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Pandemic preparedness: who has responsibility?

With the COVID-19 blame game and finger pointing so evident lately, my recent article; An incompetent and careless government is a threat to us all needs repeating. With the COVID-19 outbreak in Victoria people are lining up to saddle the blame on the premier, Daniel Andrews. Some, borrowing Donald Trump’s claim that COVID-19 is the “China virus,” are now disgracefully calling COVID-19 the “Victoria virus.”

There’s no denying that many new outbreaks across the nation have links to Melbourne, but how did the virus get to Melbourne in the first place? Did it come from Sydney? Canberra? Queensland? The USA? China? The UK? The fact is, it came from somewhere. There’s a body in this country responsible for doing its best to control the import and spread of the virus in this country. It’s called the Australian government.

When you read the extract from my earlier post below, keep in mind that Scott Morrison “declared the COVID-19 outbreak a national pandemic on 27 February” and approximately two weeks later passengers from the Ruby Princess were allowed to disembark in Sydney.

Here is my extract:

In the dying days of the Howard government they were very mindful of a couple of viruses, H5N1 (avian influenza), or bird flu as it was better known as, and H1N1, which was known as swine flu, that in a worse-case scenario could bring the world to its knees. That is, a global pandemic. Which includes us.

We had to be prepared for it…

Battle plans for such an event hit the drawing-board in 2007; an initiative of the Howard government – readying the country for the worst – and some time later the program was given life again by the Rudd government, with a significant increase in funding.

Here is Howard’s original pandemic plan: Australia’s Preparedness for a Human Influenza Pandemic.

Due to copyright I cannot reproduce any of the report so I draw your attention to Section 2.43 on page 59 and the importance of thermal scanners being deployed at airports.

What is so good about thermal scanners? Here is a succinct explanation:

In efforts to contain the highly contagious virus causing COVID-19, thermal cameras, set up at checkpoints or hand-held by personnel at airports, borders, and entrances to businesses, schools, and other institutions, are being used to screen large numbers of people for elevated body temperatures quickly and reliably.

A high temperature does not necessarily indicate that the person is infected with the coronavirus, but it is the first step in identifying its presence. People with a high temperature are taken for further testing and, if they test positive, are isolated until treatment can begin.

Thermal scanning should be utilised as the first step in ‘catching’ and ultimately containing the disease, and this is practised in a growing number of countries.

I say “well done” to the authors of Australia’s Preparedness for a Human Influenza Pandemic report 2007/2008 for including the use of thermal scanning in airports as one of their key recommendations.

Now let’s jump to the present day and the same report prepared in August 2019: Australian Health Management Plan for Pandemic Influenza. Again, as with the previous report I cannot reproduce any of the content due to copyright reasons. But I draw your attention to page 136, and there – right up the top of the page – the use of thermal scanners is Not recommended, stating, bewilderingly, that their effectiveness is low and their use is an impediment to travellers.

Instead, as summarised on page 127 of the report, the traveller will be confronted with pamphlets and brochures etc.

What is going to be of the most critical importance in the identification of even one person who is carrying the coronavirus: thermal scanning or a pamphlet?

I also encourage you to read page 9 of the report: “Pandemic stages” and ask yourself how well the Morrison government rates in this current pandemic.

On February 28, Katie Burgess, writing in The Canberra Times reported that the:

But the Health Department says there are no current plans to subject travellers to temperature checks, on the advice of medical professionals.

… Australia’s chief medical officer Brendan Murphy told media on January 21 temperature checks had proven ineffective in past pandemics.

Murphy, sadly, must have read the 2019 report which had reached the same conclusion: it didn’t work for pandemics in the past so it obviously won’t work with any pandemics in the present or the future.

Ever heard of tunnel vision, Mr Murphy?

It is true that thermal scanning won’t stop the spread of the coronavirus and it won’t always catch those that have it, but it will take enormous steps in detecting it, as countries like China have shown.

Australia, meanwhile, with its incompetent and careless government is dragging its feet.

I don’t know about you, but I get the feeling that our incompetent and careless government is a threat to us all.

Note: There is also a brief report from 2018: Emergency Response Plan for Communicable Disease Incidents of National Significance: National Arrangements which also ignores thermal scanning at airports. In fact, they don’t even rate a mention, but a ‘police presence’ at airports does.

* * * * *

Those who are adamant that Daniel Andrews is to blame for the recent outbreaks … may want to think again.

Now I wish to draw your attention again to the Australian Health Management Plan for Pandemic Influenza, dated August 2019.

Two major issues we hear much of are 1) whether schools should be closed, and 2) the risk of outbreaks from aged-care facilities. Who should make the decision to close schools? If it is a State decision, can the Federal Government intervene? Who is in charge of the aged-care facilities? Is it a State responsibility or a Federal one?

Again, I apologise that due to copyright I cannot reproduce the content, but the following sections in the report answer these and many more questions:

Page 31: Section 4.1.4: Implementation of public health measures (second paragraph).

Page 32: Section 4.1.6: Communication (first paragraph).

Page 145: Timing (relates to school closures).

Worth reading, weren’t they?

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  1. Geoff Andrews

    One would have thought that the copyright holders of the reports, to which you refer, would welcome your reproduction of small sections of them. The result could be a rush to buy the reports thereby pushing the budget back into the black.

  2. Phil Pryor

    Copyright?? Here is a misuse, an abuse, in not having discussion, planning, community awareness from wide dissemination and publicity, regardless of copyright. We all have basic rights regardless of “law” and some have been eliminated and executed in the past for overabuses of legality. Let more flow from articles of this type, so that we all know more, at least something, which may save life or health. Who wants to die because of some officious garbage about copryright? Give me a f—-g fridge magnet…

  3. Florence

    Everyone is responsible. It takes a hundred percent effort by all for as long as it takes.

  4. New England Cocky

    It was reported on ABC News 24 television this morning that Scummo Sacked from Marketing had directed Commonwealth Public Servants NOT to co-operate with the NSW government Inquiry into the Ruby Princess Debacle.

    The report also identified that it was the inept actions of an ABF staff member that allowed the passengers to disembark with catastrophic consequences.

    Now where are the lawyers to propose a class action against the ABF for inadequate training of ABF staff??

    Similarly, the two women who breached Queensland Quarantine regulations, proved infectious and knowingly attended about nine Brisbane venues while infective; another class action here??

    Or maybe they are Philippine citizens and would prefer President Duterte to handle the matter?

  5. Kerri

    Well said Michael.
    There have been thermal scanners in International airports for about a decade now and still we don’t want to offend.
    What codswallop. The thermal scanner deployed in airports are not invasive.
    If our illustrious and blame shifting border patrol were to suggest you bend over on arrival that could be deterrent but to simply stand still and wait while you are scanned 🤷🏼‍♀️🤷🏼‍♀️🤷🏼‍♀️
    What depresses me at the moment are the morons whose selfish belief in their “rights” endangers all of us and those who seek to skip past border controls. There are people leaving Melbourne and Mitchell shire on a regular basis in the dead of night.
    As the meme says we are fighting 2 pandemics COVID19 and stupidity.

    And speaking of rights, who paid for those reports we cannot reproduce?

  6. Alan

    Emergency Management and COVID19 – you can make your own minds up as to whether or not this has been successfully implemented.

    Remembering this was adopted in 2008 – 2010, Twelve years before COVID19.

    Integrated Emergency Management comprises:

    Anticipation, Assessment, Prevention, Preparation, Response and Recovery’. You can look up the meanings if you want to.

    In 2008, there was an acceptance by all States and the Federal Government of the need to have an incremental shift in understanding security and emergency situations or events and that sought to find applied solutions through integrated approaches to the management of these risks in a far more holistic appreciation of the disaster cycle – inclusive of actions taken before, during and after any potential event.

    However there is also a sense that whilst resilience means enhancing business and citizen ability to make informed and responsible decisions at local levels there also needs to be a collaborative effort by government to meet changing public and private expectations of its statutory obligations.

    2009 the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) undertook an agreement for a whole-of-nation resilience-based approach to disaster management, establishing a National Emergency Management Committee (NEMC) with a mandate to offer centralised leadership in the development of new national policy frameworks in security and emergency management, to enhance the shared understanding of disaster risk, its context, and responsibility for its management.

    Integrated emergency management (IEM) comprises six related activities: anticipation, assessment, prevention, preparation, response and recovery’.

    If you ask these questions you will see why the management is far worse than the threat:

    Has there been a centralised command and control structure clearly defined throughout this COVID outbreak ?

    Has COVID information been clear, consistent, unambiguous and timely allowing businesses and individuals the ability to make informed and responsible decisions ?

    Has there been a collaborative approach to the management of the COVID response allowing ALL stakeholders to have input into the decision making process with a shared understanding ?

    Has the Government met the expectations of the community ?

    Has the Government fulfilled it’s obligations of:

    Anticipating the possibility of a pandemic affecting Australia ?

    Was a comprehensive assessment of a viral pandemic explored ?

    What preventative measures were in place prior to January 2020 to address a viral pandemic ?

    What preparations were in place and what plans were developed, adopted and communicated to agencies, government departments and the community prior to the COVID19 outbreak ?

    Was the response planned and well thought out with a centralised command and control structure having a clear, concise ideas on how to best manage this pandemic or has it been an ‘on the run’, ad hoc reactive response ?

    Is there a clear timeframe and plan to ensure a return and recovery to a normal, pre COVID functional society – and that’s not a NEW COVID NORMAL ?

    Start asking questions about how this is being managed. You need to be part of the solution not blindly following to be part of the problem.

    Start holding Governments, politicians and Health officials to account.

  7. Matters Not


    who paid for those reports …

    The Government paid for those reports to be written and thus they are now the legal owners. Just ask the public servants involved as to who pays their wages. And it is the Government that owns the copyright as well – not that the Government would be concerned that people link to same or reproduce sections. Suspect that the ‘copyright’ stamp is there to guard against those who would profit from any sale etc – unlikely as that maybe.

    As for the ‘stupid’ who are in breech of the law, one would hope that those with legal authority will bring the full force of that law to bear. An example needs to be made. A ‘precedent’ ought to be established.

  8. Elaine Richardson

    The Minister for Aged Care, Colbeck, and the Federal Minister for Health, Hunt, were MIA for weeks … In fact I didn’t even know who the Minister for Aged Care was till a week ago. Then we had Hunt making a chump of himself getting all tied up in the surgical mask on national TV (which was hilarious) and blaming the whole lot on Victoria’s quarantine incident (10 times during his presser, I saw from one post). Daniel Andrews has the most unenviable job in the country right now, and we have people in the community, and in opposition, who are contrary to the point of stupidity. It must be very disheartening for Andrews, and his team, who have been working their butts off since the bushfires,

    A most informative article David. Thank you very much. I quickly scanned through the report and was surprised to see that Dutton was the Minister for Health at the time of its publishing…. All roads lead to Dutton it would appear. Too much power in the hands of too few and none of them competent. I’ve never felt less secure in my life.

  9. TuffGuy

    Personally I don’t give two hoots about “impediments” to travellers. A pandemic like this is life or death so all impediments are out the window.
    What bothers me the most is that I keep reading about people who have exemptions from quarantine. Who are they, where are they and why should ANYONE have an exemption??? I read the other day that Karen from Bunnings last week, who despite apparently having a medical exemption from wearing a mask wanted to become a national idiot and make a big scene, apparently also has an exemption to travel all around Victoria. Or that other bimbo bragging on social media who refused to tell cops at a checkpoint where she was going and why and they just let her through. It was only after massive public outcry that she tried the same thing a few days later and was arrested and fined. Why did it even take a public outcry, why did the cops just let her through the checkpoint???
    With this sort of stupidity we just have no hope of getting rid of this virus, ever.

  10. Harry Lime

    If anyone still doesn’t understand why we are in the shit, I have the answer…..Scott Effing Morrison.

  11. A Commentator

    Like it or not this outbreak is due to the inadequate security and safety systems that occured under the oversight of the Victorian government.

    Government authorities-

    ○ did not ensure security contractors were trained in rigorous isolation procedures
    ○ failed to ensure there was a comprehensive safety plan to protect workers and the general public
    ○ neglected to thoroughly audit the safety practices applied in the workplace
    ○ did not act when a range of issues were raised by an Age journalist and others

    The government cannot contract out their actual responsibilities for workplace and public health and safety (nor any other organisation)

    This outbreak is a health and economic disaster, and it is most likely that every case will be linked to the Rydges Hotel isolation.

    The actions of the Andrews Government have been inadequate.

  12. Andrew Smith

    Don’t these ‘black swan’ events show up unprepared governments and nations…. Simply a symptom of ideological wrecking of government from within and without to make agencies delivering essential services unfit for purpose through starving of funds and allowing any regulatory process to be bypassed; supported by conservative media.

    The Week US reports similar on the situation in the US, including a mention of Murdoch:

    ‘Why does the United States have the worst coronavirus outbreak in the developed world?

    Part of the answer is surely that our basic state functions have been allowed to rot, or been deliberately destroyed, over the years. State capacity and competence have been shown around the world to be a key factor in whether nations can get a handle on the pandemic.

    But another reason is conservative media. A small but nevertheless very loud and angry minority of Americans have had their ability to reason dissolved in a corrosive bath of crack-brained propaganda….’

    Radical right libertarian ideology promoted religiously (with help of Christian conservatives and/or nationalists) and allowed to prevail through Australia becoming influenced mostly by Koch related think tanks and policy, with communications and messaging led by NewsCorp…..

  13. leefe

    I would have thought that mandatory two week quarantine was more of an “impediment to travellers” than a quick buzz through a thermal scanner.
    And as for being on a ventilator and possibly dying . . .

  14. Michael Taylor

    Brilliant, leefe. So damn obvious, isn’t it?

    We’ve got a chemist here in town that requires customers to be scanned before entering the store. The scanning per person takes about two seconds. No inconvenience at all.

  15. ajogrady

    Cannot imagine what the full throttle attack on China would be like by the Western media if there was not there being the story that keeps giving, the Covid-19 virus.

  16. DrakeN

    Yes, leefe.
    And you can add the likelihood of chronic disfunction of many of the human organs other than just lungs.
    Even in otherwise mildly symptomatic cases and, possibly, those asymptomatic, these diseases can occur.
    So much yet unknown, and yet so many people prepared to make definative statements and take incautious action at all strata in the community.
    The current government in Western Australia is adamant that the borders must remain closed to human traffic, and the greater majority of the population seems to be very supportive of it.
    Even the extremely business oriented Opposition has changed its stance on thematter.

  17. Jack Cade


    And the Bunnings Karen claimed to be a psychic as opposed to a psycho.
    She should have seen what the result would be then, shouldn’t she?
    Nobody should get a ‘medical certificate’ giving permission to go into the community un-masked.
    If you are medically fragile – stay at home and order your ‘faucets’ or whatever forced you to go to a hardware store on line,
    And I note the two scrubbers from Queensland are playing the ‘It’s only ‘cause we is black’ card.
    No – it’s ‘cause you is selfish fuckwits.’

  18. Matters Not

    From a public health perspective, it would seem that thermal scanners are behind the timing curve. More for reflection than prediction. ‘Post’ rather than ‘pre’.

    Thermal scanners are effective in detecting people who have a fever (i.e. have a higher than normal body temperature). They cannot detect people who are infected with COVID-19 . There are many causes of fever. Call your healthcare provider if you need assistance or seek immediate medical care if you have fever …

    So the number of false positives and negatives probably render them as being less than helpful – at least from a public health perspective which, of necessity, operates at a high level of generality. At least the experts think so. More detail here.

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