Q+A has undergone a few visual changes in recent months. First, host Hamish Macdonald replaced Tony Jones, and the panel show’s set was given a revamp. Then, the show’s logo changed. Then it changed again.
But last night’s episode revealed the biggest alteration yet: for the time being, Q+A is enacting social distancing among its live studio audience, thinning the number of in-house viewers and serving a stark reminder of the best practices available to slow the Australian outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19).
In addition to social distancing, the show also featured a live cross to Bill Bowtell, an Adjunct Professor at the University of NSW, who is currently self-isolating at home after exposure to someone confirmed to have the virus.
The show itself covered a raft of urgent questions regarding the pandemic and Australia’s response to it.
Crucially, Senator Richard Colbeck, the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, revealed he did not know precisely how many coronavirus testing kits Australia has at its disposal.
While NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard yesterday revealed some 25,000 tests have been carried out in the state, a statement from Victoria’s Department of Health yesterday said “There is a significant shortage of swabs and reagent kits for COVID-19 testing.”
That bottleneck is why only people who fit the full criteria for COVID-19 testing should approach medical authorities for a swab, Senator Colbeck said.
Outside of immediate fears for the viral outbreak, the plight of Australia’s casualised workforce was also discussed.
Amid reports the Federal Government is discussing further economic stimulus on top of last week’s $17.6 billion shake-up, one questioner — seated well away from their nearest neighbour — asked what authorities have in the works, outside of accelerated access to Centrelink payments.
After some truly stunning remarks from Attorney-General Christian Porter, who last week suggested that casual workers will likely have enough cash stashed away to see them through downturns in trade, business sustainability adviser Sam Mostyn advocated for private enterprises and the Federal Government to work together on a safety net for at-risk workers.
Katy Gallagher, Shadow Minister for Finance, agreed that last week’s package simply isn’t enough.
— ABC Q+A (@QandA) March 16, 2020
If this were another day, the crowd may have burst into applause. That’s not to say interest was low, however: Macdonald said the show had received the most questions in its history.
“Like you, we are adapting,” Macdonald said at the top of the programme.
You can watch the full episode here.