Friday, April 17, 2020

Coronavirus Australia: Infection rate continues to decline as Australia ponders ‘exit strategy’

Australia now has 6,449 coronavirus cases.

That’s an increase of only 39 in the past 24 hours - with four states or territories registering no new cases.

The only state to register double-digit instances of new infections was New South Wales.

However, there was a 63rd death - another Ruby Princess passenger who died in Canberra.

In the past 24 hours, South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory all registered no new cases.

Victoria recorded only eight, Tasmania registered only four and Queensland and Western Australia reported five apiece.

New South Wales was the only state with a double-digit number of new cases with 16.

It comes amid a testing blitz, with several states softening the criteria to ensure more people are tested.

In Tasmania, South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria, anyone showing symptoms can request a coronavirus test from their GP.

A woman in her 60s died, becoming the 19th fatality linked to the Ruby Princess debacle.

National Cabinet will meet again on Thursday. It’s expected they will discuss Australia’s exit strategy from the pandemic as the number of cases continues to drop.

State and territory health officials have indicated it would take prolonged proof that the curve was flattening before restrictions would lift.


Western Australia considering lifting its coronavirus restrictions within weeks

An Australian state is considering lifting its coronavirus restrictions within weeks and allow social gatherings, schools and businesses to go back to normal.

There are 532 COVID-19 cases in Western Australia -  the second lowest out of the mainland states - and the number of infections grew by only five cases on Wednesday.

Premier Mark McGowan said the state had not just flattened the curve of coronavirus cases but 'driven it down to being nearly non-existent'. 

'We've got to work out how we get our economy back up,' Mr McGowan said.

Despite the low number of cases in the state compared with more populous parts of the country, WA has some of the most draconian laws in Australia - including heavy fines for going between nine designated regions without an essential reason.

Mr McGowan said the state's infection rate was extremely low by world standards, reiterating any potential plans to tweak restrictions should not be expected until May.

'It is like playing a game of chess,' he said. 'You're just constantly looking at what the angles are, what the options are, what the potential pitfalls are.' 'But it's a very serious game of chess because people's health is at risk.'

A series of legislative measures have been put before state parliament to support the economy and community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr McGowan told parliament efforts were already underway to manage WA's economic recovery, with Public Sector Commissioner Sharyn O'Neill appointed state recovery controller. 

Curtin University epidemiologist and pro-vice chancellor of health sciences Archie Clements believes WA is well-placed to begin loosening restrictions.

'Most of the cases can be directly traced to a known source so it doesn't look like there's much going on by the way of undetected community transmission,' Professor Clements said.

'All in all, we've probably avoided the worst of the epidemic and I think with the current numbers it's likely that the epidemic will peter out in WA.'

The government wants a sustained period of low transmission and has made clear the hard border closures will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

Professor Clements predicts a phased approach where the lowest-risk activities are relaxed first.

'That will be things like rather than having businesses closed, they might reopen things like restaurants but with a lower density of patrons,' he said.

'They might allow small community events to take place. And then I think it will be allowing things like schools to go back, and I'm hoping that will be sooner rather than later.

Teachers are still concerned though about how schools will function safely in term two.

There are 33 patients in Perth hospitals, including 11 in intensive care.

A decision on education will be made after the national cabinet meeting on Thursday, with WA public schools scheduled to begin term two on April 29.

But State School Teachers Union of WA president Pat Byrne said members remained concerned they did not have access to personal protective equipment like health workers.

'There's no question that the best form of learning is in the classroom,' she told reporters on Wednesday. 'What the dilemma for us is, is how to put that consideration against the consideration of safety and health for both the students and the adults who work in a school.

'We've already seen some teachers walking off the job. Very small numbers, but we have seen it.'

Health minister Roger Cook said he was 'fairly comfortable' with schools opening for term two.

'I think there's a lot of anxiety in the community and obviously we're very cognisant of that,' he told reporters.

Premier Mark McGowan agreed face-to-face schooling was best and he did not want to see children educated from home for the rest of the year, but refused to pre-empt the outcome of the cabinet meeting.


Coronavirus Australia: Mass exodus of older teachers and pregnant women likely to be enforced

A mass exodus of older teachers aged over 60 and pregnant women from the nation’s schools is likely to be enforced for the next six months under a back-to-school plan being considered by political leaders.

As the national cabinet meets today to consider a battle plan to make schools safer for teachers, the Prime Minister has ramped up his call for teachers to return to the classroom.

But the push will come with some conditions, including guarantees that at-risk teachers can work from home, free COVID-19 tests for educators, more soap and hand sanitiser and a phased return to classes.

The ban on at-risk teachers may include pregnant women, over 60s and even teachers aged over 50 with asthma and heart disease, who will be encouraged to work from home.

But it could also spark teacher shortages with up to one in five teachers likely to be in an at-risk category.

Federal and state officials have told mandatory temperature checks had not been proposed in official health advice to national cabinet.

Futuristic handheld scanners were deployed across Singapore in recent months allowing for contact-free temperature checks in schools and for classes to remain open.

That prompted calls for similar checks in Australia. But officials don’t believe it’s an option here. One reason is that young children’s temperature can often spike when dropped off by parents and childcare and preschool.

“It is fraught. Only non-contact laser type thermometers would even be considered from a health perspective and finding more than 2000 for every school in Queensland would be a challenge,’’ Queensland Teachers Union president Kevin Bates said.

“Singapore was checking every child and have still had to move to close schools as infection rates got out of control. Many of our members would like it but we would probably prefer to rely on parents monitoring their children’s health and not sending their children to school if unwell.”

After cases spiked again this month, Singapore has now joined Australia in effectively closing schools.

Mr Bates said teachers remained frustrated with the mixed messages that large gatherings were safe for schools but not for adults who were banned from eating in restaurants and pubs.

“What we have heard over and over again is that kids don’t give it to other kids and that’s great. But what about teachers?’’ he said.

“Our concern is that schools could become hot spots for the spread of the disease.”

When school returns on Monday in Queensland, COVID-19 safety rules will require a ratio of just 12 students to each teacher to allow for social distancing.

But Victoria is standing firm that it will not consider any return to classes until at least July 12.

“My advice to the Victorian Government was and continues to be that to slow the spread of coronavirus, schools should undertake remote learning for term two,’’ Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton said.

“This is because having around a million children and their parents in closer contact with each other, teachers and other support staff has the potential to increase cases of coronavirus not just in schools but across the community.

“Schools are not ‘dangerous places’ and parents should feel comfortable sending their kids to school – if they need to. But the mix of onsite and off-site learning supports better physical distancing overall, reducing risk as we drive new cases down. As risk changes, we’ll reassess.”

Teachers and parents remain sharply divided over whether it is safe to return children to classrooms.

According to a survey with more than 40,000 respondents, 44 per cent of parents believed it was safe to return to school while 56 per cent disagreed.

Scott Morrison revealed this week he would send his two daughters Abigail and Lily back to school in a “heartbeat” if they were going to be taught by teachers, complaining the distance learning model was “childminding”, not education.

The Prime Minister’s daughters have relocated with his wife Jenny to live the Lodge in Canberra during the COVID-19 crisis so he can attend daily briefings with heath officials and staff.

But the PM said he would not send his kids back to their Sydney private school until it went beyond “looking at a screen”.

“I kept my kids in school till the last week because they weren’t getting taught in school in that last week, they were looking at a screen. That’s not teaching; that’s child minding,” he told 6PR radio.

“It isn’t just about that kids can go along and sit in a hall and be minded; we want them to get educated.

“We’re on school holidays in NSW so the kids are at home but I’d have them back in a heartbeat if they were getting taught at school. At the moment we’re lucky they can have a learning environment at home.”


Beyond the church: How Australia's sacred spaces are evolving

Whatever ties we have to faith, churches remain a part of Australian life and community.

Religion historian and University of Sydney professor Carole Cusack, said it was in the 19th century that churches began popping up everywhere.

"Once the transportation of convicts became less and people came as free settlers to a land of opportunity, there was a massive burst of church building," Dr Cusack said.

Fast-forward to the era of the Beatles and some started to disappear.

"There has been considerable decline in church attendance since about 1960 and a lot of churches have become redundant," Dr Cusack said.

"They get deconsecrated. They're made into different things."

While the decision to buy and reinvent a church space might be a no-brainer to some, Dr Cusack said others were less sure.

"People have mixed feelings about that sort of thing. They think that that's kind of a profane destiny for a building that was intended as sacred."

So how do investors and business owners feel about occupying these spaces without putting on a Sunday service?

Cafes, studios and dance practice

When real-estate photographer Adrian Gale photographed Naracoorte's Church of Christ he had no idea he would buy it a year later. While in love with its natural lighting and ancient walls, something more urged his interest. "I just love the story of it," Mr Gale said

The church was built in 1906. When the congregation outgrew the small hall, they built a kids' ministry and supper hall on the back. When they outgrew that, they moved.

The building has been a practice room for the town band, a Seventh Day Adventist Church and a funeral business.

"Most Naracoorte people have probably been to a funeral there in the past 20 years," Mr Gale said.

As well as his photography base, Mr Gale lends the space to other community events like yoga, baby showers and wedding ceremonies — something he feels is his responsibility.

"Churches themselves in history have been so involved in supporting communities and being a part of communities," he said.

"We're able to keep a space in the community in a whole different way."  It is a feeling that is also felt 50 kilometres down the road at Erica Bowen's restaurant in Penola.   For Ms Bowen and her husband, the Methodist church they made into a home for their business had "a good feel about it".

Like Mr Gale, she has familiarised herself with the church's history — information that has not gone to waste.  She said the couple were often asked about the building's origins. Then there are the people that know the space well, like the Irish dancers that used to practise there.

"People come with their own stories on top of what we are … which is pretty cool," Ms Bowen said. "Breathing life into something that's old to make it new again always has a good story to it."

Mr Gale explained the opportunity as one of stewardship, not ownership. "When a building's 110 years old ,you don't really own a building like that, you're more a steward of it for the season that you own it," Mr Gale said.


 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

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