Friday, May 15, 2020

Australia’s staggering virus reversal

A vital figure has improved by more than 900 per cent since the peak of the pandemic in Australia.

Australia has recorded a staggering virus reversal, with the number of hospital patients with coronavirus falling almost 900 per cent since early April.

Health officials revealed on Wednesday there were just 50 people fighting COVID-19 in hospital, well down on the 448 recorded just five weeks ago.

But experts have urged people not to get too complacent, especially as states and territories gradually begin to ease their restrictions.

Australia is considered the envy of the world for successfully flattening the curve and maintaining a relatively low rate of virus cases and deaths.

While the United States and United Kingdom continue to struggle with the pandemic, the Australian government has unveiled a three-step plan to lift restrictions and move towards a “new normal”.

More than 900,000 tests have been carried out around the country since the pandemic began, and yesterday the whole country recorded just 13 new cases. The number of active cases has fallen to 700 nationwide.

But state premiers and health experts have stressed that people must continue to practice social distancing measures and get tested for the virus if they feel unwell.

At a press conference this morning, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said it was important that people continue to get tested. "Please know that many of us will need to get tested multiple times," she said.

"If you have a symptom and you get tested and you're negative, in a few weeks' time you might feel unwell again, you need to come forward and get tested again. "Do not just assume that once you get tested and it's negative that you are cleared. Quite the contrary. If you develop symptoms at a later date, you do need to come forward and get tested again."

Australia’s death toll rose to 98 on Wednesday after an 81-year-old passenger from the Ruby Princess died in NSW.

Meanwhile, Labor has said the Government is putting livelihoods at risk by not expanding the job subsidy program JobSeeker to more people who need it.

The federal opposition argued university and aviation staff should be entitled to it, as both sectors have been hit hard by the virus-driven shutdown.

In addition, shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers has warned the government to “be smart” about cutting off JobKeeper on its six-month deadline of September 27. “If you need to target it, if you need to taper it, if you need to do different things for different industries or for different kinds of workers, then put something on the table,” Dr Chalmers said. “But don’t just assume that everything’s going to be fine one day in September.”

A key factor in reopening the economy – the COVIDSafe app – is now doing its tracing work after all states and territories signed up to privacy and security protections.

Five medical practitioners who are also MPs are set to throw their weight behind the app, which is now in the pockets of 5.6 million Australians.

David Gillespie, Katie Allen, Mike Freelander, Richard Di Natale and Andrew Laming will jointly plead for greater support for the app in Canberra on Thursday morning.


Coalition crackdown on class action suits

The attorney-general is squaring up for a fight with the class action industry and the litigation funders that bankroll claims on behalf of groups of people.

Litigation funders who bankroll class action lawsuits are coming under the microscope amid concerns they claw back too much of the final settlements from successful cases.

Attorney-General Christian Porter says many litigation funders are taking up to 30 per cent of legal settlements, leaving members of class actions to fight over the scraps once legal fees and costs are paid.

"This industry is demonstrating outcomes that cannot be said to be consistent with the interests of justice of the litigants," he told parliament on Wednesday.

A coalition-led parliamentary inquiry will examine the impact of class actions on businesses hit by the coronavirus.

It will also look at the relationship between litigation funders and lawyers acting for class action members, and the impact of a Victorian plan to allow lawyers to charge contingency fees.

Mr Porter said class actions had tripled over the past decade, with median returns to members dropping to 51 per cent when litigation funders were involved. When funders weren't involved, the median return was 85 per cent.

"Why would we not inquire into that phenomenon?" Mr Porter said.

Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the inquiry was a shameless attempt to protect the government's big business mates.

"The biggest source of new class action cases in 2019 came from consumer actions arising from the banking royal commission," Mr Dreyfus told parliament. "The same royal commission that the government voted against 26 times."

He said class action suits provided a vital path to justice for ordinary Australians.

Mr Dreyfus said the government had yet to respond to a 2018 Australian Law Reform Commission report on litigation funding.
"And why? Because that independent report ... didn't give the government the answers that it wanted," he said.

Earlier this year, pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson and two affiliated companies were ordered to pay $2.6 million in damages to three women at the centre of a class action on faulty pelvic mesh implants.

The federal government will also pay $212.5 million to settle three class actions launched by victims of toxic firefighting contamination.

Mr Dreyfus said it was no coincidence the inquiry was announced just days after victims of the government's robodebt scheme signed up to a class action.

Major employer body Australian Industry Group welcomed the new probe. "The inquiry needs to investigate the outrageous levels of returns that litigation funders (many of which are overseas firms) are receiving," chief executive Innes Willox said.


Suicide prevention modelling considered

They are right to see mental health as the next big problem but the idea that government can do anything about it is laughable

As virus restrictions begin to ease, many are breathing a sigh of relief – but for thousands of Aussies, the most dangerous time is still to come.

“We need to continue to support others as they are at home because loneliness and anxiety, depression, they're all real and they're all potential consequences of the good things that people have been doing,” Health Minister Greg Hunt told Today this morning.

The University of Sydney's Brain and Mind Centre (BMC) last week released its modelling of the adverse impacts of COVID-19 on unemployment, social dislocation and mental health, resulting in a “tragically higher rate” of suicide which may increase if the economy deteriorates further.

“The modelling shows that there may be a 25 per cent increase in suicides, and it is likely that about 30 per cent of those will be among young people,” it said in a joint statement with leading Australian mental health experts.

“We are facing a situation where between an extra 750 and 1500 more suicides may occur annually, in addition to the 3000 plus lives that are lost to suicide already every year.

“Such a death rate is likely at this stage to overshadow the number of deaths in Australia directly attributable from to COVID-19 infection.”

The statistic of 1500 deaths, being a more than 50 cent rise in suicides, was the result of a worst-case scenario modelling an unemployment rate of 15.9 per cent and youth unemployment at almost 35 per cent.

The centre focused on the NSW North Coast Primary Health Network, using the region's 530,000 people and a combination of suicide statistics and productivity data to get an idea of the “national picture”.

The link between the mental wellbeing of Australians and our economic performance is “often overlooked”, co-lead of the BMC’s new Centre for Mental Wealth, Associate Professor Jo-An Atkinson, said today.

The modelling considered scenarios where specialised mental health services were increased by two to 11 per cent per year, based on pre-COVID-19 capacity.

Within that sector are mental health GPs, psychiatrists, allied health professionals such as specialist social workers and community mental health services.

Researchers found an eight to 10 per cent reduction in suicide, self-harm hospitalisation and emergency department (ED) presentations could be achieved by investment in a combination of specialised mental health services, IT-enabled co-ordinated care and post-suicide attempt "assertive after-care" such as active outreach and enhanced contact to someone after an attempt.

This investment hypothetically prevented 53 suicide deaths, 669 suicide attempts and 4516 emergency department presentations over five years in the NSW north coast region alone.

“This would translate over the five years to 2650 lives saved, 33,450 fewer suicide attempts and 225,800 fewer presentations to EDs nationwide (if similar conditions apply),” the centre said in a statement on Wednesday.

It also found that without urgent and effective action, up to half a billion dollars in productivity losses would be directly attributable to mental health and suicide in a “coronavirus-impacted world”.

BMC co-director of health and policy, Professor Ian Hickie, wants to see mental health services strengthened with the same sense of urgency as ICU beds were more than doubled for the pandemic.

“In the same way that hospital beds and intensive care capacity were increased in preparation for COVID-19 cases, the national capacity to provide rapid and effective care for those with a mental health crisis can be increased immediately,” he said in a statement today.

“We now need to be smart about tackling the mental health curve.”

Last week, Prof Hickie told ABC 7.30 it had been “entirely possibly to actually predict deaths by suicide”, just as fatalities from the coronavirus itself were forecast, “by modelling those factors we know will lead to deaths, particularly in young people”. “All of these have gone through the roof in the last six weeks,” he said.

Today, in regards to the latest modelling, he urged Prime Minister Scott Morrison to ensure young people do not suffer “lifetime consequences” of the economic downturn.

“The results show ... different levels of investment in mental health programs and services will play a vital role in supplementing efforts to increase community connectedness and the social and economic supports required to help flatten this curve,” Prof Hickie said.

“We need to be proactive about mental health, and learn from the past but also look to the future.”

The federal government today appointed a deputy chief medical officer for mental health, Associate Professor Ruth Vine, previously Victoria’s chief psychiatrist.

“We take this very seriously," Mr Hunt said. “That's why we're trying to get ahead of the curve with mental health in just the same way we have done with the virus.  “We are certainly not out of the woods with the virus … but equally with mental health.”

Prof Hickie described it as a “most significant step forward” and said Dr Vine was an “excellent choice”.

“Greg Hunt has put mental ill-health on the same level as physical ill-health in the post-COVID-19 world,” he said.

Professor Patrick McGorry, the executive director of youth mental health centre Orygen, told the ABC the meeting of state and territory leaders on Friday would be a “watershed” moment. “It’ll be a test of National Cabinet’s commitment to this,” he said.


China export ban threats could be saved by Australia’s baby formula industry

The dairy industry will meet with agriculture minister David Littleproud in a phone hook-up from Canberra on Wednesday night, to discuss a possible threat to one of Australia’s key exports.

As relations continue to deteriorate between Australia and China, an export industry worth $1.1 billion a year may be in jeopardy.

But Graham Forbes, president of the Dairy Connect farmers’ committee, told while the growing conflict in Canberra is concerning, the industry is pinning its hopes on China’s enduring love affair with Australian powdered gold; baby formula.

“Of course farmers are concerned about the situation but we’re trying not to jump to any conclusions,” he said.  “We have to establish whether (these threats) are fair dinkum or just speculation.”

Forbes said the industry was hoping China’s consistent enthusiasm for high-quality milk powder and ready-to-use baby formula will insulate dairy farmers from the growing war of words between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the Chinese ambassador to Australia, Cheng Jingye.

On Tuesday, China announced a suspension of beef imports from four major Australian abattoirs in an escalation of trade tensions between the two nations.

While the temporary ban was attributed to “labelling issues” by the Australian Meat Industry Council, it came on top of a threat to lob an 80 per cent tariff on Australian barley, ostensibly over allegations of systematic dumping.

But the string of threats and actual suspensions are being viewed in some diplomatic and political circles as retribution for Morrison’s ongoing lobbying on the international stage for an independent inquiry into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve had no official confirmation of action against the industry yet,” Forbes told 7NEWS. “But given the barley and beef, well, it has implications.  “We’re just hoping it all doesn’t run off the rails.”

Australia exports more than 30 per cent of the dairy it produces, including cheese, butter and milk as well as milk powder and formula. One third of all of it goes to China, our biggest trading partner.

The figures are strikingly similar to another export industry now perceived to be under threat because of the diplomatic stoush with China.

Tony Battaglene, the chief executive of the wine industry’s peak body, Australian Grape and Wine, said product to China made up more than one-third of its total exports, worth $1.1 billion a year.

“We’re always nervous when there is potential for disruptions, and the coronvirus has made the market even more nervous,” he said. “But we’ve been trading with China for a long time, so I’m hoping we’ll stay in a reasonably good place.”

Battaglene said he was inclined to agree with recent comments made by past and present Labor figures, including Kevin Rudd, Gareth Evans and Joel Fitzgibbon. ‘We would prefer political and diplomatic issues remain behind closed doors.’

They have accused the Morrison government of jeopardising relations with our largest trading partner by engaging in “chest beating” and “sabre rattling” over the issue of an independent inquiry into the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in the Hubei province of central China, and an alleged cover-up by the Chinese government concealing the true extent of the outbreak in the early months.

Chinese business management academic Professor Hans Hendrischke from the University of Sydney Business School said talk of trade sanctions between China and Australia based on political grievances were premature.

“China is careful to insist the current trade restrictions are linked to technical issues,” he said.  “This leaves the door open for a solution through government to government dialogue.”


 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

1 comment:

Paul said...

But is (((Mr Dreyfus))) really concerned that the cash spigot may be slowed to his (((friends))) in the legal industry?