from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: who told whom, what, when?

May 28. OR – Please, read your emails.

South Australians have been rather pleased with their daily Covid-19 report. ZERO new cases today. In the last month we have had 2 cases. However, the last case on 26 May has caused a minor media storm.

Apparently, a woman arrived from the UK into Melbourne and went into quarantine – as all arrivals have to. However, after 7 days she was allowed to fly to South Australia. The story was that she was given exemption for ‘compelling family reasons’ and made an emergency dash to be at the bedside of her dying parent. When she arrived into Adelaide she was tested and found to be positive for Covid-19. Now all the woman’s contacts on the plane etc have to isolate.

At first our Chief Public Health Officer, Nicola Spurrier, said she had not been told the details of the woman’s arrival by the Victorian authorities (blaming them). A short time later Spurrier had to apologise saying that they had received the email but had not read it!

‘We really need to review our processes.’ She said that it was ‘easy to overlook an email’ and that such failures were not only a problem in our state but were a ‘national issue’.

‘I’m running a response to a pandemic. I don’t have time to feel embarrassed,’ Spurrier added. I liked that neat comment but after all, this failure might result in deaths.

This comes against the background that there is a developing irritation between states in Australia as to who has kept their borders closed and why. Victoria State has the most new cases (10 overnight) and no one wants to bring in more community spread – little as it is.

It appears that a failure to read emails and check on critical procedures is a common failing at the moment and causing considerable harm. The cruise ship, the Ruby Princess was allowed to dock in Sydney Harbour on 19 March. Somehow checks between the ship, NSW health and harbour authorities failed to make certain that the ship was free of infection. 2,700 passengers disembarked without being checked and they spread the virus around: 22 died, 100’s were infected. There is now a criminal investigation into the matter.

This story of failure continues. In West Australia (WA) a live-export ship, the Al Kuwait, from the UAE was allowed to dock at Fremantle with the intention of taking on board 56,000 live sheep destined for the Middle East. This is a terrible trade and has resulted in sheep dying in large numbers due to heat stress and conditions in these floating hell holes. Furthermore, the humane treatment of the sheep on arrival in the Middle East is not easy to manage (understatement).

Now they have found that 6 crew members are infected with Covid-19 on the Al Kuwait. The WA Premier went into attack mode, arguing with the Federal Minister of Agriculture as to who was told what, when.

The issue gets more complicated, as these livestock carriers are not legally allowed to leave Australia after May 31. This is because the ship would arrive in the Middle East during the summer and previous cases have resulted in distressing images of sheep dying from heat stress being shown in Australia. And it takes really ghastly images for any change in this business to take place.

So – money talks – our Federal minister of Agriculture, David Littleproud, (lovely name that!) has said that an exemption might be granted by the ‘independent’ regulator so that the ship can sail with a June departure date. Littleproud also said the shipment – all that meat – is worth 12 million AUD. So, for money, the sheep with suffer the heat. Meat is important after all.

In these 3 cases it was a failure of processes, standards and checks that are in place and meant to be protecting us.

These are the failures we know about. I fear that they will not be the last.

from David Vincent, Shrewsbury, UK: An infection foretold.

April 10.  Now it’s personal.  I learnt last night that my niece, my sister’s younger daughter, has coronavirus.  She is a twenty-eight-year old, recently-qualified doctor, working in a city-centre hospital.  She was infected five days ago, and is resting at home.

I am of course anxious about her, though her symptoms do not seem serious.  She is young and fit and the likelihood must be that she will make a full recovery.  I am also concerned for her parents’ anxiety.  But most of all I am just infuriated by the event.  Many of the cases of coronavirus can be described as random misfortunes.  Not this one.  She was told three weeks ago that she was being posted to a Covid-19 ward.  I was in touch with her parents, who were very worried that she would not be given appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE).  The press was full of stories about shortages, and I could understand their fears.  But I did think that by the time she entered the ward, something would have been done.

It was not.  She lasted just a week before a coughing patient got through her inadequate protection.  This was a predictable and predicted outcome.  A monument, amongst many others, to the criminal lack of preparedness of the NHS, and the Government that funds and manages it.  We are now nearly three months beyond the point when the spread of the epidemic to Britain became a realistic likelihood. And still every part of the system is in arrears.

There is my niece’s suffering – it started with a fierce headache, and she was tested and sent home when she complained she could not taste the chocolates a well-wisher had sent to the ward.  Now she feels extremely tired.  And there is the sheer misuse of resources.  My niece was freshly trained and full of enthusiasm.  She shared a flat with another young doctor who as a consequence has had to self-isolate.  So that’s two doctors who should be on the front line, shut up at home.  It is an utterly stupid, avoidable waste.