Does stage 4 ‘shock and awe’ in Melbourne mean we should have gone for elimination of coronavirus after all? | Gay Alcorn

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Declaring a ‘state of disaster’ in Victoria gives police more authority, and hope that Covid cases can be contained within six weeks

Even the vast majority of Victorians who accepted stage 3 restrictions as necessary, if depressing, would have been confronted by what premier Daniel Andrews announced on Sunday. They were the tightest coronavirus restrictions ever imposed in Australia and among the toughest in the world.

Melburnians had just got used to compulsory mask wearing and now are to be confined to their homes from 8pm to 5am except for medical reasons or for essential work, at the risk of a $1,652 fine if they break curfew. Had this ever happened outside war time? There was no such curfew in New Zealand even in their “go early and go hard” response earlier this year.

In Melbourne, one person in a household will be allowed to go to the supermarket, and only once a day, mask on. No travelling beyond 5km of your house unless visiting a partner or for essential work (and what is considered essential work will be redefined on Monday). More defence force personnel on the streets. More powers for police to enforce the rules.

All school students to be at home again unless they are the children of essential workers and, for the first time, childcare centres will close except for children considered vulnerable or whose parents have to work.

When chief health officer Prof Brett Sutton described it as a “shock and awe” announcement, he was not exaggerating. There has been much criticism of the handling of Victoria’s spectacular outbreak of coronavirus cases in recent weeks and some of that has been valid. There’s been the hotel quarantine debacle, which will be subject to public hearings beginning on Thursday. The aged care tragedy, a shared responsibility of the federal and state governments. The acknowledged tardiness in aggressively getting the message out in multiple languages.

But at this point, whether Andrews is a strong leader doing his utmost against what he calls a “wicked enemy” or a premier whose political career is all but over, there is little point in arguing. “There is no alternative,” Andrews said at his now-daily press briefings, announcing the numbers and ever-tighter restrictions on Australia’s second-most populous state. Regional Victoria will also be impacted this time, going into stage three restrictions from Thursday. Andrews said that “today is by far the hardest day” of his almost six years as premier. It is “perhaps literally the biggest challenge we’ve ever faced”.

The daily new cases have jumped around but have not declined since the stage 3 lockdown began on 8 July. Another 671 new cases announced on Sunday, another seven deaths, taking the total to 123, more than half the nation’s total. An alarming 1,962 cases that “may indicate community transmission”.

There has been an element of the culture wars about Australia’s debate about how to suppress Covid-19, although nowhere near the absurdity and partisanship we have seen in the United States. But it was there again on Sunday, with the Australian newspaper’s economics editor, Adam Creighton, fulminating on Twitter that the “shameful” new measures meant an “effective dictatorship [was] declared”.

I doubt most Victorians will agree, although these are going to be a long six weeks. And it is true that the powers are extraordinary. The “state of disaster” gives police more authority to enforce restrictions and gives the minister for emergency services, Lisa Neville, powers to direct and coordinate the activities of all government agencies and allocate resources as she considers necessary or desirable.

Indeed, if it appears an agency is operating under legislation which would inhibit the response to the disaster, she can suspend part of all of that act. These powers were introduced after the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009 and have been used only once before – in January when bushfires against threatened the state.

We don’t quite know why stage 3 restrictions failed to shift the numbers. Andrews said the strategy avoided hospitals being overwhelmed and Sutton said one estimate was that about 20,000 cases had been prevented.

But it wasn’t enough because, as Andrews pointed out, at current rates it would take up to six months for cases to significantly drop – that’s six months of stage 3 restrictions, keeping most people at home.

“I’m not prepared to accept that or accept days and days and days of hundreds of cases and more and more deaths,” he said. Some people were breaking the rules. Some employers were insisting that ill workers turn up and some workers, without sick leave or steady employment, didn’t feel they could miss a day. Some people who tested positive were not staying at home.

The only choice, Andrews said, was to go harder and for (hopefully) a shorter period of time. The reason it was so urgent is that more than 700 cases were “mysteries” – with little idea about where the person contracted the virus. If there are that many mystery cases turning up positive, how many more were out there? The idea is that if everyone stays at home, the opportunities for community transmission will diminish.

It’s a reasonable argument, but there’s a reasonable question to be asked, too. For weeks, some health experts have argued for stricter measures to forcefully drive case numbers down. It’s called a “New Zealand-style” lockdown, but only days ago Victoria was saying it wasn’t necessary and wouldn’t help.

“I certainly wouldn’t even assume that a New Zealand-style lockdown will address the issues that we have,” Sutton said on July 22, arguing that New Zealand at the time of its lockdown had little community transmission.

“If we were to move to a further stage of restrictions where other movement was limited … will that stop people going to work that are going to work now? No,” he said.

Well, it’s now looking a lot like a New Zealand lockdown, which included shutting all but a small number of essential businesses, limiting outdoor activities to local areas, and closing schools, childhood centres and universities. It worked, with the country now at level one, which means “the disease is contained”.

This pandemic is so fast-moving, it’s hard to take a breath. And Victorians – or almost all of us – will do the right thing. But at some point, we’re going to have to ask whether suppression was the right strategy after all or left us open to what Victoria is going through, again and again.

Source: https://news.google.com/__i/rss/rd/articles/CBMilwFodHRwczovL3d3dy50aGVndWFyZGlhbi5jb20vd29ybGQvMjAyMC9hdWcvMDIvZG9lcy1zdGFnZS00LXNob2NrLWFuZC1hd2UtaW4tbWVsYm91cm5lLW1lYW4td2Utc2hvdWxkLWhhdmUtZ29uZS1mb3ItZWxpbWluYXRpb24tb2YtY29yb25hdmlydXMtYWZ0ZXItYWxs0gGXAWh0dHBzOi8vYW1wLnRoZWd1YXJkaWFuLmNvbS93b3JsZC8yMDIwL2F1Zy8wMi9kb2VzLXN0YWdlLTQtc2hvY2stYW5kLWF3ZS1pbi1tZWxib3VybmUtbWVhbi13ZS1zaG91bGQtaGF2ZS1nb25lLWZvci1lbGltaW5hdGlvbi1vZi1jb3JvbmF2aXJ1cy1hZnRlci1hbGw?oc=5

World news – Does stage 4 ‘shock and awe’ in Melbourne mean we should have gone for elimination of coronavirus after all? | Gay Alcorn

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