Tag Archives: Coronavirus

Flick the Switch to Ease Cost of Living

Flick a switch‘ certainly seems to be the Treasurer’s favourite turn of phrase and whilst ‘a lot of this requires decent responsible methodical working through the issues in the lead‑up to our October budget‘ is true – ‘a lot‘ does not imply all. Just like with the gas trigger, the newly elected government can just flick a switch, just as the LNP Coalition did at the start of the COVID crisis and it is even easier to do now.

If you could just flick a switch and make this cost‑of‑living crisis disappear … we would have already done that.

Jim Chalmers, Treasurer, ABC News Breakfast
TUESDAY, 7 JUNE 2022

On Tuesday monring, he appeared on ABC News Breakfast and said the following:

MILLAR: Will you look at further rebates or one‑off payments? I mean, it is going to be a tough winter for a lot of people.

CHALMERS: … So, we’ll do what we responsibly can. We’ve tried not to limit our options, but we’ve been up‑front with people as well. If you could just flick a switch and make this cost‑of‑living crisis disappear or flick a switch and make a trillion dollars of debt disappear, we would have already done that. …

In this case the flick of a switch involves the stroke of a pen and obtaining a number of votes to pass legislation. Simples.

It is clear now to anyone following policy during the Coronavirus pandemic that poverty is a policy choice when the then Morrison government effectively doubled the rate of Jobseeker payments.

This can be done again and match the Henderson poverty line and Australian Greens call for $88 a day.

Whilst I grant you the Social Security legislation is long and complicated. The only necessary changes are the changes to tables in the act where calculation of social security payments are made (notwithstanding the entire legislation could do with some simplification). In particular reference to jobseeker payments that is section 1068 and change column 3B to $1235.38 and correct the other columns (e.g. couples) with which whatever multiple is in use.

This is not without precedent as we have recently seen it done for the first six months of the coronavirus pandemic. The Morrison government did this by giving the minister responsible for social security discretionary control of social security payments and operating with a sunset clause or expiry date. We can do this again and be legislated without the expiry date. The risk is this may be prone to abuse so would be improved by using automatic stabilisers, perhaps an index to wages as is currently done with the age pension. Given the current parliamentary makeup these are not difficult decisions.

We will find out how true it is that cost of living concerns will be ‘front and centre‘ after the Cabinet meeting today. I will not be holding my breath.

FLICK THE SWITCH ALREADY!

Immigrants are People too

This post is written colloquially and comes from a comment I lifted from Bill’s Blog by Phil Lawn. I’ve spaced it out for clarity and left it outside of a massive block quote because it does indeed deserve a post of its own. Over to Phil.


For all those people who like to label anyone who sings the praises of low immigration as racist, immigration is a policy.

Immigrants are people. High immigration of mainly white people (deliberately) would be racist.

Low immigration of people regardless of their colour or religion would not. A low immigration policy favouring refugees (people in need) is not anti-immigrant.

Image from Animated Stats. The UK is #1.

I also dislike the fact that a high immigration intake of skilled people insidiously deprives many countries of the people they so badly need. Since a strong country should be able to produce the quantity and quality of stuff it requires (some international trade needed to alter the mix of goods), every country has as many people as it needs.

After all, every working person is both a producer and a consumer and thus adds nothing in net terms to the people already in a country. It simply comes down to a country appropriately educating/training and utilising the people it already has.

If people think Australia needs more skilled people, that is an admission that Australia’s education/training and employment policy is failing.

It also reflects that the wages on offer for some jobs are not high enough to attract people to take them on. Why do the ‘leave things to market forces’ advocates turn to the government every time they can’t get people to work for them?

A simple solution – offer higher wages. Once upon a time, when workers were better represented (unions and institutional wage setting), employers in this situation were forced to raise wages to obtain labour.

No wonder there is no wage growth anymore and certainly no wage growth while a country is importing hordes of skilled migrants, as Bill has pointed out.


We will let Bill have the last word ostensibly to demonstrate this is neither racist nor anti-immigratory.

The problem is that governments have not been prepared to use their fiscal capacity to ensure everyone has a job and so the labour supply has outstripped labour demand.

RATs are not a Panacea

Dr David Berger writes on Twitter:

RATs (Rapid Antigen Tests) are not the simple answer they are being made out to be.The more COVID around the more complex their use becomes. They have a place as part of a large range of measures.Sole focus on RATs and their sketchy implementation causes more problems than it solves. 

Seems like we’ve now seized on RATs the way we once seized on vaccines as our “way out of the pandemic”. We’ll test everyone regularly to see if they’re “safe”, safe to be in school, work, etc.If your RAT is negative, you’re good to go. If it’s positive, then obviously you’ve got COVID and you have to isolate. That way we separate out the people who can spread COVID and then readmit them to normal life when they aren’t infectious anymore. Simple, huh?

No, not so simple. RATs may be quick and easy, but they are much less sensitive (i.e. much less good at picking up cases of the disease) than PCR tests. And when the consequences of a false negative are severe (closing down a school or emergency department) that really matters

Not only that, but the more cases there are in the community (“the higher the prevalence” aka “the higher the pretest probability”), the more false negatives you are going to get. Big problem. This paper in August 2020 looked into the question:

https://www.nejm.org/doi/10.1056/NEJMp2015897

Have a fiddle with the interactive graphic in the paper above. Play with the sensitivity slider on the blue and green plots and see what it does to where they intersect the horizontal dotted line (set arbitrarily at a 5% or 1 in 20 false negative rate – pretty bad hey?).

The more sensitive you make the test, the further to the right the intersection occurs, meaning the higher the prevalence. The less sensitive you make it, the lower the prevalence at which you get a high false negative rate. 
So unless you have a very highly sensitive RAT – and they’re not highly sensitive, and against Omicron they are even less sensitive – the rate of false negatives increases rapidly to unacceptable levels as soon as cases start to increase in the community. 
Putting that into really simple terms, it seems obvious, and it is: the more people in the community have COVID, the more likely your test is to let some through. 
So the test becomes less and less effective at keeping your chosen environment (school, hospital, workplace) COVID-free, just at the time when you want it to be most effective. 
This wouldn’t be such a problem, of course, if the people deploying these tests understood the influence of Bayesian probability (because that’s what we’re talking about) on test result. 

But how many of the total population do you think can understand the implications of the graph above? 1 in 1000?

Whatever the number, it is very few and, as we have found out in recent years, we are a species seduced by narrative. 

We prefer stories to graphs and the story we believe RATs tell us is very simple: the person tested has COVID and is infectious or does not have COVID and is not infectious. 
That this story is not always true, LET ALONE THAT IT BECOMES LESS AND LESS TRUE THE MORE COVID THERE IS, is an almost impossible message to convey to most of the population and those who do comprehend it will say, and rightly: “So what’s the point of doing the tests then?” 
 It is a question to which the answer is not immediately evident. It’s not that widespread use of RATs alone won’t prevent any infections at all – it obviously will – but that the false sense of reassurance a negative test gives, esp as prevalence increases, leads to chaos. 
In the absence of other transmission mitigations – improved ventilation, distancing, HEPA filtering, N95 community masking etc – and the presumption that everyone is positive anyway, that false sense of reassurance (“It’s OK, we’ve all tested negative, so no need to worry”)… 

…must inevitably lead to spreading events in the very environments in which we are trying to prevent them.

RATs, then, look like a simple answer, but conceal a complexity which is almost impossible to explain to people and which drastically limits their usefulness. 

RATs alone are another false hope on the path to ending the pandemic. And it make sense: trying to halt spread only by inaccurately identifying people WHO ALREADY HAVE THE DISEASE is bolting the door after the horse has bolted. It’s one step too far downstream. 
The only way to really halt spread is to move further upstream; in other words, to reduce transmission from individuals who are infected by use of transmission mitigations. 
Once you are doing that, then it makes sense to also use RATs to try and reduce the numbers of people you’re bringing into an environment where spread can occur. 
But if all you’re doing is RATs, and not diligently safeguarding the environment too AND PRESUMING EVERYONE IS POSITIVE ANYWAY, the false sense of reassurance they give you will scupper your best laid plans. 

KERRYN PHELPS: Deliberate COVID infections present extreme dangers

I have a message for the people I am hearing lately who say they just want to catch COVID-19 to “get it over and done with”.

Some people are going as far as having “community immunity parties” like the chickenpox parties of the 1970s before a vaccine was developed. Back in the day, most children had mild chickenpox infections, but some suffered complications such as pneumonia or encephalitis and many went on to develop excruciating outbreaks of shingles in adulthood.

Trying to get COVID-19 “over and done with” is a Very. Bad. Idea. And here is why.

Firstly, don’t believe the line that Omicron is “mild”. Both Omicron and Delta variants are circulating currently and while you might be lucky to get a “mild” case, you might be one of the people who gets severe disease. We also know that COVID-19 can infiltrate your major organs, including your brain and heart and connective tissues, setting up long term inflammatory processes.

Even after a mild case of COVID-19, you can get long COVID, a persistent debilitating state with fatigue, brain fog, painful joints and muscles, heart problems and more.

Research is showing children have a higher risk of developing diabetes after COVID-19 infection. There is still so much we do not know, particularly the potential for long term effects on the brain or the heart or other organs ten or 20 years from now.

Think your vaccine will help you? Yes, it is now well-established that three doses of vaccine substantially reduce your risk of severe disease, hospitalisation and death. But “reduced risk” does not mean “no risk” and the converse of half of ICU admissions being for unvaccinated people is that half of ICU admissions are currently for vaccinated people.

And if you think being young and fit and healthy is an impenetrable shield of protection, think again. Even though it is “less likely” that you can become seriously ill, it happens — even if you are otherwise well and vaccinated.

“Getting it over and done with” also doesn’t get it over and done with. Data from the United Kingdom are now showing that people are getting the Omicron infection a second or third time. If your first encounter wasn’t too bad, there’s nothing to say the second or subsequent bouts will go easy on you.

Every new infection is an opportunity for the virus to infect more people. Even if your illness is “mild” and self-limiting, the Omicron variant is highly transmissible and the other people you infect may not be so fortunate. They may be unvaccinated children or people who are medically vulnerable who have not made the choice to become infected.

The people you infect may be emergency workers, first responders or the ones responsible for transporting foods or medicines and stocking the supermarket shelves, and we are seeing the first signs of what it means when large numbers of essential workers are not able to go to work.

Photo by Dids from Pexels

Australia has seen over a million people infected with COVID-19, half of those on the past two months as safeguards were removed. 

We don’t really know the true numbers of infections because of the debacle with overloaded PCR testing and the poor planning for the availability of rapid antigen tests.

More infections in the community means more likelihood of a new variant emerging.

It also means more likelihood of our health system collapsing under the strain. This is not just about treating you if you have severe COVID illness, it also means you might have trouble getting an ambulance if you have an accident or a heart attack or a stroke, or the date of your necessary but elective surgery procedure is pushed out into the Never-Never. It also means difficulty having your routine preventive health checks done, or getting to see a dentist.

Healthcare workers are restrained from speaking out, but the messages we are hearing tell a story of a system on the brink. Healthcare workers need everyone to be doing their bit to reduce the load, not increase it.

And if you think “getting it over and done with” will give you an infinite free pass to an infection-free future, think again. We now know that immunity is likely to last a matter of months, not years. Immunity from vaccination or natural infection wanes over time, and will not prevent you from getting the infection again.

Be aware also that talk of the disease becoming “endemic” is not realistic. This is an epidemic infection which will continue to come in waves as new variants emerge.

Infection is not inevitable and it is not necessary, but there are no quick fixes. We need to use the tools we have to prevent transmission from one person to the next. Wear an N95 mask when you are not at home, get tested if you are a close contact, get a test and isolate if you are symptomatic, stay in isolation if your test is positive, avoid groups and crowds, work from home if you can, improve building ventilation, improve air quality, and install CO2 monitors. 

Taking the longer view means buying time for the medical researchers to develop safe and effective treatments and improved vaccines.

So how about instead of “getting it over and done with”, you take the longer view about protecting yourself, your family and friends, your community, healthcare workers, the health system and the economy.

This article is republished from Independent Australia under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Professor Kerryn Phelps AM is an IA columnist, general practitioner, advisory board member and conjoint professor at NICM Health Research Institute, a Climate 200 advisory panel member, a member of OzSAGE and a former Sydney Deputy Lord Mayor. You can follow her on Twitter @drkerrynphelps.

Catching COVID

Here’s where (and how) you are most likely to catch COVID – new study

VGstockstudio/Shutterstock

Trish Greenhalgh, University of Oxford; Jose-Luis Jimenez, University of Colorado Boulder; Shelly Miller, University of Colorado Boulder, and Zhe Peng, University of Colorado Boulder

Two years into the pandemic, most of us are fed up. COVID case rates are higher than they’ve ever been and hospitalisation rates are once again rising rapidly in many countries.

Against this bleak picture, we yearn to get back to normal. We’d like to meet friends in a pub or have them over for dinner. We’d like our struggling business to thrive like it did before the pandemic. We’d like our children to return to their once-familiar routine of in-person schooling and after-school activities. We’d like to ride on a bus, sing in a choir, get back to the gym, or dance in a nightclub without fear of catching COVID.

Which of these activities is safe? And how safe exactly? These were the questions we sought to answer in our latest research.

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, spreads mainly by airborne transmission. So the key to preventing transmission is to understand how airborne particles behave, which requires knowledge from physics and chemistry.

Air is a fluid made up of invisible, rapidly and randomly moving molecules, so airborne particles disperse over time indoors, such as in a room or on a bus. An infected person may exhale particles containing the virus, and the closer you are to them, the more likely you are to inhale some virus-containing particles. But the longer the period you both spend in the room, the more spread out the virus will become. If you are outdoors, the space is almost infinite, so the virus doesn’t build up in the same way. However, someone can still transmit the virus if you’re close to them.

Viral particles can be emitted every time an infected person breathes, but especially if their breathing is deep (such as when exercising) or involves vocalisation (such as speaking or singing). While wearing a well-fitting mask reduces transmission because the mask blocks the release of virus, the unmasked infected person who sits quietly in a corner is much less likely to infect you than one who approaches you and starts a heated argument.

All variants of SARS-CoV-2 are equally airborne, but the chance of catching COVID depends on the transmissibility (or contagiousness) of the variant (delta was more contagious than previous variants, but omicron is more contagious still) and on how many people are currently infected (the prevalence of the disease). At the time of writing, more than 97% of COVID infections in the UK are omicron and one person in 15 is currently infected (prevalence 6.7%). While omicron appears more transmissible, it also seems to produce less severe illness, especially in vaccinated people.

Likelihood of becoming infected

In our study, we have quantified how the different influences on transmission change your risk of getting sick: viral factors (transmissibility/prevalence), people factors (masked/unmasked, exercising/sitting, vocalising/quiet) and air-quality factors (indoors/outdoors, big room/small room, crowded/uncrowded, ventilated/unventilated).

We did this by carefully studying empirical data on how many people became infected in superspreader events where key parameters, such as the room size, room occupancy and ventilation levels, were well-documented and by representing how transmission happens with a mathematical model.

The new chart, adapted from our paper and shown below, gives a percentage likelihood of becoming infected in different situations (you can make it bigger by clicking on it).

Table showing the risk of catching COVID based on various factors.
Risk of catching COVID.
Author provided

A surefire way to catch COVID is to do a combination of things that get you into the dark red cells in the table. For example:

  • Gather together with lots of people in an enclosed space with poor air quality, such as an under-ventilated gym, nightclub or school classroom
  • Do something strenuous or rowdy such as exercising, singing or shouting
  • Leave off your masks
  • Stay there for a long time.

To avoid catching COVID, try keeping in the green or amber spaces in the table. For example:

  • If you must meet other people, do so outdoors or in a space that’s well-ventilated or meet in a space where the ventilation is good and air quality is known
  • Keep the number of people to a minimum
  • Spend the minimum possible amount of time together
  • Don’t shout, sing or do heavy exercise
  • Wear high-quality, well-fitting masks from the time you enter the building to the time you leave.

While the chart gives an estimated figure for each situation, the actual risk will depend on the specific parameters, such as exactly how many people are in a room of what size. If you fancy putting in your own data for a particular setting and activity, you can try our COVID-19 Aerosol Transmission Estimator.

Trish Greenhalgh, Professor of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford; Jose-Luis Jimenez, Distinguished Professor, Chemistry, University of Colorado Boulder; Shelly Miller, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder, and Zhe Peng, Research Scientist, University of Colorado Boulder

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.