Bangkok Post

Australia bamboozled over bug

Politician­s sending mixed messages, writes Kirsty Needham

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The fight against the coronaviru­s in Australia is being hampered by mixed messages from the national and state government­s, leaving the public confused, as the prime minister’s incrementa­l approach contrasts with a state push to “go hard, go fast”.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has set up a National Cabinet of national and state leaders, but the goal of a unified response appears to be fraying as states forge their own paths.

As in the United States, power in Australia is separated between the states and national government. US president Donald Trump has expressed unhappines­s at shutdowns by US states and says he wants “packed churches” on Easter Sunday.

Mr Morrison hasn’t downplayed the health impacts of the crisis but is seen to be prioritisi­ng the economy, while the biggest states, New South Wales and

Victoria, which have the most coronaviru­s cases, have pushed for faster containmen­t measures and even talked of some form of lockdowns.

So as Mr Morrison said schools would stay open, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews brought forward school holidays and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklia­n asked parents to keep kids at home.

“At a time of great public uncertaint­y, Mr Morrison has only succeeded in adding to the sense of dread,” Professor Mark Kenny of the Australian Studies Institute at the Australian National University told Reuters.

Mr Morrison moved decisively in declaring a pandemic weeks before the World Health Organizati­on and applied early travel bans on coronaviru­s hotspots like China, Iran and Italy, but the messaging since then has been “hot and cold, and some aspects of policy have undermined others”, he said.

The different priorities are partly driven by how power is divided: states run schools and hospitals, while the national government, which will foot the bill for skyrocketi­ng stimulus measures which already total 10% of national output, wants to avoid completely shutting down the economy.

“I am going to fight for every job I can,” Mr Morrison said yesterday.

PUBLIC CONFUSION

Australia’s tiers of government and size make it harder to match the muchcited success of Singapore in limiting both the transmissi­on and death rates of coronaviru­s.

Mr Andrews said yesterday that coronaviru­s transmissi­on curves differed between states and that states would take action driven by their own needs for the next stage in the fight against the virus. Mr Andrews and Ms Berejiklia­n have indicated they are ready to move towards a more complete shutdown, while states such as Tasmania, Queensland and South Australia have closed their borders to non-residents.

Mr Morrison has warned Australian­s not to wish for a complete lockdown as such a drastic move could be in place for at least six months and would severely hurt livelihood­s.

A sign of the zeitgeist, retired cricket star Shane Warne drew praise for describing Mr Morrison’s late-night explanatio­n of a selective shutdown of non-essential services including pubs, gyms and restaurant­s, and limiting funerals to 10 people but still allowing people to get a haircut as a “shocker”.

 ?? BLOOMBERG ?? A ‘Beach Closed’ sign is displayed at an empty Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia. Last week bathers flocked to the iconic beach in their thousands.
BLOOMBERG A ‘Beach Closed’ sign is displayed at an empty Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia. Last week bathers flocked to the iconic beach in their thousands.

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