Health

Culpable Negligence

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 30/05/2020 - 3:11am in

The disastrous collapse of the UK’s pandemic response has been caused by the deliberate evisceration of our health services. Worse is coming.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 27th
May 2020

Amid the smog of lies and contradictions, there is one
question we should never stop asking: why has the government of the United
Kingdom so spectacularly failed to defend people’s lives? Why has “this
fortress built by Nature for herself against infection”, as Shakespeare
described our islands, succumbed to a greater extent than any other European
nation to a foreseeable and containable pandemic?

Part of the answer, as my column explored
last week
, is that the government knowingly and deliberately stood down
crucial parts of its emergency response system. Another part is that, when it
did at last seek to mobilise the system, essential bits of the machine
immediately fell off. There is a consistent reason for the multiple, systemic
failures the pandemic has exposed: the intrusion of corporate power into public
policy. Privatisation, commercialisation, outsourcing and offshoring have
severely compromised the UK’s ability to respond to a crisis.

Take, for example, the lethal failures to provide protective
clothing, masks and other equipment (PPE) to health workers. A report
by the campaigning group We Own It
explains why so many doctors, nurses and
other hospital workers have died unnecessarily of Covid-19. It reveals a system
built around the needs not of health workers or patients, but of corporations
and commercial contracts: a system that could scarcely be better designed for
failure.

Four layers of commercial contractors, each rich with
opportunities for profit taking, stand between doctors and nurses and the
equipment they need. These layers are then fragmented into 11 tottering,
uncoordinated supply chains, creating an almost perfect formula for chaos.
Among the many weak links in these chains are consultancy companies like
Deloitte, whose farcical attempts to procure emergency supplies of PPE have
been fiercely criticised
by both manufacturers and health workers. At the
end of the chains are manufacturing companies, some of which have mysteriously
been granted monopolies on the supply of essential equipment. These private
monopolies have repeatedly fallen over, either failing to meet their contracts,
or providing defective gear to the entire NHS, like the 15
million protective goggles
and the planeload of useless
surgical gowns
that had to be recalled.

Instead of stockpiling supplies, as emergency preparedness
demands, companies in these chains have been using just-in-time production
systems, whose purpose is to cut their costs by minimising stocks. Their
minimised systems could not be scaled up fast enough to meet the shortfall.
Where there should be a smooth, coordinated, accountable programme, there’s
opacity, byzantine complexity and total chaos. So much for the efficiencies of
privatisation.

The pandemic has also exposed the privatised care system as
catastrophically unfit and ill-prepared. In 1993, 95% of care at home was provided
publicly by local authorities
. Now, almost all of it – and almost all
residential care – is provided by private companies. Even before the pandemic,
the system was falling apart, as many care companies, unable to balance the
needs of their patients with the demands of their shareholders, collapsed, often
with disastrous consequences. Now we discover just
how dangerous
their commercial imperatives have become, as the drive to
make care profitable has created a fragmented, incoherent system, answerable
only to offshore owners, failing to meet basic standards, employing harassed
workers on zero hour contracts. If there is one thing we have learnt from this
pandemic, it’s the need for a publicly-owned, publicly-run National
Care Service
– the care equivalent of the NHS.

It could all become much worse, due to another result of
corporate power. A report
by the Corporate Europe Observatory
shows how law firms are exploring the
possibility of suing governments for the measures they have taken to stop the
pandemic. Many trade treaties contain a provision called “investor state
dispute settlement”. This enables corporations to sue governments in opaque
offshore tribunals, for any policies that might affect their “future
anticipated profits”.

So when governments, in response to the coronavirus, have
imposed travel restrictions, or requisitioned hotels, or instructed companies
to produce medical equipment, or to limit the prices they charge for drugs, the
companies could sue them for the loss of the money they might otherwise have
made. When the UK government commandeers
private hospitals
or when the Spanish government prevents evictions by
landlords, and stops water and electricity companies from
cutting off destitute customers
, they could be open to international legal
challenge. Already, these measures, which override democracy, have crippled
attempts by many governments
, particularly of poorer nations, to protect
their people from disasters. They urgently need to be rescinded.

The effectiveness of our health system is also threatened
by the trade treaty
the UK government hopes to sign with the US. The
Conservatives promised
in their manifesto
that “the NHS is not on the table” in the trade talks.
But they have already broken their accompanying promise: “we will not
compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food
standards”. Earlier this month, they voted that measure out
of the Agriculture Bill
. US companies are aggressively demanding access to
the NHS. The talks will be extremely complex and incomprehensible to almost
everyone. There will be plenty of opportunities to give them what they want
while fooling voters.

Boris Johnson’s central mission, overseen by Dominic
Cummings, is to break down all barriers between government and the power of
money. It is to allow private interests to intrude into the very heart of
government, while marginalising the civil service. This helps to explain why
Johnson is so reluctant to let Cummings go. The disasters of the past few weeks
hint at the likely results.

www.monbiot.com

One rule for me and another for everyone else: the Cummings Coronavirus factor

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 29/05/2020 - 8:08am in

Tags 

Health

The higher up the food chain of power, the more likely the powerful will misbehave and change the meals.

Time to tear down Checkpoint Anna

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 29/05/2020 - 7:35am in

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Health

Queensland’s border closures are short-sighted and risk-averse based on little to no medical evidence and are only damaging the future prospects of the Sunshine state in a post-COVID-19 world.

Balancing Lives in Pandemic Decisions

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 29/05/2020 - 12:47am in

Tags 

Health

Policy choices about the COVID-19 pandemic are often described as requiring a balance between health and the economy, but what is balancing?

Covid strategies for Australia: herd immunity or quarantine land?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 28/05/2020 - 9:20pm in

Let’s talk about some of the covid policy options facing Australia in the coming months and years. It seems to me we can either grasp the nettle and accept we will get a wave of highly visible covid-19 deaths before life returns to normal, or we can try and defend ourselves against any further wave and infections by quarantine rules, State border controls, immunity passports, tracer apps, and the like. The main cost of the latter is in the total collapse of several industries, as well as longer-term but less visible loss of life. The main political cost of the former is admitting we f*cked up first time round and needlessly damaged the economy and society for no benefit.

Let’s talk about the quarantine path first.

Stuck In Quarantine – Zombie Guide Magazine

If one only wanted to prevent a up flare of covid cases in Australia one should continue the current restrictions.

One would have strong quarantine rules regarding visitors from any country with a high number of active cases. Even with countries with few identified active cases, one would want a strict quarantine policy: there is a 2-week delay between the unseen spread of the virus via asymptomatic cases and visible deaths, so you don’t know whether a country is experiencing an unseen flare up of the virus. Hence even visitors from “clean” countries pose a risk. This means one should not expect too much of the idea of some large group of countries that declare themselves a covid-free zone and have free travel between them. One little wave of infections in one of them and such a system would already break down.

The economic costs of quarantine rules is that it kills off some of the tourism, a lot of the international student business, quite a bit of temporary migration, and most business travel. This is exactly why in the UK over 70 big travel operators and hotel businesses have called on the UK government to ditch its plans for quarantine rules. Those businesses are very afraid that the summer holiday season (mid June to August), in which they make a lot of their yearly revenue, is lost, so they are making a huge noise right now. It would mean the end of their business and hence the jobs they provide if the quarantine rules are kept in place. They claim to be close to 10% of the UK economy.

If you count all the ancillary business associated with tourism and business travel, like catering, this industry is somewhat similar in size in Australia. So quarantine rules come with a big economic impact, which is why right now the Gold Coast operators are strongly lobbying the Queensland government against border controls and quarantine rules. They claim 40,000 jobs are in danger. And the Gold Coast is just one small part of the Australian tourism and business travel industry.

And don’t forget, jobs and the economy are about lives. That’s why a job is called someone’s “livelihood”. Jobs support individuals and their families. As I have calculated before, a million jobs lost for just one year equates to over 100,000 life-years lost in terms of direct misery to the unemployed, and another couple of hundred thousand life-years via reduced public services and (health) consumption for the whole community.

Now, of course, things are not quite as bleak as saying quarantining arrivals from outside of Australia kills all tourism and hospitality: quarantine rules not only discourage foreign tourists from coming in, but they also discourage domestics from going out, meaning less foreign tourism but more domestic tourism. Australians do like to travel, with a million or so abroad at any moment in time and they’d do less of that if forced into quarantine every time they return from abroad. With the glut of Asian tourism in the last 10 years, Australia is probably a net winner in terms of the international tourism trade, but it clearly wont be true that its tourism industry will have no clients if the Asians and others are discouraged from coming via quarantine rules. Destinations popular with Australians might even see a net increase. It’s the internationally oriented tourism, travel, and hotel chains that will lose out most. So yes, jobs are on the line, but not quite as many as the whole of the industry.

That is unless one has lots of border controls within Australia that basically kill off most internal tourism as well! Lots of internal controls on movement are essentially equivalent to preventing lots of people from doing their jobs (ie, looking after interstate tourists and travelers), which is a straightforward reduction of total production in Australia. Its like a mandatory closure.

So there is an economic price tag on quarantines rules for foreign visitors and a separate but also big price tag on internal border controls.

Nevertheless, let us press on with describing what the continued suppression path could look like. Importantly, you wont keep this out completely with a quarantine regime, if only because of all those government and military people still flying around on official business. Also, you’ll get cases that fall through the cracks of any quarantine system, whether that is an infected visitor escaping from the quarantine hotel or some infected piece of clothing getting passed on from a docking freight ship. It’s just too contagious and hard to notice to keep out completely when you have a lot of activity in airports and freights (which you have even right this moment). So you cant only have a quarantine regime if you want to keep the virus repressed.

Another element in the suppression strategy is the notion of forced local lock downs connected to a track-and-trace system. They now announced such a system in the UK: anyone tested positive for covid will be asked to say whom they have been in contact with recently, and those others can be forced into an involuntary two week lock down to prevent further spread. The UK government is essentially copying the Chinese system of neighbourhood snitches for this, ie 25,000 busy-bodies whose job it will be to go and pester everyone about their health and their movements. Those 25,000 ‘contact tracers’ will be on the phone to all the friends of an identified case, as well as looking at the movements of a victim’s mobile phone, charged with looking at where an infected person might have gotten the virus from and whom he or she might have given it to.

To Tame Coronavirus, Mao-Style Social Control Blankets China - The ...One might call this a “low-tech” track-and-trace system, something that other countries try to do with apps but that China and Japan have done with an army of local busy-bodies checking on all others. Key in this system is that one can be forced to undergo a covid test if one the new busy-bodies think that is appropriate. One might thus call it the covid-police.

The Australian government first tried something like this with a mobile phone track-and-trace app, but that one now seems to be abandoned. Yet, it can try again with an updated app or copy China, Japan, and the UK, in setting up a covid-police to track and trace more manually.

Now, of course, the dangers for abuse in this system are horrendous. These contact tracers can threaten businesses with oblivion by calling for a local lock down of all the high-contact businesses in an area, and they can make life hell for any particular individual by calling all their friends and families, or forcing them into continuous tests. As a result, people will be very reluctant to have tests done!

Perhaps even more important is that “track-and-trace” creates its own demand when it is “successful”: by preventing local flare ups, such a system means the community never gets high infection levels and so perennially remains vulnerable to them. So one has to track and trace until there is a vaccine. And with a new virus or a new version of the covid-19 virus, one would have to have the track-and-trace system running again. The local Chinese busy-bodies also find some new threat to guarantee them an ongoing job, and the Australian covid-police would do so too. So its an ongoing cost and form of interference. Just like the Chinese system of social busy-bodies. It would turn the UK or Australia into a mini-China.

Successful continued repression in Australia comes with the irrelevance of immunity passports: those only make sense if you have had enough cases of people recovering from infections. That’s relevant for the UK, but not Australia.

Crowds - The opera house was deserted. The doors were closed. The ...Note also how difficult a track-and-trace system is to operate with lots of visitors and foreign tourists in a neighbourhood. A place like Buckingham Palace or the Sydney Opera House, with a continuous flow of buses full of foreign tourists feeding into cramped spaces, does not allow one to track and trace all the interactions between them and the locals.

So track-and-trace almost inevitably comes with further restrictions: no crowds in massed spaces and no mass tourism. The Opera House deserted.

What does a ban on mass gatherings kill off apart from certain forms of tourism? Well, it kills of all major sports, cultural, or even political events. No stadiums full of football fans or music lovers. No festivals. No Opera House performances with meaningful numbers of attendants. No sizeable political demonstrations. No election rallies. No park runs. No London or Sydney marathon. Probably no large full open office spaces.

So track-and-trace combined with bans on mass gatherings kills off a lot of joy and work. Again, this holds until there is a vaccine, and then applies again with the next version of the virus or some new threat.

Another policy meant to suppress the virus is social distancing and staying indoors. In Europe, we have basically woken up to its futility in preventing cases. Both the 1.5 metre ban and the pressure to stay indoors have now proven to be either largely useless (social distancing) or strongly counter-productive (staying inside). The Germans are thus leading the way in lifting the 1.5 metre ban, and governments are starting to realise they should encourage people to go outdoors.

The Australian government will be getting the same advice right about now.

However, one should note that whilst being in close proximity to others outdoors is now known to carry very little risk of infection, it is of course not the case that there are no infections from close proximity outdoors. Also, close proximity outdoors makes track-and-trace virtually impossible to do. If each individual is in close proximity to a thousand others every day, such as via public transport or lots of close passes on the streets, then the covid-police is going to have to call millions of people every day to inform them they have been ‘in contact’ with someone who has the virus. That is quickly going to become laughable. So there is a tension between letting go of the “stay inside and keep distance” policy and track-and-trace, which is basically why much of continental Europe has abandoned the idea of track-and-trace.

Note also that, once again, preventing mass gatherings might create its own demand if it is successful: one prevents lots of people from catching the virus so one maintains total vulnerability in the population.

Then, the business of face-masks. These have now been found to have a particular use in crowded indoor places with low humidity and poor ventilation. They are thus made compulsory in many European countries for use in public transport (which is crowded, poorly ventilated and sometimes with low humidity). They seem quite important in reducing infection rates.

For those not yet in the loop on the medical reason for this: the issue is tiny “respiratory” droplets of water and saliva (snot!) in the air which contain the virus and which people breathe in. Infected people breathe out rather a lot of such droplets and those droplets can hang in the air for hours depending on circumstances. Those circumstances are humidity and ventilation: if a place is well ventilated, the droplets move away or fall to the ground, and if there is high humidity the droplets also fall down much quicker. On the ground, those droplets are not much of an infection hazard. And where is ventilation good? Outdoors. Where is it bad? Indoors.

So this has become the new wisdom on covid-19 infections: the main place lots of people get strongly infected is in crowded indoor places with poor ventilation, like the Sydney Opera House on a dry day. Sit in there with a few infected people for a few hours and the infection will have reached all areas of the lungs, a much worse form of infection than having only the nose infected by a chance meeting outside. The face masks stop most of the droplets.

So compulsory face-masks in public transport come with another strongly suggested policy, which is continued bans of large gatherings in poorly ventilated indoor places, or at least compulsory face masks in those. That includes lots of school sports. It includes parliament, though they’ll be fixing the ventilation there as soon as they can. It includes bus rides full of tourists. It includes ocean cruises and large boats generally. It includes lots of factory floors. It includes academic conferences, business retreats, and all those other mass-indoor events. For some, you can imagine everyone wearing face-masks for an hour so, but for many, like factory floors or indoor sports, wearing continuous face-masks seems pretty infeasible.

So it kills off an awful lot of industries and activities, at least in the face-masks-off form we used to know, until there is a vaccine, which might well be never. Considering how every year there are new versions of the flu, that it normally takes many years to develop and test a vaccine, and that there is still no vaccine for the previous covid-virus (SARS), one shouldn’t believe in a quick vaccine miracle too easily.

Realistically speaking, the package of quarantine, State border controls, track-and-trace, face-masks, and banned mass gatherings should be expected to have to stay in place for several years in a suppression strategy. Precisely if they work, they have to be kept up till a vaccine because the population never develops immunity. So one kills off large economic sectors indefinitely.

Now, particular aspects of the potential package are more socially and economically costly than others. It is hard to know with the data at present, but I think that compulsory face-masks are probably the least costly of the package, unless they are mandated for all offices and factory floors. They main cost is more indirect in keeping up the fear. Social distancing is probably the most economically and socially expensive item in the potential package as it kills off most of office life and regular work. If mass gatherings include office floors, then keeping them outlawed costs close to that of social distancing. Quarantine is quite expensive, particularly economically, whilst track-and-trace on its own is probably more socially expensive than economically expensive.

 

Let’s then talk about two different options for grasping the nettle, ie accepting some form of herd immunity is the way to go, which comes with accepting a second wave of infections and deaths with a full opening up of the economy.

 

Measles, journalism and herd immunity / Data news / News / Home ...The technically easiest thing to do is to simply lift all government-mandated restrictions (state and federal), have some measures in place for the most vulnerable (unhealthy old people in nursing and retirement homes), and otherwise just watch and see what happens as international tourists, business people, migrants, and students come flooding back in. Like in Sweden, one would let individuals and businesses make their own calculations and decisions on how afraid they would be of what, but the official line would have to be that the risks in hindsight were much smaller than initially feared and people should hence just get on with their life and not be so scared.

There would clearly be a wave of infections and deaths lasting a few months. That wave would be quite a bit larger than the first wave Australia had. How large is not known, but I would personally expect it to be inbetween Sweden, which looks like ending up with a death rate equivalent to 15,000 Australians, and Japan, which would mean a few thousand Australians. Hand on heart, I’d expect about 10,000 covid deaths in Australia if we fully open up and stop worrying about the virus.

The advantage is that the economy starts to recover and social life resumes. There would still be one hell of a recession and a leftover government debt, but at least one would be on the path upwards again rather than killing off more industries permanently.

What happens after that first wave? The experience in Sweden is still the most instructive: the virus keeps “burning its way through the population” to the degree that that is natural with the economic and social reality in that country. Large parts of the healthy population eventually get the virus. After 2 months, the Swedish virologists now think only about 20 to 25% of the population in the capital have had the virus (up from 7% in early April), and they thus still have a few more months of relatively high infections to go before so many (50%?) are immune that the number of new cases become negligible. Part of the reason the immunity is happening slower than expected is because of the high degree of voluntary isolation by a population afraid to gather in large numbers.

Australia would be on a similar trajectory, with probably lower eventual levels of the population having been infected because Australia is more spread out, more humid, and might be lucky in importing less virulent versions of the disease than Sweden.

So it would take maybe 4-6 months for the number of cases to drop to almost nothing, after which you’d get the occasional local flare-up but no major further waves as a large part of the population has become immune. If it turns out that people lose immunity, you’d get smaller waves in subsequent years, much like the flu comes around every season. Eventually the population shrugs it off as just another health risk among many other, more worrying ones, like smoking or obesity.

Now, for me this represents the politically easiest option as one does not have to do anything radical but simply talk down the risks of the virus and give in to the demands of business to lift restrictions.

The narrative writes itself: “we have to make a living”, “we cant hide away from the world”, “Australia must be open for business”, “The virus is not even 1/10th of the risk of smoking”, “Our children must have a future”, “our elderly must be allowed to mingle with their family and friends”, “we cannot police the whole population”, etc.

This is the politically easier option and thus the more likely one. Yet, if one is of a more pro-forward and maverick nature, like myself, one is interested in the question of the smartest option around. What would that look like?

I think the smartest option around is to have a designated period in which one tells the old and frail to stay away from the active part of the population, whilst one deliberately created herd immunity by letting the healthy who come most into contact with others get a mild infection in the nose. You’d literally give them nose-sprays with the virus, a technology we already have and could mass-produce quickly.

One would thus have an infection program to catch up with Sweden, but then with fewer deaths and less economic disruption. You’d want something like 30-40% of the population to get infected, and that of course should be the most active group that runs almost no risk of dying from the infection. That’s 18-60 year olds who travel around a lot, which includes public transport commutes.

So you have a second wave, but one that is created and managed rather than one that occurs naturally. One can repeat the exercise in future years if it turns out that people lose immunity. There would of course still be a sizeable number of deaths from this approach. Not so much among those deliberately infected, but among those infected by the deliberately infected. One would try to minimise this damage, but one cant prevent such a large group of people entirely from working or mingling during their infectious period and one should thus expect to fail to some degree in completely protecting the vulnerable population during this deliberately created second wave.

Is this the lowest risk option? I think on balance yes, but it is not without risk. One such risk is that one didn’t need to do it because of some as yet unknown advantage that Australia might have that would make the natural “herd immunity level” particularly low. In that case the “second wave one needs to have to get back to normal” could be much smaller than it seems at present. Just as the fatality of the virus was totally over-estimated, so might the level of the population needed to be immune to get herd immunity also be over-estimated.

One indication that this might be possible is that much of Asia and Africa simply has incredibly low infection and death rates of this virus, suggesting that “doing pretty much nothing” would not lead to much death or infection in those places anyway. Just like malaria does not exist in Europe because it is too cold, maybe covid-19 has a tougher time in Australia than you’d think from merely looking at the usual indicators (urban density, climate, health characteristics of the population, age structure, work habits, social habits, etc.). So the deliberate infection options comes with the risk of creating a larger second wave than you’d actually need.

Politically, the fast-track policy to herd immunity also seems a tough sell. It is super easy to criticise and you’d have a conga line of supposed experts warning of the dangers of doing this. Whilst there are the odd medics whispering in the corridors about such an option, there is not an open consensus on it, so one cant hide behind some recognised solidly large group of scientists. You’d get doctors grand-standing how deliberate infections violate their oaths, and lots of other forms of protest. That alone would seem to make it a political impossibility, even though it seems to me the smartest option on the table with the least net economic and social disruption. Its probably too toxic for politicians to even mention it.

 

Between A Rock And A Hard Place. Stock Photo, Picture And Royalty ...These are then the more politically realistic options: continue with suppression indefinitely at high social and economic cost until the miracle vaccine appears, or open up fully and take your chances. Whilst Australia is currently right on track with the suppression option, it seems inevitable to me it will end up with laisser-faire after a few months of pussy-footing and continued economic harm. It would be nice to visit Australia again without needing to spend 2 weeks in a hotel room alone.

Why Men Refuse to Wear Face Masks

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 28/05/2020 - 4:33am in

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gender, Health

Men are three times as likely as women to admit that they do not wear face masks. This fits with a broader pattern of better health behavior by women.

The Machine Stops

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 27/05/2020 - 12:35am in

Tags 

Health

The government
knowingly and deliberately de-prepared the UK, even as the pandemic began to
bite.

By George
Monbiot, published in the Guardian 20th May 2020

We are
trapped in a long dark tunnel, all of whose known exits are blocked. There is
no plausible route out of the UK’s coronavirus crisis that does not involve
mass suffering and death. If, as some newspapers and Conservative MPs insist,
the government eases the lockdown while the pandemic is still raging, the
eventual death toll could be several times greater than today’s. If it doesn’t,
and we spend all the warm months of the year in confinement, the impacts on our
mental and physical health, jobs and relationships, could be catastrophic.

We have
been told repeatedly that the UK was unprepared for this pandemic. This is
untrue. The UK was prepared, but then it de-prepared. Last year, the Global
Health Security Index ranked this nation second in the
world for pandemic readiness, while the US was first. Broadly speaking, in both
nations the necessary systems were in place. Our governments chose not to use
them.

The
climate modeller James Annan has used his analytical methods to show what would
have happened if the UK government had imposed its lockdown a week earlier. Starting
the lockdown on March 16, rather than March 23, his modelling suggests, would
by now have saved around 30,000 lives, reducing the rate of illness and death
from coronavirus roughly by a factor of five.

But even
March 16 would have been extraordinarily late. We now know that government
ministers were told on February 11 that the
virus could be catastrophic, and decisive action was urgently required.
Instead, Boris Johnson told us to wash our hands and “go about our normal daily lives”.

Had the
government acted in February, we can hazard a guess about what the result would
have been, as the world has conducted a clear controlled experiment: weighing
South Korea, Taiwan and New Zealand against the UK, the US and Brazil. South
Korea did everything the UK government could have done, but refused to
implement. Its death toll so far? 263. It
still has an occasional cluster of infection, which it promptly contains. By
contrast, the entire UK is now a cluster of infection.

While
other countries either closed their borders or quarantined all arrivals, in the
three months between the emergence of the virus and the UK’s lockdown, 18
million people arrived on these shores, of whom only 273 were quarantined. Even
after the lockdown was announced, 95,000 people entered the UK, without additional restrictions. In fact,
on March 13, the UK stood down even its guidance, gently requesting travellers
from Italy and China to self-isolate. This decision, taken as other nations
were stepping up their controls, seems baffling.

Similarly,
on March 12, Boris Johnson abandoned both containment and nationwide testing
and tracking. A week later, the status of the pandemic was lowered, which meant that the government could reduce
the standard of personal protective equipment required in hospitals, and could
shift infectious patients into non-specialist care. Again, there was no medical
or scientific justification for this decision.

Exercise Cygnus, a pandemic simulation conducted in 2016, found
that the impacts in care homes would be catastrophic, unless new measures were put in place. The government insists
that it heeded the findings of this exercise, and changed its approach
accordingly. If this is correct, by allowing untested patients to be shifted
from hospitals to care homes, while failing to provide the extra support and equipment
the homes needed and allowing agency workers to move freely within and between them, it knowingly breached its own protocols.
Tens of thousands of highly vulnerable people were exposed to infection.

In other words, none of these are failures of knowledge or
capacity. They are de-preparations, conscious decisions not to act. They start
to become explicable only when we recognise what they have in common: a refusal
to frontload the costs. This refusal is common in countries whose governments
fetishise what we call “the
market”: the euphemism we use for the power of money.

Boris
Johnson’s government, like that of Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, represents
a particular kind of economic interest. For years politicians of their stripe
have been in conflict with people who perform useful services: nurses,
teachers, care workers and the other low paid people who keep our lives ticking,
whose attempts to organise and secure better pay and conditions are demonised
by ministers and in the media.

This
political conflict is always fought on behalf of the same group: those who
extract wealth. The war against utility is necessary if you want to privatise
public services, granting lucrative monopolies or firesales of public assets to
friends in the private sector. It’s necessary if you want to hold down public sector
pay and the minimum wage, cutting taxes and bills for the same funders and
lobbyists. It is necessary if corporations are to be allowed to outsource and
offshore their workforces, and wealthy people can offshore their income and assets.

The
interests of wealth extractors are, by definition, short-term. They divert
money which might otherwise have been used for investment into dividends and
share buybacks. They dump costs that corporations should legitimately bear onto
society in general, in the form of pollution (the car and roads lobbies) or
public health disasters (soft drinks and junk food producers). They siphon
money out of an enterprise or a nation as quickly as possible, before the tax
authorities, regulators or legislators catch up.

Years of
experience have shown that it is much cheaper to make political donations,
employ lobbyists and invest in public relations than to change their lucrative
but harmful commercial policies. Working through the billionaire press and
political systems that are highly vulnerable to capture by money, in the
UK, US and Brazil they have helped ensure that cavalier and reckless people are
elected. Their chosen representatives have an almost instinctive aversion to
investment, to carrying a cost today that could be deferred, delayed, or dumped
on someone else.

It’s not
that any of these interests – whether the Daily Mail to the US oil companies –
want the coronavirus to spread. It’s that the approach which has proved so
disastrous in addressing the pandemic has been highly effective, from the
lobbyists’ point of view, when applied to other issues: delaying and
frustrating action to prevent climate breakdown, pollution, the obesity crisis,
inequality, unaffordable rent and the many other plagues spread by corporate
and billionaire power.

Thanks in
large part to their influence, we have governments that fail to protect the
public interest, by design. This is the tunnel. This is
why the exits are closed. This is why we will struggle to emerge.

www.monbiot.com

So what makes somewhere a good place to live?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 26/05/2020 - 2:34pm in

Tags 

Australia, Health

Sunshine Coast pic

If you’re in community planning and want to understand what your residents believe makes somewhere a good place to live, this blog explains why it’s important to put residents’ values and experiences at the centre of your thinking around liveability, how metropolitan and regional Australians’ experiences of their local areas differ and how our new offer – Living in Place – can help you understand and advance the liveability of your local government area in these uncertain times. If this blog has you questioning how well you understand your residents’ values and experiences learn more here about our living in place offer and how our team can help.

While there has been considerable growth in discussion around liveability, an increase in the currency that comes with somewhere being considered liveable, and countless lists that compare and contrast the liveability of cities and regions, there is still no accepted definition as to what liveability actually means, or simple recipe to make somewhere a better place to live.

And, while on the surface this may seem like a failure, the truth is that understanding what makes a town, local government area or city liveable is a deeply personal, human and ever-evolving exercise; informed by individuals’ core beliefs, life-stage, personal experiences, current circumstances, future aspirations, and many other things.

While in that context it makes sense that there is no accepted norm, it also makes sense that any attempt to understand liveability – particularly within local government where decisions directly impact how people experience their communities – must hold what residents themselves believe makes somewhere a good place to live at its core.

Putting the resident at the centre of understanding liveability

Before joining .id I worked with leading social research consultancy, Ipsos Public Affairs, where I authored the Ipsos Life in Australia report – a citizen-centric approach to understanding liveability.

The 2018 Ipsos Life in Australia report showed that while our most basic needs were collectively expressed, where we called home had some influence on whether other attributes were of greater or lesser importance.

Specifically, those who lived in metropolitan areas nominated feeling safe, high-quality health services, affordable decent housing, reliable and efficient public transport and good job prospects as the top five attributes that they believed made somewhere a good place to live. While Regional Australians also placed a high value on feeling safe, high quality health services, affordable decent housing and good job prospects, we (I’m one of them) were more inclined to nominate access to the natural environment as an important attribute, in place of reliable and efficient public transport.

So, while the things we valued most were pretty consistent across metro and regional lines, how well our local areas delivered against those attributes differed considerably.

From a top-down perspective, Metropolitan Australians rated their local areas’ performance better than Regional Australians with regard to the provision of high-quality health services, good job prospects and reliable and efficient public transport. In contrast, Regional Australians rated their local areas as performing better for affordable decent housing, feeling safe and access to the natural environment.

While these few examples showed how Australians’ experiences of their local areas differed across macro metropolitan and regional lines, the real value to inform our understanding of place comes from looking at how we rated our experiences across small areas – SA4s in the case of these reports. Specifically, and using the provision of good job prospects as one example, Metropolitan Australians’ experiences regarding this attribute varied considerably, with residents of Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs rating their local area 6.4 out of 10 for that attribute relative to residents of Adelaide’s North who their local area just 4.5/10.

What does this tell us?

We all aspire for the communities we call home and those we represent to be more liveable. Who wouldn’t? And, there’s plenty of evidence to show that liveability is positively correlated with health, economic productivity, social mobility, opportunity and a bunch of other things that make for a good and resilient society. But, liveability, health, economic productivity and the like are all outcomes, not actions. They’re the sum of the parts, not the body of the formula.

Putting a resident centric lens on liveability by understanding values and experiences at small areas allows us to identify the actions required to design and advocate for, administer and monitor policy that will contribute to informing these positive outcomes – the inputs that are required to create those more liveable, healthier and productive communities that we all want to be a part of.

So what can be done?

What can we do to understand and advance the liveability of our local areas and how can .id assist?

We have created a new offer, Living in Place, to meet this emerging need. Living in Place is an independent, robust and repeatable community survey that seeks to understand and advance the liveability of Australians’ local areas.

Living in Place provides a deep understanding as to what your residents believe makes somewhere a good place to live, insight as to how your residents rate their local area’s performance and explicit advice as to the attributes your residents say need to be maintained and improved to advance liveability of your local government area.

Where our existing tools draw from objective data to tell the demographic, population, housing and economic stories of your place, Living in Place brings your residents’ subjective perspectives regarding those items to the table, and, in turn, provides you with additional information to enable more holistic local government decision making.

In summary, while we’re more similar in our values than we are different, we’re more different in our experiences than we are similar. And, in these uncertain times when our local areas’ ability to deliver against the attributes that we believe contribute most to making somewhere a good place to live is being stretched and tested like never before, it’s absolutely critical to have an up-to-date understanding of our local communities’ needs and priorities to not only demonstrate that we are listening, that we have empathy for what they’re going through and that we acknowledge their needs, but to also provide a platform from which we can design and implement small area actions that will set course for stability, and recovery. Employing this ground-up perspective consistently across small areas will benefit the collective, contributing to making Australia a better place to live, for all of us.

Please click here if you’d like to learn more about Living in Place and what it can deliver for your local government area.

These Unsung Countries Are Vanquishing the Virus

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/05/2020 - 6:00pm in

The coronavirus crisis has held up an X-ray to the nations of the world, revealing the strengths and flaws in each of their systems, often with startling clarity. 

It has exposed structural weaknesses in the United States, with tens of thousands of daily new cases. It has laid bare unusual quirks in others, like Japan, where an analog work culture complicates lockdown efforts. Then there are the news-making superheroes — the Germanys, the South Koreas — that the world has looked to for evidence that the pandemic can be tamed.

But for every splashy success story, there’s another country that is quietly, competently staging a highly effective response. Here are five with lessons to teach.

Finland

The Finnish word sisu, meaning grit in the face of adversity, speaks to how Finland has tackled the virus.

Test, trace, isolate and treat,” has been Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s mantra for months, and Finland has done an exceptional job in this respect. Its ban on gatherings of more than two people was stricter than most of its neighbors. In early April, it became one of the first countries in Europe to roll out randomized antibody testing. 

Restaurants across Helsinki were empty in late March. Credit: Irmeli Hasanen / Flickr

These measures appear to have been effective — Finland has recorded only 304 coronavirus deaths, tying it with Norway for the lowest number of “deaths above normal” in an analysis of 14 European countries. In fact, Finland’s coronavirus death rate is so low that, from a statistical perspective, it doesn’t even register as having pushed the country’s total mortality rate higher than it normally would be.

One quirk to emerge from Finland’s success has been a distinctly Finnish predilection: the meticulous, almost obsessive habit of preparing for a worst-case scenario.

“It is in the Finnish people’s DNA to be prepared,” the director of Finland’s National Emergency Supply Agency told the Times. The agency oversees Finland’s vast national stockpile of survival goods: oils and grains, agricultural machinery, ammunition and, yes, medical equipment. 

Scandinavian countries created such stockpiles when the Soviet Union represented a threat. But while the others let theirs run dry, Finland continued to maintain its reserves. 

This served Finland well a couple of months ago, when several of its neighbors were swept up in the frantic search for equipment like surgical masks and ventilators. Sweden, at one point, tried to obtain masks it was holding in a French storage facility; French authorities, citing France’s ban on exporting medical equipment, blocked the shipment, sparking a diplomatic kerfuffle. 

Finland has largely avoided these scrums. In early April, when a letter from the EU’s commissioner of health listed nearly a dozen European countries that were already running out of medicines, Finland wasn’t on the list.

Croatia

When the virus spread beyond China, Croatia began testing people almost immediately, and continued to do so for weeks before a single case was found in the country. “For 27 days, we tested and there were no patients,” said Dr. Alemka Markotic, director of the Clinic for Infectious Diseases in Zagreb, according to the Dubrovnik Times.

This rigorous response came to define Croatia’s approach. In early April, an Oxford University analysis of different countries’ mitigation efforts found that “Croatia is one of the most stringent countries when it comes to Covid-19 virus protection.” Oxford’s index looked at 17 indicators of government response — everything from lockdown rules to economic aid to ramping up public health measures. Cumulatively, Croatia scored 100 out of 100.

croatiaMedical supplies from the EU’s stockpile are delivered in Croatia. Credit: EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid

Its coordinated efforts were made easier due to Croatia’s refusal to politicize its response. Early in the epidemic, the prime minister and the president — who are from opposing parties — deferred decision-making to the Civil Protection Directorate, the agency tasked with managing Croatia’s response to national emergencies.

“The leading politicians in the country basically lifted their hands and said we will leave it to the experts, whatever they advise is the law,” wrote the Dubrovnik Times. “No mixed messages, no campaign rallying, just a clear and unified message from people whose job it is to do this.”

Croatia’s efforts have been effective. Only 96 people there have died of the coronavirus thus far, one of the lowest death rates in Europe.

New Zealand

A year ago, New Zealand was hailed for its extraordinary response to a mass shooting. Now, the country’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak is earning it plaudits again.

Its lockdown was organized into four levels: prepare, reduce, restrict, lockdown. The highest of these was unusually stringent, more on par with China’s than most Western countries. At its highest level, only supermarkets and pharmacies were allowed to open — no takeaway meals from restaurants — and even solitary activities like hunting and surfing were banned to prevent injuries that might require hospitalization.

New Zealand kept its lockdown at level four for a month, driving new cases down to single digits for seven days in a row. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described the monthlong lockdown as “the strictest constraints placed on New Zealanders in modern history.” The goal? Total elimination of the virus, an endgame few other countries are attempting. 

new zealandToko Mouth, New Zealand, where beaches have been closed amid strict lockdown measures. Credit: Vince O’Sullivan / Flickr

It’s hard to argue with success. On May 9, the Lancet reported that New Zealand had effectively eliminated the virus. The country is currently at lockdown level two, and will stay there until it has gone 28 days without a new reported case. Once that happens, New Zealand plans to prevent new cases with strict border controls, widespread testing and contact tracing.

The country has had only 21 coronavirus deaths, but the economy was hit hard by the stringent measures, and is expected to contract by 20 percent between May and August. This week, Ardern suggested that businesses adopt a four-day work week to allow employees to travel, which could help uplift New Zealand’s tourism sector. 

“The question for me is, how do we encourage Kiwis to… get out and about and visit some of the amazing places and tourism offerings that we have,” Ardern said on Facebook Live from her car after visiting the Rotorua region, a tourism hotspot. 

Vietnam

Way back, on January 14, when China had only recorded 59 cases, two Chinese nationals from Wuhan arrived in Da Nang, Vietnam — both running a fever. But Vietnam, scared straight after having lived through the SARS epidemic, had already started conducting temperature checks at all of its airports. The pair from Wuhan was immediately isolated.

“[Vietnam] very, very quickly acted in ways which seemed to be quite extreme at the time but were subsequently shown to be rather sensible,” infectious disease expert Guy Thwaites told the BBC. Even before the first cases were confirmed there, Vietnam’s deputy prime minister ordered “drastic measures,” including quarantining travelers at border crossings and stockpiling medical equipment. 

vietnamTan Son Naht International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City was nearly empty on May 19. Credit: Ryan Atkins / Flickr

By mid-March, every arrival from another country was being sent to a quarantine center for 14 days. Small cities have been sealed off when clusters were found there, restricting the movements of thousands. The moves were draconian, but some researchers say that’s what it takes to contain the virus. “The only thing you can do to control it is what Vietnam did,” said Dr. Thwaites. “Unless you were locking those people up they would just be wandering around spreading the infection.”

Even by East Asia’s impressive standards, Vietnam has performed exceptionally well. So far, it has reported only 324 cases, and incredibly, zero deaths.

Canada

Canada has lost over 6,000 people to the coronavirus — a tragic toll, though only about half America’s fatality rate. (Canada’s top public health official warned last week that the country’s shared border with the U.S. presents “a risk to Canada.“)

But it is Canada’s decisive political and economic response that really shines. Take Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and Ontario Premier Doug Ford, two leaders from very different sides of the aisle (Americans: think Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump) who have put aside politics to mount an effective response.

canadaOne neighbor shares cookies with another from a safe distance in Ontario. Credit: Francis Mariani / Flickr

This sense of unity has helped streamline the country’s economic rescue measures. To ensure that relief reached citizens as quickly as possible, Canada created a system that trusts people not to abuse it. The Canada Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB) lets Canadians themselves determine whether they’re eligible — once the government has the bandwidth again, they’ll go back and check retroactively. “It’s so easy I thought it was fake,” one user told the National Post. The government admitted that disbursing relief on the honor system would lead to some people getting money who shouldn’t have, but decided the speed made it worth it.

Meanwhile, businesses that apply for government loans must agree to publish annual “climate disclosure reports” that will make their impact on the climate more transparent. Businesses can also get up to 75 percent of the employees’ wages covered through the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), a measure intended to keep unemployment from soaring. So far, it seems to be working. Economists had projected an unemployment rate of 18 percent, but by the beginning of May it was 13 percent — “considerably less than expected, and massively smaller than the 10.3 percentage point spike in the U.S. jobless rate,” according to one analysis.

The post These Unsung Countries Are Vanquishing the Virus appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

What You Watch Matters

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/05/2020 - 10:53am in

Tags 

diet, Health, Media

Improve your digital diet to enhance your health and happiness.

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