Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Fears Remdesivir antiviral drug supply may be under threat amid growing Covid cases

An antiviral drug that prevents moderate to severe symptoms of Covid-19 is being restricted to the most seriously ill patients amid fears the state’s growing number of hospitalisations could expose a shortfall of supply.

One nurse working inside a Queensland hospital’s Covid-19 response, who is not authorised to speak publicly, has raised fears about the lack of Remdesivir – a drug used with the aim of stopping at-risk people from suffering moderate to severe symptoms of Covid-19.

They said hospitals were ordering, but facing delays in acquiring Remdesivir as the number of people hospitalised with Covid-19 reaching 819.

The hospital worker said just a handful of almost 30 Covid patients in one southeast hospital were receiving the drug, and declared some health staff were concerned more could be done to treat patients.

However, a Queensland Health spokesman declared anybody admitted to hospital with Covid-19 would receive “the care they need” and said Remdesivir was one of a range of treatment options.

Patients at risk of developing moderate or severe Covid-19 symptoms are given 200mg of Remdesivir in the first dosage and then 100mg per day for five days.

The Queensland Health spokesman said it was ordering the drug from the Commonwealth’s national stockpile and says there were “no issues” securing supplies.

“To date, all of our requests have been fulfilled,” he said.


Life expectancy in Australia IMPROVED despite the Covid-19 pandemic. Why?

The life expectancy of residents across Australia has improved last year despite the Covid-19 pandemic

Researchers from the Australian National University discovered the average lifespan increased by eight months in Australia for both men and women amid Covid-19 lockdowns.

With lower social mobility, less people died from illnesses such as influenza, cancer and heart disease.

There was also a drop in the number of fatal road accidents.

It was a different story globally, where life expectancies during the pandemic since 2020 shrunk dramatically.

The US experienced a drop in life expectancy - but it increased for male and female residents in Norway and Denmark.

ANU School of Demography researcher Vladimir Canudas-Romo admitted he was surprised by the statistics.

'In the past decade, Australia has not been increasing particularly, our life expectancy is increasing very modestly by one month each year,' professor Canudas-Romo told The Australian.

'For decades it has been like that and the increase has been progressing very slowly, and this year everywhere else there is an excess of deaths... so by protecting ourselves and distancing ourselves from others our life expectancy has been boosted.'

Professor Canudas-Romo went onto point out that the nation's high vaccination rate of close to 95 per cent was a significant factor, with Australia's living conditions envied the world over.

'All these health measures we were asking, the sacrifices of lockdown and social distancing have had a very important effect on public health, and the best example is a life expectancy that has increased by so much,' he said.

According to the Australian Bureau of ­Statistics, the life expectancy for Australian women was 85.85 years and 81.7 years for men in 2020.


COVID and schools: Australia is about to feel the full brunt of its teacher shortage

The Omicron wave is likely to exacerbate Australia's existing teacher shortages and demanding workloads.

As school starts at the end of January and beginning of February across the country, many teachers will be at risk of contracting COVID. They will need to stay away from work, while others may choose to leave the profession altogether.

To address parental concerns about teacher absences, the Prime Minister recently announced teachers will no longer be required to isolate at home for seven days if they are close contacts, and if they don't have symptoms and return a negative rapid antigen test. But unions have slammed this relaxation of rules saying it will only add to safety concerns for teachers and children.

States and territories are putting together a plan to open schools safely, which is set to be released on Thursday. But for schools to operate effectively, and avoid remote learning, Australia must also have a long-term plan for recruiting and retaining teachers. This means lifting their professional status, improving work conditions and increasing pay.


Infrastructure a big problem for governments

One of the points made by advocates of Big Australia is that if there are problems associated with large migrant intakes, it has nothing to do with bringing in people per se. Rather, it’s the ­failure of governments – and ­particularly state governments – to plan adequately and fund ­additional infrastructure and the required services.

The argument is that the complaints about congested roads, housing affordability, overcrowded schools and hospitals may be legitimate, but they have nothing to do with the fact that migrants have been contributing some two-thirds of population growth.

If governments were able to invest in a timely and appropriate fashion, then these problems could fade away. In this way, the benefits of large migrant intakes would be much more apparent and people would be more inclined to embrace high rates of population growth – so the argument goes. (Prior to the pandemic, Australia had one of the highest rates of population growth – between 1.2 and 1.5 per cent per year – of all developed economies.)

But are these claims right? Who pays for this additional infrastructure? Are we any good at building large-scale infrastructure projects given recent history?

Let’s be clear on one issue: it’s not just the recently arrived migrants who pay for the extra infrastructure that is required. It is all taxpayers and/or users of the ­facilities who bear the cost. Had that new bridge/tunnel/school/hospital not been needed, then we would all be better off, financially speaking.

Of course, the project developers and the financiers won’t be so happy with the relative lack of investment in infrastructure were migrant intakes lower, but their interests should never dominate public policy thinking in this area.

Big Australia advocates will often make the claim that there are economies of scale associated with big infrastructure spending and this should be taken into account when considering the link between migrant intake and ­infrastructure.

You build a road that can accommodate a certain number of cars per minute, say, but there are only half this number initially. Having borne the initial expense of the big build, there should be years when the additional costs of greater demand on infrastructure assets can be accommodated at very low marginal costs. (Economies of scale apply much less to service provision where the costs are closely related to the number of people accessing services.)

The trouble with this thinking is that it has been demonstrated on far too many occasions that state governments are hopeless at overseeing the construction of large infrastructure projects. Way over budget and massively delayed are typical features of many projects. (I’m not letting the federal government off the hook here, but it tends to provide funding rather than oversee projects directly.)

Consider the ongoing saga of the West Gate Tunnel project in Melbourne. Having decided to kill the contract for the East West Link project signed by the Napthine Coalition government – action that cost taxpayers over $1bn – the Andrews Labor government instead has embarked on a massive infrastructure spending spree, including the West Gate Tunnel.

This project was proposed by the toll road operator Transurban. This is, in itself, a bad early ­indication given the company’s self-interest in doing so. It’s not as if the Victorian government has any problem raising debt.

The project is made up of a 4km tunnel and some ancillary features. It was initially expected to cost $5.5bn, with the company stumping up two-thirds of the cost. In exchange for this contribution, the company sought an extension of the deal whereby the tolls it charges would rise by 4.25 per cent per year for an additional 10 years. This applies to road users who don’t use the West Gate Tunnel. In addition, the company’s exclusive road toll contract was extended to 2045. By any measure, this was an egregious deal, but its terms were rammed through the parliament.

The project has been a complete disaster. There were many months of delay dealing with the contentious issue of the disposal of the contaminated soil. The estimated costs have been jacked up several times and now stand at close to $12bn – more than twice the initial estimate. Workers on the site are paid at least $200,000 a year, and extremely generous contracts have been locked in.

The Victorian government has been forced to increase its contribution to the inflated cost and the final completion date is still up in the air. The project was originally expected to open in the second half of this year.

The Regional Rail project undertaken in Victoria was a similar ­fiasco. The light rail project in Sydney was over budget and over time. Upgrades to various highways have also been beset with problems.

It is also not just an Australian problem. The high-speed train project in California was finally terminated before completion in the face of substantial cost blowouts and unresolved impediments to project completion. The HS2 project in the UK – another high-speed train project – is riddled with rapidly escalating costs and delays. Some parts of the proposed routes have been scrapped.

All this begs the question of why there are so many problems associated with large infrastructure projects. One fundamental issue is project choice, wherein politics tends to prevail over independent assessments based on costs and benefits. In other words, the projects that get approved and funded are not necessarily the ones most needed but the ones most likely to garner votes.

There is also a crippling lack of competition among the contractors for these projects. A number of projects have been so badly specified in the first instance that it is not surprising that the costs have blown out significantly. A relative shortage of workers with the appropriate skills, particularly in relation to tunnelling, also drives up the ultimate costs.

Of course, when these projects are eventually completed, the users often welcome the added convenience although not the tolls. But it will be taxpayers in the future who are asked to pay off these excessively expensive projects that are funded through additional government debt.

The bottom line is that there are no solutions to these problems in the short term and the prudent action by governments is to limit the amount of infrastructure spending and the size of projects for the foreseeable future. And for this reason, it is also prudent to limit the migrant intake and the additional demands that are placed on infrastructure.




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