withdrawing super unemployed
(Image: AAP/Dan Peled)

How long will JobKeeper last? While the tertiary education sector begs for reprieve, international students are literally in breadlines. And we look at some of the world’s worst coronavirus deniers. 

To JobKeeper or not to JobKeeper?

When the United Kingdom first announced a wage subsidy in March, finance minister Matthias Cormann said a similar scheme wouldn’t work here.

Two days later, the government unveiled JobKeeper. Now, British chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the UK’s furlough would continue for another four months. Will Australia follow suit?

There’s a lot still up for discussion. In the last few days, Coalition backbenchers have expressed a desire to end the scheme early, which is otherwise due to last until September. Meanwhile, Labor is trying to change the rules so workers at universities and foreign-owned companies can get support.

Since JobKeeper came into play, there’s been a lot of focus on the people it leaves out — temporary migrants, casual workers, international students and pretty much the entire arts sector. Expect plenty more tinkering and negotiating over the scheme.

And with a review set to come in June, and more recent modelling suggesting economic strife for years to come, expect a debate over whether to extend the scheme. 

Lower education

While we’re on JobKeeper’s failings, it’s worth looking again at higher education, a sector given almost no love.

The government has changed the rules three times to stop universities from accessing JobKeeper, even though they were hit early and hard by the pandemic.

With universities set to lose up to $4.6 billion within the next six months alone, job losses have already started and the government’s $18 billion rescue package has been slammed as inadequate.

Meanwhile, the National Tertiary Education Union is in talks with management over a deal where staff take a salary cut of 5-15%, in the hope of saving an estimated 12,000 jobs. Not everyone’s happy about the deal — it’s exposed rifts between the union’s national executive and smaller chapters, including at the University of Sydney, where the deal is opposed.

Elsewhere, international students, many out of work, unable to access JobKeeper and unable to get home, are struggling. A video showing students queuing up around the block for free food is one sign of just how bad things are. 

The death tolls that keep changing

One of the many alarming things about COVID-19 is that the official number of deaths keeps changing as records and stats update.

The latest — Russia’s coronavirus death toll could be 70% higher than official records, analysis from the Financial Times suggests.

That’s because while the country is experiencing far more deaths than usual, not all COVID-19 deaths have been reported as caused by the pandemic. Similarly, last month Wuhan “revised” its pandemic deaths up 50%.

But it isn’t just authoritarian countries having problems here. In the United Kingdom, the true number of COVID-19 deaths could be much higher than the 31,000 recorded. There were 50,000 additional deaths over the last two months, and it’s feared many of the additional deaths in care homes, often of people with other illnesses and comorbidities, weren’t attributed to the pandemic.

New York’s death toll also jumped 60% a month ago when it added people who’d died without being tested.

Coronavirus crazies

There’s understandably a fair bit of attention on US President Donald Trump’s erratic and misleading response to the coronavirus.

But he’s far from the worst offender among world leaders. That title could go to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro who, when asked about the country’s skyrocketing number of cases and deaths, responded: “so what?”

Over 11,000 Brazilians have died from COVID-19. The country’s far right leader has consistently downplayed the virus’ seriousness, sacking a health minister and attacking governors and bizarrely demanding a military coup.

Yesterday, tape was released of a paranoid Bolsonaro accusing the police of “wanting to fuck with” his family during a Cabinet meeting.

Trump could also be topped by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has stubbornly refused to put the country in lockdown and told people to drink Vodka and go to saunas, despite the country recording over 10,000 infections.

But the worst offender might be Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov of Turkmenistan. The repressive, secretive central Asian nation, which says it has recorded no cases is also rumoured to have banned the word “coronavirus” itself. Berdimuhamedov, who has built a cult of personality to rival North Korea, instead celebrated his own equine exploits at National Horse Day rather than focus on the pandemic.