The Next Day: so what do we do after virus peaks?

As the inevitable clamp downs on daily life escalate to slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus and hopefully avoid the overload of the health system and soaring death toll that goes with that scenario, it’s hard to keep up.

Everything is shut down, shut down, shut down. Well, not everything: cruise ships can offload thousands of people into the heart of Sydney with no checks at all.

Some countries are doing way better than others at controlling the coronavirus – oh if we all had washlets! © Owain Price

Those sort of totally avoidable blunders don’t help. In a free democratic society like Australia’s, authoritarian controls and governments shutting down businesses and much of normal life is totally abnormal, and for people to comply with those controls we need to have confidence in the capabilities of those imposing them.

Thus far it appears there is no responsibility at the top, which does not inspire much confidence at the bottom.

We need transparency, accountability, and no bullshit for this to work. It’s way beyond party politics, it comes down to competence and commitment to save lives and minimise the damage.

So no more comment on that side of things. My focus is what happens next day after things calm down? Specifically, for tourism – our industry.

Shutting down airports and international arrivals obviously shuts down our international tourism industry. Apparently this is for 6 months, with no announced parameters for why/how it can end except a vague “until it’s over”.

Shutting down interstate travel has also happened virtually overnight. Which is news for anyone who though we lived in a single nation these past 119 years of federation. Do we not, as Australians, have the right to travel without customs controls at borders? Apparently not.

I’ll leave that to constitutional lawyers, but the upshot is domestic tourism is basically shut down too, except within one’s own state/territory boundaries if that is still allowed.

Kamui outside Asahikawa, Hokkaido’s 2nd biggest city, has remained open no problems; total cases in Asahikawa just 10, so obviously shutting down your ski industry is not necessarily necessary © Owain Price

As a tourist industry, the snow industry is totally exposed and set up for disaster this winter as a result. Which may well be an over-reaction; as we have pointed out last week, Japan’s ski areas have kept functioning without problems – just 10 cases total in the Asahikawa area, home to several of our favourite Japow spots including Kamui Ski Links pictured here.

But, OK, so we need to slow the virus and get it under control. That is a given – the examples are there for what happens if you do that early enough and effectively enough (South Korea – after a potentially disastrous start, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan) and if you don’t (Italy, Iran).

In the meantime billions are being thrown at keeping the economy alive, which is good.

But what about the aftermath?

Can someone upstairs get positive about getting out of this ASAP with a coherent next day plan to do that.

Like for airports and international travel.

Pre 9/11 we all carried our toothpaste, Swiss army knives, make-up, drinks etc on planes. Then security changed overnight.

Well let’s ramp up Biosecurity. Now.

It’s bleedingly obvious to do so – flying into Japan early last month temperature sensors were set up in place, people got questioned in the line and tested before getting to passport control. Flying back into Sydney there was nothing, just a form to fill out/touch screen questions to answer.

Nearly 3 months into this crisis perhaps we could have ordered some scanner machines and got organised?

So let’s get off our panic shut-it-all-down-mode asses and get pro-active about how we can restart things sooner.

Direct some of those billions of dollars into a rapid and massive beef up of biosecurity at airports. Let’s be ready to test incoming and outgoing travellers. And better track people – how much is an ID bracelet or an App to do that?

And as soon as our systems our in place, let’s reopen to arrivals from countries with similar capabilities.

Cairns would be the perfect place to start. Spend big, fast, get the airport ready and work with the likes of Singapore, Taiwan, Japan etc to start up flights again – with people checked boarding and getting off.

Use one of the failing/failed accommodation venues in the area to set up a quarantine station for any at risk people to be isolated to if detected on or after arrival (being asympotomatic on arrival).

Give the international tourists a free visa valid for a limited area and hey presto, the international side of the tourism industry can start reactivating. As can Qantas/Jetstar.

You could apply the same protocols to students at James Cook University too.

Perth could be next, then roll it on to the major eastern capitals and in the meantime progressively as quickly as feasible for domestic travel. If sick people with colds/flu/other disceases are stopped from flying till they recover as a byproduct guess what, infections for those will go down too so we’ll save some money and space in the health system.

Need staff? How many un- or underemployed SES / Firies are there who have lost jobs/business from the crisis? That’s a huge pool of competent people with skills (first aid etc) who could be employed in no time to boost staff numbers as required.

If it is feasible, let’s spray all luggage too and get World’s best systems in place for that.

More biosecurity controls are inevitable anyway, as they were for general security post 9/11.

Instead of waiting and playing catch up we have an opportunity to get ahead for a change, which would be a real positive for our tourism industry and economy. Establishing Australia as a “safe” destination would be a huge plus. Let’s reciprocate too with those countries we need to work with to make it happen.

Looking at infection rates/cases/deaths there are huge disparities between countries. Obviously data is a snapshot, and in many countries presumably understates cases from lack of testing/identification of them. But some place are doing way better than others.

The initial focus almost solely on China for travel bans and restrictions lulled too many into a false sense of complacency that it was someone/somewhere else’s problem.

No, this is not the Chinese Virus, it’s the World Virus.

Working with World, never mind with each other between states, will help us get it under control faster and limit the economic damage – which is really a misnomer, economic damage = human damage as people’s lives are hit by losing income etc.

The snow industry is one of those totally in the firing line so we need to be getting pro-active. A hopeful hashtag, #flattenthecurve, may make us feel good sharing it. Some government funds (well, hey our taxes back at the end of the day) may cushion the blow.

But none of us want to be relying on that, we want to be back running our businesses and working ASAP.

There is no reason the snow industry has to shut down – Japan is proof that it can stay open without causing any increase in infections.

We need a #nextday plan to get moving fast – that starts being implemented NOW.

The funds are available – $66 billion spend as of last night. We have a window while we endeavour to get it under control. And we have thousands of people who need more work ready to be employed to do it.

So let’s get positive Australia and get this place open for business sooner rather than later in a way that also ensures long term benefits.

We have worn masks, like locals, on crowded trains in Japan for years – we, and they, don’t want to get or give colds/flu to people, never mind corona virus – it’s not rocket science, it’s personal hygiene © Owain Price