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Australian News

Victoria in the midst of ‘second wave’ of COVID-19, Australian health experts say


Infectious disease experts across the country are calling on authorities to lockdown coronavirus hot spots in Victoria.

It comes after the state recorded 75 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, the largest increase since 70 cases were recorded on March 31 and Victoria’s fourth-highest single day increase since the start of the pandemic.

And South Australia has dumped its plan to lift quarantine measures for Victoria, NSW and the ACT next month on the latest health advice.

Professor of Hospital Infection and Infectious Diseases Control at the University of New South Wales Mary-Louise McLaws said Victoria was experiencing a resurgence of “epic proportion”.

“Victoria has had three distinct risk categories – community that is mostly family clusters, quarantine hotel staff, and health providers … but what is particularly driving this is the interconnection between these three risk groups,” she said.

Professor McLaws said instructions about wearing masks needed to be clearer.

“It’s time the authorities accepted the WHO Mask Guidelines for people living in areas with high infection and those who find themselves in situations where they cannot keep physical distancing such as in public transport and hot spots,” she said.

The messaging that masks only work by protecting uninfected persons from an infected person who is wearing the mask is not correct – otherwise why do health workers wear a mask while carrying for someone with COVID.”

Griffith University School of Environment and science professor Hamish McCallum said Victoria was “clearly” in the midst of a second wave of coronavirus.

“Certainly, the rise in daily reported cases looks qualitatively very similar to the initial wave in March. However, this does need to be viewed in terms of the increased testing and relaxation of the criteria for testing,” he said.

“We will be seeing more asymptomatic cases among these positives than was the case back in March.

“Victoria‘s percentage of positive tests is now less than 0.5 per cent, whereas it was about 2 per cent in mid-March.”

Director of the UQ Centre for Clinical Research at the The University of Queensland Professor David Paterson said Victoria’s weakness was “leakage” from quarantine.

“Quarantine hotel workers were not adequately trained in infection prevention and the quarantined travellers were not cleared prior to release,” he said.

“This weakness, coupled with community complacency, has led to further spread in the community.”

Meanwhile, South Australia has scrapped a plan to lift all its remaining border restrictions next month amid the spike in coronavirus cases in Victoria.

Premier Steven Marshall said the July 20 date to lift quarantine measures for Victoria, NSW and the ACT had been abandoned on the latest health advice. He said SA may move separately on NSW and the ACT, but no date had yet been set with the state’s transition committee to consider that issue on Friday.

“We are increasingly concerned about the outbreaks which are occurring in Victoria,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

“At this stage, we cannot possibly lift that border (with Victoria) on the 20th July as we were hoping to do.” Mr Marshall said the decision would also mean any AFL teams coming into South Australia from Victoria would be required to isolate for two weeks, as well as any returning SA teams that played in Melbourne.

“We apologise to the many people who will have to make changes but our number one priority is the health, safety and wellbeing of all South Australians,” he said.

SA previously lifted its border quarantine measures for Western Australia, Queensland, Tasmania and the Northern Territory and remained on track to do the same for other jurisdictions until the surge in COVID-19 cases in Melbourne. On Monday, 75 new infections were reported there, after 90 new cases over the weekend.

SA also reported three new cases on Monday, but all among about 260 Australians repatriated from India on Saturday.

In response to Victoria’s spike in cases, South Australia has also bolstered its policing of the border, with 260 officers stationed there to check on people entering the state.

Greater surveillance of backroads is also being conducted.



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Local News - Victoria

Luring students into science could dilute course quality, experts say


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“They want to build the STEM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics] workforce so they are saying, ‘we will cut the cost of the course so you can participate’, but at the same time … they are providing less.”

The most recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows Monash University had 6250 domestic students enrolled in maths and sciences in 2018, the highest of any Victorian university, followed by the University of Melbourne with 4765 and Deakin with 3648 students.

Those courses face funding cuts of $3513 a year for each maths student and $4758 a year for every science and engineering student. Environmental studies face a cut in government contributions of $9944 a year, Commonwealth Department of Education figures show.

La Trobe University had 6805 domestic students enrolled in health courses including nursing in 2018, which faces a 6 per cent cut per place in government funding, or $1729 per year.

Deakin University had the highest number of domestic education students in the state, with 2875.

Teaching degrees also face a 6 per cent cut in government funding for each domestic student, equating to $1066 a year.

Professor Frank Larkins, a researcher from the University of Melbourne’s Centre for the Study of Higher Education, said the Morrison government was sending universities a message: “We think you are over-funded for those courses”.

But the proposed cuts could force those institutes to reduce their offerings to fee-paying students, he said.

“Therefore you can employ fewer staff and in those practical subjects like nursing, science and engineering where you want to have leading edge equipment, fundamentally you won’t have as much money,” Professor Larkins said.

The Australian Technology Network (ATN), which represents four universities including RMIT University, said it would need to review the impact the fee changes will have on its engineering and science programs.

“For the ATN, being a large provider of engineering and science courses, we want to make sure we can continue to deliver these and we’ll continue to work closely with the government on how this might continue,” the network’s chief executive Luke Sheehy said.

University fees will also rise in courses in the humanities, law and commerce for new students from next year if the changes go ahead.

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan has said the government wants to incentivise students to take university courses that will equip them to work in fields with the highest jobs need.

But an analysis by Frank Larkins, a researcher at Melbourne University’s Centre for the Study of Higher Education, has found the sector faces an overall loss of almost $300 million a year due to changes in core funding, based on 2018 student figures and 2021 proposed field of study funding levels.

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Local News - Victoria

State should consider re-entering lockdown: experts


However, some of the experts behind the report and the state’s Chief Health Officer, Brett Sutton, maintained that Australia had not made a mistake by not pursuing elimination.

Professor Tony Blakely, an epidemiologist with Melbourne University who contributed to the government report, compared the suppression strategy to a see-saw: on one side are Victoria’s restrictions, contact tracing and public messaging, and on the other are new cases.

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“As you open society back up, at some point you’re going to exceed the balance and tip the see-saw like we’ve seen in Victoria. Then we have to re-adjust,” he said.

On Monday NSW Premier Gladys Berejikilian urged people from her state to avoid visiting Melbourne until further notice as Victoria recorded 16 new cases, including 12 of community transmission.

Professor Blakely rated Victoria’s chances of elimination under the current approach at 10 per cent due to persistent levels of community transmission.

He said while he was not advocating it, the only strategy to avoid similar backflips on restrictions in future would be for Victoria to try to eliminate the virus by returning to a hard lockdown for up to eight weeks.

“The discussion that should be happening behind closed doors – and it’s a really unpleasant one – is whether there is a strong case for Victoria to go back into lockdown,” he said.

“Then all of Australia will have eliminated the virus, or be close to eliminating it, and we can go back to normal life. Otherwise this will happen again and again.”

Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said on Monday that Victoria was considering enforcing a hard lockdown on Melbourne’s COVID-19 hotspots, similar to the statewide “stay at home” restrictions in March.

Professor Allen Cheng, head of The Alfred hospital’s COVID-19 response and another contributor to the government report, said “everything is on the table” and targeted lockdowns would be reasonable.

Professor Cheng agreed with Professor Blakely that repeated changes to restrictions would be unavoidable, unless Victoria were to enforce a hard lockdown.

“I think everything is on the table after the messages over the weekend,” he said.

“It probably doesn’t make sense to lock down regional areas, for example … but we are worried about some parts of metropolitan Melbourne. All these things [such as lockdowns] should be considered at a very high level. We do need to get this current situation under control.”

Professor Shitij Kapur, the co-chair of April’s government report and the dean of Melbourne University’s medical faculty, said no country had successfully eliminated the virus by preventing new cases for a period of about two months.

Iceland achieved 14 days without a new COVID-19 case twice before new cases re-emerged, while last week New Zealand had seven new infections via hotel quarantine cases after previously declaring itself virus-free.

Professor Sutton indicated on Monday that Victoria would never attempt elimination but “if there’s a requirement for stronger action in order to keep numbers suppressed, we’ve said we’ll take those actions”.

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“When you’ve got 150,000 new cases globally every single day, when quarantine cannot be 100 per cent – as we’ve seen in New Zealand, as we’ve seen here in Melbourne – you have to recognise that a single case could re-emerge anywhere in Australia,” he said

“So the suppression strategy recognises that, and it’s trying to control numbers as much as possible. That’s the approach we’re taking in Victoria.”

Professor Kapur said he was “not alarmed by what we are seeing in Victoria, but I am very cautious”.

“If anyone thought we would quickly get to a place where we could throw caution to the wind and resume our old ways, that was misguided,” he said.

“It was always going to be like this.”

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Local News - Victoria

Experts urge lockdowns as second-wave fears grow



Police will increase their enforcement of restrictions, state of emergency orders have been extended for another month, and holidaymakers are warned against congregating in large groups as fears of a second wave continue to grow. 



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Experts predict rise in soft-tissue injuries as we return to sport after coronavirus lockdown


Physiotherapists are expecting an influx of hamstring, knee and ankle injuries as professional athletes and weekend warriors return to Australian sporting fields after enforced layoffs caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

While thousands of competitors have run or cycled to keep fit during the closure of training facilities, the Australian Physiotherapy Association warned that was not a substitute for skills like tackling, kicking, sprinting and pivoting.

A woman leads the way in a running drill while junior players look on
Physio and researcher Brooke Patterson takes junior players through a running drill.(Supplied: AFL Media)

Sports physio Brooke Patterson, a former AFLW player and PhD candidate at La Trobe University, said four to six weeks of training with gradual increases in intensity were required for players of all levels to be match-ready.

“The age of 25 is when you start to see soft-tissue injuries becoming a problem with accelerating and decelerating,” Ms Patterson said.

“If you’re older and you’ve already had a soft tissue injury, you’re probably at the highest risk.

“It’s been a tough time for the physio profession in terms of the restrictions, but I think they’re going to have plenty of business in the next few weeks.”

German injury rate tripled after restart

An African football player limps off the field
Borussia Moenchengladbach’s Breel Embolo leaves the pitch after sustaining an injury, as play resumes behind closed doors following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease on May 23, 2020.(Reuters: Ina Fassbender)

The easing of coronavirus restrictions has allowed many local leagues to resume training, while gyms are set to reopen around the country this month.

As the AFL prepares for its return next week, big name players Adam Treloar, Lance Franklin and Jaeger O’Meara have already suffered soft-tissue injuries during contact training.

In Germany’s Bundesliga football competition injury rates soared when matches resumed on May 16, after some clubs only conducted three weeks of preparation.

Dr Joel Mason, a sports scientist based in Berlin, has been tracking the Bundesliga injury list and feared there would be similar results when Australian competitions resume.

Joel Mason, wearing sports training attire, sits for a portrait.
Joel Mason says there is mounting evidence that injuries are piling up in professional competitions.(Supplied)

According to Dr Mason’s research, Bundesliga injuries went from a pre-lockdown average of 0.27 per game to 0.88 in the first round the competition resumed.

Similar results occurred in the following three rounds.

“While the sample sizes are obviously still limited and inconsistencies in injury reporting create an imperfect model, the evidence is quickly accumulating and the early indications from both training and matches continue to point in one direction — that post-lockdown injury rates are comfortably outside the boundaries of the typically observed injury rates,” Dr Mason wrote on his blog, which has received widespread coverage in international sports media.

Dr Mason told the ABC “injuries started piling up” as soon as players got into training camps.

‘Leave the pride at the door of the gym’

Dr Mason said smaller, local leagues needed to equip amateur coaches with training manuals so they could safely and slowly ease players back to fitness.

“Don’t expect to start where you left off,” he said.

“Emphasise a gentle increase in training load rather than a rapid escalation, and don’t get caught playing catch up.

“Leave the pride at the door of the gym.

“You’re going to be sore and put up numbers that you’re not used to, but embrace the process and give yourself the rest you need to.”

The experts’ advice will be of little use in some local competitions, which have called off their senior men’s seasons and won’t play again until 2021.

Two of Melbourne’s metropolitan AFL competitions, the Eastern Football Netball League and Northern Football Netball League, said financial pressures and inability to keep crowds socially distanced were among the reasons for the cancellation.

State of play across the country

Children playing soccer
Outdoor junior sport competitions will begin in NSW before adults can take to the field.(ABC News: Jonathon Gul)

New South Wales: Gyms, fitness studios, pool and some recreational indoor centres to reopen on June 13. Junior sport to restart from July 1, with local adult competition dates yet to be announced.

Victoria: Outdoor training allowed with social-distance measures, and gyms and indoor recreation centres to open on June 21.

Queensland: Non-contact indoor sport and outdoor training now permitted, and gyms opened to 20 people per enclosed space. Competitions could resume from July 10.

Western Australia: Gyms, playgrounds and full contact sport to resume from June 6 with limits on spectator numbers.

South Australia: Non-contact outdoor sport permitted, with competitions to resume from June 25.

Tasmania: Gyms, boot camps, indoor and outdoor training now allows 20 participants, but social distancing measures apply. Competitions could resume from July 13.

Australian Capital Territory: Pools open, non-contact sport permitted, outdoor training limited to 10 people.

Northern Territory: Local sporting competitions allowed. Events with more than 500 spectators need a government-approved safety plan



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Property experts debate impact of stimulus package on house prices


The Government’s proposed new homebuyers grant will result in established properties being abandoned and ultimately drive down housing prices, according to a leading economist.

Property hunters will reportedly be offered a $25,000 cash incentive to build a new home under the looming stimulus plan to support jobs in the construction industry.

But AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver said this will likely lead to buyers deserting homes already built in a market severely weakened by consumer demand.

The significantly lower rate of immigration as a result of the coronavirus pandemic is viewed by property experts as a major factor for forecasted falls in prices, with the number of people entering the country tipped to fall by about 200,000 in the next 12 months to about 35,000.

“Traditionally homebuyer grants have been positive for house prices and there’s no doubt this will help some developers promoting buildings to be sold by boosting demand for properties,” Dr Oliver told news.com.au.

RELATED: How much will get from new scheme

RELATED: What homebuyers grant means for you

“But it will also detract demand from established housing, so on balance it could actually be a bit of a negative on property prices.

“It switches demand from established homes to new homes and over time it will lead to an increase in supply of new property, which will put upwards pressure on vacancy rates which have already gone up as a result of the coronavirus shock.”

If immigration numbers stay low, Dr Oliver said, there could be a flow of new properties coming on to the market, leading to higher vacancy rates and ultimately an oversupply.

“Normally underlying demand for dwellings is about 200,000 a year and if we go down to 120,000, that’s a huge hit,” he said.

The fears of scaled back demand isn’t supported by search activity for property online, according to REA Group director of economic research Cameron Kusher.

He said the number of consumers looking for housing on realestate.com.au has never been as high.

“Last month was actually a record month for enquiries for our new home section,” he told news.com.au.

“So people are looking at the property market but one of the challenges at the moment is there is not a lot of properties listed for sale.

“I don’t think people will desert the established market.”

The property stimulus yet to be announced by the Government is tipped to include a cash incentive for Australians to embark on renovations.

Mr Kusher said this will encourage potential buyers to knock down existing properties to rebuild or build a new home behind an older dwelling on a larger block.

MIGRATION MAJOR RISK TO PRICES

The impact of immigration is an underappreciated factor on housing prices in Australia, according to Mr Kusher.

He says a large portion of the country’s economic expenditure is based on more and more people arriving each year.

“It has been one of the key reasons why Australia hasn’t had a recession for 30 years because we keep getting additional demand from people migrating from overseas,” Mr Kusher said.

MELBOURNE AND SYDNEY PRICES TO FALL

Grim forecasts at the height of the coronavirus lockdown predicted property prices to fall between 20 to 30 per cent over the next year.

But those projections have largely been trimmed after the Government’s JobSeeker and JobKeeper packages provided income support combined with the banks allowing struggling Australians to defer mortgages.

Dr Oliver said the expiration of these mechanisms will ultimately lead to higher unemployment and will weigh on housing prices.

He is currently predicting the Sydney and Melbourne markets to fall about 10 per cent over the next 12 months, Canberra to be largely unchanged and the other capital cities to lose about 5 per cent in value.

Continue the conversation on Twitter via @James_P_Hall or email at james.hall1@news.com.au





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Coronavirus live news: 6m Australians download tracing app as experts fear second wave in US summer | World news











More on the wage subsidy scheme in Australia. So far, the government has not given any indication it is planning to extend the scheme to excluded workers, such as casuals employed for less than a year, university and local government staff, temporary visa holders and employees of foreign-owned companies.

However, a scheduled review in June may look at tweaks to the scheme, including the potential to extend targeted support to the worst-affected sectors beyond the expiry in September.

The government has been spinning the updated figures as good news.

The energy minister, Angus Taylor, told Sky News this morning that the original forecast was never “an objective or a target”.

“It does mean that we’re in a better position as we work our way towards recovery and that is fantastic news,” Taylor said, adding that “we’ll see what comes out of” the review in June.










In Australia, the government is facing sustained pressure to widen its wage subsidy scheme to cover a broader group of workers, after revelations on Friday that the six-month “jobkeeper” program is now expected to cost the budget AU$70bn (US$45.8bn) rather than AU$130bn.




A woman looks at a mural of a health worker with wings holding a globe on International Nurses Day in Melbourne on 12 May 2020.

A woman looks at a mural of a health worker with wings holding a globe on International Nurses Day in Melbourne on 12 May 2020. Photograph: William West/AFP via Getty Images

The Labor opposition’s Senate leader, Penny Wong, described the news as “a $60bn black hole in the economic credibility of the Morrison government” and she reinforced calls for the $1500 fortnightly payment to be extended to a more of the workforce, including short-term casuals.

Speaking on the ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday morning, Wong said the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, should have “the courage” to accept a forthcoming invitation to appear before the Senate’s Covid-19 inquiry to explain the error.

“We’d say to Josh, when you’ve got a budget blunder of this size, I reckon it is about time you fronted up and explained it.”










America begins to unlock for summer – but is it inviting a disastrous second wave?










Six million Australians download tracing app

Updated










Summary





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Experts debate impact of Chinese buyers on Australian property market


A surge in interest from Chinese investors has sparked renewed fears foreign buyers will drive up the price of Australian housing and leave local first home buyers out in the cold.

The Australian property sector has been battered during the coronavirus pandemic as unemployment soars, border closures limit access for buyers and social distancing saw inspections and auctions temporarily cancelled.

Despite this, data from Chinese property portal Juwai IQI showed interest in the Australian market remained strong.

In the first quarter of the year, Chinese enquiries dropped 14 per cent but this was only slight compared to the whopping 40 per cent drop from Australian buyers.

This sent tongues wagging and stoked fears Aussies would be outpriced amid problematic commentary already littered with anti-Chinese sentiment.

“China is back in business much earlier than the rest of the world,” the portal’s George Chmiel told A Current Affair.

He said Australia is a popular site for investment because the weakened dollar provides a buffer for foreign conversion while its universities, market strength and success in containing the pandemic means the economy should get a head start on the US and UK.

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Standen Estate Agents sales executive Emma Vadas specialises in Sydney CBD high-end dwellings — a portion of the market frequented by Chinese buyers.

She told news.com.au this cohort dominated the market during the property boom between 2013 and 2017 before abandoning our shores.

Last year Ms Vadas sold only one or two properties to a Chinese buyer but interest was beginning to come back in December and now nearly all interest in her properties is from this category of investor.

“We’ve seen about 90 per cent of enquiries at the moment coming from Chinese buyers,” she said.

“It’s interesting to note these are not new people, these are not random people I have never dealt with, these are people who bought and sold from me two-four years ago and have just come back into the market.

“There certainly is a perception of value at the moment.”

But these buyers aren’t reflective of the Chinese middle class flooding the local sector, Ms Vadas says, they are dual citizens or permanent residents who conduct business in Australia and contribute to the country.

She said buyers from the world’s second largest economy have been a “heavy driver of price growth” in Australia and have been an active participant throughout her 17-year career.

“The fact they’re coming back into the market is a healthy sign,” she said.

The surging interest in the Australian market is more akin to window shopping, according to Starr Partners chief executive Douglas Driscoll who said buying was limited to dual citizens due to fiercely strict laws forbidding money leaving China.

To help prop up its own property and share market, its supreme court introduced stiff penalties at the beginning of last year for illegal money exchanges which included five years imprisonment.

New figures from the Foreign Investment Review Board reveal the declining interest over the last few years.

Between 2015-2016, Chinese investment in Australian agriculture, resources and real estate totalled $47 billion and fell sharply to $15 billion in 2018-2019.

“I haven’t actually seen any correlation between a renewed interest and acquisition or volume numbers,” Mr Driscoll told news.com.au.

But he warned a return to a period of large scale foreign investment could be destructive for the market.

“If you’ve got swathes of overseas buyers buying Australian property, I think it’s tantamount to selling off the family silver,” Mr Driscoll said.

“If we continued on the path we were on two-three years ago, we would have had a disproportionate amount of Australian property owned by overseas buyers.

“And what that does is it affects first home buyers who are struggling to get a foot on their very own property ladder.

“We’ve got to keep a lid on it and we’ve got to be able to control it.”

MARKET FORECASTS ‘WITHOUT FOUNDATION’

The Commonwealth Bank this week forecast a staggering market collapse of 30 per cent following an expectation from Westpac house prices would fall by 20 per cent.

Mr Driscoll said rising unemployment and continued economic uncertainty will contribute to lower house prices but questions the grim predictions, saying his team at the “coalface” are yet to see any falls in Sydney prices.

“I certainly don’t agree with some of the numbers that are being bandied around, I think they’re sensationalists, quite frankly, and without foundation,” he told news.com.au.



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TikTok weight-loss videos fuelling eating disorders amid coronavirus lockdowns, health experts say


Young users of a major video-sharing social media platform are creating and distributing a huge amount of content promoting “extremely unsafe” weight-loss techniques, eating disorder experts have warned.

Since its launch by a Chinese company in 2016, TikTok has grown a worldwide user base of more than 800 million people, about half of whom are estimated to be under the age of 34.

It is primarily known for its young users’ videos of dance challenges, animals and humorous lip sync takes on politics.

However, eating disorder support group the Butterfly Foundation said a failure to restrict access to videos promoting unhealthy weight loss methods was an urgent problem that had got worse amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“These videos depict potentially harmful content that has the ability to reinforce negative feelings, attitudes and behaviours — in relation to body image, food and diet — to a vulnerable youth audience,” national helpline team leader Amelia Trinick said.

Potentially thousands of users are sharing videos — often captioned with the words “what I eat in a day” and overlaid with pop music — which count calories of every meal, offer recipes for water-based weight-loss drinks, and provide tips on how to rapidly lose weight.

Another with the caption “how did u loose weight?” (sic) was followed by a photo of cigarettes.

A self-professed eating disorder survivor posted a video from what appeared to be a hospital room, saying she was on fluids and “so scared of water weight” she had gained.

Another video shows a young girl wandering into a room with a bag of potato chips, then watching a video of model Emily Ratajkowski, before putting down the chips.

The caption states: “TikTok reminds me not to eat”.

TikTok screenshot
TikTok users are posting “tips” and “hacks” to lose weight in short amounts of time.(TikTok)

Ms Trinick said the Butterfly Foundation has been “increasingly alerted to problematic content” on TikTok in recent months.

“The videos also highlight our fixation with the societal ideal that ‘thin is best’ and promote extremely unsafe weight loss methods to an impressionable audience.”

The Butterfly Foundation’s annual Insights in Body Esteem survey of more than 5,000 Australians last year showed “alarming” results, demonstrating social media’s influence in how young people view their bodies.

Of those surveyed, 48 per cent indicated they were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their appearance.

Experts are also concerned about an increase in disordered eating during the coronavirus pandemic, with the Butterfly Foundation’s helpline receiving “many” calls from people experiencing eating disorders and facing “a unique set of challenges and triggers”.

“People living with an eating disorder during this time have indicated a significant increase in eating disorder behaviours and thoughts due to the high levels of stress and uncertainty associated with COVID-19,” Ms Trinick said.

‘Loopholes’ allowing children to bypass restrictions

Under the self-harm section of TikTok’s terms and conditions, the company stipulates content that promotes eating habits that are “likely to cause health issues” is “not allowed on the platform”.

“Do not post content that supports pro-ana [anorexia] or other dangerous behaviour to lose weight,” it states.

A caption reading 'this juice helped me lose five kilos in one week' on TikTok
Detox juices are trending among some young users of the app.(TikTok)

Despite those warnings, Ms Trinick said many videos showed young people engaging in “dangerous restrictive dieting behaviours to lose excessive amounts of weight”.

“While this in itself is an issue, what is even more worrying is that these behaviours are being shared with other TikTok users who may then engage in the same behaviours or make body, weight, shape, appearance comparisons to the person in the original video — who may indeed have an eating disorder,” she said.

“Unfortunately, the issue of exposure to harmful content such as this is heightened by the fact that TikTok, unlike other social media platforms, is relatively unmoderated.”

The Butterfly Foundation’s head of communications Melissa Wilson echoed those sentiments, saying it was “incumbent on the platform providers to include safety messaging and other support mechanisms to mitigate this risk”.

She said while TikTok had added some “help” functions and banned certain hashtags, the foundation had “identified loopholes” that allowed people — including children younger than the app’s minimum age of 13 — to access potentially harmful content.

“While we are concerned that TikTok is targeted at a younger demographic … the bigger concern is the lack of moderation and safety messaging,” Ms Wilson said.

“Due to the user-generated and largely unmoderated nature of TikTok, protecting people from harmful content is extremely challenging.

Ms Wilson said that on other social media channels, such as Instagram, there are “greater search restrictions”, and that help functions “are more obvious”.

A screenshot of a TikTok video showing a hospital room and drip
The Butterfly Foundation says it has been “increasingly alerted” to concerning content.(TikTok)

Flinders University senior lecturer and psychologist Ivanka Prichard is also concerned about the videos on TikTok, and on other image-based platforms accessed by young people.

“They idealise thinness and being skinny, and present people who appear to have no qualifications providing nutrition and fitness advice,” Dr Prichard said.

“Experimental research on other platforms shows that exposure to this type of imagery leads to greater body image concern and negative mood.

“Adhering to advice from social media in relation to diets … is associated with greater dietary restraint.”

TikTok ‘committed’ to safe content

Dr Prichard said it was unlikely the people filming and sharing the videos in question recognised the issues associated with them.

“For the most part, young people are probably sharing them because they may want to help others or to share with others what they are doing,” she said.

“They probably don’t realise the potential harm that these types of videos could have.”

A TikTok spokesperson said the platform’s content moderation is undertaken by “global safety teams”.

The spokesperson said the platform’s safety teams “comprise experienced industry professionals” who “collaborate closely with regional regulators, policymakers, government, and law enforcement agencies” to promote safety.

A phone screen with the TikTok app logo showing
TikTok does not allow content promoting disordered eating, but the Butterfly Foundation says it has identified “loopholes”.(ABC News: Michael Clements)

TikTok filters and removes “red-flag language including those related to eating disorders”, along with directing users searching for that content to support resources, the spokesperson said.

“We care deeply about the complex and multi-faceted issue of eating disorders,” the spokesperson said.

“If we become aware of any content that violates our terms of service and community guidelines, we will take immediate action to remove content, terminate accounts, and report cases to law enforcement as appropriate.”

The Butterfly Foundation has welcomed TikTok’s plans to establish an Australian office and said it had engaged with the company “to work together on these issues”.

If you or anyone you know is experiencing body image concerns or an eating disorder, you can call the Butterfly Foundation National Helpline on 1800 33 4673.



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Sports experts want us to change the way look at winning and losing to make teams more inclusive


Posted

April 26, 2020 07:30:00

Imagine an Australia where every sporting club in the country had players with autism and intellectual disability playing on teams, serving on committees, and helping run events.

Key points:

  • Experts say athletes with autism and intellectual disabilities are encouraged to play in “special teams”
  • Special Olympics Australia wants these athletes to play and be involved in mainstream clubs
  • The organisation says many coaches are afraid they can’t coach athletes with special needs

For a long time, Australia’s approach to sport has been to provide ‘special teams’ for these athletes.

But the new head of schools and participation at Special Olympics Australia, Pierre Comis, is working hard to make that model “redundant”.

“We haven’t done well enough at what I call the inclusive model,” Mr Comis said.

As a former director at Sport Australia, Mr Comis was familiar with the pathways driven into Australians.

“We tend to run programs, we tend to find a number of funding sources … purely for a specific demographic,” he said.

“Where I think we’ve definitely dropped the ball is translating some of that investment into meaningful inclusive participation.”

The new pilot program Mr Comis has been brought on for involves students with and without intellectual disability and autism participating in sport together, not apart. Starting in schools.

‘An environment where inclusivity is the norm’

Mr Comis’s vision for sport in schools reflected a bigger dream for inclusiveness in society.

“If we get this right with the younger generations in schools, they will become the future in 20, 30, 40 years from now,” he said.

“They will be the next generation of volunteers in community sport, the next range of advocates and supporters of the Special Olympics movement [because] they’ve grown up in an environment where inclusivity is the norm.”

Mr Comis said this cultural change would take more than just training some people to lead teams or programs.

“There’s a plethora of marketing and education and behaviour change that has to take place over the long term if we’re going to be truly successful,” he said.

“When a local soccer club is having an annual registration day children with autism or any intellectual disability should be able to just rock up and be treated as an equal.”

Sport the ‘social leveller’

While Mr Comis referred to sport as a universal language, social scientist Eduardo Russo called it the “social leveller”.

In 2015, the former University of South Australia researcher piloted a sports program in a special needs school.

The school contacted Dr Russo, who had previously engaged migrants with grassroots sports programs, in a bid to socialise their students at recess.

“They really blossomed,” Dr Russo said.

One parent did not know their son had coordination, another was in tears at their daughter’s eagerness to assist the volunteer coaches.

One child developed a passion for cricket — at the excitement of their parents.

“Sport is not just good because you can be part of a team or because you can keep physically active,” Dr Russo said.

“It’s a social leveller, it’s a language, it’s a common interest that people can share with one another.”

Since leaving the project, Dr Russo has continued to work with inclusive sports programs.

He wished there were more teams embracing players outside the “mainstream”.

“I don’t see anything like that, not at all in fact. There’s a lot of work to be done,” he said.

Lack of opportunities ‘fear-based’

Mr Comis said many coaches were afraid of coaching non-mainstream athletes.

“It’s very much fear-based and that comes through a lack of education and awareness more than anything,” he said.

“They think they have to do everything differently when in actual fact they probably don’t.”

All that was needed were a “few tweaks”.

“The sort of changes you may make to the way that you coach … will most likely benefit 99 per cent of the other kids who are taking part as well,” Mr Comis said.

“It’s really just breaking things down and simplifying things and taking the time to ensure that they understand and participate.”

It’s an approach Keith Seiler understood well after 12 years of coaching the Limestone Ability team in Mount Gambier.

For Mr Seiler, and many other coaches in the space, the motivation to lead was personal.

“Seeing my son wanting to do soccer and there’s no actual real avenues for people with disability,” he said.

“At the moment we only train once a week, occasionally we have friendly games and occasionally we have state and regional games.”

But he holds on to his “pie in the sky” vision.

“At some stage we could have an actual team that could play alongside say some of the B-grade teams in Mount Gambier. How cool would that be?”

Not all about winning

Mr Comis said a winning mentality was usually to blame for athletes — and parents and volunteers — being wary of bringing inclusivity to their team.

He said, for some, there was still a stigma that players with an intellectual disability or autism would be a “weak link in the chain” and could “get in the way of success”.

He said if Australians viewed sport as more than just winning and losing their sporting communities would be more inclusive.

That’s a chance all players deserved, especially those traditionally shut out from sport.

“We want them to learn to self-regulate, we want them to build relationships, we want them to be motivated … get an appreciation of rules … critical thinking … resilience, teamwork, courage,” Mr Comis said.

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