point where it is possible, some studies show the workforce is unlikely to return to pre-pandemic levels of office work.
Today on Please Explain, senior economics writer Jessica Irvine joins Nathanael Cooper to discuss how working from home has impacted productivity.
The rising daily COVID-19 case numbers in Sydney is leading to inevitable comparisons with the start of Melbourne’s second wave from around this time last year.
The data on the two is worth a look, but there are some key things to note about it.
The graph below compares the seven-day average of local cases in Melbourne at the start of the state’s second wave with the current Sydney outbreak.
As with any data, keep in mind that whenever two areas are being compared over different time periods, there are some important caveats to take into account.
It might look like Sydney’s current outbreak has taken off faster than Victoria’s second wave, but that’s partially a result of the data itself.
When Victoria’s second wave was taking off, the virus was still circulating at low levels throughout the community and there were other concurrent clusters being followed up on. During this time there would still be about five new locally acquired new cases confirmed each day, unlike NSW prior to the most recent outbreak where there had been a string of zero days.
The true extent of Melbourne’s growing second wave only became apparent down the line once testing was stepped up, so in some ways the data in the Victorian experience was playing catch-up.
Anyone who looks at this graph will unavoidably start wondering what path the NSW line on the graph will take over the coming days. It’s clearly on the rise.
But what we don’t know is how high that line will rise or how long it will take to get there – that will depend on many other factors.
Federal LNP senator for Queensland Matt Canavan has criticised NSW for ordering Greater Sydney into lockdown.
Mr Canavan made the case that extended lockdowns have a crushing cost on people and governments need to adopt a higher risk tolerance.
“I don’t think we are correctly balancing here the costs and benefits of lockdowns. They’re not the preferred tool of virologists,” Mr Canavan told the ABC on Monday afternoon.
“I think we have got to put the responsibility back on people. And those who are vulnerable will feel like they don’t want to be exposed. They can obviously make the choice to stay home. But to impose a police state on everybody over a year after the virus [when] we know a lot more about it [and] we have a lot more treatments, it doesn’t add up.”
Pressed by host Patricia Karvelas about the number of people – including some young people – in hospital, Mr Canavan said the community must come to accept some deaths from coronavirus as being normal.
“There is no world in which we will have zero deaths,” he said.
“A couple of years ago we would lose two people from the flu every day. We didn’t lock down the country.
“It’s a difficult ethical dilemma but no-one seems to be raising the fact that lockdowns themselves are extremely costly on people’s mental wellbeing.
“What are we locking down for now? What’s the rationale, except to try some futile attempt to take every risk out of our lives which you can’t do.”
The Australian Defence Force has officially announced the end of Australia’s 20-year campaign in Afghanistan.
ADF chief Angus Campbell confirmed on Facebook that all ADF personnel have departed Afghanistan, bringing the nation’s longest war to a close.
“Over the past 20 years, some 39,000 of #YourADF men and women served in Afghanistan, alongside military, law enforcement, civilian and aid partners from more than 50 countries,” he wrote.
“As we mark the end of our military operations in Afghanistan, we acknowledge and thank all Defence personnel for their continued commitment to supporting our operations in order to achieve our mission of defending Australia and our national interests.
“Tragically, 41 ADF personnel died on operations in Afghanistan. Their bravery, dedication to service, and ultimate sacrifice will never be forgotten. Many more of our people returned home with lasting physical and mental wounds, sadly some we have since lost. We will continue our commitment to support our people and their families.
“To all ADF personnel, thank you for your service.”
NSW Health has advised the public of a number of new venues of concern, largely in south-west and western Sydney. Anyone who was at the following locations at these times is a close contact and should immediately get tested and self-isolate for 14 days:
- Australian Visa Now in Fairfield, Monday through Saturday last week from 9.30am to 4.30pm
- Law and Order Office Work in Fairfield, Monday through Saturday last week from 9.30am to 4.30pm
- Belmore Medical Centre last Monday from 10am to 11am
- Mrs Fields within Roselands Shopping Centre on July 1 from 10.30am to 10.45am, July 3 from 7am to 7.10am and last Monday from 10.30am to 10.40am (in addition to existing times)
People who were at the following venues at these times are considered casual contacts and must immediately get a test then isolate until they receive a negative result.
- Boulevarde Pharmacy at Fairfield Heights on Saturday from 9am to 10am
- Babylon Bakery at Fairfield Heights on Saturday from 12.45pm to 12.50pm
- McGraths Hill BMX track on Wednesday from 11am to 1pm
- Windsor Riverview Shopping Centre on Wednesday from 1.30pm to 3pm
- Lazezza Kebab Bakery Grills at Mortdale on Wednesday from 2.15pm to 3pm
- PRD Real Estate at Liverpool on Wednesday or Friday from 9am to 5.30pm, or Saturday from 8.30am to 9.15am
- Asal Sweet Patisserie at Merrylands on Thursday from 4pm to 5pm
- Bondi Junction Australia Post, within Eastgate, on Friday from 3.50pm to 4pm
- Cafe at Lewers at Emu Plains on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday from 9am to 9.30am
- Emu Plains Woolworths, within the Lennox Shopping Centre, on Tuesday from 4pm to 4.30pm
- Cons Continental Deli, within Glenbrook Village, on Tuesday from 1pm to 1.30pm
- The Takeaway Joint at Glenbrook on Tuesday from 1pm to 1.30pm
- Penrith Homemaker Centre on Tuesday from 3pm to 3.30pm
- Grey Gums Bottlemart at Jamistown on Tuesday from 3pm to 3.30pm
- Tins and Wood at Penrith on Wednesday from 5.20pm to 5.40pm
- Kemps Street Caltex on Thursday from 4.15pm to 4.45pm
- Woolworths Fairfield Heights on Thursday from 5.40pm to 5.50pm and 6pm to 7pm, as well as Saturday from 12.40pm to 12.55pm (in addition to existing times)
- Pyrmont Coles on July 5 from 1pm to 1.20pm (in addition to existing times)
- Kareela Coles on Wednesday from 1pm to 10pm (in addition to existing times)
In addition, anyone at these locations at these time should monitor for symptoms and get a test if they develop.
- Hoxton Park Bunnings on Thursday from 11.10am to 12.15pm
- The Irish Convenience Store at Bondi Junction on Saturday from 9.55am to 11.05am
We’ve created a map which drills down further on where Sydney’s outbreak grew over the weekend.
It shows local COVID-19 cases recorded on Saturday, July 10, and Sunday, July 11.
The cases are shown by postcode and sometimes cover several suburbs. For example, postcode 2165 (which includes Fairfield, Fairfield East, Fairfield Heights and Fairfield West) recorded 57 cases. Meanwhile, 2176 in Sydney’s south-west (Abbotsbury, Bossley Park, Edensor Park, Greenfield Park, Prairiewood, St Johns Park and Wakeley) recorded 26 cases over both days.
Postcode 2164 (Smithfield, Smithfield West, Wetherill Park and Woodpark) had 22 cases; 2196 (Punchbowl and Roselands) had seven; 2171 (Cecil Hills, Horningsea Park, Hoxton Park, West Hoxton) recorded four; and 2756 (a suburb that encompasses several western Sydney suburbs) recorded three.
In comparison, postcode 2022 (Bondi Junction and Queens Park), where the outbreak initially began on June 16, reported nine cases over the two days. And postcode 2000 (Haymarket, The Rocks, Barangaroo, Millers Point, Dawes Point and Sydney) recorded three cases.
The northern beaches – after their outbreak over summer – remain COVID-free for now, as does Lane Cove, Mosman and the Hawkesbury region.
There have also been very few cases outside of metropolitan Sydney – such as the Central Coast and Shellharbour – which is causing residents there a lot of angst as they question why they are in lockdown.
However, postcode 2263 on the Central Coast (Canton Beach, Charmhaven, Gorokan, Lake Haven, Norah Head, Noraville and Toukley) did record one case over the period.
Regional NSW remains COVID-free, which hasn’t been enough to keep Victoria from declaring it the same risk as Sydney (a “red zone”) and shutting the border.
Victoria’s COVID-19 response commander Jeroen Weimar says he’s confident authorities will be able to contain Victoria’s two new cases in a family that returned from NSW to their home in Melbourne’s outer north-western suburbs.
“I’m very confident with the City of Hume family,” he said.
“We have a very, very small window to chase … it will be really important to understand whether they’ve had any movements outside of the house [and we] will have that today.
“I’m pretty confident that we’ve got a really good start on this one and I think we’ll run that one very hard.”
He was not as confident about the removalists, though, saying he hopes tracing data collected by the movers was accurate.
“The challenge for us there will be making sure we’ve got good, accurate and effective information around exposure sites,” he said.
“It only happened a few days ago – we’re talking about three days ago, Thursday [or] Friday last week.
“That’s probably the bigger risk point of time.”
He said Victoria has issued 8019 red zone permits.
The family who came from NSW to Victoria – two of whom have since tested positive – tested negative for COVID-19 on July 6, two days after their flight.
Victoria’s COVID-19 response commander Jeroen Weimar said it meant the family were not a risk while on the flight.
“If these individuals have returned a negative test result two days after getting off that plane they don’t represent an infectious risk on that flight,” he said.
“I’m very confident we’ve got controls in place, as we do with this family.”
They are all currently in isolation after being issued a red zone permit.
Another family member, who drove from NSW to the City of Hume in Melbourne’s outer north-western suburbs on July 8, is currently helping authorities map his drive down to identify potential exposure sites.
Mr Weimar said also investigations indicated the removalists who were working while contagious in Victoria made their first drop-off at a City of Hume address on July 8 and a second pick-up in Maribyrnong later that day. He said the crew members then departed to Adelaide.
“We’ve got a number of concerns here,” he said.
There have been further incursions of COVID-19 from NSW into Victoria, says COVID-19 response commander Jeroen Weimar.
“A removal crew of three individuals arrived in Melbourne on the eighth of July from Sydney,” he said.
“One of the members of the crew was contacted by NSW Health on the ninth [of July] when they were in South Australia [and was] identified as a primary close contact of another case.”
He said all three members of the crew are now back in Sydney.
Mr Weimar also said there was a “fourth incursion” that had occurred as a result of a family that came from NSW.
“We now have a family of four, who returned from Sydney. Three of those members returned by air on the fourth of July,” he said.
“They all tested negative initially.
“Two members of the family became symptomatic and got tested yesterday. We received the results [in the] late morning today, so they are both positive.
“The other two members of the family are being tested again today.”
He said the fourth member of the family came to Melbourne on July 8 by car. The family had permits and were isolating.
The state is on high alert and authorities are expecting a number of new exposure sites after a Sydney removalist visited multiple homes and travelled through the state while infectious with coronavirus.
The removalist stayed overnight in Victoria on Thursday, July 8, before driving to South Australia and later returning to NSW, where he tested positive to COVID-19 on Sunday.