OPINION: Mixed virus messages just adding to confusion, anxiety

Australia is seeing unprecedented panic and anxiety as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread.

There’s also plenty of confusion and the mish-mash of messages, from the very top down, is not helping the situation.

The New South Wales Health Minister urged people two weeks ago to stop shaking hands, only to be slapped down by the Federal Chief Medical Officer who said it was fine.

Fast forward a couple of days, and sure enough, handshaking was now out for everyone.

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer was criticised after advising people to stock up on two weeks worth of groceries in case they needed to self-isolate, contrary to Federal advice.

Queensland’s Chief Health Officer advised the same thing a couple of weeks ago but that received less attention.

Then we had Scott Morrison announce a ban on mass gatherings but then revealed he’d still be going to the footy ahead of the ban.

Needless to say, the PM quickly changed his mind when he realised how bad a look it would have been.

I’ve just returned from a quick break in Bali but made it home before the Government’s mandatory self-isolation period kicked in.

In the short week I was away the virus situation has gone to a whole new level, but I didn’t think twice about not returning to work on Monday, even after developing a slight sore throat and a mild cough on the weekend (nothing unusual after a trip to Bali).

But after discussions with the boss it was decided I should probably stay away from the office for the time being and get some medical advice. We can’t risk having to completely shut down.

According to the Queensland Health website, I fit the criteria for someone who should get tested. Sore throat, cough and had been overseas.

Just to be completely sure, I rang the Queensland Health hotline and was told that I did indeed fit the criteria.

(For the record anyone who has been overseas in the last 14 days or has been in contact with a confirmed case AND develops a fever, sore throat, cough or shortness of breath is being advised to get tested.)

The advice was to call my GP to get tested instead of just turning up to a clinic.

But as I’ve since discovered, next to no GPs, if any, are actually doing any testing.

After a quick chat with the receptionist at my local GP clinic, she told me my GP would call me back when he had a moment to arrange a form to go and get tested.

A form? I need a form now?

A few hours later and my GP did eventually call.

After explaining my symptoms and travel history he told me that testing wasn’t necessary and I should just self-isolate for two weeks, even though I arrived home before the Government’s mandatory isolation came into effect.

The confusion was only offset by the fear of telling my boss I definitely wasn’t coming back to work anytime soon.

Ten minutes later, my GP calls me back to tell me, “yes, you should go and get tested.”

“So what about this form I supposedly need?” I asked him.

“What form?”

*Narrator: “There is no form.”

So off I go to the Gold Coast University Hospital which is a hive of activity as usual.

A cheerful young nurse greeted me at the entrance to emergency where I again explained my symptoms and travel history.

“Oh you don’t really need to get tested”, she assured me.

Confusion growing even more, I pointed out she was sitting in front of a large sign that listed Indonesia as one of the ‘at risk’ countries but she said that list was old.

Was Indonesia all of a sudden ok? I highly doubt that.

After a bit of a debate she eventually gave me a mask and told me to head upstairs to the fever clinic and they would make the final call about whether or not I should get tested.

Sure enough, I got tested (which by the way is not pleasant).

While I sat there in the fever clinic waiting for a swab up my nose, countless more people flocked to the clinic.

But most were turned away because they didn’t fit the criteria. The system simply can’t test everyone at the moment.

Some of those people had symptoms but hadn’t travelled overseas or been in contact with any confirmed cases. Others had no symptoms but insisted they be tested anyway.

The calm triage nurses would assure them they didn’t need to be tested, a message they had to deliver to some people over and over again until they gave up and left.

So what advice had these people been given? And how did they get past the cheerful nurse at the front door?

You must feel for those who have symptoms but don’t meet the criteria for testing. For some, the worry must be unbearable.

I’ve heard several stories of people being turned away or sent home from work because they have symptoms but don’t meet the criteria for testing so have no way of assuring their employer that they don’t have coronavirus.

I even had one friend who was forced to sleep at Brisbane Airport after returning from overseas because his housemate refused to let him inside the house, despite having no symptoms at all.

The panic and fear is palpable, but simply telling people they are not at risk or only low risk doesn’t seem to be cutting it.

Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles today urged everyone to make sure they were disseminating ‘accurate’ information about the virus.

That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t seem to be getting through anyway.

A good start would be for everyone, from the PM, State Health Officers, GPs and frontline staff, to all be singing from the same songsheet. The mixed messages are only increasing people’s anxiety and fears, not to mention taking up the valuable time of our medical professionals.

While I remain in self-isolation waiting for my results, I will take my hat off to the staff at the GCUH fever clinic.

Their task of constantly taking temperatures and swabs and dealing with anxious and paranoid people must be pretty monotonous. But they’re doing it professionally and patiently in a time when the world could do with a bit of their calmness and commonsense.

If you need some clear advice about what to do and what to look out for, check out this video from Gold Coast Health:



Health Mask

Why you shouldn’t panic about coronavirus

Have you seen the movie Contagion?

I don’t intend to add to the hype and hysteria surrounding the coronavirus outbreak, but I think we can all agree: that was one terrifying movie.

I can’t be the only one who can see the similarities between the plot of that film and the situation that is evolving with coronavirus, which has just been announced as a global health emergency by the World Health Organisation.

The virus has spread from one regional town in China to more than a dozen countries, including Australia.

It hits a little too close to home when we realise that there has been two confirmed cases on the Gold Coast, and 9 nationally.

But whilst it is obviously very uncomfortable to realise the virus has been identified on the Gold Coast, it’s also crucial that we stay calm and demonstrate some common sense.

Earlier this week, a man collapsed and died outside a restaurant in Sydney’s Chinatown – because bystanders reportedly failed to perform CPR. They feared he had coronavirus.

It turned out he was having a heart attack, but by the time paramedics arrived, it was too late.

How absolutely heart-breaking for his family, to know that his life could have been saved, if those around him had helped?

I can understand people’s concerns about not wanting to get sick. But it’s seriously tragic that a man’s life could have been saved, if those around him had come to his aid. They could have done so while covering their mouth?

The reality is that yes – coronavirus is potentially deadly.

But let’s keep it in context: much like other viruses, it is “people with underlying illnesses that make them more vulnerable to respiratory disease”, according to the government fact sheet.

“Those with diabetes, chronic lung disease, pre-existing kidney failure, people with suppressed immune systems and the elderly may be at a higher risk,” it adds.

It’s very similar to the flu. And during flu season, we don’t panic, stay at home, and run from other people in the street who are having a medical episode.

Using caution and care is crucial at a time like this. But let’s also demonstrate compassion and common sense, so we don’t end up letting hype and fear pave the way for even more tragic outcomes.


Should Aussies be able to access their super sooner?

Backbench MPs in NSW have proposed an opt-out superannuation plan, in which those who earn less than $50,000 per year would have the option to access their super contributions as wages.

It sounds good in theory: more money in your pocket each pay week to help manage the mortgage, pay the electricity bill, meet the ever-growing costs of running a household.

But in my view, it could potentially do a whole lot more harm than good.

I don’t fully understand the positive arguments behind giving people to option to essentially get rid of compulsory super under the opt-out proposal, which is being considered as part of the federal government’s Retirement Income Review.

Yes, it would be helpful to have some extra cash each week. But at the expense of your retirement fund?

That doesn’t make sense to me.

There seems to be many, many flaws behind this idea – including but not limited to:

  1.  The impact on those earning just over $50k. Why set a wage limit of $50,000? Would this mean a person earning $50k will take home more money per week than a person earning $52,000?
  2.  The impact on pay rises. If this policy went ahead, and you were earning $50,000, what would happen if you got offered a pay rise to $53,000? Would you actually receive less money in the hand each week after your pay rise?
  3. The impact on retirement. Superannuation only works because of compounding. Putting away small amounts of money early in your career allows it to compound into larger amounts when you’re older. Getting rid of these opportunities to sock money away now means lower-income earners will have far less wealth when they exit the workforce – right when they need it most.

Overall this seems like it would achieve next to nothing positive for those who need it most.

An extra $60-80 per week (after tax) would be helpful, but it’s not going to change your life.

Losing out on the potential to retire with $150,000 in super is going to change your life.

Personally, I think it would be more effective to design policies to let you use your superannuation funds to buy your own home. What do you think: is this a policy you would like to see pushed through, or can you see big issues with giving people access to their superannuation sooner?


How to support dairy farmers when shopping for milk

Finally – some clarity around buying milk that is going to make it easier for us to shop with retailers that support the farmers.

With many dairy farmers under increasing financial pressure, and some in danger of closing down due to the persistently low price of milk, the Queensland dairy farming industry is launching a campaign to encourage consumers to buy milk sporting the ‘Fair Go Dairy’ label.

If a dairy brand or processor has the Fair Go Dairy label on their products, it means that it can verify it pays its farmers 73 cents a litre for milk – considered the sustainable and fair farmgate price.

Shoppers will then be able to look out for the logo, wherever they buy their milk.

Make no mistakes about it: this is the final straw for our dairy farmers.

If we don’t support this campaign and shop with those who pair our local guys fairly, we will be drinking milk imported from overseas within the decade. This is a risk none of us want to take.

I for one will be supporting this campaign, because buying milk has always been an exercise fraught with morals and concerns for me.

I want to do my bit to support the farmers, so I don’t buy cheap, supermarket branded milk, because the supermarkets are apparently underpaying the farmers and making it difficult for them to financially survive.

But then Coles and Woolies bumped up the price of milk by 10c per litre, leading us to believe that they were paying farmers an adequate price.

We’ve since learnt that this is not the case – and in fact, Coles reportedly only handed over an extra 3.5 cents per litre to the industry.

Coles has now been forced to pay the $5.25 million shortfall

Eric Danzi from the Queensland Dairy Farmers Organisation, which is behind the Fair Go Dairy campaign, told A Current Affair the industry is at breaking point.

“What Coles has done to dairy farmers in the last nine years has been un-Australian. They’ve forced a lot out the door, made them go broke, all for their own corporate greed to sell milk at a loss in the shop and get consumers to be sucked into going into stores and making money off other products,” he said.

The ‘Fair Go Dairy’ campaign will launch in March (pushed back from a planned January launch, out of respect for those farmers impacted by the bushfires), with plans to eventually go national.

Boundary Fence Refugees Asylum

Taxpayers spend $4.5m trying to deport Tamil family

Nothing irks me quite as hard as wasted taxpayer money.

Because in reality, that’s our money – it’s basically the Bank of the Taxpayers.

It’s our income tax, our Medicare levies, our federal taxes that are funding every single choice our federal government makes when it comes to spending.

So when a politician recklessly spends public money on unnecessary travel itineraries or extravagant entertaining or fundraising parties, it makes me massively irritated.

Or when they, say, drop millions and millions of dollars to fight the deportation of a family with deep Australian ties and Australian-born children.

A recent report from Buzzfeed reveals that the Australian government has spent a whopping $4.5 million in its attempt to deport a Sri Lankan family of four, including two children who were born in Australia and who have never before stepped foot in Sri Lanka, from the country.

Just let that figure sink in for a moment: $4.5m.

That’s an astonishing amount of money.

And it’s likely to be on the conservative side, as it doesn’t include the expenses wracked up over the past four months as the couple and their two daughters have been held on an island far from the Australian mainland, while they fight deportation.

This particular family, known as “The Biloela family” because they spent years building their life in the regional Queensland town of Biloela before being taken into immigration detention, have attracted widespread media attention after Peter Dutton came mercilessly close to deporting them in August last year.

But they’re not the only example of us wasting enormous amounts of money on our “border protection policies”.

For instance: did you know that Christmas Island’s detention centre, which the government reopened in February 2019, fleeced taxpayers of almost $27 million while it sat completely empty – but was staffed by 125 people?

Or that is cost $185 million to reopen the facility in the first place?

The mind boggles.

There are so many better ways we could be spending this money, such as a sustained education program in the countries where refugee boats still regularly depart, to show them the legal way to apply as an asylum seeker? I know this is a naïve suggestion – but I also know that whatever we’re doing now, it’s not working.

And I’m sick and tired of our money being wasted like this.