Did Canning know of COVID-19 as early as Sept 2019?

Otherwise known as:  How Canning may get the state to pay for one of its more expensive employees,  while other councils have to let staff go

Can you follow the logic below?

The City of Canning, and new Mayor Patrick Hall, claims it has been highly innovative when it comes to management of the coronavirus.  Despite the fact Canning still hasn’t signed off on its own COVID-19 response, which Hall described as “[I think we’ve been really clever holding off on]”, the City inferred two weeks ago it had begun working with renowned burns surgeon, Dr Fiona Wood, on responses to COVID-19 for the benefit of the broader community.

And it may just get employee costs covered by the state to do so.

Mayor Hall didn’t seem too worried about coronavirus initially.  He returned from one of his regular holidays in Bali, at the beginning of March 2020, and immediately went in to a full schedule of official duties including being interviewed by a TV weather presenter, appearing among visiting international students, launching an event that nationally-known personalities were invited to and attendances at city facilities and public festivities.

There is no suggestion the Mayor exhibited symptoms of coronavirus at any stage, however, whilst Minister for Health, Roger Cook noted on 13 February 2020, days before Hall flew out, there was no need to cancel travel to that holiday destination at that point  despite COVID-19 being linked with it, he also stated:

“We are simply providing this information in the interests of transparency to make sure that we continue to provide people with the most up-to-date information as possible.”

It may have been more prudent for the Mayor to scale back his appointments, which are voluntary to some extent, following his return from overseas – take that “cautious and measured approach” he claims is responsible for the delay in rolling out the City’s COVID-19 response now.

Jump forward a month, however, and Canning is coming out with some big talk as to its possible role in addressing the pandemic at the higher level:

[The virus brings the opportunity for] govt, community, business and academia [together] to fight the [pandemic’s] challenges…Canning is proud to be partnering with…. highly respected surgeon and researcher Professor Fiona Wood AM, to establish a unique innovation hub that will bring Coronavirus response ideas to life… [Canning’s] Chief Innovation Officer… will jointly lead this important initiative over the coming months

It’s unclear if Dr Wood knew then, or now, the City has yet to sign off on its own COVID-19 action, but she was certainly interested to hear what plans Canning had otherwise.

Fiona Wood at Canning April 2020
As uploaded 16 April 2020: from left Canning CEO Arthur Kyron, Dr Fiona Wood, Mayor Patrick Hall and Canning’s Chief Innovation Officer, Jemma Greene

To cut a longer story short, what appears to have happened is the Public Sector Commission has re-purposed a year-old internal ideas initiative called iThink.  It will now be used to curate thoughts from govt employees and the community on ways to stay well, keep up supply and support the most vulnerable through the public emergency.

iThink seems to have relaunched today, albeit the McGowan govt has begun easing restrictions brought on by the pandemic.  There’s been no ministerial release on this.  WALGA, on behalf of local govt, doesn’t appear to be involved, to ensure a wider uptake at that level.

It seems Canning just seized the day, on this aspect of coronavirus at least, and offered up its Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) – a position I find opaque generally, let alone specifically, given Canning has many and burgeoning problems (more soon).

From what I understand, the City is negotiating to be paid for its CIO to take over the running of this public sector initiative, whilst remaining a Public Sector Commission project.  CIO Jemma Greene has actually been a member of the community of iThink since September 2019 – hence my jest as to whether Canning knew of COVID-19 as early as that – although her profile indicates she hadn’t done anything with it until now.

Jemma Greene on iThink as at 20 April 2020 since disappeared from site
Above: Jemma Greene, City of Canning’s Chief Innovative Officer’s profile on iThink as at 20 April 2020

It is quite a feat for Canning to have scored somehow being ahead of the pack on the coronavirus, at the cutting edge, standing head and shoulders above other councils even, all whilst still not having gotten its official COVID-19 community response package out.

It’s even more amazing that this may be parlayed in to an earning opportunity, while others are going without.

I find myself wondering if the state govt is aware of any of the above.  Surely the McGowan govt needs to ensure its actions as relates the coronavirus, and those it partners with, stand up to scrutiny on roles, responsibilities and how much we are all, theoretically (and with as few added costs as possible), in this together?

Notes, references to follow.

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