COVID-19 rugby league

Lockdown vs Covid easing

How soon we forget. Musician Silas Palmer checking off the first of 112 days of lockdown in Victoria (see music video link further down

So let me see if I can understand this – almost 50,000 people crammed, yes, crammed) into Suncorp Stadium/Lang Park amid a global pandemic. It was the largest sports crowd in the world since Covid restrictions were applied in March. Biosecurity protocols involved in buying tickets and entering the venue, was proof enough for the Queensland Government, given that anyone attending could be contacted after the event.

Yes, amazing what governments, big business, broadcasters and multinational betting agencies can achieve.

Last time I went to Brisbane’s footie stadium with that many people, it was everything that social distancing is not. Ladies, as few of you will have ever seen a urinal, we stand shoulder to shoulder at the trough. If it is busy, there will be a row of blokes behind us, waiting for a gap to appear. Many, faced with a tedious wait for the wash basins, often dispense with the formality.

Just one example.

As of 4pm on Tuesday, rules were relaxed for pubs and restaurants in Queensland and ‘normal’ crowds welcomed back for entertainment venues, including theatres.

As of the 17th, we can now have 50 people in our homes (though why would you, I thought).

The State government allows itself an ‘out’ by being able to declare a restricted Local Government Area, should the need arise.

In this case, only 10 people are allowed in your home, and that includes people who already live there.

Queenslanders can travel anywhere within the State for any reason, with no limit on distance. You can stay overnight within the State for as many nights as you like.

It’s not a level playing field, though. Queensland Health says that special visitor rules apply for aged care facilities, hospitals and disability accommodation providers.

At the same time these changes were pending, an outbreak of Coronavirus cases in South Australia demonstrated once again that Covid-19 is the gift that no-one wants, yet it nevertheless keeps on giving. Queensland too was finding new cases, most associated with quarantine from people returning from overseas.

But regardless of mixed messages, Queensland Health advice is still that you must practise physical distancing as much as possible and wash your hands regularly with soap and water. Use (60%+) alcohol-based sanitiser, avoid hugs, kisses and handshakes and keep 1.5 metres away from other people. Or as we say here – a kangaroo apart.

While Queenslanders are getting all enthusiastic about the ‘return to normal’, the Covid cluster that emerged in South Australia is a timely warning that this virus is not going away. SA is dealing with its untimely cluster by re-introducing some restrictions, the oddest of which is that you are not allowed to stand and drink in a pub.

“Mate, don’t stand at the bar coughing over everyone. Come over here to my table and cough on us instead.”

SA was to go into a six-day severe lockdown to hopefully stamp out the growing cluster of cases (34 and counting). However, today the ABC news advised that the lockdown would end on Saturday night, three days early.

I realise that my somewhat cautious approach to full slather mingling may upset people who think Covid restrictions are too much-too long. I chatted to a few people who have either been through the quarantine ritual or are Aussie ex-pats looking on from a distance.

Morocco-based Suzanna Clarke, who operates an accommodation business in Morocco and France, can’t believe what she is seeing on social media. A Brisbane friend posted photos of musicians mingling at a ‘session’ (where folkies gather at an ale house to play diddly tunes and sing songs).

No social distancing, no masks needed! Consider yourselves extremely lucky,” Suzanna wrote. There is no way I would be attending a similar event on this side of the planet.”

Morocco (pop 36 million), has recorded 307,000 cases and 5,031 deaths. Suzanna says it is hard to know what’s currently going on.

“It’s also very hard to get a PCR test – even if you can afford it. So the numbers are likely to be much higher. The government doesn’t want to go into lockdown again because people will starve. Literally. Unemployment benefits are only available for a few. My business here has been shut since March. My business in France was starting to pick up, and they went back into lockdown.

So every booking I had was cancelled. We still have wages to pay, so we’re trying to get by on what we have, and raiding our savings. We are, of course, are among the lucky ones.”

Musician friends Silas Palmer and Sarah Busuttil recently posted a series of videos on Facebook depicting 14 days of life at the Howard Springs quarantine facility in Darwin. They flew from Melbourne to the Northern Territory, en route to Queensland and northern NSW to visit a gravely ill family member.

Since this week’s missive is somewhat dire, I thought I’d share this cheerful video the duo made during Victoria’s 112-day lockdown.

(Collins’ Dictionary word of the year, by the way!).

 Meanwhile, the world’s share markets have, as usual, over-reacted to news that Big Pharma has a vaccine ready to go. Global share markets rose 10% in a week.

FOMM reader Mr Shiraz, a strict follower of Covid prevention protocols, had this to say on Facebook:

I have been thinking about the excitement elicited by Covid vaccine announcements (Ed: described in share market reports as ‘vaccine optimism’).

It has taken us more than three decades to get polio 99% eradicated. To imagine a Covid planetary vaccination program being anywhere near good enough for “normal” life to resume in five years is silly.”

A recent article in the UK’s pre-eminent medical journal, The Lancet, advised that we get used to social distancing, hand sanitisation and wearing masks because it will be with us for “several years”.

Science magazine Nature concurred, citing a team of researchers  in virus hotspots at Anhembi Morumbi University, São Paulo, Brazil. They ran more than 250,000 mathematical models of social-distancing strategies.

The team concluded that if 50–65% of people are cautious in public, then stepping down social-distancing measures every 80 days could help to prevent further infection peaks over the next two years. Bear in mind that this research was published in August, which in the context of a fast-moving pandemic is probably a bit old.

Current international statistics are extremely worrying:

  • US 11.6m cases, 250,000 deaths;
  • India: 8.91m cases, 131,000 deaths;
  • Brazil: 5.91m cases 171,000 deaths;
  • France: 2.71m cases, 46,698 deaths;
  • Russia: 1.99m cases, 34,387 deaths’

Australia looks comparatively healthy when you consider there have been 27,777 cases and 901 deaths since January.

However, there have been 93 recent cases, including 21 reported in the last 24 hours. Drilling down into Queensland’s stats, we have had 1,190 cases, 6 deaths and 12 active cases, including 3 in the last 24 hours.

Well excuse me. Much as I loved watching Queensland snatch the Origin series away from New South Wales, I won’t be going to any major sporting events, this year or next.

As Mr Shiraz says: “Let’s adopt a new normal expectation.

Conspiracies fake news Internet

Conspiracies, Daffodils and Tulips

(Area 51, Nevada, US. Image by mdherren,

In spring, as the poet said, a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of conspiracy. Wait! I just misquoted Alfred Tennyson and there’s a one in eight chance that someone under 34 will believe the quote is authentic.

While the new season takes tentative steps towards summer (tulips and daffodils flowering), imported conspiracy theories have taken root in Australia. The media noticed; with The Australian, the New Daily, The Guardian and 60 Minutes among those to investigate. Satirists weighed in, mocking the worrisome ideas fomented by the mendacious QAnon. While satire has its place, conspiracy theories can cause a lot of damage if people act on them.

During the lockdown of public housing towers in Melbourne, some 10,000 people refused to take a covid test. Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said some had declined believing that Coronavirus was a conspiracy, its effects overstated, or simply with a misguided faith that it would not affect them.

More recently, News Corp reported that people are being “actively investigated” by police for encouraging Melbourne residents to protest against Stage Four lockdown. Anti-lockdown protesters clashed with police in the Victorian capital on Sunday night. The anti-lockdown lobby has been very active on Twitter and other social media outlets before and after those events.

Victorian Premier Dan Andrews’ attempts to hose down the second phase of COVID-19 are being defied by those including followers of the social media conspiracy spreader, QAnon. If you hear someone utter the words ‘sovereign citizen’, its a sure sign they follow one of the far-right conspiracy groups in the US (and now, it seems, in Australia).

QAnon believes the world is being controlled by a ‘deep state’ of Satan-worshipping paedophiles and people traffickers. The plot (there always is one) is that the deep state wants to overthrow the incumbent president, Donald Trump. Even though QAnon has previously turned on Trump, at this stage in the election cycle it appears they think he’s the right man to fix what ails the US.

There’s more available, if you want to go looking for it, on Facebook and bulletin boards like 4Chan and 8kun (known as 8Chan before the Christchurch mosque massacre). The latter was in the news again this week as the perpetrator was jailed for life without parole.

The shooter posted simultaneous footage of the massacre on social media forums and investigations since showed him to be active on right-wing bulletin boards like 8Chan.

The London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue, which tracks extremism around the world, detailed the rise of QAnon across social media platforms. Its report, The Genesis of a Conspiracy Theory, shows that interactions with content in social media groups more than tripled, from 2.35 million in February to 7.26 million in June.

The ISD report shows a marked increase in discussions on social media platforms between March and June. Unique users discussing QAnon jumped by 12.02 million, or 63.7% on Twitter, 188,855 or 174.9% on Facebook and 96,894 or 71% on Instagram. One should hope that some of those discussions were rebuttals posted by people who know that it is just so much hokum.

Little wonder that the FBI and ASIO warned that extreme-right radical groups are a domestic terrorism threat.

The definition of a conspiracy theory is that which is promulgated as fact yet cannot be supported by evidence. Or as Daniel Pipes (a US historian and writer) was quoted in a Senate report:

“Like alchemy and astrology, conspiracism offers an
intellectual inquiry that has many facts right but goes wrong
by locating causal relationships where none exist.”

Australia has always had an element of conspiracists; holocaust deniers, anti-vaxxers, flat-earthers, mask-deniers, Islamaphobes and those who subscribe to (US) theories that the world is controlled by a cabal of (Jewish) financiers (and that aliens are being kept in a secret underground facility in the desert somewhere, for breeding purpose, perhaps). The adherents may be small in number but they wield a disproportionate amount of influence.

People aged 18-34 appear to be susceptible to being swayed by conspiracy theories. About 20% of this cohort told pollsters they believed the 5G mobile network was being used to spread coronavirus (a widely debunked and baseless theory).
The better news is that 5G theory beliefs decreased in older age groupings. About 13% of 35 to 54-year olds responded positively to the theories, and between 4% and 8% of the 55+ cohort.

The rapid growth of QAnon appears to have started with the emergence of the Coronavirus in March. Those who believe that vaccinations cause more health problems than the specific ones they are forestalling, were the obvious target.

ASIO’s annual threat assessment released in February outlined the threat of right-wing extremism as real and growing, according to a Lowy Institute report. A June update revealed that right-wing extremist investigations now make up a third of ASIO’s domestic caseload. ASIO warns that far-right groups are using Covid-19 as a cover to push ideologies and gain recruits.

In Australia, this manifested itself in a series of rallies in May, with protesters calling Covid-19 a scam and protesting against vaccines, pharmaceutical companies, fluoride and 5G.

As if this was no disturbing enough, a meme being circulated (again), purports to claim that Australia does not exist. I thought it was satire, and so did the person who brought it to my attention. No, it is a conspiracy theory/hoax that’s been around long enough to have its own hashtag, #australiadoesntexist.

So, enough of this nonsense; let’s just enjoy the daffodils and tulips, the pardalote chit-chitting away, the smell of jasmine…

If you see Junior thumbing away at his phone or tablet when it’s supposed to be family time, share the real quote from Tennyson: “In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.”

Or if you prefer a poem with an Australian flavour:

And jolly Spring, with love and laughter gay
Full fountaining, lets loose her tide of bees
Upon the waking ember-flame of bloom
New kindled in the honey-scented trees.

Hugh McCrae