Category Archives: Covid-19

Covid-19: Disappointment day

It’s nine weeks since I wrote my last Covid-19 piece. Thanks to mistakes and bad practice by various parties our daily Victorian positive number hit a peak of 725 in early August and by then (Sep 21) had dropped to 11, a figure that people in Europe and USA would think miraculous. As someone whose family is all in UK, I’m all too well aware of the result of failure to take hard measures when required. Look at this graph: Victoria is the red line, the UK the blue one. As our fight against the second wave was taking effect, the UK sadly lost control. How it (France, USA etc) can recover, I don’t know.

One of the sad things about the pandemic here in Victoria is how it has split society. You’re either with Dan (Daniel Andrews, our state Premier) or, spurred on by the LNP (conservative) opposition and the Murdoch press, have what might described as a vicious hatred of him. Tim Smith LNP deputy leader posted “a series of playing cards graphics of Labor MPs that appear to be inspired from the ‘kill or capture’ campaign waged by the US against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein“. Murdoch journalists turn up at the daily press conferences more intent on pursuing an agenda than asking the questions most people would like answered. A photographer from The Australian turned up on CHO Brett Sutton’s doorstep – one might see the subtext as being “we know where you live; we know where your wife and children live” – as Dan observed, it wasn’t as if they were short of photos of him.

Michael O’Brien, LNP leader, endlessly negative, has sought publicity by encouraging lawsuits against our state government. Win or lose, the cost of defending them will come out of the pockets of ordinary people. One of his causes was café owner, Michelle Loielo, who claimed to have lost 99 per cent of business under the state’s lockdown – my local café is no doubt down on business but take-away business still keeps three people busy. A look at her website doesn’t inspire confidence in her business sense: its ‘News’ page is still (as I write this) advertising Fathers Day specials starting with Seafood Bonanza for 2 $138.00; Fathers Day was September 6th, seven weeks ago. I hope the food isn’t that old!

After the 725 case scare, Daniel Andrews declared that our (very hard) lockdown restrictions would be lifted only when it was safe to do so. Not unreasonably this drew a lot of criticism for its vagueness, and so some hard numbers were substituted, the one for today being that the threshold for lifting a whole swathe of restrictions was subject to a 14-day new case average of 5 cases or less, with the caveat that this was subject to circumstance (e.g. 11 days at 3, followed by 5,10,20 would give an average of 4.8 but the upkick would be worrying and justification for delay). Needless to say, our LNP opposition were still unhappy. To quote Jason Wood LNP MP’s Facebook post of two weeks ago:

If NSW could manage with around twenty cases per day, then why does the Victorian Labor Party and our stubborn Premier want to reach this ridiculously unrealistic target of a 5 case average over 14 days?!

What’s turned out to be ridiculous was the assertion that this was an unattainable target. We have reached it! So why have I titled this piece, ‘Disappointment Day’? Sadly we have reached it but – not unlike my example above – have had a sudden outbreak of school-connected cases in the last few days. So, not unreasonably in my view, the hoped for relaxations (opening of non-food retail and hospitality etc) expected today have been deferred for a few days to see whether this outbreak develops or comes to nothing. For everyone’s sake we all hope the latter. But these two representative comments from The Age website show how polarised a society we have become:

  • We have all been through so much to drive numbers down. It would be tragic if all our hard work and forbearance was in vain and we went into a third wave, just because we couldn’t wait a few more days. Patience and persistence, Melburnians! We’re almost there! Anonymous
  • This incompetent government continues to lead us to destruction, until we change the leadership we are destined for failure ! Drew

Hopefully tomorrow and Tuesday’s numbers won’t show anything to worry about and the changes we hoped to see today can be implemented. But whatever happens, the damage this virus has done is not just to health, not just to livelihoods, but to the understanding that people of diverse political views can maintain those views with a respect for those who differ.

And then …. (Tuesday update)

It was a long 24 hours but what a result! Zero new cases and zero deaths (repeated today!). And so mid-afternoon Monday Premier Dan was able to announce that from midnight tonight retailers would be free to reopen as would – subject to occupancy limits – restaurants and cafes, with many other restrictions being eased or removed either now or in two weeks.
In other news, a poll gave Dan a 52% satisfaction rating – pretty good considering the way certain sections of the media have hammered him. In contrast, ‘Mr Negative’, opposition leader Michael O’Brien’s satisfaction rating was a derisory 15%; even amongst LNP supporters he could only manage 27%. It’s gratifying to see his style of politics so resoundingly rejected, and a welcome remind that the popular press holds much less sway over its readers than it might like to think.

Covid-19: Month 5

I didn’t write anything about the Covid pandemic in May and June since there was really nothing to say. Then in my July 15th piece, “After the shock of July 10th’s 288 new cases, one couldn’t help be scared at the thought of this number continuing to escalate. The next day, 216 (phew). But it’s not over: 270 yesterday, 238 today.” But any optimism at that point was misplaced as this chart shows.

coronavirus-cases-victoria-jul-aug-2020

Coronavirus cases Victoria Jul/Aug-2020

Back in 1989 when I started my software business the internet as we know it didn’t exist. It was some while before I got a credit card merchant account – in those days merchant facilities were only granted after careful scrutiny of your accounts and an inspection of your premises. Thus my one source of orders was people sending them by mail with an accompanying cheque or purchase order, and the day’s mood was set – for better or worse – when the post landed on the mat.

It’s felt a bit like this during the last month, waiting each morning for the latest new case count. On July 27 we saw our first ‘5’, 523, then were relieved to see a couple of days fall, only to be shocked by a one day rise from 384 to 723, beaten by 725 a week later. Kipling’s stanza re dealing with triumph and disaster came to mind as at the daily press conference our Premier and chief medical officer reminded us that not too much should be read into the latest number. Coupled with the new case rate was the steady rise in deaths, mainly among the elderly in residential care homes, their families distress being the greater because of the restrictions on funerals.

Not surprisingly early August saw severe new restrictions including compulsory mask when outside, a curfew from 8pm until 5am. and the closure of many business premises. Thankfully the vast majority of people seem to be complying with these rules – the doubtful being encouraged by hefty fines – and the daily welcome or unwelcome surprise has been replaced by numbers following a steady trend. But of course the only number that will really satisfy is zero, and New Zealand’s recent experience has shown us that a long run of zeroes doesn’t guarantee anything.

I suspect that things still won’t be back to normal by Christmas, am waiting to be told that my February cruise is cancelled, and am by no means sure that I’ll be making my annual visit to UK next July. Time will tell.

Covid-19: Month 4

On April 8th I wrote a post, Covid-19 Month 1. I envisaged adding an update each month, and in no time three months have passed! This partly reflects me being in a very fortunate position compared with most and partly because until a few weeks ago it looked as if here in Australia we’d tamed the virus, even if we hadn’t eliminated it.

Each Sunday I have a Skype chat with my sister: inevitably the conversation turned to the latest figures and the school maxim of ‘compare and contrast’; from the second half of April through to late June we rarely had more than twenty new cases a day (mostly from quarantined returning residents), with deaths being counted in ones and twos, in contrast with the UK. On 6 June, both New South Wales and Victoria reported no new cases for the previous 24 hours, with Queensland and Western Australia reporting one new case each. As I write this the numbers are (Aus/UK), cases: 10,251/291,000; deaths: 108/44,968. Even allowing for a population ratio of 1:3, the UK figure are still horrific. Is this because we’re so spread out? Scarcely: most of us live in a handful of big cities.

So with these happy numbers we started to look forward to returning to normality. More shops were open, restaurants were allowed to reopen, albeit with limited occupancy, and I felt safe taking the occasional tram ride. For my birthday, I invited my fellow church home group members for dinner at a local restaurant: it was the first face-to-face meeting we’d held in more than three months.

Then …..

New coronavirus cases in Victoria July 2020

New coronavirus cases in Victoria

… it all went wrong. A judicial inquiry is being held to determine the exact causes, but as of now it appears that the private security firm engaged to guard the hotels being used to quarantine returning residents failed on several fronts. Were the allocated staff adequately trained and did they understand what was required of them? Apparently not. Did they exercise any common sense? From the lurid tales of them fraternising with those who were being quarantined, definitely not. What was the security firm’s management doing? And what responsibility rests with those in government (politicians and civil servants) who set this arrangement up. We shall find out. But the bar chart above tells all: these ‘security guards’ took the virus home, then spread it through their communities.

So now we’re back on stage 3 lockdown – no visitors allowed, restaurants closed and army-manned roadblocks isolating metro Melbourne (where most cases are) from the rest of Victoria, and Victoria from New South Wales. We’re only allowed to leave home for essential shopping, daily exercise, medical treatment and study/work (those unable to work from home). After the shock of July 10th’s 288 new cases, one couldn’t help be scared at the thought of this number continuing to escalate. The next day, 216 (phew). But it’s not over: 270 yesterday, 238 today and a small but growing outbreak in NSW. For the next week we’ll all be watching the daily numbers. Our experience is a warning to people everywhere not to be complacent.

Covid-19: Month 1

1919 flu pandemic cartoon

1919 flu pandemic cartoon

What a month! Of course coronavirus has been around since the start of the year but here it only started to impact on my life a month ago. Back in November Mary Sheehan gave a talk to the Box Hill Historical Society on the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1919. Schools were closed, many turned into temporary hospitals as was the Royal Exhibition Building. The only public gatherings allowed were church services, on condition that worshippers wore masks, thus the cartoon shown here, caption: “These are not anarchists en-route to a rendezvous. They are really nice people going to attend a church service.” Unlike Covid-19, the 1919 pandemic hit 20-40 year olds hardest.

Fast forward to 2020. February 29th saw friends get married: a large open-air gathering. On the Labor Day long weekend (March 7th-9th) we at the Newport Railway Museum partnered with Steamrail for their biennial open days. On a typical Saturday we get 70-100 visitors; over the three day weekend more than 2,000 visitors passed through our gates. The following Saturday we opened as usual, the last time until this is over.

That weekend saw the end of normal church gatherings – unlike 1919, no exemption for churches. Our Sunday services put together by a handful of people (including our seriously gifted tech team) are now live screened – check out City on a Hill Digital, with our weekly church home group meeting taking place over Zoom. That week all the other groups I belong to suspended their normal activities. On Monday morning I met up with an old school friend visiting from UK at the Docklands Library coffee shop. At 2.00p.m. all city libraries were closed.

Moreland Hotel interior

Moreland Hotel interior

That Monday afternoon I drove to the airport to collect one of my cousins + husband from UK who had arranged to stay with me for the week starting March 16th after visiting WA. Their plan to return home via USA had already been changed, but they were still planning to go on to Queensland and Sydney. I met them at the airport and we had a good meal at the Moreland Hotel with its quite extraordinary interior. It wasn’t long before they got a message from one of their daughters, telling them that things were deteriorating, they needed to get home asap, and she’d booked them on a  Wednesday night flight.

A near deserted Sovereign Hill, 18 March 2020

A near deserted Sovereign Hill, 18 March 2020

To make the most of their short visit, on Tuesday we took the ferry to Williamstown, then on Wednesday the train to Ballarat, to visit the Sovereign Hill open air museum, then still open (it closed a few days later). Not surprisingly it was very quiet.

Then back to Docklands for dinner before I saw them on to the airport bus. I was due to have other UK friends visit in April with the high spot of their visit being a road trip to Broken Hill and back but, needless to say, that’s cancelled.

So the new (for now) normality has taken over. Lots of time to work, some online contact, minimal interaction with others. Outdoor exercise is still allowed so I take a daily walk to get to my 6,000 step target – harder work now, since pre-virus a good portion of this was generally attained without trying, trips to supermarket (even if I didn’t really need anything), library coffee shop, Men’s Shed walk on Mondays, church mums and bubs group on Tuesdays etc.

But compared with so many I am truly fortunate: a spacious home, a business that so far has been unaffected by events, and good health. Here in Australia we’re currently counting the daily death toll in single figures; back in the UK it’s hundreds: with all my family there, including my mother, siblings and niece and partner working on the NHS front line, I’m far from complacent. To all those working hard to keep things going, and especially those on the front line, thank you.