Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard has backed calls for an investigation into the origins of the pandemic but says it should not be about pointing fingers.
Ms Gillard has been named the next chair of UK-based health foundation Wellcome Trust, one of the worlds largest investors in medical research including epidemics and the search for a COVID-19 vaccine.
The former Labor leader, who will take over in April, said lessons needed to be learnt from the coronavirus outbreak which has claimed more than 300,000 lives and infected more than 4.4 million people.
“If a major health challenge for the world started anywhere, in any country on earth, then it is good to have a process which enables us to learn every lesson so that we can keep humanity safer for the future,” she told the ABC.
“I think that that message applies today to current circumstances, and it will apply for as long as there are shared health challenges for us to combat.”
China has reacted with displeasure to Australia’s push for a global investigation but Ms Gillard said the inquiry was not about finger-pointing.
“When I was in politics, and international bodies would occasionally come to Australia and say something about what was happening here, there were mixed reactions in the Australian community and by politicians,” Ms Gillard said.
“Some people listened, some people said ‘Why on earth have they come from overseas to tell us something that’s really our business, why don’t they go somewhere else where problems are worse than they are in Australia?’
“Having said that, I do think that, as rational human beings, we can also say to ourselves that whether a problem originates in Sydney, in China, in Portugal, in Brazil, in the United Kingdom, in any country on earth — wherever a problem originates that’s got a possibility of having a profound impact on human health around the planet, then of course it needs to be studied, it needs to be understood.
“Not so that fingers can be pointed, but so that lessons can be learned.”
Can you predict a pandemic? Dr Hannah Fry (@FryRsquared) did. She is a mathematician, scientist, author, presenter, and generally fascinating woman. Hannah joins me for A Podcast of One’s Own to discuss what numbers can tell us about ourselves as humans. https://t.co/llwTPxejFz pic.twitter.com/Nb04LOvR2n
— Julia Gillard (@JuliaGillard) May 14, 2020
Ms Gillard is also chair of mental health organisation Beyond Blue and said Australians were suffering an emotional burden during the pandemic.
She told the ABC that since Easter a new “trend” of exhaustion was emerging as people tried to “manage it all, and maybe they’re trying to work from home and homeschool a couple of kids, and it’s just all got on top of them”.
Wellcome Trust is a financially and politically independent charitable foundation that funds medical research from its investment portfolio worth $50.7 billion.
Ms Gillard, who was born in Wales, will spend a substantial amount of her time in the UK to fulfil her role.
Mental Health plan
People struggling with the mental pressure of the coronavirus and isolation from friends and family will be top of mind for the nation’s leaders.
The national cabinet will consider a new mental health pandemic plan at its meeting on Friday morning, looking to boost support services.
Leaders will also receive an economic update from the heads of Treasury, the Reserve Bank and the superannuation sector watchdog.
The jobless rate rose to 6.2 per cent, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported, and was accompanied by a record fall in the number of people who either have work or are looking for it.
Another six million workers are now covered by the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme, including many who have been stood down but aren’t officially counted as unemployed.
Virus outbreak mishandled
Victoria’s chief health officer has admitted authorities could have better handled a coronavirus outbreak at a meat processing plant, including shutting down the facility when the first case was detected.
The Cedar Meats outbreak is the state’s biggest COVID-19 cluster and is now the subject of a WorkSafe investigation, as three new infections were linked to the abattoir on Thursday.
At present, 90 people linked to abattoir have been infected.
The state government and Cedar Meats’ management have defended the handling of the outbreak, including the decision to allow staff to work for several days after workers tested positive.
But Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton has admitted authorities could have acted earlier.
“Maybe we shouldn’t have waited for a third linked case,” he told 3AW radio on Thursday.
“Maybe for these settings, we should shut an entire place down; not just the boning room where it all started, but an entire facility.”
Pubs reopen as restrictions ease
Australia has recorded 6989 cases to date, with 590 cases remaining active.
The national death toll remains at 98 – NSW 47, Victoria 18, Tasmania 13, WA nine, Queensland six, SA four, ACT three. (Two Qld residents who died in NSW have been included in both state’s counts).
Almost 5.7 million of an estimated 16 million people have registered for the federal government’s coronavirus tracing app, COVIDSafe, since April 26.
From Friday, NSW will ease restrictions on outdoor gatherings and recreational activities, cafes, restaurants, clubs and pubs. People must maintain social distancing and stick to a group limit of 10. Working from home is encouraged.
Victorians may have up to five visitors in their homes. Gathering limits relaxed to 10 for outdoor activities including fishing, hiking and golf. Weddings can have up to 10 guests. Indoor funerals can have up to 20 people with 30 for outdoors.
In Queensland, shopping for non-essential items permitted while up to five members of one household can visit other homes. Up to 10 people allowed to congregate in parks, pools and playgrounds from May 16. Outback pubs and clubs to reopen.
South Australia has cleared the way for elective surgeries to resume and regional accommodation to reopen, including caravan parks, hotels, motels and Airbnbs. Alcohol-free dining with 10-person limit allowed at cafes and restaurants. Seasonal workers must self-isolate before entering the state.
WA is encouraging people to return to work from May 18, with cafes and restaurants allowed up to 20 patrons. Regional travel restrictions to ease in some areas.
The Northern Territory has relaxed restrictions on parks, golf, fishing and swimming. Restaurants and bars reopen with a two-hour limit on May 15, with entertainment venues to come. Restricted access to indigenous communities to remain in place until at least June 18.
Tasmanians to ease some restrictions from Monday with national parks and reserves open to residents within 30km for exercise, while public gathering limits will increase to 10 people.
The ACT allowing outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people from Saturday, but dining out will not restart immediately.