Prenatal Pot Use Impacts Kid’s Future Mental Health

By Dennis Thompson
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 23, 2020 (HealthDay News) — Expectant mothers who smoke pot in pregnancy could increase their baby’s risk for mental or emotional problems later in childhood, a new study finds.

Marijuana use during pregnancy was associated with a host of problems in the preteen years, researchers report.

Children exposed to pot in the womb were more likely to experience internalizing disorders such as depression and anxiety, as well as externalizing disorders such as lashing out at others or ADHD, researchers found.

These kids also were more likely to have problems socializing with others and sleeping well, and were at greater risk of mental problems like schizophrenia or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

These risks held firm even after researchers accounted for other risk factors such as home life and family history of mental or emotional problems, said lead researcher Ryan Bogdan. He’s an associate professor of psychological and brain sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.

“They are small associations,” Bogdan said. “They’re not whopping large effects that are going to increase the likelihood that children are going to be experiencing these problems by twofold or anything like that. But they exist beyond these confounding variables.”

Also, among the kids studied, a mom’s pot use during pregnancy — however small — influenced the course of a child’s development more than either alcohol or tobacco use, which also were considered, Bogdan added.

“The effects of marijuana in this data set were much larger and more consistent than the effects of alcohol or tobacco use,” Bogdan said.

This is cause for concern because marijuana is often seen as a legitimate means of treating medical problems like morning sickness, said Patricia Aussem, associate vice president of consumer clinical content development for the Partnership to End Addiction.

“While some pregnant women may be using marijuana for recreational purposes or to address nausea and vomiting, exposure to the substance during pregnancy can adversely impact the developing fetus,” said Aussem, who wasn’t part of the study. “If help is needed for nausea, pain, sleep or other problems, the best course of action is to discuss it with their health care provider and follow recommendations that are known to be safe during pregnancy.”


The study was published Sept. 23 in JAMA Psychiatry. Bogdan and his university colleagues evaluated data on children born between 2005 and 2009 to nearly 10,000 mothers across the United States. These kids have been studied since before birth, as part of the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study.

The researchers compared how kids fared if their mom kept using pot after learning she was pregnant against kids whose mom either never used marijuana or stopped during pregnancy.

Pot use during pregnancy was associated with a host of mental, emotional and behavioral problems tracked by widely used screening tools like the Child Behavior Checklist, researchers said.

It could be that the chemicals in marijuana interact with the fetus in ways that alter a child’s later brain development, Bogdan said.

Bogdan noted that the body’s endocannabinoid system — the brain receptors that respond to THC, the chemical in pot that causes intoxication — is not expressed until around six weeks after conception in humans.

“That is roughly around the time that most mothers in the study learned they were pregnant,” Bogdan said. Moms who kept using pot exposed those newly formed brain receptors to THC, potentially altering the course of development, he said.

But because this was an observational study, it’s also possible that other factors related to marijuana use or developmental problems could be to blame, Bogdan added.

Outside factors could include the parents’ genetics; their family history of mood or mental problems; prenatal vitamin use, or kids born early or with low birth weight.

Regardless, Bogdan said he would urge expecting moms to not use pot until more is known about the risks involved.

“These findings really suggest that clinicians and dispensaries should discourage use among women who are pregnant or even considering becoming pregnant,” Bogdan said. “These data and the potential impact of prenatal cannabis exposure on offspring, I think, gives us concern about the safety of cannabis use during pregnancy.”

Aussem agreed.

“There are many studies indicating that prenatal cannabis use can cause problems including low birth weight, impulsivity, problems with attention span and the ability to learn,” Aussem said. “Just as with nicotine, alcohol and other substances, pregnant women should avoid marijuana use throughout their pregnancy.”

WebMD News from HealthDay


SOURCES: Ryan Bogdan, Ph.D., associate professor, psychological and brain sciences, Washington University in St. Louis; Patricia Aussem, M.A., L.P.C., associate vice president, consumer clinical content development, Partnership to End Addiction;JAMA Psychiatry, Sept. 23, 2020

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As Victoria endures prolonged coronavirus lockdown, mental health workers see devastating impacts of COVID-19

Joy will always remember the moment Victoria’s Premier announced the state would go into a stage 4 coronavirus lockdown.

The Lifeline phone counsellor was working at the mental health agency’s South Yarra call centre when Daniel Andrews told Victorians they would be subject to the most stringent lockdown measures Australia had seen.

The phones started ringing immediately and didn’t stop for the entire night.

People were anxious and confused.

They were particularly worried about their finances and their jobs.

“You could really feel the sense of loss.”

The “very grave uncertainty” being felt by some callers that night was “triggering off people who have a pre-disposition anyway towards possible suicidal ideation and self-harm ideation”.

Joy began volunteering with Lifeline 14 years ago after losing a family member in tragic circumstances.

But this year at the support service has been unlike any other.

“There has been definitely an elevated sense of stress and anxiety people are experiencing, particularly around social distancing, quarantining, a sense of isolation, disconnection from family, friends, community,” she says.

“And an altered sense of reality, where the ability to control choices has become very difficult.”

Joy has noticed an increase in the number of calls from healthcare workers during Melbourne’s second lockdown.(ABC News: Simon Tucci)

This year Lifeline has seen a 25 per cent increase in calls — initially driven by bushfires, and then coronavirus.

In Victoria, where a second wave has claimed hundreds of lives and seen thousands of people infected, the mental health toll has been pronounced.

When the Victorian Government locked down several public housing towers, Lifeline saw a 22 per cent increase in calls from the state.

When stage 4 restrictions were announced, the calls from Victorians jumped by 30 per cent.

Many exhausted Victorian healthcare workers have been among the callers.

They’re experiencing burn-out and fatigue, and they’re stressed about not being able to take time off work, Joy says.

They have also raised concerns about the possibility of unknowingly contracting and passing on the virus.

Lifeline’s also been hearing from people who have caught the virus, who feel like they are being blamed for the pandemic.

“They have reported being treated really poorly,” Joy says.

And many Victorians report feeling a lack of support from the rest of the country, with many distressed by messages blaming them for the second outbreak.

In school, university or work, many young people are bearing the brunt

In Melbourne’s outer east, psychologist Sharon Patton is steering Headspace’s mental health service for young people through the pandemic.

Its Knox office sits between the major suburban hubs of Ringwood, Boronia and Glen Waverley and the more rural Dandenong Ranges.

It has seen an estimated 50 per cent rise in referrals for young people who have been admitted to a hospital emergency department because of a mental health crisis.

A woman with long blonde hair looks forward, a green Headspace sign is behind her, her refection can be seen in a glass window.
Sharon Patton leads the clinical team at Headspace in Knox.(ABC News: Peter Drought)

Sharon says many young people are waiting longer to seek support because of the pandemic. Many are in crisis by the time they reach out.

It’s an issue right across the state.

In early August, a week into stage 4 lockdown, the Victorian Government revealed there’d been a 33 per cent increase in young people presenting to emergency departments because of intentional self-harm, compared to the same time in 2019.

During this second lockdown, Sharon has noticed an overall 20 per cent rise in people needing help.

Many of them are year 12 students struggling to cope with what’s happened to their final year of school.

“They are really struggling to stay engaged and stay motivated.”

University students, too, are anxious about their futures. Placements have been cancelled, graduations delayed, and job prospects damaged.

And there appears to be more young people dealing with domestic violence or family conflict.

“Where there has been problems previously, whether it is mental health or family conflict or tensions, these lockdowns have really exacerbated those issues and brought them to light,” Sharon says.

She says many young people are missing the fun, laughter and playtime they would usually have in their lives, and adding lighter moments to their days is really important.

Binge watching and drinking are becoming daily norms for some

Psychiatrist Shalini Arunogiri, who specialises in addiction and women’s mental health, has noticed huge differences between the first and second-wave lockdowns.

“In lockdown one, what we really saw was people were really running on adrenaline, it was sort of this response to acute stress,” she explains.

“It was a situation no-one had been in before so what we saw was this gathering of a lot of energy.

Dr Shalini Arunogiri stands in front of a garden backdrop and looks seriously into the camera.
Shalini Arunogiri is particularly concerned about the pandemic’s effects on women.(ABC News: Peter Drought)

Less healthy coping mechanisms, like binge viewing, have now become habitual for some people.

“I think also alcohol is playing a big role for some people, substance use, a lot of screen time,” she says.

Dr Arunogiri says the helpline at Turning Point, the Melbourne addiction centre where she works, has seen a slight increase in people seeking help. But she believes there will be a rise in the future, as the pandemic brings together the factors that often underlie addiction — such as job loss, housing problems and trauma.

She is concerned about the impact the pandemic is having on women.

The high numbers of women losing jobs, working in frontline health and assuming full-time care duties at home mean the pandemic is having specific impacts on the mental health of women.

Governments need to craft policy and provide funding with women in mind, Dr Arunogiri says.

Without interventions, thousands of additional suicide deaths are forecast

Ian Hickie, from Sydney University’s Brain and Mind Centre, has been working on complex modelling that forecasts the mental health impacts of the pandemic right across Australia.

He says it’s produced “a perfect storm of risk” for many people.

Professor Ian Hickie wears a blue suit and red tie and looks into the camera from an office space.
Professor Ian Hickie is calling for an urgent national plan to minimise deaths by suicide.(ABC News: Bryan Milliss)

Victoria’s second lockdown has made things worse, Professor Hickie says.

“It is contributing to a further significant increase in mental health problems and this will inevitably lead to emergency department presentations, suicidal behaviour and potentially increase the risk of death by suicide.”

Data released by the Victorian Coroner last week shows the state has not yet seen a feared spike in suicides.

But Professor Hickie says his modelling forecasts that suicide deaths are likely to start increasing from late this year.

His latest modelling shows Australia risks losing more than 4,000 additional lives to suicide in the next five years because of the pandemic, with more than 7,000 extra lives lost seen as a worst case scenario.

But it’s not a foregone conclusion. Professor Hickie says governments can work to reduce the number of lives lost just as they have battled to minimise the number of deaths by coronavirus.

“We can’t just look at the figures and say, ‘There is nothing to be done,” he says.

Ian Hickie's hand points to a graph on a screen showing forecasts for suicide deaths in Australia.
Professor Ian Hickie’s work forecasts a sharp rise in suicide deaths in Australia in the next five years.(ABC News: Bryan Millis)

He says the most important mental healthcare program in Australia right now is JobKeeper — and it should be extended beyond March next year.

Keeping it in place until May 2022 could reduce suicide deaths in Australia by nearly 7 per cent, the modelling suggests.

It indicates such a move would have an even bigger impact on young people, cutting emergency department visits for mental health, self-harm and suicide deaths by about 9 per cent.

Professor Hickie also wants governments to focus on getting young adults who are out of work back into the education system, and building greater capacity in the mental healthcare system.

The pandemic could be a ‘watershed moment’ that helps transform the system

Victoria’s Minister for Mental Health, Martin Foley, is leading the state’s response to this crisis.

He knows some critics have argued Victoria should not have gone as far as it has with coronavirus restrictions because of the mental health impacts.

But he says the Government is responding to both of the health threats.

“There is a need to balance those [mental health] impacts with the real world impacts of people dying from this so far untreatable virus,” he says.

Mental Health Minister Martin Foley stands in front of a building with an Indigenous flag waving. He wears a face mask and suit.
Martin Foley concedes the state’s mental health system was not fit for purpose before the pandemic.(ABC News: Daniel Fermer)

The Minister, himself, believes the system “wasn’t fit for purpose” before the pandemic. But he’s optimistic that significant improvements are happening.

He says his Government has added $200 million dollars to mental healthcare funding, and he is excited by the Federal Government’s decision to fund new mental health clinics across the state.

But he says the challenge is steep, with the system already strained by the extra demand.

The Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, says since the pandemic began, his Government has added $500 million in funding for mental health services and suicide prevention.

He says the Federal Government recognises the importance of employment and income on mental health.

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NRL 2020: COVID-19 financial impacts, updates, coronavirus news, budget cuts, head office cost-cutting

The NRL has begun its overhaul of head office with two redundancies of executive roles as part of cost-cutting measures that are set to save the game around $80 million a year.

It comes after the ARLC met last week to map out a financial strategy to ensure the game survives the impact of COVID-19 after it was revealed in March the governing body had spent $181 million in the past financial year, equalling $500,000 a day.

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Commission chair Peter V’landys told The Sydney Morning Herald last week the NRL is “not mucking around” in an overhaul of the cost structure which would change things for clubs, but affect head office most.

Round 17

“There will be considerable cost savings. It will be substantial; we’re not mucking around on the edges,” he said.

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Deep-Sea Mining: How to Balance Need for Metals with Ecological Impacts

Slashing humanity’s reliance on fossil fuels will require billions of kilograms of metal: a single wind turbine can contain more than a metric ton of copper, and electric car batteries demand heaps of cobalt, nickel and manganese. Most of these metals now come from terrestrial mines—often at the cost of deforestation, water pollution and human rights abuses. But a vast trove of metals on the deep-sea floor could soon provide an alternative source.

Though companies have been eyeing this possibility for decades, engineering challenges and unfavorable economics have kept work in the exploration phase. There has also been a lack of international rules to govern the nascent industry. But that is poised to change soon: The United Nations–chartered International Seabed Authority (ISA) has been finalizing regulations for commercially extracting deep-sea metals in international waters. These rules could emerge within a year. The inherent tension in setting them lies in balancing economic interests in metal production with another consideration: the potential for environmental damage.

Proponents say deep-sea mining can avoid a few of the ills of land-based extraction and cut the costs of renewable technology. But some scientists caution against jumping from exploration to exploitation too quickly, given how little we know about the deep-sea environment and the life it supports. “I generally don’t think it’s possible for us to objectively assess all the risks involved right now,” says Jeff Drazen, a marine biologist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “This is the poorest-described ecosystem on the planet.”

Enticing Prize at a Vast Depth

Interest in deep-sea minerals focuses largely on one particular resource: polymetallic nodules. These potato-sized deposits are rich in manganese, copper, cobalt and nickel. They form over millions of years as dissolved metals precipitate around the nuclei of organic materials—often ancient shark teeth, according to Antje Boetius, a marine biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen, Germany. She says these nodules are scattered in many areas across the global seafloor. They are especially plentiful in a vast swath of the ocean’s abyssal plain that stretches from Hawaii to Mexico and is called the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ). Nodules in the CCZ alone contain more nickel and cobalt than all known land-based reserves of those metals.

Retrieving such nodules from their resting places—often more than three kilometers below the surface—is still a theoretical proposition, though most plans follow a similar blueprint: First, dump-truck-sized collection vehicles would scour the seafloor for nodule-bearing sediment. A vertical “riser” pipe would then whisk the material up to ships equipped with sorting facilities, which would pluck out the valuable nodules and flush unwanted sediment back into the ocean.

But this mining method would necessarily disturb the marine environment, altering deep-sea ecosystems that scientists are still working to understand. In a 2016 study in Nature, researchers found seven new species (including four representing new genera) living among the CCZ’s nodule beds. “There are millions of species out there that have yet to be described,” says Lisa Levin, a marine biologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, who was not involved in the study.

An Unknown Cost

Even as researchers piece together the basics of these ecosystems, recent studies have sought to understand how mining might impact them. Work by Boetius and her colleagues, published this past April in Science Advances, found that collection vehicles can have long-lasting physical and biological effects on the seafloor. Her team revisited a site in the Peru Basin where, in 1989, researchers had simulated effects of collection vehicles by cutting tracks into the seafloor with a blade-mounted plow towed by a ship. The plow tracks were plainly visible decades later. Initially, “we were absolutely shocked,” Boetius says. But she explains that in the stable environment of the deep sea—with weak currents and low rates of sediment dropping to the seafloor—it takes much longer for an area to recover than it would in shallower waters or on land. In the old vehicle tracks, microbes were 30 percent less abundant than in a nearby unplowed region. Animals such as worms and sea cucumbers were also less numerous. “You have such compacted sediments that no one can enter anymore,” Boetius says. “Our experiment really shows that such physical processes will stop animals and microbes from returning to repopulate that habitat.”

Mining impacts could reach well beyond the seafloor. The plumes of sediment that sorting vessels flush back into the water have been compared to inverted smokestacks sticking below the ocean’s sunlit surface layer. Scientists estimate a single nodule-mining operation could release 50,000 cubic meters of sediment-laden water each day—enough to fill 10 Goodyear blimps. But Thomas Peacock, a mechanical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studies plume behavior using computer models and field trials, has found that turbulence dilutes the plume, quickly bringing sediment concentrations close to background levels.

Still, even a small bump in sediment concentration could harm deep-sea dwellers such as plankton and jellyfish, which evolved in a habitat nearly devoid of sediment, Drazen says. Many of these creatures feed by filtering tiny organic particles out of the water. If caught in a sediment plume, “they’re going to have a ton of mud to sift through,” he says. “This may clog their filtering apparatus, or it may make it hard for them to choose the good stuff from the bad stuff.”

In a peer-reviewed opinion paper published in June in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, Drazen and more than a dozen co-authors highlighted this and other risks mining poses to deep-sea waters. The authors also warned that the practice could interrupt animal communication: noise pollution from sediment rattling up riser pipes could jam acoustic signals among whales and other cetaceans, while sediment plumes could cloud the bioluminescent signals that creatures such as squid and jellyfish use in the darkness of the deep ocean. “The animals are just blinking on and off,” Drazen says. Piloting a submarine through them is “like falling through the stars.”

How to Proceed

While Drazen and others have identified some types of harm mining could inflict on deep-sea life, they cannot yet pinpoint how much damage might be done: available information is still scant, and the industry is in its early stages. This uncertainty has led many scientists to adopt a precautionary approach. The ills of terrestrial mining do not justify a headlong rush to dig up the ocean floor, says Diva Amon, a marine biologist at the Natural History Museum in London. “We would essentially be creating damage in an ecosystem we don’t yet understand,” she says. Groups such as the nonprofit Conservation International have called for a 10-year moratorium on deep-sea mining to give scientists and policy makers more time to examine the potential environmental harms.

But others see the emerging industry as a moral imperative, given metals’ crucial role in the renewable-energy technologies needed to curtail global warming—and the environmental and social costs often linked to existing mining practices. “I started looking at the footprint of terrestrial mining, and it is horrific,” says Gregory Stone, chief ocean scientist at DeepGreen, a mining company with exploration agreements in the CCZ. He points to sometimes deadly health impacts on workers and to child-labor violations, both of which are often associated with terrestrial mining of minerals such as cobalt. With deep-sea mining, “the disruption to the planetary system will be a lot less,” Stone contends. He adds that a multiyear environmental assessment prior to commercial extraction—which the ISA could require in its final regulations—could help minimize damage. For example, it could do so by placing the most environmentally sensitive areas off-limits to mining.

The ISA is using the growing body of scientific research in the CCZ “to identify the best measures required to protect the marine environment” as the group creates the first ever deep-sea-mining-exploitation code, according to a written statement from its secretary-general Michael Lodge. These regulations will be adopted if all 168 ISA members (167 countries plus the European Union) agree on them, he said. This summer, the organization’s annual assembly was postponed because of COVID-19, but regulations could be adopted next year. Lodge did not comment on the possibility of regulating the specific potential environmental harms identified by researchers so far.

Scientists from all sectors—industry, academia and conservation—are closely following the ISA’s efforts. Boetius says that in recent years, the ISA has convened discussions about protecting organisms ranging from bacteria to octopuses. “The [regulatory] system has gotten more ecologically friendly and concerned than it was 20 years ago,” she says. Boetius and others, including an international network called the Deep-Ocean Stewardship Initiative, have provided expert input to help ensure sufficient environmental precautions. “There have been huge strides made during this process of drafting regulations,” says Amon, who works with the network. “But there’s still much more to be done.”

Levin agrees and raises the question of how much of the finalized ISA rule book will consist of enforceable mandates—versus mere suggestions. “A lot of the environmental components are just guidance right now,” she says. Levin stops short of calling for a moratorium but says she is not fully convinced of the need for deep-sea mining; she does not think it will simply replace terrestrial operations. “It would almost certainly add to [them],” Levin says. She also notes that future improvements to metal recycling and product life spans could reduce demand for a new source of virgin metals. “My number-one question is ‘Do we really need minerals from the bottom of the ocean?’” Levin says.

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Impacts of COVID-19 on Learning in Schools

Media release – Jeremy Rockliff, Minister for Education and Training, 23 August 2020

Responding to the impacts of COVID-19 on student learning

A cross-sector Ministerial Advisory Committee has been established to provide advice on how COVID-19 has impacted the learning of Tasmanian students.

Throughout COVID-19, the Tasmanian Government has worked closely with all education sectors to ensure that no student’s learning is further disrupted as a result of the pandemic.

The aim of the committee is to ensure that student wellbeing is at the centre of any decision-making process, and advise on:

  • The best processes to implement to support all learners for the remainder of 2020;
  • The innovative practices which have developed across all sectors and how these can be adapted and shared;
  • The impacts of course adjustments and external assessment processes for Year 11 and 12 students; and
  • Any other matters impacting education as a result of COVID-19.

Key focus areas will be early years learning, years 11 and 12, student well-being and second wave planning.

The Committee will remain in place until March 2021 and consists of representatives from Catholic Education Tasmania, Independent Schools Tasmania and the Department of Education, who have been nominated based on their understanding and expertise in the education sector.

Media release – Josh Willie MLC,Shadow Minister for Education, 23 August 2020

Committee into COVID-19 education disruption well overdue

The establishment of a committee into the impact of COVID-19 on student learning, while overdue, is welcome news.

Shadow Minister for Education Josh Willie said the committee must look at all aspects of educational disruption, and ensure any advice is put in place across all sectors into the future.

“Before the pandemic hit, data from the Productivity Commission showed Tasmanian school students had the worst post-school outcomes, lowest literacy and lowest attendance and retention rates in the country.

“Labor called on the government to have a serious look at the impacts of COVID-19 on student learning in June. Why has it taken the Minister until the halfway mark of Term 3 to put something in place?

“There’s no doubt remote learning exposed many inequalities across the education system. The Grattan Institute showed some students lost as much as a month of learning over the lockdown period.

“This year there have been adjustments for Year 11 and 12 courses, but the assessment process for Year 11 and 12 students was already plagued with issues pre-COVID, including some incorrect ATAR, VET and TCE results being delivered.

“At a time where students have already had their education disrupted, Minister Rockliff must ensure the rest of this year goes smoothly, and students and families can have confidence towards the end.

“The committee will be looking at the impact on students in the early years, and the government needs to commit to more funding in this area. With 4,500 children in kindergarten alone, $180,000 and nine redeployed teachers are nowhere near enough to make a real difference to early learning.

“Labor is also urging the government to adopt its policy of having mental health workers in all schools – it is more important than ever to ensure students feel supported with any challenges they are facing.

“This period has been challenging for students of all ages, and the government must ensure there are no negative long-term educational impacts.”

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Boat Takes a Beating as Tropical Storm Laura Impacts St Maarten

Boat Takes a Beating as Tropical Storm Laura Impacts St Maarten

Tropical Storm Laura brought heavy rain, strong winds, and rough seas to the Caribbean island of St Maarten on August 22. The storm was expected to impact several countries on Saturday into Sunday, including the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the northern Leeward Islands, the northern coasts of the Dominican Republic, Haiti, the Turks and Caicos and southeastern Bahamas. The National Hurricane Center warned that the heavy rain could “cause mudslides and flash and urban flooding through Sunday.” The storm was expected to enter the Gulf of Mexico on Monday as it moved west-northwest over the weekend, though the intensity and track remained uncertain. This footage was posted to Twitter by user @Crush255, who said it was filmed on Saturday as rough seas from the storm battered a St Maarten party boat that had been washed onto the rocks during a previous storm. The Tropical Storm Warning related to Laura was discontinued for the island as of noon on Saturday, officials said. Credit: @Crush255 via Storyful

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Coronavirus has forced Australians to work from home, but what are the impacts on CBDs?

Over more than a decade, millions of Australian workers have made the transition out of the physical workplace and into the home office.

Since the COVID-19 shutdowns, almost half of the Australian working population has spent time working from home.

Experts believe at least a significant minority of these newly-at-home workers will stay there in the longer term, with potentially dramatic consequences for the central business districts of Australia’s capital cities.

Many of Australia’s largest corporate employers are keeping most of their staff at home for now.

Some city-based small business owners are worried their customer base may never return to pre-COVID-19 levels.

A recent study found that most Australian workers now want to work at home two weekdays out of every five.

Getting the balance right

Professor John Buchanan, head of business analytics at the Sydney Business School, said there are strong incentives for business operators to keep workers at home, and strong incentives for workers to stay there.

“Employers are looking at reducing costs,” he said.

“On the supply side, there are workers … looking for more accommodating arrangements.”

Millions of Australians are working from home regularly for the first time.(Daria Shevtsova (Pexels))

Frustration about commuting times and a “recognition of the need to have a better balance” between work and family life are also strong factors, Professor Buchanan said.

Bosses generally want to keep an eye on what their employees are doing, and workers can suffer mental health and family consequences if the line between home life and work becomes chronically blurred.

But Professor Buchanan argued employers are likely to push for greater surveillance of workers at home — just as universities have turned to online software to stop students cheating on exams — rather than miss the cost-saving benefits of leasing less physical space.

Overseas, the coronavirus crisis has caused major global businesses to discover they may be better off allowing staff to work from home.

The birth of a trend

If you wind the clock back to November 2008, when the Global Financial Crisis was raging, only about one in every hundred Australian employees, excluding business managers, worked mainly from home according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

A woman wearing a colourful shirt.
ABS expert Michelle Marquardt said some workers were likely to remain at home.(Supplied)

By 2019, before COVID-19 was detected in Australia, about a third of the country’s working population was regularly working from home.

As April turned to May this year, after Australia’s first coronavirus wave peaked, nearly half of the Australian workforce — 46 per cent — was mainly working from home.

Michelle Marquardt, program manager for the ABS household survey, said that although many workers will return to their former workplaces, some will not.

The impact on CBD businesses

Office workers help sustain all manner of hospitality venues, retail stores, cultural and arts institutions — and less directly, government coffers — by spending money and engaging in the life of the city.

At the time of the last Census, about 420,000 people travelled in and out of Sydney’s CBD to work each day.

That’s about three quarters of that city’s working population.

It’s an even higher proportion in Adelaide, where about 95 per cent of city workers made the commute.

Linh Nguyen owns an Asian takeaway restaurant in the centre of Adelaide’s CBD with her sister Bich, serving lunch mostly to office workers.

Two women holding baos.
Linh (left) and Bich Nguyen run Mamachau Asian Kitchen in Adelaide’s CBD.(Supplied: Linh Nguyen)

Although business has begun to pick back up since the initial COVID-19 shutdowns, she’s worried it will never return to pre-pandemic levels.

“A few customers have actually said they work a lot better from home and they wouldn’t mind staying [and] not having to spend so much money on lunch and coffees,” she said.

“They don’t have to waste time commuting [and] they didn’t realise how much money they were spending until COVID happened.

Ms Nguyen said she and her sister have been focusing more on the catering side of the business, and pushing to be more visible on social media, to mitigate the impact.

Catering boxes full of Korean baos, cold rolls and spring rolls.
Ms Nguyen’s restaurant has been focusing more heavily on catering.(Facebook: Mamachau)

“Most of our customers are people who work in government jobs and office jobs,” she said.

Major corporates keeping workers home

With the COVID-19 pandemic far from over, many of Australia’s biggest white-collar employers are taking a cautious approach and keeping the vast majority of workers at home.

The Commonwealth Bank has said about 5,950 of its employees were working in city offices around Australia during a one-week period last month — down from almost 18,000 during the first week of February.

A Commonwealth Bank branch in Melbourne's CBD
A Commonwealth Bank self-service branch in Melbourne’s CBD.(ABC News: Margaret Burin)

Westpac said in a statement that it was “continuing with a distributed workforce for the foreseeable future, with a mix of people working from home and working in the office each week”.

Major financial services and consultancy firm Deloitte said an unexpected benefit of the working-from-home arrangement was “finding out that in our profession, and with our investment in technology and people policies, we have been able to work from home effectively at very short notice for extended periods of time”.

A Deloitte spokesperson said the company was committed to its physical office space around the country, but noted that a new “skillset” had emerged in a “physical-digital hybrid environment”.

“The physical workplace will remain important for encouraging activities that bring our people, partners and clients together,” the spokesperson said.

“These distinctly human activities will be supported and augmented by the use of digital technologies.”

Commercial real estate and workplace culture

Property Council of Australia national president Ken Morrison said it was clear some businesses would not return all their staff to offices at pre-pandemic levels — but that is yet to be reflected in commercial real estate statistics.

“There’s no doubt some [businesses] will make that decision to lease less space over time,” he said.

“What we have yet to see in the market place is examples of existing tenants offloading office space.

“We may well in the future.”

Office space for lease in Perth, July 2016
Coronavirus is having an impact on occupancy of office space.(ABC: Glyn Jones)

However, Mr Morrison said that despite the significant changes to working arrangements, offices and CBDs were likely to remain “a really important part of the economy”.

“People are asking … is the role of the CBD dead, or under challenge?” he said.

“There is a lot of economic activity which is dependent on people being in the CBD.

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How better gut health impacts overall wellbeing

We’ve credited our guts for so many things over the years. We go on gut feel, tough people show plenty of guts, if you’re no good with a secret you will spill your guts, cowards are gutless — you can even have someone’s guts for garters.

But not matter how many things we’ve claimed our guts can do over the decades, it turns out we’ve still been underselling what scientists now refer to as the body’s second brain. Because these days, we know that our guts are good for so much more than bravery, or the lack of it.

It’s only over the past couple of years that we’ve begun really understanding the true power of the gut when it comes to just about all aspects of our overall wellbeing, be it our mental health, our immune system, our ability to fight infections, and so much more.

“Gut health is so important. Before, we were relying on medications and basically putting bandaids on problems, but we now feel empowered to take control of our bodies by eating well, feeding our gut microbiome, and actually getting control over these diseases. It’s a new and exciting field,” University of Newcastle molecular nutritionist, Dr Emma Beckett told Health Hacker.

“We are learning so much more about it. We have so many more methods of measuring what’s going in the gut, and how it relates to the food we eat, and our health.”


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Before we go on, let’s cover off some of the big buzz words. Just what is a microbiome, a probiotic and a prebiotic?

“The gut microbiome is all the microorganisms — that’s bacteria, viruses, fungus, all sorts of weird and wonderful things — that live inside our gut,” Dr Beckett says.

“The probiotics are the good bacteria — the bacteria that we want to add in. And then the prebiotics are that bacteria’s food — what they eat in order to flourish. And we provide both by what we eat.”

You might think it’s just the food you eat that controls the health of your gut, and it definitely does but there are all sorts of external factors that play a role, too.

From a lack of sleep or not enough exercise, or feeling stressed or strung-out, almost everything we do impacts the delicate balance of our gut. But before you start feeling like it’s all too much work, Dr Beckett has a simple tip to make sure you’re doing right by your gut microbiome every day.

“If you’re stressed, that can upset your gut health. Not sleeping well has a knock-on effect. But those are things we sometimes can’t control in our lives,” Dr Beckett says.

“What we can control is our diet, so getting all the right fruits and vegetables and plant-based foods. But you don’t need it to be expensive, you don’t need it to go on Instagram, you don’t need it to be sexy.

“My simple trick to making sure I get everything for my gut every day is to do it at breakfast. Start the day with a high-fibre breakfast, paired with yoghurt, for the probiotics, and fruit, for more fibre, and a little honey, and you’ve literally go everything you need for daily gut health at breakfast.”


With accredited dietitian Nicole Dynan

1. Mix it up

“We’ve learned that if we feed our gut bacteria well, particularly with foods high in fibre like fruits, vegetables and legumes, then we can help prebiotics proliferate,” Nicole says.

“And if we’re eating a wide variety of these foods, then we’re feeding a wide variety to that healthy bacteria. The more diverse the bugs in our guts, the healthier we are.”

2. Ditch the diets

“If we go on fad diets and cut out entire food groups, or just focus on one food group, we do run the risk of shrinking the diversity of our microbiome,” Nicole says.

“So we want to make sure we eat a broad range of foods so we can really support it, in addition to other important things like sleep, exercise and hydration.”

3. Carbs are not the enemy

“There has been a lot of discussion over the years about people cutting out carbohydrates to control their weight, but the evidence really isn’t there,” Nicole says.

“And when we do that, we run the risk of not being able to feed our microbiome well. I would include wholegrains in any diet.

* Send your health questions to


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Power Outages Reported as Tropical Storm Isaias Impacts Eastern Maryland

Tropical Storm Isaias brought gusty winds to Ocean City, Maryland, and knocked out power for thousands as it moved up the East Coast on Tuesday, August 4. The National Weather Service said wind speeds were reaching 60 to 70 mph and “numerous” tornadoes have been reported near the Chesapeake Bay area. These videos show rain and wind lashing Ocean City as downed electrical wires hang along the Coastal Highway. Delmarva Power, an electric company that serves Delaware and Maryland, reported that 66,948 customers had lost power as of Tuesday morning. Credit: Georgia Warren via Storyful

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Potential Adverse Impacts of Poorly Designed Medication Pricing Policy

As our country
and the world continue to battle the COVID19 pandemic, the need for reliable,
safe, effective, and high-quality diagnostic tests and treatment medications becomes
more urgent every day. As does the need to maintain a safe and secure supply of
technology and raw materials. Our overreliance on non-US sources for critical medical
products and components has undeniably led to critical shortages since the
pandemic first reached our shores.

Clearly, Americans
must never again allow ourselves to be held hostage to geopolitical or offshore
commercial factors that limit our ability to quickly and effectively respond to
national health emergencies.

Men’s Health
Network (MHN) believes that one of the most critical factors in preventing shortages
of important medical products is to develop comprehensive legislation and
regulations to govern medical product pricing and reimbursement. MHN
understands the link between product costs and access and recognizes the need
for governments and private payers to manage those costs in a way that ensures access
to the best technologies.

Several of the medical
product pricing proposals we have reviewed rely on establishing an
International Pricing Index (IPI) that would set US prices of those products
based on the prices charged in about 14 other countries, many of which have
government-run health care and government-subsidized medical product industries.
It would obviously be foolish to set US prices of washing machines, airline
seats, or anything else based on pricing available in countries where those
industries are subsidized. It is just as foolish to use foreign pricing to
determine US pricing of medicine and medical products.

It’s also important
to note that that in many countries, including the UK and Germany, government-set
prices for medications have had disastrous effects, in particular, a marked
decrease in access to needed medications and breakthrough therapies.

We believe that
the IPI approach may underestimate the real value of medical products to
patients and the health care system. Unwise policy will not only restrict
access to advanced technologies but will also hamper the ability of—and incentive
to—medical product manufacturers to innovate and meet surge-supply demands such
as we are observing today in the current COVID pandemic.

Setting US
prices based on the IPI may also inadvertently add fuel to the growing problems
of counterfeit and grey-market medical products. The US is already being
flooded with counterfeit drugs and equipment, which, in addition to costing manufacturers
billions of dollars in revenue, much of which could be used to develop even
more potentially life-saving products, counterfeit drugs may not work as
expected, and, in some cases, may actually be deadly.

The proliferation
of counterfeit products has dramatically increased during the COVID19 pandemic
and is largely driven by irrational pricing and access policies. MHN opposes arbitrary,
non-free market approaches such as IPI to determine for US pricing for medical
products. We urge policymakers to instead rely on market forces to drive down
costs, thereby encouraging research and ensuring widespread patient access to

As we enter the
final phase of the 2020 election cycle, it’s clear that one of the key issues
will be medical product pricing policy. Late last year saw several proposals for
widespread health reform, and new proposals are emerging all the time,
especially those that seek to drive down the costs of prescription medications.

As the leading
non-profit advocacy organization for the health of men, boys, and their
families, Men’s Health Network has been evaluating the merits of some of these

We have established Five Key Principles for Medical Product Legislation that we believe will not only address the issue of product prices but will also strike a critical balance between the needs of patients, the importance of innovation, and ensuring a consistent supply chain for medical products.

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