from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: another Outbreak and the Dark Leopards of the Moon

June 4, 2021

View from Stoke’s Hill, Willow Springs, Flinders Ranges

Victoria is in lockdown. Again. And South Australia is being blamed for lax quarantine management. It is alleged that a Victorian man was infected as he exited his room to leave a medi-hotel in Adelaide after his required 14 day lockup.

The result of the South Australian investigation into this has not been released. The newly infected man travelled to Victoria and was very busy wandering around before he tested positive. There are now 61 cases from this current outbreak and a list of over 370 contact sites in Melbourne: bakeries, trams, gyms, supermarkets, cafes, hairdressers, cinemas, sportsclubs etc. Testing is flat out. 57,000 people were tested in a few days.

It is getting more and more political. Of course. There are points to be scored against the government. The medi-hotels are not failsafe. Seventeen outbreaks have occurred. This must be the federal government’s fault. Lobbying of the federal government continues: surely they must build and pay for custom quarantine facilities in each state. On another related issue, the government have already caved in and will organise some modest temporary financial support for Victorian workers affected by the current outbreak.

At one stage, the Victoria chief Health Officer, Brett Sutton, (looking rather unkempt with a growing salt and pepper beard), went into overdrive to declare that very casual or ‘fleeting contact’ had resulted in infection and this new variant, called the Kappa variant, was an ‘an absolute beast’.

‘Because it has moved faster than any other strain we’ve dealt with, and we’re seeing transmission in settings and circumstances we’ve never seen before. … This means we’re having to re-examine exposure sites — more than 300 of them — with this more contagious strain in mind.’

This was soon refuted by calmer minds and Sutton backed away from his statement. It was a matter of test results being false positives and their state government’s need to blame something or someone else – rather than their poor QR systems and widespread non-compliance with check-in rules.

‘An infectious diseases physician at St Vincent’s hospital in Sydney, Prof Greg Dore, who is running a study looking at long-haul Covid patients, said the Kappa variant was acting “the same as we’ve seen before” with other variants in Australia. “There just isn’t any strong evidence this variant is more efficiently transmitted than previous variants,” said Dore, who is also a clinical researcher with the Kirby Institute.’ (Guardian 2 June)

We now wait to see if this outbreak spreads to NSW. We are due to travel there in 3 weeks.

arriving at Skytrek Willow Springs

While all this was going on, I was once more in the Flinders Ranges, this time with a group of aged walkers.

Once more, I am taken aback by the stark aridity of the Flinders. The beauty is there but it’s a harsh land. The hills are almost bare of vegetation and on the sheep stations, onion weed appears to be the predominant plant. In many watercourses, ancient river red gums are dying and even the tough native pines (callitris) are suffering. I don’t think I saw more than 10 kangaroos or Euros. There were a few more emus than my last visit – they are browsers and probably have more food sources.

The bird life is scarce. I was keen to try and spot the rare short-tailed grasswren. This bird is a ‘mega-tick’ for any bird-watcher. These cryptic outback birds were once seen on Willow Springs where we were staying. However, the native spinifex and perennial grassy hillsides, where I hoped to find them, have suffered from the four drought years and there was little remaining cover for any bird. Except this one: a grey butcherbird.

The predatory grey butcher-bird

However, all this gloom did not stop us enjoying the Flinders. We had driven north through a dust storm.

Approaching Port Augusta in the dust storm

The late winter rains have left the topsoil of the wheatlands exposed. Overnight a short rainfall laid the dust to rest and we had clear skies once more. This was opportune as we were looking forward to the lunar eclipse of the night of 26 May. And that delivered. We enjoyed 5 hours of a moon disappearing from a brilliant starred sky. The shadow of the earth covered the moon from the right and it emerged from the lower left. I understand that this is due to the position of the sun’s shadow during this eclipse. Apparently, we were lucky in Eastern Australia as we could see the entire eclipse at night. And it was a ‘Super Flower Blood Moon’. However, I could not see the red. You had to use a lot of imagination. Maybe if the moon had been closer to the horizon, it would have turned red. Still spectacular. And while the moon was being gobbled up, over the arid hills of the Flinders Ranges we could clearly see the Southern Cross, and other constellations and listen to boobook owls calling from the dried out riverbank. In Adelaide cloud cover hid the eclipse.

Yes, these are my own photos taken with a Nikon hybrid. Hand held!

The eclipse took place just a few hours after the Moon reached perigee, the closest point to Earth on its orbit, making it a Super Flower Blood Moon.

What is a Super Moon?

This eclipse also marks the beginning of an “almost tetrad” because it kicks off a series of four big lunar eclipses in two years. Three of these eclipses are total, while one of them, on November 18-19, 2021, is a deep partial eclipse. So deep that it is almost a total eclipse.’

https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/lunar/2021-may-26

You can well imagine how indigenous peoples might have viewed a lunar eclipse as an omen. Perhaps it would have been frightening. I know that the San Bushmen had many stories to explain events in the skies. So I looked this up. I am sad to say: I think we might have lost imagination with the gaining of knowledge.

‘When the Earth’s shadow falls on the Moon, a lunar eclipse occurs. The Nyae Nyae !Kung Bushmen said that this was caused by the lion, putting his paw over the Moon to darken the night so he could have better hunting.’

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/258805045_African_Star_Lore

This reminds me of the ‘Day of the Dead Moon’, the day in January 1879 when the Zulu army was instructed by King Cetshwayo not to attack the invading British forces under Lord Chelmsford during the day of the lunar eclipse. The eclipse was seen as a bad omen. Lord Chelmsford had marched his forces into the Zulu Kingdom confident that they would teach the Zulus a quick lesson. The Zulu army of over 20,000 sat silently on their shields in a ravine, waiting for a more auspicious day. However, a British outrider spotted them and the Battle of Isandlwana commenced. Lord Chelmsford’s camp was destroyed along with 1,300 British soldiers and probably 2,000 Zulu warriors. This defeat was a huge shock to the British. How could a bunch on untrained Zulus without Martini–Henry breechloading rifles or 7-pounder mountain guns defeat them?

I think some poetry about the moon should end this blog. WB Yeats saw great symbolism in the moon and he loved referring to the moon in his poetry. Mostly sad verses. I liked the following, Lines Written in Dejection.

When have I last looked on
The round green eyes and the long wavering bodies
Of the dark leopards of the moon?
All the wild witches, those most noble ladies,
For all their broom-sticks and their tears,
Their angry tears, are gone.
The holy centaurs of the hills are vanished
I have nothing but the embittered sun;
Banished heroic mother moon and vanished,
And now that I have come to fifty years
I must endure the timid sun.

from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: Tennis Anyone?

18 January, 2021

Our son, David Adams, at the Australian Open. 2000

Our son, David, was a professional tennis player on the ATP Circuit for 15 years until 2003. Every January we would be at the Australian Open in Melbourne supporting him: sitting on the sidelines anxiously watching match after match. David succeeded as a Men’s doubles and Mixed doubles player and won two Grand Slam titles and 19 ATP titles.

The Australian Open (AO) is one of the ITF’s four Grand Slams on the circuit and a ‘must-attend’ for every professional tennis player. Just getting into the main draw is a huge achievement. The money and points they can earn at the Grand Slams is a major drawcard for all players. The players all say they love coming to Australia and the tournament is well run. Sometimes they would play run-up tournaments in Brisbane or New Zealand or in Dubai on the way.

AO, Melbourne Park, one of the open-seating, outside courts. Max Mirnyi facing.

I need hardly explain how big an event this tournament is for Australians, for all tennis enthusiasts and for sports fans worldwide. If you did not get tickets to attend Melbourne Park, two weeks in January were spent watching the tennis on TV. The sound of the ball smacking back and forth was a backdrop to our days. We did not have to stay up until the midnight hours as we had to for the French Open or Wimbledon. The AO is our local Grand Slam.

With Covid-19 changing our world, holding the Australian Open was put in doubt. How to bring players, their coaches and their entourage to Australia safely? How to manage the crowds?

It was finally negotiated that the AO would be delayed to begin on February 8th, that players would come in early and quarantine for 2 weeks and then play. Qualifying rounds were to be held offshore in Dubai (men) and Doha (women). All teams would be tested before they leave, and when they arrived on our shores. During quarantine they would be allowed out to practice and exercise for 5 hours a day in controlled circumstances. What could go wrong?

Tickets have gone on sale with special arrangements in place. ‘The Australian Open has a new game plan to ensure the safety of everyone onsite. As part of this focus, the Melbourne Park precinct will be divided into three zones, each including one of our three major arenas. Each zone offers its own unique combination of live experiences, food and beverage and tennis action. Please note that your ticket is specific to a zone, and travel between zones is not permitted after entry.

It all seemed set to go ahead smoothly. Except ….

The new covid-19 strain is very infectious. Apparently three people on the first tennis-player charter flight tested negative when they left LA and were found to be positive when they landed: one crew member, one coach and one journalist. All the people on that flight have now been put into HARD quarantine. Since then, passengers on another two flights with AO players and supporters have been found to be infected and all passengers have joined the others. Now 72 players are in hard lockdown quarantine. (Some of these details are now in dispute – were the infected people really infectious or were they just ‘viral shedding’ and not infections? A fine point.)

This means, no practicing, no leaving of their hotel rooms. There is much complaining! Tennis players don’t like being confined. They have honed their skills and their training to reach peak performance at the AO, the first of the four Grand Slams. The difference between winning and losing (often after 4 hours on court for the men) might come down to one or two points. You have to be on top of your game.

And there is the money!

A first-round loser in the main draw wins $100,000 (USD 76,850). The total pool of prize money is $80 million AUD. The prize pool has increased 12% from last year. And your chances of getting past the first round are enhanced if you are seeded. Seeding depends mostly on ranking and ranking depends on your ATP points. Here is the men’s ranking.

https://www.atptour.com/en/rankings/singles

and explained

https://www.atptour.com/en/rankings/rankings-faq

and the women’s

https://www.wtatennis.com/rankings/singles

Ranking depend on points earned in tournaments. More points means higher ranking and less chance of being knocked out in the first rounds. The points are accumulated and drop off when you play the same tournament the next year. Thus, all those players who did well in the 2020 AO will be defending those points this year. They don’t want to miss out.

And players are skittish. They are highly tuned physically and mentally and the idea of being subject to HARD lockdown is causing great anxiety. Based on the timing, they will have one week to get back into fitness before the tournament begins.

Novak Djokovic, the former president of the ATP Player Council, and no 1 ranked men’s singles player, has demanded that Tennis Australia provides ‘equal and better conditions for all players stuck in quarantine’.

Here are his demands:

  • Fitness and training material in all rooms.
  • Decent food for all players, after a number of players complained about their food on day one of quarantine.
  • Fewer overall days of isolation for the players hotel quarantine, while also carrying out more COVID tests.
  • Permission for players to visit their coach or physical trainer, as long as both have passed COVID tests.
  • Permission for players and coaches to be on the same floor of the hotel, if they pass COVID tests.
  • Relocation of many tennis players as possible to private houses with a court for their isolation period.

Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews, was NOT sympathetic. He has said that the rules applied to the tennis players were the same for everyone else: that they were advised of the conditions before they left and they knew the risks. There’s no negotiating with him!

Some media are saying that the AO will not go ahead, others say it must be delayed. And then there is a vocal outcry about allowing ANY players in. After all, 37,000 Australians are struggling to get back home. Emirates airlines have cancelled all flights to three major Australian centres (they will still fly into Perth) due to ‘operational requirements’. They say it is not economical. No more Emirates. Our government is now promising they will charter 20 flights to bring Australians home. Due to arrival restriction in major cities these flights will land in Northern Territory, Canberra and Tasmania.

It’s getting more complicated each day.

from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: Confusion and the Border Wars

12  January, 2021

It has been going on for so long.

At first, in March 2020, all Australians took careful note of the dos and don’ts, the rules and regulations – as a nation. There was a unity between the states.

And then there wasn’t.

On April 3rd last year, Premier Mark McGowan closed the West Australian border to the eastern states for the first time in Australian history. And suddenly, Premiers found their higher calling. Each one could now command their state like a mini-nation and this would only increase their popularity. Just too tempting.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was not slow to realise this. Her Labor government faced an election in October. In August 2020, with the LNP, the Opposition party, gathering strength and with Victoria still in lockdown, the Queensland premier closed the border. Labor won the election with an increased majority. They are calling it the ‘border wars’.

Each state premier is mirroring Palaszczuk’s statement: ‘And today is the day that we say we are putting Queenslanders first.’

The thing is the borders of the mainland states are not sharply defined, particularly between Victoria, NSW and Queensland and to a lesser extent, South Australia. The border towns are now beset with problems of access to services: to schools and hospitals. Farms extend across borders.

At no stage have the number of infected people reached the percentages of Europe or the USA but we all realise that the virus is so infectious that it does not take much relaxation in the rules for it to become uncontrollable.

So now we have 7 sets of rules and specific use of language from the 7 states and territories to be considered. And more specifically: your own state’s rules, which change regularly with the ebb and flow of outbreaks, and the rules for states where you plan to travel or where your family are.

It’s plain confusing.

South Australia: as of January 12, all travellers coming to South Australia are required to complete a Cross Border Travel Registration. Our authorities have declared areas to be ‘High’ and ‘Low Community Transmission Zones’. Rules apply to each of these if you desire to enter South Australia. There are special rules for border areas – a ‘Cross Border Community Travel Zone’. Applications are required.

Rules are changed so often and are so confusing that often the police and border officials get it wrong. And this is quite apart from mask-wearing rules.

Other government COVID-19 website travel information

Victoria has just come up with a brilliant new idea: coloured zones! They have green, orange and red zones. Like a traffic light. Which means everyone entering Victoria must apply for a permit – even from WA or South Australia. We have had no community spread cases since mid-November last year.

‘These are the rules as per the Victorian government. If you have been in:

  • a green zone, you will be able to apply for a permit and enter Victoria. Once in Victoria you should watch for symptoms and get tested should you feel unwell. ​
  • an orange zone, you will be able to apply for a permit and will have to take a coronavirus (COVID-19) test within 3 days of your arrival in Victoria and isolate until you receive a negative test result.
  • a red zone, you will only be able to apply for a permit as a permitted worker, or to transit through Victoria to another state or territory. You may also apply for an exemption. Exemptions are only granted in special cases. If you try to enter Victoria by road without a valid permit, exemption or exception you will be turned away. If you attempt to enter via an airport or seaport without a valid permit, exemption or exception you will be fined $4957. Victorians will be required to quarantine at home, and others will be sent back.
  • a NSW-Victorian cross-border community. If you are a resident, you will be able to enter Victoria without a permit, but you must carry photo ID and proof of your address. ​’

The Australian newspaper makes the comment today: ‘The extreme approaches of Victoria and WA are out of all proportion with Australia’s COVID-19 caseload. The nation had four new cases of community transmission on Monday, all of them in NSW. Nobody is in intensive care. The maze of confusing, costly, job-destroying over-regulation by some states is now intolerable…. But … the commonwealth (government) lacks the constitutional power to force states to open borders or abandon their ludicrous red tape.’

We were hoping to holiday on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria at the end of February. It’s not looking very promising. Point one: can we get through the border? Point two. When we are there, will South Australian stop us coming back home or make us go into quarantine?

To travel or not to travel, the decision awaits us.

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, 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