Today, Australians get long-awaited details on what the road back to normal will look like, while our success puts us in an elite club of “first mover” nations. Meanwhile, the NRL continues to provide the kind of off-field drama that would make a TV miniseries. Plus, who’s afraid of video-conferencing?
The easing begins
We might finally have a clearer picture of what the next few months of our disrupted lives look like, with national cabinet today set to announce a long-awaited roadmap for a staged reopening of the country.
Restrictions on outdoor gatherings, school closures and interstate travel may be the first things to change, and it’s likely that things will be eased in four-week blocks.
The premiers of NSW and Victoria, states which have seen the highest infection numbers, are urging caution, and have warned that lifting restrictions too quickly could unleash a second wave of the virus.
Still, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has adopted a more cautiously optimistic pose, saying that by the end of June “life will feel much more normal than it does now”.
A seat at the table
Australia’s success in flattening the curve has bought us membership to a group of “first mover” nations who have flattened the curve successfully — including Denmark, Austria, Czech Republic, Israel, New Zealand and Greece. Last night, Prime Minister Scott Morrison participated in a teleconference with leaders of these countries.
The first mover countries all succeeded for similar reasons — go early, go hard, go testing.
Austria, which started reopening shops more than three weeks ago, went into lockdown on March 16 — earlier than almost anywhere in Europe — and dispatched mobile testing units around the country.
Denmark shut borders, kept its workers home and limited gatherings early, and became the first country outside of Asia to start easing restrictions last month. So far, it hasn’t seen a spike in cases after opening up
The Czech Republic put in place a lockdown before recording a single death from COVID-19.
Knowing its austerity-ravaged health system would not cope with a major outbreak, Greece also moved aggressively, shutting down much of the country in early March; the country is hoping its success means it can still get a much needed economic boost from summer tourism.
Israel also implemented a tough lockdown, and a controversial phone surveillance program.
Finally, New Zealand, which locked down earlier and harder than us.
But notably, we’re easing restrictions later, and from a safer position than most of these countries. With the exception of New Zealand, we have far lower numbers of cases or deaths per million people than any of the countries in the group.
NRL anti-vaxxers score a win
The NRL is committed to restarting games later this month, but what’s less certain is whether any of the action will be able to match the off-field drama we’ve seen during lockdown.
Things took a turn for the absurd this week over the issue of vaccinations. One of the conditions of the league restarting was mandatory flu vaccination for all players. But then Gold Coast Titans’ Bryce Cartwright, who has emerged as footy’s best known anti-vaxxer, announced he wouldn’t sign the jab waiver, with about 20 players following suit.
Astonishingly, the NRL has caved and is now allowing players with a “conscientious objection” to play on without getting their flu vaccine, despite Scott Morrison saying players should abide by a “no jab no play” policy.
Democracy struggles with Zoom
Social distancing has meant the crucial business of running the country has had to be conducted over video conference. That’s brought with it a heap of challenges, and highlighted many politicians’ discomfort with technology.
Case in point: this week, Jacqui Lambie spent 20 minutes trying to turn her microphone on.
The Ruby Princess inquiry has seen more than its fair share of technical difficulties. In the early days, the stream cut out repeatedly, while yesterday, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard accused two Labor MPs of winking at each other via video link.
Meanwhile Commissioner Bret Walker SC, known for getting George Pell acquitted at the High Court, revealed he didn’t know what WhatsApp was. Of course Walker’s technophobia is the stuff of Phillip St legend — he’s rumoured to have his assistant print out emails for him.
Given the challenges many are having, it’s unsurprising that in the UK, the House of Commons is forcing MPs to upskill, and has provided written guidelines describing how and where to set up a video conference, and information on muting calls.