Our grandparents were called to war; we must go on holiday


Of course, economists have long stressed the benefits of open borders and the “gains from trade”. The free exchange of goods and services across national boundaries have driven higher living standards as countries have pursued their “comparative advantage” – doing what they’re relatively best at, simply put.

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In the COVID age, this free exchange of goods remains under way. Hulking vessels, laden with shipping containers, continue to sail the high seas.

It is the services part of the trade equation that has been dealt a body blow by COVID-19, because the sale of services generally – but not always – involves a face-to-face performance.

Education was Australia’s third-largest export before COVID-19. Who knows what it will be now. Pilot programs to appropriately quarantine incoming students offer hope. But at a time of global recession, the outlook is clouded.

Most obviously, our tourism service exports have been crippled. That was particularly the case when domestic travel was restricted. But, now that Melbourne is slowly reopening and wider state border reopenings are on the cards, our tourism story is about to take a turn decidedly for the better.

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How can that be while international borders remain shut?

Well, it’s a strange matter of fact that Australians spend more dollars each year holidaying abroad than the entire world spends coming here. Incoming international visitors to Australia spent $39.1 billion here in 2018-19, according to Tourism Research Australia, a division of AusTrade. In trade lingo, we exported $39.1 billion of tourism services to these foreigners, even though they were consumed onshore.

On the other side of the ledger, Australian residents travelling overseas spent $58.3 billion on foreign tourism. Again, in the lingo, we say that Australians “imported” almost $60 billion in tourism services from foreigners. Even though we spent the money overseas, it shows up as an import.

All up, before COVID-19, Australia was running a significant trade deficit in tourism services. Which makes sense, when you think about it. Australia is a nation of relatively rich people who love to travel.

So, what happens when you stop us doing that? Well, it remains to be seen. But if Aussies diverted every dollar they would usually spend overseas to domestic travel, it would be a sizeable boost to our struggling tourism sector. It’s just one of the strange economic silver linings from COVID-19.

Of course, not everyone can afford to suddenly start taking lavish domestic holidays, particularly not those affected by job losses. But for the rest of us, COVID-19 has had another remarkable impact – of actually increasing our combined savings buffer to half-century highs.

Mortgage offset accounts have swollen 10 per cent since March, thanks to reduced opportunities to spend, along with historic boosts to government payments. Meanwhile, record amounts have been shaved off our national credit card debt, thanks also to early release of super. The amount of credit card debt on issue attracting interest charges has fallen to a 15-year low.

Highlighting these figures in a speech earlier this month, Reserve Bank governor Phil Lowe warned that our willingness to spend this new savings buffer will be one of the most important factors determining the pace of our economic recovery.

“What are people going to do with this extra saving and improved debt situation?” Lowe asked, before concluding: “The better outcome for the economy is for households and businesses to keep spending and investing.”

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Key to this, says Lowe, will be the ability of governments to keep public confidence high in both their job prospects and the ability of our health system to cope with inevitable renewed COVID-19 outbreaks.

For policymakers, the path forward is clear, says Lowe: “There are large payoffs to be had from ensuring public confidence in the capacity of the health system to respond. From this perspective alone, there are likely to be large returns from public investments in first-class testing, contact tracing and quarantine arrangements. These are essential, not only to open up our economy successfully but to also build the confidence that is required for people to spend and invest.”

For the rest of Australians, too, the message is clear. A century ago, our grandparents were called to war. In 2020, we were called to serve the nation by staying at home on the couch. In 2021 – if not sooner – we will be called into action again: to go on holiday.

Good thing we’re all stuck in one of the most pristine and remarkably diverse landscapes in the world. Given a choice of crisis responses to be part of, I know which I’d prefer.

Don’t forget to pack the marshmallows.

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10-year-old’s genius invention to hug grandparents during quarantine


Australia seems – touch wood – to have almost made it out the other side of the coronavirus crisis.

In many Australian states, restrictions are lifting and we’re starting to open our doors and embrace family members again.

But in some parts of the world – especially in the USA – the pandemic is far from over, with many places still in lockdown and people missing their loved ones, especially their grandparents.

We all know that Zoom, Facetime and House Party have been lifesavers when it comes to staying connected, but sometimes nothing beats a good old cuddle, right?

One 10-year-old from California was so desperate to hug her grandparents, she invented a “hug curtain” so she could do just that.

Her mum posted the video of the sweet moment to her Facebook page.

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Paige’s mum, Lindsay, works as a nurse and said she had seen a video of a person who had made a type of blanket to hug their family.

“She put together a list and she designed it so she could hug nana and papa,” Lindsay said, proudly, adding, “This girl is so freaking amazing and we were so happy to be able to hug them!”

To make the curtain, Paige used a shower curtain, disposable plates, glue, and some ziplock bags.

Her grandparents were completely overjoyed by the surprise when they opened the door.

“This is so cool,” her grandma gushed, close to tears at the chance to cuddle her granddaughter after such a long time.

For more stories like this, visit kidspot.com.au

The adorable video has had almost 20k views so far.

“OMG, I have chills!!! So amazing,” one person wrote. And another: “This kid might just save our world … remember her name!!!”

Paige is just another in a long line of kids proving the future really is in good hands by their ingenious response to the pandemic, like these kids who performed a concert for their elderly neighbour who were self-isolating, this pair of children who hand-delivered toilet paper so people wouldn’t go without, and who can forget Hamish Blake’s daughter Rudy Foster-Blake who just wanted everyone to ‘not be naughty’ and stay at home.

So there you go: The world might be a basket case but at least the kids are all right.

This article originally appeared on Kidspot and was reproduced with permission





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No cuddles from grandparents on a ‘once-in-a-century’ Mother’s Day


Six-week-old Lewis is yet to see a maternal and child health nurse to be weighed and measured, and has not been shown off to his close, extended family. For Ms Rooke, a physiotherapist with her own business, this “once-in-a-century” Mother’s Day will be a strangely solitary event.

Hardest will be that her beloved grandparents, Patricia and Kevin, are yet to cradle Lewis in their arms even though they live close to her in Pascoe Vale.

‘One of the things with this whole corona thing has been you do feel a little bit alone.’

New mother Clare Rooke

“They’re in their 90s, and I think they are just living to meet him, they were in hospital for a cuddle with Harrison by day three. It’s really hard … a big thing for us,” she says.

The “aunties, uncles and cousins” with whom she’d usually have lunch today will be also missing.

“My grandma says to my mum every day when they speak, ‘I can’t believe I’ve got a new grandson and I haven’t met him yet’. For me, that is a really big one.”

Alex Hopkins, of Malvern, will also be having a quiet first experience of Mother’s Day. Doing first-time motherhood, with baby Elizabeth Ada, in isolation is “certainly not what I envisaged maternity leave to be”.

New mum Alex Hopkins and her first baby, Elizabeth Ada.

New mum Alex Hopkins and her first baby, Elizabeth Ada.Credit:Joe Armao

In the run up to the birth, due in late February, she recalls her husband, Tom, relating a conversation he had at work.

“He still recalls the conversation he had with one of the partners, ‘What do you think about this coronavirus, is it going to have an impact?’ And he said, ‘Oh no, it will be business as usual’.”

For Ms Hopkins, a design director at the architectural firm Studio Tate, “not to be able to pop up to your local maternal and child health nurse and a weigh-in and just be able to have someone say, ‘Yep, you’re doing all the right things’ has been pretty tricky”.

“After doing a job for the last 14-plus years, that comes easily. Whereas this was total change of scene for me, pretty confronting really. I found the first few weeks really challenging. We’ve fallen into a pattern now, we’re certainly not in a routine … but it’s certainly fun, she’s smiling and giggling.”

On Mother’s Day, she will also very much feel the absence of her two grandmothers.

She was fortunate to have a visit with her maternal grandma, who is suffering dementia, just before isolation, but worries “in the six weeks since we saw her she may well have deteriorated so much she may not recognise us when we go in again”.

Both Ms Hopkins and Ms Rooke say that without the camaraderie of council-run mother’s groups, shut down due to the virus, newly emerged virtual mother’s groups have been a lifeline.

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Both have bonded with other mothers on free Zoom mother’s groups run by maternal education business, Mama You’ve Got This, which has linked about 600 mothers around the country with groups of local peers online.

And both participated in its Instagram awareness-raising campaign #MumsMatter, to let the wider community know some mothers are feeling very alone, and would appreciate support, in the run up to this Mother’s Day.

Clare Rooke attests to the importance of connection, especially on a day it will be sorely missed.

“One of the things with this whole corona thing has been you do feel a little bit alone, and motherhood is already a bit isolating. [The virtual mother’s groups] have given a real sense that we’re not alone, that we’re all going through similar experiences.”

But nothing can replace the warmth of a face-to-face encounter, especially with loved elders. “We’ve done video calls with them,” she says of her grandparents Patricia and Kevin. “But it’s just not the same.”

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Switzerland relaxes coronavirus guidelines allowing children and grandparents to hug


Despite social distancing measures across the globe that cautions people against close contact with others, including kissing, hugging, and shaking hands, Switzerland says children below ten years old and grandparents can hug, emphasizing that children are less likely to transmit the coronavirus.

Swiss authorities say it is safe for children under the age of ten to hug their grandparents, revising its official advice on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The country is now slowly lifting restrictions, with some businesses allowed to open and schools to resume in two weeks.

The country’s lockdown came after there was a sudden surge of infections over the past months. Now, the number of confirmed cases topped 29,500, with 1,737 deaths. Health officials say it is now safe to start reopening establishments, provided precautions are observed.

Image Credit: motioncenter / Shutterstock

Only brief meetings

The coronavirus disease is dangerous to certain vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, those with underlying medical conditions, and those whose immune systems are weak. People with medical conditions like heart disease, lung disease, and cancer are more likely to experience severe disease.

In various studies on the coronavirus pandemic, children are less likely to suffer from severe COVID-19, but they can still contract the virus, causing mild to moderate illness.

The Swiss health ministry’s infectious diseases chief Dr. Daniel Koch said scientists suggested that young children did not transmit the virus, making it safe for them to visit their grandparents, who are vulnerable to COVID-19. However, the health experts said that the contact or meeting should be brief and would not involve babysitting. The children cannot stay with their grandparents for long periods.

Dr. Koch added that when the advice about keeping the distance between children and grandparents was formulated,  there was limited information and data on how the coronavirus was transmitted.

“Children are practically not infected and do not pass on the virus. And most children are infected by their parents. That is why small children pose no risk to high-risk patients or grandparents. So, it is legitimate that grandparents have physical contact with younger children. If the children get older, for example, from the age of 10, the risk increases, then this contact is no longer desirable,” Dr. Koch, head of the infectious diseases unit at the Federal Department of Public Health (FOPH), said.

He added that the recommendation of the country’s health department was based on consultations made with infectious disease experts and pediatricians from major universities in Bern, Zurich, and Geneva. Though the main goal is to protect older adults from the disease, it is not the children who bring danger, but their parents. Hence, they do not recommend that grandparents take care of the children, but short meetings may be allowed.

Note of caution

Now, a top World Health Organization (WHO) says that they are looking into whether grandparents can safely hug children without the risk of getting the deadly virus. Dr. Maria Van Kerkhobe, WHO’s emergency program technical head, made the statement after Switzerland’s recommendation on easing up lockdown measures, including allowing brief meetings between children and the elderly.

However, Germany’s chief virologist Christian Drosten said that there is still limited data to conclude that children could not transmit the virus. Various studies are focusing on children contracting the virus, but it is unclear if they can pass it onto others.

In the United Kingdom and many other European countries, the guideline remains that children should not have contact with their grandparents. The UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock says that though it is important for families to be together, it is more important that vulnerable people continue to be protected.

Globally, the coronavirus pandemic has now infected more than 3.25 million people, while the death toll has surpassed 233,000. The United States remains the country with the highest number of infections, with over one million confirmed cases. Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany have reported high infection tolls, with 213,435, 205,463, 172,481, 167,299, and 163,009 confirmed cases, respectively.





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