If you could sell fear, the Victorian government wouldn’t have a budget deficit problem.
Between September 23 and 30 there was an average of 1.4 new cases per day reported outside of aged care and healthcare in Victoria. (There was an average of 8.4 cases per day in contained aged care settings across this same period.)
The all-important number of “mystery” cases has also been dropping dramatically. Since September 25, there have been only four confirmed cases of community transmission. This would be the envy of much of the world.
And yet Daniel Andrews continues to hold daily glum press conferences warning of the COVID menace, and the chief medical officer warns of potential “super-spreader” events.
In this state of more than six million residents, there’s around one new case in the general community per day, but Victorian residents remain stuck in one of the world’s harshest lockdowns, barred from travelling more than 5km and visiting family until at least November.
What’s going on?
Even those (like your writer) who opposed the strict lockdown don’t necessarily support a full wind-back of restrictions tomorrow. There’s no point wasting two months of economic destruction only to go right back to where we started. But the current restrictions seem to bear no relation to the current data.
The key to opening quickly and safely is reducing the risk of super-spreader events (like large indoor gatherings or mass sporting events). These can easily be avoided, while allowing small businesses like restaurants and retail shops to start operating again.
There’s also no reason for activities like tennis or golf to remain banned. Similarly, the two-hour daily exercise limit remains counter-intuitive given experts suggest the risk of infection is 19 times more likely indoors. There is virtually zero risk in these inherently isolated activities.
Regional Victoria has done even better than Melbourne, with only three known active cases. Despite suppressing the virus, regional Victorians are limited to meeting in groups of 10 outdoors and permitted to visit only one other household. Masks also remain compulsory.
This is a significant infraction of civil rights with no apparent health justification. Regional Victoria still has a maximum of 20 people at a funeral. Want to get married? Ten people maximum, even outdoors.
Andrews’ paranoia — his fear that a third wave will cost him his job — appears to be the driver of Victoria’s ham-fisted approach to reopening.
The real villain, however, isn’t necessarily Andrews, but the so-called free enterprise and business-loving Scott Morrison (this past weekend dubbed “Australia’s most powerful person” by The Australian Financial Review).
While Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg repeatedly scold Andrews’ handling of quarantine and lockdown, they happily cower behind Andrews’ harsh lockdown and the other premiers’ overly cautious approaches to border openings.
If Morrison really wanted open borders within Australia, this could be achieved with the stroke of a pen: simply withhold JobKeeper (or any number of other federal payments) from any state that doesn’t comply. But Scotty from marketing is happy to let the premiers take the heat for his own weak approach to restarting the economy.
The rest of Australia safely opened in May with similar case numbers to what Victoria is currently reporting. Meanwhile a huge number of Victorians seek help for mental health issues and zombie businesses face imminent collapse.
Adam Schwab is a commentator, business director, and the co-founder of LuxuryEscapes.com.