from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: Sorry, but I don’t know either!

September 27.

Johannes Leak cartoon. The Australian 26-27 September, 2020

In late May and early June, our neighbouring state of Victoria was hit by a second wave of community infections of Covid-19. The numbers exploded rapidly, reaching over 700 a day as the authorities failed to track, trace and test to halt the spread. People started asking questions. How did this happen; where is the virus coming from? Soon it was fairly obvious: the hotel quarantine system for returning travellers had failed.

Cases continued to spread. On August 2, a state of ‘disaster’ with Stage 4 restrictions on Melbourne and Stage 3 on the rest of the state, was declared.

All other states closed their borders to Victoria. By then the Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, had fielded questions about how his government had failed in their management of the quarantine process. He said he would appoint a Royal Commission to investigate the outbreak but since he was so busy handling the crisis, he would not comment further. So, the state and the country had to wait until September to listen to the Judicial Commission of Inquiry.

final witness – Daniel Andrews

September 26-27. After 25 days of hearings, 62 witnesses and 200,000 pages of documents, a 3 million dollar inquiry has not had the main question answered: who was responsible for appointing private security firms to manage the hotel quarantine of overseas travellers instead of the (more reliable and experienced) Federal police who had been offered by the Federal Government (these police had been appointed in other states)? The private firms had been hopeless in their job. They had subcontracted to untrained and underpaid workers. Lurid tales of security staff relaxing on the job, smoking breaks, shopping outings and co-habiting with the travellers, emerged.

“Some guards are saying they had no training,” Shah said. “Some were saying they had three minutes’ training.” (Kazim Shah, a United Workers Union organiser).

The quarantine system had failed with lethal results. Where was the culprit? Where was the failure?

Quotes attributable to the Premier Daniel Andrews on the occasion of appointing a Royal Commission. July 2, 2020, “It is abundantly clear that what has gone on here is completely unacceptable and we need to know exactly what has happened.”

https://www.premier.vic.gov.au/judicial-inquiry-hotel-quarantine-program

“The inquiry will begin promptly and will examine a range of matters including:  decisions and actions of government agencies, hotel operators and private contractors; communication between government agencies, hotel operators and private contractors; contractual arrangements; information, guidance, training and equipment provided to staff in hotels; policies, protocols and procedures.”

This weekend our newspapers tell the story. And what a debacle it is: no one is owning up. No one made the wrong decision – it just appears to have happened, willy nilly!! Be amazed! An immaculate conception-decision had emerged with no record, no minutes, no one there! Premier Daniel Andrews was the last to give evidence and yesterday he was full of ‘don’t knows’.

Everyone was waiting for Premier Andrews to appear. He was the last government minister, the final witness, before the commission. He held up the bible, swore to tell the truth – but it turns out – he did not know how or who made the decision to hire private security firms.

He said, ‘I want to say to you, Madam Chair, I await your final report, the conclusion of your work, so we can understand better what has occurred, So, I as leader of government can take appropriate action to ensure these sorts of errors never occur again.’ The Australian September 26-27.

A Monty Python moment – but remember, this is not a joke, 762 people died in the outbreak, 18,000 were infected. Only one minister has resigned – the health minister, Jenny Mikakos. Andrews blamed her, saying she was accountable. Mikakos has sworn before the commission that she did not even KNOW that private guards were being used.

Andrews is not resigning – he says he has work to do!

I will be amazed if processes change in the corridors of political power. Do Royal Commission findings and recommendations result in changes?

If my little Adelaide writing group meetings keeps minutes, why are the major decisions of the Victorian State government not likewise recorded? Nine ministers, PM Secretaries, Commissioners and Health Officers had no clue how this disastrous decision was made. Collective amnesia!

I don’t know, either! The mystery decision!

The editorial puts it succinctly, ‘Be it collective gross incompetence or a cover-up …Victorians have been treated with contempt by the government they voted in and pay …’

from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: Waiting for the Second Wave – and a journey North.

The Australian. August 14.

August 14. More and more it feels as if South Australia is on the edge of the second wave of Covid-19. All states in Australia are trying to protect themselves from one another. The virus has well and truly escaped into the communities of our neighbouring state of Victoria. Each day, we anxiously watch an update from an increasingly harassed Premier Daniel Andrews as he announces the numbers of people newly infected and the numbers dead. The breakout started in late May and reached a daily maximum of well over 700 new infections.  On 3 August, Andrews announced ‘a state of disaster’. A Stage 4 lockdown applies to greater Melbourne, Stage 3 throughout the state. There is a curfew from 8 pm to 6 am in Melbourne and people are limited to essential travel. Police monitor intersections day and night.

The streets are empty. Yet it is taking time for the numbers to reflect the severe shut down – the latest news is 372 new cases. And of course, the death toll will increase before it drops. Daily we watch the NUMBERS: Victoria has 7,877 active cases; 289 have died; 1.9 million tested. The population of Melbourne is 4.936 million and Victoria 6.359 million. NSW authorities are frantically trying to control isolated outbreaks in Sydney.

Our South Australian / Victorian border is shut and it is being carefully monitored. Fewer and fewer exemptions are being allowed – only essential and specialist workers; students in year 11 and 12 whose properties are bisected by the border, will be allowed to cross. Within South Australia, our state government is reversing previous relaxations. For example, licensed cafes, gyms and places of worship will have to have a ‘Covid Marshall’ in place to enforce social distancing and hygiene practices.

From the South Australian point of view, our borders to the Northern Territory, Queensland, Tasmania and West Australia (WA) are open but not the ACT (Canberra). BUT Tasmania requires us to quarantine for 14 days and WA will not let South Australians in. Effectively, we can travel to the NT (by road or air) and Queensland (by air only). I hope I have this right! It’s complicated and can change overnight.

Victorian aged care facilities have experienced distressing outbreaks (1 in 4 homes infected) and most of the state’s deaths relate to these facilities. As a result, South Australia authorities now require all staff in our residential homes to wear personal protective equipment when within 1.5 m of patients. And most important, their staff will not be allowed to work across multiple facilities. This appears to have been a factor in the outbreaks in Victoria.

Overnight a 20-year-old died in Melbourne. I listened on the radio to a specialist in the UK who recounted his concern about the side-effects of COVID-19. He said that we are underestimating the virus’s long-term effects. He called it the ‘long’ COVID. More and more reports are being documented. It is a mistake to consider COVID-19 a disease that only threatens those of us deemed ‘aged’.

In South Australia, we have had very few cases in the last weeks. Overnight, one case was recorded: an Australian citizen returning from India. He or she was in quarantine. Each day I wonder if we will still manage to keep to these low numbers. Across the Tasman Sea, in New Zealand, they have developed a serious cluster in Auckland. (Just when they were feeling rather pleased with their achievements with 100 virus free days.) They are now struggling to find the source and we hear that it is a ‘new’ strain. Prime Minister Jacinta Arden has put in place a Level 3 shut down. She has said they must ‘go in early and go in hard’ (once more) to stop the spread.

Whereas a few weeks ago, there was a discussion about the possibility of having a travel ‘bubble’ with New Zealand, now that is a remote possibility. Our Australian tourist sector remains severely impacted.

Some good news! Travel within South Australia is picking up. Our friends are making short trips across to the Eyre and Yorke Peninsulas or down to the Southeast. We are also able to travel to the Northern Territory. From August 30, South Australians can take a trip on the famous Ghan railway up to Darwin.

Western side of the ancient Flinders Ranges

We ourselves are preparing for a trip to the Flinders Ranges. A great deal of organisation has gone into this trip and a lot of excitement is evident. Beyond normal. There will be about 20 in this group from our local field geology club. The idea is to visit some remote stations in the Flinders Ranges. Before we go, we have to complete a health statement.

I anticipate cold, dry weather. One of the stations we are visiting, 625 kms north of us, is Witchelina. They have received 11 mils of rain recently – not even half an inch. A virtual flood! It is the most they have received in the last year. The station is 4,200 square kms in size (one fifth the size of Wales) and is managed by the Nature Foundation.

https://www.environment.gov.au/land/nrs/case-studies/sa/witchelina#:~:text=At%20just%20over%204%2C200%20square,by%20the%20Nature%20Foundation%20SA%20.

We will pass through a deserted town called Farina. Farina was established in 1878 during a period of greater rainfall, when a railway expansion took place. Some colonialists had a belief that “the rain followed the plough”. Instead, what followed was seven years of drought and all the farmers and residents gave up. It is now a ghost town and a tourist attraction for the few that travel this far into the Outback. And it’s a warning for all those who are over optimistic about South Australia’s rainfall.

from SA State Library: a camel train near Farina, South Australia

https://www.southaustralianhistory.com.au/farina.htm

Farina is being partly restored as a tourist attraction. There is an ANZAC memorial in the town to the 33 men, born in Farina, who volunteered in the First World War. (Most Aussie towns have an ANZAC memorial).

I fear that we will be seeing Farina in the kind of state it was when the first residents gave up hope of their continued survival. But … we are still excited, drought or no drought, virus or no virus.

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: A down-under political story of our time…

July 15. Let me tell you a story. It’s a story of our time: of quarantine, of pride coming before a fall, of stupidity and of obfuscation. It’s a story also of political intrigue. This is all alleged, of course. Hopefully, in time, all will be revealed (but not if some politicians can stop it). Here it is.

All overseas passengers have to go into quarantine for 14 days upon entry into Australia. This is done at the port of their arrival and they are allocated accommodation in certain designated hotels.

Recently, Australia started accepting more international travellers. They were arriving into Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. In most cases, there has not been a problem. In most states, the police have been involved in making sure that the rules are observed by patrolling the hotels. In Victoria, the government initially requested assistance from the police but within a few hours changed their minds and cancelled the request.

Instead, it is alledged, a Victorian minister decided to give contracts, without tender, to 3 security firms using private contractors. It is alleged that the minister in charge had some sort of ‘relationship’ or knowledge of the industry. Very soon it became apparent that the security guards were not doing their jobs. They were not trained. Some said they had had 3 minutes training. Taxpayers were often charged for ‘ghost’ shifts.

A review of the security guard industry revealed: ‘lowly paid (workers), regularly lacked English-language skills, and are often so poorly trained they do not perform the basic functions of their job’.

https://www.theage.com.au/politics/victoria/security-industry-review-exposes-little-training-sham-contracting-20200704-p5590f.html

What we do know is that within a very short time a cluster of COVID-19 cases popped up related to those supposedly quarantine individuals. The guards got infected and took the virus home to their multi-generational households.

Journalists started investigating and found out that the security guards were ineffective. An understatement. It is alleged that they let the passengers go shopping, go out for meals (using Ubers) and go into one another’s rooms. Most salacious of all there is the allegation that some of the guards had intimate relations with those quarantined. I am not sure where lack of training overlaps with lack of common sense. Anyway, by the time action was taken, it was too late. The cat was out of the bag, so to speak. Community infection was rife. From having almost no active cases, Victoria jumped to 70 and then almost 300 per day.

Then on July 13, the Age newspaper released the information from leaked emails showing that the government was aware of the problem within 24 hours of the launch of the quarantine program: ‘Top bureaucrats warned senior health officials at the beginning of the Andrews government’s botched hotel quarantine scheme that security guards were ill-equipped for the work and demanded police be called in to take control. Needless to say, nothing was done.

Oh, another thing. The Victorian State government used the numbers of these private contractors (1,300) to bolster their ‘Working for Victoria’ program of getting people (in theory unemployed) back into jobs …EXCEPT these contactors already had jobs – “The office of the responsible minister, Martin Pakula, confirmed on Wednesday that any worker employed in a government-funded job as a result of the pandemic could be classified as being placed under the Working for Victoria scheme.”

https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/working-for-victoria-quarantine-hotel-guards-pumped-up-job-scheme-numbers-20200708-p55aa3.html

Now, Victoria has gone into crisis mode: total lockdown in many suburbs around Melbourne. In particular, some high-rises have positive cases. Tonight’s news is that there are 108 cases in 32 residential care homes. The defence force has been called in to help.

Not long ago, Daniel Andrews, Premier of Victoria, had made a fly-away comment that he wondered why Victorians would want to visit South Australia when they could stay in Victoria. Well, Victorians began to leave as fast as they could: to escape Victoria before the borders were closed. Yesterday, four young stowaways were discovered on a Victorian freight train trying to escape into South Australia.

On July 2nd, Daniel Andrews announced a judicial inquiry into this mess up, which he called a “public health bushfire”. (We are very aware of the dangers of bushfires this year…). Those who are sceptical will say this is a perfect way to refuse to discuss the failures until the report is tabled in September – maybe it will be forgotten by then – perhaps overwhelmed by further acts of stupidity. Meanwhile, no one will take responsibility, except the Premier, who is looking very rattled.

What we all know is that this virus does not observe closed borders and it’s extremely virulent. Now it is making its way into New South Wales. So far, we in South Australia, have not had any new cases, but watch this space.

Last comment: Daniel Andrews is the bright-spark Premier who has decided to sign a Belt and Road agreement with China against all advice from the Federal Government and against all common sense!

https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/andrew-flags-fresh-bri-deal-vows-to-stay-the-course-on-china-ties-20200609-p550y2.html