A 9-point plan for re-opening Australia: Pete Wargent

A 9-point plan for re-opening Australia: Pete Wargent
A 9-point plan for re-opening Australia: Pete Wargent

EXPERT OBSERVER

Globally there are now more than 657,000 cases of the Coronavirus, and more than 30,400 deaths.


On a global basis new cases continue to climb to 65,000 per day and rising.

 

With the exponential increase continuing, it's only a matter of time before total global known cases ascend to 1 million and beyond. 
 
On the positive side of the ledger, China appears to have all but eliminated new cases, and a number of other countries appear to have arrested the virus. 
 
Germany now has more than 58,000 cases, but its curve does now appear to be flattening.
 
Tragically, Italy has seen more than 92,000 cases and 10,000 deaths, but with luck here too the exponential growth may soon be curtailed. 
 
Spain's figures still look nasty, but the curve is gradually flattening. 
 
Increasingly the biggest disaster of all looks as though it might be in the US, where cases have exploded to 120,000 with little sign of any promising progress to date.

Australia shutdown

How about in Australia?

Today, new known cases increased by 460, taking total known cases to 3,640, with 14 deaths to date (mainly over those aged in their 70s or older). 
 

 

That does represent an increase from 370 new cases on March 24, which was four days earlier, but at this stage the situation doesn't appear to be deteriorating catastrophically.
 
Granted, a lot may change in this regard within a week or two. 
 
So we're by no means out of the woods yet, but for whatever reasons things do appear to be shaping up somewhat better in Australia than elsewhere.

 

 

And that's in spite of multiple cruise ship blunders and numerous earlier examples of flagrant disregard for social distancing rules.

And, indeed, it's in spite of more widespread testing per capita in Australia than in most other countries (Korea, Germany, and Russia have held more tests than we have, but of course their respective populations are far larger than ours, at only 25 million). 
 
Only a virologist can explain the possible reasons for this; perhaps the climate helps?

A 9-point plan for re-opening Australia

This is a global pandemic with global ramifications, but ultimately the world won't end, and figuratively speaking it'll be every man for himself when it comes to the critical question of how to kick-start national economies again.
 
Here's a 9-point plan for how we might be able to achieve it soonest and most effectively, from the perspective of a perpetually under-qualified blogger, should the daily figures begin to improve over the next fortnight:
 
1 - Initiate a shelter-in-place order
 
States already have shelter-in-place action plans, so these should be used immediately for all non-essential workers and businesses. 
 
The Aussie economy has effective already had a coronary, so it's now imperative to get daily new cases of the Coronavirus under control as soon as humanly possible.
 
The sooner we can do that, the sooner we can think about re-opening. 

2 - Wage subsidies

The government has spoken much about its 'stimulus packages the equivalent of 10 per cent of GDP', but the truth is much of this has been in the form of loan facilities and other non-cash items.

Whether by following a similar model to Boris Johnson in the UK or through another approach using the existing transfer system, the government must announce wage subsidies for stood down workers to keep them solvent until such time that the economy can be opened for business again.

Retail workers are being stood down at an alarming rate, while hospitality and tourism is also being smashed.

But these workers can return to work soon too, provided that they can be tided over with subsidies.

Furthermore, with Treasury or RBA funding, banks may also be better served over the medium term to offer interest-only mortgage terms at an interest rate of, say, 2½ per cent to any borrowers in distress, for as long as needed (in addition to the arbitrary 6-month payment holiday terms already being promoted). 
 
Interest-only mortgage terms with the use of an offset account can be an ideal means for families and other mortgagors to begin building up a safety buffer as get back on their feet from a financial perspective.
 
Rental relief measures will presumably also follow, perhaps implemented at the state level. 
 
These are extraordinary measures, but they're also extraordinary times.

Shutting down the economy is effectively a national disaster scenario, and it needs to be approached as such. 

3 - Set up a COVID-10 Delivery Unit

Create a dedicated COVID-19 Delivery Unit to purchase, import, manufacture, or find any other ways to both stockpile and circulate facemasks, surgical masks, respiratory equipment, ventilators, gowns, protective gear, and treatment drugs, and prepare as many ICU beds as practicable around the country. 
 
Even if the virus gets under control in the short term, there could yet be a second, third, and fourth wave, so it's better to go hard here rather than die wondering (for want of a better phrase). 
 
If there's available funding for testing and research into vaccines, cures, and effective treatments, then implement that too. 
 
4 - Fund a COVID-19 Testing and Tracing Unit
 
Australia must acquire millions of testing kits, and put in place widespread and rigorous testing and tracing regime, with an enforceable action plan for quarantining and treating those with symptoms, and tracing the recent contacts of any known infected persons. 
 
5 - Government messaging
 
Testing and tracing will likely need to continue long after the curve of new cases is flattened, and to this end government messaging should encourage Aussies to keep a daily journal of their movements, and a daily record of folks they may have had close contact with each day (this is a suggestion I read about at the excellent Calculated Risk, and as usual it's a very thoughtful one). 
 
One of the best-known finance authors once reportedly said that people need to hear simple messages over and over again before they truly sink in...a point with which I concur.
 
Therefore, appropriate messaging needs to be hammered home repeatedly on social distancing, the wearing of facemasks, washing hands, sanitising, hygiene, avoiding touching objects unnecessarily, and a raft of other key points. 
 
The wearing of facemasks has, to my knowledge, normally only been common practice amongst Aussies of Asian origin, but common sense says we should all consider adopting the practice (and maybe gloves too).

6 - Re-open local economies with few cases

The government faces the nigh on impossible task of balancing the public's health against the human and economic cost of keeping businesses closed.
 
Take the example of the capital city of Darwin.
 
The Northern Territory was already in recession before the COVID-19 issue surfaced, and now its borders must be closed and its businesses will be hit harder still by any restrictive measures. 
 
Yet the entire territory has just 15 known cases of the Coronavirus to date, and only one death.

 

 
 
 
At the appropriate point the towns and cities (and then states and territories) with the fewest cases will need to see restrictive measures lifted.

This can soon be an opportunity for Australia's regions to lead the economy forward again, which would make a pleasant change from the heavy reliance on Sydney and Melbourne of the past 7-8 years. 
 
Virus hotspots may need to remain shuttered for longer, but for towns and cities with the fewest cases the curfews and restrictive measures can be lifted soonest. 
 
7 - Re-open the Aussie borders, but with mandatory testing
 
The capability should exist to introduce and maintain mandatory testing for all entrants into Australia on an ongoing basis. 
 
It goes without saying that those showing symptoms will need to be quarantined and appropriately treated. 
 
On the one hand these measures may seem draconian, but on the other hand, what might the alternative look like? 
 
Many of the cases in Australia apparently originated overseas, so airports and the border are evidently a high risk area. 
 
8 - Allow businesses to re-open
 
As daily new known cases begin to decline, allow businesses and trading to re-open, but with social distancing still to be practised to the extent possible.
 
Businesses should be encouraged to allow staff to work from home where practicable, and group meetings discouraged where possible.
 
Moreover, an over-arching rule of common sense must apply. 
 
9 - An ongoing fight
 
It's not yet entirely clear whether re-infection is possible, or whether there will be second and third waves of the virus in those locations where cases of the virus have initially been controlled. 
 
Therefore, we must remain vigilant well beyond the point that the economy is up and humming again.
 
A balancing act
 
There is, of course, no 'right' way to do these things. 
 
Every day that companies or self-employed workers are closed for business inflicts more pain, so there are many challenging decisions to be made in real time by those in power to balance the potential risks versus respective health and economic costs. 
 
Only in hindsight will experts know what could or should have been done with more certainty, but this 9-point plan is what's swirling around my head tonight.
 
In short: 
 
- Issue shelter-in-place orders until the curve of new cases is flattened;
 
- Go hard, fast, and early to wage subsidies for workers and cash payments for businesses, with further mortgage and rental relief packages to follow;
 
- Build up a war chest of medical supplies, and introduce a nationwide testing, tracing, and quarantining program;
 
- Hammer home the 'best practice' messaging, and encourage record-keeping with respect to personal movements and contact with others;
 
- As daily new cases begin to decline, re-open locations and economies with the fewest known Coronavirus cases first, and gradually roll this re-opening out nationwide; and 
 
- Enforce mandatory testing for all entrants to Australia, with quarantine as required.

PETE WARGENT is the co-founder of AllenWargent property buyers (London, Sydney) and a best-selling author and blogger.

Pete Wargent

Pete Wargent

Pete Wargent is the co-founder of BuyersBuyers.com.au, offering affordable homebuying assistance to all Australians, and a best-selling author and blogger.

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Australia Coronavirus

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