daniel-andrews
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews (Image: AAP/David Crosling)

Did Dan Andrews really want to put Victoria into a brutal stage four lockdown? While he retains the rusted-on support of many on the left (as Donald Trump does from the right), it feels like the premier just signed his own political death warrant. 

Speaking to media and announcing the changes, Andrews casually noted that had stage three restrictions remained, it would have taken until the end of the year to get cases down to zero. This very significant off-hand comment was largely ignored by pretty much everyone.

Since when has the stated goal in Victoria, or anywhere in Australia, been to eliminate the virus?

Both state and federal governments have repeatedly said the purpose of the lockdowns since March was to suppress the virus, in order to ensure that the health system isn’t overloaded.

Victoria, which has declared a “state of disaster” for just the second time in its history, is nowhere near capacity in its health system.

Victoria has a total of 38 COVID-19 sufferers in intensive care (ICU). Crikey has been told that Victoria has surge capacity for 3000 ICU patients. That doesn’t sound like much of an emergency, let alone a disaster.

But suddenly, without any actual explanation, Victoria’s goal has switched to elimination.

The question arises: did the Andrews cabinet voluntarily move to stage four? Or were the unprecedented restrictions on Victorians forced by the federal government with pressure from other states? A moribund Victorian economy run by a Labor government also gives Scott Morrison, the master marketer, a handy patsy for his government’s own failures.

Victoria’s average infection rate over the past week is just under 500 per day and doesn’t appear to be growing. Looking at comparisons around the world — and it’s not straightforward given there are vastly different testing rates and population sizes — Victoria appears roughly in-line with the big European states like France, Germany and the UK, and far less badly hit than many US states like Arizona and Florida.

Victoria only looks disastrous when compared to Queensland, WA and New Zealand, which have had virtually zero community transmissions for months. But that was never the yardstick.

The “gangster move” for Andrews, a politician of strong acumen and cunning, wasn’t to bend to Morrison and move to stage four, but to do the opposite. This is especially because many (whether justified or not) blame the Andrews government’s handling of hotel quarantine for the second wave.

Here’s what Andrews should have said to maximise the chances of being re-elected:

“Unfortunately, elimination of the virus in Victoria without a near-term vaccine is a bridge too far. And while there has been outside pressure to enforce draconian stage four restrictions, I have decided that the damage to Victorian businesses, and more importantly to the Victorian people, would simply be too great.

“But from crisis, comes opportunity.

“The rate of infection in Victoria is, by international standards, low. As such we will slowly be opening for business, in a very cautious manner, with social distancing and mask wearing.

“High-risk gatherings, like sporting events, bars, nightclubs and cinemas will unfortunately remain shut for now, but lower-risk workplaces, such as restaurants and schools, will open. Like they have in places like Taiwan and Hong Kong with virtually no reported transmission.

“Importantly, given the virus is already freely transmitting throughout Melbourne, there is now no reason for us to stay sheltered from most of the world. I hereby demand Scott Morrison open up Victoria’s borders internationally.

“If Victorians want to go to Europe, you can. If you want to go to Asia, you can. We will also accept visitors for lower-risk countries (but not high-risk countries like the US or Brazil). That means most of our overseas students, who are so critical to our economy, can return.

“We are re-starting our economy to save jobs and to save lives. We will be playing the cards we have been dealt. For I govern on behalf of Victorians, not Scott Morrison, Greg Hunt or the people of Queensland and South Australia. If those states want to isolate themselves from the world, that’s up to them, but I declare Victoria open for business. And if Scott Morrison wants to lock Victorians up, it’s on him.”

Peter Fray

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