Australia

Less food poisoning, more cybercrime: the unintended consequences of the coronavirus shutdown

The shutdown in Australia due to Coronavirus has brought about some unexpected side effects, some good, some bad. Source: AAP

With half of the world's population in shutdown in a bid to slow coronavirus, many elements of normal daily life are changing - and not always in the ways we'd expect.

Clear waterways in Venice, less pollution in China's skies and wild animals returning to old landscapes are just some of the unexpected consequences of the coronavirus shutdown.

Since lockdowns began in January, we have seen pollution and greenhouse gas emissions fall across all continents.

But other curious side-effects of the pandemic have begun cropping up - taking many by surprise.

Cybercrime, for example, is on the rise, while traditional crime looks set to fall. And while we are less likely to see food poisoning, banking could become more challenging for some.

Cybercrime rates ‘pretty alarming’

Cybercrime has increased dramatically since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Australia, said Professor Ryan Ko, the Director of Cyber Security at the University of Queensland.

Cyber crime expert Ryan Ko said there has been an increase in phishing and other online crimes.
Cyber crime expert Ryan Ko said there has been an increase in phishing and other online crimes.
Supplied

"In the past month or so, we are seeing an increase in the number of phishing attacks and other cyber attacks,” he said.

Prof Ko said with so many people now working from home, and relying on digital services like video-conferencing and sharing websites, cyber criminals are taking advantage.

“[Phishing emails] tricks them into clicking some links, then opens up software in the background that scans their computer for vulnerabilities and downloads malware,” he said.

Most of these scams involve criminals pretending to be the government, sending messages through apps like WhatsApp, and getting access to someone’s phone, which Prof Ko described as "pretty alarming".

“When your phone is compromised, all your banking details and all your private information is being recorded and sent back to the hackers,’ he said.

Tens of thousands of people are using conferencing apps like Zoom while businesses and schools are closed.
Tens of thousands of people are using conferencing apps like Zoom while businesses and schools are closed.
Getty

With the lockdown predicted to last at least 90 days, Professor Ko said these types of crimes will continue.

"I think it's just going to be worse because we are looking at working from home for the foreseeable amount of time … we have to be more vigilant in terms of the information that's sent to us, what to click, what to believe." 

Other crime rates predicted to fall

But with so many people now at home, there is also some good news.

Associate Professor of Criminology at Bond University Terry Goldsworthy told SBS News while there is not yet any solid data, he expects domestic burglary and car crime to reduce.

"Because people are home a lot more, there's going to be less opportunity for offenders to get into unoccupied houses,” he said.

Prof Goldsworthy, who was a detective inspector with the Queensland Police for 28 years, said we will also likely see fewer road incidents.

“We're being encouraged not to drive unless it's essential, so you'll see lesser volumes, so therefore you would expect there would be less accidents,” he said.

Improved personal hygiene good for food safety

Keeping the public informed has been imperative during Australia's shutdown, especially when it comes to how to stay healthy.

That's why the Australian Food Safety Council last week reassured citizens coronavirus cannot be spread via food.

Spokesperson Lydia Buchtmann told SBS News the uptake in good hygiene has been one positive take from the outbreak.

“It's good to see everyone hand-washing, that's brilliant,” she said. 

Ms Buchtmann said if everyone can keep up these practices, the Food Safety Council is hoping to see a drop in food poisoning cases, which are usually a massive burden on the health system.

"There's an estimated 4.1 million cases [annually], more than 30,000 people end up in hospital and there's a million visits to the doctors, so we don't want food poisoning to keep going,” she said.

“Hopefully with better hand-washing, it will improve."

Banks under strain, want people to be ‘digital ready’

The banking sector, under strain, is also calling for patience.

The Australian Banking Association CEO Anna Bligh told SBS News bank call centres are at capacity as individuals and small businesses grapple with income loss.

Australian Banking Association (ABA) CEO Anna Bligh speaks to the media during a press conference in Sydney, Monday, March 30, 2020.
Australian Banking Association (ABA) CEO Anna Bligh speaks to the media during a press conference in Sydney, Monday, March 30, 2020.
AAP

"There are literally hundreds of thousands of people, individuals and small businesses, trying to access the bank support packages," she said.

NAB indicated that last week its call centre took in five days the number of calls it would normally take in a year.

Ms Bligh said while bank branches are expected to stay open during the shutdown, some will be forced to close because of staffing issues.

She is urging all customers to be "digital ready", meaning they are set up with online banking in case they can't get to their local branch.

"People who don't have internet banking, or don't have an app, they need to be talking to their bank now," she said.

"Go up to the branch and they'll help you get online."

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus

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