Twitter Australia’s Unlikely Coronavirus Celebrity Is A Boomer Health Journalist

Twitter Australia’s Unlikely Coronavirus Celebrity Is A Boomer Health Journalist

Twitter

Can you swim in a public pool? Should we shut schools? What about closing the borders? Do you get immunity if you recover from COVID-19?

Australians, like everyone else right now, have a lot of questions about the coronavirus outbreak. And increasingly they’re turning to a 60-something Scottish-Australian journalist by the name of Norman Swan for answers.


Supplied.

Dr Norman Swan.

Swan, a health reporter with the publicly-funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation, is everywhere right now. He’s hosting a daily podcast called Coronacast, which is topping the Australian charts. He has a twice-weekly regular spot on the ABC’s flagship current affairs show, 7.30. He had about 12,000 Twitter followers at the start of all this. Now he has 47,000.

“It’s going up at the same rate as the epidemic, I suspect,” Swan said of his Twitter following, in a Wednesday evening phone interview with BuzzFeed News.

Swan has been a journalist for 38 years. He was general manager of the ABC’s Radio National station in the 1990s, and his colleague and old friend Geraldine Doogue credits him with laying the foundations for its current success. He won a Gold Walkley in 1988. He is also Dr Norman Swan — that prefix appended to all his appearances on the ABC. Swan is a registered doctor who qualified as a physician in Scotland, then trained in paediatrics in London and Sydney.

So how did he become the most trusted voice on the coronavirus outbreak in Australia?

Scott Morrison’s government has copped criticism for not being upfront with numbers and information, and sending mixed messages about what we need to do to flatten the curve. The communication skills and decision-making of Australia’s chief medical officer, Brendan Murphy, have been criticised. His deputy, Paul Kelly, frustrated Radio National listeners by failing to give a straight answer to host Fran Kelly’s question on Thursday morning about whether Australians should be meeting their friends at cafes. It was just last Sunday that Morrison declared that “so long as Australians keep being Australians, we’ll get through this together”.

By contrast, Swan seems calm, consistent, and knowledgeable. His delivery has been appropriately urgent, without lurching into panic. His messages are clear and delivered with panache. His mantra is social distancing, social distancing, social distancing. On Wednesday’s Coronacast, his co-host Tegan Taylor asked about weddings. “We’ve just got to stop all that,” he said, adding that cafes and bars should shut down too.

“I’m calling it the year of the plague,” he said. “It is a year that we will remember for the rest of our lives.”

twitter The FT reports this morning the way a Danish supermarket is stopping sanitiser hoarding. They charge $6 for the first bottle and $150 for each one after that. Put that in your bog roll.

The FT reports this morning the way a Danish supermarket is stopping sanitiser hoarding. They charge $6 for the first bottle and $150 for each one after that. Put that in your bog roll.

“It’s his moment,” Doogue told BuzzFeed News.

Swan was a performer at university who did a lot of drama. “So it was a neat segue into journalism and then radio and television work, which he absolutely loves,” she said.

“He both loves it, I think, from an ego perspective and because he really does believe in the business of spreading health messages and messages of science. It all works very much to suit his personality, I suppose, and his intelligence.”

Swan has long had pandemics on the brain. In the early 1990s he wrote and filmed for the UK’s Channel Four Invisible Enemies (also called Plagued) a four-part series about new and emerging diseases, and the factors create the environment for a pandemic.

“Norman has been fascinated by pandemics ever since I’ve known him. He has told me for years that we were overdue a pandemic,” Doogue said. “Well, here it is.”

Over the Australian summer, Swan filled in as host on RN Breakfast. On Jan. 7, he emailed Katie Hamann, who was producing the show, about a mysterious pneumonia in Wuhan that had infected 59 people, with seven critically ill. “Worth keeping an eye on,” was the subject line.

Now it is the world’s biggest story, and in Australia, Swan is at the centre of it.

Swan’s son Jonathan is himself a prominent reporter, known for breaking scoops on the Trump administration for US website Axios. (He still calls his father to workshop and talk through strategies ahead of big interviews, including with Jared Kushner, Tom Perez and Iraq’s president Barham Salih.) According to Jonathan, his dad was “built for it”. Explaining complicated concepts with credibility and authority for a large audience is “what he’s been doing his whole career”, he told BuzzFeed News.

Where others might be terrified of the scale of this, Doogue says Swan “loves a crisis … He’s pretty unafraid. He sort of boldly steps off. It sometimes takes my breath away where he will step.”

As the pandemic has unfolded, Swan has walked a fine line between filling a gap left by the government and being in direct conflict with it.

Over the weekend, Swan fronted a video for the ABC, offering personal hygiene advice to avoid COVID-19. “The nation thanks you, Norman,” ABC presenter Michael Rowland tweeted when he shared Swan’s video. The government only rolled out its own videos later that day.

Morrison and Murphy have been resolute that schools should stay open, arguing kids aren’t badly affected and closing the schools would have dire knock-on effects. Swan has said they should close, and he has said so quite firmly: he declared that Australia was “dicking around and we’ve just got to shut stuff down now”, when asked about the issue on ABC television on Monday.

Many on social media have announced they trust Swan more than Murphy. That sentiment is “actually acutely embarrassing”, Swan said, and not his intent “at all”. He’s known Murphy for decades and has a healthy respect for him.

Swan believes he has become so prominent because people are desperate for information. “I’ve not relished the role,” Swan told BuzFeed News. “I’m prepared to step up for it, but I’ve not relished it. It shouldn’t be me doing it. Something is wrong if a medical journalist is the go-to person for this, that’s not right.”

He says the government should be using technology to communicate better, and publish more up-to-date information about infection rates. He’s relying on a graph put together by a journalist. “[The government] seem to be frightened of scaring the public, but they’re scaring the public more by trying to not scare them,” he said. “Because they feel that something’s being hidden and when you do that anxiety goes up.”

Swan thinks that if the government is asking people to flatten the curve, every day they should show people the curve. People will see the impact their actions are having and respond. “And if by the end of the week we’re not bending the curve, everyone will know we’re not managing, and say, ‘OK yeah, we’ve got to stay home, we won’t go to the cafe’,” he said. “Everybody understands nationally.”


Lukas Coch / AAPIMAGE

Morrison and Murphy on March 11.

Swan also criticised the government’s response to the outbreak last week as “mad stuff”. On Friday afternoon there was the “football fiasco” — a head-spinning few hours in which Morrison was going to the rugby league, banning large gatherings in 48 hours, not self-isolating despite coming into contact with his COVID-19-infected colleague Peter Dutton, then not going to the football any more.

“It’s been all over the shop, inconsistent,” Swan said. “The public’s actually been more scared than they should have, they are getting conflicted messages and it’s spooking them.”

Swan says he has had “indirect messages” that people in government are a bit uncomfortable with his strident approach to providing information on the outbreak. But he emphasises that no chief medical officer has come to him and said, ‘you’ve made a mistake’ or ‘you’ve got it wrong’.

“I think that what they’re nervous of is the potential for wrong messages to be put out or their message to be undermined. And I don’t think they like the fact that they’ve been put under pressure to do more than they want to do in this moment,” he said.

But he’s not going to stop. This is too important and too urgent. “I’ve been unabashed about being critical of what’s going on, but that’s really as a journalist, presenting the evidence,” he said. “The last couple of weeks, we’ve done the wrong thing and we’ve called it out.

“This week I get the sense that they’re getting their act together. They’re not doing that much yet, but I get the sense that the hand is steadier on the tiller.” (The interview took place before the government announced it would close Australia’s borders to all but citizens, residents and their direct family members.)

“They’ve got a few days up their sleeve, that’s it.”

twitter How lucky are we to have Dr @normanswan? 

Please RT to show him some ❤️❤️ since he is working like crazy across TV, radio and online all day every day to help Australians understand what is going on. 

Thank you Norman 🙏🏼 @abcnews @gavmorris @mjrowland68 @LisaMillar

How lucky are we to have Dr @normanswan?

Please RT to show him some ❤️❤️ since he is working like crazy across TV, radio and online all day every day to help Australians understand what is going on.

Thank you Norman 🙏🏼 @abcnews @gavmorris @mjrowland68 @LisaMillar

Swan’s prominence, and his unusual role in the crisis, have made some uneasy. The Guardian’s Melbourne editor Gay Alcorn criticised the ABC for quoting Swan as an expert voice in a news story. “Please stop! He’s not an expert and shouldn’t be quoted as such in stories like this,” she wrote on Twitter.

Some have suggested that contradicting Murphy could make the situation worse. Australia’s peak public health body asked its members not to second-guess the advice of Murphy and his state and territory counterparts, Nine newspapers reported on Friday. Australian Medical Association president Tony Bartone also told Nine that “evidence-based information led by the Chief Medical Officer is the way to go” and “we need a single source of truth”.

Anti-Swan sentiments have largely failed to take hold, however.

“People in moments like this are looking for not just someone who can give them reporting, but someone who can be a curator and a synthesiser,” Jonathan Swan said. “People just want someone credible, someone who’s not tainted by partisan politics, and I think he’s serving that role right now.”

David Fisher, a long-time ABC colleague, agrees. “He is across what’s going on, and he’s a good communicator. So you put the two together and he’s the one,” Fisher told BuzzFeed News.

“I must say, I have been really struck myself, even though I know him so well, by how he has been the right man at the right time for this particular challenge,” Doogue said.

Right now, Swan starts his day early, so he can read the journal papers that come out overnight on COVID-19 and catch up. This is not a new habit. Fisher said Swan is often seen at the ABC reading and highlighting copies of the British Medical Journal and The Lancet ahead of interviews.

“He has been around for 30 years doing this, doing very arcane as well as populist stuff,” said Doogue. “He’s not a Johnny-come-lately and I think that’s really contributed. He’s not just a doctor who’s skilled at the media, he’s very different.”


Danny Casey / AAPIMAGE

The ABC’s offices in Sydney.

Swan’s following is partly due to Australians’ trust in their national broadcaster. It’s also good advertising for the value of the ABC, as it faces ever-tightening budgets and (now-delayed) layoffs. Swan says his role is only possible because of the ABC’s commitment to specialist reporting. “No commercial broadcaster has done it, not even SBS has done it. It’s where you get market failure,” he said. “It’s not an accident that we’ve got the ability to do [this] because of the investment of Australian taxpayers in the sort of stuff that we do.” If you lose that expertise, it’s gone, he said.

Despite his experience and qualifications, Swan says he is still just a journalist. And he knows he is walking a tightrope by speaking out so loudly and frequently in a time of unprecedented crisis, where so much is unknown.

“I’m going to get things wrong,” he said. There is not much evidence on COVID-19 and the studies are mostly “crap”, with small sample sizes. Swan is aware of two mistakes he has made so far, about school closures in Hong Kong and the number of young people in intensive care in Italy, both of which he has corrected. He constantly checks in with an informal network of contacts, people “who actually really do know what they’re talking about”, he said.

He stressed that he hasn’t practised medicine in decades, saying “my medical speciality is broadcasting … You can get sucked into thinking you’re more of the expert than you are, and what you are is a commentator and translator of the evidence, and don’t ever think you’re anything more than that.”

Swan was the medical host of six seasons of Biggest Loser on Channel Ten, and people still recognise him in the street from that, he said. But the level of feedback he’s received since the outbreak has been “a bit surreal”.

Swan used to tweet about once a week. He only learnt last week how to use the quote-tweet function. “I’m just a complete idiot when it comes to that,” he said. But making a podcast and using social media to tell the story of the pandemic have been exciting, allowing him to reach a new audience and communicate across generations.

When Swan is broadcasting, he’s “never quite sure who’s out there.” The “intense engagement” of social media is unbelievable, he said. “What I love doing is translating complex information into simple communications for people who need and want to know. That’s what turns me on.”


Rich Polk / Getty Images

Jonathan Swan moderates a panel at Politicon 2018 in Los Angeles.

Swan is working extremely hard, which is normal, according to those who know him well. “He’s worked like a freak my whole life,” Jonathan said. Fisher said Swan has been seen to have quick naps at work to get through it all. “Sometimes the head goes down at the desk for a two-minute kip and then he’s back at it,” he said. Doogue says he is running on adrenalin. “He just looks totally exhilarated to me,” she said.

Still, Jonathan says he is a “little worried” about his father. “He’s pretty old now,” he said.

Swan agrees that if he was to get sick, the Australian public would be spooked. He’s not going to the gym anymore, replacing it with running. “I knew some time ago that the six pack was just a dream,” he said.

He’s driving rather than taking public transport. He’s not going to the movies or theatres, or any public spaces with a lot of people. He’s obsessively cleaning surfaces, spraying everything with alcohol if he uses a studio, and washing his hands frequently throughout the day.

It’s an “extraordinary” time, Swan said. But someday this will all be behind him, and us.

“Media stories don’t last forever, people eventually get inured to them,” he told BuzzFeed News. He and the Coronacast team are already thinking of how to evolve the podcast and get ahead of the curve. But not yet. They got 5,000 questions last weekend alone. “If we’re not providing people’s information needs, that will soon become apparent,” he said. “It’s not apparent.”

Amazon Here Are All The New Movies You’ll Be Able To Watch At Home On Demand

by | Mar 21, 2020 | Trending

Amazon

Amazon

As Hollywood adapts to a global pandemic, some new movies have been delayed for the time being, but many others are now being considered for at-home entertainment — meaning you can rent them on demand at home!


NBC

In the US, “on demand” usually means a title will be available to rent via your cable TV provider and most (but not necessarily all) of the following services: Amazon, Apple, Comcast, Vudu, Google, YouTube, Fandango, DirecTV, Charter, Dish, Cox, Altice, Sony, Frontier, and Verizon.

Amazon

Let’s dive into the list!

Amazon

The Invisible Man


Universal Pictures / Via buzzfeed.com

Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Storm Reid, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Aldis Hodge

When it drops: March 20

Amazon

Emma


Focus Features / Via buzzfeed.com

Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Bill Nighy, Josh O’Connor, Johnny Flynn, Mia Goth, Miranda Hart, Autumn de Wilde

When it drops: March 20

Amazon

Onward


Pixar

Starring: Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer

When it drops: March 20th (and will arrive on Disney+ on April 3)

Amazon

The Hunt


Universal Pictures / Via buzzfeed.com

Starring: Betty Gilpin, Ike Barinhotlz, Emma Roberts, Justin Hartley, Hilary Swank, Glenn Howerton, Ethan Suplee

When it drops: March 20

Amazon

The Gentlemen


STX

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Henry Golding, Michelle Dockery, Jeremy Strong, Eddie Marsan, Colin Farrell, Hugh Grant

When it drops: March 24

Amazon

Bloodshot


Sony Pictures

Starring: Vin Diesel, Eiza González, Sam Heughan, Toby Kebbell

When it drops: March 24

Amazon

Birds of Prey


Warner Bros. / Via buzzfeed.com

Starring: Margot Robbie, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ewan MacGregor, Rosie Perez, Chris Messina

When it drops: March 24

Amazon

The Way Back


Warner Bros.

Starring: Ben Affleck, Al Madrigal, Janina Gavankar, Michaela Watkins

When it drops: March 24

Amazon

Banana Split


Vertical Entertainment

Starring: Hannah Marks, Liana Liberato, Dylan Sprouse, Addison Riecke

When it drops: March 27

Amazon

I Still Believe


Kevin Downes Productions

Starring: Britt Robertson, K.J. Apa., Gary Sinise, Shania Twain, Nathan Parsons

When it drops: March 27

Amazon

Vivarium


Saban Films

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Imogen Poots

When it drops: March 27

Amazon

Sonic The Hedgehog


Paramount

Starring: Jim Carrey, Ben Schwartz, James Marsden

When it drops: March 31

Amazon

Rogue Warfare: The Hunt


Saban Films

Starring: Will Yun Lee, Jermaine Love, Rory Markham, Bertrand-Xavier Corbi, Katie Keene

When it drops: April 3

Amazon

Trolls World Tour


Dreamworks / Via buzzfeed.com

Starring: Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Kenan Thompson, Jamie Dornan, Rachel Bloom, Kunal Nayyar

When it drops: April 10

Amazon

TAPE


Full Moon Films

Starring: Isabelle Fuhrman, Tarek Bishara, Annarosa Mudd

When it drops: April 10 (but will have a digital premiere on March 26 first)

Amazon

Sea Fever


DUST, Gunpowder & Sky

Starring: Hermione Corfield, Connie Nielsen, Dougray Scott

When it drops: April 10

Amazon

We Summon The Darkness


Saban Films

Starring: Alexandra Daddario, Johnny Knoxville, Keean Johnson, Maddie Hasson, Logan Miller, Amy Forsyth, Austin Swift

When it drops: April 10

Amazon

Bad Therapy


Varient

Starring: Alicia Silverstone, Rob Corddry, Michaela Watkins, Anna Pniowsky, Haley Joel Osment, David Paymer

When it drops: April 17

Amazon

The Quarry


Lionsgate

Starring: Shea Whigham, Michael Shannon, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Bobby Soto, Bruno Bichir

When it drops: April 17

Amazon

Endings, Beginnings


Samuel Goldwyn Films

Starring: Shailene Woodley, Jamie Dornan, Sebastian Stan, Matthew Gray Gubler, Lindsay Sloane, Kyra Sedgwick

When it drops: May 1

Amazon

Arkansas


Lionsgate

Starring: Liam Hemsworth, Clark Duke, Michael Kenneth Williams, Vivica A. Fox, Eden Brolin, Chandler Duke, John Malkovich, Vince Vaughn

When it drops: May 1

Amazon

True History of the Kelly Gang


IFC Films

Starring: George Mackay, Russell Crowe, Nicholas Hoult, Essie Davis, Charlie Hunnam, Thomasin McKenzie

When it drops: May 8

Amazon

Me, running to the couch to rent these these movies in the comfort of my own home:

Amazon

For the latest on movies that have been postponed entirely, click here.

Twitter Australia’s Unlikely Coronavirus Celebrity Is A Boomer Health Journalist

Twitter 18 Funny Tweets From This Month That’ll Hopefully Give You A Break From All The Chaos

by | Mar 21, 2020 | Trending

Twitter

twitter


Jon-Michael Poff / BuzzFeed

The news this week has been scary — you don’t need me to tell you that. So if you’re in need of a laugh, here are the best tweets of the month so far — they made me smile, and I hope they’ll make you smile too. As always, if you like what you see, click through and follow your favorites to make your Twitter timeline a happier, funnier place.

Twitter Travellers Stranded Abroad Because Of Coronavirus Say Nobody Is Helping Them To Get Home

by | Mar 20, 2020 | Trending

Twitter


Supplied

Stephen Atkins and Niamh Moore

Travellers who are stuck overseas because of the novel coronavirus say they are getting no help from the Foreign Office, from travel insurers who say they won’t pay out, or from airlines that are overwhelmed by demand.

Holidaymakers stranded abroad told BuzzFeed News that both insurers and the Foreign Office had told them that it was up to airlines to get them home, but as airlines are receiving an unprecedented number of calls — both from people currently abroad and customers whose future travel plans have been disrupted —they are struggling to get help.

BuzzFeed News spoke to travllers stranded around the world, as COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, continues to cause travel issues. On Tuesday the Spanish government ordered that hotels in the country must close next week, and the FCO told Brits who are currently on holiday there to make plans to return as soon as possible — which has likely piled more pressure on travel companies that are already struggling to cope with demand.

Stephen Atkins and his Irish partner Niamh Moore are stuck in Peru’s capital, Lima, after they were unable to get a flight out before the country closed its borders. The couple, who are both social workers who work with adults in hospital, set off on what was supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime six-month trip around South America the day before New Year’s Eve, but decided to cut their holiday short.

“We made the tough decision to cut this short because of our health and safety,” Atkins said, “and also we’ve got elderly relatives at home and we’re worried about them, and we just want to get back.”

However, they have been unable to get on a flight back to the UK. Lima is on lockdown and they are only allowed to leave their hotel to buy food or medicines. It is looking like Atkins will still be there on Sunday, which is his birthday.

They have contacted the British Embassy for help, but have been told that they just have to wait it out.

“A state of emergency was declared by the Peruvian government on Monday,” Atkins told BuzzFeed News, “and they said that all the borders would be closed for a minimum of 15 days.”

Once they heard the border was closing, Atkins said, they tried to book a flight out, but there wasn’t enough time — by the time they got to the airport, nobody was allowed in.

“We’ve had no official word from the UK government other than they suggested that we keep checking the newsfeed and contact our airlines. We tried to do that and we were on hold to the airline for an hour and a half yesterday before giving up. They’re not answering because obviously they haven’t got any flights, so it’s not the best advice.”

Atkins said that his understanding is that the Peruvian government are open to the idea of facilitating rescue flights — but he said that the British government has not offered them the option.

“It’s quite scary, we’re stuck so far away from home,” Atkins told BuzzFeed News. “Obviously we’re worried that food supplies will run out, we’re worried about what will happen if we get sick here, we’re all holed-up in hostels or hotels, and that’s obviously quite expensive, a lot of people are backpacking, including ourselves, and we’ve gone into a hotel because we thought it would be safer and cleaner, but obviously there’s the financial element of that.

“But the main worry is there’s no information, we don’t know when we’re likely to come home,” he said, adding that they fear the travel ban could be extended to 30 days or even longer.

“It’s the uncertainty that is really worrying, and the lack of communication,” he said.

“The Peruvian government aren’t going to move I don’t think on their 15-day shutdown, but they have said they will negotiate with countries with regards to getting their nationals home, but the only advice we’ve had from [the British ambassador] is ‘sit tight, we’re working on it’, but when we went to the embassy on Monday there was no one there, the doors were shut.” The only way they’ve been able to contact consular staff, he said, is through Twitter.

Andrew, who asked BuzzFeed News not to use his full name, was visiting the Ivory Coast with a friend, and went to the embassy for help after his flight home was cancelled. But he said he was turned away at the gate and told that it was the airline’s responsibility to get him home.

“When we heard that Air France, our carrier, were dropping their number of flights by 90%, we decided that we should go to the embassy to see what advice they had, because nothing had changed on the FCO website at the time and there was no advice around.”

“We went to the embassy office, which is a small consular office in Abidjan,” but when they arrived, he said, security staff on the gate told them to ring the embassy phone line or check the website.

“We asked to see someone and after an hour someone finally came to say that they weren’t willing to help us, we couldn’t come in, and that it wasn’t a service they could provide and getting us home was the responsibility of our airline,” he said.

Andrew said that consular staff told him that 10 years ago they could have helped, but “we’re too small now”, asking if they’d considered staying in Abidjan for longer if they couldn’t get home, “and sent us on our way”.

In the end, they went to the airport and bought new flights, taking a convoluted route home.

“I feel quite disappointed really,” he said, “I feel let down. My understanding of the embassy’s purpose is to support British nationals overseas, and they turned us away. They had no interest in having a conversation with us. They acknowledged that there was a crisis, but said that they were too busy to have a conversation with us. I was very disappointed.”

Lloydd Hamwijk, an actor and model who had been living in London and is now trying to get back to Amsterdam, has had to cut short his trip and pay €3,000 for an alternative flight home after he was unable to get his airline to change his original ticket — he was told he was only able to change the departure date, not the location.

“I went on holiday [to Malaysia] at the end of February,” he said, “I was planning to visit through Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia. I decided not to travel further than Malaysia due to the corona, on [March] 14th I decided things were getting bad, so I decided to book a ticket with Emirates from Changi, Singapore, to Amsterdam.

“On the 17th I got news that the borders from Malaysia to Singapore would get closed. I tried to cross the border by car, but was stuck in the travel jam for eight hours. I found out then that there is no way I can make my flight, and the travel agency I booked with completely ignored my requests or calls. I now booked a flight for the 21st for a whopping price of 3K.

“I hope I get back safe. Everyone is panicking, stores are closed, and I ran through my funds. [It’s] very difficult. I’ve nearly spent all my savings on flights and accommodation, and the airlines really don’t give a f. It was meant to be relaxing and adventurous, the reality was quite the opposite.”

Carol Holmes is currently stuck in Florida with her husband Gene. They had been on a Caribbean cruise and docked in the States last Sunday.

“We checked our flight status with Virgin and we tried to call them,” she told BuzzFeed News. They couldn’t get through on the phone, but checked their online account and everything seemed fine, so they picked up their hire car and drove down to Key West.

“It was on Monday, when we were in Key West, that we got an email saying our flights had been cancelled,” she said. “At that stage, we tried to call Virgin, numerous times we called the number and got cut off, numerous times, I can’t even count the number of times.”

When they did get through, it was to an answerphone message saying the wait to speak to somebody was more than three hours. “When you’re abroad, using a mobile phone, that’s not really an acceptable situation,” she said.

They responded to the email instead and were told they’d been put on a list of people who need to get home, and that their expenses would be covered. “It’s all well and good if you’ve got the cash to pay it,” Holmes said. “Luckily we’ve got a credit card, but there must be some people in our position, at the end of their holiday, who have not got any funds available to them.”

“Whether we’re on the list to fly home or not, who knows? We hope they got the email back, we hope we’re on the list, but as of yet, we haven’t heard anything.” Holmes said they don’t want to keep driving to the airport as not only is it a hassle, but it also puts them at risk of contracting the virus.

“The only time we want to go to the airport is when we go for our flight.” She said there had been “a complete lack of communication”.

“We feel completely stranded, we really do,” she said, “we feel completely lost, really. We’ve got a business to run back in the UK. I’m deemed a vulnerable person because of my medial history, so I’m obviously I’m trying to be very careful with where I go, and we just feel completely abandoned and stranded.”

“We don’t even know if we’re on the list to fly home. We presume we are, but we haven’t heard anything,” she said, adding that she felt “awful — stressed and worried and crying a lot”.

Emma McNicholas, who works in Parliament, has also struggled to get home from Australia after she was left unable to complete the return leg of her journey through Indonesia.

She told BuzzFeed News: “My original trip — and laughably using my annual leave I accrued from cancelling my annual leave in December for the election — was for three weeks in Australia and Bali, here in Melbourne for the Grand Prix, then two weeks in Bali.

“I have comprehensive travel insurance, but I called and asked for advice and they basically said if I decided not to fly I wouldn’t be able to claim — so I figured I might as well go, travel advice for Indonesia and Australia at the time was fine and safe to visit.”

However, just three days after she landed in Melbourne, the Australian government put in self-isolation measures for new arrivals, and the Indonesian government changed its border rules to stop British nationals from entering the country, also stating that any who do have to go straight into self-isolation.

“The FCO advice changed and said it can’t guarantee my safety, health standards, or my flight home,” she told BuzzFeed News. “I had an Airbnb here and the other new arrival spent one night and refused to stay in the flat because of my arrival.

“And I was then basically stranded here in Oz, unable to get to Bali, or my flight home from there, and not feeling welcome in my Airbnb either. My only option then was to try and get me a flight home from Melbourne.”

However, she said she was unable to change her flight details on the app, and was told to call the local Emirates office, but there was no local office in Australia.

“So I had to ring the London one,” she said, “which was tricky with the time difference. I was ringing for two days straight. I call my travel insurer frantic, and completely helpless, as I’m getting no luck, and all they told me is they can’t help me at all, as it’s a ‘pandemic and not part of my cover’ — or any person’s cover it turns out.”

She continued: “So in the end I got very desperate and went to Melbourne Airport first thing in the morning to try and speak to an Emirates member of staff, I find out there’s a admin office there, so I went, and the staff member was initially telling me she was unable to help and to call the Emirates office number.

“I explained the above, and how my situation is now I’m stranded, and honestly I just wept, which isn’t my usual style at all. And she took some pity on me, and managed to get me on the phone in touch with someone from the Emirates ticket office who could change my flight.

“The staff in the office, and on the phone were lovely, quick, and super helpful in what are completely crazy times, and I’m very grateful the staff took pity on me, and I’m set to fly home tonight. I had to pay the difference in cost of flight from Bali to Melbourne, which was £100, and I’m set to fly home this evening.”

An FCO spokesperson said: “We recognise that any British people currently overseas may be nervous about the impact of coronavirus on their travel and their health.

“We are in close contact with travel providers and our international partners to provide support to those British people affected by ongoing measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”







Amazon Gumtree, A Big Australian Classifieds Site, Is Letting People Price Gouge On Coronavirus Supplies

by | Mar 20, 2020 | Trending

Amazon

As the coronavirus outbreak spreads across the world, people everywhere are panic buying supplies such as toilet paper, hand sanitiser and face masks. And many have attempted to capitalise off that by selling goods in high demand online, at several times their retail price.

In response, eBay has banned sales of face masks and hand sanitiser. Facebook and Google have banned advertisements selling face masks, and also such sales in Facebook Marketplace. Amazon is restricting third parties from selling these products (though how they’re deciding who should be restricted is unclear).

And people are going hog wild selling toilet paper, hand sanitiser and face masks, often at a significant premium.

Profiting from a pandemic 🤮 Is this why there is no hand sanitizer on the shelves anymore? #gumtree #covid19
#coronavirusaus #ProfitsOverPeople

Many people have posted to social media about their frustration over the price gouging.

So, could eBay, gumtree, FB marketplace and co. please automatically de-list toilet paper sales? This is absolutely criminal behaviour and should be penalised! 😡

It’s difficult to tell how often these goods are being successfully sold for exorbitant prices, because Gumtree does not list the sale price once an item has been sold.

In some cases, the listings are clearly a joke.

Tweeps getting all upset by that woman selling high priced TP at the Sydney market are gonna head explode when they search for toilet paper on gumtree 🤯😂 Highly recommend for Sunday morning humour #toiletpaperwars

But in other cases, multiple listings found by BuzzFeed News show supplies in high demand being repeatedly sold by the same users.

Hundreds of people have signed a petition calling for Gumtree to stop listing these goods.

The site does not take a portion of sales, so there isn’t any particular incentive to allow expensive goods to be sold on its platform.

And one of Australia’s most senior politicians — home affairs minister Peter Dutton, who was also the first Australian politician to be diagnosed with COVID-19 — has threatened to “come down like a ton of bricks” on people profiteering off the coronavirus pandemic.

I asked Gumtree earlier this week whether it would follow the example of other classified sites and crack down on price gouging.

The response sent on behalf of the company was swift and emphatic: nah.

It said Gumtree encouraged users to report ads that breached their policies — which includes ads “intended to profit off natural disasters, health or public safety concerns, or tragic events” — and recommended people get advice from the World Health Organization before making purchases.

But it did not say it would crack down itself on the price gouging.

I replied, just in case my request had been misunderstood.

After a few hours a reply popped into my inbox. In short: yes, that’s correct, at the moment.

The company’s position hinted at a change — “Gumtree is exploring restrictions and will be implementing changes to their policy in due course” — but hasn’t informed BuzzFeed News of any updated policies since.

The site isn’t entirely filled by price gouging. Some people are using Gumtree to offer supplies to people in need for free.

Gumtree shows us a perfect snapshot of the world. Some people selling single rolls of toilet paper at ridiculous prices, others offering multiple rolls free to the elderly with delivery. Nothing in between. 2020, folks!

One seller even changed their mind about selling toilet paper because, they said, they felt “guilty about it”.

Amazon

UPDATE

Following publication of this report, Gumtree announced it will temporarily ban the sales of toilet paper, hand sanitiser, disinfecting wipes and face masks.

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Twitter Private Citizens Are Running Websites And Twitter Accounts Tracking The Spread Of COVID-19

by | Mar 20, 2020 | Trending

Twitter

Australia has at least 454 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. At least, that’s the latest figure released by the nation’s Department of Health.

But if you ask others, Australia has significantly more than that. Some people have been publishing their own count — and more — in near real-time, using publicly available information.

These independent coronavirus trackers are filling the information vacuum left by the government, which they say isn’t doing a good job of keeping citizens informed.

Before March 15, Australia’s federal government didn’t have a website with regularly updated numbers of coronavirus cases. And while the government has started publishing figures on its website, the independent coronavirus tracking resources are providing more information — such as ages, genders, even the sources of location transmissions — all in one place and updated more often.

Juliette O’Brien is a journalist and a communications consultant who runs covid19data.com.au, which tracks information about the spread of the coronavirus in Australia.

She came up with the idea a few weeks ago when she was at work at the Sydney Morning Herald. She and her colleagues were searching for a graph of how many cases had been confirmed in Australia with a state-by-state breakdown — but there was no central source for this information.

O’Brien began to go through the news reports of cases one-by-one and came up with the idea of creating the website to share the information with the public.

“I think the people in newsrooms and in health departments were so tapped in that they didn’t realise it,” she said. “Because if you’re in the public and you’re not tapped into every minute of the news cycle, you’re getting lost in the swamp of information.”

The website, launched on March 13, draws from news reports and updates from state health authorities to track the number of COVID-19 cases, where the subjects had been and, in some cases, how they had contracted the virus.

More than 200,000 people have viewed covid19data.com.au in excess of 315,000 times.

“I was really surprised by the reaction to it. I just told people about it, and they told people about it. In just three days I’ve received 600 emails, grown my Twitter follower account by thousands, and everyone has said it gives them a simple, clear visual about what is happening in the country,” she said.

O’Brien thinks it’s an important service, and one she’s disappointed that neither government nor the media is effectively filling. She think the federal government’s being inconsistent about how it’s treating the public.

“They trust individuals to self-isolate, so they don’t enforce a lockdown. But then we’re not trusted with all the information. We’re just reassured.”

Despite the rising number of cases, some types of information about the coronavirus in Australia are becoming more difficult to find.

O’Brien said initially when there was just a trickle of cases, state health departments were giving detailed information about how each individual caught the virus. Now they’re being less specific and that, she says, makes it harder to stay informed.

Morgan, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, runs the @VirusWatchAu Twitter account where he regularly posts state-by-state case breakdowns. He started the account in late January because he couldn’t find anyone else posting Australia-focused information about the virus outbreak. He said he’s motivated by a sense of ensuring accountability.

“I was surprised by the lack of government and media coverage in Australia to what was happening in China with the coronavirus,” he wrote in a message. “Also, [I was] sceptical of the numbers.”

The account tweets case and death numbers, as well as job listings that mention coronavirus, state health resources and even a timeline of Tom Hanks’ visit to Australia — to figure out whether the actor caught the virus in Australia.

twitter Opera house + Bondi Beach recently visited by Tom Hanks & Rita Wilson

26 Jan: Arrived Gold Coast

5 March: Rita performs Emporium Hotel, Brisbane 

6 March: Bondi

7 March: Rita performs Sydney Opera House

12 March: #coronavirus positive

#coronavirusaustralia #covid19australia

Opera house + Bondi Beach recently visited by Tom Hanks & Rita Wilson

26 Jan: Arrived Gold Coast

5 March: Rita performs Emporium Hotel, Brisbane

6 March: Bondi

7 March: Rita performs Sydney Opera House

12 March: #coronavirus positive

#coronavirusaustralia #covid19australia

Morgan said he’s no longer getting shifts at his casual role, so he’s free to spend up to six hours a day researching the coronavirus in Australia.

“Information isn’t being released in a consistent and systematic way so I literally have to go through the media releases or watch press conferences,” Morgan said.

Jessica runs the @COVID_Australia Twitter account, which lists coronavirus cases for each state. She began started tracking the outbreak for her own interest, but created the account to share the information with others.

Jessica updates figures every hour of the day — significantly more frequently than the federal government’s daily updates. She has tweeted more than 550 times to her 8,300 followers since she started the account on March 5.


@COVID_Australia / Via Twitter

Jessica doesn’t blame government for not providing this information because “they are so busy at the moment, I can see why there’s a lag”. That being said, she thinks it’s important that people have this information quickly.

“It’s going to get out of control very quickly and last a long time. I think the numbers are useful for the public to gauge the seriousness of it and equally important to let people know our recovery rates,” she told BuzzFeed News.

Her bosses know how much time she is spending on this — Jessica works full-time — because they, along with her friends, have been coming to her to stay informed.

“It’s not cutting into my sleep yet, but that may change,” she said.

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